High-priest Atal keeps Ram at bay
Jaswant pilgrimage to Holy Land in diplomatic first
Singh snarls, Advani atones
Swedish summons
Classroom murder haunts child?s nights
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 14 
A resolute Atal Behari Vajpayee has told party MPs in no uncertain terms that the government would be governed only by the National Democratic Alliance manifesto and they should shun contentious issues such as the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The Prime Minister?s assertion came in response to queries raised at a BJP parliamentary party meeting this morning on the party?s stand on Ayodhya. 

A series of apparently orchestrated statements on Sunday from three senior leaders ? Ram Prakash Gupta, Uma Bharti and Sushma Swaraj ? triggered the controversy. All three said the mandir was still a part of the BJP?s agenda. 

The resurrection of Ayodhya ignited the Lok Sabha with the BJP?s allies joining the Opposition cry for a clarification from the Prime Minister.

To undo the damage, Vajpayee has called a meeting of NDA floor leaders tomorrow to assure them that the government has no ??hidden agenda??. BJP sources said he plans to explain the embarrassment as a ??Congress ploy?? to divide the coalition.

Bharti raised the issue at today?s meeting and asked the government to clarify its stand and not allow the NDA partners to remain in a ??state of confusion??. The minister, who faces charges for inciting violence during the Babri Masjid demolition, said the government must plan a strategy to prevent the Opposition from ??dividing the NDA??. 

She denied having said on television that the temple was on the BJP?s agenda. ??The TV people said the discussion was on a ministry-related subject, but in between they asked questions on Ayodhya,?? sources quoted Bharti as saying.

The Congress ruse came in handy for even home minister L.K. Advani, who alleged that it was the ??Opposition gameplan?? to destabilise the government. As the hardliners seemed willing to play along with the Prime Minister, Vajpayee was quoted as cautioning the MPs to be ??alert to the Congress? conspiracy??. 

??Some people talk here and there which is not correct. They should not talk like this and they should not be taken seriously,?? sources quoted Vajpayee as saying in what appeared like a mild rebuke to Gupta, Sushma and Bharti. 

Reinforcing the Prime Minister?s stand, BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: ??We are clear that Ramjanmabhoomi, Article 370 and uniform civil code are not part of the national agenda of governance. The government and the party are committed to pursuing the agenda without deviation or dilution.?? 

BJP sources said Vajpayee?s assertion was a signal that governance, and not Hindutva, was his ??top priority?? and he was ??in no mood to indulge sangh hawks??. 

??The last time he was ruling, the reflexes were slow and we often allowed different voices to emanate from within the sangh and the BJP. This gave the impression that Vajpayee was not quite in control. This time he is determined to let the government speak in one voice and prevent any hardline-versus-moderate debate,?? sources close to the Prime Minister said.

They said this ??firmness?? had helped neutralise opposition from the swadeshi lobby to his reforms agenda. 

New Delhi, Dec. 14 
Jaswant Singh will make history by becoming the first Indian foreign minister to visit Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Jaswant is scheduled to visit Israel from January 20 to 22. He will visit Gaza for a day. The foreign minister?s trip will be significant in two respects. One, Delhi has recognised that Israel is for a peaceful and not a military solution to the West Asia crisis. Two, it shows India?s recognition of West Asia as part of its ?extended? neighbourhood and its keenness to play a major role in the region?s peace process.

Diplomatic relations between India and Israel began in 1992 during the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime. Though the Israeli President paid a visit to Delhi in December 1996, so far neither the Indian President nor the Prime Minister has gone to Israel. Cabinet members from India have visited Tel Aviv, but Jaswant?s will be the first official one by a foreign minister.

Earlier this year national security adviser and the Prime Minister?s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, visited Israel. Though the details of his trip are not known, there were indications that the discussions focused on security and defence-related areas. Jaswant will primarily interact with his Israeli counterpart David Levy but he will get an opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, senior members of his Cabinet and other leaders.

On his visit to Gaza, the first by an Indian leader, Jaswant will meet Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and senior leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. At the meeting with the Palestinian leadership, Jaswant will aim to reassure India?s traditional friends that there have been no fundamental changes in Delhi?s foreign policy.

Since Independence, India has had emotional links with the Palestinian cause. In the Sixties and Seventies, Delhi had championed the Palestinian cause and rallied the developing countries behind Arafat. But in the Eighties and Nineties, Delhi?s West Asia policy floundered. One of the main reasons for this was India?s obsession with Pakistan and the possible support Islamabad was getting from West Asian countries on Kashmir. 

