Bangla mystery behind RDX haul
Atal targets Sonia, President
15 months and war later, roles reversed
Cong?s Seshan vs Advani
Presidency teacher suspended
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Aug. 16 
In a never-before haul, West Bengal police recovered RDX and other explosives and devices in the past 48 hours, pat after Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta blew the whistle on a daring raid on ISI bases inside Bangladesh to seize 30 kg of RDX.

On Sunday, Mahanta had congratulated the Assam and Bengal police on the successful operation.

The government railway police at Sealdah station today recorded the single biggest haul of 14.6 kg of ammonium nitrate in fuel oil (ANFO), the explosive that decimated the Oklahoma federal building. The state police claimed to have seized an additional six kg of suspected RDX from Phulbari in Jalpaiguri district and Hasnabad in North 24-Parganas.

In the course of his Independence Day address in Guwahati, Mahanta had revealed that a combined team of Bengal and Assam police had recovered 30 kg of RDX from suppliers in Rajsahi, Bangladesh, after conducting the raid inside Bangladesh on the basis of information from four ISI agents arrested by the Assam police on August 7.

The Bangladesh government and Rajsahi metropolitan police deny any knowledge of the raid.

Mahanta?s disclosure and the surfeit of seizures on the Bengal side today led to speculation that the Bengal government did not want to admit crossing the international border illegally as it could lead to diplomatic tension between Delhi and Dhaka. Instead, it decided to show selective ?recovery? of the explosives from different parts of the state.

West Bengal home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, however, categorically denied having undertaken any such adventure in Bangladesh. ?We are sticking to whatever our DGP has said... I don?t know what the Assam government is talking about.?

However, even late tonight Assam DGP P.V. Sumant reaffirmed: ?The joint raid was carried out by the police of the two states early on Saturday and 30 kg of the explosive recovered somewhere along Bengal?s border with Bangladesh. As the operation was on the Bengal side, the entire haul was kept in the possession of the Bengal police.? IGP (operations) N. Ramachandran said: ?An active operation was carried out inside Bangladesh to recover the haul of explosives.?

But Bengal DGP D.K. Sanyal denied that the two states had carried out such a ?joint? operation and said the recoveries from different parts of the state were made solely by the state police.

Sources added that the ISI agents had told interrogators that they had been assigned to ferry explosives from Bangladesh to Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. They would have used West Bengal and Assam as corridors. The explosives would have been used to blow up the Manali-Leh highway and disrupt the movement of the army.

Soon after the Jammu-Tawi Express left the Sealdah main station around 11.30 am, two constables noticed a box lying below the reservation chart on platform number 8.

The one-and-a-half ft by one-and-a-half ft carton, wrapped in a Bangladeshi newspaper, Inquilab, contained 25 boxes. Explosives with batteries, wires, detonators and a plaster-of-Paris type substance were packed in the carton.

Experts initially thought that the explosive was RDX, but later said it was ANFO. This substance was used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma in 1995. Around 168 people were killed in the blast that flattened the multi-storeyed building.

Ammonium nitrate in fuel oil was also used by ISI agents who engineered the blast in New Jalpaiguri railway station killing nine persons on June 22.

Experts said the substance seized at Sealdah station could blow up surrounding Bowbazar and Muchipara areas.

Around 1.5 kg of RDX was seized from Asaria in Basirhat sub-division of North 24-Parganas yesterday.

Superintendent of police Kuldeep Singh said the explosives were stocked in the house of a suspected ISI agent, Hussein Gazi. Acting on a tip-off, a police team went to his house and found a black leather bag containing the explosives. Gazi managed to escape.    

New Delhi, Aug. 16 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today released the National Democratic Alliance?s manifesto that promises to debar foreign-born citizens like Sonia Gandhi from holding high office and review the powers of the President.

Topping the alliance?s things-to-do list, if it regains power, is a panel to review the Constitution. ?It will be open to the commission to go into this question as well, if it so thinks,? Vajpayee said when asked if he would like Rashtrapati Bhavan?s relationship with the government to be reviewed.

The Vajpayee government has not had a ?rubber-stamp? President since it came to power. President K.R. Narayanan has twice nixed its proposal to impose central rule in Bihar, and raised questions on the Prasar Bharati Ordinance and the revised telecom policy.

Vajpayee also turned Sonia Gandhi?s foreign origin into an election issue with the NDA?s manifesto proclaiming: ?We will enact legislation to provide an eligibility criterion that the high offices of state ? legislative, executive and judicial ? are held only by naturally born Indian citizens.? Simultaneously, the NDA will try to open a national register of citizens and introduce multi-purpose identity cards for all citizens.

