Advani rues hijack jibe
Silent snub for Atal
Surjeet quit call to BJP allies
Uttaranchal formation delayed
Laxman PR date with Namibia
Whalebone whip stares at last crack
1000-yr-old idol seized from thieves
Centre winks at mediator choice
Worker stand-off chokes Maruti home
Trader killed in Imphal

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
A day after his unprovoked attack on foreign minister Jaswant Singh for flying to Kandahar with three hardcore mercenaries as part of the hostage-swap deal, L.K. Advani today “wished he had not made the statement” to a private television channel.

Speaking to reporters here, the home minister said Singh’s visit was “unintended” and there was no other alternative but to release the militants. “There was a real threat to the lives of the passengers and the crew,” he said.

Advani refused to comment when asked if the crisis was mishandled and the situation got blown up resulting in a diplomatic fiasco. But he said the government was thinking of preparing a “comprehensive policy” on how to tackle hijack and other hostage situations.

“I have asked my ministry to study prevalent polices and practices in other countries and prepare a comprehensive document,” he added.

But the Congress seized on the home minister’s statement that he had thought of resigning after the massacre of the Amarnath yatris. Ridiculing the statement, AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said: “Advani did not have the moral courage to resign.”

Jogi, however, “endorsed” Advani’s remark about Singh travelling on the same aircraft with the three militants, who were released in exchange for the hostages.

“He has spoken on behalf of the nation, including us,” Jogi said, referring to Advani’s admission that the foreign minister should have “avoided” accompanying the militants.

Jogi also denied Advani’s claim that some “Congressmen” had requested him not to resign after the Amarnath killings.

“No Congressman worth his salt would advice Advani that he should not quit,” he said. “There is no ideological link between us and them.”

The spokesman also saw little reason for the NDA government to celebrate one year in office. “The NDA regime’s tenure is dotted with failures and contradictions. Advani has himself admitted them. What are they celebrating about?” Jogi asked.    

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
Barring Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, all major allies gave a clean chit to the Atal Behari Vajpayee government which completed one year in power today.

Most of the NDA’s coalition partners praised the Prime Minister for providing a stable, scandal-free government, thus proving the sceptics wrong.

The near-unanimous praise, however, doesn’t hide the discordant notes. The rivalry between Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav is threatening to split the Janata Dal (United) and all is not well between the PMK and the M. Karunanidhi-led DMK. But they pose no threat to the government’s survival.

All the key allies — the DMK, the Telugu Desam, the JD(U), the Samata Party, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD and the Akali Dal — said the government’s performance has been more than satisfactory.

But if Mamata’s silence was the lone jarring note, it was not all accolades either. The Desam and the DMK expressed reservations over the Centre’s failure to amend the Eleventh Finance Commission recommendations to do justice to “performing” states.

Senior Dal (U) leader Ramakrishna Hegde complimented the government for doing “fairly well” but attacked the handling of last year’s hijack crisis.

“The surrender to terrorists at Kandahar had done irreparable damage to the government and India, especially the foreign minister personally going there to hand over the terrorists as a gift,” Hegde said.

Hegde also criticised RSS interference. “The RSS should keep aloof and mind its own business,” he said. “It is not a BJP government, but a coalition government.” He also criticised the “unceremonious” sacking of Ram Jethmalani as law minister.

In Chennai, Karunanidhi said the government’s “performance was very good and there was no failure on any front”.

He said India’s stature had gone up globally. Samata spokesperson Shambu Srivastav said the government’s most important achievement was political stability. “There is a better climate in the country for investment,” he said.

Dal(U) spokesperson Mohan Prakash said “a sense of stability has come to stay”. He hailed the second phase of liberalisation and said the Centre-state relationship was more cordial now than ever before.    

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet refuses to give up. His aspirations of stalling the BJP’s advance to the Delhi throne crashed but the Marxist leader still sees a ray of hope in the BJP allies to bring down the present dispensation.

In an open letter to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners, released at a press conference today, Surjeet asked the allies to quit the Front following the Vajpayee government’s completion of a year in office.

Aware of the differences between most allies and the BJP on crucial issues like the Ram temple and the scrapping of Article 370, Surjeet said: “In the interests of the country and its people, it is essential that these trends be checked before it is too late.”

But the appeal was not directed at the Trinamul Congress, the Left’s main adversary in West Bengal. Surjeet, however, said Trinamul chief Mamata Bannerjee could go to any extent, even join communal forces to harm the Left Front.

For a long time now the CPM has been alleging that BJP allies are not “protesting enough” against the government’s policies that are ruining the country. The CPM’s thinking is not entirely out of place since two NDA allies — Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (and Karunandhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — were once active partners of the third alternative led by the United Front government.    

