Govt�s defence: Alliance, what alliance?
Tagore card for slice of Afghan pie
Atal takes on friends before foes
Trespass tussle reaches SC
If George can, so can John
Azad adds to Atal berth pangs
Bandit states pour cold water on cassette cry
BSF clone for Nepal border
Mamata lines up weekend protests
Decree sermon to CPM

New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Anticipating a stormy winter session beginning tomorrow, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s team is busy putting together a defence built around a categorical denial of a possible military alliance between India and the US.

Not only is such a proposal unrealistic, it is being claimed that no such offer has been made by Washington either.

Close aides of the Prime Minister said India was neither thinking of providing protection to American ships in the Indian Ocean nor was it offering training facilities for US troops.

A magazine said in one of its recent issues that these provisions were part of the military alliance proposed by the US and rejected by India.

The only gesture made by New Delhi so far is limited to re-fuelling facilities for combat aircraft and ships.

Senior officials in South Block pointed out that these facilities include food replenishment, supply of naval fuel and marine gas oil and customs and immigration assistance.

Though pier, anchorage, dry-docking and repair facilities have not yet been asked for, even these can be provided, if necessary.

Referring to reports about security being provided to US naval vessels, officials pointed out that this is standard practice for any foreign ship, including commercial vessels.

�They may sound very impressive, but actually these standard procedures are extended to all foreign vessels,� an external affairs ministry official said.

The report of a proposed military alliance with the US being discussed at meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security comes amid doubts being expressed over the lack of benefits for India from its support to the US-led coalition against terror.

One reason for the scepticism is the manner in which Pakistan has ended its international isolation to become the darling of the US. President Pervez Musharraf�s rising international stock is seen by some in New Delhi as having come at India�s expense.

Since the Bush administration has taken the lead in praising the military dictator for his �bold and courageous� decision to support the US military effort, much of the anger and disappointment is directed towards Washington.

Successive prime ministers have faced charges of wilting under US pressure on a variety of issues. While in the Opposition, the BJP had taken the lead in making such accusations, today it finds itself at the receiving end.

An additional problem for the ruling party is the question- ing it faces from hardliners inside.

The Prime Minister is likely to make a speech in Parliament on his recent three-nation tour. In the course of this, he will seek to explain to parliamentarians that his government will not do anything that will compromise the nation�s interests.


Amritsar, Nov. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today dipped into the legacy of Ranjit Singh and Rabindranath Tagore to stake India�s claim to a role in rebuilding a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Virtually launching the Assembly election campaign from a platform to celebrate the bicentenary of Ranjit Singh�s coronation, Vajpayee announced a Rs 812-crore development package for Punjab.

The package involves a four-lane highway between Jalandhar and Amritsar, going up to Wagah on the border with Pakistan. The highway will be named after Ranjit Singh.

However, Afghanistan and terrorism were the overriding themes of the Prime Minister�s speech.

Warning militants in Kashmir that �jihad would be fought with jihad�, Vajpayee said India should not be left out of any �rehabilitation scheme� for Afghanistan.

�Guru Nanak travelled to Kabul to spread his message of love over 500 years ago. His visit prompted many Indians to settle there. Maharaja Ranjit Singh�s kingdom extended deep into Afghanistan territory. Our ties with that country run deep,� Vajpayee told a rally.

Citing Rabindranath Tagore�s Kabuliwallah, the Prime Minister said the story reflected generations of close contact with the people of Afghanistan. �When the Kabuliwallah came, he brought with him sweets. That is how we remember Afghanistan. Not the one the Taliban have turned it into.�

Vajpayee said it was time for the nation to acknowledge Sikh rulers� contribution to society. �The country must remember that Ranjit Singh was the last Indian emperor. It was he who put a roadblock in the way of invaders who had been plundering India for centuries.

�He showed us the path of secularism. He was one ruler who received total support from his subjects, the majority of them not belonging to his religion. Historians have been very cruel to Ranjit Singh. It is time to correct their mistakes,� Vajpayee said.

