Fury greets Ayodhya FIR
Delhi in gift diplomacy
Flock turns gun on Deshmukh
Husain comeback auction
Back in business at B-school carnival
Pervez eyes New York and date with Atal
Calcutta Weather

Lucknow, Oct. 19: 
Pulling itself together two days after the Ayodhya break-in, the Central Reserve Police Force today filed an FIR against guilty VHP leaders but the defiant Sangh outfit warned there would be more such incidents in future.

Accused of laxity, dereliction of duty and ineptitude by the state government, the CRPF responded by filing a case against VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Praveen Togadia, S.C. Dixit and 40 others. The VHP activists have been charged with “obstructing government officials while on public duty’’, a non-cognizable offence.

Tarmeh Singh, deputy commandant of the CRPF’s 76th Battalion at Ayodhya, filed the FIR at the Ramjanmabhoomi police station.

At Friday prayers, senior Muslim clerics denounced the barge-in and the three-hour siege on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site and demanded the immediate arrest of the “terrorists”. Addressing a huge gathering after prayers, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, religious head of the Shias, labelled Singhal a “terrorist and a deshdrohi (traitor)’’.

Protesters came out in large numbers waving posters denouncing the VHP, America and Britain for their role in “terrorising’’ the community. Maintaining that “all’’ kinds of terror should be condemned, Jawwad asserted that what happened in Ayodhya and at the Taj Mahal was also terrorism.

Shia leaders said the “attack’’ was timed before the Assembly elections to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.

Unfazed, the VHP said it would barge into the makeshift temple again if the ban on entry into it was not lifted. At present, devotees are allowed to worship from a distance of 15 metres.

But VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore insisted that the outfit had not violated any court order and blamed security officials manning the site for the break-in.

VHP leaders, including its chief Ashok Singhal, waited for 30 minutes for the officials to arrive and grant them permission to enter the makeshift temple, Kishore said. When nobody turned up and the personnel on duty failed to produce a copy of the Supreme Court order banning entry into the site, “we decided to move closer to the idol”.

Preliminary investigations have blamed both the CRPF and police for the security lapse.

As news of the break-in blew up into a big controversy, the state government quickly washed its hands of the incident and accused the CRPF of “collusion and inefficiency’’. Chief minister Rajnath Singh and principal secretary (home) Naresh Dayal said the “breach’’ occurred because of mishandling by CRPF jawans at the site and that the district administration had nothing to do with it.

Wary of taking on the VHP, which has challenged both the Centre and the state government to take action against it, Dayal even said that it would have to be seen whether the break-in at all constituted an offence.

Pushed on the backfoot, the CRPF filed a detailed FIR and named the “actual offenders”. It said they forced their way into the temple premises and “sneaked into the prohibited area by crossing the barricades”. The FIR added that when confronted by security personnel, the VHP leaders “pushed them’’ and entered the site illegally.


New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
India today announced a slew of measures for reconstruction and rehabilitation in Afghanistan, including a Rs 500-crore credit line for the post-Taliban regime, and offered the US a gift of $1 million worth of medicines to fight anthrax.

With the aid to Afghanistan, Delhi wants to send across the message to the global community that its stake in the country is not less than that of other nations in the neighbourhood and to ensure that it is not kept out of the loop in post-war Kabul. The ciprofloxacin gift-pack to the US is a gesture to emphasise that India continues to be at its side during every crisis.

The move might also be an attempt to circumvent the six-plus-two group on Afghanistan, which includes Pakistan and other countries in the neighbourhood but not India.

New Delhi and some Western nations are keen on an entry into the group, which is expected to play a crucial role in post-conflict Afghanistan. But most present members, including New Delhi’s close ally Russia, are not in favour of expanding it at the moment. This means that India will have to rely totally on its friends in the group to ensure that Pakistan’s designs of sneaking “moderate elements of the Taliban” into the new political structure in Kabul do not succeed.

The other members of the group are the US, China, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. France and the United Kingdom also want to join.

The war in Afghanistan and the possible post-conflict scenario were discussed in detail at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence this evening.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh told reporters later that India has decided to reconstruct the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul. The hospital was popular with Afghans and functioned till 1979. The “Jaipur-foot” programme — giving succour to victims of landmines — was another popular programme that Delhi plans to revive.

On the offer of ciprofloxacin to Washington, Singh said: “Our assistance can help in meeting any possible medicine shortage since a specific antibiotic is needed for anthrax.” The medicine, produced by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, meets the requirements of America’s Food and Drug Authorities.

