Atal open to debate, shuts out autonomy
Last Young Turk leaves Sonia in lurch
J&K police unit under cloud
Low-voltage Cong power protest
Opp. trains guns on history-diggers
Delhi unclear on Israel deal

Chennai, July 5 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today said he remained open to a debate on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir but categorically ruled out granting pre-1953 status to the state which amounts to handing Srinagar jurisdiction over all subjects other than defence, foreign affairs and communications.

In an informal chat with mediapersons at the airport here, Prime Minister Vajpayee said that he had also made it clear to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah that while the Centre was willing to consider devolution of political and financial powers to his state, the demand for a pre-1953 set-up was �totally unacceptable�.

The Vajpayee cabinet yesterday rejected the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly out of hand, ensuring that it was not for any formal debate in Parliament on the matter.

Before the Cabinet�s decision, both the BJP and the main opposition party, the Congress, had strongly opposed any movement towards granting Jammu and Kashmir the kind of autonomy being demanded by the National Conference on the grounds that it will sow the seeds for the country�s disintegration.

Vajpayee, however, said that if any member raised the issue in Parliament, he was in favour of a discussion on it. �If any member brings up the issue, the matter could be discussed,� the Prime Minister said nonchalantly.

The Prime Minister also appeared unconcerned about the possibility of Farooq Abdullah�s National Conference quitting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as a result of the rejection of the autonomy resolution. �Well that is for the National Conference to decide,� Vajpayee said.

Farooq Abdullah, who termed the Cabinet�s rejection of the autonomy report as �unfortunate� yesterday, is on record saying he was not contemplating pulling out of the ruling coalition at the Centre.

The interaction with the Prime Minister was too brief to allow any further questions like whether Vajpayee had indeed led Farooq to believe that the auton-omy resolution could be considered sympathetically. In fact unlike in the past, the Prime Minister has been avoiding the media since his arrival here yesterday, reportedly on the advice of the Industries Minister Murasoli Maran who had pointed out to him the possibility that he may be faced with a volley of questions on the Sri Lankan situation.    

New Delhi, July 5 
Sonia Gandhi today suffered a body blow when her most ardent supporter Ahmad Patel resigned as AICC treasurer in protest against her handling of the infighting in Gujarat.

With Patel�s resignation, questions are once again being raised about Sonia�s leadership. She summoned him, but till late tonight Patel remained adamant.

Much of his anger was directed at Prabha Rau, AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat, and Sonia�s private secretary Vincent George, who reportedly did not like Patel�s proximity to the Congress president.

The angry leader today hinted at a possible Rau-George axis, wondering how the rival Congress group in Gujarat was granted constant audience to Sonia when the majority of state leaders supported him.

Patel�s resignation triggered a near-rebellion in Gujarat where Pradesh Congress chief C.D. Patel, legislature party leader Amarsinh Chowdhury and other senior leaders sought to quit. Patel asked them not to.

Patel�s decision has given Sonia�s opponents fresh ammunition to fire at her. They interpreted the move as one more instance of erosion of Sonia�s authority.

Sonia has asked Arjun Singh to turn Patel around since the former Madhya Pradesh bigwig enjoys good rapport with him.

After meeting Sonia, Patel said he put in his papers as he was �tired� of the allegations levelled by the Madhavsinh Solanki group. �I would not like to be a liability to the leadership by my continuation nor can I indulge in petty and nefarious activities as some people are indulging in...Let me assure you that all my time and energy will be directed to the service of the party,� he said.

Several AICC office-bearers and senior leaders called on Patel, requesting him to reconsider his move. Patel had pulled the highest number of votes during the Congress Working Committee elections in Calcutta three years ago.

He was also looking after the party�s affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, several frontal organisations and more than half-a-dozen Nehru-Gandhi trusts.

Patel was instrumental in getting Sonia anointed party chief in 1998. He was her key trouble-shooter, constantly placating leaders like Rajesh Pilot who were fast becoming disillusioned with her style of functioning. But Patel is aghast at the manner in which Rau revoked the suspension of four leaders from his rival camp.

�What about action against all those who held a convention against the high command who called me and others a bunch of jokers?� the angry leader asked.

The resignation triggered disquiet in the party. Senior leader Vijayabhaskara Reddy has convened a meeting of the disciplinary committee tomorrow which will take up organisational matters in Gujarat, Orissa and Karnataka.

Anti-Sonia leaders Jitendra Prasada, Sitaram Kesri and fence-sitters like A.K. Antony are monitoring the developments.

Patel�s resignation marks the end of the decade-long stint of the Young Turks. Picked by Rajiv Gandhi, Patel was first appointed his parliamentary secretary. Rajiv then brought him into the organisational set-up, making him in-charge of the Youth Congress, Sewa Dal and Mahila Congress.

During Narasimha Rao�s tenure, Patel won the CWC polls in Tirupati. He was appointed AICC treasurer after Kesri replaced Rao.    

Srinagar, July 5 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has finally accepted that the Special Operations Group (SOG), carved out of the state police, is indulging in human rights violations and other excesses.

Expressing concern over complaints against the group, Farooq ordered today that �it will henceforth be under the command of district superintendents of police(SP), and for any wrong act of the Special Operations Group the deputy inspector general of police (DIG) of the area and SP of the district would be made accountable�. He also ordered that all operations conducted by the army and the paramilitary forces should be undertaken only after informing the district SPs concerned.

