Bill bars candidates with two cases
Omar greets death with death
Autonomy talks tiptoe in
Justice in regional ‘bias’
Goodbye Gill, hello poll: Modi puts MLAs on notice
Mamata deal faces delay
Amity meet exposes enmity
Stink of pre-election plot
Jaswant, not Yashwant, rules over cyber South Block
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, July 15: 
The Centre has drawn up a draft Bill that bars a person from contesting elections if the courts have framed charges against him in two separate cases of “heinous” crime.

The Bill, drafted by the Union law ministry, comes a week after an all-party meet rejected the Supreme Court’s directives and the Election Commission’s subsequent order that candidates should declare their criminal records, educational background and assets and liabilities.

Union law minister Jana Krishnamurthi circulated the Bill among all political parties and asked them to respond to the proposals by July 21.

According to the draft Bill, “heinous crime” includes murder, treason, kidnapping for ransom, rape, dacoity, dacoity with murder, drug smuggling and causing death by terrorist act.

Section 8B(1) of the Bill says that “a person against whom charges have been framed in two separate criminal proceedings concerning heinous offences by a court of competent jurisdiction, at least six months prior to the date on which his nomination paper has been delivered under sub-section (1) of Section 33, shall be disqualified till his acquittal or discharge in any such proceeding”.

However, if higher courts have stayed trial proceedings in such cases, the candidate will not be disqualified.

The Bill, which has the provision of disqualifying elected candidates if found that they concealed information, nullified the poll panel’s order requiring a candidate to file a 40-page sworn affidavit detailing criminal antecedents, if any. Instead, it proposes a two-page format for these details.

Under existing election laws, a convicted person sentenced for two or more years is barred from contesting. The latest and the most visible example was that of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, whose nomination papers were rejected on grounds that she had been convicted for more than two years in the Tansi land scam case.

The ADMK leader was allowed to contest the Andipatti byelection, which paved the way for her return as chief minister, only after she was acquitted by Madras High Court.

The draft Bill threw out the poll panel’s directive on disclosing educational qualifications. Under the new format, candidates will also not have to state them.

The draft Bill said its objective was to fulfil the concern expressed by the apex court. Law ministry sources said it would be further modified with suggestions from various political parties so that a consensus could be reached before it is introduced. For that, another all-party meeting could be held, the sources added.

The Bill also requires that “a candidate shall, apart from any information which he is required to furnish, under this Act or the rules made thereunder, in his nomination paper shall also furnish the information as to whether he is accused of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two or more years in a pending case in which charge has been framed”.

Failure to furnish information about charges framed in “heinous crimes” would attract imprisonment of three years along with fines.

If the candidate conceals information on other cases, it would attract an imprisonment of six months.


Hyderabad (Pakistan), July 15: 
Sentenced to death, Omar Sheikh declared that anyone who tried to carry out the judgment risked a similar fate.

Pakistan today waded deeper into the US-led war against terror and a possible backlash at home as a court sent Sheikh to the death row and three accomplices to jail for life for the kidnap and murder of American reporter Daniel Pearl.

Sheikh, who was freed by India in exchange for the passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines flight in 1999, and the three showed no emotion as each verdict and sentence was read at the end of the closed-door trial.

The fury, however, exploded outside as relatives and lawyers spoke. Sheikh’s lawyer Rai Bashir, who told reporters that the defence would appeal, read out a message from his client.

“I will see whether who wants to kill me will first kill me or get himself killed,” Omar, 28, said in his message. “I have been saying before, this entire (trial) is just waste of time.… It is a decisive war between Islam and kafir (infidels) and everyone is individually proving on which side he is.”

The trial comes at a sensitive time for the US as it faces Muslim wrath over its support for Israel in West Asia and seeks to keep Pakistan on board in its post-September 11 fight against terrorism. Sheikh’s father, Saeed Sheikh, said the case against his son highlighted US hypocrisy. “The jihadis used to be the apple of their eye,” he said, referring to US backing for mujahideen fighting against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “Now they are rotten apples.”

Pearl’s family welcomed the conviction and said they hoped all involved in the killing would be brought to justice. His widow, Mariane, gave birth to their son, Adam, in Paris on May 28. “We, the parents, wife, and sisters of Daniel Pearl, are grateful for the tireless efforts by authorities in Pakistan and the US to bring those guilty of Danny’s kidnapping and murder to justice,” a statement published on the website of the Daniel Pearl Foundation said.


