Code-tied Atal to act visionary
President points to Kargil lapse with vigilance call
Pakistan mum on goodwill gesture
Heroes miss top bravery awards
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will deliver his ?millennium? Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort tomorrow.

Tied down by the Election Commission?s model code of conduct, he will try to score political points by falling back on history, outlining the watersheds of India?s freedom movement and how they influenced the fight against colonialism elsewhere. He will try to come through as a statesman, above the petty squabblers who fight for crumbs of political power.

Those watching the live TV coverage will also get a taste of Vajpayee the visionary. He will outline the work that remains to be done and the work that will be taken up by later governments in the beginning of the new millennium. Vajpayee will touch on activities that need to be initiated in the social, economic and political spheres. He will address basic issues concerning social justice, poverty alleviation, illiteracy and population. The Prime Minister will also chart out a path that will have to be followed by the government that comes to power in October, without hinting that he is a contender for the top job.

Unless delivered in his usual style, the speech might turn a trifle drab because much of it will be in general terms. With the poll dates announced, Vajpayee cannot let his speech deal with specifics. Without being able to make definite promises, he will have to paint a rosy picture of the good times ahead and how it can be achieved by a well-meaning, efficient government. Confidants of the Prime Minister said the ?thrust of the BJP is going to be on his vision of the millennium?.

As polls are less than a month away, much effort is going into the speech. The Prime Minister will trace the roots of democracy in a country as diverse as India, analyse its shortcomings and harp on strengthening democracy and democratic institutions. He may refer to harmony among communities and speak on matters relating to social justice.

What is expected to come through in the speech is Vajpayee?s stature as a leader. The emphasis will be on projecting him as a Prime Minister who is waiting to begin another term, this time lasting a full five years. The Vajpayee camp is well aware that all opinion polls have given him a significant lead, and tomorrow?s speech will be one early attempt to build on the headstart he already enjoys.

The BJP is also looking forward to the address by its prime ministerial candidate, to give a fillip to the election campaign.

By discussing India?s freedom movement, Vajpayee will try to take away a major poll plank from the Congress. Had the Congress been in power, its prime minister would also have highlighted the party?s contribution to the independence struggle. Vajpayee will dwell on the impact the Indian freedom movement had on African nations and how it egged them on to seek their own independence.

Kargil, already a poll issue and probably one main factor for Vajpayee?s recent increase in popularity, will be an important aspect of the speech. He will pay tribute not just to the Kargil martyrs, but also to those who laid down their lives in the other three Indo-Pakistan wars. He will speak on the need for defence preparedness and how his government will never compromise on security. He will also detail the efforts he made to strike up a lasting friendship with Pakistan and how he was later betrayed.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
President K.R. Narayanan today asked the nation to be vigilant to ensure ??we are not ever taken unawares by surprise attacks??.

The President, who is also the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, stressed that the military would have to be strengthened and equipped with the latest weapons.

??Our expenditure on defence has been one of the lowest in the world in terms of percentage of the GDP, much lower than that of our neighbours. It is incumbent upon us to rectify this imbalance,?? Narayanan said in his Independence Day-eve address to the nation.

Rashtrapati Bhavan watchers said the President?s speech indicated he did not disagree with the Opposition view that the government was ??taken unawares?? on Kargil. Narayanan?s statement comes at a time when the Centre has set up a committee to inquire if there was an intelligence failure.

In his message was an implicit warning to future governments not to repeat the mistake of the Vajpayee regime. ??We hear voices from the other side threatening more Kargils in the future. We have to remain united and prepared not only when war-like situations come upon us, but in normal times also, so that we are not ever taken unawares by surprise attacks,?? Narayanan, who had so far kept silent on Kargil, said.

Like the Opposition, the President heaped praise on the armed forces. ??I would like to convey the boundless admiration and gratitude of the nation to our defence and paramilitary forces. It is the death-defying courage of our young men... that protected India?s sovereignty, driving the intruders from our sacred soil across the Line of Control,?? he said.

Narayanan agreed that Kargil has shaken us ??out of our narrow shells and forged a national unity in the crucible of the common danger suddenly imposed on us??.

It was as if Narayanan, who is often an astute judge of popular sentiments, had found his touch again. Little did he realise while questioning the government on the telecom policy that he was going against an administration whose popularity had soared following Kargil.

In his speech, the President emphasised the need to be pragmatic in the country?s dealings with Pakistan. He quoted from Gandhi to justify how it has been India?s onerous responsibility to forge a bond with its neighbour, often at the risk of Pakistan stabbing from behind. He extolled Vajpayee for toeing the same line with his bus diplomacy.

??We adhere to the same friendly stand but, as we have been let down more than once in the past, it is prudent of us to be prepared for any surprise attack. We have to act according to the old adage that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom as well as of peace,?? Narayanan said.

In another oblique statement, the President urged all poll aspirants to ??abjure appeals of a narrow sectarian nature and show a broad tolerance of opinions of others??. The statement gains significance in the context of the President permitting the Election Commission to take action against Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray for making an inflammatory speech at an election rally.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Pakistan has ignored India?s ??goodwill?? offer to release eight soldiers captured during the Kargil conflict, neither acknowledging their existence nor showing any signs of taking them back.

On the eve of Pakistan?s national day, India announced yesterday it would release eight Pakistani prisoners of war, describing it as a ??goodwill gesture??.

But apart from Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz, who termed the move a ??positive step??, there has not been any response from Islamabad.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee sent the customary message of greeting to his Pakistani counterpart on Pakistan?s independence day today, but did not use the hotline with Nawaz Sharif.

Vajpayee hopes to score diplomatic points with his decision to release the prisoners, but he is not willing to risk antagonising the electorate by opening a dialogue with Islamabad now.

