�Priority lies in information technology�
Church flashes divorce Bill block threat
Digvijay tops, Sheila struggles
Mamata hope
Vehicle points to Naga link
Emissary in fix on actor play-act
Tiger trail trouble for forester
Bleach blot on bonhomie
Rebels flout state diktat, bludgeon man to death

Calcutta, Nov. 17: 

The Telegraph: Has chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee buried Buddhadeb the culture man?

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee: (Smiles) You�re wrong... I have seen all the films worth seeing (in the current Calcutta film festival). My responsibility as chief minister will make heavy calls on my time, my energy, everything. And I knew how the situation will unfold... (sighs). But culture for me is not entertainment, it is actually an integral part of my life.

TT: You�re only a week into the new job. How does it feel?

BB: My major concern is to identify the limitations of the government. Once we get to know that, we will start finetuning our programmes, and lining up tough decisions. Let me be a little more specific, the tough decisions will be unveiled in a day or two.

TT: Your assertion on assuming office was that your government will be more responsive to people. But has the entire government taken the cue and begun to reach out ?

BB: (Hesitantly) Having spent years in government, I know we cannot talk about work culture or discipline, not as yet. But changes have begun to take place, for instance, in Writers� Buildings people are responding. In the districts, I am afraid, the situation is still the same. This is one area where we are planning tough measures. Give us a week, we will introduce performance diary which will determine reward or punishment for government employees.

TT: How tough can you get in a sarkar � as much as a private management?

BB: Yes, if necessary, hire and fire. Don�t exaggerate this bit, what I mean to say we will give the hardest punishment to shirkers and disrupters. The existing law gives us enough powers. This (fear of punishment) is very necessary. We are living in a bloody capitalist society, so not all can be motivated to discharge responsibilities.

TT: What you�re saying, if implemented, might lead to large-scale departure of supporters from your party and the formidable co-ordination committee of government employees � are you willing to risk that ?

BB: (Leaning forward in excitement) Yes, only people who constitute the bad blood in the CPM or the co-ordination committee will go out. Those who love the organisation, the ideology, the people, will stay put.

TT: There is an election round the corner. Can you afford all this now?

BB: So what? If bad blood goes out, people will feel doubly encouraged to vote us back to power. I am not making idle talk. Minutes before this interview, I signed the orders for suspension of two IAS officers. We in government are duty-bound to behave well with the people, our real masters.

TT: How do you make government employees more responsive?

BB: They realise they will have to fit into the government�s overall programme and policies. We are evolving the hard decisions in consultation with them. They support us. Ours is a big organisation where certain elements might range themselves against the government. But we are not bothered, we will do what we feel is right. On Thursday morning Ashim (Dasgupta), Surya (Kanta Mishra) and I had a meeting on this.

TT: You have only six months to improve the working of the government and help the Left Front try to win a tough election. The economy is limping, unemployment rising, New Delhi and Mamata Banerjee snapping at your heels. Against this background, what are your priorities?

BB: Naturally, industrialisation. But it will be industrialisation with a focus. I am not concerned with traditional industries. My priorities lie in information technology and second generation of reforms in agriculture. I can prove to you all, with statistics, if necessary, that Bengal has begun to turn around because the environment has changed.

Believe me, things are happening in IT. The second complex at Salt Lake is bursting at the seams, I will be inaugurating it any day. Construction of other complexes is going to start very soon. The Tatas want to come in, so does Sema, a British company. IBM and Webel are about to sign an agreement on long-distance training. We are concentrating on e-governance, e-commerce/ manufacturing and e-training. E-governance is meant to improve the work of the government, but the last, e-training, is important. Already, the Japanese and the British are in an advanced stage of talks on training in our IIIT.

TT: One doesn�t see much movement in e-commerce/ manufacturing?

BB: Don�t forget our success with Wipro. When our IT secretary called us from Bangalore to say Wipro wants land in seven days and that, too, at the competitive prices offered by Maharashtra, I told my colleagues that it�s a challenge. We either take Wipro and prove our intentions, or we continue to be known as a laggard. We gave land to Wipro at the matching rates and closed the deal in three days, and we are capable of repeating this as many times as you want. Let me assert that no serious company seeking to enter the IT business in Bengal will have to stand in queue for more than a month. For a company like Wipro, the wait will not be more than a week. We will give them incentives in the shape of land.

