Conflict signal in command recast
Atal firm on going ahead with polls
PM shares step-by-step plan with Sonia
Farce follows the tragedy
Homework done, Joshi on job hunt
Goa hopefuls chafe at Sonia minister ceiling
Advani reminds US of Bush promise
An ambassador for Calcutta cuisine
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CONFLICT SIGNAL IN COMMAND RECAST 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, May 19: 
The Centre today put the paramilitary under the command of the armed forces in a step that is the first clear formal indication that the country is preparing for conflict.

Yesterday, General Pervez Musharraf issued orders asking all Pakistani army personnel engaged in civilian duties to report for military postings.

“You can read into it what you have to read. I do what I have to do,” external affairs minister Jaswant Singh said when asked if the step taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security was a preparation for war. “I do not discuss the plans of the armed forces in the media.”

The Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force will be under the operational command of the army after the order is formally issued tomorrow. The Coast Guard will report to the navy.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the paramilitary virtually reports to the army under a unified command. Tomorrow’s order will probably be restricted to the paramilitary forces not engaged in internal security duties (except in Jammu and Kashmir). The Coast Guard is under the navy in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where a tri-service integrated command was formed last year.

Formal orders asking the paramilitary to report to the armed forces were not issued even in 1999 at the time of the war in the Kargil sector.

Explaining the rationale for such an order, Jaswant said: “This is part of standard operating procedures. There can only be one authority along the borders.”

The immediate reason for the order is a rocket attack on a CRPF camp at Chasana in Jammu today, which was targeted by militants shortly after 3 am. Chasana is close to the Rajouri sector and not very far from the army’s northern command headquarters in Udhampur. Four soldiers were killed in the attack.

A logical step ahead in the standard operating procedures for an army preparing for conflict will be orders for general mobilisation asking service personnel to report to stations. But such formal orders for general mobilisation are accompanied by a declaration from a government that it is in a state of war.

India-Pakistan conflicts have not always been the outcome of such a declaration. While 1971 certainly was — Indira Gandhi declared war after “pre-emptive” strikes by the Pakistani Air Force on airfields in north India — the 1999 Operation Vijay in Kargil is not officially a war.

Defence ministry sources said in Jammu and Kashmir, the Rashtriya Rifles, a subsidiary army unit engaged in counter-insurgency, is under the unified command. On the western front, the BSF, which mans the frontline in peacetime, will now be within the command-control system of the army. The BSF and the CRPF are agencies of the home ministry.

The CCS meeting today, chaired by the Prime Minister, analysed in some detail the livening up of the Line of Control following the attack on the Kaluchak army camp in Jammu. The army chief, General S. Padmanabhan, was asked to attend. The deputy chief of air staff was also invited in the absence of the air chief marshal who is in the eastern theatre.

It was assessed that firing on villages in the command areas of the 15 and 16 corps in Jammu and Kashmir was mostly from the Pakistani side. Retaliation from the Indian army was moderate to heavy. Jaswant said if firing continued, retaliation will be at a similar level.

Although official sources say that only infantry weapons’ fire (machine gun and mortar) was exchanged, there is little doubt that heavy artillery was used probably by both sides.

   

 
 
ATAL FIRM ON GOING AHEAD WITH POLLS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, May 19: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir later this week is a signal to Pakistan and militant groups backed by it that, whatever the provocation, the government will push ahead with its plans to hold elections in the state.

Although Vajpayee’s trip is not directly related to preparing the ground for the polls, slated for September, it is an indication from Delhi that Vajpayee was expected to go to the state this month and would do so, despite the attack in Jammu last week.

He will fly to Jammu on Tuesday and possibly visit the frontline as well. On Wednesday, he will be in Srinagar and meet members of chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s administration and prominent public figures and political leaders. It is not known if Hurriyat Conference members will seek an appointment.

The Prime Minister will also convene a meeting of the unified command of the army, paramilitary forces and police to review security arrangements.

Government sources said whatever military and diplomatic action India launches against Pakistan, its Kashmir policy will not be affected. For the moment, the Centre’s one-point agenda is to hold free and fair elections. It is also working behind the scenes to encourage as many shades of political opinion as possible to take part in the polls.

The Centre wants to act impartially and send the message across to people that it has no favourites in Kashmir. It hopes to persuade Abdullah to leave state politics and efforts are going on either to place him in the Vice-President’s chair or find something suitable in the Cabinet.

