Ayodhya test for Atal authority
Carnegie dumps Sankhya Vahini
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 18: 
A day after marching into the makeshift temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, a militant VHP dared the government to take action against its leaders who had flouted a Supreme Court order.

The VHP threw the challenge hours after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee admitted to reporters in Chennai that security in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex was “slack” and needed to be tightened. Vajpayee also said such “mishaps” should not recur.

Official sources said the Prime Minister spoke to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh on phone and sought a blow-by-blow account of what happened. The state government has ordered a probe into the incident.

With Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, the Ayodhya barge-in is turning into a big political issue. The Samajwadi Party, the BJP’s main rival in the state, today demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation on “moral grounds” for his “inability to check” the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists from storming the place. Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav announced that he would visit Ayodhya on October 23 to address his workers.

The BJP chose not to comment, saying it awaited details. But it was clear that in keeping with a time-tested strategy of the Sangh parivar, the party was allowing the VHP to raise the pitch on Ayodhya while keeping itself in the background.

Defiant VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia said: “The government has a right to acquire land but no one has the right to acquire our right of worship.” Togadiya, who was among the leaders to barge into the makeshift temple and offer puja, was brazen when reminded of the Supreme Court’s order to maintain status quo ante on the site.

“The status quo ordered by the court was regarding the construction of the Ram temple and not offering worship,” he said. Ram Lalla was being treated like a “prisoner of war” with barricades enclosing the site, Togadia added.

Privately, BJP sources agreed that the Ram temple plank may come in “handy” during the Uttar Pradesh polls provided the Centre avoided a confrontation with the VHP. The sources said Vajpayee ought not to have “jumped the gun” by commenting on the security lapse but should have kept quiet and allowed the home ministry to tackle the government.

The VHP — which, uncharacteristically, had been lying low after the NDA came to power — might have been “emboldened” after its leaders had a long meeting with Vajpayee last week in which he promised to find a solution to the Ayodhya dispute before March 2002, sources said.

Today, however, Togadia was sceptical about Vajpayee’s assurance. “We have faith in the Prime Minister but there seems to be no option before us except mass agitation,” he said.


Washington/New Delhi, Oct. 18: 
Close on the heels of the Air-India privatisation fiasco and the Enron controversy, another ambitious project which was to showcase India’s economic reforms has collapsed.

V.S. Arunachalam and Raj Reddy, professors at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, who initiated the Rs 1,000-crore Sankhya Vahini project at the invitation of India’s information technology task force, yesterday conveyed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee their decision to abandon the project.

The huge, next-generation data network, which had the potential to revolutionise Internet use in India and transform everything from healthcare and education to financial services and research, was cleared by the Cabinet in January last year, but was subsequently mired in red tape.

Arunachalam and Reddy, who were given the Republic Day Padma honours by President K.R. Narayanan for their pioneering effort to create a nationwide data network through Sankhya Vahini, told Vajpayee that IUNet, the company set up by their university, and potential investors were now “reluctant to invest any more of their resources for this project”.

An official in the ministry of information technology said in Delhi: “In June, we were made aware that they (Carnegie Mellon University) were planning to pull out of the project if the government did not respond. Since it involved various other ministries, there was bound to be some delay. We did write to them that the issue is under consideration.”

The US promoters were also frustrated by a public interest litigation (PIL). “The continuing arguments in the court for more than a year, often because of the absence of the government lawyer, have not encouraged us either,” the two professors wrote to Vajpayee.

In another letter to Shyamal Ghosh, chairman of the Telecom Commission, Arunachalam, former scientific adviser to the defence ministry, regretted that even almost two years after the Cabinet approval, the authorities have sat on the project.

Sources in the communications ministry said: “The problem was not about the project. The problem was who would implement the project. The department of telecom services (DTS), an arm of the communications ministry, or the ministry of IT?”

Under the shareholding pattern, the communications ministry through DTS would have to fund a large part of the project, which was to be managed by IUNet. Neither DTS nor the ministry of IT was prepared to undertake the project.

Arunachalam’s letter is a scathing indictment of the cavalier attitude of the Indian bureaucracy towards projects which involve foreign participation.

“Two years in information technology is considered a lifetime. Similar projects in other parts of the world that were not even on the drawing board when we made our original proposal are now in commercial operation and are being upgraded to higher performance levels,” Arunachalam wrote to Ghosh.

Copies of both the letters are now in the possession of The Telegraph.

The promoters pointed out that in the course of arguments in the PIL, the judges had observed that the court had not stayed the project and that there was nothing preventing the government from going ahead. “Yet the department of telecommunications has not moved forward in its collaboration with IUNet,” Arunachalam wrote.

Under the proposal approved by the Cabinet 22 months ago, DTS was to have 45 per cent of Sankhya Vahini’s equity while two per cent was to vest with the ministry of information technology. Educational institutions were to own four per cent.

IUNet was to have the remaining 49 per cent, part of it in equipment.

If Sankhya Vahini had taken off as soon as it was initiated, it would have provided the entire country with Internet connectivity by now.

At present, there is no nationwide broadband data network for multimedia and Internet activities in India. Sankhya Vahini would, thus, have been a pioneer.

Reliance is building a similar broadband network.

Sankhya Vahini ran into trouble as soon as it was recommended by Jaswant Singh, who was then chairman of the information technology task force, and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Opposition to it came not only from the Congress party but also from the RSS, though the project had pointedly chosen the swadeshi name of Sankhya Vahini (data transmission).

Information technology minister Pramod Mahajan told the Rajya Sabha at one stage that IUNet had not been rated for lack of sufficient credit history about the company. Mahajan said this information had been obtained by the Indian embassy in Washington from rating agency Dun and Bradstreet.

A parliamentary standing committee had expressed the view that the project would risk national security and criticised the government for signing a deal even before IUNet was set up.

The government had also cleared the project without undertaking any study about the technology available with the company, the committee said.




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