Murder of Valley’s sane voice
Bugle for Gujarat corps
18 more die in heat wave
Cannes crush for stern Sushma
Devdas in Cannes with all songs intact
PM pledges to end war suspense
Delhi tracks plot trail to PoK
Iran plays Atal emissary
Car immunity for creamy layer
Calcutta Weather

Srinagar, May 21: 
In a deadly strike on peace efforts in Kashmir, moderate Kashmiri leader Abdul Gani Lone was gunned down by unidentified assailants at the end of a rally at the martyrs’ graveyard here this evening.

A senior leader of the separatist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, Lone was shot by two masked gunmen at the rally, in memory of another assassinated Kashmiri leader, was breaking up at Idd Gah.

Hurriyat spokesman Abdul Majid Bandey said the assassination was a “deep conspiracy” aimed at scuttling the “saner voice” of the Kashmiri people and its leadership. It would have a “far-reaching impact on the political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Lone, 70, leaves behind his wife, two sons and two daughters.

The murder of Lone, who recently favoured participation of separatist leaders in the coming polls, comes exactly a week after the militant attack on an army camp near Jammu, where over 30 people died, and as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee began his three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir.

New Delhi sees it as another blow from Pakistan-supported militants to its efforts to escort Kashmir back into the democratic process. The assassination will also ratchet up tension on the border where troops are massed on both sides amid war-like noises by India.

Vajpayee, who reached Jammu this evening, expressed shock and anguish. “The killing will affect the ongoing peace process in Jammu and Kashmir in which moderates are involved. But it will not be a setback,” he said.

Pakistan, condemning the murder, blamed the Indian security forces.

US secretary of state Colin Powell described it as a “direct attack on hopes for a fair political process in Kashmir”. “This was a terrorist act designed to undermine the hopes of the Kashmiri people for free and fair elections.”

Nearly 8,000 people had gathered at the mausoleum of the Kashmir Mirwaiz, Moulvi Mohammad Farooq, on his 12th death anniversary this afternoon. On this day in 1990, Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq was gunned down. His funeral procession was later fired upon by the CRPF, which resulted in the death of 35 people.

Shouting pro-freedom slogans, thousands of people marched today under the leadership of his son, Mirwaiz Moulvi Omar Farooq, and other Hurriyat leaders. At the Idd Gah, two groups of people clashed over slogans that were seen as either pro-India or pro-Pakistan.

As Lone was leaving the rally and moving towards his car escorted by his security guards, the two gunmen, who, witnesses said, were wearing police uniform, opened fire. Shot in the chest, Lone was taken away in a critical condition to Soura Medical Institute, but was declared dead on arrival. The witnesses said he was reciting from the Koran when he was shot.

His personal security officer Mushtaq Ahmad also died. Another guard and two civilians, who suffered injuries in the shooting, were being treated in a hospital. Witnesses said a grenade was also lobbed by the gunmen, but did not explode. Both gunmen escaped.

Lone had returned from the US, where he had gone for treatment of his heart ailment, only a few days ago. Before going to the US, he had attended a conference at Dubai along with Omar Farooq and the former prime minister of Pak-occupied Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Quyoom Khan.

The conference, which had asked militants to stop their activities, had favoured a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem.

But it split the Hurriyat into two groups with the hardliners dissociating themselves from the Dubai declaration. Despite their differences, the Hurriyat leaders had gathered yesterday at a local hotel for a seminar.

Lone’s body was brought later to his Rawalpura residence where thousands of people assembled after hearing the news.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardliner, faced an angry outburst from the thousands who had gathered in front of Lone’s residence at Rawalpura. He was prevented by the assassinated leader’s supporters from visiting the house.

Lone’s son, Sajid, who is married to Pakistan-based JKLF chief Amanullah Khan’s daughter Asma, said: “(The) ISI is behind the killing of my father.”


New Delhi, May 21: 
The army has ordered its troops out of Gujarat and into operational locations in a move that reflects the demands of the forces rather than the situation in the state.

