Dark-age deaths by fire & stones
Gill sends for his Punjab boys
Delhi eyes China sky route
Channel choice freedom a click away
PMO on Atal face-salvage mission
Delhi gets away with tap on knuckle
Delhi mulls step-in before J&K polls
Kazakh tryst for PM, Pervez
Mayavati in hurry to fulfil Dalit agenda
Calcutta Weather

Ahmedabad, May 7: 
Twenty-six-year-old Javed Abdul was riding his scooter to school, where he was a teacher. A mob waylaid him in Sarkhej, pulled him off the scooter, thrashed him, stabbed him and then set him on fire.

A camel cart-driver, who was passing through Juhapura, was pounced upon by a mob out to avenge Javed’s death. He was stabbed to death, his body burnt and the charred remains flung into a well.

Gujarat descended into a cycle of attacks and backlashes as Hindus and Muslims used fire, stone, knives and acid bulbs against each other and police threw up their hands, saying this was not a simple law and order problem.

Nine persons were dead at the end of a blood-splattered day.

Javed, a teacher at ITI School and a resident of Juhapura, had got married only six months ago.

Hearing that he had been burnt alive, youths in Juhapura, where Javed’s brother runs a clinic, poured out on the streets. They stopped a truck and dragged out the driver, but he escaped and took shelter in a nearby police station. The mob set the truck ablaze before targeting the hapless camel cart-driver. The police retrieved his body from the well and sent it for post-mortem.

The mob pelted stones on the policemen, who lobbed teargas shells and opened fire in return. Two 19-year-olds, Masood Sultan Khan Pathan and Mantazir Mahmoodbhai, were killed in the firing near Royal Akbar Tower on Juhapur Main Road. Both were residents of Juhapura.

The killing of the youths triggered clashes in Kalupur in the afternoon, where two persons were stabbed. While one died outside the area’s post office, the other managed to reach the police station.

In counter-retaliation, a youth was stoned to death at Ravadi Bazar Char Rasta. The police opened fire to disperse the mob. Curfew was clamped around 2 pm.

The cycle of attack and counter-attack had started when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death at 9.30 am near ST bus station in the Gita Mandir area.

Soon after, members of the minority community attacked municipal staff near the Jamalpur slaughterhouse, less than half-a-km away. Bhagwan Nagarbhai, a municipal employee, was admitted to hospital with multiple stab injuries. He was in a critical condition.

Indefinite curfew was clamped in Sarkhej, Vejalpur and Kalupur. Army and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the curfew-bound areas. “At least three areas are still under curfew and soldiers and paramilitary forces are patrolling the streets to make sure the violence does not spread,” a police official said.

“I can’t get out of my house without fearing for my life,” said Pranav Solanki, a clerk who lives in a western suburb. “The police are of no use. The military should take over the entire city if normality is to return.”

But joint police commissioner M.K. Tandon said “no amount of deployment of army can bring the violence under control because the malaise is much deeper. Law enforcing cannot be expected to address these issues”. “It is not a law and order problem. Had it been so, the problem would have been solved by policing,” he said. “We, on our part, are just doing fire-fighting.”

Shops were set on fire and members of the two communities clashed at Lunavada town, near Godhra, forcing authorities to impose indefinite curfew. Incidents of stone-throwing were reported through the day, before curfew was imposed at 7.30 pm.


New Delhi, May 7: 
K.P.S. Gill, security adviser to the Gujarat government, met home minister L.K. Advani today and asked for forces from the Centre and Punjab to control the unabated violence in the state.

Advani said he would consider the request for commandos from the Centre. The Punjab government has already agreed to spare men from the India Reserve Battalion, specially trained to operate in disturbed areas. It said it would send one battalion of the ace force.

Gill’s demands, have, however raised a few eyebrows in the government. The special operations used to put out militancy in Punjab might not succeed in Gujarat, where the problem is that of arsonists, looters and rabble-rousers acting with open political patronage. His force has been trained to handle terrorists, not mobs.

The former Punjab police chief had handpicked men who helped him ruthlessly crush militancy. But in the process, Gill and his men were charged with large-scale human rights abuse.