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
The state of Uttaranchal will formally come into existence on November 9 instead of November 1, Union home minister L.K. Advani said today.

The home minister said he agreed with Uttar Pradesh chief minister R.P. Gupta’s proposal seeking formation of Uttaranchal on November 9. “The chief minister has sent a letter to this effect and it has now been agreed that Uttaranchal will formally come into being not on November 1, but on November 9,” Advani told reporters here.

The states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand will come into existence on the “appointed days” of November 1 and November 15.

Madhya Pradesh was also formed on November 1. November 15 is the birth anniversary of Jharkhand tribal icon Birsa Munda.

Raipur is set to become the capital of Chhattisgarh and Bilaspur will have the high court. Ranchi will be the capital of Jharkhand as well as the seat of its high court. While Dehradun will be the Uttaranchal capital, the site of the high court is yet to be decided.

The law ministry is taking steps to fix the strength of judges and terms for their transfer or appointment to new high courts.

Following an interim report by an advisory committee headed by retired bureaucrat U.C. Agarwak, instructions have been issued to the chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to make administrative, personnel, financial and legal arrangements for effective functioning of the new states.

All Union ministries have been advised to segregate allocations for Centrally-sponsored schemes.    

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
As part of a series of meetings between the BJP president and the representatives of different countries, Joel Kaapanda, the high commissioner of Namibia called on Bangaru Laxman today.

Unlike Wednesday’s meeting with US envoy Richard Celeste at which Laxman had to face uncomfortable questions on religious freedom and the status of minorities, today’s meeting went off smoothly.

The BJP thanked Kaapanda for the Namibian President’s message to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the occasion of the Pokhran nuclear tests. According to a BJP press release, it was mentioned at the meeting that Pokhran-II had “helped break the nuclear monopoly of P5”.

Kaapanda and Laxman agreed that nuclear disarmament should be implemented by all countries and not just a few.

Laxman also reaffirmed the BJP and the government’s “commitment to the religious freedom principle enshrined in the Constitution”.    

Calcutta, Oct. 13: 
Whalebone is set to make an unceremonious exit from Indian horseracing. Though the final ruling on a nearly two-centuries-old tool of the jockeys may follow 48 hours later, the die has been cast by Maneka Gandhi, Union minister for social justice and empowerment, to replace the flogging stick by a much softer rubberised air-cushioned whip.

Maneka has reiterated that the use of the conventional whalebone whip must be banned from racecourses by October 15.

Speaking from her New Delhi residence, Maneka said she is firm on the October 15 deadline for introducing the rubberised bulbous Aircush whip.

“The turf authorities in the country, on the other hand, are yet to take a final decision in this regard;” said Vineet Verma, CEO and secretary, Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC).

“Chairmen of the five major turf authorities will be meeting here (Pune) tomorrow morning to discuss the matter at length and their final plan of action. The minister has made some valuable suggestions which will also be discussed,” added Verma.

Asked if turf clubs will bargain for restricted use of whalebone in a select number of events, Verma said: “The October 16 response from the turf authorites to the minister is going to be final. Expect no bargaining.”

The heads of the five turf authorities in the country and jockey associations are scheduled to meet the minister on that day.

The five directives issued by Maneka are: a) only Aircush whip should be used in races; b) the whip should only be used in the backhand position; c) there has to be one whipless race on any given race day; d) no one should whip the horse except the jockey; e) a horse should not be struck more than thrice during a race.

In their last meeting with the minister on October 5, the turf club representatives did appreciate some of the points raised by the minister but a total ban on the the conventional whip was ruled out. The turf governing bodies came back from the talks with the misplaced notion that the minister had softened her stance..

“The horses are often whipped by even stable boys and syces and I have pictures which reveal deep, subcutaneous wounds sustained from excessive whipping. In all other countries, there is a law which debars the jockey from raising his hand above shoulder level to strike the horse, thus lessening the impact. But here, there is no such check to protect the animals. Sixteen horses have in fact succumbed to whipping excess,” said Maneka.

Referring to the Turf Authorities’ practice of not giving the whip to a jockey before he has 10 winners under his belt, she said: “To have 10 winners, a jockey has to ride in more than 100 races at the least. If he can get through so many races without the whip, why does he need one at all?”    

Calcutta, Oct. 13: 
Burdwan police today recovered a 1,000-year-old idol of Lord Surya, busting a gang of criminals that traded in stolen idols. Superintendent of police Manoj Malviya said Basudev Chanda, the kingpin, was arrested by policemen posing as customers.

