Customs men in kidnap plot
Left teachers protest tuition note
BJP set to sidestep Ayodhya for polls
Samata denies temple support
Ticket fury at Rajnath door
�Friendly� contest threat to BJP
Pawar woos Cong rejects in heartland
Vajpayee leads party starcast
Basu speaks up for his 24 years, cites poll wins
Mamata courts arrest

Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
A day after the arrest of six customs and central excise officials, deputy commissioner of police, central, Zulfiquar Hasan, said the accused had ganged up three months ago and planned to kidnap and extort money from a chartered accountant.

Chief commissioner of customs and central excise A.K. Chabra said: �The six officials indicted in the case have been suspended.�

The six were produced in court and released on bail. They have been charged with kidnapping and extortion.

The case came to light after the chartered accountant, Sanjay Sultania, lodged a complaint at the Hare Street police station.

According to investigations, Himangshu Shit of the preventive intelligence wing in the customs department, Dilip Burman of the tribunal appeals section of central excise and Kamala Sarkar, of central excise range 15 had ganged up to kidnap and extort businessmen. They were helped by a driver and two junior officials.

A look at the entry and exit logs of their respective departments indicated that on January 11 they had left their offices after 1 pm and gathered near Eden Gardens.

�One of them told his senior that he was not feeling well and had an appointment with the doctor. The driver took the vehicle on the pretext that it needed to be repaired,� Chabra said.

Police said the six shared the Rs 50,000 they got from an employee of Sultania they had kidnapped and taken to a house in Salt Lake.

The three inspectors took Rs 10,000 each with the rest being shared by the other three.

Police claimed the same group had conspired three months ago to pick up Sanjay Khanna, Sultania�s employee, from near the Indian Airlines office close to the Bowbazar and Hare Street police station.

Chabra said he was shocked to find that his officers were involved. �Our own investigations revealed that they were involved in the racket. Senior officers of Calcutta police had got in touch with other officers and me and offered evidence about their involvement,� he said.


Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Teachers� bodies controlled by Left Front constituents were up in arms today against the state government�s decision that teachers of state-aided schools should give declarations that they would not take private tuitions.

Even as the teachers� unions, including the CPM-affiliated All Bengal Teachers� Association, accepted in principle the decision to ban private tuition in state-aided schools, the organisations� leaders said they would urge school education minister Kanti Biswas to reconsider the proposal for declarations by teachers.

�We welcome the government�s move to take a step towards putting an end to private tuition. But we are against the method in which the government intends to implement the ban. Teachers should not be made to give a declaration,� said Amiya Basu, general secretary of the CPI-affiliated Bangiya Sikshak O Sikshakarmi Samity.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
A furious debate is on in the BJP over the inclusion of the Ram temple construction in its Uttar Pradesh election manifesto.

While a section of leaders from the state are in favour of reiterating the BJP�s commitment to constructing the temple in Ayodhya, it is learnt the party�s central leaders may prevail on hardliners to drop its mention altogether or phrase it �very carefully�.

Uttar Pradesh BJP sources said the manifesto � a draft of which has come from Lucknow to Delhi to be vetted � will stress on three themes: development, stability and communal harmony. The main slogan will be: �Ek ne karaya halla bol, duje ne karaya loot khasaot, hum ne lauttaya aman chain. (One urged s cadre to wage a war, another looted the state and we have brought back peace)�.

The slogan takes a swipe at the BJP�s two main adversaries � the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The �halla bol� refers to Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav�s famous call, to his cadre in 1993 to �wage war� against the media in the state for its alleged bias against the backward castes. �Loot khasaot� alludes to the corruption charges against BSP leader Mayavati.

If at all the Ram temple is mentioned, the manifesto may say it is a �national� issue that does not concern any particular political party and the BJP was always committed to building it. �We will not make a song and dance about the issue. But if Mulayam raises it during his campaign, we will certainly answer him,� stated Kushabhau Thakre, who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh.

Sources said there were two reasons why the central leaders did not want to raise the temple issue. One, they were bound by the NDA�s common agenda, which has kept it out. More importantly, highlighting it would mean exposing the government to the charge that despite being in power at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, nothing was done to facilitate construction.

BJP sources were worried that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) may go in for a confrontation with the Centre when it launches a full-throated campaign for the construction of the temple on January 27. Its sant yatras from various parts of the country are expected to converge on the capital on that day and petition the Prime Minister to hand over the disputed site in Ayodhya to the VHP�s temple trust immediately. The party is also scheduled to hold a rally at the Ram Lila Maidan.

