Cong swerves from reforms to subsidy raj
Hurriyat hammers away at truce terms
Police strike jarring note
‘Chargesheet’ start to BJP’s Left assault
House hush on cricket pressure
Mausi chases MLA, slipper in hand
Drive to catch IT guns young
Mike missile flies in Manipur Assembly
Harappa in culture cauldron
Sangh speaks Left language

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
With an eye on farmers, the Congress today said it would oppose foreign direct investment in agriculture and distanced itself from Manmohanomics, favouring continuation of subsidies in fertiliser, water and electricity sectors.

Manmohan Singh, a strong votary of distinction between merit and non-merit subsidies, has been overruled as the revised Congress paper on economics rejected the basis of such a distinction.

Highlighting the need to “update” P. Chidambaram’s paper, the Congress economic introspection report emphasised subsidies on fertiliser, water and electricity.

While the Congress thinktank reiterated support for reforms and for the first time officially sanctioned privatisation in the policy document, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the economic introspection panel, gave it a new twist. As long as the party constitution claimed to be socialistic, it had to adopt a socialist path, he said.

Panel chief Pranab Mukherjee tried to bail out the former Union finance minister, whose famous speech in the Rajya Sabha in the last session of Parliament had made a strong case for cut in subsidies. Singh’s speech had caused acute embarrassment to Sonia Gandhi as it coincided with her taking to the streets to protest against a cut in fertiliser subsidy.

Mukherjee said the Congress and Singh were opposed to the economic classification of merit and non-merit subsidies. He said the Congress approach to economic issues was flexible.

“The tradition of change with continuity has characterised the response of the Congress economic policy to evolving challenges,” Mukherjee said. He said he met Singh thrice to discuss the paper. Party sources said Sonia had consulted the former finance minister, Madhavrao Scindia, Mukherjee and Arjun Singh to formulate the party’s strategy.

The policy document will now be vetted by Sonia but it will not go to the Congress Working Committee, which has been reduced to a steering panel.

The Congress shift on subsidies will force a policy-revision in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra as well as in five other states. However, Congress policy-makers clarified that they were not going to provide “free” power, water or fertiliser. “It will be targeted at the kisan and aimed at the needy and backward,” the policy paper said.

That the Congress’ “course-correction” exercise was political was evident as it has been devoted to farmers and agriculture workers. It seems to have chalked out a strategy to corner the Vajpayee regime on agriculture. It also seems determined to seek a “referendum” on liberalisation of the farm sector in the Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala polls.

Opposing bank denationalisation and “reckless disinvestment”, the Congress paper came down on the “ideological assault” on the public sector and demanded a White Paper and establishment of a standing committee for disinvestment.

“We must persist with the programme of economic reforms initiated since the 1980s. The focus of the reforms must be on reaching the benefits to the poor and ensuring that the burden falls least on the poor,” Mukherjee said.

Not many in the Congress were happy with the result of the elaborate exercise. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Murli Deora, who represented extreme sides of pro and anti-reforms lobby, were both disappointed with the position paper. There was a general view that Mukherjee has taken a middle path to avoid a showdown between the two powerful lobbies within the party.

Some also wondered why the Congress had shied away from formulating a stand on issues like downsizing of government.    

Srinagar, Dec. 1: 
In the face of unrelenting militant violence the All-Party Hurriyat Conference today rammed Delhi harder and with greater impatience and said if no commitment on unconditional tripartite talks was forthcoming the ceasefire would remain a farce.

“This ceasefire is useless unless concrete political initiatives involving Pakistan and the Kashmiri people are taken,” Mirwaiz Omer Farooq told a huge and restive congregation which turned up at the medieval Jamia Masjid to attend prayers for the first Friday of Ramzan.

“Let there be no doubt that even while we look for a peaceful solution, the battle our men are waging for self-determination will continue,” he said.

Although the Mirwaiz endorsed no militant group by name, he certainly betrayed no sign that he disapproved of their refusal to respond to the ceasefire call. “We salute our martyrs and we have gathered here today to express solidarity with those among us who are fighting our battle for self-determination,” the young Mirwaiz said to rousing cries of “Ya Ali!” and “aazadi! aazadi!

The majestic timber-and-tin prayer hall of the Jamia Masjid in the old city was choc-a-bloc with the devout and as the Mirwaiz expertly shifted gears from religious sermon to political discourse, the sombre mood of prayer changed and the gathering stirred.

