BJP�s Goa gains stall Sonia surge
America nears base-swap deal
Sideline fears prompt Russia support
Kalraj quits UP top post
PWG talks fail to take off
Cong MLA defies anti-Modi diktat
Excreta atrocity

New Delhi, June 1: 
The tiny state of Goa sent a big message to Sonia Gandhi.

Goa�s voters have emphatically rejected the Congress leadership�s ploy of fielding habitual defectors and tainted leaders. While a few defectors may have won, their return resulted in a big hole in southern Goa where the ethics-conscious church succeeded in influencing the voters to throw out �renegade and corrupt� elements.

Senior Congress leaders said the party high command should take Goa as a warning signal. �Whenever we deviate from our path or compromise our principles, we get a drubbing,� said a Congress Working Committee member, underlining the need for introspection.

At another level, the Congress� �feel good� roll had finally halted. With the exception of Uttar Pradesh, the Sonia-led party had won all the elections ranging from Assembly to municipal corporation polls in the last few months.

Until yesterday, AICC functionaries were eagerly awaiting another addition in their kitty of 14 party-ruled states.

The fractured mandate in Goa also punctured the Congress� Gujarat campaign. The party�s campaign managers were confident of victory given Goa�s proximity to Gujarat and the general sense of insecurity among the minorities outside Gujarat.

The state BJP leadership led by chief minister Manohar Parrikar succeeded in overcoming the anti-incumbency factor that so far had been the domain of leaders such as Jyoti Basu, Digvijay Singh and Chandrababu Naidu.

Sonia was greatly upset with the Goa results. She summoned her close aides and expressed deep disappointment with the outcome.

She directed party general secretary Oscar Fernandes to visit Panaji to explore possibilities of a coalition government with the help of smaller parties such as the MGP, the UDGP and the NCP.

Sonia managers are, however, doubtful of success. Since the BJP has an edge, Governor Mohammad Fazal is likely to invite the BJP ahead of the Congress.

Asked specifically whether the Congress would make attempts to form the next government along with like-minded parties, Sonia�s political secretary Ambika Soni said: �The results have just come in. We are analysing the results.�

Soni candidly admitted during the poll campaign, she had sensed the party cadre�s dissatisfaction over the induction of MLAs who had deserted the party only a few months ago.

Soni�s colleague Oscar Fernandes tried to put up a brave face, claiming that the mandate was against the BJP. �It is put to smaller parties (MGP and UDGP). They have been saying that they are against communal forces.�

An upbeat BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi, however, said the BJP would stake claim to form a government in Goa.

Earlier, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma accused the BJP of unleashing �massive money power�, claiming this factor alone led to the defeat of the Congress in Goa.

Sharma said local factors also influenced the elections in the tiny state, where national issues were not that significant.


New Delhi, June 1: 
India and the US are set to sign �within weeks� a crucial agreement on mutual use of military facilities that will cover servicing of ships, helicopters and aircraft not only within their own territories but also in third countries and American bases elsewhere.

This is just one of a series of measures that is drawing closer the security establishments of the two countries. These measures were clearly enunciated during Union defence secretary Yogendra Narain�s visit to the US for a scheduled meeting of the Defence Policy Group (DPG) earlier this month.

Washington�s near-acceptance of India�s line against Pakistan�s sponsorship of infiltration comes in the background of not only the military standoff but also this series of measures.

Narain�s departure to the US on May 21 even as the attack on the Kaluchak army camp pushed the Indian and Pakistani militaries to the brink was a little surprising because the defence secretary provides some of the key inputs to sessions of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). But the defence ministry clearly thought it was important for Narain to go ahead with the scheduled visit.

It now transpires that Narain�s visit helped set the tone for the intense India-US interactions that have been set off over the past fortnight and will continue over the next.

Among the measures is an Agreement on Acquisition and Cross-Servicing. Simply put, the agreement, once signed, will allow the US to use specific Indian facilities and India to use specific US facilities. The Indian and US sides in the DPG decided to conclude the agreement �within weeks�.

These facilities will extend to ships in transit, servicing of military aircraft and personnel and can cover refuelling, maintenance, repairs and hospitality to personnel. At the end of the year, the costs of such servicing will be balanced out.

For instance, the costs of hosting the India-US military exercises in Agra in May can be set off against exercises that the Indian Army is expected to have with US forces in Alaska later this year.

Likewise, the costs of joint patrolling of the Malacca Straits that the Indian and US navies can, if required, be balanced out by using Indian naval facilities in the Andamans and/or US bases in the Indian Ocean region.

The US has signed this agreement with about 60 countries, including Pakistan. It is understood that both New Delhi and Washington do not want a delay in signing the agreement because a number of joint military exercises involving transportation of men and material is planned out over the short term.

Narain also attended a briefing by the US on its national missile defence system at Colorado Springs. Indian defence officials will be visiting Dallas, Texas, later in June for a follow-up session on missile defence. The US side in the DPG agreed to carry out a study on India�s missile defence requirement.

