Debut for woman leader on CPM panel
Mamata action plan to pull party out of dumps
Wife �tapped� for spouse clue
CM money and Modi sting to Delhi
Violence shatters Holi peace
All five marked prisoners die in riot raid
Modi spares relief camps
Hurriyat trusts PM, mistrusts polls
Gogoi sets Ulfa talks ball rolling
Bars go dry with licence fee hike

Calcutta, March 31: 
Complying with instructions from the central leadership to increase representation of women in the party, the CPM has decided to induct a woman into the state secretariat for the first time.

Shyamoli Gupta will be inducted into the new secretariat, which will be elected on April 3 when the CPM�s state committee will meet to discuss organisational matters. She has already been included in the party�s central committee at the recent CPM congress in Hyderabad.

CPM insiders hinted that a section of party leaders would prefer Rekha Goswami in the secretariat as Gupta is already in the central committee.

The presence of six women in the newly-formed central committee clearly shows that the CPM is keen to increase the number of women in the party. Gupta, Brinda Karat, Josephine, Pappa Umanath, Mallu Swarajyam and Suhashini Ali were installed in the central committee at the Hyderabad congress.

Some senior CPM leaders want place for one more functionary from Citu, the CPM�s trade union wing, in the state secretariat. Mrinal Das, Citu state secretary, might find favour in such a scenario. But several others don�t agree as Chittabrata Majumder is already in the committee.

Apparently, the state leadership is also planning to drop Dipen Ghosh from the state secretariat. Earlier, Ghosh was dropped as editor of the party mouthpiece, Ganashakti. The new editor, Narayan Dutta, is being considered by the state leadership.

In the 14-member outgoing state secretariat, three prominent CPM leaders � Sailen Dasgupta, Benoy Chowdhury and Niren Ghosh � have died. While Gupta and Das are likely to be inducted into the secretariat, Dutta might fill up the third vacancy.

But CPM insiders indicated that a section of influential leaders are insisting on a party leader from the minority community. Several leaders have argued against the demand, pointing out that Mohammad Amin is already a part of the panel. The state leaders haven�t reached a final decision. But party leaders agree that the number of secretariat members should not exceed 14.

Each member of the secretariat will have to supervise organisational matters in the districts. The duties will be distributed among the members after the new secretariat is elected. The immediate job of the secretariat will be to reconstitute at least 40 sub-committees and party teams, which will carry out the duties given to them for the next three years.

CPM insiders said it might take three weeks for the new secretariat to reconstitute the sub-committees and party teams. Then the secretariat might take up the job of reshuffling the Left Front ministry on Bhattacharjee�s recommendations.


Mandirbazar (South 24-Parganas), March 31: 
Mamata Banerjee today announced a statewide programme of agitation beginning April 17 in a bid to pull her party out of the trough it has been pushed into following cross-voting by party MLAs in Wednesday�s Rajya Sabha elections and the subsequent desertion by senior party leaders like Debi Pal.

She announced that the recent �atrocities� unleashed on Trinamul Congress workers by the CPM cadre would be the focus of the month-long agitation.

�We will take to the streets from April 17 if the CPM does not do away with its terror tactics, particularly aimed at my workers. We cannot sit idle when the CPM cadre is ready to let loose violence. At least nine to 10 party workers have been murdered over the past few days,� she told a rally at Kechor Pukur, where two Trinamul workers � Sudhir Karmakar and his brother Sanjib � were shot dead on Friday night.

She warned that she would not inform district officials of the details of her agitation. �We shall resort to demonstration at any time without taking the administration into confidence. This will be a new strategy to mobilise public opinion against the communists,� she added.

Mamata accused district magistrates and police superintendents of having become �stooges� of the CPM. �They are always acting at the behest of their masters, who are running the administration from Writers� Buildings. I warn that this will not pay off anymore,� she said.

Stressing that Trinamul is the principal Opposition party in Bengal, an aggressive Mamata said she would ensure that a �vigorous� agitation forces the ruling CPM to shun the path of violence. �We have information that it is the CPM�s pre-planned gameplan to unleash violence before the panchayat elections, slated for early next year,� she added.

