Police suspect Ulfa hand in KLO strike
Revenge for fiancée arrest
Sunderbans braces for high tide
Bar power lines not restored
Direct challenge from Gujarat govt
Lob-back risk in move to consult court
Pressure slur on EC
Govt doctors warned of stiff penalties
Atal solace in Shekhawat shift to Delhi
Samata rift forces George recall drive

Dhupguri, Aug. 18: 
As the numbed town woke up to the deadly KLO strike, police today saw the hand of Ulfa militants as well in the killing of five CPM leaders that came amid heightened security in the wake of Independence Day.

“We suspect it was a joint KLO-Ulfa operation, going by the way the attack was carried out. Eyewitness accounts confirm our suspicions,” said Jalpaiguri additional superintendent of police Anand Kumar. He added that the police are keeping a watch over all routes to Bhutan and neighbouring Cooch Behar where the militants might escape.

Intelligence officials did not rule out “a pact” between the KLO and Ulfa militants to attack “common” targets. Both groups, incidentally, have their bases in Bhutan and run their training camps there. “From preliminary investigations, we have found out that there were five to six militants belonging to the KLO accompanied by a lone Ulfa cadre,” Kumar said.

After a night’s hunt across the Jalpaiguri district, Kumar said they had detained four people, but did not give details. “We are interrogating them,” was all he said.

In Calcutta, director-general of police D.C. Vajpai said four people were arrested in connection with the killings. Vajpai met senior officers, including inspector-general of police (north) Bhupinder Singh, and asked them to beef up security for politicians on militants’ hitlist.

Vajpai, who is leaving for Dhupguri tomorrow, asked the North Bengal Armed Police in Siliguri to send reinforcements to Jalpaiguri for a districtwide combing operation.

The toll rose to five, with one more injured CPM worker, Subol Roy, dying from bullet wounds. The dead included Gopal Chaki, district CPM secretariat member and a senior zilla parishad office-bearer. A 48-hour bandh, called by the CPM to protest against the killings, was observed in Dhupguri.

Blotches of blood on the toilet floor and walls pocked with bullet marks were a grisly reminder of the deadly strike on the CPM office on College Road, where militants sprayed the party workers gathered in a meeting with bullets from assault rifles. In desperation, some had tried to shut themselves in a toilet, but in vain.

Even 24 hours later, it was not clear how the killers, who, witnesses said, had come on bicycles, had made the gateway. While some said they escaped on the same cycles, others said the rebels jumped onto three motorcycles waiting outside the two-storied party office.

Police sources said they suspected the assailants included KLO action squad chief Joydeb Roy, popularly known in the region as Tom Adhikary.


Dhupguri, Aug. 18: 
Last evening’s daring strike has again proved that the banned Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) has enough firepower to take on the CPM.

If intelligence reports are to be believed, the outfit’s self-styled commander-in-chief Jeevan Singh alias Tamir Das has been seething since the arrest of his fiancée Bharati Das, who is also the chief of the Kamtapur Women’s Rights Forum. Das was arrested on August 5.

Bharati, like Singh, is a well-trained rebel. She has reportedly undergone sophisticated arms training at the Ulfa area command camp in south Bhutan.

Intelligence reports suggest that before her arrest, the firebrand women’s forum leader was primarily responsible for recruiting cadre for both the KLO and the women’s wing of the armed outfit.

Faced with an acute funds crunch and police crackdown, the KLO was lying low for the past few months and “looking for an opportune moment to strike terror”.

“Last evening’s attack was more retaliatory in nature, to reassert their might. It was engineered to spread panic among people, to show that they meant business. The CPM workers, whom the KLO considers its sworn enemies, were the most likely target. It was similar to the terror strikes a couple of years ago,” a senior intelligence official told The Telegraph.

“Besides, the outfit was desperate to exhibit its newly-acquired firepower and sophisticated arms training. It was also a clear message to the law enforcers that the militants can strike back at the establishment with vengeance,” the official added.

