Suicide attackers strike home
Stalwarts all, but none to shield Sonia
Early lead for Khaleda group
Marandi scoffs at risk
Protests stall Karnataka biotech park
Patel loyalists put party on backfoot
NDA lines up birthday blitz
Dr Thakur readies Bihar pep pill
Left TV discovers right-sizing virtues
Calcutta Weather

Srinagar, Oct. 1: 

Militants flaunt Pakistani hand in Assembly car-bomb blast

Militants singled out the seat of power in Kashmir for their worst strike since the aerial attacks on the US, killing 23 people in a suicide bomb explosion and in the gunbattle that followed.

Guerrillas of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad drove up in a hijacked explosives-packed Tata Sumo to the main gate of the Assembly in Jehangir Chowk and triggered the blast, police said. At least 17 people died in the explosion. The House was in session but had broken for lunch during the attack that took place around 2.00 pm.

After the strike — not as spectacularly audacious as the New York and Washington attacks but equally chilling in its message that terrorists can hit at will — Jaish unleashed a missile at Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Owning responsibility for the incident, it said the suicide-bomber was a Pakistani, handing New Delhi a weapon to fire at Islamabad.

In a statement late tonight, India said its “patience is fast running out”. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said: “The killing… indicates that it was a pre-planned conspiracy. But this is a symbol of their (militants’) frustration as they know terrorism does not have a future.”

Pakistan condemned the attack.

As the Jaish militants headed for the heavily-guarded Assembly this afternoon minutes after traffic restrictions were withdrawn, two guerrillas in police uniform jumped out of the speeding white Sumo. The vehicle, like the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, was hijacked half-an-hour before the attack. The vehicle belonged to the telecom department.

After their third colleague blew himself up at the gates, the duo sneaked into the building. They opened fire from automatic weapons and hurled grenades. A trapped Assembly employee, Abdul Ahad, said: “I saw two militants coming towards the main Assembly building firing from automatic weapons in all directions… I and the others took shelter in a room. But in the exchange of fire, some of my colleagues died.”

The police said at least 70 people were wounded in the blast, that left dozens, including civilian bystanders, Assembly employees and policemen, sprawled in pools of blood. Witnesses said explosions and gunfire were heard after the attack.

Speaker Abdul Ahad Vakil, who was inside, was rescued by special commandos.

A Jaish spokesman phoned newspaper offices and said: “One of our suicide bombers, Wajahat Hussain, drove up to the Assembly building gate and blew himself up. (A) Number of our mujahideen have sneaked into the Assembly building and the fight continues.”

Armoured vehicles were moved in and the area was cordoned off as gunfire was traded between the holed-up militants and security forces. The BSF, the CRPF and police launched a joint operation to evacuate those trapped inside.

The gunbattle ended around 11 pm. The police said the militants were dead and Assembly employees stuck in the building freed.

Earlier, security forces rained shells on the complex to smoke out the militants. The Assembly caught fire and part of it was gutted. “There is a danger the fire may spread to the old civil secretariat complex. Our vehicles are fighting the fire,” said the duty officer at the fire headquarters.

A nationwide alert has been sounded and security beefed up at airports after Jaish threatened to hijack a plane from India in two days.

A senior officer at Calcutta airport said the police force “was on its toes” and “on the highest alert to thwart such designs”.


New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
Who will take Madhavrao Scindia’s place in the Lok Sabha and double as Sonia Gandhi’s shield in the House? Still in shock, no one in the Congress is willing to hazard a guess now.

As Sonia’s deputy in the Lok Sabha, Scindia, a nine-term parliamentarian, used to deflect with tact the spotlight on the first-timer’s inexperience and perceived shortcomings.

He was also Sonia’s link with other Opposition leaders for floor coordination, business advisory meetings and the frontline speaker on almost all issues. Scindia had also used his charm and persuasion skills several times to win over treasury benches and extract small concessions.

On paper, the Congress has many “stalwarts” in the Lok Sabha. There is a former chief ministers’ club boasting such names like K. Karunakaran, N. Janardhana Reddy, S. Bangarappa, N.D. Tiwari, S.C. Shukla and M.O.H. Farooqui.

