Advani focus on Israel terror tips
Cong come-home call to Mamata
Sangh raps church for island coup
Fiji strife tops Jaswant agenda for Singapore
Cong turns back on old guard
Badal smells Pakistan plot to split Sikhs

 
 
ADVANI FOCUS ON ISRAEL TERROR TIPS 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
On board the home minister’s aircraft, May 31 
At the receiving end of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, India and Israel have decided to exchange extensive notes on strengthening internal security.

During his visit to Israel next month, home minister L.K. Advani and the officials accompanying him will hold talks on cooperating with the West Asian country’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, and its external secret service, the Institute of Special Operations and Intelligence — popularly called Mossad.

Later, when he goes to London, the home minister will hold similar discussions with British home secretary Jack Straw on receiving assistance from the country’s security services — MI-5 and MI-6 and Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard. Advani will also visit France during his 11-day foreign tour.

Advani will be the first Indian home minister to visit Israel. He will spend five days in the West Asian country, which, in his words, has “developed expertise in the field of counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence”.

The minister will be accompanied to all three countries by home secretary Kamal Pande, Intelligence Bureau director Shyamal Dutta and CBI chief R.K. Raghavan.

The home minister was speaking to reporters on his special aircraft while returning from Goa, where he inaugurated the Padre Conceicao College of Engineering at Agnel Ashram in Verna village.

Though India will take tips on “some of the finer aspects of intelligence gathering from the Israelis”, the thrust of his visit would be on seeking cooperation from the Ehud Barak government on fighting Islamic terrorism in the sub-continent. In return, India will share information with Tel Aviv on Islamic terrorists and organisations.

“It may be a small country encircled by Islamic terrorism and it has and continues to fight the menace throughout the world,” Advani said.

The formal signing of treaties of mutual assistance will take place later, during foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s proposed visit in June or early July.

Advani, who has years of association with Jewish communities throughout the world, had been to Israel in 1994 when he was leader of Opposition. At that time he had rekindled friendship with two classmates who studied with him in St Patrick’s School, Karachi, in undivided India. “Time permitting, I may look them up,” he said.

At Lyons in France, the home minister will meet senior Interpol officers and impress upon them that Delhi could do with tips from the organisation on international crimes and criminal syndicates. He will also thrash out details on how Interpol could expedite the process of executing red corner notices. With the government proposing to categorise certain crimes as “federal”, Advani will expect to pick up tips from Interpol on how such crimes could be tackled.

The last leg of the home minister’s visit will be London where he will arrive by the Eurostar from Paris. Apart from his discussions with Straw, Advani will meet the chief of the Special Airborne Services (SAS), the elite anti-terrorist force engaged in Northern Ireland. India has its own National Security Guard (NSG), but Advani is a proponent of a specialised anti-terrorist force which can function exclusively in areas like Jammu and Kashmir.    


 
 
CONG COME-HOME CALL TO MAMATA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 31 
Having done well in the “semi-finals”, the Congress wants Mamata Banerjee to give up “wrong company” and return “home” or forge a “real mahajot” with the parent party for the West Bengal Assembly polls.

Anxiously awaiting a postive signal from Mamata, Sonia Gandhi is ready to hold direct talks with her if the Trinamul Congress chief appears willing to quit the NDA, sources said. They recalled that Sonia had spontaneously asked Mamata to “come home” the day she took oath as railways minister without weighing the political significance of the statement.

State party working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi jumped the gun and asked Mamata to take over the leadership of the party in West Bengal to defeat the Left.

Urging her to dump the BJP, Das Munshi claimed that the railways minister was part of the NDA only to ensure stability of the A.B. Vajpayee government and not because she had any love for the ruling party.

“Congressmen are not keen to stake claim on the leadership if Mamata leads the front, abandoning the BJP,” he said. Das Munshi added that she would have done “wonders if she had not carried the evils and anti-people policies of the BJP at the Centre”.

Even the usually reserved Pranab Mukherjee was elated and was advocating the formation of a secular front against the Left. Burying his differences with Mamata, Pranab supported a tie-up with the Trinamul minus the BJP.

Summing up the Congress’ sentiment, spokesman Ajit Jogi said: “Mamata had been part of the Congress and if she severs ties, both direct and indirect, with the BJP and joins hands with the Congress, it would be a welcome step.”

Pranab, Jogi and Das Munshi said the Congress had emerged as a clear alternative to the “communal” forces represented by the BJP and the “sectarian forces” headed by the Left.

Das Munshi, who had opposed Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s insistence on a mahajot, appealed to Mamata to distance herself from the BJP “as fast as possible in the interest of Bengal” and lead a secular democratic front to end the CPM’s misrule.

