Delhi search for autonomy face-saver
President pinches, short and sharp
Defence middlemen file missing
Love bug bites cyber colleagues
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, July 12 
The Vajpayee government is planning to push the National Conference’s lifeline — the rejected autonomy resolution — to the commission it has set up to look into all difficult and outdated provisions of the Constitution.

Before the July 15 meeting with the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, the government will have enough time to study other options. For the time being, the government feels it is a safe bet to send the issue to the commission and even the BJP leadership appears to be reconciled to accepting this softer position on Farooq’s autonomy demand. But in no circumstances would New Delhi confer upon the state the pre-1953 status.

What is, however, possible is greater devolution of economic and administrative powers. But the state cannot be expected to have the final say in issues such as insurgency, which is closely linked to national security and over which both the Prime Minister’s Office and the home ministry want to have full authority.

Already, the government in Srinagar receives a greater share of Central tax revenue than other states. But Delhi may formalise the arrangement and agree to pass on more money to the government in the Valley quite openly.

The BJP appears to be coming round to this line of thinking especially after the death of Farooq’s mother, Begum Akbar Jehan, yesterday. Both Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani attended the funeral. In sharp contrast to its total rejection of any talk on the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the BJP today indicated that the 1975 accord between the late Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi could form the basis of negotiations between the Centre and the state.

Officially, the BJP maintained that there was no question of conceding the pre-1953 status, but a senior leader said some of the issues on the concurrent list could be put under the state government’s jurisdiction by a presidential order.

Most of all, the BJP does not want to give Farooq a shot at martyrdom. “Even if the National Conference wants to go out of the National Democratic Alliance, it does not affect the stability of the government. But we don’t want to make him a martyr,” said a senior BJP leader.

Even as the nitty-gritty of an amicable solution around the 1975 accord is being worked out, BJP sources said the entire effort centred on finding a face-saver for both sides.

The desire of the Vajpayee government to engage the Hurriyat leaders in talks may also not materialise if a rigid stand is taken on autonomy. In the Valley, National Conference is the only force India can bank on as most of the rest are pro-Pakistan, said BJP sources.

Reflecting the thaw in relations between Delhi and Srinagar, the BJP described Farooq as a “patriot”.

When, on July 4, the Cabinet rejected the autonomy resolution, senior BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur had accused Farooq of “representing Muslim fundamentalists” in the Valley and of “encouraging fundamentalism”.

Party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “Other issues can be discussed (at the July 15 meeting) as the resolution was rejected by the Cabinet after due consideration.”

He said the BJP supported devolution of powers to states but not the concept of autonomy.    

New Delhi, July 12 
President K.R. Narayanan today did what he was expected to do. He subtly laid down an agenda for the Governors’ meeting that went completely against the policies of the Vajpayee government.

However, both Rashtrapati Bhavan and South Block sought to play down the contents of Narayanan’s inaugural speech.

It appeared that the President had lectured the Governors on his two favourite topics — “disharmonious tendencies in Indian society (read Christian-bashing)” and “fruits of development should reach the poor (read liberalisation is not benefiting everybody)”.

Like his past speeches, Narayanan’s inaugural address was short but loaded with innuendoes. The President spoke about the fissiparous tendencies, which the BJP interpreted as a reference to the acts of sedition being carried out by ISI-sponsored agents in India.

But “disharmony” in society as referred to by the President could only mean communal enmity which has become a major problem in several states, including quite a few in the north and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in the south.

Among the audience at Vigyan Bhavan this morning, when the President delivered his speech, were Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and a host of other Cabinet ministers.

This is not the first time that the President has taken a swipe at the government. Earlier this year, he had provoked BJP hardliners with his three speeches aimed at the three arms of the government — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. He accused each of them of not doing enough for the nation.

Since then, Narayanan had been quiet but it appears that he used this platform to criticise the government’s efforts to brush off the attacks on Christians and underplay poverty levels by insisting that liberalisation would benefit all.

Narayanan said economically and technologically, the country was well-poised and would certainly generate much growth. He pointed out how during his recent trip to China, he had heard people talk of India’s economic potential and how he himself believed in it.

The President used the word “caution” when he issued the warning against fissiparous and disharmonious tendencies. He has long been a critic of the government’s policy vis-à-vis the minorities and weaker sections but this particular statement was also an alert against the growing violence against Christians.

Narayanan, who had earlier suggested that liberalisation should have a human face, today said economic development ought to be planned in such a way that the poorer sections benefited from it. He has been insisting that the government should be extra careful about opening up the industrial sector.

His critics have been writing off his criticisms as an outburst from a Nehruvian socialist while others have found intrinsic similarity between what the President has been saying and what the RSS or even the Left parties have been harping on.

Strangely, the President’s agenda, which the government felt went beyond the constitutional authority of Rashtrapati Bhavan, came up with an exceptional response from Governors with past Sangh parivar leanings.

For example, it gave enough space to S.S. Bhandari, the Gujarat Governor, to blame the ISI for the problems being faced by his state.    

New Delhi, July 12 
A key file banning the involvement of middlemen in defence purchases, following the Rs 64-crore Bofors payoffs scam, is missing.

Apart from containing the order barring middlemen from negotiations for purchase of military hardware from other countries or foreign companies, the file had notings of army officers, bureaucrats and the then defence minister.

