When guardians of Gujarat gave 24-hour licence for punitive action
Scramble to save Ayodhya talks
Papers in hand, board walks tightrope
The slip that let Ansari strike
Sinha fuels rollback hope
Calcutta Weather

Ahmedabad, March 9: 
Pogrom > noun; organised massacre (originally of Jews in Russia) (The Little Oxford Dictionary)

The riots in Gujarat in the wake of the Godhra train carnage on February 27 were not only tacitly backed by the state administration, but chief minister Narendra Modi�s government also gave the VHP/Bajrang Dal stormtroopers 24 hours to do the job.

While it cannot be reported that the government set a deadline, investigations by The Telegraph over the past week reveal that the top men in the government moved in a fashion that made it clear to the VHP/Bajrang Dal that �turant jawabi karvai� (quick punitive action in the words of the Bajrang Dal) must be taken by the evening of February 28.

In the event, much of the vengeance � if that is what the systematic pillage, looting and killing can be called � spent itself out within that time, but the violence spilled over to the districts, villages and smaller towns. It continues in small pockets more than a week after the Godhra burnings.

That the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have organic linkages with the current rulers of Gujarat is public knowledge. Even so, the pointman between the administration and the VHP leadership was the person entrusted with the peaceful running of the state: state home minister Gordhanbhai Zhadapia, himself a secretary of the VHP for six years before moving on to electoral politics and the BJP.

The Modi government�s decision to support the �jawabi karvai� was conveyed to the VHP/Bajrang Dal on the evening of February 27 in Godhra itself. That day, chief minister Modi, home minister Zhadapia, health minister Ashok Bhatt, VHP state joint general secretary Jaidipbhai Patel and VHP state organising secretary Arvindbhai Patel were in the town.

They met and talked several times: in Signal Falia where the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express was torched, in the collectorate, in the hospital, in the run of things. It was not a formal, structured meeting in which the decision was made clear to the VHP. It was conveyed to them on-the-fly, as it were, but with the warning that a spiralling of violence could mean deployment of the army by midnight Thursday-Friday (February 28-March 1).

Till late in the evening of February 27, the VHP leadership was anxious to get support from the BJP for the statewide bandh on February 28, the day following the Godhra killings. The decision to call for a bandh was taken by the afternoon of February 27, and across Gujarat, the VHP/Bajrang Dal cadre interpreted it as a call to action.

The decision was taken mostly in mobile-phone consultations between the VHP office-bearers in Godhra and Ahmedabad, state VHP general secretary Dilipbhai Trivedi, who was going to Delhi from Ayodhya on the Saryu-Yamuna Express, VHP international division chief Praveen Togadia and Gujarat BJP president and MP Rajendra Sing Rana, who was in New Delhi for the Parliament session.

The formal decision of the BJP to support the bandh call was announced through a press note issued around 8 pm. The VHP/Bajrang Dal took that as an endorsement of its stand. The BJP did agonise over the decision to support the bandh call chiefly because the state police intelligence chief, additional director-general of police G.C. Raigar, had warned of its consequences.

Even by the afternoon and the early evening of February 27 � the Sabarmati Express was torched in the morning � violence was breaking out. The BJP was also hopeful of a more strident condemnation of the attack on the Sabarmati Express from secular forces.

The Telegraph quotes from a conversation with Kaushik Mehta, one of the two joint general secretaries of the VHP in Gujarat. The conversation took place in the VHP office in Ahmedabad on March 7 and was an hour long.

Mehta wanted the conversation to be kept off the record. But The Telegraph did not make a commitment.

Mehta: �Let me tell you something off the record. The violence would not have taken place if the secular parties had strongly condemned the attack on the Ram sevaks. In particular, till the late-evening of the 27th, we were expecting a condemnation of the attack from the Shahi Imam of Delhi�s Jama Masjid. But that did not come.

�Then it was decided there should be a model for reprisals. It was important to teach a lesson that could be emulated�. We had also sensed that once again the Centre was moving towards blaming the ISI for perpetrating the Godhra attack. All the 2,000 men, women and children could not have been ISI agents.�

What followed was a pogrom. People were targeted irrespective of standing and political colour. Asked if violence would not beget violence, Dilip Trivedi, state VHP general secretary said: �We hope not. We hope that after what has happened, a lesson will have been learnt.�


New Delhi, March 9: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today initiated measures to dispel the minority community�s misgivings that threatened to snarl the Ayodhya talks, saying the government would abide by a court verdict on whether the temple trust could hold a puja on the �undisputed� land.

