Family concerns to public issues
Glare of the lamp on star wife
Rust-zone shrugs off five-year ritual
Elusive messiah returns to roots
Fear chokes hill cry for change
Mamata mission to end Red terror
Advani loses confidence in Mamata force
Sonia shies off Jaya poll turf
Rabbani heat before Russian visit
Pokhran shadow off US ties

Vidyasagar, May 2: 
The Trinamul candidate is a debutante, not only in electoral politics but in politics itself. The CPM candidate is a battle-scarred veteran, now brought back from the gulags to win a seat that was considered his party’s even an election before the last.

She is the daughter of a Trinamul leader who is now, if not top rebel, the party’s lone man sulking.

His break from family traditions couldn’t have been more complete; he comes from an old Congress family of a typical old-Calcutta neighbourhood.

Mohua Mandal and Lakshmi De are locked in a no-holds-barred contest for Vidyasagar, the only constituency in Calcutta that is witnessing a direct Trinamul-CPM fight without any BJP pretender thrown in.

De should be worried but he isn’t showing it. He can afford not to: he is the only veteran that his party has been forced to bring back after dumping him into oblivion for alleged links with the Bowbazar blast-tainted Rashid Khan. And he knows what he is worth: it’s certainly more than a deficit of less than a thousand votes for his party in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

Mohua is apprehensive. And it shows: the first point she raises is the spectre of a “one-day match” that her more experienced opponent can play on May 10. But she’s not alone: she’s the daughter of Ajit Panja, perhaps the only man in her party who can stop the fabled CPM “poll machinery” with a machinery of his own which is as organised and as error-free.

Her drawing room reminds you of her father’s: it has a whiteboard on which you’ll find chalked out her campaign programme, the details of each para in her constituency and those of each booth in her constituency; the neighbourhoods which have already been covered are marked out with a similar fluorescent pencil.

Her election office will remind you of her father’s as well: you see the same faces that you are wont to see at Panja’s Central Avenue office when he’s fighting the CPM.But therein lies the rub; her father has rubbed her leader Mamata Banerjee the wrong way and Panja’s retainers — who are now doubling as hers — rather than hiding, show up in relief the intra-Trinamul factionalism that may blot her chances of defeating De.

But Mohua is not taking any chances. The sari she wears when she is on her campaign trail is a tricolour despite her father’s purported saffron leanings; it has two big flowers and some grasses thrown in if you suspect which side she’s on.

Her drawing room has two pictures: there’s her father, of course, but there’s also an oil painting of Mamata as well striking up a suitably rebellious posture. But on the roads, her sulking father — sulking at his party’s perceived shoddy treatment of himself — is conspicuous by his absence; posters and buntings on the street have only a sulking Mamata — sulking at the 24-year-old Left rule — on them.

Those pictures might have helped Mohua get the party symbol — the party reportedly delayed giving her the symbol and kept her on tenterhooks till the last minute — but it remains to be seen whether they, and her father’s seldom-defeated machinery, will see her through against an opponent who, coming from the same neighbourhood and having some “common friends”, claims to know her father’s ways inside out.


Bowbazar , May 2: 
Have you seen her on TV?

Yes, but more often on Mamata’s side.

She is best known as

The wife of Sudip Bandopadhyay, aka Mamata’s microphone. Nayna is her husband’s stand-in for the Bowbazar Assembly seat, which falls in Sudip’s Calcutta Northwest Lok Sabha constituency.

Does she miss the arclights?

On the contrary, even in the heat and dust of the campaign trail, Nayna is constantly under the glare of the lamp, or the lack of it. At every house she has greeted with the double demand for water and streetlights. “Bad water makes our children suffer a lot and there are very few lamps in the lanes,” is the one line she has to hear the most.

Does she get her lines right?

Yes, and she ensures that others get them right as well. “Will you let me do my campaigning?” she rebukes a party worker who has just asked the people to press the button next to the “jora-pata” (twin-leaf) symbol. “Try to get the symbol right, it’s not jora-pata, it’s jora-phool (twin-flower).”

So, what is her favourite line?

“Do not vote for the Left. It is they who have not provided you with water and power. Instead they have converted your sons into anti-socials.”

On the road, she can’t do without...