Jis Kashmir ko khoon se seencha, wo Kashmir hamara hai,” the Mirwaiz cried out from his felt pedestal on the western end of the hall. “Jis Kashmir ko khoon seencha, wo Kashmir hamara hai,” a thousand voices responded.

In the flip of an eyelid, with one turn of phrase, the prayer meeting had been converted into a political rally.

“We are ready to participate in talks to sort out the Kashmir problem but the government’s intentions must be true. Kashmir was a dispute in 1947 and Kashmir is a dispute today. For 53 years the government of India has not been genuine in its intentions,” the Mirwaiz said, to fresh calls of “Allah ho Akbar!” and “Yeh Kashmir hamara hai, leke rahenge aazaadi!” from the floor.

Just as the Mirwaiz, who is also one of the front-ranking leaders of the Hurriyat, was keeping the batteries of his movement for self-determination charged, militants sounded a loud reminder of their presence in down-town Srinagar with two car-bomb blasts.

They have neither any intentions of joining the ceasefire nor of responding to the call of the new director-general of Jammu and Kashmir police, A.K. Suri, to surrender and join the mainstream.

The bombs went off in the busy Jehangir Chowk area, the hub of Srinagar’s commercial district, but nobody was injured. The blasts followed the pattern of the August 8 blast in central Srinagar, which claimed 15 lives including that of Hindustan Times photographer Pradip Bhatia.

A small device went off in a Maruti car. Ten minutes later, a white Ambassador belonging to the state government, parked nearby, was blown up with a massive device. The earlier blast was obviously meant to attract a crowd so the toll could be telling.

But Srinagar’s citizens have learnt a few lessons; people scattered away after the first explosion rather than gather around it. Another factor that may have prevented casualties was that during that hour most people were in nearby mosques offering Friday prayers.

In another incident in Pattan, on the Srinagar-Baramulla highway militants lobbed a grenade at a bus stand injuring 11 persons, three of them seriously.

The Hurriyat has been consistent with its silence on the militant violence, choosing to describe it as a parallel battle to the political one it is waging for self determination.

On the other hand, it has been hard on security forces, even alleging that it is flagrantly violating the ceasefire. The Mirwaiz even charged the Centre with trying to play politics with the Hurriyat leadership.    

Srinagar, Dec. 1: 
The Jammu and Kashmir police have not suspended operations and will continue to fight criminals during the ongoing unilateral ceasefire announced by the Prime Minister.

“Militants are criminals and there is no ceasefire against them,” newly-appointed police chief Ashok Suri told reporters at the barricaded state police control room this evening.

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference had yesterday alleged that security forces were violating the Centre’s Ramzan ceasefire.

Striking a belligerent stance, Suri said the police will not think twice before acting on specific information to raid a hideout to arrest militants and recover arms. “We have arrested several militants in the past few days. The militants are criminals and we will continue to take action against them to maintain law and order.

“I shall not suspend any operation against criminals. The Prime Minister has made the announcement, but that does not mean that criminal activities will not be dealt with,” the director-general of police said. “I repeat, militants are criminals and we will take action.”

He said if the army has information on militants, it should pass it on and the police will take action. “We won’t wait for the militants to strike if we get information. We will raid immediately.” He warned that militants will continue their terror tactics like setting off car-bomb explosions and booby traps.

Suri, who arrived here this morning after taking over as the police chief, reviewed the situation in the Valley at a series of high-level meetings. He issued a stern warning to the militants to either surrender and accept rehabilitation or face serious consequences.

The police chief also visited Baramulla to take stock of the situation. He met senior district police officials who briefed him.    

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
The BJP plans to kickstart its Bengal poll campaign with a “detailed chargesheet” against the 24-year-old Left Front regime.

The “chargesheet”, expected to be put together by mid-January, will focus on the CPM-led government’s “non-achievements”, including taxation, industrial development, employment, poverty alleviation and health.

“All statistical details will be sourced to government departments to make the chargesheet a factual and irrefutable document,” said BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy, adding that the Bengal unit was already on the job.

“It will be a powerful indictment of the Left Front government and will form the basis of our poll campaign, which will begin shortly after the chargesheet is released,” said Krishnamurthy, who was in Calcutta earlier this week for a strategy session with Bengal leaders.

The BJP also plans to release a “fact file” on every Left Front legislator, including those from smaller parties like the Forward Bloc and RSP. Krishnamurthy said the “fact file” will contain a list of promises made during the 1996 Assembly polls juxtaposed against the reality to enable “people to see the truth for themselves”. He urged people to supply inputs for the fact file.