The BJP had so far maintained that it would not make Sonia Gandhi?s foreign origins a poll issue. But today the Prime Minister appeared keen on capitalising on the ?foreigner? issue. ?We will try and evolve a consensus among all political parties on the legislation and then implement it at the earliest,? said Vajpayee.

The snazzy 10-page manifesto, with Vajpayee?s picture on the cover, promised to bring in wide-ranging constitutional amendments. The NDA said it would consider replacing the no-confidence motion with the German system of a ?constructive vote of non-confidence?, which allows a government that has lost the confidence of the House to continue functioning till an alternative is in place. If an alternative does not crystallise, the incumbent government can serve out its entire term. This would ensure that the Lok Sabha and state legislatures complete their five-year tenure.

The manifesto said a commission would be set up to review the Constitution ?not only in the light of experiences and developments since 1996 but, indeed, of the entire post-Independence period?.

The NDA promised electoral reforms to deal with the ?malaise of defections, corruption and criminalisation of politics and to prevent electoral malpractices? on the basis of the Law Commission report and recommendations of committees such as the the Goswami Committee and the Indrajit Gupta Committee.

Bihar?s Anand Mohan Singh, who has several criminal cases pending against him, shared the dais with Vajpayee and other NDA leaders.

In a bid to distance the NDA from the BJP, which continues to be the coalition?s pivot, the manifesto pledged a ?moratorium on contentious issues? and said it would ?throw away old prejudices? and ?put an end to divisiveness?. The ?contentious issues? include the Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370 and a uniform civil code, which have been the BJP?s planks in past elections.

Asked why the NDA had not abandoned these issues altogether, Vajpayee said: ?We have taken a first and definitive step. There is no compulsion, but we will see these issues are not raised. We will wait for further developments.?    

New Delhi, Aug. 16 
First he steamrollered the BJP and the Sangh parivar. Now even the National Democratic Alliance appears content to bask in Atal Behari Vajpayee?s reflected glory.

In April 1998, when the coalition was sworn in and the national agenda for governance released, the allies stole the show at Vajpayee?s 10 Safdarjung Road residence. Jayalalitha in a flowered crepe silk saree and a matching cape, Mamata Banerjee in a carelessly draped Bengal cotton saree and George Fernandes in his crumpled kurta-pyjama hogged the limelight.

Perhaps it was the challenge of governance, made the more difficult by myriad allies, or the pressure of the Sangh parivar, but Vajpayee looked diffident.

Fifteen months and a war later, the contrast could not have been greater. As Vajpayee stepped on the dais, leaders of alliance parties, ranging from Anand Mohan Singh to Ramakrishna Hegde and M. Karunanidhi, stood up.

The ambience, created by his spin doctors, showed who was the boss. The dais was propped up by pillars, exhibiting Vajpayee?s face and the Prime Minister ?in action? with the jawans in Kargil. The accompanying slogans were: ?He brought prosperity in times of peace and victory in a war?. The catch phrase was, ?For a proud, prosperous India.? The unstated refrain: ?Vote Vajpayee?.

The venue was the same as last year, not the Prime Minister?s present residence on 7 Race Course Road. BJP sources said ?vaastu shastra? experts had advised that since the Safdarjung Road house had proved ?lucky?, it should not be abandoned.

Crackers were burst to mark the manifesto?s release and it looked as though the BJP and its allies had already won the battle.

Vajpayee?s responses in the press conference were a let-down though ? he was evasive and disinterested by turn.

The manifesto turned out to be a visual panegyric to Vajpayee. Vajpayee in the solitude of his garden, Vajpayee consoling a child in a hospital with a bar of Kit-Kat, Vajpayee helmeted in Pokhran, Vajpayee in Kargil, Vajpayee doing a jig with Rajasthani folk dancers...

In keeping with the eclectic mould spin doctors had cast Vajpayee in, the food served was varied, a departure from the BJP?s usual North Indian bhojan. Stalls were laid out on the lawn, each serving a special cuisine. There was Chinese, freshly made masala dosas and idlis, pasta with various salads (never mind the BJP?s views on Italian-born Sonia Gandhi), and the regulation mushroom matar, dal makhani, and pulao. For dessert, rabdi-jalebi and gulab jamuns vied with vanilla ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and praline for attention.    

