Britain springs Bleach bias poser on Delhi
Allies blink at Advani A gra visit
BJP plays up ‘courtesy’ angle
Delhi soothes Arab nerves
Chhota Chanakya rallies forces against Sonia
Ally-wise Atal wins admirer in Sonia camp
Villagers killed in BSF firing
Anil slips on velvet gloves for rebels
Mega-plan for Mahavira tribute
January date for J&K local polls

 
 
BRITAIN SPRINGS BLEACH BIAS POSER ON DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
With its stiff upper lip right in place, the British government has sought a clarification from India why Peter Bleach was being treated differently from the five Russians who were also involved in the Purulia arms drop case.

Bleach, a British national, is still in jail while the five Russians have been released a few months ago following a Presidential pardon. The issue was raised at the meeting between John Kerr, the head of the British diplomatic service, and his Indian counterpart, Lalit Mansingh, this afternoon. The British government, however, has not sought his release.

Kerr admitted the Bleach issue was discussed but refused to give details. Though officially the UK maintains it will not meddle in India’s judicial process, British home secretary Jack Straw had wanted to know, during his meeting with L.K. Advani last month, what steps could be taken to expedite Bleach’s petition pending before a Calcutta court.

India is learnt to have already sent papers to the UK government explaining why Bleach is being treated differently. The documents are presently being examined by the British high commission officials in Delhi. Given the keenness of the two sides to improve bilateral relations, it appears that the issue will be resolved amicably.

During the meeting, Kerr pointed out that India has not sought the extradition of the Hinduja brothers accused in the Bofors case. However, with the Hindujas saying they would voluntarily come to India to face trial, if needed, an extradition request seems unlikely.

The two sides discussed a wide range of issues, including the steps being contemplated by the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group regarding Pakistan and Fiji where democratically elected governments had been dislodged following armed coups.

The situation in Afghanistan, the West Asian crisis, as well as Indo-Pak relations also came up at the talks between Kerr and Mansingh.

Kerr added that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was keen to visit India at the earliest opportunity in 2001. Blair’s visit will be a clear indication that Delhi and London are keen to strengthen bilateral ties, ignoring the differences that soured relations in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998. Prior to that visit, Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh will tour the UK between November 15 and 17 and hold detailed discussions with his British counterpart, Robin Cook.

This will be the second visit by the Indian foreign minister to London in a year. In January, Singh had visited London for talks with the US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, which was preceded by an interaction with Cook. The two had met again when the British foreign secretary visited India in summer.    


 
 
ALLIES BLINK AT ADVANI A GRA VISIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct.17: 
The Telugu Desam Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party today played down L.K. Advani’s presence at the Agra RSS camp, scotching speculation that the government’s allies may come in the way of the home minister succeeding Atal Behari Vajpayee if the occasion arose.

The Desam boss and Andhra Pradesh chief minister declined comment on the issue. Asked if he approved of the home minister attending the RSS meet at which anti-minoritystatements were made, Naidu merely said :”I do not want to comment.”

The chief minister was on way to a 10-day trip of Japan, China and Hong Kong. Earlier when reporters persisted, he said his colleague Yerran Naidu had already commented.

Yerran Naidu endorsed Advani’s presence at the RSS camp,saying: “We have faith in Advani, that he will not compromise on secularism.” The Desam parliamentary party leader said “Advani had said several times that he is proud of his association with the RSS”.

Yerran, however, reiterated that the Desam stood for secularism. “In the name of one’s religion, we should not hate other religion. Each religion should respect the other,” he said.

Samata Party spokesperson Shambu Srivastav said Advani attended the camp in his personal capacity. “As long as the government is following the NDA agenda, it’s fine with us,” he said, adding that the state- ments made by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan were “not good”. The Samata is opposed to anything which creates hatred in society, he said.

JD (U) spokesperson Mohan Prakash also did not find anything wrong with Advani attending the camp. He said as long as Advani was functioning well as home minister, there was nothing to complain about. Prakash, however, disapproved of the RSS attack on minorities.

Sources said the allies, especially the Desam, was worried about frequent elections as it hampered the investment climate in the state.

Naidu, who is wooing foreign investment in a big way, does not want frequent elections. Even if it is Advani who is to succeed Vajpayee, the Desam chief does not have any problem.

Naidu, who addressed a meeting of CII here today, said foreign investors were “sceptical of frequent elections in the country.”

Even as Naidu was address- ing the CII conference, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called up from Breach Candy hospital and thanked him for the concern he expressed while Vajpayee underwent knee surgery. Naidu also met Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha and urged him to take necessary steps to protect the interests of Andhra Pradesh farmers.    


