PM, Pervez set up date in US
Ayodhya talks
Mamatva for returning Mamata
Poor marks in Lanka earn London prize
Priya alleges letter cover-up
Murder at jute mill gate
Calcutta Weather

Lucknow, Aug. 26: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today mounted another diplomatic initiative by announcing a meeting with General Pervez Musharraf in New York next month, but was engulfed in a domestic crisis over Kashmir.

Dispelling doubts over a follow-up India-Pakistan summit, Vajpayee said: “I will meet President Musharraf in New York and discuss all issues, including Kashmir”.

The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of a session of the UN General Assembly.

In Islamabad, a government spokesman revealed that Musharraf had sent a formal invitation to Vajpayee. “The invitation was delivered to Vajpayee through the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi on Saturday,” AFP quoted the spokesman as saying.

Although such a meeting had been expected, there was speculation of late — triggered by some frosty comments on either side on interpretations of the chain of events at the Agra summit — whether the New York meeting would come off. Evidence of eagerness was much more pronounced on the Pakistani side while India appeared to be holding out.

While Vajpayee was on a day-trip to his constituency here, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, an NDA partner, threatened to pull out of the coalition. Farooq was angered by comments made by Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani implicitly questioning the fairness of polls so far held in Jammu and Kashmir. Vajpayee said he would talk to the chief minister.

The Prime Minister said the alliance wanted Farooq to stay with it but the decision would have to be the chief minister’s, suggesting that he was not overly worried about the prospect of the National Conference leaving.

He, however, hurried to add that “there has been some misunderstanding’’ over his comment in the Independence Day address that the government would make sure elections are free and fair the next time they are held in the state.

“There have been some complaints over elections in Jammu and Kashmir in the past but this time we have taken adequate steps to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. That is what I had said,’’ Vajpayee clarified.

If the Prime Minister appeared ready to take a step back to assuage Farooq, he made it clear that there would no change in India’s position from what it was at Agra when he meets Musharraf in New York.

Vajpayee said while he was prepared to talk about Kashmir, there were many other issues related to economy and commerce which India and Pakistan could discuss.

The Prime Minister spoke again of India’s concern over terrorism, revealing that he had warned Musharraf at Agra of dangers he could himself face.

“At that time I had expressed fears that if the talks failed, terrorism would get a boost. I had also told Musharraf that the same terrorism will one day put him in trouble.’’

The statement comes in the background of a crackdown by Musharraf on militant groups collecting funds in Pakistan in the name of jehad. Vajpayee welcomed the step.

Despite efforts at the government level to normalise relations, Vajpayee did not believe the time was yet right for the two nations to resume cricketing ties.

Batein to do sarkaron ke beech mein hoti rahti hai, lekin cricket mein bahut gadbad hoti hai, abhi cricket khelne ke liye sahi waqt nahi hai,’’ Vajpayee said.


Lucknow, Aug. 26: 
The Prime Minister today said negotiations were going on to resolve the Ayodhya dispute before the March 12 deadline set by the VHP, which has threatened to start building the Ram temple there.

He said talks to reach a settlement were being held at “many levels, many places. Isme darne ki koi baat nahi hai (there is nothing to be afraid of)’’.

Later, the Prime Minister met leaders of the Shia and Sunni sects separately, sparking speculation that he might have brought up the Ayodhya issue.


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
The Prime Minister has laid out the red carpet for Mamata Banerjee’s return to his coalition by declaring his affection for her on the eve of a meeting which is expected to give the green signal for re-entry.

“I have a lot of mamatva (affection) for Mamata,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in Lucknow.

While Vajpayee confirmed that the NDA would discuss Mamata’s re-entry tomorrow, the Trinamul Congress exuded confidence about the return.

“Unless there is a last-minute hitch, it is more or less certain that the decision accepting Trinamul into the NDA fold will be taken and announced,” said a Trinamul MP in Delhi.

Mamata and her MPs have already been invited to the Prime Minister’s dinner for NDA members on Wednesday. The invitation letters were sent to Mamata’s residence in Delhi this morning.

