Jaswant sees fresh start to US ties
Left plans speech boycott
Order to states on women’s property
Saag & roti on Clinton plate
Channels scramble for slice of visit
Woman stripped, killed
Taj decks up mahals for badshah

New Delhi, March 17 
India today made it clear it is not waiting for Bill Clinton to unwrap a bagful of goodies, but instead wants to develop a new relationship with the US during the presidential visit.

“The PL-480 phase in Indo-US relations is over,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh said, referring to the controversy in the sixties when Delhi accused Washington of blocking the shipment of the special variety of American wheat to India because of its opposition to the US military attack in Vietnam.

“It’s a directional visit and not a destinational one,” Singh said, while detailing what India expected from the visit. “It (the trip) will be the confluence of two great democracies and (will) forge a new relationship where the two sides can work closely with each other,” he added.

Asked which direction the visit will take, he said: “It can only look forward and not backwards.”

India wants to widen the scope of its relationship with the US to ensure that both countries can live with their differences and move forward on other areas. Indications are that during Clinton’s visit, the two sides will unveil a mechanism for regular interaction between the two sides at various levels.

But the foreign minister asserted that India continued to oppose the post-Pokhran sanctions imposed by the US. “We have made it clear that it is counter-productive and is not serving anybody’s purpose,” he said.

Singh said the two nations still differed on a number of areas such as nuclear proliferation, environment, ecology and the WTO agreements. But, on the other hand, they shared common views on terrorism, business, trade and commerce, science and technology and information technology.

Apart from the US’ recognition of India as an important investment destination, Singh pointed out that the role being played by Indian-American software professionals had forced the US to take India more seriously than it did in the past.

“The sterility of the past 50 years needs to be broken,” Singh said. He pointed out that in the past five decades, the two sides had traversed different paths because of the Cold War and America’s choice of Pakistan as an ally against India, which continued to champion the non-aligned movement.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, India took time to reorganise its own polity. Neither Delhi nor Washington had the time to build up a new relationship.

Singh said people should stop looking at Indo-US relations through the “limited telescopic view of Pakistan”. While he admitted that Pakistan continued to “intrude” into India’s bilateral relations with other countries, he argued that this strengthened Delhi’s argument that no third country could resolve the outstanding problems with Islamabad.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held an hour-long meeting with President K.R. Narayanan this evening to discuss Clinton’s visit.    

New Delhi, March 17 
The Left parties will boycott the joint session of Parliament to be addressed by President Bill Clinton on Wednesday. “Our MPs will not be present in Parliament that day. They will be too busy organising protests outside,” said CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

The decision to boycott the joint session was first taken by the Forward Bloc. The CPM and the CPI took their time taking a stand. Surjeet and senior pPolitburo member Prakash Karat avoided using the term ‘boycott’ but made it clear that party MPs would stay away.

Leaders of the four Left parties — CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP — have also written to home minister L.K. Advani protesting against the ban on demonstrations in the capital. “In democratic countries it is normal for political parties to organise peaceful protests against policies of a country whose head is on an official visit,” said the letter.

The Left parties, along with NGOs, had planned a demonstration at Delhi on Tuesday when Clinton’s official tour of India begins. “Since the Delhi police are directly under the Union government we presume that this was done with the approval of the home ministry,” pointed out the Left leaders.

They reminded the home minister that the military regime in Pakistan had similarly banned all protests and demonstrations against the US President. “Are we following their footsteps ?” asked the Left.

Surjeet stressed that the Committee against US Imperialism would go ahead with its demonstration on Tuesday, regardless of the ban. “We are not going to be cowered into giving up our protest,” said Surjeet.

Newly-anointed RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan scoffed at the euphoria and the excitement over Clinton’s tour. “After all, he is just an outgoing President. What is all this fuss about?” he retorted minutes after taking charge.

The Shiv Sena has protested Clinton’s visit and has threatened demonstrations.    

New Delhi, March 17 
The Centre has asked the states and Union Territories to amend the Hindu Succession Act to confer property rights on women.

In its communiqué, the Union law ministry said all states and Union Territories should bring in a Bill to ensure that Hindu women get the right to property.

Section 6 of the succession Act already confers property rights on women. But since it is on the concurrent list of the Constitution, states and Union Territories have to enact similar laws for its implementation in their respective areas.

“The National Commission for Women in January had urged the law ministry to bring in the change. The law commission is already seized of the matter,” a sources said, adding that “in the meantime” the law ministry, too, had written to the states and Union Territories.

The amendment to the succession Act was brought in 1955 when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister. But after it met with stiff opposition in Parliament, Nehru allowed it to be placed on the concurrent list giving the states the option not to confer property rights on women.

