Pak suspense in Clinton dates
Arrested Dara confesses to killing Staines
One-year term for statute panel
Teenager stripped over death of friend
Bengali tide of support for Water
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Feb. 1 
Ending months of suspense, India today finally announced that US President Bill Clinton will come to the country on a five-day state visit from March 20.

Though he will also visit Bangladesh, anxiety remains about whether Pakistan would find a place in his itinerary.

It is not clear if any major agreements would be signed during the presidential visit, the first to this country since Jimmy Carter came in January 1978.

But more than anything else, the trip is a symbolic one, likely to pave the way for greater co-operation between India and the US.

There is speculation that even if the President skips Pakistan now, a trip may be organised later provided the army regime announces firm steps on restoring democracy or fighting terrorism.

AP quoted National Security Council spokesman David Leavy as saying: “We want to see significant movement on terrorism, on non-proliferation and the restoration of democracy (in Pakistan).”

Clinton will be accompanied by wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, apart from senior officials. Other than Delhi, he is scheduled to visit “one or two other cities in India”. But foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal refused to give more details.

The Clintons are to see the Taj Mahal, but it is not known if the President would be able to join his wife and daughter in Jaipur, a city the two plan to visit. Clinton will go to Mumbai, India’s financial capital, and might choose between Bangalore and Hyderabad. He has received personal invitations from the chief ministers of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Hillary and Chelsea may also visit Lucknow. But Clinton’s Air Force One may have a problem with the landing facilities there. There is a possibility of a brief touchdown at Calcutta on his way to Dhaka. But whether he would step beyond the airport’s VIP lounge is not known yet.

The President’s visit will help restore the confidence of the ruling BJP, which is smarting under the humiliation of having to give three militants to the Airbus hijackers. But a trip to Pakistan will take much of the shine off the BJP’ attempt to project the tour as a high point in its foreign policy.

Reports from Washington suggest that even the US administration is divided over the issue and a decision has been left to the President himself. Clinton, whose term ends this year, may take one last shot at playing peacemaker. For this, some suggest, he may end up going to Pakistan.

Though Delhi maintains it does not want to respond to a hypothetical situation, in private officials have told the Americans that a trip to Islamabad would not only send out the wrong signal to India but may even strengthen the position of Pervez Musharraf, the man India holds responsible for Kargil and the increasing anti-India militant activity.

But Jassal’s response on the issue was: “It is not proper for me to make any comment on a third country the US President may or may not visit.” Claiming there had been no hiatus in Indo-US relations, Jassal pointed out that senior leaders of the two nations have regularly met at international fora. P.V. Narasimha Rao was the last Indian head of state to visit Washington in 1994.

He clarified that though the two sides would discuss several “issues and themes”, Clinton’s visit was not linked to any specific agenda. The statement was meant to allay fears that India might be forced to sign the test ban treaty during Clinton’s stay.

The presidential trip has been discussed for months in the media and diplomatic circles. The nuclear tests in May 1998 put India in international focus and paved the way for Indo-US talks. Though the main objective was to work out non-proliferation issues, there was indication that the success of the talks would lead to a visit by Clinton. However, India had made it clear at the same time that it would not receive the President until all post-Pokhran sanctions were lifted.    

Kuliana (Mayurbhanj), Feb. 1 
Dara Singh, arrested at a Keonjhar village last night, confessed today to killing Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur on January 23 last year.

Deputy inspector-general (eastern Range) S.K. Pradhan said Dara admitted to all the crimes he was accused of — killing the Staineses, a Muslim trader and Catholic priest Arul Doss.

But he denied working for any political party or religious body, including the Bajrang Dal. According to Pradhan, Dara said he had killed the missionary because he was converting tribals.

He also admitting to killing Sheikh Rahman, a Muslim trader in Pariabeda, but refused to give a motive. Dara said he hated Christians. “I wanted to stop all conversions by Christians,” he was quoted as saying.

