Kalam pierces Opposition wall
Man mortal, banyan bullet-proof
Farewell, French revolution
Straw rips veil off ISI hand
Drive to choke UK terror funds
Military de-escalation sets sail
Govt blacklists ailing PSUs
Microsoft certificate for Bengal
Jhansi’s maid finds place of pride
Calcutta Weather

 
 
KALAM PIERCES OPPOSITION WALL 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA AND RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
Like the missiles he has conceived, the candidature of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today streaked across the Indian political landscape, leaving the Opposition in disarray and prompting an unusual public “pullout” by the incumbent President.

The Opposition landed itself in a mess as third front leaders wrote yet another epitaph on one of their outfits — the People’s Front. Its convener Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the front after refusing to go with the Left on the presidential polls, compelling Left leaders to say that “enough is enough”.

Let down by his trusted friends and associates in the Left and the Congress at the fag end of his tenure, a dejected President K.R. Narayanan late tonight announced that he was not in the race for a second term.

A statement issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan said there have been reports in the press that Narayanan may be a candidate for the July 15 presidential poll. “This is to clarify that Narayanan is not a candidate,” the statement said.

The statement ended the 24-hour drama that began last evening when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee floated Kalam’s name. The Left tried throughout today to coerce the Congress and the Samajwadi Party to oppose Kalam. But Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the front meet and announced his support for Kalam.

“We had first suggested his name. So he is our candidate,” Mulayam said. “We hope to continue good relations with the front.”

Kalam’s support continued to swell through the day with Jayalalithaa and Laloo Prasad Yadav backing him. The Congress, under pressure from the Left to field a candidate against Kalam, will announce its decision tomorrow. If a contest is enforced, the BJP-led coalition now has the numbers to ensure Kalam’s victory.

But Left leaders said they would not support Kalam even if it tipped the People’s Front over the edge. “We will not support Kalam. He is the NDA’s candidate,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. The Left continued to insist that Narayanan was its candidate.

The third front was in tatters after Mulayam dealt a bodyblow to the anti-BJP Opposition — his second after 1998 when he had ushered in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee dispensation by refusing to support a Sonia Gandhi-led government.

Sources said Mulayam’s main argument was that the Samajwadi would not back a Congress candidate for nothing in return.

The deal informally suggested by Mulayam required the Congress to issue a letter assuring support to a government led by his party in Uttar Pradesh if the Mayavati alliance collapses.

   

 
 
MAN MORTAL, BANYAN BULLET-PROOF 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
On the International Border in the Jammu sector, June 11: 
With its myriad arms flung in all directions, a wizened banyan draws the line between war and peace on one of the world’s most volatile borders.

In peace time, Indian and Pakistani troops come to it to rest in its shade, putting down the guns they train on each another. In tense times, they make sure the bullets from their guns kill each another, but not the tree.

The banyan is a sad and silent testament to what was once one nation, split in the name of religion. “Dono deshon main faila hai. Shayad yeh kehna ke liye ke do desh hai lekin ek qaum hain (the tree encompasses both sides, possibly to indicate that we may be two nations, but one people,’’ an Indian infantryman said, his eyes glistening.

The tree sticks out of a ruin of a wall that once divided the warring sides off Jammu-Sialkot highway, some 25 km from Jammu, now turned into a garrison with Indian and Pakistani troops eyeballing each other.

The border outposts on both sides are within 100 metres of where the tree stands. But both sides take care that the shells do not graze what they have nourished and cherished over the years.

Both sides water the tree to this day to make sure it does not wither. And neither sides stake any claim to the banyan.

“We look at the tree as a symbol of peace. That’s possibly why no shots have ever been fired at it. It has never been wounded by any shells either,’’ an army officer said. “I am sure the Pakistanis also look at it in the same way.”

The tree is also a reminder of the nature’s refusal to recognise a political boundary drawn in blood.

The tree marks the zero line in the R.S. Pura sector, locally known as the ‘Octroi Border Outpost’ from a pre-partition defunct tax collection centre.

