Bush puts Musharraf on test
Remote-controlled terror enters Bengal
Rebellion engulfs Joshi syllabus
Kosovo cash brings out courage
Size does not matter, crows missile-high Pak
Farmers’ hostages set free
Punjab officials to challenge sack order
Mumbai’s Muchhad puts paan on Net
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 26: 
A day before going on television, President Pervez Musharraf received what sounded like an ultimatum from the US to carry through his promise to stop infiltration into India.

“I’m more concerned about making sure… that President Musharraf shows results in terms of stopping people from crossing the Line of Control,” President George W. Bush said while also commenting on Pakistan’s missile tests.

He said the US had expressed concern over the tests, but added that he was more interested in seeing Musharraf act against terrorists. “Stopping terrorism. That is more important than the missile testing.”

Secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice weighed in with heavy doses of reminders that Musharraf was on trial and that the responsibility of heading off a war rested entirely with him. And the advice today came without the backpatting Washington customarily reserves for its ally in the fight against terror.

“We are looking for evidence that the infiltration across the Line of Control has stopped…I am not satisfied that we have seen that yet but we are looking very closely,” Powell said.

Washington turned up the heat as Pakistan confirmed that Musharraf would address the nation tomorrow and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee hinted that India might have made a mistake by listening to international calls for restraint on earlier occasions.

Almost in a tone of regret, he said India should have launched armed action against Pakistan after the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament.

“The day the attack on Parliament took place they should have got a response from India. But the world said whatever has happened was bad, was wrong and should not have happened.

“Please keep patient...these things will not be repeated from now on. But such incidents continued,” Vajpayee, holidaying in Manali, said.

Latent in the statement was the message that India is not prepared to suffer the same disappointment a second time by heeding appeals to show restraint, though they may come with large dollops of praise.

Rice said the US believed that India had undertaken certain obligations and that it would continue to act in a statesmanlike manner. “We have been pleased that thus far Prime Minister Vajpayee has done exactly that. So we expect the two sides to act responsibly here.”

Appreciation of India’s restraint was accompanied with a rap on the knuckle for Pakistan for conducting missile tests. “We don’t see any point in it,” she said.

Pakistan conducted its second missile test in as many days by firing the Ghaznavi, which has a range of 290 km, and said the question of a country’s size had become meaningless after the series of successful firings. Yesterday, it had tested the Ghauri and there are indications that Shaheen II, capable of hitting any Indian city with a range of 2,000 to 2,500 km, is in the pipeline.

India dismissed the event thus: “It is not testing its missiles, but is flaunting them. And, by doing so, it is catering to the domestic audience.” But it pointed out that the missiles were acquired clandestinely from elsewhere and not made in Pakistan.

Though the rhetoric continued to be harsh, Delhi is eagerly waiting to see what Musharraf offers in his national address.

The tone of Vajpayee’s televised speech was firm, but not as belligerent as the one last week when he told troops India must be ready for a “decisive fight”.

“There is a limit to our patience and tolerance. The efforts that are going on, we will see to what extent they bear fruit, whether ongoing terrorism is stopped or not,” Vajpayee said.

Powell made it clear that Musharraf would have to prove to India that he was serious. “We have to watch and see whether that action (infiltration) will truly stop in a manner all of us can see, and especially the Indians can see.”


Siliguri, May 26: 
Instruments of terror usually seen in the extremist hotbeds of Kashmir and the Northeast made their first foray into Bengal today as militants used remote-controlled explosives to blow up a vehicle carrying paramilitary forces.

The attack occurred deep inside the insurgent-infested Buxa Tiger Reserve, injuring six CRPF jawans. Two of them are said to be in a critical condition.

After the blast, suspected militants of the Ulfa, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation battled the reinforcements rushed to the spot for six hours till noon.

The extremists also torched the century-old Bhutan Ghat forest bungalow, barely half-a-km inside the border, while retreating to their camps in Bhutan.

The bungalow was being converted into a CRPF camp in the wake of heightened insurgent activities in the area. The force was to have taken possession of the bungalow today and police suspect this could have triggered the attack.

Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Siddh Nath Gupta said the militants used powerful “remote-controlled” explosive devices for the first time in the state. State home secretary Amit Kiran Deb confirmed that the daring strike was the first on paramilitary forces in the state using such explosives.

Gupta and several other senior police officers, including Alipurduar additional superintendent R. Shivkumar, have gone with more forces to the site, about 14 km from Samuktala police station.

The incident happened around 8.30 am when a detachment of CRPF personnel — two officers and 16 jawans — stationed at the Turturi tea estate set off on a routine patrol towards the Bhutan Ghat hills.

The jeep had just crossed a narrow wooden bridge close to the border deep inside the Turturi forest. A mini-truck was about to follow when the bridge blew up, smashing the vehicle and injuring all its occupants, said CRPF commandant Navin Chandra Bhatt.

“Fuse wires and battery cells were recovered some 30 metres away from the bridge. A letter in Bodo language threatening the police strengthens suspicion that the militants belonged to the NDFB-Ulfa combine,” Gupta said. Deb pointed fingers at the KLO.

Ulfa, Bodo and Kamtapuri militants have relocated their camps across the border in Bhutan Ghat from the jungles in southern Bhutan following the December 31 deadline set by the Bhutan government for them to move out.


New Delhi, May 26: 
A curriculum mutiny that pitted more than half the states against the Centre exploded on human resources minister Murli Manohar Joshi today when as many as 16 ministers walked out of the annual general meeting of the country’s premier education council.

Led by West Bengal school education minister Kanti Biswas, the ministers from Opposition-ruled states charged Joshi with misleading Parliament and the Supreme Court which had stayed the new curriculum for Hindi, history and social science.

The court order had come on a public interest litigation that alleged that the syllabus proposed by the National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) was riddled with distortions and bias. The next Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for July 16.

At the NCERT meeting today, the ministers confronted Joshi, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the council, on his statement that all states had approved the new curriculum.

In a joint statement later, the state education ministers said: “The Union minister and the NCERT director have misled Parliament, the Supreme Court and the nation by asserting that the curriculum was discussed and approved at the NCERT meeting on December 30, 2000.”

The education ministers insisted that Joshi and NCERT director J.S. Rajput withdraw the statement.

But the human resources minister dismissed the charge of misrepresentation. “He said there was nothing wrong with the statement and that the curriculum document had been sent to all the states, discussed and debated,” Biswas said.

The Bengal minister said his department had sent a note opposing the curriculum and a discussion did not tantamount to approval. Biswas said Joshi was trying to pass off meetings and debates as a sign of consensus.

The row had echoes of another confrontation a few years ago when state education ministers, again led by Bengal, walked out of a Delhi meeting that began with a rendition of Saraswati Vandana.

But unlike then, the number of states ruled by the Opposition has swelled and that of Joshi’s party, the BJP, has shrunk now. If the Centre decides to push through the curriculum, the number of states it can bank on will be in a minority.

The education ministers declared that they would ignore the new curriculum till it was approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education.


Calcutta, May 26: 
Calcutta’s policemen — remember they could not fire when attacked by terrorists in front of the American Center in January — are rushing to join the international peace-keeping force at Kosovo.

The number of applicants, right from the rank of sub-inspector to that of assistant commissioner, who wanted to go to Kosovo to be part of the United Nations force, stumped senior officers this year.

The reason for the zeal: they expect to earn Rs 8 to 11 lakh on an assignment that can span nine months to a year.

A team of seven policemen — the fortunate ones among the hundreds of applicants — left under the leadership of an assistant commissioner earlier this month for Kosovo from Delhi by a UN chartered flight.

The seven selected this year are an assistant commissioner, Shyamal Mitra, traffic inspector S. Tiwari, Charu Market police station sub-inspector K. Sarkar, traffic sergeant B.S. Kejriwal, Burrabazar sub-inspector Sujit Chakroborty and two detective department sub-inspectors, Biswajit Roy and Somnath De.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for senior officers to choose who will win the lottery because of the rising tide of applications every year. In 1999, the first year the city police sent a team to Kosovo, there were only 20 applicants. This year, the number of was over 250, including ageing inspectors on the home stretch of their service, for duty that is not very different from the law-and-order responsibilities they have to shoulder here.

