India, China set for security talks
BJP advises Atal against ceasefire
Sangh raises alarm on Sonia
Sena sparks mosque row
Paswan power bait for RJD rebel
CPM plea on cheap imports
Lunacy epidemic follows eclipse
Dacoits on rampage in Mamata hub
New camp to tackle terror
Planters fear Assam rerun

New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
India and China will engage in a security dialogue early next month to thrash out mutual concerns and steps that can bring the two countries closer.

Though a notch lower than Delhi�s strategic dialogue with other key global players, the security dialogue is an important part of the normalisation process the two sides have embarked on ever since the 1998 Pokhran II nuclear explosions strained relations.

The forum gives them the chance to exchange free and frank views over issues that concern both and to find ways of enhancing confidence and trust.

The dialogue, slated for February 8 in Delhi, will be the second round of talks between the neighbours.

The first round was held in Beijing in April last year, but has since been upgraded from the joint-secretary�s level to that of additional secretary. T.C.A Ranagachari, additional secretary in the foreign ministry, will head the Indian team, while the Chinese delegation will be led by assistant foreign minister Wang Yi.

There is no fixed agenda for the talks. But sources in the foreign ministry said the recent test-firing of the Agni II � a missile that can reach Beijing, among other cities � and Sino help to Pakistan�s nuclear and missile programme will figure in the discussions.

The surface-to-surface missile was testfired hours before Li Peng, chairman of China�s National People�s Congress, left the country after a nine-day goodwill visit.

So far, Beijing�s reaction has been muted. It has also ignored any link between Li�s presence and the testfire of the missile, which has a range of more than 2,000 kilometres.

But Beijing often takes time to formulate its views on issues that concern Delhi. Though Indian officials were pleased with China�s soft reaction, sources said they are not ruling out possibilities of the issue being raised once again at the forthcoming session.

Beijing�s response has been diplomatic. Though it has indicated that it was not in favour of an arms race in the region, it chose not to mention the United Nations resolution 1172.

The resolution calls for immediate dismantling of India and Pakistan�s nuclear and missile programmes and urges both countries to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Delhi, on its part, will once again voice its concern about China�s close cooperation with Pakistan�s nuclear and missile programme.

The Chinese leadership has tried to assure India that its defence cooperation with Islamabad was not directed against it. But South Block officials feel it is time Beijing was convinced about the futility of such a policy.

Regional and international issues like developments in Northeast Asia, particularly in Korea, and the new US administration�s impact on disarmament and arms control, especially the proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) system, could also come up in the discussions.

There are proposals that India and China should try and broaden the scope of their dialogue by bringing in issues like exports control. Regular seminars have also been suggested so that intellectuals from both countries and members of each other�s think-tanks can interact closely on key areas.


New Delhi & Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Issuing a stern warning to Pakistan and militants in Kashmir for undermining the peace initiative, the BJP today said it was against extending the ceasefire further, even as the Centre is set to review its decision on the extension.

BJP president Bangaru Laxman said the militants and their sponsors from across the border have not displayed any intention to reciprocate the Prime Minister�s gesture, adding that the militants should be �crushed with an iron hand�.

But while the BJP and Sangh parivar hardliners opposed another extension, defence minister George Fernandes said the country would adopt a �wait and watch� policy on the ceasefire to gauge Pakistan�s reaction.

�The ceasefire is on till January 26. We shall wait till the 26th to see how Pakistan reacts to it,� Fernandes told reporters in Mumbai today.

But the BJP feels otherwise. The party said though the ceasefire has produced the intended results � such as isolating militants in the Valley besides conveying India�s keen interest in maintaining peace � �in the context of continuing violence and increasingly desperate attempts to sabotage India�s initiative, it is time to think hard on the proposal to further extend the ceasefire.�

The BJP said those who are unwilling to make �constructive use� of the Prime Minister�s gesture should be taught a lesson. �They should be crushed with an iron hand,� said Laxman, who is close to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

He said Vajpayee�s decision on unilateral ceasefire during Ramzan had yielded some �significant� results, but the militants should not be allowed to mistake the initiative as India�s weakness.

In a statement from Hyderabad released to the press in Delhi, Laxman said the ceasefire has made the �peaceful intentions of India clear to the world. Its extension by another month, in spite of several incidents of violence aimed at sabotaging the initiative, has demonstrated the firm commitment of India to the process of dialogue in Kashmir.�

He said the initiative succeeded in isolating the ISI-backed militant outfits from the people of Kashmir and that it was now clear to the world that violence and militancy in Kashmir are perpetrated as part of Pakistan�s proxy war.

Temple warning

The BJP said the Muslim clergy was �over-reacting� to the VHP move and cautioned minority community leaders against issuing �provocative� statements �to create violence�.