“Some Indian Army formations and units, earlier diverted from Operation Parakram (the forward deployment of the forces since December) for internal security duties in Gujarat, have been relieved of these duties post haste and they have started moving to their operational locations.

“Such a move has been undertaken keeping in view the emerging security scenario post 14 May 2002 terrorist attack at Kaluchak,” said an army headquarters statement today.

The army had deployed two brigades (about 6,000 soldiers) from the early morning of March 1, first by mobilising reserves from Secunderabad and other places and later by replacing them with units of the regular 11 Infantry Division based in Ahmedabad.

Over the past fortnight, one brigade was phased out of internal security duties. Even the remaining brigade has been mostly on stand-by in the barracks for nearly a month. Today’s order redeploys the remaining brigade to locations under the Jodhpur-headquartered 12 (desert) Corps of the army.

It is significant that the rationale behind the move is not so much the situation in Gujarat but the demands of the forces in the taut security scenario. It also signals that the doctrine advocated by military planners in recent years — of a limited conventional war restricted to the Line of Control — is being severely tested. Already, there were reports this morning — later denied by the army — that the shelling and firing had extended to the international boundary in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.

Despite talk and speculation of “surgical strikes” and “hot pursuit”, the preparations of the forces are for a full-fledged war, and not for a Kargil-type situation alone.

The sweep of military preparations has brought in its fold the navy and the air force.

The director-general (shipping) has issued an order to all merchant lines registered in India and with vessels in the Indian Ocean region to keep the navy posted on positions and routes.

The notification also has a provision that says the navy can alter the routes of merchant vessels if required.

The air force, which carried out an exercise today in the Ganganar-Bikaner area of Rajasthan with the army’s 2 (strike) Corps, has also progressively re-inducted nearly all the MiG-21 type-75 aircraft of training squadrons that it had grounded after the Jalandhar crash earlier this month. A little over 100 aircraft in six squadrons were grounded for checks and re-checks after repeated engine flame-outs.

Military watchers are somewhat surprised by the rhetoric that has accompanied the preparations and the fact that they are so publicised. Some of the statements that do not disguise the preparations — like L.K. Advani’s assertion yesterday that the war book was being consulted — have come from the top echelons of the military-security establishment.

The flurry of military activity — and more is likely in the immediate term — could be a tactic to confuse the adversary in the situation of familiarity that has arisen with prolonged forward deployment and for historical reasons. But it is anybody’s guess if the rhetoric of war can be a substitute for war itself.


Calcutta, May 21: 
A day after the record-busting heat, the temperature dropped by over a degree, but 18 more people died in south Bengal, three of them in Calcutta.

With today’s deaths, the toll in the two-day heat wave, during which the mercury touched a 23-year high yesterday at 43 degrees Celsius in Calcutta, is now 25. The maximum temperature recorded in the city today was 41.7, still six degrees above normal.

As Monday’s dry west wind blowing over the central Indian plains shifted course towards the south to move over the Bay of Bengal and collect sea moisture, some of it turning back towards land in south Bengal, humidity levels rose. Minimum humidity was 21 per cent yesterday, but by 5.30 pm today it rose to 65 per cent.

Throughout the day, massive power cuts tormented south Bengal districts following the collapse of a number of generating units.

Ten people died in Murshidabad, three in Burdwan and two in Paschim Midnapore. Most of those who died in Murshidabad were farmers harvesting crop.

Although the warning of a moderate heat wave remains in place for tomorrow with an expected maximum temperature of 41 degrees, the Alipore weather office chief, R.N. Goldar, held out hopes of rains. “A further fall in temperature is likely tomorrow and the humidity is likely to increase due to growing moisture in the air,” he added.

Three upper air cyclonic circulations have developed over Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. “The situation is becoming favourable for formation of thunderclouds over Jharkhand, coastal Orissa and south Bengal. If this condition prevails, a norwester is likely tomorrow evening or Thursday,” said meteorologist T.K. Chakraborty.


