Bangaru in Babri-trio backtrack
BJP absurd tag on bomb theory
Free with sermon, coy on lesson
Two-tier talks timetable with Bangla
Trinamul barb
Delhi loads R-Day gun to hit and heal
Border vigil plan for stealth force
Zee awaits recast
Basu snubs KPP at rebel bastion

 
 
BANGARU IN BABRI-TRIO BACKTRACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
A day after the NDA unanimously gave a clean chit to the three Union ministers chargesheeted in the Babri masjid demolition, the BJP’s most vocal pro-minorities votary followed suit.

Party chief Bangaru Laxman asserted that even if the designated Ayodhya court took cognisance of the CBI charges, neither L.K. Advani nor Murli Manohar Joshi nor Uma Bharti would be allowed to resign.

The statement came as a complete U-turn. Laxman had recently told a news channel that if charges were pressed against Advani and the others in the Babri case, the question of their resignation would have to be considered. His comments came shortly after two Gujarat ministers — Harin Pathak and Ashok Bhatt — were forced to quit after being chargesheeted in a riots case involving murder.

The BJP had at first said that Pathak and Bhatt would not resign as the charges against them were “politically motivated” and did not involve abuse of office. But despite the party’s spirited defence, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made sure that they resigned, prompting a section of the BJP to interpret the move as “creating a precedent” for Advani and the others.

Laxman’s statement had also angered some Advani loyalists, who alleged that he had made it at the “behest” of the Prime Minister.

But all that seemed to have changed as the BJP president, in an interview to a Hindi daily on Sunday, said: “Even if the court takes cognisance of the charges against the ministers, they will not resign. Neither will the party take it lying down and we will unitedly oppose any demand for their resignation.”

As if taking his cue from Vajpayee, Laxman said the Ayodhya demolition was backed by the “sentiments of lakhs and crores of people”. According to him, the case of Advani, Joshi and Bharti was different from that of Pathak and Bhatt.

“These ministers had no role to play in bringing down the structure,” he said. “Lakhs of eyewitnesses who were pre- sent on the spot on that date will testify that they were trying to control the crowds from going berserk.”

BJP sources said Laxman’s “clarification” on the resignation issue came in the wake of a party decision that “under no circumstance” must Advani, Joshi or Bharti be allowed to step down — especially Advani, who they claimed, was “hyper-sensitive and prone to taking such a step under extreme pressure”.

The argument was: “If he quits, it would amount to an admission of guilt. While the reality is that the charges are false.”

Reminded that Advani abdicated his Lok Sabha membership after being chargesheeted in the hawala case, a BJP leader said: “Things were different then. Now these three persons are important ministers and the government cannot afford to lose such heavyweights.”

BJP sources also said the party might not gain political mileage from such a step. “It depends on how they use the issue, how they convey the right signals, but these are all imponderables.”

   

 
 
BJP ABSURD TAG ON BOMB THEORY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
After a week-long high on Atal Behari Vajpayee’s controversial statements on the Ram temple, the BJP hasn’t taken too kindly to RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan for saying that Babri masjid’s demolition was triggered by a “bomb”.

Neither is the party too happy with Rajendra Singh. In an interview to the latest issue of Panchajanya, the RSS mouthpiece, the former Sangh chief put the onus of pulling down the mosque on the then Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

“These theories are rather absurd and have confused our cadre,” said a senior BJP leader. “If, at all, we want to give the credit for the demolition to a Congress-planted bomb, our activists are asking why on earth do we observe the December 6 anniversary as Shaurya Diwas (Martyrs’ Day)? Whose martyrdom are we remembering: a Congress’ bomb’s or Narasimha Rao’s?”

Sudarshan had said in a public meeting at Thiruvananthapuram last Friday that a powerful device was exploded inside the mosque with the connivance of the then Congress government as “part of a grand conspiracy”.

Sudarshan’s theory was that L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti were there to “only protect” the mosque, while the Bajrang Dal and VHP activists had merely removed the plaster coating on the structure and not breached it in any way.

The “revelations” were endorsed by Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, the BJP’s lone Muslim minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet.

At a press conference last Saturday, the minister of state for human resources development alleged that the Congress had hatched a conspiracy to pull down the Babri masjid way back in 1947. He claimed that the sequence of events leading to the demolition — beginning with the planting of idols to the unlocking of the doors for puja and the shilanyas — were part of its “evil scheme”.

