CM mends bridges, almost
Raids drop, adulteration spurts
Assault on MLA sparks tension
Terror twins ‘found’ & lost
Dumped & in despair
Front meet to mollify partners
Bullets & ballot mix in Bundelkhand
NDA puts up unity show
George revives Kargil coffin scam ghost
Delhi scans US naval policing plan

Guwahati, Feb. 1: 
With pressure mounting from both within and outside the Left Front, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today clarified he was not targeting all madarsas in the state.

He, however, stuck to his earlier viewpoint that “a few madarsas which are not affiliated to the Madarsa Board are indulging in anti-national activities”.

“There are a number of madarsas in our state which are affiliated to the Madarsa Board, following the syllabus of the board. But there are some madarsas which are not affiliated to the board and they teach only Arabic and theology. They are creating a problem for their own community,” he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, clarified that he was not condemning a particular community and that anti-national activities were being carried out from “other places also”.

“My suggestion to the unaffiliated madarsas is that they should get affiliated to the board. If they do not do that then Muslim boys will not be able to compete with the Hindu boys. If the present trend continues then only Hindu boys will become doctors and engineers,” he said.

On MP Somnath Chatterjee’s open opposition to his stand on madarsas, the chief minister said he was not aware of it. “I will have to speak to him. I think he will also understand the problem,” he said.

To drive home his point, he said: “Majority of the Muslims are patriots, some are not. Majority of Hindus are patriots, some are not. RSS, Bajrang Dal (supporters) are not patriots. They want to divide the country. Similarly, some Islamic fundamentalist organisations are trying to divide the country.”

On the issue of militancy in north Bengal, the chief minister said ISI-backed Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation (KLO) was trying to create disturbance in the state.

Bhattacharjee, however, said that his government was not going to negotiate with the KLO “as long as it continued with its violent ways”. “We can teach them a good lesson as majority of the Koch Rajbongshi people are opposed to their demand,” he said.

He also claimed that the administration and police are capable of tackling the KLO problem on their own and there was no need to engage the army or a unified command structure as in Assam.

The unified command in Assam is a joint formation of the state police, army and paramilitary which are supposed to work in tandem to contain militancy.

Though Bhattacharjee expressed concern over KLO militants undergoing arms training in Bhutan, he did not favour deployment of Border Security Force along the country’s border with the Himalayan kingdom.

Though the Calcutta police personnel failed to fire a single shot during the attack on policemen in front of the American Centre on January 22, the chief minister stood by the state police, describing them as “the best in the country”.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
Some allege it is the handiwork of the Burrabazar lobby. Some are convinced this is the doing of errant hoteliers.

The fact is, nearly a year ago, the wings of the chief medical health officer were clipped. Then, in November, after a series of raids on hotel kitchens that left many with a bad taste in their mouths, the job of the city’s health watchdog was given to a junior official who was not empowered under the rulebook to carry out raids.

The other fact: raids on roadside eateries and restaurants dropped dramatically. There seemed to be no way of knowing if the ghee the trader at Burrabazar was selling was pure or not. Adulteration, it was rumoured, was proliferating.

But Sujit Ghosh, the man who could have conducted the raids, has been reduced to a figurehead. His job lies now with officer on special duty Atanu Mukherjee.

According to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, it is only the local health authority which can give the go-ahead to raid shops believed to mixing impurities in food products.

The rules also state that it is the chief medical health officer who is the local health authority. An officer on special duty has no such powers.

It is now being whispered in CMC circles the chief medical health officer’s wings were clipped to favour a section of the foodsellers.

“This is nothing but a deliberate ploy to serve the interests of the Burrabazar lobby which leads the adulteration racket in the city,” CPM chief whip in the CMC, Amal Mitra, alleged.

“The only beneficiary are the unscrupulous hoteliers,” he said. He gave the example of a leading restaurant in Tangra. This restaurant was closed down immediately after a raid. But a fortnight ago, this eatery was opened without any verification.

