Clinton warmth beats Calcutta heat
Mamata jigsaw complete with two more Cong seats
K and K push Sonia to a corner
Pan-Asian powwow at Oval Office
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, April 7: 
At 37.1 degrees Celsius, the sun pummelled like a million flashbulbs the most-photographed cherubic face in the world, baking it a deep crimson.

But Bill Clinton’s warmth soared over the mercury as he charmed Calcutta.

“Oh! It’s warm. I kind of like it, it’s like the heat we have back in southern America,” the former US president said, minutes after regaling children at Shishu Bhavan, an orphanage run by Missionaries of Charity, with a jig.

Two days after carefully picking his way through the rubble in Gujarat, Clinton forged his way through the police-swept thoroughfares in a white Jeep Cherokee. Touching down in an Indian Airlines Airbus 320 around 9.50 am, Clinton, wearing a blue shirt with checks and black trousers, reached Mother House 35 minutes later.

The pilgrimage, he said, was a commitment he had made to Mother Teresa and his family. “Hillary and Chelsea, both of whom have been here, told me that I must go to Missionaries of Charity while in India, and I’m glad I did,” Clinton told reporters.

The former president promised Sister Nirmala, who runs the order, that he would come back with his wife and daughter. “I have always wanted to come here ever since I met Mother Teresa at a breakfast meeting in White House in 1996. As soon as this trip was arranged, I took the opportunity. I am going to come back with my wife and daughter,” he said. “Hillary is now in the US Senate voting, while Chelsea, who wanted to come, has two months of college left. After that, I’ll take her wherever she wants to go.”

Clinton paid homage to Mother’s tomb, laid a large bouquet of white gladioli on the memorial and prayed with the sisters. “We then sang one of Mother’s favourite hymns, Make me a channel of your peace,” Sister Nirmala said.

After the prayers and a short address, Clinton had a brief meeting with all 10 senior councillors of the order. “We discussed AIDS and how widespread it had become,” Sister Nirmala added. Missionaries of Charity runs seven AIDS homes in the US.

Before leaving after an hour’s halt, Clinton was presented with paintings, the customary “business card” — which has a prayer of four lines — and a “miraculous medallion”, parting gifts that Mother used to give visitors.

At Shishu Bhavan, his next stop, a dozen children between 5 and 10 sang for the “fair-haired sahib”. The youngest, a five-year-old girl wearing a white sari with a red border, held out a garland. The six-foot-plus man had to squat to accept it. He danced with the others and cradled a day-old baby. “I loved them all. I want to do something for them,” Clinton said.

On a goodwill visit, Clinton reached out to generate the feel-good factor. Surrounded by hordes of policemen and a bunch of tough Secret Service “bouncers”, Clinton broke the barrier. He crossed AJC Bose Road to speak with journalists; shook hands with the hundreds who had lined up on Park Street and Mullick Bazar.

In a city, once known as the capital of the CPM which had protested against his visit to the country last year as president of “imperialist” America, many stood for hours to greet the guest, the US stars and stripes in their hands.

The charm surmounted the political divide. Tushar Kanjilal, of the Sunderbans-based Tagore Society for Rural Development, said Clinton was completely focused on what was being said by the NGOs. “I have done Left politics for many years but it was like talking to a friend,” gushed Kanjilal.

The lunch at Raj Bhavan with Governor Viren Shah and representatives of about 35 NGOs was in name only, at least for the chief guest. Clinton nibbled at chicken seekh kebabs and rasamalai while discussing projects that could be taken up. On his way back to the airport, he had packed food.

The American-India Foundation members, including corporate czars Purnendu Chatterjee and Rajat Gupta, interacted with the invitees for a little over an hour. The foundation, of which Clinton is a member, will set up an office in the city.

Clinton said the six-hour trip to Calcutta was a beginning to “getting acquainted with eastern India”. “We are looking down the road on how to solve the needs of the people of India,” he said.


Calcutta, April 7: 
The last hurdle to a unified battle against the CPM-led Left Front was removed today with Mamata Banerjee and the Congress clinching a seat-share deal for all the 294 Assembly seats.

