March in shadow of Modi roshni
Atal, Sangh paths meet
Nagging saves wife killer
Sonia spoils for second round
Ripples of dissent in general’s labyrinth
Ajit teaser in Mayavati last lap
Rapid lustre loss unearths fake mint
Blueprint for blanket border vigil
Sangh front sneaks into Goa school
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MARCH IN SHADOW OF MODI ROSHNI 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 28: 
Carrying Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s secular beacon in his person, George Fernandes placed chief minister Narendra Modi — hero to some, killer to others — in new light. “Roshni” (ray of light) was how the defence minister described Modi, recalling Jai Prakash Narayan’s fascination for the chief minister who was then a youthful leader.

“He (JP) looked to him as roshni. He used to mention 10 times a day how impressed he was by this youthful leader,” Fernandes told a peace rally today.

When members of the minority community, some of whom lost their relatives, friends and homes in the fire that has been burning in Gujarat for two months, saw this roshni flickering at the head of the peace march, most decided to stay away.

“I won’t join hands with these people,” said S.B. Syed. “They have no place in a peace rally,” he said of Modi and members of his government.

With their followers, Syed, a member of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the rally’s organiser, and the Samajwadi Party state secretary, Khurshid Syed, had come to join the peace march, but changed their minds when they found Modi, home minister Godhan Zadhaphia and revenue minister Haren Pandya there.

“We came because we were told the chief minister will not come. It is a betrayal. We are boycotting the peace march because killers and mass murderers are pretending to be peacemakers,” they said.

The march drew about 1,000 people, way below expectations of a turnout of tens of thousands, despite the presence of several Central ministers — Arun Jaitley, Harin Pathak and Digvijay Singh — and some local Congress leaders, who gave the exercise the respectability of not being an entirely government-sponsored event.

Minority community members, standing in large numbers on both sides of the road, held placards that said: “Modi law of peace, kill Muslims to win election”; “Modi law of peace, break down Muslims financially”; and “Modi law of peace, a Muslim life costs nothing, rape them, kill them, police with you”.

Some might have joined — but most just watched — the 3.5-km march that began from Manilal Mansion near Kalupur railway station in the minority-dominated area of Lal Darwaja, passing through riot-hit localities that remain stripped of signs of day-to-day life despite relaxation of curfew.

Gun-toting police and Central force personnel stood guard at strategic positions and on rooftops as the marchers walked, carrying banners demanding an immediate end to “insane communal rage”, to patriotic songs sung by NCC cadets.

Hours before the march, four persons were killed and 18 injured in police firing in the Millat Nagar area at Maninagar on the outskirts of the city.

Hours later, one person was stabbed to death.

Addressing a meeting at the end of the march, an emotionally-charged Modi said: “Everyone has lost something. What Gujarat now requires is trust between people.”

“It is time to forget the past and to isolate those who are indulging in violence…. No one will be able to disrupt peace and communal harmony if miscreants are identified and isolated.”

Trust is something the chief minister will have to work harder on. Sheikh Memon, a protester holding a placard, said: “Had we known Modi would join the peace march, we would have imposed janata curfew. You would have not seen so many Muslims today.”

Scores of them looked on from inside their barricaded colonies as the marchers went by. Holding a small baby in her arms, Zareena Biwi peeped through the iron gates.

“Peace is when I can come out and join you in the streets,” she said.

   

 
 
ATAL, SANGH PATHS MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
With the Vishwa Hindu Parishad likely to revive the temple issue once its “purna ahuti” programme at Ayodhya ends in June, RSS leaders met today at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence to streamline coordination between the BJP and Sangh affiliates to ensure they did not work at cross-purposes.

This was the second meeting in two days between Vajpayee and his senior Cabinet and BJP colleagues and the Sangh leadership, comprising the sarsanghachalak, K.S. Sudarshan, H.V. Seshadri and Madan Das Devi, the joint general secretary in charge of its political wing.

BJP sources said while the leaders did not put their heads together to find a solution to the Ayodhya dispute, the consensus was that nothing should be said or done to “embarrass” the government. “The last time the VHP took up the Ayodhya issue, its leaders and the sants freely criticised the Prime Minister from public platforms. Their statements and the government’s often clashed. There was a general appreciation of the government’s view that this should not be repeated,” said a BJP functionary.

Apart from asking the VHP to exercise “self-restraint”, the meeting also decided that the Sangh’s labour front, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), must be asked to hold its horses. The BMS recently spearheaded an effort to bring the trade unions together to protest against the budget and the Centre’s disinvestment policy.

