Uma seeks quit-licence to hit the streets
Cong stares at crime-and-kin tall order
Karmapa flight clouds peace path
BJP plays mediator to reunite Bihar allies
French foster parent for orphaned heritage
Industrial strike call on Feb. 2

New Delhi, Jan. 15 
Minister of state for tourism Uma Bharti put in her papers today in protest against the “high-handedness and repression” of BJP councillors by the police and administration in Bhopal, her constituency.

“As a minister I cannot protest on the streets or sit in a dharna before the chief minister’s house,” Uma Bharti said after faxing her resignation letter to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He has not yet accepted it.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Vajpayee has asked Uma Bharti to meet him before a decision was taken. The sources also said the Prime Minister was aware that BJP councillors had been roughed up by the police in Bhopal recently.

“He has seen all the media clips and pictures. But he wants to discuss the incident with the minister,” an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.

A report from the Bhopal correspondent said the city was tense and a day-long bandh was enforced by the BJP. There were some minor clashes between BJP and Congress supporters.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh said he had spoken to Union minister Sunderlal Patwa, an adversary of Uma Bharti in state politics. “I talked to Patwa, former Rajya Sabha member Kailash Sarag and Bhopal legislator Abdullah Gaur about an inquiry into the incident,” Singh said.

Uma Bharti, who plans to stay put in Bhopal for the next three days, said her main demand was the dismissal of the Bhopal collector and police superintendent. She has also sought a “high-level” inquiry into the incident and punishment of the guilty.

She stressed she had not asked for the dismissal of the Digvijay government. “I have no demand from the Prime Minister, I only have demands from the chief minister,” she stated, adding she would not put “any kind of pressure” on Vajpayee.

“I will have a talk with the Prime Minister and request him to accept my papers,” Uma Bharti said.

Asked what she would do if her resignation was not accepted, she replied: “I do not want to embarrass my PM”, indicating that the quit move may be a ploy to embarrass the Digvijay government, instead, and give the BJP a political plank.

BJP sources, however, claimed that the minister was trying to project herself as a state leader with an eye to the next Assembly elections.    

New Delhi, Jan. 15 
Close relatives of Congress leaders, persons facing criminal charges or with corruption cases pending against them and first-timers with more than two children will not be given party tickets for the Assembly polls in Bihar, Manipur, Haryana and Orissa.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) met today and decided to abide by the stringent guidelines of the Panchmarhi declaration and the A.K. Antony panel report. The two documents had pledged to make the Congress under Sonia Gandhi “the party of the brightest and the best, a party that promotes ethics in politics.”

The Congress will go it alone in the elections, which are likely to have a crucial bearing on Sonia’s leadership. CWC members said at the local levels, the party will consider a tacit understanding with smaller parties like the JMM groups in Bihar, the Bahujan Samaj Party in Haryana and Manipur Peoples’ Party in Manipur.

The Congress wants the Jagannath Mishra-led Jan Congress in Bihar and Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party to merge with it, ruling out any seat-sharing.

At the CWC meeting, members unanimously agreed that the Congress must project itself as a party with a “difference”. Good governance and development will be the Congress’ planks in the polls.

Privately, many CWC members wonder if the leadership will be able to force its diktats and refuse nomination to close relatives, particularly in Haryana where it has become a well-established norm.

In Bihar, several leaders have criminal and corruption charges against them.

“Winnability and image among the electorate are going be the twin criteria of the selection of candidates,” an AICC general secretary said.

The CWC has decided to field as many new faces as possible. In Haryana, there would be around 45 newcomers for the 90-member Assembly. CWC members said some sitting MLAs in Orissa may be denied nomination.

The CWC will hold regular meetings from January 18 to 21 to clear the candidates’ list. Sonia today converted the entire CWC into the Central Election Committee in the absence of the Central Parliamentary Board.

On accommodating relatives of senior Congress leaders, the leadership has asked Haryana leaders Bhajan Lal, Birendra Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Shelja and others to contest the polls instead of trying to push through relatives.

The CWC also decided to launch a nationwide agitation and submit a memorandum to the President against the Gujarat government’s move to lift the ban on the participation of government employees in RSS activities.

The CWC urged the Vajpayee government to issue a directive to the Keshubhai Patel regime to withdraw its circular lifting the ban.

