Nation set to party, war widow sits on fast
Jubilant Sena cries for Bhujbal scalp
Sleuths scan locker secrets
House uproar on Jaitly cover for Jadeja
Allies add to states Bill protest
Touchdown trouble dogs IA Patna flight
PM clears air on law power shift
First scented movie stinks at box office
Jetley looks for UN signal
Punjab in blast shock

July, 25 
July 18, 1999, 2 am

Duty calls at Akhnoor. The battle for Kargil is at its decisive stage as the army launches Operation Rakshak III. Lance Naik Dilip Singh Lingwal of 03 Grenadiers is ordered by his commanding officer to wade through the freezing ice-layered waters of the Manawar Tawi and fetch the grenades and other ammunition kept on the other bank of the cruel river. Lingwal had been fighting the enemy, braving nature’s fury at 10,000 feet above sea level, -50° Celsius for over a month. He jumped into the river for his motherland never to resurface again. The search for Lingwal continued for 72 hours, but his body was never found. Three days later he was declared dead.

As the nation readies to celebrate the Kargil victory on Wednesday, Lingwal’s widow sits on a fast-unto-death in Indore, despair written on her face.

A year later, after the promises have been made, Shobha Lingwal has to prove to the government that her husband indeed died for the nation.

The Madhya Pradesh government insists that she must produce original death certificates and proof issued by the army to verify whether Dilip Singh Lingwal died in action. Or else she cannot be paid her compensation of Rs 10 lakh.

“My husband has given his life so that his countrymen could sleep peacefully at night. We were only married for five years — my husband went to the battlefield and left me a widow with two infants,” says Shobha.

“They failed to trace my husband’s body. I did not complain. But when the authorities of the same soil for which my husband died insults me everytime by asking for the original death certificate, I cannot bear the humiliation,” she adds, her eyes welling up.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh had promised a compensation of Rs 10 lakh and a government job to the families of Kargil martyrs from Madhya Pradesh.

Shobha has been offered a job at the Indore city corporation by Mayor Kailash Vijaywargiya. But that, too, is only word of mouth.

“They keep tormenting me by saying they need to verify the documents given by the army authorities,” Shobha alleged. “My husband was a soldier, not a fraud. He died for his country and, being his wife, I have not been able to see his body. I wasn’t even privileged enough to cry over my husband’s dead body and people ask me for verification. Verification of what?”

On September 15, 1999 a death certificate was issued by commanding officer B.B. Patnaik confirming Lingwal’s death. It said: “Certified that number 2681429W, rank Lance Naik, name Dilip Singh Lingwal, Unit 03 Grenadiers has been swept away by flash floods and got drowned on July 18, 1999 while performing operational duty.”

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the government. “The commanding officer had asked my husband to get the ammunition kept on the other bank of the river. The river was flooded and he was swept away. Now what does the government expect? Where will I get his body from to prove that he died for the country,” says Shobha.

Army chief Gen. V.P. Malik had also issued a certificate on December 16, 1999 to recognise Lingwal’s sacrifice.

But the Madhya Pradesh Sainik Kalyan Board and the state government are not convinced that Lingwal sacrificed his life for the country. The state government had directed district administration officials to get the original death certificates and documents from Shobha for verification.

Last afternoon, after she launched her indefinite hungerstrike, district officials rushed to ask her to present the original documents at the collector’s office.

Shobha herself did not go but office-bearers of a local NGO, Mahila Shakti Sangathan, produced the documents at collector Manoj Shrivastava’s office on her behalf. NGO spokesperson Seema Reji later told reporters that the authorities have not confirmed whether they would be handing over the compensation to Shobha.

Additional district magistrate Manish Singh said the documents, along with the verification report, were sent to the state government last evening and Shobha Lingwal will most likely be given the money.

As Shobha wages her lonely battle, her two toddlers try to console their weeping mother. “Don’t cry, Ma. Brave children don’t cry,” says four-year-old Avinash as his brother Ajay, a year younger, climb their mother’s lap to wipe the tears away.    