TT: Where was this speed before?

BB: (An embarrassed smile) Let�s not start digging up the past.

TT: What or who stopped the government from moving fast �- the orthodox section of the party ?

BB: It would be unfair to blame the party all the time. As McKinsey (the consulting agency) pointed out, government procedures were also responsible. Then land, electricity and environment would prove to be very difficult to negotiate. Things are looking up after the setting up of the Cabinet sub-committee whose recommendations would now be binding on the individual departments. But I don�t mind confessing that I am still not satisfied with the pace. And, please remember, it�s not my job to be satisfied. The Bengal I envision should be in the category of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat.

TT: Are your ministers taking the cue from the leader ?

BB: (Smiles) We will have to convince some of our ministers that speed is all that counts. A foreign machine tool company wants to set up shop with a sizeable investment, but the department concerned has sent the file back three times. This kind of joke will not do.

TT: Have you thought how you will cope with Citu?

BB: We, the Citu and the party all believe in the same political programme. We are trying to make Citu understand that across the world political, industrial, social norms are changing. We cannot remain insular or blind to such changes. In the new dispensation, productivity, quality of production are no longer the employer�s exclusive headache. Labour, too, will have to address the issue of industry welfare. We have told them that they must decide what they want, chaos or industrialisation. What good is a charter of demands if the industry has to fold up.

TT: Great Eastern Hotel is just a start. You will have to undertake a full-scale privatisation programme. Given Citu�s mental frame, how will you do it ?

BB: I agree there was delay in Great Eastern, but we have succeeded in doing it. As for a full-fledged programme, we are discussing with the party, with Citu. We have to see what the party�s immediate programme for Bengal is.

Bengal is one of many states in India and we cannot hope to bring about socialism or communism here in the near future. Our main concerns are political processes, creating jobs, ensuring social welfare, striving for equality, and not taking the government into any kind of business. If you are going to cite Haldia (Petrochemicals), let me tell you that we did not have any other option but to participate in it. As for now, we will strictly confine ourselves to education, health and social infrastructure.

TT: What is your message to Citu or the opposing section of the CPM?

BB: We must realise that time is no longer on our side. If we do not go and tell the world now that we are an investor-friendly government, the investment boom that is currently building up is going to go past us. We will have to pay a terrible price for it.

We have told everyone that we will aggressively chase private capital because we have to create jobs and we will not tolerate things like gherao. We will not hesitate to institute police cases against gherao-wallahs. The government, Citu, the party will now have to be partners in the industrialisation programme.

TT: After all this, can you continue to take the moral high ground and criticise the Vajpayee government for privatisation?

BB: Yes, we can. There are two streams of privatisation. One, driven by the World Bank and IMF, is causing auctioning of blue-chip, profit-making public undertakings and banks, downsizing of government, shrinking of jobs and market. The other, relatively logical and reality-oriented, stresses the disposal of unproductive, loss-making obsolete industries. There is a sharp dividing line between the two.

TT: You�d be happy to know you have company in the RSS.

BB: (Laughs heartily ) Yes, yes, Govindacharya and company have begun to attack the bazaar.

TT: Disillusioned at the stagnation, the young and brilliant are leaving Bengal in droves. What hopes do you hold out for them?

BB: I am aware of the trend and I am very disturbed. The government�s emphasis on IT flows from the concern for the young. The government has to speak the language of the young, read the mind of the young and explore possibilities of creating jobs in bio-technology, genetics � the 21st century subjects. I will say two things: this government will make them (youth) feel they have a lot to contribute to the state�s well-being; and the CPM will never be seen as an adherent to Pol Pot-ism (laughs). At a serious level, we are far more progressive than many others.

TT: Jyoti Basu thinks that being a young chief minister, you should be able to vibe well with the young?

BB: (Laughs) I am no longer a young man. If anything, at 56, I am an old man. The communist party secretary in Hanoi, who is also the architect of the new economic policy, is younger than me.

