Legitimacy blow to palace probe
Air thick with poison
Vajpayee’s Birendra reminder to kingdom
No hidden agenda under shawl
Asoka the Great, with nameplate
Calcutta Weather

 
 
LEGITIMACY BLOW TO PALACE PROBE 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, June 5: 
Nepal’s first official attempt to unveil the mystery shrouding the royal massacre has run into trouble with the Opposition leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, one of the three members of the probe committee, today refusing to join it.

That leaves the other two members of the committee — chief justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyay and speaker Taranath Ranabhat — to finish the probe in two days. That, politicians and the people here agree, is going to be a near-impossible job.

Far more important, however, is the issue that Madhav Kumar Nepal raised while giving his reasons for withdrawing. In a statement issued after an emergency meeting of his party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) he said the manner in which the committee had been formed was not in keeping with the “norms of democratic government and constitutional monarch”. The decision on the probe should have come from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government. It was the new King Gyanendra who had announced the probe and chosen the panel members yesterday.

With this first announcement of the new King and its immediate fallout, a Pandora’s box has virtually been opened on the old question of the equations between the palace and the elected government. And this comes in the background of yesterday’s assurance by King Gyanendra that he would uphold constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy.

But the Opposition leader has clearly hinted that the proper procedure for setting up such an inquiry has not been followed. Nepali Congress sources indicated that the King had, in all probability, discussed the matter with the Prime Minister before making the announcement.

In fact, the ruling Nepali Congress, which also held a meeting today, discussed the legality of the constitution of the probe committee. Although party general secretary Sushil Koirala later issued a statement welcoming the probe, there were unconfirmed reports that the Nepali Congress faced internal differences over the propriety of allowing its member and the speaker to take part in it.

There is a contrary view, however, that the King had acted within his powers by setting up the committee because the incident took place inside the palace. The amended Constitution of 1990, that restored multi-party democracy and created the constitutional monarchy, exempts the royal family and its members from the jurisdiction of the government.

Article 31 of Part V of the Constitution says, “No question shall be raised in any court about any act performed by His Majesty...” So there is considerable confusion here about how the probe committee would go about its job as it cannot question members of the royal family.

But then it is not a judicial probe, say local analysts, and the Constitution merely bars courts from questioning actions by the King and his family. It is not clear if the committee can question royal family members who have survived Friday night’s shooting, let alone the King, the Queen and their son. (Interestingly, although King Gyanendra yesterday formally bestowed the title of the Queen on his wife Komal Rajya Laxmi Devi, he did not make his son, Paras, the Crown Prince, as earlier reports had suggested.)

The public mood about the probe, too, seems to vary between the sceptical to the openly dismissive. A group of young men, assembled near the palace this morning before the curfew began at noon, loudly told some Indian journalists, “How can anything like this massacre be probed in three days? Think how long the probe into the killing of your Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took.”

   

 
 
AIR THICK WITH POISON 
 
 
BY PROBIR PRAMANIK AND ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, June 5: 
The Queen Mother has committed suicide!

Don’t drink water or milk, they have been poisoned!

Battered and bruised by the backlash against the mysterious massacre, Kathmandu is now grappling with such and more rumours streaking through the city thick and fast.

With officials clamming up, unnerved by the outpouring of public rage against initial statements pointing the finger at Crown Prince Dipendra, the capital has been confronted with another crisis: figuring out what’s news and what’s not.

The media, primarily reporters from abroad, has to depend much on hearsay as government confirmation is hard to come by. The inordinate delay by the palace, as well as the government, in giving out information has triggered a flurry of speculation, most of them without basis.

What has compounded the problem is the decision to yank off the air Indian news channels, apparently because their broadcasts of the graphic accounts of the reported role of the crown prince in the killings enraged residents.

Along with the bizarre, the mischief-makers are also spreading false news on the condition of the survivors of Friday night’s carnage.

“No one can say with certainty how many people were injured and what the condition is of those who survived. The army has blocked all news about them. Rumours are gaining credence, as there are hardly any news channels giving the correct picture of what is actually happening. Foreign, mainly Indian news channels, have been taken off the air, further depriving the people of news,” said a political analyst.

