Sonia show to break temple monopoly
Dalmiya no-balls ICC again
Cross-border sparks fly over Omar
Build-up boost to arms bazaar
Pan-Hindu vote, rest in peace
Plague, but contained: Centre
Doctors’ code to be notified
Amma invokes mentor’s magic
Dhaka team breaks Delhi ice
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SONIA SHOW TO BREAK TEMPLE MONOPOLY 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Sonia Gandhi has finally mustered the courage to take on the Hindutva forces on the Ram temple. The Congress president will share a platform with three Sankaracharyas at Dighauri in Madhya Pradesh on Friday to take an “independent line” on the Ayodhya dispute.

A brainchild of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, the Dighauri conclave is aimed at breaking the VHP’s hegemony over the Ram temple movement.

Digvijay has roped in the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peeth, Swami Jayendra Saraswati, his Puri counterpart, Swami Nishchalananda, and the Sankaracharya of Dwarka, Swami Swaroopananda. The fourth Sankaracharya, who heads Sharada Peeth in Karnataka, is not a prominent player and will not be part of the conclave.

If the court rules in favour of a Ram temple at the disputed site, Sonia and Digvijay would like the Ramalaya Trust, headed by Swami Swaroopananda, to be in charge of its construction.

The Dighauri “Dharma Sansad” hopes to resolve the Ayodhya dispute through a “peaceful consensus” after consulting Muslim religious leaders.

However, prominent Muslim leaders and organisations involved in the Babri Masjid movement said they would not attend the meet. “Let us first see what the Sankaracharyas have to offer us. We will react after that,” said an All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee functionary.

Sonia and Digvijay are not worried about the guarded reaction of the Muslim leaders. Their first priority is to court “tolerant Hindus” who are not comfortable with the VHP’s aggressive Hindutva agenda.

If the Congress succeeds in getting the support of the Sankaracharyas against the VHP as a “sole champion” of Hinduism, the party will launch a campaign against the Sangh parivar. The three Sankaracharyas have openly criticised the VHP.

The timing of the Dighauri Dharam Sansad is significant. It comes when the VHP and the BJP-led government are at loggerheads. There are also reports of a division within the VHP on the temple movement.

Moreover, the Congress’ assessment is that there will be more bad blood between the BJP and its Sangh parivar cousins if the party fails to retain Uttar Pradesh.

In such a scenario, Sonia and Digvijay are keen to deal a body blow to the VHP and emphasise the point that it is not the sole representative of the majority community.

Sonia plans to visit Dighauri with Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai and other top leaders.

Within the Congress, there is considerable uneasiness over the Ayodhya mission. Some Congress Working Committee members have advised caution but Sonia has countered the argument, asserting that the party should not shy away from taking a stand on the vexed issue.

The Congress is in favour of either an amicable settlement between the two communities or an acceptance of the court verdict.

Sources close to Sonia said she has decided to play an active role in the contentious issue after realising that the Congress would continue to be irrelevant in Uttar Pradesh till it takes a firm stand on Ayodhya. “We are saying that we will abide by the court verdict. We are also saying that in case the majority community gets the legal mandate to construct the temple, the Ramalaya trust should build the temple instead of the VHP,” a top Congress functionary said.

   

 
 
DALMIYA NO-BALLS ICC AGAIN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 19: 
The diplomatic manoeuvring skills of Jagmohan Dalmiya have once again proved too hot to handle for the International Cricket Council (ICC). The Asian Cricket Council (ACC)-served ultimatum today forced the ICC to postpone its February 23 meeting of Referees’ Commission.

The Mike Denness issue, thus, stays alive.

The ACC’s resolve to support India’s stand that the Referees’ Commission meeting be put on hold till the ICC executive board meet next month put the game’s governing body in a fix. They had to backtrack keeping in view the interests of the region and the unity of the cricket world.

In a statement issued in London, ICC president Malcolm Gray said: “It is extremely disappointing that the work of a properly constituted commission, established after extensive consultation with the BCCI, has to be halted because of pressure from within the executive board.”

“Postponing the commission will further delay the formal view of important parts of the Match Referee’s role. With the new five-man panel taking up its duties in April this is a matter that required immediate resolution at the board, rather than further debate about the composition of the commission,” Gray said.

