Minister on Naxalite strike list
Bandh shadow over hill polls
Gas shortage set to ease
Fleeing dacoits beaten to death
Circuit house blast
Taxi union protests murder
Centre sets ball rolling for peace talks
Atal down plays Iran bonhomie threat to Pak
Left enemy No. 1 in BJP big picture
Stolen car parking-lot in militancy hubs

Calcutta, April 13: 
Naxalite organisations have drawn up a hit list of CPM leaders they plan to kill before the elections next month.

Minister of state of transport Susanta Ghosh figures on the list which is now in the possession of the state intelligence branch, a senior police official said in Midnapore.

Several other important ruling party leaders are also named in the hit list drawn up by the PWG and the MCC ahead of the May 10 elections.

Police today arrested three PWG activists and seized two AK-47 rifles and two revolvers from their houses in Garbeta.

The number of people arrested over the murder of Tapan Ghosh, CPM branch committee secretary in Kastoghora, has now gone up to five. Ghosh was shot dead at Nalta near Garbeta on Monday night.

In Bankura, six PWG activists have been arrested over the murder of CPM activist Sibram Satpati, who was killed in Sarenga on Tuesday night.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had on Wednesday sounded a Naxalite alert in the state and vowed to tackle the rebels with an iron hand.

The special branch team of the intelligence department is scanning the forests bordering Garbeta in Midnapore and is gradually moving up towards Bankura, Purulia and Hooghly.

Inspector-general of police, western range, Jit Ram Bhagat, is supervising the operation. Bhagat also led a search for Tapan Ghosh�s killers in the forests of Garbeta.

A large force headed by superintendent of police, Bankura, Basudev Bag, has been conducting a search operation in the forests in Sarenga since Thursday.

The administration admits that the killing of two important CPM leaders in quick succession has sparked panic among residents.

Bankura district secretary of the CPM, Amiya Patra, said: �We have asked our members to remain cautious. The Naxalites as well as the Trinamul Congress activists are out to spread panic.�

Patra recalled the announcements by PWG and MCC in two separate press conferences that they would avenge the Chhoto Angaria killings.

Dipak Sarkar, district secretary of the CPM in Midnapore, said the recovery of AK-47 rifles which are used by defence personnel was proof that the �PWG and the Trinamul nexus has the blessings of the NDA government.�

Sarkar added that PWG activists have prepared a blueprint for disturbing the Assembly elections.


Siliguri, April 13: 
The indefinite hill bandh has cast a shadow over the Assembly elections next month, with the district administration unable to go full-steam ahead with the preparations.

The Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which called the bandh, is not saying when it will be withdrawn.

District magistrate Anil Verma said the bandh was delaying the poll process in the sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

�We are being forced to conduct poll-related work with skeletal staff. Only assistant district magistrates and block development officers are being able to attend office. If the bandh continues, we will be in a tight spot because the nomination process starts from Monday, April 16,� Verma said.

The district administration has not been able to issue appointment letters to 2,500 employees of state and central government organisations chosen for poll duty, he added.

�We have not been able to chalk out a duty roster for the polling personnel. We have neither been able to train polling personnel nor conduct campaigns for introducing the electronic voting machines (EVMs). Due to the bandh, our officials have not been able to go to the remote villages to demonstrate the use of EVMs. We have not had the chance to familiarise the four lakh eighty thousand-strong electorate with the machines,� Verma said.

�Though we have made all arrangements for the nomination process, we will be faced with a bigger problem once the election process starts. The polling personnel have to be trained before they are deputed. We will have to race against time once the bandh is withdrawn,� he added.

Vehicles needed for the elections have also not been requisitioned. �We are yet to requisition vehicles needed for the polls. Neither have we been able to contact the transport operators nor have we been able to identify the vehicles needed for poll duty,� the district magistrate added.

Political analysts, who are forecasting a narrow margin of victory, are sceptical about the chances of Opposition parties being able to campaign freely if the bandh continues. �Chances are that political parties, particularly those against the GNLF, may not be able to campaign freely, if campaigning is possible at all,� an analyst said.


Calcutta, April 13: 
Indian Oil Corporation�s supply of cooking gas to Calcutta and other parts of Bengal improved marginally today with the agitating Citu-led employees union allowing bottling of LPG cylinders at the company�s Budge Budge plant.

Twenty trucks with about 6,000 LPG cylinders rolled out of the Budge Budge plant during the day. The LPG supply to Bengal will be augmented by the 21 truckloads of LPG cylinders that are also on their way from the IOC bottling plants at Visakhapatnam and Varanasi.

�We are trying to resolve the impasse as soon as possible,� said M.C. Sachdeva, IOC executive director, eastern region. Sachdeva is leaving for Delhi tomorrow to hold meetings at the company headquarters to find a solution to the problem.

