Hurriyat scoffs at talks & autonomy
�Witness� Vaidya denial boosts Kapil claim
Crossfire over custody death
Congress ultimatum to Rabri
VHP for kabaddi, not cricket
Tobacco suicide to save daughter
Delhi date to gauge states� mood on step-in
EU summit to step up nuclear heat on Atal
Unholy alliance for vendetta
BJP, Farooq on collision course

Srinagar, June 19 
The All-Party Hurriyat Conference today hit out at both the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, saying that not only was the talk of autonomy a �useless bogey� but also that the Hurriyat was not ready for a dialogue with New Delhi within the parameters of the Constitution.

However, home minister L.K. Advani, who is now in Paris, downplayed the Hurriyat reservations and expressed optimism about a dialogue.

Striking a strident note, Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said: �We are ready to hold talks but not under the Constitution of India.�

Geelani�s statement assumes significance for two reasons: the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly today began a special session to discuss an autonomy package for the state and the Centre has been indicating that it was readying to open talks with the Hurriyat.

Although it may only be a public posture, Geelani�s statement is a blow to the possibility of talks to normalise the situation in the Valley.

Rubbishing Farooq Abdullah�s bid to push an autonomy resolution in the current session, Geelani said: �Autonomy is no solution to the problems of the people of Kashmir.�

The special Assembly session was adjourned today with obituary references to Ghulam Hassan Bhat, minister of state for power, and Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, both of whom died in tragic circumstances recently. Bhat was killed in a massive mine blast and Pilot died in a road accident near Jaipur.

The Assembly meets again tomorrow morning amid tight security to discuss passing a resolution on autonomy. But the chief minister was non-committal on whether his government would move the resolution. �Wait till Saturday (the last day of the special session),� he said.

Reacting to questions on separatist groups� reservations about the planned talks, Advani said: �These are public statements. Informally we have been in touch. I am optimistic (about talks).�

He said the militant groups had been told that �we are willing to discuss with you any of your grievances within the four corners of the Indian Constitution�. He added that �the discussions are on�.

The home minister, however, ruled out resumption of talks with Pakistan unless Islamabad stopped abetting terrorists.

Leh protest

Putting up a major hurdle in the way of �greater autonomy� for Jammu and Kashmir, thousands of Ladakhis and several parties, including the National Conference, today launched a week-long agitation in Leh, demanding Union Territory status for the region, reports PTI.

One of the leaders spearheading the movement said: �Ladakhis cannot accept the autonomy package or restoration of pre-1953 status.� Such a solution would come �only over our dead bodies�, he said.    

New Delhi, June 19 
Kapil Dev�s stand that he had not offered any money to Manoj Prabhakar received a boost when former cricketer Prashant Vaidya told the CBI that he was no witness and had seen nothing, contrary to Prabhakar�s claim.

In the Prabhakar tapes, Vaidya had said that paaji (Kapil Dev) was a great actor and his sobbing aloud before a BBC camera team was a great histrionic effort.

Stepping out after a two-hour grilling session from the CBI building in the Central Government Office complex off Lodhi Road, Vaidya told reporters: �I have denied the statement made by Prabhakar and I have nothing to do with match-fixing. I have not been witness to any quarrel or altercation between the two cricketers (Prabhakar and Kapil).�

Prabhakar had earlier suggested that not only his room-mate Navjyot Singh Sidhu but also the two players in the adjoining room, Vaidya and wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia, had overheard the conversation between him and Kapil Dev and they were important witnesses.

Mongia had appeared before the CBI a few days ago but refused to talk to the media. Many, however, believe that Mongia had said the same thing and claimed not having overheard anything.

The CBI sleuths asked Vaidya repeatedly what he had told Prabhakar before the candid camera. Vaidya later insisted he remembered nothing of what he told Prabhakar when the latter was videotaping the conversation.

In fact, Vaidya subtly hinted that much of�s recordings could have been manufactured. Already, BCCI official Jaywant Lele has gone on the record stating he had not said the things he was quoted as having said.

But Vaidya was not going to sue Prabhakar for drawing him into this controversy. He made it clear that he was not going to be involved at all.

