Delhi bypassed on Bangla raid
Sonia takes war to BJP in land of martyrs
India asks Pakistan to identify PoWs
Local bahu fights outsider bahu
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 25 
The Union home ministry today confirmed that a joint team of the Assam and West Bengal police entered deep into Bangladeshi territory and seized a huge quantity of explosives in the second week of this month.

Top home ministry sources said the international border was breached without informing the Centre or seeking its consent. ?Fortunately, it has not snowballed into a major international row, but the entry into Bangladesh was made essentially at the initiative of the Assam police,? they said.

The confirmation gives a lie to West Bengal home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya?s statement that explosives were not recovered from Bangladeshi territory. Caught on the wrong foot after Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta?s Independence Day statement that a joint team had raided Rajshahi district, Bhattacharya had said that the explosives were recovered from ?somewhere along the Indo-Bangla border?.

West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, too, had made a clumsy attempt to conceal the gross violation of national and international norms, which require that permission be first sought from the Centre and then from the foreign government in whose territory the raid is to be carried out.

The home ministry sees the desperate attempt as a fallout of the failure of the West Bengal police to check the Inter-Services Intelligence, which has been ?freely? spreading its net taking advantage of the state?s ?poor? intelligence and police networks.

The ministry has lambasted the West Bengal government for the failures of its intelligence apparatus and the police to check the ISI and fundamentalist organisations from carrying out subversive activities in the state, particularly North Bengal.

?The state?s intelligence and police set-ups are in a shambles and there is complete lack of a perspective policing plan. The neglect of priorities, especially after it had become quite clear following the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts that the ISI was changing its target area to the east and Northeast, is partly because of the politicisation of the police force and the state government?s soft attitude towards minorities,? top home ministry officials told The Telegraph.

One senior official said that over the past week Union home secretary Kamal Pande has held several rounds of meetings with West Bengal chief secretary Manish Gupta and director-general of police Deepak Sanyal and advised them to ?revamp? the intelligence network.

While officially the Centre has denied that any joint operation was launched, senior home ministry sources disclosed that the team from West Bengal and Assam did enter about 200 km into Rajshahi, bordering West Bengal?s Murshidabad district. This is clear in the reports submitted by the state governments to the home ministry.

Once the lid blew off the clandestine operation, an embarrassed Sanyal said his force took part in the ?joint interrogation? of the four ISI operatives arrested by the Assam police on August 7. It was on the basis of information given by these agents that the joint team raided Rajshahi and other parts of the two states.

According to the sources, the arrest of the ISI agents proves that Pakistan has made West Bengal one of its bases to destabilise the eastern and northeastern regions. The ISI agents revealed during interrogation that about 300 more men are still ?active? in West Bengal, of whom 10 are suspected to be ?hardcore? as they have undergone intensive training in Pakistan.

Holding the intelligence network and the police guilty of ?inaction? and highlighting their lapses in preventing the growth of the ISI, the home ministry has directed West Bengal to revamp its intelligence set-up and use electronic surveillance along the largely porous 2,200-km border with Bangladesh. Barbed wire fences have not been erected on long stretches of the border.

The police have been asked to immediately prepare an action plan to guard the border and ensure that police stations in the areas bordering Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan are well manned.

The home ministry is preparing a separate plan for pro-active border management involving eight states, including West Bengal. Plans are also afoot to curb corruption within the paramilitary forces guarding the border.    

On Sonia Gandhi?s campaign trail (Hissar), Aug. 25 
Hitting out at the BJP?s key election plank, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today said the Vajpayee government should be ?ashamed? of seeking votes on the martyrdom of soldiers who lost lives in the Kargil conflict.

Addressing her first election meeting in Haryana, Sonia attacked the BJP?s bid to cash in on Kargil, saying: ?Who has given the BJP leaders the right to celebrate the sufferings of hundreds of mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who have lost their men in Kargil??

She wondered how the BJP leaders could think of celebrations when hundreds of families in India were in mourning, having taken out arthis and janazas of their dear ones.

She accused the Vajpayee government of ignoring ?reliable information? about Pakistani intrusion. ?Now they are trying to misguide the people by shielding their failures,? the AICC chief said, asking the Prime Minister to inform the nation about the time when he came to know about the intrusion.

?The real tribute to Kargil martyrs is to maintain national unity and integrity and speed up development,? she said.

Congress workers were happy with Sonia?s ?blunt talk? on Kargil. They said the issue was the key plank in Haryana, which has lost the maximum number of soldiers in the conflict. Hissar, where Sonia was addressing a huge gathering, is a key military base.

Accompanied by son Rahul, Sonia looked pleased with the 50,000-strong crowd. Though Congressmen raised the slogan of ?Rahul Gandhi zindabad? and ?Rahul Bhaiya zindabad,? many wanted to see Priyanka. Some village women were not even familiar with Rahul and asked in bewilderment: ?Who is this Rahul??

Rahul was, however, seen trying his best to strike a rapport with the crowd. He first offered a seat to CLP leader Kartari Devi, and then stood behind Sonia while she delivered her speech.

In her hard-hitting speech, Sonia sought votes for the Congress on the stability plank. ?Coalitions cannot provide a stable government,? she said.

The Congress president alleged that the sole aim of parties coming together, like the National Democratic Alliance, was to grab power.

Sonia said parties joined hands to come to power but remained poles apart internally because there was no meeting point in terms of ideology and programmes. ?Old habits die hard,? Sonia said, referring to BJP?s earlier Ayodhya plank. ?After whipping up religious sentiment, now they are indulging in jingoism,? she said.

