Laden jehad clubs India with US
Priyanka slips into Rajiv shoes in Amethi
Nayanar votes for all the world to see
Lalita at centre of diplomatic tug-of-war

New Delhi, Sept. 17 
Dreaded Islamic militant Osama bin Laden has declared jehad (holy war) on India on a day that the US sent a top official to Delhi to discuss Afghanistan-specific counter-terrorism measures.

Bin Laden, a Saudi billionaire alleged to be funding terrorist groups across the globe, has already declared jehad on the US and is the bete noire of the West.

?Our biggest enemies are the US and India and we should target them using our best efforts. All the jehad groups in Pakistan should combine to declare war against these two countries,? bin Laden said in a statement issued from an undisclosed base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

He charged India with staging a ?drama of elections? in Kashmir, and said he was ready to help Kashmiri mujahideens wrest independence from Delhi.

This statement buttresses India?s claim on the Talibanisation of the region and the threat posed by Islamic groups operating from Afghanistan. For several months, Delhi has been trying to draw international attention, particularly of the US, to the links between the Taliban and its main backer, Pakistan.

Ambassador at large and US state department coordinator on counter-terrorism Michael Sheehan arrived in Delhi this morning and held wide-ranging discussions. India said that it had not only been the victim of cross-border terrorism for over a decade, but had also witnessed the Talibanisation of the region during the Kargil conflict.

At the height of the Kargil war, India had declared that the goings-on on its side of the Line of Control were a ?spillover of the Afghan syndrome?.

Today?s meeting, the second on Afghanistan matters, points to the convergence of US and Indian interests on the Taliban problem. Both countries are keen to check the militia?s effort?s export fundamentalism across the world.

Last month, Indian foreign ministry officials Alok Prasad and Vivek Katju held talks with the US on the same issue. They were present at today?s meeting.

Sheehan later met national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, foreign secretary K. Raghunath and home secretary Kamal Pandey.

That the US envoy has arrived here from Russia ?- where there has been a spate of terrorist attacks ?- and will be leaving for Australia shows that a concerted move is being made to rally like-minded countries to move a resolution against the Taliban at the UN General Assembly, now underway in New York.

There are indications that Russia might move a resolution in the UN calling for sanctions against the Taliban. India has indicated that it will back any move to check terrorism ?in any form and shape?.    

Amethi, Sept. 17 
Priyanka Gandhi came campaigning to Amethi, but she did not talk politics. She was as smart as any seasoned politician, though.

When asked which seat her mother would give up if she won both, she replied: ?You can?t trick me there. My official answer is ?My mother has sent me here so I am campaigning. The rest is up to her.?? Thrilled with herself, she giggled: ?Good, no??

Blending youthful exuberance and impetuosity with the tested magic of the Gandhi surname, Priyanka romped around Amethi, flitting from village to village, stopping by at tea shops and stalls, grabbing a hot jalebi. In her own words, ?maroing a chakkar? (roaming around) of Amethi.

Uninhibited, unafraid and unlike any other politician, she cut out the boring speeches. ?All I want to do is come and meet you people. I don?t want a mike. I prefer one-to-one contact,? she told The Telegraph.

Nobody calls her ?Vadra? anymore. That is fine by her husband Robert, happy to sit in the backseat of the Tata Safari, distribute leaflets and sip a can of Diet Coke.

Priyanka?s trip today was an action replay of footage from the late Eighties and early Nineties. She seemed a replica of a young and energetic Rajiv Gandhi, who sat behind the wheel of an open jeep in white kurta pyjamas and a pair of Reeboks.

?You have a special place in my mother?s heart and always had a place in my father?s heart. I don?t have to tell you how much my family has done for Amethi. We don?t have just a political association with Amethi. The association is emotional,? she said, going into broken homes, squelching across slushy paths.

At 9 am, Priyanka left what will be her home for the next fortnight: the guest house of the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital at Munshugunj. Her first stop was Rudauli village. The 15 km drive took her more than an hour. She stopped 12 times, got off the car, kissed young women, hugged the old and said a few quick words to the aged men.

Rajiv had visited Rudauli just before his death. Budhram and Ram Avtar Maurya had then welcomed Rajiv into their homes. ?I will die a happy man. Rajiv, Sonia and now Priyanka have come to our village. I don?t ask for more,? they said.

In Musafirkhana, on the road to the industrial area of Jagdishpur, two women flung themselves on the Tata Safari. ?Please come home for a minute,? a woman screamed. Priyanka replied: ?Abhi nahin. Main to hoon kafi din (Not now. I am here for some time).?

Priyanka next saw a group of old women standing at a street corner. She asked them: ?What are your problems? Do you have land? Have you a home?? ?No,? they said. ?Sab ho jayega (You will have everything),? she said.

At ?Pure Paruniya? village, she made an unscheduled stop around noon and took a long walk around the village. Her hosts were Nanhu Yadav and Ramjan Yadav. At Nanhu?s place, women of the village told her: ?We have no fertiliser, no water, no electricity.? ?You will not have problems after the polls,? she said.

When she spoke about Rajiv, the daughter in her came out. ?I miss my father. I missed him most the first day I was here,? she said.

