PM dash to Pervez leaves Delhi gasping
Atal too early, America too late
Manipur politicians become pariahs
Mamata in jute tragedy joust
Lagaan breaks class barrier
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PM DASH TO PERVEZ LEAVES DELHI GASPING 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
The Prime Minister couldn’t wait to congratulate “President” Musharraf, he did so yesterday even before the Pakistan leader had declared himself head of state.

Embarrassed at having been shown up as a country eager to give legitimacy to the military ruler even before he got it from his own country, the government today put up a brave front and maintained that the focus should be on improving relations with Pakistan.

The formal good-wishes message was sent this evening by President K.R. Narayanan, who reaffirmed Delhi’s desire for peace with Islamabad.

“India has always desired to establish a relationship of peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan. It is our hope that your visit to India next month as President of Pakistan will move India-Pakistan relations in positive and constructive directions,” Narayanan said in his message.

Given that the President will now be the general’s official host, the short, three-paragraph statement does not, however, “re-invite” Musharraf. But there are enough indications to suggest that Narayanan supports the government’s efforts to establish peace with Pakistan.

Narayanan’s message comes around 36 hours after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee surprised Musharraf last morning with the greeting: “Good Morning, Mr President” — a full six hours before the Pakistan leader was formally sworn in.

The conversation, splashed in a section of the Pakistani media, and later confirmed by the Indian foreign ministry, has been interpreted in diplomatic circles in both Delhi and Islamabad as India’s keenness to grant legitimacy to the military regime.

India sought to paper over the statement. “No additional meaning needs to be read into the conversation apart from what we have already said yesterday,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. She argued that India’s focus was on normalising ties with Pakistan and Vajpayee’s conversation with Musharraf should be seen in that context.

India appeared to have softened its stance a day after Vajpayee agreed with Musharraf that rhetoric should be toned down ahead of the summit. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, now in Australia, said India does not consider Pakistan its enemy number one, while asserting that Kashmir was not a territorial dispute between the neighbours.

Delhi made doubly sure it did nothing that could jeopardise the summit. Looking ahead at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (Chogm), scheduled for October, the government made it clear that its position within the organisation, which doesn’t recognise the junta in Pakistan, should not be linked to its efforts to normalise ties with its neighbour.

   

 
 
ATAL TOO EARLY, AMERICA TOO LATE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 21: 
Pervez Musharraf’s “second coup” has put the Americans in a tight spot.

A few days before the general unceremoniously dismissed Pakistan’s democratically elected head of state and dissolved parliament, president George W. Bush signed a one-time waiver of US sanctions on Pakistan to allow supply of military equipment to Islamabad.

The waiver was signed after Pakistan told the UN that although its troops had been chosen for peace-keeping duties in Sierra Leone, they had no weapons and other equipment to perform those duties.

Supplies of US arms would have equipped Pakistani troops who are, ironically, taking over peace-keeping in Sierra Leone from the Indians next month.

The waiver is now in the process of being cleared by the US Congress, but with Musharraf doing away with the remaining vestiges of democracy in Pakistan, the Bush administration will be embarrassed if it continues to push Congress for sanctioning the supply of arms.

The problem for the Republican administration will be particularly acute in the US Senate, where Democrats have just gained a majority through defection and are rearing to rein in the president.

The administration’s discomfiture caused by secretary of state Colin Powell’s endorsement of Musharraf’s democratisation programme on Tuesday gave way yesterday to a statement by state department spokesman Richard Boucher criticising Pakistan.

“We are very concerned and we are very disappointed that Pakistan has taken another turn away from democracy, rather than, as we had hoped, a step towards democracy.” Boucher said.

“General Musharraf’s actions to dissolve the elected assemblies and to appoint himself president severely undermine Pakistan’s constitutional order. They cast Pakistan as a country ruled by decree rather than by democratic process,” he added.

But unlike India, which promptly accepted Musharraf’s elevation to the presidency, the US is confused about the future and there are conflicting opinions within the establishment here on how to deal with Pakistan.

