Vajpayee to sup with general from Myanmar
A house divided in new homeland
Uneasy quiet before tryst with destiny
No magic in Laloo bag of tricks
100 years of blood & sweat
PM pre-empts World Bank AIDS sermon
Blank cheque for ‘Indira II’
Esteemed babus skirt Amby
Naidu punch at slowcoach staff
Bangaru boost for ruffled Israel

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has decided to host a dinner for Myanmar vice-president General Maung Aye when he arrives here later this week, upgrading what was scheduled to be a mere half-hour call-on.

The move signals the BJP’s keenness to strengthen ties with the junta in Yangon. General Maung, who landed in Patna today with a large delegation comprising half a dozen senior ministers, is the seniormost Myanmarese leader to come to India in nearly a decade since the army took control of Yangon. He is also the chief of armed forces in Myanmar.

In the next two days, the Myanmarese general, who is number two in the ruling State Development and Peace Council’s pecking order, will be visiting Bodh Gaya and Bangalore. He arrives in Delhi on Thursday evening but will get a ceremonial welcome on Friday, which is again unusual.

But the government is apparently not taking chances in their bid to ensure General Maung does not face any embarrassment while in the capital. According to Mizzima News Group, an Internet magazine, pro-democracy Myanmarese leader Naing Aung, who arrived in Delhi from Bangkok on a six-month visa, was detained at the airport and asked to leave by the authorities here.

The Mizzima alleged that during his detention at the airport, Naing was not allowed to contact anyone in Delhi and made to board a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok a few hours later.

The Prime Minister generally calls on a visiting vice-president but the dinner is hosted by the Indian vice-president. Vice-president Krishan Kant, who is the Myanmarese leader’s host, is hosting a dinner for him on Friday. But what is unusual is that Vajpayee’s scheduled call-on with General Maung on Monday has been upgraded to dinner.

The Myanmarese delegation will have two days of discussions with the Indian leaders — on Friday and Monday. But it is not only Vajpayee who is going out of his way to woo the military general. General Maung and his delegation will also meet President K.R. Narayanan, the vice president, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, home minister L.K. Advani, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and other senior officials.    

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
United in their struggle for statehood, the people of Jharkhand stand a house divided in their new homeland. Shibu Soren, the key leader in the movement for a new state, is in danger of being reduced to a bit player. The first chief minister, Babulal Marandi of the BJP, heads a shaky alliance.

The National Democratic Alliance’s trump card was the decision of the Congress to stay away from Soren’s last minute bid to come to power. This was perhaps only to be expected as the all-India party was unwilling to play second fiddle.

It has long had a strong base among the adivasis, and though depleted in numbers, it hopes to make a comeback at a later stage.

The problem is that there can be no credible anti-Hindutva alternative in the region minus the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. As of now, it is competing with the Congress for the same opposition space. In a drama uncannily similar to the ones on the national scene, the two being at loggerheads has let the NDA occupy the seat of power.

Shibu Soren’s course of action will still matter. Many among the Scheduled Tribes that make up 28 per cent of the population look up to him. The founding of the Morcha in 1972 revived a movement that had long been in the doldrums.

It also laid the groundwork to transform Jharkhand from a mere slogan into an entity imbued with meaning for all people of the region, both the adivasis and the non-tribals.

What Soren proved unable to do was to make the transition from being the foremost tribal leader to a successful builder of a wider social alliance that could then come to power. He can, however, still render the state ungovernable should he choose to go on the warpath against the new government.

His main opponent, Babulal Marandi, represents the saffron face of adivasi India. He is only one of 21 MPs from the BJP who is from a tribal background. The party’s share of the all-India ST vote has grown from 5 per cent in 1971 to 25 per cent in 1998.

Much of that growth has been in the Jharkhand region, where it has played on the Christian-non-Christian divide. Saffron-run educational institutions have aided in the process. Marandi himself was a teacher before he became active with the party.

