R-Day test for talks with Pakistan
Mamata arms for Atal date
Azhar claims in CBI bin
Farm pips Ram at heartland poll post
Wall springs up between Bihar first couple
Cong warhorse back in saddle
Atal revisits east with bridge to Vietnam
Push to settle border dispute
Hill school panel faces flak
Jawans beat up trader

New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
A summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf may take a little longer but there is a possibility that talks between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries could resume in a month or two.

The first signal of this is likely to come either a few days before or after the ceasefire ends on January 26. Over the past decade, Kashmir militants have struck in a big way during Republic Day celebrations. If there is no major violence on that day, an announcement may follow on the extension of the ceasefire period and, possibly, on a willingness to resume the dialogue between the top foreign service bureaucrats, stalled since February 1999.

Delhi realises that a violence-free atmosphere in Kashmir is asking for too much. But it wants to see a near-normal situation in the state before returning to the negotiations table.

But before doing that, the government sought to clear the air about the Hurriyat leaders� possible role in the dialogue, saying Delhi �rejects the notion� of tripartite talks on Kashmir. The statement is a message to the political opposition in India that the Hurriyat leaders, if and when they travel to Pakistan, will hold separate meetings with the leadership which should not be seen as a tripartite arrangement.

For the first time since taking office in August 2000, India�s high commissioner in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, called on Musharraf this afternoon. Nambiar said India wanted to �establish a relationship of trust and confidence, put in place a stable structure of cooperation and address all outstanding issues�.

He pointed out that for this, India had taken the initiative to establish the composite-dialogue process (foreign secretary-level talks) with Pakistan.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal, who briefed reporters after an informal meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, clarified that Nambiar�s visit was a courtesy call. Jassal said the security meet focused on the situation in Kashmir, the progress of Vajpayee�s peace initiative and yesterday�s attempt on the life of chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Nambiar raised the issue of continuing violence in Kashmir which is standing as a stumbling block to the resumption of dialogue. He stressed Delhi�s desire to resume the foreign secretaries� talks �at an early date�, but pointed out that for this, terror export must stop.

Home minister L.K. Advani had earlier during the day made it clear that Delhi finds it difficult to believe that Musharraf does not have any control over the militants. �If such activities go on, then we will have to see how and in what manner the peace initiative by the Prime Minister will continue,� he said.

There is a difference between Advani�s remarks and what Vajpayee said yesterday. The Prime Minister, while expressing concern over the continuing violence in Kashmir, had laid the blame for the attacks not on the military regime, but on �certain elements� in Pakistan.

Vajpayee, however, had made the remarks before the news of the bid on Abdullah�s life had come in. Advani�s statement appears to be an attempt to put the pressure back on the junta to rein in militants based in Pakistan.

During his talks with Nambiar, Musharraf expressed regret over the threats issued by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. But he refused to give any commitment when Nambiar told him that Delhi would like the general to rein in the militants.

Though Musharraf heard out the envoy, he argued that talks could resume even before �total normalcy� is restored in Kashmir. Musharraf supported his argument by saying that there has been a �substantial� reduction in tension following Pakistan�s response to the ceasefire.

India wants to exploit Musharraf�s eagerness to resume the dialogue. It wants to ascertain whether Musharraf is in control of the situation in Pakistan or whether there are others running the show from behind the scenes.

India believes there is no point in talking to the general if he can�t check the militants. But if he can, India stands to gain.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
Mamata Banerjee will call on Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tomorrow to apprise him of the �serious law and order situation� in Bengal.

The Trinamul chief, back in the capital after three weeks of relentless campaign against the ruling Left Front, will meet Vajpayee armed with �evidences� of CPM hand in the alleged carnage at Chhoto Angaria. She will meet her MPs before meeting Vajpayee.

Mamata, who has brought with her video cassettes, photographs, newspaper clippings and weapons as proof of CPM atrocity, discussed her strategy with Yerran Naidu. Mamata requested him to accompany her when she goes to meet Vajpayee tomorrow.

Though the Telugu Desam is opposed to the imposition of Article 356, sources said Yerran may express his concern over the situation subject to approval by his party chief Chandrababu Naidu.

