Missile Man cruises towards pinnacle
De-escalation takes off in public and in private
See-and-believe Valley gamble
Time for titans to tremble in boots
In the garb of consensus, Atal wins a contest
Sought after yesterday, dumped today
Newspaper boy makes news
Lanka PM on trade and Tiger mission
What Devdas would like to forget about Cannes
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 10: 
In an attempt to evolve a consensus across the political spectrum, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today proposed the name of noted nuclear scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for President.

Kalam�s candidature was supported unanimously by the NDA, the Telugu Desam Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party at a meeting called by Vajpayee this evening.

The Prime Minister hoped that the Opposition would support his endeavour to work out a consensus on the issue, NDA convener George Fernandes said after the meeting.

Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was present at the briefing, described Kalam as a �very good choice�. Naidu had rejected the BJP�s first choice, Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander.

Kalam�s nomination would send the �right signal to the international community�, Naidu said. After refusing to attend an NDA meeting yesterday, the Desam chief was flown in by a special BSF aircraft for today�s �show of solidarity�.

On a day of rapid developments that underscored differences within the NDA and the Opposition�s resolve to force a contest if Alexander was nominated, Vajpayee sought to cut his coalition�s losses. He invited Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Left leaders H.S. Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan and sounded them on Kalam.

The Opposition leaders indicated that they might accept Kalam after going through the motion of confabulating with their colleagues to avert a showdown on the highest constitutional post. The People�s Front will meet tomorrow.

If the Opposition finally endorses Kalam, the father of the country�s missile programme will become the supreme commander of India�s armed forces.

The Bharat Ratna recipient was out of bounds, but a spokesman for Anna University, at whose guest house he has been staying in Chennai, read out his hand-written message. �I am very happy,� he said.

The prospects for Kalam, whose name was first mooted by Mulayam Singh Yadav and later backed by Mamata Banerjee and Ram Vilas Paswan, brightened once the Opposition and the Desam ruled out accepting Alexander.

Desam sources said Naidu felt �shortchanged� with the ruling coalition�s refusal to accept his choice � Vice-President Krishan Kant. The sources claimed that at his meeting with Vajpayee last week, Naidu was assured that the NDA would accept Kant.

However, an influential section of the BJP, led by parliamentary affairs and communications minister Pramod Mahajan and seconded by Fernandes, contended that Vajpayee should not allow himself to be �bulldozed� by his allies and the Opposition. BJP sources said home minister L.K. Advani and even foreign minister Jaswant Singh � thought to be Vajpayee�s right hand � tacitly supported them.

But Naidu�s sullenness stood in the way. Vajpayee then sent the BJP�s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, and Mahajan to Hyderabad. Mahajan had to recant his support to Alexander and impress upon Naidu that the byword was consensus on a third candidate. It would not be Kant.


New Delhi, June 10: 
India today announced its decision to lift the ban on overflight facilities to Pakistan, taking the first cautious step towards de-escalating the tension in South Asia. In private, it took another big stride, initiating the process of the �agreement� on its new high commissioner to Islamabad, Harsh Bhasin.

Bhasin�s name has been finalised, but the government may not send its �agreement� to Islamabad till it is satisfied that Pakistan is sticking to its pledge of putting a permanent end to infiltrations across the LoC.

Although publicly New Delhi is not willing to show any military concession at this point, there are indications that in the last few days it has de-alerted its strike force from a six-hour readiness to 48 hours. Units of the western fleet, which were in the Arabian Sea, have been asked to return to their bases.

Today�s decision does not mean air-link between the neighbours has been restored; it will only enable Pakistani planes to overfly Indian airspace. No decision has been taken on allowing them to land or operate from here. The ban was imposed on January 1 in the wake of the December 13 attack on Parliament.

India�s steps were expected, as they come after the recent visit of US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage to Islamabad and Delhi. Armitage convinced the Indian leadership about Pervez Musharraf�s sincerity in stopping cross-border terrorism, but also made it clear the world expected India to reciprocate with some gestures.

�This is in response to President Pervez Musharraf�s statement to put a permanent end to cross-border terrorism,� foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said, while announcing the decision to lift the ban. The move, she added, was �a follow-up� to Musharraf�s statement.

Pakistan reacted cautiously, saying it would respond positively to the decision after India communicates it officially and asked Delhi to follow it up with pullout of troops from the border.