Singh said the Rs 500-crore credit line is meant to help the post-Taliban regime rebuild the country’s economy. When asked why it was announced even before the new regime was in place, he said the aid is meant “to show our commitment”.

But Jaswant said the one million tonnes of wheat that India had committed to send to the people of Afghanistan could not go through Pakistan as was planned earlier. Instead, the wheat will now be delivered to the UN office in New Delhi and it will be left to them to reach it to the affected Afghans.


Mumbai, Oct. 19: 
Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is under attack, not so much from the Opposition, but from his allies, the flock of eight bickering parties he has managed to keep together for the last two years.

And leading the attack on his government is none other than the Congress, his own party.

As Deshmukh celebrated the second anniversary of his party yesterday, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief Govindrao Adik fired the latest salvo: The left hand (party) doesn’t know what the right hand (government) is doing.

Adik said the Congress generally learnt of government plans “through newspapers”, implying a gaping communication gap between the party and government.

His moaning had, clearly, little impact on the chief minister. Or for that matter on the Congress high command, apparently reluctant to unseat the fighting leaders.

Adik is not the only pain in Deshmukh’s neck; there are several others.

Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, the second biggest party in the coalition, has for some time been breathing down the chief minister’s neck to bail out the beleaguered Enron, the mega power project the Maratha strongman had okayed as chief minister.

Though Deshmukh resisted the pressure to a large extent, the judicial probe into the project that he had ordered on September 19 — despite Pawar’s veiled threat to withdraw support — has not yet got off the ground.

The chief minister, however, said the delay was not unusual because “it takes time to obtain the consent of a judge”. He said the Cabinet had okayed the judicial inquiry.

“What the NCP says at the party level is not my concern. We must distinguish between the party and government,” Deshmukh said.

While Enron remains the main bone of contention between Deshmukh and Pawar, the chief minister’s ambitious go-getting deputy Chhagan Bhujbal from the Nationalist Congress Party, is a constant point of friction.

A cold war has been raging between the leaders over the control of administration, as Bhujbal, also home minister, fortifies his grips over the police.

Questioning the government’s secular credentials is one of Deshmukh’s ministerial colleagues from the Congress, Nazim Khan. Khan castigated the government repeatedly in public for acting slow on the Srikrishna Commission report on the 1992 Mumbai riots.

Little wonder that Deshmukh spent the last two years in office battling not so much the Opposition BJP and Shiv Sena — with 130 MLAs in a house of 288 — as the leaders from his flock. But his troubles are far from over.

“It’s tough running an eight-party coalition and to me, completing two years is an achievement,” said the dapper chief minister, tongue firmly in cheek. “I think I should get full marks.”


New Delhi, Oct. 19: 
The long shadows of the war in Afghan-istan and the attack on the World Trade Center did not darken Christie’s sale of 20th century Indian paintings. True, there was one postponement.

The sale, part of the larger Indian and Southeast Asian Art, was originally scheduled on September 19, but after Black Tuesday, it was deferred by almost a month. Held on October 17, the sale, a Christie’s spokesperson said, did extremely well.

World record auction prices were set for Ram Kumar, S.H. Raza and V.S. Gaitonde, who died very recently. The Raza painting, which reached stratospheric levels, went for $58,750, more than double the estimated price of $20,000-25,000. Called La Terre, the painting is dated 1979 and uses a vigorous abstract expressionist style.

The Untitled, an abstract painting done in soft blues and greys by Gaitonde in 1970, sold for $52,875. This was more than four times the estimated price of $12,000-18,000. The other Gaitonde oil on canvas also went above the estimated price.

Ram Kumar’s oil on canvas dated 1959 also soared. This untitled painting is a rare early figurative work of an artist known for his semi-abstract landscapes, Done largely in tones of grey with touches of umber, it shows two melancholy figures. The painting, estimated at $15,000-20,000, sold at more than double the price, $41,125.

For M.F. Husain, it seemed to be a comeback auction. All 11 Husains on offer, ranging from his early work to the Raj series, sold above the estimated price. A couple of them like the painting of horses with a nude and one from the Raj series notched substantial rises.

Of the seven sculptures, only two were sold. One was a bronze Bull Head by Tyeb Mehta and the other a bronze figure by Somnath Hore. The surprise was an unsold painting by A.R. Chughtai.

At the last New York auction, Akbar Padamsee’s works performed very well. This year, his prices were within the estimated range and the ink drawings did not sell.


Jamshedpur, Oct. 19: 
First the news: Bubble burst of IT leads to renewed interest in biotech companies. FII limit is increased to 60 per cent in pharma, FMCG and core sector companies.

