Escape hatch for Mamata
Wary govt weighs ban, People’s War prepares
Poll panel warms up for visit to Gujarat
Party lines up Jaswant adviser
Diamond-rush hour at the home of Kohinoor
Chronicle of undeclared war
Pak arms sale cloud on Powell visit
Washington green signal for envoys’ return
Policy to nip Bhopal rerun
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, July 22: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today provided Mamata Banerjee a face-saver for calling off her threatened 72-hour Bengal bandh, the way out coming in the form of an assurance that the Union Cabinet would discuss the railway carve-up at its next meeting.

In a terse statement, Vajpayee said “the government’s decision in respect of railway zones has evoked diverse reactions in the country and at the next meeting of the Cabinet, these reactions will be considered and an appropriate decision taken”.

In Calcutta, the Trinamul Congress leader welcomed Vajpayee’s announcement, saying her party was ready to reconsider its decision to call the bandh if “justice is done to West Bengal”.

“We hope the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister will take necessary steps to resolve the problem,” Mamata said. “Railway is the nation’s lifeline and national unity must be preserved at any cost.”

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said the issue could come up for discussion on Thursday as the Cabinet is unlikely to meet tomorrow because of a discussion on Gujarat in the Lok Sabha.

But, on the other side of the divide, angry reactions burst out of railway minister Nitish Kumar’s Samata Party and Bihar’s ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal. Both parties said if the Cabinet reconsidered the issue, it would be an “insult” to Bihar and “people of Bihar will rise in revolt”.

RJD leader in the Lok Sabha Raghuvansh Prasad Singh threatened an “indefinite” Bihar bandh, while Samata MPs warned of going to “any extent”. He said people would teach a lesson to Kirti Azad when he goes to Darbhanga (his constituency) for having shared the dais with Mamata yesterday. Mamata had presented the BJP MP to drive home her point that she was not against Bihar but against the bifurcation of Eastern Railway.

Samata MPs Prabhunath Singh and Arun Kumar said they would force their four ministers to quit the government. “If the matter is reconsidered by the Union Cabinet, I feel it is an insult to Bihar,” Prabhunath said. “While the people of Bihar are already out on the streets, party MPs have decided to exert pressure on Samata ministers to resign from the government if the decision is reversed,” he added.

Arun Kumar accused Mamata of giving the decision a regional colour and indulging in “pressure politics sans any logic”. He warned that even if there was a “minor change” in the decision, the people of Bihar would rise in revolt.

Ram Vilas Paswan, leader of the Lok Jan Shakti Party, another Bihar-based outfit, threatened to begin a fast at Hajipur on July 30 if the Cabinet reviewed the decision.

Tempers ran high in the Bihar Assembly, too, when RJD members, supported by Samata MLAs, criticised Mamata for demanding Nitish’s removal. Dasai Choudhury of the RJD said the legislature should adopt a resolution against Mamata’s ultimatum.


Calcutta, July 22: 
The Bengal government has initiated a move, parallel to its normal law-and-order steps to subjugate the CPI(M-L) People’s War, that may end in a ban on the party and its activities.

The move, till date, is in the form of “discreet” sounding-out of official and legal opinion on the fallout of the ban. “Everything” will depend on two factors — the escalation or otherwise of People’s War activities and the CPM’s lack of willingness to be seen as a party smothering political dissent. But officials say they have been told to “prepare” the papers that will travel from the home department’s political secrets section to the judiciary department before a final decision.

Though another factor will come into play — the government, officials say, will consider if the party’s activities can be brought under control by the proposed Prevention of Organised Crime Act — the People’s War has already started “preparing” for life under a ban.

Party activists, according to secret documents that have come to light following the recent crackdown, have been given detailed instructions on how to respond to the “brutal fascist condition of repression of whatever scale”.

Government circles feel banning the People’s War will not be legally difficult. “Party documents give us ample opportunity to enforce a ban on the ground that it is openly encouraging secession,” a senior official said.

The political resolution accepted by the last congress of the party vows to “uphold the struggle of various nationalities for self-determination, including secession from India”, say officials. The “nationalities”, according to the People’s War, include “Kashmiris, Assamese, Mizos, Nagas, Manipuris, Bodos and Tripura tribals”. This has prompted the state government to think about the broader implications of the party’s acts.

