Open ballot plan to chain cross-voters
Delhi stirs out of Salem diplomatic slumber
Bush to dine with Pervez
Anthrax alert to small pox drill
Bollywood’s Salem relief diminishes
BJP breaks office-bearer precedent
Paswan basks in ‘future-PM’ glory
Tamil fishermen protest shark harvest ban
US army unit eyes Pak nuke arsenal: Report
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
The Cabinet today approved a proposal to replace secret ballot with an open-voting system in elections to the Rajya Sabha, saying the change would help check “cross-voting” and the play of “money power”.

Another proposal was cleared to allow candidates to contest from states where they are not registered as voters. At present, those contesting elections to the Upper House must be a voter of the state from which he is seeking election.

The Representation of People’s Act of 1951 has to be amended for the proposals to come into force. The government is planning to bring a Bill in the winter session beginning November 19 for the amendment.

Law minister Arun Jaitley, who is among those elected from outside their domicile states, said the open-voting system was meant to curb the “large-scale use of money and cross-voting”.

He added that most parties had expressed the desire for the changes at an all-party meeting convened by the Election Commission in April.

The political class by and large welcomed both the changes today, though the government consulted none before the Cabinet meeting.

However, only the Left chose to issue an official response. “The proposal for open ballot is a welcome move because of the menace of money power and cross-voting but we are not happy with the other proposal,” the CPM general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, said.

The Congress spokesman, S. Jaipal Reddy, was non-committal. “Both are amendments that we need to consider in depth and we can neither accept nor reject them,” he said.

However, in private, members of the Congress as well as the BJP heaved a sigh of relief as cross-voting by dissidents has often taken both the parties by surprise. The domicile voter provision has also given parties legal headaches.

The Congress has not yet forgotten how Sharad Pawar worked to get Sonia Gandhi’s nominee R.D. Pradhan trounced in Maharashtra.

The party’s senior leaders, like Manmohan Singh, have found the legality of their elections challenged on the ground that they were not domiciles of the states that sent them to the Upper House.

Singh, for instance, is domiciled in Delhi but is a Rajya Sabha member from faraway Assam. The paradox is shared by several other politicians, including leading luminaries of the BJP-led government.

Asked if the open-ballot mechanism goes against the democratic principle of secret voting, official sources cited a Supreme Court ruling of 1980.

Hearing a case in which a candidate alleged that the ballot papers were tampered with after some members were put behind bars on the eve of voting, the court said a “transparent” mechanism would take care of such irregularities.

The sources said the government believed that the open-voting system would bring in transparency and prevent prospective cross-voters from openly defying the party line.

The Cabinet also extended the term of the National Commission for Constitution Review up to February 28, 2002. It was to have expired on December 31.

“The national commission has already made certain proposals public but some more time is required,” Jaitley said.

Reacting to the extension, Congress spokesman Reddy said: “This entire exercise is futile because the commission has been boycotted by all the parties.”


Oct. 29: 
Displaying some signs of activity after a week of silence, the Vajpayee government today appeared to move on the detention of gangster Abu Salem in Sharjah.

The Indian consul-general in Dubai, Asoke Mukerji, met Sharjah police chief Saleh al Mutawwa today, calling into question reports here that Salem had been released and permitted to fly to Pakistan. If Salem has been allowed to walk away, there is little reason for the Indian diplomat to visit the police chief.

Sources said Salem will be released by this weekend, possibly on Friday. Salem has been detained, along with a small-time actress from Mumbai, in a Sharjah hotel. If he is still there, India wants to politely put the pressure on the UAE, with which an extradition treaty was signed last year, for his return.

Mukerji visited Mutawwa ostensibly to bid farewell before he departs on his new diplomatic assignment shortly. But the issue of Salem’s detention came up and the Sharjah police chief told the diplomat that India had showed neither evidence nor made out a case for arresting him, the sources said.

