Israel backs bid for UN Council
After party, the parivar bows to Vajpayee
5 killed in attack on CRPF convoy
Genome study on seven groups
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 25 : 
In a clear indication of growing ties, Israel today came out with open support for India’s entry into the United Nations Security Council.

Highlighting India’s “huge size and population”, Israel made it clear that Delhi’s claim to the coveted seat is justified in every respect. Israel is perhaps the first major country to express support for India’s case.

Senior Israeli leader and minister for regional cooperation Shimon Peres described India as “a responsible giant” which “should be in the UNSC”.

He argued that one should not relate to India by “memories alone”, referring to its colonial past. “India cannot escape its greatness as we in Israel cannot escape our smallness,” Peres added.

The Israeli leader’s remarks have, predictably, made South Block mandarins happy. But such emphatic support has also raised concerns in a section of the foreign ministry worried by the possibility of Peres’ remarks making an adverse impact on some Arab nations.

The reported statements made by home minister L.K. Advani during his visit to Tel Aviv in June this year about possible nuclear cooperation between India and Israel, though denied by Delhi, created a major stir in the Arab world. It started viewing the growing bonhomie between the two sides with suspicion, forcing Indian foreign ministry officials to hold a meeting recently with Arab ambassadors here to clear the air.

The Israeli decision to support India’s candidature for the Security Council seat stems from its own interests. In the past, Israel has blatantly flouted UN resolutions, indicating that it does not attach much importance to this global council of nations. But, of late, it has been making serious attempts to get back to the mainstream and, as a part of that, taking more interest in UN matters.

The restructuring of the Security Council, though bogged down in conflicting views, is a process which is bound to reach its logical conclusion in the next few years. In such an event, Tel Aviv has to look for friends in the council it can count on for support. Indonesia is one of the candidates, apart from India and Japan, from Asia. Though Israel is happy with Indonesia under Wahid’s leadership, it cannot count on it for support in the days to come as it is a part of the Islamic world and may end up rallying behind Tel Aviv’s neighbours in a crunch situation in West Asia. It has already identified China, Japan and India among its three best bets in Asia. Of these, ties with Delhi seem to be the most attractive.

Apart from the worries in the Arab world about the Israeli support, Indian leaders are also trying to assess to what extent it will help influence the decision of the United States when UNSC is thrown open to new candidates. Some Indian diplomats feel Israel, which has excellent relations with the Americans, will be able to help garner support for Delhi in the US establishment.

It is also being argued that Israel’s expression of support may not have the feared negative effect on the Arab world. “It may work in our favour as many of the nations in that part of the world may think of India as a serious candidate and end up supporting it,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

In a related move, Parliament’s standing committee on foreign affairs has asked the ministry to counter obstacles perceived by the US in its support to India’s claim.    

New Delhi, Aug. 25: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is emerging as the presiding deity of not only the BJP, but the extended Sangh parivar.

On the eve of the BJP’s national executive and council in Nagpur, Vajpayee’s star is in the ascendant even as his party and the Sangh appear subdued.

Observers believe it is not a coincidence that when Vajpayee assumes a larger-than-life persona on the RSS’ turf, sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan will be away in the US. The Sangh chief has gone there to attend an inter-religious meet.

Some recent developments are evidence of the Prime Minister’s increasing clout in the BJP and the Sangh parivar:

Party strategists were initially against adopting an economic resolution in the Nagpur council because that would put the BJP in a “no-win” situation. The party could not expect either Vajpayee or his finance minister Yashwant Sinha to ratify a document condemning liberalisation and divestment.

On the other hand, if it endorsed the government’s economic policies, the party would fall foul of the RSS. But, on the “advice” of president-elect Bangaru Laxman, it was finally decided that the council would adopt a resolution applauding the Centre’s “economic achievements”.

It was also decided that Vajpayee and Sinha would vet the economic and political resolutions to be placed before members.

Vajpayee has tamed the Swadeshi Jagran Manch which had not only spoken out against his economic agenda but was also reported to be interfering in the appointment of key nominees in the finance and revenue departments.

The editor of manch mouthpiece Swadeshi Patrika was forced to apologise to the Prime Minister after the weekly ridiculed him in a cartoon. The manch also had to move its headquarters out of culture minister Ananth Kumar’s official residence.

The manch has now called off its public programmes where it planned to denounce the government’s policies.

Vajpayee’s stranglehold over the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit continues despite the presence of the backward caste lobby. The Prime Minister overruled objections to push through the nomination of Kalraj Mishra, a Brahmin, as the new state chief in place of Om Prakash Singh, a backward caste Kurmi.

Within the BJP, there are different views on Vajpayee’s ascendance. Some feel his position and policies should not be challenged as long as the NDA government is in place.

“It is better to be part of a government and its structure of power and patronage than raise populist slogans from the Opposition benches,” a BJP office-bearer said. But others are uncomfortable about the short shrift given to the hardline Hindutva plank.

Sources said Vajpayee’s clout would be tested when Laxman constitutes his team of office-bearers and the Prime Minister shuffles his Cabinet to fill in the vacancies caused by Ram Jethmalani’s resignation and P.R. Kumaramangalam’s death.

Speculation has also started on whether Ram Prakash Gupta — Vajpayee’s hand-picked nominee — would be asked to step down as Uttar Pradesh chief minister to make way for a more “dynamic” face in the run-up to the Assembly elections.    