The Prime Minister is not likely to relent to the VHP�s demand, party sources said. Despite the rumours that the VHP may call off its yatras, one of its activists was spotted at the BJP central office today distributing leaflets about its rally.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
The Samata Party and the ADMK have said that they had never been in favour of the construction of the Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

The Samata urged the VHP to not rake up �divisive issues� and call off its campaign for temple construction at a time when the country had to unite in the fight against terrorism exported from outside. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also appealed to the VHP to not go ahead with its programme if the dispute was not sorted out by the March 12 deadline.

ADMK chief Jayalalithaa had said in Chennai yesterday that she was against the construction of the temple in violation of Supreme Court orders.

Both the Samata and the ADMK were reacting to reports quoting VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore as claiming that he had talks with Jayalalithaa, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, defence minister George Fernandes and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar and that he had received �positive response (on the temple construction) from all leaders except Pawar�.

Kishore had reportedly claimed that Fernandes, who is also the convener of the NDA, �has assured that he would convince other NDA allies on the issue�.

Rubbishing Kishore, Samata spokesperson Shambu Shrivastwa accused the VHP leader of �peddling lies�. Shrivastwa said he had checked up with Fernandes in Washington and the defence minister had denied giving any such assurance.

Fernandes, Shrivastwa said, clarified that a VHP delegation led by Kishore had met him as the NDA convener and told him about the VHP programme about temple construction. Fernandes had only said that he would convey his feelings to the allies as convener of the NDA, Shrivastwa said.

�We, therefore, categorically deny that neither was Fernandes himself convinced or assured to convince other allies,� the Samata spokesperson said.

The Samata criticised the VHP for hyping the issues by organising Santa Yatra from Ayodhya to Delhi on January 21 and Sant Samagan in Ayodhya and a rally in Delhi on January 27.

�Only our enemies will be happy with the VHP programme,� Shrivastwa said. Any campaign that will add to tension in society and be detrimental to it should not be encouraged, he added.

The VHP could not monopolise Ram and every Hindu respects him, the Samata spokesperson said. But even Ram, who has the interest of the country in mind, will not be happy about the VHP campaign. The Ayodhya dispute, he said, could be solved only through a court verdict or if a consensus emerged from a meeting between Hindu and Muslim religious leaders.

The DMK is also opposed to the VHP campaign. VHP working president Ashok Singhal had a couple of months ago visited Chennai to drum up support for the mandir programme.


Lucknow, Jan. 18: 
Three ministers who were denied tickets have quit even as police resorted to lathicharge on supporters of some dropped MLAs who laid siege to the BJP office.

Three ministers � Rajendra Patel, Markanday Chand and Virendra Singh � all members of the BJP�s allies, quit after their names did not figure in the list of candidates. Arvind Jain, Sriram Sonkar and Harnarayan Raj Bhar are the other dropped ministers.

In a move that surprised many, 60 legislators � 41 of the BJP and the rest from the allies � were barred from contesting on the ruling alliance�s ticket. BJP leaders said the party had to get rid of cross-voters and those with tainted reputation.

Supporters of some of the dropped MLAs thronged the BJP office at Vidhan Sabha Marg for most of the day and a few even broke window panes and furniture. The police lathicharged to disperse the mob.

Moments after a faxed list of candidates reached the BJP headquarters, the quiet office broke into confusion and anger as the dropped MLAs blamed chief minister Rajnath Singh and state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra for their predicament. Some scoffed at the chief minister�s claim that �those denied tickets are loyal party workers and will continue to work for the BJP�.

About 20 of the dropped legislators are in touch with Kalyan Singh�s Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP). Others have vowed to contest as rebel candidates. This spells trouble for the ruling alliance as many of the dissidents have considerable clout in their constituencies.

RKP sources said dropped BJP minister Arvind Jain was in touch with Kalyan along with �many� others. The RKP will announce its list of candidates by Monday.

BJP leaders said it took the decision in the best interests of the party. Senior leader Om Prakash Singh said the party could not trust cross-voters and had to get rid of legislators with a criminal record.

However, the dropped MLAs do not buy the argument. �The fact is the tickets were sold to the highest bidder,� said Rakesh Sonkar, who was dropped from Sishamau constituency.

Sonkar is sure of winning though. �I have won the Sishamau seat thrice in a row. Will my supporters believe Rajnath when he says that I am corrupt or not good enough?�

�They are now talking about my non-performance. May I ask what has been Kalraj Mishra�s performance?� an angry Arvind Jain asks.

Another dropped minister said: �The party cadre have not seen many of those who were given tickets. How do they expect to win?�

Those denied tickets could form a powerful block, Jain said. �The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have already announced their lists and we are not interested in joining the Congress. But we can form an independent morcha to teach them (the BJP) a lesson,� he added.


