Front hauls up reporter
Minorities panel to visit Malda
IBP in hand, Indian Oil shies off Haldia Petro
Austerity Antony fights Sinha�s battle with staff
No Pak visit without invite: Atal
Sonia keeps off Priyanka sasural
Calcutta hunt for teen clue
Govinda & Laloo in Cong line-up
Seer staves off Singhal temple thrust
BJP slammed, silence on CM

Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The Left Front today agreed with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s basic contention that some unauthorised madarsas were fomenting anti-national activities but at the same time criticised him for making his views public.

However, as part of a damage-control exercise, Bhattacharjee and the Front leadership chose to explain the anti-madarsa pronouncements as distortions by the media.

To the CPM leadership, Bhattacharjee�s explanation was that most newspapers, including the party�s own mouthpiece, Ganashakti, had misquoted him.

At last night�s state secretariat meeting, the CPM also found a scapegoat in the Ganashakti reporter who had been assigned to report Bhattacharjee�s trip to north Bengal where he had made the first outburst against the �illegal madarsas� operating especially in border districts.

Sources in the party said a telephone call reached Ganashakti office last night from the CPM state headquarters asking the reporter concerned to appear before the meeting attended by Jyoti Basu, former chief minister, Anil Biswas, state CPM secretary, Front chairman Biman Bose and secretariat member Benoy Konar among others. Bhattacharjee had told the CPM top brass at the meeting that his comments were distorted by the media. Bhattacharjee had also complained that even Ganashakti had misquoted him.

The reporter was asked to give a blow-by-blow account of what the chief minister had said. The only defence he could put up was that his editor had not pulled him up the next day or the day after. The editor of the party organ, Deepen Ghosh, was also present.

It is normal practice that Ganashakti prints disclaimers if important party leaders are misquoted. But Bhattacharjee did not initially utter a single word against the report that he later claimed had misquoted him.

It was learnt that the reporter stood by his story during the grilling.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
The West Bengal Minorities Commission is going to Malda on a three-day visit that will include, among other things, a visit to some of the district�s madarsas, says a staff reporter.

The delegation, comprising the two most important persons of the commission, chairman K.M. Yusuf and vice-chairman A.B. Rabadi, and a Congress MLA Gyan Singh Sohanpal, will visit Malda from Monday.

Though a commission spokesperson said the delegation would look into the problems of the minorities �in their entirety�, he did not deny that the focus definitely would be on madarsas.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
IBP�s gain is Haldia Petrochemicals� loss.

Indications suggest that Haldia is a closed chapter for Indian Oil, which will pick up the government�s 33 per cent stake in IBP.

IOC sources said the company is likely to use the Rs 500 crore it had set aside for Haldia Petro to part-finance its acquisition of IBP. Besides the 33 per cent government stake, it has to make an open offer � according to takeover rules � of 20 per cent. For the combined 53 per cent, IOC needs to fork out around Rs 1,800 crore.

�IOC is investing in Bengal. It hardly matters which company it is investing in. The investment may not go to Haldia, but it is certainly going to Calcutta,� a senior IOC official said. �The situation is now changed both in Haldia Petro and IOC. I don�t see any further prospect in the investment proposal (that IOC had made for Haldia Petro),� he added.

IOC is also gearing up to buy 26 per cent of the government�s stake in Indian Petrochemicals Ltd (IPCL) when the price bids open on March 15.

�We are now in dire need of funds to meet our investment plans. If we get IPCL, we don�t think we will be interested in Haldia Petro any more,� an IOC director said.

Haldia Petro, too, is not very hopeful of funds from IOC, but it has not stopped discussions with the management of the oil major. The company is believed to have also held talks with the Hindujas to rope them in as an equity partner.

�We are working on all kinds of alternatives so that the funds crisis is over and the plant becomes a strong competitor in the petrochemicals sector,� a senior Haldia Petro official said.

IOC, meanwhile, is working on plans to raise money for its IBP acquisition. Sources in the oil major said IOC will resort to market borrowing to raise at least Rs 1,000 crore to part-finance its acquisition of IBP.

The company has called an urgent board meeting tomorrow to decide on the course of action as well as the nature and size of the loan that the company will have to take.

