Talks-set Delhi in venue dilemma
Skies bring carnival to city, despair to districts
Sonia arms for ?foreigner? battle

New Delhi, Oct. 19 
Eager to get back to the negotiations table with Pakistan in spite of the hard talk, India has set its eyes on the Saarc summit in Kathmandu to set the ball rolling. But the dialogue may have to wait if some member-countries succeed in deferring the session because of the turmoil in Pakistan.

If the Saarc summit stays on track, a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan?s military ruler, Gen. Parvez Musharraf, is very much on the cards. Delhi is aware that though the West has accepted its position on cross-border terrorism, Vajpayee?s return to the top job has raised world leaders? expectations of a quick resumption of the stalled dialogue.

The exchange of verbal salvos continued today with Pakistan ruling out troop withdrawal from the Line of Control. Foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed, in his first press briefing since last week?s coup, said the situation on the LoC was different from that along the international border from where troops were being pulled back. Under the present circumstances of ??shelling and indiscriminate firing?? by Indian forces, ??it is not prudent to lower our guard??, he said.

Ahmed also regretted India?s ??negative response?? to Pakistan?s offer for unconditional resumption of talks, saying the responsibility for creation of a ??requisite atmosphere?? for talks ??entirely?? rested with Delhi.

Amid mounting international pressure following the Kargil war, both nations had sent out signals that their prime ministers would meet on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (Chogm) in Durban slated between November 12 and 15. But the military takeover in Pakistan has forced the Commonwealth to suspend Islamabad?s membership.

The junta in Pakistan has regretted the Commonwealth decision and said the Britain-led organisation should have analysed why the military threw out the Nawaz Sharif government.

Reports from London suggested that Commonwealth chief Emeka Anyaoku will arrive here tomorrow for pre-summit talks with Vajpayee and foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

Though India will attend the Durban meet, it will not get the opportunity to talk with Pakistan. But the Saarc summit, scheduled between November 26 and 28, will give another chance for the two sides to sit across the table.

But a cloud has been cast over the meet with Sri Lanka, which heads Saarc, and Nepal, which will take over the mantle, believed to be against holding the summit now, given the uncertainty in Pakistan. Both countries, according to Indian officials, have said they would like the summit to be postponed till a clear picture emerges from Islamabad.

India has, however, left the decision to the two nations and said it does not have any problem even if Pakistan is invited. Though Sri Lankan officials maintain that it was for Nepal, as the host nation, to take a final decision, Indian diplomats feel both countries are equally opposed to holding the summit now.

??We are neither for nor against a postponement. But we don?t want anyone else to fire their gun from our shoulders,?? a senior foreign ministry official said.

Unlike the Chogm, the Saarc charter does not prevent a military head from representing his country. Both Gen. Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan and Bangladesh?s Gen. H.M. Ershad took part in Saarc sessions.

However, Sri Lanka and Nepal are willing to toe the line of the Western powers that Pakistan should return to democracy at the earliest and the Saarc summit should be postponed until Gen. Musharraf clarifies his position.

Musharraf cabal

Gen. Musharraf will set up a post-coup administration ?primarily? civilian in character, adds AFP.

He is in the process of selecting a line-up for his three-tier administration, military spokesman Brig. Rashid Quereshi said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 19 
Partisan weather drove a wedge through Bengal on navami, setting the stage for a carnival in Calcutta and despair in many districts in the north and south.

As the sun smiled on Calcutta after two days of downpour and sent hordes of revellers outdoors, most of north Bengal shivered in relentless rain.

In Calcutta, roads were choked and vehicles caught in snarls as pandal-hoppers poured out, matching the fury of the weather that kept them holed up for two days.

By late afternoon, well-known pandals in the north and south were packed to capacity. The snaky queues, synonymous with the Pujas but missing so far this time, were also back on their feet. The surge after midnight forced the administration to deploy the Rapid Action Force to control the crowd.

But several areas remained water-logged despite the clear skies. Pandals at Garden Reach, Paharpur, Cossipore, Behala, Bangur Avenue, Panihati and parts of Barrackpore industrial belt continued to be under a sheet of water.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation and CMDA officials were asked to activate several pumps which were defunct. In Behala, Garden Reach and Cossipore, heavy duty pumps were put into service to drain stagnant water.

