Sen tough talk to teachers
Meet to tackle drought
Musharraf invite breaks Canada nuke ice
Delhi scents win-win situation
BJP and Samata in uneasy truce
Sure of Mamata, Cong keeps Left door open
Sonia cites family past on Priyanka’s future
Delhi kingmaker crown on Naidu
Last man on moon thanks his stars for cheap trip
Phones chase staff in flexible office

 
 
SEN TOUGH TALK TO TEACHERS 
 
 
FROM RANJAN LAHIRY
 
Burdwan, May 28: 
Bulls have to be whipped if they refuse to pull the cart.

This was industry minister Nirupam Sen’s warning to teachers who neglect their duties.

He felt it was necessary to penalise teachers, especially given the dismal track record in education He admitted that the quality of learning would have to improve in the state for it to attract industry.

“If teachers do not work, please ask them to change,” Sen told the administration at a meeting of the District Primary Education Council here today. “But if they refuse to change, then take the strictest possible action against them,” he said in front of primary teachers.

Then, turning to the teachers, he said while they had supported the Left Front government in the past, “the government can’t go on pampering you”. “It has to think of the larger interests of the state, even if (that means) you don’t support us.”

Sen admitted that the “scientific methodology” — of doing away with the pass-fail system at the primary stage — failed because of faulty implementation. “A section of teachers now doesn’t want to work and has become socially irresponsible,” he added.

The minister admitted that the state government had messed up certain sectors in industry like leather technology. He stressed the need to turn around the tanneries.

People, he said, need to change their mentality if they want a solution to the unemployment problem.

“Instead of running behind jobs, which have a shrinking scope, Bengal’s youth should become self-employed,” he said.

Refusing to paint a rosy picture of the job-market despite the Left Front’s coming back to power for the sixth consecutive term, Sen told a crowd at the Sanskriti Lokmancha here yesterday to seriously consider entrepreneurship as a way out of joblessness.

The new industry coming in would be technology-based, Sen reminded the crowd. Labour-intensive industry where thousands could be accommodated was a thing of the past, he added.

He lauded the state’s achievements in the agriculture sector. But added that along with traditional agro-based industry like rice mills, there was a need to concentrate on the unconventional like nutrition and dairy development to improve the bleak employment scenario.

   

 
 
MEET TO TACKLE DROUGHT 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 28: 
Senior Cabinet ministers, including chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, health minister Suryakanta Mishra and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, met at Writers’ Buildings today to take stock of the ‘near-drought’ situation in Bankura and Purulia and supervise arrangements for a possible flood in the state.

Both Purulia and Bankura have been given Rs 2 crore each for a ‘food-for-work’ scheme for farmers whose land isn’t yielding any crop and sinking tubewells. The ‘food-for-work’ scheme will include construction of roads.

The ministers also discussed ways to tackle a possible flood in the state in the monsoon months. Work on the 100 disaster-management centres at 100 primary schools was nearing completion, Dasgupta said after the meeting.    


 
 
MUSHARRAF INVITE BREAKS CANADA NUKE ICE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Ottawa, May 28: 
One of the last hold-outs fiercely opposed to the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, is re-engaging India.

It has lifted all sanctions on India except the ones on military equipment, and in a dramatic turnaround, Canada’s recently appointed foreign minister John Manley will visit New Delhi soon.

There is particular appreciation here, in the seat of the Canadian federal government, of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s invitation last week to Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s chief executive, to visit India.

Cautiously, but optimistically, hopes of a revival of the “Lahore spirit” of 1998 are being expressed in Ottawa, which continues to be acutely concerned about nuclear and missile proliferation in South Asia.

At the same time, Canada’s sanctions against Pakistan are being treated differently. Ottawa is deeply upset about the military rule in Islamabad and the sanctions against Musharraf’s junta are, therefore, being handled collectively through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on Pakistan.

Manley said in a statement that Canada’s relations with India and Pakistan “are pursued on their respective merits”.

Canada had recalled its high commissioner in New Delhi after the nuclear tests and called off all high-level visits. Indian ministers and officials were even refused visas for multilateral meetings held in this country.

Even the few, like finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who was in Canada for a Commonwealth conclave, were denied bilateral meetings in Ottawa.

All that is in now in the past as Manley prepares to open Canada’s arms once again to India. In an interview to an Ottawa newspaper signalling the shift, Manley described India along with the Group of Eight (G-8) rich nations, Mexico and China as his country’s key partners for the future.

“Canada will continue to build on the strong historical relationship it enjoys with India,” Manley said in a statement ending the sanctions and announcing the full re-engagement with New Delhi.

