Invite for Hurriyat, Farooq left out
US tips tagged to terror decree
PM promises fight to finish
Strike shadow on bus collision
Culture cannon booms at Sonia
Cash-strapped TN on World Bank doorstep
After cricket, a Lagaan comic
Stand-off over deadly dose
Hunt for new mate after four wives & 34 children
Question mark on zoo tiger deaths

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
Though the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections are due only in October next year, there are indications that the BJP plans to fight them without the National Conference (NC), a constituent of the NDA.

BJP sources maintained they had information that chief minister Farooq Abdullah wanted to bring the elections forward and hold them simultaneously with those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab, scheduled for February 2002. “He feels that with Pakistan engaged on the Afghan front, its support for cross-border terrorism has lessened considerably and, therefore, the time is conducive for polls in Jammu and Kashmir,” said a BJP office-bearer.

But he made it clear that though the NC was a “valuable” ally at the Centre, the BJP intended to go alone in Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, the state unit has virtually declared war on the NC, with state BJP president Abdul Rasheed Kabuli alleging that the Abdullah government had “lost its credibility and ceased to be a true representative of the people”.

Agencies quoted Kabuli as stating in Srinagar that all political parties and even professedly secessionist outfits like the Hurriyat Conference should be involved in the electoral process. “Elections for the Assembly should be preceded with an honest approach for a political process, involving people seriously without any pre-conditions. All political parties, including secessionist outfits like Hurriyat, should be involved in the process,” Kabuli said.

According to him, a new elected government alone could play a “pivotal” role in bringing democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. “It can ensure Centre-state talks and finally lead to Indo-Pak dialogue for the resolution of the conflict,” Kabuli maintained.

The BJP’s central leadership, which had earlier looked askance at the Hurriyat, seemed to go along with the state chief’s view. Senior leader J.P. Mathur said: “We would like everybody to participate in elections, including Hurriyat. Every Indian should be prepared to participate and honour the legal democratic process of elections.”

Kabuli, however, listed other demands, too. He said the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s promise that the next elections would be free and fair should be backed with “concrete” measures.

For starters, he said, the Centre should declare another unilateral ceasefire during Ramzan. The Prime Minister’s recent statement asking militants to lay down arms and participate in elections would be “meaningful” only if the Centre followed its own precedent, he added.

Kabuli claimed the ceasefire would create the “right” atmosphere for resuming negotiations with militant groups. However, Mathur did not think the proposal was tenable. “Enforcing a ceasefire would depend on the government’s assessment. But the momentum of action (in cracking down on militants) should not normally be broken,” he said.

Kabuli’s other suggestion was setting up an “independent and powerful” authority to oversee how the Assembly elections were conducted. “An independent authority with full powers should be invested with the job to ensure that transparency is fully observed during the whole process of elections,” he said.


New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
The Centre has deviated from the law commission’s recommendations on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance even as a nation-wide debate rages over it.

“Surveillance provision, that is taping of communication, and proscription of organisations as unlawful associations are the two major deviations not recommended by the law commission but included in its sweep and ambit in the Ordinance,” law officials told The Telegraph.

The commission, headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, a retired Supreme Court judge, had given its recommendations to the Union government to form the basis for a new anti-terror law. The proposals were put in cold storage. But after September 11, the government woke up to the situation and promulgated the Ordinance as the Bill could not be introduced in Parliament.

Under the Ordinance, any communication can be taped and used as evidence. The government can also ban any organisation, association, assembly or gathering as unlawful. There is no criterion for the latter. For the former, the officials pointed out, the government has drawn inspiration from the US law on terrorism. “Largely, the provisions are borrowed or adopted from the UK’s law of terrorism and the US’ Terror Act. The UK had passed its law in its parliament last year,” sources said.

The law commission did not recommend separate provisions for taping of communication as it is covered under the Indian Telegraph Act. While, under the Unlawful Assembly Act, any organisation can be banned, the sources said, but added that “in the modern days of Net and IT, it is difficult to apply the Telegraph Act to effectively do the (job of) surveillance of communication”.

