Military routine for frontline reporting
Neutral Beijing hope for Delhi
Asia follows West in Operation Exodus
Bandh blow to Mamata
Hindu shield in burning Gujarat
Docs jittery over dock fear
VHP cracks amid yagna ashes
Victory chariot of Jaya presses on
Policy battle on family planning
Dunlop suicide

 
 
MILITARY ROUTINE FOR FRONTLINE REPORTING 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
There was a time when a correspondent who wrote occasionally on gardening was assigned to cover a war in Africa. A series of accidents and serendipity landed him with the biggest scoop of the assignment. But that is an Evelyn Waugh novel.

If India and Pakistan indeed go to war, Waugh’s war correspondent wouldn’t stand a chance. The defence ministry has laid down rules under which journalists escorted to the front will have to function out of media camps meant specifically for them.

For a ringside view, the defence ministry has put together a plan to ferry journalists to and from the front line. The journalists, assigned by the media organisation they represent, will be given special identity cards. If required, the stories they churn out may be censored. Such an arrangement is not extraordinary. Defence ministry procedures lay down that there are rules to be observed by the media in the event of a conventional war. The rules are laid down in the war book and Standard Operating Procedures.

In a very elementary way, the government did try to implement them during the 1971 war. But the media explosion since then has made management of media coverage a major responsibility of the military.

The defence ministry’s Directorate of Public Relations has alerted 10 of its 24 regional offices that they may have to depute staff to “Press Camps” very quickly. If push comes to shove, the information officers can also be vested with the power to censor stories filed by journalists. The press camps near the front will be equipped with telephone, Internet and fax machines so as to enable journalists despatch copies. It is not clear, however, how television images will be subjected to censorship if such an order is passed.

Defence ministry sources said at least five, possibly six press camps will be set up — two in Jammu and Kashmir, two in Punjab and one in Rajasthan. There will be a mobile public relations unit attached to these camps from where journalists will be escorted. An estimated 60 soldiers may be required for sentry and escort duties in every camp.

In 1999, during the Kargil war, many journalists covered the conflict risking their lives, arranging their own transport and developing their own sources. In most cases, the infantry jawan going for or returning from an operation serves as one.

Every fortnight, the public relations outfit of the ministry in New Delhi used to take journalists from the capital for a couple of days to Kargil where they were briefed by officers. Journalists camping in Kargil derisively called the ministry-sponsored junkets exercises in “war tourism”.

Since the Kargil war, the military establishment has convinced itself that opening the front to media coverage may not be such a bad thing because the army mostly got good press. Officers have carried out studies and have concluded since 1999 that the media can be used as an effective “force multiplier”. This time should the occasion arise, they will want more, of the good press. The upshot, of course, is that media will be supervised.

Since January, the defence ministry has already been strengthening its public relations wing, though it cannot really be called pro-active. The culture in the military establishment continues to be secretive, even regarding information that is not on operational matters.

The Army Liaison Cell that functions under the Military Intelligence Directorate, has been beefed up by bringing in Major General Ghosh, who, as chief of staff of 33 Corps, was based in eastern Sikkim. The cell is headed by Brigadier Sujnala. A retired Principal Information Officer, I. Rammohan Rao, has been brought in as media consultant to the defence minister.

Ministry sources say the rules also lay down that journalists covering a war can be assigned uniforms and given ranks. Wags say if loyalty is to be worn on the sleeve, there will be correspondents who will settle for nothing less than a general’s rank.

   

 
 
NEUTRAL BEIJING HOPE FOR DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
India is trying to ensure that China, a close ally of Pakistan, remains neutral if war breaks out in South Asia.

Delhi is aware that it may be forced to exercise the military option if the international pressure on Pervez Musharraf does not stop cross-border terrorism. And, if that happens, it does not want Beijing to come to Islamabad’s rescue.

In this context, the forthcoming meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chinese President Jiang Zemin on the sidelines of the Cica Summit in Almaty, most likely on May 4, gathers significance.

Officially, China has also come out against terrorism. But it does not want a war in South Asia. The Chinese leadership has made it clear that while it condemns terrorism, the fight against the menace should not be used as an excuse for war.

More interesting was a recent editorial in the official mouthpiece, People’s Daily, which stressed that while cross-border terrorism was an irritant in India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir remained the core dispute.

China sees the mounting international pressure on Pakistan as an attempt by the US and its western allies to “gang up” against Musharraf. Chinese foreign minister Tang Jianxuan, in a recent telephone conversation with US secretary of state Colin Powell, articulated this sentiment when he said the international community should be seen as “balanced and fair” in its approach to resolve the crisis.

