Half-baked peace bid in Kashmir, Part II
Congress whets knife for farmer fight
Jai Hind fails House test
Crown mix-up in comedy of errors
Sangh sounds caution on Kashmir truce
TN resumes brigand hunt
Sonia quizzes Atal on Palestine
Jogi to bring home daughter’s grave
Saifuddin pitch for CPM open doors
Pollution protest hits Delhi, MPs run to PM

 
 
HALF-BAKED PEACE BID IN KASHMIR, PART II 
 
 
FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
New Delhi, Nov 20: 
The chasm between peace initiatives and peace in Kashmir is both perilous and painful. The lessons of July 2000 should be only too fresh in public memory for anyone to argue with that.

It was a half-baked bid at peace that provoked full-blown failure this summer. Peace talks with the Hizb-ul Mujaheedin, still the most potent Kashmiri insurgent group in the Valley, had to be buried almost as soon as they were conceived because the intention behind genuine birth of peace in the Valley were never there. Were that the case, New Delhi would have brought into ambit greater forces than just a faction of the Hizb and a greater vision than just the persona of a shadowy creature called Abdul Majid Dar, the Hizb field commander with an uncertain field and an uncertain command. Were that the case, New Delhi would have taken more care, for a start, with making its tryst with militants so public an affair.

Kashmir, after all, is as old and as vexed an issue as the dispute over the Palestinian/Israeli homeland and when they seriously got down to the table to untangle the Middle Eastern mess, the world did not even know about it for the best part of a decade that the enemies were sharing beds in a mansion outside Oslo. And they still got nowhere.

In Kashmir, the home ministry invited the world media to the first rendezvous, embarrassing, in the end, both parties, and nipping the bud of the dalliance in the pink.

Those lessons, it appears, the government of India has not, or has refused to, learn. Talking publicly of talks without an agreement on what there is to talk about is, at least in the case of Kashmir, a fatal error with huge bills attached. The cost last time, in July, was a hundred-plus lives in a single night.

But for the few quite unaffected lives in secure corridors of South Bloc, the July effort gained the powers that be a handful of brownie points, though nothing more: New Delhi had offered talks, the militants and their Pakistani mentors had torn it asunder. It provided Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee a blistering paragraph in his speech at the UN Millennium Summit, a leg over General Pervez Musharraf on the global round table.

To Kashmir and its distraught people, the July effort offered nothing other than a fresh load of corpses and another punch to hope that they so doggedly still cling to.

If Prime Minister Vajpayee’s latest invitation the peace table were to have carried more respect than a cruel joke where it matters — in the Kashmir Valley — the least that could have been done was to ensure that there would be attendance befitting the Prime Minister of a country such as India. The summary rejection of the peace initiative by all Kashmiri groups, including the Hizb-ul Mujaheedin and the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council (UJC), is proof that the pudding wasn’t well ordered.

Little, or no, preparation appears to have gone into the latest announcement from New Delhi yesterday.

From the reaction of the parties involved — the militants and the Hurriyat Conference — it is plain that yesterday’s was yet another attempt not at unilateral ceasefire but at unilateral point-scoring.

What else, after all, does New Delhi hope to gain from these South Bloc announcements than points it scores at the expense of the lives and hopes of the people of Kashmir? The ceasefire call, to all apparent reasons, has gone ahead without consulting any of the Kashmiri political and militant groups nursing a grievance with New Delhi. The ceasefire call has gone ahead without any talk on what New Delhi is ready to talk about and what it is not.

Is there a change in New Delhi’s position since this summer’s tragic failure? We know there is no change in the stand of the militants and groups like the Hurriyat: they want unconditional and tripartite talks with Pakistan on board.

The last we heard from New Delhi was that it was obdurately opposed to both these conditions. So what does it hope to sec- ure from this latest ceasefire offer other than just a flawed feather in its cap for making a non- offer?

New Delhi may wangle that dubious prize for itself in the days to come. As far as Kashmir and its people are concerned, they will gain nothing. They will perhaps only lose, yet again. The holy Ramzan in the Valley may just be attended by a rather unholy umbra.    


