Ram rath rolls before polls
Delhi dangles Dawood dividend
India’s wheat for Kabul is poison for Pakistan
Kidnap-kids’ mission Musharraf
Rebuff for UK envoy-designate, reprieve for another
PWG accepts talks offer
Modi trumpets rebuild record
Ancient art in elephant country
RSS picks on China
Calcutta Weather

Ayodhya/New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
It’s time for the rath to roll again.

Thousands of sadhus and kar sevaks today gathered for a dharam sabha at the Ram Katha Park in Ayodhya and pledged to build a temple at the disputed site. A chetavani (warning) rathyatra will begin tomorrow.

Senior leaders, including BJP members, and akhara heads claimed that the yatra would stop only “if the Indian army marched to Pakistan”.

The yatra is expected to reach Delhi on January 27 after travelling through poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. The Centre has decided to keep quiet so long as the yatra is peaceful.

Government sources said: “As long as the VHP leaders keep their cadre in check and ensure they do not create a law and order problem, there is no need to take action.”

The sources said VHP president Ashok Singhal had met Atal Bihari Vajpayee before the Prime Minister went to Kathmandu.

At that meeting, Vajpayee told Singhal that on no account must law and order be disrupted in the run-up to the polls.

Asked what the touchstone of a law and order breakdown would be, the sources said: “Obviously communal riots.”

Reacting to Vajpayee’s plea to reconsider the rathyatra plan, Singhal said: “Atal humara saath rahain na rahain, humara faisla atal rahega (Whether Atal is with us or not, our decision remains steadfast).”

Singhal added that the VHP would “look into it’’ if the Prime Minister offered them something “concrete”.

Praveen Togadia, the VHP international secretary, went a step further and said it was time for Vajpayee to prove his nationalism by allowing the temple to be built at the disputed site.

Far from distancing themselves from the VHP, BJP members, including its Faizabad MP, Vinay Katiyar, and its Ayodhya MLA, Laloo Singh, who is also a minister in the Rajnath Singh government in Uttar Pradesh, participated in today’s sant yatra.

BJP sources reacted positively to the yatra, saying if it helped create a pro-temple ambience which went in the BJP’s favour, “there was nothing wrong”. It was also felt that with the BJP desperately in need of cadre support for the polls, it would be counterproductive to antagonise the VHP.

Togadia said the Ram mandir would be as much a symbol of Hindu regeneration as it would be a testimony against terrorism. “Because it was Babar, the biggest jihadi, who had destroyed the earlier temple in the first place,” he said.

Saying only an area of 80 feet by 40 feet was disputed, Singhal asked: “Why can’t the government give us the rest of the surrounding land so that we can start constructing the Ram mandir? What is keeping the government from doing it? Anyway, the aim of the yatra will soon be realised.”

An elaborate rath has been built for the yatra, complete with a man dressed as Hanuman to drive it. Around 100 caravans will begin the journey at 9 am from here tomorrow and head for Lucknow. The yatra will pick its way through Kanpur, Etawah, Aligarh and Agra, before culminating in Delhi.

About 5,000 sants and VHP leaders will give Vajpayee a memorandum, seeking permission to build a temple at the disputed site.


New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
Diplomatic posturing spilled on to the public platform today with Delhi frowning on global pressure for a pullback from the border and asserting that the handover of Dawood Ibrahim would have a “dramatic effect” on Indians.

“If Pakistan extradites Dawood to India, it will have a dramatic effect on the pulse of the people here,” home minister L.K. Advani told a public meeting in Mumbai — the target of the serial blasts masterminded by the underworld don.

Advani described Dawood, whose name is on the most-wanted list submitted to Pakistan, as the “personification of terrorism in India”.

Advani’s comment was the clearest indication yet that India and Pakistan have narrowed down the focus of their bargaining to the handover of some of the 20 suspects named on the list.

Advani hinted that setting aside convention, armed security could be deployed inside Parliament in the light of the December 13 attack.

If Advani chose Mumbai to put the chips on the table, defence minister George Fernandes picked an Indian audience in New York to put forth his case.

Fernandes took objection to western countries asking India to pull back its troops on the border and termed the talk of nuclear danger in the subcontinent as an insult to the people of the region.

US secretary of state Colin Powell said the Indo-Pak situation has “improved a little” and a political decision has been taken to find a diplomatic solution.

But India was at pains to stress again that Powell’s shuttle-diplomacy last week did not amount to “third-party mediation”.

Even as minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah was making the statement in Srinagar, a 10-member American team, including US ambassador Robert Blackwill and an admiral, landed in Jammu. The American delegation met chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Across the border, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, too, kept up the pitch, iterating that Kashmir is the core issue.

