Reds grin, Trinamul cries blue murder
Rigging charges fly in back-to-wall Asim hub
Repoll demand in Buddha seat
Men in black in the way of booth-block machine
CPM’s agony is partners’ ecstasy
Demands stare at big brother
Close-call cloud on Jaya’s crown
Desperate Laloo petitions high court
Holes in Fardeen conspiracy charge
Bush emissary set for Delhi defence talks

Behrampore/Malda, May 10: 

Adhir holds out olive branch

In case of a hung Assembly after the results are out on Sunday, the six loyalists put up as Independents by the Congress MP from Behrampore, Adhir Chowdhury, will support the Congress-Trinamul alliance.

Chowdhury, the Congress’ Murshidabad monarch, said it appeared that a hung Assembly was a possibility given that the DRS exit poll has predicted 150 seats for the Left Front and 138 for the Congress-Trinamul.

“If the six Independent candidates win, they will always support the Congress-Trinamul alliance in the Assembly and also accept Mamata Banerjee as chief minister,” he added.

Chowdhury pointed out that the six men were actually Congress workers who had contested as Independents to express their grievance for not getting the party’s ticket to contest the elections. “Neither will they ever leave the Congress nor they will do anything to harm the party,” Chowdhury said.

The Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), formed by dissident CPM leaders Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda, has a sizeable following in Murshidabad and the party has fielded 11 candidates in the 19 Assembly segments in the district.

However, district PDS president Ashish Roy Chowdhury refused to say what his party’s plans were in case its candidates won and there was a split verdict. “The state committee of our party will take a decision when such a situation arises,” Roy Chowdhury said.

CPM’s district secretary Madhu Bag said his party was not ready to think in terms of a hung Assembly because the exit poll did not indicate such a possibility. “The PDS will not win a single seat in Bengal. The dissident Congress candidates have been put up by Adhir Chowdhury as Independents but in the heart of their hearts, they are loyal to the Congress. The BJP’s position in the district is peculiar. The Congress, BJP and Trinamul are together running a number of civic boards in the district,” Bag said.

In Malda, however, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury said the exit poll forecast could come true. “I have been critical of the alliance between the Congress and Trinamul from the very beginning. But still we want to see till the end. Let us see the results on Sunday,” he said.

The Congress-Trinamul pact did not work out in Malda district where in Englishbazar, Ghani Khan fielded loyalist Gautam Chakraborty against Krishnendu Chowdhury of Trinamul.

Krishnendu brushed aside the exit poll results. “We are coming to power irrespective of what the exit poll says,” he said.


Khardah, May 10: 
Time: 11 am.

Place: Inside the central poll office of Khardah’s Trinamul candidate Ranjit Mukherjee.

The mood: Dismal.

The always-busy phone rings again. On the other end is someone called Samir. He is pleading for some more men at his booth at Adarsha Palli.

Manik Baishya, has been receiving such calls since polling started at 7 am. He, too, is helpless. “Samir, ontoto tui erokom korish na (Samir, at least you don’t behave like this),” he pleads back. “Give us at least 10 minutes.”

He could have taped his plea and played it on the phone. His party’s opponent — the CPM which has finance minister Asim Dasgupta as its candidate — has left him with few options, he says.

Some of the complaints he had received till then and which were admitted as facts by policemen are as follows: Jayanta Ghosh, a Trinamul polling agent at one of the booths inside Ruia Free Primary School, was beaten up at 7.52 am and wasn’t being allowed to go outside to receive treatment for his injured head; voting at booth 196 inside Gandhi School was disrupted at 8.40 am; voting at Ruia School was disrupted again at 9.05 am; voting at booths 113, 114 and 107 inside Talbanda School was disrupted at 9.25 am; at 9.42 am, armed CPM cadre held up voting at booths 254, 255 and 256 inside Shramik Kalyan Samiti (reporters there were asked politely by the cadre to leave the place); at 10.15 am, complaints came in from Mohanpur Binapani School and Navoday Sangha; exactly a minute later, similar complaints came in from booths 108 and 109 and booths 120 and 121.

Time: 3.30 pm.

Place: Inside the CPM local committee office near Khardah railway station.

The mood: One of quiet optimism.

The all-powerful local committee secretary, Kalyan Mukherjee, is not there. But his henchmen have been doing some good work. They had just been to Ideal Academy but had not met with the same success they had at booths at Adarsha Palli between 1 am and 1.35 pm; they landed there in an auto-rickshaw, beat up some Trinamul supporters and threatened to come back for “greater things” later. They were named in an FIR filed later with the Khardah police.