�After the loan, the remaining funds will come from internal accruals,� they added.

�There are several banks and institutions which have evinced interest in providing short-term funds because of IOC�s strong fundamentals. We will appoint a merchant banker to advise us on the issue as and when we are ready to go for it,� the sources added.


Kochi, Feb. 6: 
The bugle has been sounded by the BJP�s Yashwant Sinha but the first battle is being fought by the Congress� A.K. Antony.

Antony�s Kerala has emerged as a test ground for a more radical version of the Union finance minister�s job policy unveiled yesterday with government employees and teachers across the state launching an indefinite strike from today.

The showdown began after chief minister Antony vowed to enforce a raft of belt-tightening measures to prevent the social-sector showpiece state from turning into India�s Argentina.

Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the state government decided to downsize staff, defer payment of salary in March and April by 15 days and abolish uneconomic schools with less than 100 children. It was the first time in the history of the state that a government has decided to default on salaries.

The unusual steps were seen as sacrilege since they touched the powerful, and highly politicised, combine of government employees and teachers, once the bulwark of the Left parties in the state.

However, initial public opinion appeared tilted against the strike � a new trend in a state, like its political cousin Bengal, once known for its hartals and bandhs.

�The government employees are a pampered lot,� said Thomas, a rubber tapper who lives in Kottayam. Thomas, who considers himself a �Left-leaning� voter, said he was with the Congress-led government on the cost-cutting measures.

The view is echoed in several pockets of Kerala, largely due to Antony�s reputation and his relentless campaign highlighting the Congress� case that the nine-month-old government inherited empty coffers from its Left alliance predecessor.

The Antony government is now banking on the public mood to break the resolve of those behind the strike. But the first day of the strike crippled offices and schools. All employees� unions, including those affiliated to the ruling Congress, participated in the strike.

The state�s two leading Malayalam television channels beamed unannounced blockbusters in the afternoon for the �captive� audience who stayed at home on a working day.

The leadership of the unions claimed that every single employee in the state has joined the strike. Kerala has around 4,50,000 government employees and 1,50,000 government school teachers.

Representatives of the government, Antony, and that of the employees� unions had held talks yesterday to avert the strike. The talks failed as both the government and the employees stuck to their stands.

The union leadership insisted that they would discuss and evolve ways to cooperate on the cost-cutting measures if the government first suspended the decisions.

But Antony said he would not retract the orders, even if the strike dragged on for a month.


Pathankot, Feb. 6: 
The Prime Minister today said he would go to Pakistan �only if invited� even as he questioned the US� role in Kashmir immediately after Independence when India approached the United Nations against tribals sent to capture the valley.

�The Pakistanis had sent tribals to annex the valley. But the Maharaja of Kashmir, wary of the Pakistani gameplan, sought India�s help.

�America knew that if Kashmir went to Pakistan, Islamabad would provide them with bases. But at the Security Council, Russia, our friend, could not be swayed. Our army landed in Srinagar and saved the valley from the hands of the kabalis (tribals),� Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at an election rally here.

Amid cheers from the 15,000-strong crowd, mobilised mostly from Himachal Pradesh, the Prime Minister warned Pakistan that while it could continue celebrating Kashmir Solidarity Day, �Kashmir will never go to Pakistan. Saath saal se Kashmir Divas mana rahe hain. Aagey chal kar phir manayenge�.

While lauding the sacrifices of the armed forces, Vajpayee said the army had been deployed on the border not to attack Pakistan but to defend the country. �The army is ours. It is our decision to deploy it wherever we want. But it should not be taken as a sign that we are heading for war.�

He said the troops would return to their barracks only after Pakistan stopped cross-border terrorism and talks resumed with Islamabad.

�I will go to Pakistan only if I am invited. I went to Lahore after then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited me to hold talks. Main to bina nyota bhagwan ke paas bhi nahi jaoonga (I will not go to even God without invitation)� Vajpayee added.

Berating Pakistan for abetting terrorism in Kashmir, Vajpayee said the neighbouring country wanted to resolve the issue with weapons. �We have seen a number of wars with Pakistan. They even came to capture Punjab. Bangladesh aaye the ki le le, lekin de kar chale gaye (They wanted to capture Bangladesh, but made it an independent country).�

The Prime Minister said that during talks at Lahore, he was told Kashmir should be given to Pakistan because it is a Muslim-majority region.

