Basu builds case for November bowout
China chill awaits Atal warmth
Clinton in Diwali debut
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Oct. 26: 
After scoring a big victory over party hardliners last week, chief minister Jyoti Basu has again begun to press the CPM leadership for approval to relinquish office immediately.

Basu is learnt to be keen on stepping down by November 7 or 8. He has informed his party as well as Raj Bhavan of the preferred timetable.

Raj Bhavan sources said Basu has indicated to Governor Viren Shah, who is scheduled to leave for Darjeeling, that the trip may have to be cut short to swear in Buddhadev Bhattacharya as chief minister if the retirement plan comes through.

�I have not shifted from my earlier stand, which is that I want to step down on health grounds. As of now, neither I nor my party has worked out a final date for my retirement, but let me tell you that we are discussing the issue,� Basu told The Telegraph.

The chief minister declined to elaborate on the nature of discussions, but it is believed that during the CPM special conference at Thiruvananthapuram, Basu, 87, asked general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet to consider his plea for retirement.

At a meeting with Surjeet outside the scope of the conference, which witnessed a never-before updating of the party programme, Basu said: �It�s been quite some time since I told the party about my plans for retirement. My health continues to be a concern, and I think it�s time you again addressed the issue and relieved me of chief ministerial responsibility.�

Surjeet, who was instrumental in dissuading Basu when he was on the verge of resigning in September, has reluctantly agreed to consider the issue this time. Surjeet reportedly told Basu that the overriding reason for his opposition last time was the threat of the imposition of Article 356 in the state.

With the spectre of President�s rule fading, Basu may have a stronger case for retirement now. But the party is unlikely to agree to the proposal without stiff resistance. The issue is expected to figure at the party secretariat meeting tomorrow and a Left Front session on Saturday.

This evening, Basu said he had made up his mind to retire and the date will be fixed in consultation with �my comrades�. �The question (date) will be clinched soon as the current discussions will enter a crucial stage in the near future,� he added.

Anil Biswas, Bengal party secretary, is certain to be among those who will be consulted. Admitting that the issue � as Basu said � was being discussed, Biswas said: �It is (Basu�s retirement) not going to happen very soon. We are looking at it because Jyotibabu�s health is indeed a matter of concern, but we are all the time trying to lessen his burden.� However, he denied that the issue would be discussed tomorrow.

As the leadership chose to be non-committal, observers were citing impressions a few of Bengal�s industrialists have gathered in recent meetings with Basu.

One of them, known for his proximity to Basu, said the chief minister had declined an invitation to inaugurate a plant with the comment: �Wait for a while, you will soon have a new chief minister for the occasion.� Government sources said Basu�s appointment book has no entries after November 5.

Biswas, however, discounted the reports emanating from industry. �It seems some people are only interested in retiring one of the finest leaders of our time,� he said.    

New Delhi, Oct. 26: 
India, which had played down reports of alleged Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh, has decided to thrash out the issue at next month�s meeting of the Experts Group in Beijing.

The meeting, likely in mid-November, comes amid growing opinion that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee should take the initiative in settling the decades-old border dispute with China.

According to sources, the Experts Group will try to come up with suggestions on confidence-building-measures that could help maintain peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and normalise bilateral ties.

Efforts are also on from both sides to arrange a visit by Chinese premier Zhu Rongji to India early next year. If he agrees, the visit will be the first by a Chinese Prime Minister in over seven years and the first highest-level trip from Beijing to Delhi after the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests.

Experts here feel Vajpayee should place China high on his priority list. As foreign minister in the Janata Party government in 1977, Vajpayee had taken the lead in bringing about a thaw in Sino-Indian relations. They point out that his historic bus-ride to Lahore paid off as Pakistan was isolated in international circles following the Kargil intrusion.

Vajpayee also went out of his way to mend fences with Washington. If he can build bridges with China and, at least, remove the air of suspicion, it would go a long way in consolidating the Centre�s foreign policy gains, they said.