Time: 3.40 pm

Place: The Trinamul central poll office once again.

The mood: The blues are even more pronounced than that of the morning.

Complaints pour in ceaselessly: Mahesh, a Trinamul activist, has been beaten up at Muragachha; two Trinamul activists have been beaten up and one kept hostage at Vivekananda Shiksha Niketan; a booth at Manteshwari School has been captured at 2.35 pm.

Baishya and his colleagues are worried and tense when the candidate himself walks in. Mukherjee, former inspector-general of police, had earlier boasted to The Telegraph that the police would act “less partially” as he, their ex-boss, was a candidate. Today, he says his former colleagues were more mobile than in 1996 but admits that it wasn’t of any help. “They always came after some time,” he says.

North 24-Parganas superintendent of police Kuldip Singh is more philosophical. “We tried our best.” But the “best” was not enough: “There are some incidents that always happen during elections.”


Calcutta, May 10: 
The Trinamul Congress and the Party for Democratic Socialism today alleged “large-scale rigging” in Buddhabeb Bhattacharjee’s constituency, Jadavpur, and demanded repoll in the prestige seat.

PDS leader Samir Putatunda, who was pitted against the chief minister, claimed his car was gheraoed by CPM supporters at Adarsha Vidyalay where he had gone to enquire about “polling malpractices”. “Some CPM cadre tried to manhandle me, but I was fortunate to escape as I did not come out of my car,” he said.

Putatunda claimed that CPM workers had resorted to “peaceful rigging in 118 booths in Jadavpur”. “Our polling agents were threatened for the past two days... CPM supporters resorted to rigging in 42 constituencies where we had a fair chance of winning,” he claimed.

Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay also complained of “large-scale rigging and booth-capturing” in Jadavpur where his party’s candidate Madhabi Mukherjee has taken on the chief minister. “The election has been a farce at Jadavpur and we demand a complete repoll here,” he said.

He alleged that the chief electoral officer had failed to “rise to the occasion and take adequate steps to ensure a free and fair election in many areas”.

Bhattacharjee, however, brushed away the charges, saying polling had been “peaceful” in Jadavpur. He said at Writers’ Buildings that he had not visited Jadavpur as he was monitoring the poll process from the state secretariat.

Chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said he had received demands for repoll in some constituencies and sent them to chief election commissioner M.S. Gill. “We can take a decision only after the Election Commission lets us know its decision in this regard,” he said.

Putatunda said he has written to Sen, complaining about the CPM’s “high-handedness” and “constant threats” to members of his party. “The way the cadre intimidated old comrades is condemnable beyond words. And if this happens to us, one can imagine how the ruling party is treating members of other mainline Opposition parties,” he said.

He felt the people would vote for those who have broken away from the mainstream to protest against the “coterie raj” in the monolithic organisation. “Days are coming when people will opt for a new Left alternative other than the CPM,” he said.

Putatunda ruled out the possibility of extending support to the Left if it failed to get majority. “This is not expected from us after they unleashed violence on party workers,” he said.


Siliguri, May 10: 
The men in black have tamed the mischief-makers. Punjab police commandos, deployed for election duty in north Bengal, today ensured that only “genuine” voters were allowed into the polling booths identified as sensitive.

Polling officials and booth agents of political parties were unanimous in their praise for the force from Punjab. “Their presence made our job easy. They identified all voters before letting them enter the booth premises,” said a presiding officer at Girls’ Hindi High School, one of the most sensitive polling booths in Siliguri’s Khalpara area..

Voters said the commandos instilled confidence among the people, which, they believe, explains the high turnout of 65 per cent in the six districts in the region.

“The Punjab police personnel ensured that polling was peaceful, free and fair. We had never witnessed such discipline. Not a single bogus voter was allowed to come anywhere near the polling booths. The polls passed off peacefully, thanks to the men in black,” said Kamal Agarwal, a voter at the Girls’ Hindi High School,

Not everyone is happy, though. Sitting legislator from Siliguri and urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya had a brush with the Punjab police personnel when they stopped him from entering a polling booth at Jotsnyamoyee Girls High School.

“Though we are happy with the polling in the town, which passed off peacefully, there were incidents of excesses committed by the Punjab police personnel manning the booths. I have lodged a complaint with the Election Commission. Though I’m a candidate, the Punjab commandos prevented me from entering a booth. Their behaviour and attitude were uncalled for. I told them that this was West Bengal and not Punjab,” Bhattacharya said.

