Note sends MLAs back to Contai
Mulayam softens Cong stand
BJP falls back on hot pursuit
Stung Pak blasts Atal
Cabinet clears PM dream scheme
Capital on alert for I-Day
Designers scowl as copycats prowl
Parents held for twin killings
TN in spot over ‘spiritual’ homes
Police draw blank on nun attack

Midnapore, Aug. 8: 
They had come all the way from Contai in Midnapore and were waiting at the gates of Writers’ Buildings at 3 pm to meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. They had an appointment with the chief minister at 4 to discuss the bifurcation of their district.

But a note from their party chief, Mamata Banerjee, changed all that. All four returned to Contai without meeting Bhattacharjee after having travelled over three hours to get to Writers’ in the first place.

The four MLAs — Sisir Adhikari, Jyotirmoy Kar, Akhil Giri and Ardhendu Maiti — started from Contai this morning under the banner of Contai Citizens’ Forum to discuss the proposed bifurcation, prior to Bhattacharjee’s scheduled all-party meeting in Midnapore on August 18.

The party chief’s instructions were that they return forthwith without meeting Bhattacharjee and make adequate preparations for Thursday’s Trinamul meeting at Contai to be addressed jointly by Banerjee and NDA convener George Fernandes.

BSF firing: One person was killed when Border Security Force jawans opened fire on a crowd which had attacked a BSF patrol party with stones and lathis at Mahaldarpara in Raghunathgunj police station area this afternoon.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Under persistent pressure from the CPM, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav seems to have mellowed just a wee bit towards the Congress.

While senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee claimed that Mulayam “has no objections” to informal floor coordination with the main Opposition party, Mulayam said he was ready to support the Congress on common issues.

“If the Congress raised issues which converged with ours, we will support them,” Mulayam said. “Somnathda,” he added, “has talked about it, though the Congress has not raised the matter with the Samajwadi Party.” Senior Samajwadi Party leaders have ruled out formal floor coordination with the Congress, but they are not averse to supporting the party in Parliament.

Chatterjee, along with two of his colleagues — Basudev Acharya and Roopchand Pal — met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior leader Madhavrao Scindia this morning to propose greater consultation and closer coordination among Opposition parties on the floor of the House. “We had a good 20-minute meeting and have identified issues on which we can jointly work,” the CPM MP said.

If all works according to plan, the Opposition would now jointly raise issues at the Business Advisory Committee which decides the agenda in the House. It is now clear that the CPM is keen on whittling down Mulayam’s opposition to the Congress on the floor of the House, even though Chatterjee, who has been at the helm of the Opposition’s initiative, has stressed that there was no question of forming a “front” with the Congress.

What has propelled the CPM into action is the growing realisation that the Opposition is losing initiative and allowing the government breathing space because of its lack of cohesion. Like the CPM, Mulayam believes his party has too many differences with the Congress on economic issues which are a stumbling block in the way of smooth relations.

The real hitch, however, is in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress and the Samajwadi Party are eyeing the same minority votebank. For Mulayam, it is crucial to retain a hold over this support base without which he cannot hope to outflank the BJP in the state. The Congress, badly beaten in the state it had once held in its grip, is struggling to find its feet once again — and, in the bargain, has been driven into competition with Mulayam in wooing the Muslims.

“There is no magic wand that can solve the Opposition’s dilemma,” Chatterjee said. But he was hopeful that a beginning has been made with today’s meeting with Sonia and Mulayam’s acquiescence, though reluctant, to some sort of coordination with the Congress on the floor of Parliament.

That the going would be tough was evident when the Samajwadi Party did not join the Congress and the Left parties when they walked out of the Lok Sabha to protest the Doda killings. “It was unfortunate that the Samajwadi Party did not join us,” Chatterjee said. “Maybe, there was some communication gap.”

It is this kind of “communication gap” that the CPM would like to prevent in the House.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
Embarrassed by the repeated massacres in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP today resurrected L.K. Advani’s pet “pro-active” policy to deal with militants. Immediately after taking over as home minister, Advani, considered a hardliner, had said he would adopt a pro-active policy on Kashmir and stamp out the menace of terrorism.

The BJP demanded “hot pursuit” of the militants to tackle the terror threat in the state, saying it was all the more imperative in the wake of the attack in the Jammu railway station.

“The security forces should be given more powers to enable them to search out and eliminate the terrorists,” party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said, elaborating on the pro-active policy.

