Left plays catch-up as Mamata prays
Mishra reins in cadre hungry for weapons
21 local leaders on hit-list
Jawans’ wives revolt after slur
Curator’s killer arrested
Undertrial linked to six murders flees
Destination Russia for deputy debut
Kalam’s star-spangled guest list lengthens
Sorabjee weighs Governor option
Arjun swipe at Advani ‘coup’

Calcutta, July 23: 
Forced by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s aggressive campaign against the proposed railway zone division, the Left Front today took to the streets on the issue.

Two days after Mamata organised a rally calling for resistance to the proposed divisions of Eastern and South-Eastern Railway, the Left Front virtually echoed her stand. On Tuesday, they described railway minister Nitish Kumar’s decision as “detrimental to the interest of not only a particular state but to the nation as a whole”.

The Calcutta district Left Front organised a rally at Rani Rashmoni Road crossing to protest the bifurcation. After the rally, the leaders, including former health minister Prasanta Sur, led a delegation to Governor Viren J. Shah and submitted a memorandum.

The memorandum said the “decision to restructure railway on the basis of state boundaries will create misunderstanding, ill-feeling and animosity among the people of neighbouring states like West Bengal and Bihar. The Indian Railways stand as a symbol of national unity, solidarity and harmony.”

Mamata yesterday had spoken on a similar line, describing the railways as the “lifeline of the nation”. She also underscored the need for maintaining national unity and integrity to which the “bifurcation move is posing a threat”.

Besides Sur (CPM), Mohammad Yakub (Forward Bloc), Parimal Rauth (RSP) and Paltu Dasgupta (CPI) also addressed the gathering, criticising Mamata for playing a “dual role” on the proposed bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

Mamata did not meet mediapersons during the day, but kept in touch with the party MPs in Delhi. Sources close to her said she did not intend to visit the capital before the Cabinet reviewed the bifurcation move.

Early this morning, the Trinamul chief visited the Adyapeath temple at Dakshineswar to offer prayers and seek blessings of the Goddess. General secretary of Dakshineswar Ramkrishna Sangha, Adyapeath,Brahmachari Mural Bhai said tonight that Mamata had told him she had come to the temple after getting a Swapnadesh (that a goddess had appeared before her in a dream).

“Mamata reached at 3.30 am today and stayed here for over two hours to participate in the Arati and later pujas. She also offered as pranami Rs 6,000 and a sari. I, too, offered her a sari which was worn by the deity,” Mural Bhai added. The temple authorities also issued a press note on Mamata’s visit.

Later, the Trinamul leader held a meeting with party functionaries to discuss the proposed rally at Nanoor that she will address on Saturday to commemorate the killing of 13 poor agricultural labourers allegedly by CPM activists two years ago.

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said Mamata has no immediate plan to leave for Delhi until the controversy regarding the bifurcation of the Eastern Railways is resolved.

“She is expected to announce a string of programmes by tomorrow when her 48-hour ultimatum to the Centre ends,” the Trinamul leader added.


Belpahari (Paschim Midnapore), July 23: 
State rural development minister Suryakanta Mishra today asked the CPM cadre and sympathisers to combat the People’s War politically.

The state secretariat member of the CPM sought to placate the rank and file, who have been demanding arms to tackle the Naxalites, and urged them to adopt a line of non-confrontation.

“We have to tackle the PW activists politically, not with arms and ammunition. Our policy is to isolate them from the people and eliminate them through democratic methods and with the active support of the people,” Mishra said at a meeting of party members here.

Mishra’s visit to People’s War-dominated areas in the district is significant, especially with the hue and cry that has been raised over the arrest and alleged torture in custody of Rajabazar Science College lecturer Kaushik Ganguly.

Besides, several party workers are disappointed with the police for their failure to track down the guerrillas, who have killed many local party functionaries.

Nearly 1,200 CPM members from Belpahari, Shilda and Binpur attended the meeting held at Singhabahini cinema here, where they voiced their anger and dissatisfaction.

