Jaish calls truce outside Kashmir
US, Russia in Delhi arms race
VHP heads for seer and site
Bengal sets voter list record
Karachi contact in strike plot
Bagful of tricks for the ballot box
Hunt for ‘smart kid’ of jungle
Shine shoes & seek votes
Calcutta Weather

Srinagar & Delhi, Feb. 4: 
Declared a terrorist outfit by the US and on the run in Pakistan, the frontline militant organisation, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, has decided “to immediately suspend all activities in rest of India”.

“We will now exclusively confine our activities in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir,” Mohammad Shams-ud-Din Haider, the military spokesman for Jaish, said. Jaish was earlier led by Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national who stepped aside after General Pervez Musharraf cracked down on militant groups operating from Pakistan.

“An important meeting presided over by the chief commander Abu Hijrat and attended by top commanders was held in which the decision was taken,” the spokesman said in a statement in Urdu released to the local press.

Jaish was blamed for the December 13 attack on Parliament that precipitated the current crisis with Pakistan with troops in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border.

Observers interpret its decision today as resulting from pressure from Pakistan to stay out of militant actions in areas outside Jammu and Kashmir.

Islamabad can justify incidents in Kashmir as emanating from what it calls an “indigenous freedom struggle”, but attacks such as the Parliament strike only add to the international pressure on Musharraf to clean up his house. Besides, such actions have the potential to trigger a war when the situation on the border is taut with tension.

“The cadre were directed to suspend all their activities immediately outside Kashmir and henceforth continue their activities only in the state of Jammu and Kashmir for freedom of the state,” the Jaish statement said.

After the suicide attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1, Jaish had admitted responsibility first — even indicating that Pakistani nationals had carried out the strike — only to later deny any involvement. At least 35 people, including police and paramilitary personnel, and Assembly staff had died in the attack.

Musharraf banned Jaish and another group operating in Kashmir, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, last month amid widespread raids across Pakistan in which hundreds of activists of the two outfits were rounded up.

Azhar himself is under detention. As Pakistan sought to distance itself from these groups under US pressure, Azhar stepped down from Jaish and a Kashmiri religious leader took over to give the organisation an “indigenous” look.

Jaish’s decision now appears to be a continuation of that process. “We have directed all our cadre to return to Jammu and Kashmir in order to continue the struggle,” the statement added.

Inherent in that direction is admission of the fact that Jaish activists are operating outside Jammu and Kashmir. “The suicide attacks will continue in Kashmir and Jaish-e-Mohammad has enough ammunition to fight for another five years,” the group said.

The statement alluded to another concern voiced frequently by India — and which has received tacit acknowledgement in the West — that foreign mercenaries had been entering Kashmir through Pakistan while claiming “indigenisation”.

“Recently, a large number of locals joined the outfit and the ratio now is 75 per cent Kashmiri militants and 25 per cent foreigners.”

Delhi could not have wished for a more authentic endorsement of its long-held position that militancy in Kashmir was being fuelled from outside.


New Delhi, Feb. 4: 
Washington and Moscow come to South Block this week, each offering India arms and munitions, training and support as the defence establishment loosens its purse-strings and militarises with gusto.

Army top brass of the US and India met today after five years to hold talks that the director general of military operations, Lt Gen. J.S. Chahal, described as “path-breaking”. Major Gen. James Campbell, the commander of the US army under its Pacific Command, led the American side.

In the morning, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov met defence minister George Fernandes.

Tomorrow, Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov comes on a visit as the head of a Moscow team for a three-day joint working group meet where India will push hard to acquire the aircraft-carrier Admiral Gorshkov on favourable terms and also lease at least one nuclear submarine.

Behind the scenes of bonhomie between the representatives of the militaries and the official statements, a quite game of diplomacy is being played out. India is largely dependent on Russia for much of its military supplies for historical reasons.

With the US and the West lifting sanctions and increasing their military sales, New Delhi now finds it has other avenues to explore.

At the same time, it can neither whittle down its dependence on Russia dramatically nor can it take an Open Sesame policy on Russian military imports.

There are voices within the US establishment, it fears, that will argue for increased American defence equipment sales to Pakistan to ensure a regional balance in South Asia.

The meeting of the Indian and American army top brass is the first in a series of (revived) inter-services meetings of the executive steering groups.

The naval meeting begins in Chennai tomorrow and the air forces’ in Hawaii on February 18. The Indian Navy team will be led by deputy chief of Naval Staff Vice-Admiral S.V. Gopalachari. His counterpart, Vice-Admiral James Wallace Metzger, commander of the US’ Seventh Fleet which is already in the country.

