Jailer bungles, Pak family pays
Police bust arms racket
Vajpayee caught between VHP and allies
Scindia son eyes sympathy votes
Destination Bengal for PWG rebels
Keishing faces tough contest
Jaya walks the extra mile as DMK fights back
Voice for literature�s poor cousins
Jamat link in Bangla arrest
Mawlong to tell home truths

Behrampore, Feb. 18: 
More than two years ago, Mohammed Ali � a resident of Karachi � came to India with his wife and three children.

The five � Ali, his wife Mumtaz Begum, two sons, Saidur (14) and Javed (4) and daughter Lahima Khatun (7) � are now languishing in Behrampore Central Jail. They have been there for over two years now.

They had valid papers only to visit India, but took a chance and crossed over to Bangladesh from Murshidabad. They spent a month in Bangladesh�s Maimansigh district, but luck ran out when they tried to cross back to India.

Ali can never forget the date they were arrested by the BSF: November 26, 1999.

The irony is, many like Ali get arrested for similar offences. But they get away with only three months in jail � the standard punishment for the crime.

The Ali family, too, was given three months. But bunglings by the jail authorities ensured that their stay got prolonged to over two years.

�We were caught for crossing over from Bangladesh without valid documents. For that we were jailed. But why should we continue to languish in jail even after the completion of the sentence?� said Ali.

Jail records confirm that in May 2000, the family was sent to Jaipur in Rajasthan where they were supposed to be handed over to Pakistani authorities. During that time every year, both countries exchange prisoners arrested on charges of crossing the border without valid documents.

But the Ali family had to be brought back to Behrampore as the jail authorities reached Jaipur only after the handover exercise was over.

A year passed. In May 2001, the family was once again taken to Jaipur. This time, they reached on time but jail officials forgot to send their passports. The family was again brought back to Behrampore as Pakistan refused to take them back in the absence of proof.

The wait is now again for May.

Officials admitted that it was a �glaring mistake on our part� not to send the prisoners� papers. Jail superintendent D.C. Saha said they had failed to collect the passports and other necessary papers of the family from the Lalgola police station when the Ali family was taken to Jaipur.

Taking strong exception to this, inspector-general of prisons Anil Kumar said in Calcutta that he would seek an explanation from Saha.

District superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said jail authorities take care of the entire formalities of prisoner handover at the border. �It may be that the whole process got delayed because of a communication gap,� he said.


Asansol, Feb. 18: 
Police last night busted an inter-state arms racket after arresting 10 people, including an Eastern Coalfields Ltd employee, from Andal.

They recovered nearly two dozen firearms, including sophisticated weapons like self-loading and AK-47 rifles, three live bombs, besides six two-wheelers with forged number plates.

The arrested ECL employee, Kashim Miya, posted in Haripur colliery, used to work as the agent of an inter-state arms gang.

�Kashim is from Giridih in Jharkhand. He used to supply arms to miscreants in the bordering areas. A pipegun has been recovered from him,� said additional superintendent of police L.N. Meena.

Sources said the �miscreants� include PWG rebels.

Kashim was picked up by the police on Sunday from his Haripur ECL quarters. He was produced before the court and remanded in custody for 10 days. The ECL authorities have suspended Kashim.

Police had earlier arrested two miscreants from Asansol and recovered arms and ammunition from them. After interrogation, police came to know the involvement of the ECL employee in the arms racket.

Officials from the intelligence branch today interrogated Kashim. �We have got a lot of information from him, including the involvement of some other criminals based in Bihar and Jharkhand but we do not want to disclose it for the sake of investigation,� Meena said.

Police have started combing different areas, especially the forest regions, in search of more arms on the basis of the information provided by the arrested miscreants.

The sources said the rebels preferred the region to smuggle arms as it provided many natural advantages.


New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will soon have to think up a strategy to calm allies who have taken serious note of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad�s 100-day yagna.

