Naxalite murder challenge to govt
Powell dash after Delhi blast
Vajpayee council to mediate in rail row
Neem for birth, jute for survival
Pak banks on twin tracks to ease tension
Neither Rashtrapati Bhavan, nor Raj Bhavan
Poll year deadline on Delhi power cuts
Cong gears up for Sonia-Advani clash
Police smell August 15 blast plot
Calcutta Weather

July 9: 
The spectre of a full-blown confrontation between the People’s War and the Bengal government loomed large tonight after the Naxalites stuck to an audacious ultimatum by gunning down a CPM leader and his guard.

The murders in Paschim Midnapore came within 24 hours of the outfit circulating leaflets warning the government to either free the four persons arrested in Calcutta last week for alleged Naxalite links or risk retaliation.

The CPM state committee late tonight asked the government to step up the campaign against the outfit, terming it an “extremist organisation”.

“We are appealing to all democratic people and organisations to counter and isolate the People’s War. The CPM is all for safeguarding the democratic rights of all citizens and political parties. But it will not allow space for violence and terror in politics,” CPM state committee member Benoy Konar said in Calcutta.

Ajit Ghosh, secretary of CPM’s Goaltore Anchalik Samity, and Rajkumar Sardar, his guard, were attacked this afternoon near Chotonagdona village, a few km from Goaltore town. The 48-year-old teacher of Bulanpur High School was returning home on his two-wheeler when the guerrillas waylaid him and opened fire.

Ghosh’s guard — he was recently allotted one after the Naxalites made four attempts on his life — returned fire but could not match up to the flying bullets. Both died while locals were ferrying them to a nearby health centre.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the twin killings were reprehensible but his government had decided not to proscribe the People’s War. “This is PW for you,” he said at Writers’ Buildings, “But, we will not be banning them… it’s not the government’s policy.”

Bhattacharjee refused to concede that the Naxalite problem in Bengal was spinning out of control. He said the guerrillas needed to be curbed in neighbouring states so that his government did not have to grapple with the spillover effect.

The chief minister said the Centre was aware of the Naxalite menace in Bengal. There was even a committee comprising representatives of six states to monitor the problem, he said.

As news of the killings broke, tension spread in Goaltore police station area. Angry CPM supporters demonstrated outside the police station, blaming the police for having failed to protect the CPM leader. Hundreds blocked the highway. The CPM has called a 12-hour bandh in Garbeta block to protest the killings.

“Police should have been more cautious and taken adequate steps after the PW-MCC issued an ultimatum yesterday. Besides, the militants have been targeting Ghosh for the last few weeks. The miscreants attacked him at least four times but he somehow escaped each attempt…” a senior CPM leader of Garbeta said.


Washington and New Delhi, July 9: 
Twenty-four hours after foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal aired the harshest criticism of America to come out of South Block in several years, US secretary of state Colin Powell has decided to travel to New Delhi.

Powell will be in New Delhi on July 25 and 26, halting there on his way to Brunei to attend the annual meeting of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF).

India is also represented at the ARF, usually by its foreign minister, who traditionally meets his American counterpart on the sidelines of the forum.

If the idea was to routinely exchange views with external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, Powell could have done so in Brunei.

Since he has decided to visit New Delhi, Powell will also use the opportunity to meet General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad.

“We are anxious to get through this crisis and see a dialogue begin between the two sides so that they can start to move forward to find a solution to the problem in Kashmir ulti mately,” Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

He said he was trying to make sure that “both the Indians and the Pakistanis understand that the US is interested in them be yond this crisis”.

Powell will be followed a few weeks later by his deputy, Richard Armitage. While Armitage’s visit was scheduled well in advance, the Bush administration’s sudden decision to upgrade the US peace efforts in South Asia reflects two developments.

One is the concern that slowly, but surely, the region is once again drifting towards a crisis similar to the one witnessed in December-January and again in May-June.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw’s trip to India in 10 days, just before visits by the Americans, is like a replay of the international diplomatic efforts during the May-June crisis to cool things in South Asia.

Western leaders believe that Musharraf’s room for manoeuvre is being reduced with every passing day. They are concerned that this could either force him into adventurism as a tool for political survival.

Alternatively, it could allow extremists who are outside the control of Islamabad to seize the initiative, which would be a sure recipe for war.

But the Americans have also been stung by the forthright criticism of the Bush administration by Sibal yesterday at a meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Sibal was scathing when he compared Washington’s decision to pull out its citizens to its weak and routine expression of disappointment in response to missile tests by Islamabad at the height of the India-Pakistan crisis.

