Patrol plan with eye on LoC status
President battle brews
Goa whets BJP appetite for more polls
Air bridge for MLAs
Modi stuns minority leaders with volte-face

New Delhi, June 8: 
India has decided to respond to President Pervez Musharraf’s gesture of pledging to stop infiltration “permanently” primarily because it had started coming across negatively to the international community. A sustained uncompromising posture was also becoming counter-productive.

Delhi, therefore, decided to do two things: It told US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage that India would respond positively to the Musharraf move; and it also proposed the joint patrolling of the Line of Control (LoC) by Indian and Pakistani forces.

Now it is known that some positive overtures to Pakistan will be made next week. However, there is no proposal just as yet to restore rail and road links immediately. They would entail several other steps such as issuing visas and increasing the staff strength at the respective high commissions.

The de-mobilisation of the troops in Jammu and Kashmir would come as the last step and as late as September of October -- after the state elections.

For detecting and stopping infiltration, India has floated the idea of joint-patrolling. This was done for three reasons: to counter the negativities being associated with India’s intransigence; to do something which the world would welcome but not Pakistan; and to strengthen India’s position of further legitimising the LoC as a possible border while staving off international military presence along it.

“India’s bank-balance of goodwill had begun to dribble away” was the feeling in the government. A positive proposal, that would be welcomed by the US and Britain and would be difficult to reject out of hand by Pakistan came in handy.

However, India knew fully well that joint patrolling had not worked in the past. The joint-patrolling of the Indo-Pak border was first proposed by Pakistan for the Punjab border in General Zia-ul-Haq’s time in 1988.

In 1989, India responded by suggesting that this should not be limited to only joint patrolling — it should also include joint ambush and joint hot pursuit of the infiltrators.

This, however, did not suit Islamabad — it could not countenance the prospect of Indian forces carrying out hot pursuit on Pakistani territory. However, coordinated patrolling was conducted along the Punjab border. The Pakistan Rangers and the Indian Border Security Force were the implementing forces on the international border

In May 1990, India proposed a set of seven confidence-building measures to Pakistan. One of them was the joint, effective and coordinated patrolling of the international border, including hot pursuit, wherever the terrain permitted, along the LoC.

By this time the militancy in Kashmir had begun. There was no response to the proposal from Pakistan. Along the Punjab border, India found that the Rangers, besides keeping it informed of the sector they were patrolling, passed on the information to the infiltrators. Joint patrolling fizzled out over time because it was unworkable.

Now it has been again put on the table. It is aimed at obviating the need for a UN or a multinational monitoring and verification force along the 740-km-long LoC by putting forward a more workable alternative. The two sides know the terrain well and can be more effective there than anyone else.

It also allows military-to-military contacts between India and Pakistan. That is perhaps why “India does not want to push the proposal so hard that it falls off the table,” as a senior government official said.

Yet, India wants it there as it would allow India to sit across the table with Pakistan and discuss it at various levels, including at the level of their respective DGMOs (Director Generals of Military Operations). If something comes out of the engagement on this issue, it serves India’s long-term purpose of legitimising the LoC as the international border between India and Pakistan. This would happen only if there is a dialogue at the political level — possibly at the level of the foreign ministers of the two countries.

For the time being, India is of the view that it had achieved a “significant victory” as the “end game” of the terrorist-phase in Jammu and Kashmir had begun. The three broad markers of such a victory were: the departure of the hard-line Abdul Sattar as the foreign minister of Pakistan; the Pakistani offer to talk to India “unconditionally” made at Almaty last week; and the “pledge” given by Musharraf to the Americans and the British that he would end infiltration across the LoC permanently.

Sattar’s exit, India believes, has to do with the collapse of the twin pillars of Pakistan’s foreign policy — the western pillar represented by its Afghanistan policy and the eastern one symbolised by its Kashmir policy.

The Afghan policy collapsed after September 11 and now with Pakistan disavowing cross-border terrorism, the stuffing had been knocked out of its Kashmir strategy. Sattar was an instrument of furthering both the policy initiatives.


New Delhi, June 8: 
Getting into battle mode, People’s Front leaders today said they were ready for a contest for the President’s office since the BJP was showing no inclination towards arriving at a consensus on the issue with the Opposition.

