Tiger out of den with peace purr
Ban bargain to block extradition
Minority officers flee Modi’s Gujarat
Mamata, married and harried
Lakhs look for Lotto crores
Delhi data show Pak habits die hard
Pak list in US court
Majority bodies in minority bench sweep
Maran quit retort to scam slur
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TIGER OUT OF DEN WITH PEACE PURR 
 
 
 
Kilinochchi, April 10: 
The face of Velupillai Prabhakaran flashed tonight on India’s diplomatic and television screens, carrying with it the haunting memories of the country’s worst misadventure abroad and the heavy price it had to pay at home.

Tiptoeing out of a self-imposed iron curtain that kept one of the world’s most wanted men away from media glare for 12 years, Prabhakaran said the Sri Lankan peace process would not succeed without India’s cooperation and described Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination as “tragic”.

The leader of the world’s toughest guerrilla force also appealed to India to lift the ban on his organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He urged Sri Lanka, too, to lift the ban to facilitate his organisation’s participation in the Norway-brokered peace talks in Thailand next month.

Prabhakaran pledged to pursue peace in Sri Lanka but stopped short of removing the biggest obstacle to a settlement — the demand for a separate state for Tamils. “The conditions have not yet arisen to abandon the policy of statehood,” he told the international media at his jungle hideout in northern Jaffna.

The Tigers went to extreme lengths to protect their leader, with journalists subjected to body checks so thorough that reporters had to remove their socks for the guards to check between their toes.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi — Prabhakaran is wanted in India in the case — and India’s association with the island nation hung heavy over the news conference, which gripped the attention of a Sri Lanka wondering whether he can make the transition from guerrilla to political leader and end a conflict that has killed about 64,000 people.

The assassination dominated the event so much that an annoyed LTTE spokesman, Anton Balasingham, told reporters: “You want to dominate the press conference. You have come all the way to ask these questions.”

But some of the questions did not go unanswered. Prabhakaran described the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, who was blown up by a human bomb after he sent Indian peacekeepers to the island on a disastrous mission, as a “tragic incident” but evaded a question on whether the LTTE was responsible for it.

Prabhakaran, however, held forth on the future role he wanted India to play in Lanka.

“Without India, without the active support and sympathy of India, this problem (ethnic conflict) will not find a solution. India is a regional superpower. We have suffered a lot as a result of contradictions between India and the LTTE,” the 47-year-old guerrilla leader said.

He said India is the Tamils’ “fatherland” and the LTTE wanted “new, friendly and constructive relations”.

Prabhakaran said India has been requested to provide transit to LTTE negotiator Anton Balasingham if he heads the peace talks in Thailand. “India is expected to respond in the next few days or weeks,” he said.

Written with agency reports

   

 
 
BAN BARGAIN TO BLOCK EXTRADITION 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
Prabhakaran’s appeal to lift the LTTE ban is being seen as a bargaining chip to ensure that Delhi does not pursue his extradition from Sri Lanka and endanger not only his life but also prospects of long-lasting peace on the island.

India has not responded officially yet, but indications suggest there will be few takers for Prabhakaran’s request.

The BJP-led government will find it difficult to oblige him because of the risk of a political backlash – the Congress has already criticised the government for failing to get Prabhakaran extradited—and its campaign against terrorism.

Officially, India maintains that it will provide all support to ensure that peace returns to Lanka. That, in diplomatic parlance, means Delhi will not open another front by pursuing the extradition demand.

India is not keen on another mediatory role either. But it will look for ways to ensure that it is not marginalised in the subcontinent.

   

 
 
MINORITY OFFICERS FLEE MODI’S GUJARAT 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 10: 
Muslims who can are fleeing Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Shaken by the riots, IPS officers and senior employees of government organisations have started packing their bags.

M.A. Wadoo, an ONGC official whose rented apartment was ransacked by a mob and belongings worth Rs 5.3 lakh destroyed, has sought a transfer “on humanitarian grounds’’.

