Atal chooses insaaniyat over Constitution
BJP in a bind on Kashmir
Boy beaten to death for plucking leaves
Cong guns for govt on killings
Renuka dares MP to knockout bout
Women plea to Speaker on Bill
Talks signal in condemnation chorus

 
 
ATAL CHOOSES INSAANIYAT OVER CONSTITUTION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 4 
Insaaniyat ke peeche kya hai?” the Congress is wondering as it tries to figure out the implications of the Prime Minister’s statement on Kashmir talks at a press conference in Srinagar.

“Leave the Constitution. Baatcheet insaaniyat ke dayere mein honi chahiye (The talks should be within the limits of humanism) so that violence is stopped and no more blood is shed,” Atal Behari Vajpayee said yesterday in a televised speech, replying to whether the Centre’s talks with Hizbul would be held within the Constitution framework.

The Congress dubbed the statement “sad and shocking”. In a press briefing, party spokesperson Margaret Alva alleged: “That the Prime Minister had to make such a statement is sad and shocking. The Prime Minister, who has taken oath on the Indian Constitution, had to say such a thing! What does he mean? That there is no insaniyat in the Constitution?”

Even the BJP’s own MPs seemed uncomfortable with Vajpayee’s distinction between the Constitution and “insaaniyat”.

Seeking clarification in the Rajya Sabha today, party member Suryabhan Wahadane Patil said: “The Constitution is a codified document, whereas insaaniyat or manavaad has a broad, global connotation. It is something uncodified.”

Patil demanded that Vajpayee should “properly enunciate” his position on the talks with Hizbul and what he meant by the word “insaaniyat”. Feisty Shiv Sena member Sanjay Nirupam echoed him.

When BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu was asked to comment on the Prime Minister’s statement, he first tried to deny it and then made light of it.

“My understanding is that the Prime Minister said the talks would be held within the framework of the Constitution,” he told the press.

When it was pointed out that Vajpayee’s statement was televised, a red-faced Naidu laughed nervously and replied: “Well the Indian Constitution is also known for its insaaniyat.”

The government spokesperson virtually repeated Naidu, saying that the Constitution had always been acclaimed for incorporating humanist ideals.

It is expected that the Prime Minister will say the same thing when he responds in the Rajya Sabha on Monday afternoon.

Support for Vajpayee, however, came from former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who had also taken peace initiatives during his time. Although not a member of Parliament, Gujral was all praise for Vajpayee’s statement.    


 
 
BJP IN A BIND ON KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 4 
The Centre’s stand on Kashmir and its willingness to hold talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen have put the BJP in a fix.

The party’s dilemma exists on three counts. Most of those killed in the recent night-long massacres were Hindus and, worse still, they were Amarnath yatris.

The second problem, said party sources, was that the security breaches were also a reflection of the home ministry’s “failure”. And the man in charge happens to be none other than L.K. Advani, propped up by the Sangh parivar as “Sardar Patel incarnate”.

BJP sources conceded that even Advani loyalists were finding it difficult to defend his “somewhat unspectacular” innings as home minister.

The third headache stems from the hardline stand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal over the killings and its own “compulsions” to support the government.

“There is no point tamely backing the government on whatever it says and does. We have to address a political constituency and our cadre as well,” a BJP office-bearer said, demanding that the leadership convene a meeting to discuss the Kashmir issue “threadbare” before articulating the official policy.

BJP sources said that Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 was one of the party’s key electoral demands. They recalled that whenever earlier governments, especially the one headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, were perceived to be “indulging” the militants, the party had bayed for blood.

“Our committed workers keep reminding us of how we would take to the streets whenever there was even one killing in the Valley. With 100 persons killed within the space of a few hours, and that too under our government, do you expect our supporters to silently applaud the BJP?” they asked.

According to sources, BJP MPs have been told to ferret out as many instances as they can of the “failure” of Congress governments to tackle Kashmiri militancy so that compared to the “major” incidents of the past, the recent lapses would seem “minor”.

Party insiders said the immediate task before Advani loyalists was to try and salvage his image.

Two years ago, when militants made major strikes in Jammu and Poonch, the VHP had set a six-month deadline for him to straighten things out.    


 
 
BOY BEATEN TO DEATH FOR PLUCKING LEAVES 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Fatehgunj (Bareli), Aug. 4 
The frayed plastic chappals Rajkumar Kori wore yesterday are neatly preserved in an unkempt garden that grows some wild plants and and a few flowers. Next to them is a small polythene bag that contains a few leaves. But the 12-year-old boy is no more.

Rajkumar was allegedly thrashed to death by Fatehgunj’s municipal chairman Shabbir Ahmed who was furious with the Dalit boy for trying to take home some leaves for the morning puja. The incident was witnessed by Sarvesh, Rajkumar’s 10-year-old friend who too had gone to pick leaves.