The Citu-led Indian Oil Corporation Shramik Union has resorted to a go-slow agitation from April 6, demanding immediate implementation of the all-India long-term agreement on wages and other employees� demands signed between the management and 20 unions in January. The union also struck work for four days from April 2. The situation is particularly grim as far as cooking gas is concerned and already there is a supply backlog of eight days in Calcutta.

Apart from cylinders being brought in from Visakhapatnam and Varanasi, some supplies were also received from the HP.

While things looked up a little on the LPG front today, loading of petrol, diesel and kerosene came to a grinding halt at Indian Oil�s major installation at Mourigram in Howrah this evening. Unidentified miscreants hurled stones and brickbats breaking glass panes and damaging office property.

�The employees belonging to the Citu union who were engaged in loading about 200 tank trucks stopped work in protest against the incident. We have informed the police about it,� a senior Indian Oil official said.

Loading of petrol, diesel and kerosene at the Indian Oil installations at Mourigram, Budge Budge, Siliguri and Rajbandh and bottling of LPG cylinders at the company�s Kalyani and Durgapur plants had come to a stop on April 2 after the Citu-affiliated employees struck work.

Indian Oil could not implement the agreement in the eastern region because the recognised Intuc-led employees� union, had opposed it.


Falta, April 13: 
Three dacoits were lynched after they looted passengers on a crowded bus on its way to Calcutta from Falta this afternoon.

Most of the passengers were traders who were coming to Calcutta for Poila Baisakh. Eight dacoits boarded the bus at the terminus. After it had travelled some distance, they whipped out pipe guns and bhojalis and asked the occupants to hand over all their belongings and money. The passengers complied without resistance.

Gathering the booty, the dacoits got off at Harindanga and headed for Sarahat Chandpal village.

But the driver of the state government bus and the passengers raised an alarm, alerting villagers who chased the dacoits and caught four of them.

The dacoits were beaten with lathis and bricks. Two of them died on the spot and one collapsed after running a short distance. The fourth was lying unconscious when police reached the spot. He was taken to hospital and his condition is serious.

One revolver and some other firearms were recovered from them. People later put up a road block, demanding the safety of passengers and the arrest of the four dacoits who fled. Today�s incident comes 24 hours after four persons were lynched at Gaighata in North 24 -Parganas for extorting money from villagers.


Siliguri, April 13: 
A powerful blast outside the circuit house rocked Darjeeling town this evening as the indefinite hill bandh entered its fifth day.

Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said a bomb went off on the road outside the circuit house around 7 pm. Two persons were injured in the explosion.

The injured have been indentified as Sunil Rana (26) and Uday Gurung (25), residents of the nearby Gandhi Gram locality. �We suspect that the two may have been handling the bomb when it went off,� Chander said.

�We are interrogating the two to ascertain whether they had intended to plant the bomb at the circuit house and whether the incident had any connection with the bandh.�

Tension ran high as news of the blast spread through the bandh-crippled hill resort. �Residents rushed out of their homes on hearing the blast and the situation was tense. We have intensified patrolling throughout Darjeeling town. We are not taking any chances,� Chander said.

Trinamul men lynched

Two Trinamul Congress supporters were lynched in their house by a group of tribal farm labourers at Jagannathpur village in Jangipara in Hooghly district today. SP (Hoogly) N. Ramesh Babu said the preliminary enquiry revealed that they were attacked following a land dispute with the tribals.    

Calcutta, April 13: 
Traffic in Bhowanipur was disrupted today following a protest by the Progressive Taximen�s Union against the murder of 26-year-old taxi driver, Surinder Das.

Union president Madan Mitra said Surinder was attacked by criminals at Howrah four days ago. He died today. But the authorities were delaying the post-mortem. The union blocked roads to mount pressure on the authorities to speed up the process. The post-mortem was finally done in the evening. Mitra said the union will go on strike if Surinder�s family of is not compensated.


New Delhi, April 13: 
A day after Union home minister L.K. Advani met security experts, government sources said the official interlocutor on Kashmir, K.C. Pant, has begun preliminary discussions with �people who matter�.

A list of these people include representatives of the state government machinery and some past and present bureaucrats and senior intelligence operatives who have long been part of the Kashmir security scenario.

The government�s disclosure that Pant � who is also the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission � means business comes only a few days before the second phase of the budget session in Parliament. In effect, the government is sending out signals that its ceasefire announcement is not hollow and that this time it is backed by a definite effort to enforce peace in the strife-torn valley.

Pant�s effort comes at a time when the Hurriyat has reacted negatively to the unconditional talks offer. It asserted today that there should only be a tripartite dialogue between India, Pakistan and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).

