Parliament authorises action
House speaks in one voice
Twin objectives in military sight
Return home with forgiveness bond
Mayavati past post
Hurriyat balks at another war
Mudgal balm for riot victims
Jaya tempts with fatter VRS purse
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi and Srinagar, May 17: 
Parliament’s blank cheque to the Centre to take action against Pakistan today has put the onus on the defence and security establishment to come up with viable options for a military strike.

The National Security Council met for the first time after being reconstituted. The Prime Minister’s security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, chaired the meeting attended by the army chief, General S. Padmanabhan, and Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy.

The service chiefs have not been called to a joint meeting with the Prime Minister since February despite the border deployment but Atal Bihari Vajpayee has met them individually. They are likely to be invited to a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security tomorrow.

The series of meetings is part of the process of consensus-building that might presage action. Within the security establishment, the pros and cons of a unilateral offensive strike continue to be debated.

The firing across the border in Jammu today is subtle indication that the army is prepared to escalate. Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire in the Samba, R.S. Pura and Hiranagar sectors in Jammu in what a defence spokesman described as the heaviest exchange since troop mobilisation in December.

A youth was killed and 11 persons, including four armymen, were injured in the firing that triggered an exodus of villagers from the area. Nearly 300 people fled from Samba and Hiranagar.

Militants struck in Srinagar with an explosion outside the fire service headquarters, near the civil secretariat and the office of the director-general of police. Two persons were killed in the attack and four sustained serious injuries.

Defence ministry sources said the border firing was limited to use of infantry weapons such as machine guns and mortars. They denied that artillery guns were fired. But the response from the Indian army, particularly in the R.S. Pura sector, was heavy. An army source described the action as “retaliatory” after Pakistani gunners opened fire.

The exchange was particularly heavy on the stretch of the international boundary that Pakistan disputes and calls a “working boundary”. This is a short stretch just below the point near Chhamb from where the Line of Control begins. Firing here is not unusual but this time it has taken place at this level after several weeks.

In Delhi, chief among the considerations that will govern any decision for an armed move across the LoC will be the presence of the US forces in Pakistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. Some of the elements of that operation also cover parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where al Qaida militants are alleged to have taken refuge. The security establishment cannot dwell on taking action across the international boundary as a first step.

Second, the armed forces will be particularly measuring the response of action. The mobilisation on the borders by both sides has allowed each other to closely monitor movement of army units and formations. In February, General Padmanabhan had said the challenge of good generalship is in being able to keep the enemy guessing despite prolonged forward deployment.

It is also a given that the military option, if exercised unilaterally, will have two objectives: first, to block routes of infiltration and second, to neutralise militant camps that might still exist across the LoC.


New Delhi, May 17: 
Armed with a unanimous resolution of Parliament, the government tonight declared that words would not suffice and that it would respond to the Kaluchak massacre with “action” against Pakistan.

In a rare show of unity, members cutting across party lines in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha authorised the Vajpayee regime to take “appropriate action” against Pakistan. Parliament passed a resolution that reiterated the nation’s commitment to fighting Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will address the nation and consult the Opposition soon, home minister L.K. Advani said. Responding to the Kashmir debate in both Houses of Parliament, Advani said: “Our armed forces have to be consulted. All options and pros and cons have to be weighed and the reply has to be in such a way that we reach a decisive phase,” he said.

The home minister, however, did not spell out how the government intends to respond. “In what way we respond and in what way we tell the people, you will soon know. It can be through television... The Prime Minister may broadcast to the nation.”

Vajpayee was present in the House, but did not speak.

When Margaret Alva of the Congress asked Advani about the army chief’s statement that it was time for action, the home minister pointed out that General S. Padmanabhan had also said a decision would be taken by the nation. “This means the nation will take a decision through Parliament advising the government,” he said.

Advani expressed his disappointment with the US. He said he had conveyed to a US representative that while the people of India were angry with Pakistan, they were distraught with America, too. Ambassador Robert Blackwill had met Advani yesterday.

