Prime Minister on offensive with war-like cry
Tough talk from patriotic plank
Iron-hand welcome for Sartaj
Cake and appeals for Nachiketa
Bid to keep Kargil off Akram?s adopted home
Power cuts add to heat misery
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 31 
In an unprecedented departure from protocol, two senior army and air force officers briefed the BJP national executive on the Kargil conflict, complete with ?classified? information consisting of charts and photographs.

The gathering of BJP MPs and functionaries was briefed by Lt Gen. N.C. Vij and Air Vice-Marshall S.K. Malik. BJP sources said the party?s rank-and-file felt ?left out? and had complained that only the government was being taken into ?confidence? by the service chiefs on the Kargil crisis.

They said the party was kept ?in the dark? during this ?trying period in the nation?s life?, though it had ?as much right as the government? to know what exactly was happening on the country?s borders.

While Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee stayed away from the ?emergency? meeting, which was held at Parliament Annexe at short notice, home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes were present. The meet was called by BJP president Kushabhau Thakre.

The BJP had no credible explanation as to why the service high-ups were asked to depart from convention and share official secrets with party members. Party leader Narendra Modi told reporters: ?We invited the defence minister and he brought along the officers. He told us what was being said in the press briefings was repeated in the meeting.?

But party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu?s refusal to elaborate on the meeting indicated that confidential information was shared. ?We were privy to certain classified information,? he later said.

On why the BJP office-bearers did not attend last Saturday?s all-party meeting called by the Prime Minister, Naidu said: ?Some of them were present. V.K. Malhotra, Sikandar Bakht and Pramod Mahajan were there.?

Today?s controversial meet, which comes on the heels of Fernandes? statement exonerating Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the ISI in the Kargil incursion, has been roundly criticised by the Opposition. K. Natwar Singh, who heads the Congress foreign affairs cell, said: ?We hope it is not true. But if it is, it goes against the service conduct rules and the tradition of the armed forces. Even IFS and IAS officials are not supposed to brief political parties, unless it is in a meeting convened by the Prime Minister.?

BJP sources said the briefing, under the cover of a national executive, was aimed at keeping the morale of the party?s rank-and-file ?high? after the initial reverses in Kargil. They said many in the BJP, including senior Cabinet ministers, were ?most unhappy? with the alleged complacency shown by Fernandes.

Naidu, however, said no clarifications were sought either from the defence minister or the officers at today?s national executive. ?Fernandes expressed confidence that we will succeed in driving out the intruders,? he added.

Advani said the Pakistani operations in Kargil were related to the government?s performance in Jammu and Kashmir because of its success in tackling terrorism.    

New Delhi, May 31 
For the first time, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today described the Kargil confrontation with Pakistani regulars and Pakistan-backed intruders as a ?war-like situation??.

On a day when both pounding by the Indian Air Force and close combat with the infantry continued in Batalik, Drass and Mashkoh valley, the Prime Minister accused Pakistan of trying to change the boundaries and extend their control within Indian territory beyond the Line of Control.

Vajpayee?s statement comes on the same day he gave the green signal for a visit to India by Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz. It is obvious that India will talk tough so that it is able to bargain better with Islamabad.

India feels the fact that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif volunteered to send over Aziz shows there is an ?implicit acknowledgement?? of having had a hand in the planned intrusion in Kargil.

Vajpayee?s statement, viewed from the political perspective, also has the domestic scenario in mind. The undeclared war in Kargil helps to keep alive nationalist sentiments ? the patriotic plank has always suited the BJP.

In the build-up to the elections, the BJP will be able to argue that it has always given national security a precedence in its agenda and in its government?s performance and justify both missile tests and the Pokhran nuclear blasts.

Addressing a group of Delhi traders at his Race Course residence this morning, Vajpayee said that the country was facing a ?war-like situation?? and that the Kargil region is experiencing an ?invasion??.

He said: ?Infiltrators, whose ranks include a large percentage of Pakistani army regulars, are attempting to change the frontiers of the country.??

