Demolition man to rebuild BJP
Virgin has had enough
Fresh shot at print FDI
Five ONGC employees shot dead
Govt ends where dirt track begins
Atal sends Maneka to rival
Cabinet dilemma reaches Atal & Advani
Delhi prickly on Pervez
UK academics in anti-Modi drive
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 24: 
The man who once declared that Muslims should either be in the graveyard or in Pakistan was today named president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit, triggering speculation that the party was taking the path of rabid Hindutva with the 2004 parliamentary polls in mind.

Vinay Katiyar, MP from Faizabad-Ayodhya and former Bajrang Dal convener, takes the place of Kalraj Mishra who put in his papers two weeks ago in the backdrop of the BJP’s debacle in the Assembly elections in which it came third after the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.

Katiyar has represented the same Lok Sabha constituency since 1991 and was one of the main organisers of the Ram temple “movement”. He raised a youthful Bajrang Dal cadre which gave the movement its muscle. Katiyar himself made several rabble-rousing speeches during the Ayodhya phase and has been chargesheeted in the Babri masjid demolition case.

Today, however, he was cautious when quizzed on the temple issue. “The BJP’s stand and mine are identical. The issue can be resolved either by the court or through negotiations,” he said after calling on party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi.

In the same breath, he added: “Everything will be done peacefully and I am confident all the obstacles would be removed.”

Katiyar belongs to the backward Kurmi caste, which may not be as large as the Yadavs but is as upwardly mobile. After the exit of Kalyan Singh, the BJP was unable to find an effective backward caste leader. Indeed, Katiyar was described by BJP sources as a “Kalyan avatar” because, they said, like Singh he combines “mandir” and “mandal” in his persona. Katiyar is also among the younger BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh.

Katiyar’s anointment coincides with the efforts of the VHP to rake up the temple issue. In the marg darshak mandal meeting in Haridwar over the weekend, the VHP went back on its earlier assurance to honour a court verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi case and iterated its original stand that faith was above law and, therefore, the temple-mosque “dispute” could not be settled legally.

Sangh sources admitted that Katiyar’s appointment was “timely” and said it reflected the BJP’s increasing disquiet at abandoning the Hindutva agenda. A section of the Uttar Pradesh BJP blamed the electoral defeat on the shelving of the temple issue.

Katiyar taking the centrestage could mark the beginning of a strategy to go into the 2004 Lok Sabha election riding the Hindutva chariot and a turn away from the moderate line Atal Bihari Vajpayee represents.

An impression is growing in the BJP that it cannot win elections on the strength of governance or the “Vajpayee card”.

Asked if the temple could cause friction with ally BSP, Katiyar said: “The elephant (BSP’s symbol) has been firmly embedded in the lotus (BJP’s). The elephant has become Ganesh.”


London, June 24: 
Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, gave a warning tonight that his airline will stop flying to India unless the weekly frequency of the airline’s London-Delhi flights is increased immediately from two to seven.

“I have lost millions,” said Branson, whose arrival in Delhi two years ago had raised hopes that a much-needed revolution in the air traffic system between India and the UK was imminent.

But it seems that he has been beaten by bureaucracy, the inability of the British and Indian governments to reach a sensible agreement and, most recently, the foreign office advice to UK nationals not to travel to the sub-continent while tension persists over Kashmir or pull out if they are already there.

“Virgin Atlantic is committed to the London-Delhi route but is frustrated at the blocks that have been put in our ambitions to expand these services and add new ones to Mumbai,” he said.

Branson revealed that he had written to the British government, urging it to withdraw its travel advice “in the light of recent positive developments between India and Pakistan”.

A spokeswoman for the foreign office said the travel advice was reviewed daily but “there is no decision to change it at the moment”.

The British and Indian governments met recently but failed to work out a new air service agreement which would have given Virgin a daily service to Delhi and the promise of the same number of flights to Mumbai as well. The two sides meet again next month.

Branson said: “We are extremely disappointed that the talks ended without a new agreement and hope the two governments will use the intervening weeks before the next round to reflect on the real benefits a new deal would bring. I am writing to both the governments to encourage them to agree on a new deal allowing more frequencies between our two countries.”

He added: “India desperately needs the benefits that additional air services would bring.”

