Birendra’s ghost banished with curse and royal baggage
Force rings mosque with militants
Mamata calls mend-mood meet
Unwelcome sign for Benazir
Buddha’s IT language: English from start
Calcutta Weather

Kathmandu, June 11: 
Nepal began exorcising the ghosts of its palace massacre as a 75-year-old priest, dressed in the royal regalia of the slain King Birendra, sacrificed his future to help the kingdom heal its present. The priest broke one of Hinduism’s most-sacred taboos as he ate a meal laced with animal marrow to take on the troubles of the haunted palace.

The priest had volunteered to eat the Katto, or “impure meal” consisting of 80 items, in order to banish the ghost of Birendra from Kathmandu. He then left on elephant-back across the Bagmati river — the boundary of old Kathmandu — and into exile in a remote part of the kingdom. He will never be allowed to return to the Kathmandu valley. The priest’s whereabouts will not be disclosed, but the palace will take care of his needs. The elephant will stay with him.

Steeped in tradition, Nepalis — who see the king as the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu — hope that the troubles that have gripped them since the June 1 carnage at Narayan Hity palace will begin to ease now that the Katto ceremony has been conducted. A similar ceremony will be held for Birendra’s son, Dipendra, who, according to an eyewitness, shot the king, Queen Aishwarya, his brother, sister and at least five relatives before turning the gun on himself.

Dipendra was named king briefly as he lay in a coma, and so the Katto ceremony must be held for him as well. It will take place on Wednesday.

The elaborate traditional rituals that began this morning under a scorching sun were watched by Prime Minister G.P. Koirala, his Cabinet colleagues, top army officials and bureaucrats. No member of the royal family was present.

Surrounded by gifts to ease his exile — television sets, fans, bedding, clothes, gold, baskets of food and a traditional umbrella — the priest sat stony-faced before changing from a simple white dhoti into elaborate court attire complete with a replica of the plumed Nepal crown.

He then mounted the elephant — Nirajan Prasad, named after Birendra’s younger son — which had been decked up with traditional finery befitting a king and, accompanied by three mahouts, crossed the Bagmati river. A procession of royal retinues, porters and horses carrying the offerings followed the priest as he began his odyssey.

State mourning for the royal family ended on Sunday, but the Katto ceremony is traditionally carried out 11 days after the death of a monarch.

The palace had acquired two domesticated Asiatic elephants — Nirajan Prasad and Moti Prasad — from the Royal Chitwan National Park, south of Kathmandu. Sources said the pachyderms walked their way into the valley on Saturday evening, traversing almost 130 km. But the cleansing of the massacre took an inauspicious turn when Moti Prasad, picked to carry the priest who will lay Dipendra’s ghost, killed a woman.

“Traditionally the Brahmins are not allowed to return, and residents of the Kathmandu valley would not even see their faces again,” explained Raja Ram Subedi, assistant professor of history at Tribhuvan University.


Srinagar June 11: 
Commandos were rushed tonight to the site of an uneasy confrontation between militants holed up inside a mosque and security forces in south Kashmir.

A police officer here said the National Security Guards have taken position around the mosque. “We are yet to receive orders. The decision to storm the mosque or lift the siege will be taken by the authorities in Srinagar,” said a police officer at Anantnag.

The decision to deploy the National Security Guards was taken after the siege, pockmarked by intermittent gunfire, stretched into the second night.

Three militants are believed to have been killed late this evening during one of the gunbattles, but police said the number of extremists hiding inside was not known. Reuters said a man claiming to be the spokesman of the Lashkar-e-Toiba said the militants belonged to his group.

The militants had entered the mosque at Shangus in Anantnag, 67 km from Srinagar, on Sunday after killing a police officer who was leading a search operation.

Troops laid siege to the mosque and asked the militants to surrender. But the militants opened fire. “We are hearing sounds of gunfire. Many civilians have shifted to other places,” Arshad, a resident, said over phone.

