BJP sets targets in 4 states
Bangaru seeks Bengal bulletin on bloodshed
Russia guns for Delhi defence deals
Arjun out of CWC race
Hospital meet on baby deaths
Families in samadhi short-shrift

New Delhi, Sept. 26: 
The BJP national executive is expected to focus in a big way on the strategy and preparations for Assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. State presidents and general secretaries have been asked to bring along their assessments and stay on for a day after the national executive, slated to begin on October 1.

Summing up the party’s prospects and strategies, a BJP vice-president said: “In Kerala our objective will be to make a breakthrough and in Tamil Nadu it will be to make an impressive leap in the number of seats we have at present. In West Bengal we are clear that our one-point agenda is to dislodge the Marxists while in Assam the attempt will be to consolidate our present gains.”

He was silent on Uttar Pradesh, so far considered the BJP’s political citadel.

He said the BJP had failed to make a breakthrough in Kerala —- despite having a “strong” organisation down to the panchayats —- because it could not fit in with either the LDF or the UDF coalition.

“But now our feedback is that large sections of voters are disillusioned with both coalitions and may, therefore, opt for the BJP.

For instance, a major backward caste community, the Ezhavas, who have traditionally voted for the Left combine, are gravitating towards the BJP and this is a big bonus,” he claimed.

BJP sources in Bengal claimed the party had a “more well-entrenched” organisation than the Trinamul Congress, but it lacked “focused leadership”. Hence, it was “more than happy” to leave the field open for Mamata Banerjee in her fight to the finish with the CPM.

“In fact we are so clear we want the Jyoti Basu regime to end that we may even have tacit seat adjustments with the Congress in some places,” they said.

Sources sounded upbeat about Tamil Nadu, where the BJP held a series of political conventions recently.

Asserting that the response was “overwhelming”, they said the BJP appeared to be gaining at the expense of both the Congress and the ADMK.

“The Congress was the biggest countervailing force against the Dravida parties for decades. Now that it is finished, we are occupying this space,” sources claimed, adding that the BJP’s “growing strength” was unlikely to upset its equation with the DMK and other allies on seat-sharing.

The BJP is more or less clear that it will have nothing to do with the Asom Gana Parishad. “Our information is that the AGP government is extremely unpopular. We don’t want to repeat the Karnataka experience where we were routed because of our alliance with J.H. Patel,” sources said, adding the AGP had been sending feelers to the BJP.

The BJP is clueless on how it will grapple with the anti- incumbency mood against R.P Gupta’s government in Uttar Pradesh.

“Kalraj Mishra (the new state president) is trying hard to galvanise workers through his kisan yatra and by the time elections come (in October 2001), we are sure things will fall in place,” sources said.    

New Delhi, Sept. 26: 
The BJP high command has directed its West Bengal unit to prepare a comprehensive report on the violence in the state and place it before the national executive which will meet here on Sunday.

The Bengal leaders have been asked to detail all incidents and incorporate the versions of the Trinamul, CPM and the Congress in their presentation and append newspaper reports.

Bengal will also be discussed at an office-bearers’ meeting a day before the national executive.

The BJP sustained the temperature on the issue with president Bangaru Laxman, who visited the scarred districts last week, briefing office-bearers at an informal meeting attended by Kushabhau Thakre, Jana Krishnamurthy, Sunil Shastri, Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Laxman also met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee later in the evening.

Briefing reporters, Naidu quoted Laxman as saying the Bengal situation was “horrible and had to be seen to be believed”. The BJP also claimed that the “popular mood” was in favour of President’s rule and “immediate Central intervention”.

“Laxmanji said even illiterate people in the villages were quoting Article 356 and wherever he went, they were shouting ‘We want 356,”’ Naidu said.

“It is obvious there is an anti-CPM mood among the people and they are waiting for the earliest opportunity to give their verdict,” he added.

Laxman reportedly alleged that “political opponents were not only attacked, but attacked brutally, their hands, legs and other parts were cut, properties looted, all with the active support of the state administration. He also said the attitude in the relief camps was totally partisan and anti-CPM victims were not being taken care of”.

Keeping the Assam elections in mind and taking account of its perception that the popularity of the Asom Gana Parishad was waning, the BJP grabbed the plank of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act and demanded the Centre should immediately repeal it.

