Government caves in on Bhagwat debate
Delhi in missile hardtalk
BJP under clash cloud
School supports topper revellers
Children of killer television
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 17 
The government blinked first in the stand-off with the Opposition on the Vishnu Bhagwat issue, conceding the demand for a House debate on not only the graft charges against defence minister George Fernandes but also the dismissal of the former navy chief.

After stubbornly holding out for almost a week, the Centre today announced a debate will be held on April 12 in the Lok Sabha when it reconvenes after recess. The discussion will be short and will be held under rule 193 which does not entail voting.

The date for the Rajya Sabha debate is undecided as the Congress wants it to be held under rule 170 which involves voting. The government insists it should be held under rule 176.

Today?s climbdown came after the Centre realised the Bhagwat issue was threatening to go out of hand. A 51-page affidavit, signed by the Admiral, had begun circulating in the corridors of power yesterday and was in the possession of Congress leaders.

The affidavit reportedly lists a range of allegations against Fernandes, from patronising the LTTE and other extremist outfits to leaking intelligence information and promoting Western arms dealers, particularly from France. Bhagwat also said he was privy to ?information and material of a serious nature? which had not been included.

Parts of the affidavit were published in a section of the press today and bolstered the Opposition?s case that the government is running for cover by avoiding a debate in the House.

In a belated damage-control move, parliamentary affairs ministry sources said Fernandes may make a suo motu statement in both Houses tomorrow ?if the Opposition permits him to?, and try to counter Bhagwat?s charges. His decision has reportedly been okayed by the Prime Minister and home minister L.K. Advani.

The decision to go in for a discussion was taken at the end of two rounds of talks of the informal panel of MPs set up to decide whether such a debate should take place. As the issue will be discussed in the House, the committee, which was to have been formally constituted today, is now infructuous.

Parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam conceded the affidavit mainly triggered the change in the government?s stance. He told reporters: ?Bhagwat?s affidavit has said a lot of things which are only in the knowledge of the Prime Minister and the navy chief. Even the defence minister is not privy to some of these things.

?If you read the affidavit clearly, you will realise where things are heading for. We decided it was time to go straight to the House with the issue.?

Kumaramangalam said the discussion would be a free-wheeling one. ?We are all MPs first and ministers after that. Let us adopt our methods of self-restraint and discuss what is possible with restraint,? he said.

He added the Speaker may make an opening statement on the ?sensitive? character of the debate. If sections have to be ?classified?, the government will claim its prerogative in the House in ?national interest?.

The government has, however, rejected the demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the circumstances leading to Bhagwat?s dismissal. Kumaramangalam said: ?A JPC is normally set up after a discussion concludes and a group is not satisfied with its outcome. In this case, even before it is finalised how the issue is to be discussed, the Opposition wants a JPC.?

But the Congress said it had readily agreed on a JPC on Bofors even when it had a 400-member majority in the Lok Sabha. It voiced confidence it would be able to force the demand for a JPC.

BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said Vajpayee had justified Bhagwat?s sacking at a parliamentary party meeting. ?People in service are accountable to the government and many people have been removed from service. It?s nothing new.?    

Colombo, March 17 
India will neither curtail nor abort its integrated missile programme and will go ahead with development and deployment of the Agni missile.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said New Delhi?s stand had been clarified to US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott when the two met in Delhi in January. ?We have no desire to either curtail or abort or turn back the integrated missile programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation,? he said.

Though the US has been trying to dissuade Delhi from developing its missile, Singh made it clear there was no dilution in the ?development, production and test-firing of the Agni?.

?Who has the right to tell India what it should deploy and what it should not? This is the sovereign right of a country,? Singh said.

He was speaking to reporters before leaving for the Sri Lankan hill resort of Nuwara Eliya to attend the Saarc ministerial conference. Singh, whose helicopter was diverted back to Colombo because of inclement weather, will reach the resort tomorrow.

Singh is scheduled to hold a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Sartaz Aziz on Friday. The two leaders are expected to discuss confidence-building measures on the nuclear and missile issues.

Singh hinted that he might take the opportunity to explain to Aziz the problems the neighbours might have in accepting the US phraseology on nuclear and missile issues.

?There is a major difference between the American and Indian side in understanding the word deployment,? Singh said.

He pointed out that the US, which had started with the term non-deployment, shifted to strategic restraint during subsequent rounds of discussions and by the end of the eighth round in Delhi, the two sides were talking about defence postures.?The nuances in these shifts should not be overlooked,? the minister said.