 
 
CONGRESS WHETS KNIFE FOR FARMER FIGHT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
Sharpening the knives on the economic front, the Congress has decided to move an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha tomorrow which will accuse the Centre of adopting “anti-farmer” policies that have led to suicides in several states.

Sonia Gandhi, buoyed by her overwhelming success in the presidential polls, plans to lead the attack from the front. Besides moving the adjournment motion, she will also target the government on disinvestment.

Sonia has written to Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, demanding a parliamentary standing committee on disinvestment as it has been given a full-fledged ministry status.

The Congress has also sent a missive to disinvestment minister Arun Shourie, asking him to table a White Paper on the subject.

Spelling out the Congress’ stand on divestment, a floor leader said: “We are not opposed to disinvestment per se, but the manner in which the government is going about it. The entire process appears ad hoc, lacks transparency and the government continues to be far away from the target. We have no option but to oppose it.”

Another Sonia aide alleged that the Centre was not even replying to the leader of Opposition. “She had written a letter to industry minister Manohar Joshi after meeting Maruti employees, but there has been no response,” the aide said.

But the Congress has chosen agriculture for the adjournment motion as the entire Opposition is united on the plight of farmers. The Congress received a fillip with the Telugu Desam, an ally of the government, giving a notice for a call attention on agriculture.

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia alleged that prices of agriculture products had crashed because of the BJP’s policies. He said the government had launched a two-pronged attack on the farmers by cutting subsidies and raising prices of petroleum products, Scindia said allowing indiscriminate import of subsidised farm produce had hurt the community.

Scindia wondered why the government had suspended procurement operations, causing further distress to farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana. “One is also hearing reports of suicides by farmers in states which are considered rich comparatively, like Punjab,” he added.

Scindia said the Congress would also demand a special discussion under Rule 193 on natural calamities which have severely affected Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. He said the Congress will raise the Kargil issue and ask the government why it is avoiding a discussion on the Subrahmanyam Committee report.

Desam flip-flop

The Desam’s somersault on the petroleum price increase is aimed at keeping alive the much-hyped Deepam scheme under which the poor get cooking gas at subsidised rates, reports our special correspondent from Hyderabad.

Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, who had initially backed the price hike and justified it as a “chain reaction to the increase in international prices,” had last night demanded a 50 per cent cut in prices of cooking gas and kerosene.

The Centre yesterday reduced kerosene prices by a rupee and cooking gas rates by Rs 10 to placate Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.

Naidu’s demand is also being seen as an effort to send the message to the Andhra people that the Centre’s rollback is because of its efforts and not Mamata’s.

With panchayat elections slated for February, the Desam is desperately trying to rebuild its crumbling support base among the rural voters.    


 
 
JAI HIND FAILS HOUSE TEST 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
How does one speak to the Speaker?

There is no defined way of greeting the Chair in the Lower House of Parliament. No one had worried about it either, until yesterday when a number of MPs cutting across party lines took up the issue. It threw up no solution, but a lot of noise in different tongues.

The 45-odd MPs discussed the matter at length, coming up with an exhaustive list of greetings: Namaskar, Salam, Vanakkam, Ram-Ram, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Bhawani, Hello or even the patriotic Jai Hind. Some regional groups wondered why greetings in their mother-tongues should be left out.

At the meeting on the eve of the winter session, the issue was raised by an agitated Amar Roy Pradhan of the Forward Bloc. He felt that Jai Hind would also serve as a tribute to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who had coined the term.

But representatives from the Samajwadi Party, the ADMK and some other regional groups opposed Jai Hind. According to them, in a pluralistic society like India, there were dozens of ways of greeting, so there was no harm in speaking in different languages. “Should not Parliament reflect the diversity in the country?” one MP asked.

For once, the Congress and the BJP shared the view. Both had no particular preference and made it clear that they will go by consensus. But a consensus choice did not emerge.

Chaos control

Congress MP from Amritsar, Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, has written a letter to the Speaker on the need for discipline when foreign dignitaries visit Parliament.

Bhatia, a former minister of state for external affairs, said the chaos in the House was giving a bad name to the country and that there was an urgent need to enforce decorum.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has asked leaders of various political parties to respond to Bhatia’s letter. The Speaker is said to be keen to put an end to unruly behaviour.

