Village watches death by hanging for mahua
RSS high, Bangaru low on temple
Swadeshi stars at Sangh show
Rebels seek shoulder to fire at Sonia
Links in Siliguri smuggling chain
Missing leader exposes Cong rift

Lucknow, Oct. 14: 
A panchayat hung three youth by the neck from a tree for stealing mahua.

Two of them died. One is battling for life.

Hundreds of villagers of Ganapa in Kaushambi district watched in silence as 10 men carried out the �sentence�. The executioners strung up the �accused� on a neem tree and stoned them.

The incident took place on Friday after the panchayat ruled that the men, all in their 20s, should be stoned and beaten to death as the sin of stealing mahua, the fruits of a plant from which liquor is brewed, was unpardonable.

The �guilty� trio, identified as Cheddu, Kolhu and Dilip, had also been bludgeoned with �blunt objects�, the medical reports stated.

While Cheddu, 25, died on the spot, Kolhu, a 22-year old, died in hospital. Dilip, who was brought down from the tree after local politician Kamlendra Tomar intervened, is battling for life in the emergency ward of a hospital in Kaushambi.

The three Dalit youth were accused by Dinesh Prajapati, a villager, of stealing a few kg of mahua from his house on Thursday.

The matter went into the hands of the 20-member panchayat that decided that the �criminals� had to be made an example of and given the harshest punishment.

After a gruelling session that kept the panchayat busy for a whole day, it was decided that such incidents would not be repeated if the three were hung from a tree, stoned and bludgeoned to death in front of the whole village.

The panchayat allegedly �campaigned� through the day to enlist as many �executors� as possible. Ten villagers signed up.

The �judgment� was announced to a village gathering which was exhorted to witness first-hand what happens to �thieves and evil people�. Ashok Kumar Singh, superintendent of police, Kaushambi, who said he had never seen anything more shocking in his life, went to the spot immediately and launched a manhunt.

Though relatives of the deceased have lodged an FIR against all the 10 villagers believed to have been involved, the police have arrested only one member of the death-brigade � Dinesh Prajapati, who had accused the three of stealing the mahua.

An unrepentant Dinesh told the authorities that the panchayat was �forced to mete out its own form of justice� as the Saini police, under whose jurisdiction the village falls, had failed to arrest the three accused even though a whole day had elapsed after the theft, police said.

Dinesh said had it just been the mahua, the panchayat might have taken a more lenient view of the crime, but the three had also stolen his Hero bicycle.    

Agra, Oct. 14: 
The RSS issued a veiled threat to the BJP government on the construction of the Ram temple, even as it toned down its stance on the �Swadeshi Church�.

The Sangh warned that a government opposing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya will have to face the �consequences�.

�The people of this country want a grand temple to be constructed at the place of Lord Ram�s birth. Any government opposing it will face the ire of the people when the elections come, like Mulayam Singh Yadav did after the firing on Kar Sevaks in 1990,� RSS chief organiser Suresh Rao Ketkar said at the RSS session here.

The BJP, however, brushed aside the criticism as �friendly� and �nothing new�. Party chief Bangaru Laxman refuted the charge that the BJP�s rout in Gujarat�s local body elections was due to his effort to reach out to the minority.

Ketkar admitted it was �not practical� to build the temple without the Centre�s consent, but stressed that the RSS will �build a social movement that will facilitate construction of the temple�.

He said among all parties, the BJP was �closest to the RSS ideology� and that the Sangh understood the party�s �coalition compulsions�. However, he added: �When other coalition partners like t he Trinamul Congress and the Samata Party are not diluting their agenda, why is the BJP putting on the backburner issues like the Ram temple and Article 370?�

The RSS leader said his organisation will abide by the Supreme Court�s decision on the matter, but expressed confidence that �the court will decide in our favour based on the country�s culture and tradition�.

Asked what would happen if the verdict went against the temple, he said: �It is a hypothetical question.� On the VHP�s stand that courts cannot decide on the issue, Ketkar said: �We are all committed to the construction of the temple, though we may have theoretical differences.�

Stung by widespread criticism of its demand for a �Swadeshi Church�, the RSS said Christians should accept that there can be salvation outside the Church.

Criticising a recent Vatican document which stated that there can be no salvation outside the Catholic Church, RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said: �Such intolerance breeds social tension. The idea of the �Swadeshi Church� was only to bring the people closer. They (Christians) should at least accept that there can be salvation outside the Church also.�

RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had triggered off a major controversy by demanding the establishment of a �Swadeshi Church� in his Vijayadashami address at Nagpur on October 7.

