Buddha sets do-it-now slogan
Land gives way to labour
Atal stands up to reform attack
Monkey-man turns Delhi into lynch mob
Sign of farewell to sanctions
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BUDDHA SETS DO-IT-NOW SLOGAN 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 18: 
With a bouquet of red roses to Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee turned his back on the past and opened a new chapter in the Left Front’s rule under his leadership with the slogan: “Do it now”.

Two minutes past 11 am, the chief minister climbed the steps to the platform built on the Raj Bhavan lawns for the swearing-in, having collected Basu’s silent blessings — communists don’t believe in such things — first.

Throughout the day the past kept butting in; it was clear that the Basu years hadn’t ended last November when he stood down, and that the curtains were dropping now, despite Bhattacharjee’s six-month probation.

Bhattacharjee might flinch at the comparison — as he was shrinking in modesty at the continuous references to Basu today — but his slogan for his government, “Do it now”, has a Nikesque, and not Neruda-like, element to it.

Which slogan will be heard more often — and given more importance — this, or the coordination committee of government employees’, for whom it is meant, “what can be done tomorrow, can be done day after”?

The answer to this question could determine the success of Bhattacharjee’s five-year reign.

Immediately after the swearing-in, Bhattacharjee spoke of his “hopes” at a reception organised by the coordination committee in front of Writers’ Buildings. Government employees did a splendid job during the polls, he said, but “hoped” they would be more responsible in the next five years than in the past when it came to working for the people. “Government employees are responsible to the people just like ministers.”

The man whose organisation hosted the reception, however, had a different set of hopes. After assuring Bhattacharjee that the coordination committee’s cordial relations with the government would continue, its general secretary, Smarajit Raychaudhuri, “hoped” the government, too, would understand that a trade union movement had its own rights and sense of prestige. He reminded the guest of honour that he and other ministers were responsible to the people who elected them and the Left Front; and, lest they forgot, the coordination committee was a part of that front.

Later, his organisation celebrated the ‘new’ chief minister’s entry into office with slogans that were quite unlike the ‘new’ government’s new mantra; they were yet to hear of it, they explained.

Sandwiched between these two vastly different sets of hopes and slogans was another set of hopes of another set of people. According to industrialist Sanjiv Goenka, industry “had faith in Jyoti Basu but has its hopes pinned on Buddhababu”.

Bhattacharjee, however, would have none of the comparisons. Basu had made history, he told the media, and he had just embarked on his journey.

But he did not shy away from admitting to past failures and to wanting change. “Changes in education, health, administration, infrastructure and industry and commerce.”

Is it possible to change things with the same, jaded team which, according to him, had failed in major areas?

Yes. “If there’s that basic political will, it’s possible.”

So was the political will absent for 24 years?

For the second time, Bhattacharjee didn’t mince words: “There might not have been a political will in the truest sense.” But he didn’t forget to take some of the blame on himself: “I must share the collective responsibility.”

“Ours isn’t a person-centric party,” Bhattacharjee said, hoping the comparisons — and the controversies — would die a quick death. But try as he might to ward off person-centric politics, Bhattacharjee was understandably the cynosure of all eyes today. So was his family, particularly his daughter in the now-famous red Che Guevera T-shirt, which did its best to strike a consensus between protecting privacy and not appearing unduly impolite.

Bhattacharjee was also trying his best to achieve another consensus: between the hard-nosed politician and the dreamer; today’s chief minister was introduced as an artist, a poet, a dramatist and a biographer at a public meeting yesterday. His current dreams, he said, were now focused on how to turn his dreams into reality.

The doer then would have to prevail over the dreamer. And slogans, a la Nike’s “Just do it”, would have to prevail over verses from Bengali poets.

   

 
 
LAND GIVES WAY TO LABOUR 
 
 
BY INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Calcutta, May 18: 
The CPM today continued its exercise of allotting portfolios with the objective of achieving harmony between key departments which will be required to spur industrialisation.

Signs emerging from the party headquarters suggest that, for the first time in 24 years, the CPM will consciously push land and land reforms down the list of priorities and bring labour way up.

Officials engaged in the exercise said three ministries — industry under Nirupam Sen, labour under Mohammed Amin and small and cottage industries under Bansagopal Chowdhury — needed to be viewed together in the context of the new government’s industrialisation thrust.

“Three men — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Sen and Amin — will have to present the government’s statement of intent on industrialisation,” they said.

