Leader grilled on mill murder
Joint team to tame Ichhamati
Drive against TB in coal belt
Balancing trick in joint wargames
Anger & tears mix at last farewell
Sonia dubs Pak ‘primary’ terrorist state
PM admits adding a word to Goa speech
Mayavati shies off BJP dinner table
Two-pronged payback on Delhi’s mind
Bride 2, groom 16, guardians defiant

Calcutta, May 16: 
Police today detained prime suspect Raju Jaiswal for questioning and arrested two others in connection with the murder of Suresh Prasad, personnel manager of Dalhousie Jute Mill.

Mohammed Sabir and Ratan Patra were arrested from a hideout in Champdani. Police also picked up Jaiswal, leader of the pro-Naxalite Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and a retrenched worker of Dalhousie Jute Mill, for questioning. While Sabir is a mill worker and a member of IFTU, Patra is an outsider.

“We have arrested Sabir and Patra after getting specific clues and picked up Jaiswal for interrogation. If we find anything wrong, we shall arrest him,” said a district police officer.

Deputy inspector-general of police Narayan Ghosh said the police were in search of seven casual mill workers absconding since Tuesday. These employees, Kanta Singh, Raju Singh, Dinesh Chowdhury, Hira Prasad Shaw, Sujit Kumar Shaw, Pintu Shaw and Bhola, were also IFTU activists.

Prasad was killed on Tuesday night near the mill gate. The police suspect the involvement of IFTU activists as there was an altercation between the trade union and the management. Relations between them worsened following the retrenchment of Jaiswal and five other employees on charges of instigating violence and damaging property.

On Tuesday, Jaiswal and his supporters demanded reemployment and allegedly threatened the personnel manager.

Jaiswal and most of his supporters had absconded soon after the murder. On a tipoff this morning, the police swooped on Jaiswal, Ratan and Sabir at the hideout in Champdani and were taken to Bhadreshwar police station for interrogation.

“Most probably, they tried to get back their jobs by threatening the management and terrorising the mill. Apart from the mill workers, we are also trying to find out if the management was involved in the incident,” a police officer said.

The police official added that Prasad, a resident of Chhapra in Bihar, was a non-controversial man with no allegations against him.


Calcutta, May 16: 
The state government has formed a team to work along with Indian and Bangladeshi experts on finding solutions to control regular floods in the Ichhamati basin.

“The Indian and Bangladeshi governments have formed a task force to improve the condition of the Ichhamati basin which is a major problem during the rains. We have decided on our representatives in it,” said state irrigation minister Amal Roy today.

The minister said the Ichhamati basin, stretching from North 24-Parganas to adjacent areas in Bangladesh, floods almost every year.

The irrigation department’s chief engineer, the district magistrate of North 24-Parganas and the chief engineer of the Calcutta Metropolitan Area are the state’s representatives in the task force, which is expected to hand over an action plan in six months to the Joint Rivers Commission.

“The team will look into dredging parts of Ichhamati to reduce floods,” Roy said. Special flood monitoring stations are also being set up before the monsoon arrives next month.


Asansol May 16: 
Alarmed at the rise in tuberculosis cases in industrial and colliery belts, the health department has launched a drive to fight the disease in Burdwan, especially in the Raniganj-Asansol colliery zone.

Funded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the state government, the first phase of the anti-tuberculosis drive took off last week with the help of health officials of Eastern Coalfields Limited.

The campaign’s objectives include identifying patients, offering regular treatment and medication as well as raising awareness.

Besides an awareness campaign in rural areas, the first phase of the programme covers a modular training course for doctors and paramedical staff of rural hospitals and primary health centres.

On completion of the training, all the centres will be provided logistic support to combat tuberculosis.

The anti-tuberculosis drive currently involves 775 sub-centres of Burdwan district and 1,500 paramedical staff. Some 65 laboratories with trained technicians and microscopic binoculars for sputum tests have been set up in the district.