New Delhi, Jan.18: 
The Prime Minister today called Rashtriya Lok Dal chief and Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh for talks even as the BJP is plagued with seat-share trouble in the Uttar Pradesh polls.

The prospect of �friendly� contests and threats by allies to release unilateral lists of candidates looms large on the party.

Ajit Singh had slashed his original demand for 60 seats to 42, but the BJP was willing to part with only 35 seats. Singh, whose Jat vote is a deciding factor in 138 constituencies of western Uttar Pradesh, said he would contest all the 42 seats irrespective of whether there were �friendly� contests between the BJP and his party in seven seats.

The BJP, which has parted with 70 to 75 out of 403 seats for the allies, is keen to placate Singh as he could potentially upset the party�s apple cart in western Uttar Pradesh.

A worried Prime Minister had a meeting with Singh to sort out the differences. Sources said efforts are on to accommodate each other and the dispute would be resolved in a day or two.

Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan is upset with the offer of eight seats when he has demanded 26. He also knocked on Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s door for redressal though he had talks with home minister L.K. Advani, who heads the BJP central election committee. Sources close to Paswan said he suspected some underhand deal between the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party as part of a post-election arrangement.

BSP chief Mayavati is worried over Paswan making inroads into her Dalit votebank in Uttar Pradesh and has prevailed upon the BJP not to entertain him beyond a point.

Though chief minister Rajnath Singh was keen to accommodate Paswan, several pro-Mayavati leaders argued otherwise.

In the Rajnath Singh ministry, the Lok Janshakti Party has 16 MLAs of which 10 are ministers. Of the 10 ministers, the BJP had weaned away one with a party ticket.

Paswan has, however, denied any differences with the BJP. Speaking to The Telegraph, he said the NDA would fight the poll together and that he would announce his list of candidates for all the four states in a day or two.

Union minister Maneka Gandhi, who recently floated the Shakti Dal, today announced that her party would contest in 14 constituencies when the BJP had offered only three. Shakti Dal has announced its list of candidates for 14 Assembly seats in the Terai region of the state.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
If wishes were horses, Sharad Pawar would have been king. The Maratha veteran is desperately trying to position himself as a national leader, projecting the Nationalist Congress Party as an alternative to the Congress.

The NCP chief has opened the doors to all those failing to get Congress tickets in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur.

He has already drafted 40 disgruntled Congress leaders from Punjab who did not get tickets, including three district Congress chiefs and 18 former state ministers.

In Uttar Pradesh, too, Pawar is offering tickets to all those who do not figure in the lists of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP.

He is scheduled to address more than a dozen meetings in western, central and eastern Uttar Pradesh from February 8 to 10.

The NCP chief has roped in many seniorleaders to form a front. Those who have tied up with his party include Chandrashekhar, Meira Kumar, Subramanian Swamy, D.P. Yadav.

�Modestly prevents me from saying there is a mad rush for NCP tickets. I am getting applications from all over the state,� says Uttar Pradesh NCP chief Siraj Mehndi, a Congress MLC till recently.

Mehndi said the NCP would compete with the Congress for the fourth slot behind the BJP, Samajwadi and the BSP. �If we get 20-odd seats, we can be kingmakers,� Mehndi said.

Fence-sitters in the Congress have another reason for turning to Pawar�s party. The Maratha leader is offering Rs 2 lakh for each candidate nominated by the NCP. The cash-starved Congress, on the other hand, is demanding money from ticket-seekers.

Sources close to Pawar said NCP chief developed interest in Uttar Pradesh to check Sonia Gandhi and the party is targeting seats where the Congress is strong. �The gameplan is ensure a Congress rout. It will lead to disquiet in the AICC. At another level, the NCP will get noticed,� a NCP functionary said. �In case there is a hung Assembly, NCP can be part of the new government,� the NCP leader explained.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
With the Samajwadi Party lining up a galaxy of star couples, including Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan and Ajay and Kajol Devgan, as well as solo crowd pullers Raj Babbar and Anil Kapoor, for the Uttar Pradesh elections, the BJP is in a fix on matching the celluloid power.

The party�s mascot from the silver screen and veteran campaigner Shatrughan Sinha is unlikely to hit the poll trail because, according to BJP sources, he felt �extremely let down� on not being made a central minister.

Though chief minister Rajnath Singh is making a desperate effort to rope in Shotgun, sources said he was probably leaving for the US during the Uttar Pradesh campaign to stage his popular comedy Pati, Patni aur Main.