Law minister Arun Jaitley, while releasing a set of “safeguards” under the Ordinance, had emphasised that media personnel could not be harassed. But the provision “does not make any exemption for media or press persons as they do not enjoy any immunity”, law commission sources said.

Under the Ordinance, a citizen can be hauled up for “abetting and aiding” terrorism if he does not provide information about terrorists to the nearest police station.

Although there is no mention of “journalist” in the provision, a mediaperson, after an interview with a militant or the leader of a militant outfit, can be taken to task for not providing information relating to the place and other details of the interview.

However, Jaitley has said this would not come into effect. He argued that since the British period, even under “normal criminal law”, a citizen is supposed to provide information about a crime to the police as part of his “fundamental duties”. But even if he has not, the citizen has never been harassed.

“But you people are unnecessarily agitated,” said a law official, contending that even the UN resolution on terrorism recommended similar enactment in all countries. However, since communications are being taped now, even a telephonic interview with a militant or a leader of a militant outfit could result in the arrest of a mediaperson.

The law commission’s recommendations are based on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill of 1995, introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the then P.V. Narasimha Rao government.


New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said the war against terrorism would continue till it was totally eliminated “wherever and in whatever form it exists”.

Referring to the takeover of Kabul by Northern Alliance forces, Vajpayee said the international crusade against terrorism had met with initial success, but the campaign would continue.

“Terrorism must be destroyed in whichever form it is and wherever it is,” Vajpayee told reporters after receiving Diwali greetings from Union ministers, MPs and others who called on him. “This fight will continue.”

Vajpayee said according to indications from Kabul, people were not willing to wait and “want to liberate themselves from the clutches of terrorism at the earliest”.

He said there were many suggestions on the composition of a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and these would be discussed.

Asked what kind of a dispensation India wanted to see in Kabul, Vajpayee said: “There is a concrete suggestion for running a government under the United Nations supervision. Let us see what happens in future.”

Vajpayee, who returned from his tour of the US, the UK and Russia last night, termed his three-nation trip as “highly successful”.

The world has finally realised India’s significance and the role it could play in the global arena, he said, adding a great deal of attention was being paid to India abroad.

The Prime Minister, however, skirted questions on whether he would be meeting with Musharraf in the near future.

In a lighter vein, in another function, Vajpayee said he could have been presented with a portrait of the children of Kabul “who are feeling free today” rather than his own.

Vajpayee was presented with his portrait painted by the children of the National Bal Bhavan at a function organised to celebrate Children’s Day.

“I could have been presented with a portrait of Nehru or a row of earthen lamps or portrait of the children of Kabul who are feeling free today. The smile has returned to their faces and they are looking forward to a bright future,” he said, adding in his usual witty manner, “it seems there were no takers for my portrait, so it was presented to me”.


Chennai, Nov. 14: 
At least 32 people were killed today in a head-on collision between a private van and a state transport bus near Kovilpatti on Tirunelveli-Madurai highway in the southern Tuticorin district.

Official sources in Tuticorin said most of the victims were occupants of the van bound for Kayathar from Kovilpatti. Thirteen people were injured.

Most of the passengers were probably returning to their native villages for Diwali. The state-owned Pandyan Roadways Transport Corporation bus was proceeding in the opposite direction from Nagercoil to Madurai. The accident took place at 11.30 am, sources said.

Twenty-seven persons, including the van driver, died on the spot from the impact of the collision. Nine of the injured passengers were admitted to the Kovilpatti headquarters hospital while the rest were admitted to a hospital in Palayamkottai, a suburb of Tirunelveli.

The tragedy occurred amid a continuing state-wide strike by transport corporation workers, who are demanding a 20 per cent bonus against the state’s offer of the statutory minimum of 8.33 per cent.

The government has been able to maintain only 50 per cent of the public bus service by recruiting fresh drivers and conductors on a temporary basis.