Before the division of the subcontinent, the tree was a “rest stop” for tired travellers to Sialkot. Now it straddles a border heavily mined.

In the past five decades, army officers from both sides have used the tree as the venue for sorting out a motley of disputes between them. Frayed nerves were calmed at flag meetings held under its canopy.

There are whispers that troops still come to the tree during a pause in shelling even at a time like this, though neither side will confirm this. But jawans said the tree did bring “a sense of peace” to them whenever they came to it.

The survival of the tree is a miracle of sorts in a region where rampant shelling often set fire to forests. “We at times wonder how this banyan tree has survived in such a hostile time when the build-up on both sides have damaged the flora and fauna of the ecologically fragile region,’’ an officer said.

   

 
 
FAREWELL, FRENCH REVOLUTION 
 
 
FROM KEIR RADNEDGE
 
Shizuoka, June 11: 
Adieu, France. The World Cup holders are gone with largely themselves to blame. Germany, who had feared they might also be packing their bags, are staying on despite a severe case of yellow fever.

But reflections on the card-sharp display of Spanish referee Antonio Lopez Nieto in the Germans’ despatch of Cameroon must wait. Much more significant is the end of football’s French revolution.

They went not in a blaze of Marseilleise-inspired glory but sadly, scrappily, scruffily. Only twice before had the defending champions failed to leap the first-round barrier, Italy in 1950 and Brazil in 1966. But France had long since sown the seeds of their own desperate failure. Not only did they waste the golden gift — for the last time — of the champions’ free entry to the finals, they did not even mark their passing with one single goal.

Denmark killed off the world and European champions with efficiency, discipline and ruthless finishing. But their 2-0 win to secure group leadership could raise only half a cheer: given the chance, which child would prefer to be Tofting rather than Zidane, Rommedahl rather than Trezeguet?

The self-deception which undermined France was summed up by their approach to their press conferences for the foreign media. This they insisted on conducting only in French despite the organisers’ provision of a multitude of interpreters.

Thus, long before their opponents sussed them out, they revealed themselves to the planet’s print and broadcast media as arrogant, complacent and with their eyes shut to the world beyond their own bunker. Indeed, translation slippage was the very source of the ongoing confusion, which served only to irritate the French camp and was their own fault, over the state of Zinedine Zidane’s damaged left thigh muscle. For that, both Roger Lemerre and grumpy overseer Henri Emile must take the blame — and not only for that.

Lemerre, a decent enough man, had stepped into the limelight job of head coach when Aime Jacquet retired after the 1998 World Cup win. Continuity in command positions is fine, up to a point. However, Germany, ironically on this day of all World Cup days, provide a classic object lesson that it is not everything.

Sepp Herberger had a long productive run as boss of the then West Germany from 1950 before handing over in 1964 to Helmut Schon who was even more successful. So, initially, was Schon’s own anointed successor, Jupp Derwall.

But the limitations of both Derwall and promotion-from-inside were revealed when West Germany failed in the first round of the 1984 European finals. That was when the Germans went ‘outside’ with Franz Beckenbauer and were rewarded with World Cup success six years later. He handed over to his own No 2 Berti Vogts but when Vogts lost his grip, the Germans went ‘outside’ again to Rudi Voller.

France are now back where the Germans were in 1984 and again in 2000. Jacquet took Les Bleus to the World Cup peak and bequeathed a team from which Lemerre squeezed two more years of (Euro) title-winning life. Right then and there back home, not here and now in Korea and Japan, was where the wheels came off.

In the autumn friendlies of 2000, Lemerre should have dismantled the old team — which did not owe its loyalty to him —and rebuilt from scratch with eager new players who would play for him, not the memory of Jacquet. Vicente Feola made the same mistake with Brazil in 1966; so did Alf Ramsey with England in the early 1970s. Managers stay loyal to ageing players for too long and eventually, inevitably, they pay the penalty of high-profile defeat.

