KPP threatens to take up arms
Left caught between Sahgal and soccer
King at feet of Kanchi seer
Arjun arrow at NCERT chief
Red carpet for royal couple
Atal truce attempt in animal-test row
Centre in deft dodge on criminal record
Indians win race of Rambos
Sunday date set for Omar succession
Sonia goes green

 
 
KPP THREATENS TO TAKE UP ARMS 
 
 
FROM ANUPAM DASGUPTA
 
Siliguri, June 21: 
The Kamtapur People’s Party plans to launch an armed struggle in support of its demand for a separate Kamtapuri state.

The party is trying to woo a faction of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, a militant outfit that has links with the Ulfa and other rebel outfits.

The leadership of the people’s party says the move is aimed at giving a renewed thrust to its agitation for a Kamtapuri state. The party has, however, denied any links with the KLO.

“Initially, the KPP confined itself to organising the Kamtapuri agitation on democratic and constitutional lines but the time has now come for a shift in that stance. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact that an armed struggle is the last resort for us,” KPP chief Atul Roy said.

KLO, a militant outfit having bases in the jungles of the Dooars, was formed by disgruntled youths fed up with the “soft approach” of the Kamtapuri agitation.

Political analysts say the Kamtapuri movement has lost much of its steam due to ideological differences among its local leaders.

Moreover, in the absence of able workers, it is getting increasingly difficult for the party to contain “Talibanised elements” within it in places like Kumargramduar, Panbari, Dhupguri and Kranti in north Bengal.

“A section of the young Turks in my party urges me to take up arms immediately for the sake of the movement,” the KPP chief said.

The party is plagued by a dearth of able leaders with several of them being sent to jail in the biggest-ever government crackdown on the Kamtapuris in November 2000.

“We cannot sustain the pressures of an agitation like this without leaders of quality and ability and, at the same time, we cannot afford to sacrifice our ethnic distinctiveness,” he added.

Roy, however, made it clear that the KPP has no plans to hobnob with either the Ulfa or the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. KLO functions with active support from the Ulfa and the NDFB in various parts of north Bengal, Assam and southern Bhutan.

Intelligence reports suggest that one of the KLO factions is in constant touch with the people’s party to re-launch the Kamtapuri agitation.

   

 
 
LEFT CAUGHT BETWEEN SAHGAL AND SOCCER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Most Left leaders are avid football fans. And this morning, they cut it really fine while accompanying Lakshmi Sahgal to Parliament to file her nomination papers for the presidential poll.

The timing would have been “inconvenient” for any soccer lover — half-an-hour before the World Cup match between Brazil and England started.

CPI MP V.V. Raghavan from Kerala, who appears on the CPM’s Malayalam channel, Kairali, as a football analyst, kept looking anxiously at his watch while the formalities were going on.

Fortunately for the Left MPs, the papers were signed quickly without any interruption from reporters. Cameramen, who usually ask for extra “photo-time”, were not allowed inside the Parliament building.

Sahgal was flanked by daughter Subhasini Ali and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. One set of her nomination papers was filed by Left MPs Somnath Chatterjee, J. Chittaranjan, Debabrata Biswas and Abani Roy and Deve Gowda from the Janata Dal (Secular). The other set was proposed by West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Left MLAs from Bengal and Kerala.

The first woman candidate to bid for the President’s office, Sahgal said the first thing on her itinerary is a visit to relief camps in Gujarat. But the visit, she clarified, is not part of her election campaign. “I will not meet any of the electors, but just the riot victims,” she said, adding that “this fight is for protecting the Constitution”.

Sahgal will visit Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as part of her election campaign. The four Left parties pooled in to pay her deposit money, amounting to Rs 15,000.

Last Tuesday, Sahgal’s contender from the NDA, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, signed his nomination with a host of political leaders — both from the ruling NDA and the Opposition — by his side.

Sahgal, however, had to make do with only Left leaders — a telling comment on the isolation of the Left from the rest of the Opposition.

“Sahgal has an impeccable record of service to the country. We are happy and proud to field one of the most outstanding lieutenants of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose,” Chatterjee said.

   

 
 
KING AT FEET OF KANCHI SEER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, June 21: 
A year after the ghastly massacre at the royal palace in Nepal, King Gyanendra is trying to revive his family’s age-old ties with the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt.

