Bloodbath in Kashmir protest rally
Sonia winks at grand alliance
Delhi focus on train, not Track II
Sangh rein on Sankhya Vahini

Srinagar, April 3 
At least seven people were killed and 15 wounded in Anantnag as security forces opened fire to quell a violent demonstration over allegations that authorities had staged the killing of suspected Kashmir militants involved in the massacre of Sikhs.

Jawans of the Special Operations Group and the CRPF began firing after thousands of protesters hurled rocks at their Barakpora camp, 3 km from Anantnag. An indefinite curfew with shoot-at-sight orders has been clamped on the town.

The demonstrators took to the streets demanding the exhumation of the charred bodies of five people shot last week in what the government said was a shootout with militants. The gunbattle was fought in the heights of Pathribal Panchathal, near Chatti Singhpora village where 36 Sikhs were mowed down on March 20.

Security forces said the five men were foreign mercenaries involved in the massacre. Local residents, however, alleged that those killed were innocent civilians who were rounded up by the security forces and shot dead. The bodies, charred beyond recognition, were buried. But bits of clothing and a ring indicated that the bodies were those of the men who had disappeared the night before the gunbattle, the villagers claimed.

Minister of state for home Mushtaq Ahmed Lone told the Assembly today that the government was ready to exhume the bodies. Assistant commissioner, Anantnag, Azir Ahmed Parrey, has been directed to examine the corpses to establish their identity.

The officer has been asked to take assistance from forensic experts. He has also been told to get in touch with relatives of the missing persons.

A magisterial inquiry has already been ordered into the killings of 11 people who were shot in two separate incidents. Officials in charge of security claimed all were involved in the carnage which was carried out by 17 men comprising local militants and mercenaries from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.

Residents of Anantnag have held demonstrations every day for the past week, but the protest turned violent today as over-3,000 people vent their ire at the security personnel.

Official sources said the jawans were forced to open fire after they failed to thwart the demonstrators with teargas. However, eyewitnesses said the securitymen started firing indiscriminately and without provocation. They added that more than 50 people, including some women and children, were injured as people ran for cover after the jawans started firing. As news of the incident spread, residents of adjoining villages rushed out onto the streets and marched into the town. Officials later persuaded them to return to their homes.

Deputy commissioner, Anantnag, and top police officers, including deputy inspector-general, Anantnag, Raja Aijaz Ali, reached the scene to assess the situation. The army staged flag marches to defuse the tension.

The joint action committee spearheading the agitation has called an indefinite strike in Anantnag and an inquiry into the police firing.

The afternoon violence came hours after president of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party Shabir Ahmad Shah was arrested for trying to organise a sit-in at Lal Chowk. Leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, including acting chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were not allowed by the administration to proceed to Anantnag. Farooq has been placed under house-arrest.

The spate of protests last week forced chief minister Farooq Abdullah to announce in the Assembly that he had sent police chief Gurbachan Jagat and intelligence boss Rajinder Tickoo to Chatti Singhpora for a detailed probe. A report would be placed in the House on Friday, he added. Jagat, however, denied that he had been directed to hold an inquiry.    

New Delhi, April 3 
After hearing out agitated leaders from West Bengal, a helpless Congress high command gave a signal to negotiate with Mamata Banerjee for a mahajot (grand alliance) minus the BJP in exchange for a reaffirmation of faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.

Pradesh Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury met Mamata shortly after his meeting with Sonia. The meeting, at Chowdhury’s 12 Akbar Road residence, was described as “cordial” with both leaders lavishing praise on each other.

“Barkatda is a great leader. If he chooses a particular path to dislodge the Left Front, then we should follow him,” Mamata said. The Trinamul chief, however, made it clear she would not leave the NDA.

Chowdhury, when asked about Mamata’s assertion, said he would leave it to her to work out the modalities.

