Ghani ultimatum to Mamata
Congress admits weak struggle against Left
Pre-election swoop nets 5 gangsters
Delhi �agent� in Dhaka cesspool
Freak gunfire punctuates truce meet
Aasu seeks army on border
Meghalaya opens doors to refugees
Sialtari shell-shocked
Khasi chiefs up in arms over fertile land
Furious father takes on son

Malda, April 19: 
Malda leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today warned Mamata Banerjee that Trinamul Congress candidates would have to face �dire consequences� if they contested from the district.

Ghani Khan was furious when told that Mamata had told an election rally in Murshidabad yesterday that her party would fight seven seats in Malda district.

�I�m the last person to give my observation on every issue she raises. She is not my leader. My leader happens to be Sonia Gandhi. Let Mamata do or say what she feels. I shall go on my own path,� he said.

The Congress leader, who has rejected his party�s deal with Mamata, said his candidates had filed nominations in seven constituencies and four others would submit their papers soon.

Four Trinamul candidates filed nomination papers yesterday at Englishbazar, Old Malda, Gajole and Ratua constituencies.

Apart from Krishnendu, those who filed nominations yesterday were Phani Ray from Old Malda, Naba Kumar Hembrom from Gajole and Mohammad Ishaque from Ratua. Krishnendu said the candidates had filed the papers on Mamata�s directions.

Malda district Congress leaders are angry that the stalemate is dragging on with the elections just three weeks away. On Thursday, election symbols of nine candidates, including Goutam Chakraborty, who will fight from Englishbazar, reached Malda.

The inclusion of Chakraborty�s name, however, brought little relief to Ghani Khan given that Trinamul has pitted Krishnendu from Englishbazar, a prestige seat.

District Congress leader Sabitri Mitra threatened that if Trinamul did not leave the Englishbazar seat to the Congress, there would be no alliance in Malda. She alleged that Krishnendu had violated norms of the alliance by filing his nomination from the constituency. �This is one reason why Congress workers have lost their interest in the alliance,� she said.

Trinamul leader Debasish Saha said he had met Mamata at Lalbagh in Murshidabad yesterday. Mamata told him that under no circumstances would she withdraw her candidate from Englishbazar. �That is why we have already submitted nominations in seven constituencies. We will file nominations for four other seats in this district,� Saha said.

However, the Congress today sought to play down the seat-share dispute. Pradesh Congress president Pranab Mukherjee told a news conference in Calcutta that he had spoken to Ghani Khan and he hoped that the problem will be sorted out soon.


Calcutta, April 19: 
The state Congress today said its alliance with the the Trinamul Congress will emerge as the most anti-Left combination of recent times.

Releasing the party�s manifesto for the coming polls, Pradesh Congress president Pranab Mukherjee said the two parties are now working on a common minimum programme.

The common minimum programme will be released jointly by Mukherjee and Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee on Saturday.

The Congress, in its 32-page manifesto, admitted that its political struggle against the Left Front in West Bengal had weakened following the split in the party and the birth of Trinamul.

�Ideologically, Trinamul and the Congress had no dispute. There was lot of common ground between the two parties. As Trinamul believed in democracy and secularism and subscribed to liberal values, the Congress was ready to work with it to defeat the Left Front government,� the manifesto says.

Elaborating the reasons why it was not possible for the Congress to enter into any alliance with the Trinamul as long it had links with the NDA, Mukherjee told a news conference that now with Mamata dissociating herself from the NDA, the only stumbling block had been removed.

�This alliance will pave the way for the defeat of the Marxists in the coming elections,� the manifesto says.

In its manifesto, the state Congress also charged the CPM with adopting a strategy of elimination of political rivals in West Bengal for their survival in the state and said that it would restore the rule of law in Bengal if the party came to power in alliance with Trinamul.

Mukherjee alleged that hundreds of people were killed and thousands were rendered homeless in Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly in recent past due to �violence unleashed by the CPM�.