“I lost everything I had earned in 27 years of service. I have so much pain within me that I cannot express. I just want to leave Gujarat. I cannot live in perpetual fear. I cannot move about freely here. For the past 25 days, my daughter has not moved out of this room (ONGC transit accommodation),” he said.

The officer, who had gone home to Andhra Pradesh when ONGC flew its Muslim officers out of the state for their safety, has returned only because his daughter has to sit for the Class XII board examinations.

Most of the 20 Muslim officers in ONGC from outside Gujarat have not come back since the riots. Even those that have are here only temporarily, having already applied for transfers.

S.L. Bhardwaj, an ONGC official, said almost all Muslim officers have applied for transfer on various grounds. But the picture will be clear only in May or June, when transfer orders are issued.

The same story is repeated in all public sector organisations. In banks, the departments of posts and telecommunications and in organisations such as Indian Oil Corporation — anywhere that any Muslims from outside Gujarat work — the management is faced with requests for transfers.

A senior officer with the Controller and Auditor General’s office in Ahmedabad first went on leave and has now sought a transfer.

Nishar Ansari, an All-India Radio officer recently transferred from Uttar Pradesh to Ahmedabad, is pleading with authorities to cancel the order.

Even retired officers who had settled down in Gujarat because they liked the state are now leaving.

But perhaps, the most telling comment on the state of Gujarat is that its policemen are also fleeing.

Deputy commissioner of police, traffic, Samiullah Ansari, a 1992 batch officer, has applied for deputation. Officially, he said: “I have applied for the deputation in any Central service not because of the present disturbed situation in the state, but because it is part of service to go on deputation ‘’.

Ansari, a senior IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre, had to remove his nameplate during the riots. “It’s a precaution we generally take to protect oneself from mob fury during riots,” he explained dryly. The officer describes his nine-year career as absolutely “hopeless”, sources said. His only meaningful posting in a district lasted six months.

While non-cadre officers from Gujarat police service have been occupying cadre posts in important districts in the state, cadre officers (direct IPS recruits, who are mostly Muslims) have been left cooling their heels in non-executive posts. This is a violation of the rules, but no one has dared challenge it in court out of fear of being victimised.

The officers had reconciled themselves to being sidelined under the BJP regime, but the riots have left them shaken.

   

 
 
MAMATA, MARRIED AND HARRIED 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
April 10: 
Mamata Banerjee.

Address: 36C Ballygunge Circular Road.

Occupation: marriage registrar.

Family: Husband and children.

Not convinced? Well, you are not the only one. There are hundreds of others who think so and call her up in the dead of night, cooing adulation or shouting profanities.

The consequence: Life turning topsy-turvy for a middle-aged housewife, a mother of two and recently-appointed marriage registrar of her area (Ward 69). The first (adulation), she can take in her stride, but it’s the second (profanities) that gets her blood boiling sometimes.

“I sometimes want to complain to my namesake and request her to do something about my problem,” Mamata the marriage registrar said. It’s then that she turns to her husband for solace.

The advice she always receives: take the latter, too, in your stride. After all, her husband is an employee of the Trinamul-controlled Calcutta Municipal Corporation. So life goes on as usual — in the shadow of the Agnikanya.

The shadow, as Mamata (not the politician) has found out, is not always a comfortable sitting place.

“One night, I received an anonymous call,” she recounted on Wednesday. “The caller used language not fit to go to print and threatened me with unpleasant consequences if I continued opposing the state government’s move to evict settlers from the banks of Tolly’s Nullah,” she added.

Irked, she tried explaining to the male voice the mistake he — and others of his ilk often — had made. “But before I could say that I was not the Trinamul Congress leader and did not have anything to do with the Tolly’s Nullah protests, he banged the receiver down,” Mamata said.

She asked her husband to do something. “ ‘No use,’ he told me,” she added.

