Nirupam apology comes with Thackeray thunder
Faith survives killer fire
Atal revels in please-all show
Beef book in VHP oven
Sangh cheers Atal speech
Digvijay in waiting, this time for Nitish
Hinduja plea for Swiss visit
BJP tests poll waters in heartland
�Robbed� Aamir breathes fire on piracy
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Sanjay Nirupam�s apology � not a retraction � to the Prime Minister was swept away in a storm unleashed hours later by Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who told the BJP it was free to snap ties if it wanted to.

�They (BJP) must know their limits. I know my limits. I am an independent person who takes his own decisions,� he said in Mumbai today.

�They had come to me, I had not gone to them. If they want to break it off, they can do it. If they issue more threats to us, we will not keep quiet,� he added in his harshest-yet attack on his ally.

Nirupam�s terse letter � faxed from Mumbai last night � began by referring to the allegation he had levelled at the PMO on the UTI scam in the Rajya Sabha last week. �My statement was not intended to hurt your feelings. While making my statement, I mentioned the telephone number of a former official in your office at which the previous UTI chairman had contacted him. My limited question was whether this conversation had anything to do with the Cyberspace scam and if it merited an inquiry. You yourself said you were open to a probe for which I am grateful. But if your feelings were hurt because of my question, then I offer an unconditional apology.�

The apology came with a hand-written rider at the bottom that the letter was written on Thackeray�s directive and did not withdraw the allegation.

A senior BJP leader claimed neither the NDA nor the BJP would try to placate the Sena again, but conceded that �the alliance is not likely to break�. Sources said that with the party split on snapping ties, the �ongoing game of brinkmanship would continue until one side gets worn out and stops making noises�.

Even Thackeray, despite his sabre-rattling, does not expect a break-off. �It would lead to anarchy if this government collapsed,� he said.

A Thackeray confidant said the Sena chief snapped after senior BJP leaders pressured him over Nirupam�s remarks. The Sena, he said, was not going to take �more threats from the BJP� lying down. With the warning came the threat that he might ask Sena MPs to break their silence, which he himself has imposed, in Parliament.

The BJP matched Thackeray�s outburst, word for word. �Anyone is free to walk out any time. If the Sena is not happy with the government�s policies, they can consider leaving the government but the government will not change its policies because of the Sena,� BJP sources said.

The sources also made it clear that when the NDA formulates a code of conduct, the Sena will be expected to abide by it. �The issue is not Nirupam�s apology. The main issue is: will the Sena continue to behave as if it is in the Opposition?�

While a section of the BJP, particularly its Maharashtra leaders, feels the Sena should be dumped before the civic polls early next year, the Sangh is believed to favour continuing ties because of the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections.

�The Sangh fears that if the ties are broken, the Sena would raise its Hindutva pitch even more and trash the BJP for going back on the Ram temple and Article 370 and failing to tackle terrorism in Kashmir,� sources said.


Ramanathapuram, Aug. 7: 
Yesterday�s blaze engulfed 26 mentally-ill patients who had come to seek divine intervention but not the people�s faith in the powers of the almighty.

Officials had to perform a mass burial after most relatives of the victims agreed that the scorched remains could not be taken back.

Twenty-five patients, all of them chained to their benches in a row of palm-thatched sheds at the privately run home, were charred in their sleep in the blaze that broke out just before dawn yesterday. A woman died in hospital of burn injuries this morning.

But even in grief, families asserted that they would not take patients away from the 15-odd private asylums clustered around the tomb of the 12th century Muslim saint, Hazrat Qutub Syed Sultan Ibrahim Shaheed Oliullah. A prayer at the dargah, people believe, can cure mental illness.

People believe that two meditation sessions at the dargah everyday and sprinkling of its holy water could cure people of mental illness over a period of time, said Mursal Ibrahim, a member of the dargah�s management committee.

�We will continue to come here as we believe that the almighty will listen to our prayers,� said the relative of a patient.

Some vertical corner stones that supported the gutted thatched-roof shed, torn clothes, broken hurricane lamps, melted bits of utensils and a few charred tin containers and aluminium plates were grim reminders of the blaze that swept through the home.