The king is slated to offer guru puja to Jayendra Saraswathi, the present Sankaracharya at Kanchi, during his visit to New Delhi next week.

This symbolic felicitation for Saraswathi at the Kamakshi Amman temple on June 26 would set the stage for “reinvigorating” the “historic, spiritual and cultural ties” between India and Nepal, which has been in existence since the days of the Ramayana, the Sankaracharya said.

Few years ago, the late King Birendra came to Kanchi to offer guru puja to the Sankaracharya.

Referring to Nepal being the only constitutional monarchy that calls itself a “Hindu kingdom”, Saraswathi said King Gyanendra has expressed his inability to make it to Kanchi. Hence, the acharya has agreed to meet the royalty in Delhi.

The Sankaracharya disclosed that on June 25, the Nepal-Bharat Maitree Sangam (Friendship Society) would be revived at the residence of Nepal’s envoy to India.

On the Ayodhya issue, he said the talks have gone beyond the stage of discussion with religious leaders. He declined to go into the formula — allowing the construction of the Ram temple to begin in the undisputed part in lieu of accepting the court verdict on the disputed site — he offered at the height of the VHP’s mobilisation.

However, Saraswathi pointed out that there was no time-frame for construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. “In the past, we had ignored talking to the local communities from Ayodhya and Faizabad who are the key to resolving the dispute,” he said.

   

 
 
ARJUN ARROW AT NCERT CHIEF 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Congress MP Arjun Singh, the new chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on human resources development ministry, could cause more trouble for Murli Manohar Joshi and NCERT director J.S. Rajput.

Singh, who recently took charge from his predecessor S.B. Chavan, has summoned Rajput before the committee next Tuesday to explain two issues that have dogged the chief of the National Council of Educational Research and Training, namely the new school curriculum and the functioning of the council.

There have been reports of “unfair” transfers of NCERT faculty members not kowtowing to the Sangh parivar’s line. More important, Rajput has been accused of appointing his “own people” in important positions in the organisation. He has also been tightlipped about the authors of the new social science textbooks for higher classes.

“He has been asked to make a presentation before the committee on both issues,” said Singh, who headed the ministry in the Narasimha Rao government. It was then that the issue of saffronising history textbooks in several states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had exploded. Subsequently, a committee was set up to point out the distortions and set them right.

Though the standing committee has no binding powers, it can tick off the people concerned and make critical observations in its report. Rajput is aware that he will have a tough examiner in Singh, but he appears unfazed.

According to his office, the NCERT director had been summoned by the standing committee once before.

For the time being, Rajput has a breather till the Supreme Court hearing on school textbooks in history, social science and Hindi takes place next month. His hearing before the standing committee, however, is going to be a precursor to the court hearing, giving Rajput an opportunity to hone his arguments before presenting them in the apex court.

The “saffronisation” of education issue has surfaced time and again in the Rajya Sabha to which Singh belongs. His colleague Eduardo Faleiro has been at the forefront, grilling the HRD ministry and the NCERT on the school curriculum and the functioning of the council. At his initiative, a parliamentary forum was set up to keep the spotlight on the latter.

Together with a section of academics and educationists, the forum has accused Joshi and Rajput of ignoring the protests lodged by as many as 16 state governments against the new school curriculum and also demanded the re-institution of the Central Advisory Board of Education.

Both the HRD minister and the NCERT director have so far outrightly rejected the demand and dismissed the Opposition’s allegation that its opinion on the new syllabus had been ignored.

   

 
 
RED CARPET FOR ROYAL COUPLE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
India is preparing a red-carpet welcome for Nepal’s King Gyanendra Vikram Shah ahead of his six-day visit, beginning Sunday.

The A.B. Vajpayee government has established excellent relations with the king since he took over the reins after tragedy struck Nepal’s royal family over a year ago.

India’s relations with the Himalayan kingdom have often been strained, and when Delhi was openly supporting the pro-democracy movement, the Nepalese royal family looked at the neighbour with suspicion.

But all that has been swept under the carpet now. Since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Nepal, Delhi’s ties with the late King Birendra had improved considerably.