Boucher was pointedly asked yesterday about protocol. “Will you address him as chief executive or president?” The spokesman admitted that he did not know the answer to the question.

By late last evening, however, foreign minister Abdul Sattar appeared to have salvaged some ground here for Musharraf. At a meeting with deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, Sattar expanded on what he had said earlier in the day at a press conference: that he did not know in advance about Musharraf being sworn in as head of state.

Sattar told Armitage that he had been out of Pakistan for about 10 days and tried to allay American suspicions that Powell had been misled into endorsing Musharraf’s time-table for democracy.

Sattar told Armitage that he had been out of Pakistan for about 10 days and tried to allay American suspicions that Powell had been misled into endorsing Musharraf’s time-table for democracy.

He, however, added that the general’s plan to become president was well known and the surprise was only in the timing.

America’s options have been somewhat narrowed by India’s ready endorsement of Musharraf’s presidency ahead of next month’s summit with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

China, the other major player in Pakistan’s defence and external affairs, yesterday accepted the change in Musharraf’s status. “I’d like to point out that it is an internal affair of Pakistan”, said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue. “China has always respected the decisions made by other countries’ governments and people.”

It was decided at the end of Sattar’s visit that America’s engagement of Pakistan would continue. Its foreign secretary will visit Washington next month to pick up the threads of relations from where the foreign minister left them off yesterday.

The problem area as a result of Musharraf’s actions may be the continuing American sanctions on Pakistan.

The state department spokesman made it clear that “Pakistan should understand that US sanctions imposed because of the military coup cannot be lifted until the (US) President determines that a democratically elected government has taken office. So we urge the government of Pakistan to move quickly towards genuine restoration of democracy through free and fair national elections, and we will watch closely on what steps the government might take”.

   

 
 
MANIPUR POLITICIANS BECOME PARIAHS 
 
 
FROM SAUMITRA BANERJEE AND OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, June 21: 
This morning will not show the day.

The burst of frenetic activity in the two hours of curfew relaxation early today saw the deserted roads full of people once again, with cars fighting for space with autos and carts and the shops crammed with customers.

As though three days ago blood had not been spilled in the city square, the Assembly and a host of other buildings not been reduced to ashes, and the people not been plunged alternately in anger and gloom.

In this play of light and shade, there is one reality that stood out today: that nothing has been forgotten, or forgiven. Curfew may be lifted in a few days, but no one knows when normality will return.

The sharpest reminder came today from the All-Manipur Students Union (Amsu) and the All- Manipur United Clubs Organisation (Amuco), which have been spearheading the protests against the extension of the Naga ceasefire to Manipur. Driven virtually underground since Monday’s conflagration, which took a toll of 13 lives, the leaders of the two outfits discreetly met the media in a “safe house” in one of the bylanes of the city where they said the battle against the Centre’s decision had only just begun.

“What happened on Monday is unfortunate, but it was a spontaneous, if irrational, reaction of the people to the injustice that has been done to them,” said R.K. Anand, adviser to the Amuco. “The hidden agenda is the creation of a Greater Nagaland and we shall oppose it.”

In an atmosphere already surcharged by the refusal of the legislators to resign immediately in protest and instead to give the Centre a July 31 deadline to roll back its decision, the outfits have decided to launch a non-cooperation movement that could well snowball into another major crisis for the administration.

Anand made it clear that the “intransigence” of the legislators would not be tolerated. From social boycott to giving them the message that they had no moral right to remain in Manipur, the legislators, the outfit said, would have to pay for their “anti-people” actions. “They (the MLAs) have no moral right to remain inside the state’s territory and should leave immediately,” said representatives of Amsu and Amuco.

If the Manipur MLAs are feeling the heat at home, they are unlikely to be much better off in New Delhi. Nineteen MLAs belonging to the Samata Party and the BJP along with state BJP president Bhorot Singh left for New Delhi today to pressure the Centre to review the Naga ceasefire extension. But Manipuri students in New Delhi had threatened not allow these MLAs to enter the Manipur Bhavan.