The meeting took place in the backdrop of renewed attempts by the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Swami Jayendra Saraswati, to find a solution to the Ayodhya dispute. The seer called on Vajpayee last night to brief him on his meetings with Muslim leaders in Ayodhya. But government sources were sceptical how much headway his initiative would make, given the Supreme Court’s injunction against transfer of the entire “disputed” land and the Muslim Personal Law Board’s unwillingness to negotiate after the Gujarat violence.

The need for “greater coordination” within the Sangh received an impetus from the BJP’s Goa national executive, which decided to put aggressive Hindutva on the political centrestage.

Today’s meeting decided that while the government would continue working under the NDA agenda, the BJP would not pull punches on issues like the temple, Gujarat and its chief minister, Narendra Modi.

In other words, the RSS “advice” to Vajpayee was that a distinction would have to be made between the government and the party, which could no longer be expected to be “subservient” to the coalition and “sacrifice” its interests.

The two-day meeting — described as a “soul-searching” session by BJP sources — also resolved to revamp the organisation. The presence of two senior Cabinet ministers at the meeting, Pramod Mahajan and M. Venkaiah Naidu, set off speculation that one of them is sure to be inducted into the party.

   

 
 
NAGGING SAVES WIFE KILLER 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
A banana vendor invests his life’s saving, takes loans to buy a house for Rs 1,75,000 from his cousin. But his wife and four daughters are not impressed. Even as a payment of Rs 40,000 remains pending, they start nagging him to sell that house and buy another one in the same locality.

Exasperated with the continuous quarrels, he buys five litres of petrol and burns his wife and daughters in sleep.

Vashram Narshibhai Rajpara from Gujarat was sentenced to death for the cold-blooded murders. But the Supreme Court has converted his punishment to life imprisonment, holding that Rajpara killed his wife because she continuously nagged him.

“Considering the facts of the case presented before us, it is on evidence that despite his economic condition and earnest attempt to purchase a house for the family after raising loans, the wife and daughters were not pleased and were engaging in quarrels constantly with the appellant,” a division bench of Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Brijesh Kumar said in the judgment while commuting his sentence.

Taking into account that Rajpara was honest, hard-working, had no criminal record and came from a poor family, the judges said “it could not be said that the imposition of life imprisonment would not adequately meet the requirement of the case or that only an imposition of the extreme punishment alone would do real effective justice”.

“It could not be reasonably postulated that he will not get rehabilitated or that he would be a menace to the society,” they added.

The judges agreed that Rajpara, who was the head of the family comprising his wife, daughters and a five-year-old son, was accused of committing “brutal and cold-blooded murder of his wife and all the four daughters by setting them on fire”. But one of the crucial hidden factors in the case was that his wife and daughters were nagging him over the house.

“The continuous harassment and constant nagging could have very well affected him and such sustained provocation could have reached a boiling point resulting in the dastardly act,” the judges observed while taking a lenient view and reducing the appellant’s sentence.

   

 
 
SONIA SPOILS FOR SECOND ROUND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi will have another showdown on Tuesday when the two speak in the Lok Sabha on Gujarat during a debate under Rule 184.

Today, Sonia was busy giving finishing touches to her speech on the Gujarat debate. Indications are that the Congress president will again accuse Vajpayee of allowing Narendra Modi’s “barbarity” to go unattended.

Sources close to Sonia claimed that the leader of Opposition was beginning to “enjoy” the war of words and the way Vajpayee was being forced to respond to her comments with “personal attacks”.

The thinly-veiled swipes have provided a fresh fillip to Congressmen who are forever on the lookout for signs of prime ministerial material in their leader. “Sonia may not be matching Vajpayee’s oratory skills but in political terms, she is inching closer to him simply because Vajpayee cannot hide the fact that he considers her some sort of threat or a challenger,” a party leader said.

The Sonia camp also views Vajpayee’s strategy to counter her on public platforms as a sign of loss of self-confidence and inability to tolerate criticism.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy reacted sharply to Vajpayee’s comments yesterday at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meeting, wondering why the Prime Minister failed to take Sonia’s “good-humoured” comments in his stride.

“Perhaps, the Prime Minister is aware of his fall in esteem among the people of India and within the BJP. Consequently, he has developed irritability,” Reddy said.

Without naming Sonia but in response to her question a day before on why the industry chamber chose to invite the Opposition leader before the Prime Minister, Vajpayee had said: “It does not make business sense to count one’s chickens before they are hatched”. He also told the business leaders that his government was stable and “you will continue to do business with us”.