Delhi’s determination to hold credible polls also stems from the awareness that Islamabad is as focused on wrecking its plans. A free and fair election with a decent turnout, officials believe, will give India credibility and could be the beginning of a new chapter in Kashmir.

But many Kashmiris, including Hurriyat’s moderate leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq say polls are not the answer to the dispute. “The elections will have to lead to something. If the polls help to throw up a new leadership which will negotiate with India and Pakistan for a just solution of the Kashmir issue, it makes sense, otherwise it is of no value,” Mirwaiz said.

   

 
 
PM SHARES STEP-BY-STEP PLAN WITH SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 19: 
Hinting at a “step-by-step campaign” against Pakistan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today told the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, that his government would do everything in its powers to end cross-border terrorism and would not bow to any external pressure.

Vajpayee today briefed Sonia about the diplomatic, administrative and military options being considered by the government. He said “national interest” alone would serve as the basis of his response.

Sources said Sonia gave Vajpayee a carte blanche to undertake whatever steps he deemed fit. Congress sources said home minister L.K. Advani and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh did most of talking from the government side.

Late in the evening, Sonia invited the Congress think tank at 10 Janpath to tell them about her meeting with the Prime Minister. The Congress leadership feels the government has kept all options, including limited military engagement, open to meet the “extraordinary” situation.

In the 50-minute meeting with Vajpayee, Sonia was assisted by party colleague and the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh.

After the meeting, Jaswant said: “We shared our views on the current position... We briefed them (Congress leaders) about the situation, both on the diplomatic front as also on the border.” He said Vajpayee would hold similar meetings with leaders of other political parties.

Asked if the government was considering a military option, Jaswant was tightlipped. The Congress leaders, too, were silent on the options listed by Vajpayee.

The Vajpayee-Sonia meeting takes place two days after the Lok Sabha, through a unanimous resolution, authorised the government to take whatever steps it considered suitable to counter cross-border terrorism.

The main Opposition party is fully backing the government on this issue. Yesterday, the Congress had welcomed the decision to ask Pakistan to withdraw its high commissioner, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Ostensibly, Vajpayee had invited Sonia to discuss the possibility of the government and the Opposition arriving at a consensus on P.C. Alexander as the presidential candidate. Vajpayee said he wanted to talk about the presidential polls but national security events had taken priority.

“I would invite you again for presidential polls,” he said without mentioning Alexander’s name.

Sonia declined to either support or reject Alexander’s name. She said there was a view in the Congress that K.R. Narayanan should continue, but the Congress Working Committee would take the decision.

The Congress is keen to continue with Narayanan and, in exchange, it is willing to accept former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, a somewhat liberal face of the BJP, as Vice-President. The vice-presidential polls are scheduled for August, a month after the new President is elected.

Narayanan’s candidature got a shot in the arm today when former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar backed him.

   

 
 
FARCE FOLLOWS THE TRAGEDY 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Ahmedabad, May 19: 
After the pogrom, the great “action” farce. Intense pressure of national public opinion may have finally forced the Narendra Modi government to reluctantly put up a show of “action” against Sangh parivar activists leading the carnage in Gujarat, but it is doing everything in its powers to reduce it to a farce.

Although everyone visiting the Shah Alam relief camp was told that Bhawani Singh, a Gujarat state transport bus conductor, led the worst killings at Naroda-Patia, he was picked up by the police only early last week, over two months after the incident. Some of the “Ram sevaks” who were on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra when it was burnt and soon after went on the rampage in nearby areas were also picked up last week.

So far, some 250-odd activists of the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal have been rounded up in this show of action after the reshuffle in the police earlier this month.

But these are small fish. None of the big fish, including ministers Haren Pandya, who allegedly led the mob attack at Paldi, and Bharat Barot, Naroda MLA Mayaben Kodnani or the VHP general secretary Jaidip Patel, against whom seemingly irrefutable evidence is available, has been touched.

Also, BJP youth wing leader of Vadodara, who is known to have organised the printing and distribution of thousands of copies of hate campaign “directives” against the Muslims much before the Godhra killing of the “Ram sevaks”, goes scot free.

But not catching the big fish is only a minor part of the farce. A bigger subversion is taking place with the first information reports filed with the police and the investigation procedures. In most cases of violence, the police have either refused to accept FIRs or insisted that the attackers be identified as “mobs” and not as individuals, thereby rendering them virtually ineffective.

All possibilities of fair inquiries and justice for the victims are being sabotaged by transfers of police officers crucial to investigations.

