Naila steals nuke and Net thunder
Mamata throws divestment off fast track
Clinton slick, Naidu slicker
Basu lines up step-down speech

Mumbai, March 24 
After dancing with 30 women in Rajasthan and close encounters with a pair of Royal Bengal tigers in Ranthambore, President Bill Clinton gave business a wide berth in India�s commercial capital.

�I cannot imagine a world for my children that does not include a deeper relationship with India. I came to build this relationship before my time was done,� he said.

As the country�s business movers and shakers waited for the President to speak of investments and commerce in the 125- year-old trading ring of the Bombay Stock Exchange, Clinton spoke of Naila, not nuclear non-proliferation.

Clearly moved by the experience, he took them away from the joint ventures and protocols signed minutes before his arrival to an India very few in the 500-strong audience would have experienced.

�It (Naila) was very humbling. So many tribes and caste groups have come together to work in a democratic manner in the real sense. It is remarkable to see local communities worried about clean drinking water and roads. To see proud men and women shaping their own destinies. This may seem small to you but it is not to me. I have seen hatred and violence between castes and communities the world over.�

Clinton said that in Rwanda, he met a woman who woke up one morning to see her husband and children butchered. He had gone to refugee camps in Kosovo where people had taken shelter because they were Muslims.

�If you see these and see Naila in Rajasthan and cherish the experience, there will be no stopping you,� he said.

Cyberabad and Mumbai may get the dollars but Naila got more than a piece of the Clinton heart. There was no stopping the President today. �You saw me smiling and dancing. The odds were pretty good. Thirty of them and only one me. The reason we danced was because we had a lot to celebrate. I saw how women had access to credit and the role that different men and women were playing in the villages.�

He capped his speech by saying that this was a �remarkable and wonderful week�.

At the same time, the emotional backdrop to his speech and his experiences provided the perfect launch-pad to do business �as friends�.

As the President chatted with seven leaders of society at the Cafe Royal restaurant not far from the stock exchange, there was hard business going on elsewhere.

Several agreements valued at more than $3 billion were signed between US and Indian representatives.

Clinton, during his speech, acknowledged the role Indians in Silicon Valley have played and said this was a major stimulant to the growth in the relationship between the two countries. �We have in Silicon Valley 750 companies started by Indian Americans. The country has transformed because of the infusion of Indians.�

Talking of a shared future, Clinton said: �If you have an imagination of what the world should be like in 10 or 20 years, it will be difficult for this imagination to turn into reality without mutual respect and common endeavour.�

He promised Indians more jobs and more growth. �There are tremendous opportunities. There is a trillion-dollar global market to look forward to. These jobs will eventually reduce pressures on people.�

Like in Rajasthan, Clinton responded to the local warmth here as well. At Worli in central Mumbai, he threw his securitymen off gear as he got off his limousine to shake hands with two dozen blind students, who were waiting outside their school.

Clinton saw them, ordered his motorcade to stop and spoke to the girls. �Do you like your school? Do you get meals? Do you attend classes regularly?� The girls only nodded as they got a feel of the American President.    

New Delhi, March 24 
Pursuing with populism, railway minister Mamata Banerjee has forced the government to shelve its fast-track disinvestment spree in a number of public sector units.

Mamata�s opposition to the move has come as a blow to what she describes as the �disinvestment lobby� in the government.

The Centre argues that it can generate resources and wipe out a percentage of its ballooning fiscal deficit by handing over these units to the private sector.

The disinvestment committee comprising ministers Yashwant Sinha (finance), Arun Jaitley (disinvestment), Ram Vilas Paswan (communications) and Manohar Joshi (heavy industries) is bent on hastening the selloff process.

Trinamul Congress sources said Mamata is miffed with the arbitrary manner in which the committee has been taking decisions without consulting alliance partners who are not represented on the panel.

With Assembly elections in West Bengal scheduled for early next year, Mamata is finding herself in a jam over the government�s tough measures as a number of these units are in the state.

Mamata�s objection has saved the ailing Calcutta-based National Instruments from the disinvestment axe, at least for the time being. The selloff committee, which was to decide the future of some sick units, put off a decision on National Instruments and some other companies in West Bengal, fearing the Trinamul leader�s fury. National Instruments is located in the Dhakuria Assembly segment of her South Calcutta parliamentary seat.

Mamata took up the matter with Jaitley and Joshi, who is believed to have turned a sympathetic ear. But the others, particularly Sinha and Jaitley who are not mass politicians, disagreed.

In her campaign against random disinvestment, Mamata has received support from other allies such as the Telugu Desam, DMK and the MDMK. While the Desam is opposed to selling off stake in the Vishakapatnam Steel Plant, the Tamil Nadu parties are opposing a similar move on Salem Steel.

The southern partners had raised the issue in the Lok Sabha before it went into recess, arguing that the decision would cost thousands their jobs.

Sources said Mamata told the disinvestment panel ministers that while she was not opposed to reforms, no step should be taken that would further aggravate the grim employment situation.