�But I told them that they could take the entire Muslim population from India. Pakistan se jyada Muslim Bharat mein rahte hain. Lekin unhe sirf Kashmir chahiye. (There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan but it seeks only Kashmir)� he said.

Commenting on the coffin scam raked up by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Vajpayee said her behaviour was governed by the fact that she was a videshi.


Jethpur (Moradabad), Feb. 6: 
The Vadra family in Moradabad has reason to be upset.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi today chose to address a public meeting at Jethpur, a remote village between Rampur and Moradabad, but skipped the brassware town just 33 km away.

This was the first public meeting here by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and the response was overwhelming.

Despite the recent friction in the Vadra family, some Congressmen had thought Sonia would address an election rally at Priyanka�s sasural. But the party chief did not touch the town where son-in-law Robert Vadra�s father and uncle live.

Sources said party workers in Moradabad town are unhappy that she did not come to campaign for Congress candidate H.M. Siddiqi, who is pitted against the Samajwadi Party�s Himanuk Khadir.

Noor Bano, the Congress MP from Rampur under whose constituency Jethpur falls, explained that Sonia wanted to see for herself the problems of people living in interior villages.

Sonia urged residents to vote for the Congress, saying her party was the only one that could lead Uttar Pradesh and India towards development while preserving the country�s cultural plurality.

The Congress president spoke at length on the Kargil coffin scam, the BJP�s bid to cash in on terrorism and the lack of development, and promised reservation for Muslims and backwards.

Residents said they had never seen such a huge gathering. People were waiting from 10 am for a glimpse of the Congress chief though her address was scheduled for 1.30 pm. At 2.45, nearly five hours later, an olive green air force helicopter was sighted above Jethpur bazar, where the rally was held. A little while later, a shiver of excitement rippled through the crowd as the chopper carrying Sonia landed.

In her 25-minute speech in Hindi, Sonia trashed the BJP�s emphasis on nationalism and reminded the audience that the Congress was itself a victim of terrorism. �They are doubting people�s patriotism. We do not need a certificate from those who made money from coffins in the name of martyrs,� she said amid cheers and claps.


Calcutta, Feb. 6: 
One is 19, the other 32. Both were held in Hazaribagh�s Hasmi Colony last night, questioned by Jharkhand police, and then handed over to Calcutta police for further interrogation.

They could provide vital leads to the January 22 strike on policemen in front of the American Center. But neither Rohan Alam, the teenager, nor Adil Hasan were interrogated today.

�We have not interrogated the boy as he just reached here from Hazaribagh. Our officers who were camping in Hazaribagh and Rajgir for the past few days arrived today,� said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner of police, detective department. Mitra is heading the probe.

�They have been brought here only for interrogation. We have not arrested them so far,� he added.

According to sources, Rohan is the brother-in-law of Hasan Imam, the person who helped the gang rent a room in Hazaribagh. He is also a distant relative of Jamaluddin Nasir, the prime facilitator of the attackers in the city. Imam fled from his Dharmachawk residence in Rajgir before investigators from Calcutta could reach there.

�We decided to interrogate Rohan because our officers who were camping in Hazaribagh found his links with Imam,� said Mitra. �He was seen moving with Imam.�

Hazaribagh police told the Calcutta sleuths that Rohan had visited the rented house � where the gang members took refuge � even a few days before January 22.

�Apparently, he also went to the Koderma railway station along with Imam and Adil to receive Idris in the white jeep seized by police earlier,� said one of the investigators.

The detectives have also found out that Adil works in Delhi as a refrigerator mechanic. Adil told police he had come to his Hazaribagh residence on his yearly holiday. �But we are not accepting his statement. We are contacting our counterparts in Delhi to find out details about Adil and the place where he works,� said an officer of the detective department.

Mitra claimed his officers returned from Hazaribagh with valuable information. The sleuths also searched Nasir�s Darga Road residence and found some documents which might help them prove his involvement in the attack. According to sources, a Pakistani flag and some floppies were found in his home.

