Manipur forces Delhi retreat
Centre caught in Hurriyat cleft stick
Clean chit for Subhas
Shower with a view of the Taj
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MANIPUR FORCES DELHI RETREAT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 8: 
Caving in to pressure from Manipur’s politicians and student groups, the Centre today decided to review the ceasefire accord it had signed last month with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah).

The agreement on extending the ceasefire to Naga-dominated areas in other northeastern states was projected by the government as a big breakthrough in “restoring peace and ending hostilities” in the region. But once the people of Manipur’s plains were up in arms fearing the state’s borders would be redefined, the Centre was forced to take a second look at its initiative.

An appeal from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the Centre would review the cease-fire agreement, including the words “without territorial limits”. This, he said, was being done “to ensure that doubts about preserving the integrity of Manipur and states of the Northeast are removed”.

Vajpayee issued the appeal after chairing a meeting with 40 political representatives from Manipur who had earlier threatened to resign en masse from Parliament and the Assembly. Home minister L.K. Advani, ceasefire interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah and the minister of state for home, I.D. Swami, were present at the meeting.

The Manipur leaders had a torrid time reaching the Prime Minister’s 7 Race Course Road residence as they were not allowed to leave Manipur Bhavan in Delhi. The meeting began 40 minutes behind schedule.

As the discussions opened, a Manipur MLA told the Prime Minister that he would not go back with “empty hands”. “If you wish to see us alive, please do something,” he added. The Manipur leadership is so afraid of mass fury that it refused to welcome today’s development.

“It is a step forward. Let us see how things move,” said Chandresh Singh, spokesman for the forum of MPs and MLAs of Manipur.

Swami said the review would be done in a month and Padmanabhaiah would consult NSCN (I-M) and others concerned. He admitted that the “medicine” administered to Nagaland had set off a “reaction”.

“Now we will adopt a holistic approach,” he said. Swami said the accord would be reviewed in its “entirety”. “We will have a second look at various aspects,” he added.

The minister conceded that the review was being conducted on the basis of the recommendations made in his report after visiting Imphal.

The report that termed the Manipur situation “alarming” was discussed by the Prime Minister in the presence of Advani, the director of the Intelligence Bureau and other senior officials. It presented a grim picture of Manipur, making it clear that unless the ceasefire was thoroughly reviewed, the Centre stood little chance of controlling people’s rage that ravaged Imphal last month.

There was resistance on grounds that a lot of hard work had gone into thrashing out the Naga accord but the Vajpayee-Advani duo overruled the objection, underlining the need for restoring people’s faith in the political class.

It, however, remains to be seen how a review is taken by the people of Nagaland and the NSCN (I-M) group. Nagaland and Manipur have witnessed several bitter ethnic clashes. Home ministry sources exuded confidence that there will not be “much problem” till the review is completed.

   

 
 
CENTRE CAUGHT IN HURRIYAT CLEFT STICK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 8: 
South Block mandarins are in a dilemma over the possible meeting between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.

The Indian leadership is not quite certain if it should have Hurriyat leaders arrested before the meeting, or turn a blind eye and allow the interaction to take place on the eve of the Agra summit.

Musharraf has sent a letter to Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi in Delhi asking him to extend invitations to Hurriyat leaders for the high-tea he is planning to hold on July 14. Musharraf has also indicated that though he is keen to meet the Hurriyat leaders, he is willing to wait for the Indians to take a final decision on it.

Islamabad’s ambiguity on the issue has hardly made things easier for Delhi. The Prime Minister has convened an all-party meeting tomorrow to discuss his meeting with Musharraf. The question of how the government will deal with the Hurriyat issue is likely to come up there.

Indian officials are still hoping that ultimately Musharraf will not meet the Hurriyat leaders. “We have made it clear that we don’t want the meeting to take place. It is for Musharraf to honour the wishes of the host,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

He added: “But if he does go ahead and meet the Hurriyat leaders, it will definitely leave a bad taste in the mouth before the summit.”

While a tough line — probably putting the Hurriyat leaders under house arrest — is not being ruled out, it is the impact of such an action that worries the Indian leaders. Allowing him to meet them is an equally unpalatable alternative. The problem now is to decide which of the options will be seen as the lesser evil.

The one thing India wants to avoid the most is engage in a slanging match with Pakistan before the summit. An example of this is the restrained response to the Pakistani outburst, accusing India of atrocities in Kashmir. India has described it as “out of sync with what the Pakistani leadership had been saying for the past few weeks”. The diatribe is seen as part of the attempt to keep the focus steady on Kashmir.

India views the two packages of confidence-building measures (CBMs) announced over the past week as “pathbreaking” and a “well-conceived and well-considered” move towards normalising relations.

The CBMs, on improving people-to-people contact and on interaction on conventional and nuclear arms, are an attempt at putting before Musharraf an entire package that is not “Kashmir-only” but tries to tackle the entire gamut of India-Pakistan relations.

   

 
 
CLEAN CHIT FOR SUBHAS 
 
 
BY INDRANIL GHOSH AND TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, July 8: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is confronting the storm over last month’s arrest of alleged criminals from Salt Lake stadium with a preliminary CID report that absolves sports minister Subhas Chakraborty of blame, officials said tonight.

