Secret and short Arafat visit holds payoff for friend Delhi
Party responds to Basu quit call
7-day lull shattered by strike in Jammu
Kapil hands stepdown gift to Board
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 18 
Palestenian leader Yasser Arafat flew into Delhi tonight on a surprise visit and left within hours after a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other senior Indian leaders.

Ostensibly, the meeting was part of Arafat�s consultation process with �some friendly countries� before he takes a decision on declaring an independent Palestenian state on September 13.

The Palestenian super-boss arrived around 9 pm on a chartered flight from Bangladesh and left for an undisclosed destination after a few hours. For security reasons, neither the Palestenians nor the Indians were willing to disclose where he was headed.

Although details of the meetings were not known beyond his attempt to consult the Indian leadership on the independent Palestenian state, the fact that he chose Delhi as one of his destinations should be a comforting development for the BJP-led government. It has begun to be criticised for moving closer to the Israelis at the cost of India�s �time-tested friends� in the Islamic world.

For the BJP government, Arafat could not have arrived at a better time. The visits by home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh to West Asia between June-July had triggered a controversy as many saw these as an attempt to move closer to the Israelis.

Both Advani and Singh had taken pains to balance their visits to the region by spending an equal number of days in Palestine and Israel. But remarks made by the two leaders, particularly by the home minister, on closer cooperation between Delhi and Tel Aviv in the nuclear area, fed the brewing controversy.

Arafat is a long-lasting friend India has in the Islamic world and his lightning trip will come in handy for the government to silence the critics inside the country and in the Arab region.

Frustrated by Israeli attempts to slow down the pace of peace talks, Arafat is left with little option but to go ahead and make a unilateral announcement of the establishment of an independent Palestenian state.

A similar situation last year was averted, when friends, including India, suggested to the Palestenian leadership that such a move may prove to be counter-productive for the West Asia peace process.

Arafat is aware that unless he takes some hard decisions fast, he may start losing support, specially among younger Palestenians who are getting impatient with the slow progress of the peace talks.

It is not known if India has once again suggested caution to the Palestenian leader, but there are indications that Arafat has sought India�s support at the forthcoming Millennium Summit of the United Nations to mobilise world opinion in favour of an early resolution of the West Asia tangle.    

Calcutta, Aug.18 
Bengal appeared to be moving to the threshold of big political changes as the CPM indicated that it might take up Jyoti Basu on his offer to retire in the coming weeks.

�He (Basu) has been pressuring us to relieve him for quite some time. We are not as inhuman as not to respond to him,� state CPM secretary Anil Biswas said.

Basu himself seemed to be leaving the formal announcement about his retirement to the party and refused to make a commitment. He told The Telegraph: �We communists cannot take a decision on our own till the party permits us.�

The 86-year-old chief minister, who has repeatedly told the party over the past couple of years that he would like to step down because of his failing health, said he had not been keeping well, particularly since the incident in Delhi last month when he fell ill during a party meeting.

�I have informed the party all about this and now it is up to the party to take a decision,� he added.

As for himself, he remains a true-red communist. �I will not retire now. I will continue in office till I die.�

A special meeting of the CPM politburo is likely to be convened to discuss his retirement. Going by indications, Basu may retire well before the Assembly polls expected next April. But neither Basu nor the party is ready to name a date.

Asked if he would consider retiring in September-October if the party gave the go-ahead, Basu said: �Then, I will have to think about it.�

Politburo members in Delhi denied knowledge of a deadline having been set, but were reconciled to impending retirement.

In the likely event of Basu�s laying down office, his understudy, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, will be sworn in as chief minister with a reconstituted cabinet.

On Wednesday, in course of a nearly 40-minute meeting, Basu asked Biswas to clear the way for his stepping down from what he described as a back-breaking job. He also pointed out that his personal physicians had been advising rest.

Basu, it is learnt, also argued that Bhattacharya and the people must be given a few months� time to know each other.

�He (Bhattacharya) has matured in the past several months. Why don�t you have him as the chief minister?� Basu told Biswas.

In an intriguing twist to the succession saga, the chief minister also suggested that the party might even try out Somnath Chatterjee, if it so desires.

Like other issues in the CPM, Basu�s retirement, too, is being debated at various layers. A large chunk of the politburo members have said they would not oppose his departure this time.

�We have been using him for our own gains for a long time. We have to release him some time or the other,� a senior leader said.

But another section feels it is important for Basu to remain at the helm as Assembly elections are drawing near.    

Srinagar, Aug.18 

A week-long lull was shattered by gunfire last night when militants, making a mockery of heavy security, struck in a village at Rajouri in Jammu, killing six Hindus.

The army said in a statement that a group of militants opened fire in Kotdhara village within sniffing distance of a CRPF post. Some reports said even the post was fired upon in an arrogant display of defiance by militants.

Fearing reprisal, an indefinite curfew was clamped in Rajouri town but the preventive measure failed to stop a mob from attacking a convoy of officials when they visited the spot where the last rites of the six killed were being performed.

