Atal brokers Mayavati deal
Deal puts India back on US arms radar
Benegal hunts for his Bose
Sangh slap in allies’ face
Delhi brave face on Gujarat
BJP sure of Goa comeback
President calls off visit
Friends push Basu
India returns Nepal rebels
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL BROKERS MAYAVATI DEAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
The BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party today came close to a coalition deal that will pave the way for Mayavati’s return as Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

Sources said the two sides worked out a 10-point formula at the Prime Minister’s house to stitch together the alliance. The BJP is believed to have dropped its demand for a deputy chief minister but extracted the promise of the crucial home portfolio.

The BJP high command formally elicited the Uttar Pradesh unit’s support for its decision. The party’s parliamentary board will meet next week to reverse its earlier stand to sit in the Opposition and not prop up a government.

Mayavati has agreed to let the BJP have its Speaker, but sources said she was determined not to give in to the BJP’s demand for Kesri Nath Tripathi. She is against Tripathi because of the “questionable manner” in which he ratified a split in her party.

The decision to form a Mayavati-led government was taken at a 90-minute meeting, chaired by A.B. Vajpayee, today at his house. Home minister L.K. Advani, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi and the central prabhari (in charge) of Uttar Pradesh Kushabhau Thakre were present at the meet.

The state was represented by leaders of both the pro- and anti-BSP groups. The former included Vajpayee’s constituency manager Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh. Anti-Mayavati representatives included former chief minister Rajnath Singh and Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra.

It is believed BSP chief Kanshi Ram and Mayavati will discuss with Vajpayee tomorrow the sticky points in the arrangement to facilitate an early meeting of the BJP parliamentary board.

Although Rajnath and Mishra were present with Krishnamurthi during his press briefing, it was evident that the former was unhappy with the decision. “The national leadership has said it will review the decision,” Rajnath said, when pressed for his opinion.

In Lucknow, before leaving for Delhi, Rajnath made no attempts to hide his displeasure at the alliance. He said: “The party high command knows that the mandate we had got was for us to sit in the Opposition. Sarkar to banegi magar aage kya hoga Ram hi jane (The government will be formed, but god only knows what will happen after that).”

The BJP president, however, said: “All of you know that the parliamentary board in its last meeting after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election decided we will sit in the Opposition. But in the last few days, some BSP leaders met the Prime Minister and other Central leaders. Today’s meeting felt in view of the later developments, the parliamentary board can review its prior decision.”

Krishnamurthi confirmed that talks between the leaders of the two parties would continue after which the parliamentary board will formally review its earlier stance.

He denied that the state unit was unhappy. But Krishnamurthi ducked questions on what had prompted the party to go back on its earlier stand that the people’s mandate should be respected and the single-largest party — the Samajwadi Party —be first asked to form the government.

But top BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh appeared to be in a rebellious mood. “We know the pulse of the people here and what is needed…. We will take no chances this time and all the conditions will be in black and white.”

   

 
 
DEAL PUTS INDIA BACK ON US ARMS RADAR 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, April 18: 
A seven-year effort to create a substantive military relationship between New Delhi and Washington finally bore fruit this week when India and the US signed a $146-million deal to purchase eight gun-locating radars for the Indian army.

The deal brings to fruition sputtering, on-off attempts by the two countries to mutually engage their defence establishments to readjust to the needs of the post-Cold War era, which began with Bill Clinton’s defence secretary William Perry’s visit to India in 1995.

India’s request for purchasing the Firefinder radars, which can electronically pinpoint the exact locations of mortars, artillery and rocket launchers on enemy battlefields, was notified to the US Congress on February 25, effectively ending sanctions on military sales to India.

The sanctions were waived by President George W. Bush on September 22 last year, less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The deal, described by the defence department here as “historic”, covers eight Firefinder radars, 26 Sincgar radios, generators, trailers, communications equipment, global positioning systems, training equipment, spare parts and support equipment.

It was signed yesterday by Ajai Vikram Singh, special secretary in the Indian defence ministry, with the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).

Singh was here during the week for the first meeting of the Security Cooperation Group set up for promoting defence cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.