The state legislature’s approval is essential for amending any Act on the concurrent list. Few states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have passed a legislation conferring the property right on women. But most others are yet to pass a similar law.

Kerala has been arguing that in view of the Kerala Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975, Section 6 of the succession Act has no relevance.    

Mumbai, March 17 
The Oberoi Towers, where President Clinton will be staying during his “mini visit” to the city, has “the cuisine to feed an army”, and facilities that will “not make him miss the White House”.

The hotel and the Kohinoor Suite on the 31st floor, overlooking the Arabian Sea, are virtually out of bounds for the common people. The high-profile US delegation and security officials have taken over the hotel to scrutinise every detail of Clinton’s visit, leaving the hosts with only the cuisine to take care of.

According to hotel officials, it hopes to take Clinton and his entourage — which includes 200 journalists — on a culinary tour of the continents. However, an official of the US delegation said Clinton was keen to sample as much of Indian cuisine as possible.

Tricia D’Souza, executive, PR and advertising, said: “He can choose from authentic Indian cuisine to fiery Mexican flavours or have a taste of Europe or good old American food.”

Casa Mexicana, the Mexican restaurant at the hotel, is offering a “fajita special”. Chef Hernandez has cooked up interesting variations of this authentic Mexican dish with chicken, lobster, red snapper and vegetables.

The Bayview Bar is being stocked up with the finest quality of fine malts and first class Cuban cigars — one of Clinton’s passions.

The menu includes American specials like the prime steak and salad, tenderloin steak and the deep south mixed grill. The Oberoi Double Mac will complete the menu. D’Souza said Australian and Hawaiian dishes will also be included in the presidential menu.

However, Oberoi insiders are more excited about the Indian spread, knowing the Clintons’ penchant for dining in Indian restaurants in Washington. Kandahar, the Indian speciality restaurant, is holding a Punjabi food festival to coincide with the visit.

A hotel official said the hotel has offered sarson da saag and makki ki roti complimented with raarhya meat and murg kandahari for Clinton’s dinner on March 24 — the only night he is expected to spend here, before leaving for Islamabad. The US delegation is expected to confirm this within this week.

A US team led by David Good, from the office of the US Consul-General and John Kollar of the American Secret Service met chief secretary Arun Bongirwar on Wednesday to discuss details of Clinton’s programme. It’s now confirmed that Clinton will not move out of the hotel when he is there. From the airport, he is likely to be flown into town to the Mahalaxmi race course. He will proceed to the hotel from there. At 8 pm, a Ficci delegation is scheduled to meet him. A meeting with young entrepreneurs is also possible. But the appointment is yet to be confirmed.

However, the Maharashtra government, according to sources, has expressed its displeasure at being kept in the dark about minute details of the visit till the last moment. At a meeting yesterday, Bongirwar “requested” the US delegation to finalise the President’s programme so that the security aspect could be taken care of.    

New Delhi, March 17 
US President Bill Clinton’s visit has television news channels vying with one another to woo viewers.

CNBC has released an advertisement announcing the focus of its coverage. It will zoom in on the visit’s impact on Indian business. There will be interviews with Dr Henry Kissinger, former US ambassador Frank Wisner, Senator Sam Brownback and others.

Zee News, which is branding the visit as “A passage to India”, is also stressing business relations. Stories done from both India and the US, to be aired between March 20 and 24, will focus on business relations and the achievements of Indians in the US especially in the corporate sector. A Nasdaq story emphasises that an Indian on board enhances the company’s value. There will also be a story on the sectors in which the US is interested in investing.

Other channels will be busy catching the excitement and spectacle of the visit, with analysis and interpretations thrown in. DD News channel will follow Clinton during his sojourn in South Asia. A news team will be in Bangladesh, while another is waiting for visa clearance to go to Islamabad. It will telecast Clinton’s itinerary live, including the signing of the Vision statement at Hyderabad House here on March 21.

DD has also reached an agreement with CNN. Wherever, DD News does not have access, it will use CNN clips. An agreement has also been reached with the American ABC pool where DD will supply clips where the others cannot be present.

DD will feature expert comments on various aspects of Indo-US relations in its Talk Back and Nishan slots. The anchors for the English programmes will be Onkar Goswami, Chandan Mitra and Karan Thapar. The Hindi programmes will be anchored by Rahul Dev, Rajiv Shukla, Nalini Singh and others. There will also be a programme involving youth opinion. The Big Question anchored by Karan Thapar on March 21 will field questions from an audience of about 100 young people.

