Good morning, 1 billionth Indian
Tigers take key bridge
Advani talks offer to Kashmir militants
Manoj, CBI warm up
Fantastic 5 in Tussaud toss-up
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 10 
A moment of embarrassment seldom comes hand in hand with a moment of pride. When that happens, embarrassment wins.

The Vajpayee government will find it difficult to celebrate the second anniversary of the Pokhran II blasts tomorrow because of another explosion. At 12.56 pm, India’s population will touch one billion.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee wants to issue a chetavani (warning) in Parliament, if time permits. In the afternoon, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, K.C.Pant, will announce the setting up of the National Population Commission, which the Prime Minister will chair.

Doctors at Safdarjung Hospital are keeping an anxious watch on expectant mothers in the obstetrics ward. The census authorities had projected long ago that on May 11, 2000, India will reach the billion mark. Tomorrow, an infant born at Safdarjung Hospital a little after noon will be symbolically identified as the billionth Indian.

The health ministry does not want any politics with this birth. More than a hundred children may be born at that precise moment in different parts of the country and it is at pains to describe the choice as “symbolic”.

Given its current “politically correct” proclivities, the ministry is desperately hoping that the billionth will be a baby girl, though the parents may not. The sex ratio continues to be heavily tilted against the female and is declining, from 972 for every 1000 males a hundred years ago to 927 in 1991.

A.R.Nanda, family planning and welfare secretary, said from tomorrow the government would strengthen the mechanism to widen the reach of family planning. Of course, they would have to work on the North-South divide, the southern states having achieved incomparably greater success in reducing the “total fertility rate” over the past few decades.

On the other side of the divide, Uttar Pradesh has earned the notoriety of persisting with a high fertility rate of over four (four children born to every couple) in the new millennium. Bihar follows with 3.7. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are not far behind. Bengal has a fertility rate of 2.6, still above the 21. target for 2010.

The government wants to pledge tomorrow that the onus of family planning will have to be shared more equally than now by men and women. Nearly 90 per cent of family planning measures are adopted by women. The tubectomy-vasectomy ratio continues to be disproportionate, though Nanda said the bias is narrowing with more men volunteering for sterilisation than before. The government will also make the promise of better “social marketing of contraceptives” tomorrow.

In 2025, India is expected to overtake China unless there is a dramatic fall in fertility rates. What is encouraging, Nanda said, is that 30 per cent of the poor and illiterate are not wanting more than two children any more. If they still produce more children, it is because of the government’s failure to make family planning measures available.    

May 10 
Tamil Tiger guerrillas today claimed to have captured a strategic bridge on the outskirts of Jaffna, trapping thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers.

Though the government admitted that the rebels had “breached a few gaps in the army’s defences”, the Tigers said they had blocked the A9 highway linking Kandy in the central hills to Jaffna.

If the guerrillas indeed control Navatkuli bridge, one of the five entry points into Jaffna, they will be able to threaten the Pallali air base and cut off all escape routes for the troops.

A statement by the government’s information director, Ariya Rubasinghe, said the Tigers, firing a heavy volume of artillery and mortars, “breached a few gaps in the army defences at Ariyalai”, a seaside base about 10 km southwest of Jaffna.

He said the soldiers had fought back several assaults by “human waves of attackers” and held the second line at Tanankilappu — another base close to Jaffna — stalling the rebels’ march towards their former capital.

Rubasinghe said artillery and aircraft deployed to cover the ground troops and reinforcements had been sent.

Observers described the Tigers’ attack on Ariyalai as a diversionary tactic as it is away from the A9 highway used by the rebels in their march towards Elephant Pass, the landbridge between the mainland and the peninsula. They pointed out that the rebels did not have necessary equipment and manpower for a sustained assault.

An Associated Press report said that Tamil Tiger internet sites confirmed the assaults on the Ariyalai and Tanankilappu military bases as part of their “Operation Unceasing Waves”.