Ahmed, who became civic chief two months ago, cannot be traced.

Police, however, say the boy’s death was accidental. They pointed out that even Rajkumar’s father Ram Pal has said as much in his first information report (FIR). They also said that Sarvesh, in his statement, had said Rajkumar fell while trying to escape.

Residents alleged that the police had “fudged” the FIR and helped Ahmed “abscond”.

Ram Pal, who works as a landless labourer to feed his family of seven, said: “Rajkumar was the only one in the family who wanted to study and was going to school. Though I have lost my son, I don’t even have the hope that justice will be done. The police are doing everything to help Shabbir who is a very powerful man. Poor Dalits like us have nowhere to go.”

The police scoffed at the charge. “These people are creating quite a scene but it was a case of accidental death. We couldn’t have possibly made it murder. Moreover, as the people claim, we haven’t helped Shabbir escape. We are looking for him,” officer-in-charge R. Awasthi said.

But some villagers claimed they saw Shabbir the same afternoon. Krishen Lal, a village elder, said: “Everyone knows who killed the little boy. The police don’t what to do anything. Shabbir was here till late evening.”

Dalit villagers from Fatehgunj’s New Colony are now planning to go to chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta and present their case at his weekly Monday morning janta durbar. Hopeful, yet fearful of the consequences, Phoolchand, Rajkumar’s uncle, asks: “Will we be persecuted if we meet the chief minister? Does he know these things routinely happen to us?”

More than anything else, Phoolchand wants to tell the chief minister how “bad” the police is. Others joined him in their chorus of allegations against the police.

Says Kamlesh, 15, Rajkumar’s elder sister: “Rajkumar died and we didn’t even get to see his body. When I went to the police station along with my sister Komal to tell them to hand us my brother’s body, four policemen beat us up and even snatched our jewellery.”

She Kamlesh claims the policemen even beat up Komal who is physically handicapped.

Bareli’s senior police superintendent B.K. Singh sprang to the defence of his personnel. “There was no highhandedness in the police action. The police did not hand over the boy’s body to the family because a huge crowd had gathered and there could have been a law and order problem. We are doing our best to apprehend the accused.”

But the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes is not convinced. Its chairman S.D. Bagla today asked the Bareli district magistrate to depose before the Commission on August 11 and has asked the administration to “ban the use of any executive and other powers” by Ahmed.

Bagla has also asked Rajkumar’s family to file a case under the SC/ST atrocities Act.    


 
 
CONG GUNS FOR GOVT ON KILLINGS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 4 
The Congress today upped its ante, demanding a judicial inquiry into the series of massacres in Kashmir, but refrained from directly targeting the Prime Minister.

Party leaders avoided raising “other questions in larger national interest” which, they said, could harm the delicately-poised talks between the Centre and Hizbul Mujahideen.

A brief statement made by A.B. Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha did not say much on the killings, except for putting the blame of “black Tuesday” on Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The Congress walked out when Vajpayee said India would not give up efforts to restore peace and urged other militant groups to come forward and discuss their grievances.

Vajpayee said the dialogue with Hizbul was part of the efforts to restore normality. “Other groups which have chosen the path of violence should also realise that the people of Jammu and Kashmir want peace. It is futile for them to continue on the path of violence. They should come forward for talks with the government for redressal of their grievances,” he added.

For the first time, the Lok Sabha saw Sonia Gandhi leading the charge. The otherwise hesitant leader of the Opposition accused the Vajpayee regime of serious security lapses leading to the murder of pilgrims.

As soon as the House assembled, Sonia spoke up. “The lapses on the part of the government are inexcusable and many questions need to be answered,” she said.

While Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad demanded Advani’s resignation in the Rajya Sabha, Sonia avoided endorsing it. But taking a swipe at the Centre, she said: “The government has taken leave of its conscience.”

Also trying to put “moral pressure” on the home minister, AICC spokesperson Margaret Alva said: “I do not have to teach political morality to Advani.”

Sonia later expressed her disappointment with the all-party delegation’s visit to Pahalgam. “We had tea, we had kahwa, we had sandwiches, and that was it. If that is briefing, it could have easily taken place in Delhi,” she said.

Sonia had visited the camp of Amarnath yatris along with Mamata Banerjee where the pilgrims complained about security.

“Someone must be accountable and someone must be responsible,” Sonia said, defending the demand for an inquiry.    


 
 
RENUKA DARES MP TO KNOCKOUT BOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Renuka Chowdhury, the stormy petrel from the south, stunned the Lok Sabha at zero hour today by challenging BJP member Raza Singh Rawat to a bout.

After sitting speechless for a moment, members and mediapersons burst out laughing at the exchange between Renuka and Rawat, who is not exactly a heavyweight.