The CBI said it planned to question former team manager Ajit Wadekar yet again and that the interrogation would be done by the bureau�s Mumbai branch.

Wadekar, in his earlier deposition before the agency, denied that Prabhakar had lodged a complaint over Kapil Dev�s alleged offer.

Mukesh Gupta, the bookie named by Hansie Cronje, continues to abscond. The CBI has begun investigating into the antecedents of various bookies.

linked to cricket and is trying to find out which of them have fled from India over the past few months.

It appears that the King Commission, probing the disclosures made by the likes of Cronje in South Africa, wants the CBI to cross-check the authenticity of the disclosures and the agency is going all out to find out more about the person.

Agency sources said that known cricket bookies in Delhi and Mumbai were being summoned and questioned all over again.    

Lucknow, June 19 
Top officials today distanced themselves from suspended policeman Sunil Kumar Sharma while his colleagues claimed he was driven by depression into beating to death a witness to the murder of a Christian missionary earlier this month.

Sharma, who is in jail for the alleged custody death of Vijay Kumar Ekka, is believed to have been under mental pressure to get back his uniform which he lost after Brother George Kunjikundam was killed on June 7.

Ekka, the 23-year-old cook who witnessed the priest�s murder, was picked up from his house by Sharma for questioning. The suspended officer was later found in a field near his house with the body of Ekka, which bore multiple injuries.

�After Brother George�s death, Sharma was under tremendous pressure from his higher-ups to find a lead in the killing of the priest. He was given 48 hours to solve the case,� said one of his colleagues who requested anonymity.

Sharma�s seniors washed their hands of the matter, saying �he was a suspended man�.

But the officer�s colleagues are not convinced. They said Sharma went into a shell after he was suspended and �suffered fits of severe depression�.

�Otherwise, how can you explain a suspended policeman taking the law into his own hands?� wondered his friends.

Agreed other junior policemen. �How do you expect a constable to do something which even SSPs and IGs are unable to do? Are we trained for such jobs?� asked Ram Pal Singh, a constable. �Do waqt ke roti ke liye to hum kaam karte hain (We work to get two meals a day).�

Sharma involved constable Dinesh Upadhyay in the crime. Upadhyay, who was suspended along with Sharma, fell into his senior�s trap and now shares his cell in Mathura jail, charged with murder.

In his counter FIR lodged after the complaint filed by Archbishop of the Agra Diocese, Sharma makes a puzzling statement. Ekka, he says, wanted to reveal to him the names of those who had killed Brother George. So he took Ekka to his Police Lines residence in Mathura for �interrogation� when suddenly the latter �lost his mind� and strangulated himself with a towel.

The authorities are not willing to buy Sharma�s defence. �He committed the murder in a bid to revoke his suspension and solve the murder of the Christian missionary on his own,� said V.K. Mittal, principal secretary (home) in the Uttar Pradesh government.

Amid mounting pressure, the government transferred the Mathura senior superintendent of police, Chandrika Rai, and replaced him with Ashok Kumar. The government has also announced a CB-CID inquiry, headed by an inspector-general of police, P.N. Saxena, into the priest�s murder and has asked the team to furnish its report within 10 days.    

New Delhi, June 19 
The Congress today served an ultimatum to the Rabri Devi government, asking it to tone up the state administration or face the consequences.

The message was conveyed to Rabri Devi by the AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar, Mohsina Kidwai, after state leaders voiced dissatisfaction with her handling of the caste killings.

The Congress said dumping the Rabri government was not the solution to the crisis, but warned the RJD not to take its support for granted. �If the reign of terror continues, we will have to review support in the next six months or so,� a senior AICC official said.

Kidwai today chaired a meeting on Bihar, attended by L.P. Sahi, Bisham Narain Singh, K.K. Tewary, Shyama Sinha, Manorama Singh, Rameshwar Thakur and others. Manmohan Singh and Madhavsinh Solanki were also present.

Tewary said the party should not �waste� more time propping up the Rabri regime, but D.P. Yadav and Sinha vetoed his suggestion. Kidwai said according to Sonia Gandhi the issue was not whether to pull out of the government but to hit upon �ways and means� to stop the killings.