He said: “Canada is encouraged by the Indian government’s unilateral moratorium on further nuclear testing and its efforts to forge a domestic consensus in favour of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India has also shown restraint along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir.”

India has responded quickly and positively to Ottawa’s decision to re-engage New Delhi. Suresh Prabhu, the power minister, will be here in about 10 day’s time.

The significance of his visit lies in the fact that despite the problems which have slowed down Indo-Canadian ties, Canada accounts for 10 per cent of India’s total hydro-electric power capacity. This will be followed by a visit by commerce minister Murasoli Maran or his deputy, Omar Abdullah, to work out a trade policy framework between the two countries.

If all goes well, Vajpayee and his Canadian counterpart, Jean Chretien, could meet on the sidelines of the Commonwealth heads of state meeting in Australia in October.

This would be the first meeting between prime ministers of the two countries since Chretien’s high-profile visit to India five years ago, which had raised hopes, dashed by the cooling off of relations caused by Pokhran II.

   

 
 
DELHI SCENTS WIN-WIN SITUATION 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
The Vajpayee government is of the view that pursuing a Kashmir-only policy would ultimately harm Pakistan more than it affects India. The Centre believes that unless Islamabad breaks out of this mould, it would continue to face international isolation.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s invitation to Pervez Musharraf stems from this assessment as Delhi realises that irrespective of the outcome of the talks, India will be the main beneficiary.

The Cabinet Committee on Security, which met last Wednesday before announcing the decision to invite the Pakistan chief executive to Delhi for talks, felt that the two dimensions of the Kashmir problem — the internal and the external aspects — should be de-linked.

The six-month-old ceasefire was called off as the government felt violence in Kashmir had not gone down and that security forces should be given a free hand to deal with militants. But according to the Centre’s assessment, the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) had improved considerably with a marked drop in incidents of infiltration and firing from across the border. This was a clear signal that Pakistan was making efforts to distance itself from the militants.

The government has decided to de-link the two — dealing with militancy in Kashmir firmly while not blaming Pakistan for the violence. “We did not want to dissipate the gains we made at the LoC,” a senior official said. He argued that a quiet LoC not only gives India the opportunity to improve its position along the border but also a better chance to engage with Pakistan.

Although it is not being spoken about officially, the two factors India wanted to highlight in the wake of the 1999 Kargil war — terrorism and sanctity of the LoC — have also been achieved.

Diplomatic victory on terrorism came with increased international recognition that terrorism was a major problem. Then, the fact that Pakistan showed restraint along the borders, also established the sanctity of the LoC.

The Indian argument that it was not willing to engage with Islamabad because of the Kargil conflict had also started sounding jaded after two years. Though there was no pressure from any quarters, Delhi felt that unless it managed its own borders, it could not be taken seriously as a major player in world affairs.

“India has to demonstrate its ability to be a factor of stability in the region and this cannot be achieved as long as its relations with Pakistan continued to remain strained,” a senior official in South Block said.

At the back of all this was, perhaps, the desire to call Musharraf’s bluff that he was willing to meet Vajpayee any time and any where to normalise ties. Indian leaders are now waiting to see how Musharraf reacts. If he continues to pursue a policy of a solution of Kashmir-or-nothing-else, South Block feels he would expose himself before the international community.

“General Musharraf may still come and ask that Jammu and Kashmir be given to Pakistan. But that is only part of the question. What about the other one where he clearly needs to demonstrate what kind is the long-term relation that Pakistan wants to build with India?” a senior foreign ministry official said.

The focus of the talks, he said, will be on reviving the spirit of the Lahore Declaration in which a number of steps had been outlined for confidence-building, specially on the nuclear field, and to create a situation where mutual trust is restored.

India feels that even if Pakistan withdraws from the talks, saying no progress had been made on Kashmir and decides to step up violence along the LoC and its support to militants, Delhi would be able to withstand the pressure.

“The loss will be more Pakistan’s than ours as fissures in its society have started surfacing following the rise of fundamentalist forces in the country,” the official said.

   

 
 
BJP AND SAMATA IN UNEASY TRUCE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND OINAM SUNIL
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
The Manipur impasse was partially resolved today at the national level as the two main NDA players — the BJP and the Samata Party — agreed to remain outside the process of government formation in the state and not support an alternative government, even from outside.

The truce struck between BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi and Samata chief and former defence minister George Fernandes at the BJP’s Ashoka Road headquarters this afternoon, staved off any threat to the Central coalition but political uncertainty in Manipur may continue because of basic differences between the two.

The BJP-Samata understanding was limited to not allowing their legislators to participate in government formation or backing another government from outside.