A pandal at Burrabazar was partially gutted this evening. Fire brigade sources said the blaze occurred due to a short circuit.

Going by the forecast of the meteorological office, the worst looks over for Calcutta, but not for north Bengal. ?The low pressure system has shifted from Calcutta,? said R.N. Goldar, director of the Alipore met office. However, he warned that ?heavy rains are expected to lash north Bengal?.

The state government has alerted district authorities following reports that a depression, born of a weakened cyclonic circulation, could be moving towards north Bengal.

Under the depression?s impact, Purulia recorded rainfall of 190 mm, Bankura 102 mm, Darjeeling 118 mm, Cooch Behar 49 mm, Jalpaiguri 30 mm, Bagdogra 38 mm, Mogra 48 mm, Krishnagar 26 mm and Malda 10 mm in the 24 hours from Monday morning.

Weather officials kept their fingers crossed as another low pressure area was building up in the west-central Bay off the Andaman coast.

However, the officials have decided to wait and watch before issuing a formal warning as the low pressure area is still in the upper strata of the atmosphere. The weather office usually issues warnings when a low pressure area or a cyclonic circulation is recorded in the ?sea level weather chart?.

It would take another couple of days to ascertain if the low pressure trough, now located off the Andaman coast, will develop into a full-scale ?low pressure system?. It might get dissolved, an official added.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta said district authorities have been asked to keep relief and rescue teams at stand-by and be prepared for any emergency.

Child run over

A four-year-old boy, Paki Baidya, was run over by a Sumo while crossing the road to buy a balloon in Ramgarh.    

New Delhi, Oct. 19 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who makes her parliamentary debut tomorrow, has decided to take on the Opposition leader?s post in the Lok Sabha.

Keen on revitalising the party in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia has opted to keep the Amethi seat. The AICC chief gave up Bellary, scotching speculation that she would nudge either Priyanka or Rahul into a political career. Had they contested a bypoll, it would have been from Amethi, and not the Karnataka seat.

The Opposition leader status will put Sonia on par with a Cabinet minister. She will have a say in the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner and other important officials. The Cabinet often takes the Opposition leader into confidence on major policy matters as well.

Top Congress sources told The Telegraph that Sonia?s decision to accept the post was aimed at discouraging the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from pushing through a law preventing a person of foreign origin from holding top positions. ?The NDA government cannot afford to target the leader of the Opposition,? a Congress leader said.

Sonia has decided to retain Manmohan Singh as the party leader in the Rajya Sabha. Manmohan had stepped down after his defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, but Sonia persuaded him to stay on.

Congress sources said Sonia personally opted for the Opposition leader?s job as she wanted to shake off the ?inexperience? tag. ?Her new role will help prepare her for future responsibilities. It will also shut up her critics because now she will be holding an office,? a party functionary said.

Sonia is likely to appoint Madhavrao Scindia as her deputy in the Lok Sabha to discharge the daily business of the House. She will, however, make regular appearances in the Lok Sabha and participate in all debates and discussions. ?She is a fast learner and we are confident that there will not be much of a problem in learning the ropes,? a senior leader said.

Almost all MPs urged her to become the Opposition leader. They said naming another person would intensify the power struggle within the Congress.

Sonia, who is also chairperson of the CPP, will revamp the AICC secretariat. Hopefuls like Rajesh Pilot, Kamal Nath and M.O.H. Farooq are tipped to be drafted into the body. Scindia, Pranab Mukherjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad will be assigned jobs in both Houses of Parliament.

The Congress top brass is, however, in a fix over its ties with Sharad Pawar after the Nationalist Congress Party decided to share power with the parent organisation in Maharashtra.

Some want Sonia to send rapprochement feelers to Pawar, arguing that a united Congress would be better equipped to take on the ?communal forces?. But a powerful lobby feels it is ?too early? for any patch-up.

Leaders like A.K. Antony, Najma Heptullah, Jitendra Prasada, Azad, Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath are of the view that if Pawar expresses regret for raising the ?foreign origin? issue, Sonia should respond.

However, another section of the party, including Arjun Singh and Scindia, feel the high command should take a tough stand on Pawar. They allege that Pawar?s track record shows he is ?uncomfortable? in the party, having left it twice.    


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