Giving up golf, US plays ball with India
Deafening ‘no’ & trail of crash queries
Torture charge on Aligarh students
Buddha invite puts Mamata in a fix
Basu primes party for dark days
BJP follows ‘swayamsevak’ Atal
umper cash haul

 
 
GIVING UP GOLF, US PLAYS BALL WITH INDIA 
 
 
FROM K.P.NAYAR
 
New York, Sept. 12: 
As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gets set for a whirlwind four-day visit to the US capital, India is in the diplomatic big league in Washington, at least for the time being.

Officials of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) persuaded the Clinton administration during the weekend to do what few foreign governments could achieve. They managed to get Washington bureaucrats to give up their weekend and golf to work on Indo-US relations.

The under-secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Pickering, travelled to New York from Washington on Sunday for day-long parleys with Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. At the same time, Indian government secretaries for telecommunications, textiles and power engaged their American counterparts on the economic agenda for Vajpayee’s visit.

Karl Inderfurth, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, was constantly on the phone from his Virginia residence to Alok Prasad, the joint secretary in MEA dealing with the Americas, to finalise documents to be released at the end of Vajpayee’s talks with Clinton.

Diplomats in Washington recalled that not since the hectic days of Soviet-US arms limitation talks had the American bureaucracy sacrificed their privileged holidays to work on a visit from abroad. The only exception, of course, was the West Asia peace talks in July when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were forced into a room by President Bill Clinton for days under his mediation to work out a deal. The effort was unsuccessful.

Already, the Americans have made the rarest of rare exceptions in asking Vajpayee to go over to Washington from New York. As a rule, they discourage dignitaries visiting the UN from extending their trip to include official engagements in Washington.

In finalising the finer details of Vajpayee’s Washington itinerary, Indian officials are putting to full use America’s proficiency in technology.

Yesterday, they were on teleconferences from the Waldorf Astoria hotel involving officials in Washington and Indian community leaders elsewhere in the US.

The economic agenda for Vajpayee’s Washington trip is now in its final stages. N.K. Singh, secretary in the PMO, told reporters last evening that progress was expected in resolving India’s textile disputes with US. “We are concentrating on the textiles segment,” he said.

American officials are heaving a sigh of relief that Yasser Arafat has put off his unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. The declaration was to take effect on September 13, the day Vajpayee reaches Washington.

Had Arafat gone ahead with his plans, Vajpayee’s US itinerary would have been substantially jeopardised what with the Clinton administration getting embroiled in the fallout of a now- aborted West Asian crisis.    


 
 
DEAFENING ‘NO’ & TRAIL OF CRASH QUERIES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 12 
“Noooooo...........”. This was the final word of Capt. Sohanpal as his ill-fated Flight CD 7412 crashed into Patna’s Gardani Bagh area. Six minutes before, one of the pilots was heard whistling and another voice asked whether he wanted to read a newspaper.

The contents of the cockpit flight voice recorder of the flight were released here by a court of enquiry nearly two months after the crash, but it is yet to establish what went wrong.

But the pointers are many. The pilot’s voice on the recorder says “Gear oopar lelo (bring the gear up)”. Soon after and minutes before the crash, a noise erupts on the tape. Experts have identified it as ‘stall warning’ — an alarm that indicates the plane is losing speed faster than altitude.

A landing-gear unsafe warning sound is heard next. Then the last words, followed by a loud click and deafening silence.

What could have gone wrong? Did the plane experience an unexplained mechanical failure? Reports have been circulating in the US that old aircraft could develop snags suddenly.

Or did the pilot of the crashed plane come in at too high an altitude, tried to rectify it and banked the wrong way — as the civil aviation ministry has been trying to establish all along?

The court’s records quote the Patna air traffic controller as saying that he gave the pilot permission to carry out a 360-degree turn after he complained he had come in too high.

“He started looking out for the aircraft and could see it before the Patna secretariat tower, which is approximately 2 km from runway 25.... The aircraft was on a normal flight path and aligned with the runway centre line. It was, however, high on the approach.”

