Delhi seeks more than restraint
Late Mamata comes with judicial probe order
Caste in Bihar mould, but cooler
Jadeja pause in BCCI verdict
Subhas opposes bandh call
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DELHI SEEKS MORE THAN RESTRAINT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Dec. 3: 
In a deliberate attempt to play down the Pakistani truce offer, India is greeting with caution Islamabad’s announcement yesterday that its security forces will show “maximum restraint” along the Line of Control (LoC).

Amid growing signs of a political thaw in winter-enveloped Kashmir, Pakistan followed up its offer with the comment that it would have been better had India announced a permanent ceasefire.

It also suggested that India hold talks with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference to set the stage for tripartite negotiations.

The Hurriyat welcomed the Pakistani offer and felt it would usher in peace in South Asia if India also responded positively.

Defence minister George Fernandes outlined what could possibly be Delhi’s official response by making it clear that resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan could only take place if Islamabad stopped cross-border terrorism and infiltration.

Even in normal circumstances, Pakistani security forces should be showing “maximum restraint” along the LoC. But by publicising the “restraint”, Pakistan is trying to divert attention from key issues of concern to Delhi: cross-border terrorism and infiltration.

The ostensible reason for not officially reacting to Pakistan’s offer is that Parliament is in session. But Delhi is deliberately delaying a response because promptness may be seen as India’s eagerness to return to the negotiating table without the other conditions being fulfilled by Islamabad.

There are indications that the government will come out with an official response in Parliament tomorrow.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced suspension of military action against the militants in Kashmir during Ramzan. This was seen by key international players as an opportunity to create the right atmosphere for restoring peace in the sub-continent. The military regime in Pakistan was under pressure to respond to the Indian gesture.

“Pakistan has ordered its troops to show maximum restraint only to make progress to stop the ongoing violence in Kashmir, which should lead to the settlement of the dispute,” said Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, denying foreign pressure.

Chances of a positive response from militants to the ceasefire appeared in a Hizb-ul Mujahideen statement today.

The Hizb said it had kept “doors open for sincere efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue” even as it was weighing “various options”.

“Being the frontline militant outfit, Hizb-ul Mujahideen is well aware of the aspirations of Kashmiris and we have kept our doors open for sincere efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue,” its spokesman Commander Masood said.

Masood said there would be no let-up in militant activities unless the government made “sincere efforts” to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Echoing Islamabad’s position that the Hurriyat should hold parallel talks with India and Pakistan, a senior Hurriyat leader appealed to New Delhi to take the initiative.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq termed Pakistan a “primary party” to the Kashmir issue. He said: “My sincere advice to India is that keeping in view... the present ceasefire, it should initiate talks with Pakistan together with the Hurriyat Conference to settle the Kashmir issue and dispel the uncertainty and nuclear peril in the sub-continent.”

The former Hurriyat chairman, who met Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf in Doha recently, said he had gathered that Islamabad was “prepared to settle the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations with India in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.”

The formula for holding simultaneous talks with India and Pakistan was first proposed by Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat.

He welcomed the situation where all parties were talking about peace and said that allowing a Hurriyat delegation to negotiate with Pakistan “is the only possible solution in the present scenario”.

Asked if a dialogue with New Delhi was in the offing, Bhat said: “I am not aware of it”.    


 
 
LATE MAMATA COMES WITH JUDICIAL PROBE ORDER 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Dec. 3: 
A sitting judge of the Supreme Court will probe the Jivanpura train disaster in which 46 passengers have died, three more succumbing to their injuries in hospital today.

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who reached Jivanpura in the early hours today, almost 24 hours after the Amritsar-bound 3005 Up Howrah Mail rammed into derailed wagons of a goods train, said the terms and reference of the inquiry and the name of the judge would be announced in a couple of days.

Mamata, who was accompanied by minister of state Digvijay Singh and railway officials, surveyed the mangled remains of the coaches and looked “visibly upset”, according to a top railway official at the site.

The railway minister left for Delhi after spending over an hour at the accident site. A railway official regretted that they had been waiting since Saturday evening for her to arrive. “What was the point in her coming so late? We have cleared most of the debris and bodies,” he added.

Railway officials feared that more bodies would be found under the crushed coaches once these were lifted.

While efforts were being made to clear the track as early as possible, the area looked similar to what was witnessed yesterday. The engine of the Howrah Express was buried under its own parcel van which had cut to half a general-class coach. On both sides of the general-class compartments, two more were suspended in air at a 45-degree angle.

Mamata spoke to local villagers who were the first to begin rescue work and thanked them. Speaking to reporters later, she ruled out resigning at first. But questioned about the rising rate of rail accidents during her tenure, she said: “If this (resignation) helps the railways, I am ready to quit.”