Experts who inspected the idol said it is a priceless Graeco-Buddhist object. “It is made of kosthi pathar about 1,000 years ago when Lord Surya was worshipped with gaiety by the people living in this part of the country. Such idols are rare,” an expert on old idols and former curator of Burdwan Museum, Sailendranath Samantha, said. The idol is 14 inches tall, 8 inches wide and weighs 10 kilograms.

The police got a tip-off that a gang dealing in stolen priceless idols was trying to strike a deal in Asansol, Malviya said. “I called my officers on Wednesday and we worked on a plan to bust the gang,” he said. Three policemen posing as businessmen contacted Chanda.

The officers arranged to meet Chanda on Friday evening at a desolate Asansol locality. A police team waited at a distance as the three officers negotiated with Chanda. When the policemen offered Rs 6 lakh for the idol Chanda retorted that it cost much more. “You are wasting my time,” he said and prepared to leave. The officers pounced on him.

Interrogations revealed that Chanda was the leader of a gang operating in the Asansol-Ranigung area. He told the police that he had got the idol from Central Bihar and had already contacted several buyers in India and abroad. Chanda had set Rs 1 crore as the idol’s price, according to the police.

Officials said that Chanda will be produced in court tomorrow. They added that their counterparts in Bihar have been asked help trace the other members of the gang.    

New Delhi & Calcutta, Oct. 13: 
Several parties in the ruling alliance have described as “dangerous” the Tamil Nadu government’s choice of a mediator with known LTTE sympathies to be sent to forest brigand Veerappan to secure actor Raj Kumar’s release.

But the Vajpayee government has chosen to overlook its ally, the DMK’s selection of P. Nedumaran. Government sources said the DMK had not taken the Centre’s permission to send Nedumaran on such a sensitive mission.

But, they added, the Centre also does not want to get caught up in the negotiations, primarily the concern of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments.

Quizzed on the choice of mediator, home minister L.K. Advani said: “The Centre has nothing to do with it.”

“Why should the Vajpayee government get involved?” a government source asked. “It is a tacit silence on the part of the Centre as it does not want to do anything to displease the DMK,” he added.

Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi has decided to brave the criticism within and outside the state of his decision to nominate Nedumaran.

He said it was Veerappan who had named Nedumaran, indicating that the government did not have much of a choice but to bow to the bandit’s wish, given the urgency of achieving progress on Raj Kumar’s release.

People close to Karunanidhi said: “With the Supreme Court refusing to move fast on freeing the Tada prisoners (which Veerappan has demanded), what could one do but to send someone trusted by the brigand?”

Whatever the circumstances, neither Karnataka, which is a party to the decision, nor the National Democratic Alliance as a whole is comfortable with Nedumaran.

Sources said Karnataka law minister Chandra Gowda has termed the move “dangerous”. NDA constituents like the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) have also expressed concern.

“The whole thing is messy,” said a Samata leader who did not want to be quoted. A JD(U) leader feared the move could undermine national security.

A source in the Karnataka government involved in the negotiations said the Raj Kumar kidnap episode appeared to be remote-controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

Veerappan, he said, was close to pro-LTTE outfits like the Tamil National Liberation Army and Nedumaran’s Tamizhar Desiya Iyakkam.

Karunanidhi does not feel that the pro-LTTE stance of some organisations in the state need prevent the government from interacting with them. “There are many organisations like Nedumaran’s which function overground, are quite legal and which support the LTTE.”

His defence of the choice of Nedumaran coincided with a vicious attack from rival Jayalalitha who accused him of encouraging Tamil separatist forces.

Support for the chief minister came from human rights groups. Ravikumar, of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, closely associated with the new mediation initiative, said: “Two of the emissaries, Sukumaran and Kalyani, have nothing to do with the Tigers”.    

Gurgaon, Oct. 13 
Ramayudu Nagraj takes a catapult out of his pocket, picks a pebble from the ground, aims at a crow perched on a tree, shoots and misses.

“Never mind,” he says. “By the time I leave this place I will have perfected my targeting.” He puts the catapult back and hops into the cavernous inside of a trailer, his temporary home. “We have been like this for seven days.”

Nagraj from Andhra Pradesh is one of some 800 escorts on the trailers that keep queuing up in the parking lots just off the Palam-Gurgaon Road. There are so many, it’s impossible to count.

This is Gurgaon, the Ruhr of North India and Maruti’s home. Behind the glass fronted post-modern highrises, India’s largest carmaker can scarcely conceal its discomfiture. For 15 days, Maruti cars have been rolling out of its factory in trickles that get hogged by upcountry dealers. Countrywide deliveries have nearly choked.

