The meeting between Singh and Vajpayee fuelled speculation about the extreme disappointment of the foreign minister over his Cabinet colleague’s comments.
Advani had told a private TV channel that the foreign minister made a mistake by flying to Kandahar with the three terrorists in the same aircraft to resolve the Indian Airlines Airbus hijack crisis. But though the home minister told journalists yesterday that he regretted having made the unprovoked remarks against Singh and felt that there was no other alternative to get the hostages released, it appeared to have done little to assuage the foreign minister’s feelings.
Though details of Singh’s meeting with Vajpayee were not known, it assumes importance in view of the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS) meet in Agra. Indications are that the RSS leadership, which is extremely unhappy with the BJP government’s foreign policy, will come down heavily on it for apparently “bowing to pressure from the West”.
The Sangh parivar seems upset about US ambassador Richard Celeste’s recent criticism of the BJP leaders for the attacks on Christians and their churches by BJP hardliners. The US envoy reportedly told the BJP leaders that they should speak in one language and act accordingly.
The Sangh parivar today also made noises about the Ayodhya temple issue, but BJP president Bangaru Laxman ruled out any change in the party’s agenda. (See Page 6)
The Prime Minister on his part, aware that the image of India was taking a beating, particularly in the West, because of the attacks on Christians has made repeated appeals, including one yesterday, for religious tolerance. These attempts are, however, being seen by the RSS as an attempt by the government to toe the line of the West.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal, however, said that Singh met the Prime Minister and discussed the fast paced developments in West Asia, which led to the “rescheduling” of his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Jassal clarified that Singh’s visit, which was scheduled for October 17-19, would be the first-ever foreign ministerial visit from Delhi to Riyadh.
The visit was important as it indicated a serious attempt on India’s part to build bridges with the oil-rich country, which is a key member of the Islamic world.
“At the request of the ministry of foreign affairs of the Saudi Arabian government, the official visit of external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to Riyadh is being rescheduled,” the foreign ministry spokesman said this evening.
He clarified that this was because of “the involvement of the Saudi foreign minister in the diplomatic efforts currently underway to diffuse the situation” in West Asia. However, the Saudi government has promised that it will be reworked “at a very early date”.
Jassal informed that a number of foreign ministers from neighbouring countries such as Syria and Egypt were already in Riyadh for a meeting with their Saudi counterpart to prepare for a summit there on October 16. This meet is being held a few days before the Arab Summit in Cairo later this month.
“The pace of developments in the West Asian region, which necessitated these summits, impacted on the timing of the Indian foreign minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia to which both sides attach high importance and for which meticulous preparations had been made,” the spokesman said.
“The Saudi authorities have expressed deep regret at the inconvenience that it may have caused and expressed their desire to reschedule the visit in the very near future,” Jassal added.
“I’ll be back home on Lakshmi Puja,” he had promised his mother. But the boy was flown back in a coffin on October 9.
Ayush, who didn’t know how to swim, had drowned in the Arabian Sea off Goa on Dashami afternoon.
The rest of the group — 31 students and four teachers — arrived at Howrah Station last evening.
Some of Ayush’s friends narrated the tragic tale.
“Our teachers had told us that ‘Vagator’ was the safest beach in Goa and so we decided to hit the waters on Sunday,” said Priyank, Ayush’s classmate.
“Suddenly, I discovered that Ayush was not by my side. I rushed to my teacher and told him that Ayush was missing,” added Kushal, Ayush’s “best friend”. The two had studied together since nursery.
Suddenly, the boys spotted Ayush’s lifeless body at a distance. “A foreigner was desperately pumping Ayush’s heart and giving him mouth-to-mouth respiration in order to revive him. But all his efforts proved futile,” recalled Kushal.
Ayush was rushed to a nearby nursing home, where he was declared “brought dead”. The post-mortem report said it was death by choking after excessive sand had blocked the boy’s wind-pipe.
“God was never cruel to us... I do not know what I have done that I had to see the face of my dead son,” Renu Bajaj, Ayush’s mother, said.
“Ayush was a very shy, religious boy,” said father Sunil Kumar Bajaj, who owns a plastic factory in Howrah. He has two other sons, Harsh (16) and Piyush (8).
According to Sunil, Ayush was very excited about the excursion because it was his “first trip outside Calcutta with friends”.
“I wonder what the teachers were doing when my son was bathing in the sea. How did all the boys return home safe while only my son went missing?” he asked.
“We are going to meet the school authorities and demand an explanation,” said one of the guardians of Ayush’s classmates. The school has declared a holiday on Monday.
Principal I.T. Myers, who rushed back to the city from Hyderabad on hearing about the tragedy, said the school had decided to “suspend all excursions involving overnight stays”.