Quickly sensing the need for disposing of the deformed remains, the Ramanathapuram district administration ensured a peaceful mass burial around 10 am after most relatives of the deceased gave their consent. All the dead were identified at a spot post-mortem last evening.

Some women wailed and scores of others threw mud, the symbolic last offering, when the bodies, removed from the disaster site in a tractor-trailer, were interred into two huge pits in a sandy plot belonging to the dargah.

�We cannot totally do away with people�s beliefs, which make families bring their mentally-ill members to Erwadi. But we will see that such tragedies do not recur by putting in place a regulatory and controlling mechanism for these asylums,� state labour minister A. Anwar Raja said.

The owner of the asylum, Muhaideen Badsha, his wife Suriya Begum and two others have been arrested. Senior police officials said the owners of the other 15 private asylums in Erwadi have been told to direct the relatives of the inmates to take their parents back home temporarily.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
At the end of the day, the Prime Minister did as expected: he walked the Agra tightrope successfully.

The please-all speech in Parliament was vintage Vajpayee. He kept the Opposition happy, reassured hardliners within the ruling coalition while keeping hopes alive for a dialogue with Pakistan provided President Pervez Musharraf gave up his Kashmir-only policy and seriously addressed Delhi�s concerns on cross-border terrorism.

�For Pakistan, Kashmir is only a piece of land, but for us it is part of our life,� the Prime Minister said in his 40-minute speech in the Lok Sabha while referring to Musharraf�s insistence at the summit that unless the Kashmir problem was solved, bilateral relations could not make any meaningful progress.

Vajpayee warned Musharraf against ignoring the issue of cross-border terrorism and his attempt to describe militants operating from Pakistan as �freedom fighters�. Such a stand, the Prime Minister said, could soon prove to be a �double-edged weapon� for Pakistan.

The Prime Minister said he was aware of the Pakistani foreign office�s condemnation of the Doda massacre, but made it clear that this was not enough and Islamabad would have to take concrete steps against terror export.

Vajpayee, who was replying to a debate on the summit, managed to take care of the criticism both from the Opposition and the hardliners within the BJP, while making it clear that Delhi was committed to the dialogue process with Islamabad and would ultimately find a way to establish peace with Pakistan.

However, he was reluctant to give details of his discussion with Musharraf, and informed the House that he told the Pakistan President not to put too much stress on the Kashmir issue. �It is a vexed and complex problem which has been there for decades,� the Prime Minister said.

While arguing with Musharraf against such an approach, Vajpayee said he reminded the general � who was insisting on finding a solution according to the wishes of the Kashmiris � that it was Islamabad which had gifted away large tracts of land to China in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Moreover, in the last five decades there has not been a single election in PoK. �I also told him that he should keep in mind that when he took over the reins of power in Pakistan, he did not wait to ascertain the wishes of the people of the country,� Vajpayee said.

He claimed that the President did not want any mention of either the Simla Agreement or the Lahore Declaration. �He wanted to start on a clean slate and make a new beginning from Agra.� Vajpayee said that from the beginning, Musharraf maintained that he was not willing to talk about any other issue except Kashmir.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad today directed its cadre to confiscate and burn copies of a book by a Delhi University historian that claims beef-eating was prevalent in India long before the advent of Islam.

Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Tradition by Dwijendra Narayan Jha, professor of ancient Indian history, is expected to be finally out in the market this week after his original publishers, Manohar, refused because �it was a question of faith�.

The 183-page hardcover is a serious exploration of food habits in ancient India. It draws on primary sources to show that religion did not forbid consumption of beef � and other meat. �Eating of beef has nothing to do with the coming of Islam. It was prevalent even before the coming of Islam. Bringing religion into dietary habits does not do any good to culture or to politics,� says Jha.

Jha�s antecedents � he is an accomplished scholar and Leftist who, along with Romila Thapar and others, had once written a Report to the nation on Babri Masjid � have only served to anger the Sangh parivar and its affiliates.