The People’s War also took upon itself the task to “expose and resist expansionist designs of the Indian ruling classes in south Asia, their big-power chauvinism and the acts of aggression in the neighbouring countries”, officials said, quoting from its resolution.

Officials, however, admit that politically the ban-idea is on thinner ground. Though it is not attaching much importance to the People’s War’s conditions for opening talks, continuing violence even after the ban will allow opponents to criticise the failure of the government’s “anti-democratic” step to stifle ideological adversaries.

The crackdown on the group opened up fissures within the CPM itself and a ban could further widen them. Senior party leader Benoy Konar went on record a few days ago to say that his party did not believe in clamping bans to tackle political opponents.

Besides the political repercussions, officials say they have reason to doubt the efficacy of a ban. The extremist group’s literature, they say, points to plans to dig in and fight a “protracted people’s war” and change spots according to the demands of the situation.

The group has instructed activists to mobilise people through “cover” organisations.


New Delhi, July 22: 
Not convinced about the feasibility of holding “free and fair” polls in Gujarat at present, the Election Commission might send a team to the state to assess the ground situation before coming to a decision.

Commission members had recently made several tours of Jammu and Kashmir, where polls are due in September, to take stock of the situation and come up with measures that would ensure “free and fair” polling.

The commission seems to be in no hurry to announce an election schedule, much as the Centre would like it to speed up. It is at present listening to arguments of all political parties and has said it will announce a decision at an appropriate time.

A high-powered Congress delegation met commission members today, but there was no word about the talks. “The commission wants to delay a decision,” an official said. “It has still not scheduled a formal meeting, signalling that it wants to buy as much time as possible — to examine every possible legal point for and against polls.”

The commission is not sure that it will be able to hold free and fair elections in Gujarat at a time when about 20,000 people are living in relief camps, having lost all their belongings in the riots, including documents that could certify them as bona fide voters. “Identification of the voter is a must,” an official said.

The rulebook says that in the absence of a voter identity card, one should produce an alternative document like a ration card or a school-leaving certificate as proof of identity.

In Gujarat, however, there are large numbers of people who have lost everything in the riots and have no document to establish their identity. “In that case, they will need to be identified by the village sarpanch or the municipal authority to prove their place of residence,” an official said. It is the commission’s responsibility to see that every voter gets an opportunity to vote, he added.

The panel recently announced its decision to make polling arrangements in Delhi for migrant voters from Jammu, he pointed out. “Similarly, the commission may have to make arrangements for voting for those living in the camps in Gujarat.”


New Delhi, July 22: 
The BJP’s spokesman on economic issues, Jagdish Shettigar, is likely to be appointed special adviser to finance minister Jaswant Singh.

Sources said party president M. Venkaiah Naidu was pushing for Shettigar’s appointment because he wanted the BJP’s views on economic issues and fiscal policies to be communicated regularly to the minister.

This, Naidu felt, might ensure that the party’s suggestions were factored into important government decisions and did not just remain part of the “perfunctory” consultations that take place with various delegations before a general budget.

Singh’s predecessor, Yashwant Sinha, used to seek the BJP’s views as a matter of routine before finalising the budget but rarely, if ever, incorporated them in the policy announcements, sources said.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and Assembly polls in 10 states, the BJP is also keen to rectify the perception that the government is “out of tune” with the “people’s mood” on the economy. The presence of a party functionary in North Block would help bring the finance ministry “in synch” with the “ground realities”, the sources said.

Shettigar used to be identified with the swadeshi viewpoint when the BJP was in the Opposition, but “liberalised” his thinking once the NDA government came to power and committed itself to fast-track reforms. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch dubbed him a “renegade” and lobbied actively to oust him as the economic cell convener the last time the BJP organisation was restructured. But he survived.

BJP sources said Shettigar has made it clear he does not want a regular bureaucratic job, which would bind him to service rules and regulations. “That would mean he would not be able to speak his mind, and the party’s, freely to the finance minister. He could end up becoming a yes-man,” they said.

If the appointment materialises, it would at most be an honorary job because Shettigar wishes to maintain an active link with the BJP.

Sources clarified that being the BJP’s representative in North Block did not mean he would oppose all government policies and run into constant clashes.

A complaint of the BJP with Sinha was that he behaved like a “finance minister of the corporate class and not the masses”. He used the manch to get the job but once he got it, he gave swadeshi the complete go-by, sources said. The BJP’s other grouse was that at party gatherings, Sinha would not take the opinion of members seriously.

