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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Resignation as a farce
Accountability must for infants’ death 
By quitting over the heart-rending death of five infants in Patiala’s Rajindra Hospital, the Punjab Minister for Medical Education and Research, Mr Tikshan Sood, did try to show that he had a conscience though his motives seemed suspect when it became clear that he had sent the resignation letter only to his party, the BJP, and not to the Chief Minister.

A question of blurred lines
Chain of command must in PM’s absence
Even without getting into the rigmarole of who was right and who was wrong, it is obvious that the conflicting statements made by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser MK Narayanan on foreign policy issues and the way Pakistan was handling the Mumbai terrorist outrage presented the Government of India in a very poor light.


EARLIER STORIES

Shorter the better
February 5, 2009
Trouble in EC
February 4, 2009
Terror networks intact
February 3, 2009
EC in crisis
February 2, 2009
Crisis in higher education
February 1, 2009
Ekla Chalo
January 31, 2009
Kashmir is bilateral
January 30, 2009
Outrage in Mangalore
January 29, 2009
Have autonomy talks
January 28, 2009
Pin Pakistan down
January 26, 2009
Civil services: The blunted edge
January 25, 2009


Not a man to be trusted
Kalyan Singh’s U-turn is for politics
Former BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Kalyan Singh, whose government was dismissed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, is trying to present himself before the people as a changed man today.

ARTICLE

Sense about Sri Lanka
Tamil minority, yes; LTTE, no
by Inder Malhotra
DURING a four-day visit to Chennai it was clear to me that among the people of Tamil Nadu there is no sympathy for Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that is now patently at the end of its tether.


MIDDLE

Phirozadi
by Harish Dhillon
I returned to Sanawar in 1995 and was dismayed to find that the place had changed so much that it seemed like a different school altogether. Where before, we had functioned more or less as a family, now there was deep and mutual suspicion and distrust.


OPED

Divisive demands
Muslims need support, not crutches
by Kuldip Nayar
The Muslims’ rally organised by the All India Milli Council at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi is, the first one which has been held in the open after more than three decades.

Sri Lankan insurgency: end in sight?
by Emily Wax 
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaimed in an Independence Day message on Wednesday that the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would be "completely defeated in a few days," potentially signaling an end to a 25-year insurgency that is one of the world's longest ongoing conflicts.

Delhi Durbar
First bureau chief
Interacting with editors on social issues at the Press Information Bureau (PIB) earlier this week, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was at his humorous best. Miffed at the step-motherly treatment given to rural development issues by the media, Singh decided to take a pick on journalists and began sharing his "knowledge" of the history of the profession.

Diplomats irritated
EC tussle




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Resignation as a farce
Accountability must for infants’ death 

By quitting over the heart-rending death of five infants in Patiala’s Rajindra Hospital, the Punjab Minister for Medical Education and Research, Mr Tikshan Sood, did try to show that he had a conscience though his motives seemed suspect when it became clear that he had sent the resignation letter only to his party, the BJP, and not to the Chief Minister. To his credit, the state BJP president forwarded the resignation to the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, who has turned it down on the ground that “it is not Mr Sood’s fault”. This has reduced the resignation exercise to a farce. When Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as the Railway Minister from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet, did the train mishap occur because of his fault? The issue before him was owning constitutional and moral responsibility.

Politics has deteriorated over the years to such an extent that it is rare to find someone today upholding high moral values. So many lives are lost in so frequent accidents that these have ceased to move thick-skinned politicians. Five babies have got charred to death in incubators and the Chief Minister seems to imply that no minister is to be held responsible. The government then suspended only the Principal of Rajindra Hospital and Medical College. She too, like Mr Sood, could claim that she had no direct involvement in the incident. The inquiry committee, headed by a Chief Engineer, has been given an unduly long period to submit its report. The obvious purpose is to buy time in the hope that public anger would subside by then.

The traumatic death of children is not an isolated incident that shows how mismanaged government hospitals and medical colleges in the state are. The Tribune has exposed their shortcomings and irregularities off and on. Only recently the Medical Council of India had threatened to disaffiliate three medical colleges for lack of teachers and facilities. The state spending on health and medical education is so low that it has been difficult to maintain the existing creaky infrastructure, leave alone build on it. Sheer neglect is only one of the reasons for the tragedy at Patiala. 


