BJP dumps Agra on Opposition
Reporter pays for Pervez pique
History hotel, not hope, plays host
Cold shoulder to Sonia tea party
Flood brother for cyclone sister
Delhi in Kashmir facelift
‘Horrendous’ hunger story
Manipur slips back to house burning
Joint-family blast on screen in nuclear age
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BJP DUMPS AGRA ON OPPOSITION 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
As Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee braced to ride the summit storm likely to strike Parliament tomorrow, the BJP dealt a blow from within by claiming that the invitation to Pervez Musharraf was sent on the Opposition’s “insistence”.

Stating this, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra added that “other countries” too played a role in getting the Pakistani leader called to India for talks. The Left parties have been insisting that the US was instrumental in forcing the government to invite Musharraf.

Malhotra said the “Opposition and other countries also wanted talks to be held”. Pressed whether he meant that Vajpayee was forced by the Opposition to call the general, Malhotra asserted: “No, they insisted.”

His remarks could embarrass the government as Vajpayee is expected to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow on why the talks with Musharraf collapsed.

Asked who, the NDA government or the Opposition, was responsible for framing foreign policy, Malhotra said: “Let there be a national consensus (on whether to continue the talks or not).” The Prime Minister should talk to all Opposition parties and then decide, he said, adding: “All want the dialogue to continue.”

Leaving the government open to ridicule that the Opposition was doing the thinking for it, the spokesman said: “The Opposition parties should also come forward and say whether the Prime Minister should accept Musharraf’s invitation (to visit Islamabad).”

Delhi signalled it was not totally breaking away from the talks process by agreeing to keep contact with Pakistan alive on the official level but going slow on Vajpayee’s return visit to Islamabad.

Foreign secretary Chokila Iyer will meet her Pakistani counterpart Inamul Haq on the sidelines of the two-day Saarc meeting in Colombo beginning August 8.

Though reports from Islamabad suggested that Pakistan had sent separate formal invitations to Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, officials here denied receiving any. Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said a final decision on the timing of the visit would be taken only after the invites landed.

Post-summit ties between the neighbours were taken up by US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca — on a “familiarisation visit” to South Asia — at a meeting with Singh.

Rocca put at rest speculation that the US would be happy to mediate between India and Pakistan. She made it clear that there had been no change in Washington’s stated policy on either country. Rocca’s remarks are being seen as assurance from the Bush administration that it will not actively interfere in improving ties between the countries but only occasionally nudge them back to the talks table.

   

 
 
REPORTER PAYS FOR PERVEZ PIQUE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
The question that made President Pervez Musharraf angry at his press conference on Friday cost the reporter his assignment, if not his job.

Masood Malik, the reporter of the Urdu daily, Nawa-e-Waqt, had asked the general why it was that politicians had always succeeded in signing an accord with India while military leaders had failed to do so.

The question had made the general angry — and his irritation was evident — for the only time during the news conference. He shot back: “Is it a question or are you cracking a joke? (Ye koi sawaal hai, ya aap mere saath mazaaq kar rahe hain?)”

Prannoy Roy of STAR News had asked the general a similar question during the breakfast meeting in Agra: Having grabbed power through a coup how could he claim to be a legitimate representative of the people with the authority to sign an agreement with India?

The President, all milk and honey — besides, of course, Kashmir — at the breakfast did not lose his cool, as he did in his home turf of Islamabad, but the steel of the soldier’s bayonet did enter his voice.

Musharraf had claimed — grandly — that he was the one who was introducing true democracy in Pakistan at the grassroots through local-body elections. He had invited Indian editors to see for themselves how much support he enjoyed among the people.

Roy is lucky he is already sitting behind the desk, apart, of course, from the fact that he is not sitting in Islamabad. After what happened to Malik, he may, though, think twice before accepting Musharraf’s invitation to visit Pakistan and measure the “groundswell of support” for the general.

When Malik went back to his office, he found he had been stripped of his reporting assignment and transferred to the editorial desk. For a reporter, being desk-bound is the equivalent of being sent to Siberia.

The daily Dawn, in its metropolitan pages published from Islamabad, reported Malik’s transfer. The government immediately came out with a clarification that it had nothing to do with the decision. “We have not exerted any pressure, nor was the government aware of the change,” an official said.