Asked if this meant pursuing the militants across the Line of Control to destroy their training camps, he said: “Let the government decide.” This point had raised a storm when Advani was earlier espousing his pro-active policy.

Asked about the stringent measures the government was thinking of to deal with militants, Malhotra said the Centre would formulate them and that Advani has convened a meeting to discuss the matter.

The spokesman added that every nationalist feels Pakistan is waging a proxy war and some decisive steps have to be taken. Even the Opposition has the right to criticise the government and ask questions, he said. Malhotra appreciated the Congress for not stalling proceedings today because, he said, it was very important for the country to send a message to Pakistan that all were united in fighting the proxy war.

“Our army, paramilitary forces and the people of Jammu and Kashmir are living and fighting in difficult circumstances. It is imperative to boost their morale. This is not the time to score political points. We hope everybody will endorse the action plan which Advaniji will unveil before Parliament tomorrow,” he said.

Malhotra said since the Agra summit the militants seem to have been encouraged by Pakistan to step up their activities. It was time for all parties to set aside their differences and jointly fight the menace, he added.

The spokesman denied the Opposition charge that the BJP-led NDA government was saffronising education. “It is totally baseless,” he said and, instead, accused the Leftists of having given a Marxist interpretation of history over the past 50 years.

“There is no example of history being saffronised or given a communal slant,” the BJP leader said.


Islamabad, Aug. 8: 
Pakistan today accused Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of misrepresenting facts and making “intemperate remarks” and an “outrageous claim” about his talks with President Pervez Musharraf last month.

In its second strong statement in as many days to denounce Vajpayee’s announcements about what happened at the Agra summit, the Pakistani foreign office targeted the Prime Minister’s speech in Parliament yesterday where he had said that authorities in Islamabad “will have to wash their hands of cross-border terrorism” for the success of future talks.

The foreign office, in a brief statement issued last night, had accused New Delhi of distorting facts and urged it not to spoil the atmosphere for discussions in the future.

Today’s stinker follows media reports in Pakistan that focused on Vajpayee’s speech.

Rejecting Vajpayee’s charge about cross-border terrorism, a spokesman for the foreign office said it was “an attempt to denigrate the Kashmiri freedom struggle and to draw attention away from the massive violations of human rights of the Kashmiri people by the Indian forces”.

The spokesman disputed the Prime Minister’s remarks that the Agra talks had collapsed because Pakistan wanted the summit to address other issues such as trade and confidence-building measures as well.

Musharraf, the spokesman said, had “emphasised the centrality of the Kashmir dispute...(and) also expressed his readiness to discuss all other outstanding issues as well”.

The spokesman described Vajpayee’s contention that no election had ever been held in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as “an incredible display of lack of knowledge of the situation”. He added that elections have regularly been held in the region and unlike the “fraudulent” polls in Indian Kashmir, the validity of elections there had never been contested.

The foreign office described as “outrageous” Vajpayee’s reported remarks that Musharraf had offered to take back part of Kashmir ceded to China in a 1963 border agreement between Islamabad and Beijing. “The Indian Prime Minister’s outrageous claim is, therefore, a figment of his imagination,” the spokesman said, adding that no such discussion took place “at any stage”.

The spokesman said there were many other elements in the Prime Minister’s statement that “bore no resemblance to reality”. “However, Pakistan did not wish to engage in a diatribe with India,” he added.

Saarc meet

Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer will meet her Pakistani counterpart Inamul Haq in Colombo on Friday on the sidelines of the Saarc meeting. The Colombo meeting of diplomats of the seven-nation Saarc aims to revive the regional grouping, hamstrung by tensions between India and Pakistan.

Iyer said she would discuss bilateral issues with her Pakistani counterpart. “However, this meeting is going to be a short one,” PTI quoted her as saying in Chennai on her way to the Sri Lankan capital.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
The Cabinet has approved Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream road project.

The Rs 34,200-crore Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna will be implemented as a fully Centrally-funded scheme.

Pramod Mahajan, the parliamentary affairs minister, said the requirement of an approval by the full Planning Commission has been waived for this programme which is otherwise mandatory for any Centrally-sponsored scheme.

Under the programme, all unconnected habitations in rural areas with a population of 1,000 and more will be linked by all-weather roads in three years (2000-2003) while those with a population of 500 or more will be covered by the end of the 10th plan (2007). However, in hill states and desert areas, the objective will be to connect populations of 250 and more. Under the programme, 1.40 lakh habitations will be connected by all-weather roads by 2007, Mahajan said.