“The police have failed to tackle the PW activists and also failed to save the lives of our leaders. If the police cannot arrest them, give us the responsibility. We shall do the needful. Give us arms. We shall take very little time to eliminate the PW guerrillas,” several party members reportedly told the minister.

Some party members even demanded that the outfit be banned. Party workers from Binpur told Mishra that people are feeling insecure because of the People’s War.

The CPM leader, however, rubbished the demand for arms and urged the cadre to work tactfully. “Visit every house, organise the youth and unite them. Tell the people what the government is doing for their benefit, especially the tribals. Explain the real intentions of the guerrillas. All you have to do is isolate the Naxalites from the people,” asserted the minister.

Mishra admitted that some areas in the district remained underdeveloped, but said programmes had been taken up for the development of tribal areas.

These, the minister clarified, include constructing school buildings and health centres, improvement of roads, irrigation and vocational training.


July 23: 
The names of 21 CPM leaders, mostly local committee members, have figured on the People’s War hit-list for the district, superintendent of police K.C. Meena said.

All the targeted leaders have been provided police guards.

People’s War activists have so far killed a dozen people in Paschim Midnapore and Bankura, including five CPM local committee members. Meena said so many local committee members had figured in the hit-list because the rebels believed they had grassroots contacts with the common people.

After killing the CPM local committee secretary in Belpahari, Sudhir Singha, the Naxalites are now targeting his successor, Himangshu Mahato, and another zonal committee member, Anil Mahato, police said.

“Earlier, PW militants used to follow us at night. Now we are being shadowed during the day also. We have been able to escape their guns till now,” said Mahato.

Mahato said party leaders had incurred the wrath of the PW activists by combating the militants’ attempts to back the unscrupulous businessmen of the area involved in timber smuggling and luring poor people to work for them for paltry sums like Rs 50 to Rs 100.

“They (PW) have raised their own army in the line of forest guards and earn lakhs through dishonest means. We oppose them and so we have become primary targets,” said Mahato.

The PW militants have also killed two policemen and threatened to blow up police stations. Strong, high walls have been constructed around seven police stations of the district in the wake of the PW threats.

“It is virtually impossible to prevent someone who is bent upon killing someone,” said district CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar when asked if the local leaders of the CPM and the police were safe.


Kharagpur, July 23: 
The wives and families of about 800 jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles have gheraoed an inspector-general of police, three commandants and six of their staff at Salua since noon today after one of them made a “loose comment” about the women.

The agitated women, backed by the jawans, also cut off power lines and damaged the jeep of a senior officer, who had arrived at the spot at 8 pm along with a force.

Additional director-general of police R.K. Mohanty has left for Salua, about 30 km from Kharagpur.

Around 10 am, the wives of the jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles’ Second Battalion, one of the three based at Salua, had gone to meet commandant, Rakhaldas Mukherjee.

They were protesting against the “whimsical” transfers and postings of their husbands, most of whom are Nepalis, and the decision that electricity bill payments would have to be made from the jawans’ salaries.

Some jawans pointed out that the electricity payments had all along been made from a welfare fund. But now the commandant was making the jawans sign a document that made them liable to pay. This had agitated the wives, who sought a solution to these issues.

However, negotiations took an ugly turn two hours into the talks, when the commandant allegedly commented that he “knew Nepali women and what they were capable of”.

This sparked a violent agitation. Mukherjee was locked in his office and when two other commandants tried to rescue him, they too were gheraoed.

The families of the jawans’ of two other battalions joined the women. They demanded that the commandant withdraw his comment and reach a solution to the other demands.

The issue snowballed when inspector-general of police (special) S.K. Mondal — in overall charge of the three battalions — reached the commandant’s office and was also surrounded. Furniture and windows were broken. When additional superintendent of police Manoj Verma arrived, his jeep was damaged.