The larger parties were slow to convert to the idea of separate statehood. The Congress had long absorbed activists of the Jharkhand movements, and paid lip service to regional aspirations.

The BJP only came over in 1989, but insisted on dubbing the entity Vananchal.

That the new Sanskritised name had to yield to the older nomenclature is an indicator that saffron ideology has yet to strike deep roots.

The ethnic composition of the region indicates that fissures still run deep. One of six voters is a Dalit and the Muslim percentage is higher than that of united Bihar.

An alternative anti-saffron combination may well be possible and the NDA’s economic policies in power will have much to do with whether it facilitates or prevents such a combination from becoming a reality.

Though Jharkhand accounts for a fifth of the iron ore and a third of the copper and coal in the country, the mining industry is in the throes of modernisation. Labour unions may be key players in the coming period.

In both agriculture and forestry, the traditional mercantile saffron loyalist is in conflict with both tribals and caste Hindu cultivators.

The fluid political scenario makes it difficult to anticipate what the future holds. Jharkhand has become a place on the map but its polity is still only taking shape.    

Ranchi, Nov. 14: 
A shrill siren pierced the uneasy silence that hung over the usually bustling Main Road. The few vehicles and pedestrians on the avenue moved aside to make way for a large riot-control van, crammed with jawans, zooming down the thoroughfare.

The scene was typical of Ranchi today, barely 12 hours before the city takes over as capital of the mineral-rich new state of Jharkhand.

Heavy security arrangements overshadowed festivities with more than 500 paramilitary troops, including the elite Black Cat commandos and Rapid Action Force personnel, fanning out across the city to pre-empt any violence.

An uncharacteristic calm gripped the city as armed guards and motorcades with hooting sirens dashed through the decorated, but almost empty, streets. Ranchi’s residents are too scared to venture out into the roads which have been taken over by the carbine-wielding jawans.

“We don’t even feel something momentous is taking place. There is too much fear around. How will the new state survive if it has such a stormy beginning?” wondered Manjit Singh Arora, a city businessman, who, like most others, kept shutters down for the day.

Though government offices were open, few reported for duty. Schools and colleges have declared a three-day holiday.

Police justified the heavy security, saying they feared attacks from Naxalite groups which roam unchallenged in the jungles of 14 of the 18 districts of the densely forested state.

Last month, the guerrillas shot dead Lohardaga’s superintendent of police, and on Saturday, 300 rebels, dressed in police uniform, killed the wife of Hazaribagh’s deputy commissioner.

“Bringing a sense of security among the people will be my very first priority,” director-general of police Shivaji Mahan Kaire said, while inspecting Raj Bhavan where the new government under Babulal Marandi will take charge.

But the people are not convinced. “What is the point in having such a hush-hush ceremony which the common man will not be able to see?” said hotelier Mohammed Salauddin.

Securitymen, who staged flagmarches on Ranchi’s outskirts, blocked all entry points. The “chief minister darshan” rally organised by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) became a no-show with only a handful of supporters landing up. All vehicles were stopped by the jawans and the people were told to walk. Few agreed to trudge all the way to the city centre.

JMM chief Shibu Soren, still licking his wounds, lashed out at the administration. “On the first day of the new state, the government is using strong-arm tactics to prevent people from exercising their democratic rights. What kind of freedom will people taste in the new state?” he thundered.

Soren’s new-found friend Laloo Yadav was even more caustic. “People are in no mood to celebrate. There is complete silence on the roads. Ask any man on the street, he will tell you that this is not the kind of celebration any tribal would like. This shows what kind of government Jharkhand will have.”    

Ranchi, Nov. 14: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav may be the monarch of all he surveys in Bihar, but in the great Jharkhand circus, the entertainer has failed to conjure up the winning trick — the magic number to form the first state government.

Not that he hasn’t tried.

Since last evening, Laloo has been staging impromptu shows on the streets of Ranchi, spewing venom in his inimitable style against the saffron brigade, much to the delight of a gaping crowd.

