After 55 years, Sikhs hand over mosque built by them to Muslims
NDTV signals STAR show end
Modi plays perfect policeman
Corporate compassion for cops
Winds of hatred wrench best friends apart
Calcutta Weather

Sri Hargovindpur, March 29: 
As a dispute over whether a temple or a mosque should be built on a piece of land in Ayodhya threatened to tear the nation apart, a mosque was quietly handed over by the Sikhs to Muslims at Sri Hargovindpur in Punjab�s Gurdaspur district.

A bir (copy) of the Guru Granth Sahib was put in the mosque decades ago by Baba Kirtan Singh, head of the Tarna Dal of the Nihangs (warriors of the sixth guru). In a simple ceremony on Tuesday, the mosque, perched on a hill overlooking the mighty Beas river, was given over to Muslims.

The Guru Granth Sahib was shifted to a nearby location and namaz offered for the first time in nearly 55 years in the mosque, which was built by the sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargovind, in the early 17th century. During his reign, the guru had built gurdwaras, temples and mosques.

Locals know the mosque as Guru ki Maseet (Guru�s mosque). It had been lying unused since Independence till the Baba converted it into a gurdwara in 1984.

The process of handover began on February 8 last year with a meeting between Mohammad Rizwanul Haque, Central Wakf Council secretary, and Baba Kirtan Singh.

Haque had then asked the Baba whether it would be possible for him to return the mosque to the Muslims for whom it was built by the guru. The Nihang chief agreed, but not before the mosque and its surrounding areas had been cleaned and a suitable structure located to shift the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Baba had been looking after the mosque through a caretaker, Balwant Singh, handpicked by him for the job, from his base at Baba Bakala, 20 km away, since 1984.

Locals say the Baba was overjoyed at being able to return the mosque to the Muslims, but did not live to see his task being completed. He died a few months ago, leaving Balwant to witness the handover. The two sides had, however, already exchanged a written agreement on the transfer.

While the Baba�s signatures are in Urdu, Wakf Board representative Iklakh Ahmed Khan preferred to sign in Gurmukhi. The agreement stipulates that while Muslims will have the right to offer namaz at the mosque, the Nihangs will be responsible for its upkeep.

�The discussion last year with Haque involved a lot of documents. The two sat on a charpoy facing each other and listened attentively to what either of them had to say. It was like observing master weavers at work as they interlaced two of India�s many threads,� said Harbhagwant Singh, a trader.

Aj jo kuch vi ho raya hai, o bada khatarnak hai. Rab aho hi chhanda si. Mussalman pravahan noon onna da gurdwara mil gaya (What is happening today in the name of religion is very dangerous. God wanted the mosque to be returned to our Muslim brothers),� he added.

�We are happy that we can perform namaz at the mosque, but we are equally pleased that its security will remain with the Nihangs,� said Bashir Shah.

The mosque would have crumbled had it not caught the eye of a survey team of the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI) in 1997. The organisation, headed by Gurmeet Rai, recognised the value of the mosque and began restoring it as part of the Unesco Culture of Peace programme with additional financial support from the US-based Sikh Foundation. But the transfer of the mosque to the Muslims had seemed a difficult task until the Baba stepped in.

�The structure signifies the true spirit of India, its secular values. It is historic. It was built by a Sikh guru who respected all faiths,� said Rai, politely refusing to acknowledge her role in the transfer. �I did what I could. I am happy that Haque met Baba,� she said, adding that the credit should go to the Baba.

While the CRCI helped in the restoration, locals organised feasts for people who have been thronging the mosque over the past few days. During restoration, people who had initially been sceptical or even afraid of the Nihangs began to learn about their beliefs and practices, gaining confidence in their ability to protect the mosque.

�Visitors from all over the world will have the opportunity to see the Guru ki Maseet as a living example of the depth of India�s integration, past and present,� Rai said.


Mumbai, March 29: 
STAR and NDTV are set to bring their four-year-old association to an end a year from now.

The snapping of ties � that brought to India the first domestic 24-hour news channel � had been expected for some time, but now for the first time confirmation is available from one of the two sides.