Hinting at possible targets, Advani said the government had definite information about 70 to 75 terrorist training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It also knew that some 3,000-4,000 Taliban and al Qaida activists, mostly Arabs, had shifted base to Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Later, Parliament adopted the resolution that said: “The House resolves to fight against such senseless acts of terrorism which are against humanity as a whole in a united and determined manner and declares this nation’s commitment to see an end to this menace.”

The resolution said it was essential that leaders of the world community take note of the “continuing acts of terrorism encouraged by Pakistan so that united and effective action can be taken against it”.

Minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah made a forceful speech, saying Pakistan would be stupid in considering use of nuclear weapons.


New Delhi, May 17: 
If India launches a military strike against Pakistan, it will be limited in its aims. The Indian objective, sources say, will not be to defeat Pakistan but to destroy the major routes of ingress from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to Jammu and Kashmir and the terrorist training camps there.

The Indian option of a military strike, however, would crucially depend on the view the US takes of such action. There is a belief in a section of the Indian establishment that if the strikes are strictly limited to PoK, the US may look the other way.

However, there are others who say that General Pervez Musharraf’s argument with the Americans has been that if there is an escalation of tension on his eastern front, he cannot spare troops for joint operations in the area adjoining the Afghan-Pakistan border. He would therefore suggest that the Indian military action would undermine US objectives in the region.

India believes, though, that military strikes in PoK would be in keeping with the aims of the global alliance against terrorism. The logic runs thus: Musharraf in his January 12 television address had said his government would not permit terrorism in the name of Kashmir. This was as unambiguous a statement as one could expect from the President. But, evidently, that is not what is happening on the ground.

Assuming that Pakistan has given up using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, there is a sense in New Delhi that this can mean only one thing: there are terrorists who are opposed to Musharraf and they are preventing him from implementing his policy. In attacking the terrorist camps in PoK then, India would only be helping implement Pakistan’s own policy. Or so the argument goes.

The National Security Council Advisory Board in a paper submitted to the government has also recommended military action against Pakistan. Their argument is that if such action is not taken, three things will happen: there will be communal polarisation in Jammu and even in Punjab if Hindus flee parts of Jammu, the credibility of India will suffer if it cannot act against the perpetrators of terrorist acts and, most important, the morale of the armed forces would be eroded.

Strategic experts believe that a limited war would not mean artillery strikes, which, they say, have not helped in the last 15 years. It would also not mean a few air strikes — Pakistan would respond in kind and the onus would then be on India to escalate the war or not.

A limited war can only mean launching an attack across the Line of Control while not opening a front along the international border. These experts argue that after crossing the LoC and destroying the terrorist training camps in PoK, India must stay on there and let Pakistan decide whether or not it wants to escalate the conflict.

Going across the LoC and occupying territory, some of them feel, would also have a salutary effect in eroding the determination and morale of those who indulge in terrorist acts against India. They would realise that there is a cost to pay for such acts. Within Pakistan, the Indian military action is likely to weaken the position of Musharraf as the image of invincibility of the Pakistan army would take a beating.

As the government mulls over the various options before it, experts believe its diplomatic options are running out. They feel that reducing the staff of the Pakistan High Commission further, declaring the high commissioner persona non grata or taking other unconventional action against Pakistani diplomats would not lead India anywhere.


Vadodara, May 17: 
You can’t slaughter cows in the village. You won’t harass Hindu girls. You can’t bring in any new Muslim families. You can’t interfere in quarrels among Hindus. You won’t do any anti-national activity.

These are some of the conditions of the mafipatra (agreement of apology) on which Muslims can return to Kadwal village, about 90 km from Vadodara city. Above all, they have to apologise for taking out a rally in the village and raising “provocative” slogans.

Unable to carry on at the relief camp at Chhoteudepur, the subdivisional headquarters, 13 of the 60-odd Muslim families have signed the “agreement” and returned to the village. Their homes, though, are still without roofs and bear the blackened scars of the fire that razed them on the night of March 2.