Cannes, May 21: 
India will have a growing presence in Cannes every year from now on, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj told The Telegraph, giving a firm undertaking on behalf of Delhi.

Between 2001, when she had visited Cannes for the first time and introduced an Indian pavilion, and this year, Indian cinema had taken a “quantum jump”, she said.

Swaraj sat in the Indian pavilion today, chatting happily with film folk while the yachts of millionaires and playboys bobbed lazily behind her in the Mediterranean sunshine. A few sunbathers lay on the sand.

On Monday evening at the Carlton, the premiere Carlton — the hotel’s two dark upturned domes, local landmarks, are said to have been inspired by female breasts — she hosted the India Day reception.

Guests included senior French festival officials plus a who’s who from the Indian film world — Aishwarya Rai, in purple sari, green eyes and skimpy blouse; Preity Zinta, pretty and fresh-faced; and Shekhar Kapur, the only one in the formally attired audience to wear trainers. “Hi, Shekhar,” the minister called out to him.

There were several heavy hitters — Randhir Kapoor (who is here for the retrospective to his father, labelled Prince of Bollywood by the French); Subhash Ghai; Yash Chopra; Amit Khanna (representing the industry); and Yash Johar.

Karan Johar was there, too. Ashok Amritraj represented the Indian boy who had made good in Hollywood. “I met the minister on the plane from London to Cannes — she said you must come to the party,” he explained.

“My impressions of Cannes are beautiful,” said Swaraj, washing down a samosa with orange juice (others had champagne). “That’s why I have come. I have brought India to this beautiful market.”

Could she be the same strict lady who had revealed an authoritarian streak by strongly objecting to a sneak TV glimpse of a nipple on the catwalk? Perhaps she had been seduced by the glamour of Cannes.

She smiled sweetly, as though garlic butter would not melt in her mouth.

“Neither that was extreme, nor is this extreme,” she said reasonably. “I have been doing what should be done because Indian cinema has a great potential and the government must be a pro-active facilitator to showcase that cinema. Cannes, being the largest market of cinema, Indian cinema must be sold here. That’s what I am doing here. For the other end, you are free to choose your words but I don’t think I was, in any way, authoritarian.”

She confided: “I don’t get time to watch movies but if I get time I would love to watch (more). In recent years, these good films I have seen — Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.”

Should she be given some credit for the enhanced Indian presence here?

“I think that is fair comment. It is a quantum jump from the last year. Till last year, only one stall of NFDC used to be in Cannes. But last year we set up an Indian pavilion and had a new beginning. Last time, it was a very humble beginning.”

She went on: “This time, I asked the industry to have a joint participation with government. I was expecting 30 to 40 people, but there are 110. It is a very large participation from India.”

Sushma had been enthusiastically received by French festival officials. “Last time, I had a 45-minute meeting with the chairman, Gilles Jacob,” she pointed out. “It is a good initiative that he is paying homage to one legendary film personality from India, Raj Kapoor. But this time, there is not only a large presence in terms of people but in terms of films as well.”

The minister knew her stuff. “We are screening seven films from India in different sections, three of Raj Kapoorji, one world premiere of Devdas, and one film from our film school, Khoj, and two short films, one by Manu Rewal, Hollywood ki Pukar, and another by Manish Jha, A Very, Very Silent Film.”

She added: “I am here for three days. I think a beginning has been made. Now things have become institutionalised. Now the setting up of pavilion will be there every year. The business will be created, films will be sent. The mechanism has been institutionalised. It does not matter who is there as a minister or not.”

She and the government were committed to Cannes. “That is why I am doing it. I am serious.”


Cannes, May 21: 
Sanjay Leela Bhansali said today that the screening of Devdas at the Cannes Film Festival was “a very big moment for Indian commercial cinema”.

To the relief of the festival organisers, who had worried whether the director would arrive in time with the master copy of his film, Bhansali slipped quietly into town last night.

Although he had vowed not to discuss Devdas until after the official screening on Thursday, he relented and spoke with rare passion about the film.