The surprise strike has made both the intelligence and security forces wary of further attacks. “It is the handiwork of the Ulfa-KLO combine,” said a senior official.

“We fear that several highly- trained members of these two outfits are at large in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. According to our information, the rebels have chalked out a series of deadly strikes. A 31-member militant squad has fanned out in the area. They are holed up at different hideouts,” he added.

Singh, too, is believed to have entered north Bengal from his Bhutan hideout at Tintala after the arrest of Bharati.

The commander-in-chief had reportedly planned last evening’s strike. Tom Adhikary, as Singh is popularly known, and his deputy Tushar are believed to have been in the squad.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
Residents in the riverine areas of the Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas are counting moments with the embankments at Raidighi, Kakdwip, Ghoramara and Boatkhali threatening to give way any time.

The district town of Diamond Harbour is also facing a flood scare because of major breaches at Nurpur.

The administration apprehends that a heavy shower in the next few days will leave 10,000-odd villagers with no where to go. Besides, vast tracts of cultivated land will be submerged.

Around 2,000 villagers have already been shifted and at least 5,000 hectares submerged.

Sunderbans development minister Kanti Ganguly is monitoring the situation that turned worse after an embankment on Nakchar river showed breaches today. “We are waiting for the next high tide, kotal. If the level of water rises then, there is danger,” said Ganguly.

Goalkeeper shot dead

Nadia: Armed miscreants invaded a football field in Kirtinagar this afternoon during a match and shot dead one of the goalkeepers.

Swapan Ghosh, 22, was led off the field at gun point, police said. Football spectators watched the murder mute, scared to resist the gangsters toting pipe guns and revolvers. The police said Swapan had no criminal record.


Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
A Salt Lake watering hole is now spending ‘light-less’ days — and evenings — despite Calcutta High Court’s directive to the West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) to restore its power line on payment of an interim amount of Rs 10 lakh.

Though legal representatives of Aayash, in Salt Lake’s DD Block, claim the WBSEB has been paid the court-decreed sum on August 13, officials of the power supply agency say the bar’s lines cannot be restored till some “other formalities” have been completed. “The low-tension cable has to be laid afresh by the consumer,” said WBSEB member (operations) Deepak Ganguly. “The consumer also has to get the formal approval of the government’s chief electrical inspector.”

Owners of Aayash moved the high court after the WBSEB snapped its power lines on August 2, alleging that the bar-cum-restaurant was running on power drawn “fraudulently”, resulting in a loss of revenue for the board. Only a small part of the power being drawn was being routed through the 11-kv low-tension cable and the separate transformer laid for Aayash, said WBSEB officials.

Aayash manager P.K. Datta was arrested during the raid but subsequently released on bail. Owner Swapan Ghosh has been granted anticipatory bail. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, after hearing out the parties, ordered Aayash to pay the WBSEB Rs 10 lakh, plus reconnection charges. Simultaneously, he ordered the WBSEB to restore connection, “within 24 hours”.

WBSEB legal representatives, however, slapped a bill of Rs 66 lakh, which they claimed was the pilfered amount, advocate Pradyumna Sinha, representing Aayash, told Metro. The high court has appointed two special officers to probe the matter and file a report within a week.


Ahmedabad, Aug. 18: 
The Gujarat government is likely to approach the Supreme Court sometime next week for challenging the Election Commission’s decision to defer Assembly polls in the state.

This was decided in Gandhinagar late last night at a meeting chaired by chief minister Narendra Modi and attended by a galaxy of pro-BJP legal luminaries, including Suresh Mehta, the number two in the state Cabinet.

The state government will move the Supreme Court, asking it to supersede the Election Commission’s “questionable decision” and compel it to bring forward the elections.

The state government has been advised by the party high command to approach the Supreme Court to seek a directive for the Election Commission to hold the Assembly elections by October 4, sources said.

The BJP has adopted a two-pronged strategy to take on the commission. While the Union Cabinet has referred the matter to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the state has been given the green signal to approach the Supreme Court.

