Delhi looks beyond Abdullah to touch heart of Kashmir
Dalits break Sangh wall for Buddha
Three-way alliance on Atal�s agenda
A wicket for each call to city
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
The contours of a Kashmir policy have begun to take shape in Delhi. At the heart of the plan is replacement of Farooq Abdullah as chief minister.

The hard task now is to find a successor acceptable to both the people of Kashmir and the Union government. The Centre trusts Abdullah, but it is aware of his unpopularity in the state. The Centre realises that if it has to end the alienation of Kashmiris, it cannot keep on supporting an unpopular chief minister.

For the time being at least, a section of the Union government has zeroed in on Shabir Shah, who has floated the Democratic Freedom Party. Shah, who spent at least 22 years in Indian prisons, was once a hero of Kashmir but his influence has eroded over the years. However, some policy makers feel that Shah remains the Centre�s best bet and that it can do business with him.

With Jammu and Kashmir scheduled to go to the polls next year, the government believes that Shah can contest and win the elections. He is also being seen as a potential rallying point who can persuade some leaders of the 23-party Hurriyat to break away and join him.

Many leaders are ambitious and may be enticed to contest an election where Shah is also in the field. Delhi feels that only such a tactic could checkmate pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Abdul Ghani Bhat, who are expected to stay away from elections.

Shah played host to K.C. Pant, the government�s Kashmir interlocutor, when he was in Srinagar earlier this year. An �indisposed� Abdullah was not at the airport to receive him, prompting speculation that the chief minister might have got wind of the Centre�s hunt for a successor. Later, when Pant called on Abdullah, it was not publicised by either side. Nor was the dinner the chief minister hosted for the team from Delhi.

When the Prime Minister first announced a ceasefire in Kashmir and said his government was ready to begin discussions with all sections, the objective was to win over the Hurriyat and use the group to initiate a new proactive policy in Kashmir.

However, Delhi realised soon that leaders like Geelani were too closely associated with Pakistan to be of much use to India. Besides, Delhi was not willing to accept the Hurriyat demand that the government�s interlocutor spoke only to them. This is why the Centre refused to issue passports to Hurriyat leaders to travel to Pakistan for consultations.

The government feels that the Hurriyat�s credibility has suffered since the September 11 terror strikes on America. The group�s support for Pervez Musharraf has not gone down well with many Kashmiris, whose sympathies are with civilians who have suffered in the US bombings on Afghanistan.

The American war against terror has given the government some space to manoeuvre in Kashmir. While stepping up the offensive on militants, the government also intends to highlight how Pakistan has dumped the Taliban and drive home the message that the neighbour cannot be trusted.

In the run-up to the elections, the Centre wants to encourage all moderate elements in Kashmir to come forward and be counted. However, a big problem is Abdullah who has staunchly backed Delhi at the expense of support in the Valley.

The Centre is looking for ways to make space for Abdullah to occupy with his pride intact.


New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
Ten thousand Dalits today crammed Ambedkar Bhavan in the capital and embraced Buddhism, scaling obstacles laid by suspected supporters of the Sangh parivar and a section of the government.

The bold bid to challenge the caste system in Hinduism also saw the rise of a new Dalit leader, Ram Raj, who has set sights on the preserves of Kanshi Ram, Mayavati and Ramvilas Paswan.

The mass conversion did not come close to the originally projected million-man-mark. But the administration�s overdrive to seal roads to the capital and a �mysterious� misinformation campaign to turn the Dalits back betrayed the nervousness among opponents of the conversion.

Ram Raj dropped the �Ram� in his name and rechristened himself Udit Raj. So did another leader, Neth Ram, who became Neth Raj.

Udit Raj, a deputy director with the income-tax department and chief of a confederation of scheduled castes and tribes that boasts a membership of 40 lakh, said three lakh people could not reach Delhi as they were stopped at the border by police.

He said rumours of violence, misleading information and cancellation of permission by the police to hold the ceremony at the Ramlila grounds led to the thin attendance. An activist showed a �mysterious banner� announcing cancellation of the ceremony, several of which were plastered along the route to the venue.

Udit Raj was the first to convert to Buddhism amid chanting of mantras in the ancient language of Pali by monks before a brass Buddha statue and photograph of B.R. Ambedkar, who had pulled off a mass-conversion coup nearly half a century ago.

Udit Raj�s family members followed next. Udit Raj and several others who took part in the conversion tonsured, too. �The name change and tonsuring are not compulsory,� said Prakash Kumar from Bihar, who changed his name to Buddha Prakash.

Udit Raj had earlier said he would convert one million Dalits to express their rage against social stratification. However, after objections from the Sangh parivar and the government became pronounced, he scaled down the target to one lakh.

The venue was changed to Ambedkar Bhavan at the last minute as the police cancelled permission for the ceremony at the Ramlila grounds. The assembled thousands were told to raise their hand in affirmation and take five vows as hundreds of riot police stood outside. The five don�ts: Harming any living being, telling lies, committing adultery, drinking and worshipping idols.

Udit Raj said the police withdrew permission to use the Ramlila Grounds �at the behest of the RSS and VHP�.

A few Christian leaders also addressed the Dalits.


