Atal gives peace another chance
PWG strike near �massacre� village
Double message in Sonia dip
Subhas spurns patch-up attempt
Game shadow on Sourav honour
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 23: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee overcame objections from his party to announce a second extension of the Kashmir ceasefire, due to expire on Republic Day.

At the end of a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), it was clear that Vajpayee�s view had held sway over extension opponents in the home ministry and in the BJP.

Later in the day, Vajpayee told reporters that he wanted the �peace initiative to continue and to be given a chance�.

The separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference welcomed the announcement, describing it as a victory for the Prime Minister, but top militant groups based in Pakistan greeted it with outright rejection.

The ceasefire announcement without too many riders surprised many because, over the past few days, home minister L.K. Advani had not been explicit in his interactions with the media. He had, on the other hand, spoken against enforcing a ceasefire when militants continued to target innocent civilians and security personnel.

The CCS meeting took stock of the response from across the border, positive international reactions, significance of a new administration taking over at the White House and the scale of militancy in Kashmir. The three-hour meeting gave a fair indication that unanimity was not spontaneous. It was the foreign policy advantage that clinched the issue for Vajpayee.

It was a tough decision for the government. Even BJP president Bangaru Laxman, not known to be hostile towards the Prime Minister, had issued a statement late last week from Hyderabad insisting that the government take a �hard look� at the situation in Kashmir before any extension. Laxman was not trying to defy the Prime Minister; but was only conveying the popular perception in the BJP rank and file.

Defence minister George Fernandes, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, Planning Commission executive head K.C. Pant and army chief Gen. K. Padmanabhan were present at the meeting, apart from Vajpayee and Advani.

Announcing the decision, Jaswant Singh later said: �(The) initiative for peace taken by the PM on 23rd November on the eve of the holy month of Ramzan was, despite heinous acts of terrorism and violence against innocent men, women and children, extended by a month thereafter to coincide with Republic Day 2001. The present phase of peace in J&K is being extended, in that hope, by another month.�

It appears on hindsight that the government has tried to extract as much diplomatic mileage from the extension decision as possible. Resentment against persisting with the ceasefire has been orchestrated from within the BJP, the Sangh parivar and even the home ministry over the past few days. Only the army chief had said last week that extension of this current phase of cessation of hostilities would not harm his forces.

Singh made it repeatedly clear that the decision to extend the ceasefire had been taken despite a great degree of provocation. He said: �It is regrettable that Pakistan has not recognised the demand of time for peace and continues to promote, encourage and abet cross-border terrorism. This must cease and the activities of organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad curbed and controlled by Pakistan.�

At the same time, the government said � especially for the international audience that has been applauding these gestures from New Delhi � it believes that �violence must be ended and peace, which has been welcomed by the people of J&K, given every chance�.

In effect, the government was trying to tell Islamabad and the rest of the world it was difficult to take such a stand, but it was so sincere about peace in Kashmir that it had made another challenging decision. Talking to reporters later, Vajpayee urged Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere for resumption of talks. He said: �We have extended the ceasefire despite acts of violence continuing there.�

He passed the onus of reining in the militants to Pakistan. It was obvious his government did not believe Islamabad could only act the helpless spectator as militants crossed the international border or the Line of Control and moved into Indian territory.


New Delhi & Calcutta, Jan 23: 
A CPM supporter was killed and four others injured when PWG activists opened fire at Jhapur village in Midnapore.

The village is barely 5 km from Chhoto Angaria, which is still tense following the alleged CPM-sponsored massacre on January 4.

In today�s firing, 35-year-old farmer Ramzan Mullick was hit by a bullet while working in the field. He was taken to Midnapore Sadar Hospital where he died in the evening.

Police cordoned off the village and are combing the area for PWG activists. No arrests were made till late night.

Director-general of police D.K. Sanyal said CID officials will probe the incident and submit a report to the government. �After the Chhoto Angaria incident, we are not taking any chances. Senior officials have been asked to visit the village,� he added.

The minister of state for transport and local CPM legislator, Sushanta Ghosh, said the Naxalites fired when villagers were entering the hamlet with a police force.

Ghosh said the villagers had been in panic since the Chhoto Angaria incident. �The police were hounding out PWG activists who had taken shelter in Jhapur. But after the police raids became intense, villagers became panicky, and some of them went to the nearest police camp,� Ghosh said. The PWG men opened fire when the villagers were returning.

The Midnapore superintendent of police, Gaurav Dutt, who visited the spot late this evening, gave a different version. He said PWG activists attacked CPM supporters who took out a motorcycle rally. �We are raiding neighbouring villages to round up the assailants,� Dutt said. �The situation is tense and combing operations are on in full swing.�

CPM district secretary Deepak Sarkar alleged that Trinamul was involved in the attack. �Trinamul is hand-in-glove with the PWG. Any attack by the PWG always has the backing of Mamata Banerjee�s supporters,� Sarkar said.