There was no official confirmation about the blackout of Indian news channels. A cable operator said on condition of anonymity: “How can we on our own block foreign news channels? There has been an official instruction to block news channels, especially the Indian ones. We are only broadcasting two news channels now, CNN and BBC.”

India has again been portrayed as the big bad guy next door. Authorities believe that the role of the Indian media, at least a section of it, is suspect. And when they feel it, Indian journalists, who arrived here in the wake of the palace massacre, cannot quite escape it. Several of them have been roughed up or abused since Monday by local people who complained that some reports in the Indian media had been either patently false or wildly speculative. So far, however, there have been no major anti-India outcries, though the people aren’t quite amused at the media’s role.

Those at the receiving end are the tourists, stranded since the massacre. “The government’s sudden decision to impose curfew on Monday caught most us unawares. The announcement was made over the radio and TV. But with the state-run TV hardly showing anything, most guests had tuned into foreign networks. But now we are at the mercy of the state-run media, which is not forthcoming,” said Deepak Shah, manager of a city hotel.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE’S BIRENDRA REMINDER TO KINGDOM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
Four days after the palace massacre, India has officially sent messages to Nepal’s new King Gyanendra and Prime Minister G.P. Koirala, expressing solidarity with Kathmandu in its hour of crisis and reminding the regime about the slain King Birendra’s “invaluable contribution” in building close and strong ties with Delhi that mutually benefited both the nations.

Sources said the “reminder” was significant as King Gyanendra has been described in some quarters as an “anti-Indian” who had held Delhi responsible for introducing the democratic tradition in the Himalayan kingdom.

The twin messages from India — one by President K.R. Narayanan to King Gyanendra and the other by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to his Nepalese counterpart G.P. Koirala — were despatched this afternoon through India’s high commissioner in Nepal, Deb Mukherjee.

India would have sent the messages earlier, but didn’t because of the fast-paced developments in Kathmandu.

The messages, while expressing India’s “great sorrow” on the “painful tragedy that has befallen the royal family”, also took the opportunity to reiterate Delhi’s desire to continue to play a close and meaningful role with Kathmandu in future. “We in India particularly recall his (late King Birendra’s) invaluable role in strengthening the close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries,” Vajpayee wrote.

Expressing confidence that Nepal will be able to tide over the present crisis and move towards “peaceful progress and development”, he said: “We will continue to extend our fullest support and cooperation in this process.”

In his message to King Gyanendra, Narayanan said: “As you assume the leadership of the Kingdom of Nepal in these circumstances, I would like to express the solidarity of India, as a close friend of Nepal, in your efforts to put behind you this national tragedy and to lead the people of Nepal in their continuing endeavours for stable socio-economic development.

“My government looks forward to working closely with your Majesty’s government to further strengthen and intensify mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries.”

Describing the killings as “a tragedy of an extraordinary kind”, home minister L.K. Advani said here that “the government has already conveyed to Nepal that we are willing to assist in any manner”.

Delhi wants to convey to the new regime that it is ready to ignore much of his past remarks against India, but would expect him to play a constructive role.

which will mutually benefit both countries.

   

 
 
NO HIDDEN AGENDA UNDER SHAWL 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
Read not too much into Jayalalitha’s outstretched hands draping a shawl around Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s shoulders. She doesn’t intend to embrace the BJP-led alliance, not as of now anyway.

It was a “courtesy call”, she said, vowing to stay with the Congress. Like Mamata Banerjee last week, she visited the Prime Minister first and then Sonia Gandhi. Unlike Mamata, she went to Vajpayee — their first meeting since the bitter parting of ways two years ago — with a bouquet and a green brocade shawl, expansive in triumph, and not with the scroll of complaints of a loser.

In May 1999, Jaya had slipped out through the backdoor of 10 Janpath after failing to secure Sonia’s support for a Third Front government following the fall of the previous Vajpayee government. Today — setting foot in Delhi after over two years — she stepped out imperiously through the front and made it amply clear who was running the ADMK-Congress double act.

Unlike last time when she put up at the Maurya Sheraton, Jaya chose to stay at the Tamil Nadu Bhavan, which was turned into a fortress.

