Defence visit signals thaw in hijack ice
Enemy upper hand in desert wargames
DD seals deal with Channel 9
CM fights odds and fatigue
BJP slams Surjeet
CISF takes charge at five airports
Battle of brothers in Haryana pollfield

New Delhi, Feb. 16 
Signalling a thaw in Indo-Nepal relations, frozen since the hijack of the Indian Airlines airbus from Kathmandu, Chief of Royal Nepal Army Staff Prajwal Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana will arrive here on February 20 for a five-day official visit.

Rana will not only meet his Indian counterpart, Gen. V.P. Malik, but also call on defence minister George Fernandes and other senior defence officials.

But the most significant part of his visit will be the investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan where President K.R. Narayanan will award him the ceremonial sword and bestow upon him the honoric title ‘General of the Indian Army’.

Rana’s visit will be the first high-level one from Nepal since the Christmas Eve hijacking. The episode sent bilateral relations into a freeze with New Delhi suspecting that Kathmandu was not serious about combating terrorism from its soil.

During his discussions with Indian leaders, Rana will try to dispel this notion and convince his hosts about Nepal’s keenness to cooperate with India on this issue.

India’s relationship with Nepal has gone through various “highs” and “lows” in the past. “We are one society, but two sovereign nations,” Indian officials say about Nepal. But neither cultural and religious ties, nor geographical proximity, have been enough to keep anti-India propaganda surfacing from time to time.

Nepalese politicians have often used this plank to build their support base. According to Indian officials, Nepalese leaders, in their effort to convince their constituencies that they are a sovereign nation, highlight the “contradiction” to achieve this objective.

South Block officials, however, pointed out that whichever party is in power in Nepal, there is the realisation that Kathmandu has no other alternative but to maintain good relations with New Delhi. India, on its part, thinks it is better to have a country like Nepal — with which it shares a large, porous border — as a friend rather than as an adversary.

The hijacking of IC 814 and subsequent reports in the Indian media blaming Kathmandu for the air-piracy had evoked strong reaction from the Nepalese government and other political parties.

A direct fallout of this was New Delhi’s reluctance to find a suitable date for Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai’s visit to India. But the mood appears to have changed and both countries are keen to renew contacts.

Though not fully satisfied with arrangements at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan international Airport, India is unwilling to blame Nepal for colluding with the hijackers.

Foreign ministry officials say that contradictions within the Nepalese establishment should be kept in mind while analysing why Kathmandu failed to take steps against terrorists operating from its soil against India.    

Punrasar (Bikaner), Feb. 16 
An An-32 airdrops the first batch of 30 paratroopers into the sand. They scurry to take up position behind craggy knolls and shrubs, about 200 m from the giant dune where senior army and air force officers have banded.

They are to provide cover fire for the larger unit, due to land in minutes. Suddenly, in the shadowy darkness of the moonlit night, the silhouette of a man pops up. He is heading for the dune. No one has spotted him.

The officers are too busy biting into shami kebabs and sipping steaming hot tea. Only a jawan scouring the desertscape with his infra red binoculars is on alert. Spotting the sneaking figure, he exclaims: “It is one of the paras, sir!”

The silhouette has walked up the incline, machine gun grasped tightly. Catching his breath for a while, he mumbles: “Sir, I saw this light blinking under the tent (on the dune) and thought it was the signal for us to abandon position and move up.”

The brigadier tries to calm down the soldier. “Never mind, never mind. You have made a big mistake. But do not worry. Get back to position immediately.”

Red in the face, the figure gulps, takes a step back, turns and begins the slow trudge down the slope into the darkness. He had temporarily forgotten that he was within “enemy” lines. The error could have cost him his life and wiped out the rest of the company.

Fortunately, the soldier was in the midst of Exercise Vijay Chakra, conceived and directed by GOC-in-C Lt Gen. Vijay Oberoi, the Western Army commander. But he did not know that the exercise, into its 13th day yesterday in the Thar desert, was being watched by army chief Gen. V.P. Malik and Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis.