Making it clear that the BJP viewed the Assembly polls as a “now or never” mission, he hinted that Bengal leaders had been told not to make seat-sharing a prestige issue and allow the Trinamul the upper hand.

“Our message is don’t bother about who is contesting which seat. BJP workers should realise that their contribution to the overall success is what matters.”    

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
A deafening silence prevailed in Parliament today with no one touching on George Fernandes’ reported meeting with Uma Bharti to bail out Ajay Jadeja from the match-fix scandal, but there were some red faces in the Samata Party.

Party sources see a design behind the leakage of details of Fernandes’ meeting with the sports minister in at least two dailies.

A party MP said he suspected the hand of a senior Cabinet minister in besmirching the defence minister’s image. He said Bharti and Fernandes had a good equation and had been in touch over the past few weeks. “But for Bharti’s help, this boy (Jadeja) would have been banned at least for five years. We are baffled at her sudden change,” he added.

He said the fact that Bharti is a protégé of the Cabinet minister — who is not comfortable at the thought of Fernandes becoming No. 2 in the NDA — might have something to do with the leak. A national daily yesterday carried a report quoting a section of RSS leaders as wanting Fernandes as Prime Minister.

The Samata Party MP was also cut up with L.K. Advani for his statement in the Rajya Sabha yesterday “quantifying” the defence minister’s nexus with the LTTE in the past.

Making a statement in the Upper House following an uproar over Raj Kumar’s abduction and Veerappan’s link with the LTTE and certain Tamil politicians, Advani had said that for the past three years, Fernandes had not made any pro-LTTE statement. “What was the need for quantification? Was it deliberate?” he asked.

Though the party was shocked to see reports in two dailies about Fernandes’ meeting with Bharti and details of a 10-page note purportedly written by a senior Samata leader in defence of Jadeja, it did not issue any denial till tonight.

While the defence minister’s alleged interference in the match-fix case was glossed over in Parliament, BJP and Shiv Sena members in the Lok Sabha raised the issue of betting and sought immediate action against cricketers named in the CBI report.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour, BJP member and former Test cricketer Kirti Azad said he failed to understand why the Board of Control for Cricket in India was unable to decide on their prosecution even after five sittings following submission of the CBI report.

Taking exception to the match-fix report being made public by then sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa before tabling it in Parliament, Azad said Dhindsa had said it would first be placed in Parliament. But he released the report to the press, he said.

Azad added that he had requested finance minister Yashwant Sinha to ask the Enforcement Directorate to probe the assets of the tainted cricketers. If they were found to be disproportionate, the income-tax department could institute cases against them, he said.

This issue has been taken lightly by the government, Azad charged, demanding that whatever action had to be taken should be initiated forthwith. Supporting him, Sena member Mohan Rawale said immediate action must be taken against the guilty cricketers.    

Bhopal, Dec. 1: 
Shabnam Mausi, the country’s first and only eunuch MLA, yesterday chased a Congress MLA and former minister in the Assembly lobby with a slipper in her hand.

The MLA and former PWD minister, Bisahulal Singh, ran down the corridor crying for help as Shabnam hurled abuses at him. The incident occurred a little after 1 pm, just before lunch break.

Shabnam Mausi and Bisahulal Singh are legislators from neighbouring constituencies in Shahdol district. The eunuch had been issuing statements against Bisahulal often to the media.

Inside the Assembly, Bisahulal has a seat among the treasury benches, while Shabnam, being an Independent, sits directly opposite in the last row with the BJP Opposition. During the Assembly session they keep avoiding each other’s eye.

However, on Thursday afternoon, they bumped into each other in the lobby. An altercation started. No one knows what exactly the immediate provocation was. The former minister refused to comment saying it was a “personal problem”.

Shabnam, on the other hand, told The Telegraph that the former minister provoked her. “I didn’t start it,” she said. “He was the one. First he abused my mother. I asked him to behave himself. But he kept abusing my mother and said he would beat me up with his shoe. Now that was too much for me. I immediately said: ‘What are you trying to do? Proving your manhood?’ Then it was my turn. I also gave it back to him. I am obviously the better one at these tactics. I have been trained to protect myself from men like these and pay back abuses in the same coin.”

