Mandarins sulk over ad hoc extension policy
Ceasefire heat on Cabinet meet
NGOs to move court on quake relief bias
Farooq to shift police bases
Valley Sikhs choose to stay back
Sideline storm in CPM
Delhi in West Asia tightrope
Critics on Sonia’s list for tea party
Shadow of insider hand on ambush
Stray violence in hills

 
 
MANDARINS SULK OVER AD HOC EXTENSION POLICY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
The controversy over Chokila Iyer’s appointment as foreign secretary, superseding some seniors, is far from over.

Days before she assumes charge, her batchmate and secretary (economic relations) Sudhir Deware is going on leave — a move that is being seen as a sign of disenchantment among officers who have not been provided with an honourable exit.

Iyer is due to arrive next week to take up her new assignment. Her work will overlap with that of outgoing foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh for about three weeks before he leaves for Washington in early March to take charge as ambassador to the United States.

Deware, who retires on June 30, is going on leave ostensibly to prepare for his retirement. But insiders have interpreted it as a fallout of the government’s “arbitrary” policy on granting extension to civil servants.

Though both Iyer and Deware are from the 1964 batch of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Iyer ranked below Deware on the merit list and was, therefore, a junior in service.

Disappointment over the choice of foreign secretary has been brewing for several months. When Kanwal Sibal, a 1966 batch officer posted as ambassador to France, was tipped to take over, many contenders wrote to the government complaining about being overlooked. Sibal’s appointment would have meant that two batches of the IFS — 1964 and 1965, which have about 20 diplomats — would have been ignored.

Sensing widespread disenchantment, the government chose Iyer as the first woman to head the foreign service. But if South Block thought the selection of a woman would calm disgruntled officials, it was mistaken. Sibal, who was to take up the post of secretary (east), refused to move out of Paris. This sparked a chain reaction in other key missions, where senior diplomats refused to move out.

Apart from Deware, there are two other senior diplomats from the 1964 batch still in the service — Sati Lamba and Deb Mukherjee, the ambassadors to Moscow and Kathmandu. While Lamba retires on July 31, Mukherjee has till about November this year before his tenure ends.

Neither Lamba nor Mukherjee has so far been given an extension or a post-retirement assignment. The foreign ministry has, however, granted almost a year’s extension to Nareshwar Dayal, the high commissioner in London. Another diplomat from the same batch, Irshat Aziz, was given a two-year assignment in Tunisia after his retirement.

Many senior civil servants had expected the BJP government to follow a uniform policy on extensions. There would have been less criticism if the government had stuck to a standard rule on this sensitive subject. But like its predecessor, the Vajpayee government, too, has been following an arbitrary policy on granting an extension to a few while refusing others.

   

 
 
CEASEFIRE HEAT ON CABINET MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
The next Cabinet meeting to be held later this week assumes special significance after the massacre in Rajouri yesterday, in which suspected militants killed 15 Kashmiri Muslims.

The Vajpayee government expects criticism from within the Sangh parivar and the Opposition, especially the Congress, on its decision to persist with the Valley ceasefire for three consecutive months.

Officials confirmed that the Prime Minister was eager to convene a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting as early as possible, provided some of his key ministers were in Delhi. Defence minister George Fernandes was in Srinagar today as part of a team that has gone there to allay the fears of the insecure community of Sikhs in the state.

The sources said the meeting cannot be held tomorrow because Fernandes was not expected to be back by tomorrow evening. On the other hand, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, another important member of the CCS, is scheduled to leave for a three-day trip to Myanmar on Tuesday. The CCS may be forced to hold a meeting without Singh.

Officials agree that the third month of the ceasefire, unilaterally declared by the Vajpayee government as a goodwill gesture on the eve of Ramzan, has been bloodied by violent incidents.

During the third month of ceasefire, the militants have carried out two consecutive raids at the Srinagar airport and lobbed grenades close to a public rally being addressed by chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

They have also attacked at least two ministers of the National Conference government, raided the Srinagar police headquarters and killed eight jawans and slaughtered six Sikhs in Srinagar, which culminated in the massacre of 15 civilians in Rajouri yesterday.

The last extension was possible only after the Vajpayee government decided to give more weightage to diplomatic considerations. The CCS debated for three hours before coming to this decision.