But sharing a name with Bengal’s principal Opposition leader has sprung pleasant surprises, too. One came at an ophthalmologist’s in Jadavpur.

“The slip I gave in was in the queue after those of several persons,” Mamata told The Telegraph. But, to her surprise, she was the first to be called into the chamber as soon as the doctor came in. “It was then that I realised that sharing a name with a celebrity has its better moments, too,” she added.

There were also frequent calls — often at unearthly hours — from Didi’s fans. Almost everyone had a few lines composed by him/her and dedicated to their “elder sister”, Mamata (the one with the mistaken identity) said.

“The poems are almost always followed by a request for a critical appreciation,” she said.

“Often, I don’t have the heart to disappoint. But there have been occasions when I was not believed when I said that I was Mamata all right, but not the one they were looking for,” she said, sitting inside her eighth-floor apartment and far from the grime and dust of the single-storeyed establishment on Harish Chatterjee Street in Kalighat.

The adulatory calls are often preceded by a request that sounded strange in the beginning. “Didi, onek door theke phone korchhi, doya kore rakhben na (Didi, this is a long-distance call, please let me finish),” the callers say.

The Didi, when she heard what being her namesake meant for the Ballygunge Circular Road resident, was all apology. “This is the first time that I am hearing such a strange story,” the Trinamul Congress leader said. “And I am very sorry for her,” she added.

“But what can I do,” she sounded uncharacteristically helpless. “But those who keep calling her must be genuinely looking for me”, was all she could offer as solace.

   

 
 
LAKHS LOOK FOR LOTTO CRORES 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, April 10: 
Around 70 people have queued up to enter a branded readymade garments shop in central Calcutta. It’s 8.30 in the evening.

Welcome to SuperLotto, the country’s first online lottery promoted by the Sikkim government, where one can win Rs 50 to Rs 5 crore. Marketed by Playwin Infravest of the Rs 4,500-crore Essel Group, the click-lottery has stirred up a craze within a month of its launch in 14 states.

The first draw with Rs 2 crore as the jackpot took place on March 29, but no one got the numbers right and the prize money was carried over. The amount for the second draw on April 5 doubled and there was no winner in that one either.

“The jackpot money rolls in this version of the lottery and it is Rs 5 crore for the third draw scheduled for tomorrow,” said a Playwin spokesperson from Mumbai.

As the jackpot swelled, so did the number of players logging on to the system. “We have seen around 8 to 10 million bets across the country in less than a month,” said the spokesperson.

The March 5 draw threw up 30 winners, each of whom scooped up a little over Rs 91,000, while in the second 34 won Rs 69,000.

“I have never bought a lottery ticket. But this online concept is exciting as it is transparent and one sees the results live,” said Piyali Bhattacharya, a 28-year-old software professional.

On the way back home from her Dalhousie office, she was waiting in the queue to try her luck by spending Rs 10 and selecting six numbers between 1 and 49.

Whether she wins or not depends on D.D. Bhutia, minister in charge of culture, family and health in Sikkim, who will draw six numbers between 1 and 49 during the Khelo Number Khelo game show on Zee TV on Thursday between 9 and 9.30 pm. If the numbers drawn by Bhutia tally with what Piyali has punched into the Playwin terminal on Bentinck Street, she will win the Rs 5 crore jackpot.

“People are coming through the day and I am keying in their entries and giving them the electronically-printed unique ticket numbers,” said Moloy Ghosh, the manager of the store.

On an average, the shop is selling tickets worth Rs 18,000 to Rs 25,000 daily.

   

 
 
DELHI DATA SHOW PAK HABITS DIE HARD 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
India believes Pakistan’s break from promoting militancy in Kashmir, under international pressure, is over.

The Vajpayee government’s assessment is based on the fact that the number of violent incidents in Kashmir has gone up by nearly 50 per cent between February and March this year. Infiltration from across the border has increased nearly 100 per cent.

