Delhi Ayodhya options open
US-wary Russia dusts axis high hopes
Kidney clue to rider
Advani to Sourav: be careful
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
George Fernandes has been informally assigned the task of �convincing� NDA allies that if push comes to shove, the Centre may have to hand over the Ayodhya land the VHP claims as �undisputed� to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas.

It is learnt that Fernandes would be on the job once law minister Arun Jaitley says whether the plot can legally be handed over or not.

If it can be, the defence minister is expected to try to soften up allies like the Telugu Desam, which support the NDA government from outside, and the DMK, a constituent. Both have cautioned Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee against disrupting the status quo in Ayodhya.

BJP sources said the VHP, as well as the party�s hardliners, are piling pressure on the Centre to come up with a quick decision, preferably before the Uttar Pradesh polls are over, to ensure maximum electoral mileage.

The desperation is fuelled by feedback from the heartland that even trusted supporters are either keeping their voting options open or showing a preference for the Congress wherever it has a strong candidate.

Hardliners have suggested that the government should assess the voter response in the first phase of the polls on February 14. They feel that if the feedback from the ground is not encouraging, it should pass an executive order to hand over the �undisputed� area to the Nyas.

An assessment based on one phase is usually not reliable, given the complex web of Uttar Pradesh�s electoral pulls and pressures. But the BJP feels that the impact of the first phase will be relatively easier to gauge as it covers western Uttar Pradesh. Two factors hold the key here � friend Ajit Singh and friend-turned-foe Kalyan Singh.

Despite the public shelving of Ayodhya, BJP leaders concede in private that the only other issue that can tilt the balance is Pakistan�s handover of some of those wanted in India.

The contingency Ayodhya plan is being thought of in this context. The claim of VHP and BJP hardliners on the �undisputed� portion rests on a Supreme Court judgment, which upheld the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act passed by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1993. There were two dissenters � present chief justice S.P. Bharucha and Justice A.M. Ahmadi � in the 3-2 verdict.

Bharucha had said the Act was �skewed to favour one religion against another� and was �opposed to secularism�. He held that both the disputed and the undisputed plots were meant to be held by the Centre �pending the resolution of the dispute regarding the disputed site�.

But the majority verdict was that Section 6 of the Act gave the Centre the discretion to hand over the undisputed area to any �authority or body or trust� even before the disposal of the title suits. And that �the embargo on transfer till adjudication relates only to the disputed area�.

The VHP has been citing the majority opinion to buttress the contention that barring the plot housing the makeshift temple, the land could be given �without problem� to the trust. �The government can hand over this land within 24 hours through an executive order,� a VHP source said.


New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
The presence of American troops close to its borders and India�s bonhomie with the US have begun to worry Moscow.

A jittery Russia has revived the proposal for a trilateral axis involving Moscow, Delhi and Beijing to give a clear signal to Washington that if need be, the three together could pose a challenge.

Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov is arriving here tomorrow to hold discussions with his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, on the developments in the region with emphasis on Afghanistan and the standoff between the South Asian neighbours. He will also call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

India has been invited to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as an observer in its next meeting at St Petersburg in June. The SCO is an important security forum with China, Russia and four Central Asian countries � Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan � as its members. Pakistan, which is also keen to get into the forum, has made a formal application.

Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had floated the proposal for the trilateral axis three years ago. But it was too close to the May nuclear tests and India�s relations with China were too strained for anything meaningful to come out of the proposal. Now, the Russian leadership has chosen to revive it.

Moscow�s renewed attempt to float the idea comes when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been defeated by the US-led coalition. The war has brought American troops into Afghanistan and in the Central Asian republics � too close for Russia�s comfort.

The presence of the troops has also become a source of worry for China, another key player in Asia. At this juncture, it suits Beijing to join the Russia-proposed trilateral axis with India as the third country. The issue was also discussed when Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji came here last month.

But India will be uncomfortable with the idea. The Vajpayee government has put in a lot of effort to bring Indo-US relations to a level not seen for many years. South Block mandarins say the ties have undergone a �paradigm shift�, and India will not do anything to jeopardise that relation.

India, never too keen on the axis, has argued in the past that while its relations with Russia is �time-tested�, that with China are still on the mend.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Sadaqat, the elusive rider of the motorbike used in the attack outside the American Center, is �seriously ill� and may not be too far from Hazaribagh where he was hiding till a day before the encounter with police, investigators said today.

After the shootout in Hazaribagh in which two suspects were killed, the police came across an X-ray reports and an ultrasonography report, both in the name of Sadaqat. The reports have revealed that he is �suffering from a serious kidney ailment�, the police said.

