Rifle triggers terror fears
Kidnap charge on MLA son
Under-siege Sinha enjoys Atal trust
‘Understanding’ Singh soft on successor
Ally double-trouble for Left
Panel to scan UTI
Panel on dope in sports
Shekhar ashram loses 500-acre gift
BJP trumpets Agra ‘failure’
If only one had looked down and other up

 
 
RIFLE TRIGGERS TERROR FEARS 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, July 24: 
The arrest of five suspected militants and the seizure of an AK-56 rifle from a rebel hideout in the Darjeeling foothills last evening has raised fears of increased subversive activities in the sensitive Siliguri corridor.

Acting on a tip-off, a police team raided the hideout deep in the jungles bordering New Chungta tea garden near Sukhna and trapped five persons and recovered an AK-56 rifle and three other weapons. But five other suspected militants escaped.

Darjeeling additional superintendent of police Ajoy Kumar said the seizure of such a sophisticated weapon clearly pointed to a “strong link” between the group and an organised insurgent outfit. “This is possibly the first time that an AK-56 assault rifle has been seized from suspected militants in the state. We do not rule out the involvement of a hardcore militant group,” he said.

The five have been identified as Pradeep Gurung (19), Gopal Sharma (18), Andrew Thirky (20), Suresh Nagasia (19) and Md Sannaulla (25). Kumar said they were residents in the area but added they were “investigating Gurung’s credentials”. Gurung, a resident of Khaprail, had spent some time in Dulianjan, Assam, and had returned recently.

The five were today produced before the court of the Siliguri subdivisional judicial magistrate and remanded in police custody.

The police officer also did not rule out the involvement of the militant Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) and other northeastern insurgent groups. “We are looking into possible GLO involvement,” he said. “The arrests are a matter of concern because of intelligence reports that insurgent groups backed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are planning to carry out subversive activities in the region.”

An intelligence official who interrogated the five said the recovery of the assault rifle hinted at a deeper conspiracy. “It’s only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It’s possible that the youths could be conduits for cross-border arms dealers. We suspect that hardcore militant organisations are closely involved. The arrested are part of a bigger gang being used by ISI-funded groups in the region and we do not rule out these forces stockpiling arms here.”

Trader robbed

A trader was robbed of Rs 1.2 lakh in the busy Khalpara area of Siliguri this morning. Police said two motorcycle-borne men snatched the bag containing the money from the businessman, owner of a private firm, Pawan and Sons, while he was on his way to the local bank.

   

 
 
KIDNAP CHARGE ON MLA SON 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, July 24: 
The son of the CPM MLA from Debra has been charged with kidnapping a girl. A criminal case was filed against Sandal Karim, son of Jahangir Karim, on Sunday.

Aparajita, a Geography (Honours) student at Ranigunj College, came to her village in Midnapore with her father, Amiya Mukherjee, on July 18. Mukherjee had retired from Eastern Coalfields Limited last week.

Sandal, who has known Aprajita since her school days and lives in a neighbouring village, offered to take her to the Debra employment exchange on his bicycle to get her name registered.

Since then, Aparajita, Sandal and Habib Rahman, a relative of Sandal’s who accompanied them, have been missing.

On inquiry, Aparajita’s father found that her name had not been registered in the Debra employment exchange.

“Her mother has fallen sick and stopped eating since the day Aparajita has been missing. She has taken a lot of money and jewellery with her. I have full faith in the police. But I wonder why they are taking so much time to get my daughter back,” an anxious Mukherjee said.

The officer in charge of Debra police station, Sushil Chakraborty, was confident Aparajita would be rescued soon.

Sandal’s father could not be contacted. But he reportedly told circle inspector Kashed Ali that he was ignorant about the matter.

Coming out in support of the Debra MLA, Midnapore CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar said: “This is unfortunate and is bound to tarnish the image of the party. However, the MLA can’t be blamed for his son’s misdeeds.”

But a local CPM leader said: “The allegation is serious and we want it to be probed.”

   

 
 
UNDER-SIEGE SINHA ENJOYS ATAL TRUST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Amid growing demands for the finance minister’s resignation over the UTI scandal, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been forced to come out in support of Yashwant Sinha.

Vajpayee told a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party today that Sinha would stay. There is “no justification in the Opposition’s demand for the finance minister’s resignation nor any need for it”.

