Jaya dares Vajpayee to sever ties
BJP greets threat with iron hand
US returns India?s Kosovo fire
Girl puts killer father in jail
From the ruins of Chamoli rise its brave sons
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 1 
After days of posturing and playing on the BJP?s nerves, Jayalalitha today dared Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to clarify if her party was really wanted in the ruling coalition. If not, she threatened, the ADMK would take only an hour to go to Rashtrapati Bhavan and inform the President that it was walking out of the alliance.

In a statement from Chennai, the ADMK made it clear that it was rapidly moving closer to the Congress.

Angry over parliamentary affairs minister P. R. Kumaramangalam?s assertion yesterday that her credibility was ?dipping? and that it was she who ?should be embarrassed by her conduct?, Jayalalitha had her senior party functionaries issue a statement demanding that the Prime Minister clarify whether he stood by his Cabinet colleague?s statement.

Vajpayee, in Goa for the BJP national executive beginning tomorrow, clarified that the remark was Kumaramangalam?s ?personal view? and the government?s ?thinking is yet to crystallise?. However, throughout the day in Goa, the BJP top brass struck a strident note on Jayalalitha?s demands and openly endorsed Kumaramangalam?s stand.

Today?s was the first threat of withdrawal from Jayalalitha after her recent show of dalliance with the Congress. The Congress is overjoyed at Jayalalitha?s threat.

Congress sources suggested that the hawks in the party will now exert pressure on Sonia Gandhi to hasten the collapse of the Vajpayee government.

Jayalalitha went into a huddle with another Tamil Nadu ally, PMK leader S. Ramadoss. She also conferred with Subramanian Swamy, who told reporters that the ADMK?s relations with the ruling coalition had reached a point of no return.

If Jayalalitha pulls out her 18 MPs, it will not sound the death knell for the ruling coalition. The government will be reduced to a minority, but the Opposition ? including the Congress ? is yet to acquire a coherent shape. What will follow is political confusion with parties trying out new alignments.

Kumaramangalam had spoken out while informally meeting reporters at the launch of the ?People of India Origin? card at Vigyan Bhavan yesterday. He has been politically discreet over the past one year and his remarks are being viewed in political circles as a calculated attack to stop Jayalalitha from toying with the BJP. Kumaramangalam had gone to the extent of suggesting that Jayalalitha should behave like a responsible ally or quit.

The rejoinder from the ADMK was more blunt. ?The Prime Minister need only tell us that he agrees with his minister, and in one hour we will be at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, informing the President that we are no longer supporting the government that does not want us to stay in it,? said the statement issued by eight senior ADMK leaders, including party president and trusted Jayalalitha lieutenant V.R. Nedunchezhian.

The statement said Kumaramangalam?s remark was being taken seriously because he is a Cabinet minister.

That Jayalalitha?s affinity for the Congress was growing by the hour was evident from the ADMK assertion that ?there are tested friends from the past ? who have, in 1996, been cleansed of undesirable elements ? who can be our allies.? Jayalalitha was probably referring to the departure of former Congress leaders G.K. Moopanar and P. Chidambaram.

The ADMK also accused the Samata Party, Trinamul Congress and a section of the BJP of trying to pull down the government. It said: ?When a section of the BJP and the friends of this faction in other parties are determined to bring down the government, there is little we can do.?    

Panaji, April 1 
The BJP is readying a few fresh lessons for allies in coalition culture and the chief among them appears to be: Don?t bully big brother too much.

Ire with Jayalalitha?s capricious threat-mongering is running high among the party?s top leaders and the national executive which meets here over the next three days, is all set to send her a stern message ? if you don?t need us, we don?t need you. If Jayalalitha thought power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam was pulling an April-fool stunt when he said the Vajpayee government would survive without the ADMK, she was probably a little mistaken. Leader after senior leader has been endorsing Kumaramangalam?s position in the run-up to the executive.

?Some people don?t seem to know how to behave in a coalition,? said party president Kushabhau Thakre and warned Jayalalitha that if she could ride to Delhi guns blazing, she could be blazed as well. ?If some people can sit on a high horse and criticise others, they should accept others criticising them as well,? Thakre said.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who arrived here last night, had his own dig at the ADMK leader when he told an impromptu media conference at Raj Bhavan: ?Some people are taking time to understand the workings of a coalition but they will learn in time.?

