Cong discovers Kalam virtue
LoC scan before fresh gestures
Modi takes poll push to PM
Eight flunk Atal appraisal
Kalam chooses Gita and tree to deliver address to the nation
Delhi banks on Bangla baron
Rumsfeldshifts focus to sensors
Infiltration dips on Omar’s radar
Selloff murmurs in Buddha team
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 13: 
Bowing to growing opinion within and outside the party in favour of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Sonia Gandhi today declared the Congress’ support for his presidential candidature.

Sonia abandoned the Left’s insistence on forcing a contest on Kalam after all chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, Arjun Singh, Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad pointed at the futility of a fight.

The Congress leaders, however, made it clear that they would not give a similar “cake walk” to an NDA nominee in the vice-presidential poll, scheduled to be completed by August. Jockeying for the election has already begun.

The AICC’s economic department secretary, Jairam Ramesh, paved the way for a telephone talk between Sonia and Kalam where the nuclear scientist recalled his “deep association” with the Nehru-Gandhi family and mentioned Rajiv Gandhi’s role in shaping his career at the head of the country’s nuclear programme.

Once the Congress made its stand clear, Kalam, too, broke his silence. “The nation is bigger than the individual,” he said in Chennai.

Sonia, who was earlier “advised” against backing an “NDA” nominee, decided to veto Natwar Singh, Manmohan Singh and the Left, who had reservations about Kalam’s elevation.

Ironically, Manmohan and Natwar called on CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet today to convey the Congress Working Committee’s decision.

There was a general sense of relief in the party about the choice of Kalam. “Our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had the fullest faith and confidence in Kalam. It is, therefore, just and fair that the Congress has decided to support him,” veteran Congress leader Siddhartha Shankar Ray said in Calcutta.

Several CWC members echoed him. “Der ae durust ae” (A delayed decision but a correct one), said a Congress chief minister.

Barring a few CWC members, there was unanimity in the apex decision-making body that Sonia would have been better off extending her support to Kalam on Monday immediately after meeting the Prime Minister.

At that juncture, Surjeet and a section of the CWC had advised Sonia against Kalam, pointing that the gesture would amount to “disrespect” to President K.R. Narayanan and sound as a mere endorsement of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s choice. The Congress, too, had insisted on Narayanan’s continuation in office for a second term.

Congress leaders admitted that the delay did not go down well. By yesterday noon, Sonia had made up her mind, but pressure from the Left and a section of the party prevented her from going public.

Party sources said Sonia had never considered the option of forcing a contest on Kalam. “She sought time to untie some knots. Once Narayanan said no to the Congress offer, she got the party behind her decision,” a CWC member said.


New Delhi/Islamabad, June 13: 
India is likely to announce its next series of steps for de-escalation at the military and diplomatic levels within 10 days after assessing the situation on the Line of Control.

Delhi does not want to be seen making major announcements every time a senior US leader comes visiting. Nor does it want to declare steps towards normalising ties before it is convinced of Pakistan’s sincerity in stopping infiltration.

The Centre feels Donald Rumsfeld’s statement in Islamabad today that he had no “hard evidence” of al Qaida presence in Kashmir was just a “dilution” of what the US defence secretary had said in Delhi yesterday.

“The facts are that I do not have evidence and the United States does not have evidence of al Qaida in Kashmir,” Rumsfeld said today. “We do have a good deal of scraps of intelligence that have come in from people saying that they believe al Qaida are in Kashmir or in various locations. It tends to be speculative, it is not actionable, it is not verifiable…”

Yesterday, Rumsfeld had said he had “seen indications that al Qaida is operating near the area of LoC”, but was quick to add: “I don’t have any hard evidence of who, how many, or where.”

Foreign ministry officials, however, do not see this is as a major shift. They say Rumsfeld’s audience should be taken into account. “It is not a denial of what he said here, it may be a dilution,” an official said.

India thinks the vagueness in Rumsfeld’s remarks is not such a bad thing after all. If he had said he was convinced of the al Qaida presence, the American public might have pressured Washington into taking concrete action against Osama bin Laden’s supporters. This could well have ended in a proposal for joint India-US operations in Kashmir which would have been embarrassing for the Centre.

US secretary of state Colin Powell also ruled out mediation in Kashmir, saying he saw the role of the US as a “facilitator”.

