Delhi opens channel to Gulf with Jaswant visit
Students black out fallen idol
Atal calls off Asim flood meet
Assault on media official
Succession war scars Jama Masjid
Naveen rebels to float front
Bodo rebels gunned down

New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
After ignoring Saudi Arabia�s existence for decades, India has finally woken up to its importance.

Delhi�s decision to send Jaswant Singh to Saudi Arabia � the first-ever visit by an Indian foreign minister to that country � indicates its keenness to play a meaningful role in the Gulf and engage with all the key players in the region.

Singh will leave on October 15 for the three-day official tour. He will also visit Qatar after his Riyadh engagement is over.

The visit couldn�t have been better timed. It takes place when Pakistan has already opened up channels with Russia, one of Delhi�s closest allies. And though it may not have been planned that way, by engaging with Riyadh � Islamabad�s main backer � Delhi can, to some extent, unsettle the Pervez Musharraf regime.

Foreign ministry sources said Singh is likely to interact with King Fahd, the ruler and Prime Minister of the country, and Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the deputy Prime Minister and commander of the Royal Guards, and other senior and important Saudi leaders. The foreign minister is scheduled to visit both Riyadh and Jeddah during his stay.

Saudi Arabia�s importance in the region stems from a number of reasons. Not only does it have 25 per cent of the world�s oil reserves, it also has a substantial amount of natural gas.

Then, apart from being an energy-rich country, it is also home to more than 15 lakh Indian professionals who send back over four billion dollars every year.

The country is also an important member among Gulf nations and a key player in the Organisation of Islamic Countries, which has regularly come out with anti-India resolutions. The powerful Wahabi sect, to which even the ruling family belongs, has a strong influence in the Islamic world.

Moreover, the ruling family is the �custodian� of Mecca and Medina � the two most important Islamic places of worship � which draw millions of Muslims from all over the world.

So far, India�s Saudi Arabia connection has been limited to its energy requirements and the country�s importance as a professional destination.

Delhi imports 7.5 million metric tonnes of crude oil and other petroleum products worth $ 2.18 billion from Saudi Arabia every year. Its exports, mainly agro-based products, come up to only around $ 766 million.

Saudi Arabia is also a key ally of the US in the region. Given its current camaraderie with Washington, Delhi can now tell Riyadh that their relationship needs to be re-interpreted, especially because of the changed world order in the post-Cold War period.

The visit could also correct a major flaw in India�s foreign policy towards the Gulf.

In the past, Indian leaders have not shown much of an interest in Saudi Arabia. This was mainly because of Riyadh�s pro-Pakistan stand on Kashmir and other issues on which the neighbours differed.

However, Singh has already embarked on a policy to make India play a more meaningful role in the Gulf.

Developments in Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban militia is recognised by Riyadh, could also come up for discussion. According to sources, the situation in Iraq and Indo-Pak relations are some of the other key issues likely to come under focus during the foreign minister�s discussions with the Saudi leadership.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 6: 
Once idolised for opening the country�s doors to a brave new world, P.V. Narasimha Rao is now a fallen hero. Deserted by his own party, the convicted former Prime Minister finds himself vilified even in his home state.

Students from schools in Nizamabad, just 120 km away from Rao�s Vangara village in Karimnagar district, have refused to study a chapter on his life included in their textbook.

The students, all from Class VIII, said they would not like to read the career of a man who had been convicted for bribery.

The three-page chapter profiles Rao and his political and literary achievements. It was made a part of the Hindi syllabus for class VIII in 1994 by the Congress government of Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy.

The Telugu Desam government, too, put Rao on the pedestal for his �forays in literature and economic liberalisation� as part of a series of publications on great statesmen of Andhra.

But the conviction in the JMM case has brought the Telugu bidda crashing down. Immediately after the history-making verdict on September 29, the students held meetings across Telengana, hurling brickbats at the country�s once-most powerful man. The protest was the strongest in Karimnagar and Warangal, where he was once eulogised.

Taking cue from the students� protests, the municipal and zilla parishad authorities removed Rao�s portraits from their offices.

The teachers, in turn, assured the students that no questions would be set from the chapter on Rao in the half-yearly examinations slated after Dussehra.

Although the BJP and its student-wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, had spoken out against the lesson following the slew of allegations against the former Prime Minister, the Desam government had preferred turning a deaf ear to their demands.