But BJP sources dismissed Sudarshan’s theory as “baseless”. “From time to time he had been sharing his information with some of us, but there were no serious takers. But when Gandhian activist and Rajya Sabha MP Nirmala Deshpande endorsed the theory recently after her fact-finding visit to Ayodhya, he decided to articulate it publicly,” a source said.

They added that because Vajpayee had revived the Ayodhya issue, the press, too, had picked up Sudarshan’s “revelations” in a big way.

   

 
 
FREE WITH SERMON, COY ON LESSON 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
AIDS is still taboo in schools, even though the government is repeatedly warning of an “AIDS invasion” in India.

Barring Maharashtra, all other states have kept the subject out of the textbooks at the primary level. “HIV or AIDS is incorporated only into science textbooks of secondary and higher secondary stages,” states Quality Education In A Global Era, a report prepared by the human resources development ministry.

Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi wants schools to join the AIDS awareness campaign, an opinion shared by many others not only in the ministry but in other educational institutions as well. The report underlines: “Since AIDS education is inextricably linked with the sensitive issue of education in human sexuality, our first strategy should be advocacy among various groups such as parents, teachers and educational administrators.”

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has been debating for long the issue of including sex education in the curriculum. But for every voice of support there have been dozens opposing it — a reason for the NCERT to keep the issue hanging even in its recently updated curriculum framework.

The ministry agrees the subject, being delicate, should be handled with care so as not to “offend the sensibilities” of parents, teachers and students. “We should emphasise messages in tune with traditional values like abstinence and mutually faithful relationships,” an official said. “However, in matters of cultural sensitivity such as condom use, the decision should be left to the discretion of the individual school,” he added.

The target group ranges between 14-18 years and the acceptability of the project hinges on teachers — their skills at breaking down traditional barriers and inhibitions. “So that they can communicate comfortably with adolescent students, especially in matters relating to sexuality,” says the human resources report.

“We must know how to tackle the issue of AIDS through our syllabus,” said a senior ministry official. At present the students are left to pick up bits of information about the deadly disease through channels outside the formal education system — information that is often misleading.

Almost five years ago the National AIDS Control Organisation had launched a special awareness programme in collaboration with the NCERT, but it was too small in scope. For instance, an NCERT textbook on Class X has only one small paragraph on AIDS in a chapter on health. Though the section informs about the major ways AIDS can be contracted, there is not a line on preventing its transmission. The text materials given out by the National Open Sc-hool for secondary courses incorporate AIDS in its section on sexuality and reproductive organs.

“The Maharashtra government’s textbooks in science for the secondary and higher secondary stages is an exception since it devotes about one-and-a-half pages to the subject,” stresses the ministry report.

   

 
 
TWO-TIER TALKS TIMETABLE WITH BANGLA 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
India and Bangladesh foreign ministers will meet tomorrow to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations. The talks will be followed by foreign office consultations between the two foreign secretaries.

The meetings gather significance in wake of the recent killings in Assam by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), whose activists have been operating from camps in Bangladesh.

Indications are the two sides will lay special emphasis on counter-insurgency measures and try to improve upon arrangements already in existence.

The talks are being held at a time when relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan have hit rock-bottom. There are indications the two sides will apprise each other of their relations with Islamabad.

After Bangladesh foreign minister Abdus Samad’s talks with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh, foreign secretaries H.M. Shafi-Sami and Lalit Mansingh will pick up the thread, their discussions lasting two days.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal refused to spell out the agenda, pointing out that foreign office consultations are usually “free-wheeling discussions” where either side can bring up any issue it feels important.

Referring to Northeastern insurgent groups operating from Bangladeshi soil, he said a mechanism for “border management” is already in place and the issue is taken up there at regular intervals.

Jassal indicated that the two sides will also review cooperation on economic issues and road and rail links.

Sheikh Hasina’s government is perceived as “pro-Indian” and relations between the two countries have improved since she came to power in 1996. One of the major achievements was an agreement on Ganga water sharing in December 1996. The deal paved the way for stronger ties with regular exchange of visits at different levels over the past few years.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went to Dhaka last year during the Kargil conflict to flag off the Dhaka-Calcutta bus service. Last October, he met Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit in New York.

Although trade and economic cooperation, particularly steps to narrow the trade gap will be discussed, the rise of religious fundamentalism and the threat both countries face from it will also come up at the talks.

Sheikh Hasina, following an attempt on her life, had sent Shafi-Sami as her special envoy to India to get Delhi to share information about possible plots to destabilise the Awami League government there.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister has been extremely vocal and active in international fora in condemning military dicta- torships and fundamentalist forces.

