US applies blanket-terror balm
Karunanidhi bid to untie Sangh knot
Sangh’s voice speaks up for Deepa
BJP sees poll catch in Water victory
RSS permit irks allies
3-state force to police border
Populist Atal blasts Cong for ‘paranoid’ VIP secur
Sumitra mounts pre-budget funds drive
Three killed in Valley mine blast
Squatter sword on Hampi heritage crown

 
 
US APPLIES BLANKET-TERROR BALM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9 
In a move aimed at softening the Indian public mood while keeping Pakistan on tenterhooks for its role in the Jammu and Kashmir strikes, the US today dubbed terrorist activities, irrespective of their purpose, as “criminal and unjustifiable”.

In another sop to Delhi, the Clinton administration agreed to intensify its joint effort with the Vajpayee government to bring the “perpetrators” of the hijacking of IC 814 to book.

“The two sides unequivocally condemned all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them,” the joint statement, issued by India and the US after their two-day meeting on counter-terrorism in Washington, said.

Yesterday, US secretary of state Madeleine Albright had asserted that Kashmir and non-proliferation, issues of “serious concern” to America, would come up for discussion during President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. She also said that the US would continue its efforts “to ease tensions in South Asia” as the Kashmir issue had turned the region into a “tinderbox”.

In this context, the joint statement is aimed at assuring India that its concerns over cross-border terrorism are being taken seriously by Washington.

Though Pakistan has consistently denied its role, it has justified terrorist activities in the strife-torn valley as the “Kashmiri people’s struggle for independence from Indian rule”.

If Washington seriously pursues the spirit of the joint statement, it can thus put Islamabad in a corner for any encouragement to Kashmiri militant groups.

The US has identified some benchmarks to Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Taking steps against terrorist groups operating from Pakistan is one of them. And progress on the issue may lead to a visit by Clinton. The announcement is, therefore, a signal to Islamabad to refrain from encouraging anti-Indian activities from its soil.

The outcome of the meeting and the contents of the joint-statement try to take care of two aspects: laying the groundwork for including Pakistan in Clinton’s South Asia itinerary. And also to soften domestic mood in India for that purpose.

So far, Washington has said Clinton will visit India and Bangladesh in March. Though nothing has been said about a trip to Pakistan, there is speculation that he may land up there, either for a technical halt or a brief stop-over.

Though India officially maintains that it has no comments to make on the countries the US President wishes to visit, certain sections have started asking if anything would be achieved in getting Clinton here if he also insists on visiting Pakistan.

According to them, it will be interpreted as Washington’s attempt to strike a balance between the two South Asian neighbours.

Under the circumstances, the US administration appears to have made the right noises on terrorism.

Clinton’s visit to Pakistan can now be seen as an attempt to ensure that terrorist groups, operating from Pakistani soil against Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir, are not encouraged by Islamabad’s military regime.

To South Block officials, the joint statement has come as an endorsement of India’s position on Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere.

That the relevant paragraph condemning terrorism is identical to the Indian draft on a Comprehensive Convention on terrorism — now before the General Assembly — is likely to please the Indian leadership.    


 
 
KARUNANIDHI BID TO UNTIE SANGH KNOT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Feb. 9 
A day after stunning Tamil Nadu by equating the RSS with the spearhead of the Dravidian movement, chief minister M. Karunanidhi today issued a “clarification” to limit the damage.

The chief minister said he would write to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, urging him to prevail upon the Gujarat government “not to be adamant” about allowing its employees to join the RSS. Karunanidhi, once at the forefront of the anti-Brahmin, anti-North movement in the state and now an ally of the BJP, had yesterday tied himself up in knots while trying to endorse the Prime Minister’s assertion that the RSS was a cultural organisation.

“The RSS is like any other social movement. Like our own Dravida Kazhagam,” he had said yesterday.

He repeated today that for him the RSS was only a social organisation. However, “we can see that the RSS, like many other social outfits, has political activities,” Karunanidhi said. Hence, the chief minister added, he was against permitting government employees to join the organisation.

Karunanidhi said if government employees joined rival parties, there would be a conflict of interest and good governance would suffer.

“Government offices will then become debating podiums and seminar halls, and administrative work will inevitably suffer,” he said.

