Surjeet persuades Basu to defer bowout
Vajpayee builds bridge beyond Clinton
Mamata puts Bengal in NDA court
Phone strike drags on
James Bond lies low and loves life
Calcutta weather

 
 
SURJEET PERSUADES BASU TO DEFER BOWOUT 
 
 
BY TAMAL SENGUPTA AND BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, Sept. 9: 
Putting an end to a month-long speculation on chief minister Jyoti Basu’s “imminent retirement”, the CPM today officially announced that he would continue in his post “as of now”.

Hours after CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet met Basu at his residence to discuss the retirement issue, the party issued a statement that it has been “agreed that no immediate time-frame has been fixed about (Basu) relinquishing the office of the chief minister.”

Surjeet, who went straight to Basu’s residence on arrival from Delhi last night, had an hour-long meeting with the octogenarian chief minister and impressed upon him the need to continue in office “at least for now”.

Party sources insisted that Basu will continue in office at least till the party’s plenum in end October. Basu told The Telegraph tonight: “Let us see if I can continue till the Assembly polls.”

Basu, who has been publicly saying that he wants to give up office because of his indifferent health, said that he had agreed to to stay on as the chief minister “because of Surjeet’s insistence”.

“I am not resigning,” Basu said. “I have told Surjeet about my indifferent health and he appreciated my position but said that this was not the time to give up my post; I could not possibly say no to him.” This morning, Surjeet met with the members of the CPM state secretariat and briefed them about his meeting with Basu and conveyed the chief minister’s decision to them.

But sources said during his meeting with Surjeet, Basu made it clear that he was unhappy with the state party leadership for “relentlessly” trying to corner a minority within the party which had been insisting on more democracy in the organisation. Basu apparently impressed on Surjeet that this is being done despite his known position on the issue.

Sources said Basu also told Surjeet that the state unit of the party was not doing enough to curb “militant trade unionism”, which continues to be a hurdle in the industrial development of the state. Surjeet, sources said, assured Basu that he would take up the matter with the state party leaders, after which Basu agreed not to press for his resignation, at least for the moment.

Significantly, Basu’s retirement issue has not figured in either the state secretariat or the politburo, but the effort by the party leadership, especially Surjeet, in persuading him to stay on will provide the chief minister extra leverage within the party to push his agenda through, a section of CPM leaders said.

Today’s decision has also come as a boon for a section of the state party leadership, especially state secretary Anil Biswas and potilburo member Biman Bose, who did not relish the prospect of deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya stepping into the chief minister’s shoes.

However, this decision may rob Bhattacharya of the opportunity of a stint in the chief minister’s office before the Assembly polls. Basu, who has on more occasions than one clearly stated that he will not contest the coming polls, had himself said that Bhattacharya should get “exposure” in the top job before the elections to get used to the responsibilities of office as well as allow the people to assess him.

But party dissidents Subhas Chakraborty and Saifuddin Chowdhury both said that Basu’s continuance in office “has only been for the good of the party”.

While Chakraborty said that the “process of democratisation of the party will now be further strengthened”, Chowdhury said that the “leadership should have got into the act earlier” and persuaded him to stay on.

For the Trinamul Congress, Basu’s decision not to resign “has come at the right time”. Party spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said: “With Basu at the helm of affairs, our movement against the Left misrule will gather momentum.”    


 
 
VAJPAYEE BUILDS BRIDGE BEYOND CLINTON 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
New York, Sept. 9: 
With the UN Millennium Summit out of the way, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee quickly turned his attention last night to the main objective of his visit to the US: To build on President Bill Clinton’s India trip in March and give an institutional foundation to Indo-US relations.

Giving the lie to criticism that Vajpayee was wasting his time with a lame duck White House in visiting the US just weeks before the presidential election here, Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush yesterday telephoned Vajpayee and exchanged views on Indo-US relations.

Apart from courtesy talk, fuelled by reports in the US media about the Prime Minister’s ill health, Bush expressed appreciation for the way the Indo-US relations have developed recently. Bush, who is governor of Texas, also praised the role being played by Americans of Indian origin in this country.

Vajpayee on his part, referred with satisfaction to references made by Bush on the campaign trail and in media interactions to Indo-US ties. Vajpayee appreciated the Republican manifesto in which India and South Asia figure in the section on Asia Pacific. This is a significant departure from the past when South Asia was ignored in the manifesto.

The telephone talk between the Prime Minister and the presidential aspirant apparently compensates for the aborted meeting between the two which was to have taken place here on Wednesday, had Vajpayee stuck to his original plans of arriving in New York on Tuesday.

