Vajpayee breaks Vietnam business ice
Rebels ask George to broker party peace
Girl killed in Kashmir blast
Sectarian feud rocks Dalit outfit
Sleepless nights over art�s big dawn
Buddha rides into Trinamul black flags
Twin robberies in south crime belt
Most-violent tag on three state districts
13-year wait for finance course at Kalyani varsity

Hanoi, Jan. 7: 
After dithering for years and watching the proceedings from the sidelines, India appears to have decided to move into Vietnam � which, according to many experts, is emerging as the Tiger economy of Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived here this afternoon with a large delegation to consolidate Delhi-Hanoi relations. Taking advantage of strong historical links with Vietnam, the Prime Minister aims to forge ties at the highest political level. He will urge his officials to look for areas where the two countries can cooperate closely.

Vietnam�s economy is growing at 6.7 per cent � much beyond the official target of 5.8 per cent � and is likely to pick up further in the next few years. With few opportunities left for investing in South Asia and the threat of Chinese economic invasion increasing in the region, Delhi is left with few options but to move into Southeast Asia in a big way. It realises any delay may be a costly mistake.

Vajpayee is the first Indian Prime Minister in six years to come to Vietnam, which indicates Delhi�s past reluctance to maintain the �historical links� with an ally like Vietnam.

P.V. Narasimha Rao, then Prime Minister, came here in September 1994 when Delhi was still �re-discovering� Southeast Asia, but after that enthusiasm ebbed.

Vietnam is part of Vajpayee�s week-long travel to Southeast Asia. The second leg of his visit will take him to Indonesia � another important country in the region � and help in sending a signal to strengthen ties between India and Southeast Asian nations in general, both politically and economically.

In a statement before leaving Delhi, Vajpayee said: �India has enjoyed traditionally close and friendly relations with both these countries. These relations are rooted in the strong civilisational and cultural links between India and Southeast Asia, going back thousands of years.�

Vajpayee maintained that his visit to these countries which is part of India�s �Look East Policy� would �reaffirm the closeness of our relations at the highest political level�.

At the Hanoi airport the Prime Minister was received by Chu Toan Nha, the Vietnamese minister of science and technology and environment and junior foreign minister Le Cong Thung. Traditionally, the Vietnamese do not accord ceremonial reception on arrival. Vajpayee will have to wait till tomorrow morning when he will be received at the Presidential Palace by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong and other senior members of his government and the ruling Communist party.

Officials pointed out that even American President Bill Clinton was denied a ceremonial welcome at the airport when he came here last year.

The serious political level talks between the two sides will begin tomorrow when Vajpayee will meet Tran. �We would discuss a range of bilateral and global issues of mutual concerns with the leaders in Vietnam,� Vajpayee said.

A number of agreements are also likely to be signed during his stay here in natural-gas exploration and extraction of crude petroleum, cooperation in information technology, defence, agriculture and tourism and culture. A banquet in Vajpayee�s honour will also be hosted tomorrow evening by the Vietnamese President.

India�s �Look East Policy� began in 1991 when Rao as Prime Minister took the initiative of stressing on Southeast Asia � in those days the booming Tiger economy � and began engagement with key members of the region. Though initially many of the countries were interested in investing in India, Delhi�s babudom scared them off.

It was a major boost to India�s efforts when in 1996 it became a full member of the high-profile security outfit, Asean Regional Forum. But since within a year the economic meltdown in Southeast found the Asian Tigers on their knees, Delhi felt it was prudent to wait for a while before seriously committing itself.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
The Samata Party crisis is expected to linger on with the six-strong group of dissident MPs authorising defence minister and party leader George Fernandes to sort out the thorny issues.

The rebels stayed back in Delhi, deciding not to attend the party�s national council meeting beginning in Mysore tomorrow.

The dissidents said they were boycotting the council meeting because they did not agree with the leadership on the proposed merger with the Janata Dal (United).

