Masters of oceans drop anchor for Mumbai muscle-flexing
Ayodhya twin tips on Advani shortlist
Police await mastermind’s call
Delhi ducks China US missile
Veerappan aide held
Calcutta Weather

Mumbai, Feb. 15: 
A veil of smog blanketing the financial capital lifted today; so did the spirit of Mumbaikars preparing to spend their government-gifted holidays watching warships of different countries, sizes and shapes on display at a grand naval show.

Hundreds of people, buoyed by a fog-free morning, lined the half-moon Marine Drive, whooping with joy while air force jets thundered past overhead in a dress rehearsal for the international fleet review, the biggest maritime extravaganza on Indian seas, starting tomorrow.

Eight Russian-made Sukhois streaked through the clear skies over the turquoise Arabian Sea, their spewing fumes sketching the shape of a heart over a city where Valentine’s Day was disrupted by Sena activists.

Out at sea stood a fleet of shimmering frigates, destroyers and corvettes, their hulls bronze in the early-morning sun. From afar, the tops of the submarines looked like the slick backs of dolphins emerging from the sea for a breath of fresh air.

From a yacht, President K.R. Narayanan, commander of the armed forces, will observe the fleets of warships on Saturday. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will witness a glitzy parade of marines on the road and air force jets in the sky on Sunday.

Besides flexing its naval muscle, the navy hopes to earn diplomatic brownie points from the international event. Almost all the western powers, including the US, UK, France and Russia, are participating in the event, where 45 Indian warships will meet 25 foreign vessels in an atmosphere of bonhomie.

Navy helicopters circled overhead sporting “Welcome” banners as foreign ships sailed into its dockyard in ones or twos. Guns from INS Kora and INS Kirpan, two Indian Navy destroyers, also boomed in salute.

India virtually snubbed Pakistan by not holding out an invitation. China, a Pakistan ally, pulled out at the last minute, citing its navy’s pre-scheduled engagements.

Responding to an appeal, the Western Command of the navy — the host — had made, the Maharashtra government has declared Friday and Saturday holidays, much to the chagrin of industry.

Besides its own departments, the government asked private businesses to close for the two days to let people watch the event, being organised for the first time in the country.

This stretched the weekend from Friday to Monday, which is a public holiday because of Shiv Jayanti. Indian Merchant Chambers of Commerce and All-India Association of Industries cried themselves hoarse over the government-ordered holidays, saying business worth crores of rupees would be lost.

But the city took on a festival air as harried office-goers, struggling to cope with the fast-paced Mumbai life, welcomed the “unexpected” holidays with open arms.

“At least, we can relax for two days and enjoy ourselves watching the event on television,” Subhas Bhonsle, an employee at the state secretariat, said. All schools and colleges will also be closed for the two days.

Like the state government, nature also appeared to have given in to the navy’s plea for clear weather during the show. Gusts of wind today blew away a blanket of smog shrouding the city for the past few days. “We hope the weather holds up,’’ a frigate captain said.


New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
A high-level BJP strategy session is believed to have found a way out for Union ministers L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, implicated in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

Two escape routes have been tentatively identified by the BJP’s legal eagles even as the party claims it is still studying the Allahabad High Court ruling which set aside the notification for trial of the three ministers and five others on technical grounds.

The state government can argue that the case is barred by a time limit and charges related to an event that took place eight years ago cannot be opened for a fresh trial.

Alternatively, the cases of the eight accused, including Advani, Bharti and Joshi, should be delinked from the remaining 40 for which trial could continue.

The CBI had originally filed the notification for trial of 41 accused and added the eight names later. Following Vijayaraje Scindia’s death, the first list of accused numbers 40.

The meeting was attended by Union law minister Arun Jaitley, Advani and Bharti and additional solicitor-general K.K. Sood. Sood had fought the Ayodhya case for the BJP leaders. Joshi was not present.

The meeting discussed that if no fresh notification was issued or the state government pleaded that the “case is barred by limitation”, a lot of political heat and dust would be generated.

Advani is reported to have then said that he was ready to face anything on the Ayodhya issue, even if it meant another round of legal-political battle.

Any state government has to seek permission of the high court to transfer a trial to a special court. In the case of the 40 accused, including Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, the notification was obtained with proper sanction and the cases continue.

However, the CBI added the eight names to the list under Section 173(8) of the Criminal Procedure Code without seeking the sanction of the high court.

Under law, the CBI or any prosecution agency, after filing an FIR, can keep on adding names of accused. But if special trial courts are established, permission of the high court is needed to transfer a criminal case from a normal court to the special court.

The CBI can now file a fresh petition, seeking the high court’s permission to delink the conduct of trial of the 40 accused from the eight and then apply for a fresh notification.

Only the state government can take a plea that the case is time-barred, legal sources said. In a murder case, there is no period of limitation. But in a conspiracy case, the time limit will apply. In the present case, Advani and the others are facing a conspiracy charges.


New Delhi & Calcutta, Feb. 15: 
Guided by a third cellphone, investigators have inched closer to the “mastermind” behind the ambush on Gorkhaland leader Subash Ghising even as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said more than one organisation may have had a hand in the attack.