Aware that allies like the Desam, the Akalis and the DMK are opposed to Article 356, Banerjee downplayed the issue of President�s rule in the state. �I will apprise the Prime Minister of the serious situation in the state. It is up to him to take whatever action he deems fit,� she told reporters.

However, sources said the party will press for Central rule in the state. �The NDA team which visited the state last week, defence minister George Fernandes, Congre-ss leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and the BJP have demanded President�s rule,� they said.

Mamata, who suffered injuries on her foot in an attack by alleged CPM workers, was confined to her M.S. Flats residence here. She will not attend the Cabinet meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Sources said they were aware that imposing President�s rule will not be easy. But the idea behind the clamour is to keep the issue alive to gain electoral mileage. The BJP and the Trinamul agree that something has to be done to ensure �free and fair polls� in the state. Mamata�s strategy sessions with NDA leaders from tomorrow will focus on this aspect too.

The NDA team, which visited Chhoto Angaria and Garbeta last week, today asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to direct the CPM-led government in Bengal to ensure protection of people�s fundamental rights and sought a visit by it to the state. It has also sought appointments with President K.R. Narayanan and Vajpayee.

Asked what the NHRC could do with its limited powers, Vijay Goel, who led the NDA team, said: �The truth will come out. The CPM will be exposed on the human rights violations it is committing in states ruled by it. Then commission can take steps.�


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
The CBI today dismissed Mohammad Azharuddin�s claims that it did not investigate certain Mumbai cricketers for their alleged role in the match-fix scandal.

The bureau denied that it had found anything incriminating ag-ainst Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri who were among those named by the former India skipper.

�We made all the necessary enquiries regarding the Mumbai cricketers and our probe did not come up with any evidence linking them to either match-fixing or even bookies,� CBI special director Gopal Achari, who supervised the probe, said.

�This is not the first time that he (Azharuddin) has made such claims,� Achari said. �He had told us about the Mumbai cricketers when he was questioned by investigators.�

Achari said efforts were on to probe the alleged cricketer-bookies-underworld nexus. �Enquiries are on and some development has taken place. But it would be too premature to disclose anything at this juncture. There are some leads which are being followed up,� he said.

Highlighting the bureau�s achievements, CBI director R.K. Raghavan said the conviction rate, which was poor till 1999, had improved considerably. Last year, he said, the conviction rate had shot up by 16 per cent and stood at an �encouraging� 74 per cent.

Raghavan, who is due to retire in April, said the CBI�s focus over the past couple of years was to speed up the old under-investigation cases and those in the trial stage for eight years or more.

With an average of 1,000 cases registered every year, the rank and file in the organisation have been directed to improve prosecution and trial. �Superintendents of police have been advised to be present in court when cases come up for hearing,� the CBI chief said.

Raghavan said the agency has despatched letters rogatory to 17 countries, including Switzerland, Australia and Singapore, to follow-up on the recommendations of the Jain Commission which went into the circumstances leading to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Officials of the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA), including CBI officials, are probing the source of the LTTE�s funds. MDMA officials also visited Sri Lanka to seek the extradition of Tiger chief V. Prabhakaran and Pottu Aman.

On the Purulia armsdrop case, Raghavan said the CBI was keeping tabs on the whereabouts of the main accused, Niels Christian Nielsen alias Kim Peter Davy, a Danish national.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
Kisan has scored over Ram in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP has decided not to play up the Ayodhya issue during the poll campaign and, instead, concentrate on wooing farmers.

The decision was taken last week in the state executive at Jhansi but no official announcement was made. Elections are due in October.

Party sources admitted that after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee took the lead in reviving the Ram temple plank, the feedback from the ground was �not too encouraging�. The BJP now believes that the �temple card� is unlikely to yield the dividends it had paid in the 1991 general elections. �In our country, any issue, however emotive or catchy, works just once. This seems to be true of the Ram mandir issue too,� a source said.

The central leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Pyarelal Khandelwal, said: �The temple was never an issue with us. When did we ever say we would use it?�

After a �frank� discussion at the Jhansi meeting � in which members stressed how the BJP got �alienated� from farmers and other villagers and how important it was for ministers and legislators to reconnect with them � Khandelwal came up with a �gaon chalo� (go to the villages) agenda.

The slogan he coined for the campaign was: �Ek raat, gaon niwas�. All legislators, including ministers, have been asked to spend one night each in a village in their own constituencies without the trappings of power. They will have to forgo their security for the night.

