Atal seeks to connect states with Hindi link
Money squeeze with military pressure on Pak
Mystery ailment of Mahanta wife
Grey area between crime & jihad
Give and take with politicians
The Palace beckons Indians
Cong salvo on Big B
Pak digs into Advani case
Vajpayee sets terms for talks
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL SEEKS TO CONNECT STATES WITH HINDI LINK 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said Hindi should be made India’s link language to “facilitate” inter-state communication, a proposal that could anger states in the east and the south.

Ironically, Vajpayee announced his proposal before an audience of political activists rooted in the Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu, which was founded on a bulwark of protest against Hindi and pro-Aryan culture and ideas.

“India has 17 or 18 developed languages and many regional languages also. But we do require one language for inter-state communication and that language can only be Hindi,” the Prime Minister declared at a function at Mavlankar Hall to formalise the merger of Tamil Nadu’s MGR-ADMK party with the BJP.

But he was quick to add there was no question of imposing Hindi on any part of the country. “All languages are the same and they express the same sentiments. What is important is what we speak and how we talk in it,” Vajpayee said.

Delving into memory, the Prime Minister sought to buttress his proposal for propagating Hindi as a common language with a quote from DMK founder C.N. Annadurai, which spoke of the latter’s admiration for the way Vajpayee spoke in Hindi. He recounted an occasion when both were Rajya Sabha MPs and quoted Annadurai as saying after a speech made by him: “If Vajpayee’s Hindi is adopted as the national language, we will have no problem.”

“It is easy to speak in the UN in Hindi but not here. Nobody will oppose it in the UN because nobody understands it. But here it is different and that is why we need simultaneous translation,” the Prime Minister said.

Although he spoke in English, Vajpayee repeatedly said he was not comfortable with the language. He went on to say: “My heart is not comfortable in English.” Referring to MGR-ADMK leader Thirunavukkarasar’s speech earlier, Vajpayee remarked: “Now our friend spoke in Tamil and English. I couldn’t follow what he said. Arrangements should be made for simultaneous translation. That is how multi-lingual states can do business.”

However, he made it a point to mention that he discovered the meaning of Thirunavukkarasar’s name, although he kept mispronouncing it. “It means the king of speeches, one who has mastery over his tongue and his ability to convey. Nobody has ever described me as a king of speeches,” Vajpayee added.

The other sensitive issue to be raised — by BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi — was the Meenakshipuram conversions of Hindus to Islam in Tamil Nadu in the early eighties. The mass conversions had marked the start of the VHP’s strident line on Hindutva. Krishnamurthi said Vajpayee was part of a BJP fact-finding team that probed the conversions.

When he had later met then chief minister M.G. Ramachandran, Krishnamurthi claimed that Ramachandran told Vajpayee the conversions were funded by “foreign money” supposed to have been used to start a printing press and he was not happy with the incident.

   

 
 
MONEY SQUEEZE WITH MILITARY PRESSURE ON PAK 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
Call it the “scorched cash policy” — India’s massing of troops on the border is burning a hole in Pakistan’s treasury while singeing its own coffers. The bill for brinkmanship will total Rs 4,000 crore in another month.

Indications are the army will continue manning the frontlines the way it has been for the last month-and-a-half. Even today, defence minister George Fernandes said the troops will remain “till Pakistan ends cross-border terrorism”. “Pakistan continues to shell (as they did yesterday and today in Poonch and Rajouri) across the LoC to give cover to infiltrators. I do not think Pakistan’s finances are healthy enough for them to continue burning up ammunition,” Fernandes said.

While the economic wisdom of such a policy of incurring expenses for military movement without fighting a war might be questioned, the Centre thinks it is pittance when compared to the enormous costs of continuing to wage low-intensity conflict, or “proxy war”, in Kashmir. Hawks in the establishment have been pressing the government to impose costs on Pakistan militarily and diplomatically.

Critics of the “scorched cash policy” say cutbacks on social and development expenditure will follow. “You are cutting your nose to spite your face,” says P.R. Chari, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. “The US and the West will bail out Pakistan. I don’t see anybody giving money to India.”

Precise figures for Operation Parakram — as the exercise of mobilising the troops, putting the air force and the navy on alert and transporting men and materiel has been codenamed — have not yet been compiled. But the fact that the movement has been designated as a distinctive operation implies that all accounting for it will be done under a separate head.

