Advani shoulders women’s Bill burden
Cong swoops on twin sell-offs
Putin’s spy returns in a different avatar
BJP scouts for House voice
Bloodbath shadow on Bihar bumper crop
Samata Leader shot
Onus on Uzbek to arrest Taliban stride
Poor men’s leader in rally splurge
Congress, CPM pool ammo
Plainspeak in CPI ranks

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
The National Democratic Alliance today authorised home minister L.K. Advani to try and garner two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament to ensure the passage of the women’s reservation Bill.

NDA leaders voiced concern at the women’s Bill being postponed from one session to another, alliance convener and defence minister George Fernandes told reporters today after a meeting of the allies.

Fernandes said the leaders took up the issue soon after parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan had listed the scheduled parliamentary business at the winter session beginning tomorrow.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee emphasised the seriousness he attached to the matter. It was decided that the second-most important man in the government, the home min- ister, will shoulder the Bill’s passage.

Advani has hardly tried to get involved with getting the Opposition around to a cause the government espouses. It will be a rare opportunity for Advani to try his hand in the “politics of unanimity”.

Fernandes said Advani was authorised to interact with all parties in Parliament, so that “these parties together are able to ensure smooth conduct during passage of the Bill in both Houses of Parliament”.

The worry remains whether groups vehemently opposed to the Bill, like Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, will prove stumbling blocks again.

The NDA discussed the issue of agriculture prices along with the policy on agriculture that has been adopted by the government. The coalition also decided that it had nothing against the issue being openly debated in Parliament.

The international political scenario was also discussed. Though Fernandes did not provide details, it was obvious that the government took up the ongoing impasse in Washington, where George W. Bush and Al Gore are fighting for their passage to White House.

The alliance leaders also decided that the Kargil report, which had been tabled in Parliament, needed to be discussed in detail on the floor of the House.

Some NDA leaders sought clarification on the issue of privatisation of nationalised banks. The government made it clear that there was no question of allowing a huge private sector entry.

The government was increasing the equity base, and, as Fernandes clarified, the most important public sector bank which undertakes half the banking transactions in India — the State Bank of India — would not be touched.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has fine-tuned the party’s economic thinking from Manmohanomics to Senonomics.

In the winter session of Parliament, a more aggressive Congress plans to demand a white paper while opposing the Vajpayee government’s disinvestment policy.

The party will oppose the disinvestment of companies such as Maruti Udyog Ltd and MTNL, as well as the privatisation of banks. It also aims to force amendments in the World Trade Organisation related bills.

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia today attended a meeting convened by Left parties to discuss strategies to corner the government in the House.

With no major political issue to be raised, the Congress plans to focus on economic decisions and create divisions within the National Democratic Alliance, as some of the allies are uncomfortable over the sell-off race. The Congress rethink comes in the wake of Sonia’s diktat to party chief ministers to include the economic thinking of Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen in their policies.

According to her, the party’s commitment to economic reforms will remain unchanged. But the party will not toe the line of the World Bank and IMF. With the new mantra being global problems with local solutions, the Congress will focus on people-oriented policies.

Sonia wants the chief ministers of the Congress-ruled states to frame programmes so that problems pertaining to irrigation, agriculture, power and resource generation are resolved through traditional and indigenous methods. She is careful not to disown reforms guru Manmohan Singh but believes that pure economics would not suffice in bringing about sweeping changes.

In Congress circles, Sonia’s shift is in tune with Singh’s reported disillusionment with politics. With his term in the Rajya Sabha coming to end, the good doctor is keen to go back to academics and take up Track-II diplomacy.

The focus on Senonomics is the theme song of the economic paper being written by the Congress think-tank. As Singh is not part of the review exercise, AICC economic department secretary Jairam Ramesh has also opted out.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
When Russian first deputy foreign minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov arrives tomorrow on a four-day visit, he might look for familiar faces from the Cold War days he spent in Delhi as a spy.

Like his leader, President Vladimir Putin, Trubnikov has a KGB background. In the early eighties, he was the deputy station chief of the erstwhile Soviet intelligence agency in the Capital.

The handsome secret service agent attached to the KGB’s foreign intelligence division, unlike other Soviet diplomats, was based not in the embassy at Chanakyapuri. He operated under the cover of a foreign correspondent, building sources in India’s political parties.

In a couple of years, Trubnikov was assigned the cover-post of first secretary (political) in the Soviet embassy and made deep penetration into the national political parties. The transition from one cover-job to another — from correspondent for a Soviet news service to a diplomat — was delicate because it was around this time that his cover was blown, at least to Indian security agencies.