Guwahati, Aug. 25: 
Five persons, including two constables, were killed when suspected Ulfa militants blew up a CRPF vehicle in a remote village under Basugaon police station in Lower Assam’s Kokrajhar district early today.

Four CRPF men were injured in the attack. The condition of one of them is stated to be serious.

The incident comes a day after chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta reviewed the law and order situation in the wake of the killing of Bodo Sahitya Sabha chief Bineswar Brahma and People’s Democratic Front legislator Mohini Basumatary.

Kokrajhar superintendent of police K.K. Sharma told The Telegraph over phone that the militant attack took place when a CRPF convoy was returning from a raid on an Ulfa hideout at Durgabari in Bongaigaon district.

“The convoy, comprising two trucks and an Ambassador, had just reached a place called Lalkura, 22 km from Kokrajhar, when the suspected Ulfa militants triggered a powerful improvised explosive device. The truck (AS17/1593) in the middle of the convoy was blown up in the explosion,” the police official said.

Two constables — J.K. Tripathi and Shyambir Tomar — and three “civilians” were killed on the spot, the SP said. He identified the slain “civilians” as Abed Ali, Kharai Ali and Noor Rahman.

An assistant commandant of the CRPF’s 125 battalion, based at Champawati, said the three “civilians” were actually militants of the Adivasi Cobra Force. He said they had been arrested at Durgabari along with two other rebels.

The CRPF official said the two militants who survived the blast had been handed over to the police.

According to the Kokrajhar SP, the blast was so powerful that it created a crater 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep.

At least 100 yards of flexible wire, some switches and a few dry cells were recovered from the blast site, Sharma said.

The police official did not rule out the possibility of the CRPF team falling into a “trap” as the raid on the hideout at Durgabari was carried out on the basis of information from “undisclosed” sources.

The SP said the raid on the suspected Ulfa hideout was conducted after midnight.

The CRPF team picked up five persons — three from the same family — for interrogation and recovered two country-made pistols, three rounds of 9 mm pistol ammunition and a sheaf of incriminating documents, he added.    

Guwahati, Aug. 25: 
Blood samples of seven population groups of the Northeast have been taken for the worldwide human genome project which will help in understanding and preventing diseases and discovering cures.

The mapping of genes, which the project intends to do, has profound implications for developing an understanding of various races and can shed new light on the genetic diversity of the region which is a melting pot of various ethnic groups. The complex tribal identities of the Northeast have often confused policy makers and scholars in formulating strategies for the region.

Of the seven population groups selected for study, three are from Assam and one each from Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura. The population groups from Assam that have been selected are Kalitas, Rajbongshis and Boro-Kacharis, whose blood type is considered unique in the world. Among the other groups are the Khasis from Meghalaya, Sherdukpen from Arunachal Pradesh, Nagas from Nagaland and Reangs from Tripura.

“More population segments should have been selected from the Northeast which has a large number of tribal groups. This would have thrown more light on the tribal identities of the region,” said Baphukan Choudhury of the anthropology department of Gauhati University.

Asked why only these population groups have been selected for the project, Choudhury said: “The Kalitas might have been taken as they are a numerically dominant caste group while the Boro-Kacharis are dominant among the tribal groups in Assam.”

“Although some studies have been undertaken on the genetic diversity of the ethnic groups in the Northeast, the deciphering of the genes at the chromosome level has not been done,” Choudhury said.

Citing an example, he said it would be interesting to know the extent of hybridisation which the Khasis have undergone. “There is a lot of difference among the Khasis as one goes into the interior areas,” he added.

Choudhury revealed that the Boro-Kacharis have an “abnormal” haemoglobin type. Fifty-four per cent of the tribal group has this type, which is a very high proportion globally.

“The examination of this blood type can help in knowing the kinds of diseases which are characteristic of this tribal group,” he said. Before laying down office after over two unprecedented decades of reign, Basu now has to put up with jibes from Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu that no industrialist in his right mind will invest in Bengal.

With Bengal’s decline, Andhra has moved swiftly up the pecking order of investors, Naidu himself going around with his laptop like a salesman peddling his state.

Even in appointing McKinsey, Bengal has been a few years behind Andhra, which commissioned the consultant to prepare a “vision statement” which Naidu takes pride in quoting.

Asked why it took the Bengal government 20 months to make up its mind on McKinsey, an official cited “procedural problems”, euphemism for sloth and subterranean-level conflicts among senior ministers and officials.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta, who will have to come up with the funds (conservative estimates put McKinsey’s fee for such a job at a minimum Rs 4.5 crore), said the industry department had not shown much eagerness earlier.

“I have noticed that the industry department is taking active interest in appointing McKinsey in the last two to three months,” he said.

A senior official denied Bengal was taking the cue from Andhra, but admitted that the McKinsey exercise had helped improve the investment environment of the southern state.

Officials hope McKinsey will do the same, and more, for Bengal, helping to brand the state as “investor-friendly”.

“We would like to retain McKinsey for two years to help us woo investors compared to Andhra which had appointed it for three months in 1997,” the official said.

“The association will not only increase our credibility but will also help us in contacting potential investors globally,” the official added.

Despite the experience of the fruitless exercises of the past, officials are optimistic that with McKinsey, they will be able to open a few doors. But the key is unlikely to be in Basu’s hands.    



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