Vajpayee treats jobless juniors to joke
Not Dipendra, but who, ask Nepal youths
Sealed lips, loud rumours
Cycle of clashes and curfew
Breach Candy barricades for Atal
Pak children set a tough act for governments to follow
Pak envoy takes lead in Opp. talks
Violence heat on Mamata to return
UP strategy search with Advani
Radio tag to keep tabs on prisoners

 
 
VAJPAYEE TREATS JOBLESS JUNIORS TO JOKE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
Some poured their hearts out, others kept their heads firmly screwed on their shoulders and came up with concrete suggestions as Atal Bihari Vajpayee lent his ears to the out-of-work BJP ministers of state over tea at his residence. But, whatever the tone and tenor of last evening’s conversations, in the end the Prime Minister did not offer the salve of any assurance.

All that they managed to extract was a promise that Vajpayee would meet them every three months. But that, admitted a minister of state from Bihar, was no consolation for the lot who, for the last two years, have had to suffer the irony of a situation in which they are pampered with huge bungalows, secretarial staff and cars fitted with red lights but have no work.

Most of them complained that not a single file is routed through them and neither are they consulted on policy or any other aspect of their ministries.

“But in his own inimitable way the Prime Minister made light of our troubles,” grumbled a minister of state from Madhya Pradesh. He said when minister of state for rural development Rita Verma cribbed about how she was better off as a member of Parliament than an unemployed minister because then she could at least air her views in the House without allowing an official position to hem her in, Vajpayee’s repartee was: “I can solve your problem in no time. I will revert you back to the status of an MP again.”

Sources said a panic-stricken Rita explained that this was not what she meant. “All I am pleading for (with you) is to better our working conditions,” she was quoted as telling Vajpayee.

The interaction between the ministers and Vajpayee was occasioned by a dinner meeting hosted last year by minister of state for women and child welfare Sumitra Mahajan for her BJP colleagues to focus attention on their alleged neglect by their bosses. The event was widely reported and due note was taken by the PMO.

Immediately, Sumitra was allocated more work and responsibilities by her senior, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain was given independent charge of the coal ministry. But the others remained where they were.

A dinner meeting arranged by Vajpayee on January 26 was called off because of the Gujarat quake. Things stayed in a limbo until a minister of state from Bihar, Munni Lal, began speaking openly to the press.

Sources said at yesterday’s tea-party, while Mahajan and Hussain gushed about how they had their hands full and were “even allowed” to answer questions in the House, their colleagues pointed out how they suffered the “ignominy” of watching Cabinet ministers from unrelated ministries answering questions related to their own departments in the House.

Among the practicable suggestions that emerged was letting the PMO allocate work in all the ministries, as was the practice in the pre-Narasimha Rao era and fix accountability of individual ministers and “monitor their output”. Another proposal was to let more BJP junior ministers work under ministers from other NDA constituents “in order to allow us to have a free hand”.

At the moment, most of the BJP ministers of state have bosses from their own party, a fact some felt was hampering their freedom because their seniors did not want them to “steal the thunder”.

   

 
 
NOT DIPENDRA, BUT WHO, ASK NEPAL YOUTHS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Kathmandu, June 5: 
The young don’t know the answer, but what most of them do believe is that Dipendra didn’t do it.

“How could one single person wipe off the entire royal family without the palace guards being any the wiser?” asks a student.

“We don’t buy the story that Prince Dipendra had fired the shots killing nine members of the royal family. Where were the palace guards, who are handpicked from the Royal Nepal Army, considered totally loyal to the monarchy? A massacre of this magnitude, that, too, within the high-security palace, would not have been possible without the connivance of a section of some powerful people within the palace,” says Sushma Pradhan, a college student.

“First, Gyanendra wanted us to believe that the killings were a mere accident. Now, immediately after being crowned king, he has constituted a high-level probe. This is all fine, but will we ever know the truth behind the annihilation of the royal family?” she asks.

In the streets of Kathmandu you can hear being whispered the different conspiracy theories. Some believe there were more than one assailant in the anteroom where the entire royal family had gathered after the traditional Friday-night dinner.

“If indeed it was Prince Dipendra who had pulled the trigger, at least one of those present in the room would have tried to resist. But nothing like that seems to have happened. And where were the palace guards at the time of shooting? Were there no palace servants catering to the royal family that fateful night?” asks Mohan Sharma, a shopkeeper in Ashan, the valley’s oldest market.

Echoing Sharma is 21-year-old Gajendra Khati. He believes it is impossible to carry out a massacre of this magnitude in Narayan Hity Palace — a very secure place — without “inside” help. “To kill so many people without any resistance would certainly need more than one attacker,” says Khati.