TT: Once you were known to be allergic to mixing with industry and business. But today you are actually talking the language. What a transformation!

BB: (Smiles) I admit I once had certain reservations about business and industry. Jyoti-babu pointed out to me: �Buddha, you�re making a great mistake. All sorts make the world. You are in government, so you cannot take such an insular view.� Then he began to push me into situations where I would be forced to deal with them. These days I am seeking out the young generation of industrialists.

TT: Mamata Banerjee is believed to be in a bind as to how to attack Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

BB: (Smiles) Why, they are calling me santraser nayak (hero of violence). However, I will not discuss her or, for that matter, any individual here. We want a responsible Opposition, which, we expect, will be open to consensual politics as far as possible.

TT: One has always wondered about the kind of relationship between you and Jyoti Basu. Would you care to define the relationship?

BB: What you see today is a relationship that goes beyond the party, politics. It is a father and son relationship.

TT: At every step, you are going to be compared with your predecessor. Is it a fair comparison?

BB: Whoever compares me to Jyoti babu is a fool. I do not have his vast experience or farsightedness. I was fortunate to watch him work in the government as well as in the party, handle people, or take quick decisions without betraying any emotions. It was pure education. So, whoever is making the comparison is doing injustice to us both.

TT: Did you have to speak to Jyoti Basu for advice on any occasion in the past week?

BB: It would be a lie if I said no. I called him a few times, but would not tell you why or what about.

TT: You are a public figure, yet you are intensely private; you will even go the extent of being perceived as cold to guard your privacy � how do you explain this?

BB: Just because I am a public figure does not mean you will invade my house for a photo session with me and my wife or chase my daughter to her college for an interview. I may not take your call at home at night because I may be listening to music, but that does not mean I would not stop the music and take a call from a district magistrate or police or a party functionary on a crisis situation.

TT: Our hard luck... If only you had said you would not take any of those calls either, we could have described you as �Bengal�s Nero�.

BB: (Smiles) Exactly, I have to keep that in mind also. Newspapers like yours will not think twice before giving me the sobriquet: Nero of Bengal. I will attend the calls and still listen to music the next day. You cannot invade my privacy.

TT: You are extremely proud of your daughter Suchetana, her political senses. Chandan Basu did not join politics, will she?

BB: It�s up to her. But let me tell you she is very political. If she decides to join politics, she will have to do it out of a fundamental belief or faith in it.    

New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
The church has accused the government of �rushing� the amendments to the Indian Divorce Act and decided to block them in Parliament.

Pointing out that they were not consulted on the changes, church leaders said they would call a meeting of MPs, especially those belonging to the Christian community, to stall the amendments.

The Indian Divorce Amendment Bill 2000 is likely to come up in the winter session, beginning on Monday. The changes to the 1869 law were cleared by the Union Cabinet yesterday.

Though the church welcomed the decision to amend Sections 10, 17 and 20 of the Act, its leaders said the haste in which it was taken smacked of �an air of secrecy�. They added that women�s organisations were also kept in the dark about the Bill.

At a press conference of the National Council of Churches in India and the Joint Women�s Programme, archbishop of Agra and secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops� Conference of India Oswald Gracias said the churches welcome the move to remove the gender bias in the old law.

�But we are very anxious at the moment about the Bill as we do not know what the Bill looks like in its final shape, whether anything new has been added or whether the Christian women have really benefited,� he added. The archbishop said the churches are �bewildered at the air of secrecy surrounding the Bill approved by the Cabinet and proposed to be introduced in Parliament�. He added that he came to know of the decision only through newspapers.

The Christian community, Gravias said, has all along called for changes in the Act to bring it at par with Special Marriage Act. But the present attempt is a step backward from the Bill proposed by the government in its meeting with Christian leaders at Vigyan Bhavan on April 28.

The meeting called by then law minister Ram Jethmalani had the general consensus of the Christians on the sections relating to divorce, the archbishop said. �The only dispute was regarding some sections introduced in the marriage portion of the said Bill.�

Gracias made it clear the church was not objecting to the amendments but the �procedure adopted�.

