Surjeet smells Cong-BJP plot in Left attacks
NDA team on Bengal terror trail
Idol diggers plunder Bodh Gaya
Security hinge to Nepal talks
Hardliners afloat on Ganga waters

New Delhi, July 30: 
The CPM today expressed serious concern over the attacks on Left Front governments in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala by reactionary forces led by the BJP and the Congress.

Briefing reporters after the three-day meeting of the central committee, party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said the BJP and Congress were involved in a �growing collaboration� to attack the Left and its policies.

�The attacks on the Left in its strongholds in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura is a phenomenon which has intensified since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 1998. As the CPM and the Left are the firmest opponents of the imperialist-sponsored liberalisation, there is a combined effort by all the reactionary forces to stifle the Left movement,� a party statement issued today said.

Surjeet said violence and killings in rural Bengal are directly connected to landlords and vested interests �rallying under the Trinamul banner� to roll back land reforms.

He said 804 CPM cadre and supporters, including 65 in Midnapore district alone, have been killed in Bengal since the cementing of the Trinamul-BJP alliance after the last panchayat elections. But despite the violence unleashed by the combine, �progressive measures� would continue, he added.

The Marxist leader slammed the Centre for �refusing� to send the army to Tripura to counter extremist activities despite knowing that the problem has an external dimension. The committee decided to launch a campaign to demand Central assistance for Tripura.

Surjeet said the Congress-led UDF in Kerala was trying to create disturbance through violent agitations like the one on the plus-two issue. �The Congress does not hesitate to coordinate its anti-LDF tactics with the BJP,� he said.

The party ruled out any alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala but said it was open to �understandings� with any party barring the Congress and BJP for panchayat polls.

�The party state committee is unified in its decision not to have any alliance with the IUML,� Surjeet said. He parried questions on state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan�s statement hinting at a tie-up with the IUML. �I don�t know what he (Vijayan) exactly said and how the media interpreted it.� he said.

The panel opposed the Kerala High Court judgment declaring hartals illegal and asked all parties to reject the decree.

The committee asked the government to hold dialogue with the Pakistani military regime on bilateral issues and demanded that the US should not be accorded the role of mediator.

Describing the Centre�s stand against holding talks with the Pervez Musharraf regime as untenable, he said: �No outside intervention should be allowed. The US should not be accorded any role as third party interlocutor or behind the scenes mediator.� Surjeet said the party sought maximum autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir and regional autonomy for Ladakh within the ambit of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Stating that autonomy for all states was a matter of �immediate relevance�, Surjeet and party colleague Prakash Karat said all states should evolve a common stand on devolution of more political and financial powers and restructuring of Centre-state relations. Successive governments have failed to take any steps to restructure Centre-state relations on federal lines,� the leaders said, adding that recent recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission has done �grave injustice� to the states.

The party strongly opposed the US efforts to develop a new National Missile Defence system, saying: �This step would nullify existing arms reduction treaties and start a fresh global arms race.�    

Calcutta, July 30: 
Minutes after BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu announced that a team of NDA MPs would soon visit West Bengal to assess the law and order, railway minister Mamata Banerjee held a series of meetings with her close associates to fix the names of Trinamul representatives in the delegation.

The team is expected to visit Keshpur and Nanoor where 11 Trinamul supporters were massacred last Thursday.

The decision on despatching the NDA team was reportedly taken by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on Thursday when Mamata met him.

�Mamata had met Vajpayee with Keshpur in mind. She was yet to hear about the massacre in Nanoor which had taken place a little earlier the same day,� said one of Mamata�s close aides.

Trinamul MPs, including Sudip Bandopadhyay and Ajit Panja, will meet President K.R. Narayanan on Wednesday evening to demand that Article 356 be clamped in Bengal.

Bandopadhyay said the Trinamul team to Narayanan will comprise representatives of all partners in the NDA. �We have readied the videotapes of the bodies of the Nanoor massacre victims, photographs of other killings and a list of 220 party supporters murdered since the formation of Trinamul with specific names and addresses,� he said.

The ruling CPM in Bengal was guarded in its reaction. State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said the decision to send the NDA team was politically motivated and it would be useless to expect an �objective� report from them.