Rumsfeld said much the same thing. “There is no magic wand in this world,” he said. “In the last analysis, people, countries sort out their own problems. They can do it with some help, … but problems get sorted out on the ground.”


New Delhi, June 13: 
Narendra Modi today said he might go in for early polls in Gujarat even as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked him to concentrate on relief and rehabilitation for the victims of the carnage in the riot-ravaged state and ensure that normality is restored.

Government sources maintained that Modi met Vajpayee with a team of officials. But the two, it is learnt, had a brief one-to-one interaction in which the chief minister stressed that polls must be held ahead of the March 2003 schedule to take “advantage” of the post-Godhra situation.

Modi also met home minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu. Later in the day, there was another sitting with Advani along with the BJP’s Gujarat prabari (in-charge), Ram Das Aggarwal. Sources said they discussed the prevailing scenario, whether the state was still communally polarised and if the Congress could blunt the edge of the BJP’s campaign on the issue of governance.

Speaking to the press, the chief minister repeated that elections could be held ahead of schedule but refused to say when. BJP sources, however, said the leadership was thinking of a possible date in September or October after the rains.

The sources said the reasoning was based on the assumption that elections three or four months before schedule would not upset NDA allies like the Telugu Desam Party, which had put its foot down when the BJP seriously considered polls in the midst of the carnage.

The elections would be fought under Modi’s leadership, though large sections in the Gujarat BJP are opposed to him, they added. According to this section, projecting a member of the backward caste (Modi is from the Telli community of oil-extractors) would alienate the intermediate Patels, who matter numerically, economically and socially. The state leaders are also reportedly unhappy with Modi’s style of functioning.

Modi unveiled his agenda to “reform” madarsas and said he had requested the foreign minister to make an assessment of how Islamic countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia had reformed their madarsas. “The ministry’s inputs and knowledge will be used by our government to help madarsas in reforming themselves,” he said.

Modi also asked the home minister to modernise the security infrastructure along Gujarat’s border with Pakistan.

Modi repeated his refusal to step down. He said there was no tradition of resignations in India when a commission was probing an issue. But his critics pointed out that sitting chief ministers like A.R. Antulay and Laloo Prasad Yadav had stepped down while facing inquiries.

Modi suggested that social scientists should study the “mindset” that had provoked such violence.


New Delhi, June 13: 
An exercise to refurbish the A.B. Vajpayee government’s image has begun with the Prime Minister’s Office assessing the performance of the council of ministers.

A senior PMO official entrusted with the review is understood to have found at least eight ministers’ performance wanting.

If political compulsions allow, Vajpayee may drop them when he shuffles his council of ministers. Half-a-dozen others could also be shifted. Sources close to the Prime Minister have said he could unveil the changes even before the new incumbent of Rashtrapati Bhavan is chosen.

But a section in the government and in the party is of the view that Vajpayee should not do anything to upset the present equation, sources said.

They believe he should just fill the vacancies created by the resignations of Ramvilas Paswan and Manohar Joshi.

Government sources said the ministers under a cloud are:

Maneka Gandhi, minister of state for statistics and programme implementation with independent charge

C.P. Thakur, health and family welfare

Satyanarain Jatiya, social justice and empowerment

Munni Lal, minister of state for labour

Rajiv Pratap Rudi, minister of state for commerce and industry

Rita Verma, minister of state for human resources development

Ramesh Bais, minister of state for information and broadcasting

Ashok Pradhan, minister of state for consumer affairs, food and public distribution.

The agro and rural industries portfolio is up for grabs as senior BJP leader Karia Munda has opted out of the government. Sources said Munda might replace the controversial Babulal Marandi as Jharkhand chief minister. He was a strong candidate for the chief minister’s post last year, but was edged out by Marandi. A view had been gaining ground that finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who is from Jharkhand, be sent as chief minister. But the Sinha camp is believed to have got the proposal nixed.

The sources said there was also a proposal to bifurcate the coal and mines ministry and shift civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussein to coal.

Then, Ravi Shanker Prasad, who is senior to Hussein in the BJP, could be given mines and minerals with independent charge.

The party feels that the writ of Pramod Mahajan and former civil aviation minister Anant Kumar, who now holds the urban development portfolio, runs in the civil aviation ministry.

