Envoy recall cracks Delhi unity
Air force in 24-hour readiness
Blair visit boost to war on terror
Dismay in Kashmiri leadership
History panel throws media out of meet
City-born piano prodigy hits a high note
Pawar plans fourth front
Opposition targets Joshi, George
UP leaders press Atal for action
MLA kidnap

New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
The Congress has refused to react to the Centre�s move to virtually snap diplomatic ties with Pakistan. The CPM was critical while the BJP welcomed it as a manifestation of the government�s �determination� to retaliate against the December 13 strike on Parliament.

BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri described the decision to recall the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad and downgrade the mission as a �welcome step�.

�We are confident the government will further proceed in this regard and whatever the Prime Minister and home minister are committed to, the party stands behind it,� he said.

Another general secretary, Pyarelal Khandelwal, said the move vindicated the �trust and confidence� people had reposed in the Vajpayee government. �It is the strongest possible message the government could have given to Pakistan in the prevailing circumstances,� he asserted. �And if Pakistan still does not act against the terrorist outfits, the government will contemplate other steps.�

BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra blasted US President George W. Bush�s description of the Lashkar-e-Toiba as a �stateless sponsor of terrorism�. �Everyone knows the Lashkar is a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfit and not a stateless organisation as stated by Bush. This is not acceptable to us. The group is out and out active against India,� Malhotra said.

The BJP had urged the government to snap diplomatic relations with Pakistan at all the parliamentary party meetings that took place after the Thursday attack. Now, having achieved what sources claimed was the �first victory�, they said the second demand would be to stop Pakistani planes from flying over Indian airspace and vice-versa.

The CPM was unhappy with the government for not taking the Opposition into confidence before taking today�s decision, despite the Prime Minister�s assurance to the contrary in Parliament.

�If they (the government) have authentic information about Pakistan masterminding the attack and if they had taken us into confidence, we would have supported this step. But they are aggravating tension without taking into consideration all shades of opinion,� CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said. �The government will have to take the responsibility for the fallout of such a step.�

Despite Malhotra�s anti-US comments, the BJP was left red-faced today after sections of the press reported in detail about what transpired at a dinner hosted by US ambassador Robert Blackwill last night for some office-bearers and MPs.

A statement issued by Shastri, one of the invitees, claimed: �Some of the comments (in the press) are a complete distortion of what actually happened. This was a private social gathering and the exchange of views was not meant for public consumption.� �The dinner,� he added, �was held in a very cordial and friendly atmosphere.�

But a Bihar MP, who was present, said with the high command�s tacit go-ahead they minced no words in telling Blackwill just how upset India was with America�s �double standards� on combating terrorism.

The MP said the US envoy was initially apologetic and admitted that his country had no choice but to be �restrained� vis-�-vis Pakistan till Osama bin Laden was captured. But at one point he also reminded them that even India had asked Israel to exercise self-restraint after a recent strike by Palestinian militants.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
The air force has begun taking �precautionary measures� after Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis yesterday asked western air command station commanders to ensure �optimum operational preparedness.�

Government sources said today: �We have begun taking precautionary measures so that all men and equipment is available.� Asked if the IAF was moving assets close to the border, the sources said: �We do not need to because our reaction time is in any case minimal.�

A high state of alert in the air force would mean that fighter crew and ground aircrew would be in 24-hour readiness. It would not necessarily entail pulling out crew under training commands.

The movement of armoured units, confirmed by the army yesterday, and the alert sounded in the IAF adds to the tension on the border.

�Pakistani troop levels near the border has been unacceptably high for nearly three months now,� the sources said.

The sources said Pakistan�s strike corps under its Army Reserves (North) close to the border/Line of Control comprise an armoured division, two infantry divisions, an independent armoured brigade with supporting artillery and engineers. The Army Reserves (North) is estimated to have a troop strength between 60 and 70,000.

Leave cancelled

The Railways are understood to have cancelled the leave of their employees in areas bordering Pakistan, adds a PTI report. Sources said it was a �routine� move.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will come to India for a five-day official trip from January 4.

Blair, whose country is fast becoming one of India�s close allies in the fight against global terrorism, will start his visit from Bangalore. He will stop at Hyderabad and Mumbai before reaching Delhi on January 6.

One reason for this detour could be because his Indian host, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will be in Nepal participating in the Saarc summit when Blair arrives.