Shabnam ran after the middle-aged MLA. Puzzled security men gaped helplessly. The chase continued till two other BJP MLAs who were leaving the House saw them. They caught hold of Mausi, who, by now was trembling with rage.

Sure of his safety, Bisahulal turned to Mausi and threatened her. Shabnam walked into the Assembly shouting that she had been manhandled. The House erupted in chaos and was adjourned for lunch break. Mausi then walked into the Speaker’s room demanding action.

“I will get the entire eunuch force here if you cannot protect me,” she cried. Later, Mausi submitted a complaint with the Speaker.

The Speaker, the chief minister as well as the House have washed their hands of the matter. Chief minister Digvijay Singh openly confessed: “The incident is unfortunate but Shabnam Mausi is beyond my control, believe me. I can do nothing here.’’ The Speaker is silent.

Shabnam Mausi had once expressed her wish to join the Congress and had tied a rakhi on Digvijay’s wrist to gain his support.

But after this incident, state Congress chief Radhakishan Malviya roared: “The Congress has men enough. We don’t need eunuchs. So long as I am heading the party here there will be no eunuchs in the party.”

Shabnam retaliated this morning at a press conference: “What am I going to say to this? Perhaps the PCC chief has forgotten that his name happens to be Radhakishan—he is Radha at night and Kishan during the day. This way isn’t he my true brother?”    

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
Information technology teachers are an endangered species.

Worried that with all infotech’s bright young things busy climbing the corporate ladder, there won’t be many left to teach the subject, the Centre is trying to make a teacher’s job more attractive.

“In the next few years teacher availability and not infrastructure will become a drag on the growth of the infotech sector,” says Ashok Chandra, senior official in the human resources development ministry.

Eyeing undergraduate students of information technology as the future teachers, therefore, the Centre is dangling baits.

Last year, it had launched an Early Faculty Induction Programme (EFIP). B. Tech students in their fourth year were offered an attractive monthly fellowship of Rs 10,000 for doing their M. Tech. In return they had to teach for a minimum of three years.

The government had also taken the responsibility of finding placements for the M. Tech students in different faculties.

One year later, the Centre is planning to double the number of scholarships for the EFIP. “Last time we had 100 fellowships. There were 700 applications and we chose 96,” says Chandra.

Applications have been flowing in but the government has been choosy. “We are looking for quality because the problem is essentially of finding quality teachers,” explains Chandra.

According to estimates, eight years from now the infotech industry, growing at an annual rate of 60 per cent, will require a 22.7-lakh-strong manpower. The human resources development ministry has also set up a task force to chalk out a programme to meet the demand.

But a rapid and thoughtless expansion will erode the quality of manpower and the EFIP, the government believes, is one of the most effective programmes.

There are several constraints, though. “Funds are not the only criterion for expanding the EFIP. We have to establish contact with the academic institutes for getting students enrolled in the M. Tech courses,” says Chandra. This is a challenge to be met, he adds.

It is now a race between the industry and the government to pick the best talents. The Centre wants to retain at least part of that creamy layer of the students in academics.    

Imphal, Dec. 1: 
Two ministers and four Opposition MLAs were injured in clashes in the Assembly today after the House was adjourned sine die.

The Assembly witnessed bedlam in the afternoon session, with legislators belonging to the ruling as well as Opposition parties engaging in a free-for-all after Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy adjourned the session.

Members of both the ruling United Front of Manipur and the Opposition have rushed to the Raj Bhawan to apprise Governor Ved Marwah of the ugly scenes.

The morning session passed off peacefully with the House taking up Question Hour and obituary references. In the afternoon session, the Speaker took up intimation of Governor’s assent to bills and presentation of committee reports. After this, Dhananjoy took up a no-confidence motion.

Congress Legislature Party leader Radhabinod Koijam and Manipur People’s Party leader O. Joy Singh said they wished to discuss the no-confidence motion at length and urged the Speaker to give them more time. Chief Minister W. Nipamacha Singh and deputy chief minister L. Chandramani Singh also agreed to the proposal and appealed the Speaker to call a meeting of the business advisory committee.

The Speaker then said all other business of the House would stand suspended until the no-confidence motion was disposed off. He then adjourned the House sine die.

The ruling camp was taken by surprise. Its members insisted they would sit inside the House.

Congress MLA Nimaichand Luwang went up to the Speaker’s podium in a bid to prevent the ruling camp from sending up deputy Speaker K. Raina. Suddenly, the lights went out inside the Assembly hall. Members of the ruling and Opposition parties began abusing each other.

