House ruckus rerun as Cong holds ground
Sangh sides with Sonia
US intelligence sees spectre of nuclear war
Nerves taut on freedom struggle-eve
Bangalore waits for ‘good news’
Court comes to ragpicker rescue
Govt signal for fanatics flushout

 
 
HOUSE RUCKUS RERUN AS CONG HOLDS GROUND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8 
The stand-off between the government and the Congress continued for the second consecutive day today with the latter insisting on a judicial probe into the Amarnath carnage and the government rejecting it.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi convened an all-party meeting to discuss the impasse, but it failed to throw up any solution. The meeting was attended by almost all parties, barring the RJD and the Samajwadi Party. Balayogi is likely to call another meeting.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee suggested sending another all-party team to Amarnath, but there were not many takers for it. Government sources said the Prime Minister had already taken an all-party delegation and there was no need for another one.

Outside the meeting there were vague suggestions for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the massacres and security lapses, but the Congress did not favour it as such a panel was not equipped to deal with the issue.

The deadlock had its echo in both Houses, which continued to be rocked by protests today. The Congress, RJD, ADMK and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) insisted on a judicial probe.

With the government willing to concede only a discussion, the Lok Sabha, in turmoil since Zero Hour, was adjourned twice. It was adjourned for the day without transacting any business immediately after it reassembled at 2 pm.

However, the CPM, Samajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party disagreed with the demand for a judicial probe while pressing for a discussion. This division in the opposition ranks bolstered the government stand that there was no justification for a judicial probe when an administrative inquiry had been ordered.

The government said it had no objection to a full-fledged discussion on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the killings of the Amarnath pilgrims.

Responding to the demand by Mulayam Singh Yadav for a discussion in the Lok Sabha, home minister L.K. Advani said: “We have had two discussions on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. However, the government is prepared for a discussion on the issue raised by the member.”

Deputy leader of Congress Madhavrao Scindia said there were conflicting reports in newspapers and “all sorts of rumours were floating around” about the resignation of Advani.

Accusing the government of shying away from its duties, he asked: “This is a very serious issue. Why is the government afraid of a judicial inquiry?” He added: “As usual, defence minister George Fernandes has contradicted his Jammu statement about security lapses in Pahalgam which led to the killings.”

Congress members were supported by RJD members led by Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

Protesting against what they termed as the Congress’ “stalling tactics”, BJP members charged that deliberate attempts were being made to prevent the House from functioning normally and taking up important business.

The Rajya Sabha, thrown into turmoil soon after Question Hour, was adjourned in the evening amid a walkout by the Congress, the RJD and ADMK following the Centre’s rejection of a judicial probe.    


 
 
SANGH SIDES WITH SONIA 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8 
On board the Prime Minister’s special aircraft last week to Srinagar, which included political heavyweights Sonia Gandhi, Somnath Chatterji and Mulayam Singh Yadav, was a low-profile person named Madan Das Devi.

He was none other than the sahasarkaryavah — the joint general secretary — of the RSS, number three in the Sangh hierarchy. He is also the pointsman between the RSS and the BJP and more importantly, the Sangh and the Vajpayee government.

But on returning, Devi has launched a blistering attack on the Centre and the Farooq Abdullah government for the security lapse.

In the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, Devi says the Kashmir killings were as much the outcome of security lapse as Pakistan’s “intention” to vitiate the atmosphere on the eve of the talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen. “So weak and poor were the security arrangements that as the militants were firing away merrily, the survivors (of the Amarnath yatra) heard them declaring loudly that nobody could do anything to them. It hurts one deeply to know that Pakistan keeps sending its terrorists to India to create such massacres which take us completely by surprise,” writes Devi, advising the government to deal with such crises with an “iron hand”.

Citing security flaws en route the Amarnath yatra, Devi, who spoke at length with pilgrims, quoted one as saying that contrary to the rules, they were allowed to travel without a pass. “This means that a terrorist could have easily be sitting next to a genuine pilgrim in the bus to Amarnath,” Devi said.