�We are apprehensive about the contents and surprised at the hurry,� the archbishop said. He said the procedure was �inappropriate�, the contents �inadequate� (according to press reports) and the haste �indecent�.    

New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
Promising to make the Congress �the party of the poor,� Sonia Gandhi today unveiled a new socio-economic agenda focusing on left-of-centre policies with a clear message to nine Congress chief ministers to shape up or ship out.

The eight-hour gruelling performance appraisal saw Digvijay Singh and S.M. Krishna walk away with top honours and Vilasrao Deskhmukh and Shiela Dixit struggling to scrape through.

The Maharashtra chief minister sought to put the blame on Sharad Pawar, alleging constant interference. However, excuses found little place in the �mini Panchmarhi session�.

The chief ministers were asked to record their achievements. They were then exposed to a rapid- fire question session with interviewers ranging from Manmohan Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar to little-known leaders like Santosh Chowdhury.

�It was a unique exercise in the sense that there was no hierarchy,� Aiyar said.

In her opening remarks, the �elected� party chief made it clear that she wanted all Congress-ruled states to be �model states.�

�You must remember one gurumantra. Why should a voter choose us ahead of others,� she said, throwing a poser to them. The leader of the Opposition said she had no magic wand to restore past glory.

�The Scheduled Castes, minorities, backwards and womenfolk used to be the bulwark of the party. Unless we regain their confidence, we can not stage a comeback,� she said.

The upshot of today�s meeting was to reduce the number of welfare schemes for the poor and repackage them in a way that they actually benefit the needy. �There is no point in giving an aid of Rs 100. The schemes should be pragmatic and easy to implement,� a Congress Working Committee member said.

All chief ministers of Congress-ruled states have been asked to exchange notes to sharpen focus on pro-poor programmes.

Sonia asked other states to emulate Madhya Pradesh�s �grain bank� scheme in which farmers borrow grains in the off season and return them after the harvest.

Job quota for Muslims who figure in Mandal award in government was another issue that came for discussion. In principle, the chief ministers agreed to follow Karnataka and Kerala that have provisions for reservations.    

New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
Mamata Banerjee is hopeful the Vajpayee government will discuss her demand for an oil price rollback on the eve of or during the National Democratic Alliance meeting on Sunday, reports our special correspondent.

Talking to reporters after a railway function, Mamata said she was optimistic the government would do something. �I had written to Vajpayee some weeks ago and had been assured that my demand would be looked into.�

She denied she was angry with the Centre and had chosen to stay away from yesterday�s Cabinet meeting. In the past, when a crucial decision on corporatisation of the telecom sector was taken, Mamata had skipped a Cabinet meet. Today, she said she skipped yesterday�s meeting since she had an official function to attend at Hyderabad.    

Siliguri, Nov. 17: 
The recovery of a Gypsy which was registered in Nagaland has given the police the first tangible evidence of Gorkha militant leader Chattray Subba�s links with Naga insurgents.

The breakthrough is crucial as the investigations had come to a standstill with Subba continuing to elude the police.

Subba, president of the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO), was supposed to have gone �underground� after the government issued an arrest warrant charging him with �waging a war against the country�. He has also been accused of having links with the 25 suspected Naga militants who were locked in a 24-hour encounter with the police, in which a homeguard was killed.

The insurgents are said to be holed up in the jungles of Jaldhaka. Subba has denied any link with the Nagas. Police chanced upon the vehicle while combing the forests in Phudong, barely four km from Subba�s house in Raushey Bazar on the outskirts of Kalimpong town.

�A white Maruti Gypsy, bearing a false West Bengal registration number, was recovered deep in the jungles of Phudong below Raushey Bazar, during an intensive combing operation last night. Documents found in the vehicle revealed its original registration,� said Kalimpong sub-divisional police officer Rajesh Subarno.

�The vehicle had a number, WB 74 D 0285, registered in the name of one K.S. Manontoni of Patel Road in Siliguri. But its original number happens to be NL 06 1463, registered in Nagaland�s Wokha district. The vehicle is of 1998 make. We have contacted our Nagaland counterparts to cross-check the registration number,� Subarno added.