The newspaper’s management, too, disclosed its version of the event. A clarification issued by it said the question asked by Malik was not in accordance with the policy of the newspaper and that was why he had been transferred to the desk. However, the management said he has not been sacked. Not so far.

Musharraf may not have had anything to do with Malik’s troubles, but he certainly does expect the Pakistani media to be patriotic. At the start of his Islamabad news conference, he thanked the Indian editors he had met over breakfast for being so “open-minded” and the Pakistani media for being “patriotic” in Agra.

   

 
 
HISTORY HOTEL, NOT HOPE, PLAYS HOST 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Lahore, July 23: 
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Ava Gardner. And now the Lahore-Delhi bus. Of the 45 people who board the bus tomorrow at six in the morning for their journey to Delhi, probably none would know the connection.

But the compound of the Faletti’s on Egerton Road, from where the four-days-a-week bus leaves for Delhi, is as historic as the bus diplomacy between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The century-old colonial hotel, now run by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, had hosted Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah on July 14, 1929, when he came to the city as a lawyer to defend one of his clients in the Lahore High Court. A plaque outside room No. 18 records Jinnah’s stay at the hotel.

At one end of the long corridor is the Ava Gardner suite, in which the Hollywood star stayed in 1955 during the shooting of Bhawani Junction.

Gandhi’s room? The man at the reception isn’t quite sure which one it is. Just as he is sceptical of another failed history — the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit at Agra.

If post-Agra pessimism prevails throughout Pakistan, it is particularly so in this city, which witnessed something of a euphoria when Vajpayee rode the first bus to Pakistan since Partition, on February 20, 1999.

True, the Jamat-e-Islami staged a big demonstration the next day outside the Punjab Governor’s house, where Vajpayee, Sharif and Musharraf, then Pakistan army chief, met over dinner, alleging that the bus had come trampling Kashmir. “Not bus rides, but Kashmir is what Pakistan wants India to settle,” the Jamat agitators had shouted.

Kamila Hyat, joint-director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was at the dinner that night. “That was a time of hope breaking through frozen times,” she recalls. “For Lahorites, it was hailed as a dawn of hope of the border barrier giving way to a new dawn of travel and trade across Wagah.” But she is afraid Agra seems to have frozen that hope again, though the bus rolls on.

Not that Lahorites, like Pakistanis elsewhere, are losing sleep over the failure at Agra. Their immediate concern has nothing to do with either Kashmir or India. It’s the local bodies elections of August 2 that is making waves among political activists. More so for supporters of Sharif, whose strongman Khawaja Ahmad Hassan lost the elections for mayor to a government-backed candidate of the dissident faction of his Pakistan Muslim League last month.

If Lahore, the PML fort in Pakistan, falls, Musharraf will consider that victory far more significant for his regime than the failure at Agra.

   

 
 
COLD SHOULDER TO SONIA TEA PARTY 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
Room No. 44, Parliament House, 5 pm: Fresh from her American odyssey, Sonia Gandhi waits for the Left and the Samajwadi Party to turn up for her tea party. None does and she leaves in a huff through the back door.

Room No. 43, Parliament House, 5.30 pm: On the tenth anniversary of his budget that launched India on the path of reforms, Manmohan Singh has for tea his harshest critic: the Left.

Sonia Gandhi has again scalded her fingers in hot tea.

The Left left her out, but had a “full-fledged discussion” with Manmohan over tea in the room next to hers, on the floor coordination strategy in the Rajya Sabha. The Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party also ignored Sonia’s invite. All of them had played a part in denying the right to hold “high office” to Sonia, feted as “Prime Minister-in-waiting” during her recent US trip.

“We did not know the venue and the menu of (Sonia’s) meeting,” said RSP’s Abani Roy, explaining why he and representatives of the CPM, CPI and Forward Bloc skipped Sonia’s tea party. But pressed harder, Roy admitted that “it was due to political reasons”.

Only Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM had tea with Sonia and Madhavrao Scindia at the Congress’ Parliament office, but that was half-an-hour before the official party. “Madhavrao Scindia made a request, and, therefore, I had a cup of tea with Sonia. I did not go as a representative of either the CPM or the People’s Front,” said Chatterjee.

“We will have our own strategy. The problems facing the nation cannot be solved by the Congress and the BJP. The People’s Front is the answer,” the CPM leader said.