At the same time, China does not want to be left out of the international effort against terrorism. That it is facing a separatist movement from the Aigurs in Shinkiang has also forced the leadership to publicly condemn the scourge.

Beijing fears that a war in the subcontinent could lead to a nuclear conflict where Delhi, if struck by Islamabad, may retaliate in a way that could wipe Pakistan off the global map.

Over the past few years, China has tried to remain neutral in India-Pakistan disputes. This was evident during the Kargil conflict. Despite repeated attempts by Pakistan to get China to rally behind it, Beijing maintained a safe distance. Instead, it tried to find a way out of the impasse.

China’s relation with India has also improved since. A number of high-level visits have taken place between the two sides, including one by President K.R. Narayanan and a trip to India by Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Rongji.

The two sides are now making an effort to broadbase their relationship, particularly in economy.

   

 
 
ASIA FOLLOWS WEST IN OPERATION EXODUS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
The US may still be hopeful of a diplomatic breakthrough in the South Asian crisis, but the panic button it hit by recalling “non-essential” officials and family members of diplomats from India has set off a chain reaction even among Asian nations.

The US’s close ally Israel and bete noire Iran have issued instructions to its nationals in India to leave and those planning a visit to call it off, at least for a while. Malaysia has also issued similar instructions fearing a war between India and Pakistan.

Most of the other western nations and allies of the US, including Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and the Netherlands, have started pulling back their citizens and non-essential embassy staff from India.

Though the Americans maintain that they had not directed anyone to leave and its advise was for those who wanted to return “voluntarily”, indications suggest that most of the other western and smaller embassies are simply following the US. “We don’t have any independent assessment of our own... We are trying to make a judgement from what the Americans are doing,” conceded a diplomat from a smaller western nation said.

An Israeli foreign ministry statement issued in Jerusalem advised its nationals “to cut short their visits” and contact Israeli embassy in New Delhi to make arrangements to fly back home. Those planning to visit India have also been discouraged.

A senior Israeli foreign minister in Jerusalem was reported as saying that the directions were issued under pressure. “We just felt we could not but issue a statement after the action taken by other countries of the UN. We just felt obliged to issue an advisory,” he said, arguing that in case a war broke out, it would be difficult for Israel to get all its citizens from different parts of India together in a short time.

In Tehran, the Iranian foreign ministry issued a similar statement: “Under the current circumstances, it would be better for Iranian nationals to refrain from making unnecessary trips to India and Pakistan.” Malaysia, too, has asked its citizens to leave the country.

Though the Indian government may not be too happy with the panic situation created by the sudden departure of foreigners, so far it has not officially responded to the developments. In private, however, foreign ministry officials say the US over-reaction, along with that of other foreigners, stems from their fear of not only a war, but also terrorist attacks in the country.

   

 
 
BANDH BLOW TO MAMATA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, June 2: 
The run of bad luck continued for Mamata Banerjee as the Trinamul Congress suffered two reverses within a few hours, much to the glee of her adversaries, the ruling Left Front and the Opposition Congress.

The first blow came before noon when reports came in that Trinamul, continuing its losing streak since last week’s municipal polls, has sunk in the Onda Assembly byelection in Bankura that took place on May 31. Humiliation was heaped on Mamata as her nominee forfeited the deposit.

The Forward Bloc, a partner of the Left Front, won the Onda seat by a sizeable margin of 63,267 ballots. Trinamul came a poor second.

Before Mamata could collect herself, came the second blow. In the evening, the Congress called off the Bengal bandh it had lined up for June 14, acknowledging public sentiments. The Congress first provoked her into organising the bandh and then cancelled it, leaving her at a risk of turning into an object of ridicule if she followed the party.

Now Mamata will be left with no option but to stick to — even risking popular anger and yet another dent in her image — her decision to sponsor a 12-hour state bandh on June 7.

Calling off the bandh as two in a row would “become a burden on common people”, the Congress, which came a poor third in the Onda bypolls, has managed to win goodwill and leave Mamata to face the people’s wrath on June 7.

State Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee said the party will not, however, oppose Trinamul’s bandh as the issues were of common concern.

The strikes had been called in protest against the hike in electricity tariff, distress sale of paddy, delay in payment of teachers’ salaries and the state government’s delay in publishing an accurate list of people living below the poverty line.