Gumanmal Lodha, the head of the Rashtriya Goraksha Andolan Samiti, a VHP outfit that today wrote to home minister L.K. Advani demanding a ban on the book and the arrest of the historian, alleged: �Jha has been inspired by Muslim fundamentalists this time just as in the past. He had deposed in the Ram Janmabhoomi case on behalf of the Babri Masjid Action Committee.�

The book, wrote Lodha to the home minister, �is an atom bomb explosion against our religious feelings and sentiments and respects for cow since the times of Rama, Krishna, Mahavir and Buddha. It distorts the history and would seriously hurt the religious feelings of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists and create religious tension and disaffection. This book propagates that Hindu, Jain and Buddhists were all meat- eaters and even Mahavir and Buddha had eaten meat of animals.�

Lodha said VHP cadre have been instructed to confiscate copies of the book and burn them once it is launched tomorrow.

When the book was being processed, Jha complained to Delhi police that he had been warned not to go ahead with publication.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s reply on the Agra Summit in the Lok Sabha has gone down well with the BJP and the Sangh parivar even as some felt it was �long overdue�.

The BJP had come out strongly against the Centre, the Prime Minister included, at the national executive, first for having invited Pervez Musharraf for talks without a structured agenda and then �allowing� him to confer with the Hurriyat representatives and speak his mind out in the breakfast meeting with Indian editors.

But today, the Sangh felt, Vajpayee had finally given Musharraf a �piece of his mind� in his inimitable way.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: �Everyone was happy mainly because Atalji reflected the party line when he stressed how Pakistan was squarely responsible for cross-border terrorism.� BJP sources said they had conveyed to Vajpayee that he should speak extempore and not read from a prepared text.

�When he does not speak spontaneously, he sounds lifeless. But today Atalji reminded us that his oratorical powers were intact,� sources said.

According to the sources, until last week Vajpayee was �reluctant� to speak in the Agra debate and had indicated that he would rather let foreign minister Jaswant Singh reply on his behalf.

But a couple of senior ministers insisted that Vajpayee himself should explain his own position as well as that of the government on the summit and �dispel� the �misgivings� on several counts like whether he was on the verge of signing an agreement, what Pakistan�s terms were, if India was prepared to yield on cross-border terrorism and the media mismanagement.

�Today the PM was in full form because he spoke straight from the heart,� gushed Bihar MP Madan Prasad Jaiswal.

�I was relieved by his clarification on the misuse of the media by Pakistan and why India chose to exercise restraint by not going out of its way to engage the press. But he also made it clear that on such occasions in future, we will also use the media to our advantage,� he added.

Tarun Vijay, the editor of the RSS� Hindi weekly Panchajanya, remarked: �Vajpayee has shown very softly the steel in him. He categorically demonstrated where India stands and who took the decisions in Agra. It was clear that the decision to send back Musharraf empty-handed to Islamabad was his and nobody else�s.�


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Digvijay Singh, who was minister-in-waiting for President Pervez Musharraf, still remains one.

Singh, the junior minister for commerce and industry and railways, has been given the short shrift by Nitish Kumar, his senior in the railway ministry and Samata Party colleague.

Sources said a tussle for turf control has broken out between the two Samata leaders and, if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee does not intervene, Singh could be condemned to remaining a �minister-in-waiting� for a longer period.

Nitish has seen to it that Singh does not get any important work in the railway ministry. The sources said Nitish has got a senior ministry official to issue a letter withdrawing all facilities Singh enjoyed during his earlier stint as minister of state.

Though Nitish has taken refuge in �rules� to buttress his stand, the genesis of the dispute lies in Samata politics and George Fernandes� bid to deftly manoeuvre his reinduction into the Cabinet.

Sources said Fernandes wanted to get Mamata Banerjee back in the railway ministry and get her to issue a certificate of honesty to him to accelerate his return to the Cabinet. Mamata was the first to demand his resignation in the wake of the Tehelka expose.

However, the BJP leadership put a spoke in the wheel by demanding a �cooling off� period for allies wanting to come back.

Sources close to Nitish wondered why Singh, even if he had been having problems working under commerce & industry minister Murasoli Maran, had to be given back his post in the railway ministry. They said Fernandes could have insisted on a �work division� in the commerce and industry department, but instead he asked the Prime Minister to reinduct him into the railway ministry.

Nitish, a stickler for rules, quoted the book to say that Singh could not usurp the powers and facilities he enjoyed earlier as he merely held additional charge now.

After he was shifted to the commerce and industry ministry on July 22, O. Rajagopal, the other minister of state in the railway ministry, shifted to the room occupied by Singh after consulting Nitish. The Cabinet minister also assigned Rajagopal the work done by Singh.