With VHP hawks having unilaterally started the yagna in the run-up to the proposed construction of the Ram mandir from March 15, many of the National Democratic Alliance�s partners in government are frowning.

They feel the VHP has made a mockery of the coalition agenda that had set aside three contentious issues � Ayodhya, uniform civil code and Article 370.

The allies � including the Telugu Desam, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the DMK and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) � have, however, decided to hold their silence till the Uttar Pradesh results are declared on February 24. They feel that any outburst on their part could colour the election outcome.

The allies are likely to break loose during the budget session of Parliament beginning next Monday, a day after the Uttar Pradesh mandate is out. By then, Vajpayee will have to keep an alibi or an action plan ready to answer their queries.

The Prime Minister has double trouble on his hands as the heartland mandate is hardly likely to be heartening for the BJP.

If his party fails to bag enough seats to form a government in Lucknow, Vajpayee will have to face not only a belligerent VHP but some allies who could make his position vulnerable.

Alternatively, if a BSP-BJP coalition is set up with Mayavati as chief minister, the Prime Minister�s headache would lessen to a great extent.

Not only would the Sangh parivar hawks cool down, Mayavati�s 14 MPs would back the NDA at the Centre and bolster the Prime Minister�s strength.

An NDA source today said the alliance partners would mount pressure �within and outside Parliament� against the parivar hawks� bid to take �the law into their hands�.

�We would like the matter to be discussed at the NDA meeting slated for next week,� the source said.

But allies like the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), the Lok Janashakti have said they would wait for a few more days before deciding on the future course of action.

NDA sources said �in the event of a non-BJP government assuming power in Lucknow, the VHP is certain to seize the opportunity and create problems. If that be so, some of the supporting parties may also be forced to take a hard decision, whether to continue supporting a BJP-led government in Delhi�.

An INLD leader, however, spoke from a different angle. He said that most allies had a problem with the BJP�s �big brother� attitude.

The INLD and the BJP had virtually parted ways in Haryana, he said, while the BJD and the BJP were contesting the panchayat elections against each other.

The DMK, he added, was peeved with the BJP�s �covert understanding� with the ADMK. And the Desam was worried over the anti-incumbency factor that could arise if the Vajpayee government fell because of the Uttar Pradesh mandate or the VHP�s belligerence on the temple front.


Guna, Feb. 18: 
Guna never let down the Scindia royalty. Thirty years ago, the 26-year-old maharaja, Madhavrao Scindia, started his political career as a Jan Sangh candidate from this constituency. Guna saw him through with a margin of over 1,40,000 votes.

After Madhavrao�s death, his 31-year-old son Jyotiraditya is campaigning as a Congress candidate to fill his father�s seat in Parliament.

Guna will not betray the new maharaja either. With the family losing Rajmata Vijayaraje and Madhavrao in one year, the sympathy wave is running high.

Guna-Shivpuri, a constituency adjoining Gwalior, has never seen elections as a fight between political parties.

Madhavrao�s mother Vijayaraje started her political career in 1957 as a Congress candidate from here. After the 1962 elections, she shifted to the Jan Sangh and later represented the BJP. Madhavrao represented the Jan Sangh in 1971, was an Independent in 1977 and then joined the Congress in 1980.

For the people of Guna, no symbol or political entity has ever proved stronger than their allegiance to the maharaja. Such is the loyalty that in 1984, when neither Vijayaraje nor Madhavrao represented Guna, Mahendra Singh Kalukhera, Madhavrao�s ADC in the royal family, won by a margin of over 1,30,000 votes.

In that election, Madhavrao had shifted to his home turf in Gwalior to fight Atal Bihari Vajpayee and won by a margin of over 1,75,000 votes.

Jyotiraditya, a Harvard undergraduate and an MBA from Stanford has little in common with residents of this dry, arid constituency which comprises eight rural Assembly segments. But the young Scindia is more than certain about the �loyalties� of his people.

�My family�s relationship with Guna is not political,� he says at every rally.

