Sabotage tracks in train accident
Minority leaders agree to meet Modi
Oil trail brings US official to India, Pak
Celebration of green in red fort
Delhi turns cold for Naidu
Most-favoured Naidu loses clout
Dance of defiance by rebel woman
When counting militants, two and two make five
Crash blame on crossed wires
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SABOTAGE TRACKS IN TRAIN ACCIDENT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi/Patna, May 12: 
The railways were close to confirming an act of sabotage in the derailment of the Shramjeevi Express early this morning that killed 12 people and injured 49.

After reaching the accident spot near Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, Railway Board chairman I.I.M.S. Rana echoed the views of his colleagues who had earlier in the day cited instances of fishplates having been removed in the area in the past.

Rana told PTI there were several indications of sabotage: fishplates had been removed and the bolts that tighten the plates were not damaged. One of the lines was found lying two metres away from the tracks.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar, while expressing fears of a sabotage earlier, had not ruled out the possibility of defects in the tracks, such as loose bolts or a weak point in the bridge over which the train was passing at the time of the accident.

Rana said a light engine had passed safely over the same bridge just before the Patna-bound Shramjeevi Express. The base of the bridge was found intact, he added.

The board chairman said the driver heard a “loud bang” when the train was passing over the bridge. Then the entire train started shaking, after which the driver slammed the brakes.

The accident took place when most of the passengers were in sleep at around 3.45 am. Eleven bogies crossed the bridge, but 13 others jumped the rails and rolled over.

A senior Railway Board member said: “The train was being pulled by two engines. First reports indicate that the second engine had derailed first, after which the first engine and the bogies jumped the rails as well. The train was running at a speed of 50-60 km per hour which is the normal speed allowed in that section.”

The toll could go up as some people are still trapped in the mangled coaches. Three bodies were taken out after prising open the mangled coaches with gas cutters. Another coach remains entangled.

Sources in the railway ministry said: “Fishplates have been removed in this sector on earlier occasions. The Railway Protection Force hasn’t been able to control this menace.”

“Drug addicts remove fishplates and sell them for as low as Rs 4 a kg. Most of the time, these are detected by our staff in time. But there have been a few instances where the fishplates have been removed after our staff completed the inspection.”

Senior railway officials in Delhi said: “We are looking at a ratio of 40:30:30 — sabotage, human failure and mechanical failure.”

The scenes at New Delhi and Patna stations were the same: anxious relatives looking for information but getting very little.

“I have come for information about my mother and cousin brother. They did not have a confirmed reservation and the authorities have no clue what has happened to them,” Suresh Kumar said in New Delhi.

Rail officials expressed helplessness. “We are providing all the information we have. We are helpless when we have no information,” one of them said.

Some relatives started for Jaunpur from Patna with free rail passes. One of them, Kuraisha Khatoon, left after receiving a call from Jaunpur that her husband, Md. Salauddin, had been admitted to a hospital there.

Late tonight, a special train carrying passengers of the Shramjeevi Express pulled in at Patna to the great relief of relatives of survivors. “By the grace of God, my entire family survived. I have been praying since morning,” said Kaushalaya Devi as she hugged her son, sister and five grandchildren.

   

 
 
MINORITY LEADERS AGREE TO MEET MODI 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, May 12: 
Attempts to restore normality in Gujarat made a breakthrough today when minority leaders agreed to meet chief minister Narendra Modi for the first time since the outbreak of violence two-and-a-half months ago.

As of now, however, neither representatives of the RSS nor of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad will attend peace talks organised by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) tomorrow between leaders of both communities.

The commission had set up two committees, representing Hindus and Muslims, 10 days ago and held separate meetings with leaders of the minority community and the RSS and the VHP.

Tomorrow, the committee of Muslim representatives will first meet the commission where Modi’s security adviser K.P.S. Gill will be present. The minority leaders have agreed to meet the chief minister after these talks in the first effort to break the ice with the government.

It follows an abortive attempt earlier by the commission when its members visited Gujarat on May 2 to get the minority leaders to sit across the table with Modi.

Nisar Ahmed Ansari, a representative of the 16-member committee, has confirmed that the chief minister has invited them and that they will meet him.

Sources said the credit for the success this time goes neither to the commission nor to the state government, but to Gill, who appears be making some headway in regaining the faith of the minorities in the system.

No peace move can succeed, though, without the participation of the Sangh and the VHP, and there is no progress on this front. At the meeting tomorrow between the commission and the Muslim committee, the counterpart Hindu group has not been invited. It is not even meeting the commission separately.