That did not affect his assignment and, more often than not, Trubnikov “threw off” Indian surveillance. At the end of his three-year stint in Delhi, he was transferred to Dhaka where he assumed the responsibilities of the KGB’s station chief.

For the next several years — till the 1990s — Trubnikov moved around European capitals and in the US. All along, he had a soft corner for India and there were occasions when he provided intelligence tips on various matters, including American inquisitiveness and concern for Russian technology transfer to India’s nuclear programme.

Trubnikov had trod carefully in the corridors of the Kremlin and the KGB headquarters, keeping a balance between his relations with the communist old guard and the reformists. He won the confidence of Boris Yeltsin following the tumultuous days of the break-up of the USSR.

When Yevgeny Primakov became Prime Minister after the Soviet disintegration, Trubnikov rose to head the foreign intelligence wing of the federal agency. By this time, he was not only a specialist in sub-continental affairs but also in Islamic terrorism.

It is not surprising that the discussions between the Russian delegation he is leading and the Indian team will centre on Afghanistan. Trubnikov will meet Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

If he tries to spot known faces — people in the Indian security establishment with whom he liaised and shared information — he will find most have retired. Those who have risen to become senior operatives will get to meet the man known to be pro-India in the Putin administration.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
The largest party in the Lok Sabha is still searching for a suitable person to conduct its press briefings during the winter session of Parliament from Monday.

The Congress has a panel of spokespersons to brief the press daily. Smaller parties like the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal have articulate MPs like Amar Singh and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh to do the job. But the BJP is still searching for a suitable candidate from among its 225 MPs, including those of the Rajya Sabha.

Neither Jana Krishnamurthy nor Narendra Modi—the nominated spokesmen—who brief the press at the BJP’s Ashoka Road office are members of Parliament.

Even if they overcome the logistical problem of accessing Parliament everyday, BJP sources said they may not be “fully informed” of the happenings in the two Houses and would themselves have to be briefed by others. This dissemination of second-hand inputs may cause “embarrassing” moments in press briefings, the party feels.

BJP sources said rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who had been assigned this since he became a Rajya Sabha MP two years ago, may be asked to continue. This, however, will be on a “trial” basis as the BJP realises that having a Cabinet minister speak on party matters is not in keeping with Parliament etiquette.

“He will perforce have to criticise the Opposition’s conduct in the House and, as a minister, this may cast some doubts on his credibility,” admitted party sources. By the BJP’s own admission there is no precedent of a minister expatiating on party affairs and spelling out his party line when Parliament is in session.

Some members of the party, however, brushed aside the Opposition’s possible criticism of having Naidu as the spokesman. “As a minister he has been addressing press conferences on political issues, so what is the problem?” asked a BJP veteran.

In case the Opposition’s protests grew loud, the search for an alternative spokesman would have to begin, party sources added.    

Patna, Nov. 19: 
Mother Nature has blessed Bihar with her bounty, wiping away the ravages of the floods. The autumn breeze is rippling through fields of ripe grain in the northern and central parts of the truncated state.

But Bihar is not rejoicing. The Reaper’s shadow is lengthening over the golden fields as land disputes simmer. Caught between prospects of harvest clashes and a bleak market, the farmer is in no mood to celebrate the bumper crop.

“Harvest clashes are common. It is tragic that in the midst of bounty when the farmers should be happy, they are scared to carry their crop safely home,” rued former CPI MLA Ramashray Singh.

The discontent spilled over on Friday night, when landowners in Sasaram’s Kori village clashed with the Dalit sharecroppers over harvesting rights. Deprived of their share by the upper caste Rajput landlords, the Dalits rallied under the banner of CPI-ML (Liberation).

The clashes spread to four districts and two Dalits were killed and two injured as the police opened fire to control the violent mob. Karakat CPI-ML legislator Arun Singh said the landlords were forcibly trying to harvest the crop with the help of the administration.

“Law is with the people who are backed by armed private army. Despite a bumper crop his time, a drop of the benefits will not reach the ordinary farmers. But the Dalits will obviously not be sitting idle,” he warned.

While Sasaram was the first to erupt in the struggle between the peasant and the landlord, large parts of north and central Bihar have witnessed sporadic harvest clashes. In Champaran and Motihari, district officers talked about growing incidents of abduction.

“The owners of disputed lands are being abducted from their homes for a couple of days before harvest. When they return, there is nothing left in the fields,” said an officer from Bettiah. Five such incidents have taken place in the district, he added.

While the Naxalites and the Ranbir Sena, the private army of the upper caste landlords, have been fighting for years, abductions by small gangs along caste lines is a recent phenomenon. In Purnia-Saharsha, a gangster, Sanjay Singh, is accused of working for landlords to deprive marginal farmers and sharecroppers.