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A question of blurred lines
Chain of command must in PM’s absence

Even without getting into the rigmarole of who was right and who was wrong, it is obvious that the conflicting statements made by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser MK Narayanan on foreign policy issues and the way Pakistan was handling the Mumbai terrorist outrage presented the Government of India in a very poor light. Ironically, India had accused Pakistan of speaking in different voices on the same issue only recently. By contradicting each other, the two high dignitaries reduced the administration’s reputation to that of Pakistan’s in this respect. That is a controversy both of them should have studiously avoided but that was not to be. The impression was bound to gain currency that the PMO and the foreign office were at loggerheads. Things became so convoluted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — convalescing at home — had to personally intervene to set the record straight. But a fair amount of damage has been done.

Essentially, the situation is the result of disconnect between various wings of the government. It is mainly because there is no transparent hierarchy in place to look after governance during the absence of the Prime Minister. Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Mr A.K. Antony and Mr Pranab Mukherjee were all assigned parts of the responsibilities of the ailing Prime Minister with the result that the chain of command was not clear to the people in the government or outside.

Personality clashes are inevitable even in private lives. These are all the more possible in public life. But these should not become a matter of controversy as has happened in this case. What is all the more galling is that it tended to weaken the Indian position before the world. Valuable lessons need to be learnt from the controversy, and the next time the Prime Minister is away from work for whatever reasons, the drill of who will fill the vacuum and in what way should be gone through in a manner that there are no blurred lines. 


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Not a man to be trusted
Kalyan Singh’s U-turn is for politics

Former BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Kalyan Singh, whose government was dismissed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, is trying to present himself before the people as a changed man today. He wrongly believes that the nation has forgotten the damage he had done to the country’s plural character during these 17 years that have elapsed since that shameful happening occurred. It was described as a national shame that remains etched in the memory of all those who value the country’s secular polity. After having virtually presided over what shook the nation’s conscience, Mr Kalyan Singh is trying to fool the people that he had accepted “moral responsibility” and “resigned as chief minister” the same day. Where was the need for his government getting sacked had he submitted his resignation? Even today he has cleverly avoided apologising for his role in the Ayodhya episode. He remains a disgraced politician who cannot be trusted by any section of society.

Now when he has been shown the door by the BJP, the party he has been associated with for decades, Mr Kalyan Singh says that “certain elements have tried to create enmity and bitterness between communities for selfish interests”. He himself indulged in such acts for his and his party’s political interests when he was a part of the BJP. His talk of consolidating social forces by forging “friendship” with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is pure bunkum.

As it appears, Mr Kalyan Singh’s company is likely to only harm the interests of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. The former BJP vice-president’s OBC vote bank in UP is no longer as large as it was when he was riding the crest of his popularity. Whether the two together are able to prevent the BJP from coming to power at the Centre — the primary objective of Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Kalyan Singh, as they claim — remains to be seen. But the SP’s following among the Muslims is bound to get eroded. The SP’s damage-control exercise does not seem to be effective. The party’s alliance with the Congress, too, is even headed for collapse. Mr Yadav’s “friendship” with Mr Kalyan Singh may benefit Ms Mayawati’s BSP in the coming elections — which might turn out to be an unintended consequence. 


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Thought for the Day

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,/Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? — W. B. Yeats


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Sense about Sri Lanka
Tamil minority, yes; LTTE, no
by Inder Malhotra

DURING a four-day visit to Chennai it was clear to me that among the people of Tamil Nadu there is no sympathy for Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that is now patently at the end of its tether. Undoubted concern for the Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire between the Lankan security forces and the LTTE is a different matter. Consequently, state Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s threat to withdraw from the ruling coalition in New Delhi if the Union government did not compel Colombo to order a ceasefire immediately appeared odd.

Possibly, this pressure contributed to Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to go to Colombo for talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa that proved to be useful. For, they secured categorical assurances about the Sri Lankan government’s determination to ensure the safety of the hapless Tamil civilians stranded in the shrinking war zone, if only the LTTE would stop using the poor civilians as human shields. No less importantly, Mr Rajapaksa also committed himself to implementing the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution that spells out the devolution of powers to the Tamil minority.

Since Mr Rajapaksa’s invitation to Mr Karunanidhi and other Tamil leaders to go to Sri Lanka, to persuade the LTTE to let the beleaguered civilians go produced no result, Colombo did the next best thing. It declared a 48-hour unilateral ceasefire in the hope that the LTTE would respond and allow the civilians to move to earmarked safe zones. But the LTTE arrogantly rejected the ceasefire. The responsibility for the continuing misery of the civilians — they are denied essential supplies and they are dying or being killed — therefore lies squarely on the LTTE.

