Trinamul charts ruckus route
Security veil on stations, CLW
Lynch spurt heat on vigilantes
Mishap kills 2 in Kolaghat
10 injured in Trinamul, CPM clash
Best bet there, pet hate here
Pak shells down DD tower
Govt killing while talking: Naxalites
Narayanan develops taste for contest
Modi ministers in polish rush

 
 
TRINAMUL CHARTS RUCKUS ROUTE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Uproarious scenes could become a regular feature of the monsoon session as Trinamul Congress legislators met today to firm up a strategy on raising the pitch of their protests in the House.

The Assembly reopened on Friday, but was adjourned after obituary references. The session effectively begins tomorrow.

Stressing on Trinamul’s role as the principal Opposition party, leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee told his legislators to launch protests against the Left Front on the issues over which they observed a bandh on Friday. The issues include hike in electricity tariff, delay in teachers’ salaries, distress sale of paddy and the government’s failure to publish an accurate list of people living under the poverty line in the state.

Forty MLAs attended the Trinamul Congress Legislature Party meeting at Nizam Palace this evening.

“We will raise our voice of protest to the highest pitch in an organised manner to drive home our point. If we are ignored and not heard properly, we will stall proceedings of the House. We don’t care even if we are suspended by the Speaker,” said a senior Trinamul MLA.

He said the meeting also discussed the attendance of MLAs in the House, particularly in the second half. “If our 60-odd members are not present in the House daily, it will be difficult for us to raise an organised voice of protest. We have already noticed that a section of our MLAs don’t take the Assembly proceedings seriously,” said another legislator.

Some MLAs have pointed fingers at actor Tapas Pal and actress Nayana Bandopadhyay for irregular attendance. “These two MLAs hardly attend the House and take part in discussions,” cribbed an MLA.

Trinamul chief whip in the Assembly Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay said he knew of the MLAs who had a tendency to bunk sessions. But he defended his party’s Tollywood MLAs. “You see, both Tapas and Nayana are film artistes, busy shooting at locations for a month or two at a stretch. So it will be impossible (for them) to attend the House regularly even if they intend to,” said Chattopadhyay.

Several MLAs put forward the idea of moving a no-confidence motion against the Left Front government. But opinion was divided, so the matter was pushed back for later discussion.

The Trinamul legislators also severely criticised home secretary A.K. Deb’s announcement yesterday that terrorists could target Writers’ Buildings.

“Our leader Mamata Banerjee has been saying that Calcutta is a soft target for terrorists. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee repeatedly described Calcutta as an oasis of peace. Yesterday’s announcement was such a sensitive one that it should have been made by the chief minister himself,” said Partha Chatterjee, Trinamul MLA.

State Congress president Pranab Mukherjee, too, found fault with the announcement. He said it was improper to announce classified information like a possible terrorist strike to reporters.

Sikdar slams Mamata

In Burdwan, BJP Union minister and Mamata-baiter Tapan Sikdar came down heavily on the Trinamul chief.

He said Mamata had made a fool of herself by calling the bandh and accused her of taking the state a step backward. “Mamata may be a partner of the ruling NDA, but we have no alliance with her in Bengal. She does not have any qualification necessary to form an alliance with us.”

   

 
 
SECURITY VEIL ON STATIONS, CLW 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
June 9: 
A day after Writers’ Buildings and BBD Bag were put on high alert following a terrorist threat, it was the turn of the railway authorities to ring the alarm bell.

From Howrah to the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, railway police were activated after two simultaneous intelligence reports suggested that the ISI-sponsored terrorist outfit, Al-e-Hadish, a front of the Lashkar-e-Toiba operating from Bangladesh, was targeting CLW and important stations in the state for a major strike.

Panic-stricken CLW authorities decided to cancel all cultural shows on its premises. The first to bear the brunt was a high-profile cultural extravaganza slated for tomorrow and organised by Srilata, a CPM cultural unit.