In his meeting with Advani today, Gill is believed to have discussed methods to control the unabated violence as well as long-term plans to deal with communalism in the state.

The Centre appointed Gill as security adviser to the Gujarat government after the continuing violence in the state left its image in tatters, both at home and abroad.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh today told Parliament India would not be lectured by foreign countries over the riots.


New Delhi, May 7: 
The government, still locked in a battle of wits with Pakistan on overflights through each other’s airspace, is trying to open up a cheaper northern air route to Europe.

The new route will see commercial jetliners flying over Sinkiang in China and on through Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

India stopped all flights to Pakistan as well as overflights through its western neighbour’s airspace from January 1. The decision meant that all Air-India flights to Europe took an hour longer as they flew via the Persian Gulf and the United Arab Emirates, costing the airline about Rs 80 lakh extra every week.

Flights to certain West Asian destinations like Kuwait and Damman also take about half an hour more because of the new “southern” route which Indian aircraft are now forced to take.

The chances of the air route over Pakistan being opened up in the near future remains remote. In fact, in a move underlining this, Pakistan recently sacked all Indian employees of its international airline in India.

As a consequence, India is now turning to China for safe passage for its jetliners. Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said India would hold talks with China on this, and several ministries, including defence, were working on the plan. “It (the new route) would save time and money,” Hussain said.

Sinkiang, or Chinese Turkistan as it used to be called, has been a restive border province for China, which has not fully opened up the region to foreigners. But Indian officials say that they do not feel there would be any objections to overflights through charted routes.

The only problem with the route, they say, is that there are very few airports en route for emergency landings.

Hussain, who was ensconced today with his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasool, said the new route could be used even for flights to Afghanistan.

The minister offered three 18 to 20-year-old Airbus 300 aircraft owned by Air-India to Rasool for the Afghan airliner, Ariana.

He also offered loan of pilots along with the planes for three months. Ariana will later recruit retired Indian commercial pilots to take over the aircraft.

The Afghans will in all probability accept the offer after inspecting the planes docked at Mumbai. Afghanistan owns just two even older jetliners.

Air-India has for long been trying to get rid of these old war horses and had offered them to its domestic counterpart, Indian Airlines, for a paltry $7 million. Indian Airlines had politely declined the offer.

If Hussain succeeds in flogging the planes to the Afghans as a gift, Air-India will be able to claim its price from the external affairs ministry, which has been given a corpus of $100 million by the Indian government to spend as aid for Afghanistan.


New Delhi, May 7: 
The Centre today moved a step closer towards allowing cable television subscribers to pick and choose the channels they will pay to watch.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj today pushed through her proposal to make set-top boxes mandatory. The Union Cabinet has decided to arm the government with the power to make set-top boxes — a piece of equipment through which television channels can be routed — compulsory for pay channels.

Free-to-air channels — for which the cable television subscriber is not charged by the broadcaster — will have to be distributed by the cable TV operator at a rate to be fixed by the government.

The Centre’s decision to amend the Cable Television Networks Act 1995, to include a provision that will enable the changes, has been taken after repeated complaints from viewers on the arbitrary rates levied by cable operators. The operators, on their part, have complained that they are being fleeced by the pay channels. The amendment is likely to be tabled in Parliament this week.

The Cabinet’s decision today does not mean that the changes come into effect immediately. Apart from the time taken in the legislation, viewers’ bodies, operators and channel-owners are still not clear as to who will foot the bill for the cost of the set-top boxes. An analog set-top box is estimated to cost between Rs 1,500 and Rs 4,000; a digital piece upwards of Rs 15,000. Powerful lobbies in the industry — especially those advocating conversion to direct-to-home telecast — are also against the conditional access system (CAS).

The set-top box is at the heart of the CAS that is designed to (a) help viewers pick and choose the channels they want to watch; (b) enable cable TV operators to encrypt (make inaccessible) channels and (c) allow channels to monitor their viewership. The CAS will regulate the cable television viewership market that has grown at random and with no monitoring.

A background note to the proposal explained that of the 38 million cable television subscribers, 19 million earn less than Rs 4,000 a month. It is unreasonable to expect them to fork out the sums demanded by operators.