His car screeched to a halt at Phiryalai Chowk at 7 in the evening and Laloo disembarked under the glare of camera bulbs, as lensmen jostled to get the best footage. “Wait till the end. Let the NDA exhaust its bag of tricks. I will emerge on the scene then,” thundered the self-appointed kingmaker. As soon as the crowd began to thicken, Laloo suddenly jumped back into his car and disappeared, though the spell was yet to be broken.

Barely 50 yards from the chowk, Laloo ordered his driver to stop. The evening shoppers near Ratan Talkies were in for a surprise. “I have spoken to Karia Munda. He has fallen out with the BJP. We have garnered the requisite number,” said Laloo, perched atop a concrete platform.

As people craned their necks to get a better view and the traffic clogged both sides of the road, the RJD chief roared: “I will not allow any unconstitutional thing to take place. The NDA is thrusting an alien government on us. It does not represent the popular mandate. Jharkhand can only have one chief minister — Shibu Soren.”

His supporters scoured the length and breadth of the town, because by evening Laloo had realised that he was losing heavily in the numbers game. The news that the Congress would not support Soren had already trickled in. As chances of forming a “secular” government dimmed, Laloo revved up the headhunt. A posse of RJD men was despatched with orders to comb every hotel in town for absconding minister Joba Majhi and Sudesh Mahato, both UDGP legislators reportedly up for grabs.

But the search failed to yield any result.    

Ranchi, Nov. 14: 
Jharkhand is decking itself up to celebrate the midnight hour, but the gaiety will fail to stir the region’s collective memory about those who laid down their lives in the ulgulan (revolution) to bring about this moment.

One of the oldest statehood movements, Jharkhand’s struggle spans a century of bloodshed.

It started in 1885 with Birsa Munda, the revolutionary who had sown the seeds of the struggle for statehood. Munda’s was the first rallying cry for the right to self determination for the region.

The movement, which gained ground in pockets of Chhotanagpur Santhal Parganas, assumed shape in 1938 with the formation of the Adivasi Mahasabha by Jaipal Singh.

The year 1949 marked a watershed in Jharkhand politics with the merger of the Adivasi Mahasabha with the newly formed Jharkhand Party, the first political entity to lead the tribal demand for a separate state.

But the zeal soon frittered away in a fast-changing political scene. In 1963, Jaipal Singh merged the Jharkhand Party with the Congress and in the process diluted the cause for statehood.

The year 1973 witnessed a resurgence with the formation of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

But 1987 proved to be a bad year for the JMM as one of its founder-members, Nirmal Mahato, fell to assassins’ bullets at Jamshedpur.

The turning point, however, was the formation of the Jharkhand Co-ordination Committee which brought about a realignment of political forces in tribal south Bihar.

The emergence of the NDA at the Centre and its ripple effect in south Bihar districts where the party bagged the bulk of the urban Assembly seats saw the statehood ball rolling into the NDA court.    

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn was pleasantly surprised. He did not have to spend time convincing the Prime Minister during their meeting this morning about the need to concentrate on AIDS.

It was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who pounced on the subject and informed him he was “troubled” by the developments and was himself thinking of ways and means of finding a way out of the problem.

Vajpayee pointed out that he was planning to convene a meeting of industrialists to involve them in the campaign against AIDS. Health ministry sources confirmed that Vajpayee has been briefed both by health minister C.P. Thakur and senior AIDS officials attached to the National AIDS Control Organisation on the extent of the problem and the remedies that were being contemplated.

Vajpayee informed Wolfensohn that he had already seen the blueprint of the anti-AIDS campaign which had been launched. He explained to the World Bank president that the campaign was picking up and would shortly acquire the expected momentum.

Sources said the health ministry had also thought of involving the Prime Minister in its campaign against AIDS because the ministry on its own had not been able to enthuse the captains of Indian trade and industry.

