Bush borrows Delhi recipe
Terror decree heat melts Iron Man
Now showing, strikeback sequel in CPM

Washington, Nov. 17: 
In his all-out effort to chase the Muslim vote bank within the anti-terrorist coalition of nations, President George W. Bush has turned to New Delhi for guidance.

Taking a leaf out of the Ramazan diaries of Indian politicians — from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi — Bush is to host an iftar in the White House for the first time in the 201-year history of the US presidential mansion.

At the annual ritual of iftars at the colonial bungalows occupied by ministers and MPs in Lutyen’s Delhi, attendance at the fast-breaking meals is carefully analysed to gauge a politician’s standing among Muslims.

So will it be in the East Room of the White House on Monday. Although Bush is emulating Indian politicians in hosting the iftar, India’s ambassador to the US will not be among his guests. The White House has invited 50 ambassadors from Muslim countries to pray in the East Room. Bush will not join the prayers, but will be with the envoys when they break their dawn-to-dusk fast in the State Dining Room.

When he was President, Bill Clinton used to host a party in the White House at the conclusion of Ramazan, but he never hosted an iftar.

Monday’s iftar is part of a blitz by the White House, as it continues the war in Afghanistan during Ramazan, to convince Muslims around the world that the US is not opposed to Islam, but only against terrorists who exploit the religion.

The White House is also attempting to calm the fears among America’s seven million Muslims, many of whom feel discriminated against after September 11.

Bush issued a Ramazan message on Friday in which he extended “warm greetings to Muslims throughout the US and around the world”.

Acknowledging that Islam “is one of the fastest growing religions in America, with millions of American believers today”, the President stressed his administration’s desire to minimise the suffering of the Afghan people, an emotional issue among Muslims as they begin their month-long fast and prayers.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives opened its proceedings with an Islamic prayer by Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain of Georgetown University here.

The Imam read from the Quran and prayed to help Congressmen “help us confront hatred wherever it exists that we all may live as one nation, united, under God”.

Last year, when Vajpayee addressed a joint session of the US Congress, the House began its session for the first time in history with a Hindu prayer.

It is a sign of expediency in Washington in the context of the war in Afghanistan that this year, there were no Hindu prayers on Capitol Hill during Vajpayee’s visit to the US.

Also conspicuous by its absence was a Diwali celebration which Clinton had hosted in the White House last year to signify the all-embracing friendship with India, which was the flavour of that season.

Adding to the Ramazan blitz, First Lady Laura Bush took her husband’s place on Saturday, delivering the weekly presidential radio address. She focused on the plight of women under the Taliban.

It was the first time in the history of the US presidency that a First Lady, instead of the President, had delivered the Saturday address solo.


New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
The BJP’s Iron Man finally blinked.

In the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the government and the Opposition over the anti-terror Ordinance, home minister L.K. Advani has toned down his aggressive campaign.

Realising that chances of Parliament passing the decree have more or less evaporated, Advani spoke of consensus and gently nudged the states to go along with the Centre.

The home minister said only one chief minister had rejected the Ordinance, but refused to name him. Bengal’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who had yesterday echoed Delhi’s concerns on national security, today told reporters that he opposed the Ordinance on the grounds that law and order was a state subject. He also dismissed the need for a federal investigative agency, a proposal re-introduced by Advani.

But Bhattacharjee made it clear that he would go ahead with a Bill to combat organised crime in the state. The Bill will replace an Ordinance he was forced to drop at the instance of his party.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, whose conciliatory gestures had stood in sharp contrast with Advani’s strident tone, will call an all-party meeting before the Ordinance is tabled in Parliament.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who has decided to oppose the Ordinance, met the Prime Minister this evening to discuss the issue. The decree cannot be pushed through in Parliament without the support of the Congress, which holds an edge in the Rajya Sabha.

The Centre is now pinning its hopes on Vajpayee’s persuasive skills. The government is also willing to listen to arguments against certain clauses.

Apart from the Opposition, the government’s allies like the Telugu Desam and the DMK, have reservations on the decree. However, the Centre appeared to have turned the Desam around with a promise to put the People’s War Group on the list of terrorist organisations.

