War backlash on soft-drink bottles
Buddha sacrifice to fight Delhi
History repeats to reunite generations
First step to Unit Trust freedom
Preeya is Andrew Lloyd’s Dream girl
Bay of Bengal set for joint wargames
Fernandes rises to Islamabad defence
India wants full Taliban wipeout
Japan friend forsakes Delhi
Calcutta Weather

 
 
WAR BACKLASH ON SOFT-DRINK BOTTLES 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS HATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 30: 
Just as swadeshi proponents would have wanted, Coke gave way to lassi and Walls to desi Vadilal in Mumbai’s restaurants.

Muslim hoteliers went into an overdrive today to boycott food and beverages sold by American and British companies to protest against the strikes on Afghanistan.

More than 200 eateries took western dishes off their menu as the protest took hold in the country’s commercial capital. They stopped serving Coca-Cola and Pepsi and the other soft drink brands owned by the two multinationals.

“We are mainly offering our customers lassi and jeera pani in place of the American cold drinks,” Sheikh Shahbuddin, owner of the popular Shalimar hotel on Mohammed Ali Road, said. “This is our way of protesting the killings of innocent Afghans.”

Shahbuddin, who is chairman of the newly-formed Indian Hoteliers’ Association, a body of mainly Muslim-owned hotels in Mumbai and representing about 800 such outlets, said he expected more than 500 hotels and restaurants to join the protest by tomorrow. “We are getting scores of calls supporting our move. Almost everyone is expressing solidarity.”

But not those who otherwise have strong preference for desi products over videshi competitors. Shiv Sena’s culture czar Pramod Navalkar, who has in the past led protests against western influence, refused to back the boycott. “This swadeshiana makes no sense to us,” he said.

The hoteliers also called for a boycott of US and British banks, airlines, cars and cosmetics as well as fast-food outlets like McDonald’s. “We should ask our non-Muslim brothers also to join us,” Shahbuddin said.

The protest has put the government on edge, still struggling to contain the riots in Malegaon, the first in the country directly linked to the US strikes. Violence there started after policemen prevented a group of people from distributing leaflets urging people to boycott US-made goods. A place of worship was demolished in a village near Malegaon in fresh violence today, killing one person. Sixty-nine-year-old Hasan Ali’s body was pulled out of the rubble, taking the toll in the district to 13.

Additional chief secretary Ashok Basak said though the government had nothing to do with the boycott call, police were asked to protect Pepsi and Coke bottling plants. The companies were also advised against promotional campaigns in sensitive areas.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation,” Basak said.

Coke and Pepsi officials refused to comment.

Junaid Patel, general secretary of the association, said Muslim hoteliers should not be seen as supporting terrorism. “We are dead against it. We are only protesting the killing of innocent people in Afghanistan.”

Shahbuddin said their association had met the US consul-general here in the aftermath of attacks on the US and condoled the deaths of Americans. “We condemn terrorism in any form. What dismays us is that the US is behaving like a terrorist organisation by bombing civilians in Afghanistan. How can they justify this when they condemn terrorism worldwide?” the hotelier asked.

“When we offered lassi or jeera pani instead of those cold drinks, many of our customers refused. But they appreciated our stance once we explained it to them,” Shahbuddin said.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SACRIFICE TO FIGHT DELHI 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi / Calcutta, Oct. 30: 
The CPM central leadership has wrested an assurance from the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government that it would not introduce a crime-buster Ordinance which has been compared with a stringent anti-terror measure enforced by the Union government.

The Bengal government will instead move a Bill without any “draconian” provisions in the next Assembly session to fight organised crime. A Bill will be easier for the CPM to defend since it involves debates in the House and discussions with the Opposition.

The CPM was at pains to scoff at parallels between the Central Ordinance and the state’s proposed Prevention of Organised Crimes Ordinance. “The West Bengal Ordinance is not a clone of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance that the Vajpayee government is bringing in through the back door to replace Tada,” CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet said in New Delhi after the party’s central committee meeting.

The Bengal Ordinance aims at checking organised crime whereas the Central one focuses on terrorism. The state Ordinance has a provision for death penalty for kidnappers, who have struck with impunity in recent months. But critics have said that the state Ordinance could be misused by law-enforcement agencies.

With both the Central and state Ordinances attracting the “draconian” label, the CPM was finding it difficult to reconcile its opposition to Delhi’s Ordinance and its support for the Bengal move.

