RSS cautions govt on autonomy
Left wins Salt Lake & might test
Conversion in heart of Calcutta
Tel Aviv ducks US on Delhi radar
Basu stamp on bridge to Israel
Calcutta Weather

Koba (Gandhinagar), July 2 
As a divided Kashmir grappled to come to terms with the demand for self-rule, the RSS today breathed fire at the charter, urging the Centre to tackle the issue with a firm hand and even throw out the Farooq Abdullah government, if necessary.

Coinciding with the Sangh’s statement, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a clarification, saying the autonomy question would be considered “in accordance with the Constitution”.

A PMO note quoted Atal Behari Vajpayee as having told reporters on board his aircraft to Delhi from Lisbon that the matter would be discussed within the framework of the Constitution, not that “the autonomy demand was within the Constitution”.

At its national executive meeting, the Sangh dubbed the autonomy demand “a step short of actual secession” and “a reflection of the divisive and communal mindset of the National Conference”. It adopted a resolution urging the Centre to mothball the charter.

“Under no circumstance should the autonomy resolution be accepted. If necessary, the Centre should dismiss the Farooq Abdullah government,” RSS joint general secretary Madan Das said after the two-day meeting ended here.

Terming the autonomy demand a great setback to the nation, Das said the government should first try to talk the Kashmir chief minister out of it before taking any extreme step. “Dismissal is one option, but we have not demanded it,” he said.

Claiming “the resolution was a fallout of the driftless Kashmir policy pursued by various governments”, Das said the Centre should not attach too much importance to it as it articulated the demands of only a section of the people. He pointed out that an issue “fraught with disastrous consequences as it seeks to take the state back to the pre-1953 status” should not be left to the whims of a select few.

As the RSS leader hailed the people of Ladakh and Leh for condemning the resolution, Hurriyat Conference leader Yasin Malik announced in Srinagar that autonomy was not what his organisation wanted. Dismissing the charter as of “no consequence”, he said it was Abdullah’s “diversionary ploy”.

“Such tactics are aimed at creating a division of Jammu and Kashmir and they will never be allowed to succeed by the people of the state,” Malik said.

An under-fire Abdullah, however, clarified in Coimbatore that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India was “final and irrevocable”. “We are not trying for any confrontation on the autonomy issue with the Centre... Either you convince us or we will convince you. The time has come to return powers to the people and the states, which were eroded in the last 50 years,” he said.

Christian attacks

In another resolution, the Sangh condemned the Church for “painting the RSS and other Hindu organisations in the darkest colours by accusing them of atrocities on the Christian minorities in the country”.

It regretted that a pattern was being read into stray incidents, and said “there seems to be a conspiracy to malign the Sangh parivar by Church leaders who tend to blow things out of proportion”.

On the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Pope, it said: “India has never persecuted the minorities. So the government need not be apologetic.”    

Calcutta, July 2 
The CPM-led Left Front today wrested victory from the jaws of defeat, pitting every cadre and leader who mattered to regain control of the Salt Lake municipality. The party’s nominee won in the violence-marred repoll in a booth in ward 16.

Repoll was ordered after counting for the ward was held up by a faulty electronic voting machine. The Left Front retained the municipal board by winning 12 seats out of 23.

The state CPM secretary, Anil Biswas, who was not enthusiastic about winning Salt Lake before the repoll, was pleasantly surprised by the result. “We might have lost the board, however, we are happy that the people have voted for us and we have retained it,’’ Biswas said.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee described today’s poll as a farce. Banerjee, who came to the township in the afternoon to see the poll, said the CPM had mobilised thousands of supporters who rigged the voting. “Police and polling personnel were not neutral. They openly worked for the CPM. Even the returning officer and the sub-divisional officer of Salt Lake were acting like CPM cadre,’’ she alleged.

The Front and Trinamul were locked 11-11 when the voting machine developed a technical snag.

In the counting, the Front was ahead by 87 votes in the other three booths in ward 16. CPM candidate Gita Biswas finally won in the decider by 224 votes.

“What the CPM cadre, police and government officers did today in the name of holding elections will shame even (the gangsters of) Bihar,’’ said BJP MP Tapan Sikdar. Sikdar, who was allegedly assaulted by CPM supporters near the polling station, said genuine voters could not cast their ballots. But even Sikdar’s bodyguards were alleged to have over-reacted. One of them reportedly fired and injured a CPM supporter.

