Temple troops hit Atal wall
Pervez pushes, PM parries
Probe rides on cart and car
Gujarat tremor in US backyard
Madarsa for girls, school for boys
Corporates woo grey India
Cong dangles Chandigarh poll bait
Dalai Lama in hospital
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
A showdown between the Vajpayee-led government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad seemed imminent after a three-hour meeting between the Prime Minister and a VHP delegation today ended without result.

In a public rally held at the Ram Lila grounds shortly after the meeting, the VHP leaders asserted that they would go ahead with the temple construction after the March 12 deadline.

They exhorted kar sevaks and sympathisers to begin congregating in Ayodhya from February 24 irrespective of what the government did.

The only assurances they managed to extract from Atal Bihari Vajpayee were that the law ministry would examine the legal and constitutional aspects of giving parts of the site the VHP deems as “undisputed” to its temple trust called the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and try and expedite the hearings on the related court cases.

The 67-acre plot, which used to house the demolished Babri mosque, was acquired in 1993 through an Ordinance by the Narasimha Rao government.

The VHP contends that, barring an 80 ft x 40 ft plot that houses the makeshift Ram temple erected on the debris of the mosque, the ownership of the rest of the land is not disputed. The VHP also claims that as several plots had been given away to the Nyas by the Uttar Pradesh government (then under the BJP) in 1991 or purchased by it, the 67-acre land should be “lawfully” handed back.

It is reliably learnt that Vajpayee stood his ground throughout the confabulations with the 12-member VHP delegation, which included president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, working president Ashok Singhal, Nyas’ chief and head of Ayodhya’s influential Digamber Akhara, Ramchander Das Parmahans, and another prominent Ayodhya sant, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das.

The Prime Minister apparently made it clear that contrary to what Singhal publicly maintained, he had never given a “promise” to have the matter thrashed out before March 12.

It is believed that Vajpayee said a solution would have to be sought within the parameters of the court, the NDA manifesto (which blanked out the mandir issue), the Constitution and the rule of law. Vajpayee told Singhal and company that even after his law minister gives an opinion on whether the so-called undisputed land could be turned over to the Nyas or not, he was not in a position to offer any commitment on what his next step would be.

He is believed to have indicated that even if he had the option of handing over the land through an executive order or an Act of Parliament, he would rather do it by evolving a national consensus. “This is not a BJP or NDA affair,” Vajpayee said.

Political observers believe that the stress on “national consensus” was a polite way of telling the VHP that it could not have its way on the matter. No party, barring the BJP and the Shiv Sena, would support giving the land on a platter to the Nyas as it would eventually legitimise its stranglehold over the entire area.

It is believed that both Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernandes, who was present along with home minister L.K. Advani, conveyed their unhappiness about the VHP taking to the streets when the Centre was preoccupied with securing its borders.

The Prime Minister’s blunt message had a mixed impact on the saffron brigade. Most of them sounded belligerent at the rally. Swami Satyamitranand, who was supposed to be on a maun vrat (vow of silence), broke it on Singhal’s order and urged the crowds to get “ready for a confrontation with the government and fill the jails”.

The only conciliatory note was sounded by Singhal himself. He said the sants and dharmacharyas could make one more attempt to talk to Vajpayee. “But after March 12, no more time will be given to anybody,” he declared.


New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
Treading a fine line between diplomatese and political rhetoric, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today said he was all for renewing friendly ties with Pakistan, but this was not possible unless it took cross-border terrorism seriously and worked to better the situation on the ground.

Apparently responding to President Pervez Musharraf’s Republic Day request to return to the talks table, he said: “We want friendly relations with all, but when we are made targets of terrorism, it cannot be that we do not reply to this.”

Displaying no signs of any shift in stance, Vajpayee told a gathering of the National Cadet Corps that terrorism posed a challenge to the country both from without and within, and he would ensure it was successfully tackled and eventually rooted out.

In yesterday’s message, Musharraf had reiterated his desire to hold meaningful talks with Delhi to iron out all disputes, including Kashmir.