For the third day in a row, Vajpayee swatted demands for shunting George Fernandes out of the defence ministry and gave no hint his government could soften its opposition to a joint parliamentary committee probe into the sacking of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. Too bad if Jayalalitha has pitched her aggression on the issue higher by demanding the reinstatement of Admiral Bhagwat. ?However can we do that?? argued a near-outraged BJP leader after a preparatory meeting of the party?s central office bearers this evening.

?The government has said it took the decision in the interests of national security, do you think we are about to go back on it. These are ridiculous demands and they should be treated as such.?

For the moment, party leaders are refusing to be drawn into the logistics of survival in Parliament if the ADMK does eventually pull out, but they exude a no-nonsense confidence about living on in power. ?Frankly, we don?t see any threat to our government,? said a party general secretary. ?In fact, our focus during the next couple of days is going to be on how to gather greater steam and move ahead with the implementation of the national agenda.?

Vajpayee was himself a beaming picture, betraying no sign of being bothered by a bug called Jayalalitha. ?Where is the alternative?? he shot back at those a little sceptical of his survival. ?We have just proved our majority during the vote on Bihar, how often do you want us to prove it??

Vajpayee, though, might be trying to prove a point or two at the ensuing session ? not to political adversaries or troublesome allies, but to his own party and its so-called ideological fraternity, the RSS in particular. At the last session on the party?s national executive in Bangalore, Vajpayee was vociferously under question from within. The RSS was none to happy with his love for liberalism and was making that plain: the Swadeshi Jagran Manch was snarling at his economic policies, the Bajrang Dal and lesser faces of saffron belligerence were quite flagrantly violating rule of law and embarrassing him.    

Washington, April 1 
The Clinton Administration, baffled by India?s strident statement in the United Nations against the Nato strikes, called in the Indian ambassador yesterday to express its deep disappointment with New Delhi?s posture in the current crisis.

The anger at India?s condemnation when Washington was looking for ?understanding? for the human tragedy unfolding in Kosovo is palpable among US officials dealing with South Asia. ?India hasn?t done this for a long time. We are still wondering what it means,? a US official said.

Once again, India became the stone-thrower in the small mob led by Russia and China against military intervention in the Balkans.

Ironically, there was more understanding expressed for Russia?s ?complex? motives for taking the stand it has and for China?s restrained statements than for New Delhi?s emotions.

?The Russians are at least doing something. They worked with us to support the peace process. India is just sitting on the sidelines and criticising,? one official said. As always, some say.

The sharply-worded intervention made by Kamlesh Sharma, India?s permanent representative at the UN on Monday, is reverberating at high levels, including that of deputy secretary Strobe Talbott, India?s main interlocutor in the ongoing bilateral dialogue.

Some feel the statement, seen as gratuitous and one-sided, ascribed the worst motives to the United States and its Nato allies while making nary a mention of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic?s bloody methods.

Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, called India?s ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, to give him a sense of Washington?s disappointment. While his message was delivered in diplomatic language, US officials privately expressed feelings ranging from frustration to anger.

?India talks about being a global player, but this does not show a broader view. We talk to India about international partnerships, but this points in another direction,? an official commented. ?India?s view doesn?t seem to evolve while the world has moved on.?

The language used in the Indian statement is laced with acrimony and sarcasm. It compared the Nato attack to a ?return to anarchy?, adding ?no country, group of countries or regional arrangement, no matter how powerful, can arrogate to itself the right of taking arbitrary and unilateral military action against others?.

A senior Indian diplomat at the UN said the statement was in line with what had been said in New Delhi. ?We say what is appropriate and our partners perfectly understand our point of view..?

Asked if the statement might affect bilateral talks with Washington, he simply said: ?We don?t tailor our statements to those requirements.?    

Calcutta, April 1 
The testimony of a seven-year-old girl, made in court six years ago, today sent her father and paternal aunt to jail for life.

In a rare instance, the judge was fully convinced by the girl?s vivid description of how her mother was murdered by the duo in 1991. At that time, Rini Chowdhury, who was the only witness willing to depose, was five years old.

Now, at 13, she is content with the ruling. ?I did what I had to do,? she said.

When hearings took place in the courtroom of the fifth additional sessions judge at Alipore two years after the incident, Rini testified against her father, his sister and grandmother.

Public prosecutor Shyam Sunder Chopra said Rini?s father Prithish Chowdhury and aunt Malina were convicted for life for murdering her mother, Anjana, in her parents? bedroom at their Jadavpur residence.

