Sangh targets Atal economy team
Rabri gets crown & payback bill
Officials run scared of Majuli
PM breathes business fire before Clinton visit
Murdoch holds out multimedia millions

 
 
SANGH TARGETS ATAL ECONOMY TEAM 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Nagpur, March 11 
The newly-anointed RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, has wasted no time to signal that he means business.

A day after taking over, Sudarshan demanded that the Vajpayee government change its economic advisers and induct those who are sympathetic to swadeshi. He suggested that the government convene a round table of economists representing all points of view and formulate policies accordingly.

However, Sudarshan made it clear that he was not on the warpath with the Centre, adding that he appreciated the “constraints” under which the BJP-led coalition was working.

The message from the RSS headquarters was that while it was prepared to give a long rope on issues like the Ram temple and national security, it would not compromise on the economic front.

Sudarshan said since the Constitution served the purpose of the British, it should be changed keeping in mind “our asmita (self-pride) and our needs”. “When and how this needs to be done will have to be seen,” he added, pointing out that the government had said the review committee would not tamper with the basic structure of the statute.

In his first press meet as sarsanghchalak, Sudarshan said: “I understand and appreciate the need to maintain a degree of continuity in economic policies. But at the same time, this government is hemmed in by bureaucrats and advisers who seem to have an inflexible approach. They are not willing to understand present-day economic realities but are still stuck in the western groove.”

Sudarshan proposed that the economic agenda be changed to suit contemporary situations in developing countries. “For this purpose, the old advisers should be replaced with new persons like Bharat Jhunjhunwala and those committed to the swadeshi school,” he added.

The economic resolution adopted in the RSS’ Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha today — in which the BJP was represented by general secretary K.N. Govindacharya — was more aggressive. It criticised the government for opening up insurance, removing quantitative restrictions on imports ahead of the World Trade Organisation schedule and disinvestment in public sector units.

The resolution stated: “When this government assumed power, there were expectations that it would evaluate the impact of globalisation on national economy and also calibrate the liberalisation policies. But no effort was undertaken to do either.”

Addressing swayamsevaks, Sudarshan heaped praise on every constituent of the parivar, except the BJP. He described the BJP as the ruling party, only to add: “But of course, it is not big enough to stand on its own feet.”

The address was laced with caution to the BJP: “It is easier to cope with failure than success. Individuals tend to become arrogant, too full of themselves and commit mistakes.”

Sudarshan seemed ready to accept the “difficulties” in taking up the Ram temple issue. “The BJP has put the issue on the backburner because of coalition politics.” Saying preparations for the temple were on at full swing in Ayodhya, the RSS chief said there was no option but to wait for the court’s decision since the Centre could not bring in a legislation.

Sudarshan made light of the BJP-RSS rift. “The RSS works for 25 years ahead. The government works for today. That is why there are apparent contradictions. We are working to create an agenda which no government, BJP or non-BJP, can afford to ignore.”    


 
 
RABRI GETS CROWN & PAYBACK BILL 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, March 11 
Rabri Devi was sworn in chief minister of Bihar in the second coronation in the state in eight days as her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav struggled to keep the hard-won government afloat in the face of overwhelming demands for rewards from his disparate group of supporters.

With Rabri claiming the support of 162 MLAs — not one more or less than the effective majority mark — even a handful of legislators can hold the government to ransom.

In Delhi, the Congress indicated it will participate in the ministry, but deferred an official decision. Partymen, however, descended on Laloo with a deluge of demands.

All except one of the 23 Congress MLAs are demanding Cabinet berths. Laloo may have to deprive some of his own partymen to accommodate the Congressmen in the ministry, which may be bigger than the previous one of 72 members.

The 11 legislators from Jharkhand, whose support to Laloo tilted the balance, are particularly eager. Bagun Sumai of Chaibasa is lobbying for a key portfolio. Four others have asked for tourism, transport, tribal welfare and local self-rule.

A worried Laloo is trying fend off the demands. “I have given you the Speaker’s post. Please ask your boys to make a rational demand,” he reportedly told Sadanand Singh, the state Congress chief.