“It has now become well known that a posting in Kosovo can change the rest of an official’s life,” a senior Lalbazar officer said.

There are some who differ, like detective department chief Soumen Mitra, but that number is negligible. Mitra feels money is not the “only factor” and considerations like experience in international policing outweigh the attractive remuneration.

Explaining the financial aspect, a senior officer said each policeman gets $75 a day besides the basic salary of Rs 4,000 and allowances for sub-inspectors. “Every policeman returns with anything between Rs 8 and 11 lakh, an income that is completely tax-free,” he added.

Taltala sub-inspector Partha Mukherjee, who went to Kosovo in 2000, cannot get over his ‘experience’.

“I returned with Rs 9.5 lakh,” he said. “The money a policeman can bring from Kosovo depends entirely on his standard of living there.”

Applicants have to write an examination and take a firing test in Delhi.

“I had to face tests in writing, listening and speaking English in front of UN officials. I was also told to drive a left-wheel Jeep,” Mukherjee recalled, adding that the national-level test was “really tough”.

The only problem Mukherjee faced in Kosovo was the temperature that dipped to -22 degrees Celsius.

“But the house we rented was fitted with a heater and that was a great comfort,” he said, adding that changing to foreign small arms was not very difficult.

In the American Center strike, motorcycle-borne assailants with automatic weapons had shot at a group of policemen — carrying .303 rifles — killing five.

If Mukherjee is to be believed, Indian forces are liked for “their mental agility and physical fitness”.

“If I get a chance, I will go again,” he said.

Good things usually happen in life only once. Faced with the onrush of Kosovo candidates, Calcutta Police has now decided to keep the “veterans” of one or more visits in the city for at least three years since their last posting.


Karachi, May 26: 
Immediately after testing its Hatf-III (Ghaznavi) missile on Sunday, Pakistan said the question of the country’s size was of no significance given the successful conduct of a series of missile tests.

The chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Aziz Ahmad Khan, said that Pakistan’s defence had become impregnable. He was addressing scientists, research scholars and administrative workers following the successful test firing of Ghaznavi, a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile.

President Pervez Musharraf has, meanwhile, asked information minister Nisar Memon to invite leaders of some of the mainstream political parties for talks on the current border situation and the offer from Russian Prime Minister Putin for a peace dialogue with India.

In a bid to de-escalate the current military stand-off in the sub-continent, Putin today extended an invitation to Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for peace talks in Almaty.

With the main political parties failing to show up at the last all-party conference, Musharraf has now directed Memon to invite leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulamai Islam (JUI), Jamiat Ulmai Pakistan (JUP) and Mutahadda Majlise Ammal for a consultative meeting.

Musharraf plans to take political leaders into confidence on the situation facing Pakistan in the wake of the tough military stance adopted by India. The initiative follows his earlier announcement to hold parlance on important national issues with political leaders and other opinion leaders.

Memon is said to have already contacted Nawabzada Nasurallah of ARD, Makhdoom Amin Fahim (PPP), Kazi Hussain Ahmed (Jamaat-e-Islami), Maulana Samil Haque (JUI), General (retired) K.M. Azhar (JUP) and Raja Zafar-ul-Haq of Pakistan Muslim League (N).

On Ghaznavi, a press release by the Inter Services public relations stated that “this was the first test of the missile, which is capable of carrying warheads accurately up to a range of 290 km.”

The ISPR announcement further pointed out: “The flight data collected indicate that all design parameters have been successfully validated.”

General Aziz Ahmad Khan, who was present in the monitoring room along with other military officials, lauded all scientists and those associated with the project for their tireless efforts to strengthen the country’s defence.

President Musharraf, too, has congratulated the team of officers and their men for the outstanding success.

Outlining the technical details of the test, Khan said the missile’s take off was perfect, re-entry stage excellent and target impact highly accurate.

He emphasised that mere presence of a weapon was not enough, it is the dedication of selfless and tireless workers who form deterrence for defence of the country and Pakistan was proud of having many such teams.