“We decided to call off our bandh because it is ridiculous to hold two bandhs on the same issues within a span of seven days. Also, the Congress does not believe in gimmicks. We, politicians, consider bandhs to be the last instrument of protest. Frequent use makes the instrument blunt,” said Mukherjee.

After holding a meeting of the PCC executives and presidents of the district units, the state party chief said: “Our issues were hijacked by her. Why should we face an awkward situation by observing a bandh on similar issues. There is also no question of opposing the Trinamul-sponsored bandh because our issues are the same.”

Mamata’s reaction to the Congress decision was predictable. The Trinamul chief, who had been saying that the Congress had called the bandh on the “CPM’s instruction”, said it was called off because “the communists told them do so”.

“In Bengal, the Congress has totally surrendered to the ruling party. The bandh was called by the Congress following instructions from the CPM and it was also withdrawn at its orders. We will carry on with our programme and observe the bandh on Friday,” she said.

The Congress received a pat on the back from state CPM secretary Anil Biswas. “People were relieved of at least a day’s agony. Now Trinamul, too, should call off its bandh,” he told reporters.

   

 
 
HINDU SHIELD IN BURNING GUJARAT 
 
 
FROM SUNANDO SARKAR AND ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
 
Gholla (Murshidabad), June 2: 
Seven days spent mostly in giant metal containers meant for stacking loaves of bread inside a room with no windows. Two drives of an hour each, again in vans meant for shipping bread and through streets strewn with corpses of Muslims. A short walk from the vans to the station, shouting “Jai Shri Ram” with tilaks on their forehead.

But Billal and Litton Mallick of Gholla, Shahidul Haque of Sarmastapur, Sharif Sheikh of Faridpur and Kajal Mallick of Salar don’t harbour hate for Hindus. A few weeks after escaping from the Gujarat mayhem, they — and their neighbours and relatives — haven’t given up on the idea of a Gujarat with Hindus and Muslims living side by side.

The sole reason for that — for all these Muslim-dominated villages of Murshidabad — comes in the form of a Hindu with the unlikely name of Gyamar Singh. This man, who has never set foot in Bengal, struck a blow for secularism, say those who returned from the bloodbath, that was more powerful than the sordid images of Muslims being put to the sword. For, it was Singh, a contractor who supplied cheap labour to the bakeries dotting Ahmedabad, who stood between a dozen men from Murshidabad and certain death when Ahmedabad was burning.

Twelve men from various villages in the Bharatpur area of the district — all Muslims — have been working for some time at Modern Bakery in Naroda. Billal and Litton, at 16 and 14, were the youngest of the lot.

When trouble started following the Godhra incident on February 27, it was Singh’s idea — he, incidentally, was a “practising Hindu who observed many Hindu rituals”, Litton said — to put them up on the first floor of the bakery. It was also Singh’s idea that they spend most of the day cooped up in metal containers meant to stack bread and biscuits, he added.

“We did as we were told,” elder brother Billal added, even though that meant cramps and very little exercise — only to relieve themselves — at night. “Singh spread the word around the neighbourhood that every Muslim had fled and that the bakery had been shut indefinitely,” he said.

But seven days later, despite Singh’s best efforts, word got out that some Muslim workers were holed up inside the bakery. “We left the bakery after dark on March 5,” Litton recounted. The journey to Singh’s house — an hour’s drive away — was, again, in covered vans meant for shipping bread.

Litton, Billal, Sharif, Kajal and the others learned the next morning that they had given death the slip by a few minutes. Around 9.30 pm, a mob arrived at the bakery and set it on fire. “They must be thinking even now that they killed a lot of Muslims,” Billal said, shuddering.

But that morning, there was no time for shuddering and afterthoughts. They set out for the railway station at 6, again inside the bread-carrying vans. “Each van could barely accommodate four containers and the motorcade of three vans reached the station around 7,” he said.

Singh had planned everything to the minutest detail. He did not forget to put tilaks on their foreheads and he did not forget that the brief walk from the parking lot to the station must be accompanied by regular shouts of “Jai Shri Ram”.

Once inside the station, they were safe, said Litton and Billal; there were hordes of paramilitary forces and policemen and the wait for the train — till the evening — was the first time they breathed easy.

The leave-taking with Singh, Litton admitted, was “very sad”. “A Hindu man who risks his and his family’s security to save Muslims during such hate-filled times must be extra-ordinary,” he said.

Billal and Litton are not going back, but their neighbour, Sonababu, has returned to Singh. Though they are scared to go back, Sonababu did not do anything foolhardy, they said. “Somehow, having Gyamar Singh around gives you a feeling of safety of security,” the brothers chorused. Even in Ahmedabad.

