Govt toils on President speech
Governor growls at Gateway gaffe
Love burns in Sena heat
Hill truce for tourists
Dragon spits fire from India Inc showcase
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Feb. 14: 
Smarting under the President’s Republic Day-eve address, the Union Cabinet today took a record three hours to clear K.R. Narayanan’s speech to Parliament but decided to leave the focus on the Constitution untouched.

Apart from pleasing the President, the government wanted to avoid another confrontation with the Opposition, which is likely to rake up the Constitution review issue in the budget session.

Cautious after the January 25 address in which Narayanan drew a parallel between those advocating the system of indirect elections and Ayub Khan, who founded military rule in Pakistan, the Cabinet went through every line of the speech before deciding not to alter it.

In his address to a joint sitting of Parliament to be delivered at the start of the session on February 19, Narayanan has reassured the nation that the review commission will not suggest any change in the basic structure of the Constitution. This assurance is the main thrust of his speech.

Yesterday, the government decided to extend the tenure of the review commission till October 31. The one-year term was to have ended on February 22.

The Republic Day-eve address — in which the President criticised the proposals to switch to a system of indirect elections and to fix the tenure of Parliament — had sparked a controversy, with angry BJP leaders slamming Narayanan in public.

Taking a swipe at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, the President had compared those who argued in favour of a fixed tenure of Parliament and indirect elections to Ayub Khan.

At the golden jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission last month, Vajpayee had stressed the need for a fixed tenure for Parliament to ensure stability of government. The President found this proposal untenable and against the vision of the founding fathers of the Constitution.

The founding fathers had the “wisdom and foresight” not to overemphasise the importance of stability and uniformity of political system and had consciously rejected the system of restricted franchise and indirect elections, Narayanan said.

“We may recall that in Pakistan Field Marshal Ayub Khan had introduced an indirect system of elections and experimented with what he called basic democracy or guided democracy. It would be an irony of history if we invoke today, in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, the shades of the political ideas of Ayub Khan, the father of military rule in Pakistan,” he said.

The President asserted that the nation should harp on responsibility, not stability.


Haldia, Feb. 14: 
The letter G fell first. Then the Big G struck.

As ‘Gateway Haldia 2001’ stirred off the ground with each of the thermocol letters falling to the ground one after the other, chief guest Governor Viren J. Shah peeled off the remaining veneer from the investor meet.

“The meeting was slated to start at 11.15 am and I arrived on time. But I was stuck in the lift which went up and down with the door shut. Now we are at least 20 minutes behind schedule. Is this a good sign for an investor meet?” asked the Governor, discarding his prepared speech for an extempore one.

He was only rubbing salt into an already bleeding wound. Immediately after the ‘Gateway’ withered away, the colourful poster came crashing down. All while the announcer was showering praise on Lakshman Seth, chairman of the Haldia Development Authority and chief organiser of the meeting to inaugurate a 100-acre polypark.

More was to follow before Shah began his speech. When Seth climbed on the dais to read out the welcome address, the lights went on the blink. Before he was through, there was a second power cut as the investors sat in embarrassed silence. Finally, Seth spoke without the benefit of a microphone.

This was a big show to send messages about the state of the Bengal economy to all who had gathered at the inauguration ceremony of the park which will house units that will use Haldia Petro’s products as their raw material. But the initial signals were far from encouraging. To make things worse, only a few big industrialists turned up for the function.

Shah came down heavily on the organisers. He said he and his security personnel would not have lunch as it would involve rescheduling the meet. “It is not going to harm if we don’t take lunch. But can you put the programme on schedule?” he asked the organisers.

The state, said the Governor, need not be investor-friendly, but at least it has to be keen on growth. “If a state grows, automatically every facet of it will grow. And that is what is important,” he said.

While the Governor did not spare WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee and state industry minister Bansagopal Chowdhury — who shared the dais with him — he praised chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his efforts to bring back work culture in the state.

Shah quoted a study by apex chamber Confederation of Indian Industry which placed West Bengal 11th on the list of states most affected by industrial unrest. Tamil Nadu and Gujarat take the top slots. “This is most interesting,” Shah said.

But that is no reason to take things easy. The state, said the Governor, has much to do to refurbish its image.


Feb. 14: 
Culture cops clashed with Cupid on Saint Valentine’s Day, but fun capital Mumbai remained love-struck.

Driven by Bal Thackeray’s call, Shiv Sainiks tried to disrupt the celebrations in several metros. In Delhi, they barged into Wimpy’s restaurant in Connaught Place, overturned tables and smashed flower pots, shouting anti-Valentine slogans.

Sainiks also attempted to storm an Archies’ Gallery in the Karol Bagh area, but four of them were arrested. “No damage was done. We have arrested four persons,” police joint commissioner Ajay Chadha said.

Events took an ugly turn in Varanasi as protesters chopped the hair of several youths who were celebrating Valentine’s Day and blackened their faces. In Lucknow University, classes were suspended as a precaution measure, but rival student groups clashed on the University road.

In Jamshedpur, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists forced their way into the zoo and the Jubilee Park and ordered all couples to leave.

Eighteen people — six policemen and 12 workers of the Sanskriti Raksha Manch, an RSS front — were hurt in clashes between the Hindutva brigade and police in Jabalpur.