Mamata was accompanied by MP Sudip Bandopadhyay and a dozen MLAs, including Partha Chatterjee, Gobinda Naskar and C.M. Jatua. She later visited the bereaved families.

Mamata accused chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of unleashing �red terror� in Bengal. �We repeatedly appeal to Bhattacharjee to arrest the culprits involved in the murder of Trinamul activists. But he appears indifferent to our pleas,� she alleged.


Murshidabad, March 31: 
Frustrated with their failure to arrest German Sheikh, wanted for murder, police allegedly battered his wife, Manokha Bibi, and their children for not providing clues to his whereabouts.

Manokha, recuperating in a Murshidabad hospital, has decided to lodge a complaint with the state human rights commission. She plans to provide detailed information on how police officials, having failed to arrest her husband, barged into her room and tortured her and her children for several minutes.

�They entered our room suddenly and rained punches and blows on me. Initially I could not understand what was going on, but I later realised that they were beating me for no fault of my own. One of them threatened me with dire consequences if I did not inform them of my husband�s whereabouts. Later, local people took me to the nursing home for treatment,� recounted Manokha, who hails from Banjetia, a remote village in Murshidabad district.

The district Congress leaders held a meeting to work out an agitation programme in the district to highlight police �high-handedness�. �We will help Manokha Bibi lodge a complaint with the rights panel and fight the case till its end,� said Behrampore MP Adhir Chowdhury.

District police superintendent Rajesh Kumar has ordered a probe and said the guilty would face disciplinary action.


Bolpur, March 31: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today used a public platform he was sharing with a Union minister to criticise the Centre for cutting funds needed to fight arsenic contamination and slam Narendra Modi for continuing violence in Gujarat.

Unveiling the first Indo-German water supply project here, the chief minister said the Centre�s decision to curtail funds has forced the state to discontinue a number of projects to provide arsenic-free drinking water in several districts.

�I shall take up the issue with the Union government during my next visit to Delhi. I want the Centre to continue releasing the funds to Bengal, where many people are drinking arsenic-contaminated water,� Bhattacharjee said. The project will cost Rs 95 crore and benefit 3 lakh people living in and around Bolpur.

Chief guest and Union minister for rural development M. Venkaiah Naidu said the Centre had sanctioned Rs 3 crore to the state. �We are ready to provide additional funds if the state asks for it to tackle arsenic contamination,� he announced.

Bhattacharjee then tore into Modi for the spiral of violence in Gujarat since Godhra. �This (should) never (have) happened in a civilised country. I feel ashamed of Modi. What was he doing when violence broke out at Godhra?� he asked.


Ahmedabad, March 31: 
Glimpses of the Godhra riots revisited Gomtipur a day after the deceptive calm on Holi as mobsters clashed and torched houses at midnight before laying siege to the fire headquarters.

As many as seven people were killed yesterday in the state that has been burning in bursts since the February 27 train carnage. Ahmedabad, Anand and Kheda districts are again under curfew.

There was a fresh flare-up in the Vejalpur area of Ahmedabad late tonight, where the army was called out after clashes between two communities. One person was wounded in police firing. Violence spread to the minority-dominated Johapur area.

Police said things began to hot up around 10.30 pm on Saturday when two groups living behind the Gomtipur fire brigade hub � a communally-sensitive area � came to blows and began to lob crude bombs and pelt stones. Some bombs landed in the fire brigade staff quarters, setting off a wave of panic.

The mobsters, who reportedly grew murderous by the minute, went on to open fire at each other before fanning out in their fury into the neighbourhood and setting fire to nearly 50 houses and several shops.

They then headed for the fire headquarters and laid siege to it to block fire personnel from moving out.

Fire station officer Pravinsinh Parmar said the mob � about 5,000 of them armed with swords, sticks, stones and crude bombs � scaled the wall and stormed the compound after most of the fire tenders had already set out.

�As soon as we got the wireless message that a mob had laid siege to the fire station, we immediately sent half the fire tenders back. The mob dispersed only after the tenders returned,� Parmar said.

The police lobbed teargas shells to disperse the mob that had gheraoed the fire station but were later forced to open fire. Two persons died in the firing. A third was stabbed elsewhere in Gomtipur.