Iqbal Ahmed, the influential Trinamul councillor of Ward 62 of the Muslim-dominated constituency. Ahmed, then a Congress candidate, had won by 12,000 votes from the ward in last year’s municipal elections. “It is no problem for her here, these are my people and I have told them to vote on the twin-flower symbol this time around,” says Iqbal, brother of Sultan Ahmed.

She relaxes after campaigning...

With Danielle Steele and her two dogs. “I adore dogs and I’m an animal lover in general.” She also loves Bengali food and biryani, though “I’m avoiding it because of the weather now”.

Is she a politician at home as well?

She is the perfect homemaker, looking after hubby Sudip and his mother. But, she reminds you, she has learnt the art to fight at home. “I always speak my mind, never have I tried to avoid an issue.”

Who’s she fighting?

Like her, another artiste, singer Ajit Pande. He’s an old adversary, Nayna lost to him narrowly in the 1998 byelection to the Bowbazar seat. She’s now fighting to get the family heirloom back. Sudip had held the seat until 1998 when he vacated it for his seat in Parliament.

What’s Pande crooning?

“A husband who is an MP wants his wife to become an MLA very badly...the people have become cagey about Mamata’s drama philosophy.”

PS: That hasn’t prevented Pande from staging his own roadshow, though. Pande is singing Lalan Fakir or Atulprasad and he kick-started his campaign in front of Hind Cinema with a performance by a troupe of stilt dancers.


Burdwan, May 2: 
One can’t really blame the man for rubbishing all talk of industries, old and new. Once an employee of Bengal Paper Mill in Ranigunj, Srikumar Addy now works as manager of a hotel not far from the closed factory. With four mouths to feed at home — his mother, wife and two sons, one in college, the other still in school — Addy has a tough job making both ends meet.

But for the hotel job, the family’s survival would have been at stake because Addy didn’t get the Rs 500 monthly allowance the state government gave last month to 1,700 former employees of the mill for a 11-month period. Election time largesse, but Addy wasn’t lucky.

His mill, which once employed 5,000 people, has been closed since 1983. Local entrepreneur Ujjal Upadhyay took it over and reopened it in 1989 with 1,700 employees. But he, too, had to shut it because it was “not viable”. Addy managed to get the hotel job. But scores of his colleagues just disappeared, many to their native Bihar. Some committed suicide.

Ranigunj may once again elect CPM heavyweight and state commerce and industries minister Bansa Gopal Chowdhury. Addy couldn’t care less. He is worried, though, whether the Centre will go ahead and with its plan of closing down 60-odd mines belonging to Eastern Coalfields (ECL). He would like to ask Mamata Banerjee what happened to her promise of stopping the closure of Mining and Allied Machinery at Durgapur, Cycle Corporation of India in Asansol and the ECL coalmines.

Stories like Addy’s — or his former colleagues’ — abound in this wasteland that was once the industrial hub of West Bengal. From Ranigunj, Jamuria, Durgapur and Asansol to Hirapur, Burnpur, Kulti and Barabani on the border with Bihar, the elections bring no cheer to hundreds of thousands of industrial workers.

According to one estimate, leaving aside the two steel plants at Durgapur and Burnpur, the industries in the belt employed 2.64 lakh people 20 years ago. Today, the number is about 1.5 lakh.

Understandably, the campaign in this belt has centred around who is to blame for the closure of industries and the plight of their workers. Veteran Citu leader Bamapada Mukherjee tosses the ball to Mamata’s court.

“The Trinamul Congress was a partner in the NDA government till the other day. It is answerable for the state of things,” Mukherjee says.

Trinamul candidate from Asansol Kalyan Mukherjee accuses the CPM for for this bleak picture of Burdwan’s industrial heartland. He says things will change once the Left Front government is gone. “People want a change this time. This is where I stand to gain,” he says.

Quite possible, considering that the Asansol-Kulti-Hirapur-Barabani stretch is the Marxists’ weakest zone in an otherwise Red district. But what’s in his win — as in Bansa Gopal Chowdhury’s — to thousands of losers like Addy?


Jalpaiguri, May 2: 
Elusive but effusive: that in a nutshell describes Atul Roy, the man who leads what must arguably be the most controversial party in the elections.

Tracing him is a Herculean task: calls to his residence go unanswered. When they are, the family cannot say for certain where he is: “Try him in Dhupguri,” says daughter Dolly.