The baying for Sinha’s scalp began today in the Rajya Sabha when the Opposition charged the government with having used UTI funds to artificially prop up a sagging stock market for “obvious political mileage”.

On July 2, UTI stunned investors across the country when it froze sales and repurchase of units issued by its flagship fund — US 64 — triggering a chain of events that led to the eventual arrest of former chairman P.S. Subramanyam and two executive directors.

There are strong voices in the BJP itself that want Sinha to step down. The Prime Minister asked Sinha to address their concerns at an evening meeting of BJP legislators that went on for nearly two hours.

Sinha had a rough time in the Rajya Sabha. Former finance minister Manmohan Singh led the attack during a short discussion on UTI, terming the mutual fund’s current fiasco as “the great betrayal” of the Indian middle class.

Singh’s Congress colleague, Kapil Sibal, alleged that for the finance minister and the BJP-led government “it had been politically expedient to use the UTI to prop up the market”, and it had found a convenient scapegoat in Subramanyam.

Pointing to a number of dubious deals, including the purchase of shares and other financial instruments of companies whose ratings were below investment grade or who had been declared defaulters by the RBI, Sibal claimed that these had been done on political considerations and to promote crony capitalism.

Stocks such as Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd and Zee Telefilms, which were favoured by big bull Ketan Parekh, had been bought by UTI at grossly high prices that had no relation to their real underlying value. Such decisions could not have been taken without the connivance of the top echelons of the government. “They were benefiting the rich by robbing the poor,” he added.

CPM leader Nilotpal Basu said major industrial houses seemed to have not only been aware of the crisis but also of the mutual fund’s decision to freeze trading in US-64, evident from the large-scale corporate redemptions in May.

Sinha, however, told party MPs that the proportions of corporate and individuals redemptions were the same this year as in the past: 58 and 42 per cent.

Nilotpal Basu rubbished the government’s contention that it could not take steps to stem the rot in UTI as it was an independent fund by pointing out that the UTI Act allowed it to supersede the board and appoint one of its choice.

Hinting at a politician-industrialist-broker nexus that took UTI investors for a ride, Basu also underlined the dubious manner in which the government used UTI to bail out bankrupt Calcutta-based brokers.

At the evening meeting, after answering a range of questions from BJP legislators, Sinha sought to put a gloss on the political impact of the government’s response.

He said the government had taken “immediate action” by asking the UTI chairman to step down and by ordering a CBI probe. “There were so many scams during Manmohan Singh’s tenure but nothing was done,” he said.

   

 
 
‘UNDERSTANDING’ SINGH SOFT ON SUCCESSOR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
As finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government, Manmohan Singh had spent most of his time in Parliament battling brickbats from the Opposition. As one financial scam after another unfolded, the Opposition swooped on the man and demanded his resignation in one voice.

Today it was Singh’s turn to seek the resignation of another beleaguered finance minister —- Yashwant Sinha, the man the Opposition was pummelling for not being able to stall the US-64 crash. But Singh skirted a resignation demand and instead expressed his “deep anguish” over the collapse of UTI. “I understand your position,” he told Sinha.

“It is obligatory for the finance ministry to keep a close watch on UTI,” said Singh during a discussion on US-64 in the Rajya Sabha. He blamed the finance minister for his lack of vigilance, rapped him for ignoring the monthly report UTI has to make to the government, but stopped short of demanding his resignation.

The touch of irony was not lost on the House when Singh began listing the scams the Vajpayee government have on its hands. He himself, as finance minister, had had to contend with a much longer list —- from the explosive Harshad Mehta case to the revelations of urea and sugar scams. The Left and the BJP had then screamed for the finance minister’s head and jammed both Houses for weeks together.

Even as political equations have somersaulted, the Left is where it was five years ago. If then finance minister Manmohan Singh was in their direct line of fire, today it was Sinha. Singh clearly ducked a demand for Sinha’s resignation, his colleagues raised it in an indirect way while the Left laid it squarely on the table.

“The finance minister must step down till the US-64 issues are clear,” said CPM’s Nilotpal Basu. Santosh Bagrodia of the Congress took a far more circuitous route. He spoke about Sinha’s “moral responsibility” and reminded the House of Lal Bahadur Shastri who had quit following a railway accident as had Madhavrao Scindia after a “minor” crash at Delhi airport.