In Mumbai, the followers of Thackeray — who thinks Valentine’s Day is alien to Indian culture — burnt heart-shaped symbols of love. Thackeray kept up his tirade, asking teenagers to follow the “Indian” tradition of love. “Who are they (the West) to teach us how to express love?” he had asked in Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece.

But the Hindutva brigade was no match for the foreign saint of love here.

Though under the watchful eyes of policemen, students of Mumbai’s Somaiya College laughed as Sena activists screamed anti-Valentine slogans. “The students appeared to be having fun both ways,” a police inspector on duty said.

If Hotel Leela in Andheri had to call off the celebrations because the Sena dominated its staff union, outside the teeming Churchgate station it was business as usual for Archies Gallery and Eros Book Centre.

“We have no time for Thackeray. We are already late for the celebrations,” said Sonali Bijapurkar, a shopper. “Thackeray is a paper tiger surviving on press statements,” another girl cut in.


Siliguri, Feb. 14: 
Tourists and residents stranded in the hills and in Sikkim can breathe easy tomorrow with Subash Ghising’s front agreeing to lift the indefinite bandh from 8 am to 4 in the evening.

As Sikkim remained cut off for the fourth day, about 200 tourists stranded in Gangtok were evacuated in four buses after negotiations with Gorkha National Liberation Front leaders.

“We have evacuated the tourists in nine buses from Gangtok and one from Jorethang. After negotiations with the GNLF, four buses were allowed to start from Rangpo on the Sikkim-Bengal border,” said an officer of Sikkim Nationalised Transport.

Police claim that they have made significant breakthroughs in identifying the brain behind the ambush on Ghising. Three more persons were arrested yesterday by the special investigation team.

The GNLF leader today demanded that a special combat force be set up under the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’s command for tackling militancy.

“No VIP is safe to travel within the hills of Darjeeling. When I can be targeted, how can other VIPs be safe here? Neither can I be blamed for this nor can the DGHC, as we do not have the home department with us,” Ghising told reporters at the nursing home here.

“If the state government cannot hand over the home department, they can at least let the (hill) council raise its own combat force to tackle terrorism. The state police are only trained to catch thieves and not militants armed with sophisticated weapons,” he added.

Recounting his encounters with Northeast militants during his days in the army, Ghising said: “I know how to face and fight terrorists. If need be, I will seek the Centre’s help for setting up a separate combat force. The situation is serious.”

Ghising indicated that he suspected the involvement of a vested group which, he said, had used the Chhattray Subba-led Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation. “There is a vested group behind the conspiracy. Subba has been used by a more powerful force.”


New Delhi, Feb. 14: 
Wu Ben Yin rolls up the sleeves of his black cotton jacket, kneels down and using a simple screwdriver prises out the small battery from the motorcycle.

Keeping it aside, he sets to work on the bike’s complex wiring. Satisfied, he pushes the battery in again, screws it tight and switches on the indicators to the left and the right. The saffron lights blink on and off. He tries the horn; it blares, making everyone in Pragati Maidan’s hall no. 2 stop in their tracks.

The machine itself is a sleek two-wheeler, the seats for the driver and the pillion rider positioned lower than the fuel tank. The handles are a gleaming silver and curve over and above the tank, so that the user does not have to stretch. There are rear-view mirrors on both sides. The silencer pipe slants upwards; the body is stocky and inviting for a try. Push a button or kick the starting lever and it roars alive.

For all of $650 (Rs 30,264) at current prices, the Meilun 150 cc is a sleek, sporty bike on show at the IETF 2001, the Confederation of Indian Industry’s flagship trade fair that was inaugurated here today. Its USP, however, is not its looks but its fuel efficiency: the Meilun promises an incredible 100 km for just 1.7 litres of petrol.

Even as Indian businesses cry out for tariff protection — Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha told Assocham members today just how great the pressures on him were as he enters the final lap of his budget exercise — the Chinese are showing right here, in full view of the country’s industry captains at their largest fairground, just what it is that makes them so competitive.

For one, their overheads are low. Wu, the man who was getting the Meilun ship-shape, is no ordinary worker. He is the chairman — and owner — of the ChongQing YinGang group of companies established in 1994.

Second, their products address the fundamental needs of the customer. Among ChongQing’s primary products is an energy saving device. That is what gives the Meilun 150 cc or the YinGang YG 110-S — a 125 cc motorcycle — their phenomenal mileage.

Third, they produce in bulk and integrate their manufacture. The company’s two assembly lines in Economic Garden, Nanxi Village, Jingkou, produce 250,000 motorcycles per annum. Under the same roof is the assembly line for their energy saving devices.

So far, tariff barriers have kept ChongQing away from India. “Even if the import duty is lowered by 50 per cent, we will start selling here,” says Lei Guang Gheng, the vice-general manager. “That’s why we are here — to show our product and what it can do for the Indian consumer.”

Come April, when the quantitative restrictions are lifted and the flood gates opened to foreign goods, it is clear what such products can spell for Indian industry.

The CII, the most high-profile industry body in the country, which also favours the opening up of the economy, might be forced into a rethink then.

“You mean they (the Chinese) are here in IETF showing such a product?” exclaimed one official closely involved in drafting CII’s strategy on QR removals.

“I wonder what will happen when Rahul (Bajaj) and Subodh (Bhargava) get to know!”




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