�Your relationship with the Scindias goes back nine generations. For centuries, we have shared our joys and sorrows with you. My father had relentlessly, unselfishly worked for 30 years to ensure the development of Guna. He sacrificed himself for Guna. On Thursday, you can pay respects to Madhavrao Scindia and vote for the hand. Raise your hands to show me you will...� It is the same plea everywhere. Every time the crowd choruses: �Madhavrao amar rahe. Maharaj Jyotiraditya zindabad.

Knowing there is no chance of a fight, the BJP has fielded a scapegoat, MLA Desh Raj Singh Yadav.

This time, the Congress� only concern is the margin of votes. The more the margin, the easier will it be for Jyotiraditya to find a foothold in Delhi. He already has the high-command�s blessings. On Saturday, Sonia Gandhi broke a Congress tradition addressing a rally for the byelection in Guna � the first time a Congress president has done so since Independence.


A village along the Bengal-Jharkhand border, Feb. 18: 
On February 4, Naxalites killed Anil Mahato of the CPM in Paschim Midnapore. Seven days later, the rebels struck again, killing Ramapada Majhi, a CPM local committee member in Bankura.

Anil Biswas declared war on the People�s War � a unit of the People�s War Group � that has been methodically targeting local CPM leaders for some time now. But in the Naxalite camp, no one particularly paid attention to the CPM state secretary�s war-cry. If anything was going to deter them, it was certainly not Biswas.

Talking to The Telegraph at an undisclosed location along the Bengal-Jharkhand border, People�s War central committee member Santosh Kumar and the head of the outfit�s Bengal operations, �Comrade� Sagar, outlined how the group planned to target the CPM�s bases in Bengal just as they had made inroads into CPI strongholds in Bihar.

Their first job, they said, was to eliminate the local leaders � the �immediate class enemy of the people� � before they got down to the more serious business of attacking policemen. This had also been their modus operandi in Bihar.

�The murders and the frontal wars between our cadre and those of the CPM are part of a low-intensity-conflict strategy that the PWG would like to adopt now to win over the poor in Midnapore and Bankura,� Kumar said.

Kumar, who is in his early forties, is believed to be the number two in the organisation after Ganpati, the general secretary. He has been monitoring developments in Bengal. The state, he feels, is ripe for another land-struggle along the lines of the Naxalite movement 30 years ago. �It is time to rejuvenate the struggle that got diluted by the �loose-screw� ideas of the Front.�

People�s War also wants to revive the �wage struggle� of labourers at Belpahari in Midnapore, Ranibandh in Bankura and parts of Purulia where bidi leaves are grown.

�(But) our main goal is to first fight a section of the CPM�s lumpen elements being guided by leaders like Sushanta Ghose. We succeeded in doing so during the pre-poll clashes. When we first began our struggle, the Trinamul Congress projected it as its own fight. It took advantage of the climate of people�s resistance. We did not mind because we wanted the inter-party clashes to turn into a class war. The neo-rich CPM leaders were in a class of their own. All they wanted was to bag government contracts,� said Kumar.

Then Chhoto Angaria happened. �When Trinamul got its political mileage, we laughed. Later, when people came to know that those who had been killed were actually our cadre, we began to win support,� Kumar said.

�After polls, the Trinamul workers quietly moved away. The PWG stayed back. The organisation�s workers compared the Garbeta conflagration to the Tebhaga movement. It had all the echoes of history.�

Having tasted initial success, the Naxalites are now planning to present a joint front of the PWG, the CPI(ML) and the Maoist Communist Centre . The idea is to build a �guerrilla zone�.

�We will soon form a strategic zone of seven districts from Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand. These include Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, West and East Singhbhum and two districts of Orissa,� the rebel leader said.

The confidence rings in the voice, as also the hatred for the CPM. �The CPM has strayed so far away from the poor but stuck to power by abusing the official machinery.�

If that sounds too much like a leaf out of the Naxalite copybook, listen to Kumar�s views on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. �He is the leader of the neo-rich middle-class.�

The middle class may not like it, but Kumar is sure the others � and even the CPM � are listening.


