Putin for sneak preview of blockbuster
Bangaru echoes Mamata on President’s rule
Home in dark on Israel tour
Jammu mine blast kills five
Killer virus ruins crop of plenty

New Delhi, Sept. 23: 
Vladimir Putin was probably too young to remember Tavarish Brodiyaga mesmerise Russia almost half-a-century ago. But with a bit of luck, the President from Moscow could catch a glimpse of Brodiyaga’s grand-daughter gyrate in her dancing shoes.

Putin, who begins his four-day trip from October 2, is keen to watch the shooting of an Indian film, that too a potential Bollywood blockbuster and preferably a song-and-dance sequence.

Bollywood films have been popular in Russia ever since Raj Kapoor’s Awara (Brodiyaga in Russian) took the country by storm in the early Fifties. Such was his popularity that the Soviet people named him Tavarish Brodiyaga (Comrade Awara).

During his stay in India, Putin will squeeze in a trip to Taj Mahal and also visit Mumbai.

Officials here are busy dialling Bollywood studios where a song-and-dance is scheduled for shoot on October 5 when Putin will be in Mumbai.

The Russian President, a former KGB chief, is said to be a man with varied passions. During a recent visit to Tokyo, he had displayed his skills in judo.

The “misconception” in the West notwithstanding, Putin has always shown keen interest in India. South Block mandarins pointed out that even as a student, Putin had expressed his desire to visit the country.

In Mumbai, which is the last leg of his tour, Putin will address captains of industry and hold discussions on investment with the Maharashtra government.

He is also likely to go over to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, India’s nuclear cradle. Putin’s visit is significant as he will be the first leader of the Permanent Five to visit the centre since the Pokhran blasts.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will hold a private dinner for Putin soon after his arrival on October 2. The dinner will provide both leaders an opportunity for an uninterrupted tête-à-tête.

Indian officials expect nearly half-a-dozen agreements to be signed during the visit, the first by a Russian President in seven years. They will range from cooperation on energy, information technology, science and technology, defence to civil aviation, culture and trade.

The high-point will, however, be the signing of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the two nations at Hyderabad House here after the official delegation-level talks on October 3.

Putin will also attend an official banquet by President K.R. Narayanan and address Parliament the next day. On October 4, he will meet a host of Indian leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and attend a function at Jawaharlal Nehru University where an honorary doctorate will be conferred on him.

The two sides will take the opportunity of Putin’s visit to institutionalise their annual summit-level dialogue. The two nations will try to adjust their bilateral ties in tune with the ground reality and the changing scenario.

Indo-Russian relations continue to be unique, but Delhi’s growing proximity to Washington should not be misunderstood by Moscow. The two relations are independent of each other and this will be one key point that Indian leaders will try to impress upon the Russian President.


Midnapore, Sept. 23: 
BJP president Bangaru Laxman today joined forces with Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee saying the situation in Bengal merits the imposition of Article 356.

Laxman, who was on a two-day visit to the city, toured the trouble-torn areas of Midnapore and also addressed a string of street-corner meetings to “mobilise public opinion in favour of President’s rule”.

“There is justification in the demand being raised by local people, Trinamul Congress and BJP workers for the imposition of President’s rule in Bengal,” Laxman told a news conference at the Midnapore circuit house.

The BJP chief, however, said the “green signal for President’s rule must come from none else than the resident of 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi”.

“It is encouraging that two Congress leaders — Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi — have opened their minds on this score, but this is not enough and the support should come from Congress president,” he added.

He argued that the BJP-led coalition did not like to face any embarrassment by invoking Article 356 in Bengal as it did in case of Bihar. “We don’t want to face another humiliation and that is why we want the Congress to back us this time,” he clarified.

He also made it clear that the BJP would take its decision only after discussing the issue threadbare with partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). “If the NDA agrees, we are for it,” he added.

Talking to newspersons, he said the government was considering alternatives to Article 356 “to check the Marxists from unleashing terror on innocent people.” He, however, refused to elaborate on the alternative options left with the Centre.

The BJP chief also contradicted chief minister Jyoti Basu’s recent letter to home minister L.K. Advani claiming that the situation was normal.

“But I have gathered from my day-long interaction with the people that the situation in Bengal is far beyond normalcy and calls for immediate Central intervention,” he added.

Reacting sharply to Laxman’s observations, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas said the BJP chief had “insulted the people here by speaking in favour of imposition of President’s rule in a well-governed state like Bengal.”

“Instead of sympathising with those marooned in districts due to flash flood, Laxman is here to hatch a conspiracy against a democratically elected government,” he said, warning that the “people of Bengal will resist if any attempts are being made to throttle democracy here.”