As violence spread to Rakhiyal, Amraivadi, Bapunagar and Rajpur, the army and paramilitary forces were called in and the areas cordoned off. Additional police commissioner M.K. Tandon, who reached the spot, ordered imposition of curfew in Rakhiyal and Bapunagar. About 97 people have been rounded up.

In recurring violence across the state, some more people died.

Three were killed in police firing in the Akbarpur-Sakarpur areas of Kheda district when a mob attacked a police point, provoking the personnel to open fire. Two died last night while a third was killed in a fresh outburst this morning. About 80 people have been arrested in Anand and Kheda districts.

In Adas village in Anand district, 60 houses were torched. One person was killed in stone pelting in Petlad town. Borsad, Umetha and Adas villages are under curfew.

In Kadi town of Mehsana district, where a 70-year-old was killed yesterday, the situation remained tense. It is under indefinite curfew.

No incident of violence was reported from Kalupur, Dariyapur, Shahpur, Karanj, Havely and Vejalpur police station areas of Ahmedabad where curfew was relaxed today.


Patna, March 31: 
The last of the five prisoners who were at the centre of the jail riot in Bihar died today, shovelling fuel into allegations that police were planning all along to eliminate them.

The toll in the commando operation, which crushed the revolt yesterday, rose to six today with the death of Akshaibar Singh at the Chhapra Sadar Hospital.

Akshaibar was among the five marked out for transfer from the Chhapra prison. The rebellion erupted after the prisoners alleged that the five were being taken out to be killed.

With the death of Akshaibar today, all the five have died. Four others � Sanjay Ray, Sashibhusan Singh, Asok Upadhyay and Vakil Ray � were killed yesterday.

The controversy over the Chhapra jail firing deepened as the IG jails, Harjit Kaur, alleged that there was political interference in the transfer of the jail employees. �The state government has no control over jail as the jail employees are always mostly dictated by politicians. Any effort to shift the jail supers has to face a roadblock because of interference of the politicians,� alleged the IG.

She also referred to the overcrowding in the jails. Against a capacity of 400 people, the Chhapra jail had 1,400 inmates. The number of guards on each shift is only 15.

The Bihar government has ordered a probe into the police firing. State jail minister Ashoke Chowdhary said a departmental inquiry headed by jail director (administration) Sunil Kumar Sinha has been ordered. The panel would probe the details of the jail siege by prisoners protesting against the transfer of five inmates to Nawada. It would submit its report within a fortnight.

The state home secretary, U.N. Panjiyar, said the panel would investigate the circumstances leading to the firing and the failure of the district administration to take prompt action, if any, in ending the siege.

The prison and district administration entered the jail with armed forces after a three-day siege of the prison by the inmates resulting, in the firing yesterday afternoon. It was not clear whether the security forces targeted the five transferred or the inmates forced them to open fire. Chhapra SP Kundan Krishnan, who was leading the team, said the police opened fire in retaliation.

According to the jail authorities, the five were �notorious� accused persons arrested recently in connection with the massacre of five persons in a village in Chhapra district.

�Ever since they landed up in the jail, trouble began to foment,� said a jail officer in Chhapra, a contention not borne out by the past incidents of the jail. Violence has been breaking out in the jail much before they were interred there.

The inmates said the prisoners suspected the five transferred would be killed in �fake encounter� once the police took them out.

Sanjay Ray, who was killed yesterday, was a member of Chhapra Zilla Parishad. But the police said he was a notorious criminal, too, with several cases pending against him.

The jail has now been brought under the security cover of the Bihar Military Police.


Ahmedabad, March 31: 
Riot victims sheltered in the relief camps of Gujarat can breathe easy, at least for the moment. The state government has shelved its plan to close down the camps under pressure from the Relief Committee headed by Governor S.S. Bhandari.

No camp will be dismantled or relocated before the victims are adequately compensated, chief minister Narendra Modi said at the first meeting of the 14-member committee since its formation on March 25.

�There is no move to wind up any relief camp or ask the riot victims to go home,� said health minister Ashok Bhatt, a panel member.

Modi had recently told the men in charge of five of the biggest camps in the city that he wanted some of the riot victims to return home. Those living in the camps out of fear should go home, Modi had said and added that he would see to it that they get police protection.