The US defence department justified the sale of radio systems because of India’s need “to fulfil strategic commitments for complete communicative interoperability and standardisation of equipment and to be able to communicate with their various vehicles and US forces”.

Three US technical and logistical personnel will assist the army in absorbing these radars into its framework over one month and eight US government quality assurance experts will spend one week in India to ensure that everything is in place.

A DSCA press release said the “sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to improve the security of a country which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in South Asia”.

Defence industry sources here said they expected the radar sale to be the start of a bigger effort by India to acquire American armaments.

Several other Indian requests are under review and clearance will be speeded up when the US assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, Lincoln Bloomfield, visits India next week.

India’s chief of army staff, General S. Padmanabhan, will be here shortly thereafter at the invitation of General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.

The new equipment will enable India to be in state-of-the-art preparedness on its borders unlike during the Kargil war in 1999, when New Delhi had to frantically shop for these radars from Israel and Ukraine. US sanctions then precluded any procurement from here.

   

 
 
BENEGAL HUNTS FOR HIS BOSE 
 
 
BY SAMARJIT GUHA
 
Calcutta, April 18: 
Jackie Shroff, Raj Babbar, Manoj Bajpai or a Tollywood star. Who will be the next Netaji? These are some of the screen names on Shyam Benegal’s mind as he plans his next film, tentatively titled Bose.

After the ‘woman-oriented’ Zubeidaa, Benegal is now ready to take a closer look at one of the “most dynamic men” in modern Indian history. “I’ve always had a film on Subhas Chandra Bose in mind, but never got the right producer,” said Benegal, when contacted in the US late on Thursday. With the film marking Sahara India’s debut as producer, the veteran director is confident of a “big-enough budget”.

For the female lead, Benegal is “thinking of” Nandita Das, who had starred in his Hari Bhari. Rajeshwari Sachdeva, who was in Sardari Begum, is the other probability.

Benegal, who will start shooting in Calcutta by August, hopes to catch the Indian National Army (INA) hero in “a rare light” by turning the spotlight on the years between 1940 and 45. “The Netaji Research Bureau on Elgin Road is helping me piece together details on him and my crew is already giving final touches to the first draft. Once I am back in June, I will go through it with a tooth comb,” said Benegal.

Bose will trace the last phase of the freedom fighter’s life. “What interests me the most is the last five years of his life and more importantly his disappearance,” said the maker of Ankur, Junoon and Discovery of India

Benegal has been in touch with Kartick Chakraborty, secretary, Netaji Research Bureau, for the past two months. “Prior to his US trip, Benegal had asked for a lot of information on Netaji, which we faxed to him regularly. He has hinted that he might even shoot major sequences at the Netaji Bhavan, from where Netaji effected his great escape,” said Chakraborty.

The film, slated to hit the theatres in January 2003 (23rd, if possible), will be shot on location and in studios, in and around Calcutta.

Benegal’s technical crew — cinematographer Rajan Kothari and editor Aseem Sinha — is doing the groundwork on Bose.

Though Benegal is tightlipped, A.R. Rahman is billed to score the music.

“From what I have gathered, Bose was a musically-inclined man. Besides, the INA songs, such as Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja, are still very popular. So, the film will definitely have songs,” added Benegal.

In a typical quest to make the film realistic, Benegal plans to meet Bose’s daughter, Anita Pfaff.

“Though I believe she hardly remembers him since she was a month-old when he disappeared, Anita might have some photographs or information that could prove useful to me,” he said.

   

 
 
SANGH SLAP IN ALLIES’ FACE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
With the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamul Congress blowing hot and cold over Narendra Modi, the RSS bluntly told the BJP’s allies they had no business demanding the Gujarat chief minister’s resignation.

The Sangh claimed that they had “crossed limits” by demanding Modi’s scalp. Its functionaries said in private that it was high time the Desam and Trinamul stopped “flexing” their muscles and allowed the BJP to do what it wanted so long as the government stuck to the NDA agenda.

Hinting at the RSS’ growing influence, sources said even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken his “cue” from the Sangh and turned the spotlight on the Hindutva agenda in his Goa public address, disregarding the allies.