The Americans have sat up and taken notice that Sibal had no time yesterday for the usual paeans for Indo-US bilateral ties, which have been a factor of every Indian pronouncement in at least two and a half years.

Instead, the foreign secretary expressed regret that bilateral initiatives had been pushed to the sidelines and Indo-US relations have virtually become hostage to the scare of a nuclear war in South Asia.

South Block officials are not too unhappy with the flurry of activity and the regular visits from the West to South Asia.

“The more such visits take place, the better for us,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said. According to him, such visits would mean more pressure on Pakistan. India has ruled out any further steps towards de-escalation, either on the military or at the diplomatic level, till Islamabad completely stops infiltration across the Line of Control and dismantles the terror network in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

India’s stand has hardened after the West appeared to soften a bit towards Musharraf, saying the Pakistan President was not in full control of the situation in his country. Though Delhi is unwilling to describe this as a shift in Washington’s stand vis-à-vis Islamabad, it admits that the pressure on Musharraf has eased somewhat.

South Block admits there has been a drop in the infiltration level. But to keep up the pressure on Pakistan, senior officials of the foreign ministry continue to say in public there has been no fall in the incursion rate. Moreover, there are reports that new terrorist camps have come up in PoK and the Musharraf regime is not doing much to dismantle them.

The Indian leadership is keen on holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir by September-October and feels that as long as it maintains the pressure on Pakistan, there will be less infiltration across the Line of Control.

During discussions with Powell and other western leaders, India will argue that Musharraf had promised to the international community to stop cross-border terrorism completely. Therefore, it is for the world leaders to ensure that he fulfils his commitment to bring down the temperature in South Asia.


New Delhi, July 9: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will step in on Thursday to mediate in the Eastern Railway bifurcation dispute, but the assurance by his deputy to a delegation from Bengal could not stop grim warnings rumbling out.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told the leaders who called on him today that besides Vajpayee and himself, the meeting to discuss the demand of Bengal parties will be attended by NDA convener George Fernandes and railway minister Nitish Kumar.

Advani’s assurance to the Bengal leaders came a little after Kumar told them an expert committee could not be set up “at this stage” to reconsider the bifurcation proposal, but said he would convey their feelings to the “higher political authorities”.

The bifurcation will result in the creation of a new zone — East-Central Railway — to be headquartered in Hajipur, Bihar.

The Bengal leaders later said their parties would chart out their course of action after meeting Vajpayee. “Our line of action will be decided after the Prime Minister’s statement,” Bengal parliamentary affairs minister Prabodh Sinha said.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who led the delegation, warned that if the Centre went ahead with the bifurcation, “the country will break up into five pieces”.

Chakraborty said his information was that the move is “being engineered by divisive forces” in league with superpowers. Asked to elaborate on the five pieces, he said it was not for media consumption. “It is my personal study,” he said. “I may not be alive. You may have to take a passport to visit Chennai.”

Chakraborty and the other members of the team said it was imperative that “ill-feelings between different states created due to this decision should be avoided at all cost”.

In Calcutta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the bifurcation move was not only a regional issue but had other implications detrimental to both Bihar and Bengal. “I do not want to be quoted as being a parochial person. My interests lie with those of other states, too,” he said at Writers’ Buildings.

“I have already requested deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to set up an experts’ panel and look into the implications of creating so many new railway zones. I am not saying anything further till he responds.”

Though the Trinamul Congress was party to the unanimous resolution passed by the Assembly against the bifurcation, it stayed away from the team. Suspended Trinamul MP Ajit Panja, however, was part of the team.

The delegation of MPs and MLAs from the Left parties and the Congress told Advani and Kumar that Indian railways should not be allowed to disintegrate into a conglomeration of zonal railways. The team submitted a memorandum to them.

Advani also did not give the leaders any assurance that an expert committee would be set up to take a fresh look at the decision to create new railway zones. Kumar said that since the matter concerned earlier decisions taken by the Union Cabinet, only the Prime Minister had the authority to decide. He said the decision was taken as “part of a continuous process”.

The delegation included RSP MP Abani Roy, Basudeb Acharya and Nilotpal Basu (both CPM) and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha.


Calcutta, July 9: 
The Dowager of Lyons Range is fighting for survival. The Calcutta Stock Exchange — which traces its origins to a famous get-together under a Neem Tree way back in the 1830s — is ready for a makeover.

The CSE — which was formally organised into an association of brokers in May 1908 — is now aiming to do the unthinkable: it plans to create a separate trading platform for commodities.

It’s part of a survival game plan that will involve the creation of additional trading platforms for fixed-income products and esoteric instruments like equity derivatives.