Reiterating Delhi�s commitment to stamp out terrorism in Kashmir, Vajpayee asked militants to learn from what is unfolding in Afghanistan. �The people of Jammu and Kashmir are waiting to rise against terrorists the way the people of Punjab have done. Terrorism has no place in the country and with world opinion against terrorism changing, it is time for peace,� he said.

Badal fractures leg

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal suffered a fracture in his left leg after a fall in his bathroom here this morning. He was airlifted to Delhi for treatment and is said to be stable.


New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has convened a meeting of the NDA tomorrow to seek out their views on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and assess if there are discordant strains.

The idea of a meeting with allies, sources close to Vajpayee said, was to ensure the NDA itself was a �united house� before Vajpayee met the Opposition. The NDA is expected to announce its official stand on the Ordinance after tomorrow�s meeting.

Vajpayee has called an all-party meet on November 20 in a last-ditch effort to evolve a consensus on the terror Ordinance that was rejected by the Congress and other Opposition parties. But NDA constituents like the DMK and the Akali Dal have also come out against it.

DMK chief M. Karunandhi later watered down his stand and said he had no objection to it being enacted provided certain amendments suggested by senior parliamentarians and the Opposition were incorporated.

The BJP�s earlier idea of having a joint session of Parliament to push the Ordinance through was reportedly opposed by National Conference leader and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who insisted on political unanimity. Telugu Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has demanded amendments in Sections 14 and 3 (8a) which impinge on media freedom.

While the Shiv Sena has advocated a tough line on terrorism, party MPs like Pritish Nandy from the Rajya Sabha have come out with divergent views.

In a signed article printed last week in a leading Delhi newspaper called �In POTO we mistrust�, Nandy described the Ordinance as �yet another frightening example of reckless law-making in a country where people suffer enough in the hands of the enforcers�.

Vajpayee is meeting his allies tomorrow evening precisely to �understand� why such inner-party contradictions have cropped up.

Though the Ordinance has defined the battle lines on the eve of the Parliament�s winter session and is likely to dominate the proceedings, the Opposition has braced itself to raise other issues in the first week itself.

Prominent among them are George Fernandes� reinduction into the Cabinet even before the Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka tapes � which tangentially implicated him in a �defence deal� � could complete its job. The move was described by the Opposition as a �brazen violation� of political and moral norms and even Fernandes� erstwhile socialist friends like Mulayam Singh Yadav were critical of him.

The five-week session, which comes days before the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary, is also expected to see sparks fly over the manner in which VHP leaders, including Ashok Singhal, had barged into the makeshift Ayodhya temple in October defying Supreme Court orders.

With the Uttar Pradesh elections looming on the horizon, both the Samajwadi Party as well as the Congress are bound to extract maximum political mileage with an eye on minority votes.

Opposition sources said foreign policy issues relating to the Centre�s stand on the Afghan conflict and its declared support to the US action and reported offer of logistical help could come in for scrutiny as a �hasty� response even before Delhi was approached by Washington.

Vajpayee is slated to make a detailed statement on his tour of the US, the UK and Russia and his UN visit and update the House on India�s position on the developments in Afghanistan and whether bilateral relations would be resumed once a new dispensation was in place in Kabul.

The government is also expected to make a statement on the WTO meet at Doha. Both foreign policy and the Doha fallout would be discussed in detail said government sources.

The Opposition has slammed the government for what it called an �abject surrender� and for endorsing a strategy which failed to protect the interests of farmers and the textile industry.


New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
A petition was filed today in the Supreme Court seeking punishment for VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Acharya Giriraj Kishore and seven others for violating the court�s orders and forcing their way into the makeshift temple in Ayodhya on October 17.

The petition, jointly filed by Mohammad Siddique and Mohammad Hashim, urged the court to punish the nine VHP leaders for committing �gross contempt� by flouting its 1993 and �96 orders. The petitioners also sought directions to the Centre to entrust the management and control of disputed areas to persons nominated by it.