Today, it was RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya who sent the message to the allies at a news conference in Nagpur. The sources said this conformed to the party’s hard stance in the recent past compared with the impression it gave earlier that it was keen to keep the Central alliance afloat.

“It is the prerogative of the BJP as to who will be the chief minister of its party ruling a particular state. It is their internal matter,” Vaidya was quoted by agencies as telling the Nagpur news conference.

He added that the NDA allies showed no “propriety” in asking for Modi’s ouster, although they may be guided by “political considerations”.

He turned the tables on the chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, insisting that they quit for “continued” violence in their states. “In Andhra, too, the PWG has allegedly killed many people all these years,” Vaidya said.

In contrast, he claimed, the Modi government had taken steps to curb violence and used force to restrain rioters, as a result of which 98 people died in police firing. “This makes it evident that the Gujarat government did try to curb the violence,” Vaidya said.

He asserted that the Godhra carnage was “pre-planned” and had nothing to do with Ayodhya.

The VHP, too, joined the “save-Modi” chorus; only, it struck a discordant note against the Vajpayee government. VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore said in Ahmedabad that he did not expect the “ineffective” government to take “harsh” diplomatic steps against Britain after its high commission in India filed a report saying the Gujarat violence was pre-planned.

   

 
 
DELHI BRAVE FACE ON GUJARAT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
India continued with its brave public front on Gujarat with the foreign office asserting that the world was aware that “effective steps” were being taken to restore peace and stability in the strife-torn state.

The government this afternoon began the first interaction between ambassadors of the Arab world and Islamic nations to discuss the plight of the Palestinians in the face of the Israeli armed attacks and a little more obliquely, the fate of the Indian Muslims.

The Arab and Gulf envoys called on the chairperson of Parliament’s standing committee on foreign affairs, Krishna Bose, to apprise her of the situation in West Asia following the latest moves by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Though most of the discussions were on the plight of the Palestinians in the face of the Israeli attacks, developments in Gujarat, where Muslims are being targeted for more than a month now, were also raised by some of the envoys.

A senior South Block official, however, made it clear that the government had not called the meeting. “ It is not our practice to brief foreign diplomats and heads of missions on internal developments,” he said.

Though the ambassadors had sought the meeting to discuss West Asia, the possibility that they also wanted to assess the government’s viewpoint on Gujarat cannot be ruled out.

India, on its part, appeared to have developed a strategy to take a strong stand on the Palestine issue, perhaps in the hope that it would divert attention from Gujarat.

Yesterday’s Israeli national day function at the Taj Palace was a low-key affair as far as the official Indian participation was concerned. The chief guest, unlike in the past, was not vice-president Krishan Kant, but Lt-governor of Delhi Vijai Kapoor. If this subtle message was not picked up by the Israeli government, it was driven home by a ministry of external affairs statement this evening.

“Pursuant to the UN security Council resolutions 1397, 1402 and 1403, India had called for immediate end to Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, and also an end to the cycles of terror, violence, incitement and provocation. The need of the hour is restraint and to create an atmosphere conducive to an early resumption of dialogue between the parties concerned,” the statement said.

“In this context, the recent visit of the US secretary of state, despite lack of any immediate breakthrough, demonstrates the continuing commitment of the international community to the establishment of lasting peace in West Asia,” it added.

Delhi also made it clear that it welcomed and supported the peace proposals put forward by Saudi Arabia.

At her meeting with the Arab ambassadors, Bose made it clear that India considers Yasser Arafat the symbol of Palestinian struggle and would continue to support him.

The envoys thanked India for its support and help but felt that Delhi should assert itself more to create international pressure against the Israelis.

   

 
 
BJP SURE OF GOA COMEBACK 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, April 18: 
Though the BJP has never won more than 10 seats in the 40-member Goa Assembly, the party, which mastered defections in the state, is “confident” of retaining power.

For the first time, the BJP will contest all the seats in the elections, to be held on May 30 — the day Goa attained statehood.

BJP chief minister Manohar Parrikar dissolved the House on February 27, two years before its full term, to avoid a party revolt. Nominations have to be filed by May 13 and the political equations are likely to be clear after that.

