Decade of development on PM draft
Pakistan waves nuclear red rag on Kashmir
Mamata sweeps vintage board
Bandit makes it to President sermon
Yes minister, you must leave your mark
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug.14: 
Stressing that security and welfare go hand in hand, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is expected to brush aside provocations from Pakistan and kick off the decade of development when he addresses the nation on Independence Day tomorrow.

Notwithstanding the muscle-flexing across the border, Vajpayee � who will speak from the Red Fort ramparts for the third consecutive year � is likely to tread a �conciliatory� path in his references to Pakistan and the militant groups it harbours and supports.

Despite the failed experiment with the Hizbul Mujahideen and its violent aftermath, the Prime Minister maintains he will persist with the peace initiative and his address is set to reflect that stand.

Though Vajpayee is expected to hit out against terrorism, sources said the speech is unlikely to be �very hawkish� in its tone and will be in accordance with his �open call� to Kashmir militant groups to sit at the table. The liberal line follows his loaded statement in Parliament that the talks should be held within the framework of �insaaniyat�.

The thrust of his speech, however, is likely to be development and he will emphasise why a nation�s welfare and prosperity is linked to security.

Declaring the first 10 years of the new millennium as the decade of development, Vajpayee will enunciate his government�s determination to double the per capita income of the average Indian over the next 10 years. He will call for a faster pace of economic, administrative and education reforms and changes in other social sectors.

The Prime Minister is expected to justify why the path of economic liberalisation his government has chosen is the only option available and plead for a nationwide consensus. He will specifically urge farmers, the labour force and the intelligentsia to veer around to the reality of reforms and back his regime.

The clarion call to these specific sections is important because farmers want subsidies to continue, the trade unions are opposed to privatisation and a large chunk of the intelligentsia is queasy about opening up the economy.

Vajpayee will try and counter the argument put forward by the radicals that the fruits of liberalisation are available only to a minuscule section of the society. The Prime Minister is expected to take pains to stress that the reforms programme mapped by his government is meant to benefit all � its primary aim being improving the quality of life for every citizen irrespective of economic status.

President K.R. Narayanan, too, has expressed concern over the frenetic pace of the reforms and has raised questions on their benefits. Narayanan voiced his fears again in his pre-Independence Day speech today.

Though he is not expected to announce any new schemes, the Prime Minister will highlight the various �people-friendly� decisions already taken by his government. These include the new agricultural policy tabled in Parliament a few days ago, the highways programme, which is also Vajpayee�s pet project, and schemes related to information technology, water resources, health and primary education.

Vajpayee is also expected to dwell on national integration and social justice. He wants to stress the need for further decentralisation of power and the empowerment of women. He will speak on the need to further develop living conditions in the Northeast and strengthen the bond with those far-flung territories of the country.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14: 
The violence in Kashmir and the need for resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan are emerging at the top of the agenda in the run-up to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s US visit.

The Pakistani leadership, keen to resume talks, made the �nuclear flash-point� theory and the Kashmir dispute the main planks of their independence day speech. But India rejected the contention by describing it as a �needlessly alarmist� stand which would help little to restore confidence between the neighbours.

Top leaders of Pakistan, including President Rafiq Tarar, army chief General Pervez Musharraf and foreign minister Abdus Sattar, have said a conflict between India and Pakistan could lead to a full-scale nuclear war in South Asia. Musharraf made it clear that Islamabad will continue to provide �moral, diplomatic and political� support to �Kashmiri brethren�.

The Pakistani foreign minister said: �Both Pakistan and India possess nuclear capabilities and a conflict between the two countries can erupt into a complete war, in which nuclear weapons may be used.� Tarar also supported this view by saying South Asia as a � nuclear flashpoint.�

Delhi rejected the theory outright. �India categorically rejects the thesis, as also the supposition on which it is based,� foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said in a statement.

The Pakistani President said: �Pakistan, as one of the main parties to the dispute, has time and again offered to India meaningful and result-oriented talks. India should accept the offer in the spirit of sincerity and resolve the problem.� Tarar pointed out that the international community should persuade India to agree to the dialogue �in keeping with historical and ground realities�.

But India stood its ground. �We do not share the assessment about the possibility or imminence of a nuclear war. We believe that it is not helpful for confidence-building and overall peace and security for countries with nuclear weapons to make statements about their possible use,� the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Jassal added that nuclear weapons countries need to show restraint and have a responsibility towards the international community.

�The reported statements of the Pakistani leadership are needlessly alarmist and are not warranted by circumstances or by any other development in the region,� Jassal said. �Such statements are designed to heighten anxiety.�

But if Pakistan is trying to pressure world leaders to tell India to resume talks, it seems to be achieving some success. India has made it clear that it will not return to the talks table until Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and gives up hostile propaganda against Delhi.

