Subba punches holes in police arrest theory
Flare-up over girl ‘abduction’
Border seal to curb bike-gangs
Election panel slaps parade ban
3 workers held for finger fury
Ball set rolling for defence super chief
Dutt rescued from blazing plane
Trinamul trickle flows to BJP, Cong
RSS trains Tehelka gun on Zee owner
Festival bridges Indian films’ digital divide

Siliguri, March 27: 
Sitting crossed-legged in his small cell, the man who was until now the hill’s most-wanted militant is deep in meditation.

The sound of the door opening shakes him out of his reverie and militant Gorkha leader Chhattray Subba unleashes a fusillade of charges against the police. He claims that he was never “arrested”, but “handed” over to the special investigation team on March 23 after being in the custody of the Nepalese authorities for some time.

Speaking to The Telegraph over a simple lunch of rotis and dal tarka, Subba said: “I was given to understand that for my safety, I was being protected by Nepal police. But on March 23, I was handed over to the SIT, which formally announced my arrest on Saturday morning.”

Brushing aside Subba’s claim, Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said: “Subba was arrested by the SIT on a tip-off that he, along with some compatriots, had come to a hideout near Sukhiapokhari on the Indo-Nepal border on March 24.”

Subba, who is in the lock-up at Matigara police station on the outskirts of Siliguri, denied having any hand in the February 10 ambush on Subash Ghising.

Clad in a red T-shirt, a Nike baseball cap on his head, Subba suggests that he is being forced to confess “certain facts” that are not true.

“I have no hand whatsoever in the assassination bid on Ghising. I had given an ultimatum to the GNLF chief and his corrupt councillors and I still stand by it. For me, this (the creation of Gorkhaland) is a do-or-die battle. If need be, it will be the final battle of my life,” Subba says.

“I have to comply with my interrogators as they, too, have a hard task to perform. But I can’t deny that I am being treated properly. But they (read interrogators) have been forcing me to confess certain facts with which I have no connection,” he says.

Subba denied reports that he had admitted plotting the conspiracy. “Neither have I admitted hatching the conspiracy during interrogation nor did I give any such statement to any reporter. I have learnt that I have been quoted as having confessed to be behind the crime. I have no knowledge how such reports have been published,” says the Gorkha Liberation Organisation leader who had kept the hills on the edge for the past four months.

The militant leader had set a deadline of December 31 for Ghising and his party men to pull out of the Darjeeling hill council and join the armed struggle for a separate state.

Police are taking no chances and have tightened security around the police station. While two armed sentries stand guard round-the-clock in front of the second officer’s room, which has been turned into an interrogation cell, a deputy superintendent of police is supervising Subba’s security.

Interrogators from the SIT and intelligence agencies take turns in questioning Subba from 3 pm to 10 in the night.

When he is not being grilled, Subba meditates in his 10 feet by six feet cell. It is this daily ritual, he says, that kept him going even when he was on the run from the police.

The GLO leader says he had slipped into Nepal after police turned up the heat following the Tinkataria shootout (with Naga militants hired by Subba) on November 12. “I crossed over to Nepal sometime during the third week of November. After some recent pictures appeared in the media, I decided to shave off my beard and moustache and took on a new identity.”

Accusing the Nepal police of having betrayed him, the militant says: “I was initially sheltered by some friends. After the attack on Ghising, I was contacted by both the SIT as well as their Nepal counterparts. I had trusted them and even confirmed that I had no hand in the attack. There is some kind of a conspiracy in framing me.

“Once I get out, I will continue with my struggle for a separate Gorkhaland. My message to the hill people is that they should not worry about my arrest as the struggle for Gorkhaland will continue.”


Behrampore, March 27: 
Police fired on a mob of villagers protesting against the alleged kidnapping of a schoolgirl by her boyfriend in Kandi yesterday.

Nearly 20 people, including seven policemen, were wounded in the battle with villagers. The enraged residents also snatched a service revolver from a sub-inspector. Fifteen people have been arrested so far.

Trouble erupted when the villagers of Udaychandpur put up a blockade on the Berhampore-Kandi Road to protest against the alleged abduction of Afroza Khatoon, a Class VIII student, yesterday.

Police said that Afroza was going to school to take her annual examination when she was accosted by Raihan Sheikh, who was apparently her boyfriend.

According to Afroza’s parents, Raihan took their daughter to Beldanga. Police found them there and took both of them into custody.

