Bomb plot fails to ruffle rest day for Major

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The Independent Online
DELHI police yesterday foiled a plot by Sikh separatists to set off an explosive device during India's Republic Day parade tomorrow, at which John Major will be the chief guest.

The police commissioner, M B Kaushal, said there was no evidence that the Prime Minister was the target.

Three Sikhs from a separatist group, the Khalistan Commando Force, were arrested in possession of arms and a remote control trigger able to detonate a bomb from more than a mile away. However, fears had been voiced of attacks by militants aggrieved over an Indo-British agreement last year, yet to be ratified, covering extradition and confiscation of property from 'terrorists', the commissioner said.

The passing shadow of terrorism, however, did not stop the Prime Minister from sticking to his day's agenda: relaxation in the sun. Escaping a blizzard of criticism back in wintry London over his handling of the recession and pit closures, he awoke fairly late, the bright sunshine beaming into the colonnaded colonial-style mansion where he is staying, a guest of Sir Nicholas Fenn, British High Commissioner.

An aide, asked why Mr Major was not racing around for earnest talks with government officials, replied: 'It's the weekend, remember?'

The only disturbance to Mr Major's languid afternoon was the tap-tapping of Indians hoisting a circus tent on the High Commissioner's lawn for a cocktail party. The Prime Minister, of course, was the star performer. He arrived, rested, with a good deal of bounce, but still as ash-coloured as his grey suit. Many of his aides wore identical grey suits, as though they were off the same January sales rack.

The Prime Minister mingled amiably with Delhi's British community and then, recognising a good photo-opportunity, doubled back to shake hands with arriving members of the England under-20 cricket team.

A toned-down troupe of Rajasthani musicians and dancers, shrieking with more discretion than usual, were also in attendance.

Today, the Prime Minister buckles down to work. Suitcases at the ready, he moves to the grander Presidential Palace. He will spend a whole day - his only full day of work on his five-day trip - with India's Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, and his cabinet. Mr Major will meet other Congress cabinet ministers to bang the drum for British business.

He dismissed as 'misguided' criticism of his Indian tour. 'Exports to abroad mean more jobs at home,' he said. The Prime Minister is travelling with 17 British industrialists.

On Wednesday, Mr Major is scheduled to visit a slum. There are many slums in Delhi - some not far from the British High Commission compound's high walls - but he has chosen one in Indore, central India.

Afterwards, he flies to Bombay where, on Thursday, he delivers a speech extolling British technology and goods. It takes supreme optimism to give such a speech there these days: India's financial capital was gutted by riots and arson this month, and many fear it may blaze again - hardly a climate whose benefits for British businessmen are immediately apparent.

(Photograph omitted)