Sunday, September 15, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


J&K elections: disturbing questions & implications
Sumer Kaul
palpable fog of uncertainty looms over the process of the much-talked about elections in the wounded, beleaguered state. Even if there is no border flare-up big enough to cause postponement of the polls, a major escalation in terrorist strikes is very much on the cards.

Do not let this historic opportunity go by default
P. C. Dogra
he media carried a welcome report from Handwara in North Kashmir that thousands of villagers came out in support of one Ghulam Mohideen Sofi at the time of filing his nomination papers.

New dimensions
K.N. Pandita
lections to the J&K Legislative Assembly are underway. The life of J&K Assembly is six years in comparison to five years in other states. 


Musharraf’s diatribe
September 14, 2002
The world after 9/11
September 13, 2002
Sept 11: the economic fallout
September 12, 2002
The Rajdhani disaster
September 11, 2002
Disinvestment debate
September 10, 2002
ICC backs out
September 9, 2002
A framework for resolving Jammu & Kashmir crisis
September 8, 2002
Power, farmers & populism
September 7, 2002
Who cares for the earth?
September 6, 2002
Misplaced US zeal
September 5, 2002
EC wins Gujarat case
September 4, 2002


Peace needs to be restored in Kashmir at any cost
Hashim Qureshi
estoration of peace is of utmost importance in the subcontinent. I offer the following proposals for restoring peace in J&K.

  • Indo-Pak detente

  • Mutual benefits

Regional autonomy report worthy of consideration
Balraj Puri
n his article on regional autonomy (The Sunday Tribune, August 18), Prof Hari Om totally ignores the vital fact that as working chairman of the six-member J&K Regional Autonomy Committee, I had submitted a report to the state government.


Distrust seems to vie with discontent
David Devadas
onversations in Kashmir over the past few days have tended to swerve willy-nilly towards the Assembly elections. Distrust seems to vie with discontent in most Kashmiri minds as people watch the low-key campaign and hear promises of free and fair elections. 


Harihar Swarup
Of Manisha & her body double
anisha Koirala and her body double Jessica Choksi have, at least, one common trait: Manisha likes to help the needy and Choski is the damsel in distress. According to reports, Manisha has decided to donate her income from the film — “Market”— for the betterment of sex workers and also actively campaigns to prevent trafficking of Nepalese girls into India for prostitution.


Enemy’s enemy is friend in politics
he higher one goes up in life the more enemies one makes. This is particularly true about politics. Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, who is hailed by some as Sardar Patel II, is no exception to this unwritten rule. 

  • Jogi’s Gifts

  • Jana’s Haste...

  • US Pointsman

  • Women’s Joint


Humra Quraishi
Why was Sonia’s trip to Srinagar cancelled?
he official theory doing the rounds behind the cancellation of Sonia Gandhi's day-long trip to Srinagar, two days before the scheduled visit (Sept 14), is that there was a security problem. But then, this couldn't be a new dimension. 

  • Islam & PeaceTop


J&K elections: disturbing questions & implications
Sumer Kaul

A palpable fog of uncertainty looms over the process of the much-talked about elections in the wounded, beleaguered state.

Even if there is no border flare-up big enough to cause postponement of the polls, a major escalation in terrorist strikes is very much on the cards. According to Defence Minister George Fernandes “violence is inevitable”. In the last two and a half months, more than 350 Indians have been killed by the terrorists in Kashmir — 250 securitymen and the rest civilians; of the latter nearly half were political activists, mostly of the National Conference.

What effect this will have on the election and on the voter turnout needs no labouring. In fact, the violence and the fear of being targeted by the terrorists explains the low-key campaigning in the first phase. It also explains why, barring in some “safe” areas and pockets, all parties are finding it difficult to put up credible candidates. In any case, as a western diplomat said after a visit to the state, “you have to be a brave man to contest elections in these conditions.”

How things will actually turn out remains to be seen. Assuming the polls are held with a reasonable voter participation, it would be naive to believe that the election will bring about any worthwhile improvement in the troubled situation, that it will lend renewed and credible stability to the internal politics in the state and, least of all, that it will furbish India’s position on Kashmir in the jaundiced western, chiefly American, eyes.

Unfortunately, the Vajpayee regime seems to have internalised this naivette, especially the last part of it. Witness how he has been repeating, ad nauseum, the promise of holding, a “free and fair” election, forgetting that such an assurance should come from the Election Commission. There is also the matter of the allegation of “sham election” by our wily neighbourhood dictator who, ironically enough, has brazenly throttled all voices of representative democracy in his own country.