 
 
BJP PLAYS UP ‘COURTESY’ ANGLE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
The BJP today defended L.K. Advani’s presence at the RSS mahashivir in Agra last Sunday despite strong reactions from Opposition and Church leaders. The latter had expressed surprise and anxiety at the home minister’s attendance in a function where RSS sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan sharpened his attack against the Church.

“Advani’s presence does not mean he shared or endorsed the views (expressed by Sudarshan). Courtesy demanded that he attend the function which he did,” said BJP vice-president and spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy.

Krishnamurthy added that Advani attended the function on the last day of the three-day mahashivir where leaders of all political parties, including Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, were invited. “He responded while the others did not,” he said.

In his valedictory address, Sudarshan lashed out at the Church for being more involved with politics than with religion. He alleged that insurgency in the Northeast was a “US conspiracy” in which the Church was used as a tool especially during the Cold War when India had rejected US requests to establish military bases. He said the Church came in handy for the US to set up its bases in the strategic Northeast.

BJP sources were privately happy with Sudarshan for not only taking on the Church but the US as well. This is particularly true for a section in the BJP that is unhappy with the pro-US tilt in the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy.

This faction holds foriegn minister Jaswant Singh and the Prime Minister’s national security adviser Brajesh Mishra as jointly “responsible” for shaping the new US-friendly policy.

Others in the BJP, however, disagree with this perception and maintain that after the disintegration of Soviet Union and the emergence of a unipolar world, India had no choice but to align with the US.

Commenting on Sudarshan’s speech, Krishnamurthy said: “He appealed to Muslims and Christians to join the mainstream. Now it is for them to consider it, debate it, accept or reject it. But I do not understand why our Leftist friends and others should rush in with their caustic comments. He (Sudarshan) has a viewpoint. The BJP has nothing to comment on it.”

He reiterated that as far as the BJP is concerned, the party has “opened its doors to all citizens of 18 years and above who subscribe to its ideology”.

Krishnamurthy emphasised that there is no need for the BJP to endorse or reject the RSS’ stand. “The BJP is not bothered about it,” he said.

Expressing the party’s concern over the recent upsurge in communal revenge killings in Bihar, Krishnamurthy said the responsibility lay squarely with the Congress, a partner in the Rabri Devi government. “If the situation continues like this, people will hold the Congress responsible,” he said.    


 
 
DELHI SOOTHES ARAB NERVES 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
A week after being asked by both Israel and Palestine to intervene and save the West Asia peace process from collapse, India today took the Arab world on board by briefing their ambassadors on Delhi’s stand on the crisis.

Though India had so far taken a balanced stand on the West Asian problem, its decision to share its views with the Arab nations shows Delhi’s keenness to develop relations with the Islamic states.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh will be visiting Algiers from October 23 to 25 to discuss with the Algerian leadership all important issues of mutual interest. This will be after 15 years that an Indian foreign minister will be visiting the important Arab country.

It is necessary for India to clarify its stand on the West Asian crisis since in the recent past there have been apprehensions, specially in the Arab nations, about the growing ties between Delhi and Tel Aviv. Detractors of the BJP government had accused it of developing ties with Israel at the cost of its traditional ally Palestine.

Secretary (east) in the Indian foreign ministry K.V. Rajen briefed a gathering of senior Arab diplomats in Hyderabad House this afternoon about the impasse following the violent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian supporters.

South Block officials said the meeting was not on the West Asia crisis, but the summit-level meets that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had with US President Bill Clinton in Washington and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Delhi early this month.

But they admitted that though the impasse was not on the agenda, a discussion on it could not be avoided. This is the second occasion in less than two months that Rajen briefed the Arab ambassadors. Earlier, he had convened a meeting with the Arab diplomats here to clear the air about Delhi’s growing ties with Israel.

At today’s meeting, Rajen told the Arab ambassadors that India, like the rest of the world, was highly disturbed about the recent violence and felt the only way out of the crisis was to show restraint and return to negotiations.

Jaswant trip

The Palestinian Ambassador regretted that foreign minister Jaswant Singh had to defer his Saudi Arabia visit because of the conflict in West Asia and said India’s “active” role in resolving the conflict in the region would be “most helpful”.    


 
 
CHHOTA CHANAKYA RALLIES FORCES AGAINST SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
Former Congress vice president Jitendra Prasada has now mustered courage to take on Sonia Gandhi to rid the party of “coteries, sycophants and time servers.”

Prasada is counting on support from “millions” of disgruntled partymen all over the country. However, not many prominent leaders are expected to come out in open support of Prasada.

Going by present indications, it appears to be a repeat of the one-sided contest between Sitaram Kesri, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. Kesri had beaten the Maratha strongman by thousands of votes with Pilot finishing a poor third.