The Criminal Investigation Department’s preliminary findings were discussed at various levels of the government and the CPM over the past few days. The CID’s final report will be turned in shortly.

Chief minister Bhattacharjee is expected to inform the Assembly of the CID’s findings on July 19, when the police budget is presented.

A pointer to the emerging scenario was provided by CPM state secretary Anil Biswas. He told a news conference that Bhattacharjee would do all the talking on the stadium episode, choosing not to mention that an unpublicised party inquiry, too, had found Chakraborty not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“No matter what imagery the media are trying to create, he (Chakraborty) has not been found to have crossed any moral or legal fault line. There is no trace of chalk on his feet,” informed officials said. A few associates of Chakraborty will be under scrutiny, though.

On Sunday, as he turned 88, former chief minister Jyoti Basu continued his line of reasoning over the past 10 days, calling for an “unambiguous, firm and collective” response to the stadium incident where four alleged criminals were arrested. The stadium being very much Chakraborty’s baby, fingers of suspicion were automatically pointed at him.

After Basu helped them design the response, Biswas issued a strong statement in which he rejected reports quoting Chakraborty that a section of the party had framed him.

“There are media reports on the basis of what is claimed to be minister Subhas Chakraborty’s comments that the Salt Lake stadium incident is the product of a conspiracy by a section of the party. I say the reports are fabricated and none in the party is, in any way, connected with the incident. I advise all ministers not to go beyond the call of their departments and grant interviews to any newspapers or electronic media on issues that do not concern them.”

Alimuddin Street watchers attached importance to Biswas’ emphatic “none in the party is connected with the incident”, which appeared to be a clean chit to Chakraborty as well. At the same time, the statement contained a warning to Chakraborty to hold his silence.

The statement came minutes after a meeting held to condole the death of Niren Ghosh, a party veteran, where Chakraborty was seated on the dais along with Bhattacharjee and Biswas. Their combined presence was meant to counter indications that had emerged yesterday when Chakraborty was missing from the dais at the Calcutta University centenary hall. His absence from the dais — though he was in the audience — was seen as a fall from grace.

   

 
 
SHOWER WITH A VIEW OF THE TAJ 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Agra, July 8: 
Mr President, please be careful on the stairs. But you can step in and feel at home in the room with a view of the Taj from every which corner, even the shower.

Hotel Amarvilas may not be fully complete yet — a hotel employee says it will take another month before all the “rectifications’’ are through — but it is more than ready for the general. The dozens of hotel staff working at a frenetic pace say they will ensure the President asks for more the next time he is around.

Although Amarvilas, a brand new hotel that opened only in January, beat the other two five-star hotels, Mughal Sheraton and Jaypee Palace, to the draw at the last moment, victory was on technical points.

With the Taj Mahal only 500 metres away, Amarvilas is closer than any other hotel to the monument to love. Once at the hotel, Musharraf can share a romantic moment with the begum staring at the Taj from any of the rooms in the Kohinoor suite.

The hotel authorities have, in fact, ensured that the Taj is never out of sight of the President.

His shower room is a specially-designed glass cubicle that overlooks, well, the Taj once again.

Although the hotel authorities have not received any hints about the gastronomical preferences of Musharraf and his wife, they admit to have “got an idea’’ from the two “dummy runs’’ Pakistani foreign ministry officials made at the hotel, staying and eating there on two occasions, one as recent as today.

A total of 40 rooms and four suites at the Rs 120-crore hotel have been booked for the Pakistani delegation.

“The emphasis,” Rajesh Jhingon, general manager of Amarvilas, says, “will be on fresh food that is light and with the minimum of additives.” James Taba, the executive chef from New Zealand, and Dinesh Rawat, the Indian cuisine head, will ensure that.

The hotel has worked on a menu keeping in mind what a Pakistani official said: “The President and Begum Musharraf enjoy all kinds of cuisine. What else can we tell you?”

So Jhingon and his gang have decided to “just do the best we can and stop looking for any formulas to please”. Of course, there will be a showcasing of their “signature dishes” like galauti kababs and dal esphahani. “We will be focusing on authenticity more than anything else,” says Jhingon, with a hint of anxiety.

Not taking any chances with Musharraf, there will be a “full-time, well-trained, multilingual butler, fluent in Urdu, Hindi and English,” attending on the presidential couple 24 hours of the day.

Musharraf’s visit may be only a week away, but Jhingon says: “No one is unduly nervous about it.”

Issuing rapid instructions to the dozens of mobile phone-toting hotel staff, he adds: “After all, the Prime Minister of Norway and the Princess of Morocco have gone back very pleased with the hospitality here.”

The nervousness, however, is palpable all around. Everyone at the hotel is being watched by intelligence sleuths, every repair is double checked by anxious Indian authorities who keep dropping in at the hotel almost every 45 minutes.

As a young lobby manager, who is not at liberty to be quoted, says: “Of course, we are nervous because everyone, right from the police to the IB and RAW, the foreign ministry and the tourism department, is barking at our heels. But then we are proud too. We are just hoping Musharraf is happy and Vajpayee is happy that Musharraf is happy. That means everyone is happy and we can go home in peace once it is all over.’’

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.7°C (0)
Minimum: 26.9°C (+1)

Rainfall

8.6 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 85%

Today:

A few spells of light to moderate rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 5.01 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
   
 

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