Terror-era extortion skeleton in Punjab
Advani takes woman card to heartland
Vajpayee, Bush face-to-face at UN meet
TN bans gutka, pan masala
Church follows Left line on farmers
Too late for marriage, says �rape� victim
Secret meet stuns sleuths

Chandigarh, Aug. 18: 
An ignominious ghost of the terrorism era has returned to haunt Punjab police as the CBI unearthed an extortion racket run by the enforcers of law exploiting the miasma of fear that enveloped the state during its darkest days.

The modus operandi was to implicate people in cases of illegal arms possession and harbouring terrorists and threaten them with imprisonment if they failed to shell out money.

The CBI alleged that Tarn Taran police were involved in the racket during 1992-93 and it has initiated proceedings against 13 policemen in the special judicial magistrate�s court in Patiala.

Tarn Taran was one of the worst-affected districts in Punjab during 1989-95 and was chosen for the first Black Cat commando operation in the state.

CBI sources alleged that the racket was run at the behest of the district�s then superintendent of police, Ajit Singh Sandhu, who committed suicide on May 23, 1997.

Sandhu�s relatives said he had been unable to withstand the �humiliation� of being dragged to court to defend accusations of excesses against him. Former Punjab DGP K.P.S. Gill had backed Sandhu for his �stellar role in combating terrorism in the state� and had asked the government to grant amnesty to police officers charged with excesses during the terrorism era.

The CBI probe into the extortion racket followed a directive by Punjab and Haryana High Court on a petition filed by Surjeet Kaur in 1994. Kaur had alleged that five of her relatives were abducted by police to extort money from her husband Charan Singh, who was involved in the construction of gurdwaras.

Kaur alleged that her husband had to pay Rs 10 lakh to save the family members from police atrocities.

CBI sources said some of the abductions in the region, including Amritsar, could have taken place at the behest of the accused in the extortion racket.

�We are looking at all angles. We have also stumbled upon leads that some politicians were hand in glove with the police in the racket. We are investigating the role of an Akali Dal leader in the racket. He had taken money from Charan Singh on behalf of Sandhu,� a senior CBI official revealed.

The CBI chargesheet also lists a number of incidents pointing to the Tarn Taran police�s involvement in the extortion racket. �Failure to give money to the police meant possible elimination, though we have not been able to locate a single case where a person had been killed for refusing to pay money,� a CBI official said.

Apart from Sandhu, whose name has been placed in column 2 as he is dead, the CBI list mentions the names of then DSPs Gurmeet Singh and Kashmir Singh Gill, inspector Suba Singh, sub-inspectors Baldev Singh, Harbans Singh, Bikramjit Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Avtar Singh, and assistant sub-inspectors � Sukhdev Raj Joshi, Nirmal Singh, Darshan Lal and Harbhajan Singh. Non-bailable warrants have been issued against them.

The CBI move comes close on the heels of another scandal involving fake certificates for jobs of assistant sub-inspectors. The certificates of two politically well-connected candidates were found to be fake. State police chief Sarbjit Singh has ordered verification of certificates of nearly 140 sub-inspectors appointed during the period.


Lucknow, Aug. 18: 
The women�s reservation Bill may not have been passed in Parliament as yet, but the BJP has decided to �honour� the issue in its own way.

Announcing that women would get the �maximum permissible and possible� number of tickets in the Assembly elections, Union home minister L.K. Advani said: �The more women join politics, the lesser will be the magnitude of evils plaguing Indian politics. We firmly believe that. That (the Bill) might take time, but this shouldn�t.�

The BJP leader warned MLAs against kicking up a fuss during ticket distribution and exhorted them to work for the party and a better society. �Many of you will have to give up your seats as the women�s issue is very serious and the party has decided to go in a direction that is not just right but very positive,� Advani told state party leaders. He said the BJP has decided to give women adequate representation, �law or no law��.

Exhorting party workers to step up their fight against �caste-based and dynasty-ruled parties�, Advani added another word of caution for ticket hopefuls.

�We will not focus on winnability, not on who can win, but who can deliver after winning. Winnability is a much abused term, many things have gone wrong due to that. The more important thing is to bring respectability back to politics,� he said.

The home minister was here to felicitate old Jan Sangh workers on the 50th anniversary of the BJP�s parent party.