The Sangh leader also quoted the security forces as saying that the militants may not have moved around fully armed: instead they could have stockpiled arms at various places. Devi said the forces told him that in Pahalgam, the terrorists reached the spot of attack unarmed and their supporters clandestinely smuggled in the arms.

The RSS leader quoted pilgrims as saying that instead of helping them out, the police and administration “went out of their way” to harass them. It was alleged that the police and administration demanded a bribe of at least Rs 20,000 before a camp kitchen could be set up and food served to the yatris.

Devi also quoted questions posed by Sonia Gandhi and Somnath Chatterji verbatim without comment, as if he was endorsing them. Sonia was quoted as asking how it took no less than 40 minutes for the forces to gun down just two militants. Devi also alluded to the charge that most of the pilgrims were killed in the cross-fire between the forces and the militants. Chatterji was quoted as asking the security personnel why it took them 45 minutes to penetrate a firing range of just 200 metres.

The Opposition took note of Devi’s unpublicised visit only today. The Congress asked how a member of a self-proclaimed “cultural” outfit like the RSS could be a member of an all-party delegation on a sensitive trip. But though BJP leaders were reluctant to explain Devi’s presence — a senior Cabinet minister brushed aside press queries saying “to the best of my knowledge Devi was not there” — party insiders spoke of yet another potential controversy.

According to them, the Prime Minister had initially thought of taking only Devi to Pahalgam, ostensibly to placate the RSS cadre, many of whom were on the Amarnath pilgrimage. Vajpayee had hand-picked Devi for the pointsman’s role for his “good” relations with him.

It was thought that since Devi was not a high-profile leader unlike K.S. Sudarshan and H.V. Seshadri, he was unlikely to catch the attention of either the media or the political establishment.

Later, the Prime Minister’s advisors reportedly counselled “caution” and requested him to take members of the NDA as well as the Opposition and convert the visit into an all-party one.    


 
 
US INTELLIGENCE SEES SPECTRE OF NUCLEAR WAR 
 
 
FROM JUDITH MILLER AND JAMES RISEN
 
Washington, Aug. 8 
Behind President Bill Clinton’s blunt warning last spring that South Asia was the world’s most perilous region lay an assessment from American intelligence agencies that the likelihood of a war between India and Pakistan that could erupt into a nuclear conflict had increased significantly, according to officials with access to the secret intelligence.

The officials said the CIA and the nation’s other intelligence organisations had reached their consensus after examining the nuclear capacities of both countries and the growing tensions between them, in particular over Kashmir.

The assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, began late last summer after Pakistan-backed militants crossed over the high mountain peaks of Kashmir into the Indian-controlled area of Kargil, setting off weeks of heavy fighting that included airstrikes.

At that time, the administration grew fearful that the conflict could escalate into a nuclear exchange, officials said, citing both states’ relatively poor intelligence about each other’s intentions and movements and their lack of direct communications.

“The Kargil episode really got everyone’s attention,” said George Perkovich, deputy director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the author of India’s Nuclear Bomb, published last year by the University of California.

Several analysts who took part in drafting the assessment said the report had succeeded in underscoring the importance of working to ease political tensions between two rivals that have fought three wars in the 50 years since their independence. In the past, the administration had focused mainly on trying to stop the development and spread of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent.

Last week, for instance, Clinton talked by telephone with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is due on a state visit next month, said Sandy Berger, the national security adviser. Berger added that he himself talks with Pakistan’s military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, as part of the dialogue with Islamabad.

Clinton received the intelligence assessment shortly before his first visit to South Asia in March. And he clearly reflected the report’s conclusions when he twice called the Indian subcontinent “the most dangerous place in the world”. India’s President K.R. Narayanan scolded Clinton and called the description “alarmist”.

After the Kargil episode, the assessment, which remains secret, concluded that there was a sharply increased chance of a non-nuclear military conflict between India and Pakistan, possibly erupting into a nuclear exchange.