The police are hoping to get some leads from the clinics as well as the doctors who treated him, whose names are mentioned in the reports. But neither the names of the clinics nor those of the doctors is being revealed �for the sake of investigations�.

�We have consulted doctors and they are of the opinion that such a patient would be in need of constant medical attention and, therefore, would have to be in a place where doctors are easily available,� an officer said. �This has led us to believe that he could not have strayed too far from Hazaribagh and he also could not be hiding in an interior location.�

The police said that on four occasions in the last one week Sadaqat had given Jharkhand and Bihar police the slip and managed to stay a step ahead.

Calcutta police have got in touch with Mumbai police to trace him. �We have information that he is part of the Mumbai criminal network and are certain that they will have some information on him,� an officer said.

A police team has gone to Kishenganj in Bihar as they had information that Sadaqat may have taken shelter there. But raids in suspected hideouts drew a blank. �Either we received a wrong tipoff or he has managed to give us the slip once again,� an officer said.

Calcutta police spent most of the day interrogating Jamaluddin Nasir, the lone suspect in custody and the alleged chief facilitator.

The police said Nasir has admitted to driving the �getaway� blue Maruti 800 that the killers used shortly after shooting down the policemen in front of the American Center. Besides this, the police are not willing to volunteer much.

�Investigations into the case have led to several developments which are expected to throw new light,� city police chief Sujoy Chakraborty said.

But sources say that the police raided several places in the city and made a fresh arrest late in the evening. A CID team picked up Asadullah Mullick from Tiljala Lane. Mullick, the police said, has links with Nasir and was known to be close to Asif Reza, Dubai-based don Aftab Ansari�s key man in India till he was killed in an encounter by Rajkot police.

Nasir�s father Mohammad Fatehuddin said he was not aware of his son�s activities. If the �police can prove my son guilty, then they can shoot him dead and I will have nothing to say�.

�I am ashamed of his direct links with the terrorists. I would extend all support to the police to unearth the crime.�

The Beniapukur madarsa authorities also denied any involvement in facilitating terrorist activities.


Mumbai, Feb. 2: 
Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani didn�t just exchange pleasantries with India�s cricket captain Sourav Ganguly the other day. He specifically asked him to be �very careful�. A sign of the present times, more than anything else.

Advani, who was present at the Kotla during Thursday�s fifth ODI, had much the same message for former captain Sachin Tendulkar. According to the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police, both Sourav and Sachin run the risk of being kidnapped by a Dubai-based mafia group with Pakistani ties.

The security cover for both, therefore, has been upped significantly. The upgrading was done in Delhi itself and the police here aren�t taking any chances either. Last July, there had even been a threat from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, after which armed guards were posted at the captain�s Behala residence in Calcutta.

That arrangement continues and, while on home turf, Sourav always has a Special Branch appointee for company.

Now, he has been �firmly cautioned� against moving out of the Taj (the teams� hotel) without providing security personnel �enough notice�. In any case, the personnel have been empowered to say �no� should a particular venue be considered �risk-inviting�.

Since Sourav�s arrival in Mumbai yesterday, he has been assigned a 9-mm carbine-wielding gunman and a plainclothesman with a concealed weapon. The two, of course, constitute Sourav�s �inner security ring� only.

�No, I�m not worried... I�m confident nothing will happen,� the deeply religious (and pretty superstitious) captain told The Telegraph this afternoon. He also is a firm believer in destiny.

Unusually for these parts, metal detectors have been installed on the floors housing the visiting Englishmen and the Indian cricketers. As for Sourav, an unprecedented three security personnel have taken up positions around his door. At their request, he has been checked-into a corner room.

Asked whether Advani went into specifics, Sourav answered: �Not really... He just said I should be very careful... Indeed, he even asked about our three-month-old daughter (Sakshi)... Actually, some very senior police officers had already spoken to me before I met him...�

As the sixth and final ODI is only hours away, the captain has been �advised� not to leave the Taj once the team returns from the early-evening workout at the Wankhede. And, so, he was trying to re-schedule a dinner engagement at the hotel itself.

�Well, they�ve been speaking of threats and that the match is less than a day away... As I�ve stated, I�m cool about the whole thing, though I do recognise the need to be careful,� Sourav pointed out. Prematurely turning grey, he can definitely do without additional worries.

As Sourav will play the Ranji quarters against Gujarat at the Eden, next week, the amphitheatre is bound to have a massive police bandobast.




Maximum: 25.7�C (-2)
Minimum: 12.9�C (-2)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 45%

Sunrise: 6.20 am

Sunset: 5.20 pm


Mainly clear sky. Possibility of morning mist in some areas

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