Vote fear gags Cong in Gujarat
Namaz challenger pays for frivolity
The last journey by rickshaw
Riots creep into Atal baggage
Pepsi, LG team up for big innings
Bullet-starved hamlet bleeds
Marriages and movies made for each other
Protege points to Mayavati comeback
Modi rush to pacify media
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 8: 
The Congress is caught between the call of conscience and the compulsions of votebank politics in Gujarat.

A survey has painted a dismal picture for the party in the event of a snap poll, indicating a sharp polarisation on communal lines that gave an edge to the BJP and unwittingly shedding light on why the state unit of the Congress was not as vocal as the high command in demanding the Narendra Modi government’s resignation.

The big question facing the Congress in Gujarat is how to swim against the tide of a vertical communal divide without losing its support base among one of the two communities.

The Congress’ survey comes close on the heels of a similar exercise undertaken by the BJP after the Godhra and Ahmedabad violence. The BJP has officially denied any attempt to gauge public opinion but it is clear that both sides of the political stream are unsure of the public mood in riot-torn Gujarat.

State Congress leaders, however, tried to cut a brave face and differed with the findings of the survey. The “law of diminishing returns” would come into play if the BJP opted for snap polls, state Congress leader Amarsinh Chaudhary said.

“We had sent teams of local leaders to all districts soon after the incidents in Godhra and Ahmedabad. Our feedback is that only 10 per cent of the population has endorsed the Hindutva hard line. A majority has completely disapproved of the orgy of violence in the state,” Chaudhary said.

In Delhi, Chaudhary was busy propagating a theory that the “peace-loving majority” stayed indoors while a handful fomented trouble.

But the survey, commissioned by the Congress high command and presented before the Congress Working Committee, referred to a vertical divide in Gujarat and said the BJP would win if elections were called ahead of schedule.

The CWC met today in a grim scenario. Having demanded Modi’s resignation, the Congress leadership seemed at a loss on what to do in Gujarat. A majority of the members restricted themselves to comments like “time alone would heal the wounds”.

The Congress leadership has decided to coordinate with non-NDA parties in opposing the Modi government. Arjun Singh suggested a joint campaign both inside and outside Parliament to send a signal that the entire Opposition was united on Gujarat.


New Delhi, April 8: 
Filing communally-sensitive frivolous petitions might attract the ire of the courts and imposition of fine as a Varanasi-based business found out today in the Supreme Court.

Imposing a fine of Rs 10,000 on A.K. Jaiswal, the businessman petitioner who wanted the offering of namaz to be stopped at all public places, a bench said such petitioners were “causing bloodshed” in the country.

Jaiswal contended that in a “secular” country, Fundamental Rights should be equally applied and members of the Muslim community should be directed not to offer namaz at lanes, road sides, railway stations and bogies, airports, sea shores and all such places known to be public places and used for public purposes.

“You are the kind of people causing bloodshed in the country,” the bench of Justices B.N. Kirpal, P. Venkatarama Reddy and Arijit Passayat told the petitioner before dismissing the plea.

“It is a mischievous petition,” the judges observed while directing Jaiswal’s counsel Sunil Kumar Singh to deposit the fine within four weeks in the court registry.

The court said the fine would go to the Prime Minister’s relief fund.

When Singh tried to argue the case, the bench warned that if he continued with even one word more, the fine would be doubled. At this, the counsel stopped his argument.

The petition had contended that offering of “pious namaz” at public places other than specified for the purpose caused “inconvenience” to people from other communities and was “injurious to the sentiments of the other citizens”.

Namaz at such places was not part of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution nor a legal right, the petitioner said.

“If the Union of India is secular as profound in the preamble of the Constitution, it has to be observed accordingly and applicable uniformly,” he added.

The petition contended that “no Fundamental Right” conferred “unfettered right” and “in other words, Fundamental Right is subject to public health, normality, law and order and peace”.

The petition said “the call of the situation” was to stop namaz at all public places. It pleaded for a directive to the Union government to restrain namaz only to the places for the purpose and ban it at all other places which were either directly or indirectly under the control of the government.


