Straws in the wind suggest mid-September Basu step
Hizb faction stirs talks hope again
Mori tees off with infotech pillars
Laloo jibe at computerwallah
Sonia puts grandchild before Big Apple
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Aug. 22: 
An indication of Jyoti Basu’s impending retirement came today with the revelation that the chief minister’s office has stopped accepting official engagements for him after September 15.

CPM-ruled Tripura provided another clue to the upcoming development when it agreed to advance the date from September 16 to 12 for an investors’ meet only to have Basu inaugurate it.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar was quick to grasp the straw in the wind and have his government change the date according to Basu’s suggestion.

On Tuesday, three persons, an industrialist, a CPM functionary and a bureaucrat, all members of Basu’s close circle, said the chief minister appeared to be setting in motion certain decisive sequences preparatory to his retirement between late August and mid-September.

“He is just not listening to any requests for time for official engagements after September 15. As a matter of fact, he appears to be in a hurry to do certain things in the next few days. No amount of urging is working on him. As far as one can see, the retirement is no longer an open-ended issue,” one of them said.

A clearer picture of how the event is going to be structured is expected from the provincial committee meeting, tentatively scheduled for September 14, where Basu is expected to ceremonially state his position. A state committee meeting is also a strong possibility.

The idea behind this sequence is to enable the state unit to formally respond to the timetable Basu has worked out.

Announcement of Basu’s retirement will accompany the date of installation of Buddhadev Bhattacharya as chief minister at the head of a reconstituted cabinet. “The next two weeks will be of immense importance,” an official said.

Politburo member Biman Bose said this afternoon that Basu’s retirement will be discussed at the Left Front’s meeting on September 2. This meeting may be brought forward or postponed according to the schedule Basu fixes for stepping down.

A large section of the Left Front, wary of the future, is still trying to persuade Basu to stay at least until the end of the year. But those close to the chief minister say that “the possibility of him changing his mind is slim”.

At the last politburo meeting, Basu, now 87, had told his colleagues that it was becoming impossible for him to continue as chief minister because of poor health. A large chunk of the politburo members said they would not oppose his retirement this time.

At the central committee meeting in New Delhi last month, Basu fell ill, an event that is believed to have brought the party around to the view that it was time to let him go.    

Aug. 22: 
In what may be further evidence of a faction of the Hizbul Mujahideen leaning towards New Delhi at the risk of a split, the commander-in-chief of Hizb forces in the Kashmir Valley, Abdul Majid Dar, today said “international efforts” were underway to break the deadlock in the talks.

He also expressed the hope that a ceasefire will become effective within the next “couple of months”.

These are Dar’s first public remarks since the ceasefire was called off on August 8 by his Islamabad-based leader, Syed Salahuddin. He was talking to a little-known Srinagar-based news agency, the Central News Service, believed to be close to Hizbul commanders based in the Valley.

Dar iterated that no dialogue could succeed without the involvement of Pakistan but did not make an issue of talks being held within the Indian Constitution, a big bone of contention between New Delhi and the Pakistan-based Hizbul leaders. Dar, in fact, said that even a solution “favouring India” would be acceptable to him if it came as a result of tripartite talks.

But the most significant thing about Dar’s remarks today is his praise for Indian intelligence agencies, who, he said, had been making efforts to settle the Kashmir issue. Security and intelligence agencies have been hate objects for Kashmiri militant and separatist outfits and Dar’s open praise for them is perhaps an indication that he is cosying up to New Delhi. There is a widespread view in the Valley that Dar has already made a deal with New Delhi and has constantly been in touch with intelligence agencies on ceasefire talks.

Dar’s tone and tenor are remarkably similar to that of Fazal Haq Qureshi, the man who led Hizbul commanders to the first and only round of talks with the government on August 3. Qureshi, too, has been claiming that dialogue with New Delhi will soon be resumed.

