Tinted glass ceiling between Clinton and Gujarat’s agony
Delhi erupts in bus backlash
Cong ready to shed sitting 10
Mud flies at Atal’s second lieutenant
Calcutta Weather

Bhuj, April 3: 
Bill Clinton is coming here tomorrow to trudge a kilometre or two through the debris of shattered homes and dreams and rub his high and broad shoulders with scores of quake victims, carrying their grief and grievances.

This is official.

What is not is another script prepared for the former US President to keep him away from most of the survivors and their complaints, only allowing him to see much of the destruction through the tinted glasses of his armoured sedan. Clinton reached Delhi late tonight.

“The former American President is our honoured state guest. He will walk around parts of devastated Anjar and Ratanal villages and meet people there. He will also visit a hospital in Bhuj and talk to people in the media,” Kutch district magistrate Anil Mukim said, spouting the official line.

But district superintendent of police Vivek Srivastava had another story to tell. He said Clinton would meet only a handful of “pre-selected” villagers in Anjar and Ratanal. “We are not shifting villagers from their homes during this visit, but no one will be allowed to get anywhere near him.” Srivastava attributed the decision to “our threat perceptions to his life”.

He said Ratanal villagers approached the police with a request that they be allowed to meet Clinton to air their grievances. “But they were denied permission for security reasons.”

The collector said he did not see why someone should go to Clinton with complaints. “He is not an MP or a minister, and cannot solve problems. He is a foreign dignitary and should be treated as such with utmost respect.”

Accompanied by his entourage of 30 Indian corporate leaders from the US who are trying to help rebuild the quake-ravaged Kutch district, Clinton is slated to arrive at Bhuj airport around noon. In a convoy of 16 cars, he will be taken straight to Ratanal village, 25 km away, where he will meet “one or two” villagers and spend about 10 minutes.

Ratanal, devastated in the January 26 earthquake that killed nearly 20,000 people in Kutch district and flattened some 200,000 houses, lies 20 km from Anjar — Clinton’s next stop and highlight of his trip to Bhuj.

In Anjar, he will take a brief walk in the ravaged town, 100 metres or so, down an alley cleared of debris on the eve of his visit. The path was carefully chosen for him to tread: it was here that 400 students out on a march on Republic Day were buried alive under the rubble of a collapsed market.

Clinton will place a wreath at a memorial to the dead children where rescuers found 150 bodies. “The headmaster of the school and a couple of students already picked will walk with the former President during his journey down the lane,” the police officer said.

After spending an hour or so in the ravaged town, Clinton will head towards Jubilee Hospital, a venue chosen by the administration in the stricken city of Bhuj for his next and last stop. Compared to the district hospital nearby, totally flattened in the quake killing more than 200 persons, Jubilee Hospital was partially damaged.

“But it was chosen as his last stop because the hospital is still standing and will provide an excellent backdrop for a photo opportunity,” said a senior official.


New Delhi, April 3: 
The capital got a taste of Calcutta’s fury as mobs roamed the streets torching and damaging the few buses that had the permission to ply.

Their patience running thin after two days of struggle, thousands of commuters joined the backlash which, officials suspected, was engineered by transporters barred from running their pollution-belching buses for not complying with the Supreme Court order on using environment-friendly fuel instead of diesel.

A 2,000-strong mob set on fire five buses in Badarpur, on Delhi’s southern fringes. Nearly 40 vehicles were damaged as people pelted them with stones. Police had to fire in the air to disperse the crowd.

Among the 47 people arrested from Badarpur, 16 are conductors, helpers or drivers of blue line buses which have been impounded for not meeting the court’s guidelines.

Elsewhere in the city which is not known to express itself in unison, irate crowds, tired after waiting for hours at bus stops, deflated tyres and blocked vehicles from moving.

Police tried to calm the frenzied mob. “We are here not to fight a battle with the public, instead we are here to help them,” said Suresh Roy, joint commissioner of police. “We are asking the people to abide by the law and not to take things in their hands,” he appealed. At least 13 policemen were injured in the violence.

Alarmed by the rising public anger, the Delhi government said it would allow transporters who are willing to shift to the cleaner new fuel to operate their buses if they obtained a special permit by April 15.

Many commuters clambered on to roofs of overcrowded buses today, the first working day since the deadline to convert to compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel went into effect on Sunday. The only buses that were there had already converted or given a commitment to make the switch in the next six months.

Other travellers had to opt for autorickshaws, which cashed in on their misery by charging exorbitant rates. Several office-goers were forced to trudge back home after an arduous day.

Among the worst-hit were schoolchildren facing board and annual examinations. Several parents had to escort their children on foot to schools far away from their homes. Some schools declared holidays while others left it to parents to arrange for transport.

Operators said only a few hundred of the city’s 10,000 private buses were on the roads while state-run Delhi Transport Corporation operated about 1,500 of its 2,000 buses.

The government is determined to get the capital back on track tomorrow. Chief minister Sheila Dixit announced that all buses would be allowed to ply from tomorrow as long as they had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court. If the court passes a contempt order, Dixit said she is “willing to face it”. “The entire Delhi Cabinet is prepared to go to jail,” echoed transport minister Pervez Hashmi.

