Sushma wins battle against Atal
Hostage mediator role under spotlight
IB wants to break free of red tape
Gopal returns with Nagappa excuse
Putin fights on twin fronts

New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
Sushma Swaraj may have lost Delhi and Bellary, but in the end she won her battle against Atal Behari Vajpayee.

With her induction into Vajpayee’s Cabinet today — despite his alleged reluctance — Sushma has bounced back into the BJP mainstream after a long spell on the fringe.

Sushma’s run of bad luck, after a double-barrelled Cabinet stint as I&B and communications minister, started when she was moved to Delhi as chief minister barely two months before it went to polls — only to take care of the inner-party wranglings on the hope that her “charisma and oratory” would carry the day.

She was chosen as the “consensus” candidate at the last minute because her predecessor Sahib Singh Verma refused to have his own predecessor Madan Lal Khurana as his successor.

But Delhi — from where she won two successive Lok Sabha elections — proved to be her nemesis. She had barely settled down when she was implicated in a controversy involving Romesh Sharma, a Dawood frontman. The allegation, though unsubstantiated, was that Sushma was “linked” to Sharma.

Her own election from a south Delhi Assembly seat was held in dubious circumstances. A majority of the voters of a jhuggi-jhopdi cluster went down with food poisoning on polling day and couldn’t cast their vote.

Sushma won. But after the BJP’s debacle, she quit her Assembly seat and returned to the Lok Sabha, hoping to be reinstated in the Cabinet.

Vajpayee ruled it out categorically. Piqued, Sushma refused to contest the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. But after being “persuaded” by mentor L.K. Advani and Lok Shakti chief Ramakrishna Hegde, she agreed to take on Sonia Gandhi in Bellary.

BJP sources saw it as Sushma’s chance to be back in the national spotlight. She put her heart and soul into the campaign, picked up Kannada, toured Bellary tirelessly and gave Sonia a run for her money.

But the blitzkrieg was forgotten as quickly as it was unleashed. Sushma went almost out of sight. When the Vajpayee government was installed a second time, she was left out of it.

She turned down an offer to rejoin the BJP as a general secretary-cum-spokesperson, maintaining all along that she would “work like a true servant of the party” whenever she was asked to.

Sources close to Sushma, however, claimed she felt slighted by the offer which came after Sumitra Mahajan quit as general secretary to become part of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet.

“She wouldn’t fill a vacancy created by Sumitra Mahajan,” they said. “After all, she had served as a general secretary long before the party even thought of Sumitra.”

A bout of severe diabetes virtually grounded her in Delhi after that. In between, husband Swaraj Kaushal seemed to have done his bit to further upset Sushma’s equation with Vajpayee.

A Rajya Sabha MP from the Haryana Vikas Party, he asked in the House if the Prime Minister had planned to lug an ass and an elephant as part of his US entourage. The Prime Minister and the PMO were hardly amused.

The BJP’s Nagpur conclave last August came in handy for Sushma to hit back at the leadership. At a closed door session of the national executive, she attacked the government’s Kashmir policy and security lapses behind the massacre of the Amarnath pilgrims.

The Nagpur press interpreted her tirade as an attack on Advani more than Vajpayee. Sushma didn’t contradict the interpretations and, according to BJP sources, seemed “quite pleased” with the impact of her speech.

She again rebuffed an offer to join the new party chief Bangaru Laxman’s team. Party sources say Sushma would have continued to be out on a limb had Advani not pressed Vajpayee for a Cabinet shuffle and a place for his protégé.    

New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
The handling of last year’s hijack crisis has prompted the Intelligence Bureau to suggest fresh guidelines to deal with hostage situations with added emphasis on the role of government negotiators.

The subject came up during the three-day annual conclave of police directors-general and heads of security agencies, which ended here yesterday.

Without referring to the Christmas-eve hijack of the Indian Airlines craft by Pakistani militants, the bureau pointed out that such situations take “everyone, including senior policy-level functionaries and field performers, by surprise”.

Two IB veterans were on the negotiating team which went to Kandahar, though most of the directions came from Delhi.

According to the agency, there are chinks in the present mechanism that deals with hostage situations and at least eight areas “deserve close attention”.