But a consensus is difficult to achieve here too. When the MPs can not agree upon the manner of greeting, a code of conduct is a much more uphill task.    


 
 
CROWN MIX-UP IN COMEDY OF ERRORS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Nov. 20: 
Sorry Calcutta, here’s bad news. The ramp Bipasha Basu walked to become supermodel not so long ago had none from the Bengal capital or for that matter the east this time.

At Ford’s prestigious Supermodel of the World contest here last evening, it was a straight battle between the country’s commercial powerhouse and the Silicon Valley. Of the 18 finalists picked from dozens of models across the country, seven were from Mumbai and five from Bangalore.

Mumbai’s beauties, for the second time in a row, took a beating at the hands of a tall, slender 19-year-old from the infotech capital.

When the Ford supermodel contest last took place in Mumbai in 1998, Vidisha Pavate, a dark Bangalorean resembling supermodel Naomi Campbell, walked away with the crown. After a gap of two years, another Bangalore girl, Kiran Vajpey, repeated the feat, stealing the show on the Chitrakoot grounds in Andheri.

Mumbai had to content itself with the number two position, bagged by Diandra Soares, with cropped hair and a broad grin.

The result, however, was akin to the US presidential elections — too close to call. After two hours of glitzy catwalking in the open air, the lean models — sometimes skimpily dressed, sometimes fully clothed, left the judges in a tizzy.

Ford Models Inc. vice-president Neal Hamil, who has handled the likes of Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour, joined Sunil Dutt, Salman Khan and supermodels Gail Hutchinson and Helen Fairbrother, all on the jury, and scratched their heads as they tried hard to pick the winner.

The compere started cracking jokes to kill time. The finalists fidgeted as they waited for the announcement. The compere finally threw up his hands in despair, saying he had run out of jokes. “I don’t know what they are doing behind the stage because there is not even a couch there,’’ he cracked, adding: “Please, put on the music.’’

Then came the moment the models had been waiting for. Hamil, Dutt and Salman strode onto the stage to declare the result and commit a faux pas.

Kiran Vajpey, the six-foot-tall model, tallest of the lot, was declared “the runner up”. She came up, took a bouquet from a judge and walked the ramp in silence, a trace of a smile on her face.

Then she stood silently by a throne placed in the middle of the stage for the winner. Suddenly, the truth was out.

“It was a comedy of errors,’’ the compere yelled, trying to limit the damage done. No, the girl from Bangalore was not the runner up, but victor. Vajpey was now crowned and handed another bouquet. This time, the smile on her face was replaced with tears of joy. She sat on the throne as reality sank in, waiting to fly to Puerto Rico to participate in Ford’s International Supermodel as India’s sole representative.    


 
 
SANGH SOUNDS CAUTION ON KASHMIR TRUCE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
Even as the BJP welcomed Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s offer of unilateral ceasefire to Kashmir militants, the RSS reminded him that his Lahore bus journey had resulted in Kargil. The RSS also warned that the track record of ISI-backed militants was suspect and that Vajpayee should be vigilant.

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said: “It is a good step. But we are not hopeful of the outcome. It is a test case for the Prime Minister. He went to Lahore by bus and that resulted in Kargil.”

The RSS leader said the Sangh is apprehensive because the militants are not independent. “They are controlled by their masters in Pakistan. We have to be alert.”

Security forces should not be complacent in view of the ceasefire offer, Vaidya said, adding no intrusion should take place because of the ceasefire.

BJP leaders said the announcement of the ceasefire was at the initiative of Vajpayee and that the offer is another step towards taking the “Nagpur message” to its logical conclusion. Party leaders denied that the ceasefire was the outcome of pressure from the US on India and Pakistan.

Before taking the decision, Vajpayee had consulted home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

The “many-edged move” has sent a positive signal to the Muslim community here while it has trapped the militants in the Valley as they will find it difficult to resort to killing during the holy month of Ramzan. It has also caught Pakistan unawares.

Welcoming the move, senior BJP leaders said the Prime Minister felt that ceasefire during the holy month of Ramzan will be a good gesture, even to hardliners. Party president Bangaru Laxman in his presidential address at the Nagpur council of the party recently had stressed the need to woo the Muslims to make the BJP a pan-India party acceptable to all religious minorities.

Senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said the ceasefire offer “is a good gesture”. He added: “We are respecting the sentiments of Koran. The move has paused a challenge to the terrorists, whether they will respond positively and act on the spirit of Ramzan.”

Mathur said he was at the same time apprehensive that certain elements will not allow the peace process to bear fruit. The BJP leader added that though security forces would not initiate any action against the terrorists, they should not hesitate to attack if the militants struck.    


 
 
TN RESUMES BRIGAND HUNT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Nov. 20: 
Five days after Raj Kumar’s release, Tamil Nadu chief minister today announced that the state’s special task force, armed with more people and arms, has resumed the hunt for Veerappan.

Karunanidhi said the state will work with Karnataka in the search for the country’s most wanted bandit. If necessary, the Centre will be requested to pitch in as well, the chief minister added.

Karunanidhi said the number of special task force camps on the border with Karnataka will be increased. The personnel will be provided additional arms.

Thamizhchelvan, a young deputy inspector-general of police who had taken on the bandit in the past and lost two fingers, and three other senior officials will be deputed to strengthen the force.

Asked to comment on the alleged atrocities committed by the task force men during earlier operations, Karunanidhi admitted that some incidents did take place and innocent tribals had suffered.

“But then it was under a different regime...we’re conscious of our responsibilities and we will take all steps to ensure that innocent people are not harassed by the STF,” the chief minister said.

However, sources said the task force personnel were yet to move out of their camps in the Sathyamangalam forests.

Observers questioned the delay, saying the men should have got cracking much earlier. The delay will give Veerappan’s men plenty of time to retreat deep inside the jungle.

The observers also wondered about the wisdom of the renewed operations given the treacherous terrain and the local people who have turned against the government because of past atrocities.

Besides, Veerappan and his associates have been expecting a crackdown after Raj Kumar’s release and will, therefore, be prepared to counter-attack.    


 
 
SONIA QUIZZES ATAL ON PALESTINE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee expressing concern over the “shift” in the Centre’s stand on Palestine, reports our special correspondent.

The Congress president wants him to call a meeting of Opposition leaders to discuss the issue.

“A number of Arab ambassadors met me to brief me on violence in Gaza Strip and West Bank, for which they hold Israel responsible. They, too, are somewhat confused with the government’s position on this issue. The just cause of the Palestinians has always been supported by India. There now appears to be a shift,” Sonia said.

Sonia berated the government for failing to condemn the killing of Palestinians by Israeli troops. “Even on humanitarian grounds, you should condemn the killings of innocent people,” she said.

“We have a large number of our people living in Arab countries and India has considerable trade and security related interests in the region,” she said, adding that it was the Centre’s responsibility to ensure that Indo-Arab relations do not suffer a setback.    


 
 
JOGI TO BRING HOME DAUGHTER’S GRAVE 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Nov. 20: 
A grieving father first, a chief minister later.

Still coming to terms with the suicide of his only daughter Anusha five months ago, one of the first moves by Chhattisgarh’s first leader Ajit Jogi was requesting the Madhya Pradesh government and the church authorities in Indore to allow him to exhume the body and transfer it to Raipur, capital of the new state and the city of her birth.

Jogi and his doctor-wife Renuka want their daughter’s grave to be near them. Renuka, an ophthalmologist teaching at MGM College of Medical Sciences in Indore, has asked for a transfer to Raipur.

The church has already granted permission and though the Indore administration is tight-lipped, sources said the green light has been flashed and the body will be exhumed shortly.

For the Jogis, the return to Raipur has brought back happy — and painful — memories. The chief minister had initially refused to move in to his official residence — the district collector’s bungalow — as it was in this house that Anusha was born and spent the first few years of her infancy. Jogi, who resigned from the IAS to join politics, was collector of Raipur in the mid-Seventies.

Anusha (25), an MBA student in the US who had just two semesters left for getting her degree, had come to India in May to visit her parents. She never returned as on May 12, she killed herself after a tiff with her parents.

Anusha was staying with her mother at Renuka’s residence in Indore’s upmarket Residency area. Her father, then the Congress spokesman based in New Delhi, had come over to Indore to meet her and also to oversee arrangements for Sonia Gandhi’s visit on May 12.

