Sonia first step melts Mulayam
100 and not out on the front line
Desam turns BJP’s in-house adversary
Shobhaa is willin’, so is state
Enron’s last ‘trusted’ light pulls the plug
Back from Pak with peace plea
Ramayana on tourism map
Apex court delinks Bangla migrants’ cases
Mayavati return buzz revives park project
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SONIA FIRST STEP MELTS MULAYAM 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi today lived up to her designation and took charge of an initiative to unite the Opposition on Gujarat.

In an uncharacteristic gesture, Sonia walked up to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Lok Sabha and invited him to her chamber, where a united Opposition demanded a division in the House on the continuation of the Narendra Modi government.

The Opposition’s game plan to press for voting under Rule 184 is aimed at exposing the rifts within the National Democratic Alliance over the situation in the riot-ravaged state.

As soon as the Lok Sabha adjourned during question hour, Sonia went up to Mulayam with the invitation. Some saw it as the Congress president’s way of making amends for her brash remark on Saturday in Guwahati, where she had questioned Mulayam’s locus standi on Gujarat. But the gesture had an immediate impact as Mulayam softened considerably.

Others saw it in the broader context of a rapprochement between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. Senior Congress leaders, however, insisted that the united face was restricted to floor co-ordination. About Uttar Pradesh, a Congress MP said: “Where are the numbers to join hands?”

Sonia and Mulayam have had an uneasy relationship. In May 1999, Mulayam had refused to extend support to a Sonia-led government after the fall of the then Vajpayee regime. Then, more recently, after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, the Congress refused to offer a letter of support to Mulayam, insisting that he should first get the required number of legislators.

However, both leaders attended a dinner at CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee’s residence last November.

Sonia was tucking into a hilsa when Mulayam took a potshot, saying: “Madam, be careful. Hilsa hai. Kanta chubh jaye ga (the fish bone may hurt you).”

Sonia’s retort was quick. “Main kanton se joojhna janti hoon (I know how to deal with thorns),” she said.

Today, though she succeeded in getting Mulayam to attend the meeting in her office for the first time since 1999, three key Opposition parties — the Bahujan Samaj Party, the ADMK and the Nationalist Congress Party —stayed away. The hint was clear: if there is a trial of strength, the numbers game might still favour the NDA.

But Congress floor leaders remained unfazed, pointing out that as of now they had a limited agenda of cornering the Vajpayee regime on Gujarat. “We want to see how the Telugu Desam, the Trinamul Congress, the Janata Dal (United), the Lok Janshakti Party and the NCP vote on Gujarat,” said a party whip. “They have been saying things but we want to know if they mean any thing.”

At the meeting convened by Sonia, Opposition leaders made it clear they would not dilute the demand for a discussion under Rule 184, which entails voting.

   

 
 
100 AND NOT OUT ON THE FRONT LINE 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
India completes 100 days of no-war, no-peace with Pakistan this week with the forces fully deployed along the western front and the political leadership in no mood to relax the operational alert.

Defence minister George Fernandes told armed services commanders, who began a series of discussions for the first of their bi-annual conferences today, it is possible that the deployment is for the long-haul.

So far, there has been no change in the situation that led to Operation Parakram — as the mobilisation of the forces following the December 13 attack on Parliament has been codenamed — and, therefore, there was no need for a review, Fernandes said. Operation Parakram began on December 15. Nearly eight lakh troops with armoured units and artillery guns were fully deployed by January 3.

The deployment along the front, however, has also caught the army in a battle on two fronts — in Gujarat, it has been called out in the wake of the carnage; in Ayodhya, it was put on alert following the VHP’s shila daan campaign.

Fernandes told army and air force commanders separately — the naval commanders’ conference begins later this week — that his assessment after touring many positions along the border was that the morale of the troops is high. He had seen no sign of fatigue.

Defence ministry sources said the commanders in conference will discuss the state of the military hardware in detail because many of them had seen the full complement of their forces in formation for the first time.

Even if there are developments in subsequent weeks to convince the political leadership — specifically, the Cabinet Committee on Security — that the operational alert could be stepped down, it is unlikely that there will be a let-up in Jammu and Kashmir.

The strength of forces in Kashmir will not be reduced at least till the Assembly elections due in the last quarter of the year.

There is also a growing belief among senior officers that the largest-ever mobilisation of the Indian Army without a war has provided an opportunity to make changes in the country’s defensive military doctrine and adopt an aggressive stance as a matter of policy.

Should such a doctrine come to dictate strategic thinking, the possibility of a long-term deployment of the army in semi-permanent forward locations cannot be ruled out altogether.