As a whole, the integrated army-air force exercise spread over a 10,000 sq km area lacked reality. All through the tortuous four-hour journey from Lunkaransar, near Nal airbase, to the Kalu defence position, not a single war machine could be sighted in action: a tank here, some Gypsies and heavy trucks there, the odd chopper whirring overhead, jawans scrambling up and down the dunes were all there was.

As programme after programme was skipped due to “time constraints”, Brig Dalip Kapur’s beaming face turned ashen. After all, he had been tasked to chaperone the reporters.

As the convoy trundled on, every now and then he stopped to ask the direction to Kalu. “Transmit a message and delay the tank-to-tank battle,” he shouted to a lieutenant. But there was no way the order could be relayed.

Turning to an air force officer, he said: “You look worried.”

“No, sir. But they (reporters) have not seen anything so far. If they don’t see anything there will be no story,” the officer replied.

“Let’s skip lunch. That comes every day. Not the tank-to-tank battle,” the brigadier said.

By the time Kalu arrived, the “tank battle” had begun. The “enemy” tanks penetrated deep. They crossed a nearby “canal” unscathed. The defenders’ 130 mm guns boomed but could make no direct hit. The fighter aircraft swept in, but the T-72 tanks rolled on till they overran the last platoon defending the area.

Kalu had fallen. The guns went silent.

Asked why the Indian army was caught on the wrong foot as in Kargil, the GOC-in-C said: “That was a little below the belt.”

Later a subordinate tried to explain: “Ex Vijay Chakra is different. We are training for limited wars and rapid deployment.” Then he conceded: “Unless there is an element of realism, it will remain an exercise in futility.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 16 
Doordarshan today announced its tie-up with Channel 9 of Australia for production and training two Doordarshan production teams in the next two years.

Announcing the tie-up, Doordarshan CEO R.R. Shah said Channel 9 would produce international cricket for 27 days or more each year for two years. The agreement includes training and equipping two production teams. Doordarshan will spend nearly Rs 18.5 crore for this. Shah said Doordarshan is looking for such collaborations to upgrade its technical qualities.

Asked why WorldTel had been jettisoned, Jim Packer of Channel 9 said they felt that a broadcaster-to-broadcaster relationship is the best. Packer said Channel 9 was very proud to be associated with Doordarshan. His company is interested in exploring other business interests in India, he added. Channel 9 will open an office here within two months.

It will start work roughly a week from now when the first matches between India and South Africa begin on February 24. The test matches will be telecast on Doordarshan Sports with two hours of highlights on the national channel. The one-day matches will be telecast on both Doordarshan National and Doordarshan Sports. The commentary and analysis team comprising Ravi Shastri, Barry Richards and Sanjay Manjrekar will be led by Tony Greig.

Bidders unhappy

Doordarshan is still dithering over the tie-up for marketing airtime overseas making it difficult for the marketer who finally wins the bid. Problems arose when Stracon-TWI combine haggled for overseas and Internet marketing for $43 million, while Doordarshan said the amount excluded Internet.

Other bidders are waiting while marathon meetings continue. It is understood that Doordarshan will announce the winner’s name tomorrow. Interestingly, Stracon-TWI, who were first chosen to market airtime overseas, were supposed to pay five per cent signing money and 15 per cent of the bank guarantee before the close of office hours on February 15. No one confirms in Doordarshan whether Stracon-TWI has paid. Other bidders allege that Stracon-TWI had not paid by the scheduled date.

Buddha films, which had won the bid for marketing cricket air time for the domestic scene, has walked out of the contract. The trouble was over Doordarshan asking for fresh bids for the overseas marketing of air time.    

Jharsuguda, Feb. 16 
With a strong anti-establishment wave surging through western and southern Orissa which goes to polls tomorrow, chief minister Hemanand Biswal has left nothing to chance.

