Truce lobbed to all-party court
Indrajit Gupta dead
Robbers run riot on train
FTV sheds lingerie for swadeshi colours
Petrol strike
Steve lowers pitch
Calcutta weather

 
 
TRUCE LOBBED TO ALL-PARTY COURT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 20: 
In an attempt to make both friends and foes part of a decision on the Kashmir ceasefire, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has called an all-party meeting at noon tomorrow for a discussion on the situation in the state.

The meeting, scheduled to be held at the Prime Minister’s residence, is aimed at staving off criticism on whatever decision the Centre takes. The Cabinet Committee on Security is set to meet tomorrow evening to discuss whether the ceasefire, which ends next Monday, should be extended a third time.

After a five-day flare-up, the tension in the Valley eased today. Five top Hurriyat Conference leaders, including Yasin Malik, and Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Ahmad Shah were released. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Gani Lone and Sheikh Aziz met visiting US Congressman Joseph R. Pitts later in the day and discussed the truce.

At the all-party meet, Vajpayee and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra are expected to explain the circumstances in which the truce was enforced and what its gains and losses have been.

The decision to call the meeting was taken this afternoon following persistent demands from the BJP’s allies — primarily the Telugu Desam and Trinamul Congress — that the Centre must “enlighten” them on the ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir.

The government had initially planned to invite just the NDA constituents who reportedly felt “slighted” because the Prime Minister, while briefing a Congress delegation in detail around 10 days ago, had “ignored” his allies.

But the Centre decided to involve the Opposition as well, given that Parliament is in session and a decision, either way, on the ceasefire could spark criticism in the House.

In her address to the Congress Parliamentary Party today, Sonia Gandhi went hammer and tongs at the government and spoke about the “utter confusion” and “lack of clarity” on Kashmir.

“The ministries are working at cross-purposes, interested more in scoring debating points than combating cross-border terrorism. The ceasefire has remained a military tactic, not a political or a diplomatic strategy,” a Congress release quoted Sonia as saying.

Within the NDA, parties like the Desam have privately expressed reservations about the truce. “We are genuinely confused. We have no intention of embarrassing the government, but we feel we have a right to know what prompted the government to declare the ceasefire,” Desam sources said.

BJP sources said the decision to convene the all-party meeting was not entirely supported by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Till late evening, L.K. Advani’s and George Fernandes’ staff denied that a such a meeting was on, while sources in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed it.

The BJP is divided on the truce. While one section feels the move had “enhanced Vajpayee’s image as a statesman”, others insist that ground realities ought to be kept in mind before any decision is taken.

“The communal killings and the repeated attacks on our security forces are ominous portends. They show that militants supported by Pakistan continue to have the upper hand because both perceive India as a soft state,” BJP sources said.

The “hardline” section is worried about the fallout of the peace moves on voters in states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

   

 
 
INDRAJIT GUPTA DEAD 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20: 
The longest-serving parliamentarian and veteran communist leader, Indrajit Gupta, died early this morning. He was 82.

Gupta, who is survived by his wife, Suraiya Begum, was suffering from cancer. He was shifted to Calcutta from Delhi on January 17 and had since been staying at his Hazra Road residence.

The body will be cremated on Thursday. Home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi will attend the funeral. CPI sources said the body will be brought to the party office at 11 am on Thursday and will be kept there till 3 pm.

A sitting Lok Sabha member from Midnapore and recipient of the Best Parliamentarian award in 1992, Gupta was first elected to the House in 1960. He was its member since then, except between 1977 and 1980.

Jyoti Basu said Gupta was his friend. “My association with him started in the mid-30s,” he said. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee described him as “one of the greatest parliamentarians”.

   

 
 
ROBBERS RUN RIOT ON TRAIN 
 
 
DEBARATI AGARWAL
 
Malda, Feb. 20: 
Barely 24 hours after a dacoity in Hate Bazare Express, a gang struck the Malda-bound Gour Express and looted with impunity 150 passengers in a coach close to the mobile police wagon.

As many as 57 passengers were injured in the raid at Tuesday dawn. Six have been admitted to the Malda Railway Hospital in a critical condition. Doctors said 26 of the passengers were clobbered with sharp-edged weapons.

The looting-spree began at 4.10 am and lasted more than 30 minutes. The passengers lost more than Rs 5 lakh in cash and valuables, railway police sources said.

On Monday morning, a second-class coach of the Sealdah-Barauni Hate Bazare Express was looted near Azimgunj, Murshidabad.

Tuesday’s incident took place between Muraroi and Pakur. A group of 15 robbers boarded the train, which left Sealdah in the night, at Rampurhat station posing as passengers. The dacoits’ age ranged from 25 to 30, witnesses said.

When the train proceeded towards Pakur, the dacoits whipped out weapons. “They were carrying a huge leather bag. We could hardly make out that the bag contained weapons,” said Dipak Saha, a trader from Dinhata.

They searched all the 150 passengers, including women and children, and snatched the valuables. Brandishing pipeguns, the gang warned the passengers against resisting them or raising a hue and cry.

“I was sitting in my seat. They hit me on my head as soon as they spotted me. I gave them whatever money I had, but they insisted that I had more. Then they attacked me with a dagger,” Saha said.

Anup Kumar from Burdwan said the dacoits took from him Rs 3,160 in cash, a wristwatch and a gold ring.

The miscreants fled when the train stopped a few minutes before it arrived at Pakur station. The passengers suspect that railway employees have a hand in the dacoity. “We are sure that nobody had pulled the chain. But the train stopped, allowing the dacoits to flee. How could the train stop by itself?” asked Kanailal Das of Calcutta.

