Prime Ministers lay down Kashmir terms
Interest snowball drives govt towards debt trap
Mamata bid to steal BJP?s Atal thunder
Big baddie brings Bard?s villains
Calcutta weather

 
 
PRIME MINISTERS LAY DOWN KASHMIR TERMS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 28 
Drawing the contours of a parameter within which a solution could be found to the Kashmir problem, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today asserted India was determined not to lose any more territory. This means that converting the Line of Control (LoC) into an international border with Pakistan could be the only way out of the Kashmir tangle.

But his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif said in Islamabad that his country may have to suspend talks with New Delhi if no solution to Kashmir was found within a specific timeframe. But he did not spell out the deadline.

The remarks of the two Prime Ministers, though significant, are essentially an exercise to convince their respective domestic audience that neither had made any major compromise while signing the ?historic? Lahore Declaration.

The compulsions for such assertions were also in evidence today. The Opposition Congress, which had been cautious in welcoming the Lahore outcome, indicated it would like the ground situation in Kashmir to improve before lauding Vajpayee?s initiative.

?Security has been reduced even though normality has not returned to Kashmir, leaving people panicky,? party general secretary Ahmad Patel said in Chandigarh.

However, addressing a function organised by Jains in Delhi, Vajpayee charted the broad outline of what could be the basis of a solution to Kashmir. ?We have not attacked any country in 50 years of Independence, but we have been attacked several times and have lost our land. We are determined not to lose our land in future,? he said.

In Lahore, too, Vajpayee had made a similar statement which was overshadowed by the Lahore Declaration. At a civic reception, Vajpayee had said: ?The scars of Partition teaches us one lesson: not to allow another partition.?

Seen in perspective, Vajpayee?s comments make it clear India is keen to foreclose all options, including self-determination in Kashmir, which could involve yielding land to buy peace. That leaves only one opening: convert the LoC into an international border.

A few days before Vajpayee?s visit to Lahore, Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh had said ?map-making? in South Asia should cease. It was a clear indication that like its predecessors, the BJP-led coalition realised that converting the LoC into an international boundary could be the only lasting solution to the problem.

However, such a solution may be difficult for Sharif to accept as the Pakistani establishment wants India to lose Kashmir. Reflecting the sentiment, Sharif said today he had told Vajpayee that Kashmiris ?should be given the right of self-determination so that they can decide their future?.

Warning that ?Pakistan may have to look for other options if the ongoing negotiations bore no fruit in a specific timeframe?, he said: ?There is no possibility on agreeing on any other solution except one that is acceptable to the people of Kashmir.?

?There could come a time when talks have to be suspended in case no concrete development is made towards solving the Kashmir issue,? he added.

The Pakistani Prime Minister dismissed criticism of his meeting with Vajpayee, saying his government had not compromised the interests of Kashmiris and aspirations of Pakistanis.

Vajpayee also defended the talks. Asserting that his bus ride and the subsequent agreement on confidence-building steps were signs of ?self-confidence?, he said: ?Friends can be changed but not neighbours. Both countries will have to make efforts to ensure the agreements last.?

Equality and mutual interests would guide India?s relations with Pakistan and China, Vajpayee said, adding that ?friendship is the only way out and co-existence is the key to the future?.    


 
 
INTEREST SNOWBALL DRIVES GOVT TOWARDS DEBT TRAP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 28 
The cassandras have said it all along: the country is in a real danger of slipping into a debt quagmire. The latest statistics put out by the government seem to indicate that the country is at least waist-deep in debt.

The total public debt ? which comprises the government?s borrowings at home and abroad ? is projected to vault by 40 per cent to Rs 6,01,648 crore in 1999-2000 from Rs 4,27,983 crore.

The amount that the government has to pay by way of interest on all the loans it has taken is set to rise by 14 per cent to Rs 88,000 crore next year from Rs 77,248 crore. The government?s revenue earnings by way of taxes and duties are put at Rs 182,240 crore next year ? this means that the government will have to pay almost half of every rupee it earns as interest on loans.