Police suspect that the vehicle was used by the GLO to ferry the Naga militants, arms and ammunition and provisions to the hideouts and training camps deep inside the jungles bordering Bhutan.

�The vehicle was used to ferry the insurgents from Kalimpong to Samsing. It was even used for �shopping trips� to Samsing and Metalli during the insurgents� stay at the Tinkathari-Guabari hideout. We have information that the Gypsy was used by the GLO-Naga combine on Saturday, when the encounter took place, to move from one place to another,� the official added.    

Chennai, Nov. 17: 
Embarrassed by Raj Kumar�s statement that prompted by a lady doctor, he had to dramatise his ill-health to convince Veerappan to release him, chief negotiator P. Nedumaran today argued that it was his and his team�s efforts that had ended the jungle ordeal.

�It�s wrong to say that Dr Bhanu had in any way been responsible for the release. It was our work, our efforts to persuade Veerappan which clinched the issue. She is only a doctor and she had come along to check Raj Kumar�s health. Nothing more,� Nedumaran said at a news conference here.

Nedumaran was anxious to brush aside Raj Kumar�s dramatic description of his release as it implied that he, too, had played a part in taking Veerappan and his Tamil nationalist friends for a ride.

Nedumaran, who heads the Thamizhar Dheseeya Iyakkam and is a known LTTE sympathiser, was at pains to stress that it was the �mutual trust� he shared with the bandit that had carried the day.

Nedumaran distributed a statement from the Kannada star in which the actor denies having ever stated that it was Bhanu�s suggestion that had done the trick.

Claiming that his remarks had been distorted, Raj Kumar says that when the lady doctor asked him how he had coped with the rigours of jungle life, he replied that given the conditions, he had to pretend that he was doing well.

�I owe my freedom to the sincere and vigorous efforts of Nedumaran and his associates, to the patience shown by the two state governments and the goodwill of the people of both the states,� the statement says.

Raj Kumar, who yesterday described Bhanu as the mahashakti who had delivered him from the bandit�s clutches, today appeared to be more concerned about saving the prestige of the �yogi� (the term Raj Kumar used while referring to Nedumaran).

Raj Kumar�s statement was, however, not released in Bangalore till late afternoon. Besides, Bhanu abruptly cancelled a press-meet slated for later today.

Nedumaran also issued a joint statement from Veerappan and Tamil National Liberation Army leader Maran in which they justified Raj Kumar�s abduction, describing it as a �shock treatment� for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.    

New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
Bumburam, the tiger that became famous after its face-to-face with President Bill Clinton in the Ranthambore forest, is missing.

Tiger lover Fateh Singh Rathore was told today he was not welcome at the national park where he has served as field director for 16 years, because he made the disappearance public.

The friendliest and most photographed feline in the forest, who yawned and looked away as Clinton and daughter Chelsea stood gaping, has not been seen since October 1. Rathore, contacted at his Sawai Madhopur residence, said a few poachers were arrested with explosives three weeks ago. �These are new explosives they are using.

They come in small balls and are left behind at strategic places inside the forest, smeared with fresh animal blood or wrapped in a large chunk of meat,� he said. �The tigers cannot resist the meat-balls. And once they try a bite, the explosives go off, blowing up the animals� jaws and teeth. It�s a bloody mess that the forest ranger gets to see later.�

Bumburam was easily identified by his tracks, his odour and his roar. Tigers stick to their own tracks in the forest, seldom straying. Rathore pointed out that a tigress with three cubs, born two years ago, were travelling the same route everyday for the past 24 months. Another tigress, also a mother, was charting out her favourite route. As was a male tiger about the same age as Bumburam.

Bumburam, whose name Clinton mispronounced as Boomerang, was the most popular among tourist guides in Ranthambore. He was always there to allow the tourists to click away.

For the Project Tiger authorities Bumburam�s disappearance has been embarrassing. Ranthambore field director Rajeev Kumar Tyagi said: �The tiger has not been found within the past few days. It does not automatically mean that it has been killed by poachers. You can ask your further questions to Rathore.� Rathore had accompanied Clinton on the tour around Ranthambore in March. He has been mentioned in a book, Tigerwallah, by Geoffrey Ward which Clinton had read before he visited the national park.    