Advani had earlier dug his heels in, choosing phrases that sounded almost like George W. Bush’s “You are either with us or with the terrorists”. But with the Opposition unrelenting, Advani unveiled a new approach, which was on display at the end of a conference of chief ministers today.

“I was pleasantly surprised that there were not too many differences between the Centre and the states. The reservations were not so much against the statute, the parties wanted to know why discussions were not held before the Ordinance was introduced. We said discussions and a debate are on and the Prime Minister has already announced his intention to call an all-party meeting,” the home minister told reporters.

His briefing was interspersed with talk of consensus and the “smooth, non-confrontationist” approach of the chief ministers. “Everyone spoke of the need to stand as one man to face the threat of terrorism,” he said.

Despite Advani’s claim that only one chief minister had dissented, Assam’s Tarun Gogoi also said he opposed the Ordinance.


Calcutta, Nov. 17: 
After the empire struck back in the CPM’s own Star Wars, the Jedi is returning the compliment in subtle, but sharp, laser-gun jabs.

Unlike the celluloid epic, where Luke Skywalker has a final showdown with Darth Vader, who turns out to be his father, it is too early to declare the victor or the vanquished in the CPM’s skirmishes involving a one-time mentor and a protégé.

In just two days, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems to have covered much ground to launch an unmistakable counter-offensive against spoilers within his own party. While the party offensive was noted, the significance of his counter-charge has been largely missed. Beyond the episodes involving the party push over the Prevention of Organised Crime Ordinance and the Russian film Taurus, there is a larger, just-unfolding story of the chief minister’s fightback.

What Bhattacharjee did at the Inter-State Council meeting in Delhi yesterday is potentially nothing short of a rebellion against the party politburo. Not far away from the party headquarters, where the bosses had struck down his Ordinance only a few weeks ago, he not only threw their objections to the winds but went with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to justify a special law to curb terrorist activities.

His defiance was particularly notable for two reasons. He knows his party will oppose the Centre’s anti-terror Ordinance in Parliament. Second, he gave everybody a piece of his mind, while knowing that the Ordinance had little chance of becoming law because of the Congress’ decision to oppose it.

So, why did he do it? Primarily because he wanted to send out a message that he would not take politburo diktats lying down, if these interfered with his ideas of governance. He has actually gone farther.

He said in Delhi today he would bring in such a law through a Bill in the winter session of the Assembly. The significance of his fightback is not so much in the fate of the Ordinance but in the questioning of the hitherto accepted role of the party vis-a-vis a government led by the CPM.

Bhattacharjee did much the same thing about the controversy over Taurus. He wilted under pressure and had the screening of the film cancelled after Jyoti Basu and Biman Bose threw in their weight behind student and youth leaders of the party who thought the film defiled the party image of Lenin.

But that was only the first round. The chief minister quickly recovered his ground to do things that suggested that he not only differed with Basu and the culture brigade but planned to go his own way. If he himself did not want to join issue with one-time mentor Basu, he had state party secretary Anil Biswas to voice his views. In a not too subtle dig at Basu and other interlocutors, Biswas said the chief minister did not think there was anything wrong with the film’s portrayal of Lenin.

Culture bigwigs like Mrinal Sen and Soumitra Chattopadhyay, who incidentally saw the film at a special screening in the chief minister’s company, also approved of the film. It does not take much to understand that they spoke on Bhattacharjee’s behalf.

As if this was not enough of a strikeback, he has discreetly let it be known that his government plans to buy the film for the archive, obviously with the intention of having it screened later.

Once again, the important thing is not what he actually does with the film. The point to note is his resolve to open his own front to get the better of party opposition. This fits perfectly with the transformation Bhattacharjee himself seems to have undergone. Clearly, he has changed much since the time he led a culture police team to run down the shooting of Ronald Joffe’s City of Joy.

But these are only early days - and tentative shots in a battle waiting to engage him since he became chief minister. On the Ordinance and Taurus he had Biswas on his side. Surely, he would have many more battles to join , not only with the politburo, but also with the state party leadership. It would be interesting to watch how far he is prepared to go to make the party bend to his will.


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