Flare-up mill reopens
Agra breakdown bomb ticks on Kashmir
Advani nudge prompts Vajpayee hard line
Atal to brief allies on summit
Congress slams Pak ‘swindling’
Visitors flood Musharraf haveli
Cong and dissidents deal local poll blow to Naidu
Mahanadi overflows
Veteran scribe no more
Talks failure pleases BJP

Howrah, July 17: 
The 111-year-old Howrah Jute Mill reopened around 6 am this morning after the management lifted the 11-day suspension of work.

The management had issued a suspension-of-work notice after two senior executives of the mill, M.K. Pandey and Umesh Nagar, were assaulted by some workers from the spinning and weaving section. The officers sustained serious injuries and were rushed to hospitals.

According to the FIR lodged by the mill management at the Shibpore police station, the executives were punched, slapped and hit with iron rods by the workers who accused the management of increasing their workload following reduction in staff strength. However, the management claimed that they had only transferred the surplus staff and described the allegation as “baseless” .

Over 70 per cent of the 4,500 workers resumed their duties after the mill re-opened this morning.

District magistrate Sunil Gupta expressed happiness over the resumption of work. “The shadow of uncertainty is no more there. There is no place of vandalism in industry. If there is any difference between the management and the workers, it has to be sorted out peacefully,” he said.

President of Howrah Jute Mill, R.C. Soni, said: “All the workers’ unions have condemned the violence in the mill premises and assured us this would not recur. We are ready to cooperate with them to maintain industrial peace and harmony.”

The mill workers, too, appeared happy as they resumed duties. They said they would sit across the table with the management if they faced any problems and promised no such incident will occur in future.

Soni said: “We lifted the suspension-of-work notice after a tripartite agreement signed yesterday by additional labour commissioner B.K. Saha, the mill management and representatives of the workers’ union and decided to reopen the mill at the earliest. However, we have suspended 22 workers who indulged in violence. Out of these 22 employees, 14 will be served with showcause notices. The remaining eight will have to face the inquiry commission and we will allow them to resume duties if they agree to abide by the commission’s recommendations.”


Srinagar, July 17: 
The failure of the Agra Summit to achieve any breakthrough in the Kashmir issue has begun to have its repercussions on the ground. Police said today they were “preparing for the worst” even as Pakistan-based militant outfits blamed India for the breakdown of talks and threatened to step up attacks.

“We are preparing for a difficult time ahead. The ground situation in the Valley is worsening with each passing day,” a senior police official said here.

The Muttahida Jehad Council, an umbrella organisation of 15 militant groups based in Pakistan, said the failure would provide a fresh impetus to their insurgency plan. “The dialogue broke down due to intransigent and obdurate behaviour of India and it would result in more Mujahideen attacks in Kashmir as they had no other alternative but to fight,” head of the Council and Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin said.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba also said it would step up its attacks in Kashmir. “Jihad will be intensified. Our strategy will be to fight Indian troops and not to target the civilian population,” Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed told reporters in Lahore. He said he considered the summit “successful” since it showed there could be no solution to the Kashmir dispute except through jihad.

Echoing the Lashkar’s views, Sheikh Jameelur Rehman of the United Jihad Council said an armed struggle remained the only choice to “liberate” Kashmir. “Not only will we continue our attacks on Indian forces but will also increase the intensity of our assault,” Rehman said in Muzaffarabad. Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief Syed Salauddin said that Kashmiris were now convinced the path to a settlement lay only in armed struggle. “Our armed struggle will continue as long as Indian forces are in Kashmir,” he said.

Back home in the Valley, All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said, “All peace loving people should be upset with the failure of the summit. There are people in India who do not want the problem to be resolved in consultation with the people of the state.”

Though Kashmiris did not expect much from the summit, they are nonetheless disappointed. In the busy Lal Chowk, shopkeepers discussed reasons for the failure of the talks. “I think the Prime Minister wanted to solve the issue but people around him sabotaged the effort. However, there is still hope. Vajpayee will initiate fresh steps to resume dialogue with Pakistan,” said Mehraj-ud-Din, a fruit seller

“The failure of the summit and its inability to address the political aspect of the problem will lead to escalation of tension between the two countries and increase violence in the state,” said Mohammad Abdullah, a college lecturer.