   

 
 
DOCS JITTERY OVER DOCK FEAR 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 2: 
Doctors are hesitating to accept critically ill patients for treatment following the developments of last week.

Calcutta High Court’s directive that kept in abeyance a ruling of the West Bengal Medical Council, and the Alipore court’s conviction of two city doctors have made surgeons and physicians think twice before treating a “risky” patient.

The Calcutta branch of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine today held an urgent meeting to discuss the situation. It has said the society, since its inception six years ago, has always carried out pro-people activity, conducting courses in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and sending teams to treat Gujarat earthquake victims.

“But the courtroom events of last week have driven a wedge in doctor-patient relationships,” said the society’s all-India secretary Saurabh Kole. “Its effect will be on the whole state. Doctors have now become apprehensive about treating risky or critically ill patients.”

He pointed out that though medical litigation is a worldwide phenomenon and the accountability of doctors is essential, “it is also true that if a society becomes litigation-prone, it will only lead to an escalation in the cost of healthcare. It does not, in itself, improve the quality of service. Considering the socio-economic condition of the majority, the developments will have an adverse fallout on society”.

The society’s members felt that it was time to examine the practicality of application of western practices in Indian conditions. “Our members are thinking of ways to overcome the present situation. We urge intellectuals and members of other professions to think about the state of affairs and suggest solutions,” the society’s secretary said.

Doctors attached to private clinics pointed out that the hospital authorities were receiving calls from relatives and patients treated recently, saying that they would go to court over a dispute.

Hospital molestation probe

The SSKM authorities are probing a complaint lodged by a patient that she was molested on Friday night. “I have heard about this and asked the Bhowanipore police to arrest the culprit, who is said to be a member of the contract work force on the hospital premises,” said Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay, surgeon superintendent, SSKM, late on Sunday.

Chattopadhyay said the patient, admitted in the ENT ward, had gone to the toilet when she was allegedly “assaulted” by a Group-D staff. Officers at the Bhowanipore police station denied knowledge of such an incident.

   

 
 
VHP CRACKS AMID YAGNA ASHES 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Ayodhya, June 2: 
Sharp differences among the leading lights of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad came to the fore as its 108-day purnahuti yagna ended on a low key today.

Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chairman Ramachandra Paramhans, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das and VHP leader Giriraj Kishore were absent as a dispirited bunch of less than 300 persons took out a procession to immerse the ashes in the Saryu river.

Paramhans, who had been nursing grievances against VHP leaders like Ashok Singhal, complained that he was not invited. “I don’t want to force myself on anyone,” he quipped.

In sharp contrast to Singhal’s vitriolic attack on the Vajpayee government for “not doing anything to remove the hurdles in the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya”, the Paramhans advocated moderation: “Till war clouds hover over the country, we should do nothing to pressurise the government.”

In addition to Singhal and VHP general secretary Pravin Togadia, former MP Ram Vilas Vedanti was the only leader present at the yagna site and the subsequent immersion ceremony on the banks of the Saryu.

Togadia blamed the strict security arrangements ordered by the Mayavati government for the thin attendance at the yagna, that many feel is aimed at keeping the fire of temple agitation burning. The VHP fears its frequent postponements and announcement of new schedules might result in the people forgetting its central plank.

After the tame affair, it will now return to the drawing board at the Margadarshak Mandal meeting in Hardwar on June 22. “We will declare the future programme after that meeting and, if the temple construction is not cleared, launch fresh agitation,” Togadia said.

A somewhat subdued Ashok Singhal, however, claimed that the success of the yagna should not be measured by the size of the crowd. “It was a religious function and not a political rally,” he snapped when a mediaperson reminded him that VHP had claimed that over 10,000 Rambhakts would attend the ceremony.

“This (the yagna) was necessary to check a further division in the Hindu society in the name of caste and religion and pave the way for the temple construction,” he said. At today’s press briefing and during the Dharm Sammelan last night, VHP leaders assured that a definite date for starting work on the temple construction would be announced after the Hardwar meeting.

They were piqued at the suggestion that the credibility of the VHP had suffered because of its wavering stand on the temple issue and the climbdown during the shiladaan ceremony. “It is the credibility of the Prime Minister that had suffered,” Togadia insisted.

   

 
 
VICTORY CHARIOT OF JAYA PRESSES ON 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, June 2: 
The ruling ADMK in Tamil Nadu broke fresh ground today, wresting two of the three Assembly byelections with convincing margins. The victory from Acharapakkam and Vaniyambadi has boosted the party’s tally to 134 seats in the 234-member House.

