Satyagraha jars Sabarmati tour
Sponsor Big Brother strikes
Out in the rain, Mamata shuts out Atal appeal
College girl in net
Jeep option for PM
Blair ‘voter’ in US scam
Shekhawat’s cup of votes brims over
Hurriyat game for talks, not polls
Protectors rue attack blot on security record
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SATYAGRAHA JARS SABARMATI TOUR 
 
 
BASANT RAWAT AND AGENCIES
 
Ahmedabad, Aug. 12: 
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was at pains today to avoid stirring controversy, but the Narendra Modi administration lived up to its reputation and struck a jarring note.

As Kalam paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram, about 4,000 residents of the Shah-e-Alam relief camp used a weapon pioneered by the father of the nation — satyagraha — for the release of Sharif Khan, a camp organiser who was picked up last night as a “precautionary measure” to prevent “slogan-shouting” during the President’s visit.

“Inmates have refused to have their afternoon meal, saying they cannot eat when the man who has supported them for five months is cooling his heels in prison,” said Shafibhai Memon, another organiser of the city’s largest camp. The hungerstrike ended when Khan was released in the evening.

Late tonight, a mob went on a rampage in the area. Police suspect that the clash could be the fallout of Khan’s detention.

With chief minister Modi looking over his shoulder, the President started his first official tour from Sabarmati Ashram where he interacted with schoolchildren.

His next stop was Naroda-Patia, one of the areas worst affected by the riots. Modi still by his side, Kalam took a 30-minute walk through the bylanes where over 90 people were butchered. He was greeted by banners which said: “Rashtrapati Abdul Kalam ko Naroda-Patia ke Dukhiyon ka Salam.”

Kalam heard out the grievances of some community leaders and residents, but stuck to the straight and narrow path paved by the government. As he was walking back, some residents cried out: “Kalam sahab, peechchey jaiye, peechchey Jallianwala Bagh hai.” But unlike chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, who had responded to such calls, the President did not oblige.

Residents pointed out that in six months, no one had bothered to visit them. “He (Modi) is visiting us for the first time,” cried an angry Dilwar Mansuri.

Eighteen-year-old Shahzabano, whose face was burnt, told Kalam she did not have enough money for treatment. After victim after victim complained that “nobody had taken care of them”, Kalam said relief work should be speeded up. His spokesperson clarified that the statement was not addressed to Modi, but the collector.

Many people crowding rooftops and treetops in Naroda-Patia later said they had been waiting “for a healing touch”, not a “cosmetic visit with Modi”.

Kalam tonight issued a message calling for immediate action to address the grievances of the riot victims and a movement to eliminate communal violence.

   

 
 
SPONSOR BIG BROTHER STRIKES 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Nottingham, Aug. 12: 
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has given India time till Friday to confirm that all players selected for next month’s Champions Trophy in Colombo will abide by “contractual obligations”. Apparently, the same clauses will hold for the 2003 World Cup.

Following this extension, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) deferred announcing the 14-man squad.

The national selectors, though, did meet in Mumbai during the day. According to The Telegraph’s sources, “things should move” after a senior BCCI functionary speaks to captain Sourav Ganguly tomorrow, a day after the Trent Bridge Test.

While the squad hasn’t officially been released, one understands Jai Prakash Yadav, a smart right-hand bat and mediumpacer, has got a call-up.

As the NatWest Trophy side had 15 players, the two omissions are Ajay Ratra and Tinu Yohannan. The wicket-keeper’s gloves will again be worn by Rahul Dravid.

The Champions Trophy, in effect the mini World Cup, will be held from September 12-29. India are in Pool 2 with England and Zimbabwe.

The BCCI, of course, will be utilising the time gained to “negotiate” with the players.

The problem, really, is strictly commercial. Essentially, all players selected for ICC- organised tournaments must sign an event-specific contract. Among other things, the three-page contract states that personal endorsements will not clash with the ICC’s sponsors.

In fact, there must be no “conflict of interest” for a period of one month both before and after the tournament in question. With good reasons, this has upset the players because nobody ever issued an advisory. In any case, the players’ major earnings come through endorsements.

Significantly, in the BCCI’s “general agreement” with the players, there is no clause on personal contracts and endorsements. There will be one when the BCCI introduces formal contracts.

The ICC, it is learnt, has spoken of at least four sponsors — South African Airways, Pepsi, Hero Honda and LG — whose interests must be “protected”. As it turns out, just about everybody endorses products (for example Coca-Cola, Samsung and TVS Suzuki) which will directly “conflict” with the ICC’s interests.

