Pak role doubt holds Delhi back
American warships come calling
BJP build-up before ‘strikeback’
India shifts to standby mode
Civilians caught in crossfire
Allies cool to hot pursuit
Kanshi sets up UP stage for Mayavati
Critics miss blue and rose on Picasso palette

New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
With the US saying “we think India will take appropriate action” against the terrorists behind the attack on Parliament, the ball is back in New Delhi’s court.

The million-dollar question is: what action would India consider appropriate?

A view is gaining ground in Delhi in favour of tough armed action against the perpetrators of the attack.

But the government is hesitant because of the difficulty in differentiating between terrorists based in Pakistan and the Pakistani establishment.

If armed action is to be taken against the terrorists, there is little chance that the nuclear neighbours can avoid another war.

South Block mandarins and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s aides are weighing the pros and cons of such an action and trying to assess whether the Indian public would go along with a tough government line on Pakistan.

Officials said that even if armed action were to be taken, “it would not be advertised through the media”.

Washington so far has not called for restraint — as it had after the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1.

One reason could be the developments in Afghanistan. While the Americans were in the middle of their military campaign against the Taliban and the al Qaida, they advised India against taking a tough line on Pakistan as that would have shifted the focus from Kabul and opened another dangerous front in South Asia.

With the military campaign in Afghanistan almost over and the Taliban on the run, the Bush administration might have decided to address India’s concerns.

Though Advani repeated the Centre’s charges against the Pakistan-based Lashkar and Jaish, South Block is not yet sure how far the military regime in Islamabad is responsible for the strike.

At the moment, investigating teams are still unravelling the motive behind Thursday’s attack. Though the evidence gathered so far points towards these two outfits, the Centre is trying to ascertain whether the Pervez Musharraf regime encouraged the terrorists or they took the decision on their own, perhaps with support from a section of the Pakistani establishment.

Indian officials said it was possible that the Pakistan government had backed the terrorists to assure hardliners in the country that despite the setbacks in Afghanistan, it was making no compromises on Kashmir.

Conversely, it was also possible that jihadis, unhappy with Musharraf’s decision to join the international coalition against terror, had decided to strike at the Indian Parliament to assert themselves and to force the military ruler’s hand.

Irrespective of whether Musharraf is a party to the attack directly or indirectly, India expects him to take strong action against the terrorists.

It has demanded that the leadership of the two outfits be taken into custody and their financial assets be frozen.

“If he is sincere about his fight against global terrorism, General Musharraf will have to take action against the terrorists,” a senior official in South Block said.

“It will no longer suffice to say he is innocent and had nothing to do with the terrorist action on Thursday inside the Indian Parliament.”

At the moment, India is willing to give Pakistan time before deciding on its next course of action. Home minister L.K. Advani said today India “would wait and watch for a few days” for Pakistan to respond to the demands.

“The Prime Minister has said many times in the past that India’s patience is running out. He cannot be expected to repeat it time and again and take no action. If he does that, no one will take him seriously,” a Vajpayee aide said.


Mumbai, Dec. 15: 
Two US battleships engaged in Afghanistan came calling at Mumbai today in the first signs of joint naval exercises and “deepening” military ties between the two countries.

Cruiser USS Antietam and destroyer USS O’Kane, both carrying guided missiles, including the Tomahawk, arrived around noon in Mumbai, the nerve centre of the Indian navy.

“In the midst” of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the enforcement of UN economic sanctions on Iraq, the ships, belonging to the USS Carl Vinson battle group, will stay here for a few days. Indian and US navy officers will meet and share information during the stay of the two warships.

USS Carl Vinson, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the backbone of the US-led operation in Afghanistan, is also scheduled to arrive in Mumbai in a day or two, US consulate officials said.

The warship is expected to show its might in a display to Indian and US military officials off Mumbai on Tuesday. Among those present will be US ambassador Robert D. Blackwill and rear admiral Thomas E. Zelibor, the commander of US carrier group three.

In another significant move, INS Godavari and USS Lake Champlin, belonging to the USS John C. Stennis battle group, participated in an exercise as they passed each other today, exchanging communications and manoeuvring skills.

This was the first exercise at sea between the countries in several years. Earlier this week, the US and Indian navies had taken part in a joint search and rescue exercise off India’s western coast. The exercise included coordinated and integrated maritime surveillance, briefings and static displays.

