Model in hand, VHP thirsts for temple
Science test for politics
Delhi squeezes Pak for more
Witness becomes parties’ suspect
Dawood haunts house-hunters
Calcutta weather

Kumbhnagar, Jan. 11: 
The dark green Mercedes making tardy progress across a pontoon bridge suddenly breaks free of the throng of walkers, accelerates in a cloud of dust and glides to a halt in front of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad camp.

Respectable godmen at the Millennium Mahakumbh don’t drive around in mundane Marutis.

The rear door opens and out steps a portly man, bare-bodied but for a white angavastram on one shoulder and a white wraparound. His chest-length beard is black; his hair is knotted in a bun with marigold garlands around it. The eyes are hidden behind dark glasses. The man – an NRI sadhu – vanishes inside the camp.

At noon, Kumbhnagar, the tent township on the sandy banks of the Triveni, is in usual bustle but for the straggler who must gape at the godman’s gleaming limousine.

Inside the VHP camp, a queue of pilgrims is hurried through a biggish tent. They go around a thermocol model of the Ram temple the VHP has sworn to build at the disputed site.

“This is not the official model,” explains Vimal Prakash, head of the outfit’s Kashi Pranth (25 districts in and around Varanasi). “It was made by two activists, Vijay and Atul, of Jaipur. It has 212 pillars, is 21 feet long, 11 feet wide and 8 feet high. It will be installed in our Karsewakpuram in Ayodhya on February 24.”

The model is the VHP’s biggest draw at the Mahakumbh Mela. But, as the festival rolls on, the VHP is hard at work to hijack the largest-ever congregation of Hindus and turn it into an endorsement of its fractious politics.

Next week, the VHP’s board of trustees will meet in Allahabad for two days. That will be followed by the Sant Sammelan (conference of sages), the marg darshak mandal (policy-making body) and the dharam sansad (religious parliament) in Kumbhnagar on January 19, 20 and 21. The sansad is likely to adopt seven resolutions (See chart).

The VHP camp is spread over nearly 10 acres. In one tent, organisers monitor the preparations for its summit. Ashok Singhal, VHP chief, flits between Kumbhnagar and Allahabad city.

The camps of the 13 akhadas – orders of sadhus that are at the core of the Kumbh mela – are frequented by VHP activists. Vimal Prakash insists Ashok Singhal was misquoted by the media, that he has not said the VHP is deferring construction of the temple till 2002. “That will be decided by the dharam sansad. All the holy men, the akhadas and the Shankaracharyas are in a militant mood,” he claims.

“They are angry nothing has been done in eight years, that we have now completed all preparations and should go ahead and build the mandir.”

The VHP’s marg darshak mandal comprising about 300 members will set the tone for the dharam sansad. Organisers say the Sansad will set a deadline of two or three months for the courts and the government to decide on the Ayodhya dispute. After that, the VHP will be no-holds-barred.

As Vimal Prakash speaks, some activists gather around. They nod in agreement. “Mandir wahin banayenge (we will build the temple at that very spot),” says one. Others join in a chorus.


Calcutta, Jan. 11: 
Forensic science today stepped in to settle a two-day dispute over the identities of four dead men and highlight the absurd lengths Bengal’s bodybag politics is reaching.

The government ordered DNA tests of the four bodies from Pingla in Midnapore district to put an end to the political parties’ contesting proprietorial claims on them. The Trinamul Congress and the CPM have been insisting that the four bodies were those of their supporters.

As the unfortunate quartet did not seem to have won their right to last rites yet, young Sujata Das — whose body was found near her village in Midnapore yesterday — was cremated today after Trinamul, which had claimed her to be a supporter, appeared to back off.

It had alleged that the CPM had killed Sujata and a team of Trinamul leaders reached Khejuri, where the local police station is situated, to take possession of the body. The police did not allow that to happen after it was established in the post-mortem that Sujata had not been gangraped, as alleged by Trinamul, before being shot.

