India, Pak in tit-for-tat expulsion flurry
Bihar allies bicker over Janata share
Friends, foes and friends again
Sonia shifts selection onus to states
Twin strikes breathe life into unions
Bihar throws model code veil on Sinha meet

New Delhi, Jan. 19 
After a short breather, India and Pakistan are once again up to their old game of tit-for-tat expulsion of each other’s officials.

Stung by the expulsion of P. Moses, a staff of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, New Delhi today expelled Shabir Hussain Shah, a Pakistani high commission staff here.

Pakistan deputy high commissioner Akbar Zeb was summoned to South Block and given two separate notes verbales. One, in which India formally rejected allegations that Moses was trying to encourage terrorist activities in Pakistan. The other informing Islamabad that Shah’s activities were “incompatible with his official status” and therefore, he was being expelled.

Though New Delhi claimed that Shah was under observation for some time and was found indulging in activities “incompatible to his official status”, there was, however, no plausible explanation as to why it coincided with Moses’ expulsion.

Though there was a lull of about two years, expulsion of each others diplomats or officials had become a regular feature between the two countries. But the Kargil conflict and the subsequent hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus have once again brought the vitriolic relationship to the fore.

Describing the allegations against Moses as “fanciful and far-fetched”, South Block officials told Zeb that Islamabad’s actions were “part of its propaganda campaign directed at covering its own involvement in cross-border terrorism and blurring its own track record”.

Referring to the assault on Moses and the threat to his family, Indian officials said that such “abhorrent” action were “contrary to all norms and conventions of diplomatic interaction”, especially those outlined in the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and the bilateral code of conduct between India and Pakistan on the treatment of each other’s consular personnel.

The Pakistani deputy high commissioner was told that the very fact that Moses was not questioned or asked about his contact in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad clearly indicated that the charges against him were “spurious”.

“It is ironical that Pakistan, a state known to be sponsoring international terrorism, was seeking to make baseless allegations about India,” Zeb was told.

Accusing Pakistan of being a state sponsor of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country, Indian officials said that in the past “extensive evidences” had been handed over to Islamabad about the existence of terrorist camps in Pakistani territory, but no action had been taken by Islamabad.

“India strongly condemned such policies and demanded that action be taken to dismantle the entire infrastructure that exists on Pakistani territory for this purpose,” said the two-page statement issued by the Indian foreign office.

However, the statement informing Shah’s expulsion was not only brief but also failed to give details of what kind of activities he had been engaged in.    

New Delhi, Jan. 19 
The impasse over seat sharing for the Bihar Assembly polls continued today with the BJP and Samata Party reluctant to concede to the Janata Dal (United) the number of seats proportionate to its ground strength.

The BJP central election committee, which was in a huddle most of today, will meet again tomorrow. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani were present at the session and are expected to attend tomorrow.

BJP sources hoped tomorrow’s meeting, scheduled to wind up before Vajpayee takes off for Assam, will clinch the seat distribution issue at least for the first phase of the Bihar polls.

BJP sources said the JD(U)’s latest demand to fight the same number of seats as the Samata (130) had compounded problems. The JD(U) contended that even when it contested alone in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls after splitting with Laloo Yadav, it managed to poll nine per cent votes while Samata managed “only” 15.7 percent in alliance with the BJP.

In 1996, the Samata, which had tied up with the BJP, had polled 15 per cent votes. The JD(U) leadership had reportedly questioned its claim of having increased its strength by “leaps and bounds”.

The Samata on its own had got 8.6 per cent votes in the 1995 Assembly polls when the JD(U) was still part of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The JD(U)’s argument was that since their independent vote share was roughly the same (8.6 and 9 per cent), they ought to contest the same number of seats.

In an informal briefing BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said the allies, including Bihar People’s Party (BPP), had decided on renominating sitting MLAs. There are 50 legislators from the BJP, seven from the Samata, 17 from the JD(U), and one from the BPP.

Govindacharya, who met JD(U) leaders Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan for over two hours yesterday and Samata bosses George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar this morning, maintained that the key players would have to “scale down their demands” to clinch the issue. “It is important that the overall frame of seat distribution should precede a detailed discussion, seat-wise,” he said.

Govindacharya said various formulae were floated —- such as accepting the 1995 assembly outcome as a basis, the second number positions, the accretion in the vote percentage over the three elections, number of seats contested in 1999 and the performance of each constituent —- but none had been accepted. “All these have been advocated as the basis, and any one formula may be accepted,” he said.

