Advani rules out talks with mercenaries
CM skips memorial meet
Apex court adds to rape term
Laloo, Cong divide Bihar booty
Priya was home alone: Police

New Delhi, March 31 
The Centre today expressed helplessness in starting any political dialogue with terrorist outfits in Jammu and Kashmir, saying militancy was now in the hands of foreign mercenaries.

“The government has no objection to open negotiations with anybody under the framework of the Constitution. But who do we talk to?” Union home minister L.K. Advani told reporters today.

“Opening a political dialogue with the organisations would have been meaningful and relevant two to three years back when militancy was largely localised. (But) over the past two years, it has been completely taken over by foreign mercenaries supported by Pakistan.”

Under the circumstances, Advani said, the Centre will continue with its “pro-active” policy on terrorism, and reiterated that its handling of the situation would remain “tough”.

Advani pointed out that “political dialogue is no solution for the present problem in Jammu and Kashmir, since it is essentially a question of cross-border terrorism”, but added that autonomy within the Indian Union could always be looked into. The Centre, he said, has also given clear directions to the Farooq Abdullah government to address administrative and development issues.

Sometime ago, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference — some of whose leaders are under detention — had expressed willingness to open talks with the Indian government.

But senior officials argue that the organisation’s leadership has, over the past few months, become “less and less credible”.

According to them, the organisation’s “standing” in the public eye has come down considerably. It does not even enjoy the influence it did till a few years ago when militancy in Jammu and Kashmir still had “a local flavour” and was spearheaded by outfits like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the officials said.

About Pakistan foreign secretary Inam-ul-Haq’s statement yesterday that Islamabad was prepared to “initiate” bilateral talks with Delhi, Advani said that no matter what steps the junta took to “reduce” cross-border militancy in the state, India would not give up its pro-active approach.

“Initiating talks is one thing. But whether the negotiations would be serious and meaningful is quite another,” he said.

Advani’s assessment is that Pervez Musharraf does not have complete control over the terrorist outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to him: “The situation now is such that the Pakistani establishment does not have full control over the militant organisations functioning in the state.”

The remark comes in the wake of Musharraf’s statement soon after US President Bill Clinton left Islamabad.

Musharraf had said his government “may be able to influence the terrorist outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir to stop their operations”.

But treading a cautious path, the home minister said the Centre would “have to watch how Pakistan reacts” to American views on terrorism and restraint along the Line of Control (LoC).    

Chitti Singhpora, March 31 
Kashmiri Sikhs will finalise their course of action in a high-level meeting convened by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Jammu on April 7.

“I will meet the Prime Minister and apprise him about the situation on April 4. Later we will decide the future strategy in our meeting with Kashmiri Sikhs in Jammu on April 7,” the Punjab chief minister said.

Badal arrived here along with a high-level delegation, including SGPC president Jagir Kaur and Speaker Avtar Singh. Others who attended the bhog ceremony for the 36 Sikhs massacred here on March 20 included Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Simranjeet Singh Mann, Jagmeet Singh Brar, Omkar Singh, Union minister of state for civil aviation Chaman Lal Gupta, BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana and Congress leader Rajesh Pilot.

The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister did not attend. The state government was represented by three senior ministers who, however, did not speak on the occasion.

Sources said the controversy on the killing of five foreign militants, allegedly involved in the carnage, dampened Farooq Abdullah’s plan to visit the village which he had earlier announced.

Thousands of Sikhs from all over the valley and neighbouring Punjab thronged this village to attend the bhog ceremony. Authorities had made tight security arrangements, with state director-general of police Gurbachan Jagat was overseeing the bandobast.

Prominent Sikh leaders from the valley met Badal, who assured them that the issue of the Sikhs’ migration will be discussed in the meeting at Jammu next month. However, Tohra opposed Badal’s move to hold the meeting in Jammu.

Tohra said: “The meeting should have been convened in Srinagar as the issue is related to Valley Sikhs.”

He, however, said he would attend the meeting if invited. Earlier, addressing the Sikh mourners, Badal told them not to migrate from Kashmir valley.

He said in 1984 when Sikhs migrated to Punjab from Delhi, they were given a warm welcome, but later left to fend for themselves. “So I tell you, you should not take any decision in haste.”

The Union civil aviation minister Chaman Lal Gupta said such incidents could have serious repercussions in the rest of the country and advised the local Muslims to think over it.    

New Delhi, March 31 
The Supreme Court has come down heavily on the Karnataka High Court for “lacking sensitivity” towards a child rape victim, and increased the sentence of the accused by six years.

Stating that violence against women needs to be severely dealt with, a three-member bench said the “measure of punishment in a rape case cannot depend on the social status of the victim or the accused”.

A trial court in Karnataka had sentenced 49-year-old Krishnappa to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment for raping a seven-year-old girl. But the high court reduced the sentence to four years on the ground that Krishnappa was under the influence of alcohol while committing the crime and also that he was an “unsophisticated and illiterate citizen belonging to a weaker section of society”.