Sources in the police top brass revealed that the bureau’s main thrust was on the choice of the negotiator who should be an “experienced officer, effective communicator, psychologically and physically sincere and patient as well as firm and flexible”.

The negotiator, according to the bureau, must be skillful enough to “gear his conversation to the hijacker’s level of education and language fluency”.

He should also “listen carefully to the tone, content and modulation of the hijacker’s remarks to continually assess and reassess his emotional state, truthfulness, rationality, physical and mental resilience and willingness to negotiate”.

A note circulated among the delegates highlights how a deft negotiator should “avoid deadlines (set by hostage takers) and tactfully inform the suspects that time-limits do not work”. In other words, a tough negotiator’s job would be to physically and psychologically wear out the abductors and make them “vulnerable to surrender or capture”.

According to the bureau, “minimal attention should be paid to the hostages” because “the greater the importance negotiators or the media attach to the hostages”, the more the abductors see them as pawns which only “strengthens their position”.

The agency believes that negotiators should also not “give away what could be bargained for”. They should “neither offer hostage-takers anything voluntarily”, nor should they concede any ground without “getting something in return”.

The bottomline was: honesty in transactions and “nothing is promised that cannot be delivered as long as the siege continues”.

Another suggestion was not to involve civilian negotiators. Bureau sources said the delegates thought use of civilian negotiators often prove disastrous as they fail to exert the required psychological pressure on the hijackers.    

New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
Intelligence Bureau chief Shyamal Dutta has sought freedom from “bureaucratic control” over his organisation and indicated that the internal security agency would like some kind of accountability to Parliament.

Dutta’s stand is considered “bold”. It is one of the crucial aspects of the report of the task force on intelligence which was submitted to the Group of Ministers (GoM) yesterday. The GoM is headed by home minister L.K. Advani.

The task force on intelligence — headed by former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief and Jammu and Kashmir Governor Girish Chandra Saxena — was one of the four set up by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in April.

Their job was to review the national security set-up according to the Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations. Among the other members of the intelligence task force are M.K. Narayanan, a former IB director, former foreign secretary K. Raghunath, retired senior RAW official B. Raman and Maj.-Gen. (retd) C.S. Nugyal. The three other task forces are on border management, internal security and defence management.

The task force on border management, chaired by former home secretary Madhav Godbole, submitted its report to the GoM on August 29.

Advani has sought a one-month extension from Vajpayee as the other two have not yet submitted their reports.

According to sources, the GoM is expected to submit the final recommendations by October-end.

One of Dutta’s suggestions to the task force on intelligence was rechristening the Intelligence Bureau as National Security and Intelligence Organisation. The over-225-page report, a government official said, has chapters dealing with the ‘Role of Intelligence in the Changing Security Environment’, ‘Economic Intelligence’, ‘Counter-Intelligence’, ‘Psychological Warfare’ and ‘Intelligence Coordination and the Role of the National Security Council’.

Senior officials said the report probes the functioning of various intelligence outfits and suggests how they should be revamped for more efficiency. It also indicated that the field of technological intelligence should remain with RAW, the country’s external intelligence agency.    

Chennai, Sept. 30: 
Close on the heels of Nagappa’s escape, designated government emissary R.R. Gopal returned empty-handed again this morning, blaming the hostage’s heroics for the failure of his mission.

Talking to reporters here after briefing chief minister M. Karunanidhi, the Nakkeeran editor claimed that he had almost succeeded in persuading the brigand to release Rajkumar and the others without waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on October 11, but Nagappa spoiled it by escaping without consulting the others.

“Veerappan is livid. On learning about Nagappa’s vanishing act, the gang decided to shift their hideout yet again. Sensing the mood, I chose to return on my own… What’s the point in staying on? All my efforts have come unstuck...,” Gopal rued.

He, however, did not foresee the danger of Veerappan harming Rajkumar and two others still in his captivity because of the escape.

He was confident that had Nagappa not acted hastily, he would have returned with the hostages on October 3, ending the crisis that began on July 30.