He had been out of touch, he said, because he was doing post production “till the last”.

“I just managed to get it out and just managed to get here,” he told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview.

His initial reaction to Cannes, which he was visiting for the first time, was positive. “I love this place. I love this spirit, I love the warmth. It’s very comfortable and casual, yet your evenings are very formal. It’s nice.”

He spoke of the agony he had experienced. “I am very proud of this film,” he confided. “It has tested my inner strength so much. I was suffering every day of making this film. The entire unit stood by me. We have gone through hell making this film. So for us it is a moment of great pride. It’s over, it’s ready.”

Devdas is getting an official screening out of competition at Cannes — the first Bollywood movie to be so honoured.

However, Bhansali did not want the burden of history on his shoulders. “After years of not changing to the last, however much we were not accepted in the West in the big award ceremonies — we were laughed at, looked down upon — we did not change what we believed in, we continued doing our songs and dances. It is a big moment for us because even at Cannes, Devdas is being shown with all its songs. It’s glorious Hindi cinema. They have come down to accept us.”

He did not want to be compared with Sachin Tendulkar, on whose performance India depended so often for victory. “Poor Tendulkar! I don’t want to be in Tendulkar’s shoes,” he laughed.

He admitted he was apprehensive. “Nervous, yes definitely, because it is going to be screened before the Indian release. The reviews that will go out from here will matter a lot; nervous because it the first time that a Hindi film is being shown. A lot of the future of Hindi cinema being shown at Cannes will depend on how this one is received to a great extent. Nervous because it is a labour of love, being shown after two-and-a-half years of complete anguish. We have made this film against all odds. It is very dear to me.”

He added: “Our kind of melodrama, our kind of song and dance treatment, our kind of expression of emotions which is slightly high-pitched, has been accepted. It is wonderful they want to see more of it. It is also making Indian filmmakers more aware, a little sharper. We have really improved technically a lot.”

Asked about the earlier version starring Dilip Kumar, Bhansali said: “Bimal Roy’s a genius. I love Bimal Roy’s work a lot but I feel it would be wrong to compare the two films because this film has been treated completely differently. It is the way Raj Kapoor made his films — it is on a more lavish scale. To compare Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan would be unfair to both.”

He talked of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel. “I read the novel again and again. But I have made a lot of changes. I have interpreted the novel in my own way.”

He went on: “What he talks about — love — is timeless. I don’t know how people will react to the film because they identify Devdas with black and white.”

He praised Shah Rukh Khan’s performance. “It’s so wonderful, so delicate. It’s time he did something different. Shah Rukh has given everything he has to this film.” He confirmed Shah Rukh would be coming to Cannes.

On what Devdas meant to Indians, Bhansali said: “Devdas is such an important part of the Indian man’s psyche. Every Indian man wants to be like Devdas. He wants to love a woman the way Devdas did. He wants to destroy himself in the purity of love. In every street in India, you will find 20 Devdases — identical characters.”

Had he considered a happy ending? Bhansali looked offended. “Certainly not,” he shot back. “Forget Cannes. I wouldn’t get entry in Dadar.”


Jamuu, May 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee landed here this evening amid heavy shelling in the Jammu-Poonch sector with a promise that he would announce a decision on the “war clouds” hovering over India before his departure for New Delhi.

Vajpayee will be in the state for the next two days.

Mein to war ke upar vapas jane se pehle decision announce karunga (I’ll announce a decision on the war before returning),” he said.

Vajpayee arrived here around 6.50 pm and immediately left for the 166 Military Base Hospital in Kaluchak to meet people injured in the May 14 terrorist attack. He said he would first visit the border areas, mix with the people and hold talks with the administration and law and order agencies before taking a decision.

He, however, parried a direct reply on a war with Pakistan. When asked about the war clouds looming over the horizon, a smiling Vajpayee said: “Aasmaan saf hai (the sky is clear),” pointing at the sky before leaving for the military hospital.