Sonia targeted defence minister George Fernandes and wondered why he chose to keep quiet when minorities were attacked by fundamentalist organisations.

She asked voters in Haryana to opt for the Congress. ?The Congress alone can provide a stable government and protect the integrity and unity of the country,? she said.

Sonia said the politics of defection in Haryana should end. She recalled the Congress promise to bring a law under which each defecting MLA and MP would have to resign and seek a fresh mandate.

PM rejoinder Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has asserted that Kargil will be projected as an election issue, and said that informing the people about the soldiers? achievements did not amount to violation of any rule or the code of conduct.

?When the government can be flayed and questioned over the Kargil intrusions, then it is equally apt to take to the masses the importance of the victory achieved,? he said in Indore.    

New Delhi, Aug. 25 
A fortnight after offering to free eight Pakistani soldiers as an Independence Day-eve ?goodwill gesture?, India today said Islamabad would have to individually identify each of them before they are handed over.

Pakistan has already confirmed that the soldiers in Indian custody belong to their country. But Delhi claims that Islamabad has only made a general statement, which was not enough.

The two countries differ on the status of the captive soldiers. India calls them prisoners of war, and has been trying to establish that the Pakistani army was involved in the Kargil incursions. Islamabad has denied this, and claims the soldiers were picked up from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

With both sides busy trying to score diplomatic points, much of the sheen has come off India?s ?goodwill gesture?. Delhi had announced its decision to free the soldiers on August 13, the eve of Pakistan?s national day.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said the soldiers had not been in uniform, nor did they have the ?customary identification tags or discs? on their person. ?In spite of this blatant breach of military custom and international convention, India has, in a gesture of goodwill, treated them as PoWs and approached the ICRC for their repatriation to Pakistan,? he said.

Jassal said the captives had declared themselves soldiers of the Pakistani army, and their identification had been made available to the Sharif government. ?It is reprehensible on the part of Pakistan to create complications for the repatriation of their own soldiers,? he said.

?Pakistan has adamantly refused to acknowledge the involvement of their troops in the Kargil misadventure, despite conferring awards on many of its soldiers and honouring them for their involvement in Kargil. It hopes that by continuing to refuse to accept the status of these eight soldiers as PoWs, they can continue to perpetrate the myth of non-involvement of their regular troops in Kargil. It is this obsession with falsehood which is preventing the return of their PoWs,? the foreign ministry statement said.    

Amethi, Aug. 25 
The racquets have been flung to a corner of a room inside Amethi?s palace. Her hands, from the wrists to the elbows, are covered with jangling bangles and her forehead is streaked liberally with vermilion.

Ameeta Modi Singh, former national badminton champion, is the real bahu (daughter-in-law) of Amethi. She is advertising the status to undermine Sonia Gandhi?s claim to the title.

Campaigning hard for husband Sanjay Singh, sitting MP and BJP candidate against Sonia in the constituency, Ameeta predicts doom for the Congress chief. ?Sonia?, promises Ameeta, ?is contesting from here for the first and last time.?

Ameeta holds court in an outer room of the Amethi palace where her husband is also meeting with voters, election agents, party workers and the press just before the start of the day?s punishing campaign programme. Ameeta waxes eloquent on what Sanjay has done, not only as an MP, but also during his years as friend to Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi.

Sanjay Singh, scion of the Amethi royal family, is Ameeta?s second husband ? her first was the slain national badminton champion, Syed Modi ? and she is his campaign manager-cum-PR adviser.

Sanjay admits it is Ameeta who fills in the gaps in any conversation. For her part, Ameeta never allows the conversation to flag.

?From 1981 to 1988, Amethi was the Gandhi family?s constituency because of my husband. When he left the Congress because it had no internal democracy, Rajiv Gandhi lost control of the constituency. The constituency was taken over by ?coordinators?. The people of Amethi hated the Congress coordinators who were outsiders. They wanted a local MP who they could touch and feel,? she says.

?We welcome Sonia Gandhi to Amethi. We have always welcomed guests here. But only to come and go and never rule us. She will realise that her belief that she is the bahu of Amethi is a big myth. The bubble will burst,? Ameeta insists.

The couple has worked long and hard on their constituents and hope their efforts will see Sanjay through despite the Gandhi charisma that had turned Amethi into a pocket borough of the Congress dynasty.

She looks after the ?social side? of the constituency, Ameeta says. For starters, she restored the Amethi palace which was in bad shape ?because the riyasat (kingdom) belongs to the people?. She plays guardian of the palace and tries to sustain the aura about it. Meat and liquor are not allowed through its portals.

?The rule does not apply to valued guests though?, she says switching to another role as perfect hostess.

The royal couple also counts as one of their successes the system of mass marriages that they have encouraged and even sponsored. ?We not just organise and attend the marriages but also monitor the progress of each and every couple and also extend our association by attending the birth of their first child and securing school admissions.? As benevolent royals to their subjects, the couple has also run community workshops, medical and family planning camps.

?Sonia Gandhi does not have any of these qualities. If she had expected the people to sustain the emotional bond with her family she should have done better than visit Amethi just twice in the past nine years,? Ameeta says. It is close to mid-morning and time to go campaigning. ?We do it all the time. Not only when it is election time,? she says.    

Today?s forecast: Possibility of light rain in some areas.

Temperature: Maximum 33?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 26.9?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 64%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 5.59 pm
Sunrise: 5.19 am

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