Earlier this week, the Hizbul headquarters in Pakistan disowned Qureshi and said he had no right to speak on their behalf. Dar, on the other hand, is believed to have had several meetings with Qureshi in the past few weeks.

Both government and Kashmiri militant sources have hinted in the past few weeks that Dar is ready to lead a team of local Hizbul commanders to the negotiating table even at the cost of breaking away from the Pakistan-based umbrella militant organisation, the United Jehad Council.

Dar also did not blame the Indian government or its agencies for the failure of the talks, something that his Pakistani bosses have been openly doing. Asked who was responsible for the breakdown, Dar blamed “some vested interests”.

Syed Salahuddin has repeatedly pointed a finger at the “ďntransigence” of the government of India on the issue of Pakistan’s inclusion and its insistence on a solution within the framework of the Constitution.

Indeed, just as Dar was making conciliatory noises from Srinagar, Salahuddin appeared to be apologising for the ceasefire initiative.

“We should have taken all groups into confidence before announcing the ceasefire,” he was quoted as saying at a function in Islamabad today. “But we could not do so because of circumstances that I cannot talk about at the moment.”    

Bangalore, Aug. 22: 
Yoshiro Mori proved today that a serious “IT mission” may come with an occasional round of golf.

The Japanese Prime Minister, who kicked off his five-day visit here today, landed into India’s Silicon Valley with a well-written script that showered praises on a an IT-savvy India and stressed on a “vigorous Indo-Japanese cooperation” in technology.

Mori proposed a four-pillar approach which he said he will present to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in Delhi. The programme will emphasise:

An India IT symposium in Tokyo in October. Japan will send a large business team in October-end and a team of small and medium scale entrepreneurs in January.

Tokyo will extend training programmes for about 1000 Indian engineers on Japanese business practices and Japanese language in the next three years. Mori also announced liberalisation of multiple-entry visas to Japan from India for business purposes.

The two governments to maintain closer dialogue on IT.

Invitations to Indian officials to the IT summit.

Mori also announced a US $15 billion assistance package for promotion of IT among developing countries, specially in Asia, with a view to “eliminate the digital divide”.

But within the six hours that Japanese Prime Minister spent on official engagements, he amply mixed e-business with pleasure.

Mori’s carefully selected itinerary, which had significantly marked Bangalore as the first port of call, included visits to two homegrown global software giants Infosys Technologies and Wipro Ltd.

At the two offices, he mixed with the employees freely and had a lot to say on their achievements.

Looking at thousands of employees at Infosys, Mori joked about how he would have gained at the recent Japan elections if so many people had turned up.

“I thought there is a cricket match or soccer match. There were general elections in japan recently. If the crowd was as big as this, it would have been a landslide victory,” he said.

After planting a sapling as a token of his visit, he removed his coat to play a round of golf — his favourite game — with Infosys boss N.R. Narayanamurthy, sending the ball soaring over the Infosys building.

Mori also visited the Wipro office, which already has major ties with Japan.

Mori said he was convinced that there was scope for “strong complimentary relations” between the two countries for cooperation in the IT sector to take the global economy forward, but did not forget to nudge India on non-proliferation. Briefly diverting from his prepared speech — even taking his interpreter by surprise — Mori spoke of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocaust.

“A single bomb killed thousands of people and millions of others suffered. We should never allow people to use those weapons of mass destruction. Cooperation between India and Japan will be used for bringing about peace and prosperity.”

Chief minister S.M. Krishna, in his brief presentation, proposed an “IT combinat” in Bangalore, offering residential township for major IT firms like Hitachi, NEC, Toshiba, Sony, as well as wireless giants like NTT and DoCoMo. He also sought investment in infrastructure projects, including a mass rapid project in the city.

Governor V.S. Rama Devi hosted lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary and other delegates. Mori later left for New Delhi.    

Aug. 22: 
After the digital divide comes the devolution divide.

The contours of a financial fence between “performing” and “non-performing” states began to crystallise today with Laloo Prasad Yadav threatening to float a parallel lobby of chief ministers against Chandrababu Naidu’s group.

