Delhi threatens Sierra pullout over status
BJP bid to allay ally fear on Lanka
Mamata nurses PSU votebank
Krishna mulls PCC quit ploy
BJP team to visit Nawada
Rabri grapples with twin threats
Sangh in foreign funds frown

 
 
DELHI THREATENS SIERRA PULLOUT OVER STATUS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 13 
Even as efforts are on to free the 21 Indian soldiers held hostage by the Revolutionary United Front (Ruf), Delhi has threatened to pull out of the UN mission in Sierra Leone if the status of its troops is changed from “peace-keepers” to “peace-enforcers”.

The change in status can expose the Indian soldiers, along with most UN troops in Sierra Leone, to more danger from the armed rebels. Delhi feels the UN, already 2,000 short of its required strength of 13,000, is not in a position to become peace-enforcers.

The status-change could also lead to an embarrassing situation. With Delhi consistently saying it will not get involved militarily in neighbouring Sri Lanka, questions are bound to be asked on how the government can allow its soldiers to get involved in war in a far-off country.

The British, South Block officials say, are the brains behind the proposed change of status. But India has made it clear that if this happens, it will pull out of the African country, seriously jeopardising UN’s peace efforts there.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said the Kailahun company commander and a medical officer had visited the Indian hostages in Pendembu with rations and reported that “all of them are safe and fine”.

Reports here said Cooper, special envoy of the Liberian President, held discussions in Freetown with joint secretary of the external affairs ministry, Dinkar Srivastava, on measures to expedite the hostages’ release.

That she had been able to establish contact with the Ruf leadership after 24 hours has made the Indians hopeful about an early release of the 21 soldiers.

The Nigerian President Obosanjo, was contacted by the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee yesterday, has also promised to use his influence for the release.

The 3,000 Indian soldiers in Sierra Leone are under chapter 6 of the UN mandate.

This means they are in Sierra Leone as peace-keepers and are neither allowed to carry heavy weapons or use force to restore law and order. They rely essentially on negotiations.

The UK, who are being supported by the US, are in favour of changing the status of the peace-keepers to peace-enforcers. But neither the British, the Americans, or any western country is really taking an active part in the Freetown peace effort.

Most of the UN troops are from the developing nations. The British have a token presence in Sierra Leone but their chief concern are the stranded UK nationals.

Indian officials feel that the UN needs at least 19,000 troops and heavier weapons if it is to change its mission to peace-enforcing.

But the British and the Americans, who are both members of the UN Security Council, can bring about this change in the UN troops status without much effort.

The only leverage that Delhi has against this is to threatening to pull out from Sierra Leone to prevent this. This is the path India has taken.    


 
 
BJP BID TO ALLAY ALLY FEAR ON LANKA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 13 
Trying to allay the fears of its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), that any financial aid to Sri Lanka will be utilised to fight the Tamil separatists there, the BJP today clarified that the credit facility of $ 100 million extended to Colombo was to help that country to tide over its immediate crisis.

“This credit would be only for buying Indian goods and the modalities are to be worked out later between the two countries,” party spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu told reporters here.

“It is a credit line that is open for humanitarian purposes. We have credit line with many countries. Wheat and rice will be given, not cash,” Naidu said trying to assauge the fears of PMK. He said the credit will be to buy goods and not arms. Answering a question, he said the PMK was not against humanitarian help to Lanka.

PMK chief Ramadoss today wrote to external affairs minister Jaswant Singh expressing concern at the offer of $ 100 million to the Lankan government.

He said the Centre should pursue a process that would usher in peace in Sri Lanka but disfavoured India’s offer of financial aid to Colombo, saying this would be detrimental to the interests of the Tamils.

“In our opinion the financial and material assistance will directly encourage the state terrorism against Tamils and the offer is not different from the military arms and ammunitions supplied to Sri Lanka by Pakistan and Israel,” he said.

“We are slightly upset over your offer of credit facilities to the tune of $ 100 million,” Ramadoss wrote. He said the financial assistance would tilt the balance in favour of the Sinhalese and was also not in “consonance” with the decision taken by the NDA.    


 
 
MAMATA NURSES PSU VOTEBANK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 13 
Mamata Banerjee continues to travel in a direction not quite signposted with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s big-banner economic reforms.

After stalling 100 per cent foreign investment in tea and coffee at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, this afternoon she spoke out on the virtues of sustaining ailing public sector units. Mamata said she had just placed orders for steel plates worth Rs 123 crore with the Steel Authority of India Limited.

Although she does not spell it out in as many words, it is clear the railway minister is not too concerned about the probable impact 100 per cent foreign investment would have on sectors like petroleum, power and e-commerce.