The US has tested out six types of missile defence systems of which the last four have been concluded successfully. It has offered these systems to its allies. If India is to adopt such a system, its requirements will be substantially different because it shares long common boundaries with neighbours that cut down the lead time that is required for a missile-launch warning to the minimum. India�s acceptance of the need for a missile defence system would also force a rethink in its military doctrine.

For the moment, India has just signed a �large� contract with Israel to buy aerostat balloons that will clearly be placed along the borders with Pakistan. These balloons are said to be capable of detecting missile launches from 500 km. Israel is expected to supply the balloons in about 10 months.


New Delhi, June 1: 
Russia has categorically assured the Indian leadership of Moscow�s full support in the event of a military action against Islamabad. The assurance comes in the wake of widespread speculation that President Vladimir Putin is trying to mediate between India and Pakistan to defuse the current tension in South Asia.

India and Russia have an agreement under which one side will come to the aid of the other in case either side faces a threat of aggression or decides to go for military action to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

South Block mandarins are trying to work out the timing of Putin�s meeting with Vajpayee on the sidelines of the Cica Summit in Almaty beginning on Sunday. Ideally, the Indians would like to have a meeting after Putin has met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Delhi is confident Putin will deliver India�s concerns and message to Pakistan in an unambiguous manner.

Neither India nor Russia is in favour of a war. But if the international community�s pressure on Musharraf fails to work, Moscow will stand squarely behind India. That is the message that has been given to Delhi in the past few days.

Apart from siding with its traditional ally India in its hour of crisis, the Russian desire to play a more meaningful role in the region stems from the fear that the Americans will move into the space.

Ironically, it is the Americans who have nudged the Russians into playing a more active role in the region. The decision was taken at the recent summit in Moscow where President George W. Bush told President Putin he should try and convince the Indian leadership that a war would not be in anybody�s interests.

Moscow is aware that developments in Afghanistan since September 11 have brought US troops into its backyard. Going by present indications, the US troops are in no hurry to leave. The Russians don�t want a situation where they become more marginalised in South Asia while the Americans further consolidate their position.

There is another aspect that has started worrying the Indian leadership. Moscow�s growing closeness with Islamabad is something that is being frowned upon by Delhi.

Though Russia has promised to back India in the immediate future, Russia�s long-term relations with Pakistan is of some concern to the Indians.


Lucknow, June 1: 
At the beginning of the BJP state executive�s first meeting after the recent election debacle and the party�s controversial tie-up with the BSP, BJP state president Kalraj Mishra today threw a bombshell by resigning from his post.

A red-faced Mishra made no efforts to conceal his unhappiness with the manner in which the high command had dealt with the party�s affairs in Uttar Pradesh and blamed ego clashes among seniors and consequent infighting at lower levels for the election debacle.

His resignation took senior BJP leaders, including Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former chief minister Rajnath Singh and minister Lalaji Tandon by surprise.

Mishra agreed to preside over the two-day state executive meet but said his resignation was final. �I will go to Delhi immediately after the executive meeting and urge the party�s national president to accept my resignation,� he asserted.

The state executive started its deliberations on a stormy note with many senior leaders questioning the way the party leadership had entered into pre and post election alliances with other parties without taking into consideration the sentiments of the rank and file.

Mishra himself set the ball rolling when he attributed the party�s �crushing defeat� to infighting among the the state�s four top leaders, including himself. �I resigned because I could not keep the flock together during the elections,� he said.

Though Mishra did not mention anyone by name, the allusion to �others� clearly included Rajnath Singh, former state BJP chief Om Prakash Singh and Tandon. �While one leader talked about social engineering, others put personal ego and political ambitions before the party�s interests, denigrating its image,� he said.

�During the five-year party�s rule from Kalyan Singh to Rajnath Singh, we could not maintain cordial relations and thus, failed to inspire party workers at the grassroots level,� Mishra added.

Even after the elections, voices of dissent were raised when the high command decided that the party unit should sit in the Opposition, he said.

Admitting that the experiment of pre-poll alliances to ensure a majority had failed, Mishra said forging an alliance with the BSP for government formation was under compulsion. Now that the government has been formed, it is our duty to see that it completes its full term, he said.

Mishra felt that the leaders must sink their differences, as the party faced an �existence crisis�. He said: �The day these leaders unite, the party will regain its lost ground.�


Hyderabad, June 1: 
The proposed negotiations between the People�s War Group in Andhra Pradesh and the state government are locked in the take off stages with neither the government nor the extremists making the initial peace moves for establishing trust and creating an atmosphere conducive for the talks to begin.

The state government has asked the PWG to surrender arms as precondition for the talks, while the PWG has asked the government to partially left the ban on the group, stop fake encounters and raids on villages and temporarily halt combing operations. But neither side is willing to comply.

Meanwhile, the revolutionary poet P. Varavara Rao and the folk singer, Gaddar from the Jana Natya Mandali were chosen by the PWG to work out the modalities of the dialogue with the state government.