“The purpose of the drive is to ensure direct oral therapy in proper time. We have appealed to people working in different collieries not to neglect the disease. Most TB patients neglect the disease in the early stages and many do not come to doctors out of fear and shame. But the disease is curable if medicine is taken regularly,’’ said R.N. Kabat, chief of medical service of Eastern Coalfields Limited.

Direct oral therapy has been offered to 1.2 lakh tuberculosis patients at hospitals in Kalla and Sanktoria as well as in health centres of Banshra, Kajora, Bankola and Kunstoria.

“In 2000-2001, around 1,500 tuberculosis cases were registered whereas in 2001-2002, the number is around 6,800. The situation is alarming and appropriate action must be taken immediately,” said Burdwan district tuberculosis officer S. Roy.

Doctors said that cases of tuberculosis, mostly acquired through dust allergy, were rising in the colliery belt. What compounds the situation is that the infected people hesitate to approach hospitals fearing social ostracism.

However, Roy said it was still difficult to determine the actual number of tuberculosis patients because most infected people did not register initially or after they were cured.

The district health department has also approached Chittaranjan Locomotive Works and the Burnpur unit of IISCO to get involved in the anti-tuberculosis drive.


Agra, May 16: 
Special force commando leader Major Tom Seegrist tumbles out of the An-32, his green Indian parachute ballooning behind him. He is followed in quick succession by his “stick” of 10 men. All drop within a range of 800 metres raising puffs of dust on impact.

The funny thing about American special forces landing at the Malpura drop zone near the city of the Taj is not so much that they should be doing it in midsummer when heat, like a blanket, envelops the body, sneaks through the fatigues and embeds itself in every pore.

It is that they should be doing it for “Balance Iroquois”, the codename given to this two-week joint training programme of American and Indian special forces.

The name is a figment from American history.

The Iroquois — a group of Red Indian tribes — were famous fighters but were ultimately subjugated. They made the mistake of siding with the British colonials in the American war of independence. While the American association of Indians with the Iroquois is after a certain logic, the “Balance” in the codename opens up mysterious possibilities.

“Now why ‘balance’?” US embassy defence attaché Colonel Donald Zedler mulls over the question. “Let’s see… We are using American and Indian aircraft for these sorties and there is a balance in the use of the forces,” he points to an IL-76 of the Indian Air Force, circling the sky before it makes another run over the drop zone and purges its belly of more paratroopers.

More likely, defence analysts closely following the growing ties between the security establishments of India and the US would say, it is because the sharing of experience here helps strike some sort of a “balance” in South Asia; in “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the US military is in Pakistan. Now, it is here, too, in the elite Paratroopers’ Training School, that grooms the elite of the Indian army’s special forces.

“Balance Iroquois” is, after all the jumps have been completed, the drops have been made and the sorties have been flown, a political wargame just as it is a military exercise. It is not the only one.

Even as the US Air Force’s C-130 Hercules transporter is flying in for a tree-top height drop, the US Pacific Command is also carrying out wargames elsewhere in Asia — in Thailand with Taiwan and Singapore for “Exercise Cobra Gold” that involves more than 20,000 troops of the participating countries.

By those standards, “Balance Iroquois” is piffling but a large step for two militaries that had all but become touch-me-not following the Indian nuclear tests. “It is a beginning and there is more to follow — more exercises in India and in Alaska later this year,” says Brigadier Hardev Lidder, Indian military attaché at the embassy in Washington. Lidder has flown down here especially for “Balance Iroquois”.

For the men of Indian and US Air Forces and armies flying and navigating the aircraft and for those executing para jumps with pinpoint accuracy, however, intricacies of international statecraft are not to reason why.

“I was a student of political science,” says “Lootenant” (Lieutenant) Chris Specht, 28, co-pilot of one of the two C-130s which the Americans have flown to India. “All I want to do now is pilot the Hercules.” Specht was in the cockpit of the green Hercules that came in so low on one sortie to execute a fast-drop — a drop of a package without a parachute over the 2m by 2m target area — that it made the spectator take evasive action before climbing again.