Ruling party members assaulted Nationalist Congress Party MLA Ngursanglur. There was a heated exchange between the Treasury benches and persons in the public gallery.

Suddenly, both the ruling party and Opposition members started throwing microphones and glasses at each other. A fire extinguisher was also burst, sending up fumes.    

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
If Harappa doesn’t come to us, we’ll take Harappa across the borders. The country’s self-appointed culture crusader, Ananth Kumar, has taken upon himself to preserve and promote the Harappan civilisation, which, he insists, is India’s sole preserve.

For Kumar, who is the Union minister for culture, Harappa has become a keystone in drawing up a pro-active culture policy.

Speaking at a seminar on the ancient civilisation, the minister said the nation must project its past heritage. For this, it is necessary to refute the claim that the cradle of Harappan culture is located in Pakistan, he added.

“We must combat the misinformation campaign spread by our neighbouring country that Pakistan has 5,000 years of history,” Kumar said. “This is a contradiction ab initio (from the beginning). We must proclaim that the cradle of Indus Valley Civilisation is our beloved motherland, Bharat.”

As part of the campaign, Kumar said, his ministry has taken three initiatives. First, it will arrange an inter- national seminar on Harappan civilisation. Second, a walk-through gallery of a simulated Harappan site will be designed at Indian Museum in Calcutta and finally, an international exhibi- tion of Harappan objects will be organised at the Unesco conference in 2001 to proclaim that the cradle of the civilisation is here and not limited to one river bank alone.

“The Harappan civilisation goes beyond a river basin, a location, a community, a nationality. It was founded on a universal basis,” he said. The culture minister contended that when the Saraswati River civilisation is fully excavated, Indian history may go back 10,000 years.

Kumar said that his “mandate is to protect, preserve, promote and project” Indian culture. “The government,” he added, “should not regulate but be subservient to national culture, national heritage.”

Kumar justified the government’s preoccupation with culture by arguing that India’s heritage has to be protected from the onslaught unleashed by foreign television channels.

Arguing that in the west, culture was reduced to cul- tural products, he said: “For us it is a way of life. We have to sus- tain ourselves from the global invasion brought in by Holly- wood and Bollywood and reach out to our young people, our students.”

With this in mind, the government has decided to establish an Indian institute of culture and heritage, on the lines of the IITs and IIMs. The proposed institute will have different schools of archaeology, museology and management of museums.    

New Delhi, Dec. 1: 
Not to be left behind the Opposition in attacking the Centre’s agriculture policy, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch has demanded a White Paper on the rural sector and suicides by farmers.

Quoting from resolutions passed at a recent SJM meeting in Bhopal, the December 3 issue of the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, said the Manch would launch a movement before the budget to press for measures to arrest the rupee’s downward slide and deceleration of the growth rate.

A resolution adopted at the meet blamed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the malaise afflicting Indian agriculture.

“The attack of the WTO on Indian agriculture is not a mere chance. The agriculture sector of India and its bio-diversity is the lifeline of our socio-economic and cultural infrastructure. Thus, a conspiracy has been hatched by knitting the net of fertilisers, seeds, pesticides and patent laws to break the backbone of Bharatiya agriculture,” the resolution had said.

Echoing the Left’s charge, the manch accused the Centre of “showing undue urgency to implement the WTO provisions”. It said instead of amending laws to make them “WTO-complaint” the Centre should exert pressure on the WTO by “providing a lead to the developing world”.

It demanded that the government should “mend provisions of the WTO” according to our requirements and that “no new clauses be allowed to be introduced against our national interest”.

The manch expressed anxiety over the influx of Chinese-made goods in the Indian market, saying this has led to the closure of many local industries. It also came down heavily on the Centre for de-reserving small industries.

It urged the Centre to reverse its decision allowing foreign direct investment in the garment sector. “No FDI should be allowed in the small-scale sector,” it said.

However, the much-awaited meeting between RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan and K.R. Narayanan couldn’t take place today as the President cancelled all engagements because of viral fever.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief Narayanan on the RSS’ Rashtriya Jagran campaign. Sudarshan would have also briefed the President on the Sangh’s agenda, which includes construction of a Ram temple.

With Narayanan’s disapproval of the RSS’ sectarian agenda well known, the meeting with Sudarshan was seen by observers as a means of securing a “certificate of respectability” from a known proponent of secularism.    


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