Khandelwal said members have been asked to choose villages that are unconnected by proper roads and do not have electricity or running water. �Like everyone else, the ministers, however senior they are, will have to use the fields for their morning ablutions,� he said.

The programme will start on the BJP�s foundation day on April 6 and continue till July 6, the birth anniversary of Jana Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.

Sources said the programme was intended to warm up the MLAs as well as the voters for the elections. Since there was a perception that the government�s �achievements� in the rural sector had not been communicated effectively, this could try and rectify the �mismatch�, they felt.

�Our government has done spectacular things like opening up a record number of paddy procurement centres, raising the sugarcane support price and introducing kisan panchayats for regular meetings with farmers, yet our opponents have branded the BJP an anti-farmer party. There�s a danger the charge may stick unless we act immediately,� sources said.

The programme will not attempt to clear the doubts that, even BJP sources admitted, were being expressed over the Centre�s agricultural policy and its failure to tackle the surplus food scenario and the uneven distribution of foodstock among the states.

After the initial ambiguity on the Ram temple following Vajpayee�s conflicting statements, the Uttar Pradesh BJP has decided that its own response should be �carefully calibrated�.


Patna, Jan. 15: 
A wall now separates Laloo Yadav and his chief minister-wife.

After living in Rabri Devi�s sprawling bungalow at 1 Anne Marg for over three years, Laloo will at last have a home to himself.

His wife�s government has allotted a separate house to Laloo at 15 Kautilya Marg. The bungalow, which is almost as large as the one belonging to the chief minister, is located on a road running parallel to Anne Marg. Bihar�s first couple will be separated by a wall.

Laloo was quick to nip in the bud any speculation, clarifying that the separation was by choice and there was no domestic squabble behind the move. �Only to be politically more correct, I will be there on the other side of the chief minister�s house. There will be a back-door gate which we can use,� he said.

Laloo, who had been staying at 1 Anne Marg since 1990, retained his hold on the house even after he was forced to step down as chief minister in 1997 over fodder scam charges by installing his wife in the seat.

Either as MLA or an MP, Laloo became a guest in the house of his wife. While some of the state�s key meetings were held inside, Laloo would sit for parleys with party leaders in an out-house in the same premises.

Laloo�s application for a separate home to Md. Taslimuddin, who is in charge of housing and building construction, initially took the department by surprise.

Taslimuddin sat on the application as Laloo is now an MLA only and not a minister. But Rabri intervened. �Will you not sanction a house for your party chief?� she is said to have told him. Thrown off guard, Taslimuddin allotted the bungalow.

A section of party workers felt that Taslimuddin had delayed the sanction as he belonged to the rival camp of Ranjan Yadav.

Laloo said that being an MLA from Danapur, he needed a separate house as there was not enough space in the Anne Marg house to accommodate his supporters.

RJD insiders said Laloo decided to concentrate more on politics ever since his leadership came under threat from the rebel group led by Ranjan Yadav.

Ranjan, who called himself a �a true Yadav�, got together a section of RJD MLAs on the plea that Laloo�s leadership did not have the �adequate thrust on development�.

Though Ranjan�s cries have lost their sting now, they had their effect on a section of minority ministers who have been threatening to quit the government.

Laloo had recently called a meeting of all district RJD presidents. But of the 37 district presidents, only 27 turned up, triggering speculation that many of them were �instigated� by the dissidents to stay away.

With panchayat polls a couple of months away, Laloo was in no mood to let the rebels get a chance. From the next month, he is set to start a campaign to revitalise his political contacts.

The rebels are now running a whisper campaign that by getting for himself a new house, Laloo will put an additional burden on the exchequer. �Some of his close relatives have been allotted large houses in the VIP neighbourhood though they are not entitled to ministerial bungalows,� claimed a rebel minister.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
Veteran leader Pranab Mukherjee has been entrusted with the task of drafting party resolutions for the Bangalore plenary with Congress president Sonia Gandhi inducting the old guard in the panel.

The panel is packed with senior leaders like Arjun Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Natwar Singh, A.K. Antony, Madhavrao Scindia, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh indicating that Sonia is set to retain them in the Congress Working Committee. Sonia has been authorised to name the 24 members of the apex decision-making body within this week.