Several people in the state believe that the failure of the talks does not augur well for the two countries. According to Ashfaq Majid, whose brother was killed in an encounter between militants and security forces last month, the failure of the talks will widen the rift between India and Pakistan.

“The failure will ensure that miseries of Kashmiris continue,” said Abdul Salam, who runs a retail store in the city.

Kashmiris, like other people in the sub-continent who spent the last two days glued to various television channels, today wondered at the futility of the hype surrounding the summit. “All those so-called experts and analysts on TV made us believe that peace would finally return to our lives. However, in an anti-climax, the two leaders could not even agree on a paragraph (a joint statement),” said Aga Ashraf Ali, a renowned historian. “We are fighting over the plumage and in the process are ignoring the dying bird,” he added.

Some Kashmiris felt that India was not sincere in resolving the Kashmir issue. “I feel India is not sincere and it does not want an early settlement to the dispute,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a shopkeeper.

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), one of the constituents of the Hurriyat, also blamed Delhi for the failure. “The failure of the talks is not only unfortunate for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but for India and Pakistan as well,” JKLF acting chief Bashir Ahmad Bhat said.

According to him, if Delhi had been serious about resolving the issue, it would have extended the ceasefire. Demanding the involvement of Kashmiris in the peace process, he said New Delhi and Islamabad had been talking for the last 53 years but nothing had been achieved except “bitterness”.

Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah termed the breakdown of the summit as “unfortunate” and blamed New Delhi for it, saying India should have played the role of a “big brother.”

“Although we did not expect any miracle, the rigid attitude of Delhi was responsible for the failure of the summit,” Shah said.


New Delhi, July 17: 
In the end it appeared that ground-level sentiment had got the better of the diplomatic tightrope walk.

Sources in the BJP and RSS maintained it was the “disquiet and then anger” among the cadre that forced Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to rethink the Agra declaration he was on the verge of signing with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The catalyst, they said, was home minister L.K. Advani who asserted in crystal-clear terms that at no cost must India be seen as making concessions on the “national security” plank.

After the first round of talks, Vajpayee was “quite amenable” to incorporating the primacy of Kashmir in the interest of “sustaining” a dialogue with Pakistan, sources said. They also claimed he had given the impression of “softening” up on the issue of cross-border terror central to the BJP and the RSS’ political concerns.

At an informal sitting of the Cabinet Committee on Security yesterday, Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh had insisted that no declaration or agreement must be ratified unless it had a line asking Pakistan to stop sponsoring cross-border terror. Vajpayee agreed to this even if it meant aborting the talks, sources said.

BJP leaders scoffed at Pakistan’s allegation that a “hidden hand” had sabotaged the summit, in what seemed a reference to Advani. “The sentiments of 1,000 million Indians form the hidden hand. In refusing to sign an agreement dictated by Pakistan, the Prime Minister has respected the feelings of Kargil martyrs,” party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

BJP sources claimed Vajpayee was “too much of a swayamsevak to bite Pakistan’s bait”. “Vajpayee is not a person to succumb to pressure from any quarter. Musharraf may have praised him all the time but he forgets that Vajpayee has dedicated his entire life to serving the country and is not like the crow in Panchatantra who opened its mouth and lost a piece of the sweet to the jackal which forced it do so by praising its voice,” said sources.

However, sources conceded it was “hard” to assess Vajpayee’s mind on the summit and there was a collective sigh of relief when Advani decided to accompany him despite his Pakistan counterpart not being part of Musharraf’s delegation. “Atalji is portrayed as a liberal with the heart of a poet. There were also stories in the press of how he was aspiring for a Nobel peace prize by finding a solution to the Kashmir problem. All this did make us nervous. But once Advaniji went along with him, we were sure nothing amiss would happen,” said BJP sources.

