Roller-coaster ride for UP
Delhi sees home trigger in blasts
Advani ace for Bihar deal
Red rebel row in state court
Samata slaps fraud charges on Janata
Hijack steers Kashmir into focus

Jan. 20 
The Uttar Pradesh government and the power sector employees were locked tonight in seemingly intractable positions, but official negotiators kept the communication lines open and assured the unions that workers’ rights would be protected in the reforms regime.

Negotiations were on a rollercoaster ride through the day and looked set to reach a flashpoint when the government announced the dismissal of 141 more engineers. The postures hardened further after the All-India Power Engineers’ Federation gave notice to the Centre that it would observe a 24-hour strike from the midnight of January 23. If no solution is reached by then, the federation would call an all-India strike.

But government sources insisted that they are hopeful that the striking unions would relent on their basic demand — withdrawal of the notification for restructuring of the state electricity board.

Officials admitted that there was a delay in explaining to the employees that even if privatisation took place, their service conditions, pay scales and retirement benefits would be protected.

State chief secretary Yogendra Narayan said: “We have issued a government order explicitly stating that even if corporations for distribution, thermal and hydro-generation are privatised, the government would protect the salaries and benefits of all employees. An option will also be given to them to decide on which corporation they wish to join.”

Uttar Pradesh power minister Naresh Agarwal today held a three-hour meeting with 30 striking employees, including those arrested under the National Security Act. At least three leaders were taken from Sitapur jail to Agarwal’s official residence here for the talks. The talks were inconclusive, but another round was scheduled late in the night.

Union sources said no concrete agreement is expected till tomorrow. Officially, the unions maintain that the basic issue of restructuring was “not negotiable”.

Employees stuck to their stand that the government should withdraw or, at least, postpone the reforms. Shailendra Dubey, secretary-general of the Northern India Power Engineers Federation and media convener of the committee of striking employees, said: “We will ask the government to postpone the restructuring for one year. During this time, we will generate profits and raise resources. If we fail to do so, the government will be free to go ahead with its programme.”

The state, however, made it clear that the request cannot be granted. Rohit Nandan, OSD to the power department drafted in to explain the government stance to employees and the industry, told The Telegraph: “Let us be absolutely clear. There will be no roll back and no postponement.”

But the charge that the government has not been able to counter fully is that the reforms process was hastened to meet the World Bank condition of splitting up the power board before a Rs 4,300-crore loan could be sanctioned.

The critics of the restructuring point out that there are no guidelines for the transfer of assets, including immovable assets worth Rs 150,000 crore.

The government has reserved the right to fix the price of land, buildings and other immovable assets. The unions have alleged that there will be massive under-valuation and assets would be sold at throwaway prices against kickbacks.    

New Delhi, Jan. 20 
The home ministry does not believe that all high-grade explosives used by terrorists are smuggled in from Pakistan as several devices have been procured from factories in India.

At a meeting with North Block bureaucrats, police chiefs of seven states used by the ISI were told that the blame cannot be shifted to Pakistan after every arms seizure and the investigations should centre around government-run or private factories manufacturing explosives for industrial purposes.

Police directors-general of Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal were present at the meeting.

Says a home ministry report: ‘‘The issue regarding the likely source from which supply of explosives could reach the hands of terrorists and anti-national elements has been considered recently.

It appears that these sources could be smuggling from across the border, illegal manufacture, theft or pilferage from the stocks of various manufacturers or end users. Investigations have confirmed that the perpetrators of the blasts were able to obtain high grade explosives through licensed agents or firms.’’

The report draws up several cases in which explosives were illegally procured by the terrorists from government-run and private factories to set off serial blasts.

The explosives used in the February 1998 Coimbatore blasts targeted at home minister L.K. Advani were obtained from the Indian Explosives Corporation, a factory based in Mysore.

Powerful gelatine sticks were used in all the 17 blasts, set off by timer devices. Investigations revealed that the factory had made several illegal supplies to unauthorised quarry and mine owners.

Four days ago, 200 kg of gelatine sticks were seized at Hazaribagh.

According to home ministry sources, this was part of a 8000-kg consignment which disappeared while being transported to Orissa from a factory in Maharashtra.

‘‘The sticks were supposed to be delivered to various consignees in Orissa, but we are baffled how a substantial part, which can blow up several buildings at one go, could land up in Bihar,’’ a senior official said. ‘‘It is not always that explosives, even the plastic variety like RDX, are smuggled in from Pakistan,’’ he added.

