Powell opens handover door
Reforms rain, courtesy Laden
Lightning Zhu zaps with spot clearance
Legal initiative for sex workers
No Temptation please, we’re Indians
Backwards dominate BJP list
Maximum air time for BJP in UP
Women lose Cong ticket race
Touch of Persia in Ranchi hub
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell said today Pakistan might consider returning non-Pakistanis sought by India, outlining a possible formula that could end the standoff in the subcontinent.

“He (Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf) considered that appropriate action might involve returning them (the non-Pakistanis on the list) from whence they came,” Powell told a news conference following his arrival from visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At least 14 of the 20 men on the wanted list are Indians. Powell, who was in Islamabad yesterday, had spoken of Delhi’s concerns about “Mr (Dawood) Ibrahim”, the Bombay blasts suspect whose name is on the list.

Powell did not elaborate today on the suspects who may be handed over either to India or a third country, but added that Delhi has agreed to provide more information on the wanted men.

“India, I have been informed this evening, will be presenting more information to Pakistan with respect to these individuals,” he said.

“As what was said in Musharraf’s speech last Saturday, appropriate action will be taken with respect to those individuals in the list who are non-Pakistanis. If they are Pakistanis and if they have committed crimes and if they come into custody or be brought into custody, actions would be taken against them in accordance with the Pakistani law,” he added

In Washington, defence minister George Fernandes said the standoff would be “on the way to resolution sooner or later” .

Powell repeated in Delhi what he said in Islamabad yesterday: The US is “anxious” to see a dialogue between India and Pakistan on all issues, including Kashmir.

The secretary of state did not spell out Washington’s strategy but there were strong indications that it will play an important role in the process.

Powell said he came here with “some ideas” which he shared with foreign minister Jaswant Singh and would do so again with the Prime Minister tomorrow. “I cannot share them with you before that,” he told reporters.

He said the Bush administration was satisfied with the steps taken by Musharraf against terrorists based on its soil. However, he added that “a final assessment will have to be made by the Indian leadership whether these steps were sufficient for resuming the dialogue with Pakistan”.

As a token of appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts, Powell announced the re-opening of an office of the US Agency for International Aid (USAID), which was closed following the nuclear sanctions. The office will allow the US to resume assistance programmes in priority areas.

India told Powell that Delhi was committed to peacefully resolve outstanding differences with Pakistan, including the one on Kashmir. But Delhi made it clear that the ground situation in Kashmir has to improve before India could move to the talks-table.

Powell’s comments indicated that the shadow of the US will loom large on future talks between Delhi and Islamabad. “It has to be resolved through a dialogue. The US will stand by to help the two friends,” he said. The outstanding differences between India and Pakistan have to be resolved through “direct talks”.

“To the extent we can help bring that dialogue about and to the extent that both sides ask us to assist them as they go through the dialogue, the US is always ready to assist its two friends. It must be a dialogue between the two countries,” he added.

Immediately after his arrival in the evening, the US secretary of state went into delegation-level talks with foreign minister Jaswant Singh and officials of the foreign ministry. The discussions continued at a “working dinner” hosted by Singh at Hyderabad House.

Powell will meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi tomorrow.


Islamabad, Jan. 17: 
Pervez Musharraf has again transformed the challenge posed by Osama bin Laden into an opportunity, ending electoral discrimination against minorities and giving more parliament seats to women in a dramatic reforms thrust.

The decision deals a blow to Islamic parties and offers a boost to the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who has drifted closer to Musharraf ever since he joined the global coalition against terrorism.

For the first time in 16 years, Pakistan’s 140 million people can all vote for the same candidates if Musharraf keeps his promise to hold elections by October. Till now, Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities could only vote for candidates on special lists for seats in parliament and provincial assemblies.

The government has also increased the number of seats for women to 60 from 20 and raised the number of seats in the National Assembly, the lower House, to 350 from 237.

In another first for Pakistan, minimum academic qualification has been set for members of parliament. Only graduates will be allowed to contest House elections in the country, which has a low literacy rate. Twenty-five seats have been reserved for technocrats.

