Big brother swings to salute sister power
Charminar in Cyber Chandra shadow
Hoardings hide plight of beggars
E-kids hope for funds after Bill
Daley ties sanctions to test ban
Desam defies diktat with price outburst

Naila (Jaipur), March 23 
He seemed to have transported himself back to the heady days of the Sixties. Bill bhaiya swayed and danced to the beat of drums as the women sang for him. There was no saxophone, but the rhythmic chorus of the village belles, the dull thumping of drums and claps was enough to get Kilintonji tapping his feet and then joining in. Naila danced with him.

After the reserved visit to the greatest monument to love at Agra yesterday, Bill bhaiya drove into Fatehgarh palace in this medieval village, 20 kms from the Pink city, in his black presidential Cadillac as awe-struck villagers looked on. With a glint in her eyes, village sathin (voluntary social worker) Mohini Devi, welcomed him with a namaste and tied a rakhi around Bill bhaiya’s wrist. The bond with Naila established, Kilintonji, in a short-sleeve , light green cotton shirt and brown slacks, was formally ushered into the palace courtyard, covered with a light carpet, with a huge garland of marigolds and roses. Dressed in shades of bright pink, orange, red and blue, the sun glinting off gorgeous zari work on their flowing lehenga cholis, the young women showered rose petals on him.

And then the music, with its music accompaniments, came on: “Char baja su uthea main to ghatti pisat lagi re... kinne kalon rejas na mile” (I wake up early to start the backbreaking work). Kilintonji nodded his head a couple of times and gently swayed his hips, ready to get on with it. He thought otherwise when his escort-cum-translator Kanchan Mathur, a social worker, explained to him the true import of the lyrics which was intended to send home the message that oppressed women were finally breaking free of the shackles of a male-dominated society.

But then Bill bhaiya smiled. As the song ended, he was ushered into a nearby room where he was to “interact” with six dynamic village women who, through trials and tribulations, terrible personal suffering and sacrifice, now have a say in village socio-economic development. So Shakuntala Devi in her gruff rustic, though nervous voice, narrated, through translator Kanchan, how she single-mindedly set up a self-help group of like-minded “sisters” aapno gaon main. Into the third minute and with an attentive Kilintonji by her side, she had eased considerably and felt a lot more free talking to then President and explaining to him how through sheer hard work she was chosen a panchayat member. Already in his elements, Kilintonji interjects, asking Kanchan to translate: “I want you to tell her that she will get elected anywhere anyway.”

Gone were the gunghats, the shy eyes replaced with expressions of determination as Santosh Devi, widowed at the age of 22 narrated how, despite constant barbs and insinuations from the menfolk, she rally a few other behenos (sisters) to set up the Dhoblai milk factory. “When we went out, the men would taunt us where we were off to. We would say to the movies. The men sensed what we were up to and to beat at selling milk, reduced the profit margin by 10 paise. We responded by reducing it by 20 paise.” Kilintonji was short of being in splits as he clapped at the women’s success.

The women also showed him how deft and comfortable they were with the computer mouse, clicking away at files and bringing onto the monitor screen records of past transactions and the methods to extract fat from milk. Bill bhaiya smiled profusely and his eyes lit up as he watched Santosh Devi clicking away at the chuha. “You have given me the vision to think differently and I am wondering how to empower women more in my country,” the President said with genuine appreciation of the strides taken by the women of Naila.

He had already spent an hour talking and listening to the women and it was time to watch the dynamics and mechanics of panchayati raj and women’s political empowerment. So there were Naravdamina Devi, Rukmini Devi, Shoja Devi, Govind Devi and Manju; the five women panchas of the 16-member panchayat. They did not talk much and it was left to

Kaluram Meena and his predecessor Hari Singh to “discuss” issues with Kilintonji. Kaluram was bold. He put a point blank question; “Do you think we villagers are backward?” Kilintonji replied: “ No. There is poverty and illiteracy but I have the faith that you will be able to resolve them.’

After a long session with Kailashi Devi, who explained to the President the various facets and concepts of e-governance on the intranet provided to Naila by the state government [incidentally Naila today became the first village in Rajasthan to be linked a tom a server ( in Jaipur, Kilintonji was ready to leave Naila.

But not without participating in the vidai ceremony : more song and dance. This time he had shed his inhibitions, gave security considerations the go-by and simply waded into the group of women. As if in a trance he swayed, his hips gyrating gently, arms hanging and his feet tapping. The women and the American media were mesmerised, enthralled by the “Persident” of America performing before “lesser mortals”.

There was more when he finally stepped out of the palace archway. He broke free of the security cordon as he walked the 60-70 paces along the road along with the young and old lined up to catch of glimpse of Bill bhaiya. But for the wooden barricades, he would have hurled himself into the crowd of villagers.

Kilintonji waved and thrust his hands out, touching the palms of the villagers who craned their necks and got on top of each other to see the bada aadmi. Clearly overwhelmed by the occasion, clasping their hands in a display of warmth, even bending down to grasp the hands of men crushed under the weight of the crowd on top.