He had called upon the Christians to free themselves from the stranglehold of foreign domination, a demand which was criticised by Christian groups and parties as an attack on the �freedom of religion�.

Mass awareness

The RSS would launch a Jan Jagran Abhiyan (mass awareness programme) to dispel misconceptions about the organisation, Ketkar added.

�Our objective is to counter the vicious propaganda against us being carried out by vested interests,� and to educate the people about the RSS� contribution to the society and towards nation-building, Ketkar said. He claimed that the Sangh is growing by leaps and bounds with every passing year and in the past five years alone, over 5,000 shakhas have come up.    

New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
The khakhi shorts and saffron flags were in place as were the anthem and the Sanskrit commands for the ritual drill at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh�s (RSS) mahashivir (grand camp) which started in Agra yesterday.

The only departure from tradition was the roping in of a constellation of swadeshi achievers and entertainers for the occasion. The celebrities in Shastripuram included media baron Subhash Chandra of Zee TV and television star Nitish Bharadwaj. �Supercomputer architect� Vijay Bhatkar and turmeric patent case winner Raghunath Maslekar were among the other invitees.

RSS sources said Chandra, Bharadwaj and Chandraprakash (who produced and played the lead in the teleserial, Chanakya) were invited as �observers�. Bhatkar and Maslekar, along with Param Vir Chakra winner Dhan Singh Thapa and Ashok Chakra winner Jasraj Singh, will be honoured.

RSS sources said the special invitees to the camp � which used to be a closed-door exercise � were meant not just to add �colour� but also to get the much-needed certificate of endorsement for an organisation that to most still symbolises rigidity and an obsession with a medieval past. The nattily dressed Chandra and Bharadwaj were supposed to convey the message that the RSS was trying to keep up with the times.

However, the personality and career profile of the guests were in sync with the Sangh�s concept of �nationalism�. Reports from Agra said Chandra arrived yesterday in a silver-coloured limousine, wearing a suit. But minutes later, he was on the dais with K.S. Sudarshan and Rajju Bhaiyya in a dhoti-kurta.

The sartorial makeover wasn�t all. The media magnate who had held the �nationalist� flag aloft against Rupert Murdoch said he had been a swayamsevak in his childhood and being at Shastripuram was like �rediscovering� a part of himself.

Bharadwaj, who wore his trademark Fab India kurta, had played Krishna in B.R. Chopra�s Mahabharat, which along with Ramanand Sagar�s Ramayan, was acknowledged by the BJP as promoting Hindutva.

Chandraprakash was always known as a Sangh sympathiser and his teleserial Chanakya was thought to extol the last chapter of the �golden Hindu rule�.

The turmeric patent winner is the right advertisement for the RSS� brand of swadeshi economics, while the �supercomputer� architect is meant to send a message to non-resident Indian whizkids in Silicon Valley.

Lama Lobzang, a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, was also present at the camp. Lobzang reportedly claimed that he was there to propagate the Ladakhi cause and their �struggle� against the Jammu and Kashmir government. The RSS has covertly supported the Ladakhi �struggle� by pleading for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines.    

New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
A revolt is brewing in the Congress. Pleading irregularities in party polls, dissidents are planning to strike at Sonia Gandhi and the coterie around her. As a first step, they are mounting pressure on Ram Niwas Mirdha to step down as the AICC�s central election authority chairman in �protest against the high command�s interference and lack of inner-party democracy�.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, Orissa Congress unit chief Janki Ballabh Patnaik, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, K. Karunakaran and Jitendra Prasada are some of the front-ranking leaders unhappy with Sonia�s leadership. Prasada today shot off a letter to Mirdha, drawing his attention to �irregularities� in organisational polls.

Prasada questioned why the list of state party delegates was not being released 15 days in advance as the poll schedule says. The list is important as it constitutes the electoral college for the election of the Congress president.

Mirdha is proving to be the key player in the ongoing power struggle in the party. If he sides with Sonia, the rebels will have little chance of making even a dent, but if Mirdha ditches her, they can pose a serious challenge.

Party sources said Mirdha had been dissatisfied since Andhra Pradesh returning officer Kumudben Joshi resigned in a huff. Bihar�s returning officer Gopi Nath Dikshit has also pulled out. Mirdha has complaints about �too much interference� from AICC functionaries and senior leaders.

He is yet to release the list of district and block-level returning officers due to day-to-day interference from the AICC. As the deadline for the election nears, �free and fair polls� seem a distant possibility.

