States toe Centre’s police line
Advani smells ISI plot in attacks
Atal appeal for Security Council seat
Envoy on Sierra mission
Kesri doffs Gandhi cap at Mamata
Dithering India may lose Cuba in US chase

New Delhi, June 28 
Buckling under pressure from the Centre, state governments today agreed to revamp their intelligence and police machinery so that they are better equipped to handle law and order, terrorism, insurgency and ISI activities.

However, many states were apprehensive about the BJP-led government’s initiative to set up a Central Law Enforcement Agency (Clea) for tackling “federal crimes” as they felt it would curtail their police powers. Senior officials from some states objected to the Centre’s proposed national identity cards scheme on the plea that it was a “costly exercise”. They demanded that a portion of the cost has to be borne by the Centre when implementation plans are finalised.

Briefing reporters at the end of a brainstorming session on internal security, which was attended by chief secretaries, home secretaries and directors-general of police of all states, Union home secretary Kamal Pande said the states have been asked to submit action plans on how they intended to revamp and refurbish their intelligence and police set-ups.

He insisted that the states “need to revamp and reorient” their intelligence and police systems from a law and order approach to tackling terrorism and the ISI.

Ever since the second BJP-led coalition came to power at the Centre, it has been insisting that the states strengthen their administrative machinery. It was decided after today’s meeting that the state governments would “gear up and ensure that the administration is effective, efficient and transparent”. The Centre and the states agreed to “galvanise the law enforcement machinery in the management of internal security” and agreed to enhance the police budget.

In the backdrop of the Nawada carnages, the attacks against Christians over the past few days and Left-wing extremism, the home ministry asked the states to “provide good governance and effective delivery systems at the grassroots level so that there is no feeling of marginalisation or alienation among the public at large”.

Pande admitted that there was dissension among certain states on the Clea, which, when formed, would have the authority to investigate federal crimes across the country without having to seek permission from states.

The home secretary said while some states felt the Clea would infringe on their police powers, which is on the State List, others suggested that the CBI be given more teeth to pursue crimes such as terrorism, militancy, insurgency, trafficking in arms, explosives, narcotics and humans, sedition, counterfeiting currency and money laundering. “However, when the enormity of the present state of internal security and the international dimension of crimes was discussed, most states felt the importance of a Clea,” Pande added.

There was a consensus on the need to enact an anti-terrorism law, a draft Bill of which has been drawn up by the Law Commission. Pande said the states have been asked to submit detailed comments on the proposed Bill by the end of June so that the matter can be taken up at the chief ministers’ meeting on internal security convened by the Prime Minister on August 5.

To arrest the growth of “anti-national” and fundamentalist elements, both the Centre and states agreed that the Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) should be amended so that anti-India organisations do not have access to unaccounted foreign funds. Obviously, this is in reference to the mushrooming of mosques and madrasas along the country’s borders. However, it was felt that the flow of funds to genuine organisations involved in public welfare needed to be facilitated, though concerned district magistrates must ensure that foreign contribution is not diverted for anti-national activities.    

New Delhi, June 28 
Home minister Lal Krishna Advani today sought to blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for the spate of attacks against Christians across the country, especially in Andhra Pradesh.

At a meeting on internal security attended by chief secretaries, home secretaries and police directors-general, Advani said: “The possibility of anti-India elements trying to create disaffection in society and give the country a bad name cannot be ruled out.”

Advani added that inputs received from the states where Christians and their institutions have come under attacks do not indicate any tension between the majority and minority communities. However, the top bureaucrat in Advani’s ministry, Kamal Pande, differed. The home secretary argued that the attacks were a fallout of communal tension.

“Communal and caste disharmony has swept the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra and, of late, taken a violent turn in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh,” Pande said.

Advani exhorted the states to “get to the bottom” of the attacks against the Christians and carry out a thorough, impartial and speedy investigation into the atrocities committed against minorities. “Different communities in this country have always lived together in harmony. So far, communal tensions was localised. However, the recent attacks on Christians and places of worship belonging to the minority communities are very unfortunate,” Advani said.    

Lisbon, June 28 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today pleaded strongly for India’s claim to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

He also suggested that India’s nuclear capability should be take into account as the world body addresses the need to acknowledge a multi-polar world and accordingly expand the permanent membership quota.

Addressing the plenary session of the Indo-European Union summit, Vajpayee said: “India, as the world’s largest democracy and a rapidly growing economic power, has a natural claim to a permanent seat in the security council.”

The forceful argument of India’s case assumes significance in the context of the European Union’s changing perception of India. India recognised the emergence of the European Union as a “new pole in a multi-polar world order’’. Playing upon subtle differences between the EU countries and the US, Vajpayee said: “Both India and the EU, thus, have a historic role to play in the evolution of such a world order.’’

