Vajpayee growls but does not bark
Bush calls PM
Day of Indian frauds
Modi tries to set a bad press right
Pak’s royal rejection of Bhopal
Sonia to pick Rao’s brains
Modi baiters behind bars
Sinha fights to save face
Narayanan is willin’, says CPI
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi/Srinagar, May 15: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today told Parliament his government would “react” appropriately to the terrorist strike near Jammu, leading some to interpret his statement as a threat to retaliate against Pakistan and sending a ripple of panic through the financial markets.

“Whatever happened is very heinous,” he said. “Uska hamein pratikar karna hoga (We need to take appropriate action).”

Vajpayee told President George W. Bush much the same thing. If it is not really an indication of India breaking out of its current state of restraint and engaging in an armed confrontation with Pakistan, the tough message emanating from Delhi is sure to be conveyed by the Americans to President Pervez Musharraf.

There are chances that US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca, who left for Islamabad this afternoon, may already have told the Pakistani leadership her assessment of the Indian mind after yesterday’s attack.

Some positive signals to satisfy India could come out of Pakistan in the next few days. Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed was detained today in what might be interpreted as such an indication. Al Mansoorian, the group that claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack on an army camp and a bus, is a Lashkar offshoot.

Intervening in the Lok Sabha amid demands from the Opposition and from within the ruling National Democratic Alliance for an adjournment motion on the killing of 30 people, including soldiers and their wives and children, Vajpayee said the government would take steps to “counter” such incidents.

“The whole House is one that what has happened is very heinous and we have to counter it,” Vajpayee said. “This question is not such that we have to raise it on partisan lines. The question of adjournment motion does not arise,” he said and offered to meet Opposition leaders to discuss the issue with the request that they do not disturb question hour.

Even as Vajpayee’s comments were read in sections of the media as an expression of his government’s desire to “retaliate”, an aide of the Prime Minister was seen counselling journalists that what the Prime Minister meant was “react”.

But the damage had already been done to market sentiment with the rupee and stock prices dropping in tandem.

The BJP was much more vocal than the Prime Minister as it assailed the US for failing to get Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism. If Pakistan persisted with its help to terrorists, “a war cannot be ruled out”, it said.

It demanded that the government take strong action to deal with terrorism. “War is not ruled out but the decision has to be taken by the government,” spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

Defence minister George Fernandes has revealed the government’s mind in an interview to The New York Times in which he said Delhi would not go to war with Islamabad, irrespective of the provocation.

Although that interview was given before the Jammu attack, Fernandes’ assertion runs contrary to the government’s efforts to create an impression that India’s patience with Pakistan is running out.

Fernandes said India had no plans to launch a military attack over the next few months against Pakistan. “We do not want the elections (due in Kashmir in September) to be disrupted at any cost,” he told his interviewer.

His comments have left his senior colleagues in government aghast. On a visit to the site of the massacre, Fernandes was more careful with words. He said punishment would “certainly be given for the crime committed” at Kaluchak, but did not elaborate.

Asked if Vajpayee had implied retaliation in his comments, Fernandes said: “These things are not discussed as these would only help the enemy.”

That is exactly what he has done in his interview.

The defence minister also visited some forward areas and said the army would be stationed on the borders as long as needed. “The soldiers were in high morale and had only one question: ‘Hamein kuchh karne ke liye kab chhorenge’ (when shall we get orders to act)?”


New Delhi, May 15: 
President George W. Bush today called up Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack in Jammu in the strongest possible terms and expressed understanding of India’s distress.

Bush did not mention the word restraint even once in his conversation with the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee thanked the American President, but told him India would have to take “appropriate action” to deal with the situation. Bush, South Block officials said, even showed understanding with that position and pointed out that as a democratically-elected leader, Vajpayee would have to do what is expected of him.

The call, made by Bush from the White House at 6.15 IST, lasted only five minutes, but the message and significance of the brief conversation was not lost on either side.

Describing yesterday’s attack as a “terrifying and outrageous” terrorist act, Bush said he was “appalled at the incident”. He conveyed his condolences to the victims’ families.