The Election Commission put off counting in the third constituency, Saidapet, last night to probe allegations of large-scale rigging and booth capturing there.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa, thanking the electorate of both the constituencies for reposing faith in her party, reiterated that she would fulfil her promises to the people. She pointed out that the twin victories also reflected the inherent strength of her party in both regions.

While the ADMK candidate, A. Bhuvaraghamoorthy (55,507 votes), defeated his nearest PMK rival D. Parventhan by a margin of 17,917 votes at Acharapakkam, the CPI candidate there, P.S. Ellappan, finished a dismal third with just 4,047 votes. This, despite the CPI enjoying the backing of the CPI (M), Congress, TMC and Dalit Panthers of India.

In Vaniyambadi, a region dominated by the minority community, ADMK nominee and member of the majority community R. Vadivel, backed by the Indian Union Muslim league (IUML), emerged winner, polling a hefty 63,599 votes. He beat his nearest DMK rival Nagoor Hanifa by a margin of 19,721 votes. Arur Nawaz, the INL nominee backed by the Congress and Left parties, came a poor third with only 11,324 votes.

The ADMK reclaimed Vaniyambadi after a gap of 22 years, while the PMK lost its Acharapakkam seat to the ruling party. This only proves right Jayalalithaa’s predictions before the polls. She had asserted that allies who deserted the party — starting from the PMK to the Congress, TMC, INL and the Left parties — did it at “their loss and not ours.” These parties were all part of the ADMK-led secular front in last year’s Assembly elections.

In Vaniyambadi, the IUML, which continued to back the ADMK despite the latter’s candidate being from the majority community, demonstrated its strength as the “real Muslim League”.

The victory has fully marginalised the breakaway INL, founded by late Muslim scholar Abdul Latheef, whose sudden death resulted in the byelections there.

The Vaniyambadi results have also belied the high expectations of the Congress-Left parties-led secular front to consolidate the Muslim votes in the INL cache by banking on the Gujarat issue. The “ruling party advantage” enjoyed by the ADMK, the charismatic hold ‘Amma’ continues to have over the rural voters, particularly women, and the BJP’s “neutral stance” silently favouring the ADMK at Vaniyambadi have all been vindicated in this bypoll.

   

 
 
POLICY BATTLE ON FAMILY PLANNING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
A cold war is going on between the Union ministry of health and family welfare and the National Population Commission.

Worried at spiralling population growth, the National Population Commission wants to reformulate population stabilisation programmes. But this does not mean reverting to a coercive two-child norm, though the commission, unlike the health and family welfare ministry, would not mind giving incentives to couples who plan their families.

There is a clear difference of perception between the commission and the ministry over how to rework the existing programmes. The commission wants emphasis on development and not just contraceptives as a strategy to stabilise the population. The ministry talks less about development and more about contraception.

Senior officials have categorically written off incentives and disincentives as a policy to stabilise the population. But the commission does not consider it such a bad idea. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu successfully brought down fertility levels through “an effective target-oriented family planning programme coupled with required administrative and community support”.

Andhra Pradesh has now caught up with Karnataka and Maharashtra, two states that had earlier reduced fertility levels. According to the commission, beneficiary schemes such as assigning sites for houses, giving agricultural land to the landless poor, sanctioning loans linked to the adoption of family planning methods had paid off in Andhra Pradesh.

The district administrations offered steel utensils, watches and other household items at the sterilisation camps. The state government awarded the district that topped performance in family planning.

The policy of incentives, however, did not go down well with the health ministry, which issued a note against such offers to all states. But the commission clearly sees nothing wrong in a strategy that is devoid of coercion and offers incentives to couples who adopt family planning.

According to commission officials, the money being given out for family planning programmes is not reaching the people — in large parts of the country, condoms are not available and the development aspect of population stabilisation is totally ignored.

   

 
 
DUNLOP SUICIDE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah (Hooghly) June 2: 
The grim catalogue of suicide by workers of the ailing Dunlop India Limited’s closed factory at Sahagunj here registered the 18th death today when Swapan Bose, 42, killed himself.

Police said Bose hung himself in the eatery he had set up, leaving behind his wife, daughter and son, who were starving for three days.

Bose had built a house at Narayanpur in Bandel when the Dunlop factory was in a better financial shape. The factory closed down about three years ago. Though it reopened briefly, the factory again downed shutters in June last year.

Like many co-workers, Bose, too, found it difficult to make both ends meet after the closure.

   
 

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