Red faces after Red Fort raid
Maiden choice in foreign office
Two Abus, but few answers
Calcutta gets Kolkata
Party spares govt of Basu tour bills
Truce term follows mudbath
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 23: 
Squirming in the blinding glare of an attack that spilled blood inside one of the most enduring images of power in the country, the government today admitted that a security lapse led to the mysterious assault on Red Fort.

An embarrassed army has ordered a high-level inquiry into last night’s strike in which three persons, including two jawans, died. The government also rushed to keep the Kashmir ceasefire intact with defence minister George Fernandes saying the attack would have no impact on the peace initiative.

Fernandes denied intelligence failure, but admitted that “security inside the premises is virtually nil as otherwise it would cause a major problem to those who visit this historic place”.

A jolted Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, met this afternoon to take stock of the situation and review the ceasefire.

Home minister L.K. Advani later described the incident as a bid to “sabotage” the peace drive.

A report from Islamabad quoted Lashkar-e-Toiba spokesman Abu Osama as having said the militant outfit was responsible for the attack. Asked to comment on the Lashkar’s claims, Fernandes said there has been no indication from the proof gathered, “but we are on the lookout”.

The entire Red Fort complex was sealed off and an unparalleled security cordon thrown around the adjoining area and the Walled City.

A combing operation was launched, but the two militants, suspected to have been members of a suicide squad of the Lashkar, have not been traced. The militants allegedly scaled the 18-foot-high rear wall of the fortress and escaped.

Neither the army nor the police could offer a credible version of the shooting. Police said an AK-47 assault rifle, two magazines, one empty and the other with 28 rounds, were recovered early this morning near Vijay Ghat. A diary containing some mobile phone numbers and Rs 900 in cash and 37 empty cartridge shells were found at the base of the outer wall.

The reports on the incident were conflicting. According to the police, two car-borne militants entered the fort through the Salim Gate and shot down three persons before fleeing in the direction of Ring Road behind the eastern walls of Red Fort.

But messages on the very high frequency radio transmitters of the police said four to five persons had been seen racing towards Ring Road. Another report had said the power supply within the fortress had been snapped minutes before the attack.

The army version did not appear fool-proof either. An army spokesman said a couple of armed militants entered the fort around 9.05 pm. The militants, wearing “dark fatigues”, made their way into the fortress through the Salim Gate and headed for the headquarters of 7 Rajputana Rifles. The Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau interrogation cells are nearby.

The first to be gunned down was Abdullah Thakur of the army’s supply platoon. The militants then moved to the Motor Transport Park where rifleman Uma Shankar, a combatant barber, was fired upon. According to the army, the militants, firing their AK-47 rifles, chased Uma Shankar before he was brought down.

Unchallenged so far, the militants moved towards the battalion’s office complex and killed Naik Ashok Kumar, who died while being taken to the hospital. The militants suddenly turned back towards the Archaeological Survey of India museum in the south and fired on armed policemen standing nearby.

All this while, not a single shot was fired by armymen who also did not allow the police to enter the fortress complex for quite some time after the shootout. Before the quick-reaction team of the army could fire back, the militants fled.


New Delhi, Dec. 23: 
Backtracking on an earlier choice, South Block today named Chokila Iyer the first woman foreign secretary of the country.

Iyer, a 1964 batch officer from Sikkim, is India’s ambassador to Ireland now. The brief foreign ministry statement announcing Iyer’s appointment said: “She will have the distinction of being the first woman foreign secretary.”

She will also be the first tribal and the first official from the Northeast to become the foreign secretary.

With specialisation in Spanish affairs, she has served in Mexico City and held positions such as joint secretary of coordination, consular-passport-visa divisions and additional secretary in the ministry. Iyer has also worked in Berne and Mahe. She was earlier slated to go the Hague as ambassador.

Iyer will replace Lalit Mansingh, who is due to retire on April 30, next year. Mansingh will go to Washington as India’s ambassador, replacing Naresh Chandra.

Mansingh took over as foreign secretary in December last year after a 14-month tenure in Britain as high commissioner.

He is scheduled to retire on March 31 but may leave early next year for his new assignment in the US.

If that happens, Iyer will head the foreign office for at least one-and-a-half years as she will retire only in June 2002.

A host of hopefuls, including Deb Mukherjee, R.S. Kalha, Satish Chandra, Siddharta Singh and Dilip Mehta, is now out of the running for the highest post in the service as her tenure outlasts their’s.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, South Block insiders say, was keen on bringing in Kanwal Sibal, India’s ambassador to France, as foreign secretary. National security adviser and Prime Minister’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra also backed Singh in a rare display of consensus.

But this would have meant that after Mansingh, a 1963 batch officer, Sibal would have jumped two batches — 1964 and 1965 — to head the Indian Foreign Service. Sibal is a 1966 batch officer.

The proposal was risk-prone as it could have triggered a wave of resentment in the elite service and prompted some of the bypassed officers to move court against the government’s choice.

The decision to bring in Chokila may have caused some disappointment but it has averted generating disgruntlement.

