Talks offer greets Tiger springback
Which side are you on, Manmohan?
Last supper of family with killer
Cricketer held for beating wife
A warfront, forever taut
Calcutta weather

May 16 
Tamil Tigers ended the three-day lull in fighting by opening a new flank against the Sri Lankan soldiers and forcing them to retreat along the highway to Jaffna even as the government renewed an appeal to talk peace.

Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar acknowledged that Vellupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was fighting a “good battle”, but said it was time to sit at the talks table after 17 years of ethnic war.

“Prabhakaran has fought a good battle, but the time has come to talk peace and end the hostilities,” Kadirgamar said in Colombo. “It is futile to carry on this battle. Tens of thousands of our people are directly being affected. Thing about it, Mr Prabhakaran, and let us talk,” Associated Press quoted the minister as saying.

The government renewed its peace overture less than a week after it rejected the offer of a temporary ceasefire to allow nearly 40,000 soldiers to withdraw from Jaffna peninsula.

The offer followed a fresh offensive mounted by the guerrillas on troops in Jaffna, forcing the military to move its defences.

The situation report released by information director Ariya Rubasinghe said that due to “concentrated artillery and mortar fire of the terrorists, senior ground commanders had shifted the defences to prepared positions more towards the northeast” and that the Tigers had fired from Pooneryn north. Rubasinghe added that 40 rebels and six soldiers were killed in fighting that erupted late on Monday and lasted nearly 12 hours.

Sri Lanka observers in New Delhi said the attack signalled a shift in the Tigers’ strategy. Instead of pushing forward further from near Colombuthurai east on the outskirts of Jaffna, as was on the cards for some time, the rebels had unleashed an offensive on the Tanankillappu sector by firing from Pooneryn north, southeast of the city across the lagoon.

By opening a new flank, the observers said, Prabhakaran hopes to overrun Chavakacheri town on the A9 highway linking Jaffna with the mainland and target Palaly airbase, the military’s main supply centre. Chavakacheri is about 4 km east of Jaffna.

The observers said the Tigers are feared for their unpredictable strategies, the LTTE chief known to be a master at throwing rings around the army and shifting the theatre of war from one end to another according to his own will.

The Tigers’ offensive coincided with rumours in Colombo that they had offered a ceasefire on the condition that both sides would freeze their current positions and negotiations could resume in situ (as its is). The offer is believed to have been made by the LTTE’s London-based spokesman, Anton Balasingam.

If Prabhakaran is indeed offering a ceasefire, it indicates that he does not intend pushing ahead with his offensive.

Days after accusing the LTTE of firing on densely-populated areas of Jaffna, the government found itself at the receiving end, with an international medical aid agency charging it with preventing civilians from leaving the city, an Associated Press report said.

“Groups of civilians who wanted to leave Jaffna town were prevented from doing so at military checkpoints,” on Sunday and Monday, said Isabel Simpson, a representative in Colombo of the Paris-based Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). The Lanka military spokesman denied the allegation.    

New Delhi, May 16 
Sonia Gandhi’s price politics has run into Manmohan’s economics. On a day the Congress president marched four kilometers through the capital to protest the subsidy cut, the author of Manmohanomics rose in the Rajya Sabha to hammer home the case for removing subsidies.

Singh questioned continuance of “non-merit” subsidies, pointing out that if the costs were saved, each of the three hundred million people below the poverty line could be provided with money orders of Rs 4,000 per month.

But, after her march, Sonia gave a memorandum to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, slamming the subsidy cut on essentials and charging the government with dismantling the public distribution system.

A smiling Vajpayee greeted Sonia and he delegation, which included Singh (picture above), by praising Manmohanomics. Vajpayee said the current policies were follow-up actions on the reforms initiated by Singh nine years ago.

For the the Congress delegation, it was a bolt from the blue. They had covered the four kilometres in the morning raising slogans like ‘garib ka chulha rota hai, Atal Behari sota hai’ and ‘dekho NDA ka khel, kha gaye rashan, pee gaye tel’, only to be told that the BJP was following Singh’s policies.