After last year’s royal massacre, ties with the palace have flourished. That the new king has chosen India as his first foreign destination has also gone down well with the government.

A fractured Nepal polity is now facing a serious challenge from a violent Maoist onslaught that the government has failed to control.

“The king is the only stable institution in the general chaos we see around us,” a senior official said. South Block is keen to continue building good relations with the Palace.

Delhi believes this is not the time to destabilise Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government. All political parties should unite to meet the Maoist insurrection, the official said.

India has found it easier to work with Deuba and is particularly happy because, as one official put it, “the palace and the government appear to be in tune for once”.

Delhi believes this is what Nepal needs at the moment and is unhappy that Deuba’s government has been reduced to a care-taker. However, nobody is sure when Nepal can hold the parliamentary elections with the countryside in the grips of a violent uprising.

“There is little we can do but extend whatever support Nepal wants from us,” the official said.

The king and Queen Komal Rajya Laxmi will be accompanied by minister for industry, commerce and supplies Purna Bahadur Khadka on their trip.

King Gyanendra will be given a ceremonial welcome on the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday and Vajpayee will call on him.

This will be Vajpayee’s second meeting with the king. He had met him earlier during the Saarc summit in Kathmandu. President K.R. Narayanan will host a banquet in honour of the royal couple.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh, home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj will also call on the royal guest.

The King, a successful businessman before he took on his new role, will have interactive sessions with the CII and Ficci over lunch.

During talks with the Indian leadership, King Gyanendra is expected to cover a whole range of issues, especially security matters and how Delhi can help Kathmandu fight the Maoists.

Nepal is likely to ask India for better monitoring of its eastern borders so that rebels cannot slip out. Maoists coming to India for treatment are already being arrested and handed over to the Nepalese authorities.

“We attach highest priority to the strengthening of traditional bonds of understanding, cooperation and friendship with Nepal,” the foreign ministry spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, said.

   

 
 
ATAL TRUCE ATTEMPT IN ANIMAL-TEST ROW 
 
 
FROM RAJA GHOSHAL
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has called a meeting on Monday to stop two of his ministers — C.P. Thakur and Maneka Gandhi — from squabbling over the contentious issue of using animals to test the efficacy of newly-developed drugs.

Thakur, the Union health minister, believes that Maneka is behind the recent raids by the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals on research institutes like the National Institute of Virology.

The committee, which is controlled by Maneka, the minister of state for statistics and programme implementation with charge of the animal welfare department, had ordered the closure of the Pune-based research institute.

Vajpayee has called Monday’s meeting in an attempt to broker truce between the two warring ministers.

On Sunday, Thakur is meeting various pharmaceutical companies and research institutions to crystallise their stand on the need to conduct the requisite tests on animals in the larger interests of human beings.

The pharmaceutical companies that will be attending this meeting include Cadila, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Lupin, Nicholas Piramal, Ranbaxy, Torrent, the biotechnology company, Shanta Biotechnics Pvt Ltd, and research institutes like the Indian Council of Medical Research and the All India Institute of Medical Research.

“The need for ethical testing of drugs on animals is crucial before such tests can be conducted on human beings,” said an industry insider from a leading Indian pharmaceutical company. “Of late, many of our pharmaceutical companies are going abroad to conducting pre-clinical tests (research on animals).”

“Often FDA guidelines, require testing on animals and many of our leading research institutes are compelled to go abroad as our rules do not permit many of these tests on animals.” This compounds research costs as well, the industry source added.

A spokesperson from Eli Lilly said: “As a globally operating pharmaceutical company, we can say that testing on animals, that is pre-clinical tests, is an accepted norm. Banishing these will put the focus on testing on humans which can be very risky.”

He added: “There should be strict norms for handling animals and quarantine regulations but an absolute ban will harm research.”

Thakur had sought the intervention of the Prime Minister last week, seeking his arbitration in stopping interference in research by animal rights activists.

Thakur has argued that one must sensibly resolve these issues without being carried away too far.

It is learnt that the health ministry is seeking legal advice to determine whether any rule in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act overrides the rules governing experimenting on animals.

