Desam Speaker slap to BJP
Hizb hawks drive out truce trio
Advani clears minorities & Modi
America annoys CPM again
Jamat marches with jihad and peace
Calcutta Weather

Hyderabad, May 4: 
Chandrababu Naidu tonight took the first direct action against the BJP-led government by refusing to stake claim to the Speaker’s chair, a post in exchange for which he had originally supported Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

Naidu said the Telugu Desam Party’s politburo decided to reject the NDA’s offer because of the government’s rigid stand in persisting with Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister. But he added that the party would support the government “whenever it does something good”.

Though Naidu has been clamouring for Modi’s ouster, he had so far limited his actions to ultimatums, which eventually gave way to ambiguous statements or harmless walkouts. In the Lok Sabha, his party had emerged as a trenchant critic of the government on Gujarat, but had chosen to walk out and not vote with the Opposition on a censure motion.

Against such a backdrop, tonight’s refusal is being seen as a slap in the face of the government. Though Naidu’s pledge to continue support may calm the government’s nerves, he has now demonstrated his ability to become a constant headache for the coalition.

According to the Desam, the NDA’s “indifferent and insensitive” handling of the Gujarat issue has damaged the country’s secular fabric. “We do not know why there is so much abhorrence to public opinion and insistence of implementing its own agenda in Gujarat by the BJP,” the party said.

The Congress was quick to rub salt into the wound, saying the Desam’s decision made the government’s claim of running a “secular government” under a common minimum programme ring hollow.

At the politburo meeting this evening, sources said views of senior leaders and Desam MPs prevailed. “We have taken a principled stand. …The NDA’s dealing of the Gujarat issue was one of the reasons for the TDP to keep away from any amount of participation with the regime,” Naidu said.

The Speaker’s election, necessitated by the death of Naidu’s party colleague G.M.C. Balayogi, will be held on May 10.

The tense relations between the Desam and the BJP had soured further after BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said the Speaker’s post was meant only for those who “supported” the ruling party during the Gujarat debate.

Though Vajpayee indicated tonight that he preferred a consensus choice, Malhotra said the Speaker’s post should now come to the ruling party.


Srinagar, May 4: 
The frontline Hizb-ul Mujahideen today expelled three leaders associated with the failed unilateral ceasefire of July 2000, reflecting the political churning in the Valley in the run-up to the election scheduled in September.

Former Kashmir chief of operations Abdul Majid Dar, senior commanders Assad Yezdani and Zaffar Abdul Fateh have been ousted, according to a local news agency report quoting Hizb spokesman Saleem Hashmi.

Yezdani and Fateh had met Union home secretary Kamal Pandey and senior officers in masks in the high-security Nehru Guest House to discuss the peace overture two years ago.

Dar was sidelined in the outfit after Hizb supreme commander Syed Salahuddin aborted the ceasefire, which was marred by violence, in August 2000. Dar was then replaced as chief of operations in the Valley with Saiful Islam.

But the three were part of the outfit till today’s expulsion. The penal action has fuelled speculation that Delhi might try to persuade disgruntled militants to take part in the Assembly election and renew its Kashmir focus, which was diffused in the wake of the Gujarat carnage.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is scheduled to go to the Valley as soon as the budget session of Parliament is over.

Discordant notes had started rising from within the militant ranks two days ago. On Thursday, an offer was made through a newspaper article, purportedly written by Hizb deputy commander Moin-ul-Islam, to give up arms if India made a sincere effort to resolve the Kashmir issue. The Hizb spokesman eventually disowned the article.

The expulsion decision was taken at a meeting of the militant outfit’s central command council in Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, under the chairmanship of Salahuddin.

Dar was expelled because of “his contradictory statements and disobedience of the council”. “The command council expressed happiness over the militant attacks in Kashmir and Pakistan’s continued diplomatic, moral and political support to Kashmiris,” the Hizb spokesman said.