“That is something we don’t do yet,” observed Colonel Paramjit Singh of the Indian army’s special forces who is now commanding officer of the 50 Independent Brigade’s 4 Para Battalion. He is sitting in the viewing gallery. “All these operations are carried out mostly by night during actual battle conditions,” he explains. Any para unit is expected to get deep behind enemy lines and drop commandos with specific missions.

Indian paras’ day of glory was in the 1971 war. A battalion-plus force of paras — some 900 men — dropped behind Pakistani army lines at Tangail in East Pakistan on December 15. That was “Operation Cactus Lily” which paved the way for the fall of Dhaka and forced General Niazi to surrender.

“Para operations involve planning to the minutiae,” says Air Commodore S.N. Bal, air officer commanding, Agra, and he goes on to dissect the drop of a P-16 platform from the cavernous belly of an IL-76. The platform is carrying a BMP-2, an army armoured vehicle weighing seven tonnes.

The vehicle is loaded to a platform, tied and bound with cables. In the loading station, it is wheeled into the aircraft in a grinding slow process. At its top, just above its centre of gravity, four parachutes are tied; at the end facing the exit, a smaller parachute is knotted. Up in the air, as the IL-76 from the 44 “Mighty Jets” squadron comes out of a turn, the door drops, the small parachute is let out first to suck in air and pull the armoured vehicle from the aircraft.

The main parachutes — four huge, white umbrellas of nylon — open up. The load is programmed to descend at 5.8 metres per second; it lands with a thump, right side up, the parachutes disengage automatically, curl up in mid air, the crests cave in and the straps are flung out in a crazy pattern of shimmering, reflecting white light in the white heat against the midsummer sky near Agra this midday.


Srinagar, May 16: 
Tears blended with temper as relatives, senior army officers and local residents bid their final farewell to eight victims of Tuesday’s carnage, including five women, at Shastri Nagar in Jammu city.

Six-year-old Malli was buried in the local graveyard before the others were cremated.

Tears rolled down as the bodies were brought into the crematorium in the presence of senior army and police personnel. All the eight were family members of soldiers posted in Jammu.

Havaldar H.S. Chauhan was in his family quarters at Kaluchak with wife Rama Devi and 16-year-old-daughter Netu. A grenade lobbed at their apartment and the hail of terrorists’ bullets that accompanied it killed all three.

An air of anger was palpable and some of it showed on the faces of the victims’ relatives, who were spontaneously joined by local residents, during the cremation. Senior government officials were present as well.

The police today handed over to relatives the bodies of the seven bus passengers who were killed in the terrorist strike.

The passengers of the Jammu-bound bus, the soldiers and their families were among 33 people killed in the early Tuesday morning suicide strike, the worst in eight months. The attack at Ratnachak on the Jammu-Pathankot highway left 48 others injured. All of them are in hospital.

Three fidayeens in army fatigues had boarded the bus near Vijaypur. On the outskirts of the Jammu city they asked the passengers to disembark. Thinking it was a routine army check, they followed. Even as they were disembarking, the militants opened fire from automatic weapons and hurled grenades, killing the seven passengers and the driver. The terrorists, then, stormed the residential area of the army camp killing 23 people.

Authorities said more paramilitary personnel would be deployed in the city and its outskirts.

But militants continued to spill blood. This afternoon, they gunned down an Indo-Tibetan Border Police sub-inspector at Bejibehara on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.


New Delhi, May 16: 
A hawkish Sonia Gandhi described Pakistan as the “world’s primary terrorist state” and advised the Vajpayee government to rely on the country’s own resources to fight terror rather than look for support from outside.

Addressing party MPs, the Congress president said: “The co-option of the world’s primary terrorist state — Pakistan — a principal ally in the global war on terrorism, has left us as vulnerable to terrorism as ever. I believe we had better learn to rely on ourselves to counter this threat.”