Jaswant is not visiting Israel either to explain Delhi?s position on Kashmir or to garner support against Pakistan. Regional issues will, however, definitely come up for discussion and the recent developments in Islamabad will form part of the talks. But the thrust will be on the peace process in West Asia. ?For the first time, perhaps, India will not talk about Kashmir and will try to engage in a major international issue,? an Indian diplomat said.

Jaswant?s visit is another indication of the growing closeness between India and Israel. Delhi?s ties with the Arab countries can be used by Tel Aviv to give momentum to the West Asia peace process, if and when required. On the other hand, India can rely on Israel?s support on key issues and to influence American policies towards Delhi through the strong Jewish lobby in the US. Moreover, the two sides can work closely on combating Islamic fundamentalism. 

Economic ties between India and Israel have already begun to expand, but there is scope for growth in other areas. Delhi will be looking to cooperate with Tel Aviv on defence. 

New Delhi, Dec. 14 
The normally unflappable Manmohan Singh today matched L.K. Advani?s aggression and drew an apology from the home minister before slipping back to his usual serene self.

Raising his voice in the Rajya Sabha ? a rare instance in his career ? Singh accused Advani of having ?incited violence? against him through remarks made outside the House about a proposal to set up a new panel to probe the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. A news agency had quoted Advani as saying on Sunday that Singh was ?silent? on the proposal. 

Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said Singh was receiving threatening calls after Advani?s statement was published in the newspapers.

Singh?s complaint rocked the Upper House with other Congress members taking up the issue, leading to two adjournments.

Advani finally defused the issue by expressing regret and claiming that newspapers had reported his remarks at a Sikh gathering in such a way that it appeared he had accused Singh of blocking the probe.

Advani said that he had not meant this. He said: ?I was trying to suggest that the Congress may have some reservations about the probe.? He said that after the matter was raised in the House last Wednesday, he was told that the Congress had no objection to a fresh probe. 

?I understand that Manmohan Singh has been hurt. I have always held Manmohan Singh in high esteem and even if unwittingly I have caused him any offence, I express regrets that this should have happened,? the home minister said.

Singh reciprocated by thanking Advani for his statement and said he would treat the entire chapter as closed. He, too, apologised to Advani for having hurt his sentiments in the morning. ?My intention was not to hurt you,? Singh added.

In the morning, Singh virtually breathed fire while accusing Advani of inciting violence against him. He said the House should condemn the minister?s action in unison.

Singh then he launched a rare personal attack on the home minister and said that everybody knew of Advani?s role in the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and countrywide clashes.

Responding to foreign minister Jaswant Singh?s attempt to defend Advani, Singh said the matter was not as simple and ?innocent? as made to appear. 

Singh also reacted to Advani?s charge on Sunday that he was silent when the riot panel proposal was made in the House and that he had left the House shortly afterwards.

Singh said that he had been silent because Advani was speaking and had left the House because Question Hour was over. 

New Delhi, Dec. 14 
The Bofors trial opened today with the court granting bail to former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar while issuing arrest warrants against businessman Win Chaddha, who was the company?s agent in India when the gun deal was brokered. 

The court of additional district and sessions judge Ajit Bharihoke also issued fresh summons to Martin Ardbo, former chairman of the company. Ardbo had demanded an order in Swedish.

??The learned prosecutor has submitted that accused Martin Ardbo has not received summons and he insisted that he should be given summons in Swedish. Accordingly, it is ordered that fresh summons be issued to Ardbo and a translated copy of these summons in Swedish be served on him as per rules,?? Bharihoke said.

??The prosecutor also submitted that summons of A.B. Bofors was inadvertently served at another company, Bofors A.B. Therefore, it is ordered that fresh summons may be sent in the name of A.B. Bofors,?? the judge added.

Bhatnagar, the lone accused to appear in court, asked for bail on the ground that the chargesheet in the case had been filed and, therefore, there was no question of his tampering with evidence.

After ordering his arrest, Bharihoke freed him on a bail bond of Rs 2 lakh and surety of the same amount.

On November 4, the judge had issued non-bailable warrants against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and summons to Bhatnagar, Ardbo and Chaddha.

