Letter shreds government defence on Kargil
Mahajan smells plot
New York test-table for Pak talks
Clockwork saffron vs Congress dash
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
As l? affair Kargil gets murkier, a corpus of evidence is emanating, indicating that the army headquarters was sleeping over the Pakistani intrusion as late as May 5, a day before the massive incursion was detected.

This is revealed in a letter Brigadier Surinder Singh, disgraced commander of the Kargil-based 121 (Infantry) Brigade, wrote to army chief General V.P. Malik after being removed from command for his alleged ?failure to detect? the incursion. Since then, Brig. Singh has been transferred six times, including to Secunderabad and Ranchi.

Brig. Singh?s letter blows holes through the A.B. Vajpayee government?s claims that it was alert on the Kargil frontier and that it took appropriate action at the right time. Brig. Singh also rebuts the Centre?s contention that there was ?no intelligence failure? in Kargil.

The letter (No. 29734/Ss/Confd of June 28, a copy of which is with The Telegraph) blasts the army headquarters for not heeding his repeated requests for additional troops and surveillance methods and says: ?The resources were not given because no one up the chain right upto Army HQ had any idea of the en (enemy) attempting an op (operation) of this scale and magnitude. This is basically an int (intelligence) failure at the national level, for which I am being made a scapegoat.?

The letter blames the army headquarters for neglecting the Kargil sector and for failing, wittingly or unwittingly, to assess the sketchy signals of a Pakistani plan to invade the sector. Brig. Singh has alleged that the army headquarters disregarded the warnings and smoke signals emanating from the brigade headquarters, of which he was the commander.

Pointing out that the ?very concept of large-scale en (enemy) intrusion/invasion with a view to hold territory has never been discussed in any forum in the army? Brig. Singh says that all forms of surveillance, whether aerial or by patrol parties, ?has concentrated on possible routes of infiltration via the nalas and not ridgelines?. That is exactly the advantage that the Pakistanis took in Kargil; the incursions were mainly along the ridgelines, not the nalas.

Suggesting that the army never bothered to man the Line of Control (LoC), Brig. Singh says the areas that the ?enemy? occupied has been ?unheld for decades? in the belief that ?these heights are more difficult than Siachen Glacier to operate on and to hold?. ?This has been the perception at all levels,? the letter says.

He reveals that the ?army commander (Lt. Gen. Kishen Pal Singh of Northern Command), during his inaugural visit to my Bde Sect stayed for three days and had numerous tactical discussions with the GOC (General officer Commanding Maj. Gen. V.S. Budhwar) and me, but the threat of an intrusion was never discussed?.

According to him, even during the visit of director-general of military operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. N.C. Vij on May 5, 1999, the army ?had no inkling of the impending action by the enemy?.

The letter refers to the ?resources? that Brig. Singh asked for from the COAS, vice-chief and deputy chief (P&S) apart from the normal chain of command which ?are well documented in Tour Notes and in letters I have written. My area of interest was substantially larger than my area of influence?.

He says that even signal intelligence units were ?ill-equipped?. Brig Singh said the intelligence provided by Intelligence and Field Surveillance Units are ?uncorroborated and unconfirmed, and in bits and pieces, which cannot be rationally analysed at my level?. He wanted the intelligence inputs analysed at a higher level, but army headquarters paid no heed.    

New Delhi, Aug. 31 
Pramod Mahajan today sought to belittle a newspaper report which quoted him as equating Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky and accused the Congress of conspiring to malign him.

Lashing out at the Congress, the BJP leader said the party?s ??dirty tricks department?? had connived with ??some people in the newspaper?? to tarnish his image.

The Hindustan Times, which front-paged the story on August 27, issued a rejoinder to Mahajan?s statement, saying: ??We stand by our report which said Mahajan had equated Monica Lewinsky with Sonia Gandhi in his public speech in Vidarbha... At the core of the report was the quote which was used verbatim: ?We also know that Soniaji was the favourite bahu of Indiraji. But is that good enough for us to let a foreign-born person such as Sonia to become our Prime Minister? If we are so keen on having a foreigner as PM, why not have Tony Blair or Bill Clinton or even Monica Lewinsky.? No one can doubt his (Mahajan?s) intention to belittle the leader of another political party.??