His confession was recorded at the Kuliana police station today in the presence of senior officials. He was brought to Kuliana, about 15 km from Baripada, district headquarters of Mayurbhanj, for questioning this afternoon. Later, he was taken to Karanjia, about 150 km away, to be produced before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate.

He was remanded in two nights’ judicial custody. The hearing is expected to take place tomorrow. A senior police officer said Dara was totally composed and had not broken down once since his arrest. “He ate heartily and even hummed a tune,” the officer said.

Dara, a religious fanatic, was lured by undercover police officers into a trap with the offer of a gun at Gohira village late last night. The arrest ended a year-long search for the most wanted fugitive in recent times.

Pradhan said a Dara associate had tipped off the police on Sunday that he was desperately looking for a firearm. Word was sent to Dara that a gun dealer would meet him in the village on Monday night and give him a rapid-fire gun at a throwaway price.

Posing as the seller, the officer in charge of Thakurmunda police station, Balaram Sagar, met him around 11 pm while armed policemen surrounded the village. But Dara smelled a rat while talking to the undercover officer. “He told me that this place was not safe and wanted us to discuss the deal later,” Sagar said. As he tried to bolt, Sagar pounced on him and pinned him down. “Dara realised his mistake but then it was too late,” Sagar said.

The officer said he was determined to net Dara after he gave the police the slip in Sudangbahali jungle in Keonjhar on December 9.

DIG Pradhan said Dara was arrested in connection with six cases, including the killing of Doss and Rahman. “We could not arrest him for the Manoharpur incident since the CBI was dealing with that,” he added.

The CBI, which failed to arrest Dara, has already filed a chargesheet. A CBI team today reached Kuliana and questioned him. Pradhan said he was handed over to the crime branch of the state police.

Dara, a wiry man, wore a faded, red T-shirt. His face was partly covered with a towel as he will be lined up for identification later. His eyes were bloodshot and he had a stubble. The police had a tough time controlling the crowd that thronged the station to see him.

Hailing from Etawa, Uttar Pradesh, he had been operating from Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj for the past 15 years. Originally called Ravindra Kumar, he does not remember who changed his name to Dara Singh.

With his arrest, minorities, especially church officials, who were living in fear for the past one year, feel relieved. “We have been living under threat for the past one year. Now we can move about freely,” said a priest in Keonjhar.

Gladys Staines reportedly said: “I have already forgiven him, but I am happy that he is no longer capable of killing others.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 1 
The government today went ahead with its plan to set up a commission to review the Constitution.

The Cabinet decided to set up the “National Commission to review the working of the Constitution”, in which the BJP’s opponents are unlikely to figure.

The panel would be an executive commission “through a resolution of the government”, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said. He added that the “resolution” would be also “notified in the gazette”.

“The commission will consist of a chairman, a member secretary and not more than nine other members for a term of one year,” Mahajan said. After a year of reviewing the statute, the recommendations of the commission would be prescribed to the government, Mahajan added.

The terms of reference for the review are: “To examine in the light of the experience of the past 50 years as to how best the Constitution can respond to the changing needs of efficient, smooth and effective system of governance and socio-economic development of modern India within the framework of parliamentary democracy and to recommend changes, if any, that are required in the provisions of the Constitution without interfering with its basic structure or feature.”

There was a debate earlier on the composition of the panel itself, slated to be formed under the Commissions of Inquiries Act.

The decision to set up the panel comes five days after the President questioned the necessity of the review.    

Calcutta, Feb. 1 
An 18-year-old girl was stripped, tied to a lamppost and beaten by her neighbours in the heart of Serampore, near Calcutta, on Tuesday afternoon after she and her mother were suspected of poisoning her boyfriend to death.

Police have arrested Ranchi Adhikari and Kumkum Adhikari (50) on charges of murdering Dhiraj Patra (30). The police have also arrested 10 persons on charges of torturing the mother-daughter duo and ransacking and setting on fire their household belongings.

Police said local people were suspicious of the Adhikaris “because their behaviour was unusual and because of their doubtful relations with several men.”