Unsurprisingly, even Mr Karunanidhi publicly condemned the LTTE’s intransigence but it does not seem to have had any impact on those small parties and leaders, such as Mr Vaiko, who are unashamedly supporting the LTTE, and particularly its supreme leader, Mr Villupillai Prabhakaran. Even though they know that the game is up for the LTTE and its final defeat is now a matter of time, they have no compunction in supporting the cause of this terrorist outfit that is responsible for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

Why then has the agitation about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue suddenly acquired the virulence and intensity that it has? Crowds are pouring out on the streets, there is repeated violence, some zealots have either committed self-immolation or have tried to do so, the state government has closed down all schools and colleges and so on? The reason for this is a complex mix.

The Tamil people at large do have a general sentiment for fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka. And they are very upset over not only the safety of the Tamil civilians held hostages to the war but also the future of the Tamil minority. The lunatic fringe that even now remains committed to the LTTE and Prabhakaran is responding to the last-minute appeals of the LTTE to the entire Tamil diaspora to protest so hard as to force New Delhi to force the Rajapaksa government to agree to an immediate ceasefire and negotiations with the LTTE. It is no mere coincidence that the Tamils living in London have also demonstrated. Nor is it a secret that a lot of LTTE money has regularly found its way to the pockets of certain politicians in Tamil Nadu.

Against this backdrop, it is a hopeful and welcome sign that the DMK government of Tamil Nadu, headed by Mr Karunanidhi, has disassociated itself completely from any support to the LTTE. It has joined the Tamil Nadu bandh only to express its sympathy for the beleaguered Tamil civilians as well as for the Tamil minority as a whole. The three resolutions passed by the DMK executive are unexceptionable. They ask for urgent and immediate steps to rescue the civilians held hostage in the war zone and for autonomy for the Tamil minority in the North and Northeast of the island republic within the framework of a united, federal Sri Lanka.

This is precisely the policy of the Union government, and Mr Pranab Mukherjee has pursued it with all due emphasis but in a statesmanlike manner. To her credit, the AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, has been strongly opposed to the LTTE and indeed critical of the DMK for “pandering “ to Tamil chauvinism. Thus both the mainstream Dravidian parties (whatever their record in the past) and the Central government are fully united on a sound policy on Sri Lanka, which should make the hysterical agitation that is disrupting normal life in the state meaningless. But then such is Indian polity that utterly strange and damaging activities go on here with impunity.

Two other points need to be made as bluntly as possible. First, that the protagonists of the LTTE and its terrorism in Tamil Nadu are able to go on the rampage and hold law-abiding citizens to ransom only because India is a soft state and is becoming softer and softer. Those running the Central and state governments are usually reluctant to enforce the law of the land, principally because of their crass electoral calculations. This malignant malaise is by no means confined to any one state. The misguided agitation in Tamil Nadu over Sri Lanka, the unacceptable and unchecked violence against North Indians by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray and the despicable Taliban-like attack on women in a Mangalore pub are all part of the same pattern.

Secondly, this dismal state of affairs is frequently defended on the spacious ground of “compulsions of coalition politics”. All too often it has been argued that Mr Karunanidhi is a valued partner in the United Progressive Alliance and commands as many as 29 votes in the precariously balanced Lok Sabha. The Union government, therefore, bends over backwards to keep him in good humour. For instance, on the issue of privatising some shares of profit-making public undertakings, the Left Front, with 60 votes, could not be half as effective as one phone call from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, protesting against the proposed sale of some shares in the Nievely lignite mines.

The time has come to end this kind of surrender to allies’ demands, particularly the ones that are palpably unfair. After all, the elections are due in four months, in any case. It would do no harm if the government is allowed to fall and Parliament dissolved after seeking a vote on account.


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Phirozadi
by Harish Dhillon

I returned to Sanawar in 1995 and was dismayed to find that the place had changed so much that it seemed like a different school altogether. Where before, we had functioned more or less as a family, now there was deep and mutual suspicion and distrust.