The other worrying factor is that the growth in the economy ? which is measured in terms of the gross domestic product ? isn?t being able to keep up.

In absolute terms, GDP has grown by Rs 61,000 crore ? far short of the Rs 77,248 crore the government will fork out by way of interest payments this year.

The economic survey released a few days before the budget had warned that the current level of public debt was unsustainable and hinted that the government was slipping into a debt trap. With the hike in aggregate debt and interest outgo, this fear is likely to grow.

The department of economic affairs had warned of this looming danger in confidential notes to various finance ministers, but populist political pressures and the government?s inability to raise the targeted revenues by way of taxes have pushed the government closer to the brink.

Last year, at least two Cabinet secretariat notes ordered various expenditure control measures, including shutting down certain programmes, but the suggestions were ignored.

The prophets of gloom will point rather cynically to the fact that at a time when the government?s finances are not in a terribly great shape, it has not shown willingness to adopt any belt- tightening measures.

Total expenditure has risen to Rs 2,67,927 crore ? which is 15 per cent in excess of the target of Rs 2,32,068 crore. Most of it went on subsidies and bureaucratic expenditure.

Revenue expenditure accounted for Rs 2,10,062 crore against a target of Rs 1,80,350 crore, an increase of 17 per cent.

With interest payouts and salaries pre-determined, any increase in other heads of revenue expenditure tends to cut into development spending, turning many schemes into paper projects.

Although the government has said it intends to drive down the fiscal deficit to 4 per cent of the GDP, credit rating agencies like Moody?s Investor Services and Standard and Poors? will be taking a hard look at the ballooning debt stock and the resultant increase in interest outgo.

Last July, Moody?s reduced India?s country rating to BA2, which is just below investment grade. This tells foreign investors ? who lay great store by the ratings put out by Moody?s ? that any investment in India is purely ?speculative? and, therefore, slightly risky.

While assigning that rating to India, Moody?s had said it was concerned about the growing indebtedness of the government.    


 
 
MAMATA BID TO STEAL BJP?S ATAL THUNDER 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Feb. 28 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is believed to be trying hard to scuttle the Prime Minister?s participation in a BJP rally scheduled for March 20 at Brigade Parade Ground.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has been invited to address the rally, called by the West Bengal BJP ostensibly as a show of strength to cement its claim that it is a party of its own standing and does not need Trinamul as a prop.

But Trinamul sources said Mamata is trying to persuade Vajpayee not to attend, on the plea that the BJP may fail to muster crowds to fill even half the venue and, in the process, he may ?lose face?.

Sources said Mamata stressed that only rallies held by the CPM and Trinamul drew capacity crowds. To back up her argument, she is reported to have told Vajpayee last week?s Youth Congress rally at Brigade had a turnout of barely 20,000. ?If this is how Congress fares, you can imagine how many will turn up for the BJP rally,? she is reported to have told him.

Sources said Mamata has her own agenda for the Prime Minister in the state. She has planned an elaborate itinerary for him in March, which includes visits to the ancestral homes of the state?s two most famous bards: Rabindranath Tagore?s at Jorasanko and Kazi Nazrul Islam?s in Churulia.

She also intends asking him to lay the foundation stone of the Tollygunge-Garia extension of the Calcutta Metro, for which Rs 40 crore was sanctioned in the 1999 railway budget.

In a bid to turn the tables on Mamata, the BJP today decided to invite her to the March 20 rally.

The decision, however, has not gone down well with party activists in the districts, who have complained to state BJP chief Tapan Sikdar. They pointed out that Mamata had kept the state BJP out of her Brigade rally on February 10. ?If we invite Mamata to our rally, people will get the wrong message and the state BJP will lose its credibility,? said a party activist from Nadia.

