Talks term runs into Hizbul wall
�Fit� Basu can�t wait to be
Christian jitters at UN rights meet
Sonia report card on satraps
Abducted nun escapes near
Calcutta weather

July 30 
After the Centre�s clarification yesterday that talks with Kashmir militants can only be held within the Constitution, the Hizbul Mujahideen responded with predictable rejection of the �precondition� for negotiations.

If the dispute over the terms for the talks appeared as a sudden obstacle to a breakthrough initiative on Kashmir, a blast in the tourist resort of Gulmarg today came as a bloody reminder of the odds against the peace process being successfully concluded.

A Rajasthani tourist was killed and five others were wounded in the heavily-guarded north Kashmir tourist spot in the explosion. Police said Satish Kanyal and his relatives were travelling in a Tata Sumo when the blast occurred. They suspected that the bomb might have been placed in the vehicle.

In a statement in Islamabad, Hizbul chief commander Syed Salahuddin said: �The Hizbul once again rejects talks with India within the Constitution.�

It also added a twist by insisting that Pakistan would have to be included in the negotiations, a demand India has dismissed. �(The) Hizbul has repeatedly made it clear that the Kashmir dispute can only be solved through tripartite dialogue,� he said.

�Talks cannot start unless India announces unconditional talks in very clear terms,� he added. There was also a threat to reconsider the ceasefire if India insisted on conditional talks.

On Friday, New Delhi had invited Kashmir militant groups to unconditional talks. In the offer, which followed a unilateral ceasefire announcement by the Hizbul, the customary words that the talks would have to take place within the Constitution were missing.

But, on Saturday, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra explained that the Constitution would be the cornerstone in any talks with militants. He also ruled out Pakistan�s participation.

If the Hizbul response came as a temporary setback to the effort to start a dialogue, Delhi could take heart from positions taken by Islamabad and an umbrella group of militants based in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the foreign ministry said it was up to the militant groups to respond to India�s invitation for talks.

The Muttahida Jehad Council, which had rejected the ceasefire declaration out of hand, said today it would discuss the offer at a meeting in the capital of PoK on Tuesday.

The Hizbul, suspended from the alliance after the ceasefire, has not been invited to the meeting. But the group is in touch with other Kashmiri leaders to discuss their next move and a meeting is expected in the UAE.

Pak for no-war pact

Pakistan�s military ruler Pervez Musharraf has suggested signing an agreement with India to prevent war between the countries.    

Calcutta, July 30 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu, who entered a Delhi hospital on a stretcher on Friday to walk briskly out the next evening, said on homecoming he had no plans to retire immediately.

Seconds after getting off the plane, Basu said at Calcutta airport he would head for Writers� Buildings tomorrow, settling the flutters in the CPM�s heart caused by his sudden illness.

Providing a measure of how much he was in control of himself, Basu asked chief secretary Manish Gupta to organise a meeting for him with senior ministers and officials at Writers� tomorrow to review the law and order situation.

�There is nothing called retirement in politics,� Basu said in an attempt to put a stop to reports that he might step away from the limelight after the blackout during a central committee meeting.

�I am fit now. I will continue to work as long as my health permits,� the chief minister said.

In an unusual gesture, Basu spent nearly five minutes with waiting reporters and photographers on the VIP tarmac, exchanging views with them as if to drive home the point that he was in fine fettle.

�I was in hospital for one-and-a-half days. But now I am back to work,� he said, adding: �But doctors have advised me complete rest.� He made it clear that by returning to work he was not following that advice.

The chief minister, who arrived 15 minutes behind schedule by IC 264, was received at the airport by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, director-general of police Dipak Sanyal and the chief secretary. He walked with his usual firm gait, waving at those present.

Officials said Basu enquired about tomorrow�s bandh and last week�s Birbhum incident in which 11 persons were killed. �He told us that he would hold a meeting tomorrow,� they said.

As the chief minister sent signals that if he steps down, it will not be because of Friday�s blackout, the CPM leadership was in no mood to talk of retirement.

General secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said in Delhi a deputy chief minister had already been appointed to lighten Basu�s burden. �The party is thinking of ways to lessen it,� he added.