This infuriated Afroza’s parents and guardians of other students of the local school. They barged into the police station and demanded that the girl be released and allowed to go to school as she had to sit for her examinations.

Afroza’s father said: “I asked Raihan not to disturb my daughter. But he did not pay any heed. Moreover, I could not imagine he would have the courage to kidnap my minor daughter.”

The altercation between the police and the villagers soon snowballed. The residents, angry with the police stand, damaged a police jeep and two government buses which were parked nearby.

The residents alleged that the police beat them up without any provocation and had also damaged a number of houses. Most of the villagers left their homes fearing further attacks from the police.

Rafikul Islam, a resident, complained that the police did not spare the women either.

A police officer denied the charge. “We first tried to control the mob by wielding lathis, but had to lob teargas shells. But as the crowd became more violent, we had no other alternative but to open fire.”

Murshidabad district magistrate Vivek Kumar later said: “The police had to fire two rounds when the situation went out of control. I have asked the superintendent of police to inquire into the matter and submit a detailed report within a week.”

Businessman suicide

The owner of a biscuit company in Chinsurah committed suicide this morning, police said. Asim Sen, the owner of Senco biscuit company, was found hanging from the ceiling of his house.

Dacoity arrests: Four persons have been arrested for Sunday’s dacoity on the Bandel-Bhagalpur local train.


Midnapore, March 27: 
Areas of Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and Hooghly bordering Orissa and Bihar will be sealed before the elections to check motorcycle-borne criminals out to create trouble.

The decision, taken at a meeting in Bishnupur of the police superintendents of the four districts, is also aimed at preventing Naxalite rebels from crossing over and sparking violence.

The officers told inspector-general of police (western range) J.R. Bhagat, who had convened the meeting, that reinforcements had to be sent to flush out Naxalites from Belpahari-Banspahari as well as Lalgarh-Goaltore region.

Motorcycle-borne criminals have often been responsible for looting people in the villages in Keshpur, Garbeta, Pingla, Danton and Sabang just before the elections.

Police believe that the political parties hire these gangsters from Bihar and it would be a good idea to seal the border with the state.

Jharkhandi activists wield more clout in Bihar and in the Bankura-Purulia region than in the Midnapore district. In previous polls, a large number of Jharkhandi activists from Bihar and the Bankura-Purulia belt entered Midnapore district in a bid to create trouble on election day.

The latest threat is a vote boycott call given by both the Maoist Communist Centre and the People’s War Group in the four districts. Posters have appeared asking people to boycott the elections or face dire consequences.

Deputy inspector-general of police (Midnapore range) R.K. Singh said that 11 rifles had been looted from these areas in the past one year. “Two of these were looted from the police accompanying a poll party during the last Lok Sabha elections. None of the rifles has yet been recovered,” Singh added.

Residents claim that the Naxalite groups flaunt these rifles when they bring out processions in Belpahari and Banspahari. “We are afraid to complain to the police because of these weapons. The Belpahari police station officials themselves are panicky. They have fixed halogen lamps on the thana building to be on the guard at night. How can we complain?” asked a resident of Bhulaveda.

A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, Midnapore, admitted that the force is not equipped to tackle all such criminal groups at one time. “Organisation is very important. We have to replenish our forces. The areas are mostly inaccessible and our radio telephone sets are too primitive. All thanas are not directly connected by transmitters. We also lack vehicles. Our senior officers have already taken stock of this situation. Something will be done definitely before the elections,” Maliwal said.


Calcutta, March 27: 
The Election Commission has banned large processions accompanying candidates during filing of nominations.

It also prohibited display of huge cut-outs of candidates, gates or arches on roads in a communiqué to state chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen.

He said the directives had been included in the code of conduct. “I shall convene an all-party meeting soon after the election date is notified. We want to restrict the number of persons to be allowed inside the office of the returning officers during filing of nominations,” Sen said.

Sen, however, admitted that he needed some clarifications on the numbers that made up a “large procession”.

“What number of followers constitutes a large procession should be explained clearly to avoid any controversy. The issue will be discussed in all-party meeting, and attempts will be made to restrict the number of vehicles accompanying a candidate to three,” he said.

The commission had earlier banned wall-writing and putting up of posters on public premises. Sen said the cost for whitewashing walls will be included in the expense accounts of candidates.

The poll panel has restricted expenses of an Assembly candidate to Rs 6 lakh and a Lok Sabha nominee to Rs 15 lakh.