Siddique and Hashim argued that the Centre, the Uttar Pradesh government and the VHP leaders were aware of the apex court�s order of October 24, 1994, in which it reiterated that status quo as on January 7, 1993, should be maintained at the site.

The first directive was issued a month after the Babri masjid was demolished.

After the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had passed an order in February 1996 facilitating darshan and puja at the makeshift temple, Hashim had filed a special leave petition challenging the order. The apex court again ordered on May 6, 1996, that status quo should prevail.

Hashim and Siddique named the chief minister, the state home secretary, his counterpart at Delhi, the Faizabad district magistrate and police officials of Faizabad and Ayodhya as respondents.


Bangalore, Nov. 18: 
Former minister of infrastructure and civil aviation in the S.M. Krishna government, T. John, is on his way back to the state Cabinet following lobbying by the Christian community demanding his reinstatement.

Congress sources said John, who lost his position following controversial remarks on the cause of the devastating earthquake in Gujarat, would be reinstated in the next Cabinet expansion.

The campaign to reinstate John gained momentum after the reappointment of George Fernandes as defence minister. �If he (Fernandes) can come back, why not John?� said a senior party leader. �Moreover, in John�s case, there is no inquiry pending.�

Sources said the Christian lobby had taken up John�s cause with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. There is pressure on Krishna to take John back as the Christian community remains underrepresented with John�s absence from the ministry.

Though former Karnataka chief secretary J. Alexander, the Congress legislator representing Bharatinagar in Bangalore, is an alternative choice, he fails to find favour with Krishna owing to his alleged involvement in the Classik Computer scam involving controversial former chief minister S. Bangarappa.

Liquor baron John, on the other hand, is less controversial and far more influential. He also runs a chain of educational institutions.

John had paid the price for what party functionaries acknowledged as irresponsible and intemperate remarks that the Gujarat earthquake was divine retribution for the anti-Christian campaign unleashed by fundamentalist pro-Hindu organisations in that state.

�Injustice has been done to our people. Churches were destroyed in Gujarat. For this injustice, God has punished them,� John had said at a function organised in Bangalore by the Good News Society for Global Peace. This was telecast by a popular Kannada channel.

Though John had expressed regret, saying his remarks were unintentional and blown out of context, Krishna was compelled to seek his resignation to prevent the Opposition, particularly the BJP, from taking advantage.

�I don�t want to give room for anyone to draw political mileage and incite people,� John had said in a statement after his resignation.

Congress leaders sympathetic to John said he had already been punished and it was time for his return. Several Christian organisations have written to Krishna requesting him to reinstate John.


New Delhi, Nov. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might be trying to hold off pressure from allies and interest groups by deferring the ministry expansion till the end of the winter session, but his woes are only adding up.

Though the Trinamul Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), who returned to the NDA following electoral reverses, are a chastened lot, trouble now emanates for Vajpayee from the BJP camp in Bihar.

Vajpayee is already struggling to find a suitable slot for Mamata Banerjee without upsetting railway minister Nitish Kumar and in the face of opposition from rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.

Two BJP MPs from Bihar � Madan Prasad Jaiswal of Bettiah and cricketer-turned-legislator from Darbhanga Kirti Azad � have joined the chorus for berths, making the task more difficult.

Their claims follow the ruckus raised by Shatrughan Sinha after he was kept out of the Cabinet in September when �two juniors�, Ravi Shanker Prasad and Rajiv Pratap Rudi, were inducted into the ministry.

Sources close to one of the aspiring MPs said: �The Prime Minister has been saying that Bihar is over-represented in his ministry. But last month he appointed two more ministers of state (from Bihar). We are at a loss to understand why Rudi has been inducted. Ravi Shanker, we can understand. He is an old BJPite (sic) and is useful to both the party and the government.�

�Rudi, an acolyte of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, came to the BJP from the Samata Party only in 1995 as Abdul Ghafoor blocked his Assembly ticket,� they added, claiming that he used his connections with Yashwant Sinha, a former prot�g� of Shekhar, and Jaswant Singh to become a minister.

