State waives Iisco dues
Lonely Rabri lectures Atal on bias
CPI row with comrade Cong
Dreams lie shattered in hill homeland
George’s secret trip to seer
Rajnath seeks divine help
Delhi skirts axis, pledges synergy
Mosque with rebels circled
BJP launches website on UP elections
Arrogance of skyscrapers

 
 
STATE WAIVES IISCO DUES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Asansol, Feb. 3: 
The state today threw a lifeline to the Indian Iron and Steel Company (Iisco) by waiving electricity dues and cess worth Rs 280 crore pending for four years.

“The state government has responded to the Centre’s proposal to waive outstanding dues for the revamp of the ailing industry. Now it is the Centre’s turn to keep its promise by providing adequate funds for its revival,” said state small scale and cottage industry minister Bangsho Gopal Choudhury. The government had earlier exempted Rs 250 crore due as cess to Eastern Coalfields Limited to prevent 64 coal mines from being sold off, the minister reminded.

“The state government is ready to do its best to save the industry, but the Centre will have to come forward too,’’ Chowdhury said, adding that only joint efforts by the Centre and the state can save Iisco. The Board of Industrial Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) is expected to decide Iisco’s fate on February 22.

The government also agreed to exempt electricity duty, cess, royalty and municipal taxes amounting to Rs 4 crore for the next five year on condition that the Steel Authority of India would not shut down Iisco’s Kulti unit.

The government has urged the Union steel ministry to reconsider the Rs 1,081-crore revival package for Iisco’s Kulti unit submitted by Mecon last September. The scheme envisages a relief of Rs 280 crore from the state government, Rs 45 crore from the BIFR’s operating agency, the Industrial Development Bank of India, and Rs 40 crore from financial institutions.

The state has exempted dues on the condition that the Centre has to treat Iisco as a whole and not privatise any part,” said Chandra Sekhar Mukherjee, chairman of the Save Iisco Committee and a Citu leader.

   

 
 
LONELY RABRI LECTURES ATAL ON BIAS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Feb. 3: 
When Laloo Prasad Yadav decided to spent a Sunday evening at home, Rabri Devi grabbed the chance to tell Atal Bihari Vajpayee how to run his team.

Cutting loose from her husband’s apron strings as well as a sterile speech drafted by a bureaucrat, the chief minister today asked the Prime Minister not to “politically discriminate against Bihar”.

Pointing fingers at nearly half-a-dozen Union ministers from Bihar, Rabri told Vajpayee: “Ask your ministers who are sitting here. They always accuse the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and my government of indulging in some irregularities or the other. There is no point in accusing each other. This will lead us nowhere. Ask the ministers not to indulge in political gimmicks.”

The launchpad was as unlikely as the missiles fired by Rabri, who has rarely spoken on a public platform without her husband by her side. She chose a meeting organised by political rival and railway minister Nitish Kumar to showcase the utility’s progress in Bihar.

Rabri was originally scheduled to thank the Prime Minister for the Ganga bridge project. But she brushed aside the speech and began to speak extempore.

“This is an issue relating to the state and the country. This is not simply household talk,” she said.

“The people of Bihar understand how discrimination is the rule of your government. Aap desh ka malik hai. Aap bhedbhav nehi kar sakte hai (You are the lord of the country. You cannot show discrimination),” she told the Prime Minister, who was sharing the dais with her.

As the crowd roared, Rabri said that despite repeated requests for the release of Rs 600 crore as grants for panchayat development projects, “you have not been releasing them. This is a pity”.

Even after sitting down at the end of her speech, Rabri continued to gesticulate at Vajpayee for a few minutes.

When his turn came, Vajpayee responded to Rabri with restraint but not without a pinprick. The Prime Minister said his government was not at all discriminating.

“We have been releasing funds. Our only expectation is that the funds released by the Centre will be well spent and there is a sincerity of purpose by the state government,” Vajpayee said, hinting at the drainage of funds in various government departments in Bihar during the last 10 years.

Vajpayee, however, said all the issues that Rabri raised in the rally would be looked into and action taken.

Rabri’s opponents later downplayed the outburst as a flash in the political pan but even Nitish Kumar’s party, the Samata, conceded that of late she has been developing a style of her own.

   

 
 
CPI ROW WITH COMRADE CONG 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Amritsar, Feb. 3: 
Electioneering may be reaching its peak in Punjab, but the gulf between the Congress and its poll ally, the CPI, is widening.

The CPI has a long list of grievances that range from state Congress chief Amrinder Singh’s apathy towards Left candidates to the presence of “rebel” nominees. The CPI also has differences over some ideological issues such as the Congress support for the WTO regime and liberalisation.