The CPM state secretary, Anil Biswas, was even more categorical in scotching speculation of retirement. He said in Calcutta that the party had no plans to divest Basu of responsibilities he had been handling as chief minister.

Insisting that Basu is perfectly all right, Biswas said: �The question of his retirement does not arise at this critical juncture.�

The leadership also declined to say whether he will contest the Assembly polls. Basu has in the past expressed his unwillingness to contest. But, leaving room for speculation, Surjeet said: �That will be decided when the election comes.�

Basu�s businessman-son Chandan has been pressing him to relinquish office if he does not feel up to it. Chandan reckons that as long as Basu remains in office, the chief minister and he himself would be targets of the Opposition�s fierce attacks, even though most of his business operations are outside Bengal.    

New Delhi, July 30 

For once well-armed to fight off India- baiters at the UN human rights conference over Kashmir, India is still having to scramble for cover with continuing attacks on Christians.

Aware that the issue is likely to be raised at the high-profile UN Human Rights Commission conference beginning in Geneva tomorrow, frantic last-minute attempts were being made by Indian officials to build a strong defence. But they have found very little with which they can put up the ramparts.

Statements by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani are possibly the only building blocks they can lay their hands on. Both have made it amply clear that attacks on Christians were �an aberration� in India, which has always espoused religious tolerance. The government has vowed to deal severely with the guilty.

These assurances have fallen short of convincing the outside world, specially Christian-dominated West, since the attacks are taking place in a steady stream. As recently as yesterday, a priest was stabbed to death in Andhra.

For more than a decade now, the Geneva conference has been the most convenient forum for Indian-bashers, but so far the focus of their attack has been New Delhi�s human rights record in Kashmir. Initially, Indian officials were on the defensive, but over the years they have learnt to ward off the offensive.

The year 1994 was a turning point when India scored a diplomatic victory over Pakistan. Vajpayee, who was then the leader of the Opposition, along with the minister of state for foreign affairs Salman Khurshid, had succeeded in getting the support of Iran and China to tell Pakistan that its anti-Indian resolution on Kashmir, if moved at the conference, would be defeated. Pakistan backed off.

Some of the world�s worst human rights abuses in the past few years in eastern Europe � Bosnia and Chechnya, for instance � diverted international attention from Kashmir.

With the nuclear tests in South Asia two years ago and the Kargil confrontation, India and Pakistan are again in focus. There will be the inevitable Pakistani attempt to highlight Kashmir, but Indian officials are not unduly worried by that prospect. The confidence stems from some of the steps taken by the government and other developments in Kashmir, the latest being the ceasefire and talks offers.

This time, India had a chance to crow about this achievement and it still might: one, to beat back a customary Pakistan attempt to highlight the human rights record in Kashmir and two, as a ploy to divert possible criticism of the attacks on Christians.

Between 1998 and 1999 when reports of attacks on Christians first started appearing, the Indian government managed to convince the international community that the BJP coalition would not digress from the country�s secular tradition.

They succeeded despite the gruesome killing of Graham Staines and his two boys. However, the fresh spurt of attacks this year has swung the focus back on the stigma of �Hindu fundamentalist party� the BJP has not been able to shake off in the West.

During last month�s visit to Italy, Vajpayee managed a meeting with Pope John Paul II in an obvious gesture to assure the world that Christians were safe in India.

But a string of incidents since has invested that assurance with a hollow ring. Delhi has tried, unsuccessfully, to shift the blame on organisations funded and aided by hostile neighbours.    

New Delhi, July 30: 
onia Gandhi may still be mastering the lessons of realpolitik, but that has not prevented her from drawing up a merit list for her seven-state Class of 2000.

Frontbencher Digvijay Singh has walked away with the top honours among the chief ministers of seven Congress-ruled states, earning full marks for his performance as well as devotion to the head of school.

Fulbright scholar and cyber-savvy S.M. Krishna follows Digvijay with 75 per cent-plus. The harmony between promises on manifestos and performance in power was the key criterion for awarding the marks, but the acumen in tackling dissidence also played a significant role. Both Digvijay and Krishna scored high on handling factionalism.

