Homeless brave floods for food & medicine
Kashmir ticket for Pervez takeoff
Jaswant’s turn with editors minus TV
Hard truth: No place for Pakistan softliners
BJP hits back at ‘hawk’ Musharraf
Ajit Singh to join Cabinet

 
 
HOMELESS BRAVE FLOODS FOR FOOD & MEDICINE 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Patarakana (Cuttack), July 21: 
For 12-year-old Saraswati Mohanty of Patarakana village, even a few days ago floods would have meant nothing more than a 300-word essay that most Oriya schoolchildren prepare for ahead of their annual examinations.

Now flood waters have swamped her thatched hut which collapsed like a hundred others after the overflowing Kandala river turned this hamlet of about 1,100 people into an isle of despair.

Her father Santosh Mohanty points to a pile of straw he once called home. “I had some rice in my home. I am hungry. Do you have any food?” he asks as he helps his daughter, straddling a banana stem to fetch drinking water for her family.

Saraswati and her family have found safety in a pucca house that has sheltered eight others. But like the others, her family is searching for food. It’s the same with 37-year-old Fagu Behera, 55-year-old Bhima Bhoi and 32-year-old Sudarshan Rout, whose family is still stranded on the top of an asbestos-roofed house. Many more are trapped inside their homes.

Everybody here is looking for a morsel of food and trying to survive in the snake-infested waters — hunger has overcome their fear. More than 10 persons have been bitten by snakes.

Rabindra Nath Bhoi, 28, uses an inflated rubber tube to negotiate the waters and look for food and medicine for his ailing mother. “She has been running a high temperature since yesterday. The floods have washed away my thatched house. Since Tuesday, I have not had more than a handful of chira,” says Bhoi, who is camping on the road for the last four days. In a nearby village, the local block development officer’s pucca house is under water.

Rout’s seven-month-old daughter is also running a high fever, but there are no doctors around, although a paramedic of the health department was seen distributing paracetamol tablets at Noda, about 5 km away.

“I am massaging mustard oil on her body. But the fever is worsening. Yesterday, a doctor had come here and said that very soon they would provide medicines. But where is he?” With no boat available, there is little Rout can do.

As most of the thatched houses in the village have collapsed, the rooftops of pucca houses, roads and river embankments have become home for many. Though army personnel reached here this morning, the relief they brought was meagre. There are at least four more villages in the area still marooned.

With nothing to eat, villagers are trying to kill their hunger with cups of tea.

“I can survive some more days without food if I take tea,” says Pralay Keshari Bharati, whose paddy crop over 20 acres is still under water.

Though the weather cleared a bit today, it failed to lift the spirits of the nearly 70 lakh people hit by the deluge that has so far claimed 43. Vast stretches in the coastal districts are still submerged as high tides in the sea pushed back the flood waters.

The government today claimed that the situation was under control as only five villages remained inaccessible. “By God’s grace, the worst is over. We are doing our best to reach relief everywhere,” revenue minister Biswabhusan Harichandan said.

The minister said about two lakh people were being fed through free kitchens. But with 700 trucks needed to reach food to the marooned against an available 150, relief operations do not seem to be going too smoothly. Over 200 roads are still inaccessible.

The 72 sorties carried out by the MI-17 and MI-8 helicopters have so far airdropped only about 150 tonnes of food. Operations have also been hampered by the lack of accurate information on the position of the worst-hit areas, a senior air force officer said today.

   

 
 
KASHMIR TICKET FOR PERVEZ TAKEOFF 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Islamabad, July 21: 
If Pervez Musharraf has succeeded in catapulting Kashmir to the centrestage of India-Pakistan talks, he has also used the Kashmir agenda to capture for himself the centrestage of Pakistan politics. If he made Kashmiri self-determination ring aloud as the only agenda, it also made his self-projection his prime political agenda. Kashmir has given him what his usurpation of power, first as chief executive and then as President, may not have given him since 1999, when he took over from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

This seems to be the emerging consensus among political parties and people here after Musharraf’s press conference last night, addressed live on television for a bigger audience at home and abroad.

There is a fine irony in the popular perception of what Musharraf gained. While few believe he could really carry the talks with India to any definitive conclusion about Kashmir, large sections of the people —commoners as well as the elite —think that Musharraf has gained an image for himself that goes beyond the General’s and the chief executive’s.

Several observers noted that Musharraf looked like he was addressing the press conference from a political platform. “He talked Kashmir — at Agra and here — but the final impression was more of the speaker than of the spoken,” said a senior political analyst.

The Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League did their bit to detract from the self-sought glory that Agra has given Musharraf. They have also objected to his outburst at political parties at his press conference.

But the politicians’ voice is hardly audible in the new dispensation with the two leaders — PPP’s Benazir Bhutto and PML’s Nawaz Sharif — in exile. Even the ongoing campaigns for the local body elections in the provinces have not quite revived public confidence in the politicians.

