Sonia in PM race with blood and tears blast
Atal dials keep-off Kargil message to Sharif
Left lets in foreign aid for schools
Neighbours meet on Cup brim
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 25 
Returning to the Congress centrestage, Sonia Gandhi today dared her opponents to take the issue of her foreign origin to the people and made it clear she was in the race for prime ministership.

?The people of India will give a fitting reply to those questioning my patriotism...As far as the issue of prime ministership is concerned, the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) will decide it,? Sonia Gandhi said during an emotionally-charged speech at the AICC session, which established her as the unchallenged leader of the party.

Sonia Gandhi remains chairperson of the CPP and today?s statement leaves no room for doubt about her projection as the party?s prime ministerial candidate in the elections. In fact, when she resigned as party president, she had retained leadership of the CPP.

Sonia Gandhi sought to rip apart all adversaries and declared she was as much an Indian as anyone else. ?Meri hindustaniat par shak karne walon ko main jawab nahin doongee. Is desh ki janata degee. Munh torh jawab degee,? she said.

Going on the offensive, Sonia Gandhi told an audience of Congressmen: ?Yeh desh mere jivan ke pal pal mein shamil raha. Main suhagin yahan bani, maa yahan bani, main widhwa apki ankhon ke samne hui. Is desh ki sabse mahan putri Indiraji ne apni saans meri bahon mein tori.?

The impact of the speech was instant. Many AICC delegates were seen wiping tears.

?Mere khoon ki ek ek boond kahti hai ke yeh mera watan hai. Yeh mera watan hai,? she said.

Explaining the circumstances leading to her resignation, Sonia Gandhi accused Sharad Pawar and other expelled leaders of being hand-in-glove with the BJP and wondered how they could raise the issue of her foreign origin when they themselves had come with ?folded hands?, asking her to take over the Congress leadership. ?Now the same set of people is trying to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of my countrymen. They have joined hands with forces against whom I came to fight,? she said.

The Congress president said she had quit a week ago with a ?heavy heart?, but had decided to come back because ?the party has given me new assurance and hope?.

She said ?after refusing to enter politics for seven years?, she had not come to grab power, but to ?save the party from disintegration and the country from being overrun by communal forces?. That fight, she asserted, will continue. ?I will not let you down. What has happened in the past nine days should give us inspiration for a new beginning,? she said.

Sonia Gandhi said the issue of her citizenship was settled 31 years ago when she came to India as Indira Gandhi?s daughter-in-law. ?Hindustan ne mujko 31 sal pahle hi apna liya tha,? she said.

The AICC president said the rebels failed to understand why she joined politics after shying away for seven years. ?We are not hankering for power. We are not in politics to adorn public offices. We are in politics to fulfil the dreams of our forefathers of a strong and resurgent India.?

The major part of the speech was in Hindi and was lustily cheered by delegates numbering over 1,400 at the session, which adopted a resolution expressing deep gratitude to her for taking back her resignation.

Sonia Gandhi is planning drastic measures to tone up the party structure. This was evident when AICC members endorsed Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir?s view that the leadership should be cautious about the coterie surrounding her.

The Pawar camp reacted sharply, rejecting Sonia Gandhi?s charge that they were with the communal forces. While Pawar was talking to Karnataka chief minister J.H. Patel on phone, P.A. Sangma termed Sonia Gandhi?s resignation and subsequent withdrawal a big drama. He regretted that Sonia Gandhi did not address any of the issues raised in their letter.

In Pondicherry, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said: ?I am glad that the drama is over and hope normal political activities will start now.?    

New Delhi, May 25 
Terming the infiltration into Kargil as part of ?a design to occupy Indian territory?, Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee disclosed tonight that he had told his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif that no intrusion would be tolerated.

Vajpayee said he had spoken to Sharif on the phone yesterday and ?made it clear that we will not allow any intrusion to take place in our territory. We will clear our territory (of the intruders).?

In his first public acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation, the Prime Minister told a press conference in Pondicherry that a new challenge was being posed in the Kargil sector.

?It is not just an intrusion which takes place when the snow starts melting. This time, the design is to occupy some territory and stay put there. Infiltrators are being helped by armed forces. The situation is totally unacceptable to us,? he said.

Asked if the clearing-out operation would include airstrikes, Vajpayee said: ?All possible steps will be taken. We believe that shakti and shanti go together.?

Vajpayee said what was happening in Kargil was a violation of the Lahore Declaration, sealed after his pathbreaking bus ride across the Wagah border.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan denied a role in the infiltration and reiterated its demand for neutral observers along the Line of Control (LoC).

The United Nations expressed concern and urged both sides to call a ceasefire.

Defence sources said in Srinagar the army is ready with a final assault plan to flush out the intruders.

In New Delhi, a senior officer said the army is in ?firm control? of the situation, but added it might take two to three months to wrap up the operation.

Reports said around 15,000 Indian soldiers have moved into the Kargil sector after the escalation in shelling. The militants have reportedly intruded four to six km into the Indian territory.

With the Prime Minister leading from the front, the BJP shrugged off its reservations and went on the offensive. The party warned Pakistan that ?India has not hesitated to extend a hand in friendship. It will not hesitate to use the other hand to defend herself?.