Renuka, who was in a fighting mood, had taken a front row seat to catch the Speaker’s attention and press the demand that Sonia Gandhi be allowed to seek clarification on the Prime Minister’s speech in Kashmir.

The spat occurred when the Chair allowed Rawat to make a submission while Congress members were agitating.

When Renuka tried to shout down Rawat, the furious BJP leader asked her: “What is your problem?” To this, she snapped like a professional wrestler: “Come out (of the House), I will tell you.”

Rawat was so taken aback, he was lost for words even as the rest of the House burst out laughing.

Some members, after regaining composure, feebly protested that Renuka’s language was unparliamentary.

Though it caused general amusement, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi seemed annoyed by Renuka’s challenge. “What will you say outside?” he asked her. A bit embarrassed by now, she muttered something which could not be heard in the bedlam.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi were present when the exchange occurred.

A little later when calm was restored, Rajiv Pratap Rudi of the BJP got up to make a submission. Taking a dig at Renuka, he started by saying: “Sir, I am reading this out in a terrified state...”    


 
 
WOMEN PLEA TO SPEAKER ON BILL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 4 
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi yesterday assured a delegation of women activists that he would ask the government to pass all pending Bills, even as the Centre continues to drag its feet on the thorny issue of 33-per-cent women’s reservation.

“Representatives of seven women’s organisations met the Lok Sabha Speaker yesterday to ask him about the status of the women’s reservation Bill,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee, who was part of the delegation.

Though the Bill has been introduced in the Lok Sabha, it has become increasingly clear that the government, regardless of its public stand, doesn’t want to push through a Bill that would never see the light of consensus.

So that the Bill doesn’t get swept under the carpet, women activists are planning a dharna next week to resurrect the issue. “But it’s tough going,” admitted one activist.

So far, leaders opposed to the idea have found ways of dodging support. To resolve the deadlock, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill had called leaders of various political parties and proposed that they fix a quota for women representatives.

But critics of the Bill like Mulayam Singh Yadav stonewalled the suggestion, saying it was unfeasible. The Samajwadi Party chief even said that the chief election commissioner shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of political parties.

With such strident opposition, pro-reservation activists now have few doors left to knock on. Meeting the Speaker was one of the few remaining options. “We, however, know the constraints of the Telugu Desam Party to which the Speaker belongs. None of the allies, if they want to retain their posts in government, can push it too hard,” said an activist.

Among other important Bills put on the backburner is the primary education fundamental right Bill, though the government had made a commitment on the floor of the House to introduce it.

Sources in the human resources development ministry say that from the beginning the higher-ups were not too keen on the Bill because of the huge financial implications.

However, according to the sources, vested interests run deeper in the case of women’s reservation. “Once the reservation Bill is passed, male MPs will have to make way for women,” said Chatterjee.    


 
 
TALKS SIGNAL IN CONDEMNATION CHORUS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 4 
As condemnation from the international community pours in on the Kashmir assassins and “their backers”, some world leaders have raised doubt whether a solution can be found without resumption of Indo-Pak talks.

The European Union, China and Japan today joined the worldwide criticism of the recent massacres, but Beijing, which is close to Islamabad, said the South Asian neighbours should resume their dialogue as soon as possible.

Yesterday, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan had said the same thing while speaking out against the killings.

Indian officials, however, drew satisfaction from the fact that key world players not only appreciated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s resolve to go ahead with the talks with militants, but have also started pointing their fingers at Pakistan for the attacks.

“The terrorist attacks aimed at the civilian population can only elicit horror and indignation,” the EU said in a statement to- day, adding that it “condemns most resolutely the perpetrators of these attacks and their backers”.

Japan, the main aid donor of India and Pakistan, also expressed its concern, “particularly at a time when the very positive move for putting an end to violence in Kashmir had just commenced”. Tokyo hoped that “efforts for bringing about peace in the region would continue”.

But while Japan was indirect in its signal for resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue, China was unambiguous.

Expressing “shock” at the mass murders, Beijing said it was against all forms of terrorism but added that “India and Pakistan should resume dialogue and negotiations as soon as poss- ible”.

Aware that a section of the international community was keen to see the neighbours back at the negotiating table, Delhi tried to buttress its stand on not talking to Islamabad.

The Prime Minister told parliament this afternoon: “The briefing which we were given by the chief of the unified command and security forces made it clear that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes were foreigners. Arms and ammunition recovered from them clearly establish their links with Pakistan-based Lashkar- e-Toiba.”

Later, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said there was “very clear evidence” of Pakistan’s involvement in the killings.

The spokesman argued that every time a peace initiative was taken by India, Pakistan and its terrorist groups responded by trying to scuttle it.

Jassal reiterated that there was no question of talks till Islamabad created the “right atmosphere” by stopping terrorism and hostile propaganda.    

 

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