Food and consumer affairs minister Shanta Kumar could be shifted to labour in the event of Sharad Yadav being elevated. The sources said that pro-reformers in the government wanted Yadav to be shunted out of labour as he was opposing the “anti-labour” reforms. But a section in the RSS wants him to be rewarded, especially after Paswan’s exit.

The Prime Minister had held a meeting last month with RSS leaders like K.S. Sudarshan, H.V. Seshadri and Madan Das Devi, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, his colleagues L.K. Advani, Mahajan and Venkaiah Naidu about steps to bolster the sagging image of the party and the government.

Sources said Shatrughan Sinha and Dalit leaders in BJP — Sanjay Paswan and Sanga Priya Gautam — were likely to be the new faces in the council of ministers.


Chennai, June 13: 
Every bit an unassuming professor, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today chose to address an eager nation from under a tree on the campus of the Anna University here.

Ending three days of seclusion since his name was proposed for the post of President, Kalam, fitted out in a sober blue full-sleeved shirt and grey trousers, finally faced the cameras of tired, but dogged, television crew this evening after delivering a lecture at the engineering faculty.

“So many phone calls, emails, and media reports are pouring in continuously from Monday onwards after the announcement of my candidature for the President of India. I am really overwhelmed,” a relaxed Kalam said settling in a chair.

“Everywhere, both on the Internet and in other media, I have been asked for a message. I was thinking what message I can give to the people of the country at this juncture,” he added, settling in a chair. He then read out a text he had prepared in the afternoon.

“Whatever happened has happened for the good/Whatever is happening is happening for the good/Whatever will happen will happen for the good,” recited the professor in Tamil, terming the passage from the Gita a “famous Indian thought which is apt and reflects the mood of the nation”. He thanked all the “leaders, political parties and the nation for the confidence and faith they have reposed in me”.

Without mentioning the Gita, he said the passage was particularly appropriate as it mirrored the process of integration going on in the country.

Kalam then recounted an experience he had at Porbandar some time ago “as part of my mission to meet school children and interact with them to ignite their minds to love the country and work for national development”.

“I was addressing 3,000 high school students at Porbandar. One girl studying in Class X got up and asked me, ‘Sir, what message do you have for people like us?’ I said, my young children, you all grow with a thought embedded in your mind that the nation is bigger than the individual.”

The cameras whirred, the microphones crackled and Kalam held forth. The division between students and scribes blurred as Kalam, the teacher, took control. The good professor made the hard-nosed reporters repeat the lines of the Gita after him.

He then threw a question: “What is Porbandar known for?” “Birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi,” came the prompt answer. “Good,” praised Kalam, as he perhaps would have at Porbandar.

The roles had been reversed. The scribes were answering and Kalam declined to take any questions.

How did he feel about occupying the President’s post as was not a “politician in that sense”? This one caught his attention.

The gentle Kalam jumped up from his chair and said: “It is answered in one line in my message: The post of President of India indeed reflects the integrated aspirations of the nation.”

As Kalam was escorted into a waiting car, the questions kept coming. When would he go to file his nomination papers? “One day, I will go,” he quipped.

But the newest star on the political horizon could not go just yet. He was forced into the chair for a few more minutes to give his impressions in his mother tongue, Tamil, for the local media’s benefit.

Kalam said he had been busy at the university over the past six months trying to deliver a series of 40 lectures to engineering students, carrying on his research and interacting with the youth — his “favourite idea”.

Though confined to his room in the university guesthouse for the past three days, Kalam has not been alone, said his doctoral student, A.K. George. “I spend at least three hours with him daily.”

He confirmed that the eminent scientist had his hands full. Kalam has been attending to his research, preparing for his scheduled lectures at his alma mater, the Madras Institute of Technology (now part of the Anna University), and giving finishing touches to a new book — Ignited Mind: Unleashing the Power Within India.


New Delhi, June 13: 
The denial of strong economic linkages with India is not in the interest of Bangladesh, the government of India believes.

It is of the view that the only way Dhaka can overcome its $1billion trade-deficit with India is by forging better trade ties. That is why Delhi is looking with great expectancy to the visit of Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed Khan beginning this Sunday.

“If an eminent businessman like him cannot see the benefits of better trade and economic relations then who else can?” a senior government official asked.