New York/New Delhi, May 15: 
Four Indian metal traders have been arrested in New York on charges of ripping off global banks of an estimated $1 billion (Rs 4,900 crore) by obtaining loans against illusory collateral documents based on sham deals.

They were identified as Narendra Rastogi (47), Anil Anand (39), Manoj Nijhawan (43) and Uday Shankar Balakrishna (27), all residents of New Jersey.

If convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud, each could face a maximum of five years in prison and be fined more than $250,000.

The revelation came on a day to be remembered for Indian scams and scamsters. Arrested Home Trade chief Sanjay Agarwal, at the centre of a scandal around urban cooperative banks, was paraded in public in Mumbai, and two Ketans, one Shah — involved in the same fiddle — and the other Parekh, whose stock market shenanigans came to light last year, were put behind bars.

US prosecutors said the four men presented themselves to banks as metal trade brokers and created the illusion of legitimate transactions by floating shell companies, fabricating documents and recruiting people around the world to pose as customers. They successfully deluded the banks that financed the deals for at least two years.

James B. Comey, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the indictment charged the four with conducting the scam through New Jersey metal trading companies Allied Deals Inc, Hampton Lane Inc and SAI Commodity Inc and the London-based RBG Resources.

RBG is run by Rastogi’s brother, Virendra, listed as the 10th richest Asian in the Asian Rich List. He was arrested in London earlier this month.

In two years, the defendants stole hundreds of millions in loans from at least eight banks.

Narendra Rastogi, a citizen of India, was chief executive officer of Allied Deals, Hampton Lane and SAI Commodity. The other men were senior officials of the companies.

The Rastogi brothers — there are four of them who once lived in Delhi’s Uday Park — honed their art in India before taking it abroad. They had cheated the government of Rs 43 crore in subsidies for export deals.


Ahmedabad, May 15: 
Rattled by the bad press it has been getting, the Narendra Modi government has asked three news agencies in Ahmedabad to refurbish its image by putting out positive stories.

The agencies — PTI, UNI and the now-defunct Hindustan Samachar which still has a representative here — have been directed to file at least five articles/features every month to highlight the government’s development activities.

The information department’s directive has shocked the agencies. “This is unprecedented. I do not think any state government has ever issued directives like this. I have worked in several state capitals but never got such a letter from the information department,” said a UNI official.

The letter he received yesterday said the agency will have to release all press statements “without fail” issued by the state government. They will also be required to submit a list of press releases carried in different newspapers.

Seen as an assault on the freedom of the press by many, the letter is described as “routine” instructions issued by senior officials of the information department.

It comes in the backdrop of a ban Modi had clamped on a TV channel two months ago and his (and his party’s) frequent complaints against the national media. Of late, even the vernacular press, which had earlier praised Modi, has changed its tone and started questioning his ability to rule.

Asking news agencies to report on government plans and list papers that use these stories is a practice that has always been there, said a senior information official. “It was just a routine letter and the agencies had agreed to comply with the conditions laid down by us,” he said.

The agencies, however, said this was the first time they had received such a directive. “It has no business dictating to us what stories are to be carried,” said a journalist working with PTI.

The information official explained that the government pays the agencies for their services. “If the government wants certain stories to be released and the details about the articles they have released, I do not think there is anything wrong. It is just a mutual agreement that suits us,” the official explained.

He said the government has no intention of curbing the freedom of the press.

As it is, the agencies have been putting out on the wires almost all press releases issued by the information department, he added. “This is what we expect in return for the payment we make to them.”


Karachi, May 15: 
What the Indian government could do for one section of the family of the Nawab of Bhopal, Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan could not for another.

Two days after Begum Abida Sultan of Bhopal died last Saturday, descendants of the family of the Nawab of Bhopal were thrown out of their ancestral home at Clifton here at the behest of the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau.

“I am deeply aggrieved and let down by the government of Pakistan for such treatment meted out to the family which sacrificed everything for the sake of Pakistan and to pursue the ideals of Quaid-i-Azam,” said Shaharyar M. Khan, the only son of the late Begum and a former foreign secretary of Pakistan.