“In the existing arrangement, the consumer was paying for all the channels, irrespective of what he actually watched or desired to watch,” says a report of the information and broadcasting ministry task force that recommended the CAS.


New Delhi, May 7: 
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has gone on a publicity overdrive to restore Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “liberal and secular image”, which has taken a beating after Gujarat and Goa.

A glossy brochure, titled Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Communal Violence in Gujarat, was released today by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity.

It chronicled the statements and speeches made by Vajpayee after the Godhra attack, including a televised appeal to the nation, and reproduced excerpts of his interaction with the press on the Gujarat violence.

Triggered by the flak heaped on India from around the world and from some of the BJP’s own converts, the compilation also contained some statements on Ayodhya.

The introduction said: “The developments in Gujarat have provoked a serious debate within the country and also attracted much international attention. It is hoped that this compilation of the Prime Minister’s pronouncements will serve as useful reference material for all.

“Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke for the entire nation by calling these incidents (Godhra and thereafter) ‘a blot on India’. He has commented on these tragic developments on several occasions in the past two months.”

The write-up said Vajpayee’s observations on Gujarat and Ayodhya were put together “because they were taking place simultaneously and also because the Prime Minister’s comments on this subject form an integral part of his views on secularism”.

Sources close to Vajpayee said the booklet was necessary because his statements on secularism had been “misquoted and misinterpreted frequently”.

The cover showed the Prime Minister, mike in hand, speaking “from his heart” at Ahmedabad’s Shah Alam relief camp on April 4. The accompanying quote was appropriate: “There are times in the life of a nation when everybody is put to a test. The Gujarat disturbances have created such a situation today. I am confident that we will overcome the current crisis in the same way as we have successfully done on several occasions in the past.”

Vajpayee was quoted as saying that even as communal violence ravaged Gujarat, there were cases of Hindus and Muslims protecting each other.

“The night is dark. But many tiny lamps are burning in different places. They will show us the way and help us reach our destination,” was one of the statements quoted to prove that Vajpayee’s secular face was for real. “If India is not secular, then India is not India at all,” was another.

Some other extracts follow:

“I appeal to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that they postpone their movement (Ram temple) and cooperate with the government in maintaining peace and brotherhood in the country.” (In conversation with the press at Hyderabad House, New Delhi);

“I would also like to tell the Leader of the Opposition that it is not proper to use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to Gujarat.... This word is used when a community or nation is exterminated. In Gujarat, both Hindus as well as Muslims have died.... Try to understand its connotations. This word can be used (against India) in international fora.” (Excerpt from reply to the debate on the motion of thanks for the President’s address in the Lok Sabha);

“When Swami Vivekananda speaks of Hindutva, nobody can call him a communalist. But there are speakers and commentators who give such interpretations of Hindutva that, after listening to them, one feels that if this is Hindutva, then it is better to stay away from it.” (At the release of K.R. Malkani’s book, India First, in New Delhi on March 27.)

Vajpayee’s image-makers felt that putting his views on secularism in perspective was necessary not only to “correct” the “misconceptions” in diplomatic circles as to dispel the doubts that had crept into the minds of the BJP’s “liberal” constituency.

The new converts to the BJP, who were squeamish about the party’s association with the Babri Masjid demolition and its support for “causes” like the anti-cow slaughter campaign, had shed their misgivings after Vajpayee was projected as the BJP’s counter to Hindutva. Sources admitted that the legitimacy conferred by liberals gave the party the extra push that it needed to be acceptable to some of its present allies.


Washington, May 7: 
In the backdrop of the carnage in Gujarat, India has got off lightly in the just-released annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in sharp contrast to the scathing tone in earlier years in the context of stray attacks on Christians.

The annual report, which is usually a cause celebre for the constituency here that promotes religious freedom worldwide with missionary zeal, confined itself to reiterating its statement in March, “calling on the US to help the Indian government foster a climate of religious tolerance”.

That statement, issued following the outbreak of communal violence in Gujarat, said: “Both Hindus and Muslims have instigated violence. In all cases, regardless of who the perpetrators are, the commission unequivocally condemns such attacks and urges the US government to press Indian authorities to exercise their power immediately to halt the atrocities and violence and bring the perpetrators to justice”.

