Atal kicks off campaign on swadeshi tone
Death mars protest meet
FTV team flying in to negotiate content
Orissa bias backlash
Compulsory tax on BJP quake relief agenda
Warship safety worries navy brass
Indo-Pak talks hope brightens with Saarc meet
Ghising alert after bomb call
Scholarship test faces SFI fire
Antiques recovered

Coimbatore, Feb. 16: 
After preparing the nation for a harsh budget, the Prime Minister today chose a swadeshi platform to appease the hardliners in his party.

Speaking at the inauguration of an industrial fair here organised by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Atal Bihari Vajpayee urged the nation to be self-reliant or “swavalamban”.

“The India of our dreams cannot be built by following the path of “paravalamban” or by depending on others. It can only be built by ourselves relying on our own efforts, with outside cooperation and assistance playing a supplementary role and not a central one in nation-building,” Vajpayee said.

This theory holds true in this age of globalisation, the Prime Minister added.

Vajpayee said swadeshi is inseparable from the concept of swaraj. “Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi, the thinking in the first half of the last century resonated with the sound of swadeshi,” he said.

“By expounding and articulating this powerful thought, Gandhiji made both Indians and foreigners aware that India’s struggle was not merely for political independence. Political independence was a means and a pre-condition for achieving social and economic liberation based on the Indian model of development,” the Prime Minister said.

Paying tribute to the entrepreneurs of the region, Vajpayee declared that his government was committed to promoting traditional industries “because they will promote India’s balanced socio-economic development”.

Vajpayee, on a day’s visit to Coimbatore, kicked off the election campaign for the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls due in three months, at the fair. He urged the people to renew their support for the National Democratic Alliance.

“We still have a long way to go to meet the expectations and needs of all our people. But the NDA has shown the way.... I am confident that the people of Tamil Nadu will renew their mandate to our alliance whenever the next elections are held,” Vajpayee said.

“We have respected regional aspirations and enabled the regional parties to play their due role in managing the nation’s affairs,” Vajpayee said.

When asked to comment on the PMK pullout, the Prime Minister said the departure of the two ministers had in no way affected the National Democratic Alliance. “Our government is stable and will continue,” he told reporters at the Coimbatore airport.

On whether there had been any difference of opinion between him and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi over the PMK pullout, the Prime Minister said: “Our relationship is very cordial. We will continue to work with more cooperation.”

He congratulated Karunanidhi for his far-sighted leadership and said, “We are also partners at the Centre. I would very much like to see this partnership to continue for the good of Tamil Nadu and entire country. This partnership in the form of NDA has pr-oved that a coalition government at the Centre can be stable and fulfil the people’s aspirations.”

The Prime Minister said Centre-state relations had been excellent. He felt India’s prestige in the international community had grown considerably and the entire world now recognised India as a strong and emerging economic power.


Srinagar, Feb. 16: 
A 16-year-old was killed and five others were wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters this morning, prompting the administration to impose a curfew in the civil lines area.

Demonstrations against yesterday’s killing of four civilians were being held across the city. At Maisuma, youths pelted stones on policemen and passing vehicles. A security force vehicle opened fire on the protestors, injuring 16-year-old Javed Ahmad Nath and five others. They were shifted to hospital, where Javed died.

Hundreds of people, including women and children, came out on the streets defying curfew restrictions as Nath’s body was brought home. Paramilitary and police troops in strength were deployed in Maisuma after the firing.

Following widespread protests, the Jammu and Kashmir government today upgraded the level of the judicial probe into yesterday’s firing at Hygam.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah told the Assembly that sitting high court judge Justice O.P. Sharma will look into the circumstances leading to the firing. The probe report will be placed in the legislature.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee spoke to Abdullah on phone and expressed anguish over the incident. “I told him the people of Kashmir are caught in such a situation where it is beyond their comprehension as to who were the killers,” the chief minister said.

Vajpayee has asked for a detailed report, Abdullah added. “I will plead with him for severest punishment to the killers once they are identified by the probe,” he promised.

