Paris echoes Washington on Kashmir
Culture police at college gate
Border porters in fake note racket
Nine schools add up to zero in Cyberabad
Breathless Sonia seeks solace in music
Pollution board gag on mikes

New Delhi, Feb. 18 
Echoing the US, France today said differences between the nuclear twins had created a �dangerous� situation on the sub-continent, and urged India to return to the talks table in the spirit of the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore declaration.

French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, who held a �short but intense dialogue� with Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh, said Paris was keen on deepening ties with Delhi in all spheres, but was worried, like other global powers, about the Kashmir problem.

Urging India to take urgent steps to resolve its dispute with Pakistan, Vedrine said: �The non-relationship between India and Pakistan has affected the stability in the region. We want India-Pakistan dialogue to resume so that the two sides can sort out their differences and put up confidence-building-measures to ensure nothing goes wrong.�

Though he said bilateral talks were the best way to sort out the dispute, he added, in typical French diplomatese, that Paris would be happy if the US were allowed to nudge the two sides �in the right direction�.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Jaswant at Hyderabad House, Vedrine said: �The US is worried over the situation in South Asia. We are worried too.� He also expressed hope that the two sides would be able not only to �contain the situation but also overcome it�.

Though Vedrine�s remarks appear to have mounted pressure on India, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal played down the issue. He said the French minister had only wanted to know about developments in the region, but did not make any specific remarks on Kashmir or resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue. On the other hand, Vedrine had restricted his comments to cross-border terror and trafficking in narcotics and small arms, Jassal added.

Regardless of India�s response, Vedrine�s comments on the Kashmir dispute have not come as a surprise. At the seminar on multipolarity yesterday, he had hinted that India needed to sort out differences with Pakistan over Kashmir to realise its full potential as a world player.

Vedrine was non-committal on whether France had strategically tilted in India�s favour by deciding not to strike any fresh arms deal with Pakistan. On Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee�s reported remarks on this issue in an interview to a French daily, Vedrine said: �I have not met the Prime Minister nor have I seen the interview. But we have not taken any decision in this regard.� Later in the day, Vedrine called on both Vajpayee and President K.R. Narayanan. He is to return to Paris tonight.

Vedrine said France was ready to step up cooperation with India in the field of civilian nuclear energy, but would go only as far as global commitments permitted. He said the French government was looking for �positive signals� from India, including its signature on the CTBT and accepting increased controls for safeguards laid down by the IAEA.    

Kanpur, Feb. 18 
The BJP�s student arm is marching from one victory to another in Kanpur. After the century-old convent school St Mary�s fell in line with the dress code set by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, moves are under way to make admission into at least one college conditional on a commitment to not wearing western clothes.

Girls have already stopped coming to some of the city�s colleges in jeans and skirts. Others, not sure how serious the Parishad is about enforcing the dress code, are nonetheless worried by rumours and the attacks on Valentine�s Day on couples.

Shaili Shringirishi, president of the students� union of AND College for girls, is the enforcer of the Parishad�s dress code. Shaili claimed girls have not been turning out in jeans in college for nearly a month now. �Theek hai�, she said with conviction when asked if she felt comfortable performing the task of culture police on behalf of the union.

Shaili does not intend to let her activism rest here. Now in the second year of her BA course, she is working on including the dress code in the college prospectus for the next academic session. �It will be there,� she said, certain of getting her way.

The experience of St Mary�s asking senior-class girls to switch from skirt and shirt to salwar-kameez suggests the ABVP is unlikely to come up against any serious resistance from college authorities.

�Students seeking admission to our college will have to get a letter from their parents saying they agree to the dress code of salwar-kameez or sari,� Shaili said.

Girls not agreeing to the ABVP stricture may not seek admission.

Shaili herself wears jeans, �but only to the market or while travelling.� The ABVP is working on a plan to implement the dress code in other colleges, too. �What is wrong?� she asked. �In colleges like the Kanpur Vidya Mandir this thing (the code) has been there for the past one year.�

Some others � St Mary�s School, Kendriya Vidyalaya, AND College and Kanpur Vidya Mandir � have already agreed to the norm �keeping in mind our Indian culture.�

�And why not?� asked Chotelal Yadav, the ABVP�s sangathan mantri (organising secretary), crusader�s anger bursting through. �Look what is happening to our sanskriti,� he added to clinch the argument once and for all.

