Suspense over pullout
Delhi lets Dawood rival give it the Thai slip
Musharraf India link buried in silence
Gore pips Bush in pecking order
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SUSPENSE OVER PULLOUT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 5: 
Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee will not revoke her and Ajit Panja’s resignations in deference to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s wishes as the Centre “has failed to keep its commitment on a rollback of the petroleum price hike”.

In a hint of her resolve, Mamata has returned to Calcutta Telephones the additional phone she was given as railway minister. The 14 commandos of the Railway Protection Force posted at her residence left in the afternoon, each having been gifted a bag, a diary and a greetings card signed by Mamata.

After Vajpayee made it clear yesterday that her demand for rollback will be addressed, if at all, only on his return from Mumbai, Mamata is left with little option than to carry out her threat of withdrawing from the National Democratic Alliance.

Her advisers were counselling restraint, even telling her to find some way of returning to the ministry after obtaining an assurance from Vajpayee that a rollback would be considered at the Prime Minister’s convenience.

Evidence that such a line of thinking does exist in the Trinamul appeared in a Panja statement on a TV programme. He said since Vajpayee had promised a second look at petroleum prices after his return from Mumbai, his word should be respected.

This group pointed out to Mamata the advantages of being in power and warned her of the consequences of unfulfilled promises about creating railway jobs for Bengal. The ruling CPM will lose no time to highlight this failure.

The downside to a return to the Cabinet after yesterday’s humiliation where Vajpayee sent the message that she can come back only on his terms is the loss of face. Vajpayee has not offered her a half-decent facesaver.

Another is the danger of a repetition of the same drama, of more intensity, when the time comes for raising railway tariff with Mamata as minister. If Vajpayee doesn’t do a third flip, the road of return to the Cabinet is as good as closed for Mamata.

Whether she will stay out of the ministry but stay in the NDA is the question she would be expected to address at tomorrow’s news conference. But to keep the negotiating window open, she may choose not to announce a break with the NDA just yet. Party sources were saying she does not wish to take any step that might destabilise the government. If there was a message in this, it was fuzzy since her pullout is no threat to the government’s majority.

Mamata has chosen not to clear the muddle until tomorrow. She has been avoiding the media for the past couple of days. Throughout the afternoon and evening today, she kept herself locked in her room writing poems.    


 
 
DELHI LETS DAWOOD RIVAL GIVE IT THE THAI SLIP 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY AND DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
New Delhi & Mumbai, Oct. 5: 
Thai authorities prevented ganglord Chhota Rajan from leaving the country after a court freed him this morning but the bar holds no assurances that the Mumbai police team currently there will be able to bring him back.

The Mumbai team reached Bangkok shortly after Rajan had been released this morning. The delay in the team’s departure was caused by what appears to be routine bureaucratic and procedural wrangling among the Mumbai police, the Union home ministry and the external affairs ministry.

India does not have an extradition treaty with Thailand. But back-channel efforts are usually made in such cases to explore the possibilities of fugitives’ handover.

Senior officials speaking off the record made it plain there is more to procedures involved with the despatch of the Mumbai police team than meets the eye. Raj-an is considered too key to “natio-nal security interests” to be handed over to the Mumbai police.

Rajan rose to being a dreaded don from roots in petty crime but, on the way, he became one of the biggest adversaries of Dawood Ibrahim whose Karachi-based D-Company is held by the Indian government to be collaborating with the ISI in subversive and terrorist activities.

Rajan has become a crucial, though covert, tool in the hands of the government which has for years tried to bring Dawood to book. Dawood is the prime accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case and is suspected to be behind the export of large quantities of arms being used in terrorist strikes in India.

Though nobody in government will admit it —- Rajan, after all, is a criminal with several cases against his name — he has become a proxy fighter in the government’s war against Dawood. When ISI activities gained momentum in Nepal, it was Rajan’s people who eased the pressure by bumping off Mirza Dilshad Beg, a local MP known for his close links with the Pakistan agency.

There is a case, therefore, for letting Rajan “live”. Officials said were he to be brought over to Mumbai, there could be two immediate disadvantages: the financial capital will be caught in a gangwar that the government is not equipped to handle and the Centre will lose a key “fighter” against the ISI and Dawood.

The first request from the Mumbai police to send a team came about a week ago. The home and foreign ministries juggled the request between each other, and the permission to the Mumbai police came only too late.

Sources in Mumbai said a foreign ministry official had called up to ask the police to “wait for a few more days because the government had not yet cleared the visit with the Thai authorities”.

Thailand had set a three-day deadline, which ended today, for India to seek the transfer of Rajan. “I have waited for India’s response long enough,” the Thai immigration police chief told a news agency this morning.

An Indian foreign ministry official denied that the ministry had wilfully delayed clearance to the police team.    


 
 
MUSHARRAF INDIA LINK BURIED IN SILENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 5: 
The death occurred yesterday of one Khalid Mohammed of Bulbulikhana, somewhere in the labyrinthine depths of Gali Suiwalan in the crumbling Walled City of Delhi.

Khalid Mohammed, 75, is survived by his first cousin and military ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.

Mohammed was a bachelor; he left no immediate heirs behind. General Musharraf was among the closest he had, and probably even the farthest.