The AICC president has also drafted Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid and Janardhan Dwivedi into the panel to strike a balance between the veterans and young Turks. Aiyar and Khurshid are vying for CWC berths.

Many CWC members, who are likely to be dropped, have not been included in the panel. Prominent among them are R.K. Dhawan, K. Karunakaran and Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy.

Pranab�s induction as panel head was announced even as a lobby within the Congress was working overtime to ensure his exit from the CWC on grounds that he was a state Congress chief.

By convention, state unit presidents are not CWC members. But highly-placed sources said Sonia will draft Pranab into the CWC. She reportedly told some leaders that Pranab was an �asset and indispensable� for the CWC and the party.

The Congress leadership plans to move a separate paper on agriculture in view of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regimentation and quantity restrictions being lifted in April. The party will set the records straight on why it chose to sign the WTO in 1994 and how the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime was �falsely trying to implicate� the Congress when the government advanced the lifting of quantity restrictions by three years without preparing a conducive atmosphere.

The leadership is also toying with the idea of having a panel to review the party�s decision to reserve 33 per cent seats for women at all levels of the party hierarchy.

The step has not achieved the desired results as most states have fallen short of the quota. The party has managed to enroll 20 per cent of women at the state and national levels.

Out of the 30 state party units, only three women head PCC units in Rajasthan, Goa and Himachal Pradesh.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
In the 1960s, the Leftists dreamt of the Bhagirathi breaking shores with the Mekong river. Ironically, at the turn of the century it is the right-wing BJP government that is almost realising the dream.

Kicking off his tour of Southeast Asia, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said he was from a political generation which was �consumed by the cause of Vietnam�. It is the historical strong bond between the two countries that has made it possible for him to renew the friendship with Hanoi.

Summing up his week-long visit to Vietnam and Indonesia, Vajpayee yesterday recalled the days of the Bandung Summit where India, Indonesia and others formulated the Non-Aligned Movement�s policy and took up the cudgels for the developing world.

�In modern times, these historical relations get a new meaning. In both countries, my visit has been successful and our traditional bilateral relations have been strengthened further,� Vajpayee said.

It was P.V. Narasimha Rao who, in 1992, embarked on his �Look East� policy and stressed on the importance of Southeast Asia. Vajpayee insists that the policy should now be termed �Revisit East�.

The BJP-led government has started serious engagement through its �Ganga-Mekong Swarnabhumi Project� with a host of other countries in the region. Next month, Vajpayee will visit Malaysia and Japan.

Sitting in the island of Bali hours before he was to return to the political humdrum of Delhi, the Prime Minister spoke about the similarity of the culture that exists in India and in Southeast Asia. Referring to festivals like Lori and Mrakat Sankranti which are linked to harvest, Vajpayee said: �Here, too, they rejoice once the crop is cut.�

Officials said the decision to better ties with the region was not an overnight development, but a gradual recognition of each other�s potential and importance. When Narasimha Rao wanted a closer interaction with Southeast Asia, his thrust was on bringing in foreign investment.

Subsequently, though India became a member of the Asean Regional Forum � the high-profile security body � in 1996, the engagement between Delhi and Asean member-nations did not reach the expected level. One reason for this was the red-tape in India which drove away some investors. The other was, perhaps, the economic meltdown in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, though India looked like a promising investment destination, Delhi was not really seen as a major player in Asia. The nuclear tests changed all that.

With the US showing keen interest in the country and praising its expertise in information technology, the members of Asean � a grouping set up during the Cold War as a pro-US bloc � began following suit.

Asean is now a grouping of 10 nations with countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar as its members. This has made the region India�s extended neighbourhood.

Oil and natural gas, copper, gold and other minerals and natural resources are aplenty in the region. India�s expertise in infotech, oil drilling and exploration, its chemical and pharmaceutical and engineering companies all can find a ready market in Southeast Asia.

But for an interaction of this magnitude, the security of the region is closely linked to that of India�s. Delhi has to ensure the sea-lanes are free of trouble and there is stability in the region to ensure that its new foreign policy thrust in Southeast works.


New Delhi, Jan. 15: 
India and China today stressed on settling their decades-old border dispute by agreeing to complete the process of clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) �as soon as possible�.