CSE’s plan to introduce commodity trading is unique: nowhere else in the world has a stock exchange turned to commodity trading.

The reverse has happened quite a few times. For instance, the Chicago Board of Trade, which was the first organised commodity exchange in the world formed in 1848, now deals in US treasury notes and bonds, and stock indexes. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which principally deals in livestock, has started trading in stock indexes and currencies.

India now has three commodity exchanges — one each in Mumbai, Kochi and Calcutta. Futures trading in six commodities, including jute, pepper and spices, are now allowed.

Top CSE officials today held an hour-long discussion with Sebi chairman G.N. Bajpai and executive director Pratip Kar where they sought approval for the proposed expansion, starting with a platform for trading in equity derivatives.

“Survival in our present form is impossible. We have to introduce trading in equity derivatives as soon as possible. But going forward, we want to introduce separate platforms for trading in debt instruments and commodities,” said CSE executive director P.K. Sarkar.

Many of India’s 23 stock exchanges have been struggling to survive in a downturn that has forced retail investors to flee the market. But the warning bells had started ringing back in 1992 with the inception of the National Stock Exchange which has since emerged as the country’s largest bourse.

CSE’s move is an admission of the extent of the crisis and a clear signal of the shape of things to come.

The 94-year-old exchange is the third largest bourse in the country in terms of traded volumes after the NSE and the Bombay stock exchange (BSE). How deep-set the crisis really is can be gauged from the fact that the fourth largest bourse at Delhi has had virtually no trading over the past two weeks.

Lyons Range was the Mecca for carry-forward trading — a mechanism that allows brokers to roll their positions into successive settlement cycles -- until a year ago.

Business on the bourse has slumped to an abysmal low over the past year after a payment crisis erupted in March 2001 and carry-forward trading was banned because it encouraged excessive speculation. Daily turnover on the CSE hovers around Rs 30 crore now compared with Rs 2,500 crore in its heydays not so long ago.

The proposal to introduce new products—even commodities—stems from the need to create new streams of revenue using the bourse’s huge infrastructure. The exchange has a fully computerised trading platform for shares which is managed by CMC Ltd.

“Our present volume of business does not justify the infrastructure we have developed over the past few years. To make better use of it, we will have to introduce trading in other instruments. We may even rent out our computing capacity to outsiders to generate revenues,” Sarkar added.

The exchange, however, will have to arrange funds to support its expansion drive. Its reserves tumbled by around Rs 90 crore last year when its members defaulted on payments. The exchange also needs funds to build a modern financial hub on a plot near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

After an hour-long chat with the Sebi chief, Sarkar said he was hopeful about the revival of the exchange.

Sebi has appointed an expert committee headed by Justice Kania to find a new role for the 19 regional stock exchanges that face the threat of extinction.

Bourses all over the world are facing trouble because of dwindling volumes and are being forced to consolidate and merge operations. Some years ago, the New York Stock Exchange floated the idea of a Global Equity Market that would be open for trading round the clock. The plan fell through but, as the recent abortive bid by Deutsche Boerse to take over London Stock Exchange shows, bourses will have to consolidate or go to the wall.

In June, the London Stock Exchange cooled merger talks with US exchange Nasdaq, pushing back the prospect of a deal by several months. London’s 200-year old exchange, which had been holding intense discussions with New York’s Nasdaq, the world’s second-largest exchange, has since resumed talks with several rivals in search of a juicier deal.


Islamabad, July 9: 
Pakistan today said withdrawal of forces to their peacetime locations and simultaneously initiating a meaningful dialogue with India to address all outstanding disputes were the only means to de-escalate tension in South Asia.

“So long as the Indian forces are deployed in forward and threatening posture..., tension will remain high,” foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said at a weekly news briefing.

Responding to a question, he said a very “minor” kind of de-escalation did take place at one stage but warned that the continued deployment could lead to accidents and tragic consequences for the people of Pakistan, India and the entire region. “It is better that forces are withdrawn to their peacetime locations as quickly as possible,” he said.

Khan pointed out that Pakistan had taken all possible steps to reduce tension and had repeatedly expressed its willingness for a dialogue. “We firmly believe that the time is ripe and we should address all issues between Pakistan and India, particularly Kashmir, in a serious, meaningful and purposeful manner.”

Replying to another question, he drew attention towards the statements of various leaders who had visited the region and maintained that all issues between the two nuclear-armed rivals should be resolved through dialogue. “I hope this dialogue process will start soon,” the spokesman said.