The Congress has been allotted 57 seats. The Trinamul will contest 229 seats and has set aside eight for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a constituent of the Save Bengal Front. A common election agenda will be prepared by state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee.

The final package shows that the Congress has got only two of the 18 seats over which an agreement was pending after both the parties finalised a deal on 276 seats on April 2. This indicates that as many as 15 sitting Congress legislators may not be re-nominated. Many sitting MLAs may be relocated.

The deal was announced at a joint news conference at the south Calutta home of Kamal Nath, the AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal. Immediately after, Mamata called Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to discuss the schedule for a joint poll campaign.

The Trinamul chief expressed her gratitude to Sonia for rejecting CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s plea not to seek an alliance with her party. “I am happy that Soniaji did not respond to the CPM’s attempts to break the alliance despite all provocations,” she said.

A host of PCC leaders, who had earlier been accused by Mamata of playing second fiddle to the CPM, joined the news conference in the lawn at Nath’s residence on Robinson Street. Pranab Mukherjee, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Somen Mitra sat in the front row along with Nath and Mamata.

The Trinamul leader later visited Ghani Khan’s Salt Lake residence to express her gratitude to the veteran leader for helping her finalise the seat-share deal.

The only notable absentee was Berhampore MP Adhir Chowdhury, who has expressed discontent over the party’s decision to offer a few seats in his constituency to Trinamul.

Nath described the alliance as a “consolidation of anti-CPM forces”, saying the two parties would unitedly fight against the Left Front. “From the grassroots workers to the top leadership, our parties are determined to move together to defeat the CPM-led Left Front for its misrule in the past 24 years,” he said.

Mamata also announced the formal break-up of her party’s alliance with the BJP, saying she would field nominees in the 39 seats she had earlier set aside for the party. “We had conceded 39 seats to the BJP when we announced our list of nominees on March 6. But instead of contacting us, the BJP leaders here tried to denigrate us in different ways and started abusing our party. We, of course, did not react,” she observed.

The Trinamul chief, however, refused to clarify her stand regarding Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Asked whether she still held Vajpayee in high esteem, Mamata replied: “I have the prerogative not to answer every question.”

The Congress-Trinamul alliance evoked sharp criticism from the BJP, with Union minister of state for telecommunications Tapan Sikdar dubbing it as “an opportunistic entente”.


New Delhi, April 7: 
As Mamata Banerjee smiled and posed for a Congress family portrait in the east, Sonia Gandhi’s showpiece strongholds in the south were rocked by two ‘Ks’ — Kerala warhorse Karunakaran and Karnataka satrap Koujalgi.

K. Karunakaran today quit as permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in a huff, saying he was dissatisfied with the high command’s selection of candidates for the coming Assembly polls. It had turned down the candidature of his daughter, K. Padmaja.

If the Kerala rebellion has the potential to cloud Congress’ political fortunes, the Karnataka shock has blunted the party’s Tehelka edge. The party’s Karnataka president, V.S. Koujalgi, resigned today after a controversy similar to the Tehelka-type scandal snowballed. A contractor had alleged that he had videotaped Koujalgi accepting a bribe of Rs 40,000 in 1998.

A newspaper yesterday splashed stills of the tape, said to be deposited with the Lokayukta as evidence, showing Koujalgi accepting an envelope. Koujalgi claimed the photographs were “concocted” but said he was resigning as he was a “disciplined soldier” and did not want to “embarrass the party”.

But Karunakaran openly blamed the party. “It seems the leadership has lost faith in me and, therefore, there is no point in continuing,” he said.

In a veiled but ominous warning, Karunakaran said he should not be held responsible for the consequences the party may suffer due to the aggrieved posture his followers might take in the coming elections.

Of the five states going to polls, the Congress has the best chance in Kerala. The high command, keen to avoid an eleventh-hour revolt, is planning to send either Ahmed Patel or Ghulam Nabi Azad to Kerala. A section in Delhi was even talking of giving a ticket to Padmaja.

Karunakaran made no bones of the fact that he was sore. “I am pained that a situation has developed in which even a person like me who has toiled for the party for 68 years could not meet the party president (Sonia),” he said.