The total number of habitations in the country are 7.45 lakh, out of which 2.93 lakh are unconnected. The yojana was announced by the Prime Minister on August 15, 2000, and was launched in December.

The Cabinet has authorised the government to raise additional financial resources through borrowings from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to complete the programme by the target date.

Now, most of the funding will come out of a cess imposed on diesel which yields about Rs 2,500 crore a year.

The Cabinet also approved upgradation of existing links that are not all-weather roads at a cost of Rs 24,000 crore.

It cleared three legislations: Tea Districts Immigrant Labour (repealing) Bill, 2001, Inland Waterways Authority India (amendment) Bill, 2001, and National Commission for Safai Karamchari Management Bill, 2001.

Another proposal that received the nod is an exchange of a plot of land of about 9.18 hectares between the navy and the Andaman and Nicobar administration at Campbell Bay.

With the Cabinet giving its approval of an agreement today, India and Yemen can now offer investors in each other’s country the right to free transfer of investments and returns for 10 years.


New Delhi, Aug. 8: 
With just a week to go before Independence Day, the capital has been put on alert. Fearing a spurt in subversive strikes in the run-up to the celebrations, security forces have lined up a series of preventive measures.

The Delhi district police will launch a drive to verify whether tenants residing in south, central and northwest Delhi have any terrorist antecedents. A crackdown is imminent on various guest houses in Karol Bagh, Nizamuddin and Paharganj to trap suspected militants. Border areas of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will be combed in search of possible militant hideouts.

According to intelligence inputs, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al-Badr, Al-Qida, Hizb-ul Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami are the groups most likely to attempt a strike before August 15. They have also sounded an alarm about Sikh militants.

Sources said fidayeen or suicide squads of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba may strike on or before I-Day. The Lashkar had claimed responsibility for the Red Fort raid last year, in which two of its suicide-squad members had attacked securitymen inside the army bastion.

The Lashkar is not only active in Jammu and Kashmir, but has spread its tentacles to Hyderabad, Marathwada and Mumbai. The outfit, with its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, has been in focus for its fidayeen attacks on security forces. Its mercenaries, indoctrinated in madarsas and camps in Pakistan, are mostly salaried men in their twenties. In the event of the death of a jihadi, the family receives a compensation.

The threat from Al-Badr, a small group active in Jammu and Kashmir, is not new. It is the only outfit other than the Lashkar to boast of suicide squads. Al-Badr, which is said to be backed by the ISI, had opposed the Ramzan ceasefire declared by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Jammu and Kashmir.

Also on the list is Al-Qida, headed by Saudi billionaire-turned-militant Osama bin Laden. This outfit is mostly peopled with jihadis from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo. Delhi police had unearthed a plot by Al-Qida men to blow up the US embassy here in June and arrested four persons, including Sudanese national Abdel Raouf Hawas.

Intelligence sources have also warned of a serious threat from Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the largest militant outfit active in Jammu and Kashmir. India says 10 to 20 per cent of the strikes in the country are conducted by them. But Pakistan pegs the percentage at 60. Last week, Hizb men claimed to have planted explosives in high-security areas of Delhi, like North and South Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan.


Mumbai, Aug. 8: 
Not all Indian designers are famed for originality. But they have their imitators as well.

Plagiarism is rampant within the domestic fashion market, grumble designers, and the battle is between individual talent and the trade forces, as stealing and copying of designs are done blatantly by big stores. But at the seminar “Design and the Law” held at the Lakme India Fashion Week here, they were assured that they were well-protected by the Intellectual Property Rights.

It is usual for a designer to chance upon his work draped on a mannequin at a well-known shop and realise it is being mass-produced and sold without any credit or cash going to him, the fashion fraternity claims.

“I was walking down a street in the city when I saw this dress at a shop window. It was obviously copied from my design. At first I felt nice — imitation, after all, is the best form of flattery. But then I was angry because what was I getting out of it?” asked designer Saviojon, whose collection featured on the opening day of the fashion week.

The issue came to the fore about two years ago when ace designer Ritu Kumar, credited with reinventing traditional fabrics and embroidery, took to court Calcutta firms that were copying her work. She got an injunction from the high court in New Delhi against the firms restraining them from reproducing, printing, publishing or distributing any of her “clothes that appeared to be an imitation or substantial reproduction of her designs, sketches, templates, film tracings, screens or fabric designs”.

But more often, the victim is the lesser-known designer, because he is not in a position to fight big firms. Because of the complexities of the market, he also doesn’t know when or by whom exactly his design is being stolen — by his buyer, by the buyer’s buyer or by the store-owner. “I sell my stuff to this person who I know copies it, but what can I do?” asked another designer at the seminar.