The home ministry had reservations about the third extension and had cautioned the government about more violence in the Valley and Jammu, especially after the attack on the Red Fort.

The government is now worried that winter will shortly be over and infiltration will resume across the international border and the Line of Control once the thaw begins in early March.

The home ministry has intelligence inputs that the militants have regrouped themselves during the ceasefire and those that gone into hibernation in the Valley are now preparing to strike. Some have already struck terror.

This explains why militant attacks have been going up of late. The home ministry believes the militants have found enough time and scope to consolidate themselves with search operations kept in abeyance.

India has extracted enough diplomatic advantage during the ceasefire. The Vajpayee administration can now tell the world that it is not just the administration but even a party of moderates like the Opposition Congress which is now bringing pressure on it for a review of its ceasefire policy. Despite all the goodwill shown by Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf after the Gujarat quake, the militants have not been reined in.

   

 
 
NGOS TO MOVE COURT ON QUAKE RELIEF BIAS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ahmedabad, Feb. 11: 
A forum of NGOs will file a public interest litigation against Gujarat and the RSS for allegedly “communalising relief and rehabilitation” and doling out quake aid on lines of caste and religion.

The PIL, possibly the first of its kind, will be filed tomorrow by the Earthquake Affected Relief and Rehabilitation Services based on first-hand reports of nearly 1000 volunteers.

In its report, the forum of 52 NGOs has alleged that “relief efforts in Kutch and Saurashtra are biased against Dalit and Muslim victims. Sangh parivar organisations, in connivance with the state administration are systematically ensuring that the vulnerable groups do not get adequate relief and compensation.”

According to the forum, preliminary investigations have revealed that relief has bypassed 76 villages in Kutch, Bhuj, Bhachau, Surendranagar and Rajkot. These villages “ignored by the state” need immediate attention, it said.

The forum will also petition the NHRC and the Governor. Wilfred D’Costa of the Indian National Social Action Forum said the NGOs are forced to file a PIL because “aid coming from all over the world is being directed to specific communities”.

Union home minister L.K. Advani, however, denied any bias. He said the Centre and the state were jointly trying to work out a “concrete rehabilitation plan” for quake victims.

The Gujarat government and the RSS are accusing “vested interests” of politicising matters “in the time of disaster”. They have decided to sue some newspapers for creating a controversy by “false and biased reporting”.

The NGO forum is, however, firm that Muslims and Dalits are being given a raw deal. D’Costa said matters were worse because the state government had allowed the RSS to take the upper hand, which was misappropriating relief material and distributing it in any manner it thought fit.

A missionary, who went to the razed Himgiri apartments with six volunteers two hours after the quake, was barred from lending a helping hand, D’Costa said. RSS volunteers allegedly told him they reserved the prerogative to “look after the people”.

Another volunteer, who returned from Rajkot, said the RSS was deliberately diverting relief material from Maliya, a village of 85 per cent Muslims. Of the 52 people who died in Maliya, 38 were Muslims and the rest Dalits.

“It is good if the RSS wants to help but does it have the right to stop others? Don’t people from other communities have the right to social service?” Father Cedric Prakash of St. Xavier’s Social Service Society asked.

Gujarat PCC vice-president Hasmukh Patel said he had “evidence” of the RSS unloading relief material from a Turkish plane and distributing it in a village of upper-caste Durbars.

RSS spokesman Pradeep Jain, however, trashed the allegations. “You think we ask people which community they belong to before supplying relief material? Everyone knows we have been working very hard, there are some who want to take that goodwill away from us,” he said.

   

 
 
FAROOQ TO SHIFT POLICE BASES 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 11: 
Following the fidayeen attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police headquarters on Friday, the state government has decided to shift all important police installations from city areas.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah made the announcement after visiting the armed police headquarters that also houses the police control room.

“Important police installations need to be shifted from civil congested areas so that police personnel could handle such situations effectively,” Abdullah said.

Eight policemen were killed and six injured in Friday’s suicidal attack by militants. Two militants were also killed during the night-long encounter.

Abdullah said the police should “always keep in mind that the civilians in such areas are not harmed while retaliating the militant attacks”. He assured all assistance for bereaved families, including proper rehabilitation.