On Indian allegations of cross-border incursions, Khan said: “There is no cross-LoC infiltration.” Pakistan, he said, has been calling for deployment of neutral observers and the UN mechanism to verify the bona-fide of our claims and also to check India’s allegations.

Asked to comment on the Indian defence minister repeating a proposal for joint-patrolling of the Line of Control, the spokesman said the same news report that carried the statement also quoted him as saying that such a proposal was not workable under the present circumstances. “This is our contention,” Khan said, adding that Islamabad had examined the proposal and found it not feasible.


New Delhi, July 9: 
Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander, who almost made it to Rashtrapati Bhavan before being dropped by the NDA, today ended his nine-year tenure at Raj Bhavan, throwing the capital into a cesspool of speculation.

The 81-year-old former bureaucrat, who served as principal secretary to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, submitted his resignation to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who told reporters that it has been forwarded to President K.R. Narayanan for acceptance.

The surprise decision of the Governor came about a month after he had emerged as an early frontrunner for the President’s post but failed to get the nod after a last-minute NDA compromise in favour of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Alexander declined to spell out the reasons for his decision but made it clear that he is not in the race for Vice-President.

Alexander met Advani in the morning and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the evening in what was seen as farewell calls.

A former Indian high commissioner to Britain, the Congress-appointed Alexander had established a good rapport with the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra on account of which his governorship was extended by the NDA government at the end of a five-year term in 1998 and was formally reappointed for a second term.

Alexander has asked the government to relieve him of his responsibilities by Saturday. His resignation was the talking point in the capital today. Though he refused to cite any reason, several theories ran wild across the political spectrum.

Some predicted that he would head the new deputy Prime Minister’s secretariat, while others said he would replace a powerful adviser to the government.

The theories also touched upon purported proposals to make him an ambassador to the US and offer him a UN job.

But a senior official said while the Vajpayee-government appreciated Alexander’s services, there was no move to offer him an alternative job.

Those who have known him for long say he was embarrassed by the NDA’s flip-flops over deciding the nominee for President.

Alexander is said to have met Sena chief Bal Thackeray several times in an attempt to get the Vice-President’s nomination. But the BJP had already zeroed in on Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Once this became clear, Alexander decided to call it a day.

Asked repeatedly whether his decision was aimed at bargaining for some post, he said: “I have crossed that stage. I have never asked for any thing and posts have come to me.”

On whether his decision was linked to being dumped by the NDA, he said: “It is your speculation and I am not subscribing to it.”

Alexander said he would divulge the reasons behind his decision later. “Till now, I am the Governor....I am still the Governor,” he said. He did not have the freedom to tell why he had stepped down as his resignation was yet to be accepted.

“It is my decision, my own decision,” he added.

The CPM said Alexander had no option but to resign in the wake of the NDA denying him nomination for presidentship after “making promises”.

“What can we say. It’s their internal matter. They have made promises to several people and are not able to fulfil them,” CPM general-secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said. “What face has he left now?” Surjeet asked.

Congress general secretary Vayalar Ravi declined to comment.

“No comments” was the cryptic response of the Congress leader in charge of party affairs in Maharashtra when asked to comment on Alexander s resignation.


New Delhi, July 9: 
Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit today admitted that the power situation in the capital would continue to be bad till next summer and asked the Congress to drum up support for its “test case” of power sector reforms.

Sonia Gandhi had asked Dikshit to file a daily report on Delhi’s power situation, which took a beating after the privatisation of Delhi Vidyut Board. There is considerable unease in the Congress over regular power cuts ranging from to 4 to 8 hours. The party feels it would adversely affect its poll prospects in Delhi.

The Congress had recently won the Delhi municipal polls with three-fourths majority. The Assembly polls are due in November 2003.

In the chief minister’s scheme of things, power cuts would come down drastically by the summer of 2003 as the privatisation process would get streamlined. Dikshit apparently hopes to cash in on “short public memory”. Regular power supply next year will ensure electoral success, Dikshit feels, but not too many partymen agree.

In her report to Sonia, the chief minister said privatisation would curb large-scale power thefts and streamline tariff, which had almost crippled the state electricity board. The two companies engaged in power distribution — Tata Power and Brihanmumbai Suburban Electric Supply (BSES) — would be able to recover dues a “professional manner”, Dikshit said.

On their part, the Tatas and BSES have set up several monitoring cells and brought in technicians from Mumbai. Call centres have been set up and agitated consumers are politely told about the power situation and the follow-up action.

Dikshit said the situation worsened as monsoon came late in Delhi forcing consumers to use more power than expected. She, however, discounted the charge that the privatisation was “ill-timed” pointing that it was set in motion in 1999.