Bihar has sent 10 ministers to the Vajpayee ministry, including heavyweight Cabinet ministers George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and C.P. Thakur, and four ministers of state: Digvijay Singh, Rita Verma, Ravi Shanker and Rudi.

What has come as a surprise to political observers is that Shatrughan Sinha and the two MPs have suddenly discovered virtues in their political foe Laloo Prasad Yadav and met the RJD chief recently on different occasions.

Jaiswal, three-time MP and RSS veteran, has been a ministerial aspirant for long. A Vaishya, he is organising a function in Patna on November 24 in memory of Vaishya leader Kashi Prasad Jaiswal. He has invited both Laloo and Sinha.

Talking to reporters in Patna early this week, Jaiswal criticised the BJP central leadership for using the Vaishya community as a vote-bank and not giving them representation in the Cabinet. He warned that the BJP was making a big mistake by ignoring the community.

Azad, too, called on Laloo recently at his residence to invite him for a cricket function at Darbhanga. No BJP leader was invited.

Sources said that though the MPs were sulking, they were not in a position to dictate terms. While Jaiswal and Azad are not mass leaders, Sinha�s term in the Rajya Sabha ends in March. He is cosying up to the RJD-Congress combine to get elected to the Upper House. But he needs Laloo�s help because the Congress does not have the requisite numbers from Bihar.

Moreover, Laloo will not relish the prospect of his joining the Congress and reviving the party. The Congress may encroach on the political space occupied by Laloo if it can rope in a crowd-puller like the former Bollywood star.

But a section in the BJP has told the high command that �at any cost we should not give Sinha on a platter to Laloo just for a Rajya Sabha seat�.


Bangalore and Chennai, Nov. 18: 
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have rejected the conditions placed by the forest brigand Veerappan for his surrender, turning down demands for the withdrawal of the Special Task Force and the grant of a general amnesty.

�There is no question of withdrawal of forces. Our consistent stand is that he is free to surrender without any conditions,� chief minister S.M. Krishna said. �Action by our task force will continue.�

Tamil Nadu home secretary Naresh Gupta turned down Veerappan�s offer, saying there would be no let-up in the Special Task Force�s operations.

�There is no question of withdrawal of the STF,� he said.

According to reports late last week, Veerappan sent a tape to the editor of Tamil weekly Nettrikann, A.S. Mani, offering to give himself up provided the government assured him a general amnesty and withdrew the STF from the forests.

Karnataka home minister M. Kharge said the Tamil Nadu government was verifying the authenticity of the audio cassette, on which the brigand reportedly sent his surrender proposal.

�I have spoken to the Tamil Nadu chief minister who said no cassette had yet reached him. Once the authenticity is proved, we will hold talks with Tamil Nadu,� the home minister said.

The law would take its own course, Kharge said, adding the state government was not even considering the general amnesty demand.

�If the tape is genuine, it only indicates that Veerappan is feeling the heat of the STF operations on him,� Gupta told The Telegraph.

Senior police officials in Bangalore said there would be a public outcry if Veerappan�s demands were conceded, since most of his 120 victims belong to Karnataka.

�Can the government forget the Supreme Court�s harsh observations when it decided to release associates of Veerappan held under Tada for the release of Raj Kumar?� asked a senior police official and former colleague of the slain superintendent of police Harikrishna, one of Veerappan�s victims. �Do you think the Supreme Court will keep quiet if Veerappan is allowed to go scot-free?�

Abdul Kareem, a retired deputy superintendent of police, threatened to move the apex court if the government gave in to �Veerappan�s latest ploy�. Kareem�s son, Shakeel Ahmed, was the other police officer killed by Veerappan.

�How can anybody grant pardon to a criminal who has killed more than 120 people and slaughtered thousands of elephants for ivory?� Kareem asked.

It was Kareem�s petition to the Supreme Court that thwarted the state government�s move to hand over Tada detainees in exchange for the release of matinee idol Raj Kumar during the hostage crisis last year.