One reason, of course, is that the elections, too, have been projected as Musharraf shows. He has projected these as his “new democracy” that works at the grassroots level. Obviously, he would like this democracy to work even without a major role for the main political parties. In many places, the PPP and the PML have been forced to put up candidates as Independents. In Karachi, the biggest party, the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM), boycotted the polls.

Yesterday, Musharraf abolished the posts of deputy commissioners and some other bureaucratic positions in the districts to transfer “power to the people”. “Add Kashmir to what he is doing at home, not all of which is necessarily bad, and you have the new image in the making. He may not ultimately help either Pakistanis or Kashmiris. But he is certainly trying to help himself,” said a PPP leader.

   

 
 
JASWANT’S TURN WITH EDITORS MINUS TV 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
After Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, it is now foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s turn to meet Indian editors. But the meeting scheduled at South Block tomorrow will not be a breakfast session — it will be held post lunch at 3 pm. Nor will Doordarshan be allowed in for a live coverage.

The Centre’s decision to brief a select group of editors comes nearly a week after Musharraf’s breakfast bombshell. But there are signs that South Block is finally getting its act together. The changed stance stems from the confidence they gained from Musharraf’s news conference yesterday. India feels the general has overdone his Agra act.

“I think the press conference better explains and people should understand why we could not reach an agreement in Agra,” Singh said yesterday, less than an hour after the Pakistan President’s news conference was telecast live by PTV from Islamabad.

Though Singh’s meeting with editors tomorrow will not be covered live, he plans to give an interview to the TV channel, Aaj Tak, which will be telecast later in the day. The day after, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will make a statement on the Agra Summit — all part of Delhi’s media strategy.

One fallout of the Agra Summit, sources said, is that Singh has decided not to lead the Indian delegation to the Asean Regional Forum meeting scheduled to be held in Hanoi between July 24 and 28. Instead, deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission K.C. Pant has been asked to head the team. This is the first time in four years that Singh has opted out from heading the Indian delegation.

South Block officials said Singh, who is the leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, decided against the trip because he would be pre-occupied with Parliament’s monsoon session beginning on Monday.

But Singh’s decision also has much to do with the Agra Summit. If he were to lead the delegation to Vietnam, he would have been asked by leaders from other countries to explain why India and Pakistan could not clinch a deal at Agra — questions that he would much rather avoid.

Sources said the foreign ministry is trying to come up with a new coinage to describe the summit, so as to avoid using terms like success or failure. “It surely was a significant milestone that we crossed in Agra, but it can hardly be called a watershed,” a senior official of the ministry said. “It should be described as a case of ‘promise denied’.”

The Indian top brass are aware that they will have to explain to the people and Parliament why Vajpayee went ahead with the summit and what the gains were.

After yesterday’s news conference, South Block sources feel that Musharraf has squandered away the gains he made at the breakfast show in Agra. The Pakistan President repeatedly stressed that there could be no progress in Indo-Pak ties unless the Kashmir issue was resolved first, in a manner being described by Indian diplomats as going on and on “like a broken 78 rpm record”.

He also made it clear that he was unwilling to give much on the issue of cross-border terrorism. The general could have sold his point better if he had put the progress of both these issues in tandem, the sources said.

   

 
 
HARD TRUTH: NO PLACE FOR PAKISTAN SOFTLINERS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 21: 
One of the myths about Indian diplomacy is that there are hardliners and softliners on Pakistan. In the Indian ‘establishment’, you cannot deal with Pakistan and be what peacenicks would call a ‘softliner’.

When he was Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, who was miffed at criticism that he was soft on Pakistan, told this correspondent: “Do you think I will give away anything to Pakistan? I am as much of a nationalist as anyone else.” He stressed that his “Gujral doctrine” did not cover Pakistan.

A South Block official heading its Pakistan desk — who shall remain anonymous — similarly told this correspondent once: “I am a Kashmiri. Kashmiris have suffered more than anyone else at the hands of Pakistan. I can never compromise with the Pakistanis.”

This hard reality of Indian diplomacy is not the only factor complicating matters for any Prime Minister who wants to launch a peace initiative with Pakistan.

The decision-making process within the Indian government has wheels within wheels many times over when it comes to doing anything involving Pakistan.

A Prime Minister or even a foreign minister can do anything he desires with Europe or Africa merely by snapping his fingers. Not so with Pakistan. There are so many agencies involved in any decision-making on Pakistan that even a minor forward movement can come only after detailed inter-ministerial and inter-agency discussions, position papers and analysis.

In addition, politicians have to look over their shoulders at the political landscape before taking decisions on Pakistan, more so when they are part of a minority government or a coalition.

Decisions involving Pakistan are taken after so much consideration that sometimes the caution spills over to areas which do not directly involve Islamabad.

Thus, when P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted to visit Iran as Prime Minister in 1993, a full-scale inter-agency and inter-ministerial war erupted over the proposed visit.

It lasted several months and right up to a few days before Rao embarked on the journey. Iran was not the issue, but Teheran’s ties with Islamabad and its role in Kashmir.