In spite of the BJP’s attempts to broker truce, the Samata and JD(U) warned that they should not be held responsible if a Karnataka-type situation arose in Bihar, marring the National Democratic Alliance’s prospects.

The Samata is sore with the Dal(U) for hijacking its Manipur unit. “The Dal(U) did not have a single leader in Manipur. Suddenly they set up a unit there to bargain with us,” grumbled an embittered Samata leader.    

New Delhi, Jan. 19 
Former enemies buried the past, raised a toast to each other and announced the formation of a new front in Bihar to fight the common enemy, the BJP, in the Assembly elections next month.

On the podium, Laloo Prasad Yadav sat flanked by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, both of whom had pushed the scam-tainted Yadav leader out before — of the Janata Dal first, and then the United Front.

But Laloo’s adversaries have now come together on a mission — to avenge theirs, particularly the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s, defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections and drive the BJP and its allies out of Bihar. “The RJD is the strongest force in Bihar and we have joined hands with it to defeat the BJP and its allies,” Surjeet said at a joint press conference at Gowda’s residence this afternoon. Former Janata Dal leader Chandra Sekhar was also present to declare support.

Barring Laloo’s RJD, there are, however, no heavyweights in the front. Chandra Sekhar heads the one-MP Samajwadi Janata Party and Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) is yet to recover from the bashing it got in the Lok Sabha polls. Gowda himself had lost from Hasan.

The CPM, though more robust than these two, has nothing to show off in Bihar. It is hoping to retain its tally in the Bihar Assembly by riding piggyback on the RJD.

At the press conference, ideological contradictions and personality clashes were brushed aside. Surjeet ducked questions on his party’s earlier hands-off policy on chargesheeted leaders. “For the last two years this question has been flung at me. What about corruption in Delhi and in the BJP?” he asked Surjeet.

Only two years ago, however, the CPM had hammered the line that it would keep corruption and communalism equally at bay. But with a BJP-led government at the Centre, the party is now ready to give corruption the go-by.

In fact, Surjeet’s alliance with Laloo has split the Left Front. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan has already clinched an alliance with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for the Bihar polls. “We had approached the CPI for an alliance but it had its problems teaming up with Laloo Yadav,” said Surjeet. He stressed no combination or party can defeat the BJP without Laloo’s help in Bihar.

Laloo is deeply grateful to the “stalwarts” for the alliance. The RJD chief has swept under the carpet the entire drama that was played out three years ago in Delhi. The bitter rivalry between Gowda and Sharad Yadav on one side, and Laloo on the other, had led to a battle of egos which split the then Janata Dal and spawned the RJD.

But now Laloo laughs off his acrimonious past with Deve Gowda as a joke. What about the names he had called Gowda? “This is all a fabrication. Gowda has always been my leader,” declared Laloo.

The RJD chief is ready to forgive and forget. So are his old enemies.    

New Delhi, Jan. 19 
For the first time in recent history, the process of selection of Congress candidates in Bihar, Haryana, Orissa and Manipur is appearing to be a smooth affair with the bulk of the selections being cleared at the state level instead of authorising Sonia Gandhi to do it.

The party has finalised 200 candidates for Bihar and formed a panel of three nominees each for the remaining seats. The selection will be made by the Congress Working Committee (CWC), now functioning as the central election committee in the presence of the state PCC chief and Congress Legislative Party leader. The CWC will continue to meet till Saturday to announce the candidates for the first round of polls by the weekend.

AICC functionaries said Sonia was keen to fix responsibility on state level office-bearers who were primarily responsible for the selection of candidates. The A.K. Antony committee report which had probed the defeat causes in the last elections had focussed on this point.

In Bihar’s ticket distribution, the AICC chief is keen to strike a balance on caste lines and field atleast 40 women. A similar representation is being given to the minorities, youth, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Congress sources said.

The party today reiterated that it would go it alone in Bihar, Haryana, Orissa and Manipur. Party spokesman Ajit Jogi, however, did not rule out a tacit understanding with some “like-minded” parties. For instance in Manipur, the party will contest 45 seats leaving the rest to secular democratic alliance parties like the Manipur People’s Party and the Left parties.

In another development, four Samata Party leaders from Bihar today joined the Congress.    

New Delhi, Jan. 19 
The striking Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board (UPSEB) employees have recharged trade unions, adding muscle to their opposition to economic reforms.