Laxman with at least 40 cars in his convoy arrived in Midnapore around 3 pm this afternoon after addressing a street corner meeting at Debra. He also addressed a number of meetings at Sultanpur and Basantia.

On his way to Debra, a car in which state BJP leaders were travelling was hit by a truck injuring three of them. state BJP vice president Muzaffar Khan said the condition of Anindya Gopal Mitra’s wife and the driver was serious. The injured have been admitted to the Midnapore Sadar Hospital.

Luxman on flood relief: The BJP chief also criticised the state government for its failure to utilise Rs 280 crores alloted by the Centre during the Eighth Plan period.But the state government spent only Rs 175 crores. He criticised the state government for not taking adequate steps to prevent the flash flood in Bengal.    

New Delhi, Sept. 23: 
The Union home ministry today officially and emphatically denied that a team of Israeli security experts was here at its invitation or at the invitation of home minister L.K. Advani.

Advani, incidentally, is the last important Indian dignitary to have visited Tel Aviv in June this year.

The home ministry’s denial has brought to the fore a key area of friction: who in the government calls the shots on matters concerning strengthening the country’s internal security — North or South Block? The home ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)?

Interestingly, Michael Sheehan, special coordinator on counter-terrorism in the US state department, will be here next week.

He is leading a team of US security experts to take part in the second Indo-US joint working group (JWG) on terrorism, scheduled for September 26 and 27.

Curiously enough, as of today, no meeting has been fixed between Sheehan and Advani. The question is how the home minister could be left out from such an important programme when even home ministry officials should be part of the meeting.

The Israeli visit has thrown open the question that if North Block had not invited the Israelis, who or what authority in the government had extended the invitation to them and who authorised the visit of the Israeli officials to such sensitive areas as Jammu and Kashmir and possibly parts of the Northeast.

The Israeli team has reportedly visited the international border and Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir to prepare a “feasibility study” of India’s security requirements, especially for foolproof border surveillance and management.

The visit of this delegation was preceded by that of an official from the Israeli Military Industry a couple of weeks back to thrash out certain pending defence deals.

It was agreed during Advani’s visit to Israel that an Indo-Israeli joint working group would be established and that security officials from Tel Aviv would visit India around August-September this year as part of the agreement.

Home secretary Kamal Pande, Intelligence Bureau director Shyamal Dutta, CBI chief R.K. Raghavan, BSF director-general E.N. Rammohan and a senior home ministry official had accompanied Advani to Israel.

However, the ongoing visit of security experts, which is being led by Eli Katzir of Israel’s counter-terrorism combat unit attached to that country’s Prime Minister’s Office, and also comprises the Israeli police commander and military intelligence officials, has been organised by India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), authoritative sources said.

RAW, the sources pointed out, may have extended the invitation only after getting a clearance from the PMO since the intelligence agency is under the Cabinet Secretariat and its chief reports to the Prime Minister and, under the present dispensation, informally to principal secretary and national security advisor Brajesh Mishra who has also visited Tel Aviv in the past.

It could also be that the visit of the Israeli delegation was organised by RAW as part of its “liaison” activity which the agency undertakes on a frequent and regular basis with intelligence agencies of other countries.

Government sources disclosed that the home minister was ‘’very upset’’, not so much for the visit of the Israelis but for the manner in which the trip was organised without North Block being kept informed.

‘’The visit of Israeli officials to Jammu and Kashmir or the North-east was not part of the proposal when Advani visited and met top security experts in Tel Aviv,’’ the sources said.

Advani is an ardent admirer of the Israeli security establishment and was keen to formalise an Indo-Israeli partnership on security matters, especially certain areas like counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.    

Srinagar Sept. 23: 
Five civilians were killed and five more wounded in a mine blast at Tatapani village in Udhampur district of Jammu early this morning.

A powerful improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near a spring locally called Tatapani (Hot Water Spring) killing five civilians who were bathing, on the spot. The injured were rushed to the hospital.

Jammu range police chief R.V. Raju said militants had planted two more IED’s near the springs. He said the militants opened heavy fire on the security forces and the police who had rushed to the spot immediately after the blast.

Raju said two more explosions later rocked the area. However, no one was wounded. Those killed in the explosion have been identified as Mohammad Shafi, Farooq Ahmad, Jarnail Singh, Manzoor Ahmad and Abdul Rashid.

Senior police officers visited the spot. Security in the area has been further beefed up.

A police spokesman said that in another mine blast yesterday at Pather post area in Drass sector of Kargil, one army soldier was killed and three others were seriously wounded. The injured were rushed to hospital. The vehicle was extensively damaged.

