Imran reads election spin in war rhetoric
Twin blows to ADMK on bypoll-eve
Sabotage stink in fire
Double victory for America
BJP courts �outcast�
Population score on cricket board
Delhi sees no Beijing butt-in

Calcutta, Jan. 12: 
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is convinced the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh have influenced the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government�s aggressive posture against Pakistan.

�Call it my opinion, but I have no doubt elections in that crucial state have influenced India�s position�. Obviously, a war-like situation exists but, believe me, a conflict will see both countries lose,� Imran told The Telegraph this afternoon.

Speaking from Islamabad, he added: �Besides the lives lost, if there really is war, it�s the ordinary people of both countries who will pay with their hard-earned money. Taxes will be hiked, a surcharge added� In a nutshell, human development will suffer. As it is, the index of human development (in the sub-continent) is the lowest in the world.�

Imran, the Tehrik-e-Insaaf president, felt the Vajpayee government should �encourage� steps being taken by President Pervez Musharraf, instead of trying to �squeeze� more and more out of him.

�It�s all too evident that only Musharraf has been able to rein in extremists�. In the past, people would simply be petrified�. Benazir Bhutto couldn�t do anything�. Nor, for that matter, Nawaz Sharif. So, today, the Indian government must appreciate Musharraf�s moves and not make things more difficult for him.�

Imran continued: �Should India persist with the squeezing-act, the risk of a backlash is very real. Already, there�s this perception (in Pakistan) that Musharraf is bending backwards over Kashmir�. And, all this after the discontent caused by the dramatic reversal of our Afghanistan policy. Indeed, we now have a hostile government in Kabul�.�

According to Imran, India �must� quickly realise there�s a limited extent to which Musharraf can go. �The President extended a hand of friendship in Kathmandu and, honestly, India must engage in a dialogue instead of getting jingoistic and escalating tension.�

Asked to grade Musharraf on a scale of 10, Imran responded: �People like me, who desire much better relations with India and wish to see the sub-continent grow economically, will be tempted to give him 11 out of 10. In the circumstances, he couldn�t have done better.�

Incidentally, Imran didn�t himself attend the last all-party meeting convened by Musharraf. His party was represented by a vice-president.

Reacting to Indian army chief General S.Padmanabhan�s strong remarks (including comments about nuclear weapons) last evening, Imran said: �Well, Pakistan is much smaller, so the damage can obviously be more. Yet, Pakistan too has the potential to inflict very heavy damage� This isn�t only our assessment, but the Americans� as well.

�Like the rest of the people, though, I don�t think nuclear weapons will be used. If the arsenal is unleashed, the sub-continent will be pushed back by at least 100 years, if not more. Actually, it�s comforting that both countries are nuclear.�

Imran added: �If there�s a fear, it�s that what may start as a limited conflict could get out of hand...�

Significantly, Imran strongly disagreed with the Vajpayee government�s view that Pakistan had a role in last month�s outrageous attack on Parliament.

�It�s absurd. At a time when the world is up in arms against terrorism, what did Pakistan have to gain by encouraging a terrorist activity? Doesn�t make sense, does it? In fact, post-December 13, it�s Pakistan which has lost so much.�

Imran, a hardliner on Kashmir, signed off with the hope that �better sense� and not �political expediency� will prevail.


Chennai, Jan. 12: 
The Tamil Maanila Congress and the CPM have snapped ties with the ADMK in the run-up to the three crucial byelections in Tamil Nadu on February 21.

Following in the footsteps of the CPI, which had earlier pulled out of the ADMK-led front, the TMC and the CPM cited �anti-people economic reforms� for the move.

However, factors like Jayalalithaa�s �pro-BJP tilt� in her support for the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and her declaration that her party�s support to the Centre will be based on issues could be the reasons behind the decision of the three parties to pull out.

After a high-level party meeting, TMC president G.K. Vasan said that while his party would continue to oppose the DMK-BJP combine, it would also not back the ADMK-led front in the coming byelections.

Vasan said the ADMK was pursuing �anti-people policies� for the last seven months, the latest being the hike in milk prices and power tariff.

Vasan also regretted that his party as well as other allies were �ignored� on crucial decisions taken by the state government.

The TMC, however, did not attribute today�s decision to being denied the �legitimate� Rajya Sabha seat by the ADMK though Vasan did not hide his unhappiness.

Jayalalithaa had unilaterally announced V. Maithreyan, who defected from the BJP, as the ADMK nominee to fill the Rajya Sabha seat that became vacant following the death of TMC leader G.K. Moopanar. Two days ago, Maithreyan was elected unopposed to the Upper House.

The CPM and the CPI have already begun talks with the TMC to take an anti-ADMK stance. The Congress is also expected to join the camp soon.

However, Vasan does not see this as a step to merge with the Congress.

The CPM and the CPI, which joined hands with the ADMK during the Assembly polls last year to thwart the �communal� BJP, found themselves in a quandary.

�How can we support the ADMK when there is an all round attack on all sections of the people through the recent economic measures?� said CPI state secretary R. Nallakannu.

