Vajpayee sends ISI-base notice to Nepal
CPM awaits feedback for overhaul
Kerala shelves Christian divorce Bill after uproar
Culture camp outrage at saffron Vande Mataram
Lanka ferry hits police hurdle
Gujarat grapples with gastro outbreak
Showdown with Medha at Hague
Student rage mars Naidu pet project
Hegde hits George with support to Sharad

New Delhi, Jan. 4 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has written to his Nepalese counterpart Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, urging him to weed out Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) bases in Nepal. Vajpayee said India was prepared to extend all co-operation to Nepal to stamp out Pakistan-backed terrorist elements.

Vajpayee�s letter drew attention to Nepal�s growing reputation as a haven for anti-India elements ranging from Kashmiri separatists to Ulfa militants.

The Prime Minister regretted that adequate steps to stamp out anti-India activities had not been taken, though Delhi had frequently passed on intelligence inputs to Kathmandu.

Vajpayee�s letter sought an explanation from the Bhattarai government on security lapses at the Kathmandu airport during the hijack of IC-814.

Recalling India�s historic relationship with Nepal, Vajpayee reportedly expressed regret that such an incident occurred in a friendly country.

The Prime Minister today rejected Pakistan�s denial of its role in the hijack and said the government had �proof� to establish Islamabad�s links with the hijackers.

�Their denial does not carry any weight. We know for a fact that they encouraged hijackers. We have the evidence and we will publish it,� Vajpayee said at an iftar party hosted by him here. He said he was in touch with all friendly countries to mobilise international opinion against terrorism.

The Congress has, however, expressed fear that the government will not succeed in getting Pakistan declared a terrorist state by the international community.

�The government must show us the efforts it is making to achieve the goal,� AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said, while emphasising that his party wanted the terrorist tag on Pakistan.

Vajpayee denied there were differences between him and Union home minister L.K. Advani over the handling of the hijack crisis.

�There is no resentment. He (Advani) was part of the decision-making process and attended meetings,� he said.

Advani, who was present at iftar hosted by Vajpayee, denied any rift with the Prime Minister. �It was not a happy situation to have released the militants but there was no other option,� he said.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, several diplomats and Union ministers and prominent Muslim leaders also attended the iftar.    

The CPM will hold a plenum sometime in October to finalise the draft of its new party programme.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu said here tonight that the party would finalise the date for the plenum after receiving amendments from all its units across the country on the draft programme.

The CPM will review the new programme at the three-day politburo meeting in New Delhi from January 13.

�The outdated programme is being redrafted to give it a new dimension,� Basu told The Telegraph tonight.

Speaking at a function yesterday, Basu had stressed the need for updating the programme.

His stance is being seen as a boost to the rebels within the party.

Former CPM central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury, state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and South 24 Parganas district secretary Samir Putatunda, recently triggered a controversy by saying in public that the party�s programme had to be overhauled to keep pace with changing times.

Basu said the draft would be distributed among all party units across the country during the next two months after the approval of the politburo and the central committee.

Basu sought to clarify today that the party had taken up the modification proposals not because of the growing dissent among party functionaries.

�The need for modernising the outdated party programme was felt two years ago and the work started accordingly,� he said.

But CPM insiders said the mood is upbeat among the rebels, who are trying to project Basu�s comment as a boost for them.

They said Chowdhury, currently in Delhi, had contacted both Chakraborty and Putatunda during the day.

Chowdhury�s associates said he was yet to receive the showcause notice served on him by the party last week after a state committee meeting.

Dissent is also snowballing in the party�s north 24 Parganas district unit with the hardliners sidelining Chakraborty and his associates.

They were reluctant to accommodate a number of Subhas-loyalists in key decision-making bodies at the district level.

At a meeting of the district secretariat on Wednesday, the hardliners came down heavily on Chakraborty and others in the presence of two CPM vete-rans, Sailen Dasgupta and Niren Ghosh.

A five-member committee headed by Basu, however, urged the Amitava Bose-Amitava Nandy camp to induct the rebels for the greater interest of the organisation.

In south 24 Parganas too, the wranglings between two factions, one led by Putatunda and the other by state minister for Sundarbans development Abdur Rezzak Mollah, have surfaced.

