Digital divide slices Bharat & India
Japan to melt ice with economics
Basu slips into campaign mode
Delhi keen on covert Kashmir contact
Robber and rebel reverse roles
Calcutta weather

 
 
DIGITAL DIVIDE SLICES BHARAT & INDIA 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Meet G.B. Kumar — GB to his friends — national manager-business programmes for Intel Asia Electronics, here to “architecture” a cyber future for India.

He leaves the rostrum and walks towards the audience, remote control in hand, the golden buttons on his black blazer gleaming, the otherwise sober business suit set-off by a screaming blue-and-yellow tie, and flicks a finger. On the screens to either side of the stage, the slide changes.

“Intel’s e-business results in 90 per cent customer satisfaction and 15 per cent of its Web orders are generated after office hours,” he tells the mesmerised audience at an e-commerce conference, one of the largest so far.

“We have 10,000 personalised sites,” continues Kumar as another slide fills the screen, “and the business is generating $1 billion a month since July 1998.”

The banquet hall in Le Meridien hotel is packed — many in the audience could be Kumar clones — beyond capacity.

The organisers, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and IBM, can barely cope with the crowd. Yet, there are few complaints. Everybody is craning his neck, not letting a word slip by.

And meet Laloo Prasad Yadav, he of the Bharat that is Bihar, addressing another meeting less than 3 km from where Kumar is holding his audience in thrall, here to address the “2nd National Conference on Dalit Social History”.

It is a Laloo who knows he is among academics. “We have to write our own history,” he says. “Not a history that makes heroes out of sycophantic backward class leaders but one in which we shape our own lives.

“Not a history that will say that IT (infotech) is everything that we need. I know that what I said at that meeting created a stir.” Laloo is alluding to the state IT ministers’ conference in New Delhi last month where he said: “This IT-YT is not needed.” He now wants to explain himself.

“You tell me,” he brings a forefinger down hard on the wooden rostrum, upsetting a microphone, as he warms to his theme. “What good is this IT? All IT is said to be in Andhra Pradesh — where farmers are committing suicide. In Kerala, fishermen cannot catch fish because of new policies, crores of people do not have clothes to wear and water to drink. For these people IT is no use. IT is not the solution for India.”

A round of applause greets the statement. Among those on the dais with him is Kanshi Ram. “Are people going to eat computers?” The Bahujan Samaj Party chief mutters aloud.

In the auditorium of the Indian Social Institute, the audience is lapping it up, greeting every statement and slogan with applause after hearty applause.

Welcome to the digital divide: you could say it almost runs down the capital’s Rajpath.

As reform and liberalisation chart new courses — in telecom and infotech more than in any other sector — policy framers take two steps forward and one step back as the “un-connected” don’t have the bandwidth to stomach more.

“At the moment tele-density (number of telephones to the population) is less than 03 per cent,” warns Shyamal Ghosh, secretary, department of telecommunications (DoT). “It is going to be 05 per cent by 2005 and 15 per cent by 2010.”

The country has an estimated 4 million Internet users, 27,000 exchanges and 27 million subscribers.

Despite the poor access to telephones, DoT is gambling on growth. Ghosh says 1000 km of a fibre optic cable network should be in place within the year. Negotiations are on with public and private companies with networks of their own — like Power Grid, the railways and the State Electricity Boards — to use existing infrastructure to increase bandwidth (the higher the bandwidth, the faster and greater the amount of data transmitting through the lines).

Laloo Prasad’s fulminations may pander to a votebank, but in the sphere of telecom and infotech they achieve little.

“It’s comparatively easier to push through and go ahead with new policies here because these are new areas that do not come with much baggage. But change will not be easy in the older areas. I do not see such smooth going in banking or in major public sector outfits,” says a CII infotech committee member.

At the Indian Social Institute, where the politician with the Sadhana-cut is just leaving after a leisurely tea, a lackey picks up his mobile, dials a mobile number and gives the handset to Laloo.

He checks the number on the liquid crystal display and bellows “Haa ji...” into the instrument.

Laloo also connects.    


 
 
JAPAN TO MELT ICE WITH ECONOMICS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Keen to repair damaged bilateral relations with India, Japanese Prime Minister Yosihiro Mori is likely to announce the resumption of loans to the Delhi Metro project and the Shimadhari Thermal Power project in Andhra Pradesh when he arrives in the country early next week on a five-day official visit.

To reciprocate the gesture, his Indian counterpart A.B. Vajpayee may re-affirm Delhi’s commitment to a moratorium on nuclear tests and its seriousness in building a national consensus for signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Mori’s visit to the country is part of his South Asia tour, beginning today in Bangladesh. Though he will also visit Pakistan and Nepal, the thrust of his tour is on India where he will spend five days interacting with the political leadership and captains of industry. He begins his visit from Bangalore on Monday.

During his visit, the Japanese Prime Minister will suggest institutionalising bilateral interaction between the two sides at the highest political level — proposed meetings between the Prime Ministers and foreign ministers of the two countries on an annual basis.