Sources said the postponement decision came after members of the ICC executive board from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa asked for the Referees’ Commission meeting to be rescheduled.

Dalmiya’s personal influence along with the joint show of solidarity among the Asian countries posed a threat which the ICC found hard to ignore.

BCCI chief Dalmiya was unavailable for comment but it was learnt that he would react only after the official intimation.

Ironically, the ICC had never paid heed to BCCI’s recommendations over the constitution of the commission. The BCCI had refused to co-operate with the ICC after it turned down a request to reconstitute the Justice A.L. Sachs-headed Commission.

Former Pakistan captain Majid Khan and one-time Australian vice-captain Andrew Hilditch were the other members.

   

 
 
CROSS-BORDER SPARKS FLY OVER OMAR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND AGENCIES
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Omar Sheikh, the key suspect in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping case, is fast becoming India’s “most wanted” criminal in Pakistan.

It is not clear whether Delhi will make a formal request to Islamabad for his handover, but South Block today signalled that it would, for the moment, focus on Omar, who has claimed a role in a series of high-profile strikes here.

Omar does not figure on India’s list of 20 that has been submitted to Islamabad. However, Delhi today stepped up diplomatic pressure by asking Islamabad to share information on him.

But India hinted that it was not willing to reciprocate by sharing its intelligence on Omar, which effectively left the door ajar for Pakistan to turn down the request.

“Why should we share information with them?” a Pakistani government official told Reuters. “We have been asking (India) to share information on so many things which they never shared. Why should we share now?”

South Block summoned the deputy high commissioner of Pakistan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, this afternoon to convey the request. Arun Singh, joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) in the foreign ministry, told Jilani that Islamabad should provide relevant information on the involvement of Omar in the attacks on Parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Jilani was told that Pakistan should comply with India’s request on the basis of international law and the global consensus to fight terror.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao later told reporters: “Chapter 7 of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 mandates for all states to cooperate and provide the greatest level of assistance on criminal investigations and proceedings relating to terrorist acts, including assistance in obtaining information in their possession.”

Rao said India was seeking disclosures made by Omar on the basis of media reports in Pakistan as well as its own independent sources.

Sources in the foreign ministry said India has already factored in Pakistan’s “predictable” rejection of the request to share information. Delhi’s current move appears to be aimed at exposing Pakistan’s “duplicity” before the world.

Asked what India expects from Pakistan as it has so far refused to hand over any suspect on the list, Rao shot back: “Does that mean we should give up on that?”

She said Omar, who was released in exchange for the hijack hostages in 1999, had taken shelter in Pakistan with the full knowledge of officials there.

But Pakistan added another twist by claiming that Omar as well as Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar were “double agents”. President Pervez Musharraf said he expects de-escalation on the border by May-June “with the help of US facilitation”.

   

 
 
BUILD-UP BOOST TO ARMS BAZAAR 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb.19: 
India today announced to a global audience of arms makers that it was putting plans for militarising in fast-forward mode.

Defence minister George Fernandes said the forces ranged on the border with Pakistan for more than a month now “will remain in the bunkers” for an undefined period.

The air force also launched a day-and-night exercise, named Operation Trishul, along the border but insisted that it had nothing to do with the standoff with Pakistan.

At the same time, the military machine has begun slotting into place the nuts and bolts of a defence-industrial complex that will move from being (largely) a consumer of weaponry into a producer and exporter.

From Defexpo 2002, the largest exhibition of arms and munitions in the region that Fernandes inaugurated today, the message ringing out is that the conflict in South Asia can only intensify to the chagrin of peaceniks and to the delight of arms merchants. Almost every arms company represented here is proclaiming that it is looking beyond a buyer-seller relationship with Indian firms. Some —notably South African — have come here with the intent to set up joint ventures.

In anticipation of lucrative earnings, the global arms bazaar has laid out an unparalleled spread in New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan. From state-of-the-art communication equipment that can home-in on enemy weapons to delayed-action projectiles that can burrow through thick walls and explode only after finding a concealed target, from the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to huge, 155mm cannons that can be towed, mounted or self-propelled, Defexpo 2002 is a veritable feast for buyers, sellers and — well — “gawkers” of artful killing machines.

Just as there are, among the sellers, Indian and international arms firms, there are among the buyers, delegations from several countries in Asia and Africa. And there is acute interest on what the outcome will be of the eyeball-to-eyeball stand off on the border.