However, some transporters threatened to remain off the roads tomorrow to protest against the “continued apathy” of the government. “We are not against the Supreme Court order but we have been demanding that the Delhi government should exempt all such operators, who have placed orders for their new CNG buses, from sales tax, excise duty, road tax and permit fees,” said Ramesh Dalal, convener of the Rashtriya Parivahan Panchayat.

He added that the strike will be for a day, but “if the government fails to wake up from its slumber, then we could go on an indefinite strike”.

Stranded commuters, too, blamed the government. “This government needs to be bashed up,” said Shrestha Vohra, a ticket clerk at the New Delhi railway station who had been waiting for two hours at a bus stop.


New Delhi, April 3: 
As the fate of 17 sitting Congress legislators in Bengal hung in the balance, the high command’s emissary said today at least 10 would not be renominated to contest the Assembly elections.

A day after clinching a deal with Mamata Banerjee on 276 seats, Kamal Nath, Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal, said in Delhi the party would not renominate “25 per cent” — which works out to around 10 — of its 42 sitting MLAs.

This is the first time the Congress has admitted that some MLAs would have to be sacrificed. However, the party is still driving a bargain with the Trinamul Congress to get at least six to eight of the undecided 17 seats. The leadership feels that a final tally of 65 (57+8) would be “respectable”.

Nath, who returned from Calcutta after sewing up the pact, made light of reports that the state Congress was not too happy with the deal.

“You cannot judge the mood from one man,” Nath said, but declined to identify the “one man”. Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy first said Bengal unit chief Pranab Mukherjee was not “unhappy”. He later changed his choice of phrase to add emphasis, saying Mukherjee was “happy”.

Nath justified the decision to drop some MLAs, pointing out that in no political party or state, all sitting members win nomination. “In Chhindwara (Nath’s Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh), I have been routinely replacing five MLAs after every five years. That is part of the process,” he said.

Commenting on the MLAs’ demand for tickets, Nath asked: “Which candidate or MLA will not demand ticket or say that he or she will not win hands down?”

The state BJP today stepped up its efforts to fish in Congress’ troubled waters. The BJP said it has received feelers from at least eight Congress legislators who fear they may be dropped.


New Delhi, April 3: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, under attack from the RSS, some allies and the Opposition for defending his officials in the wake of the Tehelka scandal, was today accused of appointing an aide against whom the CBI had initiated an inquiry.

Sucking another powerful official of the Prime Minister’s Office into a controversy, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav today sought the removal of Ashok Saikia, senior-most joint secretary in the PMO, claiming that he was facing a CBI inquiry when he assumed office.

The firepower so far has been concentrated on three aides — Vajpayee’s principal secretary and national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, the officer on special duty, N.K. Singh, and the Prime Minister’s foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Mulayam, who had dubbed Saikia the “main conspirator” behind an alleged plan to tap Opposition leaders’ phones, declined to elaborate on the nature of the CBI inquiry against Saikia. “I want to ask the Prime Minister how Saikia, who was facing CBI probe, was appointed in the PMO and how the inquiry against him ended?” he asked. The PMO refused to comment immediately. “I have not seen the report. We are trying to assess exactly what he said,” an aide of Vajpayee said tonight. The PMO had denied the bugging charge as soon as it was levelled on Sunday.

While the Sangh parivar and the Samata Party are likely to keep up the heat on Mishra and Singh, the Samajwadi Party is expected to target Saikia when Parliament reconvenes on April 16.

Saikia is the Prime Minister’s closest aide after Mishra. Vajpayee’s relationship with Saikia dates back to the officer’s days in Ramjas College in the capital.

Vajpayee acted almost like a local guardian to the young Saikia. Saikia’s ties with Vajpayee are so deep-rooted that even his personal secretaries Anantharajan and Ajay Bisaria do not enjoy the same clout. Second in command in the hallowed PMO, the Assam cadre officer, a north-eastern specialist, is Vajpayee’s troubleshooter as well. Saikia’s brief is personnel, administration and appointments of senior-level bureaucrats. He also accompanied Vajpayee during his sojourn in Manali and Kumarakam last year.

Mulayam had alleged that in the wake of the Tehelka disclosure, the Vajpayee establishment was trying to unearth unsubstantiated charges against Opposition leaders. Political circles were agog with speculation that the government may try to blunt the Opposition assault by probing several old deals, including the Sukhoi package initiated during the United Front regime when Mulayam was defence minister.

After levelling the bugging charge against Saikia in Lucknow, Mulayam had warned of legal action against those who made allegations against him on the Sukhoi deal.

Mulayam is also keen to take the lead in the tape offensive in Parliament, especially since the Congress has decided to lower the pitch and let the ruling coalition stew in its “inherent contradictions”.




Maximum: 34.1°C (-2)
Minimum: 24.1°C (0)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 58%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 36°C.
Sunrise: 5.30 am
Sunset: 5.49 pm

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