Atal ties ‘natural allies’ in IT bond
CMs scramble to grab a piece of Gates action
Mamata pipes down on Art. 356
All set for politically-correct games
Calcutta weather

Washington, Sept. 14: 
Having said two years ago that India and the US are “natural allies”, and buoyed by the success of President Bill Clinton’s visit to India since then, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today took one more step forward in telling the US Congress that India and America “are together defining the partnerships of the future”.

Addressing a joint meeting of the US Congress, the Prime Minister significantly expanded the canvass of Indo-US relations by outlining joint efforts “for defining new ways of fighting poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease and pollution”.

As a special gesture taking into account Vajpayee’s ill health, House of Representatives Speaker Denis Hastert allowed him to deliver the address seated. Vajpayee did not leave out items from the old agenda. But by holding out assurances that appeared reasonable to Congressmen and Senators, Vajpayee made contentious issues look less so. Referring to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, he said: “India understands your concerns. We do not wish to unravel your non-proliferation efforts.”

But he significantly added: “We wish you to understand our security concerns.”

The Prime Minister reminded Congressmen and Senators that India and the US had both declared a voluntary moratorium on further nuclear testing. “We both share a commitment to ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons.”

Sensing the mood on Capitol Hill, where fear of Chinese domination of Asia is a frequent and dominant theme, the Prime Minister said India wanted an Asia where power does not threaten stability and security.

“We do not want the domination of some to crowd out the space for others. We must create an Asia where cooperative rather than aggressive assertion of national self-interests defines behaviour among nations.”

China was, however, not mentioned by name. Again, without naming Pakistan, Vajpayee warned Americans not to be complacent about the direction in which Pakistan was headed. “In our neighbourhood — in this the 21st century —religious war has not just been fashioned into, it has been proclaimed to be, an instrument of state policy.”

Reminding Americans of their own recent assumptions that no region is a greater source of terrorism than south Asia, Vajpayee warned that distance could not insulate the US from this threat.

“It should not cause complacence,” he said. The Prime Minister urged Americans who believed in an Asia fashioned on such ideals as democracy, prosperity, tolerance, pluralism and stability that “if we want an Asia where our vital interests are secure, then it is necessary for us to re-examine old assumptions”.

He called upon India and the US to work closely in pursuit of these goals. A strong, democratic and prosperous India, standing at the crossroads of Asia, will be an indispensable factor of stability in the region, the Prime Minister predicted. “We have much in common, and no clash of interests.”

The Prime Minister described India and the US as “two nations blessed with extraordinary resources and talent”. India and the US, he said, have taken a decisive step away from the past. “The dawn of the new century has marked a new beginning in our relations.”

He called upon the two countries to march hand-in-hand towards a world in which economic conditions improve for all. As part of this effort, the Prime Minister proposed a comprehensive global dialogue on development with New Delhi as its venue.

Vajpayee thanked Congressmen for an extraordinary resolution passed by the House of Representatives two days ago welcoming his visit and the prospect of closer Indo-US understanding. He also referred to a recurring theme in Indo-US interaction — cooperation in information technology.

“Today, on every digital map, India and the US are neighbours and partners. India and the US have taken the lead in shaping the information age.”    

New Delhi, Sept. 14: 
It was one huge power-packed lunch. Some 10 chief ministers, one Governor, a Central minister and a deputy chief minister had showed up for what could best be billed as a luncheon homage to Bill Gates, emperor of the New Economy.

From Net-savvy Chandrababu Naidu to nattily turned-out S.M. Krishna to rustic Om Prakash Chautala, all chief ministers had come primed to impress Gates how good their states were as e-investment destinations. Presiding over them in a swank suite at the Maurya Sheraton was, apart from Gates himself, infotech minister Pramod Mahajan.

The race among the states — including IT-wannabes like Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab and Rajasthan — to catch Gates’ eye and win his favour had touched white heat. Nasscom chief Dewang Mehta, an insider to the meeting, said as much: “All chief ministers were trying to hardsell their states.”