He will also suggest a security-dialogue between the two sides, the setting up of an eminent persons group and revival of the parliamentarians forum.

The compromise of meeting each other half-way is being devised to give the leadership of both countries something they can show their respective constituencies for normalising relations. For Japan, which imposed economic sanctions on India following the Pokhran II nuclear tests in May 1998, it is not possible to lift the punitive measures completely, specially in the absence of Delhi’s signature on the CTBT.

The Indian leadership is not in a position yet to sign the CTBT. But short of initialling the treaty, India can re-affirm its commitment not to block the agreement if all the other nations sign and ratify it, and give an assurance that it has no intention of conducting further tests.

Bilateral relations between the two countries, which have been languishing in the cold storage for nearly two years following the May 1998 nuclear tests, are poised for a “great leap forward” as Japan is making no bones about wooing India as “one of the most important” countries in the region and describing it as a major world player.

On its part, Delhi is also eager to normalise relations with Japan, its biggest aid donor. India is taking care to initiate a debate on the CTBT in Parliament next week — something which it feels, the Japanese leadership will be able to sell to its domestic audience.    


 
 
BASU SLIPS INTO CAMPAIGN MODE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 19: 
Unfazed by the controversy surrounding his retirement, chief minister Jyoti Basu virtually kicked off his party’s poll campaign this afternoon at Naren Sen’s condolence meeting, saying that, as far as possible, he would see it through to the end.

Apologising for addressing the gathering sitting in a chair because of his ill health, the 86-year-old chief minister said, “I may not be well, but I will carry on like this for as long as I can.”

While deftly avoiding a direct mention of the issue of his retirement, Basu said, “We communists never run away from the battlefield, we stay and fight.”

Exhorting his partymen to bury their differences and unite in fighting the opposition, Basu said the party had reached a consensus on joining a government at the centre. “It has been included in the draft prepared by the central committee on programme updating and will figure in the final document,” he said.

Then, after a brief pause, and perhaps reflecting on his party’s “historic blunder” in not joining the government in 1996, Basu said, “There may be differences of opinion among partymen, but it is the majority decision that should ultimately prevail. Or else, the party will become a club.”

But for the rest, it was Mamata bashing as usual. Firing the first salvo on the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine, Basu dared it to enforce President’s rule in the state. “Let them impose Article 356 and face the consequences. They want President’s rule here because they know they can never win the polls,” he said.

Then, clearly going on the defensive, Basu said, “A malicious campaign is going on against us about our electoral performance in the city. But results of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation polls indicate our strong presence here. Trinamul Congress can not capture Writers Buildings simply by winning the civic polls.”

Rattling off a list of the Left Front government’s achievements, despite the Centre’s step-motherly attitude, Basu said, “West Bengal topped the list of industrialised states at the time of independence, but has moved backward as years passed by. But we are not responsbile for this situation,” he asserted.

“The present BJP-led government at the Centre is actually helping the foreign investors in the name of following swadeshi. As a result, our indigenous industries will suffer a set-back,” Basu said. He cited the “U.N. Report on Poverty-2000” to claim that the Left Front government has largely succeeded in eradicating poverty through land reforms and the panchayati raj system.

Basu also criticised the Centre for delaying the Haldia Petrochemicals project. “The Centre first tried to stall the project. Many people treated it as an object of ridicule. But we have ultimately succeeded in implementing it, much to their disappointment,” he said.

The chief minister sounded a note of caution to his party leaders, saying they have lost contact with the masses in some areas. However, he held section of media is partly responsible for this state of affairs. “Unfortunately many of our party supporters read these newspapers and get confused,” he said.    


 
 
DELHI KEEN ON COVERT KASHMIR CONTACT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 19: 
Reluctant to enter into any dialogue with either the Hurriyat Conference or the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Vajpayee government prefers maintaining undercover contact with them as has been going on even after the Hizbul leaders backed out.

However, a Union minister said today the Centre would consider the latest Hurriyat proposal for another round of peace-talks, even as unprovoked shelling by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control killed an army porter and wounded eight civilians in north Kashmir.

According to a PTI report, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba is churning out suicide squads to target sensitive installations and VIPs in Jammu and Kashmir.

Government sources said most of the statements emanating from Srinagar, Islamabad and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) at the moment were at variance with each other.

“There is no point resuming open dialogue with these disunited leaders under the glare of the media,” an official said.

The Centre’s stand was revealed a day after the Tanzeem’s Islamabad-based chief said there was no question of commencing talks with India without Pakistan’s participation. Masood Tantray, the outfit’s chief, even replaced official mediator Fazal Haq Quereshi after he hinted at a resumption in talks.

The Hurriyat leadership was also issuing conflicting statements. Yesterday, Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat had proposed there could be two different dialogues — one with Pakistan and one with India.

But today, after the Conference’s executive committee failed to arrive at a decision on the proposal, Bhat revised his stand saying it was a only personal formula, and not a unanimous decision.