His defence minister, too, tried to calm nerves by raising the possibility of army deployment in Ayodhya. But the announcement drew a clarification from the Uttar Pradesh Governor that he wanted the force to be put only on alert.

The �confidence-building� measures came less than 24 hours after the VHP signalled a possible go-ahead for a �symbolic� bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya on March 15. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a petition on the issue on March 13.

Official sources said the government was keen to create a �conducive� ambience for tomorrow�s meeting of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The Centre wanted to ensure that the Kanchi Sankaracharya�s proposals were not rejected out of hand as this would mean going back to square one, they added.

When a delegation of the All India Organisation of Imams called on the Prime Minister this evening, he said: �The government would do as per the directive of the Supreme Court which is hearing the matter on March 13�. Whether we like it or not, we have to abide by the court�s verdict.�

If the court negated the puja proposal, a �new chapter� would begin. But if the court ruled that it was only a question of a one-day puja, �efforts to resolve the old issue will have to be continued�, Vajpayee added.

The apex court will hear two petitions, one seeking contempt proceedings against VHP leaders on charges of violating status quo ante in Ayodhya and the other calling for army deployment.

Official sources said the Prime Minister�s statement was a response to apprehensions voiced by minority leaders that sanctioning a puja may allow the VHP�s kar sevaks a chance to access the disputed spot and provoke a law-and-order problem.

Board members like Syed Shahabuddin had reacted adversely to an out-of-turn announcement by the Kanchi seer yesterday that the government had given the green signal to the puja. The board almost considered calling off its Sunday meeting until the Sankaracharya stepped in and despatched a set of written assurances.

NDA allies like the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have protested against the puja proposal. Desam, which was slated to hold a meeting of its politburo today to finalise its candidate for the Speaker, has deferred it by a day to await the board�s response. Coalition convener and defence minister George Fernandes is scheduled to leave for Hyderabad to pacify Desam.

However, in its attempt to send a reassuring signal by bringing the army into the picture, the Centre seems to have tied itself in knots. Fernandes revealed at a seminar this morning that he had received a written request from the Uttar Pradesh government for army deployment.

Official sources said the statement was meant to assure the minority community that the army�s presence would deter the VHP from assembling a big mob on March 15. But in the evening, Governor Vishnukant Shastri issued the clarification at a news conference.

BJP as well as official sources said the confusion arose as the state administration did not want to take any chances with the VHP. But some senior colleagues of Vajpayee were against army deployment for fear that it might further antagonise the hardliners.

The Prime Minister, however, sounded optimistic before the Imams, saying the Ayodhya issue was �now on the road to resolution�. He added that a congenial atmosphere had been created because of the VHP�s commitment to honour a court verdict and the Sankaracharya�s mediation. �Swamiji came from far away Kanchipuram as a messenger of peace. I am happy that representatives of the Muslim community had candid talks with him,� Vajpayee said.

But VHP spokesman Vireshwar Dwivedi asserted that the puja would take place as planned.


New Delhi, March 9: 
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board today received a set of Ayodhya-related papers from the government and the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswathi, but the documents fell short of clearing its apprehensions.

The dominant view on the board on the eve of its crucial meeting is to wriggle out of the tricky issue of �symbolic puja� on March 15 without sounding too rigid. Advocates of this line feel that the board should not object if the court permits handover of the �acquired land� and allow bhoomi pujan.

�It is an issue that is purely between the government and the VHP. The acquired land does not belong to Muslims,� said K. Rahman Khan, a member of the minority board. �Where is the question of our permission?�

An executive meeting of the panel today discussed the issue for six hours and decided that as it was not party to the dispute, the board had no locus standi to either permit or reject the proposed bhoomi pujan. Board officials are also reluctant to shut all doors to future negotiations despite pressure from members who belong to parties outside the National Democratic Alliance.

Sources on the board said the papers from the Kanchi seer and the government did not specify the revised temple plans, a condition the Muslim body had set for future negotiations for an out-of-court settlement. �They are mostly assurances from various players. Specific issues have been left out,� a source said.

Moderates on the panel sounded pessimistic. They said the atmosphere has been vitiated by minister of state for home I.D. Swami�s visit to Ayodhya and the Sankaracharya�s �premature statement� on the puja.

