Waqf board rush to clear projects
HS council joins reform-madarsa drive
Jawan kills elite force captain
CBI sees Ansari arms and drug trail
Mother mum, sister stoic
PM returns with Pakistan passport card
Politburo closes madarsa chapter
Suitcase phobia locks up defence deal decisions
One district, two faces
Cong dodders in history hub

Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
With the madarsa issue snowballing, the state Waqf Board has convened a meeting tomorrow to clear a string of development projects drawn up for Muslims six months ago.

�We have been asked to work on a war-footing to finalise some projects for Muslim youths. The purpose is to help them stand on their own feet and get jobs in the near future,� Nazrul Islam Mollah, CEO of the Waqf Board, said today. �The board is serious about implementing those projects,� he added.

Mollah said the board will soon open an industrial training institute-cum-polytechnic exclusively for Muslim girls at the Calcutta Technical School on S.N. Banerjee Road. It will impart practical training to 150 students in diploma courses on civil, mechanical, electrical, computer and electronics engineering.

Temporary arrangements are being made to help students enroll for the session, which will start in June, Mollah said. The government has agreed to release the funds required, he added.

Minorities affairs minister Mohammed Selim brushed aside suggestions that the sudden clearance was aimed at appeasing the minorities who had been ruffled by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s comments on certain madarsas.

�The schemes to develop and educate the Muslims have nothing to do with the present scenario. After coming to power we decided to launch a Waqf-for-education programme in order to utilise the Waqf land lying unused. We also sent a detailed programme to the Centre about our intentions during the Tenth Plan,� Selim said.

Highlighting other projects, board officials said an institute is coming up at 31, Dilkhusa Street to conduct regular coaching classes for Muslim candidates for the civil services, including IAS, and joint entrance examinations.

�The participation of Muslim youths in civil service examinations is pitiably low and the current move is aimed at encouraging them to join the elite services,� Mollah said.

The setting up of a Muslim boys� hostel on Kaiser Street near Sealdah station also figures high on the board�s agenda.

The board is also working on a plan to provide scholarships to nearly 35,000 students for their results in medical, post-graduate, higher secondary and secondary examinations.

Left Front stand

The Left Front today said its government would soon decide its course of action on the numerous unaffiliated educational institutions in the state, including those not imparting religious training, says our staff reporter.

The statement said the decision would be �taken in accordance with the Left Front government�s declared policies�. It said �the government expects cooperation from all patriotic people in its effort to modernise the madarsa system of education�.


Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Ahead of the much-awaited Kidwai committee report on reforming madarsa education, the West Bengal Council for Higher Secondary Education today sought to buttress the government�s reforms initiative by calling for an upgradation of madarsas following the theology-based fazil syllabus at the 10+2 level.

�We will not grant the status (higher secondary) to the 10+2 level higher madarsas as their syllabus is in no way similar to that followed in schools,� council president Jyotirmoy Mukhopadhyay said. �Our syllabus relates to only knowledge-based subjects. But the madarsa course is based only on theology. We are not going to compromise on this issue under any circumstances. If we do it we will be doing injustice to a few lakh students who take the higher secondary examinations every year.�

The 103 madarsas teaching the fazil course have been pressing the government through the council to be brought at par with other recognised higher secondary institutions. This would enable madarsa students to get direct admission to undergraduate courses in colleges affiliated to state-aided universities such as Calcutta or Jadavpur.

But the council authorities rejected the appeal on the grounds that the fazil syllabus was completely different from the higher secondary curriculum as it mostly contained papers on theology, and not on conventional subjects.

Abdul Ahad, assistant secretary of Madarsa Students� Union, however, criticised the council�s stand and urged the government to consider their demand. �The education boards and universities in some states have recognised the fazil and students passing this course are accommodated in Patna and other universities in Bihar. The course has also been recognised by the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. We cannot understand why the universities and boards in Bengal cannot accept our demand,� he said. He hoped the situation would improve after the Kidwai committee submitted its report.