The reason we have not dismissed this allegation with the contempt it deserves and seem to want to counter it by constantly playing the “free and fair” tune, is that our equally wily friends across the oceans seem to share the General’s pre-meditated allegation. This is evident from the fact that they have openly advised the Vajpayee government to ensure that the J&K election is, in Colin Powell’s words, “free, fair and inclusive.” No foreign power, not even the sole super bully, has any right to tell us how to hold elections, much less to make scarcely veiled insinuations about the ‘fairness’ of the exercise. What makes this gross interference all the more galling is the “inclusive” bit — a naked euphemism for getting the avowedly secessionist Hurriyat to take part in the election.

Far from ticking off the arrogant advisers, the Vajpayee regime appeared to be bending backwards to implement the advice. The question is, why? Why should we want to let anti-India elements contest for power in Kashmir? In most other countries including the USA, traitors and fifth-columnist would be in jail, in many they would be executed. But such is the lack of self-confidence of our leaders, the bankruptcy of their Kashmir policy, their pathetic defensiveness about some Kashmiri wanting to undo the state’s accession to India and, above all, such is their ready subordination to American advice that the Government had tried to persuade the Hurriyat to take part.

Let us face it: Contrary to this government’s imported desire to view the Hurriyatists as mere dissidents, they need to be seen for what they really are — resident agents of Pakistan and its ISI-terrorist machine. Considering this basic fact, what was the meaning of getting them to participate in the election? It seemed there were some pea-brains in the corridors of power in Delhi who believed that a Hurriyat victory will turn it away from Pakistan and, presto, the Kashmir problem will be solved: There were others who wanted Hurriyat to participate and win a sizeable number of seats only to erode the National Conference’s sway over the state politics and thereby also deflate the Abdullahs.

This is a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. True, the NC government has not delivered on its promises as far as the people of Kashmir are concerned; also true that corruption and inefficiency have come to characterise the Farooq dispensation. But, pray, which other state is free of corruption and inefficiency and which other party has fulfilled its promises? This is not to say that one should overlook the many acts of omission and commission by the NC government. At the same time, we must not overlook a basic fact about the National Conference, namely, that it is under this party that Kashmir acceded to India and that, barring Sheikh Abdullah’s mid-life aberrant ambition of an independent sheikhdom (under American instigation and tutelage), it is this party that has unwaveringly stood by the accession.

In the event, it is difficult to understand the BJP’s subterraneous antipathy for the NC, more so considering that it has been a welcome ally in the NDA. Is the antipathy to do with the NC’s autonomy demand? If so, isn’t it amazing that this demand should so irk the BJP as to make it woo the Hurriyat which is demanding secession?

Is it a case of near-terminal frustration with the “Kashmir problem”? If so, is there embedded in this defeatist psyche the seeds of a desire to cry off and let the people of the valley, that is, the Kashmir part of the state, fend for themselves, to put it no differently? Is this what Vajpayee had in mind when in his ‘famous’ musings two years ago he talked of the need to think in terms of “a new architecture” for Kashmir? And is this blueprint linked to the recently voiced RSS demand for trifurcation of the state with separate statehood for Jammu?

These questions are extremely disturbing in their implications. L.K. Advani’s categorical rejection of the trifurcation demand should have laid to rest the growing suspicion about BJP’s designs about the state, but the party’s electoral strategy for J&K has not only robbed his statement of credibility but lent renewed sustenance to the disturbing questions.

The BJP has no presence in the Kashmir valley, so it seems to have decided to make the most of it in the Jammu region — and how! It has aligned itself with the most vocal advocate of the trifurcation demand — the RSS-sponsored Jammu State Morcha whose one-point agenda is separation from the rest of the state! Reject division of the state as also join hands with the divisionists!

Is it merely the good old electoral opportunism at work? Or is it in fact a dark shadow of coming events, the plinth of Mr Vajpayee’s new architecture? To choose between the lesser and the infinitely greater evil one hopes it is the former. In any event, one thing looks certain: Far from settling anything for the better in the state, the election and its outcome are likely to make the already muddy waters of the Jhelum and the Ravi muddier still and, given the devilish neighbour we have, bloodier too.

The writer is a veteran journalist.


Do not let this historic opportunity go by default
P. C. Dogra

The media carried a welcome report from Handwara in North Kashmir that thousands of villagers came out in support of one Ghulam Mohideen Sofi at the time of filing his nomination papers. He is a close associate of the late Abdul Ghani Lone who was assassinated for telling Jihadis to close their shop in the valley and let the forces of dialogue take over.