The Salt Lake civic poll was one of the toughest. Both the CPM and Trinamul fought for every inch. However, differences between the Trinamul and the BJP paved the way for CPM’s victory.

The poll result reveals that if the two parties fought unitedly, the combine could have won the civic board with a clear margin. “Everyone knows it but it is meaningless to discuss it now,’’ Mamata said.

“We have to draw a lesson and work for the future. We have lost because we were not united. I think it will not be repeated in future,’’ said Sikdar.

The CPM deployed its cadre in strength for the repoll. The party workers made door-to-door visits to bring the “committed” voters to the polling booth. Party seniors like Amitava Nandi, Rabin Deb and Manas Mukherjee supervised the work of the cadre today.

Dilip Gupta, the sitting chairman of Salt Lake municipality, is set to get a second term. The CPM will officially announce the name on July 4. The new chairman will be sworn in on July 5.    

Calcutta, July 2 
When the CPM was busy making sure of the BJP’s loss in a Salt Lake ward, Sangh parivar outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad thrust into the heart of the city with its conversion drive.

The VHP converted six members of a minority community into Hindus today at the Bangiya Arya Pratinidhi Sabha on College Street.

The conversion took place when police and political parties had concentrated all their attention on the repoll in one booth of ward 16 in Salt Lake.

The administration had no knowledge that a conversion ceremony was taking place under its nose. Intelligence officials, who visited the site at night, said the VHP has been carrying on conversions in various parts of Bengal for some time.

The largest such conversion took place last year in Malda when the VHP turned nearly 100 Christian tribals into Hindus.

The six people converted during the day were given shelter by the VHP in its own places in the city.

The BJP was quick to distance itself from the incident. Party spokesman Muzaffar Khan said the VHP had not consulted the BJP before carrying out the conversions. “The report, if true, is unfortunate. We are going to look into it tomorrow,” Khan said.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee was not available for comment, but the conversions are certain to make her even more uncomfortable with her alliance with the BJP. The relationship has cost her minority votes in the just-concluded Calcutta civic elections.

Jagindra Narayan Mishra, president of the VHP’s conversion cell in Bengal, claimed that there was “nothing unusual in conversion into Hindus”.

“This was a whole-day affair for us today,” he said, adding that he had been doing this since 1989 in different places inthe city.

“Why are you raising a hue and cry over conversion?” Mishra asked, saying that not a word is spoken when Christians convert Hindus.

The VHP leader chose to gloss over the fact that various Sangh parivar organisations have turned conversion into an incendiary issue, first with their protests against the work of Christian missionaries and then with their reconversion programme.

Mishra refused to reveal the identities of those converted. “If I divulge their names, they may be victimised,” he said.

VHP sources said Sunday was chosen as it was an auspicious day, the eve of Rathayatra. The six were chosen for conversion after a committee headed by Mishra kept them “under close observation” for over a month.

A VHP spokesman said some more conversion programmes have been lined up in the city.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said: “It is a very sensitive issue. The government will surely take administrative measures”. Under law, the government can do nothing to stop conversions.    

Jerusalem, July 2 
Israel today dismissed reported US objections to the sale of a sophisticated radar system to India, playing down Washington’s concerns and making it clear that “cooperation between two democracies”, like Tel Aviv and Delhi, should be “endorsed”.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, on his maiden visit to Israel, scored at the first dialogue with the leadership, wrangling an assurance that Tel Aviv will keep Delhi’s security concerns in mind while selling arms to Beijing and not encourage any deal that might jeopardise Indo-Israeli ties.

The two sides agreed on a structured dialogue to broadbase ties in the political, economic and security spheres. They decided to set up a joint ministerial commission to have regular dialogues on security, counter-terrorism and cooperation on information technology. But in deference to Indian Muslims and the Arab world, considered to be Delhi’s traditional allies, neither termed it as a strategic partnership.

The commission will meet twice a year, alternately in the two capitals, to discuss all political issues at the bilateral, regional and global levels. The one-round-old security dialogue will be continued in Delhi as soon as the dates are finalised. The meeting on counter-terrorism, the groundwork for which was laid during the recent visit of home minister L.K. Advani to Israel, is proposed to be held regularly and will be formalised in the next few weeks.