At the breakfast table that morning, Jogi suggested that Anusha should get married, drawing vehement protests from the girl. The Jogis had been looking for a match for her while she was away in the US.

The altercation intensified with Anusha adamant and her parents equally firm.

Soon after breakfast, Ajit and Renuka left to make further arrangements for Sonia’s visit. Sometime later, a maid walked into Anusha’s bedroom and later forced her way into the girl’s bathroom to find her hanging from the ceiling. Anusha was buried at the Azad Nagar cemetery.

Less than a week after Jogi was sworn in on October 31 midnight, Renuka came to Indore to appeal to the district administration for permission to exhume the body.

Sources close to the church said Anusha’s body will be exhumed and placed in a bigger coffin and taken to Raipur.

Renuka had wanted her daughter to be taken to Raipur on November 18, Anusha’s birthday, but the official formalities could not be completed on time.

The sources said the date has been tentatively fixed for Wednesday or Thursday.    


 
 
SAIFUDDIN PITCH FOR CPM OPEN DOORS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 20: 
Expelled leader Saifuddin Chowdhury today asked the CPM leadership not to prevent party members from joining his political outfit which will soon be launched.

“I am not going to invite anybody either from the CPM, the Trinamul Congress or any other party. But at the same time, I expect that the CPM leadership will not prevent party members from joining our organisation voluntarily,” he said at a crowded rally in Sealdah this evening.

“Don’t get upset if you see thousands and lakhs coming to us after we start marching the streets,” he said. “If I convene a meeting in Dum Dum, please don’t try to prevent your members from joining.”

Chowdhury blasted the party leadership “which preaches democracy but does not practice it. In the name of democratic centralism, they (the CPM leaders) are running a dictatorship,” he said.

The former central committee member also came down heavily on the Congress, which, he said, was a big party but “not so powerful today as it was in the past”.

Taking a dig at the CPM, he said: “Another big party has become a regional one.”

Keshpur conflict

CPM leader Anil Biswas today welcomed Trinamul Congress’ decision to withdraw its supporters from the Maidan area and send them back home to Keshpur and parts of Bankura and Hooghly. “It’s good you are returning home. But I request you not to carry any arms with you,” he added.    


 
 
POLLUTION PROTEST HITS DELHI, MPS RUN TO PM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 20: 
BJP MPs from Delhi today sought Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s intervention to reverse the decision of the Congress-led Delhi government to relocate polluting industries in the capital.

Protests by factory owners in the capital today threw traffic out of gear, leading to violence. Trans-Yamuna and West Delhi were the worst affected. The protests had been going on since yesterday. Delhi’s links with eastern Trans-Yamuna was snapped because of the protests. Even yesterday, people found it difficult to reach Connaught Place from Mayur Vihar and Patparganj.

Six BJP MPs from the Lok Sabha called on Vajpayee and told him that the Delhi government’s decision to relocate factories would lead to an “explosive situation”. They said the Prime Minister assured them that he would talk to chief minister Sheila Dixit to find a solution to the problem.

Addressing a press conference, BJP vice-president and Sadar MP Madan Lal Khurana said they have requested the Prime Minister to intervene as the situation could go out of hand.

The other BJP MPs from Delhi — Sahib Singh Verma, V.K. Malhotra, Vijay Goel, Lal Bihari Tiwari and Anita Arya — were also present at the press meet. They said work in the factories in the capital had been paralysed for the last three to four days since the Delhi government ordered their closure of factories though the Supreme Court order was only for polluting units.

They said the Delhi government ordered closure of all factories and not just the polluting ones as was the apex court’s verdict.

In wake of this move, 15 lakh people would be unemployed in the capital, Khurana said. The MPs said in the garb of closing down polluting industries as specified by the apex court, many clean industrial units were also being asked to shift. They said about 1 lakh small and medium units would be affected.

Hundreds of factory owners and labourers hit the streets since morning and blocked traffic. on major intersections leading to jams across the city.

There were several complaints with the police this evening that the few auto-rickshaws plying on the route were charging a premium. There was a rush for the few buses plying on the route and as a result many had to trudge 14 km between Connaught Place and Trans-Yamuna.    

 

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