Girl students are asking why women alone are the target of the ABVP�s policing. Aware of the criticism, the Parishad said boys should also have a particular dress code, like doctors and lawyers, but there does not appear to be an immediate plan to enforce one.

What Yadav believes is �Indian culture� is under attack because, he said, �confused people think wearing jeans and short skirts makes them American.�

Although slightly confused about the origin of the salwar- kameez, he insisted it was �originally an Indian idea,� and that the Mughals improvised on it.

Yadav is mistaken. Salwar-kameez is not an �Indian idea�. It came to India from Central Asia and became Indian, like many other clothes, customs and creeds.

Yadav�s crusade against western influences targets �free mixing of men and women�.

Ladke aur ladkiyan khule aam mil rahe hai. Bahut zyada ho gaya. Sab band hona chahiye (Boys and girls are mixing openly. It has to stop because things have gone too far),� he said.

Citing an instance in which a spurned lover threw acid at a girl, Yadav said it would not have happened if her parents had stopped her from meeting the boy.

ABVP activists claim the people of Kanpur are with them in their jan jagaran (public awareness) campaign since there is no opposition to either the dress code or their efforts to stop girls and boys from dating.

Bharat Trivedi said: �People have begun to understand that all we are doing is for their own good.�    

New Delhi, Feb. 18 
Porters at Attari station are helping Pakistani intelligence agents push in fake Indian currency, narcotics, arms, ammunition and explosives brought in on Samjhauta Express.

A Punjab police note, sent to the Union home ministry a few days ago, has identified nine porters at Attari � on the border with Pakistan in Punjab � who were regularly handed over wads of fake Indian currency, narcotics and explosives by �sawaris� or �repeaters� (regular travellers) once the train entered the station.

The nexus came to light a few months ago with the detention and questioning of some regular passengers. The Punjab police mounted a surveillance at Attari and zeroed in on nine porters. They were not arrested because the Punjab intelligence is trying to get more leads into the racket. The porters� licences have been revoked and their activities and movements are under watch.

However, to check the clandestine flow of counterfeit currency, printed at several units in Pakistan, the state government has withdrawn all porters from Attari station. Instead, passengers have been provided self-use trolleys.

Home ministry sources said security within and outside Attari station are �woefully inadequate� and rampant corruption has worsened the situation. �There are instances where fake currency and explosives have been smuggled in by paying bribes to customs and policemen on duty,� an official said. �On several occasions, drugs and weapons were found concealed in large consignments of dry fruit brought in as imports from Pakistan,� said a source.

A note from a security agency to the home ministry suggests that the smuggling in of fake currency, narcotics and explosives can be prevented if security personnel at Attari carry out �full checking of passengers and goods� entering India. Passengers are neither frisked nor their luggage thoroughly checked.

Added to this is the regulation that allows passengers from Pakistan to bring in duty free goods worth Rs 12,000. Sources said that given the rampant corruption, this rule ensures a �near unrestricted� flow of goods.

This is in stark contrast to the rule for road travellers to India from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka who are allowed to bring in duty free articles worth only Rs 3,000.

The note argues that banning the Samjhauta Express, which plies between Amritsar and Lahore, is not a solution. Sources said such a decision could prove counter-productive to India. �It will be construed by the international community that India is taking a precipitative action and trying to terminate the people-to-people link,� said an official.

Home ministry sources suspect that the clandestine entry of counterfeit currency and explosives is an indication of Islamabad�s renewed attempt to bring together Sikh terrorists in Punjab.

North Block sources said the Canadian authorities, who, during the height of Punjab militancy, had closely watched the activities of Khalistani agents in their country, have informed India of several new terrorist outfits trying to form a unified organisation to revive militancy in the state.    

Hyderabad, Feb. 18 
Schools in the cybercapital better watch out. As many as nine institutions in the city have produced zero results in the Class X finals.

Stating this, Andhra Pradesh education minister K. Srihari said the government was considering winding up state-run and aided schools where not a single student cleared the secondary school-leaving certificate examinations.

Srihari told a review meeting of headmasters and school education committee chiefs that it was a shame that �zero� results had become a regular feature in some urban institutions while rural schools, with meagre infrastructure, had produced a 60-70 per cent success rate.

Srihari pointed out that 16 schools � 12 government and four aided � had produced zero results in the last academic session. Of these, five state-run schools and all the funded institutions are in the capital.