Militants attacked state law minister P.L. Handoo’s house with grenades last evening, official sources said. The CRPF personnel guarding the house at Janglat Mandi in Anantnag district retaliated. Two auto-drivers were injured in the crossfire, the sources added.

Handoo and his family were away in Jammu, the winter capital from where the government is functioning now. The police have launched a search operation in Budhal sector of Rajouri district in Jammu to apprehend the terrorists involved in the killing of 15 members of three families at Kote Chadwal village yesterday, a police spokesman said.

Blaming foreign mercenaries for wiping out the three families, the spokesman said the mercenaries descended on the remote village and made various demands, including food and shelter, from the villagers, Mohammad Shafi, Bashir Ahmad and Abdul.

“The villagers refused to accede to the demands of the mercenaries, upon which they resorted to indiscriminate firing on the innocent family members of these villagers and subsequently set their houses on fire,” he added.

   

 
 
VALLEY SIKHS CHOOSE TO STAY BACK 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 11: 
Kashmiri Sikhs said today that they would not migrate from the Valley.

Following the killing of six members of their community at Mehjoor Nagar here, Sikhs here had said last week they would migrate to Jammu and other places. They had asked the government to open separate counters in Jammu for Sikh migrants and provide them with the facilities being given to Pundits and Muslim migrants.

The community said it would announce its final decision today at the bhog ceremony held at the Mehjoor Nagar gurdwara. With the majority of Sikhs being in favour of staying back, it was decided that the community would not migrate. But a section of Sikh youths seemed to be still for migrating. “We will not stay any more in Kashmir,” a youth shouted.

“We have decided not to migrate from Kashmir Valley. We will continue to live with our Muslim brothers,” said Harmohan Singh. He said only a section of youth was shouting slogans. “Majority is not with them”, he added.

A Central team led by Union defence minister George Fernandes joined the bhog ceremony. The team included minister for chemicals S.S. Dhindsa, civil aviation minister Chaman Lal Gupta, S.S. Ahluwalia, MP, vice-chairman of the Minorities commission Trilochan Singh, president of the SGPC Jagdev Singh Talwandi.

Expressing sympathy for the Sikhs at the gurdwara, the defence minister said: “We are fully aware of the situation following the killing of six Sikhs.”

   

 
 
SIDELINE STORM IN CPM 
 
 
BY DEBASISH CHOTTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, Feb. 11: 
Simmering strife in the CPM today burst into the open with Samir Putatunda for the first time accusing the leadership of sidelining him.

Stung at not being invited to the chief minister’s Raidighi rally, the South 24-Parganas district secretary said: “A section of party leaders has done it deliberately to spite me. This is an attempt to corner me in the party.” But a chair was reserved for him on the dais.

Putatunda said the overlook act could have been provoked by reports that he might quit in the next few weeks. “This cannot be ruled out as many feel I am leaving the organisation,” he said.

Party sources said Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee urged Putatunda to participate in the rally when he came to know of the surprise omission from the guest list. But the rebel leader, regarded close to the chief minister, chose to stay away, saying it would take him a few hours to reach the venue.

“I told the chief minister I appreciate his concern, but I cannot undertake a trip to Raidighi at the eleventh hour,” Putatunda said. Later in the evening, he met with state secretary Anil Biswas.

Today’s incident fuelled speculations that Putatunda would quit soon. A meeting of the South 24-Parganas district committee will be held on Tuesday in which Putatunda’s souring relations with the party is expected to figure.

But Putatunda ducked queries on whether he would quit. “Wait for a few days, you will come to know everything,” he said.

Several Putatunda loyalists skipped the Raidighi rally organised to condole the death of slain zonal committee secretary Kalipada Halder. “We stayed away after coming to know Putatunda was not invited. He is the South 24 Parganas district secretary and by not inviting him, the leadership has insulted all of us,” a leader said.

Rishi Halder, a key member of the CPM-controlled zilla parishad, said: “Putatunda may be offended as his name did not appear in the advertisement published in today’s Ganashakti. Not only that, his name was even dropped from programme posters the party distributed.” Rishi is a known Putatunda loyalist. Diamond Harbour municipality chairman Asit Bose said: “It shows bad taste on the part of the leadership to treat Putatunda in this manner.”