Amin, a soft-spoken but practical trade union leader, has come to the government through the Citu route. Unlike Shanti Ghatak, his predecessor, Amin is unorthodox in his political views, but does not wear these on his shirt-sleeves.

He is believed to be the best equipped to supplement Bhattacharjee’s and Sen’s initiatives for industrialisation by acting as a bulwark against the Citu which is bound to come in charging wherever privatisation seems a solution.

Land and land reforms and panchayat, which have underpinned the Left’s record 24 years in office, will witness some dilution in importance, as the leadership acknowledges that these have outlived their utility.

A pointer to the new thinking is available from the decision to shift Suryakanta Mishra out of land, land reforms and panchayat to health and appoint a relative lightweight, Rezzak Mollah, in his place.

Panchayat will be lopped off and placed under a separate minister whose task will be to continue to energise the rural economy.

At the meeting of the state secretariat in the morning and thereafter, arguments travelled back and forth over finding a tough overseer for health.

After briefly considering bifurcating the ministry and appointing a minister of state for rural health — at one point Kanti Ganguly looked a natural choice — the leadership decided to put Mishra in complete charge. Ganguly will be made minister of state with independent charge of Sunderbans development.

Subhas Chakraborty, too, was discussed for health. Thanks to Bhattacharjee’s obsession with installing proven handlers in certain key ministries and the leadership’s resolve to put out a serious statement of intent, Chakraborty is most probably going to his old ministry of transport and sports. He was able to thwart, with mentor Jyoti Basu’s blessings, a minor move to peel away sports.

Mrinal Banerjee is likely to be assigned the power ministry in exchange for relinquishing public sector undertakings and industrial reconstruction.

Manab Mukherjee may be expected to wear two hats as head of the newly-formed information technology ministry and environment. Mohd. Selim, MLA from Entally, is going to look after minority affairs, youth affairs and self-employment.

Guiding Bhattacharjee and Alimuddin street in ministry-making is a single concern: “A realisation has sunk in that if the government cannot deliver on promises with speed, there might not be a seventh time,” an official said.

   

 
 
ATAL STANDS UP TO REFORM ATTACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 18: 
Staring down aggressive trade unions, including the Sangh parivar’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today declared that economic reforms were here to stay.

Vajpayee, who was inaugurating the two-day Indian Labour Conference this morning, said existing economic policies and laws had failed to respond to the changing needs and there was “no question of reverting to the old economic regime”.

Totally at odds with the government, BMS general secretary Hansubhai Dave, the first speaker at the conference, slammed the reforms as “anti-worker and anti-national”. Dave said the reforms “had a terrible impact on workers and the government should seriously reconsider them”. He reeled off a string of demands, most of which clashed with the government’s policies.

The contradictions within the Sangh parivar were played out in full at the conference: the Prime Minister sticking to his stand, though he held out assurances on social security for unorganised workers, and the BMS bludgeoning the government, hoping to turn it around on some crucial policies. BMS leaders had yesterday said Vajpayee’s speech would decide the union’s next course of action.

Vajpayee later had an informal chat with labour leaders, but is believed to have “only listened and not said anything”. Dave, however, emerged from the meeting saying that the Prime Minister had agreed not to bring a Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament to amend the Industrial Disputes Act and the Contract Labour Act. But the other trade unions denied any such assurance.

Labour minister Satyanarain Jatiya said: “The Bill will be discussed by the Group of Ministers, approved by the Cabinet and then only will it be brought to Parliament. We may or may not be able to bring it in the next Parliament session.” Neither his tone nor Vajpayee’s was conciliatory, an indication of more trouble for the parivar.

Vajpayee challenged the trade unions to come out of their groove and fall in step with the changing world. “There is simply no alternative to raising the efficiency of our production units, reducing costs and improving the quality of our goods and services,” he said.

He described as absurd the demand of some trade unions that India should quit the World Trade Organisation — a demand the BMS general secretary raised in his speech. “How can India survive in isolation? It should try to get the best possible terms for the developing world from the WTO,” Vajpayee said.

He said statistics proved that there had been a reduction in poverty and an increase in growth. But the labour leaders rejected the figures and furnished their own to show a decline in growth and industrial production between 1991 and 2001.

   

 
 
MONKEY-MAN TURNS DELHI INTO LYNCH MOB 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, May 18: 
Mass hysteria and rumours are taking over the lives of Delhiites as the elusive “monkey-man” continues to attack and vanish without a trace.