He blamed CWC member A.K. Antony for the present crisis. The Congress is projecting Antony as the chief ministerial candidate, but Karunakaran said the “general presumption” was not correct..

“The selection process (of candidates) was stage-managed. It was pre-planned and not on any constituency was I consulted,” the veteran leader said.

“What is wrong in projecting Padmaja as a future leader of the Congress? If the wife of a Congress leader (Mercy Ravi, wife of Vayalar Ravi) could be given a seat, why not my daughter?” he asked. He said it was not fair to reject her candidature just because she was his daughter.


Washington, April 7: 
Living up to secretary of state Colin Powell’s vision of a pan-Asian role for India, President George W. Bush yesterday had a comprehensive exchange of views with external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh on the “Asian scene, from Indonesia to Central Asia”, during a 40-minute unscheduled meeting in the White House Oval Office.

Bush surprised the Indian minister and his delegation by casually walking into a meeting they were having in one wing of the White House with national security adviser Condoleeza Rice.

The president then invited the entire Indian delegation to the Oval Office for a discussion. Kings, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from all over the world have been trooping to Washington to get acquainted with the new Republican administration here, but this is only the second time that Bush has had an unscheduled meeting with a foreign visitor.

Bush similarly walked into a meeting between Rice and Israel’s foreign minister Shimon Peres and observers here agreed that the president’s gesture in equating India with Israel — one of America’s closest allies — was an endorsement by the new administration of the upswing witnessed in Indo-US relations last year.

Although White House was understandably grudging in its comments about the unscheduled meeting for protocol reasons, the Indians were jubilant.

“It is evident from the meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office that he places the highest importance on India in the region,” the Indian minister said at a press conference at the end of his marathon meetings here.

“The momentum that was imparted to Indo-US relations is not simply fully endorsed by the Bush administration, but, in fact, it is given considerably greater importance,” he said.

Officials present at the meeting said Bush asked Singh to brief him on the situation in Asia “from Indonesia to Central Asia”. The Indian minister gave a comprehensive assessment of Asia through Indian eyes.

The exchange about Asia is significant for two reasons. During his confirmation hearings in the Senate, the new US secretary of state had said he witnessed a peace-keeping role for India in the Indian Ocean region, for the first time going beyond the South Asian straitjacket into which successive American administrations had confined India.

Secondly, the US is currently caught up in a tense standoff with China over an American spy plane, the first major foreign policy challenge for the Bush White House. Any Indian input on Asia could be valuable in formulating the new administration’s China policy which is beginning to have shades of a new Cold War following the standoff with Beijing.

Significantly, the Chinese foreign ministry yesterday commented on Singh’s visit to Washington, hoping it would contribute to stability in Asia. It is unusual for Beijing to comment on a mere foreign minister’s visit to a third country.

Singh himself expressed satisfaction at his press conference that the standoff between China and the US was moving towards a solution and praised the restraint and statesmanship shown by the Bush administration in dealing with the crisis.

The biggest gains for New Delhi, though, were at Singh’s talks with the powerful defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, a Cold War hawk who has been making discordant noises about India in the context of global non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld and Singh agreed that the defence ministers of India and the US should have regular meetings similar to the ones now being held between foreign ministers of the two countries.

Besides, the chiefs of staff of the defence forces of the two countries will exchange visits. There have been other agreements, but Singh refused to disclose these until he had reported to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and got the Cabinet’s endorsement for them.

Speculation here centred on a possible resumption of military ties between India and the US, which were suspended following the nuclear tests in May 1998.

Singh also secured a commitment from Rumsfeld that should the state department move forward to scrap sanctions imposed on India after Pokhran II, the Pentagon would not stand in the way.

But on the prickly issue of sanctions itself, there appeared to have been no headway. Powell brought up the subject at his meeting with Singh, who told the secretary of state that the sanctions do not serve the interests of either India or the US.

“To my mind, this (sanctions) was counter-productive both economically and otherwise,” Singh told Powell and added at his press conference that “it was for them (US) to decide what to do with the entire sanctions regime”.




Maximum: 37.1°C (+1)
Minimum: 23.6°C (0)


5.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 52%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 38°C
Sunrise: 5.26 am
Sunset: 5.50 pm

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