It emerges that information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj’s presence at the summit was also part of a BJP-crafted strategy to ensure that India was projected in the “most positive” light. It was decided that, along with Sushma, a media panel comprising central ministers Arun Jaitley, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar and BJP office-bearers Sunil Shastri, Malhotra, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Narendra Modi would camp in Agra. Sources also said Advani gave Sushma the green signal to divulge details of the Vajpayee-Musharraf one-to-one to the press.

Though Pakistan claimed Sushma’s out-of-turn statements changed the summit’s fortunes, the BJP felt it was the Hurriyat’s presence at the Pakistan high commissioner’s tea-party and the breakfast meeting with Indian editors that did so. “The head of another country cannot talk to people demanding secessionism from India on our soil. It is against internationally accepted norms,” said Malhotra.

While Advani’s reiteration of the BJP’s hard line did not surprise the party, the new-found closeness between him and Jaswant raised eyebrows. Jaswant is believed to have been close to Vajpayee and not comfortable with the party’s dogmatic positions.


New Delhi, July 17: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee apprised the Union council of ministers of his talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on his return from Agra today.

Sources said Vajpayee has convened a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) tomorrow to give the leaders an account of the events around the Agra summit.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh briefed the council of ministers on behalf of the Prime Minister. The meeting, presided over by Vajpayee, was held at his Race Course Road residence.

Sources said Singh gave a brief account of the events leading to the summit finale, most of which was a repeat of what he had said at the press conference earlier in the day at Agra.

The meeting also assessed Pakistan foreign minister Abdul Sattar’s press meet in Islamabad. It was noted with a degree of satisfaction that Pakistan had considerably toned down its language and position since Musharraf’s breakfast meeting with Indian editors yesterday.

Singh felt Pakistan had softened its stand since the failure of the summit as was evident from Sattar’s much more diplomatic posturing today.


New Delhi, July 17: 
The Congress today squarely blamed Pakistan for its “intransigence and inflexible” attitude, which resulted in the disappointing outcome of the Agra Summit.

The main Opposition party also targeted the Vajpayee regime for its “shoddy preparations and ad hoc approaches” and said it will take up the matter in Parliament during the monsoon session beginning July 23. The Congress said an all-party meeting should be convened soon to brief them about the summit deliberations.

AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the summit will be remembered for Pakistan’s “swindling” and India’s “bungling”. He said that while the Congress blames Pakistan for its intransigence and inflexibility, the party was also disappointed that the Vajpayee government’s handling of the summit was characterised by “shoddy preparations, lack of homework, ad hoc approaches” weakening India’s case regarding cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Picking holes in the summit, the Reddy wondered how the ministry of external affairs had opted for the summit without a structured agenda. “What was worse is that we had no focused approach. The lopsided briefing by information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj gave a big excuse to President Pervez Musharraf to indulge in tough talk and get away with it,” he said.

Reddy, however, refrained from commenting on reported differences within the Cabinet over the summit. He said it was for the government to dispel such an impression. The Congress had not only welcomed the government’s initiative but also extended its support to the Vajpayee government on the issue, he pointed out.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi now plans to convene a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) this week to discuss the Agra Summit. The CWC will also vet issues to be raised during the monsoon session of Parliament. Enron, WTO, the National Missile Defense, Tehelka, UTI, telecom, the Nagaland ceasefire and the recall of Tamil Nadu Governor Fathima Beevi are some of the key issues that would be raised by the Congress.

CPI disappointed

The CPI has expressed disappointment over the failure of the summit and suspected sabotage of the talks by some top-level functionaries. “It appears there were some at the top level who played their own role in seeing that the talks, for which Prime Minister Vajpayee had taken the welcome initiative, do not succeed,” the party said.


New Delhi, July 17: 
Cold water has been poured over the Agra Summit but visitors haven’t stopped pouring into President Pervez Musharraf’s ancestral Neharwali haveli.

“People have been streaming in every day. It has been three days since Musharraf’s visit, but the flow of visitors has not stopped. Just a few minutes ago, an entire family arrived to take a look at Musharraf’s haveli,” said Ripudaman, who occupies a portion of the house in Old Delhi. “First they enquire if this is the Pakistani President’s haveli, which is followed by queries like which room he visited, where he sat and so on.”