At the political level, the chief minister is confident that residents will realise the benefits of privatisation with time as supply will improve.

“The enlightened citizens would soon realise that there is no such thing as free power,” the status report said.

Dikshit ruled out acts of sabotage by disgruntled Vidyut Board employees in her report. Earlier, she had accused the local BJP of engineering sabotage. The report said there were stray incidents that were checked. The chief minister also promised that there would be no increase in tariff in the near future.

The BJP, however, disagreed with the chief minister. Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s office and local MP Vijay Goel said: “The government has failed to understand people’s problems and left them at the mercy of private companies.”


New Delhi, July 9: 
Sniffing that the elevation of L.K. Advani could lead to the eventual eclipse of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Congress is keeping close watch on the goings-on within the BJP.

The Congress think-tank has begun revising its strategy for the 2004 general elections and is gearing for a Sonia vs Advani rather than a Sonia vs Vajpayee clash. It is also working on a premise that the power struggle within the BJP and the Sangh may bring elections closer, coinciding with Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

In the Congress’ assessment, party chief Sonia Gandhi stands to gain if deputy Prime Minister Advani is projected as leader of the BJP for the 2004 polls. Not only will his hardliner image draw minorities, tribals, Dalits and liberal sections of society closer to the Congress, he will also lack the wide support that Vajpayee enjoys among the intelligentsia, middle class and upper castes.

Given the shifting equations within the BJP, AICC officials headed by Sonia debated the various possibilities and their likely impact on national politics last week and yesterday.

There was general agreement that Advani’s rise had the blessings of the Sangh parivar and marked the return of Hindutva hardliners in the BJP.

The assessment was that post-Gujarat, the BJP national executive in Goa had decided to go back to its “original agenda” and not “care too much about” its so-called “secular allies”. The ploy to project Advani as Vajpayee’s successor aimed at covering up the NDA government’s failures on major political, economic and diplomatic issues.

Though the AICC discussed the rise of Advani against this background, most felt that it would boomerang. Therefore, the Congress must brace itself for “future challenges”. Sonia said the party set-up should be toned up to meet “new challenges”.

Congress sources said Sonia was keeping the “Advani factor” in mind while appointing the chiefs of the Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab units. In Uttar Pradesh, she opted for Arun Kumar Singh Munna, a Thakur, on the basis of his skills of oratory to counter Vinay Katiyar, the BJP chief and a Hindutva hardliner.

Sonia has short-listed Shamsher Singh Dullo, a vocal Dalit MP from Ropar, for Punjab unit chief. Birender Singh’s name is doing the rounds for Haryana chief. Birender is an influential Jat leader with strong oratory skills. R.K. Malviya is likely to be dumped as Madhya Pradesh unit chief in view of the likely appointment of Uma Bharti as state BJP president. Sonia is considering Suresh Pachauri and Subhash Yadav for MPCC chief.


Lucknow, July 9: 
Uttar Pradesh police today arrested four alleged terrorists and recovered from their possession a large quantity of arms and ammunition meant to carry out blasts in trains and buses in and around Delhi on the eve of Independence Day.

State director general of police R.K. Pandit said all four militants belonged to the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. Two of them had received training in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and were in touch with their commanders.

They were arrested during a joint operation by the police forces of Meerut and Moradabad. “We are interrogating them and more arrests may follow soon,” said Meerut DIG Arun Kumar.

Apart from two AK-47 rifles and 30 Chinese pistols, the terrorists were carrying over a dozen detonators and 28 kg of explosives, Kumar said in Lucknow.

“They had plans to explode bombs in trains and buses on dates close to Independence Day. The explosive material recovered from them was an indication of how dangerous their plan would have been,” he said.

The leader of the group, Ulfat, alias Shafikul Islam, is a resident of Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir, and had been involved in militant activities there. Ulfat had studied in a madarsa in Uttar Pradesh and it was because of his connections in the state that he had been asked to start operations here.

Ulfat had sent seven youths of Moradabad and Rampur districts for military training to PoK and his interrogation was likely to lead to the exposure of an intricate ISI network in Uttar Pradesh, police officials said.

The state police chief was hesitant to expose the madarsa links of the arrested militants because of its obvious political ramifications for the Mayavati government, which includes 14 Muslim MLAs.

However, the police admitted that intelligence reports had warned that several schools in the Terai belt had become a recruitment centre for the ISI.




Maximum: 36.8°C (+5)
Minimum: 29.5°C (+3)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 89%,
Minimum: 57%


Sunrise: 5.02 am

Sunset: 6.23 pm

Generally cloudy sky


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