US sign for Delhi face-saver
Monopoly out, cheaper STD in
Landlord arrest lesson for capital
Bengal tigress becomes a lamb
Dynasty in attendance for GenX coronation
Rights ruled out for terrorists
Shillong plans rebel flushout
Naxalite snatch scare holds up arms package
Govt drive fails to lure Dalits
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Dec. 17: 
The Bush administration, patting itself on the back for the conduct of the treacherous war against terrorism in Afghanistan so far, believes that it has the situation between India and Pakistan fully under control.

Diplomats across the board here have sat up following secretary of state Colin Powell’s unambiguous assertion yesterday that the equation between South Asia’s biggest neighbours following the attack on India’s Parliament is not yet dangerous.

Powell, the Bush administration’s top-most official to speak on record so far about last week’s terrorist outrage in New Delhi said on NBC’s Face the Nation programme that the situation between India and Pakistan “has the potential of becoming very dangerous”. He conceded, however, that the relationship “is very tense”.

The secretary’s assertion is a landmark departure from the position of successive administrations here in the last 10 years.

From Bush Senior’s presidency through Bill Clinton’s two terms, Americans have been extremely nervous about India and Pakistan even sneezing in the direction of each other, fearing a military escalation and an eventual nuclear conflagration.

There is speculation in knowledgeable circles here that Powell’s calm may be the result of Indian assurances conveyed to US ambassador Robert Blackwill that New Delhi will not act precipitously against Islamabad.

Powell pointed out that “Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, made it clear that he was allowing some time to pass in order to get a reaction from the Pakistani government” on the action it proposes to take against terrorists operating across the border.

The secretary balanced this with a categorical assertion that “the Pakistani government is taking some steps now”.

US intelligence officials here and in Islamabad have been sharing their information with the American media that the Lashkar-e-Toiba has already shut down its offices in the Pakistani capital.

Presumably at America’s prodding, signboards at a Lashkar training camp in Lahore have also been taken down. These officials could not, however, confirm whether terrorist training was continuing in the compound, shorn of any publicity.

Significantly, Powell’s statement implied that if India took action that solely affected terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar and did not draw the state of Pakistan into a conflict, the US would look the other way.

“I think the Indian government clearly has the legitimate right of self-defence”, he told NBC. “But I think we have to be very careful in this instance because if, in the exercise of that right of self-defence we have states going after each other, we could create a much more difficult situation, a situation that could spiral out of control”.

In condoning Israeli attacks against Palestinians, the US has always maintained that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is acting in self-defence and only against terrorists who seek the destruction of Israel. In any case, the US does not recognise the state of Palestine.

Behind such a rational balancing of competing US interests in South Asia is also the benefit of doubt which the Bush administration is prepared to extend to General Pervez Musharraf.

The Americans believe the Pakistani leopard has achieved the impossible of changing its spots. Powell said: “I think it is important to note that President Musharraf immediately condemned the attacks in New Delhi and said that he is taking action against the two organisations that have been tentatively identified as terrorist organisations that might have been responsible for this” attack on Parliament.

For the time being, flowing from the miscalculation that the rest of the world is ready to forget their problems for the sake of America’s war against terrorism, the administration is hoping that India and Pakistan, being members of the US-led coalition against terror will cooperate with each other.

“We are encouraging both sides to share information with each other and to come together in this campaign against terrorism and not escalate it to a level where it could get out of control”.

Such advice, privately delivered in Islamabad before Powell went public, is behind Pakistan’s suggestion that it should be involved in the investigations into the attack on Parliament.

The administration’s bottomline is clear. It no longer minds the rhetoric or even some very limited action so that Vajpayee could save his face.

“What we don’t want to do is to see the rhetoric get so ratcheted up that the rhetoric then is followed by action, which lets the whole situation go out of control,” Powell concluded.


New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
The government’s monopoly over the nationwide STD (subscriber trunk dialling) services ended today.

Bharti launched the country’s first privatesector national long distance telephony service and said it would be cherry-topped with deep discounts, raising thepossibility of another telecom rate war.

“Currently, we are offering our services to all basic and cellular service providers and not directly to consumers. However, we expect this to impact theSTD rate which should come down,” Bharti group chairman Sunil Mittal said.

“I am not at liberty to give our tariff rates here, but we will be offering deep discounts. It will not be 10-20 per cent cuts... it could be deeper,” Mittal said.

The Bharti group chief,however, conceded that as yetno telecom service provider other than his own group companies which market the Airtel services have signed up for his STD service. He said the company is negotiating with the others.

