ICC hits Dalmiya demand for a six
Cricket board looks to Delhi for guidance
Bangla refugee girl sold to brothel
With films, Delhi lands for Kabul role
Condemnation after silence
Delighted Delhi grabs Hizb double bonus
Cong belts joint session move

London, Nov. 21: 
The International Cricket Council tonight refused to either sack or replace Mike Denness, the former England captain whose harsh decisions as match referee against Sachin Tendulkar and five other Indian players has led to a crisis in relations with India.

�We intend to stand by Mike Denness,� said an ICC spokesman in London, after conferring with the ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed.

The spokesman indicated that there was no legal method of overturning Denness� decisions. The spokesman acknowledged Denness �might have� consulted London before reaching his judgement.

Explaining why India�s demand for the replacement of Denness had been denied, Speed said: �We have received and are currently considering a written complaint from the BCCI regarding the actions of Mike Denness during the recent India v South Africa Test match.�

Speed added: �Mike Denness is a former Test captain and a very experienced match referee. On the previous nine occasions where Mike Denness has acted as referee for a match involving India, no Indian players have been reported or penalised.�

There is a clearly defined process for appointing ICC match referees for a Test series. Speed recalled that when Mike Denness was appointed, neither India nor South Africa had objected.

He said the ICC is satisfied that all procedures have been followed and saw no reason to accede to the BCCI�s request to appoint another match referee for the third Test.

Speed was supported by ICC president Malcolm Gray, who said tonight: �The ICC is concerned about standards of onfield behaviour of players and has asked umpires and referees to take a stronger stance in respect of charging offending players and imposing appropriate penalties. This initiative has the strong support of all members of the ICC executive board.�

Gray also said: �If any member country of the ICC is concerned about the processes that have been in place for many years, the proper way of dealing with this is to raise it as an issue at the next meeting of the executive board.�

It was argued that ICC provisions in relation to umpires and referees had been in place for 10 years. It was clearly understood by all of the ICC member boards that �there is no right of appeal against the decision of a match referee. It has never been seriously suggested by any board that there should be such a right,� the ICC spokesman explained.

The spokesman also pointed out that the ICC is carrying out an extensive review of the way umpires and referees are appointed, trained and critiqued, an exercise that it said is common knowledge. He revealed that these issues had been raised at the last three meetings of the ICC executive board.

The spokesman said the board had also decided to review the penalties. The ICC plans to introduce three or four groups of offences with set penalties applicable to each group.

The new system is proposed to be adopted on April 1 next year.


Centurion, Nov. 21: 
Provided New Delhi has no objections and there is an endorsement from the three other Asian Test-playing nations, the mood within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is to call back the team from South Africa.

This sentiment may grow stronger now that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has formally rejected demands that match referee Mike Denness be replaced and his unprecedented disciplinary action put on hold.

The BCCI�s official reaction, however, will be known tomorrow. It�s possible that president Jagmohan Dalmiya, whose tough stand has been appreciated by players, will determine their views before making public the BCCI�s stand.

The ICC�s response hasn�t come as a surprise and the BCCI hasn�t been stumped. The ongoing tour, though, is in the home stretch with only one Test (at SuperSport Park here, from Friday) remaining.

Anticipating a pullout, the United Cricket Board of South Africa has �appealed� to the Indian team to �take the field in the crucial Test�. India are one down in the three-match series.

Of course, according to sources, the BCCI will �ultimately� be guided by the government, specifically the ministry of external affairs. It cannot act unilaterally and will have to seek the government�s advice as abandonment can have a major diplomatic fallout.

It�s significant that, back in 1991, the BCCI was guided by New Delhi when it came to forging cricket ties with South Africa. Going by the mood back home, the foreign ministry may not raise objections. The BCCI has a problem with the ICC, not South Africa.

(A senior Indian government official said it was up to the BCCI to take a decision, adds our special correspondent in Delhi. But, privately, the official said Denness� decisions are not being viewed by Delhi as stemming purely from cricketing reasons.

Political decision-makers involved with cricket feel India should pull out. Political parties may not agree on the anti-terror legislation, but there was national consensus on harsh retaliatory measures.)

It�s quite likely Dalmiya has already informally approached the government to �gauge� its views. What needs to be noted is that the BCCI hardly has any reaction time: the Test is only hours away.

In the midst of all the heat generated by the match referee�s decisions, somebody in India apparently confused the start of Test No. 3. Word, it seems, wrongly got around that it would begin on Saturday, not Friday.