Social defence secretary R.M. Patel, who has invited minority leaders to the meeting, said he had not informed VHP leaders. “I was not told to invite VHP leaders. I do not know why,” he said.

Sangh and VHP leaders have said they would not take part in any peace initiative until the commission clarifies its views.

“We read a newspaper report in which the NCM blamed us for engineering communal riots. If this is the perception of the NCM about us, I think there is no point in meeting the commission. I think the commission should not meet any organisation which has been accused,” said a VHP leader when asked if the parishad would reconsider its decision if the commission or Gill invited them for talks.

VHP state unit general secretary Dilip Trivedi said they had not been invited “though we are open to dialogue and any efforts for the restoration of peace”.

“But even if we are invited, the VHP has no intention of attending,” he said.

Trivedi said the VHP had sent a fax to the commission asking it to clarify whether it considers the “representatives of Hindu organisations as the culprit”. “But we have not yet got the reply from the NCM. Unless we get a satisfactory answer we will not meet the NCM or any minority leaders.”

   

 
 
OIL TRAIL BRINGS US OFFICIAL TO INDIA, PAK 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 12: 
The popular obsession in India and Pakistan with their bilateral tensions and a possible US role in defusing these has masked a crucial aspect of US envoy Christina Rocca’s visit to South Asia this week.

Central to the discussions which the assistant secretary of state for South Asia will have in New Delhi and Islamabad is an important trilateral summit to be held in Islamabad in about a fortnight.

The summit, which will bring together Afghanistan’s interim leader Hamid Karzai, Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurad Niyazov and Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf is about the single issue which is at the heart of long-term US policy in South and Central Asia: the oil and gas resources of the region.

It will discuss funding for the $2-billion Central Asia Gas — CentGas — pipeline project headed by American oil giant Unocal, which was abandoned in 1998 because of the Taliban.

The 1,460-km pipeline, which will supply natural gas from Turkmenistan’s Daulatabad field will pass through Herat and Kandahar, crossing into Pakistan near Quetta. If India agrees to an extension of this pipeline and import of gas, as US firms want, the project will cost an additional $500 million.

The trilateral summit was to have been held in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabad, but was hastily shifted last week to Islamabad.

This was done to coincide with the visit of Russia’s energy minister to Islamabad. The minister will be accompanied by a delegation from Gazprom, Russia’s oil conglomerate.

Officially, Gazprom’s top decision-makers will be in Islamabad to talk about their possible role in the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, but behind the scenes, they are interested in replacing Unocal as the lead company in the CentGas consortium.

Gazprom’s president Rem Vyakhirev was a member of Vladimir Putin’s official delegation when the Russian President visited India. He also took part in official meetings when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in Moscow last year.

There is a feeling in oil industry circles that a Russian leadership role in CentGas will make India more amenable to the import of Central Asian energy even if it has to come through Pakistan.

One of Rocca’s briefs, especially in Islamabad, would be to see that the Russians do not get a foothold in Central Asia’s lucrative energy business and to advance US interests in this field.

   

 
 
CELEBRATION OF GREEN IN RED FORT 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Calcutta, May 12: 
If a thousand flowers are not blooming at Alimuddin Street, blame the soil, not Biman Bose.

Every day, as the sun begins its final dip down the west, the studious-looking CPM leader, a bachelor but evergreen at heart, troops down the flight of stairs from his first-floor office to watch a part-time gardener water a patch of green in the nervecentre of Bengal’s red bastion.

A hammer and sickle is emblazoned bang in the middle of the lawn. The politburo member and Left Front chairman will tell you that little else could be grown there. “Maybe, we have failed to make the soil suitable to grow ordinary plants. But we are happy to see that the soil is suitable for the growth of a hammer and a sickle, which is very symbolic to us,” he said.

The party’s Bengal headquarters sits smack in the middle of the city near the Nonapukur tram depot. It may be just right for fertilisation of Left-wing ideas, but the dark fumes the cars of party leaders spout as they descend morning and evening and at all times of the day, devoutly touching base, and the dust the city kicks up daily, the dust that settles on the tired leaves of the solitary tree at the party office and clings to the blades of grass do not make for the right environment for greenery.

A part of the portico that overhangs the lawn is used as a parking space, with half-a-dozen cars almost always camping there.

“I was really frustrated as all my efforts to grow vegetables failed. I have noticed that the plants could not grow, though I tried my best and had taken intense care. The soil was not very good for their growth as I was told by the gardener whom I assigned to look after my kitchen garden,” Bose said.