They met Fernandes this morning with the defence minister trying hard to resolve the dispute. But the rebels held ground though they agreed that Fernandes needed some time to work out the right formula. �We shall do nothing that will harm the party�s future till January 14,� a dissident said.

The rebels are leaving some options open for a negotiated settlement even after the split in its ranks was formalised in Patna a few days ago. Fernandes, it appeared, had failed to make the rebels concede ground during the talks today. But agriculture minister Nitish Kumar, whose resignation drama ended yesterday after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s decision not to accept his quit letter, today made it clear that he continued to repose faith in Fernandes and hoped that he would be able to broker peace shortly.

Fernandes argued with the rebels that they could all move to Mysore for the party�s national council meeting where these issues could be sorted out. But the rebels, led by newly-elected Bihar state president Raghunath Jha, stressed it would not help to attend the meeting without the issue of joining the JD (U) � which led to the split in the first place � being resolved. Fernandes did not lead a team to Mysore yesterday because of the problems in his party.

Since both factions of the Samata want Fernandes as their leader at the national level, the defence minister is weighing his options. There have been indications that he is not averse to leaving the Samata altogether and either form a new party or enter into a loose alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan. It may be because Fernandes has not yet revealed his cards that the other Samata heavyweight, Nitish, is insisting that the defence minister lead the party and accept the job of Samata president.

On the other hand, Fernandes has hinted that he would like Nitish to lead the party. Political observers feel that a face-saving solution for both groups of the Samata can be worked out if Raghunath continues as the Bihar state president while Nitish becomes president of the party at the national level.


Srinagar, Jan. 7: 
A girl was killed and 30 others, including four jawans, wounded in two powerful explosions at Beerwa in central Budgam district and Sopore in Baramullah district today.

Police said the four jawans were critically wounded when a 34 Rashtriya Rifles vehicle hit an improvised explosive device at Suras Khag village this morning.

Senior police and army officers rushed to the spot. The injured were taken to the base hospital.

Militants lobbed a powerful hand grenade at Iqbal market in Sopore, injuring 26 bystanders. One girl succumbed to injuries in hospital. The condition of four others is stated to be critical. Security was beefed up in Sopore.

Militants shot dead Fayaz Ahmed Ganaei, whom they suspected to be a police informer, at Khan Sahib in Budgam district. Another person, identified as Mohammad Akbar, was gunned down by the militants this afternoon. A surrendered militant, Mohammad Ashraf, was also shot by militants at Rakhe Ashm village.

�Z� security for Lone

All-Party Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone has been accorded Z-category security by the National Conference government.

Lone had launched a tirade against militants, especially foreigners, after his return from Pakistan last month.

A police source said a high-level meeting was convened by the state intelligence chief in Jammu yesterday to assess the threat perception of Lone.

The meeting, attended by senior police and security officials, decided to upgrade Lone�s present level of security.

�He has been categorised as a Z security person like the ministers of the National Conference,� an official said.

Lone will be immediately provided with a bullet-proof car. The security at his Rawalpora residence has also been beefed up. Another platoon of the state armed police is also being rushed to his house.

The People�s Conference leader�s house is already guarded by armed police. Sources said it will now depend on Lone whether he would like the state police or the Central Reserve Police Force to guard his house.


Chennai, Jan. 7: 
Sectarian tensions plaguing the Pudhiya Thamizhakam, a Dalit outfit, boiled over when the rebel faction ransacked the party headquarters here and attacked the loyalists of its chief Krishnaswamy.

Trouble broke out yesterday after the expulsion of a senior functionary K. Selvam, detained in a murder case. At least three persons were wounded in the attack. Police have sealed the office.

Krishnaswamy belongs to Pallar, a Dalit sect which is strong down south. However, Chennai-based Selvam is a Pariar, the larger section of the Dalits which is dominant in the capital. The attackers claimed that Selvam was expelled because he belonged to Pariar.

The party chief had also suspended those who had staged a demonstration in support of Selvam.