“It is not possible for us to accept the story that Dipendra could have wiped out his entire family in a single burst of anger. The very story of Dipendra killing his entire family driven to rage by love was allegedly a clever plant. It is believed that a certain high-ranking army official was the first to feed the love angle to Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chancre Paudel. It was then systematically fed to the national and international media, projecting Dipendra as a trigger-happy lover-boy.”

Paudel later denied the story, though.

Nepal’s youth may not know the answer, but most of them are pointing accusing fingers at King Gyanendra and his son, Crown Prince Paras.

“Initial reports said Paras was the only one to have survived the macabre killings. One wonders how he managed to emerge unscathed,” says Sharma.

But he knows that he may never know what exactly happened in the royal anteroom on Friday night. Unless, of course, the three survivors — Queen Komal, Princess Shobha and late King Birendra’s son-in-law, Prince Gorakh Shumsher Rana — come forward with the real story.

   

 
 
SEALED LIPS, LOUD RUMOURS 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, June 5: 
In a throwback to the events following the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight and, more recently, the outcry over Hrithik Roshan, Indian media is viewed with scepticism here.

A group of journalists had to face the consequences of what officials here feel are acts of omission and commission of the media.

The journalists had gone this morning to the police headquarters to try and get passes to go around the town during the curfew hours.

The public relations officer at the police headquarters contacted the office of the deputy inspector general of police over phone and then asked, politely but quizzically, if there were anyone from an Indian newspaper, that had carried a report which the authorities insisted had caused “confusion and anger” in the kingdom.

An Indian television channel’s report suggested that Indian newspapers had been burnt at many places at Kathmandu. But it was only an isolated incident that got blown out of proportion.

The people are not as discriminating as the authorities. For many of them, the whole of the Indian media is suspect. Yesterday, the crew of two Indian television channels was surrounded and abused by some people.

One team had to be rescued by police near the Pashupati temple. Yesterday, an Indian news channel was blacked out and today one of its correspondents here was reported to have been abused.

The problem for the foreign media, including Indian, is that there are hardly any official statements forthcoming on anything since the palace tragedy. It takes much ingenuity to get even simple incidents, like deaths in police firing, not to speak of the deaths at the palace, confirmed by anyone of authority.

Having been forced to chase wildly conflicting rumours, some Indian journalists themselves fell victim to rumour-mongering. Late yesterday evening, word spread that the local administration had asked all Indian journalists to leave their hotels and check into two hotels near the palace “for their safety”. There was some panic among the scribes who kept calling each other. But there was no such instruction from the government.

   

 
 
CYCLE OF CLASHES AND CURFEW 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Kathmandu, June 5: 
Groups of protesters battled the army and riot police in pockets throughout Kathmandu for the second day today, defying curfew in the Nepal capital.

Unconfirmed reports said two persons were killed when troops opened fire to quell clashes at Judibuti and New Road areas.

The authorities reimposed curfew from 12 noon today after a respite from 5 am. The Kathmandu residents made the most of the break to stock up on essentials.

But there was no let-up in the tension as hundreds of angry youths continued to protest throughout the day, defying the shoot-at-sight orders.

They fought pitched battles with the armed security forces on side-streets. Caught in the melee were thousands of stranded foreign tourists who stayed put in their hotel rooms.

The protesters were demanding that King Gyanendra, whom they dubbed “brother-killer”, step down. The angry crowds also demanded that the government make public the events that led to the annihilation of the royal family.

An uneasy calm prevailed in the city as the army manned strategic positions throughout the city for the second day.

Markets, banks and other business establishments remained closed for the fourth day today, adding to the confusion of the residents of Kathmandu valley and the suburb of Lalitpur.

But the traders who braved the threat of violence reaped an immediate harvest as people rushed to stock up on provisions.

“I have seven hungry mouths to feed. Yes, I am aware that the government might reimpose curfew after a couple of hours. But it was a risk I had to take. I have managed to sell most of the vegetables I had brought. I will now rush to catch the first bus available to my village on the outskirts of Lalitpur,” said Purna Gurung, who had left as soon as the relaxation came into force to sell his wares near Ratna Park.

Tourism cloud

The turmoil has made travellers wary of the kingdom as a holiday destination, adds Reuters.

But tour operators say it is too early to say what the long-term impact will be, particularly as the violence coincides with the rainy off-season.

The United States and Britain have issued travel warnings to their citizens, while Japan and Australia have urged travellers to avoid demonstrations and gatherings.

At least two large American trekking companies have either cancelled trips or were routing trips around Nepal, saying uncertainty of travel and safety were a cause of concern.

