Powell hands list of must-dos to Delhi
Advani regrets Jaya miss
Brakes off Modi rath
Burial of labour law reform
Welcome to in-flight stench of death
Bangla apology cry awaits Pervez
Spirit runs out of Mumbai’s Chandni Bars
CV route to Sonia team
Paswan, Sharad queer Cong pitch
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, July 28: 
A US-initiated peace plan to restore stability in South Asia and normalise relations between India and Pakistan was unwrapped today by secretary of state Colin Powell.

Predictably, Kashmir is the key to the peace plan. First, Pakistan must guarantee it will not resort to violence and disrupt the holding of elections in the state, scheduled for September. In turn, New Delhi must promise that it will enter into a “sustained and serious” dialogue with Islamabad after the elections to resolve the dispute.

Powell, who arrived here yesterday on his third visit in 10 months to break the impasse in India-Pakistan relations, held a series of dialogues with the top leadership in New Delhi. This included a half-hour meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a 45-minute discussion with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He left for Islamabad today to hold similar rounds of consultations with President Pervez Musharraf and senior Pakistani officials.

“Pakistan cannot and should not disrupt the forthcoming elections in Jammu and Kashmir through violence,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. “What Pakistan does or does not do in the run-up to the elections will be the litmus test of its intention.”

Rao made it clear that “future dialogue will depend on Pakistan’s action”. But Musharraf said infiltration had already stopped. “It has certainly stopped. It is not taking place. What India is saying is baseless,” he said before meeting the US secretary of state.

Powell, during his meeting last night with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and with other Indian leaders this morning, assured India that he would convey a strong message to Musharraf that the Pakistani President would have to deliver on the promises made to Washington to stop infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC).

Powell also agreed with New Delhi that Islamabad would have to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, which included training camps, communication links, terrorist launching pads and financial backing.

But the secretary of state made it clear that if New Delhi expected the Pakistani President to deliver on his pledge, the US would also require India’s assurance of a sustained dialogue with Islamabad on Kashmir.

“Kashmir is on the international agenda. Both India and Pakistan will have to take steps so that it can lead to a peaceful situation for the Kashmiris and the people of the region,” Powell said before meeting Vajpayee and Advani.

He unravelled the outlines of his peace initiative this morning while addressing the media. According to him, violence in Kashmir and infiltration across the LoC must come to an end so that the state can hold free and fair elections peacefully. To make the polls credible, India must release detained political prisoners and encourage moderates, including the Hurriyat Conference, to participate. Delhi should also allow foreign observers to monitor the Kashmir elections.

Powell said elections were just the first step. “Elections alone cannot resolve tensions between India and Pakistan and heal the scars of years of strife. But it can be the first step in a broader process and lead India and Pakistan to a sustained, bilateral dialogue to resolve all their outstanding issues, including Kashmir,” he added.

Aware that the issue of allowing international observers into Kashmir was unlikely to go down well in the country, particularly when Parliament was in session, New Delhi decided to clarify its stand. “It would be incorrect to say that secretary Powell pitched for international observers for the elections in Kashmir,” Rao said.

She clarified that diplomats, mediapersons and individuals would not be stopped from going to Jammu and Kashmir, adding: “But non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking formal status as observers for the elections will not be given permission.”


Chennai, July 28: 
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today apologised to Jayalalithaa for not inviting her to the swearing-in of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Advani “expressed regret” over telephone and assured the Tamil Nadu chief minister that he would “review the entire Table of Precedence for formal government functions”, said a statement issued by the chief minister’s office this evening.

Jayalalithaa had raised a banner of revolt against the Centre’s “outmoded procedure” of not inviting chief ministers to such “prestigious” functions and termed it a “deliberate insult” on the people of Tamil Nadu. India’s new President, Kalam, hails from the state.

What had irked her further was the presence of the Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers.

The ADMK chief’s words of condemnation won her a round of applause from even her arch rival, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. CPM state secretary N. Varadarajan, too, backed her.

The Union home secretary had written to the Tamil Nadu chief secretary yesterday that “the Table of Precedence for formal government functions in Delhi is prepared only in respect of those dignitaries who are stationed in Delhi”. While these dignitaries are “invited as a rule”, those stationed outside are invited only “if they happen to be in Delhi and desire to witness the ceremony”. This has been the practice since Independence.