The signs were clear enough. Simple logic. You win the World Cup only with a team of players at their very peak. From that point there is only one way to go: down. So while Germany, having learned the lessons of their own history, went fighting on into the second round here so France, entirely logically, went down and out.

   

 
 
STRAW RIPS VEIL OFF ISI HAND 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, June 11: 
British foreign secretary Jack Straw has said that militant organisations like the Laskar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Mujahideen were at the “forefront of violent activity” in Kashmir and added that the Pakistani intelligence service was backing them.

In a statement on India and Pakistan to the House of Commons, the foreign secretary said: “A number of terrorist organisations including Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat Mujahideen, each of which I proscribed when I was home secretary, have been at the forefront of violent activity within the region.”

Explaining the background to the conflict in Kashmir, Straw pointed out that the nature of the conflict in Kashmir had changed with the incursion of armed militants across the Line of Control into India from Pakistan aided by the Pakistani intelligence services.

“India has long charged that such terrorism has had the covert support of successive Pakistani governments, in particular the Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), the main intelligence agency in Pakistan,” said Straw. “Her Majesty’s government accepts that there is a clear link between ISID and these groups,” he maintained.

It is the strongest statement Britain has made so far directly linking the ISI with militancy in Kashmir and will be viewed as part of the tough stand of Britain and the US against the Pervez Musharraf government in Pakistan and their insistence that he cut infiltration across the border.

He also pointed out that despite Musharraf’s speech on January 12 after the attack on the Indian Parliament in which he pledged that no organisation would be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir, the terrorist activity had not ceased. Straw cited both the May 14 attack on the army base at Kaluchak and the assassination of moderate leader Abdul Gani Lone as examples of Pakistan-aided terrorism.

Straw is just back from a visit to both India and Pakistan as part of the West’s diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension in the area. The foreign secretary said that “tension had eased a little” and that he was optimistic about intense diplomatic efforts and decisions made in recent days by the governments of India and Pakistan.

   

 
 
DRIVE TO CHOKE UK TERROR FUNDS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
British foreign secretary Jack Straw’s acknowledgement of ISI’s support for terrorist groups in Kashmir will allow India to push hard for a crackdown on funding from the UK to these groups.

India wants Britain to choke terrorist funds and has been constantly asking for stringent action. New Delhi had asked London to investigate the financial dealings of Ayub Thukar, a Kashmiri settled in Britain.

Home minister L.K. Advani took up the issue with Straw when he was here last month and said Thukar, an Indian passport-holder living in the UK, has been funnelling funds to Kashmir regularly. India believes the ISI uses Thukar and others like him to send in funds to terrorists in Kashmir.

Thukar has been regularly sending funds not just to hardline Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but also through Geelani to supporters of Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based chief of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

India has not made any formal request to Britain for Thukar’s extradition so far, and may not do so unless it can build a cast-iron case against Thukar.

“What we want is basically for Britain to closely monitor the financial transactions of a number of Kashmiris operating from the UK. For the moment that’s all we want,” a senior official said.

The Jammu and Kashmir police as well as the income-tax department will have to build a strong case that will stand up to rigorous examination by an extradition court.

The authorities want to make sure that India does not face the humiliation of a British court turning down a request for Thukar. The government has not ruled out asking for Thukar’s extradition but, for now, does not want to take the risk. The evidence will be thoroughly scrutinised before a request is made.

New Delhi is aware that extradition courts in the UK are stringent and require solid proof before a wanted person is handed over. When India wanted Iqbal Mirchi to be extradited from Britain, the case was thrown out for want of evidence. The request for composer Nadeem’s handover also met a similar fate.

The UK has long been a base for funding of militant groups across the world, especially in South Asia. The LTTE, various pro-Khalistan groups as well as supporters of Kashmiri militants have often collected money for the groups they back. Much of this funding goes straight to terrorist organisations.

