Nepal hub for Northeast militants
Bandh call over mystery death
Delhi mulls tougher Emergency laws
BJP hardliners one up on Kashmir
Imphal in Central rule tug-of-war
Tourist Atal heads for hills
Globe-watcher Sonia looks West
Orissa deadline to US power firm in dues standoff
New visa pact with Bangla
BJP new face foxes women

Siliguri, May 23: 
The arrest of three top Bodo militant leaders from a Siliguri hotel has again raised speculations that the region is being used as a transit point by Northeast rebels operating from Nepal.

National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah had been regularly visiting Kathmandu since 1992, intelligence sources said.

The Naga group, they said, had been sending its recruits for training at an institute near Lalitpur. “The NSCN(I-M) also has a close nexus with local political outfits, especially ultra-Left ones like the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists).”

They claimed David Ward, a Britisher, has “volunteered” to work for an organisation called Naga Vigil and visits Kathmandu regularly to raise funds. “Ward is known for his liaisoning with Pakistani officials in Islamabad and in eastern and Northeastern India,” an intelligence official said.

According to a recent army intelligence account, a group of 17 Naga insurgents crossed over to Nepal from India at Panitanki-Kakarbhitta border near Siliguri last year. “The group, on reaching Kathmandu with Bangladeshi passports, reportedly checked into a popular hotel and then headed towards China.”

The army believes the on-going anti-national activities in southern Bhutan have forced many Bhutanese to flee and take shelter in a camp in eastern Nepal. “This has provided a golden opportunity to United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and other Northeast groups to mingle with the Bhutanese and take shelter in refugee camps,” said a Siliguri-based army intelligence official.

Last month, the Bhutan Army deployed more than 3,000 soldiers along the kingdom’s southern border with Assam. “Ten new camps have been set up along the 250-km border to neutralise the intrusion of rebel groups from Assam into southern Bhutan,” a Bhutan Army source said.

The Indian Army, too, has set up several camps along the Bengal-Assam-Bhutan border tri-junction near Sankosh tea estate.

“Taking advantage of the situation on the eastern border of Nepal — some places along the border are under the control of Maoist rebels — Ulfa has set up its transit camps at Illam, Jhapa, Tapelgunj and Panchtar in Nepal. Ulfa and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) rebels have also been procuring arms and ammunition from this Nepal corridor,” an intelligence official said.

Army sources claim most insurgent groups have the backing of Pakistani mercenaries in Kathmandu.

They say seizure of a huge quantity of explosives from Pakistani diplomat Mohammad Arshad Cheema’s residence at Kathmandu earlier this year is just the “tip of the iceberg” of Islamabad’s espionage, subversion and psychological warfare against India mounted from Nepalese soil.

“In the eighties, the ISI started making moves and President Zia-ul-Haq launched his long-term anti-India scheme — Operation Topac. Given the acute poverty in the Himalayan kingdom, theISI did not find it difficult to get a secure foothold in the place once it opened its purse wide,” sources said.


Durgapur, May 23: 
Mystery shrouds the death of Gour Roy, brother of a Trinamul activist, at Mamrabazar in the New Township area of Durgapur.

His family members claim he died this morning after he was beaten up last night by the owners of a biscuit factory he worked for. Police admit he was beaten up, but say he died after consuming posion. Trinamul has called a 12-hour bandh in the area tomorrow to protest against the “murder”.


New Delhi, May 23: 
The Vajpayee government proposes to “strengthen” the Emergency provisions of the Constitution to deal with the “grave threats” to internal security, the report of the Group of Ministers on national security has said.

The Centre’s “capability” to deal with “situations caused by grave threats to the country’s internal security, which has eroded over the years, should flow from the Constitution”, the report said, making it clear that the Vajpayee regime is prepared to give more teeth to the Emergency provisions.

The report of the L.K. Advani-led ministerial group, all but one of whose recommendations were accepted by the Cabinet Committee on Security was made public today.

The government also intends to bring in a legislation in respect of Article 355 of the Constitution, which entrusts the Centre with the responsibility to protect the state against internal disturbances. The Centre is also planning to revive the concept of a federal law enforcement agency, earlier opposed by the state governments. They will again be “approached” on the matter.