Charging the ADMK with implementing the �same anti-people policies of the BJP-DMK coalition at the Centre�, state CPM secretary N. Sankariah said his party would not support the Jayalalithaa-led front in the byelections.

Jayalalithaa is expected to contest from Andipatti.

The CPM had contested the elections to the local bodies on its own. But the party will consult both the CPI and the TMC on the candidates to be fielded for the three bypolls, Sankariah said.

With the ADMK losing a former minister early today with the death of Mohammad Asif, who was recently acquitted in the Tansi land cases, the stage is now set for a four-cornered contest in the byelections.

The MDMK led by Vaiko is also likely to field its candidates.


Bikaner/New Delhi, Jan. 12: 
Defence minister George Fernandes has asked an army probe team to look into the possibility of sabotage behind the fire which blazed through the convoy of trucks carrying ammunition here yesterday.

Fernandes and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot visited the ordnance sub-depot at Udasar, where two civilians were killed and 12 injured in a series of explosions that destroyed an estimated 1,000 tonnes of ammunition.

At least 80 trucks of the convoy of 250 were destroyed in the fire, which was doused today.

Gehlot also visited the injured in hospital and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 each for the kin of the victims, Rs 10,000 to the seriously injured and Rs 5,000 for those who suffered minor injuries.

Sources in Delhi said the ammunition was being moved to dumps in forward areas as part of Opera tion Parakram, codename for the troop-deployment operation. Movement of ammunition to forward dumps is one of the most secretive jobs carried out by armies preparing for war and their location and contents are zealously guarded and disguised.

So if a saboteur managed to work through the security rings, it would be considered a serious lapse and point to a fifth column bent upon damaging the war effort from within.

The suspicion of sabotage has arisen because of similarities with past incidents in the region. Last year, an army ammunition convoy caught fire while being moved for the joint army-air force�s Operation Poorna Vijay.

In 2000, a fire broke out near a forward ammunition depot in the Ganganagar-Pathankot-Bikaner belt. Another fire at Mamoon near Pathankot also destroyed tank ammunition. �This is the third time this kind of incident has happened in Rajasthan and I cannot completely rule out sabotage,� Gehlot said. Preliminary reports suggest that electrical sparks in one of the trucks triggered the explosions. Flames leapt to about 200 feet high as a series of explosions shattered windowpanes of nearby houses.

Firing near Jammu

Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged small and heavy machinegun fire overnight at some places along the Jammu border as tension mounted between the two neighbours, police said.


Pervez Musharraf has proved an able ventriloquist for a script written in Washington. He has said all the right things about terrorism. He might even follow it up with some action. In exchange, he demands international intervention in Jammu & Kashmir.

The Americans have won both ways. They have pleased the Indians by getting Musharraf to verbally forswear terrorism; they have pleased Pakistan by getting them off the Simla hook.

And they have pleased themselves by securing legitimisation of their long-sought role as the arbiter of the subcontinent�s destiny. The Simla Agreement is being buried.

After a 50-year interregnum, the subcontinent is back to putting its destiny in the hands of others. With American strategic interests in West Asia and Central Asia centred on Pakistan, India�s interests will be compromised not promoted by US mediation (by whatever name called).

It is because Musharraf clearly sees this that he has mouthed what the Americans wish him to say on terrorism. The pay-off on J&K will be entirely to his advantage. And we will hardly be able to deny him that advantage since we have mortgaged to America our duty to fight terrorism.

The tragedy is that terrorism in J&K is not going to end even if Musharraf delivers on his promises because cross-border terrorism is an adjunct to domestic terrorism and domestic terrorism will not go away until a domestic political settlement is made with the entire spectrum of political opinion in the state.


New Delhi, Jan. 12: 
With the Samajwadi Party grabbing the Big B, a desperate BJP has decided to rope in Sakshi Maharaj � a party outcast till recently � to win the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Maharaj had quit the BJP in 1999 after he came under a cloud following the murder of former BJP minister Brahmdutt Diwedi. He was again in the news last year when two women acquaintances slapped molestation charges on him though a court later dismissed them.

The BJP is now willing to overlook these drawbacks as it has its eyes set on the 9 per cent vote share � the backward Lodh caste -- Maharaj can bring.

Maharaj today claimed that he would be able to transfer the Lodh votes to the BJP. He was all praise for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and chief minister Rajnath Singh.

Maharaj said he had quit the BJP at the instance of former chief minister Kalyan Singh, and not because he had problems with the BJP leadership.

Seeking support from all to strengthen Vajpayee�s hands in tackling terrorism, he said the country had never had a Prime Minister of the stature of Vajpayee.

�While continuing in the Samajwadi Party, I have decided to support the BJP and NDA� he said.

Maharaj has not officially quit the Samajwadi Party. Asked why he had not left Mulayam Singh Yadav�s party though he was criticising it, Maharaj said he would ruin it from within.

Maharaj held talks with Rajnath on Thursday at the home of Janata Dal (United) leader and labour minister Sharad Yadav with another Samajwadi Lok Sabha MP, Ram Murty.