Worse, if the trend spread to the police and armed forces, the consequences could be incalculable, he warned.

“That is why I want to write a detailed letter to the Prime Minister not to let this be magnified into a major controversy at a time when the nation is facing many other problems and to emphasise that state governments, like those in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, need not display any adamancy in this regard,” the chief minister said.    


 
 
SANGH’S VOICE SPEAKS UP FOR DEEPA 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9 
As the Sangh parivar celebrates the drowning of Water in Varanasi, an unlikely voice has emerged from the saffron family to sympathise with Deepa Mehta.

The Organiser, the RSS’ mouthpiece, not only lists Deepa’s view, but also frowns on the protesters in the editorial in its latest issue. “Far from tarnishing the image of Varanasi, the filmmakers have claimed that they have no intention of hurting anyone’s sentiments by distorting the socio-cultural set-up of the Hindu society as it prevailed about 70 years ago. They have even revised the controversial script to avoid any ambiguity,” says the Organiser.

The editorial, titled ‘In deep water’, criticises the protesters for ignoring these “gestures”. “The protesters have ignored these gestures. Meanwhile, certain persons with vested interests have incited a section of the locals, causing damage to a portion of the film unit.”

The Organiser also slams the I&B ministry and its “archaic” rules, the Uttar Pradesh government for the “shoddy” manner in which it dealt with the Varanasi episode and the “insensitivity of everyone concerned” which created “bad blood all around”.

However, to maintain a semblance of balance, it assails Deepa for the choice of the film’s title, allegedly naming its characters after Hindu gods and goddesses and referring to customs and “obsolete” practices in an “insensitive” manner. All these, it says, added “grist to the protesters’ mill”.

According to RSS sources, the Organiser opted to take a “soft” stand on Water because a senior functionary, involved in the journal, had mediated between Deepa and the information and broadcasting ministry when it agreed to take a second look at the script.

The functionary, sources said, had known the filmmaker for some time. The changes in the Hindi script were also carried out after consulting the RSS member.

They said Sangh hawks were not too happy about his role. Asked about the journal’s moderate stand, Organiser editor Seshadri Chari said: “The RSS is not against the making of any film, provided it confines itself to the law of the land and does not believe in disrespect to people’s sentiments.”

On whether he thought Deepa had transgressed the law of the land, Chari said: “There were apprehensions among people about the portrayal of Varanasi because she is an NRI. These apprehensions were justified and it is up to the film unit to clarify them.”

While Deepa has got off lightly at the Organiser’s hands, A.B. Vajpayee and the government have come in for flak.

A column penned by Satiricus, a pseudonym, has accused them of selective amnesia because of the government’s reiterations that a Ram temple was not on its agenda.

Quoting excerpts from the BJP’s “White Paper” on Ram temple “movement”, published in April 1993, the columnist says: “It was excellent material for a professional politician’s skill. The skill of denial. For, like a particular brand of white cement that is being marketed as the ‘whitest white cement’, this whitest white paper should sell well among the BJP’s brand-new converts as a test aper for their denying ability.”

The context was the NDA constituent MDMK’s declaration that Vajpayee would never allow the Ram temple to be constructed.

Using an alleged reply of V.P. Singh to a question from former journalist Arun Shourie whether he thought that the Ram temple existed: “Arre bhai, masjid kahan hai? (But Sir, where is the masjid in the first place)”, Satiricus’ advice to Vajpayee — if he was posed a similar question — was he should not reply: “Arre bhai, masjid yahan hai” (Well sir, the masjid is right here).    


 
 
BJP SEES POLL CATCH IN WATER VICTORY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SUNDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 9 
The BJP is going all out to turn Deepa Mehta’s loss into an electoral gain with RSS hawks preparing a blueprint on how to use the Water victory as an election issue.

Confirming that the BJP would “most certainly” use the “victory in Varanasi” as an electoral plank, a state spokesman said: “The government has nothing to be defensive about. We are not even seeing it as our victory. But the truth is that saffron has hit back with a vengeance against what was wrong. Water had to go back.”