Chinsurah, March 27: 
Three casual workers of Gondolpara Jute Mill in Chandannagar were arrested today for chopping off a finger of the personnel manager yesterday.

A mob of workers had stormed into the room of personnel manager Raj Kumar Agarwal after he refused to extend benefits under the employees state insurance scheme (ESI) to a casual labourer who lost two of his fingers in an accident earlier.

Agarwal had said he was willing to pay for the worker’s treatment at a government hospital. But the angry labourers refused his offer and chopped off one of his fingers. They also assaulted the securitymen and ransacked the mill.

The three casual workers arrested today were Ganesh Chaudhury, Dinesh Thakur and Umesh Das.

Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said the casual workers of the mill had beaten to death a Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh trade union leader Prem Shankar Vajpai around six months ago.

Hundreds of mill labourers gheraoed Chandannagar police station and the office of the subdivisional police officer. Ramesh Babu said a triparte meeting would be organised on April 10 to resolve the dispute.

The casual workers said they had been working in the mill for over 10 years but the management did not extend ESI benefits to them.


New Delhi, March 27: 
Turning proactive following the Tehelka exposé, defence minister Jaswant Singh has asked senior officials to begin work on establishing the post of a Chief of Defence Staff and a defence procurement board.

The steps had been recommended in a report prepared by the group of ministers on strengthening national security. The report was submitted by home minister and the group’s chairman, L.K. Advani, early this month.

Singh’s move to kickstart the process to implement the suggestions follows a directive from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

However, the proposals to have a Chief of Defence Staff and a defence procurement board will be placed before the Cabinet before any final decision is taken.

The external affairs minister, who was asked to take charge of the defence ministry following George Fernandes’ resignation in the wake of the Tehelka tape scandal storm, is also believed to have asked senior officials to find out whether delegated administrative and financial powers to the three services could be enhanced.

A defence ministry statement said: “The recommendations of the group of ministers were finalised in consultations with the ministries concerned and agencies and, therefore, do not require further departmental examination before the matter is taken to the Cabinet for final orders.”

The new defence minister, according to the statement, has also authorised the army chief to consider whether an inspector-general in the army could be appointed to review logistics and functioning of personnel.

The Rashtriya Rifles, which has been engaged in counter-terrorism operations in the Valley, has been made a regular regiment of the army. It will no longer be categorised as a paramilitary force.

“The Rashtriya Rifles, raised as a paramilitary force under the ministry of defence in 1990, will now rank as a regular regiment of the army in view of its sterling performance,” the statement said.


Mumbai, March 27: 
A small aircraft returning Congress MP Sunil Dutt and members of an industrialist’s family to Mumbai from a function in Nashik developed snags mid-air and crash-landed in a field last night, injuring all five on board.

The six-seater, twin-engined Piper Apache aircraft, chartered from the Ahmedabad Flying Club, caught fire just as it hit the ground in pitch darkness in Bahaduri village, nearly 100 km from Mumbai.

Acting swiftly, villagers broke down the aircraft door and rescued Dutt, the pilot and four other passengers, three of whom were teenaged girls. They also managed to douse the blaze.

Villagers called in ambulances and took the injured to a Nashik hospital late at night.

Dutt, 70, a former actor and father of Bollywood star Sunjay Dutt, was brought in to Mumbai by a helicopter this morning and admitted to Breach Candy hospital with a dislocated shoulder and fractured leg.

Doctors, tonight, described Dutt’s condition as stable but said he was kept under observation in the ICU.

A PTI report quotes Dutt as saying: “I am thankful to villagers who brought us out safe from the aircraft and ensured prompt medical service.”

Police said Dutt had left Mumbai yesterday morning for Shirpur, district headquarters of Dhule, to inaugurate a gold refinery at the request of industrialist Mukesh Patel, a Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra.

He was returning home to Mumbai with Patel’s three daughters and another woman passenger after opening a hospital in Nashik.

The pilot, Sohel Nanda, an Air India pilot who had taken a day off from work to fly Dutt and the Patels, was reportedly in critical condition in the Nashik hospital, where he was admitted with the three daughters of the industrialist — Neha, Snehal and Disha.

The fifth injured passenger, Purnima Nair, 40, was also in hospital.

Within minutes of takeoff, the pilot noted an engine failure. He immediately radioed the Mumbai air traffic control and crash landed around 11.10 pm.

As chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh learned of the accident this morning, he sent minister of state for home Kripashankar Singh to Nashik to bring the Patels back.