Sources said the state government would argue that the panel’s decision to defer the elections amounted to a violation of the Constitution because any Assembly has to be re-convened within six months. The Election Commission is therefore duty-bound to hold elections in Gujarat by the first week of October as the Assembly was last convened on April 4 and dissolved on July 19, they said.

The state government will also contest the commission’s observations on “incomplete electoral rolls” — one of the reasons cited behind postponing the elections — which the state claims were ready on February 26. The draft notification could not be issued because of the Godhra carnage and subsequent communal riots.

The existing electoral rolls were published on May 15 and will now be published as draft electoral rolls on August 28 for inviting claims and objections within a three-week period.

The state administration claims that the electoral rolls have already been updated and need revision only in some urban areas that were affected by the riots. There was no need to defer the elections because this exercise would take only a few days, the government will argue in the court.

As the Narendra Modi government gears up to challenge the commission’s 40-page order, the Gujarat chief electoral officer has instructed collectors in 20 districts to undertake a “special” revision of the electoral rolls in the riot-affected cities, towns and villages, as directed by the commission.

The chief minister has claimed that the BJP would win whenever the elections were held.

Modi’s remarks came in the face of efforts by anti-BJP forces in the state to unite against the BJP. Prominent citizens, leading Gandhians and human rights activists have formed the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti to take on communal forces in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

“(The) BJP will win the Assembly polls in the state whenever they are held, whether in November-December, or in year 2003 or 2013,” Modi told a television channel at Patan in north Gujarat yesterday.

“If the Congress feels that the Election Commission decision would help them win the elections, they are under an illusion. The BJP will win the elections whenever they are held and the five crore people of Gujarat would decide the winners and losers,” he said.


New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
The NDA government will be breaking new ground when it sends a presidential reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 on the Election Commission’s refusal to hold early elections in Gujarat.

For the first time in the history of independent India’s judiciary, the Centre, without directly confronting the Election Commission, will approach the apex court to virtually challenge the poll panel’s decision not to hold elections in October — as sought by the BJP — but schedule it for January 2003.

Article 143 empowers the President to “consult” the Supreme Court on a question of law or fact. It stipulates: “If at any time it appears to the President that a question of law or fact has arisen, or is likely to arise, which is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer the question to that court for consideration and the court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit, report to the President its opinion thereon.”

But the Supreme Court has the power to refuse to entertain the reference and throw it out.

A classic example in recent times was the Ayodhya dispute reference.

The P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress government had made the reference on “whether a temple or a mosque existed at the Ayodhya site” under the same article. But the apex court dismissed the reference on the ground that any finding under this constitutional provision would not be binding on the government. A reference under Article 139 is binding as it would be in the nature of a writ mandating the government to abide by the finding.

In this case, the apex court said the government wanted to find out whether a temple or mosque existed but was clever enough to make the reference under a provision that would not compel the government to abide by it.

Legal luminaries are divided on the present issue of conduct of elections. Senior counsel P.P. Rao said two issues had to be determined:

Whether a chief minister could recommend dissolution of the Assembly five months after an Assembly session and continue to be caretaker for another six months without bothering about the constitutional mandate that there should not be a six-month recess between two sessions of an Assembly.

Whether the Election Commission has absolute free hand over the “superintendence, direction, conduct and control of elections” as per Article 324.

But former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar is of the opinion that the clause that six months should not intervene two successive Assembly sessions is only for the existing Assembly. It is not applicable to a dissolved House.

P.P. Rao counters that this would jeopardise the democratic process. “In that case, any chief minister might recommend dissolution of the Assembly and continue even if elections were not held for say one or even two years.”

Another Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, who regularly argues in public interest litigation, said: “There is an ambiguity in this. The life of the Assembly, which is five years, might have been over and a caretaker government could continue without bothering about the number of days between two successive Assembly sessions.”

The apex court will have to tackle these ambiguities if it takes up the reference. There are several avenues open to the highest court in the land.