He made a significant remark that “Now we realise that the foreign militants have their own agenda. This is our movement and we should be in the driver’s seat. Their presence has robbed our movement of its basic character”. Sofi was only reflecting the mood of the people when he said to his supporters that this step had been taken “to fight this corrupt and repressive National Conference which thrives on our blood and at the cost of the future of our children”.

Jamait-e-Islami is also not opposed to the participation in the elections. This change of heart by the Jamaat is also due to the new mood in the valley. Its chief Ghulam Mohammed Bhat has been imploring the Hurriyat leaders to take the political route as a step forward in the separatist movement. Hizbul Mujahideens in the valley also resent the decision imposed on them by the United Jihad Council not to participate in the elections but instead disrupt the poll process. Shabir Shah, a very prominent separatist leader, is also not opposed but wants some face-saving formula.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a member of the Hurriyat Conference, had introspected like this “We are at a point of stagnation. Whatever sacrifices we offer in the coming days, we may not be able to take the movement forward”. He is also not averse to participation in the election but dare not speak out because of potent threat of his life from the ISI. Michael Krepon of Stimson Centre in Washington has made a very meaningful observation “Many if not most, Kashmiris who once supported militancy are now seeking a dignified, honourable exit from violence”.

Most people want to participate in the poll process but are scared of the terrorist attacks. As per the findings of a poll conducted by Britian’s largest and independent market research agency MORI, “86 per cent want free and fair elections either as a means to getting the government of their choice or as a step to the negotiation of a solution to the Kashmir problem, 80 per cent want peace above every thing else”. The general impression is that the low turnout will benefit the National Conference. There is an urge for change. The USA has come out in total support of these elections as the first step towards a final and political resolution of Kashmir and want to see it through without any disruption from Pakistan. But will President Pervez Musharraf let it happen?

The very idea of peaceful elections in the valley with a sizeable percentage of voters coming out to cast their votes will cause irretrievable damage to the cause of Pakistan. It will nullify the Pak accusation of “farcical elections” and on the other hand, the international community might accept it as the electoral mandate on the legitimacy of the accession of Kashmir to the Indian Union. Pakistan will definitely enhance the level of violence manifold so as to frighten the voters. The gameplan of Pakistan is to see that the poll percentage is abysmally low so as to project to the world community “the persistent opposition of Kashmiris to any such polls under the Constitution of India and their desire to secede”.

The fear of rigging and the gun of militants are two inhibiting factors, which can cause a setback to the strategy of India. Sofi warned the Government of India that “This was their last chance to restore our confidence in the electoral process. If they allow NC to rig these polls, then everything will turn into ash”. The charge is not without substance. The alleged rigged elections to the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly in 1987 gave birth to organised secessionism in the state.

The Government of India will have to convey the message rather effectively that the elections will be fair and that nobody will be allowed to cause any harm to those who decide to exercise their right of vote. Arrangements inside the polling booths and outside should give an unambiguous impression of impartiality and effectiveness to the Kashmiri people. I suggest that the CRPF should be deployed both inside and outside the polling booths. One officer of the Additional DGP rank should supervise it. It will give credence to the fairness of polling process. Security to the candidates and the security cover to the voters should be handed over to Border Security Force to make it impartial and a professional affair.

Another Additional DGP should be exclusively earmarked for it. A security committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary with representatives of all the recognised political parties, senior officers of the Army, paramilitary officers, Home Department and the police should be set up. It should meet frequently and seek further inputs from the members.

The Election Commission has rightly said “the security forces would not be allowed to coerce people to vote in the forthcoming election to J & K so as to increase the voter turnout.” One can understand the apprehensions as in the last parliamentary elections there were some allegations against the security forces for rigging elections in some segments. However, threat to the voter is very real and can certainly make him sit back at home than risking his life. There are enough Jihadis inside the valley to cause a large number of killings of the candidates and their protagonists. Perforce the security forces will have to provide a very visible security cover to the voters to deter the militants from resorting to any violent action. But it should be done in consultation with all the candidates and the political leaders. It should be a transparent and a non-partisan exercise.

The author is former Director-General of Police, Punjab, and ex-Additional Director-General, Border Security Force, J&K.


New dimensions
K.N. Pandita

Elections to the J&K Legislative Assembly are underway. The life of J&K Assembly is six years in comparison to five years in other states. Six years have gone by when previous elections were held, which had returned the traditional political party, namely the National Conference, with two-thirds majority.

