Govt spends night with the gun
Twins give US double headache
The great backlash bogey
Immortal entertainment mantra: Chant RD
Too much talk, little action
Nuclear fuel powers President’s race
Teach Pak a lesson: DMK
After Roy, it’s Roja now
For now, the Gill effect takes hold
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 16: 
Government leaders are debating through tonight whether or not to give political assent for a military strike across the Line of Control after the defence and security establishment has all but concluded that the attack on the army base in Jammu calls for payback.

Since the December 13 attack on Parliament and the mobilisation of the armed forces, this is the closest the country has come to exercising a military option. But the military objective for an armed action is undefined.

“I don’t want to go into the specifics, but time for action has come,” army chief General S. Padmanabhan said in Kathmandu today.

Almost on cue, the defence ministry issued strongly-worded statements this evening blaming Pakistan for the attack on the Kaluchak base, in which 23 soldiers and family members died.

“I would not like to discuss the options in the media or out in public, but we could discuss the options with the government and come to some definite conclusion,” he said.

The killings have so spurred the forces that Padmanabhan is not shy of expressing the sentiment of the army he commands. He has always chosen his words carefully. “The army is not the body to make a decision in this regard. The decision will be taken by the entire nation,” he said.

Parliament will tomorrow discuss the attack. Before that the Cabinet Committee on Security is expected to meet in the morning. The army chief is also scheduled to return to Delhi tomorrow.

But senior defence officials were understood to have briefed the core group on Kashmir at a meeting in North Block presided over by home minister L.K. Advani. The director-general of military operations, Lt. Gen. J.S. Chahal, and the director-general of military intelligence, Lt. Gen. O.S. Lohchhab, attended the meeting. So did defence minister George Fernandes, defence secretary Yogendra Narain, the home secretary and the director-general of the Border Security Force.

The pros and cons of using military force across the LoC will be discussed against the backdrop of the US presence in South Asia and the feasibility of a limited conventional war. Washington has been advising restraint and while the Indian army believes that despite nuclearisation, space exists for limited conventional war — like in Kargil — Islamabad’s threshold for taking on the Indian forces is suspected to be low and, therefore, prone to desperation.

If the political leadership decides to take the crucial step, it will either have to give the army a defined objective — attacking militant bases by using artillery and airstrikes and/or capturing territory to use as a bargaining chip and/or capturing crucial heights that might enable sealing of frequently-used routes of infiltration.

In an uncharacteristic step, the defence ministry’s publicity wing in Delhi issued two statements this evening — identifying the attackers and giving a narration of the events. Usually, the defence ministry establishment in Delhi asks its wing in Jammu to brief on incidents in the northern command area.

“Despite assurances by President Musharraf in his January 12 speech, there has been no change in the ground situation. Pakistan has been defying all the international suggestions to put an end to cross-border terrorism,” the ministry said.

“Steps to refine the strategy and tactics to be followed by security forces with special reference to checking infiltration (and) providing hinterland security” will be taken, the home ministry said in a statement.

“Actions against the overground support base of the terrorists were discussed,” the statement added.

The defence ministry identified the attackers of the Kaluchak base as Pakistanis. Giving their antecedents, the ministry said Abu Suhail was a resident of Faisalabad. His father was Abdullah. Abu Murshed (Mohammad Munir), son of Mehzabin Shah Jeb, was a resident of Gali Number 1, Salamatpura, Rahwali Cantonment, Gujranwala, Pakistan. Abu Javed (Amzad Salam Bin Mohammed Gisha), son of Amir Bin Jabbi, was also a resident of Guda Giriya village, Nosar Ali Khan, Gujranwala, Pakistan.

The army said edibles, “like biscuits and chocolates”, found on the persons of these terrorists also reveal that these items were purchased from Zaffarwal, Pakistan.


Washington, May 16: 
Christina Rocca, the US state department’s point person for South Asia, has a hot potato on her lap, which she finds more troubling than any imminent war between India and Pakistan.

But the terrorist attack in Jammu and the spin about Indo-Pakistan tensions preceding her arrival in the region helped mask it as much as possible.

Her boss Colin Powell, the secretary of state, cannot find American diplomats who are willing to serve in Pakistan, the US’ closest ally in the war on terrorism.

Worse, the ones already there want to leave as quickly as possible. Wendy Chamberlin, the ambassador, has quit, fed up after just nine months at the most sensitive embassy in the wake of September 11.

In Delhi, too, Rocca had to deal with a hot potato, of a different variety, at her embassy.

