Naidu tonic for Vajpayee health
Party, partners wary of Basu heir
Law & order tops Rajnath list
Graft shock for Desam chief
Prasada hits Sonia support wall
Panel seeks report on power cut

New Delhi, Oct. 28: 
Hardliners in the BJP’s parent parivar may be secretly wishing that Atal Behari Vajpayee follow in Jyoti Basu’s footsteps, but the Prime Minister needn’t worry too much. He has received a toast to his health from his biggest ally.

“The Prime Minister is very healthy. There is no need for him to emulate West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu,” Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu said.

The Andhra Pradesh chief minister, who arrived here after a tour of Japan, China and Hong Kong, had an hour-long meeting with Vajpayee, their first after the Prime Minister’s knee surgery.

Naidu scoffed at suggestions from reporters that Vajpayee step down like Basu. The Prime Minister has recovered fast and looks very healthy, the Desam leader said.

But if Naidu gave a clean chit to Vajpayee’s health, he wasn’t as forthcoming on the health of the nation.

Floored by the progress made by the three countries he visited, the hi-tech chief minister lectured the Prime Minister on the need to do away with archaic rules and procedures that have hindered development in India.

He couldn’t stop gushing about the “wide roads, excellent flyovers and subways” that he saw abroad, while lamenting the lack of infrastructure back home.

So awed is Naidu by the Chinese that he is even willing to take up bilateral relations with Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh.

Naidu also told the Prime Minister that while India was obsessed with politics, the fast-striding nations were talking more on development and less on politics.

“They are talking more on development and less of politics. But in India, we are talking more on politics and less on development. This is the biggest problem,” he said, adding that “politics should be discussed during election time”.

Lamenting the lack of infrastructure growth, Naidu said that when he invited leading industrialists of Japan and China to visit Hyderabad, they asked him how to get there faster.

The chief minister claimed that around 400 projects in the civil aviation sector were awaiting clearance. He said politicians and bureaucrats should learn from the success stories of Japan and China.

“Thrilled and amazed” by their fast-track development, Naidu told Vajpayee that it was time that the Centre took hard decisions. He said those countries had “clarity” and “political will” to boost development.

“We have to amend our procedures and create a work culture among the people. Our rules and regulations have to be simplified and there should be clearer policies,” Naidu said.

Arguing that India could also make giant strides, the chief minister said China was weak in software, which was India’s strength. Moreover, the country had a large English-speaking workforce, which was a huge asset.

He parried most political questions, saying his priority was development issues. Asked whether there was a move to revive the federal front now, Naidu said: “Is it necessary now? There is no thinking also (in that direction).”    

Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Jyoti Basu’s decision to step down in the first week of November threatens to precipitate a fresh crisis in the state CPM with most of his close associates in the party and the government feeling rudderless.

Major Left Front constituents like the Forward Bloc, RSP and the CPI are also feeling uncomfortable at the prospect of interacting with chief minister-designate Buddhadev Bhattacharya with whom they often had tiffs.

The discomfiture of Basu’s aides was apparent from West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation chairman Somnath Chatterjee’s abortive move to resign without consulting the party.

Chatterjee, a Basu-loyalist and leader of the CPM in the Lok Sabha, took strong exception to the recent attempts made by Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta to contradict him on the reasons behind the current industrial stagnation in Bengal.

Chatterjee was also not happy about the party’s decision to drop dissident leader Saifuddin Chowdhury from primary membership. However, like Basu, he cited the state of his health as the reason behind his intention to resign. He is believed to have retracted his move after considerable persuasion by the outgoing chief minister.

Basu’s decision to relinquish office has also caught transport minister Subhas Chakraborty off-balance. Chakraborty, one of the key CPM dissidents, has expressed his satisfaction over the outcome of the Kerala plenum, but does not enjoy the prospect of serving the Cabinet under Bhattacharya who has been one of his chief detractors.

Chakraborty, who earned the party’s ire for praising Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, is upset over the timing of Basu’s retirement. He had earlier pleaded for Basu’s continuation in the hot seat till the Assembly polls were over.

Chakraborty has not completely fore-closed his political options in the changed circumstances. His future strategy will depend on the kind of treatment he receives in the Bhattacharya Cabinet.

