CPM sets ball rolling for third force reunion
Athletics first with Seema�s gold
Soldier kills soldier in 3-hour battle
Prasada revolt call against Sonia
Police, pirates in cat-and-mouse game
Calcutta Weather

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 20: 
The debate at the CPM plenum here over paving the way for joining a Central government has become more than academic with the party taking the first step towards rediscovering the third front.

Stalwarts of the erstwhile third front are converging here this Sunday to mark a halting beginning to the reforging of an alliance that the CPM hopes can be an alternative to the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led coalition at the Centre.

The Yadav duo � Mulayam and Laloo � former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, and CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan will share the platform at a seminar on Centre-state relations.

But the affair may not be just academic. �The leaders may meet after the seminar and it could be a beginning to reforging the third front,� says CPM politburo member Prakash Karat.

This morning, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu made it clear that their party was going to make an all-out effort to put together a viable alternative to the Vajpayee government.

Lifting the curtain over the debate that will take place over the next two days at the special conference on updating the party programme, Basu put the exercise in perspective in his inaugural address to the over-400 delegates.

�The adoption of the party programme will enable the CPM with a clear perspective to intervene in the political life in the country in such a manner as to help reforge immediately an alternative to the BJP at the Centre,� he said.

Sunday�s gathering is significant for more reasons than one.

�This will be the first time that Laloo and Mulayam will share the same platform after they fell apart,� says Karat. This may also be an occasion for mending fences between the CPM and Mulayam Singh Yadav�s Samajwadi Party.

Relations between Laloo and Mulayam had taken a severe beating during the 1999 Bihar elections when the Samajwadi Party leader had pitted candidates against Laloo. There was also a parting of ways between Mulayam and the CPM after the former refused to support a Sonia Gandhi-led government at the Centre, forcing another general election and catapulting the National Democratic Alliance to power.

Karat believes the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next year will play a crucial role in the realignment of political forces and the recrudescence of the third front.

�Going by the trend, Mulayam should be able to win in Uttar Pradesh and then the BJP�s alliance in the state will start crumbling � something that will also have a spillover effect on the NDA government,� says Karat.

The CPM is, however, not pinning much hope on Telugu Desam leader and Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu who was once a pivot of the third front.

�There is a lot of bitterness between us after the police in Andhra Pradesh violently attacked the electricity workers protesting a hike in the charges,� says Karat.

The party, however, is hoping to wean away entities like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) which quit the third front and joined the NDA government following the CPM�s proximity to the Congress.    

Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
Just as Sourav Ganguly�s men went a long way in clearing cricket of the match-fixing stain with a refreshing performance in Nairobi, one Seema Antil rose above the script at the world junior championships in Santiago yesterday to give Indian athletics a golden shot in the arm.

The 17-year-old Seema struck gold in women�s discus with a 55.27-metre effort to relegate Chinese Shaoyana Xu (54.41) and German Jana Tucholke (53.97) to silver and bronze standard.

It happens to be India�s first medal of any colour in a world championship � junior or senior.

This landmark performance couldn�t have been better timed by the girl from Khewra, a village in the Sonepat district of Haryana. With doping allegations flying thick and fast, especially after another Olympic �misadventure�, Indian athletics can do with a few more Seema Antils.

Seema actually served notice of her potential at the Open National championships here last week when she beat national record-holder Neelam J. Singh to the gold. Her winning throw at the SAI Eastern Centre (Salt Lake) was a career-best 57.20, almost two metres more than her golden hurl yesterday.

Seema had also won the shot put silver at the Open Nationals, with a 14.41m throw. Discus, however, is her favourite event.

In Santiago, Seema was leading after the third round with 53.26, but Xu snatched the lead after Round IV with a throw of 54.41. Seema, however, came up with a fifth-round heave of 55.27 to seal gold.

Seema, who trains at the SAI Centre in Patiala, took to the sport two years ago and could manage no more than 47m till she joined the senior camp last November. �Even till this July, I could not clear the 53m mark but training with Neelam and the guidance of Pradip Banerjee and Jaswant Singh helped me a lot,� she had said after her Open Nationals triumph.