A Congress MP said the Prime Minister should not have ended up cautioning his host, the CII. “A person of Vajpayee’s stature should have avoided this,” he said. The MP added that the Congress views Vajpayee’s recent outbursts as another sign of his inability to push through policies of governance.

Another section of the Congress, however, feels that the “Sonia vs Vajpayee” build-up has the potential to boomerang on the AICC chief.

“The whole idea seems to project her as an alternative on a premise that Vajpayee is going. What happens if he survives? What happens if his government lasts full five years? Can Sonia sustain it for that long?” a party MP asked.

   

 
 
RIPPLES OF DISSENT IN GENERAL’S LABYRINTH 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
Karachi, April 28: 
The run-up to the presidential referendum is transforming General Pervez Musharraf from a straight-talking military dictator into a fast-talking politician.

His decision to stay on for another five years through a referendum, scheduled for Tuesday, has united political parties across the spectrum and created a divisive sense of agitation and excitement in the country. Hoping that reverse counting for the Musharraf dictatorship has perhaps begun, democratic politicians are shouting “go Musharraf, go”.

He is unlikely to oblige them. The military rulers in this part of the world do not exit easily. The support that Musharraf enjoys will be known only over time. The point, however, is that he has set in motion a new political dynamic. And such a dynamic does not always have a predictable outcome — especially now that the political parties have been given a new lease of life and the liberal opinion makers are upset with the general.

Musharraf has clearly disappointed those liberals who were unhappy with the political parties and were delighted when he took over in October 1999.

Ghazi Salauddin, a veteran journalist is honest enough to admit as much. “I was naive enough to have welcomed his arrival on the scene. He seemed like a liberal person and an able administrator. I for one was not displeased with his coup,” he recalled.

So what went wrong? “Even before September 11, he had started backtracking on some of the issues identified with him — such as containing the religious parties.

“After 9/11, there was another ray of hope that he would act against them. But when he made his referendum speech on April 5 and followed it with his first public meeting in Lahore on April 9, it was as if I was jilted. It was truly a moment of grief and bereavement for me. He had become like every other politician — the same megalomania, the same deception that one had seen so often was there,” Salauddin said.

Zohra Yusuf, national council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said: “Overthrowing an elected government is not a liberal act. Those who expected an armyman to introduce liberal ideas in our society were wrong to begin with. So I would say that Musharraf’s personal image and popularity has certainly suffered among those who had unrealistic expectations of him.”

It would seem that by dividing the country into those who support his referendum and those who are opposed to it, Musharraf has polarised Pakistan. Zohra Yusuf felt that “his categorical statements that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto will not be allowed to contest the October elections have not gone down well. Sharif’s support had in any case diminished. But in Sindh there is resentment about not allowing Benazir to contest. She has not been convicted and to prevent her from political participation is upsetting people here.”

Arif Hasan, an eminent architect and town-planner known for his Orangi Pilot Project to provide planned basic services to slum populations, said: “What Pakistan needs is a grand consensus on how the state is to be governed. The path that Musharraf has chosen is dividing an already divided society. I don’t think his legitimacy will go up internationally. They tolerate him because of the Afghan crisis. If history indeed repeats itself, then while the Zia regime was a tragedy, this is definitely a farce.”

Aamir Ahmed Khan, the editor of the Herald, was of the view that “General Musharraf would find himself on a weaker wicket after the referendum. It will create long-term legal and constitutional problems for him.”

As for Musharraf’s ability to deliver to the West is concerned, Aamir said: “This depends on his uniform — being the President does not matter, being the Chief of the Army Staff does.” Most of the Western world, he felt, was only interested in pushing its own agenda in the region and not bothered with how the general perpetuates his rule in Pakistan.

What about his ability to deliver what the Pakistani people want? “We are not a well institutionalised society where there are channels through which public sentiments can affect public policy. So whether he will deliver what people want or not is irrelevant. Throughout our history we have had unpopular leaders who were driven out because of reasons which had little to do with the public sentiment,” Aamir said.

Ejaz Shafi, central vice-president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is contemptuous of what the general can deliver. “He cannot deliver anything, least of all stability. The Pakistani economy is dependent on foreign investment. Without political stability, foreign investment does not come and even domestic industrial activity goes down. After Zia’s referendum also, the same thing happened. The real investment came only when civilian rule returned.”

Despite such criticism, there is still a palpable excitement in Pakistan about Musharraf’s promises of reform. Many political observers warn that this “may lead to a terrible hangover the morning after”.