Any political party with this size of majority should normally have no difficulty in implementing its manifesto aimed at improving the quality of life of the people by providing them basic needs like education, healthcare, drinking water, shelter etc. But measured even by Indian standards, which are poor in comparison to developed countries, the NC has not shown any marked progress that would enthuse its cadres to ask the electorate to return it to power.

True, militancy continues unabated and cross-border infiltration has not been arrested. Pakistan is pursuing its policy of destabilising the state, and conditions are not normal. Nobody denies the difficult situation through which the state is passing. But the ruling party has left many gaps to fill.

The present election is marked by some peculiarities distinct from all elections held previously. First, the militants with their base headquarters in PoK and assisted by the intelligence agencies from across the border, have vowed to disrupt the election process come what may. They have intensified their acts of terror and violence killing and intimidating civilian population and targeting important personalities especially those fighting elections. In addition, the Pakistani media has launched a virulent propaganda to creating an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and intimidation so that voters do not come out to vote.

Second, there is difference of opinion among the militant and dissident groups in regard to continuing the armed struggle and not participating in the elections. The Hurriyat, though trying to put up a bold face, is faced with internal dissension and crisis. The Pakistani Press has expressed doubts about the intentions of the Hurriyat chief Prof. Bhat, not to speak of others. The defiance of Majid Dar, the HUM commander against Salahud-Din, the chief of the PoK-based Jihadi Council has dealt a blow to the outfits that have before them the only agenda of perpetrating violence and gun culture in the valley. The differences have seeped down to their ranks, and certainly there is some re-thinking among them.

Third, common people in the valley are fed up with militancy. The once “guest mujahideen” are no more enjoying popular support and sympathy because of their humiliating treatment of the Kashmiris, disrespect of their shrines and unwanted trespassing of social life. Non-acceptance has forced the foreign mercenaries to restrict themselves mostly to the upper reaches of the mountains avoiding frequent contact with the civilian population.

Fourth, international situation, particularly after September 11, has had its impact on Kashmir situation. Pakistan’s relentless effort of internationalising Kashmir issue has boomeranged. The USA and Britain have now better realisation of linkages between international terrorism and Kashmir militancy. The idea of independent Kashmir does have the acceptability with the think-tanks in any European country. Conversely, the western world has, for the first time, begun to look at India’s effort of strengthening secular democracy as crucial to peace and stability of the South Asian region.

Fifth, the dynamics of social change has begun to influence the perception of Kashmiri voter. This is the era of recognition of identities rather than a monolithic drive towards uniformity. Ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural identities are striving hard to assert in a big way. This was the challenge before the Congress in 1990s, which the party was unable to respond in a constructive manner. The Congress that thought of only bulldozing the identities under the road roller of mass popularity could not synthesise a century of close mass contact and power. This precisely is the malaise of the National Conference. As a result, it is bound to lose much ground in the election battle. We should try to understand that in a situation in which different identities are to be given their due recognition, the expectation of a single-party majority appears a remote possibility. This then is the era of coalition govts and not of majoritarianism and monopolisation.

Sixth, we should not lose sight of the Prime Minister’s promise of free and fair elections in J&K.

In fine, the NC government’s shabby or niggardly treatment of nearly 200,000 displaced persons from the border areas of Jammu region is a factor that will carry its impact. Already there are 3.5 lakh internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu camps and at other places in the country who have been treated as pariah by the NC, which considers it a sin to talk to their leaders who demand a homeland in Kashmir. The 1947 refugees from Muzaffarabad and other parts of the erstwhile parts of Poonch, Mirpur, Bag and Palandheri are yet to receive their formal state subject status, thanks to the brazen communal and inhuman policy of the ruling parties. All these deprived segments cannot be left to their fate while the political parties issue their election mandate. Unity among these sidelined elements is but natural and that will definitely swing the trend of voting in Jammu region. 


Peace needs to be restored in Kashmir at any cost
Hashim Qureshi

Restoration of peace is of utmost importance in the subcontinent. I offer the following proposals for restoring peace in J&K.

Indo-Pak detente

* India and Pakistan should resume bilateral dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues. Freeze the Kashmir dispute for 20 years.

* Both should send back their regulars and paramilitary forces to the barracks in parts of J&K under their control.

* All armed and unarmed foreign nationals should leave Kashmir forthwith. A joint mechanism is needed to achieve this.

* Viable steps should be taken to stop extremist religious groups on both sides from indulging in campaigns of communal hatred against one another.

* People in both countries should be provided with a very liberal and easy system of obtaining visas for visiting their relatives, friends and kith and kin on both sides.