A three-hour chase in Dhupguri, in Jalpaiguri district, almost proves futile. The people are suspicious, men carrying placards of the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) are unwilling to say where their leader is. It takes almost an hour to convince them that the mission is purely journalistic: finally they disclose that Roy is in Madhya Kutimari, a Rajbanshi settlement on the outbacks of Dhupguri.

What strikes immediately is the absence of flags of the Left Front, or for that matter, any other political party in the hamlet of the indigenous people. The CPM says it doesn’t need to campaign there, the KPP, on the other hand, argues that it is a pointer to the negligence of the Rajbanshis.

Jai Kamtapur,” cries a boy in his teens as he bends to touch Roy’s feet. The KPP chief’s detractors have branded him an “anti-national”, but to the Rajbanshis, he is the leading-light, their messiah.

Though the KPP onslaught may have fizzled out in the eyes of the communists, the Kamtapuris are confident that their first electoral foray in the Assembly polls will be an eye-opener for the “complacent” CPM.

“We may not sweep the entire region. But modest estimates indicate that we will do well in five of the 34 Assembly seats we are contesting. We’re sure to give the Left a jolt in Dhupguri, Kranti, Mayanaguri, Rajganj and Kumargram where the KPP has a strong base.” Rajbanshis make up almost 80 per cent of the population in Dhupguri.

The 41-year-old Roy scoffs at the CPM banter that he and his party are separatists. “As an Indian citizen, one has the right to raise a democratic demand like the creation of a separate state. What the Kamtapuris are asking for is not undemocratic nor is it unconstitutional,” he says.

In 1991, Roy gave up his job as junior laboratory assistant in the North Bengal University in 1991 to lead the Kamtapur struggle. After initial hiccups, he formed the KPP in January 1997. The party now has thousands of emotionally-surcharged Rajbanshis rallying behind it. “Our supporters have been forced to go behind bars, even flee their homes for fear of being victimised. They realise it was time they fought the tyranny of the CPM,” the KPP chief says.

He is quick to add that his fight is not for the Rajbanshis alone, but for all the indigenous communities in the region: the Mechs, Kochis, Adivasis and the Nepali-speaking people of north Bengal. “We are demanding a separate state not only for the Rajbanshis, but for all sons-of-the-soil.”

It’s not just the Left that Roy is fighting. He also has to confront hardliners in his party who are against joining the democratic process and would prefer launching a concerted agitation to press their demand. “We have differences, but that is normal. Our campaign plank is and will be a separate Kamtapur. While some in the party believe in an agitation, I personally feel we should strengthen the organisation first,” he says.

A short break for tea, interrupted by more cries of “Jai Kamtapur” and Roy is off, to another elusive place, to carry on with his struggle.


Darjeeling, May 2: 
The hills are seething. The hordes of tourists who flock to Darjeeling this time of the year have disappeared. And they blame Subash Ghising for it.

Not only are the hoteliers and transporters angry, the man on the street, too, is fed up with the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)’s “force-down-the-throat” brand of politics. But the GNLF isn’t caring.

The villages around Darjeeling are crying for change, but are too scared to actually vote differently. Says Lalman Lama of Pachayang Busti, a village near Kurseong: “GNLF leaders have told us that the voting machine will record our pictures. No villager will dare vote against the GNLF.”

The party, which was born out of violence, continues to have the hill electorate in its vice-like grip. It has made the February 10 ambush on Ghising its campaign plank, notwithstanding the public resentment against the repeated bandhs which kept tourists away.

Pointing an accusing finger at the CPM, its-foe-turned-friend-turned-foe, for “masterminding” the ambush, GNLF leader I.N. Pradhan, says: “The poll is not about winning or losing seats. For the first time, we have decided to contest all the five seats, including Siliguri and Phasidewa. We intend to give the CPM a run for its money.”

The GNLF says the ambush was plotted to snuff out the challenge from the party. “The conspirators wanted to eliminate Ghising to snatch power in the hill council,” says Pradhan.

The hill Opposition refuses to buy the conspiracy theory. The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists, Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League and the National Union of Plantation Workers have joined forces to give a jolt to the GNLF. Their plank: restoration of peace, solidarity and a separate state of Gorkhaland. CPRM general secretary Ratna Bahadur Rai says: “Like the Left Front in the plains, the GNLF has been in power in the hills for far too long. People are responding to the wave for change.”

