�Relative� peace melts relations ice
Across the border, hope of Simla II
Atal, Mamata in nudge & wink
Lessons in business at seats of learning
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 24: 
The Vajpayee government is hardselling the �relative peace� along the Line of Control as the reason for the invitation to Pervez Musharraf.

The argument is expected to be the cornerstone of a consensus drive, which got off the ground yesterday when the government sounded allies as well as the Opposition before announcing the bold decision.

The Centre decided to change its policy towards Pakistan after assessing the situation along the LoC and in Kashmir and finding that Islamabad has tried to bring down the temperature along the border and stopped giving militants fire-cover to sneak into the Valley. But the problem was to get the partners in the ruling NDA and the main Opposition party, the Congress, to go along with the decision.

Yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister started consultations with allies George Fernandes, Chandrababu Naidu, Bal Thackeray, Om Prakash Chautala, Parkash Singh Badal and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He also sought the views of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. After all of them supported the move and Vajpayee was satisfied that he had a broad consensus, the government announced that it would invite Musharraf for talks to Delhi.

The Congress said officially that Sonia was �merely informed and not consulted� by the Prime Minister. However, the party, which demanded that the Opposition be consulted before the talks begin, described the invitation as a �step in the right direction�.

Thackeray, who usually does not mince words while ripping apart peace initiatives with Pakistan, said Vajpayee has shown grace by inviting Musharraf.

The government today underscored a subtle shift in the ground situation along the LoC. �The government has been gratified to note that in the last six months, there has been relative peace along the LoC due to restraint shown both by India and Pakistan,� foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said today.

There has been �considerable lowering� of firing from across the LoC, he added. �We have been talking about a conducive atmosphere for resuming political dialogue with Pakistan and in our assessment there may not be absolute peace, but relative peace has been achieved along the LoC.�

Jassal indicated that though foreign mercenaries continue to strike in Kashmir and many are still operating from Pakistani soil, India was no longer blaming Islamabad for direct support to militants.

The government has not given any date when the invitation will be sent to Musharraf. But going by Vajpayee�s schedule for the next month, it appears that the summit between the nuclear neighbours will take place in July.

The Prime Minister is now vacationing in the hill resort of Manali. He will leave for Gujarat on June 3 to spend a few days reviewing earthquake relief efforts.

Vajpayee will be admitted to Breach Candy Hospital on June 6 to get his right knee operated upon. This will keep him in bed for at least two weeks. Experts feel he may not be able to attend office before another 18 to 20 days. This means the Prime Minister will be ready to meet Musharraf sometime between the first and third week of July � before the monsoon session of Parliament begins.

Jassal insisted that the decision to invite Musharraf was part of India�s commitment to peace and there was no shift in the Kashmir policy. But Delhi was aware that the outside world was getting restless with its view that talks with Islamabad will not resume till violence in Kashmir ends.

Besides, after K.C. Pant was appointed chief interlocutor on Kashmir, the one point that most intellectuals made was that Pakistan had to be included in the talks to achieve a breakthrough. The argument gathered strength after the recent visit of foreign minister Jaswant Singh and home minister L.K. Advani to Kashmir.


Islamabad, May 24: 
A streak of cautious optimism sliced through the clutter of customary soundbites as Pakistan declared that Pervez Musharraf would respond in a �positive spirit� to India�s invitation and opinion leaders here described the new initiative as the �biggest challenge� since the Simla summit three decades ago.

But Islamabad left little doubt that Kashmir would top the agenda of the proposed summit. �Both sides know fully well what the root cause of tension is. Therefore, the question of Kashmir should receive priority attention,� Pakistani�s foreign minister Abdus Sattar said. He pointed out that India has not set any conditions for the talks. �The idea of conditions is behind us,� Sattar said.

�The summit will provide an opportunity for dialogue aimed at a permanent settlement of the Kashmir problem. It will also remove the root cause of tensions that has blighted Pakistan-India relations since 1947,� Sattar said.

The minister promised rapid response from Pakistan after India sends the invitation. �We presume there will be some elaboration in the letter of invitation. We will make every effort to preclude any avoidable delay (in the resumption of talks),� he said.

A sore point was the Kashmir ceasefire withdrawal, which Sattar condemned as shocking. Another issue of divergence with India is the role of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, which according to Sattar, will �remain on the centrestage�. Indian home minister L.K. Advani has ruled out an intermediary role for Hurriyat.

Most Pakistan-based mujahideen have ridiculed Delhi�s offer as a �farce�, but Sattar played it down. On whether a third country had played a role in changing India�s mind, he said: �A large number of countries had voiced their considered view that a dialogue should be resumed....�

Analysts were spirited in their response, saying Islamabad must �jump� at this opportunity.