Trailer after trailer queues up in the lots through the day. The drivers and escorts have little idea when they will leave. “It’s never been as bad as this. Two, maximum three days, and off we go,” says Nagraj. He has been at the lot since October 7 after driving through the country from Bangalore where he delivered his last consignment of Marutis.

Each trailer takes in about eight small cars (Maruti 800s, Zens and Altos) or six of the bigger ones (Esteems, Balenos and WagonRs). The company produces, on an average, 1,500 cars daily. Since yesterday, that is down, according to the management, to about 400. The workers’ union says there’s been no production at all. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. In fact, everything in Maruti these days seems to operate through the in-betweens.

Like in the current stalemate.

Nobody has invented a word for the stand-off. It is not a strike by the workers. Nor is it a lock-out declared by the management.

The company has asked the workers to sign an undertaking of “good conduct” before entering the factory. The workers have refused. Their union argues the workers’ credibility is at stake. Productivity has consistently gone up in Maruti and rarely have the workers disrupted the assembly line.

The truth lies elsewhere, too. Like in the meetings outside the factory’s gate no. 3 where a sea of grey — the colour of the uniform of all Maruti employees — cheers lustily as one union leader after another alleges that the management is letting the company down; that the management is unable to market what the workers produce.

The truth is not in a grey area, though. It is in black and white: Maruti is losing its monopoly status. Competition is taking its toll on Maruti just as it did to Hindustan Motors. But this is Gurgaon, not Uttarpara — the Hooghly township that lived by the Ambassador and is now dying by it — and the poverty that is in evidence here is not wrought of unemployment. It is a poverty of ideas.

“The present management seems to have no idea of when and how to boost sales. It has allowed the competition to introduce new models. It has not timed the entry of its new models and it still expects to dominate the market in all segments,” alleges Mathew Abraham, general secretary of the Maruti Udyog Employees’ Union.

The charges are not all true. Last fortnight, Maruti launched the Alto which notched up sales of around 3,000 units in just two days in and around Delhi. Even Abraham says dealers in and around the capital have taken 2,000 to 3,000 cars in the past two weeks, showing the demand for Marutis is far from plunging to panic level.

The primary reason for the face-off between the management and the union is in the demands raised by the workers that the company finds untenable. The management says if the demands are met, the average cost to company of a worker will go up from Rs 22, 500 per month to Rs 38,000. This will mean an erosion of revenues by about Rs 51 crore per annum.

Abraham argues that the union’s demand — based on the incentive scheme that used to be in operation till last year — only means that the workers will get what is due to them. He says that in 1988, the company had agreed to share 65 per cent of the cost savings among the workforce if productivity was more that 41.5 vehicles per worker per annum.

In ’98-’99, the figure actually touched 81 vehicles per worker per annum — great productivity by any standard. (Abraham says in Uttarpara, Hindustan Motors’ workers were barely managing 20,000 cars with a workforce of 10-12,000). In 1999-2000, the productivity level was 81 cars.

The company has projected a total production of 5,36,000 cars in 2003 on a constant workforce of about 6,300 (of which 4,800 is unionised). This will mean greater productivity. So, ask the workers, why not a greater share of the profits?

What has further angered the union is that Maruti’s managing director, Jagdish Khattar, has chosen to be away in Japan when trouble is brewing in his backyard. A company source said for all the brouhaha, the management is actually confident that matters can be resolved soon enough. The union, too, has reluctantly begun a stir and is likely to call it off if the management does not insist on the undertaking being signed and if it is invited for negotiations.

But the bitterness that the stir has resulted in means industrial relations at Maruti, which had always advertised its egalitarian style of functioning, will be on fragile ground. At a time when the competition is catching up, Maruti risks being too tied up with problems of its own making.    

Imphal, Oct. 13: 
A trader was shot dead by unidentified gunmen early this morning at Mahatma Gandhi Avenue here. The victim was identified as Trilok Aggarwal (35), the owner of a shop “Sunil Automobiles.”

An unidentified youth had come to the shop at 6 am to buy a pipe. When Aggarwal was giving his customer the pipe, the youth suddenly pulled out a pistol and fired at him from point blank range. Aggarwal, who was hit on his left forehead, died on the spot. Although the exact motive behind the killing was not known, it is suspected that the trader had received an extortion demand from unknown persons.

Constable’s body: The body of deceased police constable Md. Alauddin was buried today after his family refused to claim it. He died on Monday under controversial circumstances while in police custody. The state administration today decided to bury the body as it could not be kept at the morgue.    


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