Then comes the long list of former Union ministers like C.K. Jaffer Sharief, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, S. Jaipal Reddy, Pawan Ghatwar, Sontosh Mohan Deb, Margaret Alva, Kamal Nath, Satish Sharma, Shivraj Patil and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

But Sonia has a difficult task in hunting “talent” in the Lok Sabha. Going by parliamentary performance, barring Munshi, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Jaipal, many of the “stalwarts” have seldom spoken in the House. Munshi and Deb will have a limitation in winning over or coordinating with the Left parties due to political compulsions in Bengal and Tripura. Aiyar is perceived to be “too junior”.

In picking Scindia’s successor, Sonia will also be guided by an unwritten norm of regional balance. If the criterion is applied, Tiwari would be edged out as he hails from Sonia’s electoral state of Uttar Pradesh. From western India, Nath, Shukla and Shivraj Patil are contenders but selecting any one of them would rake up a controversy.

Nath is AICC general secretary and if he is to be appointed deputy leader, the issue of “one-man-one-post” would come into question. The norm has been bitterly debated in the Congress with the party reluctantly agreeing to make an exception for Sonia, who heads both the parliamentary and organisational wings of the party. Shukla’s candidature would be opposed by both Ajit Jogi and Digvijay Singh, while Shivraj Patil is hardly a leader to take on Sharad Pawar in his home state of Maharashtra.

From the south, there are no strong contenders as Karunakaran has not been keeping good health and Janardhana Reddy and Bangarappa are yet to speak on major policy matters. Jaipal is new in the Congress and as chief spokesman of the party, he would come under the one-man, one-post norm. Alva and Sharief have also failed to make their mark in the House.

Faced with a grim scenario inside Parliament, Congress leaders are drawing some solace that the winter session is 50 days away.

In the next 50 days, Sonia will have to select a leader who would not only lead the party from the front but protect her from the combined offensive of treasury and Opposition benches. It is an open secret that Opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party have little or scant regard for the leader of the Opposition.


Dhaka, Oct. 1: 
The fledgling parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh got another boost today as over 70 per cent of the 75 million voters took part in the elections which passed off by and large peacefully.

At 2.30 am, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party alliance led by Khaleda Zia, who is not keen on renewing the Friendship Treaty with India, was leading in 64 of the 299 seats that went to polls, according to agency reports.

The Awami League of Sheikh Hasina, who headed the last government, was ahead in 31 seats. Two political activists were killed during polling.


Ranchi, Oct. 1: 
As the government finalised plans on buying a new aircraft for the chief minister, Babulal Marandi made light of yesterday’s helicopter mishap that could have cost the Prime Minister’s scientific adviser, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, his life.

The chief minister ordered an “inquiry” by the director-general of police into the “crash” of the helicopter carrying the country’s missile man in Bokaro but brushed aside suggestions that the chopper was “risky”.

“I know it is risky. But even I travel in the same helicopter,” Marandi told reporters when reminded that the scientific adviser was not supposed to fly in a single-engine helicopter and that the VIP must have been made to board a twin-engine aircraft.

Kalam and Jharkhand minister Samresh Singh had a narrow escape when the Pawan Hans helicopter dropped to the ground from a height of “five to 10 metres” last afternoon, a few hours after the plane carrying Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia crashed near Kanpur.

Civil aviation officials said it was only a “miracle” that there was no casualty in the helicopter “crash”. The director-general of civil aviation has started investigations into the technical aspects of the incident while the Prime Minister’s Office is learnt to have taken serious note of the fact that a single-engine chopper was made available to Kalam.

In Ranchi, however, government officials appeared unfazed. “What we have at our disposal, we made available to Dr Kalam. We could not have given anything which we do not have,” state Cabinet secretary Narendra Bhagat said.

The state government has an agreement with Pawan Hans to provide it choppers. A Bell-407 helicopter was given by the company for Kalam’s Bokaro visit.

The civil aviation department conducts a thorough inspection of all technical aspects of an aircraft before an important dignitary boards it. But Ranchi airport sources said this was not done in Kalam’s case. The airport controller sought to explain the lapse. “Pawan Hans is authorised by the DGCA for carrying out the technical examination of the aircraft,” airport in-charge G.S. Kalsi said.

The government, meanwhile, has decided to go in for an outright purchase of a twin-engine aircraft, a twin-engine helicopter and a motorised glider to help the chief minister discharge his official duties.

According to a plan paper drawn up by the transport ministry, the purchase is likely to cost the government a whopping Rs 85 crore.


