Search for talks signal in truce-bound Valley
Board summons tainted five
Drive to buy Sena assent on selloff
CM joins minority race
IA plane tyres catch fire
Twins in tussle for family jewels
Deadlock stretches to Dec. 1
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
The countdown has begun. Forty-eight hours before the Ramzan truce takes off in Jammu and Kashmir, a cautious government today activated its security strategists and sent up the antennae for “positive feelers” from field operators.

Both South Block and the Prime Minister’s Race Course Road house have become hives of activity with national security adviser Brajesh Mishra monitoring the situation by the hour.

The first official step for the truce was also taken with the army’s northern command issuing orders to halt operations against militants “across the board irrespective of their stance, standing and political leanings”. “Retaliatory action will only be initiated if all other avenues are closed,” an army statement said.

Despite the relative calm in the state today after the bloodshed in the last few days, the Centre is keeping fingers crossed as it is wading into the ceasefire without a public assurance of cooperation from any hardline militant group.

However, faint rays of hope emerged from both within and without. Hurriyat Conference lea-der Abdul Ghani Lone said Pakist-an was prepared to respond to the ceasefire, if “India improved upon the steps it had taken”.

Lone, who met Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf for over an hour in Islamabad, said that after the meeting he was convinced “if Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, the tallest politician of the sub-continent, takes certain steps”, there could be a peaceful solution.

Lone was not alone in applauding Vajpayee. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik, addressing a meeting of Kashmiri groups in Delhi, equated Vajpayee with assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for his “bold initiative”.

Malik, also a Hurriyat leader, cautioned that peace could not be created in a vacuum but added that if Vajpayee’s efforts “are sincere, he would be doing a great favour to the people of Kashmir”. Several groups at the meeting felt that peace should be given a “sincere chance”.

The Kashmir administration kept the glimmers alive, saying it was trying to clear the way for talks with militants. “The ground is being prepared to initiate a dialogue (with the militants),” Jammu and Kashmir Governor Girish Saxena said in the capital after a security meeting chaired by home minister L.K. Advani.

The Centre is awaiting information from “Track II” (unofficial) operators who have been in touch with several militant groups. The reliability of their inputs could be verified only after the ceasefire gets off the ground.

Delhi, however, realises that for the ceasefire to succeed, it will have to be reciprocated by all militant outfits, especially those based in Pakistan. Delhi is not leaving anything to chance after the lessons of the first shot at peace. Vigilance along the LoC and the border is being stepped up.

Mishra is taking the lead in truce-management as he had done during the Hizb-ul Mujahideen’s ceasefire offer four months ago. Mishra, who is also the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, has been given a decisive say in Kashmir matters.

Sources said the Cabinet Committee on Security will meet within the next few days. The PMO does realise that both the home and defence ministries have crucial roles to play once the truce takes effect.    

New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has summoned the five players named in the CBI report on match-fixing before its disciplinary committee in Delhi on November 27.

The summons coincides with the submission of BCCI commissioner K. Madhavan’s report to the board.

BCCI president A.C. Muthiah said Madhavan’s report would be placed before the disciplinary committee on Monday in Delhi.

“Any punishment warranted, including imposing a life ban, will be decided at the special general body meeting to be held in Calcutta on Wednesday,” he said. “We don’t want to delay action. It will depend on the mood of the general body.”

The board has warned those summoned — Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Ajay Sharma, Nayan Mongia and Manoj Prabhakar — that if they fail to appear before the panel, the committee would recommend action against the players on the basis of available evidence.

No other person, including a lawyer, would be allowed to be with the players when they appear before the three-member panel of Muthiah and two vice-presidents, Ram Prasad and C.K. Khanna. The players are, however, free to furnish further explanation and present documentary evidence.

“If I am their lawyer, I will advise them to appear. After all, they have yet another chance to give their views before their own administrators,” Madhavan said.

The board will send a copy of the Madhavan report as well as the CBI report to all the players concerned by tomorrow.

Madhavan and Muthiah, however, refused to divulge anything about the report. Madhavan said that “90 per cent of the work has been completed and the remaining 10 per cent pertaining to the CBI allegations on the BCCI working will be handed over to the board within two days”.

Muthiah said that the report has been given to him only now and he has to study it. “I cannot prejudge anything,” he said.

Asked to clarify how the BCCI, whose functioning had been questioned by the CBI, could punish players, Madhavan said: “The BCCI is an autonomous body and officials of the board have not been involved in match-fixing or betting as per the CBI report. It had made certain remarks on the BCCI’s working.”

Madhavan said the players “can challenge the board’s decision at the appropriate court seeking remedy”.

Asked to spell out the corrective methods the BCCI was taking to tone up its working, the board president said: “What is wrong with its working? The selectors are appointed as per the BCCI constitution and they pick players for various matches.”    

New Delhi & Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
Union minister Arun Shourie today dashed to Mumbai to meet Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and persuade him to support the disinvestment decisions.

Sources in Delhi said the day’s trip was planned after the November 18 Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment meeting where the Sena’s Manohar Joshi, who looks after heavy industry, objected to the sale of Maruti Udyog, the only minister to do so.