“You require the highest traditions of Congress morality to take such a step,” said Bagrodia. His statement triggered sniggers and laughter in the House as BJP members jibed at the Congress for claiming to “set high moral standards”. Singh, however, did not make any tall claims about Congress’ morality. He was more academic than “political”.

Ten years ago, this day, he had presented the Union budget, opening up the economy and taking the country to a new economic threshold.

The Narasimha Rao era was littered with corruption scandals and financial bunglings as the country stepped gingerly into a new economic domain.

Following in the footsteps of that government, the Vajpayee administration is moving rapidly from one scam to another.

   

 
 
ALLY DOUBLE-TROUBLE FOR LEFT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The Left parties are caught between the “two pivots of secularism” —- the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. One is the main Opposition party and the other a key player against the BJP in the Hindi heartland.

The Left’s dilemma is clear. It wants to keep on the right side of Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav keeping in mind the forthcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh. But it also wants to snuggle up to the Congress when it sniffs a change of guard at the Centre. “We will have to walk a tightrope —- it should not be difficult,” said a CPM leader.

“We will have to adopt different strategies with different Opposition parties,” said a CPM politburo member.

As of now, all strategies seem be getting tied in knots but the Left is optimistic of clearing a path. Yesterday, the CPM stayed away from Sonia Gandhi’s tea party because Mulayam had virtually given it an ultimatum to choose between him and the Congress. Today senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee shifted ground, saying: “We are having a dialogue with the Congress on co-ordination. After all it is a major party. There are, however, some Opposition parties which have reservations about talking to the Congress.”

But yesterday’s turn of events —- the CPM leadership in the Lok Sabha shunned Sonia’s tea party even as its Rajya Sabha members trooped in for former finance minister Manmohan Singh’s —- signals hard days ahead.

The Left’s strategy entails keeping a balance between the Congress and the Samajwadi —- an equation that snapped when the question of supporting a Sonia-led government at the Centre cropped up. But the CPM is not giving up and will continue to be in step with both Sonia and Mulayam.

If the Uttar Pradesh polls puts the Samajwadi on the threshold of power, Mulayam will flex more muscles and the Congress will have to swallow some of its pride. The People’s Front, as a non-NDA, non-Congress political entity, has none of the glory of the United Front. At its core are the Left and the Samajwadi but there are other Opposition parties hovering on the periphery.

Front leaders met in Parliament this morning to decide the issues they were going to focus on in the monsoon session. Apart from the Left, leaders of the Samajwadi, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the ADMK and the Nationalist Congress Party attended. Neither the RJD nor the ADMK are members of the Front but they are keeping their options open.

The confusion among Opposition parties and the inability of the Congress and the Samajwadi to get along suits the Vajpayee government. As long as the rift continues, the Opposition will keep chasing the magic number that can unseat the NDA government.

   

 
 
PANEL TO SCAN UTI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The joint parliamentary committee on the recent stock market scam will probe the UTI’s role in precipitating it by scooping up the infamous K-10 stocks, market plays of bull operator Ketan Parekh. The committee members may well use the opportunity to nail finance minister Yashwant Sinha with hard evidence of political interference in UTI’s decision-making.

The JPC, which will meet later this week, will also ask the CBI to present its findings on UTI’s market transactions. “We may call the arrested UTI chief, too, to understand what had happened,” a JPC office-bearer said. The committee has noted that UTI played a major role in the bull run which created the stock market bubble. Therefore, it feels the probe is justified.

However, Opposition MPs on the committee said they would use the occasion to widen the ambit of the probe to determine who ordered UTI to play in the high-priced, low real-value K-10 stocks. The idea is to probe and expose political links in the mutual fund’s decision-making process. “The finance ministry will find it hard to duck responsibility for the purchase decisions,” an MP said. The “dubious” investments include the purchase of 32 lakh Zee Telefilms shares at a time when its price was swinging wildly. The shares, bought at an average of Rs 490 a scrip, are now ruling at Rs 70 a share.

   

 
 
PANEL ON DOPE IN SPORTS 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Delhi High Court today took a serious note of the “mixing of drugs and sports” and ordered the formation of a committee to look into allegations of sportspersons using drugs.

A division bench of high court Chief Justice Arijit Passayat and Justice D.K. Jain ordered the committee during a resumed hearing of a public interest litigation by the Health Fitness Trust run by former international athlete Sunita Godara.