NDTV head Prannoy Roy (in picture) held an internal meeting with his staff on Wednesday evening and said the production house would not renew its contract with STAR and would start its own channel from March 2003 when the contract with STAR expires.

It is not clear whether the NDTV channel would provide only news or offer a mix of information and entertainment.

There is also speculation about NDTV tying up with Zee and/or providing news content to Doordarshan in case it does not set up a channel independently. An NDTV programme featuring celebrities, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, is already showing on Zee.

The STAR spokesperson, however, said the Rupert Murdoch-owned network had received no intimation from NDTV. She also denied that STAR was in talks with Aaj Tak, the Hindi news channel. �Negotiations with NDTV are still on,� she said. �But we hope to make an announcement next week.�

The STAR-NDTV marriage has been on the rocks for some time. There was trouble in two areas: editorial control and the annual $15 million that STAR is paying NDTV for the service.

STAR wants total control over editorial matter and thinks it is paying NDTV too much.

Of late, networks have realised that the action lies in Hindi � and not English, which pioneered the concept � news channels.

Evident from the beginning in entertainment and movie channels, this truth was rubbed into the eyes of networks by the growing popularity of Aaj Tak, as STAR News was seen to be falling behind.

STAR has been trying to introduce more Hindi content and it will not be surprising if, after snapping ties with NDTV, it converts the channel into a predominantly Hindi broadcaster.


Ahmedabad, March 29: 
If Narendra Modi wants, Narendra Modi can. Throttle the threat of violence, that is.

Today was the Gujarat chief minister�s first big test since his failure to prevent the riots after Godhra. Today was also Modi�s first big test since he returned from Delhi after being handed a single-point agenda by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: restore normality.

Gujarat did not erupt in a festival of colours� Holi celebrations were muted � but it did not erupt in violence either, as had been feared after incendiary leaflets appeared in Ahmedabad�s streets a couple of days ago.

�Thanks to Narendra Modi, we salute you, after Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a hero is born. Gujarat is proud and the glory of India is in your hands,� the leaflet, signed by �An Indian� said. �Annihilate the enemy,� it declared under the title: �Wake up, get up, be united�.

A similar one earlier had called for an economic boycott of the minority community, which is very much in force.

Today, Modi chose not to be this �hero� and spent the entire day in his bungalow, working. Like his leaders in Delhi � Vajpayee and L.K. Advani � Modi did not celebrate Holi. Neither did Governor S.S. Bhandari, a BJP veteran, nor Modi�s 38 ministers, who were asked to park themselves in their constituencies to monitor the situation.

All sensitive areas were put on high alert as part of what officials described as �strict precautionary measures�.

Such alacrity and preparation was not seen after the Godhra massacre. �Had they taken these measures on February 28, this much loss of life and property would not have taken place,� said Amarsinh Chaudhury, Congress leader and former chief minister.

A senior official in the chief minister�s office said: �Strict law and order measures and the Central leadership�s pressure have worked.�

Chaudhury agreed, but not before taking a potshot at Modi. �The chief minister deliberately didn�t take any action (on February 28) and now he has been exposed,� he said.

Five police station areas in the city were under curfew and BSF and Rapid Action Force personnel were out patrolling the streets all through the day. The security vigil follows a warning by the state�s trade and business community that the violence would drive away investors, setting back the economic recovery after last year�s earthquake.

Yesterday, Modi, home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia and VHP general secretary Pravin Togadia appealed to the people to keep the Holi celebrations on a low key. The VHP asked its workers not to come out on the streets.

Its vice-president for Gujarat, Haresh Bhatt, however, said the curfew had forced people to remain indoors.


New Delhi, March 29: 
After the carnage in Gujarat, the image of cops has taken a huge battering, especially after their partisan role in dealing with a boiling communal cauldron.

So, it must come as a refreshing change for the police fraternity that there are some people out there who are not quite prepared to tar them with a brush.