The alim course of madarsas was given the status of Madhyamik in the early 1990s after the state madarsa board incorporated teaching of conventional subjects like history, geography, mathematics and the sciences.


Bagdogra, Feb. 10: 
Staccato bursts from an automatic weapon shattered the late winter afternoon peace at the Bengdubi cantonment, 4 km from here.

Twenty-six-year-old jawan Tshering Norbu of the elite 7th Vikas Regiment shot dead his company commander captain S. Srinivas and fatally wounded another officer, captain Gurdeep Singh, before turning the gun on himself. All this, apparently, in �cold blood�.

The killing in the high-security cantonment, housing parts of the army�s 33 Corps headquarters, has stunned the army top brass here who are at a loss over the motive.

Top army sources at the cantonment said on condition of anonymity that Srinivas of the special frontier force was chatting with Singh at his bachelor�s quarters on the Field Ordnance Depot premises after lunch.

�There was a knock on the door, and captain Singh opened the door. Sepoy Norbu fired the first volley from his AK-47 at the officer�s stomach. Norbu then turned the gun on his company commander who was sitting on the bed. He fired 19 times at his captain, hitting him in the stomach and chest. captain Srinivas died on the spot,� an army official said.

Norbu then turned the gun on himself. Initial investigations suggest that he shot himself in the mouth.

�A seriously wounded captain Singh was rushed to the army�s 33 Corps base hospital within the Bengdubi complex, where he is fighting for his life,� the official said.


Feb. 10: 
Aftab Ansari, the crime mastermind deported from Dubai yesterday, has admitted to forming a countrywide network of arms and narcotics smugglers to carry out illegal activities in India, the CBI told a court.

The confession of a crime network was coupled with the Bengal chief minister�s assertion of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI�s link to the January 22 raid in Calcutta. �The Lashkar-e-Toiba, backed by the ISI, was behind the attacks on the American Center, and the links have been established,� Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in Delhi.

Intelligence officials believe the don, who has claimed responsibility for the Chowringhee raid, had entered the grey area where funds from crime were being channelled into terrorism as early as 1994, when he conspired to blow up Calcutta Stock Exchange on the ISI�s instruction to create a �major disturbance� in the city.

The chief minister said the American Center and the policemen were both prime targets of the attackers, who wanted to create a sense of panic. Bhattacharjee, who was in Delhi to attend a politiburo meeting, said Calcutta police were assisting Central investigating agencies in Ansari�s interrogation.

Still fresh from India�s biggest breakthrough in its hunt for fugitives, Delhi has been describing the �unprecedented� decision by the UAE authorities to deport the don in such a way as to encourage others, particularly Pakistan, to follow the example.

�It clearly shows two things. One, the zero-tolerance level of more and more countries towards terrorists and two, the aggressive campaign launched by India to get back those who have committed criminal or terrorists activities in the country from elsewhere,� a senior foreign ministry official said.

But sceptics in South Block are still debating whether it is a fundamental change in the position of the UAE over harbouring criminals. They are wondering if the move should be seen as the easiest way out for a country which has been under pressure since the September 11 attacks in the US for allowing terrorists to operate from its soil.

Dubai has been safe haven for terrorists and criminals from India for many years now. Initially, it was linked with smuggling, but after the 1993 serial blast in Mumbai, it turned into a hideout for terrorists as well.


Lucknow, Feb. 10: 
Silence has descended over the Lallapura house of Aftab Ansari in Varanasi.

Life for the don�s mother and four sisters has been difficult since the American Center attack in Calcutta.

Philosophical and resigned, Aftab�s sister Ruksana said her brother�s story has come full circle. �Jaise karni waise bharni (you reap what you sow),�� she said after hearing the news of Aftab�s arrest.

�He is my brother and all of us are feeling bad about what he has done and what has happened to him,�� she said. �But I guess what had to happen to him has happened. What else can we say?��

Aftab�s mother Mohsina is not yet ready to talk about her son or his arrest. �I have not been in touch with him for years, what can I say,�� she said. �It is better not to talk about it at all.��

Mohsina had gone on record saying she has nothing to do with the erring son. Disowning Aftab soon after Varanasi police began interrogating her, Mohsina retracted her earlier statement that Aftab had been sending money to her and that they were in touch through letters.