The Jammu range police chief, R.V. Raju, said the militants attacked three houses in Kotdhara, killing four persons on the spot while 10 others were wounded. Two more villagers succumbed to their injuries in hospital.

Sources said Kotdhara is heavily guarded by village defence committee members and the paramilitary CRPF. Some of those killed were said to belong to the defence committee, indicating that the militants had picked their houses deliberately to show their contempt for security measures initiated by the government. The sources said 24 villagers had been provided weapons by the government.

�We are trying to ascertain how the militants managed to escape despite the presence of the village defence committee and the CRPF in the village,� said a police officer.

No one has owned responsibility for the killings.

Seven others injured in the firing have been admitted to a hospital. Late last night, senior police officers reached the village, about 190 km from Jammu town, and ordered massive searches.

In another incident in the same village, militants dragged out a person called Nooruddin from his house and slit his throat, a PTI report said.    

Calcutta, Aug. 18 
National coach Kapil Dev today obliged the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) by saying just what it actually wanted him to.

Kapil�s somewhat tumultuous relationship with the BCCI, therefore, is set to end amicably. Prematurely, as well.

The BCCI�s working committee, which meets in Bangalore on Sunday, is expected to formally announce the end of this innings.

Kapil�s future, in any case, was to have been informally discussed in Bangalore. The move to replace him may well have gained ground.

By willing to stand down, weeks after being subjected to Income Tax/Central Bureau of Investigation raids, Kapil has saved everybody�s face.

It is to be seen whether the tainted players, too, do likewise. Or, whether it�s left to the BCCI to keep Union sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa in good humour.

�If this is what I get (referring to the Manoj Prabhakar allegation) for my services to the game, I do not want to be part of it. It is the end of my days with cricket.

�It has not been worth the bother and trauma my family and I have gone through. My decision is final and can be locked in the computer,� Kapil told a news agency.

Contacted by The Telegraph on his mobile, later in the evening, the New Delhi-based Kapil blandly said: �I have nothing to add; absolutely no other comment to make.�

Significantly, Kapil didn�t exactly say he was quitting immediately: He has left it to the BCCI to decide whether he should �complete his term.�

Though the BCCI did announce Kapil would be coach for two years, effective September 1999, �no contract� was signed. And, so, the parting of ways can be immediate.

Well-placed sources maintain it will be so.

Accordingly, the national team should have a new coach during its next assignment �- the October 3-15 mini-World Cup in Nairobi.

Questions will be raised regarding the timing of Kapil�s statement (intentionally released through a news agency), but Kapil may have been influenced by whispers that the BCCI was more than inclined to now look overseas.

It will come as no surprise if the BCCI sounds out Rodney Marsh who, currently, is associated (as consultant) with the nascent National Cricket Academy, in Bangalore.

Many within the BCCI would even favour Bobby Simpson, but Australia�s first World Cup-winning coach is himself not keen on anything more than returning as consultant.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Marsh will be game � assuming the powers-that-be do zero-in on him. After all, he continues to remain director/head coach of the most talked about cricket academy anywhere � in Adelaide, funded by the Commonwealth Bank.

Marsh is largely credited with moulding match-winners at the Academy. Over the years, there have been so many.

If the Marsh-option either isn�t exercised or the move doesn�t click, a stop-gap arrangement could see the return of Aunshuman Gaekwad , Kapil�s predecessor.

While the BCCI did back Kapil soon after Prabhakar�s allegation, of having been offered a Rs 25-lakh inducement (in Colombo, 1994) by India�s only World Cup-winning captain, not everybody within the body favoured such public support.

The BCCI, though, was then in a corner.

Kapil-baiters grew both in numbers and confidence after India�s disastrous showing in the Asia Cup (Dhaka, May-June) and the recent raids on Kapil.

Things reached such a stage even some key functionaries began quietly hoping Kapil would himself offer to step down, thereby saving the BCCI from doing the proverbial dirty job.

The same functionaries believed such a Kapil move would also send the appropriate signal to tainted players. Again, the BCCI would avoid having �blood� on its hands.

Kapil�s tenure began with close wins in both the Tests and ODIs versus New Zealand, at home, but there is just about nothing to show after that: Defeats in the Test series both in Australia and at home (against South Africa); failure to make the finals of either the Carlton and United Series, the tri-series in Sharjah or even the Asia Cup.

In between, India only beat South Africa in the ODIs, at home. But, according to the Delhi police, even that was �fixed�.

By any yardstick, then, a most unimpressive balance sheet.

Today, Kapil insisted: �I know I�m clean, I have nothing to hide.� Yet, not many may be as supportive as they would have been had he offered to relinquish charge �- even temporarily, till inquiries were completed �- when the Prabhakar allegation surfaced (early May).

Then, Kapil went on the TV and broke down during a BBC interview. That did win him some sympathy, but he also lost quite a few backers.

One is, now, reminded of what Kapil�s first India captain, Bishan Singh Bedi, observed the other day: �Kapil should have quit the day he cried on TV...�    



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