July 15: 
Chief minister Farooq Abdullah today revealed that the Centre had taken the first step towards discussing greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir.

Abdullah said the Centre had found an autonomy negotiator, who he had met in Delhi yesterday. But he did not disclose the name, choosing to refer to the negotiator as a “gentleman”.

Sources in Delhi said Arun Jaitley had been shortlisted for the post. Jaitley will, however, hold talks with Kashmir political parties in an “informal” capacity since he has just been given a larger role in the BJP organisation as general secretary and spokesman.

The Centre already has two official negotiators on Jammu and Kashmir. Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant is the Prime Minister’s special interlocutor, and PMO special adviser A.S. Dulat’s brief is to negotiate with militant groups and draw them into the political mainstream.

Former Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander may also be involved in Jammu and Kashmir matters, the sources said. But he is likely to be inducted in an official capacity because he might make the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra with the backing of the Nationalist Congress Party, the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

Both Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani are keen on a “larger” role for Alexander given his experience in administration and diplomacy and the perception that he is politically “neutral”.

But official sources clarified that deputing Jaitley does not mean the Centre will grant Jammu and Kashmir an autonomy package as a pre-poll “sop”. This would be seen as “politically partisan” and favouring the National Conference. It would also be opposed by the RSS.

“It is essentially to clear the air and dispel the misconception that the Centre had a rigid stand on the regional aspirations of the Jammu and Kashmir people,” the sources said.

Though the BJP has traditionally taken a tough stand on autonomy, Jaitley had repeatedly spoken of bringing even “extremist” groups into the political mainstream. This was seen as a way of distancing him from the party’s line to facilitate his new role in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources close to Abdullah said he had appointed housing and urban minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Shah as its spokesman.

“We need not bring any Bill as the Centre has agreed to discuss the autonomy issue. They have appointed a gentleman for the purpose,” Abdullah said.


Balurghat, July 15: 
It’s regional bias all right, but more in the nature of “positive discrimination”.

Flush with the success scripted by star students Paramita Mitra (first in this year’s Higher Secondary examination) and Roumi Ghosh (17th), the authorities of Balurghat Girls’ High School now feel that north Bengal’s triumph over Calcutta and its suburbs — “pampered” with good infrastructure — has been delayed till now largely because of the now-scrapped policy to send answer-scripts of “their” students to examiners from south Bengal.

Still backward in almost every other aspect — Balurghat is the only district headquarters in the state yet to have a railway track in its vicinity or a decent lodging place for visitors — the school’s teachers now feel that north Bengal’s students are finally “getting justice” because Higher Secondary answer-scripts now do not usually travel outside the region.

“I don’t know whether I should be saying this,” said the school’s headmistress Shanti Majumdar-Bhattacharya, but still insisted that her “gut feeling” — that the backward region’s students suffered because their papers went to examiners in Calcutta and its suburbs — was, “perhaps, correct”.

“This is a very real suspicion among a cross-section of teachers from this region,” she said, claiming to voice the unspoken grievance of her colleagues from every north Bengal school. “Why should I suppress our genuine feelings?” she asked.

Assistant headmistress Shikha Das agreed, but added that the school’s “dramatic improvement” in the very recent past was also because of the “confidence” gained by sporadically earning plac-es on the merit list, especially in the Madhyamik examination.

“Many of our students did very well in the Madhyamik and it was only a matter of time before they (Paramita stood fourth in 2000 Madhyamik) replicated their success in a much tougher exam two years down the line,” Das said.

Another factor, which teachers said “could not be stressed enough”, had a “very positive” impact on the school’s overall infrastructure development and, consequently, results.

It has become one of the first government-sponsored schools in the state, and definitely the first in north Bengal, to read the “privatisation” writing on the wall and plan its moves accordingly. In the process, it has built infrastructure comparable to Calcutta schools.

“We have realised that the government, burdened with increasing pressure on its financial resources, may soon ask educational institutions to become self-financing,” headmistress Majumdar-Bhattacharya said.