Most of the MPs returned from 7, Race Course Road more resolved to force the party distance from reforms. Manmohan is already under attack from Congressmen for his continuing support to reforms. Sonia is in the process of setting up a party panel to review Manmohanomics, which will not include Singh.

Taking cue from Vajpayee, the BJP was quick to hail Manmohan’s speech in the Rajya Sabha while attacking the Congress and Sonia.

BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu said: “Manmohan’s views on state of economy, PSUs, subsidies and finances of states can be the basis of national consensus.”

Sonia suffered another jolt with Vasant Sathe doing a Jairam Ramesh in the party mouth-piece Congress Sandesh, acknowledging her linguistic and leadership shortcomings. Asking the party rank and file to squarely face some obvious truths, Sathe said: “Soniaji continues to be aware of her own limitations. Her natural reserved and shy nature was a great handicap with the media.”    

Dhodhan Kheda (Lucknow) May 16 
Determined to avenge his father’s murder 20 years ago, a Sikh youth returned to his place of birth and wiped out the entire family of his uncle, who he blamed for the killing.

Among those 25-year-old Ladi shot dead with his 12-bore rifle was his eight-year-old niece, Swaranjit. The boy then ransacked the house and is believed to have left for Punjab with all the money and jewellery that was there.

Ladi had left for Amritsar when he was four, orphaned by the death of his father Kuldip Singh in a family feud over land. Growing up in Punjab, Ladi nurtured only one ambition — to kill his uncle Kashmir Singh, his father’s alleged murderer, and wipe out his entire family.

Waving the white flag of peace, Ladi returned to Dhodhan Kheda — a small village near Lucknow consisting of 10 Sikh families — yesterday, convincing his relatives that he had forgotten the past.

In the strained reunion of sorts, Kashmir Singh offered his nephew dinner and begged him to stay over at his place for the night. Ladi accepted the invitation, had a hearty meal and in a show of familial bonhomie, cradled Swaranjit to sleep.

The little girl was the first target of Ladi’s retribution: he shot her dead as she lay in her cot. Ladi then dragged Kashmir Singh, 55, his son Inderjit, 30, and Inderjit’s wife Sukhwinder out of bed, lined them up against the wall and fired from point-blank range. Two others, Avtar Singh and Gurmit, were gunned down as they tried to flee.

Still trying to come to terms with the cold-blooded murders, shellshocked villagers said the family had seen blood before. Nine from the family have died in internecine quarrels since 1980.

This family of Nihang Singh migrated from Punjab in 1978 as land was cheaper here. Pooling together their resources, Kashmir Singh and Kuldip bought 45 bighas in the hope that one day they would usher in a new dawn for their children. But the dream soon turned sour as fights for the land grew more violent with the birth of Ladi and his cousins.    

Lucknow, May 16 
Lucknow police today arrested international cricketer and Uttar Pradesh Ranji team captain Gyanendra Pandey under the Dowry Act.

Pandey, who has represented India in three one-day internationals, is alleged to have battered wife Pratima, drugged her and taken nude photographs when she protested.

Twenty-six-year-old Pratima, discharged today from the Shyama Prasad Mukherji hospital, is still in a state of shock.

In his application to the Ghazipur police, Pratima’s father, R.S. Sharma, stated that Pandey had been harassing Pratima and beating her for not bringing adequate dowry. Sharma, who had held back from filing an FIR in the hope of “reaching a compromise” with Pandey, finally approached the police late last night and complained that on Saturday his daughter was severely assaulted by an inebriated Pandey, who demanded a car and Rs 50,000 in cash.

Sharma said in the complaint that when Pratima threatened to divorce Pandey, he blackmailed her with the photographs.

Sharma said that on the evening of May 13, he received a telephone call from his neighbours in Kanpur that the “life of his daughter was in danger”.

On rushing from Kanpur, Sharma found that Pratima was “badly injured” and in a state of shock. It was then that he rushed her to a hospital and approached the police.

Pandey, who is in judicial custody, however, maintains that he had always “helped” Pratima’s family financially and that he has been framed. He said that when he wanted to put an end to their constant demands, they threatened to approach the police and charge him with dowry harrasment. But neighbours claim that on Saturday they heard shrieks from Pandey’s Indira Nagar apartment.    