India�s carrot-and-stick policy was evident from Rao�s remarks. �Detailed assessment on the ground has been made and some improvement has been noticed,� she said, but was quick to add that this was �an on-going assessment�. Rao said the situation along the LoC was �still fluid�. �We have not come to any definite conclusion. There are certain changes, some fall in infiltration. But 10 to 12 days is too short a time to make a permanent conclusion.�

Rao described the decision as a �significant step�, but emphasised that Delhi expected Pakistan to reciprocate. �The world community had played an important role in getting the pledge from President Musharraf and we now expect action from Pakistan in that direction,� she said.


New Delhi, June 10: 
The Centre is toying with a proposal to invite the international community to observe the elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

If the plan comes through, it will not amount to international monitoring, which New Delhi will never agree to, but will give the world a ringside seat to the proceedings in the state.

The tentative proposal involves inviting ambassadors of the European Union or Commonwealth countries based in New Delhi to travel to Kashmir on the day of polling. Certain eminent personalities may also be requested to join the tour.

Till now, only the international press, not observers, were allowed to report on elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

No decision has yet been taken, but the Centre is keen on holding credible elections that will be accepted by not only the people of Kashmir but also the international community. The Centre is now preparing to kick-start efforts to get the election process underway in Kashmir, which, in the next few months, is likely to hog international headlines.

The Centre is expected to come out with the contours of an autonomy package for the state. The timing of the package has not yet been decided, but it could well take off after getting all moderate elements to take part in the elections.

The crackdown on the hardliners continued apace today with the state police slapping charges under the Official Secrets Act on Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was arrested under the anti-terrorism law yesterday. Inspector general of police (Kashmir Range) K. Rajendra Kumar said in Srinagar that �five pages of documents� recovered from Geelani�s house had details of deployment of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Kumar said it was suspected that Geelani had passed on the contents of the documents to Pakistan

A.S. Dulat, the Kashmir specialist in the Prime Minister�s Office, has just returned from a visit to the Valley. His task was to make an assessment of the situation there and begin the groundwork for Vajpayee�s next visit to Kashmir, which could be in a month or so from now.

Unlike during his visit last month, the Prime Minister is expected to meet a larger cross-section of the public next time.


Yokohama, June 10: 
Japan and South Korea are not just sharing the staging of the 2002 World Cup. Their national teams both have four points and both sets of fans expect to see their favourites in the second round.

That WILL be a �first� for Japan who are sure to be there; it WOULD be a �first� for South Korea who still lack the insurance policy which the Japanese hold ahead of their tie with unambitious Tunisia.

On one level, at least, the two countries stand shoulder to shoulder. After all the controversy over the co-hosting decision and all that mutual suspicion, it is only fair to state loud and clear that tournament organisation on both sides of the Sea of Japan or East Sea (depending on your nationality) is superb.

The single-minded commitment which turned these economies into the most tigerish in the world has been applied to the staging of the world�s most popular sporting and television event. The first World Cup of the 21st century is, appropriately, the first all-the-way high-tech World Cup from ticket sales to training regimes. That has, of course, included the media though the editorial concentration in Korea and Japan has varied in line with the cultural, social and sporting disparities between the nations. Both countries boast loud, strident equivalents of Europe�s sensationalist tabloids but these are also healthy publishing environments for English-language daily papers.

This is where the difference in approach between the countries is most marked. Pick up the Korea Herald or the Korea Times and the World Cup pops up in just about every section every day of the week.

The World Cup has invaded every area of Korean national life and the newspapers reflect that. Lengthy television football programmes match that approach with the day�s matches being repeated apparently ad nauseum through the night for the football-loving insomniac.

Cut to Japan and a change of emphasis. State television is dutiful rather than effusive in its highlights coverage. As for the English-language newspapers, they confine the World Cup to front page summary and two sports pages, at most.

Elsewhere in all those pages, the World Cup has no role to play.

That is not a comparative criticism of either Koreans for going over the top or Japanese for underplaying. Merely a neutral observation. Football has been the No. 1 national sport in Korea for many years. In Japan, baseball is the national team sport and football is a late arrival on the scene. Also, Japanese youth is attracted to football as a vehicle through which to challenge national traditions of behaviour; that earns immense suspicion among older and more reflective generations.

For those fans, tension over the next few days will be wound up further notches in not only Korea and Japan but around the world. Tomorrow in Group A, for example, World Cup holders France must beat Denmark by two clear goals to stay alive into the second round.

Debutant Senegal will go through if they draw with Uruguay. Also tomorrow, Germany will go out if they lose to Cameroon while Ireland, simultaneously, beat Saudi Arabia. Trembling in their boots over succeeding days will be Argentina and perhaps Sweden and England in Group F as well as Italy in Group G.

For the co-hosts, however, Friday, last day of the first round, will carry different emotions.