The agreement was reached during a 30-minute meeting this afternoon between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Li Peng, chairman of China�s National People�s Congress.

The meeting was brief but important. Li, number two in the Chinese pecking order, needed to have a meeting with Vajpayee if they were to settle the border dispute. The �warm and friendly� atmosphere of the talks indicated that both sides were keen on strong bilateral ties, despite differences on some key issues.

Vajpayee said India and China, as neighbours, had to solve all problems in a way that satisfied both. He had set the tone for today�s session in a statement yesterday when he returned to Delhi from a week-long tour of Southeast Asia.

�As two great civilisations and neighbours, India and China are engaged in the process of resolving, and putting behind us, past differences and forging a new and dynamic relationship for the 21st century for the benefit of our two countries and the world,� Vajpayee said.

Li responded today by highlighting many of the ideas India and China shared as two of the biggest developing nations with a significant percentage of world population. Both acknowledged there were differences but felt the common ground between the two far outweighed the points of conflict. Li left for Bangalore en route to Beijing in the evening.

One of the major differences between the two sides is over Chinese help to Pakistan�s nuclear and missile programme �which has India as the main target. But Delhi has learnt from experience that it is better to go ahead and normalise relations with Beijing rather than allow bilateral ties to be held hostage by a single issue.

China, which has set about strengthening its economy, also wants a tranquil border and the surest way of achieving that is by settling its long-lasting dispute with India. Beijing has already settled its border disputes with Vietnam and Russia.

For India, now in the process of resuming talks with Pakistan, it is important that it does not have to keep heavy forces ready along its borders with both countries. The situation in Kashmir and the unpredictability of its relations with Islamabad make it all the more necessary that relations with China does not deteriorate.

Both Vajpayee and Li said they were satisfied at the progress on this front, including the recent exchange of maps on the middle sector.

Li extended an invitation to Vajpayee on behalf of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. Vajpayee reciprocated saying India was expecting a visit from Premier Zhu. He welcomed Li�s suggestion that there should be greater exchange of parliamentary delegations. An Indian delegation is expected to visit China soon.

The Prime Minister also asked China, which would be soon joining the World Trade Organisation, to work together with India in the world body, particularly for the interest of developing nations.


Siliguri, Jan. 15: 
The government has taken a serious view of the alleged irregularities in the appointment of teachers by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)-run school service commission in the Darjeeling hills.

Minister for urban development and municipal affairs Ashoke Bhattacharya told reporters here today that the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC)-operated secondary and higher secondary school service commission had resorted to illegal means while appointing teachers.

�I will take up the issue of the DGHC school service commission�s arbitrary manner of appointing teachers in secondary and higher secondary schools under the hill council�s purview with the state education minister,� Bhattacharya said.

�The state government had set up a separate school service commission in the Darjeeling hills under the DGHC. The decision followed GNLF legislator Shanta Chettri�s demand in the Assembly for a separate school service commission. In 1998, the DGHC was handed over the charge of selecting teachers for both secondary and higher secondary schools with the hill council,� he added.

Bhattacharya, who is also in-charge of the hill development affairs, said: �We conceded Ms Chettri�s demand for a separate school service commission. Yet, the commission set up under the DGHC has been functioning at its own sweet will. While appointing the chairman of the DGHC school commission, the council chairman, Subhas Ghising, was consulted.�

The minister alleged that despite giving the commission a free hand in selecting candidates, 261 teachers selected by the panel have not yet been appointed by the hill council. At least 59 candidates selected by the school service commission in 1999 and another 172 teachers who passed the selection test last year have not received any intimation from the commission in this regard.

Bhattacharya said the DGHC had illegally appointed candidates on its �own� and many of them had not even appeared for the commission�s selection exams.


Durgapur, Jan. 15: 
Army jawans beat up a trader in Bud Bud yesterday morning.

Dipak Debnath, a furniture trader, was admitted to hospital in a critical condition.

Army officers and jawans had gone to inspect Ammunition Road which belongs to the defence ministry. They found the road illegally occupied by traders.

An altercation ensued when the traders were asked to wind up their business and dismantle their shops. Debnath, the traders� leader, was beaten up severely.

Residents today staged a demonstration in front of Bud Bud police station, demanding arrest of the jawans named in the FIR.


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