Before leaving for Salua, Mohanty said he had given instructions for RAF personnel to be deployed. “If negotiations fail, force may have to be applied,” he said.


Krishnagar, July 23: 
Police in a late night swoop on Monday picked up Sadhu Sheikh, accused of murdering Murshidabad circle assistant conservator Prabir Saha in his office chamber at Hazarduari Palace earlier this month.

Sheikh was arrested from a hideout in Nabagram. The police also recovered the weapon with which he killed Saha.

Murshidabad range deputy inspector general of police D.P. Tarenia said Sheikh had stormed into Saha’s chamber in Hazarduari on July 9 after he was refused a job as casual labourer.

Sheikh, however, alleged today that Saha had taken Rs 50,000 and promised him the job.

“Sheikh told interrogators that he had sold land in his native place and burrowed money from relatives to pay Saha,” Tarenia said. “Sheikh has made an allegation and Murshidabad police are checking his version.”

Sheikh has been charged for murder under Section 302 of the IPC. “We have booked him for murder,” Tarenia said.

Saha was in charge of maintenance for buildings of archaeological importance in the Murshidabad region. He would recruit casual labourers at regular intervals. Sheikh told the police that Saha had recruited him as casual labour in March this year for another job.

“I worked hard and initially he told me that I would be made permanent within three months. I was hopeful but then suddenly he said that the government had gone back on their decision to regularise casual labourers. I was out of job but kept in touch with him,” Sheikh was quoted by the police as saying.

Congress-CPM clash

Abul Khan, 30, was killed in a clash between Congress and CPM supporters in Dadpur village in Daulatabad area of Murshidabad today, reports our correspondent. Police superintendent R. Virendra said the clash was over territorial control. Khan was killed when a bomb exploded near him.

District CPM leader Mohammad Jasimuddin accused Congress supporters of attacking the homes of CPM supporters. “When our men resisted, they threw bombs and looted their possessions,” Jasimuddin said.


Diamond Harbour, July 23: 
Panic gripped the Diamond Harbour area today after a hardened criminal, Arman Sheikh, escaped from police custody while being taken to prison.

Sheikh, who had been produced in Alipore court earlier in the day, was not traced till late tonight. He had been arrested — after a month-long raid in various places — in connection with six murders and more than two dozen dacoities.

Additional superintendent of police (rural) S.S. Panda said 102 prisoners, who had been produced in different courts, were being taken to prison. When the roll call was taken at the prison, Sheikh was found missing. Police immediately fanned out in search of the criminal.

Panda said he has also asked the sub-divisional police officer of Diamond Harbour to send a team to Sheikh’s house and his hideouts. “They are also interrogating those in custody,” added the police superintendent.

Police stations have been asked to display his photographs on notice boards. “We will also put up his photographs at vital points like Diamond Harbour and other major railway stations and bus terminus,” said Panda.


New Delhi, July 23: 
L.K. Advani has chosen Russia, India’s “closest and time-tested ally”, for his first foreign visit after becoming deputy Prime Minister.

The trip to Moscow is being scheduled for September. The invitation from the Russians was pending for nearly a year.

In January, Advani had an “extremely successful” tour of the US. Though the ruling BJP is keen on establishing strong ties with Washington, Russia has traditionally been India’s closest ally.

His main host will be Russian interior minister Boris Gryslov. But Moscow is looking at Advani more as future Prime Minister than as home minister. During his visit, the dates for which are still being worked out by the two sides, Advani will be given the “highest access”. This means he will have detailed discussions with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov and other senior members of the Russian government.

As home minister of the National Democratic Alliance government, Advani had chosen Israel as the first country to visit in the summer of 2000. The BJP had never hidden its fondness for Israel, and Advani’s reported comments about nuclear cooperation between the two countries did not go down well with the Arab world.

In a damage-control exercise, Delhi tried its best to deny that Advani had spoken about nuclear cooperation with Tel Aviv. But the Muslim countries continued to express their disappointment for a long time.