In Hawaii, the IAF delegation will be led by the Vice-Chief, Air Marshal S.G. Inamdar.

On the talks with Russia, defence ministry sources said this is the closest India has come to take the Gorshkov after negotiations for it first began in 1994. The Gorshkov was decommissioned by the Russian Navy in 1978. In over half-a-decade, the negotiations have been mired in controversy and bureaucratic wrangling.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 4: 
With the Kanchi Sankaracharya emerging as the focal point of the Ayodhya talks, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad today raised the pre-poll pitch by declaring that the first batch of Ram sevaks would converge on Ayodhya on February 24.

The Sangh parivar arm also claimed that 10 lakh volunteers are being mobilised to start construction of the Ram temple “anytime” after its March 12 deadline.

VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia said the 10 lakh Ram sevaks being recruited across the country would camp in Ayodhya for 100 days, beginning February 24.

The VHP’s posturing has steadily turned strident in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is facing an uphill battle.

Though the Vajpayee government and the BJP have declared in public that the temple was not on the agenda, manoeuvres over the weekend have lent credibility to speculation that the Centre is keeping its options open.

Forty-eight hours after a secret trip by defence minister George Fernandes to the Kanchi mutt, it was disclosed today that VHP chief Ashok Singhal would also head for the same place on Wednesday.

The announcement comes at a time when the Centre has assigned Fernandes to liase with allies if political expediency forces it to hand over what the VHP considers as Ayodhya’s “undisputed” land.

The Sankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati, told PTI today that Singhal would visit the mutt, but added that he “has no knowledge of the purpose of the visit”.

Referring to the Saturday visit of Fernandes, the seer said: “So many devotees are visiting us and I do not know their purpose of visit. We do not invite anyone to visit the mutt.” Responding to a question, the Sankaracharya said he had nothing to do with the deadline set by the VHP.

In Ahmedabad, Togadia claimed that VHP leaders have met Mamata Banerjee, George Fernandes, Sharad Pawar, Jayalalithaa and Bal Thackeray to seek their support for the construction.

Togadia said “only” the Left, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have opposed the proposal. He said he had also written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeking her views on the issue.

Asked to comment on the BJP’s efforts to distance itself from the temple, Togadia said he would not make any judgement till March 12. “We may be left with no option but to take on any party that opposes the construction of temple,” he said.

The VHP said it was organising 7,000 conventions in different parts of the country to mobilise public opinion. The VHP will not organise any programme in Uttar Pradesh till February 21, the last day of polling.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
So long, eyebrows had been raised over Bengal’s ballooning voters’ list. Even today, eyebrows were raised — but for the opposite reason.

Bengal today became the only state to ever announce a drop in the number of voters since Independence.

The CPM — often accused of putting names of bogus voters on the list — chose to reserve its comment when the state’s chief electoral officer, Sabyasachi Sen, announced that the number of voters on the draft list had dropped by 3.3 million to 45.3 million from 48.6 million in January 2001.

“This seven per cent decrease is unprecedented…. Never did it happen after revision (of the rolls) in any state in the country since Independence,” Sen said.

He said this drop was because some people had died or moved out of their old addresses. Sen said it was possible to get accurate results because of door-to-door enumeration.

The Trinamul Congress appeared indignant as the rolls indicated a sharp fall in the three parliamentary constituencies in Calcutta the party won. Nearly 51,000 names had been struck off Mamata’s Calcutta (south) constituency. Ajit Panja’s Calcutta (north-east) seat now has 39,000 less voters, and the list for Sudip Bandyopadhyay’s Calcutta (north-west) constituency has been pruned by 25,000.

“This is a huge fraud and is only possible for the CPM to pull off,” Panja said. He said he might contemplate taking legal steps to counter this “fraud”. He added that it was not possible for so many people to have died in his constituency in a year.

But the CPM was circumspect. “We are not reacting to it now because it is a preliminary list,” CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said. “Let the final list be published, then only can we decide to raise points of criticism, if at all.”

There has also been deletions to the list along the border areas. This was the highest in North 24-Parganas, where the list was pared by nearly 8 per cent. There has also been a significant drop in the number of voters in Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan and Darjeeling.

The draft list also includes 3,50,000 new voters, compared with 1,30,000 new names added last January.


Calcutta, Feb. 4: 
Police today said signs of a Pakistani link in the attack outside the American Center have grown stronger, citing as proof a rash of calls made by an arrested suspect to Karachi and Dubai.

“Facilitator” Sheikh Chanchal, picked up from Howrah yesterday, has disclosed the names of some contacts in Pakistan, an officer said.

