India nurses US anti-terror ambition
President courts ‘genius’ Zhu
Lifetime horror in lawmen knock
Mamata cools to mahajot
Thakur revives toothless talk on tobacco ad ban
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 31 
Taking cue from US laws, the new anti-terrorism Bill being readied by the home ministry will empower the Centre to enforce a worldwide ban on terrorist outfits and take action against fund-raisers, arms suppliers and sympathisers abroad.

Top sources here clarified that these provisions do not suggest in any way that India would take upon itself the right to violate the sovereign rights of other countries.

But these provisions will help India in the changed diplomatic environment to have terrorists arrested or their sympathisers prevented from passing on funds in the West and other friendly countries.

Because these laws were not in place earlier, India could not take up the case of funding of Kashmiri or Sikh militants in countries such as Britain, the US and Canada. Now that the situation has changed and these countries are no longer that sympathetic to terrorism on Indian soil, the existence of these laws would come in handy. It is with this idea in mind that the home ministry is bent on having these provisions incorporated in the legislation to fight terror.

The laws will have to be propped up by corresponding treaties with the countries concerned. Since the United Kingdom is one of the base areas for fund-raising for Pakistan-based militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, banned by the US several years ago, British home secretary Jack Straw is expected to firm up an agreement when he visits India in September this year.

The government first noticed these lacunae in its current batch of anti-terrorist laws after the Indian Airlines Airbus hijack in December last year. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was applicable only within the boundaries of the country. India had no law to fight its suits abroad against terrorists functioning from a particular nation.

Of course, Delhi does not want to follow Washington’s footsteps and take upon itself the responsibility of declaring any country the sponsor of terrorism. This is because this right is now reserved by the US and the Centre feels it would be unnecessarily stepping into an area which is within the jurisdiction of a powerful nation.

Besides, India is in no position to back up its declaration with suitable economic steps like stopping aid disbursement or cancelling trade obligations which the US does so often.

Through these legislation, India wants to prevent Pakistan from trying to obtain “political and moral” support from its sympathisers abroad. In fact, if these laws are put in place and corresponding cooperation obtained from the Western countries, India will be better-placed to cut off these “sympathy” and “propaganda” channels which kept Pakistani Track II diplomacy alive in cities like London, New York and Toronto.

The sources said that not just the US, the home ministry was also studying relevant British laws as well. “These provisions will allow us to proceed against any outfit which we deem to be terrorist in nature and targeting Indian interests abroad,” a home ministry official said. With the UK, India is also planning an exchange of prisoners.    

Dalian, May 31 
President K.R. Narayanan flew into this sparkling coastal city this afternoon after two days of talks in Beijing that are being described as a new gateway to enhanced Sino-Indian relations.

Shortly before emplaning for Dalian, one of the showpieces of China’s great leap into prosperity, Narayanan met Chinese premier Zhu Rongji and pressed with him the need to broaden economic ties. “Although we have had thousands of years of friendship, our ties have always lacked economic content. Now that both our economies are opening up, we need to work on economic ties,” the President told the Chinese premier.

Zhu Rongji, one of the architects of China’s economic revolution and the man who transformed Shanghai, responded by expressing China’s readiness to improve trade, economic and technological ties with India.

Both Narayanan and Rongji agreed that enhanced economic relations — the current volume of Sino-Indian trade is a paltry $ 2 billion — could pitchfork the Asian neighbours into becoming the “most influential powers in the world”. Rongji said that the full potential of economic ties had not been realised and that China was keen to “learn from India” especially in the field of information technology. He added that he would ask departments concerned to follow up on the need to broaden the base of economic ties.

Rongji, like the other senior Chinese leaders, exuded a new openness towards furthering ties with India and said, “we have had our moments of differences but they were due to third parties and issues of history. The time has now come to renew relations from generation to generation”.

Narayanan referred to Rongji as an “economic genius” and recalled that when one of his predecessors — the legendary Chou En Lai — had visited India he had “electrified the country”. Reiterating his invitation to Rongji to visit India, Narayanan hoped he would repeat the atmospherics of the Chou En Lai visit. Rongji responded by saying that there could be no comparison between him and Chou En Lai but added he would come to India as a “harbinger of friendliness”. He was already familiar with India, he said, as Chinese culture had a touch of Indian civilisation in it.

Now that the apex level talks in Beijing are over, the Indian side is looking back on the visit as a “highly successful” one both in terms of what the Chinese had to say and what they chose not to say. The fact that no Chinese leader raised the Pokhran blasts or tried to bring Pakistani perspective on the table for talks with India is being seen here as “evidence of positive readjustments” that the Chinese are making towards India.