However, immediately after he reclaimed the ministry, Singh�s staff demanded that Rajagopal vacate the room for the sahib. Rajagopal, though also a minister of state and senior by age, did not protest and returned to the chamber he previously occupied.

Sources said Nitish asked how Singh could get Rajagopal to vacate his room since he was holding only additional charge. Citing rules, a ministry official issued a letter saying that Rajagopal will continue to discharge duties as minister of state and Singh cannot keep a staff of 13.


New Delhi, Aug. 7: 
Prakashchand Hinduja, one of the accused in the Bofors case, today appealed to the Supreme Court to be allowed to leave India for Switzerland, his adopted country.

A division bench of Justice M.B. Shah and Justice S.N. Phukan asked the India-born Swiss national to file an affidavit stating that he would not oppose his extradition from Switzerland if an extradition proceeding is commenced in future.

The bench posted the bearing for tomorrow.

On May 12, the court had allowed Srichand Hinduja and Gopichand Hinduja to go abroad till August 20 after they furnished bail bonds of Rs 15 crore each with an undertaking that they would not seek adjournment of the hearing before the trial court on the ground that they were not present.

The court had then indicated that the other Hinduja brother � Prakashchand � could go abroad after the two came back to India for trial.

Senior counsel and Congress Rajya Sabha member from Bihar, Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Hindujas, told the court that the two brothers, Srichand and Gopichand, who were supposed to be in India on August 20, had already returned to �prove their bona fide� and hence the third brother, Prakashchand, should be allowed to go abroad, perhaps, on the same conditions of bail bond and other legal formalities.

When the court pointed out that Prakashchand being a Swiss national, law of that land applied to him, which clearly stipulated that he could not be extradited unless he gave his written consent if India ever requested the Swiss authorities for extradition.

Sibal then told the court that Prakashchand had already written to the Swiss government that he would not oppose in case extradition proceedings were started against him.

The counsel also pointed out that Prakashchand had filed an affidavit in this regard in Delhi High Court. But the court directed him to file the same or similar affidavit so that the plea of the third Hinduja brother to leave India could be heard tomorrow.

The Supreme Court also asked the counsel for the CBI, N. Natarajan, to express the apprehensions of the investigating agency, if any, about the possibility of the accused brothers not turning up for trial in India, once allowed to go abroad.

Natarajan said it was difficult for the CBI to express apprehension(s) and it was for the trial court to decide when the accused brothers should be available for trial. The judges said the May 12 order of the court allowing the other two Hinduja brothers to go abroad till August 20 could be extended but then wanted to know the time frame of the trial court for framing charges in the case.

Sibal told the court that charges could be framed only after the documents supplied by the prosecution were scrutinised by the defence and the process of scrutiny of the prosecution documents was on now.

The counsel told the court that the fourth Hinduja brother, Mumbai-based Ashokchand Hinduja, could stand surety for all the other three brothers. He said as the Hindujas had an investment of over Rs 10,000 crore in India, �they will not run away from trial or the country�.

Sibal told the court that even Prakashchand would not have come �voluntarily� to face trial in India if the apex court�s apprehension that he being a Swiss national could stall his extradition proceedings was true. Under Swiss law, a citizen cannot be taken away by another country in an extradition proceeding until he gives a written consent.


Lucknow, Aug. 7: 
The BJP is readying itself for early elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP had recently undertaken the ambitious Chalo Gaon Ki Sune (Let�s hear the village voices) programme, in which senior state leaders had interacted with villagers and panchayat-level leaders all over the state for close to a month. Now the party has dispatched five of its top central leaders for a second round survey.

From August 20 onwards, BJP national president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, former president Kushabhau Thakre, senior national vice-president Kailashpati Mishra and general secretaries Narendra Modi and Pyarelal Khandelwal will make an extensive tour of Uttar Pradesh, trying to ascertain the mood of the villagers and their opinions on the performance of the ruling party.

The second round survey was necessitated after the Chalo Gaon Ki Sune programme resulted in an earful of complaints from villagers in all corners of the state. Though chief minister Rajnath Singh has announced a series of sops for everyone � from traders and teachers to farmers and dalits � the main grouse of villagers remain bad roads, worse power situation, no medical or educational facilities, no drinking water, and unemployment.