Concentration of troops on our borders and coercive attitude by any power will not frighten the valiant armed forces of Pakistan, whose soldiers were more keen to embrace martyrdom than saving their lives, he added.


Chandigarh, May 26: 
The threat of impending commando action and hard negotiations led to the release of seven hostages who were caught up in a farmer mutiny against power tariff collection in Haryana, the crucible of India’s agriculture politics.

Farmers agitating against recovery of power tariff dues had held seven persons, including two deputy superintendents of police, in captivity in Haryana’s Jind. The wife of one of the police officers was also taken hostage by the activists of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), which had once laid siege to Delhi with an army of farmers.

Punjab and Haryana High Court had yesterday directed state director-general of police M.S. Malik to produce the hostages in court on May 29.

Following the directive, as many as 1,500 commandos of Haryana police were rushed to Jind to await orders to storm the farmers’ camp in Kandela and release the hostages.

The farmers were agitating since May 1 against the Om Prakash Chautala government’s decision to recover electricity arrears.

While DSP Jagdish Nagar, wife Rajwanti, gunman Amrik Singh and the driver of a private vehicle were taken hostage last Sunday, DSP Ashok Kumar and constable Ram Mehar were snatched the next day. On Friday, it was the turn of constable Satvir Singh to be taken hostage.

Official sources said the farmers burnt buses and a police outpost before rounding up the hostages.

“The government exercised utmost restraint in Kandela and its efforts bore fruit when saner counsel prevailed among the misguided people and they set free all the hostages late last night,” Chautala said.

State BKU chief Ghasi Ram Nain had dared the Chautala government to take action against the farmers. “We will face the army if sent to break our agitation. We are not worried about contempt of court either. But we will not budge from our demand of total waiver of electricity dues and release of arrested farmers,” he declared from Kandela.

The president of the Hissar unit of the BKU, Vijendra Singh, said an agreement was reached to release the arrested activists of the union. But senior superintendent of police K.K. Rao debunked the claim, saying the farmers relented after word reached them that the commandos were waiting 10 to15 km from the spot.

Even after releasing the hostages, the farmers continued with their sit-in.

Police sources said the release of the hostages followed “hard negotiations” between the government and the farmers.

“The government was holding secret talks with the agitating farmers for the last couple of days. It was finally late at night that a breakthrough was achieved and the hostages were released. Talks are also being held to make the farmers call off the agitation. The government does not want police action as it could snowball into a major crisis. It is still a volatile situation,” an officer said.

The farmers, still armed with swords, spears and batons, have warned that any police action to crush the agitation would invite retaliation.

Chief minister Chautala said some Opposition parties were bent on creating a law and order problem in the state by misguiding “innocent people, creating hindrances on the roads and setting fire to buses”.

The Chautala government’s scheme to recover 25 per cent electricity dues in lieu of a waiver of the remaining 75 per cent has not gone down well with farmers in the state.

“Chautala has always stood behind farmers when not in power. His manifesto in 1991 categorically stated that he would waive power dues. He has gone back on his promise. We will brave bullets but not allow the captives to be released,” Nain had said.

BKU national president Mahendra Singh Tikait, who is known to be close to Chautala, has failed to convince the farmers to call off the protest. The state BKU unit is also demanding free power and water.


Chandigarh, May 26: 
Most of the 28 Punjab Civil Service candidates dismissed by the state government recently have decided to challenge the decision in the high court.

The dismissals came two months after the arrest of controversial Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu, following the unearthing of the cash-for-job scam.

“We have no option but to knock on the doors of the high court for redressal. Why have only we been singled out? There have been so many others who were recruited during Sidhu’s tenure. The government is victimising meritorious candidates because of some tainted ones who paid to get jobs,” said Rubinderjit Singh Brar, who was posted as assistant commissioner (general) in Fatehgarh Sahib.

Brar, who had topped both the BE and ME civil engineering streams, was also selected in the irrigation and power department in 1999.