Jamshedpur, April 8: 
Some days ago, Humayun Kabir was on a special mission for his country. Maybe on the border where he would have been looking down the barrel of the enemy’s gun. Maybe in Gujarat where the army was called to maintain peace.

The 38-year-old jawan did not live to tell the tale to his family in Murshidabad district. Death came not in some heroic battle to save the country but on a train that was taking him home, when he was very close to home.

Between Rourkela and Chakradharpur, in Jharkhand near the Bengal border, Kabir died after what has been diagnosed in preliminary findings as a heart attack without treatment because trains do not have doctors in attendance.

Kabir, a father of three, was travelling to Howrah en route to Murshidabad from his base at Ahmednagar in Maharashtra.

His friend Md Akhtar said over the phone from Ahmednagar that Kabir had a severe stomach-ache the day he boarded the train. Akhtar revealed that just a few days before, Kabir had completed a special mission.

Last night on the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express, after he complained of chest pain, fellow passengers informed the Chakradharpur station. But when railway officials turned up with doctors around 9.30 pm, he was dead.

Kabir’s journey home — in death — began there. Since the Chakradharpur hospital did not have a freezer to keep the body until his relations arrived, it was sent to Tatanagar by a local train. In Tatanagar, there was no cortege neatly covered with the tricolour waiting to take him. It was wrapped in what looked like a bedspread and was tied to a stretcher and put on a cycle-rickshaw.

The rickshaw-puller pedalled his way across 7 km through the heart of the city, sundry marketplaces before finally arriving at the mortuary. “I had a hard time dragging the body from the railway station. It is heavy and I have had to pedal hard through the undulating terrain,” the rickshaw-puller said.

He had no knowledge that the body was of a jawan. “Even if I was aware of it, what could I have done?” he asked.

The Government Railway Police was in charge of the body. An officer on duty at the GRP’s Chakradharpur station said: “Was it disrespect to put a human body on a rickshaw? Okay, he was an armyman, but for the police every man is equal.”


Singapore, April 8: 
Moved by the plight of victims of riots in Gujarat on his visit to Ahmedabad last week, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had wondered aloud: “How will I show my face when I go abroad?”

Today, he had to “show his face” and answer questions about Gujarat in a country where he would have merely liked to have showcased India as an investment destination. Behind the heap of numerous deals signed with Singapore — on telecom, tourism, trade and culture — lurked the apprehension that Gujarat is acting on the minds of foreign businessmen, forcing comments out of the Prime Minister.

Speaking at a Singapore-India Business Forum meeting, he said the Gujarat violence was an “aberration”. “Painful and sad” as the incidents were, they would not affect foreign investment, he said.

“The incidents are more in the minds of Indians living abroad. Now the situation is under control. The recent violence will not affect the business climate which is good.”

Vajpayee was speaking in a country with a Muslim population of 15 per cent and in a region which has Muslim-dominated Indonesia and Malaysia, all of which are part of the powerful 10-nation grouping, Asean.

India’s stakes in the region were evident in the speech Vajpayee made at a banquet held in his honour by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. “We are convinced that India’s destiny, like that of Singapore, is closely intertwined with the future of South-east Asia and of the Asia Pacific.”

New Delhi is a full dialogue partner of the Asean and a member of the security grouping Asean Regional Forum, but has been trying unsuccessfully to break into the economic bloc, Apec. The first-ever summit between the Asean and India is coming up in November where the two sides will hold comprehensive talks in the presence of heads of state and government.

Its interests in the region are largely economic with a history of missed opportunities on the part of India in expanding business relations, which was possibly another reason Vajpayee tried to dispel fears related to Gujarat on a trip that saw him preside over the opening of a $250-million undersea cable link between Singapore and Chennai.

“Investment opportunities in India are good. A new beginning has been made in several areas. We are making efforts to shorten delays and ease procedures,” he said, appealing to Singapore industrialists to invest in India.

The two countries signed an agreement to form a working group to promote telecom ventures, and decided to set up a study group to consider a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement and establish a biotechnology park.

“Let not some of the recent unfortunate happenings in India create any unease in you. India has the resilience and the civilisational genius to overcome these aberrations,” Vajpayee said.