* India and Pakistan should open bilateral trade, supported by exchange of cultural delegations. This will help overcome the climate of suspicion and hatred.

* India and Pakistan should agree to give maximum autonomy for 20 years to people in Jammu and Kashmir under their respective control. Only defence, currency, foreign and communication should remain with the two states. Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir should be brought under the ambit of one Constituent Assembly.

* All political prisoners in Indian jails should be set free. Both the governments should provide information to the relatives of the people whose whereabouts are not known. People implicated in acts of terrorism and murder should be brought to book.

* People who have been driven out of their homes on either side of the Line of Control during Partition should be resettled at their places of origin in the State. In particular, Pandits, Sikhs and Muslims should be brought back to their respective places, rehabilitated and illegal occupation of their land and properties be immediately vacated.

* The Muslims of the valley should form local committees and help return Pandit neighbours in Jammu camps to their places of origin promising them the safety of their life and honour.

* Kashmiris should be extended full support to reconstruct their shattered economy and developmental programmes. They need help to rebuild modern educational institutions.

* A panel of intellectuals, politicians, economists and social experts from India and Pakistan should invite proposals for a permanent solution of the crisis from the people.

Mutual benefits

* In the wake of freezing the Kashmir issue, a situation of armed confrontation between India and Pakistan would come to an end.

* Trade relations for a period of 20 years would develop a climate of commercial brotherhood and promote common interests.

* By diverting funds from building military machine to developmental plans, people will be delivered from hunger, disease and unemployment.

* Pakistan will get an opportunity to reconstruct her economy and repay foreign debts.

* Kashmiris will stand to gain by agreeing to a 20-year freeze on the Kashmir issue.

The writer is associated with the J&K Democratic Liberation Party, Srinagar.Top


Regional autonomy report worthy of consideration
Balraj Puri

In his article on regional autonomy (The Sunday Tribune, August 18), Prof Hari Om totally ignores the vital fact that as working chairman of the six-member J&K Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC), I had submitted a report to the state government. It had recommended political, economic and cultural safeguards for the three regions of the state and legislative, executive and financial powers to the elected regional authorities on the subjects delegated to them.

In addition, the report suggested an eight-point equitable and objective formula for devolution of funds to the regions to be operated by an autonomous state Finance Commission.

There were also provisions in the report for safeguards and promotion of cultures of all ethnic identities of the state. The devolution of powers was to further extend to the level of districts, blocks and panchayats.

The entire formula was in accordance with the assurance given by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, on my demand, at a joint press conference on July 24, 1952 to grant regional autonomy within the Constitution of the state. When parleys were going on between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah for the latter's return to power, Mrs Gandhi asked me of possible reaction of Jammu. I told her that people of Jammu would be satisfied if Sheikh Abdullah reiterated his commitment of regional autonomy. The Sheikh, accordingly, convened a conference of leaders of Jammu and Ladakh and offered to implement an internal constitution of the state, the outlines of which were drafted by me. It envisaged a five-tier set-up with distribution of powers at state, regional, district and block levels.

My report sought to incorporate the commitment made by leaders like Nehru, Abdullah and Indira and endorsed by Shyamaprasad Mukerjee and Jayaprakash Narayan along with opinions of the best available experts on the subjects in the country and after extensive and intensive discussions by the RAC with representatives of all areas, committees and opinions within the state.

I do not mind if Prof Hari Om did not like my views. He has every right to dislike my report. But I wonder if he is justified in aligning with the government in denying the existence of my report and maligning me by tagging my name with what is an apology for a report which even the government is ashamed of owning.

After I submitted my report, I was dismissed by the government. Why did the champions of Jammu's interest remain silent on my dismissal and did not demand a discussion on my report in the State Assembly, it is for them to answer. But the common point it made with the NC government is to debunk the idea of regional autonomy.

Prof Hari Om's article, intentionally or unintentionally, serves the same purpose. Farooq Abdullah replaced my report with a proposal to divide Jammu and Ladakh on communal lines and thus facilitate the demand for separation of the two regions from the state.

It may be without a prior understanding between the two. But I would like to warn the champions of the demand for trifurcation of the state to beware of the design of Farooq Abdullah who is using this demand to mobilise Muslim sentiments in favour of division of Jammu and Ladakh on communal basis.

It is not a question of who is using whom. It is a question of identities of Jammu and Ladakh which are being threatened in this game. I need hardly dwell on its disastrous consequences for the communal relations in the two regions and their relations with Kashmir and for the rest of India.