Asked about the future course of action, Gopal said: “We’ve to wait and see,” and added that he was willing to undertake a fifth mission if asked by the two governments. Chief minister M. Karunanidhi was still optimistic about an early release and said Gopal will go back to the forests as soon as he receives a signal from Veerappan.

Several bruises on the emissary’s face lent another twist to the abduction saga. Asked about the bruises, Gopal shot back: “I’ve suffered them many a time. It’s inevitable when you trek through a difficult terrain.”

But the rumour mills have been set in motion, churning out a story that Veerappan asked Gopal to take Nagappa with him to show off as a trophy to the media and also to calm frayed tempers in Karnataka.

But Nagappa would have none of it and at the first opportunity, he gave Gopal’s team the slip and went home. There was a minor scuffle during the escape, in which both Gopal and Nagappa sustained the bruises. Others said Nagappa might have been sent back with the demand for more ransom.

Not many, including the Karnataka director-general of police, subscribe to Nagappa’s escape theory, claiming that such a loyal aide would not have fled knowing that he could be endangering Rajkumar’s life.

But some argued that Nagappa could have acted in desperation, sensing that the gang’s mood was turning nasty over the Supreme Court’s refusal to let Karnataka and Tamil Nadu release the Tada detainees and Veerappan could have killed him — the least important among the hostages — to send out a warning.    

Moscow, Sept. 30: 
Vladimir Putin has a tough task ahead.

The Russian President has to re-establish his country as a strong state as well as maintain its strategic importance in the changed world order.

Putin’s battle is on two fronts. He has to confront the oligarchs — or powerful business groups — which have been ruling the roost for nearly 10 years and exploiting every opportunity to destroy the existing structure.

Two, he has to contend with the threat from Islamic fundamentalist groups which are trying to carve out independent territories and break up the Russian federation.

The oligarchs were brought in by Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who encouraged them to destroy the remnants of the socialist structure. In the process, the businessmen managed to sell the country’s natural resources and stow away a huge amount of wealth in foreign banks.

A modest estimate of the plight of capital in the last 10 years is said to be between $300 and 400 billion. Even now, every year $50-60 billion is believed to be leaving the country for places like the French Riviera or Cyprus.

To make sure that their political and economic clout remained intact, the oligarchs also managed to take control of influential private television channels, newspapers and journals.

Though Yeltsin was hardly a democrat, under his regime the Kremlin, by and large, ignored the media reports. But then, Yeltsin’s friends controlled the media.

With Putin it is different. The man, who till five years back was known only as the deputy governor of St Petersburg, declared war on the media moguls from the time he assumed the presidentship. The corruption cases and those of tax evasions he has launched against the oligarchs are part of this move.

“Putin wants to restore the information capability of the press to convey his own point of view to the people on the one hand. On the other, he is also trying to break the stranglehold the oligarchs have on the media power-structure,” said V.T. Tretyakov, one of the most respected political commentators and editor-in-chief of Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

He added: “The struggle of the Kremlin against the oligarchs competing with the state is a political one.”

It is this political struggle that Putin needs to win if he has to establish control over the country.

Putin’s second problem is the resurgence of religion. Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, religion has made a slow but steady comeback. Building of new churches and renovating older ones have become a common sight in the last ten years.

Many newspapers have started regular religion pages and even run special supplements.

With a nearly 83-per-cent Slavic population, Christianity is the predominant religion in the country. But though there are many Church-goers, especially among the younger generation, the clerics have still not started playing any important role in policy-making.

The return of religion has also brought back Islam among the nearly 17-per-cent Muslims in Russia. But unlike Christianity, it is much more pro-active in the country.

“It’s a very serious geo-political problem. Russia finds itself between the two sides — the extremely political Islam and European Christianity. It may soon turn out to be a clash of two civilisations,” an expert said.

“The danger for Russia is that it may become a battlefield for Christianity and Islam,” Tretyakov said. Russia, he said, must be careful to avoid a situation like this.

Against this backdrop, most commentators are watching the separatist movement in Chechnya, where Islamic fundamentalist groups are engaged in a pitched battle with Russian troops.

Most Russians want Chechnya to be conquered. They fear that an independent Chechnya could pave the way for further disintegration of the country.    


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