Many partymen are disillusioned with Sonia due to the rise of three power centres headed by Arjun Singh, Ambika Soni and Madhavrao Scindia. Since the three groups are constantly at loggerheads, most party leaders are concerned about the �drift� in the party.

Drawing a parallel with Narasimha Rao, a senior Congress leader said: �Rao made mistakes himself while others are making mistakes for Sonia.�

10 Janpath insiders said they were �aware� of the disquiet. �Something will be done,� said an AICC functionary, claiming that no leader was in a position to challenge Sonia. The dissidents, however, do not agree and have promised to prove the loyalists wrong in the next fortnight.

On her part, Sonia is trying hard to keep everyone happy. As she was away in Rajasthan, Sonia dispatched Ahmad Patel to Jama Masjid today, to represent her in a function to mark the crowning of Ahmad Bukhari as Shahi Imam of the historic mosque. Patel, a former treasurer, has been sulking after his resignation was readily accepted.    

Kakarvita (Indo-Nepal border) Oct. 14: 
At dusk, the Indian side of the Indo-Nepal border comes alive with passengers making a beeline to board the �night-service� buses to Kathmandu. Across the border, 29-year-old Meera Banik waits to enter her homeland. Unlike the tourists, Meera is a �carrier�, a crucial link in the multi-crore smuggling racket that thrives along the border.

Meera, a mother of three, �declares� her goods, ranging from Chinese electronic calculators to German cut-glass crystals at the Nepal check post to a Nepali carrier in front of a Nepali customs official. The Nepali carrier pockets 1 per cent of the consignment�s value as commission, while 0.5 per cent is shared among the officials.

The consignment checked, Meera leaves for her village in Naxalbari, across the Mechi river that marks the international border. Next morning, she ferries the goods to the famed �Hong Kong� market, 35 km away, in the heart of Bidhan market, Siliguri�s commercial hub.

In the late �80s, the choices were few for the newly-married Meera. With an unemployed husband doing odd jobs, she could either starve, become a prostitute or a carrier in the well-knit smuggling racket.

�Initially, we began with small items like rubber slip- pers and undergarments. As carriers, we have to pay in full for the goods,� said Meera. At the Hong Kong market they get commission ranging from 3 to 10 per cent.

�On an average, we carry goods worth Rs 4,000-6,000. At times our entire consignment is seized,� she added.

Hong Kong market has become a hotspot for tourists from north Bengal and Sikkim, said Vivekananda Das, president of the Siliguri Bidhan Cut-piece Market Samity.

�We have over 375 stalls selling foreign goods. Over 1,000 youth are directly involved in the trade, apart from an equal number of carriers who supply goods from Dhulabari market in Nepal,� Das added. �People call us smugglers, but we make a decent living selling foreign goods. If government-sponsored shops can sell contraband items, then why not us?� asks Rabi Shanker Chatterjee, an engineering dropout.

�The market has seen better days. Today we are lucky if we make a profit of Rs 15,000-20,000 a month,� Chatterjee added.

Das admitted that the market passes off many Indian-made goods as �foreign�. However, Indian tourists, known for their penchant for �phoren� goods, don�t complain. �There is so much to choose from and things are so cheap,� gushed 15-year-old Kunal Agarwal from Guwahati.

Authorities, however, deny that the market deals in foreign goods. �Some stalls may be selling a few foreign items,� additional superintendent of police Ajoy Kumar said. �We had seized a consignment worth Rs 70 lakh that came from Bhutan in December,� said assistant commissioner of customs, North Bengal, V. Pradhan.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 14: 
The sudden disappearance of Kumudben Joshi, the Congress leader in charge of organisational elections here, has brought into focus the squabbles in the party�s state unit.

Joshi left the city after senior colleagues criticised her handling of the poll process.

State party chief M. Satyanarayana Rao accused Joshi of delaying the poll process while legislative party leader Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy said she was �promoting groupism in the party. Reddy met senior leaders Motilal Vora and Ramniwas Mirdha in Delhi two days ago and sent a memorandum to Sonia Gandhi, complaining against Joshi.

Rao loyalists described Joshi�s disappearance as an �irresponsible and indisciplined act�. The PCC passed a resolution yesterday and sent it to the AICC for approval but Rao would not say if Joshi had resigned.

�Unless Sonia Gandhi makes efforts urgently to bring all the groups together, it will be difficult for the party to win any elections in the near future�, said former Congress minister K. Rosaiah.    


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