Powell pledges to push pal Pak
Krishan Kant dies in office
War cry greets Gujarat-bound EC
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New Delhi, July 27: 
Faced with a host less accommodating than last time, secretary of state Colin Powell today tried to pacify India by hinting that America could use its persuasive powers to make President Pervez Musharraf honour his pledge to stop infiltration.

�The US is used to making its friends honour their pledge,� Powell told foreign minister Yashwant Sinha this evening.

The US secretary of state, who will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow, will leave for Islamabad the same day to hold consultations with Musharraf.

Powell, who is here to break the deadlock between the neighbours and nudge India to the talks table, tried to convince Delhi that Musharraf has already taken steps to stop cross-border terrorism.

But Sinha, who met Powell today for the first time after assuming charge of the Indian foreign ministry, remained sceptical of Musharraf�s intention.

During the hour-long talks at Hyderabad House, Sinha told Powell that a large number of terrorists was waiting on the other side of the border and cited evidence of fresh terrorist camps on Pakistani territory.

Powell then assured Sinha he would make a renewed effort to convince the Pakistan President to honour his pledge.

�There is growing recognition, not only in the US but also among the world leaders, that President Musharraf must honour his pledge. We cannot be involved in diplomatic games of bluff,� foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said while briefing reporters on the meeting between the two leaders.

The US secretary of state had told journalists accompanying him that there was no �sure way� of assessing the level of infiltration. His comments were seen as either an attempt to dispute the Indian claim that infiltration across the LoC had gone up over the past few weeks or to convince Indian leaders that Pakistan was taking steps to deal with terrorists.

Powell said he was also trying to assess when the two hostile nuclear neighbours could return to the negotiation table.

�Will it be when the escalation goes down? Will it be when there is greater assurance that there is no cross-border infiltration? Or, will it be when elections in Jammu and Kashmir are over?� he asked.

The secretary of state said all these �are possibilities that I will explore with the two sides and see if we can even begin talking about talks at some point in the near future�.

Sinha, however, ruled out the possibility of early resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. �India has always held that if the necessary conditions for talks are created, we will have talks. But we do not think that necessary conditions exist at present,� the foreign minister said before the talks with Powell began.

Hours before Powell�s arrival, militants struck near Srinagar, killing four civilians in a grenade attack on a crowded market.

The US secretary of state said he was not expecting a �breakthrough yet of the kind that one saw a month or so ago�.

�I just want to make sure we are not just stopped and I want to see what both sides might be willing to do to keep going down that escalatory ladder,� Powell added.

He said that �ultimately, we have to get to dialogue or else we will just be stuck on a plateau which would not serve our interests. We do not want to be back where we were a few months ago, a few months from now.�

Powell will also meet deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra tomorrow morning.

Besides Powell, the American side was represented at today�s talks by the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, and Elizabeth Millard of the US National Security Council.

Sinha was assisted by officials of the foreign ministry, including the joint secretary (Americas), Jayant Prasad, and the Indian ambassador in Washington.

Sinha had said earlier that foreigners based in India would be allowed to go to Jammu and Kashmir when elections are held. However, the government may not invite international observer groups to the state.


New Delhi, July 27: 
Vice-President Krishan Kant died after a massive heart attack this morning at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was brought after he complained of chest pain. He was 75.

An emergency Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, declared a three-day national mourning. Kant will be accorded a state funeral tomorrow at the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium.

After the meeting, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said no decision was taken on who would officiate till a new Vice-President is elected on August 12 and assumes office on August 20. �The Constitution is being studied,� she added.

There is no constitutional provision to appoint an interim Vice-President. The statute says election to the office of the Vice-President �shall be held as soon as possible� in the event of �his death�. Article 68 (2) states: �An election to fill a vacancy in the office of the Vice-President occurring by reason of his death, resignation or removal or otherwise shall be held as soon as possible after the occurrence of the vacancy.�

The most material function performed by the Vice-President is presiding over the Rajya Sabha. Until a new Vice-President is elected, the deputy chairperson of the Upper House, Najma Heptullah, would chair the proceedings.

Kant always made sure his relations with the treasury benches were cordial. But just a couple of days ago, he had pulled up parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan for keeping him in the dark about a sudden change in the House�s business schedule. Mahajan was forced to apologise.

One of his last public appearances was on Thursday when he read out the Hindi translation of the address delivered by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam after the scientist was sworn in President.

�The untimely demise of Kant has left the entire nation in a state of shock,� Vajpayee said. �It is an end of an era. He fought the Britishers first and later fought for democracy during the Emergency. Till yesterday he was with us and today we are condoling his death.� Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sent a condolence letter to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Among the important government engagements called off today were the all-party meeting on electoral reforms and an official dinner foreign minister Yashwant Sinha was to have hosted for US secretary of state Colin Powell.

Government offices will remain closed on Monday. Official sources said the Cabinet, which is slated to discuss the rail division issue on Monday, has not changed its plans as of now.


July 27: 
The Election Commission has decided to send a team of observers on Tuesday to Gujarat, where Sangh parivar hawks are raising the pitch of rhetoric to prevent dissipation of the communal polarisation and paper over dissent within the ruling BJP.

The commission�s team is likely to spend four to five days touring Gujarat to see whether the situation is conducive for polls.

An unfazed Vishwa Hindu Parishad declared it would fight the coming elections as a �dharam yudh� in which not a single Muslim could be allowed to enter the Assembly.

A senior VHP leader said his organisation has decided to throw its weight behind Narendra Modi to ensure that the man it sees as a �staunch Hindu leader� wins this high-stakes war. �You take it from us, we are going to make this election a dharam yudh. All those sympathetic to the minorities will bite dust,� he said.

�Constitutionally, it is not possible to declare Gujarat a Hindu state. But the VHP will make it so by defeating all Muslim candidates,� he added. �In the just dissolved Assembly, there were six Muslim MLAs. In the next Assembly, there will be none.�

Asked how the VHP would stop minority candidates from getting elected, the VHP leader said: �By mobilising Hindus. We will ensure that every Hindu goes to the polling booth.�

Sources said the BJP might have to field many VHP candidates to quell the challenge from a resurgent Congress, led by new state unit chief Shankersinh Vaghela. They said that with Modi likely to drop at least 50 �non-performing� MLAs, the VHP is now eyeing those seats. The VHP may also claim tickets for Assembly segments the BJP lost in the last two elections.

The VHP leader confirmed that senior functionaries were already in talks with the chief minister about the outfit�s participation in the polls. �Modi knows our strength. He knows how we wrested five tribal-dominated Lok Sabha seats from the Congress. We could win those seats because we made Hindu-versus-Christian issues in the tribal areas of Gujarat,� the leader said.

As the VHP sallied into attack mode, BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley, at a news conference in Ahmedabad, sought to scotch speculation of a power struggle in the state BJP by insisting that the party would fight the elections under Modi.

But Jaitley glossed over a question on the role of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel in the elections. �Keshubhai is a very senior leader of the party. He is a friend, philosopher and guide to everyone,� he said.

The state government, fearing a rural backlash over inadequate rains, has also started experiments for artificial rains in a few districts.




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