Besides a fibre optic linkthat girdles its telecom circles, Bharti has leased a line connecting Delhi with Calcutta fromthe state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd that will be buttressed with back-up lines from Gail and PowerGrid.

Reliance and Bharti are the only two private sector telecom players which had bid and got the government’s approval to start its national long distance telecom service.

Bharti’s launch today is aimed at stealing a march over Reliance which is still tying up its connectivity lines.

Mittal said he aims to grab at least 5 to 6 per cent of the estimated Rs 7,000 crore STD phone call market. “I hope to make this pay for itself within the next two years,” he said.

The Bharti group chief executive said his group had already invested Rs 800 crore out of a budgeted Rs 1,400 crore inthe service.

Around 12,000 km ofoptic fibre cables have already been laid out covering some50 cities. Another 14,000 km of cables are to be laid out over the next 12-18 months, company executives said.

The service, called IndiaOne, now has switches in nine major cities and nodes in another 50 smaller cities. “By phase II, we will get Carrier Access Circle codes and will be able to offer any telephone user pre-paid STD cards,” Mittal said.

He said there would be only two time zone rates — the first being a full rate 9 am to 9 pm time zone, and the other a night discounted rate from 9 pm to 9 am. Similarly, there would be only three distance bands — less than 500 km, 500-1000 km, and over 1,000 km.


New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
After yesterday’s dramatic announcement of solving the Parliament attack case, Delhi police today arrested a landlord and a property dealer to make the capital more “security conscious”.

Tariq Ahmed, the alleged conduit between the mastermind of the attack and the strike team, was also arrested in Jammu and Kashmir today.

In Delhi, the landlord who rented out his home to one of the accused and the property agent who brokered the deal were picked up for flouting a regulation which is seldom heeded.

In the capital, it is mandatory for landlords to submit details of new tenants with the neighbourhood police station. But few landlords or property dealers do so and the police rarely verify the antecedents of the tenants unless they are wanted on criminal charges.

Subhash Malhotra, owner of a Mukherjee Nagar house which was taken on rent by alleged Jaish-e-Mohammad coordinator Mohammad Afzal, was detained for failing to inform the police about the new occupants. The property dealer, Virendra Pal, was also picked up on the same charge.

Though neither is in any way linked to the attack, the police want to make an example of them to ensure that citizens are more “security-conscious”.

“People need to take rules seriously,” a police officer said. “Unless the public are vigilant, terrorists can strike at will,” he added.

The government today considered its options on the response to the attack at an informal meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. The meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister, was attended by key ministers, including L.K. Advani, who is scheduled to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow.

A CBI team will have a close look at the body of Mohammad, who led the suicide squad, to cross-check and confirm whether he was the killer of Rupin Katyal, a passenger on the hijacked Indian Airlines plane.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad today denied that its members were involved in the attack. Reacting for the first time after the attack, the outfit’s founder leader Masood Azhar said Islamic militants have nothing to gain by attacking Parliament.


Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
The long wait is over. At long last, beti Mamata is back in Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s company — and favour.

The proof of the political reunion is believed to have come from their flying together — after a long time — to and from Santiniketan. It is a matter of time before she is back in the Cabinet — if not in the railway ministry, certainly in another important one. Didn’t the Prime Minister himself signal the return of the good old times, she asked her people, when he made Trinamul Congress and BJP men gathered at Raj Bhavan swear by her leadership again in their next battle against the Marxists?

Contrary to what she would like her people to believe, the signals — and the facts — all suggest very different things. The fact that the impetuous Mamata is kept waiting should suggest that things are no longer the same.

The fact that she is desperate for a return to the Cabinet should suggest it is no longer the same Mamata. That she herself, and not Vajpayee, has to proclaim her importance shows how things have changed.

Defiant Didi of old has now been transformed into a supplicant Mamata waiting for favours to fall her way.

The importance of being Mamata Banerjee, her careergraph since her first election to the Lok Sabha in 1984 would show, lay in her politics of defiance and of rebellion.

The simple woman from Kalighat’s obscure little lane began by defying the might of the CPM and its heavyweight candidate Somnath Chatterjee.

The defiant Mamata, born of that fight, then went on to challenge the Marxists in bigger battles and captured both the opposition political space and the people’s imagination. Soon she defied the state leadership of her party, the Congress, left it and made her own party the principal opposition party in West Bengal. The people were so taken in by her acts of defiance that they did not find anything wrong when she made her politics a spectator sport.

Even when she tied up with the BJP before the 1998 Lok Sabha polls, it was pretty much on her own terms. Prickly Mamata kept the BJP leadership on tenterhooks, threatening at regular intervals to quit the ministry as she had done earlier as minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Cabinet and forcing leaders from New Delhi to rush to Kalighat to keep her in good humour.