Over the last few months, London has turned out to be one of the most vocal supporters of Delhi�s fight against cross-border terrorism, but the special significance of Blair�s visit lies in its timing. It takes place when Delhi is engaged in a war against Islamabad-sponsored terrorism.

At a time when the US and other Western countries are asking for proof of Pakistan�s complicity in last week�s attack on Parliament, Britain has said it would support any decision the Vajpayee government takes to defend its national interests.

British high commissioner in Delhi Rob Young, who met home minister L.K. Advani yesterday, made it clear his government was satisfied with the evidence India has to establish the handiwork of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed in the attack. He said both outfits were terrorist organisations and had already been banned by the British government.

Young also said India had the right to self-defence in the face of terrorist assaults.

Blair had come to India soon after the September 11 strikes on New York and Washington. However, he was mainly here as an envoy of US President George W. Bush, who wanted to congratulate Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for joining the global coalition against terrorism.

During his brief stopover in Delhi � and after a discussion with the Indian leadership � Blair had underlined the need to combat terrorism, in all its manifestations and anywhere in the world.

In January, too, the main thrust of his talks with Vajpayee will be on how the two countries could together fight the menace. Blair, sources said, would also stress on close co-operation in information technology and greater economic ties.

Sources said if India is able to convince Blair � one of Bush�s closest allies � about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, his inputs could help the US administration exert more pressure on Musharraf to crack down on terrorists operating from Pakistani soil.


Srinagar, Dec. 21: 
Kashmiri separatist leaders today expressed their dismay and indignation over New Delhi�s decision to recall their Ambassador from Islamabad.

�It is a hasty decision,� said president of the Democratic Freedom Party Shabir Shah. �The war would lead to serious consequences and destruction as both countries are confirmed nuclear powers.� �I was expecting the two heads of state to meet in Kathmandu to defuse the tension,� he added.

�It is an unfortunate decision which is bound to create more tension,� said Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front president Mohammad Yasin Malik. �I think there will be no war between the two countries. The international community is playing a constructive role.�

�Friday�s fast developments is the saddest news for me,� leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Ali Shah Geelani said on phone this evening.

Suspects released

Twelve of the 14 persons who were arrested by Jammu and Kashmir police after the attack on Parliament have been released, adds a PTI report.

The hunt for three persons, including Tariq, the conduit betwen the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the terrorists was on. A senior police official said all those arrested, except Afzal and Shoukat, who were taken to Delhi, have been released.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
A panel of eight Right-wing historians today virtually bundled the media out of a news conference after dilly dallying on answering questions.

The historians had summoned the media this evening to give their version of the �flawed� NCERT textbooks but had no tolerance for critical questions.

Each one on the podium was more interested in �sermonising� and bashing the �ignorant� media than fielding questions on subjects ranging from beef-eating to the portrayal of Guru Teg Bahadur.

�The media is so ignorant -- they asked me what are we going to do with textbooks after I took over the Indian Council of Historical Research,� said M.G.S. Narayanan, the institute�s chairperson.

S.P. Gupta, one of the ardent advocates of the Ram temple during the Babri Masjid controversy, refused to let the speakers to cut short their speeches and answer questions from the floor.

There were more RSS supporters than mediapersons in the room. It was clear that the fountainhead of inspiration came from the Sangh parivar � Devendra Swarup, a columnist in the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, was one of the main organisers.

The irony could not be missed. If the historians on the podium were frothing at the mouth at their Left-wing colleagues for �usurping� history, they were now clearly looking forward to their turn to �usurp�. There was no question of giving the students a set of multiple theories on a controversial issue. �Their minds are impressionable and they cannot be subject to such critiques,� said Gupta.

From the outset the crowd was aggressive, unwilling to conduct the news conference in a professional manner, shouting down mediapersons who were waiting to answer questions or protesting the statements about journalists. One reporter was asked to leave after she interrupted in a speech.

The Indian History and Culture Society, which organised the conference, had already distributed sheaves of papers stating the historians� positions � but still each one of them spoke at length without heeding the media�s requests to cut short their observations.

The language used by some to describe the textbook �distortions� was far from parliamentary. �If ladies may pardon me -- history has been used as a whore to dance to the tune of its masters,� said A.R. Khan, professor of history at the Himachal University.