The trade unions had warned that safety norms would be violated if relatively inexperienced people took to the wheels. The bus driver in the mishap was a new recruit.

However, official sources said the “fault clearly lay” with the van driver “who came on the wrong side”.


New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
The Dynasty divide, sharpened by the Indira Gandhi biography brawl, spilled out in the open today with Maneka Gandhi casting doubts on Sonia Gandhi’s “intellectual abilities”.

Maneka, Union culture minister, also suggested her sister-in-law’s removal from cultural and academic bodies.

“I believe that in this country a person who cannot speak Hindi cannot be of much intellectual ability,” Maneka told Aaj Tak television channel, asked whether she did not feel that Sonia was capable of understanding the arts.

Replying to a question whether Sonia should be removed from cultural organisations she was heading, Maneka said: “In these institutions, instead of politicians, it would be better if we appoint intellectuals, activists or any other person who can enhance the country’s honour and prestige.”

Maneka said Sonia had not been attending the meetings of some of these institutions for the past 16 years. “Perhaps she is not interested. Then, there should be someone who is interested. There are many people who can run them properly,” she said.

Maneka’s comments are certain to touch a raw nerve in the Congress, which feels that it has been upstaged when the minister pursued and won a libel suit against Katherine Frank, author of the Indira Gandhi biography.

Natwar Singh and Jaipal Reddy had said Maneka’s claim that Sonia was responsible for publication of biography was “preposterous and false”. Natwar and Jaipal had advised Sonia not to criticise the book which had some uncharitable references about Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi.

Congress leaders feel Maneka has stolen a march over Sonia and made a dent in the AICC chief’s carefully cultivated image of being a “true inheritor” of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy

Congress circles believe that Maneka decided to act against Frank after son Varun convinced her to “restore” Indira Gandhi’s honour. Maneka filed the case in London and Varun had accompanied her.

The acrimony between two branches of the Nehru-Gandhi family has become so intense that cousins Varun, Rahul and Priyanka are not on speaking terms.


Chennai, Nov. 14: 
Liquor just might achieve what a bunch of Youth Congress supporters could not.

Last Sunday, they stopped cars on the arterial Anna Salai road in Chennai and thrust forward begging bowls. They said they were raising “money for the state’s empty coffers”. Many laughed it off as a good publicity stunt.

But no one laughed when the state raised India made foreign liquor prices with the same end in mind. No one protested either.

It was clear the state’s finances were in the doldrums. A “factual paper on the state’s finances” by PMK leader S. Ramadoss had indicated as much, though some wondered if the paper was not generously laced with “fiction”.

To tide over its financial crisis, Tamil Nadu might follow in the footsteps of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and take a loan from the World Bank to implement fiscal reforms.

The O. Panneerselvam-led ADMK government has been discreet about it as it expects Jayalalithaa to be back in the saddle “as soon as possible” to unveil the package.

But sources said that at a recent meeting with the World Bank top brass in New Delhi, the question of Tamil Nadu directly seeking a loan from it was discussed.

Though the Bank has a “good opinion” of the state, it might still link the funds to power sector reforms. Tamil Nadu still provides free power to farmers, even rich ones. The state’s subsidies to the public distribution system are also mounting.

All this has given rise to a situation where hard decisions need to be taken. The sources said this is perhaps the best time for harsh measures as there are no polls round the corner. The panchayat elections were held recently.

Jayalalithaa had herself set the stage by placing in the Assembly a white paper on the state’s finances in the last budget session.

The sources said striking transport workers, demanding a 20 per cent bonus, do not seem to realise that “this is the worst ever financial situation we are facing”.

Tamil Nadu has been asking the Centre to advance its share of Central taxes by a month.

The overall slowdown in the economy has also taken a toll of commercial tax collection, particularly sales tax. “Hence our SOS to New Delhi,” the sources added.

The latest increase in liquor prices is estimated to bring in about Rs 80 crore in additional revenue.