The context and the venue provided the right backdrop for the Prime Minister’s standpoint. Both France and Germany have been sympathetic to India’s plea for entry to the council though they insist on India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Except for Italy, which, too, wants a place in the council and is also blocking expansion of the quota of this elite group of five, India is persisting with this systematic endeavour to convince several member-countries of the EU about its inclusion. But these are only strong attempts and the differences in perception among EU partners need to be resolved before a step is taken in the right direction.

Stressing on multi-polarity, Vajpayee said both India and the EU have a historic role to play in the evolution of such a world order. He said multi-polarity, to be effective “must be reflected in the forums of the international system. Reforming the UN, therefore, is a crucial element in this movement towards multi-polarity’’.

He argued that over the past 50 years, “the world has changed, as has the international order’’. Insisting that these changes must be reflected in the council, he said without these alterations, the UN would not be able to function purposefully.

Arguing how multi-polarity is directly linked to a “plural security order’’, the Prime Minister said it is in this context that the development of “our nuclear capability should be seen.’’ He added: “It is part of our resolve to build a multi-polar world where we have strategic space and autonomy to decision-making.’’

Voicing his concern over terrorism, Vajpayee said: “Plural and open democracies have, in particular, borne the brunt of terror that strikes at the root of tolerance, the mainstay of civil society.’’ India has been voicing this concern at all international fora and is subtly isolating Pakistan in the process.

The Prime Minister said: “Terrorism seeks to undermine democracy because multi-religious, multi-ethnic, secular and free societies are anathema to the practitioners of criminal acts of violence. There is also a close nexus between them and narcotics smuggling, arms trafficking and religious extremism.’’    

New Delhi, June 28 
With no solution in sight to the hostage standoff in Sierra Leone, India has decided to send K.V. Rajan, secretary (East) in the foreign ministry, for the crucial Organisation of African Unity meeting, scheduled from July 14 in Togo.

Rajan may carry a personal letter from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to the OAU leaders and appeal to them for an early resolution of the hostage crisis in Sierra Leone. Twenty-one Indian UN peacekeepers in the strife-torn African nation were disarmed and taken hostage by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels nearly a month ago.

A meeting of the RUF commanders in Sierra Leone, which began yesterday, has caught the attention of South Block with many diplomats feeling that the outcome of the three-day deliberation may lead to a breakthrough in the crisis. If it fails, officials are hoping that the African leaders will be able to do so.

It is not unusual for India to send an observer to the OAU meet. This has been done several times in the past. But this year’s OAU meet becomes significant as the Indian peacekeepers continue to be in RUF captivity. Though world leaders have assured that the release of the Indian soldiers will get top priority, Delhi, through its presence at the meet, wants to ensure that there is no slackening of the African leaders’ efforts to get its soldiers released.

At a meeting in Warsaw yesterday, foreign minister Jaswant Singh was joined by his American counterpart, Madeleine Albright, and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to show their solidarity with India in securing the freedom of the 21 peacekeepers. Though Albright and Annan expressed seriousness in making all efforts for their release, it has not generated much hope in Delhi.

It is surprising that India is depending on others to see it through the crisis rather than make an effort to hold direct talks with either the RUF or its main backer, Liberia, to break the stalemate. The Vajpayee government has not sent any senior minister to the area.

Jaswant Singh, who is on a four-nation tour and has been criss-crossing the continents, has failed to visit Sierra Leone. Even if Jaswant was pre-occupied with his commitments, the government could have sent some other senior minister to talk to Liberian President Charles Taylor to persuade him to use his influence over RUF to get the 21 soldiers released. In addition to the captive soldiers in Pendembu, 223 other Indian peacekeepers are also stranded at Kailahun.

After dragging his feet for days, last week Vajpayee decided to write to Taylor, asking for help. The letter was handed over by Indian ambassador to Accra, A.K. Banerjee, who is also accredited in Liberia. Though Taylor promised help in freeing the soldiers, so far nothing has been done.    

New Delhi, June 28 
Proving that there are no permanent enmies in politics, Sitaram Kesri — during whose tenure as Congress president Mamata Banerjee left the party -- has now become her most ardent admirer.

The septuagenarian chacha of the Indian National Congress is going around predicting that the Trinamul chief would lead the nation ahead of men like Chandrababu Naidu and Digvijay Singh.

Forgetting the circumstances under which she was forced to leave the parent party when he was calling the shots, the deposed chief had nothing but praise for Mamata today as results of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation polls trickled in.

“Mamata’s emergence is significant. She is a true representative of Bharatiata (Indianness). She is from the grassroots, lives simply and has a soft corner for the poor, needy and the minorities,” Kesri said.