The party central committee, therefore, forced Bhattacharjee’s hand. However, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas denied in Calcutta any pressure or request from the central leadership to roll back the Ordinance. But Surjeet said the Ordinance has not been sent to the Governor for ratification,

CPM insiders said Jyoti Basu had indicated to the state party leadership that the Bengal Ordinance could send a wrong signal. Basu, however, dismissed tonight speculation that he had reservations about the Ordinance. He said in Calcutta tonight his absence from apex body meetings was because of ill health.

   

 
 
HISTORY REPEATS TO REUNITE GENERATIONS 
 
 
FROM SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Ahora (Malda), Oct. 30: 
A generation separates Benoy Choudhury and Tarapada Mahaladar. Their lives, too, were different before October 1, 2001.

But this date — it was the day Bangladesh went to polls and decided to give the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance of several fundamentalist parties a chance to rule the country — has united the two representatives from the two generations like nothing else.

Choudhury fled Santoshpur, a village in the Nawabganj district of Bangladesh, soon after Zia-ur-Rahman (Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s husband) came to power in 1978. He set up home in Gaurangapur, a village near the river Ahora, after crossing over.

A distant relative of Choudhury, Mahaladar is the newest resident of Gaurangapur. A week into the new Bangladeshi regime was enough to make him — and his wife Pramila — certain that they, too, had to follow in the around-two-decade-old footsteps of the Choudhurys.

The Mahaladars — they are a family of five with three children, the youngest of whom is all of four years old — trekked the same route the Choudhurys took years ago. “We crossed the border through a point near the Mahadipur check-post on the night of October 19,” Tarapada said, sitting at the Choudhurys’ home in Gaurangapur, today.

Things were becoming worse by the day, his wife explained. “Two Hindus were murdered in Boalia and there have been three incidents of rape,” she added, referring to the events in the village across the river Mahananda which forced them to make up their minds to leave. “A day more could have resulted in something worse than death,” she added.

Dhirendranath Rabidas is from Boalia, the village Pramila was referring to. He left on the night Bangladesh went to the polls.

“From Boalia to Shibganj to Bakroli, where I had to halt for two days as the borders were sealed because of the polls, to Sabdalpur in Kaliachak to Alampur,” he said breathlessly, chalking out the route to his current address.

His condition is worse than the Mahaladars’; he has come alone, he can’t go back and he has no news of his wife and three sons. It was decided that his family, also consisting of his two brothers and their wives and children, would sell off their land and follow him to “India and dignity”.

Three weeks later — with the only news that’s coming through being a horror tale — he is in a fix.

His family had decided to sell off the land at Rs 25,000 a bigha — the normal price is Rs 50,000 for a bigha — but even that might not be possible now, was how he tried to explain their delay.

The Gajol area alone has several hundred more like Rabidas and the Mahaladars. But, for these refugees, the refugee status could spell danger. With the administration here still referring to the “problems” in Bangladesh as that country’s alone, they are actually “infiltrators” in the eyes of the administration.

Singhapara, neighbouring Gaurangapur, has several such families. All of them are recent additions to the village but none of them would admit they are from Bangladesh.

Most say they are from “elsewhere in Malda”. But, unaware of their new home’s geography, they stare blankly when asked the name of their village.

A bit of coaxing later, they admit the “from-elsewhere-in- Malda” line is a suggestion of local CPM leaders. “It’s the only way they can help us, they say,” a refugee explained.

Like in everything else, the BJP and the VHP are suggesting a different line of approach. The VHP has begun campaigning about the plight of “our brothers and sisters” in Bangladesh.

   

 
 
FIRST STEP TO UNIT TRUST FREEDOM 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Oct. 30: 
The countdown has started to Unit Trust of India ceasing to be a government-owned company.

UTI’s board of trustees met today to discuss the recommendation of a committee that the troubled mutual fund should be split into three entities: sponsoring company, trustee company and asset management company.

It suggests that in the sponsoring company, 60 per cent of the shares should be given to a strategic partner, not necessarily Indian.

But the UTI management jumped to scotch suggestions that the trust would be privatised soon. “It is premature to say that we will go in for privatisation,” UTI chairman M. Damodaran said. The trust had sent a wave of panic among thousands of investors earlier this year after it froze repurchase of units of its flagship scheme US-64.

The committee has suggested a three-year lock-in period to safeguard the confidence of investors when the government umbrella is withdrawn.

   

 
 
PREEYA IS ANDREW LLOYD’S DREAM GIRL 
 
 
FROM SUMAN BHUCHAR
 
London, Oct. 30: 
World stardom beckons a 21-year-old Gujarati girl, Preeya Kalidas, who has landed the coveted lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming West End musical, Bombay Dreams.

