Vajpayee lays reforms road minus hurdles
Sangh savours attacks clean chit
Tourism treaty with Italy
Govt mulls plea against sterilisation verdict
J&K self-rule charter on way to deep freeze
Farooq readies for debate
BJP hits out at Jinnah parallel
Cong warns Advani on MDMK meet

 
 
VAJPAYEE LAYS REFORMS ROAD MINUS HURDLES 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Lisbon, June 27 
Heralding a brave new India, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today unveiled the country’s blueprint for a more liberal economic regime before a gathering of Europe’s corporate czars.

As part of the new era, Vajpayee said he would constitute a “Joint Government-Industry Group” for the twin purposes of removing bottlenecks from sanctioned projects and ensuring speedy approvals for foreign direct investment.

In an effort to accelerate the funds flow into the country, the Prime Minister said that the group could also include foreign industrialists who are finding it difficult to overcome procedural hurdles.

For once, the government dealt with specifics and emphasised on the need to iron out rough edges that make doing business with India difficult.

Vajpayee came to the meet, attended by over 250 industrialists from across the continent, with a detailed basket of offers and requests.

“While the EU stands to benefit from cooperation in the rapidly expanding and equally rapidly evolving information technology sector, India looks towards European investment in critical areas like infrastructure and financial services. Both sides stand to gain from sharing their experience and expertise in the emerging knowledge-based industries like pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and research and development,” he said.

The Prime Minister sought more investment in the infrastructure sector, which he described as a high-priority area. He focused on his ambitious highway programme, which, he said, would cost around $11 billion.

He also sold the idea of opening up the ports to foreign investment and informed the gathering of the steps taken to corporatise some “important” harbours. These include the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, and the ports in Haldia, Ennore, Mangalore, Goa and Tuticorin.

“We welcome private sector participation in the modernisation of ports,” Vajpayee said and pointed to the legislation cleared by Parliament for joint ventures between Indian and foreign ports.

Vajpayee also spoke of the government’s divestment plans and listed the companies in which the state has decided to shed its stake.

He said five airports will be leased out on a long-term basis when the new civil aviation policy is chalked out.

Similarly, Vajpayee added, the telecom sector is being

opened up. An independent regulatory structure has been put in place to ensure a level playing field and a new law, based on the principles of convergence, is being worked out by a high-powered group.

Vajpayee disclosed that a report titled “Hydrocarbon — Vision 2025” is being prepared that lays down a regulatory framework and a progressive policy on deregulation for greater investment in the oil and gas sector.

With an eye on his allies opposed to the fast-paced reforms programme, Vajpayee said the divestment process would be a calibrated one.

“In the absence of social security and state-funded unemployment benefits, we will have to ensure that the interests of the workers is fully protected. We will do this through a combination of measures and suitable incentives like a generous voluntary retirement scheme and employees stock option scheme. We will use the equity of valuable unused urban land of our own state-owned enterprises to finance a social safety net for workers and employees,” he said.    


 
 
SANGH SAVOURS ATTACKS CLEAN CHIT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, June 27 
Contrary to public perception, Sangh outfits are happy with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s meeting with the Pope and his assurance that those who attacked Christians in India would be punished.

Sangh sources said Vajpayee scored diplomatic points, pleased Vatican and the European Union (which was planning to issue a statement condemning “widespread violence” against Christians in India), sent a signal to Christians back home and at the same time exonerated the Sangh parivar saying that the incidents were “isolated” and not organised.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, allegedly behind the recent attacks, today said there was nothing wrong with the Prime Minister calling on the pontiff.

Asked about its stand on the meeting, which was an admission that Christians are under threat here, VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore stressed that the Prime Minister had said that the attacks were “isolated”. He said: “The Prime Minister has not accepted suggestions that Christians are being persecuted in an organised way.”

Kishore said there was no harm in one head of state meeting another. It was the duty of the Prime Minister to ensure security for all citizens, he added.

While the VHP and Bajrang Dal, both RSS affiliates, denied any involvement in the attacks, the RSS warned the media against “defamatory” and “false” reports linking it with the attacks.

In a statement, Sangh joint general secretary Madan Das said its patience was wearing thin and that it would sue the erring sections of the media.

Addressing a news meet here, VHP and Bajrang leaders accused Christian missionaries of carrying out propaganda aimed at “defaming the Sangh Parivar, Hindus and India”. They pointed out that not a single Bajrang worker was arrested so far in connection with any attack on Christians.