Member, mayor-in-council (health), Javed Ahmed Khan, however, refused to comment. “Ask the municipal commissioner,” he said, referring to Debashis Som. “If he feels that Calcuttans survive eating adulterated food, I don’t have anything to do,” Khan added.

Som said he never took a decision without consulting mayor Subrata Mukherjee.


Howrah, Feb. 1: 
Tension gripped Bargachhia, Jagatballavpur, Kalitala and Domjur market areas during the peak hours this morning when student activists belonging to the Congress and the Trinamul Congress blocked roads protesting against the assault on Trinamul MLA Biman Chakraborty.

The blockades continued for about three hours from 9 am.

Chakraborty was allegedly assaulted by SFI activists after results of the union elections at Shova Rani College here were declared.

Police said a scuffle broke out between members of the student’s wings of the Congress, Trinamul and the CPM after the results were announced.

In the melee, about 20 students were injured. Chakraborty was hit by a brickbat.

Police said they had apprehended trouble and made the necessary arrangements. “We had cordoned off the college and created barricades within a 200-metre radius to prevent entry of trouble-mongers,” an official said.

Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajsekharan said the Trinamul MLA was leading a band of students when brickbats were being hurled from behind him.

“It was one of those brickbats which landed on the MLA’s head. However the situation was brought under control within a short time,” he added.

As word of the clash spread, students owing allegiance to the Congress and the Trinamul started blocking roads bringing rush-hour morning traffic to a grinding halt. Office-goers and daily commuters were inconvenienced by the long traffic snarls.

Rajsekharan added that Chakraborty had not lodged any complaint. A formal complaint was, however, lodged by a local Trinamul leader at Domjur police station alleging that CPM-backed hooligans were hired by the SFI from Jangipara to foment trouble during the elections.

OC suspended

Purba Midnapore police authorities have suspended the officer-in-charge of Chandipur police station, Narayan Chandra Bhatta, on charges of dereliction of duty and dragging his feet on a case.

District superintendent of police Anuj Sharma served the suspension order on Wednesday. The officer-in-charge of Haldia police station, Bamapada Mukherjee, has been asked to function in Bhatta’s place for the time being.


Siliguri, Feb. 1: 
Thursday at Fulbari Hat in Uttar Dinajpur was dull as usual. Till villagers thought they had spotted the terrorists believed to be responsible for the January 22 attack on the American Center.

The villagers first spotted two strangers. The two were trying to hire a taxi and were talking in a “foreign” language.

They stopped the two. One of them said in Urdu that they had just crossed over from Bangladesh and were headed to their village Kushmandi in Uttar Dinajpur.

But that did little to allay suspicions. “While one of them could speak in Urdu, the other could hardly speak the dialect. It was then that someone pointed out the uncanny resemblance the two had with terrorists suspected to be behind the January 22 attack. Their photographs had been carried in a local daily,” said a villager.

He added: “We matched their faces with the photos carried in the newspaper. While one with a thick beard matched the description of Javed Karvav, the other was the spitting image of Tarique Ahmad.”

After that, alarm bells began to buzz.

The Fulbari police checkpost was informed and an assistant sub-inspector of police and a constable came and took charge of the two. They asked the two to accompany them to the Gangrampur police station in a taxi.

But later villagers heard that the police had allowed the two suspected terrorists get off at a point near Kaldighi. They rushed to the police station and found that two were indeed not there.

Immediately, they put up a road block in protest. This drew the attention of a top district official. He ordered an inquiry following which it was learnt that the two were let off after they claimed to be Indian nationals.

One of them had even claimed that he was suffering from a contagious skin decease.

The district police authorities have placed the two policemen under suspension and cordoned off the area. They have launched a manhunt to track down the two suspected terrorists.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
Sample the statistics. Nearly 70 per cent of the Santhal women in the cluster-mining areas of Mohammad Bazaar and Rampurhat areas in Birbhum have difficulty bearing children. Over 60 per cent of the women have been abandoned by their husbands.

The uncomfortable facts were revealed in a study carried out by the National Institute of Small Mines.

Some 1,000 Santhal women at the small-scale stone quarries at Pachami Hatgachha and Mallarpur were surveyed.