In Morshed Khan, Bangladesh for the first time has an experienced and successful businessman as its foreign minister. Khan was one of the main financiers of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Morshed Khan’s would be the first high level visit by a Bangladeshi dignitary to India after the lack of progress in trade talks held in Dhaka in April. The talks had resulted in an impasse. Dhaka wanted tariff concessions to overcome its trade deficit with India. But New Delhi was unnecessarily hard and wanted to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral trade and economic issues.

During Khan’s visit India would like to convince him and that Dhaka would not be the loser as a result of better bilateral trade ties.

“The one-billion dollar trade deficit with India will not go away by only selling Jaamdani sarees to us. Bangladesh needs to decide soon whether selling natural gas to India; allowing trans-shipment of goods through its territory using local carriers; and forging multi-modal traffic links with India are in its interest or not,” an official commented.

There is a recognition in Bangladesh that it needs to sell natural gas and the nearest customer is India. Two committees were set up by the BNP government to look into this question : one to assess the extent of gas reserves and another to suggest optimisation of returns through the sale of gas (i.e. should gas be sold directly or as fertiliser and electricity).

Dhaka is now expected to take a decision soon as both the committees have submitted their conclusions. The optimisation committee has recommended the direct sale of gas through pipelines but by government owned companies.

New Delhi believes that the decision to sell natural gas to India makes sense: It would forge closer ties between India and Bangladesh; the gas sold would earn Dhaka US $500 million-a-year in revenue; the growth of related industries and infrastructure would lead to a significant spurt in economic activity within Bangladesh; and there would be employment creation as well as more disposable funds for development.

A study by the Bangladesh government says that trans-shipment to India’s north-eastern states would earn Dhaka an annual revenue of $400 million. Commenting on Dhaka’s refusal to even discuss the issue, an official said: “If Dhaka has some concerns then it must bring them up and allow us to address them. Her is a chance for them to exploit the entire north-eastern market.”

“Bangladesh must not have any undue apprehensions. Dependency is a two-way street. Our industry based on gas would also be dependent on assured supplies from Bangladesh. Our vulnerabilities would also increase,” an official said.

However, he added that prolonged delay in decision making by Dhaka could mean that the credit-worthy customers for natural gas — the fertiliser and power companies — may tie up with other international suppliers from Qatar or Oman.

India is also concerned with illegal immigration — an estimated 15 million Bangladeshi citizens are believed to be in India without proper papers. This issue as well as the support that Dhaka is believed to be providing to the Northeastern insurgent outfits is also likely to figure in the talks with the foreign minister.

India is concerned that the wife of a prominent minister is not only the lawyer of Anup Chetia of ULFA but is also active in raising funds for the legal defence of activists of ULFA, the All Tripura Tiger Force and the National Liberation Force of Tripura.


New Delhi, June 13: 
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is understood to have urged India to use sophisticated ground sensors on the Line of Control after Indian leaders told him joint patrolling with Pakistan was not possible in the short term.

The proposal for joint patrolling was made by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Almaty. Islamabad had, at first, ruled out the suggestion — that has been made in the past, too — but later said they will reconsider if a formal proposal is made. However, the ministry of external affairs has not pushed the envelope on joint patrolling.

It is understood that part of the reason for this was the army’s reluctance to go into such an operation with Pakistani forces in a stretch where the two sides have been firing at each other everyday.

The army top brass had pointed out that a series of confidence-building measures were needed and the Prime Minister’s revival of the joint patrolling proposal was not such a great idea at the moment.

These views were echoed by George Fernandes during his talks with Rumsfeld in Delhi yesterday. It was after this that the defence secretary offered ground sensors and even said the US was willing to give the latest built in its defence laboratories quickly. These sensors can apparently detect attempts and give evidence of infiltrators to ensure that cross-border travel on the LoC was “irreversible”.

Fernandes is also understood to have told Rumsfeld of Indian intelligence reports indicating “some 3000” militants in PoK “waiting to get into Jammu and Kashmir”. Defence sources say that apart from these, it is possible there was another lot of militants, possibly al Qaida activists, who were airlifted by Pakistan from Kunduz in Afghanistan even as Northern Alliance forces were closing in on Taliban bases.

Eastern Command

Lt. Gen. J.S. Verma will take over as the chief of the army’s Eastern Command from August. Verma is now chief of the 4 Corps, headquartered in Tezpur, Assam. He will replace Lt. Gen. H.R.S. Kalkat.