Trinamul sources said their boss is also cut up with the Centre for the hefty hike in prices of cooking gas and kerosene, but being a minister, she cannot air her views in public.

Signalling her disapproval, Mamata stayed away from the NDA coordination committee meeting which decided on the price hike. Instead, she sent junior foreign minister Ajit Panja, equipped with a factsheet, and he put it on record that his party was dissenting the move.

Allaying the fears of its allies, government sources said the disinvestment committee report had recommended sale of stake in public sector units after identifying strategic buyers. They argued that a sick unit has to be restructured first to increase production capacity and generate employment.    

Hyderabad, March 24 
The star of the show was, of course, the honoured guest but for the honoured guest himself, the real star was his host. President Bill Clinton outdid Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu in praise-mongering at the Hitec City this afternoon, flagging him as a man who has �become very well known in the United States and very much admired�.

Indeed, Clinton hinted Naidu may have given him a bit of an inferiority complex when he said: �I wish I too had brought some slides with me because chief minister Naidu�s speech was so impressive. If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, you will all remember the chief minister�s speech and not mine.�

Clinton was referring to Cyberbabu Naidu�s slick audio-visual presentation on the achievements of his government and his IT-driven blue-print for 2020.

Indeed, during his 45-minute address, the President incorporated buzz-words like smart government flaunted by Naidu in his presentation. Another phrase he took out of Naidu�s speech was brain-gain, something that the Andhra chief minister had used to describe the phenomenon of Indian IT experts settled in the US and other western nations coming back home because new opportunities were opening up.

�I am proud to inform you that 23 per cent of the Indian software professionals in your country are from Andhra Pradesh but now that we are forging new partnerships with majors like Microsoft, Oracle, Motorola, Du Pont, Abbott, Merck and Pfizer, brain drain should be converted to brain gain,� Naidu said.

Clinton and Naidu spoke to a packed and attentive gathering of top Indian and American businessmen, IT entrepreneurs and cyber whizkids in a makeshift groundfloor hall at the newly-built Cyber Towers.

They were flanked on stage by the CII president, Rahul Bajaj, the American Chamber of Commerce chief, Sanjay Bhatnagar, and Satyam Online�s young boss Ramalinga Raju.

Underlining the importance of IT in the new century, Clinton said it had changed the world faster than anything in the past. �When I became President of the US for the first time, there were only 50 sites on the world wide web, now there are more than 50 million, that should give you some idea of how things have changed.� Then, in lighter vein, the President added: �The world is a very different place today. Even the things we mean by certain words have changed since I was a student. At that time, chips were something you ate, windows were things you cleaned, discs were things that caused problems in your spine when they moved out of place and semi-conductors were failed musicians.� The hall burst into laughter and applause.

And as if to compliment Naidu on how fast he had moved along with the new world, Clinton pulled out a driver�s licence from his pocket and flashed it to the audience. �I am told you can get a licence like this on the Internet here instead of having to stand in a long line back in America. I have got one of these and I may come back because this is the only place that is going to give me a driver�s license like this. You may see me back soon driving around in Hyderabad and causing traffic jams.� The hall erupted again.

In his presentation, Naidu indulged in some determined hardselling of his government�s achievements and goals and said: �We hope we will get the support we need from you, Mr President.�

Though Clinton made no immediate response to that, he did commit himself to a �future together�.

But while he extolled the virtues of IT, Clinton also emphasised the need to pay attention to other areas of governance.

�The challenge of our times is to convert our success to find weapons to fight poverty and spread healthcare and education,� he said.    

Calcutta, March 24 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu is expected to put in perspective his decision to retire at the Left Front�s rally at the Brigade Parade grounds tomorrow.

�I want to quit because I am advancing in age and keeping indifferent health. I do not want to continue as chief minister even for a day,� Basu told The Telegraph, a few hours after son Chandan gave him his fourth grandchild.

At a nursing home in south Calcutta, a boy was born to Chandan of his second marriage. He has three daughters from the first.

Curiously, in course of the interview Basu mentioned that he wanted to �resign the post�. However, given the ground realities and the configurations in the CPM, such a development seems unlikely.

After the party affirmed last week what Basu had told this paper immediately after the last elections that he would not contest the 2001 polls, the question uppermost on people�s mind is when the retirement takes place.

Basu sidestepped the question, but party officials indicated that the chief minister, who has drawn up plans for retirement in consultation with the leadership, might relinquish office in July-August if his health lets him down. Otherwise, chances are he would close the long and eventful innings next year, maybe after launching the campaign for the Assembly elections.

Apart from Basu�s health, there is the intriguing aspect of the election timing. There is a school of opinion in the Left Front that elections, due for June 2001, may be advanced by about three months. Another section thinks it might be further advanced, possibly late this year.

The ostensible reason for tomorrow�s rally is to protest against the BJP�s �anti-people� policies.

In reality, the CPM and its Left associates are going to use the rally to launch their campaign for the coming civic elections in Calcutta where rising prices, thanks to a host of Central measures, will be a major issue.    


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