Advani’s next visit was to the UAE, where he won over the leadership in Abu Dhabi and put in place a system which led to closer cooperation on dealing with Indian criminals who had made Dubai their base.

But the high point of his foreign trips was the visit to the US this year where he discussed counter-terrorism measures and closer cooperation with Washington in fighting the menace.

Apart from meeting key players in the American administration, Advani had a brief interaction with President George W. Bush who “dropped by” at the home minister’s meeting with US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The focus of Advani’s talks during his Moscow visit will be on terrorism and how the two sides can work closely to fight it. He is likely to institutionalise a system that would enable the two countries to have regular exchange of information on counter-terrorist measures.

Moscow, which has been facing serious threats from militants in Chechnya and Dagestan, has been able to develop an important database on militant groups active in the region. The exchange of information on militants would benefit India, which has been facing this menace in Jammu and Kashmir for more than a decade.

India and Russia have put in place a mechanism where there are regular exchanges and interactions between the key ministries of the two countries.

Since Moscow is aware of his new-found stature in the Indian pecking order, the Russian leadership could use this visit as an opportunity to build a rapport with Advani that would come in handy if and when he succeeds Vajpayee.


New Delhi, July 23: 
It is possibly the most eclectic guest list a President-designate has drawn up so far. When A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is sworn in as the 12th President of India on July 25, his guests of honour will include the Prime Minister’s foster grand-daughter Niharika, Anil and Mukesh Ambani, Infosys chief N.R. Narayanamurthy and wife Sudha, danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai, Jharkhand’s minister for science and technology Samresh Singh and Penguin Book’s Krishen Chopra.

Others who will felicitate Kalam are his former colleagues from the defence and scientific establishments, R. Chidambaram and K. Kasturirangan. While their choice was understandable given Kalam’s background, Niharika will be present in the Central Hall of Parliament — the venue of the ceremony — thanks to the President-elect’s insistence that at least a hundred schoolchildren must watch his ascendancy into Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is the first time they will be present in a function of this kind.

Niharika’s Sanskriti School was among the four to be handpicked by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan’s personal secretary Harish Sharma, though the minister stressed that the guest list was prepared solely by Kalam. Barring the scientists and Penguin’s Chopra, who edited Kalam’s books, it seemed that the capital’s social and political network was at work too.

Official sources admitted there was a stray “recommendation” or two. The name of the owner of Surya Industries figures on the list. The connection: the office of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. Jai Prakash, who owns Surya Tubes and Bulbs, has been associated with the RSS for long and his Jhinjholi Naturopathy Centre on the Delhi-Haryana border has played host to several BJP training camps.

In keeping with Kalam’s “rags to success” story, the choice of schools was socially broadbased. The Delhi Tamil Education Society and the school run by the National Association for the Blind have been included with the privileged Sanskriti, Delhi Public School (RK Puram) and Bluebells.

In deference to Kalam’s wishes for a pan-Indian representation, students are also being brought in from Hyderabad, Anand, Chennai, Guwahati and Calcutta.

While the Vajpayee Cabinet and the members of Parliament are expected to turn out in full strength, the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have reportedly evinced an interest in being present at the function. Though she is not a part of the NDA, Jayalalithaa had backed Kalam.

Although the initial list had around 120 guests, official sources expected it to go up to 250, making it the most largely attended swearing-in ceremony in India’s history.

The function is expected to last a little over an hour. A 21-gun salute will mark Kalam taking the oath of office after which he will exchange his seat with that of outgoing President K.R. Narayanan. The ceremony will conclude with a brief speech prepared by Kalam after which drums will roll and the national anthem will be played.

In keeping with the decorum of the highest constitutional office, the former President will escort his successor to Rashtrapati Bhavan.


New Delhi, July 23: 
Attorney General Soli J. Sorabjee is reportedly mulling the Centre’s offer to succeed Rama Devi as the Karnataka Governor. Devi’s tenure is due to end in September.