The decision to extend the ceasefire has touched a raw nerve in almost all sections, and ages, of the Meiteis, the dominant population of Manipur.

Hemmed in by tribals, the Vaishnavite Hindus of the valley fear not only a loss of territory but also a challenge to their identity as the Centre’s ceasefire decision has come to mean “a virtual endorsement of the Naga claim to a Greater Nagalim”.

“Now the Centre has virtually recognised this by extending the ceasefire to our territory,” said Dhanavir Laishram of Amuco. “We don’t believe in the Union government any longer.”

Even as armed security personnel scour the streets for curfew violators, activists have been moving from house to house, canvassing support for their cause. “Once the offices reopen, people will resort to a go-slow agitation, there will be rallies and sit-in demonstrations; nothing will move,” said Anand. “But it will be a completely democratic affair.”

Delhi calls meet

Under intense pressure to revoke Central rule, the Union government has convened a meeting of Manipur parties in Delhi on Saturday to discuss the volatile situation in the state.    

 
 
MAMATA IN JUTE TRAGEDY JOUST 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Bansberia (Hooghly), June 21: 
Mamata Banerjee today visited the Ganges Jute Mill in Bansberia where a mill worker died and seven others were injured in police firing yesterday, but found herself having to contend with rebels from her own party claiming to speak on behalf of dissident Ajit Panja.

Bansberia isn’t very far from Bhadreshwar, which pitchforked her into the limelight after Bhikari Paswan — a worker from another limping jute mill — “disappeared” after being picked up by the police for interrogation in the early nineties.

In an attempt to return to the centrestage of Bengal politics with another “Bhikari Paswan”, Mamata went around the area with the body of the deceased, P. Someshwar Rao, demanding a judicial inquiry into yesterday’s incident which, she claimed, was the result of a “conspiracy between the CPM and the police”.

But she could not hold a meeting at the venue of yesterday’s rampage. The Mamata camp claimed she herself was not inclined to hold the meeting as that would have involved defying prohibitory orders. Not so, claimed the rebels. Local dissident Tapan Dasgupta, whose help Panja has taken to split the party in the district, claimed Mamata chose not to address the meeting as only a small crowd turned up.

She assured “all help” from Trinamul to the deceased’s family — Rao is survived by his mother who works in the same mill; his father has been missing for the past eight years. Rao was supposed to get married very soon; he died before he could obtain his payment-slip yesterday.

Her convoy first reached Chinsurah Imambara Hospital, where the injured were admitted. She then addressed a small gathering near the mill. She also announced a dhikkar dibas at Esplanade on June 30.

But rebels, led by Dasgupta, scored the first political points; he went to Rao’s home and handed over Rs 5,000 to his mother a day after his leader, Panja, demanded a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the family.

The Trinamul-sponsored 12-hour Bansberia bandh passed off peacefully though the area around the mill was tense. No untoward incident was reported, additional district magistrate Khalil Ahmed said.

Industry minister Nirupam Sen later told reporters at Writers’ Buildings that yesterday’s incident was “an isolated one”.

Referring to the January incident at Baranagar Jute Mill, where two mill officials were lynched after one of them shot a protesting worker, Sen said: “Such things could happen.” But these incidents couldn’t be taken to reflect the overall picture of trade-unionism in Bengal, he added.

Yesterday’s incident, Sen said, was caused by “some workers” despite there being an understanding between the management and the unions.

   

 
 
LAGAAN BREAKS CLASS BARRIER 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA, CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA & MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta, June 21: 
At 8.30 in the evening outside Chanakya, the south Delhi cinema, a bevy of hip college girls escorted by like-minded boyfriends is looking for soulfood among the cheap Chinese, Lebanese and Punjabi eateries. For an hour they have been accosting families arriving in big cars in the hope that they will have tickets to spare.