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said in a message that the accident highlighted the urgent need to improve railway safety systems.

The reason for the accident is not yet known. Jarnail Singh Chahal, additional director-general of police (railways), said it might have been caused by a technical fault, but did not explain its nature. He said cracks occurred frequently in tracks in the region.

Senior police officials said they had been told that a fracture in the track had caused the mishap.

While Mamata hinted at sabotage, Sanjiv Gupta, the deputy inspector-general of police (Patiala range), disagreed.

A rail official speaking on the telephone from Ambala added another twist to the cause of the tragedy. “We are under immense pressure to ensure that trains either leaving Howrah for Amritsar or going to Howrah are not delayed. The Howrah Mail normally reaches Amritsar late. Had that been the case, the tragedy would not have occurred. But fate willed otherwise,” he said.

Howrah Mail driver Jagdish Chander had said yesterday that he had contacted the guard of the goods train the moment he crossed it and realised that it was pulling only four wagons, but there was stony silence on the other side. Chander said he braked immediately on noticing the goods train wagons on the track he was running on, but to no avail. He was whisked away by railway officials before he could say more.    


 
 
CASTE IN BIHAR MOULD, BUT COOLER 
 
 
SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
Wangat (North Kashmir), Dec. 3: 
Were it not so unbelievably pretty and so pitilessly cold, this could have been Bihar at its worst. There is nothing that afflicts Bihar that does not afflict this patch of Kashmir, no curse that has befallen Bihar and has not settled here. Poverty, disease, ignorance, the rank absence of governance and all its attendant absences — the absence of roads, of schools, of hospitals, of power, of water, of basic human dignities.

And were you to spend just enough time in these hills north of Srinagar, you would find ready clues of that greatest of Bihar’s afflictions — caste friction, caste killings, casteist ways. Kashmiris trying to get the better of the Gujars, the Gujars trying to get the better of the Bakerwal nomads, Gujar and Bakerwal factions trying to get the better of other Gujar and Bakerwal factions.

Wangat is not what you would expect from a story out of Kashmir; Wangat is more typically a heartland story. But Wangat remains one of those many melting pots in Kashmir and stew and bubble but forever remain drowned in the high-decibel rhetoric over the international dispute called Kashmir.

And yet, here Wangat is, just a two-hour drive north of Srinagar, embroiled in a myriad crises, none of which has too much to do with what we call the Kashmir crisis. In the depths of Wangat’s wooded hamlets, the stock phrase-book of a Kashmir report can suddenly begin to look banal and irrelevant: self-determination, aazaadi, UN resolutions, diplomacy, Track II diplomacy, brinkmanship, one-upmanship, unilateral offers, bilateral talks, trilateral negotiations, conditions, pre-conditions and all such things begin to ring false and farcical.

What meaning could they have for Sajid Leharvi, a Gujar farmer, whose essential worry is he hasn’t been able to accumulate enough firewood for the winter when all will freeze?

What good could they do to Rizia Bee whose cows have died at the onset of snow, leaving her with the prospect of begging for milk all winter, not to speak of not being able to earn any money from the milk her cows would have given?

What relevance do they have for Sadiq Kaacher whose house has crumbled and who must now run around all day trying to collect enough timber to plug holes in his walls to prevent the cold invading? “In Srinagar you hear calls for aazaadi, here people have been calling as loudly and hoarsely for a road. Half our problems are solved if we just get a good road,” says Mian Javed Nizami, one of Wangat’s Gujar headmen and claimant to the Gujar “gaddi” — the supreme seat of the Gujar community — currently adorned by his elder brother, the legendary Mian Bashir.

Mian Javed has his own little story about why his part of Wangat does not get a road. It’s an old and festering blood feud. Mian Javed’s nephew, Mian Altaf, is a minister in Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference government and is eyeing the Gujar “gaddi”. But he fears his uncle, Mian Javed, may usurp it. “So he’s trying to throttle me into submission but doing petty things such as not letting roads be built on this side of the road, by refusing jobs to people loyal to me,” says Mian Javed. Wangat is prey to no greater crisis than the crisis in Gujardom’s first family.

Often, tensions have run so high uncle and nephew have climbed onto the rooftops of their dachas on facing hills to observe goings and comings through binoculars, like troops across a frontier observe the enemy’s movements. “It may sound boyish and silly,” laughs Mian Javed, “but it is serious.” The fighting Mians are known to have unleashed violence on each other on occasion through paid gangsters; there are no guarantees that will not happen again. The poor of Wangat suffer the worst of the feud between their Mians.

