Business first for Buddha
Sports for Sangh’s Bharti, promotion for Jaitley
New state revolt rocks BJP
Swing surprise in US suspense
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Nov. 7: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee entered Writers’ Buildings on his first day as chief minister noiselessly. No siren, no convoy, no traffic restriction. By the end of the day he was making noises that the Left Front’s critics would like to hear.

The first file he signed as chief minister ordered allotment of land to infotech leader Wipro on EM Bypass. Wipro head Azim Premji had come to Calcutta some time ago scouting for land to set up a centre.

“Why, on the very first day after assuming office I have offered land to a major IT company, Wipro, to set up business here. In the afternoon, I met the partners of Haldia Petrochemicals. Tomorrow, I shall accompany Jyoti Basu to meet industrialists at Taj Bengal,” Bhattacharjee said.

Reporters asked why Jyoti Basu was going, too. “Is it because you feel uncomfortable with the captains of industry?”

Bhattacharjee had probably seen this question coming, given the popular notion that he does not feel comfortable among businessmen.

“No, it is not that. Basu is the chief ministerer., sorry, it is difficult to forget that he is no longer there. Actually, the chambers of commerce invited both of us,” Bhattacharjee said apologetically.

The new chief minister has only six months to prove himself, with elections expected around March. Within this time, he has to address the key question of the state’s failure to draw investments. Today’s signals from the chief minister came out loud and clear: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be industry-friendly.

At times, he was talking almost like Manmohan Singh. “Honestly, I believe no government should be running hotels or newspapers.” Bhattacharjee was referring to Great Eastern Hotel and the vernacular daily, Basumati. “The government has been suffering losses in both for a long time,” he added.

Sticking to the decision taken by Basu to privatise Great Eastern, he said only aged employees will be offered voluntary retirement. “I have seen the compensation package and I am convinced once the employees see it, they will realise how attractive it is.”

Bhattacharjee chose to tackle the other major complaint of industry on the first day itself, saying that his government will not tolerate trade union militancy. “Employees should remember the reality and cooperate with trade.”

His immediate priorities will be to:

Rehabilitate people affected he flood

Restore peace in troubled districts through cooperation with Trinamul

Make administration more sensitive to people’s expectations

Eradicate corruption from government functioning.

In industry, the government’s focus will be on developing information technology and services along with agro-based units.

“We have received several proposals from major IT companies. We are ready to open another three or four exclusive IT parks for them. We welcome investments in this sector and are ready to upgrade our administration to their expectations,” the chief minister said.

He revealed that IBM, one of the world’s largest corporations, has also expressed interest in setting up business in Bengal. “We have to give them land.”

Bhattacharjee indicated that his style of functioning will be different from that of Basu, who had a towering personality, wide experience and ability to run the administration.

“Basu could decide on crucial matters on his own. I cannot do it alone. I shall depend on my cabinet colleagues to make decisions on all important administrative policy matters. We will work collectively,” he said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
In a deft balancing act, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today promoted camp follower Arun Jaitley while keeping the Sangh parivar happy by reinducting Uma Bharti as Cabinet minister.

Jaitley, minister of state for law, justice and company affairs, was given a Cabinet berth with the additional portfolio of shipping. Bharti, who had quit the government in a huff and decided to focus on Madhya Pradesh politics, will be the new minister for sports and youth affairs. She replaces Akali Dal’s S.S. Dhindsa who has been shifted to the chemicals and fertiliser ministry.

While Jaitley has been rewarded for his legal and administrative acumen, Bharti’s trump card is her backward Lodh caste. Moreover, she has the backing of the Sangh.

Soon after the swearing-in at Rashtrapati Bhavan, an unrepentant Bharti said she would continue with her politics of protest.

“I am a representative of the people first, then a minister. I will continue to raise the issue of reservation for women belonging to other backward classes and minorities,” she added.

Asked if she had given any undertaking that she will not resign at the drop of a hat, Bharti said that on the contrary, she had rejoined the government on the condition that she should be allowed to raise “people’s issues”. Bharti refused to say who she had spoken to, but only said it was a “senior leader”.

If that means more trouble for Vajpayee, he did not show it. The Prime Minister looked fit as he walked into Durbar Hall — without a walking stick — a couple of minutes before the ceremony began. He, however, did not stay for the customary tea.

The expansion was necessitated by the resignations of surface transport minister Rajnath Singh, who took over as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and forests and environment minister Babulal Marandi, who is tipped for the job in Jharkhand.

Apart from the Cabinet ministers, Pauri MP B.C. Khanduri was made minister of state with independent charge of road transport and highways, a new ministry carved out of the surface transport department. Khanduri had been in the race for chief minister of Uttaranchal.

The ceremony was marred by the absence of Karia Munda, BJP leader from Jharkhand who was to be sworn in as junior minister for environment and forests. Much to Vajpayee’s embarrassment, Munda, who wants to become the chief minister of Jharkhand, did not turn up to take oath.

Asked why Munda did not turn up, Vajpayee quipped: “He wants to serve the people of the state.”

The Prime Minister also shuffled a few portfolios. The ailing Sunderlal Patwa has been moved out of the taxing chemicals and fertilisers ministry and allotted mines. Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, who held surface transport as minister of state, is now left with only shipping.

Arun Shourie will now assist the Prime Minister as minister of state in the planning department. He will continue to remain Vajpayee’s deputy in the ministries of programme implementation and personnel, public grievances and pensions.

Shourie will continue to hold independent charge of the ministry of disinvestment.    

New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
The BJP high command’s efforts to nominate the chief ministers of Uttaranchal and Jharkhand have run into rough weather.