The mother and son never got in touch since he took to his wrong ways more than a decade ago in 1991, Mohsina says now. �We have nothing to do with him.��

Varanasi police are preparing to rush to Delhi and interrogate Aftab on his Uttar Pradesh links before he is taken to Gujarat. �We are doing the ground work before going to Delhi,�� superintendent of police, Varanasi, Anil Agarwal said.

Even as the process of bringing the don back from Dubai was on, Varanasi police had got �important leads�� on his links and businesses in the state. Agarwal refused to �go into numbers� but said many of Aftab�s friends are already in the police net.

However, about a dozen of Aftab�s Varanasi contacts are absconding. They left the town soon after his links with the city came out in the open.

Police have interrogated a large number of his friends and relatives living in Varanasi. Aftab, who had been studying law at Benaras Hindu University, quit midway to concentrate on underworld activities.

�Interrogations are continuing, we are still on the lookout for some of his friends,�� Agarwal said. �Not all of them are involved in crime or have any other interest in Aftab apart from friendship,�� he added.

Police sources said the department was taken by surprise at the swiftness with which the Centre succeeded in bringing Aftab back from Dubai.

�It has come as a surprise to us,�� a senior police official said. Fresh charges are being filed against Aftab and the earlier FIR on him is being re-assessed and revised, they added.


Bathinda, Feb. 10: 
The Prime Minister today took Pakistan to task, saying the arrest of Aftab Ansari with a Pakistani passport had once again proved India�s claim that Islamabad was sheltering terrorists.

In a bid to shore up the sagging morale and dwindling fortunes of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was requested to come to Punjab a second time.

Ridiculing Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf�s statement that India had a hand in the abduction of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, Vajpayee said: �President Musharraf is trying to impose his crime by levelling such allegations against India.�

Addressing a moderate rally in a predominantly Akali belt here, Vajpayee, while seeking votes for the Akali-BJP combine, asked the people not to forget the achievements of the coalition government in restoring peace in the state.

The Prime Minister had addressed two rallies in Ferozepur and Pathankot earlier this week where he also harped on Pakistan�s role in aiding and abetting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

�The terrorists who attacked Parliament also belonged to Pakistan. Isn�t it surprising that such elements take shelter in Pakistan only? Pakistan is a sanctuary for terrorists and it helps people commit crimes against India,� he said while demanding that Islamabad hand over the 20 men wanted by New Delhi.

Vajpayee said India wanted to start the dialogue process with Pakistan but added that any effort to begin talks could not be unilateral. �Pakistan must change its attitude towards India for any dialogue process to start.�

�I want democracy to be restored in Pakistan. I have no idea how Pakistan is being ruled these days. The elected Prime Ministers in Pakistan are either put behind bars or are hanged,� Vajpayee said.

He reiterated that the armed forces deployed on the border would not be withdrawn till Islamabad stopped cross-border terrorism.

�I support an international organisation against terrorism and support the US move towards that direction,� he said while questioning Pakistan�s presence in the body.

Vacuum after Sonia

Referring to the row triggered by his allusion to Sonia Gandhi as a �videshi�, Vajpayee said: �They get angry if I say something. But as far as they are concerned, they make wild allegations and indulge in mudslinging. They should not expect the NDA to take everything lying down. The coffin allegation can hurt the morale of the troops.�

He said the Congress had no other leader after Sonia and �is on the verge of break-up�.

�The BJP has many leaders like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others. The list is long,� the Prime Minister said.

However, he added: �I don�t have any ill feelings against anyone.�

The Prime Minister said all parties must fight together whenever there is a crisis in the country but �we don�t have any hope from the Congress�.


New Delhi, Feb. 10: 
The CPM politburo today raised the madarsa issue with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee but decided to bury the controversy after the chief minister said he was misquoted.