Soon after, the ATC noticed the aircraft turning left after crossing the secretariat tower “and losing height all of a sudden. The aircraft went out of his sight behind trees.”

Sohanpal and his co-pilot Capt. A.S Bagga were both experienced and in the pink of health. They had cleared all tests, including a breathalyser, before taking off.

The aircraft was also equipped with a Mode 5 ground proximity warning system, which provides the crew with audio and visual warnings of potentially dangerous flight pattern in relation to the terrain being flown over. Even if the pilots have made some error, the system should have warned them.

Patna airport is surrounded by thickly populated residential areas, trees and electrical poles, forcing pilots to make visual landings. “Due to these obstructions and non-availability of standard basic strips, the usable length of runway is restricted,” the court acknowledged.

The weather, which some had tried to blame by citing freak winds, has been cleared by the court of inquiry. The report just before the crash was — “Wind: calm; visibility: 4,000 metres; no significant weather.”

The only thing the probe seems to have established till now is that the aircraft — “Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 bearing the registration VT-EGD — was completely destroyed due to post-impact fire”.    


 
 
TORTURE CHARGE ON ALIGARH STUDENTS 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Sept. 12: 
A Central intelligence operative was recently tortured by some students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and a word which does not concern his faith was “engraved” on his back with a drilling machine, an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report has revealed.

On September 7, Aligarh-based Rajen Sharma, an inspector-level operative of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, ventured into the varsity campus to inquire into the suspected involvement of some students behind last month’s bomb blast on the Sabarmati Express. Eight people had died in the explo- sion.

Sharma’s queries led a section of students to believe that he was more interested in tracing the antecedents of a colleague, Mobeen Ahmed.

The enraged students then grabbed Sharma and took him inside a room in Habib Hall where, according to the IB report from the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau headquarters in Lucknow, he was beaten up and tortured before a drilling machine was used to engrave the word on his back.

Sharma, who had to have multiple stitches, is still undergoing medical treatment at the Agra Civil Hospital.

The IB report says that AMU registrar S.M. Afzal, an Indian Police Service officer, “connived” with the students and took no action against the “perpetrators” although he was present in the room where Sharma was tortured and the word engraved on his person.

“...Afzal, despite being the registrar, not only made no effort to protect Sharma but remained a spectator to the assault and torture by remaining outside the room where the officer was stripped naked and students allowed to perpetrate the crime without any hindrance,” says the report, which has been sent to Union home minister L.K. Advani.

The report further adds: “In fact, Afzal was noticed instigating the students by advising them to get a statement of their liking and interest signed by Sharma under duress. It was he who had asked the students to insist on a press conference to expose the whole ‘game plan’.”

A North Block official said the incident was serious and the report is being studied carefully. More details on Afzal’s conduct are being gathered by the home ministry, which is the cadre-controlling authority of IPS officers.

The IB is convinced Afzal played a key role in inciting passions on the campus after Sharma was cornered and beaten up by the students. Home ministry officials insist Sharma was “doing his duty” and that the SIB or police would not enter the campus unless they had accurate information.

The ministry is now planning to initiate strict action against the AMU registrar and will also get in touch with the human resources development ministry to find out what steps can be taken in view of the tense atmosphere in AMU.

The students alleged that the state administration and the IB were “questioning our patriotism on the basis of religion”. They said they were not against any inquiries, but the manner in which Sharma entered the campus and went about “investigating” the alleged role of some students in the Sabarmati Express blast indicated a religious bias.

Moreover, they claimed, the probe was being carried out to malign the institution and bring “disrepute” to it.

The Uttar Pradesh administration has begun an inquiry into the attack on Sharma. Police yesterday issued notices for attaching the properties of about a dozen students responsible for torturing the intelligence operative.    


 
 
BUDDHA INVITE PUTS MAMATA IN A FIX 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Trinamul leaders are in a quandary over deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s offer to sit at the table with Mamata Banerjee in an effort to halt the soaring violence graph.