Sources close to Mamata said she looked relaxed and jovial during the day. She accompanied her aide and party MP, Sudip Bandopadhyay, and his actress-wife and MLA, Nayna, to a friend’s house in Chittaranjan Park. “Didi was very cheerful today and there is not an iota of tension about tomorrow,” a Trinamul leader said. Mamata, however, was not available for comment.

Trinamul, as a matter of policy, is not linking rejoining the NDA and Mamata’s return to the Union Cabinet immediately. The Trinamul leadership feels that the issue will come up once Mamata rejoins the coalition. “We are not thinking in terms of Trinamul being a part of the Union ministry right now. We have kept the two issues separate,” said Nitish Sengupta, Trinamul MP.

Sengupta has also written to the Prime Minister, urging him to reinstate NDA convener George Fernandes in the defence ministry in the wake of the fresh Tehelka revelations. “Now it is evident that George had nothing to do personally with the irregularities exposed by Tehelka. So, he should be given back his portfolio,” Sengupta said.

After the debacle in the Bengal polls, Mamata was increasingly coming under pressure from within her party to return to the NDA.

“At this stage, we feel that the NDA and Trinamul need each other. For Trinamul, there is no alternative other than the NDA. NDA, too, needs Trinamul to make the coalition stronger,” said a party leader.

Sources said Fernandes was keen on Mamata’s re-entry to the Cabinet as it would make the Samata Party’s case for his reinstallation as defence minister easier. But Vajpayee told reporters in Lucknow that Fernandes was not interested in the job till the probe into Tehelka was completed.


Washington, Aug. 26: 
Stumbling from one policy misjudgement to another, the ministry of external affairs is sending out a new message to its officers: incompetence will be rewarded.

Colombo’s livewire diplomatic community, foreign diplomats in New Delhi who cover developments in Sri Lanka and, indeed, members of India’s own elite diplomatic service are aghast that India’s high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Gandhi, is being reassigned to the UK as the country’s envoy.

Gandhi, who has been at the head of the Indian Mission in Colombo for just a year, achieved the near-impossible in such a short time of marginalising India from the island’s volatile developments, crucial to New Delhi.

South Block, therefore, felt compelled to remove Gandhi from Colombo before the tragedy of his stint there turned into disaster. But instead of casting the political appointee into oblivion, he is being rewarded with an equally important reassignment to India House in London.

Gandhi was posted to Colombo in the first place as part of a peace package worked out between 7, Race Course Road and Rashtrapati Bhavan last year to end a hit-and-run battle between the two establishments.

Under this arrangement, Gandhi, who was then the trusted secretary to President K.R. Narayanan, was made high commissioner to Colombo, one of the most prestigious assignments in India’s diplomatic world.

His predecessors in Sri Lanka included J.N. Dixit, India’s most successful foreign secretary in recent years, N.N. Jha, who was the senior-most Indian diplomat when he was sent to Colombo, and Shiv Shankar Menon who, although relatively junior, is considered one of the most promising products of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

Gandhi, who started his career in government in the IAS, had only negligible experience in diplomacy when he was sent to Colombo as a peace offering to Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, as his name suggests, he has excellent pedigree.

Before joining Narayanan’s office, he was head of the Nehru Centre in London and, for a brief while, high commissioner to South Africa.

As in Colombo, Gandhi was pulled out of his job in South Africa prematurely, but then Narayanan had come to the rescue by personally choosing him as his key aide.

In fact, the South Africans, emerging from apartheid and looking Westwards, were fed up with New Delhi’s obsession with Mahatma Gandhi in its bilateral ties with Pretoria. Gandhi’s unpopular predecessor in Pretoria too was a Gandhian, L.C. Jain.

During Gandhi’s stay in Colombo, India surrendered its primary role in Sri Lanka as South Asia’s most powerful state and opened the doors to even small countries like Norway to play a pivotal role in the island’s developments.

Although the US last year acknowledged Sri Lanka as part of India’s sphere of influence, New Delhi has been unable to cash in on this, thanks largely to the absence of an imaginative and dynamic leadership at its Mission in Colombo.

