President Pervez in status coup
Delhi pawn in general’s game
Funeral under shadow of gun
Jute wage powder keg explodes
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PRESIDENT PERVEZ IN STATUS COUP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
New Delhi & Islamabad, June 20: 
President Pervez Musharraf, not Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf, will land in India next month.

The Pakistani leader had himself sworn in as President this evening, a dramatic move that not only increased his official stature but also threw at India a legitimacy bait it can’t but swallow ahead of the mid-July summit with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who now finds himself two notches lower on the protocol ladder.

A stunned Delhi also had to confront the fallout of a phone conversation between the two leaders earlier in the morning, which was interpreted differently on either side of the border.

Vajpayee activated the hotline to welcome Musharraf to India and thank him for his get-well message before the knee surgery on June 7.

With both sides having focused on the Kashmir issue, maintaining that they were sticking to their positions, the leaders agreed that rhetoric that could harm the atmosphere for their summit should be avoided.

It was not known whether Vajpayee was aware in the morning that the general was planning to raise his status. But the fact that the move had found tacit support in Delhi was made clear when India’s acting deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, Satish Vyas, was asked to attend Musharraf’s swearing-in.

The seal of approval was also evident from foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao’s statement: “Musharraf will be coming to attend the summit in India as Pakistan’s President.”

But spin doctors on both sides worked overtime to give the required slant to the morning conversation. Rao claimed Musharraf told Vajpayee that “the political rhetoric on both sides could be toned down before the summit meeting since it has an impact on political forces on both countries”.

She added that the Prime Minister shared Musharraf’s view.

In Islamabad, the Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman said almost the same thing, but did not make any mention of Musharraf having put the blame on both countries for engaging in rhetoric. His stress that rhetoric should be toned down implied that the general was expressing unhappiness over Vajpayee’s statement yesterday that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was an integral part of India.

Regretting Vajpayee’s remark, the spokesman expressed hope that Delhi would refrain from such statements that could “vitiate the atmosphere” for the meeting. “As recognised by the international community, Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, the final disposition of which is to be decided in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” the Pakistan foreign office said.

Delhi sees Musharraf’s decision to become the President as a positive development, saying it signalled he was now firmly in the saddle and also had the backing of the other generals. In South Block’s assessment, the development indicates that Pakistan’s all-powerful army, which till a few years ago had been pulling the shots from behind the scenes, would like to institutionalise its position. India believes that Musharraf, who has chalked out an agenda, has made himself the President to realise it.

Underlining the abrupt nature of the move, Pakistan’s chief justice administered the oath of office to Musharraf less than five hours after the state media announced that the figurehead president, Mohammad Rafiq Tarar, had been removed. “I, in all sincerity, think I have a role to play and I have a job to do here...so I will not let this nation down,” Musharraf said. “I have been thinking about this change for a number of months. It’s one of the most difficult decisions I have taken; it was the most difficult decision because it involved myself.”

At the same time, Musharraf abolished the elected legislatures that he had suspended on ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999. He also retained his roles of “chief executive”, overseeing all the government, and commander of the armed forces.

Musharraf’s primary task will be to rebuild Pakistan’s economy and for that he would have to look afresh at some of the policies pursued by previous regimes in Islamabad. India, being the largest economy in the region, could help Pakistan. But South Block mandarins wonder whether Musharraf, as President, will now be able to put forward a proposal calling for wide-ranging economic engagement with India, or whether he would still try and put the entire relationship between the neighbours in the Kashmir basket.

Though it is still tentative, Musharraf could arrive in Delhi on July 14 morning and after the ceremonial welcome and other engagements in the capital, which includes a visit to his old haveli, leave for Agra. The general is keen on holding “substantial” discussions with Vajpayee for more than one-and-a-half days.

   

 
 
DELHI PAWN IN GENERAL’S GAME 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 20: 
Pakistan’s wily general has neatly turned the tables on America which has been championing democracy in Islamabad.

And on India which conveniently provided Pervez Musharraf the excuse to smother what little remained of representative rule in Pakistan.

According to intelligence reports reaching here, the decision to elevate Musharraf to the presidency was taken at a meeting of Pakistan army’s corps commanders in Rawalpindi last week.