Vajpayee said: ?Yudh jaisi paristhiti utpanna ho gayi hai...Ye kewal ghuspaith nahi hai. Ye ek tarah ka aakraman hai. Seema badalane ki koshish hai. Jamin hathiyane ka prayatna hai.??

The Prime Minister said it would suit both sides if Pakistan called back the infiltrators. But in Islamabad, there was no indication today of softening of stance. Sharif described the intruders as freedom fighters trying to liberate Kashmir from the clutches of the Indian army.

In his address to the traders, Vajpayee sounded tough: ?If they do not withdraw the infiltrators we have enough resources to push them back and will do so,?? he said.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met the Prime Minister today.    

New Delhi, May 31 
In a move to assure the world that efforts were being made to defuse the Kargil tension, India today accepted Pakistan?s offer to send its foreign minister Sartaj Aziz for talks.

A foreign ministry spokesman in New Delhi said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had accepted Islamabad?s offer to send Aziz. The date of visit would be fixed through diplomatic channels, he added.

But careful that the decision to hold a dialogue does not look like a sign of weakness to Indians, the government also made it clear that there will be ?no let-up in the operations of the armed forces in Kargil till restoration of status quo ante??.

The Pakistan-backed intruders in Kargil and India?s attempt to push them back have led to the most serious confrontation between the two countries since they went nuclear last May.

The developments in this strategic area of Jammu and Kashmir have predictably caused concern in the outside world.

Both the US and Britain yesterday conveyed their concern to foreign minister Jaswant Singh. Singh explained India?s action, but officials in Washington and London felt urgent steps should be taken by the neighbours to resolve the crisis.

US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has spoken to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about the conflict.

Though Vajpayee had yesterday turned down an offer from UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to send a special envoy to the region, India cannot afford to be seen as an obstinate party which is making no attempts to clear the air. The decision to have Aziz over stems from that realisation.

Aware that the proposed dialogue may be seen as a compromise, a foreign ministry official said Aziz?s visit would give India an opportunity of telling Pakistan that an ?armed intrusion into Kargil amounting to an aggression must end?. ?That is the present focus,? he told reporters.

Going by Pakistan?s posture, not much is to be expected from the proposed talks. In Lahore, Sharif rejected India?s charge that Pakistan was pushing terrorists into Kashmir, saying people fighting the Indian army in the valley were ?neither militants nor infiltrators but are freedom fighters?. Islamabad indicated Aziz would seek an immediate halt to the Indian military operations during his visit.    

May 31 
He was sent a cake, but it wasn?t much of a birthday.

Away from his parents for the first time on his birthday, Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa, prisoner in an undeclared war, turned 26 yesterday in a military base in Pakistan.

The Indian high commission in Islamabad sent him a birthday cake. ?We hope he received it,? a spokesman of the external affairs ministry said.

Delhi has insisted that the air attach? in the Indian high commission in Islamabad be allowed regular access to the captured pilot.

Nachiketa, who had to bail out after his MiG-27 developed a snag and was captured by the Pakistan army, was paraded on state-run Pakistan television on Friday. He did not speak. Journalists have been allowed to see him but not been permitted an interview.

While Pakistan claims he is being treated well, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is ?trying hard? to meet him and find out whether he is being treated according to the Geneva Convention.

Michael Duraux, a senior Red Cross official, said that since last Friday, the ICRC?s Islamabad branch was trying to get consent from Pakistan authorities to meet Nachiketa. ?The ICRC is hopeful of getting the permission soon,? Duraux said.

For Nachiketa?s parents, the efforts must be heartening. His father K.R.K. Shastri and mother Lakshmi spent their son?s birthday at home in Adampur, Jalandhar, lingering over his photos. However anxious they may have been and however much they may have missed him, they put up a brave front. ?We know the good wishes of the entire country are with us. This kind of backing is a great support,? they said.

Her mouth set in lines of determination, Lakshmi said: ?They (men in uniform) must go on a call of duty. That is their job. We only pray that luck be with them and that they all return home safely.?