Sorabjee was sounded out on the post last week. Official sources said he called on the outgoing Karnataka Governor today.

Devi, who later met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, told him that Sorabjee is in two minds, sources said.

In case he is reluctant to accept the post, official sources said he might be offered the job of an ambassador.

But the government, sources said, is finding it difficult to identify a country that would befit Sorabjee’s stature and experience.

The government zeroed in on Sorabjee’s name after Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna rejected various other names on the ground that they were associated with the Sangh or the BJP. Krishna reportedly agreed to the choice of Sorabjee when Vajpayee came up with it.

The government has also started a search for the Maharashtra Governor. But sources said even this exercise may be “tough” as the Centre would have to consult the Congress-NCP government in the state before finalising a name.

Sorabjee is slated to address an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court on the rights of minority educational institutions by the end of the month. But his views on the subject are supposedly at odds with that of the NDA government’s.

The government’s stand is that the minority-run institutions cannot claim unfettered freedom because “no freedom is absolute” and “every freedom is regulated, including the fundamental rights”.

The argument for the minority bodies is that the Constitution has entitled them to “establish, administer and run” educational institutions with the freedom to manage them and admit students of their communities.

Official sources maintained that Sorabjee supports the latter view and possibly, that is why the government fielded solicitor general Harish Salve to articulate its position in the apex court.

On the Ram temple issue, Sorabjee had echoed the VHP stand that if the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas is allowed to perform shila daan on a portion of the “disputed” land in Ayodhya, it would not amount to contravention of the status quo ante. Sorabjee articulated this stand before the Supreme Court when a petition challenging the Nyas’ right to perform the puja was being heard.

The Court eventually disallowed the Nyas from going ahead with its plans.

Sorabjee’s tenure was also marked by a spat with former law minister Ram Jethmalani. The then law minister had accused Sorabjee of “conniving” with former Chief Justice A.S. Anand when Jethmalani alleged that Anand had furnished a false birth certificate.

Jethmalani held Sorabjee and Anand responsible for his sack from the government.


New Delhi, July 23: 
Senior Congress leader Arjun Singh today made several digs at the “constitutional coup” by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani during the Rajya Sabha debate on Gujarat and blamed him for chief minister Narendra Modi’s decision to dissolve the Assembly and ask for a fresh mandate.

Singh said the deputy Prime Minister had set the ball rolling by openly supporting Modi’s desire to hold elections. During his last visit to Ahmedabad, Advani had said there was no reason why polls could not be held in Gujarat.

The Congress leader cleverly tried to hint at differences between the liberal and more acceptable Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his ambitious, hawkish ideologue, Advani.

There were no accusations in Singh’s speech against the Prime Minister — he put most of the blame on the deputy Prime Minister and his protégé, Modi.

“(The) Prime Minister has been sidelined by a constitutional coup and is now sitting helplessly,” Singh said. His tone and tenor hinted that perhaps Vajpayee was not quite happy with the breakneck speed at which Gandhinagar was bent on holding elections.

Singh said the dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly and everything that had happened in Gujarat since Godhra was working like clockwork as part of a grand design to wreck the Constitution.

Singh focussed his attack on Advani, saying Modi had carefully followed the deputy Prime Minister’s line.

Singh also made a dig at the “supposed” differences between the two BJP stalwarts. It is well known that the Prime Minister was unhappy with the Modi administration’s handling of the riots in Gujarat. In fact, Vajpayee’s emotional outburst at a refugee camp during his visit to the state had made it obvious to the nation that the Prime Minister was disturbed over the turn of events.

However, Vajpayee later did a U-turn, perhaps compelled by the strong support for Modi at the BJP national executive in Goa.

When the BJP leadership recently met to review the situation in Gujarat, the Prime Minister reportedly wanted the entire decision to be left to the Election Commission.

His deputy, however, felt this was the time to strike. Not long after, Modi went ahead and dissolved the Assembly, forcing the Election Commission’s hand.


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