Advani to liaise between govt and party
Swami gagged before US meet
Wham! All set for Guinness
Mandela strikes at AIDS apartheid
Delhi awaits ban plea
Foreigner convicted in child abuse case
PM meets Mufti on Kashmir poll

 
 
ADVANI TO LIAISE BETWEEN GOVT AND PARTY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 13: 
Lal Krishna Advani will act as the pointman between the BJP and the Centre, the party’s new office-bearers decided today.

At the first meeting of the office-bearers, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu requested him to be the link between the government and the party. This was a role Naidu had played when Kushabhau Thakre was party chief.

In a departure from practice, the meeting was chaired by Advani, not Naidu. But speaking informally to newspersons, Advani tried to give the impression that Naidu was very much in command of the party. “I am confident that under Venkaiah Naidu’s leadership, the BJP would get back the pre-eminence it enjoyed in the eighties,” Advani said, in an obvious reference to the Ram mandir era when he had presided over the BJP’s spectacular growth from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 85 in 1989.

Describing the challenge ahead as “big”, he said the recent changes in the government and the party had been “smooth” and vindicated the BJP’s slogan of being a “party with a difference”.

“Both the ministers (Naidu and Arun Jaitley) were doing a commendable job but they willingly accepted organisational work. This is an index of the fact that ours is a party with a difference,” Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister announced that he would spend one day every week at the BJP headquarter, interacting with the office-bearers to help the government and the party coordinate better. His increasing involvement was aimed at toning up the party’s working and ensuring there was no clash of interest with the government, sources said.

As Vajpayee’s deputy, it was felt he would have to equally shoulder the blame for a policy or act that the BJP might disapprove of. But if he had a direct say in the party’s working, he could sort out the differences internally.

In the past, there were embarrassing moments when Kushabhau Thakre publicly opposed the decision to open up the insurance sector and when K. Jana Krishnamurthi declared that NDA allies who quit in a huff should not be re-inducted in a hurry. The reference was to the Trinamul Congress, which had left the alliance before the West Bengal elections and was keen to return afterwards.

Though the need for a formal coordination mechanism was voiced from time to time, the proposal never took shape. Naidu alone took the initiative to work towards proper coordination during Thakre’s tenure as party president. But after he joined the government, none of the BJP functionaries, including the president, seemed clued in to what was happening in South and North Blocks.

Sources said the “lacuna” was felt acutely during Assembly elections when state leaders and campaigners sought talking points on the Centre’s performance from the BJP but got none.

In his address to the office-bearers, Advani stressed that the BJP’s priority should be to propagate the government’s achievements aggressively.

Party spokesman Arun Jaitley quoted him as saying: “On July 8, the NDA government completes 1,000 days in office. This is the first time a non-Congress government has finished such a long tenure. The feel-good factor that has been created should be communicated through aggressive programmes.”

For starters, sources close to Naidu said the BJP would try and change the cadre mindset from that of an “Opposition” to that of the “ruling” party.

   

 
 
SWAMI GAGGED BEFORE US MEET 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 13: 
A godman critical of the BJP and the Sangh parivar was put under house arrest days before he was to leave for the US to attend a religious meet, fuelling murmurs that the Vajpayee-led coalition tolerates no dissent.

Swami Adhokshjanand’s detention follows the “harassment” of Time reporter Alex Perry, who had been critical of the Prime Minister, and reports that the government had a role in the dismissal of Al-Jazeera correspondent Nasir Shadid, whose coverage of the Gujarat riots and Kashmir was not to its liking.

Adhokshjanand, a claimant to the Puri Sankaracharya’s post, has spoken out against the Centre on the Ram temple and the Gujarat riots. He was to give a talk at a symposium on South Asia organised by Washington’s Policy Institute for Religion and State on July 18 and later address Silicon Valley NRIs.

Sources close to him said the swami’s detention betrayed the Centre’s “nervousness”. “The powers that be are scared he will go abroad and speak out strongly against the parivar and Advani. The VHP’s funds from its US sources have begun to dry up after the Ayodhya tamasha.”