The ongoing labour protests in different parts of the country —UPSEB workers are striking against the restructuring of the power board, while port and dock workers have stalled work demanding better wages — are a boost to the sagging morale of the trade unions.

M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Citu, has announced that all trade unions, barring those affiliated to the Congress and the BJP, will meet at a convention tomorrow.

It is the Left trade unions which have gone on strike, with the Congress-affiliated Intuc backing them outside Delhi. The Indian National Port and Dock Workers’ Federation, affiliated to the Intuc, is part of the striking brigade in Calcutta and Haldia ports.

At the meet, union leaders, apart from asking the government to go slow on liberalisation, will also point at the unrest brewing in telecom and postal departments and public sectors.

Left labour leaders have been predicting such a state of affairs ever since the start of the liberalisation process in the early 1990s.

But after the initial flurry of opposition to liberalisation, the trade unions had retreated and have been fairly inactive since 1996. But the strikes are pulling them out of their hibernation.

“This was expected. The Vajpayee government is goings ahead with the second stage of implementation of economic reforms. And it is bound to hurt,” said Chittaranjan, who belongs to the CPI-sponsored Aituc.

The “friendly” United Front government at the Centre was one factor which kept trade unions on a leash after 1996. But with the BJP in the ruling seat, the unions are ready to plug into every disaffected sector.

Union leaders see the hand of the IMF-World Bank behind every new reform policy. “The IMF-World Bank has made restructuring of the UPSEB a condition for advancing loans,” a leader stressed. If the UPSEB has to be restructured, it should not be done at the will of the management, the leaders feel.

Not wanting to be perceived as blind opponents of liberalisation, however, labour leaders are punching their anti-reforms rhetoric with statements like “We are not against reforms per se.”

Chittaranjan said: “It is not that we are opposed to reforms. But the question is how it should be done.”    

Patna, Jan. 19 
The Rabri Devi government, smarting from the Election Commission gag on the Governor’s address following a BJP complaint, paid back in the same coin today, forcing Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha to stay away from a crucial bankers’ meeting.

The meeting of the state Bankers’ Committee, set up to look into poor demand for investment loans in the state, was expected to highlight the grim industrial scenario in Bihar and the low credit-deposit ratio (the percentage of deposits collected within the state given as credit for ventures there).

States usually cite low credit-deposit ratio as evidence of discrimination, but Bihar cannot deal that card. The banks are willing to give credit, but there are hardly any takers as few dare to stray into the state’s industrial rust-belt.

Realising that the presence of Sinha would have drawn limelight to the meet and the uncomfortable facts it was expected to throw up in the run-up to next month’s Assembly polls, the state government complained to the poll panel that Sinha’s participation would be in violation of the model code of conduct.

Sinha had set up the bankers’ committee last year to recommend measures to augment the credit-deposit ratio, but he is not a member of the panel. Citing this reason, the state poll commission last night sent a missive saying he could not attend the meeting.

Sinha heeded the commission’s directive and left for Hazaribagh today after cancelling his appointments with the bankers, who included the chief executives of India’s biggest nationalised banks.

For the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, the bar on Sinha came as a revenge as the state government was forced to drop its bid to squeeze a “virtual budget” into the Governor’s address after the BJP alerted the election panel.

The Opposition had alleged that the government was trying to beat the model code by packing the address with economic incentives for electoral gains.

The state government’s anxiety over the sub-committee report is understandable. The credit-deposit ratio stands at 26 per cent — it is comparatively higher in West Bengal at 40 per cent — despite Sinha’s directive to nationalised banks to disburse not less than Rs 1,000 crore in three months for projects in the state. But in the absence of infrastructure development, few are willing to set up projects in Bihar, putting the state government in the dock.

The committee meeting remained a low-key affair in the absence of Sinha. The recommendations of its report are likely to be presented in the next meeting in which the finance minister will be present.

Some committee members said the banks in the state were aware of the problems, but the situation could not be improved without cooperation between the state and Central governments.

Although the committee report was kept a closely guarded secret, a section of state officials selectively leaked the contents in an attempt to pile pressure on Sinha.

The leaked portions relate to the credit-deposit ratio in Sinha’s constituency, Hazaribagh, where it was put at 14 per cent.

The committee is learnt to have recommended a well laid-out industrial policy, including steps to identify and concentrate on districts with higher credit absorption capacity.    


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