Thus, V.M. Parghi, the deputy commissioner of police of Ahmedabad city, who was in charge of the investigations into the worst brutalities at Naroda-Patia and the Gulbarg housing society, has been shifted. His transfer follows those of additional commissioner of police Surolia and many other officers whom the government does not trust enough.

Then comes the calculated sabotage of the legal judicial procedure. Ridiculously, most of the lawyers appointed by the government as public prosecutors to frame the charges are civil lawyers, with little or no experience of criminal cases.

Obviously, their chargesheets, as and when they come, will fall far short of the requirement for conviction, says a lawyer, one of the few who have braved threats to their lives to take up cases for victimised Muslim families.

“Even a leading lawyer like Girish Patel was threatened,” says the lawyer who is unwilling to be identified.

The “action” farce, therefore, is not amusing. In fact, fear still stalks most people willing to fight state terror.

“Soon after the riots in the 1990s, we were able to organise peace conventions in the open where thousands of people participated. This time, not one such meeting could be held publicly even two-and-a-half months after the killings. Such is the atmosphere of fear,” says Hanif Lakdawala, a well-known doctor, who is a leading member of the Citizens’ Initiative, which is independently probing the killings.

Right now, though, Muslim organisations and civil rights groups are more worried over the process of relief and rehabilitation. The government wants to close the camps as early as possible, although conditions are not quite right for the refugees of violence to go back to their homes, particularly in areas around Ahmedabad.

Gujarat High Court has allowed the camps to be there up to May 31. The schools reopen next month and parents of both Hindu and Muslim students are afraid to send their wards to schools in areas dominated by the “other” community.

Despite Modi’s claim of normality returning to the state, insecurity and the fear of fresh violence still hang heavy on Gujarat.

   

 
 
HOMEWORK DONE, JOSHI ON JOB HUNT 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, May 19: 
The Sangh parivar is happy with Murli Manohar Joshi’s “performance”.

The human resources development minister had been in the eye of a storm since he took charge, with the Opposition and a section of the academia keeping up the heat on him over an agenda that is the Sangh’s very own: saffronisation of education.

But sources said Joshi wants a change in portfolio. His initial drive seems to be missing, they said. “Most probably he wants a change of charge.”

Joshi, according to some, has set his sights on the finance ministry and at one time, speculation was rife that he may actually replace Yashwant Sinha. But his name seems to have disappeared from the latest list of possible Sinha substitutes.

There are indications, insiders said, that Joshi’s “heart” has gone out of the ministry. He is no longer holding news conferences or announcing policy decisions one after the other — like he once used to. The last time he made a major policy announcement was on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan — a programme for universalisation of education.

After the Gujarat violence shadowed all other issues, Joshi went slow on the saffronisation agenda. His detractors believe he wanted to spare the government additional headache — his ministry had already sparked too many controversies.

“But Joshi has achieved what the RSS wanted him to do. He has packed major educational institutions with “his men” — changed the school curriculum — and gone about aggressively defending the new syllabus,” said an academic. This is the kind of man the RSS wanted to head the human resources ministry.

They were happy that unlike some others in the Union Cabinet, Joshi always played on the front foot when the Opposition splayed him with charges of “ideological indoctrination”.

“He does not really care what people say — he does what he has to do,” said a source.

With his support, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) director, J.S. Rajput, had managed to ram through a school syllabus that was opposed by almost all chief ministers barring those of the BJP. And in this bitter row, Joshi had played a crucial role, persistently denouncing Left-liberal academics like Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, Arjun Dev and scuttling textbooks authored by them.

Joshi, however, received a jolt when the Supreme Court clamped down on the use of the new textbooks in Hindi and History — a dispute that is still hanging.

Left academics pointed out that Joshi has got rid of the old guard in research institutes like the Indian Council of Historical Studies, the Indian Council of Social Science Research and Simla’s Institute of Advance Studies.

More than half his job accomplished, Joshi, it is believed, wants to move on to “greener pastures” from where he can position himself for a higher political office. It is known that the human resources minister has been long hankering for the BJP president’s post. His bitterness with home minister L.K. Advani in this regard has been common knowledge as well.

   

 
 
GOA HOPEFULS CHAFE AT SONIA MINISTER CEILING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 19: 
Congressmen from Goa have a simple mantra for success in the Assembly polls. They want AICC chief Sonia Gandhi to declare that there will be no ceiling on the number of ministers if the Congress comes to power in the state.