My report is worthy of consideration as it attempts to reconcile interests and aspirations of all regions and communities of the state and to build up a composite and harmonious personality of it; which would be in a far better harmony with the rest of the country.Top


Distrust seems to vie with discontent
David Devadas

Conversations in Kashmir over the past few days have tended to swerve willy-nilly towards the Assembly elections. Distrust seems to vie with discontent in most Kashmiri minds as people watch the low-key campaign and hear promises of free and fair elections. Many speak of disillusionment with the incumbent party but their resentful talk is peppered with ennui regarding a free poll. Opinion makers and ordinary people alike ask whether rigging is possible with voting machines. The bottom line among many in Srinagar is that the possibilities that voting opens up are outweighed by the factors that say: “Don’t bother to vote.” The fear of militants’ retribution is only one of these. More striking is the lack of a credible alternative — and of course the possibility of rigging. People say, for instance, that ruling party workers are handling the issue of voters’ identity cards.

The important thing, though, is the evident interest, even ferment — and not very far below the surface. Indeed, an amazing degree of enthusiasm is visible along the northern periphery of the valley— ironically, the portion from and to which militants crossed the Line of Control over these past 15 years. More significant in the electoral context is the fact that a significant chunk of the population in this arc does not speak Kashmiri. Large numbers of them are Paharis, Gujjars and Backerwals.

Most important, this arc includes the home district of Abdul Ghani Lone, who was slain on May 21. Many of the thousands who accompany the independent candidates that have taken on the ruling National Conference in several constituencies here have been sporting T-shirts emblazoned with his portrait. A very senior leader of Lone’s party told me last week that the people are determined to give his assassins a fitting reply by coming out to vote. Many of those who were close to him believe he was killed because of fear.

Even though Lone’s party is ostensibly not contesting, a senior leader reveals that its supporters have been signaled to vote for various independent candidates, or even candidates of other anti-National Conference parties. The party’s new leaders are said to have drawn up a list of 15 candidates whom they would like to see victorious.

There is enthusiasm in Budgam in central Kashmir too, from where the ruling National Conference has fielded the young son of the assassinated Congress leader, Agha Mehdi Hasan. The Agha family commands a feudal religio-political following among the area’s Shias and the boy’s candidature is therefore sure to bring out a large number of voters. Again, anger at an assassination by militants will be a key factor.

The flip side of the encouraging signs of a desire for peace and for movement towards a lasting settlement is that people are far more watchful of how elections are being conducted than they were six years ago. The authorities face some tough decisions. For example, Rohullah, the son of Agha Mehdi in Budgam, is said to be much younger than the 25 years prescribed as the minimum age for an MLA. His opponents charge that the boy is just 20. The certificate he has submitted to the Returning Officer shows him to be 26.

The government and the Election Commission would be ill-advised to collude in fraud, in the hope of a substantial turnout. The cost could be a major dent in the general impression about the fairness of the entire process. In the long term, the common people’s belief in the fairness of the authorities is an essential requisite for the valley to return to peace.Top


Of Manisha & her body double
Harihar Swarup

illustrated by Sandeep joshiManisha Koirala and her body double Jessica Choksi have, at least, one common trait: Manisha likes to help the needy and Choski is the damsel in distress. According to reports, Manisha has decided to donate her income from the film — “Market”— for the betterment of sex workers and also actively campaigns to prevent trafficking of Nepalese girls into India for prostitution. Choksi says she had to accept the role of Manisha body double in the film “Ek Chotte Si Love Story” because she needed money for treatment of her mother — a cancer patient in last stages. “I know cancer is incurable, but she has to be looked after. I just didn’t get a regular job”, she lamented in an online interview. Barely 18 and her father having passed away, Choksi’s family has no other source of income; her elder brother tried hand in business but failed.

Choksi was quoted as saying in the interview that she had modeled at the Nikon photo fair and it was where she came to limelight. Soon a coordinator at the fair approach her and offered the proposal to act as Manisha’s body double. A meeting with the director Shashilal Nair was arranged and the deal was clinched; Nair accepted Choksi’s condition that her face and name would not be revealed. Had she known, says Choksi, she would get so much of negative publicity following the squabble between Manisha and Nair, she would have rejected the offer. The exact amount Nair paid to “the girl in distress” is not known but the reports say it might range between Rs.10,000 and Rs. 25,000.