New Delhi, July 25 
Exultant Shiv Sena leaders today revelled in Bal Thackeray’s acquittal by a Mumbai court, shouting in chorus that “it was a victory for Hindutva and their chief”. They demanded the dismissal of the Maharashtra government if state home minister Chhagan Bhujbal and chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh did not resign.

The BJP backed the Sena demand. Party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said the court verdict was a “slap” on the state government’s face.

Anant Geete, Sena leader in the Lok Sabha, said Thackeray was a great “respecter” of law as he himself went to court “to maintain peace” in the city. “Thackeray should be commended for his decision to surrender before the court,” he said.

After the Sena chief’s acquittal, both Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani spoke to Thackeray over phone and congratulated him on his “legal and moral victory”.

All three Sena ministers in the Vajpayee Cabinet — Manohar Joshi, Suresh Prabhu and Balasaheb Vikhe Patil — who resigned last week to pressure the Prime Minister and prevent Thackeray’s arrest, will rejoin tomorrow, said a jubilant Geete.

Claiming their stand has been vindicated and that the Maharashtra government was pursuing a personal agenda, the Sena leaders demanded dismissal of the Congress-NCP administration. Raising the matter in Lok Sabha, Geete said the Centre should seek a report from the state government for “misusing power”. The BJP, the Sena’s major partner, also demanded Bhujbal’s resignation.

However, both the Sena and the BJP were soft on chief minister Deshmukh of the Congress and NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Their target was Bhujbal, indicating that the motive was to drive a wedge between Pawar and Bhujbal.

Mahajan, who flew to Mumbai last night to broker a deal as a face-saver for both the state government and Thackeray, today said the court’s decision was a “slap on the face of home minister (of Maharashtra)”. Mahajan was in touch with Pawar, Deshmukh, Thackeray and the Mumbai police chief to work out a formula which would help Thackeray to seek bail from the court.

The Sena leaders demanded the immediate resignation of Bhujbal and the dismissal of the state government as the court verdict today “has proved that the case against Thackeray was born out of personal vendetta”.    

New Delhi, July 25 
The investigation into the cricket betting scandal surged ahead with income-tax sleuths opening the bank lockers of a former Indian cricket captain and sharing the documents seized during the countrywide raids on 89 premises of cricketers, cricket administrators and bookies with the CBI.

Without disclosing the name of the cricketer, sources said the personal bank lockers of the player and his business associate were opened in their presence as per I-T laws.

Agencies quoted a senior I-T official as saying: “We have started the process of opening the lockers today, and two of 17 lockers sealed during the searches in the capital have been opened.” He, however, refused to divulge the contents of the lockers.

The sources added that most cricketers against whom raids were carried out were “cooperating” and had appealed to senior I-T officials to “save them from trial by the media”.

Tax sources said Ajay Jadeja, whose Greater Kailash-II residence was among the 89 premises raided last week, is reported to have assured investigators today over phone that he would be available for inquiry on July 30 after a match on July 29. Sleuths are understood to have seized a diary from a Delhi-based bookie, in which the initials “AJ” figure, and have recovered documents related to Jadeja’s properties in India and abroad.

On the bribery allegations levelled by Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, whose daughter is Jadeja’s fiancee, a senior I-T official said: “Let the truth prevail.” He added that the department would like to concentrate on the “huge volume of work that lay ahead” and “establish credibility” as there “were no bribery allegations from any of the 89 places where searches were carried out” on July 20.

Soon after the countrywide raids, former captain Mohammad Azharuddin, who was in London with wife Sangeeta Bijlani, whose house in Mumbai was also raided, had also contacted I-T authorities.

I-T sources said the raids were not over and the department was waiting for some players, including Azharuddin, Jadeja, Nikhil Chopra and Ajay Sharma, to return before resuming investigations in their presence. “As these players enter their houses, taxmen will accompany them and open their belongings in their presence,” the source said, adding that “we have to confront them with every seized document”.