But only three months ago, Chatterjee had hummed a different tune. Sources said with the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections inching nearer, Mulayam Singh Yadav had made it clear to the Left that it has to choose between him and the Congress.

Today’s tea party, which was boycotted by all except the IUML, RJD, ADMK and RPI (Prakash Ambedkar), sent shock waves in the Sonia camp. It also created a sharp division within the Opposition.

This will come as a breather to the Vajpayee government, which is likely to come under fire in Parliament for the failed Agra Summit, the UTI fiasco and the Nagaland ceasefire crisis.

Mayavati of the BSP said she had “no time for tea parties” but sent a note to Sonia, regretting that she would not be able to attend. “At least she was consistent in staying away from Sonia and Manmohan’s get-together. But what the Left has done is simply childish, naive and indefensible,” a Congress floor-manager said.

In April 1999, Subramanian Swamy’s tea party, attended by Sonia and Jayalalitha, managed to topple Vajpayee but the Opposition could not form an alternative government.

   

 
 
FLOOD BROTHER FOR CYCLONE SISTER 
 
 
FROM DEBABRATA MOHANTY
 
Kantibanka (Jajpur), July 23: 
A birth in any Oriya family is supposed to bring good tidings. But Mangulia — meaning good omen in Oriya — has not fetched with her good fortune for the Padasham Panda family in Kantibanka village of Jajpur district.

Instead, the village, like hundreds of others in Bari block, remains marooned in neck-deep water since Tuesday, when flood water from the Brahmani river rushed in. There is hardly any food in the Panda household or in hundreds of others in this village, except 3 kg of rice that was distributed by the government six days ago.

An epidemic is about to hit the family, as they drink water from a submerged tubewell near their house. Many in the family are suffering from fever, including an underweight Mangulia, the baby boy of Panda.

As Padasham Panda’s young wife, Jyotsnarani, underwent labour pains last Tuesday, the Panda family was in total panic.

The waters were rising all around, slowly cutting the village off from the rest of the world and rekindling memories of another disaster. During the October supercyclone in 1999, Mangulia’s sister, Mangala, had a premature birth as the howling winds were pummelling the village.

In the absence of a midwife or doctor to cut the umbilical cord. Panda swam through the swirling waters to get a boat to ferry his wife to Sujanpur, but returned in vain as nobody listened to his request. “I carried a midwife on my back to the village as I could not afford to pay Rs 150 for a ride in the boat. He was born after midnight while we kept praying for the waters to recede,” said Panda.

Eight days after he was born, Mangulia has not shown any improvement. Nor has this village in Kimhiria gram panchayat, which still remains cut off.

Despite the best efforts of the Jajpur district administration to provide relief, hundreds have failed to get food as there are very few boats around. The village has also escaped the notice of the IAF pilots, who dropped some food packets in neighbouring areas.

The newborn’s condition is critical as he survives on mother’s milk without medicines. Mangulia’s mother is massaging mustard oil to bring down the fever.

As boats are slowly arriving near Sahaspur, the last roadhead of Bari, relief is taking a little longer to reach the 1.5 lakh affected people of this block. Although relief work is being conducted with utmost seriousness under R. Balakrishnan — the additional relief commissioner of Jajpur — the magnitude of the flood is just too overwhelming. “We are fighting a war. The entire district is floating on a body of water,” says a tired Balakrishnan as he puts together a team of officers.

As government officials and ministers in Bhubaneswar claimed that everybody in Orissa was getting enough relief, Gadadhar Rout of Kantibanka and others in the village were arranging relief for their families and neighbours. They had even hired a boat. Many like Ramakanta Patra and Sarat Chandra Jena swam to reach Sahaspur in the hope of getting official relief, but they returned empty-handed as there were no government boats to ferry materials.

The Brahmani would take a week to recede as more water from the Rengali reservoir is being flushed into the river. At this rate, it might take 10 more days for the water level to drop.

   

 
 
DELHI IN KASHMIR FACELIFT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
Omar Abdullah’s is the Kashmiri face that India wants to sell to the outside world. The decision to make him the minister of state for external affairs is part of the policy to strengthen Delhi’s stand that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country.

“I am looking forward to my new assignment. It is an exciting job,” Abdullah Junior said after being escorted to his new office in South Block by foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and other senior officials this morning.

The new minister is likely find enough opportunity, voluntarily or otherwise, to interact with the outside world, especially in defending India’s policy on Kashmir.