Choksi, a dropout, asserts that Manisha had seen her. Had she made it a point to watch those scenes, “I would have been spared from all this negative publicity”. Choksi also says that there were few love-making scenes involving her but there was no nudity and that “too much ado was made about nothing”. As far as she was concerned, she neither felt guilty nor ashamed. “I have done no crime”. She emphasises: “Manisha may have better face than me, but I have a better body”. Choksi is very bitter against Shashilal Nair who, she says, should not have revealed her name. She had to suffer immensely and face embarrassment because of his indiscretion. Having some experience of working in TV serials, Choksi’s future plan is to become a television actress. She has also some offers but if destiny fails her, she says, “I will try taking up a job”.

Meanwhile, Manisha has been running from pillar to post for justice. After Bombay High Court’s order, she went to the National Commission for Women and knocked the door of Shiv Sena boss, Bal Thackeray with the plea to stop the director from showing women in negative light. Finally, she landed up at the door of Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushama Swaraj pleading that certification granted to the controversial film, depicting a teenager’s obsession with an older woman, be revoked or withdrawn. She is exercised over the four-and-a-half “sex scenes” which last less than four minutes.

Despite being a successful actress, sailing has not been smooth for Manisha in the last few years. She was recently blamed for failure of the TV show “Sawaal Dus Crore Ka”. She was also reportedly threatened by the underworld. Only in July, four gunmen allegedly on their way to kidnap her were gunned down by the Bombay Police. According to the police, who laid trap for the kidnappers, the four gangsters were driving to Manisha’s home in north Bombay when they we challenged. Having her roots in the Koirala family of Nepal, she would not like to be projected in vulgar scenes. Initially, her family opposed her taking a career in the films and she had to come up on her own, managing to create a base for her. Her career now spans over a decade in which she acquired the reputation of the loveliest actress, taking, as it were, the film industry by storm with stunning performance in films like “1942-A Love Story”, “Akele Hum, Akele Tum” and “Khamoshi”.

Educated in a public school in Delhi, her subject was science with biology and her favourite sport basketball. She is proficient in “ Bharat Natayam” and “Manipuri dances” and two films — “One flew over cuckoo’s nest” and “Kagaj Ke Phool”— have left an indelible impression on her. As Manisha enters 32nd year of her, she appears to be more and more inclined towards social work. She already devotes a per cent of her earnings for charity and even plans to adopt a child. Claiming the status of an official ambassador for the UN, she has worked on projects like child prostitution and dowry deaths. “Helping the poor and the destitute gives me more satisfaction than anything else does”, she says. Reports say she has ambition of joining politics in her native Nepal and she is worried that a film like “Ek Chhoti Si Love Story” may tarnish her image. Her struggle continues.


Enemy’s enemy is friend in politics

The higher one goes up in life the more enemies one makes. This is particularly true about politics. Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, who is hailed by some as Sardar Patel II, is no exception to this unwritten rule. It was demonstrated earlier this week when Shankarsinh Vaghela addressed a press conference in the capital in a jam-packed hall at the Press Club of India, his first since he took over as the Gujarat Congress chief.

The press conference turned out to be a rabid anti-Advani show. Many scribes were surprised to note the presence of a former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Manohar Lal Sondhi at the venue. Sondhi, who till a few years back was the member of the BJP National Executive, had indeed organised Vaghela’s media interaction as the invitation was issued with the signature of his wife Madhuri Santanam Sondhi. Once journalists discovered this fact then obviously the question was if Sondhi was going to jump onto the Congress bandwagon. But the presence of the Sondhis at the show had one more reason: hatred for Advani.

For those who do not know the political dynamics of yesteryear, Sondhi, a former IFS officer, was elected on the Jansangh ticket from the prestigious New Delhi constituency in 1967. Advani used to be his “cheer leader” and campaigner then. Soon the Advani-Sondhi drift started. Anti-Advanism has brought Vaghela and Sondhis together and it was being clearly manifested at the venue. As they say enemy’s enemy is a friend.

Jogi’s Gifts

Chief Ministers are normally remembered by their work or words but Chattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi is fast earning a name for the souvenirs he gives. Tribal artisans in Jogi’s state make small iron artefacts, mostly of animals. In a get-together hosted by Jogi for mediapersons on a Saturday, the souvenirs were the small iron artefacts from the state. The guests were not amused at the gift and many did not take it home. Iron is a metal people avoid taking home on a Saturday, but Jogi did not seem to care. As if it was delibrate, Jogi, who has been a Congress spokesman, gave same souvenirs at the inauguration of the state’s emporium in Delhi recently. It was again a Saturday and the packets again had those small iron artefacts. Jogi is now becoming known as a chief minister who gives iron souvenirs on a Saturday.

Jana’s Haste...