Under the circumstances, the official said, the Centre would carry on the clandestine dialogue with “softer” leaders, as “the time has not yet come for a publicised process of dialogue”.

Though the Centre understands the Hizbul’s compulsions in calling off the ceasefire, it is taking a tougher line with Hurriyat leaders who were released 16 weeks ago but have not yet been able to veer around to a united stand.

In fact, the government is still angry with the Hurriyat for going “out of the way to scuttle the peace process that was taken up with the Hizbul”. Then there is also the feeling that Kashmiris don’t take the Hurriyat Conference seriously anymore.

Delhi feels Vajpayee’s emphasis on insaaniyaat has gone down well with sections of the Tanzeem. But with neither the Hurriyat nor the Hizbul giving up their secessionist stance, the real turf battle will begin once the talks boil down to the question of autonomy or freedom.    


 
 
ROBBER AND REBEL REVERSE ROLES 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Aug. 19: 
One became a robber from a revolutionary. The other has turned a revolutionary from a robber.

Veerappan is not the first robber to be let into the pantheon of the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army, the phantom group now riding piggyback on the bandit’s infamy and suspected to be the real voice behind his demands.

The group’s founder himself, Thamizharasan, was stoned to death by a mob while trying to escape after robbing a bank in 1987.

If ideology fired Thamizharasan, an engineering dropout and said to be a master at making explosives, to break into a bank, the dread of obscurity is now driving his surviving followers to Veerappan’s camp.

“Veerappan is no more a brigand. We have changed him. He provides the terrain and we the ideology. There’s no stopping us,” claims a functionary of the Marxist Communist Party of Tamil Nadu, supposedly the political wing of the TNLA.

The liberation force was born from the ruins of the People’s War Group of the CPI(M-L). “The CPI(M-L) was his first exposure to Marxism,” said an associate at whose hands Thamizharasan’s initiation took place.

Born into a middle-level peasant family at Srimushnam, a Vaisnavite pilgrim centre in northern Tamil Nadu, Thamizharasan struck out on his own to pursue the “revolutionary project” after the CPI(M-L) disintegrated under a police crackdown in the mid-eighties.

It was he who came up with the theory that the first task before the different nationalities making up India was to liberate themselves from the upper castes. The stress was on ethnic identity, the proletariat revolution could come later.

Pulavar Kaliyaperumal, in his seventies and one of the early associates of Thamizharasan, said: “When we failed to convince our comrades of the need for mobilising our people on ethnic lines and the futility of the class struggle approach, given the Indian realities, we had to walk out and float our own outfit. Thanks to his inspiring leadership, we flourished.”

Opinion is divided on whether the group flourished or not, but it made its presence felt with some spectacular strikes in mid-eighties, including the derailing of a passenger train in which 25 people were killed.

But the rising graph tapered off after the brutal death of Tamizharasan. The TNLA is yet to come to terms with the loss.

But the rising graph tapered off after the brutal death of Tamizharasan. The TNLA is yet to come to terms with the loss. “The masses did not understand what he was doing. There were also some policemen in mufti who egged on the crowd. But that he did not use his gun against the people who were attacking him shows how much he loved them,” said an associate of Tamizharasan.

The TNLA shrank after his death, many of the remaining cadre taking to extortion and even dacoity, according to state police.

Veerappan is a godsend for Tamizharasan’s old friends, who now believe that they have one more innings to play. After their founder, Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran was the TNLA’s sole lode-star. “Prabhakaran has shown that ethnic mobilisation could be very effective. That he is a Tamil makes us feel all the more proud,” said Kaliyaperumal. He claims to have shared a prison cell with Prabhakaran in Chennai in 1983.

“Now, in Veerappan, we have found a very effective ally. He has shown up all politicians as an incompetent bunch. By focusing on the interests of the Tamil community at large, he has demonstrated that he is more sincere than these rabble-rousers. The TNLA will go from strength to strength with the help of the brave Veerappan,” Kaliyaperumal said. But police officers dismissed the TNLA as a “group of goons” who might have succeeded in terrorising the people, but have no grassroot support.

Popular support for the group was not evident on the ground, but there was unconcealed admiration for Veerappan’s ability to hold the establishment to ransom.

An ideologue who was once part of the PWG also ridiculed the resurgence. “These people are glorified Don Quixotes, that’s all. In their search for some quick-fix for revolution, they resort to all kinds of strategies. One can only pity them, a lot of innocent lives would be ruined in the crack-down that would follow once the hostage crisis ends,” he added.

The police are not worried too much now since the five Tamil Nadu prisoners sought to be freed by Veerappan were not high on the wanted list. “But if the new momentum is sustained and the TNLA is able to widen its base, we could be in for some deep trouble,” an officer conceded.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 27.1°C (-1)

Rainfall:

2.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 78%

Today

possibility of light rain in some parts of the city and its neighbourhood.
Sunset: 6.03 pm
Sunrise: 5.17 am
   
 

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