Musharraf’s sweeping steps — the latest in a series that began with his path-breaking address last week against militancy — accelerates his campaign to transform Pakistan to what he calls a “modern Islamic state”.

The new round of reforms has won applause from the moderates and women’s groups which have termed the steps inadequate but “revolutionary”. But it ignited predictable outrage among hardliners, whose icon, ironically, is being seen as the vital factor that catalysed the reforms. “The credit goes to Osama bin Laden. These drastic steps were not even imaginable before September 11,” commentator Anis Jilani said.

Musharraf’’s electoral reforms were all the more stunning since the separate electorate law he abolished was introduced in 1985 by another military ruler, General Mohammad Zia-ul Haq despite fierce opposition by liberals.

“It’s a good step towards eliminating sectarianism from society,” said Afrasiab Khattack, chairman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission.

However, the minorities now run the risk of losing guaranteed representation in the house. Under the old system, 10 seats were reserved for them. In the new process, the minorities can end up without any member since they are outnumbered in almost all seats.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
It’s not known if Atal Bihari Vajpayee had ever met with such a request on one of his trips abroad. But his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Rongji, demonstrated today why China is a red-hot investor destination and India is red-tape tied.

On a visit to the Bangalore temple to India’s infotech success, the Premier cleared on the spot a request from Infosys head N.R. Narayanamurthy to open a branch in Shanghai.

“Right now I am giving my approval,” Zhu said to thunderous applause from around 1,000 young software engineers on the Infosys campus.

“Just now, (Narayana) Murthy has explained to me that Infosys has branches all over the world but it does not have one in China. On the spot, he wishes to give an application to open an office in Shanghai. Right now, I am giving my approval.”

Nandan Nilekani, CEO-designate of Infosys, said it illustrated the Premier’s “legendary ability” to take quick decisions.

An Infosys team has been in China for some months looking for opportunities. “We soon realised we needed to have an office there,” a spokesman said.

Three Indian software companies — NIIT, Aptech and Zensar — are already in China and Wipro and Satyam are in the queue.

Nilekani said the Shanghai branch “will be both a software development centre and a marketing office”.

Infosys made a presentation to the Chinese leader on the strides made by India in infotech. Impressed by it, Zhu wrote in the visitor’s book: “Advanced technology, outstanding talent, modern management and tremendous achievement.”

Zhu, known for his reformist zeal, said: “You are number one software exporter, China is far behind.”

Not for long, warned Narayanamurthy. China could walk away with the premier position if India does not improve its basic infrastructure-building process and remove bureaucratic hurdles.

According to a recent study, China could overtake India as the main infotech outsourcing point for the US. “That could happen in the next three to four years,” he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
The Centre has made a move that could push the sex industry closer towards getting legal status.

The department of women and children has suggested deletion of the clause in the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act that provides for punishment of sex workers “soliciting” or “seducing” clients in public.

“This section should be repealed. It victimises the prostitute herself. The aim of the Act is to punish commercialisation of prostitution and not prostitution itself,” the department has suggested.

In no uncertain terms it has said that retaining such a “retrogressive” clause goes against the “survival right” of prostitutes. The Centre has written to all state governments for their opinion on the amendments which will have to be cleared by the Cabinet.

Senior lawyer Indira Jaisingh of the Lawyers Collective does not believe that dropping the objectionable provision from the Act in any way means endorsing or moving closer towards legalising prostitution. “Even now the law does not say that you cannot prostitute. The amendment to the Act is in keeping with the existing legal framework,” says Jaisingh.

The Act punishes prostitutes for soliciting or seducing through “words, gestures or wilful exposure” in any “public place or within sight or earshot of such a place” regardless of whether soliciting is done from within or outside any building or house.

Women’s organisations have for long been demanding abolition of this provision. But many of them are at the same time doggedly opposed to legalising prostitution. The government is loath to discuss the subject.

But the fact that the Centre has made a move to amend the Act, four decades after it came into effect, shows it has taken notice of the demands women’s organisations have been voicing for establishing the “rights” of prostitutes. Officials, however, stress that the amendment could become controversial, opposition to it arising on “moral” grounds.