The fact that she had upstaged somebody of Neelam�s stature did not quite faze her. �I�m not surprised. I have beaten her in practice and I have to beat people like her to realise bigger dreams,� she had said, looking calm and composed. Though she beat Neelam, Seema went nowhere near the veteran�s national mark of 61.41. That, somehow, didn�t bother her too much as she had already set a bigger target.    

Guwahati, Oct. 20: 
Kalashnikov-wielding soldiers tonight sprayed bullets on each other inside a train compartment, leaving four jawans and a civilian dead at Guwahati railway station.

Five others � three civilians and two soldiers � were injured in the three-hour gunfight. The dead civilian has been identified as Badal Das.

What triggered the shootout remained a mystery with the army and police coming up with contradicting versions. The police described the gunbattle as a �bloody clash� between two groups of soldiers, a charge denied by the army.

Army officials at the station said one soldiers � convicted by a court of inquiry � overpowered his escorts, snatched a weapon and started firing indiscriminately at his colleagues. There were also a few civilians inside the coach of the packed Dibrugarh-bound Inter-City Express.

Chandan Acharya, an official of a private firm who was in the coach, said: �An armyman suddenly went crazy and started firing...next thing I saw was my co-passengers falling down.�

Additional superintendent of police P.K. Dutta, who led the police commandos, said: �It was clearly a clash between two groups of soldiers. But we are yet to ascertain how it started.� CRPF jawans posted at the station also confirmed that two groups of armymen were involved in the clash.

The railway station turned into a battlefield as the two groups opened fire from their AK-56 rifles, their gunshots drowning screams of terrified passengers � on platform number 4 and on board the train.

When the battle began, the train was preparing to leave the station which was packed with security forces in view of a bomb threat by a Bodo militant outfit. All the passengers were frisked and their luggage checked before they were allowed onto the platforms.

Immediately after the first shots were fired, Government Railway Police and Railway Protection Force jawans swung into action, cordoning off the entire stretch of track from where the two army groups were firing at each other.

An announcement was made asking the passengers not to come out and keep the doors and windows of their bogies shut.

Troops formed a ring around the �battle zone� where warring soldiers kept on firing under the cover of the dark spots in the station and beneath the bogies.

Securitymen crawled all over the place, fingers on triggers. The presence of a large number of passengers on the platform and on the Inter-City Express made the task of the security forces even more difficult.    

New Delhi, Oct. 20: 
Rebel Congress leader Jitendra Prasada has written a letter to �crores of party workers�, virtually asking them to revolt against Sonia Gandhi.

The letter exhorts them to speak out �fearlessly, without any inhibition and hesitation, without any apprehension of reprisal from vested interests, coteries, sycophants and time servers�.

The four-page �open letter� questioned the rationale of allying with �tainted leaders� like RJD boss Laloo Yadav and ADMK chief Jayalalitha, but was silent on P.V. Narasimha Rao�s conviction in the JMM bribery case.

Though Prasada is yet to officially declare himself as a candidate for the top party post, his actions in the last few days have left no one in doubt that he is aiming to grab the space of the principal dissident lying vacant since the exit of Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot�s death.

Prasada, in fact, seems to have taken over from where Pawar left. Without raising Sonia�s foreign origins, the letter makes it clear that she is incapable of taking independent decisions and that the coterie around her was calling the shots. It claims that under Sonia, a rudderless Congress had lost contact with the masses and was responsible for the rise of the BJP.

�There is a growing feeling that our ideological vision has blurred and our participation in popular causes has dwindled,� Prasada wrote.

The letter rued the lack of transparency in decision-making. It accused the leadership of neglecting the sentiments of grassroots workers and ignoring the high moral pitch of the Panchmarhi declaration.

�This election, therefore, must be dedicated to the restoration of the dignity of humble Congress workers. This can be ensured if they are allowed to vote freely and fairly. The Congress will be revitalised if their verdict is genuinely respected and not subverted by manipulation,� Prasada wrote.

