Scramble to foil Bihar rerun
Talks vs anti-terror axis tussle
Death scrawl whitewashed

New Delhi, Sept. 19 
The bloodbath in Bihar has spurred the Election Commission and the home ministry into drawing up contingency plans to ensure peaceful voting in the state in the two remaining phases.

Over the next two days, the ministry and the poll panel are expected to discuss troop deployment. The home ministry is in touch with Patna and wants a reassessment of the law and order situation in 35 constituencies of central and north Bihar where voting will be held.

About 50 people died in the state yesterday as Naxalites enforced their poll ban with a series of landmine blasts in Palamau, Hazaribagh, Chatra and Rohtas districts.

Home ministry sources said there had been no prior intelligence on the scale of violence. They felt that with policemen and poll officials having borne the brunt of the attack, public outrage against the militant offensive was less than expected. Had civilians been targeted, a chain of caste riots might have been triggered.

The sources said even earlier the People?s War or the Maoist Communist Centre had called for poll boycott but never managed to implement their threat in this manner.

Ministry sources claimed the poll boycott call was restricted to south Bihar, where these Naxalite groups wield enormous clout. They believe the areas which will go to polls next are not within the extremist hub. Still, the situation needed fresh appraisal and suitable precaution, the sources added.

?What happened yesterday was not what we usually assume to be poll-related violence ? like clashes between rival parties or booth-capturing and other forms of rigging,? a source pointed out. He said Bihar was notorious for these things and they might occur again during voting.

In Patna, Bihar Governor Justice B.M. Lal today demanded removal of police and civil officials of ?dubious character? from poll duty. Describing the Governor as ?anguished?, a Raj Bhavan spokesman said Justice Lal had sent a note to the Union home ministry with a copy to the poll panel.

The Governor is critical of the role of several polling personnel during the violence-hit first phase. His note said the ?dubious and doubtful character (of the polling personnel was such that the conduct) of the first phase of poll yesterday left much to be desired?.

The Governor said he had repeatedly expressed his concerns to the chief secretary and the chief electoral officer. ?I had also suggested a detailed inquiry into the recovery of alleged fake ballot boxes and making adequate security arrangements,? he said.

Cut up with the poll panel, Justice Lal complained: ?The Election Commission, however, considered my suggestions an infringement of its authority when it was not so.? He stressed that adequate police force had to be deployed in sensitive polling stations on September 25 and October 3.

The Election Commission explained yesterday that it had arranged for sufficient security at booths in south Bihar. The landmine attacks, it said, had not really marred the polling process. Several policemen died but the voting percentage crossed 50 per cent.

Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill had said the security organised was the best that could be done under the circumstances.

The BJP used Bihar as a weapon against the Congress, with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee holding the Opposition responsible for the ?jungle raj?, adds UNI. He recalled that the Congress scuttled the BJP?s move to ensure peace by imposition of President?s rule.    

Sept. 19 
Leaving behind a cloud of dust on bilateral talks, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers took off for the UN General Assembly session in New York where the contours of a global axis against cross-border terrorism are expected to crystallise.

As foreign minister Jaswant Singh reached New York tonight for his Wednesday date with the UN, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee lent his voice to the growing chorus for a multi-nation mechanism against terrorism and sought to isolate Pakistan.

?India is ready to cooperate with the global powers to check Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the world.... India is not the lone victim,? Vajpayee told an election meeting in Patna. The Prime Minister also ruled out talks with Pakistan until it stopped terrorist and secessionist activities in India.

However, Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad he will meet his Indian counterpart in New York, drawing a denial from Singh.

Aziz told a daily shortly before leaving for New York that he would hold ?important consultations? with Singh to resume foreign secretary-level talks to ?resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir?, in line with the Lahore Declaration and in the light of ?the Washington accord?.

But Singh said: ?There hasn?t been a request from my distinguished counterpart as yet and, therefore, it is not on line.? He added that the UN session would try to work out a consensus on tackling cross-border terrorism.

The comments of Vajpayee and Singh come amid efforts by the US, Russia and India to close ranks against terrorism.

The campaign for an international axis against terrorism gained momentum after the recent wave of bombings in Russia and Osama bin Laden?s declaration of jehad on India, along with the US. The US sent an emissary to New Delhi last week to discuss issues related to terrorism.

Delhi had seized the opportunity to underscore the Pakistan-Taliban link and draw a parallel between terror strikes in Kashmir and elsewhere in the region.

The Indian case received a fillip with Russia asking Pakistan to immediately stop the use of its territory for financing, training and shipping terrorists.

In a letter to Aziz, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov demanded that Islamabad take concrete and tangible steps to check cross-border terrorism.    

A large crater, scattered belongings of dead policemen, a cap soaked in blood are all that remain of yesterday?s blast here. The explosion has ravaged the semi-metalled road that was Jitpur?s only link with the urban world.

As the site of a devastating landmine blast in Union minister Yashwant Sinha?s constituency, Hazaribagh, the village has become another dot on the map of Naxalite-infested areas in Bihar. Seven policemen were killed and three injured when the landmine blew up a truck carrying security personnel on election duty. The incident established Hazaribagh as one of the nerve centres of Naxalite activity in Bihar.

Only 4 km from the Hazaribagh-Dhanbad road near Barhi, the Jitpur primary school polling booth is situated at the heart of operations by the Maoist Communist Centre and the People?s War. Surrounded by tribal villages, the school wall displays MCC slogans like ?Identify the middlemen of the poll business and punish them?.

On another, the Naxalites have even advised the poll personnel not to travel in police vans ? a clear signal that policemen are targets for ambush. The officer-in-charge of Barhi, Rajvanshi Singh, said: ?We had information, that?s why we deployed more policemen. But they got killed on the way. What can we do??

Villagers here said a deputy superintendent of police, who had visited the school premises two days before the voting, told his men to whitewash the walls. The election officers, therefore, had no idea of the Naxalite threat when they inspected the booth the evening before the elections.

The point on the road where the mine was planted was a well-chosen one. Two km before the school, where there is a sharp turn, a dense line of trees and thickets give a watcher good cover.

?The Naxalites were probably lying in wait, watching the truck advance. The mine was buried in a pothole with the detonating wire running into the forest,? said Budha Majhi, a local tribal man. Once the truck was blown up, the militants opened fire on the personnel.

A deputy inspector-general said in Hazaribagh the Naxalites use both detonator-aided mines and pressure-activated devices, the latter commonly used by militants in the Northeast. Backing up mine blasts with gunfire was usually used to loot rifles, he added.

The rapidity of the attacks in Palamau and Hazaribagh left the authorities bewildered. ?Messages kept pouring in from all sides. But there was nothing we could do to save our personnel,? said Palamau SP. ?We?ve no idea how many landmines have been smuggled here,? said another officer in Barhi. What has hit the force?s morale even harder is the novel method of looting weapons used by the militants. At Harihargunge, 10 MCC activists entered a police station in police uniform and overpowered the people on duty.

The villagers, who fear police harassment after the blasts, spoke of ugravadis with a sort of awe. ?I don?t know who did it, but we have no war with them,? said Narayan Singh, adding, ?neither do we have anything against politicians.?

At the blast site, a teenage boy well-versed in Naxalite propaganda guided reporters around. When asked if the MCC troubled villagers, he stood in the middle of a small crowd and lobbed a query: ?Tell us, is there any MCC scare?? The negative reply came in a chorus. But the question seemed to hang in the air: ?Was he one of them??    


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