The report said the commission had “observed with great concern the communal rioting between Muslims and Hindus in India since February 2002...urge the US government to press Indian authorities...to root out the causes of religious intolerance, especially by resolving the impasse over the Babri mosque in Ayodhya”.

During the years when attacks on Christians — rather than Muslims — in Gujarat and other states dominated news, the references to India by the commission went into greater detail and the BJP as well as the Sangh parivar were targeted for stinging criticism.

Last year’s report, for instance, said: “The ideology of the Sangh parivar holds that only Hindus are ‘real’ Indians, suggesting that non-Hindus are foreigners and thus deserving of suspicion and even attack... It is hard to imagine a set of views and values less appropriate in a country that is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and 20 million to 30 million Christians. The US government must speak out strongly against both the increasing attacks on minorities and the ideology of hate behind them”.

In contrast to the mild references to India this year, the commission, a statutory body mandated by US law to advise the President, the secretary of state and Congress, has issued hard-hitting special reports on the state of religious freedom in Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

Predictably, the commission is harsh on religious practices in China too. It claims credit for successfully campaigning against Pakistan’s separate electorate for religious minorities, which was abolished by General Pervez Musharraf in January.

The report also makes the claim that while militant religious groups in Pakistan and madarsas promoting jihad became an issue in US official policy only after September 11, the commission has been urging action against these earlier.

The nearest that the annual report comes in any severe criticism of India is when New Delhi is bracketed in one paragraph with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam and is accused of either being engaged in or tolerating “grave violations of religious freedom”.


New Delhi, May 7: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dilemma on Kashmir is how to break the current stalemate in the militancy-racked Valley without alienating chief minister Farooq Abdullah and his ruling National Conference.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that both Abdullah and his son Omar, the Union minister of state for external affairs, have been loyally voicing India’s concerns about Pakistan’s interference in the state.

Home minister L.K. Advani is solidly behind the chief minister and feels Abdullah is India’s best bet and nothing should be done to antagonise him.

Vajpayee has to balance all this with the distrust Kashmiri separatists and Hurriyat Conference leaders have for Abdullah and his National Conference. Unless there is a meeting ground here for both sides, it could be difficult to get moderate Hurriyat leaders and the breakaway faction of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen to take part in the state elections, scheduled for September.

Such is the level of mistrust for Abdullah that not just militants who hate the National Conference but Opposition parties as well — including the Jammu unit of the BJP — are demanding that elections be held under President’s rule if the Centre wants “free and fair” polls. During the byelection for the Jammu parliamentary seat, the state BJP charged the district administration with rigging the polls to ensure a win for the National Conference candidate.

The government is mulling over a number of options. Those who believe that Kashmir needs a fresh start say a bargain can, perhaps, be struck by offering Abdullah the Vice-President’s post so that he can be persuaded to dissolve the Assembly and agree to President’s rule ahead of the elections. This would be acceptable to all political parties in Kashmir.

Some officials believe that A.S. Dulat, the man in charge of Kashmir affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office, should replace Girish Chandra Saxena as Governor. Months of painstaking negotiations by Dulat have led to a break in the Hizb’s ranks. The former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency, worked behind the moderate Hizb group’s bid to think of a political alternative.

Dulat’s appointment as Governor, the officials believe, will reassure the Hizb and also come as a reward for his work. However, the home ministry is not keen on Dulat as Governor. North Block would prefer its own man rather than have the PMO man to be installed as Governor.

But the main obstacle will be getting Abdullah to fall in line. Without Abdullah’s consent it will be impossible for the Centre to dismiss the state government. “No way will the chief minister agree to such a proposal. Why should a democratically elected government be dismissed because some people want it,” a close aide of the chief minister said.

Abdullah and his son proved valuable assets right through the high powered diplomatic campaign the government had launched against Pakistan, following the December 13 attack on Parliament.

Omar — a Kashmiri and a Muslim — hitting out at Islamabad made more sense internationally than statements coming out from external affairs minister Jaswant Singh or the foreign office. In most of his trips abroad, the Prime Minister included Omar in his delegation to score brownie points whenever Kashmir is discussed, as it invariably is.