According to sources, the detective department is now looking for five persons who are most wanted in this case. Besides Sadaqat and Imam, three more names have come up during interrogation.


Feb. 6: 
Grandfather Laloo Prasad Yadav and chhote miyan Govinda are set to add colour to the Congress� election campaign.

But Govinda, it seems, has not forgotten the thrashing he got in the small screen war with bade miyan. He is steering clear of Uttar Pradesh, where Amitabh Bachchan is the star campaigner for the Samajwadi Party.

The filmstar will perform stage shows at Congress meetings in Punjab and Uttaranchal only. �I agreed to perform shows at the Congress meetings because of good relations with the Nehru-Gandhi family,� Govinda said, underlining that he had no political ambitions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is counting on Laloo Yadav, who is ready to take on the BJP with renewed vigour after the birth of his first grandchild yesterday.

The RJD boss says his granddaughter would be his �inspiration� for the coming polls, like his daughter had been nearly 27 years ago. Misa was born in 1975 when Laloo was in jail, imprisoned under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. He vowed by his granddaughter to �wipe out the BJP from the state�.

�If she (Misa) was my inspiration for fighting the black Emergency days, her daughter is a fresh inspiration to campaign in Uttar Pradesh for fighting against the BJP,� he told cheering party workers in Patna today.

Laloo said his party has fielded 25 candidates in Uttar Pradesh and he had finalised the list after talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. �I will be campaigning in western Uttar Pradesh, mainly in the Aligarh area. I will campaign for the Congress, too,� he said, adding that wherever he finds RJD candidates to be weak, the party would withdraw them in favour of the Congress.

Laloo had called Sonia two days ago, reminding her of his promise to �crown� her in exchange for Congress support to the Rabri government. �Now the time has come to repay that debt,� he told Sonia.

The Congress chief, under pressure from the state unit to rope a reluctant Priyanka into the campaign, jumped at the offer and asked him to tour �all over the state�. Both Sonia and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, are convinced Laloo�s presence will do the trick with its �three-in-one� effect: he would draw the crowds, entertain them and shore up Congress prospects against formidable foes like the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Azad defended Laloo�s induction into the campaign. �He is our trusted ally,� he said. �We are sharing power in Bihar and the BJP is our common enemy.�

Sources said Laloo would hit the trail on Friday, joining the Congress campaign in Aligarh, the nerve-centre of Muslim politics. After a day-long campaign, he would meet Muslim intellectuals, students and teachers at Aligarh Muslim University.

In the first phase, he would concentrate on Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, Bulandshahr and Ghaziabad. Laloo will also campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress lags behind its rivals.


Chennai, Feb. 6: 
Ashok Singhal came, met the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, but could not win an endorsement of the Ram temple. Shri Jayendra Saraswati is believed to have echoed the Centre�s position that a decision should be left to the court.

Reports reaching here indicated that no substantial progress was made in the talks though the Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief was closeted with the Sankaracharya and Acharya Vijeyendra Saraswati for nearly an hour at the Kancheepuram mutt early this morning.

Singhal�s disappointment at not winning the �unalloyed blessings� of the seer for the March 12 construction deadline was evident when he avoided referring to him on being asked whether all the Sankaracharyas had expressed their solidarity with the VHP�s deadline for the temple. Without referring to the seers, he said the VHP had the support of �all the Hindu religious leaders� to their cause.

Jayendra Saraswati, who is firm on the mandir but has considerably mellowed down his approach on the issue, apparently took the position that it would make sense to wait for the court�s verdict on the issue and avert any precipitate action.

The Sankaracharya has veered round to the view that the Ayodhya tangle should be resolved either through a negotiated settlement between the religious leaders of both communities or through a court verdict and that �politics� should be kept out of it.


New Delhi, Feb. 6: 
The Congress today attacked the BJP�s �tendentious� campaign against madarsas in Uttar Pradesh but did not comment on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s bid to regulate madarsas in West Bengal.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy alleged that the BJP was injecting communal prejudices into the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh.

Asked about Bhattacharjee�s warning to �unauthorised madarsas�, the Congress spokesman said the Bengal situation was different.


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