A few years ago, this correspondent was severely critical in print of the joint secretary in South Block dealing with Pakistan for several moves by the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

The then foreign secretary told this correspondent at an off-the-record meeting: “Don’t you realise that the joint secretary, on his own, cannot do anything? On Pakistan, whatever he initiates has to wind its way up to the very top.”

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s difficulty is also that traditionally MEA’s Pakistan division, the fountainhead of the decision-making process on Pakistan, has attracted three types of officers to its leadership.

There is one group of Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers who have the courage of conviction on Pakistan and opt for this difficult division because they want to play a part in translating their convictions into policy. There is another group which goes there because a posting in the division immensely helps their career graph. A third lot goes there simply because of its high profile.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh’s choice to succeed the incumbent Vivek Katju — who is heading for Yangon — is an officer who brilliantly ran the division as a mere deputy secretary.

His then boss belonged to the third category: he had opted for the division because of its profile and he spent more time on the golf course than on the hotline to Islamabad or in telling the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi where the lakshman rekha lay in bilateral ties.

The challenge to a political leadership which wants to make peace with Pakistan comes equally from all three categories of officers.

The first group has the strength of their conviction that Kashmir is not the disease that ails Indo-Pakistan relations, that it is only a symptom. They believe that if Kashmir is solved, Islamabad will find something else to needle and bleed India. The second category of officers prefer not to rock the boat on Pakistan lest something went wrong and their actions affected their careers. The third lot neither has the intellectual honesty nor the vision to suggest anything creative. These two categories of officers play safe by just not doing anything.

The end result is the same for all three. The MEA ends up looking as if it is what has popularly come to be perceived as ‘hardline’.

   

 
 
BJP HITS BACK AT ‘HAWK’ MUSHARRAF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
The BJP stepped up its offensive against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and asserted that “Kashmir is an integral part of India and there can be no negotiations that affect this basic position”.

Responding to Musharraf’s stand that the two countries could not go forward if India continued to consider Kashmir its atut ang (integral part), BJP general secretary and spokesperson Maya Singh responded in a signed statement, saying: “There is no disputing the fact that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Parliament had passed an unanimous resolution on the matter and all parties have time and again reaffirmed that Kashmir is non-negotiable and is not a disputed territory.”

The BJP also reacted sharply to Musharraf’s suggestion that there was a division among the “hawks” and the “doves” in the Indian establishment. Senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said: “He has indirectly alleged that home minister L.K. Advani was responsible for scuttling the summit. The whole country and the whole government was one. To try and create a division in the government is a mischievous attempt on his part.’’

He also described Musharraf as the “biggest and the main” hawk of Pakistan.

“He is talking of hawks within India and Pakistan and he has even indirectly named Advani. But I wish to assert that Musharraf is the biggest and main hawk of Pakistan,” Mathur said. The BJP leader rejected Musharraf’s claim that a “war of independence” was being fought in Kashmir and Pakistan had no role to play.

   

 
 
AJIT SINGH TO JOIN CABINET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 21: 
The alliance between the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections has been sealed with the government deciding to induct RLD leader and Baghpat MP Ajit Singh in the Union Cabinet tomorrow. Singh will be sworn in at 6 pm.

Government sources said Singh was expected to be the lone person to be inducted in the Vajpayee Cabinet tomorrow. The decision has for the time being at least closed the chances of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and her arch rival and former colleague Ajit Panja to rejoin the NDA government after losing the West Bengal Assembly elections. Tamil Nadu’s Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which was hoping for a reinduction after parting ways with the ADMK, will also have to wait for another day.

The decision for a limited Cabinet expansion was conveyed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to President K.R. Narayanan when he called on the latter at Rashtrapati Bhavan this evening. Government sources said, in the 45-minute meeting, Vajpayee also briefed the President extensively about the Agra Summit.

Earlier in the day, there was speculation that Vajpayee might go in for a slightly larger expansion and induct BJP MP Karia Munda and a PMK representative. But BJP sources said the plan was shelved because of the uncertainty on whether or not to reinduct the Trinamul Congress. The problem arose for two reasons: Opposition from the BJP’s West Bengal unit with the Central leadership’s covert backing and inability to choose between the Trinamul and Panja. Sources said Vajpayee was still keen on taking back Mamata and, therefore, kept the PMK, too, on hold and deferred a bigger expansion until the end of the monsoon session of Parliament.

The urgency to induct Singh, on the other hand, was dictated by the compulsions in UP where the BJP was keen to shore up its prospects of retaining power by roping in as many new allies as possible while keeping the erstwhile ones together. The alliance with the RLD had hit a rough patch when the BJP’s Jat MLAs from western UP opposed it fearing that some of them may have to relinquish their seats to accommodate Singh’s nominees.

BJP sources said once the Agra Summit was over, Singh conveyed to the Prime Minister that both sides would “gain” politically if the alliance was clinched at the earliest. This is Singh’s third stint at the Centre. He has served as a minister twice — once in the Janata Dal government headed by V.P. Singh and the Congress government headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

   
 

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