Party sources said it is doubtful whether Mamata will agree to talk with Bhattacharya to restore peace in the five “disturbed” district as she has already accused the administration of sponsoring “terrorism” there. “If we hold meetings with the government, then the case we have prepared for Article 356 will be diluted,” a Trinamul official said.

The leaders, however, refused to say whether Mamata will take up Bhattacharya’s offer, saying the deputy chief minister had made the proposal to the media. “He (Bhattacharya) is neither making the offer to Mamata nor the Trinamul,” said Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of the Trinamul’s policy-making body.

He added that Bhattacharya will have to officially invite the Trinamul if he is keen to restore peace in the violence-scarred areas. “Today, two of our supporters were killed in Narayangarh in Midnapore. Bhattacharya, as the police minister, should first create an atmosphere of peace. Then we will think about attending a meeting,” Banerjee said.

Bhattacharya said he was ready for discussions with Trinamul leaders. “Pankaj Banerjee today rang up to inform me about the Belda killings. I met Banerjee and other Trinamul leaders recently and discussed some violent incidents in Midnapore.” he said.

I found their response quite encouraging. So, I am open to further dialogue on this issue,” Bhattacharya said.

Boost to Trinamul

Congress MLA from Entally Sultan Ahmed and his associate Idris Ali are scheduled to join the Trinamul tomorrow. Observers said Ahmed’s entry will help Mamata strengthen her votebank in the minority-dominated belt.    


 
 
BASU PRIMES PARTY FOR DARK DAYS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Unveiling Bengal’s counter-campaign against the Centre’s move to impose President’s rule, chief minister Jyoti Basu today asked the ruling Left Front to be prepared to face one of the “worst scenarios” in the days ahead.

“We are passing through a bad patch and must be prepared for any eventuality,” Basu told a mammoth gathering of supporters at Esplanade East this afternoon.

The rally, held on a weekday in contrast to arch rival Mamata Banerjee’s pledge to hold meetings only on weekends, threw traffic out of gear almost all across the city for several hours.

Though organised by the CPM’s youth and students’ wings, the rally enjoyed top billing as the political event of the day and was attended by almost all the CPM’s front-ranking leaders, including deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

As part of its statewide campaign against the Centre, the CPM has lined up another rally at Brigade Parade Grounds on November 12, this time a Sunday, under the banner of Citu.

In a sign of things to come, Basu today spoke for nearly an hour standing at the lectern, a far cry from his recent practice of delivering speeches sitting down, a concession to his poor health.

A combative Basu tore into Mamata and Union home minister L.K. Advani, accusing them of “plotting” the imposition of President’s rule on Bengal. “Even if the Centre succeeds in dislodging my government, their satisfaction will be shortlived because we will come back with greater strength by defeating the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine in the forthcoming Assembly elections,” he said.

Singling out Mamata for harsher treatment, Basu said her threat to quit Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government to realise her demand for President’s rule was a “gimmick”. “I dare her to quit... she cannot resign because she is getting a lot out of being a Central minister,” he thundered. He accused the BJP-led coalition of hatching a “heinous conspiracy” to remove India’s longest-serving state government from power “by using the military and police” just to placate Mamata.

Observers said Basu’s belligerence and directive to supporters to be on high alert could be interpreted as the CPM’s plan to launch a major campaign against the Centre — portraying it as an interfering bully — by harping on Bengal’s sense of pride, vanity and aspirations. “No matter how hard they (Trinamul-BJP combine) try to get the Centre to impose President’s rule, the people of Bengal will give them a fitting reply,” Basu said to wild cheering.

Congress denial

The Congress today denied reports that the Centre was wooing it to oust West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu on ground of deteriorating law and order in the state.

n Basu rally picture on Page 19    


 
 
BJP FOLLOWS ‘SWAYAMSEVAK’ ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 12: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s assertion of being a “swayamsevak” in a New York reception, hosted by the VHP and the BJP’s “overseas friends”, has come as a shot in the arm for the saffron brigade, more so for the BJP.