“Apart from the fact that the atmospherics were very good and a new openness to discuss issues was visible, one indication that a new phase in bilateral ties is underway is that the Chinese did not raise anything that could bring a negative colour to the visit,” a foreign office source said, adding, “it is equally true though that we too did not raise such issues”.

His reference was not only to Narayanan dropping the paragraph on India’s right to retain a minimum nuclear deterrent but also to issues like Aksai Chin, which the Indian side kept silent on in the interests of “positive atmospherics”.

It is likely now that high-level exchanges between India and China will be intensified. Though it may be some time yet before President Jiang Zemin visits India, the Chinese foreign minister is due for a visit soon; official and cultural exchanges, sources said, are also set to become more frequent.    

Varanasi, May 31 
Four years ago, Rakesh Vij was like any other 22-year-old boy. Commonplace. So were his dreams. Very middle class.

He wanted to be a chartered accountant, to get his sister married and make his brother an engineer.

In the four years that make a boy a man, Rakesh has changed like no commonplace 26-year-old. He now lies in bed, paralysed. When he speaks, gusts of air escape through the opening left by five knocked-out teeth in a whistle. Every word is followed by a desperate snatch for a gulp of air — he has a deep gash on his neck.

A knock on the door on a winter night in November, 1996, turned the course of his life, then fresh out of college. Police, investigating the murder of one of his friends, picked him up for questioning.

Three days of torture has left him an invalid. Bedridden since 1996, he has to be bathed by his father and fed by his mother. His brother religiously cleans the bed soiled by urine.

“We lost everything,” weeps Rakesh’s father, Raj Kumar Vij. “I wanted to make him a famous man, a chartered accountant. Now I only pray that he lives for a few more years. Look what they have done to him,” he says, removing Rakesh’s clothes.

The boy winces as he turns over to show his disfigured back. His buttocks are covered by electrocution marks; the police also drove a lathi up his rectum. Mauled toes stick up from the sole of his feet punctured in numerous places; hair is yet to grow from the patches of skin plucked out by five policemen.

Five policeman — sub-inspectors Rajendra Prasad Singh and Gorakhnath Shukla, station house officer R.N. Singh, Gyan Prakash Pandey and J.P. Singh — picked up Rakesh after learning that Sanjay Singh, who was murdered on May 29, 1996, was his friend. They wanted Rakesh to identify the criminals.

The nightmare began when Rakesh told them he had no idea what the police were talking about. The enraged bunch of cops then tried everything to make Rakesh talk.

“The torture went on for three whole days,” Rakesh says, every breath a painful struggle. “I was hung upside down, they kept me without food and water for three days and made me urinate on a burning electric heater after which both my kidneys were destroyed.”

Not content, the policemen poured petrol into his ears and forced it down his rectum. All this while, no one could meet him. Everytime his father tried, he was beaten up and thrown outside the police station.

Finally, when his condition started deteriorating, the cops took him to Sir Sunderlal Hospital. But when his father reached the hospital, he found Rakesh on a stretcher outside the ward, on the verge of death. He was taken to Heritage Hospital, a private nursing home.

On a petition filed by his father, the Allahabad High Court, on December 16, 1996, directed the police to pay for Rakesh’s medical expenses. The police did, but only for some time. Orders were allegedly given to doctors at Heritage to discontinue Rakesh’s treatment.

Rakesh remained in coma for 60 days — a story that made headlines in a local vernacular as “the man who came back from the dead” — and his medical reports were sent to the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry in Stockholm as a “case study” in January 1997.

Soon, Rakesh was turned out of the nursing home. Raj Vij first sold his sari shop in Varanasi, then the family’s jewellery was pawned. Furniture was the next to go.

Sitting in a sparse room with gaping holes in the walls and the ceiling, Raj says: “We lost everything. There was no money. Rajnesh and Rupsi (Rakesh’s brother and sister) had to discontinue their studies. Rupsi now says she will not marry because there is barely any money to keep her brother alive.”

Amnesty International took up the case on May 16 1997, and applied pressure on the National Human Rights Commission to “do something about Rakesh Vij”. The commission, in an order dated October 22, 1999, asked the Uttar Pradesh government to arrange for Rakesh’s “complete medical treatment” at either AIIMS in New Delhi or at the Sanjay Gandhi Institute in Lucknow.

It also directed the government to provide “immediate interim relief of Rs 10 lakh within one month”.

