Congress in strike dry run
Ganguly chase takes police to gangster
Khalsa politics erupts on Atal
20 die in accident
Calcutta weather

 
 
CONGRESS IN STRIKE DRY RUN 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 8 
Enmeshed in the politics of ?ifs and buts? that now pervades Delhi, a somewhat bewildered but careful Congress wants to test the troubled waters before taking the plunge to provide an alternative to the Vajpayee regime.

The Congress has realised that for the next three days political activity here will revolve around the uncertainties inherent in the game that Jayalalitha has thrust upon all players.

The resignations of the two ADMK ministers were forwarded by the Prime Minister today, indicating that the BJP has given up hopes of turning around Jayalalitha. But since she has not yet snapped all links with the coalition, the Congress feels it is inadvisable to jump the gun and be seen as a power-hungry topple-schemer.

[A UNI report said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, in a last-ditch attempt, contacted Jayalalitha to find out if she had changed her mind on the resignations.]

The Congress is certain that the main aim of the Left and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha is to dislodge the Vajpayee government. Jayalalitha, it is aware, will throw in her lot only if she is sure of an alternative configuration.

If the terms of such an arrangement are not worked out by April 15 (all major Left and Morcha leaders as well as Jayalalitha are scheduled to be in Delhi from Monday), and if the task of winning over fence-sitters like the DMK and BSP is not delegated to these ?secular parties?, the Congress will try and ensure that the Bhagwat issue is put to vote under Rule 184 during the House debate.

Sharad Pawar, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, has outlined this theory and it has found substantial support. If Rule 184 is invoked, it will become clear who is on whose side and how parties will vote in case of a no-confidence motion.

But unlike other parties, the Congress would prefer to delink Vajpayee?s ouster from the installation of a new government as it believes that fresh elections would yield maximum benefit.

A victory in the Lok Sabha on the Bhagwat issue would also allow the Congress to set its terms for a new government and rein in volatile allies.

Outlining its Parliament strategy, the Congress indicated it would allow the budget to pass before pulling down the government, in case Jayalalitha walks out.

?We will talk to other parties to ensure the budget is passed to avoid a constitutional and financial crisis,? a Congress leader said, adding that the party did not want to let investors down.

Throughout the day, Sonia Gandhi consulted CWC members on future strategy. Party sources said 22 of the 24 CWC members favoured the Vajpayee government?s ouster, while opinion is divided on staking claim for an alternative. But the majority of the members are against sharing power with the third front.

On tabling a no-confidence motion, AICC general secretary Pranab Mukherjee said Vajpayee should seek a trust vote if Jayalalitha pulls out. He pointed out that the President had invited Vajpayee to form the government after getting letters of support from allies.

To concentrate on the power bid, the Congress top brass have rescheduled party elections, which were to be completed by August.    


 
 
GANGULY CHASE TAKES POLICE TO GANGSTER 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 8 
Police have come up with names of some Uttar Pradesh-based gangs in their investigations into Exide chief S.B. Ganguly?s disappearance. In the past 24 hours, raids have been carried out on a number of hideouts of criminals who may have acted as local contacts of the gang that kidnapped Ganguly.

After the surge of misplaced optimism on Tuesday when Ganguly was said to have got in touch with the authorities here and his family, the police are now talking of a long time-frame for a breakthrough.

The deputy commissioner (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, today said: ?It may take two weeks for Ganguly to surface, or even more. We have received no threat or ransom demand. But we are certain he has been kept confined.?

Home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who had raised hopes of an early solution on Tuesday in a monumental blunder, was a picture of reticence as he was subjected to a public lesson in crisis management by chief minister Jyoti Basu. In response to persistent queries from reporters about Ganguly, Basu said within earshot of understudy Bhattacharya: ?Such things cannot be discussed in public?.

The burst of police activity since yesterday, when expectations of Ganguly?s early return proved unfounded, followed sustained interrogation of gangster Manjit Singh, alias Mange. The Lucknow-based Mange was injured in an early morning shootout on Park Street with the special task force of the Uttar Pradesh police in December. The bloody encounter left four of his associates dead. Mange and his men had come to the city to kidnap a central Calcutta hotelier.

The 28-year-old Mange is close to Irfan Goga, an aide of underworld don Babloo Srivastava, now in jail at Naini in Allahabad but active nonetheless, using his cell phone as a bridge with the world outside. The Babloo Srivastava gang is at war with Dubai-based Dawood Ibrahim.

Soon after Ganguly disappeared last Friday, detectives started interrogating Mange on a tip-off that an Uttar Pradesh-based gang may be involved.

Mange told interrogators that these gangs take the help of local contacts to get familiar with the terrain. Based on this information, the police have conducted raids.

Deputy commissioner of police (south) Ranjit Pachnanda said Mohammed Shakil, who keeps criminals like Sheikh Dinesh, Chikna Anil and Sheikh Vinod on his payroll, was arrested from Park Street today.