BBC News has also geared itself up for Clinton’s visit. According to regional bureau chief Mike Woolridge this is a historic visit and “a crucial news story for the BBC”. The channel is planning special news programmes on television, radio and the Internet to be aired from Delhi and Islamabad and to be anchored by Woolridge. The team of crack reporters include Washington correspondent Richard Lister, who will be part of Clinton’s press entourage, Daniel Lak and Satish Jacob. David Chazan will cover the Bangladesh visit, while in Pakistan, it will be Owen Bennett-Jones. There will be talk shows and interviews. BBC expects Union external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and Union information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley to offer soundbites. It will also have Valmik Thapar, to comment on environmental issues, Brinda Karat, Saeed Naqvi and many others.

STAR will have special programmes every night anchored by Prannoy Roy and Rajdeep Sardesai.    

Lucknow, March 17 
Days ahead of Bill Clinton’s visit to Agra, a Dalit woman was stripped and beaten to death by two men in broad daylight even as villagers stood by helplessly and watched the gory spectacle to its tragic end.

Twenty-three-year-old Sukhviri Devi of Nagla village in Agra district made the mistake of crossing the path of Virendra Pal and Vijay Pal, carrying an empty matka. The price she paid for it was death.

The Pal brothers, who were going to their fields in a tractor, were enraged to see that Sukhviri did not have the “decency” to stop and allow them passage when she knew that it was inauspicious to cross someone’s path with an empty matka.

Getting down from their vehicle, they first tried to throttle the woman and when she tried to scream for help, smashed her head on the ground.

Not content with that, they stripped her and beat her mercilessly even as a crowd that gathered, stood by mutely with none daring to risk the ire of the Pals.

Virendra and Vijay then left an unconscious Sukhviri on the road and drove away. When neighbours rushed her to a nearby hospital she was pronounced dead.

Confirming the murder, O.P. Sharma, head constable attached to the SSP, Agra, S.K. Singh, said he “had heard about the death”, but had to find out why the Kagaraul police station had not taken any action yet.

Though the young Dalit girl was thrashed to death in broad daylight and in the midst of about a dozen villagers, there were no witnesses available and the police have made no arrests.

After his visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Clinton, ironically, will be addressing a select gathering on human rights and our environment.    

Agra, March 17 
The sound and lights are coming on. The camera is veering into focus to imprint on the memory, the great drama to be played out on the terrace of the Taj Mahal next week. The “badshah of the world” is going to set his sights on one of the seven wonders of the world — a wonder created by a badshah of another era in memory of his loved one.

US President Bill Clinton will spend only a couple of hours in Agra, but the hours preparing for his visit are stretching into weeks. Clinton will address a seminar on environment and see the bewitching 17th century monument that has given Agra its coveted fame.

VIPS and VVIPS are forever flying in and out of Agra — the city, despite its run-down state, is used to rivetting world attention. But never on this scale has Agra been dressed up. Never have its people seen such security drills or such meticulous reconnaissance of the spots to be visited by the President.

His itinerary is brief but the run up to the visit is as busy as it can be. The district administration in on a red alert, workers are cleaning the Taj Mahal brick by brick, giving the tiles a shine, the stretch from the technical area of the Agra airport to the Taj Mahal has turned into a high-risk security zone.

Every five yards, policemen are rehearsing and synchronising their movements for those minutes when Clinton and his entourage will travel along that road. Armed sentries are keeping vigil on the rooftops of tacky houses lining up the pavements.

Inside the Taj Mahal, where the tombstones of Shahjahan and Mumtaz Mahal lie, US officers are inspecting every nook and corner. When Clinton steps inside the cool chamber on Wednesday, he will find not a brick out of place, not a single coat of paint missing.

An old man adjusts his spectacles, sawing a piece of wood from a long plank. He is filling up the gaps in the designs on the door. “These fell off a long time ago. Till now they did not bother to replace them,” he says. As the old man cuts the wood into shape, a young man next to him fixes it on the door and then paints it.

The white marble will glisten as it has not glistened for a long time. The people in Agra are grateful to the US President for the sudden sprucing up of the monument, the rare repaving of roads— at least some parts of the dusty, ill-maintained city are being dusted and toned up.

Officials in the Archaeological Survey of India, supervising the cleaning of the Taj, say renovation is an annual feature, undertaken every summer. “This time, we are doing it earlier because of the President’s visit,” an official said.

There is little to break the stillness on the terraces of the marble memorial apart from the sound of brushes scraping the dust and the algae from the brick tiles. Sitting on the raised platform, the workers are first cleaning the bricks then spraying a fungicide and finally coating the bricks with a water repellent chemical.

More than a week ago, advance security, transport and communication teams from the US had landed in Agra. “Since then, they have been daily inspecting the Taj Mahal, and the Taj Khema where the President will address a seminar,” said a police officer.

Nothing is being left to chance and to the Indian authorities. Agra district magistrate K.P. Mohanty is accompanying the US teams actually in charge of the whole visit. “Hamen kuchch pata nahin hain,” (We do not know anything) says a district official.    


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