Jaya shut the door on the NDA, but kept the Congress guessing on her ties with the People’s Front, the resurrected third force. She said she was in touch with leaders of the front, keeping her options open. Sources close to her said she would open the cards after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, which are likely to have a bearing on the Vajpayee regime’s fortunes.

The Jyoti Basu-headed front has reason to be pleased as Jaya admitted having talks with the group right outside 10 Janpath minutes after meeting Sonia. The Congress is dismissive of the front, a perception not shared by Jaya. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Chandra Shekhar have been trying to bring the Congress and the front together and Jaya threw her considerable weight behind the effort today.

About her meeting with Sonia, Jaya said: “It was a courtesy call. We congratulated each other. She, on my success, and I on her party’s success in Assam, Kerala and Pondicherry.” She hastened to add that no political interpretation should be made of her meeting with the prime minister, either.

The traditional Tamil greeting with flowers and shawl to Vajpayee came with a memorandum that included a demand for banning communal and secessionist organisations. The same subject came up during her talks with Sonia.

Congress leaders were relieved over the outcome of the meeting. It is an open secret that the May 1999 incident has created a permanent hiatus between the two ladies.

Jaya was said to have held Sonia responsible for the failure to stitch together an Opposition alternative by insisting on becoming prime minister and keeping Mulayam Singh Yadav out.

She had avoided sharing a dais with Sonia in the 1999 general elections, though the two parties were partners. This time in the Assembly polls, Sonia declined to address meetings in Tamil Nadu. That rancour is unlikely to have been washed down by the lemon tea Jaya had at 10 Janpath.

   

 
 
ASOKA THE GREAT, WITH NAMEPLATE 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
The first labelled image of King Asoka has been found.

In what has been described as a “momentous discovery”, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has unearthed a panel at Kanganhalli Mahastupa in Karnataka that depicts the emperor with his queen surrounded by several women. The veneering slab is inscribed in Brahmi script with the words “Rayo Asoko” (Asoka the Great).

An image in Sanchi had earlier been interpreted as Asoka’s, but it was not specifically labelled as such.

The archaeological survey stumbled onto the image while examining an area in Gulbarga district where the government wanted to construct a barrage on the Bhima river and had sought environmental clearance. The ASI was brought in as the location of the proposed barrage was close to Sannathi, an existing Buddhist site with Asokan rock edicts, on the left bank of the Bhima. The ASI had not even declared the area as protected.

A survey team led by K.P. Poonacha explored the proposed area. The trial excavations began in 1997 and the digs soon yielded enough material to undertake excavation on a large scale. The efforts yielded an archaeological treasure. Says ASI director-general Komal Anand: “Some 65 big panels carved with bas-relief have been unearthed. These are thought to belong to the period stretching from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD.”

The excavations have uncovered the remains of a stupa with a diameter of 19 m and a preserved lower and upper drum stretching up to a height of 3.1 m. According to an ASI note, the site spans both the Hinayana and the Mahayana phases of Buddhism.

Apart from the discovery of the inscribed image of Asoka, the excavation had other immense significance, said senior archaeologists. One is that the vibrant, robust style of bas-relief sculptures is close in spirit to the Amaravati sculptures of Andhra Pradesh, now housed in the British Museum in London.

This style was patronised by the regional dynasty of Satavahana kings of the south. They also share a kinship with the Sanchi and Hharhut styles of sculptures patronised by the Sungas. The Kanganhalli site is another prime example of the heydays of Sunga/Satavahana art.

The carvings, made of limestone, represent emblems of Buddhist religion, Jataka stories, seated sculptures of Buddha and so on. The second key feature of the Kanganhalli excavations is that many of the decorative features carry inscriptions mentioning names of donors, who came from a large cross-section of society.

More significant, representations in high relief of Satavahana rulers in procession depict rulers such as Simukha, Pulamavi.

The remains of the stupa lie scattered over an area of 2,000 sq m. The ASI is now working on reconstructing the stupa. Work has stopped now because of the scorching heat, but will resume in July, Anand said.

The organisation is also acquiring some surrounding land and will create a garden to promote the site as a tourist spot. Needless to say, it is now a protected site now and one can bid goodbye to the barrage across Bhima.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33°C (-2)
Minimum: 26.1°C (-1)

Rainfall:

6 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 69%

Today

A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thundershowers.
Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.15 pm
   
 

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