The government seeks to “strengthen” Article 352 and Article 359, which were amended several years ago with the phrase “internal disturbance” changed to armed rebellion.

According to the amended version, the Centre can declare a state of emergency in the country in the event of an “armed rebellion”.

The government feels that another “way” to deal with threats to internal security is by “exploiting the vast untapped constitutional potential between the power to issue directives under Articles 256 and 257 and the power to proclaim Emergency under Article 352 on the other”.

Providing the basis for the use of Articles 256, 257 and 352, the report says the “source of this potential lies in Article 355 which casts upon the Union the responsibility to protect every state against internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.

Ever since 1998, the Vajpayee government has wanted to bring about a legislation to intervene in the law and order situation in the states although law and order and police are state subjects. In June last year, the government had to give up its objective of amending Article 355 under pressure from state governments.

To accomplish the task of “protecting” the states from internal disturbance, the Centre has revived the issue. The report suggests “supporting legislation” with regard to Article 355 which will cover:

Suo motu deployment of Central forces if the situation in the states so demands. The legislation will spell out situations in which such deployment may take place as also its consequences.

The legislation will define the powers, jurisdiction, privileges and liabilities of the Central forces after being deployed.

It will specify situations “construed” as failure/breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state in which the Centre can intervene to advise or direct a state government. Violation of these advisories or directions would invite action under Article 365 and Article 352.

These amendments to Articles 352, 359 and 355 will not be undertaken rightaway. As for bringing in “suitable” changes in Article 355, the government will entrust the matter to the Inter-State Council. A small group of council members will be set up to “examine” the issue.

All political parties will also be consulted before a decision is taken. On “strengthening” Articles 352 and 359, the government proposes to make a “comprehensive reference” to the Law Commission “without compromising the spirit of democracy and federalism which guides the Constitution”.


New Delhi, May 23: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have neutralised the pressure from the RSS on the economic front, but Kashmir has turned out to be a different ball-game.

The decision to call off the ceasefire, despite reiterations from various government quarters that it was set to be extended after May 31, shows that from now on the Sangh and BJP hardliners will have a say in the Centre’s Kashmir policy.

Home minister L.K. Advani, who — along with K.C. Pant, the Centre’s peace negotiator in the embattled state — has virtually taken over charge of Kashmir affairs, mirrored the sentiments of this section in Monday’s NDA coordination committee meeting.

NDA sources said Advani, while briefing the members, gave the distinct impression that he was not in favour of extending the ceasefire even as defence and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh indicated the contrary. Advani had the last word.

A statement given by BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi tonight reflected the party’s aggressive mood — he termed the decision a “bold one in line with the mood of the people”.

“The government has come to the right decision by calling off the ceasefire in as much as the unilateral declaration of the ceasefire for the past few months has not yielded the expected results,” Krishnamurthi said.

From the hardliners’ point of view, a turnaround in the government’s “moderate” approach towards Kashmir — as borne out by the repeated ceasefire extensions — was imperative for two reasons. The immediate one was the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as its outcome, BJP sources said, would influence the survival of the Vajpayee government.

The sources said the Centre’s policies, both on economic and security fronts, had not gelled with hardliners.

“We have to make a bold statement on some aspect of our ideology. If the government cannot reverse the liberalisation policy, it should then flex its muscles on Kashmir,” said a source.

Vajpayee’s decision to invite Pakistan ruler Pervez Musharraf for talks has also cast a damper on the BJP’s spirits. “It could undo some of the positive effect of today’s decision,” said sources. “We only hope Musharraf would turn down the invitation on the ground that the ceasefire was called off.”


New Delhi, May 23: 
Manipur seems to be lurching towards Central rule with the cat-and-mouse game between the BJP and the Samata Party continuing over the Imphal crown and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressing his inability to reinstate the Radhabinod Koijam government.

In an attempt to thwart the Samata-initiated move for President’s rule, 35 MLAs led by Speaker Dhananjoy Singh and BJP leader R.K. Dorendra Singh, are likely to come to Delhi tomorrow to meet Central leaders and President K.R. Narayanan to prove that they have the majority to form a government. Dorendra has been forbidden by BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthi from approaching the Governor to stake claim to the form the new government.