Nachiketa?s father ? a retired engineer of Central Water Commission ? came to Adampur only a month ago. He said he had received messages ?for the birthday boy? from Union home minister L.K. Advani and the office of the air chief.

Nachiketa ? a National Defence Academy Cadet of the 1990 batch ? is the only son. His two elder sisters are married.

Major honoured

Another hero of the conflict, Major Mariappan Sarvanand, who killed five intruders before dying on Saturday, has been honoured by the army with the title ?Hero of Batalik?. The Bihar government has urged the President to award him the Param Vir Chakra. Major Sarvanand served in 1 Bihar regiment.

The four air force personnel who died when their helicopter was fired at were cremated at Saurana village in Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh.    

London, May 31 
The India vs Pakistan Super Six match in Manchester next Tuesday should be a cracker of a game. But it?s the possibility of fireworks on the terraces that is causing alarm.

The flare-up over Kashmir has heightened fears of fan fury seen at football matches. Incidentally, Manchester is Pakistan captain Wasim Akram?s ?adopted? home.

While the England and Wales Cricket Board, the host, is in constant touch with the powers-that-be ? apparently MI5 sleuths are in the picture, too ? Indian diplomats have been doing their bit. According to a senior diplomat, ?it?s a delicate issue as we can?t be seen as doubting the security which England is committed to providing to our team and the Indian fans.?

The diplomat said high commission officials, anticipating an India-Pakistan match, had met Foreign Office mandarins here last Thursday. That the two teams will clash became clear yesterday.

?We usually don?t visit the Foreign Office unless it?s a sensitive, urgent matter. Those in positions of authority in the British government are aware of what we expect,? he said.

Asked whether security for the team would be upgraded, the diplomat replied: ?We?ll hear manager Brijesh Patel?s views this evening, when everybody is present at the reception hosted by Lalit Man Singh (the high commissioner). If required, we?ll immediately work on it.?

After the reception, Man Singh said: ?The needful is being done. We are in touch with all the people who matter.?

Significantly, Mian Riaz Samee, the Pakistan High Commissioner, conveyed his regrets and did not put in an appearance. However, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner was present. Also present were former Prime Minister V. P. Singh, Jyoti Basu and Lord Jeffrey Archer.

It is common for the High Commissioners from the sub-continent to specially invite each other whenever cricket-related receptions are hosted. That Mian Samee chose not to come is a pointer to the current situation.    

Calcutta, May 31 
It was a virtual meltdown today. Extensive power cuts on a day of searing heat and grimy sweat plagued people in the city and suburbs.

Hardly any area in the city was spared the power cuts through the day after shortfalls beset the CESC system since the morning.

Temperatures four degrees above normal and very high humidity levels added to the woes, especially after an early monsoon set in last week, bringing in its wake two days of steady rainfall and overcast skies.

Metro Rail services were hit for over 10 minutes when the CESC system went dry at 10.51 am. CESC sources said a WBSEB-run sub-station at Howrah developed a snag. Four minutes later, another sub-station at Liluah had trouble.

Besides, a 250-mw unit at CESC?s Budge Budge plant developed problems and has been shut down since Saturday. As a result, supply to the city fell short by almost 190 mw in the morning.

Demand for electricity soared as the heat grew more sweltering. By 12.40 pm, even though SEB had restored supply and was contributing 400 mw to the CESC system, the city was still short by up to 120 mw. The day?s demand peaked around 7 pm, when the shortfall rose to 152 mw.

SEB sources said supplies were resumed within 14 minutes of cut-off in the morning from the two sub-stations. But this was in stages and by that time CESC had its own problems.

By late evening, the situation returned to normal, CESC sources said. ?It is unlikely that the problem will continue tomorrow. We are trying to restart the unit at Budge Budge,? a CESC spokesman said.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky.
Temperature: Maximum 39.1?C (4?C above normal)
Minimum 29?C ( 2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 93% Minimum 47%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.13 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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