So at a time when “building fund” is a dirty word even in Calcutta and “extra computer charges” raise hackles of even the affluent among parents, the school — led, surprisingly, by district secretary of the CPM-affiliated All-Bengal Teachers’ Association Dhirendranath Kundu (the school’s managing committee secretary) — has gone a step ahead of the government with its own brand of “education reforms”.

“It was Kundu who first warned us that our school would go the way of neighbouring schools — the nearby Khadimpur Girls’ High School, for instance, does not have an instructor to teach computers which now gather dust — if we did not change our mind-set,” the headmistress said.

After a decision pushed through by the managing committee, the school charges new entrants an annual “building fund” of Rs 100, Rs 25 as “computer charges” and Rs 20 as “extra exam fees” to supplement the government-sanctioned Rs 12 for each student.

“If we can give our girls good laboratories and computer lessons, a library that has a steady supply of new books and classrooms which do not have leaking roofs, it’s because of our pragmatism,” the headmistress said.

“It’s because we do not fight ideological battles in the classroom,” she added, insisting that the self-financing policy — she chose to call it “machher tele machh bhaja” — was the main reason the school could give its girls the infrastructure to fight the richer and better-known schools of south Bengal.


Gandhinagar, July 15: 
The Jagannath yatra passed off without an incident; troubleshooter K.P.S. Gill bade goodbye today.

Peace reigns in Gujarat and there are signs chief minister Narendra Modi will recommend dissolution of the Assembly any moment.

He told BJP legislators today to get ready for elections, which could be held sooner than expected. Addressing a BJP legislature party meeting, the chief minister said: “When the Congress is getting into election mode, the press is writing about it, why don’t you understand that elections could be held early and we need to prepare for that?”

A senior MLA said this was the first clear indication from Modi that he could recommend dissolution of the Assembly as he wants to go to polls before Diwali.

The BJP national executive and the state unit have already authorised Modi to decide when to dissolve the Assembly and he now only needs Cabinet approval.

An official in the chief minister’s office said the Cabinet nod could come at a meeting on Wednesday or even earlier.

A police officer read Gill’s departure — indicating to the world outside that Gujarat has returned to normal — as a sign that elections would be called now.

His exit was as mysterious as his controversial arrival as Modi’s security adviser nearly seven weeks ago. When Gill landed here on May 7, there was no one from Modi’s Cabinet or office to confirm his appointment or to acknowledge that he was coming to restore peace in the riot-ravaged state.

Except a police officer, there was no one to receive him at Gandhinagar. Even the chief minister reportedly said: “I do not know why he is coming.’’

At his farewell party today, Modi presented Gill a bouquet and expressed hope that he would keep visiting Gujarat whenever his services were required.

Modi also expects Gill to strengthen the state’s intelligence network. While Gill maintained a studied silence, the chief minister revealed that the retired police officer credited with breaking the back of militancy in Punjab had wanted to leave two weeks ago as he felt his assignment was over.

“But I asked him to stay till the Jagannath rath yatra. Now that the yatra has passed off peacefully, I relieved him and he is leaving for Delhi tonight.”

Unlike the ritualistic back-thumping at other farewell parties, neither did Modi praise Gill for his services nor did Gill say anything nice about his assignment and association with the chief minister.

Gill, actually, refused to open his mouth. “I would rather write in newspapers. I will be paid for that, at least Rs 2,500 per write-up,” he joked.

Gill had descended on Ahmedabad when no day passed in Gujarat without communal killing. His takeover was followed by a complete overhaul of the police force that began to restore the confidence of the minorities in the administration.

At his initiative, a meeting was held among the leaders of the minority community, the Sangh parivar and the National Commission for Minorities.

For the first time after the riots, minority leaders met Modi, again largely because of Gill.

After the much-discussed Jagannath yatra — which had again raised fears in the minds of the minorities about renewed violence — ended peacefully last Friday, the Shahi Imam of the city’s Jama Masjid, Mufti Shabbir Ahmed, praised Gill and his handpicked police commissioner, K.R. Kaushik.

“Gill’s departure will not make any difference because the right officers are holding important posts in the city,” Mohsin Quadri, a minority leader, said.

Police officers, who were unhappy when Gill took over, also believe his departure will not make a difference.


New Delhi, July 15: 
Mamata Banerjee’s wait for a Cabinet berth may be delayed.

Although Trinamul Congress MPs are eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting in the hope that she will get some sops on the Eastern Railway bifurcation issue, a senior Union minister today said the zonal carve-up was not on the agenda.