“We don’t expect much from Jaswant Singh either. He made a promising start by talking about giving relief to the poor and housewives. But one doesn’t know when he will change tack. This is the reason why the presence of someone like Shettigar in the finance ministry is so important,” sources said.


Hyderabad, July 22: 
They came like invaders — secretive hordes of men in search of diamonds. Armed with tents and bags full of money, they kicked off the rush that has become a yearly ritual in the region around the Krishna basin.

The area has given the world some of its biggest and most coveted diamonds. The Kohinoor, the Hope, the Nizam, the Darya-i-Noor, the Taj-e-Mah and 12 other equally famous ones were mined from this region of the Krishna River Valley.

So, when reports of new finds, especially of a record 25 carat stone that fetched Rs 1.3 crore, hit trade circles in March, it opened the floodgates to Paritala village, part of the Kollur-Paritala Kimberlite pipe. Jewellery traders from Vijayawada, Hyderabad and Mumbai began coming in hordes, squirting money, ready to pay those who brought them the precious stones.

Last week alone, diggers sold stones worth nearly Rs 25 lakh. One woman got Rs 7 lakh for a single stone. Shyam Sunder Jaiswal, a diamond merchant from Mumbai, said that since March, local farmers have collected stones worth nearly Rs 1 crore.

By the time police and the district administration woke up, more than 3,000 people had landed in the neighbourhood and begun digging the river basin and the nearby fields. “We had to forcibly arrest a few hundred and send them back to end the madness,” said A. Lakshmi Kumari, a local revenue official.

The Andhra Pradesh mines and geology department had declared the area “diamond potential” and brought it under the Treasure Trove Act. Any find had to be informed to police and government officials, stationed specially for the six months from March to August.

The state geology department and the National Mineral Development Corporation have already set up camps for excavations and surveys. Though they have repeatedly warned people against indiscriminate digging, the first rains bring in thousands every year.

By Friday, police had set up check-posts to staunch the flow of diamond diggers. But a few managed to slip in, travelling by trucks to sneak into Paritala.

A village elder, however, played down stories of the diamond rush. “This is a known region for precious stones. As agricultural labourers have no work because of the lack of rains, they resorted to these antics to earn money,” said Balachandra Rao, a farmer.

He is probably only one of the few unaffected by the craze. Strangers have invaded five villages around Paritala, cramming into community halls, school buildings and even private houses, paying hefty rents for a toehold. “Imagine two rooms in Chandralapadu village fetching a rent of Rs 250 per day!” exclaimed a senior police official.

Residents of Ustepalli, Nakkalampet and Chandralapadu villages have been playing hosts to both near and distant relatives in the last three months. “They are coming to search for diamonds and use our houses as shelter,” said Padmakka. Unlike the others, she is sick of the ever-increasing number of people who have been coming to her home.

The diamond rush is not confined to Paritala. It has spread to several villages on the banks of Krishna in Mahboobnagar, Kurnool and Anantpur. Some diamond merchants have even hired professional diggers and geologists in the hope of making a big killing.

Despite the government’s supervision and the restrictions imposed, many diamond merchants have greased the palms of officials and got away with small nuggets.

“We are aware of the fact that about 1,500 carats worth of stones are taken away by merchants every year,” said an official of the National Mineral Development Corporation.


New Delhi, July 22: 
When Sumit Ganguly returned last month from an army-sponsored trip to Kargil and Drass, his ears were still ringing from the boom of the big guns.

For Ganguly, professor of Asian studies and government at the University of Texas at Austin, it was his first exposure to the battle at the front since the Indian and Pakistani armies had been mobilised.

But Ganguly has been writing on India and Pakistan wars. His latest work, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947, just published by Oxford University Press, is advertised as “The only full-length study of Indo-Pakistani tensions”.

Ganguly was taken to Kargil and Drass by the army to carry out research for yet another account — this time probably official — of the 1999 Kargil war.

“I’m not sure the war has ended,” he says, the ringing in his ears robbing him of peaceful nights.

It will be sometime before the full story of Operation Parakram — the mobilisation of the armed forces since December 2001 — is known. But the wages of no-war no-peace with Pakistan are now beginning to be calculated.

Defence minister George Fernandes has told Parliament that 1,368 Pakistani soldiers and civilians are assessed to have been killed in firing on the Line of Control and across the International Border since December 18 and at least 762 militants have been killed by the army and the Rashtriya Rifles between January and June this year.