Sonia will constitute a committee to examine various aspects of the Uttar Pradesh government’s controversial Public Religious Buildings and Property Bill which puts curbs on construction of places of worship.

A separate CWC meeting will be called to discuss situation in Jammu and Kashmir, AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said.    

McLeodgunj, Jan. 15 
The Tibetan government-in-exile has, for the first time since the Karmapa’s arrival, admitted that the escape of such a high-ranking leader will make it difficult to stick to the Dalai Lama’s pacific middle path.

The admission was made by religion and culture minister Kulong Tashi Wangdi in an interview with The Telegraph at his headquarters early today.

In a very significant statement — made by one who is part of the Dalai Lama’s core thinktank — Wangdi said: “There is disagreement among our own people about our policy on China. These developments are not helpful to our policy of the middle path.”

The minister said the “middle path”, which envisaged a negotiated settlement with Beijing while accepting Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, is something that had to be explained to the people and accepted by them.

“The middle path is not a policy that can be formed by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government alone. It has to gain acceptance among the people. The Karmapa’s flight, which highlights the worsening human rights situation in Tibet, makes the pursuance of the middle path difficult,” he added.

Wangdi’s remarks have come as a boost to the movement for a more aggressive anti-China policy. Told about Wangdi’s remarks, pro-freedom activist Lhasang Tsering said: “The middle path was a mistake from the very beginning. It had gained some sort of an acceptance because it came from a person of the stature of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But it was a painful acceptance.”

The debate over how far Tibet should go in talks with China has been intensified by the growing worldwide concern at human rights violations in Tibet. The Karmapa’s flight has forced the Tibetan government-in-exile to reconsider its pacifist policy.

The middle path, which is actually a five-point peace proposal, was first outlined by the Dalai Lama on September 21, 1987, while addressing the human rights caucus of the American House of Representatives.

It called for a) demilitarisation and neutralisation of Tibet, b) cessation of China’s population transfer and withdrawal of all Chinese settlers, c) respect for Tibet’s environment, including a ban on dumping nuclear wastes in Tibet, d) respect for the Tibetan people’s religious rights and freedoms and e) negotiations with Beijing while accepting that Tibet was a part of China.

It is the fifth point which created a furore, with those opposed to the Dalai Lama calling it a “complete sellout to the Chinese”.

Addressing the European parliament in Strasburg, France, on June 15, 1988, His Holiness elaborated the fifth point. According to this, China was asked to grant internal autonomy to Tibet, though it would remain under Chinese rule and China would control Tibet’s foreign policy. This was the famous Strasburg declaration.

Since then, there has been much debate about the policy but the administration-in-exile has steadfastly backed the Dalai Lama’s proposal. However, the Karmapa’s flight has rekindled the fire of the freedom movement.    

New Delhi, Jan. 15 
In an attempt to break the ice between its estranged Bihar allies, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United), the BJP has convened an informal meeting on Monday to prepare the ground for negotiations on seat-sharing and a joint campaign.

Senior BJP vice-president in charge of Bihar, Kailashpati Mishra, has taken the initiative for a patch-up. While the JD(U) has agreed to attend the meeting, the Samata has not yet made up its mind.

Samata general secretary Jaya Jaitley said a final decision will be taken tonight once Union minister Nitish Kumar returned from Bihar. Nitish has vehemently opposed the idea of a merger with the JD(U), though both the parties fought the last Lok Sabha polls jointly.

Nitish said at a rally in Patna that the Samata Party was a “hardcore” opponent of Laloo Prasad Yadav while the JD(U) was only a “new convert”. “When a new convert tries to pass unwanted counselling, it just becomes unbearable,” he said.

“We would like to hold separate discussions with the BJP,” Jaitley said, adding that the Samata Party had been talking to BJP leaders ever since the Bihar Assembly polls were notified. Jaitley said the Samata Party was sticking to its demand to contest a minimum of 130 of the 324 seats in Bihar. “It is the absolute bottomline,” she said. She said her party had identified prospective candidates and that the “list is complete and ready”.

Jaitley also indicated that the Samata Party was not willing to give up seats to the JD(U). “In 1995, we were ahead of the BJP in 130 seats and we have figures and data to prove we have been growing from strength to strength. As far as the JD(U) is concerned, I don’t think they even have figures to prove that they can contest 20 seats which we think is all that they are entitled to,” she said.