   

 
 
DESAM TURNS BJP’S IN-HOUSE ADVERSARY 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
April 15: 
The Telugu Desam today unfolded a ginger-group policy inside and outside Parliament, signalling its potential to become either a constant headache for the BJP-led government or a possible rallying point for rebellion.

The party joined the Opposition in both Houses in punching the government on the Gujarat violence and the Prime Minister’s explosive statement in Goa.

In Hyderabad, Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu vowed to continue his fight for the removal of Narendra Modi in the interests of protecting “national pride and secular values”. But Naidu declined to spell out his plan of action if the BJP continued to brush aside his demand.

Naidu’s public comments —the first in three days — came after he tried in vain thrice today to speak to the Prime Minister. Sources said CPM leader H.S. Surjeet spoke to Naidu.

In Parliament, the Desam went all out to make a “statement”. Desam MPs, led by Yerran Naidu in the Lok Sabha and Alladi P. Rajkumar in the Rajya Sabha, pitched in with the Opposition to derail business in both Houses by forcing two adjournments each.

The overnight shift in the political climate was evident as soon as the Lok Sabha assembled for question hour.

The Congress, after an initial bout of reluctance, started clamouring for a discussion on the Gujarat situation. The BJP members readily returned the fusillade, chanting “we want question hour”. But, much to the discomfort of the BJP, Yerran Naidu sprang to his feet and echoed the Congress’ cry. He, too, demanded suspension of question hour and a discussion on Gujarat.

The remaining allies seemed to draw comfort from the fact that the bolts keeping the government in place had not been totally unhinged. Samata Party MPs kept their distance from the furore. So did Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

In the Rajya Sabha, BJP member S.P. Gautam tried to prevail upon agitated Desam members but parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan asked him to hold back.

In the Andhra capital, Naidu termed Modi’s ouster as the “last resort” to restore public confidence in the NDA and improve the sagging international reputation of the country.

The international press’ moniker “bloody India” in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage had hurt the country’s reputation for communal harmony, he said.

“All of us condemn the torching of the train at Godhra, but we cannot condone the inaction of the Modi administration later on. It is very painful and tragic that the government had failed to contain the escalation of violence and, instead, provoked the communal frenzy,” he added.

   

 
 
SHOBHAA IS WILLIN’, SO IS STATE 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, April 15: 
From Socialite Evenings to brand-building mornings. All for the “love of Bengal” and for the feeling that she is the right woman for the right job.

Celebrity writer Shobhaa Dé has offered to be Bengal’s brand ambassador. “Give me a shot at it and I’ll do it,” is her surprise message to the state government and the city’s chambers of commerce.

Dé — in town for business (to conduct a workshop for the Young Leaders Forum of the Indian Chamber of Commerce) and pleasure (enjoy a Poila Boisakh bash at The Saturday Club), is convinced that the state needs to project its assets and profit from them.

“Bengal has so many strong points compared to other states,” she says. “To be able to sell Bihar would be a canny, shrewd marketer’s toughest assignment as I can’t think of one redeeming thing about the place. But that’s not the case with Calcutta. Look at your strong cultural identity, your cuisine, your music, your tradition of arts, your textiles… You have so much to be proud of. But it is not being sufficiently projected. I think I can do it,” she explains.

A Maharashtrian by birth and married to a Bengali (Mumbai-based industrialist Dilip De), Dé feels she fits the bill perfectly for the job as she will be seen as someone who is “unbiased”, but has “absorbed Bengal through association”.

“It’s as much in my blood as Maharashtra is now,” says the columnist, who counts “Virenbhai and Anjanaben” Shah among “old friends” in Calcutta.

Dé, who underlined the importance of image while addressing a CII summit on ‘India: Tourism and Heritage’ in New Delhi last October, “can’t think of a better ambassador” for the state. “I believe in Bengal, its past and its future. So, someone please take the hint,” she smiles.

But will the Marxists of Writers’ Buildings use that famous toothy, high-cheekboned smile to sell their state better?

Industry minister Nirupam Sen thinks they could. “If she contacts me, I’ll be happy to sit with her to find out in what way she can be of use to us. After all, she herself can decide best which aspects she sees as our plus points, and which she wants to focus on… We would be happy to receive any help to bolster the state’s image,” Sen said.

Bengal as a business destination figures high on Dé’s literary agenda, as well. “It is very important for me to reach out to the audience here. A lot of my books, particularly Second Thoughts, are about characters from Bengal. Books like that would work very well with a Bengali-speaking audience,” she says.

A collection of letters to her children, Speedpost, has been translated in Bengali and she is scouting for a publisher.

