Pushback takes heavy toll
George stirs controversy with safe-passage offer
Roll of distant thunder in heat wave
Archer winning script for Azhar
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 1: 
India suffered heavy losses with 13 armymen laying down their lives in fierce artillery duels and gun battles in the past 24 hours in Kargil. This is the first time in Operation Vijay that the Indian army has lost more than 10 men in a single day.

That Indian forces were running into stubborn resistance was also evident from the admission by the army today that ?inclement weather in the rugged terrain? was making the pushback difficult.

An Associated Press report, quoting military officials in Jammu, said fighting had spread to a new front with artillery and small arms fire raging along a 50-km line west of the city. Infantry columns backed by jets were fighting to regain control of a strategic peak, Toluling, at 15,100 feet in a crucial battle to flush out infiltrators.

Pakistan claimed that 10 schoolchildren had died in cross-border shelling in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But a defence spokesman in Delhi denied it. ?We are only responding to shelling from the other side,? he said.

The Pakistan army also claimed it had repulsed three separate attacks by Indian soldiers, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. The statement said Indian soldiers launched two attacks in the Marpola sector and another in the Chorbat sector. There were reports that 30 civilians had been killed on the Pakistani side, where thousands of people have fled their homes.

As India awaited word on the date of Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s visit, today?s developments indicated an escalation of the conflict. Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh wondered what talks Aziz would hold when Pakistan had not yet recalled the infiltrators. He told a television channel: ?Pakistan must realise that it is completely isolated on this issue in international fora. Everybody realises that this infiltration almost amounts to aggression.?

Defence minister George Fernandes claimed major success in Operation Vijay. He told a television channel that in Kaksar, India will reach the Line of Control (LoC) in the next 48 hours. In Drass, India has already taken control of the LoC at three points. The conflict in Batalik, closest to the point from where Pakistan is directing the Kargil operation, has intensified.

At the ministry of defence briefing in the afternoon, Brigadier Mohan Bhandari said that from Monday midnight, the war at Batalik had become quite intense with Indian forces making an attempt to encircle the insurgents and cut off their supply lines from beyond the border. This morning, in several sorties, the Indian Air Force softened up pockets which the infiltrators were holding on to. The war for Batalik will be central to Operation Vijay over the next few days.

Brigadier Bhandari said it must be realised that fighting was going on in a glacial zone at an altitude of 17,000 feet. Much of the area has a snow cover that is three to four feet deep. The weather is quite cloudy and unbearably cold.

The total casualty on the Indian side has gone up substantially, he said. The Indian army said the toll was now 46, with 174 men wounded and 12 missing.

A reassessment of the number of intruders suggests they are between 600 and 700. Intelligence reports indicate there are a few hundred more in PoK at places like Skardu, waiting to come over and join their comrades.    

New Delhi, June 1: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today made yet another controversial statement by sticking his neck out and suggesting that India might ensure safe passage for insurgents and mercenaries wanting to return to Pakistan from the Kargil sector.

Asked if India would enter into a ceasefire agreement by allowing the infiltrators within Indian territory to return to Pakistan, Fernandes said: ?This could be considered.?

But questions are being asked in defence circles if Fernandes should have made the statement at a time when defence forces are engaged in a do-or-die battle and the toll in Operation Vijay has reached 51.

Fernandes claimed there was no intelligence failure and said the zone of conflict was an even more difficult terrain than Siachen, where soldiers are posted round the year.

On the peaks off Kargil, there is no outpost and it is virtually impossible to maintain such a vigil through the winter months or even in March-April.

The Indian army had returned in early May to find to their surprise that the insurgents had sneaked in and occupied vantage positions at high altitudes, the defence minister said. Fernandes said the objective now was to push back the intruders and there was no point in starting a witch-hunt on who had erred.

Precautionary measures that need to be taken to prevent further infiltration would be discussed in detail once the conflict is over. He said since May 8, both the army and air force have done a commendable job.

Fernandes agreed that a ?war of sorts? is being waged in Kargil. Echoing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, he said ?only the war has not been declared?.

He said the infiltration was too organised to be dismissed as just one of the sporadic attempts to slip across the border that frequently cause skirmishes in different parts of Kashmir.

Fernandes claimed the death count in the rival camp was 470, including 150 Pakistani regulars.

The minister said his earlier statement that the Pakistani army alone was involved in the Kargil operation had been misunderstood by the media and the Opposition parties.

He said what he meant was the intrusion had been planned by the Pakistani army. Once they set the ball rolling, the Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence had definitely become involved, the defence minister said.

The minister brushed aside allegations that he had violated protocol by taking two senior army officers to a BJP party meeting, and said he had done nothing wrong.

Two days before the BJP national executive, the officials had presented the same information at the all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister. Senior Opposition leaders were present at the meeting.

Fernandes said he was will- ing to enlighten all Opposition parties on Kargil. And if the Congress so desired, he could take the same officers to a meeting of the Congress Working Committee.    

Calcutta, June 1: 
The sultry macadam hissed and spat. The heat seemed to rise in sulphurous waves, making heavier still the still air. Calcutta gasped for breath, yearning for the healing touch of rain, for its soothing sound like distant applause.