In party echelons, the piece of greenery is fondly referred to as “Bimandar bagan”. Around two years ago, Bose first thought of growing a garden at the party headquarters, the bulwark of the CPM’s uninterrupted reign of power for over a quarter century.

On election campaigns in rural Bengal, famous for its lushness, he would often tell Jyoti Basu, then chief minister, about his desire to create a small but attractive garden at 31 Alimuddin Street. In his home, Bose has grown mushroom, as evidence of his abiding love of nature.

A small area was carved out at the party office under his instructions for a kitchen garden and Bose planted green chilli, cauliflower and cabbage. But in the harsh environment, all of them wilted.

As you go up the pillar of the CPM’s power, though, the atmosphere gets more conducive to nature. On the terrace, the gardener, whose caring hands could not keep vegetable plants alive on the ground, has painted a riot of colours.

“The same gardener has done a miracle in shaping the roof garden. You will find hundreds of colourful flowers on the rooftop. It was he who advised me to plant grass in my kitchen garden,” Bose said.

A thousand flowers are, after all, blooming, if not on the earth below. And, no one in the party is complaining. If gardening is a bourgeois habit, so be it.

Before the state conference earlier this year, Anil Biswas, the CPM’s secretary for Bengal, half in jest drew a parallel between the growth of Bimandar bagan, with the hammer-and-sickle (but no star) in the middle and what he believed to be the party’s growing popularity within Calcutta.

“We have received very good response from common people who are neither our party comrades nor sympathisers. We have organised hundreds of rallies in the city in connection with our state conference and everywhere we have received a response from the common people. This coincides with the growth of our kitchen garden displaying our party symbol,” Biswas had then said.

Accepting the gardener’s advice, Bose went ahead and planted grass under the portico. “I planted Chinese grass (he probably means china grass) in the backdrop to the hammer and sickle which is of Mexican grass and grows very fast. It requires a full monsoon for the grass to grow properly,” he said.

Apart from watering the soil, Bose supervises daily when the gardener cleans the grass by spraying water. “If you don’t wash the grass everyday, they will die because of the dust which gathers on them as cars pass through the small lane almost every minute discharging smoke.”

On a morning, as he enters the party office between 9.30 and 10, Bose can be seen tarrying in front of his bagan. He will bend to pick up a dry, fallen leaf that floats down from the large tree which stands — much like the amateur gardener himself — watching over the 30ft x 25ft splash of green.

   

 
 
DELHI TURNS COLD FOR NAIDU 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12: 
Gone are the days when Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose 28 MPs could make or break the National Democratic Alliance, wielded enormous power in Delhi’s political and bureaucratic establishment.

During his two-day visit here on Friday and Saturday, the first after the disagreement with the government over Gujarat, Naidu was snubbed by the agriculture secretary when he requested for an additional 10 lakh tonnes of rice for May and June under the food-for-work scheme. The officer said he could not make a commitment without speaking to the finance minister.

Sources said the agriculture secretary also told Naidu that a Central team would have to go to the state and prepare a report that would be placed before any decision could be taken.

A peeved Naidu took up the matter with the Prime Minister later in the day and Vajpayee promptly assured him that he would do the needful, a promise he has made earlier and not kept.

   

 
 
MOST-FAVOURED NAIDU LOSES CLOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 12: 
Gone are the days when Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, whose 28 MPs could make or break the National Democratic Alliance, wielded enormous power in Delhi’s political and bureaucratic establishment.

The cyber CEO’s trips to Delhi were marked by high-voltage activity with senior Cabinet ministers too anxious to please Naidu.

During his two-day visit here on Friday and Saturday, the first after the disagreement with the government over his demand for Narendra Modi’s removal, the Telugu Desam Party chief was snubbed by the agriculture secretary when Naidu asked him to commit 10 lakh tonnes of rice for May and June under the food-for-work scheme. The officer said he could not make a commitment without speaking to the finance minister.

Sources said the agriculture secretary also told the chief minister that a Central team would have to go to the state and prepare a report that would be placed before the group comprising the finance, food and civil supplies, agriculture and rural development ministers for consideration.

A peeved Naidu took up the matter with the Prime Minister later in the day and Vajpayee promptly assured him that he would do the needful. Sources said some time ago, TDP parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu had also met Vajpayee with the same request and received the same assurance.

A source in the ministry said a team under joint secretary K.S. Boria is leaving for Hyderabad in a day or two to assess the food-for-work scheme requirements.