With Shotgun sulking, the party is banking on Hema Malini to pull the crowds in the dusty plains of the heartland, though the �Dream Girl� was not much of a hit when she had canvassed for them during the last Bihar Assembly elections. The irrepressible Laloo Prasad Yadav had turned Hema Malini�s campaign on its head with his famous line that if elected to power again he would ensure Patna�s roads were as �silken smooth� as her cheeks.

To bolster its Bollywood line-up the BJP may also fall back on former TV star Nitish Bharadwaj, better remembered as Krishna of B.R. Chopra�s tele-serial Mahabharata. But sources said Bharadwaj, too, felt let down by the party as he was not renominated in the last Lok Sabha elections from Jamshedpur, a constituency he once represented.

The only reliable �star� campaigner the BJP has is Gurdaspur MP Vinod Khanna. He is likely to be accompanied by son Akshaye Khanna, who has entered the big league with Dil Chahta Hai.

As in the past, the BJP�s key campaigner will be Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Party sources said he has been requested to keep six days for Uttar Pradesh, two for Uttaranchal, two for Punjab and one for Manipur.

Home minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi have been asked by the campaign managers to reserve nine days each for Uttar Pradesh, four for Uttaranchal and two or three for Punjab.

Besides, central ministers have been asked to wait in readiness, including Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu. Uma Bharati, who is the BJP�s best known backward caste face with Kalyan Singh out of the scene, has also been asked to be ready to hit the campaign trail. Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has also been told to campaign.

But the BJP is in a quandary on whether or not civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain should be asked to campaign, after press reports appeared on how his official residence was allegedly used for job rackets.

The Urdu press has reportedly highlighted the allegations. Hussain was projected as the BJP�s �minority face�.

It appears that its other Muslim member, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, may fill in for Hussain after a temporary eclipse.


Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Refuting charges that the pace of developmental work had been low in the past 24 years when his government was in office, former chief minister Jyoti Basu said today the Left Front�s consecutive electoral victories were a pointer to its performance.

Addressing party functionaries, Basu said he refused to believe all his ministers were kids (khokababu) who did not know how to run departments or get work out of officers. �If they had failed to deliver, the Left Front would not have returned to office in every election that it fought since 1977.�

Left Front detractors, among them a few mainline newspapers, were allegedly trying to �pit one section of the party (CPM) against another by constantly saying that nothing happened then�, Basu said.

�They have started playing this new game�. Either ignore the Leftists and their good work or sow seeds of confusion in the party by talking about development then and now.�

Basu�s observation was also aimed at critics within the Front -- like Kamal Guha of the Forward Bloc --who have been accusing the government of �non-performance�.

In the nearly hour-long speech laced with criticism of his own party, Basu said the CPM leadership�s failure to read the future and exploit the political situation at the national level in 1996 after the Congress was ousted from power had led to the installation of the BJP at the Centre

�We failed to exploit the situation. The BJP took the opportunity and came to power in Delhi,� Basu said while inaugurating the 19th conference of the party�s Calcutta district committee.

�Twelve national parties at that time approached our leadership and me to become the Prime Minister. These parties had given us half an hour to decide whether we would lead the government in Delhi. Though we are not a powerful political force at the national level, these parties had approached us because all of them respect the CPM for its policies,� Basu said in a reference to the party�s �historic blunder�.

Basu also told the gathering of party activists that the decision to not join the Union government was taken through votes among the members of the party�s central committee. �But I have not developed any bitterness for those central committee members. They opposed the move because they thought the party would suffer a setback once it joined the government,� Basu said.

�Even the US government became worried at that time sensing that we might join a coalition government in Delhi, which they never wanted. The US ambassador rushed to Calcutta to see me. Though the diplomat did not ask any questions on the issue, he met Buddha (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) and wanted to know from him whether we would join the government in Delhi,� he said.


Chinsurah, Jan. 18: 
Mamata Banerjee along with 5,000 supporters today courted arrest here to protest against the state government�s attempts �to suppress the democratic rights of the opposition parties and its decision to hike hospital and electricity charges�.

Trinamul Congress sources said about 20,000 supporters took part in the law-violation programme, but only about 5,000 could be arrested in the absence of adequate number of buses brought by police.

Mamata expressed her discontent over the transport shortage and took the district administration to task for underestimating her party�s strength.

The law-violation programme, which began at noon, threw traffic out of gear for more than three hours. Addressing party workers before courting arrest, Mamata warned the state government about a wider agitation in Bengal if it failed to revoke �the retrograde steps�.

�We will come to power in the next Assembly polls as the people are with us,� Mamata said.

Mamata said her party workers could also gherao hospital superintendents if hospital charges were not brought down substantially.


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