India under US minority watch
Mud keeps mentor & Man Friday in touch
Health robs Indians of wealth
BJP poll nominee killed in Ulfa burst
Calcutta Weather

Washington, May 1: 
The US warned on Monday that India was close to being labelled a �country of particular concern� (CPC) for violating religious freedom and failure to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.

In a strongly-worded, 188-page report released here, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called upon the Bush administration to take up the twin issues of religious freedom and human rights with Delhi �as the US government pursues greater engagement with India on a full range of issues�.

The repeal of economic sanctions against India and promotion of American trade �should take into account the progress of the Indian government on protecting religious freedom, ensuring the safety of religious minorities and promoting the rule of law�, the report demanded.

The annual report is a fallout of a 1998 legislation aimed at making international religious freedom an integral part of the US foreign policy.

Labelling a country as a CPC is an equivalent in the 1998 law of designating a state as a sponsor of terrorism. China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Myanmar and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan have been CPCs since the setting up of the commission, which last year added North Korea, Laos, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan to the list. It has also written to the US secretary of state demanding �careful monitoring� of religious freedom in India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The religious freedom report is produced by a 10-member commission. Three of its members are appointed by the President, four by Congressional leaders of the party which is not in the White House and three others by the President�s party. In addition, the administration chooses an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom who is an ex-officio member.

In its latest report, the commission is highly critical of the Indian embassy in Washington for not facilitating what many Indians regard as an intrusive attempt by the panel to directly investigate allegations of minorities being persecuted in India.

�In October 2000, initial enquiries were made to the Indian embassy in Washington about an invitation (to visit India), but there was no response. After meeting with the Indian ambassador to the US in December, the commission was assured that inquiries would be made to New Delhi, but nothing more has yet been heard in official channels�.

In a section on �Hindu nationalism and the BJP�, the commission�s report accuses �the Sangh parivar� of propagating the view that �only Hindus are �real� Indians, suggesting that non-Hindus are foreigners and thus deserving suspicion and even attack�.

In this context, it is sharply critical of what it describes as RSS leader K.S. Sudarshan�s call last year to �nationalise� minority religions in India and have �an Indian church� like the one in China.

The commission demanded that �the Indian government must continue to make absolutely clear its opposition to any move towards establishing �nationalised� churches or state-controlled religious institutions or to interfere improperly with relations between Indian religious communities and their foreign co-religionists�.

In addition, �the US government should make clear that it views with concern any attempt by the Indian government to control or regulate religious communities and their institutions to promote or protect such national values�.

In a proposal which will be seen in Delhi as a US attempt to interfere in its internal affairs, the commission has said: �The US government should allocate funds from its foreign assistance programmes for the promotion of education on religious toleration and inclusiveness in India.�

It has also proposed that Washington should review its economic engagement with India to determine how it can promote law and order and a �stable society with legitimate institutions�.

�Evidence of improvements� should be a factor in determining the level of US assistance through the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the like.

The commission was appointed during the liberal regime of Bill Clinton and its term is set to expire later this month.

With Christian conservatives in charge in the Bush White House, a new commission to be set up shortly is expected to be more vocal on India.


Calcutta, May 1: 
The Trinamul candidate alleges that his opponent is behind the large number of torn Trinamul posters and buntings.

The accused explains there�s a �strong wind�. �That�s responsible for the torn posters.�

The Trinamul candidate says he never imagined his opponent, once his mentor, would stoop so low to win an election.

The CPM opponent says he erred in summing up his former poll-manager. �Men change. But I had no idea they change so fast,� he says.

The Trinamul challenger believes he is going to win by a comfortable margin.

The CPM defendant � who, more often than not, assumes the role of a challenger within the party �appeals to his voters: �I request you to make the defeat margin a little less than comfortable.�

The challenger fears only one thing: �They may reduce the election to a one-day match.�

The defendant�s colleagues say the party will think twice before repeating what it did during the Bidhannagar Municipality polls in 2000, when goons didn�t allow many of Salt Lake�s voters to vote.

Belgachhia (East), the biggest Assembly constituency in West Bengal, is witnessing possibly the most high-voltage campaign: PWD hoardings, which once asked people to watch Amitabh Bachchan host Kaun Banega Crorepati? now have the beaming face of CPM candidate and state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty greeting everyone and quoting couplets written by his wife, Ramola. Buses, auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and taxis do the rest of the work.

Trinamul�s Sujit Bose is not far behind: every wall, every street-corner has his name in paint or cloth and there are the stickers just in case someone misses them.

But a lot of mud is being thrown around as well; when mentor and minded break up � Bose was Chakraborty�s Man Friday even during the last Assembly polls � there�s bound to be some of that, say supporters.

Both are confident of winning. Chakraborty, asked to sum up the situation, says it�s like that of every other poll he has faced. And he hasn�t lost too many, he reminds you.

Bose feels there�s a pro-change wind. �People are now fed up of the 24-year-old government,� he says, referring to the government and party he was associated with for 15 of those 24 years.

�Yes, I made a mistake,� he says now. �I have wasted my prime for a party which quotes ideology to make fools out of people.�

May be that�s why there has been such a deliberate attempt to achieve a complete break with the past: a lot of flowers, of the Trinamul variety, have sprouted on the walls of his drawing room and even the lone wall-clock has Mamata Banerjee looking down at you from the tricolour dial.