The government, however, had to act after the ruling of the Delhi court. �The lesson will be taught as part of a series on the great men of the state but will not feature in examination papers,� a senior spokesman for the department of secondary education said.

During the tenure of N.T. Rama Rao, the Congress had voiced reservation on a chapter on him in the texts for classes VI and VII. After the August coup of 1995, Chandrababu Naidu, who also shared the same views, had the chapter deleted.

Even before the court ruling, Rao had drawn flak in his state, primarily for his writings. His book The Insider, triggered howls of protest as Rao had caricatured many people who had influenced his political career.    

Calcutta, Oct. 6: 
Asim Dasgupta�s meeting with Atal Behari Vajpayee tomorrow on the West Bengal floods has been cancelled on the advice of doctors who carried out a routine check-up of the Prime Minister this morning.

The state finance minister said at Writers� Buildings that he received a fax from the Prime Minister�s Office which said that his appointment was off. The doctors are said to have advised Vajpayee a complete rest from today before his knee operation in Mumbai next week.

Dasgupta will meet finance minister Yashwant Sinha and agriculture minister Nitish Kumar on Monday.

Dasgupta said the government, which reviewed the flood situation at a meeting of ministers today, has taken a serious view of the report on the district authorities� failure to distribute relief in about 30 per cent of the affected villages. District authorities have been directed to submit village-wise reports on the distribution of relief at the earliest.

�We feel it is not enough that the district authorities have sent relief material to affected blocks or even panchayats. We need proof on whether the relief has been distributed to distressed villagers or not. So we have sought reports with names, signatures and addresses of each beneficiary who has received government relief,� Dasgupta said.

The government has decided to buy relief material from the open market to augment supply during the next two months.

Though no fresh areas have been inundated, the situation continues to be grim in lower regions of Basirhat sub-division, Swaroopnagar, Bagda, Gaighata and Bongaon in North 24-Parganas. These places are still submerged under 4 feet water. The flood toll has risen by 30 to 1,070.

The state has decided to increase the production of rabi and boro crops by 20 per cent to compensate the loss of kharif produce in nine flood-hit districts.

The government will spend an additional Rs 30 crore on subsidy on power tillers and high-quality seeds for rabi crops.

The state cooperative bank will provide Rs 150 crore agriculture loan to distressed farmers.

Dasgupta said the farmers would be advised to grow vegetables, pulses and oil seeds in the rabi season for a quick return. Handloom and other cottage industries will also get the same assistance, he added.    

Siliguri, Oct. 6: 
The circulation executive of the Siliguri edition of The Statesman, Narendra Srivastava, was assaulted by four scooter-bound, unidentified miscreants at Chandmoni on the outskirts of Siliguri this morning.

Srivastava, who was hurt on his head and arms, lodged an FIR with the Matigara police station. Srivastava said he had gone with the paper�s delivery van to drop the day�s edition at a newspaper depot nearby when four miscreants wearing crash helmets beat him up.

He said the attackers also threatened him and the other employees of the newspaper with dire consequences if they did not leave their jobs. Employees alleged a hawkers� agitation could have a connection with the attack.    

New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Sensing a war of succession in the capital�s principal mosque, the ailing shahi imam of Jama Masjid has named his eldest son Ahmad his successor. But the crisis is far from over.

Syed Abdullah Bukhari�s third son Yahya wants the job of naib (deputy) imam apart from a 50 per cent share in the earnings from the mosque and the family business that ranges from real estate to rice exports. But Ahmad is unwilling to concede the slot to his brother as his two wives are pushing their sons for the post.

Acting swiftly, Yahya has moved into Jama Masjid and taken up residence in the backyard of the mosque, called Jannat Nishan, to exert �moral pressure� on his father.

The elder Bukhari, torn between love for his son and sensitive public opinion, is making feeble attempts to keep the naib imam issue in abeyance. The imam says there is no urgency to appoint Ahmad�s deputy now.

But Yahya and Ahmad are in no mood to wait. Ahmad�s eldest son has already prepared himself for the job, having become a hafiz and alim (high degree in theology). Since Yahya has no such credentials, the nephew is confident of edging out his uncle. The succession issue is casting a shadow over the grand celebrations planned for October 14 when the imam will hand over his crown to Ahmad.