Trinamul leader Asim Ojha retaliated, saying the CPM was behind the assault and claiming that its supporters riding motorcycles had tried to take over the village. �The village is full of our supporters who resisted,� Ojha said. He said this sparked off clashes in which several Trinamul supporters were injured.

BJP district chief Ramapada Tiwari, however, said he was not aware of any injury to either his party supporters or that of Trinamul. �All I can say is that forces opposed to the CPM put up resistance.�

Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said Mamata has been informed and a party team will be sent to the village tomorrow.


New Delhi, Jan. 23: 
Sonia Gandhi made a twin statement by taking the holy dip at Triveni on Monday, hushing the row about her religion and showcasing a liberal-moderate alternative to the Sangh�s brand of Hindutva.

The Congress chief also flashed the correct signals in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, deftly overturning charges that she lacked aggressiveness by crossing swords with the Sangh and robbing it of its monopoly on Hinduism.

�The real impact will be in rural India. Pictures of Sonia Gandhi taking a dip, performing Ganga puja, Ganpati puja, Kul Devta puja and Triveni puja will neutralise the RSS�s jan jagran abhiyan that has been harping on her foreign origins and make a difference to the popular mindset,� a Congress spindoctor said.

A 10 Janpath insider said Sonia had long been scouting for ways to silence her Italian-origins ruckus and grabbed the Kumbh opportunity to establish that she had turned a practising Hindu since her marriage into the Nehru-Gandhi family.

�She was itching to make that statement. She was tired of the RSS�s whisper campaign over her religious beliefs,� an AICC official close to Sonia said.

Sonia took the decision on the holy dip in consultation with Digvijay Singh, M.L. Fotedar and Suresh Pachauri. They also set up talks with the Dwarkapeeth Shankaracharya, Swami Swaroopanand, an �old friend� willing to extend a helping hand against the VHP.

Sonia aides said she was for keeping her religion private, but had been forced to rethink by the RSS�s �perpetual onslaught�. Party leaders also recalled a will she made in 1983, saying that after death, she wished to be cremated according to Hindu rites.

A Congress official said: �We succeeded on two counts. She managed to tell the world she is a practising Hindu and we dealt a blow to the Sangh parivar�s bid to monopolise Kumbh. By holding the dharam sansad at Kumbh, the VHP was giving an impression that Hinduism was its exclusive domain. Sonia�s visit has changed that.�


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
Rebel CPM leader Subhas Chakraborty has decided not to attend Thursday�s meeting between the state party bosses and the North 24-Parganas district leaders, frustrating the last-ditch peace attempt by mentor Jyoti Basu.

�It is too late. Had the state leadership been really interested in keeping the party united, they should have tried earlier. I think there is no need to sit with them,�� Chakraborty said.

The Bengal CPM secretariat, the highest policy-making body at the state level, has called a meeting with senior leaders of North 24-Parganas to stitch together a compromise between warring factions, one of which is led by Chakraborty.

�A committee led by Basu earlier directed the district committee to reinduct dropped leaders two years ago. But the leadership did not bother,� Chakraborty, who is also the transport minister, said.

He said the situation was such that there was no option but to take a �stern�� decision. �If the party splits, leaders who are calling the shots at Alimuddin Street will be responsible.��


Calcutta, Jan. 23: 
The match-fixing scandal, which hit cricket last April, has ensured the sport won�t ever be the same again.

It has also probably deprived Sourav Ganguly a place on the Government of India�s honours list, to be announced on Thursday, the eve of Republic Day.

[Viswanathan Anand, the newly-crowned chess world champion, though, is set to be suitably honoured. He already is a Padma Shri.]

According to The Telegraph�s sources, the city-based Indian captain�s name is �being discussed� as a Padma Shri awardee, but if he doesn�t make the cut it will only be because of cricket�s fall from grace.

�On merit, Sourav is a sure-shot awardee. Today, however, cricket isn�t exactly a priority in the corridors of power, though Sourav is definitely being talked about,� is how a source put it.

Then, again, it perhaps isn�t irrelevant that this is an election year in Bengal and Sourav remains the state�s icon No.1...

Significantly, the Prime Minister�s Office, North Block (specially the home ministry) and South Block get involved when the list of awardees is finalised.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, too, may have something to say. And, not just where the highest honours are concerned.

Besides dramatically changing the Indian team�s body-language, since becoming full-time captain early last year, Sourav has himself been leading from the front.

In fact, the year just-ended saw him retain his position as the world�s most prolific one-day batsman. Given the demands of one-day cricket, both on mind and body, it wasn�t just another achievement.

Going by the records, 23 cricketers have been honoured with the Padma Shri, with seven getting the next highest award, Padma Bhushan.

Three of the seven Padma Bhushan awardees � Vinoo Mankad, Prof. D.B. Deodhar and Kapil Dev � were first honoured with the Padma Shri.

Vijay Hazare and Jasu Patel were the maiden recipients of the Padma Shri (1960) from the cricket fraternity, while C.K. Nayudu (1956) was the first to get the Padma Bhushan.

No cricketer has been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan.




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Minimum: 18.5�C (+5)



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Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18�C
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Sunset: 5.13 pm

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