Another common form of copying is putting three or four designs together and printing them.

But Chander Lall, a lawyer who has worked on copyright and is one of the forces behind the anti-piracy movement in the film industry, says that the designer has only to be aware of the provisions of the Intellectual Property Right that guards him well against any copier.

Asking designers to register their works, he stressed that they should be aware of their rights for the law is on the side of the author of the design. A conviction under the law can mean paying a fine and imprisonment. He said that there were various ways to pre-empt, or at least have a strong case, against a plagiarist. “It is important for designers to keep records of all their drawings leading to the designs, as these could establish the originality of the work,” he suggested.

Lall said the Fashion Design Council of India, organisers of the fashion week, had an important role to play in preventing plagiarism. An offender should be brought to the notice of the council, which would warn the fashion fraternity against him.


Lucknow, Aug. 8: 
Love kills. Eighteen-year-old Nidhi and 19-year-old Vishal learnt it too late, as their parents hanged them for not heeding their warnings and carrying on with their affair.

The authorities, too, learnt about it too late — after the two young lovers were dead: hanged first, and then burnt. They swung into action a day after the gruesome killing in Muzaffarnagar in the wee hours of Tuesday.

Police arrested Vishal’s father Mahendra Singh, his mother Munesh and Vishal’s brother Sanju and lodged 16 FIRs against others.

Vishal and Nidhi were the sixth couple to be killed in three years at Alinagar in Muzaffarnagar district for inter-caste love affairs.

Though the arrests seemed hardly to make any difference in orthodox Alinagar, the cold-blooded killing has shaken the world outside. The couple’s parents — Nidhi is a Jat and Vishal, a Brahmin — apparently “shamed” by their love affair decided to kill them after a joint deliberation that lasted barely 30 minutes.

Shocked police officials said that while Mahendra Singh and Munesh went to get the rope, Sanju and his wife arranged for the kerosene. The family members even consulted the panchayat which appeared only too willing to egg on the parents.

It did not take too long for Veer Singh, the panchayat head, to say: “Kill them, hang them, make them an example.”

Nidhi and Vishal were soon dragged to the terrace of Mahendra Singh’s house, where they were first hanged and then burnt in full view of a crowd.

Two months ago, a Muslim girl and a Jat boy were beheaded by their parents. Some of the incidents have gone unreported as no one here thinks it is “very wrong”.

Rangnath Mishra, state minister for home, said: “No one was complaining. The police had to file the FIRs themselves. It is shocking the way caste plays such an important and sacrosanct role in the lives of these people.”

“This has to stop and stop now,” said V.K. Maurya, special superintendent of police, Muzaffarnagar. “Time has stopped in these villages and they have closed their eyes to a changing reality, but this time no one will be spared. We will take the strictest possible action against the family members of the victims and the panchayat leaders. There has to be a deterrent.”

Maurya has vowed to hunt down those who have been named in the FIRs. Most of the village is now absconding as a number of them was involved in the murder of Nidhi and Vishal in some way or the other.

Manoj Singh, Muzaffarnagar’s district magistrate, said: “It is surprising these things are happening in Muzaffarnagar. Though the Jats are known to be rigid about caste, they watch TV, read newspapers and drive around in cars. It is time they changed their ancient mindset and stepped into the modern age.”

But insular Muzaffarnagar, it appears, has not stepped into “modern age”. Brijesh Shukla, a local school teacher, said: “Why is everyone pointing fingers at us? Doesn’t it happen among the most educated of Rajputs and Brahmins, even in big cities? Caste is sacred and violators should most definitely be punished.”

Asked if it was okay to kill people like this, he added: “No, no. But when certain rules are violated the head stops thinking. People go mad.”


Chennai, Aug. 8: 
The Tamil Nadu government is yet to receive the notice from the Supreme Court seeking details of the asylum fire at Erwadi that has claimed 27 lives so far but is in a dilemma over imposing a “formal ban” on privately-run homes for the mentally ill near pilgrim centres.

The state has several such pilgrim centres which draw thousands of people who believe that the visit would cure them or their relatives of illness.

However, in the aftermath of the Erawadi tragedy — which has also raised questions about human rights violation since 25 patients who died were tied to their benches for the night — the Ramanathapuram district administration has immediately banned the chaining of inmates at the 15 other asylums in the village.