Given the alacrity with which MLAs have switched sides in Manipur, the BJP, however, did not rule out the possibility of large-scale desertion in its ranks if an alternative combination appeared to crystallise.

Hours after the truce, in Imphal, Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy said he had been elected the new leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance — the five-party alliance which includes a breakaway BJP faction — and staked claimed to form the new government.

Dhananjoy submitted a letter to the Governor with a list of 41 supporters. He refused to give a break-up of the MLAs backing him.

Dhananjoy, who has not resigned from the Speaker’s post, will meet the Governor tomorrow and apprise him of “the necessity of forming a stable government led by the Manipur State Congress Party”.

Governor Ved Prakash Marwah said he will take a final decision within two days after exploring all possibilities and talking to all concerned leaders. He met advocate-general Asok Potsangbam today.

In Delhi, Samata sources made it clear that Central rule was in the offing in Manipur and could even be enforced by tomorrow. The BJP said it would not scuttle the emergence of an alternative government under a new combination.

A statement, signed by Krishnamurthi, Fernandes, former Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam and chief ministerial aspirant R.K. Dorendra Singh, said: “Both the parties have also decided to put the unfortunate developments of the last few weeks behind them and act together to create conditions to end the perpetual state of uncertainty in the politics of Manipur, so that the people of Manipur state get a chance to build a better future.”

Krishnamurthi refused to comment on how many MLAs the BJP had in its fold.

   

 
 
SURE OF MAMATA, CONG KEEPS LEFT DOOR OPEN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
The Congress leadership is still confident of keeping Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamul Congress on its side and is trying to arrange a Sonia Gandhi-Mamata meeting during the Trinamul chief’s Delhi visit.

The Congress Working Committee, which met today, however, kept options open for “consolidation of secular forces as principal priority” — an indirect reference to the possibility of joining hands with the Left for the Delhi durbar. The proposition may further strain the Congress-Trinamul ties.

Highly-placed Congress sources said, at this juncture, there were “no major problems” in its ties with Mamata. There was no contradiction between the tie-up with Mamata and exploring possibilities of a non-BJP government at the Centre, they said.

“The Congress leadership has no confusion regarding its priorities — it wants to keep communal forces at bay at any cost. This was the factor that prevented the mahajot and there is no change in that position,” an AICC general secretary said.

About the Mamata-Sonia meet, they said 10 Janpath had received feelers from Trinamul for a meeting. “It would be a courtesy call. Soniaji is equally keen on meeting her,” an AICC functionary said.

The leadership was not reading “too much” into Mamata’s proposed meeting with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. “Let us not forget that she is meeting the President, too. Vajpayee and Advani are holding executive positions. She is coming to Delhi to lodge a formal complaint about rigging,” he said.

Mamata is coming to town with 20 functionaries. “It would hardly be a forum to talk politics,” the AICC functionary added. Leaders, however, admitted that some partymen in the Bengal unit were making noises about Mamata’s meeting with the BJP leaders.

“But she knows our views. The fact is that Sonia Gandhi has a high regard for her and Kamal Nath is in touch with her on daily basis,” a Congress MP said.

The CWC met today to discuss the results of the Assembly polls. It expressed disappointment at the results in Bengal but drew satisfaction that the “secular” forces managed to blank out “communal forces”, represented by the BJP.

State unit chief Pranab Mukherjee and Kamal Nath explained the results. Pranab cited the delay in stitching the alliance with Trinamul and opposition from Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Ajit Panja as reasons for the poor performance. There was a view that Mamata’s stint in the NDA kept minorities away.

The overall assessment was that Mamata will lose credibility if she returns to the NDA. The Congress recognised the problems in Trinamul with a section bent on going back to the NDA. The CWC has decided to wait and watch till Trinamul makes its choice.

Buoyed by the results in Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the CWC witnessed demands for strengthening the organisation in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal, where elections will be held later this year. “UP is going to be our Kurukshetra,” a CWC member said.

   

 
 
SONIA CITES FAMILY PAST ON PRIYANKA’S FUTURE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today hinted at the possibility of a political role for daughter Priyanka and son Rahul, making it clear that she will not come in the way should they decide to opt for the family profession.

“We have always taken our own decisions,” Sonia said, pointing out the similarity with her late husband Rajiv Gandhi, who decided to join politics nearly 20 years ago.

“That was the case with my mother-in-law, Rajiv and myself,” Sonia added in an interaction with the media soon after the Congress Working Committee meeting.

The Congress circles were animated minutes after Sonia made the observation regarding Priyanka and Rahul. “She is not foreclosing the option. By citing past precedence, she is, in effect, saying Priyanka will take up such an assignment. It is all very reassuring,” a CWC member said.