For the last 12 days, Biswal, camping in his native village of Thakurpara, under his Laikera constituency, 20 km from Jharsuguda, has held about 30 meetings a day — a feat that has stumped even his close aides who described him as laid-back when it came to campaigning for himself.

He conducted 35 roadside meetings in different panchayats yesterday, before campaigning ended for 70 of the 147 constituencies going to polls in the first phase. Without much rest, a red-eyed Biswal again hit the road this morning to “meet his supporters informally.”

“Hemababu has never put in so much effort before, but he does not want to take any chance this time,” said Bijay Pande, Biswal’s campaign manager. “I have never seen him work so hard,” he added.

In 1995, Biswal won the seat with a victory margin of 19,000 votes. But in the last five years, the Congress votebank has dwindled, with the BJP steadily eating into the ruling party’s base across the backward western region. In the Lok Sabha elections last September, Biswal, who contested from Deogarh for the first time, lost, getting a lead of only 4,000 from Laikera.

But his popularity in the area has increased in the last two months after he replaced Giridhar Gamang and became a “stop-gap” chief minister for a second time, his aides claimed. “He is the only person from western Orissa to become the chief minister twice and this has become our major poll plank,” Pande said. “People are proud of him.”

But the BJP is clearly not impressed. Backed by its ally Biju Janata Dal, BJP candidate Brindaban Majhi, who belongs to the majority Kishan community in the area, is playing the caste card.

“But this won’t work. People here are too intelligent to be taken in by that. They know Hemababu’s worth in Orissa politics,” Pande said. For his part, the chief minister claimed that he could speak the Kishan dialect.

Biswal might retain his constituency, but Congress leaders are apprehensive about the party’s prospects in many other seats in the region.

The party has been considerably weakened by factionalism and repeated leadership changes. The party changed two chief ministers — J.B. Patnaik and Giridhar Gamang — in the past one year.

The Pradesh Congress Committee was also turned upside down twice when the party high command replaced two presidents in the past three years. The morale of the workers’ are also at an all-time low.

The government’s failure to carry out routine development work has given birth to an anti-establishment feeling in the state. Villagers are peeved because promised roads and bridges were not built. Old-age pension and rice for Rs 2 per kg has eluded the needy in many villages.

In many constituencies, party hopefuls who were denied tickets are running against the official nominees. The Congress has expelled many senior leaders for rebellion, but has failed to stem the rot. “Only a miracle can save the party from electoral disaster this time and we see no sign of it,” a senior Congress leader said, summing up the party’s mood.    

New Delhi, Feb. 16 
The BJP today went hammer and tongs at CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet for writing to National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders warning them about the BJP’s “hidden agenda” and accused him of trying to drive a wedge between the BJP and its allies.

“Surjeet has written that ‘India is a multi-national state and we (the BJP) are trying to destroy the secular character of the country’,” said BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu, terming the move as “uncalled for, unwarranted and (one that) will only cause derisive laughter”.

“He (Surjeet) believes India is a multi-national society. The BJP believes in unity in diversity. We believe in taking all the people with us,” he added.

The people are free to pursue their religious beliefs. We believe that care should be taken not to hurt religious sentiments of the people. We realise that they are sensitive on certain matters,” the spokesman added.

“Surjeet is a passionate protagonist of destructive politics. He subscribes to an ideology that has shown scant concern for India’s sovereignty and its culture. The nation cannot forget the 1962 India-China war when his party considered India the aggressor and China the victor,” Naidu said.

He alleged that the Marxists remained a mute spectator of human rights violations during Emergency. Surjeet tried to revive the third front to help the Congress, “but his actual desire has been to create a third-rate front headed by the Congress”, the BJP leader said. He added that Surjeet tried hard to project Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister though Jyoti Basu was also a candidate.

“The last two years under the NDA have seen India get rid of social, caste and communal tensions. We are today a riot-free, tension-free society. The NDA is a scam-free government. The country is on the path to economic resurgence, but Mr Surjeet is worrying,” he said.