Considering that the Act was passed during the Congress’ regime after the Assam Accord was signed and it could, therefore, not be revoked without the party’s consent because the NDA lacked the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, Naidu called on the Centre to evolve a political consensus.

“Experience shows instead of solving the basic problem of immigration, IMDT has created more problems in Assam which is the worst affected by illegal infiltration,” Naidu said.

Eight more people joined the list of permanent invitees to the BJP’s national executive. They are Jagdish Shettigar, N.N. Jha, Ramnath Kovind, Bhagwan hankar Rawat, Baliram Kashyap, R. Ramakrishnan, S.M. Usmani and Siddharth Reddy.

BJP sources said Shettigar and Ramakrishnan will possibly continue to be the convenor and co-convenor of the economic cell and Jha will carry on looking after foreign affairs.

Kashyap, a Lok Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, may head the Kisan Morcha and Usmani, the minorities cell.    

St. Petersburg, Sept. 26: 
Russia is banking on President Vladimir Putin to clinch key defence deals with Delhi during his three- day visit to the country next month.

Several deals are believed to have been lined up by Russian deputy prime minister Ilya Klebanov, whose team has just returned here from Delhi after finalising Putin’s visit.

The buzz about the deals has grown louder since air force chief A.Y. Tipnis landed in Russia on an official visit.

Putin will begin his visit on October 2 and meet top leaders, including Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and President K.R. Narayanan. He will also travel to Mumbai and Agra.

The deals with India are crucial as they will help rejuvenate Russia’s moribund defence industry and provide jobs to hundreds of people. India and China are the main buyers of Russian defence equipment.

Speculation about the Indo-Russian deals has been mounting since Tipnis arrived here. He has held talks with senior defence officials and visited several key factories.

Three frigates for the Indian navy are under construction in the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard. Two Indian submarines are here for overhaul.

Klebanov said he had discussed a wide range of bilateral issues and arms deals. His delegation included members of leading arms exporters, Rosvooruzheniye and Promexport. There are hints that Russia has never signed as many deals with any other country as it has lined up with India.

The deputy prime minister said he had discussed a contract covering export and licensed production of 320 T-90 battle tanks in India, but declined to dis- close when the deal would be signed.

Nikolai Malykh, general director of Uralvagonzavod which manufactures the tanks, said the deal would be signed soon. The deal, to be signed by Putin, will provide for export of 124 T-90s and licensed production of 196 of these tanks in India at a cost of $750-$900 million.

Another deal for licensed production of 100 Su-30 MKI fighters by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is also likely to be signed. Sukhoi chief Mikhail Pogosyan, who was in India recently, said the nations were negotiating a $1 billion deal.

Sukhoi’s rival MiG is also trying to clinch a deal, which will include retrofitting aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. MiG general director Nikolai Nikitin is scheduled to be on Putin’s delegation.

Nikitin wants to deliver 60 MiG-29K fighters, to be based on Admiral Gorshkov and a coastal air base. The deal is likely to cost a whopping $2 billion.

Another deal for delivery of six S-300 PMU air defence systems, that have a range of over 200 km and can intercept ballistic missiles, is also being discussed. But it is not clear if this will be signed during Putin’s visit.    

New Delhi, Sept. 26: 
Senior Congress leader Arjun Singh today withdrew from the contest for a Congress Working Committee berth, setting a compelling precedent for the other members of the old guard.

Arjun’s declaration has put Natwar Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Prabha Rau, Pranab Mukherjee, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, K. Karunakaran, Manmohan Singh, Mohsina Kidwai and Motilal Vora in a quandary.

The CWC consists of 24 members — 12 to be elected by the 1,000-odd party delegates and an equal number to be nominated by party chief Sonia Gandhi. Since she has announced her desire to fill a third of the CWC vacancies with women and another 20 per cent with nominees from the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities, these leaders fear that most of the berths in the nominated category are likely to be doled out to these sections.

Arjun’s call for a generation change is aimed at mobilising support for Sonia as the next party president. The 40-60 age-group forms the backbone of the Congress, and if the likes of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Kamal Nath, Santosh Mohan Dev, Vayalar Ravi, Salman Khurshid and Chandresh Kumari get key posts in the AICC, they will back Sonia to the hilt.

According to the Congress poll schedule, the CWC polls will be held at least two months after the party chief’s election. So Sonia has the advantage of picking her new team after settling down.