“There are many who believe that giving rights to prostitutes means perpetuating the practice,” said an official.

Those advocating legalisation insist that prostitutes who have no rights at present can have some legal support that would save them from police harassment.

Rebutting them, Jyotsna Chatterjee of the Joint Women’s Programme, says: “Legalising prostitution is no solution.” She welcomes the amendment but does not believe it is a step towards legalising prostitution.

“The amendment will prevent the victim from being further victimised. But there should also be some provision that would punish clients, pimps and procurers,” adds Chatterjee.

The amendments suggested by the Centre object to placing the women found guilty of “soliciting” or “seducing” in “corrective institutions”.


Mumbai, Jan. 17: 
Writer Shobhaa De had asked India to get ready for adultery in the drawing room, but India — it appears — is not to be tempted.

Temptation Island will no longer be a part of the world of STAR.

Yashpal Khanna, senior vice-president of STAR, said the channel would not run the second part of the explicit American game show, slammed for “promoting” promiscuity. He said the first part, made up of nine episodes already telecast on STAR World, did not “go down well”.

The network, high on a commercial success brought on largely by Hindi soaps on joint families, has abandoned, too, its plan to broadcast an Indian version of the show on STAR Plus. It said an audience poll had overwhelmingly opposed it.

Temptation Island is too western, something the Indian audience finds hard to digest. People here are far more conservative,” Khanna said.

With much fanfare, the network launched Temptation Island last November, billing it as the show “that shocked America”.

Rupert Murdoch’s STAR had clearly hoped the show would bring in money. STAR sources said the show had not lived up to the channel’s expectations.

Sameer Nair, STAR executive vice-president (programming), said they never expected the show to be a hit with the masses like Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati. He said it was meant for “a niche audience” and did well in that segment.

Temptation Island, a Fox TV production, explores the fidelity or infidelity, depending on the way you look at it, of couples separated from each other on a Pacific island.

It shows beautiful men and women in skimpy dresses cheating on each other and indulging in orgies that even many American viewers found not only distasteful but also “outrageous”.

A sizeable section of the audience, on the contrary, saw nothing wrong with the show, which, they said, was aimed at bringing adultery, a taboo in Indian society, out of the closet. In a December article, Shobhaa De had said adultery was as much a fact of Indian life as it was in the West.

Khanna said STAR World had telecast all the episodes of the game show’s first part in the last two months. “But we have decided against going in for the second part that Fox TV is doing in the US for obvious reasons.”

He said the Indian audience “rejected outright” the channel’s plan to air an Indian version. “More than 70 per cent of those we had polled said they did not want it.” It also faced “practical problems” while flirting with the idea of an Indian version.

“The main problem was how to do it, I mean, how do you get the couples to cheat on each other and do what they did in the US. It’s something not workable in our country,” Khanna said. He was talking about television, of course, not real life.

STAR officials, denying any political pressures behind the decision to drop the show, said they did not want to court controversy over an Indian version at a time when the channel had come out on top.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
After two weeks of hard bargaining with its allies and fine-tuning the caste equations, the BJP released its first list of candidates for the Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal polls today.

A chunk of the 305 candidates announced for Uttar Pradesh, out of a total of 403 Assembly seats, has gone to the most backward castes (MBCs) and most backward Dalits (MBDs) in keeping with the Rajnath Singh government’s decision to create a separate reservation sub-quota for these social categories.

Even in the Mirzapur Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant after MP Phoolan Devi was gunned down, the BJP has put up Ram Chandra Maurya, an MBC candidate.

In the earlier elections, it had always fielded a Rajput to consolidate the upper caste votes against Phoolan, a backward caste Mallah.

With the leadership highlighting the decision to promote the MBCs and MBDs, it is apparent that the BJP has fallen on the “caste card” to pump its electoral fortunes rather than Ram temple or terrorism.

