CMs’ leader hits Atal stonewall
Floor show on CTBT
Health worries haunt govt
Not quite home away from home
Calcutta weather

 
 
CMS’ LEADER HITS ATAL STONEWALL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 17: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has directed chief ministers of BJP-ruled states to stay away from a meeting convened by Chandrababu Naidu to protest against the 11th Finance Commission’s recommendations.

The recommendations are allegedly loaded in favour of states which have violated fiscal discipline and borrowed “recklessly”, and have whittled down the share of “progressive and pro-development” states in the Centre’s pool of taxes.

Naidu has called the meeting of chief ministers here on Monday to pressure the Centre to “neutralise the adverse impact” of the commission’s recommendations which, he claims, have gone against fast-track states like Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka while “overtly favouring” Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel has already agreed to attend the meet, but efforts are on to dissuade him, a senior BJP Cabinet minister said.

The Monday meeting cropped up in this morning BJP parliamentary party session chaired by Vajpayee. Sources said Rajya Sabha MP Venkaiah Naidu, who is from Andhra, voiced “anxiety” at the “new trend” of chief ministers indulging in “trade union-type activities” and thereby challenging the Centre’s authority. He was backed by minister of state Bangaru Dattatreya, also from Andhra.

BJP sources said Vajpayee issued the diktat after hearing out the Andhra leaders, but denied that he would try to dissuade Naidu against holding the meeting. Telugu Desam sources, however, gave a different version.

“There are signals from the Centre that since the 11th Finance Commission is a constitutional body, any aggrieved party must approach the commission directly rather than the government,” they said. This was conveyed to Naidu by Vajpayee himself as well as finance minister Yashwant Sinha, they said.

Sources confirmed that the finance commission’s recommendations were akin “to a tribunal award”. “There is no way the Centre can alter them,” they said.

Vajpayee’s move has not gone down well with the Desam. Giving the matter a political colour, Desam sources said the BJP leadership in Andhra saw Naidu as a “stumbling block” to their political aspirations in spite of their alliance in the Lok Sabha polls.

“The BJP leaders know that as long as our leader is strong, they will have to rest content in his shadow,” Desam sources said, adding it was no “coincidence” that the matter was raked up in the parliamentary party meeting.

BJP sources alleged Naidu had envisaged a role beyond Andhra for himself and was eyeing the Centre in his “quest for power”. They claimed he would use the forum as a “launch pad” for his “own ambitions” as the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana (all allies of the BJP) as well as Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra had confirmed their participation. The sources recalled that during the United Front regime — of which, too, the Desam was the fulcrum — Naidu had been active in cobbling together a “front within a front”.

The BJP also fears that the “trend” kicked off by Naidu may embolden other chief ministers to similarly armtwist the Centre. “Today it is the finance commission, tomorrow it might be something else,” Venkaiah Naidu said.

Desam sources said it was uncertain whether the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka chief ministers would attend the meeting in the face of the Raj Kumar kidnap crisis. They hinted that in that case Naidu might defer the meeting or hold it in Hyderabad.    


 
 
FLOOR SHOW ON CTBT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 17 
A last-ditch attempt is being made by the BJP government to initiate a debate in Parliament on building the “broadest possible” consensus on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The debate is likely to start either on Monday or Tuesday, so that the process can begin before the monsoon session gets over on August 25.

The timing of the debate is significant. It starts not only less than a fortnight before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee embarks on his 14-day visit to the US, but also at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Yosihiro Mori is in town.

Irrespective of the outcome, the debate will allow Delhi to show the international community that it has begun the process of consensus-building on the sensitive subject.

Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who will initiate the debate, will stress that by conducting the nuclear tests in May 1998, India had met its security needs which will not be compromised if Delhi is to sign the CTBT.

Singh has already made it clear that the decision to sign the treaty now depends on whether the number of tests conducted by India are sufficient and not linked to either the lifting of sanctions imposed on it or its demand for access to sophisticated and dual-use technology.

South Block officials argued that the stand taken by Parliament in 1996 was different as the treaty was seen as an unequal one when India was still considered to be a nuclear threshold state. But after the Pokhran II tests, there was need for the country to move from its earlier position.

The foreign minister will have to assure Parliament that the data achieved by India through its five tests was adequate for developing a minimum nuclear deterrent. He will also have to explain how Delhi, even if it signs the treaty, will not ratify it till the US and China also do so. This will give the opportunity to block the treaty from coming into effect if India’s security interests are affected.

Referring to apprehensions in certain quarters that once India signs the treaty it will be forced to open all its nuclear installations for inspection, South Block officials clarified that India can build enough safeguards to block any intrusive policy. As per the treaty provisions, a 51-member executive council will be set up, but at least 30 of them will have to cast positive votes before an inspection can be carried out. India, which will surely be a member of the council, is confident that it will be in a position to block any move that may jeopardise its security interests.

It is important for India to show some positive sign on CTBT. Initially, the government had plans of starting a debate on the issue at the beginning of the monsoon session. But the plans had to be shelved because of the developments in Kashmir.    