Add to these figures the number of Indian soldiers killed in the firing (no official toll given), their families killed in militant attacks and the number of lives lost in accidents (mine-laying mishaps and air crashes during operational sorties).

Despite this, the current stand-off will not make it to the history books as a war, though at least one battle — Kargil in 1999 — between India and Pakistan has accounted for probably just a third of the total casualties during the period of Parakram. And it is not yet over.

General Pervez Musharraf, inaugurating the “biggest” tri-service wargames “Sabit Qadam II” in Rawalpindi last week, claimed that war did not break out because of the strength and the capability of the Pakistani armed forces. “Our forces are capable not only of defending territory but also of taking the battle to enemy territory,” Pakistani newspapers quoted Musharraf as saying.

In Conflict Unending, Ganguly writes this is just the kind of “false optimism” that has often clouded Islamabad’s calculation of the costs and benefits of warring with India. Ganguly’s work is a compendium of facts on the four major wars that India and Pakistan have fought, a timely reference in the current context, written in a racy style that slots it short of an academic book but above a journalistic account.

While it does point to a basic flaw in Pakistani strategic thinking, it glosses over, for the most part, the lacunae in Indian military tactics.

That is what Ganguly will be examining in his next work on the Kargil war and its aftermath.


Washington, July 22: 
A long shadow has been cast on the upcoming visit of US secretary of state Colin Powell to New Delhi following the Pentagon’s proposal to sell military equipment to Pakistan.

If the sale, which has been notified to Congress and requires its approval, goes through, it will be the first in more than a decade, since President George Bush — father of the current President — invoked the Pressler Amendment to stop military supplies to Pakistan.

The proposed sale will fetch a company in President George W. Bush’s home state — Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas — $75 million.

The equipment proposed to be sold to Pervez Musharraf include six second-hand C-130-E aircraft, one more of such aircraft for cannibalisation and use of spare parts, upgrade of engines, modification kits, spare parts and support equipment.

The scrapping of the Pressler Amendment, along with other sanctions following September 11, made it possible for the Americans to resume arms supplies to Pakistan, but the administration has been cautious in doing so.

Initially, it routed some supplies to the Pakistani army with the restriction that they would be used only for peacekeeping in Sierra Leone.

Later, it facilitated the transfer of Cobra helicopters and some assorted equipment. India was then assured that the supplies were necessary for Pakistani surveillance along the border with Afghanistan.

New Delhi was also assured that the equipment would be sent under Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, which meant it would have to be within the existing appropriations in the budget.

But the latest proposal notified to Congress by the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency involves a commercial sale — known in defence parlance as Foreign Military Sales — the first to Pakistan since the presidency of Bush Senior.

It opens possibilities for a resumption of the brisk military aid and sales to Islamabad as in the years of the Cold War: more so as the US economy heads for a crisis with defence being one of the few sectors which show promise.

When Yashwant Sinha meets Powell for the first time as external affairs minister, he will have a Hobson’s choice: whether to sour the exchange by plain-speaking as his predecessor did with Powell or to be nice and push the issue under the carpet as South Block did for years with China over Beijing’s missile cooperation with Islamabad.

India had been assured since September 11 that any US support for Pakistan’s fighting capabilities would be restricted to enabling it to perform better on the Afghanistan front.

Administration officials have buttressed this line by pointing out to New Delhi that Washington still refuses to supply the F-16 aircraft, for which Islamabad paid for in the 1980s.

Indeed, the Defence Security Cooperation Agency had told Congress that the proposed sale “will not affect the basic military balance in the region” and that the sale is to help “improve the security of a friendly country which has been and continues to be an important force for economic progress in South Asia”.

Indian ministers and officials have sarcastically responded to US arguments in recent months that Cobra helicopters have nothing built-in to confine their use to the borders with Afghanistan: they could, tomorrow, be easily diverted to the Line of Control or the border with India.

That the latest sale is a double-edged sword is obvious from the Defence Security Cooperation Agency memo to Congress itself. Though the document states that the supplies will be used in the war against al Qaida, it also mentions that the C-130-E aircraft is required for “Pakistan Air Force internal requirements”.

Musharraf has admitted in his public pronouncements in the US that the “point of pressure” for his military lies “to the East”. The so-called internal requirements will, therefore, be seen in New Delhi as a euphemism for India.