When Shourie, who is in charge of disinvestment, repeatedly tried to convince him, arguing that there was nothing imprudent about the move, Joshi pleaded with him to talk to Thackeray.

Unnerved by the Sena’s opposition, Shourie sought Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s advice. Vajpayee asked him to visit Mumbai this weekend and find out from Thackeray what his objections were.

Today’s meeting at Thackeray’s residence Matoshree follows the face-off between the Sena and the government over the Ramzan ceasefire in Kashmir.

Though top government sources in Delhi insisted that Shourie’s brief did not include any discussion on the truce offer, the Sena today toned down its hard stance and said it will not stand in the way of the peace initiative.

“We decided not to pursue the matter any longer,” Joshi said after the four-hour talks with Shourie.

The sources made it clear that while the Prime Minister is willing to grant a few concessions to the allies on the economic front, he will not tolerate interference in foreign relations or on Kashmir.

Vajpayee is, however, at a loss to figure out Thackeray’s aversion to divestment. The government admitted that the move could lead to the loss of a few jobs in Maharashtra, but other states will be affected as much.

Vajpayee wants to convince the Sena that unlike the RSS, it has to take unpopular decisions if it has to stay on in the government and survive as a political party.

Though there was apparent unanimity at the November 18 meeting, Joshi told reporters the next day that no “in-principle decision” had been taken to sell off the government’s stake in Maruti.

He clarified that the Cabinet had only decided to set up a committee of secretaries who would consult Suzuki on the options available. Joshi had made it clear that he could not be party to a decision to which Thackeray might object.

Shourie is learnt to have succeeded in making the Sena chief see reason. Thackeray said his objection was to a Sena minister presiding over the selloff.

Mamata rally

Mamata Banerjee is likely to launch a double offensive against the Centre and the Left Front government for “their failure to revive closed and sick industrial units” in West Bengal at a mass rally in Calcutta on December 23.    

Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
What the challenger did yesterday, the incumbent has done today.

After matching Mamata Banerjee photo-op by photo-op in the public relations race, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today targeted her minority plank and unwrapped a package of incentives.

Bhattacharjee said the government would offer minorities residential plots at the New Town project in Rajarhat. “I know you have many problems linked to housing, education and employment. My government will try hard to protect your interests and solve some of your problems,” he told a function organised by the West Bengal Minorities Development and Finance Corporation.

He promised a plot to the Calcutta Muslim Orphanage. “We have land at Diamond Harbour which was acquired by the state government after the Second World War. I will try to give you a big plot there,” he assured the orphanage officials.

The chief minister also handed over taxis to 25 Muslim and Buddhist youths at the function. The Corporation has purchased the taxis for the unemployed.

Bhattacharjee said the government proposed to expand and modernise madrasa education in the state. “You have to study English and science along with Urdu. Our government has set up a number of hostels for Muslim students, specially women students, and we will try to construct more such hostels,” he added.

His assurances come on the heels of Mamata’s pledge that she would try for 50 per cent job reservation for Muslims.

Ever since Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister, he was at pains to shake off a perception among his critics that he is “aloof” from the people. An upshot of the drive was the inevitable comparison with Mamata’s “finger-on-the-pulse” strategy.

The parallel took a more cogent shape after Bhattacharjee called on the parents of a student killed by dacoits in Kasba.

Bhattacharjee today came down heavily on Mamata for “making false promises to the minorities”.“Is it possible for any government to keep 50 per cent jobs reserved for the minorities? Our Constitution does not allow this. Still, she is making false promises. If it is possible, why is she not keeping 50 per cent jobs reserved for minorities in her railway itself?” Bhattacharjee asked.    

Calcutta, Nov. 25: 
The rear tyres of an Indian Airlines flight from Delhi burst into flames after touchdown here, but all the 219 passengers on board escaped unhurt.

The passengers included the minister of state for telecommunications, Tapan Sikdar.

The mishap occurred around 9 am immediately after the Airbus 300, Flight IC 401, landed at the Dumdum airport. The tyres caught fire when the plane was on its way to the parking bay.

Preliminary examination has revealed that one of the brakes of the rear tyre was jammed after the plane moved 3 km on the ground. The pilot had to apply the emergency brake.

“We have decided to change the entire braking device. The spares would be arriving soon from Mumbai,” said Bharat Bhushan, assistant director, operations and air safety (eastern region).

The public relations manager of Indian Airlines said it was “a minor incident of tyre burst”. “Nothing serious has happened and all the passengers are safe,” she added.

An airport official, who did not wish to be named, said it was a lucky escape for the passengers. “If the plane had swayed to the right, it would have fallen onto the soft ground, which would have been dangerous,” he added.

Sikdar said that today was one of his lucky days. “Thank god all the passengers are safe. I did feel a jerk, but it was beyond my imagination that I had escaped a big accident,” he added.    

New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
Scene one: Raipur, October 31: Supporters of Vidya Charan Shukla beat up Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh for backing Ajit Jogi as the new chief minister of Chhattisgarh. At the midnight swearing-in ceremony, Jogi seeks Diggy Raja’s blessings before taking oath.