BJP state unit president Om Prakash Singh said there was nothing “unfair” about what happened to Deepa’s controversial film. “The government’s job was to ensure that there was no breakdown in law and order in Varanasi. There was no hidden agenda. We just made a decision keeping in mind the huge public outcry against the film. We respected the sentiments of the people of Varanasi.”

The BJP thinktank here does not expect a political backlash against the way the Water unit was thrown out of Varanasi. “The sanctity of Varanasi had to be maintained. The people will decide whether we were right or wrong,” Singh added.

The Water row has resulted in chief minister R.P. Gupta emerging from his usual ambiguous and uncertain self, something that has pleased the party bigwigs no end. A senior BJP state executive member said finally the chief minister was coming into his own.

“Despite pressure from the Centre, including A.B. Vajpayee, Gupta managed to delay the process of giving permission, citing law and order problems and eventually disallowing shooting altogether,” he said. It is no coincidence that Gupta’s tour of eight constituencies, where byelections are due, was announced on the same day that Gupta asked Deepa’s unit to leave Varanasi. “It will be an issue. The BJP has upheld cultural nationalism and people realise this,” said a party MLC.    


 
 
RSS PERMIT IRKS ALLIES 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9 
Murmurs of protest rose from the ranks of the BJP’s allies over Gujarat’s decision to allow its employees to participate in RSS activities and suggestions that a similar move was afoot at the Centre.

Commenting on home minister L.K. Advani’s statement yesterday that the Centre would review the policy barring government employees from participating in the activities of the RSS and similar organisations, a senior Dal(U) leader said his party would oppose the move.

Asserting that such a decision could damage the country’s secular fabric, he said the Dal(U) will make its stand clear when the matter comes up for the Cabinet’s approval. “It has to be approved by the Cabinet and we will oppose it there,” he said, adding that Civil Service Conduct Rules (CSCR) did not permit government employees to join organisations such as the RSS and Jamait Islami.

The Telugu Desam also came out against the move, with spokesman Yerran Naidu making it clear that the party was opposed to government employees associating with organisations like the RSS.

DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, who had yesterday said he had no objection to the Gujarat government’s decision, also reversed his stand. The Tamil Nadu chief minister today said he was opposed to the move and would write to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, asking him to restrain the state government.

Trinamul Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who is busy with the railway budget, was not available for comment. But sources close to her said she would oppose the Gujarat government’s decision.

Playing down the issue, Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley said the RSS is not a banned organisation. “It is not a political party, though some of its members may be in a political party,” she added.

This is sharp contrast to the stand taken by senior Samata Party leader George Fernandes in 1977, when he had branded the RSS a “fascist” organisation.

Dal(U) general secretary Mohan Prakash declined to comment on the subject, only saying: “The RSS is a social organisation with a political outlook.”    


 
 
3-STATE FORCE TO POLICE BORDER 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9 
India has decided that special police task forces from Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar will man the long and “open” Indo-Nepal border. These three states share the 1,970 km-long border with Nepal.

Sources said the decision was conveyed to Nepal at the third meeting of the joint working group held in Kathmandu between February 1 and 3.

The Indian delegation to the talks, which came on the heels of the hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft, was led by special secretary (internal security) in the Union home ministry. The hosts were represented by special secretary in the Nepalese foreign ministry, Narayan S. Thapa. The meeting focused on border management.

A joint statement released after the meeting said both countries “reiterate their determination not to permit the use of their respective territories for activities directed against the other”. Indian and Nepalese officials agreed to exchange “useful information” for effective management and regulation of the Indo-Nepal border. An understanding was also reached to “strengthen cooperation to control undesirable activities and movement of terrorists, criminals and other undesirable elements across the border”.

In a clear indication to Pakistan, the officials felt that the “privilege of unimpeded access across the open border enjoyed by the nationals of the two countries should not be allowed to be misused by anyone, including third country nationals”.

India has proposed that special task forces drawn from the police forces of Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Bihar will patrol the Indo-Nepal border. The porous border is freely used not only by smugglers but also by pro-Pakistan terrorists and North-east insurgent outfits to enter Indian territory and carry out subversive activities.

While Uttar Pradesh and Bengal have already formed their respective task forces, Bihar is yet to do so. “Uttar Pradesh and Bengal governments have conveyed to us that they have already formed their STFs. Once Bihar is ready, the STFs will begin patrolling their respective border zones,” a senior home ministry official said, adding: “The proposal to set up STFs was formulated a few years back.”