It might throw away the reference as it did with the Ayodhya reference.

It might uphold the poll panel’s stand that “free and fair polls” could not be held now and that it has to take the time the Election Commission deems fit.

In the second scenario, imposition of President’s rule under Article 356 will be mandatory.

Alternatively, the caretaker government could continue till the Election Commission holds polls in January. This would not warrant imposition of President’s rule.

The apex court opines that since six months should not intervene two successive Assembly sessions, elections should be held within the last week of September as the Gujarat Assembly last met in April, warranting convening of the next session by October 2.


New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
Welcoming the Cabinet decision to refer the Election Commission order on Gujarat polls to the President, the BJP today alleged that the poll panel’s decision was taken under “political pressure”.

BJP general secretary and spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Centre’s move to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the issue was “most appropriate under the circumstances”.

“The EC decision to defer the polls had no concrete basis. Their reasoning is far from truth and the decision is influenced by political pressure,” Naqvi said, adding that the commission’s order had created a “constitutional confusion”.

“Any delay in holding elections in Gujarat would hinder a democratic process and is tantamount to doing injustice to the people,” he said. “Immediate elections is the only remedy.”

Opposition parties slammed the government for trying to undermine the independence of a constitutional body like the EC.

While the Congress lashed out at the Cabinet decision, saying it was “an assault on the constitutional authority and dignity” of the poll panel, the Left parties said it displayed “contempt” for the autonomy and independence of the Election Commission.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said the decision “confirms that the BJP government does not respect the institutions empowered under the Constitution for superintendence and conduct of the elections”.

He said it was clear that the government and the BJP leaders “have acted in furtherance of their agenda to cynically exploit the communal divide of their creation for electoral benefits”.

Pointing out that even deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had said in Parliament that the government would honour the poll panel’s decision on Gujarat, Sharma said: “With today’s Cabinet decision, the government has gone back on its promise.”


Sainthia, Aug. 18: 
State health minister Suryakanta Mishra today warned government doctors of harsh penalties if they did not conform to service rules.

Inaugurating a new hospital complex here, Mishra said the state government would not hesitate to take bold steps against any doctor found engaging in private practice.

“I again request government doctors to follow the right path and that will benefit all. Nobody should think that the government is too weak to take any bold step against an errant doctor,” the minister said.

Mishra, in the presence of a large number of government doctors and senior health officials, said he did not want to hear that people were not getting treatment in hospitals while government doctors were busy in their private chambers.

“Do not forget that people from remote villages come to hospitals to get treatment. The doctors and other employees should give proper attention to the patients,” the health minister said.


New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
Vice-President-elect Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s presence in the capital is being viewed with great interest in BJP quarters, said party sources.

His elevation to the country’s second-highest constitutional office was not just a matter of “pride and honour” for Rajasthan — from where he hails — and the BJP (he’s its first candidate to make it to the post), but, according to the sources, had “deep” implications for the uneven power equations that exist in the party and the government.

A hint of what Shekhawat’s shift to Delhi meant was contained in an Uttar Pradesh BJP parliamentarian’s observation. “The Prime Minister’s body language says it all,” he said. The legislator recalled that at a dinner hosted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee for President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam shortly before he was sworn in, Vajpayee appeared to have “retreated into a shell”.

The political backdrop was the much-talked about Cabinet and organisational reshuffle and L.K. Advani’s redesignation as deputy Prime Minister — a move that was widely perceived by the BJP as a sign that Advani would have total control over the party and a much greater say in the government.

Indeed, it was Advani who reportedly circulated among the guests.

In contrast, in a dinner hosted on the eve of the vice-presidential election for the NDA MPs last Sunday, again by Vajpayee, the BJP MP said there was a “perceptible mood shift”. “The Prime Minister sat at the centre table flanked by Shekhawat and George Fernandes. Advani was also present, but it was Vajpayee who went around meeting the MPs and he also spoke a great deal,” he said.

