Crack at Kashmir militancy
Atal welcomes Janata ?asset? into alliance
Manmohan ?directed? to contest
Arun Nehru heading for BJP
Spark of life in dull office
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 9 
Stung by the consecutive attacks on security forces, the Union home ministry today drew up a blueprint for a massive operation to clean up the militant-infested areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

The army, which was kept out of counter-insurgency operations as it was busy on the borders, will again be deployed in the state.

The army is being moved back to areas where insurgents have built a base with the aim of demoralising the security forces. The decision to redeploy the army was taken this afternoon after a meeting between home minister L.K. Advani and chief of staff Gen. V.P. Malik.

As part of its crackdown in Kashmir, the Centre will deploy the non-air force Pawan Hans helicopters, especially for reconnaissance operations in Kupwara, Poonch, Rajouri and Doda. The government will also launch a flush-out operation, being described by the home ministry as a ??massive seek and destroy?? mission.

The government realises that reports of a series of attacks on soldiers have not gone down well with the electorate. With polls less than a month away, the ruling alliance cannot let such incidents damage its chances of riding to victory on the Kargil wave.

The Centre?s drive follows a series of attacks on armymen. On Friday, militants stormed a Rashtriya Rifles camp and shot dead seven soldiers, including a captain. The next day, a colonel and two jawans were killed in an ambush, followed by another attack on an army camp ? all in Kupwara. In the fourth incident in three days, security forces traded fire with militants for about an hour in Udhampur.

Taken aback by the violence spiral, Advani, after consulting defence minister George Fernandes, ordered the ??seek and destroy operation??, which will be more intense than the ??hot pursuit?? mission launched last year to tackle insurgency.

After the meeting today, the two ministries said, ??such attacks are expected to continue unless the security forces launch massive seek and destroy operations, especially on the heights??.

At least 1,000 militants are believed to have sneaked in while the Kargil conflict was on.

Pawan Hans helicopters will be used because the government has failed to strike a deal on buying four choppers for counter-insurgency operations. Pawan Hans is busy doing duty for petroleum ministry personnel who have to visit Bombay High and other such ONGC and Indian Oil sites.

However, questions have been raised why the home ministry wants to use the public sector choppers when air force helicopters are available.

After an Mi-17 helicopter was shot down in the early phase of the Kargil war, air chief marshal A.Y. Tipnis had resented the use of air force choppers against an enemy armed with Stinger missiles.

The decision to use helicopters against militants suggests the extent of the government?s concern.

The Centre has also decided to supply sophisticated weapons to village defence committees as part of its plan to involve the local people in counter-insurgency. The number of such committees in Jammu is being increased from 2,500 to 3,500. Accordingly, more special police officers, who will lead the vigil committees, will be deployed.    

Lucknow, Aug. 9 
Extending a red carpet welcome to the reunified Janata parivar, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today said the Sharad Yadav faction would be an ??asset?? to the National Democratic Alliance.

Kicking off the BJP?s campaign on his home turf, Vajpayee said it was up to his party?s ??alliance partners??, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party, to decide if they, as constituents of the reunified Janata Dal, wanted to be part of the alliance. ??Talks are still on and let us see what comes of it,?? he said.

This is the first time the Prime Minister has publicly spoken in favour of the Sharad Yadav-led faction joining the NDA. The BJP was wracked by divisions on the issue after its Karnataka unit threatened to revolt if the Dal group of J.H. Patel was invited to join the NDA. Though Vajpayee was believed to have engineered the entire move of getting Patel on board, home minister L.K. Advani had opposed it.

Addressing a press meet after a rally at Hazrat Mahal Park, the Prime Minister denied that the polls will be a fight between ??two personalities??.

??I am not the only issue. There are other important issues that the people will vote for,?? he said.

Signalling that the BJP, if elected to power, would be careful while shopping for allies in case of a hung Parliament, Vajpayee said: ??The government is running more smoothly after Jayalalitha?s exit. We have to be careful of who we choose as partners. We won?t repeat our mistakes.??