Congress leaders do not expect Mamata to leave the NDA in a hurry but they are confident that if the present trend continues, the Trinamul chief may do a rethink before the Assembly polls. “We must remember she is a hardcore political animal. She has a burning desire to be chief minister of Bengal. Closer to the Assembly polls, she would make the crucial move,” a Congress leader said.

He said Mamata will now come under pressure to align with the Congress as minorities are not voting for her. “If she ignores this writing on the wall, there will be bigger problems, particularly during the Calcutta municipal polls where the stakes are too high for Mamata,” a Congress MP said.

Party sources said Sonia was “personally happy” with the civic polls results in Bengal and was planning to write a letter to party workers thanking them for the “excellent work” under most “difficult circumstances”. Party managers are suggesting that Sonia visit Bengal to boost the morale of workers and unite the warring factions of the state unit.    


 
 
SANGH RAPS CHURCH FOR ISLAND COUP 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 31 
The RSS has blamed Christian missionaries for the coup in Fiji, which overthrew Prime Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, an ethnic Indian.

In the latest issue of its mouthpiece Organiser, the RSS has said “the major reason for the tension between the Indian and native community in Fiji has been the influence of Christian missionaries”.

It said the indigenous Fijians, who were nature worshippers till the last century, began to change after their encounter with the “materialistic” West. The Church influenced them and a majority converted to Christianity.

But while the Methodist Church succeeded in “deculturising” indigenous Fijians, it failed to convert Hindu ethnic Indians, most of whom are more affluent than the locals.

“When the majority of the natives have been converted to Christianity and have disowned the culture and traditions of their own forefathers, it is but natural that they should follow the world view of the Church which, in turn, has its sympathies and sources of support in the West,” the Organiser said.

Ethnic Fijians constitute 51 per cent of the eight lakh population in the state while people of Indian origin make up 44 per cent.

Though the president of Fijian Methodist Church, Tomasi Kanalgi, has criticised the coup staged by George Speight, the RSS insists the Church fomented tension between Indians and native Fijians.

India was an important source of labour to Fiji after 1880. In the next 40 years, about 63,000 Indians travelled to the country. In 1974, Britain ceded sovereignty to the island nation. Majority of Indian Fijians are from Gujarat, a BJP bastion, and Haryana.

Even as the Prime Minister asked foreign minister Jaswant Singh to mobilise global opinion against the coup, the BJP demanded imposition of sanctions against Fiji till the restoration of the multi-racial Constitution scrapped last Monday. The BJP fears that if the situation is not brought under control, there will be an exodus of Indian Fijians into the country.

Samata Party spokesperson Shambhu Shrivastav said the island nation was heading for a civil war and urged the government to step up diplomatic pressure on its present dispensation.

He said “anti-Indian” feeling was on the rise and “shops, houses and establishments of Indians are attacked and their lives are in danger”.    


 
 
FIJI STRIFE TOPS JASWANT AGENDA FOR SINGAPORE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 31 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh will try to enlist Singapore’s support for an early restoration of democracy in Fiji. Singh begins his three-day visit to Singapore tomorrow.

The developments in Fiji, particularly the martial law imposed on the island following the overthrow of the Mahendra Chaudhry government, are likely to figure prominently in Singh’s discussions with the Singapore leadership. Singh is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and senior minister Lee Kyu Yew and call on President S. Jayakumar on his bilateral visit.

The ethnic strife in Sri Lanka and India’s views on the issue are going to be taken up during Singh’s visit. It is in Delhi’s interest to clarify its stand on Sri Lanka, since Singapore has a large Tamil population waiting for the BJP government to articulate its views on restoring peace in Sri Lanka.

The Vajpayee government’s decision to privatise Air India and to allow 26 per cent equity to foreign investors are likely to be discussed as well. Some years ago, Singapore was eager to move into the Indian skies, but its proposed collaboration with the Tatas in the domestic Indian air sector ran into rough weather and the project was shelved. The Centre’s recent announcement on privatisation of Air India has reportedly raised hopes again in Singapore.

On Fiji, the Indian leadership faces a difficult task. With domestic pressure building up on the government to act to save the Chaudhry government, Delhi has to get involved in the developments in the Pacific island. But it is also aware that it needs to tread carefully on Fijian soil. If it is seen to be over-enthusiastic, it may have an adverse reaction on the people of Indian origin in the island. Keeping this in mind, India is trying to rope in other key players in the region like Australia and New Zealand in its bid to restore democracy in Fiji.

Singapore is an important member of the Commonwealth. India feels it has an influential voice in the forum which can help to garner support on Fiji.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said Delhi has been closely monitoring the “very complicated situation in Fiji as it had continuously been taking a lot of twists and turns”. Jassal, however, pointed out that there were no reports from Fiji so far to suggest the Indians in the island were planning to leave.