Another rebel leader and transport minister Subhas Chakraborty held a marathon meeting with Biswas and Biman Bose at Alimuddin Street. He later said he would not contest the Assembly elections “despite requests from the leadership”. “I have already made it clear that I will not contest the elections. I will not budge an inch from my stand,” he said.

Though the meeting was ostensibly called to discuss tomorrow’s padayatra to condole the Gujarat quake deaths, CPM insiders said both Biswas and Bose had insisted that Chakraborty contest the elections.

   

 
 
DELHI IN WEST ASIA TIGHTROPE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
As a cautious India congratulated Israeli hardliner Ariel Sharon on his “decisive victory”, Palestine urged fellow Arab nations not to let Tel Aviv grow close to Delhi at their expense.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in his message to Sharon said India valued its relations with Israel. “New Delhi’s ties with Tel Aviv were marked with warmth and understanding,” Vajpayee said in his message to the Likud leader.

Though India’s growing closeness with Israel under the BJP may have caused concern in the Arab world, Palestine, however, said it was not worried. “The issue of an independent homeland for Palestinians had found support for years and cutting across political lines parties have rallied behind it,” said Khalid El Sheikh, Palestinian ambassador in Delhi. He added: “It’s not only a political issue, but an emotional one too. And that is why there is widespread support in India to it.”

He added: “We are confident of our traditional links with India. We tell our friends in the Arab world not to vacate the space in their relations with Delhi. It is only then that Israel will be able to grow.”

The Indian leadership, despite its public posture, is a little worried about the fate of the West Asia peace process under Sharon’s leadership of Israel. Vajpayee was perhaps one of the last leaders among the key countries to have sent a congratulatory message. India apparently wanted to wait for an official announcement before issuing its statement, made wiser by the lockjam in the US Presidential elections US.

But another reason for the delay was that Delhi was waiting for the reaction of the other world leaders first. Aware that its close ties with Tel Aviv have caused concern in the Arab world, India did not want to be in a haste to congratulate a perceived hardliner.

South Block officials said India would continue to maintain contacts with Israel and Palestine and stressed on peacefully resolving their differences. “Our emphasis has been on returning to the negotiating table and ensuring that the West Asia peace process is not derailed irrespective of the provocations. No one can at least blame us for that,” a senior official of the foreign ministry said.

But there is anxiety as to how Delhi should react if Sharon stretches the argument of “security before peace” too far. During the last eruption of violence in the region, India had urged both parties to restore normality and return to negotiations. But if more Palestinian supporters get killed because of Sharon’s policy in West Asia, India may find it difficult to maintain a stand of neutrality among the conflicting parties.

   

 
 
CRITICS ON SONIA’S LIST FOR TEA PARTY 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 11: 
After the holy dip at Kumbh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi plans to take another dip — this time in the troubled political waters to reassert her position as Opposition leader.

Next weekend, Sonia will host a tea party for the leaders of non-NDA parties. Ostensibly, the occasion is to formulate the common floor strategy for the budget session of Parliament, beginning February 19.

However, given the schism within the Opposition, the tea party will generate a lot of interest as to who is making an appearance and who is not.

In May 1999, Sonia had attended a tea party hosted by ADMK chief Jayalalitha, resulting in the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

The big question is whether Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar will attend the meet. Yadav and Pawar are bitter opponents of the AICC chief. They believe that because of her foreign origin, Sonia should be debarred from holding high offices, including that of Prime Minister. Apart from blocking Sonia’s bid to become Prime Minister in May 1999, the Samajwadi Party and NCP have consistently refused to acknowledge Sonia as leader of the Opposition.

The Congress chief is likely to shift the venue of the meet from 10 Janpath to the Parliament House annexe. Her advisers have told her not to convene the meeting at her residence as it may serve as an excuse for those unwilling to attend.

Sonia aides said the purpose of the tea party was to silence those within the Congress and outside who had criticised her for failing to convene such a meet during the winter session of Parliament. CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee had convened the meet after Sonia opted out.

Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders had traded charges when the main Opposition party raised the Ayodhya issue in the Lok Sabha, seeking resignation of three Union ministers and forced the Samajwadi Party to play second fiddle. The Samajwadi Party resented it in view of the ensuing Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress and the Samajwadi Party are both eyeing minority votes.