In Group H, Japan are already guaranteed a place in the second round even if they lose to Tunisia. But in Group D, South Korea will want at least a draw against late-starting Portugal or they could fail to qualify for the second round yet again. Then how might the local media react?


New Delhi, June 10: 

Maharashtra lobby leashed

For a change it was not the RSS or his allies that tormented Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The debate over whether the President would be elected through consensus or a contest was created by the BJP.

An influential section � being referred to in BJP circles as the �Maharashtra lobby� � plumped for Governor P.C. Alexander�s name long before it was even discussed within the party. The logic was that both sides f the political fence would find it hard to spurn a candidate who was Christian, a southerner, and above all a former loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Telugu Desam Party�s choice of Vice-President Krishan Kant was rejected by this lobby on the ground that as the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, he was �not particularly helpful� to the BJP or the NDA and was �pro Third Front�.

�If he (Kant) became the President, we were afraid these Third Front people would become emboldened enough to rock the NDA boat,� said a senior BJP minister.

Alexander�s �amicability� towards the BJP-Sena and the possibility that if he made it to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Sonia Gandhi�s aspirations of becoming Prime Minister would suffer a setback were other factors that weighed with his BJP supporters. �How can an undeclared Hindu Rashtra have two Christians in the highest posts?� asked a BJP functionary.

However, sources close to Vajpayee insisted, it was consensus or nothing for the Prime Minister. They said his thinking was, given the reality of a fractured Parliament, the BJP was not in a position to bulldoze its allies and the Opposition all the time.

�There has to be give and take in this scenario. What his BJP critics see as weakness was perceived as maturity by Vajpayee�s supporters. He told the people pitching for Alexander that what was the point of proving one�s numerical strength on a matter like the President�s election? Parliament is the right forum for shows of strength, when bills have to be passed and Opposition-sponsored motions have to be defeated,� said sources close to the Prime Minister.

But the pro-Alexander lobby, already upset with the Prime Minister for �pulling his punches� on Pakistan, seemed determined to have their way. Vajpayee was put into a corner after he sounded the Congress and the Telugu Desam on his willingness to build a consensus around Kant and extracting assurance from their leaders that they would not divulge names.

They kept their promise. But the BJP�s eager beavers went public with Alexander�s name. The Opposition and the Telugu Desam were furious for being �shortchanged� and Vajpayee�s plans went awry. The signal that went out was his own BJP colleagues, including home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, were not with him.

Sources claimed that neither Advani nor Singh backed the high pitch for Alexander made by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and defence minister George Fernandes during the informal discussions of the NDA over the weekend.

But a sulking Telugu Desam, a galvanised Opposition, a plea from ADMK leader Jayalalithaa for a consensus in �times of crisis� and an appeal to support A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were the fillips that Vajpayee needed. The Prime Minister managed to push through Kalam�s name in the garb of consensus and, thereby, retrieve his supremacy within the BJP and the NDA.

For Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Kalam�s name came as a boon. A contest may have meant defeat for the Opposition candidate and a loss of face for her, given the fact that their ranks were divided on Narayanan.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was spared the dilemma of taking sides: supporting Narayanan would have meant being on the same side of the political fence as the Congress and opposing him would have exposed him to the charge of being �pro-BJP�.


New Delhi, June 10: 
Having �achieved� P.C. Alexander�s exit from the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Opposition today dropped President K.R. Narayanan as its candidate. Vice-President Krishan Kant, too, fell by the wayside, though 24-hours ago he was also being touted as a compromise �consensus� candidate.

Till this afternoon, Opposition parties led by the Congress had been projecting Narayanan. But, by evening, the situation had changed as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to assert his authority within the NDA and push through A.P.J. Abdul Kalam�s name as the consensus nominee.

For the record, the Congress, the Left and the Samajwadi Party took a dig at the government, asking if Kalam was its �final choice�. They avoided declaring open support to Kalam and sought more time to save Narayanan from acute embarrassment. But there was a sense of relief at having avoided a contest with the ruling coalition.

Congress leaders said they would call on Narayanan and thank him for his support before officially getting back to Vajpayee to approve Kalam�s name. Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh met the President late tonight.

Kalam�s profile, his apolitical stature and achievements during the Congress, United Front and BJP regimes, made him the �least controversial� and �most acceptable� nominee in the circumstances. While CPM leader Sitaram Yechuri hailed the nuclear scientist as an intellectual, Congress leaders recalled Kalam�s deep association with Rajiv Gandhi.