This is the second blast in Drass sector this year after last year’s fierce fighting in the area. Security in the sector has been tightened. Twenty-three people including 19 militants and two securitymen were killed in heavy fighting in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 24 hours.

Kashmir blinding

Pakistan-backed militants attempted to gouge out the eyes of three villagers, a boy and two women, of Doda in Jammu and Kashmir, a defence spokesman said today.

The victims, Abdullah, Hafeeza and Pissibi, were being treated at the Government Hospital at Batote after troops rescued them from Warwan area recently.

The spokesman said a group of foreign mercenaries, who entered Khida village, made certain demands from the people, including favours of women, in July this year. Those who refused were beaten up, tortured and even killed.

When the entire family of Hafeeza refused to succumb to the terrorists, they tied them and physically assaulted them in front of 200 people of different villages, he said.

The mercenaries, speaking in Urdu and Punjabi, tortured the trio by placing red hot metal rods in their eyes leading to serious burn injuries.

The militants threatened the villagers that if they refused their demands they too would meet the same fate, the spokesman added.

Three militants and a security jawan were killed in two encounters in the Kashmir valley last night, a defence spokesman said today.

He said the Army gunned down two militants in an encounter at Chowkibal in Kupwara district last night. Arms and ammunition were recovered from the killed militants.

Another militant was killed by the troops near Khundru-Nunwani in Anantnag district last night. The deceased was identified as Shah Din, a resident of Pakistan, the spokesman said.

Official sources said an army jawan, Gurmail Singh, of Seven Rashtriya Rifles also died during the encounter.

Security forces killed five militants, including two Pakistani infiltrators, and recovered large quantity of arms and ammunition in Poonch sector since last night, official sources said today.    

Anantpur, Sept. 23: 
Steeped in debt yet hoping against hope, groundnut farmer Narasimhulu ignored advice from his family and tried his luck with the crop once again, even after four successive years of disaster.

From June, when the crop is sown, until August, Narasimhulu and nearly 23,000 others like him were happy that they had taken the right decision. But come September, and the dice suddenly rolled the wrong way.

The farmer from Chiyedu village, near Anantpur, decided he had had enough: he killed himself.

Narasimhulu is one of eight farmers to have committed suicide over the past three weeks following a deadly virus attack on the groundnut crop. The virus, “Budnecrosis”, spread lightning fast, eating away crop worth Rs 700 crore across Anantpur, Prakasham, Cuddapah and Kurnool districts.

Amid mounting political pressure, the state agricultural department distributed pesticides free to farmers. But the move, which anyway came too late, backfired.

While the insecticide, Monocrotophos, was of little use in curing the affected crop, it became a handy poison for the farmers. All eight people who chose to end their lives did so by swallowing Monocrotophos.

Anantpur district collector Somesh Kumar said he had asked the political leaders not to distribute the insecticide among farmers as it could lead to more deaths.

The government, which had distributed nearly one lakh litres of the pesticide, stopped after the suicides were reported. But angry farmers would have none of it: some gatecrashed into distribution centres in Pamidi and took away about 1,000 litres on September 16.

That the government had little idea about the virus is reflected in the press release issued by the chief minister’s office on September 13 which named the scourge “bed-neck-roses” instead of “budnecrosis”.

Of the 7.8 lakh hectares of groundnut cultivation in Anantpur, almost four lakh hectares have been declared affected. The agricultural department had pegged the crop size at Rs 1100 crore in July and the state had distributed over 35 lakh kg of groundnut seeds collected from Karnataka and elsewhere following last year’s crop failure due to the drought and the absence of seeds in the local markets.

Scientists said the insecticide could harm other crops. “The insecticide will not save the crop any more. The crop is lost. Better not harm the other crops by spraying this powerful insecticide,” said D. V. Raghava Reddy, a scientist of ICRISAT.

The fate of the groundnut farmer has not been any different from those surviving on tobacco, cotton and chilli. Almost 124 farmers have reportedly committed suicide, though the official toll is only 39. The government has offered a meagre compensation of Rs 1.2 lakh to the relatives of the suicide farmers.

But that is of little help to the families, whose debts run into lakhs.

Narasimhulu, for instance, had hoped to clear the loan of Rs 1 lakh he had taken for farming and another Rs 1 lakh for the marriage of his two daughters, by falling back on groundnut.

He was a happy man until the last week of August with a fine crop spread over four acres ready for harvesting. The single crop could have cleared half his debts at one shot.

Then the virus struck. Narasimhulu was aghast. After exhausting about 15 litres of Monocrotophos, he went running from pillar to post to get more insecticides. But by then the cost of the pesticide had shot up from Rs 110 per litre to nearly Rs 600 due to heavy demand.

By the time the government offered the pesticide free, it was too late.    


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