Atal deals democracy card to US
Donation sucks Hillary into Clinton Pak stopover s
Allies fear Gujarat rerun on price
Hunt for lean security board
Guess list for dinner
Calcutta weather

 
 
ATAL DEALS DEMOCRACY CARD TO US 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 15 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today fell back on the Commonwealth to tell the US that India would not return to the talks table unless democracy was restored in Pakistan and cautioned President Bill Clinton against legitimising the Musharraf regime during his stopover in Islamabad.

In a message on the occasion of Commonwealth Day, Vajpayee said: “The commonwealth heads of government, in the meeting held in Durban in November 1999, reiterated their shared commitment to the principles of democracy enunciated in the Harare Declaration.... This commitment will, we hope, be continued to be reflected in every action taken by our association so that it is able to be an effective agent of change.”

After Pervez Musharraf’s coup, the Commonwealth had suspended Pakistan from all its councils and barred it from taking part in any of its activities. Vajpayee had played a key role in this, and had then said that Delhi would not accommodate Islamabad till it stopped abetting cross-border terror.

Vajpayee’s remarks appear to have twin objectives. One, he is making it clear that democracy is a principle India believes in and it will not legitimise the Pakistani junta by resuming talks. Two, it is trying to tell the US to be restrained during Clinton’s visit, and pressure Musharraf to restore democracy and stop the export of terror.

Though Delhi has reluctantly come to terms with Clinton’s Pakistan visit, it is now toughening its stand. Delhi has, therefore, made it clear that the US should keep its hands off Kashmir and reiterated that it is in no hurry to return to the talks table.

“The US has no role to play in the India-Pakistan dispute. Not as a mediator, neither as a facilitator nor by using its good-office to make the two sides resume the dialogue,” the official said this evening.

The US President though made it clear that he will not mediate in the sub-continental dispute till both India and Pakistan agree to it has dropped broad hints that he was not averse to nudging a recalcitrant New Delhi to resume the stalled dialogue with its estranged neighbour Islamabad.

The tough India stand stems from the feeling in some quarters that after President Clinton’s visit the Vajpayee government will be forced to return to the negotiating table with Pakistan. New Delhi which has just about recovered from its humiliating experience over the Indian Airlines airbus hijacking allegedly by Pakistanis, does not want to offer the olive branches to Islamabad just yet. Unless of course the military rulers in Pakistan show significant progress in stopping cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country.

President Clinton arrives in India on March 19 evening. The next day he leaves for Bangladesh but returns to Delhi late in the evening. He stays in India for the next four days and holds meetings with the Indian leadership, which includes the President, the Prime Minister and other senior officials of the Vajpayee government.    


 
 
DONATION SUCKS HILLARY INTO CLINTON PAK STOPOVER S 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, March 15 
President Bill Clinton’s proposed visit to Pakistan, mired in controversy because of Pervez Musharraf’s military coup and Islamabad’s links with international terrorism, has become murkier with the revelation that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted $50,000 from Pakistani-Americans campaigning for a presidential stopover in Islamabad next week.

In the wake of the revelation, confirmed by the First Lady’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, allegations have come that Hillary Clinton influenced her husband’s decision to include Pakistan in his South Asian itinerary.

The White House moved swiftly on Tuesday to control damage from the revelation and rejected suggestions of any impropriety in the donation by Pakistani-Americans for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for election to the US Senate from New York.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart asserted that the President decided to go to Pakistan “in consultation with his foreign policy team based on our interest in the subcontinent, our interest in that part of the world without regard to anyone’s politics, including the First Lady’s.” But with only four days left for the President to leave for South Asia, the controversy will not go away.

The controversy burst into the open on Tuesday with the New York Times reporting on its front page that the $ 50,000 contribution was made to the First Lady’s campaign precisely at a time when the President was debating with his advisers on the question of whether to stop over in Pakistan. The times quoted hosts at a dinner where the funds were raised as saying the event was advanced so as to have it ahead of the President’s South Asia trip.

The dinner was organised by the Pakistani community on Staten Island, off New York, and the Pakistani American Physicians Political Action Committee (PAKPAC). Hillary Clinton spent more than two hours at the function, but left just before dinner was served.

