Infiltration back to normal level
Alarm at 10-day dry spell forecast
‘Trailing’ Sonia tots up cost of riots
Modern mix for oldest madarsa
2 crimes not enough for politicians
Delhi clears decks for PM-Powell date
Industry’s drought dose: food & spending flood
Violence in silence on Mahatma memorials
Left-out Jaya shoots stinker at Centre
Calcutta Weather

 
 
INFILTRATION BACK TO NORMAL LEVEL 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
The army brief for the Centre on the eve of US secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit is a pile of evidence that cross-border infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir is beginning to creep up to the level it was in before Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s promises of May 27.

Intercepts of wireless messages between militant commanders based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), recordings of radio broadcasts and attacks in Jammu have gone into the army brief prepared for the security establishment. The brief will provide vital inputs to the responses of national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. Powell is also meeting Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on Sunday.

Beyond the immediacy of tomorrow’s visit by Powell, it also reveals that the security establishment still does not find enough justification to back down from its assessments.

In a nutshell, the army has pointed out:

Cross-border infiltration was down for just a month and is reaching usual levels with help from the Pakistan army;

Militants are preparing to strike vital targets, with the month of August being crucial. Among these targets are the Amarnath yatra (ending August 22) and the August 15 celebrations. Subsequently, militants are planning to disrupt the elections in Jammu and Kashmir;

US and Western concerns over troop levels and civilian casualties in Kashmir are being guided by Pakistani propaganda;

Given this background, it will be unrealistic for New Delhi to work on de-escalation. Rather, its responses may have to be redefined depending on the state of peace in August.

The army is emphasising that Western concerns over human rights in Kashmir are misplaced. To buttress this argument, it is pointing out that a group of 20 defence attaches from embassies in New Delhi returned from an annual trip to Kashmir today. Some of the attaches were accompanied by their wives. They visited Leh, Srinagar, Uri, Gulmarg, Nagrota, Poonch and Pallanwala (Akhnoor) as well as some forward areas. The visiting team of defence attaches was from over 20 countries. The visit was conducted by Brigadier T.K. Kaul from army headquarters. Representatives of the three services headquarters also accompanied the team.

The army has also been encouraging the Western media — chiefly the CNN and the BBC — to visit Kashmir and do “fair” stories. “Even if it results in some amount of negative coverage, it will be acceptable,” sources said.

The army is pointing to contradictions in Pakistani claims on the number of civilian casualties in the Valley. Between September 2000 and July 3, 2002 (22 months), Pakistani quarters have claimed that 20,000 civilians were killed. “This means about 900 a month or an average of 30 per day. How absurd!” a senior official said.

The actual figure, says the army, is less than 13,000. Troop levels, too, are at about half the 500,000-mark the Pakistani establishment has claimed and that figure includes the Border Security Force and the state armed police.

Army intercepts up to two days ago have led the security establishment to conclude that the curbs on infiltration have been all but lifted by Pakistan. Among these intercepts is a broadcast over radio that is said to claim that the Hizb-ul Mujahideen has threatened to kill important figures intending to participate in the Jammu and Kashmir elections. The broadcast has also allegedly claimed that village headmen in Doda and Bhadarwah were killed as part of this campaign.

Sources said there are also concentrations of al Qaida and Taliban members in the Northern Areas of PoK. “There are structured moves to send militants into PoK,” the sources said. An estimate says about 1,500 al Qaida and Taliban militants would be in the Northern Areas.

   

 
 
ALARM AT 10-DAY DRY SPELL FORECAST 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
Calcutta and south Bengal districts are likely to writhe in the grip of a drought with central meteorological agencies forecasting little or no rain during the next 10 days.

Data downloaded by the state agriculture department from the website of the National Centre for Medium Range Forecasting during the day caused alarm in government circles.

The forecast till August 4 said that there might be only about 10 mm to 15 mm of rainfall against a normal of 80 mm to 100 mm.

Worried over crop prospects — transplantation of the principal paddy harvest aman is on — the agriculture department has already drawn up alternative plans. Cultivators have been alerted that aman may be seriously affected if there is no rain by August 15. Farmers have been asked to switch over to pulses, oilseeds and vegetables which require less water.

“According to the website data and satellite picture, there is no chance of rain till August 4. There are no rain clouds over south Bengal. There is a cloud cover of sorts over the hills in the north-eastern region and the Andaman islands. But they are not rain clouds. We are worried about our crops,” N. Trivedi, the director of agriculture in the state government, said.