From Day One, Opposition leaders had been divided on backing Narayanan. Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was the first to oppose a second term for the incumbent. Mulayam, along with Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, also earned the distinction of proposing Kalam�s name.

The Left, though initially lukewarm to the idea of backing Kalam, has now fallen in line because it would stop the �controversial� Alexander.

In Rashtrapati Bhavan, however, there is no gloom. Sources close to the President expressed relief that the scientist is set to succeed Narayanan. They pointed at Narayanan�s role in thwarting a political entity belonging to the BJP-NDA. Had Narayanan bowed out of the race, the Opposition would have lost the bargaining chip that forced Vajpayee to dump Alexander, the sources said.

They said Narayanan was not too keen on a contest as he had already served as a consensus nominee. According to the sources, Narayanan kept pondering over setting a precedence of running for office, that too against the official nominee.

Rajendra Prasad, while running for a second term, had faced a token contest from N. Das of the Hindu Mahasabha. There was a fierce contest when Sanjeeva Reddy lost to V.V. Giri. But the tussle had more to do with the power struggle within the Congress than a fight between the Opposition and the government.


New Delhi, June 10: 
That the �indigenous man� from House No. 2 on Mosque Street in Rameswaram is all set to move to Rashtrapati Bhavan is another living example of the vibrancy of Indian democracy.

As a young boy, Aavul Pakkiri Jainulabiddin Abdul Kalam used to deliver newspapers on behalf of his brother, who was a news agent. Little did he know that one day he would make news for becoming the ruling coalition�s presidential candidate.

As soon as Kalam got the news of his likely elevation, he called up home to organise some biryani and special prayers. It was an identical gesture to the one he made in 1998, when he was awarded the Bharat Ratna. Kalam himself is a strict vegetarian and a confirmed bachelor. He once told a friend jokingly that if he had married, he would never have achieved even half of what he has managed to.

Kalam is used to making history. He was the first graduate in his family � three of his brothers never finished school. Kalam began at Samiyar School in Rameswaram and then moved to Schwartz School in Ramnathapuram. He graduated from St Joseph�s College in Tiruchi.

Kalam went to the Madras Institute of Technology to do aeronautical engineering. He says he developed an interest in aeronautical engineering from watching the flight of birds. �That got me interested in aeronautics. I love the sea. I write poetry, started learning the veena, a beautiful instrument,� he told Time magazine.

However, his journey of making India a nuclear nation was not easy. At the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation where he spent most of his time experimenting, Kalam had to overcome constant pressures, checks and even interference from the political class.

He would often suffer a bout of �Kalamitous�, a term used by his colleagues to describe his frustration whenever the tests were delayed. But the fighter in him refused to give up.

Kalam survived another test in 1986-87 when Rajiv Gandhi entrusted him with the missile programme. Some senior ministers and bureaucrats approached Rajiv Gandhi wondering if it was proper to give him such a sensitive project. They were referring to his minority background. An infuriated Rajiv asked the doubters to leave immediately. He then called Kalam and assured him full support.

Kalam�s big day came on May 11 and 13, 1998, when he played a key role in the nuclear tests at Pokhran. �I remember the earth shaking under our feet,� he recalled of that fateful experience.

Kalam�s father, Jainulabiddin Marakayar, was a panchayat board president in Rameswaram who owned a few boats that would ferry pilgrims between Rameswaram and Dhanushkody.

Friends say Kalam prays twice a day, in the morning and at night, and can read the Quran and the Gita at the same pace. During leisure hours, he loves to play the Rudra Veena or listen to songs written by Subramaniam Bharti.


New Delhi, June 10: 
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived here today to hold talks with the Indian leadership on two crucial issues: how serious New Delhi is about getting back V. Prabhakaran and in pushing for an agenda that stresses on close economic cooperation between the two countries.

Both issues are of utmost importance to the island nation�s future.

India maintained that its demand for the extradition of the chief of the LTTE remained �operational� and �there was no change� in New Delhi�s policy on the issue. India is seeking the LTTE chief�s extradition for his involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

�India had made the extradition request in 1995. It continues to be operational. There is no change in the situation,� said foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao.

She said India stood for Sri Lanka�s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but argued that any peace settlement in that country should cater to the aspirations of all concerned.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, who met Sonia Gandhi in the evening, however, did not give a direct reply to whether India was insisting on Prabhakaran�s extradition. �I have briefed Sonia Gandhi on what�s happening in Sri Lanka,� Wickremesinghe said after talks with the leader of Opposition.