Senior party leaders of the district complained that the Alimuddin Street bosses had so far not taken any initiative to resolve the conflict.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan. 4 
The Left front government in Kerala has shelved a divorce Bill amendment with parallels to a uniform civil code after the move threatened to pit the state against the church.

The amendment to the Indian Divorce Act was intended at deleting a provision which said every decree for dissolution of a Christian marriage by a district judge has to be confirmed by the high court. The rule, which does not apply to Hindu or Muslim marriages, delays legalising a Christian divorce by three to five years.

The E.K. Nayanar government, keen to shed its anti-church image created by a series of clashes involving organisations affiliated to the CPM, had lined up the Bill as a Christmas gift.

Christians account for over 23 per cent of the population in Kerala and nearly 5,000 divorce cases of the community are pending before courts now. Two high court rulings had also suggested that the divorce Act be amended.

Besides, the state government was in a hurry to upstage the BJP-led Centre which, too, was planning a similar Bill and had started sounding Christian bodies. Hence, the state introduced the Indian Divorce Kerala Amendment Bill in the Assembly on December 16, a week before Christmas.

However, as the church � which exhorts that �let no man separate what God has united� � and a section of the powerful Christian political lobby, turned restive, the government referred the amendment to a select committee. This effectively puts the Bill on the backburner.

The Bill was welcomed by majority of the Christian MLAs, but objections were raised by a group of Roman Catholic members. Prominent among the critics was K.M. Mani, a former minister and now leader of the Kerala Congress (Mani) faction, a constituent in the state�s Congress-led opposition front.

Mani made a sweeping suggestion to legalise the Christian Canon Law and demanded that the Christian Ecclesiastical Court�s verdict be regarded as a ground for divorce, along with impotency, consanguinity, lunacy and forceful marriage mentioned in the Act.

�We have no objection to the amendment. Our concern is only to make the amendment more comprehensive so that it does not conflict with Canon laws,� Mani told The Telegraph.

The differences of opinion between the Roman Catholic church and the civil courts on divorce are glaring.

�The Catholic church never permits a divorce or remarriage. The Ecclesiastical Court can only declare an annulment of marriage on grave grounds. The government�s main consideration is divorce, the very concept of which is opposed by the Church,� according Father C. Joseph, the head of the Ecclesiastical Court here.

The ratio of annulments declared by the Ecclesiastical Courts is one in a thousand cases brought to the Church.

When a civil court grants a divorce, it is not recognised by the Catholic church. �Throughout the world, the Catholic principle is the same,� explained auxiliary Bishop Joshua Mar Ignatheus.

�Divorce granted by civil authorities are not accepted by the church. A remarriage of such couples in the Catholic church is out of question.� The marriage is unaccepted and the wards of such a couple are �not Christians�.

Conversely, civil courts do not accept the verdict of the church. An marriage annulled by a religious court is an illegal divorce in the eyes of civil law.

Mani�s suggestion is to include a fourth clause with an additional ground �that the marriage has been declared null and void under the provisions of the Christian church or in accordance with the rules and regulations of the church to which the parties belong.�

However, other Roman Catholic MLAs differed. P. C. George of the Kerala Congress (Joseph) faction, a constituent of the ruling front, said if Mani�s demand is conceded, Catholics will have no option but to go to the church court for annulment.

�Christians will wholeheartedly accept the amendment. How can Mani being a responsible political figure even ask for legalising Canon Laws? Next someone will ask for Shariat and then the Upanishads. Whenever there is a conflict between Canon Law and civil law, the civil law takes over,� George added.

The church does not agree. �The country certainly has the right to totally control my activities, but only those which affect the external forum of man. The case is different when it concerns my conscience, my internal forum. A marriage for us is like baptism. It binds two people in the presence of Christ. It is eternal,� Father Joseph said.

Having burnt its fingers, the state is now waiting for the Centre to move a comprehensive amendment.    

New Delhi, Jan. 4 
Culture minister Ananth Kumar�s much-hyped Vande Mataram programme for the country�s youth has raised hackles in the Nehru Yuvak Kendra Sangathan.