The Left Front was determined to perpetuate their rule by eliminating political opponents, he charged, and said the police and administration were politicised and the democratic rights of the people were trampled.

Terrorists belonging to various banned outfits like Ulfa and ISI, he alleged, found safe shelter in the city during the Left Front rule.

The people �totally lost confidence� in the police as a result of which the cases of lynching were on the rise in the state, Mukherjee said.

Trinamul has already released its manifesto.

The Save Congress Committee, which was set up by the sitting MLAs of south Bengal who did not get nomination for the polls, are expected to announce their list of candidates tomorrow. Most of the 60-odd nominees have already decided to contest on Nationalist Congress Party tickets with the table-clock symbol.


Midnapore, April 19: 
Police claimed to have foiled an attempt to trigger violence in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Midnapore with the arrest of five criminals armed with sophisticated weapons and ammunition.

Officer-in-charge of Kotwali police station Satya Ranjan Chowdhury said the gangsters confessed during interrogation that they had gathered at Golkuwar Chak to make hand bombs for distribution in Salbani, Garbeta, Keshpur and other parts of the violence-scarred district.

Keshpur and its adjacent areas have already been declared �disturb zones� by the state police. The borders have been sealed to check the entry of arms and ammunition in the district on the eve of elections.

Chowdhury said a police patrol party spotted a group of people loitering suspiciously at Golkuwar Chak early this morning. The men smelled a rat and began running. The police gave chase and caught up with them after a few minutes. The men said they were waiting at the spot for others to join them. Chowdury said several pipeguns and 20 cartridges were recovered from the youths. A huge quantity of gunpowder and splinters were also found. Sources said the police have launched combing operations throughout the district.


New Delhi, April 19: 
Before the BSF, it was the country�s external agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which was at the receiving end in Bangladesh.

For the past one month, a section of the Bangladesh Opposition had been demanding the expulsion of an Indian diplomat, alleged to be a RAW operative.

This has embarrassed not only Delhi but also the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, which is largely perceived to be �pro-India�. The Opposition is planning to make it an issue in its campaign for the general elections scheduled in September.

Last month, then Jatiya Party general secretary Naziur Rahman alleged that an Indian diplomat posted at the high commission had clandestinely met his party chief, Gen (retd) H.M. Ershad (deposed former chief martial law administrator), at Dhaka Central Jail.

Rahman alleged that the Indian intelligence agency was trying to divide the Opposition and prevent it from cobbling together a four-party alliance against the Awami League before the September elections.

He claimed that the diplomat, going via Ershad�s brother G.M. Kader, had tried to get the Jatiya Party chief to ask his MPs to stop boycotting Parliament or, in other words, align with the Awami League.

Going a step further, Rahman also alleged that the Israeli ambassador, too, had tried to achieve the same end to keep fundamentalist political parties at bay.

Rahman was expelled from the party for these outbursts. He made these allegations when some of the main Opposition parties in Bangladesh decided to boycott Parliament, demanding the resignation of Sheikh Hasina and early elections.

Four Opposition parties � the rightist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia, Ershad�s Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Aikyo Jot � joined hands to form an anti-Hasina platform. The BNP has often taken a tough stand against India in the past.

At one stage, Hasina was prepared to go for early elections but changed her mind when the BNP boycotted Parliament for a long stretch. She then threatened to dissolve the House, run a caretaker government for three months before going to polls.

In the middle of these political developments, Rahman came up with his allegations, which have since been picked up by the local press.

Analysts said the anti-India card has often been played prior to elections in Bangladesh. The BNP had come to power in 1991, riding the crest of a sustained campaign against �big brother� New Delhi.

Bangladesh observers here believe that the alleged meeting between an Indian diplomat and Gen Ershad coupled with the border dispute at Pyrdiwah in Meghalaya and the skirmish at Baroibari in Assam, in which 16 BSF jawans were killed, will have an impact on the polls in Bangladesh.