Laloo started the day triumphantly, brandishing the Governor’s letter to his wife. “This letter should have reached me on March 3 itself, but a wrong address got it delivered to Nitish Kumar,” he said.

Laloo announced that the new regime will not allow the CBI to enter Bihar without court permission. On Wednesday, the agency sought the Governor’s nod to prosecute Laloo and Rabri in an assets case. Bihar BJP chief Sushil Modi tried to block Rabri’s swearing-in citing the CBI request, but the Governor overlooked it.

At the ceremony, NDA members were not present, but Bihar People’s Party chief Anand Mohan, who parted ways with the alliance today, was. Laloo may use him to win over some Independents.

The RJD chief hinted he would settle for a coalition government comprising Congress MLAs and Independents, while the CPM and the BSP would offer outside support.

Rabri said her government would focus on development and “lay stress on infrastructure”.

But Laloo said his first task would be to “prove majority as fast as I can”, though he has been given 10 days. He fears his wafer-thin majority may crumble if he does not act fast as the NDA may not sit idle. “Ten days would be too long a time,” said an RJD MLA.

To keep his house united, Nitish held a meeting of the state unit and announced a series of agitation on the “betrayal of the people’s mandate”. “Ab hum sarak ki mantri ho gaye hai (I’m now a minister of road protests),” he said.    


 
 
OFFICIALS RUN SCARED OF MAJULI 
 
 
FROM PULLOCK DUTTA
 
Jorhat, March 11 
Tapas Sharma (not his real name), a sub-inspector at the Jorhat police station is running from pillar to post to get his transfer to Majuli stayed. “I am ready to go to any part of the state and that too with a demotion, but not Majuli,” he said.

There are many like Sharma for whom the very word Majuli is an anathema. The reason is simple — The world’s largest river island is a virtual kalapani in the midst of the mighty Brahmaputra.

For the better part of the year, just reaching Majuli is a harrowing task. And, even if somebody manages to reach it, he is at the end of his tether: No proper roads, no houses, no communication facilities — the list is endless.

“I have two kids and I cannot even think of taking my family along with me. There are no official quarters, no houses available on rent. Travelling even a kilometre during the monsoons is practically impossible,” said Sharma

But, surely Majuli is not the worst place in the country to live in? After all, people are posted even in Siachen.

To this Sharma said: “Who’s denying that? But you cannot equate a world famous heritage site with Siachen. A transfer to Majuli is no big deal on paper, but, in reality, it is something of a punishment posting.”

The plight of government servants in Majuli can be gauged from the fact that even the sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) does not have an official residence.

The house he is living in belongs to a magistrate, who, along with three other officials, is lodged at the sub-standard circuit house at Garmurh, the sub-divisional headquarters.

“Requests have been made to the police department to vacate the house. But, where will the SDPO go?” G.P. Singh, superintendent of police of Jorhat district, of which Majuli is a sub-division, told The Telegraph.

Even where official quarters are available, flood waters inundate these every year. In fact, of the three police stations and three outposts in the island, only the Garmurh police station escapes the flood wrath.

According to the officer-in-charge of the Kamalabari police station: “During the monsoons, it is sheer torture for us. Suitcases and beddings have to be kept on changs (bamboo platforms) above the ceiling. Under the circumstances, who will take the risk of bringing his family here?”

As for communication within the island there are no roads worth the name. Some 20 mini-buses and two Assam State Transport Corporation vehicles ply during the winter season, but, come the monsoons, there are no available modes of communication.

Pradip Baruah, a taxi driver, explained: “If you have to go from one village to another during the monsoon, hiring a boat is the only option.”

If a person from the Ratanpur area falls sick, one has to spend Rs 500 to ferry him to the small hospital in Kamalabari. And if the person is in need of further treatment, he has to be shifted to either Jorhat or Lakhimpur.

Of the 880 square km of land mass, there are only 12 km of semi-pitched roads in the island.

However, it is alleged that employees of the DRDA, flood control and irrigation departments voluntarily seek transfer to Majuli. “These are the departments where there is money to be made and no work”, claimed a health official at Jorhat.    