“You just cannot ask them (the owners) to close shop and go. After all, the inmates are human beings and they must be given time for their relatives to come and pick them up,” said Ramanathapuram DIG Sanjeev Kumar.

District collector S. Vijayakumar held an emergency meeting late last night with representatives of the Erwadi dargah management committee in which it was decided that only those inmates, whose relatives could come and stay with them, would be allowed to remain in the homes and continue with their “spiritual therapy”.

The others will have to be taken back home. There are about 470 inmates in the 15 other asylums at Erwadi.

While the district administration has sent certain other proposals to chief minister Jayalalitha on regularising the functioning of such homes, official sources in Chennai indicated that a larger role for the government was inevitable now.

The Erwadi dargah management committee is keen to run a full-fledged, medically well-equipped rehabilitation centre staffed with psychiatrists. But the government “should be a partner in our endeavour”, says committee member Mursul Ibrahim. On their part, they have proposed to the government to “ban” the other private homes.

Even as psychiatric experts said that only minor cases of schizophrenia and other neurotic disorders could be cured through such “faith healing”, people who throng these homes are largely from the lower middle class and the poorer sections who have unflinching belief in the powers of the almighty.

“It is a vicious social cycle,” said a senior government official. With many families in the lower social strata burdened with increasing cases of mental illness, their relatives have to choose between comparatively low-cost care-homes and plain neglect. The latter accentuated their feeling of guilt and they preferred to send them to such asylums in the hope of a cure,” the official said.

What has complicated the problem for the government is that some asylum owners at Erwadi, such as Peer Mohammed, claim that he has been running his “shelter” for the past 30 years and has been instrumental “in curing several thousands of mentally-ill persons”.

Even the Karunanidhi government had found it difficult to “ban” these homes in the wake of the local people’s resistance to the move.

The issue got further ticklish as the matter got enmeshed with a “religious belief”, which non-believers call “superstition”.

Caught in a Catch-22 situation, a full-fledged mental hospital was proposed at Erwadi under the previous DMKs regime. But it did not take off and the present Jayalalitha government may have to revive it.


Bhopal, Aug. 8: 
Madhya Pradesh police are still clueless about the identity of the four assailants who shot at a 30-year-old nun on Monday afternoon in a village six km from Ujjain.

A large police contingent headed by the district police superintendent and additional SP is combing the district, but has yet to make any arrests.

District collector Bhupal Singh said the administration hopes to make a breakthrough in a day. “The problem is, there is no one who can identify the assailants or the motorbikes on which they came,” Singh said.

“It all happened in less than a minute. It was dark, cloudy and drizzling. Visibility was poor and the nun was standing there alone, guarding the vegetables and grocery which she and another nun had purchased for the week from a market in Ujjain. The four assailants came in two motorbikes, one of them took out a pistol and shot her in the face. Then they sped away. No one was around. Only three village youths who were standing at a distance saw the motorbikes and the youths. They rushed to the nun after hearing her scream for help. But by that time the miscreants were out of sight,” the district collector added.

Even the victim, Sister Leena, has not been able to identify her attackers. “Why did they do this to me? I did not harm them. I don’t even know them,” she had told the police while she was being transferred to a hospital in Indore.

Sister Leena’s lower jaw was shattered. According to the doctors attending on her at Choitram Hospital in Indore, her face has been operated upon successfully and she is recovering. Doctors had previously thought a plastic surgery would be necessary, but now don’t think so.

Father Stanley said on behalf of the Bishop of Ujjain that the Catholic church there was shocked. “We have very cordial relations with the local people here. There is no enmity with anyone and we cannot even remotely suspect anyone for this.... This is the first such incident in Ujjain,” Father Stanley said.

He dismissed the possibility of this being part of a strategy to attack the minority community. “No, we have very good relations with other communities here,” he said.

But other priests do not fully agree with this version. Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Madhya Pradesh Catholics Christian Association, feared the incident may be yet another attack on a Christian Missionary by fundamentalist outfits.

Christian missionaries operating in the western part of Madhya Pradesh bordering Gujarat are repeatedly being attacked, a Catholic priest said.

Some months ago, miscreants demolished a church in Gopalpara in the Jhabua tribal belt. Police have arrested the village panchayat head and two others, but the miscreants are still at large.

Jhabua was again the district where three nuns working in a charitable dispensary were gangraped by 23 tribals in September 1998. Father Joseph alleged that outsiders from neighbouring states were inciting tribals in the western belt of Madhya Pradesh to attack Christian missionaries and destroy their property.


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