Pyrdiwah, April 19: 
While the flag meeting was on between Border Security Force and Bangladesh Rifles officials at Tamabil today, the comparatively relaxed atmosphere at the BSF camp in Pyrdiwah suddenly turned tense.

Reports of gun shots from BDR men positioned at a distance alerted the jawans inside the camp, who rushed to take up position. However, the situation was brought under control as BDR confirmed that one of its men had misfired.

Assistant commandant S.S. Rawat, who has been holed up in the camp with his 31 jawans since Sunday, took charge and ensured that the agreement between the two sides was maintained.

It was later confirmed by BSF inspector A.S. Dabrania that BDR men, who could be seen moving near the village with photographers from the Bangladesh press, fired in the air apparently out of �excitement�.

On the Bangladesh side, there was a change of attitude among BDR men. Waving at journalists, they said: �Don�t worry, everything is well and fine.�

Rawat breathed a sigh of relief and looked a lot more relaxed today. �So we meet again,� he said. �Look, like I told you I have held on to my post.�

There was no BDR today to stop reporters or locals residents from meeting the BSF jawans in their camp. Top government officials, politicians and NGOs also visited the camp.

Narrating his experience of the tense standoff, Rawat said BDR had tried to attack the camp and were regularly putting pressure on him to vacate it. �We were always ready for the fight and were waiting for orders to come from the top,� he said.

He added that the BSF was never casual in its approach and there was no intelligence failure. �They (BDR) came in the night and surrounded the place,� he said.

�BDR men are normally positioned at nearby Pratappur and change duty during the night. On Sunday night, BDR men were seen near Pratappur, but we thought it was their regular exercise of troops change.�

The BSF camp, he said, was not informed about BDR movement by any civilian. �Instead of believing in us, they started leaving the village seeing the BDR and Bangladeshi civilians.�

Rawat said BDR men had been behaving strangely. They have appealed to the Indians not to fire several times during the last five days.�Trust us, we will not fire. Please leave the place, we too are under pressure,� they had pleaded.

He said BDR would finally have to vacate the place and go back. The BSF, he said, was handicapped as it did not have orders to fire. Otherwise, the situation could have been completely different, Rawat said. Most of the BSF jawans said they were prepared to avenge their colleagues� death.

Omprakash Pachoria, the most talkative of the lot, pointed to the mortar shells: �Do you see these? We want to pump all these into their territory.� He was backed up by cries of Jai Hind.


Guwahati, April 19: 
The All Assam Students� Union (Aasu) today demanded immediate deployment of the army along the Indo-Bangaldesh border to give �Bangladesh a befitting reply� for its unprovoked attack on the Border Security Force (BSF) and innocent, unarmed civilians.

The student body warned that if their demand was not met immediately, �Assam and other north-eastern states will soon become a second Kargil�.

Aasu adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya said the attack vindicated its apprehension about a growing threat to the security and identity of the indigenous Assamese people because of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

�It is most surprising that when Bangladesh forcibly occupied our land, the Indian government tried to tackle the situation diplomatically and failed to take a bold stand. This shows Delhi�s lack of concern for security and safety,� Bhattacharyya added.

The situation would not have arisen if the Centre had reacted to their earlier demands, he said.

Bhattacharyya pointed out that the Assam Accord, signed 15 years ago, clearly defined the role of the Central and the state government on the influx problem.

Sangma meets PM

Nationalist Congress Party general secretary P.A. Sangma has met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and apprised him of the Bangladesh Rifles attack.

Sangma said the Centre is seized of the matter and diplomatic efforts are on to solve the issue. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh has summoned Bangladesh authorities, he added.


Hatsingimari, (Mancachar) April 9: 
Thousands of terrified villagers fleeing their homes in Assam�s Mancachar area after the border flare-up have found rest and relief among the Garos in neighbouring Meghalaya.