As soon as the helicopter landed on the Raj Bhavan helipad on the Malabar Hill around noon, Dutt was taken to the nearby Breach Candy hospital by his son Sunjay and daughter Priya.

Doctors immediately carried out tests on him and found one of his shoulders dislocated and his right leg fractured. There were some minor injuries to his body as well.

It is not clear whether the small aircraft was equipped or even allowed to fly long distances at night. It is also not known why Dutt, a frequent flier, had agreed to fly in it late at night.


Calcutta, March 27: 
While Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee ha-ve launched efforts to forge a seat-sharing deal, both the state Congress and the BJP have started nibbling at the Trinamul Congress support base in parts of Bengal.

A day after the Congress-turned-Trinamul councillor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Suman Singh, rejoined the Congress with nearly 500 supporters, Trinamul secretary of Nadia district Kumaresh Chakraborty switched over to the BJP at Santipur with more than 1,000 supporters. Two Union ministers, Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mukherjee, were present in Nadia the entire day to welcome the new entrants. Those who joined included two panchayat samiti members in the Santipur area.

Only a fortnight ago, nearly 300 Trinamul workers joined the state BJP in Dum Dum, Sikdar’s Lok Sabha constituency.

“This regular exodus from Trinamul is bound to have a far-reaching effect on the organisation,” claimed state BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan. “We have been getting feelers from some key Trinamul functionaries in at least five districts, including Calcutta,” he added.

Khan, however, refused to name those who had approached the leadership for admitting them in the party. “We will reveal their names at the appropriate time,” he added. BJP sources said it has begun a statewide drive to rope in “disgruntled” Trinamul workers after Mamata decided to pull out of the NDA government.

Spurned by Mamata, the state BJP has decided to finalise its candidates’ list at a two-day meeting of the state election committee, beginning tomorrow. State unit president Asim Ghosh said during the day that Union minister for information and broadcasting Sushma Swaraj, also chairperson for overseeing Bengal’s Assembly elections from the party, will arrive here early next month to launch the party’s campaign.

The state Congress also appears serious about roping in Trinamul workers.

Buoyed by the CMC councillor’s return to the Congress, a beaming former PCC chief Somen Mitra said that those willing to rejoin the parent party “are most welcome”. Before leaving for Delhi to participate in alliance talks, Mitra was learnt to have met some Trinamul workers in his Sealdah constituency who pledged to rejoin the state Congress within a fortnight.

State Congress leaders are still sending feelers to the former Trinamul councillor from south Calcutta, Durga Mukherjee, who last week resented the way he was sidelined in the party.

“I have been with Mamata since she floated Trinamul. But today I am being cornered by those who joined the party much later for personal gains,” Mukherjee alleged.

Asked if he would switch over to the Congress, he said: “I have not decided as yet. But I will have to think otherwise if Mamata does not intervene to stem the rot in the organisation before the Assembly elections.”


New Delhi, March 27: 
Zee TV has come in the firing range of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, after its proprietor, Subhash Chandra, had professed allegiance to the Sangh publicly in a function in Agra last September.

The latest RSS mouthpiece Organiser (April 1) carries a column “Cabbages and Kings” by V.P. Bhatia, a regular, who has accused Zee of sponsoring the Tehelka operation allegedly with Gulf money. The “Islamic input,” as the columnist euphemistically described the Gulf funds, was being purportedly used to “bring down India on the financial, stock market side in conjunction with the tapes’ release.”

It was alleged that Zee news had gone “berserk against the BJP” and was bent on “Urduising and Persianising” its bulletins.

To quote Bhatia: “One would not be surprised if besides the inner political gang-up, there is huge Islamic input behind it (Tehelka), like the now defunct Islamic venture, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International had mounted with Gulf money.”

To buttress this theory, the columnist says, “It would be beyond the power of the apparently small Tehelka team of three non-descri-pt journalists. Incidentally, the very name Tehelka is a chaste Urdu word, hardly used even in the fairly Urduised language of the crusading Zee TV possibly with its business interests in UAE, Gulf countries and Pakistan.”

Bhatia further alleges: “It also appears to be a part of a conspiracy to bring down India on the financial and stock market side in conjunction with the tapes release. The Sensex plunge seemed finely timed as the forerunner and opening curtain to the political assault (sic). It was apparently aimed at causing a crash of Southeast Asian dimensions which had ruined a number of economies a few years ago. Big Money and Big Media seem to be cahoots in this respect.”