Bangalore, Oct. 1: 
Karnataka has put on hold the development of a biotech park on the campus of the University of Agricultural Science here.

The government’s plan to develop the park, which will house multinational biotech companies in a sprawling campus, has stirred a row with students, teaching staff and Opposition parties dissenting the decision. Violence broke out on Thursday in the campus and over a dozen students and several teachers were injured in the police lathicharge that followed.

“The government will wait for the university board meeting’s outcome on October 3 and take a decision accordingly,” said officials in the state information technology department, which is promoting the park.

IT minister B.K. Chandrashekhar, however, was allegedly kept in the dark on the “hastening of processes” for setting up the park. He also expressed shock to the chief minister on the way the police handled the situation.

Officials in the chief minister’s secretariat said a decision on its location would depend on the emergency board meeting called by the vice-chancellor.


New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said a decision on replacing or retaining Keshubhai Patel as Gujarat chief minister is likely to be taken tonight, though it may not be formally announced.

Vajpayee, however, refused to speak his mind while talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Asked if Patel would be asked to step down, he said: “Discussions are on and a decision either way will be taken tonight.”

The Prime Minister stonewalled persistent queries with a stock reply: “There is nothing as of now.” Asked if a successor had been chosen – following rumours triggered by a news channel which reported that Patel had put in his papers and BJP general secretary Narendra Modi would be anointed chief minister — Vajpayee said: “Nothing is decided.”

Apparently, much of the indecision arose after Patel decided to stay put in the capital and fight it out tooth and nail to retain his job even as the BJP top brass began long consultations with Gujarat ministers and party leaders.

BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi and his predecessor, Kushabhau Thakre — the unofficial interface between the party and the government — individually met the 19 leaders who were summoned from Gandhinagar to solicit their views. The 19 included nine senior ministers and 10 important functionaries.

BJP sources said the top brass undertook the exercise because they did not want to risk another rebellion like the one Shankersinh Vaghela instigated five years ago, which resulted in a vertical split in the party.

The high command, sources said, was unsettled by the show of solidarity in Patel’s leadership. As many as 40 of the 117 BJP legislators — mainly Patels from the Saurashtra region to which the chief minister belongs — faxed a message to Krishnamurthi, affirming support to Patel.

They insisted they would also have to be consulted before a decision was taken. BJP sources admitted this statement prompted the rethink. “We cannot afford to have a revolt in Gujarat. The person who is chosen as Patel’s successor would have to be a person who can take all the legislators along,” the sources said.

Doubts were voiced over Modi’s chances as he is allegedly identified with the anti-Patel lobby, although he was once a close associate of the chief minister.

Central minister Kashiram Rana was also reportedly out of the race for this reason. Another Union minister, Vallabhbhai Kathiria — who had briefly emerged as a frontrunner because he is also a Patel – also seems to be out of the reckoning.

Sources said the leadership thought it “too risky” to ask him to vacate his Lok Sabha seat and fight an Assembly election six months down the line, given the BJP’s dwindling prospects in Gujarat.

They said state tourism minister Suresh Mehta or the Assembly Speaker, Dhirubhai Shah, may emerge as the consensus candidates. Mehta, who served a brief tenure as chief minister in 1995 after Patel stepped down, is camping in Delhi.


New Delhi, Oct.1: 
Bruised by scams, mortified by starvation deaths, and roiled by the flopped Agra summit, the Vajpayee government will complete two years in office on October 13. Now, in a bid to whitewash the failures, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is planning a publicity blitz to highlight the “achievements”.

Each ministry has been asked to compile its achievements and officials are working overtime to finish the task on time. A meeting of press information officers was convened today to discuss the project. Officials of 35 ministries attended the meeting.

For Vajpayee’s spin-doctors, the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have come as welcome diversion. Not just the Opposition, the whole country is glued to the television images of what is happening in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad. Nobody is talking about the domestic bunglings.

The Unit Trust scam, which dominated the monsoon session, has been forgotten. Even the Joint Parliamentary Committee, set up to probe the securities scam, has become a farce with less than a dozen MPs out of the 40 attending the meetings.

A confident government now plans to celebrate the second anniversary in style. The press officials were told to collect material concerning their departments which could be highlighted as achievements. A few days ago, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj wrote to each minister seeking cooperation in the public-relations exercise.

The Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity has been asked to publish a volume of achievements of all ministries, especially those dealing with the social sector, for distribution among mediapersons and the public. Booklets highlighting the achievements of each ministry will be printed separately in Hindi, English and regional languages for distribution.

The booklets would also contain information about various welfare schemes, indicating eligibility criteria and sample forms or applications that need to be filled in.

In his Independence Day address, Vajpayee had outlined a number of schemes for the common man. But most of them still remain on paper.


New Delhi, Oct. 1: 
Union health minister C.P. Thakur is on a “mission” to cleanse Bihar — at least its medical world to give doctors in the state respite from continued extortions and abductions.

Thakur has lined up appointments with the President, the Prime Minister and the home minister on Wednesday. He wants to petition each of them to put an end to the “lawlessness” in the state.

For the Union minister, it is not just a job he is doing as health minister. “He is a practising doctor — well known in Patna — and feels deeply for his fraternity in Bihar,” says a ministry official. In the last seven days there has been a spree of abduction of doctors — all with the intention of extorting money.

When he goes to meet the Prime Minister, Thakur will have with him a 10-member team of doctors from Bihar who would narrate their experiences.

Later in the week, the health minister will travel to Muzaffarpur to put together a report on incidents of violence against doctors. “He wants to put it up before the Prime Minister and the home minister,” a health ministry official said.

Extortions and abductions are not new in Bihar, but the health minister seems determined to make a difference, at least for medical professionals.

He gave enough indication that he was going to take up the matter of doctors’ harassment last week when he casually suggested to the finance minister to exempt them from paying income tax. They are already coughing up extortion money, Thakur told Yashwant Sinha, who also comes from Bihar.

For a change, a Cabinet minister is trying to steer the Prime Minister’s attention to an issue other than political brinkmanship.

In the past, the BJP and the Samata Party together had tried to get the Rabri Devi government dismissed by demanding President’s rule.

But not many among Laloo Prasad Yadav’s adversaries were focused on issues like health and education. They were busy fighting for their political turf in the state.

Thakur believes that Bihar, despite its steady slide, can regain its “lost prestige”, though he does not have too many answers on how to make the system work. The minister believes the public health care system in Bihar has gone to seed.

“We will have to motivate doctors,” he said while releasing the National Health Policy document.

He also wants to shake up the Rabri Devi government to ensure a safe environment for doctors.

But, as one of his colleagues said, it’s a “tough job”.


Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 1: 
Is Kerala’s CPM becoming an advocate of industrial downsizing and labour retrenchment, which are so much a part of the policies of globalisation and liberalisation that it so vociferously opposes at the national and international level?

The answer is in the affirmative if one is to go by the statements of the Kerala CPM leadership, including state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

Speaking to reporters Vijayan said: “There is nothing wrong in an unprofitable business organisation retrenching some of its workers to lessen its loss.”

The statement came in response to a question pertaining to the recent action of the management of the Kairali television channel, backed by the CPM, which dismissed 20 of its workers including senior members of the staff, four days ago.

Those dismissed included the heads of the programming and production departments and also the chief news editor. The channel also shut down news bureaus in Palakkad and Kollam.

The initial explanation of the management was the services of those employees were being done away with as they had “successfully completed the tasks entrusted to them”.

However, this justification did not have many takers and the dismissal evoked a sharp reaction throughout the state. Unions of journalists and media workers as well as trade unions strongly criticised the action.

The CPM leadership’s new explanation about the right of loss making business organisations to retrench its staff surfaced in this context.

The channel is one year old and according to the balance sheet has made a loss of Rs 8 crore. Obviously, the stance of the CPM leadership is bound to generate some debate in Kerala’s political circles. Already, some leaders of the Left trade unions such as the AITUC have criticised the position.

According to T.J. Anjalose, leader of the AITUC and CPI, the Kairali management’s step is bound to impede the nationwide struggle launched by the Left parties and trade unions against the policies of globalisation and liberalisation.

Anjalose is a former CPM member of the Lok Sabha, who was expelled two years ago. He later joined the CPI.

Journalist unions have pointed out that mass retrenchment is an unprecedented action in Kerala’s media industry. They are of the view that this step from a CPM organisation would legitimise such actions from other capitalist media organisations in the future.




Maximum: 30.3°C (-2)
Minimum: 23.4°C (-3)


19.9 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 81%


Light to moderate rain. accompanied by thunder, in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.31 am
Sunset: 5.21 pm

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