Atal signal to silence DMK
Sinha jibe at phone freebie
Priest battered to death
Big 2 bathe in river of friendship
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, June 7 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has summoned the senior DMK minister, Murasoli Maran, to tomorrow’s Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on Sri Lanka in an attempt to send out the signal that the party should keep its own views under wraps.

Under fire from the Opposition parties for not reining in Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, the Prime Minister today asserted that the DMK leader’s remarks calling for Sri Lanka’s division were “his personal views” and not that of the National Democratic Alliance government.

Karunanidhi had kicked up a storm on Saturday by suggesting that Sri Lanka follow Czechoslovakia’s example and split into two nations to end the ethnic war without further bloodshed.

Vajpayee, who returned to Delhi today from a holiday in Manali, made it clear that there has been no shift in India’s policy on Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi’s remarks on Sri Lanka were his “personal views or at the most of his party’s, but certainly not the views of the ruling NDA which is committed to the common agenda”, the Prime Minister told reporters at the New Delhi airport.

Though foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal had earlier clarified the government’s stand vis-à-vis Karunanidhi’s comment, the Prime Minister’s statement will reassure the Chandrika Kumaratunga government in Colombo that Delhi continues to believe that a solution has to be found within the framework of the island-nation’s constitution.

“There is no change in India’s position on Sri Lanka. We are for a peaceful settlement of the ethnic strife within the framework of Sri Lankan unity and territorial integrity,” Vajpayee said.

By asking Maran to join the security committee meeting tomorrow, the Prime Minister is trying to make it clear to the DMK that it should refrain from making statements, irrespective of whether they had the support of some sections in Tamil Nadu, that went against the nation’s interest and put India in an embarrassing position.

Senior officials in South Block admitted that the remarks made by the DMK leader were aimed at appeasing hardliners within and outside the party who were sympathetic to the Tamil Eelam cause.

But being an important coalition partner, Karunanidhi should not desist from making any public statement that contradicted India’s stated position, the officials added.

Miffed at the remark, Sri Lanka’s media minister has replied that India, too, should follow the Czechoslovakia example to take care of the aspirations of different ethnic groups in the country who want to secede.

Indian officials, though they will not admit it publicly, agree that splitting Sri Lanka could solve the Tamil problem, but it would set a precedent in South Asia which may also have to be followed in Kashmir.    

New Delhi, June 7 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha today launched a veiled attack on his Cabinet colleague Ram Vilas Paswan for offering free telephones to telecom employees.

Participating in an on-line chat show, Sinha said that “proper charges should be paid by everyone, not only VIPs, when not in office, but by everyone when in office, too” while using government bungalows and telephones.

Paswan, who has been described as a “populist” minister by his detractors, today blamed the media for being insensitive to issues concerning the “poor and downtrodden”.

Many in the government fear that Paswan’s offer could set a precedent. Indian Oil employees today demanded free cooking gas connections as work incentive.    

Lucknow June 7 
The spate of attacks on missionaries continued in Mathura with unidentified assailants battering to death a Catholic priest from Kerala a little after midnight on Tuesday.

Brother George Kunjikundam’s body was found this morning at a school in Nawada village, 8 km away from Mathura.

Around 10 armed assailants forced their way into St Francis Public School around 1 am today and assaulted Brother Kunjikundam with sticks, iron rods and even shoes. The 40-year-old priest, who had arrived from Kerala around six months ago and was the warden of the boys hostel, died on the spot.

The police, pushed on the defensive after the string of attacks on missionaries in Mathura and Agra, claimed it was the handiwork of the dreaded Kaccha Banyandhari gang. But missionaries posted in Mathura said valuables, including a VCR, a colour TV, a mobile phone and Rs 2,000 in cash, found at the site prove otherwise. The Kaccha Banyandharis are notorious for decamping with everything they can lay their hands on.

The police have taken into protective custody Aizin, the 12-year-old-boy who is the sole eyewitness in the incident. Aizin’s version is yet to be registered by the police who have refused to let the media speak to him.

In their FIR lodged at the Narhauli police station, Vijay Kumar and his wife Gloria have said the assailants came with the express motive of killing the priest and that the fifth such attack on Christians has left the community terrorised.