The problem in Delhi burst out in the open at the state department’s briefing here yesterday when spokesperson Lynn Cassel was asked about teams from Washington inquiring into ambassador Robert Blackwill’s conduct and morale at the embassy.

Cassel tried to dodge but, faced with a barrage of queries, she admitted that reports about Blackwill’s questionable performance were not untrue.

What followed was a state department statement, put out by the Delhi embassy, saying Blackwill is staying. “He has not been asked to resign. He has not resigned. He is not leaving his post,” it said.

In Islamabad, they are all asking to be relieved. Chamberlin’s deputy Michelle Sissons was transferred recently to Washington. With considerable difficulty, Washington found a replacement for Sissons. But the wife and children of the substitute diplomat — who has been moved to Islamabad from Kuwait — are staying on in the Gulf because Pakistan is considered too dangerous for American families.

The new deputy chief of mission’s transfer from Kuwait to Islamabad without family has already become a public issue in the US. His brother took the unusual step of writing a letter to The New York Times this week, implying that he was more dedicated to American diplomacy in this time of crisis than the ambassador to Pakistan.

Virtually every American diplomat posted at the embassy in Islamabad has asked the state department to transfer them out of Pakistan. Worried about resignations and a controversy which could show Pakistan in a poorer light than now, the state department has approved all the transfer requests, but has asked the diplomats to stay on until it can find replacements.

This is easier said than done. When Mark Wentworth, a spokesman for the embassy, finished his tenure in Islamabad, a substitute could not be found for him for many months.

Patricia Haslach, the embassy’s economic counsellor, has simply given up her post and returned home because her two daughters have been living with relatives in the US for most of the time since September 11.


Ahmedabad, May 16: 
Could Javed Hussain, a 14-year-old boy who saw his father, mother and sister killed by a mob on February 28 at Naroda-Patia, join a Muslim backlash? Or Naimuddin Ibrahim Sheikh, six members of whose family were massacred at the same place the same day? Or, Jannatbibi, who is the sole surviving eyewitness of the most barbaric of incidents there — the womb of pregnant Kausar Bano ripped open with a sword and the eight-month foetus thrown into a fire?

They have told their horrific stories time and again to visiting politicians, journalists, police and whoever cared to visit the Shah-e-Alam relief camp and listen. Angry, disoriented and often at a loss for words to tell their stories with effect, they respond with vacant looks to questions about a Muslim backlash.

All they want right now is to stay on at the camp. Going back home or where they had their homes is out of the question. “I went back one day to fill in some form to claim the land title, but the looks on some faces from the Gopinath colony so frightened me that I can’t think of going back there,” said Bibi Bano, who lost eight family members.

“They simply don’t understand anything about a backlash. They are too insecure, too terrified, too weak to think of anything beyond the meals that we are providing,” says Shafi Memon, a garment exporter who is one of the community leaders running the camp. This holds true, he adds, for Muslim victims of the carnage anywhere in Gujarat.

“It’s not possible,” was the cryptic comment of the VHP’s state joint secretary, Kaushik Mehta.

Yet, a phony campaign goes on to suggest that a Muslim backlash is only a matter of time.

It started in Delhi, where intelligence agencies supposedly unearthed plots by Pakistan-based gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his men planning a massive revenge for the killings of Muslims in Gujarat. It has since been in the air in Ahmedabad and other parts of the state.

Chief minister Narendra Modi gave it substance, at least for those who are now spreading it, by saying that Dawood or Aftab Ansari cannot decide “who the Gujarat chief minister will be.”

The backlash will come, goes the buzz, like the Mumbai blasts of 1992 or as attacks on symbolic government targets.

A whisper campaign says that preparations are being made at Zuhapara, a Muslims-only locality of nearly four lakh people on the outskirts of Ahmedabad city.

Even K.P.S. Gill, the Centre-appointed security adviser to Modi’s government, is believed to have warned some Muslim leaders some days ago against a possible backlash.

“The fact is Muslims in the whole of Gujarat have no leadership. Even most rich Muslims are scared to come forward for fear of antagonising their Hindu business sources. They only provide us some money and that too not openly,” Memon says, adding that the talk of the backlash is scaring the Muslims again.

Everyone knows there is very little of the organised Muslim underworld after the police shot dead Abdul Latif in 1995.

“This talk of the backlash is another bogey to terrorise the community and further fuel communal passions among the Hindus,” retired chief justice of the Rajasthan high court A.P. Ravani argues.