Although government sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might go in for a minor expansion around July 26 to induct Mamata and some others, the minister ruled out any induction while Parliament is in the middle of a session.

Trinamul sources said Mamata may leave for Calcutta on Friday to attend Sunday’s Shahid Diwas functions. They said by the time she returns, some face-saver on the bifurcation issue may be worked out and announced by the Cabinet on July 23.

“The Cabinet meets every Tuesday and it is possible that the bifurcation issue could be discussed on July 23,” said a highly-placed government source. He said before the Cabinet discusses the issue, Mamata has to tell the government “up to what extent she can go for a compromise”.

Sources said Vajpayee today discussed the bifurcation issue with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes, finance minister Jaswant Singh and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha.

A senior Trinamul leader said restoring Dhanbad to Calcutta division was the least the government could do. He pointed out that while Hajipur, an obscure place, would have five divisions if Dhanbad is included, Calcutta would have only four — Howrah, Sealdah, Malda and Asansol.

While Mamata, who attended the NDA meeting yesterday, had thanked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for getting the issue referred to the Cabinet, the Samata Party went into an overdrive to keep up pressure on the government not to concede any major sop to Mamata.

Samata MPs first met in Parliament House informally and later met Fernandes and railway minister Nitish Kumar to convey their decision that all four Samata ministers would quit “even if a minor change was effected in the bifurcation”.

Samata MP Prabhunath Singh said “Fernandes appreciated our sentiment” and added that the parliamentary party meeting late tonight will discuss the matter. Singh and another MP, Arun Kumar, said Fernandes assured them that the bifurcation decision will not be changed.

In the event of any rethink, the Samata could go to “any extent”, the MPs said, and warned that the people of Bihar would not tolerate any move to deprive the state of its legitimate right.

The MPs said all political parties in Bihar were unanimous on the issue on the Eastern Railway bifurcation.


New Delhi, July 15: 
It was a dialogue to bridge the divide between two faiths, but in the end, both sides agreed to disagree.

A meeting of “elders” of the Hindus and Muslims, called to shun communalism and bring an end to “hate campaigns”, served little purpose.

Minutes after the two sides decided to meet again, VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia reverted to spewing venom. “The onus of Hindu-Muslim unity should not be always on the shoulders of Hindu leaders. They (the Muslims), who initially created Pakistan and later carried out ethnic cleansing of Jammu and Kashmir, have to prove their credentials,” Togadia said. “Let them settle down the three lakh displaced Hindu Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir, and then only they should expect some reciprocal gestures from Hindus.”

Togadia’s barrage of words evoked sharp response from the Muslim leadership. Maulana Wahid-ud-din Khan, who is considered a moderate, said: “Why is the Hindu leadership only talking about the “hate campaign” against the majority community? I think it is an incomplete picture.”

A brainchild of the National Minorities’ Commission, today’s meet saw the top brass of the RSS, the VHP and some Muslim organisations participating. Significantly, the Ayodhya issue was not addressed specifically during the talks that lasted two hours.

Intended to discuss steps to bring about greater cordiality and understanding between the two communities, the meeting advocated dialogue at the “first sign of social uneasiness”. Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Madan Dass Devi, Ram Madhav and Tarun Vijay, too, chose not to bring up the Gujarat riots.

Maulana Kalbe-Sadiq, vice-president of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was also present at the meeting.

The board, however, made it clear that the prominent Shia leader had come in his “personal capacity”. Board member Kamal Farooqui said: “He was not representing AIMPLB. The board is against holding direct talks with the RSS and the Sangh parivar.”

Sources said commission members and noted banker Shamim Kazim played a pivotal role in bringing Sadiq.

The board vice-president said the meeting was held in a “cordial atmosphere”. He said people of the country should realise that unemployment, poverty and illiteracy were the main causes of conflicts between the two communities.

Sadiq suggested the formation of a “Shanti Sena” to instil confidence in members of both communities. But Togadia shot down the suggestion, saying Muslims should first consider the problem of Jammu and Kashmir.

He said if mosques continued to be constructed at Hindus religious places, reciprocal “positive gestures” from Hindus would be too much to expect.


New Delhi, July 15: 
The militant strike on Qasim Nagar on Saturday is being viewed by the Indian intelligence establishment as an attempt to trigger a Gujarat-type communal polarisation in Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the October elections.