Begum Abida Sultan was actually the only member of the Nawab’s family to have gone over to Pakistan. Her middle sister, Sajida, the late mother of Mansur Ali Khan (better known as Tiger) Pataudi, chose to make India her home with her husband. The third and youngest sister, Rabia, also stayed back.

Their father, Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal, was ruler of the second most important Muslim princely state in India after Hyderabad. After Partition, Tiger’s mother became heir to the Nawab of Bhopal’s properties in India.

With integration of the princely state of Bhopal in the Indian Union, the government allotted a property in Delhi to Sajida in exchange for Pataudi House, which it had requisitioned. The Dupleix Road (now Kamaraj Marg) residence continues to be the home of Tiger and wife Sharmila after his mother’s death.

No such luck for the descendants of her sister.

Shaharyar Khan said “while I was preparing for the Qul (recitation of verses from the Koran) of my mother, a strong force of police arrived at Bhopal House and asked the inmates to leave”.

The house, in an upscale part of Karachi, was the property of Hamidullah Khan, who bought it in July 1947 when he was planning to come to Pakistan — he was supposed to become the defence minister — but never did. It was not until 1960, when he died, that some of his descendants left India for Pakistan and started living in Bhopal House.

In 1993, Begum Abida Sultan’s name appeared in legal documents as the owner.

The IB had set up its office in the annexe. Shaharyar Khan showed documents to disprove the claims of the intelligence agency to the property and said there had been attempts in the past also to dislodge the family.

He said while his mother was in coma, she was served an eviction notice by the government under special powers assumed under an ordinance, despite an order from the high court to maintain status quo.

On Saturday, the public works department was informed that Begum Abida Sultan had died, following which the property was taken away from the family.

“My late mother had sacrificed everything for the sake of Pakistan and for the ideals of Quaid-i-Azam. It seems that we are being punished for our commitment.”

The former foreign secretary, who had argued Pakistan’s case on Kashmir many a time and had been tipped as foreign minister to take over from Abdul Sattar, said his calls to interior minister Moinuddin Haider, President Pervez Musharraf’s principal secretary Tariq Aziz, and the minister for works went unheeded. Khan said that in order to settle the title of the property, he had proposed to the IB to put the property under the control of the court and agreed to arbitration.

Neither his late mother nor he had planned to live in the house and had planned to either open a school there or hand it over to a philanthropic organisation.

He has moved Sindh High Court against the IB. When it came up for hearing today, the judge expressed his dismay. “What was the hurry to do all this in such a manner a day before the sayyum (third day after death),” Justice Zahid Qurban Alvi said.


New Delhi, May 15: 
A self-assured Sonia Gandhi has invited P.V. Narasimha Rao to share the dais with her at the All India Congress Committee session, scheduled to be held on May 24.

Party sources said the former Prime Minister, who will be sitting next to the Congress chief at Talkatora stadium, the venue of the meet, will be consulted on key economic, political and foreign policy matters.

Pranab Mukherjee, convener of the AICC’s drafting committee, will soon call on Rao with draft party resolutions on the current economic and political situation in the country and international affairs. The Congress Working Committee will meet on May 22 to vet policy papers. The sources said Rao has been invited because he is a former AICC president.

Sources close to Rao said he is unlikely to speak. “He would raise his hand to endorse resolutions on political, economic and international affairs,” a source close to the former Prime Minister said.

In hibernation since his unceremonious exit in January 1997, Rao has been maintaining a low profile. He has also kept out of all party fora. Now that he has been acquitted in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case, his “rehabilitation” in the Sonia establishment is being viewed with keen interest.

Congress leaders welcomed the decision to invite Rao as he has been discharged from almost all the cases he was embroiled in. He has a “weak” case pending against him involving a bribery charge brought by Lakhubhai Pathak, a litigant who has died.

But a section of the Congress is still hostile to Rao. Officially, Congress leaders who had left the party in 1993-96, point to Rao’s role in the events leading to the Babri masjid demolition to justify his isolation. But another section says the “isolate Rao” campaign had more to do with power politics within the party than events which occurred more than 10 years ago.

According to this school of thought, Sonia is surrounded by a section of party leaders who still perceive Rao as a threat to her leadership. Rao’s detractors have reportedly told Sonia that if the Congress fails to get 180-plus seats in the next general elections, the former Prime Minister could emerge as a challenger to her leadership.