Rai says the GNLF is in for a “rude shock” if the last poll to the council is any indication. The Opposition got 48 per cent of the votes.

But there wasn’t any voting machine to “record the pictures” either.


Calcutta, May 2: 
Raising the political temperature, Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today vowed to help her Midnapore candidates enter their constituencies. Mamata said the seats were now out of bounds for the candidates because of the CPM’s terror tactics.

Addressing a public meeting at the confluence of three Calcutta seats — Burrabazar, Jorabagan and Jorasanko — Mamata also dared the CPM to name “a place and a time” where she would go alone to face its goons’ bullets. “Buker pata thake to bole din (If you can dare to, please tell me where you want me to go),” she added.

Repeating her charge that the CPM was out to kill her — hence, the party’s protestations that she would get herself admitted to a nursing home to blame the CPM — she urged the 10,000-strong crowd not to let the party go unscathed if she died.

Speaking in Calcutta’s business hub, Mamata referred to issues close to her audience’s heart. Trade unions in big and small commercial establishments and hospitals would be banned, she promised, if Trinamul came to power.

She peppered her attacks on the Left Front’s performance with comparisons with other metros. “Why must our children go to Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad to study? Why must we go to Chennai for treatment?” she asked, promising to make a Bangalore out of Calcutta if voted to power.

Realising that the meeting was also being held in the heart of a BJP constituency in Calcutta, Mamata made a pitch for her former ally’s votebank as well. Voting for any party other than Trinamul will only help the CPM, she said.

There were the other Mamata trademarks as well — couplets for everyone, shairis for the minority community and potshots at the CPM’s widespread use of choppers for Jyoti Basu’s campaign — but the thrust was definitely on the finance-minded and the BJP-minded non-Bengali voter in the city’s business district.

Gill visit

Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill will arrive in the city tomorrow to review law and order in Bengal even as the Election Commission is gearing up for stricter vigil in sensitive Midnapore.

Flooded with allegations of violence by the CPM, especially in trouble-torn Keshpur, the commission is sending 11 more observers and has asked for more Central forces.

Already, 128 observers are in the state. Commission sources said the decision to send additional observers was taken after studying reports sent by poll officials on sensitive areas.

The state’s chief electoral officer, Sabyasachi Sen, today said that four of the observers will be stationed in Midnapore. Keshpur will have one who will not leave the area on polling day.

Sen today had a telephone conversation with Trinamul Congress’ Keshpur candidate Rajani Dolui and party MP Bikram Sarkar. “The candidate complained to me that no one was attending his meetings as they were being threatened with dire consequences,” he said.

The chief electoral officer said he was looking into their allegations. “Candidates should be allowed to campaign and people allowed to attend election rallies,” he said. “We will see to it that the Trinamul candidate is allowed to move around freely.”

The observers have already reported to him that people are staying in Trinamul-run camps for fear of reprisal from the CPM. Sen did not rule out the possibility of escorting these people to their polling booths.

The poll official said he would ensure the presence of armed policemen in as many booths as possible in the Keshpur belt. “I have requested Delhi for 20 additional companies,” he said and added that there has already been an active deployment of Central forces. “We will not keep any force on reserve. They will be on active duty.”

Complaints of violence, threats and criminal activity is pouring in thick and fast to the chief electoral officer’s office.

Senior Congress leader Manas Bhuniya has told Sen that some disgruntled Trinamul workers have tied up with CPM minister and Garbeta MLA Susanta Ghosh to create trouble in the Sabong area. Somnath Chatterjee, CPM MP from Bolpur, has also alleged that criminals have been gathering with arms in the Nanur area to create violence.

Trinamul’s Mohammed Rafiq has alleged that he was attacked by a group of CPM women cadre in a Garbeta village.


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 2: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today ruled out the possibility of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee coming to power in Bengal after the May 10 Assembly polls.

“Mamata was a formidable force to reckon with in Bengal six months ago. But ever since she pulled out of the NDA and tied up with the Congress, she lost all her chances,” Advani said at a press conference after he addressed an election rally of nearly 5,000 people in Danton, about 90 km from Midnapore town.

The white helicopter in which he arrived became a major attraction for the villagers, who had come from far-flung areas.

Advani arrived this morning on a two-day visit to launch the party’s election campaign. He addressed a string of rallies in Hooghly, Midnapore and Bankura and is expected in Calcutta tomorrow.