The sources said Orissa police swooped on his Puri ashram on July 11 and detained the inmates. Nobody has since been allowed to enter or leave the place. Adhokshjanand, who has been at loggerheads with the authorities on earlier rath yatras, has been told he cannot leave his ashram before July 24, when the festival ends.

The police have promulgated prohibitory orders around the ashram under Section 144, asserting that the swami’s participation in the rath yatra would lead to a breach of peace. He was arrested under Section 151.

But Adhokshjanand said over phone: “I have not been served with any notice under section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code as claimed by the police. On the other hand, the deputy inspector-general of police, along with a senior police official, came to my ashram and misbehaved with me. Despite my protestations, the DIG forced into the puja room wearing shoes and asked me not to get out of the ashram till July 24.

“A few hours later, there were about a dozen armed policemen around the ashram who prevented anyone from coming to meet me. My doctor and advocate are not being allowed to meet me.”

Orissa director-general of police N.C. Padhi dismissed the allegations and said the arrest was precautionary.

>    

 
 
WHAM! ALL SET FOR GUINNESS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, July 13: 
A group of Indians pushed, pulled, got pounded and sat glued to television sets as they tried to enter the Guinness Book of Records.

A calm and composed Bibhuti Bhusan Nayak was among those who made their way into the record books. The 36-year-old became an instant celebrity today when he pushed himself up on his palms an amazing 133 times in 60 seconds.

Nayak, who has a degree in martial arts and business management, grunted his way into the Guinness Book by pushing out British national Paul Dean, who holds the record. Dean, a Royal Marine, did 116 push-ups a minute on July 25 two years ago.

The gamble of show organisers AXN and HP Deskjet of holding the event in front of hundreds of screaming students paid off. Moreover, they have captured a rare moment when an Indian has made it to the record books in a tough physical event. Entries till now have usually been for the longest nail, longest hair and longest moustache.

In another stupendous feat, six youngsters — Vishal Vyas, Ami Desai, Chandan Rathod, Satpal Singh, Darshan Bagga and Bhavin Shah — watched a television show continuously for 48 hours, 16 minutes and six seconds, breaking the earlier record for longest TV viewing held by an American. He had watched TV non-stop for 46 hours 30 minutes and 50.91 seconds.

Others gallantly tried, but failed. Prasanna Pednekar tried to create a record for the most pull-ups in a minute, but sank to the ground after clocking 48 pull-ups in 47.5 seconds. Arvind Worlikar managed only 39 pull-ups in 40.87 seconds. Nilesh Gulgule, a karate expert, almost broke his elbow trying to break 315 planks with one chop. The record for the “elbow break” is 314 planks.

Videotapes of these feats would now be sent by the event organisers to Guinness Book authorities for ratification. Happy with the outcome, AXN, Asia, vice-president Gregory Ho said India has more possibilities which had to be tapped. “India already has 18 people listed in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Ho said. Action TV had received 7,000 applications but had finally selected only six, he added. Ho said similar contests would be organised in countries like Thailand and Philippines.

After the event at the Grant Medical College Gymkhana, an exhausted but triumphant Nayak said his aim was to break at least 15 more records. Few doubt India’s latest strong man. Nayak has a list of impressive achievements behind him. In 1999, he broke into the Guinness Book for the maximum number of backhand push-ups. He beat Bosnian Mario Saroti’s record of 671 push-ups in an hour to record 819.

Doing unbelievable things with his body comes easy to Nayak. He is also listed in the Limca Book of Records for 1,448 “crunches” in an hour.

Nayak had a surprise for the hordes that came to watch today. He broke another Guinness record by surviving a sledgehammer blow on three 70-mm cement blocks placed on his groin, bettering the strikes on two cement blocks held by Cliff Flenoy of the US.

But the highlight of Nayak’s endurance powers has been receiving — and surviving — 43 kicks by four martial arts instructors continuously on his groin.

Ouch! Mr Nayak. That must have hurt.

   

 
 
MANDELA STRIKES AT AIDS APARTHEID 
 
 
FROM BACHI KARKARIA
 
Barcelona July 13: 
Nelson Mandela reaffirmed his long-time status as the world’s Hero No. 1 at Barcelona’s Olympic stadium this afternoon.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the 14th International AIDS Conference, the South African leader didn’t address his remarks to the 12,000-strong crowd packed into the stands, to the sharp-suited biggies of this global meet, or even to his closest competitor in the charisma department, Bill Clinton, with whom he shared centre-stage. He spoke directly to each one of the HIV infected in the audience.