“I would like to reiterate our readiness to engage in a serious and sustained dialogue with India to commence together a journey of peace and progress…. Pakistan desires to establish tension-free and good neighbourly relations with India,” he said.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, however, said Musharraf’s message appeared less a personal request to Vajpayee and more an address through the media. Whatever the case, Vajpayee’s remarks should be seen as a response to the request, they added.

India has made it clear to Pakistan time and again that unless it addresses cross-border terror, there can be no forward movement in bilateral relations. But even two weeks after Musharraf’s declaration of intent to wipe out terror, there has been little action on the ground.

Delhi is also disgruntled with Pakistan’s failure to take action on the list of most wanted terrorists it submitted last month. Though indications are Musharraf is not against turning in 14 of the 20 on the list, the two sides are yet to agree on how this can be done.

A PTI report said Musharraf had convened a meeting of powerful corps commanders on Thursday to review the security situation and possibly to discuss how to deal with India’s extradition demand.


Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
A handcart-puller and the driver of an Ambassador — the probe into the strike outside the American Center now hinges on them.

The revelation coincided with another — only one motorcycle, not two, carried the assailants.

Investigators said they have picked up the handcart-puller, who was within striking distance of the motorcycle when the attackers sprayed the American Center façade with bullets.

But the occupants of the Ambassador, which also shared the handcart’s proximity to the motorcycle, remained untraced.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Soumen Mitra — heading the special investigation team formed to probe the attack — said the Ambassador passed the American Center seconds after militants fired at the policemen, killing four.

“The Ambassador was proceeding along Chowringhee in the same direction as the motorcycle-terrorists around the same time the incident occurred,” Mitra said. The car was about 30 yards from the bike when it was in front of the American Center.

The police conceded that they did not have more information and appealed to the person/persons in the Ambassador to come forward to help in the probe. “The person/persons in the car, like the cart-puller we have picked up, were the nearest witnesses and can be of immense help,” Mitra said.

“We interrogated more than 50 policemen and over 150 witnesses to conclude that the Ambassador and the handcart were there on the spot when the incident occurred,’’ he added.

The investigators have also concluded that there was only one motorcycle. The pillion rider fired from either his AK-56 or AK-47 and he was joined in by the rider who used a pistol, the police said.

“The pillion rider had already started firing by the time the bike stopped in front of the American Center,” Mitra said.

The two-wheeler stopped for about 10 seconds near the gate. The pillion rider — firing at random — got down and moved a couple of yards forward in the direction of the policemen guarding the gates.

He reloaded the rifle after firing 32 rounds by which time the rider of the motorcycle had also opened fire from his pistol, Mitra said. After about 10 seconds of immobility, the bike accelerated again. “The assailant with the rifle jumped into the pillion-seat and the bike sped away,’’ Mitra added.

“We have recovered 54 rounds of 7.62 mm Russian bullets from the spot and one bullet of a pistol,” another official said.

Mitra said the assailants were outsiders with local contacts. “We have checked with our contacts and have found that none of the criminals in Calcutta can fire from an AK-47 or AK-56. This is the first time such a rifle was used in the city,’’ Mitra said.


Mexico City, Jan. 27: 
The aftershocks of last January’s devastating earthquake in Gujarat are being felt in Central America a year after it turned life upside down for millions in western India.

Illegal migrants from Gujarat are being apprehended all over Central America as the region copes with an unprecedented wave of Indians arriving in this region, hoping to sneak into the US.

The migration, prompted by a sense of hopelessness in Gujarat in the wake of the quake, has stretched the resources of Central American governments, already struggling with an avalanche of illegal migration from Latin America to the US.

It has also put Indian missions in much of the western hemisphere — including the US — in a tight spot as they are being pressured to take back and repatriate scores of apprehended migrants back to India.

The problem has been compounded by relentless US pressure on the Central American governments to crack down on illegal migration with America as the final destination.

Washington’s paranoia about influx of undesirable aliens after the September 11 terrorist attacks and its capacity to muzzle regimes in Central America have put Indians arriving in the region at the receiving end of an unprecedented campaign against such migration.