“Since the area is highly sensitive, we have decided to undertake these precautionary measures. One must realise that CLW is a prohibited area,” said deputy general manager C.N. Jha.

Marriage parties have been give a respite, but people have been asked to play them down and insist on adequate security check-up.

The railway authorities have also stepped up security in both the Sealdah and Howrah divisions. “We have intensified vigil in all major stations like Howrah, Sealdah, Asansol, Burdwan, New Jalpaiguri and Barrackpore, which are terrorist targets,” said the special inspector-general of police (railways) S.R. Das.

The police arrangements have been boosted with the deployment of plainclothesmen, Das said. Superintendent of railway police (Howrah) Benoy Chakraborty today supervised the strengthening of security and said: “We are ready for any eventuality.” All trains were being thoroughly checked for explosives. Divisional railway manager (Sealdah) D.C. Mitra held a high-level security meeting to review the security arrangements.

At CLW, the authorities have decided to issue photo-identity cards to all employees.

   

 
 
LYNCH SPURT HEAT ON VIGILANTES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah (Hooghly), June 9: 
Members of a vigilance group dragged out three persons sleeping at Tarakeswar station and assaulted them, suspecting them to be robbers. Two of them were killed and one was rescued by the police. He has been admitted to hospital in a critical condition.

The incident comes within three days of another lynching in Tarakeswar, in which three persons were killed by members of the local resistance group.

Within 48 hours, villagers of Ashanpur in Arambagh lynched Shibu Malik, suspecting him to be a thief. No arrests have been made yet in these cases.

Hooghly superintendent of police Ajay Kumar said members of the resistance groups would be arrested in connection with these cases in a bid to curb the alarming increase in incidents of lynching.

“Nothing suspicious was recovered from the victims,” Kumar said, indicating the way the vigilantes were taking the law into their hands on mere suspicion.

Residents backed the resistance groups, alleging that they had lost faith in the police after a spurt in thefts and dacoities in and around Tarakeswar.

Police said the three persons were sleeping on the platform as they missed the last Howrah-bound train. Around 1 am, the vigilantes noticed them and began interrogating them. Not satisfied with their answers, they dragged the three to Joy Krishna Bazar.

On reaching the bazar, they raised an alarm. Soon hundreds of people from the nearby Joatsambhu and Ramnagar villages converged on the spot and began beating the trio.

When sub-divisional officer Asesh Biswas reached with a police team, the villagers prevented them from rescuing the victims. One of them died on the spot and has not been identified. Another person, Panja, 35, of Dewanbheri in Singur succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital.

The police later rescued a wounded Sheikh Sarif of Kulpi, South 24-Parganas, by breaking open the door of a local club.

   

 
 
MISHAP KILLS 2 IN KOLAGHAT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
June 9: 
A speeding truck crushed a Maruti van this afternoon at Deulia bridge near Kolaghat on the Howrah-Purba Midnapore border, killing two of its occupants and injuring the other two.

The accident occurred on National Highway 6 when some members of the Jain community were going to a Jain temple to offer a donation. As the Maruti approached Deulia bridge, a truck loaded with earth slammed into the van.

Jhumur Lal Bachhawat died on the spot while his driver, Ram Narayan Ray, succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital. T.C. Daga and Abhay Singh Surana were injured.

Witnesses said the Maruti driver tried in vain to swerve out of the way when the truck, which they estimated was speeding at 80 km per hour, came head-on at the van.

The truck driver fled with his vehicle after the mishap.

Residents rescued the passengers trapped in the mangled Maruti and took them to the Jain hospital at Shibpur in Howrah.

   

 
 
10 INJURED IN TRINAMUL, CPM CLASH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
Ten persons were injured, five of them seriously, in a clash between supporters of the Trinamul Congress and the CPM in Barasat, early on Sunday.

Trouble broke out in the Kharibari area of Barasat Block-II when Trinamul Congress supporters alleged that members of the CPM cadre had beaten up the owner of a local fishery for refusing to heed the demands of a party leader who was, allegedly, trying to take control of several fisheries in the region. A quarrel snowballed into a pitched battle — with country-made revolvers being fired and bombs being exploded — that raged for hours.