In a last sign of affection, he half-climbed his Cadillac and waved and saluted Naila. Bidding adieu to its simple but strong-willed men and women. Inside Fatehgarh palace, the singing and dancing continued.    

Hyderabad, March 23 
It is a bit like what the Manhattan skyline must have done to the Statue of Liberty in New York. The quadrangular Charminar, for long Hyderabad’s proud logo, is being given the shove; the circular Cyber Towers is taking over as mascot.

When President Bill Clinton flies into town tomorrow, the statuesque old symbol of Hyderabad in the city’s heart will stand a little forlorn and utterly bypassed; Clinton isn’t even casting a glance in the Charminar’s direction. The hub will be the hilly outskirts of the city where stands the spanking new Cyber Towers, axis of chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s hi-tech drive and the new emblem of new Hyderabad.

The shift of focus from the medieval majesty of the Charminar to the futuristic spiral called Cyber Towers is perhaps symbolic of the man who runs the place: Chandrababu Naidu is no sentimental digger of past glory, he is a no-nonsense mechanic of the future. He is not bringing President Clinton here for a lazy tour of Hyderabad’s rich history, he is bringing him here for a hectic session on putting its future on the fast track. So while the old city around the Charminar remains mired in smoke and humdrum mess and bustle, the route to Cyber Towers is being rubbed, washed and polished.

As platoons of security people watched, platoons of workmen and women laboured along the 20 kilometre road all day today, sweeping, whitewashing, mending, painting. “We must give the US President the message that this is a different place from what he might have seen in the rest of the country, it has fixed intentions for the future,” one of Naidu’s officials remarked at the Cyber Towers, “We are showcasing the future for him.”

The subtext of Naidu’s welcome line to Clinton, plastered all over the Hi-tec City, sprawling west of Hyderabad, is itself blunt and businesslike, if also a little cheeky, “Chandrababu Naidu welcomes President Bill Clinton. Welcome to the future, from one visionary to another.”

President Clinton is spending only five hours in Hyderabad and half that time will be strictly business at the Hi-tec City — first, listening to a presentation from Chandrababu Naidu on investment prospects and information technology initiatives in Andhra Pradesh and then, opening his own mind on what he proposes to do to propel Naidu’s great leap forward.

The rest of the time will mostly be taken up motoring from the airport to the Hi-tec City and then back, in all about 50 kilometres which the President’s cavalcade will do at cruising speeds; Clinton will visit tuberculosis patients at the Mahavir Hospital in downtown Hyderabad but that is more a healing-touch, photo-op stop en route to Cyber Towers. Patients at the hospital will be pleased — they have clean sheets and extra care a day ahead.    

Hyderabad, March 23 
Hyderabad had dumped its beggars into NGO homes, impounded its stray dogs, and plunged headlong into doing up the city for President Bill Clinton’s visit tomorrow.

The city is looking pretty now, but the beggars have clearly been forgotten. The over 1,000 of the undesirables, forcibly evicted from the city corridors six days ago, are in a pitiable state. The city municipal corporation and the social welfare department have shrugged off responsibilities after removing them.

“We are given only one meal and are also not allowed to leave the compounds. We are treated like animals,” says Papaiah, one beggar left near Vanasthalipuram colony.

Oblivious, the city is all decked up, wrapped up in hoardings all along the President’s path. A giant billboard put up at the airport by Chandrababu Naidu says: “Welcome to the city of future, President Clinton”.

Led by the CEO,, IT companies like and Y.axis have put up their hoardings near Hitec city. “Digitally delighted to welcome you,” said the board. The HUDA (Hyderabad Urban Development Authority) and the Software Exporters’ Association of Hyderabad have put up arches and festoons nearby.

The government will also ban entry and movement of heavy vehicles on March 24, it is said. “The effort is more to contain the American media from providing a negative image to our city,” said a senior state government official.    

Mumbai, March 23 
While industry hotshots may be content to bask in reflected glory on the big night with President Clinton, dotcom whiz-kids hope to use tomorrow’s visit to extend the portals of their dreams and their fledgling e-ventures.

The dotcom kids, mostly in their late Twenties and early Thirties, who have to their credit highly successful portals in the automobile, IT and capital markets sectors, feel that the President’s visit to Hyderabad and Mumbai will be a big boost for young entrepreneurs.

“Some of the best portals in the world are designed by Indians. But if the American President comes calling and talks to young Indians, we all get to benefit,” said Abhay Desai, CEO of Money, a recently launched portal on capital markets and personal finance.

Rizwan Thakur of, India’s first portal aimed at trading in IT products, said: “American IT companies will now view all Indian IT entrepreneurs more seriously, who will get more exposed to the progress made in the Internet technology by the US.”

Thakur added that Clinton’s visit will improve IT collaboration between the two countries and will lead to several new joint ventures. Indian companies will also find it easy to attract foreign investment for start-up.

The hard business talk masks a lot of young enthusiasm. Ashwin, who has just launched a comprehensive portal on the Indian automobile industry and is spending heavily on hoardings and advertisements, left for the US “to get there early to capitalise on Clinton’s visit”. Before leaving, he had said: “This was the best time to do business.” Sanghi, on the other hand, is trying to work out a deal with international car dealers to advertise their latest launches on his site.