In view of Bush’s campaign schedule, fresh dates for a meeting could not be fixed. The cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting had disappointed Indian Americans, but the phone talk is a partial consolation for them and for Indian diplomats who have been trying to be even-handed in the election campaign here.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh dispelled the idea that India’s links were only with the Democratic Party in the US. He said this was a “wrong assumption” and that India’s approach to future US politics was bipartisan.

He said Indo-US ties were not personality oriented or dependent on an individual. The statement was obviously prompted by criticism that the present Indo-US initiatives were because of Clinton and that it could fade away with a new occupant in the White House.

Next week, when Vajpayee goes to Washington, he will interact with the Democratic presidential aspirant, Vice President Al Gore. Gore will host a lunch for Vajpayee on Friday.

Later, after Vajpayee flies home from Washington, Jaswant Singh will go to the West Coast where he will have more talks with foreign policy advisers of Bush. George Schultz, who was secretary of state in the former President George Bush’s Republican administration has already arranged a lunch for Singh at which he will brainstorm with key Republicans engaged in foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, Vajpayee and Singh are getting down to a schedule of bilateral meetings during the weekend, many of which had to be rescheduled in the light of changes in the Prime Minister’s travel plans.

Singh said 14 bilateral meetings had been planned before leaders return home from New York after the summit. From the pattern of meetings it is clear India is ignoring Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf’s anti-India tirade which is relentlessly continuing here.

Singh pointed out yesterday that apart from Pakistan, only Saudi Arabia had referred to Kashmir at the summit.

The Indian delegation is, therefore, inclined to leave Musharraf’s allegations to international opinion rather than follow a policy of tit-for-tat.

Singh said India had no plans to meet any Kashmiri group in the US during Vajpayee’s visit. There have been demonstrations at the UN against India by Kashmiri groups, but Singh said this was a season of annual demonstrations in New York and dismissed the protests as inconsequential.

UN declaration

The historic UN Millennium Summit has pledged to take concerted action against international terrorism, strive for the elimination of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and expansion of the Security Council, thereby endorsing India’s views on these issues.    


 
 
MAMATA PUTS BENGAL IN NDA COURT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Sept. 9: 
Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee wants the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to review Bengal’s law and order as soon as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee returns from the US.

Mamata feels a special NDA meeting should be convened with Vajpayee as chair to consider defence minister George Fernandes’ report on “CPM-sponsored terror in the state”.

Fernandes, who is also NDA convener, is believed to have written a strongly-worded report to be submitted tomorrow to the Union home ministry. The report apparently castigates the Bengal government for its “utter failure to protect the rural poor belonging to the minority community, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”.

Fernandes was not able to submit his report to L.K. Advani today as the Union home minister was held up in Kerala.

The West Bengal home department said it has not yet received any missive from the Centre, even as North Block officials insisted in Delhi that a two-page advisory had been sent last night. Asked how soon Delhi expected Writers’ Buildings to respond, a senior home ministry official said: “Ideally by Monday, but one cannot expect much when the chief minister continues to say nothing much has happened in Midnapore.”

North Block is not contemplating any move to even refer to Article 356 in Bengal’s case — let alone impose President’s Rule. But it reserves the right to summon top state government officials if a reply is delayed.

“That option is always open. If the officials are summoned, they will be told that the Centre is concerned with the deteriorating law and order in some parts of the state and immediate remedial action is needed,” an official said.

Even if the Centre does not summon officials, the Union home ministry will be able to make its displeasure known during the two-day annual conference of state directors-general of police on September 27 and 28.

Mamata, who had earlier threatened to take “a drastic step to protest the Centre’s inaction,” has decided to await the outcome of Fernandes’ visit before deciding her next course of action.

Trinamul sources said Mamata will go to any length, short of pulling out of the NDA, for action from the Centre on the violence in rural Bengal.

Trinamul chief whip Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who accompanied the defence minister to the trouble-torn areas of Midnapore yesterday, said the party was expecting “a positive response” from the Centre. “The defence minister has been witness to our party workers’ plight. We expect him to take up the matter with the home minister and the Prime Minister,” he said.

Sources said Mamata is anxious to rehabilitate her party supporters evicted by armed CPM cadre from different villages in Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura. She has directed her party leaders to provide relief to the distressed people pending their return to the concerned villages.

There has, however, been no let-up in CPM attacks on Trinamul supporters in villages. According to Pankaj Banerjee, Trinamul chairman, about 1000 people of Chingripota village in Khanakur area of Hooghly district today took shelter at Subalpota village under Udaynarayanpur police station in neighbouring Howrah after being driven out by CPM workers.

Banerjee called state home secretary Saurin Roy and urged him to look into the matter.