Her major worry is sectors which generate employment in the eastern region, especially West Bengal. With Assembly elections due next year, she does not want to alienate large chunks of the electorate and renege on her battler-for-Bengal reputation.

That is why she proclaimed openly today that she has already supported Burn, Braithwaite and Jessop and also given some business to the Durgapur Steel Plant by placing orders for 17,866 wheel sets. All these orders are benefiting workers in Bengal and, to some extent, in Bihar.

Mamata’s brand of populism is, however, far different from Cabinet colleague Ram Vilas Paswan’s. Unlike the communications minister, who has made a name for himself with the recent gift of phone connections to telecom employees, she is opposed to freebies, and that includes her own ministry. Quite the contrary, she has tried to economise heavily.

She has also refused to accept allurements like a summer trip to Europe or the US, opportunities most of her Cabinet colleagues have grabbed with alacrity. Nevertheless, it is true that she is gradually becoming the lone dissenting voice in the Cabinet on economic policy. Civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav and Paswan might have been fellow travellers, but neither is close to her.

The Prime Minister continues to be, despite her views on the economy. This evening she drove down to 7 Race Course Road with the new MP from Panskura, Bikram Sarkar. They had tea together. Vajpayee wanted to know more about the possible political impact of the Panskura victory and enquired about the forthcoming Calcutta Municipal Corporation election.

The meeting did not last long as Mamata had some important discussions with railway officials scheduled later in the evening and had to leave early. Her aides would only say that it was a courtesy call.    


 
 
KRISHNA MULLS PCC QUIT PLOY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, June 13 
Karnataka may soon have a new state Congress president, as chief minister S.M. Krishna wants to quit the party post when he is on top.

Sweeping victory for the Congress in the zilla and taluka panchayat elections has made Krishna stronger than ever, which helped him to put his detractors in place. He wants to use the opportunity to install his man as PCC president so that a rival power centre is not created.

Party sources said though T.N. Narasimha Murthy, Shamanur Shivshankarappa and M.V. Rajashekaran were early contenders for the post, Krishna is likely to favour some one from north Karnataka belonging to the backward classes.

Krishna would not like to ruffle the feathers of his cabinet by backing Narasimha Murthy, whose candidature is being opposed by home minister Mallikarjun Kharge. Shamanur and Rajashekaran are from the dominant southern belt but are light weight candidates.

Sources say the chief minister is backing urban development minister B.B. Chimankatti for the post as he is considered non-controversial with unquestionable loyalty. Chimankatti belongs to the Kuruba community, which is the third largest community after the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas in the state.

After the death of D.K. Naikar, who towered over north Karnataka politics for three decades, Congress lacked a leader of his stature and Chimankatti’s elevation will help the Congress to consolidate the backward class votes.

Though the Congress secured an unprecedented mandate in the panchayat elections, winning 26 of the 27 zilla panchayats, Krishna is aware that this was possible because of continued bickering between Janata Dal(U) and Janata Dal(S). Once they realise their folly and come together — Dal (U) has distanced itself from the BJP — they will be a force to reckon with.

Krishna knows that the two Dals will rejoin sooner than later, if only to survive, and Siddaramaiah, who heads the Dal (S), is expected to play an important role in its revival. Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba and Chimankatti’s promotion to state presidentship would act as an effective counter-weight.    


 
 
BJP TEAM TO VISIT NAWADA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 13 
The BJP, which is planning a high pitch campaign for the resignation of Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, chargesheeted by CBI in the disproportionate assets case, has decided to send a three-member team to Bihar.

The team headed by party national secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, will study the situation in Nawada, where 12 persons of a particular caste were killed on Tuesday. The team comprising Rajya Sabha member S.S. Ahluwalia and, Lok Sabha member Sanjay Paswan, will leave for Patna on June 16, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said today.

Naidu reiterated the party’s demand for the resignation of Rabri Devi, as she had “lost the moral and political right to continue in office”. Naidu told reporters that the team would meet affected people, local officials and state unit leaders and submit a report to the party’s Central leadership.

Naidu said the situation in Bihar is going out of hand. “It has become free for all. People are taking to arms, killing each other. In the last one week alone 25 people lost their lives. The police and administration have not taken any action.”

While the husband and wife team (RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi) are busy fighting cases against them in the courts, the state is left at the mercy of contract killers. No preventive arrests are made and intelligence reports not acted upon, he alleged.    


 
 
RABRI GRAPPLES WITH TWIN THREATS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 13 
The Rabri Devi government is under mounting pressure to check the soaring crime graph even as it continued to grapple with the new trend of caste violence sponsored by gangsters.