He said the jawans injured in the terrorist attack wanted to go to the battlefield despite the state they were in. “In zakhmi jawano ne kaha ki hum jang larne ke liye taiyyar hain, hame hukm do (these injured jawans told me, ‘we are ready to fight a war, just give us the orders),” the Prime Minister said.

During his visit to the hospital, Vajpayee said he was shocked at the way the terrorists had “engineered” the brutal attack on women and children.

He warned that those carrying out “inhuman attacks” on innocents “will not be forgiven. They will be punished severely.”

The Prime Minister was accompanied by defence minister George Fernandes, Union ministers Chaman Lal Gupta and Vijay Goel and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. The GOC 16 Corps, General Yadava, and director-general of police Ashok Suri accompanied him to the military hospital at Kaluchak and stayed with the injured for 45 minutes.

Later at the Raj Bhavan, the Prime Minister chaired three meetings, including a citizens’ and a political meeting.

Abdullah blamed Pakistan for Lone’s killing and said the murder was orchestrated from across the border. Security has been beefed up for the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Jammu was barricaded and turned into a fortress for the Prime Minister’s visit. Massive security arrangements were made throughout the city and there was frisking at every point. Even journalists were not spared.


New Delhi, May 21: 
The government believes the decision to assassinate moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone was taken at a meeting of the command council of Pakistan-based militant leaders in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Officials of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence had called the meeting, which took place seven to 10 days ago, government sources said.

The sources claimed that the possibility of an attempt on Lone was known to Indian intelligence and was immediately conveyed to state agencies in Jammu and Kashmir. This raises the question of a security failure, but home ministry sources brush it aside. They said the personal security officer of Lone also died along with him. “How much security can one provide to public figures?” an official asked.

A state government official said he had no knowledge of any such information being passed to the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. “It is easy for the Centre to make these remarks after the event. This is called passing the buck,” he said.

The official added that most Hurriyat leaders had complained about uniformed gun-wielding policemen accompanying them to public places. “If there was really such a threat, Lone would have been warned and we were willing to provide him with more guards.”

Officials familiar with Kashmir say the assassination could become the turning point for militancy in the state, suggesting a backlash as Lone was a popular and respected leader. The home ministry expects the manner of his death to evoke revulsion among people, indications of which, they believe, will be available from tomorrow itself through bandhs and public processions. A bandh has been called tomorrow.

Lone was disillusioned with militancy and wanted a solution to the Kashmir problem in consonance with the wishes of the people. He and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq had travelled to Dubai to hold consultations with other moderate leaders of PoK, the foremost among them being Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan.

After the consultations, Lone went on record to say that foreign militants were no longer welcome in the state and that guns could not solve the Kashmir problem. Lone and Mirwaiz had come out against jihad as a means of achieving their political goal. Militant groups were afraid he might even participate in the coming polls amid signs that the Hurriyat leader was trying to revive his party, the People’s Conference.

Finger-pointing at Delhi is expected to follow the assassination. But government sources believe that in the heart of their hearts Kashmiris will know pro-Pakistan militants had committed the murder.

Delhi would, however, be more fearful of the longer-term, and more dangerous, impact the killing could have on other moderate leaders like Mirwaiz, Shabir Shah and Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, who could legitimately feel threatened.


New Delhi, May 21: 
Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazzi today left for Islamabad on an unscheduled visit but with a clear message from Delhi: take steps to stop cross-border terrorism or face war.

Kharazzi’s decision to go to Pakistan came after a series of meetings with the Indian leadership, including a 45-minute closed-door discussion with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the security situation in South Asia. Iran, leader of the Shia world and a key Islamic country, is close to both Pakistan and India.

Sources said Vajpayee conveyed to Kharazzi Delhi’s concern over Islamabad’s “unwillingness and incapacity” to end cross-border terrorism while making it clear that the situation could not continue and that India would have to take steps to defend its people.

Though the exact content of the message is not being talked about, it is clear from Vajpayee’s remarks that India is set to take tough measures, including military action, against terrorists based in Pakistan unless Islamabad takes immediate and visible steps to end cross-border violence.