But, Nepal insists tourists should not feel threatened.

   

 
 
BREACH CANDY BARRICADES FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, June 5: 
Police cordoned off Breach Candy Hospital and restricted entry of cars as they prepared to thwart any terrorist attack on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee arriving here tomorrow for an operation on his troubled knee.

Barricades were set up along the hospital on Bhula Bhai Desai Road as policemen directed the cars of visitors to a makeshift car park nearby. Visitors’ cars were forbidden from entering the hospital for fear of bombs.

Only ambulances carrying critical patients will be allowed in during Vajpayee’s stay at the hospital, which doctors said could extend up to 12 days.

This will be the Prime Minister’s second visit to the hospital where he spent 12 days in October after an operation on his left knee.

Accompanied by his foster daughter Nandita and son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, Vajpayee will arrive in Mumbai around noon tomorrow. Union home minister L.K. Advani and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, and officials from Vajpayee’s office, will accompany him.

After a brief chat with reporters, Vajpayee will ride a car to the hospital, take a side entrance and a lift to the seventh-floor, where all 14 rooms have been booked for him and his entourage.

Though he stayed in a corner room during his operation on the left knee last October, he could stay in a different room this time because his securitymen feel the corner room was vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Vajpayee’s aides will work out of a room on the same floor, equipped with telephones, faxes and computers. A hotline has been set up to connect the hospital with the PMO in New Delhi.

Surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat today flew in from the US to replace Vajpayee’s right knee joint afflicted with osteoarthritis. He will operate on the 77-year-old leader on Thursday morning, assisted by a leading Mumbai orthopaedician, Nandu Laud, who had assisted Ranawat last October.

Ranawat had found Vajpayee’s right knee afflicted with the same disease while operating on his left knee last year. Doctors close to him said there was no urgency for surgery on Vajpayee’s right knee, but it would be done to “improve the quality of life for him”.

Hospital authorities said they had issued two entry passes each to relatives of the patients in view of tight security for the Prime Minister. The staff were asked to wear their identity cards around their necks during Vajpayee’s stay.

   

 
 
PAK CHILDREN SET A TOUGH ACT FOR GOVERNMENTS TO FOLLOW 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, June 5: 
Twelve-year-old Zainab likes India as girls here can drive scooters. Mushtafa, who is eight, prefers Chandigarh to his hometown in Pakistan because it is less polluted.

These children from Pakistan are clueless why relations between India and their country are not friendly, but are here to do their bit to help improve ties.

Before Pervez Musharraf arrives in India for talks with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 15 Pakistani children from Islamabad and Lahore, aged between five and 12, have come to Chandigarh to stage a play, aptly called Border-Border. Indian children will also be part of the play’s cast.

The play is the joint effort of Beston Foundation, Mohali, and Ajoka Theatre of Lahore.

Ajoka, a non-profitable organisation, was set up in 1983, a time when the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq was at its oppressive peak and all forms of political and social dissent were made punishable. The group’s first play, Badal Sircar’s Jaloos, was performed in Lahore in 1984, at a house lawn, in defiance of the strict censorship laws. It has pioneered parallel theatre in Pakistan.

“We are here to deliver a message to the people of both countries. The play is being staged jointly by Pakistani and Indian children and as luck would have it, a new peace process between the countries has been initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and reciprocated by General Pervez Musharraf. You can term our endeavour Track II diplomacy,” said the group’s artistic director and noted stage personality Madeeha Gauhar, who is accompanying the team from Pakistan.

“What happened in 1947 is history. We have to look at the future and our children are our future. It is amazing how children of both countries meeting for the first time have struck a rapport that seems years old. The bond existing between the peoples of the two countries can be gauged by the way Pakistani and Indian children are rehearsing for the play. Visitors cannot make out who is Pakistani and who is Indian. We are similar in every respect and must work for peace,” she added.

One of the most striking features of the young visitors from Pakistan is their ability to strike a conversation with anyone and everyone. One of the younger lot blamed the establishment of both countries for not ushering in peace.

“We are here to play our part to ensure peace. The governments should play their role (too),” he said on condition of anonymity. “We are one people.”

Beston Foundation’s creative development assistant director Pragati Gandhi said the play aims at striking a bond between the peoples of the two countries. “The play is about two families with children, one Pakistani and the other Indian, going to a picnic on the border. It is a fun play and deals with how the children react when told that those on the other side are different.”

Gandhi praised the government for allowing the Ajoka group to perform in Chandigarh. “We hope to perform the play in Calcutta also,” she said. “The play is a small gesture on our part to bring the people of the two countries closer to each other. We intend to reciprocate the gesture that our Pakistani friends have made by bringing their children here to act in a joint play,” she said.

