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At the end of the day�s hunt, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee held aloft a bag with pieces of clothing, ropes, hair and �skull� to demand a CBI probe to resolve the mystery. Her call was echoed by Congress leaders, who displayed a fistful of cartridges which they said were found from the site.
The state administration conceded a clash could have broken out at the village but refused to accept the massacre claim until the bodies were found.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said no bodies were found despite an intensive search by police in the jungles near the village till late this evening. �Ask those who are making the claims where the bodies are. But we have not abandoned the search,� he added.
The controversy exploded after a Trinamul supporter, Abd-ul Rehman Mondal, yesterday filed an FIR claiming 15 people were torched to death by a group of CPM activists on Thursday. But Trinamul leaders said today the toll could vary from 11 to 18.
After a day of hartal-enforced lull, chaos descended on the hamlet today as VIP motorcades raced with one another to reach the site. The Congress team, led by state chief Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, landed first. Accompanied by Somen Mitra and Sougata Roy, Das Munshi went around the village and produced a dozen cartridges. He claimed they were found from the partially-burnt house of Mondal.
Das Munshi also furnished a dark disc-shaped object, saying it was a piece of burnt human skull. �I am taking these things to our party chief Sonia Gandhi,� he said. He pledged support on the issue to Mamata, who is trying for a grand alliance with the Congress. �We are with the Trinamul as far as these attacks are concerned,� Das Munshi said.
Mamata arrived at 3 pm with party colleagues Pankaj Banerjee and Mukul Roy. She brought along with her Mondal, who fainted when he saw his damaged house. A member of the Trinamul�s medical cell attended to him.
The Trinamul team was also shown empty cartridges by some villagers. Pankaj said the shells were similar to those used by the police. After examining the alleged bullet marks on the mud walls of the two-storeyed house, he said the police and the CPM had colluded in hiding evidence of the �barbaric crime�.
Pankaj, too, produced a �piece of a human skull�. He was shown a blood-stained rope which he said the villagers claimed was used to drag the victims bodies away.
As villagers brought in bits of clothing, ropes, hair and what was being called pieces of skull, Pankaj gathered them in a bag. �We are taking these to Calcutta for DNA tests as we do not trust the government,� he said.
�Wait for a moment, we will recover the bodies and show them to you,� Trinamul supporters told Mamata. She waited for an hour, but left as the men did not return. As she climbed on to a Sumo, Mitra walked up to her. �See for yourself Somenda, the cartridges are still smelling of gunpowder,� Mamata said, opening the plastic bag carrying the �evidence�. �Yes, it was pre-planned murder. We will have to move jointly on this issue,� Mitra said.
�Remember Bhikari Paswan, the police had claimed that he was missing. But it was proved that Paswan was killed by the police,� Mamata told reporters. She said that the bodies had been buried in the jungle by the police.
Chhoto Angaria is a village surrounded by fields of potato and mustard crops. In the distance are the beginnings of a huge eucalyptus forest and the jungles of Joypur in Bankura.
Mondal�s house is in the middle of the village. A 20 feet by 8 feet two-storeyed house, its straw roof had collapsed in a heap of ashes. While there are marks on the inner walls which the Trinamul is claiming to be that of bullets, there are no similar scars outside.
Bloodstains were not seen on the floor yesterday. Today, however, there were dark patches.
Deputy inspector-general of police (Midnapore range), R.K. Singh, said the people named in the FIR as well as those missing had criminal records. The names of the 11 missing are Mukhtar Khan, Hyder Khan, Rafiq Mullick, Rabiul Vajhi, Esah Mondal, Enamur Haq, Kajal, Shyam Patra, Amal, Umed and Sattar.
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The National Democratic Alliance struggled through the day to put together a delegation as defence minister George Fernandes, who was initially willing to head the team, had to leave for Mysore to attend the fractured Samata Party�s national executive.