In just the first month of the mobilisation, Operation Parakram is estimated to have cost Rs 1,800 crore. Rough calculations in the ministry of defence put the figure of maintaining troops on operational alert on the borders at between Rs 700 and 900 crore per month. (Expenses for the first month are naturally higher because it includes transportation).

As a thumb rule, Pakistan is estimated to have spent Rs 1,200 crore in the first month. Indian military sources say Pakistan’s troops have been massed at the border since end-October. The Indian military machine is assessed to be three times that of Pakistan. Add to this the cost of the reserves that India and Pakistan will have built up to prepare for war. Pakistan is presumed to keep oil and ammunition reserves for 45 days; India for three months.

In 1987, when India launched Operation Trident and began mobilising forces (after tensions following the General Sundarji-masterminded Operation Brasstacks threatened to snowball into a war), the average cost of hiring a train to transport men and materiel was estimated at Rs 45,000. In the 15 years since then, that cost has multiplied five times over. Besides, special carriages for moving armour and other heavy equipment cost more.

The costs will have their immediate impact on the budgets of the two countries.

   

 
 
MYSTERY AILMENT OF MAHANTA WIFE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Guwahati, Feb. 1: 
Jayashree Mahanta, former Rajya Sabha MP and wife of former Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, was taken ill tonight and rushed to a private hospital where doctors attending on her chose not to comment on her condition, except to say that she was suffering from “hypotension”.

Each of the doctors on the fourth floor of the hospital where the VIP patient was admitted maintained that he was “not the attending physician” but had been told that Jayashree had been admitted around 8 pm, complaining of giddiness and weakness. Subsequent examination revealed that her blood pressure was “very low” and the body temperature was “just about 97 degrees Fahrenheit”.

Doctors claimed they would not comment on reports doing the rounds that the former MP had been brought to the hospital in “unnatural circumstances”. Officials at Dispur police station said: “We have nothing to say at the moment. You may contact us tomorrow morning.”

The former chief minister accompanied his wife to the hospital and left after getting her admitted but was back again at midnight, taking the hospital lift to the fourth floor to avoid reporters.

The incident has once again fuelled speculation that the Mahantas’ marriage is floundering. In early October, the former chief minister was charged with beating up his wife at their residence in New Delhi, a month-and-a-half after the much-married Sanghamitra Bharali, an Assembly secretariat official, went to town with her bigamous relationship with Mahanta. Ever since, Jayashree is said to “be in a bad mental shape”.

Although Jayashree had later described the alleged assault as “a figment of the media’s imagination”, Delhi’s Tughlaq Road police had claimed that they had visited the residence of the Mahantas on receiving a complaint from her and that she had sustained bruises on her face. Jayashree was even taken for a medical test, the police had said.

Bharali had claimed that on the night of March 11 she and Mahanta were married in a Mumbai temple and added that the wedding was solemnised according to Hindu rituals in front of the sacred fire and by chanting Vedic mantras. But she stopped short of saying that she and Mahanta made the seven rounds around the sacred fire.

The charge of bigamy cost Mahanta the Asom Gana Parishad presidentship after 16 long years at the helm.

   

 
 
GREY AREA BETWEEN CRIME & JIHAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 1: 
There is a common thread running between militants who attacked the American Center and the gangsters who sheltered them in Calcutta: crime.

“Neither the killers of the Calcutta policemen nor those who harboured them in the city are jihadis,” said city detective department chief Soumen Mitra. “It is the lure of money that has brought them together. This new nexus fulfils each other’s demands.”

Explaining what his investigations have revealed, Mitra said the militants who struck in Calcutta had conveniently used the “jihadi connection” to suit their purposes. “It is really a money-spinning racket that has tied the militants and the city-based criminals in the same thread,” he said, adding, “If they were really jihadis, why would they kill even Muslim policemen present at the centre.”

Apparently, Mitra believes, the killing of the policemen was a “symbolic act” essentially to take revenge for the death of Asif Reza Khan, accused in the abduction of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman, as initially claimed by kidnap mastermind Aftab Ansari, the Dubai-based don known for his jihadi connections.

Their roots run deep. This was emphasised by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on his return from Guwahati. “The network is far wider as the investigation has revealed so far,” he said. “It is not just confined to Calcutta and Hazaribagh. But we have been able to crack most of it.”

Earlier in Guwahati, he had admitted that the American Center attack was a “failure of the police and high officials, including me”.