The ceasefire in Kashmir announced by the Centre comes up for review next week

Srinagar residents, mostly youths, had come out on the streets this morning to protest yesterday’s killings.

Shouting anti-government and pro-freedom slogans, they indulged in stone-pelting in several areas, including Maisuma, Mehraj Bazaar, Basant Bagh, Nowhatta, Bohri Kadal, Soura and Hawal.

Nearly 15,000 people assembled at Hygam. Shouting pro-freedom slogans, the protesters reached the village in buses, trucks and on foot. Militant leaders addressed the gathering and condemned the killing of four villagers and the local pharmacist.

The pharmacist, Jaleel Ahmed Shah, had died in custody after he was picked up by the special operation group (SOG) of the state police on Wednesday.

Villagers had been protesting his death yesterday when they were fired upon.


New Delhi, Feb. 16: 
Action on the French fashion channel FTV is gathering momentum.

On Monday, February 19, a high-level delegation of the FTV management is flying into Delhi to meet senior officials of the information and broadcasting ministry at Shastri Bhavan around late afternoon.

The three-member team will comprise FTV director general Francois Thiellet, content creator Paule Jensen and FTV Asia managing director Malone.

Union minister for information and broadcasting Sushma Swaraj has expressed her willingness to meet the team. However, it is not quite certain whether she will be able to meet the delegation as the Budget session of Parliament starts on Monday.

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the information and broadcasting ministry had given the green signal to Swaraj to negotiate with FTV to modify the content instead of resorting to outright banning of the channel.

The majority of Parliamentarians who were shown the monitored clips of FTV telecasts felt that the amount of nudity shown did not fit in with our ethos.

But they felt that banning the channel would contravene the principle of freedom of expression. The team appears ready to negotiate on the content.

The French government, it is understood, is waiting on the sidelines and watching with concern, as are other bodies closer to home. Says Sumeet Nair, executive director of the Fashion Design Council of India, the channel is very useful to the Indian design community and to the garment industry.

Every day, the channel shows one to two hours of Indian fashions, says Nair. This gives Indian designers tremendous international exposure.

What is more, the channel’s contents give both the design industry and, more importantly, the garment industry what the international trends are in styles, feels, colours, textures, material, he adds.

Both the industries profit enormously from the channel. Earlier, these people would have to invest a lot of money and travel abroad to find out the trends and ground realities. Today, FTV helps them bridge this gap and get into the international market. A ban of the channel would affect these industries and the exports.


New Delhi, Feb. 16: 
A revolt is brewing in Orissa against the Centre’s “blatant” bias towards quake-ravaged Gujarat.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has taken up the cudgels and indicated that her party will take up the issue of “discrimination” between Gujarat and Orissa in the budget session of Parliament.

“There is a glaring gap between what was given to Gujarat and Orissa. They gave a blank cheque to Gujarat but nothing of that sort happened to Orissa,” Sonia told reporters.

Still picking up the pieces left by the supercyclone, some parties in the Orissa Gana Parishad are planning a people’s movement to expose the “stepmotherly” treatment meted out to it after the September 1999 disaster.

The parties feel that while the Centre has been amazingly swift in rushing relief to BJP-ruled Gujarat, only 30 per cent of the rehabilitation has been completed in Orissa in over a year.

They are peeved that Orissa is not represented in the 33-member National Disaster Management Committee. While two representatives from Tamil Nadu —- chief minister M. Karunanidhi and ADMK chief Jayalalitha —- are on the panel, Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik is out.

Orissa Gana Parishad chairman Bijoy Mohapatra today told reporters the disquiet among the people was so pronounced that they had suggested the new panel be renamed the Gujarat Disaster Management Committee.

He said the people of Orissa felt sympathy for the quake victims, but they were riled by the Centre’s open discrimination which defied federalism. “It is a dangerous precedent,” he said.