According to some CWC members, there is a broad consensus that Priyanka should not be drafted in the ensuing Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

“She is too young and has a newborn —Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra,” the CWC member said, favouring her role as a campaigner in the Uttar Pradesh polls.

“Instead of being given a political post, Priyanka can restrict herself to some districts and make an impact,” he added.

It was unusual for the media-shy Sonia to speak openly about her children. Coming out of the grilling three-hour CWC meeting that was marked with lengthy discussions, she switched to her role as “mother Sonia” on talking about her family.

Asked if she was planning to field Priyanka to boost the Congress’ prospects in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia mentioned Rahul and said: “It is for them (Priyanka and Rahul) to take their own decisions on active involvement in politics. I shall not encourage them nor prevent them.”

She went on to say: “I always say this is not in my hand. They take their own decisions as I have taken my own.”

The AICC chief said there were stories circulating for months, if not for years, on Priyanka’s involvement in politics.

In the Nehru-Gandhi family, the children are brought up in such a way that they are capable of taking their own decisions, she added.

A large number of Congressmen, including Salman Khurshid, Kripa Shankar Singh and Ajit Jogi, have given a call to Priyanka to take on the reins of the Uttar Pradesh Congress.

   

 
 
DELHI KINGMAKER CROWN ON NAIDU 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Visakhapatnam, May 28: 
Kendram lo everunna, bindu vu mana Chandranna (whoever rules at the Centre, our leader Chandrababu Naidu is the kingmaker).

The message that leapt out of hoardings inside the air-conditioned auditorium in this coastal town underlined the real objective of the three-day conclave of the Telugu Desam — to hardsell Naidu, the decision-maker, as the only saviour.

The Desam was keen to project Naidu, who was elected party chief for the fourth consecutive term today, as bigger than the BJP leadership. Debates on several issues like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime, Telengana and reforms on the second day of the Mahanadu focused on the Desam’s instrumental role at the Centre.

“Our role is more critical than that of the Congress and the Left parties in Parliament,” Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said. “We make all the difference, literally, for the National Democratic Alliance to take a sound decision on anything.”

Amid cries of jai Babu, jai Babu, several leaders hailed Naidu as the Andhra tiger and saviour of the poor. While film actress Jayaprada and Yerran presented him with bouquets, a farmer leader gifted him a wooden yoke.

In his acceptance speech, Naidu said the Desam, during the last United Front government as well as the current NDA regime, had “maintained its identity” and also remained a “central figure in national politics”.

Referring to his change of sides in 1998, he said the Desam was born with the objective of fulfilling the aspirations of its people. “Politics was never important to me,” he said. “I used politics for developing my people and regions and aim to continue this task forever.”

Naidu put the blame on the Congress for the lapses in the WTO as well as the lack of development in the Telengana region. “The Congress had inked the WTO agreement but did not prepare the nation for the WTO raj,” he said. “Similarly, it was the Congress which earned the sympathy and laurels of the residents of Telengana but never fulfilled its promises to them.”

But a few dissenting voices were heard. “WTO is the only future of our country. Imagine how a bumper crop of rice almost ruined hundreds of lives. Under the WTO regime, it will be advantageous,” Y. Shivaji, one of the delegates, said, emphasising that the Desam play a lead role in inviting foreign direct investment in the agriculture sector, including tobacco.

Naidu acknowledged the existence of regional imbalances. But, he said, they could be rectified only if there was an “integrated state and not one splintered into pieces”. He vowed, in the name of god, to speed up development and made all the 5,000 party delegates take a similar oath.

Although he spoke at length on women’s empowerment, there were not too many visible signs of the dais. Only party vice-president V. Seetha was seen on the dais. Desam women’s wing president Jayaprada and other lady ministers sat among the audience.

Naidu also released a book on the life and times of N.T. Rama Rao, written by one of NTR’s script-writers — N. Koteswar Rao.

A striking feature of the book is the fact that it has glossed over NTR’s association with his second wife, Lakshmiparvati, who is now in political wilderness after losing in the 1999 general elections.

Ironically, Lakshmiparvati was in the news this morning following a bereavement. Her first husband, V. Venkat Subba Rao, died last night after a cardiac arrest.

   

 
 
LAST MAN ON MOON THANKS HIS STARS FOR CHEAP TRIP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 28: 
Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, is in town as Swiss watch giant Omega’a brand ambassador to talk about his out-of-the-world experience three decades ago.

In 1972, he set foot on the moon as commander of the Apollo mission. He spent 22 hours walking on the moon, explored 21 miles of its surface and drove the lunar rover.