“I’m completely ecstatic,” admits Preeya, in an interview with The Telegraph in London today. “It has been a big dream of mine to do a stage show like that. Being in the West End is like being on Broadway.”

Preeya plays a young assistant film director, also called Priya (but spelt with an “i”), who dreams of being a successful Bollywood film director just like her father.

She was finally selected after four auditions for the much-anticipated musical, which is due to open in late June, 2002, at the Apollo Theatre, Victoria.

Preeya, who has always had ambitions of acting in a West End musical, reveals that many years ago, she did audition for a small role in Miss Saigon — this was produced by Lloyd Webber’s rival, Cameron Mackintosh.

After several recalls, she failed to land a part. “I was devastated,” she confesses, “as I knew all the songs.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber, together with film director Shekhar Kapur, had been planning his Bollywood musical for over a year. He had been searching for Asian actors who could “sing, dance and act”.

The script for Bombay Dreams is by Meera Syal, and the lyrics by Don Black. The Bollywood composer, A.R. Rahman, has scored the music, and Farah Khan will be doing the choreography.

“The music is amazing and the songs are completely heart-wrenching,” says Preeya. “It is such a nice fusion and nobody has done it before.”

She found Lord Lloyd Webber “reserved”.

He is a man who is constantly thinking about what should be done with the songs and the actual show, she says.

Preeya was born and brought up in Twickenham, west London. She has always had a passion for singing and dancing and belonged to a local theatre company called Songtime.

Her parents, Kanti and Naina, are very proud of her. “They have always supported my talent.”

Her older brother, Jitesh, saw an article in The Stage, a trade paper for the acting profession, and asked her to audition for the Sylvia Young Theatre School.

She was selected and spent five years there, where, alongside studying performing arts, she also did GCSE’s.

This school specialises in spotting stars and among its alumni are Emma Bunton or Baby Spice; actress Denise Van Outen, who appeared in the musical, Chicago, and Natalie and Nicole Appleton of the pop group All Saints.

As a child, Preeya did a lot of work on commercials and appeared in the BBC series, Goggle Eyes.

Since leaving school, she has appeared in theatre and also done a couple of short films, Jump Boy and Sari and Trainers. The latter has now become a full-length feature, Bollywood Queen, where Preeya plays Geena, a young girl in love with an English boy. The film will be released in February next year. She also has a part in Gurinder Chadha’s forthcoming feature, Bend it Like Beckham.

Jeremy Wooding, the co-writer, co-producer and director of Bollywood Queen, spotted Preeya at 17. “She’s a very special lady,” he says.

Preeya has a one-year contract for Bombay Dreams and is pleased to be returning to the stage and being a member of the “original cast” of a new show.

“It is the best time to do it. People remember the original cast and you get to do the album,” she explains.

Of course, she watches Bollywood films. “It is a big part of our culture. The films lift your spirits. My all-time favourites are Sholay and Maine Pyar Kiya.

However, she is not sure whether her involvement in Bollywood-oriented projects will lead her towards the actual industry. “I grew up here in Britain and I’d rather stick to what I know.”

   

 
 
BAY OF BENGAL SET FOR JOINT WARGAMES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
Joint military wargames — codenamed Amphex — of the army, the navy, the air force and the Coast Guard will be held at the Bay of Bengal from November 2 to 10. This is the first military exercise at the bay — to be held in Indian territorial waters — after the formation of the Unified Command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The wargames are an annual exercise at the bay around this time of year. The major departure this year is the involvement of the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) that was made operational as a unified theatre command on October 8. The ANC, headquartered in Port Blair, is led by vice-admiral Arun Prakash.

The strategic objective of setting up the ANC is to keep an eye on the Strait of Malacca that is used by oil tankers and is regarded as the economic lifeline for southeast Asia and Japan. The first suggestion for increased military presence in the Andamans was made about two years ago when the Chinese were involved in setting up a base in Myanmar’s Coco Islands north of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The ANC’s present force levels include the navy’s flotilla, comprising fast-attack craft and amphibious ships, and a Coast Guard patrol vessel. The army has an infantry brigade stationed in the islands, and the air force a squadron of helicopters. Maritime aircraft of the navy and the Coast Guard operate from Port Blair, Car Nicobar, Campbell Bay and Dighpur. The ANC’s force will be supplemented by additional units of the three services. Defence ministry sources were not forthcoming on the details of the forces that will be involved in Amphex but said the training programme is amphibious. This means landing craft of the navy will be transporting troops to mock target areas.