He added that the process of completing the opening of lockers were likely to take some time as some of the players were outside the country. The presence of a person, who holds the locker, is necessary during the opening according to I-T law.    

New Delhi, July 25 
Pandemonium prevailed in Rajya Sabha today over Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly’s defence of cricketer Ajay Jadeja.

The Congress accused Jaitly of obstructing justice by refusing to permit income-tax officials from entering the premises of her house. The Opposition walked out in protest, saying the Samata chief had crossed her limits.

Congress MP Suresh Pachouri had raised the issue, saying Jaitly had gone out of her way to prevent tax personnel from raiding her South Delhi house in connection with the cricket scandal. Luckily for the BJP-led alliance and even for the Shiv Sena, BJP member Surjeet Singh Ahluwalia objected to the naming of a person who was not a member of the House.

Pachouri insisted that it was the chairman of the House and Vice-President Krishan Kant who had allowed to him to bring up the subject through a special mention and it could not be taken up unless Jaitly was referred to by name. He said the leader of a political party was involved in the matter and it could not be neglected.

But Ahluwalia, a new entrant in the BJP camp, insisted that it was not proper to mention a person who was not an MP. “It was a convention of the House not to state issues concerning people who did not enjoy membership facilities,” said Ahluwalia.

Kant, who according to Pachouri had given him the permission to speak out on the issue, later said that he would look into the rules and decide whether the subject could really be brought up.    

New Delhi, July 25 
The states reorganisation Bills were tabled in the Lok Sabha today amid protests and walkout by major political parties, including two NDA partners.

The Bills propose to carve Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh out of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Though the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Bills were introduced after objections from the Opposition were rejected, the Bihar Bill was tabled in the face of stiff resistance from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Left parties, Republican Party of India, Biju Janata Dal and the Samata Party. The last two are part of the Central government.

While Raghuvansh Singh of the RJD said the Bihar Assembly had unanimously adopted a resolution seeking Rs 1.79 lakh crore compensation if Jharkhand was formed, the BJD went a step ahead and asked for Rs 2.10 lakh crore.

BJD members Trilochan Kanungo and Prasanna Acharya asked home minister L.K. Advani to defer introduction of the Bihar Reorganisation Bill, 2000, in its present form, demanding that Orissa be compensated.

Acharya said the Bill should be deferred to incorporate the provision to return the Oriya-speaking erstwhile princely states of Seraikela and Kharsuan to Orissa. The two places are now in south Bihar.

As Advani rose to introduce the Jharkhand Bill, the protesting members walked out. The Opposition warned that this move would threaten the unity and integrity of the country.

Despite the BJD and Samata stand, Advani said there was unanimity in the ruling alliance on the new states issue. But Samata and Janata Dal(U) members claimed they had not been consulted.

On the creation of Jharkhand, Advani said while most of south Bihar’s vast mineral resources would remain with the new state, concern had been expressed about the prosperity of both Bihar and its offshoot. “We want both the states to prosper,” he said.

Reacting to the Opposition clamour that the compensation demanded by the Bihar Assembly be paid up, Advani said the Centre had set up a separate unit in the Planning Commission to provide development funds to states.

Seeking to allay apprehensions, he said the government had not adopted a “pick-and-choose” policy towards states but followed certain norms and adopted a “consistent attitude”.

Kashmir autonomy

Home minister L.K. Advani today made it clear that the Centre was against the division of Jammu and Kashmir on religious grounds.

“The country was once partitioned on religious lines and this will not be allowed again even in a state,” he said while speaking during Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha.

He said the Vajpayee government was in favour of giving more powers to the states “in principle” and was prepared for a debate on the Kashmir autonomy issue.    

Patna, July 25 
An Indian Airlines Airbus was forced to hover over Patna airport for half-an-hour today as fire brigade and security personnel worked at chasing away a dog blocking the runway.