Amid the intensified fighting, a three-member Norwegian team will hold talks with Indian officials over ways to resolve the Lankan war.

Oslo’s ambassador in Delhi Truls Hanevold said the delegation led by Erik Solheim, a senior adviser to the Norwegian peace initiative in Sri Lanka, will hold discussions in the Indian capital tomorrow.    

New Delhi, May 10 
Capping a series of flip-flops on the government’s Kashmir policy, Union home minister L.K. Advani today said the Centre was willing to begin talks with leaders of the Hurriyat Conference as well as top militants in the state.

The dialogue offer was part of a three-pronged strategy unveiled today in the Rajya Sabha, which includes speedy development and enhanced security for Kashmir.

Coming after a series of conflicting statements, Advani’s olive branch marks a definite softening in the government’s stance on Kashmir. Beginning with saying that there was no point starting a dialogue with the militants, Advani has so far ruled out talks at various fora and even said that he did not know which leaders to approach in Kashmir for talks.

The turnaround, however, is not a total surprise as the recent release of Kashmiri militants in several instalments has hinted at the Centre’s intentions. Besides, Advani has visited Kashmir many times to familiarise himself with the “ground situation”.

Responding to a call attention motion, Advani stressed the “government’s commitment to beginning the process of talks with the alienated section of the Kashmiris, including the misguided young men.”

His speech was interrupted several times, and was marred by a Congress walkout. The home minister dubbed Kargil as India’s “greatest military and diplomatic achievement” and rated it higher than the victories in 1947, 1965 and 1971 over Pakistan.

This sparked off a series of protests from the Congress benches. A furious Pranab Mukherjee shouted: “A new nation was created. How can you say that it was not a diplomatic victory?” Manmohan Singh, leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, advised the minister not to enter the domain of polemics.

Advani, however, unveiled the shift in the government’s Kashmir policy. He even hedged on a question put by Kuldip Nayar whether the government would dismantle the National Conference government of Farooq Abdullah and go for fresh elections. Nayar was obviously hinting at the low turn-out of voters. In effect, the government seemed to be moving in a new direction after Clinton’s visit. It wants to prepare a human face for alienated Kashmiris and hold out an olive branch for those who are willing to talk.

It remains to be seen how many of the tough militants respond to this offer. Few would have forgotten the kind of treatment they have been meted out by the Indian security forces. Similarly, this public announcement on willingness to talk is likely to have a degree of adverse impact on the security forces. Once you begin the talks, it becomes difficult to pursue a pro-active policy. The militants — not the Hurryiat — if they really begin talking will obviously stress this as the first condition for talks.

However, the way Advani has been contradicting himself of late, it is difficult to accept his statement on its face value. Even today, he clarified his statement and said later in response to a specific question: “We are not talking to them yet. If they want talks, they are welcome.” These are conditional overtures and is unlikely to go down well with hard core militants who have been suspicious of each of Advani’s moves.

The home minister also made the claim that the hot pursuit policy had paid off and much to the disbelief of the Opposition insisted that the situation in the state had returned to near-normalcy. No doubt, Advani had taken a shikara ride on Dal Lake recently along with Abdullah in Srinagar.

Advani’s statement that he was willing to talk to militancy has raised doubts about his earlier claims that only foreign militants were operating in Kashmir. Advani would certainly not talk to groups like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen or Lashkar-e-Toiba. The government’s many stances on Kashmir have often confused people. And the home minister did not clear the air today with his announcement of the three-pronged strategy.    

Calcutta, May 10 
Manoj Prabhakar probably didn’t think twice about “exposing” Kapil Dev, when he spoke to Inderjit Singh Bindra and Lal Krishna Advani, but kept mum during his first one-to-one with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in New Delhi yesterday.

According to The Telegraph’s sources, the two-and-half hour session was largely utilised by Prabhakar and the CBI to “size each other up”.

“It’s unlikely the CBI expected Prabhakar to reveal all in one sitting. Equally, Prabhakar probably first wants to be convinced he can trust the CBI,” a source pointed out.