Earlier, India’s request for a brake on the activities of these groups had fallen on deaf ears. But the situation changed dramatically in recent years, especially since September 11.

Britain has enacted some tough anti-terrorist laws and introduced stringent regulations to choke the flow of funds to terrorists. But many like Thukar have continued to operate with impunity.

   

 
 
MILITARY DE-ESCALATION SETS SAIL 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, June 11: 
Hours before US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld landed in New Delhi, the navy today recalled its warships off the western coast and the security establishment signalled it would make a distinction between Pakistan-sponsored militant groups and “loose cannons”.

Rumsfeld is slated to meet defence minister George Fernandes tomorrow morning before flying to Pakistan in the afternoon. But even before he has arrived, India has acknowledged signals from the US that Washington expects more steps to de-escalate tension and initiate dialogue with Islamabad.

The recalling of the warships that were patrolling international waters in the north Arabian Sea marks the beginning of the military de-escalation. It does not mean that the army will be de-mobilised from the borders but “recalling warships” is a signal that the international community is expected to easily understand for what it is.

A navy spokesman said the ships have been asked to dock at Mumbai. “They are expected back in a day or two,” he said. There is no order yet for the ships from the eastern fleet that were sent to the western command to return to their home bases.

Last month, five warships from the eastern fleet were assigned to the western command as reinforcements for the fleet in a sign that a conflict at sea was on the navy’s radarscope. Navy chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh had said his force was ready to go to war at four-hours’ notice.

Sources said there are signs that infiltration is on decline. “We are aware that this does not mean that militant activity will be down immediately. It simply means that we might have to make a distinction between Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and ‘loose cannons’,” they said.

It is not mere coincidence that such a view is beginning to take shape now. “In the past, Pakistan-backed terrorists have stepped up violence when visitors from the US were in the region. Their aim has been to internationalise Kashmir. We hope such incidents will not recur,” the sources added.

The security establishment has noted with concern that jihadi groups have announced that they will defy efforts by the Pervez Musharraf administration to plug the LoC. “We have to see if Musharraf deals firmly with such defiance. That is where the test of his assurance — to ‘permanently’ end cross-border movement — lies,” the sources said.

   

 
 
GOVT BLACKLISTS AILING PSUS 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAKRABORTY
 
Calcutta, June 11: 
The Bengal government has decided to close down two state-owned companies and reduce its stake in six other loss-making ones.

The state government will soon appoint financial consultants for assessing the valuation of the companies to be disinvested. The consultants would also be asked to recommend restructuring of capital, fix the reserve price and prepare information memoranda of assets and liabilities of these undertakings.

The companies to be closed down are Indian Pulp and Paper Ltd and Sundarban Sugarbeat Processing Co. While the former was taken over by the state government in the 1970s, the latter was promoted under the Sundarbans Development Programme.

According to official sources, the government’s top decision making body was convinced that these two units had no future. Formal notifications for the closure of the two companies would be issued soon, sources said.

The bamboo-based Indian Paper and Pulp had ceased production for quite some years because of the shortage of the main raw material. Sundarban Sugarbeat Processing, floated primarily to produce sugarbeat in alluvial soil in the delta region, is also idle, waiting to be wound up.

The state’s public enterprises department controls 23 companies which accounts for a budget of over Rs 70 crore annually on their Plan and non-Plan expenditure.

The companies on the government’s disinvestment list are West Bengal Plywood, Caterpillar, an engineering company manufacturing fork lift and bus bodies, Lily Biscuits, Shalimar Works Ltd, a shipbuilding yard at Howrah that makes coastal vessels and repair jobs, Neo Pipes and Tubes, engaged in ferrous and non-ferrous industrial pipes, fittings and tubes, and West Bengal Chemicals which makes fertilisers, food grade chemicals and recently diversified to making and marketing packaged drinks under the WEBSIL brand.

Most of these companies were making losses and had been surviving on government subsidy most of them had considerable landed properties and could fetch reasonable value under the state’s disinvestment programme.

