Atal sends axis jolt to Clinton
Delhi springs stream of envoys on mercurial Jaya
Vajpayee, Kalyan tussle over temple
Hill leader hacked to death
Rushdie, Seth in fictional fight
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 28 
In a clever diplomatic move aimed at creating a flutter within the Clinton administration, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today said India is mulling the possibility of forging a triangular axis with Russia and China to mount international pressure against Nato?s airstrikes on Yugoslavia.

This is a clear shift from the position India has held so far. In January, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had suggested a similar axis during his visit to Delhi. But Vajpayee had turned down the proposal, saying though India?s relations with Russia were time-tested, it was still trying to normalise ties with China.

In the last two months, there have been developments both in Sino-Indian relations as well as in the international arena, particularly on Kosovo. This could have triggered Delhi?s shift in stance.

Senior officials said the shift was occasioned by the development in the Balkans, and Delhi, Moscow and Beijing had only taken a ?principled stand?. A foreign ministry official said: ?It is a clear signal to the West, particularly the US, about the perspective that exists outside Nato on how international relations should be conducted.?

That Nato was operating ?outside its jurisdiction? had thrown up several questions on a country?s sovereignty, he said.

Russian ambassador in Delhi Albert Chernyshev met foreign secretary K. Raghunath yesterday to discuss Kosovo and possible coordination among countries opposed to the airstrikes. Indian officials in New York have also been coordinating with China and other countries on the issue.

Vajpayee?s remarks on a triangular axis are, therefore, in line with the thinking of the foreign ministry on Kosovo. In Lucknow this afternoon, he said: ?Such a possibility is being considered.?

He also mounted a veiled attack on the unilateral US action, saying India wanted the problem to be solved at the UN. ?No country, howsoever powerful or resourceful it may be, can be allowed to act as the policeman of the world,? he said.

Calling for an immediate halt to the Nato airstrikes, Vajpayee said India was consulting Nam countries on the ?one-sided US action? and would soon come out with a decision.

?India believes in and respects the sovereignty of all countries. It opposes the use of force by the superpower, regards it contrary to the UN charter and in violation of the independence and sovereignty of a nation,? he said.

On the possible fallout of Kosovo on Kashmir, the Prime Minister said: ?Kashmir is an integral part of India and there will be no compromise on it.?

Vajpayee?s remarks on a possible India-Russia-China axis are significant. Like the Serbian government in Kosovo, all three countries have been facing problems from separatist groups and have condemned the airstrikes.

This gives India the chance to flash signals to the US that Delhi, though keen to develop bilateral ties, cannot be taken for granted. If the need arises, it will even go to the extent of opening up channels with Russia and China, the only two Security Council members opposed to the airstrikes.

India starts its second round of talks on exports control with the US tomorrow. The two sides met last November on the issue. US Democrat Congressman in the House of Representatives, Richard Gephardt, is scheduled to visit Delhi early next month.

A French team led by special envoy Gerrard Errera will also visit India next month for the third round of strategic-level talks. At these meets, the Vajpayee government is likely to lodge its protest against Nato strikes on Yugoslavia.

Though Vajpayee has refused to admit a parallel between Kosovo and Kashmir, recent remarks of Pakistani leaders on the similarities may have begun to bother Indian leaders.

India?s relations with China are en route to normality. The two sides have resumed foreign office consultations and indications are that the joint working group meeting will also be held in a month or two. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh is planning a visit to Beijing soon.    

New Delhi, March 28 
Leaving nothing to chance, the BJP and the Vajpayee government spent the third day of Jayalalitha?s stay in Delhi massaging the ADMK chief?s ego.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee sent his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya today to the Taj Mahal Hotel to talk to her. Bhattacharya met her twice to assess her mood. Vajpayee will meet her over lunch tomorrow.

Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi also called on the BJP?s maverick ally today at her hotel suite. Among political lightweights fortunate enough to have a dialogue with Jayalalitha were Samata Party MP Kalpnath Rai and Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Kalmadi.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is also likely to call on her tomorrow.

That the BJP had reasons to keep bolstering her ego came through when she told a reporter that the Centre?s performance had not been good enough during its first year in office.