The passengers held a demonstration at Malda station when the train reached there around 6.45 am. They alleged that the railway police not only refused to cooperate but also thrashed some passengers for “creating trouble”.

In a complaint lodged with the railway police at Malda, the passengers said though their compartment was just behind the mobile police wing, none of the policemen came to their rescue.

   

 
 
FTV SHEDS LINGERIE FOR SWADESHI COLOURS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 20: 
No lithe models undulating down the ramp in bikinis. No topless beauties sunning on the beach.

Under pressure from information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, the Paris-based FTV has decided to stop broadcasting from next week its evening lingerie shows in India. Other revealing shows will also not be telecast on the channel between 6 and 10 pm.

This was part of a compromise FTV today made with the BJP-led government to ward off a ban, which channel director-general Francois Thiellet said would have been “really unfortunate” because “India has such a huge market”.

But this was not all. Thiellet said the channel would in a few months go native, concentrating on Indian fare and avoiding nudity. Well, as much as possible to avoid offending the minister.

“We want to give the channel an Indian feel, but it will take a few months because I need to confer with my partners and my bankers,” the FTV boss, who arrived in Mumbai this evening to search for a veejay for his music channel, told The Telegraph.

Accompanied by his programme director and a French embassy official, Thiellet met Swaraj in her office in New Delhi for about 40 minutes today. He said they mainly discussed how to “sober up” the channel to avoid hurting Indian sensibilities.

They also talked at length about FTV’s proposed Indianisation. “The minister was very very open,” Thiellet said approvingly.

The FTV boss said Swaraj told him she had nothing against fashion or the channel. “She said her attention was drawn by complaints that there is too much nudity on FTV.”

Thiellet agreed, though partly. “There are underwear shows, cabarets and some New-Year shows, where you have some nudity, but the rest of the shows are pure fashion.” He said the channel decided to sensitise its evening offerings in India because “we don’t want to be seen as provocative”.

Swaraj suggested that the lingerie show ban continue from 6 to 11 pm. But the channel did not quite agree. “We will definitely not broadcast lingerie shows till 10 pm, but we haven’t decided what we’ll show between 10 and 11 pm in India,” Thiellet said.

   

 
 
PETROL STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 20: 
West Bengal Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited dealers have decided to go on an indefinite strike, protesting against harassment by the oil company. About 80 fuel pumps in and around the city and 250 pumps in the districts will remain closed.

West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association president Kalyan Bhadra said the decision was taken after a pump near Ruby hospital was showcaused and closed down on charges of anomalies in records.

   

 
 
STEVE LOWERS PITCH 
 
 
FROM LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Mumbai, Feb. 20: 
After having seemingly upped the ante just prior to his team’s arrival in India, Australian captain Steve Waugh today took the initiative to lower the temperature considerably.

In fact, he denied having been uncharitable towards Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, even though reports out of Australia gave an entirely different picture. So much so that Sourav himself had reacted pretty strongly.

“We respect all opponents. It’s just that I have immense confidence in our lads and that is misinterpreted as being arrogant or cocky. Only, that isn’t the case,” Steve told The Telegraph this morning.

He added: “I have, over the years, realised that you will pay the price if you don’t respect the opposition… So I didn’t start a war of words, if that’s how the media has portrayed it, nor have I been indulging in mind games.”

Of course, this is at variance with what a leading Australian psychologist, Jeff Bond, pointed out a few days ago. Basically, that the captain’s “verbal assault was a carefully crafted weapon”.

Steve didn’t elaborate on the paying-the-price bit, but it appears he was referring to the West Indies’ arrogance for about a decade-and-half from the mid-Seventies. Today, nobody sheds tears for them.

According to the Australian captain, who has (percentage-wise) emerged a phenomenally successful leader in both Tests and ODIs, he merely “replied” to specific questions. “Whether somebody gave a slant, I don’t know. Nor can I have control over that. But, yes, I do iterate only the groundsman should decide on the wicket to be prepared. Nobody must influence.”

Steve, however, conceded the present Indian team would be a different proposition from the Sachin Tendulkar-led one which capitulated in the last series (in Australia, last season). “Yeah, Ganguly has given a tough edge to the team.”

Typically candidly, he remarked that while he didn’t mind his team being labelled invincible (a record-busting 15 Test wins in succession), he didn’t quite think that to be a realistic tag.

The Aussie goal

Steve added: “Our goal is not to have too many bad sessions and, if we happen to lose a game, we should bounce back in the next. I won’t, though, go into the percentage aspect (of Australia winning). That’s not in the spirit of the game.”

The last Australian success in a Test series, in India, was back in 1969-70 when Bill Lawry’s team overwhelmed Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi’s side.

But while the present Australian captain didn’t get into the prediction-game, he did make a significant observation: “Actually, we are aware 20 of us (14 players plus the support- team) will be up against a billion and more, not just the 11 on the field!”

The support team

Incidentally the support-team includes security coordinator Reg Dickason, a former cop, who runs a consultancy firm in Brisbane.

Team manager Stephen Bernard insists too much shouldn’t be read into his presence, but it’s possible he is around to ensure that the controversial Mark Waugh, in particular, isn’t approached or threatened by dubious characters.

The three-Test series gets underway at the Wankhede in exactly a week. The ODIs will follow.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.7°C (+1)
Minimum: 18.9°C (+2)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 88%
Minimum: 42%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 21°C.
Sunrise: 6.10 am
Sunset: 5.30 pm
   
 

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