St Petersburg, Nov. 4: 
India, Russia and America. For a week from today, this will be the unspoken networking Atal Bihari Vajpayee will attempt as he travels from St Petersburg and Moscow to Washington and New York, ending an unprecedented trip by any Indian prime minister with a whistle stop in London.

If the idea of India, Russia and the US working together on the global stage catches on, it has the potential of replacing the oft-repeated proposal for India, Russia and China banding together to counter-balance the new world order which followed the end of the Cold War.

The idea of an India-Russia-China axis never got off the ground, although it was mooted before every important exchange of visits either between India and

China or between India and Russia for the last several years.

India was never keen on an axis tying down New Delhi, Moscow and Beijing, although successive Indian prime ministers have been too polite to reject the idea, which caught the imagination of either the Russians or the Chinese at different times.

The idea of India, Russia and the US working together would, however, have been unthinkable before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.

Even on this visit, it is unlikely Vajpayee will make public pronouncements proposing any formal or informal arrangement which brings together New Delhi, Moscow and Washington.

But at the highest levels of the Indian government, views are crystallising that in the context of the new and formidable challenges facing the world, increased

trilateral cooperation among India, Russia and the US is not only desirable, but also possible.

These views will be tossed across the negotiating tables at various levels and in various forms during Vajpayee�s stay in Moscow and Washington.

Rationalising such an arrangement, senior officials accompanying the Prime Minister point out that India, Russia and the US are all now democracies, all the three committed to the values of freedom and equality, which are threatened by terrorism, religious extremism and intolerance.

All the three countries are pluralist, multi-cultural societies with India and Russia struggling to catch up with the US through their economic reforms.

Vajpayee has previously described India and the US as �natural allies�. He has repeatedly talked about the bonds between India and Russia.

With the new-found bonhomie between presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush after September 11, extending the bilateral cooperation between friends and natural allies into trilateral ties is no longer unthinkable.

Although the three countries have their own reasons to ensure that any such alliance is not directed against others, New Delhi stands to gain tremendously from the idea.

The mere contours of such an arrangement will send powerful messages to Pakistan, India�s public enemy and to China, India�s undeclared rival and potential enemy.

It will give India room for manoeuvre at a time when such space, rightly on wrongly, is seen as shrinking in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US.

Historically, but known only to few even in the Indian government, Moscow is an ideal place for Vajpayee to launch any such initiative.

The archives of the Indian embassy in Moscow have fascinating stories to tell of a similar initiative launched by Rajiv Gandhi nearly 15 years ago as a limited, one-time attempt. Then, too, it was Afghanistan which brought together presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev as well as Rajiv Gandhi.

The Geneva talks were going on for the settlement of the Afghan crisis and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Kabul. Participating in the talks under UN auspices were the US, the Soviet Union, Iran and Pakistan.

The talks ran into a stalemate, and, at one stage, Gorbachev asked his delegation to walk out. The US, which was certain that a bruised USSR would accept any face-saving pull-out from Afghanistan, was in a quandary.

The Indian Prime Minister was in Washington on a visit and Reagan sought Rajiv Gandhi�s help to breach the divide with Moscow.

Rajiv Gandhi flew from Washington directly to Moscow, making an unscheduled stop to meet Gorbachev on his way home.

The Indian Prime Minister followed up the initiative for a full year, making another trip to Paris and Moscow, to ensure that the Geneva parleys were on track.

When plans for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan were finally agreed upon in Geneva, Washington and Moscow acknowledged that India�s role as an intermediary between Reagan and Gorbachev was crucial.

The initiative could not endure then. The Cold War was still on. But today the situation is different.

This hitherto unpublicised episode in India�s shuttle diplomacy between the two super powers ought to serve as a valuable and instructive precedent in any attempt by Vajpayee to bring together the US, Russia and India to protect values which all three countries cherish.


Calcutta, Nov. 4: 
South Africa was 91 without loss at lunchtime and nothing was going right. Captain Sourav Ganguly decided to call home to check on his new-born daughter and his wife. Once and then a second time.

Grandfather Chandi Ganguly had visited Woodlands nursing home and spent some time with daughter-in-law Dona and yesterday�s new addition to the family.

Baby Ganguly was sleeping at the time. Around 4.40 pm, just before lunch ended, the Indian captain phoned again, this time on the mobile, the hospital room directly, speaking to Dona.

He might have been told the baby weighed in at 2.8 kg, but possibly not that she shares her birthday with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. No wonder the astrologer says November 3-born have intellect of a high quality.

�We are very happy that everything went off well and both baby and mother are well,� said Sourav�s brother Snehashis.

�It is the custom in our family to officially name the baby at the time of its annaprashan (first rice-eating ceremony). And we have not thought of a nickname yet,� said the grandfather.

The score at tea was 213 for two. Another break, another call back home. �Everything is all right,� he was told. The family plans to e-mail a photograph of the baby to Bloemfontein.

With South Africa at 327 for 3 at the end of the day�s play and Indian bowlers bowling the way they are, a wag suggested Sourav call Calcutta seven times tomorrow. Three calls fetched him three wickets today.




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Minimum: 24.1�C (+4)



Relative humidity

Max: 96%
Min: 50%
Sunrise: 5.48 am
Sunset: 4.54 pm


Mainly clear sky. Possibility of fog in some areas. Minimum temperature likely to be around 23�C

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