Perhaps the General does not even know of his bereavement. There was no one to send word out and across when the end came. His cousin died quite alone in his one-room tenement, of penury and cardiac arrest.

Khalid Mohammed led a mostly anonymous life, known to just a handful of old neighbours in his dark lane, as Khalidbhai, owner of Azad Kitab Ghar, a bookshop that had few books to sell and fewer buyers.

Towards the end of his time he also became known as the first cousin of the man who brought on the Kargil war and who joined the long line of Pakistan’s military dictators.

Khalid Mohammed and Pervez Musharraf had spent their childhood together in the Walled City, cavorting in the lanes behind what was then among Delhi’s best cinema halls: Golcha. Their fathers were brothers and together they ran a fairly flourishing retail business.

Then came the Partition and Pervez Musharraf’s part of the family decided to live across that greater wall that had come up. Khalidbhai never saw his cousin again. At least he never spoke of a meeting since their sundered childhood.

What he did say after Pervez Musharraf rose to fame — or notoriety, if you like — is that the families had often been in touch through the mail. Musharraf, according to one statement Khalidbhai made a little after his cousin had toppled Nawaz Sharif, is a “family man” and likes to keep in touch with his scattered cousins, the minefields between India and Pakistan notwithstanding.

But yesterday, as his body was laid to rest on the grounds of the Delhi Gate graveyard, there wasn’t so much as a last word from the famous first cousin. Or a last salute carried by a representative of the Pakistani High Commission here. Mohammed’s funeral was attended by a dozen-odd neighbours and a clutch of distant relatives, most of whom had not even met him in years.

Perhaps his only consolation was that his grave lay next to that of another forgotten man who deserved better in his day — M. Farooqi of the Communist Party of India, such as it used to be.    


 
 
GORE PIPS BUSH IN PECKING ORDER 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Oct. 5: 
Ever heard of the peckerometer? As the campaign for electing a new US President enters its final lap with the two main contenders neck and neck, the victor’s passage to the White House may be determined by this meter.

A mythical instrument meant to measure the worth, effect and emotion of a kiss, the peckerometer is the product of the fantasy and imagination of a former aide to Michael Dukakis, the failed presidential aspirant put up by the Democrats against Republican George Bush in the 1988 campaign for the White House.

The instrument may be mythical, but the logic behind its use in the current election blitz is one that clearly appeals to American voters.

After having been tied for months in opinion polls, Vice-President Al Gore raced ahead of his Republican rival in August, immediately after his appearance at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles to accept the party’s presidential nomination.

But pollsters and political pundits insisted in the weeks that followed that Gore’s surge in opinion polls had nothing to do with his speech at the convention.

They laboured successfully on TV and in the print media to prove that the magic for Gore was worked by the kiss the Vice-President planted on wife Tipper’s mouth in full view of the world.

Every single detail of that historic kiss in Los Angeles is now known in most American households. In fact, there are intense debates at family dining tables from coast-to-coast in this country on how long the Vice-President kissed his wife on the party’s convention stage.

The range of family disputes in this regard varies from four to seven seconds depending on whether the hug Tipper received from Al is included in the count.

Weeks passed, but Gore stayed ahead of Bush in the opinion polls — until both the candidates separately appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s TV chat-show.

Gore appeared first, but what he said made no difference to the opinion polls.

After all Oprah and the vice- president — or for that matter Bush and the show’s hostess later — hardly discussed matters of state. They concentrated their talk on their favourite breakfast cereal and the like.

However, after Bush appeared on Oprah’s programme, he successfully closed the gap and the two candidates were tied again. Pundits are now saying that a kiss the Republican candidate affectionately planted on Oprah’s cheek was what enabled Bush to make up in the opinion polls only weeks before the election.

To be fair to Bush, he did not simply walk up to the hostess and kiss her. Oprah complained when she was hosting the Republican candidate that his rival had failed to kiss her during his appearance. Lest he should lose votes for being unchivalrous, Bush immediately smooched Oprah on the cheek with results that the Texas governor’s aides have been hoping for since the party’s convention in Philadelphia in August.

Bush also let it be known during the Oprah show that he was equal to the vice-president. Bush volunteered the information to millions of American voters that he often displayed his feelings for wife Laura with — you guessed it — a kiss!

After eight years of washing Bill Clinton’s adulterous gubernatorial and presidential dirty linen in public, it is not surprising American voters are lapping all this up — indeed, deciding the future of the White House on the power of a kiss, if pollsters are to be believed.

But neither Gore nor Bush can be a match for Clinton in this. Presidential watchers recall that just before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, Clinton and his wife Hillary were shown dancing on a beach in their swimsuits while on a holiday.

No one has disputed that the photograph was no accident, but a cynical ploy to pre-empt the scandal by showing an affectionate First Couple in love and in harmony — a ploy that failed in restrospect.

The question now, with voting only weeks away, is: will Gore and Bush succeed where Clinton failed? After the first presidential debate this week, Gore has moved ahead of Bush in opinion polls. Bush may stage an upset at the second debate next week by kissing Laura before speaking.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
Calcutta, Oct. 5: 

Temperature

Maximum:34.1°C (+2);
Minimum: 26.4°C (+1)

Rainfal

11.3 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%
Minimum: 58%

Today

Cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain and thunder in parts of the city and suburbs

   
 

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