On the progress of the peace talks in Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe said: �They have their ups and downs like any other peace talks.� Asked what his expectations were from New Delhi for the peace process, he replied: �I need India�s blessings.�

His remarks indicated that the peace talks between the Tigers and Colombo were at a crucial stage and Prabhakaran�s role was significant. Colombo, aware of Indian sensitivities, wants some kind of assurance that New Delhi would not press for Prabhakaran�s extradition at this crucial juncture.

The BJP-led coalition, perhaps, understands this and may not forcefully seek the LTTE chief�s extradition. But Sonia�s cooperation is essential for this to happen. The Congress and the Opposition can use any shift in the government�s policy on Prabhakaran to put the Vajpayee regime in a spot.

At the same time, India�s insistence on Prabhakaran�s extradition could jeopardise the peace process in Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe�s meeting with Sonia this evening gathers special significance in this regard.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister will tomorrow meet a host of Indian leaders, including President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Moreover, he is likely to hold discussions with home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

During his talks with the Indian leadership, Wickremesinghe will explain the current status of the Sri Lankan peace process. He is also likely to unfurl his main agenda, which calls for a fresh approach in India-Sri Lanka ties with a special emphasis on accelerated economic integration.

He is expected to emphasise that the future of the island nation is intricately linked to the Indian economy and, therefore, he would expect New Delhi to take reciprocal steps to match the Sri Lankan initiative.

As a major concession, the Indian Oil Corporation will be given 100 Ceylon Petroleum Corporation retail outlets to market auto fuels in Sri Lankan markets, which had been closed to India till now. An agreement is likely to be signed tomorrow.


Mumbai, June 10: 
Now that the tinsel has settled down on Devdas� conquest of Cannes, it�s time for the real story.

India�s most expensive film ever made did not please many at Cannes. Derek Malcolm, one of the best film critics from The Guardian, on how Sanjay Leela Bhansali�s Rs 50 crore-extravaganza fared at the world�s most prestigious film festival: �Nobody can see everything at Cannes, so I may well have missed even more films that were something special. But among them certainly wasn�t Devdas, the first Bollywood film to be shown at Cannes and a pretty silly three hours worth of romance, song and dance, and utterly tasteless � if luxuriant � production design�.

�Not fit to lick the boots of Lagaan, Devdas was once filmed by Bimal Ray, who is a real film-maker. This adaptation looked as if it had been put together by a Hindi Busby Berkeley on a very nasty herb.�

The Time magazine film critic, Richard Corliss, was no kinder, at least to begin with. �Another Cannes first: a Bollywood musical, was part of the official selection, luring Indian mega-muffin Shah Rukh Khan to this dappled Riviera town� (But) Devdas, a three-hour romantic phantasmagoria, got little indulgence from the international critics. Though they sat obediently through dozens of mopey minimalist movies, and one with a brutal nine-minute rape scene, they had a low threshold of pain for a pretty film with pretty people singing of love and loss; exactly one critic (this one) was there at the end.�

At the end, however, Corliss becomes placatory: �Devdas, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay�s 1917 novel, has been filmed at least three times before, but surely never with such opulence as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has lavished on the new version. Reportedly the most expensive production in Indian history, it could well be the most visually ravishing movie ever��

Khan, a total, tragic charmer in the title role, is bookended by two beauties (Madhuri Dixit and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai) with a sad wisdom to match their screen charisma.

�The dialogue is ripe enough to provide song cues for nine fabulous dance numbers. But the fervid emotion and visual chic are what make the thing sing. In just his third feature, Bhansali seems a young master of the medium.�

If The Guardian and Time have their reservations, others are silent. Film magazine Screen International, which hosts a Cannes 2002 mini-site on its web page, only mentions Devdas as one of the official entries at the festival.

The BBC web site is also terse. �The Cannes line-up proves the increasing popularity in Europe of movies in India. Song-and-dance feature, Devdas, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, will be shown out of competition in a special screening during the festival,� it says.

But back home, the Devdas wave continues, with its presence at Cannes being seen as another national victory after Lagaan. As Bhansali puts the last finishing touches to his film, set for release at the end of this month, every move of his is reported in the headlines, though the man himself hardly speaks to the press.

A record 1,000 prints of Devdas are being readied, amid speculations as to where so many distributors will come in from. The Indian edition of the film will be even longer than the one shown at Cannes.

Not many in the country have watched the film. Those who have are gushing. That�s how the West, too, reacted. �The response at Cannes was absolutely fantastic,� says Bhansali�s public relations person.




Maximum: 31.8�C (-2)
Minimum: 25.0�C (-2)


8.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 82%

Sunrise: 4.54 am

Sunset: 6.17 pm


A few spells of rain or thundershowers likely

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