In Delhi, the government sought to counter allegations that it had made no attempt to get Salem extradited, lacing its side of the story with an ill-concealed criticism of the way the UAE has handled the episode. Critics at home were told that the home ministry was not inactive and that the case for the mobster’s extradition to India is water-tight.

A statement issued by the CBI late this evening said documents in support of his extradition had been submitted to the UAE. “All formalities required for his extradition to India have been met since 1997.”

It said the documents, elaborating the evidence against Salem in the cases he is wanted, included fingerprints. The statement raises the question why then Mumbai police were saying they had been asked by the CBI to provide fingerprints, apparently at the request of UAE authorities.

But the CBI still refuses to confirm that Salem had been detained. “The CBI received some unconfirmed reports on October 22 about the likely detention of Abu Salem Abdul Qayoom Ansari, the wanted criminal in several heinous crimes,” the statement said.

Immediately on learning about the reports, the agency contacted the UAE authorities asking for a confirmation. “The concerned UAE authorities denied having either detained or arrested him, a position which they have maintained till date,’’ it added.

In private, senior Indian officials say Salem was detained but the case for keeping him in detention fell through on the grounds that his fingerprints were not provided for identification.

Indian officials are livid with what they call the UAE’s non-cooperation. “It’s a question of political will. If a country wants to help, it does so even without an extradition treaty,” an official said.


Washington, Oct. 29: 
George W. Bush has not quite invited Pakistan’s dictator Pervez Musharraf to the White House next month, but the US President will more than make up for it by hosting a private dinner for the general when both are in New York for the UN General Assembly on November 10.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who confirmed a meeting of the two leaders in New York, did not refer to the gesture of a presidential dinner.

But Pakistani sources in New York, who are drawing up Musharraf’s itinerary, said it would be the highlight of his stay in the Big Apple.

Pakistan is peeved at the US administration’s unusual gesture in inviting Vajpayee, a UN General Assembly guest, to Washington. It is understood to have extracted a commitment from the White House that a formal invitation for Musharraf to go to Washington at a later date would be announced by Bush at a joint news conference after the November 10 dinner.

Musharraf was undecided about attending the General Assembly this year after the September 11 attacks forced its postponement. But in another boost to the ego of the sought-after anti-terrorism coalition partner, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan phoned Musharraf and urged him to address the General Assembly, according to Pakistani sources in New York.

There will be three occasions on November 10 for Bush and Musharraf to rub shoulders. Both men will attend the traditional lunch by Annan for heads of delegations to the General Assembly and a reception for heads of state and governments, also hosted by the secretary-general.

Vajpayee will also attend both events. The third event will be the dinner by Bush for Musharraf.


New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
Anthrax terror is dredging up the ghost of small pox, the deadly disease that India managed to get rid of nearly two decades ago.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur today announced that the government would soon begin a “drill” with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to prevent any recurrence of small pox, an agent of bio-terrorism.

“Drill” is a technical word used to describe the whole process beginning with diagnosing the small pox virus to manufacturing its antidote.

“The WHO has about 90 million doses in store. We will now begin a drill with the organisation,” Thakur said at a workshop with state officials, scientists and experts on bio-terrorism.

So far there have been 137 cases of suspected anthrax — all of them proved a hoax. The latest case from Bhatinda, confirmed by the army laboratory there as anthrax positive, is awaiting a final reply from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

“We will only get to know by tomorrow evening,” the health minister said.

Despite the rampant fake cases, the health ministry is not taking any chances. “The threat of bio-terrorism against India is real and not imaginary. Small pox heads the list of its agents — accompanied by anthrax and plague,” Thakur said. He, however, ruled out reopening cases of plague in the early nineties in Surat.

Thakur made it clear that India should be on full alert till the war against terrorism is over. “And I do not see any signs of this war being over soon,” he added.

As doctors have long been out of practice in diagnosing and treating small pox, the government now wants to initiate an exercise that will revive the medical expertise needed to deal with the disease. “We will most probably get the seed of small pox from the WHO,” Thakur said.