The study found that a good number of tribal women living with their husbands have not conceived and suffer from lung problems due to dust pollution.

A large number of them have sexually transmitted diseases arising out of frequent extramarital relations with outsiders, particularly truck drivers.

“These women have to toil in the cluster of stone quarries in these two areas of Birbhum. They are often married to non-tribals and later abandoned,” said Dilip Kumar Das, an institute official.

Officials said socio-anthropological studies carried out on these tribal women have revealed that the glamour of urban lifestyle often dragged them into prostitution.

Officials said the institute aims to help the cause of small and medium scale mining all over the world with World Bank assistance.

The institute has three major objectives: to improve the health condition of the tribals working in the quarries, prevent diseases arising out of prolonged exposure to dust and promote use of masks.

“More and more new clusters of stone mining areas are coming up in the tribal belt of Birbhum to meet the ever-increasing demand for black stone chips and boulders. Unless precautionary measures are taken immediately, the situation may go beyond control,” said S.L. Chakraborty, a mining expert attached to the institute.


Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
The CPM has convened an emergency meeting of the Left Front next Wednesday to allay the partners’ misgivings about chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s move to crack down on unaffiliated madarsas and its possible political fallout.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose decided to hold the meeting after some partners expressed their reservations on the manner in which the state administration was tackling the sensitive issue. Besides, Bose took note of the growing resentment among different organisations representing the minority community over the possibility of a “witch-hunt” in the name of conducting a survey on madarsas.

Front sources said the CPM wanted to defer the meeting in view of its preoccupation with the upcoming 20th state conference beginning February 22. But the Front partners were not ready to listen to the logic.

Forward Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh had demanded an urgent meeting of the Front to discuss the political and law and order situation in the state after the terrorist strike. Comments of Bhattacharjee have complicated the situation, many of the Front partners felt. Like Ghosh, CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumder and RSP secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay demanded an urgent meeting of the Front. Left leaders were unanimous that the CPM should tackle the madarsa issue in a “cautious way”.


Maudaha (Hamirpur), Feb. 1: 
Someone fires a shot as a huge cavalcade halts at the doors of a noisy village full of overflowing sewers. Then, just as the assembled group of villagers looks around in panic, two shots follow in rapid succession. It is election time in the badlands of Bundelkhand.

Maudaha, where water is as scarce as guns are abundant, is marked for danger, making it one of the most sensitive constituencies in the whole of Uttar Pradesh. The three main candidates fighting for this constituency have between them close to 100 criminal cases.

Rajnarain Budhoulia, the Samajwadi Party candidate from Maudaha, has 23 criminal cases against him. Some villagers whisper that he had unleashed a reign of terror in the early 90s. Criminal charges range from murders — five of them — abduction and extortion.

Badshah Singh, the BJP candidate, has 37 major cases against him, including murder and arson. But some like Ajay Upadhyay of Pahadi village allege that he was even involved in the recent rape and murder of a 13-year-old Dalit.

Giving these two some tough competition is the Bahujan Samajwadi Party candidate, Arimardhan Singh, sitting MLA from Mahoba. He has 14 criminal cases against him.

Though not in the fray, the local member of Parliament, Ashok Kumar Chandel, is a shining example of what it takes to be a politician in Bundelkhand. Now locked up in the Hamirpur jail, Chandel gunned down five of a single family on January 26, 1997.

But these criminal cases are the least of the “terrible trio’s” concern. Campaigning at Pahadi, Budhoulia says most cases against him are false and it is Badshah Singh who is a thug. Surrounded by around 20 gunmen — in utter contempt of the election code — Budhoulia says: “The BJP is terrifying the villagers by threatening them and burning our party flags. But if they try to stop people from voting for us, we will pay them back in a way they will remember for life.”

He turns to his supporters and asks: “So, are you afraid? What will you do to them if they confront you?” They reply, almost in unison: “Muh tod denge, khatam kar denge (Smash their faces, finish them off).”