However, Jayalalithaa dubbed the explanation “unacceptable” and called the “outmoded procedure” an excuse to “cover up an indignity to the elected chief ministers”. The explanation to the “unforgivable lapse” added insult to injury, she said.

With even her political rivals voicing support for the protest, Advani today did some fire-fighting.

After the telephone talk, an apparently soothed Jayalalithaa said it was “very gracious” of the deputy Prime Minister to personally convey his regrets. Advani cannot be held responsible for the omission and it was a “lapse at the level of the bureaucrats”, she added.

State Congress chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan, however, accused the chief minister of “exaggerating” the issue at a time when large parts of the state are reeling under drought-like conditions.


Ahmedabad, July 28: 
The Gaurav Rath will roll, but in the garb of electioneering. Narendra Modi has overcome opposition to his controversial yatra, which was stalled earlier this month, and is likely to ride the hi-tech rath in August.

The dates are yet to be finalised, but party sources said the yatra is likely to be flagged off either on August 9 or August 15, coinciding with the Congress’ proposed chain of protests in Surat and Ahmedabad.

The spanner in the wheels of the chariot was yanked off at a party meeting yesterday in the presence of BJP national general secretary and Gujarat in-charge Arun Jaitley. This was a clear indication that the central leadership does not object to the yatra any more.

“The Centre has no reason to oppose the yatra now. There is a sea change in the situation in Gujarat,” a party leader said.

Congress leaders agree. “It is part of electioneering, and Modi is well within his rights to take out a rath yatra,” senior leader Hasmukh Patel said. The Congress is not perturbed because it believes the yatra will only expose Modi. People will realise what he is up to, Patel said.

But the BJP asserts that the Gaurav Rath Yatra will help the party re-establish a rapport with the people. The idea is to make people feel proud of their “glorious past and rich culture”, with the intention of consolidating the communal polarisation post-Godhra and the Hindu vote.

The chief minister was initially sold on the idea — sprung at a meeting at the residence of a loyalist — of starting his yatra from Godhra, the town where the Sabarmati Express carnage took place on February 27. But he gave up the plan realising that the party high command would not allow it. Finally, said an insider who attended the secret meeting, it was decided that the rath would roll from the holy town of Ambaji.

Some felt the temple-town kick-off could generate greater controversy as it would look like a pilgrimage. But Modi brushed them aside. “It (controversy) will help me. Everybody will be talking about us. That is exactly the purpose of the yatra,” he said.

Modi, however, had to cut down on the belligerence he wanted to portray — trishuls, arrows painted all over the chariot and his aggressive image, spitting fire. The Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design students, who designed the rath, persuaded him to put a smiling picture, showing the chief minister shaking hands.

The brief for the designers was demanding: make the vehicle look exactly like a chariot, which had been scrapped for security reasons, and project Modi as a “staunch Hindu leader” who is very influential in Delhi.

The state BJP is making no bones about Modi’s clout with Delhi. A top VHP leader recalled how the Prime Minister was forced to change his mind after deciding to sack Modi on April 4.

But Modi’s influence in Delhi is not enough to get votes in Gujarat, especially when Shankersinh Vaghela has galvanised the Congress. The BJP’s hopes lie in none other than Keshubhai Patel.


Calcutta, July 28: 
The Bengal government has decided to scrap the expert committee it had set up a few weeks ago to review some of labour laws. The official line from Writers’ Buildings is — We know best; there’s no need for change.

“We set up the committee following suggestions from various quarters to review some of the provisions of existing labour legislation in the state. But then we found out that everything was all right and there was no need to incorporate any changes,” state labour minister Mohammed Amin said. “So we decided to scrap the committee.”

On May 30, the state government had announced the setting up of the committee. A labour department notification was sent to leading industry associations and business schools to nominate representatives to “critically examine” and “review” the note prepared by consultancy major McKinsey on labour laws.

But before the committee could meet even once, another notification was issued: “… The name of your representative/nominee in the said expert committee need not be sent for the present.”

“When we learnt that the government was willing to review some of the draconian labour laws in consultation with industry, we thought that finally things would change in West Bengal. But the recent notification proved that nothing has really changed in this state,” an industrialist said.

“How can the government on its own conclude that there is nothing wrong with the labour laws?” he asked.

Referring to the government’s volte-face, a businessman said: “We wanted to discuss various issues ranging from Chapter V (B) of the Industrial Disputes Act, introduction of contract labour and adoption of the hire-and-fire principle. But the CPM-led ruling government doesn’t want to touch these issues fearing a backlash from within the Left Front.”