�The matter for us ended there,� said a politburo member, indicating that the party was keen to ensure that political opponents do not make capital of the issue.

The politburo member quoted the chief minister as saying that he did not mean �all madarsas�. Bhattacharjee added that anti-national activities take place in some religious institutions. �Even if this happens in a temple, our government will take action. Religious places should not be misused. I had not said all madarsas�,� the member quoted the chief minister as saying.

The CPM leadership was worried about the possible fallout of Bhattacharjee�s comment on madarsas. Top BJP leaders had grabbed the opportunity to justify their stand that madarsas are being used to indoctrinate young minds and harbour terrorists. The Marxists� bete noire, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, was also itching to make an issue out of it.

CPM sources said the party did not want the controversy to linger and decided to end the matter.

The madarsa issue figured in talks on the law and order situation in the state during Bhattacharjee�s meeting with home minister L.K. Advani yesterday � their first since the attack outside the American Center.

The home minister, however, did not give any specific assurance to the chief minister on tackling ISI activities in border areas.

The state government had already informed the home ministry about the spurt in the activities of ISI operatives and Advani is well informed about it, said a source.

The politburo also discussed political and organisational reports. These will be placed before the central committee, which is likely to meet on March 18 at Hyderabad.


New Delhi, Feb. 10: 
This is a story of perverse logic but it does illustrate how deep mutual suspicion runs in the defence ministry because scam after scam that has toppled out of its cupboards is so much grist for the political rumour mill.

An hour after the appointed time at which defence minister George Fernandes and Russian deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov were to address the press on the bilateral military meet, naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh, still fresh in his new assignment, swept through gate 11 of South Block in his motorcade.

No sooner had his car parked at the entrance, the chief stepped out, barely acknowledged the salute of the securitymen on duty and briskly walked into office.

Inside, Fernandes and Klebanov and the two delegations of the India-Russia inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation were hard at work, ironing out each phrase in the protocols to be signed. It was known that both sides were bargaining hard for the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov.

After Admiral Singh vanished into the corridors, in the full glare of the assembled media, two men were detailed to unload a large blue and a large black suitcase from his Ambassador car. With the luggage, they vanished in the naval chief�s steps.

A junior defence ministry official, detailed on security and protocol duty, noted with a wink and a barely-heard whisper: �Now that the suitcases have arrived, the Gorshkov deal will be clinched.� The comment � and the insinuation that the suitcases were meant for money as kickbacks � drew the titters it was meant to.

Another hour passed by and there was still no briefing. The first sign that the programme was not being called off was the return of the two security men, each lugging a wheeled suitcase behind him. This time the titters were indiscreet, raucous in fact.

For the record, there is nothing about Admiral Singh and the suitcases to suggest the naval chief has his hands in the till. He was out of the capital on an official tour and had driven to office straight from the airport. One suitcase was possibly carrying his personal effects and the other, official documents.

But such is the atmosphere in South Bloc since Tehelka and �coffingate� � Sonia Gandhi and the BJP slug it out over allegations of scams at election meetings every day � that every meeting on a defence deal inevitably carries with it the whiff of suspected scandal.

The upshot is that senior officers of the ministry and the services are loathe to take decisions. Ministry sources say this fiscal only Rs 6,000 crore out of a total capital budget of Rs 19,959 crore has been spent. Even if it is presumed that the maximum expenditure will be incurred as usual in the last quarter, it is unrealistic to expect that the balance can be spent in the month and a half that remains of the year.

Last year, the defence ministry returned to finance close to Rs 5,000 crore.

Ironically enough, in 2001, the defence ministry has seen dramatic liberalisation. The ban on agents for arms manufacturers and suppliers, imposed in the wake of the Bofors scam, has been lifted; for the first time, private Indian and foreign players have been allowed into defence production even for supplies of lethal weaponry; a structured Defence Procurement Board has been put in place and service chiefs now have greater authority to decide and make purchases.

Among the reasons for the laxity in decision-making � apart from the scandal history sheet � is the somewhat brazen steps that Fernandes has taken in trying to appear aboveboard.