Phungyar (Manipur), Feb. 18: 
If there is any constituency in Manipur that does not have an �ex-MLA�, it is Phungyar. Eighty-two-year-old Rishang Keishing, a veteran Congressman, has been representing the constituency in the Assembly ever since Manipur attained statehood in 1972.

But will Phungyar repose faith in Keishing? This is the question on almost every pollster�s lips as Manipur�s longest-serving chief minister � he was at the helm for 11 years � braces for the toughest electoral battle of his political career.

It is not just political rivals who stand in the way of Keishing being re-elected this time round. He has to contend with two additional opponents in the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the United Naga Council (UNC). Both are angry with him for opposing the extension of the ceasefire in Nagaland to Manipur last year.

Keishing�s refusal to sign the recent �Senapati Declaration�, touted as a show of Naga unity, antagonised the UNC even more.

The UNC and the NSCN (I-M) have �officially� not campaigned against Keishing. But a group christened as the Naga Youth Ceasefire Support Group, Ukhrul district, has distributed pamphlets in the Tangkhul dialect, urging the electorate not to vote for him.

However, Congress activists in Phungyar seem determined to ensure that their leader maintains a clean slate. �Even if the UNC were to campaign against Keishing, it would not have any impact on his electoral prospects. His support base in Phungyar is solid,� a Congressman said.

Barnabas Jajo, Keishing�s election agent, told The Telegraph that the Congress would improve on its showing in the last Assembly polls.


Andipatti, Feb. 18: 
Sunday night. The hands of the watch showed 10 when Jayalalithaa asked her driver to stop the Tempo Traveller on the narrow, newly laid road of this rural constituency.

She had noticed a small group of elderly villagers in Jambuliputhur. The ADMK chief got down, walked up to them and asked for their blessings.

As the Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) winds up a high-pitched campaign for the February 21 Assembly bypoll, nobody here believes Amma can lose. But for Jayalalithaa, who is hoping to return as chief minister, there is no room for complacency.

The DMK, her main rival, is putting up a tough fight, fielding Vaigai Sekar, who had defected from its �rebel child� the MDMK, led by estranged NDA ally Vaiko.

Though interactions with voters here revealed the �balance of convenience� in Amma�s favour � ADMK cadre expect her to win by more than 80,000 votes � Jayalalithaa is leaving nothing to chance, even walking that extra mile to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

A one-day whirlwind tour by DMK chief M. Karunanidhi seems to have made all the difference to an otherwise �sure-fire recipe situation� for Jayalalithaa in this �ADMK fortress�. In the last 25 years, this constituency has voted ADMK candidates to power five times out of seven. In 1984, the party�s late founder, M.G. Ramachandran, had won the seat by a margin of 32,500 votes, though he was recovering from a serious illness at America�s Brooklyn Hospital.

On the face of things, nothing can upset Jayalalithaa�s applecart in this constituency of about 2.08 lakh voters where women voters slightly outnumber men. Though 24 candidates are in the fray, for all practical purposes it is a four-cornered contest among Amma, Sekar, MDMK�s V. Jeyachandran and Dalit leader K. Krishnasamy, the Puthiya Tamizhagam president.

In south Tamil Nadu, where caste divisions are still watertight, the dominant OBC Thevars, who cannot brook even an extra inch of space for Dalits, are rallying behind the ADMK.

However, some residents here say this advantage can be neutralised to an extent because the DMK has fielded a Thevar. Even in 1991, after Rajiv Gandhi�s assassination, the party had polled about 35,000 votes at Andipatti. �So it�s a good reason not to underestimate Vaigai Sekar,� says a trader in the heart of the town.

Karunanidhi is harping on Jayalalithaa�s �proxy� rule and the �redundancy� of electing another chief minister when �her puppet-on-the-string� O. Panneerselvam (also a Thevar) fitted the bill.