“We have heard from reliable sources that the BJP has already chosen a candidate on its own. We would like to let them know that we are ready to take the challenge thrown at us,” said CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury, after a meeting of the People’s Front at the residence of CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

Shedding all ambivalence, Front leaders said at a press conference today they were ready for a confrontation with the BJP, which had no respect for the politics of consensus.

Though Yechury and Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh officially refused to reveal the name of the BJP’s candidate, Front leaders unofficially said the ruling party had decided on fielding P.C. Alexander. Even BJP circles are saying Alexander has emerged as a frontrunner.

Both Yechury and Singh said there was no division within the People’s Front on the presidential candidate and it had already made up its mind on the nominee. Though they refused to reveal the name, sources said there seemed to be a consensus on Vice-President Krishan Kant’s elevation to the President’s post.

Only three days ago, a People’s Front meeting called to discuss the presidential polls had turned out to be a washout. However, the mood among its leaders was aggressive today as they made it clear the government had been given enough time to initiate a dialogue.

“But the Sangh parivar does not want a consensus and we are not going to shy away from a contest if it is forced on us,” said Amar Singh. Yechury said the Front leaders would talk to all Opposition parties, including the ADMK and the Telugu Desam. ADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s statement backing the candidature of K.R. Narayanan for a second term and her call for a consensus seems to have strengthened the hand of the People’s Front.

According to Yechury the NDA does not have an edge in the electoral college even with the support of the Telugu Desam and the BSP. “Even with the support of these two parties, the NDA does not reach the halfway mark in the electoral college,” Yechury said.

Surjeet is believed to have spoken to Sonia Gandhi on the issue of the presidential candidate. The People’s Front has delegated Surjeet and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav the responsibility of liaisoning with parties in the Opposition as well as some in the NDA.


New Delhi, June 8: 
Home minister L.K. Advani today said the outcome of the Assembly elections in Goa had “turned the tide in the BJP’s favour”.

Addressing the concluding session of a two-day meeting of BJP prabharis (central leaders in charge of states) and office-bearers here today, Advani stressed that it was “good governance” by chief minister Manohar Parrikar that resulted in the party’s victory.

At a news conference after the meeting, BJP general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri quoted the home minister as saying that elections were due in a few states next year and the party should gear up to meet this challenge “successfully”.

Speaking on Gujarat, Advani said the situation had “improved tremendously” and the state was fast returning to normality. If there was further improvement, the state government and the BJP would consider holding early polls after the monsoon, Shastri said.

Elaborating on the BJP-BSP coalition in Uttar Pradesh, the home minister said that in the overall political scenario, no other combination could provide stability.

Advani mentioned how the BJP had benefited from the alliance with Mayavati by pointing to his party’s success in the recent civic polls. The BJP won nine of the 11 seats for the post of the deputy mayor of corporations. The BSP, he added, had also gained from the BJP alliance as proved by the party wresting the Baheri Assembly seat from the Samajwadi Party. The home minister said the understanding with the BSP would extend till the next Lok Sabha elections.

Advani also spoke of the Almaty outcome as a major victory for India. He said when the Agra summit took place, international opinion was that India should come to an understanding with Pakistan. Between Agra and Almaty, he added, world opinion had changed and the perception today was “cross-border terrorism must end and terrorism cannot be justified in the name of freedom struggle”.

“So definitely India has succeeded in the diplomatic field in dealing with this question. Today, Pakistan is under tremendous pressure from various countries and we hope that we will make Pakistan totally stop terrorism emanating from its soil,” he said.

Yesterday, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi had exhorted party activists to work hard to ensure that the BJP returned with a majority of its own in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.


Indore, June 8: 
The MLA circus today rolled on from here to Bangalore after a brief stopover in Mumbai.

The three-day vacation of the quarantined MLAs of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party in this commercial city of Madhya Pradesh came to an end early this morning after a call from the party headquarters late last night instructed them to take the next available flight out. They took the 8.10 Jet Airways flight to Mumbai.

The call came after the MLAs returned from a visit to the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain. Sources said Praful Patel, a top NCP leader, told Maharashtra unit president Babanrao Pachpute, who is chaperoning the flock, to move early this morning. One legislator told The Telegraph that they now want all the MLAs of the Congress-NCP coalition under the same roof so that they can plan their next move together.