So, the BCCI actually has time till tomorrow only. This neither-here-nor-there situation has, nevertheless, confused players somewhat. They are obviously pleased the BCCI has backed them. Yet, if the tour continues, not everybody may be in the most focused state of mind. This issue has been a distraction.

Denness remains unfazed. Speaking exclusively from Johannesburg, he insisted he won�t feel �awkward� should the Test be held as scheduled. �You�re talking of the Indians� lack of confidence in me, but the awkwardness surely won�t be from my side.��

The match referee acknowledged he had been in touch with the ICC during the day, but added that was for �routine� work.

Unconcerned with what was unfolding in Calcutta or London, fans in Centurion kept the Northerns Cricket Union (staging association) lines busy throughout. Everybody had one query �- ticket rates. In any case, the mood in these parts is why should South Africa (which has backed the BCCI) suffer in a row between the ICC and a member-nation?

It�s a reasonable sentiment.


Calcutta, Nov. 21: 
Driven out of home early this month, a 14-year-old girl�s flight from Bangladesh ended at a Calcutta brothel where she was sold for Rs 30,000.

She was rescued from a house in Sonagachhi, the city�s biggest red-light district, by a team from the local police station.

The girl told the police she had been staying in the house for about a week. She was sent to the Liluah Home for Destitute Women, which has earned notoriety for a string of scandals and escapes over the past few months.

She was found wrapped in a blanket, bound by a rope and hidden under a bed. The police arrested a 30-year-old woman, said to be the owner of the house.

With her family, the girl fled her village � Jhilgram (she can�t say which district) � in the violence that erupted after the recent election, which sent Begum Khaleda Zia�s BNP back to power.

The group slipped into India on the border at Darshana in Bangladesh. But once they entered India at Gede in Nadia district, they were sighted and chased by Border Security Force personnel.

The hunted girl started running through the dark paddy fields and split from her family. She hasn�t seen any of them since.

�The girl was too upset when we rescued her. She could not recall what happened where,� said an official of Burtola police station.

After talking to the girl, the police have, however, reconstructed the route through which she was brought to the city. �After spending the night alone in a paddy field at Gede, she started searching for her parents. A young man saw her and assured her he would help her find her parents,� he said.

After a meal of rice and daal at a nearby hotel, she was handed over to another man. �They boarded a train,� said an officer, quoting from the statement made by her.

�The girl was then told to get off at an overcrowded rail station. The unknown man took her to a dingy area by taxi. She was, then, handed over to a woman and the man vanished,� the official said.

�These are all we have gathered so far from the girl�s statement. She has given me only one lead � the man who took her to Sonagachhi was addressed by a few persons as Babu.�

Banibrata Basu, deputy commissioner of police, said the tip-off was received late on Tuesday night. �A team of eight policemen first blocked the main gate of the building on 97, Durga Charan Mitra Lane. A section of police officials stormed into the room, but it was empty.�

The police then picked up Lakshmi Ghosh from the next-door room and questioned her. But Lakshmi told the police she had no knowledge of the girl. After a second search, the team spotted something wrapped in a blanket under the bed. When asked, Lakshmi said it was a bundle of blankets and carpets.

�The police dragged out the bundle and opened it to find the girl. She was warned not to shout,� a policeman, who participated in the raid, said.

Lakshmi was arrested.


Washington and New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
A fleet-footed India today sent a diplomatic delegation to Kabul, taking care to squeeze into the goodwill baggage India�s most enduring symbols in Afghanistan: videos of Bollywood blockbusters and film song cassettes.

Led by special envoy Sati Lambah, the 12-member delegation includes officials of the foreign ministry and a medical team. The US today asked Pakistan to close the Taliban embassy in Islamabad and expel the militia�s diplomats, adds AFP.

India�s steps to energise its presence in post-Taliban Afghanistan comes a day after the British and Iranians moved into their disused embassy compounds in Kabul.

Delhi�s move is aimed at signalling to the Afgh-an people and the international community that India has a stake in peace and stability in Kabul and is willing to match its words with action.

Lambah and the joint secretary in the foreign ministry�s Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan division, Arun Singh, will return tomorrow. But another joint secretary of the ministry, Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, and members of the medical team will stay on for a few weeks. The decision shows that India is not only interested in playing a role in the evolving political process, but is also keen on reviving old ties with key ethnic groups.

Last Friday�s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took the decision to send the diplomatic mission. It was felt that India should not lose time if it wanted to be taken seriously.