Asserting he would continue his anti-Sonia campaign, Mahajan attempted to embarrass The Hindustan Times by producing a typed-out letter which the reporter concerned, Pramod Pagedar, had written to his executive editor, expressing ??shock?? at the printed version of his original story. The letter, copies of which were distributed to the press, says: ??I was quite shocked by the printed version of my story on page one, which was clubbed with a Bangalore datelined story, with a shoulder headline that read ?Mahajan equates Sonia with Monica Lewinsky.?

??The particular sentence, on which the shoulder headline was based, reads in the printed version as follows: ?Young boys and girls at well-attended rallies in even such remote towns as Pandharkawda and Rajura, bordering Andhra Pradesh, cheered Mahajan when he equated Ms Gandhi with Ms Lewinsky.?

??However, what I actually wrote in my copy was this: ?Young boys and girls in the well-turned (out) audience even (at) such remote towns as Pandharkawda and Rajura, bordering Andhra Pradesh, burst out laughing and cheering Mahajan wildly over his wise-crack on Monica and Bill.???

Pagedar continues that the ??...story was distorted at the Delhi-end by someone for reasons best known to him or her... I think this is unfair as much as to me as it is to Pramod Mahajan who did not utter certain words that have been attributed to him, giving the erroneous impression that he equated Sonia with Lewinsky.??

What is intriguing is how Mahajan got a copy of the letter which he said was faxed to the executive editor. He refused to disclose the source, but produced a copy of the handwritten draft of Pagedar?s letter as well.

The first paragraph of the original story, however, reads: ??What has Monica Lewinsky...got to do with the elections in Maharashtra?... However, the target of his apparently innocuous sounding innuendoes is none other than the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi.??    

New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
The United Nations General Assembly is likely to provide an opportunity for India and Pakistan to resume their stalled dialogue.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh today hinted at a possible meeting with Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines of the international meet in New York in September.

??If the occasion arises, I will meet Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines of the General Assembly,?? Singh said. Aziz is likely to be part of the Pakistani delegation led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Singh, however, emphasised that serious dialogue between the neighbours was not possible unless Islamabad stopped abetting cross-border terrorism. Asked if he was setting terms for talks, the foreign minister replied: ??I am not laying any conditions. I am only laying the essential ingredients for talks. Pakistan has to realise that it can?t have dialogue with India if it continues to encourage cross-border terrorism.??

Singh?s interaction with the media was part of the BJP?s programme to get a senior leader to highlight an issue a day and spell out the government?s achievements. ??The Vajpayee government?s handling of national security and foreign policy issues has been excellent,?? he said. ??India?s voice is now heard with much greater respect; India?s views are treated with seriousness; India?s voice is now treated as the voice of a great power.??

The General Assembly opens on September 14, with both India and Pakistan scheduled to speak on September 22. Though no dates have been finalised for a Singh-Aziz meeting, it could take place in the third week of September. The foreign ministers had last met in Delhi on June 11 at the height of the Kargil conflict.

It is usual for world leaders to meet each other on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Indian and Pakistani leaders have done so in the past. But this year?s meeting in New York, if it is held, will be significant as it could give the two sides a chance to resume talks. However, some diplomats said it should be seen more as a ??courtesy call?? than a formal dialogue between the foreign ministers.

At the UN, both countries will try to put the other on the mat. India is set to highlight the menace of cross-border terrorism and the ??spill-over of the Afghanistan syndrome?? that was evident during the Kargil incursions. Pakistan, on the other hand, will try and convince world leaders to focus on South Asia?s potential to become a nuclear flash-point and stress on an early solution to the Kashmir problem.

Islamabad will also criticise India for the downing of the Atlantique plane. It has demanded $60 million as damages. India has rejected the Pakistani claim.    