Advani refused to comment on the date for the Uttar Pradesh elections. He said though the BJP is prepared for polls, it will be held as scheduled. Chief minister Rajnath Singh backed his senior colleague by announcing that elections would be held after six months, though the government �can effectively work for two more months�.

In a clear indication that he had come to oversee party poll preparations and give a direction to the process, Advani met the editors of the main local newspapers. He made an oblique reference to the �other� and more important purpose of his visit, saying that though he had come for the felicitation of Jan Sangh leaders, �in the current political atmosphere in the state, all eyes will obviously be focused on the elections�.

In his addresses both to the media and party workers, Advani stressed on India�s �victory� over terrorism in Kashmir. He said the number of tourists visiting Kashmir strengthens his claim.

�There have been about six lakh tourists in Kashmir in the last three years � the highest in the past 10-year period,� Advani said.

Coming down heavily on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, the home minister said the Agra talks broke down because of Pakistan�s insistence on using the term �disputed� for Kashmir.

�We have no problems talking to Pakistan on Kashmir but first of all, the territory is not disputed. Second, for any talks on Kashmir to progress, the issue of terrorism has to be addressed and the deaths of innocent people have to be taken into account,� he said.

The home minister conceded that dealing with �proxy war� was not easy. It is more difficult to crush a proxy war than deal with a direct confrontation like the one between Israel and Palestine, Advani said.

He dodged a categorical reply on banning the Students Islamic Movement of India. Banning an organisation involves a long process, Advani said.

But he added that intelligence reports on Simi activities and their links with terrorists were �very disturbing� and would necessitate appropriate action.


New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
A meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and US President George W. Bush is being planned on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next month.

The date of the meeting, which is being finalised, is likely to be either on September 24 or 25. If the meeting does take place, it will be the first face-to-face encounter between the two leaders.

During his visit to the US last year, Vajpayee did not get a chance to meet Bush as he was busy campaigning for the presidential polls. But the two had a telephonic conversation in which they stressed on strengthening bilateral relations.

The American President, as is the custom, will be the second speaker at the UN General Assembly on September 24, the first day of the session. Vajpayee is scheduled to speak on the next day. Both sides are keen that a meeting between the two leaders takes place on the sidelines..

Agency reports quoted US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage as saying that the US envisages a �robust� relationship with India as there were �a lot of reasons� for the two countries to engage with each other. �India is a nuclear power. There are a lot of reasons we ought to engage with India, and we are going to,� Armitage said.

�It would be unnatural for the world�s oldest democracy not to have a more reasonable, in fact robust, relationship with the world�s largest democracy�

Drawing on further similarities between the two countries, Armitage said: �It would be unreasonable for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democratic federation like the US not to have a more robust relationship with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democratic federation like India. We�ve got everything going for it.�

The US deputy secretary said strengthening of relations between Washington and New Delhi was not aimed at countering either China or any other country. �I think whenever you try to establish a relationship with a country which is based on a third country, then you are doomed to failure. It is not a sustainable relationship. It is not something you can build on.�

The upswing in bilateral ties between India and the US was witnessed after the May 1998 nuclear tests. Initially, Washington condemned the Pokhran II tests and imposed sanctions on India. But in subsequent months, it started warming up to Delhi.

The culmination of the new beginning in their ties was a visit by former President Bill Clinton to India early last year and the �Vision Statement� the two sides came out with to mark the occasion.

Vajpayee also paid a return visit to the US last year, but in the following months the Democrats were replaced by the Republicans. The two sides have continued with their high-level contacts, which included a visit by foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh to Washington, followed by a visit by national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. There has been a number of high-level visits to India by US officials, including Armitage.

The interaction between officials and senior leaders of the two countries notwithstanding, the true worth of the bilateral relations could not be realised due to the sanctions on India.

US officials, who visited Delhi recently have indicated that the Bush administration is working closely with the Congress to get the sanctions lifted.


Chennai, Aug. 18: 
The DMK today boycotted the first budget presentation of the ADMK government amid noisy protests against �police excesses� even as finance minister C. Ponnaiyan imposed fresh taxes to the tune of Rs 135.38 crore, leaving behind a deficit of Rs 692 crore for the year 2001-02.

The Tamil Nadu government also decided to ban the use of chewing tobacco, pan masala and gutka products because of increasing cases of mouth cancer. The decision comes close on the heels of chief minister Jayalalitha�s announcement that smoking will be banned in public places.