The 78-year-old former chief minister is also playing up the sympathy card, telling crowds how he was roughed up by �Jayalalithaa�s police� and dragged out of his house during his arrest last year.

Jayalalithaa has countered the redundancy argument, saying she was deprived of her legitimate chief ministership by the �conspiracy of her political rivals�, first by �having her nomination papers rejected at Andipatti last May and then (by) unseating her despite the popular mandate. �I am therefore here again to seek your votes,� she says.

The other main OBC community, the Naickers, roughly comprises 30 per cent of the Andipatti electorate. They have an underlying empathy for Vaiko, who is from the community. But this may not translate into votes for the MDMK as largely medium-sized landholders among them feel �they can get things done for Andipatti by voting for Jayalalithaa�.


New Delhi, Feb. 18: 
In a city where the creamy layer chases books only on the bestseller list, more than a thousand of the elite turned up at Vigyan Bhavan to witness the opening ceremony of At Home in the World, the first international festival of Indian literature in the country.

It was the ultimate Page 3 turnout. The community of writers around whom the hoopla is being staged � with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations playing the host � remained mostly on the fringe. Still, a sharp literary debate reared its head over the confusion till the very last moment and celebrity scalp-hunting by swishing kanjivaram-clad ladies.

Extending a warm welcome to Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, poet-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: �One may not agree with all your views in India: a million mutinies now, but I can tell you that this country of one billion people rejoiced in your award.�

The paparazzi rushed to catch the politician rather than the author, though former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao may � like Vajpayee � can claim to belong to either category by virtue of his single novel, The Insider. I.K. Gujaral, another ex-PM, and R. Venkataraman, an ex- President, were there, too. And all were charmed by Naipaul�s Pakistani wife, Nadira, flitting about airily dressed in a smart black-and-white outfit.

Congress stalwart K. Natwar Singh, another politician with literary pretensions, rubbed shoulders with the likes of author Amitav Ghosh.

Jaswant Singh sat in the same row, sharing with the other Singh interest in external affairs, and famous not for his writing but for his baritone-rich flowery vocabulary.

Vajpayee said Indian literature has set a timeless standard based on the principles of �satyam, sivam, sundaram�. This civilisation, he said, believed in intellectual freedom and cultural pluralism.

He commented on the recent emergence of self-confident Indian writers abroad. But, he said, it has also thrown up a debate: it seems �Indian writing in English has become synonymous with Indian literature�.

Indian literature, however, is not split into two separate camps. While the Prime Minister expressed his pride in the success of Indian writing in English, he said he felt depressed by the neglect of Indian language writing. He suggested the creation of a national translation board to give greater exposure to writers in Indian languages.

Naipaul responded to the Prime Minister�s speech with great charm, rebutting subtly many of the premises mooted by august Indian speakers, including Vice-President Krishan Kant, who is also the president of ICCR. Referring to the praise of ancient Indian literature, Naipaul said perhaps it would be more fitting to celebrate a more modern literature. He said: �Ritualised societies were stagnant societies and therefore do not require books.�

Naipaul said the dynamism of Indian writing was a more recent phenomenon, with the exception of Bengal. Forty years ago there was no audience for Indian writing, he said, recalling discussing R.K. Narayan in the UK in the sixties to meet with a blank look. �It was faith in themselves which kept the writers going.�

Taking up the point made by Vajpayee about the plight of Indian writers in languages other than English, Naipaul said: �The Prime Minister spoke very movingly but writing depends on readership.� Naipaul seemed to suggest that intervention from outside � of governmental or of any other kind � would not help. He mentioned Khushwant Singh serialising U. Ananthamurthy�s Sanskara in The Illustrated Weekly during the Emergency. �Are there any publications today doing such work?� he asked.

A book, Naipaul said, is not only about spirit: it is �a physical object, an industrial product�. Books require an infrastructure to succeed and a society that is developing and on the move. �They have to follow their own dynamics.�

He pointed out that a lot of Indian writing in English is being done abroad and has led to the emergence of rare Indian critics, which, he felt, would break the tyranny of the English language or the tyranny of foreign criticism of Indian literature.