Pakistan high commission officials here claimed they had not received any information on the release of the prisoners. But South Block insisted it had intimated them. ??We have offered to release the prisoners, it is now up to them to receive them. But we have not received any formal response from Islamabad,?? a foreign ministry official said.

The modalities of the release can only be worked out once Pakistan speaks to India on the issue.

The decision to release the prisoners does not, however, imply that India is keen on improving the bitter relations with Pakistan. The move is aimed at arresting international concern over escalating tension in South Asia following the downing of the Pakistani military aircraft and the tit-for-tat missile attack on an Indian helicopter. By offering to free the prisoners, Delhi wants to send out the message that it is willing to de-escalate tension.

The decision is also designed to put Pakistan in a spot. Islamabad maintains its army was not involved in Kargil. If the soldiers are taken back by Islamabad, India will get a chance to substantiate its claim that Pakistani troops were involved in the war.

Indian officials are not surprised that Islamabad has not responded. ??Another drama like the one over the bodies of the Pakistani soldiers is likely to be enacted,?? a South Block official said. Islamabad had initially refused to take back the bodies, but gave in after India revealed the names of the killed soldiers and their units.

India?s decision to free the PoWs has, perhaps, caught Pakistan unawares. ??The response in Pakistan on such matters is pretty slow. Aziz?s remarks yesterday and the lack of a formal response from Islamabad indicate that the Sharif government does not yet know how to react to the offer,?? a foreign ministry official said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
Gallantry has grades. And one soldier?s ?supreme sacrifice? is greater than the other?s.

Nearly 500 soldiers died on the icy peaks of Kargil in an undeclared war that was brought upon them. But, while making its recommendations for the various Chakras and medals, the Indian Army appears to have followed a hierarchy that suggests not all are equal in death. Only four soldiers have been given the highest award, Param Vir Chakra, only nine the Mahavir Chakra, the rest the Vir Chakra, Shaurya Chakra and Sena Medals.

After naming an entire sub-sector after him, the army has thought it fit to honour Lieutenant (later Captain) Haneefuddin, who died fighting Pakistani intruders in Turtuk, with a Vir Chakra. Turtuk sub-sector is now called Sub-sector Haneef. Yet, no Param Vir Chakra or Mahavir Chakra for Haneef, whose mother, Hema Aziz, was wooed by the Congress to contest from the East Delhi constituency.

There are other junior-level officers who died equally bravely. An apologetic army, realising that it has committed a faux pas that might harm the ruling party?s image in an election year, explained that there is a categorisation of the degree of bravery on the basis of comparative analysis of the ?dying act?.

For instance, Major M. Saravanan or Lt. Col. R. Vishwanathan, some of the big names that dominated the army?s media briefings in June. These ?heroes?, as they were described then, have not been given either of the two highest awards. Both have been awarded the Vir Chakra.

Of the initial patrol teams that had gone out into the icy terrain, misled by intelligence agencies, Lieutenants Amit Bharadwaj and Saurabh Kalia do not figure at all on the list. Captain Kanad Bhattacharya, who was the last missing officer and whose body was found more than two months into the conflict, has been honoured with a Sena medal. Kalia was the young officer whose mutilated body caused such a controversy and brought tears to the eyes of external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.

Capt. Vikram Batra of the 13th Jammu and Kashmir Rifles is among the four who have been awarded the Param Vir Chakra. The other three are Grenadier Yogendra Singh, Lt. Manoj Kumar Pandey and Rifleman Sanjay Kumar.

The bearded Capt. Batra, who became famous for his ?yeh dil mange more? battle-cry, had prevailed upon his commanding officer to let him lead the battalion attack on Point 5140 on June 20. The officer decided to take on the intruders from the rear, but, as his unit neared the peak, he was fired upon by a machine gun. But he moved on up the cliff along with five other soldiers. Hurling grenades and firing his machine gun, Capt. Batra killed all the intruders. Undaunted by his wounds, he egged on his men and attacked the remaining defences, but succumbed to the heavy fire. His death was all the more moving because he had spoken to television crews days before he was killed.

Lt Pandey of First 11 Gorkhas not only led his men in the capture of Juber Top but also of Khalubar, a treacherous ridge along the enemy position. He charged the enemy and laid down his life in hand-to-hand combat while recapturing Pakistani bunkers.

Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, who volunteered to lead the assault on three bunkers in the fight for Tiger Hill, was hit by machine gun and rocket fire while half-way through the snowbound peak at 16,500 feet. Not paying attention to three bullets lodged in his groin and shoulder, he climbed 60 feet, crawled to a Pakistani bunker and lobbed a grenade, killing four intruders.

Rifleman Sanjay Kumar killed three Pakistani intruders on July 4.

The Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award, has been bestowed upon nine armymen, six posthumously. They are Maj. Vivek Gupta, Maj. Padmapani Acharya, Capt. Neikezhakua Kenguruse, Maj. Rajesh Singh Adhikari, Capt. Anuj Nayyar, Lt. Keishing Clifford Nongrum (all posthumous), Maj. Sonam Wangchuk, Lt. Balwan Singh and Naik Digendra Kumar.

The 15th Corps chief, Lt. Gen. Kishan Pal Singh, has received a medal even though his role is under probe by the inquiry into the intelligence failure being carrried out by the army.    

Today?s forecast: Intermittent rain accompanied by one or two heavy showers.

Temperature: Maximum 28.6?C (3?C below normal)
Minimum 24.6?C (1?C below normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 100%
Minimum 88%

Rainfall: 21 mm

Sunset: 6.07 pm
Sunrise: 5.16 am

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