The chances of such a non-nuclear conflict, one White House official said, were put in the “50-50 range”.

“The likelihood of a nuclear conflict goes up and down,” said another official. “It’s less important to assign a probability to it than to warn senior officials that there is a serious threat here that demands immediate and focused attention and action.”

The assessment contained no specific guidance on what the administration could do to reduce tensions, according to those familiar with the document.

But Clinton and other top officials have urged senior Indian and Pakistani officials in public and private meetings to open a direct political dialogue and give up their nuclear programs, warning them of the growing peril of an accidental or deliberate nuclear exchange.

While administration officials agreed that Clinton’s visit helped ease some tensions, neither country has signalled that it intends to halt development of the arsenals the two countries revealed to the world by exploding nuclear devices in quick succession in 1998.

India continues to see its nuclear arsenal as necessary for its status as an emerging power and to deter not only Pakistan but also neighbouring China, a Pakistani ally. Pakistan, less populous and poorer than India, sees its nuclear force as essential to counterbalance its rival’s larger conventional forces.

Additionally, analysts have warned that if American plans for a missile defence prompt China to build up its nuclear arsenal, still more momentum will be added to the arms race across the region.

New York Times news service

While the President’s visit has not prompted New Delhi or Islamabad to scale back their nuclear programs, many experts say the trip and subsequent administration diplomacy have helped to nurture other positive political developments.

India has released some political prisoners related to Pakistani-backed militant groups in Kashmir, and last month one of the most important of those groups, the Hizbul Mujahideen, declared a unilateral three-month cease-fire. The group opened talks with India on Friday. But diplomats and other experts still see the chances of a lasting breakthrough as low, and violence has continued in Kashmir.

Given the Kashmir dispute, diplomats and arms control experts see nuclear weapons on the subcontinent as particularly dangerous. India and Pakistan, unlike other nuclear powers — for example, the US and Russia — share a common border, have had no sustained dialogue and lack even a framework to hold serious negotiations.

After Pakistan moved into Kargil, Pakistan’s rhetoric grew increasingly harsh and India prepared to mobilise a significant force that could have led to a dramatic escalation, experts say.

“Kargil proved that having nuclear weapons would not deter new conflicts,” Perkovich said. “It also showed that unless such conflicts themselves were prevented, the possibility of an accidental or deliberate nuclear exchange would also increase given both states’ relatively poor systems of intelligence surveillance and nuclear command and control.”

While neither private experts nor the American government has firm estimates of the size of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals, Perkovich estimates that India has produced enough plutonium for 60 weapons.

But he said he believed that India had far fewer actual bombs, “in the neighbourhood of 35 weapons”. In the event of a nuclear war, these would be delivered by aircraft. Pakistan has enough highly enriched uranium for roughly the same number of bombs, he added, and it could deliver them by a combination of bombers and missiles.

Stephen P. Cohen, a South Asian policy scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, called the risk of nuclear conflict “serious” and “increasing”. But the President’s trip, he said, had succeeded in engaging Washington in the region, a development that was particularly important to India, which has long desired to be seen as an Asian power. “The President should have gone much earlier,” he said.

Robert Oakley, a former ambassador to Pakistan, said that Washington may have inadvertently helped fuel Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and reduced American leverage over Islamabad by failing to resume economic and military assistance to Pakistan that Congress cut off in 1990 because of the Pakistani nuclear program.

Experts and diplomats said Clinton had been determined to visit India after Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, toured the country in 1995, and when he finally went, in March, the trip was billed as a “war prevention trip”, according to one participant in the intelligence assessment, which was begun with the two-month Kargil conflict that ended the previous July.

“Since the intelligence report concluded that the region demanded high-level attention to defuse tensions and prevent the outbreak of conflicts that could escalate, the politics of the trip dovetailed perfectly with the intelligence assessment,” he said.