The government believes that attacks on political activists are also likely to increase as Kashmir gears up for elections in September. The strikes have already begun. Between January and March this year, at least a dozen National Conference workers were killed.

After September 11, when Musharraf was under international pressure to stop all support to terrorists, he had no choice but to ask the ISI to tell the outfits to lie low. Though Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were banned by the military regime, they have subsequently been allowed to resume operations from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Musharraf is today much more confident than he was six months ago. He is no longer an international pariah and the US has been periodically issuing laudatory statements about him. This might have persuaded him that he could now gradually allow militant groups to step up their activities in Kashmir.

Militant outfits have already begun a campaign for poll boycott. The Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammad are in the forefront of the drive. Hurriyat Conference leaders will be under severe pressure to stay away from the polls.

A free and fair election in Kashmir, with a good turnout and Hurriyat participation, will give India international credibility. This is why Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is stressing on a well-conducted poll. This is also why Pakistan is bent on ensuring that Kashmiris boycott the polls.

Officials say there is a change in the infiltration pattern this year, with a fall in the number of foreign mercenaries trained by Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Most militants now crossing over are either residents of PoK or local Kashmiri youth returning after training in Pakistan.

Indian officials fear that Pakistan is now ready to revive local Kashmiri groups, which it had earlier sponsored and then dumped for the more effective terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Ansar.

The Centre’s recent decision to ban Al Badr and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen earlier this month was based on reports of ISI efforts to revive these local groups.

   

 
 
PAK LIST IN US COURT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
India today sought America’s help in getting the 20 criminals and terrorists it wants extradited from Pakistan. The move is being seen as an attempt to make Washington exert pressure on Islamabad to lower South Asia’s volatile temperature and normalise relations between the estranged neighbours.

Delhi also wanted access for its intelligence agencies to the al Qaida and Taliban activists captured by American troops in Afghanistan.

Aided with video clips of the IC-814 hijacking, CBI director P.C. Sharma asked visiting US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca to help Delhi get more information about those involved in the 1999 airbus snatch.

The two countries agreed to set up a politico-military dialogue to broadbase their interactions and co-operate on security and terrorism related issues. The first meeting of the new body will be held in Delhi on April 30.

The US assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, Link Bloomfield, has been invited for talks with his Indian counterpart, Jayant Prasad, joint secretary (Americas) in the foreign ministry. The proposed dialogue would not only give the required political content to the military-to-military contact the two sides have started, but also encompass areas like technology transfer, cyber terrorism, regional security, non-proliferation and arms control.

Rocca, who also held talks with foreign minister Jaswant Singh and foreign secretary Chokila Iyer, said Washington was concerned about the situation on the India-Pakistan border. “Any time you have two armies so close to each other, things can go out of hand,” she said, referring to the “spark factor” to describe the tense situation in the region. “We are concerned about this.” Washington, she added, was keen to see the neighbours resume talks.

Asked how India could return to the negotiating table when infiltration across the Line of Control has gone up, Rocca said: “I am not aware of the figures, but even for this you need to talk to each other.”

She also made it clear that Washington did not want to pass a judgment on the referendum in Pakistan by which Pervez Musharraf hopes to get himself elected President for the next five years.

   

 
 
MAJORITY BODIES IN MINORITY BENCH SWEEP 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 10: 
In a major turn in the “minority” case being heard by the Supreme Court, the largest-ever Constitution bench today decided to go into the question of institutions administered by the majority community also.

The 11-judge bench presided by Justice B.N. Kirpal added a question — No. 10 — to its earlier list of nine: “10. Whether the non-minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions under Article 29 (1) read with Articles 14 and 15(1) of the Constitution in the same form and to the same extent as that of the minorities.”

The issue crept up after the counsel for the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas in the Aydohya case, Ram Joyes, representing Ambedkar Institution in Karnataka, addressed a poser to the court in today’s proceedings that under Article 14 “equality before and equal application of law” was ensured to the entire gamut of the citizenry of the country and that a section of it could not be discriminated against.

Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees “cultural and educational rights” but specifies the rights as applicable to the minorities. However, under Article 15(1), “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, castes, sex, place of birth or any of them”. Moreover, “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition” (Article 15 (2)). Joyes argued that Article 29 should be read with Articles 14 and 15.

At this, the bench added a 10th reference before it along with the other nine posers relating to and determining “minority”, “religion” and “language”, besides “what constitutes a minority institution” and “administration” of such an institution.

Senior counsel and Congress member of the Rajya Sabha Kapil Sibal commenced his arguments in today’s proceedings for the Catholic Bishop Conference, contending that even for the state-aided minority institutions “admission of students” should be granted as a right. He cited an earlier judgment to buttress his argument that “admission is also part of administration”.

Another advocate, M.P. Raju, appearing for Bishop Missions from Kerala, contended that an earlier judgment by a nine-member bench not altering the status of the minority institutions should not be altered at all.

Sibal told the bench that Article 30 (“right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions”) was not affected by Article 29(2) which guarantees that “no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of state funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them”.

A plain reading of this article would mean that minority institutions receiving state aid could not deny admission to candidates they may not prefer to admit.

But Sibal contended that the special rights given to minorities should be on par with special laws and hence in the matter of even aided institutions, the management should be given free hand vis-à-vis admission and administration.

In the case of “unaided” schools, the right must be an absolute right but hence no right is an absolute right since regulated, the state could regulate but not interfere in the matter of admission, administration and day-to-day running of the institution.

At this Justice Kirpal gave an analogy: “The unaided schools are like kites flying up above, yet linked to the ground through the string.”

Sibal said: “Yes, M’lords. Educational institutions world over adopt their own methods of even conducting examinations and grading systems. And they excel. This is the trend now world over today.”

   

 
 
MARAN QUIT RETORT TO SCAM SLUR 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, April 10: 
Commerce and industry minister Murasoli Maran today took strong exception to the ADMK heaping a cement scam charge on him and offered to quit if the allegations were proved.

Tamil Nadu finance minister C. Ponnaiyan had alleged in the Assembly yesterday that a cement producers’ cartel benefited from a cluster of Central decisions and policies, including tariff and non-tariff barriers imposed on cheaper imports, and raked in nearly Rs 1,700 crore annually by “looting consumers” during the previous DMK regime.

Ponnaiyan had charged that one individual in the cement firm promoter’s family could not have “become big”, expanded their plants in Tamil Nadu and subsequently purchased several cement factories in Andhra Pradesh had it not been for the “role of the Gopalapuram clique”. DMK president M. Karunanidhi and his relatives, including Maran, stay at Gopalapuram in Chennai.

He also blamed the “clique” for the alleged consolidation of share-holding when financial institutions off-loaded the company’s shares in the market.

Calling the charges “totally baseless”, Maran in a statement here dared Ponnaiyan to make the allegations outside the Assembly. “Then the legal consequences will follow as these charges are also arraigned against the NDA government led by Vajpayee,” asserted the Union minister.

Stating that neither he nor his family members held shares in any cement company, Maran said: “I am willing to resign from the government if he (Ponnaiyan) can prove the charges.” It was unfair on the part of the state minister to “unbundle a sack full of lies in the Assembly just because he enjoys immunity as member of the House”, he added.

Maran pointed out that the Union finance minister effected any change in the duty structure of imported cement, and previous chief minister M. Karunanidhi had requested Yashwant Sinha to reduce the import duty on cement after the price of the domestic products spiralled. After the 1989 budget, cement had become a decontrolled commodity with the government having no control over its price or distribution, Maran emphasised.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 36.2°C (0)
Minimum: 26.6°C (+3)

Rainfall

25.4 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 54%

Sunrise: 5.24 am

Sunset: 5.51 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts
   
 

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