The JD(U), which is banking on the BJP to sort out the tangle, has welcomed “tripartite” talks. “We were always interested in a three-way talk, instead of holding negotiations with just the Samata,” JD(U) spokesman Mohan Prakash said.While refusing to reveal the JD(U)’s expectations, Prakash said previous results should not be the only yardstick for allotting seats. “Other factors will also have to be considered like the seat-wise caste composition and the candidates’ winning prospects,” he said.

While the Samata Party is expected to be represented by Nitish at Monday’s meeting, Ram Vilas Paswan will represent the JD(U). The talks will be held at BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre’s residence.

A four-member JD(U) negotiating team from Bihar, headed by Brijendra Yadav, is also expected to be present.    

Ahmedabad, Jan. 15 
Its French connection will save Ahmedabad from an early death.

The old walled city area of Ahmedabad, with its crumbling havelis and highly-wrought darwajas — decrepit when not stolen — had looked all set to be buried beneath the shadows of factory chimneys and skyscrapers.

Last Saturday, a French government delegation decided it was time to step in. The French embassy, represented by ambassador Claude Blanchemaison, and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation signed an agreement on the immediate need for “cooperation to revitalise the ancient centre of the city of Ahmedabad”.

The idea dates back to Jacques Chirac’s 1998 visit to India. The French President had asked the chief of heritage projects in France, Dupavillon, to identify heritage sites in India which could be saved.

After numerous and sustained visits to India Dupavillon decided that Ahmedabad, especially the walled city area, needed “urgent and drastic help”. He thought that the different poles (colonies) with their distinct, intricately-worked havelis (mansions) and darwajas (gateways), were unique.

After two conferences, called “Sambhava 1” and “Sambhava 2” in 1998 and 1999, jointly organised by the French embassy and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage along with the Indian Institute of Management, the old city area was chosen as “an experimental field of application for the Indo-French cooperation in urban revitalisation”.

The objective was to establish a “model plan” of revitalisation of the ancient centre of Ahmedabad, segregated by ancient brick walls.

As part of the agreement, an Indo-French team will submit a guideline by 2000 for the project. A team of architects, who will draw up a heritage inventory and undertake surveys of the area, and a team of technicians who will record the collected date, are already in place.

The French are providing a town-planner. The main architect will be based in Ahmedabad and will be in charge of many surveys and of making a blueprint for the project. There will also be expert and high-level specialists in the field of inventory, renovation, restoration techniques, legislation and financial set-up.

The French architect to be stationed here, Frederic Auclair, who has started learning Gujarati, is said to be “very happy” with the way things are going.

The French ambassador echoed him, saying: “Ahmedabad is a dynamic city with lots of potential”. Blanchemaison also emphasised the need to create more awareness about the important heritage site “which is not very well known right now”.

The ambassador, who promised that the blueprint for the project would be ready by the beginning of 2001, said Ahmedabad was a “fascinating city to be made an example of”.

The French are not too worried about the bureaucratic hassles. “There will be no hurdles”, a delegation member said.

“It is one of the few instances where an understanding with a major (Indian) city has been established directly,” he added. “It will be more of an exchange or ideas with both sides equally involved.”

Sambhava 3, the last of the Indo-French seminars on revitalisation schemes, will coincide with the publication of blueprints for other historical cities facing annihilation.

Indian officials, however, looked uncomfortable when asked why it took the French to initiate restoration on our heritage.    

Calcutta, Jan. 15 
The Citu and Intuc have jointly called an all-India industrial strike on February 2 to protest the Centre’s policy on disinvestment in public sector undertakings and privatisation. The move has, however, been opposed by the Trinamul Trade Union Congress led by party MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay. It said a token strike will not help industrial workers. “We know that the Central PSUs are in deplorable condition and workers are not getting their wages regularly. We have already drawn the Centre’s attention to the issue and intend to send a delegation to Delhi shortly to meet the industry minister. We feel the problem can be solved not by resorting to a strike but by opening a meaningful dialogue with the Centre,” Chattopadhyay said. While the Intuc does not see anything wrong in organising a strike with the Citu, the Trinamul holds the Left Front government “mainly responsible” for the dismal industrial scene in West Bengal.    

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