Abdullah, who was a junior minister for commerce, has since early this year been part of the Prime Minister’s delegation to several countries, including the Islamic states of Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia.

On his first day in the new office, Abdullah called on his senior, Jaswant Singh, and was briefed by officials on important issues. It is not yet clear which divisions, apart from passport and Haj, will come his way.

He is likely to play an important part in meeting senior foreign dignitaries and articulating India’s position at multilateral and regional fora whenever Singh is unable to attend.

However, his main help — though it may not be admitted so bluntly by South Block mandarins — will be in strengthening India’s stand on Kashmir. The Abdullah family name is known to many outside India, making it easier for the young minister to be heard when he speaks about what is happening in the strife-torn state and the role Pakistan, and militants backed by it, are playing to foment trouble in Kashmir.

   

 
 
‘HORRENDOUS’ HUNGER STORY 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
In a jolt to the government’s food policy, the Supreme Court today directed the Centre, six state governments and the Food Corporation of India to file sworn affidavits in two weeks on steps taken to distribute foodgrain free of cost to the poor and needy.

A bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal and K.G. Balakrishnan issued the orders on a People’s Union for Civil Liberties PIL contending that “millions go hungry every night while foodgrain is rotting in government godowns throughout the country”.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan ducked queries on the issue. He told this correspondent: “You become the Prime Minister or food minister and distribute the foodgrain.”

The six states under the scanner are Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra. They have been told that the affidavits should detail the steps taken to distribute foodgrain to the “old, infirm and children” and “those who are physically not in a position to work”.

The court also directed the states to re-open in a week all public distribution system shops that had been shut down.

The judges rued that “although the country’s godowns are overflowing with good grains, which reportedly are rotting also”, there were starvation deaths as well as was utter “mismanagement” of the PDS.

“Devise a scheme where no person goes hungry when the granaries are full and lots being wasted due to non-availability of storage space,” the bench said.

Standing up for the states, counsel for Rajasthan said foodgrain was provided to the people under a “food for work” scheme. Besides, 40 kg was given to every family on payment. But the judges demanded to know what the states had done for the “old, infirm and children, physically not in a position to work”.

Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee assured the judges that he would gather details about the public distribution system and accordingly inform court. Asked why the government could not supply free food to the poor — like langar (free meal) in gurdwaras —- he said he would find out if this could be done in the manner of some developed countries.

Petitioners’ counsel Colin Gonsalves and Aparna Bhat said that despite excess stocks in godowns, nothing was being done to implement the Famine Code, leading to starvation deaths.

Conceding that this was a “horrendous state of affairs”, Sorabjee sought time to formulate a mechanism to provide food to the needy.

   

 
 
MANIPUR SLIPS BACK TO HOUSE BURNING 
 
 
FROM OINAM SUNIL
 
Imphal, July 23: 
Manipur continued to reel under violence as protesters torched Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) legislator and former power minister Govindas Konthoujam’s house here this morning. The house of another MSCP legislature wing leader R.K. Dorendra Singh was also attacked last night.

A controversy erupted when the mob raiding Govindas’ house at Sangaipurou allegedly found “medicines’’ used by drug addicts.

While the curfew imposed by the administration was violated by the mob, the 24-hour general strike called by the United Committee, Manipur (UCM) was a resounding success. Streets wore a deserted look.

The UCM, which is spearheading the ongoing agitation against the extension of the Naga ceasefire to the state, is an umbrella forum comprising six organisations.

Over 50 people were injured in last night’s clash between the securitymen and the protesters near the Raj Bhavan. Twenty-three SFI activists were injured when they clashed with the police inside the lock-up this morning.

Altogether 140 activists were arrested by the police yesterday for staging a protest rally in the capital, violating curfew. They were detained at Langol police station without food and “proper shelter.’’

After sleeping in a damp room without food last night, the student activists, including girls, demanded better treatment this morning. The altercation soon degenerated into a scuffle and the SFI activists tried to break open the door of the room in which they were confined. The police locked the door from outside and fired teargas shells from the window. The SFI members, however, managed to break open the door and flee.

BJP leader Dorendra Singh’s house at Moirangkhom was attacked by 30 protesters during last night’s rally. They pelted stones and used catapults, shattering window-panes. The house of CRPF officer Premjit Singh, who had allegedly ordered firing on June 18, was also attacked last night.

