Sangh retreats to bail out Atal
Kargil purchases come under vigilance watch
Nitish claims big bite off Laloo pie
Allies threaten cut motion on price
Atal A-team runs into Clinton closed door
Calcutta weather

 
 
SANGH RETREATS TO BAIL OUT ATAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 6 
Keen to avoid a showdown between the BJP and its allies on the RSS controversy, Sangh chief Rajju Bhaiyya has paved the way for Gujarat to rescind its order lifting the ban on employees joining the outfit.

Rajju Bhaiyya made it clear the Sangh “would like to be outside the vortex of contentious politics”, and “in line with its well-known position”, it was “unconcerned whether the original circular of the Gujarat government existed or not”.

Maintaining that Gujarat’s decision was “obviously based on its own assessment that the RSS is a socio-cultural organisation and not a political body”, Rajju Bhaiyya expressed concern at the Opposition making his organisation a “scapegoat for their own failures”. “They have gone to the length of using the RSS issue to paralyse Parliament. The frustration of these parties is irremediable,” he said.

Indicating that the RSS would not be affected even if the Gujarat circular was withdrawn, he echoed senior BJP leaders who have stressed that “every time the RSS was banned, it has emerged stronger and grown faster”.

Asked to comment on Rajju Bhaiyya’s statement, a senior BJP Union minister said: “The message is loud and clear. We hope the Gujarat government grasps it and retracts its order.”

Although the BJP claimed the Centre would not issue any directive to Gujarat, party sources admitted the RSS chief’s statement will pre-empt possible criticism of the Vajpayee government by BJP hardliners as well as head off attacks from allies and the Opposition. It will also give the Keshubhai Patel government a face-saver to rescind its order.

“A statement from the sarsanghchalak is the most credible articulation for the cadre,” said sources.

Home minister L.K. Advani’s stout defence of the RSS in the Rajya Sabha last week went down “well” with the BJP hawks, particularly those from Gujarat, who were reportedly perturbed by the conflicting signals from the NDA.

PMK chief S. Ramadoss said in Chennai: “There is strong opposition to the decision all over the country. When I meet the Prime Minister, I will certainly tell him about my party’s reservations on this.”

The Gujarat chief minister, who was to have come down to Delhi to “brief” state MPs on the controversy, was told by the party leadership to keep away until the matter was sorted out.

This is the second time in less than a month that the RSS has stepped in to bail out the Vajpayee government. The government came in for flak after Advani and Rajju Bhaiyya indicated the Centre may also emulate Gujarat.

The RSS chief issued a similar statement after Vajpayee persuaded him to “back off”.    


 
 
KARGIL PURCHASES COME UNDER VIGILANCE WATCH 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, March 6 
The defence ministry is preparing a fact sheet on “questionable” and “motivated” Kargil-related purchases which will be sent to the Central Vigilance Commission before the formal start of the probe into all defence deals since 1985-86.

The preparation of the fact sheet has fuelled speculation about irregularities in several transactions.

A joint secretary in the defence ministry, R.P. Bagai, is co-ordinating the preparation of the fact sheet.

One of the most glaring irregularities that has come to the notice of senior army and defence officials is the “reckless” approach of negotiating officials to “single vendors” through “single tender”.

Contracts were signed with selected manufacturers for procuring 155 mm shells of different varieties, laser-guided weapons, all-purpose vehicles, thermal imaging systems, snow boots, weapon locating radars and high resolution binoculars, to name a few.

In other words, in all the 80-odd deals made during the Kargil war and afterwards (between July and September 1999), the buyers struck deals with one firm per country without even floating global tenders.

The “suspect” purchases have raised eyebrows in several quarters and even defence minister George Fernandes has been “incensed” over the violation of all norms.

Although some in the army and the defence ministry argue that “expediency” necessitated quick shopping, sources revealed why rules were given the go-by and equipment bought without being tested.

In several cases, middlemen are believed have played crucial roles — the very thing that Fernandes wanted probed when he ordered the inquiry into all purchases by the armed forces in the past 15 years.

In at least one case, the ministry has started investigation into the “illicit liaisoning” of a particular arms dealer, believed to have been involved in the purchase of weapon locating radars from a company based in Ukraine.

The Delhi-based dealer is believed to have met members of the price negotiating committee, comprising officials from the army, defence ministry and the ministry’s finance section.