Srinagar, May 16 
This is where the journey had begun in the summer of ’99, at the Badami Bagh headquarters of the Indian Army’s 15 Corps, which fought off the Pakistani invasion of Kargil.

The place wore a strangely tranquil air around this time last year — a war was about to break on its flanks but Badami Bagh was as sleepy a cantonment as they come; it was like the calm eye of a raging storm. Major P. Purushottam, who issued us our tickets into the theatre of battle, rocked languidly in his office chair in the barracks as he watched troops leaving for the front and pondered whether the events of coming days would be worth the buildup. He probably wasn’t even convinced war had completed its arrangements on the frontier, else he probably wouldn’t have handed out media-passes like raffle tickets. “War?” he had wondered a little sceptically, “Wars don’t happen so easily”.

War happened, of course, although it was never formally called that. War is still happening, although nobody formally calls it that. It ceased in Kargil, but it caught up with Badami Bagh and Major Purushottam. Badami Bagh was raided last November and Major Pusushottam killed by intruders brandishing the same slogans and pushing the same objectives as the men who had invaded the mountains of Kargil. Since then, Badami Bagh has been violated again and again; it is, in fact, no less than a little warfront throbbing in the middle of Srinagar, forever taut, forever liable to conflagration.

The Kargil war may be over but the reasons for which it happened, the menace of which it was a symptom, still flourish in Kashmir. The invasion from across the western border continues, if only in dribs and drabs. The reasons why that invasion finds welcoming homes in Kashmir thrive. The war continues, if only sporadically. The battle to hold Kashmiri territory may have been won but the battle to win over Kashmiri hearts and minds is being lost everyday, everywhere.

A senior official in the state government made a point to me this afternoon. “The government, either in the state or in Delhi,” he said, “cannot even ensure that our lives are not at risk from some quarter all the time, from unknown, unseen militants, from the overbearing and preponderant securitymen. What is the use of such government? Why should it be obeyed?”

It sounded laboured and old and cliched, coming from a Kashmiri, but it had one undeniable virtue: it was genuine. When he goes home each afternoon, he must walk seven kilometres and be frisked a dozen times by securitymen.

“Why?” he asked, “Why must I walk? Just because the government does not feel safe with vehicles moving on the roads around Gupkar, where the chief minister and his men live and around Badami Bagh where the army is garrisoned? They are here to ensure our safety but they are the ones who secure themselves most.”

The war is everywhere in Srinagar. The government distrusts people, people distrust the government, one arm of the security set up suspects the other, all arms of the security set up suspect everyone else. Every man could be the enemy, every man a potential spy, every man a potential bomb. Each man is a frontier, each man stands divided from the other by fear and by mistrust, each man is ready to battle with the other. It is a tenterhook existence. One wrong step and it could mean the worst: kidnapping by this or that undercover group, arrest by this or that unit of the government, injury or death by landmine or gun.

The 15 Corps headquarters at Badami Bagh perhaps offers the best view of this un-notified battlefield, this raging undeclared war. It is no less a frontier than we saw in Kargil last summer. Entry is oppressively restricted. The road running across it — the main route to Jammu and the daily passage of many Srinagaites —- lies immobilised by discarded truck tyres the army has strewn to prevent movement.

The traffic groans, single-file, along the dirt-tracks from checkpoint to checkpoint. By sundown, the army doesn’t feel secure with just tyres blocking the thoroughfare; they lay metal spikes and they are so on edge they are ready to open fire even at the sight of a pedestrian; a few weeks back they killed an insane tramp who had strayed into Badami Bagh in his reverie. They fired 400 rounds at the unsuspecting nightwalker; it was nervous, erratic fire for even 400 rounds didn’t kill him. He died in hospital later. Not the first, nor the last, man to die an unjust, undeserving, death in this unending war.    

Temperature: Maximum: 37.4°C (+1) Minimum: 27.7°C (+1) RAINFALL: 9.2 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 94%, Minimum: 47% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibilities of a thundershower towards afternoon or evening in some parts. Maximum temperature will be around 36°C. Sunset: 6.07 pm Sunrise: 4.58 am    

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