The power tussle in the northeastern state seems set to move to the capital with the parties concerned summoning their leaders to Delhi on May 28.

Samata leader George Fernandes yesterday broached the topic of Central rule with the Prime Minister as a stable government appeared impossible under the circumstances. Today, Fernandes discussed the matter with home minister L.K. Advani, who has so far maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Sources said Fernandes pleaded for the imposition of Article 356 as there was no other option, but the home minister’s response was not immediately available. Asked what transpired at the meeting, Advani said: “I have nothing to say.”

Following pressure from the Samata Party, Krishnamurthi had written to Dorendra yesterday, directing him to ensure that no BJP MLA staked claim to form the government or supported any front or became a minister in any front.

However, there is a big gap between what leaders in Delhi are saying and what the anti-Samata formation in Imphal, led by the BJP, is doing. Last evening, BJP legislature party leader Dorendra formed the 40-member Progressive Democratic Alliance, comprising the 26 BJP legislators, to later stake claim to form the government. This group, including the Janata Dal (Loken) which is an associate member of the Janata Dal (United), is opposed to Central rule.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Prime Minister rushed his emissary, PMO joint secretary Sudheendra Kulkarni, to Fernandes’ residence. Fernandes insisted on Article 356 with Advani after the message from the PMO had reached him. Sources said the Samata leadership has kept the Congress posted about the development and the latter has agreed to support the NDA government in Parliament if the need to ratify Central rule in Manipur came up in the House.

The meeting that Vajpayee held with Fernandes and Krishnamurthi yesterday had fixed May 28 for a high-level session between Samata and BJP leaders to sort out the tangle. A solution to the crisis could be found even earlier, Samata sources hinted.

The two options Fernandes placed before the Prime Minister yesterday were: restoration of the Koijam government or imposition of President’s rule. Fernandes is clinging to the second option after Vajpayee rejected the first.

The Samata’s argument is that it has the support of 17 legislators, including 13 of its own, while the BJP has 26.


New Delhi, May 23: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee has never missed his annual retreat into the peace and quiet of Prini, a little village off the crowded Manali hill resort. Come May — whether in power or in the Opposition — he religiously heads for a short break in his cottage that overlooks the Beas and the mountains.

This year, too, will be no exception.

Tomorrow, Vajpayee will leave for Manali for a five-day break despite spells of uncertainty the government went through after the Samata Party reacted angrily to its loss of power in Manipur and the BJP’s none-too-impressive show in the Assembly elections.

BJP sources said Vajpayee has been experiencing “great physical” pain in his right knee which will be operated upon on June 7 in Mumbai. “It shows on his face,” they said. “Despite the agony, he has been attending as many meetings as possible. And, if he gives the impression of not being able to walk steadily or fully concentrate, it is only because of the pain.”

Sources said his vacation this time would be more “quiet and private” than the other two he went on in his second stint as Prime Minister. For one, his retinue is expected to be slimmer, including, possibly, only his foster family, a personal secretary and the aide’s accompanying staff.

Ashok Saikia and Ashok Tandon, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who were part of the earlier contingents, will not be around this time. Saikia is out of India while Tandon, Vajpayee’s media adviser, is busy with his daughter’s marriage on May 28 in Chandigarh.

So far, no official function is on the cards. Neither is any member of the Central Cabinet or the Himachal Pradesh government slated to call on Vajpayee. Last year, during his Manali sojourn, the Prime Minister had attended a function organised by the state power ministry at Bilaspur. The late power minister, P.R. Kumaramangalam, was also present.

BJP sources said Vajpayee’s presence at the function was meant to flash twin signals. The ruling BJP-Himachal Vikas Party (HVP) coalition was then under stress and the Prime Minister sharing a dais with HVP leader Sukh Ram helped straighten things out for the time being. Also, the state’s panchayat polls were round the corner.

The sources, however, said Vajpayee will not be completely cut off from what is happening in Delhi. “All the relevant files will be sent to him and, if there is an urgent file to be cleared, it will be flown in,” they said.

Once he returns to the plains, the Prime Minister is scheduled to visit quake-affected areas of Kutch on June 3 and 4.