The meeting was ostensibly called to discuss the forthcoming Indo-Pakistan summit, but in reality, it put the finishing touches to the general’s plans to complete his hold on power.

The Bush administration’s embarrassment over the general’s decision to pack off President Rafiq Tarar by road to his hometown Lahore, accompanied by a single police car escort, is acute.

Even as the Darbar Hall of the presidency was secretly being readied in Islamabad for summarily replacing Pakistan’s elected president, US secretary of state Colin Powell was implicitly endorsing Musharraf’s time-table for elections in that country.

“I was very encouraged by the report that the foreign minister gave me with respect to the preparations that are being made for the election next year,” Powell told reporters after meeting Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar yesterday afternoon.

At that time, US officials did not know that within a matter of hours Musharraf would tighten his hold on Pakistan and not only oust the president, but also abolish the elected Houses of Parliament, which he suspended after the military coup in 1999.

Last year, when President Bill Clinton visited Pakistan, he had used the fig leaf of Tarar’s presence in office as elected president to justify his trip.

Clinton refused to go anywhere in Islamabad other than the elected president’s office and Musharraf had met the American leader in the presidency in Islamabad.

Pakistani sources here are interpreting Powell’s statement as an endorsement of Musharraf’s time-table for returning to democracy and will, therefore, claim legitimacy abroad for his take-over of the presidency.

Shortly before the crucial meeting of corps commanders — the army’s Cabinet of sorts — Musharraf moved major general Osmani, his trusted corps commander in Karachi, to Islamabad and elevated him to the new post of deputy chief of army staff.

General Mohammed Aziz, another trusted aide, is already corps commander in the crucial Lahore area. It was General Aziz who placed the famous phone call to Musharraf in China during the Kargil invasion, which was taped by Indian intelligence and subsequently made public by New Delhi.

With trusted aides in place, Musharraf ensured that there would be no opposition from any quarter to his assumption of the highest post in the land.

Notwithstanding a few murmurs about democracy in the West, the world is expected to quickly overlook Musharraf’s latest move to extinguish any trace of representative rule in Islamabad.

This is because international attention will soon shift to his summit meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in about three weeks. The general has, therefore, chosen his timing for completing the 1999 coup with absolute precision.

It was not lost on Washington that India today became the first country to accept Musharraf’s elevation to the presidency.

Within hours of Musharraf’s swearing-in, South Block’s spokesperson said Vajpayee would accord the general courtesies due to a head of state when he visits India. Ironically, the first country that Musharraf visits after smothering democracy at home will also be India which had dragged its feet on dealing with a military regime in Islamabad for a year-and-a-half.

   

 
 
FUNERAL UNDER SHADOW OF GUN 
 
 
FROM SAUMITRA BANERJEE
 
Imphal, June 20: 
It was to be an undercover operation. Quietly, one by one, the administrators had planned to cremate the bodies of those killed in Monday’s massive protest.

Sitting on a powder keg, it seemed the only way to prevent a further conflagration. But, once again, the people prevailed.

Today, the bodies of the 13 people who had fallen to police bullets protesting the extension of the Naga ceasefire to Manipur were placed on pyres at Kekru-Pat on the banks of Imphal river in a mass cremation and the last rites performed.

Only, it was a cremation under siege. Ferried from their homes in police jeeps, under the watchful eyes of the army in a city under curfew, relatives of the dead were first taken to the morgue and then rushed to the cremation ground.

Amidst the wails of the bereaved and the smoke rising from the pyres, a solitary banner fluttered, capturing the sentiments of the people. It dedicated the place to “the martyrs who laid down their lives to save the territorial integrity of the state”.

Fear stalks the majority Meitei population here. Outnumbered in four districts by the Nagas, for them the Centre’s ceasefire has only signalled an endorsement of the Naga claim for a “greater Nagalim”.

It is this apprehension of a partition of Manipur that brought 80,000 people out of their homes on Monday in a display of solidarity and anger that led to a carnage which could only be quelled by a rush of police bullets.

The surface is calm in Imphal today, but the air is thick with tension. “It would only need a match to ignite the city once again,” conceded Manipur’s inspector-general of police (law and order) R. Baral, who was personally supervising security at the cremation site this afternoon.

It is precisely a measure of this tension that barely had the banner dedicated to the “martyrs” been put up than an Assam Rifles jawan pulled it down before the eyes of the grief-stricken relatives.