Police said the paranoia was not just restricted to the east Delhi area bordering Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh from where the attacks began, but has spread as far as the upmarket colonies of south Delhi.

In east Delhi, the driver of a Maruti van was severely beaten up last night by a mob because of a helmet lying inside his car.

This followed reports of the “monkey-man” being described by some of its victims as wearing a helmet. Overpowered by anger, hysteria and perhaps hallucination, the mob swooped down on the car and thrashed the driver, according to police sources.

Delhi Police, which have its hands full trying to track down the creature, is also having to deal with rumour-mongers. Over 80 distress calls, mostly fake, were received from all over the capital.

The police today arrested two persons in east Delhi for spreading rumours. One of them, Dr Narendra Sagar, was arrested in the Shakarpur area for frightening his neighbours by throwing an inflated doctor’s glove — painted black — on the street.

The hysteria had led to a person jumping to death in northwest Delhi on Wednesday night following a false alarm raised by his neighbour.

“The current paranoia is in the minds of the people. It is a form of hallucination. People start perceiving things and objects out of obsessive compulsive behaviour,” South Delhi deputy commissioner of police P. Kamraj explained.

D.L. Sheth, a sociologist at the Centre of Social Research, believes that the mass phobia is not class-specific, although all the incidents of attacks have been reported from jhuggi clusters and lower-end colonies.

“It transcends the parameter of class. In Western countries, people claimed to have had encounters with UFOs, while in Ireland people have seen Mother Mary in the clouds. This is collective hallucination, which appears in a wave,” he said.

The Shiv Sena is urging people not to believe in rumours and superstitions. State executive member Abhimanyu Gulati said: “We are setting up vigilante groups armed with swords, tridents and lathis in the affected areas.”

Gulati also blamed the Centre for its “inactivity” and alleged that the situation was the result of intelligence failure. “If the government cannot deal with the monkey mania, how will it look after the problems ravaging its borders?” he asked. Predictably, the Sena activist did not at the same time rule out the ISI’s “involvement” in the affair.

   

 
 
SIGN OF FAREWELL TO SANCTIONS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 18: 
The first categorical assertion that sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan for their 1998 nuclear tests may be on their way out was made on Capitol Hill yesterday when the Bush administration’s nominee for dealing with South Asia said “they have outlived their usefulness” and have become “an obstacle to fully engaging both nations”.

But the difficulties in simply repealing the sanctions were equally evident when she told a Senate committee that “we need to find a new framework and a new way to accomplish our nuclear concerns” in south Asia.

Christina B. Rocca, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for South Asia, was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee for Near East and South Asia.

Her confirmation, due in a week to a fortnight, is expected to be a formality since she is hugely popular with the committee with which she has worked closely for the last five-and-a-half years as a senior aide to its chairman Republican Senator Sam Brownback.

She conceded that the sanctions, automatically triggered under US law with the nuclear tests, had failed to achieve their objectives. At the same time, she argued that “our security concerns (in South Asia) remain real”.

Rocca told the committee that the Bush administration was currently reviewing the US sanctions policy as a whole and also reviewing the policies on South Asia.

“If confirmed, I will add a strong voice to these policy reviews. There are a number of ways in which we can work with both countries. I think the first step has to be to lift the sanctions”.

It is clear that once she is in office, Rocca will have to walk a tightrope in getting the sanctions repealed by carefully matching the non-proliferation concerns on Capitol Hill and in the state department with the need to realise the full potential of ties with South Asia, to which the sanctions are clearly an impediment.

As part of this matching process, she said the security and non-proliferation dialogue, started between India and the US on the one hand and between Islamabad and Washington on the other after the nuclear tests, have to go on.

The significance of her testimony, however, is that it is the first categorical assertion by anyone connected with the new Bush team that the sanctions have to go once and for all.

So far, Bush administration officials have only talked in general terms about a sanctions review, although Indian officials have liberally interpreted it as a policy to end sanctions.

When external affairs minister Jaswant Singh was here last month, secretary of state Colin Powell took the initiative to elicit Singh’s views comprehensively on US sanctions against India.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.9°C (-1)

Rainfall:

0.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 83%,
Minimum: 51%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain with thunder in some areas in the evening.
Sunrise: 4.57 am
Sunset: 6.09 pm
   
 

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