Army reinforcements were rushed to Shangus from early this morning. “They are bringing soldiers in buses and lorries,” said another resident over phone.

Reuters quoted villagers as saying the army sent community leaders to the mosque but the militants refused to surrender. Last month, some militants who hid in a mosque were allowed safe passage by the security forces.

Late tonight, militants struck at another target in the run up to the India-Pakistan summit. A militant on a suicide mission stormed the Special Operations Group camp in Pulwama and critically wounded three securitymen. Firing was on till 12.30 am.


Calcutta, June 11: 
With one of her MPs recuperating in the same hospital as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mamata Banerjee will meet her party legislators on Wednesday to gauge their mood about mending fences with the Central coalition.

Most Trinamul MLAs feel the party’s immediate return to the NDA will not only harm their political credibility but also give the Marxists an opportunity to dub Mamata a “political opportunist”.

Mamata today met her party’s secretaries, general secretaries and office-bearers of Trinamul Youth Congress to discuss organisational issues, including preparations for observing July 21 as “Martyrs’ Day”. The Trinamul leader is expected to elaborate on her political strategy at a public rally in the city on the occasion.

Trinamul circles were rife with speculation that Mamata might go to Mumbai to see Krishna Bose who is recuperating at Breach Candy hospital. Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat performed a left knee replacement surgery on her last Saturday.

Vajpayee, who is also recuperating at the same hospital after the same surgery by the same doctor but on the right knee, sent flowers and wishes for her speedy recovery. She is likely to stay in the hospital for 10 more days.

It is being speculated that Mamata, while she goes to visit her party MP in hospital, will also meet Vajpayee. A Trinamul leader said Mamata did not have any immediate plan to go to Mumbai, but did not rule out the possibility of the leader having second thoughts on the matter.

But even if Mamata were to meet Vajpayee, she will face strong resistance from within her party on rejoining the NDA.

A general secretary and some executive committee members want to maintain the existing alliance with the Congress as they are afraid of the BJP’s “uncertain political prospects after a possible drubbing in the coming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections”.

But another section is citing the state Congress’ “non-cooperation” to justify a return to the NDA.Trinamul MLAs, however, are more worried about the effect the party’s reinduction to the NDA might have on its relationship with the Congress during the monsoon session of the Assembly beginning on Thursday.

These MLAs are eager to have perfect floor coordination with their counterparts in the Congress to counter the Left Front government. They feel that only the CPM will benefit from a fresh rift in the main Opposition parties which had forged an alliance to fight the Assembly polls.

The party’s legislators feel people may question their political credibility if Mamata decides to go back to the NDA after taking part in the poll battle with Congress help.

“What will we have to say to Congress supporters who voted for us because of the electoral alliance?” asked a Trinamul MLA.


New Delhi & London, June 11: 
India is not keen on having Benazir Bhutto here for a meeting before the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit, despite the former Pakistan Prime Minister’s desire to come to Delhi for talks.

Benazir wants to meet Atal Bihari Vajpayee before his session with the Pakistan chief executive. But going by indications in South Block, there are not too many takers for the tour proposal at the moment. Asked to comment, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “I am not aware of any proposal by Benazir Bhutto to come to India.”

In private, foreign ministry officials say that even if there is a formal proposal from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson, it may not be entertained. Benazir’s PPP is part of the Opposition Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy in Pakistan.

In recent interviews, Benazir has raised questions about the legal status of Musharraf’s military regime and has expressed displeasure at India’s decision to invite the general. She feels Delhi has provided Musharraf with the legitimacy he has been desperately seeking ever since he assumed power.

Benazir was in Dubai today, but her hostile views about Musharraf’s forthcoming trip were made clear through Bashir Riaz, her spokesman in London.

Riaz said she had a long-standing invitation from a parliamentary delegation which visited Islamabad in 1999. “Sushma Swaraj was in the delegation,” he said. “But the coup happened on October 12, 1999.” Other invitations, he added, had come from NGOs in India. “If she goes to India, I would accompany her,” Riaz said. “I doubt very much whether she will go to India just now, maybe later in the year.”