The police said that though Sadaqat, the person believed to be riding the bike from which attacker(s) fired outside the centre, was still at large, they had managed to identify a “linkman”, Faiyaz Khan. The investigators had come to know of Khan from Jamaluddin Nasir, the “chief local organiser” of the crime arrested on Tuesday night.

Khan’s Phoolbagan residence was raided today but he was not there. However, the police detained a woman known to be a friend of Khan’s. “We hope to get some leads from her,” an official said.

“We know that she was present on several occasions when the local facilitators were plotting to harbour the militants.”

Delhi police officials, who interrogated Nasir, said they believe Sadaqat had fled to Kishenganj and from there has travelled to some “unknown destination”. “We also know that besides Hazaribagh, the criminals had rented houses in Kishenganj and Dhanbad,” an officer said.

The police said Nasir had admitted that he had been working for Ansari for the past couple of years.

   

 
 
GIVE AND TAKE WITH POLITICIANS 
 
 
FROM SUNANDO SARKAR AND ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Murshidabad, Feb. 1: 
Haji Ismail Mian, father of Congress MLA from Beldanga, Gholam Kibria.

Master Iqbal Sahib, influential CPM leader of Dolua.

Comrade Abdul Matin, RSP strongman of Surulia.

This is not from the pages of an assembly election in Beldanga. This, instead, is an excerpt from the who’s who of the managing committee of Madarsa Dar-ul-Ulum of Surulia in Beldanga.

The madarsa has an 85-member committee, one of the largest in Murshidabad district. Around a third are, at the least, “very influential” local-level leaders; some, like Haji Islam Mian, wield an influence that is not confined to Beldanga and can even get Behrampore Congress ensign Adhir Chowdhury – via his legislator son – to donate Rs 2.93 lakh to rebuild the madarsa’s walls that were accounted for by the floods in 2000.

But Madarsa Dar-ul-Ulum is not alone. Almost every khareji (unauthorised) madarsa in Murshidabad (that teaches only Islam and Arabic literature) in the district has managing committees packed with influential politicians belonging to all three parties that call the shots in the district, the Congress, the CPM and the RSP, making it the only aspect in which the khareji madarsas – over which the government has no control – resemble government-controlled schools teaching Madhyamik and Higher Secondary syllabi.

The designation – of being a member of the managing committee of the local madarsa – and a politician’s electoral ambitions go hand-in-hand in Murshidabad. It’s the politician tag – and the desserts of being close to power that automatically accrue to the institution he helps manage – that makes a person attractive to the madarsas, admit madarsa heads.

“Politicians come to help not only during natural calamities,” the head maulana of another madarsa in the area admitted. “We often use their ‘offices’ to lay off district intelligence branch officials if we find their harassment too hard to handle,” he said.

But politicians always ensure they extract their pound of flesh from the madarsas. In an area where many are still illiterate and give religious leaders more importance than the local block development officer, having the madarsa tag helps during polls.

Although a madarsa, with members of many political parties aboard, cannot impose a fatwa supporting any one party, being connected to a madarsa ensures an elevated status for the politician.

“For religious-minded, uneducated persons who have been exploited all through their lives, a member of a madarsa’s managing committee is a very respectable person who can do no wrong,” admitted a senior RSP leader in Behrampore.

No politician would come out openly on the madarsa-politician relationship, but no one denied that ‘secular’ parties “actively encouraged” Muslim politicians to get into madarsa managing committees. “Officially, we can’t oppose it as a politician’s task is to get closer to people,” a veteran Beldanga Congress leader explained.

Madarsas, too, have grown wiser to the politician’s machinations. Some, like the Madarsa Jalilia Islamia Dar-ul-Huda, now at least make a show of discouraging politicians from entering their managing committees. But, maulanas admit, it is of no help.

The last-mentioned madarsa’s head maulana, who calls himself Bayazid, denies that politicians find places on the institution’s managing committee. But, as the conversation rolls on with other teachers joining in, at least 10 names tumble out; all are either local committee members of either the CPM or the RSP or are block-level Congress leaders having not insignificant followings.

“We don’t know what they do outside the madarsa,” an embarrassed Bayazid says. Others, however, cut him short. “No, they are of immense help,” butts in one colleague.

Even if they are of not any positive help, they have to be accommodated just for their “nuisance value”, they say, explaining that sending intelligence officials to the madarsa is just one way influential politicians can get nasty.