Srinagar June 13: 

Dismissing the possibility of allowing multinational forces to monitor incursions across the Line of Control, minister of state for foreign affairs Omar Abdullah today said “our troops are fully capable of dealing with terrorism”.

Abdullah added that he had received reports suggesting a drop in infiltration of militants into Kashmir from Pakistani territory. Ruling out international troops on Indian soil, the minister said: “There is no possibility of foreign troops operating in any territory of India. Our troops are well capable of dealing with al Qaida.”

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently aired concerns over the presence of al Qaida terrorists near the LoC. “It is a major development for India as the US has also recognised our concern,” said Abdullah, reacting to the US statement. “Earlier, it was just India talking about al Qaida presence in the state. Now, the US has recognised the danger.”

On a dialogue between India and Pakistan, Abdullah said: “An India-Pakistan dialogue will take place. It has to take place. But it will take place once we are completely sure that Pakistan has turned the corner irreversibly and stopped infiltration.”

“What is absolutely essential is that the camps on the ground must close and financial support to terrorists and separatists operating in Jammu and Kashmir must end,” the minister added.

“There has been an increased international role. But that has been simply to avoid conflict between India and Pakistan,” Abdullah asserted.

“We have reiterated that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, to be resolved through dialogue and that stand has not changed. But we have never said we will not allow the international community to play a role where the question of avoiding a conflict comes.”

The minister pointed out that India always sought to “avoid military conflict through the use of diplomatic pressure and I am glad that we have succeeded in our efforts and made Pakistan renounce terrorism and cross border infiltration”.

He said the US had very clearly defined terrorism by stating that “cross-border infiltration must stop, Pakistan must close the training camps and Pakistan support to militants must end”.

On relations with the NDA, the minister said: “BJP is not everlasting at the Centre and once I take over as the National Conference chief later this month, the party’s working committee will decide whether or not we should remain part of the ruling NDA.”


Calcutta, June 13: 
A day after the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime unveiled its disinvestment programme, smaller partners of the ruling Left Front began attacking their own government.

The Front partners, barring one or two, joined forces with the Congress and the Trinamul Congress to criticise the government for following a “contradictory” path of criticising the Centre’s disinvestment policy but pursuing it in West Bengal.

Most strident was the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which accused the CPM of structuring the programme unilaterally and threatened to resist its implementation.

“The issue is very sensitive and involves the fate of hundreds of employees. So it needs to be discussed among the Front partners. It appears that there is no difference between Arun Shourie’s policy of disinvestment and the one adopted by the Bengal government. People now will raise such questions,” said Sunil Sengupta, senior RSP leader and member of the party’s central secretariat.

Sengupta said the CPM announced such a major policy decision “without even discussing it” at a Front meeting. “We demand that the issue be immediately discussed with all Front partners,” he added.

Industry minister Nirupam Sen had yesterday offered to take the private sector as a partner in six state-run units and shut down two terminally sick ones.

“On the one hand we (Left parties) are strongly protesting against the Centre’s disinvestment policy and, on the other, we are adopting it in Bengal. This is a dangerous contradiction and will send a wrong message to the people,” Sengupta said.

Sengupta said state-run units identified as terminally sick had been running at a loss for a long time. But the government, he said, did nothing to revive them. “Instead, the government recruited officers at high salaries and revised pay packets of existing ones. For the past 25 years, not a single measure has been taken to resuscitate these industries,” he added.

The government, too, remained vague on the fate of the employees who would be rendered jobless once the two units close down and the six others transferred to the joint sector. “What is the package? Where are the details? We know nothing. The government is completely vague on this,” Sengupta said.

The Congress and Trinamul echoed the RSP. Senior Congress MLA Atish Sinha said the government’s decision on its sick units reflected its dual policy. “These are anti-people decisions and almost a copy of the disinvestment policy of the Vajpayee government,” Sinha said.

Trinamul MLA Saugata Roy said the CPM-led government’s “double standards” have been exposed. “The CPM is opposing the BJP-led government’s disinvestment policy in Delhi and adopting an identical policy in Bengal,” he said.

Front partners like the Forward Bloc and the CPI, however, came up with guarded reactions.




Maximum: 29.9°C (-4)
Minimum: 25.8°C (-1)


18.4 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 82%

Sunrise: 4.54 am

Sunset: 6.19 pm


A few spells of rain or thundershowers

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