Clinton juggles dates to skip R-Day
Centre contests poll panel bar on survey results
Kalyan eclipses Kargil in heartland
ABP fire debris taken for tests
Fifty bullets between life and death
Mystery over lyricist
Adelaide first stop for Sachin
To Our Readers

New Delhi, Sept. 8 
President Bill Clinton may visit India in January, but he is unlikely to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations.

Indians are keen that the US President attend the Republic Day celebrations, but the Clinton administration has indicated that the visit can take place between January 10 and 20. Efforts are still on to convince Clinton to accept the Indian invitation.

Although Clinton is keen to make the long-delayed visit, his reluctance to be part of the Republic Day celebrations is understandable. New Delhi, which conducted the Pokhran tests in May last year and declared itself a nuclear weapons power, is likely to put on display its sophisticated military hardware and the Agni II missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead, at the parade.

The presence of the US President on the occasion may be construed by different sections, particularly those who are insisting that India and Pakistan dismantle their nuclear and missile programmes, as endorsement of India?s emergence as a nuclear power.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh is scheduled to leave for the US on September 19 for the United Nations General Assembly session. Singh will address the Assembly on September 22 but before that, he will also hold meetings with his American counterpart Madeleine Albright and US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott.

The discussions are likely to cover a wide range of issues, particularly the developments in Afghanistan, but the proposed visit of the US President will be high on the agenda. A final date for Clinton?s visit might emerge after the meetings.

Jaswant Singh is going to the US ostensibly to participate in the UN session in New York, but he plans to meet officials of the Clinton administration and members of American thinktanks, including Henry Kissinger, during the visit which is likely to extend to a week.

Singh is expected to hold meetings with chief executive officers (CEOs) of leading American companies and members of the Council for Foreign Relations and the Indian Study Group. He is also scheduled to deliver a lecture on India?s foreign policy, with special emphasis on Indo-US relations, at the Harvard University.

The extensive meetings that Singh is planning with US officials and opinion makers indicate the significance Delhi is attaching to improving relations with Washington. However, the Indian efforts will have to be matched by the US if the two sides are to give a meaningful shape to their ties.

Relations between the two countries soured following New Delhi?s decision to conduct five nuclear tests between May 11 and 13 last year. However, over the year, both New Delhi and Washington have ironed out their differences though both continue to hold divergent views on the nuclear issue

India?s decision to release the draft of its nuclear doctrine has evoked strong reaction from the US, which has expressed concern that this may lead to an arms race in South Asia. This is one of the issues that Singh is likely to discuss with the US officials.

The foreign minister also has to assure the Americans about India?s intentions on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). If the BJP-led coalition returns to power, it is likely that a decision on the treaty will be an issue which will top its agenda.    

New Delhi, Sept. 8 
The BJP-led government today joined issue with the Election Commission about the publication of opinion and exit polls.

The Centre?s lawyer told the Supreme Court that the commission could not infringe upon the ?fundamental right to information? by banning dissemination of the results of these opinion polls.

Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee contended before a three-judge bench presided over by Justice S.B. Majumdar that ?the Election Commission could not infringe upon the fundamental right to information and right to speech and expression in the garb of guidelines?.

Through a notification, the poll panel had banned exit and opinion polls from the first phase of polling on September 5 till the last phase on October 3.

After the Madras and Andhra Pradesh High Courts had stayed the operation of the panel guide-line that no political party or leaders should telecast advertisements through the electronic media, the commission appealed before the Supreme Court. The poll panel pleaded its order should be implemented.

The Supreme Court said it would defer hearing till tomorrow, but restrained Jain TV from telecasting its exit polls tonight.

Sorabjee contended that the Canadian model should be followed in India. The Canadian Supreme Court had quashed the guidelines of the election authority.

The attorney-general argued that the guidelines banning exit and opinion polls were without any ?statutory backing?.

Harish Salve, senior counsel for the Election Commission, countered Sorabjee?s arguments. He said the panel ?apprehended a serious impairment of the fairness of the entire election process if opinion polls conducted in areas where polls have already been held are allowed to be published?.

The panel also filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking a writ of mandamas to compel that its orders banning opinion and exit polls be implemented.

It said the panel?s rights, authority and superintending powers over the conduct of polls would be violated if opinion and exit polls were published.