Laloo has also threatened to hit the streets with chief ministers of “backward” regions to block Chandrababu Naidu’s proposal to link revenue allocation to performance on the development front.

“The computerwallah and others call themselves progressive states. We have been classified as regressive or what?” Laloo, known for his scorn for information technology, asked in Patna.

Naidu was no less biting, tarring Bihar with almost the same brush he used to lampoon Bengal recently. “No investor will dare to go Bihar in view of the unstable political situation and the vitiated law and order. There is hardly any effort to harness the abundant resources in Bihar,” he said in Hyderabad today after returning from Delhi.

Naidu also did not forget to pick up from where he left off on Bengal. “There was a day when we used to say ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. But today, West Bengal will think 10 years later,” he said.

Naidu said there was no justification in giving central support to states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal which, in spite of rich resources, have not made any progress.

The sarcastic outbursts came a day after Naidu convened a conclave of chief ministers to insist that reform-friendly states should be rewarded and others punished when the Centre shares revenue with them.

The immediate provocation for the demand was the report of the Eleventh Finance Commission, which, Naidu felt, was heavily loaded in favour of “non-performers”.

After the conclave the Naidu camp had suggested that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had agreed to ask the commission to consider the demands in its second report, due soon. But economics managed to do what politics could not with Laloo today offering to stand by Vajpayee in the fight for “backward states”. Laloo also had chief minister Rabri Devi send a letter to the Prime Minister, asking him not to buckle under Naidu’s pressure.

Laloo found support from Vajpayee’s finance minister. Yashwant Sinha today told the Rajya Sabha that there was no question of reviewing the devolution formula recommended by the Finance Commission.

“The report that the commission has given is final. I have not allowed one single state to suffer due to lack of resources,” he added.

But the minister said he would consider the financial problems of aggrieved states after the submission of commission’s supplementary report.

The issue dominated the coordination committee meeting of the ruling coalition in Bihar. where Laloo’s Rashtriya Janata Dal is sharing power with the Congress.

Laloo also persuaded the Congress to support him, though Maharashtra, a state ruled by the party, is one of the biggest losers on the revenue sharing formula.

“The recommendations of the finance commission came after a long period of persuasion and agitation which drew attention to the backwardness of the states in the eastern region. The Congress would stand by the fight for the interest of these states,” AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai said in Patna

The commission has allocated Bihar Rs 3,100 crore, Rs 250 crore more than what the state government had sought.

Striving to justify the largesse, Laloo sought to tomtom Bihar’s backwardness, saying it needs the money since its per capita income is among the lowest in the country and agriculture growth has been impeded by floods.    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Sonia Gandhi has called off her New York tour as it came too close to daughter Priyanka’s delivery date.

The Congress president was looking forward to meet Li Peng, Al Gore and other world leaders during her five-day stay in New York in connection with Inter-Parliamentary Union session.

She called on Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi yesterday to inform him that due to “pressing personal concerns” she would not be able to be part of the Indian delegation.

10 Janpath insiders said Priyanka is expected to deliver on September 8 and doctors have advised “complete bed rest”. Priyanka could not go to Veer Bhoomi on August 20 to participate in the prayer meet to mark the 56th birthday of Rajiv Gandhi.

Family sources said baby may be born before the schedule date. With brother Rahul in London, Priyanka badly wanted mother Sonia’s presence. This forced Sonia to call off her visit.

There was a mixed reaction to her decision. Some senior Congress leaders felt the maiden visit of the leader of the Opposition would have helped her politically. Moreover, she would have got a chance to interact with world leaders.

Some partymen opposed to the idea of her being reduced to a “delegate’s status” were relieved. They said Sonia should not compromise on matters of protocol.

Senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee has also declined the offer to visit New York. Pranab, who was appointed WBPCC chief today, wants to focus on building the party in the state instead of attending a jamboree.    



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