The Assembly standoff between the ruling party and the main Opposition came as no surprise. The DMK is still seething over M. Karunanidhi�s arrest and the recent police firing on party rallyists has exacerbated matters.

DMK leader in the House K. Anbazhagan set the tone even before the budget was unveiled. After a hard-hitting speech against the government, he walked out in protest. Speaker K. Kalimuthu, however, ruled that nothing of what the DMK leader had said would go on record.

The rest of the DMK MLAs were immediately on their feet, screaming slogans and holding up proceedings for nearly three minutes before walking out. They were joined by BJP, Dalit Panthers and MGR-ADMK members. Jayalalitha sat nonchalantly through the din. She said the DMK�s boycott did not surprise her.

Anbazhagan later said his party had vented its resentment against the ADMK regime for unleashing repression on Opposition parties, particularly the DMK. He alleged that during the August 12 rally in Chennai, �police and goons had jointly attacked� his party rallyists who were taking out a peaceful procession. Even the media was not spared, he said.

Ponnaiyan painted a grim picture of the state�s finances, which he said was marked by an �unprecedented deterioration�. He said the cash reserve of Rs 874 crore that the earlier ADMK government had left behind in 1996-97, now stood �completely depleted�. Even for day-to-day expenses, the government has to avail short-term loans and overdrafts from the Reserve Bank, he said.

Ponnaiyan presented a �White Paper on Tamil Nadu Government Finances� along with the budget. He warned of a �debt-trap� if corrective measures were not taken and said the previous government had failed to clear bills and other expenditure liabilities of about Rs 700 crore. In a deft balancing act, he raised sales tax on cellphones, two-wheelers, electrical goods, plastics and imposed a 20 per cent entertainment tax on recreational parlours.

To give a boost to the information technology sector, he said the MGR Film City in Chennai would be transformed into the MGR Knowledge City to serve as a platform for promoting latest developments in science and technology.


New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
The Church and the Marxists don�t mix well. Yet, the Church in Kerala is espousing a radical cause � organising farmers to fight inter alia the oppressive WTO regime and reckless globalisation, a la the Marxists.

Indian Farmers� Movement (Infam), launched under the patronage of Tellicherry Archbishop Mar George Valiamattam, is the first apolitical, casteless and irreligious organisation seeking to unite farmers across the country who are facing the brunt of governmental indifference �be it the Congress-led state government or the BJP-led Centre.

Farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait visited the Church leaders in Kerala last month to express solidarity with Infam and coordinate its actions with the farmers organisations in the North.

Church sources said though they welcome cooperation from all other religious bodies and NGOs, the movement will be kept strictly apolitical. The founding fathers are critical of both the Congress-led UDF government and the earlier Marxist-led LDF regime for their indifference to the farmers� plight.

Infam chairman Father Mathew Vadekkemuri said 2,000 Infam units have been set up in different districts within a short span, thanks to the well-knit church machinery. Church pulpits are being put to effective use to propagate Infam activities. Pastrol edicts are read out, exhorting the people to join the struggle.

Church sources said they have started Infam units in some districts of neighbouring Karnataka.

For the Church in Kerala, the movement is double-edged as it helps not only the farmers, but also the Christian settlers who dominate the Malabar region in the north and the central districts of Kanjirappally, Kottayam and Thiruvalla.

Infam has taken up the cudgel for farmers, demanding a hike in the import duty on agricultural produce and edible oils, cancellation of the proposed agreement with Malaysia to import palm oil, urgent steps to check the slide in the prices of cash crops and scrapping of purchase tax on rubber, coconut, cashewnut and aracanut. They also want farmers to be allowed to sell their produce anywhere in the country without any curbs.

They have mooted an expert committee, including a farmer�s representative, to study the problems faced by the farmers and a corpus fund to help farmers tide over emergencies.

Though radical, the Church�s effort is not without precedent. In the early seventies, a section of the Church had taken up the cause of fishermen. Propounded as �Liberation Theology�, it caught the fancy of many radical priests, who took to the streets to highlight the exploitation of fishermen by middlemen, contractors and politicians. The movement created a stir within the Church as orthodox bishops and priests frowned upon the �communist thinking� in a section of the priests.

A group of radical priests had even formed an organisation called �Organ for Radical Action� to fight oppression and exploitation, but failed to sustain it.