Parrikar, who is also the BJP chief in the state, has virtually single-handedly charted the party’s ascent and its attempts to stick to power in the politically-unstable Goa. He has unveiled a string of sops, including new jobs in the government, and has ensured that the Opposition finds it difficult to put up a united fight against BJP candidates.

Parrikar is confident of winning “with a comfortable majority”, but so is the leader of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), a one-time BJP ally.

“The MGP had ruled for 17 glorious years in Goa (in the sixties and seventies). Then it was 17 years of Congress raj. Now the MGP will form the government again,” said leader Kashinath Jalmi.

Talks are on between MGP chief Shashikala Kakodkar and the United Goans’ Democratic Party to forge a Hindu-Catholic alliance against the BJP and the Congress.

The Congress yesterday filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court seeking direction for an early hearing in Bombay High Court of a writ petition challenging the dissolution of the Assembly midway.

The faction-ridden Congress hopes to ride the nationwide anti-incumbency wave but the electorate might find it difficult to forget its controversial leaders and corruption-tainted politics.

Restive local parties, which have over the past two decades been marginalised by first the Congress and then BJP, are also flexing muscles. But a resurgent local plank could cut into one or the other national parties’ votebanks and swing the result.

The BJP came to power in October 2000, though it won only 10 seats in the June 1999 elections, with the support of a breakaway MGP group and Congress defectors and then ousting allies.

Parrikar dissolved the Assembly to thwart a topple bid though some of his Cabinet colleagues were reluctant to face the voter for the second time in less than two years.

Parrikar, however, was allowed to head the caretaker government despite protests from the Congress and the rest of the Opposition.

Some of the BJP government’s moves have alienated the minority voter in a state where Catholic and Muslim minorities comprise almost 35 per cent of the population.

Religion has played a key role in Goan politics since the first elections in 1963 but whether a polarisation has taken place on the lines of religion leading to a consolidation of the Hindu votebank is still not clear.

The BJP government has also been accused of being “casteist” while selecting nominees for top posts.

But the Congress is also trying to wash its hands of allegations of corruption of top leaders.

Anticipating the election announcement, which came late Wednesday evening, the Cabinet went on a spree of inaugurations and laying foundation stones before the Election Commission’s code of conduct came into effect.

In the past fortnight, AICC secretary Ramesh Chennithala called on the poll panel to restrain the government in the wake of the flurry of announcements.

   

 
 
PRESIDENT CALLS OFF VISIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
President K.R. Narayanan has decided to call off his three-nation state visit scheduled next month. The tour itinerary included Ireland, Holland and Sweden.

Officially, it is being called a “postponement” and not a cancellation. The ostensible reason for this is Narayanan’s indifferent health during the past few weeks, which has often led to the last minute cancellation of important official engagements.

But the forthcoming Presidential election, where Narayanan is one of the aspirants, could well be another reason why he has decided not to stay away from Delhi for more than a week next month.

His three-nation tour was scheduled to begin from May 14, taking him to Dublin, Amsterdam and Stockholm. He was scheduled to return on May 28.

Interestingly, India’s Ambassador to Sweden, Chitra Narayanan, is the President’s daughter.

Early this week, there were indications that Narayanan might skip Ireland and go ahead with the rest of the tour. But this could have raised a few eyebrows in diplomatic circles, as his shortened itinerary would be seen as an attempt to visit his daughter in Stockholm.

Though it has not been officially announced so far, the decision to call off the visit has already led to speculation because it could well be Narayanan’s last visit abroad as President of India. His term expires on July 24.

A new President will have to be in Rashtrapati Bhavan by July 25. If he gets the required numbers and the support of both the ruling BJP and the main Opposition, the Congress, Narayanan may get another term.

With Narayanan hopeful of a second stint, it could well be that his aides and close friends have asked him not to leave the capital at a time when the Presidential race is hotting up and his absence could make the difference.

   

 
 
FRIENDS PUSH BASU 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
The People’s Front may back President K.R. Narayanan for a second term as a consensus candidate though CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav today proposed Jyoti Basu’s name.