The New York Times quoted him as again blaming hardliners in India for scuttling progress on Kashmir in Agra. But Musharraf suggested that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s “body language” indicated that he wanted to be more conciliatory on Kashmir.

Referring to the crackdown on extremist outfits, Musharraf said: “I thought 10 times about putting my hand in the beehive of religious extremism.” But after seeing the scale of the militants’ protest against the government, “I realised that this was the maximum they could do, and the vast majority of the people were with me”, he added.


New Delhi/Islamabad, Jan. 20: 
Pakistan has put another wrench in its fragile relations with India by refusing to extend transit facility to 50,000 tonnes of Indian wheat procured by the World Food Programme as part of an aid consignment meant for war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“We have decided not to allow the transit of Indian wheat through Pakistan due to reports that it was infested with germs and diseases that can harm Pakistani wheat,” Pakistan’s minister for food, agriculture and livestock, Khair Muhammad Junejo, said.

He said the government had also informed the WFP of its decision, explaining to it that Pakistan did not wish to court the danger of putting its own wheat crop at risk of contracting disease.

The WFP has procured 50,000 tonnes of wheat from India for Afghan refugees. Officials in Pakistan’s agriculture ministry have been quoted in the local media as saying that the Indian wheat is infested with seed-borne fungus like Striga and diseases like Karnal bunt, which could affect the crop during germination of seeds.

The WFP has not commented so far.

Last October, the Indian government had offered to give 10 lakh tonnes of wheat as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. The United Nations had taken India up on its offer and had opened negotiations to lift 3 lakh tonnes from here.

A high-level delegation headed by the UN envoy to Afghanistan for humanitarian assistance under the WFP had visited India on November 23 to discuss the issue. The WFP team had met officials of Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation and approved the quality and packaging of wheat from Punjab.

The WFP had asked for 3 lakh tonnes wheat for Peshawar delivery because it was meant for Afghan refugees who had streamed into Pakistan when the US forces launched their offensive to oust the Taliban regime.

The shipment Pakistan has now impounded is presumably from this aid consignment.

Agriculture experts in India say Pakistan could have a vested interest in blackballing Indian wheat. Last year, Pakistan entered the wheat export market for the first time with a shipment of 35,000 tonnes to Iraq, turning it into a potential competitor in the Gulf and West Asian markets. The consignment, delivered last June, was the first shipment of a 100,000-tonne contract Pakistan had signed with the Iraqi Grain Board.

Pakistan, which was dependent on wheat imports from Australia and the United States, is believed to have built up a surplus of 2 million tonnes following a bumper crop in 2000.

Many countries carry high grain stocks, which they would like to supply in Afghanistan, thus increasing the competition to grab this market. East Europe has had a bumper wheat crop and Ukraine is selling wheat at $85 a tonne, while India sells at around $105 to $110 a tonne.

Being landlocked, Afghanistan has to depend on Pakistan and Iran for transit of goods. Islamabad’s decision to block the consignment highlights this reliance for the benefit of Kabul, where the new administration of Hamid Karzai is wary of Pakistan.


Bhopal, Jan. 20: 
They planned to be the “heroes of the nation” who would avenge the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament and assassinate General Pervez Musharraf. But blind patriotism and blinder faith in Bollywood quick-fixes led them to allegedly kill an innocent eight-year-old instead.

Two friends, Manoj Ojha alias Pinku (16) and Ramnivas Namdev alias Rinku (17) of Khatora village in Shivpuri, 245 km from here, kidnapped the son of a wealthy rural businessman and allegedly killed the boy. They had plans to purchase guns, cross over into Pakistan and assassinate Musharraf.

Like most teenagers, Pinku and Rinku, sons of north Indian farmer families, watched Sunny Deol in Gadar and Indian with the utmost devotion as the hero shouted anti-Pakistan dialogues. They worshipped Hrithik Roshan in Fiza and Mission Kashmir as India’s latest heartthrob flexed his muscles in the role of a terrorist with a soft heart.

Then the attack on Parliament happened. There was no looking back after that. The two boys made up their minds: India needed real-life heroes — a portion of patriotism, a la Sunny Deol, and a touch of terrorism, after the fashion of Hrithik Roshan — to take on Pakistan.

“The boys thought there would be a war between India and Pakistan,” said inspector Narottam Mishra, the investigating officer in the case.

“But when they saw there is no chance of a war, they hatched a plot.”

During interrogation, they told the police they wanted to be terrorists. “To be terrorists, they needed arms and to buy arms they needed money. Kidnapping a child and asking for ransom was their solution to the financial crisis,” the police said.