Led by C.K. Bhaskaran, the enraged Pariars yesterday shouted slogans denouncing Krishnaswamy, burnt his effigy, then broke open the locked doors of the office and went on a rampage destroying computers, furniture, files and other gadgets.

Bhaskaran later charged that Krishnaswamy had let down Selvam because is a Pariar. If the murder charge was the provocation for the expulsion, what about the chief himself, he asked. Krishnaswamy, too, is an accused in a murder case and is on bail, Bhaskaran added.

The Pudhiya Thamizhakam gained popularity at the fag end of the Jayalalitha regime when the police went on a rampage in a Dalit hamlet in Tirunelveli. The party had polled a considerable number of votes in several Pallar-dominated constituencies in the last two Lok Sabha elections.

Krishnaswamy, fighting under the banner of a Pallar outfit, was elected to the Assembly in 1996.

Though Krishnaswamy projected himself as the undisputed leader of the Dalits, he has few takers among Pariars. Selvam was one of the few Pariars who held important positions in the party.

Selvam had been part of another Dalit outfit and switched over to the Pudhiya Thamizhakam only recently. Through his financial clout and muscle power, Selvam rose fast and became a trusted lieutenant of Krishnaswamy.

The breakthrough in the four-year-old murder case involving Selvam came as a god-sent opportunity for Krishnaswamy to put an end to an even otherwise uneasy coexistence.

Krishnaswamy, thought his expulsion move will boost his image among the Dalits. To make an electoral impact, he needs the support of some major party.

Jayalalitha would not take him for fear of antagonising the Thevars � the dominant intermediate caste. Karunanidhi seems to be worried, too, that he might lose whatever little Thevar votebank he has if Krishnaswamy is accommodated.

Thirumavalavan, the pre-eminent leader of the Pariar segment, is firmly aligned with the Tamil Maanila Congress.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Wanted, a VIP to open the biggest art extravaganza in India. Make that a chairman and, if you don�t mind, a secretary for the host of the promised spectacle.

The Millennium Triennial, where over 300 works of art from 30 countries are to be exhibited, is three weeks away from opening, but has not found a dignitary to cut the ribbon. The situation sums up the uncertainties dogging the national art establishment.

Initially, Vice-President Krishan Kant was supposed to have opened the show, but his office has informed the organisers that he would be busy on January 22. The culture department is now scouring the inauguration circuit for a replacement.

This and many other loose ends are causing triennial director Nand Katyal, who took over barely three months ago, to lose sleep over this prestigious event held every three years.

The exhibition will run at four venues � the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Lalit Kala Akademi, Aifacs and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

A five-member international jury, including two eminent artists from India, will select 10 works for a prize of Rs 1 lakh each. The show will be garnished with seminars, lectures and international workshops in different cities.

This year, there are two new features in the triennial. Instead of inviting a group of senior artists, the organisers have decided to mount a special show of Bhabesh Sanyal�s works. The gesture is a tribute to the artist who is about to step into his 100th year.

Second, guided tours are being introduced to familiarise people, particularly the young, with contemporary art.

All these plans demand complex organisation. But the support system is yet to be in place, leaving Katyal distraught.

For instance, work on cataloguing the show began only on Wednesday. The reason: computers were not available.

Katyal, a well-known exponent of graphic design, would have liked to produce an outstanding catalogue. But, with three weeks to go, he is not sure how much his team can achieve.

Comparable events, like the Venice biennial, have permanent set-ups to work round the year for mounting shows which become international trendsetters.

The backdrop of chaos against which the 10th triennial is being held is neither new nor unexpected. Only, this year the chaos is a little more. The Lalit Kala Akademi, which is hosting the triennial, has been without a permanent chairman for quite some time now. Sarayu Doshi, director of the Mumbai NGMA, is the pro-tem chairman of the Akademi.

It does not have a permanent secretary either. Sudhakar Sharma, now with NGMA, was transferred to the Akademi to take over as secretary, but has not been released yet. Presumably, he is keeping house at NGMA which is also without a director.