The ambivalence on its principal poll plank in the state was reflected in a news conference jointly addressed by chief minister Rajnath Singh, state party chief Kalraj Mishra and their Uttaranchal counterparts, B.S. Koshiyari and Puran Chand Sharma. Party general secretaries Sunil Shastri and Pyarelal Khandelwal were also present.

Asked if the temple issue would figure in its Uttar Pradesh manifesto, Shastri said: “Whatever manifesto is prepared will be vetted by the central leadership and their stand on Ayodhya is well known.” The temple is not a political but a “cultural nationalism” issue, he added.

Mishra echoed Shastri. “Ram mandir can be in the manifesto as a cultural issue,” he said. But the chief minister made it clear: “Nothing can be said now on whether it will be included in the manifesto or not.”

The other major BJP central election committee decision was to drop 41 legislators from its current lot of 152. These include three ministers — Arvind Jain, Shri Ram Sonkar and Hari Narain Rajbhar.

Rajnath would contest from the Haidergarh seat that he currently represents. Ten ministers from allied parties of the BJP would contest on its symbol, it was decided.

These include powerful ones from the Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP), Diwakar Vikram Singh, Fateh Bahadur Singh and Ganga Bux Singh and one from Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, Shivendra.

Mishra has agreed not to contest, saying he would spend his time monitoring the elections.

The BJP would not officially state how many seats were being offered to its allies, saying the matter would be resolved in a couple of days. But well-placed sources said 35 of the remaining 94 seats have been earmarked for Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), three for Maneka Gandhi’s Shakti Dal and five or six for the Samata Party.

The sources maintained that the BJP would not have an alliance with Paswan in Uttar Pradesh after he decided to go solo in Punjab and Uttaranchal.

The RLD had initially asked for 60 while the BJP was ready to give away 20.

Sources said the chief minister managed to have his way on accommodating the allies despite stiff opposition from Mishra, who insisted the party should contest a majority of the seats to prepare itself for a hung-Assembly scenario. Contesting in more seats would have ensured a better chance for the BJP to emerge as the single largest party. In such a case, the party could form a government with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and jettison the smaller allies, Mishra had said. Singh, however, was determined not to have any truck with the BSP.

In Uttaranchal, the BJP released a list of 64 candidates out of a total of 70. Chief minister, Koshiyari will fight from Kapkot while his predecessor Nityanand Swami has been persuaded to bow out of the fray.


New Delhi, Jan.17: 
The Election Commission has allocated 140 minutes of telecast/broadcast time to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party has got 115 minutes, the Bahujan Samaj Party 110 and the Congress has 80 minutes.

In Punjab, the Congress has got 175 minutes while the Akali Dal has been allotted 180 minutes to air its campaign on Doordarshan and All-India Radio. The BJP has 80 minutes, BSP 70, the CPI 60, the CPM 55, the Nationalist Congress Party 45 and the Akali Dal (M) 60 minutes.

In a single session of broadcast, no party will be allocated more than 15 minutes. The time given to the parties is based on their electoral performance.

The Prasar Bharati Corporation will decide the dates and time for broadcast and telecast in consultation with the commission.

The parties will be required to submit transcripts and recording in advance.

Following a commission suggestion, the Centre had taken up the initiative for the state funding of recognised political parties through free use of DD AIR in 1998 when Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Delhi went to polls.

The facilities will be available from the regional centres of AIR and DD in the states going to polls — Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

The period of broadcast and telecast will be between the last date of filing of nominations and two days before the date of elections.

All the parties have got 45 minutes in Uttaranchal as it is a new state. In Manipur, the BJP has got 70 minutes, the BSP 45, the CPI 60, the CPM 45, the MPP 100, the MSCP 160 and FPM 75.


New Delhi, Jan. 17: 
The Congress may have the distinction of being the lone political party to reserve a third of its posts for women, but AICC president Sonia Gandhi is finding it difficult to fill the 10 per cent quota for women nominees in the forthcoming Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Manipur.

Sonia’s focus on women has gone completely haywire in Manipur and Punjab. The Congress has fielded only two women candidates out of 60 in Manipur.