“I feel privileged that I did not have to pay $ 20 million to go to space,” said Cernan, referring to first space tourist Dennis Tito, the American businessman who paid the astronomical sum to visit the International Space Station recently.

True to his role as brand ambassador, Cernan said it was Omega’s Speedmaster Professional, the watch he wore on the moon, which allowed him to keep tab on the earth’s time. He had set the time on the watch to match Houston’s, the place he came from.

This, he said, was important since on the moon the sun rises after 14 days, the time taken by the moon to revolve around the earth.

Since 1962, Omega has been chosen as flight qualified for all Nasa-manned space missions.

Cernan’s first voyage into space was in 1966, when he had more than two hours of space walk. Next, he steered lunar module Snoopy to within 10 miles of the moon’s surface.

Tomorrow, the last day of his three-day visit to India, Cernan will unveil the “Omega Space Exhibition” here. This will display the lunar rover that Cernan drove on the moon, the space outfit he wore in one of his missions and crucial space equipment such as the Sojourner.

Commemorative models of the official Omega watches that were used on Nasa missions will also be on display, including the Speedmaster Professional. The exhibition will be held in Delhi, a fortnight later.

The price of “Moon Watch” of the Omega Speedmaster Professional starts from Rs 57,000. Another of the Speedmaster Professional, X-33 in titanium called “Mars Watch”, costs Rs 95,000 onwards. This watch has been qualified by Nasa for all shuttle missions.

There are only 35 outlets in the country where Omega watches are available.

   

 
 
PHONES CHASE STAFF IN FLEXIBLE OFFICE 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, May 28: 
Only the bean-shaped white tables, paired with trim black chairs, seem familiar. Everything else belongs to the future.

The phone call needn’t be taken — it traces its target. No clumsy desktops — only laptops are welcome. Even the old notion of hierarchy seems overthrown. Staffers sit where they like — at the table in the darkest corner on bad hair days, sandwiched between two others when more companionable. The Boss still may not be wrong, but he has no separate room; he sits with the others, at any spare table. If an employee is feeling down, he or she only has to pull the mushroom awning overhead, made of soothing white fabric, to create a roof of one’s own — that’ll give a feeling of home.

This is the “Unassigned Workstation” at the New World Workplace. The New World could have been a virtual movie set, but the seamless, mobile, flexible office was set up last week on the second floor of a dome-topped multi-storeyed at a hip industrial complex in the city by Cisco Systems Inc. At the New World, only the toilet and the canteen are free of technology.

“Cisco philosophy has always been to create a positive work environment for its employees,” said Manoj Chugh, president of Cisco India while inaugurating the workplace. If the global networking major has set up the “the first futuristic office in India” — after the success of 80 such offices elsewhere — for the highest cost-benefit, the workplace, spread over 11,000 sq. feet, is also meant to give the maximum comfort to the employees, adds Naresh Wadha, head of telecom sales.

At the Unassigned Workstation, the seats are less in number than the employees. “Ours is a sales organisation. The idea is that most employees will be out often. But if the full house is present, the other rooms can be utilised,” says Wadhwa, pointing out that the system saves space.

But it is especially designed to keep out an old world disease, anxiety, from seeping in. So in addition to the technology, there are New Age spiritual aids. For the employee who is in a mood to work absolutely alone for a day, there are the two Quiet Rooms, to be booked in the morning through the Web Registration Tool on the office website.

The employee who is not even in a mood to sit and work, can go to the Prayer Room, an empty room with only a black carpet on the floor, where he can — if he is not praying — stretch, yawn, hum or snore. He can also plug his laptop and finish the job at hand, but work is really optional.

The centrepiece, however, is the telephone that chases the employee.

It is called an IP, or an Internet Protocol telephone, informs Wadhwa. It is an intelligent machine that needs to be assigned to one person, and it will only cater to that person, so that he or she can be traced whenever in front of the telephone.

“It’s instant access to anybody anywhere in the office,” says Wadhwa. Conversely, it ensures that no one can hide from the boss.

Cisco technology sees to it that the telephones and the computers share the same cabling infrastructure, so that saves the company miles of wiring and dollars. It is such technology, called AVVID, that Cisco is marketing, along with others like Virtual Private Networking (VPN) for more privacy on the Net, or the Web Registration Tools, but the mushroom table umbrellas, the Quiet Rooms and the Prayer Rooms are for Cisco employees alone.

But are these working in the Mumbai office? Many of the 40-odd Cisco employees have already plugged into the new system, literally, but others are still struggling against their new-found space and mobility. Many, Wadhwa admits, are coming back to the same old chairs everyday. “But it’s only a week,” he adds.

Old habits die hard.

   
 

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