Party leaders, especially home minister L.K. Advani, had chosen legislator Nityanand Swami to head Uttaranchal. But the hill districts have erupted in protest against the “outsider”. Swami — a Jan Sangh member who crossed over to the Congress for some years before returning to his parent party — is a Punjabi. Sources close to Advani defended the choice, saying: “He has been living in Dehradun for 30 years and is as much of a pahadi as anyone else.”

Advani seems to have overplayed his hand in Jharkhand as well. Last evening, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Advani and BJP chief Bangaru Laxman decided to send minister of state for environment and forests Babulal Marandi as chief minister to the new state.

Karia Munda, a BJP vice-president also in the running for the top post, was to replace Marandi at the Centre. But Munda rebuffed the offer.

Kailashpati Mishra, BJP leader from Bihar, informed Vajpayee of Munda’s decision. “He will not take the oath of office today. As a party vice-president, he needs time to think on whether he wants to serve the BJP or the government,” he later said.

Though the scales in the legislature party were almost evenly tipped between Marandi and Munda, a senior BJP leader hinted that the minister was backed by Advani. Mishra struck back by counselling Munda to reject the leadership’s offer, sources said.

The state leader today said the question of Jharkhand chief minister was “still wide open”. “The doors on a final decision have not yet been shut and both the names are under consideration,” he added.

The issue would be discussed in meetings with allies Samata Party and Janata Dal (United) in Patna on November 8, 9 and 10, the BJP leader said. Sources said his strategy would be to get the allies to back Munda.

Asked why the Prime Minister’s Office was unusually quick to announce the news of Marandi’s resignation and Munda’s induction, Mishra said: “His resignation has not been given to the President. May be somebody tipped off Marandi that he may be made the chief minister, so in his wisdom he decided to put in his papers and make the changeover smooth. But he has also made it clear that as a disciplined soldier of the BJP, he is not particular about any post.”

Sources said the Munda-Marandi power struggle reflected a wider clash between Mishra’s loyalists and those of the Advani-Govindacharya-Sushil Modi trio.

The Uttaranchal legislators are meeting tomorrow in Dehradun to elect their leader.

in the presence of Central leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh Pyarelal Khandelwal. Advani, who will attend the swearing-in of Uttaranchal Governor S.S. Barnala, is also expected to be present.

In Uttaranchal, after toying with the names of stalwarts like K.C. Pant and B.C. Khanduri, the BJP leaders had settled for Swami on the basis of electoral calculations. After a fresh delimitation, the densely-populated Assembly constituencies would fall in the plain areas of Hardwar, Dehradun and Rishikesh while those in the hills would be thinly peopled apart from being spread out.

“The implication is clear: the pahadi votes will not matter to win an election. What counts are the votes of the plains people and they are mainly the so-called outsiders. Nityanand Swami was chosen to send a signal to this constituency,” explained a source.    

Washington, Nov. 7: 
Americans began voting in a cliffhanger presidential election which threw up a surprise swing slightly in favour of Democratic nominee Al Gore hours before polling stations opened across the US.

A final tracking poll by Reuters/MSNBC showed vice-president Gore leading his Republican rival George W. Bush by a thin two points (48 to 46), Green Party’s Ralph Nader with 5 per cent and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and Libertarian Harry Browne polling half per cent each.

For the past 11 successive days, Texas governor Bush had maintained a slight lead of between 1 and 3 per cent over Gore. All the opinion polls have been within the statistical margin of error.

Voting in the presidential poll began typically in American fashion with voters in Hart’s Location, a tiny mountain hamlet in New Hampshire, casting their votes one minute after Monday midnight. For 52 years, the polling station in this hamlet has opened one minute after midnight on election day.

Of the 33 registered voters in Hart’s Location, 31 cast their ballots within minutes of the start of polling. The result was 17 votes in favour of Bush and 13 for Gore with one voter writing in the name of Jeffrey Peters, a neighbourhood resident who has been a self-declared candidate in many presidential polls.

Unlike in India, where even exit polls are banned till polling is over, booth-wise results in electronic voting is available here as soon as ballots are cast.

In Dixville Notch, also in New Hampshire, Bush won by a landslide of 21 votes against a mere five votes for Gore and one for Nader. Voting was 100 per cent in this village, which also opens its polling centre one minute after midnight. The sweeping victory in Dixville Notch was, however, cold comfort for Bush. In the closely-fought battle for presidency between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, Kennedy did not get a single vote in this village. But Nixon’s early triumph in Dixville Notch proved illusory as Kennedy coasted home when the country-wide results were announced.

In rural Seward County Precinct No. 7, Nebraska, the majority of 323 registered voters travelled 48 km on this cold morning to an abandoned town, Ruby, to cast their ballots. The only building in this ghost town is the polling station, a former town hall which remains closed except on election day.

For the past 100 years, voters in this precinct have cast their ballots in the antique wood-framed building whose cast-iron stoves are fired up on this day, once in four years, to provide heating for election officials and constituents.

In Oregon, 44 per cent of the state’s voters had exercised their franchise by last Friday, three days before the actual voting. The state has decided to allow postal voting for all its constituents in an effort to increase the turnout.

Oregon’s secretary of state, Bill Bradbury, claimed that another 40 per cent would physically vote on Tuesday, taking the polling percentage to 84, the highest for any state in the US, where the majority of citizens turn their backs on the electoral process.

There are fears that 3.2 million absentee voters in California could delay results for days if there is a tie in the final count.

Postal votes of one million of the state’s 3.2 million absentee voters arrived too late to be included in the initial counting.

Gore campaigned in Florida until 5.30 am on election day, long after voting had begun in hamlets like Hart’s Location and Dixville Notch. As he concluded his campaign on Miami’s famous South Beach under a bright sky lit up by fireworks, the vice-president poked fun at his Republican rival’s alleged laziness, a recurring campaign theme.    



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