Naidu and PM share satisfaction
Kashmir mine explosion kills brigadier, colonel
Chariot without wheels for Pranab
Odds are long against Buddha
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu set aside speculation of a building confrontation today, agreeing that the recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission be modified to address the grievances of governments of �performing� states.

Vajpayee and Naidu met tonight in amicable circumstances with the Prime Minister promising that the demands raised at the meeting of half-a-dozen chief ministers earlier today would be examined.

The meeting ended by making three key demands: a mechanism which would block increase in funds for states which become poorer; a fund for states (like Andhra) whose share in Central revenue has been cut by the commission; and higher share of Central revenue for all states put together.

The meeting, which had fuelled speculation of an impending confrontation between the Telugu Desam Party and the BJP-led government, lost much of its sheen as only six out of the 17 chief ministers invited attended the conclave. Conspicuous by their absence were the BJP and Congress chief ministers.

At the end of the day, both Naidu and Vajpayee appeared �satisfied� with their respective achievements. Vajpayee had managed to make Naidu�s show look less than impressive by pulling out all BJP chief ministers and Naidu had succeeded in convincing the Centre of the need to review the commission report.

The Andhra chief minister said he was happy with his meeting with the Prime Minister. �We are satisfied. Something will be done. The Prime Minister assured us that he will look into our demands after consulting colleagues,� he said.

Naidu said commission chairman A.M. Khusro had agreed to incorporate the chief ministers� suggestions and give a supplementary report �within 10 days�. Naidu claimed the Prime Minister and the finance minister had also reacted �positively�.

The chief minister said he told the Prime Minister that non-performing states should not be rewarded. �Why should we suffer? We are following fiscal discipline.�

After the much-publicised meeting was over, a diluted memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister. It was silent on the original demand of Naidu: Review of the commission�s report and keeping in abeyance all recommendations, which should be placed before an inter-state council meeting.

While the BJP restrained its chief ministers � Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh � the Congress chief ministers of Karnataka and Maharashtra also did not show up as the party high command did not want to bestow the halo of a crusader on Naidu.

Both the BJP and Naidu, however, donned a facade of innocence. Even as the TDP leader said that �there is no politics� behind the decision to hold the conference, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu denied that the party or the Prime Minister had declined permission to its chief ministers to attend the meeting. �No party has taken a stand on this (meeting) because it is not a political or partisan issue, it is a developmental issue.�

�Every chief minister has the interest of his people in mind. The finance commission should take note of suggestions made by the CMs,� Venkaiah Naidu said.    

Srinagar, Aug. 21: 
In a serious setback to counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir, a brigadier and his deputy were killed in a massive landmine blast at Zachaldara near Handwara in the northern border district of Kupwara late this afternoon.

Official sources here said 10 soldiers were wounded in the explosion. The sources said late this afternoon the sector commander of 7 Rashtriya Rifles, Brigadier Sher Gill, and his deputy, Col. Rajinder Chauhan, were out patrolling under heavy escort when their vehicle hit a landmine. Brigadier Gill and Col. Chauhan died on the spot while 10 others received serious injuries.

Latest reports said one of their security guards later succumbed to his injuries. Brigadier Gill had recently joined as the new sector commander of 7 Rashtriya Rifles in the sensitive border area of Handwara and Kupwara.

Senior district police and security force officers immediately rushed to the spot with reinforcements. The area was cordonned off. A massive combing operation has been mounted to arrest those responsible for the blast. No one has yet owned responsibility.

This is the second time in the past 11 years of militancy in Kashmir that an army officer of the rank of a brigadier has been killed. Sources here said the brigadier was inspecting his units in the area when the mine exploded.

In another incident, three armymen were killed and 15 others wounded when militants fired rockets on a camp at Banihal on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway this afternoon.

Police sources here said the militants fired the rockets which hit a barrack where soldiers were resting. The explosions caused on-the-spot deaths of three soldiers and injuries to 15 others. The condition of three jawans was stated to be critical.

The renewed bloodshed was a cruel mockery of chief minister Farooq Abdullah�s claim that the �ground has been prepared for restarting the derailed peace process in Kashmir�.

�The recent statements of the Central government and the Hizbul Mujahideen on a peace initiative are positive signs,� Farooq Abdullah said.

�Going by experience, this time talks would be held secretly without the knowledge of many. There would be no media hype either,� he said.

�Now the question is how soon the ball starts rolling,� the chief minister added.

Asked about the Hizbul accusation of dividing the Valley on communal lines by planning to resettle Kashmiri Pandits, who have fled the state, in camps, Farooq Abdullah said: �Perhaps, it has not been understood in the right perspective. We are not dividing the Valley for return of migrants,� he said.

�What we propose to do is to create transit camps where the migrants will stay under security and get their damaged houses reconstructed and existing structures repaired to facilitate their return to their homes,� he added.

The chief minister explained: �It must be understood that it is not possible to give security to individual houses.�    

Aug. 21: 
Pranab Mukherjee has almost always been a backseat driver. Now, he is being asked to take the driver�s seat in a vehicle that doesn�t have any wheels.