�A team of MPs from all parties, including those in the Opposition, should have come. Why only NDA MPs?� asked Biswas.

But he said the administration would render all cooperation to the team.

The CPM leadership came down heavily on Governor Viren J. Shah who issued a statement on Friday reacting to the Nanoor massacre and said that an all-party meeting should be called. �There is no precedence for such a reaction by a Governor,� said Biswas.

The CPM has taken up a six-day programme to protest the �reign of terror� unleashed by the TMC-BJP combine from Tuesday.    

Bodh Gaya, July 30: 
A series of idol thefts have shattered the sylvan calm of this small township, Gautam Buddha�s seat of Nirvana.

Police sources say Bodh Gaya is the hub of a clandestine global trade in Buddhist relics from various excavation sites in central and north Bihar.

Excavation is in progress in Vaishali, Champaran district, where new stupas have been unearthed, and in parts of Buxar district and nearby villages surrounding the Barabar hill in Jehanabad, 21 km from Gaya.

In a surprise raid, a high-level team of customs sleuths swooped down on the premises of a local antique dealer and arrested a Nepalese and a Taiwanese.

The two were caught with a huge amount of foreign currency of different countries, including the US, Britain, Japan and Thailand.

According to the sources, the network operates with clinical precision. The traders usually take the help of villagers in stealing the artefacts which are filched after the excavation team leaves the site, sometimes under cover of dark. They are then transported to the �outlets�.

Local businessmen then come into the picture, collecting the icons from these rural �outlets� and depositing them with established antique dealers at Bodh Gaya. The dealers, who have links with eastern and European syndicates, then sell them to foreign agents who sneak into the Buddhist township from time to time.

�We have launched an operation to bust the network, but care is taken not to harass innocent tourists,� said a customs officer.

Police officers in Gaya, Jehanabad and Buxar have registered at least six cases, in which villagers carrying antiques were held. But more often than not the region�s deep-rooted poverty has come in the way as the poor villagers sell the idols to the local grocer at throwaway prices, sometimes in exchange for just half-a-kg of rice.

�They don�t even know that these artefacts are most sought after in the international market,� said an officer at the Barabar police outpost.

According to senior officials of the customs department and the state archaeological survey, the smuggling takes place along the porous Indo-Nepal border and through Calcutta. The smaller icons, they believe, are carried in their luggage by Thai and Taiwanese smugglers who take the land route to Nepal via Raxaul and Sitamarhi in north Bihar.

As border security is lax in these areas, the contraband remains undetected. However, stringent checks at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Calcutta have yielded a number of relics, especially little Buddhas.

A senior official with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Calcutta Circle, said at least four statuettes were seized by customs between March and April this year.

Faced with this plunder, the state archaeological survey has started a phased programme to prevent the thefts by beefing up security at excavation sites.

�We have scant resources but have sanctioned a Rs 7-lakh project in 2000-2001 to increase local awareness at the village level near excavation sites and provide better security to the monuments, said Ajay Kumar Sinha, chief of the archaeology department.

But the measures are no match for the ingenuity of the smugglers, who are aided by the local residents.

Many foreign tourists, especially those from the Far East, prefer staying with the locals, many of whom have learnt to speak fluent Korean, Chinese, Malaysian or Thai. Such families, officials say, provide perfect cover to the smugglers.    

New Delhi, July 30: 
India and Nepal will make serious efforts to set aside differences and put bilateral relations back on track during the five-day visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, beginning tomorrow.

Koirala, the first Nepalese Premier to visit India in four years, has made it clear that his �goodwill visit� was aimed at restoring the confidence of the neighbours in each other, which received a battering after the hijack of the Indian Airlines Airbus from Kathmandu airport last December.

The fact that the visit is finally taking place surmounting many hiccups indicates that both countries are keen to re-build their ties and broadbase relations despite disagreements on key issues. One of them is security, which will be the main focus of Koirala�s discussions with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and senior Cabinet members.

The two Prime Ministers will have a t�te-�-t�te without aides before delegation-level talks at Hyderabad House on Tuesday. This is a clear signal that Vajpayee and Koirala, who have known each other for decades, will make serious efforts to cement bilateral ties.