Jayalalitha also went back on her statement yesterday that she would not meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. ?I never said I had no plans to meet her. I will definitely share my views with her if I meet her,? she told the stunned scribe.

The ADMK chief said if the government had taken the allies into confidence before taking major decisions, embarrassments like invoking Article 356 in Bihar could have been avoided.

Asked what he discussed with the ADMK chief, Joshi said it was just a courtesy call. ?I was free, she was free, so I decided to call on her. She is very cheerful,? Joshi told reporters.

The ADMK chief will visit Delhi again on April 11, a day before the budget session of Parliament resumes. She will go to Amritsar the next day to attend the Khalsa tercentenary celebrations organised by the Mahila Akali Dal. Her presence on the eve of the parliamentary session is likely to push up the political temperature.

Though the mood is upbeat in the saffron camp after Jayalalitha?s statement yesterday that she will abide by the coordination committee?s decision not to press for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat?s ouster, or that she had no plans to discuss the issue with Sonia Gandhi, there is tension in the BJP over the tea party Subramaniam Swamy is hosting in her honour tomorrow.

Sonia Gandhi, along with other prominent Opposition leaders, has been invited to the political tea party. If the Congress chief chooses to attend, the party will be the first occasion for the two powerful ladies, who hold the key to the survival of the Vajpayee government, to have a one-to-one meeting.

During her meeting with Vajpayee tomorrow, Jayalalitha is expected to reiterate her demand for petroleum minister V.K. Ramamurthy?s ouster. She is also likely to discuss the Cabinet expansion, Admiral Bhagwat?s dismissal and defence minister George Fernandes? alleged involvement in defence deals and alleged kickbacks.

She blasted Fernandes yesterday at the coordination committee meeting for his opposition to a JPC probe into the defence deals and the Bhagwat ouster.    

Lucknow, March 28 
The BJP today sent out conflicting signals on the Ayodhya dispute, with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh demanding an immediate initiative to kickstart construction of a Ram temple and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee maintaining that the party would await the court?s verdict.

Back from a visit to Ayodhya, Singh said: ?The courts have not been able to solve the problem for the past 46 years. The Ram temple issue cannot be delayed any longer. The temple has to be built.?

?There should be immediate talks between the VHP sants and Muslim leaders. If these talks fail, Parliament should enact a law right away to pave the way for the construction of the temple at Ayodhya. This issue cannot be put off any longer,? the chief minister added.

Singh was speaking to The Telegraph after a press conference here in which the Prime Minister had dismissed his demand for a temple.

Refusing to respond to Singh?s statement at the temple town that the Ram Mandir should be built at any cost, Vajpayee said: ?Please ask Kalyan Singh what he meant by those remarks. I will not comment on what he has said. I still stick to the stand of the party that the Ayodhya issue can be settled only legally and by no other means.?

The Ram temple is not on the BJP government?s list of priorities and Vajpayee will be hard put to explain Singh?s sudden outburst when he meets his allies tomorrow.

Sources said it is possible the chief minister made the statement only to appease the Ayodhya sants, who are cut up with him for ignoring them.

They added that the belligerence could also have been fuelled by a ?feeling of utter frustration?. Faced with criticism from within the party, Singh has gone back to the issue that propelled his rise from an ordinary legislator to chief minister, the sources said.

The chief minister visited Ayodhya yesterday for the first time since he assumed office in September 1997. Singh went to all the prominent akharas and met important VHP sants.

Asked why he was raking up the temple dispute again, Singh said: ?You expect me to go to Ayodhya and keep quiet on the Ram Mandir? I cannot forget my roots. I am very clear about what I am saying and why I am saying this.?

Bomb defused

A major disaster was averted at Ayodhya this morning when a powerful eight-kg bomb was defused at the railway station.    

Darjeeling, March 28 
Senior Gorkha National Liberation Front leader Rudra Kumar Pradhan was hacked to death here today in the first-ever killing of a party boss in the GNLF stronghold since the outbreak of the Gorkhaland movement.

The GNLF has called an indefinite bandh in the hills from tomorrow to protest the killing.