Board members belonging to the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and other Opposition parties are not keen on a deal. Many of them wear different hats as lawyers, chartered accountants, religious heads, MPs and MLAs. This group views the talks initiative as a �trap� laid by the Sangh parivar to extract the most without conceding much.

Others feel that the board should make a sincere and �bold� effort to reach a negotiated settlement under the supervision of the court. If this camp has its way, the board will lob the ball back into the government-VHP court, keeping hopes of a future dialogue intact.

Arrest claim

The All India Babri Masjid Rebuilding Committee tonight alleged that its president, Mohammad Yunus Siddiqui, has been taken into preventive custody in Delhi, adds PTI. Police denied the claim of the committee, which had threatened to organise a march to Ayodhya from Delhi.


Calcutta, March 9: 
Two months before Aftab Ansari struck outside the American Center killing seven policemen, the state CID had sent an �urgent and confidential� note to the CBI, listing the Dubai-based don�s antecedents, his whereabouts and the crimes that he was charged with. A request was attached: efforts should be made to get him.

Not only was the note ignored, its receipt was not even acknowledged. Unofficially, CBI officials informed West Bengal police that Ansari�s jihadi connections were �too wild to be believed�. It was only after the killings at the American Center doorstep and when US officials entered the scene that a request for a red-corner notice was sent to the Interpol.

In a note dated November 20, 2001, IG, CID, Partha Bhattacharya had informed CBI director P.C. Sharma how, while tracking Khadim�s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman�s kidnappers, they had learnt of Ansari�s international terrorist connections and his close contacts with Sheikh Omar, now in Pakistan police�s custody for the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

The note, besides listing Ansari�s aliases and providing a background to his rise in the world of crime, also mentioned his association with the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami and the Lashkar-e-Toiba and his �friendship� with Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar.

Further, it had details of his bank account in the UAE (Mushrek Bank of Dubai), his passports � an Indian one in the name of Farhan Malik issued by the regional passport office in Patna and and a Pakistani one in the name of Safeer Mohammed Rana issued from Lahore � and his phone numbers both in Dubai and in Pakistan.

The note says during interrogation, Asif Reza Khan, the Dubai don�s �principal associate in India� who had executed Roy Burman�s kidnapping, had told the CID �that in the month of August 2001, in a telephonic conversation with Aftab (in Dubai), the latter took his clearance for sending one lakh US dollars to Sheikh Omar� in Pakistan. It also suggests that a part of this amount may have travelled to Mohammed Atta, one of the accused in the World Trade Center attack.

�The CBI had very little information on Ansari, which is not surprising as we had gathered all the information during the Khadim�s kidnap case,� said a CID official.

�Neither do we mind sharing information since our target is to get the criminals irrespective of which agency does it,� the official said.

�But what surprised us was that they refused to believe any of the information we had supplied and in fact ridiculed it. Had they taken it seriously and acted promptly on it, perhaps the American Center (strike) would not have happened,� he added.

Ironically, despite the ridicule earlier heaped on the CID�s findings by the CBI, union home secretary Kamal Pande�s press briefing on Aftab Ansari was virtually a carbon copy of the West Bengal investigative agency�s detailed note on the Dubai don.

Faced with persistent queries from officials in Bengal on the action being taken on their note, an officer in the Interpol wing of the CBI in Delhi said that he was �helpless� since neither the note nor instructions to act had not been forwarded to him.

Contacted in Delhi, CBI director P.C. Sharma said that he did �remember receiving some information on Ansari� from the West Bengal CID �sometime in October-November� but did not recollect quite why no action was initiated.

�There may have been some communication between my office and the CID but I am not clear on the details at the moment,� he said.

But he said the request for a red-corner notice to the Interpol was made only after the attack outside the American Center. �The Interpol reacted swiftly and within 24 hours of our request the red-corner notice against Ansari was issued. It was very prompt indeed,� he said.


New Delhi, March 9: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to discuss a possible rollback of kerosene and LPG prices which were increased in the budget.

�I am going to meet the Prime Minister on the issue. But I am neither ruling in nor ruling out the possibility of a rollback,� Sinha said.

In his budget speech on February 28, Sinha had raised cooking gas price by Rs 40 a cylinder and that of kerosene by Rs 1.50 per litre. Earlier reports said petroleum minister Ram Naik had been insisting on a meeting to thrash out the price issue.




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