“Our forces have been moved to the border in a certain situation when India had set some conditions, which have not yet been fulfilled. The troops will remain there till these are fulfilled and a final decision is reached,” said Fernandes.

He told representatives of the world’s top arms companies that India had liberalised its defence industrial policy and was now eager to find a place for itself in the global armament grid.

Indian ordnance factories and defence public sector units, now exporting items worth Rs 300 crore, have been set a target of Rs 1,000 crore in exports next year.

But he said vested interests were delaying acquisitions and cited the example of the stalled negotiations for the British Aerospace-made Hawk advanced jet aircraft.

   

 
 
PAN-HINDU VOTE, REST IN PEACE 
 
 
BY VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Feb. 19: 
As curtains fall on an intense, month-long electioneering in Uttar Pradesh with the last phase of polling on Thursday, one socio-political factor stands out in contrast to the elections in the past decade: the collapse of the pan-upper caste Hindu vote.

Several signs, including trends noticed during campaigning and voting, point towards this. While it may not be easy to predict as to who would be the net gainer on account of this new twist in Uttar Pradesh’s turbulent socio-political tale, it is certain that the political force which stands to lose is the ruling BJP.

The consolidation of the upper caste Hindu vote — consisting mainly of the Brahmin and Thakur communities — was an important component in the BJP’s superior election performances in the past decade. The party’s campaign managers used to credit more than 80 per cent of the votes of these two communities to their kitty as a matter of right in every election since 1991.

“The BJP might be deserted by any other community but not these two” was the refrain in party offices across the state. Even in the 1996 polls, the BJP had won in 34 Thakur-dominated seats and 79 Brahmin-dominated seats. That is, 113 of its 157 seats had come from constituencies where these two communities held the key.

But this time, the claim about the unflinching loyalty of the upper caste Hindu towards the party does not emanate uniformly from BJP units in Uttar Pradesh. Even in places where BJP leaders and activists continue with the refrain, the sense of confidence is conspicuous by its absence.

Party managers in several parts of Uttar Pradesh admit that there has been an unprecedented flight of the upper caste, particularly Brahmin, vote from the party in this election.

It is a phenomenon that seems to span the state — from Dadri in the west, which is adjacent to Delhi, to Kasia in the east, where Rama Raj Pandey, wife of the late socialist Brahmin leader Raj Mangal Pandey, is contesting as a Congress candidate.

“Even the Thakur vote is splitting in many seats of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh despite having an incumbent Thakur chief minister and projecting him as the sole claimant for the seat in the future,” said a Brahmin MLC of the BJP.

The gainer of the flight of the Brahmin vote from the BJP in most places is the Congress. Constituencies like Dadri, Sitapur, Meerut and Lucknow Central bear testimony to this. What is interesting in a large number of these constituencies is that Congress leaders themselves were not very confident about gaining this many Brahmin votes.“They came and voted for us without even being actively wooed,” said Yusuf Querishi, the Congress candidate from Meerut. “It was a kind of silent revolution,” he added.

In a sense, this trend had started in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Brahmin votes had shifted to the Congress in seats like Rampur, Shahjahanpur, Rae Bareilly and Pratapgarh. It was this that helped the party increase its vote share from 8.35 per cent in 1996 to 14.27 per cent in 1999. But in 1999, the shift was confined to select constituencies where the Congress had a chance of winning.

This time, however, the shift is not limited merely to the seats where the Congress has a winning chance. It is evident even where the Congress might lose. Only, the present shift could make it an honourable defeat.

The principal reason for the turn of Brahmin votes towards the Congress seems to be the Thakur orientation that the BJP government had acquired in the past one year under Rajnath Singh’s leadership. “Brahmins at all levels, starting from IAS officers to commoners, are being given the short shrift under this regime,” said Meerut’s Sushil Dubey, one of the converts to the Congress camp. “On top of it, the Thakur chief minister moots a new reservation policy for backward castes. This is indeed the limit,” Dubey added.

Vinay Chaturvedi of Lucknow, a re-convert to the Congress, had a more rational explanation. He and his friends had deserted the Congress in 1991 because they got sick of its “corrupt” leadership and also because the Ram mandir slogan had appealed to their religious sentiments. “But now we see the BJP is as corrupt as the Congress and also that the Ram mandir is merely a slogan for political gamesmanship to be brandished in aid of electoral expediency. In any case, the last 10 years have proved that only the Congress can rule,” he added.