Basu’s resignation has also cast a pall of gloom on the CPM’s Calcutta district committee. At a meeting today, the committee’s secretariat expressed dismay over Basu’s decision to step down a few months before the Assembly polls. Prasanta Sur, convener of the committee, felt the decision will not enhance the Left Front’s electoral prospects.

Sources said a clash between Bhattacharya and Alimuddin Street mandarins will be inevitable if the former demands a free-hand to initiate steps to restore peace and order in five south Bengal districts.

Bhattacharya, who recently made a commitment to Trinamul leaders to put an end to political violence in Midnapore, has been dismayed by reports of fresh clashes in some areas.    

Lucknow, Oct. 28: 
Rajnath Singh today surprised all after being sworn in chief minister by emphasising that his top priority will not be “looking for stability”, but “containment” of deteriorating law and order in Uttar Pradesh.

In an obvious dig at the Ram Prakash Gupta government, Rajnath said the state today faces an “administrative and social challenge”. But he did not think that his tenure would be a “political challenge”.

A confident Rajnath said: “There is no fear of instability. Even a majority of one in the Assembly can be enough for good governance. It is the fear of the masses that has to be allayed.”

In a speech radically different from what many expected from a new chief minister, Rajnath glossed over issues of coalition politics and dwelt on the need to bring “pride back to the people”.

“The powerful must treat the powerless with respect and dignity. I will not tolerate any form of intolerance, be it on the lines of caste or religion. In my term, at least, I will bring back respect for the masses, the marginalised, those without clothes and food,” Rajnath said.

“There will be absolutely no compromise on law and order,” the new chief minister said, adding that in his government, “safety” would be the key word. He sounded a warning to criminals and mafia elements, asking them to pack their bags and leave.

“I want to send a message to them today that within the next 15 days they will realise that it is not the same state any more. I will come down heavily on crime, and criminals will be forced to beat a hasty retreat.”

The new chief minister then turned his attention on the state’s administrators. He said anyone — whether the police, civil servants or politicians — who fails to perform his duties or feels that he is unable to maintain law and order will be asked to quit.

Rajnath promised that within four days the state will set up procurement centres in all the administrative divisions as farmers were faced with acute procurement problems.

“Satta ya sangathan, vichar ya vyovahar, hamara mool aakar kisan hi hai (Government or party, thought or action, our basic structure revolves around farmers),” Rajnath said.

“I am making no more promises,” he said to a volley of questions from reporters, adding: “I am yet to comprehend the realities of this vast state.”

Rajnath had earlier appealed to the people and the party to grant him “a mere three months” after which the results would be there for all to see.    

Hyderabad, Oct. 28: 
A spate of corruption charges against Telugu Desam leaders, including Cabinet ministers, will greet chief minister Chandrababu Naidu on his return today from a tour of Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Congress member and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy has accused the government of inaction against 12 top officials despite the anti-corruption bureau’s recommendation to suspend or remove them. “The connivance of the Telugu Desam in retaining these officials is clear,” Reddy has charged.

Naidu had led a business delegation to the south-east Asian nations to lobby for investment and to promote the information technology hardware industry in Andhra Pradesh in the hope of generating employment.

But he is returning to a crisis with five of his Cabinet colleagues facing inquiries into allegations of misappropriation of funds and misuse of office.

Moreover, a former collector of Chittoor has alleged the involvement of some Desam legislators, including Naidu’s brother Ramamurthy, in out-of-turn allotments of housing schemes for weaker sections. Instead of the allegations being investigated, the official was hurriedly transferred. Another minister from Kurnool district is alleged to be receiving kickbacks for illegal transport of sand.

The anti-corruption bureau has also sought the government’s permission to initiate a probe against 17 IAS and IPS officials and 39 gazetted officials of the state cadre. But the chief minister’s office has remained silent, said a source in the anti-corruption bureau office here.

After waxing eloquent on the women’s cooperatives in China, Naidu will face the ire of women’s groups at home for not giving enough attention to them. They will also protest the move to further relax the liquor ban and increase the number of liquor outlets in the state.

“The government aims to net over Rs 6,500 crore from liquor excise in the current year to cover at least 50 per cent of its budgetary deficit,” said a senior excise official, explaining Naidu’s dilemma.

The BJP provided a thin silver lining to the dark clouds gathering over Hyderabad by discounting reports of its differences with the Desam, adds PTI. However, the BJP defended its right to express its views on issues concerning the development of the state.

