On his 76th birthday, Vajpayee played the Santa Claus announcing the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, under which a crore of the country’s poorest families will get rice at Rs 3 and wheat at Rs 2 a kg. The yojana will cost the government Rs 600 crore in the rest of this financial year and Rs 2,300 crore in a full year.
Under the second scheme — Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana — the government will spend Rs 60,000 crore to build roads in rural areas over seven years.
Announcement of the twin yojanas on the Prime Minister’s birthday made observers point their fingers at the polls coming up in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. There has also been speculation after Vajpayee’s comments about building the Ram temple in Ayodhya that the BJP — tired of bearing up with demanding allies — may even be thinking of going into mid-term polls.
The cheap food scheme — akin to what N.T. Rama Rao had launched in Andhra and son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu has continued at the risk of bankruptcy — has been bouncing around for some time in the Cabinet because of stiff opposition from the finance ministry which ultimately has to find the money. It was cleared at the last Cabinet meeting.
Vajpayee said though there was surplus foodgrain, people “below the poverty line failed to get two square meals a day.”
The scheme will help the Centre get rid of a part of the food mountain of 40 million tonnes and lead to a saving of about Rs 600 crore a year in interest and storage charges. Even so, the finance ministry will be Rs 1,700 crore in the red in operating the scheme.
The cycle of official food procurement has become such that the government buys dear from farmers and sells cheap.
If the Antyodaya Yojana intended to narrow the gap between the government and a section of the BJP that thinks it is not pro-poor enough, the Prime Minister hoped to bridge the “urban-rural divide” through the road project.
Building rural roads is the states’, and in cases the panchayats’, business and not the Centre’s. But with Gram Sadak Yojana, Delhi wants to change the rules of the game. Possibly realising the adverse reaction it could cause, the Centre got Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Orissa to also launch the programme locally.
Vajpayee said every village with a population over 1,000 would be connected by “all-weather roads in three years”. Villages with an over 500 but less than 1,000 population will be covered by 2007.
In the third scheme he launched, the Prime Minister departed from Congress culture in that for the first time a Central programme was named after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The Netaji Subhas Saksharata Mission — this time borrowing an expression dear to Rajiv Gandhi’s heart — aims at complete eradication of illiteracy in a few years.
As Vajpayee spread birthday benevolence, his admirers, some recent converts among them, showered praise. L.K. Advani, who had come over with his family early this morning, later told a few reporters that this Prime Minister was “incomparable”. There was a poster put out in the name of Sushma Swaraj which said: “Tum jiyo hazaro saal”. Vajpayee had been accused of keeping Swaraj out of government.
President K.R. Narayanan, with whom the Prime Minister has been mending fences, also turned up with flowers.
As he returned home for a quiet dinner with his family, Vajpayee might have been visited by some disturbing thoughts, though. There was one more blast in Kashmir and the economy looked wobbly..
Police sources said the explosion shook the Badami Bagh area, housing the headquarters of the 15 Corps. The explosion killed six people on the spot, one a soldier, while 17 others, including eight armymen, were wounded. The injured jawans were rushed to the hospital inside the cantonment.
The sources said a suicide bomber drove a Maruti car, No. DL-5C-5889, up to the main gate in a replay of an incident that occurred earlier this year.
The defence PRO of the 15 Corps, Major Bharat Shahane, said: “Most probably there was one suicide bomber inside the car. Witnesses say there was one bomber. But we are verifying it,” he said.
The Kashmir range police chief, however, said militants had parked the explosive-laden car near the main entrance which later exploded. Parking of vehicles is banned in the area after a suicide bomber drove a Maruti laden with explosives which blew up at the main gate on April 19.
In November, 1999, militants had stormed the cantonment, killing the then PRO of 15 Corps, Major Purshottam, and six soldiers. The frontline Jamiatul Mujaheedin has owned responsibility for today’s blast. Another outfit, Jaishe Mohammadi, has also claimed responsibility. A spokesman told a local news agency that the suicide bomber was from Birmingham and identified him as Abdullah Bhai.
Minutes after the explosion, defence minister George Fernandes arrived here on a visit. But Fernandes left for Delhi without visiting the Badami Bagh cantonment.
The explosion triggered panic in the area. Sources said troops opened fire causing injuries to a few civilians. Immediately after the explosion, fire started in an adjoining shopping complex. It engulfed several shops in the complex. Police said the fire followed the explosion, but witnesses alleged it was started by the security forces.
