Delhi wary of Nepal clean chit to Pak
Uma quit letter awaits PM date
Tibetan council on Karmapa tightrope
Risky farm Bill bid

New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
India is apprehensive that Nepal might give a clean chit to Pakistan absolving Islamabad of its complicity, as alleged by New Delhi, in the recent hijack of the Indian Airlines airbus.

Nepal foreign minister Ram Sharan Mahat is behind the attempt to water down the Pakistani angle, despite the best intentions of Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and other senior colleagues like the home minister and the civil aviation minister. The inquiry report is expected shortly.

India’s ambassador to Nepal K.V. Rajan, who was here recently, briefed South Block officials on developments in Kathmandu after the hijack. Delhi has assessed that Nepal’s foreign ministry is out of sync with the Bhattarai government on the hijack.

One reason behind that could be Nepal’s internal politics. With Bhattarai’s position much weakened, there is a feeling that he may have to quit in less than six months. This has, perhaps, prompted leaders like Mahat to assert themselves.

With many politicians having succeeded on an anti-India plank in the past, Mahat, by distancing himself from Bhattarai’s close links with Delhi, may be positioning himself as the future Prime Minister. Many in Nepal are unhappy with India’s initial outburst against Kathmandu and its allegations that one of the hijackers was a Nepalese national.

Mahat’s “independent” line became clear soon after the hijack when Indian investigators were refused permission to visit Tribhuban International Airport on the plea of sovereignty. He did not want foreign agencies to start investigating since local officials were already on the job.

“We cannot accept this position and fail to understand how it raises questions about the country’s sovereignty,” a foreign ministry official said. He argued that India did not object when the United States sent FBI agents to find out more about the hijack as one of the hostages was an American.

Later, the Nepalese foreign ministry extended diplomatic immunity to a clerk in the Pakistani high commission who was arrested with counterfeit Indian currency, and allowed him to return to Islamabad. The clerk was not eligible for diplomatic cover and officials felt that he should have been tried in Kathmandu.

South Block officials said Mahat is seen to be “too close to Pakistan” and their assessment is that he would do everything within his powers to scuttle any move to establish Islamabad’s complicity in the hijack.

India has often complained to Nepal that ISI agents were masterminding terrorist activities from its soil. When foreign minister Jaswant Singh visited Nepal last year, he was told steps would be taken to prevent this.

But with the hijack once again proving that Nepal has done precious little to curb terrorism, Delhi now wants to adopt a carrot-and-stick policy. Unless Nepal cooperates fully on dealing with terrorists and ISI activities, financial aid and other help from Delhi will also not be forthcoming, is the message India wants to send to Kathmandu now.    

New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will meet Uma Bharti in a day or two to discuss her resignation from the Cabinet before taking a decision on the matter.

Uma Bharti, minister of state for tourism, had faxed her resignation to Vajpayee yesterday alleging that some BJP councillors had been roughed up by the police in Bhopal recently during municipality elections. The injured councillors, admitted at the Hamidia hospital here, sparked a fresh row last night when they misbehaved with junior doctors for “inadequate treatment”. The arguments led to a scuffle, after which the corporators were beaten up severely by the doctors, who went on a one-day strike this morning.

Uma Bharti had put in her papers stating she wanted to play a more active role in the agitation against Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh. In her home state still, the minister will arrive in Delhi in a day or two.

Sumitra Mahajan, minister of state for human resources development, held a press conference this evening and said Uma Bharti was “right” in her decision to resign. But Mahajan, Lok Sabha MP from Indore, added that she had no plans to follow suit. “It is not right for a minister to agitate and protest on the streets. Uma Bharti put in her resignation because she felt that such action on her part will embarrass the Union government,” she said.

Earlier today, Mahajan had an intensive discussion with the Prime Minister after returning from Bhopal where the fight between the ruling Congress and the BJP is hotting up. “The Prime Minister will talk to Uma Bharti in a day or two,” said Mahajan.

Like the tourism minister, Mahajan suggested that the struggle against the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and particularly its chief minister will take on a more militant form. “I told the Prime Minister the situation in Madhya Pradesh can get worse,” Mahajan stressed. She said she has also informed the BJP president of what is “going on” in Madhya Pradesh, where she alleged Singh is terrorising administrative officials.

The immediate provocation for Uma Bharti’s resignation was the Congress-sponsored “foul play” in the Bhopal Municipal Corporation president’s election. “After all she is an elected representative of the Bhopal constituency,” Mahajan said.

Uma Bharti, however, has not restricted the resignation issue to Bhopal. This is just the “beginning” of a wider and tougher battle, she said. As minister of the women and children department Mahajan has sought an inquiry by the National Commission for Women into the alleged manhandling of BJP women supporters by policemen. “The commission will reach Bhopal tomorrow to conduct an inquiry,” she said.