   

 
 
CENTRE IN DEFT DODGE ON CRIMINAL RECORD 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Arun Jaitley today wrote to all political parties and individual leaders to consider publicising the criminal records, if any, of their respective candidates. In his letter, the Union law minister also asked them to reflect on forming a national judicial commission that would go into appointments, transfers and promotions of judges as well as inquire into misconduct.

A proposed all-party meeting on these issues is “tentatively” slated for July 8, government sources said.

The Supreme Court, in its May 8 verdict on a public interest litigation filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, had said parties should make public pending cases, if any, and assets and liabilities of candidates contesting elections. The Union Cabinet had considered the judgment when it met on June 18.

Official sources said the Cabinet “developed cold feet” on both the subjects, although a national judicial commission is on the agenda of governance of the National Democratic Alliance regime.

The apex court verdict was also clear on another matter — that the government should initiate necessary action to incorporate changes in election rules so that candidates with criminal records are compelled to publicise them at the time of filing nominations. This requires changes in rules on nomination forms that the Election Commission had earlier suggested to the government in the wake of the apex court verdict.

On June 19, Jaitley had written to all parties and political leaders so that the matter could be discussed and a consensus reached. “Today’s letter has clubbed the other issue of the national judicial commission in the proposed meeting on July 8,” the sources said. “The government deems it fit that a political consensus is arrived at rather than the Cabinet taking a decision on the matter following the apex court verdict,” they added.

The Centre, however, cleverly placed the ball in the court of political parties by deferring a decision.

“Given the sensitivity of the matter, the government obviously wants to play it safe,” the sources pointed out.

Although a judicial commission is on the NDA s national agenda of governance, the Centre could not come to a decision as it would have gone against the “in-house” procedure the Supreme Court has already devised to discipline an erring judge.

According to the procedure, a committee of senior judges will consider the conduct or misconduct of a judge and give a decision that might vary from suspension to dismissal.

   

 
 
INDIANS WIN RACE OF RAMBOS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Skills developed from frequent engagement in combat have taken a team of the army’s special forces to the top in a “Race of the Rambos” — a competition for special military units from 12 countries — in Africa this month.

The army sent two teams from the Parachute Regiment’s 10th battalion (10 Para — Special Forces), pulling them out from their operational locations — where they have been since the standoff on the borders.

“We had just about two months to prepare,” said Major Animish Ranade, who was overall leader. “We return to locations now where we are operationally deployed.”

Lt. Gen. Nirbhay Sharma, colonel-commandant of the Parachute Regiment, said: “The hardships we face in combat situations — as in Operation Vijay (the Kargil war) and in counter insurgency operations in the Northeast — keep our paras on the toes all the time.”

The team of Ranade’s junior, Captain T.R. Krishnadas, bagged most of the awards. Both teams are from the unit called Desert Lions. The army fielded four officers — the others being Captains V.S. Salaria and V.J.S. Pander — and eight other ranks. Ranade’s team bagged one prize after a crucial member was injured in the first event.

The 12 men who turned up at the army headquarters today — one of them on crutches — were in olive greens. Ranade, a lithe six-footer, was the tallest and Krishnadas, who appeared to be five-foot nothing, is a stocky powerhouse whose torso is a perfect ‘V’. Like special forces the world over, they sported maroon berets and a lapel on the shoulder that read “commando”.

Exercise Airborne Africa — as the competition was called — had 28 army teams from France, the US, the UK, South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and six other countries. This is the second time the event was held, the first time that India was invited. Held in the Kalahari desert in northwestern Botswana, defending champions South Africa fielded eight teams.

“Compared to most of the other teams, our experience in live combat has paid off. Every member of our teams has been in actual combat — in Jammu and Kashmir, mostly,” said Ranade, the most senior officer leading the Indians, after being handed over a commendation card by the Chief of Army Staff, General S Padmanabhan, here today.

The exercise was spread over three days on a course 65km long in the desert. It began with a para drop on June 8. The teams competed for awards in traversing the full course (of 65 km) in the desert with full combat loads (comprising an 18 kg backpack, a general-purpose machine gun weighing 13.5 kg and a radio set weighing 6 kg).

“It is winter in the southern hemisphere now,” said Krishnadas. “The weather with maximum temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius sounds as not to bad, but with combat loads and the sandy desert that made trudging slow in the ankle-deep sand combined to make it really gruelling.”