Ironically, the Indian team itself is sponsored by an airline (Sahara). How this will be tackled is still not clear. For now, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya has been authorised “to do the needful”. He is bound to work overtime.

In the event that the players “don’t compromise”, as a source put it, the BCCI will be compelled to exclude them. The BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, has himself been quoted as saying so this evening.

While that (at best) will be a short-term measure, what’s to happen when the World Cup nears? It’s possible that the ICC will assign Dave Richardson, the world body’s general manager (cricket), to do some hard bargaining.

   

 
 
OUT IN THE RAIN, MAMATA SHUTS OUT ATAL APPEAL 
 
 
MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
Even incessant rain could not douse her wrath.

For seven hours, Mamata Banerjee and elected representatives of her Trinamul Congress sat in the downpour and refused to vote for the BJP’s vice-presidential candidate, insisting that first the Prime Minister should consider their appeal against Eastern Railway’s bifurcation.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee did send an emissary — Vijay Goel — to Jantar Mantar, the dharna site where 125 Trinamul MPs, MLAs and councillors sat under a shamiana.

Goel’s mission was to bring the Trinamul leader and her MPs to Parliament’s doorstep and coax them into voting for Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Even if some of the MPs wanted to, Mamata ensured that none left the dharna site till 5 pm, by which time the voting was over.

Shekhawat beat the Opposition candidate, Sushil Kumar Shinde, by a comfortable margin that surpassed expectations and ate into rival ranks . The cross-voting was mainly influenced by caste considerations.

Bringing visions of Calcutta’s Esplanade in the heart of Delhi, Trinamul activists, soaked to the skin, raised slogans without a break and sang Rabindrasangeet.

At the end of the day, Mamata said her party would take a couple of days to decide whether to remain in the National Democratic Alliance.

“Tomorrow is our party’s working committee meeting in Delhi, but we will not take a decision here. I will announce the party’s decision after returning to Calcutta,” she said.

The BJP claimed that some Trinamul MPs wanted to vote but Mamata did not allow them to leave the spot. After her brief interaction with Goel, Mamata went back under the rain and continued with her protest.

Goel persisted, trying to convince the MPs to first cast their votes and then meet Vajpayee. But the MPs parroted the official line: “The Prime Minister must first give us some assurance.”

Some of them, however, seemed upset with Mamata’s decision. Sudip Bandopadhyay sulked right through. According to sources, of the nine Trinamul MPs, three — Ranjit Panja, Krishna Bose and Nitish Sengupta — want to quit the NDA. Others like Bandopadhyay, Trivedi and Bikram Sarkar are against snapping ties.

“We had stood by the NDA through their bad times. We should have quit after the Gujarat incident which clearly showed the BJP was not following the NDA agenda — but was only implementing its own,” said an MP. “This time we are not giving in when they have nothing to offer.”

Trinamul’s main demand now is that Dhanbad and Katihar should be with Eastern Railway. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren, who turned up at the dharna, also echoed the demand.

   

 
 
COLLEGE GIRL IN NET 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Berhampore, Aug. 12: 
Two students of Calcutta’s Gurudas College were picked up on charges of “anti-government activity” and for having links with the People’s War as the Bengal government continued with its crackdown on the Naxalite outfit.

Shampa Dasgupta and Shankar De were among five youths picked up on Saturday night from villages in Murshidabad and Nadia. Their arrest follows last month’s arrest of Kaushik Ganguly, a lecturer of Calcutta’s Rajabazar Science College.

Shampa, who was produced before reporters today, said her arrest was “wrongful”. “I did not have any offending papers, posters or any firearms in my possession for the police to have arrested me,” the 20-year-old said at the police station.

The police produced a few People’s War publications and said they had been recovered from Shampa and her friends. Little detail about Shankar was available.

Shampa admitted that she was a member of the Revolutionary Students’ Front (RSF), a Naxalite students’ wing.

“We believe that no students’ movement is complete without the struggle for the rights of farmers and labourers. We sit in Calcutta and hear of the situation in rural areas. So, on August 10, I went to see with my own eyes the true picture,” she said.

The third-year political science student said she was so intimidated by the police last night that she gave a fictitious name, Salma Khatun. “I was very scared by the way the policemen were asking me questions,” she said.

Shampa revealed that she has been part of the RSF union for the past two years. She stayed with her father — a jute mill worker — mother and younger brother in the Sukhchar area of North 24-Parganas. “I don’t know if they know of my plight,” she said. “I have not been able to contact them.”