The grandmother, Shefali Chowdhury, who was also arrested, was released by the court.

According to records, Prithish and Anjana were married in 1985. Rini, their only child, was born a year later. Her father was with the State Bank of India.

The relationship between husband and wife was good in the initial years. But it turned sour when Prithish started making financial demands on Anjana on the grounds that her brothers were rich.

Under duress, Anjana would visit her brothers to get money for her husband. According to CID officers, Anjana was tortured when she refused to get the money.

?The situation took an ugly turn when her in-laws began torturing the woman,? Chopra added.

On May 22, 1991, she was beaten to death by her husband and in-laws. A case was lodged with the Jadavpur police station on the basis of a complaint filed by Anjana?s brother.

But initially, the case appeared to be weak for a conviction for want of any adult witness. Rini, however, volunteered to testify, and this eventually helped the police wrap up the case.

While deposing, Rini recollected how she had woken up around 8 am on that fateful day and, peeping through the window, witnessed how her father, grandmother and aunt killed her mother.

?My mother was dragged into the bedroom by them. She was crying. My father, who was in the bedroom, came out with a wooden rod and hit my mother with it.

But there was nobody to help her,? she had testified. She then saw her mother fall on the floor unconscious.

?I could not help and was feeling so helpless. I was only crying,? she told the court.

Rini now lives with her maternal uncles and goes to school. ?She does not want to want to meet her father ever again,?? a relative said.    

Lower Chamoli, April 1 
The three Srivastava sisters had said their last prayers.

Their mouths were full of mud and grime. They were buried under the debris of their bedroom wall. Lalitha, the eldest, stuck her hand out from beneath the boulders to touch her daughter. She was not there. Lalitha then bit her lip to see if she was still alive.

As she was slipping into unconsciousness, someone flashed a torch. ?Koi bacha hai (Is anyone alive)?? the saviour asked. None of the sisters had the strength to respond. The saviour, however, noticed Lalitha?s feet moving beneath a stone. He called his brother and together they removed bricks, stones and boulders. Eventually, the sisters emerged.

For 16-year-old Sanjay Pundir and his 18-year-old brother Shailendra, ?it was not a big issue. People were dying, so we had to save them.?

Their house, on the lower reaches of the village, Lower Chamoli, had collapsed. After clearing the debris, the brothers set out on their rescue mission with spades and saws. Luckily for the Srivastavas, the brothers chose their home first.

While Sanjay dragged out the injured, Shailendra ? helped by other villagers ? carried them to the road below. The brothers saved about a dozen people. ?These boys have done what no one from the administration could do,? said Ramesh Chandra, a village elder.

But the Pundirs are not alone. Other residents of Lower Chamoli ? where 19 people died in the quake ? are unsung heroes.

Kuldip Singh, a labourer, lost his wife in the earthquake. But he came to know about her death only after he saved his neighbour Naushad. With the walls of his home razed, Kuldip went towards Naushad?s house.

?I had lost all hopes of seeing my friend alive when I saw caught sight of his fingers in a victory sign. I called others. But it took me over two hours to remove boulders. Before we could pull out Naushad, he had fainted. We revived him,? Kuldip said.

As torches flashed and shrieks pierced the night, Kuldip saw a boulder about to hit five-year-old Malti Tiwari. He dived and took the boulder on his back. Malti was unhurt but Kuldip is in hospital, critically injured.

Also on the injured list is Sashi Srivastava, Lalitha?s mother. When Lalitha could not see her daughter, she told her mother about it. Sashi looked for the little girl and found her trapped between two walls.She broke the walls, pounding on them with an iron rod. Locals then pulled out her grand daughter.

Very little is left in Lower Chamoli, adjacent to Chamoli town. Schools, health centres and homes have all collapsed. There are no roads here, only boulders. Villagers point at one heap of rubble. ?This was Chandra Bhat?s house.? They point at another and say: ?This was Bharat Bisht?s house.? After a few days, even the villagers will not remember where their homes were.

But the people of Lower Chamoli keep smiling. Their unsung heroes ? the Pundir brothers and Kuldip Singh ? may not win awards for bravery, but on that dark Sunday night, they were the Florence Nightingales of Lower Chamoli.

Terror strikes again

A fresh tremor rocked Garhwal today, killing one person and injuring several in Chamoli, even as the authorities sought additional help to step up rescue operation.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 37.6?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 25.7?C (2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 95% Minimum 46%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.48 pm Sunrise: 5.42 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company