The STFs will be given specialised training in border patrolling and policing, especially in detecting Inter-Services Intelligence operatives, terrorists, smugglers and fundamentalist elements operating from areas like the Terai region and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri in Bengal and Raxaul, East and West Champaran, Sitamarhi and Gopalganj in Bihar.    


 
 
POPULIST ATAL BLASTS CONG FOR ‘PARANOID’ VIP SECUR 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Jamshedpur, Feb. 9 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today accused the Congress of creating a security system for VIPs that smacked of colonialism and verged on paranoia.

Lashing out at the Congress for throwing a tight security ring around VIPs that widened the people-politician divide, Vajpayee said an overhaul was necessary.

“If the security system proves detrimental to the people’s interest and prevents them from interacting with their leaders, then such a system should be overhauled,” he said during an election meeting at Bari Maidan here.

Vajpayee was embarrassed when a local BJP leader complained that people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister had been kept away by securitymen. They were stopped outside the meeting venue, by policemen posted on the approach roads. The Prime Minister immediately apologised, drawing applause.

“Facilities for VIPs and the masses should be equal. When the masses are deprived, the system is beset with grave deficiencies,” Vajpayee said.

Last week, the Centre slashed the list of VIPs entitled to Z category security. Most of them were accorded special security cover by the Congress government following the assassination of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The security of a large number of Congressmen has been withdrawn.

In a departure from earlier speeches, Vajpayee struck a populist chord today by harping on reforms and a revamp of public services. “Despite our abundant natural and human resources, we have failed to evolve a system during the last 50 years to utilise it,” he said. Vajpayee was addressing an impressive rally during the second phase of the National Democratic Alliance campaign in Bihar. He had kicked off the first phase of the campaign early last month with a rally in Patna at which he announced a Rs 22,000 crore development package.

The Prime Minister made no mention of the package today. He also refused to set a deadline for the creation of Vananchal, only saying it would “soon be a reality”. Vajpayee was silent on parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan’s promise that Vananchal would be created after the budget session. Instead, he blamed the Congress government for the delay.

Despite the uncertainty over Vananchal, people thronged the meeting venue in large numbers to see the Prime Minister. The city wore a festive look with all shades of saffron adorning the main thoroughfare. Most marketplaces remained closed as traders, the BJP’s traditional supporters, joined the rally. The only sop Vajpayee offered voters in south Bihar was a pledge to upgrade “education, health care and roads”.

At another meeting in Bokaro, Vajpayee promised ambitious schemes for the rest of the state following the creation of Vananchal.

Dismissing reports of rift in the National Democractic alliance, Vajpayee said: “We are fighting the elections unitedly and will remain united while selecting the chief minister as well.”

He called upon the electorate to throw out the Rabri Devi government. “Aapne kurta to badal diya, ab pajama bhi badal daliye,” he said urging people to vote in the Assembly elections as they had in the Lok Sabha polls.    


 
 
SUMITRA MOUNTS PRE-BUDGET FUNDS DRIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 9 
Minister of state for human resources development Sumitra Mahajan is scouting for more funds before the finance minister finalises his budget at the end of this month.

Sources said Mahajan met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and finance minister Yashwant Sinha to put forward her case and suggested ways to streamline current projects related to women. “The finance minister was very keen to strengthen the programmes, but he made it clear that the question of hiking financial allocation rests with the Planning Commission,” Mahajan, who is in charge of the department of women and children, said.

With the presentation of the Union budget due shortly, all ministries, particularly those dealing with the social sector, are wooing Sinha. M.M. Joshi, the Union human resources development minister, has already tapped the finance ministry for more funds in education.

According to sources, there is a feeling that successive governments have not recognised the importance of investing in human resource development as a long-term strategy.

Mahajan also suggested to Vajpayee the need for a greater interaction among different ministries that implement projects for women. Because of lack of coordination, she said, there is often an overlap between ministries and absence of evaluation also often derails projects.

Though there is a host of women-oriented projects at present, only a few of them have visible presence on the ground.