The historians cleverly dodged the issue of caste. The NCERT has asked CBSE schools to delete the portion dealing with caste discrimination in the textbook authored by R.S. Sharma � but the critics who had spurred the move had nothing to say on the matter. Instead, they took up cudgels on behalf of the �cow�.

Former high commissioner to the UK L.M. Singhvi, who chaired the conference, articulated the sentiments of the right-wing historians. �Under the law we cannot write in textbooks about matters which hurt the sentiments of anyone,� the current chairperson of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts said.

What the historians found so objectionable was clear from the words of K.S. Lal, former head of the history department in the Central University of Hyderabad. �Muslims have no complaints,� Lal said. �Minorities are in the forefront of these textbooks.�


Chennai, Dec. 21: 
It was the most �precious moment� of her life for 15-year-old Rukma Jayaram.

In an unheard of gesture in the sphere of classical music, Vincent Smith, the examiner from Trinity College of Music, London, shook hands with the piano prodigy after she appeared for her eighth and final grade examination at the Chennai Centre recently. �Very rarely do I come across such brilliance,� Smith was quoted as saying.

Rukma, a student of Good Shepherd Convent here, sat for the solo piano eighth grade examination in September. With 91 per cent marks, she ranked among the top five who took the test at various centres around the world.

�But since she was the youngest of the lot, the Trinity College ranked her first in the world,� says her mother, Preeta Mukherjee Jayaram. Rukma was awarded the prestigious �Cicely Goshan Shield� for securing the highest mark in the grade five to eight category.

Rukma was born in Calcutta in December 1986. She was two years old when her father, Ashok Jayaram, an employee of a UK-base multinational, was transferred to Chennai. �I have been learning the piano from the time I was three years old,� she says.

Music has been flowing for long in her mother�s family. Rukma�s first teacher was her mother till she got a regular coach at the age of five.

In one corner of their living room stands a 100-year-old piano, a precious legacy the family brought from their Calcutta home. �My maternal grandfather, P.K. Mukherjee, brought this piano for my grandmother, Rooma Mukherjee,� says the teenager.

Rukma�s mother inherited the piano. �My father being in the railways was transferred from place to place and I could not pursue music. But my daughter has exceeded all expectations,� says Preeta. The Trinity College award �is totally God�s grace�.

The shield, on which Rukma will share honours with the likes of violin maestro L. Subramaniam, along with six other awards were presented at a function organised by Musee Musicals, the local representative of the Trinity College of Music.

Smith�s appraisal underlined Rukma�s talent. �Absolutely delightful; a fine exhibition of technique and musicianship, a lovely touch, excellent dynamic control,� the examiner wrote. �You created a sensitive atmosphere; balance and texture were well judged, tempo fluctuations and your own use of �rubato� (a technical term) were tasteful.�

Rukma dedicated her award to her parents and to Rishi, her brother. She also acknowledged the encouragement of her friends, Sister Preeti, her school principal and two of her music teachers, Fauzia Marikar and Joan Suares. Marikar is a former principal of the Calcutta School of Music.

Rukma is hooked to the period of Bach, Handel and Mozart, but talks like a veteran when asked who her favourite composer is. �Every composer has his or her own style of music and each style is beautiful in its own way,� she says. One of the �exam pieces� she played was Prelude and Allegro in A-Minor by Handel.

Her mother narrates an interesting coincidence. Several years ago she had visited the German city of Bonn and was standing before the house in which Beethoven was born. �I was so happy to see that on the plaque adorning the house of Beethoven, the composer�s birthday was mentioned as 17th December, 1770.� Rukma was also born on a December 17.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
Another front to keep the BJP and the Congress at bay is in the offing. The fourth front, being shaped by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, is along the same lines as the Peoples� Front floated by the Left and the Samajwadi Party.

Though the NCP shared power with the BJP in Meghalaya till last month and is still sharing power with the Congress in Maharashtra, Pawar insisted the new front will keep distance from both the BJP and the Congress.

Pawar said he had discussions with former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and Janata Dal (United) leader Ramakrishna Hegde. He, however, hastened to add that an understanding was yet to be arrived at between the tow parties.

The Maharshtra stalwart was addressing a news conference to introduce Akhtar Hassan Rizvi, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Loktantrik Congress Party, who joined the NCP today.

Before the 1996 general elections, BJP ideologue K.N. Govindacharya had taken the initiative to float a fourth front to confuse non-BJP voters. Govindacharya had met Lok Dal leader Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar at the latter�s Bhondsi Ashram residence. The move, however, did not meet with much success.