Declaring the plans to pull out in August, Branson said: “I am not holding a gun to anyone’s head. I am just stating facts. The cost for us to maintain two flights a week is horrendous. United (Airlines) has pulled out. If we pull out, we will not be coming back.”

The demand for seats is especially high from an increasingly prosperous, million-strong Indian-origin population in Britain. On top of this, India has become a popular destination for British businessmen.

Demand for seats far outstrips supply. It is not unusual for airlines to overbook a flight so that up to 100 passengers with ‘Ok’ tickets are offloaded just before check-in. “The situation is disgraceful,” said Branson, who was seen as the man who could sort out the mess.

PTI quoted Indian civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain as saying that the government wanted proper landing slots for Air-India at Heathrow airport to increase flights to London. Air-India now uses only 10 of the 19 frequencies it is entitled to operate on the UK sector. Two of the unutilised frequencies are used by Virgin in a code-share deal with Air-India.


New Delhi, June 24: 
Voluble support from within industry for a new media policy is expected to shape the Centre’s stand as it ponders over a 47-year-old Cabinet resolution barring foreign investment in the print media. It is the kind of support that policy makers have found encouraging as they set about reworking their proposal.

In Sushma Swaraj’s information and broadcasting ministry, which will pilot any new proposal on the media, the mandarins say the debate on allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) has been raging for long “but we have never seen it reach the sort of level it has since the parliamentary standing committee’s report”.

The committee submitted its report in April, opposing foreign investment in news and current affairs. But its decision was far from unanimous, with nine members submitting notes of dissent, the most comprehensive one being from Narendra Mohan of Dainik Jagaran.

Since then Swaraj has made a tentative move, seeking Cabinet approval for allowing foreign investment in scientific, technical and specialised journals.

“We do not have any media policy as such,” Pramod Mahajan had said after a Cabinet meeting. “Changing the 1955 resolution is not a very cumbersome process of legislating or drafting a new law — one sentence is enough. The Cabinet has asked the information and broadcasting ministry to present a total proposal.”

“We are taking note not only of the (standing) committee’s report but also of the notes of dissent by some of its members. Our decision will be comprehensive and fair,” government sources said.

In his note of dissent, Narendra Mohan had said the committee report “does not take into account the latest developments in the media sector and how the world over there has been convergence in print media and communication convergence has become the talk of the day”. He alleged that the committee’s discussion on the 1955 Cabinet resolution was “biased”.

In separate letters to the Speaker and to the Prime Minister, Mohan, quoting from the minutes of the January 8 meeting, also pointed out that the committee had actually approved a draft report. “The majority view that emerged in the meeting, which was attended by 16 members, was to permit FDI in print media to the extent of 26 per cent subject to certain safeguards so that the managerial control rests in Indian hands and security of the nation is taken care of,” Mohan said.

Even before that, editors of leading media groups wrote to the I&B ministry. “It is that letter which began the whole thing anew,” said ministry sources. Apart from Mohan, the other signatories were Aroon Purie (India Today Group), Shekhar Gupta (Indian Express), Chandan Mitra (Pioneer) and T.N. Ninan (Business Standard).

The editors made a plea that print media companies should be allowed to raise capital from the market, which meant allowing Indian companies as well as foreign institutional investors and NRIs to pick up shares.

Swaraj referred the matter to the law ministry, which found that the proposal neither contravenes law nor is it against the 1955 resolution.


Guwahati, June 24: 
Karbi militants today gunned down five ONGC employees in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district after ambushing their vehicle on a hilly stretch of road near Diphu.

Police said heavily armed militants of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity ambushed a five-vehicle convoy that included the ONGC vehicle between Doldoli and Diphu town. All five victims, among them two engineers, died on the spot.

The engineers, accompanied by two contract labourers, were headed for Diphu after a survey in Dhansiri. The ambush is believed to be in retaliation for the killing of three of the militant group’s cadre by army personnel near Bokajan last night.

The ONGC has always been targeted by the outfit, which has links with Naga militants. The oil and gas giant had suspended operations in Nagaland following repeated threats and had only recently announced resumption of operations.

The flurry of militancy-related incidents over the past couple of days has jolted the administration. The abduction of four businessmen by militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland in Darrang district yesterday has already sparked an exodus of non-Bodo traders from the Bodo-dominated belt.