Other than those involved directly with the Kashmir scenario, Pant has spoken in detail with home and foreign ministry officials.

This is crucial because Pant would have to be briefed in detail before he actually begins a dialogue on what line to adopt and what stand-point the government would want him to adhere to.

Sources said it is Pant�s low-profile personality which the government wants to make use of. Nevertheless, the government also wants to ensure that he does not concede ground.

The Planning Commission deputy chairman is being given an elaborate familiarisation course. He is learning all the big names in the different extremist groups. He has already been given a long list of those who had been arrested and are now behind bars in different prisons.

Officials said Pant is going to be the �face� of the government in any talks with political groups, militant outfits, and religious and social organisations. But the �backroom� strategies will be drawn up at the level of security and political experts within and outside the Vajpayee government and will be closely monitored by Advani.

The home ministry is understood to have formulated a preliminary strategy which will be elaborated upon and expanded as the talks begin. �There is no definite agenda. The government will be flexible because it will also have to hear out the representatives of various groupings and parties which show interest in the peace process and are keen to negotiate a settlement,� an official said.

On the other hand, Pant has his reasons to prepare himself well. It has been said that his hands are tied and that he is hardly expected to be better than �a courier� passing the Union government�s messages and bringing back the responses from the militant groups. But the government is backing him to the hilt and is organising detailed briefing sessions for him.

For the militant groups and even for their Pakistani backers, Pant remains rather an unknown entity. The APHC has not reacted against his choice. Till now their responses have indicated a degree of bewilderment. They will begin reacting only when Pant invites them for talks.


Tehran, April 13: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to allay Pakistan�s fears by clarifying that improvement of bilateral ties between India and Iran was not �at the expense of any third country�, nor was it intended to drive a wedge in Iran�s existing relations with other countries.

Summing up his four-day visit to Iran as �very successful�, Vajpayee was, however, quick to emphasis that the depth of Indo-Iranian relations is such that it automatically elevates the bilateral ties to a �special position�.

During his �fruitful� three days discussion with the Iranian leadership, Vajpayee and Iranian President Seyed Mohammad Khatami initialled the �path breaking� Tehran Declaration, which, among other things, expresses grave concern over the rise of fundamentalism and terrorist forces in the region and comes down heavily on governments sponsoring terrorist groups. The signal towards Pakistan could not be missed.

Vajpayee�s emphasis on India�s secular credentials and his assertion that Islam was a �part and parcel� of India for more than 1,000 years had predictably made Islamabad nervous about the growing ties between India and Iran.

�There is no truth in the view that we are trying to drive a wedge between them,� Vajpayee said when asked about Pakistan�s reaction that his visit to Iran was aimed at breaking Islamabad�s ties with Tehran.

�It is not directed at a third country nor do we intend to spoil Iran�s relations with someone else. But the depth of Indo-Iranian relations gives it a special status. Moreover, the Iranian leadership has stressed that India and Iran have a strategic role to play to maintain peace in the region,� the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee also had a t�te-�-t�te with Iran�s supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Though Vajpayee did not give details, he informed that Khamenei had given his blessings to the initiative that he and Khatami had taken to strengthen bilateral ties.

This is Vajpayee�s second visit to Iran. He had visited the country in 1978, as foreign minister in the Janata Party government. �But since then the Islamic Revolution had taken place and had fundamentally changed Iranian politics and also left a strong impact on the country�s economic and cultural sphere,� he said.

He, however, said nothing could change the indomitable spirit of Iran and the country was trying to move forward despite several hurdles. He laid special emphasis on the historical ties between the two sides and expressed support for Khatami�s initiative to have a worldwide �Dialogue Among Civilisations�.

When it was pointed out that the historical ties he was referring to speaks about the ancient Persian culture, while the present regime in Iran was a product of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Vajpayee clarified that there was no contradiction between the two. �We have to accept reality and work for a better and stronger relationship keeping these changes in mind,� he added.

Vajpayee said Kashmir came up during the discussions and he explained India�s position. He said Iran is aware of the steps taken by India to restore peace and pointed out that the Iranian leadership supported his Lahore bus journey.

The Prime Minister said developments in Afghanistan also came up for discussion.

Referring to the controversy over the proposed gas pipeline between Iran and India, Vajpayee said the two sides are exploring all aspects and keeping options open to ensure that the supply is long-term, cost effective and takes care of Delhi�s security concerns.

�If we had cordial relations with Islamabad, perhaps the land route could be the best option. But Iran is aware of our concerns,� Vajpayee said. �Iran has a huge quantity of oil and natural gas and India is an energy-hungry nation. They are keen to sell their product and we are ready to buy it. We will work out the best deal keeping these factors in mind,� he added.


