Storm-struck find no solace in refinery
Atal sermon on reforms bitter pill
Advani, Naidu in swadeshi harmony show
Vaiko on Tiger truce mission
Mamata peace cry in Keshpur
Advani fears poll-push to violence
Rabri rani ahead in battle with kshatran

Paradip, May 24 
They were lost in the teeming crowd, five women, bonded together by grief. Residents of a leper colony, they lost their husbands and only breadwinners to the supercyclone, that ravaged the port town of Paradip on October 29.

They came trudging a few kilometres today, hoping to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who flew in to participate in a glitzy ground-breaking for a Rs 8,000-crore Indian Oil refinery.

Clutching their children and hitching up their faded saris, they walked through the soggy rice fields separating the meeting ground from the Cuttack-Paradip expressway, only to have their hopes dashed.

Penned in an enclosure far from the dais, the leaders sat inside a ring of armed guards, nervous and vulnerable.

Soon the women realised their folly. “It was stupid to expect that we could meet the Prime Minister and chief minister just like that, but we were desperate,” said Bulu Sahoo, one of the widows. “We wanted to know what the government is planning to do for us. We are nearing the end of our tether.”

The storm reduced the former housewives to domestic helps. “Our husbands were leprosy patients, but they were not unemployed. Most of them were driving rickshaws to run the families,” Kanak Rana, another widow, said. “After the raging sea swallowed them up, we had to do something to keep us and our children alive. This is better than prostitution.”

The widows are mostly in their twenties. And none of them or their children have the disease their husbands suffered from, but they still live in the leper colony.

“Where else can we go? Our parents are too poor to fend for us. These people with missing limbs have supported us in times of distress. How can we leave them now?” Gita Pradhan, another widow said.

What would the widows do now? They wanted to ask the Prime Minister.

“We are more concerned about our children and their future. Shouldn’t the government do something about us?” Mana Sahoo, 19, youngest of the widows and mother of a child, asked.

Neither leader spoke of the widows at the meeting. Vajpayee briefly touched upon the ongoing rehabilitation efforts. He told the crowd that his government was doing to rebuild their homes and primary schools, before dwelling on the “opportunities” the economic liberalisation had opened up for the people.

Reading a brief, written speech in Oriya, Patnaik said the refinery would help people from the cyclone-hit coastal belt get jobs and boost the state’s industrial development. “Impoverished Orissa’s development is the country’s development,” he said, to a burst of applause.

The grounds were packed with Biju Janata Dal workers, trucked in from different parts of Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur districts. A group of them shouted and interrupted Vajpayee demanding Paradip port be renamed after Biju Patnaik, the late chief minister and the port’s founder.

But no voice was raised for the thousands of people who lost their loved ones and their source of income to the killer storm.    

Paradip, May 24 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today lashed out at political parties for critising his government’s economic policies and said obstructions would not help the country become self-reliant.

“There is a need to take hard decisions keeping in mind the economic progress of the people and the country. Our government had taken certain hard decisions which have been opposed. Political parties should not be a hindrance to economic growth but should act as facilitators of progress,” he said, after laying the foundation stone of Rs 8,300 crore Paradip refinery of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC).

The NDA government’s allies, Trinamul and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had criticised the Vajpayee government for not rolling back the cut in food and fertiliser subsidy. The government also received flak from TDP on the proposal to privatise Vizag Steel Plant. The attack was repeated by Trinamul when the Centre placed the proposal to privatise Balco.

Vajpayee said India is seen as an attractive investment destination by the world and the country will have a “new image” in the coming three to four years owing to reform initiatives taken by the government.

“We will be competitive and self-reliant soon. India will move on the path of growth keeping in mind the changing global scenario, besides attracting more investment and generating new employment opportunities,” he said.

Vajpayee said the completion of the refinery in Orissa would give a big boost to growth of ancillary industries in the state, besides generating employment.

“I hope the project would be completed ahead of schedule and add to the development of the economy of the state,” Vajpayee said.” There is a need to adopt new technologies and effect changes according to the global trends so that India is in a competitive position in the world as one of the best investment destinations,” he said.

He lauded the people of Orissa for braving the super-cyclone last year and stressed that the Centre would lend support for the socio-economic development of the state.

The IOC’s grassroot refinery will have a nine million metric tonnes per year capacity and would be among the largest in the public sector. A most modern refinery, it will be the country’s first zero residue refinery.

Engineers India Ltd (EIL) has been appointed as project management consultants while global process technologies would be made available by ABB Lumus, Shell and Haldor Topsoe of Denmark. The refinery is scheduled to be completed by August 2003.