“We had to make them sign the agreement to put it on record because they have lost our trust,” Bharatsinh Pravinsinnh, young scion of the former ruling family of Kadwal state, is unapologetic. Although a tribal is now the village sarpanch, it is the former rajas’ word that is still law here. Muslims allege he drafted the conditions and put the village forest beat guard – ironically, a Muslim – to get the signatures on the mafipatra.

“It’s not true, however, that we asked them to convert to Hinduism, shave off their beard or not to put the caps on their heads,” says the former raja . Although the Muslim families’ houses were burnt down, there were no killings in Kadwal. But in some villages in the area, like Randhikpur in neighbouring Dahod district, the conditions for the Muslims’ return to home include withdrawal of rape and murder charges.

And the conditions aren’t verbal. They are written on Rs 10 stamp papers. “These obviously have no legal standing. Agreements signed on stamp paper are an accepted village custom here. Marriages, divorces and sundry other small village issues are recorded on stamp papers,” says Ganesh Devy, Sahitya Akademi award winner, who runs a tribal studies institute at nearby Tejgadh.

Naturally, the mafipatra has brought out more disagreement than agreements. “We refused to sign them. It’s only those living in one mohalla who did so,” says Mumtaz Ali, president of the Kadwal Muslim Manch.

He denies that Muslims shouted any anti-national slogans when they took out a rally on the night of the arson. “We only shouted Allah-O-Akbar Nara-e-taqdir, as we do at all Muslim gatherings.” Huddled by their burnt-out homes, Mumtaz and many other Muslims complain that not one of those accused in their FIRs for the arson have been arrested.

The local police station is less than a kilometer away from where Mumtaz stands. But the police left it to the villagers to “sort out” the mafipatra issue. “They have to live together. The mafipatra isn’t really an issue,” says subdivisional magistrate S.S. Baria, a Bhil. Bhils make the largest tribal community in Gujarat. He has no answer as to why those named in the FIRs have not been picked up.

Muslims in Kadwal were luckier, despite the conditions. At Panwad, the Hindus and the tribal Rathwas are totally unyielding. “We don’t want them (Muslims) back because that would mean trouble again and again,” Tansinh Rathwa does not mince his words.

The police tried to escort the Muslim villagers, now living in the Chhotaudepur camp, back to the village. “We told the police we can’t guarantee the Muslims’ security.” The police avoided pushing it for now, while tribals guard the village at night with bows and arrows to prevent the Muslims from returning.

Unlike in the past communal violence in Gujarat, tribals in Vadodara, Sabarkantha, Dahod and Godhra, on the state’s eastern parts bordering Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, were co-opted into the militant ranks of saffron — with a heady mix of money, liquor and the agenda for Hinduisation of the tribals.


Lucknow, May 17: 
The Mayavati government today proved its majority in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, with 217 members in the House of 398 voting for the confidence motion and 180 against.

One member, Mukhtar Ansari, was absent.

The voting belied apprehensions of rebellion in the ranks of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s allies — the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal — some of whose MLAs were unhappy for not having got a berth in her council of ministers.

Today’s trial of strength also sets at rest doubts about the role of the 14 Muslim legislators in the BSP. Ignoring a call for “conscience vote” by the leader of Opposition, Samajwadi Party’s Mohammed Azam Khan, they voted in favour of the BSP-BJP coalition.

In fact, today’s result showed that the number of legislators supporting the coalition has gone up since Mayavati was invited to form a government. The BSP leader had submitted the names of 211 MLAs to the Governor at the time of staking claim to form the government. “My government will complete its five year term,” a beaming Mayavati said after the voting.

She hit out at those who branded the BSP’s alliance with the BJP as “opportunist” and maintained that the parties had come together for the development of Uttar Pradesh.

Opposition leaders Khan and Pramod Tewari, however, predicted that the government will not go past the first six months. “A structure built on faulty foundation is bound to collapse soon,” Khan said.

The BSP’s Muslim legislators were in the centre of attention as the Assembly debated the one-line motion moved by Mayavati this morning.

While Khan exhorted them to “vote according to their conscience to punish the killers of Gujarat”, Mayavati sought to keep them under leash reminding that “no other party has done as much for the minorities as the BSP”.