A constitutional review committee headed by Akademi vice-chairman C.L. Porinchukutty has suggested some amendments, one of which is to remove the age limit for the chairman.

Two, the Akademi general council should hold office for five years like the Sahitya Akademi and the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Three, the general council should take office within a month of the closing of the financial year instead of towards the end of the calendar year. Four, the general council must have one representative from each state.

All these recommendations have been passed by the general council and are lying with the department of culture since November.


Purulia, Jan. 7: 
More than a 100 Trinamul Congress supporters waved black flags at chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee this morning, forcing the police to arrest two of them and chase the rest away.

Much to the embarrassment of district and police officials, the Trinamul workers, who had melted with the crowd lined up on both sides of the road, flashed black flags as the chief minister�s convoy passed by Upper Bagar More of Kashipur, 35 km from here.

Bhattacharjee was on way to Purulia town from Kashipur, where he had inaugurated the Michael Madhusudan Mahavidyalaya.

The agitators were demanding the chief minister�s resignation following the �massacre� of 18 people at Garbeta on Friday. The two arrested Trinamul supporters were released later this afternoon.

Talking to mediapersons, Bhattacharjee ruled out a CBI inquiry into the alleged massacre as demanded by Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee. �This is a routine demand placed by them on any issue,� the chief minister said.

He said an inquiry was immediately ordered after news of the trouble reached him. Despite a thorough search in the adjoining jungles of Midnapore and Bankura districts, no body was recovered.

Bhattacharjee attacked the Trinamul during a public meeting at the Purulia stadium for vitiating the atmosphere in Bengal. Without naming Mamata during the 40-minute speech, the chief minister accused her party of allowing the BJP�s entry into Bengal. The Vajpayee government, he added, was least concerned with the uplift of the poor.

Accusing the BJP of selling the country to the imperialists, Bhattacharjee said: �When we set up the department of industrial reconstruction to open closed units, the Union government opened the department for disinvestment, which is busy trying to sell profitable companies to multinational companies and closing down loss-making units.�

Bhattacharjee said there would be no dearth of funds to fight the drought in Bankura and Purulia districts. At a meeting with the members of the district planning board, the chief minister asked the authorities to ensure that the people did not suffer from the scarcity of drinking water.

The chief minister also instructed them to create jobs for agricultural labourers and wage-earners.

He announced that more engineering colleges and polytechnics would be set up in the two backward districts. The chief minister also directed the district authorities to allot a 100-acre plot for an industrial complex in Purulia, known as the �no-industry� district. He asked them to exploit the abundant minerals here to set up the industries.

The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and Agridev, an Israeli company, today signed a Rs 10.5 crore Memorandum of Understanding in the presence of the chief minister. According to the sabhadhipati of Purulia zilla parishad, Swapan Banerjee, Purulia and Bankura will benefit from the project.

Once the proposal comes through, cultivation of even flowers and vegetables will be easier in areas facing scarce rainfall. Training will be provided by Israeli experts, he added.

The chief minister left for Calcutta this evening.


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Masked dacoits struck in two houses in Atmohanpur village of South 24-Parganas after midnight on Sunday and decamped with gold ornaments and Rs 1 lakh.

Fifteen armed men raided the houses of Hiralal Haldar and his brother Susanta in succession around 2.30 am.

They first knocked on the door of Hiralal�s house and asked his family members to immediately hand over belongings. Soon after, they began up the people, saying they were needlessly delaying matters. The goons then snatched the almirah keys and looted everything they could lay hands on.

Next, the dacoits hopped over to Susanta�s house, broke open the door, whipped out a gun and asked family members to hand over valuables. �The gang members were masked and all of them were in their 20s. They used filthy language at the slightest delay in obeying orders,� Susanta said.

A villager, Probodh Naik, said: �The area falls under Mandirbazar police station. The entire area has become a happy hunting ground for dacoits. We are at the mercy of the dacoits and the police are simply not bothered.�

Of late, there have been a number of dacoities and murders in the Diamond Harbour subdivision. Last week, a man and a woman were murdered at Mandirbazar. Two persons were lynched by villagers on suspicion that they were dacoits. Forty-five houses in Madhyamaruiberia village, visited by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, were looted.