If Mukherjee squirmed in his sick bed at Woodlands nursing home in Calcutta once news reached him of Sonia Gandhi making up her mind to appoint him Bengal Congress president, it was not without reason.

Many in the Congress more than squirmed at the master manipulator getting his comeuppance. �Pranabda will now be driving a car without wheels,� an MP said. Another, from Madhya Pradesh, chose a different form of transport to describe the Bengal party. �He has been asked to ride a dead horse,� he said.

Others were asking why the high command had chosen to flog this dead horse some more at the risk of losing a rump. Supporters of current incumbent A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury were preparing a pre-Puja gift of a split in the Bengal party for Sonia. Even if a break does not immediately take place, they have threatened to work within the party as a separate camp, much in the way that Mamata Banerjee did in the past.

As the high command dangled the bait of a CWC berth before Chowdhury, Bengal general secretary Sultan Ahmad arrived in Delhi and spent almost the entire day with Mamata and even called on L.K. Advani, ostensibly to seek Central intervention in the state�s deteriorating law an order.

Legislators Abdul Mannan and Shankar Singh said in Calcutta before leaving for Delhi: �If Barkatda is removed, then it will be a party within the party for us. We will not allow our leader to be humiliated.�

The grapevine was humming with rumours that Arjun Singh and other members of the so-called coterie around Sonia had conspired to get rid of Mukherjee from Delhi. �After Ahmad Patel, Pranab seems to have fallen prey to the palace intrigue,� said an AICC functionary.

Apart from being a CWC member and the party�s chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, Mukherjee holds a number of posts. Sonia�s detractors said Mukherjee was being despatched to Calcutta so that these posts could be handed to some disgruntled partymen.

There was no word though on how Sonia would tackle the discontent arising out of Mukherjee�s appointment. Chowdhury is not the only one unhappy. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, working president of the Bengal party, is the other immediate casualty.

Mamata is unlikely to greet the change of guard with thunderous applause either. Her distaste for Mukherjee is well known. The relationship between the two is not the ground on which an alliance can be built for next year�s Assembly elections.    

Calcutta, Aug. 21: 
In the event of chief minister Jyoti Basu�s retirement now, the Bengal CPM will pick his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya as interim successor, but may project a different person as leader in the election coming up in 2001, a top CPM official said today.

The official said Bhattacharya would be the natural choice in the short term. In the long term, however, the CPM would have to take a decision about projecting Bhattacharya as chief minister if the CPM led-Left Front won the election. The decision will be taken presumably on the basis of Bhattacharya�s performance as interim chief minister and a combination of other factors.

�We have not addressed the long term issue yet. In fact, we are far from beginning an exercise in making a decision on whether we will project him (Bhattacharya) as our candidate for chief minister in the 2001 election,� the official said on condition of anonymity.

The CPM�s short-term acceptance of and long-term reservation about Bhattacharya as chief minister in the likely event of the ruling Front securing an unprecedented sixth term neatly tie in with Alimuddin Street�s under-publicised decision not to allow any of the CPM ministers to shift to safer constituencies.

The decision, believed to have been structured by state party secretary Anil Biswas, looks overwhelmingly loaded against, among others, Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta , both of whose ratings in their constituencies are plummeting.

If either of the two wants to get himself a safe constituency and assured return to the House, he must have an endorsement from Alimuddin Street where the levers of power are controlled by Biswas, his former mentor Biman Bose and their associates.

Asked about the party�s position, Biswas said that at this point, there was no better candidate than Bhattacharya to succeed Basu if he decided to step down.

On whether Bhattacharya will be projected as the party�s candidate for chief minister in the next elections, Biswas said he was personally in favour of Bhattacharya for the job.

But he added: �Let the election be first announced. Our party will then meet and take a decision. Besides, we will have to convene a meeting of the Left Front to discuss the issue. Since we are the largest party in the front, it is natural that the candidate will be selected from our party. But we need a consensus among the front partners over the choice of the candidate.�

Biswas welcomed Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh�s observation that Basu is not only a leader of the CPM, but also the supreme leader of the entire Left Front. �We will have to find a candidate who will enjoy support and confidence of all the front partners,� he added.

Asked about the timing of Basu�s retirement, Biswas said: �He will continue as long as he can. He may continue in office if his health permits.�

Biswas� remarks indicate a sharp division within the party over Basu�s successor. Basu had once wanted the CPM leader in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, to succeed him. Chatterjee was eventually brought into the party�s central committee during the 16th party congress held in Calcutta.

Chatterjee�s promotion to the central committee was long overdue since his performance as the party�s leader in the Lok Sabha was commendable.

There are also other aspirants like Suryakanta Mishra, land and land reforms minister, and Dasgupta. While Bose may not mind Mishra being nominated as the party�s chief ministerial candidate, Dasgupta does not have much backing in the party.

CPM insiders said a powerful section of the state party leaders are not in favour of Bhattacharya and Dasgupta gaining any upper hand after the 2001 Assembly polls.    



Maximum: 31.6�C normal)
Minimum: 26.8�C (+l)


2.2 mm

Relative humidity

Minimum: 70%


Possibility of light rain in some parts of Calcutta and its suburbs
Sunset: 6.01pm
Sunrise: 5.18 am

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