When Inamul Iraki of the Dairyakhan Ghumbhat camp pointed out that the victims did not have �faith� in the police and that they would not like to return home amid the tension, Modi did not react.

He had been insisting that the victims should not make the municipal schools their �permanent home� on the pretext of insecurity, said Bhavna Ramrakhiani, a Citizens� Initiative member co-ordinating the efforts of the coalition of NGOs involved in the relief.

However, today the chief minister sang a different tune.

Apart from the committee, Modi was under pressure from Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who had summoned him to Delhi and asked the committee to oversee not only relief but also rehabilitation. Vajpayee will be in the state on April 4.

The Opposition, which had accused Modi of defying �even the Prime Minister��, welcomed Modi�s clarification.

State Congress president and former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary and legislature party leader Naresh Rawal � both members of the panel � said they were satisfied with the outcome of today�s meeting.

The government representatives in the panel not only denied any move to dismantle relief camps but also promised to look into Chaudhary and Rawal�s demands to increase the compensation to people whose houses had been razed to the ground. The victims will get Rs 50,000 for the purpose. The Opposition leaders agreed with the government�s refusal to rebuild the houses.

The chief minister had recently told officials that he wanted as many camps as possible to be shut down before Vajpayee�s visit, to present a fa�ade of normality.

At a meeting with representatives of NGOs on Thursday in the circuit house here, Modi was told that the situation was far from normal as spurts of violence continued. But Modi had insisted that the situation was under control though a large number of fear-stricken people had taken shelter in the relief camps in the past few days.

The number of people in the camps of Gujarat has now gone up to 1,09,03 from 97,517.

Today, Modi appeared to have buckled under pressure though some felt it was an effort to avoid trouble before Vajpayee�s visit.

Mohammed Hussain Kalota, the prime accused in the Godhra massacre, and 17 others including two councillors, were sent to Sabarmati Jail today. Their 14-day police remand came to an end today, said a PTI report.


New Delhi, March 31: 
The Prime Minister�s surprise announcement of a visit to Kashmir has come as a wake-up call for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, demoralised and shaken by events since the September 11 terror strikes in the US.

Delhi�s message � couched in Atal Bihar Vajpayee�s statement of intent to tour Kashmir � to the Hurriyat is clear: either take part in the elections and prove your credentials or don�t expect to be counted.

The government is expected to go all out to ensure the successful completion of the elections, due in September.

Having already closed the option of taking part in the elections, the Hurriyat leaders realise that they need to come up with a strategy to showcase their relevance.

Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said this weekend a crucial meeting of the combine�s leaders would be held shortly in Srinagar to review the situation following Yasin Malik�s arrest. Malik was dragged out of a press conference and arrested under the new anti-terrorism law in connection with the seizure of $1,00,000.

Bhat said the Hurriyat executive would make an �important� announcement after the meeting, but refused to elaborate.

The Hurriyat chairman said elections could not be a substitute for a solution to the Kashmir dispute. He believes that a solution can be worked out across the table by India, Pakistan and representatives of the Kashmiri people.

But the Centre feels that elections are crucial to any attempt to find a solution. �Of course, we want the people of Kashmir to be part of the discussion. But only an election can throw up a representative leadership. The Hurriyat should prove their credibility in Kashmir,�� a senior government official explained.

Bhat and his friends have refused to be part of any internal negotiations, because, according to him, �the Kashmir dispute is a historical dispute that can be solved by only the three sides involved�.

This is the reason the Hurriyat refused to meet the Centre�s emissary, K.C. Pant, spiking Delhi�s attempt to begin internal consultations with the people of Kashmir.

While Hurriyat leaders believe that without Pakistan nothing can be worked out in Kashmir, the Centre feels that Islamabad�s role should be minimal. �It is our internal problem and we will work it out with our people,�� the Indian official said. The Hurriyat should wake up to this new reality, he added.

The Hurriyat leader hoped that when the Prime Minister visits Kashmir he will spare time to hear the views of Kashmiris. India�s Kashmir policy today is dictated primarily by intelligence agencies. The Prime Minister can make his own assessment if he talks to ordinary Kashmiris, Bhat said.