The state CPI has sent an SOS to Sonia Gandhi and Motilal Vora, AICC general secretary in charge of Punjab, asking them to intervene. The CPI leadership is upset as senior Congress leaders have shown no signs of campaigning for the Left nominees.

State CPI chief Joginder Dayal is angry because the Congress has not done anything about the “rebel” candidates pitted against CPI nominees. Dayal gave the example of Captain Rajinder Singh — a close associate of Congress chieftain R.L. Bhatia — who is a “rebel” Nationalist Congress candidate from the Amritsar West seat. Singh is contesting against CPI’s Amarjit Singh Assal.

The CPI views the presence of these rebels as part of a “sinister design” to defeat CPI candidates. “The Congress has thrown out some 21 rebels. Why was Rajinder Singh not included in the list?” Dayal said, adding that he was “intrigued” by the Congress behaviour.

The CPI leader said there were many aspirants in CPI who did not get party ticket as the Left parties got only 11 seats.

“We had many credible nominees who did not get a ticket because of the poll alliance. But none of them has joined the fray as rebels or Independents,” Dayal said.

He regretted that Amrinder and other Congress top brass had also turned a blind eye to the fact that many Congress councillors were openly campaigning for Sharad Pawar’s party.

Upset over the Congress indifference, CPI leaders such as Satpal Dang, Pardmman Singh and Joginder Dayal have began saying that alliance with the Congress was confined to elections. “Our understanding is restricted to the broader issue of checking the Akali-BJP combine,” Dayal said, admitting that the CPI had differences with the Congress on many issues.

The CPI manifesto differs from the Congress on many issues. The whole approach of tackling economic problems faced by Punjab has been given a different treatment.

Amrinder Singh wants Punjab farmers to shift to cash crops to suit the post-WTO regime. The CPI favours a “fortress approach” to drive out multinationals.

Dayal, however, said that his party was keen to continue the alliance with the Congress. “The need of the hour is to strengthen the secular fabric. Our enemy number one is the Akali-BJP combine. Other things can wait,” he said.

However, he added that the CPI will not join a Congress-led government.

   

 
 
DREAMS LIE SHATTERED IN HILL HOMELAND 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
Nainital, Feb. 3: 
The cut of the cold is not as painful as the cut of despair, of hopes betrayed by the masters of the 14-month-old hill state of Uttaranchal. The name emblazoned on every heart, young and old, till a year ago, has gathered rust, the sheen has gone. All that is left is repentance over triggering a movement that has given very little in return for the lives lost and the energy invested by an entire people in this part of Kumaon.

“The demand for a separate state was a mistake. We should have stayed with Uttar Pradesh,” says Rakesh, a taxi driver. The new state, instead of filling his pockets, has drilled holes into them — he has to pay more road tax for every passenger he ferries across the border.

He is not alone in his recriminations against the new dispensation. “Our hopes have failed. The government has not given us anything. Our salaries are held up. There is no money in the state treasury,” intones Shekhar, a government employee. Realisation has dawned late but it is growing by the day. The most common refrain heard in these parts is: first there should have been a Union Territory and then a full-fledged state.

The ruling BJP is up against tremendous odds. The main opposition party, the Congress, is sniffing power. The scattered third front parties are trying to rake in as much as they can in the chaos. Swinging among them are the people who have nothing but a tale of despair to recount — the militant Uttaranchal movement, in a nutshell, has been whittled down to a flight of fantasy.

The story of this hilly enclave, severed from the political crucible of Uttar Pradesh, the state with the power to hold the bosses in Delhi to “ransom”, is littered with bitter paradoxes. Uttaranchal’s government employees, the backbone of the agitation for a separate state, would now give their right arm to reverse their action. Their comrades-in-arms, the women of Uttaranchal, who had held the banner aloft, feel it has been ripped apart by politicians who have not fulfilled a single commitment. The poor, who had nothing to lose and had joined the fight in the hope of gaining a toehold, are still rotting in the ghettos in the backyard of Nainital — away from the sight of tourists, beyond the gaze of the politicians.

No one barring politicians is happy. Maybe hopes were too high at the time the state was born, maybe the people were too naïve in thinking that in their own homeland they would find jobs growing like mushrooms. At least this is how the politicians now on a campaign trail would like their “subjects” to think. “One year is not enough to do anything. The people should be patient. How can we give them jobs just like that?” says the Nainital district BJP president.