Mohapatra said the Orissa Cyclone Reconstruction Authority —- set up two months after the supercyclone —- met only twice in the past year -and had not taken any step to mobilise funds.


New Delhi, Feb. 16: 
Amidst a growing perception that for the BJP national disasters were synonymous with Gujarat, the party’s economic think-tank came up with a proposal for garnering funds from income-tax payers — individual and corporate — to ease the Centre and the state’s burden.

Unveiling the scheme at a press conference today, BJP vice-president and spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said that all tax-payers would be expected to contribute 1 per cent of their total taxable income every year for the next three years in the form of a compulsory deposit in a bank.

The proposal, called the Earthquake Relief Deposit Scheme, has been submitted to finance minister Yashwant Sinha. “It is a scheme for raising funds without tears,” said Krishnamurthy.

According to the information shared with the press, the RBI would operate the scheme which, if implemented, was expected to mop up as much as Rs 20,000 crore in three years.

The minimum contribution was pegged at Rs 500 per year for individuals and Rs 5,000 upwards for corporates.

The money, said Krishnamurthy, would not carry interest and would be subject to tax relief. After the three years, the proposal made it incumbent on the government to repay the contributions in instalments.

Listing the scheme’s advantages, the BJP vice-president said: “The money will be directly collected by banks so that the government will not have to bear any extra administrative costs.” “It will also mean that the other major development schemes undertaken by the government will not be adversely affected. And there will be no burden on the government by way of having to pay interest on the deposits,” Krishnamurthy added.

Asked about the government’s response to the proposal, Krishnamurthy said: “It is up to the finance minister to accept it.” He added that “it is up to the finance minister to decide” whether the scheme could replace the existing 2 per cent Gujarat surcharge on income.

On why the BJP had thought up a scheme exclusively for Gujarat and not one to deal with disasters in general, Krishnamurthy said: “Gujarat relief is looming large on our minds. If this scheme works it can be extended on a larger scale.”

But he had no answer to why the party’s proposal had excluded agriculturists, traders and businessmen from its net.

Krishnamurthy also failed to answer to why the Centre had not made its own independent assessment of the financial losses as in the case of Orissa and West Bengal when hit by the super cyclone and the floods.


Mumbai, Feb. 16: 
The high walls ringing the century-old naval dockyard may shield the docked warships from public view, but not from terrorist strikes.

Naval authorities are as much worried about the safety of the frigates and destroyers participating in the international fleet review as police are about the security of President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Narayanan, commander of the armed forces, came in today to “review” the fleets of different countries tomorrow, while Vajpayee was expected to arrive here tomorrow for Sunday’s parade that would culminate the biggest naval extravaganza till date.

Haunted by the suicide attack on the berthed US destroyer Cole in Aden last fall and the looming threats of Osama bin Laden’s worldwide terrorist network, the navy threw a security ring around the “anchorage area” marked in the dockyard, where a majority of the Indian and foreign warships has been docked.

No boats, not even the government’s, are being allowed to ply the waters, being guarded round the clock by naval police on speedboats. Navy vessels are allowed to pass through the area, but not before identities of the sailors are checked, a senior navy officer familiar with the security arrangements said.

Seven first-attack crafts are keeping a close watch. So are the coast guard vessels anchored nearby. Chetak and Sea Kings choppers are hovering over 45 Indian and 25 foreign warships on display.

Navy officers said even mighty warships like the US Cole were vulnerable to terrorist attacks when stationary at the dock.

Terrorists have mostly used explosive-laden boats or explosive-strapped suicide divers to blow up frigates. The attack on the Cole, suspected to have been the handiwork of the Bin Laden group, killed 17 sailors. “The attack on the Cole was certainly a reminder that it is possible for unstructured, terrorist-type organisations to get at the more professional organisations in an insidious manner,” Admiral Sushil Kumar, the navy chief, said yesterday.

Officers are worried that the Bin Laden group might try to strike because the US was among the major western powers that had sent their warships to the event.

