BJP springs to subsidy cut defence
Political Sushma rattles Sangh
Delhi gifts G-77 walkover to Islamabad
Cook’s repair recipe
CPM meet reviews ‘blunder’
Report brings out infant hunger horror

New Delhi, April 15 
Lining up behind the Prime Minister to send a strong message to allies, BJP president Kushabhau Thakre justified the government’s decision to slash subsidies and said “some harsh decisions” had to be taken to “correct the distortions in our economy”.

In his opening remarks at the two-day BJP national executive here, Thakre held a brief for the government and stated it was “virtually impossible” for any government to carry the “burden of subsidies beyond a point”.

He advocated “focused spending on the poor”, adding that this was possible only when there were cutbacks on massive general spending.

As if to make amends for the rebuff to A. B. Vajpayee in a special issue of the BJP Today — which gave a big build-up to home minister L.K. Advani — Thakre described the Prime Minister as the “tallest leader” in the country.

“Today, we are the largest political party in the country with more than two crore members. We are the largest party in Parliament. We are the leading member of the ruling coalition. Shri Vajpayee, the founder president of the BJP, is the Prime Minister and the tallest leader in the country,” he gushed.

Thakre’s subsidy cut defence — which came two days before the start of the second lap of the budget session — is being seen as a signal to allies to fall in line with the policy and not strike discordant notes within and outside the House.

In the first half of the budget session, the Janata Dal (United) and the Telugu Desam Party demanded a rollback of the subsidies’ cut, while the Akali Dal leader and Punjab chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, wrote to the Prime Minister.

The BJP’s MPs, particularly those from the Hindi belt, vociferously opposed the cutback in parliamentary party meetings on the ground that it hurt them politically. The party hopes that with Thakre “falling in line”, the MPs would follow suit and make things easier for the government.

Maintaining that the decision was akin to administering “strong medicine” to a patient, Thakre stressed that people needed to be told that subsidy bills were carried over to tomorrow. “So, while they get subsidy today, it is their children who have to bear the burden of the expenditure tomorrow. This is hardly conducive to a healthy economy,” he said.

The BJP chief also called for projecting the “positive outcome” of the government’s economic initiatives and listed the low rate of inflation and its rural development measures as the main ones.

Party sources, however, said notwithstanding Thakre’s pro-government advocacy, some national executive members cautioned the government to “go easy” on its liberalisation agenda and keep the “interests of small industries and indigenous industry at large” while framing economic policies.

During a discussion on the economic resolution, sources said it was argued that since Indian business formed a big chunk of the BJP’s traditional vote base, the government must not “lose sight” of its interests.

Thakre praised the Vajpayee government for the President Bill Clinton’s visit and applauded it as “another example of the successful conduct of foreign policy and resolute pursuit of national security interests by the government”.

Thakre, however, took note of the cross-voting in the recent Rajya Sabha binennial elections and called it a “blot on our polity” and a “perversion of democracy”.

The national executive passed a resolution condemning the killing of the Sikhs Jammu and Kashmir.    

New Delhi, April 15 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has taken exception to a reported remark made by Sushma Swaraj saying that the Ram Janmabhoomi “movement” in Ayodhya was “purely political in nature and had nothing to do with religion”.

The BJP leader had said this in a press conference yesterday at Bhopal.

Expressing “surprise” at Sushma’s comment, VHP vice-president and spokesman Acharya Giriraj Kishore said: “May be political parties for their own gains could consider the Ram mandir movement as political but for us it is a question of the conviction and religious beliefs of Hindus.” Kishore added that he included the BJP among the “political parties” he mentioned.

It appeared that the VHP leader was willing to give Sushma the benefit of doubt, although reluctantly. Maintaining that she had called him up shortly after addressing the Bhopal press to “explain” her remark, Kishore said, “she told me that what she had actually said was that for the BJP Ayodhya was not a sentimental issue but a befitting answer to the proponents of pseudo-secularism. The papers had misreported her statement, she said.”