Senior party leader J.P. Mathur stressed that the VHP did not announce any specific date for the construction of the temple. But if anybody took law into their hands, the law would prevail, he said.

Mathur, however, decried statements of certain Muslim leaders that if the VHP went ahead with the temple construction, there would be a strong backlash from the minority community. �I am sorry that the Muslim leadership is over-reacting and trying to create an atmosphere of violence,� the BJP leader said.

Mathur said his party had nothing to do with the VHP decision, adding that the impression that the BJP and the Sangh outfit were acting in cahoots was wrong.

�The VHP is an independent body. We are not party to what they are planning or doing. From the Prime Minister downwards all BJP leaders said the temple could be constructed under two conditions: by a court order or through mutual agreement between the parties concerned,� Mathur said.

�If they (the VHP) go against the conditionalities, the law will prevail,� he said, adding that it is the government�s responsibility to maintain law and order.

Asked why the BJP was not reining in the VHP, Mathur stressed again that the party did not have any ties with the VHP.

BJP insiders, however, said they were confident that the VHP was only hyping the situation to create a favourable electoral climate. They said they were quite certain that the Sangh outfit will not announce a specific date for temple construction unilaterally.

The VHP will not go in for any kind of confrontation with the BJP, said a party leader.


Kumbhnagar (Allahabad), Jan. 20: 
The VHP bared its fangs at Sonia Gandhi today, describing her as a �Christian woman and a Vatican representative masquerading as a Hindu�.

Spearheading the anti-Sonia campaign was Mahamandaleshwar Swami Mitranand who described her as a �Christian woman and a Vatican representative masquerading as a Hindu�.

Placing a resolution on religious conversions before the dharam sansad, the swami said: �If Sonia Gandhi is allowed to become the Prime Minister, she will usher in Isahi raj (rule of Christianity). We should have a Prime Minister born only in India and not someone who pretends to have adopted our country as her home. Beware of Sonia Gandhi.�

Sonia is expected to reach Allahabad on Monday to take a holy dip in the Sangam.

Although it was reported that during her visit, Sonia may call on the Shankaracharya of Jyotishpeeth, Swami Swaroopanand, sources close to him say they are unaware of this.

�Nothing has been communicated to us so far and if and when we are informed, Swamiji will think carefully before granting her audience,� they said. They, however, stressed that his reluctance had nothing to do with the VHP tirade against Sonia.

Swami Swaroopanand has been labelled a �Congress stooge� by the VHP for his alleged proximity to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who is believed to have used him to counter the VHP�s hegemony over the Ram temple movement. However, at a time when the top Hindu religious hierarchy is keen to �de-politicise� the temple issue and break the VHP�s stranglehold over it, sources close to the swami said he may be �forced� to keep a distance from Sonia as well.

The VHP�s resolution on religious conversions demanded that Parliament and the state legislatures should immediately bring in a legislation making conversions a cognisable offence.

BJP on holy dip

Reacting to Sonia Gandhi�s decision to take a holy dip in the Ganga, senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said in Delhi today that she was enacting a �farce� and Congress members were pushing her to do so. He, however, said there was nothing wrong if Sonia, who had earlier visited the Tirupati temple, chose to take the holy dip and nobody could stop her.

BJP leader and former Union minister Muktar Abhas Naqvi said Sonia had a right to go as an individual. �There is nothing wrong, but it looks like the Congressmen want to gain political mileage out of the gesture,� he said.

However, a section of BJP leaders believe the Congress president is unlikely to accrue any political benefit by taking a holy dip.

�There is no need for her to become a Hindu,� said a party leader who did not want to be quoted. �If she wants to wash her sins away, there is no need for the holy dip, as being a Christian she can confess,� he said in a lighter vein.


Dhariwal (Gurdaspur), Jan. 20: 
An uneasy calm prevails here after a mosque was demolished by Shiv Sena activists earlier this week, inflaming communal passions in the sensitive border belt.

About 10 Sainiks demolished the walls of the mosque early on January 14 and performed a havan. They installed a Shiva idol before leaving the site.

The mosque had only three five-foot-high walls. The roof of the �gazetted structure� had caved in. The few Muslim families in the town last offered namaz in the mosque on December 28 on the occasion of Id.

The district administration is tight-lipped on the incident. But a senior official said the situation was under control. �We took immediate action on getting news of the incident. We evicted Shiv Sena activists from the spot and also removed the idol,� he added.

Seven persons, including Sena block president Rohit Mengi and vice-president Pawan Tandon, were arrested and later released on bail. Police are guarding the site and constables have been posted near the houses of Muslim families in the town.

The district Sena held a meeting at Pathankot yesterday, terming the structure �disputed�. They claimed that Tandon�s father, Ram Nath, held the land since Partition and that no mosque stood there. The meeting also alleged police harassment of Sainiks in the area.

Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Maneka Gandhi has ordered a probe into the incident. A high-level team, headed by Punjab Waqf Board chief executive officer Sahibzada Akhlaq Ahmed Khan, conducted an on-the-spot inquiry yesterday. The report will be forwarded to Maneka Gandhi.

Khan appreciated that the Gurdaspur police had taken swift action �without waiting for orders from higher authorities�. He said the district administration had assured him that the life and property of Muslims in the region would be protected �at all cost�.


Patna, Jan. 20: 
Union communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan offered �unconditional� support to RJD leader Ranjan Yadav if he made a bid for chief minister.

Earlier, Samata Part leader Nitish Kumar had made the same offer. BJP leader Sushil Modi had not ruled out the option either.

The NDA partners in Bihar have shifted their target from the RJD to Laloo Prasad Yadav. �If he just goes and there is an alternative, the people of the state would be spared of sufferings for the next four years. The enemy of an enemy is a friend, so Ranjan Yadav would be our friend,� Paswan said.

An angry Paswan repeated his demand for President�s rule in the state. �Even if it only means exposing the Congress one more time, we should encourage it,� Paswan said.

A revolt appears to be brewing in the RJD is gaining momentum. First, Ranjan Yadav lashed out at the RJD leadership following an alleged attack on him at Madhubani by die-hard Laloo Yadav supporters in December. Minority members in the Rabri Cabinet went public with their grievances.

Then, a delegation of Vaishya caste ministers met chief minister Rabri Devi, urging her to improve law and order in the state in the wake of the killing of traders.

However, Ranjan Yadav, who allegedly started the fire, has fallen silent now.

�We have seen earlier expressions of protest in the RJD. This time I feel the government will not survive till the Budget session,� Nitish Kumar said recently.

The Opposition is supposed to get more active on January 24, the birthday of Karpoori Thakur�s, the first chief minister from the backward Thakur caste.


Bhubaneswar, Jan. 20: 
The CPM today asked the Vajpayee government to check cheap imports of agricultural goods by imposing tariff upto 300 per cent.

The central committee of the party, which met here this morning, said the government has made the farmer�s condition miserable by opening up import of agricultural goods.

Criticising the government�s lopsided agriculture policy, politburo and central committee member Prakash Karat said since the quantitative restrictions on import of 714 items were removed in April last year, the prices of agricultural commodities have fallen sharply. Farmers� plight would be more miserable once restrictions on the rest of the regulated imports are lifted, he said.

The party also decided to support the joint call of farmers and agricultural labour organisations for mass picketing in front of Central government offices all over the country on February 5, 6 and 7.


Chevella (Andhra Pradesh), Jan. 20: 
Married women in Kawkuntla village are going loony.

As many as 25 women in the village appear to be suffering from psychic disorders �caused� by the lunar eclipse that occurred last week.

The �disorders� have been reported only among young married women. Neither men nor aged women have been affected.

The women are hallucinating, screaming continuously or trying to hurt themselves or others, when not moping. They are even trying to butcher sheep and dogs.

Those who have reached an �extreme� stage are prone to stripping and running naked on the streets.

Sumitra, allegedly �under the influence of evil spirits�, claimed to find a snake inside her blood-smeared bag, her husband Sundara Yadav said. Another villager Padma claimed that rice had turned into mud.

Saroja, a school teacher, said she saw her two-year-old daughter hanging from a fan. But her husband Gopal says his daughter is fine. Saroja has been having such �visions� over the last two days, he said, adding that she even tried to kill her mother-in-law with a kitchen knife when the old woman was bathing the child.

The village sarpanch has appointed a dozen volunteers to keep watch on the women.

The district administration took note of the issue last week. Apart from psychiatrists, they roped in magicians as well. Magician B.B. Pattabhiram tried to teach the women that chemicals or chemically-treated particles could create the visual impression that rice has turned into mud.

Street plays and dance dramas were also staged to create awareness.

Dove, a voluntary organisation working in the area, was pressed into service to conduct programmes in around 20 villages in the district to convince the women that there were scientific cures for such psychological disorders.

District collector Ajay Jain said two groups of women were taken to a mental hospital in Hyderabad. �They got cured but when brought to the village, they were back to the old condition,� he said.

When officials wanted to bring more �affected� women to the hospital, the villagers gheraoed and abused them. �We want a sorcerer, not a doctor or a magician. Don�t come if you want to take us to hospitals. Leave us to our misery,� they said.


Calcutta, Jan. 20: 
Armed robbers struck at Sonarpur early this morning, barely 24 hours after more than 400 anti-socials were rounded up after a night-long police crackdown in dacoity-hit Kasba, Jadavpur, Behala and Regent Park on Thursday.

The robbers raided six houses and decamped with gold ornaments, cash and furniture worth lakhs of rupees. No one has been arrested.