In the Andamans, this would possibly be a remote island that is probably not inhabited. Sources said the exercise would also involve paradropping of troops.

The sources added that apart from a mountain brigade of the army specially earmarked for amphibious operations, elements of special and mechanised forces, artillery, air defence artillery, engineers and logistics units will be participating in the wargames.

From the air force, the Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft will fly sorties in maritime strike roles. In addition, Ilyushin-76 and Antonov-32 transport aircraft and helicopters will carry out air logistics, communication and paradrop operations in the islands.

Navy sources did not give details on the type of ships that will be participating but said there would be a “large number of ships and aircraft, including amphibious ships and long range maritime patrol aircraft”.

As part of the exercise, special forces will carry out parachute drops from the IL-76 and AN-32. Multiple means of insertion of special forces, carriage of underslung loads by helicopters into areas where helipads do not exist and slithering operations to deploy special troops on beach heads will be conducted.

Another training exercise — a joint operation of the navies of India and France — codenamed Varuna 01 will take place off the Mumbai coast from November 8 to 10. This is the first in a series of bilateral exercises. Varuna 02 is slated for March next year.

   

 
 
FERNANDES RISES TO ISLAMABAD DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today came out in unexpected support of Pakistan’s ability to safeguard its nuclear assets and doubted the efficacy of the US military action in Afghanistan.

“They know how to keep their nuclear assets in safe custody,” said Fernandes, the day reports came out of a joint US-Israeli training programme to secure Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event of a threat to Pervez Musharraf’s presidency.

The world’s press today carried reports of a story broken by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine that a Pentagon Special Forces unit and Israel’s anti- terrorist Unit 262 have been in training to steal an estimated 24 nuclear warheads that Pakistan is said to have in its stockpile.

“I hope those in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are responsible people so as not to allow these arsenals to fall in wrong hands,” Fernandes said at a seminar organised by a think tank, the Institute of Conflict Management, here today.

The US has been suspicious of the command and control structure that Pakistan has established after going nuclear.

A Pakistani newspaper today claimed three retired nuclear scientists allegedly linked to the Taliban have been handed over to US authorities.

It was surprising that George Fernandes, who rarely hesitates to discredit Pakistan — and did so in the same speech — should trust its ability to keep its strategic weapons programme watertight. But it is clear that India cannot welcome tactics that reinforce the US ‘globocop’ status and image. Should the US police Pakistan’s military today, what is to stop it from doing the same with other countries tomorrow, runs an argument.

Also, Fernandes’ remarks come a day after a not-so-subtle comment by the head of the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Major General Herman Loidolt said in Srinagar on Sunday that “political games” being played out by India and Pakistan on Kashmir could necessitate US intervention.

Commenting on Operation Enduring Freedom, George Fernandes said it did not look feasible that the US will achieve its ends. The US has set two military objectives in Afghanistan, he said.

The first is the capture of Osama bin Laden and the second is the overthrow of the Taliban regime. It is likely, said Fernandes, which the first objective will remain unfulfilled. The second is a gamble that could take a long time.

Referring to persistent suggestions that Indian forces should cross the Line of Control and target militant training camps in Pakistan, Fernandes said such action would cause unacceptable civilian casualties and was therefore undesirable.

He said India had sustained relations with the Northern Alliance for long and it would have a say in the formation of government in Afghanistan if and when the Taliban was forced out.

India continued to recognise the government led by Burhanuddin Rabbani of the Northern Alliance.

   

 
 
INDIA WANTS FULL TALIBAN WIPEOUT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 

Atal vision of post-war Kabul

India today made it clear that it was against any trace of the Taliban in a post-war government in Kabul. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said a new regime should not only be acceptable to all sections of Afghan society, but also neighbouring countries.

Addressing an all-party meeting tonight, the Prime Minister said he had written to the heads of state of 12 countries, outlining India’s concern on the Afghan front. He had stressed that elements of the Taliban should not find a place in any future government and it was in the “crucial” interest of the international community that the future political structure in Afghanistan does not export terrorism or extremism.

In a bid to foreclose Pakistan’s suggestion that the post-war government in Kabul could include moderate Taliban elements, Vajpayee said that in the prevailing situation, it was difficult to make out a moderate from a hardliner.

Both the Opposition and the NDA leaders agreed that the strikes on Afghanistan were neither a war against Islam nor a “clash of civilisations” as they are being made out to be by some quarters.