It is possible that some desperate elements will some day grow into Muslim militants if they are denied legal redress of their grievances. “But now they are too scared to even think of that.”


Mumbai, May 16: 
He is no more. But Rahul Dev Burman is one of the fastest growing sectors in the entertainment industry, providing a livelihood to numerous DJs, several record companies and at least two film directors.

“RD is feeding a lot of people,” agrees Sujoy Ghosh, pointing at himself. Ghosh is directing a film called Jhankar Beats, which is inspired by Burman’s music.

“It’s a tribute to RD from a Calcutta boy. I grew up in Calcutta with RD’s music. My film is about people like me,” he says of Jhankar Beats, which stars Juhi Chawla, Rinkie Khanna, Sanjay Suri, Rahul Bose, Shayan Munshi and Riya Sen.

There is another film, Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, leaning heavily on RD’s music.

But it is the DJs of the country that Panchamda is helping to earn their daily bread. Ask any self-respecting DJ, and he will tell you how difficult it would be to make a remix album without RD.

Even Asha Bhosle has done it with her album Rahul and I, though she didn’t mix the music herself. RD is fuelling an endless stream of remixes, one of the mainstays of record companies with spiritual music. It is as much as RD’s contemporary feel as the lack of original talents that has made him the music director most in demand, dead or alive.

The latest War of the DJs released by Times Music is no exception: it kicks off with the inevitable RD number Aaj ki raat koi aane ko hai — only the video replaces the original’s Helen with model Koyena Mitra. Another sizzling number still on the top of the charts, Yeh vada raha, is also an RD original.

There is hardly an RD number that hasn’t inspired a remix: Mehbooba Mehbooba, Nahin nahin abhi nahin, Yamma Yamma…. DJ Akbar Sami, who says he has done truckloads of RD numbers from Yamma Yamma to Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga, says why it is Panchamda that his tribe banks on.

“Remix came from abroad. RD’s music is such that it lends itself easily to remixing. He had westernised music, and mindblowing sound. We just need to put our sounds here and there to set the dance floor on fire,” he says.

DJ Aqeel, who also can’t remember how many RD songs he has mixed, says: “Rahul Dev Burman made music for the future.

He made music for today. That’s why you have such great numbers coming from RD’s songs.” RD is one reason why there is the Indian variety of DJ music at all, believes Rajnish Lall of B4U, which like other music television channels, showcases remix music prominently.

“One reason that Indian remixes have taken ground is the greater number of people going to night clubs. The other reason is the music of R.D. Burman,” he says.

Burman was always hot, but he seems to have become hotter with remix albums. It means good business all around. “The older record companies, from whom the rights of the originals have to be bought, are minting money from RD’s songs,” says an industry source.

The companies that have done the remix albums are also happy. From Sony to Universal to Times Music, all record companies say remix albums and DJ music — with RD featuring prominently, are one of the fastest growing sectors.


New Delhi, May 16: 
The militant strike on the Kaluchak army camp has hardened the government’s resolve to take action against those responsible. “Better late than never” is the general consensus among security analysts in the country.

Most of them feel home minister L.K. Advani and his team have failed to put in place an efficient security system. “There is too much hype, too much talk and very little action on the ground to show for all the loud noises we make,” said one analyst.

The problem, according to security experts, lies in the government’s knee-jerk reaction to events. After the attack on Parliament, the government, they said, put its troops on war alert, upped its ante against Pakistan and tried to isolate it diplomatically, but made little impact.

Union minister of state for home I.D. Swamy, who has just returned from Jammu, admitted security was poor at the Kaluchak camp but said this was probably because families of soldiers had never been targeted before.

The camp gate, which is usually closed, was open at the time of the attack because children were leaving for school and people were either going out to get their daily ration of milk or milkmen were bringing in their stuff. Later in the day, the two gates were closed and entries monitored closely.

“There is a false sense of security in Jammu,” said Balraj Puri, a resident. “Despite the many incidents that have happened in Jammu, the army is complacent and believe nothing can happen in our area.”

In 1999, when terrorists changed tactics and began sending in suicide squads, there were at least 16 attacks in Jammu, a senior police official who served there said, adding that the massacre at the Raghunath temple should have alerted the authorities.

“The people on top give general instructions. It is up to the people on the ground to carry out the detailed instructions. You don’t expect L.K. Advani or (defence minister) George Fernandes to monitor every army and paramilitary station,” the official said. Implementation is tardy in security matters as in everything else, he added.