In an ironic twist, he said. “I do not want to comment on what papers report and what they do not, because leaders habitually retract their statements. At the same time, I am not putting a question mark on what Sushma told me. One thing is certain, for us the Ram mandir is a matter of faith and belief, it is a life-and-death question.”

Kishore objected to Sushma’s reported call for a debate on whether a temple had existed on the site of the Babri masjid. “She is not fully seized of the matter, because the court has observed that the questions of whether a temple existed before the masjid or whether Ram was born in Ayodhya or not cannot be settled legally.” He said the only issue before the court was to determine who was the title-holder of the disputed property.

Kishore warned that if the court delayed its verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, the VHP would pressure Parliament to enact a legislation to facilitate the Ram temple’s construction.

“The issue involves the sentiments and beliefs of crores of Hindus, so Parliament will be bound to enact a relevant law,” he declared. Asked if he would take up Sushma’s reported remarks with the BJP leadership, he replied, “it is enough that I have aired my views through the press.”

The VHP leader, along with working president Ashok Singhal, met the Prime Minister yesterday to reportedly express his “concern” over the death of livestock in drought-hit Rajasthan and call for immediate measures to save their lives. He denied that the Ram Janmabhoomi issue had figured in their hour-long meeting with Atal Behari Vajpayee.

About the recent attacks on Christians in west Uttar Pradesh, Kishore went on the defensive and warned the community not to give the incidents in Mathura and Ghaziabad a “communal colour” and “sow the seeds of dissensions in society”. “Christians need to work keeping the Indian context in mind,” he said.    

Washington, April 15 
India has handed to Pakistan’s military dictator General Pervez Musharraf a diplomatic windfall by its under-representation at the G-77 summit which concluded in the Cuban capital of Havana on Friday.

Contrary to the line put out by New Delhi that Pakistan was on the verge of being expelled from the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam), Musharraf used his unexpected presence at the summit to significantly offset his international isolation as a military dictator who overthrew the elected governmentt of Pakistan.

In meeting UN secretary general Kofi Annan at the Havana summit, Musharraf skilfully exploited Annan’s grouse against India which has not only refused to allow any UN role in the Indo-Pakistan dispute but has also cold-shouldered the secretary general’s attempts to either visit South Asia himself or at least send a high level representative.

Musharraf discussed with Annan his plans to return to democracy thus pre-empting any criticism that the secretary general was hobnobbing with men in uniform.

He also used the meeting to discuss what was described as “regional security issues” a subject of concern for the international community in the context of Pokhran-II and Chagai.

Musharraf chose his other interlocutors in Havana with great care as well. He met Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an acknowledgement that Islamabad was assiduously wooing an Indian ally of long standing in Nam and other developing world fora.

Musharraf’s meeting with the Algerian President was obviously prompted by recent Indian attempts to cosy up to Morocco, Algeria’s bitter enemy in the western Sahara dispute. A Pakistani diplomat compared Musharraf’s meeting with Bouteflika to India’s decision to invite Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo as chief guest at this year’s Republic Day parade in view of Obasanjo’s assumption of power as Nigeria’s democratically elected President.

“Bouteflika is western Africa’s hope for democracy, moderation and the fight against Islamic fundamentalism,” crowed the diplomat. “If he is meeting the chief executive (Musharraf), then obviously, the general is no untouchable for elected leaders as India would have everyone to believe”.

Musharraf also chose the G-77 summit to reiterate support for an ally of long standing — China — on the sensitive Taiwan issue following the election of a pro-independent President in Taiwan. He went out of his way to convey to Chinese vice premier Li Lanqing Pakistan’s support for Taiwan’s return to Chinese sovereignty. Sure enough China returned the favour by telling Musharraf that there should be a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Musharraf made his mark — the first Pakistani leader to do so — on a territory over which India had unrestricted sway for 40 years, namely the Cuban public mind. Musharraf’s address to the G-77 summit was telecast live by Channel 3, Channel 6 and Cuba Vision stations.