DIG (headquarters) Narayan Ghosh, who was monitoring the situation, said a police picket had been posted in Kharibari. This, after the Barasat police had failed to stop the two warring factions.

The additional superintendent of police (Barasat) Rahul Srivastava later took charge of operation flushout. The police mounted an elaborate combing procedure in the area and rounded up over 30 suspects. Twenty-two of them were, allegedly, directly involved in the clashes.

“Raids continued throughout Sunday, but the situation has been brought under control. There have been several clashes reported from this area in the past few months, but this incident was definitely the biggest,” admitted Srivastava.

   

 
 
BEST BET THERE, PET HATE HERE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has never minced words about which side of the Line of Control his loyalty lies. He is an unabashed supporter of Pakistan and wants Kashmir to join Pakistan.

Unlike other Kashmiri leaders, such as Shabir Shah and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, or even late Abdul Gani Lone, Geelani is no supporter of an independent Kashmir or of the concept of Kashmiriyat, the essence of Kashmir’s secular Sufi tradition.

As Pakistan’s best bet in Kashmir, Geelani is, naturally, the pet hate of the Indian establishment, which regards him as a stooge of the ISI. The government till now had been a helpless spectator as Geelani preached his secessionist ideology at every opportunity and queered the pitch every time the Vajpayee government took a political initiative in Kashmir.

Geelani mercilessly attacked Lone and Farooq for attending a conference in Dubai where Kashmiris from both sides spoke against violence.

Lone eventually had to pay with his life for asking foreign militants to leave Kashmir. He was a target of verbal attack by Geelani, who accused him of selling out to New Delhi.

Geelani was released from jail soon after President Bill Clinton visited India two years ago.

In one of the first meetings he addressed since his return, Geelani said jihad was obligatory for Kashmiris and asked the people to reject the bogey of secularism and Kashmiriyat.

As the ISI got more involved with the fundamentalist Taliban, Geelani’s views became more hardline.

He defended foreign mercenaries in Kashmir and said it was obligatory for Muslims all over the world to free fellow Muslims from Indian occupying forces.

Last April, Geelani addressed a meeting of the Students Islamic Movement of India, where he justified violence in Kashmir, saying the militants were waging a holy war in a land that had been forcibly taken by India. He always maintained that the struggle in Kashmir was a religious war and said India’s only Muslim majority state had the right to join Pakistan.

Fundamentalists see him as a hero, the one leader who is trying to propagate jihadi views in the Valley. Often referred to as Amir-e-Jihad, Geelani was recently appointed member of the Saudi Arabia-based Rabita Alam-e-Islami.

Syed Salahuddin, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief, is a great admirer of Geelani. When the Kashmir unit of the Jamaat-e-Islami tried to distance itself from Geelani’s fundamentalist views, Salahuddin issued a statement, saying Geelani was the sole leader of the Jamaat.

However, Geelani has failed to move with the times. The politics of fundamentalism and extremism are increasingly seen as anachronisms in the post-September 11 world.

   

 
 
PAK SHELLS DOWN DD TOWER 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar June 9: 
A transmission tower of Doordarshan was destroyed by heavy Pakistani firing at Poonch in the Jammu region, where four villagers were gunned down by militants late last night.

According to police sources, heavy shelling by the Pakistani artillery on Dhargloon brought down the TV tower on top of a mountain. “The tower was completely damaged and six policemen guarding it were injured,” said a police officer. Sources said a police picket near the tower was also destroyed.

Doordarshan had installed towers in the remote border areas to counter PTV propaganda. In January, militants had bombed a mobile low-power transmitter in Bandipore.

Last night, three civilians were wounded in shelling from across the border in Balakote near the LoC. The shelling continued today, razing six houses in Korotona on the International Border in the R.S. Pura sector.