   

 
 
AJIT TEASER IN MAYAVATI LAST LAP 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, April 28: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister-in-waiting Mayavati failed to arrive in the state capital today, initially sending jitters through the rank and file of the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

“Wait for tomorrow,” state BJP president Kalraj Mishra said. Mishra returned to Lucknow with senior leaders Rajnath Singh and Lalji Tandon after hectic parleys to forge yet another BSP-BJP coalition to rule the state.

Mayavati, sources said, was held up in Delhi as Union minister Ajit Singh delayed signing the letter extending the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s support. The RLD has 14 legislators in the new Assembly and claims the allegiance of four Independents.

Aware that the BSP and the BJP cannot muster a majority without his support — the BSP has 97 MLAs and the BJP 88 in a House of 403 — Ajit kept them on tenterhooks to ensure that it improved his bargaining power for key portfolios.

However, late tonight, Ajit sent the letter of support to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee through an emissary, according to PTI. Vajpayee also met Mayavati and Kanshi Ram this evening.

Mayavati is now expected to reach Lucknow tomorrow and stake claim to form the government. The Governor will then send a report to the President, recommending revocation of Central rule. This can be done only after the Union Cabinet meets and submits its recommendation to the President and the letter agrees to sign the proclamation revoking President’s rule.

Political observers feel Mayavati may have to wait a few days before taking over the reins.

The alliance has left sizeable sections in both the BJP and the BSP unhappy. Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh has reportedly turned down a suggestion that he become chairman of the coordination committee supposed to overview the working of the new government.

Immediately after returning from Delhi, senior BJP leaders went into a huddle at Rajnath’s Lucknow residence. Emerging from the meeting which lasted more than three hours, Tandon hinted that the BJP would try to persuade Mayavati to increase the size of her Cabinet from 50 to 60.

The BSP, too, is having trouble within its ranks. Former MP Arif Mohammed Khan’s resignation last week seems to have had a fallout on the party’s supporters from the minority community. Five members of the Gorakhpur Municipal Corporation and four of the Bahraich Municipal Committee resigned yesterday, accusing Kanshi Ram and Mayavati of betraying “the Bahujan agenda”.

This may not cause much trouble to the Mayavati government in the immediate future, especially since none of the 14 Muslim MLAs in the party have openly challenged the BSP leadership. Party leaders are planning to reward them suitably when Mayavati comes to power.

“But we are worried,” admitted a BSP leader. “Four of the seven BSP legislators in the Uttaranchal Assembly have resigned. There are reports that Muslim BSP MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly are also planning to quit.”

   

 
 
RAPID LUSTRE LOSS UNEARTHS FAKE MINT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 28: 
Chennai police today unearthed a counterfeit mint functioning out of a residence in suburban Avadi and arrested two persons.

The case attracted a great deal of attention as several cases of printing of fake currency notes, particularly in Sivakasi, have been reported in the past, but none of counterfeiting coins.

The police first got wind that something was wrong when it noticed an unusually large amount of five rupee coins sneaking into circulation in the city. Joint Commissioner (North) Sylendra Babu constituted a special patrol team to track down the root of this phenomenon.

Following leads, the police last night arrested Jyothi when he was found unloading a large number of five rupee coins at a shop in the busy Kothwal Market near Esplanade. The police recovered nearly 250 fake coins from him.

Jyothi’s interrogation led the police team to the counterfeit coin-making unit, run by his associate Kamaraj.

The police discovered that the counterfeiters used very simple technology. The dye used in making the coins was also seized.

Kamaraj, who was earlier working with a shipping firm in Mumbai, had been allegedly counterfeiting five-rupee coins for the past two months. He started counterfeiting coins in Erode along with another associate, the police said.

However, they later shifted operations to Chennai as Erode was not conducive to offloading counterfeit coins in bulk. Police sources claimed that the counterfeiters could make 100 five-rupee coins from one kilo of lead alloy, worth Rs 65.

According to the police, the counterfeit mint could have remained undetected for a longer period had the coins not lost their shine so quickly.

Minting 1,000 five-rupee coins a day, the counterfeiters had allegedly churned out fake currency worth Rs 3 lakh in the last two months. The coins had allegedly found their way to upcountry markets, including Mumbai.

Babu congratulated the special police team for unearthing the fake coin racket.

   

 
 
BLUEPRINT FOR BLANKET BORDER VIGIL 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
The home ministry has begun putting in place a system which may finally make India’s 10,000-km land border more secure, though the task could perhaps take over 10 years and cost billions of rupees.

“Never in the last 50 years or so has any government taken the initiative for a holistic approach to the problem of making our borders totally secure. This government has decided to work out a long-term integrated border management policy,” a senior home ministry official said.