“The US and Indian navies have shared traditions and many a common background. This is an excellent foundation to come together and address common concerns and develop effective solutions,” Capt. Richard Rushton, commanding officer of the Antietam cruiser, said. “India for the moment is very important to us.”

Capt. Rushton added that more US warships were scheduled to dock in Mumbai and other Indian ports next year. “We are the first of the many US ships visiting India.”

“We are here on the invitation of the government of India and want to learn about your country, meet local citizens and take some well-deserved rest and relaxation,” Rushton said.

Commissioned in 1987, the USS Antietam, a 567-foot-long cold war-era cruiser capable of sailing at 30 knots, had taken part in the Gulf war as an “anti-air warfare commander” in Operation Desert Shield.

Outfitted with sophisticated sensors, including the air and surface search radars, the cruiser is armed with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles including the Tomahawk. It has 390 crew members, including five women officers.

USS O’Kane, the destroyer, is almost similar in size and capabilities. To the US navy, both were the natural choice for deployment during the Afghan war.

US consulate officers called the visit of the two warships an indication of “deepening” Indo-US military ties. This followed the November 9 summit between George W. Bush and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the third meeting of the US-India defence policy group in Delhi earlier this month.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
The BJP will finalise the form and modalities of its anti-terror campaign after sizing up the public mood over the weekend, especially in Uttar Pradesh, due to go to polls next February.

The campaign will be unleashed across the country from December 18 to 23 primarily to “create public opinion in favour of strong action against Pakistan,” a senior party office-bearer said. A collective pledge will be taken by the party and people to fight terrorism to the last.

He said the campaign would take off from Thursday’s strike on Parliament and go on to emphasise why a strong law based on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was necessary. It would criticise the Opposition for stalling the Ordinance and picking holes in the security arrangements in Parliament.

Such a build-up, sources said, was necessary because there was “growing pressure” from party cadre that if the Prime Minister had to strike at Pakistan, this was the “best moment”. India had garnered the unqualified support of the international community over the assault on Parliament, the sources pointed out.

Already, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav — the BJP’s principal enemy in Uttar Pradesh — has urged the government to cross the LoC. “We must not allow him to hijack our plank. For most people, BJP is synonymous with patriotism,” a source said.

According to BJP sources, the campaign’s principal message would be: “The country and Parliament must stand united in this hour of crisis. Appropriate action will be taken at an appropriate time.”

The inputs for the anti-terror propaganda would be contributed by senior ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie, all handpicked nominees of L.K. Advani. The BJP office-bearers will meet on Monday to finalise the modalities and announce the contours of the campaign. It will be formally launched when the par-ty’s Yuva Morcha holds its national executive in the capital on December 18-19.

The BJP’s realistic assessment is that the government will not be able to cross the LoC rightaway and attack the terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

“There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being the US’ presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US controls the air bases in Afghanistan, it has a presence on the seas and its ground troops are already in Kandahar, along with those from UK. It is also operating out of air bases in Pakistan. Unless the Afghanistan problem is solved and Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are caught, the US will see to it that Pakistan’s attention is not diverted towards India,” sources said.

Asked how the BJP would explain to its cadre why the government could not strike after all the high-pitched rhetoric, sources said the “mood” would be sustained until the Uttar Pradesh polls, after which it would depend on the how the political circumstances unfold.

“But one immediate purpose that would be served is that the Congress will be provoked to say the opposite of what we state and that’s enough for us,” a BJP functionary said.

As of now, the feedback from Uttar Pradesh is mixed: the middle-classes want the government to strike immediately. But in the villages, people are not entirely aware of what happened and are still largely untouched by the terror issue.


Ahmedabad, Dec. 15: 
India will wait a few days for Pakistan to respond to its demand for action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which was blamed for the attack on Parliament.

“We will wait and watch for a few days. If Pakistan does not respond, we will decide our next course of action,” home minister L.K. Advani told an impromptu press conference after inaugurating the Regional Telecom Training Centre and Telephone Exchange on Gandhinagar highway.

Following Thursday’s suicide strike in Parliament, India asked Pakistan to take immediate action against leaders of these two militant outfits operating from its soil. New Delhi claims to have gathered credible evidence implicating Lashkar in the attack.