It took me a week to realise why this had happened — Mrs Das, Phirozadi, had gone away. When Mr Das joined as the Headmaster in 1974, she moved quietly into our lives. With extreme sensitivity and subtlety she worked to heal all bruised feelings and prevented the wounds from becoming permanent suppurating sores. She reached out to everyone and became such a pillar of strength that she was the first person we turned to for advice and support. She kept an open house and students, staff, parents and even strangers were always welcome and all were recipients of her warm hospitality.

She knew instinctively when anyone was in trouble and without making it obvious would look out for them, sitting next to them at rehearsals, stopping to chat with them on the way. She was everywhere — directing the Founders’ play, acting in the staff play, taking batik classes helping all of us to plan personal functions and she brought to everything an infectious vitality which generated endless enthusiasm amongst us all.

Mr Das, a great visionary, saw that if the school was to retain its prominent position among public schools it would have to move quickly from the hangover of its colonial, military origin. To fulfil this vision he brought in a number of changes. All changes are painful but these were particularly so, affecting as they did, what we considered the essential ethos of the school. But basking in the warmth of her unstinting, cheerful affection, it became a little easier for us to bear this pain and go along with her husband’s ideas, albeit reluctantly.

She became an integral part of my life and of my family and when she first tied a rakhi, it came as no surprise because she was already a sister in every sense of the word.

She fell ill about eight months ago, a strange cruel illness which gradually sapped her of all the vitality and vivaciousness which had been such an essential part of her. I went to visit her as often as I could. No, I did not go out of a sense of duty, I did not go because I owed her a debt for all that she had done for me. I went purely out of selfishness — to seep up as much of the warmth that remained as I could, warmth that would see me through this last lonely lap.

She died on January 31. There is sadness and a terrible sense of loss. But even in this, the warmth that she had given us remains. The world is a better place for her having been here and we are all, much, much better human beings for having known her.


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Divisive demands
Muslims need support, not crutches
by Kuldip Nayar

The Muslims’ rally organised by the All India Milli Council at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi is, the first one which has been held in the open after more than three decades.

I have attended several meetings in conference rooms or at the India International Centre to discuss grievances of the minorities.

But seldom have the Muslims met at a central, open place other than the ground near the Jama Masjid.

The rally, starting from Azamgarh, is a healthy development and indicates that the community has shed fear to voice its grievances in public. This speaks volumes about the community’s new approach.

More than that, it brings credit to our open society, which provides the environment to the afflicted minority to tell publicly what hurts it.

Former Chief Justice of India K.M.Ahmedi complained justifiably that any support to the Muslims was dubbed either ‘appeasement’ or ‘pseudo-secularism’.

In fact, I have found that the denunciation by the Sangh Parivar and the like has told upon the thinking of liberals, who would in the past take on Hindu extremists for attacks on Muslims.

They have become indifferent. The word ‘pluralism’ has come to be preferred to secularism. Not that pluralism has a lesser message but secularism has a forthright meaning, which the BJP and such other organisations dislike.

Unfortunately, the anti-Muslim bias which was there in some form or the other since partition became visible after the terrorist attack on Mumbai.

On the other hand, the Mumbai carnage affected the Muslims so much that more and more jettisoned their parochial approach to join the mainstream.

Some went out of their way to ensure that their revulsion against what had happened was noticed.

There was more blood donation by Muslims at Mumbai during the days following the 26/11 than all other communities put together.

I know of many Muslims saying that they felt embarrassed when it was told at their face that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were Muslim.

Yet the response of the majority community has been wanting. A substantial part of it has distanced itself still further from Muslims after the Mumbai incident.

Some of the writings in the Urdu press are also not helpful. They connect Zionism with the Mumbai attack reflecting a pronounced bias against the Jews.

During the Mumbai attack they were first physically tortured and then killed brutally. If Zionism had been at the back of the attack, the Jews at Nariman House in Mumbai would not have been killed as they were.

That terrorism has no religion is proved by the disclosure at Malegaon. A serving Hindu officer in the Army joined hands with BJP extremist leaders like the saffron-clad woman Sadhvi to carry out bomb blasts near a local mosque.

They have a plan to establish a Hindu Rashtra in India as the secret documents reveal. They want to set up a government-in-exile to get recognition from Nepal and China.

I have not been able to understand why the two countries have been singled out when both of them are headed by the Communists, supposed to be against religion.

Coming back to the Muslims’ rally, I was a bit disappointed by one of the resolutions passed to seek reservations. This will not lessen Hindus’ bias or Muslims’ aloofness.