But the chief ministers of Delhi, Maharashtra and Rajasthan barely scraped through. If infighting in Delhi Congress was the nemesis of Sheila Dixit, the recent communal strife in Rajasthan sealed the fate of Ashok Gehlot. But the steepest fall was that of Vilasrao Deshmukh, who got poor grades for allowing himself to be mauled by Bal Thackeray over his arrest. Nagaland�s S.C. Jamir and Pondicherry�s Shanmugham performed well in the rating test.

The merit list is part of Sonia�s effort to project the Congress as a �party with a difference�. The elaborate performance assessment involved AICC general secretaries in these states and senior members of the Congress Working Committee, who interacted with state leaders.

The chief ministers had made presentations to Sonia, highlighting their achievements. They also had to convince the AICC�s �manifesto implementation committee� about the quality of work done and the number of promises fulfilled. �Digvijay Singh has implemented more than 70 per cent of promises made in the Congress manifesto,� the progress card said.

Sonia is also pleased with Digvijay and Krishna for their political correctness. Digvijay�s initiative to invite film-maker Deepa Mehta to his state in the wake of the Water controversy has not disappointed the headmistress. His novel schemes of education guarantee, right to information Bill and making cooperatives member-centric have also won him laurels.

The upshot: the combined might of Arjun Singh, Vidya Charan Shukla, Ajit Jogi, Shyam Charan Shukla, Kamal Nath and Madhavrao Scindia has not been able to smudge his mark- sheet.

In Dixit�s case, besides the challenge posed by dissidents, her inability to project herself as an effective administrator also took its toll. �Sheilaji�s government is doing good work but she lacks public relations skills. If she cannot command the respect of her partymen, how will she convince the masses?� an AICC leader asked. However, he added that there was no threat to the chief minister. �It is just that her performance needs to be toned up,� he said.

Gehlot�s ratings were not bad till he failed to act tough during the clashes in Malpura in Tonk district. �Gehlot is good but he needs to sharpen up. He started badly but he picked up. He would have got more than first class had there been no riots,� a party functionary who assessed Gehlot�s performance said.

Sonia was quite impressed with Deshmukh till he messed up the Thackeray issue, party sources said. The Sonia camp has given him the �benefit of doubt� as he leads a coalition.

But Deshmukh may not be so lucky next time. State Congress chief Govindrao Adik is an ambitious man who was elected as an MLC. Teaming up with Suresh Kalmadi, he will breathe down Deshmukh�s neck.

Jamir need not worry as Sonia thinks that he is doing �excellent work�. Pitted against insurgency and an indifferent Centre, Jamir is important to Sonia to counter Purno Sang- ma.

Shanmugham, who heads an alliance government with the Tamil Maanila Congress in Pondicherry, is seen as too new to bee judged critically, the sources said.    

New Delhi, July 30 
A Catholic nun was kidnapped in daylight on the outskirts of the capital, but she managed to escape by jumping out of the assailants� van.

The daring abduction occurred when Sister Celine John, who belongs to the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate, was walking towards her school in Sector III in Sahibabad in Ghaziabad district in the afternoon.

�When she was about 10 metres away from the gate of her school, three men covered her face, caught her by the neck, dragged her inside the vehicle and sped away,� an official of the All-India Catholic Union said. But the nun broke free, opened the door and escaped when the abductors stopped the van to pick up another accomplice. She was later found in a state of shock by one of her students� parent, who brought her back to the convent.

Father Donald D�Souza, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said: �It was shocking that such a thing could happen in daylight and that too on the borders of Delhi. We appeal to the government to take stringent measures. These things cannot go on.�

A Christian voluntary organisation also came under attack in another district of Uttar Pradesh. In Tehri-Garhwal, miscreants barged into the house of a cleric of the organisation, beat up his servant and decamped with valuables, police said.

No clean chit: Nirmala

Sister Nirmala of Missionaries of Charity has clarified that she did not give a clean chit to anyone on the Christian attacks, the CBCI said.    



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