She told the organisers: “I hope the President would go” to Pakistan, a statement which has subsequently been confirmed by her spokesman. It is this statement which is now at the centre of the controversy about how a final decision was taken in favour of the President stopping over in Islamabad.

Asked by the Times whether Hillary Clinton had discussed with her husband the views expressed by Pakistani-Americans at the dinner, the spokesman avoided a direct answer. “Everyone in the administration, including Hillary and the President, hoped that he could go, and said that.”

But on Tuesday, the White House spokesman was adamant that Clinton’s decision to go to Islamabad was taken solely by the President’s foreign policy team. “The kind of innuendo that sometimes shows up in the newspaper is grossly unfair to people who are charged with making decisions,” spokesman Lockhart said.

A large part of Lockhart’s briefing on Tuesday was taken up by this controversy with the American media suspecting yet another scandal in the White House, which has been tainted from the start of the President’s first term until now.

In trying to exonerate the President and the First Lady, Lockhart, however, tied himself up in knots. Here is a specimen.

Question: “Did Mrs Clinton persuade the President to go to Pakistan, especially after she had a fund-raiser given by the Pakistani...”

Rudely interrupting the questioner, Lockhart said: “Let me address that for a second because I think some people think, you know, they can put on their newspaper that, you know, even after they are told that there was no influence and that there was nothing improper, that, “well, in some cases it might have been” or the suggestion —- someone might make a suggestion.”

Reflecting the strong feeling in this country against Clinton’s visit to Pakistan, Lockhart was asked about the propriety of the US President meeting Musharraf while the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan was in jail. He was also asked if Clinton would go to see Nawaz Sharif in jail.

Mirroring the discomfiture in the White House over Clinton’s decision to halt in Pakistan, Lockhart said: “I don’t have the President’s itinerary ... but I wouldn’t expect that to be on the itinerary.”

It has not helped the cause of either Clinton or his wife that the Pakistani-Americans, who organised the controversial dinner, are now making no bones about the fact that they contributed money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign precisely because she is the First Lady and they wanted Pakistan to be included in Clinton’s tour.

Asim Malik, a doctor on Long Island, off New York, who is one of the organisers of the event was quoted in the Times as saying: “I cannot deny that the fact that she is the President’s wife, makes a difference.”

Malik and another organiser, Suhail Muzaffar, a businessman on Staten Island, said Hillary Clinton made her attendance at the dinner conditional on a campaign contribution of at least $50,000 by the organisers. The First Lady’s spokesman confirmed that her campaign managers usually insist on such a minimum contribution before agreeing to her presence at any fund-raising event.

With the controversy threatening to enlarge, there are fears here that all in all, Pakistani American endorsement of Hillary Clinton may have done her more harm than good.

Many New Yorkers are resentful that Pakistanis in the city, the majority of whom are taxi drivers or street vendors, are supporting Hillary Clinton because they dislike her Republican adversary and New York’s mayor Rudolph Giulliani for his efforts to create more order and enforce civic laws in the city.    


 
 
ALLIES FEAR GUJARAT RERUN ON PRICE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 15 
The BJP’s allies are worried that the Congress might hijack the price rise issue and put them in a spot by moving cut motions on the budget.

Leaders of allies are pleading with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to roll back the rise in the prices of urea and foodgrain and save them from embarrassment. But the government has not shown any inclination to bail them out.

They faced a similar situation when the Congress forced a discussion on the RSS issue under Rule 184, which entails voting, but the government managed to persuade Gujarat government to withdraw the order rendering the debate infructuous.

“We had initiated the campaign against the price hike. We cannot allow these anti-poor, anti-farmer steps. The government is not giving us any assurance but as coalition partners, we cannot move cut motions. The Congress move has put us in a jam, as we cannot be silent either in Parliament,” said a Telegu Desam MP.

Even as tension is building up between the BJP and its allies — the Telugu Desam, the Janata Dal(United), the Trinamul Congress, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Akali Dal — finance minister Yashwant Sinha today ruled out a rollback.

Apart from Sinha, two other senior Cabinet ministers said the chances of a rollback appeared bleak.

A senior minister, however, said the Prime Minister may offer some sops at the last minute to placate the allies.