Union Law and Justice Minister K. Jana Krishnamurthi is invariably in a hurry whenever he addresses a press conference. 

This causes great inconvenience to the electronic media which is invariably denied the usual bytes as he leaves the venue immediately after the conference is over. 

After Jana leaves the venue in a jiffy without talking to TV journalists, they take recourse to the next best option: take the customary bytes from the junior minister. And this is precisely what happened just recently.

Ravi Shankar Prasad this time protested and told TV reporters that talking to them could cost him his job because his face appeared more on TV than the media-shy senior minister. 

In the end, the familiar thing happened. Prasad gave the sound bytes.

US Pointsman

BJP National Executive Council member Jagdish Shettigar could have been replaced by O.N. Vijayan as the Convenor of the party’s Economic Cell, but for the United States Embassy which still prefers the former for articulating the views of the party on economic mattes. The other day the

Councillor (Public Affairs) of the US Embassy wanted to interact with some of the important Indian personalities in the economic sphere and invited Shettigar to participate in the informal meeting. When Shettigar pointed out to the US Embassy representative, who called up, that he is no longer

the Convenor of the Economic Cell, the caller insisted that the Councillor wanted him to be present in the informal meeting. Of late, the party might not have unseated him from the Convenor’s position, but for the people outside the party it seems he is still an important figure guiding the economic policies of the ruling party.

Women’s Joint

Women information officers in Shastri Bhawan can now step out for a quick bite at the Indian Women’s Press Corps a stone’s throw away. The IWPC has opened its doors to women information officers attached to Government of India, corporate houses besides women officers of embassies, UN bodies and non-Indian government institutions. While information officers will be required to pay a one-time entry fee of Rs 2,500 and an annual menbership of Rs 1,000, embassy officers and women employees of UN bodies and other non-government institutions will be eligible for membership on payment of an entry fee of Rs 5,000 and an annual fee of Rs 2,500. They will be registered as associate members.

Members of Corporate houses will be registered as Corporate members on payment of an entry fee of Rs 25,000 and Rs 2,500 as annual fee. The IWPC housed in a bungalow on the Le Meridien roundabout was founded by a group of women print journalists in October, 1994. It has 350 regular and associate members from print, radio, television and cyber media.

Contributed by T.V.Lakshminarayan, Satish Misra, Prashant Sood, S.Satyanarayanan, Tripti Nath and Rajeev Sharma.



Why was Sonia’s trip to Srinagar cancelled?
Humra Quraishi

The official theory doing the rounds behind the cancellation of Sonia Gandhi's day-long trip to Srinagar, two days before the scheduled visit (Sept 14), is that there was a security problem. But then, this couldn't be a new dimension. No doubt after J&K Minister Lone's killing in Kupwara there has been a general scare, but as I mentioned earlier not many are taking the security theory too seriously.

Senior Congressmen of the State feel that National Conference wasn't particularly enthusiastic about Sonia Gandhi's visit because in this state of uncertainity her presence in the Valley would have meant a definite effect on the voter and he could have tilted towards the Congress. Last month, hours after Prof Saifuddin Soz had joined the Congress party (after remaining in hibernation for over three years), during an interview, he had categorically told me that there were not many chances of a violence-free election in J&K. He had also stressed on the fact that there ought to have been governor's rule in the state to ensure free and fair polling.

The Union Government decided to overrule those apprehensions and now the security issue lurks around. The average citizen of the Srinagar city sits confused and unethusiastic about these elections. Mrs Gandhi's visit would have definitely brought about some change on the election scenario in the Valley, but then politics seems to have come about in the way.

Islam & Peace

Last fortnight I attended the opening function at the IIC of the four-month-long lecture-series on the different religions. Started by the Jain Vishwa Bharati University, each lecture is to be delivered by a scholar and students are free to clear doubts. This is a wonderful concept in trying to understand each other's faith, for most myths spring up because we know so little as though we are almost scared of knowing more, as though it will dilute our thinking etc.

What really struck me was this simple observation of writer Sudhamahi Regunathan, who is also the Vice-Chancellor of this University. She says her own perception of Islam changed after she had heard Maulana Wahiduddin Khan say that the very root word of Islam means peace. “And that changed my entire perception vis-a-vis Islam and that's why I decided that it’s time each citizen knew at least the basics of each religion...”

It is time efforts were made to sort out the basic prejudices and myths vis-a-vis different communities of the country. Educational institutions could play a major role in doing so. As far as I know the Jain Vishwa Bharti University is one of the first to come out and hold these series and going much beyond the formal and set patterns...

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