Port Blair, May 4: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today sought to insulate the Vajpayee government from a Gujarat backlash by describing the massacre of minorities as “barbaric beyond imagination”.

Advani, who has of late been trying to play down perceptions of him being a hardliner, said the Godhra incident, no matter how provocative it was, should not be used as a justification of the “revenge killings of innocent citizens elsewhere in Gujarat”.

“What has a Muslim living in Ahmedabad got to do with Godhra? Nothing. We are committed to safeguarding the lives and property of all Indian citizens, regardless of religion, community, caste and language,” the home minister said here.

But the home minister, whose comments appeared to contrast the stand taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Goa, neutralised his own statement by lauding the Narendra Modi government’s efforts to contain the riots.

Advani was here to rename the Port Blair airport after Veer Savarkar. The home minister said the Cellular Jail, where Savarkar was held for nearly a decade during the freedom struggle, should be treated as a “holy place” for all patriots.

Later, Advani told a meeting of BJP supporters that “the riots are a blot on the first-class track record that we built up in the last four years when India experienced stability, prosperity and international goodwill. Now we will have to work very hard to remove the blot.”

He then handed a certificate of good conduct to the Modi government. “The history of India is replete with communal riots. But I can say that no state government since 1947 has acted as swiftly to counter the rioters without playing favourites as the Modi government did,’’ Advani said.

Advani remembered Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose and Communist leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad as some of the “unsung heroes” of the freedom movement.

Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain announced a 10 per cent cut in airfare to Port Blair. “We are making all arrangements so that wider aircraft can be operated at least thrice a week during the renovation of the airport,” he said.


Calcutta, May 4: 
The CPM today reacted sharply to the visit of US officials to the Calcutta Madarsa yesterday, calling it “an unnecessary act of interfering in our affairs”.

Party secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas said the US team had “kept the government totally in the dark about the visit”. “They had made enquiries about the syllabus that is taught at the madarsa when it hardly concerned them. Who are they to enquire about the syllabus? It is entirely our matter,” Biswas said.

Minister-counsellor of the US embassy in Delhi James Callaghan had visited the Calcutta Madarsa yesterday with a team of officials. They had interacted with the madarsa authorities, enquiring about the syllabus and placement of students.

Madarsas have become a sensitive issue for the state government after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s comments on unauthorised institutions had triggered a controversy.

The visit seems to be snowballing into another controversy after an earlier trip of officials from the US consulate here to Nanoor in Birbhum district to enquire about the killing of 11 peasants. Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had claimed that the victims were activists of her party and had been hacked to death by CPM cadres. The then chief minister, Jyoti Basu, had sought an explanation from US consul-general Christopher Sandrolini.

School education minister Kanti Biswas, who is also in charge of madarsas, said tonight he had not been informed about the visit. “I got to know about the visit only from the media. However, I shall enquire into the matter,” Biswas said. Bhattacharjee, who is away in Midnapore, was not available for comment.

Officials of the Calcutta Madarsa, one of the oldest such institutions in the city, seemed “satisfied” with the visit of the US diplomats. The officer-in-charge of Calcutta Madarsa, Professor Moniruzzaman, said the interaction revolved around the madarsa system of education in Calcutta, its syllabus and curricula, its prospects and plans for future development.

“The US officials had informed us four days earlier about the visit and a number of our senior teachers were present when they visited us,” Moniruzzaman said. “It was a very lively interactive session and there was a frank exchange of views on the madarsa system of education.”

Moniruzzaman said he found no “deeper political motivation” behind the visit and did not feel the need to inform state officials about it.


Lahore, May 4: 
A free and fair election in Jammu and Kashmir is not an alternative to a plebiscite to decide whether the Kashmiris want to be with India or with Pakistan, says Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the amir of the Jamat-e-Islami.