The Indian foreign minister will also deliver a lecture at the defence and strategic institute in Singapore titled ‘The India-Asean: Security Paradigms in 2000 A.D’.    


 
 
CONG TURNS BACK ON OLD GUARD 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 31 
The Congress’ original spin doctor is an unhappy man. V.N. Gadgil, the party’s longest-serving spokesperson and one who defended the Emergency and the Babri demolition, was first denied a Rajya Sabha nomination and then kept out of the media panel which has non-political persons like Rajiv Desai and Abhishek Singhvi. With the House committee on accommodation now slapping eviction notices on him, Gadgil is set to make an inglorious exit from Delhi.

But Gadgil is getting support from his colleagues and partymen. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao called on him twice and spent about two hours with him. Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, A.K. Antony, Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasada have also visited him. These senior leaders sympathised with him but said they were helpless.

Gadgil, who is in his seventies, has had three operations in the past year but the party’s fund-managers have made no offer of help. The former information and broadcasting and defence production minister, known for simple living and probity in public life, had to borrow from his son and well-wishers to pay hospital bills.

Gadgil is not the only one who is bitter about the way the party is treating senior leaders. Former Congress chief Sitaram Kesri, who has not been keeping well, is delaying his checkup at Houstan hospital for lack of funds.

Like Gadgil, Kesri has been asked to vacate his Purana Qila Road residence.    


 
 
BADAL SMELLS PAKISTAN PLOT TO SPLIT SIKHS 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, May 31 
Islamabad’s decision to set up a Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee is aimed at dividing the Sikh community, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has said.

“There is only one body which has been entrusted with the task of managing gurdwaras and Sikh affairs all over the world and that is the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. The Pakistan government’s decision to set up a separate body on the same lines will only divide the Sikh community,” Badal said here today.

He said he would take up the issue with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee “with all seriousness”. The matter, he added, needed the Centre’s intervention.

Replying to another question, Badal said the Shiromani Akali Dal’s long-pending demand of making India a federal state is likely to bear fruit. “I have been nominated as one of the members of the sub-committee of the standing committee of the inter-state council which has been reconstituted as per recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-state relations. It has been set up to discuss and reach a consensus on the issue”, he said.

The Shiromani Akali Dal was the first regional party to raise the demand for more powers to states. It feels there is a need to bring about basic legislative changes in Centre-state relations and changes in the Union, State and Concurrent lists to ensure that states get more financial, political and legislative autonomy. The demand had been rejected by previous governments at the Centre on the plea that it is “secessionist”.

Badal expressed hope that the BJP-led government, “which has done more for Punjab than any other dispensation at the Centre”, would seriously look into the demands of the Shiromani Akali Dal on more powers to states.

Referring to the river waters and the dispute over Punjabi-speaking areas with Haryana, Badal said he refers to them always during his meetings with the Prime Minister. “These are justified demands of Punjab. Though my relationship with the Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his father Devilal is excellent, it should be remembered that they too have to keep their state in mind. It is the Centre only which can solve the issue to the satisfaction of both parties,” he said.

Badal regretted that the Congress had misled the Parliament on the question of rare Sikh manuscripts that were reportedly destroyed during Operation Bluestar in 1984. “The manuscripts from the Sikh library in the Golden Temple complex that the Congress said had been destroyed are in the hands of the CBI. I will take up the issue with the minister and the authorities concerned for their return,” he added.

Badal revealed that the ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the Bhatinda oil refinery’s administrative complex will be held on June 2. “The total project cost has been estimated at Rs 16,000 crore and is the biggest ever Central government project in Punjab.

On completion, the refinery will give a big boost to the economy of the state. It has immense direct and indirect employment potential and the Centre should be applauded for granting it to Punjab,” he said.

Detailing the achievements of his government, Badal said the Akali Dal-BJP government had done more for the state in three years than what had been achieved in the last 50 years. “We inherited empty coffers and a bruised community which had been reeling under the onslaught of the previous Congress regimes. Today the state is normal. There is no militancy and the law and order situation is better than other states. But more needs to be done. The economy has begun looking up again. I do not say that everything is fine but we are trying our best to make Punjab the number one state again. There will be hiccups on the way, but we will be there on top again,” he claimed.

The chief minister said he had passed orders for computers to be installed in all schools in the state and that his government was making efforts to ensure that information technology reached every home in the state.

Badal refuted allegations of corruptions against family members by terming them as “baseless”. “My family members are not corrupt. Allegations against my son Sukhbir carry no weight. Just because he is the chief minister’s son that such allegations are being made. I refute all of them,” he added.

He reiterated that Sikh detainees in various state jails were being released but only after their cases are reviewed by a panel comprising the chief secretary, DGP and home secretary. “We keep on reviewing the cases every now and then. But those lodged in jails in other states can only be released if the respective governments feel so. We have no say in such cases,” he said.    

 

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