“On Saturday, hours after Musharraf’s visit, curious visitors started thronging the area. Iron barricades were put up by the police but an excited crowd barged in. The policemen stationed outside had to resort to a lathicharge,” added another resident.

Till yesterday, 18 Rapid Action Force personnel were stationed within the premises of the haveli and a couple of policemen were stationed outside to keep the crowd at bay.

“For the last two-and-a-half months, we have had no privacy. It has become even worse after the President’s visit. People drop by all the time,” said the nephew of Raj Kumar Jain. The Jains, like the haveli, have shot into the limelight as they occupy the portion once home to Musharraf. Jain isn’t complaining though, he was lucky enough to shake hands with the guest from Pakistan.

Jain’s 8-year-old daughter, Ishita, is by now adept at answering questions about Musharraf. The still-excited child clearly describes what he was wearing and how he waved his hand.

But it is Anaro, the woman who claimed to be a sweeper at the haveli when Musharraf was a child, who is the focus of attention. She is surrounded by people, eager to know about her conversation with Musharraf and the gifts she received. A few weeks ago she would be seen sitting on the steps of a medicine shop near the haveli. But since Musharraf’s visit on Saturday, she has been spotted sitting closer to the house.

Not only has Anaro changed her residence, but her manner of attracting attention has also undergone a transformation. Earlier, she was most forthcoming in providing information about her connections with Musharraf. But now she sits quiet and awaits curious onlookers who gather around her in herds.


Hyderabad, July 17: 
The massive gains by the Congress and the newly-formed Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in the elections to the local bodies have jolted Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

The Desam president, who even skipped the lunch hosted for visiting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf because of the polls, was shocked when the results came in. The first victories were recorded by the TRS — led by Desam dissident K. Chandrasekhar Rao — in Warangal district and the ruling party was losing ground even in its East Godavari district stronghold.

According to the Desam spokesman, the party’s reverses in coastal Andhra Pradesh were caused by the lack of a proper understanding with the BJP.

“The Desam has paid a heavy price for the lack of a clear understanding with us,” a BJP spokesman said. Besides, “the Congress campaign of free power and farmers’ suicides, as well the incumbency factors”, had a toll on the party, the Desam spokesman confessed.

Around four crore rural voters, including 2.7 crore women, had cast their franchise last week to elect 1,094 zilla parishad members and 14,591 mandal parishad members. The zilla parishad members will elect 22 zilla parishad presidents and 1,094 mandal parishad presidents.

The Desam president had made an effort to amalgamate the self-help group leadership with the local-bodies posts to avoid friction in the implementation of World Bank-aided programmes.

“It appears the experiment was not properly understood or appreciated by the body politic of the ruling party whose cadres aspired for the coveted posts in the districts,” said a party spokesman.

“I have conducted only a positive campaign, while the Opposition parties conducted a negative campaign against me personally and also promised to provide free power to farmers,” said the chief minister.

As counting progressed, the TRS had established a clear lead in Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Medak districts. The Congress and the TRS were neck-and-neck in Warangal, Nalgonda and Mahboobnagar districts, edging out the ruling party. The Congress was leading in several coastal districts, including Krishna, West Godavari, Nellore and Naidu’s home district — Chittoor.

There was jubilation in the TRS and Congress camps as results started trickling in. Rao was busy accepting greetings and the number of visitors at the party office swelled.

Congress leaders claimed that the party stand of “corruption in Naidu regime” has been vindicated with the party making inroads in coastal Andhra Pradesh where the Desam had swept the last Assembly and Parliament elections.

The outcome of these polls is expected to be reflected in the elections to the nearly 23,000 gram panchayats scheduled for next month, which are crucial for Naidu who wants the grassroots administration to implement his programme of reforms with a human face.


Bhubaneswar, July 17: 
Orissa today experienced one of the worst floods of the decade when the Mahanadi river and its distributaries spilled into the five coastal districts, inundating large tracts of agricultural land and countless villages.