The court said the committee would function under the secretary of the Union ministry of sports, and the Centre, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Indian Olympic Association would “sit together” to work out a joint strategy.

The court laid down several guidelines for the proposed panel and ordered that a dope test conducted on any sportsperson should be kept “confidential” and the report submitted to the respective sports federations for follow-up.

The minutes of the committee meetings should be placed before the court and the panel would evolve a method to ensure that no sportsperson takes any prohibited drug.

The committee would also examine whether the existing system of dope tests should continue or be upgraded. The court said the government, SAI and the Olympic association should provide facilities for regular tests as per international standards.

Latching on to the confidential clause, the Olympic association today pointed out that a section of the media had published “names of sportspersons” who had tested negative. The court took exception and observed that the media should refrain from publishing any name as long as the matter was sub-judice.

SC boost for Mulayam

The Supreme Court today upheld the election of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav from the Sambalpur constituency.

A three-judge bench of Justices S.P. Bharucha, Y.K. Sabharwal and Brijesh Kumar dismissed an election petition filed by independent candidate Dharampal Yadav, backed by the BJP, on the ground that it did not provide “material to support electoral malpractices” against Mulayam.

   

 
 
SHEKHAR ASHRAM LOSES 500-ACRE GIFT 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The Supreme Court today ordered Haryana to take over 500 acres gifted to the Bhondsi Ashram of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar on the ground that the plot was being misused.

The division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice R.P. Sethi gave a week to the Haryana government to execute the order and asked it to file a report by July 31.

The ruling came on a public interest litigation from advocate B.L. Wadhera, contending that the ashram illegally possessed hundreds of acres of land, including 500 acres of forest area. This apart, Wadhera said, the ashram has encroached on a 10-acre land belonging to the BSF.

The apex court also directed the Haryana officials to report “how many trees existed on the land with a further warning not to cut any tree”.

Chandra Shekhar had set up a charitable trust in 1983 called Bharat Yatra Kendra after his padayatra from Kanyakumari to Delhi’s Rajghat that year.

The village panchayat of Bhondsi, where the capital’s high and mighty, including the Nehru-Gandhi family, have farm-houses, had gifted the 500 acres of land to the trust. Bhondsi is located in Haryana but is just a short drive away from New Delhi.

The PIL was strengthened by the Centre’s argument that the acquisition of the land by the ashram was illegal.

Additional solicitor-general Kirit Raval told the court that a Central team headed by joint secretary (home) Rakesh Ahooja had found the transfer of the 500 acres of forest land “illegal”.

The apex court said it would consider the legality of possession of other tracts of land as well.

Giving details of several gifted lands, Wadhera said two tracts of forest land, measuring 271 kanals and 151 kanals, were approved by the Haryana government for establishing a dispensary and a college and polytechnic.

The petitioner alleged that no dispensary was constructed on the gifted land. However, a dispensary was built in the village by the trust, that too from the Rs 6 lakh it received from the state government as the chief minister’s relief fund, he said.

Wadhera also contended that “the boundary wall built by the trust around all 600 acres of the forest land under its illegal possession needs to be demolished for ensuring easy access to the forest land by villagers for their normal activities of cattle grazing, lifting dry leaves and dry twigs from the ground for their hearth”.

Chandra Shekhar later told PTI the trust was never in possession of the land. He welcomed the court order and expressed hope that the Haryana government would take over the land and ensure adequate protection to the plantation.

He said the trust itself had suggested to the court that the state government should take possession of the land to protect the trees as they were being neglected and felled by villagers.

He said the gram panchayat had given the land to the trust to carry out plantation. The trust had planted trees on 300 acres and laid a road for transport of water.

   

 
 
BJP TRUMPETS AGRA ‘FAILURE’ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The BJP today said the “biggest achievement” of the Agra summit was that it “failed”.

Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra made this observation in the Lok Sabha while trying to counter Opposition criticism that the talks were characterised by utter confusion and had flopped.

Minutes before Malhotra spoke, Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia had launched a blistering attack on the government — Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in particular — for the summit failure.

Scindia demanded that Vajpayee come clean on what “understanding” he had reached with President Pervez Musharraf. Future dialogue should be held only after building a consensus within and outside the government, he added.

Taking a potshot at Vajpayee’s penchant for poetry, Scindia said “poetry and sentiments” could not be a substitute for hardnosed diplomacy, which Pakistan has mastered to a great extent.