His rival was, however, happy with the way the commandos handled the situation. Trinamul Congress candidate Prashanta Nandi said: “The policemen from Punjab were a godsend for the Opposition party workers. Their presence prevented the ruling CPM from either jamming the booths or casting bogus votes. The polls could be conducted in a free and fair atmosphere.”

An activist of a political party admitted that the presence of the commandos deterred them from forcing into the booths and casting bogus votes. “Earlier, we used to crowd the booths and our men had a free run. This time, most of the unregistered voters, such as migrant workers from Bihar and other states, could not cast any votes due to the presence of these commandos,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Two persons were arrested in Jalpaiguri and the fired two rounds in the air in Ratua in Malda district to disperse battling supporters of the CPM and the Congress.

Jalpaiguri district election control room sources said polling was delayed by over 90 minutes at Matadari polling station under Rajganj Assembly constituency this morning after local residents “locked” the booth protesting against the lathicharge by Central Reserve Police Force personnel on an unruly crowd in the area last night.


Calcutta, May 10: 

Six killed in clashes, repoll in 14 booths

Violence claimed six lives in Calcutta and its outskirts today even as rival parties complained of rigging and booth-capturing. Till late evening, the Election Commission has ordered repoll in 14 booths in six constituencies.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said the CPM tried to unleash violence in Midnapore “in a massive scale”. “But I have no doubt we will come to power. We will be tomorrow’s rising sun,” she said while leaving for the city in the evening. Barring an incident involving the Naxalite People’s War Group, the district was calm though tense.

State chief electoral officer Sabyasachi Sen said the number of booths, where repolling will be held on May 12, might increase as he was yet to receive reports from many districts. The 14 booths identified so far are in Bhatpara, Jangipur, Bishnupur, Baharampur, Bhatar and Galsi constituencies. Sen said preliminary review of the polls suggested about 70 per cent turnout.

Voters came out early to beat the sweltering heat and the queues swelled as young voters between 18 and 25 lined up alongside many-time veterans.

Four persons died in poll violence in the districts. Two deaths were reported from the city. Police said two Trinamul supporters were lynched about a kilometre from a polling booth in Bishnupur and a CPM worker, Mozammel Mollah, shot dead at Mandirbazar in South 24-Parganas.

In Titagarh, North 24-Parganas, another CPM worker, Shyamapada Roy, died of splinter injuries. Roy was walking along BT Road towards a booth when bombs were thrown at him, allegedly from a Trinamul camp.

In Bishnupur, villagers said the two lynched youths, who were fleeing after a police lathi-charge in CPM-dominated Kashtomahal village, were surrounded by CPM supporters.

“They were assaulted with iron rods, bamboo poles and bricks for over 30 minutes,” said a villager. Police said tension had been building up in the area where a large number of armed Trinamul supporters were gathering to storm the polling station.

In north Howrah, the Trinamul candidate said nearly 75 per cent of the booths were rigged by armed CPM cadre. On the other hand, CPM Howrah district secretary Dipak Dasgupta said he would move court against some police officials for harassing party workers in Howrah south.

In Calcutta, Trinamul Congress supporter Topi Das fell into the Subhas Sarovar in Beliaghata after being chased out of a polling booth by the police and Rapid Action Force personnel. Das was part of a group which allegedly entered a booth in the area to create trouble.

An unidentified man, who suffered serious bomb injuries, died in Vishudhdhananda Hospital, Amherst Street, where he was taken.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the police had to fire in three places to thwart booth grabbers in Ratua (Malda), Hekampur (Baharampore) and Salboni (Midnapore).

“The PWG tried to disrupt polling in a booth in Salboni and burst bombs when the police gave chase and fired two rounds in the air,” the chief minister said. Police had to fire in the air in Domjur, Howrah, to disperse clashing CPM and Trinamul supporters. But he thanked voters for ensuring free and fair polls.

“Polling was incident free and I thank the electorate for preserving Bengal’s reputation for holding free and fair polls. We will win, and comfortably,” a confident Bhattacharjee said.

On the exit poll, which projected a neck-and-neck fight, former chief minister Jyoti Basu said: “It is most unscientific and I strongly feel that the Left Front will return to power.”


Calcutta, May 10: 
Ideological principles and administrative issues, not the number of seats the CPM wins, may determine their behaviour if they get another crack at governing West Bengal, say the minor Left partners.