Singh?s remarks are significant as this is perhaps the first time that the foreign minister has explained how the talks with the US have progressed and spoken of the difficulties in harmonising the two nations? positions.

He said defence postures would entail India?s right to develop a minimum nuclear deterrent which is not fixed and its assurances not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state and attempt to avoid an arms-race.

Asked whether an unfixed minimum nuclear deterrent and avoiding an arms race in the region were contradictory positions, the minister replied in the negative. He explained that these words coined by the Americans often failed to take the reality of the post-Cold War period into account. Singh mentioned the developments in the Gulf and those in South and East Asia which have not been taken into account by the US and other Western nations.

The foreign minister hinted that these issues might figure in his talks with Aziz. He stressed that both sides need to sustain the momentum gained in Lahore. ?We want to create a synergy of small steps,? Singh said.

Referring to the Delhi-Lahore bus service as one such step, he said his ministry has been flooded with requests for visas. The minister said Nawaz Sharif?s brother Shahbaz Sharif is keen to visit Mohali with 1,000 supporters for the India-Pakistan one-dayer.    

Ranalai (R. Udaygiri), March 17 
In a night-long swoop the police arrested 27 men for yesterday?s attack on Christians in this remote village in Gajapati district as allegations were levelled against an MP of the BJP for inciting the violence.

Villagers said the MP from Sundargarh and state BJP chief, Juel Oraon, called on Hindu tribals at a rally in nearby Chheligada last month to ?go in droves? and wipe off all the crosses painted on the hills and turn them into tridents. R.Udaygiri circle inspector Asit Mahanti confirmed this, saying: ?We sent a confidential report to the authorities about this highly provocative speech. We do not know why the home department did not take any action.?

Damning as the charge is for the BJP, the Congress government in Orissa cannot escape the wrath of villagers either. Christians are blaming the police for failing to protect them.

Citing the BJP MP?s speech, they accused the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of carrying out an ?anti-cross? campaign in the area.

But Hindu villagers denied that the VHP was involved. B.C. Bisoi, an arrested Hindu farmer, said Christians, being the majority in the village, were trying to cow them into submission. Bisoi blamed outsiders for desecration of the cross that preceded yesterday?s attack on the village.

Yesterday afternoon, an armed mob rampaged through the Christian-dominated village firing bullets and shooting arrows and looting and burning down houses. At least seven Christians were injured, two of them seriously.

Nearly 160 huts were torched, contrary to chief minister Giridhar Gamang?s assertion in the Assembly yesterday that only a dozen Christian houses were burnt down. The local church was also vandalised and sacks of rice for distribution among the poor taken away.

Accompanied by senior officials, Gamang flew in here but failed to inspire confidence among Christians who were disappointed as the chief minister left within 15 minutes of his arrival ?to inform Assembly members of your (the Christians?) plight?.

Gamang promised to reconstruct the burnt houses and provide free food to the victims for 15 days. Prodded by the home secretary, the chief minister declared before his departure that ?those behind? the attack would be identified and brought to book.

Tension broke out two weeks ago after a cross, painted on a hillside, was turned into a trident. Christians protested the desecration and whitewashed the trident. A new cross was painted. Christians said they had asked for police protection on Monday as they apprehended trouble. But no assistance was provided. The local church?s priest, Ishwardeb Pani, said: ?We heard Hindus were getting together in our village and 10 others to attack us.?

Mahanti, who was roughed up by villagers, said no picket was posted because a peace agreement had been reached between the communities under the tutelage of the police, banning painting of religious symbols on hillsides.    

Calcutta, March 17 
School authorities today sprang to the defence of the four teenage students accused of teasing, assaulting and robbing a woman on Monday, saying two of the boys are toppers and the conduct of all of them has been exemplary.

The victim, Nandini Gupta, 40, lodged an FIR with the Karaya police station soon after the incident on Ballygunge Circular Road that the boys had grabbed her by the hair, slapped her and then robbed her purse containing Rs 10,000. Gupta alleged that they also tried to pull her diamond earring out.

But even as the police today arrested Udit Saurav, who was absconding since the incident, principal of Central Modern School on A.J.C. Bose Road Nanda Ghosh Dastidar insisted that the incident has been blown out of proportion.

?Two of the boys are brilliant in studies. Moreover, none would stoop so low and outrage the modesty of the woman. They did not steal money either. Their teachers and I will stand by them. They are extremely well-behaved,? Dastidar stressed.