However, tea and cinchona plantations will remain closed for only a day.

Pradhan, 52, had been elected in the recent elections to the Darjeeling Gorkhaland Hill Council and headed the GNLF?s Darjeeling branch. He was a staunch supporter of party chief Subhas Ghising.

Ghising remained huddled with his lieutenants at the party headquarters till the evening. He personally informed several party leaders and councillors of Pradhan?s death over the phone.

Darjeeling superintendent of police Vivek Sahay said Pradhan was attacked by at least three men when he was on his way to the bus stand.

Unlike other days, the newly-elected councillor was not accompanied by his armed guards.

As news of the murder spread, GNLF activists closed down shops and vehicles left the roads.

Despite being a market day, the town was deserted in no time. Shops in Kurseong, Rangbull and Ghoom also downed shutters.

Former GNLF activist Kishore Gurung, who had lost to Pradhan in the elections by 48 votes, was arrested from his house at Lumthang.    

London, March 28 
First, it was The Sunday Times. Today, it was The Observer, fuelling a literary duel between two of India?s most celebrated contemporary novelists: Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth.

Both have novels coming out: Rushdie?s The Ground Beneath Her Feet is being published by Cape (? 18), while Seth?s An Equal Music is being brought out by Phoenix House (? 16.99).

Today?s Observer has the two writers pitched against each other just under its masthead and above the main story on the Nato strikes. ?Rushdie vs Seth: The Literary Battle of the Year,? it goes.

In real life, there is no rivalry between the two. They are not friends, but neither are they enemies. When they do occasionally meet at parties, they are cordial to each other.

However, today?s Observer has devoted an entire page to reviews of their novels, carried side by side. There is a fresh picture of Rushdie in a baggy, Mao-style jacket. But Seth?s picture is old, since he famously refuses to be photographed (there will be an opportunity, though, when he does a reading at the Nehru Centre in London on April 15).

As with any war, there is a comparison of their strengths.

Rushdie apparently received an advance of ? 1 million for his novel, Seth ? 500,000.

Rushdie?s prizes include the Booker in 1981 for Midnight?s Children, which was also named the Best of Bookers in 1993.

Seth received the W.H. Smith award for A Suitable Boy.

Under ?Why they love him?, there is this tribute from V.S. Pritchett for Rushdie: ?India has produced a great novelist, one with startling imagination and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual story telling.?

The corresponding quote for Seth comes from journalist Daniel Johnson, formerly of The Times: ?The most fecund, as well as the most prodigious, work of the latter half of this century.?

Under ?Why they hate him?, John Le Carre is rolled out for Rushdie: ?A self-canonising, arrogant colonialist.?

For Seth ? no one really hates him ? Tom Maschler is invoked: ?The average literary groupie would be much more excited if he saw Salman at a party.? Rushdie has produced ?seven novels, one travel book, one collection of essays? against Seth?s ?three novels (one in verse), four volumes of poetry, one travel book?.

There is, of course, an element of racism in the way The Sunday Times and The Observer are attempting to drive a wedge between the two. Had they been English, they would not necessarily have been viewed as rivals.

A spokeswoman for Phoenix House today angrily denounced The Observer?s attempt to start the feud. ?It does not serve anybody?s purpose to manufacture conflict and competition when there aren?t any. It?s lazy journalism.?

As for the reviews, Hermione Lee says: ?The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a very exciting novel, hugely ambitious and original.?

She adds: ?Beneath the glitter and show, this is Rushdie?s gravest, most thoughtful and hard-earned meditation on beliefs.?

Adam Mars-Jones, on An Equal Music, is less moved: ?As a love letter to the canon of classical music, Seth?s novel has a touching fervency, but as a novel it?s something of a non-starter. A readership promised big tunes is offered instead almost 400 pages of tuning up. In place of a story, there are only grace notes, which might adorn a fuller composition but are quite unable to generate any narrative momentum.?

The message then is: you put your money and take your choice.

Publishers, who are launching big budget publicity campaigns, hope the buying public will take both.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in day and night temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 36.1?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 24.3?C (1?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 95% Minimum 21%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.46 pm Sunrise: 5.37 am    

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