For instance, the agriculture ministry runs programmes imparting specific skills to women. The rural development ministry also conducts specific projects for women.

What Mahajan is suggesting is that there should be some kind of coordination between her department and all other ministries carrying out women development projects.    


 
 
THREE KILLED IN VALLEY MINE BLAST 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 9 
Three civilians were killed in a mine blast in the main market at Tral in south Kashmir today.

Late this afternoon, a powerful mine exploded near the State Bank of India, Tral, killing three civilians on the spot and injuring two. The injured, identified as Ghulam Mohammad Shah and Jehangir, were admitted to Soura Medical Institute.

The police said the explosion shook the entire township, forcing residents to run for cover. Senior police and security force officers rushed to the area with reinforcements.

No militant outfit has owned responsibility for the blast.

Two policemen and a junior commissioned officer (JCO) were among seven persons killed in the past 36 hours in the Valley.

The police said two militants and a junior commissioned officer were killed yesterday in a crossfire at Batpora Ganderbal village. Two houses were also gutted in the encounter. Troops cordoned the village and conducted searches. During the search, they came under heavy fire. Reinforcements were rushed to the spot and the cordon was tightened.

Two policemen including an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) were gunned down by militants in the main vegetable market in Srinagar yesterday afternoon. Police said the militants opened fire on the two from a close range while they were on duty. The militants also snatched one rifle from the cops. Senior police and security force officers rushed to the spot and the area was cordoned off. Searches were conducted to nab the killers. Security has been further beefed up in the city following the renewed attacks.    


 
 
SQUATTER SWORD ON HAMPI HERITAGE CROWN 
 
 
FROM RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
 
Hampi (Karnataka), Feb.9 
The historical remains of Hampi, the celebrated capital of the Vijayanagara empire which ruled a substantial part of the Deccan for three centuries, are now being threatened by brown skin encroachers trying to make a living and a “lost” generation of the white skin living it up.

Alarm bells started ringing for the Karnataka government last fortnight when United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) declared Hampi as an “endangered monument” and warned of derecognising it as a World Heritage Site if efforts were not made to get rid of the encroachers and stop the construction works which threatened the existence of delicate structures.

Archaeologists say that Unesco has rightly objected to the magnificent row of mandaps along Virupaksha temple chariot street being converted into hotels and shops selling samosas and trinkets.

Diamonds, rubies and emeralds were once sold on this street, 32 metres wide and 740 metres long, Portuguese chronicler Domingo Paes wrote.

The Virupaksha bazaar, which stretches from the 14th century temple till the Matunga Hills, is also occupied by many poor inhabitants and “mutts” whose presence have been sanctified by the state over the years.

A former minister in the Janata Dal government, M.P. Prakash, who hails from the district, has permitted a colony of squatters to come up in the midst of monuments by giving them pattas. They have shown their gratitude by calling it “Prakash Nagar”.

If eviction of squatters is going to be a Herculean task, curbing the menace of hippies who have made Hampi their home, will be no less tough.

Hampi has always attracted a fair share of Indologists of foreign origin. Many, including Colin Mackenzie, B.A. Saletore, Robert Swell and Burton Stein have contributed to chronicling the rise and fall of the Vijayanagara empire which acted as a bulwark against Muslim invasion till the middle of the 16th century.

But recently there has been an influx of hippies who have made the secluded hilly terrains along river Thungabhadra a ground for nefarious activities. The locals speak of uninhibited use of drugs in illegal thatched structures which have come up on Virpapur gadde (island) across the river, which can only be reached by little theppas (boats made of cane).

To keep a check on such activities and also provide a link to the villagers across the river, the government has begun work on a “hanging” footbridge. Two pillars have come up, but the work has been halted at Unesco’s instance which cited it as an “eye-sore” to the natural beauty of the place.

Unesco is also against another bridge under construction for vehicular traffic between Hospet and Gangavati. Its contention is that movement of heavy vehicles would endanger the ancient monuments and hence the work should be stopped.

When Unesco’s letter reached the state government, chief minister S.M. Krishna appointed a task force headed by additional chief secretary and former director general of Archaeological Survey of India Achala Malik to look into the problem. The task force plans to visit the site next week.    

 

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