Though intelligence agencies had warned the government about infiltration by Lashkar-e-Toiba cadre into Jammu, the information did not lead to a security alert, not even in the army camp.

However, government officials have a ready explanation. “You cannot prevent attacks by suicide bombers. Look at Israel,” they say. “It has the best security system in the world, yet terrorist attacks continue.”

Another oft-heard explanation has to do with the Indian mentality. “You know the way we are,” said a senior police official. “When something happens we make a big fuss for a day or two and then forget all about it.”

Camps in the Kashmir Valley, none of them family stations, are much better guarded. Army, police and paramilitary posts almost resemble fortresses. “It is now virtually impossible for terrorists to successfully attack such posts there,” said an official.

Kulbir Krishan, an IPS officer working on counter-terrorism, says security forces must concentrate on the root cause, which is infiltration along the border, especially in the Jammu sector. The border in Samba is very near to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

“We must pay more attention to guarding the border, make use of newer technology — plenty are now available — and layering, meaning checking in several stages,” Krishan said.

All points in the sector, he added, should be constantly monitored.


New Delhi, May 16: 
The newest name doing the rounds in the presidential sweepstake is the renowned scientist and father of the Indian missile programme, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Kalam’s name figured yesterday in the talks Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. But there was no official confirmation yet on any of the presidential probables.

From the Sangh parivar stable, the name of veteran freedom fighter and RSS leader Nanaji Deshmukh was also doing the rounds today. A Rajya Sabha member and social worker, Deshmukh has a clean image.

Early this week, top government sources indicated that Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander would be the NDA candidate. However, signals from the Congress camp suggest that the party had reservations about Alexander’s candidature.

The Prime Minister, in his bid to evolve a consensus on the post of President, has begun consultations with various political leaders. He will hold talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other Opposition leaders in the coming days.

The Congress is waiting for K.R. Narayanan to make up his mind whether or not to stand for a second term. If Narayanan does not contest, the Congress will have no problem with Kalam, party sources said.

Sources said a consensus of sorts might emerge on Kalam’s name as no Opposition party could object his candidature in view of his image, stature and contribution to the country. Kalam has a clean, non-controversial image and no political affiliation. Above all, he belongs to the minority community.

A recipient of the Bharat Ratna in 1999, he was scientific advisor to the defence minister till 2000 and until recently, held the Cabinet rank position of chief scientific adviser to the Government of India.


Chennai, May 16: 
The DMK, a key NDA ally at the Centre, today said India should not procrastinate any further in taking retaliatory steps against Pakistan in the wake of the Jammu massacre that claimed 31 lives.

Condemning cross-border terrorism, DMK president M. Karunanidhi said: “We cannot delay anymore in teaching a lesson to any country which tries to undermine India.”

Comparing the terrorist attack at Kaluchak in Jammu to a “typhoon felling flowering plants, creepers and trees as it lashes through a flower garden”, the former Tamil Nadu chief minister expressed pain that infants, youths, women and elders were among the dead. He also noted that the condition of five among the injured was still critical.

Karunanidhi also welcomed Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s declaration, after her visit to the site of massacre, that her party would extend all support to the government “in exterminating the terrorist forces”.

Karunanidhi pointed to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s statement that no security lapse led to the terrorist attack and that Pakistan was “responsible for this dastardly act”.

“We hope the Centre will rush additional security forces to that area as well as to the entire state” as sought by Abdullah, the DMK leader said.

Describing the US’ response to the Jammu tragedy as “unacceptable”, Karunanidhi said America tried to play down the intensity of the massacre “by just issuing a condolence statement and it had not taken up the issue with the seriousness it merits”.

The DMK leader noted that the “angst” of Abdullah’s statement against the attack and the Prime Minister’s clarion call to give a fitting reply to such acts of terror “are not reflected in the statements of the US”.


Hyderabad, May 16: 
After Arundhati Roy, Telugu-Tamil actress Roja has landed in trouble for making off-hand remarks about the judiciary.

Madras High Court chastised the southern siren, fined and sentenced her to a day in an orphanage for contempt of court.

Roja had received Rs 3 lakh as advance from film producer and financier, Bothra, but failed to keep her assignment. However, she issued a dud check when it came to returning the advance money.

Bothra moved the high court and procured a decree against Roja to make the payment within a month. But the actress, busy with the shooting of another film, did not meet the court stipulation and made sarcastic remarks about the judicial system.

When the producer approached the court again, it fined her Rs 10,000 — to be donated to an orphanage — and ordered her to spend a day there.