 
 
PM BREATHES BUSINESS FIRE BEFORE CLINTON VISIT 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Port Louis (Mauritius), March 11 
Ten days before President Bill Clinton’s arrival, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee chose this idyllic island as a platform to lambast “economic globalisation” and its “failure” to deliver economic justice.

During his meeting with Indian leaders, Clinton is expected to lobby hard to extract promises on opening up the economy further. But a tough-talking Vajpayee appeared to be in no mood to sway to the same tune.

Speaking at the University of Mauritius, which awarded him a D. Litt, the Prime Minister said: “...(though) globalisation was supposed to deliver economic equality among nations, the reality is to the contrary. In the unequal post-globalisation world in which we live today, inequality is on the increase.”

“One major concern is that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing income inequality both within and between nations,” he said. The reference to the domestic income gap is being seen as a justification of the budget, which was a mixture of soft and hard options.

The Prime Minister took potshots at the military regime in Pakistan, saying: “Democracy and development are two sides of the same coin.”

Continuing with his campaign against terrorism, Vajpayee said: “The threat to democratic and open societies is from terrorism which, unless checked, will emerge as the scourge of the 21st century. The fact that terrorism today is linked with drug-trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering and religious fundamentalism makes it a greater threat than ever before.”

In a signal to the US, he added: “The scourge of terrorism can be defeated only by organised and concerted international action.”

Hitting out at unbridled globalisation, Vajpayee said: “It is ironical that while globalisation is supposed to encourage competition and ensure freedom of choice for individuals, in recent times, we have seen big companies indulging in mergers and acquisitions that would not have been possible in the pre-globalisation period. The emergence of these new mega-corporations threatens both competition and freedom of choice.”

The Prime Minister expressed concern at the increasing debt burden of developing nations. “This burden,” he said, “grows yearly with new debts being contracted to pay off current interest rates. This results in a continual haemorrhage of wealth from the developing to developed nations.”

He provided figures to show how the gap was growing. “Two hundred and fifty years ago, the richest countries were only five times richer than the poorest, and Europe only twice as rich as China or India. In 1976, Switzerland was 52 times richer than Mozambique. In 1997, it was 508 times richer.”

Sending a signal to Clinton, he said: “If one in four of the world’s people still live in severe poverty, there is something wrong somewhere. In South Asia alone, half a billion people live in poverty.”    


 
 
MURDOCH HOLDS OUT MULTIMEDIA MILLIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, March 11 
Media mogul and News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch today said that he planned to invest “several hundred millions of dollars” in India in a whole range of multimedia operations besides expanding his television network.

Murdoch, who arrived here this morning in a private aircraft on a three-day visit to the city, told reporters that he was “greatly excited about the possibilities of investment in India” and hoped to implement his plans from April.

He said apart from beefing up his Star network, he wanted to “move with the world” and extend his company’s activities to multimedia, including data transmission, education and e-commerce.

Murdoch said he had already tied up with the Ispat group’s P.K. Mittal to launch e-venture business in India and would make further investment in the venture capital “directly as News Corporation” in the coming months.

He said he had “heard a lot about Bangalore” and there were “tremendous possibilities in the technology sector”. Murdoch is scheduled to meet Infosys chairman N.R. Narayanamurthy and Wipro chairman Azim Premji among others tomorrow. He will also have a breakfast meeting with chief minister S.M. Krishna on Monday. Asked whether he found Bangalore a better investment venue than Hyderabad, he said: “I (had) better keep out of the local competition.”

Murdoch said he had “big plans” to upgrade the television channel and would “certainly” be introducing one or two more languages.

He said he had no plans on the print media. “We already have some newspapers in Britain, Australia and one in the United States and I’m certainly not expanding into the newspaper business.”

He said all his new investments would be made either independently or as joint ventures and he did not intend to take over any existing company.

Murdoch, who is visiting India after six years, was not accompanied either by his second wife, Wendy Den, or his business-partner son, James Murdoch.

He is scheduled to visit Mumbai, before leaving for Delhi to meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, information technology minister Pramod Mahajan and information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley.    

 

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