Koirala, whose country has witnessed the rise and fall of several governments in the past few years, will try to ensure that his Indian visit is a success. He can hardsell the gains to the domestic audience in an attempt to ensure a longer reign. Therefore, he would expect major concessions from the Indians on some prickly issue.

The Kalapani dispute, for one. Over the years, it has become an emotive topic in Nepal, where people often look at India as a bully rather than an equal partner. Pending a solution, Koirala may ask India to withdraw its security forces from the area as a gesture of Delhi�s seriousness in resolving the issue amicably, and not through coercion.

It remains to be seen whether Vajpayee will relent because Delhi�s main concern involving Nepal is its internal security. The concern stems not only from the activities of Pakistan, but also China. The latter�s commercial ventures, particularly close to the Indo-Nepal border has worried Delhi.

Koirala may again mouth his government�s commitment not to allow its soil to be used for any anti-India activity. Though Kathmandu wants to cooperate with Delhi on security, it would like to act on specific issues and not solely on India�s threat perceptions. This, in effect, means that it would like to conduct its foreign policy both with China and Pakistan according to its interests, and not according on Delhi�s dictates. The two sides have held a series of meetings in the past few months on security and the steps suggested may be reiterated at the meet.

The Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950, a review of which has been demanded by Kathmandu, may also figure during the talks. Officially, the two sides have asked their foreign secretaries to look into the matter and it is unlikely that they will go beyond this stated position.

Apart from security, emphasis will be on trade and infrastructure development. India is engaged in many projects in the power and infrastructure sectors, some of which have been pending for a long time. After the meeting, a time-bound commitment for their completion may be announced.

Stress is also being given on India�s emergence as a major player in information technology. Nepal is keen on a slice of the pie and with this in mind, Koirala will visit Bangalore, the hub of India�s infotech industry.    

New Delhi, July 30: 
Sangh parivar hardliners, who have been lying low after incessant appeals from the Prime Minister, have resurfaced through the turbulent waters of the Ganga, promising to free the Mother River from the clutches of the Tehri dam.

A Ganga Raksha Yatra, sponsored by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, from Hardwar is set to snake into Delhi tomorrow. VHP leaders have also sought an appointment with President K.R. Narayanan in August to ensure that the river is not �imprisoned by the post-modern temple of Uttar Pradesh�.

But BJP sources said the Ganga campaign is part of a �division-of-labour� strategy by which Sangh will keep the Hindutva pot boiling by raising emotive, but less incendiary, issues, while the moderates will keep extreme fringe groups, such as the Shiv Sena, on leash.

The BJP will not wade into the battle ground, but saffron wings such as the Bajrang Dal and the VHP will play up issues that can �polarise Hindu votes�, said a parivar leader.

The hawks have suddenly realised that the Tehri dam, if allowed to be constructed, will shackle �Ganga Mata�. After keeping quiet for several years, VHP leader Ashok Singhal said his organisation would not allow the construction to be completed at any cost.

VHP international president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya also warned the Centre against going ahead with the construction, saying the �the dam would pollute the holiness of the Ganga water�. The BJP�s Rajya Sabha MP, Swami Chinmayanand, is also actively involved in the �Save Ganga� campaign.

Along with the Ganga campaign, the hardliners also tried to fish in more troubled waters. Singhal today again lashed out at Christian missionaries and said they were targeting �weaker sections� from the Hindu society under a plan.

Construction of a Ram temple at the dispute site at Ayodhya is also still on the parivar agenda. �We will soon start a campaign for it,� said a VHP leader.

Last week the VHP governing body passed a resolution calling for construction of the temple. It also adopted a resolution seeking action against Church-sponsored �terrorism� in the Northeast and another demanding �effective steps to protect cow�.

Dalmiya also did not rule out confrontation with the Centre over construction of Ram temple. �The patience of VHP over delay in construction of Ram temple had exhausted because of which a confrontation with the government could result,� Dalmiya said, adding that the government must take immediate steps either through talks or through courts.

Ram temple and Ganga are of relevance to Uttar Pradesh, which is going to the polls next year.    


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