The businessmen were going from Guwahati to Tangla in Darrang district when their Tata Sumo was attacked. The driver, who was also abducted, stopped the vehicle after the militants fired at the tyres. The incident followed the abduction and killing of three traders by the same outfit at Rangapara in Sonitpur district on Friday night.

The police are still clueless about the whereabouts of the abducted businessmen, though a search has been launched in the forests adjoining the India-Bhutan border.

Darrang superintendent of police Khobir Ahmed told The Telegraph no outfit had contacted the families of the abducted businessmen for ransom. “The abductors returned to search the vehicle. They were probably looking for something,” he said.

Sources in Mangaldoi said the abductions have created a “fear psychosis” in the minds of non-Bodo traders. An intelligence official said several non-Bodo traders had received extortion notices from the outfit. “The killing of three traders in Sonitpur district on Friday was a warning to those who have not paid up,” he said.

Last year, the rebels had launched a similar campaign against Bhutanese traders in the border areas. The offensive is said to be a result of the businessmen’s refusal to pay “entry tax” — for crossing the border — to the outfit.


Kathmandu, June 24: 
Sulichaur looks like any other township found all over the mountains of Nepal. But there is something amiss — the hustle and bustle that characterise a market town.

Dusk descends early in this low river valley. There are a few buses parked for the night, but the raunchy, drunken shouts of the drivers common in such places do not ring out in the evening. Everything is eerily subdued.

This is the heart of Rolpa. Till 1996, Rolpa was just one of those impoverished districts that made up the “wild west”. That has changed forever. Rolpa has earned a name for itself as the cradle of Nepal’s Maoist uprising and the undisputed stronghold of the rebels.

It is a whole day’s drive to Sulichaur from Nepalgunj. This border town, about three hours’ drive away from Lucknow, is the hub of western Nepal. This is where police operations against the Maoists were coordinated from and which has, since the proclamation of Emergency in November 2001, become the centre of army operations as well.

It’s a battle zone that greets the eye the moment you alight at Nepalgunj airport. All around the runway are thatched army pickets.

Police and army checkpoints monitor all movement once you are on the highway, but soon signs of destruction wrought by the rebels begin to show up as do slogans exhorting support for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and its People’s War.

Once the dirt track leading to Libang, the district headquarters of Rolpa, branches off the asphalt, all sign of government presence disappears. There is only one army post in that entire stretch of road. It is easy to see why: this is where the Maoist writ runs. Burnt-out police posts and other government installations stand testimony to the fact.

Sulichaur itself has not had a police post since November. The last time the army passed through was three months ago. But no one seems to be complaining.

As night falls, small groups on the roadside exchange gossip — something they would not have been able to do with the police around, as an unofficial curfew would be clamped after dark.

There seems to be no sign of any Maoists either but, as the locals tell it, they are there. They would know. Among the first actions by the Maoists not long after the uprising began was an attempt to blow up a mill that belongs to a local bigwig.

Like many parts of rural Nepal, Sulichaur is an alcohol-free zone. Though it is easy to presume that the Maoists have prohibited the sale of liquor here as they have done elsewhere, it is not so. It is the security forces that do not allow it. Slowly, it emerges that alcohol is not the only commodity in short supply. There is a shortage of foodstuff, too.

To starve out the Maoists, the army has controlled entry of food into Rolpa. The most one can bring are a few kg of rice and the like. The Maoists, too, are playing the same game. There are instructions not to carry any local produce to the district centre where the army and the police are concentrated.

Sulichaur is a major market for eastern Rolpa and the neighbouring district of Rukum. But the shelves are empty. Local residents say they do not know what they are going to survive on once their stocks run dry. There is no one to turn to for help. The government is restricted to Libang and is in no position to set up a supply and distribution system.

So, has the blockade really affected the rebels? Sulichaur residents do not think so. For a determined force like the Maoists, there are enough ways to slip in the supplies, they say. That is, if they do not already have enough supplies stocked in advance.

The saving grace is that at least there has been no fighting here and people do not seem on the edge. As if to prove the point, the house next door has a party. Raucous voices carry over above the light rain that patters on the tin roof through the night.