The commission argued that the publication of such polls would influence voters in other parts of the country as election is being conducted in five phases.

In Bangalore, Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill said the panel was not pursuing a personal agenda in banning opinion polls.

Speaking to reporters after reviewing arrangements for the second phase of polling in Karnataka on September 11, Gill said the panel was trying to prevent external influence on voters. He said the panel would go by the verdict of the Supreme Court.

Replying to questions on the nearly three-week delay in count-ing of votes, he said the states, which had sought the deployment of Central forces, were to blame. He said the home ministry needed at least six days to redeploy forces, depending upon requirements.    

New Delhi, Sept. 8 
The BJP is jittery at the prospect of losing Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. Party strategists, who have so far maintained that the Kargil euphoria, coupled with A.B. Vajpayee?s ?charisma and magic?, will in-crease the BJP?s tally in the state from 57 to 70, now concede they will be ?lucky? if the party retains its 1998 position.

BJP sources admit that neither Kargil nor the ?Vajpayee magic? is working in Uttar Pradesh, where the dominant issues are anger against the Kalyan Singh government and the ?overt Mandalisation? of the party, thanks to the ?pro-backward caste? policies of the chief minister.

The sources said Vajpayee?s unusually sharp offensive against Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Lucknow yesterday was meant as a ?reassurance? to the BJP?s hardcore voters, who, it was feared, had turned ?lukewarm?.

They said the havan, which preceded the filing of his nomination, was meant to convey the ?message? that the BJP was still faithful to its caste Hindu moorings despite Kalyan?s attempts to mandalise its character.

BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, in charge of Uttar Pradesh, has decided to stay put in the state till the elections, mainly to contain dissidence.

Although Govindacharya succeeded in quelling the rebellion, it surfaced briefly yesterday when Kalyan reportedly boycotted a tea party hosted for Vajpayee by a senior minister, Lalji Tandon, who is close to him. Tandon had covertly backed the dissidents? demand to sack Kalyan.

Reports from Lucknow quoted a former BJP MLA, Ram Kumar Shukla, as claiming that many workers boycotted the tea party because Kalyan was not allowed to address them at the collectorate where Vajpayee filed his nomination. The fragile unity displayed by the Uttar Pradesh BJP was shattered by the time Vajpayee left Lucknow, sources said.

BJP circles expressed fear that with neither Kargil nor Sonia?s ?foreignness? taking off, the Opposition?s campaign, which focuses on the state government?s failures, is gaining momentum.

The BJP?s fear is fuelled by reports that the Muslims are gradually consolidating their support for the Congress and deserting the Samajwadi Party. The upper castes, too, are gravitating towards the party, particularly in east Uttar Pradesh, the state?s ?political nerve centre? with the largest number of seats.

The party is now depending entirely on Vajpayee?s campaign to tilt the scales in its favour.

Sources said the BJP?s internal assessment after the first round of polling was that it had an edge in Karnataka, Delhi, and Haryana, while Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Maharashtra remained ?areas of uncertainty?.    

Calcutta, Sept. 8 
Forensic experts and police officials today inspected the gutted third floor of ABP Ltd?s office and collected samples from four areas for tests.

Deputy commissioner (DD) Narayan Ghosh said the police are now investigating the cause of fire. ?At this point we can safely say the fire did not break out because of a short circuit. Moreover, the smoke alarm did not function despite the power connection being intact. The fire-fighting system is very modern in ABP. We are intrigued about the cause of the blaze. I think sabotage is a plausible angle,? he said.

Early Friday, a blaze ravaged the top floor of the four-storeyed office. The third floor, which was reduced to ashes, housed the editorial office of the Anandabazar Patrika and the circulation, accounts and advertisement departments of the company.

Two days ago, forensic experts collected four samples from the debris. A team comprising the DC (DD), forensic experts N.K. Nag and Dhruba Marjit and the officer-in-charge of Bowbazar police station, Ashit Chakraborty, inspected the area around the accounts department. The preliminary forensic report said the fire had possibly broken out in the accounts department.

The team questioned those who supervised the smoke alarm system. ?The smoke alarm should have detected even a few wisps of smoke. We will question the men who supplied the smoke alarm system again to reach a satisfactory conclusion,? Ghosh said.