Union Minister for petroleum and natural gas, Ram Naik said, there is an eight to ten per cent increase in crude requirement each year. The country now imports nearly 70 per cent of its crude requirements while the total value of crude imported in 1999-2000 stood at Rs 57,000 crore.

“It has therefore become extremely important that our self sufficiency in crude production should increase,” said Naik.    

New Delhi, May 24 
Home minister L.K. Advani is flying to Hyderabad tomorrow to inaugurate the “Swadeshi Mela”, organised by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the anti-liberalisation RSS-affiliate. Advani is, no doubt, going there with the knowledge of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Dotcom chief minister and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu, a strong votary of globalisation, will also attend the mela, meant to rubbish all things foreign and promote everything Indian.

It may sound paradoxical and confusing, but the event is testimony to the changing times and realpolitik. “Don’t read too much into Advani attending the swadeshi programme,” said a BJP insider. Naidu, an ardent fan of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Tony Blair, cannot become a disciple of K.S. Sudarshan overnight, said a Desam leader, making light of the chief minister’s scheduled participation in the Swadeshi mela.

Only last week at a function here, Naidu had offered a few tips to hardliner Advani about “good governance” and later the home minister praised Naidu for his “vision”. The mutual appreciation is spreading fast, like a contagious virus.

Vajpayee and the Sangh top brass have buried their hatchet, at least for the time being. “It is a strategic truce,” said a party leader, adding, “in fact, the Prime Minister even told party leaders during the budget session to participate in RSS-sponsored programmes to keep Sudarshan happy”.

“The occasional outbursts against the Vajpayee government’s policies and these swadeshi melas are “to keep the cadre busy”, said a Sangh source. The SJM had been busy making arrangements for the mela in Hyderabad for the past two months, he said.

The “give-and-take” appears to have had its desired effect. The RSS did not make a hue and cry over the Sankhya Vahini project even though the SJM had published a booklet against the project. Though senior leaders like Madan Lal Khurana wrote to the Prime Minister against the project and against succumbing to US pressure and was, consequently, removed as party vice-president, the RSS leadership did not come to his rescue.

Apart from the Sangh bosses’ decision not to rock the Vajpayee government now in the interest of the country, the BJP and other parivar outfits, vested interests and political ambition among some leaders, bar the senior-most, have also contributed to the dilution of Sangh sniping.

“There are some SJM office-bearers who are also members of Parliament with political ambition,” said a Sangh watcher.

However, to keep the cadre busy, the SJM has now decided to oppose the proposal on foreign direct investment in telecom sector.    

New Delhi, May 24 
MDMK chief Vaiko has gone to Chennai as an emissary of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to find out if the LTTE is willing to declare a ceasefire if and when India decides to evacuate the trapped Sri Lankan soldiers from Jaffna.

Vaiko, who met Vajpayee before leaving for Chennai, also met defence minister George Fernandes who is known to be an LTTE sympathiser.

Sources close to the defence minister said Vajpayee is evaluating various inputs, including intelligence reports about the Tigers’ latest position, before fully committing any line of action.

According to them, in the meeting with Vaiko, Vajpayee “sought to know whether the LTTE will declare a ceasefire — which will be a face-saver for India. We want a ceasefire to come first. It is in their (LTTE’s) best interest,” they said. They, however, added that the government may not wait beyond a reasonable point of time.

Vaiko and PMK chief S. Ramadoss have been the most vocal supporters of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran. Both have demanded that the Centre lift the ban on the outfit and recognise Eelam (separate Tamil state in Lanka). Prabhakaran’s parents had even attended Vaiko’s daughter’s wedding in Chennai in 1997.

Delhi, which has so far refused to get involved in the conflict, yesterday said that it was ready to evacuate the troops if “proper conditions” prevailed and if there is a “formal” request from Colombo. “Proper conditions”, according to the sources, is being interpreted as ceasefire by the LTTE as India does not want a repeat of the IPKF experience.

Vaiko today said he was confident that the government would take an appropriate step at the appropriate time. After meeting the Prime Minister yesterday, he said he was very happy with the talks and the Centre was going about the issue “very cautiously”.

Tamil sources said the guerrillas were not averse to the evacuation of trapped Lankan soldiers — who number about 30,000 — as it gives them free access to Jaffna.    

Keshpur (Midnapore), May 24 
Scaling down her militant exhortation against the CPM, railway minister Mamata Banerjee today spoke of the need to restore peace in trouble-torn Keshpur during her return visit here.