However, senior officials of the US government today indicated that Washington could try to use �some influence� on Pakistan to ensure it stops cross-border violence and reduces tension in the region.

The Prime Minister, who starts his fortnight-long US trip on September 5, will be on a three-day official visit to Washington and discuss various issues with President Bill Clinton and other senior American leaders. US officials say there is �keen interest� in Vajpayee�s visit to Washington.

That the Indian Prime Minister is being invited to address the joint session of the US Congress is indication of the importance of his visit. �It�s not just reciprocity,� a senior American diplomat said, pointing at Clinton�s joint address to the Indian Parliament. �It�s an indication of the importance being attached by all leaders in the US to the Indian Prime Minister�s visit.�

But he made it clear that developments in Kashmir will feature prominently in the talks between Vajpayee and US leaders. �It is foolish not to expect the Indian Prime Minister to talk about Kashmir during his visit to the US,� the diplomat said.

Though he made it clear that Washington was very supportive of the initiative taken by the Indian leadership to start a dialogue with the militants in Kashmir, it is also keen to see the resumption of dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad. However, he said the US will leave it totally to the leaders of India and Pakistan to decide which was a good time to renew dialogue.

He also pointed out that the US, which has continued to maintain a �friendly relation� with Pakistan, may use �some influence� in �pulling it back� from supporting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. He stressed that the US leadership was keen to see the creation of an atmosphere which would help in restarting the Indo-Pakistan dialogue.

Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansigh is scheduled to leave for Washington later this month to hold talks with the US under-secretary of state Thomas Pickering to fix up the Prime Minister�s programme and the agenda of talks with President Clinton.    

Calcutta, Aug 14: 
The CPM today suffered a stunning blow when the Trinamul Congress wrested from it undivided Bengal�s first municipality, the Uttarpara-Kotrung board in Hooghly district.

Trinamul pulled off the victory despite a burst of violence unleashed by alleged CPM supporters who also assaulted a number of journalists, threatened voters and drove out election agents in several booths during polling yesterday.

The outcome of the election, however, came as a shock to the ruling communists and a pleasant surprise to Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee. Out of 24 seats, her party alone has captured 17.

Last time, the CPM had won 13 out of 25 seats and the CPI one. The Congress had 11 councillors, seven of who had joined the Trinamul when it was born.

The CPM this time has to be content with just four seats. The CPI has retained ward number 17, but the BJP failed to open its account. The Congress� tally has been reduced to two.

�Our party�s success in Uttarpara municipal polls indicates people�s victory against the CPM�s terror and a fitting reply to the attacks on mediapersons. People now want a change after putting up with the CPM�s misrule,� a jubilant Mamata said.

Both the state and district CPM leaders have been taken aback by the poll outcome since the municipality was under the Left Front�s control since 1981.

�The result is totally unexpected. Our party perhaps could not make the correct assessment about the prospects of the opposition. We also suspect sabotage by a section of party workers in some wards,� a senior district CPM leader said.

He also wondered whether the party�s decision to field 12 new candidates also played a part in the debacle.

Mamata had projected Pinaki Dhamali, party candidate from ward number 5, as the chairman of the municipality. He is expected to assume charge within a few days. Utpaladitya Banerjee, the Trinamul nominee from ward number 14 who was assaulted yesterday, also won.

The Marxists had spared no efforts to retain the municipal board. They had reduced the number of wards from 25 to 24 in a realignment to suit the party�s political convenience.

The number of wards in Bhdrakali and Kotrung, known CPM strongholds, was raised from 11 to 13 by reducing the number of voters in the respective wards.

On the other hand, in Uttarpara and Makhla areas, the number of wards dominated by the Congress was kept static at 11 despite a sharp increase in population.

Sources said other factors which led to the CPM�s debacle included an unbridled promoter raj patronised by some councillors, higher rate of taxes and the municipality�s failure to provide civic amenities.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 
In a veiled reference to Veerappan and his blackmailing ways, President K.R. Narayanan today took a swipe at the links between criminals and politicians and warned that the tolerance of different faiths and ideologies which has kept the country together was breaking down.

In his hard-hitting pre-Independence Day speech, Narayanan said: �Indeed, crime and violence and the links between criminals, politicians and important people in society, has become almost an unholy alliance...It is time that civil society and the lawful government asserted their authority and primacy over the dare-devil heroes of crime and banditry.�

The President was just as critical of the media and its inclination to �glamourise� offenders like Veerappan. �Criminals are being glamourised by the media and are treated as if they are the new heroes of our society...At every social and political level, there is a crying need to speak out against crimes and violence of all kinds, but even such rhetoric is absent in India today,� he said.