When she left the BJP’s company and allied with the Congress on the eve of the Assembly elections last May, she still kept her old profile as the uncompromising rebel because she quit the Cabinet to protest the “corruption” exposed by the Tehelka tapes. Also, she dictated the alliance with the Congress .

Her transformation came after the elections, not only because she no longer was a winner, but primarily because she now crawled back to the BJP with the hope of a return to the Cabinet.

While New Delhi kept her waiting, Bengal looked no longer the same ground where her defiance had once won her such acclaim and popularity. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took the steam out of her campaigns which once drew their strength from her no-holds-barred attacks on Jyoti Basu and his son, Chandan.

The new chief minister’s reformist moves and postures - and the industry’s support for him - also robbed her of the economic campaign plank against the Marxists.

The diminishing influence of Mamata was proved in the complete failure of the agitations she recently tried to organise on issues like the eviction of squatters from the banks of Tolly’s Nullah and the increases in electricity and hospital charges. Some of the CPM’s partners in the Left Front also criticised the government moves on these issues. But Mamata cannot hope to beat the Leftists in their old game of populist politics.

Perhaps a more important reason for her lacklustre agitations is that her heart is right now in the wait for the Cabinet much more than in defiance of her enemies. She would still try to put up the old face, win elections and possibly become minister. But she cannot have yesterday once more.

In fact, some of her party colleagues argue that it is important for her to become a Union minister again to have sting in her anti-CPM fight. In other words, they admit that without a ministry, she might lose not just bite but relevance.

The point is her return to the Cabinet may give her back some insignificant power, but none of the glory in which defiant Mamata shone.


New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
It had all the trappings of a mini-coronation. The Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road was suddenly alive and wore a festive look with hundreds of party flags, placards, bunters, banners welcoming the new Raja, 30-year-old Jyotiraditya Vikramrao Scindia.

Madhavrao Scindia’s son officially became part of the Congress today. Scindia junior, his wife and mother in tow, drove to Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence this morning to sign the two sets of membership forms — primary and active. As a special gesture, Sonia herself proffered him the papers.

Later in the evening, Jyotiraditya addressed a joint news conference at the AICC office. Top Congress leaders, including Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh, S.C. Shukla, Jaipal Reddy, K. Natwar Singh, Mohsina Kidwai, Sheila Dixit, Motilal Vohra, Anand Sharma and Madhya Pradesh Congress chief R.K. Malviya, were present on the occasion.

Finally, the dais was finally so crammed that former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal and some others had to sit at the media section.

For a first-timer, Jyotiraditya faced the press with ease. The Doon School alumni made politically correct statements. “I feel honoured and privileged to join the historic Congress party today. I do so with a feeling of sorrow and enthusiasm,” he said.

Jyotiraditya said he valued “secularism, liberalism and social justice,” which form the cornerstone of the Congress constitution and the “foundation of my father’s principles”. His father will always remain a source of enthusiasm for him and “Sonia Gandhi has been a pillar of strength for me and my family”, Jyotiraditya said.

He would seek the “blessings, support and guidance of all elders, my father’s colleagues and people of Madhya Pradesh,” the new Raja added but admitted that it was difficult to be “the son of a great man”.

Asked if he would contest the Guna Lok Sabha seat held by his father, he said Jyotiraditya said he would abide by the party’s decision.

The press meet over, Jyotiraditya addressed a large crowd, mostly from the Gwalior-Morena-Agra belt, at the AICC lawns and looked every inch his late father. White pyjamas, light blue kurta, a black vest and a sacred, red thread on his right wrist. The speech was brief and the crowd cheered lustily. Party observers said hardly has anyone joined the party with such fanfare.

The three functions — at 10 Janpath, the news conference and the public meeting — neatly camouflaged the factionalism in Madhya Pradesh politics.

All the leaders who were not well disposed towards Madhavrao were there. The only absentee was Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi. Kamal Nath, the other heavyweight from the state to be absent at the press meet, had shown up at 10 Janpath well in time for a photo-op.

Karnataka Cabinet

The S.M. Krishna government in Karnataka would be expanded tomorrow, according to a PTI report. Official sources said the swearing-in ceremony is scheduled to be held at Raj Bhavan at 12.30 pm. Governor V.S. Ramadevi would administer the oath of office, sources said, adding that the chief minister is likely to induct three new faces in his ministry.    

Hyderabad, Dec. 17: 
The NDA’s campaigners against terrorism today said the government had the sanction of the international community to pursue all options, including hot pursuit and crossing the Line of Control to contain ISI-sponsored terrorist camps.