Along with medicines and relief material, the Indian delegation has been asked to distribute video cassettes of Bollywood hits like Lagaan, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Aapke Hai Kaun to remind Afghans of their long association with India.

The current delegation�s visit carrying the video and music cassettes is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi�s 1969 trip. More than the Prime Minister, a cultural troupe with singer Begum Akhtar and Kathak dancer Damyanti Joshi, which travelled with her, captivated the Afghans. They performed at the now derelict Chalistoon Palace (Palace of Forty Pillars), where the Prime Minister stayed.

Officials also pointed out that Sanskrit was introduced as a language in Kabul University way back in the 1930s. At least 15 years before that, a group of Indian nationalists had declared the first government of independent India from Afghan soil. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, it is said, used the Afghanistan route while escaping to Europe to garner support for his fight against the British.

Announcing the mission to Kabul in the Rajya Sabha this afternoon, foreign minister Jaswant Singh reminded members that this was the first official team from India to visit Afghanistan since the embassy was closed on September 26, 1996.

The Indian embassy building in Kabul, which was on rent, is reported to have been badly damaged in the fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance over the past six years. One of the tasks for Mukhopadhyaya and his team will be to look for a suitable building from where the Indian mission can start functioning again.

The last Indian ambassador to Afghanistan had left in 1993 but A.S. Toor, the charges d�affaires, stayed on for a few more years and only left the day the Taliban moved into Kabul and hanged former Afghan President Najibullah.

Toor, now serving in Tanzania, has been recalled to the headquarters and indications are he will be sent to Kabul soon to help the Indian team make its first contacts in the war-ravaged country.

India participated in the donors� meeting on Afghanistan in New York yesterday and is also part of the political process that is trying to put in place a broadbased and multi-ethnic regime in post-conflict Afghanistan.

Delhi, which has already pledged a Rs 600-crore line of credit for the new government in Afghanistan, is keen on starting humanitarian and reconstruction work in the country simultaneously. At yesterday�s meeting in New York, the stress was on education, health and agriculture.

To start with, Indian officials are thinking of trying to get the Indira Gandhi Hospital � a showpiece of Indo-Afghan friendship ever since its foundation was laid by the late Prime Minister during her historic visit to Kabul in 1969 � to start functioning again.

The government would also like to streamline a decades-old agreement under which New Delhi provides free medical treatment to any Afghan irrespective of his or her political persuasion.

In 1996 and 1997, the Taliban took advantage of this agreement and sent its soldiers wounded in the fight with the Northern Alliance for treatment in India. India would now like to provide similar treatment to Northern Alliance fighters who are wounded and in need of medical facilities. The delegation, now in Kabul, will explore the possibilities of anti-Taliban soldiers being flown to India for treatment.

Optimists in South Block believe the Indian Tricolour will be fluttering atop a Kabul building within the next few weeks. But what is more important for the Indian officials is to revive the old contacts that New Delhi had with different ethnic groups and people in Afghanistan.


New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
A confident L.K. Advani did not utter a word of condemnation on the Ayodhya break-in in his opening statement in the Rajya Sabha this morning, but the home minister had changed his tune before the day ended.

�I want to condemn the incident in no uncertain terms and am not prepared to condone any act by the VHP which will disrupt public life. The incident should never have taken place,� said the home minister in his reply, after hearing out both the Opposition and belligerent partymen.

Advani added that the Uttar Pradesh government would take action against those who had violated the law.


New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
The Indian establishment is delighted with the news from Srinagar. The Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Kashmir�s homespun militant group, distinct from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Harkat-ul Mujahideen or the Jaish-e-Mohammed, has indicated it was considering floating a political party of its own. The Hizb also said the door for dialogue with the Centre was still open.

The government�s reply was almost immediate. It sent across a very public and positive response to the valley. Home minister L.K. Advani sent the message out from the Rajya Sabha today.

�I will examine the Hizb-ul Mujahideen statement,� the minister said. He said the Centre is willing to talk with any group prepared to lay down arms and come to the negotiating table. This was one of the essential components for dialogue, Advani explained.

Both the government and the Hizb seem willing to give each other another chance after the previous offer of a unilateral ceasefire by the Hizb was scuttled by Islamabad. Significantly, this is the first time that the Hizb leadership has talked to reporters since the moderate Abdul Majid Dar was unceremoniously dumped by Pakistan and replaced by Saiful Islam, a man of their choice as the chief commander of the group.

The divide between Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based leader of the Hizb, and its valley-based commanders has widened in recent months. There has been no attempt either from Salahuddin or Dar to bridge their differences. Indian officials believe that despite the change in leadership, Dar and his moderate line continues to prevail in Kashmir.