He lent the formidable weight of his reputation to the cause by telling world leaders to consider AIDS “a war against humanity”, and deliver a response commensurate with a calamity of this magnitude. But clearly his speech, and his heart, was with the cannon fodder on the frontlines of the epidemic. “When you keep quiet,” he said: “you are signing your own death warrant. There is life after HIV/AIDS.”

From anyone else, these words may have had the triteness of cliché. But not from a man who is not merely, as Clinton described him, “the world symbol of courage, peace, forgiveness and understanding”, but one who made the fight against AIDS in South Africa his personal crusade long before it became the buzzword of political commitment.

This afternoon, he focussed his compassion on AIDS orphans, especially those whose parents had left them with nothing more than the lethal legacy. The grisly estimates are 25 million of them by 2010.

Mandela spoke of how, at every meeting he attended, he would ask parents to bring children who suffered from terminal diseases, so that “when the President himself was seen at a table with these kids, no one would dare to be ashamed of them”.

Acceptance was the first step, demanding their rights the next. Today, he goes around the country with 1,500 children divided into groups. “That is how we give hope to them. That is how we talk to the larger community. People are not killed by the virus. They are killed by the stigma.

“Twenty years into this epidemic, is it acceptable that we cannot save a life despite there being so much money in the world, the current progress in treatments, the knowledge of what works in care? The simple answer is no.”

Mandela looked frail at the podium; a more appropriate reflection of his stature was in the blow-ups on the screens. His voice grew stronger as he went deeper into his passion. He spoke of individuals to whose lives he had made a difference, and whose courage had influenced him no less. “Service is not something you do for others. You do it to change your own character.”

Bill Clinton is the other “coup” in the movement to put AIDS on the world’s political agenda. It’s not just the strength of his personality or his celebrated communication skills. What is most striking is the depth of his engagement. At this conference, whether it was the youth forum on MTV or in the caucus of world leaders yesterday, or at his speech at the closing ceremony today, it was clear that he was not parroting numbers or even emoting them. His personal involvement at high-powered pow-wows or drilled right down to community and individual levels was manifest.

It would be easy to dismiss as manipulative his holding up the picture of three-year-old Maria, a Nigerian girl whose sick parents made Herculean efforts to get the money for treatment to ensure that the virus would not be transmitted to her in the womb.

Or his story of Ricky Ray, the infected thalassaemic boy whose fight he made his own during his second presidential campaign, “who lived to see me elected, but died before I took office. I kept his picture in my office every day of my term, so that people would ask who this child was, and I would get the opportunity to talk about AIDS, and about courage”.

But the cynicism fades when you hear him frontally assuming responsibility for, say, the US’ abysmal record in contributing to AIDS funding. “The developed world should figure out what is our fair share and pay it. Developing countries should fight for negotiated pricing of drugs, figure out how much of this they can pay for, and send us the bill for the difference. Hold me accountable to the pledges I make, and give me more ideas of what more I can do.”

India was top-of-mind for Clinton, more than any other speaker at this conference. His closing ceremony address had four mentions. He warned of “universal vulnerability” that is the negative fallout of “an interdependent world: the spiralling infection rate in the former Soviet Union brings AIDS to the backdoor of Western Europe, those in the Caribbean bring it to the US’ front door. And then there are figures from India, the world’s largest democracy.

Next, Clinton dwelt embarrassingly long on India’s “human rights record”, checking off atrocities and abuse of PLWHAs. He said he would visit India again soon to offer visibility and raise the issue to convince leaders that AIDS is not just a health issue, but more so an economic and security one.

On the redeeming side, he pointed to the “cost-effective generic drugs from India and Brazil” (which are more visible abroad than at home).

Finally, Clinton closed his speech with quotations from the Torah, Quran, Bible, the Dharmapada and the Bhagvad Gita: “Brahma holds highest the man who nurtures in his heart the suffering of others.”