The BJP was till now reluctant to launch a high-decibel campaign against the intrusion. The party feared that an outburst would have neutralised the impact of the bus ride ? set to be tom-tommed in the poll campaign as one of the most enduring achievements of the Vajpayee regime.

A statement from Arun Jaitley, member of the BJP?s election management committee, in New Delhi noted that the intrusion by ?heavily-armed Pakistan-based mercenaries across the LoC? into Kargil threatened to ?sour the spirit of the Lahore Declaration?.

?In the past too, Pakistan has sought to send terrorists and mercenaries across the LoC when the snow melts. This year, however, it was expected that Pakistan would desist from repeating this unfriendly act in view of the Lahore Declaration and its spirit of friendly relations,? Jaitley said.    

Calcutta, May 25 
Jettisoning its traditional rhetoric against foreign funding of education, West Bengal?s Left Front government has accepted a large British grant to implement an ambitious project to build 30,000 primary schools.

The British government?s DFID ? earlier known as the Overseas Development Agency ? will bear 85 per cent of the cost of the Rs 400-crore project. The balance will be borne by the state government.

The state?s education department has already started the project. In the first phase till 2006 ? during which the expenditure will be Rs 200 crore ? schools are being built in the districts of Cooch Behar, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura and South 24-Parganas. The next phase would see extension of the project to five other districts ? Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Malda and Purulia.

The project has got off to a low-key start probably because the government does not want to provoke the Opposition into charging that the Left is resorting to populism with an eye on the elections. But Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress are already trying to make it an issue.

?We have been saying for a long time that the communists? public posturing against foreign funds is a sham,? Mamata said. ?The latest step, taken with an eye on the polls, shows we have been correct in our assessment.?

Congress leaders, too, suspect that the CPM is desperately trying to keep its rural votebank intact by promising jobs in the new schools.

Even if the Left denies the populism charge, it is significant that the CPM is suddenly focusing on primary education. An eight-page inner-party document titled ?Party Letter No. 4?, penned by its ?education czar? Anil Biswas, has asked party functionaries in 10 districts to shed fixed notions about the colour of money and help the government implement the project within the time limit of seven years.

?We have noticed with alarm that many districts have failed to set up primary schools according to quotas allotted to them by the government in the past two years,? wrote Biswas, who is also the secretary of the state unit. ?Given the experience, we want the party?s district secretariats to be pro-active and plug into the project, because sticking to the time-table is important.?

?You have to keep it in mind that the party will not tolerate any disruption in the execution of the project on any narrow question of power and rights,? Biswas said, apparently referring to the numerous instances where the CPM?s functionaries are known to have blocked the functioning of educational institutions on flimsy grounds.    

Taunton, May 25 
Sir Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar. Steve Waugh and Martin Crowe. Ian Botham and Joel Garner. They?ve all enriched Somerset County Cricket Club.

Appropriately, then, as you walk into the County Ground you?re greeted with a statement more than anything else: ?Centre of Cricketing Excellence?.

Any other ground or County and it could be dismissed as snobbish. Even outrageous. Not here.

Appropriately, again, a ground which has seen fireworks of the most devastating kind hosts a potentially cracker of a World Cup game: India vs Sri Lanka, tomorrow.

To stay afloat, both need to win. But there can be only one winner and the team finishing second had better prepare for a June 3 departure, the sending-off date for those that don?t make the Super Six.

India and Lanka are in this unhappy position as, thus far, they?ve only won one match. Of course, both have another game ? India against England and Lanka vs Kenya. But the focus is on the morrow.

It?s expected the Indians are concerned about their bowling; the Lankans about their famed top-order batting. But what could eventually affect the bottomline is fielding. A down-to-the-wire situation and even one run could make all the difference.

Unusually, both sides appeared relaxed at the extended workout this morning. Only, groups of players often went into a huddle, perhaps finalising their own inputs for the evening?s crucial team meeting.

Having just posted this edition?s highest total (329 for two vs Kenya, in Bristol), the Indians are certainly stronger in the mind vis-?-vis earlier matches.

But the Lankans beat Zimbabwe in their last game. And Zimbabwe, it may be recalled, had put it across India...

India, therefore, don?t exactly hold a psychological edge though they?re certainly ahead head-to-head: 32 wins against 22 losses. Lanka, however, can draw loads of inspiration from both wins in the last World Cup, at the Kotla and Eden Gardens.

Both remain absolute highpoints for Lankan cricket.

?Of course, it will be a tight match, but there?s more pressure on India as their next game is against England. One is definitely looking to the immediate future, that?s tomorrow, but one match will still remain,? Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga told The Telegraph.

Mohammed Azharuddin, Ranatunga?s counterpart, echoed the tight-game bit, and insisted the Indians were geared up in the manner they should be.

The Indians have a huge worry, though: Nayan Mongia has only a ?fifty-fifty? chance of taking the field.

The swelling on his left palm is less and he?s undergoing ultra-sound treatment, but in a key match, the wicketkeeper must be hundred per cent fit.

Anil Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad are, however, set to return after being forced out through injury in Bristol.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky. Possibility of one or two showers towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 35.5?C (1?C below normal normal)
Minimum 27.6?C (1?C above normal normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 92%
Minimum 63%

Rainfall: 17.5 mm

Sunset: 6.12 pm

Sunrise: 4.55 am

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