The incident has triggered a fresh spell of migration among the residents, adding to the over one lakh who have already abandoned homes in the Jammu region. State chief secretary I.S. Malhi, who visited the migrants, said a new relief package was being implemented for them.

Malhi announced the state government’s plans to set up more village defence committees in the border areas. The state will also ask the army to construct concrete bunkers to shelter villagers who have stayed back during Pakistani shelling.

Four villagers, who were abducted by militants from Barndi near Mahore in Udhampur, were found dead in a forest last night.

   

 
 
GOVT KILLING WHILE TALKING: NAXALITES 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, June 9: 
Peace talks between the Andhra Pradesh government and the People’s War Group were adjourned till June 20 today amid allegations of continued police operations against the rebels and the state’s refusal to lift the ban on the Naxalite outfit.

“We will finalise the agenda for talks and other modalities —venue, time and date — in the next meet,” said the government representative, commercial taxes minister K. Vijayarama Rao.

Describing the second round of talks as a “good beginning”, Vijayarama Rao said: “We have better understanding among ourselves on the burning issues and where we stand. We hope to find a durable solution.”

The PWG emissaries, revolutionary poet P. Varavara Rao and folk singer Gaddar, however, said the atmosphere for dialogue had been vitiated by the state’s strategy of encouraging police action even while holding the talks.

“We doubt whether the government is sincerely interested in controlling certain police officials from killing people in the name of encounters,” Varavara Rao said. Today’s meeting was not fruitful because the government was adamant on its stand on the ban on PWG, he added.

During the talks, Varavara Rao lodged his protest with the government representative on reports from Warangal of the surrender of 12 Naxalites and the killing of three extremists in separate encounters in Anantpur and Vijayawada districts.

The PWG emissaries raised slogans against the police and the government and staged a protest within the secretariat before the start of the second round of talks. They displayed placards that read “police killings are killing the talks” and “no talks if false encounters continued”.

The highlight of the protest was the song-and-dance routine by Gaddar. This was perhaps the first time in the history of the extremist movement that PWG activists could stage a protest within the secretariat complex.

The PWG has declined to lay down arms as a condition to the dialogue. “The armed struggle policy of the PWG ideology is not negotiable,” its emissaries said.

   

 
 
NARAYANAN DEVELOPS TASTE FOR CONTEST 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
If the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime goes ahead with P.C. Alexander as the presidential candidate, President K.R. Narayanan will contest as an Opposition nominee.

A war of nerves has begun between the government, the Opposition and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is likely to come here tomorrow. However, official sources hinted that the government would wait till June 13 before making a formal announcement on its candidate.

A trial of strength between the Congress-NCP and the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in the Maharashtra Assembly is scheduled for June 13. Alexander is now serving as Governor in the state.

Narayanan, who told Opposition leaders today that he had an “open mind” to the idea of running for a second term, will make the next move after the NDA announces its nominee.

Narayanan’s interest in the presidential poll was evident last night when he delayed his 52nd wedding anniversary celebrations to deliberate upon it. The President and his wife Usha were set to go out for a private dinner when a Congress team of Manmohan Singh and K. Natwar Singh called on him with an “urgent message” from Sonia Gandhi.

Narayanan gave them a patient hearing as the duo underlined the need to strengthen the secular fabric and the Opposition’s resolve to defeat the BJP’s “controversial candidate”.

The Congress and the Opposition approached Narayanan when a top government functionary acting as an “interlocutor” informed the party about Alexander’s candidature. Sonia immediately summoned the party top brass and called up senior Opposition leaders. She then asked Natwar and Manmohan to call on Narayanan.

Today, Narayanan told six Opposition leaders that he had an “open mind” on the issue. The Opposition parties, which had almost abandoned him two days ago, said they were “united like a rock” and that he was their “first and last choice.”

CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who till yesterday was lobbying for Vice-President Krishan Kant, today said Narayanan should “take the trouble of saving the nation from communal forces”.

The diplomat-turned-politician smiled at Surjeet’s proposition while glancing at Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh.