Naidu’s meetings with three other ministers also yielded mere assurances. His talks with home minister L.K. Advani lasted only 15 minutes, but that is not surprising since relations between the two had soured much before the chief minister started making noises over Gujarat. Advani has been trying to prop up senior BJP leader and rural development minister Venkaiah Naidu in Andhra Pradesh to Naidu’s chagrin.

Asked if Naidu’s influence in the Vajpayee establishment was declining, a senior bureaucrat said: “The Prime Minister always gives assurances. After the TDP chief’s brinkmanship and after the BSP tie-up with the BJP and ADMK’s issue-based support, the NDA is even in a position to dump Naidu.”

The BJP leadership is also uncomfortable with reports alleging misuse of the food-for-work scheme. The reports suggest a vicious cycle: Rice from the Food Corporation goes to the Andhra government, from the government to the contractor, from the contractor to the miller and the miller polishes and sells back to the Food Corporation at a profit.

The BJP and the TDP, however, need each other till the election of a new President. Sources said Naidu, too, has a candidate and wants to keep the BJP in good humour for the moment, an exigency that prompted him to spurn calls for meetings from CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

   

 
 
DANCE OF DEFIANCE BY REBEL WOMAN 
 
 
FROM SETH MYDANS
 
Karachi, May 12: 
For the well-dressed, well-heeled and well-bred of the Horticultural Society of Pakistan, it was an unusually daring event, even risque. Organisers had obtained a rare government permit and admission was tightly controlled.

Under a yellow moon at the exclusive Marina Yacht Club here, in full view of her assembled audience, a woman was about to commit an act that most Pakistanis are forbidden by law to witness: a dance performance.

White awnings billowed as a wind blew in from the Arabian Sea on this recent evening. Loudspeakers erupted with stuttering, syncopated music. Then, from stage right, a streak of white as the dancer, Sheema Kermani, bounded into the spotlight.

She never paused.

Sometimes with the rhythm, sometimes against, she bent and leaped and twisted. Her jewelled fingers flashed, her huge eyes flicked from side to side, her mouth opened and closed as if the music were breathing for her. Vigorous, electrifying, sensual, a celebration of the body and its passions, her dance was everything conservative Pakistan now stands against.

In a country where most women cover their heads and some hide inside full-body burqas, a dancing woman is a defiance and a threat, and Kermani knows it.

“Muslim men have got this hang-up about dancing women,” she said after her performance. “They’re afraid that once they see a woman they can’t control themselves, that either she’ll seduce them or they’ll rape her.”

Quick, darting, impatient, Kermani, 49, fills her pauses with as much energy as her gestures, and she is as vivid and forceful offstage as on, her words as sharp and expressive as her dance movements.

“Here you have a whole culture in which girls are told to hide their bodies, not to be proud of their bodies,” she said, eating whatever was placed before her at a formal table. “At the root is the fact that men are scared of the power of women.”

It is a patriarchal challenge that seems to stimulate her. Dance, she said, is as much a social statement for her as an art. “When a woman stands up on stage, she stands up straight and she says, ‘Here I am. And here is my body’,” she said. “I think that is the statement that people are afraid of.”

For the past two decades, strictures on dance have tightened as Pakistan has grown more conservative. Most public performances are now against the law. This year all forms of dance were banned from television.

As a result, one of the region’s great art forms is disappearing here, although it still thrives across the border in India.

Kermani is one of the few performers who have not retreated into exile or retirement, one of Pakistan’s last great classical dancers. For all her vibrancy, when Kermani dances, she is already an artifact of the past, a ghost dancer.

She supports herself by teaching the daughters of wealthy families who want to give them a taste of their culture. Few stay long. Only two of her female students have continued into their ‘20s.It has become a social convention in Pakistan that dance is immoral, even sinful.

Kermani does not deny the sexuality of her art, which has its roots in the earthy philosophies of Hinduism. But this is something to be celebrated, she says, not suppressed.

“There’s a devotional aspect and there’s an erotic aspect as well,” she said. “In Indian culture, the God who is most important in dance is Lord Krishna. You worship him and at the same time he is a lover.”

Kermani earned a degree in fine arts in London, then studied in India with the masters of different dance forms. At the same time, she said, she took up political and feminist causes.

She is married to an engineering professor who left science to become active in theatre and film production. They never had children, but three mornings a week her front room is busy with little girls as she teaches them the moves and gestures of her art.