The DRS exit poll, which gave the Left 150 and the Congress-Trinamul combine 138 seats in the next Assembly, have, for the first time in 24 years of Left rule, thrown up the possibility of the CPM not getting an absolute majority on its own.

The criticism by the minor partners — the CPI, the RSP and the Forward Bloc — of the government’s functioning has, over the years, grown proportionately to the sliding CPM tally. The DRS exit poll, therefore, has fuelled speculation over their behaviour in a future Left government.

Though the RSP does not rule out the possibility of an upheaval in the government, it feels any such move on its part will depend on the future government’s response to ideological issues. The Forward Bloc and the CPI, however, said there will not be any recurrence of the problems that beset the government after 1996.

The CPM had come close to losing its absolute majority with a tally of 153 seats. The party had just about managed the numbers needed in the 294-strong Assembly to rule on its own and found itself being increasingly targeted by its minor partners for ideological deviations.

They had criticised the CPM for hobnobbing with the Congress and for “faulty” administrative decisions like finance minister and CPM leader Asim Dasgupta’s delayed release of funds to departments under CPI, RSP or Forward Bloc ministers.

RSP state secretariat member Bamacharan Chakraborty underlined the Left’s CPM-influenced industrial policy as a potential trouble-front in RSP-CPM relations. “The government’s industrial policy could strain intra-front relations. But relations won’t be affected by the CPM’s decreasing strength,” he said.

Thorny administrative issues like Dasgupta’s “stinginess” in releasing funds to the RSP-controlled public works department could be another source of friction. There were differences between PWD minister Kshiti Goswami and Dasgupta, Chakraborty admitted, and said any recurrence might not augur well for a future Left Front government.

Both the Forward Bloc and the CPI, however, say the post-1996 problems are a thing of the past. Though a future Left government would miss Jyoti Basu’s “cementing leadership”, Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh does not foresee any problems for the Left Front even if the CPM wins less than 148 seats.

Ghosh tried to gloss over the post-1996 problems by saying that they were prompted by government mistakes.

The government failed to bring about major changes and the number of failures far outweighed the number of successes between 1996 and 2001, he said.

“The perceived rebellion was in no way connected with the CPM winning less seats than in 1991,” he replied when asked to justify the embarrassing correspondence between the two.

Those who were working against the interests of the front had left it, he added, justifying his contention that there would not be any intra-front strain.

CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar likened the post-1996 differences of opinion to those within a family. He rubbished fears that the Left Front, if it came to power, might see a repeat of the 1967 and 1969 experiences. He admitted that those were unnerving episodes, but that the time had come to set a new example.


Chennai, May 10: 
The DRS exit poll projection leaving Jayalalitha without a comfortable majority has cast a pall of gloom in the ADMK camp.

According to the exit poll, Jayalalitha’s alliance is tipped to around 48 per cent of the votes and the ruling DMK front over 47 per cent. This translates into 125 seats for the Jayalalitha combine and 105 for its rivals in the 234-member Assembly.

If the final result mirrors the exit poll forecast, it will further hurt Jayalalitha’s chances of becoming the chief minister. Disquafiled from contesting, a legal cloud alraedy hangs over Jayalalitha’s coronation.

The ADMK was planning to test the state Governor’s nerves by electing Jayalalitha as the leader of the legislature party if the party secured 118 seats on its own. “We will trigger a constitutional crisis on our right to elect anyone we please as our leader,” an ADMK functionary had said before the exit poll results were out.

However, if the exit poll holds good and the ADMK falters at the post, it will have to depend on its allies not only to form a government but also to have Jayalalitha elected as leader of the front.

However, ADMK insiders pointed out that senior leaders like G.K. Moopanar of the Tamil Maanila Congress, S. Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Left were on record saying that they would endorse any move to have Jayalalitha installed as chief minister. “We don’t expect any trouble on that score,” an ADMK leader asserted.

He stressed on the possibility that a mere one percentage-point margin in the share of votes could translate into more or less seats than predicted for either of the two fronts.

Thanks to regional variations one front could win by a massive majority in some constituencies but end up losing more seats than the rivals.

Besides, the relatively low voter turnout of 55 per cent seems to indicate a certain amount of apathy and this could benefit the ruling DMK to some extent.