The attack was also directed at some Tamil nationalist parties who were making attempts to encash on Veerappan�s Robin Hood image and fan his political ambitions through chauvinistic demands for the state.

Launching what is possibly the strongest attack on the failure of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments in nabbing the jungle bandit, Narayanan quoted Kazi Nazrul Islam, who, referring to colonial Bengal, had observed: �Today, the greater the robber, the bigger the thief and the cleverer the cheat, the more honourable, the more distinguished and the more dignified his seat.�

�We should take care not to have those times return to our society,� Narayanan warned.

Though the President saved most of the invective of his speech for the �growth of violence�, he also expressed concern over the increasing communal tension.

Alluding to the spate of attacks on Christians and their institutions, Narayanan said: �The precious heritage of tolerance of different faiths and ideologies, which has been the cementing force in our complex pluralistic society, is showing signs of breaking down and a new intolerance, resulting often in violence, is manifesting itself.�

The President, however, was cautious in his comments on Kashmir. Narayanan said India wished to be �friends and live in peaceful co-existence with all nations of the world�, especially its neighbours.

�At the same time,� he added, �we will have to be prepared to defend the unity and integrity of our nation and the safety and prosperity of our people.�

Narayanan regretted that even 53 years after Independence, India was still plagued by poverty, ignorance, disease and superstition. The President said a resurgence of old superstitions meant that child marriages are now common in some areas and complained that women are still treated as �less than human�.

He claimed that the law still remained �awfully inadequate� on crimes against women. �In fact, statistics show that crimes against women have been on the increase. No place is safe for them, not even their homes,� Narayanan said.

The speech also reflected his known concern over the adverse impact of globalisation. �Our policies, programmes, five-year plans and other developmental efforts as reflected in our economic liberalisation have not been adequate enough to ensure the basic needs to our vast millions even after more than five decades of Independence. The common man and woman have nursed the lingering feeling that they have yet to taste the fruits of Independence. On the other hand, the conditions of society after Independence, especially the new affluence of the privileged classes, have given rise to certain evil fruits,� he said.

But, the President added, there are some silver linings such as the campaign in Kerala for decentralised planning, the increased participation of women in literacy movements and panchayats, and water-management programmes in states as diverse as Maharashtra and Mizoram. �It is indeed a tribute to our democracy that people are now mobilising themselves to protect their rights and to realise their basic needs and change their living conditions. After all, democracy is a method of enlisting people�s participation,� Narayanan said.    

New Delhi, Aug 14 
It sparked a laugh riot in Yes Minister, the British television series that spoofed the byzantine intrigues of Whitehall. But it�s pretty serious business on Raisina Hill.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has stumbled on what has always been New Delhi�s best known secret � ministers often don�t sign on files where sensitive decisions are taken. Their private secretaries � the bumbling Bernard Woolleys of babudom � do so and append the quaint phrase �as desired by the minister� or �Minister has approved� to give it some legitimacy.

The ministers give out these verbal instructions so that they can wriggle out of a sticky situation if there is a judicial or executive investigation into a sensitive decision.

Worried by the practice, Vajpayee ordered a discreet investigation and discovered to his horror that many of his ministerial colleagues, most of them holding economic portfolios, were particularly squeamish about making a notation in the file when such decisions were made.

The private secretaries, acting on behalf of their ministers, were taking several key economic decisions including the allocation of money for projects.

Later, cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar sent out a demi-official letter to all members of the Union council of ministers telling them that the prime minister would like them to desist from this practice.

�There is a danger of unscrupulous officials misusing the authority of the minister,� said Kumar. Moreover, the practice was legally wrong and would be difficult to defend, if required, in the courts of law.

Kumar�s note said the only permissible exception was �when the minister is on tour or is sick and his approval has to be taken on phone ... even in such cases confirmation should be obtained on file when the minister returns.�

But obviously Kumar�s missive did not have the desired impact and the practice continued to flourish, prompting the government to adopt a different tack.

B.B, Tandon, secretary in the department of personnel, has since fired off letters to all secretaries reminding them of Kumar�s earlier guidelines regarding the signing of files. This time Tandon quoted a specific, though innocuous case, of a file on a parliamentary assurance which ought to have been signed by the cabinet minister but wasn�t. Instead the private secretary signed it and wrote �MoS has approved�.

Tandon�s letter is designed to drive home the point that private secretaries are bureaucrats with a career to look forward to and, while their political masters can afford to ignore Kumar�s guidelines, they cannot. If they persist with the pernicious practice, Tandon left them in no doubt that as their controlling officer he would haul them over the coals.    



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