New Delhi, April 8: 
Batting combinations are difficult to forge — but when they click, they stick. This is true on the fringes of the playground too: LG Electronics and PepsiCo are coming together again as the big-name sponsors for the World Cup Cricket championship to be played next February in South Africa.

The two multinationals — which came together as joint sponsors of the India-England one-day series earlier this year when Pepsi sold its naming rights to the South Korean electronics giant — have been tentatively taken on board as “global partners”, a euphemism for major sponsors for the cricketing event. But the organisers of the mega cricketing festival are searching for two more sponsors.

Money matters, it seems, are being thrashed out right now. Everybody is tightlipped on the amount that is being asked for and the money that is being offered. But if last World Cup’s sponsor rates are anything to go by, then both the firms will have a lot to fork out. Sources say the fee for the major sponsors will run into more than $5 million for the World Cup cricket. The biggest viewership for the World Cup event comes from India, a major market for both transnational giants.

Besides the two biggies, Indian two-wheeler maker Hero Honda and South African Airways will join in as “event sponsors”, which means they will have to stump up less cash and get bill-boarded as sponsors for the cup that lead up to the finals.

Prior to the World Cup, these four sponsors will also come together for what is being touted as the mini World Cup — the ICC Championship Trophy in Sri Lanka between September 12 and 29.

Nimbus, the marketing agency for the World Cup which holds the marketing rights to the ICC tournaments between 2002 and 2007, said it is on the lookout for four global partners and eight event sponsors for all the tournaments during this period.

Sunil Manocha, senior vice-president, TV & Sport Nimbus, said global partners are those who would be sponsoring all the tournaments during this period. They are the ones who would enjoy most benefits among all advertisers and sponsors in terms of ground signages and sidescreen advertising.

Nimbus said nothing was final as yet. The bidding process has begun which will be followed by negotiations. However, sources have confirmed that LG and Pepsi have got the sponsorship rights as the global partners. They are expected to sign on the dotted line soon.

Pepsi also has a three-year contract that runs till 2003 with BCCI. Earlier this year, Pepsi had pulled out of the India-England one-day series as lead sponsor. At that time, LG had come up with a proposal to become a co-sponsor in the ratio of 60: 40. “At that time we were not too keen to do too many matches on Indian soil,” said the Pepsi spokesperson. However, sources say Pepsi was not too sure about the value for money proposition at that time from cricket.


April 8: 
With President Pervez Musharraf piping down his anti-terror rhetoric and the summer sun thawing the winter snow, militants struck terror in Kashmir, raising the spectre of a violent run-up to the September polls in the state.

Last night, militants battled village security forces at Udhampur for six hours. When the guards ran out of bullets, the militants killed seven villagers.

This afternoon, militants triggered a blast at a sweet shop in Rajouri, killing three persons. Sixteen were injured, two of them critically. The two were airlifted to a hospital in Jammu.

No militant outfit has yet claimed responsibility for the attack at Dhandali Arnas village in Udhampur, but intelligence sources suspect it was either the handiwork of the Jaish-e Mohammad or the Lashkar-e Toiba.

Sources said those killed in Dhandali have been identified as Shoba Ram (50), Ganpati Devi (40) and her six-year-old daughter Shindo, Lal Dai (35) and her four-year-old daughter Drishto, Shankar Dass (50) and Shomey Lal (10).

Three more persons, including a girl, were injured in the firing. Before leaving, the militants lobbed grenades at houses and damaged 21 in the process.

A police party and security forces rushed to the village in the early hours, but, by then, the militants had escaped.

One of the five villagers wounded in the attack said many of the victims suffocated in homes set ablaze by tracer bullets. “We were sleeping when the militants attacked the village from different directions,” said Laxmi.

“Village defence committee members retaliated … and the exchange of fire lasted until three in the morning, when police arrived,” she added.

Chain Singh, a village guard who lost his sister and daughter in the attack, said: “We would have beaten them back if our ammunition had not exhausted around 3 am.” At the government medical college hospital here, Singh expressed resentment over the government not arming them with modern weapons .

“We had only .303 rifles with 50 rounds each to fight 30-40 militants equipped with AK rifles, Pika gun rocket launchers and grenade launchers.”