In Calcutta, Gurudas College principal Rupayan Bhattacharya said the college “had granted her a concessional fee rate as she did not come from a well-to-do family”. He also recalled that she had run for the college union elections for the RSF but lost. Bhattacharya said he would ask the police to inform the college administration of the specific charges Shampa has been picked up for.

People’s War spokesman Animesh Chakraborty said over the phone that the police had no business in arresting members of a legitimate organisation for no reason at all.

“The students of Gurudas College are touring the villages and they have been wrongfully arrested. The police strategy against us is to use previously seized firearms and cook up false cases that these arms were found on the arrested youths,” Chakraborty said.

Additional superintendent of police Shankar Singh said the arrested youths were organising “anti-state” activities. “It is true that the People’s War is not a banned outfit, but we can prove their crimes. Besides, we have seized a firearm and 12 live rounds of ammunition from them,” Singh said.

   

 
 
JEEP OPTION FOR PM 
 
 
SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
In a departure from tradition, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is likely to inspect the guard of honour during the August 15 celebrations, riding on a jeep.

By convention, the Prime Minister, escorted by the parade commander of the tri-service guard of honour, inspects the guard of honour in a slow walk past about 45 army, navy and air force troops, who line up in front of the Red Fort.

The Prime Minister is received at the Red Fort after a visit to Rajghat by the defence minister, is escorted past the guard and takes the salute before ascending the ramparts to address the nation.

It is not immediately clear why the establishment in charge of the Independence Day celebrations at the Red Fort is keen to do away with the slow walk. But it has inevitably led to speculation about the arthritis that had afflicted Vajpayee’s knees.

In the past, the August 15 celebrations have often been seen as an occasion to judge the health of the country’s leader. At least once in the past, Vajpayee left behind his slipper (later restored to him) and stumbled while ascending the ramparts before making his speech during the nationally televised event.

The establishment is making extraordinary security arrangements for the celebrations because of a perceived threat of a militant attack.

   

 
 
BLAIR ‘VOTER’ IN US SCAM 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 12: 
Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, voting to elect a mayor for Washington? And Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General and a citizen of Ghana, choosing the first citizen of the US capital?

Incredible, but that is precisely what has happened here. At least on paper. A voting scam, reminiscent of the poll fraud in Florida during the election of president George W Bush in 2000, has thrown into disarray the process, due to be completed in November, of electing a mayor for Washington city.

It has raised fears of embarrassing election irregularities when America is due, in less than three months, to choose a new House of Representatives, one third of the Senate and nearly 40 governors in various states.

The shocking fraud, right under the nose of the White House and the Capitol, home to the two chambers of the American legislature, came to light when the city’s poll officials discovered that a vast majority of signatures on papers re-nominating outgoing Democratic mayor Anthony Williams were forged.

In addition to Blair and Annan, celebrities whose signatures were forged include the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a life-long Republican, actor Kelsey Grammer and pianist-singer-songwriter Billy Joel.

The mayor needed a mere 2,000 voter signatures to be on the primary of his Democratic party, due to take place here on September 10.

But his campaign aides submitted 10,102 nominations: the only problem was that city election officials found only 2,235 of these to be valid.

Of the valid ones, doubts were raised about a further 945 nominations. This meant Williams fell short of the magic figure of 2,000 voter signatures.

He was promptly struck off the ballot and the matter, like the presidential poll almost two years ago, is now in court.

For the black mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, the fraud was totally unnecessary. Williams is so popular that the Republicans have so far not bothered even to field a candidate against him.

He has rescued Washington from dire financial straits, cleaned up many derelict parts of the capital, helped raise real estate prices and brought a moderate amount of new businesses into the city. He does not face even a token challenge within his party.

The mayor says it was his aides who let him down. Instead of the mandatory 2,000 nominations, Williams wanted to show his invincibility at the polls even during the parimary stage by bringing in 10,000 plus signatures.

So he decided to pay one dollar to every signatory. It appears that his aides pocketed most of the $10,000 instead of distributing the money to those who signed in. And men like Blair and Annan were pulled in to support Williams with fake addresses and fake signatures.

The result is that the popular Williams may not find himself back in the mayor’s office in November. He has so far lost all the legal battles to get back on the Democratic primary.

His campaign manager has resigned and a new crop of aides are planning a massive signature campaign for the primary so that Williams can be a “sign-in” candidate on the ballot.

Of course, he has the option to run as an independent. But like Congressmen in India, Williams has proclaimed that he is life-long Democrat and a foot soldier for the party.

Besides, if he campaigns as an independent, election officials here will ask the mayor to return to the party $1.4 million in campaign funds which he has raised as a Democrat.