A delicious dinner of kebabs, curries, kormas, biryanis and sweets will be laid out for one and all. There will be a separate enclosure where ambassadors from about 40 nations, Sonia Gandhi, Deve Gowda, Mamata Banerjee, Mulayam Yadav, Mayavati, Jayalalitha, the grand imam of Mecca, religious leaders and sajjadanashins from various dargahs, madarsas and mosques will rub shoulder.

�It will be grand event. There will be all night chiragan (fireworks),� a member of the Jama Masjid Mushawarat Committee said.

But some residents of the walled city are far from impressed. Many consider Ahmad too unpredictable and hot-headed while they view Yahya with suspicion.

�Ahmad recently committed a faux pas when he backed Kashmiri separatists. Yahya had once sided with Bal Thackeray. Can they provide leadership to the Muslims?� a shopkeeper asked.    

New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Efforts by disgruntled Biju Janata Dal leaders to split the party have gathered momentum with the rebels deciding to launch a new front, Orissa Gana Parishad, on October 11. The dissidents are backed by leaders of the Janata Dal (United) and Janata Dal (Secular).

The state Dal (S), headed by Ashok Das, a former president of the undivided Janata Dal in Orissa, wields considerable clout in several districts.

Besides Das, senior BJD leader Bijoy Mohapatra, who has fallen out with chief minister Naveen Patnaik, and former Congress finance minister Raghunath Patnaik are at the forefront of the campaign for a new front. Sulking Congress leader and former Union minister Srikant Jena has also been sounded.

The proposed front will hold its first rally at Bhubaneswar on October 29, coinciding with the first anniversary of the supercyclone that devastated the state last year. Former Prime Minister V. P. Singh and Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta are among the leaders likely to address the rally.

Justifying the launch of the new front, a senior BJD leader said the coalition government in Orissa has miserably failed to address the people�s problems and the Congress is not in a position to challenge it. Therefore, there is a need for a new platform, he added.

Resentment in the BJD against the �docile� Patnaik is mounting because of his �inability� to bargain for Orissa and the party with the Centre. Some MPs are angry because no BJD member was inducted into the Vajpayee ministry in the latest round of reshuffle.

�Parties like the Trinamul Congress, Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam drive a hard bargain and get Cabinet berths and projects for their respective states. But our party chief has abjectly surrendered to the Centre,� a senior leader said.

He claimed that the Centre was even denying the state its mineral royalty and since 1993, the state has been losing Rs 250 crore per annum.

Over a dozen BJD MPs, including P.K. Samantray, Trilochan Kanungo, Jagannath Mallick, Bhartuhari Mehtab and Prasanna Acharya, had submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in August, requesting him to increase the royalty as the state was facing a financial crunch.

Though Patnaik had held the steel and mines portfolio in the Vajpayee Cabinet and his colleague Dilip Ray looked after coal, neither made a strong case for royalty, the MPs said.

The parliamentarians also submitted a memorandum to the Eleventh Finance Commission, requesting it to compensate the royalty loss by chalking out alternative revenue-earning schemes. �Our chief minister is not even following it up,� complained a BJD leader.

Sources said the proposed front will maintain equi-distance from the Congress and the BJP. It will also avoid any understanding with the Left parties as they have a marginal presence in Orissa and, besides, the front wants to keep its option open on supporting the NDA regime.

However, a senior leader said a final decision on the inclusion of the Left groups will be taken after the front�s ideological contours have taken shape.    

Guwahati, Oct. 6: 
Two rebels of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Boroland were gunned down by the Army in Nalbari district last night.

An Army patrol raided village Pubrampur and shot dead the two rebels, who were trying to flee.

One Chinese-made revolver with ammunition and a grenade were recovered from the slain rebels. In another success on the counter-insurgency front, dreaded Ulfa hitman Manjit Das alias Saddam Hussain surrendered at Barpeta yesterday.

Another top cadre of the outfit operating in Barpeta district, Mainal Das, surrendered before the Barpeta deputy commissioner A.K. Kashyap.

Kachin-trained Manjit Das had jumped bail a couple of years ago. Security forces said the surrender of these two top members of the Ulfa�s action group has dealt a body blow to the banned outfit, especially in Barpeta district.    


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