She seemed friendly with the media, charming hardnosed reporters. After praying at a village temple, she was asked: ?What did you pray for??

?My mother?s health and happiness.?

?Why not for her election victory??

?Because I don?t want to mix religion with politics.?

Sometimes, it was difficult to see her as an heir to India?s most famous political dynasty. She seemed more like a student fresh out of a Delhi college.

Sushil Kumar Shinde, the only AICC representative present, kept telling her: ?Tell people to stamp on the hand symbol.?

?Do I have to?? Priyanka asked. ?They know, they know.?

There will be four replays of today?s tour in the next four days. Then Priyanka has 10 days of mass contact lined up.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 17 
Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar, who is normally given more trouble by his own comrades than by the Opposition, has this time managed to land in a mess all by himself.

He has violated a very basic democratic norm by casting an ?open? vote on September 11, the day Kerala went to polls.

A photographer caught the chief minister in the act just as he stamped on the ballot paper and lifted it up. The controversial vote was cast at the Kalliassery Polytechnic booth in the Kannur parliamentary constituency, north Kerala.

The photograph, allegedly distributed by the state?s public relations department, appeared on the front page of a leading Malayalam daily the next day, accusing the chief minister of violating both the election rules and the Representation of People?s Act.

The PR department, however, denied having anything to do with either the picture or the photographer.

According to the daily, Nayanar voted for CPM candidate A.P. Abdullakutty and displayed the ballot to news photographers before dropping it into the box.

The report and the evidence have created a furore in the state. An embarrassed Nayanar now finds himself under investigation by the Election Commission, which is sending deputy election commissioner Sian Chatterjee. If found guilty, Nayanar?s vote is liable to be cancelled and he may be fined up to Rs 500.

Section 132 of the Representation of People?s Act specifies that if a voter ?refuses to observe the procedure the ballot issued to him shall be liable for cancellation?. Section 134 says a person guilty of a breach shall be punished with a fine.

Surprisingly, no one objected to the chief minister?s action at the polling booth. The presiding officer, who has the right to cancel a vote in case of such a violation, did not even warn Nayanar.

What?s more, even the Congress? polling agent did not protest. Had he done so, the presiding officer would have been compelled to act.

Nayanar has hit back by demanding an inquiry into the newspaper?s report and the photograph. He has alleged that the report was fraudulent and the picture a fake.

He demanded that the Election Commission take strong steps against the photographer and the officials who allowed him to enter the booth. He claimed that the ballot paper shown in his hand in the photograph was superimposed. Matters are spinning out of control as the Congress-led UDF has begun to demand Nayanar?s resignation. A senior UDF leader suggested ?since the chief minister has himself sought an inquiry into the issue, he should step aside to facilitate a proper probe?.

A CPM source told The Telegraph that the photograph might be genuine but, at the same time, Nayanar did not flout the rules intentionally. According to the source, Nayanar stamped on the ballot and realised that the ink impression was not clear. He lifted up the paper only to explain this to the presiding officer. That was when the camera flashed.    

New Delhi, Sept. 17 
The Lalita Oraon case is fast turning into a diplomatic tussle between India and France. India resents being denied consular access to the girl and, it seems, officials would not be allowed to meet her unless she is willing to receive them.

?Oraon escaped from an Indian diplomat?s house and unless she seeks the intervention of the Indian embassy no one can force her to receive the Indian officials,? said a French official.

Praveen Goel, additional secretary (administration) of the Indian foreign ministry, has been sent to Paris to look into the Oraon case. But he may not even be able to see her.

Officially, both the countries maintain that the incident is an ?aberration? in their relations. But neither has passed up a chance to score over the other.

Oraon, a domestic working for Indian first secretary in Paris Amrit Lugun, fled the house on September 6 after alleged ill-treatment by her employers. Medical reports highlighted by a French NGO suggest she was sexually abused, while the Luguns claim she was hysterical.

Foreign office spokesman R.S. Jassal today said ?no external injuries? were reported on Oraon when she was examined by French doctors on September 6. Though the Indian side is trying to hint that Lugun was framed by the French authorities and the NGO, Paris refuses to buy this.

The 19-year-old Oraon, who was brought to a monastery after she was found loitering on the streets with a kitchen knife in her hand, tried to escape from her new shelter, too. On being examined by doctors, it was found that not only did she have injuries on her thighs and ankles ? which could have been caused by her attempt to flee from the monastery ? but also in her genitals. This led to charges that Oraon was assaulted while working for Lugun.

Jassal said the Indian government has been informed by the French foreign office that another examination on Oraon will be held, as directed by the public prosecutor in Paris. Two medical experts will ascertain the nature of her injuries and when they were inflicted. They are to submit the report on September 20.

?It is not a political issue between India and France and will have no bearing on bilateral relations,? Jassal said.But there is indication that the French are not happy with the Indian embassy?s reaction to the incident and the implication that the authorities in Paris are colluding with the NGO to frame Lugun.

Another problem is Oraon?s passport. She went to Paris as an Indian government official, not on an ordinary passport. This has dragged the French foreign ministry?s protocol division into the row. Indian officials say this is reason enough to hand her over, but the French say this cannot be done unless the girl volunteers.    


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