�To hold talks with government is a political decision and, hence, we would appreciate if the negotiations were conducted by politicians without the involvement of government officials and policemen,� said Varavara Rao. He also took objection to the PWG�s reference as an extremist faction and said it was a political party, the CPI (ML) and not just a faction.

Rao said he was prepared to risk his life if his efforts brought peace to rural Andhra Pradesh, which was torn by extremist violence and state repression for the last three decades.


Ahmedabad, June 1: 
At a time when the Congress was gradually regaining the confidence and support of the minority community in post-riot Gujarat, a public ceremony organised by a Muslim MLA to felicitate chief minister Narendra Modi has left the party�s leadership red-faced.

Defying a clear directive from Gujarat Congress president Amarsinh Chaudhary, Congress legislator from Wankaner Khurshid Haider Pirzada went ahead with his programme to felicitate the chief minister.

Pirzada, who happens to be leader of a religious sect, went ahead despite Chaudhary�s reminding him of clear instructions from Congress president Sonia Gandhi to boycott all functions of Modi allegedly because of his �dubious role� in the recent communal violence that claimed nearly a thousand lives.

By defying the wishes of his party leaders and a large section of the minority community, which considers Modi to be the main �culprit� who has �no moral right to continue as the chief minister,� the rebel legislator has shocked everybody.

Pirzada could be expelled from the party soon.

�It is a betrayal and the community will not forgive him,� said Congress spokesman and minority leader J.B. Momen. The party has already taken serious note of Pirzada�s �act of defiance�. Chaudhary admitted Pirzada had hurt the sentiments of crores of people in Gujarat, especially from the minority community that has suffered so much.

Chaudhary told reporters he had called Pirzada five days ago to tell him not to attend the function where Modi was to be felicitated. �I told him �Modi is a killer and he does not deserve any felicitation�. I asked him to keep away from such a function. But he not only attended the function but actually felicitated Modi. This is too much,� said an angry Chaudhary.

Congress Legislature Party leader Naresh Rawal has sought a written explanation from Pirzada within the next two days. Chaudhary has requested the party high command to take stern disciplinary action against him for embarrassing the party.

When Chaudhary called him five days ago asking him not to go ahead with the programme, Pirzada apparently informed Chaudhary he would consult his followers and then get back to him. Finally, on Thursday, Chaudhary sent a written warning to Pirzada.

But Pirzada went ahead with his plans anyway. Congress leaders said Pirzada was apparently lured by Modi and that he could not have felicitated the chief minister without hoping for some reward.

Congress leaders said Pirzada could be drifting closer to the BJP and Modi might have lured him into joining the BJP so that the ruling party could showcase a prominent Muslim leader as trophy in Gujarat.


Chennai, June 1: 
Atrocities against Harijans plumbed a new depth recently when three Dalits were allegedly forced to eat human excreta at a village near Tiruchirapalli as punishment for complaining about a former panchayat chief not refunding money taken under a housing scheme.

Though the obnoxious practice of maintaining a separate set of tumblers for Dalits in tea shops often surfaces in remote pockets in Tamil Nadu, this ugly episode is said to be the first in the state in recent memory.

District collector K. Manivasan rushed to Thinniyam Panchayat, 30 km from Tiruchirappalli, yesterday on learning about the incident that took place on May 21. He held an enquiry with the Dalit victims, T. Karuppiah and two of his relatives, Murugesan and Ramasami, and took action against the upper-caste culprits.

Four persons have been arrested for offences under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act. Two others, including the former panchayat president, Rajalakshmi, were expected to be held tonight, he told The Telegraph over phone.

The atrocity came to light after local activists of the Dalit Panthers of India, a party headed by R. Thirumavalavan, tipped off a Tiruchi lawyer.

Manivasan said he learnt that Karuppiah had given Rs 2,000 to Rajalakshmi two-and-a-half years ago to sanction a group house to his sister, Banumathi, under the group housing scheme for Dalits.

Rajalakshmi could not deliver on her commitment for reasons unknown as the matter in under investigation and soon lost her post after fresh panchayat elections last October.

Karuppiah now wanted his money back. On May 20, he and his relatives went to the gram panchayat, related their grievance and sought the villagers� intervention.

This expose by the Dalits enraged the dominant upper castes in the village. Rajalakshmi�s husband, Subramaniam, the main accused in this case along with four relatives, �got angry� at this development, the collector said quoting from the FIR.

They summoned Karuppiah and his two relations the next day, beat them up and �branded them� at two places on their body with hot iron, Manivasan narrated.

The Dalits were then asked to again go round the village and retract their earlier statement that they had made payments to Rajalakshmi.

As further humiliation, Karuppaiah said in his complaint, they were �forcibly made to eat human excreta�.

On the question of evidence, Manivasan said: �There is some evidence to the effect that they (the upper-caste accused) asked them to do so (eat the excreta) as a token measure.� Apparently, the Dalits did not report the matter immediately for fear of losing their jobs as agriculture labourers with the upper-caste landlords.


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