Volunteers across the state had been complaining of ammunition shortage but the government had reservations following charges that some guards and surrendered militants were using the arms for extortion.

Minister of state for home Khalid Najeeb Suhrawardy, director-general of police A.K. Suri and inspector-general of police (Jammu) P.L. Gupta flew to the village.

Militants also attacked the ancestral house of Jammu and Kashmir works minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and set ablaze six houses in separate incidents.

They lobbed grenades at Sagar’s house in downtown Srinagar around 8.50 last night. However, the grenades exploded on the road outside. Sagar had abandoned the house and was staying in the high-security Sonawar area with his family.

The renewed attacks come at a time when Musharraf appears to be declaring a truce in his crackdown on Islamic militants as he gathers forces for a referendum to rule Pakistan for another five years.

But with summer setting in, Indian authorities have strengthened vigil in border areas and set up 114 police posts in six districts. These border police posts would serve as the third-tier of security in the state, the sources added. The first tier consists of the army; border security force makes up the second tier; the fourth tier comprises border defence committees.


Hyderabad, April 8: 
It is the season of lavish weddings in Hyderabad and the city’s event managers are suddenly in great demand. They know how to turn a wedding into an unforgettable event.

Recently, IT entrepreneur Ramanand Rao spent Rs 3 crore for his son’s wedding. “For a change, I told them that I will be the spender and the bride’s people should just sit and watch me spend,” said Rao.

Rao says he did not spend a lot of time or energy on anything and farmed out organising the wedding between 10 contractors. “I appointed agencies to look into everything from supply of cushions to bridal makeup artists to desserts. I just enjoyed like any other guest,” he said.

This summer, about 170 mega-marriages are being scheduled by nearly 20-odd event managers at popular venues such as the Ramoji Film City, the Imperial Gardens, GVK Resorts on a hillock near Vikarabad, and Balaji Park near Gandipet.

Thanks to these lavish weddings, even unemployed technicians and artists of the Telugu film industry are suddenly in great demand. “Do not call us unemployed. Nobody in the industry is employed throughout the year, even producers. We take such assignments in between as it helps us to try new techniques and concepts,” says Shekar, a make-up artist and designer of clothes and sets.

Plaster of Paris and fibreglass are used to create lavish wedding sets that appear right out of the last Hollywood or Bollywood hit. Some of the more popular wedding sets are from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Chandni, Titanic and even the recent Lagaan.

Sometimes, outdoor units of the film studios are used for creating the ambience. Flowers, perfumes, fruits, ice creams and liquor are flown in from Dubai and Bangkok. Helicopters, special AC train compartments, AC buses and a fleet of the latest cars are hired for the occasion.

“We undertake everything. Onward and inward bookings for guests, their hotel rooms. For larger families, we book bungalows and guest houses for a minimum of a week. Official hospitality for the police, municipal and government officials runs for almost a month. We charge for everything. Nothing is free,” says Joseph Nobert, an assistant manager in an event management firm that specialises in mega-marriages.

The marriage of the daughter of Sadanand Reddy, a textile merchant of Hyderabad, is widely acknowledged as one of the most lavish weddings in recent memory. About 300 air-conditioners were kept running for three days to cover 25,000 sq. ft. with the help of diesel generators at a cost of Rs 3.7 lakh. Around 1.2 lakh bottles of Bisleri were consumed during the wedding, which ran for nearly three days.

About 8,000 specially invited guests attended the wedding, each receiving a good-bye gift hamper worth Rs 12,000 comprising silver and crystal curios imported from Singapore. The wardrobes of the bride and groom alone cost nearly Rs 22 lakh.

Besides the spectacular, event managers have brought in an element of fun in these weddings. “In January last, almost 15 animals from the local zoo, including a white tiger, rhinos, flocks of birds and monkeys, elephants and giraffes were hired to entertain the kids during the two-day wedding,” says Pratap Singh, an event manager.

Food is a major attraction at these events. Meat of every vintage is served at the table, particularly boar, black buck, rabbit and even peacock.


Lucknow, April 8: 
The stage is being set for Mayavati’s return as Uttar Pradesh chief minister as indicated by the appointment of a senior bureaucrat, perceived to be “very close” to the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, to head the state power corporation.