This has helped strengthen the bond between her government and the BJP-led dispensation, which, too, has been highlighting these issues.

   

 
 
TRINAMUL BARB 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 11: 
The Trinamul Congress sharply criticised the felicitation of Jyoti Basu, saying it was an “extravaganza at a time when thousands of flood victims are not getting adequate relief”.

“The government has spent lakhs of rupees on the felicitation function which is highly illegal as the programme was organised by the Left Front,” said Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of the Trinamul’s policy making body.

He said despite resigning from the post of chief minister, Basu was still enjoying his official residence at Indira Bhavan as well as a 12-car convoy.

   

 
 
DELHI LOADS R-DAY GUN TO HIT AND HEAL 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
Opinion differs on whether guns have fallen silent on the border after the ceasefire, but Delhi is busy dusting the Republic Day parade arsenal to take a potshot at Pakistan.

Last year, India had chosen as the January 26 chief guest Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a leader who is acclaimed the world over for bringing his country back on the democratic path.

The choice was not lost on Pakistan, where the junta led by Pervez Musharraf had seized power after a coup a few months ago.

This year, the honour is expected to go to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the leader of not only a key Islamic country but one that had often opposed Pakistani-sponsored resolutions against India on Kashmir.

Apart from thumbing its nose at Pakistan, the move to invite the Algerian President is also being seen as an olive branch to Algeria after India withdrew support to the Sahariwian Arab Democratic Republic (Sadr) early this year. The tough stand could not but have disappointed Algeria, which is among the few countries that continue to support the Prolesario movement.

The decision to pick two leaders in consecutive years from Africa is also aimed at setting at rest speculation about India’s relations with traditional friends from the developing world at a time when the country is furiously building bridges with the West.

The choice of the chief guest is expected to provide India with an opportunity to reaffirm ties with the key Nam members and look for other potential partners in the continent beyond South Africa.

In October, Jaswant Singh became the first Indian foreign minister to pay an official visit to Algeria in 15 years, as part of his exercise to renew ties with some of Delhi’s traditional allies.

During his three-day visit from October 23 to 25, he held wide-ranging talks with the Algerian leadership.

Though the Sadr issue was raised in passing, the differences on this score did not cloud discussions on other important areas where the two sides can work closely with each other.

It was during Jaswant’s visit that an invitation was extended to Bouteflika to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. Bouteflika’s state visit from January 24 will give the two sides an opportunity to broadbase the ties.

For India, Algeria is important for a number of reasons. It is an important member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), a forum that is used by Pakistan regularly to pass anti-India resolutions on Kashmir. Delhi needs in the forum friends like Algeria, which can play a role in blunting the sharp edges, if not halt these resolutions.

Algeria is also a member of the Organisation of African Unity and the League of Arab States — both are important fora where India could do with friends.

Terrorism is another important area where the two sides share concerns. Both have been facing cross-border terrorism for years now and putting up a strong fight to defeat militant groups.

India is also interested in tapping the huge deposits of hydrocarbon and phosphates in Algeria. Delhi can reciprocate by giving technology training to Algerians.

Delhi also realises that the support of the developing world will be crucial when the chips are down in the race to become a member of the UN Security Council.

   

 
 
BORDER VIGIL PLAN FOR STEALTH FORCE 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
The Group of Ministers deliberating on the report of the task force on border management is learnt to have recommended that the 1,751-km Indo-Nepal border be policed by the paramilitary Special Service Bureau (SSB).

Headed by Union home minister L.K. Advani, the group — which is studying the reports submitted by the task forces on intelligence, defence, internal security and border management — feels that the SSB’s armed wing should be brought under the command and control of the home ministry to counter smuggling and ISI activities launched from Nepal.

The task force on border management, which submitted its report in October, was headed by former Union home secretary Madhav Godbole.

The 42,000-strong paramilitary force, which has a civilian wing, is under the administrative control of the Directorate of Security within the Cabinet Secretariat. It is headed by an officer of the rank of director who reports to the chief of the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Created after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the SSB was tasked with carrying out secret operations. One of its assignments was to work among the border population in the event of foreign aggression. Its job was to inspire patriotic fervour among the border populace and use them for subversive and resistance operations.

However, a government committee headed by former RAW chief A.S. Syali had recommended that the Special Service Bureau be disbanded or absorbed into other paramilitary forces.

According to the committee, the maintenance of the force was proving to be a burden on the exchequer. It was also pointed out that the force no longer served the purpose for which it had been set up.