N. Dayal, Gandhi’s predecessor in Colombo once removed, for instance, had an equation with the Sri Lankan leadership which most diplomats can only dream of.

It was part of the diplomatic folklore in Colombo in his time that President Chandrika Kumaratunga used to wake up Dayal from sleep well past midnight to discuss issues of state and politics which troubled her, issues which did not strictly fall within the confines of diplomacy.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, once remarked during a visit to Delhi that Dayal could at once be Indian envoy to Colombo and Sri Lankan high commissioner to India. Gandhi’s contacts with the Sri Lanka leadership, in sharp contrast, have been few and far between. Probably because of his pacifist and Gandhian views, Sri Lankan leaders have been uncomfortable discussing the island’s bloody conflict with Gandhi in terms of realpolitik. The result has been a virtual collapse of channels between South Block and offices which matter in Colombo. To make matters worse, Gandhi’s successor-to-be in Colombo, Nirupam Sen, has a history of diplomatic adventurism in Sri Lanka.

On an earlier posting in Colombo, Sen had established unauthorised contacts with Sri Lanka’s violent Marxist outfit, the Jana Vimukti Peramuna. Pulled up by his then boss, Sen had curiously argued that this was his personal initiative and not that of the Indian high commission.


New Delhi, Aug. 26: 
The “forged” letter controversy took a new turn today with Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi insisting that Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad had written to the Prime Minister’s principal adviser, Brajesh Mishra, on disinvestment in Air-India but was now being forced to disown the letter.

Das Munshi had caused a flutter in the Lok Sabha on Thursday when, during a debate, he produced a letter purportedly sent by Prasad to Mishra, objecting to Air-India’s disinvestment on the ground that it was not transparent.

In his reply to the debate, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie debunked the charge and announced that the CBI would probe allegations that the document was forged. He said he had spoken to Prasad who told him he had not written any such letter. The CBI registered a case of forgery on Friday and is set to quiz Munshi in a day or two. The Opposition leader said he would not reveal the source of the letter to the investigating agency.

Munshi, who is the Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, told The Telegraph that the letter was genuine and the allegation of forgery was a ploy to “divert attention and suppress the basic issue”.

He added that the Cabinet secretary appears to have come under pressure to deny that he wrote the letter. Munshi said the letter was now a property of the House and he would meet Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi tomorrow to discuss the matter.

“I am not afraid of the CBI. No such efforts can stop me from performing my duty to the people,” Munshi said.

The Congress chief whip said he had raised two issues in the House — foreign exchange violations, based on an Enforcement Directorate report, and the “unholy nexus” between global advisers and the Tata group. The disinvestment minister, he said, did not address these issues and instead tried to shift the focus on whether the letter was genuine.

The BJP had on Friday compared the incident to the St Kitts case in which documents were forged to implicate the son of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh. Blasting Das Munshi for producing a “forged” letter in the Lok Sabha, party spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said: “It is time the Congress maintained some decorum. Whenever they have no alternative, they indulge in bringing out such documents in Parliament.”

Opposing the CBI probe, the Congress and the CPM had said a House committee should probe the veracity of the letter. There were also suggestions that the matter be referred to the Privileges Committee.

Sources said Das Munshi is likely to make a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha tomorrow to put the government in the dock. The Speaker is also expected to announce his decision on whether the letter will be referred to the House panel.

Referring to the speed with which Shourie assured a CBI probe, Das Munshi said: “I notice the speed.”


Calcutta, Aug. 26: 
Congress worker Sheikh Rashid was shot dead by unidentified persons in front of the gate of Birla jute mill this morning in Birlapur in South 24-Parganas, about 30 km from here.

Around 6 am, when Sheikh was on his way to the mill, where he was employed, was stopped a few yards away from the gate by unidentified persons. They then pumped bullets into his forehead and chest from close-range.

As the news of the killing spread, shopkeepers downed shutters and buses went off the roads. Police have launched a hunt for the killers. RAF jawans are patrolling the area.




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