Maran walks tightrope on Lanka divide
Cong fires Lanka salvo
Explosions rock churches in south
Defeat leaves Gurudas in lurch
Delhi smells US bait on nuke numbers
Canada wake-up call on South Asia terror
Gujarat tribals for self-rule

 
 
MARAN WALKS TIGHTROPE ON LANKA DIVIDE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 8 
The BJP-led coalition government today managed to get the DMK to publicly fall in line with its Sri Lanka policy, but failed to make it fully retract the suggestion for partitioning the island nation to resolve the decade-old ethnic tangle.

Commerce minister and DMK leader Murasoli Maran, who was specially asked to attend today’s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, said his party was in “full agreement” with the Centre. But he refused to withdraw Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s suggestion of dividing the island.

More than the government, it was Maran who appeared to be doing the balancing act. By agreeing with the Centre, he tried to give the impression that there was no rift within the NDA. His refusal to outright withdraw Karunanidhi’s remarks also ensured that his party chief was not embarrassed.

Maran’s ambiguity was also intended to keep the hardliners — those in favour of a separate Tamil Eelam — happy.

A day after a suicide bomber killed a senior Lankan minister, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said he saw no solution in sight for the ethnic standoff under the prevailing circumstances. He argued that the crisis could not be resolved through armed confrontation but only through a devolution of powers.

“Sri Lanka has to decide how far it can go while maintaining its territorial integrity. The government there also favours devolution of powers. A way could be found out through that. It cannot be resolved through war,” Vajpayee told a TV news channel. “Jaffna has changed hands several times. The whole thing is linked to Jaffna. Till now, there is no indication of any concrete result.”

Any solution, he said, will have to be found within its constitutional framework.

Talking to reporters after today’s meeting, foreign minister Jaswant Singh said: “We want a peaceful resolution within the territorial unity, integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka within which the aspirations of all ethnic groups will be met.”

To give the impression that the DMK shared the Centre’s viewpoint, Maran was made to stand with him. “Mr Maran is here and he will settle all doubts regarding disunity in the government’s policy on Sri Lanka,” Jaswant said. “The DMK is in full agreement with the government,” he added.

Immediately after, the commerce minister repeated the same words to drive home the point that there was no difference between his party and the government on the issue.

“What the chief minister said has been blown out of proportion,” he said, referring to Karunanidhi’s remarks that Sri Lanka should be split into two in a “Czechoslovakia-type” solution.

Maran tried to play down Karunanidhi’s remarks, saying that partition was only one of his suggestions to end the crisis.    


 
 
CONG FIRES LANKA SALVO 
 
 
 
New Delhi, June 8 
The Congress today took strong exception to the comments of the NDA’s regional allies on foreign affairs and alleged that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s Sri Lankan policy was restricted to “pleasing Karunanidhi and Vaiko”.

Diplomat and former minister of state for external affairs K. Natwar Singh said never in the history of independent India had regional parties dictated foreign policy matters the way they were doing now. “It seems regional interests subordinate the national interests,” he said. Singh objected to Karunanidhi’s emphasis on a separate Tamil Eelam, wondering if the Tamil Nadu chief minister had ever visited Sri Lanka. “I have been there. Has he cared to ascertain the views of Tamils outside Jaffna who are spread all over Sri Lanka?” he asked.    


 
 
EXPLOSIONS ROCK CHURCHES IN SOUTH 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, June 8 
A day after a Christian priest was murdered in Mathura, panic gripped the community south of the Vindhyas following blasts at churches in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

An improvised explosive device kept under a rear seat went off just after morning prayers at the local church at Ongole in central Andhra Pradesh, injuring two persons.

Another timed device, placed in the pulpit, exploded at a Roman Catholic church at Tadapalligudem in West Godavari district. No one was hurt, though the pulpit was damaged.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who rushed to the sites, has ordered a high-level inquiry into the twin blasts. He suspected the involvement of organised gangs out to spread panic in the community. “My main concern was to ensure that panic did not spread,” Naidu said on his return. The government has announced a compensation for the injured.

In neighbouring Karnataka, two country bombs exploded in a church at Wadi in Gulbarga district. The explosions occurred at 6.30 am and 9.30 am, shattering the window panes. Though four or five persons, including the father recently transferred from Chittapur, were present in the church, no one was injured. Wadi is located on the border with Andhra Pradesh.