During his visit, in an address to the Indian Parliament, Clinton appealed to the “great nation of India” to give up its nuclear arsenal, and he urged India to take the lead in starting a dialogue with Pakistan.

Progress toward such a dialogue seemed to be building with a meeting of the two countries’ Prime Ministers on their border in early 1999. But after the Kargil incursion, which came just months later, India’s leadership felt betrayed.

Since Kargil, Pakistan’s civilian government was overthrown in a military coup last October. Clinton met briefly with the leader, General Musharraf, after his much longer visit to India, but made no headway on a range of American concerns, including when Pakistan would return to democratic government.

Pakistan continues to maintain that it will not scale back its nuclear program unless India does so first.

While India has said that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict in the region, it has made clear that it will respond if attacked. Indian officials brushed aside efforts by deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott to persuade them to join international talks aimed at ending the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. And Vajpayee has steadfastly refused to renounce the country’s nuclear arsenal, though he has pledged not to conduct further nuclear tests.    


 
 
NERVES TAUT ON FREEDOM STRUGGLE-EVE 
 
 
FROM SUVRO ROY AND KUMARESH GHOSH
 
Chamkaitala (Midnapore), Aug. 8 
Even the blinding rain could not wash away the enthusiasm of the Trinamul supporters who had gathered by the thousands at Kamarpukur.

Mamata Banerjee’s convoy had not arrived yet at the Ramakrishna Mission guest house, and no one was really sure when she would. Still, not one person was willing to leave the open field.

The “independence struggle” Mamata has described her rally here tomorrow was about to peak and Chamkaitala would surely be won. Every waiting Trinamul supporter wanted to be a part of it.

“The Marxists have thrown a challenge and Didi has accepted it,” said Atin Ghosh. “They have created all kinds of problems for us but we will overcome all of them especially with Didi showing us the way.”

Fifteen minutes into the downpour and slogans still abounding, Mamata arrived in a convoy of seven cars at 8 pm, her black Sumo leading the way.

“The battle will have to be won, we will liberate the people from the clutches of the Marxists,” Mamata told the gathering, encouraging her supporters not to be deterred by the “terror tactics of the red brigade”. “Tomorrow we will conquer Chamkaitala; the day after the rest of Bengal,” she said.

But the path to “victory” is strewn with hurdles. There are vicious rumours floating around that CPM “hit squads” are roaming the terrain, waiting to strike at anyone who “dares” to attend the rally.

So widespread have been the rumours that police are not taking any chances. They have fanned out in different parts of the adjoining forests trying to locate the “miscreants”.

At the venue of Mamata’s meeting at Chamkaitala, where a rostrum has already come up, Trinamul’s flags are fighting for space with the red flags that the Marxists have quietly put up.

“This is the true picture of confrontation here,” said Barin Dutta, a local resident. “The Marxists are not willing to give way to Trinamul which is trying hard to push its way in. A conflagration is definitely on the cards.”

There are more police trucks here than party vehicles and securitymen have thrown a cordon around the meeting ground. Police forces from neighbouring districts have been requisitioned and there has been round-the-clock vigil since yesterday.

“I will be present at the venue tomorrow to supervise the arrangements and ensure that nothing goes wrong,” said inspector-general of police (western range), S.R. Bhagat. “A number of preventive arrests have already been made and a huge amount of arms and ammunition seized. After this I am certain everything will go well.”    


 
 
BANGALORE WAITS FOR ‘GOOD NEWS’ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Aug. 8 
There was cautious optimism in official circles today about the possible release of Kannada thespian Raj Kumar by tomorrow.

Nakkeeran associate editor A. Kamraj’s statement in Chennai that there was the possibility of some “good news” tomorrow in the hostage drama came as a huge relief here.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna, who is in constant touch with the Tamil Nadu government, said he had been informed that government emissary R. Gopal has had “cordial discussions” with captor Veerappan and a “final result” was expected late tonight.