Cabinet ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Shourie, who were in the city to build public awareness on the need for the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in the wake of the recent attack on Parliament, said punishing the terrorists was the government’s top priority. Terrorists could no longer take refuge under human rights, they said.

Ridiculing the Opposition campaign against the NDA after the attack, rural development minister Naidu said the Congress reaction was “unfortunate”. India has lost 53,000 lives (Shourie put that figure at 61,000) to terrorism over the last two decades, Naidu said, adding that the present law did not give any teeth to investigations.

Referring to the arrest of five activists the Student’s Islamic Movement of India in Hyderabad, Naidu said the activists were released on bail within six hours of their arrest.

Earlier, speaking at a seminar on “Terrorists’ war on India – our response”, organised by the pro-RSS Prajna Bharati, Shourie said the Taliban were a product of the madarsas of Pakistan and those of Deobandh.

Urging for a comprehensive, long term policy, Shourie said terrorism could only be contained by “overwhelming force”. Terming the media response to the terrorism Ordinance as “dereliction of duty”, the journalist-turned-politician said the media interpretation of the impact of the terror Bill on the profession was very “callous”.

Shourie said the operations of ISI-sponsored organisations in and around India should be closely scrutinised by international agencies if they needed any further proof of the disruptive activities of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which recently changed their names to escape freezing of assets.

“The ISI is running shelters and safe houses for these organisations in Nepal as well as Bangladesh. The terrorists groups of the Northeast were also supported by these agencies,” he added.

Earlier, a group of senior Congressmen criticised the appeals made by chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu for Opposition support to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance as “new-found patriotism of the Telugu Desam leader”. Terming Naidu as an agent of the BJP, Congress leaders said there was no immediate need for the terrorism ordinance, and that the menace of terrorism could be contained by quick action.


Shillong, Dec. 17: 
Meghalaya police are raring to have a go at Ulfa militants who have set up camps along the state’s border with Assam.

Preparations for an offensive against the Ulfa gathered steam after the Union home ministry asked the newly-formed coalition government to beef up security along the Indo-Bangladesh border and send situational reports on the spurt in militant activity in the state.

Police officials were tight-lipped about the operation, but intelligence sources confirmed that the police and paramilitary forces had chalked out a “plan of action” to counter the threat from the Ulfa and some local outfits, including the A’chik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC).

Chief minister F.A. Khonglam said his government was seized of the problem of militancy and monitoring the developments along the state’s borders with Assam and Bangladesh.

“The police will not allow militants to hold the state to ransom. We are just waiting for reports on the situation in the interior areas. It won’t be long before we get cracking,” he said.

Half-a-dozen Ulfa militants have been killed in encounters with the police in different parts of Meghalaya. These militants had sneaked into the state from Bhutan.

Thimphu has asked the Ulfa to wind up four of its nine camps in the Himalayan kingdom by December 31 or face military action. Intelligence agencies say scores of militants belonging to the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland have already deserted their camps in Bhutan and taken shelter in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya.

West Garo Hills superintendent of police B.R. Rana told The Telegraph that Ulfa militants on the run had concealed arms and ammunition in several villages.

A police team led by Rana recently seized a cache of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, including rocket launchers, at Rajashimla.

Intelligence agencies also said the Ulfa and the NDFB are planning to strike in a big way in the run-up to the panchayat elections in Assam.

Church demand

The All-India Christian Council today demanded “quick and severe” action against terrorist outfits involved in the attack on Parliament.

“It was an attack on Indian democracy and the government should take quick and severe action against those involved in the crime,” said the council while condemning the December 13 incident.


Jamshedpur, Dec. 17: 
Forest authorities are unwilling to take delivery of sophisticated arms for their guards for fear of losing them to Maoist Communist Centre extremists.

Sources in the forest department said Rs 1.8 crore was paid to a weapons factory in Andhra Pradesh in 1998 for self-loading rifles for the guards.

Though the weapons are ready for delivery, the forest authorities are “not interested” in getting them to places like Palamau as they fear that MCC activists, who have set up camp in the jungles, will loot them.

Adding to the woes of the forest officials is the absence of trained personnel to handle the sophisticated guns and the lack of a safe place to store them.

“At one stage, the idea of deputing retired armymen for training the forest guards with these weapons was being toyed with, but no decision has been taken as yet,” said a senior official.

As a result, poaching goes on unchecked in the state’s forests. Sources at Palamau National Park said poaching has taken its toll on the elephant and tiger populations of the forest.

In the eighties and even in the early nineties, according to an official, forest authorities had provided adequate armed guards for the protection of tigers in the reserve and poachers were taken to task periodically.