Kharazzi, who arrived here on Sunday, led his side at the two-day Joint Commission meeting with India which concluded this afternoon. Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Iranian counterpart are the two co-chairmen of the commission, a forum which gives the political leadership of the two countries the opportunity to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations.

When Kharazzi called on him this afternoon, Vajpayee told him of India’s “legitimate concerns”.

The Prime Minister referred to the series of attacks in the past one year, including the one in Jammu last Tuesday, to make the point that infiltration and terrorist violence were on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir. More than 30 people, including families of soldiers, were killed in the bloodiest strike in the region since last year’s assault on the state Assembly.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said Iran has condemned the Jammu attack and like “all like-minded countries”, shown understanding of India’s concerns and its approach to deal with the situation.

Rao denied that Delhi had taken a belligerent stand and was pushing Pakistan to another war. “We have done what every other right-thinking country would have done for the defence of the nation and its citizens,” she said. “In the process, we are going to determine the steps we need to take.”

Rao argued that nobody wanted war. “But we are looking at a situation generated by certain factors. We are trying to tell Pakistan that this situation cannot go on indefinitely,” she said, summing up what Vajpayee would have told the Iranian leader before he left for Pakistan.

In the sphere of trade, a memorandum of understanding between Ficci and the Iranian Chamber of Commerce was signed during the day. The Joint Commission meeting also discussed ways of better cooperation on information technology, energy and transport.


Chennai, May 21: 
Jayalalithaa, the tough-talking reformist chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has blinked to keep the creamy layer of the bureaucracy mobile at state expense.

Her government has virtually shelved a proposal that would have forced all officials barring one category to give up their office cars and take their own vehicles to work.

The government has now come up with a diluted scheme that grants immunity to several top officials. Others will have to replace their office cars with personal ones for which they will be given a monthly allowance of Rs 12,000.

The original scheme was recommended by the Staff and Expenditure Reforms Commission, headed by former IAS officer A.M. Swaminathan. The commission has suggested that the government “needs to shift the ownership of vehicles to the officers and grant appropriate allowance” to them. All official vehicles to all categories of officers, barring field level officers, “may be withdrawn”, the report said.

The panel came up with a personal car for official use scheme to compensate the officials. Under the scheme, those entitled to an office vehicle could buy a car of their choice through loans from banks or financial institutions. It suggested a loan ceiling of Rs 4 lakh for a new car or Rs 2 lakh for a second-hand one.

The government was supposed to bear the interest for the loans, subject to a ceiling, and the loan for a new and old car could be repaid in five and three years, respectively. The scheme also allows officials to replace their vehicles after the repayment period was over with fresh bank loans.

The scheme would have allowed the officials to avail of a fuel and maintenance allowance of Rs 1,500 a month. An allowance for a driver has also been envisaged under the scheme.

However, fearing backlash from bureaucrats, the government watered down the radical recommendation.

The administration issued an order stating that officers under seven categories — a wide spectrum in the state bureaucracy — would continue to have state vehicles. The “protected” group includes chief secretary and officers of chief secretary grade, officers in the grade of special commissioner/DGP/ADGP, all secretaries to the government, all heads of departments, district collectors, field-level functionaries in key departments, including transport, officers handling law and order, fire services and health care.

However, vehicles given to officers not included in the stated categories “shall be withdrawn”, the order said. Instead, they would be required to own a vehicle with a monthly allowance of Rs 12,000, inclusive of driver’s salary and fuel costs.

But the lower levels have not been spared the reforms broom. The government has decided to outsource through contractors a host of Class IV functionaries such as watchmen, sweepers, scavengers and hospital workers. Only office assistants have been exempted from the new order.


May 21: 


Maximum: 41.7°C (+6)
Minimum: 30.9°C (+4)



Relative Humidity

Minimum: 27%

Sunrise: 4.56 am

Sunset: 6.10 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of the development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening

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