“We are in the 21st century. Sound diplomacy must be backed by sound communication and media strategy,” he said, adding that Musharraf had used it to the hilt. Scindia urged Vajpayee not to shy away from the media, saying: “Prime Minister, this unilateral chastity will not do.”

Referring to Sushma Swaraj’s controversial TV appearance at Agra, he said: “We hardly got a glimpse of the heroic duo (Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh) but the heroine (Swaraj) made an appearance.”

The Congress leader asked why the information and broadcasting minister was allowed to speak, fuelling speculation that the Cabinet was divided over the summit agenda. Musharraf’s effusive praise of Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh reinforced that impression, he said.

Justifying the failure of the summit, BJP spokesman Malhotra said: “For the first time, Pakistan understood that India cannot be browbeaten.” Vajpayee should be congratulated for not capitulating to the dictates of Pakistan, he added.

Scindia, who spoke for 45 minutes, charged the government with holding talks with Pakistan in an amateurish manner sans any preparation and media strategy.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, who initiated the debate, also accused the government of rushing into the summit without preparation.

The Opposition leaders asked the government to take utmost care and prepare a structured agenda before going ahead with any future dialogue with Pakistan, on the basis of the “lessons” learnt from the Agra experience.

   

 
 
IF ONLY ONE HAD LOOKED DOWN AND OTHER UP 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Had the Prime Minister’s men taken a good hard look at the General’s body language and given him effective communication tips, the Agra summit would probably not have ended up in a labyrinth.

Neuro-linguistic programme (NLP) experts say a proper study of Pervez Musharraf’s body language would have helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee communicate with him better and ensured a more positive end to the show.

According to them, the spoken word makes for only 7 per cent of what people want to convey to others. As much as 93 per cent of effective communication is non-verbal.

Going by this, it was evident from the sitting postures of Vajpayee and Musharraf that they were not “vibing” well, says NLP expert Shantosh Babu, adding that if two persons hit it off, each unconsciously tends to emulate the way the other is sitting.

“If that does not happen, the two people are mentally at loggerheads,” he says. Babu specialises in Training Alternatives and holds workshops on persuasion, team-building and stress management for McKinsey, Nestle, Infosys and LG Electronics.

Babu feels the body language of the two leaders clearly showed there was little room for rapport between them as they belonged to “non-vibing” categories. While Musharraf was the “visual” type, Vajpayee was “kinetic”, he said.

“All of us love to get persuaded if the guy has a rapport with you. You feel connected if you like the person,” he says.

NLP categorises people into three types: visual, auditory and kinetic. In each person, one of these elements is dominant.

“Auditory” people attach a lot of importance to words and can be identified by the way they look while talking to people. Invariably, they look sideways. They are very careful while speaking and understand people by listening.

Those who look up while communicating are the “visual” type. Musharraf belongs to this category, Babu says. Such people tend to speak fast and straight because they have the ability to visualise the situation or idea they want to communicate.

The third class of people who look down while speaking belong to the “kinetic” category. “The kinetic type is slow, (their) words come out like molasses and they break eye contact. When a kinetic person (Vajpayee) displays these characteristics, a visual person (Musharraf) gets put off. Slow eye movement indicates slow pace of thinking,” says Babu.

The Prime Minister could have tried to communicate differently with Musharraf had his spin doctors identified the President as a “visual” person, Babu says. Documentaries and photographs could have been used, and communication methods made more “visual”. This would have motivated Musharraf better, and put him in a more relaxed frame of mind.

“When a visual guy sees something appealing, he buys it. A kinetic person will go for something only if he or she feels it. (If he has to) buy a car, (he) has to sit in and feel the steering wheel. The auditory type will listen to the salesman, consult his friends before making up his mind,” Babu says.

According to him, the failure to come up with a joint declaration was primarily the failure of semantics. Disagreement on words like “cross-border terror” and whether Kashmir was the “core” issue did the summit in.

In such a situation, an effective NLP practitioner would have played the “agreeing without agreeing” mind game, Babu says. “That is, not agreeing with the content but with the emotion.”

Babu offers another tip to negotiators: “Never use the word ‘why’ while negotiating. ‘Why’ instantly puts the other person in the defensive. He will then come up with 101 reasons to justify.”

Western countries, including the US, use NLP to a large extent for effective communication. It is also used by the CIA.

   
 

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