Chowdhury and former state president Somen Mitra were summoned by Sonia to explain the defeat of the party’s nominee in the Rajya Sabha election. A section of Congress MLAs cross-voted for the Trinamul candidate.

Pledging support to Sonia, Chowdhury ruled out a split in Bengal. “There is no resentment against you. There was no malafide intention. It was an expression against Priya Ranjan Das Munshi who misled you and gave wrong inputs,” he said, bringing back the smile on Sonia’s stern face.

At a news conference later, Chowdhury admitted that he was surprised by Sonia’s “kindness and reasonable behaviour”.

During their 45-minute meeting, the Bengal chief told Sonia that the CPM should be considered “enemy number one”. “They have killed 12,000 of our boys. Mamataji has done much more than the Congress to drive out the Left Front,” he said.

Chowdhury said he would meet Sonia again tomorrow to discuss preparations for the June municipal elections and the Assembly polls next year.

A tie-up with Mamata could pave the way for a similar arrangement in Tamil Nadu where G.K. Moopanar is insisting on a pact. The Tamil Maanila Congress chief, too, met Sonia today.

The Bengal bungle had its first casualty with Sonia sidelining Prabha Rau, general secretary in charge of the state. Ambika Soni has been entrusted with the job.

Sonia summoned Rau soon after her talks with the Bengal leaders and expressed unhappiness over the “fiasco”.

Narrating the “story of revolt” by the MLAs, Chowdhury sought to justify the cross-voting by claiming that Sonia picked D.P. Roy against the MLAs’ wishes.

Voicing utter contempt, Chowdhury claimed he did not even know the name of the Congress candidate. “What is his name?” he asked Mitra at the news conference.

Standing by the erring MLAs, Chowdhury ruled out any disciplinary action. “If there is any action, it should be against me and Somen,” he added.

Sonia’s reluctance to act tough has put a question mark on Das Munshi’s future as state working president. Though sources close to Sonia ruled out any immediate action, they added that “she has her own way of doing things. The feud between Chowdhury and Das Munshi will be put to an end but it would be done in such a way that nobody will feel humiliated”.    

New Delhi, April 3 
India today scotched speculation about accelerating the talks process with Pakistan by playing down the presence of former Pakistani foreign secretary Niaz Naik in the capital.

But to assure the outside world that nothing is being done to escalate tension in the region, Delhi iterated its desire to continue with Samjhauta Express — its only rail link with Pakistan.

It also announced this afternoon the appointment of Vijay Nambiar as the new high commissioner in Islamabad, indicating that South Block was not planning to downgrade diplomatic ties with its estranged neighbour. Nambiar, who replaces G. Parthasarathy in Islamabad, is the ambassador to China.

The deterioration in relations between the neighbours had sparked speculation that India may not appoint a high commissioner after Parthasarathy’s retirement.

The appointment of Nambiar, who had helped thaw the post-Pokhran ice between India and China, therefore, raises hopes of resumption of talks.

Naik arrived here yesterday amid speculation that he will be talking to the Indian leadership about the possibility of resuming the stalled dialogue. But the foreign ministry clarified that apart from participating in a seminar, he was not scheduled to meet any leader of the BJP-led coalition.

Naik attended a meeting of the Coalition for Action on South Asia this afternoon and posed for photographs with former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey. But he refused to say anything about his “mission” in Delhi. There were suggestions that he is here as part of the “Track II diplomatic channel” — used by countries not in official contact to keep up communication at an unofficial level.

But it is doubtful whether either Dubey or former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who is also part of this process, will be able to contribute much towards changing the Indian position on talks through their exchange with the former Pakistan envoy. Besides, Naik does not enjoy the confidence of the junta and is unlikely to have much influence on the generals in Islamabad even if he does meet Indian leaders and carries home their message.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal indicated South Block was in no mood to put an official stamp on Naik’s visit. “We have seen media reports about his visit. It is not a visit for which an official reaction is called for.” The message was loud and clear: India is not in a hurry to return to the talks table.