The weather office refused to call it a heat wave, saying it can be termed so only when the temperature rises to seven degrees above normal. Well, with the mercury at 39?C ? four degrees above normal ? it was a heat buzz all right.

But where?s the rain that can stifle the buzz? It?s here already, says the weatherman.

?The monsoon came to Bengal on May 28, but there have only been a few bursts of rain. We have had no showers in the last two or three days. It is because of this that the heat is so intense. We are feeling the effect of the moderate heat wave in Bihar,? the meteorological office said.

It?s hot because the rainy season has set in. It won?t be so hot soon because... well, the rains will be here. If that sounds like madness, the weatherman says there is a method to it.

?During the rainy season, there is moisture. The southerly winds over Gangetic West Bengal only make things worse. It would not have been so bad had it rained,? a met office spokesman said.

With 92 per cent maximum relative humidity, heat-smothered Calcutta agreed. More bad tidings were on the way as the met office said the heat could persist ? and even increase ? over the next 48 hours.

For a couple of days in March, we glimpsed the chronicle of a summer foretold with the mercury reaching 39.2?C, the highest this year. Now things are bordering on a heat wave.

?The heat will continue till it rains. If the mercury goes up another notch or two, we could be in the midst of a heat wave,? the weatherman said.

If the heat is here, baring its armoury of torment, can power cuts be far behind? CESC?s 250-mw Budge Budge thermal power unit collapsed twice today, creating a huge shortfall in the city.

After the unit broke down for the second time at 7.04 pm, the shortfall went up to 150 mw. The unit was restored at 8.30 pm and was yet to pick up generation till late this evening. A technical snag at CESC?s feeder line at Gariahat Road (South) made the power situation worse.

However, there is hope still. Satellite pictures of clouds over eastern Bay of Bengal and a trough of low pressure passing through Gangetic West Bengal might ? if they intensify ? bring cooling showers.

For things to get better, they must get worse first.    

London, June 1: 
If encouragement was the theme of the evening, the boost that Mohammed Azharuddin?s team received at India House yesterday went beyond the script.

Lalit Man Singh, the natty high commissioner and a ?recent convert? to cricket, was expected to say all the right things. But the revelation was Lord Jeffrey Archer, bestselling author (of books like Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, Kane and Abel and First among Equals) and cricket buff who needs no introduction.

Witty (?It seems I?m the only Englishman to take the punishment of being present in your midst?); generous in praise (?In Taunton, two of your young batsmen showed every child what timing is all about, of getting runs without slogging?) and offering warm support (?I?ll be at The Oval on Friday to cheer India?), Lord Archer ensured every Indian would back his bid for London?s Lord Mayor next year.

It wasn?t a ?political? outing, but the extent to which Lord Archer stole the show became evident when former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, who is convalescing here and was a special invitee, congratulated him for ?an excellent speech?.

Jyoti Basu, who came close to being Prime Minister not once but twice and was also a special invitee, didn?t specifically congratulate Lord Archer, but smiled more than once during the five-odd minutes that he had the select gathering enthralled.

Basu returns home on Friday and so will miss the first Super Six game against Australia. ?I watched the first-round matches on TV and congratulated the team,? the Bengal chief minister told The Telegraph. ?I?m an optimist. I?m hopeful of India winning the Cup.?

Present, too, were most of the prominent Indians in the UK, Labour?s Keith Vaz ? the first British minister of Asian origin ? and the Sri Lankan high commissioner. Mian Riaz Samee, Pakistan?s top diplomat in the UK, conveyed his regrets. In any case, few expected him to turn up.

The evening began on a somewhat sour note when a high commission official requested invitees ?not to seek autographs and to take very few photographs?.

It was an announcement without precedent, made worse by the official?s remark that otherwise, ?the dignity of the function would be lost.?

However, the disappointment felt by many quickly became a thing of the past as the reception got under way. The host himself set the tone by observing, amid cheers, ?that if history (1983) is to be repeated, it has to be this summer.?

Smiling, Man Singh exhorted the batsmen to ?give the innings nuclear power? and the bowlers to ?bowl with the thrust of Agni.? More than the other two Super Six games (vs Australia and New Zealand), the high commissioner probably had in mind next Tuesday?s clash with Pakistan at Old Trafford.

Playing the perfect diplomat, Man Singh thanked the host country for just about everything and literally brought the house down when he said: ?What better example of being the ideal host than losing to India!?

The high commissioner also ?threatened? Lord Archer for having light-heartedly vowed to imprison the Sachins and Azhars in the Tower of London: ?May I remind you we are a nuclear power...?

Lord Archer, of course, responded even more ?vigorously?: ?In fact, not just Azhar and Sachin, but the entire team needs to be sent to the Tower!?

Present, too, was board president Raj Singh Dungarpur, who insisted the present team had the qualities that go into the making of a champion side: application, attitude and athleticism. ?You?re looking at and backing a team that has it all.?

On current form, nobody will dispute that.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening.
Temperature: Maximum 39?C (4?C above normal)
Minimum 29.1?C (2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 92% Minimum 48%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.14 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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