Since the Left organisations are weak in the area, the Dalits have had to fall back on the local administration. Clashes in the area have so far deprived two landowners and a Kahar sharecropper from harvesting their lands

In Jehanabad, about 250 acres of disputed land are held by Dalits under protection from the Naxalites. They are facing stiff resistance from the Pandav gang members who injured five Dalits in a brutal attack in Rampur. Tension ran high, but the conflagration did not spread as paramilitary forces were stationed there. Vigil has been stepped up.

Another evil staring the farmers in the face is the “crisis of plenty”. Agro-scientists said the yield this time will be about 40 per cent more than last year’s. But the farmers are unlikely to get a good price. In the absence of buyers, distress selling has been reported from Sahabad, Bhagalpur, Motihari and Champaran, where the renowned katarni rice is grown.

Agriculture department sources said 19 procurement centres have been opened across the state to buy paddy on the support price of Rs 540 per quintal. But several Opposition parties today demanded more procurement centres.

The CPI warned that if the state failed to take measures, despondent farmers could commit suicide as they did in Andhra Pradesh.    

Patna, Nov. 19: 
Samata Party leader Madan Singh and four aides were gunned down at Naohab village under Majhi police station in Chapra district early this morning. The police believe it to be a revenge strike.

Chapra police sources said Madan had a long list of cases pending against him. He was involved in a struggle against his rival and alleged RJD leader Chabra Singh. A month ago, two of Chabra’s men were allegedly bumped off by Madan’s gang.

When Madan came out of his house around 5 am and asked his driver to be ready to leave, about 10 assailants were watching him from a tea stall. They were carrying firearms under their blankets.

The assassins had been following his moves for weeks. Madan, who used to leave his house at dawn, had given them the slip a week ago by leaving before dawn.

The driver was revving the engine of the jeep when Madan, flanked by his bodyguards, set off briskly towards the jeep parked a little distance away. The gangsters were waiting near the vehicle. As Madan approached, they sprayed bullets before his bodyguards could react.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
Uzbekistan appears to be holding the key to India and Russia’s efforts to check the onward march of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A lot of significance is being attached to the first-ever joint working group meeting between India and Russia beginning on Tuesday. One of the main focus of the talks is likely to be the concerns of central Asian countries vis-a-vis the Taliban and how they can be used in the fight against it.

The Taliban, propped by Pakistan, controls over 90 per cent of the country and is consolidating its position in Kabul. The little resistance that it faces is from Ahmed Shah Masud who is spearheading the Northern Alliance in Panjshir Valley. But this resistance is fast waning.

India and Russia have no option but to strengthen the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban. To do this, they need help from central Asian countries, particularly Uzbekistan.

According to South Block’s assessment, as long as Masud manages to engage the Taliban in and around Panjshir Valley and the northern part of the country, it takes away the Islamic jehadis’ focus from Kashmir.

Masud’s presence there and his record as a general who managed to bounce back despite military setbacks, will also continue to keep an element of doubt about a total Taliban victory.

Though five central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — share borders with Afghanistan, the last three are important in the present context.

Turkmenistan has found the easy way out by coming into an informal agreement with the Taliban. It has been charged with allowing Islamic fundamentalist groups, being trained in Afghanistan, to use its territories against other regimes in the region.

Tajikistan, which has always been under strong Russian influence, is a strong supporter of Masud.

Uzbekistan, however, is the key country, whose stand, or lack of it, is causing worry in both Moscow and Delhi.

Uzbek President Karimov was supportive of the Northern Alliance when Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord in Afghanistan, had considerable clout in the group. Over the last few years, with Dostum fading away from the scene, Karimov, though a little reluctantly, started rallying behind Masud — a Tajik.

His worry at the moment is two-fold — his self-preservation and his country’s security.

Karimov’s attempts over the years to use repressive measures to muzzle the Opposition in his country has led to a situation where even those in the mainstream were forced to go underground and join hands with Islamic militants in the country.

He felt the extent of the Taliban’s influence in his country when a series of bomb explosions in Tashkent in February killed several people and injured many others. Coupled with this was the string of military successes of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan against Masud. On the advice of Turkmenistan President Niyazov, Karimov started reaching out to the Taliban.

This, according to experts, was done mainly because Karimov felt that by buying peace with the Taliban, he would get an assurance from them of not providing support to his political opponents in Uzbekistan.

Tashkent is wary of Moscow’s designs and so Karimov is thinking of opting for peace with the Taliban than getting Russian troops in its territory against the student-militia in Kabul.

Moreover, Uzbekistan cannot afford to offend Afghanistan as it is landlocked and Afghanistan is its only outlet for natural gas.

So far, talks have been held between the Uzbek government and the Taliban. Karimov is still undecided whether the Taliban or a Russia under Vladimir Putin is of interest to him.