Officials at today’s meeting agreed to work to plug loopholes and tighten laws which regulate the functioning of explosives manufacturers.

As a first step, police bosses of the seven states were told that district magistrates and superintendents have to ensure that all explosive manufacturing units located on their territories provide prior information on transport of consignments.

Second, in no case will licences of the manufacturers be issued or renewed without police verification on the owners’ antecedents. The manufacturers will also have to state what explosives they will produce and whom they will do business with.

Under the law, district magistrates can authorise setting up units which produce a maximum of five kg of explosive substances. For production of explosives over five kg, permission has to be sought from the department of explosives under the commerce ministry.    

New Delhi, Jan. 20 
Home minister L.K. Advani stepped in to resolve the Bihar impasse that reached its third day today, with the Janata Dal (United) and Samata Party unwilling to accept each other’s seat demands for the Assembly polls next month.

Advani — who had been keeping a low profile in the run-up to the elections — held two sets of meetings today with JD(U) leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav, and Samata bosses George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar. Advani reportedly stressed the necessity of sinking their differences to unite against Laloo Prasad Yadav.

BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, though officially no longer in charge of Bihar, was present at the meetings.

Govindacharya is believed to have built the Bihar BJP at the grassroots and is credited with effecting an “image makeover” from an upper caste party to one of backward castes and Dalits as well. Party sources stressed he was one of the few central leaders familiar with constituency-wise caste equations which make or mar fortunes in Bihar.

“It is a very good thing that Advaniji has taken over matters,” said Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, present at the meetings. Leader of the Opposition in Bihar Assembly, Modi is believed to be close to the Advani-Govindacharya duo. Kailashpati Mishra, the central BJP leader in charge of Bihar, also attended the meetings.

With Advani’s intervention, the Bihar crisis does seem to inch closer to a resolution. BJP sources claimed that both the JD(U) and Samata had agreed “in principle” to give the BJP 50 per cent of the seats and share the rest among themselves and the Bihar People’s Party (BPP). It means 162 of the 324 seats will go to the BJP.

The BJP expects a final solution before January 24, the last date for nomination filing for the first phase. It has finalised the candidates’ list. Prominent contestants are Modi, Bihar BJP chief Nand Kishore Yadav and state leader Sarju Rai.

Although the JD(U) and Samata were initially against accommodating the BPP, the BJP leaders pointed out that the party chief Anand Mohan Singh had “considerable clout” with the Rajput community and could upset the NDA’s applecart in at least 40 seats.

The BJP has agreed to leave the Bellary Lok Sabha seat to the JD(U) and field Uttar Pradesh minister Ashok Yadav from Kannauj. Yadav will be pitted against Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh.

Of the eight assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, where bypolls will be held, the BJP has decided to contest six and leave one each to its allies, the Loktanrtik Congress Party and the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party.

The BJP’s central election committee is scheduled to meet again on January 27 to finalise the candidates for the remaining phases of the Bihar polls as well as for Orissa and Manipur. In Orissa, party sources were confident that the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) would eventually agree on a 50:50 seat ratio. The BJP vice-president in charge of Orissa, Pyarelal Khandelwal is in Bhubaneswar to talk to the BJD.

Sources added that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was expected to mediate with Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana.    

New Delhi, Jan. 20 
The CPM has left it to the discretion of the West Bengal state committee to clinch the row over rebel Saifuddin Chowdhury. The party leadership in Delhi is awaiting Saifuddin’s reply, expected by Sunday, to the showcause notice served by the high command before they take a decision.

The crucial issue before the state committee is whether to accept Saifuddin’s reply as satisfactory, at least for the time being, or expel him on grounds of indiscipline. While the central leadership has been treating the rebels with kid gloves, the hardliners feel that Saifuddin “should not be allowed to go too far”. The Delhi bosses have given enough indication that it will not agree to a discussion on an alternative party programme in the lower levels of the party hierarchy.

The West Bengal state committee’s decision will be endorsed by the central committee. “The state committee has to decide first. The central committee will then ratify the decision,” clarified a CPM politburo member. The situation remains fluid and it is difficult to predict Saifuddin’s fate in the hands of the state committee.

The party would have come down heavily on Saifuddin had he not enjoyed the support of heavyweights like transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and a host of other leaders from South 24 Parganas.

“The path taken by Saifuddin is self-defeating,” said a senior party leader. The leadership would like to ensure Saifuddin’s isolation within the party in case the state committee expels him.