Some of the deals in which irregularities have been noticed are:

Weapon locating radars: The Rs 200-crore deal has come under a cloud because the army settled for purchasing them from a company in Ukraine, a blacklisted country.

Thermal imaging systems: A contract was signed with a firm but the order was eventually given to another even though the trials reportedly failed at high altitude.

Snow boots: Orders were placed with a firm which charged more. But a bulk of the snow boots is yet to be delivered.

High resolution binoculars: A Rs 8-crore deal with a Singapore manufacturer.

A senior army official personally took a price quotation from the company even though the defence ministry is supposed to negotiate the price and work out the commercial part of a deal.

However, when Bharat Electronics was approached it a gave quotation 25 per cent less than the Singapore firm.    


 
 
NITISH CLAIMS BIG BITE OFF LALOO PIE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, March 6 
The Nitish Kumar camp today claimed to have pulled off a mini-coup on the eve of the Assembly session, saying 25 MLAs from Laloo Yadav’s group had verbally promised to support him.

The new Bihar chief minister swooped down on RJD fence-sitters after getting a lukewarm response from the Congress MLAs, whom he tried to lure by dangling the bait of the Speaker’s job. The NDA strategy could be put to test on Thursday, if the RJD forces an election for the Speaker’s post.

Ganesh Yadav, the Janata Dal (U) legislature party leader who clinched the deal, said: “Our problem is how to accommodate everyone in the ministry. But at least 25 RJD MLAs have agreed.”

Sources close to Nitish said the legislators comprised Ganesh Yadav’s caste cousins and Dalits who did not find a place in Rabri Devi’s ministry. The leader of the rebel group is a Dalit MLA from Hajipur angry with Laloo for going back on his promise to give him the deputy chief minister’s job in 1996.

But NDA legal experts pointed out that the 25 legislators would attract the anti-defection law if they crossed floors. The NDA needs to wean away at least 41 RJD MLAs to officially split the legislature party.

As a way out, the alliance has decided to fall back on the formula adopted to break the deadlock in Uttar Pradesh after the 1998 elections. The breakaway group of the BSP, risking legal action, had defied the party whip and bailed out the Kalyan Singh government. The Speaker recognised the split as more BSP legislators later joined the rebel group.

According to the NDA gameplan, the alliance, after winning the trust vote with the help of the 25 RJD members, will single out 16 more legislators and woo them by dangling plum posts.

Nitish targeted the RJD as his earlier strategy of luring the 11 Congress MLAs from Jharkhand by offering the Speaker’s post to Viswamohan Sharma did not pay off. Laloo’s announcement that his party was ready to carve out a separate state seemed to have worked as Congress rebel Bina Sahi could regroup only four MLAs opposed to the RJD chief. Nineteen of the Congress’ 23 legislators joined the rally in Delhi against the RSS.

The first task before the NDA, which is still 11 short of majority, is to get a Speaker favourable to the alliance. Sushil Modi, named legislative affairs minister, said the Opposition should let the NDA decide on the Speaker.

The RJD has demanded that the Speaker be elected by a vote in the House. Warned Shivanand Tiwari, the party’s nominee: “If Nitish wants to continue as chief minister till March 10, he should concede the post to us. Otherwise, his government will fall.”    


 
 
ALLIES THREATEN CUT MOTION ON PRICE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 6 
The BJP’s allies today warned of moving a cut motion if the increase in prices of foodgrain for the poor and fertilisers are not rolled back.

Two powerful allies, the Telugu Desam Party and the Janata Dal (United) said they could go “to any extent since the issue affected poor people.”

The Dal(U) made it clear that it would consider moving a cut motion if finance minister Yashwant Sinha did not consider its demand. Sinha had, last week, ruled out a rollback.

The alliance leaders are planning to meet the finance minister tomorrow. Today, a delegation of supporting parties called on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and submitted a memorandum calling for the rollback of foodgrain and fertiliser prices.

Telugu Desam Party leader K. Yerran Naidu said the Prime Minister assured them that he would look into the matter.

“If the hike is not withdrawn, we will adopt a new strategy both in Parliament and outside,” said Devendra Prasad Yadav, deputy leader of Dal(U) in the Lok Sabha.

Both Naidu and Yadav took strong exception to BJP not taking the allies into confidence before drafting the budget and said had the partners been consulted, such a situation would not have arisen. Naidu said a “coalition government should consult supporting parties before taking any important decision”.