Dhiraj Patra, however, was popular in the neighbourhood and news of his death shocked people who immediately suspected Ranchi and her mother. A mob of about 60 young men marched to their house, ransacked their belongings, forced them out and beat them. Kumkum managed to escape.

Ranchi was stripped of her salwar-kameez and beaten publicly. A rope was tied around her waist and she was dragged around the locality in the nude. When some of the public responded to her cries for help, they were chased away by her tormentors.

The incident took place in front of the Hooghly district committee office of the CPM on Kumirjala Road.

The police was informed but the constables sent were also chased away. Later, when officer-in-charge of Serampore police station Jugal Kishore Ghosh went with a larger force, he found Ranchi tied to a lamppost and nearly unconscious. She was sent to hospital. Her mother is in police custody.

Dhiraj Patra died in Serampore Government Hospital on Tuesday afternoon after allegedly eating poisoned food served to him in the Adhikari house.

Patra was a frequent visitor to the Adhikari household and was often seen in the company of Ranchi by neighbours, said Ghosh. Though neighbours had assumed that Ranchi and Patra were lovers, the police are not certain of their relationship.    

Varanasi, Feb. 1 
Deepa Mehta would be glad to know that for every Indian who considers himself the censor board, there’s one that believes in telling the truth like it is.

As destroyers of Mehta’s sets for the film Water tightened the chastity belt around Varanasi, erstwhile protectors of Bengali widows are openly supporting her to the shock of the Sangh parivar.

The Bengali Association here is leading the backlash against the vandalism of Sangh parivar outfits, citing real-life and literary instances of widows falling in love. Families of many of the members of the association used to provide shelter to the stream of widows from Bengal to this holy city through the 1920s through to the forties.

Says Amitabha Bhattacharya, a Bengali scholar and member of the association, “Water is certainly not about widows who have illicit relations. It is about one widow (played by Nandita Das) who falls in love.”

The Sangh outfits are protesting because of what they call the portrayal of widows as prostitutes.

“There have been instances of young widows falling in love with prominent city people. It is certainly not a trend. More of an aberration, but it did exist. And why shouldn’t a film-maker portray this?” asks Bhattacharya.

Mehta has gone on record saying that she had taken Delhi’s permission, but she did not know she would have to contend with Indians who thought of themselves as individual censor boards.

Last evening, the Bengali Association organised a meeting where scholars and litterateurs spoke against the RSS propaganda.

Debkumar Basu Mitter, whose family moved here in 1736, said: “Varanasi’s history is full of stories of widows. These are stories of oppression and struggle. Water shows glimpses of these. Why should we turn away from this reality?”

Rich Bengali households used to provide for the upkeep of widows who would sing bhajans and kirtans in the homes of their benefactors. Strains of this music was heard every evening from the outhouses of these families in the thirties and forties.

In these homes, there is now disquiet. Nirbhay Dutta, a member of the well-known Dutta family of Man Mandir, said: “Those who are protesting are hypocrites.

Can one of these protestors truthfully claim there were no incidents of Varanasi widows choosing paths that did not conform to tradition? It is time we look at the film in its broader context.”

It is not the Bengalis alone that have raised their voices against the Sangh. Dr Kashinath Singh, fomer head of the department of Hindi of benaras Hindu University, said: “A section of intellectuals and Sanskrit scholars have supported the Kashi Vidwat Parishad, but for the wrong reasons. All these protests are politically motivated.”

The Parishad is spearheading the attack on Water. Taken aback by the reaction of Bengalis, Ram Raksha Tripathi, a Parishad member, is returning the allegation with compliments. “I feel political forces are behind this orchestrated movement against out protests. No well-meaning Hindu can tolerate the insult to our culture and tradition. If need be, we’ll go against the Bengali Association, but not allow our city and its culture to be tarnished.”

The other side is citing this very culture to ruff his argument. Bhartendu Harishchandra’s Mallika is a book being discussed here now. Mallika, a Bengali widow, falls in love with the main character in the book.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28°C (normal) Minimum: 15.1°C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 93%, Minimum: 92% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Slight rise in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.19 pm Sunrise: 6.21 am    

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