The refugees have swamped village after village in the nearby West Garo hills. Nearly 4,000 people from about 10 villages of the affected area have found a home away from home among the Garos.

The school buildings have turned into temporary shelters. Villagers are even accommodating complete strangers in their houses. With no official relief forthcoming, the uprooted people in the West Garo hills are also being provided with food and water by the villagers.

A villager in Julgaon said: �Tomorrow we may need help from them. As human beings, it is our duty to help our brothers and sisters in distress.�

Joynal Abedin and his wife Ayesha of Kakripara village said they are �feeling almost at home� at Helidigrang.

�We thought we would have to live in the open... but a local family has given us shelter. We could not have asked for more,� the 42-year-old Ayesha said, relief writ large on her face.

Coming from a virtual war zone, the peace and tranquillity in the village has soothed the frayed nerves of the Abedins. �We are afraid, yes... but the hospitality of the villagers has give us great relief,� Joynal said. He added that panic-stricken villagers from the neighbouring villages of Kakripara, too, have fled to �safer places� in the West Garo hills.

Though most of the affected have fled to Meghalaya, many have also taken shelter in the Kharuabandha Janata Higher Secondary School in Hatsingimari.


Ampatty (West Garo Hills), April 19: 
Noor Banu is still in a daze. The 26-year-old housewife has seen her cattle blow up into pieces just a few metres away. She herself had a close encounter with death.

For the shell-shocked villagers of Sialtari on the Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh trijunction, it was a miraculous escape. At a half-built school building serving as an unofficial refugee camp 15 km from where the action is, there are a hundred others who will repeat Noor Banu�s story.

There is a reason for this. When the first shells came flying from across the border in the wee hours of Wednesday, they first rained down on Sialtari. �I was jolted out of my slumber by a booming sound, then the earth was shaking. I thought it was an earthquake,� Noor Banu said, as she lulled her 11-month-old baby to sleep.

Her husband Ramadan, awake by then, shouted to her to run. As they rushed out through the back door, something landed right on their cow shed. �The pair of bullock simply vanished, as did the shed. All we saw was flying pieces of the shed,� she revealed, gesticulating with her hands to draw a picture of the scene.

A bamboo splinter hit Ramadan in his chest. It is a superficial wound and will heal quickly. �But I have lost my cattle. How will I till my land... I don�t have money to buy another pair,� he said.

Sixty-eight-year-old Karim Mian�s failing eyesight confines him indoors after sunset. But the shells chased him too. �A part of my house was blown off. I just about managed to come out,� Mian said as he gazed blankly at the cobwebs in the ceiling.

The long trek to the school has left him so weak that he can barely speak. He took in gulps of air as he spoke, his voice coming no louder than a whisper.

Nearly 100 people have taken shelter in the two-room school and more continue to pour in.

Children played outside � unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Inside, their parents discussed the future. Most have left their belongings in the village.

�We want to go back as soon as possible. I am not worried about my house but my cattle in the shed,� said Khalilludin. But his wife refused to listen. Many others agree with her. In the jam-packed room, fear was written on the faces of the poor villagers. As thunder rumbled overhead, all of them almost jumped to their feet. When they realised what it was, all burst out laughing � for the first time since Wednesday.

�It is music to the ears,� Noor Banu said, managing a grin.


Shillong, April 19: 
If the icy heights of Kargil were worth fighting for, so are their fertile plains which have been forcibly occupied by Bangladesh, feel Khasi tribal chiefs, who recently submitted a memorandum to the President, seeking his intervention to get back their �lost land�.

The Pyrdiwah flare-up has put the focus back on their demand for a re-survey of the international border. The chiefs are also not averse to a military solution to get back these tracts.

The eight-page memorandum to the President ends with a truculent message.

�We draw your attention to the fact that one of our youths, the late Captain Cliffor K. Nongrum, MVC, laid down his life for the cause of the country at Kargil to protect the inhospitable and treacherous snowcapped mountains and, more importantly, to protect the LoC with Pakistan,� it said.

