Centre in line of church blast fire
Sangh sees ISI hand
Freebie Paswan runs to PM
Congress stands by Rabri
Security cover for Laloo witnesses
Mithi hardsells green Arunachal

New Delhi, June 9 
Rattled by the bomb blasts in churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa, Christian leaders today alleged that the �hate campaign� against the community had the �silent� approval of the Centre.

The leaders said there was a definite strategy at the national level to intimidate Christians and stop them from the work they were doing. �We wonder why those in authority do not see the pattern in the violence, and why they hesitate to explore fully all dimensions of the anti-Christian environment,� they said at a press conference today.

Delhi archbishop and Catholic Bishops� Conference of India president Alan de Lastic, Church of North India bishop Kram Masih and All India United Christian Forum for Human Rights spokesman John Dayal have sought an appointment with the Prime Minister to demand that steps be taken immediately to stop the �hate campaign�.

�We are intrigued by the response of the Prime Minister, the home minister and the chief ministers of these states, and saddened by the silence of the government on whom we look upon for support,� de Lastic said.

[The home ministry has sought detailed reports from the governments of the three states, adds PTI. A ministry spokesman said the states concerned �were alive to the situation and taking appropriate action to nab the culprits�.]

Criticising the Sangh parivar�s claim that the ISI was behind the blasts, the leaders said �those in power� should not draw conclusions before investigations were over. �This creates more doubt in the mind of the community that they are trying to hush up things,� they said.

De Lastic also condemned the murder of Brother George Kunjikundam in Mathura, and said the cry of the traumatised community was sought to be drowned �in the strident noise of a viciously poisonous, highly motivated and well financed hate campaign�.

He said the Church was being targeted as it was working towards ending caste system. Some vested interests also did not like the empowerment of Dalits and the poor, he added.

Bhubaneswar archbishop Cheenath alleged that certain fundamentalist groups had been empowered to take the law into their hands. �I regret to say the country is ruled by fundamentalist groups,� he said.

Pointing out that there had been over 24 attacks on Christians between April and June, the leaders said �every attack is a criminal act, but what we are worried about is the pattern of violence against the community.�

The leaders questioned why the government, which claimed that �these incidents were problems of law and order�, was not roping in intelligence agencies to find out the real culprits.

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New Delhi, June 9 
Banding together to save face in the wake of accusations from the Church, Sangh parivar outfits today pointed fingers at foreign forces, holding them responsible for the triple church blasts yesterday.

While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said the blasts were part of a US-Pakistan plot to denigrate the Hindus and divide India, the BJP alleged they were part of a �deep-rooted conspiracy� to destabilise the Vajpayee government.

VHP president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said: �The CIA is training the ISI, and America, a Christian nation, as well as its missionaries, are fomenting trouble here.�

Stung by the Church�s accusation that the government had �silently� connived with fundamentalist forces involved in the blasts, BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu told reporters at Chittoor: �It was done with the ulterior motive of creating misunderstandings among the different religious communities and to destablise the NDA government.�

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu said the attacks were part of �an attempt to defame his government and a fallout of his alliance with the BJP.�

Kishore alleged that foreign missionaries were pumping in a lot of money especially for the training of separatist elements in the north-eastern states. He said the VHP did not have as much money or resources as the missionaries, but it would launch a concerted drive to �reconvert� people who had been converted to Christianity.

Expalining the nexus between the ISI and the CIA, Kishore said the attacks were �well planned� to drive a wedge between the Christians and Hindus.

Trying to buttress his theory, Kishore said Pakistan would be happy to see the name of Hindus tarnished. �It is a double game of the ISI to divide the Hindus and the Christians and to disintegrate India.� He said the Andhra chief minister also felt the same way.

At a two-hour videoconference at the secretariat this evening, the chief minister said the serial blasts were part of �organised crime� aimed at subverting the development and reform activities of his government. �But we will not be scared by such acts, Whatever my government is doing is for the benefit of the people,� he said.

BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur appealed to Christians not to be �misled by political propagandists� and blame the Hindus for the blasts.


New Delhi, June 9 
Worried by the reaction to his free phones deal for all telecom employees, communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan today rushed to the Prime Minister to ask him for a full Cabinet meeting to approve the plan.

It would be difficult for Cabinet members to oppose the freebie as that would mean alienating a large chunk of potential voters � 3.2 lakh telecom employees and their families together constituting a vote bank of more than a million. Paswan is aware of this and the demand for the meeting is obviously a dare.

It is particularly so to finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who has made his opposition to the free phone project known. Paswan does not really have to go to the Cabinet with this proposal as the money for the freebie is coming out of his department�s profits and technically he can always take any decision he sees fit on how to spend what his department earns.

Back-of-the-cover calculations show that the exchequer will lose about Rs 8 crore in service tax forgone on telephone rentals which are being waived for the telecom employees. This comes at a time when the government has constituted a six-member expert committee to work out ways to widen the service tax base.

Paswan said the telephone deal will cost his department a �meagre amount� � Rs 68 crore � and will act as a much- needed morale-booster for employees.

He reiterated that the move was proposed as early as 1998 when retired telecom employees of different categories were given free calls ranging from 250 to 1000. Nobody opposed the step at that time, he said.

Giving free telephones to the employees was part of a package-deal made with the association of employees, Paswan said. The free phone facility was being offset partly by reducing the bonus pay-out from 73 to 70 days.

Paswan also pointed out that railways gave away free rail passes to its more than 16 lakh employees without any opposition from any minister. Nor, he said, was there any opposition to the civil aviation ministry�s decision to allow Air-India and Indian Airlines to give free air tickets to their employees.    

New Delhi, June 9 
The Congress has ruled out the possibility of reviewing its ties with the Rabri Devi government in Bihar in the wake of the special CBI court framing charges against her, though a section of the party is uncomfortable about it.

�We will first examine the charges and then react,� an evasive AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said. He pointed out that the Congress Working Committee had �unanimously� rejected the chargesheet filed against Rabri Devi after ascertaining legal opinion. Congress� legal eagles Shiv Shankar, Hansraj Bhardwaj and Kapil Sibal had termed charges against Rabri as �politically motivated�.

Senior Congress leaders handling Bihar said today�s development had �nothing new� and it would not alter the party�s attitude towards the alliance. They said a review may be called for if a warrant against Rabri Devi is issued or she is arrested.

However, some party leaders like Rajesh Pilot want Sonia Gandhi to review ties with the Laloo-Rabri combine. Pilot is counting on support from other image-conscious leaders like A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Digvijay Singh and Ahmad Patel to build up pressure against the alliance in Bihar.

Party sources said Sonia is treading on thin ice in Bihar as she does not have the luxury of many options. Having tasted power after a decade, Bihar party MLAs are in no mood to give up ministerial berths. If the Congress pulls out of the Rabri government, many would prefer to stay on than to side with Sonia.

On the other hand, continuing support to a chargesheeted chief minister would send �wrong signals� at the national level. Leaders like Pilot would question Sonia�s commitment to morality and probity in public life.

With organisational polls round the corner, Sonia cannot antagonise many in the party. Sonia is also confronted with the Panchmarhi resolution and the A.K. Antony panel report. Both documents had favoured the Congress� staying on its own and not aligning with parties like the RJD.    

Patna, June 9 
After framing charges against Laloo Prasad Yadav and chief minister Rabri Devi in the disproportionate assets case, the CBI wants special protection for 132 key witnesses.

The CBI, which held several meetings today, decided on a two-pronged strategy to ensure safety for the witnesses. First, its intelligence wing will watch over the witnesses. Second, the agency will request the Union home ministry also to keep vigil.

The CBI is concerned as 95 per cent of the witnesses in the case against Bihar�s first couple are government servants or bank employees. One witness is a circle officer of Phulwara block in Gopalgunge, the RJD chief�s home district. The officer was pressured to register five bigha land in Rabri Devi�s name in back date, the CBI alleged in the court.