Former chief minister Rishang Keishing is said to have blocked the candidature of a third, Tilotma, the Youth Congress general secretary, on the ground that she was not an “ordinary resident” of Manipur. Keishing said Tilotma lived in Delhi.

In Punjab, the Congress is fielding only 14 women out of the 106 seats it is contesting. Influential state party leaders said women candidates could not get their share of nominations despite the presence of Sonia, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni and AICC screening committee chairperson Margaret Alva.

In Uttar Pradesh, Sonia’s directive of ensuring at least 10 per cent of women nominees is unlikely to be met. The party’s central election committee has gone through the list of candidates and there are about 25 women in contention. Even if all of them get tickets, it would be about six per cent of the 403 seats the Congress is contesting.

Congress leaders said it was difficult to get credible women nominees in Uttar Pradesh.

“There are seats for which there are seven women seeking nomination and there are seats for which we have none. Then comes the issue of winnability. Social discrimination is such that many women are not forthcoming. Among those who are politically inclined, they have been netted by the BJP, SP and the BSP,” said a Congress official. She said most women seeking Congress tickets came from families that have traditionally supported the party.

In an another development, an influential backward leader, Gangacharan Rajput today joined the Congress. Rajput was a three-time BJP MP from Hamirpur, but he fell out with the party leadership after the exit of chief minister Kalyan Singh. Rajput made a scathing attack on the BJP for its “misrule” in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre.

Sunita Singh, MLA and niece of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, too, joined the Congress.

Rajput regretted having opposed Sonia Gandhi occupying any high office.


Ranchi, Jan. 17: 
Children of the sheltering sky, they wandered aimlessly from one city to another. Until they strayed into Ranchi and made it their home.

The Iranis, a nomadic community whose ancestors left Persia during the reign of Nadir Shah almost three centuries ago, have been living in Ranchi for the past 30 years. “We are tired of moving. We are not happy living a life of uncertainty, though uncertainty had become a part of our lives. But we, too, want a settled life,” said Barqat Ali, chieftain of the tribe.

During the middle ages, Persian gulf countries were known for their high-breed stallions. Iranian horse traders used to travel far and wide with their strong stallions. They supplied horses to the Mughal army in India, a country that fascinated them so much that most of them stayed back, never to return to their native land again.

“We do not exactly know what our ancestors did after they stopped horse-trading. Since they were hard working, wherever they went they got some or the other kind of work. At present, more than one lakh Iranians are living in India. Those who are in Madhya Pradesh have been rehabilitated by the state government.

In Ranchi, we are only 200. Since we don’t have our own plots to build houses, most of us are staying at unauthorised places,” said an Irani youth who has recently got admission in a public school.

Do they wish to return to their native land? “For whom should we go back? We have no relatives there. No land of our own to claim. All our near and dear ones are in India. The only thing that connects us to Iran in one or the other way is the Persian language,” said an elderly woman living beneath Over Bridge.

The have been able to maintain their links with the language because they do not enter into marital relationship with local Muslims. Marrying outside their community is a strict no-no for the Iranis.

They have taken several representations to the administration seeking rehabilitation and basic amenities. Leaders and social workers keep visiting them, but only to ask for votes.

“Whenever elections are at hand, one particular Congress leader comes to us. The leaders come to us with a lot of promises that are never fulfilled. Though we have the right to cast our vote, we have no ration cards, no place to mention as our address,” said Munnavar Ali, a member of the community living in Kadru.

The Iranis earn their living mainly by selling goggles, different kinds of stones and gems, rings, wristwatches, pens, small electronic items and cameras. They can be seen vending their ware on Main Road.

When the Ranchi administration asked Main Road shopkeepers to shift their shops to the supermarket complex in Jaipal Singh Stadium, the Iranis preferred to stay back. “It will take more than eight to 10 years for the super market to function. We cannot afford that because we subsist on our daily earning,” said Barqat Ali.




Maximum: 39.3°C (+2)
Minimum: 19.4°C (+5)



Relative humidity

Max: 100%
Min: 50%

Sunrise: 6.25 am

Sunset: 5.09 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of mist or fog in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C

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