Ahmedabad, Aug. 16 
After much deliberation about who should beard the lion in its lair, the Congress has decided to pit high-profile T.N. Seshan, controversial former Chief Election Commissioner, against L.K. Advani in Gandhinagar.

The Congress? choice, declared today by Gujarat Congress vice-president Babubhai Patel, came as a surprise even to party workers here.

The former poll panel chief, who hogged centrestage by implementing strict regulations limiting election expenditure and fired the nation?s imagination with his famous ?I eat politicians for breakfast? advertisement on TV, is slated to arrive here tomorrow to file his nomination papers.

However, Seshan?s nomination has not been confirmed by the party headquarters. Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal said: ?You will get to know when we release the Gujarat list.? Janpath sources said that the name of the former poll panel chief, who met Sonia Gandhi yesterday, is ?under consideration?. But it is yet to be decided whether he will contest under the party symbol or as an Independent.

The Congress had been in a quandary ever since Shankersinh Vaghela refused to fight Advani in the latter?s well-nursed constituency. Vaghela, who has merged his Rashtriya Janata Party with the Congress, had long been talked about as the Congress contender for Gandhinagar.

But jolted by the BJP?s rising stock in the wake of India?s victory in Kargil, Vaghela did a turnaround, unwilling to jeopardise his sinking political fortunes even further. Vaghela, who insiders maintain has very little say in the Congress? scheme of things, would have found himself in political wilderness in the event of a huge defeat. Vaghela today filed his nomination from the safer Kapadvanj constituency.

Before Seshan, the names being bandied about in Congress circles included that of filmstars Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Dilip Kumar and even Zeenat Aman.

The problems are, however, far from over for the Congress. With just two days left for filing of nominations, it is still undecided about its candidates in Vadodara, Bharuch, Jamnagar and Mehsana.

Gujarat will go to the polls on September 5, a day after Janmasthami. The Election Commission postponed the elections by a day keeping in mind the popular festival that marks the birth of Lord Krishna.    

Calcutta, Aug. 16 
Taking the cue from chief minister Jyoti Basu?s call for tough measures to check the fall in moral standards of certain leading academic institutions, the government today suspended the teacher of the state-run Presidency College accused of molesting a student last month.

?I am distressed at the moral degeneration (of certain educational institutions),? Basu told The Telegraph tonight.

?The incident, which has brought disrepute to one of the country?s finest institutions known for its tradition of moral focus, should not have happened. We are determined to check this erosion of moral standards,? he said.

Providing an unusual double-bill of sorts, the government also ordered the suspension of another teacher of the state run-Barasat College accused earlier of the same charge.

Apart from serious misconduct, the other common thread running through the tainted teachers is their belonging to the Zoology departments at the two institutions.

Basu had laid his mind favouring tough measures regarding the episode of sexual harassment at the two state-run institutions in a meeting yesterday with higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty.

The two teachers, whose misconduct kept their institutions tottering on the brink of chaos after provoking the students and feminist organisations into an unprecedented confrontation with the college authorities, will now have to face the state vigilance commission.

Serving the basis of the government?s action today in regard to Presidency College was the report of the two-member committee which it set up to investigate the role of the senior teacher in the aftermath of the student unrest that rocked the institution.

?Both of them will have to remain on suspension till the vigilance commission completes its investigation,? an education department official said.

Presidency College principal Nitai Charan Mukherjee was not available for comment, but the education department confirmed that the two institutions received the suspension notices during the day .

?We kept the chief minister?s office informed of the despatching of the notices and their subsequent receipt by the institutions,? the officials said.

Presidency College experienced unprecedented unrest for more than a fortnight after revelations that a student had been molested by her teacher on July 29.

Angry with the authorities for their failure to take an instant hard line against the teacher, the students, organising a series of agitations, boycotted classes, gheraoed the principal and the state director of public instruction in the campus for more than a week. They even launched an indefinite hunger strike, demanding action against the accused teacher.

The students withdrew their movement last Thursday after the government assured them that appropriate action would be taken against the teacher.

The members of Presidency College Union, which had sponsored the movement against the alleged molestation and also the hike in admission form rates, said they were happy with the government?s decision to suspend the teacher.

They, however, demanded that necessary measures be taken by the college authorities to prevent recurrence of sexual harassment cases in the future.    

Today?s forecast: One or two spells of light rain.

Temperature: Maximum 32.1?C (Normal)
Minimum 24.8?C (1?C below normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 98%
Minimum 65%

Rainfall: 0.2 mm

Sunset: 6.06 pm
Sunrise: 5.16am

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