Krishnadas and his men won awards in a 35 km endurance march, a 10 km navigation exercise (using only a map and a compass — without aid of global positioning systems), a casualty evacuation over 10 km (carrying a 50 kg dead-weight to simulate carrying a casualty) and a 10 km speed march.

The event rounded off with the teams being tested for combat shooting with Galil (Israeli) 7.62 mm rifles and Sig (Swiss) pistols. The Indians did not win awards in the shooting.

   

 
 
SUNDAY DATE SET FOR OMAR SUCCESSION 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, June 21: 
The ‘son’ would rise for the third generation in Jammu and Kashmir’s first family.

Omar Abdullah would step into the shoes of father Farooq and grandfather Sheikh Abdullah on Sunday when his “election to the presidency” of the ruling National Conference would be announced at a “special delegates’ session” here.

“That gives the impression of a very democratic transition of power but the fact is that one Sheikh would be handing down the mantle to another as happened three decades back,” said Irshad Ahmad, a lecturer.

The organisers of Sunday’s function, however, have left no stones unturned to make it “an historic event”. The invitations also say as much.

But despite roses and banners, Omar would have little imagined a few years ago that his elevation to the highest office in the party could happen so soon. He intended pursuing a career in hotel management and initially his father, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, had also felt that “Omar was too decent and polite to handle the tempestuous moods of politics”.

“But he slowly and surely graduated to commendable levels. His current stint as minister of state for external affairs at the Centre provided him the right break. He came out brilliantly, handling the media and making an impression in panel discussions,” said a senior National Conference leader.

“He is more cool, more composed and more focused than his father, whose non-serious exterior became his style sheet for handling officialdom and political affairs,” said a political observer.

But that does not mean it will be smooth sailing for the successor to the 70-year-old legacy. It was precisely this impression that found expression in Farooq’s statement the other day. “Show me if you can run this state well for six months and I shall accept your political acumen. I have failed to do that. I often feel like tearing my clothes,” he said in what was both a father’s warning and a leader’s confession.

One observer said: “There are senior leaders in the party, most of whom have found berths in the state Cabinet. They harboured ideas of succeeding Farooq some day, but Omar’s taking centrestage has dashed all hopes.”

“Omar is younger to even the youngest minister in his father’s Cabinet and that is both a plus and a minus point.”

A plus point because Omar carries no bitter memory baggage, and minus because he would literally be a pigeon among cats,” said another keen Kashmir watcher.

Omar’s youth is likely to work more in his favour than against, said most. But handling Kashmir on his own will be a different ball game for the “westernised” leader. His mother is Irish, wife Hindu. Besides, Omar has so far failed to keep his most famous promise in the run-up to his election from the prestigious Srinagar-Badgam parliamentary seat. He had promised voters in 1998 that if they elected him, he would learn the local language.

The minister is unable to communicate in Kashmiri even after four years in Parliament, said his friends. “He is at his best in just one language and that is English,” said a close friend. The inability to communicate with the locals in their language would only add to the list of his woes.

“The days ahead are definitely thorny for Omar and the glitter of the ceremony intended for Sunday is sure to give way to tougher times and moments of frustration, which Farooq Abdullah must be praying his son does not face,” said another Kahmir expert.

“In Kashmir politics, and the present scenario, Farooq’s prayer would be nothing better than a cry in wilderness.”

   

 
 
SONIA GOES GREEN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, June 21: 
Sonia Gandhi plans to go green.

Asserting her belief that water is not a commodity but a right that needs official recognition, the Congress president has decided to raise a “Green Corps” of rural volunteers. These volunteers would be trained in rainwater harvesting and environmental regeneration.

The Congress chief, however, maintained that “Green Corps” would strictly be a non-political movement.

The project would be held under the aegis of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and is aimed at giving a fresh impetus to the water harvesting movement in the country, Sonia said.

The RGF has already recruited and deployed the first batch of 45 volunteers in Rajasthan. According to the plans, 50 additional volunteers would be recruited yearly so that a dedicated cadre of 250 water activists is created in the next five years.

RGF sources said the project would cost Rs 22 crore over five years. It has received initial funds from organisations involved in environmental regeneration. Assisting in the project are Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh and his organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh.

   
 

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