Yadav, during whose tenure as Union food minister, a scheme was launched to provide foodgrain at half the public distribution system price to those below poverty line said: “There cannot be any compromise on matters of public interest.”

Asked if the allies would bring a cut motion to the budgetary demands for grants, he said, “It can’t be decided unilaterally. It is for all the allies to decide together.”

The Dal(U) leader also said government’s justification that price of foodgrain for targeted public distribution system (TPDS) was half of the economic cost was wrong as the calculation was always done on the basis of market cost of foodgrain.

The memorandum said the budget “proposed a substantial reduction of about 12 per cent in food subsidy; and 4.5 per cent cut in fertiliser subsidy. It is needless to highlight that the poor and the farmers will be adversely hit by these proposals.”

It said providing relief to the poor through the targeted public distribution system and for farmers through fertiliser subsidy was an aspect on which there was wider political consensus. It added that the fertiliser price hike will in due course lead to escalation in prices of foodgrain causing further burden on the states on account of their commitments to targeted public distribution system.

Apart from Naidu and Yadav, the memorandum was signed by Samata Party leader Raghunath Jha, Anant Geete(Shiv Sena), C. Kuppusami (DMK), Trilochan Singh (Akali Dal), Vaiko(MDMK), D. Elangovan(PMK), Sushil Indora(INLD) and S. Thirunavukarasu(MGR-ADMK).    


 
 
ATAL A-TEAM RUNS INTO CLINTON CLOSED DOOR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 6 
Senior ministers in the Vajpayee government who were making a beeline to call on Bill Clinton during his visit here have been stopped in their tracks with White House making it clear the US President does not entertain such niceties.

Home minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, defence minister George Fernandes, power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam and information technology minister Pramod Mahajan were among those keen on exclusive parleys with Clinton.

Instead, they have been told to be content with meeting the US President during the delegation-level talks between the two sides. Alternately, they can hold separate discussions with their American counterparts.

The two sides also appear to disagree on who should sign the “Vision Statement” along with Clinton. While Indians want Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to sign the document, the Americans want President K.R. Narayanan to be part of it.

If the President is made part of the joint statement, this will be a departure from past practice. The Prime Minister, being the head of government, has countersigned joint statements that New Delhi has announced so far.

The “Vision Statement” will be an expression of intent of the two sides and will chart the road-map for India and the US in the coming years. Stress is likely to be laid on the similarities between the two “great democracies”, the common viewpoints on major issues and how the countries can cooperate on areas like technology and key international developments.

Clinton will arrive here on March 19 evening and drive straight to the Maurya Sheraton Hotel where he and his entourage will be staying. The next morning he is expected to leave for Dhaka to hold talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Cabinet. He will return to Delhi in the evening.

The official leg of his visit here will start on March 21 with a reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt. Clinton is also likely to pay a visit to Rajghat and Shantivan in the morning.

The US President has made it clear that while he will have a tete-a-tete with his Indian counterpart, he will meet the Prime Minister only at the delegation-level talks in Hyderabad House.

Several agreements are likely to be announced, including one on information technology.

Other agreements may include cooperation on energy, trade and commerce. Memoranda of understanding (MoUs) are likely to be signed with CII, Ficci and Assocham.

Other agreements may include cooperation on energy, trade and commerce. There can also be signing of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with bodies like CII, FICCI and Assocham.

The discussions at the delegation level talks between the American President and Vajpayee will be mainly on political issues involving the two countries, the region and international developments. The Indian Prime Minister is scheduled to hold a lunch in Clinton’s honour. A dinner will be hosted by President Narayanan for his American counterpart and the “Vision Statement” is likely to be read out at the banquet.

The next day, the US President is scheduled to address a joint sitting of the Parliament. Later, he may visit either Lal Qila or Qutab Minar. In the afternoon, he will leave for Agra where he will be staying at the Taj Khema—the Uttar Pradesh state government guest house which provides a beautiful and clear view of the Taj Mahal. Clinton is scheduled to make a speech there on environment before leaving for Jaipur in the evening, where he will be staying at the Raj Vilas Hotel.

He will be spending almost the entire day there with a possible visit to the Ranthambore reserve forest to see tigers. In the evening, he will be going to Hyderabad.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 34°C (+1) Minimum: 23.6°C (+4) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 50% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in maximum or minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.38 pm Sunrise: 5.58 am    
 

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