Benazir has also said that any agreement Vajpayee and Musharraf arrive at might not be honoured by future governments. “An agreement signed by an unelected and unrepresentative military ruler would have no legal binding on a future parliament or government in Pakistan,” she said in a recent interview with an Indian newspaper.

This is not the first time she is trying to force her way into a summit meeting between an Indian and a Pakistani leader.

In February 1999, when Vajpayee took the peace bus to Lahore and held discussions with Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister then, Benazir had tried to arrange a meeting with the Indian leader. But Vajpayee refused to give her time in spite of several reminders. Delhi’s argument was clear: it would not send out any wrong signal that could be interpreted as an attempt to undermine Sharif’s authority.

By the same logic, Vajpayee is unlikely to do anything that could antagonise Musharraf. More so, because one reason why Delhi invited him was its assessment that he is likely to be in control for at least the next three to four years and so would be better placed to normalise ties with India.


Calcutta, June 11: 
In a move that could escalate into a confrontation between his government and his party, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is drawing up plans to reintroduce teaching of English from Class I.

Guided by his vision of Bengal as a future infotech powerhouse, Bhattacharjee has ordered restructuring of the Madhyamik syllabus based on the CBSE model, education officials said on Monday.

A measure of the chief minister’s position on the contentious issue of teaching English at the primary level can be got from the letter he sent on June 1 to Kanti Biswas, school education minister, asking him to draw up plans.

“...(You are requested to please) take necessary action and draw up plans to restructure the Madhyamik syllabus to ensure parity with the CBSE syllabus and also initiate move to introduce English from Class I,” the letter says.

A joint committee of officials from the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education will oversee the planned restructuring of the curriculum.

Bhattacharjee’s injunctions to Biswas also called for the following:

Appointment of a multi-member commission to prepare a blueprint for the return of English to Class I

Adoption of durable measures for improving the quality of education

Larger accountability of teachers.

The chief minister’s renewed campaign for English at the beginner’s level draws support from Jyoti Basu, his predecessor. Basu had succeeded in reintroducing the language at Class III towards the end of his innings in 1999, capping a decades-long battle with the party on the issue.

Basu, currently the arbiter of competing forces in the CPM, is understood to have advised the leadership to fashion a realistic policy on English in line with Bengal’s new priorities.

Also backing Bhattacharjee’s latest move are ministers and party functionaries known for their progressive views: Asim Dasgupta, Mohammed Salim, Gautam Deb, Nilotpal Basu and Subhas Chakraborty.

Officials connected with the exercise said Bhattacharjee was consciously reopening the issue of English at the primary level because he believed that the language was going to be the key to realising his infotech dream as well as carrying out the planned reforms in education.

The chief minister is trying to tame the anti-English lobby in the CPM by pointing out that the government’s and the party’s intentions to prepare Bengal for the global challenge will not mean much if the study of English is not encouraged at all levels.

“The lack of knowledge of English is one of the reasons for our students doing poorly in all-India competitive examinations. Besides, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, especially of IT, without the requisite proficiency in English,” Bhattacharjee is believed to have told the CPM leadership.

Biswas, known to harbour an orthodox view on English at the primary level, declined comment. “We are working on restructuring the syllabus in tune with popular expectations as well as reflecting the changing times. But I have no comments on English,” he said.

An early passionate advocate of primary education in the mother tongue, the Left Front government had abolished English from the primary syllabus in 1987 and introduced the language from Class V.

After tremendous pressure from the Opposition, which launched a number of agitations demanding introduction of English at the primary level, the government had set up a one-man committee, led by deputy chairman of the state higher education council Pabitra Sarkar, in 1998.

Following Sarkar’s recommendation, English was introduced from Class III from the 1999 academic year.




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Minimum: 27°C (0)


8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 92%
Minimum: 71%


A few spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder
Sunrise: 4.54 am
Sunset: 6.18 pm

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