Mamata has been engaged in a running turf war with the state BJP, which is trying hard to establish a base. She has managed to thwart the induction of Sikdar, the state?s lone BJP MP, in the Union Cabinet.

Thanks to the friction, the BJP-Trinamul were unable to extend their Lok Sabha electoral alliance to the Assembly byelections and the panchayat polls.

When the CPM swept both, Mamata and the BJP blamed each other. The Brigade rally may become another sore point.

The Trinamul leader also plans to write to Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, protesting the 10 per cent surcharge on income-tax and the rise in the prices of urea and medicines.    


 
 
BIG BADDIE BRINGS BARD?S VILLAINS 
 
 
FROM SUMAN BHUCHAR
 
London, Feb. 28 
Calcutta, beware! Steven Berkoff is about to hit the town.

The renowned actor, director and writer flies from London tomorrow to begin a month-long British Council-sponsored tour of India with his one-man show, Shakespeare?s Villains: A Masterclass in Evil.

Berkoff takes audiences through the varying degrees of evil portrayed by such villains as Iago, Shylock, Macbeth and Richard III .

Born and brought up in the East End of London, Berkoff is generally accepted as a tour de force in British theatre.

In India, too, his name will strike a chord as the actor who played two notorious film baddies ? General Orlov in Octopussy, the Bond movie starring Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj, and General Pordovsky in Rambo II.

Berkoff is a man who has in the past shown irritation in no uncertain terms when audiences have rustled chocolate wrappers, coughed or otherwise allowed their attention to wander.

When told Indian audiences tend to wander in and out and gossip with neighbours, the controversial man of British theatre was sweetness and light.

?Don?t mind if they eat curry,? he responded. ?I?m not in a church.?

He will hold workshops at the Taj Bengal on March 16 and 17, followed by a performance at the G.D. Birla Sabhaghar on March 18. At Jadavpur University, there will be a workshop on March 19, with a performance the following day.

Speaking before departure for his first trip to India, Berkoff said he was relieved to hear that the Bard had quite a following in India.

Although Berkoff is not familiar with Bollywood baddies, he has a well-developed philosophy on villains. He finds them much more real than heroes.

While heroes are ?stereotypical dull? ? he dismisses Romeo talking about love or Henry V on patriotism as ?urbane concepts? ? villains are ?curious creatures, unbalanced, psychotic elements of what they are and why they are. I was trying to make a connection between what motivates them.?

In his show, he performs speeches from Shakespeare?s plays ?rather like opera singers perform arias?. Most of the soliloquies, he points out, are like mini-histories.

He argues that a villain has to manipulate his way through the world and cause upset without being detected. He quotes Richard III: ?I can murder whilst I smile.?

Shakespeare, he adds, is littered with the two-facedness of villains, such as Macbeth: ?False face must hide what false heart doth know.?

His villains include some surprising choices ? Coriolanus, Oberon and Hamlet. He concedes they are not obvious choices. He explains Hamlet ?becomes a candidate when one realises he manages to cause the deaths of half a dozen people, including some innocent ones?.

In his show, says Berkoff, ?there are as many different kinds of villainy as there are personalities and I have chosen to peer inside the heads of a few of them?.

Berkoff?s autobiography, Free Association, reveals that his involvement with playing villains began when he was cast as London (now ex-) gangster Charlie Richardson in a TV film, McVicar, based on the life of an ex-convict, John McVicar. He has also played Hitler in a TV epic, War and Remembrance, in 1989 ? ?after him you can go no further in villainy?.

Berkoff often creates his own work because as an actor, he has felt frustrated at having to rely on others to give him employment.

His tour will also take in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Lucknow, Chennai and Bangalore.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in night temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 31.9?C (1?C above normal )
Minimum 20.3?C (6?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 85%
Minimum 33%

Rainfall:Nil

Sunrise:6.03 am
Sunset: 5.35 pm
   
 

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