In addition to making its disappointment clear to Powell, India has the option to pressure Congress, whose approval is necessary for the sale.

A day after the Defence Security Cooperation Agency notification, Frank Pallone, Democratic Congressman from New Jersey and a founder of the India Caucus, introduced a legislation in the House of Representatives to reinstate democracy sanctions against Pakistan, which were lifted by Bush.

“I introduced legislation that reinstates the democracy sanctions because I think it is necessary to implement measures that encourage Pakistan to transition back to democracy,” Pallone said in the House.


New Delhi, July 22: 
The US has for the first time acknowledged that militant groups having close links with the al Qaida are active in Kashmir, on both sides of the Line of Control.

It has also asked its diplomats in “non-emergency positions” to return to India, asserting that tension in South Asia has subsided.

Britain also cancelled advice to avoid travelling in India but remained cautious about Pakistan because of the risk of “terrorist attacks”.

Soon after the Kaluchak massacre in Jammu in May, the US had issued a travel advisory asking its “non-emergency” officials at the embassy in New Delhi and consulates across India to leave the country, fearing a war.

The American move had sparked a chain reaction and within days, almost all foreign missions had started withdrawing staff from India.

South Block believes Washington’s revised stand will lead to staff at other foreign missions also returning to the country.

But it is the US statement on militants that has aroused interest in diplomatic circles here. India has for the past few months maintained that al Qaida members and groups close to the outfit are active along the LoC. But the Americans had so far been ambiguous on the issue.

During his visit last month, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Washington has received reports of al Qaida’s presence in the region but was not in a position to verify them.

With today’s acknowledgement, Washington has also strengthened the Indian charge that the Pervez Musharraf regime is yet to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

A travel advisory issued by the US state department today asked diplomats to return to India but cautioned them to stay away from the border states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

“The Indian government has closed most land and air links with Pakistan. Military movements continue along both the Line of Control in Kashmir and the border between India and Pakistan. Terrorist groups, some of which are linked to al Qaida and have previously been implicated in attacks on Americans, are active there as well, and have attacked and killed civilians,” it said.

The advisory noted “the high level of tension between India and Pakistan that existed at the end of May and the beginning of June has further subsided”.

It said that US government personnel were now “allowed to travel freely” to India on official business and those US diplomats in “non-emergency” positions and their families who had left the country earlier could now return.

“The US embassy and consulates are expected to operate at normal staffing levels in the near future,” the advisory added.


Bhopal, July 22: 
Scars of the gas tragedy still fresh after 17 years, Madhya Pradesh has become the first state in the country to formulate a comprehensive disaster management policy.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh unveiled the policy for mitigation and management of disasters recently. The 27-page policy identifies disasters, lays down the government set-up that will be at work when a disaster strikes, discusses preventive measures, response to a crisis situation, recovery and restoration, institutional support and funding for calamity relief.

After the Gujarat earthquake, the Centre had drawn up a list of 31 probable disasters that could strike the country. Madhya Pradesh has identified eight of them as applicable to the state: drought, floods, industrial and chemical disasters, earthquake, hailstorm, fire, accidents and epidemic.

The administration has been divided into management teams at various levels under a Cabinet committee chaired by the chief minister. The committee will include the ministers of revenue, home, finance, forest, irrigation and flood control, PWD, water resources, public health, housing, urban development, panchayat and rural development, commerce and industry and labour.

The teams will meet once in six months to review the status of prevention, mitigation and management of each identified disaster. When a disaster occurs, they will meet as frequently as they may decide according to the exigency of the situation.

At the second official level will be a committee of principal secretaries headed by the chief secretary. The third level will be at the divisions and districts under the divisional commissioner — usually a senior IAS officer — followed by the district collector and all administrative officials. The basic motive will be to keep each district prepared to meet any emergency with the divisions providing immediate support.

Commissioners will have the authority to attach officers from other districts when calamity strikes and start immediate rescue operations without waiting for orders from Bhopal.

The revenue department will be the nodal agency for all natural calamities, the labour department will be the pivot in case of industrial and chemical disasters, public health for epidemics and the home department for all accidents and other man-made calamities.




Maximum:27.3°C (-5)
Minimum: 25.4°C (-1)


10.7 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 93%


Sunrise: 5.06 am
Sunset: 6.21 pm
A few spells of rain or thundershowers

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