Two such steps were taken this month. The first, the unofficial commissioning of R.V. Pandit, a former journalist and publisher, to come out with a booklet on �coffingate� that put the blame on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Pandit also used a letter from the army chief to the minister to justify his stand.

This was highly improper given that communication between the chief of army staff and the defence minister is not public property to be released by someone who has no locus standi in the ministry. Even senior defence ministry officials are miffed. �It would have been better to point out that the minister did not even figure in the decision-making for the caskets,� they say.

The second, and just concluded, is the deal contracted yesterday to procure Krasnopol ammunition from a Russian firm. The same CAG investigation, which indicted the defence ministry on the procurement of caskets to bring back the army�s dead from the Kargil heights, had criticised the quality of Krasnopol ammunition.


Pratapgarh, Feb. 10: 
One is the archetypal Congress patriarch: benevolent, yet conscious of his status and authority of one who doles out largesse. The other typifies the rough-and-tumble of present-day Uttar Pradesh politics: a go-getter, unencumbered by morality or ideology, a criminal to his detractors, Robin Hood to his admirers.

Meet Pramode Tiwari of the Congress, and Raghuraj Pratap Singh � Raja Bhaiyya to those who know him � an Independent with a chair as his election symbol. If Tiwari wins this election, it will be for the eighth time � a victory that may earn him a place in the Guinness Book.

Both are from the Pratapgarh district, which lies between Allahabad and Sultanpur. Both represent neighbouring constituencies. Tiwari is from Rampur Khaas and Pratap Singh from Kunda.

Physically, there�s little to tell Rampur Khaas apart from Kunda. Both are swathed in land dyed in a riot of colours � from the screaming yellow of the mustard crop to the burnt yellow of arhar daal. Hidden behind the colourscape is the new wheat crop.

The tell-tale signs of the politics of these two sitting MLAs are unmistakable.

Lalganj is the bustling main market place of Rampur Khaas. You will find the ubiquitous PCOs, and shops selling cellphones, sarees, fancy knitwear, jewellery, even tractors. Signs that even here in eastern Uttar Pradesh, once considered a backward place, the rural rich have arrived.

Mention prosperity and everybody �without exception � attributes it to Tiwari. �Thanks to him, every village is blessed with electricity, roads, hand-pumps and phones,� said Altaf Khan, the owner of a shoe-shop. He stresses how Tiwari never discriminated on the lines of religion or caste when he showers his patronage. �He may have pro-Brahmin feelings but he never reveals them.�

Muslims are grateful to Tiwari for a symbolic gesture he made last year, which they believe, would go some way in cementing their ties with Hindus: constructing the Guyeesarnath Temple, 9 km from Lalganj. An ekta mahautsav (festival of harmony) was celebrated in this temple during Navratri to bring Hindus and Muslims together. Said Aqlaq Ahmed: �Not only does he visit our masjids regularly, but he has also made it a point to give water and power connection to each of them.�

Even an RSS pracharak like Kashi Prasad Pande swore by Tiwari. Pande, who was the Rampur Khaas president of the Uttar Pradesh BJP until 1995, said he quit and joined the Congress when he realised that his former party had no future in this place.

�The entire Pratapgarh district has 24 water tanks. Of these, as many as 13 are in our constituency. We have 200 roads, big and small, and a TV tower,� said Pande. His grouse against the BJP was that it did not allow Tiwari to complete the construction of a 132 mw power station at Rampur Khaas.

Dev Narain Singh, the pradhan of Khemseri village, said despite being a Thakur, he would not think of voting the BJP which has a Thakur chief minister because �Tiwari is as good, if not better than any minister, without being in the government�.

So, who will win? Most here believe the odds are stacked heavily in Tiwari�s favour.

Why? Simple. Raja Bhaiyya has put the fear of God in everyone�s hearts � rich or poor, powerful or humble.