The flight of Thakur votes from the BJP is not as conspicuous as that of the Brahmin vote. Still, there has been some shift and this is mainly on account of the emergence of Amar Singh as the undisputed number two in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Amar Singh had, over the years, helped the Thakurs get a steady hold in the party’s affairs, and this seems to be having an impact in seats like Gonda, which have a sizeable Thakur presence.

The trends certainly do not augur well for the BJP which had set off in 1989 to evolve a pan-Hindu political base for itself across India. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, was where it first tried out the strategy in the 1991 elections. The party did succeed to a large extent in that election.

The Hindutva ideology propagated those days by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar had acquired an emotional dimension in the wake of the first and abortive kar seva at the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1989. This had provided a number of martyrs and almost created a pan-Hindu base for the party.

But then came the demolition of the masjid, the strengthening of the politics of the weaker castes and Dalit assertiveness in the form of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which eventually triggered the shrinking of the pan-Hindu base.

But that was all right for the BJP as long as the upper castes were with it. But if the trends are anything to go by, the BJP is finding it difficult to retain this base, too. Clearly, not a good sign for the party of the Hindutva.    


 
 
PLAGUE, BUT CONTAINED: CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
The Centre has finally confirmed that the mysterious disease that killed four persons in Himachal Pradesh was plague.

Ending a day of anxious wait following identification of the disease by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Union health minister C.P. Thakur said at a late-night press conference: “It really turned out to be plague. But the disease has been contained.”

The Prime Minister’s late return from an election campaign in Uttar Pradesh caused the delay in the announcement, sources said. The health ministry could call the press conference only after apprising the Prime Minister.

That the disease was plague was almost certain from the start, given the symptoms — fever, cough, chest pain and lung infection. But an official confirmation from the communicable diseases’ institute was needed.

All the tests showed that the dead and the affected patients were infected with pneumonic plague — the same strain that had spread in Surat in 1994. The World Health Organisation representative to India, Kim Farley, showered lavish praise on the health ministry for its “prompt measures”. “The government has made a commendable effort. The outbreak of plague is not peculiar to India. It is not the same scare it was 100 years ago,” Farley said at the press meet.

Thakur said the Centre has put both Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal on high alert. “The origin of the infection has been traced to one single family. It was one person who had brought the disease from the forest where he had gone hunting. And all the patients are among his relatives,” said Thakur.

The only case in Uttaranchal also was traced to a person who had come to visit the family of the dead.

The health ministry will officially notify the WHO tomorrow but the worries have receded over the last week since there has been no fresh case of affliction since February 8. The first case was reported on February 4.

Farley said there was no need for panic. “Even though I know plague carries an emotional label, it can be treated and its outbreak is not uncommon,” he said.

   

 
 
DOCTORS’ CODE TO BE NOTIFIED 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
As an off-shoot of the Moloy Ganguly versus Medical Council case, the Centre will soon notify on gazette regulations for professional conduct for medical practitioners.

The case, popularly known as the Dr Kunal Saha case, has compelled the Centre to finalise a set of regulations called “Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics, 2001”.

S.K. Rao, director of the Union ministry of health and family welfare, had earlier given an undertaking to the Supreme Court that the government’s regulations were being vetted by the law ministry and would soon be notified in the gazette.

Today, the Union government told the apex court the regulations were being sent for translation in all the official languages of the country.

The three-judge bench of Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Shivraj V. Patil and Justice Bisheshwar Prasad Singh adjourned the case after the government sought four weeks time for the purpose.

Under the regulations, which are to be published in the gazette within four weeks, “any complaint with regard to professional misconduct can be brought before the appropriate medical council for disciplinary action”.

The regulations stipulate that “upon receipt of any complaint of professional misconduct, the appropriate medical council will hold an enquiry and give opportunity to the registered medical practitioner to be heard in person or by pleader”.

The regulations also provide that if a medical practitioner is found guilty, the appropriate medical council would punish him as deemed necessary.

Even the doctor’s registration can be cancelled, which “shall also be widely publicised in local press as well as in the publications of different medical associations and bodies”, the regulations say.