The organisation, one of three picked by the culture ministry to mobilise GeneratioNext and ��make better citizens�� of them, is seething at what it believes is the ��saffronisation�� of the campaign.

��We are dancing to the tune of either the RSS or the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP�s student arm,�� said an office-bearer of the Nehru kendra, which is controlled by the culture department.

The outfit�s harassed functionaries are more than relieved that the campaign is about to end. Flagged off by home minister L.K. Advani last month, the programme will wind up with a national youth festival in Ahmedabad on January 12, the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

Kumar peddled the programme as a medium for ��rejuvenating the national and cultural health�� of youth in the country. But for many in the Nehru kendra, the programme is serving the RSS� purpose. ��It has been hijacked by the RSS and the ABVP, which are calling the shots,�� says an official.

The campaign is being overseen by three committees. The Nehru kendra alleged that the two top decision-making panels � the central steering committee and the zonal committees � have been packed with ��saffron�� men from the RSS and ABVP. The lowest rung of university committees have conveners from the Nehru kendra.

Many in the capital were sceptical of the programme and had questioned the government�s ��actual intentions��. ��We felt the programme could be used by the Sangh parivar to make more and more contact with the youth,�� said a dramatist.

The Nehru kendra believes it is being ��exploited�� to expand and enlarge the Sangh�s links with the youth. ��We have an organisational network that reaches out to 30 crore youth,�� pointed out a Nehru kendra functionary.

The organisation runs two lakh youth clubs, has 5,000 paid national volunteers and 8 million youth volunteers.

Its functionaries feel cheated and believe the organisation has been used by the Sangh parivar which wants to make the Vande Mataram campaign a vehicle for ��forging and renewing�� its ties with the younger generation.

The organisation is also cut up over the programme�s lavish expenditure � frequent air trips, attendance of high-profile Union ministers at state and district meetings.

��We are the ones who are slogging. The steering committee members are coming and going by air, they are just having a good time,�� says an official. As many as 70 Union ministers and 31 chief ministers were listed for attendance at various programmes on New Year�s eve.

��Worse still, Nehru kendra funds approved by a parliamentary committee are being diverted to the Vande Mataram programme,�� says a functionary.

The ministry has allocated Rs 5 crore for the programme. The Nehru kendra says it went through a similar experience with the National Reconstruction Corps started by Uma Bharti when she was the junior minister for human resources development.

��Even then we spent one crore. The finance ministry refused to give any money for the programme,�� says an official.    

Chennai, Jan. 4 
The Centre is contemplating resuming the passenger ferry service between Tuticorin and Colombo, but the proposal has reportedly run into serious opposition from the Tamil Nadu police.

According to an agency report from Colombo, a team of senior revenue intelligence officials recently held discussions with their counterparts in Sri Lanka on the issue.

The report said the Sri Lankan government was keen on resuming the passenger service, suspended for over 16 years now, and that Delhi was favourable to the idea.

But inquiries here revealed that the Tamil Nadu police fear possible infiltration by LTTE militants if there is a regular flow of passengers between the countries.

A senior government official pleaded ignorance, saying the Centre had not taken Tamil Nadu into confidence on the matter. �The talks might have taken place at a higher level. I am not aware of any such moves,� he said.

The passenger ferry service between Rameswaram and Thalaimannar used to do roaring business. But when anti-Tamil riots broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983, the service was halted.

With militants regularly crossing the Palk Straits into India and the increased alert by the navy in both countries, resumption of the service was ignored.

Even Indian fishermen were regularly targeted by the Lankan security forces.

Now only cargo ferries are allowed to enter Sri Lanka. Vegetables, groceries and textiles are among the items exported to the island nation.

But even cargo traffic runs into trouble once in a while. Whenever there is a threat of an LTTE attack in Colombo, the harbour is sealed off.

A few years ago, cargo ferries were asked to berth at Galle, where an Indian crew was beaten up by thugs. Cargo traffic was suspended for several months after the incident. It was only after a lot of persuasion by Delhi that traffic was restored to Colombo.

But according to reports, the LTTE continues to smuggle diesel, kerosene, medicine and several other items from Rameswaram.

In these circumstances, the Tamil Nadu police is reluctant to take up the job of monitoring passengers from Colombo.