In the latest such crackdown, about 100 Indians were rounded up in Mexico and transported to Guatemala City from where they were suspected to have begun their odyssey in this region with dreams of making it to the US.

One Indian committed suicide. Others were incarcerated until human rights organisations in Guatemala petitioned court and secured their release.

The Indians released under judicial orders have disappeared, prompting fears of a harsher campaign against people arriving from the subcontinent.

Their disappearance also points to an organised network in the transport of people from western India into the US via Central America.

For years, there has been a trickle of Indians trying to illegally migrate to the US via the rest of continental America through Mexico, which has a long border with the US.

Their numbers were very small compared to the Indians arriving in eastern Europe with hopes of getting into the West.

What is worrying Indian missions in the region is that this trickle is now turning into a flood. And puzzling Indian diplomats in the western hemisphere is the influx coming from Gujarat. Traditionally, illegal migrants have arrived from states like Punjab and Kerala. Until the quake, people from Gujarat rarely resorted to illegal migration.

Most of those seeking the new route to prosperity — however illusive — in the US are well-to-do Gujaratis and not illiterate or unskilled workers like the hundreds caught in Europe every year.

This is clear from interviews of the apprehended migrants by Central American authorities and the Indian diplomats in the region. Many of them gave their home telephone numbers in Gujarat, which were verified before they were issued Indian travel documents.

The migrants said they had lost hope after the quake and relief efforts fell far short of expectations.

That the migration is carefully organised is obvious from two counts. Most Central American governments have no embassies in New Delhi.

Yet, the migrants have Central American visas on the passports, either fictitious or procured from consulates far away from India.

Secondly, migrants who are caught are increasingly told by the racketeers not to divulge details about themselves to either the local authorities or the Indian officials.

This is putting Indian missions in the region on a collision course with their host governments.

Without verifying that they are Indians — and not Pakistanis or Bangladeshis trying to sneak in — embassies are unwilling to issue Indian passports or take back those caught for repatriation home.

But pressured by the Americans, governments in Central America are in a hurry to get rid of the migrants and are now ready to throw international treaties and conventions on migration to the winds.

The suicide of an Indian caught here and transported to Guatemala City is a grim reminder of a Hobson’s Choice which Delhi may face — of giving up on its citizens or confronting governments in Central America, and eventually the US, on a problem which is potentially explosive.


Murshidabad, Jan. 27: 
Five-year-old Reshma Khatoon rises before the sun and heads straight for the morning namaaz at a Beldanga madarsa. Prayer over, she has a frugal breakfast comprising dry bread or muri and then rushes to class where the mistress is waiting. The day is spent studying the Quran and gets over only in the evening. She, of course, washes her own clothes and utensils.

But that does not bother her father, Abdul Mannan, a farmer from Nadia’s Jamsherpur village, unduly. He doesn’t have too many expectations of Reshma (a daughter) and the Rs 150 he needs to spend every month does not bother him. “I’d have had to spend many times that amount if she stayed at home and went to a government-aided school,” Mannan points out. “I am saving the money to give Milan, my son, a ‘secular’ education,” he explains.

Murshidabad is a long haul from Pakistan. And Pervez Musharraf’s promised clampdown on madarsas and Islamic fundamentalists in his country should sound like a distant thunderclap that loses its boom as it passes through the thick brick walls of the madarsa. But it isn’t so. Not now.

The administration in Murshidabad, Bengal’s madarsa district, says there is a similarity of pattern — of Islamic fundamentalists drawing most of their support from these religious study centres and feeding on similar socio-economic conditions — between both far-off Pakistan and Murshidabad. The route to organisations like the now-banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) lies through these khareji (which operate without government sanction) madarsas, say intelligence sources.

Murshidabad especially, along with Malda and North and South Dinajpur, falls in the belt which provides a very fertile soil to institutions like madarsas and mosques built without government permission. Poverty – cases like Mannan’s (where girls and the dull boys are sent to these madarsas where ‘education’ and food come cheap and the family riches are reserved for the brighter boys) abound – leads the district’s youth to the madarsas.