“We have to protect not just our ships, but our guests’ as well because we are the host,” a navy officer said.

Foreign ships have their own armed securitymen on board, guarding their respective vessels against terrorist attacks.

Outside the naval dockyard, armed policemen were keeping a hawk eye as both the President and the Prime Minister were visiting the city at the same time.

“This is the first time that the President and Prime Minister will stay together in the city for two days. So we are not taking any chances,” joint commissioner of police Y.C. Pawar said.

Areas stretching from the Gateway of India to Marine Drive are crawling with men in uniform. Police can’t afford to take chances in a city where the dreaded Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba reportedly has a base.


New Delhi, Feb. 16: 
There is a strong possibility that the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan may take place in a month or two. While it will not be a summit-level meeting, talks are likely to be at the level of the foreign secretaries.

The chances of negotiations between the two estranged South Asian neighbours have improved following the smooth functioning of the technical committee of the Saarc and some positive steps announced by Islamabad in dealing with the Mujahideen groups operating from the Pakistani soil.

An American Congressional team, comprising both Republican and Democrat members, will be visiting India and Pakistan next week to discuss ways and means the two South Asian neighbours can take to return to the talks table.

Ostensibly, the four US Congressmen, all members of the India caucus in the House of Representatives, are arriving here tomorrow on a five-day visit of the country to “express solidarity with Delhi in the aftermath of the devastating Gujarat earthquake”. The members include Ed Royce and Joseph Pitts (Republicans) and Jim McDermott and David Bonoir (Democrats). The members will visit Mumbai and quake-ravaged Gujarat before coming to Delhi for holding talks with Indian leaders and senior officials in the foreign ministry. Some members of the team will also visit Pakistan from here.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose country holds the current presidency of the Saarc, is also scheduled to arrive in Delhi in a few days’ time to discuss with the Indian leadership some major developments in the bilateral and regional fronts.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal remained non-committal about whether the Sri Lankan President will discuss with the Indian leaders the possibility of an early holding of the Saarc Summit.

“I cannot anticipate the agenda of the talks between President Kumaratunga and the Indian leadership,” he said. She is due to arrive here on February 22 and will stay on till February 25 on her first official visit to India on being re-elected as Sri Lanka’s President in last year’s general election.

Asked about the possibility of the resumption of the Saarc Summit, Jassal pointed out that in December when Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakhsman Khadirgamar had visited India, it was decided that a detailed programme of the technical committee of the Association would be drawn up for the next three months and “depending on the outcome of the workings of the committee the possibility of a meeting at the level of the foreign secretaries of the member-countries may be considered”.

The three-month deadline finishes by the end of March and so far indications are that India and Pakistan, both Saarc members, have been cooperating with each other as well as with the remaining members of the association.

Though it is not being talked about officially, South Block is happy over the positive steps taken by the Pervez Musharraf regime in Pakistan to rein in militants. The military regime asked the security forces to disarm members of various Mujahideen groups based in Pakistan, making it clear that the security personnel would shoot the armed rebels if they faced resistance.

This, according to senior foreign ministry officials, was an indication that the Pakistani Chief Executive was planning to take on the hardliners for the first time since taking power in the military coup in October 1999.


Siliguri, Feb. 16: 
Security around Gorkhaland leader Subash Ghising was tightened after a bomb threat, that later turned out to be a hoax call, sent jitters through the administration this afternoon.

“An anonymous caller rang up the Paramount nursing home at 2.30 pm and again 15 minutes later, saying a bomb had been planted in the premises. Bomb squad personnel rushed to the nursing home and, after a thorough search for over two hours, found nothing there. We have, however, tightened security. Entry has been restricted and people are being frisked,” additional superintendent of police Ajay Kumar said.

The caller spoke in Nepali.

Ghising, who is recuperating in the clinic since Saturday, when an attempt was made on his life, hit out at the state government for saying that there is no need to raise a special combat force under the command of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council to tackle militancy.