The Prime Minister also set at rest speculation about whether the BJP would use Kargil as its primary poll weapon, freely playing on patriotic sentiment as he waxed eloquent on the ?success? on the warfront.

Vajpayee credited his government and himself with the victory. ?Today Kargil is free and we have no one but ourselves to thank. So have a smile of confidence rather than tears on your face,? he said at the rally.

Vajpayee played out the entire Kargil story before the audience, which was surprisingly thin considering it was his maiden campaign rally in Lucknow.

?A young wife, a widow just after she becomes a bride, sees the body of her dead husband. People around her break into tears. She stops them, and says crying before a martyr is a sign of disrespect. These are the voices which give us strength,? he said.

Criticising Pakistan for refusing to bury its dead soldiers, he said: ?Even a dead body has dignity. Pakistan did not have the courage to even give a decent burial to its soldiers. So our Muslim soldiers gave them a burial according to Muslim customs.?

Ruling out talks with Islamabad unless it took steps to revive the ??atmosphere of trust??, Vajpayee said: ??What can we talk? Militants are still attacking us in Kashmir. Pakistan can?t expect us to talk with daggers drawn.?

The rally, officially billed as one to commemorate martyrs of the Quit India movement, was exploited by the rival Kalyan Singh and Lalji Tandon factions to show off their strengths.

While Tandon, who is in charge of the Lucknow Municipal Corporation which hosted the rally, claimed success, the turnout left several others red-faced.

A dissident MLC alleged: ?Kalyan Singh has sabotaged the rally. There was no publicity. Can you expect such a poor show in the Prime Minister?s constituency??    

New Delhi, Aug. 9 
The Congress leadership today cleared Manmohan Singh?s name for the South Delhi seat after the city unit of the Akali Dal (Badal) and other Sikh organisations decided to back him in the elections. The Akali Dal is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

Manmohan?s entry into the electoral fray is significant as Sonia Gandhi is likely to push him as Prime Minister in case of a hung Parliament. The Congress chief fears she may become a stumbling block for the party if it has to shop for allies to form a government. Since Sonia Gandhi took over the Congress? reins last year, the former finance minister has unofficially occupied the ??number two?? slot, edging out Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee.

Sonia Gandhi is contesting from Amethi, but she is against heading a coalition government. The Congress president has, in fact, asked senior leaders not to project her as Prime Minister. Congressmen have been told to say that the issue of prime ministership will be decided by the new Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP). The CPP will elect Sonia Gandhi as its head if the Congress and its allies get a majority.

10 Janpath sources said a reluctant Manmohan was ??directed?? to contest from Delhi as the high command wanted to send the signal that the Congress was in favour of fielding ??clean?? persons.

??It is a signal to the Indian middle class that the Congress is for reforms, accountability and ethics in politics,?? a Congress Working Committee member said.

Manmohan is pitted against veteran BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra in South Delhi, which has 1,60,000 Sikh voters. In an unexpected boost for the Congress, the Delhi unit of the Akali Dal, headed by Avtar Singh Hitt, has decided to support Manmohan.

Last year, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had conferred the Nishan-e-Khalsa award on the former finance minister.

Manmohan?s candidature has however, cast a shadow on the fate of senior Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, who are vying for tickets from Outer Delhi and Delhi (Sadar).

Though both have been acquitted by Delhi courts on alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikhs riots, a section of the Congress, comprising Manmohan, Ambika Soni, Amrinder Singh and Sarabjit Singh, wants Sonia Gandhi to deny them a ticket as a ??gesture of goodwill?? towards Sikhs.

Manmohan led a delegation from the community to 10 Janpath yesterday and cautioned Sonia Gandhi against fielding ??tainted leaders??.

An influential Sikh Congress leader told The Telegraph: ??Though Sajjan and Tytler have got a clean chit, their image is somewhat tainted in the public eye. As a political party, we cannot ignore this.?? He said Sonia Gandhi?s decision will have an impact on Punjab politics. In the 1998 Lok Sabha polls, Sajjan, Tytler and H.K.L. Bhagat were denied nominations.