In his 20-minute speech, Advani dwelt at length on Mamata’s “politics of uncertainty”. “Mamata suffers from inconsistency,” he said. “ The day Mamata left us, she fell into a trap laid by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.”

Lambasting Mamata for forging an electoral tie-up with the Congress, Advani said: “Didn’t she know that the Congress sought help from the Marxists to form a government at the Centre? She is helping the ruling CPM here by teaming up with the Congress. She has to face the consequences now.”

Earlier, addressing a rally at Khanakul in Hooghly district, the home minister said Mamata could have easily ousted the communists if she had maintained her alliance with the BJP at the state level.

“We were sure of ushering in a new government in Bengal only six months ago, but now it is a bit difficult with Mamata leaving us,” Advani said.

Echoing Advani, BJP national president Jana Krishnamurthi, who also arrived in the city for a day, told newspersons that Mamata would have benefited if she had continued with the BJP. He, however, welcomed Trinamul rebel MP Ajit Panja’s decision to attend Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rally at Kamarhati in North 24 Parganas on Sunday.

Advani alleged that the communists, in connivance with the police, had unleashed terror on the people. “I have definite information about the nexus between the CPM and policemen here,” he said.

According to him, while Marxism had been laid to rest the world over, it remained a specimen only in Bengal.

“The story of the Marxists in this country is a story of betrayal. They first betrayed the country during the 1942 movement when Gandhiji gave a call to quit India and thousands of people laid down their lives. Their second betrayal is to call a great son of Bengal like Shyama Prasad Mookerjee communal though he laid down his life for an independent Kashmir. The third one was their decision not to go against the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi,” Advani said.

Maintaining that the Marxists had no moral right to remain in power after 24 years of “misrule”, Advani said the state had gone down in every respect in the national index.

“There has been no economic development and the state has fallen back in industry, agriculture, health, education and what not. The Marxists are clinging to power by resorting to political violence and state-sponsored terrorism,” he added.


New Delhi, May 2: 
A host of political and security considerations are coming in the way of Sonia Gandhi’s election tour of Tamil Nadu. The Congress chief, who will not share a platform with ally Jayalalitha, is thinking of avoiding Tamil Nadu and concentrating on Assam and Kerala.

But before that she has to tackle another tricky territory, West Bengal. She reaches Bengal tomorrow for a two-day campaign, during which she will appear with ally Mamata Banerjee in most of the rallies. But she is expected to break the trend in Malda, the backyard of Congress patriarch A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who has been vocal against the seat adjustments in his stronghold, Malda.

After her Bengal tour, Sonia will be in Kerala on May 5. She has kept May 6 and 7 free, giving rise to speculation that she would spend another day in the southern state and reach Assam on May 7. Next on her itinerary is Pondicherry on May 8, marking the end of her campaign.

Sonia’s preference for Assam and Kerala is based on her assessment that the party is set to wrest the two states from the Asom Gana Parishad and the Left Democratic Front, respectively. “She is keen to give an extra push for Assam and Kerala instead of spending time in Tamil Nadu, where the party is playing second fiddle,” a party leader said. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is contesting only 15 of the 234 seats.

Sources close to 10 Janpath are citing security reasons as a factor in Sonia’s reluctance to visit Tamil Nadu. She and other members of her family continue to be high on the LTTE’s “hit list”.


New Delhi, May 2: 
At a time India is trying to strengthen the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan to isolate the ruling student-militia and its main backer Pakistan, fissures have surfaced within the Northern Alliance — the main centre of resistance against Kabul — with ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani describing Delhi as an enemy and extending a hand of friendship towards Islamabad.

Rabbani’s comments come just ahead of Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov’s visit tomorrow, when he is expected to hold wide-ranging talks with his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, and other senior South Block officials on a range of issues, particularly on the developments in Afghanistan. India, along with countries like Russia, the US and Iran, has been trying to strengthen the Northern Alliance and its leader Ahmed Shah Masood, seen as the only force capable to mounting a serious challenge to the regime.

In a recent interview to a Pushtu newspaper, Wahdad, Rabbani, who continues to be the chief of the Northern Alliance and is still recognised as the country’s president, said: “We are Pakistan’s friend and loyal companion. Pakistan supervised our jihad for 18 years. We have completely banned anti-Pakistan propaganda in our meetings and forums. In our government, nobody has the right to speak against Pakistan. Anybody who is doing that is protecting the interest of India and is going to be a great enemy of Pakistan.”