It was Arunachal chief minister Mukut Mithi who recently claimed that a Chinese-built mule trail had been found at Kaila pass in Dibang Valley district, which proved that the Chinese army had made �repeated incursions� along the LAC.

While Beijing refuted the charges, South Block played safe, saying a mechanism was already in place to tackle such developments. A few days ago, defence minister George Fernandes announced that he would visit the Northeast to verify the charges.

Indications are that the incursion issue will come up at the meeting of the Experts Group, likely to be headed by Nalin Suri, joint-secretary (East Asia) in the ministry of foreign affairs.

But going by the present mood and judging by Delhi�s reaction to Mithi�s charges, it is unlikely that India would indulge in China-bashing in public.

The session is important. Its inputs go into the Joint Working Group meeting � which is headed by the foreign secretaries of the two sides � due early next year. Complaints of either side are thrashed out at the experts� meeting, scheduled twice a year. The two sides have also started a security dialogue from last year to help them appreciate each other�s security concerns.

Both Delhi and Beijing have shown a willingness to settle the border problem, a keenness re-affirmed during Chinese foreign minister Tang Jianxuan�s July visit. Following a meeting with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh, the two sides decided to start the delineation process of the LAC in the middle-sector � between Uttar Pradesh and Himachal.    

Washington, Oct. 26: 
If Indians in the US had queued up tonight in front of White House in the hope of seeing diyas on the mansion�s East Wing window sills or hearing some firecrackers go off on the occasion of Diwali, they would have been disappointed.

But their disappointment would not have been total.

For the first time in America�s history, a serving President and First Lady today greeted the Indian-American community and the people of India on the occasion of Diwali.

�Diwali presents all of us with an opportunity to reflect on the many ways the talents, history and traditions of the Indian people have contributed to our national life and cultural heritage and to give thanks for the extraordinary diversity that is one of our nation�s greatest strengths,� President Bill Clinton said in a statement today. �Hillary and I extend best wishes to all for a wonderful celebration.�

Any hope of a full-scale Diwali celebration in White House with diyas and firecrackers was fuelled by a promise by Clinton in Silicon Valley last month that Diwali would henceforth become one of the many religious and ethnic festivals that are recognised in the White House calendar.

The promise followed a remark by Dinesh Sastry � a member of the Democratic Party�s National Committee Leadership 2000 Board � that unlike the Hindu festival, Easter, Christmas, Passover and Id were all on the White House calendar.

The occasion for the remark was an exclusive fundraiser for the Democrats, attended by 26 people such as Sabeer Bhatia, K.B. Chandrasekhar and other founders of rich Silicon Valley companies.

The fundraiser mopped up a whopping one million dollars for the party.

In the four weeks since Clinton�s promise, a full-scale White House celebration was considered for today, but the uncertainties of the Middle-East crisis, combined with the election campaign schedules of the President and the First Lady, interfered with those plans.

In addition, the lingering charges that Clinton and his wife had thrown open White House to political contributors may have tempered the First Couple�s enthusiasm for a large-scale Diwali celebration.

Indians have emerged as major contributors to the presidential and legislative campaigns this year and the Clintons are keen to avoid any further criticism about their fundraising methods two weeks before the election.

Indian-American sources here, however, do not rule out a Diwali event in White House later in November, once the US elections are out of the way.

Conveying his �warm greetings to Indian-Americans across our country as you observe the festival of Diwali�, Clinton said �this ancient and joyous holiday, with origins in the Hindu faith, reflects both the unity and the rich diversity of the people and culture of India�.

He added: �It is truly a festival of lights marked by lighting candles and lamps, setting off firecrackers and dressing in vibrant colours. During Diwali, Indians of all ages and backgrounds come together to celebrate life, the triumph of good over evil and the hope for happiness and prosperity that we all share.�

He said: �America has become home to men and women from countries across the globe, whose skills and perspective have enriched our culture, enhanced our economy and broadened our vision of the world.�    



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