“How can the government reject a suggestion that has not been discussed. I will go to Calcutta and discuss the matter concerning security and law and order in the Darjeeling Hills. No talks have yet taken place. Let me place the matter before the chief minister first,” Ghising told reporters today.

Doubting the ability of the district police to tackle militants, Ghising had proposed that a special force be created under the DGHC. However, urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya, who looks after north Bengal affairs, has rejected the suggestion.

“The less I say on the matter the better. I will discuss the matter with Buddhadebbabu and he can take a decision,” Ghising added.

The indefinite bandh called by the GNLF entered its sixth day and appears set to stretch for some more time. Ruling out immediate withdrawal of the bandh, Ghising said: “Since the bandh was called by the party’s branch committee presidents, it is up to them to call it off. It (the bandh) will take its own course. Things will settle on their own.”

When pointed out that the bandh would affect students who are to take the coming board examinations, Ghising instructed the GNLF’s Kurseong branch committee president, Indra Narayan Pradhan, to discuss the matter. “We will think over the matter and take a decision soon,” Ghising added.

The GNLF has ruled out withdrawing the bandh until those behind the attempt on Ghising are arrested. Life in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling remained paralysed and Sikkim was again cut off today.

Darjeeling district magistrate Anil Verma said that all shops and markets, business establishments, tea gardens, educational institutions, state and Central government offices remained closed. Vehicles stayed off the roads. The toy train, a major attraction for tourists, has not run for the past six days, he said.

GNLF supporters set on fire a Tata Sumo belonging to a tea garden in Simulbari area of Kurseong.

Verma said that census work in the hill subdivisions was in progress despite the bandh and local residents were cooperating with the enumerators.

The GNLF had yesterday relaxed the bandh for eight hours from 8 am to facilitate stranded passengers in the hills and in Sikkim. But the relaxation was restricted to passenger vehicles only.

The Sikkim government is trying to convince the GNLF leadership to exempt NH 31A, passing through Kalimpong, from the purview of the bandh, the joint general manager of Sikkim Nationalised Transport, T. Zangpo, said.


Calcutta, Feb. 16: 
SFI activists continued their attacks today on venues of the state-level scholarship examination organised by a non-government organisation for Class IV students.

Kartick Saha, secretary, Primary Education Development Board, alleged that SFI activists raided Baruipur High School, an examination centre, in South 24-Parganas.

The examination, which commenced yesterday, had to be suspended in a school at Mathabhanga in Cooch Behar district yesterday when SFI supporters barged into the centre and allegedly snatched away question papers from the examinees. The activists beat up teachers who were invigilating, board sources alleged.

Saha said the board has lodged an official complaint with the local police station.

More than 2.75 lakh students have enrolled for the examination which is being held in 2,553 schools.

An SFI spokesman, however, dismissed Saha’s allegations, saying there was no such report.

According to Saha, SFI supporters were up in arms to disrupt the examinations in various centres following indulgence from the state government. The CPM has been opposing the examination since the board introduced it 10 years ago.

The board was set up by a group of academics in 1991 to protest the Left Front’s decision to abolish English from Class I in state-funded primary schools.

The scholarship examination was also introduced by the board to protest against the government.

Similar tests were conducted by the state government before the Left Front regime.

When it was re-introduced in 1992, the examination became popular among guardians and students as the board introduced tests on English.


Midnapore, Feb. 16: 
The CID and the police, in a joint raid yesterday, recovered two idols of Singhabahini and brass utensils, believed to be 500 years old, and an antique idol of Lord Krishna from a house in Rameswarpur in Chandrakona.

The idols and the utensils were stolen from the house of Bijoy Das in Jara village in Chandrakona four months ago, police said.

The CID inspector who led the raid, Tapan Kumar Maity, said the Singhabahini idols are made of ashtadhatu (an alloy of eight metals) while the Krishna idol is made of koshtipathar (black stone).

According to the police, the Singhabahini idols, each weighing two-and-half kg, were stolen from Das’ house in October during Durga Puja.


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