Sibal will be coming to South Block anyway to replace K.V. Rajen as secretary (east), who retires on March 31. Sibal will now have to wait till Iyer’s retirement to occupy the foreign secretary’s chair.


New Delhi, Dec. 23: 
Gaps in the army’s version of the sequence of events inside the Red Fort have raised doubts whether the strike was really a daring operation by the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

In Srinagar, an anonymous spokesman of the Lashkar identified the two militants said to be involved in the attack as Abu Sakher and Abu Sajid. It has never been the practice of any militant organisation in Kashmir to identify individual mujahideen in any operation.

Militants usually pounce on any opportunity, especially if the target has a profile as high as the Red Fort, but the zeal to disclose names and the precision-timing in breaking the news this time has been extraordinary.

Last night’s telephone call to the Delhi office of the BBC by another unidentified Lashkar spokesman, even before the picture was clear, underscores the point that someone, somewhere is working overtime to pin the blame on Lashkar, though there is no concrete proof available with the government.

The army version is also being questioned by officials in some security agencies. With the so-called shootout between an intruder and marine commandos at navy chief Sushil Kumar’s official residence here about three weeks ago still fresh in the minds of officials, last night’s incident has thrown up several unanswered questions.

For instance, how did the two militants, that too carrying AK-47 rifles, gain access into the fortress, although both the Lahori and Salim gates were guarded? Every vehicle is stopped and the occupants questioned before a green signal is given.

The same procedure is followed for any vehicle leaving the fortress. This fundamental drill is undertaken because the Red Fort houses interrogation cells of the Intelligence Bureau and the Military Intelligence.

Another contentious point was raised by police, who wonder why their personnel were not allowed entry long after the alleged attack was over. “Our men were told to stay put at the Lahori and Salim gates. Had we been informed in time, we could have provided back-up support,” a police officer said. On the roads of the capital — where the assailants reportedly melted away — the police are better equipped than the army for a manhunt.

Darkness shrouds a power failure in the fort. “How, why and who snapped the power supply just before the shooting began?” a police officer asked. “What made the jawans react so late? The first shots were fired only after the so-called terrorists had stopped shooting and killed at least two persons.”

The police are wondering why the suicide squad did not fight to the finish. “The squad would have achieved greater success had they set off an explosion inside the fortress,” a police officer said. “These questions will form part of our investigation,” he added.


Calcutta, Dec. 23: 
Calcutta has returned from Delhi as Kolkata. The Centre today formally approved the proposal to rechristen the city.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, one of the prime movers behind the rename campaign, said: “Akhhon Kolkata phire elo Kolkatay (Now Kolkata has returned to Kolkata).”

He added: “Though belated, I am happy that the Union home ministry has accepted our proposal to change the name of Calcutta to Kolkata.”

Not everyone in the city, however, looks forward to life as Kolkatabasi. Writer Annada Shankar Roy, for one.

“I am not in favour of changing the spelling of a name which has been in existence for 300 years,” said Roy, who is also Bangiya Bhasa Parishad chairman. “The government has aped Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, which changed the names of Bo-mbay and Madras to Mumbai and Chennai,” the nonagenarian said.

The proposal to rename the 310-year-old city was sent to the Union home ministry by the state government last year. The Centre put its stamp of approval “after careful consideration”.

State chief secretary Manish Gupta said Calcutta would become Kolkata — at least on official letterheads and stationery — very soon. Bengal is waiting for the formal letter from Delhi.

“We will make a notification in the Gazette and send it to proper authorities,” said Gupta. He added that the Centre would send the approval to the department of posts and the Survey of India, which will decide how Kolkata would be spelt in Hindi.

Kolkata, however, has found no favour with another Calcuttan, film director Mrinal Sen. Quoting Annada Shankar Roy, Sen said Calcutta and Kolkata go hand in hand, phonetically, linguistically and historically. “If reason and sentiment go hand in hand, there is nothing like it,” he added.

But writer Sunil Gangopadhyay, an ardent advocate of the new name, welcomed the Centre’s decision. “Why should the name of our city be different in English and Bengali?” Gangopadhyay asked. He was also for renaming West Bengal. “Our state is called West Bengal, a translation of Paschim Banga. No other state is named this way,” he said.

A move is afoot for Paschim Banga, but the Centre has not taken any initiative on the matter.

A state’s name has to be changed through an Act of Parliament. In the case of a city, a state government can move on its own after a clearance from the Centre.


Calcutta, Dec. 23: 
Bowing to criticism from the Trinamul Congress, the CPM state leadership today decided that the government will not fund Jyoti Basu’s tours any longer.

The Trinamul had protested against the government for bearing the cost of Basu’s recent tours to districts.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today issued a circular to all party district committees asking them to bear the cost of Basu’s visits to their respective districts.

“Our respected leader Jyoti Basu will be visiting districts to participate in party programmes. He is not very well and you have to take care of his health during his stay in your districts. The state committee will bear the transport costs for Basu’s visit, but you have to bear the cost of his boarding and lodging,” Biswas instructed the district leaderships.