On Samjhauta Express, a foreign ministry statement said: “We have security concerns relating to the Samjhauta Express because Pakistani agencies have sought to use it to push contraband, including firearms, narcotics and counterfeit currency, into India.

“Nevertheless, our commitment to the continuing of Samjhauta Express remains firm and abiding.”

Atlantique shootdown

Pakistan today accused India at the Hague World Court of shooting down its Atlantique plane in August, killing 16 people. Pakistan’s attorney said India’s “unwarranted action” threatened to further strain relations.    

New Delhi, April 3 
The Centre has “assured” the RSS that the controversial Sankhya Vahini project has been “shelved” for the time being, Sangh sources said.

The government told RSS heads that if such a project — the Sankhya Vahini would set up a high speed data network — has to be launched in India, it would be done only after inviting a global tender, the sources added. The Sangh had claimed that the project would compromise national security.

The Centre’s assurance came after reports that Raj Reddy, the US-based computer scientist who is the “main brain” behind the project, was trying to seek an audience with RSS leaders K.S. Sudarshan and H.V. Seshadri to win them over. But none was reportedly keen on meeting Reddy as it would “cast aspersions” and detract from the credibility of the Sangh campaign against Sankhya Vahini.

The Rs 1,300-crore project will lay an optical fibre network which can carry huge volumes of electronic data at high speed. The stated objective of the project is to lease the line to education institutions, including Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Information Technology (Triple ITs).

If the project comes through, a gateway of opportunities will open up before the Triple ITs as they can directly link up with the dotcom hotspots of the world. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam is keen on the project since Andhra has a Triple IT now and two more are on the cards.

BJP sources confirmed that the RSS’ “fears” about Sankhya Vahini (literally, data carrier) were expressed by Sudarshan and Dattopant B. Thengadi in their meeting last week with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. “The meeting mainly discussed security threat perceptions to the country and since the Sankhya Vahini is seen as a security threat and since Thengadiji was also present, definitely the issue was discussed,” a source said.

“When the government initially took the decision, it did not possibly foresee the security threat. But now it is crystal clear that the project would jeopardise national security. If the government still goes ahead with it, it means they want to let down the country’s interests,” he added.

When Vajpayee told them of the Desam’s keenness, the Sangh “politely” asked the Prime Minister him to choose a venture to placate the Desam without “compromising national security”.

“Hightech communication may be the Desam’s sole interest and it did not possibly anticipate the security spin-off. But now that the threat has been documented, it would be in the Desam’s interest as well to distance itself from the project,” a BJP source said. He pointed out that not just the RSS, but senior BJP cabinet ministers like Murli Manohar Joshi also had spoken out against Sankhya Vahini at a Cabinet meeting.

However, the communication ministry is believed to be “extremely keen” on the project. Ministry sources said security was not at stake. “Look at the hightech benefits from the project. A single pair of optical fibre can provide a multiplicity of phone connections. It’s happening in the US — nearly 6,000 connections from a single pair optical fibre,” a ministry official gushed. Although the BJP minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar was interested in presenting to the press the government’s version of the project, party sources said he developed cold feet at the last minute and called off his proposal for fear of antagonising the RSS.

A booklet titled Posterity Warns: Scrap Sankhya Vahini by Thengadi — the leading proponent of swadeshi economics — has labelled the project as a “fraud on the nation” and a “sell-out”. He alleges that the project was cleared in unseemly haste without consulting the ministry of defence or the scientific establishment. “This opens up the floodgates for espionage, interception of strategic messages, scientific data, telephone conversations, faxes and e-mail by a foreign power,” charges Thengadi.

Curiously, the publisher’s address in Thengadi’s booklet is 30, Prithviraj Road. It is the official residence of the minister for culture, sports and youth affairs Ananth Kumar, another pro-RSS minister in Vajpayee’s Cabinet.    


Maintained by Web Development Company