   

 
 
WHEN COUNTING MILITANTS, TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, May 12: 
Figures of armed militants infiltrating into Kashmir are the yardstick India uses to judge Pakistan’s sincerity in improving bilateral ties.

Last week, New Delhi claimed infiltration has increased, clearly signalling it was in no mood to break the current impasse with Pakistan. As these inputs shape the government’s Pakistan policy, the figures have to be as accurate as possible.

Sadly, they are not. Intelligence agencies have to rely on rather primary and primitive methods to gather information. The border is porous and it is impossible to detect every crossing, officials say.

“Only 20-25 per cent of the infiltration is accounted for, it is impossible to get the exact figures,” explained a senior government official.

“But over the years we have been able to make a fair assessment and so far we have not yet gone wrong,” the official said. He obviously forgot about Kargil, when the Pakistan army sent in armed intruders and took India by surprise.

The Union government makes its assessment after getting reports from various agencies independently. The Jammu and Kashmir police, the BSF, military intelligence, the IB as well as RAW do their own compiling.

But the methods used by the different arms of the government are more or less the same. The most reliable method is when intruders are caught by the BSF, army or state police as they enter, in groups of five or six.

Often, not all of them move together, and only one or two are arrested. During interrogation, they squeal and reveal how many were in the original group and where they were heading. If they say 10 people made it together, the authorities will take their word for it, simply because there is no way of cross-checking.

Sometimes, the army or the BSF engages infiltrators near the border. Encounters often result in deaths. The security forces in these cases have a fair idea of many people were in the group.

The third method that all agencies use is intercepts from wireless communication between militant leaders in Pak-occupied Kashmir and their field commanders in Kashmir. Listening in on these exchanges often provides clues to teams preparing to make the crossing from the other side.

There are plenty of loopholes in gathering data from tapping wireless conversations. The information here cannot be verified, unless some of the terrorists are physically caught, and a trap is laid on the basis of the information gleaned from eavesdropping.

There is also the danger of the various agencies listening to the same intercepts and filling in the same figures. The information of all the agencies are put together in New Delhi.

Another means of counting the number of infiltrators is through informers. The security forces as well as the intelligence agencies pay small sums of money for information from local villagers. In border villages and areas where militants come into safe houses, there are always a number of people willing to share information for a price.

Officials say this method of gathering information sometimes yields astounding results but can often be quite misleading. Over the years, the various agencies have developed a means of separating the wheat from the chaff.

   

 
 
CRASH BLAME ON CROSSED WIRES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chandigarh, May 12: 
A Delhi-based Directorate of Flight Safety report has said a large number of crashes occur due to inadequate and improper communication between the pilot and agencies directly involved with flying activity.

The report, shown to this correspondent by defence sources after the Ambala crash on May 9, refers to communication failure not as a failure in the overall system but as a “serious breakdown in communication between the pilots in the air as well as between the pilots and ground-based controllers”.

It also states that analysis of radio transmission scripts recovered from aircraft involved in crashes reveals “huge gaps” in communication.

This could be because pilots, as the report published last year pointed out, concentrate on mastering flight controls and learning safety measures rather than absorbing the correct jargon of radio transmissions and educating themselves on the finer aspects of communication.

Ground engineers and air traffic control (ATC) officers recall the number of times pilots read back incorrect information on flight, altimeter settings and even the runway. These errors are either not reported or are overlooked due to their increasing frequency.

Sources, however, point out that improving communication was not given priority. “The practise of junior pilots utilising spare time at the ATC listening to radio transmissions to educate themselves and learn from the mistakes of other pilots should be made mandatory,” an officer said.

According to the study, which sources said, had not been implemented fully, there is either not enough communication between the pilot and the ground staff or, at times, no communication whatsoever. Worse, the communication is often not accurate.

Even terms and phrases used in routine communication have deviated from their original meaning. For instance, “Roger” conveys “I have received and understood your transmission”. But it is being increasingly replaced with “yes” or “I will comply with your instructions”. The correct usage for the two expressions is “affirmative” and “wilco” respectively.

While the IAF, over the years, has developed an in-house jargon for communication, the standard transmission in use worldwide has somewhat got lost. This has resulted in a large number of near mishaps because of wrong interpretation.

The study recommends that pilots and ground crew make efforts to master aviation terms as stipulated in the standard service manual. It also states that IAF personnel should not digress from the manual.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 37.1°C (+1)
Minimum: 27.1°C (+1)

Rainfall

1.2 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 58%

Sunrise: 5.00 am

Sunset: 6.05 pm

Today

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

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