Musharraf also scored points at the summit by his refusal to directly bring up the Kashmir dispute or problems with India, although some reports said Cuban President Fidel Castro had requested the general not to bring up Kashmir. All previous Pakistani leaders, be it General Zia-Ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif, have used every conceivable international forum to rail at India, making the international community fairly fed up of the Indo-Pakistan dispute. At G-77, Musharraf made no open reference to Kashmir, but merely called for peacefully resolving “thorny disputes between countries in accordance with the wishes of the oppressed people”. He won praise by making creative proposals — such as an offer to set up a regional institute of research on international trade and investment in Pakistan.

In marked contrast to the Musharraf’s erudition, Human Resources Development minister Murli Manohar Joshi drew yawns from delegates when he urged developing countries to stand united against attempts by rich nations to impose “unhealthy prescriptions” for economic growth. Joshi virulently attacked rich countries saying: “We should be alert to the danger of future disempowerment by developed nations” and describing policies of rich nations as nothing but prescriptions to “destabilise developing nations”. It was not lost on the G-77 that India was precisely trying to get on the bandwagon of free market and economic reform advocated by rich nations. Joshi’s speech could have been a re-run of what Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi told any gathering of developing countries several decades ago — things that the world is tired of hearing from India.

If New Delhi’s idea in sending Joshi instead of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee or external affairs minister Jaswant Singh was to cast aside its ideological baggage in foreign policy by toning down support for movements like G-77, it could have been done more thoughtfully, G-77 sources said. They recalled Singh’s address to a non-aligned meeting at the UN last September when he called for reform in Nam and highlighted the movement’s alienation. India, they said, could have similarly made suggestions to G-77 with more thoughtful representation in Havana. And used the opportunity provided by the summit to renew high level contacts instead of leaving the field wide open for Musharraf.


New Delhi, April 15 
Fully conscious of the fact that his last visit to India two summers ago was an absolute disaster, the British foreign minister Robin Cook arrived here today to begin his four-day official visit with the sole objective of putting Indo-British bilateral relations firmly back on tracks.

The British foreign secretary — as Cook is called in Britain — will make an effort to tell the Indian leadership, which includes Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapyee, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and the national security advisor Brajesh Mishra among others — London’s keenness to re-build bridges with Delhi and to deepen and strengthen the ties between the two sides.

Coinciding with his visit and to give it much more meat will be the launching of the Indo-British Round Table Conference — a gathering of experts and think-tanks outside the government, representing key areas of activities to give their inputs that will strengthen bilateral relations between Delhi and London.

Cook is also meeting commerce minister Murasali Maran and captains of the Indian industry at a lunch and discussion organised by the CII on foreign investments in India. This indicates Britain’s eagerness to broad-base the relationship with India. But the main signal of this will come from his interactions at the highest political level.

The fact that Delhi too, is keen to start afresh with London is indicated by the fact that Singh — who will be Cook’s chief host — has not only invited him to visit his ancestral home in Jodhpur but will also address a joint press conference at the Hyderabad House soon after their bilateral meeting and official lunch on Monday afternoon.

In May 1997, Cook, still new in his job as Britain’s foreign secretary, had visited South Asia accompanying Queen Elizabeth II. It was flawed from the beginning. Before his arrival here, Cook had displeased the Indian leadership with his remarks that British aid in future should be linked to human rights record of a country. UK is India’s second largest trading partner after US and given the Labour government’s soft-spot for the Kashmir dispute, the remarks were not taken too kindly in Delhi.

Then started the controversy whether the Queen, during her visit to Amritsar, should apologise for the Jalianwalabagh massacre. To make things worse the British foreign secretary, while still in Pakistan, commented that the Kashmir dispute continued to raise concerns in the international community and hinted London’s willingness to mediate to resolve it. This prompted angry reactions from the then Indian foreign minister I.K. Gujral who retorted by describing Britain as “ a third rate power.”

But British diplomats are not willing to let the bad experience of the past cloud Cook’s current visit to India. “I am looking forward to my visit to India,” Cook had said prior to his departure to Delhi. “Indo-British relations are in robust health. We have a modern partnership. Both countries are adapting to the many changes of the 21st century. I am keen to see for myself some of the ways in which India is rising to the challenges presented by globalisation and the knowledge-based economy,” he added.