A meeting hosted by senior CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee today was reminiscent of old times, when the leaders of an embryonic United Front discussed the possibility of Basu taking on the Prime Minister’s mantle. But though his comrades raised the issue today, Basu’s presidential candidature seems a remote likelihood.

In 1996, the then Bengal chief minister had missed being a Prime Minister when his own party had stood in the way and rejected a unanimous United Front plea.

Since then, the political landscape has changed drastically and Basu, after sustained resistance from the CPM, has finally managed to quit his chief minister’s job.

The 87-year-old Marxist leader reminded the front today that he quit as chief minister because of ill health and could not possibly be a presidential candidate. But former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda dismissed the plea, saying he looked fit as a fiddle. The Left should not repeat its “historic blunder”, said Mulayam.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet who, in 1996, had repeatedly petitioned the party central committee to agree to Basu’s prime ministership, is not so optimistic six years down the line.

He feels Basu has practised a certain type of politics and it would be too much to expect him to make compromises that would not rest easy on his conscience.

For instance, he would have to read the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s speech “and that would be impossible”, said a Left leader.

   

 
 
INDIA RETURNS NEPAL REBELS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, April 18: 
Nepal has welcomed India’s move to turn in wounded Maoist insurgents who cross over to Bihar and other eastern states back to Kathmandu.

“This is a positive step and will be a major psychological blow to Maoist cadre who were confident they just had to cross over to Bihar or Bengal to get treatment or escape the Nepali army,” Nepal’s former foreign minister Chakra Bastola told The Telegraph.

If India continues to hand over Maoist guerrillas taking refuge in the country, it would be a serious setback for the militants. Bastola hopes this trend will continue as it can be of great help to the Nepalese army and police fighting the Maoists.

But most Nepalis believe this is too little too late. Bastola said the general perception in Nepal was that New Delhi could do much more to help but was not paying enough attention because the Maoist movement was not hurting India.

However, India is worried because the Nepali Maoists are in close touch with its own ultra Left radicals. Intelligence agencies are worried about the cooperation between the Maoists in Nepal and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Bihar, the People’s War Group in Andhra Pradesh and various Naxalite factions all over the country.

Despite the misgivings of many quarters in Kathmandu, New Delhi is aware of the serious crisis unfolding in Nepal. India is doing its bit to help, knowing well that an unstable Nepal is not in India’s best interests.

Indian diplomats say the government could do much more to help Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, but for the widespread suspicion among the Nepali Opposition and intelligentsia of New Delhi’s motives. The last thing on India’s mind is to stir a controversy and embarrass the Deuba government that is already under attack from several quarters.

“We will help quietly without making a noise or show about it,” said an official.

In fact, India will begin sending small arms and other military hardware for the Nepali army beginning May 1. India is also helping Nepal to negotiate the purchase of more than 20 helicopters from Ukraine. The helicopters will help the army to fly sorties and spot Maoist guerrillas holed up in their mountain strongholds. The choppers have been offered by the US as Washington’s contribution to Nepal’s fight against terrorists.

Bastola hopes India will follow this with other equally important steps. Many front organisations of the Maoists are operating openly in India. Nepal wants New Delhi to look into the finances of these groups and monitor their members closely.

Kathmandu suspects funds for the Maoist cause are sent by non-resident Nepalese through the Nepali Ekta Samaj. The Ekta Samaj, a parent organisation of the Maoists, operates openly in several Indian cities, including Delhi. According to Bastola, the Ekta Samaj has been working in India for the last 30 years and was initially set up to help Nepalese workers living in this country.

Today the organisation is packed with Maoist sympathisers. Nepal wants the Indian government to freeze the bank accounts of the Ekta Samaj, as the funds raised here are used to buy weapons for the Maoists.

In one of their strategy papers, the Maoists talked about how to strengthen their organisations in India. In fact, the Maoists say their movement has two arms, one in Nepal and the other in India.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.9°C (-2)
Minimum: 27°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Max: 89%
Min: 67%

Sunrise: 5.17 am

Sunset: 5.55 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts
   
 

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