Asked what would happen if India’s demand was ignored, the home minister said: “Our diplomatic efforts are on. We will decide on our next course of action if Pakistan does not respond.’’

India is not alone in seeking a crackdown on the two outfits, the home minister said. The US, which is leading the global war on terror, has also blacklisted Jaish and Lashkar, he pointed out.

Pakistan should take action against the organisations since it claims to be a member of the world coalition against terrorism, Advani said.

“It is high time that Pakistan takes action to prove that it is genuinely against terrorism,” he said.

Earlier, the home minister praised the security personnel who laid down their lives fighting the terrorists. The home minister said the securitymen should be treated as national heroes and their names included in history books.

But for their bravery and timely action, India would have seen a worse tragedy than the September 11 strikes on the US. The militants were carrying RDX, AK-56 rifles and hand-grenades and had come to eliminate leaders inside Parliament.

The home minister said the government had taken the attack “very seriously’’ and was determined to give a fitting reply to the terrorists and to those “who harbour them”.


Srinagar, Dec. 15: 
Four civilians were among the 10 persons killed in two encounters in the Kashmir Valley today.

Police in the south Kashmir town of Anantnag seized 50 kg of RDX during a search of a passenger bus. Some suspects have been rounded up for questioning.

Early this morning, security forces raided a house at Krankshevan, near the apple town of Sopore in Baramullah, where militants were hiding. The militants opened fire and hurled grenades at the soldiers. “One soldier died on the spot while two received serious injuries,” a police officer said. The troops retaliated, gunning down four militants.

A woman identified as Saleema Bano and her daughter Ruqaiya died in the crossfire.

A report from the south Kashmir town of Tral, in Pulwama, said militants ambushed a vehicle of the special operations group in the main market this afternoon. They hurled grenades and fired from automatic weapons, killing a special police officer, Mohammad Akbar.

Two civilian bystanders died in retaliatory fire by the special operations group, sources said. Twelve persons were injured and have been admitted to hospital. The special operations group rushed reinforcements to the spot and searched the market.

Two security personnel were injured in the main market at Shopian, also in Pulwama, after militants attacked another party of the special operations group. Two civilians were wounded.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
The demand of BJP hardliners that India should smash terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in retaliation to the attack on Parliament does not have many takers among the party’s allies.

Most allies, barring the Shiv Sena, want the government to tread cautiously and not fall into the “hot pursuit” trap. Sources said such a move could produce short-term gains, but was fraught with dangers.

The sources added that defence minister George Fernandes and the Samata Party were opposed to the idea of crossing into PoK without the support of the US.

Referring to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s assertion that “we have reached a decisive phase” and the hardline stand of home minister L.K. Advani and his party colleagues, a Samata leader said the BJP could be “orchestrating” a campaign for political gain.

Janata Dal (U) spokesperson Mohan Prakash said: “We have to be vigilant. We have to hit back in the language they understand.” But he refrained from saying that India should smash camps in PoK.

“Unless you take the Americans into confidence, because they are physically present there, the move may badly boomerang,” a Lok Sabha MP from the party said.

Pointing out that unlike some BJP leaders, “past masters in messing up things”, Fernanades was not in favour of taking the fight into PoK, an ally said it would be naive to expect President George W. Bush to back an Indian attack when his relations with Pervez Musharraf were good.

The US would not dump Musharraf but, at the same time, the Americans do not want an Indo-Pak conflict, he said. Neither Osama bin Laden nor Mullah Mohammad Omar is in their hands yet.

Ridiculing the hawks in the Sangh parivar, an NDA leader said: “These fellows are no great foreign policy experts”. Islamabad has stored nuclear weapons in PoK, bordering China, and Delhi has to think hard before taking any step.

Musharraf is visiting China on December 20 and there are indications that he wants to involve Beijing in the subcontinent as he does not want to depend fully on the US, a source said.


Lucknow, Dec. 15: 
Coming to his karmasthal after four years, BSP chief Kanshi Ram today flagged off the party’s election campaign but not before naming Mayavati as his successor and signalling his retirement.

“I can’t live forever,’’ Kanshi Ram said. “After Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar, I continued their struggle for the Bahujan Samaj, but someone has to bear the torch after I leave. I find no better person than Mayavati to do the work for the Samaj. Today, I am naming her my successor.’’