Mayavati reiterated her previous governments’ pro-Muslim policies during her speech to scotch rumours that members of the minority community in her party were uncomfortable with the alliance with the BJP.


New Delhi, May 17: 
As India mulls over retaliatory action against Pakistan, Kashmiris are gearing up to face the grim prospect of a third war between the two hostile neighbours.

“War has never solved any problem in the past, nor will it do so now. India and Pakistan need to talk, not to hit out at each other,” said Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a moderate and a favourite of the Indian establishment. He believes Delhi should think hard about the consequences before starting a war.

“A fitting reply by India to Pakistan would be to reach out to the people of Kashmir and apply a soothing balm to the wounds of a people ravaged by two decades of war in Kashmir. India and Pakistan will fight a limited war, but we in Kashmir have been facing a war situation everyday of our lives,” Mirwaiz said. “Years of suffering has resulted in a feeling of frustration and helplessness among Kashmiris. India’s war (if it comes to that) to further its national interest is of no relevance to the people here.”

Mirwaiz said Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should sit down with Kashmiri leaders to find a solution to the dispute. Instead of going to war, India should allow international pressure to work on Musharraf, he added.


Mumbai, May 17: 
A singer is doing her bit to help the victims of the communal carnage in Gujarat.

Shubha Mudgal, classical artiste-turned pop diva as well as an exponent of Sufi music, will perform at the concert “Holding Hands for Harmony”, being organised by the Bandra (West) Residents’ Association.

At the concert, Mudgal will perform Sufi songs to uphold the composite nature of Indian culture. She will also read from texts to underline the same message. The proceeds of the concert will be routed to Gujarat through two NGOs.

Artists from other fields will also join Mudgal at the concert to spread the same message.

A host of painters, whose names are being finalised, will also be there, working on their canvases.

“We thought music would be an appropriate way of making a statement on Gujarat. We approached Shubha Mudgal who readily agreed to sing at the concert for free,” says Darryl De Monte, one of the organisers.

“The response to the concert has been very good. Already half of the 800 tickets have been sold,” he added.

Several NGOs in Mumbai, who are actively involved in the Gujarat issue, are looking to the artiste’s community, especially that of Bollywood, to speak up against the perpetrators of violence in Gujarat.


Chennai, May 17: 
Determined to lay off surplus public sector employees, the Jayalalithaa government has introduced a more lucrative voluntary retirement scheme to facilitate the process.

In the first definitive step towards downsizing the government and to ride out any dissent, the state has unveiled a “more attractive and modified” golden handshake package to cut the surfeit manpower in public sector undertakings.

Official sources said the modified package is a definite improvement on an earlier one tried out some years ago, but then shelved. Under the old scheme, the ceiling on ex-gratia payment per employee was Rs 1.25 lakh, which was hardly attractive. The government’s latest offer assures a “guaranteed minimum” amount of Rs 1.50 lakh.

The new package, introduced a week after the budget session ended, is based on the Centre’s model and proposes to classify PSUs into three categories: first, those that are profit-making and financially sound, and can, therefore, fund a VRS package from their own surplus resources; second, those that are “financially not sound”, having incurred losses for the last three consecutive years or their net worth eroded by 50 per cent; third, the sick PSUs that are on the verge of closure.

The compensation package for the first category offers an ex-gratia of up to Rs 4.20 lakh per employee at the top level, Rs 2.75 lakh at the middle level and up to Rs 2 lakh at the lower level.

Earlier, state employees were entitled to emoluments (pay plus DA) for a month and half. The same is now being offered for two months for every completed year of service or salary for the number of months of service left or the ex-gratia amount indicated above, “whichever is less”.

The corresponding ceiling on ex-gratia for financially unsound PSUs include up to Rs 3.50 lakh per employee at the top level. For those who fall in the middle and lower rungs, the amount has been fixed at Rs 2.50 lakh and Rs 1.75 lakh, respectively.

For PSUs on the verge of closure — irrespective of age or post — those opting for VRS will get a maximum ex-gratia of Rs 2.50 lakh.




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Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of the formation of thunderclouds towards evening

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