Asking for a quota in jobs and seats in parliament and assemblies is going back to separatism that laid the foundation of Pakistan.

Any demand on the basis of religion is dangerous for society, which is yet to settle down to secularism.

Even the Sachar Committee report, which brought out prominently the wrongs done to the community and the pitiable conditions in which the Muslims live, avoided recommending reservations.

India has paid a heavy price for the communal politics which the British cultivated to divide Hindus and Muslims.

A demand for concessions on religious grounds will be suspect and increase the distance between the two communities. The country is already reeling under divisiveness.

Muslims are said to be enjoying reservations wherever they are part of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). A carpenter or a shoemaker, whether a Hindu or a Muslim, is entitled to the same benefits.

In many states the Muslims are classified as OBCs and they figure on the list of beneficiaries. However, the demand for the reservations for the converted Scheduled Castes is not justified.

Islam does not recognise any caste because it is an egalitarian religion. In fact, thousands of Hindus have embraced Islam to escape the rigours of caste and enjoy the equality.

The Constitution too confines concessions to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes alone. Even otherwise those who have raised the demand for reservation for Scheduled Castes Muslims should realise that Islam cannot afford to mutilate its principles for the sake of a few benefits. The community needs support, not crutches.

Justice Ahmedi gave a sound advice to the Muslims: give your children complete education so that they can stand on their own feet. He pointed out that every individual had a constitutional right to get free education from 6 to 14 years.

If Muslims do not avail of the opportunity or not send children to school, the community is bound to feel handicapped in competitive examinations.

Yet, I was surprised when the same Justice Ahmedi supported the demand for reservations at another meeting.

He was giving weight to something which might one day lead to the demand for separation, reopening the wounds of partition days. Any concession on the basis of religion is against the tenets of secularism.

Probably, the Milli Council does not realise that during the deliberations on the Constitution, a committee, blessed by Sardar Patel, was appointed to consider reservations for Muslims.

At that time, the Muslim leaders themselves were so much against them that the committee had to be abolished.

They argued that they did not want to give any room for suspicion to Hindus or sow the seeds of disharmony in a secular and democratic state of India.

It is a pity that some elements in the Muslim community fail to assess the repercussions of the demand for reservations. These elements are playing into the hands of the BJP, which wants to divide society on religious grounds.


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Sri Lankan insurgency: end in sight?
by Emily Wax 

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaimed in an Independence Day message on Wednesday that the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would be "completely defeated in a few days," potentially signaling an end to a 25-year insurgency that is one of the world's longest ongoing conflicts.

The rebel's last holdouts are penned into a small zone in the north of the island nation, and reports from the war zone indicate that they are close to being overrun amid fierce fighting with government forces.

Civilian casualties have been significant: United Nations officials said that 52 civilians were killed in the past day, and that cluster bombs had struck a hospital.

But Rajapaksa used Sri Lanka's national day to emphasize that the end of fighting might be near. Government forces have taken over major rebel-held areas and cornered the Tamil Tigers in a 120-square-mile stretch of coastal land – though analysts say guerrilla fighting might persist for months.

International diplomats have begun urging the government to turn its focus from conflict to crafting a truce agreement with the rebels, increasing humanitarian help for those caught in the war zone and negotiating a long-term agreement with the country's Tamil minority.

"For nearly three decades, we were forced to celebrate independence with an illegal armed group operating in our country," said Rajapaksa, who spoke from a heavily secured beachfront stage, guarded by tanks and navy ships, as 4,200 decorated service members marched in a military parade. "We have now been able, within a short period of 2 1/2 years, to completely defeat the cowardly forces of terror."

He also appeared to reach out to hundreds of thousands of minority ethnic Tamils who have sought political asylum in the West.

"At this moment I urge all Sri Lankans from all communities who fled the country because of the war to return to their motherland," Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa's address came alongside U.N. reports that cluster bombs had hit the north's largest functioning hospital. Fifteen U.N. staffers and 81 family members are trapped in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area, where the hospital was hit, U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said.

"We hold the gravest fears for the safety of our staff and their families," Weiss told reporters. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that the hospital has been hit five times in the past few days, including a strike on the pediatric ward, leaving at least 12 civilians dead and 30 wounded.

After a harrowing night of intense shelling, the patients and medical staff have been evacuated, said Sarasi Wijeratne, an ICRC information officer in the country's capital of Colombo.