Mumbai, Nov. 14: 
The Lagaan cottage industry is diversifying: after cricket matches, there will now be a Lagaan comic and a Lagaan video game.

“The comic will be in English and Hindi, keeping in mind both foreign and domestic markets. But we are still working on the look of the book,” Ashutosh Gowarikar, director of the movie, said.

“We’ll be collaborating with Egmont, a publishing firm for children’s books,” he said. “I grew up on comics. So I felt children would like to have a comic on Lagaan after the film’s stupendous success,” he added.

There will also be a Lagaan videogame, Gowarikar said. “Film merchandise is only possible after the movie does tremendously well. Lagaan has created an upheaval of sorts,” the director said.

Lagaan, starring Aamir Khan, was in the news this month for being selected as the Indian entry in the foreign film category for the Oscars. The selection almost resulted in a popular movement for the film here, with letters to the editor pouring in saying “Apna Lagaan jitega”.

So is the merchandise part of the “Oscar campaign” abroad? No, there seems to be other ways of sensitising the US viewer. “We’ll start screenings, both at theatres and on TV, from December for US viewers, to spread awareness of the film.”

Big B diya

This Diwali, it’s a bit too dark — not much buying and selling. Even the Big B hasn’t been able to light it up.

A diya, autographed by Amitabh Bachchan, is up for grabs at an online site hosted from the city. It is being auctioned, too. Half the money from the winning bid will go to a charity of Bachchan’s choice.

But the diya doesn’t have too many takers. The last bid has been for a paltry Rs 29,000 — and the “intricate gold-finish glass diya with aromatic floating candles” with AB’s signature has been up there since November 7. It is going to be there till November 19. The bid increment is Rs 1,000. Any takers?


Nov. 14: 
The Assam government and the Centre are heading for a confrontation over the botched Unicef-sponsored pulse vitamin A programme in the state.

Thousands of children took ill on being administered doses of vitamin A in dispensaries and hospitals across the state on Sunday. A two-year-old who was administered the vitamin solution in Cachar district of south Assam died the next day.

The Union health ministry last night accused Dispur and Unicef of going ahead with the programme in contravention of its directive. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi claimed no such directive was issued. Unicef, too, said there was “no bar whatsoever” on its pulse vitamin A drive.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur had told a private television channel that the Assam health department and Unicef did not take heed of his ministry’s directive. “They went ahead despite our directive, the fallout of which is there for all to see. Thousands of children have taken ill,” he said.

Thakur said the Centre would seek an explanation for the fiasco from both Dispur and Unicef. “The Unicef-aided immunisation drive will be resumed only after a long hard look at the programme, after a lot of rethinking.”

Terming Thakur’s allegations as baseless, Gogoi said there was no question of not obeying a Central directive. “Why should we disobey the Centre when it is New Delhi that approves all Unicef programmes? The health ministry had only asked the states not to launch any immunisation programme simultaneously with the pulse polio drive. There is no pulse polio drive in Assam at the moment,” he said.

S.N. Thakuria, the director of family welfare, echoed Gogoi’s claim that the Centre had not asked Dispur to keep the vitamin A fortification programme on hold. “I did not receive any directive, either verbal or in writing. Why should we disobey the Centre? We know the value of life. What has happened is really unfortunate,” he said.

Thakuria and B. Goswami, an assistant professor of gastroenterology in Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, had gone to Silchar to probe the death of a two-year-old girl, the only officially recorded casualty. “Reports of many children having died are just rumours,” the family welfare director said.

The investigating team earlier said in Silchar that marine fish oil present in the vitamin A solutions may have caused mild fever and stomach upsets, which people mistook for poisoning. Pharmaceutical company Nicholas Piramal India Ltd. said the vitamin A supplements supplied to Unicef “conformed to the strictest standards of quality”.


Hyderabad, Nov. 14: 
He is a brahmachari, but only in name.

Brahmachari, a municipality contractor, has fathered 34 children, has four wives and is looking for a fifth who could help fulfil his dream of siring 50. And, as proof that all is well within the teeming family, all his four wives have joined in the search so that their husband’s prolific run does not peter out.