But the ministers’ group appears to have taken a contrary opinion and has suggested that the SSB’s armed wing could be utilised by deploying it along the porous Indo-Nepal border.

The task force on border management had suggested that the government merge the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) — which guards the western (Ladakh) and middle (Barahoti in Uttar Pradesh) sectors of the Line of Actual Control — and the Special Service Bureau. The combined force could then be given the responsibility of maintaining security along the border.

The Indo-Nepal border touches three states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. There are 99 police station areas and 21 border district police headquarters along the border.

But the task force on border management had felt that most police station areas along the border are poorly manned.

Senior home ministry officials say that utilising the SSB “would not be a bad idea at all” as the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal have agreed to set up their own special task forces to police their respective border areas.

However, the officials pointed out that if the SSB polices the Indo-Nepal border as a Central force, substantial funds will have to earmarked to provide sophisticated weapons, communications equipment and modern transport. Besides, there would be the added expenditure on infrastructure.

   

 
 
ZEE AWAITS RECAST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 11: 
The long-awaited restructuring of Zee network is likely to get chairman Subhash Chandra’s nod of approval by the middle of this month, Zee TV sources said. The network’s last year’s turnover was Rs 775.5 crore.

A.T. Kearney, who has recommended the restructuring, has suggested three broad divisions of activity — content, access and a new division, corporate services, which will cater to both content and access.

Once the restructuring takes place, Zee News will be merged with Zee Telefilms. This aspect of the streamlining exercise has triggered speculation that Deepak Shourie, CEO, Zee News, has put in his papers.

Zee TV sources said while Shourie has not yet formally resigned, he has been on long leave and attending office only occasionally. The sources also said that Kearney did not make any suggestions regarding the key players.

At present, R.K. Singh, CEO of Zee Telefilms, heads the contents division, minus Zee News. The access division, headquartered in Bangalore, is headed by Dev Naganand. But even if Zee’s restructuring comes through, the network will need an ace spin-doctor to extricate it from the imbroglio over the sacking of Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala, the two hosts of Sawal Dus Crore Ka.

   

 
 
BASU SNUBS KPP AT REBEL BASTION 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Shivmandir, Dec. 11: 
Cocking a snook at the threat from the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP), Jyoti Basu today went ahead with his rally at this stronghold of the separatists and dismissed their “unreasonable” demand for an independent state.

Basu, who arrived two hours behind schedule, asked the Kamtapuris on what ground they were demanding the carving out of a new state from six north Bengal districts.

“How can the Rajbanshis make such a demand on a linguistic basis? Their claim that the Rajbanshi language is different from Bengali is not true. Under no condition can we divide Bengal on linguistic lines,” the former chief minister said at a huge rally at the Attaragai School premises in Shivmandir on the outskirts of Siliguri.

The KPP, which has its headquarters in Shivmandir, had threatened to disrupt Basu’s rallies in north Bengal. Elaborate security arrangements had been made for the CPM leader.

However, belying the CPM’s claim that a large section of the “alienated” Rajbanshis were present, tea garden labourers comprised the majority of the audience.

In an apparent bid to appease the Rajbanshi community, Basu said: “My elder sister-in-law, a Rajbanshi by birth, never ever mentioned that the community was different from other Bengali groups. Scholars who have researched the Rajbanshi language say it is no different from Bengali. It is just another dialect spoken in north Bengal. My ancestors spoke the ‘Dhakai’ dialect, does that mean that the language spoken in Dhaka is not Bengali?” Basu said.

Condemning the KPP’s militant activities, the former chief minister said: “We hear these people have taken up arms and have killed nine of our partymen. They are a misguided lot. If they think they can get a separate state on the basis of language, they are wrong. Under no circumstances will we allow the division of Bengal. The police administration is well-quipped to deal with these people.”

Accusing the United Liberation Front of Assume (Ulfa) militants of being stooges of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (IS) and trying to destabilise the region, Basu said: “Certain forces are out to destabilise the region and are trying to break the unity of the Left Front government in Bengal. It is these forces which are aiding separatist groups and militancy in north Bengal.

“During my meeting with the king of Bhutan, I had taken up the issue of Ulfa insurgents using the jungles of that country to carry out anti-India activities. He had promised not to allow such activities to continue from Bhutan’s soil. I’m hopeful that these Ulfa chaps will soon be forced to move out of Bhutan. They are training the KLO boys at these camps.”

   
 

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