One of the main points he emphasised on was upgrading of laboratories — at least one in every state medical college — to keep India technologically up to date. “The states will have to work out a mechanism. But we can also help them out,” the minister said.


Mumbai, Oct. 29: 
With little possibility of gangster Abu Salem being brought to India for justice, hope has fast faded into despair in Bollywood, now bracing itself for a renewed attack by the extortionist.

“It’s very depressing. Everyone in the industry felt relieved with his arrest. No one had thought he would get off so easily,” said a director, who, like most in the industry, did not want to be named.

So deep is the fear of Salem in the industry, that few are willing to talk about his detention in Sharjah. But those who did expressed dismay at India’s failure to bring him over.

“Though no one would tell you anything for fear of reprisals, you knew they were all relieved at the gangster’s arrest,” said Kamal Nahata of Film Information, who keeps track of Bollywood happenings

The industry is blaming both the Union and Maharashtra governments for mishandling the situation. Salem is wanted in at least 20 murders and scores of extortion and kidnapping cases, several of them linked to the film world.

He is one of the main accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts and in the murder of music baron Gulshan Kumar in 1998.

“The Maharashtra government should not have announced his detention in a hurry in the first place. At the same time, the Centre should have made an all-out effort to get the gangster extradited, but the attempt appeared half-hearted,” a producer said.

It is not at all clear if any effort at extradition has been made at all.

Salem has virtually kept the industry under his thumb since 1995, dictating to producers and bagging overseas distribution rights of blockbusters.

The gangster is dreaded so much that his phone calls made reputed directors offer lead roles to rookie actors and actresses, sources said.

They added that on Salem’s order, a starlet, detained with him in Sharjah, was offered a key role opposite Sunjay Dutt in the David Dhawan film Jodi No. 1.

The same starlet was included in Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat, said to be also at the behest of Salem. The film was directed by Rajiv Rai, who survived a 1997 attempt on his life by Salem hitmen for refusing to give in to his extortion demands.

“You had to do what he said or faced his wrath,” said a source.

Ajit Dewani, secretary to actress Manisha Koirala, was shot dead last June for not agreeing to the gangster’s demands.

Many fear the government’s failure to have Salem extradited would embolden him further.

“The state has never looked so powerless. Naturally, the film industry feels most vulnerable today, with nobody to protect it from the gangsters who get arrested and then let off,” filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Salem has been released from detention in a Sharjah hotel.

Bollywood bigwigs see themselves as “victims” of the crossfire they are caught in.


New Delhi, Oct. 29: 
The BJP today broke with tradition, appointing four new office-bearers none of whom is a member of the national executive.

The party constitution is silent on whether only national executive members are eligible to become office-bearers. But a senior functionary said: “An office-bearer by definition means he should execute work. So it is a matter of propriety and norm that he or she should be a national executive member before being given any responsibility.”

It is now being said that the new appointees would be co-opted in the executive when it meets in Amritsar this week-end.

The four persons nominated by BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi were Devendra Pradhan, as a vice-president; Sanjay Joshi, as a general secretary; Mansukhbhai Vasava, as secretary; and Sukumar Nambiar, as treasurer. While Pradhan, Joshi and Vasava are special invitees to the national executive by virtue of being MPs or state office-bearers, Nambiar is not even that.

Sources said the “oversight” was more pronounced as Krishnamurthi himself had headed a special committee to recommend amendments to the BJP constitution not very long ago and was, therefore, expected to be familiar with the accepted practices.

The raison d’être behind the nominations was apparently both political and personal. Pradhan has virtually swapped places with Karia Munda, who was a vice-president until his recent induction into the Cabinet. In that round, Pradhan — who was minister of state for agriculture — was dropped. As Munda was a tribal from Jharkhand, it was felt that he had to be replaced by another, though Pradhan is from Orissa.