The intermediate dropout, who began his spawning spree in 1970, has made sure that the generation rate does not dip. His youngest offspring — a son from his fourth wife Changu Bai — was born in January 2001.

“If (chief minister) Chandrababu Naidu is a role model for something, I am also a role model for living in peace in spite of a large family,” says the 47-year-old, who has become the toast of Afzalsagar Nagar, Mallepally, in the old city where he is hailed for his “prowess”.

A stickler for conjugal discipline, Brahmachari has kept three days in a month free for his would-be fifth wife as he has already set aside six days in a week for each of his four existing wives. There is no “saas or bahu” tussle, Bhahmachari told this correspondent who met him last Saturday. The families of his one son and two daughters also live with him under the same roof.

Besides siring 37 children over 30 years, Brahmachari, a Yadav, also notched several “firsts”. Three of his wives gave birth to four children (one twin) in the same hospital on alternate days.

Asked why he had opted for polygamy, Brahmachari said his first wife, Kamini Bai, did not bear him any child in the first five years of their marriage. So he took another wife, Kausalya Bai, who bore him four daughters and five sons.

This marriage was a miracle. Two years after his second marriage, his first wife Kamini also bore him four sons and six daughters. Brahmachari was on his way.

The third wife, Subita Bai, a relative of Kausalya, came willingly when both Kamini and Kausalya were in hospital. It was a short step to the nuptial bed, after both agreed that a third wife wouldn’t dislodge them from their position. Subita has given Brahmachari four sons and four daughters, the best educated of the lot, some of them graduates and IT engineers. The fourth wife has four daughters and three sons.

Brahmachari’s two-storeyed house has the appearance of a residential school with all the children living in the hall. With so many mouths to feed, the food bill is also huge. Average requirement for a day is 20 kg rice, a minimum 6 kg vegetables and 15 litres milk. When the menu is non-vegetarian, that is once a week, it takes around 12 chicken or 5 kg of meat.

Brahmachari buys the basic ingredients on a yearly contract basis — 15 kg salt and 20 kg sambar powder – and has never defaulted in his payments, which run to around Rs 32,000 a month, according to Bansilal & Gopilal where he buys all the stuff from.

Brahmachari says he maintains his huge family with rentals from ancestral property in the city and districts in neighbouring Maharashtra. He makes around Rs 30,000 a month from his job. “I can hardly save any money,” he says, “but is never short of any basic necessities for my family.”

Not surprisingly, his family is a major location for test-marketing consumer goods as well as for politicians. His house accounts for 23 votes. In fact, every visitor comes with some donation — clothes or eatables.

Brahmachari finds it difficult at times to remember the names of his children. So for his children born after 1990, he has given them names of film actresses. The one born last year has been named Kargil. Some of the others are Rekha, Shilpa, Karishma, Kajol, Hemamalini, Jayaprada, Meena, Soudarya and Rambha.


Patna, Nov. 14: 
The Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park has lost two young female tigers within a fortnight of each other to a mysterious disease. Zoo authorities say none of them showed any visible signs of illness.

Less than a fortnight after the Patna zoo lost tigress Saraswati on October 30, another tigress, Triveni, died last evening.

Triveni had been going without food since October 27. She stopped eating two days before the death of Saraswati, and stayed without food till her death. No medicine, provided by doctors from several national parks, could save the ailing tigress.

Alarmed zoo officials said they noticed almost similar symptoms in an ailing hippopotamus, Raju. Zoo director Ranvir Singh said despite treatment, there seems to be no improvement in the hippo’s condition.

Singh called a medical board today to examine the ailing hippopotamus.

Zoo officials say Triveni died due to kidney failure caused by inflation of the urinary tract. Saraswati apparently died from the same disease.

However, Saraswati’s post-mortem report said she died from a combination of causes: wild haemorrhagic gastro-enteritis and starvation.


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