�We seek similar intervention, attention and protection in settlement and in resolving the border of the Khasi states with Bangladesh, which has illegally occupied thousands of acres of valuable cultivable lands.�

L.M. Syiem, one of the tribal chiefs, said the government was apathetic to their plight. �Really, why can�t the government of India take our issue seriously? It is a national issue but they are just not bothered about our problem,� he said at a news conference after the 200-odd tribal heads handed the memo to Governor M.M. Jacob.

According to the chiefs, during the border demarcation � first with east Pakistan and later with Bangladesh when it was born � they lost thousands of acres of land.

Their claim over their ancestral land, they said, was drowned in the larger conflict as the two hostile new-born nations tried to adjust in the post-British era. They said pacts were signed which violated the rights of the Khasis.

�Most of these erstwhile Khasi states which had to join India fell on the international border but they were never consulted when the borders were drawn,� the chiefs said.

Years have passed, but the flashpoints are still the same. Pyrdiwah, Lyngkhat, Raid Mukertilla figured then as it does today in the border standoff.

This week, villagers making a road at Lyngkhat may have been one reason for the Bangladesh Rifles strike at Pyrdiwah.

But in 1956, S. Khongwang, sordar of Mukertilla, wrote to the officer-in-charge of Dawki outpost, saying he had made preparations to build a footpath from Pyrdiwah to Borhill to Lyngkhat so that they could be easily protected by �our shipai� against the �shipai from Pakistan�. Even then, the Pakistani army had tried to stop them.

After Bangladeshi Rifles destroyed their new footpath a few weeks ago, the people of Lyngkhat had asked the government to send the army to protect them from Bangladeshi aggression as they did not have faith in the Border Security Force.

All these are included as annexures in the memorandum to the President which is also another instance of history repeating itself. Delegations of tribal chiefs have been serving similar memorandums over the last 50 years.

�Now, we are gathering all the historical documents to prove our claims,� says John F. Kharshiing, a spokesman of the tribal chiefs. �We will continue to fight for what is rightfully ours.�


Madurai, April 19: 
At Srivilliputhur, 70 km from here, it�s a straight contest between father and son.

R. Thamaraikani, an ADMK MLA, is foaming in the mouth. He had been close to MGR, he had pulled the crowds. He was a man everyone feared. But Jayalalitha did not give him a ticket for the coming polls. Instead, she nominated his eldest son Inbathamizhan.

Furious, he is fighting the elections as an Independent. �Even at the best of times, Thamarikani could be a difficult customer. Now, he is like a raging bull,� said a police inspector.

But Inbathamizhan, a burly 27-year-old, appears nonchalant. �I�m not scared of my father. I know what he�d be up to and am prepared for it all. He can�t take me by surprise.�

Ask him if it was not unfair to contest against his father, and he answers �no� without hesitation. �Amma knows best. You don�t question her decisions. It�s my father who�s being ungrateful. Whatever name and fame he has achieved, is solely due to the party.�

Jaya refused to give a ticket to the 55-year-old Thamaraikani � MLA for five terms who lost only once � as she found his behaviour �unacceptable�.

�Jaya just can�s stand us,� said Thamaraikani. �I needed the support of a major party in order to do any good to the people. But now she has gone too far, sowing dissent in my own family. She is jealous of those having happy families and tries to destroy them,� he alleged.

Some days back, after a much-publicised initiative to stop a herd of cows headed for the slaughterhouse, he had endeared himself with the Sangh Parivar. There was talk of his joining the BJP, but Tamil Nadu leaders reportedly foiled the bid.

�I�m disappointed, but not too bothered. I can fight it out on my own like I did in 1991. People know me and trust me. I�ll teach my son a lesson he did not learn when he was with me,� he said.

With the father and son fighting it out, the BJP could benefit in the bargain.


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