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Three West Bengal districts, Midnapur, South 24-Parganas and Hooghly, are among the most violent and crime-prone in the country, according to a recent report compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The report came down heavily on the police, saying that the force have not been able to control incidents of crime and political clashes which registered a sharp rise in the past six months.

The police in the three districts have not only failed to identify and arrest criminals, they were unable to successfully investigate incidents of crime.

In a five-page confidential report sent to chief secretary Manish Gupta and director-general of police Deepak Sanyal, the NCRB gave details of the incidents and subsequent action taken by the police.

Sanyal refused to comment on the contents of the report. But highly-placed sources at Writers� Buildings said the state government will soon adopt measures to beef up police administration in the districts.

Sources said 150 clashes between rival parties were recorded in Midnapur in December.

In Hooghly, 130 clashes have taken place, while 110 have occurred in South 24-Parganas.

South 24-Parganas recorded 65 incidents of dacoities, followed by Hooghly with 59 incidents and Midnapur with 45 incidents over the past month.

There have been 150 deaths in Midnapur, 133 in Hooghly and 121 in South 24-Parganas while robberies, looting and ransacking of houses and offices of political parties, too, have shot up.

In a scathing comparison, the report indicates that the violence graph in Sibsagar and Tinsukia districts in Assam, which are rocked by terrorist activities of the United Liberation Front of Asom, is way below that of Midnapur, Hooghly and South 24-Parganas.

The report comes as no surprise to the state government. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the then deputy chief minister, had asked the intelligence branch in 1999 to prepare a �comprehensive� report on law and order in the districts of West Bengal.

In its report, the sleuths had said that �law and order scenario in Midnapur, Hooghly and South 24-Parganas is bad�.

The government reshuffled police superintendents and other senior officers in these districts, but home department officials admitted that law and order had still deteriorated.

N. Ramesh Babu is the superintendent of police in Hooghly, A.K. Maliwal is South 24-Parganas� police chief and Gaurav Dutta is in charge of Midnapore.

Sources said the chief minister has summoned senior police officers, including Sanyal, next week to discuss the law and order situation in the �politically sensitive districts�.

Home department officials said there is likely to a be a major reshuffle of district police chiefs.


Calcutta, Jan. 7: 
Thirteen years after it was proposed, the state-run Kalyani University has not been able to introduce a course in acturial science.

In 1987, the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) had approached Kalyani University to start the course which would focus on statistical modelling, financial mathematics and economics, financial reporting, pension schemes, communications, investments and asset management. LIC offered to help with funds. But the university is yet to act on the offer.

Nityananda Saha, who was recently appointed vice-chancellor, said he was not aware of the proposal. �I have to find out from senior faculty members as I joined the university recently,� he said.

Acturial science is taught in some undergraduate colleges under Bombay University in collaboration with the Institute of Actuaries and the Faculty of Actuaries.

The two UK-based institutes prepare the syllabus and offer reading material to students.

After the Acturial Society of India was formed, it took the initiative to introduce the course in the state�s universities. Kalyani University showed interest after LIC offered financial help.

�This is a highly professional course and deals with research and prediction about financial risks involved in any kind of investment. Many government organisations are in search of qualified students who have completed the course,� said Aloke Debnath, secretary of the Acturial Society of India�s Bengal chapter.

To join the course, one has to appear for an entrance examination conducted by the Acturial Society in association with the British institutes. The tests are held in Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Chennai and Bhopal. There are 15 papers, including a special paper for fellowship.

Kalyani university and LIC differed over the conditions for introducing the course. The university wanted all the students who qualified to be absorbed by the corporation. But LIC did not agree. There were also differences over how much of the cost the university would bear.

�We agreed to most of their proposals and assured the university that we would consider their other demands after the introduction of the course,� said a senior LIC official. �But the case was not properly followed up by the university authorities.�


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