He said he would not like to speculate whether Veerappan would place more demands, adding: “I’m optimistic about Raj Kumar and three others being released sooner than later.”

The nervous anxiety that Krishna is going through was palpable today. Asked whether he had any contingency plan if the deadlock continued, he said “that matter will have to be considered,” only to deny later through a spokesman that there was any such plan.

The situation is so delicate that Krishna did not want talk of an alternative plan to be misinterpreted, jeopardising the prospect of the hostages’ release.

On amnesty for Veerappan, he said it was not a demand before the Karnataka government. Asked about the agonising wait for the bandit’s response to government communication, he added: “It has been the longest 48 hours for me.”

   


 
 
COURT COMES TO RAGPICKER RESCUE 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 8 
Holding that education is a fundamental right for street children too, Delhi High Court has come to the rescue of a ragpicker’s daughter, directing a Delhi municipal corporation school to admit her.

Sholey, resident of the Jahangirpuri slum cluster, had secured 81.7 per cent marks in her class VI examinations, despite being disabled. But she was refused admission by the local municipal corporation school on the ground that at 14 years, she was overage for seventh standard.

Acting on a public interest litigation by an NGO, Social Jurists, a division bench of Justice Arun Kumar and Justice A.K. Sikri ordered the municipal counsel to “see to it that the girl is admitted” to the school.

Social Jurists counsel Ashok Aggarwal told the court that Sholey was a student of a Ghaziabad school which provided even hostel facilities to meritorious children from the weaker sections aged up to 14 years.

The NGO had challenged framing of stringent rules by the Delhi government on admission of children to schools, especially regarding declaration of their date of birth. The social action group contended that the rules were coming in the way of admission of thousands of street children who were unable to produce birth certificates or procure affidavits from the competent authority declaring the date of birth.

The court had ordered director of education Delhi government, S.C. Poddar, to be present in person during the hearing.

The court observed: “Street children also have the right to education and the government should ensure that the maximum number of them were admitted to schools.”

Social Jurists contended education was a fundamental right of every child but the city government, by framing stringent guidelines on admission, was depriving them of this. Further, the unfortunate children were discouraged to go to schools because of the complicated rules.

The organisation said rules 135 and 141 of Delhi School Education Act, 1973, prescribed completion of various formalities by the parents or guardians at the time of admission of their children and these rules were ultra virus of the Constitution.

Rule 135 provided that no child should be admitted to a government-aided school unless an application in prescribed form with signature of parents or guardians supported with a statement about the date of birth is submitted.

The rule also required submission of a child’s birth certificate issued by a local authority or an affidavit of the date of birth.

The argument is that illiterate or semi-literate people, dwelling in slums and pavements, could not fulfil any of the formalities and it is difficult for them to get any certificate or affidavit from any authority relating to the date of birth and other details of the child.    


 
 
GOVT SIGNAL FOR FANATICS FLUSHOUT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 8 
The government today flashed the green signal at the North Bengal police to flush out Kamtapuri and other extremist groups at the earliest.

The CPM had called a 24-hour strike in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts today to protest against the killings of two school headmasters by Kamtapuri activists yesterday. The bandh was total in the districts.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who also holds the police portfolio, said at Writers’ Buildings that the government would no longer tolerate the Kamtapuris’ actions. “We shall definitely eliminate such elements in North Bengal soon,” he promised.

Three Kamtapuri activists were arrested today following yesterday’s murders. The bandh was peaceful in Cooch Behar district but in Moinaguri and Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district, police stations were attacked and ransacked by a mob. Schools, colleges, shops and offices were closed in the two districts. Siliguri town was crippled.

SFI supporters blocked Hill Cart Road in Siliguri demanding action against Kamtapuri separatists. The blockade was continued for about two hours.

On Monday, Netai Das, headmaster of Golendranath High School at Malbazar, was gunned down by three assailants inside the school premises. Almost at the same time, the headmaster of Bhawanpara primary school, Subhas Sarkar, was shot dead in Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district.    

 

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