In Maudaha where Badshah Singh is campaigning, the scene has an uncanny similarity. Surrounded by more than a dozen armed bodyguards, the BJP candidate and sitting MLA explains the charges against him. “I have only looted godowns and stolen electricity poles and water pipes, and that too for the people. I don’t think these are real crimes. Unlike Budhoulia, I have not kept bonded labourers in my house for six years.’’

Asked about the murder charges against him, he says: “Everyone tries to malign a nice man, none of the murder charges against me has been proved in court.”

But unlike Budhoulia, the BJP leader is not playing scared. “No one dare threaten my voters,” he says. “I am not even a bit worried about that. They know what will happen to them if they try any terror tactics here.”

The police are aware of the explosive situation, made worse by the fascination for guns in this region. R.K. Tripathi, the Hamirpur superintendent of police, is a worried man. “It is an extremely sensitive pocket,” he says. “All three have a criminal background and are extremely powerful.”

Then, in a philosophical note, he adds: “When the gun is a part of the people’s culture and tradition, there is nothing much anyone can do about it. Somehow, people here seem to be in love with guns and bullets.”


Lucknow, Feb. 1: 
Leaders of various NDA constituents met here today to “thrash out seat-sharing differences” that have cast an ominous shadow on their claims of fighting the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as a united front.

The joint news conference attended by Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav and Rameshwar Singh was also an attempt to clear the doubts in the minds of voters as NDA partners are fighting each other in some seats. Maneka Gandhi, who has put up candidates belonging to her Shakti Dal against BJP nominees in some constituencies, was however conspicuous by her absence.

While Maneka has asked six candidates to fight it out with their BJP counterparts, Paswan has pitted four candidates representing his Lok Janshakti Party against the BJP.

The BJP, however, put up a brave front, saying “most of the NDA candidates clashing with each other” have sorted out their differences, while the rest were working it out. “There is no problem as such,” state unit chief Kalraj Mishra said, adding that the NDA leaders have gathered in Lucknow to solve the issue. “We are working as one unit at the Centre and we will fight the elections as a cohesive group even in Uttar Pradesh,” Mishra said.

Paswan contributed his bit in the show of unity, saying the coalition was not under threat but trod with caution. The elections were “very crucial”, he said. “If we win this election, our government at the Centre will be strengthened and our morale will be higher. It is only to that extent that the Assembly elections here will affect the ruling alliance at the Centre.”

Rameshwar Singh, Ajit Singh’s representative at the meeting, dismissed rumours that disenchanted Rashtriya Lok Dal candidates, who have been refused tickets by the BJP, are working against the senior partner. “We have been given 37 seats and in the couple of places where we haven’t, the problems are being sorted out,” he said. “There is no question of a rebellion.”

Singh added that in Ajit’s home borough, western Uttar Pradesh, “there is no one who can touch us. The Samajwadi Party doesn’t exist and the supposed threat by them is non-existent”. Ajit had earlier publicly expressed his anger after the BJP dismissed his claims for at least 65 seats in western Uttar Pradesh.

The Samata Party, too, iterated its support to the BJP.

Despite the unity show, there are many issues yet to be worked out. For instance, the BJP has not yet come up with a convincing answer to the Lok Dal’s demand for a separate Harit Pradesh to be carved out of the state. Asked about the BJP’s stand on Harit Pradesh, Kalraj avoided a categorical answer by saying that the Lok Dal was free to include the issue in their agenda and manifesto.

Paswan said though the NDA constituents were going to the polls with separate manifestos, the alliance was working on a common minimum programme.


New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
The ghost of the Kargil coffin scam threatens to loom over the budget session beginning at the end of this month, thanks to defence minister George Fernandes’ overdrive.

In the wake of the December 13 attack on Parliament, the A.B. Vajpayee government had managed to bury the controversy that had stalled House proceedings for a few days with Opposition parties demanding Fernandes’ ouster.

But the defence minister resurrected the row, writing to all MPs on January 23 and asking them to consider what action needed to be taken on the 150 aluminium caskets already purchased. Fernandes also sent a booklet, which had “a one-point agenda to malign the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor-General)”.