It finally chose Vijay Goel, member of Parliament from Delhi,Inder Singh Chautala from the Indian National Lok Dal and Prabhat Samantrai of the Biju Janata Dal, who reached Calcutta tonight. Sanjay Nirupam of the Shiv Sena and C. Krishnan of the MDMK are expected to arrive tomorrow morning, after which the team will proceed to the alleged massacre site near Garbeta.
However, other than Goel, who is close to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all the others are considered relatively junior in the alliance hierarchy.
The lukewarm response from Delhi was complemented by an open admission of helplessness by the BJP high command.
BJP vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthy said the team could only assess the situation.
�The Centre cannot intervene or recommend President�s rule. There is the Supreme Court verdict (restricting the imposition of Article 356), the Sarkaria Commission report and the fact that we lack numbers (in the Rajya Sabha),� he pointed out.
Mamata is expected to signal her strategy tomorrow at a rally in Calcutta . Seizing on Mamata�s interaction with Congress leader Somen Mitra at the alleged massacre site today, Trinamul Congress sources said she was likely to renew her call for a mahajot (grand alliance) at the rally.
Bengal, Delhi at odds
Another twist was added to the massacre controversy with the Union home ministry claiming that it received a report from the Bengal chief secretary only this morning, not last evening.
The state report said a house had been torched but no body has been found. However, state home secretary S.N. Roy said the report was faxed after 6 pm on Friday.
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Moderates, however, have begun a dialogue through informal channels.
Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee convenor Syed Shahabuddin said only the All India Muslim Personal Law Board was authorised to hold talks as Ansari was merely a litigant.
Shahabuddin�s views were echoed by Zafaryab Jeelani, convenor of the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee. The Muslim law board is a representative body of various Islamic sects. The board is currently headed by Qari Mujahid-ul-Islam, a hardliner close to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
VHP leaders said they were going ahead with the temple construction and will announce the date during the Allahabad Dharma Sansad. A cautious BJP welcomed the talks but made it clear that the government had nothing to do with it.
But the Centre continues to explore possibilities for a negotiated settlement. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee admitted it while replying to the Ayodhya debate in the Rajya Sabha. National Minorities Commission member John Joseph, too, claimed that he was in touch with organisations from both communities to work out a consensus.
Muslim hardliners described Katiyar and other VHP leaders as �unreliable and untrustworthy�. According to Shahabuddin, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, Jeelani and other Muslim leaders, the Sangh parivar is not serious about resolving the dispute.
�It is a 52-year-old dispute. So the whole game is to delay the court proceedings till key witnesses die. Only 70 out of 200 witnesses presented by the Sunni Waqf Board are alive,� a Muslim leader said.
However, some moderate Muslim leaders are engaged in talks with their Hindu counterparts. One such meeting took place in Deoband in Uttar Pradesh where the Muslim law board secretary, Maulana Mohammad Salim Qasmi, met RSS pracharak (west zone) Ram Lal as part of the Sangh�s national awareness campaign. Qasmi, however, did not budge from the board�s stand that idols should be removed from the disputed structure and that the masjid reconstruction should start without delay.
Shahabuddin and Jeelani said that in 1993 they had ruled out talks with the Sangh and made it clear that they will respect and abide by the court verdict. �The talks between Katiyar and Hashim Ansari can at best be termed as private talks,� Jeelani said, claiming Katiyar and Ansari were �old friends�.
Shahabuddin said Muslim leaders were aware of the Sangh�s machinations to secure the services of some �unknown entities� to sign on the dotted lines, but such signatures will have no political or legal bearing. The former MP said that the law board represented the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee and was the sole authority to hold discussions.
The Ayodhya talks have now taken a political turn and there seems little hope for much progress. But a large section of Muslims is keen on an amicable and �face-saving� settlement.
One suggestion is that the masjid should be reconstructed within the 2.77 acres of disputed land along with the Ram temple and the government should ensure free access to namazis five times a day. In addition, there should be a guarantee that the Sangh will not rake up controversies surrounding the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyan Vapi masjid and Krishna Janmabhoomi-Mathura Idgah.
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