Senior police officers like the inspector-general of Kashmir, Ashok Bhan, were not allowed to visit the spot. The state fire services chief was also stopped by the troops who moved into the area immediately after the blast. Soldiers in full battle gear threw a cordon around the area.
Scores of civilians were held up as the troops did not allow any movement. Traffic on the Srinagar-Anantnag highway was completely disrupted and all south Kashmir-bound vehicles were diverted to other routes.
The blast came within days of the Prime Minister announcing extension of the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir.
Bhattacharjee took the decision last week after a meeting with finance minister Asim Dasgupta, chief secretary Manish Gupta and senior officers from his secretariat. The new department that will be named Home (personnel) will start functioning from the beginning of next year, say sources at Writers’ Buildings.
The decision to set up a watchdog follows a perception that department secretaries are not able to enforce the rules on their own.
Dasgupta is likely to be given additional charge of the department, which will have a senior IAS officer as secretary.
At present, Home (PAR) department, under Bhattacharjee, looks after issues relating to employees and other administrative matters. After the formation of the Home (personnel) department, the Home (PAR) department will be renamed Home (administration) and will look after the transfers and postings.
Home (personnel) will monitor attendance, implement the new policy on attendance and leave, prepare monthly performance reports and verify employee activities through sudden visits.
It will coordinate with other departments and resolve other issues through discussions with employees’ associations. The department head will have the power to take punitive action.
From Day One, Bhattacharjee started initiating moves to restore work culture. “It is the topmost agenda of my government. If necessary, I shall not hesitate to be the cruellest man,’’ he had said.
“We also want it and shall definitely co-operate with the administration in this matter. But our point is discipline must be maintained from the chief secretary to a peon, because we all are taking public money,’’ said state co-ordination committee secretary Smarajit Roychowdhury.
This bizarre perception appears to answer many of the unexplained gaps in the story that two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants intruded into the Red Fort complex, shot down three armymen and escaped to safety by jumping from the high peripheral wall, despite the reported recovery of some objects, including an AK-47 rifle, magazines with ammunition, the supposed getaway rope, a diary containing mobile phone numbers and Rs 900 in cash.
Investigators of Delhi police are not convinced of this theory. Within an hour of the reported incident, information received from police sources in the vicinity of the fort suggested four to five men had been seen fleeing towards Ring Road on the eastern side of the fort.
Control rooms of some of the security agencies reported that two car-borne militants, apparently with support from others, had escaped after gunning down three persons.
Over the last two days, however, a new thread has emerged: two Kashmiri militants, undergoing interrogation either at the Intelligence Bureau-controlled interrogation centre or at the Military Intelligence-controlled interrogation centre within the Red Fort complex, escaped by snatching the weapon of an army jawan and killing three of them.
Police sources believe there was complicity on the part of at least one armyman. The inside accomplice(s) could be some army personnel and/or pro-militant Kashmiri traders at Red Fort’s Meena Bazar stalls.
One of three killed, Abdullah Thakur, said to be a Kashmiri, died at a point too close to the two interrogation centres.
Reconstructing this possible theory, a police official said the two Lashkar militants, under interrogation for close to two months, might have succeeded in enlisting support from within for their escape. But they cannot find a rationale for Thakur’s presence close to the interrogation centres. They also wonder whether Thakur or someone else had switched off the power supply to facilitate the escape.
These and a series of other questions would need to be answered before the police investigation can lead to a definitive clue to the riddle. The questions are:
Do the interrogation centres have protective guard(s) to ensure the security of the suspects and members of interrogation teams?
If so, what was the composition and strength of the guards and the identity of the sentries at the time of the alleged incident?
Most important, was there a militant in either of the two interrogation centres on the night of the incident? If so, how many and since when? Where are they now?
Were three armymen killed on duty? If so, at what point were they deployed and what was their duty? Were they armed? If so, have the arms been secured?
What are the details of these arms and the ammunition issued to them and recovered from the person of each?
What are the regimental numbers of the three armymen killed?
The commanding officer of 7 Rajaputana Rifles has to explain why the police were denied access to the place(s) of attack for a full 45 minutes. Besides, the police’s claim that the clothes of the three killed combatants were changed before they arrived at the spot and bodies shifted away from the place of occurrence needs to be explained because it amounts to tampering with physical evidence.
