George rips govt veil on Taliban hijack role
Strike guru’s tips to break strike
Bandh-hit find voice in Basu sermon to party
Summary home send-off for big babus
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 24 
Defence minister George Fernandes today announced that the Taliban was hand in glove with the hijackers of the Indian Airlines Airbus, the first statement by an Indian minister which ripped the veneer off the government’s public stance on the militia’s role.

“There was not only sympathy but much more than that for the hijackers in Kandahar,” Fernandes told a seminar on Asian security.

No Indian leader has so far gone on record criticising the Taliban. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, India’s main negotiator who went to Kandahar to bring back the hostages, had expressed Delhi’s gratitude towards the Taliban for its cooperation.

Though Singh maintained that there would be no “fundamental” change in India’s Afghan policy in the aftermath of the hijacking, he refrained from making any adverse remarks about the Taliban.

However, Fernandes, not known for mincing words on bilateral issues, said: “Everyone knew of the Taliban’s involvement with Pakistan and the hijackers. At that point Taliban had facilitated the Indian negotiating team, and beyond that we have not gone to compliment the Taliban regime.”

The defence minister said the Aghanistan-Pakistan region had become the epicentre of trans-national terrorism and drug trafficking. He called for building an international coalition against terrorism in Asia.

Reacting to Pakistani junta leader Pervez Musharraf’s threat to teach India a lesson if it crossed the Line of Control, Fernandes said: “It appears Pakistan is still smarting under the Kargil blow. It is time they got over this syndrome.”

Fernandes said that instead of issuing threats, Pakistan should create conditions for resuming bilateral talks. “It is a pity there is no dialogue,” he added.

The defence minister drew the attention of the assembled international security experts to the threat being posed by Pakistan, particularly its military and the Inter Services Intelligence.

Fernandes said it was trying to rationalise the use of terror as a legitimate activity sanctioned by Islam. He added that this “intellectual and ideological” justification started in the late seventies when Pakistani military officers “in obvious misinterpretation” argued that the Holy Quran teaches the use of terror to fight a total war.

Fernandes sought to substantiate his argument by quoting from a book ‘The Quranic Concept of War’ by the retired Pakistani brigadier, S.K. Mallik, who claimed the holy book’s military strategy enjoins Muslims to prepare for a war to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy — known or hidden.

Fernandes said that events like the failure of the US Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty have pushed it towards a “coma”.

He argued that coupled with this was the Chinese friction over ballistic missile defences, which has introduced “serious uncertainties” about nuclear weapons control regimes.    

Lucknow, Jan. 24 
Launching a twin offensive on the striking power staff, the Uttar Pradesh government has begun Track-II talks to divide the employees and acted on its threat to replace the dismissed junior engineers by recruiting 60 people to the vacant posts.

An official spokesman said those issued appointment letters today had appeared in the competitive examinations and interviews held last year. More people would be taken shortly, he said, adding that the process for recruiting assistant engineers will start from Thursday.

Clueless on how to turn around the adamant unions, the administration is following advice offered by the once-firebrand labour leader who paralysed the railways in the seventies.

Defence minister George Fernandes, top government sources said, called up chief minister R.P. Gupta a few days ago and told him to conduct negotiations with Girish Pandey, a top union leader arrested under the National Security Act and sent to Sitapur jail. Pandey, an associate of Fernandes, is the president of the Kisan Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh, affiliated to the Samata Party.

The defence minister advised Gupta that he should immediately release Pandey and hold talks with him rather than Shailendra Dubey, seen as the spearhead of the agitation.

The strategy was aimed at winning over the 5,000 junior engineers in the state electricity board who are at the forefront of the strike and is the larger group. Pandey is a junior engineer while Dubey is an assistant engineer.

The government acted swiftly. Pandey, arrested only a day ago for ‘‘inciting violence, provoking employees and disrupting peace’’, was released from prison and taken to power minister Naresh Aggarwal’s residence for talks.

Around the same time, Dubey, who was coordinating the negotiations from a safehouse in Gomtinagar, was picked up along with his colleague Akhilesh Kumar Singh. The two were arrested under the National Security Act and sent to jails in Banda and Hamirpur, places outside the reach of cellphone signals.

The police got to Dubey after tailing an employee who had gone for talks to Aggarwal’s house and was heading for the union leader’s hideout.

Asked why the government had released Pandey, Aggarwal said: ‘‘He showed an inclination to talk. But now that negotiations are off, we are talking to no one.’’

But the minister’s statement rings hollow. Around 2 am, Pandey was seen at the power minister’s residence, closeted with Aggarwal and his deputy Vivek Singh.

Seeing reporters outside his house, Aggarwal fumed: ‘‘This is not the time to do journalism. Please leave.’’

The assistant engineers rebutted claims that the employees were divided. Said Sanjeev Garg: ‘‘We don’t believe the government has managed to break our unity because Pandey has demanded the release of Dubey and Singh as a condition for talks to restart.’’    