But the effort received a blow in 1992 when guards of the tiger reserve lost their right to weapons.

The source said forest officials had then shot dead two poachers, prompting the administration to order a CBI inquiry, which has still not been concluded.

During this period, forest authorities, at the instance of the police, seized all firearms from the guards at the reserve. Since then, the national park is being protected by unarmed guards.

However, in 1995 a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court that sought protection for wildlife sanctuaries in what was then south Bihar by armed guards.

In its judgment, pronounced on December 12, 1996, the apex court instructed the Centre to provide necessary weapons for guarding the Palamau National Park and other wildlife sanctuaries in the region.

The Centre then sanctioned a grant of Rs 1.8 crore for the purchase of the weapons for protecting forests in south Bihar. The money was paid to the Andhra Pradesh factory for the purchase of the SLRs.

Sources said that ever since forest guards were stripped of their fire-arms, as many as a dozen elephants are being killed every year by villagers in Palamau.

However, as far as the poaching of the big cats is concerned, Tiger Reserve officials in Daltongunj maintained that no case has been registered in the past one year though unofficial sources asserted that illegal hunting is rampant.

Prior to 1992, forest officials used to register cases against poachers and follow-up on the investigation by going into their dens.

But after being stripped of their guns, investigators are afraid to venture deep inside the forests, fearing an attack by the poachers who are often hardened criminals.

Two villages, Pokhri and Serendag, serve as poachers’ dens in Palamau.

However, forest officials are apprehensive of raiding these hamlets unarmed and, hence, no case is ever registered against the criminal hunters.

Sources said some of the tigers that were a major tourist attraction — especially Rani, Salini and Bobby — cannot be spotted now and expressed fear that they may have been killed.

But Tiger Reserve officials maintained that the number of tigers is constant at around 40.


Deverakonda (Nalgonda), Dec. 17: 
Want to be treated like an equal? Then pay up more.

The Andhra Pradesh government’s anti-untouchability campaign has only exacerbated the plight of the seven crore Dalits who make up about 15 per cent of the state’s population.

Upper-caste shop owners now charge them more, while in some villages, angry landlords , upset with the government diktat, refused to hire Dalit labourers, cutting off a major source of their income.

The untouchability campaign began from November 1. It ensured that the Dalits were allowed to enter village temples or tea-stalls and draw drinking water from the main source. But the deliverance soon became a scourge. Tea is now served to Dalits in tea stalls for almost double the amount charged earlier.

Served in disposable cups, a Dalit ends up paying Rs 1.50 per cup against the 50 or 75 paise he paid for the same quantity when served in earthen pots. “This freedom is costing us more and more,” says Mangadhaiah, a Dalit of Manikonda village in Mahboobnagar district.

The upper castes have a ready reply. “We cannot serve him in the same glasses used by other villagers. He has to pay a higher price if he wants to be treated like an upper caste,” says Muthayalu, a tea-stall owner in Manikonda.

Parameswaraiah, the village sarpanch in Shankarapalli, Rangareddy district, sums up what this “freedom” means on the ground.

“As it is a government order, I see to it that no Dalit is turned away from the village temple or tea shops. But he cannot come along with the others. He has to come after all the others have gone and sit far away from the shop,” the sarpanch said.

Despite the government campaign, in most villages of Warangal and Nalgonda, Dalits are given food wrapped in newspapers – they cannot be served in plates.

In some villages in Mahboobnagar, Dalits are also not allowed to buy fine rice, even if they can afford it.

“We are sold only coarse rice by the local shops,” says Venkataiah, a Harijan farmer in Rudraram, in Rangareddy.

State home minister T. Devender Gowd denies such discrimination. “By law we have made such offences punishable with either six months rigorous imprisonment or a Rs 5,000 fine for the first offence and two years rigorous imprisonment and Rs 20,000 fine for subsequent offences.”

But Left parties, which conducted a survey in around 2,000 gram panchayats out of a total of 21,000 in the state, contend that the campaign had merely been an “official” programme.

“Within days after giving the Dalits entry into village temples in the constituency of state health minister N. Janardhan Reddy, they were barred. In spite of revisits by Telugu Desam Party leaders and the minister to that village, the Dalits continue to be kept away,” says CPM state secretary B.V. Raghavulu.

Most Dalits in Nalgonda district say the untouchability campaign has brought them more suffering as landlords hired labourers from Guntur district in the last crop-cutting season. The result was nearly 2,000 Dalits went without work.

“We would be better off remaining as untouchables rather than starve. We don’t know whether the village elders will allow our children to go to school next year because of the government action against some of them this year,” said Bikshapatamma, of Chandanpur in Rangareddy.




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