However, Hurriyat leaders are unlikely to meet Vajpayee. �If we meet the Indian Prime Minister, we should also meet President Pervez Musharraf,�� said Bhat who knows that the Centre will not allow the Hurriyat leadership to travel to Pakistan.

The Hurriyat chairman indicated that he has faith in Vajpayee�s leadership. He recalled that when he met Vajpayee in 1995, he was convinced that the Kashmir problem could be solved if �this man could be Prime Minister one day�.

Some Hurriyat leaders, including Bhat, want to play the role of peacemaker between India and Pakistan. He recalled an old suggestion made by Hurriyat leaders to the Union government. �We want to divide ourselves into two groups, one to talk to President Musharraf and the other to Prime Minister Vajpayee.�

Pakistan was willing, but India rejected the proposal. The Hurriyat leaders are likely to resurrect this or similar suggestions soon.


Guwahati, March 31: 
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today took the first step towards solving the insurgency problem by announcing that a team of intermediaries would be constituted to set the ball rolling for peace talks with the banned Ulfa.

The team will comprise prominent citizens and journalists, Gogoi told party workers while handing over charge to new PCC president Paban Singh Ghatowar at Rajiv Bhawan here today.

The Ulfa has, so far, persisted in its three conditions for talks.

Gogoi said the government would approach prospective intermediaries for their consent before making the names public. If the Ulfa agrees to the team drawn up the government, they will be appointed mediators to break the ice for meaningful parleys with the outfit.

The chief minister had discussed the proposal to set up the team with editors of local publications at a breakfast meet recently. Acting on suggestions from the editors, Gogoi had, last year, instituted a judicial inquiry into the spate of �secret� killings during the AGP regime.

Sources said the chief minister was advised to include writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami in the team of mediators.

Gogoi was also asked to �act boldly� in his pursuit to bring the Ulfa to the negotiations table and, if possible, send a team to Dhaka to open a channel of dialogue with the outfit�s leadership.

Gogoi, who left for New Delhi from Rajiv Bhawan to attend a meeting of chief ministers tomorrow, said he would urge the Centre to hold talks with the Ulfa on the lines of the NSCN(I-M) peace talks.

The government is of the view that only New Delhi could decide on the three pre-conditions put forward by the Ulfa to sit for talks. The Ulfa wants the talks to be held in a �third country� in presence of representatives from the United Nations.

It has also demanded that the parleys must include the issue of sovereignty. Peace overtures from the government have so far failed evoke a suitable response from the outfit.

The Ulfa had, a couple of weeks ago, turned down the customary safe passage offer from the government during the Bihu season. As a goodwill gesture, Dispur has offered safe passage to Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa to meet his ailing father, a freedom fighter.

The Ulfa, formed at the historic Rang Ghar in 1979, has been waging a bloody battle to �secure� Assam�s �independence� from the �colonial rule� of India.


Mumbai, March 31: 
Bars in Maharashtra will go on an indefinite strike while wine shops and restaurants will remain closed for a day tomorrow to protest the hike in excise duty.

The government has hiked the annual licence fee of bars (called �permit rooms� locally) from Rs 1,61,000 to Rs 5,00,000 and of wine shops from Rs 1,65,000 to Rs 7,00,000. The licence for this year expires today and the new fee structure comes into effect from tomorrow.

As a gesture of solidarity with the hotel fraternity, all restaurants, including the vegetarian Udupi restaurants, which do not serve liquor, will go on the one-day strike. The wine shops will remain closed for two days.

�But the bars will go on an indefinite strike,� said Ravi Pal Singh Gandhi, the president, Ahar (Association of Hotels and Restaurants).

All members of Ahar, the most active organisation of hotels in the state, which has 9,000 members in Maharashtra and 5,000 members in Mumbai alone, will observe the strike.

Singh says bars and wine shops have been having a tough time in the state. �We have a 20 per cent sales tax on the sale of liquor. Add to that the hike in license fees,� he says. �The hike for the permit rooms, the smaller hike, is a 310 per cent increase.�

�As a result, small and medium-sized bars have already started closing down. The government declared its decision to raise the license fee in October last year. Since then 40 bars have closed down,� Singh says.


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