Trinamul withdrew the class-boycott call issued for tomorrow in protest against the college students’ murder because of a number of examinations.

“We don’t want to play up Sujata’s murder any more because we hear of a personal relationship that could have led to it,” a Trinamul leader said.

Midnapore’s trail of blood spilled into South 24-Parganas today when a CPM leader was shot dead. The assailants fired on Kalipada Haldar, secretary of the zonal committee at Raidighi, as he was heading for the market.

The murder, though of a CPM leader, sustains the stream of violence that is leaving a bloody mark in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s law and order record book.

The only positive point for the government emerging today was the decision to conduct DNA tests on the four bodies from Pingla. The tests will conclusively establish their identity, but an element of the absurd enters here. Nearly 45 people have come from Midnapore under the banner of Trinamul claiming that the dead were their relatives missing from the trouble-torn areas of Keshpur, Pingla and Garbeta.

After bone marrow and skin samples were collected at the Calcutta Police morgue this afternoon, the four bodies were sent back to Midnapore. Now, samples will have to be collected from the 45 claimants and matched with those of the dead.

The deputy commissioner of police (central), Raj Kanojia, said the samples collected from the bodies had been sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory. The officers-in-charge of Pingla and Keshpur police stations and two other officers will be present at the Jorasanko police station tomorrow morning to record the claims of the people who have come from Midnapore. The claimants will then be taken to the same laboratory to have their body samples taken. It will at least be a fortnight before the results are known.

“This is the only way of identifying the bodies and it will also put at rest all confusion,” a senior police official said.


New Delhi, Jan. 11: 
The Centre today made it clear that it was not satisfied with Pakistan’s confidence-building efforts following Delhi’s extension of the Ramzan ceasefire till January 28.

The statement coincided with a Hurriyat announcement on the team chosen for talks in Pakistan. It named a five-member delegation, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardliner and former chairman of the 23-party conglomerate. The others are Abdul Gani Lone, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

Home minister L.K. Advani told reporters here that Islamabad’s overtures in response to the extended ceasefire have not “enthused” the Vajpayee administration. He said Pakistan’s promise to withdraw troops from certain parts along the Line of Control (LoC) “was not material enough”.

With only 17 days left for the government to decide whether to extend the ceasefire or not, Advani’s statements were a clear hint that the Centre does not see any prospect of official-level talks with the Pervez Musharraf regime within the next few weeks.

“The Musharraf regime has done nothing that can be considered positive. No new initiatives have been taken,” Advani said.

However, the Centre’s views do not rule out extension of the ceasefire.

“The government is monitoring and reviewing the progress of the ceasefire and a decision on whether to extend it or not will be taken later,” he said.

The Centre is also unhappy with the pressure mounted on the Hurriyat by Islamabad and leaders of militant outfits based across the border.


Tildanga (Midnapore), Jan. 11: 
After scrambling to embrace the prime “witness” to the alleged massacre in Chhoto Angaria as one of their own, both the Trinamul Congress and a Naxalite group have started questioning Abdur Rahman Mondal’s credentials as well as his account of the events on Thursday night.

The conflicting versions put out by Mondal — first about the number of casualties and later about the identity of those allegedly killed — have forced the parties to smell a rat.

Most villagers agree that a clash did take place and some CPM activists were involved. However, the identity of those inside the house is still to be unravelled. The villagers would only talk about a large number of “mysterious guests” in Mondal’s now partially-burnt house on Thursday night when the alleged massacre is said to have occurred.

A section of the Naxalite leaders has now begun to wonder how Mondal and his family survived the carnage. “We cannot believe that Mondal did not know what was going to happen. If he was not a party to what happened, he and his family could not have come out of that house alive,” a Naxalite source said.