But those getting squashed under the double burden of price-rise and unemployment are not buying the argument. Neither are those who are not getting squashed, but are only feeling the pinch of a dead economy. “Why could they have not made a beginning in the last 14 months?” asks Mahesh, a graduate who has been knocking on the doors of the government and the army for the last one year for a ticket to “life”. “We have been surviving on money-order economy. The bulk of the people here are either in government jobs or in the armed forces,” says Pramod Bisht, a shopowner. There is no agriculture, no industry to feed the people.

Unlike in most parts of India where the bulk of the unemployed is unlettered or neo-literate, here, in the hills, the dropout rate is much less. Government schools function much better. The result: a burgeoning army of educated unemployed getting thrashed despite their educational degrees and certificates. The ills are now being rooted in the theory of a separate state and the lack of will on the part of the political class, regardless of its colour.

Uttaranchal’s first chief minister Nityanand Swami is in the direct line of fire. Next, present incumbent Bhagat Singh Koshiari. If Nityanand did not lift his little finger to set the wheels of economy in motion, Koshiari has yielded to his “big brother” counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath Singh.

“The agreement over distribution of electricity has been most unfair,” says Viren Tewari, a retired soldier. Uttaranchal is giving its surplus electricity to Uttar Pradesh at cheap rates and then buying it from the same state at a much higher rate, he said.

   

 
 
GEORGE’S SECRET TRIP TO SEER 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Kanchipuram, Feb. 3: 
Defence minister George Fernandes has called on the Shankaracharya of the Kanchi mutt here, coinciding with the renewed focus on the Ayodhya issue in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh elections.

The minister’s visit to Jayendra Saraswati was kept a secret.

The Centre is banking on Fernandes to pacify the BJP’s belligerent allies if the government decides to activate a contingency plan that will allow a VHP-backed trust to take over the “undisputed” portion of the land in Ayodhya.

With the Assembly elections drawing near, the VHP has steadily raised the temple pitch and threatened to start construction of the Ram temple any day after March 12.

The seer today confirmed that Fernandes met him yesterday but refused to divulge the nature of discussions.

“Certain things should not be disclosed to media,” the Sankaracharya, who was at Chennai for a book release function, told reporters.

Police, too, were kept in the dark about the minister’s visit. Fernandes returned to Delhi by a chartered flight on Saturday evening.

   

 
 
RAJNATH SEEKS DIVINE HELP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Feb. 3: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh seems to have more faith in supernatural powers than in the BJP’s popularity to win the forthcoming Assembly polls.

According to state police, Singh and seven others, including members of his immediate family, dashed to Madanapalli town yesterday for a ritual to bring him luck in the elections.

In keeping with Singh’s request to the Telugu Desam Party regime, the police ensured that no reporters, cameramen or videographers were visible anywhere around the P&T colony in Madanapalli since Friday night, where special pujas were offered to a Panchaloha idol of Hanuman at the home of priest Venkatesshwarlu since Saturday morning.

Singh had used the state government aircraft during his two earlier visits. This was his first visit as chief minister. According to local newspapers, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister used a commercial flight up to Chennai and later drove down to Madanapalli, hometown of the late Jiddu Krishnamurthy.

Police sources, however, said Singh came in the state government aircraft up to Tirupati on Friday and then drove down to Madanapalli in the morning after a darshan of Lord Venkateshwara in Tirupati.

It appears that Tirupati Lok Sabha member G. Venkatswamy had been instrumental in bringing Singh to a tantrik of Madanapalli, who had earlier been consulted by leaders such as Indira Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, N.D. Tiwari and Sonia Gandhi, L.K. Advani and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

   

 
 
DELHI SKIRTS AXIS, PLEDGES SYNERGY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 3: 
India today agreed to a Russian proposal for frequent meetings between Delhi, Moscow and Beijing to coordinate a common position among the three on important issues, but stepped clear of any bloc or axis.

The issue came up, as expected, during this evening’s meeting between Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov and Jaswant Singh. Ivanov felt Russia, India and China should form a trilateral axis to take a common position on important regional and international developments.

Singh agreed that the three countries should coordinate positions on issues of mutual benefit, but made it clear that it should not be described as an axis or bloc.

India’s diplomatic balancing act is aimed at ensuring that its new friend, the US, does not misunderstand the move.

Till recently, it had played down the axis proposal. But there seems to have been a slight shift in its position this time, mainly for two reasons. One, the Russians are keen on the axis and Singh does not want to disappoint India’s “time-tested” ally. Second, and perhaps a more important one, stems from the successful visit of Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji last month.

The Indian leadership has realised that China might have second thoughts on its relations with Pakistan as a result of Pervez Musharraf cosying up to the US and allowing its troops to use Pakistani territory. India has decided it would be better to engage with China and Russia on issues that may be important and beneficial for Delhi.