The 51 NCP legislators joined their Congress counterparts, who are already camping in a luxurious resort owned by film personality Sanjay Khan on Bangalore’s outskirts. “There is no problem in winning the confidence vote,” Pachpute said at the airport in the southern city.

When Pawar’s MLAs arrived at Ujjain yesterday for their temple tour, they received a hostile welcome from about a hundred BJP demonstrators, who waved black flags and shouted: “Maharashtra ke bhagore, vaapas jao (Maharashtra’s fugitives, go back).”

By the time the MLAs came out of the Shiva temple after offering puja, the demonstrators had grown restless. Local Congressmen, who were playing host to the MLAs, exchanged blows with the BJP supporters despite police efforts to avert trouble. The MLAs could return to their hotel only a little before midnight.

Forcible detention charge

The political drama in Maharashtra took a new turn today when Congress MLA Padmakar Walvi, in a letter to Governor P.C. Alexander, said he had been “forcibly detained” by the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP combine at Matoshree Sports Club in Mumbai.

Walvi, who had claimed yesterday that he was “safe”, “secretly despatched a letter to chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who handed it over to the Governor”, Pawar said.


Ahmedabad, June 8: 
Last month, when he was under tremendous pressure to begin dialogue with minority leaders, Narendra Modi had conceded nearly all the demands raised by the community even at the risk of offending the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.

Besides promising to rebuild mosques damaged in the riots, Modi had assured the minority leaders he would consider new rehabilitation sites for the riot victims of Naroda-Patia, Chamanpura (Gulbarg Society) and other carnages who did not want to return home.

But yesterday, the Gujarat chief minister shocked the community by his volte face. Modi rejected outright the demand from 100-odd Muslim representatives that worst affected riot victims of Naroda-Patia, Chamanpura, Sardarpura, Best Bakery and Panwad be provided alternative resettlement sites.

He also refused any government funds to rebuild the ransacked shrines.

Modi turned down these demands while addressing a gathering organised by Ghani Qureshi, chairman of the Gujarat Minorities Finance Development Corporation.

The chief minister apparently backtracked on his earlier promises under pressure from the VHP, which did not like the idea of the state government funding the rebuilding of mosques.

His reason for refusing alternative resettlement sites was that all riot victims must return home because the government could not encourage ghettoisation any more.

As most of the Muslims at the gathering were those who had supported the BJP, the chief minister’s statement has created an awkward situation for these leaders, who now find it difficult to face the community.

Most relief camp organisers in the city — who were not present at the meeting — say riot victims from the worst carnage sites should not be forced to return home.

The camp organisers are blaming Qureshi for playing into the hands of the chief minister. Qureshi, they say, has lost credibility among the community.

Mohsin Quadri, in-charge of the Shah-e-Alam camp, is upset over “Qureshi’s collusion with the chief minister” and has decided to bring the issue to the notice of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I’m going to write to the Prime Minister telling him that the Gujarat chief minister should not listen to these so-called minority leaders, who do not represent the community. A person like Qureshi has no business to speak for the community,” Quadri said.

Inamul Iraki, in-charge of the Daryakhan Ghummat camp, and Mufti Shabir Ahmed, another leader, are equally upset and want the community to boycott Qureshi.

“We are going to teach him a lesson for betraying the community,” Ahmed said, adding that a meeting would be convened soon to discuss the issue.

Ahmed and Iraki said the community would seek the help of non-government organisations and donors to resettle riot victims in alternative sites. If quake victims of Kutch can be provided alternative sites for resettlement, why cannot riot victims, Ahmed asked.

Qureshi, when contacted, said: “There is no problem if the worst affected riot victims are not provided alternative resettlement sites. We are talking to Hindu leaders of the areas who have agreed to welcome these riot victims. Their Hindu neighbours would come to take them back.”

“No way,” Ahmed retorted.

Ahmed and his fellow community leaders are not convinced by Qureshi’s assurances.

Can Qureshi and Modi guarantee the safety of the victims? Can the people of Sardarpur, Akbarpur — who went back home only to return after being threatened — ever think of going back, they ask.


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