Chaddha had refused to accept the summons issued to him through the Indian embassy in the UAE. Since he had refused to obey the summons, the court issued arrest warrants against the businessman. The next hearing will be held on February 3, 2000. 

Kannur, Dec. 14 
Every time Renisha closes her eyes she sees the burly, bearded man. He rushes into her classroom behind her teacher and hits him on the head with an iron rod. Then he pulls out a large chopper and hacks her teacher again and again till she is drenched in his blood. 

The 11-year-old, a Class VI student of Mokeri East UP School at Panus, 20 km from here, has been haunted by this nightmare since November 30. She wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming: ?Amma! They are beating up masterji. They are killing him!? 

Renisha is one of the 40 children who witnessed a brutal murder a fortnight ago when over a dozen CPM goons armed with choppers, swords and machetes allegedly stormed into her classroom and butchered K.T. Jayakrishnan (36), a teacher of mathematics who was also a BJP leader and state vice-president of the Yuva Morcha.

The killing triggered fresh violence between the ruling CPM and the RSS-BJP combine in this volatile north Kerala district, the arena of a three-decade conflict between the red and saffron camps.

By December 3, three days after the Jayakrishnan murder, the tally of vendetta deaths stood at seven. Chief minister E.K. Nayanar had to intervene and call an all-party peace meeting. The state government hurriedly set up a special police team to investigate the violence as news of Kannur reached Parliament. 

However, even a fortnight after the classroom murder, not a single arrest has been made and not one among the victim?s 25 colleagues at the school have come forward to be a witness.

But Jayakrishnan?s students remain loyal to him.

?I will never be able to forget that day,? Renisha told The Telegraph. ?Masterji was teaching us decimals. Since I, Subish and Dinub had failed in math in the last exam, he asked us to sit in the front row. This was the first period and as usual masterji was cracking jokes. ?Renisha, if you fail in math again you will land up in the fish market selling fish like your father,? masterji said,? the girl recalled. 

?Then he turned to Subish whose father owns a bakery. ?And Subish will sell cakes and bread. But at least he will not smell as bad as Renisha,? masterji added laughing,? Renisha said. 

Subish being Jayakrishnan?s favourite, he asked the boy to stand next to him while he explained decimals on the blackboard. Subish left his seat and stood next to the teacher. 

?Suddenly three men rushed in. Masterji was facing us and did not see them,? said Dinub. ?Within a second, this huge bearded man took out an iron rod and hit masterji on the head. Masterji cried, ?Amma? and dropped to the floor. 

?There were many other men who surrounded us from outside, all with swords and choppers like you have in meat shops. They shouted, ?Kill him! finish him off!? as the bearded man took out a big chopper and stabbed masterji on his head, neck and stomach. Blood spurted out, drenching Subish?s head, shirt and face.? 

Subish, generally a talkative child, has become unusually quiet since the incident. After the murder, he came home and did not utter a word as his frightened mother washed off the blood. 

When this correspondent spoke to him, Subish stared blankly into space and heaved a sigh. His trauma is understandable. A senior policeman who visited the scene of the crime an hour after this 11-year old saw it happen, reportedly fainted on seeing the state of the body. 

The school, which was closed following the murder, reopened on December 7. Of the 500 students only 15 turned up, and all the students of class VI B, the scene of the crime, stayed away. The school had to close again.

A final decision on resumption of classes will be taken after a parent-teacher meeting on December 20. 

Teachers vehemently deny witnessing either the murder or the assailants. ?Our students came out running, shouting, ?They are hitting masterji.? By the time we reached, he was lying in a pool of blood,? said headmistress Jalaja. ?We tried to transfer him to a hospital but could not find a vehicle.?

At this point, only the children seem to be the bravehearts. 

?I was in the next class. The three men went into VI B through our class,? said Subina, a student of VII B. ?Pradip masterji, who was taking our class, ran away when he saw the armed men.?

?I saw a number of these men with swords standing outside when the teachers fled,? said Nijosh, another student of VII B.

Children of VI B have received anonymous threat letters, warning them against speaking out. But Renisha quietly said: ?I am not scared. I will tell the police everything when they come. I cannot forget the face of the bearded man.? She may have a long wait. 

Maximum: 28.4°C (+1) Minimum: 16.56°C (+3)
Rainfall: Nil
Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum:38%
Today: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature Sunset: 4.49 pm Sunrise: 6.14 am 

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