The meteorological office at Alipore said a low-pressure trough line is lying over north Bengal, causing heavy rains there. “But there is no immediate possibility of rains in south Bengal. Unless the trough line moves towards Gangetic West Bengal, rains can’t be expected,” said K.K. Chakraborty, director of the weather section at Alipore.

The absence of rain came up at a meeting convened by acting chief minister Mohammad Amin to discuss the north Bengal floods. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who was present at the meet, said the situation that might arise out of a possible drought, particularly in Bankura, Purulia and Burdwan districts, was discussed.

Agriculture department sources said: “So far, 23 per cent of aman has been transplanted against a normal 36 per cent. The most hard hit are Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, parts of Birbhum and Burdwan. In Purulia, there has been only 5 per cent transplantation. The aman crop will be severely affected if there are no rains by August 15,” an official said.

Transplantation in Hooghly, North 24-Parganas, Nadia and some parts of Burdwan has been better because of the availability of irrigation water.

Officials said if there is a drought, ground water and deep and shallow tube-wells will have to be used to the hilt to save as much of the crop as possible.

   

 
 
‘TRAILING’ SONIA TOTS UP COST OF RIOTS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
Congress strategists are working overtime to shift the spotlight from communal divide to the economic price of the riots as a pre-poll survey showed the party still trailing the BJP in Gujarat.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her spin-doctors have prepared a paper called Economic Price of Gujarat Riots, based on inputs from the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce.

Among other things, the paper highlights the loss — Rs 2 crore a day — the state suffered during the carnage. The paper will be circulated in Gujarati and other languages and distributed at block and taluka levels.

A recent survey conducted by an independent agency showed the Congress still way behind the Narendra Modi-led BJP. However, AICC general secretary Kamal Nath is not convinced. Nath’s feedback is that his party will get more than 100 of the 182 seats in the Assembly.

According to the survey, the crucial caste divide between the influential Patel community and the non-Patels was not hurting the BJP, though Congress observers spread across the state have a different story to tell. They say the Patels will not vote en bloc for the BJP.

Sonia’s move to appoint former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela state unit president is also working as a double-edged sword.

While Vaghela’s aggressive style of functioning and political acumen are major assets, his image as a symbol of anti-Patel forces in the state’s politics is proving counter-productive.

To the Congress’ disadvantage, there has been no Patel leader of note after the death of C.D. Patel and Atmaram Patel.

Faced with these challenges, the Congress president and her aides are trying to shift the focus to development issues and hoping that the people of Gujarat would critically analyse Modi’s tenure from the point of view of economics.

Sonia will be visiting Gujarat on August 9 to test the waters at Surat, where the state party unit will launch the “Gujarat bachao, BJP hatao (Save Gujarat, remove BJP)” campaign to coincide with 60 years of the Quit India movement.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said senior party leaders will mobilise people for the state-wide campaign, which will culminate in a rally at Surat.

He said the state unit is fully prepared to face the polls any time, but added that a comprehensive revision of electoral rolls should take place before that.

Sharma dismissed as “absurd” BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu’s remark that communal riots in Gujarat were a result of the tension set off by previous governments.

“We are appalled at the temerity of the statement of Naidu, which is not only absurd but a monstrous distortion of history,” the spokesman said.

   

 
 
MODERN MIX FOR OLDEST MADARSA 
 
 
BY SUNANDO SARKAR
 
Calcutta, July 26: 
The Madarsa Education Committee will recommend a balance between modernity and theology in its report to be submitted to the state government in a few weeks. The emphasis will be on a syllabus that would help students succeed in competitive examinations like Joint Entrance.

The committee, set up last year to suggest ways of modernising Bengal’s madarsas as well as arming those who pass out with adequate knowledge of “secular” subjects, also reached a consensus on recommending deemed university status for the Calcutta Madarsa. Established in 1780, it is the country’s — and, most probably, Asia’s — oldest such institution offering higher education.

Officials said important members of the panel, including chairman A.R. Kidwai — a former Bengal Governor — met in Delhi earlier this month to discuss the diverse opinions they had gathered over the last year. The committee received representations from hundreds of members of the community, including clerics and intellectuals, the officials added. It is now giving the final touches to its draft report.

Senior officials of the minority affairs department at Writers’ Buildings say the committee, now on extension till July 31, may again overshoot the deadline. “The committee has, very recently, got a vice-chairman to help it in its task, which, needless to say, is Herculean,” one of them told The Telegraph. Justice K.M. Yusuf, chairman of the West Bengal Minorities Commission, has been assigned the role.