New Delhi, May 23: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi is planning a visit abroad as India’s leader of the Opposition to share “global vision” with the likes of US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Sonia will be in the UK and the US in June. Her US engagements include interaction with the American Senators’ Caucus, the Asia Society and the Council for Foreign Relations.

Sonia will reach London on June 22. Sources said she would meet deputy prime minister John Prescott and other Labour leaders, while efforts are on to arrange a meeting with Blair, who is busy with the June 7 general elections.

The Congress chief will be in New York on June 24 and in Washington on June 25 and 26.

Congress leaders are exploring the possibility of a meeting between Bush and Sonia at the Oval office, but, so far, there has been no confirmation.

Sonia’s next destination is Reykjavik, where she will be the state guest of the president of Iceland for four days. She will be accompanied by son Rahul Gandhi who will join her in London.

K. Natwar Singh, the former foreign minister and the AICC’s foreign department chairman, said Sonia will meet Indian community leaders and members of the Indian overseas Congress. The Overseas Congress’ UK chapter is trying to arrange a public meeting in London to be addressed by Sonia.

Party leaders said Sonia has wanted to reach out to world leaders ever since she took over as AICC chief in March 1998, but could not do so because of domestic commitments. Sonia, they said, kept getting invitations from China, Iraq, Vietnam and Sri Lanka but deputed party delegations to represent the Congress.

“She is keenly interested in international politics and has written numerous letters to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee drawing his attention towards the West Asian situation,” a Congress Working Committee member said.

The leaders claimed that Sonia has a global vision and, as the leader of the Opposition, she was keen to maintain links with political parties of different countries and their leaders.

“It is also part of the tradition of the Nehru-Gandhi family,” an AICC functionary said. “She is keeping (alive) that tradition, too.”

Sonia had visited Hong Kong in March this year to “celebrate” the Sindhi new year with the Indian community there. But the visit had been criticised as it coincided with the party’s Tehelka campaign against the Vajpayee regime. Some party leaders even said that her visit had shifted the focus from the scandal.


Bhubaneswar, May 23: 
A test-case confrontation between a multinational and a state government entered the eyeball-to-eyeball phase with Orissa asking US power giant AES Corporation to resume generation from a plant by tonight or face the law.

AES had refused to switch on one of its units in Ib Valley after it was repaired on May 17, citing non-payment of Rs 142-crore dues by Grid Corporation of Orissa (Gridco).

AES has a 49 per cent stake in the Orissa Power Generation Corporation (OPGC), while the grid is a government-owned firm which supplies bulk of the power to the four distribution companies in the state.

State energy minister A.U. Singh Deo talked tough today, saying the law would take its own course if AES failed to switch on the unit by Wednesday night. He did not rule out the declaration of the Essential Services Maintenance Act against the power company.

If Esma is declared, the government can send a notice to the AES to resume operations immediately. If the order goes unheeded, the Act has a provision to arrest the person in charge. The AES representative in the OPGC, Grayson Harvell, had passed the order against switching on the unit.

However, chances of Harvell’s arrest are remote as it will send wrong signals from a state in its second stage of power reforms. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, too, discounted the possibility of Harvell’s arrest as the whole issue is related to a “commercial deal” between two parties. “We must deal with it commercially,” Patnaik said.

The state government, which is the majority shareholder in OPGC, had asked Harvell to resume operations after the board of directors passed a resolution taking away the financial and commercial powers from him.

While AES has demanded dues from Gridco, the corporation has said the US company also owed it money. Cesco, one of the distribution companies in which AES is the majority partner, has run up dues of Rs 394 crore with Gridco through bulk power purchase.

Harvell, who was at the power station in Jharsuguda, reached Bhubaneswar this morning following repeated summons from the state government to “resolve the issue at the earliest”.

He met the energy minister and senior officials of the department and made it clear that clearance of the arrears by Gridco was the only solution.

“We told him that as a partner in power reforms, he should be a little patient as the problem of payment of arrears may not be solved in a day,” an official said.


New Delhi, May 23: 
India and Bangladesh today signed a new visa agreement that not only encourages easier travel but also signals that relations between the “friendly neighbours” are back on track after last month’s border standoff.