Lucknow, May 15: 
For the 11-day-old Mayavati government, it is fine if VHP activists protest against the Godhra carnage, but not if the Left tries to take out a march demanding Narendra Modi’s scalp.

Around 900 Left activists have been put behind bars in Ayodhya for trying to bring out a peace march. Their crime: demanding the dismissal of the Modi government for the communal carnage in Gujarat.

Days back, the VHP had held an exhibition of grisly photographs of the Godhra massacre in the temple town’s Ramasevakpuram.

The district magistrate of Faizabad today confirmed that 891 activists of Sahmat, the CPI(ML), the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, the All-India Students’ Association and other Leftist organisations were arrested for violating Section 144 of the CrPC on May 10.

But unlike other demonstrators, who are released within 24 hours of their arrest for violating prohibitory orders, the Left activists will have to languish in jail for 15 days.

Making things more difficult for the relatives of those arrested, the demonstrators have been despatched to jails in different districts — Mau, Sultanpur and Gonda. Nearly a third of them are women and students.

The CPI(ML) staged a dharna here to press for the immediate release of the political prisoners and to protest the act of the vengeful BSP-BJP government. “The state government is acting like fascists,” charged Arun Kumar of the CPI(ML).

“When the VHP can be allowed to do anything in Ayodhya, why should the administration ban our peaceful march and the jhanki to pay tributes to martyrs of the first war of Independence?” he asked.

According to a state home department official, the government was not against the peace march but objected to certain posters portraying Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani as “anti-Muslims”.

District officials felt the posters could disturb harmony in the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad, he said.


New Delhi, May 15: 
Yashwant Sinha today told Parliament his dealings with Flex Industries were “entirely routine, transparent and above board”, fending off demands for his resignation over alleged links with the tainted business house.

Pilloried by the media, the Opposition and even by a section of his own party for letting Flex supply poll material for his 1999 Lok Sabha election campaign in Hazaribagh, the finance minister claimed that he had paid for the supplies. “…They (Flex Industries) submitted five bills for Rs 45,583 (and) this amount was duly shown in my statutory return on election expenses,” he said.

“I would like to state categorically that neither my dignity as a member of Parliament nor my effectiveness as minister of finance stands compromised as a result of this entirely routine, transparent and above board transaction,” Sinha, whose hands shook as he read out his prepared statement, said.

Flex and its chairman and managing director Ashok Chaturvedi are under investigation for paying bribes to several government officials.

“The fact that I purchased election publicity material from a supplier cannot be construed to mean I have a relationship with him. I cannot be expected to guarantee his good character forever,” Sinha said.

But his explanation did not wash with the Congress, which had initiated the issue in Parliament. The party walked out of the lower House and was joined by the Left and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The only major Opposition party which surprisingly came out in Sinha’s support was Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Mulayam stood up to support the finance minister and sought a debate on who got donations from whom.

Earlier, Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi tried to raise a point of order on whether Sinha had divulged the conflict of interest to the appropriate executive authority between his links with Flex and the fact that the company was being probed.


New Delhi, May 15: 
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet is understood to have met K.R. Narayanan and asked him to consider a second term.

“A senior Left leader met the President and he, I believe, is not unwilling for a second term,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, at a press conference. Though he did not reveal the name, sources said it was Surjeet who met the President.

This is the first time the Left is publicly announcing its choice for the presidential candidate. Narayanan, the Left believes, has all the “correct” credentials: he is secular, not in favour of unbridled liberalisation and with tenure untainted by controversy.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri rated Narayanan’s term in office as “very good” and said his party would have no “inhibitions” backing him for a second tenure.

Bardhan said one of the main reasons why the Left was backing Narayanan for a second term was his role in “safeguarding cultural diversity, national unity and the rights of the poor. These are critical times and we need a person like him”.

Narayanan’s term expires on July 23. The notification for presidential election is likely to be issued between June 9 and 10.




Maximum: 31.1°C (-5)
Minimum: 25.6°C (0)


16.1 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 94%,

Sunrise: 4.59 am

Sunset: 6.06 pm


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

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