Significantly, Prabhakar’s top pre-condition to coming clean — that he be provided comprehensive security — has been met by Delhi police, which is answerable to the home ministry.

That Prabhakar was just days from being summoned was reported on Monday. That it should be done immediately, apparently, was conveyed by the home minister himself.

The CBI has been asked by the Union government (specifically, the sports ministry) to look into allegations of match-fixing against Indian cricketers. It is into “preliminary inquiries”.

The inquiry is being overseen by a joint director (IG-rank). Formally launched last week, it actually took off yesterday.

Incidentally, the Prabhakar-session wasn’t held at the CBI hub in Lodhi Colony. “It was at somebody’s residence,” a source remarked, declining to be specific.

In the morning, indications were Prabhakar would meet the CBI today as well but, by the evening, it was confirmed round-II would probably only be later this week.

Prabhakar, though, one learns is miffed that news of his meeting the CBI leaked and, it’s possible, he has conveyed his displeasure to the CBI.

The trust-factor, therefore, may have taken a slight beating.

However, with the CBI keen to improve its track record and Prabhakar insisting he will cooperate, the leak could eventually be dismissed as an “aberration”.

While Prabhakar didn’t mention “any name,” he did speak on three issues: How match-fixers generally approach players; the inducement usually offered and, why he himself refused to be tempted during that infamous Singer Cup in Colombo (September 1994).

Going by what Bindra, a former Board of Control for Cricket in India president, and Advani have said/suggested, the much-talked-about Rs 25 lakh inducement (in Colombo) was offered to Prabhakar by Kapil.

That “revelation”, though, was in private conversation — both with Bindra and Advani.    

London, May 10 
Doing it Oscar-style, Madame Tussaud’s will tomorrow announce that “the nominations are ...” — Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Raj Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai.

Although it was first mooted that Bachchan would be the first Bollywood star to be immortalised in the waxwork museum alongside Hollywood greats, fans of Indian cinema will now be given a chance to vote for their choice before a final decision is taken.

The ubiquitous Yukta Mookhey will be on hand at Madame Tussaud’s tomorrow to disclose the shortlist. The winner will be announced at the International Indian Film Awards at the Millennium Dome on June 24, which will be compered by the reigning Miss World and an yet to be announced male co-presenter.

“It’s a double first for us,” said Diane Moon, from Madame Tussaud’s. “As well as our first Bollywood star, it’s the first time we’ve ever asked the public to choose a Madame Tussaud’s subject in our 200-year history. We consulted a variety of pundits from film and entertainment magazines to community radio stations to the BBC and Bollywood insiders at B4U(Bollywood for You) to come up with a representative shortlist.”

Madame Tussaud’s has described the magnificent five as follows: Amitabh Bachchan with over 100 films under his belt, is a “Bollywood icon”. Madhuri Dixit is “considered by many as the biggest female star of Hindi cinema”. Raj Kapoor, a legendary movie mogul, is “described as a cross between Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck”.

Shah Rukh Khan is “currently one of the most prolific and best loved actors of Bollywood”; and Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994, looks set for a “long and illustrious Bollywood career”.

Unaware of the legendary Indian ability to fix results, Madame Tussaud’s has said voting will be online until June 20 at or at Fans can also send a postcard to Madame Tussaud’s Bollywood Star, Madame Tussaud’s, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LR.

It is hoped that the Bollywood waxwork model, which will take six months to make and cost £35000, will be on display by the end of the year.

The real surprise will be if Bachchan is not selected. Ms. Moon, who attended a press conference at the Millennium Dome last month given by Bachchan and Mookhey to launch the International Indian Film Awards, appeared taken by the actor. “He’s so handsome,” she said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 36.9°C (+1) Minimum: 27.4°C (+1) RAINFALL: 1.3 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 51% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature is likely to be around 36°C. Sunset: 6.05 pm Sunrise: 5.00 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company