Party leaders changed tack after they were informed of Sonia�s stand. They then offered suggestions ranging from modernising the police to holding sadbhavna rallies in affected districts.

The official line thrashed out at the meeting was:

Recent killings are not merely a law and order problem. The RJD-Congress combine must strike at the root of the problem through land reforms and panchayat polls to bring about a rapprochement between warring communities;

There is the need to tone up infrastructure, especially in violen-ce-prone districts with better communications, roads and policing;

Rabri should be given some time to brings things under control, but if the situation gets worse, the Congress should pull out;

The state unit should focus on organisational matters, particularly in south Bihar. The high command will announce its stand at Wednesday�s state co-ordination panel meet, likely to be stormy as Congress ministers in Bihar are unhappy at the way they are being treated.    

New Delhi, June 19 
After Babri Masjid and Christian missionaries, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has turned its attention to videshi cricket.

The VHP has decided to launch a campaign against the game �as it is a waste of time and money�. Unlike the Shiv Sena, it is not going to dig up pitches, but will urge the government and the players to stop playing this game.

VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore, who is for desi games like kabaddi, said: �In my view, this game is a waste of the nation�s time and money. Several countries do not play this game. A country like India should not encourage cricket. I am completely against this game.�

He said whenever cricket matches were held, nobody worked, especially in government offices, as everybody was busy listening to the commentary.

Stressing the need to promote desi games like kabaddi, the acharya went back to history and said: �It is the best game. In the 1935 Olympics, kabaddi was played and everyone appreciated it.�

Asked what action the VHP would take against playing cricket, Kishore said, �we will think of the mode later. As of now, we will pressure the government and players to discourage the game,� which he thought was not in consonance with Indian culture.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is also opposed to cricket. Like the VHP, he wants the government to promote kabaddi and khokho.

Coming down heavily on match-fixing and betting, the VHP leader alleged that former captain Mohammad Azharuddin had introduced a communal element into the game to save his skin.

Azhar�s statement that he was dragged into the controversy because he was a Muslim �violates sportsmanship�, the acharya said.

�Azharuddin is not just playing a communal card, but was working for a certain videshi lobby,� the VHP leader alleged.

He said the players whose names figured in the scandal should not be allowed to play. Kishore also demanded a CBI probe into the violence against Christians. Denying any role of the VHP or Bajrang Dal in the attacks, he said they were a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the government and the BJP.

He said it was surprising that not a single worker of the VHP or Bajrang Dal was arrested in connection with the assaults and yet the Church continued to blame these two organisations.

While the VHP defended the BJP, the ruling party came under fire from the CPM over the Mathura custody death incident.

The Left party said the death of Vijay Ekka, eyewitness in a missionary murder case, was part of a cover-up operation and had exposed the entire administration and the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh.

The party politburo said in a statement here today: �The Vajpayee government and the home ministry have been conniving in the fiction that the spurt of attacks on Christians in the Mathura-Agra belt are just ordinary crimes for loot and robbery. Unless the Central government gives clear instructions in this regard, they will also have to take the blame for the terror campaign being unleashed on the minority community.�

The Uttar Pradesh administration must declare that the anti-Christian propaganda by the Hindu communal agencies would be firmly put down, the statement said.    

Hyderabad, June 19 
The tobacco glut in Andhra Pradesh has claimed its first victim with a farmer committing suicide to prevent his daughter from being kidnapped by creditors.

Mohana Rao, a 48-year-old tobacco cultivator in Krishna district, killed himself after he was unable to find buyers for nearly 2,000 kg of the crop grown over five acres.

Rao had raised a loan of Rs 1 lakh from banks and another Rs 25,000 from private lenders. With the stock lying unsold, he could not meet the repayment deadline and the creditors turned restive. He ended his life once they threatened to abduct his 24-year-old daughter.

Over 40,000 tobacco farmers in the state are saddled with mounting stocks after exporters and cigarette manufacturers refused to place orders at government-dictated prices.

Allegations were levelled at the Centre that it was trying to appease the farmers. But officials insisted that the government move came after 21 African ganged up to drive the prices down.