Party spokesman Vijay Pathak, however, says: �The programme was a success in the sense that the villagers still have expectations from the BJP, unlike other parties that have let them down. There are problems that need to be solved and they are willing to give the BJP another chance.�

The optimism seems misplaced. Through most of summer, villages in Uttar Pradesh and cities like Kanpur, Agra, Varanasi, Bareilly, even capital Lucknow, went without electricity. The power cuts have ranged from nine hours to an unimaginable 16 hours.

Industrialists and businessmen are as angry with the government as farmers and students. There have been sporadic protests and a bandh protesting the power failure has been called in Kanpur tomorrow.

There are differences of opinion on the BJP�s prospects if elections were held now. The survey by Krishnamurthi and others will primarily assess whether the party is ready for polls. The committee will then place the report by the first week of September.

The party�s poll strategy, sources say, will be formed on the basis of the assessment of �ground realities� by these leaders. The leaders have been asked to not only go to the villagers and meet leaders at the panchayat and district committee levels, but also study the voting trends in the past five years and the �grassroots reaction� to Rajnath and his policies.

Each of the five leaders will cover two Lok Sabha constituencies, which is approximately 10 Vidhan Sabha constituencies. In the first phase they will meet divisional presidents, district committee members, panchayat heads and chairpersons of co-operative banks. In the second phase they will camp at villages and Gram Shakti Kendras, which will turn into polling centres at the time of elections.

The chief minister is, however, putting on a brave face. Addressing party workers yesterday he said: �We are ready to face elections any day, the sooner the better. We will come back with a thumping majority because no other party has achieved what we have.�


Mumbai, Aug. 7: 
His biceps bulging through his grey polo-neck, Aamir Khan � the plain-speaking, righteous leading man of Bollywood � is hot under the collar. He is not faking it, this time.

Much as he tried to, the actor-producer could not stop pirates from grabbing Lagaan from him. Before the blockbuster was released, it was all over the place.

�We did not succeed in controlling the piracy of Lagaan. We tried our level best, but achieved little success,� Khan said today at a Confederation of Indian Industry�s two-day discussions on the entertainment industry, dubbed EnterMedia 2001.

Khan could hardly bear seeing the time, effort and money he had invested in the film go down the drain. �When you are about to release your work, somebody comes, grabs and sells it. It�s robbery. Thieves grabbed the benefits,� he said.

The actor said law enforcement agencies �should take very serious note of� film piracy, one of the major challenges confronting Hindi filmdom. The Film Federation of India estimates Bollywood loses Rs 1 crore a day because of pirated films.

At the discussion on �Cinemascope: Future Opportunities�,� speakers including Khan, Shyam Benegal, Karan Johar and Javed Akhtar expressed concern over film piracy. They called for a tightening of the law and a continuing police crackdown to check the menace.

Khan, speaking as much for himself and as for the industry, said piracy was robbing investors of their expected returns. �It�s also very disappointing for the actors and actresses,� he said.

What upset Khan, the producer, most is that he would never know how well Lagaan had done at the box office. �The box office collection is the indicator of how a film has fared. But once it gets pirated, you never know how many people have watched it because there is no box office collection.�

Khan said he had tried hard to stop Lagaan�s piracy, but the effort did not pay off. �I had approached the Union home and information and broadcasting ministries. I had also talked to the commissioners of police in different cities and asked them to help.�

Law enforcers had tried to stop the Lagaan piracy, but had little success. �Once a pirated film is out, it is impossible to control it,� Khan said.

The actor suggested a �cure� for the malady: Attack the source of piracy. �Pirates make copies from one or two of the 300 original prints. If you can block it, there will be no piracy,� he explained.

The question is how, said Biren Ghose, chief executive of UTV Interactive, who moderated the discussion. �We need to launch a major campaign against piracy to create awareness. We also need to find other ways to deal with it.�

However, piracy is not the only thing that makes Khan see red. He is, also, furious with the blackmarketing of tickets. He squarely laid the blame on movie-theatre owners, especially in Mumbai.

Khan said the owners block 90 per cent of the tickets and sell them in black market, depriving investors who put in their money in making of the film. �This is what I hate about the film industry.�




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