BJP sources said Shekhawat — who will be sworn in tomorrow — was “valuable” to Vajpayee for four reasons:

He was his oldest and most trusted friend in the party. “Vajpayee does not have the same degree of rapport even with Jaswant Singh,” said a source. Indeed, according to this source, the finance minister appeared to have moved closer to Advani on certain issues of late — as on backing P.C. Alexander as the NDA presidential candidate although Vajpayee’s choice was Krishan Kant.

Shekhawat’s skills in realpolitik and managing contradictions. These abilities, said the sources, were manifest in the way he garnered support for himself in the vice-presidential election. For instance, when former BJP president Bangaru Laxman left for Hyderabad a couple of days before the election without saying a word to Shekhawat, he phoned him and asked him to come back to give him “moral support”. “This one gesture went a long way in reassuring our Dalit MPs who were upset with the way Laxman was put in cold storage after the Tehelka episode.

His PR abilities, said the sources, could help the Prime Minister “reconnect” with the NDA allies. Sources admitted that with Advani’s ascendancy, most of them, including the Telugu Desam Party, tended to gravitate towards him as they perceived him as the “emerging power centre”.

Last, as long as the coalition was around, BJP sources claimed it was Shekhawat who would stand Vajpayee in good stead rather than Advani. He had friends across the political spectrum, including heavyweights like Chandra Shekhar and Sharad Pawar, he was deemed a “moderate” and, like Vajpayee, a votary of “consensual” politics.


Aug. 18: 
Defence minister George Fernandes is expected to take over as Samata Party president shortly. Incumbent president V.V. Krishna Rao submits his resignation, paving way for election of Fernandes as party chief.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar, who was in Hajipur to attend a meeting of the new East-Central zone, said the party’s executive meeting on September 1 in Delhi would elect Fernandes president.

With the graph of BJP going down and Assembly elections coming up in 10 states next year, the Samata leadership feels that the party should have a leader of Fernandes’ stature.

Besides, intense infighting has also forced the party to fall back on Fernandes, who was the founder president since 1994. In January 2000, Fernandes made room for Jaya Jaitly who quit in the wake of the Tehelka scandal.

Samata leader Prabhunath Singh’s public criticism of the Prime Minister for cancelling petrol pump allotments was the latest embarrassment for the party top brass. Before that, the Samata’s Bihar legislative party chief Umashankar Singh threw it into a turmoil when he took away a group of MLAs to merge with the Janata Dal (United).

At a meeting with the state leaders, the railway minister floated the plan for the change of guard to pull the party back from the brink of a split. The plan is believed to have received wide support.

Fernandes is facing boycott in Parliament by Opposition parties protesting his reinduction into the Cabinet before the Venkataswami commission cleared his name in the Tehelka scandal. But he had launched an “apolitical” outfit, the Lok Manch, last month, ostensibly to relaunch him as a socialist who had not lost his moorings.

The outfit shares RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s views on labour reforms, disinvestment and employment generation. The defence minister has of late been critical of the BJP and the Vajpayee government for “anti-labour” policies. Last year, he had shared an SJM platform to slam the Montek Singh Ahluwalia report on labour reforms.

The Samata’s recent national council meeting in Vijayawada had also passed a resolution criticising the economic policies of the government.

Fernandes’ apolitical outfit, set up on July 4, had organised a conference in Delhi to highlight the pitfalls of the BJP-led government’s economic policies. It held a regional conference at Bhavnagar in Gujarat yesterday, while a regional southern conference will be held in Mysore on September 5 and 6. The north-eastern conference will be in Guwahati on September 28 and 29.

Krishna Rao was appointed president last year as a stop gap arrangement following the resignation of Jaitly.

In his resignation letter addressed to Fernandes, Rao said that in view of the challenges before the party ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in 10 states and the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Fernandes should head the party. Rao said the party’s national executive meeting should be convened fast to elect Fernandes president.

The executive meeting will also decide the date and venue of the party’s national council meeting, he said.


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