Besides, a grounding in Islamic education assures the pass-outs of a fixed income as the village maulvi or the madarsa maulana in an area where every month sees several unauthorised madarsas and mosques cropping up. Take the case of Tahidul Islam, an MA in history who’s now leading a part-time teachers’ agitation at Beldanga S.R.F. College against the monthly pay of Rs 400. Rafiqul Molla, as a teacher at the nearest madarsa, gets Rs 1,800 every month.

“The economic conditions drive the youth to these madarsas where, in some cases, minds are prepared to receive communal and anti-national ideas unquestioningly,” a district intelligence official said.

But it was a Simi-sponsored strike last August, to protest against a government threat to crack down on fundamentalist organisations, that established the clear connection between these unauthorised madarsas and organisations working against the nation. More than 95 per cent of these madarsas responded spontaneously to the strike in areas such as Beldanga, Shamsherganj, Hariharpara and Raninagar, opening the administration’s eyes to the influence these organisations had.

Officially, Murshidabad has 70 madarsas and Bengal 507. But the figure, even the police admit, is a “joke”. Murshidabad alone has around 650 madarsas, say intelligence officials. Even madarsa maulanas say the administration is right; every minority-dominated police station has not less than 50 big and small madarsas, they admit.

The mushrooming of madarsas and mosques without permission of the administration, say officials, has become the “most important worry” now. The rule — to intimate the local police station before the construction of a mosque — is seldom followed, they add. “And once prayers start being held, there’s no question of stopping them,” a home department official in Murshidabad said, admitting that the administration would not be able to tackle the fall-out.

Mosques, being musafirkhanas, host all persons travelling through an area. In September 2001, soon after the suicide-jet attack on New York’s World Trade Center, intelligence officials received a tip-off that ISI agents had been to villages near the border (mostly in Hariharpara and Shamsherganj), looking for recruits willing to cross over to Bangladesh for training in weapons.

“Each family, according to its economic status, was being offered anything between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1 lakh to let go of one male youth between 18 and 26 years old and the persons making the offers always stayed in the local mosque,” an official said.

It is possible that the mosque authorities had no knowledge of the manner of activities the guests were indulging in.

Senior district officials feel the state government is not really in a position to follow up its hard talk on unauthorised madarsas. The government is scared of the fall-out, both electoral and in law-and-order terms, and none of the major political parties in the state would like to be seen as approving a crackdown, they explain.


Mumbai, Jan. 27: 
Corporate India is eyeing the country’s senior citizens as a business opportunity. The reason: there are 75 million senior citizens in the country and their number is expected to touch 177 million by 2025.

LIC Housing Finance, HDFC Limited, Apollo Hospitals, Larsen & Toubro and some hotel companies are looking at this “grey area”.

LIC Housing Finance Ltd. has already launched a subsidiary, Carehomes, to develop and operate assisted living community centres for senior citizens on commercial basis.

The reason is not far to seek. While the senior population is growing by leaps and bounds, the number of old age homes are woefully inadequate. Old age homes have grown from 354 in 1995 to 969 in 2001. And most of them are booked to capacity.

A senior LIC Housing Finance official said talks with probable partners are underway to set up Carehomes in Kolkata, Bangalore and Pune. The company is negotiating with a hospitality major for managing these homes. “Obviously, this is a business opportunity for us,” the official said.

Such communes are popular in the West, the official said, predicting it won’t be long before they come to India.

HDFC is still chary to admit they are looking at old age homes as a business venture. “At this moment we are not looking at anything of this sort,” said an HDFC official. However, their partners in the new effort, Dignity Foundation has confirmed that HDFC is the financial advisor for the proposed “Dignity Homes”, designed and built by ECC of the L&T group.

Dignity Homes have various schemes ranging from permanent residency to one-year options. Charges could vary from Rs 7 lakh for a couple (regular unit) to Rs 14 lakh for a premium unit. “They (HDFC) are advising purely on a honourary basis,” said Sheilu Sreenivasan, president, Dignity Foundation and editor of Dignity Dialogue.