Naipaul warned against unquestioningly accepting the prescriptions of foreign universities about what has to be written and how to write it.

�Do not be dazzled by those degrees and what they offer. Literature comes out of the people and can be best appreciated by the people.�


Siliguri, Feb. 18: 
Intelligence officials today claimed three of the six Bangladeshi nationals arrested last Friday from the border village of Radhikapur under Kaliaganj police station were Jamat-e-Islami members.

The BSF received a tip-off that a local resident, Jagabandu Burman, had been sheltering six Bangladeshi infiltrators. The six were arrested after an early-morning raid. Burman was also taken into custody. All seven were handed over to Kaliaganj police.

Intelligence officials in Uttar Dinajpur believe three of them were headed for arms training to Karachi. Of the other three, two were Hindus, while the third was a Bangladeshi guide.

Uttar Dinajpur superintendent of police Akhil Kumar Roy said: �During interrogations, the three arrested Bangladeshi nationals revealed their identities as Mohammed Nepal Hossain, Mohammed Abas Ali and Mohammed Masood Gazi, all residents of Madaripur district in Bangladesh.�

He added: �They also revealed that they were recruited by the Jamat-e-Islami and had undergone arms training at a madarsa in Rajsahi district. They were later recruited by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and were being sent to Karachi for advanced arms training.�

Roy said the group had engaged guides on both sides of the border. He claimed they had taken the two Hindus to help them avoid detection. They could then claim they were fleeing �religious persecution� in Bangladesh.They had planned to clandestinely slip into India and travel to Karachi via Delhi.

The incident has thrown a new light on the organised network of cross-border guides who, for a considerable fee, help Bangladeshi infiltrators cross over to India with ease.


Shillong, Feb. 18: 
The path ahead is rugged and tortuous. Hence, the change of vehicle. From the comfort of a plush Cielo to a sturdy Tata Sumo, former Meghalaya chief minister Evansius Kek Mawlong has set out on a �bare all� mission, promising to expose the truth about the deal on a Calcutta property that had kicked up a controversy forcing him out of the chair.

Only a few weeks after his return here, following his prolonged ailment, Mawlong is back in business.

The former chief minister has already started a vigorous campaign in his constituency Umroi, as well as other parts of the state. An upbeat Mawlong told The Telegraph that he would certainly �not sit quietly�.

A mammoth public rally has been planned in his constituency on Thursday. The Meghalaya House controversy and the charges of corruption against the previous government are expected to figure prominently at the rally.

�I shall reply to all the charges in the rally as I want to ensure that my people do not have any doubts in their mind. I have a lot to say about the Meghalaya House deal,� the chief minister said.

Mawlong is still full of regret that he was not allowed to reply to the charges on the floor of the House in December, when a trial of strength was conducted against his government.

�I was not well then and not even allowed to defend myself and project the truth,� Mawlong said of the controversy that had erupted in the Assembly.

�However, now that my treatment is over, I am feeling better,� the chief minister said, signalling that tough times were ahead for the F.A. Khonglam government.

Mawlong seems to be in no mood to compromise with the circumstances under which his government was pulled down.

The former chief minister is already riding a sympathy wave as the people of the state have began to question the �sincerity� of the present government in instituting an inquiry into the controversial Meghalaya House deal that has paralysed the state for much more than two months.

Mawlong was adamant that he would raise the issue and demand an explanation as to why the inquiry had not been initiated so far.

�I had already instituted an inquiry by a retired judge, Justice S. Haque of Gauhati High Court, but this government turned it down,� the former chief minister claimed.

The Peoples� Forum of Meghalaya government had promised to root out corruption and promptly institute a judicial inquiry into the Meghalaya House controversy after coming to power.

However, it is nearly three months since the organisation came to power and the judicial inquiry is yet to take off.

The next big rally is on April 18 at Malki ground in Shillong.


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