   


 
 
PHONE STRIKE DRAGS ON 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 9: 
The CPM-affiliated All India Telecom Employees Union today prevented workers who have called off the strike from reporting for duty, throwing repair and maintenance work out of gear in the city.

The chief general manager of Calcutta Telephones, K. Ramanujam, said he would not hesitate to call the police if the strikers squat in front of the gates and threaten employees who want to rejoin.

In Delhi, minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar said “stern action” would be taken against the employees who did not return to work.

“Their demands have been met. The unions have signed a pact. Now there should be no more of this,” he said.

A PTI report from Delhi said the National Action Committee Against Telecom Corporatisation, a body of seven Left trade unions, has asked the workers to continue the strike till Saturday midnight. All the other unions had called off the strike last night.

Ramanujam said leaders of the striking union had assured him employees will resume work on Saturday. “But on reaching office on Saturday morning, I found that the CPM-affiliated union members are not working nor are they allowing anyone to report for duty. They have not given any notice for Saturday’s strike,” Ramanujam said.

Trouble broke out at some of the exchanges where pro- and anti-strike employees clashed.

Senior officers of the Calcutta Telephones said 32,000 telephones are non-functional. But they conceded that the figure could be higher as subscribers were not being able to book faults because of the strike.

When the booking clerks went to report for duty on Saturday, the CPM-backed employees threatened them and forced them to stay away.

According to area managers of central and Alipore, R.K. Mishra and K.C. Ghosh, not a single worker could report for duty at important exchanges like Circus, Entally, Burrabazar, Alipore, Kalighat and Jadavpur.

The convenor of the anti-Left employees’ union which was on strike from September 6, Alok Nandi, said employees were asked to report for duty from today. “We have asked them to clear pending work which had piled up since the last few days at the earliest,” Nandi said.    


 
 
JAMES BOND LIES LOW AND LOVES LIFE 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mcleodganj, Sept. 9: 
The Cold War may be over, but James Bond still prefers to stay under cover.

A KGB agent would have won a paid holiday in the upper reaches of Mcleodganj — where peace comes dropping slow — if he had been able to track Pierce Brosnan down. But the latest Bond is already there.

Dharamsala is guarding Brosnan — the most recent Hollywood hunk to troop into the Dalai Lama’s kitty after Charles Bronson, Richard Gere and Steven Segal — like a state secret. With upper Mcleodganj getting its first spell of snowfall today and Brosnan being elusive, it feels like a chilling thriller.

The Tibetan government in exile said the man who has been Bond thrice was not in town. The department of information and international relations clammed up at the mention of the word “press”. Brosnan, who was not there, was not talking to anyone, insisted an official of the department. “Sorry sir, Mr Brosnan is not talking to anyone. In fact, he is not even here,’’ an anxious voice at the information office said. On further queries, the voice sounded irritated: “See ,that’s why no press. Too many questions.’’

A tip-off comes from the intelligence guys, snooping around for men deadlier than 007 from the other side of the LoC. But even they fail to pinpoint his exact location.

But fortune favours the desperate. The travel agent who looked after Brosnan when he landed at the airport a few days ago volunteers: “If you are so keen I can tell you where I put him up the first day. But don’t tell anyone where you got it from.”

Rushing to the Choonar house, the lodge where Brosnan was apparently staying, doesn’t help. “Brosnan who, what Bond?” asks the manager.

However, Tashi, a local youth, whispers that Thupten Gyaltsen, a book-stall owner, would help.

The time has come to don a camouflage and pose as a research student. “Oh,’’ says Gyaltsen, “even James Bond seems to be a keen scholar of Tibetan literature and culture.’’ He lets on that he can be found at a Tibetan studies institute in a remote corner of Dharamsala.

Finally at the Norbulingka institute, 15 km from Mcleodganj, a place which “preserves Tibetan culture”, the elusive secret agent is pinned down.

Some more lies and Brosnan agrees to answer my questions. “No plans to shoot in India,” he says, and remains quiet. He doesn’t say where he is heading from Mcleodganj, and how long he wishes to be in India. Flashing his famous 007 smile he says: “Look out for my next number.”

But asked if he plans to convert and become a vocal supporter of the Tibetan cause, he is suddenly on his guard. “Thank you, but you are asking too many questions,’’ he says and adds: “All the best for your research.”

But just as he turns to go into the handicrafts section of the institute, he looks back and shouts: “Love life.” A monk, Sonam Wangdi, promises a second part of the Brosnan visit. “He is coming again next year.”

Tomorrow never dies for reporters chasing secret agents in the snow.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.3°C (+1)
Minimum: 26.4°C (normal)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 69%

Today

Possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in some parts of calcutta and suburbs
Sunset: 5.44 pm
Sunrise: 5.24 am
   
 

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