Arjun’s move to opt out of the race has also put Sonia’s challengers in a spot. The rebels were planning to target the coterie around Sonia, and were counting on the support of the younger leaders. But Arjun has outclassed them with his deft move. A CWC bait will be very hard to resist, the dissident leaders conceded.

Sonia is under pressure to get rid of the “deadwood” in the party, namely Sitaram Kesri, V.N. Gadgil, Karunakaran, Reddy, Madhavsinh Solanki and others who have been airing anti-Sonia views. Most of these leaders lack mass base and are not in a position to challenge her leadership. Fence-sitters like Jitendra Prasada and Ahmad Patel are aware that unless they get the backing of the younger leaders, they would not be able to make a dent.

The rebels were counting on Khurshid’s alleged unpopularity to win over delegates from Uttar Pradeshs, but the surprise change of guard has upset their calculations.    

Calcutta, Sept. 26: 
The health department has called a meeting on Friday of superintendents of all five teaching hospitals in the city and the Chittaranjan Shishu Sadan to take measures to decrease the patient load at B.C. Roy Children’s Hospital in Narkeldanga.

The hospital has been the focus of attention after 10 infant deaths took place on Saturday-Sunday in the space of 36 hours at the crowded medicine wards there. Department sources said health minister Partha De instructed director of medical education Shyamal Banerjee to convene the meeting so that the “tripling of patients” at the Narkeldanga hospital can be curtailed.

Though cross-infections among babies have been denied by the authorities, they admit that such infections are very likely if three babies share one cot, measuring three by five feet each. The 175 beds in the nine-ward medicine department of the hospital on an average have 300 sick children, a trend that has become a permanent feature over the last two years.

The meeting may discuss the relocation of patients to other hospitals as an immediate measure. “A formula will be devised so that there is maximum utilisation of the available paediatric beds in the city’s hospitals,” an official said.

Contrary to the minister’s statement that no parent had lodged any complaint, the officer in charge of the Phulbagan police station confirmed that a parent had filed an FIR on Sunday, saying that he feared for the life of his baby following the alleged neglect by staff of the hospital.

But a doctor at the hospital said the parent, A.K. Choudhury, had withdrawn the complaint, saying he had been “misguided by outside elements”.

who were agitating in the hospital campus on Sunday.    

New Delhi, Sept. 26: 
Family members of Lal Bahadur Shastri are a harried lot. In the next one week, they have to organise a function to mark the birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister at his samadhi at Vijay Ghat, ensure attendance of all VIPs, send out invitations, arrange flowers and devotional music.

So what’s new? Nothing, except that the function until now had been the all-expenses-paid responsibility of the urban development ministry.

Not any more. The Centre has decided that henceforth all such functions will have to be organised by the families concerned. It will only hold functions to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s birth and death anniversaries.

Incidentally, Shastri shares his birthday with the father of the nation.

Like the Shastris, the Nehru-Gandhi family, too, will be in a similar predicament in the next two months. It has to organise functions on Indira Gandhi’s death and birth anniversaries on October 31 and November 19 as well as celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday on November 14.

The Cabinet’s decision asking family members and trusts to raise funds to hold the customary anniversary functions has not gone down well with the descendants of these national icons. Apart from the financial burden, the families are concerned about attendance. They doubt whether VIPs would attend these functions, which were earlier mandatory due to protocol.

Some Congress leaders went to the extent of alleging a “sinister design” behind the Cabinet move as all memorials belonged to party stalwarts. Government sources denied the charge and pointed to the Supreme Court’s appreciation for urban development minister Jagmohan and his ministry.

Questioning the government’s rationale, a member of the family of a former Prime Minister pointed out that while the ministry had agreed to pay for maintenance and development of these samadhis, it had washed its hands of organising functions that cost just a few thousand. “Has it been done to avoid mandatory visits by the VIPs 16 times a year?” he asked.

The government maintains nine samadhis on the banks of the Yamuna in memory of Gandhi, Nehru, Shastri, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram, Shankar Dayal Sharma and Sanjay Gandhi.

In the case of former president Sharma, who died earlier this year, a trust is yet to be formed. Teen Murti Trust and Nehru Memorial Library were set up in Nehru’s memory, but being a government-sponsored trust, it has been primarily associated with academic work.

A Congress-affiliated Jawahar Bhawan Trust, headed by Sonia Gandhi is, therefore, likely to arrange the function in his memory on November 14.    


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