Police officials who want the government to take a tough stand say the present situation is different from the time of the hostage crisis.

With Raj Kumar in his custody, the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had grovelled before Veerappan, further boosting his image as the king of the jungle.

Any harm to Raj Kumar might have translated into an ethnic crisis in Bangalore with Kannada organisations targeting the city�s sizeable Tamil population.

�It is a different scene altogether now,� said a senior home ministry official, who has suggested the state government negotiate from a position of strength rather than allow Veerappan to dictate terms.


Calcutta Nov. 18: 
The Centre has acceded to state pressure and decided to deploy troops along the Indo-Nepal border in Darjeeling district for the first time.

The Special Security Bureau (SSB), a force under Delhi�s control, has been raised for the task. It is expected to arrive in Siliguri shortly.

Boundaries with Nepal and Bhutan, two friendly countries, are treated as open borders and hence, the Border Security Force is not deployed like at all other international borders. People come and go without any hindrance.

But the Bengal government has been pressing for policing of the border after growing incidents of subversive activities by separatists and ISI-backed troublemakers. Writers� Buildings has argued that the miscreants and criminals were taking advantage of the open border and slipping into the neighbouring countries after committing a crime in West Bengal.

�According to the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty, people from both countries will have access to travel without any hindrance. Taking advantage of this clause, the ISI men and miscreants from Pakistan and Bangladesh enter the state (from Nepal), get involved in subversive activities and supply arms and ammunition. They even move to the northeastern states through Siliguri. We have been demanding deployment of forces along the border to prevent this,� said urban development minister Ashoke Bhattacharya, who is also MLA from Siliguri.

The Centre agreed to comply with the state�s demand after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee discussed the issue with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. The Union home ministry told the state government about the special force a few weeks ago. However, no decision has been taken about the Bhutan boundary.

�We expect the force to arrive soon and are hopeful that the uninterrupted movement of suspected persons will be checked,� said a home department official.

He said SSB jawans would be posted in selected places bordering Nepal and work in tandem with the district administration.

�According to the BSF Act, the force is deployed at all international borders to prevent entry and exit of any person or vehicle without valid papers. The force is also empowered not to allow transaction of goods without required papers. As the borders of Nepal and Bhutan are open, the BSF can not be deployed. Instead, the special force will do the needful,� a BSF official explained.

The SSB, virtually a parallel force of the BSF, will perform some specific duties. It will have the right to check any person or vehicle crossing the border, seize any vehicle, inspect or raid any house or hotels in bordering areas and arrest any suspected person. The force will be on round-the-clock duty.

Instructed by the state home department, Darjeeling district magistrate Anil Verma and superintendent of police Sanjay Chandra recently held a meeting with the authorities of three Nepali districts, Jhapa, Ilam and Panchtar, where both sides agreed to beef up security along the border.

�Initially, the well-equipped SSB jawans will be deployed at 25 border points including Mirik, Sandakphu, Falut, Sukiapokhri, Panitanki and Debiganj. They will hand over the arrested persons or seized vehicles to the district administration. The police will assist them,� Verma said.


Calcutta, Nov. 18: 
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today tried to regain her firebrand image by identifying several populist issues and chalking out an elaborate agitation programme for her party.

Hike in electricity tariff in the city, proposed water tax for slum dwellers, issuing of licences for foreign liquor shops and bars and the influx of �refugees� from Bangladesh would be some of the issues over which she will fight against the CPM-led government.

�Now that the festive season is over, we have to launch a series of unending agitation to expose the failure of the six-month-old Left Front government. Every Saturday there should be street-corner meetings, and processions on Sundays in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal. If police create problems regarding permission for our rallies, we will hold them on weekdays,� she told a modest gathering at Esplanade this afternoon.

Launching a scathing attack on the government, she threatened to sit on an indefinite dharna on issues affecting common people.