The Goa polls are scheduled for May 30 and Sonia will launch her campaign in Panaji on May 23. She will visit Goa again on May 26.

In 1999, the Congress had bagged 23 of the 40 seats in the Assembly. But, hit by defection, the party soon had to hand over power to the BJP. The BJP, too, became a victim of defections, resulting in fresh elections being called within two years.

Last week, deputy chief minister Ravi S. Naik of the BJP switched to the Congress. Along with him, two other BJP MLAs — Sanjay Bandekar and Ramakant Khalap — now figure in the Congress list.

In the 1999 manifesto, Sonia had announced that the size of the ministry would not exceed 15 per cent of the size of the government. But party MLAs felt frustrated at the ceiling that did not allow more than six ministers, in addition to the chief minister.

This time around, pressure is mounting on Sonia not to insist on the size of the new ministry in case the party returns to power.

There are five former chief ministers — Pratap Singh Rane, Francisco Sardinha, Churchill Alemao, Ravi Naik and Ramakant Khalap — in the Congress list of candidates. While the race for the chief minister is wide open, the aspirants hope to become at least ministers. Other important leaders like state unit chief Niramla Sawant will be a candidate for a ministerial berth from the women’s quota.

The MLAs from the BJP also claim they have come to a broad understanding with the local leadership that they will be considered for ministerial berths.

The defection of Naik sent shockwaves in the state BJP, forcing the central leadership to ask junior shipping minister Shipad Naik to resign from the Centre to take him on at Ponda.

Political observers, however, point at Goa’s peculiar trend where defection is not an issue in the Assembly polls. Leaders like Khalap, Alemao, Sardinha and Naik have defected several times. Yet, in their constituencies — Mandrem, Benaulim, Curtorim and Ponda — they continue to be formidable.

The BJP leadership has cited several reasons for Naik’s defection. They said he switched sides under pressure from his Muslim voters in Ponda who were upset with the BJP’s stand on the Gujarat carnage.

Even among the Christians, there was a sense of insecurity over the Gujarat riots, prompting fence-sitters to change loyalties.

   

 
 
ADVANI REMINDS US OF BUSH PROMISE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 19: 
Home minister L.K. Advani is encashing a post-dated cheque signed by President George W. Bush, which he has been holding since January.

If the cheque is honoured, it may yet prevent an armed encounter between India and Pakistan from being triggered by last week’s terrorist attack in Jammu.

When US ambassador Robert Blackwill called on Advani on Thursday, the home minister reminded the envoy of what he was told by Bush at their meeting here in January.

Bush expected Musharraf to “take all necessary steps in fighting terror. He has done it in the case of the Taliban... expects him to do it in the case of India, abandon terror as an instrument of state policy”.

That was precisely what the President had told Advani then. The time had now come to call to account this commitment by the US President, the home minister told Blackwill.

The results of Advani’s meeting with the US envoy are already being felt here. Blackwill is one of the few American ambassadors who can pick up the phone and call Bush directly: he is one of the “Vulcans”, who finessed the Bush campaign’s foreign policy during the presidential race in 2000.

Therefore, it did not come as a surprise that within hours of the Advani-Blackwill talks on Thursday, state department spokesman Richard Boucher used a key word in his briefing, which the Americans use only very sparingly.

“An important concern in the process (of trying to make peace in South Asia) has always been to end the infiltration into Kashmir, but it is one of those subjects we discuss as we discuss how they can generally reduce tensions and enter into a dialogue.”

Administration officials are reluctant to talk about infiltration into Kashmir lest it should offend Pakistan, which may view the use of the word as an endorsement of Indian allegations of cross-border terrorism.

US spokesmen have referred to infiltration into Kashmir before, but only under grave provocation and in pursuit of specific American diplomatic initiatives between India and Pakistan.

When US assistant secretary of state for South Asia Christina Rocca was in India in April, she was persistently questioned at her news conference in New Delhi about infiltration, but she withstood the barrage of questions and refused to discuss the subject.

For this reason, Boucher’s reference to infiltration shortly after Advani met Blackwill has not been missed here.

Advani told The New York Times in an interview that he had repeatedly been assured by American officials — up to and including President Bush — that the US would attend to India’s concerns about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism once Afghanistan had been dealt with, but nothing had changed for India.