The Trinamul has thrown an iron curtain around Mondal, lodging him at the party office in Garbeta and keeping him away from prying eyes. “He is out of his mind as he had to witness the horrifying massacre,” a Trinamul leader said.

A Naxalite leader said he believed that a group of CPM supporters had raided Mondal’s house, killed Moktar, a People’s War Group activist from Tildanga, and taken all the occupants hostage after disarming them.

Since the room on the first floor of Mondal’s house was small, the armed PWG men inside did not have the space to manoeuvre and return fire effectively. The CPM group outnumbered them, too, he added.

Two CPM leaders, Arabinda Banerjee of Chandrakona Road and Tapan Ghosh of Garbeta, said the party was aware of the PWG’s activities in the jungles of Saltora, Baital and Phoolberia but did not think of adopting any pre-emptive measures because “our lines did not cross and there were no complaints from the villagers”.

They said the party came to know later that the PWG had joined the BJP-Trinamul combine in several villages where its activists were helping the Opposition parties in pushing back the CPM’s zones of influence.

In the months preceding the Panskura byelection, which the Trinamul won, the party had snatched control of CPM-dominated villages like Chamkaitala, Keshpur and Khanakul with help from the PWG, they said.


Mumbai, Jan. 11: 
The long hand of Dawood Ibrahim cast a shadow over an income-tax auction of his seized properties today, keeping buyers away.

Taxmen closed the auction “unsold” after no one showed up at a hotel in south Mumbai this afternoon apparently for fear of the mobster.

Twenty-three buildings, including apartments and hotels, owned by the Karachi-based mafia don were seized by the authorities after Dawood failed to pay Rs 45 crore in tax during 1990-95.

Eleven of the buildings, valued at Rs 5 crore, were up for sale at the hotel today, where taxmen waited for more than 30 minutes with the gavel. Then the officials gave up with no bidders in sight.

“All property was declared unsold,” additional income-tax commissioner Mohammad Ashraf, who was to supervise the auction, said. “The tax recovery officer will have to put them up for sale again in a year.”

The official said all the buildings, mostly in prime areas, would remain with the tax department till they were auctioned off. Tenants living in the seized buildings would also not be evicted.

Among the buildings up for sale today were Rajgara Mansion on Bibijan Path, Damarwala Building on Pakmodia Street, Raunaq Hotel on Pakmodia Street, Parker Mansion in Nagpada and Mohammedbhai Mansion in Mazagaon.

The bidding for Park Mansion and Mohammedbhai Mansion was to start at Rs 1.20 crore and Rs 1.05 crore respectively.

Some of the attached property was registered in Dawood’s name, while the rest was in the name of his family members, including brother Anees Ibrahim Kaskar.

The income tax department seized the buildings in the mid-Nineties after the police cracked down on the mobster in the wake of the D-company-triggered bomb blasts that shattered the financial capital between 1992-93.

After the tax authorities made their auction plan public some time ago, the police had apprehended a rigged auction, with Dawood men posing as buyers and offering the highest bids.

But the mobster — who is said to be protected by the ISI — apparently did not want to risk it at a time when the Mumbai police is at his throat, busting the D-company’s links with Bollywood.

Tax officials said a man posing as an NRI from Johannesburg, South Africa, had called up a few days ago, trying to register himself as a bidder. But he refused to give his name and was rejected.

No one else had contacted the department to be a bidder but officials had hoped a few buyers would turn up at the auction unannounced.

A senior police officer said they had not received any complaint that the Dawood-gang had threatened anybody to stay away from the auctioning. “A fear of reprisal may have deterred the prospective buyers.”

Though the police offered to protect the buyers of Dawood property, no one wanted to “get into trouble with the gangster”, the officer said.

Despite today’s setback, income tax authorities said they would go ahead with the auction of the other 12 buildings.




Maximum: 23.9°C (-3)
Minimum: 11.3°C (-3)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 34%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 11°C .
Sunrise: 6.24 am
Sunset: 5.06 pms

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