In the first notification, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had expressed the desire to follow in the footsteps of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

“The Bengal government’s lack of interest in effecting changes in labour laws to protect only the organised sector is a clear indication of its apathy towards the working class,” said Kavita Khanna of the Mumbai-based Indian Merchants’ Chamber.

The wife of actor-turned-minister Vinod Khanna had led the move to persuade the Maharashtra government to announce the review of Chapter V (B) — which makes it mandatory to seek government permission to close an industrial unit with a workforce of over 100 — in its policy papers.

Khanna said the Bengal government’s move would “further dampen” the growth of the manufacturing sector. “Studies have shown that these stifling laws have only led to higher rates of unemployment,” she said.


Calcutta, July 28: 
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport, 10.20 am: The public address system crackles to convey bad news. IC701 to Dibrugarh is delayed. Disgusted, passengers settle down for an indefinite wait.

Two hours later: The flight is announced. Eager passengers board the Indian Airlines aircraft that’s just arrived from Agartala.

Barely 15 minutes later: The plane door is thrown open and the passengers rush out, some holding their noses, some gasping for breath. “The stench was intolerable. I couldn’t breathe for some time and my eyes started watering. Most of the fellow passengers were coughing and the stench was coming through the air-conditioner system also,” said a passenger.

The 142 passengers bound for Dibrugarh were hit by the overpowering stench as soon as they entered the plane on Sunday afternoon. The odour, emanating from the air channels, had invaded every corner of the aircraft. Holding their breath, panic-stricken passengers rushed towards the exit, brushing aside air-hostesses who tried to calm them.

The flight had arrived from Agartala, carrying passengers and five dead bodies in the cargo hold — three jawans of the Tripura State Rifles and two of the Central Industrial Security Force killed in action a few days ago.

As the flight touched down with a thud, two lids flew off the metal coffins, letting loose the strong fumes of formaldehyde — a toxic reagent sprayed inside the body-boxes to keep the corpses infection-free. All the five coffins had been unloaded, as four of the five bodies were bound for Delhi, Patna and Lucknow, before the Dibrugarh passengers boarded.

“The passengers deplaned, but somehow the strong stench must have infiltrated into the air channels without anybody realising it at all,” said an Indian Airlines spokesman.

Trouble started once the passengers, who were asked to board the flight after 12.30 pm, felt the formaldehyde fume stream down as soon as they adjusted the air channels over the individual seats.

“Apart from irritation in the eyes, our throats went dry. Some people were also crying for water,” said a few passengers.

The crew on board tried their best to calm the agitated passengers, but failed. Several, left fuming by the fumes, barged into the cockpit, demanding an explanation.

“The captain and the crew could not tell them the reason as they were under the oath of secrecy. After all, Indian Airlines is the only airline in the world to transport dead bodies, specially of our armed forces, totally free of cost and we keep it under wraps,” the spokesman said.

After about 15 minutes of tumult, the captain announced that the flight was not taking off and asked passengers to alight.

Delayed and out of breath, the angry passengers then poured their ire on the ground staff. “No one had a clue what was happening up there. We were not given any reasons for the delay,” a passenger complained.

Officials of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and the Airports Authority of India had to intervene before Indian Airlines announced a little later that an Alliance Airways 737 flight was ready to take the passengers to Dibrugarh.

Around 3.20 pm, the AA flight finally roared off the tarmac, heading north-east.

“There is no question of awarding compensation to the passengers. This was an extremely rare occurrence and we are sorry for the discomfort.

“On our part, we have already taken up this matter with the Tripura police to ensure that the coffins are sealed properly in future,” the airline spokesman added.


Dhaka, July 28: 
General Pervez Musharraf will certainly not like it, but a renewed demand for Pakistan’s apology to Bangladesh for the 1971 genocide will greet him when he arrives here tomorrow.

The apology cry and other protests against his visit may not have exactly drowned the din of the traffic on Dhaka streets. But influential groups of Bangladeshis want to tell the Pakistani President that he carries the burden of his country’s guilt and also the responsibility of apologising for it.

Some 200 of the country’s leading intellectuals have called his visit “unwarranted” and declared him “persona non grata” in view of Pakistan’s refusal to offer a public apology for the massacre of nearly three million people and the rape of 200,000 women by Pakistani armymen or their collaborators during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971.