He cited the example of Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa, saying that under Sonia, the party was in a shambles in these states. �In states where we face diverse political combinations, the Congress has failed to make any headway,� he said.

Before this letter, Prasada had written four to Ram Niwas Mirdha questioning the manner in which party polls are being conducted.    

Calcutta, Oct. 20: 
The first call to Baruipur sub-divisional police officer B.M. Mondal came shortly after six in the evening on Thursday. The message was brief, but loaded: A gang of pirates was travelling down the Mani river near Kultali in South 24-Parganas and on their hit list were three local businessmen.

The caller would disclose no more. He only asked Mondal to be on standby; a second call would follow. The line then went dead.

The next 30 minutes were tense for Mondal. He alerted Kultali police station and asked for additional policemen; a raid was imminent. Then, just as he was about to inform the additional superintendent of police, the phone rang again.

�The pirate gang headed by Haran Gazi is near Madhabpur and moving up towards Sankijahan,� the caller informed. �The strikes will take place in this area. Move fast, there is no time to lose.� That was the end of the message.

Mondal needn�t have been reminded to move fast. Haran Gazi, with 12 murder cases against him, was a prize catch who had slipped through the police net many times. There must not be a mistake this time, resolved Mondal.

Rustling up 20 of his best men, with a few others rushed in from Joynagar, the SDPO and his team travelled to Jamtala in their jeeps. From there, they got into three mechanised country boats and moved towards Kultali. The chase had begun. The time: 9 pm.

In the two hours that it took to reach the Kultali area, Mondal and his men had worked out the strategy. The pirates, taking advantage of the darkness, would move along the banks, hopping from one island to another, picking off their targeted businessmen.

They would then disappear into one of the numerous inlets or head for the sea towards Bangladesh and be lost to the police forever.

There was only one way to get to the river dacoits, Mondal told his men: Be one step ahead of them and use the element of surprise to beat them to the draw. And the only way that this could be done was by being the first to reach the pirates� targets and then wait for the brigands to arrive.

It was the officer-in-charge of Kultali police station, Rabin Kumar Chanda, who suggested that they quietly go past Sankijahan island, without stopping there and wasting more time. �There is no need to stop there and go for a recce, sir,� he told Mondal.

�If the dacoits are there, there will be so much commotion that we would get to know. Let us instead go to Madhabpur where the richest businessman of the area lives.�

It was close to midnight when Mondal saw the outline of Madhabpur island about 500 meters away. He asked the boatmen to let the boats drift silently ashore. As Mondal set foot in Madhabpur, he knew he had beaten the dacoits to the island. The village was asleep. The policemen formed a circle around the tiny island and waited.

About an hour later, the police heard sounds of approaching boats. They guessed the boats were about a kilometre away.

Fifteen minutes later, the bhut bhut of the four boats became loud and threatening as they reached the island. Forty pirates armed with either pipe guns or bhojalis and spears, started making their way to Nihar Das� house (name changed to protect his identity).

The time had come to strike, Mondal realised when the pirates were well into the island. If he had to take advantage of the surprise element, it had to be now. Raising his voice, Mondal yelled, �Drop your arms, this island is surrounded by the police.�

The next minute Mondal had bullets whizzing past him. Mondal asked his men to retaliate. For one hour, the shooting continued. Four constables were hit; the policemen�s guns found six dacoits. It was then that the dacoits panicked � �the surprise element worked; they didn�t know that we were outnumbered�, Mondal would say later � and started fleeing to their boats. Through the hail of bullets about 30 of them made it to their boats, but the rest of them were trapped by the police.

Stepping out of their shelters would have meant instant death. As the police closed in on them, the 11 pirates left on the island dropped their guns and tamely surrendered. In the hazy light of the breaking dawn, Mondal recognised one of them. Standing with his head down and his hands held up high was Haran Gazi.

Mondal knew that the night-long battle was worth every moment of it.    



Maximum: 34.3�C (+2)
Minimum: 24.9�C (+2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 64%


Partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Maximum temperature likely to touch 34�C


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