New Delhi, Nov. 17: 
Britain has decided to raise the Peter Bleach issue with India at �every available opportunity� in spite of the bonhomie in bilateral relations.

Indications are that Peter Hain, British minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs who is arriving here tomorrow on a four-day visit, will raise the subject once again when he meets with the Indian leadership.

Bleach, a British national sentenced for his involvement in the Purulia armsdrop case, is at present lodged in a Calcutta jail. However, the five Russians, who were convicted along with him, were released following a presidential order remitting their sentence a few months back. London now wants to know from Delhi why Bleach is being treated differently.

The subject came up at a meeting between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his British counterpart Robin Cook in London earlier this week. According to sources, Singh assured Cook � who asked him for a �review� of the case � that his request would be taken up with �appropriate authorities in India�.

Both Indian and British officials were quick to point out that the present upswing in relations shouldn�t be tied to one issue only. Over the past few years, the two sides, they said, have interacted regularly at various levels and also tried to broadbase relations.

Hain, who is here for wide-ranging talks with Indian officials, will also visit Ranthambore and Chennai. Though minister of state for foreign affairs Ajit Panja will be his main host, he is also scheduled to meet national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and information technology minister Pramod Mahajan. Sources in the foreign ministry said developments in Afghanistan could crop up during Monday�s discussions.

As his next stop is Colombo, Hain might also want to know India�s perceptions about developments in Sri Lanka and how Delhi viewed the post-election scenario in the embattled island.

About the possibility of Hain raising the Bleach case, a British diplomat said: �We want to raise the Bleach issue with the Indians as regularly as possible.�

The diplomat pointed out that Bleach, who has filed a petition before the Calcutta High Court for remitting his conviction, is waiting to be heard. But there is a fear that his appeal might be taken up only after 10 years as there is already a long list of similar appeals pending before the court.

�We are not trying to exert any pressure on the Indian government or interfering with the judicial process of the country,� the diplomat said, adding that London has only made a request to Delhi for a �review� of the case.

Though the British government�s position is couched in diplomatese, it is clear that it realises that India is in a spot over the Bleach issue and would hardly let go an opportunity to rub it in.

The Blair government may not have any love lost for Bleach, but it doesn�t want to be caught in an embarrassing position either, especially after the release of the five Russians.

Sources said the Blair government has had to take a more pro-active stand because it could be asked in parliament what it was doing on the Bleach case.    

Ranchi, Nov. 17: 
Maoist Communist Centre rebels today beat a village chowkidaar to death, blew up railway tracks, detained passenger trains and set up road blockades to enforce a 12-hour bandh even as the Jharkhand Cabinet said action would be taken against the extremists .

The bandh call was given by the outlawed MCC to protest against state excesses after police and paramilitary forces foiled an attempt by extremist groups to stage a rally on the day the state was born.

Official sources said MCC men blew up more than three kms of railway track between Bondimera and Hirobera in Hazaribagh district, disrupting movement of passenger trains and also those carrying minerals, including coal.

At Barhi, over 150 armed MCC militants set up a road block and fired at a bus. No one was injured.

In Giridih district, MCC men set up road blocks between Dumri and Bermo, throwing normal life out of gear.

In Bokaro, the Shaktipunj Express derailed between Dania and Jageshwari stations after it ran into coal blocks. As a result, services on the entire section of SE Railway remained disrupted.

Police and paramilitary forces, along with railway engineers rushed to the site of the accident. Later, the tracks were cleared and the train diverted through Barkakana.

In Gumla district, MCC extremists beat up two village chowkidaars and their families at Korkotoli village under Palkot police station, suspecting them to be police informers. One of the chowkidaars, identified as Bhudhna Kharia, later died.

Ranchi remained peaceful with the police and para-military forces maintaining strict vigil. Though most schools were closed, shops, banks, state and government offices functioned normally. Official sources said there were no reports of untoward incident.

The Cabinet decided to convene a four-day Assembly session on November 21 to take up the trust vote.    


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