�That is a headache we can very well do without,� a police officer said.

Though the Centre and the trading lobbies would welcome resumption of passenger traffic, a lot of discussions would have to take place before things get moving.    

Ahmedabad, Jan. 4 
The city administration is struggling to cope with a gastro-enteritis outbreak that has claimed three lives and sent more than a thousand to hospital.

The outbreak, which till now is confined to the old city areas like Jamalpur, Raikhad, Dariapur and Kalupur, took a serious turn with 40 persons testing positive for cholera since Saturday.

The death of a 12-year-old girl, the third after the outbreak, has put the administration in a tight situation. Residents put the blame squarely on the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).

Residents alleged the AMC refused to act even though alerted two months ago. Councillor Yusuf Sayeed said the AMC �waited to take action� only after the outbreak became serious.

Ahmed Pathan, a resident of Jamalpur, said: �The water that we get through the AMC pipes is no better than sewage. It has to be filtered and even then the unbearable stench remains.� Many of the water pipes, cracked at places, are clogged with filth.

The problem has been compounded by lack of space and doctors in government hospitals, stretched to their limits with hundreds of people falling sick.

Many are being treated as out-patients as there is no room to admit them inside the hospitals. Some of the patients are being accommodated in the corridors. The services of medical students and trainee nurses have been requisitioned.

The AMC holds the residents responsible. Dharmendra Shah, chairman of the AMC�s standing committee, blamed the outbreak on pipelines punctured by residents which led to corrosion.

But though the AMC has �promised� to conduct a survey and replace the corroded pipes, residents are sceptical.

They claim nothing happens after the AMC�s �surveys�, which were also conducted a year ago.

Mayor Malini Atit, however, said that �the AMC will deal with the complaints of water contamination within 24 hours.�    

New Delhi, Jan 4 
Medha Patkar and the BJP government are heading for a battle royal on foreign soil.

Union water resources minister C.P. Thakur is gearing up to take the main opponent of the Narmada dam head-on at The Hague, where the Global Water Partnership Summit will be held at the end of March.

At the summit, Thakur will try to persuade the US and the environmentalist lobby that Patkar�s activities go against the interests of large sections of the Indian population.

The Centre will also short ly mount a major media offensive against Patkar. It will culminate at The Hague summit where Patkar will be a key speaker.

Patkar will protest the spate of dam constructions in Third World countries, focusing on India and the Sardar Sarovar project.

But to ensure that Patkar does not grab the limelight and make a villain of the Indian government, the water resources minister himself is planning to be present to underline the �loopholes� in Patkar�s logic.

The Centre is also planning to meet Patkar on a war-footing at the water resources ministry in Shram Shakti Bhavan to force her beat a retreat.

The government fired the first salvo at her on December 22 when Thakur became the first Union minister for water resources in eight years to address a press conference devoted in a major way to Patkar�s criticism and the government�s resolve to build the dam to its initially proposed height of 112.5 metres.

So far, the construction has been completed till 85 metres.

Thakur appears bent on starting the construction without delay. He is commissioning a film on the project where the government will state its views on how the project would benefit millions, and how vested interests are setting up stumbling blocks. More media briefings are also being planned.

The water resources ministry is attaching great importance to the Supreme Court next hearing on the Sardar Sarovar project fixed for February 8. The ministry is optimistic about the apex court�s intent of taking the case to its conclusive stage as soon as possible. The ministry is also expecting the final verdict will be given this year.

Ministry sources said the Supreme Court would hear this case on a daily basis from February 8.

The government is un- happy with the role of Digvijay Singh�s Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. It is only Madhya Pradesh that is allow- ing Patkar to pursue her agitation. District collectors are being instructed not to arrest her.

However, in the three other concerned states, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Patkar and her followers have not received any encouragement.

The water resources minis-try is veering round to the opinion that the landlosers in Madhya Pradesh are probably exerting pressure on the government to stall construction of the dam and prevent vast fertile lands in the state from being submerged.

The Vajpayee government is of the opinion that all of the land that would be inundated is held by benami owners who should not be gratified under any circumstances.