The columnist cites instances of Zee’s “anti-BJP” slant. Noting that the channel had played a “very salutary role in the Kargil operations, raising nationalistic feelings to religious fervour,” Bhatia says in its coverage of the Gujarat quake, Zee news had launched a “one-sided tirade almost with a crusading zeal, completely overlooking the fact that almost the entire local administration had collapsed”. He adds that there was “something clearly ominous” about Zee blaming the government for failing to predict the quake and says it reminded him of a British journalist who said the media will blame the powers that be for not changing the weather.

Bhatia gets almost personal in his attack on Zee and says its news team is packed with “motivated juveniles, unlike Star News which has seasoned people to oversee and keep balance”. “But here you find upstarts firing loaded questions and having loaded discussion teams, smacking openly of virulence and even malice,” he says. He charges Zee with allowing “some hidden Islamic mole or financier” to call the shots and force the “Urduisation and Persianisation” of its bulletins.

In September, when the RSS held a Mahashivir (grand camp) in Agra, Chandra was invited as a guest of honour and he shared the dais along with sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan. Chandra spoke of attending RSS shakhas in his youth and said he came from a family of swayamsevaks.

A BJP leader was sceptical of Chandra’s antecedents. “May be he was publicising the links to ingratiate himself with the government...”


New Delhi, March 27: 
Few are aware that the German film, Run Lola Run, now making waves in the country, was partly shot with an inexpensive, hand-held digital camera. Not just Run Lola Run, scores of films all over the world are being made today with this new technology, introduced seven years ago.

Digital shooting is gathering momentum in India, and the International Digital Film Festival, which began in the capital yesterday, will give the technology a huge boost.

There is great curiosity about the film festival organised by Digital Talkies. The festival will show 45 films shortlisted from 200 entries from all over the world. The films vary from two minutes to two hours. “We are the first few in Asia to start an exclusive digital film festival,” said Ankur Tewari, associate producer of Digital Talkies, a production house owned by Suhel Seth, Shekhar Kapoor, Pia Singh and Hari Bhartiya.

The technology is opening up new vistas; with this camera in hand, a film can be shot independently and within a low budget. These cameras do not weigh much, are cost-effective; colours come out well and the contrast ratio is high. With a click of a mouse, the colours of the sets can be changed.

“A digital camera can cost as little as Rs 1.5 lakh while a normal beta camera will range anything between Rs 12-15 lakhs,” said Subash Kapoor, channel producer of the UB group. The technology and the cost of the tapes needed for the film are also reasonable.

“The entire process of making a film becomes simpler; we don’t need to use a trolley to shoot (you can carry the light, hand-held cameras yourself), the film can be shot in low light. All this helps make the person in front of the camera less conscious,” said Tewari.

Once the film is shot, it can be edited on a DV (digital video) editing system without resolution.

“While making a film digitally, one feels like a painter using a paint brush and creating strokes of their choice,” Tewari added.

The technology that goes with making digital films is user friendly, allows for a wider range of topics that the current genre of cinema is catholic about and is making giant strides in the West.

In fact, director Lars Von Trier’s off-beat digital film, Dancer in the Dark, starring Bjork, was nominated for best film in the Cannes film festival. Even the Oscar-winning Leaving Las Vegas, directed by Mike Figgis, was made in a digital format.

Several films shot with digital cameras were shown at Cannes. Only, the films were converted into celluloid and projected with the usual film projector.

The digital technology is new to India, but has been popular in the US and Europe for years. Hollywood, too, is hooked to digital techniques.

Channels like National Geographic, BBC and Discovery have started accepting features or documentaries shot on a digital camera. But the Indian channels are intransigent.

“Unless popular media houses and channels like Zee TV, Sony and STAR TV start accepting films on this format, this technology will take time to make headway in India,” said Kapoor.

“I’m not a film maker, but after using the digital camera, I felt an immense sense of confidence about making a film on my own without the help of a cameraperson. I used a VX 2000 Sony which costs less,” said Kapoor, who, along with Sanjay Pandey and Anant Shridhar, directed Ram Lila, that will be shown in the present festival.

Other films to go on screen include Muzzafar Ali’s Shawl, Rene Besson’s Boxes, which cost only $300, and Sunil Poovley’s Shakti, which was shot in a day.

Film-making has been made easy with the arrival of the MiniDV and Digibeta — the two kinds of hand-held digital cameras.

Their pictures still have a rough and coarse finish. But the way the technology is improving daily, these cameras will soon start giving the same feel of larger traditional cine cameras.


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