At the press conference, Mahajan said “there can be different forms to the struggle against Digvijay Singh”. Like Uma Bharti she made it clear that the BJP’s main aim was to force Singh out of the chief minister’s seat.

In Bhopal, Singh had visited the Hamidia hospital around 10.30 last night. “The councillors are not as injured as publicised by the BJP. I would suggest that they be checked by an independent high-power medical board. If they are found really injured, they may be shifted to the AIIMS, New Delhi,” Singh said.

Advani advice

Union home minister L.K. Advani today said he had advised Bharti not to protest against the government while being part of the central ministry, adds PTI.    

McLeodgunj, Jan. 16: 
As the cloud lingers over the status of the 17th Karmapa, opinion is growing within the Tibetan government-in-exile that he will be “better placed” to return to his country and “work quietly for the Tibetan cause”.

Several Tibetan ministers and top officials met here yesterday to discuss this option as a way out of the crisis which is threatening to cast a shadow on Indo-Chinese diplomatic relations.

Delhi is also not against sending the Karmapa back to Tibet. Joint secretary in the foreign ministry T.R. Rangachary, who held talks with Tibetan officials here last week, reportedly said that India continued to back Tibet’s case in its stand-off with China, but could not afford to jeopardise relations with Beijing. .

With pressure mounting from all sides, the government-in-exile is on a tightrope. Any decision to send the Karmapa back is likely to spark outrage as popular Tibetan sentiment across the country is in favour of him staying on in India. A team from Rumtek is on its way to meet the leader and urge him to take over the monastery immediately.

Though the Tibetan administration has upped the ante against China, it realises the result of a deterioration in Delhi’s ties with Beijing. “India needs good links with China and we need to continue our good relations with India. We have to tread very delicately,” Lhasang Tsering, former chief of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said.

As the Tibetan administration readies for the balancing act, Gyalstab, one of the four regents, looking after the Kagyu seat till the Karmapa turns 21, is scheduled to arrive here shortly to request the leader to go to Rumtek and claim the Black Crown.

Those in the government-in-exile who feel that the Karmapa should return say that apart from the two Panchen Lamas, there is no senior leader left in Tibet to fight for their cause. All senior Lamas are in exile in India.

In normal times, the Panchen Lama is the second-most important figure in the Yellow Hat sect after the Dalai Lama. But the 9-year-old, who Beijing insists is the Panchen Lama incarnate, has been seen only once in Tibet: Last June, he presided over religious ceremonies, surrounded by armed guards. He lives in a villa outside Beijing.

Another boy, also 9, certified by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, has disappeared. China considers it an offence to possess his photograph. A senior official said: “The fear that China will inflict torture and arrest the Karmapa may be unfounded because so much international attention has been focused on his escape.”

International scholars and Tibet-watchers also plug this line. Agencies quoted Robbie Barnett, a researcher in Chinese studies at Columbia University, as saying that “the Karmapa’s tutelage under the Chinese may place him in a unique position to work quietly for the Tibetan cause”. He said he would not be surprised if the Karmapa eventually returned to Tibet.

Barnett added that like the last Panchen Lama, who was able to extract concessions for Tibet, the 17th Karmapa has “the same guts and determination” and the background to deal with Beijing.    

New Delhi, Jan. 16: 
Going against the wishes of several allies and a section of its own party, the BJP government is planning to introduce a legislation in the budget session to improve the lot of agricultural workers.

Successive governments had tried to push through laws in this crucial sector in the past but failed because of opposition from the rich farmers’ lobbies in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Recent meetings convened to draft the proposed legislation have been acrimonious.

A government spokesperson said the move was aimed at “protecting the interests of agricultural labourers”. “One of the most striking features of the proposed legislation is the creation of a welfare fund out of levy or cess on agricultural products and agro-food items processing”, he added.

Other points in the Bill are “flexibility on the date of enforcement of the legislation by the state governments”. This is to give the states time to convince the rich landlord community that it would have to pay attention to the welfare of the workforce.

The official, however, clarified that the states would not be allowed to use this long rope to keep on deferring the legislation.

The law will specify that anyone owning one hectare or more of agricultural land will have to register himself and all his workers.

Identity cards will have to be issued to these workers. The legislation proposes that several terms and conditions of agricultural labour be standardised. These include hours of work, rest period, overtime, harvesting wages and employment preference to those who have worked on a particular land in a previous season.

First aid facilities will have to be organised in the farming area. The Bill also provides for the appointment of conciliation officers to handle work-related disputes.

There is focus on special schemes for women workers, including prohibition of their employment after sunset and in arduous and dangerous jobs.

The government appears to be eyeing the large electorate of agricultural workers who far outnumber the rich landowners. The 1991 census put the number of agricultural workers at 74.6 million. By now, it must have grown by another 10 million. Women form one-third of this workforce.

But strong resistance can be expected from Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala, Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal as well as Jat and Thakur leaders in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.    


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