   

 
 
SHADOW OF INSIDER HAND ON AMBUSH 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 11: 
Though no outfit has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack on Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) chief Subash Ghising’s life, all fingers are pointing at the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) led by Chattray Subba.

Police and the GNLF have charged the GLO with the attack. The meticulously-executed ambush and the firearms used suggest the presence of a highly-trained group. The militants had a thorough knowledge of the thick forest-cover.

The attackers also knew of Ghising’s last-minute change of travel plans, a fact which baffled the police. The GNLF chief was on his way back to Darjeeling after attending a meeting on the review of the Gorkha Hill Accord. Ghising had decided to spend the night at the Pintail village resort on the outskirts of Siliguri, but plans were changed at the last minute.

The police also do not know why the GNLF chairman took the Pankhabari Road. Ghising prefers the Hill Cart Road, avoiding the shorter yet steeper Pankhabari Road, for security reasons.

The Ghising motorcade left for Darjeeling around 5 pm. The recovery of a mobile phone on the slain militant along with an AK-47 rifle and a live grenade with Chinese markings point out that the militants were being informed of the GNLF chief’s every move.

Intelligence sources are exploring the “insider hand”. “There must have been some kind of an insider hand. The choice of the ambush site just below the ‘sath ghoomti’ turnings where vehicles invariably have to slow down to negotiate the sharp bends was an ideal spot to lay an ambush,” a senior intelligence official said.

GNLF Kurseong branch committee chief Indra Narayan Pradhan claimed that there were definite leads as to who were behind the attack. “A call had come on the mobile even after we had recovered it from the slain militant. We have recorded the number which is on of most vital leads into the affair,” Pradhan said.

Inspector-general of police (North Bengal range) N.R. Das said circumstantial evidence points at the GLO. “All clues point at the GLO. After talking to our security personnel who were part of Ghising’s security, we have reconstructed the incident.”

He added: “The slain militant has mongoloid features. We do not rule out the possibility of the Naga militants involved in the encounter with the police at Tinkhataria-Guabari in Jaldhaka in Kalimpong sub-division last November.

“The Naga militants may have been holed up in the dense jungles on the Indo-Bhutan border till the heat died down and may have slipped into the Kurseong area recently to execute the attack on Ghising with the help of local GLO activists. The attackers lobbed grenades and petro-bombs.”

Das said: “Besides beefing up the security for all GNLF councillors, we have sealed the Indo-Nepal border at all the three entry points, Pashupati, Mirik and Kakarbhitta. Combing operations are on.”

   

 
 
STRAY VIOLENCE IN HILLS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Feb. 11: 
Sporadic violence broke out in Darjeeling hills as news the attack on Subash Ghising spread and hundreds of his supporters prayed outside a private nursing home where he is being treated.

The angry supporters torched the offices of pro-Gorkhaland organisations, including the All-Gorkha Students’ Union (AGSU) and the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), and three vehicles.

One vehicle belonged to the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Janashakti and convener of the four-party pro-Gorkhaland combine, the United Democratic Front (UDF). The house of the AGSU president, Roshan Giri, was also attacked. Additional security forces have been rushed to Darjeeling and Kurseong towns to contain the violence.

Inspector General of police (north Bengal range) N.R. Das, who met Ghising at the nursing home, said: “It was obvious that the GNLF supports would vent their anger. However, we have contained the violence.” He said 15 persons have so far been picked up for “questioning”.

Rubbishing the GNLF allegation that security measures were not sufficient, Das said: “We had taken adequate measures. The fact that the security personnel could fight a half-an-hour gun-battle with the militants after the ambush was proof of this.”

State urban development and municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattarcharya said the director general of police and the state home secretary would arrive here tomorrow to take stock of the situation.

“We have sealed the Indo-Nepal border since last night. Combing operations are on to apprehend the culprits. We have gained some vital leads on the organisation behind the assault,” he said.

Bhattacharya brushed aside the GNLF’s allegation of a state-sponsored conspiracy, citing the absence of many senior officials in the district last evening. The party has also put up posters alleging that the state was behind the ambush.

“While the IGP and SP Darjeeling were on leave, the DM is on an official tour in Delhi. The ASP, Kurseong, Rashmi Shina, is on maternity leave. The officials’ absence was a just a coincidence,” the minister said.

   
 

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