Neither has happened.

“Please tell them to send us some money soon. I don’t want to die,” Rakesh says between gasps, clutching a copy of the human rights commission report, as if it were a ticket to life.    

Calcutta, May 31 
A day after her hopes of an impressive showing in the municipal polls were dashed, Mamata Banerjee blasted the Congress for queering her pitch and said she was no longer warm to a mahajot with it.

Mamata renewed her charge that the CPM and the Congress were hand-in-glove and said she would have to think again whether to include the party in her grand alliance. “Find out why the CPM is so happy at the Congress’ victory in so many municipalities,” she said.

Mamata defended her party’s performance, pointing out that the Trinamul-BJP combine had formed 9 municipal boards and was the deciding factor in 21 more. She said the Trinamul had fared better than the Congress.

Figures quoted in CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti back up her claim. The Trinamul-BJP combine has won in 344 wards while the Congress has won in 328, the paper says.

A combination of factors — including lack of organisational strength, wrong candidates, Mamata’s absence during the campaign and diminishing support from the minority community — are responsible for the party’s average performance, Trinamul sources said.

Though Mamata claims her party has done well, the Congress, which had forged an alliance with Trinamul in Kalna and Memari in Burdwan, said both municipalities were lost because minority votes went to the Left.

“So our experiment was not very successful in Kalna and Memari. We want mahajot with Mamata minus communal forces like the BJP,” said party general secretary Sultan Ahmed.

The CPM is not ignoring the Trinamul-BJP combine though it believes the combine will face rejection in the days ahead.

Commenting on the results, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the Left Front had so far bagged 41 municipalities and “we will get another seven municipal boards”. Biswas said the Trinamul-BJP combine would get a few more municipalities if the Congress joined forces with it.    

New Delhi, May 31 
Health minister C.P. Thakur declared India’s intention to ban tobacco advertising and promotion as a hard-hitting worldwide campaign against smoking was launched in Bangkok today.

Thakur, somewhat naively, announced that the government was considering such a prohibition without mentioning, or possibly not knowing, a Bill with a similar intention is being drafted and redrafted in the health ministry over the past three years.

The volume of tobacco advertisements has slumped in recent years but subtle promotion like sponsorship of the Indian cricket team or funding of concerts going live on TV has continued without too much resistance from either the government or the anti-tobacco lobby. Old hands in the health ministry admit that “powerful pro-tobacco lobbies are at work”, forcing efforts at banning tobacco promotion to be dumped midway.

Thakur is not the first minister to conceive this plan. Saleem Sherwani, as minister of state for health in both the Gowda and Gujral governments, had started a serious exercise to prepare a Bill. Banning promotion or advertising of tobacco will require the sanction of a legislation passed in Parliament.

Either Sherwani lost interest or the tobacco lobby had their way with the mandarins in Nirman Bhavan and the draft Bill was buried. The same process was repeated with Dalit Ezhilmalai, the health minister in the 13-month Vajpayee government. His successor, N. Shanmugham, did not even ask for the file, though there were bureaucrats who wanted him to have a look at it.

Thakur is expected to make sincere effort, given the manner in which he is trying to reorient the health ministry’s activities immediately on assumption of office last week. But the task will not be easy.

He will have to coordinate with a number of ministries, like agriculture, labour, home, finance and information and broadcasting, and the tobacco lobby can create stumbling blocks in any of these. If he clears these obstacles, the Bill might run into resistance from many MPs.

Legislators had argued with the government a year ago against any move to ban production and sale of tobacco products, keeping the interests of farmers and workers in mind. The health minister said that without generating alternative employment opportunities, it was impossible to enforce an outright ban on sale.

The Indian Medical Association said in a statement that successive governments had done nothing to impose a ban on advertising. It released figures on the occasion of “world no-tobacco day” that put the number of tobacco-related deaths in the country every year at 6 lakh. The association said 55,000 children get addicted to tobacco every year with every third tobacco-user in the developing world being an Indian.

Opening the campaign against tobacco advertising, Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said the industry “seeks 11,000 new smokers every day to replace those that die... and they succeed”. The WHO would make a global ban on advertising a priority in in a framework convention on tobacco control that would be negotiated by its 191 member states. India is one of them.

The UN agency has issued a Marlboro-style poster that shows two cowboys on horseback with caption: “Bob, I’ve got cancer”.    

Temperature: Maximum: 36.0°C (+1) Minimum: 26.4°C (-1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum: 51% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of a thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35°C. Sunset: 6.14 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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