When Vajpayee was informed of this problem he agreed without hesitation that he would personally invite the corporate czars and explain to them why they had to share in the difficult countrywide awareness exercise which the government was planning.

Vajpayee apparently told Wolfensohn that he subscribed to the idea that prevention is better than cure and everything possible was needed to be done before it was too late. He spoke about the extra efforts that were being taken in the more susceptible states.

He pointed out that recent reports indicated that among the more vulnerable states were Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and efforts were on to prevent further spread of the epidemic in these states. Uttar Pradesh was of great concern because if the AIDS disease actually struck there, the volume of deaths was expected to be higher given the poor nature of its existing health facilities.

The Prime Minister informed the World Bank president of the extent to which the NGOs and the corporate sector have been involved till now and insisted that the latter’s help could be used in a bigger way.

Vajpayee listened to Wolfensohn as the latter informed him of the steps being taken by the World Bank to extend India’s highway network. Vajpayee said these highways would not be an end in themselves and would not be able to serve the purpose unless the government connected them to secondary and tertiary roads.    

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
In anticipation of a landslide victory for Sonia Gandhi in tomorrow’s counting of votes, all states barring Uttar Pradesh have authorised “Indira II” to pick new PCC chiefs.

The West Bengal unit is the first to have already “elected” Pranab Mukherjee as its president for the next three years.

Hectic preparations are on for a grand celebration. About 25,000 party workers, state ministers and functionaries have rushed to Delhi to felicitate “Madame”. Bulk orders have been placed with the city’s top halwais and florists. Bandwallas, florists, and even jesters, who will keep the crowd amused, have all been directed to be present outside 24 Akbar Road to add to the festivities.

For once, AICC treasurer Motilal Vora was in a generous mood. When AICC functionaries approached him for “chai-pani” expenses, Vora smiled and said: “All yours. How much do you want?”

In contrast, Prasada’s house wore a deserted look. Apart from a peacock strutting about on the lawns of 11 A Motilal Nehru Marg the familiar political hangers-on were missing. The massive shamiana that had come up during election time had been removed.

Prasada plans to call on Sonia tomorrow. The move is aimed at projecting that all is well in the Congress parivar. Sonia has already taken a lead in papering over bitterness and ruling out any disciplinary action against the challenger. This has disappointed many party leaders who wanted to wipe out Prasada politically.

While Sonia’s victory appears to be a foregone conclusion, the focus has shifted on the margin of defeat. If Prasada manages to get more than five per cent of the votes, the dissidents will be satisfied.

A rebel leader said: “Do not go by the numbers. See the circumstances in which the party polls were conducted. It was an unequal battle from the very beginning.”    

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
Another Indian icon seems ready to drive into the sunset.

The commerce ministry has cleared a proposal allowing the yuppie Esteem to slowly replace the grand old Ambassador as the bureaucrats’ car.

The Directorate-General of Supplies and Disposals under the commerce ministry has given its nod to the purchase of Esteems for the official use of ministers and senior bureaucrats.

The “official” white colour seems set to be wiped off, too. It is likely that the government may shun white and opt for more flamboyant colours.

“The government normally replaces vehicles after they have run either 1.6 lakh km or six years, whichever comes earlier,” an official said. “There are about two lakh vehicles in the government departments in the country. About 10 per cent of the vehicles get replaced each year,” he added.

But even as the government tries to cut costs, the financial burden is likely to increase if ministries go for the snazzy car from Maruti Udyog Limited, “since the Esteem could be costlier by about Rs 2.15 lakh at the current market price”, a source in the commerce ministry said.

An Ambassador, made by the Hindustan Motors, costs Rs 3.36 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) while Esteem VX, which has been approved by the commerce ministry, costs Rs 5.51 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).

However, a Maruti official said the government may have to pay less. “The government does not pay sales tax and other taxes, and charges like freight and dealer margins, which will bring down the cost by a few thousand,” he said.