The Cabinet, however, chose to retain ownership four companies despite causing a drain on the exchequer. These are Westinghouse Saxby Farmer, a railway equipment making outfit, Durgapur Chemicals Ltd, Gluconate Health Ltd and Britannia Engineering. The Cabinet, sources said, believed that these companies could turn round with proper financial and management inputs.

Of the 23 companies under the department of public enterprises just about five are making profits. These are Mackintosh Burn, Electro-medical and Allied Industry, Saraswati Press, Eastern Distillery and Chemicals and West Bengal State Warehousing Corporation.

   

 
 
MICROSOFT CERTIFICATE FOR BENGAL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 11: 
Ten months have passed since the Bengal government signed up with Microsoft to jointly develop and deploy technology solutions in the state.

According to the consultants, the progress made by the state — a late starter, even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admits — can be compared with the achievements of other states.

“Except for Andhra Pradesh, which was the first state to hit the IT path, West Bengal today can match any other state in terms of the progress made in taking IT to the people. We got all the necessary support from the state government to carry on the project,” said Rajiv Nair, president, Microsoft India.

Besides Bengal, the company is working on e-governance projects with the governments of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Rajasthan, Punjab and Kerala.

Nair along with senior Microsoft officials was in town on Tuesday. He called on the Writers’ top brass to discuss the state’s performance in its e-governance endeavours and draw up the future plans.

The year-long contract that the Bengal government has with the software major was signed in August 2001. Webel, the state government’s nodal IT agency had been identified as the strategic Microsoft technology partner for the Bengal government.

“In this period, we have submitted the IT roadmap for six departments. Besides, we have deployed a mail messaging system in the Writers’ Buildings and worked with the Calcutta Police to develop a crime criminal information system,” added Nair.

The corporation in association with Webel has also worked towards creating a citizen database system, helped in skill upgradation of government officials and kicked off training activities in 300 schools.

“Over 120 secretarial staff of the government and 30 senior Webel officials have already been trained by us on Microsoft technologies,” the Microsoft preisdent said.

Recently, Microsoft has submitted a proposal to the government to digitise land registration records. “Once the government gives its go ahead signal, we will start the project and complete it within four months,” added Nair.

Referring to the much talked about centre of excellence for e-governance and training institute for trainers, the Microsoft India president said: “We are committed to these projects and have submitted our proposals to the government.”

The state IT minister Manab Mukherjee said: “Besides receiving proposal from Microsoft, we have received proposals for setting up such centres from IBM and Intel. We are studying them and will shortly take a decision.”

According to government sources, the decision makers at Writers’ are happy with the Microsoft performance. “Though there have been divergence of opinion in terms of consultancy fees, the contract will be renewed in all likelihood,” said a senior government official.

   

 
 
JHANSI’S MAID FINDS PLACE OF PRIDE 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Jhansi, June 11: 
Macha Jhansi mein ghamasan, chahun aur machee kilkaree thee / Angrezon se loha lene, rana mein ladee Jhalkari thee

(Amid the sound and fury of the battle of Jhansi, plunged Jhalkari to confront the British)

The bards in the Bundelkhand region of Central India, which once reverberated with songs about the heroics of Bundela chieftains, Alha-Udal and Rani Laxmi Bai, are these days busy building up a new legend.

Jhalkari Bai, a low caste maid who helped the Rani of Jhansi escape from the British siege during the 1857 uprising by taking her place, is their new icon.

Ignored by mainstream historians, the myth of Jhalkari Bai has been resurrected from oblivion and superimposed on the Dalit psyche as an effective tool of mass mobilisation.

Her life size statutes have come up in Jhansi and other Bundelkhand towns; hospitals and educational institutions have been named after her and a chapter on her heroic deeds added in the new history books of Uttar Pradesh schools.