On the power tariff hike, she endorsed mayor Subrata Mukherjee�s decision to begin a 48-hour sit-in by councillors at the CESC headquarters in Victoria House from November 26. Mukherjee had also suggested a 12-hour bandh and said that the Trinamul-controlled Calcutta corporation would never impose water tax on slum dwellers even if it was dissolved by the government.

Mamata reiterated that no Trinamul-controlled civic board would ever impose water tax on slum dwellers or the poor.

She slammed the CESC for pushing for a tariff hike and accused it of being hand-in-glove with the ruling party. �What does the CPM take us to be? Are we fools? We know the reason behind the electricity tariff hike. CESC is being rewarded for being nice to the party in power,� she said.

The Trinamul chief led a procession of party supporters � some carrying lanterns to protest against the tariff hike �from the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road to Esplanade. (Picture above)

Mamata came down heavily on the government�s liberal attitude towards issuing licences for more retail outlets in the city and districts of Indian-made foreign liquor and bars. �Many of them (the shops and bars) are in residential areas. The government should not do this as a section of the youth may be attracted to the menace of alcohol. This can ruin the youth and their family,� she said, threatening an agitation.

Mamata and party leaders like MLA Saugata Roy maintained that after the �six-month honeymoon�, the Left Front was showing cracks. �Chief minister Buddhababu has been pulled up for trying to implement the anti-crime Ordinance and was forced to withdraw the Russian film, Taurus, that showed Lenin in poor light from the Calcutta Film Festival,� said Roy. Mamata criticised the chief minister�s attempts to push through the Ordinance targeting organised crime.

Referring to the influx of people from Bangladesh, Mamata said: �The minorities crossing over are not infiltrators, but refugees. They have fled their homes because they have been compelled. So they should be protected by the government and relief camps should be set up.� She also urged Trinamul leaders in the border districts to open relief camps.


Calcutta, Nov. 18: 
Disinvestment minister Arun Shourie today blamed �habitual protesters� like West Bengal and Tripura for coming in the way of the proposed anti-terror Ordinance that, he felt, was �very necessary�.

Referring to the Left Front Cabinet�s approval of a state-level Ordinance against organised crime � later overruled in a party forum � and the front�s refusal to back the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, Shourie accused the Left of indulging in �petty politicking� over what was an �issue of national interest�.

Taking advantage of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s vocal support for the Ordinance despite the reservations of his party, Shourie blamed the CPM for the �perversity of its logic�. The dichotomy of views taken by the CPM in Delhi and Bengal could easily be explained, he said. �They (the Left) are in power in West Bengal and, therefore, recognise the necessity of laws like this. But they are not in power at the Centre and can afford to be irresponsible,� he added.

The Congress, too, was showing the same malaise in opposing the Ordinance. That was why Congress-ruled Maharashtra could empower its police with special laws but the party could oppose similar laws in Delhi, Shourie said.

Looking inwards, Shourie slammed some NDA partners like the National Conference � in power in Jammu and Kashmir � for opposing the Ordinance. �The stand the National Conference has taken would suggest that there is no terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir,� he remarked.

Reminding reporters that 54,000 people had succumbed to terrorism in the last six years, Shourie felt even the proposed Ordinance was not �tough to the required level�. Some clauses � like informing an alleged terrorist�s relatives of his arrest � were not practical, he said. �Where do we find a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist�s relatives? In Pakistan?� he asked.

Allaying journalists� fears that the Ordinance would be used against them to extract information about sources, Shourie said no government, in its right mind, would harass the media.

Gas cylinder blast

A four-year-old child was killed and 10 revellers injured when a gas cylinder used to fill balloons exploded on Sunday night at a crowded puja pandal near Colony More in Barasat. A man who lost both his legs in the blast was fighting for life. The condition of five persons was critical.

Last evening, 20 persons, including 14 children, were injured in a similar explosion at Purbasthali in Burdwan. Nine children, who are in a critical condition, have been shifted to Nabadwip hospital in Nadia. Most of them had suffered burn injuries.


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