Delhi reality test for China high
Vajpayee beats Sonia in Kesri house-hunt
Paswan dials social justice
Calcutta weather

 
 
DELHI REALITY TEST FOR CHINA HIGH 
 
 
FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
New Delhi, June 4 
The indubitably excellent atmospherics through President K.R. Narayanan’s visit to China notwithstanding, South Block mandarins are sounding caution on reaching hasty conclusions about the positive air impacting Sino-Indian relations.

“China’s keenness to stress commonality and avoid differences was only too apparent during the President’s trip, as was a palpable sense of friendliness, but whether there is any real change in their attitude can only be tested on the bilateral negotiating table,” said a well-placed foreign office source at the conclusion of the six-day tour.

The superscript of the visit was, of course, the complete Chinese silence on the Pokhran blasts of May 1998 and the subsequent signals emanating from New Delhi that the essential reason for the nuclear tests was squaring up to the Chinese threat. That the Chinese leadership chose to avoid mention of the nuclear tests is being seen as a sign that Beijing does not want any more to make it “an issue of dispute” with India and seeks to take bilateral ties ahead regardless.

For Rashtrapati Bhavan, this would perhaps be a source of both satisfaction and achievement. The President’s visit became the platform for the first Chinese demonstration of willingness to talk friendship since Pokhran II.

But the view from South Block is that the road to normalisation of relations could yet be long and tortuous. As one foreign office source said: “The President’s visit was significant for the signals it sent out but the Chinese have not committed themselves to anything new. Even on the nuclear question, they were silent, which does not necessarily mean there is a change in their outlook.”

Apart from expressions of intent on strengthening bilateral ties — political and cultural exchanges will probably go through a phase of spate beginning with Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan’s visit later this year — the Chinese gave no assurances even on specific and repeated urgings of Narayanan. No response to his pleas for speeding up the delineation of the Line of Actual Control, not a hint that China would even consider supporting India’s case for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. What the Chinese leadership kept repeating was that it was “for making the Security Council more representative with the inclusion of nations from the developing world”. On the LAC, the consistent Chinese response was that “great amount of work still remains to be done and the boundary question needs to be approached with patience”.

There is a perception, in fact, that the Chinese may not have raised the nuclear issue purely on “ceremonial” grounds. The Indian President is a nominal head of state and added to that is the fact that the Chinese do consider Narayanan an “old friend” because of his long association with China. Beijing did not see the point in “unnecessarily ruining” a ceremonial visit by throwing up prickly issues. These may also have been the reasons why the Chinese refrained from factoring Pakistan — Beijing remains quite unabashed about its multi-pronged support to Islamabad — into the discussions.

Official sources, of course, underlined that given the nature of his office, the President himself had not approached his China visit with any illusions about achieving a major breakthrough or even discussing the nitty-gritty of bilateral ties. The talks were essentially general rather than particular, leaning on the atmospherics rather than the specifics. There was no detailed discussion, for instance, on the boundary question, the most troublesome and long-standing dispute.

What the trip did fetch, according to them, is the creation of an atmosphere in which Sino-Indian relations have the potential to take off, specially in the context of economic ties. It is not for nothing that accent on building economic relations was the constant refrain of Narayanan throughout the trip.

In the context of China’s unbridled leap ahead and India’s own efforts to open up, the President feels the strong impulses for economic growth in both China and India will become the propellants of a new era in ties.    


 
 
VAJPAYEE BEATS SONIA IN KESRI HOUSE-HUNT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 4 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s move to set up a “house bank” for “evicted” senior leaders has been partially upstaged by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. The government has provided a house for Sitaram Kesri from the freedom fighters’ quota, robbing her of a chance to provide succour to the man she replaced at the helm of the party.

Nonetheless, there are others in need of a house in Delhi for whom Sonia’s plan will be of immense help. According to her scheme, party MPs R.P. Goenka, Ratna Kumari, Begum Noor and other “well-off” parliamentarians have been requested to donate their official accommodation to “evicted” senior party leaders.