Terming the dismissal order as arbitrary, Sukhpreet Singh Sidhu, assistant commissioner (general), Patiala, found it strange that the dismissed candidates were neither given any reason for their removal nor a chance to be heard. Both Brar and Sidhu substantiated their claims of getting the jobs without paying money by showing their academic records and appreciation letters received during service.

High court lawyers feel the dismissal order, announced on Wednesday by chief minister Amarinder Singh, “would be difficult to defend in court”. However, Punjab advocate general Harbhagwan Singh is confident that the dismissal order would stand the scrutiny of the court.

“We are on very firm ground and would be seeking natural justice,” Singh said, hinting at more dismissals to come.

One advocate, requesting anonymity, said the dismissal decision would end up causing the state government a lot of embarrassment. “The government has acted hastily. Even if the court accepts the argument that the selection process was tainted, explaining the selective termination would be impossible,” he said.

In a related development, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association is heading for a confrontation with the court following dismissal of many cases due to non-appearance of lawyers.

The bar association observed a day’s strike yesterday to press for its demand for action against judges whose names allegedly figure in the investigations into the recruitment scam.

Chief Justice A.B. Saharya has already ordered an inquiry into the lawyers’ demands that the bar association said was “not to their liking”. The association has demanded that “tainted” judges should not be given any work.

According to bar association secretary Sanjeev Manrai, the application for the recall of the dismissal orders would be filed before the concerned judges. “We expect a lenient view would be taken,” he said.


Mumbai, May 26: 
The moustache that grows on face like a mini forest is not the only thing that makes him a landmark. “Muchhad Paanwala”, whose juicy coconut-filled meetha paans are savoured all over South Mumbai, is the only man in the world to run an online paan shop.

It makes him something of a landmark in cyberspace, too. He is mentioned in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s website. NRI tourists, tripping into India, go for the obligatory nibble at “Muchhad’s” and post their accounts of how they “bonded” with the moustachioed patriarch of Warden Road.

“We don’t take orders of less than Rs 1,000 online,” says Ram Tiwari, his young son, stuffing the betel leaves with sweet masala and folding them into neat cones briskly.

He says that the online business is picking up, though slowly. “First, we used to take small orders. But now we have found out it doesn’t pay.”

There is a separate office for the computer that a woman employee operates, but Ram himself sits at the stall that looks like any other ordinary paan-cold drinks shop, but hides a huge enterprise.

Queries come not only from Mumbai, but from other countries as well. “Many NRI’s send us requests through e-mails to deliver paan to relatives going to the US or UK,” adds Ram.

On the website, the prices are listed in dollars to make things easier for NRI customers. “Meetha Paan (order in multiples of 10) $8 Order, Tobacco Paan (order in multiples of 10) $10 Order,” reads the list.

The online shop was started four years ago, when “Muchhad” — who now only makes a brief appearance at the shop late in the evening — got tired of overhearing customers talk about the Internet.

“We asked our customers what the Net was. Even Pritish Nandy came to the shop. Have you heard of him?” asks Ram. “My father realised the Net would mean good business.” So they asked Vivek Bhargava, a professional web designer, to put up the site for them.

The website, www.paan.com, contains Muchhad Paanwala’s personal history, a short treatise on the paan made by him and no less important, his family tree.

Born Jaishankar Tiwari, he is originally from a village called Tiwaripur in Allahabad. Now in his late 40s or early 50s, “Class X fail” Jaishankar came to Mumbai in 1977 and since then has been looking after the business started by his father.

He has three brothers and they together look after the business, headed by Jaishankar Tiwari.

“We don’t have much formal education. I am a Class VIII fail. But that hasn’t stopped me from going on to the Net,” says Ram.

Like paan, the muchhad also remains a family passion. Jaishankar tended his moustache with as much care as his business and both grew. His son aims to do the same.

“But I have a long way to go before I become like father,” sighs Ram, pointing at his fledgling moustache that has barely reached his jaws.

There is one thing that he will not talk about — how well the shop is doing or how many orders get placed over e-mail.

“Ever since we went online, there has been even more interest in our shop. People have been speculating about our lifestyle and our incomes. It has brought us a lot of trouble,” he says.




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Sunset: 6.12 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of rain or a thundershower in some parts

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