Saha, an assistant professor in the Ohio State University Medical Centre, Columbus, USA, had lost his wife Anuradha to alleged maltreatment at a clinic in Calcutta.

The couple had come to visit their native place. Ironically, Anuradha, too, was a doctor in the US.

   

 
 
AMMA INVOKES MENTOR’S MAGIC 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Andipatti, Feb. 19: 
Fourteen summers ago, Jayalalithaa’s mentor MGR had swept the Andipatti seat from his sickbed in faraway America. Today, amma and her loyalists freely invoked memories of the MGR magic to mass votes for Thursday’s byelection.

Star candidate Jayalalithaa’s logic was simple: if her mentor could manage a long-distance victory in 1984 in spite of the ‘’misinformation campaign’’ about his health, she too could hope to win despite being at the receiving end of the DMK’s misinformation drive.

In what turned out to be the high point of her whirlwind five-day campaign, Jayalalithaa today held forth from an open jeep near the MGR statue in the marketplace, gunning for the DMK for having got her nomination from Andipatti rejected and then shoved her off the chief ministerial gaddi.

With a cordless microphone in hand and surrounded by hundreds of loyalists who had dressed up like MGR or shaved their hair to resemble the ADMK’s two-leaf symbol, Jayalalithaa scoffed at rival Karunanidhi for claiming his party was certain to win if voting was free and fair.

‘’Fear of a DMK defeat has already overcome Mr Karunanidhi and this is the way he wants to rationalise it,’’ she thundered, breaking into colloquial Tamil to loud cheers.

‘’Even a child knows who will win at Andipatti,’’ she said, claiming that it would continue to be an ADMK fortress as long as her party existed.

Targeting only the DMK to the exclusion of all else, the ADMK boss took a jibe at Karunanidhi for ‘’trailing’’ her to Andipatti and contradicting her statements.

Assuring the people that prices of PDS rice would not rise and that free power for farmers would continue, she said: ‘’Don’t be taken in by Mr Karunanidhi that these schemes will go after the poll.’’

MDMK firebrand leader Vaiko and Dalit leader K. Krishnaswamy were nowhere on Jayalalithaa’s campaign canvas. As she continued to spit fire at Karunanidhi, evoking MGR all along, her rival wondered why she had chosen to contest from Andipatti when there was no vacancy there. Incumbent Thanga Tamizselvam had stepped down to let her contest).

‘’MGR had first contested for the Assembly from Alandur constituency in Chennai,’’ Karunanidhi said, pointing out that Andipatti had not been Jayalalithaa’s mentor’s constituency.

His Madurai-based son and the DMK’s campaign manager, M.K. Azhagiri, roped in filmstar-MP Sarath Kumar to campaign for candidate Vaigai Sekar. Mayor M.K. Stalin also joined in, possibly to establish that the two brothers were no longer squabbling over the DMK legacy.

   

 
 
DHAKA TEAM BREAKS DELHI ICE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
After months of ambivalence, Bangladesh appears to have woken up to the fact that it continues to have strong and close ties with India.

The Khaleda Zia government yesterday took the initiative to break the diplomatic ice with a delegation led by foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury making the first official contact with his Indian counterpart, Chokila Iyer.

Dhaka’s keenness was apparent after the team, on its way back from a conference in London, converted a transit halt into an impromptu meeting between the foreign secretaries. They also called on foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

At yesterday’s meeting, Dhaka reassured Delhi it was not only keen to continue the bilateral relationship, but was also committed to the agreements made between the Awami League government and India. The only difference was that the Bangladesh National Party government wanted the agreements to be “long term”.

The Indian foreign ministry did not miss the chance to say the meeting between Chowdhury and Iyer was “outside the framework of regular foreign office consultations”. It said the two sides “also touched on” the need to establish substantive, long-term economic linkages on trade and investment, infrastructure and communications for mutual benefit.

Delhi wants to maintain strong ties with Dhaka for two reasons. As Indo-Pak ties are unlikely to reach the level of being “cordial and strong” in the near future, it does not want to have another estranged neighbour.

Besides, India realises that strengthening its economic ties with its neighbour in the east holds out the promise of immense mutual benefit.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 17.9°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 86%,
Minimum: 30%

Sunrise: 6.10 am

Sunset: 5.30 pm

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 17°C
   
 

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