Bhattacharjee said in the Assembly that the state has requested the Centre to talk to the Nepal government to help track down Chhattray Subba, leader of the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO), who is suspected to have planned the operation. “Most probably they (Subba and his men) have taken shelter in Nepal and in states neighbouring Bengal,” the chief minister said.

An investigating officer involved with the case told The Telegraph that the ambush — codenamed Operation Pankhabari — was conducted through a network of mobile phones and land lines that connected Siliguri with Kalimpong, Kurseong and Dimapur in Nagaland.

The network, the officer revealed, was controlled from the residence of Dimple Dewan, the 32-year-old housewife who was among the first to be arrested.

“Dimple’s Malaguri residence, on the outskirts of Siliguri, was the control room of the operation. The mobile phone recovered from the slain militant (98320 64227) had a cash card bought from a cellular dealer in Siliguri on December 20. The phone was activated on February 1,” the officer said.

He added that the cellphone (98320 65957), from which calls were made to keep the assailants informed about Ghising’s route, was activated on February 8, after it was confirmed that the GNLF chief would return from New Delhi on February 10.

The investigator disclosed that a third cellphone, seized from one of the five people arrested so far, could help the police find the missing pieces of the puzzle.

“Another cellphone used in the network has been seized and calls are still being made on it. This will give us vital clues and help us zero in on the mastermind. We have reason to believe that the mastermind is a big fish,” he said.

The officer said that “over 30 conspirators” were involved. “We are on the lookout for another prime conspirator, Kamal Thapa,” he added.

Police picked up for questioning two more people, including a woman, from Kurseong last evening. “We expect to make more arrests in the coming days,” the official said.

The government, which said it expects to solve the case soon, is veering around to the GNLF’s view that “outside forces” had hatched the conspiracy and had used Subba’s GLO.

“There is involvement of more organisations in the attack on Ghising but I shall not disclose their names,” Bhattacharjee said.


New Delhi, Feb. 15: 
Reluctant to sour its current honeymoon with the US, India has politely refused to join China in condemning America’s proposed National Missile Defence system.

India made it clear that it was against the “militarisation of outer space”, but did not go beyond this position.

The issue came up at last week’s security dialogue between the neighbours, when Beijing sought Delhi’s support in building up international opinion against the nuclear shield the US is thinking of putting in place. The dialogue gave the two sides the opportunity to do a “reality check” on bilateral relations.

Taking advantage of the “free and frank” ambience of the talks, China also demanded that India dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes as per Resolution 1172 of the United Nations Security Council. It also asked India to return to the negotiating table with Pakistan to resolve their disputes and help bring temperatures down in nuclearised South Asia.

China is worried about the missile defence shield primarily because it could extend to a Theatre Missile Defence system which would provide a protective covering around Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, making them safe from possible Chinese missile attack.

It also affects Beijing’s strategy vis-à-vis Washington. China, unlike Russia, has a limited number of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and is, therefore, more vulnerable to losing its bargaining power with America if the Bush Administration goes ahead and puts the system in place.

India, on the other hand, has left itself some elbow room. It has opposed militarisation of outer space but not condemn the proposed nuclear shield as such. This is mainly because Delhi is wary of sending any wrong signal to the new Republican administration. Another reason is India neither has ICBMs nor does a nuclear shield over Japan or Taiwan affect its security.

India’s sole fear is the cascading effect the proposed defence system is likely to have on the volatile region. If it is implemented, Delhi fears Beijing will upgrade its defence network and force India as well as Pakistan to follow suit.

Another reason for Delhi’s reluctance is the uncertainty about future Sino-Indian relations. Both sides are now keen to improve ties and resolve their decades-old border dispute. But Pakistan’s proximity to China is a major worry and many in South Block feel this rapport might prove to be the stumbling block in normalising ties between Delhi and Beijing.

The Chinese delegation, led by assistant foreign minister Wang Yi, asked why Delhi was so reluctant to return to the talks-table with Pakistan.

The Indian side, led by T.C.A. Rangachari, additional secretary in the foreign ministry, replied that talks could hardly resume if Pakistan approached the negotiating table with a pointed gun. At which, the Chinese team reportedly smiled, saying wryly: “But we are told the gun is yours.”

Delhi again tried to raise the issue of close military cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad and made it clear that it was affecting bilateral relations as all the weapons acquired by Pakistan were only used against India. But the Chinese maintained that the military cooperation was not aimed at any third country.


Chennai, Feb. 15: 
The Special Task Force pursuing Veerappan got a shot in the arm this morning after it picked up a key aide of the elusive brigand from the Siruvani jungles near Coimbatore.

Maran, the chief of the Tamil National Liberation Army, was the brain behind Raj Kumar’s kidnapping and the man responsible for Veerappan’s conversion to the Tamil nationalist cause. He has been remanded in police custody for 15 days.

The arrest comes as a morale booster for chief minister M. Karunanidhi who has been under fire from Jayalalitha for “going soft on the bandit”. She had alleged that there was a nexus between the DMK and Veerappan.




Maximum: 31.7°C (+2)
Minimum: 14.9°C (-2)



Relative humidity

Max: 100%
Min: 33%


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C.
Sunrise: 6.13 am
Sunset: 5.28 pm

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