A Ficci survey of industry says that 56 per cent of the respondents find the working of the police force satisfactory. Not one respondent said it was excellent; on the contrary, 24 per cent felt it was poor and 20 per cent said it was very poor.

The survey, however, gave a poor rating to the police on their handling of the law and order situation. About 20 per cent of the respondents felt that the performance of the cops in maintaining law and order under normal conditions was very poor. Another 28 per cent felt it was poor and an equal number felt it was average. Only 12 per cent rated the performance on this front as good.

The interesting finding was that when it came to national emergencies, the stock of the cops actually rose: about 48 per cent of the respondents felt it was satisfactory while 20 per cent felt it was excellent.

Only 16 per cent blackballed the cops and said their performance was below average.

The survey � Indian police and business environment � found that even respondents belonging to the police force felt there was scope for substantial improvement.

According to the survey, the most important shortcoming was political interference. As many as 32 per cent of the respondents felt political interference prevented the police from discharging their responsibilities efficiently. Corruption was next: a view held by 24 per cent.

�There is also the feeling that police stations are not service centres, as they ought to be, but are unfriendly and inhospitable and bureaucratic, totally insensitive to the needs of the community,� the survey said.

About 49 per cent of the respondents felt that improvement in infrastructure was the single most important factor for improving efficiency. Another 36 per cent felt that a hike in salaries would prove to be a great motivator for improved performance and a reduction in corruption.

An overwhelming majority of the respondents (84 per cent) wished to see a more efficient, friendly and transparent police force. A sizable 20 per cent said the police should be friendlier to citizens in general.

A majority of the respondents (85 per cent) felt the need for greater cooperation between the police and industry. Also, 55 per cent suggested that the private sector should invest in creating proper training and infrastructure facilities for the police. About 15 per cent said the private sector should institute awards for meritorious service rendered by members of the force.


Ahmedabad, March 29: 
They grew up together in Naroda. Best friends, they went to the same college to graduate in commerce. Last year, they became partners in a gas agency. Sajid Quereshi and Mehul Patel shared a dream and nurtured an ambition: to expand their business and become the top suppliers of cooking gas to city hotels.

But the dream is in tatters now, torn to shreds by the winds of hatred generated by the Godhra massacre. Sajid has decided to pull out of the partnership. �It is a very sad situation, but then one has to accept reality. The reality is that a Hindu and a Muslim cannot remain business partners in this state,� said the 21-year-old.

He bears no ill-feeling towards Mehul. The signs are clear: it is time to end the partnership, which is no longer practical even if both want to work together.

�There are people who would not hesitate to browbeat my friend. So why endanger his life unnecessarily,� said Sajid.

Sajid�s decision reflects the deep scars the riots have left on his young mind. �We have to read the signals. The signals are that any Hindu having a business partnership with a Muslim will not be tolerated. This is what the miscreants wanted to convey when they ransacked and looted one of the city�s biggest stores, Pantaloons. It was targeted just because it has a Muslim partner,� he pointed out. His parents are also pressuring him to pull out of the association with his Hindu friend so that both of them are safe.

Mehul, too, hasn�t missed the signs. �I will do whatever Sajid wants. If he feels that we should break our business partnership, we will do that. We will not force him to continue to be our partner,� he said.

It was Mehul who had offered his friend the partnership a year after they passed out of college. Sajid had accepted promptly, investing Rs 2 lakh. Another Rs 2 lakh had to be put in later.

But February 27 changed everything. Sajid and his family landed at the Shah-e-Alam relief camp after a mob razed his house to the ground with a bulldozer the day after when the retaliation for Godhra erupted. Their office was spared as not many knew that Mehul had a business partner, but the second office in Sajid�s house was destroyed.

Sajid�s friends had rushed to his aid and tried to move his family to a safer location. �But we were surrounded by the mob. When one of my friends, Umang Patel, pleaded with the mob to spare us, he was beaten. The mob spared him only after they were told that Umang is the nephew of state VHP joint general secretary Jaydeep Patel,� he recalled.




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Maximum: 92%,
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Sunrise: 5.35 am

Sunset: 5.47 pm


Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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