However, sources close to Narayanan said the President would wait and watch before formally announcing his candidature. He wants to check the NDA’s resolve to stick to Alexander.

According to Narayanan, the Opposition, too, has a back-up plan in case the government comes forward with another name — Kant, L.M. Singhvi or A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, now camping in Delhi, told Vajpayee that he should name nuclear scientist Kalam as a consensus nominee.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy was non-committal when asked about the possibility of a consensus on a name other than Narayanan’s. Reddy, who began saying the Congress was not opposed to the consensus route, added that “it is a hypothetical question”.

The tussle between the government and the Opposition over the poll reflects the sharp polarisation in polity and the absence of meeting grounds. First, Vajpayee was to hold consultations with the Opposition. Both sides kept saying they would meet, but they did not.

There is now a complete breakdown of relations between the Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition.

The Opposition’s hostility towards Alexander cuts across political lines. The Left sees him as “too close to the Americans”. According to Surjeet, Bardhan and Sitaram Yechury, Alexander is an “original American” of the Cold War era when he served as Indira Gandhi’s principal secretary.

The Congress is opposed to him on the ground that his candidature was routed through the Sena and the BJP. There are unconfirmed reports of him having fallen out with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Some say Alexander’s proximity to P.V. Narasimha Rao during the Congress Prime Minister’s uneasy relations with 10 Janpath made him unacceptable to the present AICC chief.

For the record, nobody in the Congress is willing to spell out the real cause of the Opposition.

   

 
 
MODI MINISTERS IN POLISH RUSH 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 9: 
Perturbed by the bad press that his government has been getting, chief minister Narendra Modi has formulated a strategy to reach out to the Gujarati community to refurbish its image.

The “strategy” involves telling people the “real’’ story behind the riots — something different from what the newspapers and television channels reported.

A dozen senior ministers, including known dissidents Suresh Mehta and Haren Pandya, would be part of the mission. The ministers will fan out to various states with the real story of the riots and show how the media had “deliberately distorted facts to tarnish its image’’.

The image-building exercise, a brain child of chief minister Modi, who now appears worried about his “demonic image’’, is aimed at convincing the Gujarati diaspora outside the state that everything is all right in Gujarat.

The ministers have a clear brief: to meet the Gujarati settlers in the states and tell them that what they heard (and read) about the recent riots was not true, the state government did no wrong and that they should still be proud of being Gujaratis.

Health minister Ashok Bhatt, who has been assigned Delhi and Bengal, said Gujarat was a model state for the country and because of its progress “some elements were out to tarnish its image’’. A number of NGOs and so-called secular activists have ganged up against Gujarat but “they are going to be exposed’’, he asserted.

“A few years ago, they had surfaced in the form of environmentalists opposed to the Narmada project, Gujarat’s lifeline, and then they raised a hue and cry over the attacks on Christians in Dangs where not a single Adivasi Christian was killed. The same elements are accusing the government of a crime which it did not commit,” Bhatt said.

“We need to expose these elements who are out to malign Gujarat. And that is why I’m going to Delhi where I have an excellent rapport with the Gujarati samaj. I will tell the Gujaratis in Delhi how anti-Gujarat elements are spreading canard.’’

Bhatt, along with the No. 2 in the state Cabinet, Suresh Mehta, will address news conferences in Delhi and Calcutta, where the Gujarati community is believed to be very upset over the communal carnage.

Apparently Modi got the feedback from the Gujaratis settled outside the state. The Gujarat government looks at the 80 lakh Gujaratis settled outside the state as potential investors and cannot ignore them. About 10 lakh Gujaratis live in the US alone.

A senior official in the chief minister’s office said “if necessary, we will even go to America and other countries” to counter the “anti-Gujarat campaign’’ by the English language press and to tell the Gujarati community our side of the story’’.

The ministers will speak on how the Godhra train carnage was pre-planned by anti-national forces, that the first two persons killed in Naroda-Patia were Hindus and how the mob at Gulbarg Society was provoked when former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri fired at them.

   
 

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