New Delhi, June 24: 
Maneka Gandhi must be disappointed had she expected from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a sympathetic hearing on the controversy over animal research. Vajpayee, instead, sought to rein in Maneka by asking the committee for animal protection — headed by her — to conduct an interactive session with health minister C.P. Thakur and science and technology minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

After umpiring the meeting today between the two warring ministers — Thakur and Maneka — the Prime Minister gave a ruling that required the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals to make a presentation before Thakur and Joshi. The meeting, Vajpayee ruled, must be held within a week.

It is unusual for the health and the science and technology ministers to attend a meeting of the committee. The Prime Minister’s ‘directive’ made it clear that he was lobbying the ball in Thakur’s court.

The panel has already made public its findings after a series of visits to the country’s research institutions. But it has not made a direct presentation before Thakur and Joshi.

Today’s meeting comes at a time when there is speculation over Maneka and Thakur being shunted out of their ministries in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle. There is also talk of Maneka being dropped from the Cabinet.

“Prime Minister Vajpayee heard the grievances and the difficulties expressed by both sides – Thakur and Maneka,” Joshi told reporters after the meeting.

Maneka met Joshi last week and presented her brief. But the human resources development minister, also in charge of science and technology, is more inclined to taking Thakur’s side.

The controversy over medical experiments on animals hit the roof after Maneka blasted research institutions for violating guidelines laid down for protecting animal rights and ensuring their safety.

She had hauled up one of the top-ranking medical research institutions — the National Institutions of Virology — for not sticking to the norms.

Research authorities petitioned Thakur to intervene and the health minister turned to the Prime Minister for help. Thakur has charged Maneka with being “overzealous” about animal rights in a country where poverty was so rampant and impeding serious medical research.

Maneka counters by saying she is not against medical research on animals, but the animals must be treated with compassion. She accuses research institutions of violating the guidelines laid down by the animal protection committee, resulting in the animals ending up being maimed or sick.


New Delhi, June 24: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to begin consultations tomorrow with home minister L.K. Advani about changes in the Cabinet.

Advani came back today after a five-day trip to Spain but the time-gap between the Prime Minister’s declaration of a Cabinet shuffle last week and Advani’s return has apparently created stumbling blocks. Vajpayee had hinted that the reshuffle would be “massive”.

A statement given today to a TV channel by party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, who hinted he would not be interested in joining the Cabinet, gave an indication of the problems that have cropped up.

“When I have been entrusted with the responsibility of running the party as its president, why should my own leadership ask me to leave the party and come over to the Cabinet? It won’t happen,” Krishnamurthi said.

The Cabinet shuffle/expansion was largely contingent on Krishnamurthi agreeing to join the Cabinet. This, felt the party leadership, would facilitate a cross migration of “talent” between the government and BJP ministers like M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley, who reportedly had no problems going back to the party and putting it in shape for the 2004 elections. They had, however, expressed reservations about working under Krishnamurthi.

Party insiders said efforts were on to persuade Krishnamurthi to change his mind. Vajpayee and Advani, they said, were likely to sound him on a ministerial offer in a day or two.

RSS joint general secretary and its pointsman with the BJP Madan Das Devi was also expected to “impress” upon him the need for a change of guard in the party before the elections in 10 states next year, most of which were Hindi-speaking ones.

“As a long-time, dedicated worker of the party, we are sure Krishnamurthi will eventually agree to join the government. As it is, the cadre has not appreciated the perception that he is creating problems in the Prime Minister’s attempts to give his Cabinet and the party a facelift. Once this feedback gets back to him, he would overcome his reservations about joining the Cabinet,” said sources.

If Krishnamurthi relented, sources said Vajpayee and Advani would have to hunt for a new party chief. Though Venkaiah Naidu’s name was suggested as a likely candidate by one section, there were those who observed that having a southerner to lead the elections in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi would be “unwise”. It was precisely this factor that went against Krishnamurthi.

“It would have to be someone from the north or at best the west,” said sources, hinting that Union minister Pramod Mahajan and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh were being looked at as alternatives.


June 24: 
Delhi today made a loud noise over a comment Pervez Musharraf had made for his domestic audience, using the opportunity to pin the wily general to his assurances to Washington that he would ensure a permanent end to cross-border terror.