   

 
 
ENRON’S LAST ‘TRUSTED’ LIGHT PULLS THE PLUG 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, April 15: 
The man who spoke for Enron has no one to speak for him. Jimmy Mogal, who quit as Enron’s spokesman in India two weeks ago, is sad and bitter.

“It was very, very stressful, the last two years,” said Mogal, 46, who resigned as the multinational’s communications director on March 31. “I want to put it all behind me now.”

Mogal was among the last of a handful of “trusted” employees Enron had kept on even after the American company went bankrupt and laid off more than 200 staff engaged in its controversial Dabhol power project.

Mogal said he quit because he was fed up with nothing to do. “I had hit a blind alley and wanted to turn back and get out.” But his former colleagues, still in touch with him, had another story. They said Mogal left after he was deprived of his dues by the company he stuck up for in public.

Mogal was reluctant to talk about the dues or for that matter those of his colleagues. “I would rather not talk about it,” he snapped. But the bitterness in his voice was unmistakable.

“It rankles with him very much because he was the man who had defended Enron through its turbulent days,” a former colleague said. “But he is too embarrassed to talk about it.”

Mogal admitted that most Enron officials in the country had lost their money in the company’s stocks like their US counterparts.

But unlike their American colleagues, Enron officials here had never been “discouraged from” selling off the stocks, Mogal said. “We lost money because we did not react quickly enough. But there was no discouragement on the part of the company.”

Born and raised in Calcutta, Mogal, an electronics engineer from Bangalore University, joined Enron in April 2000 after a five-year stint with Coca-Cola India as its public relations chief.

He learnt the ropes from former Tata Steel managing director Russy Modi, a master at PR, who had moved him from the engineering department to corporate communications.

Mogal was looking forward to a “great challenge” when he joined Enron. And he wasn’t disappointed. He faced challenges one after another as Enron fought a ding-dong battle with the state government and activists who accused the company of fleecing the consumer with overpriced electricity.

However, at the end of his two-year stint with the disgraced, one-time US utility giant, Mogal feels differently: he could have done without some of the challenges.

Defending the indefensible was not easy. The former Enron official said he was under constant stress as the Indian and the Western media “kept asking me all kinds of questions”.

Though the Enron project was located in Maharashtra, the issue resonated all over as it was the first major direct foreign investment in the country. This made Mogal’s job more difficult.

“I travelled often as I had to keep in touch with the regional media all over the country and give them our side of the story,” he said. He had a tough time convincing the 25,000 families who had to give up their lands to let Enron lay a natural gas pipeline from Dabhol to Panvel on the outskirts of Mumbai. The project was later abandoned.

Mogal would not say whether Enron’s electricity was over-priced, something he had always defended as spokesman. “It is not proper for me to answer this question.”

He saw nothing wrong in Enron’s obsession with secrecy and its refusal to part with information. “It’s not just Enron, but every MNC is wary of giving information on its plans and strategy.”

The former Enron official said he was saddened by what happened to the company, but hoped it would be “a lesson to” all involved. “There is not going to be another Enron for many years to come. God forbid.”

   

 
 
BACK FROM PAK WITH PEACE PLEA 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, April 15: 
Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann today returned from Pakistan, complaining about his discomfiture over Gujarat.

“What is happening to Muslims in Mahatma Gandhi’s state is causing a lot of heartburn in Pakistan. Wherever I went, I had to face a flurry of questions on Gujarat. The ordinary Pakistani is very worried about the genocide in Gujarat. The mayhem needs to be stopped immediately. While Muslims are being slaughtered in Gujarat, Hindus are being protected in Pakistan,” he said on phone from Ludhiana en route to his village in Fatehgarh Saheb this evening.

Disregarding Delhi’s decision not to send jathas to participate in the Baisakhi celebrations in Sikh shrines across the border, Mann had entered Pakistan via the Wagah checkpost on Thursday.

Mann, who holds a diplomatic passport, was allowed to go, but six of his associates with visas for a week’s stay were stopped. Terming his visit an “eye-opener”, Mann said: “I did not meet anyone from the Pakistan government during my visit to the Sikh shrines located in the country.”

The Sikh leader commended the state of gurdwaras in Pakistan. “The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) has taken some very good steps to help renovate historic gurdwaras. Unlike the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in Amritsar, the PSGPC has preserved the original architecture. They have neither allowed the structures to be vandalised nor have they erased marks made during attacks on Sikh shrines like the SGPC has done after Operation Bluestar,” he said.

Mann, who has been questioning the SGPC’s decision not to recognise the Pakistan body, said the Pakistan government’s decision to float it was a victory for minorities anywhere in the world.