The antics of the Mian clan are, of course, only one of the many concerns of the people of Wangat. Among them is worry over what is happening up in the hills. Their deodar and fir forests have been shaved off over the years by a confederacy of bandits that includes militants, politicians, the paramilitary and the police. What remains on the hills is fast being charred to coal by mafias that nobody seems to have control on and everybody seems to be a part of. “So many trees have been cut off during the last decade of militancy, our climate has radically changed,” says a Wangat villager. “By this time, we used to be under knee-deep snow but there hasn’t even been a spell of winter rain yet. Of course, we have also lost our essential asset, wood. But who is to stop those that are cutting trees?”

So what, amid all this, of the Kashmir dispute? Of self-determination and aazaadi? “So what?” wondered the villager, “Save our jungles and give us a road, we’ll talk about the rest later.”    


 
 
JADEJA PAUSE IN BCCI VERDICT 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) decision on the tainted players will be announced in Chennai on Tuesday, and not tomorrow. A meeting of the BCCI’s three-member disciplinary panel will precede the announcement.

According to well-placed sources of The Telegraph, the extra day will generally be utilised by president A.C. Muthiah to “review” the legal opinion (apparently, largely specific to Ajay Jadeja) from a clutch of big guns.

As has been reported, Jadeja’s powerful backers have exerted much pressure with a view to influencing the disciplinary committee verdict. Muthiah chairs the committee.

While the BCCI’s code of conduct lays down a minimum of a five-year ban, for match-fixing and/or interacting with bookies, the issue being studied is: Will the disciplinary committee be guided wholly by the code or also Rule 38 of the BCCI’s constitution (actually, Memorandum and Rules and Regulations)?

Among other things, the Rule in question states the disciplinary committee has the discretion to take whatever action it “deems fit”. In effect, then, if Rule 38 can be taken into account, then the committee has the discretion to disregard the minimum ban laid out in the code. Otherwise, it will have to hand out a five-year punishment. At least.

Also, as the punishment is unlikely to be uniform (it’s inconceivable, for instance, that Nayan Mongia will be banned for more than a year), Muthiah and the BCCI may just use tomorrow to “strengthen” the board’s case even more.

Of course, it has come about belatedly, but it’s significant that top BCCI officials have begun asking themselves the one question which ought to have crossed their minds a long time ago: How will the clean cricketers respond to the punishment accorded to the tainted?

“Protocol-wise, it’s not possible to discuss either the Central Bureau of Investigation or commissioner K. Madhavan’s report with the players. But, yes, the powers-that-be have begun to think of the fall-out of the punishment where the current India cricketers are concerned,” observed somebody very senior in the BCCI.

He added: “I think all of us are aware that the team has done reasonably well, even without the tainted players, a couple of whom have always enjoyed a larger than life presence… In any case, can the BCCI afford to disregard public opinion?”

Good question.

Meanwhile, it is learnt Nikhil Chopra will only be cleared to play after Madhavan has “assessed” the CBI’s analysis of the off-spinner.    


 
 
SUBHAS OPPOSES BANDH CALL 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 3: 
Transport minister Subhash Chakraborty, the rebel in residence in the CPM, again threw the gauntlet to his own government and the party as he openly criticised today the bandh called by Left trade unions on December 20.

Chiding the CPM and its labour arm Citu, of which he is vice-president, Chakrabarty said he was opposed to bandhs, which had lost their relevance.

“Although my party has called the strike and I must go by it, personally I am opposed to any such disruptive programme,” he said, adding that the Left could have protested against the Centre’s delay in releasing funds for flood victims by organising a rally. “It is out of fear that people support bandhs or strikes sponsored by major political parties.”

Recounting the tragic incident of 1983, in which many people were killed in a bomb blast when a 24-hour bandh was called, Chakraborty said: “See, to what extent a bandh can take its toll on innocent people.”

Chakraborty’s anti-bandh pronouncement appears to be a part of his programmed attacks on his own party and the government, which began soon after Jyoti Basu laid down office.

Asked if he has any plans to join rebel leader Saifuddin Chow-dhury’s anti-CPM forum, Chakra-borty flared up: “I am very much in the party and the question does not arise at all.” Then he quipped: “If the situation demands, I can float my own party,” but refused to elaborate on it .

Although Chakraborty’s remarks agitated the leadership, in public the CPM chose to feign indifference. State party secretary Anil Biswas declined to contest Chakraborty’s position lest a comment upset the negotiations to bring Chakraborty in line.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.6°C (-2)
Minimum: 13.6°C (-1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 83%,
Min: 37%

Today

Sunny day. Clear night. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C.

SUNRISE: 6.07 am; SUNSET: 4.47 pm

   
 

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