Giriraj Kishore said the VHP and Bajrang leaders today met National Human Rights Commission chairman J.S. Verma and suggested a meeting between Hindu, Muslim and Christian leaders to “ponder over all contentious issues”, including the Babri Masjid demolition and attacks on Christians.

“We asked the NHRC to take the initiative for calling a tripartite meeting to ponder over all contentious issues and remove misunderstanding, if any,” Kishore said, adding that the panel endorsed the suggestion.

Asked whether the Babri issue would come up at the proposed meet, he said: “We are prepared for it. We have the documents to support our stand.”

The Sangh leaders said they informed the rights panel that the VHP and Bajrang Dal had no role in the attacks on Christians and that a CBI probe into the matter was needed.

The rights commission had on June 23 sought a report from the Uttar Pradesh government on a news report about Bajrang Dal raising an “oust Christians” cry.

Bajrang leader Surendra Jain said the organisation was a socio-religious body and its opposition was only to “forcible and fraudulent” conversions. “We do not believe in violence or the politics of killing,” he said.

The RSS statement said reports linking Sangh groups with violence against Christians were aimed at embarrassing the BJP-led government.

“The recent spate of false allegations have exhausted our patience, particularly because of the far-reaching impact of such false and motivated allegations on the national psyche and on global opinion about us,” Madan Das said.    


 
 
TOURISM TREATY WITH ITALY 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Rome, June 27 
India has signed a treaty to promote tourism with Italy. A joint working group will be set up to periodically review the progress of the agreement. Efforts will also be made to remove infrastructure bottlenecks in this sector. The agreement was signed on Monday by Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha and Italian minister of state for foreign trade and tourism Mauro Fabris.

Italy has also sought to recruit 1000 Indian professionals to coach their own software professionals. The request was made by Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and his Indian counterpart replied that he would do his best to meet the request. India expects Italians to show greater interest in the IT sector in the near future. However, no substantive agreement on IT was signed between the two countries.

Vajpayee in his speech at the luncheon hosted in his honour repeated what his government had hinted at on Sunday. He said India would follow the disvestment pattern adopted by Italy about a decade ago. For quite some time now, the government had been emphasising that the Italian model of disinvestment was the right solution for India. It means spreading the privatisation process over a number of years without causing a controversy.

The Pakistan issue was also raised by the Italians. Vajpayee repeated India’s stand that talks can only begin if Pakistan abjures violence and cross-border terrorism. Most European countries have toned down their criticism of India on the Kashmir issue after the recent visit of President Clinton.

The Prime Minister said at the joint press conference that he had taken the opportunity during his talks with Prime Minister Amato to apprise him of the second phase of economic reforms in India. “Italy is an important economic partner and we look forward to a greater flow of foreign direct investment,” he said.    


 
 
GOVT MULLS PLEA AGAINST STERILISATION VERDICT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 27 
The Centre is contemplating to file a revision petition in the Supreme Court challenging the court order that doctors were responsible for faulty sterilisation operations.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur said: “The government, however, would not condone negligence of doctors. But in cases where the doctor is sincere and not negligent, the government is prepared to pay the affected person whatever compensation the doctor has to pay according to the apex court judgment.”

The apex court had last month awarded compensation to a woman who gave birth to a child even after a sterilisation operation, thereby putting the responsibility on the doctors as well as the government.

A division bench of Justice S. Saghir Ahmad and Justice D.P. Wadhwa said the failure of the operation performed in a government hospital amounted to medical negligence and hence no personal law like the Hindu Maintenance Act or its counterparts in the Muslim and Christian laws would apply in the case.

“Medical negligence plays its game in strange ways. Sometimes it plays with life; sometimes it gifts an ‘unwanted child’ as in the instant case where a poor labourer woman, who already had many children and had opted for sterilisation, developed pregnancy and ultimately gave birth to a female child inspite of sterilisation operation which obviously had failed,” Justice Saghir Ahmad who wrote the judgement for the bench observed.

Following the judgment there were reports in the media that even the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) had turned out women opting for sterilisation operation. Safdarjung hospital too had reportedly turned out a few women recently. And family planning is an important policy matter at the top of the government agenda.

The government has decided to give a further push to the family planning programme after India has recorded a billion population recently. Thakur, a well known heart specialist from Patna, has been inducted into the health ministry recently after P. Shanmugham’s shift to the coal ministry.    


 
 
J&K SELF-RULE CHARTER ON WAY TO DEEP FREEZE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 27 
The Centre will not accept the autonomy resolution adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly yesterday. For all practical purposes, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government will prefer to keep the issue in cold storage.