The move follows criticism of apathy, neglect and indifference towards veteran leaders. Faced with an ultimatum from urban development minister Jagmohan to vacate 16 premises occupied by the Congress from the ministry’s general pool, Sonia had few options. She had arranged for a house for Kesri but that would not be needed now as the government has allowed him to retain his 7, Purana Qila Marg residence. Kesri, however, acknowledged Sonia’s efforts as she had directed party general secretary Oscar Fernandes to write a letter to the Prime Minister and then asked Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh to plead to Vajpayee for the former Congress chief.

Apart from the old guard, several Congress functionaries also find themselves stranded. So, industrialist R.P. Goenka, recently elected from Rajasthan, and other resourceful MPs have been asked to “dole out” official accommodation for the likes of AICC general secretary Motilal Vora, Makhan Lal Fotedar, Prithivraj Chavan, P.J. Kurian and others. Sonia’s private secretary Vincent George is also on the lookout for a house.

Controversial party MP from Tezpur, M.K. Subba, has given his house to party spokesperson Ajit Jogi. With this gesture, Subba, who owns several foreign cars, has inched closer to the not-so-trusting party leadership. Satish Sharma, who has a farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi, had set the trend by gifting his 34, Gurdwara Rakabgunj house to Priyanka Gandhi, who is using it as her office to nurse her mother’s Amethi constituency.

There is, however, a hitch in Sonia’s scheme. The housing committee for MPs, headed by a BJP parliamentarian, has not yet allotted residential quarters to new MPs like Goenka. Till that is done, Sonia’s masterplan will remain only on paper.

Another problem that she faces is that the list of those looking for a house on compassionate ground is too long. So, sources close to 10 Janpath said Sonia is sanctioning houses after close scrutiny. “The scheme has been extended to only those who have nowhere to go, have no resources and are needed in Delhi for political ‘work’,” the source said.

   


 
 
PASWAN DIALS SOCIAL JUSTICE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, June 4 
Babulal Ram is a slum-dweller in Hajipur who ekes out a living by building hutments. Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan has made him a member of the area’s telephone advisory committee.

Babulal is just one of many recipients of benefits being distributed by Paswan as part of his “social justice” crusade using the telecom department as the platform.

Nirbhay Nishad, a bus conductor in Anjani village of Chhapra, also figures on the advisory committee there. “My advisory committees cut across economic barriers. This is a democratic way of representing the consumers,” Paswan said.

An advisory committee member is supposed to act as a bridge between the telecom ministry and subscribers.

Don’t ask Paswan whether Baburam and Nirbhay should not first be empowered to afford a phone. Phones, he will say, are free for committee members. And, if he can give free phones to all telecom employees, what’s a few more.

“It is a question of attitude. In our society, those who carry out the arduous tasks are not honoured, those who make shoes don’t have the means to put on even a slipper and those who clean dirt in the grandest localities are forced to live in squalor,” Paswan said. Now, some of them can continue to live in “squalor”, but with a phone.

The minister spent about a week in Bihar inaugurating new exchanges and outlining grandiose development plans.

In a state shorn of motorable roads, the minister attempted to log on to the infotech superhighway, promising Internet kiosks at every village.

More such plans followed. In far-flung Saharsa district of north Bihar, he announced that “telephone dhabas”, a restaurant-cum-telephone booth, will dot the state’s highways.

Some of the at least one lakh people waiting for phone lines in Patna and neighbouring areas are smirking. In Hajipur, Paswan’s constituency, there are applicants who have been waiting for close to three years. “We were waiting for two years. After Ram Vilasji became minister, we approached him. But things have not moved a bit,” said Santosh Srivastava, a trader.

The minister, who arrived in Delhi today amid reports that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was going to talk to him about the free-phone announcement he made recently for telecom employees, defended the decision.

“The scheme will certainly be implemented,” he insisted, scoffing at charges of squandering public money. “The (telecom) department has made a huge profit. So what if a fraction of this profit is spent on employees?” he asked. His free-phone gift is expected to cost Rs 120 crore a year.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 35.6°C (+1) Minimum: 27.8°C (+1)
RAINFALL: 23.5 mm
Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 59%
Today: Generally cloudy sky. Possibility of a thundershower in some areas. Maximum temperature likely to be around 34°C.
Sunset: 6.15 pm
Sunrise: 4.55 am
   
 

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