They picked eight-year-old Surendra, better known as Shanu, son of Rakesh Jain, a local businessman, as their victim. “First they had selected a six-year-old boy, son of Krishna Yadav, but changed their minds because this boy was the only child of his parents. Rakesh Jain, on the other hand, had three children. The victim, Shanu, was his second child,” officer Mishra added.

Pinku, the younger of the two culprits, had worked in Rakesh Jain’s house while Rinku was still employed there as a servant. Both the boys knew that Rakesh Jain was rich enough to spare a couple of lakhs for his son.

On January 11, the boys approached little Shanu who was playing with a plastic ball in front of his house. They showed the boy a few empty matchboxes. Rural children in these parts still collect matchboxes and play with them.

“The victim wanted the matchboxes. These boys said he could have them if he followed them to the nearby temple. Once Shanu reached the temple, he was given only one matchbox and told that if he followed the miscreants further, he would be given four more. The little boy followed with the hope of getting more matchboxes,” the police said.

But once the victim reached the outskirts of the village near the highway, his assassins allegedly tied his hands with a shoelace. Then they strangled the boy with another shoelace, buried him and walked away carrying with them only one of the victim’s shoes to show his father and take money in return.

Pinku and Rinku have told the police that they could not possibly have kept the boy alive because there was no place to hide him. Besides, if the boy was returned to his father for ransom, Shanu would have gone back to the village and identified his kidnappers. Even if the kidnappers had turned terrorists by then, their parents would have been harassed by the police and neighbours.

On January 17, workers from the telephone department were digging Ishagar Road near the highway. Diggers found the decomposed body of the boy and the police were informed. The victim’s parents, meanwhile, had already submitted a complaint about their missing boy.

The police opened a case and started interrogating the villagers. As the police exerted pressure on the village, the two boys owned up. They confessed to killing the little boy but what took the entire police force by surprise was the larger motive of assassinating Musharraf.

“Their story is true. We believe their story,” said Shivpuri district collector Kanta Rao.

Pinku and Rinku have been remanded in jail custody.


New Delhi, Jan. 20: 
Taking time off Pakistan-related diplomatic activities, the Prime Minister has changed his mind on the new head of the London mission and postponed the recall of the ambassador in Washington.

Ronen Sen is set to become India’s new high commissioner to the UK instead of Gopal Gandhi, who heads the Colombo mission. Lalit Mansingh, India’s ambassador in Washington, appears to have got a breather and will remain in the US for some more time.

Sen, currently India’s ambassador in Germany, is expected to take charge of his new assignment in London by March-end when the tenure of present incumbent Nareshwar Dayal ends. Gandhi may continue to head India’s mission in Sri Lanka or may be replaced.

He went to Colombo after serving as the secretary to President K.R. Narayanan, the posting at that time having been interpreted as a part of the peace deal between Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Questions were raised since Gandhi did not have the experience of working in important world capitals.

Sources in South Block said the Prime Minister was not happy with Gandhi’s performance in Sri Lanka. Therefore, Vajpayee changed the decision to send him as high commissioner to London a few weeks ago. President Narayanan has approved Sen’s appointment.

London and Washington are key missions, not the least because of a large Indian expatriate population, which has been a strong support base for the BJP through thick and thin.

Sen was slated to go Islamabad as the high commissioner. He would have replaced Vijay Nambiar, who has been posted as India’s permanent member at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Nambiar, who was recalled from Islamabad as part of Delhi’s diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, may return to the Pakistani capital for a few months once the frigid bilateral relations begin to thaw. He is due to leave for New York in June.

Sen, who has a medical history, was not keen on going to Islamabad because of the lack of medical facilities in Pakistan. Instead, he wanted to return to Berlin. But T.C.A. Rangachary, additional secretary in the foreign ministry, was promised the post of head of mission in Germany.

There were pressures from within the BJP and the ruling coalition to bring about changes in both the London and Washington missions. But Vajpayee is not keen to replace Mansingh as ambassador in Washington at this juncture.

Although questions have been raised about Mansingh’s performance in the US, the Prime Minister is of the view that this is not the right moment to recall him and that he should be allowed to continue for some more time.

Another question doing the rounds is who should head the Indian mission in Pakistan. Opinion is divided whether India’s best diplomats should be posted there as restrictions imposed on their movement by Pakistan amounts to wasting South Block’s talents. There are indications that M.L. Tripathi, currently Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh, may be sent to Islamabad.

If this happens, the external affairs ministry will have to look for a new high commissioner for Dhaka. Given that Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party is in power, Delhi will have to look for a person who can keep bilateral relations on an even keel.