Till now heavyweights like Subhas and Samir Putatunda are standing firmly by Saifuddin. Reports say Subhas has said he would consider any action against him a “blessing in disguise”. The CPM general secretary, however, said he knew nothing about Subhas’ comment and would check out the issue with him.

The central leadership is keen to mollify Subhas and his comrades from the “troublesome” South 24 Parganas because they enjoy grassroots support and could turn the heat on the CPM in West Bengal. Marginalising Saifuddin, the leaders believe, is not going to be such a tough job because the former MP has been cut off from the heart of CPM politics since he was dropped from the central committee at the party’s Chandigarh Congress in 1996.

Since then Saifuddin has been in Delhi despite the state unit’s requests to shift him to his home state. The dissident decided to stick it out in Delhi before coming out with his grievances.

The West Bengal state committee could open a can of worms if it expels Saifuddin and Subhas and his “like-minded” friends continue to stick to their demand of intra-party reforms. Saifuddin has been charged with “leaking information to the media” — a breach of party discipline. Much depends on Saifuddin’s answer — if he wants to avoid expulsion he may couch his answer in a way that he sticks to his stand and yet appears to compromise.

On the other hand, if the rebels are ready for an all-out battle and Saifuddin is confident of taking the whole lot with him then his reply may be a hard-hitting one.    

New Delhi, Jan. 20 
The Samata Party today accused the JD (U) of committing a fraud to prove before the Election Commission that Samata did not exist.

Samata general secretary Jaya Jaitly said that on December 24, when party chief George Fernandes was away in the Northeast, JD(U) leaders “unauthorisedly notarised” a draft affidavit which said the JD(U) and the Samata Party had merged and that Sharad Yadav would be the president of the unified group.

This affidavit was rejected at the steering committee meeting as Samata Party wanted deletion of the sentence mentioning Yadav as president.

Jaitley contended that while attesting such affidavits before a notary public, presence of the authorised signatories is a must. Fernandes, Manjay Lal and Jainarain Prasad Nishad, authorised Samata signatories, were not present before the notary public, she said.

However, the Election Commission today declared that Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and eight other Samata MPs were members of the JD(U) and could not be treated as Samata office-bearers for the coming Assembly elections.

In a communication to Jaitly, secretary to the commission K.J. Rao said as per the records of the Election Commission and the Lok Sabha secretariat, the two Union ministers and the eight others were JD(U) members and could not sign forms A and B for candidates of the recognised Samata Party.    

New Delhi, Jan. 20 
The “successful” hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus has, to India’s dismay, brought not just terrorism into focus but has also riveted the attention of world leaders, particularly of the West, on Kashmir.

That Kashmir has been dragged back into international focus is clear from the way foreign minister Jaswant Singh is having to fend off ticklish questions on the issue.

After the Kargil conflict ended, New Delhi had gone full throttle ahead with its anti-terrorism campaign and Kashmir was put on the backburner. World leaders also condemned the recent hijack which India claims was done with Islamabad’s complicity.

“Pakistan has to recognise that the compulsive hostility it demonstrates towards India must cease,” Singh said in an interview with the BBC today, while maintaining that resumption of dialogue with Pakistan can only take place once Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism.

“These are not preconditions. These are essential integrals for the creation of a proper environment,” he told the interviewer.

The foreign minister’s reaction can also be taken as New Delhi’s first official response to the offer made by General. Pervez Musharraf who expressed a keenness to resume dialogue with India in an interview given to an Indian newspaper recently.

Though Singh may have only stressed India’s position in the post-Kargil period, there is also a feeling that New Delhi will soon be under pressure to resume contact with Islamabad to clear the hostile climate in South Asia.

In the interview, Gen. Musharraf not only said he wanted India to accept his regime as Pakistan’s legitimate government, he also said that the international community in general and the United States in particular should play a role in forcing India and Pakistan to settle this “core” Kashmir dispute to restore peace in nuclearised South Asia.

A section of the foreign ministry feels that even if US President Bill Clinton does not visit Pakistan during his proposed tour of South Asia in March, Musharraf will continue to bargain with Washington that there should be a degree of internationalisation of the Kashmir issue.

India has tried to nail Pakistan on the hijacking issue and get it declared a terrorist state by the US.

But though Washington has agreed to set up a joint working group with New Delhi on counter-terrorism and also cooperate to bring the hijackers to book, it has so far shown no interest to publicly blame Islamabad for encouraging terrorist activities in the region.    


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