He conceded that it is impossible to ensure a fool-proof system but added that a beginning has to be made somewhere, and home minister L.K. Advani is determined to start putting a system in place.

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh into the Northeast and West Bengal has been a sore point for decades. However, the problem has magnified in recent years with terrorist groups allegedly sponsored by Pakistan using the porous borders to destabilise India. The frequency of drug trafficking, gun-running, smuggling and other criminal activities has trebled with terror groups joining hands with criminals.

Patrolling, monitoring, erecting watch-towers along the boundary and fencing are the usual means the Centre uses to guard the borders. However, the operations conducted partly by the BSF, the Special Service Bureau and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have so far not been effective.

The home ministry is aware that the border forces require sophisticated equipment and better weapons. The search for suitable monitoring devices is on. Gadgets available in the US, Israel and the EU are being considered, though no bulk purchase has yet been made.

In certain areas of the border, night-vision devices have been provided. The objective is to finally fence the border and use monitors at strategic locations to detect infiltration. Most of the India-Pakistan border in Punjab has been fenced while parts of Rajasthan as well as Gujarat (in the Rann of Kutch) area have fences.

The Centre has belatedly realised that perhaps in states such as Gujarat, it is more important to keep a watch on the coastline. Smuggling of arms and infiltration takes place along the coastline.

The experience in Rajasthan has been difficult as sand dunes come in the way of solid foundation for the fences.

“It is a two-pronged attack. On the one hand, our internal systems must be in place and on the other, it has to be a diplomatic initiative,” the official said. “Without the cooperation of our neighbours — Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China — it will be impossible to keep our borders safe,” he said.

He omitted Pakistan from the list of neighbouring countries, saying chances of holding border consultations with Islamabad appear dim. “The border situation is serious mainly because of Pakistan, which is determined to destabilise this country. The active hostile situation on the borders is fuelled by Pakistan,” the home ministry official said.

In the early days of the Kashmir uprising, Pakistan concentrated more or less on the western border, but in the last few years, the ambit of ISI operations encompasses the whole country, he added. The ISI has effectively used the India-Nepal and India-Bangladesh border to send terror groups into India’s heartland, the official said.

The Union government has over the last few years been trying to impress upon the Nepalese authorities that the ISI is well-entrenched in Kathmandu and using the Himalayan kingdom as a base to plan terror attacks on India.

The uneasy relations between India and Nepal had often led to insinuations that Kathmandu has turned a blind eye to ISI activities there. However, since the Maoist uprising took a serious turn, the level of cooperation between the two governments has improved.

Joint working groups on border management with Nepal and Bangladesh have been initiated to ensure vigilance on the borders from both sides. Officials of the interior ministries of Myanmar and India are also reviewing border management.

   

 
 
SANGH FRONT SNEAKS INTO GOA SCHOOL 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, April 28: 
A renowned school in Goa finds itself caught in an unexpected standoff with the saffron brotherhood as it gave the marching order to the Keshav Seva Sadhna, which is holding a camp on its premises, after realising that it was an RSS front.

Sharada Mandir’s principal Nirmala Rebello said the camp organisers had sought time till May 2 to move out, contending that they needed to make “alternative arrangements” to hold the camp and house the participants. The camp concludes on May 2.

Sharada Mandir, a school in the Panjim suburb of Miramar, asked the Keshav Seva Sadhna to move out immediately following objections from the parent-teacher association.

School trustee Antonio Gomes Pereira termed the incident as “unfortunate” as the school authorities have zealously tried to keep its secular image intact over the years.

He said the go-ahead was given to Keshav Seva Sadhna as permission had been sought for holding a “children’s development programme”. The management was unaware that the organisers were affiliated to the RSS, he stressed.

Parent-teacher association vice-president Manoj Patil has been quoted as saying that in future, Sharada Mandir should refrain from giving permission for such activities as it could “spoil the image” of the school.

Parents have spoken out against this move, saying more caution should have been taken in a communally-surcharged situation, specially as RSS-affiliates have been widely blamed for the violence in Gujarat.

Some complained that the programme had disrupted sports activities, including cricket and basketball coaching camps.

Ironically, Sharada Mandir was set up in the Sixties with the aim of educating students in a non-denominational and secular manner in a state where education has long been run by religious institutions. Over the years, the school has attracted several children of top bureaucrats, including those posted in the state.

With BJP chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who has an RSS background, at the helm, his political opponents have levelled allegations that the saffron lobby was trying to tighten its grip on education institutions as well as police.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.8°C (0)
Minimum: 27.1°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 47%

Sunrise: 5.09 am

Sunset: 5.58 pm

Today

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

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