Around midnight on Friday, a gang of 50 raiders swooped down on Mujahidpur village, about 5 km from Siwan, and after firing a few rounds in the air, attacked the house of Dahaji and Lakshman Yadav, two brothers who were associated with a religious trust.
All but one of the 12 people in the house, including a 10-year-old girl, were gunned down. The survivor, Shiv Yadav, is battling with death in hospital.
Police sources suspect that the killers are supporters of Mohammed Shahabuddin, RJD Lok Sabha member from Siwan, around 170 km from Patna.
The MP, who has several cases against him, has denied any involvement and has accused rival political groups, including the Samata Party, of adding a communal hue to the killings in an effort to whip up passions.
“This is the work of gangsters. I’m being maligned by vested interests,” Shahabuddin said.
The massacre came a day after two Muslims were kidnapped and murdered, allegedly by men belonging to Satish Pandey, an uppercaste gangster said to be backed by the Samata Party.
Pandey’s men, in turn, had struck to avenge the murder of two of their supporters, allegedly by the politician’s goons.
The brothers who were targeted last night had reportedly sided with Pandey in a raging dispute over land in Mujahidpur, home to around 100 Yadav families.
Pandey and his men had taken up the fight on behalf of a group of mahants who had built a math on the 700-acre plot which is under litigation. The RJD, on the other hand, had insisted on a status quo on the land.
“We were aware of the dispute over the math. It was basically a land dispute but this appears to have snowballed because of the gangsters’ rivalry,” Bihar director-general of police K.A. Jacob said. “The situation is under control but I’m definitely worried.”
The widening rift between the Muslims and the Yadavs in Siwan could deal a blow to Laloo’s core support base. The alarm had sounded in the last polls itself when Shahabuddin’s share of Yadav votes had reduced considerably.
Meet Lakshmi Singh, the no-nonsense cop who was entrusted with the job of curbing the spiralling violence against girls on one of the country’s most notorious campuses.
The effects are showing. Standing tall, literally at a fraction over 6 feet, Lakshmi has put the fear of god into gun-wielding students who had unleashed a reign of terror on the university.
Scoffing at questions over a lady cop’s “effectiveness” in handling thugs who had sent even rogue policemen scurrying for cover, the 30-year-old sub-inspector says: “First of all, I do not consider myself handicapped in any way. I look at myself as a police officer, not as a lady police officer. Moreover, I feel I am equipped, both mentally and physically, to tackle any kind of situation. I am not scared at all.”
If the men are, the women have never felt more safer. “Her presence is enough to ward off hooligans on the campus,” says Manjushri Bhatnagar, a student.
The girls agree that since Lakshmi took charge of the Lucknow University outpost, cases of molestation and eve-teasing have decreased remarkably. “Sometimes it takes a woman to do a man’s job,” says Nisha Pandey, a professor of English.
Towering over most men, her six-foot frame is enough to intimidate the Romeos, who say their macho egos would be bruised if they were bashed up by a woman.
“It helps to have a fearless lady cop around. First, she is more open to our problems and then there is the empathy factor,” says Prema Dalal, another student. “Girls have started walking more freely. They have an awesome friend in her.”
Lakshmi, whose father retired as senior superintendent of police, graduated in political science from Jhansi’s BJ College in 1992.
It was there that she met her role model: police inspector K.P. Singh, a dashing officer who had tamed the town’s notorious hooligans.
It was Singh’s image, she says, that led her to join the force. “Everything about him was so glamourous,” gushes Lakshmi. “I felt it would be a romantic profession.”
She joined the police in 1997 and has built up a reputation of being an honest, competent and fearless officer, qualities rare in Uttar Pradesh.
The young officer is unfazed by the attention she has drawn. “The girls should know that I am here as a friend and they can come to me anytime with their problems,” she says.
It’s not just the girls who admire her, though. While the roadside Romeos have gone underground, a new breed of smitten teenagers has suddenly surfaced.
The teachers, while acknowledging Lakshmi’s impact, complained that she is the reason for the drop in attendance among the boys. “It’s apparent that senior students are making an extra effort to befriend her and are bunking classes,” says a lady teacher.
Sharad Makhija, one of the smitten seniors, makes no bones about his “infatuation”. “Isn’t she gorgeous?” he asks, as Lakshmi zips past on her motorbike, hair neatly tied, eyes hidden behind Ray-Bans.
“We hang around on the campus and follow her wherever she goes,” adds Sharad’s friend Yatin. But he is quick to add: “Of course, from a safe distance.”
The girls are not complaining. “She keeps the guys busy in her own way,” remarks Sarita, a student of English. “It’s good for us.”
The young officer, who is unmarried, is aware of the turning heads. “They make all sorts of excuses to befriend me, but they also know that they will not be able to get away with anything undesirable anymore,” she says with a smile.