Calcutta, Jan 24 
South Calcutta was paralysed by a CPM-enforced bandh today that angered chief minister Jyoti Basu, upset the routine of daily business and harassed tens of thousands of office-goers and school children.

The ruling CPM called the 24-hour bandh in protest against the murder of a key party functionary, Gurupada Bagchi, who headed the Kasba (south) local committee. Bagchi was shot dead in the crowded Kasba market on Sunday morning by an unknown assailant.

Eight persons were arrested on charges of rioting after they allegedly set fire to the Kasba market and ransacked the Kasba police station.

In Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Jyoti Basu minced no words in questioning the action of CPM leaders who went to meet him in a delegation. Though Basu did not make any public statement except that he condemned both the murder and the mob violence following it, he was understood to have told the delegation that it should have reined in the party cadre.

One of those who attended the meeting said that one point Basu remarked “you people appear to have lost control over your cadre”. Basu also said many of his acquaintances had been telephoning him since morning to complain against the bandh.

The seven-member delegation was led by the party’s Calcutta district committee secretary, Naren Sen, and the Ballygunge MLA, Rabin Deb.

The CPM state secretary, Anil Biswas, too condemned the violence. “It (the ransacking of the Kasba police station and the burning of the market) was done by those who love us. But they should not have been so violent. But I must say that Gurupada Bagchi was a very popular leader and people protested against his killing spontaneously.” Biswas also alleged that a section of police officers were “in league” with the Trinamul-BJP combine.

The chief minister announced that a joint committee with officials from both Calcutta police and West Bengal police will investigate the murder. The formation of the committee would be worked out on Wednesday after the return of the deputy chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, now in Cuba for an eye operation. A task force comprising representatives from the West Bengal, Calcutta and railway police will also be formed for a drive against crime around the Bijan Setu.

Rabin Deb said after meeting Basu that the delegation submitted a report to him that included a list of criminals in the Kasba-Tiljala-Topsia belt.

The bandh was by and large peaceful but upset the routine of the city. Most office-goers from south Calcutta had to walk a long way to get transport. State and private buses and other modes of transport, including mini buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws did not ply. Shops, business establishments and educational institutions were closed.

Students of the primary section of St.Xaviers’ Collegiate School had a harrowing time this morning when they were obstructed by picketing CPM supporters. South Point declared a holiday.

In parts of Gariahat, Karaya and Rash Behari, cadres did not allow shops and business establishments to be opened.    

New Delhi, Jan. 24 
High-level bureaucrats in the Central government are being sent back to their states without any explanations. Three officials of the rank of Union secretary are among those at the receiving end.

The BJP government, which had little administrative experience in the beginning, left the bureaucrats to themselves for a long time. It was almost nine months after coming to power that the BJP did its first major overhaul in late 1998, shuffling high-level secretaries.

But the decision to send back three senior IAS officers to their parent cadre without giving a reason is a trend-setter. “This is worse than a punishment,” said a senior officer.

Former secretary of sports and youth affairs D. Manavalan was suddenly moved out of the ministry and asked to go back to the parent state of West Bengal. He was preceded by two others — R.S. Mathur, secretary in the Planning Commission, and K. Kamalnathan, secretary, environment.

Like Manavalan, Mathur was asked to return to his home state of Uttar Pradesh. Kamalnathan, said sources, ran into trouble with power minister P. Kumaramangalam and was sent back to Andhra Pradesh.

Mathur returned to Uttar Pradesh and became chairperson of Noida and Kamalnathan was made the Andhra Pradesh vigilance commissioner. The West Bengal government has given Manavalan a job in the resident commission in Delhi.

Though Manavalan had support from high quarters, he could not wangle an explanation from the Union government. West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu took up his case and wrote to the Prime Minister, seeking an explanation for his transfer.

Basu wrote that officers should not be “repatriated” to their original states without being given a reason and that state governments should be consulted in such matters.

Human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi called up Manavalan and expressed regret over losing an “able officer”.

The official himself sought an explanation from Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar and principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, but was given none. The former secretary had had a long innings at the Centre. Before being appointed secretary in the sports and youth affairs department, he was secretary in the welfare ministry.

“He was in the department (sports) for just five months. How can you test his efficiency in such a short time? And if he is not guilty of incompetence, why are you sending him back?” asked a senior bureaucrat.

The reason for such drastic transfers, he felt, was not necessarily “ideological” but had a lot to do with the way the Prime Minister’s Office functions.

“It is the result of a systemic error when officials in the PMO are carrying tales to their superiors against those they do not like,” an official pointed out. He believed the PMO was at its efficient best during Narasimha Rao’s rule.

“We are familiar with bureaucrats being shunted from one ministry to the other. But what we are surprised at is that they are being summarily sent back to their home states,” said an official.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.7°C (+2) Minimum: 18.3°C (+4) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 96%, Minimum: 37% Today: Mainly clear sky. Possibility of morning mist. Fall expected in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.13 pm Sunrise: 6.24 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company