“This is the first time that an Islamic nation has given recognition to a minority community by allowing them to float an organisation for the upkeep of their shrines. No similar example can be found in any Islamic nation,” he said.

Mann held former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal responsible for the Centre’s decision not to send Sikh pilgrims to celebrate Baisakhi in Pakistan. “In our prayers we seek a chance to visit our shrines. Is it a sin? Can the community expect anything from a party which supported Pota?” he asked, accusing the Centre of a step-motherly treatment towards Sikhs.

   

 
 
RAMAYANA ON TOURISM MAP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
‘Incredible India’, the new slogan launched to promote India as a tourist destination, not only sums up the diversity of experiences the country offers but also the contradictions and counterpoints that one encounters.

At the inaugural ceremony, poet-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke in concrete, prosaic terms of developing joint, intra-regional tourism circuits.

Eulogised by the programme announcer as the epitome of philosopher-king described by Plato, Vajpayee suggested a regional Buddhist circuit and said there was scope for developing a regional Ramayana circuit and a package that links centres of Sufi spiritualism in India with those in West Asia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

The idea of designing joint tourism packages came to the Prime Minister from his Singapore counterpart Goh Chok Tong. He felt Pacific Asia Travel Association could act as a catalyst in this.

Making a fervent plea against terrorism and extremism, Vajpayee invoked the positive role of tourism in this effort. “Terrorism detests pluralism, whereas tourism pays tribute to it,” he said.

The Prime Minister cautioned travel and tourism operators not to look at their business purely from the narrow angle of short-term commercial benefit and said excessive commercialism would lead to negative consequences.

“Excessive commercialism, especially when it takes place in the absence of effective regulatory mechanisms, can lead to negative consequences,” Vajpayee said.

Stating that environmental degradation and erosion of traditional social values could make the growth of tourism unsustainable, he said India had examples of how some tourism centres suffered due to unplanned and unaesthetic growth.

Turning to the challenges, Vajpayee said the travel and tourism industry, including the civil aviation industry, was badly hit after the September 11 terror strikes.

“We in India, being victims of terrorism for close to two decades, know all too well how it has adversely affected tourism in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere,” he said.

Unlike the Prime Minister, Union minister for tourism and culture Jagmohan and keynote speaker Dr Karan Singh took help of poetry. Jagmohan quoted T.S. Eliot on “Time present and time past...” Karan Singh delved into Sanskrit and English poetry.

There was some confusion about the keynote speaker. Earlier, former US President Bill Clinton accepted the invitation but later declined, citing personal reasons. Later, according to one report, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, Francesco Frangialli, was slated to deliver the keynote address. Later, Dr Karan Singh, an eminent speaker, fitted the bill.

Yesterday, Jagmohan had asserted that “recent happenings in Gujarat are an aberration.” His contention was that India is a vast country and the Gujarat incidents will not affect tourism. However, tourism professionals differ. A tour operator of Indo-Asia Tours said that bookings for October and November had plummeted whereas they should have been on the rise.

Even industry captains Subhash Chandra, Inder Sharma and Ravi Bhootalingam expressed their misgivings about Gujarat. But they agreed the Pata conference would help to restore confidence.

One of the finest items in the inaugural ceremony was a programme of folk dance and music as well as some classical numbers like Kathakali, Mohini Attam and Chhau. The half-hour revue produced by Bansi Kaul was a great success.

Even as Gujarat simmered, the Sidis of Gujarat, belonging to the Muslim community, enchanted the audience with their Dhamal dance. From Bengal, came the Raibeshe and Baul singers.

   

 
 
APEX COURT DELINKS BANGLA MIGRANTS’ CASES 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, April 15: 
The Supreme Court today “de-linked” two sets of petitions in the illegal Bangladeshi migrants case — one calling for immediate identification and deportation of illegal migrants and the other challenging the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT).

A three-judge bench of Justices G.B. Pattanaik, Brijesh Kumar and Arijit Passayat decided to hear the petitions separately. The second petition has been posted for hearing on April 22. The All-India Lawyers’ Forum for Civil Liberties (AILFCL), the original petitioners, had appealed for the deportation of over one crore illegal migrants from states like West Bengal, Assam, Delhi, Bihar and Maharashtra.

Writs of Sarbananda Sonowal, a sitting MLA of the Assam Assembly, the Assam Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and Ramesh Borpatra Gohain, professor of law in Guwahati University, were tagged on to the petition. Sonowal had challenged the Act itself, while the Jamiat petitioned against repealing of the Act.

Gohain sought a direction to strike down the constitutional validity of Section 6-A of the Citizenship Act, under which immigrants who had come to Assam before 1986 would be recognised as citizens and their names would be included in the voters’ list.