“Sorry, no extras.”

The reply tires them. Reconciled, the group just decides to eat chow and scoot when a scruffy man, his shirt unbuttoned till the chest, comes up and says: “Milega” — you’ll get the tickets — and directs them to a tree in the parking lot.

Front stall tickets priced at Rs 30 are going for Rs 70 on weekday nightshows and they are a sellout. The story of Champaner, the village in Aamir Khan’s Lagaan, is as much a favourite in posh Chanakyapuri as — trade estimates say — in Champaran, Chaibasa and Chikmagalur.

The story is much the same in cities across India: halls in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Calcutta are running to capacity. In Mumbai, especially, the film opened to 100 per cent collections and has maintained that over the week. According to Taran Adarsh, editor of Trade Guide, the film is doing very well in western and southern India and the overseas market while lagging behind Sunny Deol’s Gadar in the heartland.

Lagaan has proved that a village-based film, a period piece at that, can do well if the story is well-told. And appeal to the MTV generation as well.

At 8.45, when Chanakya’s doors are thrown open, the girls and boys rush into the hall — seats are not reserved in the front stalls and have to be occupied on a first-come-first-served basis. By the time the movie begins after a few advertisements, most of the front stalls have acclimatised eyeballs to the huge screen but the larger-than-life figures mean this section of the audience will return home with headaches and stiff necks.

Who cares, for up close and at 70mm with A.R. Rahman’s pounding digital music, Lagaan is an invitation to indulge in scopophilia, the pleasure of looking. In the backdrop of the Rann’s semi arid tracts — the film was shot near Bhuj — the bandhni (tie-and-dye) work on Gracy Singh’s dupatta is as much a spectacle as the sight of the tall and strapping Paul Blackthorne, playing the English captain in the cantonment, astride a horse.

Lagaan is the story of a team of village bumpkins playing cricket because their lives depend on it. As the narrative unfolds, the dividing line between the involved villagers and the involved audience vanishes. Voices from the hall anticipate the dialogues.

Aay Gori...” prompts someone from the dark hall as a character on the screen addresses Rachel Shelley. In the scene, Gracy Singh, playing the character of Gauri, looks up. “Arre, tu nahin,” she is told. But not before the voice in the audience predicts the dialogue again. Gori is colloquial for the white-skinned lady.

When Bhuvan, played by Aamir, marshals his rag-tag band in the field for the one-hour-and-40-minute climax — the match itself — Chanakyapuri’s hip crowd is screaming, shouting and shedding tears of joy. Gura, the village godman, plays an impossible shot to hit a six behind the wicketkeeper in celluloid’s Champaner and Chanakyapuri — home to the capital’s diplomatic enclave — applauds lustily. Gila, swings his arm several times with increasing speed before he sends the cricket ball hurtling at the English batsman and Chanakyapuri is in splits.

This is Bollywood at its interactive best.

The narrative goes beyond the cricket field, into the personal agonies of the drought-stricken villagers, the English captain’s empathetic sister (Rachel Shelley) and, above all, it puts the Indian farmer on centrestage, makes him fashionable in a low-key way.

Agrees Arijit Datta, the owner of south Calcutta’s Priya cinema, which is frequented by GeneratioNext. “Usually, Calcutta doesn’t respond well to night shows. But a very cosmopolitan crowd has turned up to see this film,” he says. Lagaan has been running to full houses for the sole night show at the hall and in some theatres where it’s being screened for the noon show only. With most halls set to reopen on Friday, Lagaan is scheduled to hit more theatres this weekend. The epic length of the film — all of 3 hours 42 minutes — has not been a damper for Aamir fans. The film’s magic formula according to Ruplekha Sengupta, who teaches at a city school: “It brings our passion for cinema and the craze for cricket together. It was the energy of Eden Gardens inside a theatre.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.6°C (0
Minimum: 26.6°C (0

Rainfall:

8.3 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 70%

Today

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

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