Striking down the order, the apex court bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand and Justices R.C. Lahoti and S.N. Variava said “these factors did not justify the recourse to impose a sentence less than the prescribed minimum”.

The judges said the punishment in rape cases “must depend on the conduct of the accused, the state and age of the sexually assaulted female and the gravity of the criminal act”.

Emphasising that “crimes against women need to be severely dealt with”, the apex court said “socio-economic status, religion, race, caste or creed of the accused or the victim are irrelevant considerations in sentencing policy”, especially in rape cases.

“The high court exhibited lack of sensitivity towards the victim of rape and the society by reducing the substantive sentence in the established facts and circumstances of the case,” the judges said.

“Protection of society and deterring the criminal is the avowed object of law and that is required to be achieved by imposing an appropriate sentence.

The sentencing courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence,” they added.

On the night of May 5, 1991, Krishnappa of Kenjige village went to the child’s house and made sexual advances towards her mother, but she managed to escape. He then took away the child to another house and raped her. She was rescued the next morning.

Expressing anguish, the Supreme Court said: “Courts must hear the loud cry for justice by society in cases of heinous crime of rape on innocent helpless girls of tender years and respond by imposition of proper sentence.”

“To show mercy in the case of such a heinous crime would be a travesty of justice and the plea for leniency is wholly misplaced,” the judges said.

The bench ticked off the high court, saying it was “not justified in interfering with the discretion of the trial court” which awarded 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment.    

New Delhi, March 31 
The Congress will get the agriculture, irrigation, forest, personnel and power ministries in the Rabri Devi government.

A search is on to find a “technocrat” to head the finance department after Laloo Prasad Yadav vetoed the name of former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey.

After four hours of protracted negotiations, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief managed to get the home and land reforms ministries for his party as well as the chairmanship of a coordination committee.

He insisted that AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai be part of the panel, which she refused. The 11-member coordination panel will have four Congress representatives, three from RJD and one each from CPM, BSP, MCC and Krantikari Communist Party.

The Congress-RJD talks were held at Pranab Mukherjee’s residence. Manmohan Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Mohsina Kidwai and Ajit Jogi were also present. Laloo handed over a list of the ministers’ portfolios.

“The negotiations were held in the spirit of give and take. There were no stalemates or deadlocks,” a Congress negotiator said.

Mukherjee has been asked to expand on the common minimum programme accepted by the Congress and RJD. It will be a “time-bound” programme for speedy implementation of various proposals, a Congress leader said.

Mukherjee’s return as the key negotiator indicates that the veteran leader is back in Sonia camp. He has been sulking over the controversy on his remarks about the Clinton-Sonia meeting on nuclear deterrent.

“Everything is fine between him and Sonia,” a party leader said, claiming that a Mukherjee-Sonia meeting on Wednesday had cleared the air.

To curb “politically motivated” transfers and postings in the state administration, the Congress and the RJD agreed to set up a Cabinet sub-committee to approve all transfers.

Headed by Rabri Devi, the four-member panel will have two representatives from the Congress, including CLP leader Furkhan Ansari.

Laloo appeared relaxed, confident and kept cracking jokes, which forced Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh to burst into laughter on several occasions.

The RJD chief called on President K.R. Narayanan and demanded the recall of Governor V.C. Pande, accusing him of “misusing the Raj Bhavan for political gains”.

Accusing Pande of “dancing to the tune of the Vajpayee government”, Laloo said: “He had thrown all democratic norms to the wind by ignoring the RJD’s claim to form government.”    

Mumbai, March 31 
The crime branch of the Mumbai police today registered a murder case after receiving the post mortem report on actress Priya Rajvansh’s body.

The report, made public by two doctors at Cooper Hospital, was officially handed over to the police this morning.

The actress — a close companion of Dev Anand’s brother Chetan Anand — was found dead under mysterious circumstances at Chetan’s Juhu residence. His son Ketan Anand lives in the bungalow, which Priya visited daily.

Asked why the police had not arrested anybody, area deputy commissioner of police Rajendra Singh said it was because the accused were “unknown”.

But police sources said the nature of the death and conflicting statements issued by Ketan and his family had only complicated the case. Ketan and his brother Vivek are likely to be interrogated shortly, they added.

The police, however, have come to an interesting conclusion: during the crucial half-hour between 9.30 and 10.00, on the night of the murder, there was no one at home.

Subhash Awte, assistant commissioner of police of the North West region in charge of the western suburbs, said: “The maid had gone out to get milk and Ketan was with his neighbour Ramesh Khanna. Only the two very young children of the maid were sleeping in the servants’ quarters.”

According to him, it was at this time that one or more persons entered the house and murdered the actress.

Ketan, however, had told this correspondent two days ago: “She (Priya) was getting ready to go for a party. But as she was getting late, the hosts telephoned to check. When we sent the maid to the bedroom upstairs to check, she was found lying on the bedroom floor”. The statement contradicts police findings.

Awte, however, pointed out that it was “still too early” to pin the blame on anyone. “It is complicated. We are working out all possible theories,” he said. The Juhu police today picked up the maid and her young daughter for questioning. Ketan was away from home till late in the evening.    


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