Signed in Dhaka, the agreement replaces the existing one signed in 1972 and is more liberal. It takes into account the requirement of those who travel between the two countries as tourists and pilgrims as well as for business, studies, medical attention or other related purposes. The document was signed by Bangladesh home secretary M.M. Reza and Indian high commissioner Manilal Tripathi.

The amended pact provides for single-entry tourist visa with a validity of three months from the date of entry, simplified procedure for extension of visa on medical ground, student visa for the entire period of study and flexibility in the change of route. It also makes travel easier for professionals and businessmen with the choice of double entry and long-term multiple entry visa.

In the backdrop of the clashes that erupted between the security forces of the two sides, the agreement should reassure both Indians and Bangladeshis that hostilities have ceased and attempts are being made to normalise relations as early as possible.

A statement issued by the Indian foreign ministry this afternoon said: “The upgradation of the visa facilities reflects the mutual desire of the two governments to further facilitate people-to-people contacts, which constitute an important aspect of the multifaceted relations between Bangladesh and India.”

But the two sides continued to drag their feet on the boundary issue and failed to make an announcement on the meeting of the experts’ group. There are, however, indications that a bilateral meeting may take place on the sidelines of the Saarc senior officials meet in Colombo early next month.

Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and her Bangladesh counterpart, Syed Moazzem Ali, will be among the seven foreign secretaries of the member states who will participate in the Saarc meet in the Sri Lankan capital on June 8 and 9. Both Delhi and Dhaka are trying to work out a meeting on the sidelines between the two foreign secretaries.

Earlier this month, India had invited a delegation from Bangladesh to come to Delhi for discussions on the boundary issue between May 22 and 25. Dhaka suggested alternative dates between May 29 and 30, but Delhi has not yet responded to the fresh dates.


New Delhi, May 23: 
Women’s organisations are suspicious of the BJP government’s resolve to clean up laws that are not giving women a fair deal and introduce new legislation to empower them.

“It is ironic that a party which supported sati some years ago is now bringing one legislation after another to empower women,” said a woman activist.

Not so long ago, women’s groups were united in tarring the BJP as the most “retrogressive” party, at least on matters of gender and women’s empowerment.

“The Sangh parivar wants to push back women within the four walls,” an activist said. Some high-profile ministers in the NDA government often made statements that seemed to back this opinion. A senior minister at a press conference said women have a special status in society because they are “mothers”.

However, along with such statements characteristic of the Sangh parivar’s ideology, the government has unveiled decisions that have given women’s organisations some food for thought.

The BJP, the Sangh parivar’s most prominent member, seems to be trying to undo its anti-women image through long-delayed legal reforms that were impeding laws introduced to give women justice.

Some women’s organisations are giving the credit to Union law minister Arun Jaitley, who is perceived by many to be of a “different stock” from the Sangh parivar. “The change in laws are clearly the brainwork of Jaitley,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme.

For the first time, the government has laid down a law to prevent domestic violence, including not just physical aggression but mental torture as well. The Domestic Violence Bill which is on the anvil has sparked off a debate and introspection on the definition of violence against women.

This year — declared the year for empowering women — the government wants to amend the Prevention of Sati Act and the Indecent Representation of Women Act and introduce a law to strengthen the National Commission for Women, among other decisions.

“In the present Act to prevent sati, the person who tries to immolate herself is held as guilty as those abetting her to be a sati,” said an official in the department of women and children. Through an amendment in the Act, the government wants to remove the onus of guilt on the widow. The proposed amendment to the Indecent Representation of Women Act aims to extend its scope to the electronic media.

The Cabinet’s decision yesterday to remove the Rs 500 cap on maintenance came as yet another boost for the women’s movement.

Left women’s organisations have dubbed the reforms positive but are “not free from suspicion” about the “primary motive”. Recently in a door-to-door campaign, the RSS distributed a leaflet demolishing “Western style feminism” which, it said, destroyed homes and prevented reconciliation.

Mridula Sinha, a leading activist of the BJP’s women’s wing, has no empathy with women’s organisations which ask women not to stay in a marriage that is degrading.


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