Roja chose the Shiv Shakti Kakkum Karangal Ashram in Chennai. The actress, who had paired with superstars Chiranjeevi and Nagarjuna, has performed in 50 Telugu films and is now working on an action film — Police Sisters — with damsel Raasi.

She also has several Tamil films under her belt and was planning to launch her own Tamil production with brother Kumaraswamy Reddy.


Ahmedabad, May 16: 
Eight-month pregnant Kausarbanu was molested/raped at Naroda-Patia in Ahmedabad on February 28. An eyewitness filed an FIR saying that Kausarbanu’s stomach was ripped apart and the foetus was flung into a raging fire. The complaint named Ratilal Rathod, a driver with the municipal bus service, as the man responsible for the crime. Fifty-year-old Rathod, also known as Bhavani Singh, was arrested earlier this week.

Why did it take police over two months to arrest Ratilal Rathod?

It so happens that three days before he was picked up on Monday, Ahmedabad got a new police commissioner K.R. Kaushik along with a couple of fresh faces as his deputies. And the police shakeup came days after K.P.S. Gill landed in Gujarat as chief minister Narendra Modi’s security adviser.

The coincidence was hard to miss, particularly as Rathod’s arrest was the first big action against an accused in a case that prompted Sonia Gandhi to write to the Prime Minister, as Kausarbanu’s story was told again and again.

In the FIR, Rathod has been named as the prime accused.

A wave of arrests has taken place since May 10, more than 2,200 out of over 3,200 since the outbreak of violence.

For the third day today, no one was burnt or stoned to death in Ahmedabad and there were even traffic snarls in parts of the city, though temperatures soared as tempers cooled.

It was not as though there were no incidents at all — shops were looted at Naroda-Patia — but life in Gujarat’s biggest city is beginning to look more normal than before.

K.P.S. Gill has reasons to feel satisfied, but is being very careful. “Till peace remains for a considerable period of time, I cannot say Gujarat is normal,” he has said. Technically, he is no more than an adviser, but in reality he is pulling more weight than even the minister of state for home Gordhan Zadhaphia. In the police reshuffle, Zadhaphia was not even consulted.

The police, accused of being struck by paralysis during the riots, have swung into action with 70 people named in FIRs picked up in only 24 hours after Gill told officers “not to spare the guilty” and asked them to file “regular progress reports”.

The new police commissioner is in touch with Gill who has opened other channels of communication with senior officers.

Taking the cue from Gill, Kaushik met Muslims in Juhapura, Ahmedabad’s biggest Muslim ghetto known as “mini-Pakistan”, where, until recently, the police did not dare go in.

After his visit there, last Saturday, when he also met retired police officers settled in the area and sought their cooperation in restoring peace, traffic is again out on the roads.

Until now the chief minister has accepted Gill’s suggestions because Modi himself has been under pressure to put an end to the violence. On Gill’s advice, he announced a number of confidence-building measures at a meeting with minority leaders.

But how long? A senior minister believes sooner rather than later Modi will put his foot down and that will be the beginning of a conflict between two egocentric persons. Gill is known to make his own rules — and so is Modi — though the retired Punjab police chief has been cautions not to rile the state government after burning his fingers in the controversy over his request for commandos from outside.

Asked today about “saffronisation” of the police force, he gave a guarded reply to PTI, saying that he had not been around long enough to make a comment. In this short stint, though, he has come to the conclusion that Gujarat is “underpoliced”.

Jaspal Singh, a retired IPS officer who was Gill’s batchmate, said: “Modi and Gill cannot get along for long.” Gill is an outsider, has no local influence and is completely dependent on the local administration, which is now cooperating under the orders of a chief minister who is a slave to circumstances. First, Modi is aware of a growing lack of confidence in his ability, both in Delhi and in his own state. And it does not take much intelligence to figure out Gill has been despatched to create a parallel power centre.

There are optimists like Mohsin Quadri, a minority leader, who believe Gill will succeed and set store by his “unorthodox style of working and ability to deliver goods”.

As the police crackdown goes apace, a potential source of confrontation will be possible arrests of VHP leaders. Already a 20-strong team of VHP advocates is working to get arrested activists released. For instance, Jaydeep Patel, VHP vice-president for Gujarat, has been named in an FIR, as has been Mayaben Kondani, a BJP legislator — both in connection with the incident at Naroda-Patia where over 60 people were killed.

How long will the VHP suffer Gill and Modi?




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