A college lecturer described his modus operandi. �He has raised a Raja Bhaiyya youth brigade of the most able-bodied and criminal-minded boys in every village. Their job is simply to terrorise voters before the elections. If it appears that somebody may vote for another party, these boys will threaten to break their hands and legs. And if they still defy them, they are beaten black and blue after the elections and sometimes driven out of their village.�

Raja Bhaiyya�s terror tactics have their origin in the fight he put up against well-entrenched Brahmin landlords in his area. Said Rakesh Singh, a close associate: �He was instrumental in finishing off the land mafia which grabbed land from the poor�. The poor and even rich shopkeepers are now able to live in peace.�

But development? There�s not much to speak of on that front. But, of course, when he was sports minister in the Rajnath Singh government, Raja Bhaiyya made it a point to organise volleyball matches in Kunda�s college. Volleyball, because he enjoyed the game himself.

But the ministerial stint � his first since he won an Assembly election in 1993 � has evidently been addictive both for Raja Bhaiyya and his backers.

As Babban Tiwari said: �He is an Independent and he will support whoever forms the government if he is assured a place in it.�


Allahabad, Feb. 10: 
The Congress has shown no signs of revival in east Uttar Pradesh, at least not in Allahabad, epicentre of the freedom movement and home to the Nehru-Gandhis.

In the entire region, which includes the Allahabad, Kaushambi and Pratapgarh districts accounting for as many as 90 Assembly constituencies, the only sure-fire Congress winner seems to be the sitting MLA from Rampur Khaas, Pramode Tiwari.

Though Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka�s mugs were faithfully plastered all over Rampur Khaas, Tiwari�s campaign was run entirely on the steam of his achievements over the seven uninterrupted terms he has had as an MLA. The only other Congressman who appeared to be in the fight was Ashok Vajpeyi from Allahabad North. He�s the son of Rajendra Kumari Vajpeyi and a member of one of the legendary Brahmin Congress families of Uttar Pradesh.

An out-of-work senior Congress functionary said on condition of anonymity: �The party does not exist. There is no organisation. It�s the third or fourth number party.�

He bemoaned that Allahabad � which produced not only Jawaharlal Nehru but also other heavyweights such as H.M. Bahuguna � did not have a single MP from the Congress or even a MLA or legislative council member.

He also alleged that a �quota system� had worked as the main criterion in the ticket distribution. �Seven out of 11 tickets in Allahabad were given to non-Congressmen,� he said. The Allahabad South candidate, Virendra Mohile, for instance, was recommended by Satya Prakash Malviya, who was a Socialist and had been �staunchly anti-Congress� all his life.

Bahuguna�s daughter, Rita Joshi, who has been flitting from the Samajwadi Party to the Congress, managed to get a ticket for a relative, Shekhar Bahuguna, from Barr.

�At best these people can cut the BJP�s Brahmin votes to an extent, but that will benefit the Samajwadi Party rather than us,� mourned Congress sources.

Rajendra Kumar, who heads the Allahabad University�s Hindi department, maintained that the Congress had failed to attract young or even middle-aged voters. �Although the upper castes are disenchanted with the BJP for betraying them on a number of issues like the Ram mandir, where is the alternative?� he asked.

According to Kumar, the upper castes were �neutral� towards the Samajwadi Party and still �allergic� to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The sentiment was echoed across the countryside. In Rajapur-Mallua of Soraon Assembly constituency, Vivek Diwedi, a farmer-cum-shopkeeper, said even though the Congress still enjoyed substantial goodwill among �Congress-minded� families like his, it had not projected itself as a strong alternative to the BJP, or a party capable of taking on the �casteist� forces like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati.

�Sonia entered politics too late. She should have taken over the leadership immediately after Rajiv Gandhi�s death. She kept saying No, No and allowed men like Narasimha Rao to run the show. He ruined it,� said Diwedi.

The only note of optimism expressed by any Congress member was that of Harish Chandra Pathak, a member of the party�s legal cell. �The Congress is the only all-India party that does not have an alliance with anybody in these elections. Sonia decided to fight on her own and that shows our strength,� he said.

But despite his boast, even Pathak would not bet on more than 50 seats for his party in Uttar Pradesh.


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