The resolution will not be supported by either the BJP or the Congress. In fact, home minister L.K. Advani indicated as much today when he said at a press meet that the “Government of India will consider the resolution though Parliament will decide its fate”.

Ever since the autonomy motion, which seeks exclusive authority over all matters except defence, foreign affairs and communication among other administrative and financial powers, was introduced in the Assembly, both the Congress and the BJP have voiced strong opinions against it. The BJP is strongly opposed to any autonomy on the lines of the pre-1953 status, an arrangement in which the chief minister will be referred to as Prime Minister, the Governor Sadr-e-Riyasat, the state will have its own flag and there will be a separate Constitution and no Central authority to impose President’s rule. The state Congress voted against the move yesterday.

Advani preferred not to comment on the adoption of the resolution. He also did not want to talk about the meeting between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Farooq Abdullah, where the former had reportedly dissuaded the National Conference leader from pushing the matter. The National Conference is part of the NDA and there is no indication that it will pull out of the government even if the Centre does not go along with the stand taken by the Assembly.

“It’s an Assembly resolution. I would not like to comment on it. In any case, it will be sent to the Centre which will consider the resolution. However, whatever is to be done will be done by Parliament,” Advani, who met the press after returning from an 11-day tour of Israel, France and the UK, said. The home minister reiterated that the matter will be taken up for discussion at a political level only after Vajpayee returned from Italy and Portugal. Since the matter will also have to be discussed in the Cabinet, it is unlikely that the other NDA partners will support the resolution.

Asked whether Kashmir’s stand would spark similar action in other states, particularly in the Northeast, Advani said he “did not think so”, although the BJP government “believes that there should be greater devolution of power”. But it was for the Centre and Parliament to decide “how much power the states should enjoy”, he added.

However, home ministry officials said Abdullah’s remarks on the issue is a sign of his tricky political position. This stems from the fact that the Centre has shown willingness to talk with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. “He is simply trying to keep the National Conference afloat even though Jammu itself is against the idea of autonomy,” an official said.

Non-event: Jethmalani

Law minister Ram Jethmalani dubbed the autonomy demand as “legally a non-event”, but added “it has serious political implications”.

However, “we need not be unhappy about it. Several states demand autonomy. As long as it is not a demand for secession, there is nothing to worry about”, Jethmalani told The Telegraph.

“But legally and constitutionally, it is a non-event, because empowering states to legislate on more subjects, which is what autonomy is all about, is just a matter of an amendment to the Constitution. But when the issue is politicised, it takes on a different dimension,” Jethmalani said.    


 
 
FAROOQ READIES FOR DEBATE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, June 27 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today said the autonomy resolution has paved the way for a national debate and announced that a ministerial team would soon visit Delhi and state capitals to brief all parties on the issue.

The just-adopted resolution has been sent to the Centre for follow-up action, Jammu and Kashmir Speaker Abdul Ahad Vakil told a news conference here this evening.

He said copies of the historic resolution were also sent to the secretaries-general of both houses of Parliament and the state chief secretary.

Winding up the autonomy debate in the special Assembly session, Abdullah said: “We are not for weakening the territorial integrity of India.”

He added: “With two-thirds majority in the state legislature, my party (National Conference) could have straightaway got through a Bill giving constitutional status to this important issue. But instead, a resolution was adopted to pave the way for a national debate.”

“We are not for confrontation,” said the chief minister. “We want to assure the nation that we don’t want to go away from India. Our future lies in India and not in Pakistan. No one should nurture this impression that we are anti-Indians,” he asserted amid thumping of desks.

Abdullah appealed to politicians “not to paint them (Kashmiris) anti-India and create mistrust and hatred between communities just to garner Hindu votes”.

“The document is now before people of various thoughts. Let them convince us against it or get convinced by us,” he said.

The chief minister regretted that in academic discussions, political thinkers agreed to “what “we say”, but when it came to action, “they affix a label of anti-Indians on us”.

He said: “India does not belong to Hindus alone and it was the abode of all religions.”

India, he asserted, would remain together only when the people were united. Taking a dig at opposition leaders, Abdullah hoped that they would “eschew the tendency of infuriating” Buddhists, Dogras and Kashmiri Pundits, or “the flames of hatred will engulf us all”.

The NC chief said he was never averse to talks with anyone and added that if a dialogue could be held with people who spoke of jehad (holy war) and azadi (freedom), what harm could there be in talking to people who wanted a solution within the parameters of the Constitution.    


 
 
BJP HITS OUT AT JINNAH PARALLEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 27 
The BJP today took strong exception to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s statement in Srinagar yesterday that “Mohammad Ali Jinnah was forced to raise the demand for Pakistan as he was driven to the wall in 1940 by some leaders of India”, and said that “such outbursts” will not take him anywhere.