“The frequency of the calls to Dubai and Karachi increased significantly in the weeks before the American Center attack,” he added. “He has given us several leads.”

Chanchal was detained from Panchla in Howrah on the basis of information given by Asadullah Malik, arrested from Tiljala. Both worked for Jamaluddin Nasir, the “chief organiser” of the strike.

The first lead for the crime investigation department came when it was tipped off that a number of calls had been made to Dubai and Karachi from Panchla. “We then started interrogating some of the accused and finally zeroed in on Chanchal,” a sleuth said.

Chanchal, who owns two furniture shops in central Calcutta, has said he had met Nasir several times in Tiljala and Howrah. “He also knows several associates of Nasir who were involved in the crime,” the officer said.

The probe has revealed that Asadullah and Chanchal had travelled to Mumbai on several occasions. This has strengthened the belief that they were coordinating with Sadaqat, the motorbike rider who had come from Mumbai for the operation.

Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner, detective department, said another member of the gang had given a Calcutta police team the slip in Bihar’s Rajgir yesterday.


Kanpur, Feb. 4: 
Muggles watch out! The Wizards are coming with their wands drawn.

“Magic Prince” O.P. Sharma, a well-known sorcerer of Uttar Pradesh, has received offers of a supernatural boost from the stars of his fraternity as he runs for the Govindnagar seat in Kanpur on a Samajwadi Party ticket. P.C. Sorcar, K. Lal, Rajesh Kumar and Ashok Bhandari have promised to add zing to his campaign as he takes on Muggles — the non-wizard population, in Harry Potter lingo — Balchandra Mishra and Ajay Kapoor.

Sharma, a political novice, found himself thrown into the deep end of the poll pool when an awestruck Mulayam Singh Yadav put him up at Govindnagar — the largest constituency in Asia — as an impromptu gesture of appreciation.

The Magic Prince didn’t flounder. He soared above all Muggle hurdles as if Harry Potter on his shiny Nimbus 2000, and set upon winning hearts the only way he knows. His face white with powder and lips red with liptick, Sharma steps out to canvass every morning at six. Everywhere he goes, large crowds flock to see him. After all, magicians with shows at Canada, Japan, Dubai, Kathmandu, Mauritius and the USA behind them, don’t perform free every day.

His favourite trick these days is putting flags of all parties inside a huge bag and asking a bystander to pull out one. And voila, the volunteer takes out a huge Samajwadi Party flag everytime he dips his hand into Sharma’s bag — a feat Mulayam would love to see translated in ballot boxes. There are gasps and giggles and the crowd bursts into applause. “Look, all the other flags have disappeared, only the Samajwadi flag lives. That’s the party you vote for,” Sharma signs off.

His fellow Samajwadis aren’t impressed. Sharma faced fierce protests from colleagues, who spoke of “turning the most serious Assembly seat fight in Kanpur into a roadshow”. The party leaders and activists in the city also meted out a step-motherly treatment, mostly keeping away from Sharma’s “freak show”.

But days of the Sharma’s lone battle will soon be over. As news of his candidature trickled out and it became clear that he was struggling, magicians, small and big, began calling him up, offering help.

O.P. Sharma Junior, the candidate’s son, says 150 magicians have pledged support to his father. Nearly 20 have already arrived in the city. While Sorcar has “promised” to take at least two days out of his busy schedule to take part in Sharma’s campaign, K. Lal will be here any time between February 10 and 13.

Though Sharma says he has the blessings of Mulayam and is confident of winning, he will need more than just hocus-pocus to beat Mishra, the sitting MLA and BJP minister, and Kapoor of the Congress.

While Mishra has the support of a large section of the nearly 1.25 lakh Brahmins, Kapoor is relying on the substantial Punjabi votes and those of the trader community. Both pooh-poohed the fight being put up by Sharma. Mishra says he would win the seat with an even bigger margin; Kapoor adds with playful scorn: “Sharma ka magic nahi chalega.”

But if Sharma is worried, he is not showing it. When asked what he would do if he lost, Sharma flashes his big, pearly smile and says: “What else, I will make them disappear.”


Mettur Dam (Tamil Nadu), Feb. 4: 
In the heart of what is locally known as “Veerappan territory”, the forest brigand remains shrouded in folklore.

The locals remember him as the “smart kid” of Gopinatham village, born in a dominant OBC caste in this belt, who was conversant with the crafty jungle ways since childhood and knew the thickly-forested and inaccessible terrain like the “back of his palm”.