Gossaigaon, Aug. 18: 
Monila Brahma, who was �raped twice� last year by Rajendra Mushahary, a former minister in the Prafulla Mahanta government, has decided against marrying her �tormentor� and the father of her minor son because it is �too late for reconciliation�.

�What is the use of tying the knot after all that I have been through since last year. He could have married me when my family approached him with the marriage proposal but he turned it down. I will not marry him even if he offers to do so. It is too late now,� Monila told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview at the well-protected residence of a senior All Bodo Women�s Welfare Federation (ABWWF) official on the outskirts of Gossaigaon town.

The Bodo teenager is, however, firm on securing the compensation of Rs 5 lakh which is being sought by the federation from Mushahary, now in jail, for the upkeep of their son.

�I want the money. The ABWWF is seeking the compensation on my behalf. He will have to pay for what I have gone through and for my son,� Monila, much more confident after Mushahary�s arrest, said.

A day before his arrest, Mushahary had dropped hints about an out-of-court settlement. He had said he would think about marrying Monila only after the rape case against him was withdrawn. The former Gossaigaon MLA is a widower with two daughters and a son. He lost the last elections to Mathius Tudu of the Congress.

Trying to come to terms with life after the alleged rape, Monila is living a nomadic existence because of the �threat to her life�.

The women�s federation and the All Bodo Students Union (Absu), which have taken up her cause, now control her life. She is being kept in the houses of their members and her whereabouts are kept secret. �I am happy. Everybody here loves me. I am here because of security reasons,� she says of her benefactors.

Monila left her ancestral home in Goyalbari because she feared for her life after the alleged rape became public. Since then, she has been living under the protection of the Absu and the ABWWF, sources said.

The �rape victim� is �happy� with Mushahary�s fate. �He deserved it. I am very happy with what he is going through,� Monila said.

The former minister had to suffer the ignominy of being remanded in 14 days� judicial custody after his arrest from Guwahati on August 5. He was also suspended by his party, the AGP, which is probably passing through its worst phase because of scandals involving its top leadership. On the ABWWF�s appeal, the Kokrajhar lawyers� fraternity also refused to defend Mushahary in court.

In an FIR lodged at the Gossaigaon police station on September 4, six months after the alleged rape, Monila, who is of average build, said she was taken to a hotel in Warisa near the Assam-Bengal border on February 27 and again in March and raped by Mushahary.

Though Mushahary kept denying the charge, the Gossaigaon police arrested him from Guwahati city after it received the DNA report which conclusively proved that he was the �biological father� of Monila�s eight-month-old son, Pabitra.

The DNA profiling of blood samples collected from Mushahary, Monila and Pabitra was carried out at the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA fingerprinting and diagnostics.

�The question of thinking about Pabitra�s future does not arise at the moment,� Monila said when asked about her son�s future. �Right now, I am picking up the pieces of my life. But, under no circumstances will I give up the custody of my child, even if the verdict of the court goes against me.�


Siliguri, Aug. 18: 
A secret meeting of top Nepalese communists here on Independence Day, when the district was put on high alert, has rattled intelligence agencies.

Leaders of five Nepalese communist parties, including the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxists Leninists), reportedly met underground Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chief Puspakamal Dahal at a Siliguri hotel on August 15.

The meeting, on a day of high alert, is being viewed as a failure on the part of intelligence based in Siliguri. �A meeting of Nepalese communists took place right under our nose. It is a major intelligence failure,� an official said.

The Nepalese communists, who along with underground Maoist rebel leaders sneaked into India, stayed at various hotels in Siliguri. The communists leaders are believed to have entered India through the Kakarvitta-Panitanki route on the Indo-Nepal border.

According to intelligence agencies, local contacts helped them enter Siliguri. While CPN (ML) general secretary Vamdev Gautam was put up at a hotel on Hillcart Road, Maoists chief Dahal is believed to have been accommodated at a house in Pradhan Nagar on the outskirts of Siliguri.

�The secret meeting held at a safe house at Pradhan Nagar, which lasted for over six hours, remained inconclusive. The communists left for Nepal the next morning. The meeting discussed the �people�s constitution� as proposed by the Maoist rebels,� a Nepalese intelligence official told The Telegraph over telephone.

State urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharya said Maoists sneak into the state in the guise of writers to attend seminars. �We are keeping a watch on a few NGOs and Nepal-based literary organisations active in Siliguri,� he said.


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