In a letter to The Washington Post published today, Shaun M Snyder and Mark L. Sibley, two members of this city’s Republican Committee called for Williams’ campaign organisation to be fined for the irregularities.

“The Board of Elections and Ethics determined that the Williams campaign submitted a minimum of 5,465 forged signatures and violated election laws at least 5,533 times.… Like any violator of the law, the mayor’s campaign should be judged based on its intent to violate the law and on the scale of the violation. Our election laws were violated 5,533 times at a minimum. To put it into perspective, the law was violated once per minute, 24 hours a day, for nearly four days. This was planned and deliberate.”

For Washingtonians, Williams’ troubles are replete with irony. With a squeaky clean image which he has maintained in office, Williams succeeded mayor Marion Barry who was caught for possessing cocaine and sent to jail.

   

 
 
SHEKHAWAT’S CUP OF VOTES BRIMS OVER 
 
 
RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12: 
The Opposition’s “Dalit card” proved ineffective as NDA nominee Bhairon Singh Shekhawat trounced the Congress’ Sushil Kumar Shinde by 149 votes in today’s vice-presidential polls that saw consolidation of Thakurs, Rajputs and erstwhile royalty across party lines.

In an electoral college of 788 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, the 79-year-old BJP leader polled 454 votes to Shinde’s 305 to become the country’s 12th Vice-President.

Twenty-two MPs, including nine from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, did not vote, but the former Rajasthan chief minister’s tally showed that he got as many as 40 votes from the Opposition ranks.

However, rebel Trinamul MP Ajit Panja cast his ballot in the first hour.

The Congress said Shekhawat’s victory was a “foregone conclusion”. But in private, senior leaders conceded that their strategy to wean away NDA votes on caste lines had boomeranged. The Congress had fielded Shinde, a Dalit, in the hope that some among the 120-member strong Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe MPs forum would support its nominee.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said some Opposition leaders had tried to engineer a split among the NDA constituents but failed.

Shekhawat said he owed his victory to friends. “In my long political life, I have made no enemy. I owe the victory to my friends and well-wishers,” he said, hinting that he got a substantial number of votes from the Opposition ranks.

“I am a man of soil and I will try to run the House (Rajya Sabha) in an impartial manner,” he added. The Vice-President is the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha.

In all, 766 MPs cast their franchise in a straight contest. Announcing the result, Lok Sabha secretary-general G.C. Malhotra, the returning officer, said out of the 766 votes polled, seven were declared invalid.

Voting began at 10 am. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his deputy Advani and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were among the early voters. External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who returned from Kabul, and thespian Dilip Kumar voted towards the end. Singer Lata Mangeshkar, actress-activist Shabana Azmi and former minister Maneka Gandhi were among those who did not vote.

MDMK leader Vaiko, booked under the anti-terror Act by the Tamil Nadu government, was the cynosure of all eyes when he arrived by a police jeep to Parliament House.

Vaiko, dressed in spotless dhoti-kurta with a black shawl wrapped around, was flown in from Chennai after Madras High Court permitted him to come to Delhi for the election. The Tamil Nadu MP, however, did not utter a word, as he had been barred by the high court to talk to the media.

   

 
 
HURRIYAT GAME FOR TALKS, NOT POLLS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 12: 
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference today formally accepted the invitation for talks extended by the Kashmir committee headed by Ram Jethmalani but ruled out participation in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

Talking to reporters after the Hurriyat’s working committee and general council meetings, chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat said: “We have been advised by the participants that we should start talking with the Kashmir committee on a principle and for a principle.” “The principle is that the talks should be result-oriented and tripartite, involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir,” he added.

The Hurriyat, however, was firm on its decision not to participate in the forthcoming polls. “Our decision in this regard is final. Hurriyat will not contest these elections. The chapter is closed,” Bhat said.

The Hurriyat executive on Saturday had ruled out participation in the Assembly polls “even if the Centre imposed Governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir”.

Several political parties, including the Congress, have demanded the imposition of Governor’s rule in the state in the run-up to the polls. But the ruling National Conference has strongly opposed it.

“We rejected the talks offer from K.C. Pant, the government interlocutor on Kashmir, as he was nominated by the Central government while the Kashmir committee has been formed by the people of India,” Bhat said.

He, however, denied having received a formal invitation for the talks. Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Ahmad Shah has also accepted the dialogue offer by Jethmalani, who, according to sources, will visit Srinagar later this month.

The Hurriyat chief alleged that Indian security forces were forcing people to get their photo identity cards made before the elections. “We will launch a protest against these coercive measures,” he said.