In an interview published in a foreign newsweekly yesterday, the Pakistan President claimed that he had not made any such promise and had merely told President George Bush nothing was happening across the Line of Control. “That is the assurance I’ve given. I’m not going to give you an assurance that for years nothing will happen,” he said.

A nettled Delhi was quick to grab the chance to expose the general’s multiplespeak before the international community. Pointing out that Musharraf was up to his “old trick” of reneging on his words, a diplomat said India was bent on pinning him to his promise and extracting a further commitment to end export of terror.

“He is trying to wriggle out of it and we want him to stick by what he had promised,” the diplomat said.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao accused Pakistan of resorting to “verbal callisthenics”. She said if Musharraf went back on his pledge, India would have to take a “closer look” at what needs to be done.

Sensing trouble in Delhi’s tough talk, key global players stepped in to get the nuclear neighbours back on track. British foreign secretary Jack Straw phoned foreign minister Jaswant Singh to discuss the situation.

The US embassy in Delhi, too, issued a strong rebuttal to Musharraf’s comment. Asserting that the general had given his word to Richard Armitage during his recent Islamabad visit, a spokesman said: “Deputy secretary Armitage was given assurances by President Musharraf on June 6 that ending of infiltration across the Line of Control would be permanent.”

Squirming in the global glare, Pakistan has started sending out conciliatory signals. Foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan today said Musharraf had assured time and again that nobody would be allowed to carry out terrorist activities against any country from Pakistani soil.

Khan also added that Pakistan would adequately respond to any meaningful step India took to de-escalate tension. “When a meaningful step is taken by India leading to de-escalation, Pakistan would not be found wanting in giving an adequate response,” he said at a weekly briefing.

Musharraf himself, speaking at a science conference, said Pakistan’s nuclear and missile capabilities were defensive and purely deterrent in nature. “It has no offensive designs against anybody” and was achieved “not by choice but through threats and compulsions”.

Pakistan police detained over two dozen people in Lahore as part of its continuing crackdown against Islamic militants. Most of those arrested were members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba.


Ahmedabad, June 24: 
South Asian academics in the UK have joined human rights advocates in urging the British government to declare Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet ministers personae non gratae over the “genocidal violence” against minorities.

The UK-based academics also urged the British government to send a strong signal by refusing to host home minister L.K. Advani “now or in the future”.

In a letter to the editor published in The Guardian on June 22, the academics called on international human rights observers to monitor the situation in Gujarat, at least till the Assembly elections are over, saying the international community must not pass over these genocidal events in silence.

The Muslim community in Gujarat has been systematically and brutally targeted since March, which claimed over a thousand lives, including those of women and children, the academics said. They criticised the Centre for continuing to support the Gujarat chief minister despite his culpable role in the events.

The academics said the nature and extent of the violence had been horrific, as attested to by the eyewitness accounts recorded by the National Human Rights Commission and citizens’ groups as well as the internal report of the British High Commission in India. The fate of hundred thousand refugees in temporary camps, now threatened with closure, hangs in the balance.

The academics reiterated a strong commitment to the protection of the lives of minorities and urgently called for the defence of their rights. The letter was signed by former Delhi University vice-chancellor Professor Upendra Baxi, Lord Meghnad Desai, Professor Tapan K. Raychaudhuri, Professor Sunil Khilnani and 27 others.

The academics claimed they had joined efforts with those working in India to bring about the dismissal and legal indictment of the chief minister of Gujarat; the identification and initiation of criminal proceedings against the perpetrators of crimes; the safety of the survivors living in the camps as well as those who return to their homes, and their adequate rehabilitation.

Gujarat government spokesman I.K. Jadeja, when contacted for his comment on this letter, said: “I cannot say anything now because I have not seen the letter as yet. I will react only after I go through it.”

Boost to anti-govt plea

Twenty-five affidavits were filed in Gujarat High Court today in support of a public interest litigation charging the state government with using coercive methods to get the relief camps vacated.

The petition, filed jointly by Citizens for Justice and Peace and Communalism Combat, would be heard on Wednesday by a division bench comprising Chief Justice D.S. Sinha and Justice J.M. Panchal.




Maximum: 28.1°C (-6)
Minimum:24.5°C (-2)


56.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 86%


Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
Occasional rain

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