The Congress is not getting any response from the allies, so the Marxist party has taken over the contract, Naidu said.

The BJP leader said Russia, which was a multi-national state, disintegrated and Surjeet does not appear to have learnt from that experience. The two-nation theory was responsible for the Partition of India. People must nip in the bud Surjeet’s idea of a multi-national state, Naidu added.    

New Delhi, Feb. 16 
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has started providing enhanced security to five airports at Patna, Baroda, Jaipur, Port Blair and Guwahati.

In the second phase of strengthening security in domestic terminals — which begins after Assembly polls in Bihar, Manipur, Orissa and Haryana — CISF personnel will be deployed at airports in Dibrugarh, Agartala, Lucknow, Bhubaneswar and Raipur.

The paramilitary outfit, whose primary role is to safeguard the country’s vital installations and public sector undertakings (PSU), has already “bid” for providing security to all airports within the country, including the ones in the four metros.

A senior home ministry source said that one reason for handing over airport security to the CISF is because 2,000 of its personnel have not been paid salaries for many years by several sick PSUs. Their pay cheques were being borne by the home ministry, the source added. The 2,000 security men have already been deployed at the Patna, Baroda, Jaipur, Port Blair and Guwahati airports.

The force, which has a total strength of 85,000, will deploy 10,000 jawans once it is formally asked to take over security at all airports in the country.

“A scheme has to be worked out between the government, the Airports Authority of India and the ministry of civil aviation on the salary that will have to be paid,” a home ministry official said.    

With politics relegated to “family business” in Haryana, Rori is set to witness a bhai versus bhai contest between Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) president Om Prakash Chautala and his younger brother Ranjit Singh, who has been nominated by the Congress.

Rori, a rural constituency divided into a Bagri and a Sikh belt, has been pitched into the limelight as former deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal’s sons fight another battle here in their war to inherit their father’s political legacy.

Though Chautala is expected to romp home here, he is taking no chances. The chief minister has deputed his sons, Ajay and Abhay, to camp in the district and campaign in all five Assembly constituencies.

Chautala has left Rori entirely in Abhay’s care, making it a chacha-bhatija affair as well. If Chautala wins the Narwana seat also, INLD leaders say he may leave Rori for Abhay.

Chautala’s sons have kick-started a high-voltage campaign in Rori. They are highlighting the various development schemes started by Chautala in the area, which is notorious for the smuggling of opium and poppy husk.

However, the Congress started off with a master stroke. By fielding Chautala’s brother, they have ensured that the INLD does not take the contest lightly. And its success can be gauged from the fact that Devi Lal had come calling, seeking votes for his elder son.

The Congress has further queered Chautala’s pitch with the promise to demand a new capital for Haryana if voted to power. The party manifesto, among the last to be released before the Assembly polls, blames the state’s cultural and social backwardness on the fact that Haryana does not have its own capital. It says Haryana should be allowed to construct its own capital and a separate high court, too.

The 1.13 lakh electorate in Rori, which includes 50, 000 Jats, will decide the fate of nine candidates, including six Independents.

Though the odds are loaded against him, Ranjit Singh is determined to prove the pundits wrong. He is banking on the goodwill he earned as an MLA in 1987. He claims that he provided jobs to hundreds of people when his father was chief minister.

When asked why he chose to contest from Rori, Ranjit Singh said he had no say in the matter and the decision lay with the party. But he reminded that Chautala was free to contest from anywhere. Realising the adverse mud-slinging would have on the electorate, both Chautala and Ranjit Singh, however, claim that they respect each other as brothers.

With the large presence of Sikhs in the constituency bordering Punjab, both parties are relying on support from Punjab leaders. The INLD plans to bring Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to campaign for Chautala while the Congress is seeking the help of Jagmeet Singh Brar, who defeated Badal’s son Sukhbir in neighbouring Faridkot in the Lok Sabha polls.

The Atal Behari Vajpayee-Chautala magic, which worked during the Lok Sabha polls, is missing this time.    


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