Labourers today continued to remove the mounds of blackened bricks and mangled metal from the third floor. Kanti Ganguly, member, mayor-in-council (conservancy), reassured the company that CMC will ensure the debris are removed quickly.

Swami Swaranananda, general secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission, wrote a letter to the company, saying, ?It is my prayer to the Lord that you be given the strength to combat this crisis?.    

Choudhary Nar (Rajouri), Sept. 8 
As the sun goes down behind the mountains surrounding this border district in Jammu, Sushil Kumar slings his antiquated .303 rifle on his shoulder. It is past 7 in the evening and an eerie silence envelopes Choudhary Nar village. Soon a group of five villagemen assembles at Sushil?s house, reinforced with metal gates. After a quick round of tea, it is time for Sushil and the five men to discuss the night?s strategy. The village defence committee of Dinor Loharan Mohalla of Choudhary Nar is about to begin its nocturnal vigil.

Tonight, 44-year-old Om Prakash will have the privilege of carrying the gun himself. He cocks the bolt and checks that the six bullets are in place in the magazine. He is happy but gives it a second try anyway. ?Just to be sure, sometimes these old rifles get jammed,? says Om Prakash.

Asks Sushil, Om Prakash or Baldev Singh and they will say exactly how a .303 rifle works and why a 7.62 calibre rifle is superior to the .303.

The Choudhary Nar vigilante group, with 22 members and spread out in units of five to six in four mohallahs, is among the 2,500 operating in Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts, which constitute the Jammu region. Some of the members are small-time government employees and a few are as young as 18 to 20.

?We formed this group in January last year following a raid by some unknown persons who plundered our homes, taking with them even shampoo sachets, cassette tapes and ball-point pens,? says Baldev. The ?unknown persons? were terrorists, their salwar kameezes, ammunition belts and AK-47 rifles giving them away.

As a dog barks in the distance, the six men feel alarmed. A hushed silence falls on Dinor Loharan Mohallah. The tension eases when they get a signal from the adjoining mohallah, Raital, that there is no danger. ?We approached the district administration after the raid and they were glad to give us ammunition and one .303 rifle for every group of six men in the mohallah,? continues Baldev.

?Fifty bullets is all there is between life and death,? says Rakesh Kumar, a school teacher by day, explaining that 50 rounds of ammo is given at a time by the district police to the defence committees to protect themselves against the heavily-armed militants. The stock is replenished once the bullets are used up. ?Sometimes it takes days before we get our quota,? quips Sushil as the imposing figure of a man appears in the dark. He walks up and squats down.

?Constable Raj Kumar of the JKP,? he introduces himself. In the absence of a special police officer to head the committee, Raj Kumar gave the members rudimentary weapons training. ?You can?t expect us to take on the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with .303s. We have no communication sets to even alert the security forces. We asked for either high frequency or very high frequency walkie-talkies, but the district administration is so poorly equipped, our request was turned down,? he adds. All members agree that they need automatic or semi-automatic weapons and walkie-talkies.

The threat has heightened following reports of fresh infiltration in Jammu. Defence committee members say terrorist activities have been noticed in adjoining villages.

Although Rakesh Kumar knows his village is fairly safe from terrorist depredations since it is only 5 km from the district headquarters, he is not too sure about Doda. ?What about the villages deep inside the forests and mountains of Doda where, in some cases, it takes three days to go to the local police to fetch fresh stocks of ammunition?? he asks.

But are the militants targeting only Hindus? Is an ethnic cleansing on? ?No,? says Sushil emphatically. ?Even Muslims are being killed, and before turning on the security forces and their camps, they were killing those who informed against them. There are places where the defence committees comprise Muslims as well,? he explains.

It is already midnight and village chief Dilip Singh joins the group. Dilip Singh known as ?Numbardar? or ?Mukhiya?, says: ?I belong to the Hurriyat Conference which has a fair Hindu following.? The inevitable twist to the discussion has been given and the conversation turns to the polls.?None of the parties want to put down militancy and the Kashmir issue will not be resolved as both subjects can be conveniently raised before elections,? declares Dilip Singh.