Sonia, who visited Jammu yesterday, lamented the government’s policy of “tough-talking and sabre-rattling”. “What is, however, needed is a comprehensive strategy for countering the menace of terrorism,” she said.

Referring to the mobilisation of troops on the western border, Sonia asked the government to take people into confidence about its long-term strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan and the Kashmir problem. She observed that since the December 13 attack on Parliament, there has been no abatement to the threat of cross-border terror.

As for Gujarat, Sonia said she had expected the NDA partners to put pressure on the Vajpayee government and remove chief minister Narendra Modi but regretted that the “power hungry allies” had failed to do so.

Reiterating her demand for Modi’s exit and a judicial probe into the Godhra and post-Godhra violence by a sitting Supreme Court judge, she said such measures would help restore confidence of the people and establish normality in the state.

Sonia wondered why the Centre did not invoke Article 355 of the Constitution after a resolution to that effect was passed unanimously in the Rajya Sabha. “This further confirms that after having supported the motion for intervening under 355, the government has done precious little in this direction.”

She also came down heavily on the Vajpayee government for hastily pushing through the Prevention of Terrorism Act in a joint session of Parliament. “It diminished the dignity of the rare provisions in the Constitution. The law was not passed on the basis of thought or conscience, but on the basis of numbers,” she remarked.

House discussion

The Lok Sabha will tomorrow discuss the Jammu attack under Rule 193, which entails no voting. Speaker Manohar Joshi will adopt a resolution condemning the incident and sending out the message that all parties are united against cross-border terror.


New Delhi, May 16: 
Though Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee admitted he had interpolated a word in a portion of his speech in Goa, Speaker Manohar Joshi today rejected a privilege motion against him for allegedly misleading the Lok Sabha on a reference to Muslims.

In his notice, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi stated that Vajpayee, while seeking to clarify misgivings about certain portions of a public speech made by him in Goa, had stated on the floor of the House on May 1, “What I said about Islam is as follows... Wherever such Muslims live, they tend not to mingle with others; instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.”

Das Munshi claimed that in the video recording of Vajpayee’s speech in Goa, the word “such” had not been used before the word “Muslims” and by this interpolation, an attempt was made to alter the meaning of the sentence.

While accepting the Speaker’s verdict, the Congress claimed moral victory, saying Vajpayee had admitted to inserting a word “such” before “Muslims.”

In his clarification before the Speaker, Vajpayee, however, emphasised that the spirit of his speech had implied what he had stated in the Lok Sabha: that there were two types of Islam, one tolerant and the other jihadi. The Prime Minister further clarified that he meant no disrespect to Islam.

Vajpayee told the Speaker that no one who read the entire Goa speech had any doubt that his reference was about followers of “militant Islam”.

Vajpayee also pointed out that the PMO had issued a clarification on his behalf on April 14 and also released the text of his speech to the media with the necessary correction.

“It is this corrected version from which I read the relevant paragraphs while speaking on (the) Gujarat situation in the wee hours of May 1, 2002,” he said.

Joshi observed that he had received the clarification from Vajpayee. In his ruling, the Speaker said: “I am inclined to accept the clarification given by the Prime Minister. No question of privilege is, therefore, involved in the matter. The notice of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi is disallowed.”


Lucknow, May 16: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati is all set to prove her majority in the House tomorrow and legitimise her Bahujan Samaj Party’s political marriage with the BJP.

However, developments on the eve of the trial of strength gave a clear indication that the marriage would not be smooth. And the party that could face the ultimate embarrassment was the BJP.

Mayavati barred BSP MLAs from attending a dinner hosted by BJP chief Kalraj Mishra tonight. All MLAs of the ruling coalition were invited to Mishra’s residence.

Realising that the 14 Muslim MLAs in her flock were reluctant to sup with the “devil”, the chief minister turned down the invitation. Instead, the BSP MLAs were called for a dinner in honour of party chief Kanshi Ram at Mayavati’s residence.