Protesters laid siege to Govindas’ house at Sangaipurou last night and razed a godown. This morning the house was attacked once again and the main building torched. Two of Govindas’ relatives, who were staying at the house were hounded out by the protesters before the attack.

When the mob came across “medicines used by drug addicts”, they turned wild and went on a rampage.

State director-general of police A.A. Siddiqui admitted the protesters’ complaint about the recovery of drugs but said the medicines had been destroyed before reporting the matter to the police. He added that whatever could be recovered from the debris have been sent for analysis.

Siddiqui said the people should have reported the matter to the police before the medicines were burnt. He, however, said some relatives of the former power minister reportedly owned a pharmaceutical shop.

The DGP described the situation in Manipur as grim and explosive. He said politicians and government officials have become the targets now. Two CRPF battalions would arrive soon, he added.

Referring to reports of Nagas fleeing Imphal, Siddiqui said, “Spreading an alarm over the issue is unwarranted.” He said it was normal for people to leave a place when there was trouble. “People feel insecure and so they leave. It was the same in Punjab when militancy was at its peak,” he said.

Manipur Governor Ved Marwah will attend the Northeast chief ministers’ meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi on July 27 as the state is now under President’s rule.

   

 
 
JOINT-FAMILY BLAST ON SCREEN IN NUCLEAR AGE 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, July 23: 
Nuclear family is out. Joint family is back in, at least on the small screen.

From STAR to Sony and Zee to Sahara, the cable channels are swamped with “dailies” or daily soaps, charting the travails of joint families, which social scientists say are fast becoming a thing of the past. Even staid Doordarshan is not left behind, with its share of the dailies drawing millions of viewers.

“A joint family is no longer a reality. It’s almost become a dream that we are selling and you know dreams always sell,” said Nirav Vaidya, an executive producer with UTV, one of the largest makers of soaps with the joint family theme.

Though Doordarshan aired Buniyaad, arguably the first joint family saga on television in the late eighties, Sun TV set the modern trend in mid-nineties, UTV creative director Ramesh Balakrishnan, said.

It did not take long for the trend to filter into Mumbai, the country’s entertainment capital, where it has become a formula. For the moment, the formula is working as the channels are cashing in on an unconscious yearning for joint families in the Indian psyche.

The Virani family of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, a big hit on STAR Plus, is now a talk of many real-life families at dining tables.

When Mihir Virani, the dutiful son of the family played by Amar Upadhyay, died a television death a few months ago, scores of heartbroken viewers swamped Balaji Telefilms, the maker of the soap, with letters to bring the dead Mihir back.

So fearful had the channel become of a drop in rating and revenue that the “dead son” made a reappearance in the soap as the scriptwriter struggled to keep the story together. “There is a nostalgia for the fading joint family. Almost every family has fond memories of the days gone by, the days spent together with grandparents, uncles and aunts. Little wonder that this theme is working,” Rekha Nigam, senior vice-president of Sony, said.

Nigam said people could often relate to the theme. “There is a connection somewhere.”

Analysts said the simple storyline in the joint family soaps is also a reason for their success. The dailies do not deal with grave issues, but simple everyday happenings the viewers connect with.

For the production houses like UTV and Balaji Telefilms, these daily soaps make good economic sense, too. They spend less on dailies than “weeklies” or weekly soaps, but earn much more.

The cost of a set to shoot a weekly and a daily is the same, helping a production house save a lot on the daily soaps. The cast in a daily soap charge less because they are assured of continuous work. It is just the reverse while they are working in weeklies.

“The dailies, mostly on joint families, are now the mainstay of production houses. They are extremely profitable, almost five times more than the weeklies,” Manish Popat, UTV’s chief operating officer, said.

Echoed Raj Nayak, head of sales of STAR TV: “These soaps are a win win for everybody — for the production houses as well as for the channels.”

Not everyone is sure how long the joint family formula will work. “I don’t see it happening a year or two from now. People will get fed up of it as well,” said Vaidya, maker of Shagun, rated the number one non-prime time show on STAR Plus. Nigam of Sony Entertainment disagreed. “It may work forever because of more and more problems nuclear families are facing. Who knows?”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.5°C (+1)
Minimum:26.6°C (+1)

Rainfall:

7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 79%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.06 am
Sunset: 6.20 pm
   
 

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