�We are going to hold the headmasters, DEOs (district education officers) and chairpersons of the school education committees responsible for such performances,� the minister said. Grants for the four aided institutions will be stopped and most of the staff of the government schools are being transferred, he added.

Of the nearly 75,000 higher secondary schools, including around 45,000 private institutions, almost 35 per cent recorded a poor pass rate of 10 to 15 per cent last year. In 1996, nearly 20 per cent had shown zero results. The performance improved in 1998 after the government appointed around 3,000 teachers in rural areas.

�It is a shame that even in schools where there were nine teachers for three students and eight for four students, there are zero results,� Srihari said.

The minister refused to listen to the teachers� explanation for the abysmal showing. �I don�t want your clarification. I only want results. From the next academic year, none of the aided private schools will get their grants if their performance is zero. A minimum of 40 per cent results are expected from them,� he thundered.

But the management and the faculty of the government schools have their own reasons for the performance. �Not only the quality of students but also the facilities available have affected the teaching in government and aided schools,� says P. Shankar Goud, chairperson of Musheerabad school education committee.

His school, in the busy commercial centre of the state capital, has been functioning without a Hindi teacher for two years.

T. Krishna Das, headmaster of a school in Kukatpally, says he requested the government to remove some sections in his school. �But they pressed me to have more sections without granting enough teachers. One teacher has to take classes for at least three sections at a time. What kind of result can you expect?� he said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 18 
Tired of dissidence within the party and a punishing campaign schedule, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today spent an evening at a music festival, listening to Shankar Mahadevan, Falguni Pathak and Kamaal Khan.

As Mahadevan raced through Breathless and Falguni sang her chartbuster Main ne payal jo jhankai, Sonia perhaps tried to forget the trials ahead � the ever-demanding Congressmen raising the one-man, one-post issue, Rajya Sabha berths, party posts and removal of chief ministers.

Sonia will be present on all three days of the festival, organised by the RPG group for the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Tomorrow, she plans to finish off poll-related programmes early in Haryana to reach Talkatora stadium by 7 pm.

Tomorrow�s artiste is tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, accompanied by Sultan Khan (sarangi) Fazal Qureshi (tabla) and A. Sivamani (percussion). On Sunday, playback singers Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik will complete the feast.

Faced with grim prospects in Bihar, Haryana, Manipur and Orissa, Sonia is under tremendous pressure to deliver the goods. Party members who used to queue up outside 10 Janpath before her entry into politics and her sudden resignation last year are now having second thoughts.

They now find faults with �madam�s style of functioning� and resent the coterie around her. As a prominent dissident leader put it: �Sonia Gandhi might have been a crowd-puller but she is not a vote-catcher. The party must seriously consider this aspect.�

Sonia-loyalists staunchly defend their leader. They wonder which Congress leader would even get a decent crowd outside his/her own constituency.

�She (Sonia) is our lone star. Each day, she sets herself a punishing schedule, holding half-a-dozen public meetings. Is there anyone in CWC who can match her?� asked an angry leader.

Spokesman Ajit Jogi ruled out the possibility of the �one-man, one-post� issue being raked up. �It was settled by the AICC general body that in the case of Congress president, there will be an exception to the norm. There is no point in raising it now,� he said.

Party leaders close to Sonia said she was in a belligerent mood, willing to take on detractors. All those dissatisfied with her style of working should challenge her in the party polls, they added. �It is a more democratic method and would strengthen the party in the long run,� said a CWC member.

He said Sonia was willing to discuss all issues, including the state of the party organisation. As the �head of the Congress family�, she was prepared to look into all grievances.

Of late, the Congress chief has been taking the initiative to talk to disgruntled partymen. She spoke to Rajesh Khanna over the phone, asking him not to quit. Khanna later agreed to campaign in Haryana. The buzz is that Khanna stayed on after being told he would be considered for a Rajya Sabha berth.

Sonia also called V.N. Gadgil, who was dropped as special invitee to the CWC.    

New Delhi, Feb. 18 
Mikes can no more be played at night. Only in industrial areas, they can be played at a high volume depending on the ambient noise levels fixed by the local authority, be it the state government or the city administration. These rules restricting the use of loudspeakers have been included in the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000.

Central Pollution Control Board chairman Dilip Biswas said that given the different range of ambient noise level allowed in silence, residential, commercial and industrial zones, it would be virtually impossible to allow the microphones blare out loud music after 9 pm. The restrictions will cease to exist after 6 am.    


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