The pilot of the 145-seater Airbus 320 (flight IC 809) noticed the canine hurdle seconds before touchdown. Immediately calling the air traffic control, he asked for permission to do a 360-degree orbiting. The puzzled ATC agreed when it discovered the cause.

“We regret to announce that we cannot land. There is a dog on the runway,” heard the passengers on board. Coming just eight days after the Alliance Air crash outside the same airport, the announcement caused panic.

The plane gained height again and circled the airport for about 30 minutes, waiting for airport security to clear the approach path.

On the ground, the dog — a rather large one — was the centre of high drama. The first to have a go at shooing away the animal were the fire brigade men. But a snag in their equipment made them throw in the towel. The Central Industrial Security Force was called in and they finally managed to make the dog budge.

The plane landed around 1 pm, in all about an hour behind its scheduled arrival time.

Ironically, among the passengers were 35 relatives and friends of Rohit Ranjan, the crash survivor who died later. They were returning to Patna after cremating Rohit in Delhi.

Some of his friends, distraught after the recent accident, broke down when the pilot announced there were complications in landing.

Ranjan Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal MP who was on the flight, later remarked: “We are surprised by the callousness of the air traffic control, which failed to inform the pilot about the position of the runway.”

Yadav, who was coming to Patna to observe the anniversary of the Kargil war, demanded immediate suspension of the air traffic controllers. “I am surprised that the civil aviation minister has failed to take action against any of the Patna airport officers, say, at least suspension pending a probe,” thundered Yadav. “How long will the passengers suffer because of the ministry’s maladministration?”

The MP said he had called up civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav to inform him of the “near disaster” and that the minister had asked him to fax the details of the dog business. The authorities here have already ordered an administrative inquiry.

Airports Authority of India’s Patna director G.K. Chowkiwal told The Telegraph that he himself was on the Airbus. He admitted that a dog sitting on the runway had held up the flight and termed it an “unfortunate incident”. Chowkiwal added that the dog was a pet, kept by a family that lives near the airport, and it often sneaked onto the runway.

The director said the AAI has had talks with Patna municipal authorities about residential colonies coming closer and closer to the airport and animals entering the premises as a consequence.

The talks do not seem to have made much progress. Airport officers said that two days ago, a huge bird made itself at home on the runway, delaying a flight takeoff.

Flights cancelled

Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Indian Airlines, has cancelled the Calcutta-Jorhat-Dimapur and Calcutta-Jaipur-Ahmedabad flights due to snags in the aircraft. The plane which returns from Dimapur is usually used for the Ahmedabad flight. The Indian Airlines spokespersons were unwilling to specify the defects, but according to IA sources, the auto pilot system of the aircraft was not functioning properly. Pilots are reluctant to fly without the auto pilot system during monsoons.    

New Delhi, July 25 
In a bid to soothe sacked law minister Ram Jethmalani, who is likely to make a statement in the Rajya Sabha on his removal, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today tried to clarify that he was asked to resign not because of any doubt about his “integrity” but to have the best of relations between the executive and the judiciary.

“The Prime Minister asked for Jethmalani’s resignation mainly because he has been keen to have the best of relations between the executive and the judiciary,” H.K. Dua, press adviser to Vajpayee, said in a statement.

The Prime Minister made it clear that “no reflection was sought to be cast” on the integrity of the former Union minister.

Jethmalani is preparing a statement on the events leading to his resignation which he plans to make in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow.

The government is worried that the statement might open a can of worms. Efforts are on to dissuade him or to soften his tone at least. It is feared that the sacked minister, known for his acid tongue, might drag friend-turned-foe attorney-general Soli Sorabjee into the controversy to embarrass Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister’s clean chit also comes on a day when Jethmalani’s stand that “time bar” was applicable in the Thackeray case was upheld by the Mumbai court.

Shiv Sena sources said they would now put pressure on Vajpayee to reinstate Jethmalani, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha with Sena votes. But a senior Cabinet minister close to Vajpayee said it was highly unlikely that Jethmalani would be brought back as he was a “misfit” in any government department.