The letter and booklet provoked CPM leaders Somnath Chatterjee and Nilotpal Basu to shoot off a letter to Vajpayee today, saying “Fernandes’ continuance in the Cabinet has become further untenable”. They plan to take up the issue with other Opposition parties.

The booklet, The Whole Truth About Aluminium Casket, written by R.V. Pandit, a senior journalist close to Fernandes, attacks the CAG, which had unearthed the coffin scam, and a newspaper for writing about it. Pandit had even organised a press conference last week to exonerate the defence ministry.

The CPM leaders’ letter to Vajpayee said Fernandes’ act “constitutes a major affront to the functioning of Parliament itself” and demanded immediate action “commensurate with the gravity of the misdemeanour”. It is the “exclusive prerogative of the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) to deal with the CAG report” on the caskets, it said.

Chatterjee accused Fernandes of “open violation of all norms and conventions by sponsoring the author to launch a frontal attack on the CAG and approvingly forwarding the book with a view to join in the campaign against a high constitutional authority”.

The revival of the coffin scam controversy comes close on the heels of Fernandes’ refusal to make available the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report on defence deals signed from 1989 to the PAC on the ground that it went against national interest.

This had kicked up another row with the Congress and the Left parties accusing Fernandes of trying to hide some explosive findings.

Fernandes today defended his decision, saying that when the chief vigilance commissioner submitted the report, he said “it should be treated as top secret”. “CVC reports are not distributed. So we have a debate which is not rooted in reality,” the defence minister added.


New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
The Cabinet is mulling proposals from the US on extending Indian naval facilities to secure sea lanes passing through the Straits of Malacca and international waters in the region.

Defence minister George Fernandes today said the proposal, mooted by the US Pacific Command chief Admiral Dennis C. Blair who visited India in December, was pending before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

The proposal pending with the CCS and Fernandes’ indication that the Centre is likely to take a positive stand on it is another pointer to intensifying Indo-US military ties. These will be structured over inter-services meetings to be held through February and March. The relations between the two navies, in particular, are firming up on the quiet. The commander of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet was in Chennai today.

The defence establishment believes the military ties are now on a springboard following three developments: US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit, the meeting of the defence policy group and Fernandes’ visit that resulted in the signing of the General Security Of Military Information Agreement.

“We are part of the international coalition against terrorism and we are going to do it. Whatever logistics are needed will be provided,” Fernandes said when asked about the US proposal to secure sea lanes. It is not known if the US also wants the Indian navy to join in patrols.

Almost all vessels passing to and from the Malacca Straits are visible from the military outpost at Indira Point in Campbell Bay (South Andamans). An estimated $300 billion of trade is transacted through the straits annually. The merchant navies have reported frequent instances of piracy. The Indian outpost at Campbell Bay is manned by the coast guard.

In the year to come, both the coast guard and the navy will be reinforced. Budgeting for the coast guard, hitherto done directly by the finance ministry, will be under the civil estimates of the defence ministry this April onwards. The coast guard has told the ministry that it wants to de-commission 15 ships and acquire new ones.

Fernandes said the navy right now is “as powerful as can be” but it will be strengthened. Acquisition of the Admiral Gorshkov, the Russian aircraft carrier that is being negotiated for over a decade, is being given priority. “The negotiations for the Gorshkov are where they are. We now need to expedite the talks and take charge of the ship and operationalise it,” he said. Another aircraft carrier — classified as an air defence vessel — has been in the works for a year. Fernandes said it is possible that a foreign manufacturer may be associated with it but it will be built in the country.

As a follow-up to the meetings of the US-India defence policy group and the subsequent visit of Fernandes, it has been decided a schedule of inter-services meetings has been drawn up. The executive steering groups comprising representatives of the two armies will meet in New Delhi next week; the naval group will meet in Chennai later this month and the two air forces’ representatives will meet in Hawaii in March.

A joint technical group that will delve into subjects of scientific and technological cooperation will meet in the first week of March and a security cooperation group meeting will be held March-end. The security cooperation group will focus discussions on 20 export licenses that India has sought.


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