Hyderabad, Jan. 20: 
The People’s War Group, one of the most violent organisations in the country and outlawed under the new anti-terrorism Ordinance, has accepted the Andhra Pradesh government’s offer to hold talks.

The Naxalite group, which had consistently brushed aside earlier peace overtures, said combing operations and raids on its strongholds should be halted for three months to prepare the ground for talks.

The group’s willingness to hold talks and the terms were conveyed through a letter signed by ‘RK’ (Ramakrishna), the north Telengana PWG secretary, on behalf of the group’s central and provincial committees.

The PWG said it was ready to meet government officials or mediators either at north Telengana or on the Andhra- Orissa border. “We will send further proposals based on the state government’s response,” it said.

The government, which had piled pressure on the Centre to ban the PWG under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance after a string of attacks on industrial units, welcomed the group’s gesture as “a healthy and good sign”.

State home minister T. Devender Goud said he would “discuss the details and respond publicly”. Since civic elections are scheduled in some parts of the state early this week, the government, bound by the code of conduct, is expected to make a formal announcement only after voting ends.

The letter was sent to a former social welfare secretary, S.R. Shankaran, who is now the convener of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, a civil rights organisation.

Shankaran, a retired IAS officer, had sent an open letter to both the government and the PWG after the murder of tribal Congress leader R. Naik last month.

The government had then renewed its offer for talks and announced that an all-party meeting would be convened to work out the modalities of talks.

The first hint of a rethink had come soon after with the PWG expressing regret over the killing of the Congress leader.

Despite the high-profile strikes on several establishments associated with politicians, the PWG, too, had suffered setbacks of late. The state government managed to persuade 83 PWG activists to surrender within a span of two months.

The surrenders capped a bloody chain of attacks and retribution in which around 118 PWG activists and 41 policemen were killed last year. Between 1997 and 2001, as many as 983 extremists lost their lives in encounters and ambushes in the state.

The PWG have struck terror in the state since 1970 and is being held responsible by police for as many as 2,427 murders since then. The police claim to have killed 2,245 extremists in the same period.


Gandhinagar, Jan. 20: 
Though reconstruction is yet to begin in four major quake-devastated towns of Kutch, chief minister Narendra Modi today claimed that the process of rebuilding and rehabilitation had entered a decisive phase “with 60 per cent reconstruction completed” within a year — a record in the history of disaster management anywhere in the world.

Of the 12 lakh houses that collapsed on January 26 last year, about 8 lakh have been repaired and rebuilt, Modi told reporters, contradicting Cabinet colleague and minister in charge of Kutch, Suresh Mehta, who had conceded on Saturday that only 35,500 houses had been rebuilt in rural areas so far.

Claiming that he was giving out “factual figures”, the chief minister said the state government was able to convert “calamity into opportunity”, and as a result Gujarat would emerge as a “contemporary global model for disaster management”.

“I feel that the earthquake rehabilitation management of Gujarat would serve as a model to be replicated elsewhere. I am sure Gujarat will make an interesting case study. Researchers would study how Gujarat rebuilt and managed to transform disaster into opportunity,” Modi said.

One of the biggest achievements, he pointed out, was that despite the unprecedented destruction, there was no organised looting, no outbreak or mass exodus that usually occur after a calamity of this magnitude.

“Compared to Gujarat, wherever there was an earthquake in the past even in a lesser scale, rehabilitation had remained incomplete for years, like in Latur, Turkey, Japan and Kobe,” Modi said.

In fact, it took nearly eight months to begin rehabilitation in Latur, while it started immediately in Gujarat even though the magnitude of the tragedy was much bigger.

Asked if all he claimed was true, why quake victims were protesting in Anjar, Bhachau and Rapar in Kutch, Modi said: “It is human nature, some people are bound to be dissatisfied.”


Jamshedpur, Jan. 20: 
The rough rocky path snakes up the hill for a few metres and ends abruptly at the edge of the forest. Towering sals and dense undergrowth camouflage the terrain. Elephant “droppings”, footprints and broken twigs at regular intervals indicate the presence of “herds.” The area is an elephant habitat —part of the Dalma elephant reserve.

There are no human settlements around, the nearest being Bhumru at the foothills, 10 km from the site. The climb uphill is a “blind man’s ride” through the narrow elephant track cutting through deep forests. After an hour’s trek, the track clears and the silence of the hills is broken by the gurgle of a mountain stream, that feeds into the Subarnarekha below. The rivulet meanders along a large rocky outcrop with strange engravings. The rock bears imprint of the genesis of civilisation in the region almost 6,000 years ago.