The Central Vigilance Commission, which is conducting an omnibus inquiry into defence deals, recently discovered that the file was missing. It was prepared in the aftermath of the Bofors scam in which middlemen were allegedly involved.

A source said the file was “essential” for the ongoing probe, ordered last year by defence minister George Fernandes, because middlemen and commission agents were functioning clandestinely despite the ban imposed in 1989.

The CVC has written to the defence ministry to inquire into the matter and sought its comments on the untraceable file.

Several cases in the CVC-CBI probe centre around the role played by “known middlemen” in purchases made by the army, the air force and the navy. Central vigilance commissioner N. Vittal is preparing an interim report and will submit it to the defence ministry within two weeks.

The CBI has registered the first preliminary inquiry into a Rs 75-crore deal that the army had clinched with a foreign company. The investigating agency is probing the alleged involvement of two senior army officers.

The CBI is concentrating on the deals made between the defence establishment and Russia as well as East European countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

The agency has found that though Ukraine was “blacklisted” by the defence ministry because it sold military hardware to Pakistan, the ban was revoked during the Kargil war. The government then ordered half-a-dozen weapon-locating radars from Kiev.

Among the latest cases in which Indian middlemen are suspected to have played key roles are the purchases of components and spare parts for naval vessels and dockyards. Several questionable purchases made during and immediately after the Kargil war are also being probed.

Sacked navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat had alleged the involvement of Indian firms like Makalu Engineering and a company run by a former navy chief.

Now, a serving officer, Rear Admiral J.S. Purohit, has alleged that corruption among officers was rampant and deals are clinched by an axis of middlemen and officers. Rear Admiral Purohit, the seniormost officer in the logistics cadre of the Indian Navy, said he was being denied a promotion because he had pointed out the largescale corruption in the purchase of naval equipment.

In the course of its inquiry, the CVC has “talked” to at least six senior army, air force and naval officers not only to “get their views” on the role of middlemen but also to prepare a note on how commission agents operated within the defence establishment and abroad.    

Hyderabad, July 12 
Move over heaven, marriages are now being made in cyberworld.

With software salaries going through the roof in Cyberabad, more and more young men and women are finding partners at their workplaces.

Sample this: from 12,000 registered marriages in 1997 and 21,000 in 1998, the figure has shot up by a whopping 300 per cent to 65,000 in 1999. And in the first six months of the new century, 26,000 couples have chanted the marriage vows.

K. Nirajan Reddy, a psychologist at the Indian Institute of Mental Health, says the software boom is responsible for this new trend. “Not only girls, even boys are willing to settle down to a comfortable life,” he said.

A survey conducted by his institute confirms the trend. Of the 65,000 marriages registered last year, over 56 per cent were what is being described here as cyber weddings. Most of these couples are in the 24-28 age-group who would rather stay together than remain single.

According to Reddy, the software professionals who are starting their careers with annual salaries of Rs 3 lakh or more feel they are ready for marriage as they can buy all comforts which, otherwise, they could have hoped for only after six to 10 years. No wonder then that Cupid is on the prowl in the software citadels at Cyber Towers.

Agreed Reddy. “Love in offices is more rampant than in colleges,” he said.

Ask Sangeeta. The 21-year-old infotech professional has opted to marry now, when most girls of her age are still studying and content with evenings out at the disco.

“I am earning sufficiently and I wish to live a comfortable life with my husband. Eyebrows will be raised if I remain single. I have chosen a man who also believes in my way of life,” she said.

Sangeeta got hooked to Anand, an IITian colleague five years her senior who is leaving for Germany in August along with her. “Ours is a love marriage. We have been dating each other for almost six months and decided to marry now,” Anand said.

As goodwill gestures, most CEOs or the company top brass gift the couples lucrative stock options, besides throwing lavish parties in their honour. Some companies also gift the couples a paid honeymoon in some exotic locale.

Another reason for the spurt in marriages is the increasing exodus to the United States, the promised land for cyberfreaks. Andhra Pradesh was granted 80,000 H1B visas (work permits for infotech professionals) last year, nearly four times the number allocated in previous years.

“Most of these young people are from middle class families and their parents would prefer to have their children married off before they leave for the US or other foreign countries,” said Vashista, a marriage counsellor.

With marriage applications flooding offices, the registrars often waive the notice period. “In many of the cases, we do not insist on the one-month notice period as both families are for the wedding,” said Nasir Ahmed, sub-registrar of marriages.

Govardhan Reddy, a psychologist with National Institute of Mental Sciences, says television is responsible for this urge to marry young. Moreover, he adds, “the failure of extremism to attract educated youth, as it did in the early sixties and seventies, is also a factor. The youth were keen to take up responsibilities of a family at an early age rather than later”.

But are these marriages happy ones? According to Govardhan Reddy, some couples do have problems, but even here, he says, the signs are encouraging as they are seeking professional counselling. “The youngsters do not leave it to chance or allow their families to intervene. I have handled at least 15 such cases since January,” he said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 30.2°C (-2) Minimum: 27.4°C (+1) RAINFALL: 12.5 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 80% Today: A few spells of light rain. Sunset: 6.22 pm Sunrise: 5.03 am    

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