Bellary, Aug. 31: 
The thick tyres of the Toyota slice through layers of mud caking the jagged road to Tekkalpur village, 60 km from Bellary town.

From inside the open-hooded jeep looms Ghulam Nabi Azad, beaming at his party?s time-tested supporters ? scanning their faces for a reciprocal beam that could reassure the Congress leader that his party?s support was still intact.

In charge of the most important campaign his party is running in this election, Azad is touring the interiors of Siriguppa district ? a Congress pocketborough and hitherto forbidden territory for its political adversaries.

But traditional loyalties could be in danger of being turned upside down by the high-voltage electoral current flowing through the Bellary constituency. The Congress? stakes are as high as they can be ? the battle arena being a constituency that has never let the party down and the general leading the army being none other than Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress cannot afford to be short-circuited this time, say its well-wishers. ?This swadeshi-videshi theme has no takers in villages where our supporters are,? says a Congress leader.

The two-time Congress MP from Bellary, Kondaiah, sees no reason to work his party into a frenzy. He is quite complacent. ?So what if the constituency has gone to seed, so what if the whiff of progress has not ruffled Bellary, the Congress? supporters are great loyalists who will safely shore up Sonia on the banks of the Tungabhadra river,? he seems to say.

It is this faith in its loyalists that kept the Congress cooling its heels while the BJP was oiling its propaganda machinery, setting it into motion and stealing a headstart over the Congress in the first phase of campaigning. For weeks now, the swadeshi versus videshi campaign had been pounding Bellary. In contrast, the Congress was stringing out a muffled campaign. The party was waiting for Sonia and daughter Priyanka to kickstart its aggressive retaliation to the BJP?s outpourings. Sonia came, saw and left it to her aides to pick up the threads and weave these into a flag of victory. ?Our strategy is to go full blast at the BJP in the last couple of days before Bellary goes to polls this Sunday,? says a Congress leader.

As part of this strategy, Sonia and Priyanka are expected to arrive in Bellary on September 1 and travel through the constituency for two days, hoping to swing dithering voters to their side. ?Sonia and Priyanka will travel by road and will address separate meetings,? says Azad?s aide. Priyanka will revisit the villages she had gone to last time with her mother while Sonia takes a different trail.

As Azad?s convoy shudders through the kuchcha alleys, the Congress? bouts of optimism are peppered with trepidation. The BJP has painted Bellary town saffron, blowing the conch of nationalism at the same time. The Congress, on the other hand, says it has unleashed a ?silent? campaign in the nooks and corners of Bellary district.

But all is not honky-dory for the Congress. It has to contend with the BJP?s highly-systematised campaign directed from an impeccably-ordered poll office.

If the Congress has launched the feverish campaign late, it is because in addition to relying on its unyielding grasp on the seat for decades, it is leaning heavily on two of its most marketable personalities, Sonia and Priyanka, to fill in the gaps.

But Bellary is swinging like a pendulum. ?The Congress earlier used to have a cake walk, but it is not so this time,? said Mushtak, a villager.

It is not that Sushma Swaraj?s unbridled swadeshi campaign is rubbing off on everyone. It is falling thin on villages. ?This is not an issue here. We do not care whether she is swadeshi or videshi. But people want change,? said Mushtak.

The Congress is on thin ice when it comes to the state of Bellary seat. It has Sushma to thank for dismissing these issues and drumming on the one theme of nationalism. Like Sushma, Azad is silent about the state of Bellary. He too strikes up an emotional chord: the sacrifices of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the duty of the people to stick by it.

The Congress hopes to make a last-minute lightning sprint to the post to pip the BJP in this race and has put two of its best runners in Sonia and Priyanka on the Bellary track.    

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

Temperature: Maximum 31.7?C (normal)
Minimum 26.4?C (normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 98%
Minimum 70%

Rainfall: 1.7 mm

Sunset: 5.52 pm
Sunrise: 5.22 am

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