We are sitting in the guesthouse of the Jamat’s Mansoora complex on the Lahore-Multan road. The Mansoora complex is huge, houses a large mosque, offices and residences. It is home to the various religious and political activities of the Jamat. The tall minaret of the mosque at Mansoora can be seen from far. The Jamat flags flutter at the main entrance, which is blocked by a barrier manned by armed security personnel.

The qazi is bare feet as is everyone else in what seems to be the drawing room of the guesthouse. His resplendent white beard almost looks bleached. His manner is soft and his hand movements economical. He was arrested by the military regime in January when it cracked down on Islamic fundamentalist organisations but was later released. He smiles and says that he is used to rude questions and that one could ask him anything.

So why does he support jihad in Jammu and Kashmir? “Jihad is the name given to all forms of resistance against an oppressor. It could be armed or unarmed. We believe that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are oppressed; their rights have been transgressed by the Indian state. If they rise against their oppressors, then we support that,” he says.

Asked why his party sends jihadis to Jammu and Kashmir, Ahmed denies the charge, saying: “We do not send anyone. If the people of Azad Kashmir (Pak-occupied Kashmir) want to go there as Kashmiris, what can we do? It is basically an indigenous movement. India is on record saying that the Hizb-ul Mujahideen is an indigenous organisation and that it is the largest among the various groups active there. India has tried to negotiate with it in the past and even now the two sides are in touch.”

Ahmed claims ignorance about the meeting of Sardar Qayoom from PoK with a section of the leadership of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference in Sharjah recently. “Neither Sardar Qayoom nor the Hurriyat have taken anyone into confidence. What value does a dialogue which is kept hidden from the public have? No dialogue can get anywhere if Pakistan is kept out. Even the Kashmiris will not accept that,” he predicts.

The Jamat-e-Islami, the qazi claims, is for living peacefully with India and that if the Jamat is ever in a position to deal with India, it would resolve the Kashmir issue peacefully.

“We will have good relations with India. We will be able to show India how it stands to gain by better relations with Pakistan. It will not only have peace within but its influence will reach even Central Asia. And we are not opposed to it. It will be an era of peace and of joint defence of the subcontinent.”

Asked why his organisation despite proclaiming itself to be a champion of the Kashmiris had not won even a single seat in the “Azad Kashmir” Assembly elections, Ahmed admits it is true. “But we emerged as the third largest party. Please understand that we are an ideological party. We do not go for convenient electoral alliances or compromises. Judge us by what we stand for, our integrity, our non-sectarianism, our honesty and the respect we enjoy among the people,” he argues.

The qazi denies the charge that the Jamat was ambivalent towards military rule in Pakistan in the past and is opposed only to General Pervez Musharraf. “We did not support Zia, if that is what you mean. We had differences with the Movement for Restoration of Democracy or the MRD as it was called then. But this was not because we favoured Zia’s dictatorship. Although we were quite warm to some of his policies, we refused to be part of his nominated shoora (a gathering of Islamic scholars which was to be a replacement for Parliament). In Zia’s time, many of our student leaders were beaten and tortured and our trade unions deliberately broken and dispersed,” he explains.

What did he think of the growing US presence in the region and especially in Pakistan? “We are opposed to the presence of the US here. We want US bases removed from Pakistan. We do not want the Americans to be allowed the use of our air-space or given logistics support. We are against any intelligence sharing with them. We are against launching anti-Afghanistan operations using our soil. The government says that if it had not agreed to all these things, India would have. We say that we should have let India do these bad things. Why should we have done it?” the qazi asks.

Elaborating on his vision for Pakistan, Ahmed says his party, like the others opposed to the military rule, wants the country to be under the 1973 Constitution. “It takes care of our Islamic ideology, guarantees democracy, protects the rights of the minorities, ensures the freedom of the judiciary and defines the boundaries of the relationship between the federal government and the provinces. We want that implemented.”




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Relative humidity

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Minimum: 58%


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Sunset: 6.01 pm

Sunrise: 5.05 am


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

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