“Esteem represents a class, it meets the environment standards like Euro-II; it also has air-conditioning and power steering which are not there in the car currently used by them. We had feedback that most ministers and officials want to travel in the best available vehicle within the budget,” a senior marketing executive in Maruti said.

“It will also cut down the maintenance cost by 50 per cent and lower the running cost considerably. Esteem is the fourth car from the Maruti stable to be approved by the directorate for purchase by government departments,” a source said.

Maruti 800, Omni and Gypsy are the other three cars which have already been approved for purchase by various ministries. Maruti sold 16,034 Esteems last year and has sold 6401 Esteems in the first two quarters of 2000-2001.    

Hyderabad, Nov. 14: 
Space-age chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is weary of his “angutha chhaap” colleagues.

Calling several ministers — each of whom he named — as slow and slack, Naidu told a Cabinet meeting yesterday that he would rather instal a rubber stamp pad and an attendance book than punching machines for them.

Naidu’s call for pre-electronic devices comes in the wake of sarcastic remarks made public by several of his Cabinet members who doubted the efficacy of some of the chief minister’s new measures.

Naidu had set up computerised punching machines in the secretariat to count the number of hours ministers and senior officials spent in their chairs every day. An inquiry revealed that only 21 ministers, and less than half of the officials, bothered to punch their way in and out.

The sad statistics came up after the Telugu Desam government launched another efficiency drive recently. Naidu has also handed out “report cards” to his ministers and officials.

Home minister T. Devender Gowd, finance minister Y. Ramakrishnudu, tribal welfare minister Mani Kumari and excise minister Padmavati seem to have passed with distinction.

Full marks were given to finance secretary S.K. Arora, secretary in charge of Water Users’ Association Raymond Peters and principal secretary in charge of industry Sheela Bhide. However, many executives from the CMO, except his secretary in charge of infotech Randeep Sudan, have fared badly.

Departing from the practice followed by his pedicessor N.T. Rama Rao or the Congress chief ministers, Naidu has scrapped the CMO’s and senior secretaries’ power to decide on transfers. “I have decentralised them so that officials in districts and at departmental levels can decide and counsel if necessary, rather than send the files to the secretariat or abide by diktat from the secretariat,” says Naidu.

Naidu had wanted his Cabinet and senior officials to set milestones in efficiency with their examples, but nearly three years of experiment has hardly brought in any change in the governmental work-culture. But the chief minister seems undeterred by failure.    

New Delhi, Nov. 14: 
In trying to do a balancing act on West Asia, BJP president Bangaru Laxman assured the Israeli ambassador that India did not condemn Israel in its statement on the vote in the Human Rights Commission, or say anything which could be construed as criticism of the country.

Hyderabad, Nov. 14:Laxman’s assurance came in the wake of the ambassador expressing disappointment at India’s support for the rights commission resolution.

The ambassador, who called on Laxman in the BJP headquarters today, was also told that India was hopeful of an early resolution to the problem and would not go along with “calls for liquidation of any country”.

Ever since the West Asia conflict has re-escalated, the envoys of various Middle East countries had called on the BJP chief who conveyed much the same view to them as he did today — to bring about peace by having a dialogue with Israel. A press note from the BJP said Laxman supported “further consolidation of Indo-Israel relations and agreed that peace could be achieved only if violence ceased”.

Despite unhappiness over India’s support for the resolution, the ambassador said he appreciated Delhi’s position and the fact that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was in regular touch with Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak. He also pointed out that the allegations against Israel, of committing crimes against humanity, should have been put to a separate vote. Appealing for Indian intervention in West Asia, the ambassador expressed concern at the “tenor and content” of the speeches given in the ongoing OIC meeting in Doha.

While the BJP was doing a tight-rope walk on West Asia, the RSS came out strongly against Palestine and in favour of Israel.

A column in the RSS mouthpiece Organiser said the rise and proliferation of new Islamic terrorist outfits in Palestine had undermined Yasser Arafat’s own relevance and the “worst sufferer in this competitive radicalism is the peace process”.    


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