The rest of the witnesses are second or third-grade bank employees. �They are very vulnerable to pressure from ruling party members,� a CBI officer said.

The NDA, too, raised its anti-Laloo pitch today, claiming that a fair trial of the high-profile couple would not be possible unless �the chief minister stepped down�. The Opposition also raised the case of R. Muthiah, an ADMK minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, who resigned when charges were framed against him in a disproportionate assets case.

�Even Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav had stepped down in June 1997 when he was chargesheeted by the CBI,� said Opposition leader Sushil Modi. Modi said the court today not only framed charges against the chief minister but also dismissed the discharge petition filed by Laloo urging the court to quash the CBI move to frame charges. �This is a strong indictment,� said P.K. Sinha, a Samata Party leader.

The NDA has decided to approach the Governor tomorrow with a demand for �removal of the chief minister from her post in case she did not step down� to ensure a fair trial. The NDA also is planning to take disgruntled Congress MLAs along to mobilise public opinion.

The court�s refusal to admit the discharge petition filed by Laloo has been a strategic defeat for the RJD chief, party sources said. The failure of the petition, aimed at getting Rabri Devi cleared, signalled a threat to Laloo�s leadership.

If the trial is completed by six months and both Laloo and Rabri Devi are convicted, the RJD chief may find it difficult to resist pressure from both the Congress and the RJD for �an alternative leadership�.

Today�s court order has forced Laloo to think afresh on future leadership, at least as a standby measure. Keeping the press out of his reach, the RJD chief today held a closed-door meeting with five key advisors on the future of his party before leaving for Delhi this afternoon, party sources said.

As a time-saving device, Laloo will appeal before the high court and then the Supreme Court against the framing of charges. He has also decided to hand over the case to lawyer Rajendra Singh, who bailed Arjun Singh out of the Churhat Lottery scandal.    

New Delhi, June 9 
Gegong Apang�s successor is proving to be an astute politician: he has sold himself well in Delhi as the green chief minister from Arunachal Pradesh.

This evening at the World Wide Fund for Nature-India�s premises in Delhi, Mukut Mithi was lauded as the man who does not promise railways, roads or big industries, but talks of a noble cause: conserving nature.

Mithi was a forest minister in Apang�s Cabinet in the early nineties and is familiar with the environmental problems of the state that still retains extensive primary forest cover. The chief minister hails from upper Arunachal Pradesh, not far from the Sino-Indian border with its large military presence � a land of breathtaking beauty.

Armed with the belief that tourism could be the principal money-spinner in Arunachal, Mithi may bring about the first step towards opening up the state to outsiders. Apang, despite his 19 years in office, had not been able to impress upon the Centre the importance of allowing a larger tourist traffic to Arunachal. Mithi, by insisting that Arunachal has suffered a damage to its forest treasure, is not only making a bid for more money from the Centre but is also selling Arunachal�s green image to whoever is ready to listen to him.

Arunachal, where tourist movements are restricted to protect indigenous populations, poses several problems. The inner line permit does not allow a proper tourist flow. But still, the state has a lot to offer: from the Namdapha forest sanctuary in the east to the Tawang monastery in the west. At the same time, however, the McMahon Line prevents the government from allowing too many foreign tourists to enter the state and move about freely.

It is also evident that Mithi is trying to increase the state�s �poor connectivity�. Road links are few in his huge state of forests and undulating land. Mithi is in favour of more roads, to enable tourists to reach Tawang from Arunachal�s capital Itanagar in less than three days. He also wants more roads through Arunachal without having to cross into Assam for every east-west journey across the state.

So Mithi, though a Congress chief minister, is hobnobbing with the BJP leadership. He held discussions with both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani when he went all the way to Leh carrying water from Brahmaputra to pour into the Indus.

The chief minister has conceived of a Brahmaputra festival on the lines of the Sindhu darshan. He has already won the confidence of Union tourism minister Ananth Kumar.    


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