New Delhi, April 13: 
Mamata Banerjee may not be enemy number one for the BJP. The saffron brigade has decided to train its guns on �CPM-CPI jodi number one� rather than the Trinamul-Congress combine in the Bengal elections.

Despite the recent bitterness between the BJP and Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee after she pulled out of the NDA government, the BJP feels it is not politically prudent to attack Mamata for two reasons.

�First, electoral logic demands that our campaign should focus its criticism on the stronger party or combine rather than the weaker one. The Trinamul and Congress are struggling hard to find their feet while the Left Front has been ruling the state for over 25 years. Obviously it does not make sense to target the Trinamul because our purpose should be to dislodge the party entrenched in power,� said a senior BJP office-bearer and a member of the central election committee.

The other imperative seems to be the political reality of the Trinamul and BJP having been allies till recently. �It will be self-defeating to go hammer and tongs at Mamata and risk become the laughing stock. And in many local bodies we still have an alliance,� said sources.

The BJP maintained its feedback was that the Trinamul-Congress combine would hit out at the Left rather than the BJP for much the same reason. �A large section of the Trinamul is upset with Mamata for ditching us at the last minute and tying up with the Congress. If she starts spewing venom on us, the crowds may turn hostile,� claimed BJP sources.

The BJP contended that it had always backed Mamata, whether by indicting the Bengal government for the spate of political violence in the run-up to the local bodies and Assembly elections or by putting it on the mat during last year�s floods. �Even in the matter of the Railway budget she was given a free hand. The finance minister had no say. And is this how she repays us?� asked sources.

The post-poll scenario was a strong compulsion. �If the Trinamul-Congress wins the election, there is little we can do except watch their government being installed. But if Mamata loses it will be interesting to see what she does and hence we do not want to antagonise her completely,� said sources.

Sources explained that in case Mamata lost, she could end up returning to the NDA merely to keep her flock of MPs together. �Our reading is that her MPs could leave her, form a separate party or perhaps even join the BJP. So, while she herself would not want to come back to the government, she could see that her MPs rejoin the council of ministers,� said a party general secretary.

However, while detailing its Bengal strategy, BJP sources also emphasised that while its campaigners may go �soft� on Mamata, the Congress �would not be spared�.


New Delhi, April 13: 
There is a sinister new twist to the thriving stolen car racket in Delhi. Car theft in the capital is increasingly developing a close link with disturbed areas like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. The reason: it is difficult to retrieve a stolen car from these militancy-ridden areas.

Every fortnight an average of 300-350 cases of auto thefts are registered here. Cars � Maruti 800s and Zens � top the list, with motorcycles and scooters following. Many of these are also disposed of in parts of Bihar. With its poor road network, the state makes it difficult for the police to trace these vehicles. Add the long international border with Nepal, and the task becomes even more difficult: a number of the stolen vehicles are smuggled out to the Himalayan kingdom.

Crossing into Nepal with forged papers is not all that difficult. The driver produces the papers, pays the toll tax and crosses over without creating any suspicion. The Nepalese authorities rarely have any idea about the origin of the car. But this is a relatively old route, and Delhi Police have managed to recover vehicles from Bihar and Nepal.

With Delhi outstripping by far any other metro in the volume of cars and two or three-wheelers plying on the streets, the number of auto thefts also outdoes the number of similar cases registered in any other city. Delhi Police is claiming that the number is diminishing. But the operation, as policemen here see it, is a well-defined and well-oiled network.

A car theft involves picking the lock, driving the car to the area where it will be disposed of, and selling it in a city where they have their men planted. The entire network of car theft is a handiwork of local gangs.

Once the car is stolen from Delhi, it is sent to places like Haryana or Uttar Pradesh where forged papers are procured. The registration number commonly used by the gangs are HR-10, HR-26, UP-14. After procuring the forged papers, the vehicle is taken to faraway places � to Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast � where it is registered on the basis of the false documents.

The transport authorities in the Northeast routinely send the documents for verification to Uttar Pradesh or Haryana, as is the procedure. When they do not get any information for a month, the vehicle is given the green signal for registration.

The Motor Vehicles Act states that a maximum of 30 days from the date the letter is sent has to transpire before the vehicle can acquire fresh registration. Then it is sold legally.

One can trace these stolen car markets in state capitals and big towns like Kohima, Imphal, Guwahati and Siliguri. Those who buy these cars rarely have any inkling that they have become owners of stolen property.

Sometimes, the insurgent groups based in these parts step in and make money from this lucrative trade. Few Delhi�ites can hope to have their cars recovered from these remote areas. Often they are too lethargic to pursue the cases because they can always claim insurance.


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