Party pat for PM, Jaswant out in cold
UN seat bait for test ban sign-up
Covers taken off flesh trade at women’s centre

New Delhi, June 30: 
Grappling with a number of domestic irritants, the BJP today played up its areas of success, patting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for his achievements on the diplomatic front.

“On the whole, the Lisbon agreement would be a milestone in our international economic relationship with manifold opportunities,” senior vice-president Jana Krishnamurthi said.

According to him, the agreement would go a long way in “achieving prosperity”, especially in export earnings and infrastructure development, thereby enhancing “employment opportunities”.

Vajpayee, who returned here after a week-long foreign trip, was heaped with praise. Though the party also congratulated home minister L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes for their successful trips abroad, there were no accolades for foreign minister Jaswant Singh and finance minister Yashwant Sinha — the two favourite whipping boys of the RSS.

The release of the 21 Indian UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone was also lauded as yet “another impressive milestone in Indian diplomacy”.

In another example of partial applause, a statement issued by Krishnamurthi said: “The visit by the defence minister to Russia was yet another instance of success of Indian diplomacy in providing a major fillip to India’s traditionally close relations with Russia.” But Singh, who also visited Moscow, got no credit.

The home minister’s tri-nation trip to Israel, France and the UK was hailed as a “very timely” answer to international terrorism.

“Advaniji’s visit to Israel, France and England has considerable significance. Not only because it further strengthened India’s diplomatic relations with these countries, but also because all the three countries have demonstrated their readiness to join together with India in fighting international terrorism,” the statement said.

In their effort to underscore the “economic links” between India and these countries, the Prime Minister’s spin doctors stressed that his visit would ensure a strategic role for India in global economics.

“Enhanced economic cooperation with the European Union is expected to speed up infrastructure development, including telecommunications, energy, transport, roads, airport and ports,” the statement said.

It emphasised that globalisation should take into account aspirations of the developing countries and strengthen “our position in future multilateral negotiations”. Problems of implementing the “WTO agreement” should also be examined, the statement added.

Krishnamurthi said the high point of Vajpayee’s Portugal visit was the country’s support to India’s quest for a permanent membership to the UN Security Council.

The statement also pointed out the contrast between the sharp tone of the EU declaration of July 8, 1998 and the present declaration which took into account India’s sensitivities and welcomed Delhi’s voluntary ban on nuclear tests as well as its readiness to engage in discussions on these issues.

The party also praised the Prime Minister’s visit to Italy, saying that it had given a substantial boost to Indo-Italian relations.    

June 30: 
The Vajpayee administration expects to find a consensus on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by December.

The government, which maintains there is no deadline for initialling the pact, has agreed to start a debate in Parliament’s monsoon session, due to begin on July 24.

It appears that the Centre is playing up its claim for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in an attempt to convince the people in India, especially Vajpayee’s detractors within the Sangh parivar, that signing the treaty would help the country.

The government will try and argue that a Security Council berth at a time when Pakistan is diplomatically isolated could work out to India’s advantage.

The Centre is in a hurry because the Prime Minister is due to visit the US in early September. If he succeeds in building a consensus on CTBT by then, he will be able to drive a hard bargain with the Americans.

The Vajpayee administration is eager to give a thrust to its improved ties with the US following President Bill Clinton’s visit. To seal this friendship, Delhi will have to agree to a few terms and conditions which Washington has been insisting on, especially the one relating to CTBT.

The US has made it clear it would back India’s claim for a permanent seat only if Delhi inks the pact. Also, South Block fears that Clinton’s successor might not be as sympathetic if India continues to defer a decision on the treaty.

At the European Union summit in Lisbon, the government stressed its demand of being accommodated in the Security Council.

In a statement on his way back, Vajpayee said: “There are indications that this issue will feature prominently in the coming millennium summit of the United Nations General Assembly to be held in September.”

“Our stand with regard to India’s claim to a permanent seat in the expanded Security Council has been clear and consistent. We are happy to see that there is growing recognition of India’s credentials as a permanent member of the UNSC.

“During our discussions in Italy and Portugal, we made it clear that we would not be in favour of any quick-fix solution or any attempt to place the developing countries at a disadvantage. As you know, Portugal has supported our candidature for permanent membership of the Council,” he said on board his special aircraft.

Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh explained on the flight that a joint working group, set up in 1994, is in the final stages of preparing its report on a probable expansion of the Council and will probably put it up for discussion at the General Assembly this year. “We have a very good case,” Mansingh added.

Though signing the CTBT will not automatically ensure a Council berth, it helps the government to link the two. It can tell the global powers that a permanent seat would help rally forces in India for a domestic consensus. And in India, the government can argue that by signing on the dotted line, it can elevate its status at the UN headquarters in New York.


Sasaram (Bihar), June 30: 
Close on the heels of the Varanasi sex scandal, a 22-year-old girl here has a nightmarish tale to tell of forced prostitution and murder at a training centre for unemployed women.

Sunita, who escaped from the centre in Dehri — about 10 km from here — where she was employed as a maid, informed the police of the prostitution racket flourishing there.

According to Sunita, the racket was run by Vidya Pandey who lured girls to her literacy programme and weaving centre and then forced them to entertain men, including senior district officers and politicians.

Pandey, the secretary of the Shaksharata Abhijan Samity, and Manish Kumar, Rashtriya Janata Dal student leader, surrendered before the Sasaram district court yesterday and have been taken into custody. Three others — executive officer of Sasaram Municipality Upendra Kumar Singh and local residents Pappu Singh and Subodh Singh — were earlier arrested and are now in prison.

Pandey has denied all allegations. “I am being framed in a false case by a section of jealous politicians in Sasaram,” she said outside Sasaram court.

The police scoffed at her claim. “She is trying to distract attention,” said an investigating officer. “Her personal credentials have always been under cloud.”

Sunita alleged that Pandey had asked her to join the literacy programme and then employed her as a housemaid at her residence in Subhasnagar from where she ran the weaving training centre.

“I have seen women coming to the house even late in the evening for purposes other than studying or weaving,” Sunita said. The girl said she was initially unaware of what went on behind the curtains. But her nightmare began soon after. “One night, four guests came. When I was sent to serve food to the guests, they locked me up in their room. The strangers were already drunk. They alternatively raped me and, despite my efforts to wriggle out of their clutches, Vidya Pandey refused to help me,” Sunita said.

Police began to investigate when the near-naked body of a 17-year-old girl was found floating in a pond near her Subhasnagar home last month. The post-mortem showed she had been sexually abused before being throttled to death. The body is yet to be identified.

Police sources said Sunita had also disclosed that women were often smuggled out of the house by senior state officers. She had tried to escape twice but was caught both times. She finally managed to give the guards the slip in the last week of May.

The murder occurred soon after and the police initially believed that the body was that of Sunita’s, who had been reported missing by Pandey. But the girl was traced in the second week of June and she agreed to tell all.

The police fear her life is in danger and have kept her in an undisclosed place under full security. Ramashis Kamti, officer in charge of Dehri police station, said Sunita had accused Pandey of “gifting” the girls to contractors and government officers in exchange for favours. Any protest was ruthlessly suppressed.

Police sources said Pandey used her political connections in running the racket. She is perceived to be close to an MLA from the district and had even campaigned for him during the elections.

Police suspect that there are several other victims who are not willing to depose for fear of reprisal. But Sasaram police superintendent Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav said that with Pandey’s surrender, more details of the racket would be unearthed.    


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