Nevil Darukhanwala, a 20-something, who has also floated a site which is drawing a number of visitors, said funds will follow the President. “Initially there was no concept of funding. All start-up companies had to manage on their own. But now there will be plenty of funds since the US recognises our talent and hard work. It’s a fact of life. The US view is an important yardstick,” he says.

Much of this enthusiasm also stems from the fact that Clinton is expected to speak in detail on India’s contribution to the Silicon valley and the growth of Indian business during his address at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The President, fresh from his visit to Hyderabad, is expected to heap praise on Indian whiz-kids, both in the US and here.

The Jeejeebhoy Towers, housing the BSE, the biggest stock exchange in Asia, is getting a major facelift. BSE vice-president Deena Mehta was personally supervising the beautification and cleaning-up. Roads have been paved, new lights installed and the exchange has a got a new coat of paint.    

New Delhi, March 23 
US commerce secretary William Daley today said that lifting of economic sanctions would remain linked to India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and added that he hoped both would take place soon.

After a two-hour meeting with finance minister Yashwant Sinha, Daley told reporters that “signing the CTBT will not only remove sanctions but reduce tension in the world”.

The statement belies the general perception that the sanctions — imposed after the Pokhran 1998 nuclear tests — would be lifted during the visit of President Bill Clinton.

At the meeting, attended by top ministry officials, Daley’s team discussed ticklish issues, including demands on India to lower tariff walls and a proposed totalisation tax pact which would eliminate the need for Indian professionals in the US to pay social security taxes in both countries.

The Americans were initially reluctant to sign the treaty with India where social security contributions are far minimal. In the US, social security taxes often exceed actual tax contributions. Sources said the pact, which would benefit mostly Indian doctors and IT professionals in the US, is expected to be finalised within this week.

The US team also tried to get the finance ministry to agree to lower tariff walls further to attract foreign investments. But Sinha said it was difficult to slash the tariff rates as the country needed to raise more revenue to meet its growing expense budget.

Sinha also defended the Indian position saying that, in most cases, Indian tariff rates were far below WTO prescribed levels. The only promise that the Americans could extract on this count was that India would compress import duties to just 2-3 slabs within two years.

Daley’s team also stressed the need to step up imports from the US to “correct” the tilt in Indo-US balance of trade, currently in India’s favour. According to sources, the move to get India to lower tariff and to agree to buy more American products stems from the huge trade deficit the US economy has been saddled with in recent years.

The commerce secretary also said that the number of H1B visas for IT professionals — currently capped at 1,15,000 — could go up to 1,90,000 a year for the next three years if the proposal was passed by the Senate.

Both sides agreed to hold three Cabinet-level talks on finance and investment, cooperation on trade and investment and commerce, Daley said.

While the US treasury secretary and Sinha will lead the talks on finance and investment, discussions on trade and investment policy will be led by a US trade representative and a secretary from the Prime Minister’s Office.    

New Delhi, March 23 
Defying the Prime Minister’s whip, the Telugu Desam today lashed out at the government for the hefty increase in prices of cooking gas and kerosene.

A statement issued by party MP Yerran Naidu said the hike should have been effected in a phased and gradual manner so as to make it easier for the consumers, particularly the poor.

“Even as the suggestion of several parties, including the Telugu Desam, for reconsideration of the recent increase in the prices of foodgrain for PDS and fertiliser is under the consideration of the Union government, yesterday’s announcement about kerosene and LPG will place additional burden on the poor,” said the note which was released on the instructions of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

The Desam boss has written to Vajpayee, asking him to reconsider the decision and roll back the hike to a “reasonable level”.

The party’s outburst comes a day after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told National Democratic Alliance leaders not to go public with their differences on policy matters.

The Desam, the government’s most influential ally, skipped the coordination committee meeting yesterday. NDA convener George Fernandes had repeatedly requested Yerran Naidu to attend the meet, but the Desam leader asked him to get the go-ahead from his boss in Hyderabad.

Desam sources said they could not pay heed to the Prime Minister’s advice because it had to send political messages to its constituents. Sources in the government, however, maintained the Desam’s tough-posturing was meant for public consumption as Andhra was set to increase power tariff.

The Desam’s fears were echoed by a section of BJP MPs as well who said they would request Vajpayee to take another look at the decision at the next meeting of the parliamentary party.

Some other NDA partners such as the Trinamul Congress, Akali Dal, DMK and the Indian National Lok Dal are also unhappy with the steep increase. Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala is believed to have told Vajpayee that the move was “anti-people”. A source close to the chief minister said Chautala will speak to leaders of other allies and chalk out a joint strategy to force the government to roll back the increase.

The Trinamul and DMK fear that with Assembly polls due in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal early next year, the hike would give a weapon to their rivals.

The Desam said the revised prices would place an additional burden of Rs 35 crore on the Andhra exchequer as under the Deepam scheme, it has to provide 10 lakh cooking gas connections to rural and urban poor women.    


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