Almost 211 million kg of tobacco stock is now lying in godowns. The farmers had launched an agitation and put pressure on Delhi through chief minister Chandrababu Naidu to ease the crisis.

The government then asked the state trading corporation to go in for �distress buying�. But the intervention did not have much of an impact as the corporation could buy only 3.5 million kg.

(BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said in Vijayawada the finance ministry would give the corporation some assistance to enable it to purchase further stocks, adds PTI.

He added that when the Tobacco Board would be revamped, the farmers would be asked to grow a specified quantity to avoid surplus stocks.)

The board has already declared a crop holiday in the surplus states. It has also asked financial institutions not to fund the cultivation of tobacco till further notice in the problem areas.    

New Delhi, June 19 
For once, Pakistan and the ISI will not top North Block�s agenda when it sits in meeting with senior officials of all states to thrash out ways of beefing up internal security.

At the June 28 meeting, the single most-important point that the mandarins will drive home � to chief secretaries, home secretaries and directors-general of police �- is that states must tone up their administrative machinery. Home officials believe that it is the �slack� and �lackadaisical� functioning of states that makes for breaches in internal security.

Bihar will come under fire not only for the spiral in caste clashes and the depredations of private armies, but also for its failure to check Left-wing extremists and the banned Maoist Communist Centre and CPI(M-L). Its poor record in preventing poll- related clashes will also be discussed.

�The thrust of the meeting is not the threat from the ISI, but how states must strengthen their administrative machinery to tackle specific crisis situations,� an official said. But he added that there would be a presentation on ISI activities in some states, which is �secondary�.

The point of the meeting appears to be getting instant feedback on the Centre�s plans to amend the Constitution so that it can intervene in the law and order of states which have a bearing on internal security.

North Block is working on plans to invoke Article 355 in states where it feels the administration �could be directed� to act in accordance with �exigencies of situations arising out of internal disturbances and civil unrest.

Article 355 �casts an obligation� on the Centre to intervene in the law and order of states faced with internal disturbances. The home ministry proposes to incorporate matters like �police� and �public order�, at present on the state list, to the concurrent list.

Home officials said deployment of Central paramilitary forces to stop bad law and order from spiralling into an internal security threat was not the answer. �In states like Bihar, the Centre will have to think in terms of actually taking control of the administration, or at least certain key areas of it, so that carnages like that of June 16 do not happen,� a senior official said.

Sources added that the Bihar administration, from the state to the district levels, needed to be toned up a great deal. An official said that in the last two years at least 30 �advisories�, full with intelligence inputs on impending caste and extremist violence, had been sent to the Bihar government, but there had been no follow-up action.

As recently as two days before the Nawada massacre, the home ministry had faxed to the Bihar home secretary intelligence reports on the upper-caste Akhilesh gang�s plans to set off violence in Warsaliganj and Pakri Baran areas. It had also urged the state police and intelligence machinery to take steps to prevent any �adverse fallout�.    

New Delhi, June 19 
The European Union has decided to bring up the contentious issue of India signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee visits Portugal for the EU-India Summit at the end of this month.

�We will ask India to sign the NPT and also initial and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT),� said Portuguese ambassador to Delhi Manuel Marcelo Curto. Portugal currently holds the presidency of the EU.

Curto said the EU believes that the UN Security Council resolution 1172, passed after the South Asian nuclear tests in May 1998, was still relevant. The resolution had asked both India and Pakistan to join the international arms control regime and give up their nuclear and missile programmes.

Vajpayee, who arrives in Lisbon on June 27 after a two-day visit to Italy, will also hold a meeting with Portuguese leaders. He is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit that country. The delegation also includes foreign minister Jaswant Singh, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, commerce minister Murasoli Maran and information technology minister Pramod Mahajan.

The invitation for the summit is a recognition of Delhi�s emergence as a major global player. The EU has emphasised that the meet will �essentially be a political dialogue� at the end of which the two sides are slated to come out with a joint declaration on the future route they propose to take.

So far, the EU has held regular summit sessions with only five countries � the US, Russia, China, Japan and Canada. But along with the status of a global player, sources in the EU insist that India would also have to share the responsibilities. Global disarmament is one of them and, according to the EU, NPT is a �cornerstone� in that direction.