Fact remains Anand, India’s first Grandmaster, is the newest champion and today marked his first full day as one.
With congratulatory calls from across the world, the day began earlier than Anand would have liked, yet he sportingly spared a good 20 minutes when The Telegraph contacted him at Tehran’s Esteghlal Hotel.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
On waking up as world champion
(Laughs) It’s beginning to sink in... Last night, it was all ecstasy... There was that dream-like quality to what I’d achieved... How exactly did it feel on getting up? Well, as I was as lazy as ever, things haven’t changed too much!If I may add, it’s great that I don’t have to play what would have been the fifth game, today.
On whether life will now change
I’ll remain the same person but, generally speaking, I expect some changes... All positive I’m sure and, hopefully, nothing too drastic.
On whether he will now be under more pressure
Everybody will expect me to perform at a higher level, but that’s something I’m prepared for. Actually, the (bigger) pressure to become world champion is now off... I’ve achieved something I was chasing for quite some time and no longer will people ask when I will get there.
Last evening onwards, being world champion is part of my CV. Once, at least, I’ve got there.
On whether he is apprehensive some critics may talk of his success being devalued (owing to two star absentees)
People could say so, but this has been the situation for some years. It’s a fact that the world of chess is split, but even if a couple of players remained absent, there were many around to keep the Championship very competitive.
I wouldn’t go by the devalued bit. It’s like saying Karpov’s (first) title was devalued because he didn’t play Fischer... I suppose there’s no way you can please everybody.
On what it means being world champion
I understand its value, that’s for sure... Having faltered in the past, I know the worth of being world champion. Indeed, I would scale 99 per cent of the peak but never quite the summit. Now, I have, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I see yesterday’s win as a kind of confirmation (of his standing)...
On whether he is indebted to any one person, in particular
Many, not one... I can hardly begin to list them... My parents, (wife) Aruna, friends and teachers in school... My Team (GM Ubilava of Georgia and GM San Segundo from Spain) and, of course, the many fans. (Adds emotionally) I dedicate this World Championship title to all who, at some time or the other, have encouraged me and been patient.
It will be unfair, on my part, to single out any one individual.
On whether he believes in destiny
When it suits me, yes!
On his idols
Tal and Fischer.
On his first thoughts when GM Alexei Shirov resigned on the 41st move
Actually, I felt I had it all sewn up by the 30th move, but Shirov found the resources to claw back and I had to remind myself I should think about the game and not the title. After all, by the 30th move itself, the ‘God-it’s-really-going-to-happen’ thought had begun to take centrestage... As it turned out, my judgement did prove to be right.
To go back to your question, a sense of relief is what overwhelmed me right then.
On support from Indians in Tehran
Of course, it was there and I’m grateful to the Embassy staff who would send across Indian food as my stomach was a bit dodgy on arrival.
On plans for the immediate future
Wednesday’s closing ceremony can’t be advanced and, so, I’ll be back in India on Friday — I’ll spend the day in New Delhi and leave for Chennai in the evening. My next tournament will be in Holland, in January.
On whether the slump in form, last year, made him work overtime in 2000
My form did desert me, which was sad. But, if you look at it dispassionately, there will be ups and downs... There are times when every little thing falls into place and you keep swimming with the tide. At other times...
On whether the recent World Cup win was a huge morale-booster
It was a good trial run, specially for the New Delhi-leg of the World Championship.
On whether having tripped at the final hurdle, earlier, was at the back of his mind when he landed in Tehran
(Laughs again) I’m quite efficient at forgetting such things... I think that loss to Karpov, in particular, was out of my system in five-six days... In fact, those failures made me more determined... Upped my motivation.
On the possibility of a World Prestige Match between him and Kramnik (the Kasparov-body champion)
A trial balloon has been floated... On the face of it, it’s fine, but a lot of things will have to be worked out, specially as Fide plans to change the World Championship format (four World Cups with the top-eight finishers making it to the ‘Super Finals’) next year... With so much chess, where will anybody have the time for a full-fledged Anand vs Kramnik duel?
On Kramnik having beaten Kasparov
I was only mildly surprised, not shocked... Kasparov wasn’t able to raise his game, even though his title was on the line.
On his message to fans
(Laughs once more) Thank-you for your patience. Over the years, I’ve given some anxious moments but, last evening at least, I didn’t disappoint.
Finally, his plans for the day
Hmmm... Perhaps, we’ll do some sight-seeing.
Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 15°C