 
 
HEALTH WORRIES HAUNT GOVT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 17 
The state of health of the Vajpayee government was back under the scanner with a senior minister suffering a cerebral stroke a day after P.R. Kumaramangalam slipped into semi-coma.

After the stroke, Sunderlal Patwa, rural development minister, was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where his colleague Kumaramangalam continued to battle for his life. Patwa had attended the Lok Sabha today. But after he complained of “uneasiness in the chest and breathing problems” in the post-lunch session, an ambulance was called in from the AIIMS.

His condition was described as “not too good” and he was taken from the House to the ambulance in a wheel chair.

According to BJP sources, initial reports from the hospital said that Patwa’s blood pressure had gone up, though he remained conscious following a “mild” haemorrhage in the brain.

“His condition continues to be worrisome,” said a Cabinet colleague. A CAT-scan was done around evening after the bleeding stopped, but final diagnosis had not been made till late tonight.

Power minister Kumaramangalam’s condition remained critical. The 48-year-old minister, who is suffering from severe septicaemia, had to be put on a dialysis. He had also stopped responding to touch.

A medical bulletin said that “the condition of Kumaramangalam remains critical and he is being maintained on life-support systems. He is undergoing dialysis for renal support. His blood pressure is still unstable”. The people of Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirapalli, which is represented by Kumaramangalam in the Lok Sabha, were holding mass prayers.

Grim-faced BJP ministers said the monsoon session seemed jinxed with two senior colleagues lying critically ill. “The session started off on a wrong note with Rajesh Pilot’s death,” said one minister. The charismatic Congress leader was killed in a road accident a few days before Parliament went into session.

Health has been a constant concern for the Vajpayee government with the absence of the Prime Minister from work for even a day fuelling speculation.

The rumour mills had started grinding since Vajpayee stumbled during the Independence Day speech in 1998. More grist was added when he developed a throat infection and had to take a break for a day during this year’s budget session. However, the government had been at pains to debunk the health alarm, and Vajpayee had taken care to be extremely active and be on the outdoors during his recent trip to Europe.    


 
 
NOT QUITE HOME AWAY FROM HOME 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, Aug. 17 
It was a rude culture shock for the suave Mahendra Pal Chaudhry. Travelling through Haryana to his ancestral village near Rohtak, he was forced to meet the medieval face of Haryanvi politics in Tauji, the former deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, and his son and present chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

Father and son tried their best to claim Chaudhry, impeccable in a blue-grey suit, as a son of the local soil. While they harped on Chaudhry’s Indian heritage, his grandfather being an Indian, the deposed Fijian Prime Minister fought hard to remind Haryanvis that he was first a Fijian and that his struggle against “fascism” was in the context of the Pacific island nation.

Throughout the day, Tauji and his son fought hard to steal the show. They appeared unconcerned of the fact that an underdeveloped Haryana would be the last thing on Chaudhry’s mind if he spoke to foreign minister Jaswant Singh and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee tomorrow on relocating Fijian Indians in the sub-continent. Educated, English-speaking Fijians would prefer Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore.

But buoyed by a wave of jingoism which largely uneducated Haryanvis had fallen for, Chautala raged throughout the day.

He said here was a man from a place close to Rohtak who had really fought for his country’s freedom against the powers who were strangling democracy. At the civic reception that followed the special convocation where Chaudhry received his doctorate from the Maharshi Dayanand University of Rohtak, Chautala even went for the stunt of asking for Re 1 from each person to espouse Chaudhry’s cause.

Throughout the day, different Haryanvi speakers kept forgetting that Mahendra’s middle name was Pal and not Pratap. But “Pratap”, which means courage, has become so synonymous with the man who was held hostage for 55 days that nobody, even Chaudhry himself, minded that. But the former Prime Minister of Fiji looked a bit uncomfortable when all those who had assembled to greet him and applaud his “so called” struggle went out of the way to heap praise on him.

As a mark of honour, authorities had forced government-sponsored schools to line up their students by the roadside in the scorching heat. The gesture was described it as a spirited, spontaneous welcome for a Haryanvi who had ruled a country far away.

Chaudhry somehow managed to win the day despite having betrayed popular sentiment by not uttering a word in Hindi. Even at the reception where the pro-subsidy, pro-free electricity farmers had gathered, Chaudhry spoke in a foreign tongue. But he had his share of local entertainment. At the receptions, songs composed in folk tunes were sung for him.

He repeated his Fijian moorings again and again. Chaudhry iterated his pledge to free his country from those who were anti-democratic. He did not utter a word against George Speight and his goons who had held him captive. Neither did he say anything against the present rulers who have sent Speight to prison.

Receiving the doctorate, Chaudhry had to remind the audience that though his grandfather and father hailed from these parts, he was born in Fiji and brought up there. He said that he was receiving the prize with a sense of great joy and pride and also some regret. “This could have occurred in happier times.” for me and my countrymen, Fijians.”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 329°C (-l)
Minimum: 26.2°C (normal)

Rainfall:

56.3 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 79%

Today

A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thundershowers in Calcutta and its suburbs
Sunset: 6.05 pm
Sunrise: 5.16 am
   
 

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