Singh invited Prime Minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister David Levy to visit India while announcing President K.R. Narayanan’s Israel tour early next year. He expressed happiness at the large number of young Israeli tourists, describing it as a “vote of confidence from the younger generation for Indo-Israeli ties”.

The two sides are reportedly finalising a deal on the sale of “Green Oren’’, a sophisticated radar system used as a deterrent against ballistic missiles. It is based on the technology of the Falcon, a sophisticated surveillance aircraft already sold to China, for which Israel is under intense pressure from the US.

Washington is apparently trying to prevent the sale of the radar system, saying it will further tilt the security balance in Delhi’s favour in volatile South Asia.

But Levy, who met Singh this afternoon, denied any US request not to go ahead with the deal. He maintained that this kind of cooperation was not directed against any third country. “Such cooperation between two democracies should be endorsed,” he said.

Singh was diplomatic when asked about the sale of the Falcons to China. “It was a matter of bilateral relations between Israel and China,’’ he said. “India certainly does not judge one bilateral relationship with another and Indo-Israeli relations were also not at the cost of a third country”.

On the US’ reported anger on the proposed radar deal, he said: “India always does not share the rage of the United States.”

Singh said his first visit to the country was in recognition of the “multifaceted relations” between the two sides, and added that “India was keen on weaving these relations more”. Earlier, Levy called India a “giant’’ in Asia with whom Israel had historical and traditional ties.

The bonhomie notwithstanding, the two sides showed that they were alive to political compulsions in their respective countries as well as outside by carefully choosing the words to describe their relationship. They stopped short of terming it as a “strategic partnership”, obviously in deference to the large number of Muslims in India and also the Arab world — considered to be Delhi’s traditional allies.

Asked whether the bilateral ties could be described as a strategic partnership, Levy said: “Relations between the two sides are excellent. There are joint interests. We are going to develop it further as there are many domains which compliment each other.”    

Jerusalem, July 2 
After Jaswant Singh, it is Jyoti Basu’s turn to walk the diplomatic tightrope, trying to maintain parity in relations with Israel and Palestine.

For the three days he has been here, he does not seem to have any qualms about being in the land of the Zionists. But he is also trying to maintain his links with “old friend” and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

While Basu’s official engagement with the Israelis begins tomorrow, his managers are hard at work trying to fix an appointment with Arafat in Gaza.

However, the veteran communist leader may not be as lucky as Singh, who maintained political propriety by kicking off his four-day official visit to West Asia with a meeting with Arafat in Ramalla. But Arafat is now in Paris, holding talks with French President Jacques Chirac, whose country took over the European Union presidency yesterday.

No one is sure if he will be back in time for a meeting with Basu. “If a meeting cannot be fixed today, it will be extremely difficult to do so in the coming days since the West Bengal chief minister is heavily committed with the Israelis,” an Indian diplomat said.

Basu is not losing sleep over his possible failure to meet Arafat. He knows the times have changed and that there will not be too many accusing fingers if his visit does not include Gaza. “Those were the days of the past when we opposed the regimes in South Africa and Israel. But now our policy has changed. Even the Indian foreign policy has changed and there are full diplomatic relations with both these countries,” Basu said.

At the lobby of the King David Hotel, the 87-year old Marxist looked relaxed in his greyish-blue bandhgala. The recent setback in the Calcutta civic polls seemed to be far from his mind. He is looking forward to a visit to the Left-run Kibbutz Metzar, an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, to get a first hand impression of “how real communism works.’’

Apart from businessmen, he is scheduled to meet President Ezer Weizmann, Shimon Perez, the regional development minister tipped to succeed Weizmann, and the head of the Israel-India Parliamentary Friendship Forum.

After years of opposing the Zionists, what has brought Basu to the Promised Land? “I was always fascinated by Israel,’’ he said. “After all three major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) emerged from here.”

He said Israeli ambassador Yohayada Haim, whose term ended recently, had been pressing him to visit. “Earlier, I couldn’t come because of prior engagements. But now I have finally made it.’’

Basu said the hardline policy adopted by India’s communists and successive governments in Delhi stemmed from the fact that for the India, Zionism amounted to racism. The shift came in 1992, when P.V. Narasimha Rao established ties with Israel. Since then the two sides have moved closer.

Basu’s presence here gives the final stamp of authority on the national consensus that India should have stronger ties with Israel.    



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