   

 
 
THE PALACE BECKONS INDIANS 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, Feb. 1: 
Indians living in Britain are being given the message to invite their relatives to come and visit in the run-up to the Queen’s golden jubilee celebrations which begin this year from February 6, the day of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne 50 years ago.

In a drive to boost the golden jubilee, launched by Buckingham Palace and the British Tourist Authority, incentives are being offered to families to invite relatives from abroad in the form of free tickets and passes for some of the major shows and museums.

The focal points of the celebrations are a classical concert at Buckingham Palace on June 1 followed by a pop concert on June 4 at the same venue. These will be followed by the lighting of giant beacons and fireworks in front of the Palace. There will also be a golden jubilee procession and a special thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral, venue of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The Queen will also open the Commonwealth Games in Manchester on July 25 and close it.

The Queen is keen that the celebrations have a Commonwealth theme and be celebrated by the member countries. Hoping to win over visitors from Commonwealth countries — there is still little enthusiasm for the jubilee back home — the Palace is looking at tourists to revive the tourism industry, which was hit last year in the wake of the foot and mouth disease and then the fall in air travel post-September 11.

The promotion drive by the British Tourist Authority (BTA) starts with India with its chairman, David Cornby, leaving for Delhi on Monday to kickstart the launch. On Tuesday, he will be promoting the golden jubilee at a special function at the Park Royal Hotel in Delhi and meeting key members of the travel trade and Indian media.

He will also host a reception at the British high commission in Delhi for industry leaders and the trade.

On Wednesday, he will inaugurate the new offices of the BTA at the Millennium Plaza at Gurgaon in Haryana. He will then be travelling on to Mumbai.

“We find that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Queen’s jubilee in the Commonwealth countries and India is one of them,” Jo Lesley of the BTA said. “There are special competitions, prizes, free tickets and trade passes for families who visit.”

“Also, British residents of Indian origin are being encouraged to invite their relatives with incentives and free tickets. We already have a large number of visitors from India visiting relatives in (the) UK and we would like to see this rise even more in the jubilee year,” said Leslie.

There were 2,06,000 visitors from India to England last year, a rise of nearly 30 per cent from 1995. Indian tourists spent £134 million last year in the UK and their average length of stay was 20 days. Most visited on business, and combined business with leisure. Many visited relatives as well. Indians are more attracted to heritage Britain — castles and history — rather than the trendy life of London, according to the BTA.

The celebrations will run through the year, but a large part of the functions will last from May till August to capitalise on the summer rush. The London String of Pearls, or historic buildings along the Thames, which are usually closed to the public like the Durbar hall at the foreign office, will be open for viewing on certain days.

Apart form the main celebrations over the long weekend, there will be events in nearly every county and village all over the country. Nearly 70 town centres will take part in the Music Live Street festival organised by the BBC .

The silver jubilee celebrations saw street parties all over Britain, and the organisers are trying to whip up enthusiasm on the same scales for the golden jubilee.

   

 
 
CONG SALVO ON BIG B 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
The Congress today took on Amitabh Bachchan, who was once close to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and even won the Allahabad Lok Sabha seat on a party ticket.

Taking strong objection to Bachchan distributing artificial limbs and putting in an appearance at blood-donation camps across Uttar Pradesh in the company of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and party general secretary Amar Singh, the Congress today sought the Election Commission’s intervention. Such activities during elections violated the poll panel’s model code of conduct, the party pointed out.

In a letter to the chief election commissioner, Congress general secretary Ambika Soni said these functions are being used by top Samajwadi Party leaders fighting “a life-and-death electoral battle in the state to gain political mileage for their party”.

Organising such functions under the chairmanship of Samajwadi Party leaders during the campaign is “clearly against the election code of conduct”, Soni said, requesting the commission to take action.

She wrote the blood-donation camps were being organised in the name of non-government organisations and enclosed press clippings of such functions at Etawah and Bareilly with the letter.

Reacting to the Congress charge of Bachchan violating the code, Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh said blood donation did not amount to doling out favour. He said Bachchan did not talk politics or ask for votes at any of these functions.

Moreover, the poll panel did not have any rule banning welfare activities by social organisations. Blood is needed any time, even by jawans at the time of war, he said.

Quipping that Bachchan’s presence and the large crowds had made the Congress nervous and irritated, he said there is no rule to curb irritation and jealousy.