A day after the Nawada reprisal massacre, the Congress today threatened to review support if steps were not taken to end the violence. Pradesh Congress president Chandan Bagchi, who visited the carnage site at Afsar village, gave the chief minister a week to check the violence spiral. “We may be forced to review our decisions to support the government if the trend continues,” Bagchi said.

Even as he spoke, a trader was shot dead in Nawada town by unknown assailants.

Twelve upper caste Bhumihars were gunned down in the village near Worsaligunge by a group of 50 assailants wearing paramilitary uniform. The killings are believed to be in retaliation against the massacre of six members of two Yadav families last week.

The fresh bloodspill has given the National Democratic Alliance another stick to beat the government with. Taking cue from Afsar MLA Aruna Devi’s allegation that deputy superintendent of police P.K. Mandal had planned the massacre to please his political masters and that a state minister had instigated the assailants, BJP leader Sarau Rai said: “The killings have exposed the government’s callousness.”

The BJP claimed that the minister, Rajballav Yadav, had befriended a backward caste gangster Ashoke Mahato, who is allegedly responsible for a series of murders in Nawada. According to the BJP, the minister got Mahato to unite the Yadav, Dalit and Kurmi gangs in the area to fight the Bhumihars.

The minister scoffed at the charge and said the carnage was fallout of the rivalry between Mahato and Akhilesh Singh, the husband of Aruna Devi.

“The origin of the conflict which led to the massacre was something else. It was an effort by the goons to fight a territory war and massacres have become a strategy to terrorise the people,” Rajballav said.

The revenge killings have put the government on the backfoot as so far it had to tackle violence triggered by Naxalite groups or by the Ranbir Sena. But the Nawada carnage has shown that gangs are now willing to carry out the killings for a price.

“Even a smalltime gangster is gathering 50 gunmen, donning commando uniforms and eliminating the families of their caste rivals. This trend is disturbing,” said M.K. Singh, inspector-general of police (operations).

Agreed state home secretary U.N. Panjiyar. “The caste killings have now begun to shift locales. From the traditional central districts, they are moving towards the south-central areas. The violence is different from the ones we had seen earlier,” he said.

Seething at the carnage, the residents of Afsar refused to let the administration take the bodies for post-mortem. The bodies were cremated later in the day, escorted by six companies of paramilitary forces. Aditya Singh, a Bhumihar Cabinet minister, was despatched by Rabri Devi to the village to hand over Rs 10,000 as compensation to the victims’ relatives.    


 
 
SANGH IN FOREIGN FUNDS FROWN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 13 
Miffed at the Centre’s reform overdrive, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) has decided to launch a nationwide agitation to protest against the policies, which, it, claims, favour multinationals.

At a Cabinet meeting yesterday, the government permitted 100 per cent foreign investment in petroleum refining and e-commerce and also decided to waive the Rs 1,500-crore ceiling beyond which project approvals are now not automatic in the power sector.

Lashing out at the decisions, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch — the RSS’s economic swordarm — said the BJP-led government had proved itself to be just like any other as it had earlier promised not to allow foreign capital in e-commerce.

“The manch will articulate as clearly as possible its economic philosophy and the concern of the people,” convener Muralidhar Rao said.

Claiming that the decisions would deprive the country of foreign exchange earnings, Rao added: “The earlier governments were appeasing minorities, this government is appeasing the multinationals.”

Rao said the manch has called a meeting in Agra on June 24 and 25, where it will draw up the blueprint for the agitation against the government.

The meeting will be attended by Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh president Dattapant Thengadi, SJM chairman S. Gurumurthy and RSS leader Madan Das.

Rao said the investment flurry would make the nation vulnerable to foreign capital. The Sangh leader also criticised the move to scrap the condition to match dividend payment with export earning by foreign firms, saying it would drain the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The domestic market will be completely at the mercy of the multinationals while “we gain nothing”, Rao added.

Since 1998, the manch has been organising camps to propagate swadeshi. Its outfit “Bharatiya Marketing” is acting as an advertiser for Indian products.

Sangh parivar sources are, however, sceptical of the manch’s move. They pointed out that the outfit cannot agitate against the Centre beyond a point as the Sangh leadership has taken a policy decision not to go public with its differences for the time being.

Asked why then was the manch speaking out against the investment decision, the sources said the campaign was to keep the “cadre busy and happy”.

The RSS does not want to enter into a direct confrontation with the government as it would send a wrong message across the political spectrum, they argued.

The CPM, too, assailed the government for yesterday’s decisions. “The Vajpayee government seems determined to stifle domestic enterprises and hand over all sections of the economy to foreign capital,” the party said.    

 

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