The election is crucial to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s efforts to restore normality in the state. A free and fair election will also isolate Pakistan further. Though the government has refrained from pointing its finger at Islamabad for encouraging the terrorists, it is trying to evaluate the situation to prevent the militants from gaining an upper hand.

Intelligence agencies have already warned against stepped-up strikes on soft targets in Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri to whip up public outrage against the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi.

Pilgrims going to Jammu for the Amarnath yatra, scheduled to begin later this month, could be prime targets, the agencies said. The aim is to try and evoke maximum public outrage.

The residents’ mood on Sunday, when deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani visited Qasim Nagar with chief minister Farooq Abdullah, is an indication of the deep resentment against both the state and the Central leaderships.

Farooq’s son, National Conference chief Omar, got a similar reception when he went to the attack site with Governor G.C. Saxena earlier on Sunday.

Intelligence agencies believe the National Conference is the main target of the terrorists now. The party, with its well-knit organisation, is in a position to win the election whether it is held under President’s Rule or otherwise.

None of the other parties, including the BJP, the Congress or the regional outfits, have the kind of presence and support base in the state that the National Conference enjoys.

The terrorists will prefer a non-National Conference government in Srinagar as they fear that “Omar may turn things round if he comes back to power with a proper mandate”, a senior official said.


Washington, July 15: 
A fortnight has passed since Jaswant Singh abandoned South Block, but for the public persona of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), he continues to be the foreign minister.

Every morning, officers in charge of the India desk at the state department here as well in foreign ministries across the world begin their day in this Internet era by clicking on MEA’s website to access the latest statements and other documents from South Block.

Especially these days, when many overseas governments think India and Pakistan are about to destroy each other in a nuclear war.

And every morning, without fail, the half-smiling gray eminence of a safari-suited Singh continues to greet them from the top of the opening page of the website.

When MEA reconstructed its website after Kashmiri separatist groups and Pakistanis hacked it last year, the mandarins of South Block outdid Indira Gandhi’s emergency storm-troopers in sycophancy towards their minister.

They duly put India’s national emblem, the Ashoka Pillar of four standing lions, on top of the website with the tricolour in the background and the words “India” written on it.

Click on the official emblem and it gives way to the half-smiling visage of the minister. It had shades of the emergency slogan “Indira is India, India is Indira”, but none of the NDA stalwarts who fought the emergency said anything then.

Many ministries, including some of the more important ones, do not even have a photograph of their minister, unlike MEA.

Now the minister is gone, but not the personality cult, which is blamed on zealous officials who thought last year that they are reading the mind of their political boss.

This is not the first time that the bureaucracy has tried to please ministers in South Block.

When I.K. Gujral became external affairs minister in the Deve Gowda Cabinet, the mandarins in South Block swept away photographs of all the foreign secretaries since independence, which were on the walls of MEA’s Visitor’s Room as a historic record of sorts.

These were replaced with photographs of Gujral engaged in various chores. Elegant books and photo essays on India on the room’s centre-table were replaced with tacky print-outs of Gujral’s speeches, like it was in Moscow during the days of Stalin’s personality cult.

Meanwhile, Singh, unimpressed by the run-of-the-mill furniture and accessories which Yashwant Sinha lived with in North Block, has shifted his elegant MEA office, lock, stock and personnel across the road to the finance ministry.

Sinha, for his part, has buried Singh’s golden rule on security in South Block: no parking in front of Gate No.4, the MEA’s entrance. Not even for the minister.

But going by the website, MEA could well be unaware that it has a new minister, notwithstanding routine pictures and headlines about Sinha’s activities.

And when Kanwal Sibal, the new foreign secretary, made his candid speech about Indo-US relations at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the website, which ought to have transmitted his views instantly, effectively censored him for 48 hours.

It was not until foreign governments besieged the CII for a transcript of Sibal’s speech that MEA put up the text on its website.

A case, once again, of zealous bureaucrats not being sure whether political masters would approve of any criticism of the US, howsoever mild, even if it came from the foreign secretary.

The genesis of China’s cultural revolution, at least some officials in South Block will recall, was Mao Zedong’s inability to publish a pamphlet of his views, although he was supposedly the all-powerful chairman of the Communist Party then.




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