In his address to senior police officers on his return from New Delhi, Farooq directed them to ensure that �none of the men under your command indulge in any activity like extortion and other unauthorised acts which bring bad name to the force in particular and the government in general�. He also told police officers to keep a �close watch on bad elements within the force� and �take measures to rid it of them�. �It is the bounden duty of the police to protect the lives and honour of the people,� he said. �We want to win hearts of the people, not to lose them in this war�.

He said the police had to be the friends of the people and any �action having potential for alienation should be eschewed�. He reminded the officers that �Pakistan is exploiting this alienation� to infiltrate more and more militants into �our territory�.

He stressed the need for a good rapport between the police and the army officers and said �this will be useful in cross checking the information required for such operations�. He also asked the police officers to be alert against �the Pakistani attempts to target them� and suggested taking preventive measures against killer devices like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have taken their toll on civilians and policemen.

Referring to the changed Pakistani strategy to concentrate on local youth following the �international condemnation on pushing foreign militants into the state�, state director-general of police Gurbachan Jagat paid �rich tributes to local youth for not falling into their trap�.    

Vijayawada, July 5 
Despite the best efforts of Andhra Pradesh Congress leaders to whip up public fury on the power tariff hike against the Chandrababu Naidu government, their call for �satyagraha� at Vijayawada evoked little response.

Congress leaders, led by state unit chief M. Satyanarayana Rao and legislative party leader Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, staged a dharna in front of the sub-collector�s office. But though about 2,000 party workers braved the heavy downpour, the numbers fell far short of the expected one lakh.

Another novel demonstration, however, drove home the people�s unhappiness. More than 6,000 households and traders in the Ajitsingh Nagar area here switched off their fans, lights and all electrical appliances for an hour last night, aUNI report said. Students studied under street lights, while traders did business in candle-light.

The Congress had chosen Vijayawada as the venue of the mass satyagraha, with legislators, MPs and party functionaries expected to converge from all over the state in a show of strength.    

New Delhi, July 5 
Battered by controversies, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is headed for a showdown with the Opposition in Parliament�s monsoon session, scheduled to begin later this month.

At yesterday�s meeting of the parliamentary sub-committee on ASI, the MPs pinned down the organisation and gave its director-general Komal Anand a taste of what to expect in the House.

The Opposition, particularly the Congress, has dredged up a great deal of information to tighten the screws on the ASI�s �unprofessional� functioning, its lack of accountability and its �potential to stir communal tension�.

�A case in point is the recent controversy about some sacred objects found one kilometre from the Fatehpur Sikri complex,� said Eduardo Faleiro, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha.

A few months ago, excavations around Fatehpur Sikri yielded Jain idols, prompting D.B. Sharma, superintendent of the ASI�s Agra circle, to state that the minority community �did nothing but demolish temples�.

This angered a section of historians. �Sharma circulated a note making this sweeping statement even when the excavators working at the site showed the utmost caution and did not rush to any conclusions,� said Harbans Mukhia, professor of medieval history at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Soon after reports of the excavation made the headlines, Mukhia visited the site with three busloads of JNU students and later had a running spat with Sharma in newspaper columns.

The historian, however, refuses to paint the whole of the ASI with the same brush. �I was impressed with the two excavators who were at the site of Fatehpur Sikri. They were extremely professional and knew their job,� Mukhia said.

Faleiro believes the Fatehpur Sikri excavations, if �tampered� with, can explode into another Babri demolition. �The ASI cannot jump to conclusions till the excavation is complete. There cannot be a repeat of Ayodhya,� he said.

The organisation was pushed to the centre of a huge uproar at the time of the Ayodhya controversy with some of its leading archaeologists maintaining there was a Ram temple beneath the Babri mosque. At yesterday�s meeting, the MPs told Anand that such statements should not be made without properly evaluating the findings of the excavations.

Though the ASI is trying to shove the blame for the statements on �media pressure�, its bosses will be hard put to explain in Parliament Sharma�s remarks on the find in Fatehpur Sikri.

They will also find it difficult to explain the delays in publishing reports that should be brought out each year. The MPs pointed out that 46 excavations conducted by the ASI since 1952 have gone unreported.    

New Delhi, July 5 
Despite Israel�s willingness to help India fight terrorism and strengthen its internal security, New Delhi isn�t sure how best to take advantage of this growing strategic alliance.

During his five-day visit to Tel Aviv, home minister L.K. Advani met top Israeli security officials, including the chiefs of its external and internal intelligence agencies. Both sides agreed to set up a Joint Working Group to share intelligence, technology and technical expertise. The panelwould also arrange for special training to security personnel.

Though Advani denied that he had gone on a �shopping spree�, government sources said Tel Aviv offered hi-tech equipment for border surveillance as well as advanced terrain-specific transport systems. The Israeli Military Industries (IMI) also made a number of presentations, briefing the Indian delegation on border management, counter-terrorism and explosives disposal.

Home ministry officials said the Indian team was keen to pick up tabs on strengthening border defence, with special emphasis on infrastructure layout, tactical response units, early warning systems and a foolproof command- and-control network. These would involve static installations, surveillance gear for advance information on intruders, a specialised force and coordination between the four structures.

A team of Israeli security experts are expected to visit India later this month. �We expect to thrash out what we need from the point of view of internal security and border management,� a senior official said, but was sceptical about how far the government would go to actually procure the hardware Tel Aviv is willing to provide.

�Equipment and hardware related to border and internal security will be required to be procured at the earliest if the problem of border management is to be addressed. But the bureaucratic process will turn out to be the biggest hurdle,� the official said.

There are also various structures within the government with different perceptions on border management.    


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