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Congress camp keeps off Uma dais

Bhopal, Aug. 10: The cloud of a possible ideological clash at a national seminar on alternative development strategies lifted with several speakers pulling out.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam inaugurated the conference today and articulated his vision of providing urban amenities in rural areas as BJP leaders Arun Shourie, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti listened in Bhopal.

Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh, who was scheduled to deliver the valedictory speech on August 12, has backed out.

Chief minister Bharti replaced him with Sant Asha Ram Bapu. The preacher, a regular on devotional channels, is popular in Madhya Pradesh. A source close to her claimed Bapu’s contribution to the seminar would be invaluable: he will offer a “link” between spiritualism and materialism.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who shares a close rapport with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, has sent his regrets. His place will be taken by commission member Kirit Parekh, an apolitical entity.

Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s son Sandeep, the Congress MP from East Delhi who runs a non-government organisation in Bhopal, has also declined to attend the seminar, citing preoccupation with “urgent” parliamentary work.

Singh’s absence is being seen as a conscious effort to stay away following his drive against “RSS elements” in the administration. The saffron camp is also outraged by his charge that the RSS was responsible for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

The President, however, stayed on course, highlighting the need for all-round development. He stressed the need to provide urban amenities in rural areas by pointing out that more than two-thirds of India’s population lives in villages.

He recounted that when he visited a school at Eintkhedi village on the outskirts of Bhopal, a Class X student, Prashant Jaat, asked him if rural India would ever get urban facilities. Kalam said the “small boy asked a big question” that needs to be addressed by planners and politicians alike.

Kalam’s interaction with the wide-eyed youngsters was facilitated by Bharti, who took a microphone to translate the President’s English remarks.

When Kalam answered a query on black holes, Bharti dithered. She asked if she would be able to translate the explanation, which was smattered with scientific jargon.

“I think they have already understood,” he said, before turning to pay her a compliment. “Aap bahut achha anuvad karti hain (your translation is very good),” Kalam said.

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