Although people are fed up with polls, there are dissenting voices in the defence committee. ?The polling officers are honest. The rigging takes place at the political level,? says Om Prakash. ?The villagers are confused. Omar Farooq asks us to return the BJP to power at the Centre, but urges the voters to vote for the National Conference. If that is the case, why not vote for the BJP directly?? he asks.

What with BJP posters, and lotus-bearing festoons adorning walls of houses and shops in market places and the Sumos carrying BJP workers through the dusty and pebbled roads, it is anybody?s guess Jammu could well return Vishnu Dutt of the BJP to Parliament. The bright red flag of the NC and the Congress? hand and tri-colour are few and far between.

?Parties harp on Kargil but do not address a basic grievance like the steady dose of anti-India propaganda on Pakistan television. That we are forced to watch day in and day out,? says Sushil. He is referring to the administration?s failure to put Doordarshan programmes on his television. Residents of Rajouri town, which has a DD station, get to watch the national news on TV, but residents of Choudhary Nar, barely 5 km away, are forced to watch PTV?s India-bashing. ?So what if the programmes are boring and the news bulletins lifeless? At least it gives us an identity. The government does not want us to have one,? says an angry Sushil.

He checks his wrist watch. It is 4 am. Time to call off the vigil. His colleagues, heave a sigh of relief as another night passes without an incident. Preparing to leave, Om Prakash mutters: ?We fight on.?    

Calcutta, Sept. 8 
Lyricist Pulak Bandopadhyay was reported missing today amid rumours that the popular song- writer might have committed suicide.

At the root of the rumours was a note police found in his Howrah residence last evening which said: ?Nobody is to be blamed for my death.?

Bandopadhyay, who broke new ground in modern Bengali songs and became a household name, was last seen at 5.30 pm yesterday by his family at their residence.

Paresh Mukherjee, a close family friend, said a ?missing diary? was lodged today with the local police.    

Calcutta, Sept.8 
Adelaide will be the first stop for the back problem-stricken Sachin Tendulkar in Australia.

Only, this time, top of his agenda won?t be a one-to-one with Sir Don Bradman ?- as it was in August last year.

Rather, sessions with hot-shot specialists attached to the famed Cricket Academy will get priority. In fact, all the time could be spent with them.

Stop No.2 is likely to be Sydney ?- specifically, the North Sydney Orthopaedic Centre (NSOC).

As of now, plans to visit the Australian Institute of Sports, in Canberra, have been dropped.

?Perhaps, that will not be required,? remarked Dr Anant Joshi, the leading orthopaedic surgeon who?ll be accompanying Sachin.

Speaking from Mumbai, Dr Joshi told The Telegraph: ?We?re taking the Academy?s guidance as the top specialists ?- who are familiar with cricket-related injuries ?- are all on call there.

?Indeed, Wayne Phillips, the chief coach, has been very supportive and has lined up the best in the business to help diagnose Sachin?s problem.?

According to Dr Joshi, in whom Sachin has complete faith, investigations already done in India will probably be repeated. Additionally, the help of specialists in bio-mechanics will be sought.

?They will video-tape Sachin?s batting and slow motion replays will identify areas of strain when particular shots are executed. The next step, of course, will be the analysis,? Dr Joshi explained.

One can be sure that the pull, in particular, will be minutely studied.

Where the NSOC is concerned, Dr Joshi has been communicating with Dr Shamus Dalton who, too, is an orthopaedic surgeon.

?It?s one thing to fax and courier across reports and x-ray plates, quite another for somebody like Dr Dalton to examine Sachin in person...? Dr Joshi pointed out.

Sachin is expected back tomorrow (from Singapore) and Dr Joshi has left it to him to decide on when to leave for Australia.

?For a complete investigation, around eight-nine days will be needed. Actually, depending on what the specialists say, some more days could be required. Idea isn?t to rush things,? Dr Joshi insisted.

But has Sachin played his last game ?- in Singapore today ?- for some time to come?

Dr Joshi was reassuring: ?I would advise all concerned not to jump to conclusions. Hopefully, Sachin?s problem isn?t career-threatening. It?s significant, after all, that the pain is only intermittent.?

Still, keeping fingers crossed is the call of the season.    

The Telegraph website today is a truncated edition because of Friday?s fire. Apart from the front page, links are available only to the East section.   More on ABP's fire on 3rd September 1999

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