Though the nitty-gritty is still being worked out, officials say the committee has reached a broad consensus on the more important issues. “Without disturbing the present thrust of the curriculum of the West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education, the committee will try to inject some new life into it,” one of them explained.

One of the most important recommendations will probably be the suggestion for conferring deemed university status on the Calcutta Madarsa. Without a principal for the last five years, officials feel this is the “only way” to retrieve the institution, although how the university would function will be decided by a committee set up by the state government.

The Madarsa Education Committee’s draft report is going to recommend that it start in a modest way, teaching languages and, if possible, computers.

“Teaching science at the university level needs a lot of infrastructure that the institution, at present, does not have,” a senior official of the higher education department said.

“Our department, too, would like the institution to start with teaching languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and, of course, English and Bengali,” he added, explaining that it was something Calcutta Madarsa had been doing and had a ready infrastructure. But more important, in the context of the present scenario, are the recommendations the committee is likely to give about the school curriculum in madarsas.

At present, the madarsa curriculum and the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education syllabus give varying degrees of importance to “secular” and “non-secular” subjects. For example, if geography carries 100 marks in Madhyamik, it is a 50-mark paper in the madarsa curriculum.

Officials also say a number of madarsa-going students — more than 15 per cent are non-Muslims — forced to study for a 100-mark compulsory paper on Arabic, usually mugs up answers to some expected questions and “regurgitate” them at the exam hall.

“There is no justification for forcing people to study something they won’t need in the future,” an official said, supporting the move to make it an “additional compulsory paper”.

All this may change if the draft report, being prepared, is anything to go by.

One of the recommendations is bringing the madarsa syllabus “closer” to the Madhyamik and Higher Secondary syllabi so that those who pass out from these institutions stand an equal chance in competitive exams for admission to the IITs and engineering and medical colleges.

   

 
 
2 CRIMES NOT ENOUGH FOR POLITICIANS 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
The all-party meet scheduled tomorrow is set to drop some more clauses in the proposed electoral reforms Bill so that candidates with “two heinous crimes” could also be allowed to contest.

“Opposition has come from several NDA allies like the DMK, the MDMK, the PMK and even the Janata Dal (United),” sources said pointing to the “changed scenario”.

The draft Bill, drawn up by the Centre earlier this month and circulated among all parties, had proposed barring candidates against whom courts have framed charges in two separate cases of heinous crimes. “Rape, attempt to murder, dacoity, dacoity with murder, wielding illegal weapons (and) any terrorism-related offence” are classified as heinous crimes.

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

Sources say the debate over the “heinous crime” clause has been triggered following the arrest of MDMK leader Vaiko.

“This is a foisted case. If such cases are foisted by political rivals, simply because they happen to rule a state, then almost in all states, the ruling party can foist two cases of such nature which would automatically disqualify rivals from contesting elections,” the sources said.

They added that this fear would be “articulated” at tomorrow’s meeting, where the draft Bill will be discussed.

   

 
 
DELHI CLEARS DECKS FOR PM-POWELL DATE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
After dragging its feet for days, South Block has finally agreed to a meeting between visiting US secretary of state Colin Powell and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The issue was turning into a major irritant in the relations between the two sides. Indications suggest that the meeting will now take place on Sunday morning, before Powell leaves for Islamabad.

“Secretary Powell is very pleased with this opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister,” the US embassy said here late tonight, indicating its happiness with the Indian decision.

Powell arrives here tomorrow afternoon to hold detailed talks with the Indian leadership on strengthening bilateral ties and to seek an early solution to the India-Pakistan military standoff, which Washington still fears may lead to a war in South Asia.

The secretary of state is also scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha. Apart from discussing issues that are likely to strengthen ties, the two leaders will take the opportunity to get acquainted. Powell will attend a dinner hosted by Sinha in his honour tomorrow.

On Sunday, he was scheduled to meet deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. But according to the revised schedule, though Powell will meet Advani, his meeting with Mishra will be merged with the one with the Prime Minister.

After meeting Vajpayee and Advani, Powell will leave for Islamabad for consultations with President Pervez Musharraf and other senior Pakistani officials.

The US state department had requested the Prime Minister’s Office for a meeting between Powell and Vajpayee. But for days, South Block held on to its decision, sparking speculation that it would not agree to the meeting to protest America’s failure to force Musharraf to stop infiltration and dismantle the terror infrastructure in Pakistan.

That Powell and Sinha were not holding a joint news conference at the end of the visit — something which had almost become customary — was also seen in some sections as India’s irritation with the US. Powell will address the media on his own on Sunday morning.