Policy planners here see the Hizb�s move to float a political party as a very positive indication. New Delhi realises that a solution to Kashmir through negotiations with Pakistan is almost impossible. Considering there is a national consensus on Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of India, officials are relying very heavily on an election to break the current impasse in the state.

The Centre�s emphasis is to get the various home-grown separatist groups as well as the Hurriyat to take part in the elections. �Once this is done, half the battle is won,� says a senior official. The effort now is to get at least some of the Hurriyat leaders to participate in the elections. The Centre is aware that hardliners like Geelani and a few others may not agree, but there are smaller outfits, which make up the 22-party Hurriyat Conference, who can be persuaded to contest the election.

Shabir Shah and his party have already been in touch with K.C. Pant, the government�s interlocutor for Kashmir. Though the Centre is somewhat disappointed at Shah�s inability to get the message across to the people in the valley, they know that if the Hizb were to form their own political party, the momentum for elections would be quickened.

Indian policy planners believe the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan and subsequent turnabout by Pakistan�s President Pervez Musharraf will influence the way Kashmiri separatists think. Moderate elements in the valley, despite lip service to referendum, involvement of Pakistan on any decision on Kashmir and hopes to get the US and western democracies to put pressure on India over Kashmir, are gradually seeing the writing on the wall.

The change of government in Kabul may be just the respite India needs to get a break in Kashmir. Policy makers know that the going may not be easy, as Islamabad will try its best to stop the Hurriyat leaders from being part of any political process in Kashmir. Pakistan-based militant groups will reinforce those already operating in the valley to ensure that the public do not come out to vote.

India is, however, hoping that by the time polls are held in the state, the security forces would have cleared the state of foreign mercenaries and polls can be held with relatively less danger of disruption by the terrorists.

Some of India�s intelligence agencies hope to use Musharraf�s swift change of side in Afghanistan to show up Pakistan as an unreliable ally. �If Pakistan is not lifting a finger to save Pakistani jihadis, holed in at Kunduz, will Islamabad bother about the fate of Kashmiris? Kashmir is important only when it serves Islamabad�s self interest,� an official said.

However, this appears too simplistic a view. People in Kashmir can make their own deductions.


New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
The Opposition today hardened its stand on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, condemning the government�s reported move to get the controversial Ordinance passed through a joint session of Parliament in case it failed to muster support in the Rajya Sabha.

�It (the terror Ordinance) should be put aside,� Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy said, adding: �If any anti-terrorism law is necessary, the Ordinance should be re-examined afresh.�

Reddy further said his party had no faith in the BJP and that amendments to the Ordinance would not be enough.

�We have no faith in the BJP and amendments will not be adequate,� he said.

Criticising the move for the joint sitting, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said: �This fascist government wants to push through the draconian law by hook or by crook, but my party will launch mass agitation against the terror law.�

The CPI(M-L) announced a nationwide protest on November 23 to demand scrapping of the Ordinance.

�We will oppose tooth and nail the fascist legislation, which intends to suppress democratic movements and (the) genuine voice of the people of minority communities,� CPI (M-L) spokesman Ranjit Abhygian said.

�The government is on (the) backfoot due to problems within (the) NDA,� the Congress spokesman said, adding that his party was determined to fight for democratic liberties.

�We do not think that such a controversial Bill involving civil liberties should be rammed down the throat by measures such as joint session,� he said.

Reddy said there had been no communication between the government and the Congress since Sunday when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee called Sonia Gandhi for discussion. �It is very intriguing how and why the all-party meeting was shelved,� he said.

Sticking to his demand for the the Ordinance�s withdrawal, Yadav said the question of any amendment did not arise and that the terror Ordinance was unacceptable to his party in any form.

Yadav alleged that the Ordinance had been promulgated to terrorise the minorities with an eye on the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The government intended to use the Ordinance to crack down on Samajwadi workers just before the polls, he added. But whatever the Vajpayee government tried, the people would give his party a resounding victory and the Samajwadi would form the next government on its own, he said.

Yadav welcomed the Congress statement that such a draconian law should never have been imposed on the country through an ordinance without consulting all political parties.

The Samajwadi Party chief was addressing a press conference organised to introduce Lok Sabha member from the Lok Dal (Secular), Amir Alam Khan, who had joined the Samajwadi Party today.

Yadav said Khan�s entry would give his party a boost in western Uttar Pradesh, long considered a stronghold of the Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh.


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