In Andhra Pradesh, director-general of police C. Dinakar said the window panes of St Anne’s church were shattered. The first blast took place at 6.15 am and the second a couple of hours later. He said gelatin sticks, explosive devices and battery used to detonate the bombs were seized.

The police, who rushed to the spot after the first blast, found a tin box 20 yards away. Police personnel were afraid to touch the box, which soon exploded.

Trying to scotch speculation of a communal attack, the police said the town was a hotbed of trade union activities.

The Naidu administration is on alert as this was the fifth improvised explosive device blast in the state since May 20. All the blasts have targeted places of worship. One device was placed at the Kondandarama temple in Vijayawada, while the rest targeted churches. The bombs were timed devices. “The simple but crude mechanism of alarm clocks wired to low grade explosive were aimed at triggering panic rather than causing any death or injuries,” sleuths of the bomb squad said.

The police have found a similarity between the devices used in the state and those used by militants in Jammu and Kashmir. “The mechanism is the same. But for the volume of explosives used, both are similar,” said the special operations cell on ISI in the state police.    


 
 
DEFEAT LEAVES GURUDAS IN LURCH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 8 
The defeat in Panskura signals the end of the political road for Gurudas Dasgupta.

After spending nearly 15 years in the Rajya Sabha, the CPI trade union leader received a jolt when big brother CPM refused to nominate him for another stint in the Upper House.

Threats issued by the CPI state leadership that it would desert the Left Front government if Dasgupta was denied a Rajya Sabha berth did not cut much ice with the CPM heavyweights in Alimuddin Street.

During his days in the Rajya Sabha, Dasgupta combined an image of being a supersleuth, pointing at scams and corruption, a fiery speaker and a do-gooder. Dasgupta has been a member of the joint parliamentary committee probing the securities scam and was also included in the House labour consultative committee.

With the CPM refusing to renominate him and opting for a nominee from the RSP, it was a matter of irony that Dasgupta stepped into Panskura. Dasgupta had the onerous task to fill the vacuum created by the death of Gita Mukherjee, a veteran leader who had bettered him in the CPI’s own power play.

Dasgupta’s foray into electoral politics was marred by strident opposition within his own party. A section of the Midnapore district CPI as well as its state leadership were against his nomination as they saw him as an “imported” candidate.

The party leadership was in favour of a senior district leader. The CPI has a strong organisational base in Midnapore, with two Lok Sabha members, and a local leader may tilted the scales.    


 
 
DELHI SMELLS US BAIT ON NUKE NUMBERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 8 
India feels that the US intelligence experts’ assertion that Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal is bigger than Delhi’s was an attempt on the part of Washington to force the BJP government to quantify the number of warheads it requires for building its minimum nuclear deterrent.

Reports from Washington quoting unnamed US officials as saying on an American TV channel that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was much bigger than India’s. They added that Islamabad also had a much better and more effective delivery system.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal brushed aside the reports as “speculative” but maintained that India was alert to developments that have a bearing on its security.

“India is fully capable and prepared to meet any challenge,” he said, adding that Delhi’s nuclear programme was not country-specific.

But South Block officials said in private that a section in the US, which had from tried to deride India since its May 1998 nuclear tests, was perhaps once again trying to probe the numbers Delhi had in mind for its minimum nuclear deterrent by saying Pakistan had bigger nuclear arsenal.

Since its nuclear tests, India has maintained that its nuclear posture was defensive and not offensive, which means that it will have a minimum assured retaliatory capability in the event it is attacked by another nuclear power.

But so far Delhi has refused to give the exact numbers it had in mind.

Delhi has argued that its threat perception went well beyond South Asia and it was difficult to fix the number.    


 
 
CANADA WAKE-UP CALL ON SOUTH ASIA TERROR 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 8 
Fifteen years after pro-Khalistan terrorists put a bomb on an Air-India plane which destroyed the Boeing 747 — Kanishka — in the air, Canadians are waking up to the terrorist threat from South Asia in their country.

The latest Tamil Tiger assault on Jaffna and the support it has received from Canada have created a political storm in Ottawa, reopening old wounds related to the 1985 Air-India bombing. It has revived the debate about pro-Khalistan activity in Canada, one of the last holdouts for terrorists from Punjab long after the insurgency in the state has been brought under control.

