Govt grounds Sonia with junket short shrift
Pak nuclear PR forces Jaswant hand
Hit-to-kill missiles on talks agenda
Big guns pass buck on Mianpur mayhem
Victory pillar caught in tug-of-war
Patel trio in UK match-fix mesh
Caste cauldron boils
Naidu scorn on communists

 
 
GOVT GROUNDS SONIA WITH JUNKET SHORT SHRIFT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 18 
The Congress is upset with the way the Vajpayee regime has been treating Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi.

According to the Congress, the government is departing from conventions such as sending the leader of the Opposition in foreign delegations.

Sources close to Sonia said she is yet to get an invitation from the government or from the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to represent the country abroad. Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi himself has led several delegations abroad — to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries.

Sonia had received some communication from Balayogi about nominating someone from the Congress Parliamentary Party to accompany him abroad. This meant she could not have named herself.

Sources close to Sonia alleged that the government’s “indifference” towards the leader of the Opposition was part of its sustained campaign against her. They added that the BJP had a “sinister design” in ignoring Sonia and projecting her as a “non-serious” politician. The strategy, the Sonia camp said, was aimed at weakening her hold over the party so that the Congress is never able to regain its past glory.

Besides foreign tours and junkets, the Sonia camp alleged that the government had not been taking her into confidence in matters of security, defence, foreign affairs and other crucial areas. Sonia and the Vajpayee regime have also differed on her security arrangements and tour itineraries during elections, with the Congress accusing the government of creating hurdles in Sonia’s road shows.

Sonia took over as leader of the Opposition in October, after which several parliamentary delegations have gone abroad. The government and the Speaker had recently nominated 15 woman MPs, including Phoolan Devi and Mayavati, to visit New York to participate in the Beijing Plus Five summit.

The “indifference” towards Sonia was in sharp contrast to the importance accorded to the leader of Opposition when the Congress was in power, party leaders said. During the Narasimha Rao regime, then leader of the Opposition Atal Behari Vajpayee had been sent to Geneva for a human rights summit as leader of the Indian delegation.

Then Speaker Shivraj Patil, too, invited Vajpayee almost every time he went abroad. “We also had political differences but we never allowed them to get mixed up with parliamentary conventions and practices,” a senior party MP said.

The government’s alleged efforts to ignore Sonia is denying the Congress chief opportunities to project herself in the international arena. As part of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, Sonia is keen to build her image outside India and display her “statesman-like” traits.    


 
 
PAK NUCLEAR PR FORCES JASWANT HAND 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 18 
Pakistan has told the US that Pervez Musharraf’s government intends to set up a “strategic plans division” within its administration to institutionalise all issues of concern relating to Islamabad’s nuclear weapons status.

A package of similar proposals, combined with a few carefully-timed announcements in Islamabad during the weekend, thus appear to have put India on the defensive when external affairs minister Jaswant Singh meets US secretary of state Madeleine Albright in Warsaw next week.

At last week’s talks here with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdus Sattar said Musharraf was extremely concerned about the safety, command and control of Pakistan’s nuclear structure. No effort would be spared to ensure that the possibility of unauthorised or accidental launch of its nuclear weapons was eliminated.

Sattar told Talbott that the Musharraf regime would shortly enact legislation on export controls which would be in line with internationally accepted norms governing the transfer of nuclear knowhow and technology. Clandestine transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to other Islamic countries has been a matter of concern for the US ever since Pakistan’s nuclear programme was secretly established in the 1970s.

Sattar came to Washington for the ninth round of nuclear talks with Talbott with a comprehensive package described by Pakistani sources as a policy of “restraint and responsibility” on the nuclear issue.

From Islamabad’s point of view, last week’s talks were crucial.

Although the Nawaz Sharif government had held eight rounds of discussions with Talbott after the Chagai tests, the talks had run into a dead end in February 1999. The resumption of the dialogue last week after a gap of 16 months marked the Clinton administration’s first engagement of the military junta in Islamabad on the nuclear issue after Musharraf’s military putsch.

Sources here said the ninth round centred on five benchmarks: the US demand that Pakistan should sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), export controls, India-Pakistan relations, nuclear and missile restraint and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), discussions on which will start in Geneva shortly.

In tandem with Sattar’s offers to Talbott here, the Musharraf regime announced in Islamabad on Saturday that it was cutting defence spending by 6.8 per cent this year. Although it is still approximately 20 per cent of the $13 billion budget presented on Saturday, at $2.47 billion, defence spending is still lower than last year’s figure of $2.65 billion.