As conventional political wisdom goes, when the polling percentage is lower, it is the party in power which tends to benefit — more so in the case of cadre-based organisations like the DMK. But opponents of this theory argue that as most of the established parties are with the ADMK front, they would have managed to ferry in their voters. Hence, this section points out, the low voter turn-out would not benefit the DMK front.

In the last Assembly elections, over 66 per cent votes had been cast, and the ADMK was routed.

If it turns out to be a hung Assembly, this would be the first time since 1957 that no party gets a majority. In the composite Madras Presidency in 1952, the Congress had failed to secure majority and it took the political skills of C. Rajagopalachari to cobble together one.


Patna and Ranchi, May 10: 
Laloo Yadav has been hopping from court to court challenging the CBI decision to frame fodder scam charges against him in a Ranchi court.

With the legal odds stacked against him and no reprieve in sight before the May 22 surrender deadline, a desperate Laloo today filed another petition, this time before Patna High Court, questioning the CBI move. A similar petition is pending before the CBI special court in Ranchi.

Earlier this week, non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against Laloo and Jagannath Mishra by a Ranchi court after the CBI chargesheeted them in a conspiracy case of the fodder scam.

In today’s petition as in the earlier one, Laloo contended that the Ranchi court did not have the jurisdiction to issue a warrant against him as Patna High Court had directed that all conspiracy cases be placed in Patna courts only. He also quoted a CBI statement saying Patna was the ‘‘epicentre of all conspiracies’’.

Pleading for a stay on the warrant, Laloo said he was moving the high court as it was the arbiter of any jurisdictional dispute according to the provisions of the State Reorganisation Act.

The high court is, however, yet to admit Laloo’s petition. This was the second blow to the beleaguered leader today, coming hours after the special CBI judge put off the verdict on his Ranchi petition till May 15.

With the adjourned date of hearing coinciding with the start of the summer vacation, the buzz in legal circles is that Laloo might have to wait even beyond the surrender deadline. Laloo’s advocates said the court’s message was clear: that the RJD chief had little option but to surrender.

The CBI stuck to its guns saying that since the creation of Jharkhand, jurisdiction over the criminal conspiracy cases of the fodder scam did not lie with Patna High Court. If Laloo was looking for relief, he should have moved a Ranchi court, it said.

‘‘One alleged jurisdictional wrangle is bound to create another. This might cause a spiral of confusion,’’ a CBI officer said.

As Laloo made a last-gasp bid to escape the long arm of the law, RJD rebel Ranjan Yadav began networking with like-minded leaders on a plan to topple the Rabri regime. Ranjan is expected to land in Patna on Saturday to seal the deal.

Samata leaders Nitish Kumar and Digvijay Singh today held secret talks with a section of the RJD rebels. Reiterating his unconditional support to the rebels, Nitish said: ‘‘We are ready for that. Support will be prompt and smooth.’’ Ram Vilas Paswan had yesterday announced that the time was ripe for a ‘‘baraat from Churigali, where Ranjan Yadav’s house is located’’. Former Bihar finance minister Shankar Prasad Tekriwal and six other MLAs are also in touch with the Samata leaders.


Mumbai, May 10: 
Fardeen Khan was granted bail this morning by a sessions court. The actor, looking tired in a grey T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of the Narcotics Control Bureau around 6.30 pm after spending five nights behind bars.

Fardeen, who was arrested for possessing cocaine, was released on a personal bond of Rs 20,000. The judge also asked him to deposit his passport and report to the narcotics bureau every day till May 18. Fardeen had previously been remanded in custody by the court till May 18.

“From the evidence presented by the prosecution, the accused Fardeen Khan’s involvement in the conspiracy is not discernible,” judge M.S. Keny said.

“The bail has been granted because the grounds of conspiracy sought to be established by the prosecution are not clear as there was no transaction between Khan and the other accused in the case.”

The judge observed that the actor was about to buy 1 gm of cocaine, but the transaction had not taken place. He added that the drug was recovered from peddler Nasir Abdul Karim Shaikh, who was seated in Fardeen’s car, and not from the actor.

Fardeen, who plays the lead in Pyar Tune Kya Kiya opposite Urmila, was nabbed by narcotics officials early on Saturday. He was arrested under the Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act. Two drug-peddlers, Shaikh and Tony Gomes, were also arrested. Both are still in custody.

The judge said that investigation in regard to Fardeen was over and there was no purpose in keeping him in custody. He asked Fardeen, son of actor-producer-director Feroz Khan, not to leave the city without the permission of the court. The actor was also ordered to furnish a surety of Rs 20,000 and deposit Rs 10,000 in cash in addition.