Gauhar said Border-Border’s greatest achievement would be to get people from both India and Pakistan closer to each other. “We will not deny that we do face criticism for taking our plays to India. But then there will always be some people from both countries who do not wish to see peace in the region,” she added.

   

 
 
PAK ENVOY TAKES LEAD IN OPP. TALKS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
In an unusual diplomatic move, Pakistani high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi has taken upon himself the task of building a national consensus on Pervez Musharraf’s proposed summit with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Qazi is meeting Opposition parties here to discuss the meet scheduled for the second half of July.

The Opposition parties have been sulking because they were not consulted but “only informed” by Vajpayee before he announced his decision to invite the Pakistani chief executive for talks to the capital late last month.

The Left parties topped Qazi’s list. He began his diplomatic rounds with the CPM and met the party’s politburo member Sitaram Yechury last week. This morning, he drove down to the CPI headquarters where he had a lengthy discussion with the party’s general secretary A.B. Bardhan. Tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet Opposition leader and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Sources said Qazi is attempting to assess the Opposition’s mood on Kashmir. Islamabad has made it clear that Kashmir continues to be the core area of dispute between the two sides. India has also made it clear that it, too, was bound by the resolution passed by Parliament in 1994 asserting the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was “an integral part of the country”.

This, in effect, means that if Islamabad continues to harp on Kashmir being the central point of discussion then Delhi will say its has its compulsions too on the sensitive issue, and the dialogue between the two leaders may not make much headway.

Foreign diplomats based in Delhi do meet leaders of various political parties from time to time. But the Pakistani high commissioner’s current exercise is significant as it is being done to garner the support of the Opposition to ensure that the talks between Vajpayee and Musharraf are sustained.

According to sources, Qazi has told Left leaders that India should try to take the talks beyond its stated positions on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Line of Control (LoC). There is a perception that the talks may get stuck in a familiar groove with India stressing that Kashmir is an integral part of the country and that Pakistan must put an end to cross-border terrorism. The success of the dialogue, the high commissioner is believed to have stressed, lies in breaking new ground on the Kashmir issue.

Left leaders on their part conveyed to the High Commissioner that the only way to better relations between the two countries is by keeping up a dialogue.

All Opposition parties have welcomed the government’s decision to begin a dialogue with Musharraf. This, they think, is the only way to keep the tension low and move towards a probable solution to the tangle.

MQM leader meeting

Altaf Hussain, chief of Pakistan’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is planning to seek appointments with Indian leaders, including the Prime Minister, reports PTI. He has appealed to Indian Muslims to protest against the “injustice” being perpetrated against Mohajirs by the Pervez Musharraf regime.

“Nothing is impossible .... When I make a programme to have a meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee .... I will make it public and I will not do this secretly,” Hussain was quoted as saying in Pakistani daily The Nation.

The MQM leader, who is in self-exile in London, told the Pakistani daily that he would meet the leaders and apprise them of the “injustice” against Mohajirs in Pakistan.

   

 
 
VIOLENCE HEAT ON MAMATA TO RETURN 
 
 
BY SATTAM GHOSE
 
Calcutta, June 5: 
The tussle in the Trinamul Congress on the question of rejoining the NDA took another turn with pro-return MPs expressing the opinion that only the Centre can save party workers from the “post-poll violence unleashed by the CPM in rural Bengal”.

Panskura MP Bikram Sarkar today said the party’s primary task was to save the “lives and properties of our workers in the villages where the Marxists have gone on the rampage after the elections. We feel the Centre will be in a position to help us once we return to the NDA”.

Sarkar claimed to have discussed the issue with other party MPs who feel the electoral alliance with the Congress has outlived its utility. “We did not have any political entente with the party, but only entered into seat adjustments with it to put up a fight against the CPM. But our party supporters did not receive necessary help from Congress workers during the elections. There is no point in maintaining the relationship if it stands in the way of our return to the NDA.”

Sarkar added that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s guarantee of safety for Trinamul workers after the polls has proved to be a “complete hoax”. “Even today, our party workers are staging dharnas in different areas of Panskura to protest against the CPM’s atrocities,” he said.

Trinamul insiders, however, said these MPs are more eager to join the Cabinet than ensure supporters’ security. “They are only interested in short-term gains, ignoring the party’s long-term political agenda in West Bengal, that is to remove the CPM from power,” said a Mamata aide.

The Trinamul chief, now camping in Delhi, has appreciated the MPs’ concern over the party workers’ safety, but is still undecided on the question of returning to the NDA. She feels the issue can be resolved if the Centre completes the Tehelka probe on time and takes necessary steps based on the inquiry report. She also intends to closely watch the Congress’ strategy vis-ŕ-vis the CPM at the national level before making up her mind on furthering the poll alliance.