The Opposition leaders cautioned the Prime Minister that the situation should not be exploited by vested interests to destroy the secular fabric of the Indian society.

In his concluding remarks, Vajpayee said that compared to Pakistan, India was peaceful, barring some stray incidents. Seeking the cooperation of states in working towards communal harmony, he said the recent incidents at Hyderabad and Malegaon were a challenge before the nation. Governments should take stringent action against those fanning communal passion, he added.

In his letter to the Presidents of the US, Russia, China, France, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Prime Ministers of UK, Germany, Italy and Japan, Vajpayee had served up India’s recipe for a new regime in Kabul. The future government should be “broad-based with equitable representation of different ethnic and religious groups”. He said a constitutional and legal structure needs to be established to protect human rights, including the rights of women and minorities.

The Prime Minister underlined the “critical” need to integrate the different armed groups into an effective national military and police force. Afghanistan’s troubled history in the last few decades of internal tensions exacerbated by negative outside interference suggests that there may be advantages in establishing a neutral political structure with guarantees and protection from outside for its neutrality, Vajpayee said.

Briefing the press later, infotech minister Pramod Mahajan said the issue of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s desire to meet Vajpayee during his US visit was not raised by the Opposition. Media reports that US-Israeli commandos were preparing to capture Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of Musharraf’s ouster were also not discussed.

Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM was critical of the meeting and described it as an exercise in “tokenism”. “We do not know what India’s stand is on the war against terrorism,” he said. Sonia and Chatterjee also told reporters that there was no harm in resuming a dialogue with Musharraf.

Sonia Gandhi said: “We have seen terrible pictures of suffering. This causes us anguish and concern. The Prime Minister himself expressed concern.” She said the effect of these pictures, especially on minorities, will be bad. Despite the US saying that it is not a civilisational clash, it is seen as one by Islamic nations, she said, adding that we have to be careful in not giving currency to this kind of projection.

   

 
 
JAPAN FRIEND FORSAKES DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
Yoshiro Mori today decided to speak more as the “special envoy” of the Japanese Prime Minister rather than as a “friend” of India. Feigning ignorance about the origin of “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir, he cautioned the South Asian nuclear neighbours to show “maximum restraint” as heightened tension between them dealt a blow to stability in the volatile region.

Despite his position that terrorism should be fought irrespective of its origin, Mori cautioned India against taking any “direct action”. Instead, he suggested that Delhi and Tokyo should work towards strengthening the hand of the US and its allies in their fight against global terror.

Hours after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee broke with protocol to host a lunch for his “special Japanese guest”, Mori told reporters: “Japan hopes India and Pakistan will resolve all their issues, including Kashmir, through peaceful bilateral dialogue… heightening of tension in Kashmir is a matter of concern which poses negative effect on the stability of South Asia.”

Mori, who also met home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes, stressed that “maximum restraint should be exercised by both India and Pakistan”.

India is already peeved over the manner in which Japan decided to withdraw the sanctions it had imposed on Delhi and Islamabad following the 1998 nuclear tests.

While announcing the withdrawal of the sanctions on Friday, Tokyo indicated that this was being done since the nuclear neighbours had agreed to stop further tests. Japan also made it clear that if the non-proliferation scenario in South Asia changes, it would reimpose the sanctions.

But when Mori arrived here on Sunday, India decided to keep on hold its disappointment with Tokyo. It extended not only a warm welcome to the former Japanese Prime Minister, who, Delhi believes, had taken on the foreign ministry in his country and pushed them to normalise relations with India through his visit here last year, but also went out of its way to make him feel special.

At the lunch this afternoon, Vajpayee explained to Mori that since there was no break in infiltration and killings in Kashmir, it would be difficult for India to resume the dialogue with Pakistan. The Prime Minister also argued that if cross-border terrorism continued from Pakistan, bilateral talks with President Pervez Musharraf would not be meaningful.

But at the press conference soon after, Mori side-stepped a direct question on whether Japan regarded Pakistan as the main exporter of terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. “There has been much talk about it. We do not know precisely where it comes from. Terrorism cannot be tolerated and we condemn all forms of terrorism… We should focus on what we do rather than where it comes from.”

Junichiro Koizumi’s special envoy also cautioned against steps like “hot pursuit.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.1°C (0)
Minimum: 24.8°C (+3)

Rainfall

1.2 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 77%

Today

Generally cloudy sky. Light rain in some areas
Sunrise: 5.45 am
Sunset: 4.56 pm
   
 

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