The EU � India�s largest trading partner � released a strongly-worded statement after the May 1998 tests, but was against imposing sanctions on Delhi and Islamabad. �We felt dialogue is a better way out,� Curto said, explaining the EU position.

Since then, the two have regularly interacted at both ministerial and official levels and the forthcoming session, sources said, indicated that both sides are now keen to broadbase their relationship.

What is interesting is the EU�s decision to broach the NPT issue at a time when other western countries like the US, with whom Delhi is engaged in a dialogue on disarmament, have stopped insisting that India sign the treaty and indicated that they will be satisfied if it signs the CTBT.

Though Delhi does not have problems signing the CTBT, it has been stalling a decision on the plea of building a national consensus. But it has serious reservations about the NPT which, it feels, is unequal and should be changed keeping in mind the new realities. This, in effect, means recognising India as a nuclear weapons state.

The EU feels that the two sides are mature enough to discuss any issue. �You don�t need to come to an agreement with a friend. However, that does not mean you cannot have a free and frank exchange of views,� Curto said, referring to India�s views on the NPT.

�We are aware of India�s security concerns. But when you go into a summit, you need to discuss all issues to know, appreciate and understand each other�s position better,�� he added.    

Aurangabad, June 19 
Ranbir Sena chief Brahmeswar Singh is riding high on the Mianpur carnage: the bloodbath was his first successful Sena strike in an Aurangabad village.

But the Rajputs are equally happy. It was they who invited the Sena to carry out the massacre, which claimed 40 lives.

Though the Rajputs traditionally held the key to power relations in Aurangabad, it became a Naxalite citadel since the seventies, said a district official.

So the Rajputs called the Ranbir Sena � the army of landed Bhumihars which had so far been active in Bhojpur, Jehanabad and Patna districts � gave them money and manpower and asked them to kill the Yadavs as they were sympathetic to the Naxalite cause and many of them were members of the MCC, the radical Left outfit.

Aurangabad district police had recorded a forewarning of the Sena closing ranks with the Rajputs.

�The anger against the Yadavs was rooted in the large tracts of land they hold as sharecroppers. There were frequent disputes between Rajputs and Yadavs over land and wages, which often snowballed into massacres,� said Rajesh Singh, a researcher in a Gaya college.

The Sena presence in the district has prompted more Naxalite activity. Members of Naxalite groups from the forests of Palamau have started pouring in to strengthen the base.

But the real issues at stake are poverty and backwardness. Aurangabad is one of the most backward districts in the country, where land reforms have gone haywire. At least 50 per cent of the land remains without irrigation facilities, a revenue official said.    

New Delhi, June 19: 
The BJP and its ally, the National Conference, appear to be heading for a confrontation after the former rejected the demand for autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir.

BJP sources dismissed chief minister Farooq Abdullah�s move to call a special session of the Assembly to discuss the autonomy package as a ploy to divert people�s attention from burning issues. They said the party would oppose any such move as it would boost terrorist activities.

A senior leader said the BJP is also opposed to a trifurcation of the state along religious lines into Muslim-dominated Kashmir, Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh.

�The entire Jammu and Kashmir is part of India. Our legislators will oppose any move to accord autonomy to the state or divide it along communal lines,� senior vice-president J.P. Mathur said, stressing that his party is opposed to going back to the 1952 situation. �We are against according any special status to Jammu and Kashmir. We stand for deletion of Article 370 from the Constitution,� he added.

Mathur said he did not visualise any problem for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) arising out of the autonomy issue. The biggest challenge was before the Congress to say whether it was for or against it, he added.

But even as the political atmosphere in the Valley climaxed on the first day of the special session, Kashmiri migrants staged a demonstration here opposing the Bill, terming it as a step towards so-called independence of the state.

The protesters, belonging to the Kashmiri Samiti, said Abdullah�s move was only to fulfil the dreams of separatist outfits. �The Centre should wake up now as the situation is alarming and is a constant threat to the sovereignty of the country,� C.L. Gadoo, president of the Samiti, told reporters.    


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