On Vajpayee’s prodding, new minister for law and justice Arun Jaitley yesterday called on Jethmalani to assuage his hurt feelings, sources said.

A senior minister said Jethmalani could land himself in more trouble by making a statement as he could face Opposition grilling on the MS Shoes scandal. The minister said it was in Jethmalani’s interest to keep quiet.

A day before being asked to resign, Jethmalani had been bitter about the Supreme Court’s criticism of the Centre on the Thackeray issue.    

Chennai, July 25 
All the perfumes of Arabia could not keep film-goers in their seats in Tamil Nadu.

Nagalingam, the first scented movie to hit the Indian screen, has ended up with the audience turning up its nose.

Not that the much-awaited Tamil movie suffers from bad BO. The fragrance is there, very real, very pleasing.

When the hero and heroine cavort around the trees in a rose garden, the theatre is filled with the smell of roses. When a woman comes adorned with jasmine blossoms, the audience is overpowered by the scent of jasmine.

It is the work of an ingenious contraption. A small flat-bedded tape recorder-like device, stuffed with dry ice soaked in imported perfume, is placed in front of the screen and operated to match the image.

But even before the fragrances — of rose, of jasmine, and of what have you — could run out, the trapped audience ran away in sheer disgust.

Nagalingam, for all its pyrotechnics, fragrances, graphics and fairy-tale story line, has fallen on its nose at the box office — it is being shown only at noon-shows at four theatres; that too to empty houses.

The atrocious script does not add any flavour either. The story revolves around a feudal family hunting down snakes and the reptiles wreak terrible revenge, felling one member of the family after another. A reincarnation of one of the snakes, played by Babu Ganesh, the maker of the film, seeks to save survivor from the doomed family, but comes up against fellow reptiles.

Not a single scene makes sense and the graphics are positively juvenile. And when Ganesh tries to evoke witchcraft, he ends up evoking guffaws all round.

Matters were not improved at the premiere show by the conscientious inclusion of a large contingent deaf and dumb children. They clapped at some of the wafting perfumes, but soon became tired and very restive.

But hero-director Ganesh is upbeat and clearing the air of the stench of failure. He claims that the film is a hit, adding he had released 15 sprints all over the state.

“The fragrance, the aroma wafting through the theatres when the film is screened transport the audience into a new world, a whole new theatre experience,” screamed the young film-maker, bubbling with more ideas than his small frame could hold.

The perfume would also have practical uses, claimed Ganesh’s PR men: it would mean a significant step in the war against video-piracy — not even the most meticulously-copied video could replicate the perfumes.

For the sheer novelty of it, one could hand it to Ganesh. The hall operator sets off the perfuming device through remote-control, even though how the fragrances alternate was not clear.

Ganesh was very wary of “letting out the secret”. “No, I can’t afford to tell you all that. Others could copy it.”

Not that it matters, as no one seemed anxious to copy his technique. Distributors would not touch it with the tip of a barge-pole. “The fragrance technique alone cannot sell it. None of the actors, including the hero, is a known face. Besides it is long since snakes have attracted audiences. Those who have money to burn have done it,” says a veteran film industry observer.

Ganesh has burnt his fingers too: he had to distribute the film at his own cost.

This correspondent, however, does not know whether Ganesh succeeded in his on-screen mission: unable to put up with the aromatic mumbo-jumbo, he fled, escaping the watchful eyes of the film crew at the premiere.    

Freetown, July 25 
With two successful military operations against Sierra Leonian rebels under his belt, the Indian commander of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, Major General Vijay K. Jetley, flies to New York City today with the hope that the world body will give him an idea of the “way ahead”.

Jetley described the recent success of Operations Khukri and Thunderbolt by UN peacekeepers in this civil war-wracked West African state as “a watershed’’ and hopes the world community will give him the support he needs.