Major rivers, including Mahanadi, Kathjodi, Devi and Daya, continued to rise owing to heavy rainfall in the coastal districts. Air Force helicopters dropped food packets and relief materials in the affected areas as the situation worsened.

“This year’s floods are even worse than in 1992. But we are fully prepared to deal with the situation as things were planned well in advance,” Orissa chief secretary D.P. Bagchi told newsmen here this evening.

Nearly 13.8 lakh cusecs flowed upstream through the Munduli gauge station of the Mahanadi river against the permissible level of 10 lakh cusecs, sources said. It is expected to go beyond 14 lakh cusecs tonight, flooding miles of plain and low-lying areas in the coastal districts that were ravaged by the supercyclone in 1999.

About 40,000 people have been evacuated by the authorities so far. Two more flood-related deaths were reported from Jharsuguda district taking the death toll to 29. Large areas of Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Jajpur, Cuttack and Kendrapara districts are already reeling under the deluge. The state government yesterday put the five states on “flood red alert”, official sources said.

Besides, the situation in Sonepur, Boudh, Nayagarh, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur and Angul districts continued to be grim as flood water entered houses and fields.


New Delhi, July 17: 
Veteran journalist and freedom fighter Sailen Chatterjee died here today after a brief illness.

Chatterjee, who was 78, is remembered for his coverage of Gandhiji’s peace mission in Noa-khali district of undivided Bengal, where communal violence had broken out. A Gandhian, Chatterjee was often in Mahatma Gandhi’s company between 1944 and 1948. When the Mahatma was assassinated, Chatterjee was only a few feet away.

Chatterjee had worked with United Press of India, Ananda Bazar Patrika and Hindustan St-andard and was the New Delhi bureau chief of Marathi daily Kesari.

Chatterjee is survived by wife Indira, who is a social worker, and two children.


New Delhi, July 17: 
Far from expressing disappointment at the Agra Summit’s failure to yield even a joint statement, the BJP sounded elated at the inconclusive manner in which the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks ended.

A line from a signed statement issued by BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi to the press summed up the party’s mood: “The talks may have failed but we are sure that India’s national cause has succeeded.”

Krishnamurthi congratulated Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for “standing firm on the national consensus evolved on the summit talks and for forcefully and unequivocally putting forward India’s centrality of concerns — especially cross-border terrorism. We are sure that even as the PM went to Agra carrying national consensus, he has returned to Delhi with the national resolve and, hopefully, national consensus emerging stronger”.

BJP sources were, however, careful to emphasise that the “national consensus” did not just reflect the sentiments of the Sangh parivar and the party’s supporters, but the country’s political establishment as well.

BJP parliamentarian V.K. Malhotra recalled that in the all-party meeting Vajpayee had convened on July 9, the Opposition leaders spoke in one voice of how cross-border terrorism should form part of any joint statement or declaration, along with issues impinging on trade, unemployment, poverty, release of prisoners of war and protection of gurdwaras and mandirs in PoK.

“The leaders also made it clear that the Indian government must steer clear of any mention of Kashmir’s status because their opinion was as far as we are concerned, the issue is settled,” said Malhotra.

The sources claimed that the BJP’s upfront postures were neither aimed at containing damage nor putting a gloss on the Summit’s failure to produce anything substantive. It was simply meant to “put the record straight”.

Krishnamurthi said: “The entire summit should be understood in proper perspective. India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the bold initiative in inviting General Musharraf for this summit... If the sequence of events right from the day of arrival of the Pakistan President is properly seen, it leaves an impression in one’s mind that Pakistan had come prepared to discuss only a one-point agenda — ‘we say and do what we want; you accept it’.”

He cited the invitation extended to the Hurriyat for the tea party hosted by the Pakistan high commissioner in Musharraf’s honour and his breakfast meeting with Indian editors as examples.

“His utterances in the breakfast meeting make one suspect that a deliberate attempt was made by Pakistan to scuttle the Summit’s success,” alleged the BJP chief.


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