Panna Lal Punia, who worked as Mayavati’s principal secretary when she was the chief minister in 1997, came into the limelight on April 5 with the additional charge as chairman-cum-managing director of Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. He is currently the principal secretary for culture, tourism and sports.

Though the former chief of the power corporation, R.K. Narayan, cited ill-health for his exit, the installation of a bureaucrat considered to be a part of Mayavati’s “inner circle” has not surprised anyone.

Sources said Punia, the “right-hand man” of the BSP leader during her earlier stint as chief minister, is set to comeback as principal secretary to Mayavati once the new government is in place.

There are indications that the BSP-BJP coalition will be fine-tuned at the BJP’s Goa conclave later this month.

“We can’t discount the possibility that this appointment is part of a larger strategy to make things easier and also to make her (Mayavati) happy,” a former BJP minister said.

Sources close to Mayavati revealed that Punia has furnished a list of ministers in her 1997 Cabinet along with the names of senior bureaucrats who held key positions during that time. It appears that the BSP leader has also shortlisted some names for important positions in the ministry and the bureaucracy.

At the BSP legislature party meeting on Sunday, Mayavati assured the 98 MLAs that they were poised to form the next government. She also discussed the possibility of an administrative reshuffle during the meeting.

“I shall open my cards at the right moment,’’ Mayavati told reporters after the legislature party meet, adding: “We will form the next government.’’

However, the BJP continued to assert that there were no talks going on with the BSP. Senior leader Kalraj Mishra not only ruled out support to the BSP, but also dismissed any “process of understanding” between the two parties.

“Political parties who want to take the initiative to form the next government can do so,’’ Mishra said.

“But as far as the BJP is concerned, we have decided to sit in the Opposition and respect the mandate given to us after the Assembly elections,” the state BJP president added.

Denying any dialogue with Mayavati, Mishra said: “The BJP is neither going to support the BSP in government formation, nor is it going to form a government with anybody’s support. The BSP, too, has not approached us officially.’’

However, two days earlier, another senior BJP leader, Om Prakash Singh, had said talks were on with the BSP and the issue of contention centred around Mayavati becoming the chief minister.

“Talks moved after that issue was resolved as the rest were only peripheral nitty-gritty,’’ he added.


Ahmedabad, April 8: 
The Gujarat government has appointed retired high court judge S.D. Dave to head the probe into yesterday’s police assault on journalists at Sabarmati Ashram, after a mob disrupted a peace meeting organised by dancer Mallika Sarabhai.

The inquiry commission will also look into why the mob was allowed to gather inside the ashram. The demonstrators had barged into the hall where the meeting was going on after Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar turned up at the venue.

Chief minister Narendra Modi took the decision to appoint a retired high court judge following widespread condemnation of the police action. After initially denying that any journalist was attacked, Modi spoke to reporters on the phone today to apologise for the incident and promised stern action. Dave will submit his report within three weeks.

This evening, the chief minister visited NDTV cameraman Pranav Joshi in hospital.

Late last night, Sabarmati police inspector Prakash Mehra was suspended while deputy commissioner of police V.M. Pargi, who ordered the lathi-charge, was transferred along with his senior, additional commissioner Shivanand Jha. In another move, the city police today withdrew home guards from patrol duty in the violence-hit areas of Ahmedabad.

Jha’a transfer came as a surprise as he was instrumental in controlling the errant police officers, led by Pargi, who attacked the journalists. Jha also ensured that the NDTV cameraman was immediately taken to hospital after he was hit on the head.

Journalists who were present at Sabarmati Ashram feel Jha has been victimised. Sources in the BJP said three legislators, including a Cabinet minister, were reportedly upset with Jha for not toeing their line during the riots and were waiting for an opportunity to seek his transfer.

Interestingly, Hemant Chauhan, Youth Congress leader and an ashram inmate, who claims to have led the mob, today sat in dharna at the ashram protesting against the “violence and police entry”. “The police should not have been allowed in the ashram. For the first time in the last five decades, the police entered the ashram,” he said.




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Minimum: 25.5°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 45%

Sunrise: 5.26 am

Sunset: 5.51 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of the development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening

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