Other groups that wanted General Musharraf to remember and repent organised small processions and meetings here yesterday. They also wanted Pakistan to pay Bangladesh its share of assets in undivided Pakistan, estimated at US $ 4.5 billion, and take back nearly 300,000 Pakistanis “stranded” in Bangladesh. The small Leftist parties fear that his visit will give further legitimacy to undercover operations of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in Bangladesh.

But the protests may not make much of a difference to the General who will find welcome changes here. Gone is the government of the Awami League, which two years ago expelled the Pakistani deputy high commissioner Irfan Raja, for his derogatory remarks on the 1971 war. Pakistan suffered the snub soon after the much-publicised tiff between Musharraf and former Bangldesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, at the millennium meeting of the United Nations in New York in 2000.

Instead, the country now has a coalition government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which always wanted better relations with Pakistan to counter the League’s pronounced pro-India tilt.


Mumbai, July 28: 
Mehnaz’s dancing silhouette is barely visible through the smoky haze. A few men, glassy eyed from too much alcohol, tempt her with a wad of ten-rupee notes and Mehnaz glides across, synchronising her steps to the beat of a Bhangra-pop number.

Clad in a saree — though a provocative few inches below her navel — she tries to grab the money from a distance. A few months ago, that would have earned any bar girl a demotion. But it’s no longer business as usual. Even the catcalls and frenzied groping of inebriated clients are missing.

As film star Tabu rolls up her sleeves to accept the national award for her role as a dance girl in Chandni Bar, thousands of bar girls across Mumbai are scurrying for cover from the ruthless police crackdown. Chandni Bar, like hundreds of others in the city, is fast changing since Tabu made it famous in director Madhur Bhandarkar’s celluloid portrayal of the dark, musky interiors of Mumbai’s sleaze world.

Dancing at the Mohini bar in Mumbai’s western suburbs, Mehnaz says the tips are getting smaller by the day. “Malik bolta hai careful hone ke liye, koi badmashi nahin, police ka hamesha dar rehta hai. (The owner tells us to be careful, not to get involved in any mischief. There is a lot of fear from the police these days),” she adds.

Of late, there has been a massive crackdown on dance bars in Mumbai. The man responsible for it says the drive to stop bars from functioning as pick-up joints for call girls will continue.

Additional commissioner of police Madhu Shinde has conducted raids on nearly 300 liquor bars in the past few months, forcing many of them to close down. “Of the 400 bars having dancing girls, we have found that 131 are unauthorised,” Shinde says. “While close to 70 bars will be shut in a few days, we will review the licenses of the rest.”

Repeated protests by the Fight For Rights Bar Association headed by Manjit Singh Sethi has been of no consequence. Sethi has gone on a hunger strike this time to “protest the police harassment, especially Shinde’s, and their increasing demands for haftas”.

The police department, however, is in no mood to relent. Police commissioner M.N. Singh, while dismissing Sethi’s hunger strike as a publicity gimmick says, “several illegal bars double up as nothing but prostitution dens, it’s a social menace that has to be stopped. Shinde is strictly doing his duty.”

The administration isn’t about to stop at that. Now they want bars to play “Indian classical music” and the bar girls to dance to it. “It isn’t anything new that we are saying,” says Shinde, “the performance licence that we give clearly states that dances can be performed only to India classical music, but bar owners invariably misuse it and force girls to perform obscene dances that encourage prostitution. Now they (bar owners) will have to keep this in mind.”

But bar owners say the police action is more about money than morals. “We need to have four kinds of performance licenses that cost us Rs 1500 each per day. Every month we shell out Rs 1.80 lakh only in taxes, which is over and above the money we pay to policemen to leave us alone. We really can’t afford to feed the cops more than that, there is a limit to greed,” says a bar owner.

Sandwiched between the police and the bar owners are the dance girls who find themselves at the receiving end from both sides.

At the Golden Bowl, dance girl Mamta says the flow of clients has reduced to a trickle. “Look, even on a Friday night there are so many empty chairs,” she says dejectedly.

Then as she gets ready to do her number, in a saree, she adds: “Kaam karne me ab maza nahi hai aur dar ke jeena pad raha hai, dekhte hai agar koi doosra kaam milta hai to... (It’s no fun working here anymore because there is too much fear. Let me see if I can find another job...)”