The Nation said the invitation was �indeed the biggest challenge, not just for Musharraf, but perhaps for any Pakistani leader since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went to Simla�. It added that Islamabad would be �making a mistake if it sent the military ruler to Delhi in a triumphalist mood of having forced the Indians to their knees�.

Industry soaked up news of the invitation with hope, helping stock prices inch up.


Calcutta, May 24: 
Putting their estrangement behind, Mamata Banerjee and the BJP are taking small but significant steps towards a possible reunion, officials of the two parties said.

Mamata, assisted by a few trusted Trinamul Congress officials, and Sudheendra Kulkarni, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee�s pointman, have conducted preliminary negotiations at least half a dozen times over phone.

�We have just begun to touch and feel each other�s sentiments. But it is difficult to say at this point how things would finally work out, for ground realities are shifting every day for both of us,� says a Trinamul legislator.

Beleaguered as she is in the wake of the election debacle, Mamata is keeping herself in the background while programming the sequences of the reunion and leaving their execution to one or two key aides.

The aides, still stationed in Delhi, are expected to bring into play the various elements involved in a possible reunion in the coming days coinciding with Mamata�s visit to the capital, the dates for which are being worked out.

She has sought a meeting with the President, who has not yet been informed officially by Trinamul of its separation from the NDA.

Kulkarni has kept Vajpayee abreast of the exercise, but the script does not yet call for the Prime Minister�s entry into the picture. However, it is believed that Vajpayee created space for Kulkarni to work during his visit to Malaysia last week.

For instance, Vajpayee called BJP chief Jana Krishnamurthi and persuaded him and other senior leaders not to issue too harsh statements on Mamata�s poor electoral showing after she complained to Kulkarni about the BJP�s initial strong reactions.

�Krishnamurthi�s and others� comments (on our performance) do not appear to be conforming to your claim that Trinamul and I still have a role to play in NDA and that the BJP is genuinely interested in reforging the relationship. You will have to demonstrate your sentiments well,� an aide quoted Mamata as telling Kulkarni.

After Mamata made it clear that her return to the NDA would also depend on the �Panja factor�, the BJP appears to have relinquished its earlier plans to split Trinamul by getting Ajit Panja and a few other MPs out.

The current talks cannot be construed as �smooth� and a sure sign of a grand reunion. Most of all, the BJP is still a divided house as is evident from the Advani camp�s strong reservations about Mamata.

But the pro-Mamata faction in the BJP finds its job a bit easier now that the Samata Party, the biggest stumbling block to her return, is coming round to the idea.

Samata leaders like Nitish Kumar have indicated to Vajpayee that they would not mind Mamata back if it did not mean giving up the railway ministry.

The new realisation in the NDA also stems from apprehensions about Chandrababu Naidu�s Telugu Desam.

Under no circumstance would Mamata�s return � if at all � mean reallocation of the railway ministry to Trinamul. If things go right, Trinamul will offer support to the NDA from outside for a few months, after which the issue of joining the ministry will be addressed.


Calcutta, May 24: 
The West Bengal government is planning to introduce a compulsory entrepreneurship development course at the college level in all state universities to tide over the ever-increasing unemployment crisis.

Industry minister Nirupam Sen told The Telegraph that the plan, once implemented, would help fight Bengal�s unemployment problem �which, otherwise, is difficult to solve since most new projects are capital intensive with hardly any scope for large-scale employment�.

The government will soon seek the opinion of the state�s leading management institutes, as well as the chambers of commerce. �Entrepreneurship development is something that needs combined efforts from the government as well as industry and academic institutions. Only theory classes will not help achieve the goal,� Sen said.

The course, when in place, will be the first of its kind in the country�s higher education circuit. �This is a very pragmatic approach indeed to face the unemployment crisis,� said Ramanuj Majumder, a professor of the Indian Institute of Management. �But it has to be formulated in such a way that industry can play a major role.�

Citing examples of European countries, Majumder said vocational training has to be compulsory both at school and college levels. In countries like Germany and Denmark, vocational training, he said, is a must for high school students who are first exposed to practical work and then come to theory classes for fine-tuning their knowledge.

�We have an enormous number of educated unemployed youth, but at the same time they are unemployable too. Neither are they exposed to any industry nor are they mentally prepared to do something on their own,� Majumder said.

According to him, if the state creates a situation where every student has to take vocational training while pursuing his academic career, the employment situation would see a radical change. But mere introduction of an entrepreneurship development course will not be enough if students are not supported by industry for training.

�In Gokhale college, a similar course was introduced a few years back to give students some exposure in media and advertising. Initially, there was tremendous response. But later, the number of students started declining because of poor support from industry,� Majumder said.

Sen is, however, hopeful about industry�s participation in the project. �All that industry has to do is provide students some on-the-spot training,� he said. �It will also benefit in the long run by getting skilled manpower.� But the minister said the government would not set up any project to solve the unemployment crisis.




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