At the end of his talks here, Sattar made much of the fact that India had put up its defence spending in this year’s budget. Pakistan has actually brought down its defence spending this year by juggling accounts and transferring the army’s pension payments to a civilian account, but this will be lost on international public opinion. Thus, in terms of propaganda here and elsewhere, Pakistan stands to gain from bringing down its defence spending compared to the increase by New Delhi.

Another factor which will force India to come up with creative proposals during the Jaswant-Albright meeting in Warsaw will be Islamabad’s low-key response to the latest Prithvi test. India has already come under fire here for its test last week.    


 
 
HIT-TO-KILL MISSILES ON TALKS AGENDA 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 18 
The National Missile Defence system proposed by the US and the cascading effect it is likely to have on global disarmament and non-proliferation, particularly in Asia, are likely to top the agenda during foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s visit to Russia.

The US proposal is to build a missile defence system not only over its continent but to bring strategic allies like Japan and South Korea under it through the Theatre Missile Defence, which will have the “hit-to-kill” technology to eliminate any ballistic missile coming towards its installations.

Nuclear states are worried that if the US system is put into place, the perceived invincibility of Washington will increase manifold and it may adversely affect non-proliferation efforts. Deterrence works between nuclear states as long as there is a feeling that both can either attack each other or at least retaliate if attacked by the other.

Singh is scheduled to leave on a four-day visit to Moscow on Wednesday where he will meet the Russian leadership, including President Vladimir Putin, on a number of issues.

Singh will also visit St Petersburg and deliver a lecture at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Moscow.

The visit is significant as this will be the highest-level visit from India to Russia since Putin’s election as President. The fact that Singh is taking with him Rakesh Sood, India’s first ambassador-designate on disarmament, indicates that nuclear issues, particularly the missile defence system, will be high on the agenda.

The Indian foreign minister will also try to finalise the proposed visit of the Russian President to India, scheduled for the first week of October.

Earlier in the month, US President Bill Clinton, who held a summit meeting with his Russian counterpart Putin in Moscow, discussed in detail the proposed missile defence system. But reports suggest that the Russian President has not only rejected the proposal outright, but also made it clear that the system will seriously affect the Anti-Ballistic Missile Agreement that the two sides signed in 1972.

The Chinese leadership, too, has reacted sharply against the proposed US defence system.

Russian officials have threatened to withdraw from a number of arms-control treaties and have indicated that it will jeopardise the Indo-Russ- ian agreements START I and START II.

Experts feel China, whose long-range nuclear force is likely to be rendered impotent by the missile defence system, will try and accelerate the modernisation and expansion of its arsenal.    


 
 
BIG GUNS PASS BUCK ON MIANPUR MAYHEM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 18 
After the Friday night mayhem in Mianpur both the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Opposition National Democratic Alliance began a “mutual passing-the-buck” exercise.

While the BJP looked to the Governor’s House waiting for V.C. Pande’s next move, RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav revived the bogey of an RSS-BJP conspiracy and blamed the violence spiral on lack of adequate forces.

Sources in the administration said the Governor held a meeting with chief secretary V.S. Dubey today evening and sought details of the incident and the police action taken so far. Twelve policemen were suspended and raids are on to arrest the culprits.

As the two main rivals blamed each other, the Congress — sandwiched between the high command’s “pronouncements” and compulsions of the local leadership — alternated between a demand for review of support and a Punjab-type army operation.

The Left parties, including the CPI(ML) and the CPI, also joined in the chorus of condemnation, claiming that by not arresting the Ranbir Sena chief, Laloo was effectively giving the organisation “a new lease of life”. They have called a 24-hour state-wide bandh on June 21 and have demanded the dismissal of the Rabri government.

Laloo, who returned from Mianpur today, sought refuge in logistics. “We have been demanding 85 companies of paramilitary forces. The demand has not been conceded. The Centre cannot escape responsibility for the recurring massacres,” he said.

According to an agency report, the Bihar government, in a swift damage-control exercise, has sounded a red alert in six extremist-dominated districts of Aurangabad, Nawada, Gaya, Jehanabad, Bhojpur and parts of Patna.

Laloo, who said that a special court will be set up to try those accused in the massacre, also hinted that the Sena had links with some top Opposition leaders.

“Its roots are spread far and wide and its leaders take shelter at places where even I cannot reach,” he said, threatening to disclose the reports of the Amir Das Commission which he had set up in 1998 to probe a link between the Sena and the BJP.

Laloo said the government would set up 20 task forces and suspend all those policemen who had refused to take action even after being informed that the village was under attack.

Momentarily taken aback when asked why he did not visit the massacre site in neighbouring Nawada where 12 Bhumihars were killed last week, he shot back: “Who will ensure my security? You?”