Next the analysis: About 30 investment groups discuss their implication.

More news follows: FDI likely to be all time high this year. Massive rate cut is expected in the coming monetary policy review of RBI in the next season. Industry is expecting rate cut to the tune of 100 basis points.

Decision time: A quick decision is taken on buying or selling scrips. The market closes for the day.

It could well have been a day on Dalal Street. Only, the market is a simulation of the real one and the “investors” are students of premier B-schools of the country.

Welcome to Ensemble 2001, the annual festival of XLRI, Jamshedpur.

The two-day extravaganza kicked off today with students from several top management schools of the country, including IIM, Calcutta, IIM, Bangalore, FMS, XIMB, XISS, NMIMS, ICFAI, gathering on the campus. The ensemble of youth and talent of B-schools was inaugurated not by the country’s finance minister or by a business magnate, but by two mentally-challenged children of School of Hope, Preeti and Mohit.

The attraction of the day was Poonji, a personal finance game where 30 teams with three members each participated.

“This is a simulation of the stock and debt markets,” said Hemang Mehta, senior executive member of Finance Association at XLRI, the brain behind the management game.

“Apart from market fluctuations or debt market prices, participants need to keep in mind tax rebates available and return on mutual funds and PPF in comparison to return on stock prices,” Mehta added. Apart from Poonji, other highlights of the day were Ad Shop by marketing students, debate by human resources people and X-Quiz-IT.

“Ad Shop gives students hands-on experience on the business of advertising. Students are required to work out a detailed strategy that will include creative, and media strategy,” said secretary of XLRI’s external linkages cell Shantanu Singh. However, the biggest controversy of the day was whether to “outsource the function and close the department”.

Inaugurating the festival, marketing professor Sharad Sarin said: “We started in 1979 with a marketing fair. This is the second time when we are organising Ensemble where every department, from marketing and finance to systems, are putting up something or the other.”


Islamabad, Oct. 19: 
The Pakistan foreign office today gave a strong indication of President Pervez Musharraf’s visit next month to New York to address the UN General Assembly and a possible meeting on the sidelines with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said that though no final decision had been made about the President’s visit to the US, the Pakistan mission there had been advised to request for time for Musharraf during the General Assembly debate.

“We have asked our mission there to have a slot in the discussion for Pakistan so that in case of a contingency if a decision is taken, a slot will be available for the President,” Khan said.

Vajpayee is scheduled to speak during the debate on its opening day on November 10. Delhi denied any move for a Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting in New York.

“We know that the Indian Prime Minister will be in New York. The question of a meeting can only become relevant if our President decides to participate in the UN General Assembly discussion. So far, no decision has been taken,” Khan said.

Secretary of state Colin Powell is believed to have made the suggestion to Musharraf when he visited Islamabad earlier this week.

During his South Asia trip, Powell was reported to have emphasised to Musharraf and Vajpayee that the heightening of tension in their relations over the Kashmir dispute needed to be discussed by the two leaders without delay.

Islamabad has been calling for talks but Delhi has said it has no plans now to resume the inconclusive dialogue in Agra.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, had indicated that he had returned from Afghanistan with a “plan” to resolve the crisis. Khan said Pakistan is prepared to listen to a proposal from the Taliban if they have any.

Reports circulating here had suggested that Zaeef had carried back a peace plan proposed by Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

“Surely, if he has any proposal, we are prepared to listen to him. I don’t know the ambassador had reached here but so far he has not contacted us,” Khan said.

The foreign office spokesman said there were no plans yet for former Afghan monarch Zahir Shah to visit Islamabad to discuss his efforts to convene a loya jirga (grand assembly of elders) to secure an end to the 22-year Afghanistan war and to establish peace and a durable government representing all Afghan groups.

The delegation sent to Islamabad about a week ago by Shah is still here and has met Musharraf, foreign minister Abdus Sattar and other officials and some Afghan leaders currently in Pakistan.

It is for the Afghan leadership to decide if and when to convene the grand assembly and on their future national set-up, the spokesman said.

The spokesman declined to respond to questions on the reported arrival of US special ground forces or on any other specific operational issues relating to the attack on the Taliban.

He iterated that Pakistan would like the US anti-terror operation to end as soon as possible, though he recognised that it would depend on how soon the military objective could be reached. Pakistan had no knowledge of this, he added.

The spokesman said there were parameters that were agreed to by Pakistan concerning the US operation. One of these was that no attacks would be initiated into Afghanistan from Pakistani soil and only in exceptional contingencies logistical facilities would be made available.




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