Coalition crossfire over church
Insiders versus Mamata’s outsiders
Govt skirts AIDS drug ‘trap’
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, July 10 
As worried BJP hawks tried to analyse defence minister George Fernandes’ statement praising missionaries, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee met the President today and held discussions on the spate of attacks on Christians.

The meeting comes two days ahead of the Governors’ conference convened by K.R. Narayanan. The President is not expected to raise issues like the attacks on Christians, but he may advise the Governors not to appear partisan.

The hardliners in the BJP and the Sangh parivar are frowning at Fernandes’ remarks. Some in the parivar recalled Fernandes’ role in 1977 when he upped the ante against dual membership (Jana Sangh members in RSS), triggering the collapse of the Morarji Desai regime.

BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya disagreed with Fernandes and mounted an attack on missionaries for indulging in “proselytisation” instead of “service”.

Asked whether Fernandes was readying for a repeat of 1977, Govindacharya said he did not think so. “I am confident that if George Fernandes is asked to chose between social unity and freedom of conversion, he will choose the former.”

Much to the Sangh’s discomfiture, Fernandes rejected the RSS world view of Hinduism being synonymous with patriotism. In a dig at the Sangh outfits, Fernandes told a weekly that “the ultimate test of patriotism is what you do or what you don’t. Christian missionaries in India...have worked to raise consciousness among people through education, giving them a sense of dignity through institutions which look after health needs...creating good citizens can’t generate anti-national feelings”.

Indirectly supporting the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, Govindacharya said: “Sections of the organised church said 51 per cent of the world would be brought under the feet of Jesus by the end of this century. Such remarks bring to an end tolerance and ethics. Notwithstanding all this, the BJP condemns all sorts of violence by any person or group in the name of religion.”

Following signals sent out by the BJP top brass, Fernandes had yesterday attempted to scale down his criticism. Addressing the Samata Party national council meeting at Varanasi, he said the attacks on Christians were exaggerated and that it was more of a law and order problem.

Sangh sources believe Fernandes is cut up with Vajpayee. The appointment of former Union minister Arun Singh as adviser to the foreign ministry has rattled Fernandes. Singh, the sources added, is interfering in the functioning of the defence ministry, much to Fernandes’ consternation.    

Calcutta, July 10 
A day after the announcement of the Calcutta civic board’s mayor’s council, Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee began to face criticism in the party for rewarding “outsiders” with plum posts.

A section of Trinamul supporters and leaders, who have been with Mamata since the inception of the party, fears that this trend may turn out to be the party’s undoing.

The main opposition is to the appointment of three members of the mayor’s council — Hridayanand Gupta, Moinul Haque Chowdhury and Shamsuzzaman Ansari — who joined Trinamul on the eve of the mayoral poll.

“As far as we are concerned, they are outsiders. They just joined the party to increase our strength and were rewarded with plum posts in the mayor’s council. We are sorry to say that this is nothing but horse-trading and goes against didi’s value-based politics,” said a Trinamul supporter.

The party is even contemplating taking away the education portfolio allotted to Chowdhury, but for a completely different reason. The move follows a report that he is a Class VII dropout.

Putting up a brave front, a senior party leader, however, said: “Corporation schools are only up to Class IV. So, a Class VII dropout should not find it difficult to oversee the department.”

Mamata herself addressed questions about rewarding latcomers to the party at a news conference on Monday.

“The mayor has been chosen from south Calcutta and the deputy mayor from the north. We have three members from the minority community and one from the Hindi-speaking belt. There are also women. The selection to the mayor’s council reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the city,” she said.

But this is unlikely to placate Trinamul supporters who have been with her longer and who feel she is being increasingly surrrounded by acolytes givng her wrong advice.

Three veteran councillors — Rajiv Deb, Pradip Ghosh and Sobhan Chatterjee — who crossed over to Trinamul from the Congress recently and made members of the mayor’s council are also getting flak.

Ironically, Deb and Ghosh have confided to their close aides that they were not very happy with their portfolios. Deb had hoped to get buildings and Ghosh was angling for the coveted conservancy portfolio, but was put in charge of slums instead.

“Deb, in charge of drainage and sewerage, cannot prevent waterlogging. With the inadequate infrastructure to pump out rainwater, he is bound to come under public scrutiny,” sources said.    

Durban, July 10 
India is likely to have a much bigger HIV/AIDS problem than it has at the moment, said Roy Anderson, head of the epidemiology department of Oxford University.

Strangely, the Union government is not keen to take up an offer by the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer-Ingelheim which, in collaboration with five other companies and the WHO, announced three days back that it would provide nevirapine free to developing countries for five years.

Nevirapine is an antiretroviral drug that prevents mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

Minister of state for health Rita Verma, while holding a reception for the 200-strong Indian delegation at the 13th International AIDS Conference here, said the Indian government would not “fall into the trap” offered by multi-national drug companies. “What will happen after five years...they will charge double.”

Then, perhaps not understanding the issue, she said: “And besides, the drug is only a palliative...”

The Lancet last month reported that HIV infections among newborn babies could be reduced in developing countries with a single dose of the drug to infected mothers and babies in a cost-effective manner.

A large number of babies are being born with the virus through vertical transmission in at least three states, while there have been cases reported even in West Bengal.

But the government is relying on the pilot project it says it has initiated, using the costlier and complicated AZT drug, at 11 centres in the country.

“We are waiting for the results of this project before implementing measures to prevent mother-to-child transmission,” said J.V.R. Prasada Rao, director of the National AIDS Control Organisation and additional secretary in the health ministry.

Two weeks ago, the UNAIDS report on the global situation estimated that the HIV population in India was 4.1 million. The country had been on top of the list till South Africa, with a near-catastrophic situation, just crossed this unenviable position with a figure of about 4.2 million.

Anderson, a highly-regarded name in evaluating the spread of the “most serious disease threat in recorded history,” said while presenting his UNAIDS-commissioned paper on success in HIV control, that the scale of the problem was devastating in many developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, India and China.

“The problem is going to get worse before it starts getting better...we need to know how to tackle it on a much larger scale.”

Asked later what he meant by worse, he said the problem in India would be much bigger because of the “extraordinary degree of denial by politicians, medical professionals and even scientists.” The country needs “an extraordinary public health effort to prevent this problem.”

Earlier, UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot told The Telegraph that India’s situation was “worrisome”. After some African countries, Cambodia and the Caribbean, India had the potential of becoming the worst-affected nation, simply because of its huge population.

“HIV is well-established in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, and now in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. There have been some good responses like the sex workers’ project in Sonagachi, where the HIV and STD rates have come down. Now is the time to fight the stigmas,” he said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 32.6°C (+1) Minimum: 27.2°C (+1) RAINFALL: 3.2 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum:75% Today: A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thundershowers. Sunrise: 5.02 Am Sunset: 6.22 Pm    

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