Joshi, who is tipped to get the all-important responsibility of overseeing the organisation, made it to the post by virtue of being one of the handful of RSS pracharaks (whole-timers) the BJP is left with after the exit of K.N. Govindacharya and Narendra Modi. Joshi, who belongs to Gujarat, was reportedly close to former chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Gujarat BJP sources said the duo ran the state like their “private fiefdom”.

With Modi in the saddle, the leadership deemed it “politically wise” to shift him to the Centre as, like Patel, he too is reportedly not on the best terms with the chief minister.

Like Joshi, Vasava, a former president of the BJP’s SC\ST wing, is from Gujarat. His appointment has made many wonder whether the state has been “over-represented” in Krishnamurthi’s team with an eye on the Assembly elections.

But it was the nomination of Nambiar that seems to have caught most members off-guard. Many partymen recalled neither his name nor his face.


Lucknow, Oct. 29: 
Ram Vilas Paswan was today projected as future Prime Minister at the rally of a Dalit sub-caste in what could be a ploy to dent the vote bank of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh polls.

A grateful Paswan assured the Passis that he would see to it that a separate “Passi regiment” is set up in the army.

The Union minister of coal and mines listed a number of measures that he took for bettering the lot of Scheduled Castes. He said his Dalit Sena, which has presence in 5.5 lakh villages, has grown into a strong, cadre-based outfit on the lines of the RSS and was ready for action at short notice.

Exhorting the Passis like a New-age guru, Paswan said amid cheers that in this age of competition they should build up self-confidence. “Have high ambitions. Think high. You need not spend anything to think high,” he said.

Paswan played on Mahatma Gandhi’s “simple living and high thinking” theory with his mantra: “High thinking and high living. Wear good clothes.”

Dropping hints that he played a major role in getting K.R. Narayanan elected as the President, Paswan said nobody had ever thought a Dalit could occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The minister said former President R. Venkataraman (a Brahmin) had refused to meet him when he sought an audience along with 106 SC/ST MPs. The delegation should not comprise more than 11 members, the then President had insisted.

“That day, I took a pledge never to step into Rashtrapati Bhavan till a Dalit is made the President,” he claimed.

Speaker after speaker referred to BJP leader Uma Bharti’s recent remarks that Paswan will be Prime Minister one day and predicted that those days were not far off.

Thirteen ministers from the Rajnath Singh government and several MLAs from Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party were in attendance at the Passi Sammelan held at Bijli Quila (Bangla Bazar) overlooking a statue of Maharaja Bijli Passi.

There are about 1.22 crore Passis in the state and Paswan and the National Democratic Alliance are keen to wean them away from the BSP and the Congress. The Passis are predominant in eastern Uttar Pradesh while the Chamars dominate the west.

Going by the size and response of the crowd at the rally today, the BSP may have to sit up and take note.

It was left to local Passi leaders and Jana Shakti leaders from Delhi and Bihar to project Paswan as Prime Minister material. The Dalit leader refrained from showing any such ambition.

Pankaj Passi, a community leader, said: “Bijli was only the raja of a province in Uttar Pradesh but Paswan will be Prime Minister of the country. Do not sit idle till he unfurls the national flag at Red Fort on August 15.”

“We will all work towards installing Paswan as Prime Minister,” state minister Ram Prahlad Ranvanshi said.

Ramachandra Paswan, a Lok Sabha MP and brother of Ram Vilas, said regional satraps were getting scared of his brother’s growing stature and even Bharti and the Congress leaders have seen the potential in him. “The day may not be far off when even Mayavati will have to sing this theme,” he bragged.

Jana Shakti vice-president Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said: “From Uma Bharti to Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha Priya Ranjan Das Munshi have all said Paswan will be Prime Minister one day.”

Another state minister, Ramashray Paswan, eulogised the Union minister’s service to the Dalit community. After the late Charan Singh, he is the only leader who is trying to bring the rural poor under one umbrella, he claimed.