To go abroad, Fardeen would have to make a formal application to the court. The judge, however, warned Fardeen that if he violated bail conditions, the narcotics bureau was free to approach the court for cancellation of his bail.

The actor, who had been reading up on the narcotics Act while in jail, was received by his father and brother-in-law Ram Pal and taken home to be surrounded by friends and family. Feroz Khan was not available for comment, but Fardeen’s cousin Farah Khan said the actor was “really repentant”.


Washington, May 10: 
The second-most important man in the Bush state department arrives in New Delhi in the early hours of Friday for unprecedented defence-related consultations in the backdrop of equally unprecedented setbacks to Washington in UN elections in the past week.

Deputy secretary Richard Armitage will have just enough time during the whistle-stop tour to brush his suit of the rotten eggs thrown at him in Seoul before he is driven in to charm Indian ministers on President George W. Bush’s proposals for defending the US — and the rest of the world as an afterthought — against nuclear missiles.

Armitage will not have to worry about being egg-pelted as he walks into Hyderabad House or South Block. The South Koreans greeted him, as he left the Grand Hyatt hotel in Seoul after breakfast in the coffee shop yesterday, with rotten eggs. He was on his way to meet President Kim Dae-jung.

India-watchers in the Bush administration see that as the biggest change in Delhi, far more significant than the carefully-worded statement issued by South Block on May 2 welcoming the new Republican President’s latest arms control — or arms proliferation, depending on how one sees it — initiative.

Till a few years ago, no US presidential emissary would have been able to safely enter Delhi on a mission similar to Armitage’s without Delhi police securing safe passage for the visitor and erecting barricades all over the city against anti-US protests.

President Bill Clinton has seen to it that the sting has been taken out of anti-Americanism in India. Without that, the ministry of external affairs would not have found it politically viable or expedient to extend even a guarded welcome to the Bush initiative.

Armitage’s mission to India comes almost 10 years after two similar diplomatic forays by two veteran US diplomats, which marked the beginning of the strategic and diplomatic cooperation between India and the US, two countries which had turned their backs on each other for half a century because of the Cold War.

Ten years ago, the US’ then arms control czar Reginald Bartholomew arrived in Delhi on a mission which led to a modus vivendi between the two countries on non-proliferation and it lasted until India tested its nuclear weapons exactly three years ago, on this day: that Washington will not unduly pressure India on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) as long as the objectives of the treaty are achieved even without New Delhi signing it.

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao honoured that understanding by not testing nuclear weapons. His successors, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral, were at a loss on how to deal with it.

Shortly after Bartholomew’s visit, came Thomas Pickering, the then US ambassador to the UN. He met Rao with a proposal that India should support a vote for the repeal of a UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

India was then a member of the UN Security Council.

The vote went through in the General Assembly, marking the start of Delhi’s relations with Tel Aviv. The relations with Israel are now a crucial element in India’s defence preparedness.

The missions by Bartholomew and Pickering were both conducted in secret. Their visits were known, but not even was there a hint to the public on the content of their talks with the Indian leadership.

Rao did not even take the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs into confidence before voting with Israel in the UN for the first time.

Had times not changed so dramatically, Armitage’s talks in Delhi on Friday would have been described by the ministry on external affairs as “consultations on issues of mutual interest” or some such euphemism. Indeed, he would not have come to India at all.

Indications here are that India is expected no more than to listen to what Armitage will say. If he receives “understanding” from his interlocutors in South Block, that is more than what the US’ own allies have been able to offer.

Earlier this week, when Armitage was in Tokyo, the Japanese issued the following statement: “Japan and the US share the view that ballistic missile proliferation is a serious threat to world security”.

It is neither here nor there. India can be expected to say as much after talking to the US envoy. After all, there is national consensus in India that Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are a threat to security in South Asia while India’s Agni missiles are not.

Bush and his aides realise that the humiliating vote at the UN which ousted the US from the UN Human Rights Commission after 54 years and from the International Narcotics Control Board after 10 years is, in part, the international community’s response to the very ideas that the presidential emissary from Washington will present before the Indian leadership on Friday.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh has calculated that India has nothing to gain by criticising the Bush plans for missile defence. In the end, it may never come about at all.

And if it does, pragmatists in the BJP-led government say, Delhi is in no position to stop it or even delay it. The Vajpayee government is taking a diplomatic gamble almost akin to the nuclear tests on the third anniversary of Pokhran II.


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