All through the week, in Canada’s House of Commons, the opposition Canadian Alliance has grilled finance minister Paul Martin and the minister for international cooperation Maria Minna for attending a (Canadian) $60 per plate fund-raising dinner for the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (Fact).

Fact has been identified not only by the US state department and Israel’s Institute for Counter-Terrorism, but even by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) as a front for the LTTE. Taking part in a discussion on the issue in the House of Commons, Canadian Alliance MP Ted White said: “It took years to get the Babbar Khalsa deregistered as a charity even though the CSIS had identified the group as raising money in Canada for terrorism. Let us not make the same mistake again. Let us begin listening to authoritative warnings about terrorist fund-raising activities in Canada”.

Obviously fed up with the lack of political will in Ottawa to curb the activities of LTTE’s front organisations in Canada, Ward Elcock, director of CSIS — Canada’s equivalent of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) — has taken the rare step of speaking out in public about the Tamil Tiger threat to his country. “People (in Canada) think that the LTTE is or isn’t a terrorist organisation because they happen to like the goals or believe more in the goals, for any number of reasons,” Elcock told the Canadian newspaper National Post. “If you tolerate these activities, you can run into problems”.

Monte Solberg, another Opposition MP quoted a CSIS report linking Fact to LTTE and, in turn, detailing the LTTE’s modus operandi in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. But ironically, Herb Gray, Canada’s deputy Prime Minister sought refuge in a dubious grey area covering Canadian intelligence reports. He said CSIS reports on the LTTE had been published by the intelligence agency, but not endorsed by it.

As in the case of pro-Khalistani activity in Canada in the 1980s, the lack of political will in Ottawa to crack down on terrorist groups masquerading as freedom fighters and champions of human rights was obvious when Lawrence Macaulay, Canada’s solicitor-general argued that there is a “difference between legitimate gatherings and active support of terrorism”. CSIS comes under the political charge of the solicitor-general.

But the debate started in Canada because of the LTTE onslaught on Jaffna will not go away. Intelligence estimates suggest that the ltte raised at least 22 million Canadian dollars last year to finance its war chest. About 12 million of this money was raised through donations, the rest through so-called business revenue, which includes income from migrant smuggling, passport fraud, organised crime and drug running.

According to these estimates, every working adult Tamil in Canada is forced to contribute Canadian $300 per year to the LTTE. This includes even those who are unemployed and on social security. Businessmen are often forced to pay upto candian $3000 per head. according to intelligence analysis, these funds are put into 40 feeder bank accounts in Canada and then sent to 20 LTTE front accounts in europe and asia to be transferred thereafter for purchase of weapons.    


 
 
GUJARAT TRIBALS FOR SELF-RULE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 8 
Taking a cue from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Adivasi Mukti Morcha (AMM) — a south Gujarat-based tribal organisation — has decided to fight for an autonomous council for the tribal belt in the eastern part of the state.

The demand for an autonomous council, which falls under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, will be raised on June 10 at Songadh in Surat when tribals from all over the state will assemble to observe the 100th death anniversary of Birsa Munda, the legendary tribal leader of Bihar who led a rebellion against the British and fought for restoration of tribal rights.

The morcha plans to announce a protest programme on that day, said Chhotubhai Vasava, a tribal leader and MLA.

Vasava, who has been in the forefront of the struggle for tribal self-rule in Gujarat and also fought against upper-caste landlords in his constituency, Zagadia, is one of the speakers at the function.

Morcha president M.K. Chaudhary said his organisation will press for an autonomous council for the entire belt which has a population of 22 lakh spread over 32 talukas in nine districts.

The region has been in ferment since the past few decades. Increasingly marginalised, the tribals have had to move out of their traditional habitat to make way for reserved forests, industrial units and projects like the Narmada dam, the Ukai dam and the Kakrapar nuclear power plant.

Angered at what they call anti-tribal development policy, they now plan to wrest their land back from the forest department and non-tribals who have usurped them. Self-rule, they believe, will empower them to address their interests.

The amendment of the 1973 Gujarat Panchayat Act by the Assembly in 1998, empowering the gram sabhas, has fallen short of the expectations of the tribals.

According to them, the amended Act was a diluted version of the 1996 Parliamentary Act based on the recommendations of the Bhuria Committee.    

 

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