"The patients are out after shelling continued into the morning and hit the operating theater. Some patients were running out of the hospital because they were scared," Wijeratne said. "Now we are requesting that the patients be allowed to be moved so there can be treatment and care for the sick and wounded."

It was not clear who launched the cluster bombs, which spray dozens of "bomblets," and are banned under the international Convention on Cluster Munitions. Sri Lanka's military spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, said that the government wasn't to blame.

"The U.N. is going all over the media saying there were cluster bombs. We know those aren't ours," he said. "They are banned under international laws. We have been fighting this whole time and never used them. The Tigers may have gotten them through their sources.

"We know the exact location of the hospital. We just don't fire indiscriminately," he said in an interview, with a heavily marked map of the tear-dropped shaped island behind him. He blamed the rebels, saying they were using Tamils as human shields.

Representatives of the rebel group have not been available for comment.

The attacks on the hospital have become a symbol of the human cost of ending the 25-year civil war between the Tamil rebels and the largely Sinhalese government. An estimated 70,000 people have died in the conflict.

Aid agencies and the U.N. say there are about 250,000 civilians trapped along with the Tamil rebels, who have been fighting to create a separate Tamil homeland in the country's northern and eastern provinces. The government disputes the figure, saying it is far lower.

Aid workers' reports of casualties are impossible to verify independently because the government has banned journalists from going there, except on several recent carefully guided tours.

During a surge in fighting in recent months, the Tigers had been driven from their longtime strongholds and de facto separate state centered around the northern regions of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu.

They now control a jungle area of less than 120 square miles along the Indian Ocean island's northeastern coast. Fighting has been concentrated in a much smaller area of around 30 square miles, according to the Sri Lankan military.

In the first international acknowledgement that the rebels might be near to defeat, the United States, Japan, the European Union and Norway – Sri Lanka's international quartet of top donors – said the Tigers and the government "should recognize that further loss of life, of civilians and combatants, will serve no cause."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband also issued a statement pushing for a truce so that humanitarian aid could be allowed in.

— By arrangement with, LA Times-Washington Post


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Delhi Durbar
First bureau chief

Interacting with editors on social issues at the Press Information Bureau (PIB) earlier this week, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was at his humorous best. Miffed at the step-motherly treatment given to rural development issues by the media, Singh decided to take a pick on journalists and began sharing his "knowledge" of the history of the profession.

"Narad muni was the first journalist according to me,'' said a flamboyant Singh, adding that Narad must have been the first bureau chief of the world.

Further, Singh spoke of the journalistic acumen of Sanjay, who had managed to narrate the entire "Mahabharat" sequence to Dharitrashtra without being in the battlefield.

Mahatma Gandhi's mention as a journalist figured much later in Singh's narration.

Diplomats irritated

Now that Pranab Mukherjee is the all-important man in the UPA government in view of the ill-health of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a large contingent of the visual media is stationed everyday outside the headquarters of the External Affairs Ministry in South Block.

Reporters from TV news channels anxiously wait for the arrival of the minister and alight from his car to give them a sound-byte. And the Bengali 'dada' also does not disappoint them, making some comment everyday on Pakistan's complicity in the Mumbai terror attacks.

However, the presence of the visual media outside the ministry all the time has started irritating some of the senior officials in the ministry. ''Diplomacy is conducted away from the media glare...but here we have cameras focussed on all the visitors to the ministry,'' complained an official.

The other day, a Pakistani diplomat came to the South Block for what was described as a routine administrative meeting with Foreign Ministry officials. However, one enterprising news channel flashed his arrival at the South Block as a major development at a time when India-Pakistan ties are far from normal.

EC tussle

Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj not only made it a point to criticise Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, but also profusely praised EC Navin Chawla at his hour-long press conference this week.

First, he contended the CEC had no powers under the Constitution to send a suo motu recommendation to the President for the removal of Chawla.

Then he said he was very much upset with Gopalaswami for committing a number of serious mistakes in the delimitation exercise involving Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies.

Then he went on to give a clean chit to Chawla, stating that the government still stood by its affidavit filed in the Supreme Court two years ago maintaining that the allegations against the EC were baseless. He did not stop at that. The senior-most EC (Chawla) would succeed Gopalaswami, who he said had come under BJP pressure.

According to sources, the minister was all fire and brimstone after going through the CEC's letter to the President that had levelled allegations that Chawla was leaking the commission's classified information to Congress leaders.

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Ashok Tuteja and R. Sedhuraman 


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