Mamata, who spat fire against the CPM and the police here on Monday holding them responsible for the continuing violence, said all major issues should be settled politically. She said a peaceful byelection in Panskura would help restore normalcy.

Eleven persons, nine of them Trinamul supporters, were killed in a series of clashes between the Trinamul and the CPM in Keshpur last Saturday. Trinamul activists hit back, looting 170 houses and torching over a hundred.

Hearing about the violence, Mamata had rushed to Keshpur on Monday. On reaching Keshpur this afternoon, Mamata unlocked the party office, which was lying closed for a long time following “terror unleashed by CPM activists”. She announced that it will now be used as the main election office for the Panskura poll.    

New Delhi, May 24 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today described the situation in Midnapore as “bad” and feared that the level of political violence was expected to worsen as elections to the Panskura parliamentary constituency, the Calcutta Municipal Commission and the Assembly polls get nearer.

Echoing the home minister, the Election Commission also expressed apprehension over largescale violence in Panskura, where bypolls are scheduled to be held on June 5. Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill today sent a stern directive to the Left Front government to ensure that polling is held peacefully.

Advani said he was concerned over the continuing clashes between CPM and Trinamul Congress cadres. The home minister added that the situation was being monitored very closely by his ministry but reports coming in from the state paint a grim picture of what might happen as the countdown for the bypoll in Panskura begins.    

May 24 
A month ago, the battle-scarred residents of this volatile constituency would have shrugged at any talk of elections. Not any longer: even Raghopur is readying for the duel between the rani and the kshatrani. Seeing Rabri Devi campaign, even Laloo Yadav would have been impressed. There was no trace of the reluctant housewife in her voice. Instead, she exuded confidence, portraying herself as a martyr who had to take over the state’s reins after the “injustice” meted out to her husband. If she is the queen seeking retribution for her husband’s travails, her rival is no less formidable. Dubbed kshatrani (warrior’s wife) by the people, Veera Devi has blamed the Yadavs for hounding her husband Brijnath Singh. Brijnath is wanted in at least 20 cases of murder and dacoity. Laloo’s pocketborough, Raghopur is better known for its treacherous terrain, flanked by the Ganga and the Gandak. The few villages are scattered, separated by formidable doabs. Otherwise uncultivable, the land is fertile territory for the marijuana plants. Politics is sustained by the drug cartel thriving on marijuana trade, murders and clashes are as common as night and day. It’s a wonder then that Rabri is drawing crowds, the likes of which would have been envied by even Laloo in his heyday. For the Janata Dal (United), the byelection is a proxy war for Union minister Ramvilas Paswan as Raghopur is part of his Hajipur Lok Sabha constituency. But Rabri is confident. “Bhajpa ne pehle Laloo Prasad ko jhoote mukkadame mein fasane ki koshish kia. Uske bad, mujhe fasane ki koshish ki. (The BJP first tried to implicate Laloo, then they targeted me as well),” Rabri thundered. “Ab garib janata ki jababdihi bante hai ki garib ki sarkar ko bachao (Now it is the turn of the poor people to save the government for the poor.)” The backward women initially squirmed as Rabri mentioned Laloo by name in her speech (women are not supposed to take their husband’s names in these parts). But as Rabri started growing in confidence, the barriers were broken, and by the time she finished, saying “Rabri rani ki takat baregi agar aap saath de (Queen Rabri will grow in strength if you support me)”, it was clear which way they would vote. That Laloo had won the seat by 70,000 votes in the March elections indicates that the sailing could be smooth for Rabri as well. Sources in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) admitted that Rabri was too strong a candidate for Veera Devi. Compared with the frenetic campaigning by RJD leaders, the NDA presence here has been perfunctory. But Veera is determined to give the self-styled queen a run for her money. Describing her husband as a warrior battling the Yadavs, Veera countered the charge that she was a “criminal’s wife”. “If Lalooji, who is an accused in so many corruption cases, can field his wife, why cannot my husband nominate me?” Both camps are making no bones about their caste affiliations. If the Yadav gangs are slogging to lure the backward classes, the Thakurs, Bhumihars and Brahmins are rallying behind Veera. The RJD got a shot in the arm after Vishnudeo Rai, the Dal (U) leader who took on Laloo in March, joined the party. Political sources said Laloo agreed to field Rabri after Vishnudeo’s assurance. Vishnudeo had secured 41,000 votes in March; Veera, who contested as an Independent, got 23,000. “Even if Veera Devi gets Vishnudeo’s votes, she will not get more than 60,000 ballots. That is not enough to defeat Rabri,” argued an RJD worker.    

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