Murty had won the Shahjahanpur Lok Sabha bypoll on a Samajwadi ticket last year following the death of senior Congress leader Jitendra Prasada.

Sources, however, said Murty has not yet made up his mind to quit the party.

The BJP has been using Sharad to engineer a split in the Samajwadi. The party has so far met with partial success as only four Samajawadi MPs � Balram Singh Yadav, Rama Kant Yadav, Bhalchand Yadav and Sararaj Singh � have revolted against Mulayam and general secretary Amar Singh.

Though the expelled MPs can join neither the Dal (U) nor the BJP because of the anti-defection law, they have started campaigning for the NDA.

They shared a platform with senior BJP leaders and Sharad in many places in Uttar Pradesh.


If you thought cricket and population control belonged to two different worlds, think again.

Come January 19, people watching live telecast of the one-day cricket series between India and England will be bombarded with an important message: stabilise national population.

After every hour of play, there will be a slogan: �Singles and twos can also win matches, there is no need for threes and fours.�

Similar slogans would flash on the screen each time a batsman gets out, hits a six or a boundary.

�Yorked: You can block it. Join us to stabilise population.�

�Sixer: In the game of life, singles and twos are better.�

Catchy lines have been coined �like �Highest partnership: India breaks yet another record� and �Highest run rate: Indians excel off the field� � to rub in the reality.

In fact, there are slogans to match the entire cricket lexicon. For instance, extra cover has an addition, �yes, we need it�, and wide ball has been supplemented with the comment �no excuses for adding to the burgeoning population�.

The idea of clubbing cricket with birth control was the brainchild of the National Population Council, which is struggling to put the issue on the national agenda.

�We have chosen cricket to create awareness for a host of reasons,� said council member-secretary Krishna Singh.

�It is one game that has uniform following and even cuts across gender lines. There is no language barrier.�

The council has worked out a deal with Budha films, a Zee subsidiary, to market the population message during the six international matches on Doordarshan. Budha Films will release these catchy five-second ads to DD I and DD Sports.

After every hour, the population clock will be on display with a comparison -- runs scored and the corresponding increase in India�s population. �The whole campaign is likely to make people sit up. Once we make people think about population-related issues, we will succeed in our mission of creating awareness,� Singh said.

According to the council�s records, the population clock is ticking fast. Every five seconds, there are three additions, while 34 babies are born every minute. By the time the day is over, India�s population has increased by a whopping 9,792.

The council plans to rope in skipper Sourav Ganguly and other cricketers in their campaign but money is becoming a major constraint.

The council has signed up former captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and his actress wife Sharmila Tagore as its brand ambassadors to spread the important message. �We hope to get more cricket icons,� said a source.

The council also wants Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar, Geoffrey Boycott and David Gower and commentator Harsha Bhogle to chip in.


New Delhi, Jan. 12: 
India is not unduly worried over the �to-and-fro� visits that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf made to China in the last few weeks.

Delhi feels that even if it does pursue the military option against Islamabad, Beijing will not like to be dragged into the armed conflict between the South Asian neighbours � a perception based on Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji�s five-day official visit beginning tomorrow.

Though an extremely sharp and articulate leader, Zhu is no Zhou en Lai. He is not a political heavyweight in the sense that the former Premier was.

Zhu�s forte is economic reforms and he is also credited with playing a major part in Beijing�s inclusion in the World Trade Organisation.

Obviously, sources said, his main thrust here would be on strengthening economic and trade cooperation between India and China. Zhu�s only public address here will be his speech at the Joint Business Council meeting of the two countries in Mumbai on Wednesday.

But sources said Beijing�s decision to let him go ahead with his visit in these tense times was a clear sign that the Chinese leadership is keen on sending the right signals to India. Zhu and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee are scheduled to meet on Monday along with their delegations.

Officially, China has so far said it wants both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint so that the situation does not get out of control. This is in line with what the rest of the world is saying and, despite Pakistan�s attempt to give a spin to the Chinese statement, Indian leaders have indicated they are not uncomfortable with Beijing�s stand.

Though China is also facing serious threats from the Aigur separatists in Shinkiang, and wants to rally around as much support as possible on the issue of terrorism, it has been neutral about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

�We acknowledge the fact that China�s relations with Pakistan are solid,� a senior Indian official said. �But we are also aware of the fact that in the recent past, China has shown reluctance to be dragged into issues like Kashmir which according to Beijing is purely a bilateral one and should be sorted out between India and Pakistan.�

There are three basic reasons for this shift in China�s position. Over the past few years, India�s economy has been growing at a rate of seven per cent.

Besides, the May 1998 nuclear tests have made Beijing take Delhi a little more seriously. And finally, China has taken note of the manner in which key global players have engaged with India since Pokhran II.

�There is a realisation in China now that India is worth engaging with. This position remains despite the kind of relations it has with Pakistan,� a South Block official said. �It is no more a zero-sum game between Delhi and Islamabad as far as Beijing is concerned.�

It is this position that both India and China want to maintain. Despite their differences on the boundary issue, the two are now trying to look for areas where they could strengthen bilateral ties.


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