Until Operation Khukri, when a UN air-and-land force comprising largely Indian soldiers and helicopters broke a siege of over 200 Indian troops by guerrillas of the Revolutionary United Front last week, the blue berets had a poor reputation among the locals. Asked what the UN had been doing, a Sierra Leonian airport worker closed his eyes and folded his arms in a caricature of a sleeping man.

With Khukri, Unamsil is now being seen as having both the will and way to defeat the rebels. The subsequent Operation Thunderbolt, in which UN rocket-firing helicopters cleared a key road held by another rebel group, the West Side Boys, strengthened this view. “West Side Boys in Disarray,’’ screamed the headlines of Sierra News, a Freetown tabloid.

The Indian troops captured a number of weapons from rebels during Khukri, including surface-to-air missiles. As Jetley explained: “It was probably the first time that anyone had gotten something from the RUF in nine years.’’ The rebels have in the past captured piles of weapons from government forces, West African multilateral troops and most recently from a contingent of Zambian UN troops.

The Unamsil commander hopes the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and the Security Council will give him the resources to consolidate his recent successes. Jetley is pleased that Khukri has meant “more robust rules of engagement’’ now exist on the ground and he now has “considerable latitude’’ on the military front. Referring to the two clauses in the UN charter distinguishing between peacekeeping and peace enforcement, Jetley jokes he now operates under “clause 6.5”.

“But I lack enough troops for far forward action.’’

Specifically, he needs more infantry. Unamsil is now 16,500 strong. “Logically we should be about 21,000 men,’’ he says.

Arguing that the root cause of the Sierra Leone civil war is its rebel-held diamond fields, Jetley says the “RUF needs to be kept away from the diamonds’’. He stresses that “a military operation is the one last resort for peacekeepers”.

The next few days of debate in New York City will be crucial, he says. There are roughly two schools of thought at the UN. One is that the UN forces should maintain their present momentum. The other school argues, “Yes, but not just now’’.

Other observers in Sierra Leone say Washington is dragging its heels over more funding for Unamsil because it would like an embargo on Sierra Leone diamonds to have some effect and because US presidential polls are just round the corner.

Jetley has no doubt that UN action in Sierra Leone is necessary. “Sierra Leone is a test case for peacekeeping, not only in Africa, but also the world. Everyone knows it, including Kofi Annan.”

Sierra Leonians have no doubt about this. “The UN did nothing for so long. Now it is showing some spine,’’ said one Freetown resident. Jetley wants to ensure that the new-found optimism in a country gripped by what is almost universally seen as the most brutal, most desolate war in the world today is not allowed to evaporate.    

Ballan (Jalandhar), July 25 
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal today visited the civil hospital to oversee the treatment of 16 passengers injured in the bus blast near Samastpur-Ballan stand. Seven persons died in last evening’s blast, including a woman and a child. The bus was reportedly carrying nearly 50 passengers.

Badal condemned the incident and said those responsible would be arrested soon. A red alert has been sounded in the state and vehicles entering and leaving Punjab are being checked.

This is the third bomb blast in Punjab this year and twice in less than a month in the city. Two persons were killed last month when a bomb ripped apart a tea stall erected near a religious congregation in the outskirts of Jalandhar. Earlier this year, six passengers were killed in a Delhi-bound bus from Jammu near Ludhiana.

Witnesses at the blast site claimed to have heard two explosions in the bus. The police, however, said there was only one blast. The roof of the bus was ripped apart and the vehicle partially gutted.

Sajjan Singh, a witness working in a gurdwara nearby who was the first to reach the bus, said he heard two blasts and saw the bus swerving on the road. “There was a lot of smoke. Initially I was hesitant about going near the bus but the cries of the wounded forced me to enter it from an opening at the side. I could see limbs strewn all around and the stench of burning flesh was unbearable,” he said, adding: “The bus was burning when I boarded it”.

Officials said the second blast could have been caused by the explosion of the spare tyre of the bus.

The blast has sent shockwaves in the state. Local police officers blamed lack of security measures for the blast. “Private buses are being targeted because no security measures are adopted by the owners,” an intelligence branch official at the blast site said.    


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