Cook’s visit here may also lead to the resumption of the defence consultative group meeting in New Delhi later this year. The fifth meeting of the group which has three sub-groups is likely to focus on armament purchases, military cooperation and strategic dialogue. The meeting may be followed by visits of chiefs of army and naval staff, which were called off after India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. The British government had recently extended fresh invitation to them.

On both the key issues of Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan relations and nuclear disarmament, Britain has shown marked shifts from its earlier rigid positions. It has criticised Pakistan for the Kargil intrusion and joined others in urging Islamabad to show respect for the line of control. It was harsh on the military coup which dislodged Nawaz Sharif from power and condemned the hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus late last year. On the nuclear issue too, it has shown a willingness to accept the “realities” of the sub-continent.

But much of it may be due to the response of the Americans — a country with whom the British foreign policy has a close affinity. The success of President Bill Clinton’s recent visit to India may have led London to seriously make efforts to iron out its differences with Delhi and create an atmosphere which will lead to an improved and strong Indo-British relations. Cook’s visit here is mainly to achieve this goal.


New Delhi, April 15 
The CPM, which declined to lead the United Front government in 1996, may not repeat the “historic blunder” again.

The politburo, in its two-day meeting here on April 12 and 13, discussed the amendments updating the party programme which inter alia dwelt upon the issue of the party joining any future third front government at the Centre.

“Any decision on such a situation will be taken only against the backdrop of the prevailing political condition,” said a party source who is privy to the politburo meeting. He made it clear that the party may in future reconsider its earlier stand of not joining any coalition government at the Centre.

Though the politburo has not taken any decision on participating or heading a Left-democratic-secular government, it also did not categorically rule out the option, sources said. The politburo decided that the question could be addressed when such a situation emerged.

After a threadbare discussion, the politburo prepared a report on the amendments received on the draft of the updated party programme.

The report, which kept the option of joining any future government open, will be placed before the Central Committee meeting to be held in the last week of April. The Central Committee meeting will finalise the draft which will then be released for inner-party discussions.    

New Delhi, April 15 
The magnitude of malnutrition in India is so acute that sixty per cent of all newborns in the country would be in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) had they been born in California.

As a result of malnutrition in the mother, each year 20 million infants across the world are underweight in the womb.

Quoting epidemiologist David Barker of the University of Southampton, the latest report of the Worldwatch Institute said “in utero” malnutrition may predispose a person to chronic disease in later life. Barker’s theory is “malnutrition in a foetus triggers metabolic and physiologic responses that help it to survive hunger.”

The report said the “terrible irony” of Barker’s hypothesis is that a child born hungry might escape the “diseases of poverty” only to be at increased risk of dying from a “disease of affluence”. The same adaptive responses later in life, when food is more plentiful, can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and glucose intolerance, a risk factor for diabetes. It said according to WHO estimates, of the five leading causes of child death in the developing world, 54 per cent of cases have malnutrition as an underlying condition.

According to the study most people would correctly identify hunger as the most critical malnourishment. But few can describe the causes. The myth persists today that hunger results from scarce food supplies and that poor harvests, usually because of poor rainfall or barren soils, are the root cause of hunger. The reality is that hunger is the product of human decision, especially decisions about how a society is organised.

Quoting Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the report said poverty rather than food shortages is frequently the underlying cause of hunger. “Nearly 80 per cent of all malnourished children in the developing world in the early 1990s lived in countries that boasted of food surpluses”.

It said many developing countries spend less than $25 per person annually on health care compared with $4000 in industrial nations. India and China for example spend $17 and $31 respectively on health care.

The report also dwelt at length on the depleting water resources. While water-logging, salting and silting go back several thousand years, aquifer depletion is a comparatively recent phenomenon, confined largely to the last half-century when powerful diesel and electric pumps made it possible to extract underground water at rates that exceed the natural recharge from rainfall and melting snow, the report said.

Overpumping of aquifers in China, India, North Africa, Saudi Arabia and the United States exceeds 160 billion tons of water per year, it said.    


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