Scene two: New Delhi, November 25: Chief minister, Chhattisgarh, refuses to offer power at concessional rates to Madhya Pradesh.

The message is clear — buy at the commercial rate of Rs 4 or Chhattisgarh will sell the surplus power to the other neighbouring states of Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The chieftains of the two Congress-ruled states are locked in a bitter feud over power and patronage. Diggy Raja is unwilling to part away with prize properties in New Delhi — from Madhyavat, MP Bhavan and Mrignayani (state craft emporium) to the agriculture, industry and tourism offices. Jogi is equally determined to get everything for Chhattisgarh. Or at least half of them.

But the main battle is over power. As Chhattisgarh has surplus power, Digvijay expects Jogi to pass it on cheaply at Rs 1.10 per unit, the cost of production. But Jogi wants to convert surplus power into a source of revenue, particularly when the new state is desperately looking for money.

Today the two chief ministers met in New Delhi to split the booty. However, the conversation did not take place in a friendly atmosphere. Assisted by their chief secretaries, both had come armed with statistics, old records and arguments, unwilling to concede an inch.

The matter is likely to be placed before Sonia Gandhi as both consider her as the best arbitrator. But Sonia is unwilling to act judge and wants to sort the matter out amicably.

Jogi’s first administrative decision to restore 4,000 daily wagers was a severe blow to Diggy Raja.

It was a lone battle to push through the downsizing of the government as recommended by the Fifth Pay Commission. In a single stroke, Jogi made him look like an insensitive ruler with little concern for the poorer sections of society.

The Digvijay camp is upset over Jogi’s aggressive style. They said that on the eve of the formation of the new state, the Digvijay regime had doled out everything — from spoons, beds and blankets to butlers. Jogi’s case for chief ministership was also supported in the main by Digvijay over at least a dozen claimants, the chief challengers coming from the Shukla family.

But if Diggy Raja thought Jogi would do his bidding as chief minister of the new neighbouring state, he was mistaken. Jogi appears to have come into his own rather quickly and is keener on espousing the cause of his state rather than showing any loyalty to Digvijay.

The rivalry between the two, which has come out into the open now, has a long history. Digvijay may have backed Jogi as chief minister under the express instructions of Sonia, but the two men have not seen eye to eye for a long time.

At the political level, Digvijay had swallowed pride in installing Jogi as chief minister of Chhattisgarh. In the long years of their association dating back to an engineering college in Indore, Digvijay and Jogi always remained at loggerheads, even on the hockey field. In the political arena, when Diggy Raja sided with P.V. Narasimha Rao, Jogi was with Arjun Singh. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister suspected Jogi’s role in all stories against him in the national media as he was the Congress spokesman, hobnobbing with journalists.    

Washington, Nov. 25: 
Any prospect of an early settlement of the deadlock in electing a new American President disappeared during the weekend when the highest court in the US decided that it would hear petitions from rival candidates challenging the election process on December 1.

But notwithstanding the one week gap, the period between now and December 1 promises to be eventful for those who have been following America’s bizarre election because Florida’s chief election officer, a Republican, will certify a winner in the state tomorrow night.

If she awards the state and its 25 members of the electoral college to fellow Republican George W. Bush, he can then only be unseated from the winning post by the US Supreme Court.

But even as the courts were gearing up to pick the next US President, there was mayhem on the political scene during the weekend with the Republicans arm-twisting Florida’s election officials and the Democrats accusing their rivals of whipping up Indira Gandhi-type popular hysteria to hijack election results.

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman accused the Republicans yesterday of intimidating officials in Miami-Dade into giving up the manual recount of votes.

“This is a time to honour the rule of law, not surrender to the rules of the mob. This is a time for patience and respect, not intimidation and violence”, Lieberman said.

Democrats have accused the Republicans of renting crowds from outside Florida and bringing them into the state on buses to impersonate Floridians protesting against manual recounts.

But undeterred by all the brouhaha on both sides, Florida’s secretary of state Katherine Harris said she would certify the winner of the state’s crucial 25 electoral votes tomorrow. Harris has been authorised by the state Supreme Court to officially declare the results tomorrow.

In the three Florida counties where manual recounts continued through the weekend, there were skirmishes between Republicans and Democrats and the police had to be called in on several occasions both inside the counting centres and outside to restore order or to rescue party officials who were gheraoed by rival groups. Democrat Al Gore’s supporters have vowed not to concede victory to Bush and to challenge the results to the bitter end even if certified results in Florida award the presidency to Bush tomorrow.

The Republicans asked a Florida judge yesterday to order elections officials to reconsider about 500 disqualified absentee ballots cast by US military personnel overseas, ballots expected to favor Bush. Local election canvassing boards rejected the ballots because they were not postmarked by November 7, or because the signatures on the ballots did not match those on file at election registration offices.    



Max: 30.3°C (+1)
Min: 19.5°C (+2)

Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%
Minimum: 49%



Today: Mainly clear night. Partly cloudy day. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C

Sunset: 4.46 pm, Sunrise: 6.02 am


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