Rabbani was further quoted as saying: “India’s hostility against Islam and Muslims is not a secret. We cannot forget the oppression and atrocities committed by India in Kashmir.”

The remarks gather significance coming at a time when India has taken the initiative to isolate the Taliban and is drawing satisfaction from the fact that the international community has accepted Pakistan’s role in supporting terrorist groups in Kashmir and the current regime in Kabul.

In its annual report released on Monday, the US state department has accused Pakistan of continuing support to insurgency in Kashmir and failure to take effective steps against terrorist organisations operating from its territory. It also laid stress on the shift of focus of international terrorism, saying the hub has now shifted from West Asia to South Asia, especially the badlands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

India welcomed the report and expressed hope that groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba would come under the American scanner and finally be termed international terrorist groups.

Though copies of Rabbani’s interview have been circulated in South Block, officially, the ministry of external affairs has not made any comments in an attempt to play down the former Afghan President’s remarks. In private, senior diplomats have tried to argue that Rabbani’s angry outburst should be seen in the context of Masood’s recent successful European tour.

Rabbani feels he is being marginalised and, therefore, is trying to curry favour with old allies like Pakistan in the hope that Islamabad will be able to bring about a truce between him and the Taliban.

India’s stand notwithstanding, the remarks from Rabbani at this crucial juncture indicate the fissures within the Northern Alliance and raises serious questions about how far Masood will be able to deliver in the fight against the Taliban.

South Block officials argue that Masood is not only the “best bet” for Delhi but its “only option”. As long as the Northern Alliance continues to fight and draws Taliban fire, it gives some respite to countries like India and other central Asian nations, who are facing a serious threat from terrorists trained and based in Afghanistan. The policy therefore, is to play down the anti-Indian remarks and try and garner the broadest possible support to strengthen the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban.


Washington, May 2: 
Notwithstanding the differences between India and the US on a range of issues, the two countries are to aggressively pursue an active agenda in promoting their bilateral relations.

A month after President George W. Bush escorted external affairs minister Jaswant Singh into the White House for an unscheduled 40-minute meeting, the governments in New Delhi and Washington are preparing for an intensive engagement in the coming months.

Foreign secretary Chokila Iyer will arrive here in less than a fortnight in the first major initiative as part of that effort. She will have her first meeting with Marc Grossman, the new under-secretary for political affairs in the Bush administration.

Shortly thereafter, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, is to travel to India although the exact dates of his visit are yet to be determined, according to sources here.

These and other high-level exchanges which are planned between the sides have raised hopes that notwithstanding differences between Washington and New Delhi on religious freedom, nuclear issues and Pakistan, they will not be allowed to cast a shadow on the opportunities for improved bilateral ties.

On his return to New Delhi after meetings with Bush and other US officials, the external affairs minister is understood to have told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and others that the challenge before South Block is not to let Indo-US relations be defined by the differences which exist between the two governments.

New Delhi believes that it is fortuitous for India that, according to protocol, it is now the turn of the chairman of America’s chiefs of defence staff to visit India.

A visit by Shelton to India will send a clear message across the world that the restraints imposed on Indo-US ties after the nuclear tests in 1998 are finally over. This will have a ripple effect on India’s military cooperation with other countries.

In addition, it will open vistas of cooperation between the US and India in defence matters, some of which were discussed between Singh, in his capacity as defence minister, and his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld.

In symbolic terms, the guard of honour which was organised for Singh has already sent positive signals along the corridors of the Pentagon in this regard.

The meeting between the foreign secretary and her American counterpart will set the ground rules for engagement between the two foreign offices after the change in administration here.

The body language at this meeting will be watched with intense interest here. Grossman’s predecessor Thomas Pickering was considered an “India hand”, having served as ambassador in New Delhi while the deputy secretary in the Clinton team at the state department, Strobe Talbott, had established a durable equation with Singh during 10 rounds of talks after Pokhran II.

Regrettably, neither the new assistant secretary of state for South Asia nor the new US ambassador to India will be in office by the time Iyer arrives here.

Senate hearings for their confirmation are yet to take place.


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