Both the ministers, who refused to be quoted, criticised Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. “He advocates reforms in Hyderabad but demands a roll back in Delhi,” said a minister.

Another minister, known to be a trouble-shooter of the Prime Minister, said: “He (Naidu) has no problem with subsidy cut in Hyderabad but is opposing it in Delhi. He wants popularity at our cost.”

The allies had last week submitted a memorandum to Vajpayee requesting him to roll back the prices.

Desam leader K. Yerran Naidu and Dal(U) leader Devendra Prasad Yadav, had told reporters that Vajpayee had assured them of a sympathetic hearing. Later, the finance minister ruled out any possibility of a rollback.

But, the allies are not giving up. They met informally yesterday and parleys are still continuing to wangle some concessions from the government, particularly since the Congress has hijacked their pet issue.

Sources said if nothing works, the Desam chief will talk to Vajpayee directly seeking his intervention.

Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee has also promised to take up the matter with the Prime Minister directly, said a leader of an ally.    


 
 
HUNT FOR LEAN SECURITY BOARD 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, March 15 
The Vajpayee government will shortly choose advisers to form the National Security Advisory Board.

The new board will be in place within two months, government sources said. Its earlier avatar, which was disbanded after its term expired last year, had drafted the nuclear doctrine.

Wiser from experience, the government is expected to restrict the number of members on the board to 20 or even less. The first board, part of the National Security Council, had 29 members. Most meetings used to witness acrimonious, and often inconclusive, debates.

The government now wants to bring over specialists in specific security areas. More than one specialist on the same subject had made it to the last board and several spheres overlapped. The new board is expected to make a fresh assessment of the country’s changing security needs, underscored by the hijack crisis.    


 
 
GUESS LIST FOR DINNER 
 
 
BY DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
 
Businessman’s wife to businessman’s wife: Hrithik Roshan is the biggest thing to happen since Amitabh Bachhan.

Wife 2: Yah, but don’t forget Shah Rukh is still No. 1.

Wife 1: True, but do you know the two magazines that put him (Hrithik) on the cover this week are all sold out?

Wife 2: By the way, are you going to the banquet?

Wife 1: You know, usually my husband declines these invitations, but if he wants, I’m sure he can get one.

If you think they’re talking about some filmi party after an awards ceremony, you’re wrong.

The place they want to be seen at is the dinner being hosted by the titular head of the world’s largest democracy for the world’s soon-to-retire most powerful man.

But few will have the chance to say hello to President Bill Clinton. The banquet hall on Raisina Hill holds at the most 100 people. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Cabinet has 26 ministers, then there are ministers with independent charge and ministers of state. Imagine leaving out one of the allies, what with the PM’s plate already full with the mounting crisis over subsidy cut. The entire council of minister has to be given the precious Ashoka emblem-embossed card to prevent another eruption of discontent.

By convention, former prime ministers cannot be left out — don’t forget there are four of them who have been meeting to find something to do and a fifth is expected to join them. Nor can leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament.

After all this, the space will be very cramped for businessmen and/or their wives and celebrities like an actor from Bihar.

There’s the Prime Minister’s lunch, of course, at Hyderabad House, which, too, can host about 100 people, after the ceremonial reception to Clinton on the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

For the past few days, discreet callers have been strafing Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Prime Minister’s Office wanting to know who have made it and who hasn’t.

After a lot of scratching of heads, it was decided at a meeting tonight at the Prime Minister’s residence that the lunch will be held not at Hyderabad House but at the government-owned Hotel Ashoka where space is not at a premium.

The list of invitees to the lunch has not yet been worked out. Nor the number, a source in the PMO said. Besides, the government has yet to get an opinion on the subject from the United States side.

But a larger guest list at lunch solves the President’s problem. K.R. Narayanan can now keep his dinner guest list trim. Apart from senior politicians, leading industrialists and, dotcom being the business flavour of the season, infotech hotshots may find themselves invited to both parties. One, in fact, has sent a regret note before being invited.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 32.5°C (-1) Minimum: 24.3°C (+3) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum: 45% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in maximum temperature. Slight fall in minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.41 pm Sunrise: 5.48 am    
 

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