While keeping the restive flocks together was the prime concern for the parties partnering the ruling coalition in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress issued whips to ensure all their MLAs are present in the House tomorrow and vote against the confidence motion.

Even if it cannot beat the motion, the Opposition is determined to heap embarrassment on the ruling coalition.

The BJP had a taste of what its relationship with Mayavati would be in the days to come when she embarrassed the ally in the House today by referring to the “atrocities on religious minorities” in Gujarat. The occasion was an obituary reference to former Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi.

The moment she referred to the deaths in Gujarat, the Opposition joined hands in lashing out at the Sangh parivar, blaming it for the carnage.

Leader of Opposition Azam Khan said the killings in Gujarat by VHP and Bajrang Dal activists had put the nation to shame. They must be condemned and the guilty punished.

Congress legislature party leader Pramod Tiwari demanded the dismissal of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

By raising the Gujarat issue, Mayavati was apparently trying to assuage the feelings of her Muslim MLAs, who were visibly embarrassed when Samajwadi legislators accused the BSP of betraying the Muslim cause by teaming up with the “killer” BJP.

The disquiet among the BSP’s Muslim supporters, too, seems to have forced Mayavati to change her Gujarat stand.

At her first news conference after taking over as chief minister, she had given a clean chit to the Modi government. She had said that the Godhra incident had triggered violence elsewhere in the state and demanded the arrests of the perpetrators of the Sabarmati Express carnage.

Realising that her remarks had irked her Muslim MLAs, Mayavati is now trying to distance the BSP from the BJP’s Gujarat line. It was at the prompting of her minority legislators that she rejected Kalraj Mishra’s dinner invitation. The dinner in honour of Kanshi Ram was a legitimate excuse to reject Mishra’s invite.

The dinner diplomacy to keep the coalition together has been on since Monday, when BJP legislature party leader Rajnath Singh hosted one. It was followed by another at urban development and housing minister Lalji Tandon’s official residence.

Significantly, while Mayavati was present at Tandon’s dinner, she skipped the parties thrown by Raj Nath and Mishra — the two BJP leaders who had quietly lobbied against the tie-up.


New Delhi, May 16: 
Having decided that it would take “appropriate steps” against those responsible for Tuesday’s attack on the Jammu army camp, India is looking at ways to hit back at the terrorists without declaring full-fledged war with Pakistan.

This could mean either limiting operations by security forces within Jammu and Kashmir or strikes at targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today reviewed the security situation in the country with his close aides. Defence minister George Fernandes, home minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra were closeted with him for about 30 minutes this morning.

Indications are that a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security may be convened early tomorrow or on Saturday. Tomorrow, Parliament will discuss the security scenario which, sources say, would help the government assess the national mood and the extent it could go to “punish” terrorists active in Jammu and Kashmir and their backers.

Sources say Vajpayee’s telephone conversation with President George W. Bush yesterday gave him the opportunity to realise that Washington understood Delhi’s “level of distress” and that it could even be supportive of the “appropriate action” that needs to be taken.

To start with, Delhi’s response could again be on the diplomatic front. After having recalled its high commissioner from Islamabad and forcing the mission staff in both countries to be reduced by half, India can take some more tough measures.

But there is a growing mood in the establishment that suggests the government may finally have to settle for military action, though limited, to rebuild trust and confidence in the country.

As Indian and Pakistani troops are deployed along the borders, a full-fledged war may not be the best option as the “element of surprise” — key for any attack — is no longer there. Sources, however, said the army is banking on the timing and the place of the attack to surprise the enemy, provided that option is pursued.

A military attack on Pakistan, which has the potential of escalating into a full-scale war, is certain to evoke negative reactions from the world, particularly the US, as Pakistan is a crucial ally in its fight against the al Qaida and the Taliban.