Chennai, Oct. 29: 
The recent ban on harvesting sharks has compounded the woes of Tamil Nadu fishermen, already hit hard by indiscriminate firing by the Sri Lankan Navy across the Palk Strait.

While the US military action in Afghanistan has slowed down fishery exports from Ramanathapuram, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts, the recent ministry of environment and forests notification including sharks and ray in the fisheries schedule under the Wildlife Protection Act, has dealt a body blow to the fishermen.

Sharks are predators whose presence in the Indian Ocean poses a threat to the small fishes and the fishermen dependent on them for livelihood, says Vincent, a representative of the Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen in Kanyakumari.

Tamil Nadu fishermen were harvesting nine of the 300 prevalent shark species. Apart from exports, shark harvests yielded oil used for medicine, Vincent says. The harvesting did not pose any significant threat to small fishermen because the deep sea-going vessels travelled 150 miles from the coast to harvest sharks, he added.

The Centre should revoke the ban, the association has urged in an SOS to the state. The state government is shortly expected to approach the Centre to protest the move as it would directly affect several lakh people, including deep sea fishing vessel-owners.

The ban has also brought into focus the larger issue of coping with the great marine biological diversity and the largest number of commercial fish species found in the Indian Ocean.

Fish is an important source of food, income and employment in this region, boasting the largest number of fishworkers employed mostly in the small-scale sector.

Experts believe that the trend leading to displacement of coastal fishing communities needs to be addressed with the help of regulations.

At an international conference in Chennai and jointly organised by the NGO, the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, and the International Ocean Institute, India, experts recommended to governments in the Indian Ocean rim countries to introduce effective legislation and institutional mechanisms which “adopt an integrated approach to access to, and use of resources, bringing in both the landward and seaward components of the coastal zone and its dynamic interface”.

The conference, in which representatives from 13 Indian Ocean rim countries participated, took note that in almost all countries of the rim, fishery resources in the near-shore waters “are poorly managed and over-exploited”, and often subject to encroachment by domestic and foreign fishing vessels.

To defend the livelihood of the small-scale fishing communities, the conference said it was imperative for countries in the region to adopt “a socially just ecosystem approach to resource use and fisheries resource management”.

States should encourage small-scale, selective, sustainable harvesting technologies and take steps to phase out fishing vessels that use “destructive gear such as bottom trawls” because they generate “unsustainable practices”.


London, Oct. 29: 
An elite American military unit is preparing to steal Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal if President Pervez Musharraf is ousted, according to a report here.

A report in the New Yorker by investigative journalist Seymour Hersch says that the Pentagon Special Forces unit is training with Israel’s most-trusted anti-terrorist unit and would be called into action if Musharraf lost power to hardline pro-Taliban generals.

The CIA believes that Pakistani army officers sympathetic to the Taliban could pose a threat to Musharraf and that some of the country’s estimated 24 nuclear warheads could be stolen by renegades within Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

Hersch said that members of the Israel’s Unit 262 or Sayeret Matkal, came to America soon after the attacks and have been training with Pentagon Special Forces.

Hersch quoted a “senior military officer” as confirming that intense planning was going on for the “exfiltration” — theft — of the warheads. But there are doubts about whether the CIA — or any other intelligence agency — knows the exact location of Pakistan’s warheads, which were first tested, to the surprise of American agencies in 1998.

The fear that Musharraf could lose control of the country and some or all of the warheads is based on the close links between the ISI and the Taliban.

Last week, the Pakistani President dismissed such concerns. “We have an excellent command-and-control system, which we have evolved, and there is no question of their falling into hands of any fundamentalists,” he said.

Pakistan is thought to have a number of intermediate-range missiles to carry its warheads as well as using F-16 fighter-bombers.

There are a number of possible targets for the use of these weapons. These include India, the four American aircraft carriers and British vessels currently cruising off Pakistan’s coastline as bases for air and commando attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaida.




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