Pawar, who has of late warmed up to the ruling coalition at the Centre, played down controversies over the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, the coffin scam and the security lapses leading to last week�s terrorist attack on Parliament. But he dismissed suggestions that he was getting closer to the BJP.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had earlier this year appointed Pawar vice-chairman of the National Disaster Committee, a position with Cabinet rank, in the wake of Gujarat earthquake.

Taking a line distinct from the Congress and the Left on the anti-terror Ordinance, Pawar said he had discussions with law minister Arun Jaitley on the proposed law and four out of the eight suggestions made by his party to prevent its misuse were been accepted by the Centre .

�Maharashtra and Karnataka governments have adopted laws to combat organised crime. Why should a different stand be taken ? The Bill had been circulated to the states and barring one or two, it was supported by most states,� the NCP leader said.

Asked about his views on the coffin scam, the former defence minister said: �I have not gone into the details of the CAG report and I have not given a serious thought to it. How do you expect me to comment?�

On the attack by terrorists on Parliament, the NCP leader said the information that was passed on to the Centre by Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal was �something different� though it had referred to a possible attack on the House.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
Two days after Parliament was adjourned sine die, the Opposition renewed its attack on the government on two flanks, targeting defence minister George Fernandes and on human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

The Opposition boycotted the parliamentary consultative committee meeting, saying it would not attend a meeting of a ministry headed by Fernandes.

The CPM wrote a terse letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, protesting against the �intellectual terrorism� unleashed by Joshi on Left-wing historians.

The human resources development minister has threatened to book the historians under the anti-terror Ordinance.

�A day after we back the government in its move to beat back terrorism, Joshi makes a statement threatening to arrest the historians,� said CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee at a news conference today.

The party had decided not to confront the government on contentious issues on the floor of Parliament in the interest of �national unity�.

The Congress also pitched in with the Left.

�Either the Prime Minister should rein in the minister or he should be dropped,� said a senior Congress leader.


New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met Cabinet colleagues L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and a host of top BJP leaders, including party chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi, for a stock-taking session on the coming Uttar Pradesh polls.

The meeting, at Vajpayee�s residence yesterday, lasted nearly two hours. Among those who attended were Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh, state unit chief Kalraj Mishra, Kushabhau Thakre, who is in charge of the state, and Pyarelal Khandelwal, the general secretary in charge of elections. Uttar Pradesh is scheduled to go to polls in February.

BJP sources said the state leadership told the Prime Minister that if the party was to retain the �advantage� it had gained under Rajnath, the Centre would have to take �strong� steps against Pakistan and show �results�.

Rajnath is learnt to have told Vajpayee that his campaign against terrorism would go waste if the Centre did not �act�. Sources claimed that the decision to recall the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad and downgrade the mission was a �direct fallout� of the assessment in Uttar Pradesh. Sources also said the leaders discussed the possibility of deferring the polls in case of a military strike on the border.

Though the BJP has stressed that the polls have no relation to what action the Centre takes against Pakistan and those responsible for the attack on Parliament, there was a tacit admission that �aggression� was the need of the hour. �Something strong� would have to be done soon if the party is to emerge as the single largest in Uttar Pradesh � if not get a majority.

The meeting also took stock of the alliances and broadly agreed that the BJP would fight a little over 300 of the 403 Assembly seats.

Rajnath was authorised to talk to the allies on seat-sharing, a joint manifesto and the election campaign. Sources said it was acknowledged that Ajit Singh�s Rashtriya Lok Dal mattered the most in terms of caste following. Therefore, the Lok Dal�s claim would be given more weight, sources said. The leaders also talked of the impact of Ram Vilas Paswan�s Lok Jan Shakti Party on the Dalits.


Chennai, Dec. 21: 
A woman MLA of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Sivakami Vincent, reported missing from her residence for the last few days, is alleged to have been �abducted� by ruling party members.

An group of PMK MLAs and MPs, led by PMK President G.K. Mani, staged a dharna here this evening in front of a former ADMK minister, suspecting his involvement in the abduction.

PMK MP N.T. Shanmugham told The Telegraph that they still did not know her whereabouts. The party planned to present a memorandum to the Governor tomorrow and was even considering filing a habeas corpus petition, he added.


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