But South Block officials made it clear that neither decision should be seen as India’s attempt to lodge a protest. It was argued that Sinha, who is new in the foreign ministry, was not keen to hold a joint news conference.

The inability to fit in a meeting between Powell and the Prime Minister was said to be due to time constraint. “If Pakistan is not complying with its commitment made to the international community, there is no reason why we should be angry with the Americans,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said. However, the issue now seems settled.

During tomorrow’s talks, India is unlikely to get into a debate with the US on whether there has been a decline in infiltration across the Line of Control. Instead, it will stress on the Musharraf regime’s failure to take serious action against dismantling the terror infrastructure in Pakistan.

“We are not getting into an academic debate with the Americans on whether the level of infiltration has come down or gone up. It is still significant. But what is more significant is the presence of a large number of terrorists on the other side of the Line of Control, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into Jammu and Kashmir.

And, this, clearly shows that Pakistan has done nothing to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure,” a senior South Block official said.

China visit

The Prime Minister is likely to pay an official visit to China in November. Though the exact dates of the visit are being worked out, indications suggest that it will take place at the year-end.

India’s ambassador to China Shiv Shankar Menon, who met Vajpayee today, was asked to finalise the details of the visit.

   

 
 
INDUSTRY’S DROUGHT DOSE: FOOD & SPENDING FLOOD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
As parliamentarians tried to score brownie points in their two-day debate on one of the worst droughts in over a decade, industry suggested an “out-of-the-box” solution: release 20 million tonnes of foodgrain to the worst-hit states immediately and crank up spending on rail infrastructure.

CII president Ashok Soota urged the government to eschew fiscal conservatism “because in difficult times such as these, we need out-of-the-box solutions”. The chamber urged the government to temporarily ignore the fiscal deficit and allocate an extra 0.5 to 1 per cent of the GDP to accelerate the roadways programmes in states and rural India.

This additional outlay, coupled with food distribution, can catalyse a surge in infrastructure, provide income to the poor and prevent a drought-led fall in demand.

“What is better?” asked Soota. “Drought, low demand and less than 5 per cent growth with a 5.5 per cent deficit? Or, combating the drought through greater infrastructure spending and aiming for 6 per cent growth with a 6-6.3 per cent deficit?”

Soota clearly favours the second.

Industry feels the government must stop sitting on its hands and jaw-jawing about solutions. Even a fortnight’s delay in sending foodgrain to the states could create a huge human crisis.

“If the Centre releases the foodgrain now, then the affected state governments will be able to get their administrative machineries in motion to reach the food to the poor and the drought-affected,” a CII release said.

Industry is clearly spooked by the spectre of the drought that could trip its much hoped-for recovery. Surge in forex reserves to $58 billion, 10.4 per cent year-on-year growth in exports between April and June at $7.44 billion, and inflation running at less than 2 per cent were seen as the right springboards for the recovery.

After a two-year downturn, industry has managed to stay afloat because of the surge in buying power in the rural areas, especially after last year’s strong farm sector showing. But the gloom-and-doom scenario appears to be setting in again with the alarming rainfall data that shows 22 of the 36 meteorological subdivisions have received deficient or scanty rain this year.

This will severely affect the entire food bowl of India, says CII. Western Uttar Pradesh has had a rain shortfall of 68 per cent, eastern Uttar Pradesh 63 per cent, Punjab 50 per cent, western Madhya Pradesh (the oilseed belt) 36 per cent, eastern Madhya Pradesh 49 per cent, coastal Andhra Pradesh 30 per cent, Telengana 38 per cent, Orissa 30 per cent, Tamil Nadu 34 per cent and south interior Karnataka 42 per cent.

   

 
 
VIOLENCE IN SILENCE ON MAHATMA MEMORIALS 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, July 26: 
Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘India of my Dreams’ is steadily turning into a nightmare. It is apparent in several spheres; not the least of them in institutions specifically visualised as tributes to the father of the nation.

The attack on Medha Patkar at Gandhi Ashram, in Ahmedabad, may have been a more high-decibel incident. But in Delhi, at what used to be Gandhi Darshan, a more subtle violence has been taking place. At the receiving end are outstanding works of contemporary art.

The massive mural celebrating Gandhi’s message of peace by A. Ramachandran covers one wall of a gallery and is hung in a dark, barely visible area of the exhibition space. Reaching down to the floor, the bottom of the painting is vulnerable to dirt and grime, while jutting showcases obstruct the view of the painting.

On the outside wall of this space, the cement mural portraying Gandhi has been covered with thick coats of white paint to protect it from the ravages of weather. It has ended up creating a bizarre effect.