The All-India Catholic Union has called for an impartial and thorough investigation and stated that the fear within the Christian community has only increased with the murder. Echoing a similar fear, Archbishop of the Agra Diocese Vincent Concessao has appealed to the chief minister to intervene and “protect minorities”.

Christian groups across the state have voiced their “sense of insecurity and fear” and asked the state to take immediate steps to halt “the sustained and systematic attacks on Christians and their institutions”.

In April, missionaries distributing religious literature near Mathura were beaten up by villagers who objected to their proselytising activities. A group of nuns in a city convent were also attacked the same month.

Chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta has asked the police and district administration to take immediate steps to provide security to “all those who feel a need for it and allay their fears”.    

Leh, June 7 
Overwhelmed after touching the waters of the historic Indus on whose banks the Harappan civilisation evolved and collapsed, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan.

His tone was soft, but he qualified the affirmation of friendship with the rejoinder that the time was “not opportune” and that “we are willing to wait” for talks to resume.

The Prime Minister has not been so candid about the possibility of friendship with Pakistan since the “treacherous” Kargil intrusion. He has always insisted that dialogue is possible only if Pakistan stops giving succour to terrorists.

Vajpayee did not name Pakistan here, but, betraying signs of emotion, he said: “We want to see this as a river of friendship. The waters of the Sindhu could send out the message of peace.”

Arriving here this morning after a 10-day retreat at Manali, Vajpayee performed the Sindhu Puja with all its accompanying rituals on the banks of the river. He also laid the foundation stone for the proposed Sindhu Cultural Centre and a new wing of the Leh-based School of Buddhist Studies organised by the ministry of tourism and culture along with the Jammu and Kashmir government.

Flanking the Prime Minister were home minister L.K.Advani, culture minister Ananth Kumar, chief minister Farooq Abdullah and representatives of different religious groups. Of course, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionaries were there, too.

Vajpayee, in fact, took the cue from Advani, who, for a change, did not spew venom at Pakistan for bleeding India with the continuing proxy war.

“The Sindhu can become the symbol of Indo-Pak friendship,” Advani said. It was obvious the home minister had in mind last year’s Kargil war that had been fought so close to Leh, now chosen as the place to send the “peace message”.

The Sindhu meanders through Batalik, one of the theatres of the limited war, before entering Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

“If Pervez Musharraf dips his hands into the pure waters of the Sindhu, then he will feel that the Prime Minister (Vajpayee) wants to reach out to him in friendship. The Sindhu can become the symbol of Indo-Pak amity,” Advani, one of the major proponents of the Sindhu Darshan ceremony, said. He, however, added: “Unfortunately, people now ruling the country (Pakistan) have not been able to reconcile to the fact that Muslim-dominated Kashmir is a part of India.”

In a grand and elaborate gesture, he proclaimed Vajpayee a statesman. Quoting from a verse, Advani said: “The right man is one who can be as soft as a flower and get tough when the situation demands.”

It turned into a session of mutual back-patting when Vajpayee spoke later. He heaped praise on his home minister who had taken the lead in 1997 to organise the first Sindhu Darshan.

“By touching the waters of the Sindhu, I have become emotional. I am full of joy. The river has given birth to civilisations and many have risen and fallen by its banks,” he said, pointing at the sparkling stream flowing down the bald and barren peaks where the snow has been thawing since the onset of summer.

Earlier, the Prime Minister, dressed in a brown “guncha”, Ladakh’s traditional flowing robe, alighted from his car and greeted Advani and other dignitaries. Vajpayee slowly proceeded towards the makeshift platform put up on the river, one small step at a time. He squatted and lowered both his feet into the cold water.

As the drums, trumpet and the cymbals sounded, Vajpayee, Advani, Ananth Kumar and Farooq Abdullah performed the puja. The ritual involved pouring the water of the Brahmaputra, which the Arunachal chief minister Mukut Mithi had brought with him, into the Sindhu. Patriotic songs followed.

Moved by the occasion, the Prime Minister smiled and waved. The puja was followed by pouring the water of not just the Brahmaputra but also of the Narmada, Cauvery, Godavari and the Mahanadi as a symbol of national integration.    

Temperature: Maximum: 30.6°C (-4) Minimum: 25.9°C (-1) RAINFALL: 2.5 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 97%, Minimum: 84% Today: One or two spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder. Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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