India can sniff at the dubious honour in a highly quoted speech. But, six days of alarm bells — and templates of hope —at the 14th International AIDS Conference sledgehammered home the fact that we cannot as contemptuously dismiss the Indian reality. No excuses. Brazil, with exemplary political commitment, has confronted head-on all problems that we can trot out to plead inaction. And the first step should not be a high-powered delegation to Rio.

   

 
 
DELHI AWAITS BAN PLEA 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 13: 
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today said he was willing to consider the Tamil Nadu government’s request for a ban on the MDMK, a partner of the BJP in the NDA, if such a proposal was sent up to the Centre even as the Vajpayee government today came under criticism over MDMK leader Vaiko’s arrest, reports our special correspondent.

“If the state government sends any such proposal, the Centre will think about it,” Advani said in an interview to Doordarshan. He was reacting to the declaration by Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa in Chennai yesterday when she said she would like to ban the MDMK for its support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Home ministry officials claimed that Advani had by no means given any commitment to outlaw the MDMK. “His statement has been very correct. If the request is made by the state government, the Centre has a duty to look into the charges against the outfit. The Centre will take a decision only after thoroughly examining the issue.”

   

 
 
FOREIGNER CONVICTED IN CHILD ABUSE CASE 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, July 13: 
Years after police stumbled upon a sensational child-sex abuse case, a Goa court has convicted a New Zealander for having “unnatural sex” with minor boys and on three other counts.

Eoghan McBride, 63, was earlier chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation for criminal conspiracy, sodomy, kidnapping to cause hurt and other charges.

Five other foreigners from as many countries are absconding in the case. They are Werner Wulf Ingo (from Austria), Nils Oscar Johnson (Sweden), Raymond Varley (Thailand), Zell Jurgen Andreas alias Yogi (Germany) and Dominique Sabire (France).

The main accused in the case, Freddy Peat, by now feeble and aged, is already serving a life term in the Aguada Central Jail in Goa.

The scandal erupted in the early nineties when investigators accidentally came upon 2,305 photographs showing foreigners and others in homosexual acts with minors from an “orphanage” run by Peat in south Goa.

Peat was considered a “do gooder” for taking care of boys mainly from broken homes or with alcoholic fathers. But one boy’s complaint after a visit to Peat’s centre led to the unearthing of what became India’s most sensational child-sex abuse case.

Mumbai-based former investigative journalist and child rights campaigner Sheela Barse played a key role in unravelling the foreign links in the scandal even as the government in Goa tried to play it down as “one stray incident”.

The case got caught up in Goa’s pro- and anti-tourism debate, with critics pointing to the case as a sign of the predatory nature of unequal tourism relationships. Embarrassed pro-tourism circles tried to brush it under the carpet. Following persistent campaigns, the CBI dug up more details of the case.

This week’s conviction by the Margao sessions court in south Goa is believed to be possibly the first time that a foreigner has been convicted by an Indian court after being extradited from his home country.

McBride was convicted for having “unnatural sex”, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. He has also been charged with kidnapping for unnatural offences and causing hurt to his victims.

The trial continued for six years. McBride, Peat and the five other foreign nationals were chargesheeted by the CBI in 1995.

Another foreigner, Sabire of France, was arrested in Delhi while trying to flee the country. He, however, jumped bail amid charges from child rights campaigners that some in positions of power might have had a hand in allowing him to slip through India’s borders.

   

 
 
PM MEETS MUFTI ON KASHMIR POLL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 13: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today met former home minister and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to discuss the upcoming elections in the state.

Vajpayee’s meeting with Mufti was part of the Prime Minister’s ongoing consultations with a cross-section of political leaders to hear out their suggestions for conducting credible elections in Kashmir.

Mufti said the situation in Kashmir was very complex and the government had to think through its long-term strategy for the state carefully.

“A knee-jerk reaction is not the answer to Kashmir’s problems,” he added.

The Prime Minister needed to ensure that he engaged in dialogue with people holding different opinions in Kashmir, including the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and various local militant groups, if a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem was to be found.

“We need a road map for dialogue,” Mufti said. But Mufti was a little vague about who the true representatives of the people of Kashmir were. His answer to this was that the Centre needed to talk to everyone willing to engage in a dialogue.

   
 

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