Alarmed by the string of dacoities in areas which fall under Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee�s constituency, the government today ordered a probe into the incident. South 24-Parganas superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal has been asked to reorganise his forces. State Armed Police personnel have been deployed in the villages where tension ran high.

Shyamal Mondal, leader of the Opposition in the CPM-controlled South 24-Parganas zilla parishad, said he had informed Mamata of the incident. Sources said she may visit the area tomorrow.

Last month, armed dacoits raided at least 35 houses in a Diamond Harbour village and escaped with gold ornaments and cash worth lakhs of rupees. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had taken trouble to visit the remote village and promised safety to villagers.

�But today all these promises are belied when armed dacoits have once again struck in the locality, taking advantage of police inaction,� alleged Sulekha Naskar, the Trinamul pradhan of Kalikapur gram panchayat. She alleged that the police from Sonarpur police station arrived two hours after the incident.

Officials said a gang of around 25 men, armed with country-made revolvers, pipe guns and daggers, raided the house of Sudhansu Mondal at Jafarpur village around 2 am. The masked robbers then fanned out and raided the adjoining houses of four others � Niranjan Mondal, Kalyan Mondal, Sukumar Mondal and Adhir Sardar. Niranjan has been admitted to hospital as he was injured while trying to resist the robbers.

The dacoits then struck in neighbouring Bansberia village, raiding the house of Prafulla Mondal. Mondal�s family resisted when the dacoits tried to escape with the loot, including a television set. In the melee, women and children were beaten up.

�The dacoits took not more than two hours to complete the operation,� said an eyewitness, adding that the robbers fled long before the police arrived.

The dacoits hurled bombs and opened fire to make good their escape. �We had to stay indoors as the dacoits went on hurling bombs to scare away the locals,� said a resident.

J. Chowdhury, a Sonarpur police officer, said raids are being conducted to round up those involved in the dacoities. �We are getting in touch with officials from neighbouring police stations like Baruipur and Bhangar to conduct a joint raid,� he added.

Local Trinamul leaders, however, blamed the police for the spate of dacoities. �A section of policemen must be hand-in-glove with the CPM-backed anti-socials who committed the dacoities,� complained a Trinamul leader from Bansberia. He alleged that the dacoits were members of a gang headed by a CPM-backed anti-social, Kalu Sardar.

Local CPM leaders discounted the allegation and said anti-socials were enjoying the Trinamul�s patronage, which has �unleashed a reign of terror� in Bengal.


Asansol, Jan. 20: 
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) will train 35 officers at its training centre at Sidhabari, in Salanpur police station area, soon, inspector-general S.S. Kripekar announced here today.

This will be the only training centre for officers in the northeastern sector. The personnel will be specially trained for counter-insurgency operations, Kripekar said.

Speaking after the passing out parade of the 19th batch of constables, Kripekar said only selected cadets from other training centres of this zone would be part of this special 45-day course.

But the inspector-general feared that the centre might have to be shifted any time since the land did not belong to the CISF. Training is imparted on land belonging to Eastern Coalfields Limited. The company has not even allowed the CISF to build any permanent structure.

Kripekar said he had proposed to the state government that a 100-acre plot near the existing training centre should be provided to the CISF.


Hashimara (Jalpaiguri) Jan. 20: 
Militancy is adding to the woes of the struggling tea industry in north Bengal.

Though planters are wary of admitting the impact of increasing militancy in the region, in private they fear that the situation may turn the Assam way. There are more than 150 plantations in the Dooars.

General secretary of the Indian Tea Association, D. Chakrabarti, concerned over deteriorating law and order in the Dooars region, said: �There has been some deterioration of the general law and order situation in the north Bengal tea region. One aspect is the new development of the Kamtapur problem, though the state government has assured us they would not let this problem escalate beyond control. The tea plantations, being the only major economical activity in the region, is under pressure from certain groups. Extortion from member-gardens has become a major problem. This is a major area of concern within the industry today, the only viable and organised sector in the state.�

Expressing the planters� hope that the administration would contain the growing menace, Chakrabarti said: �But we have assurances from the local district administration that the problem is not as threatening as it is being made to look. But one cannot deny that the general law and order situation in the tea garden areas has deteriorated drastically. Planters are being harassed on a regular basis. Even an assistant manager of a tea estate was killed recently in the Terai region as he was coming out with other managerial staff from the garden, apparently for no reason. Not that we know of any links with the militants in the particular case.�

Highlighting the lack of proper security for the tea industry, the planter said: �We feel there is a need for more extensive security cover for the plantation personnel.�

Lack of funds, however, is deterring the planters from raising their own security force in line with the ones in Assam. �The planters in Dooars, however, have no plans to set up a security force. We are not thinking of raising a separate security force for the gardens. It is a very expensive proposition.�


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