Party sources said their leader had tried to ascertain the views of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on their respective party’s relationship with the Marxists during her one-to-one meetings in Delhi last week. She is believed to have sought their help to ensure the Trinamul workers’ protection in the wake of the CPM unleashing “post-poll terror”.

Mamata is also worried about Bhattacharjee’s attempts to develop a “working relationship” with the Vajpayee government. She feels the Marxists “may feel free to continue their onslaught on our party supporters” if they succeed in improving Centre-state relationship. The Trinamul leader knows her alliance with the Congress will not be enough to “save the party workers from the CPM’s wrath” and, hence, her attempts to improve ties with the NDA.

Most of the Trinamul legislators do not support their colleagues’ eagerness to return to the NDA without citing a plausible reason to justify the change in the party stand. These newly-elected MLAs feel a return to the NDA may send a wrong signal to the people who had voted for the Trinamul-Congress alliance.

   

 
 
UP STRATEGY SEARCH WITH ADVANI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 5: 
Veering around to the view that it was better to hold early elections in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP leadership sat down for its first strategy session late this evening at the party headquarters.

BJP sources said that besides taking a final view on whether polls should be held in October or in March 2002, when they are due, the meeting — chaired by party president Jana Krishnamurthi and attended by, among others, home minister L.K. Advani — was expected to discuss in detail the organisational strengths and weaknesses in the key state.

Party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Pyarelal Khandelwal said: “The discussions will be on how to strengthen the organisation and have the nuts and bolts in place before the elections.”

He also sought to scotch speculation that Uttar Pradesh BJP president Kalraj Mishra was “deserting” the state by getting a Rajya Sabha nomination for himself — a move seen as a passport to a Cabinet berth at the Centre. “The Uttar Pradesh elections will be fought under his presidentship,” Khandelwal added.

Though he emphasised that the party’s stakes in the elections were “very high” — unlike in last month’s Assembly polls — he, however, admitted that the BJP was scouting around for more allies in addition to the existing ones to increase its grassroots strength and the seat tally.

The BJP’s desperation is evident from its keenness to rope in Ajit Singh, despite his demand for separate state of Harit Pradesh. Khandelwal, while making it clear that the BJP was “not in favour of any more new states in the country,” said: “We will not dictate terms to Ajit. He can demand whatever he wants in his own manifesto. After all, (Om Prakash) Chautala (the Haryana chief minister) has also asked for a Kisan Pradesh though he is part of the NDA and it is not in the common minimum agenda.”

   

 
 
RADIO TAG TO KEEP TABS ON PRISONERS 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, June 5: 
Escape from Tihar Jail may now well be impossible even for Houdini or Charles Sobhraj.

ILI Technologies, a Bangalore-based security, tracking and authentication biometrics services company, has got approval for a pilot project from Tihar Jail authorities to provide its latest Prisoner Identification and Tracking System.

With the system in place, the scope for great escapes is virtually ruled out. The technology is also being tested at the open-air Cherrapalli prison in Hyderabad, which houses 3,000 inmates and is spread over 150 acres. If it is successful, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu may implement the system in other jails.

“It is a comprehensive system that enables the prison authorities to monitor prisoners through radio frequency and biometrics,” B.R. Badrinath, founder and managing director of ILI Technologies, said.

Biometrics is a pattern recognition system that makes personal identification by determining the authenticity of a person through fingerprint, voice, iris, hand, signature and face.

A radio frequency label is attached to a prisoner and facilitates round-the-clock monitoring. “This system provides real-time information on prisoners. The label will contain details of the prisoner like his name, age, address and his criminal background,” Badrinath said.

“It is fool-proof. The prisoner cannot interchange the label. It will be known immediately due to the technology. And when the label is removed, it triggers an alarm,” said Badrinath, whose company has on its board Anil K. Jain, a global biometrics expert in the US. Jail authorities can keep tabs on prisoners even when they are being transported for court hearings. Visitors to the jail can also be tracked by labelling them on entry.

The system can be implemented in defence installations, airports, ports and software companies. “In these areas, unauthorised entry or movement of personnel and assets can result in a serious security threat,” Badrinath said.

Based on the feedback of the pilot projects at Cherrapalli and Tihar, the company will hold talks with several state governments. “We will soon make our presentations to the jail authorities in several states,” Badrinath said.

The identification and tracking system has also attracted international attention. A security company in Germany is currently holding talks with the the system’s developers, who are working with the government-run National Informatics Centre.

   
 

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