His Gandhi cap firmly in place, Kesri praised Mamata as a “natural leader” who has emerged “from below” and not one “imposed from the top or has an Oxbridge background”.

But he refused to draw direct parallels between the Trinamul leader and Sonia Gandhi.

Kesri, who has not been on the best terms with Sonia Gandhi since his unceremonious exit on March 14, 1998, said Mamata’s success in Bengal would reinforce the faith of the poor in Indian democracy.

“If she can make it big, then all those who have no money or power can have a future in India,” he said. “What counts is sincerity, care for the poor and good intentions.”

Lauding Bengal for throwing up leaders, he said: “Mamata is going to be a serious contender for the Delhi throne. I may not be around but I am confident she will make it to the top. She comes from the land of Subhas Chandra Bose who stood tall even against Gandhi and Nehru.”

Mamata’s gender would give her the edge over Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrabau Naidu or Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, he said.

“She will have the backing of 50 per cent of our population which does not get its dues in the decision-making process,” Kesri said.

“Mamata has not survived because she has support of the moneybags. In a cotton, crumpled sari, the masses identify with her. She calls a spade a spade. I remember during the Narasimha Rao regime how she championed the cause of those detained under Tada. She has a good image among the minorities,” he recalled.

He did not want to go into the circumstances in which Mamata had left the Congress. But sources close to Kesri said that some senior Congress Working Committee members were responsible for “poisoning” his mind.    

Washington, June 29 
In its keenness to chase US’ friendship and solicit the elusive dollar, India is in imminent danger of losing one of its biggest political investments in the entire western hemisphere.

A historic compromise brokered on Capitol Hill this week will allow unrestricted sales of food and medicine to Cuba, marking the beginning of the end of US sanctions imposed 40 years ago in the hope of isolating and overthrowing President Fidel Castro.

The US farm bureau estimates that sale of grains and medicines could immediately bring revenue of upto $ 1 billion a year to US companies, even as French and Chinese enterprises are eyeing the Florida straits as a potentially new highway of commerce.

Sadly, thanks to south block’s short-sightedness, India is unlikely to get any share of the Cuban business, where everything from essential goods to infrastructure projects will be lapped up once US sanctions are lifted, paving way for a wholesale opening up and reconstruction of the Cuban economy.

Despite consistent backing for Castro since Indira Gandhi’s first stint as Prime Minister, Delhi has recently distanced itself from Havana in the erroneous hope that such a change in policy towards Cuba will please the US, and speed up the process of confidence building between Washington and Delhi.

The traditionally warm ties between Castro and successive Indian Prime Ministers came under a cloud after Atal Behari Vajpayee failed to heed a personal request from the Cuban President to attend the Group of 77 (G-77) summit of developing countries in Havana last month.

Not only did Vajpayee skip the summit, he did not even allow external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to go for the meeting, lest it should send the wrong signals to Washington so soon after President Bill Clinton’s successful visit to India. Instead, the Prime Minister’s office nominated human resources development minister Murali Manohar Joshi as India’s representative.

The move was seen in Havana as a deliberate downgrading of the summit.

For Castro, a large presence by heads of state and governments at G-77 was vital because of his difficult search for legitimacy after the collapse of Soviet-style communism.

Belying Delhi’s calculations, an impressive array of leaders turned up for the summit, including Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf.

G-77 provided Musharraf the opportunity he was seeking to break out of the isolation imposed by his military coup of October 1999.

South block’s worst miscalculation, however, was in assuming that Vajpayee’s travel to Cuba would annoy Clinton, who has been working throughout his second term in the White House to change US policy of confronting Cuba.

For Clinton, it has been a personal crusade since the only electoral defeat in his career was at the hands of Cuban exiles opposed to Castro who cost him governorship of Arkansas during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

A riot by Cuban exiles settled by Carter in Arkansas turned voters against Clinton, the then governor and seeking re-election.

On Tuesday, within hours after the compromise on Capitol Hill, Clinton welcomed the move to sell food and medicines to Cuba.

“We have not seen details of the agreement”, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “We are not opposed to allowing things like food and medicine to go to Cuba as long as it is for the benefit of the people, not the benefit of the Castro government”.

Cuba imports $ 750 million worth of food annually to feed its population of 11 million. All but 10 per cent of its wheat imports come from France for which the French government has provided credit guarantees worth $ 180 million. The remainder is exported by Canada and Argentina, John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba trade and economic council said on Tuesday.

He said China was helping Cuba step up domestic grain output and at the same time supplying telecommunications and other infrastructure equipment.

Since this week’s congressional compromise prohibits the US government or private financing for trade with Cuba, Castro is likely to rely on countries like China, Canada and France for business, which have helped in recent years to lessen the impact of US sanctions.

This would leave fence-sitters like India out in the cold as the Cuban economy readies for growth.    


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