Speaking to reporters here, party chief Bangaru Laxman said: “We have a very good relationship with the Telugu Desam. Only the media has expressed some concern.”

The BJP chief is in Hyderabad to inaugurate a day-long conference of the state BJP legal cell.    

New Delhi, Oct. 28: 
Flaunting its stranglehold over the party, the Sonia Gandhi camp today succeeded in snapping all support-lines to Jitendra Prasada, leaving him with the unpleasant option of either pulling out of the fray or suffering a humiliating loss.

To Prasada’s dismay, the list of delegates from Uttar Pradesh, his home state, was devoid of any support for him. All the leaders considered close to him signed for Sonia.

A record 74 sets of nominations were filed today as Sonia’s supporters shouted slogans like “Uthe croron hath hain, Soniaji ke sath hain. (Crores of hands have been raised for Sonia).” Except for Goa, all state units signed nomination papers for her.

Out of 170-odd Congress MPs, only four — Begum Noor Bano, Akhilesh Das, Khan Gufran Zahidi and Sujan Singh Bundela — are backing Prasada. Five MLAs from Uttar Pradesh are on his side, but are reportedly negotiating with Rajnath Singh to switch camps.

AICC central election authority chief, Ram Niwas Mirdha also released the list of 7,482 delegates to silence Prasada’s criticism that the electoral college wasn’t ready.

The small passage between 10 Janpath and 24 Akbar Road was choked with thousands of workers jostling for space with bands, horses and even elephants. Though Sonia did not file the nomination papers herself, there was complete frenzy when she appeared for a brief period to acknowledge the support. “He (Prasada) should see the writing on the wall. Where is he going to get the support?” said a general secretary.

Prasada, too, had made elaborate preparations to entertain his flock. The afternoon bill-of-fare of Avadhi cuisine consisted of kakori kebab, murgh biryani, malai kofta, shahi paneer. In the evening, the guests, including media -persons, were served loads of dry fruit and six varieties of sweets.

Though the arrangements in Prasada’s house show that “baba sahib” is ready to take on Sonia, three mediators — Digvijay Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmad Patel — today extended the olive branch to him, saying the leadership was willing to address some issues he has raised. But a subdued Prasada, who released a small note promising to take the battle to its “logical conclusion”, replied: “A contest should not be seen as a leadership challenge. I am still for unanimity.”

There are two more options before the challenger: he could term the polls bogus and give a call to boycott it, or get someone to take on Sonia in a “token contest”. But going by the present mood, there is little chance of that.

Many partymen feel that if Prasada forces a contest, he would have to look for political life outside the Congress — not the best scenario for a 60-year-old veteran. Some say he is being backed by those who quit the party earlier (Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma) and supporters of P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Prospects of rapprochement are also slim. A powerful lobby of regional leaders is working overtime to force a face-off so that Prasada is sidelined. Sonia has made it clear that while she is not against “peace talks”, she would not take the lead.    

Imphal, Oct. 28: 
The Manipur Human Rights Commission has registered a suo moto case in connection with the snapping of power supply to Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal, allegedly at the behest of power minister Govindas Konthoujam.

Electricity to the hospital was disconnected on October 20 following an unseemly altercation between Govindas and the hospital security staff. The following day, a local daily had reported that power supply to the hospital was snapped after Govindas had issued an instruction to this effect.

The human rights commission has taken up the case based on newspapers report on last Thursday. In a sitting attended by its three members, the rights panel directed the state chief secretary and the chief engineer (power) to submit a detailed report of the incident.

The commission asked the two officers to file their reports before November 8 and fixed November 9 for the next hearing.

According to sources, the power minister had an altercation with the RIMS security staff over entry into the special ward beyond visiting hours. The minister had left the hospital in a huff.

Sources said the minister had asked his department to cut off power supply as a vindictive stand.

Power supply was cut off to the RIMS complex at 10:30 am on October 20. However, it was restored around 6:30 pm the same day following requests by the RIMS authorities to the chief minister W. Nipamacha Singh and chief secretary Rakesh.

The human rights commission observed that the matter was serious and said such action poses a danger to the lives of patients in the hospital.

The sources said the eight-hour power cut on October 20 had created a big problem at RIMS hospital. It had severely affected the functioning of the hospital as all surgical operations needed uninterrupted power supply.

The power minister has so far not reacted to the allegation. The RIMS, Imphal, is under the Northeastern Council .    


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