Advani was quoted by the paper as having told Blackwill: “Suppose the Americans were to tell Pakistan that we are convinced you are continuing with cross-border terrorism against India, and unless you stop we will declare you a terrorist state? Consequences would follow that Pakistan just doesn’t have the guts to bear. I am not able to understand why you don’t do that.”

Details emerging here of the Advani-Blackwill meeting also suggest that the Indian leadership has concluded that if any successful pressure has to be applied on Pakistan, the initiative for such pressure has to come from the US President, not at any lower levels or through routine diplomacy.

India is disappointed that just over a week before the latest terrorist attack in Kashmir, Richard Armitage, the No. II man in the state department, had said in a newspaper interview that infiltration into Kashmir had come down.

Though Armitage qualified his statement by guessing if this had anything to do with weather conditions, the statement was in direct contradiction to the views of external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.

All this may suggest a throwback to 1999 when Bill Clinton intervened to force Pakistan to pull back from Kargil. But whether the present occupant of the White House is in a position to do the same because of his other domestic and foreign policy compulsions is what will determine the course of American involvement in South Asia’s latest crisis.

   

 
 
AN AMBASSADOR FOR CALCUTTA CUISINE 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, May 19: 
One of London’s top Indian chefs, who is offering Chingri Maacher Kobiraji Cutlet, Kankrar Jhol, Boal Maacher Ganga-Jamuna, Nizami Behari Kebab of Dharmatalla and Bhapa Doi as part of a three-week festival of Calcutta cuisi-ne, has set himself up as the “ambassador of Bengali food” in Britain.

The Taj group-trained Udit Sarkhel, 43, who used to be the executive chef of the famed Bombay Brasserie before he started his own restaurant, Sarkhel’s Indian Cuisine in Southfields, south-west London, is taking his mission to introduce the best of home-style Bengali food very seriously indeed.

For Sarkhel, promoting Calcutta cuisine is not merely a stunt to pull in more customers since on most nights he has to turn people away, anyway, so heavy is the demand for his lovingly-cooked recipes.

He feels Punjabi food dominates Britain, Kerala-style cooking is also making headway and that it is time that the favourite dishes from his childhood days among the bamboo groves of Cooch Behar and later from restaurants discovered when he was a student in Calcutta at the City College hostel in Amherst Street and at St Xavier’s, Park Street were put on the culinary map of England. “I am very proud of my Bengali heritage,” Sarkhel said, as he talked of outings to a restaurant called Anadi Cabin in north Calcutta.

It is no matter than the idealised vision of his boyhood Bengal may have been overtaken by fast wives feeding families on fast food. But Sarkhel — who could justifiably lay claim to being perhaps the best Indian chef in Britain — is widely respected by his peers. And he is determined that, at least in culinary terms, there should be one little corner of London which should remain forever Calcutta.

Cometh the hour, cometh the chef and he was prepared, he declared, to take on the responsibility for being the ambassador of Bengali cuisine. “I self-appointed myself without being asked,” he laughed. “There is a demand for good food and Bengali cuisine is very good.”

The menu currently included under the cuisine is small but carefully selected. “The whole idea of my making these menus is to portray the Bengali home etiquette of eating,” he said.

The pre-meal drink is Daabe kamla-lebu. One of the non-vegetarian starters is Chingri Maacher Kobiraji Cutlet. “A Kobiraji cutlet you would normally see made of minced mutton but Chingri Maacher Kobiraji Cutlet is something you would not find in people’s homes purely because Bengalis like to be absolutely sure of the freshness of the prawns,” he said.

Another starter is Mangshor Ghugni and a third is Aloo Chop. “For the main courses I have done a Kankrar Jhol. The second item is Boal Maacher Ganga-Jamuna. It is something which only eight or 10 households in Calcutta can boast of cooking.”

The third item, Murgi aar Bansher Korol, is from his childhood days in Cooch Behar. He recalled: “The fourth item is Nizami Behari Kebab, which is something typical of the Nizam restaurant in Calcutta.”

He is keen to educate the Bri-tish that “Bangladeshi cuisine”, as offered by restaurants in the UK, does not represent genuine Bengali cooking or even that of Bangladesh. “I think Bengali cu-isine has not caught on because it has not been exposed to the public. It is as if the cuisine has not had an ambassador. I think it will catch on if we have people who can cook Bengali food.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 37.9°C (+2)
Minimum: 29.1°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 91%
Min: 60%

Sunrise: 4.57 am

Sunset: 6.09 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of the development of thunderclouds around evening or night
   
 

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