Senior leader and Bharatpur MP K. Natwar Singh will not contest the elections. Though he has cited ??health reasons??, party sources said he was eyeing the chief minister?s chair in the post-election scenario. Moreover, he is believed to be wary of facing the wrath of Jat voters as the ??Jat Mahasabha?? has decided to oppose the Congress.    

New Delhi, Aug. 9 
Arun Nehru, a minister in Rajiv Gandhi?s government and his cousin, is likely to join the BJP and contest the September elections from either Rae Bareli or Bilhaur, near Kanpur.

Reliable BJP sources said today Arun Nehru is likely to be inducted into the party by L.K. Advani later this week. After Maneka Gandhi, Arun Nehru becomes the second close relative of the Nehru-Gandhis to join hands with the BJP. But claiming Arun Nehru may not amount to a political coup for the BJP as, like in Maneka?s case, it is well known that he has long been a persona non grata with the first family of the Congress party.

Arun Nehru, who has contested and won elections from both Rae Bareli and Bilhaur, was brought into politics by Rajiv Gandhi but the cousins fell out a couple of years after Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984. When V.P. Singh broke up with Rajiv Gandhi over the Bofors deal, Nehru too walked out of the Congress to join Jan Morcha. He later fell out with V.P. Singh and went into self-imposed political exile.

BJP sources said in netting Arun Nehru they were looking not so much to divide the Nehru-Gandhi legacy as for a man with known expertise as a political manager. ?Despite all the controversies surrounding him, Arun Nehru was known to be a very able minister. He has a management background and has had experience in running key ministries. He will be given an important job in government if he wins the elections,? a BJP leader said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 9 
Till a month ago, the Janata Dal headquarters in Delhi wore a look of gloom. As the party hurtled from one disaster to another, the dark interiors of the 7 Jantar Mantar Road office turned gloomier than ever. The cars outside the office dwindled to a few and visitors to cross its threshold were even fewer.

But that was yesterday. The events of the last few weeks have nudged the Dal into sudden action and transformed its somnolent office into a hive of activity. Cars now crowd the portico, leaders and activists from other states are knocking at the doors and party chief Sharad Yadav?s colleagues are once again speaking in authoritative voices.

The change came as soon as the Dal faction headed by Yadav decided to tie up with the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party, and join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Till then the Dal?s future was bleak and it was dreading total collapse in the elections. In Bihar, it was in its death throes and in Karnataka, gasping for breath.

But the day Yadav announced the decision to ally with the NDA, the mood changed. Though the split was messy, the party office came alive. Veteran socialists who used to sit in the office every morning and evening had to leave because the building came under the control of the Yadav faction.

Senior Dal leader Bapu Kaldate was one leader who left. He was one of the regulars at the office, and along with Yadav and Mohan Prakash, took care of the organisational nitty gritty.

Leaving the office was difficult for Bapu as it was for Yadav and Prakash to see him go. But steeled in socialist politics, the leaders were familiar with splits and reunifications. Bapu?s absence at the headquarters was made up by a rush of activity.

Having established their hold over the office, Yadav and his friends started preparing for the case before the Election Commission. Activists sniffing power began swarming the building.

At one stage, there was talk of a struggle between the two Dal factions for control of the party headquarters. But the anti-Yadav group led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda preferred to back off. One reason was that the building is now controlled by the Sardar Patel Trust, which has more of Yadav?s men on the panel.

?This building has seen many ups and downs in Indian politics,? a Dal leader said. It became the headquarters of the Congress (O) after the party split in 1969. Morarji Desai and his men then took over the building. After the Emergency, Congress(O) metamorphosed into the Janata Party, and Chandra Shekhar worked from there.

There is one person who has been privy to all the deals plotted inside this building. Balan has been secretary to the splinter groups starting from Congress (O) to the present Janata Dal (United) headed by Yadav. He still moves papers, alerts leaders about meetings and takes care of the routine office work.    

Today?s forecast: One or two spells of light rain accompanied by thunder

Temperature: Maximum 31?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 26.4?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 97%
Minimum 79%

Rainfall: 3.4 mm

Sunset: 6.11 pm
Sunrise: 5.14 am

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