In an attempt to place her on an equal footing with Rani Laxmi Bai, local poet Chokhe Lal Verma has composed an epic poem on her and Bhawani Shankar Visharadhas come up with a new biography, Veerangana Jhalkari Bai. Dalit litterateur and former Arunachal Pradesh Governor Mata Prasad has depicted her contribution to India’s first war of Independence in the form of a drama.

U to Durga rahin (She was goddess Durga),” says Rajkumar Kori, who leads a troupe that sings Jbabi Kirtan, a popular cultural performance in the region. Euphoric crowds throng Bundelkhand villages wherever Rajkumar’s troupe goes eulogising her bravery: “Jai Jhalkari, Durga Kali, Jai Jai Ma / Angrezon ki garva tune choor choor kiya (Hail Jhalkari! Hail, hail mother Durga and Kali! You shattered the arrogance of the British)”.

Written accounts of the 1857 uprising, like the diary of General Rose, who led the siege on Jhansi, or the British gazetteers of that period, are silent on Jhalkari Bai. But a later book, Majha Parvas, by Vishnurao Godse mentions her as Jhalkari Korin.

Jhalkari Bai has survived in the memory of local people through folk stories and discussion in village chaupals.

Eminent Hindi litterateur Brindaban Lal Verma gave a somewhat more detailed account of her exploits in his book, Jhansi Ki Rani (1975), after interviewing her grandson. According to the present generation of her descendants, who still live in Jhansi, she is said to have died sometime after 1890.

Though her historic significance is never disputed, perceptions vary among different castes and communities in Bundelkhand.

Ram Narayan Shukul, an old, illiterate inhabitant of Kachnara village in Hamirpur district, recalls that “Jhalkari Bai koi khas nahin thi (She was nothing important)”. She was a Korin (low caste) and maid of Rani Laxmi Bai. The two resembled each other.

Shukul describing Jhalkari as a mere Korin reflects the upper caste bias against her. The only role assigned to her in this version is that when the Rani came out of the fort to fight the British, Jhalkari dressed as the Rani to confuse the British about her true identity.

Verma — who himself belonged to Bundelkhand — also addressed Jhalkari as a Korin. But he describes her as a soldier and Rani’s close confidant and not a mere maid.

An altogether different image of Jhalkari Bai is projected in the accounts of the Koris, the Lohars and other low-caste groups in Bundelkhand. To them, she was as brave as Rani Laxmi Bai and had an equally sharp insight of the events of the period.

“Her husband Poonam Kori was a topachi (canon operator) guarding the main gate of the fort and Rani had made her the chief of her Durgavahini (women’s battalion),” remembers Gunjan Kori of Nagara.

“The Kori jaat (caste) had taken a leading part in Laxmi Bai’s fight against the British,” Gunjan underlines. “As a result of her proximity with the Rani, the upper caste employees in the palace despised her and conspired against her,” Lalata Prasad, an educated Kori youth of Bichawar village in Jhansi, takes the story further.

Others in the village nod in support when Lalata Prasad refers to the treacherous role of an upper caste Thakur, Dulha Ju, in her arrest. Not a single low caste member in this version is shown as the fifth columnist.

“The memory of Jhalkari Bai, as it is prevalent among the depressed castes, has been revived after much modification,” says Badri Narain Tewari, a social historian.

On capturing power in Uttar Pradesh, the BSP made deft use of reconstructing the history of the lower castes. During her first stint in power Mayavati renamed districts and invoked the memories of historical personalities like Buddha, Ambedkar, Sahuji Maharaj.

But she soon realised there was no organic link between her party’s middle class intellectuals and those living on the fringes of the community.

To overcome this difficulty, she started systematic mythicisation of locally identifiable historical figures among the lower castes of the Hindi heartland. The myth of Jhalkari Bai, thus, became a tool for mobilising low castes in Bundelkhand, where they account for nearly 80 per cent of the population.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.8°C (-4)
Minimum: 24.9°C (-2)

Rainfall

18.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 79%

Sunrise: 4.54 am

Sunset: 6.18 pm

Today

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers
   
 

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