New Delhi, July 28: 
Sonia Gandhi has unveiled a new recruitment policy and all future appointments in the party would be conducted through interviews based on CVs — due weightage would be given to educational qualifications and social sensitivity.

The move to summon candidates for interviews for Youth Congress chiefs in the states has sent shock-waves among the younger lot, who used to consider money and muscle power as the biggest assets.

The proposal, if implemented in the spirit of Sonia’s Panchmarhi vision of converting the Congress into a party of the “best and brightest”, would be the third major step in that direction. She first over-ruled influential sections to reserve a third of the party posts for women.

The AICC chief then made the country’s oldest party “all white”, insisting that all donations be received through cheques only. The party’s corpus now boasts of more than Rs 100 crore in donations that were made in a transparent manner.

The sceptics are, however, not impressed. “The dynamics of electoral politics are not going to change. Will a first class graduate or a person holding an MBA come handy when you have to mobilise crowds for public meetings, prevent booth rigging and shout slogans?” said an AICC functionary.

Leaders such as Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, Mukul Wasnik and Ambika Soni are convinced that the time has come to start scouting around for a more-talented lot. Digvijay wondered why politics should be a dumping ground for those who had not done well elsewhere.

Digvijay, Ambika and Wasnik have invited applications for the new Youth Congress chief in Madhya Pradesh. Candidates have been asked to submit a record of their educational qualifications and social work. Aspirants have been also asked to give details of their police record, cases pending in courts or any other misconduct.

Sources at 10 Janpath said Sonia had begun the practice of interviewing even those short-listed to head the state party units. Those aspiring to head PCCs have been asked to make presentations, giving their vision of the welfare of the state.

Party sources said Sonia’s focus on probity in public life was aimed at changing the stereotype image of the Youth Congress since the days of Sanjay Gandhi, when it was identified with muscle power and high-handedness.

The idea is to make the Youth Congress a catalyst of social change where the younger lot could work on environment, literacy and political training before moving on to law-making and governance.

The Youth Congress is currently a defunct body. Most office-bearers at the national and state levels are relatives of senior party leaders. Most activities are restricted to areas in and around Delhi. It has been years since the youth wing did anything more important than organising blood donation camps.


New Delhi, July 28: 
The decisions by former Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party to contest the elections in Gujarat have made the Congress’ job even more difficult. Both parties are likely to cut into Congress votes.

In 1998, the fight was between the BJP and the Congress. But this year, parties such as the NCP and the Janshakti will be in the fray, to the advantage of the BJP.

Sources said efforts are on to launch a front comprising the Janshakti, the NCP and the Samajwadi Party.

Though Paswan is a minor player testing the waters in Gujarat for the first time, the NCP and the Samajwadi can spoil the Congress’ prospects in more than a couple of dozen constituencies.

The NCP has already announced it would contest all the 182 constituencies. The Samajwadi and the Janshakti are yet to announce their plans.

“I have not applied my mind to seat adjustments. My first priority is to unite broken minds. I have succeeded to some extent. It is not a selfish motive prior to the election. Since elections are being held, it is natural that as a political party we will contest,” Paswan said, when asked if he planned to align with other parties.

Paswan is keen not to split the anti-BJP votes and, hence, wants to have a tie-up with the Congress. In the wake of the communal carnage and the Sangh parivar’s bid to create a wedge between the Dalits and the Muslims, Paswan had taken it upon himself to neutralise the effect of the Dalit versus Muslim syndrome in post-riots Gujarat.

Janshakti sources said the Muslims are now backing the Dalit leader as he was the only politician who ventured into the riot-hit slum clusters inhabited by Muslims on one side and Dalits on the other, to restore peace between the warring communities.

Paswan, who quit the Union Cabinet and the NDA protesting against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s handling of the Gujarat violence, visited the state six times since March and held “sadbhavana” rallies between July 20 and 25 in north Gujarat. The Janshakti chief is planning to hold similar rallies in Saurashtra on August 5, 6 and 7 and in the remaining areas on August 26, 27 and 28.

Paswan claimed his efforts were able to unite the Dalits and the Muslims. “It is a misnomer to call it communal riots (in Gujarat).The violence was sponsored by the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, while the government encouraged it,” he said.




Maximum: 33.9°C (+2)
Minimum: 25.6°C (0)


15.6 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 67%

Sunrise: 5.08 am

Sunset: 6.19 pm


One or two spells of rain or thundershowers

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