As the Prasada camp has unleashed harsh words against Sonia, there is little scope for rapprochement. In fact, power hungry regional satraps are pressing for a contest so that some contenders for top party posts get eliminated.

Prasada’s agenda is essentially a tirade against the rise of the three power centres in Sonia-led Congress represented by Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and Ambika Soni. Having served both Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao as political secretary, Prasada has been feeling “isolated” in the Sonia regime.

Raising the bogey of the days of Narasimha Rao, Prasada, who prides himself as a backroom player and “chhota Chanakya”, wants former Union ministers who served under Rao to gang up against Sonia.

The gameplan is to free the party from “family raj” — a direct reference to Sonia Gandhi and reports that ground was being prepared to launch Priyanka Gan- dhi.

Following Rao’s conviction in the JMM bribery case, supporters of the former Prime Minister are busy accusing the leadership of being “ungrateful.”

According to them, the payoffs was all part of the Congress survival strategy to stay in power and no partyman had the right to “disown the good old days” of Narasimha Rao.

In the rebels’ scheme of things, Sonia’s attempts to distance from the Rao legacy was a tacit acknowledgement that the present-day leadership was siding with the splinter group which had walked away from the Congress under Arjun Singh and Narain Dutt Tiwari in 1993.

Sonia detractors are hoping that the charge of siding with Congress (T) sticks on her and subsequently antagonise many party delegates.

If Prasada files nomination on October 28, a number of senior leaders like J.B. Patnaik, Pranab Mukherjee and Digvijay Singh will be in a spot as they will have to take a categorical position. So far, the Prasada camp is counting on these three.    


 
 
ALLY-WISE ATAL WINS ADMIRER IN SONIA CAMP 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 17: 
Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh may be a protégé of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi but he draws inspiration from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Weighed down by an eight-party squabbling coalition government that celebrated its anniversary today, Deshmukh has developed a sneaking admiration for the Prime Minister for his handling of the BJP-led coalition government in the Centre.

“Running a coalition government is not easy at all, as I know at my cost,” the chief minister said, adding: “It is amazing how Vajpayeeji manages so many parties. You have a lot to learn from him.”

A day after the Prime Minister had his left knee replaced at Breach Candy hospital, Deshmukh paid him a visit and offered him flowers and good wishes. “He smiled when I told him his hospitalisation here proved Mumbai has better medical facilities than Delhi,” he said.

Deshmukh’s boss Sonia Gandhi, in contrast, has not yet sent any “get well” message to the recuperating Prime Minister, let alone meet him in the hospital.

After the Congress won only 74 of the 288 seats in last year’s Assembly elections, Deshmukh said he wanted to become the Opposition leader. “You surely don’t expect to form a government with only 74 MLAs, and I was sure I would be the Opposition leader with all the perks coming with the position.”

But things turned out in his favour after the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, with 126 MLAs between them, failed to shore up enough support to form a government.

“When they failed, we were called by the governor to form the government and that’s how I became chief minister instead of the Opposition leader,” Deshmukh said, with a chuckle.

The government was stitched together with parties as disparate as the Congress and its offshoot Nationalist Congress Party, which had fought each other bitterly in the preceding elections.

“Constituents of the government were not even allies in the elections, unlike the BJP which had forged an alliance with several parties before the last Lok Sabha elections,” said the 55-year-old Congress leader from Latur. “We are always criticising one another the moment we step out of Mantralaya,” he said.

Saddled with ministers drawn from different parties, often pulling the government in opposing directions, Deshmukh spent a better part of his one year in office hammering out differences.

“I have hardly had time for policy decisions,” the chief minister rued. His aides said his main worry over the past year was to reign in his ambitious deputy, Chhagan Bhujbal, of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, the second largest party in the coalition with 58 MLAs.    


 
 
VILLAGERS KILLED IN BSF FIRING 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Oct. 17: 
Two persons were killed and nine others injured when Border Security Force (BSF) jawans opened fire on a mob of angry villagers at Tentulpukur village on the Indo-Bangla border under Khushmandi police station in south Dinajpur this morning.

Noor Husain (24) and Anis-ur Rahaman (20) were killed when the jawans fired on Tentulpukur villagers who were engaged in a pitched battle with BSF jawans from Satimari outpost. Five villagers suffered bullet injuries, four BSF personnel were injured.

Villagers alleged a contingent of 30 BSF personnel swooped on the paddy fields they were cultivating and forcefully confiscated their cattle suspecting they were cross-border snatchers.    


 
 
ANIL SLIPS ON VELVET GLOVES FOR REBELS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Oct. 17: 
Desperate to stem dissent in the party, CPM state secretary and politburo member Anil Biswas today appeared soft towards those defecting from the party.