New Delhi, May 7: 
After the famous handshake at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will get another opportunity to share a platform when they head for the Kazakh capital of Almaty in June to participate at the summit-level meeting on Asian security.

The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building-Measures in Asia, popularly known as CICA, is an initiative by Kazakhstan President Noorsultan Nazarbayev to get leaders of key Asian countries to formulate a common position on important security-related issues. The proposed summit is scheduled on June 4.

Apart from India and Pakistan, the 16-member CICA includes Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Though the invitation from the Kazakh leadership seeking Vajpayee’s participation is almost a year old, the Prime Minister has finally decided to accept it. Indications are that Vajpayee will be in Kazakstan from June 2-4, clubbing an official visit with his participation in the summit.

There are indications Musharraf will also be present at the security summit.

South Block officials, however, are tight-lipped on whether the two leaders are likely to meet on the sidelines of the CICA summit. Still, Almaty provides both Vajpayee and Musharraf an opportunity to meet and perhaps give the required push to revive the stalled dialogue between the estranged neighbours.

Their brief interaction at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu in January this year led the foreign ministers and other senior officials of India and Pakistan to meet and start a process that could lower the temperature in South Asia and also break the diplomatic and military face-off between the two sides.

Musharraf followed it up by his address to the nation in which he stressed on cleaning the political system in Pakistan and made it clear that jehadis would not be allowed to use Pakistani soil to espouse either Kashmir or any other cause.

But in the subsequent months, Pakistan has witnessed changes that have not exactly gone in India’s favour. The Musharraf regime’s “cosmetic” steps against the jehadis eventually resulted in armed militants being back in business in Kashmir with the covert help of the Pakistani establishment.

Vajpayee and Musharraf will arrive at the CICA summit in two different frames of mind. Musharraf, buoyant from his victory at the recent referendum, will be exuding confidence. Vajpayee will perhaps be a little tentative, scarred as he is from the Gujarat episode.


Lucknow, May 7: 
When BSP leader Mayavati became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for the second time in 1997, she said she would “do six years’ work in six months”. This time she wants to do it in weeks.

While some of the BJP MLAs supporting her are developing qualms of conscience, Mayavati is confident she will prove her majority on the Assembly floor on May 17. She is now in a hurry to implement her Dalit agenda.

Through the inspection of her favourite Ambedkar Park project, Mayavati’s message to the state bureaucracy was loud and clear. “A tribute to a great personality has to be befitting. Get the best masons for the job, even if they are to be brought from Delhi or Rajasthan,” Mayavati told her principal secretary P.L. Punia.

Her decision to personally monitor developments on the Rs 120-crore project every week showed that she means business. In reshuffling the state bureaucracy, too, Mayavati has shown that coalition or no coalition, she and her chosen few will call all the shots.

She had perfected the art of using her governance to further her political agenda in her two previous stints in power. Mayavati now wants to dig in. In the 1993 Assembly polls, when the BSP shared power with Mulayam Singh Yadav, it polled only 11.2 per cents of the votes. The party’s vote share shot up to 20.06 per cent in the 1996 elections after Mayavati’s first stint as chief minister.

The recent elections saw the BSP vote share rise to 23 per cent, bringing it 98 critical seats in the hung House.

Mayavati now wants to increase it by incorporating elements from other castes. She has already demonstrated this by inducting higher caste elements as ministers in her quota of 12 Cabinet berths. Having consolidated her Dalit support base, the BSP now wants to incorporate fringe elements from other castes into its fold.

She remembers the advice of her mentor Kanshi Ram that “expenditure or effort on any object other than the capture of government is superfluous.”

While Mayavati has everything to gain, there is discomfort among BJP and RLD legislators. In fact, the BJP’s vote share has fallen in all Assembly polls held after 1995. The party is in no position to face another election. Not when a canny Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is waiting in the wings.




Maximum:34.1°C (-2)
Minimum: 24.5°C (-1)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 52%

Sunrise: 5.03 am

Sunset: 6.02 pm


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

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