But the Microsoft boss steered clear of controversy. When reporters asked him to rate the states in order of IT-readiness, he said: “Oh no, I have been warned of the intense competition among them. I will say nothing on this.”

From prime real estate to virgin markets to promotion of Microsoft products, anything that Gates could ask for was on offer. Gujarat signed an MoU to promote Windows products in the state. Chautala rattled off a litany on what made Haryana the ideal infotech destination: “Proximity to the national capital, freedom from pollution, including political pollution, excellent law and order.”

But Gates refused to bite the bait. He stuck to the plan his team had already drawn up for India: $50 million for add-on investments to existing facilities.

At the end of the two-hour meet, however, the software guru said he was impressed. “These chief ministers are all doing something exciting —- developing e-governance, Net education, e-commerce. I wish some states in the US would wake up to all this.”

Exciting or otherwise, each chief minister had an agenda to sell. Naidu wanted Microsoft to team up with Andhra to develop an e-governance and Net education model. Uttar Pradesh chief minister R.P. Gupta wanted to set up an IT centre of excellence in Lucknow, the Prime Minister’s constituency. As if that were not enough, he suggested that Gates work on developing software in the rashtriya bhasha.

Maharashtra’s Vilas Rao Deshmukh and deputy Chhagan Bhujbal picked up the cue from there. They urged Gates that Windows should be developed in regional languages to “take IT to the masses”. Marxist Kerala’s education minister P.J. Joseph tried to hardsell a plan to make his state fully computer-literate through a virtual university.

Chief ministers of the other Marxist states, West Bengal and Tripura, skipped the meet. Amit Kiron Deb, principal secretary to Jyoti Basu, represented Bengal, but maintained a very low profile.

The north-eastern states went entirely unrepresented. Bihar’s Rabri Devi, Orissa’s Naveen Patnaik and Tamil Nadu’s M. Karunanidhi stayed away.

With those who kept the date with Gates, the Dum Pukht lunch spread was a great hit: biryani, assorted rotis, cottage cheese and chicken and mutton curries. At the end of it, the Haryana strongman wasn’t too sure who he had been talking to: “Bill Clinton se meeting bahut barhiya raha... IT se marg darshan hota to hain (The meeting with Bill Clinton was good... IT does give us a philosophical approach).”    

New Delhi, Sept. 14: 
Mamata Banerjee today told reporters after a meeting with Chandrababu Naidu that she would welcome “action against the West Bengal government in a phased manner”. Though she kept harping on the demand for Article 356, it appeared that the Trinamul Congress chief was willing to concede ground to the Centre and agree to softer measures like enforcement of the Disturbed Areas Act in the violence-torn Bengal districts.

New Delhi, Sept. 14:Mamata’s climbdown was an allowance to the National Democratic Alliance partners, several of whom are against President’s rule. “Article 356 is the people’s demand,” Mamata said, but pointed out: “In a democracy you have to take a step at a time and travel from one phase to another.”

The railway minister said till now the Bengal government has not taken any initiative to start peace talks. “There is total constitutional breakdown in the province,” she stressed.

Chandrababu Naidu, who met Mamata and home minister L.K. Advani during the day, avoided commenting on the use of Article 356. “The situation in the state is serious. Peace has to be restored at all cost. The government of India would have to talk to the state government. But first of all, all parties should realise that restoration of peace is the first priority,” the Andhra Pradesh chief minister said. Mamata later welcomed his “moral point”.

But Chandrababu Naidu would not spell out what should be done: he intended to pass the buck to the Centre. Neither did he rule out the enforcement of the provisions of the Disturbed Areas Act, saying it depended on the “circumstances”.

Though sympathetic to Mamata, he evaded questions on Central interference. The Telugu Desam chief’s antipathy for harsh Central measures is well-known, though the party was compelled to vote in favour of use of Article 356 in Bihar.

BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “It is time for all political parties who believe in democracy to come together. The West Bengal government and the CPM are not in a mood to allow the democratic system to function because they are worried their base is eroding and they are going to lose the elections. They want to retain power through terror and this is unacceptable.”

Basu had described the NDA as a “bundle of cattle” because of the CPM’s friendship with fodder scamsters, Venkaiah Naidu said.

Chandrababu Naidu, angry with the CPM for causing problems for him in his home state, however, did sympathise with Mamata. His attack on the CPM was veiled and he added sarcastically that “now political parties are creating political violence”.

The cyber-savvy chief minister has been at the receiving end of Left-sponsored violence against power tariff hike in his state recently which claimed three lives. He said he has asked the home minister to take steps to protect the lives of people in the state and “to pressure the West Bengal government to bring peace”.

He said he requested Advani to ensure that citizens are protected. Asked what Advani’s reply was on President’s rule, he snapped: “Is there a readymade answer?” He said Advani told him that he had briefed the President and the Prime Minister on the situation in Bengal.

Asked pointedly if the Telugu Desam — which did a somersault in case of Bihar — would back imposition of President’s rule on Bengal, Chandrababu Naidu insisted that his party had taken a “consistent” stand against Article 356. “The issue of Article 356 did not come up in the discussions,” he said.

Chandrababu Naidu said he abhorred political violence. “Now political parties are creating political violence. That is what is prevailing in West Bengal. Political violence is going up. Demonstrations and protest rallies are okay, but destroying public and private property and creating inconvenience to the common man cannot be tolerated,” the chief minister said. On the NDA team’s demand of declaring violence-hit districts as disturbed, he said: “We do not know the legal position. We have to study it.”    

Sydney, Sept. 14: 
Ten thousand flag-waving athletes from 199 countries will parade into a cavernous, ultra-modern stadium in a vibrant pageant of global unity designed to usher in what organisers hope will be the most high-tech, environmentally friendly, gender equal, drug-free and commercially muted Olympic Games in recent years.

From wiry triathletes swimming past the city’s fashionable opera house in the Teal Harbor waters to tanned volleyball players kicking up sand on a picture-postcard beach, Sydney is on a mission to dazzle athletes, spectators and billions of TV viewers, redefining the modern Olympics as a mix of gutsy competition and glitzy celebration.

This trendy city, with its gleaming skyline and cobblestone sidewalks, has spent seven years and more than $3 billion to throw this party, billed as the biggest gathering of the millennium.

Although the preparation years here were mired in a similar fog of controversy and scepticism that hung over the International Olympic Committee, athletes and visitors who have descended upon Sydney in recent days have given gushing reviews to the facilities.

“I think it’s the best venue in all of sport,” US triathlete Hunter Kemper raved after viewing the scenic course from the steps of the opera house. “It’s unbelievable.”

Seeking to avoid the crass commercialism that turned Atlanta’s Olympic Park into a giant billboard in 1996, Sydney officials have relied on tax dollars rather than private money to fund the construction of sporting venues.

The park housing venues here, located in a remote Sydney suburb called Homebush Bay, is relatively free of giant advertisements and aggressive vendors.

Instead, it resembles a giant, new-fangled amusement park where spectators can mill about and wander from venue to venue, walking from a sparkling train station to the covered SuperDome — which will house the gymnastics and basketball events — to the 110,000-seat main stadium and to the archery park and the aquatic, hockey and tennis centre.

All the facilities in the park have been built from scratch, in what has been the largest-ever construction project undertaken by an Olympic host city.

Organisers also boast that the competition will be the first “Green Games”, with such environmental advancements as a rooftop solar power system on the SuperDome.

The Aquatic Center, officials brag, will require only 10 lights to illuminate it by day, and the park’s main arteries will be lit by 19 enormous solar towers. Officials have promised to recycle or compost four-fifths of the waste generated at the park.

The Games also will be the first to be nearly automobile-free: all spectators are required to use public transportation to get to Homebush Bay.    



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