Professor K.G. Subramanyan’s first experiments with environmental sculpture show the dignity of labour and other aspects of Gandhian philosophy through several low relief sculptures mounted round a courtyard. Several of the sculptures have been damaged while carelessly placed garden swings play havoc with the view.

On one wall, a thick pipe is grouted through the mural, while piles of air-coolers are stashed in front. A wash basin graces one corner of the courtyard and a toilet door opens on to it.

If these works, which would fetch several lakhs of rupees in the international market today, are in such pitiable condition, then the fate of massive paintings by Paritosh Sen, Biren De and Shanti Dave are far worse.

Spattered with paint and with badly damaged canvases, some of the paintings are locked in storage rooms. Others are tucked away in obscure offices with sofas pushed against them.

There is nothing to indicate the details of the artists and their works. Except for the director and the artist-in-charge, Hena Chakraborty, few of the staff know the whereabouts of the works of art in their care.

Says Santiniketan-based art historian R. Sivakumar: “If this is not violence to Gandhian values and aesthetics, then what is?”

However, there appear to be some signs of hope. The Gandhi Darshan, now transformed into the International Centre of Gandhian Studies and Research, is part of the Union ministry’s department of culture. Its new director, Savita Singh, is aware of the problems.

“It’s not just the monetary value of the art works but its universal value that should be our first concern,” she says.

Singh has embarked on a programme of restoring and conserving the paintings and sculptures. The first restoration work will start with Biren De’s painting. Union minister of tourism and culture Jagmohan is supporting Singh in her efforts.

   

 
 
LEFT-OUT JAYA SHOOTS STINKER AT CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, July 26: 
ADMK chief Jayalalithaa today “severely condemned” the Centre for inviting some chief ministers for President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi yesterday and “totally ignoring” others.

“The act of deliberately omitting the chief minister of Tamil Nadu from the list of invitees to a ceremony as solemn and symbolic as the swearing-in of the President of India is an affront to the people of the state whom I represent and an assault on the spirit of federalism itself,” asserted Jayalalithaa in one of the most caustic attacks on the NDA in recent times.

“Deliberately leaving out some chief ministers from a function associated with the unity of India can only be termed as a churlish, ham-handed attempt to derail democratic values,” added the ADMK chief.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister denied reports that she had avoided attending the swearing-in ceremony, saying she was “very keen” on being present. However, Jayalalithaa pointed out that she received no invitation from the home ministry.

When Tamil Nadu’s resident commissioner in Delhi sought details from the ministry about the function so that “I could keep myself free to attend it”, he got a “curt reply” that chief ministers “were not going to be invited”, alleged Jayalalithaa. The ADMK chief later learnt through the media that a few chief ministers, including those of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, had attended the function.

The chief minister termed this partiality “very strange” and wondered what the BJP-led NDA was trying to achieve by such an act of discrimination. “Is it trying to create a caste system among chief ministers by extending special treatment to a select few and shabby treatment to others?” asked Jayalalithaa.

The ADMK chief recalled that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had spoken to her twice seeking support while finalising the NDA’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates. “Despite my support, which is considerable, I have been slighted and humiliated by the NDA government at the Centre,” she said.

As the President hails from Tamil Nadu, “I take it as a deliberate slight to Tamil Nadu”, Jayalalithaa said. “It is not only an insult to me, but also a deliberate humiliation heaped on the people of Tamil Nadu.”

The ADMK chief pointed out that a similar incident had occurred when Shankar Dayal Sharma was sworn in as President when the Congress was in power, after she was asked to be one of the proposers. Such incidents proved that the Centre had only “contempt and disdain” for chief ministers, claimed Jayalalithaa.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister said invitations extended to people like the Ambani brothers added insult to injury. She wondered what special qualifications they had apart from being rich.

The whole incident assumed significance in the context of the chief ministers being “the elected representatives of the people who are directly responsible for the election of the President”, argued Jayalalithaa in a four-page statement. Inviting all the chief ministers and Lt Governors should have posed no problem for the Centre, she added.

However, it would appear that the Centre invited chief ministers when it needed them to propose the nominations of presidential and vice-presidential candidates and “disposed of” them when it came to such a prestigious function like the swearing-in ceremony, regretted the ADMK chief.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 37.3°C (+5)
Minimum: 29.5°C (+3)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 85%,,
Minimum: 44%

Today

Sunrise: 5.07 am
Sunset: 6.19 pm

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of one or two showers or thundershowers in some areas

   
 

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