She pointed out that she had spoken to a few of the other students, who were in the Tata Sumo, and they had said the boys were having fun after the Madhyamik examinations when someone?s hand accidentally touched Gupta?s head.

?The boys were driving close to the woman and one of them had his elbow out which brushed her head,? Dastidar said.

The school?s vice-principal, S. Kamath, said they have sought legal opinion to defend the boys.

Deputy commissioner of police, detective department, Narayan Ghosh, today said the boys had confessed to eve-teasing. ?They told interrogators that they were merry-making after their examinations and one pulled Gupta?s hair from the car. The boys deny slapping the woman or robbing her of Rs 10,000,? Ghosh said. He said police have not been able to trace the money.

The Karaya police, however, have started a case of snatching and outraging modesty. The boys ? Vivek Das, Naushad, Udit Saurav and Apurba Ghosh ? were produced in court today and remanded in police custody for five days.

Officer-in-charge of Karaya police station Satyajit Banerjee stood by his version that the boys were drunk and did tease Gupta while music was blasting in the car. ?They also snatched her purse,? he added.

Gupta has left the city and will return only next week.

Apurba?s father Aparesh Ghosh said his son has been framed and certain IPS officers had put pressure on the Karaya police to charge the boys with snatching and eve-teasing.    

Lucknow, March 17 
No one is born a killer. But four-year-olds Adil and Saddam came close.

The two children battered to death their two-year-old friend Parveen, slashed her body with a kitchen knife and threw it into a dry pond. In between, they watched a Hindi film on television.

Gluttons for the fare that Bollywood and prime-time serials dish out as staple, the two boys from Maharajpur village, 20 km from Kanpur, raised again the question of the extent to which impressionable minds are influenced by the hard core of violence that lies at the centre of mainstream entertainment.

It may have been a coincidence that Shaktimaan, the two boys? favourite television serial, was taken off the air today. Admitting the ?adverse? effects of the serial and the flood of complaints about it ? including some that said children had committed suicide trying to emulate the television character?s feats ? Doordarshan told Delhi High Court Shaktimaan would be stopped.

But Adil and Saddam did not draw inspiration from the serial?s superhero.

The tale of Parveen?s killing ?- as it emerged, bit by horrifying bit during the boys? interrogation ?- is as stunning as it is brutal.

The children were playing together on Monday when Parveen bit both Adil and Saddam. Infuriated, the two boys took up stones and started battering her. Beaten to a pulp, the three-year-old was dead in minutes.

The boys nonchalantly returned to their homes and watched a film. Then they returned to the field where they had left the body, stabbed the dead girl repeatedly and threw her into a pond. They went back to watch some more television.

Adil told his parents about what they had done. But his parents kept quiet.

Later, locals found the body. Superintendent of police (rural areas) S.B. Pathak said: ?When I saw the body, I knew it was the handiwork of a child or a criminal.? The police picked up Adil, Saddam and their friend Shahrukh, who was a witness, and took them in for questioning yesterday.

They were released today after a medical examination confirmed that all of them were below the age of seven.

Kanpur superintendent of police M.A. Ganapathy said under section 82 of the Indian Penal Code, any child committing a crime under the age of seven cannot be classified as a criminal.

Parveen?s parents ? who had insisted on the arrest of the boys ? finally realised that law had left an escape hatch open for Adil and Saddam.

But the boys seemed hardly aware of, or concerned with, the let-off. They were not overawed at being interrogated.

They admitted everything to the police ? the killing, the disposal of the body, the addiction to television and Hindi films ? and ran riot when taken for their medical examination.

They demanded chocolates from the chief medical officer R.K. Tandon. They took pens, notepads and books from the desk and scattered them all over the floor.

At the police station, they gathered all the policemen?s caps and hid them in the compound. In the end, the police seemed happy to be rid of them.

The local police station has been asked to monitor the boys? activities, and the parents ? labourers in a brick kiln ? have been told to prevent their children from watching too much television.

The case has been officially closed, but the reverberations of the incident ? without precedent in India ? will continue.

Maybe the parents of Robert Thompson and Ron Venables, who, at the age of eight, had kidnapped and battered to death two-year-old James Bolger and left his body near the railway tracks in Liverpool in 1993, would know what to say to Adil and Saddam?s parents.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Little change in day and night temperature

Temperature: Maximum 34.8?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 24.1?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 93%
Minimum 50%


Sunrise:5.48 am
Sunset: 5.42 pm

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