“Those being sidelined in the party must be allowed to stay with dignity,” he told party workers at a function organised by the CPM’s Calcutta District Committee to observe the 80th foundation day of the Communist Party of India.

Anil’s observation came in the wake of two CPM youth leaders, Tapas Bose and Subir Chowdhury, joining forces with dissident leader Saifuddin Chowdhury yesterday, alleging they were being subjected to humiliation in the organisation. The rebels pledged their sup- port to Chowdhury but, unlike the latter, quit the party on their own.

Convinced that their departure will harm the organisation on the eve of the special plenum beginning on Friday at Thiruvananthapuram, Anil made an appeal to the dissidents not to desert the organisation and strengthen the opposition and reactionary forces.

“Those who feel neglected in the party must be given due respect because ours is the only party that believes in democracy,” he said.

The CPM leader, however, refuted the allegation by the dissidents that the “democratic centralism” in the party was nothing but a tool to disregard minority opinion. “The leadership should give due importance to the minority, despite accepting the majority opinion,” he added.

The politburo member, however, said that the two youth leaders toeing Saifuddin Chowdhury’s line was a compromise with bourgeois forces.

“There may be differences among us over the party ideology and its fundamental principle. But for that we should not stoop to reduce the 80-year-old communist party into a bourgeois one,” he observed.

Anil also ridiculed the youth leaders saying: “If some people blindly toe dada’s (elder brother) line without judging things from their own perspective, they are definitely misled.”

Anil said differences in the party are indicative of the fact that “ours is a lively organisation”. He regretted the uneven growth of the party. “Even after so many years, we are in power only in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and in other states we are yet to strengthen our base,” he added.    


 
 
MEGA-PLAN FOR MAHAVIRA TRIBUTE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
Tourism and culture minister Ananth Kumar likes to plan celebrations on a gigantic scale. His ministry has recently set up a 59-member national committee to celebrate the 2,600th birth anniversary of Mahavira. “The committee will chalk out 2,600 years of Tirthankara Mahavira’s janma kalyanak at the national level,” states a ministry resolution.

The committee headed by the Prime Minister includes the ministers of external affairs, home affairs, finance, tourism and culture and communication. There are nine chief ministers on the committee. To give the show a multi-religious colour, the committee also includes Prof. Rinpoche, a Buddhist representative, Maulana Wahididdin Jamia and the Archbishop of Delhi.

Before taking charge of tourism, Kumar had planned a massive Vande Mataram campaign for rejuvenating the youth. The month-long campaign flagged off by the home minister had involved a host of voluntary organisations —- all clubbed into a similar committee.

Kumar, an acolyte of home minister L.K. Advani, is known for his RSS leanings. After taking over the culture ministry, the first thing Kumar did was to axe Sonia Gandhi’s presidentship of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. He also indicated that the government had similar plans to overhaul the Jallianwala trust.

Kumar’s ministry is now presenting papers on reforming the “system” in India. Last week, the ministry organised a series of lectures on administrative, electoral, judicial, developmental and educational systems There is, however, no discussion on economic restructuring —- a controversial area —- in which the government and the RSS are at loggerheads.

“The debate on reforms is aimed at a discussion on the occasion of 50 years of Indian Republic,” said a ministry official. “No emphasis is needed for the proposition that reforms are necessary in these five major spheres of the system,” stated the ministry’s concept paper.

On educational reforms, the paper proposes that the medium of primary education should be the mother-tongue or a regional language. The paper suggests an emphasis on teaching children the samskaras, an idea that finds favour with human resource development (HRD) minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

The proposals in education also reflect much of the government’s thinking. The concept paper attacks the “Macaulay system of education” as it injects an “inferiority complex in the minds of students”. “It creates a class of people Indian in colour but European in culture,” states the paper. The HRD ministry has been harping on ‘Indianising’ students and institutions.    


 
 
JANUARY DATE FOR J&K LOCAL POLLS 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Oct. 17: 
Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which have been postponed twice, will now be held from January 5.

Announcing this in the Assembly today, during a discussion on a Bill seeking to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, chief minister Farooq Abdullah said the elections would be fought on a non-party basis. “I will fulfil my commitment, come what may,” he said.

The states had earlier announced that the polls would be held in June this year after they were postponed last year. It had later said that in view of the census operations in Kashmir the elections could not be held.

Abdullah said 33 per cent of the panchayat seats have been reserved for women to ensure their participation in these grassroots institutions. He said as women were not coming forward to contest elections in some parts of the state, they will be nominated to the panchayats. He added that the Act would be amended to change the mode of representation to election.    

 

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