   

 
 
PAK DIGS INTO ADVANI CASE 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Karachi, Feb. 1: 
Whether or not Pakistan is serious about putting L.K. Advani on its list of most wanted criminals, it has searched old records for the file naming him as an absconder in a case for conspiring to assassinate Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Investigators have dug up the records of the Shikarpur Colony conspiracy case at the Sindh High Court and the home department.

This was coupled with “official speculation” that a tribunal could be constituted to try the absconding persons in absentia.

In an informal discussion about the home minister’s “implication”, Sindh advocate-general Raja Qureshi said perhaps a tribunal could be set up for the absconding accused. “One could make a request for an arrest warrant and let the law take its own course since the matter has acquired national and international importance,” he said. Qureshi, however, made it clear that he was not in a position to take any decision.

The Shikarpur case was started following an explosion at 3 pm on September 10, 1947, at a house at Shikarpur Colony in Karachi, where Advani and other RSS members were staying. According to the files, the men were trying to make bombs in a room on the first floor of the house, owned by R.B. Tota Ram. One bomb went off, killing one person.

The prosecution framed a conspiracy case for an attempt to assassinate Jinnah, then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, senior Muslim League leader Khwaja Nazimuddin and some of his colleagues.

During the probe, police had seized explosives and ammunition from the house. They had also found RSS literature and documents showing that explosives were being made in the house and used for terrorist activities throughout the country, the files said.

The gang, which was found to have large funds at its disposal, used to hold secret meetings and even parade on the streets of the area dominated by the minority community.

The case, initially taken up by the then additional district magistrate, Karachi, was later transferred to a special tribunal constituted under an Act of the Sindh Assembly on September 17, 1947. The tribunal had pronounced its verdict exactly a year later.

The two principal accused, Khanchand Gopaldas and Nand Badlani, were sentenced. Other convicts got various prison terms. The case against the absconders, including Advani, was transferred to a dormant file, pending arrest.

The convicts appealed in West Pakistan High Court but were extradited to India under an agreement between the two countries before their plea was heard.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE SETS TERMS FOR TALKS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today outlined the framework of future India-Pakistan dialogue, but reiterated Delhi’s position that talks were pointless as long as terrorists had a free run across the border and Islamabad continued to harp on Kashmir.

“Our neighbour is in a difficult situation. It does not know what to say or do,” Vajpayee said, hinting that time was running out for President Pervez Musharraf to act on India’s demands, one of them being the handover of the 20 criminals who figure on the list Delhi gave to Islamabad.

“They want to meet. But we say meet for what? To discuss the weather?”

The Pakistan President is also under pressure from world players to take some urgent steps to meet Delhi’s demand as this alone could lead to de-escalation of tension in South Asia.

Speaking at a function here to formalise the MGR-ADMK merger with the BJP, Vajpayee stuck to India’s stand on the militancy-racked state.

“Kashmir is an integral part of India and would continue to remain so. And Pakistan also knows it,” he said, making it clear that Musharraf’s insistence on making progress on Kashmir before proceeding to other areas had led to the failure of last summer’s Agra summit.

Vajpayee said India was committed to peace and good neighbourly relations with Pakistan and referred to the steps taken by him, starting with the Lahore bus journey. And, as he had done at the Kathmandu Saarc summit, he argued that in return, Delhi had been rewarded with hostility every time.

“I invited him to Agra, I thought in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal we would be able to make progress in the road to brotherhood. But his insistence on making progress on Kashmir first led to a situation where he had to return home empty-handed,” Vajpayee, speaking in English, told the gathering.

The remarks are significant. The rhetoric notwithstanding, it clearly indicates the framework within which India and Pakistan could hold a meaningful dialogue and normalise their strained relations.

But before that, cross-border terrorism would have to stop. And second, Musharraf cannot expect to get anything from India by a Kashmir-only policy. If progress in talks has to be made, it would have to be in all spheres, not in one particular area.

“We have been fighting terrorism in the country for more than two decades,” Vajpayee said. Referring to the separatist movement in Punjab in the early eighties, the Prime Minister pointed out that Delhi had managed to combat it successfully through its determination to fight the scourge of militancy and with the co-operation from the people of the state.

Vajpayee said the same thing was possible in Kashmir. “Time will come sooner for peace to return to Jammu and Kashmir,” he asserted.

The indications were, perhaps, steps Delhi is thinking of to bring back normalcy to Kashmir, including holding of elections in September.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.3°C (-3)
Minimum: 13.2°C (-2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 35%

Sunrise: 6.21 am

Sunset: 5.19 pm

Today:

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
   
 

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