This section was inserted as an additional provision, making it applicable only to Assam.

The AILFCL contended that over one crore illegal Bangladeshis have infiltrated into India, endangering the security and sovereignty of the country.

In Delhi, the then BJP government under Madan Lal Khurana, had deported several migrants. On an appeal by social action groups against the deportation, Delhi High Court had held that possessing ration cards and election cards did not make a person a genuine citizen.

Corroborating the high court ruling, the Supreme Court today “de-linked” two sets of petitions in the illegal migrants case.

The issue before the apex court were of two types: detection and deportation of the illegal migrants and challenge to the IMDT Act under which a suspect need not prove that he or she is a foreign national, the onus of proof being on the prosecution.

In its written submission to the apex court, the Jamiat said that firstly, IMDT was enacted to give “at least” one chance to the suspect, now classified as “D” voter meaning “doubtful voter”, to establish his or her identity.

Second, “lakhs… were deported from the country and were pushed inside the borders of Bangladesh without even being given any opportunity to establish their Indian citizenship”.

The written submission said the IMDT Act provided machinery to protect genuine and bonafide Indian citizens who were given judicial safeguard under the law.

It said a direction should be issued to the Centre and the Assam government to provide all requisite infrastructure so that the tribunals under IMDT work effectively and fulfil the object of the law.

In its counter affidavit, the Union government stated that without the aid of the law, half a million illegal migrants have been identified and deported in West Bengal alone, whereas under the law, the deportation figure in Assam is less than 1,500 in the past 18 years.

Political parties and governments have so far taken their own stand according to their perception and political suitability. The BJP-led Centre had told the apex court that IMDT should be repealed along with its ally, the Asom Gana Parishad.

The West Bengal government under Jyoti Basu had filed an affidavit, stating that “unscrupulous politicians and officials have given them (the migrants) ration cards, elections cards and even houses” and that it was “humanly not possible” to detect and deport the migrants.

Under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the government filed an affidavit, saying measures were being taken to detect and deport illegal migrants.

When the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra deported a few hundreds in the name of “illegal migrants”, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress raised a hue and cry and said Bengal would give them asylum.

There was, however, no detection of illegal migrants in Delhi when the Congress took over the reins from the BJP.

The Centre’s counter affidavit criticises Section 6-A of the Citizenship Act, alleging that the provision, enacted during the Rajiv Gandhi regime, “has created a division between persons of Indian origin who have come to Assam and those who have entered India through other states”.

   

 
 
MAYAVATI RETURN BUZZ REVIVES PARK PROJECT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, April 15: 
With signals beeping louder than ever that Mayavati could return as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, hundreds of workmen have been pressed into action to complete Ambedkar Park, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader’s pet project.

Work on the 125-crore park had slackened soon after Mayavati quit in 1997. When Kalyan Singh took over, everything ground to a halt.

The former BJP leader stopped work on the project, alleging — in a secret report later leaked selectively — that there were huge bunglings involving ministers, bureaucrats and engineers. Kalyan even ordered an inquiry headed by a senior bureaucrat, George Joseph.

Now all of a sudden there is a buzz that has been absent since the last four years. More than 400 labourers have descended on the site, working round the clock to polish and clean the water tanks, gardens and the pebbled paths criss-crossing the sprawling park.

The Rajkiya Nirman Nigam has despatched 25 overseers while an additional 200 labourers have been requisitioned on a daily basis.

The additional project director, Amarnath, says “work will be soon completed” but refuses to either acknowledge or name the source from where the directions for “an urgent facelift” have come from.

The labourers, goaded by eagle-eyed overseers, say “engineer sahib jaldi karne ke liye kehte hai, bahut kaam hai”. However, dozens of workmen, who had earlier spent months working on the project, have not received even a penny.

Rs 13.7 crore has been sanctioned to complete the pending work. Though former BJP chief minister Rajnath Singh had sanctioned Rs 1 crore to speed up work on the controversial project, nothing much happened as it was more a token of Dalit appeasement before elections.

There is talk of reconciliation within the BJP as well as the Bahujan Samaj Party. “We have to save the government at the Centre. There are certain compulsions of coalition politics that no one can escape,” says BJP state unit vice-president Satyadeo Singh.

Though Singh admits that there are strong differences between the pro and anti-Mayavati factions in the party over sharing of power, he says the decision of the high command will be final. “We have to follow the directive from our leaders in New Delhi,” he says.

“There is nothing we can or will do against it.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.8°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.3°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 90%
Min: 65%

Sunrise: 5.19 am

Sunset: 5.53 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts towards afternoon or evening
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company