The BJP, for which words like “Hindutva” and “Ramjanmabhoomi” had virtually become unmentionable, suddenly finds itself unshackled and at liberty to speak on Ayodhya, Article 370 and a common civil code — issues outside the ambit of the NDA’s agenda.

Echoing Vajpayee, senior BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy said: “I am proud to be a swayamsevak and I will shout from the rooftop, if necessary. Nobody can take away my fundamental right to be one.”

The Uttar Pradesh RSS and BJP units were the first to take the cue from the Prime Minister. They have jointly organised a three-day convention on national security in Agra on October 13, 14 and 15 to coincide with the RSS’ seventy-fifth anniversary. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani have been invited to this conference as also leaders of all major political parties. Sadhus and sants spearheading the Ram temple agitation have also been asked to attend. “We hope they will share our concern on the threat to the country’s security from across the borders,” said an MP from Uttar Pradesh. BJP Rajya Sabha MPs Balbir Punj and Dinanath Mishra have plunged themselves in this endeavour.

Far from being defensive or apologetic about the Prime Minister’s declaration that his “right to be a swayamsevak could not be taken away by anyone”, Krishnamurthy said Vajpayee has already stated in Parliament his association with the RSS. This stance is in contrast with the past, when if the RSS or the VHP uttered something which went against the NDA government’s policies, the BJP leaders stress that these outfits were “autonomous” and had nothing to do with them.

Vajpayee’s promise to “build the India of our dreams” if the BJP attained a two-third majority in Parliament is seen as an oblique endorsement of the Hindutva agenda, including the Ram temple. BJP veteran J.P. Mathur remarked: “The Prime Minister has said this earlier and saying it at this forum is a message to the world that Hindutva means encompassing all religions and this is the core of cultural nationalism which the BJP has been propagating.”

For the first time today since the NDA government was sworn in, BJP sources said the “embargo” on the temple and other controversial issues is a “strategy” dictated by the compulsion of coalition politics. “We have not given up our convictions. They are very much there on our agenda. If they have been put on the backburner as the press keeps saying, it is only because we have not been able to convince our allies,” said sources.

Maintaining that the majority of non-BJP NDA constituents represents the same “stream of thought as the Congress, Laloo and Mulayam” and “believe in appeasing the minorities”, BJP sources admitted that given the reality of a fractured mandate, the party had no choice but to team up with them to give the country a government. “But this does not mean we have given up our core ideology,” they emphasised.

Last December at the BJP’s Chennai national conclave, in a bid to reinvent its image, the party directed its cadre in its draft declaration to “full understand” that it had no agenda other than the NDA’s common manifesto. Following protests from hardliners, including Cabinet ministers, the sentence was modified to read as an appeal rather than a diktat from the top. Since the import remained largely similar, some disgruntled members privately suggested that the BJP should merge its identity with the NDA and give up its name.

Many in the BJP also felt uncomfortable with new party president Bangaru Laxman’s “pro-Muslim” rhetoric. Although there is a realisation that Vajpayee played to the gallery in New York, as it mainly comprised the VHP and pro-BJP NRIs, the speech is also seen as a reassurance to the party’s committed supporters that the Prime Minister has no intention of giving up Hindutva, “government or no government”.

   


 
 
UMPER CASH HAUL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Sept. 12: 
Surender Bahadur, a retired chief engineer of Andhra Pradesh housing board, was charged with having Rs 2.08 crore in lockers in different city banks.

The collapse of some buildings constructed by the state hous-ing board in Anantpur and Nizamabad had led to inquiries in 1997.

Following detailed inqu- iries, the board found Baha- dur guilty along with eight ot- hers.

P. Ramulu, director-general of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, said: “We opened one of the lockers in Charminar and were stunned to find Rs 1.03 crore in cash, in 500-rupee notes.”

“Sukhram had only Rs 75 lakh in cash, but Bahadur had kept Rs 2.08 crore in cash in over 16 bank lockers,” he added.    

 

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