“It is nearly 12 years since Veerappan, who still manages to find a contact to the weekly market to buy provisions, passed this small marketplace at Govindapadi,” says a local retailer, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Where are they going to catch him?” he asks, adding that Veerappan, who continues to give the Special Task Force a tough time, knows precisely “which part of the forest will have water in any particular month of the year”.

For most of the wary local population, the STF remains the bigger of the two evils. Several hunters have “unlearnt their skills” and the tribals remain guarded in their response under the watchful eye of STF personnel in “mufti”.

“Why would anyone be interested in the poor?” said a tribal woman near Palar on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border. “We don’t even know who Veerappan is,” she adds defensively, lest her conversation draws the ire of the STF campers nearby.

“We tend a few cattle, grow some millets and make bonfires to scare away the elephants,” said a tribal man, adding that neither Veerappan nor the STF were their concern.

The locals have not forgotten the “harassment and torment” they suffered under the STF during 1993-96. Some of them recounted in hushed tones the “macabre events” of those days when people were picked up arbitrarily under Tada for being suspected associates of Veerappan and subjected to “unspeakable torture”.

However, the STF had to change its ways following sustained pressure from human rights groups. Justice Sadhasivam Commission’s probe into the alleged excesses of the STF reshaped the task force’s attitude.

“Now they (STF) do their job without bothering us much,” said an elderly tribesman.

In fact, one of Veerappan’s conditions for releasing the kidnapped Kannada matinee idol, Raj Kumar, was payment of compensation to victims of STF excesses.

The STF has resumed operations with a “new plan of action”, aided by sophisticated gadgets and additional support from the BSF, which was withdrawn a few months back. According to sources, Tamil Nadu STF chief Walter Davaram is “more realistic now”.

Trying to track down Veerappan has proved to be a daunting task.

However, sources said the STF had scored a few victories in the past year — recovered nearly 30 per cent of the cash that changed hands prior to Raj Kumar’s release from various Veerappan associates, snapped a vital communication channel to the brigand and drastically reduced the strength of his gang.

With a lean supply route, Veerappan was “always kept on the run”, sources said. But they also emphasised that the undulating forest terrain gave the brigand a positional advantage over the STF with his shifting locales.

As Veerappan continues to lie low, the STF has shifted its personnel to a remote bungalow, 40 km inside the jungle from their M.M. Hills camp, to avoid the media.

To crack the riddle behind the brigand’s hideout, the STF is being aided by Muthukumar, a Tamil militant, Chinna Ponnannan, a former associate of the brigand, and Sampathkumar, a relative.


Shyam Chaurasi (Hoshiarpur), Feb. 4: 
He appears to be just another cobbler trying to make both ends meet. Yet, sitting under the massive clock tower is Hoshiarpur’s most ambitious cobbler — Om Prakash Jakhru wants to be member of the Punjab legislative Assembly and serve the people of his constituency, Shyam Chaurasi.

For Jakhru, cobbling and shoeshining is the way of campaigning. As the Lok Shakti candidate from this reserved constituency, Jakhru starts his campaign at 6 am.

Walking from one village to another with his small band of supporters, he polishes the shoes of prospective voters and accepts money before asking for votes.

At 11 am, he stops his campaign to return to Hoshiarpur by bus to resume “duty” at the clock tower till 4 pm.

Without the benefit of cars, posters, banners, loudspeakers and handbills, this 40-year-old cobbler is handicapped in the high-profile contest,where aspirants on average spend Rs 10 lakh on campaigning.

However, Jakhru is becoming popular with his voters. “We like his simplicity and drive to make it big. It is also an example of our vibrant democracy,” said Shyam Lal, a teacher at Khalsa School in Hoshiarpur.

Jakhru says he has already covered half of his constituency. “I want my voters to know that I will be available round the clock to serve them. I am meeting all of them personally,” he said, with an air of confidence.

Jakhru is trying hard to bring in his role model, Ram Vilas Paswan, to campaign for him. Paswan had once made him a member of the district telephone advisory committee of Hoshiarpur.

He was given a telephone connection, which was disconnected when he failed to pay the bills. By then, Ram Vilas Paswan had moved out of the communications ministry.

Working without an election office in the constituency, Jakhru has already outlined his priorities as MLA. “I would construct houses for the homeless,” he said, before moving on to other items on his agenda.

“The farmers need free water and electricity. There are high numbers of unemployed youth, so providing job opportunities would also be important,” he said.




Maximum: 27.1°C (-1)
Minimum:13.4°C (-2)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 88%,
Minimum: 27%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C
Sunrise: 6.19 am
Sunset: 5.21 pm

Maintained by Web Development Company