Atal first, Sonia later for Mamata
All work, no politics for ‘poor’ CM
Divine blessing for mission Kashmir
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL FIRST, SONIA LATER FOR MAMATA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
With Atal Bihari Vajpayee before the elections, with Sonia Gandhi during the elections. Three weeks after, Mamata Banerjee was with both — all in the space of a couple of evening hours. As night descended, she left a question hanging in Delhi’s air: who will she be with when the sun comes up?

Smarting from a humiliating defeat, she met Vajpayee first, alone and in a delegation, and then popped across to 10 Janpath to repeat the routine with Sonia Gandhi even as the circle around the Prime Minister was gloating over how she was back to acting the daughter to Vajpayee.

After the meeting with the Prime Minister, Mamata came out to say that she had congratulated Vajpayee for inviting Pervez Musharraf. The talks with Sonia over, Mamata did not once refer to the Congress president as her partner, choosing to call her the leader of the Opposition instead.

Sources close to the Prime Minister were claiming that she called Sonia worse things before Vajpayee, complaining how she had been left in the lurch by the party with which she had forged an electoral alliance.

If the Vajpayee camp is exaggerating, it’s for Mamata to call the bluff.

For now, she is holding her cards close to the chest. Sonia cited every reason why the two Congresses should come closer, stopping just short of making a formal invitation to rejoin. She reeled out statistics to show the BJP lost its deposit in over 250 seats and even invoked Rajiv Gandhi’s memory to say how he admired Mamata.

The Trinamul leader made no commitment, one way or another. Congress leaders, grasping at straws in the wind, found solace in Mamata’s comment that Sonia had assured her she would do everything to keep the alliance alive.

At 7 Race Course Road, the tide appeared to be turning in her favour. Vajpayee cancelled all previous engagements to give her a patient hearing as she insisted that her favourite Prime Minister, against whom she had not spoken a word during campaigning, make time for her.

The candour with which she spoke — not the least against some Congress leaders who she blamed for the poor show — surprised Vajpayee. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister had ruled out her return to the National Democratic Alliance. But he is relenting.

And, why not? As Vajpayee stood up to receive the memorandum brought by the Trinamul delegation, alleging rigging and post-poll violence, Mamata — mindful of his weak knees — placed her hand on his arm and urged him to remain seated.

The seat, Vajpayee is aware, will stand on firmer ground, and less at the mercy of the 29-member Telugu Desam, if Mamata were to return with nine MPs. In the Prime Minister’s Office, today’s meeting sowed the belief that Mamata had not really gone astray.

Mamata said Vajpayee gave her complaints against the Left Front a “patient” hearing and described his response as “most positive” without explaining.

Will she return to the NDA? “All that we discussed today was the atrocities committed on the people of West Bengal,” she replied.

Ajit Panja, unhappy over the break with the BJP, and Krishna Bose, who is sick, were not in the Trinamul team that met Vajpayee. Another, Bikram Sarkar, dropped out when the delegation went to Sonia.

   

 
 
ALL WORK, NO POLITICS FOR ‘POOR’ CM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
After a quarter century of bad blood, the Left Front government and the Centre are forging a “working relationship”.

From the looks of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s first trip to the capital after the election, business will not be allowed to get bogged down in ideological and political differences.

“I do not want confrontation. The Centre and the state must have a working relationship,” Bhattacharjee said after meetings with the highest authorities here. “The visit has been fruitful,” he said, choosing not to pick any quarrels despite differences of opinion.

“It is true we have many basic differences with the BJP — on secularism, globalisation, creation of smaller states and so on. And there will be no compromises on these issues,” Bhattacharjee said. But he was quick to note that states work within a Constitutional framework which cannot be overturned.

He had little time for political questions. “I am only a poor chief minister of West Bengal,” he said, when asked if he will be more active in national politics. “Jyotibabu is a big man and did things his way. I will do things my humble way,” he said.

In meeting after meeting, he has sought Central involvement to help him implement his “do-it-now” agenda. The irony was hard to miss. For 20 of the 25 years it has been in power, the Left Front has fought a ceaseless battle with Congress governments in Delhi, though its differences with that party are far less than with the BJP. Bhattacharjee virtually presented a charter of demands to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. A plea seeking Vajpayee’s intervention to stop the withdrawal of foreign flights to and from Calcutta topped the list.

His plea followed a proposal to change the schedule of the Russian airline, Aeroflot. The Union civil aviation ministry, he said, was planning to divert the Aeroflot flight to either Mumbai or New Delhi. The ministry, however, denied this and said the decision was Aeroflot’s.

The chief minister said Indian Airlines was also likely to pull out its Singapore flight. He told Vajpayee such decisions would affect business in Calcutta.

Bhattacharjee’s demands were mostly economic in nature. The chief minister said 56 of the 64 coal mines lined up for closure were in Bengal.

Businesswise, the high point of his visit was the meeting with petroleum minister Ram Naik on Indian Oil’s participation in Haldia Petrochemicals. He said the minister had assured him that Indian Oil would decide the level of its involvement by mid-June.

   

 
 
DIVINE BLESSING FOR MISSION KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 1: 
Pervez Musharraf is banking on divine intervention for a diplomatic miracle. The Pakistan general’s tour-planners are keen that he visit Ajmer Sharif and offer prayers at the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti.

Neither side expects a dramatic change in relations and an overnight solution to the Kashmir problem, but both are hoping that the summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf will not be a one-off meet and would, instead, create an atmosphere to sustain the dialogue.

The chief executive’s itinerary in India is still tentative, but Pakistan officials want to include a visit to Ajmer where Musharraf can pray before Khwaja Garib Nawaz, as Chisti is popularly known. Attempts are also being made to get Musharraf to take part in the Jumma prayers at Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

Though foreign minister Jaswant Singh is yet to respond to a letter written by Shoaib Iqbal, Independent MLA from Motiamahal who has taken the lead in sprucing up Musharraf’s haveli in the walled city, the move to include Ajmer is a diplomatically clever one. Chisti’s dargah is a symbol of the secular Sufi tradition. By paying a visit there, Musharraf will be able to project himself as a modern and liberal man and shed his traditionalist image.

Indications are that the Pakistan leader will arrive towards the middle of July and stay in the country for three days. The delegation-level talks could be held on the second day and may be preceded by a one-to-one between him and Vajpayee. While no official announcement has been made, foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and her Pakistani counterpart, Inamul Haq, are scheduled to meet on the margins of the Saarc senior officials’ meet to be held in Colombo between June 8 and 9.

The hawks and doves among Vajpayee’s advisers are divided on the degree of warmth that the government should show Musharraf. The secretary of the National Security Council, Satish Chandra, has apparently asked the government to treat Musharraf with “cold disdain”. However, army chief S. Padmanabhan has welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision and described the peace gamble as a “master stroke”.

With Vajpayee having taken the initiative in inviting Musharraf, India is unlikely to cut corners in welcoming the guest from Pakistan who, till the other day, was dubbed the “villain of Kargil”.

Apart from a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt, a guard of honour is also being contemplated for Musharraf. Since the Prime Minister will have to stand through the ceremony, it is imperative that he fully recovers from his knee operation, scheduled for June 7. If his knee is still too weak, Vajpayee may sit on a chair while Musharraf takes the guard of honour.

Vajpayee will host a banquet for Musharraf, while President K.R. Narayanan is expected to have tea with the general. Since only heads of state can stay in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Musharraf, as head of government, will have to make his own arrangements.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:34.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.1°C (-2)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum:48%

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some areas.
Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.14 pm
   
 

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