The recent past, however, is far more important for Chakraborty. His statements � like �CPM is a party of semi-literate fools� � have added to the party�s discomfiture. He says he stands by those statements. �Only someone who is strong, self-confident and self-dependent can afford self-criticism.� He�s going to go on making such statements even in the future, �whenever I have the opportunity�. Party insiders say the �self-criticism� may boomerang on him now.

Detractors, however, say that Chakraborty has some friends in unexpected quarters. He was accused by these comrades of sabotaging the party�s prospects and helping the BJP win in Dum Dum in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP, his detractors say, may stand Chakraborty in good stead now.

The party-appointed poll-manager for Belgachhia (East) is not known to be chummy with the Chakraborty lobby. But, on the other hand, BJP candidate Subir Bal would have done enough if he could wean away at least 10 per cent of the anti-establishment votes, which, Chakraborty thinks, he will.

Straight answers, therefore, are out of the question. You sow as you reap, but what happens when you sow vastly different crops on the same field? Chakraborty will know the answer. But only after May 13.


Lucknow, May 1: 
The final diagnosis is out: health care sucks wealth out of Indians.

A World Bank-funded study has found that �a hospitalised Indian spends more than half of his total annual expenditure on buying health care�.

The report quoted nearly half of Indians who have been hospitalised as saying that they paid the bill by either selling off all their assets or mortgaging property. Only 10 per cent of the population is aware of and has some form of health insurance.

The study, carried out at the initiative of the health and family welfare ministry, has also ripped the veneer off a glaring imbalance in the operation of subsidies. The poorest 20 per cent of the population captures only 10 per cent of the total subsidy, while the richest segment benefits three times more than the poorest.

S. Chakraborty, dean at IIM, Lucknow, said the findings of the study proved that the perceived pro-poor tilt in India�s health care policy was illusory and the claims of charity by the private sector was largely �ridiculous�. The report was discussed at a seminar in the management school.

The private sector for curative health care delivery, the report added, is even more skewed towards the rich, putting itself out of the reach of the poor.

Ironically, states which house more poor people are less sympathetic to them than those with a higher number of relatively affluent people.

Kerala, bracketed high on the social development index, shows a pro-poor orientation in health care. Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra follow closely behind.

However, Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa � which have the poorest of the poor in the country � betray a definite pro-rich orientation for public spending on curative care.

The report suggests that with rising life expectancy and changing lifestyles, the epidemiological profile of India will increasingly shift towards diseases with �higher costs per episode�. The main causes of premature death � respiratory infections, heart diseases and depression � are already reflecting this transition.

While there is no �unique health status� in the country, Kerala compares with upper-middle income countries such as Argentina, Trinidad and Mauritius. The bulk of Indian states are comparable to lower-middle income countries like Peru and Egypt.

The Bimaru states are at the bottom of the heap, sharing the profile of low-income countries like Sudan and Tanzania.

The health report pointed out that while �there have been large gains in health status since Independence�, the poor continue to suffer largely from curable or preventable diseases.

The �gains� notwithstanding, the poorest 20 per cent of Indians have double the mortality, malnutrition and fertility rates of the rich segment.

The study has called for �genuinely� pro-poor, gender-sensitive and client-friendly policies and stressed on the need to increase India�s public spending on health, which, at 0.9 per cent of the GDP, is one of the lowest in the world.


New Delhi, May 1: 
The United Liberation Front of Asom tonight gunned down the BJP�s Dibrugarh candidate, Jayanta Dutta, who played an instrumental role in bringing together his party and chief minister Prafulla Mahanta�s Asom Gana Parishad for a poll alliance.

The banned outfit, which had declared war on the alliance through a veiled editorial in its mouthpiece today, shot dead six others, including several alliance supporters, in separate incidents tonight. The Ulfa had asked the people to reject those who were trying to inject communalism into the state.

The audacious strikes came a day after Union home minister and BJP leader L.K. Advani campaigned in Assam and talked tough. Advani had ruled out talks with the Ulfa unless it stopped the murders.

Chief minister Mahanta told The Telegraph that Dutta, the general secretary of the state BJP, and two supporters were shot dead by Ulfa militants at the party�s district office in Upper Assam�s Dibrugarh.

Police said five to six militants came in a white Tata Sumo and fired from automatic weapons at the BJP members. Dutta, who was hit by three bullets, was declared brought dead to hospital.

Despite strong opposition from several BJP leaders, Dutta had managed to persuade the party to enter into an electoral alliance with the BJP.

Condemning the killings, the chief minister criticised the Election Commission for turning down the state government�s suggestion to hold polling in three phases in the state. �Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill took a biased decision in favour of the Congress and went for one-day polling,� Mahanta said.

The BJP leadership described the attack as barbarous. Narayan Borkotoki, senior BJP leader, said: �We are greatly shocked. The loss has been as much political as personal.�

Asked whether the party was satisfied with the security provided to its candidates, he said: �Though no security can be foolproof, we would like the government to increase the security cover to all candidates.�

Yesterday, the operational group of the Unified Command had met to review security measures in the wake of the Ulfa�s stepped-up activities in the last few days.

The Ulfa had mounted a violent campaign against the ruling AGP ever since the pace of campaigning picked up. Eight party members, including three leaders, have been killed so far in election-related violence.

On Sunday night, a former minister and AGP candidate for the Barpeta seat, Kumar Dipak Das, was injured in a grenade blast. Das, whose legs have been hit by shrapnel, was shifted to the AIIMS in Delhi today.




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