The mass cremation today is not what the administration had wanted. “A mass outpouring of sorrow and anger at such a sight is a fatal cocktail for us given the situation in Imphal today,” said an official.

Through the last two days, in fact, the All Manipur Students’ Union (Amsu) and the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation, the two outfits which have been spearheading the agitation, had been locked in hectic parleys with the government on the funeral.

Reportedly, after repeated deadlocks on the matter, this morning the government gave the go-ahead for the mass cremation on the ground that only a few relatives would be present and it would be out of bounds for all agitation activists.

The administration ensured that. The heavily barricaded roads, manned mostly by the army, were closed to all, including the media. In fact, it was only on the intervention of senior police officials that newsmen and photographers were escorted to a place at a “safe distance” for a closer look at the proceedings.

It was at the end of the day, when the funeral had passed off peacefully and the relatives escorted back to their homes, that the administration seemed to relax, if only for a while. “We are only thinking a day at a time when it comes to ensuring peace here,” an official said. “For we don’t know what tomorrow might bring. If it isn’t the people’s agitation, there are always the militants to reckon with.”

For, watching from the sidelines are Manipur’s militant outfits, the United National Liberation Front and the People’s Liberation Army, which have their own agenda of an independent Manipur. They are now measuring the impact of the Centre’s announcement on their own turf.

The question uppermost on their minds should be: what happens to Meitei insurgency with the Naga militants now having a free run in Manipur?

   

 
 
JUTE WAGE POWDER KEG EXPLODES 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Bansberia (Hooghly), June 20: 
Blood flowed in Bansberia when a jute mill worker fell to police bullets after his colleagues stormed the Ganges Jute Mill demanding provident fund money and a rollback of the management’s decision to nearly halve daily wages from Rs 150 to Rs 80.

Seven mill workers were injured in a near-repeat of the Baranagar jute mill tragedy that claimed two lives less than six months ago. Two of the injured workers are in a serious condition. Twelve policemen suffered injuries in their pitched battle with a 2,000-strong mob, most of them badli workers of the mill.

Today’s incident was the culmination of the trouble that the jute industry has been beset with since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s reelection as chief minister. Four mills in North 24-Parganas closed down soon after the Left returned to power but there has not been violence of the magnitude that rocked Bansberia today.

The flare-up gifts the Opposition, adrift after the humiliating election defeat, an explosive issue to attack the government with.

Politics has already stepped in with rival Trinamul factions — the party is headed for a split in Bansberia — calling a bandh tomorrow when Mamata Banerjee visits the area.

Trouble started today, when workers gathered around the mill gate at 10.30 in the morning, defying the Section 144 that had been clamped on the area since Monday. Police claim they were supplemented by “local goons”.

Police initially tried to quell the mob with a lathicharge, but it was ineffective as workers, armed with iron rods and soda bottles, entered the mill compound. They torched two police vehicles and damaged three others and destroyed mill property.

A group of angry workers rushed to the houses of eight union leaders, dragged them out and beat them up. They ransacked the houses of four of the leaders.

The mayhem continued for 15 minutes. All the while police burst teargas shells. Then they fired 20 rounds in the air. When even that failed to have an impact, police fired five rounds at the mob.

While 20-year-old P. Someshwar Rao from Andhra Pradesh died on the spot, two 18-year-old workers, Krishna Dubey and Chitta Rao, are in critical condition.

Someshwar’s father has been missing for the past eight years and his mother, Bhagirathi, works in the same mill. The injured have been rushed to Chinsurah Imambara Hospital and Bandel ESI Hospital.

Deputy inspector-general (Burdwan range) P. Reddy, district magistrate Subrata Biswas, superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu and other senior police officials have rushed to the spot. A contingent of the Rapid Action Force has been deployed.

R.K. Poddar, the owner of the mill, is away in Delhi. A work suspension order was issued this afternoon at the mill, which employs around 6,000 workers, 1,400 of them badli labourers.

The Indian Jute Manufacturers’ Association claimed there was no labour trouble. “It was a mere law and order problem that spiralled out of control,” it said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.7°C (0))
Minimum: 27.6°C (+1)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 69%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder.
Sunrise: 4.54 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company