As the crowd, numbering more than a lakh, burst out in applause, Mayavati’s mentor assured the gathering that not only would the BSP head the government in Uttar Pradesh but Punjab, too, would be theirs.

The BSP chief, however, rued that leadership formation in the party was taking painfully long. “It took me a long, long time to prepare Mayavati as a national leader. But I am confident she will do justice to the Samaj’s cause and fulfil her onerous responsibilities.”

The BSP leader also explained his long absence from Uttar Pradesh, saying he was preparing ground for an election victory in Punjab. “There is an unbelievable resurgence of the Samaj in Punjab and the way things are looking from here, it seems certain that the BSP will be the biggest party in Punjab after the Assembly elections. We also have a good chance in 12 other states.’’

He exhorted the gathering to back the only party that would take up the cause of society without any ulterior agenda. “It is sad that the BSP being the third largest party in the country has succeeded in forming a state government only once, in Uttar Pradesh, and that too with the help of another party. But all that is changing. One day we will form the government at the Centre.’’

Kanshi Ram left most of the rabble rousing to Mayavati. Launching a scathing attack on her adversaries, she asked the people not to forgive the Congress, “at any cost, for the many conspiracies they have been hatching since the time of Nehru”.

Maintaining the recent attack on Parliament was due to a serious security lapse, Mayavati said the terrorist attempt was a direct cause of the BJP’s failure as a party.


New Delhi, Dec. 15: 
Picasso: Metamorphoses 1900-1972, From the French Collection, jointly organised by the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Embassy of France, opened yesterday at the National Museum amid the usual confusion over invitations and arrangements. The inauguration by President K.R. Narayanan was out of bounds for private media reportedly because of security restrictions. Only the public broadcasters were considered safe.

Many artists and gallery-owners received their invitations on the day of the opening and that too several hours after the inaugural function. Some artists and art teachers, fortunate enough to receive the invitations on time, were kept waiting on the street outside because they arrived a little late. As is usual in such cases, the blame game has begun.

After all the hype, the much-awaited Picasso show does not appear to be substantial enough. Artists and art historians, who prefer not to go on record, feel that the impact is not big enough. It proves once again that even in the field of cultural exchanges, the balance tilts in favour of the developed countries that are the power elites. The patterns of domination and subordination are repeated. Or are the flaws in selection the responsibility of Indian commissioner Saryu Doshi, who is an expert in traditional Indian art? The Indians, in return, have promised France an exhibition of Gupta period sculptures, considered by some experts as the golden age of traditional Indian sculpture.

Picasso:Metamorphoses... shows 132 works, of which a majority are drawings and engravings. Large chunks of representative phases of painting like the blue period, the rose period, the harlequins of the Saltimbanque family are not a part of the show and only make an appearance in the form of drawings. Curatorial notes and signages are totally inadequate. The saving grace is in some of the sculptures, the assemblages, the ceramics and some fine specimens of the high Cubist period like Man with Mandolin.

Moreover, art historians and art buffs were heard complaining about the logic followed in displaying the paintings. One person felt that a broad chronological order would have helped first-time viewers understand the evolution of the artist. A young reputed art historian was of the same view.

Artists and art teachers like Manu Parekh and Kanchan Chander say the exhibition will be of use to art students and artists viewing Picasso originals for the first time. But for a large section of the younger generation of artists who have travelled abroad widely, the exhibition is a nostalgia trip of sorts.

Even in a post-modern scenario, Picasso remains relevant. Shukla Sawant of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s new department of art and aesthetics said: “A Picasso exhibition is crucial at this juncture when there is a debate arising out of appropriation of images.” For instance, when a European artist looks at other visual languages as resource, he is said to be inspired. In the case of, say, an Indian artist being influenced, he is said to be copying.

Picasso highlights the different ways of looking. These are issues central to 20th century history of art.

Other younger generation artists like Manisha Parekh, Anjum Singh, Subba Ghosh, Anita Dube, Shiela Makhijani feel that Picasso is still relevant. None of these artists have seen the Picasso show yet, but have seen enough of his art in museums abroad. They are turned on by his energy, his honesty with material, his experiments with installations, assemblages and inventiveness.

The show closes on January 31, 2002.


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