The reply prompted former CPI leader Ramashray Prasad Singh to ask: “If Laloo is helpless and insecure in the state he is ruling, what is the state of the ordinary man’s security?”    


 
 
VICTORY PILLAR CAUGHT IN TUG-OF-WAR 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, June 18 
Samudragupta didn’t deserve this. Tucked away in a corner of the old city of the nawabs stands his victory pillar, majestic yet uncared for, its grandeur masked by cowdung cakes which are ritually slapped every morning.

The Archaeological Survey of India, which has been trying to relocate the tower, has met with stiff opposition from the residents. The Madhya Pradesh government, which had initially ordered the shifting of the structure, has changed stand for fear of upsetting local sentiment, even if it means allowing the last remains of the Gupta empire to rot.

But apathy has not succeeded in diminishing the pillar’s splendour. Carved out of red sandstone, the tower with an iron capital 1.28 m tall, still stands proud in Bagh Umrao Dullah, the heart of the old city of the nawabs.

The archaeological survey sent its last regret letter to the state earlier this week, stating that if the Digvijay Singh government did not provide it with sufficient police protection against the violent residents, the department will return the money sanctioned for the monument’s relocation.

Some historians believe the pillar could be over 2,000 years old and was built during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. However, experts at the archaeological department argue that the pillar was constructed during the Gupta era.

“There is no epigraphical record but the pillar is similar to those in Vaishali and Lauria Nandangarh,” said P.K. Mishra, superintending archaeologist, Bhopal circle. “It would be safe to say that this pillar dates back to the 3rd and 4th century. Either it is the pillar to commemorate the conquests of Samudragupta or those of his successor, Chandragupta Vikramaditya.”

According to Mishra, the pillar, weighing around 500 kg, originally belonged to Sanchi or Satdhara and was brought to Bhopal. “Who brought it here needs to be studied but what is most important is to preserve this relevant bit of ancient Indian history. The pillar is a very rare specimen of art and architecture belonging to perhaps the greatest of ancient Indian conquerors and is the only piece that has been discovered in Madhya Pradesh,” Mishra explained.

The archaeological department had suggested that the pillar be shifted back to Satdhara or Sanchi, but the government rejected the proposal. It, instead, proposed that the pillar be relocated at Minto Hall, the old Assembly building opposite Raj Bhavan.

Archaeological officials submitted an estimate of Rs 1.8 lakh to cut, dress, scaffold and transfer the pillar from the old city to Minto Hall.

The government responded almost immediately and sanctioned Rs 1 lakh to the department. Since then, the officials have tried to shift the pillar many times but have been thwarted by a section of the local residents.

“This is our property. Keep it here and develop the place. There is no need to shift it to the Assembly,” the officials were told.

“The state government behaves as though their responsibility is over with the payment of Rs 1 lakh. We have repeatedly asked for the government’s intervention and police protection but there has been no response,” an archaeological official said.

Asked why the department has been stopped from shifting a monument standing in the middle of a road, the official said: “We do not know. These are illiterate people, ignorant about the importance of the pillar, its history. They want to make this an issue and demand the development of the area in exchange,” Mishra said.    


 
 
PATEL TRIO IN UK MATCH-FIX MESH 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, June 18 
Police in Britain are to continue their interrogation of three Indians arrested on suspicion of cricket match-fixing and released after questioning.

The three were named today by The Sunday Times as cousins Kamlesh and Jayendra “Gopal” Patel, and Peter Patel.

Scotland Yard would not confirm their identities as the men have not been charged yet, but said the three arrested on June 13 and taken to a West London police station were aged 35, 44 and 42.

They were released on bail and told to reappear at the same police station on July 4, said the Scotland Yard spokesman.

This is the procedure adopted by the police when they feel they do not have sufficient evidence to bring charges which would stand up in court.

The questioning of the three Indians was undertaken as a result of allegations made by former England all-rounder Chris Lewis, who said he was offered £ 300,000 to recruit England players to fix matches.

Lewis has been playing the kind of role which has been undertaken by Manoj Prabhakar in India.

The arrest of the three Indians is part of a wide inquiry launched by the police into match-fixing. Two Scotland Yard officers have been in South Africa since June 13 to attend the proceedings of the South African commission of inquiry as “observers”.

The Sunday Times said the two officers want to talk to Hansie Cronje, the former South African captain, to see if he can provide information into any match-fixing that might have occurred in Britain.

According to the papers, two other Indians are under investigation by the British police.

One is Ashim Kheterpal, who is said to run a sports promotion company in Delhi. The other, “according to legal documents filed by Scotland Yard with Indian authorities”, is Jagish Narain Sodha, described as a prominent film distributor from Mumbai.