The chief minister had reportedly warned the Indian leaders not to push him also to the wall. Abdullah was quoted as having said that “if I had agreed to accede to Pakistan, I could have become the Prime Minister of Pakistan”.

Briefing reporters, BJP senior vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthy dubbed the statements as “most unfortunate” and said “he should not have spoken in the manner in which he has spoken”. Krishnamurthy said “such outbursts will not carry him anywhere” but will only squander the sympathy of the people.

Asked if his party will demand the National Conference’s expulsion from the ruling coalition, Krishnamurthy said: “Let us see what goes on in the Cabinet. As and when attention demands, the BJP will take such steps that are necessary,” he said, adding that “the time has not yet come to demand an expulsion”.

Krishnamurthy said Abdullah was getting carried away by “emotion rather than sound reason”.

The BJP leader, however, parried a question on why the reaction of the Prime Minister and the home minister has been so low key on the autonomy issue. “It is not a question of the Prime Minister, home minister or the BJP, but of the NDA and the Cabinet,” he said.

Asked what prompted Abdullah to harden his stand, Krishnamurthy said his “conjecture” was that the government’s desire to talk to the Hurriyat leaders without any pre-condition might have prompted Abdullah to think that he was being sidelined.

The Sangh parivar reacted far more aggressively with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal demanding the immediate dismissal of the Abdullah government and removal of the National Conference from the NDA.

“The autonomy resolution is a conspiracy to divide the country. The Abdullah government is implementing the Pakistani agenda. The NC government should be dismissed forthwith and President’s rule imposed,” VHP general secretary Praveen Togadiya said. VHP working president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said the Sangh parivar outfit will oppose tooth and nail any move to restore the pre-1953 status in the state.    


 
 
CONG WARNS ADVANI ON MDMK MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, June 27 
Tamil Nadu Congress committee chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan today threatened to stage black-flag demonstrations against home minister L.K. Advani if he visited Tamil Nadu to participate in the MDMK convention in Erode next week.

Addressing a news conference here, Elangovan said that while the Centre had categorically refused any support to the separate Eelam demand, MDMK leader Vaiko and PMK leader Ramadoss had been brazenly going about championing the cause of the Tamil Tigers.

He claimed that a separate Tamil Eelam would only pave way for a separate Tamil Nadu and charged that Vaiko was seeking to crown himself as the Prabhakaran of Tamil Nadu.

In the circumstances home minister Advani’s participation in the much-publicised MDMK conference would be tantamount to endorsing Vaiko’s stance on the Eelam, he said, and hence his black-flag protest.

The two-day conference in Erode, slated for July 1 and 2 has attracted much attention in the state. Among those scheduled to participate, apart from Advani himself are defence minister George Fernandes, railways minister Mamata Banerjee, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi.

Vaiko has been at pains to stress that the conference is not aimed to promote the cause of the LTTE, but it is rather to hark back to Periyar EVR, founder of the Dravidian movement and his rationalist teachings, at a time when the Tamil society is riven by cast clashes. Incidentally, Erode is the birth-place of EVR.

But then Vaiko’s USP has thus far been his image as the champion of Tamil Eelam and a staunch supporter of Prabhakaran.

He had visited Jaffna when the LTTE had locked horns with the IPKF and been suspended from the DMK for the “unauthorised” visit. Subsequently, he was expelled from the party with Karunanidhi claiming that the LTTE was setting Vaiko up against him and that the Tigers were planning to assassinate him.

When Vaiko floated his Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), he did seem to have taken away with him a huge chunk of the DMK youth. But subsequently his electoral performance has been lacklustre. He has been managing to survive only, thanks to aligning himself with either the DMK or the AIADMK.

Though the guru-shishya pretend to have made up with each other, Karunanidhi is still wary of his erstwhile protege. Vaiko could well upset his well-laid plans to crown his son Stalin after him. Vaiko seems to relish being seen as the most loyal supporter of Vajpayee and never fails to pay obeisance to the Prime Minister’s sagacity, statesmanship and so on.

But the forthcoming meet is clearly .intended to boost his image as a leader of the Tamil nationalist lobby and the wall posters and graffiti with hosannas for Prabhakaran.

Vaiko himself has indicated that a resolution supporting the Eelam demand would be passed.

Tamil Nadu BJP leaders are keeping their fingers crossed. “We only hope that they would not embarrass us too very much. The Eelam issue would not take centre stage, we believe, let us see,” they say.    

 

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