But if India managed to make the Russians happy by agreeing to coordinate with Moscow and Beijing more closely, it also ensured that Ivanov endorsed Delhi’s position completely on its relations with China and on cross-border terrorism.

In a joint statement issued this evening, India and Russia asked Pakistan to take “sustained, irreversible steps” to end cross-border terrorism and create a conducive atmosphere for resumption of dialogue in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

   

 
 
MOSQUE WITH REBELS CIRCLED 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Feb. 3: 
The army today laid siege to a mosque where two militants were holed up.

Police sources said a heavy exchange of fire was continuing between the militants and the security forces at the mosque at Amberpora Tarzu Sopore in northern Baramullah district.

Senior security personnel who rushed to the spot tried to persuade the militants to surrender. Repeated announcements were made over loudspeakers asking the militants to leave the mosque.

The sources said the militants refused the offer and opened fire on the troops outside. However, no one was injured.

“We have sealed all exit routes around the mosque. The operation will continue,” said a police officer.

A similar incident had taken place on January 9, when security forces had gunned down a militant who was holed up in a mosque at Bamrood in Baramullah district and arrested another.

Elsewhere in the state, at least 13 militants and two soldiers were killed in separate encounters in the last 24 hours.

The police said two Hizb-ul Mujahideen rebels and a soldier died in a fierce encounter at Kokernag in the southern Anantnag district.

In another gunbattle, security forces killed three militants hiding in a house at Tral in central Pulwama district. One soldier also died in the incident.

   

 
 
BJP LAUNCHES WEBSITE ON UP ELECTIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 3: 
The BJP today launched a website specifically designed to cover the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

The website, inaugurated by information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, will provide detailed information on BJP candidates and their constituencies.

“We are not very sure what kind of a reach the website will have with the voters. But our main aim at the moment is to equip the media with information — news and analysis,” said Sushma at the BJP headquarters.

Besides hard data, reports of all elections meetings in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s posters and slogans, it will incorporate a bank of photographs of BJP leaders.

“At present what is happening is that most of the media attention is on large meetings — those attended by prominent leaders. The less-publicised meetings, even though they sometimes turn out to be quite important, go unnoticed,” said Sushma.

   

 
 
ARROGANCE OF SKYSCRAPERS 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 3: 
Will a new architecture be born out of the ruins of the World Trade Center?

Charles Jencks, regarded as architecture’s greatest living chronicler, was in the city last week, speaking of the arrogance packed into “modern” skyscrapers.

One of the world’s most famous architectural writers practising in Britain, he has reservations against the WTC towers for being so tall. Modern buildings are nasty, brutish and tall, and unimaginatively simple, very easily titillating the imagination of a terrorist.

“We are living in interesting times. A Chinese proverb says ‘May you be cursed to live in interesting times’,” said Jencks, at a crowded auditorium. And the buildings reflect that. Dynamism and danger are built into our buildings by default.

But size should not be everything, he warned, citing the “Diminishing Theory of Architecture”. Anything over 70 storeys is machismo, just exhibitionism. The high for high buildings should be between 30 and 40 storeys.

Apart from an obsession with height, modern architecture is fatal in another way: it’s boring. So not for him the Chicago Civic Centre, which is a “big black box, huge, scale-less and repetitive, endlessly repetitive”, says the writer of The Language of Post-modern Architecture and many other titles.

Instead, give him Le Corbusier, who can be read in so many ways and on whom Jencks has written extensively.

Or Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain, which has become a tourist attraction.

The way out is through “post-modernism”. But before that conjures up images of difficult Frenchmen who make themselves only more difficult, let Jencks explain.

According to him, post-modernism is doing away with structures based on simple big squares, circles and triangles, and introducing into architecture the notion of “fractals”.

Fractals comes from the Greek word “fractus”, which means fractured and broken. It is a whole new way of looking at things, literally. Fractal architecture brings you in from a distance right into the seat and at all dimensions you get to see new details in a building, in a landscape, as in a beehive, or in a pineapple.

But the details are not identical, but “self-similar”: similar, but different. Like the leaves of a tree. This is what happens in the gardens that Jencks has designed in Scotland, his famous projects.

He also introduces the notion of state-of-the-art science into architecture. Jencks regularly incorporates ideas like Black Holes in his work, though they have hardly anything to do with either blackness or holeness. Black Holes in his work are centres of gravity and energy in the flowing curves of his gardens, a metaphor for new beginnings.

But what happens to the World Trade Center? “There shouldn’t be the arrogant reminder of American power. But it should be rebuilt in a way so that the past is not forgotten,” says Jencks.

   
 

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