The Hurriyat decision to accept the invitation for dialogue by Jethmalani’s Kashmir committee was on expected lines. Saying no to Jethmalani’s peace efforts would have been foolish considering the Hurriyat has nothing to lose from being part of a citizen’s initiative. Nor can Delhi have any objections to the talks.

If something positive emerges from the talks, it can be pursued at an official level. If it does not, the fallout will not affect the Centre.

Ironically, the Hurriyat remained silent on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s open offer for talks made through Jethmalani’s forum.

Advani had cleverly said there was no need to wait for a formal invitation from the Centre, putting the ball into the Hurriyat’s court. If the Hurriyat was keen on the talks, it could respond by sending in a team to begin the dialogue.

   

 
 
PROTECTORS RUE ATTACK BLOT ON SECURITY RECORD 
 
 
GAJINDER SINGH
 
Nunwan, Aug. 12: 
They look foxed and dejected. After having ensured an incident-free yatra till the wee hours of August 6, the fidayeen attack that left nine dead and 35 injured has left an indelible mark on the minds of security personnel guarding the camp here.

“Yeh kaise ho gaya humko maalum nahin. Kitna accha kaam kiya tha. Bahut dukh hota hai. Koto bhalo kore aamra yatra ke chaliye chheelam. Shob kaaj jol e bheshe galo (We don’t know how this happened. We had done such good work. It hurts. We had run the pilgrimage so efficiently. All the work came to a naught),” lamented Animesh, a CRPF jawan from Assam, pointing his rifle towards the mountain from where the terrorists had sneaked in.

While senior officers of the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir police were not forthcoming with their comments, it was the ordinary jawan who looked crestfallen when asked about the massacre.

This camp, which is less than one-and-a-half km from Pahalgam and located next to the Lidder river, is home to pilgrims released from Jammu every day.

The rush, which had become difficult to control when the yatra began, has slowed to a trickle with many pilgrims preferring to return home from the temple city, some complaining of the strict security measures, others citing possibilities of more fidayeen attacks on the trek up from Chandanwari.

Security measures have been beefed up after the massacre with the army pitching in with personnel and equipment. Army presence in the camp has also helped the local administration from keeping in check the vocal and, at times, “utterly irresponsible and misbehaving yatris” from venturing out to Pahalgam.

“There are some yatris who consider themselves to be state guests and they need to be checked. They are very vocal and insist on going to places that we consider dangerous. We have no option but to use the baton on them,” said a young army officer.

A group of pilgrims, who had just reached the camp and were politely told by Pahalgam station house officer Basheer Ahmed that their bus could not proceed further for security reasons was met with a “tum bakwaas kar raha hai (you are talking rubbish)” response. The SHO lost his temper but before he could order his jawans to lock up some of the pilgrims arguing with him, a couple of army personnel intervened to drive home the point that the pilgrims would have to stay at the camp or return to Jammu.

“We have intelligence reports of a strike in town and cannot allow the yatris to stay in hotels. That is why we are being strict. We are often insulted but our men have done a commendable job. It is difficult to control people of all kinds. Some even claim to be relatives of Union ministers and other politicians. They are the ones most difficult to control. But they don’t realise that we are being strict for their safety. At times I feel that they have come here not for any religious purpose but to create trouble,” a CRPF officer said.

Pilgrims are not only frisked before entering the camp but their vehicles are thoroughly searched before being allotted parking slots next to the river.

One of the most harassed persons overlooking security in the camp is senior superintendent of police (security) C. Pungchok. He looks tense most of the time, ordering his men to be on guard day and night. His jawans insist that Pungchok has not slept for more than two hours since August 6.

The landslides in Ramban and some other points along the 300-km route to Nunwan is expected to further bring down the number of pilgrims making the trip to the holy cave shrine. Many yatris have got stuck in various places along the route because heavy vehicles are still not being allowed to pass through affected areas for fear of more landslides.

Over a thousand yatris have been stranded midway in “terrorist territory”. The stretch from Ramban to Banihal is “disturbed” and is said to be swarming with militants.

The army is providing security cover to pilgrims stranded on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

Helicopters have been pressed into service for running sorties over terrorist-infested areas where the yatris have been stranded. The army and the civil administration are making efforts to clear the road at Nashri near Batote and at Ramban.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 28.7°C (-3)
Minimum: 25.9°C (0)

Rainfall:

110.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 85%

Today

Sunrise: 5.15 am
Sunset: 6.09 pm

A few spells of light to moderate rain or thundershowers, with one or two rather heavy showers

   
 

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