But if the government does go for the military option, chances are it would be aimed at terrorist camps in PoK. Whatever damage such attacks can do to the infrastructure of the terrorists based there, it is the symbolic importance of the move that sections in the government feel could go in India’s favour.

“It is payback time now. Or, at least, that is the popular mood in the country. If there is a military strike against the terrorist camps in PoK, it would definitely send out the signal that India means business,” a senior South Block official said. The choice of Pok as the target of attack will also strengthen the view that it is “legitimate Indian territory” which is not only under Pakistani occupation but is also being misused against India.

Pak denies allegation

Pakistan today rejected Fernandes’ allegations that it was behind the attack on the army camp, reports our special correspondent from Islamabad.

“The Indian defence minister’s claim was irresponsible and reflective of (the) Indian mindset of constantly levelling baseless accusations against Pakistan,” a foreign office spokesman said.


May 16: 
Thought child marriage was bad? How about a baby for a bride? Two-year-old Shardabai’s little forehead was a splash of red last afternoon after her 16-year-old husband, Gajraj Singh, had smeared it with vermilion. The two were married off at the Hanuman temple, 250 km from here.

As the temple priest chanted the wedding mantras, Sharda sat on her father’s lap; her face hidden behind a white veil and tiny hands coloured orange with mehendi. As she is too young to walk, her father carried her in his arms. The marriage took place in Eklahra, a town in east Rajasthan.

If such marriages are unthinkable in urban society, Rajputs of Rajasthan don’t think so. The head priest of the temple bristled when the bride’s father was asked why he was marrying off his daughter when she hadn’t yet learnt to talk. “Why are you doing this? These two children are starting a happy wedded life. Why are you going around the place with such inauspicious, unholy questions?” he snapped.

By this time, Gajraj’s family had guessed that unwelcome elements had come prying into their private affair. “You people print this stuff and think the government will stop child marriages? You think the Congress or the BJP will take up the issue and stop us? No one can stop us. None. We are Thakurs,” said the boy’s enraged uncle. “At the most, police will come with the copy of your newspaper and ask for a few bucks.”

But behind the venom, every word they spoke underlined the ugly truth. Thousands of children just two years or above were married off yesterday on Akshay Tritiya in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Not one of the three Congress-run governments made an attempt to stop them. With the governments shying away, the Opposition BJP, too, thought it better to remain silent.

The day, which falls either in April or May, is regarded auspicious for Hindu marriages. Marriages take place throughout the day, with child marriages rampant in the whole of Rajasthan and west Madhya Pradesh.

Non-government organisations working in Chhattisgarh, which was sliced out of Madhya Pradesh, say that nearly 20,000 children were married off in the state yesterday. On Ram Navami, which fell on April 11, nearly 2,000 child marriages were reported. The Ajit Jogi government, of course, denied the allegation.

Last year, on April 29, the day after Akshay Tritiya, a child marriage was reported from Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s hometown Rajgarh. This year, in temples along the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border, hundreds of minor couples had queued up to ask the priest for blessings.

From early in the morning, the national highways see a steady traffic — tractors carrying barat. In every tractor, seated beside the driver is a little boy with a garland round his neck. He is the groom. By the time it is evening, there is one more person on the tractor — a little girl on her way to her sasural.

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, child marriages take place within the Tawar Rajputs, Lodhas, Sodhiyas and Dangi communities, which comprise more than one-third of the voters in some key Lok Sabha segments. Yadavs and Gujjars also have child marriages.

Keeping elections in mind, political parties have long washed their hands of, though the law of the land says the groom has to be 21 and the bride 18. But ask the villagers, and their answer comes pat.

“Why can’t I wait till my daughters are 18?” asks Nathulal Singh, a villager in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, who married off four daughters yesterday, two of them below 10. “Because there is no police and no social security for my daughters. If I have to wait till my daughters are grown up, will the government provide for their safety if they remain unmarried? What if my 16-year-old unmarried daughter is picked up by hoodlums and raped? Who will marry her then?”


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