However, Basu is still staying at Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake, earmarked as the official residence of the chief minister. He is also using the police convoy that he used to get during his chief ministership.

An official of the state home department said: “Basu enjoys Z category security and is entitled to 24-hour police escorts. There is no possibility of reducing the security arrangements.”

Basu still moves with a convoy of nine cars, including an ambulance. The number of cars in his convoy goes up during district tours.

Controversy over Basu’s tours reached the peak when he visited Domkal in Murshidabad last month.


Calcutta, Dec. 23: 
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president, A.C. Muthiah, will initiate moves for a Raj Singh Dungarpur-Sunil Gavaskar patch-up.

Gavaskar, a member of the National Cricket Academy (NCA) advisory council, put in his papers yesterday, offended by a Raj Singh remark to a Mumbai tabloid.

Raj Singh, a former BCCI president and the NCA’s founder-chairman, had actually reacted to an observation by Gavaskar in one of his columns —- that an exclusive NCA XI shouldn’t have got a game against Zimbabwe.

Gavaskar’s resignation, of course, has not been accepted. Though the BCCI’s Core Group met in Mumbai today, that wasn’t the forum to (officially) discuss Indian cricket’s newest controversy.

“I feel both Gavaskar and Raj Singh have acted impulsively... Both, in fact, made purely personal remarks (through the Media) and got carried away...

“Indian cricket needs both Raj Singh and Gavaskar and I’m awaiting a good opportunity to bring the two together,” Muthiah told The Telegraph this evening, when contacted on his cellphone in Mumbai.

Speaking exclusively, again from Mumbai, Gavaskar declared late tonight that he would “give a thought to anything that will be in the interest of Indian cricket”. This includes possibly again working with Raj Singh.

That, to say the least, is significant.

However, should things eventually be left one-to-one, Raj Singh is firm the first move must come from Gavaskar.

Contacted in Mumbai, Raj Singh said: “Gavaskar is younger to me and, so, he will have to take step No.1. Should that be done, I won’t have a problem sitting across the table with him.”

Though Gavaskar earlier told a wire service “he (Raj Singh) is a self-confessed failure and people in glass houses should not throw stones at others,” he had softened somewhat when this correspondent spoke to him.

In fact, Gavaskar went to the extent of acknowledging “we have had some good times...”

Raj Singh (contacted before Gavaskar), for his part, added: “Gavaskar has informed people he has lost all respect for me... Well, I should be the one to be bitter, but I’m large-hearted... Indeed, I’ve always had very healthy respect for India’s greatest batsman.”

According to Raj Singh, while he “didn’t enjoy” what he told the tabloid, he stood by his “you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hound” observation, directed at Gavaskar.

“Instead of disparaging remarks specific to the NCA boys, Gavaskar should have complimented them for drawing versus Zimbabwe, their maiden first-class match.

“It won’t be out of place to mention that while the NCA drew (in Indore), the Board President’s XI —- comprising the second-string —- lost their Zimbabwe game (in Faridabad)... The NCA boys only need encouragement and exposure.”

Raj Singh tore into Gavaskar for calling him a “self-confessed failure.”

He put it thus: “At least, I’ve had the courage to admit I could do nothing during the three years that I was the BCCI president. But, did Gavaskar have the courage to admit his failings not once but twice?

“First, when he took 60 overs to score an unbeaten 36 in the inaugural World Cup (1975, against East Africa) and, then, when he almost conceded the Melbourne Test (1980-81)... He has got away with lots.”

[The then manager, Wing Cdr Shahid Durani, and fellow-opener Chetan Chauhan dissuaded Gavaskar from walking off —- a fallout of questionable umpiring —- and, thereby, helped avoid authoring dubious history.]

That infamous innings remains a sensitive issue and Raj Singh’s reference to that last year —- after being infuriated by a comment during the World Cup —- had, perhaps, prompted Gavaskar to announce “I’m through with Indian cricket.”

Incidentally, the occasion for that headline-grabbing remark was a public function to mark Gavaskar’s 50th birthday.

Obviously, that was an emotional reaction as Gavaskar didn’t sever links with the NCA nor did he quit the BCCI’s technical committee.

And, earlier this year, the BCCI nominated him as chairman of the ICC’s Cricket Committee (Playing).

There’s talk, however, that Gavaskar is miffed the BCCI didn’t include him on the panel which interviewed Greg Chappell, John Wright and Geoff Marsh.

Frankly, his services should have been utilised.

The five-member panel, which selected Wright as the first coach from overseas, had two former India cricketers: Hanumant Singh and Srinivas Venkatraghavan.

Apparently, the BCCI sought to make amends by inviting Gavaskar to “brief” Wright, in Raj Singh’s company, on the eve of the Delhi Test (the coach’s maiden assignment). It didn’t work.

Gavaskar initially agreed to be present but, then, couldn’t make it. “I wanted to go, but something else cropped up,” he explained.

Perhaps, this latest jhamela took root then itself.




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