Barely 30 km from Jamshedpur (to the south) and 10 km from Chandil (to the north), this pre-historic rock art and settlement site — nestled in the bowels of Dalma wildlife reserve, 250 metres above sea level — was discovered last Sunday (January 13) by a team of anthropologists from Calcutta.

Billed as an unique “stone age human settlement site’’, it traces back to the last glacial (Holocene) period or the beginning of the new stone age. According to experts, the discovery of the site changes the “pre-historic settlement history” and “extends the easternmost” limit which previously ended at Panch Pandav rock in Ghatshila.

“This is the first time, a pre-historic settlement and rock art site has been found in Dalma and findings indicate that it is a chain. The entire range was inhabited by humans as early as 3,000 BC,’’ says anthropologist Somnath Chakraborty, head of the Central team — sponsored by the Union ministry of culture and youth affairs — which discovered the site.

Megaliths (sacred stone structures), crude stone chisels, weapons and two rock shelters found nearby indicate that it was once a thriving human habitat.

The engraving is that of an elephant and according to experts, the first of its kind at a prehistoric rock art site in the region. “The drawing indicates that it has been an elephant reserve since ages. Man and elephant co-existed peacefully in Dalma, which was rich in bio-resources,’’ says Chakraborty. Even in Australia, there is no aboriginal rock art site in an elephant reserve, he adds.

The “motif’’ is a deviation from the previous “pre-historic” art discovered in the region. It is ornamental, almost surrealist with floral outlines and has been chiselled into the rock with sharp edged tools. A couple of embedded “Beurins”— handmade “flaked-stone” chisels with serrated edges and finger grooves— have also been dug out from the site. The angular alignment of the “serrated” edges coincides with that of the drawing, indicating that the motifs were sculpted by the Beurins. Another engraving on an adjacent rock is “incomplete.”

“The artists were exceptionally gifted and possessed an innate sense of design,’’ says Kishor Sarkar, another team-member. The “linear motif” running from north to south has two conchshell-shaped ears, lotus eyes, an ornamental torso, an intricate trunk, two “geometrically pointed tusks” and four legs. These are not attached to each other, but are crafted in vertical symmetry. From a distance, it appears floral as the “ears” curl like leaves and the trunk twists like a “branch” with leaves.

The tusks, however, stand out for their “clarity of shape, sharp edges and uniformity in length”. The torso is symbolic — a perfect semi-circle— stretching across the upper body parts in a loop. Minor etchings on either side indicate its tracks.

A similar stone slab found nearby and worshipped by the villagers of Bhumru also has “identical floral etchings”. Chakraborty, who followed the path of the stream, has also stumbled on several other smaller animal “motifs” indicating the pattern of the settlement. “But it is difficult to penetrate deeper,’’ he says.

According to officials of the Union ministry of culture, which is funding the project on “Languishing Tribal Art of Chhotanagpur,’’ the area is rich in pre-historic sites. “There is a megalithic (pre-historic) rock art at Panch Pandav mound in Ghatshila, just off the Subarnarekha in the heart of the city,’’ says an official.


Guwahati, Jan. 20: 
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief K.S. Sudarshan today cautioned the Vajpayee government against “trusting” China despite Premier Zhu Rongji’s assurance that his country did not pose any threat to New Delhi.

Addressing a public meeting here, the RSS chief said: “Till our country becomes militarily independent, we cannot trust China.”

He stressed on the need to develop long-range missiles which could hit targets as far as 10,000-km away.

“While the nearest Chinese town is located at a distance of 3,000 km, our missiles are capable of hitting targets only within 2,500 km. There is no guarantee that China will not attack India. The Northeast, in particular, is always under threat,” he added.

“India lost the 1962 war with China due to military weaknesses. During the war, China encroached upon 50,000 square km of India’s land in Arunachal Pradesh,” the RSS chief said.

Referring to the nuclear tests at Pokhran, Sudarshan said: “Merely developing a nuclear bomb is not enough. We must develop the missiles to carry them and hit the targets of an enemy country.”

The Chinese premier, during his recent visit to the country, had assured Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that Beijing would keep out of the Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir. “China has never viewed India as a threat nor do we believe India will regard China as a threat,” the Chinese premier had said.

The RSS chief, clad in a khaki outfit, called upon the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government to move the United Nations to pressure Bangladesh to stop religious persecution of Hindus in that country. He described Bangladesh as an “enemy country”.




Maximum: 29.7°C (+3)
Minimum: 19°C (+5)



Relative humidity

Max: 96%
Min: 49%

Sunrise: 6.25 am

Sunset: 5.10 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of morning mist in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C

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