?Shakil shuttles between Delhi, Lucknow and towns in Bihar. We are interrogating him to see if he has information about Ganguly,?? Pachnanda added.

Dinesh, Anil and Vinod stay on Anwar Shah Road and had kidnapped two city businessmen recently.

Mange has named eight gangs which are based in Azamgarh and Balia in Uttar Pradesh and Darbhanga in Bihar, but operate in Calcutta and Mumbai. He has mentioned gangsters like Fazlu, Akhilesh Singh, Anup Singh, Irfan, Ahmed, Rajinder Singh, Arvind Sharma and Abu Saleh. He told interrogators that Fazlu had kidnapped a couple of city businessmen in the past. Of the eight named by Mange, Fazlu, Akhilesh Singh and Abu Saleh are the big fish.

Mange said these men are mercenaries and can be hired to carry out kidnappings.

The police team, which was sent to Azamgarh, near Varanasi, to trace Ganguly, has been briefed about these gangs. The team has found the booth from where Ganguly is said to have called at 4 pm on Tuesday.

Detectives suspect that Ganguly is being shifted around eastern Uttar Pradesh towns. A senior Calcutta police officer has also spoken to the SP of Darbhanga district in Bihar, Shova Ohatkar, and told her about Ganguly?s disappearance and Fazlu?s possible involvement.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya today held a meeting with top police officers. The minister emerged from his chamber at 6.30 pm and when asked if there was a development, he just shook his head. On whether Ganguly had communicated with the government since Tuesday 4 pm, he said, ?No.??    


 
 
KHALSA POLITICS ERUPTS ON ATAL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
April 8 
As thousands thronged the birthplace of the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib on the inaugural of its tercentenary celebrations today, the political schism in the Sikh community threatened to overshadow the celebrations to mark Guru Gobind Singh?s founding of the order on Baisakhi Day 1699.

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal?s bitter dispute with Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the ousted chief of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), was reflected in the inaugural. As Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was requested to accept a plaque from Sukhbir Singh Badal, the chief minister?s son and a Central minister, thousands began leaving the venue. Doordarshan was telecasting the event live but went on the blink just as it became apparent that the crowds were in no mood to oblige the Akali leaders who repeatedly requested them to be restrained.

?You have travelled from all over and faced hardship just to be here on this solemn occasion. Please bear with us for a few minutes,? they urged. But the devotees ignored the appeals and walked out.

?They should have called upon someone else to present the plaque. It was a shameless exercise by Badal to promote his son,? said a Sikh leader in Calcutta.

[The Delhi Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the Doordarshan blackout, adds PTI.]

In Anandpur Sahib, Badal used the event to project himself as a crucial player on the national stage. Badal was effusive after front-ranking leaders from across the political spectrum put in an appearance on his invitation. Among those on the dais were L.K. Advani, Sharad Pawar, Manmohan Singh and Mamata Banerjee.

But their presence barely compensated the absence of important religious figures. All five jathedars of Sikh takhts did not participate in today?s inaugural. Professor Manjit Singh, jathedar of Takht Kesgarh Sahib, where the order of Khalsa was created, was absent even during the visit of Vajpayee and Badal.

The Prime Minister used the celebrations to underline his coalition government?s secular credentials. ?There is no place in a secular country for people who want to impose one?s own faith upon others,? he said. ?Let us infuse the nation with a resurgent spirit of universal brotherhood preached by the creator of Khalsa, 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.?

Vajpayee accepted a plea made by Badal to set up a military training academy at Anandpur Sahib.

The holy town is full of pilgrims making the celebrations one of the largest ever gathering of Sikhs. Round-the-clock community kitchens (langars) line the main roads. The town?s buildings are freshly painted. One official said nearly 14 lakh people had visited the shrines till this evening.

But many were unhappy with the bitterness in the run-up to the celebrations. With Tohra organising a parallel function on April 14, the deep divide can only widen.

?This is a purely religious occasion and politicians should not exploit the event,? complained a middle-aged woman from Delhi. A non-resident Indian from Chicago, Sukhjinder Singh, said: ?The serious differences among the Akalis are tragic and bode ill for the future of the community.?

More than anything else, the desertion of the venue is a resounding indictment of the Akali Dal.    


 
 
20 DIE IN ACCIDENT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDEN
 
Bhubaneswar, April 8 
At least 20 persons were killed today when a police truck rammed into a crowded bus at Badapokhri in Khurda district, about 55 km from here. Thirty-six people were injured.

Police said the accident took place on a sharp bend on National Highway 5.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Today?s forecast:Possibility of thundershower accompanied by squall towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 35.2?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 26.3?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 92%
Minimum 50%

Rainfall:Nil

Sunrise:5.26 am
Sunset:5.51 pm
   
 

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