Delhi and Moscow will now have to wait till Karimov takes a decision as Tashkent’s stand will in a big way dictate their policy towards the Taliban and how the situation in Afghanistan should be dealt with.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan may pride himself on being the leader of the poor, but he is sparing no expense to make his Janshakti rally a success.

Eight special trains are being run from various places in Bihar to Delhi to bring in the crowds for the rally on November 28 to announce his breaking away from the Janata Dal (United) and the formation of his party, with which the Jantantrik Bahujan Samaj Party (JBSP) and the Janata Dal (R), the BJP’s allies in Uttar Pradesh, are likely to merge on that day.

Railway ministry sources said Paswan has requisitioned trains from Hajipur (his Lok Sabha constituency), Samastipur, Barauni, Bhagalpur, Patna, Katiyar and Dhanbad. About three lakh people mainly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana are expected to attend the rally. Besides, lakhs of posters and reams of publicity material has been prepared. The capital is already awash with Paswan posters announcing the rally.

Sources said the trains were booked, as is the norm with such special trips, on full tariff rates, which includes return charges and an additional 10 per cent. According to a conservative estimate, the cost of running eight special trains with an average of 10 72-seater bogies and two brake vans to and fro will be approximately Rs 50 lakh.

However, a ministry official said sparing eight trains for Paswan’s rally will be difficult for the Eastern railway.

Paswan, on his part, denied that he has booked the trains. Only three trains are being booked, that too by JD (U) workers who wanted to come to the rally in Delhi, he said from Patna.

“The Janata Dal people are campaigning. They are collecting funds and donations for train fare. The money is yet to be deposited (with the railways),” he said.

The rally is expected to further polarise Bihar politics. Former Union ministers Jainarain Prasad Nishad and Kamala Sinha and half a dozen ministers of Uttar Pradesh are expected to attend the rally. Paswan said six ministers of the JBSP and the Janata Dal (R) will announce the merger of their parties with the new party.

JD (U) sources said the party’s strength in the Bihar Assembly has come down to 18 after the formation of Jharkhand and it is now easy for Paswan to split the legislature party.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
It’s time for the CPM to turn a friendly face to the Congress.

At a luncheon meeting hosted by senior MP Somnath Chatterjee at his residence today, the CPM and the Congress discussed the strategy that would have the best chance of making the BJP squirm in the winter session of Parliament beginning tomorrow.

“We will raise one issue at a time,” said Chatterjee. The CPM’s junior partner, the CPI, was present at the meeting but the Forward Bloc and the RSP boycotted it. So did Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.

The three parties refused to attend a meeting that involved the Congress in deciding the floor strategy. “Our policy is one of equidistance from both the Congress and BJP,” said Amar Roy Pradhan of the Forward Bloc.

The Congress had sent senior MP Madhavrao Scindia to discuss the strategy. Also present were the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Raghuvir Prasad Singh and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

Chatterjee had invited Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, but he could not make it because of a delayed flight.

The Opposition leaders decided to focus on two main issues: the rise in oil prices and the BJP’s “saffronisation” drive. The CPM has already moved an adjournment motion on the oil price rise.

Though the Congress and the CPM will find it difficult to find common ground on economic issues, there may be some convergence of views on the issue of privatisation of banks. The Congress has assured the CPM it will oppose the move on the floor of the House.

The single most important reason for arranging today’s meeting was to pool together the ammunition against the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. In the last session, the Opposition had raised a discordant note against the BJP blunting the teeth of the criticism.

On more than one occasion the Opposition had undercut each other by putting forth conflicting points of view.

On economic issues however, the CPM cannot rely on Congress support. Barring a couple of issues, the Congress is likely to support decisions on privatisation — a stand that has become a stumbling block in the Congress-CPM relations.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
More candid than the CPM, the CPI has admitted that it is worried over the party’s lack of growth.

“There was sharp criticism from the comrades who wanted the leadership to be more accountable, efficient and hardworking,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said at a news conference.

The CPI plenum, currently in session in Delhi, is thrashing out its political organisational report.

Last year, the party added only another 8,000 to its membership number. In Parliament, it has been reduced to just two members, even though it has managed to retain its national status, whereas the CPM was recently stripped of its all-India status by the Election Commission.

Unlike the CPM top brass, CPI leaders did not sweep uncomfortable issues under the carpet. “If the CPI has to meet the serious challenge posed by the BJP, it must strengthen itself,” said Bardhan.

But like the CPM, which has just finished updating its party programme, the CPI had set a deadline of August 2001 to finish preparing a preliminary draft for updating its programme. The plenum has authorised a five-member panel to start the exercise.    


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