The first cluster of Dignity Homes, a residential complex on the outskirts of Mumbai, will initially serve 500 senior citizens. It has already received 20 bookings before its formal launch in March, Sreenivasan said.

A major attraction would be the separate geriatric care unit incorporated within the commune for chronically-ill senior citizens who require specialised medical care and lifetime attention. Apollo Hospitals will manage a hospital with 100 beds in the commune.


Chandigarh, Jan. 27: 
The Congress will petition the Supreme Court to seek the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab “if the need so arises”, state party chief Amarinder Singh said today.

He was releasing the party’s manifesto for the Assembly polls to be held on February 13-14.

Singh made the statement while referring to the Supreme Court order delivered earlier this month, directing Punjab to complete construction of its portion of the contentious Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal and let Haryana make use of its share of 3.86 million acre feet of Ravi-Beas water.

“When the state was partitioned, it was on the basis of Punjab getting 60 per cent and Haryana the rest. For everything, the ratio was similar except for river water. If voted to power, we intend to employ the best legal brains and seek a review of the apex court’s order on the canal. It is unfortunate that the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government did not employ good lawyers to project the state’s case,” Singh announced.

Reading out the salient points of the manifesto titled Vote for Clean Politics, Singh said the party did not want to make promises which they would not be able to keep. “We have covered all sections, but within the resources available. We have constantly been saying that once in power, we will be able to generate an extra Rs 4,000 crore. The amount has been reached after generating extra revenue by plugging loopholes and tightening the belt,” he said.

The manifesto, which is a replica of what the Shiromani Akali Dal has been promising for the last five years, includes free power to farmers.

Blaming the Parkash Singh Badal-led government for growing corruption in the state, the Congress promised to set up a judicial commission to inquire into “the personal acquisition of huge wealth and property” by Badal, his family members and council of ministers. Even civil officers would not be spared if found guilty.

The party has also promised to stop arresting farmers for defaulting on loans. “The Badal government, which styles itself as one looking after the interests of the farmers, has not been able to stop the growing insults on farmers. My government will protect a farmer’s honour and dignity and abolish the arrest warrant system to recover cooperative loans,” Singh said.

Going a step further, the Congress has also promised reservation of 27 per cent jobs for the backward classes in the state. At the moment, only four per cent jobs are reserved for them.

“The Akalis have never been sincere to the cause of Punjab and Punjabis. The Akali-BJP coalition has been founded on the arithmetic of votebank politics with the sole aim of capturing power. It is a marriage of convenience for their leaders. The two partners have entirely separate goals and their ranks still hold each other in deep suspicion,” Singh said.

The Congress president said the party stands a good chance of coming back to power. “We are being approached by industrialists wanting to invest in the state once we are in power. Everybody knows the dismal economic condition of the state and everybody knows that only the Congress can help pull Punjab out of the mess the Akali-BJP government has created,” Singh added.


Patna, Jan. 27: 
The Dalai Lama was today admitted to a Mumbai hospital for tests after he complained of stomach pains.

“He is undergoing examination,” said Dr Hemant Kumar, who was treating the highest Buddhist religious leader at the Leelavati Hospital and Research Centre. “We have no diagnosis yet.”

“He is fine, he is cheerful, he can speak, he can move himself. Just as a precautionary measure he was brought from Patna,” said Prakash Mhatre of Leelavati.

The 66-year-old leader, who was in Bodhgaya for the Kalchakra festival, was flown to Mumbai by a chartered plane.

“Initially, His Holiness complained of a mild attack of gastroenteritis and felt weak,” said a spokesman for the Dalai Lama, T. Samphel. “Since then, he has not been responding to drugs.”

Samphel said doctors had advised the Buddhist leader to travel to Mumbai for more tests.

An agency report said the Dalai Lama was taken to Mumbai after doctors attending on him in Bihar found he had developed a lump in his stomach.

Immediately after his arrival around 1 pm, the Tibetan leader was rushed to the hospital at Bandra, around which police have thrown a thick security blanket.




Maximum: 28.3°C (0)
Minimum: 25.8°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Max: 93%
Min: 37%

Sunrise: 6.23 am

Sunset: 5.16 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C

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