These issues will be raised at a proposed meeting on February 1 of all four chief ministers, Keshubhai Patel of Gujrat, Vilasrao Deshmukh of Maharashtra, Ashoke Gehlot of Rajasthan and Digivjay Singh of Madhya Pradesh.    

Hyderabad, Jan. 4 
Angered by the death of a colleague in the N.G. Ranga University Agricultural College, students held protest rallies and marred the 11th round of chief minister Chandrababu Naidu�s pet Janmabhoomi project.

K. Sudhakar was denied medical assistance as the staff of the health centre at the agriculture university were away on some work for the Janmabhoomi project. The doctor had taken one ambulance with him and the stand-by vehicle did not work. The student died even as frantic efforts were made to shift him to a hospital five km away.

The incensed students organised protest rallies, gheraoed government officials, ministers and Desam leaders. Even the lure of Rs 50 per day to participants and 5 to 10 grace marks in competitive exams did not deter them.

Naidu described the protests as a minor hitch and reeled out statistics about the success of the Janmabhoomi scheme. �More students have participated in the programme than before,� he said. Yesterday, he flagged off a new Visakhapatnam-Vijayawada intercity train, symbolically named �Janmabhoomi�.

About 1.5 lakh students had been deployed to undertake social census and micro-planning by January 11 for successful implementation of the development projects. Almost 5,000 government buses were pressed into service to ferry the students to the villages allocated to them.

The protests by the AISF, SFI, NSUI and other student bodies had partial success in Telengana and Rayalaseema, where ministers and district collectors were gheraoed for over two hours. The Janmabhoomi programmes began with police intervention rather than �peoples� intervention�.

Gram sabhas in Cuddapah, Anantpur, Kurnool and Medak districts were also disrupted. They demanded that the officials produce documents showing the provision for 10 grace points as incentive for participants.

Some programmes ended up as functions to felicitate ministers. Information minister K. Shivprasad was felicitated at Tirupati, while N. Janardhan Reddy was honoured in Mahboobnagar, A. Madhav Reddy in Bhongir and P. Srinivas Reddy in Nizamabad.    

New Delhi, Jan. 4 
The race to find a new president for the Janata Dal (United) took a new turn today with Lok Shakti chief and former commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde throwing his weight behind Sharad Yadav. Hegde�s move isolates Samata Party president George Fernandes.

While Fernandes, the Union defence minister, mooted former Karanataka chief minister J.H. Patel�s name, Hegde told The Telegraph that �the incumbent president (Sharad Yadav) should continue as it is not in the party�s interest to replace him as Assembly elections are just two months away.�

Fernandes has been opposed to Yadav continuing as party president. Hegde defended his stance saying Patel might not be able to shoulder the responsibilities of being president as he was unwell.

However, the three parties have decided to merge irrespective of the outcome of the hunt for a new president, he added.

The JD(U) steering committee, comprising Hegde, Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar had an informal meeting at the civil aviation minister�s house to solve the tangle amicably. Another round of meeting is expected tomorrow.

Samata Party sources said its cadre in Bihar was becoming restless over Yadav�s bid to continue as party chief.

After the decision to merge was taken the leaders had also agreed to change the party name to Samyukta Samata Dal under a new chief, he added.

But the decision to rechris- ten was shelved as it was felt that the Election Commission might give the party symbol and flag to H.D. Deve Gowda�s Janata Dal (Secular).

Yadav had not then objected to either changing the party name or to stepping down as president, the sources said.

However, the civil aviation minister�s aides said removing him as party chief at this juncture would send a wrong signal to the Yadavs in Bihar.

Top leaders are apprehensive about how the tickets would be distributed for the elections. The president is the authorised signatory of the A-B form for nominations.

Fernandes� camp fears that Yadav would take a major chunk of tickets if allowed to continue as president.

The JD(U)�s talks with the BJP � its partner at the Centre � are also bogged down following the latter�s demand for more than 50 per cent of the tickets.

Sources said the BJP has grudgingly agreed to leave half of the 300 seats to the JD(U) and 24 to the Bihar Peoples� Party under Anand Mohan.

However, several state leaders of JD(U) are demanding 175 seats, leaving only 149 for the BJP and the BPP, a proposition unacceptable to the BJP.    


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