The Sunday Times added that the police may extend the investigation to two matches held during the World Cup in Britain.

One was the Pakistan-Bangladesh match, which was won by the latter, and the second was the India-Pakistan clash at old Trafford, in which India was the victor.    


 
 
CASTE CAULDRON BOILS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, June 18 
With Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh drawing near, politicians cutting across party lines are playing the caste card to the hilt.

There have been more than 15 meetings in the state recently, where top leaders have promised their respective communities “benefits they had never dreamt of” and unabashedly sought support in the name of caste.

In a meeting of the Vaishya community on June 6, energy minister Naresh Aggarwal asked his caste cousins to sever all ties with the BJP if chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta is replaced.

Bhumihar Brahmins recently came together for the first time under the banner of Parshuram Sammelan while Thakurs took out a tableau after a day-long meeting on June 5.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati converted her book release function in New Delhi early this month into a meeting of Dalits. Not to be left behind, Union communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan also held a sammelan of Dalit students.

The Congress and the CPM organised Dalit conventions in Lucknow where both parties promised to “undo the wrongs of centuries”.

On May 20, Prajapatis held a mahasabha in Bareilly. The same day, there was a Vishwakarma sammelan in Lucknow. The Congress had organised a Valmiki Sammelan the day before. The meeting was attended by senior leaders N.D. Tiwari and Salman Khursheed.

But in the mad rush to cash in on caste, political leaders are creating more rifts in an already deeply-divided society. Caste-based interest groups, aware of their bargaining power, are getting ready to claim a share of the power pie.

Vivek Kumar, a social scientist, said “caste is no longer a dirty word. The politicians are using them and are in turn being used by them. The state is heading towards a division that can have disastrous ramifications in future”.

But leaders see no harm in playing caste politics. Ram Mani, a Koeri leader, said: “It is a unity call. If all the sub-castes within the Koeris unite, we will be the biggest Dalit group after Chamars. We can extract a lot of mileage from this. After all, weightage is given keeping in mind the size of the caste and community.”

Dilip Vishwakarma added: “there is nothing called ideology. Whoever offers us more, we go for them.”

Vivek Kumar says the “blatant caste-politics” of the landed class is just a reaction. “They too have given a call for unity because their numbers are rapidly dwindling due to factionalism within themselves.”    


 
 
NAIDU SCORN ON COMMUNISTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, June 18 
With the agitation against the power-tariff hike taking a violent turn all over the state, the Chandrababu Naidu government is bracing for a head-on collision with the Congress and the Left.

Unhappy with the role of the Left parties, Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu today publicly ridiculed them for their backdoor efforts to gain popularity after being trounced in the last elections.

“You communists should understand that you have no place in Andhra Pradesh,” he told a group of agitators in Utnoor in Adilabad.

Naidu’s outburst came after nine Left parties, including the People’s War Group, blamed the administration for misleading the people with wrong statistics.

In an open letter to legislators and MPs, they pointed out that the hike has been the highest in Andhra Pradesh,unlike in other states. where the governments were pursuing reforms programmes as per World Bank guidelines. Slamming their protests as “unwarranted”, Naidu told partymen to launch a counter-offensive, advising them to accompany the officials who are scheduled to visit the villages in the next seven days to convince consumers of the need for a hike. Despite the tough-talk, the Telugu Desam chief has also come in for criticism from some of his own party legislators who said the hike was untimely as panchayat elections were round the corner. The hike, they said, was too steep and even if necessary should have been introduced in a phased manner. In a marathon sermon to legislators and MPs at the extended general body meeting of the party today morning, Naidu tried to turn them around to his view and urged them to make the consumers aware of his government’s true intentions. “The party has to win the confidence of the people on this issue,” he told them. But realising that the agitation has spread to the districts and also gained in momentum, the Naidu administration has given up its week-long programme of conducting gram sabhas and the exercise to “educate the people about the hike”. Instead, it now plans to hold “consumer melas”, comprising chosen partymen, to endorse the move. Naidu described power theft as a “social crime” and said his government would not hesitate to take stern steps to curb it. According to him, there were about 2.6 lakh illegal connections in the state. But even as he tried to hardsell his reforms agenda, police lathi-charge on agitators in Undi, near Bhimavaram, has drawn flak. The police also came in for criticism for chaining injured protesters to their hospital beds in Ongole town. Desam workers also criticised police highhandedness after they caned agitators at an official function last evening. Police action on Congress workers at Kurnool, Nellore and Vijayawada has also received prominent media coverage.    

 

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