Sonia & business taste Atal anger
Mr President, this is payback!
Nehru lives on, as �defaulter�
Modi sends minister with bluster
Licence for dictator democracy
NAM hunts for summit host
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 27: 
It was tit for tat all the way.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee today used the forum of the Confederation of Indian Industry to counter the perception that Sonia Gandhi was finally being seen as a serious political alternative by India Inc. and also to �correct� the picture on Gujarat.

The Prime Minister kicked off his keynote address at the special CII plenary with a potshot at the Congress chief, who addressed the opening plenary yesterday.

Sonia had said that inviting her to the inaugural session could be an indicator of the way the �political winds� were blowing in the country.

Today, Vajpayee volleyed his response. �Before I begin, I must confess that, unlike some others, I am unable to see the deep symbolic meaning attached to the inaugural and concluding sessions of a CII conference,� he said.

�If invitations to inaugurate or conclude conferences could make them speculate about an impending change in the direction of the political winds, then I must say that such people seem to think that chambers of commerce and industry have more powers to make and unmake governments than the people of India.�

It was as much a riposte to Sonia�s poser on the �motive� behind inviting her as a snub to industry for responding enthusiastically to her speech.

Vajpayee�s message to Sonia � a virtual dress rehearsal of Tuesday�s showdown when the Lok Sabha votes on the Gujarat censure motion � was clear. �Politicians are not expected to know the art of doing business,� he said. �But if there is one thing that we should learn from you, it is this: It does not make business sense to count one�s chickens before they are hatched.�

To the captains of business, his warning was: �I wish to tell this gathering of businessmen that our government cannot be derailed. It is stable. � And it is here to stay for its full term. You will continue to do business with us, and we will continue to do business with you.�

In his welcome address, CII president Sanjeev Goenka tried to defuse the situation, saying there was no inaugural session. �In fact, there can be no bigger privilege than to have Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee for this special session,� he said. �Appreciation for this, Prime Minister,� he went on to add, �is coming seriously, sincerely from my heart and I offer my pranam to you pradhanmantriji.�

The CII programme schedule described the first session as �opening plenary� and today�s session as �special plenary�.

Vajpayee tried to allay fears that the Gujarat riots would affect investments not just in the state but the country as well. The communal violence, he said, was a �temporary aberration� not a �fundamental fissure in our society�. �Those who proclaim that India�s secular moorings and foundations are being systematically destroyed do not know how deep and strong the roots of our secularism are,� Vajpayee said, citing the �catastrophe of Partition� to drive home his point.

Vajpayee also commended the beleaguered Yashwant Sinha. �If we have to go forward � and I have no doubt that we will go forward � we should aim at a faster recovery...� he said. �Therefore, when our finance minister, Shri Yashwant Sinha, talks about our determination to achieve 7 or 8 per cent GDP growth, he knows that he has feet on the ground.�

�Believe in India�, he added. �Believe also in our finance minister�.


New Delhi, April 27: 
�Mr President, I have served in your army for 17 years and this is how the country pays me back!�

A former soldier, among victims of the Gujarat carnage who met President K.R. Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan this evening, told his tale to the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Ibrahim Ismailbhai Ghanchi, a soldier with the army�s 237 field regiment from 1983 to 2000, now works as a security supervisor at the ONGC�s establishment at Kalol. Ghanchi�s father and uncle were killed � with choppers � in Abasana village by a Sangh-inspired mob.

The President and his wife, Usha Narayanan, heard Ghanchi�s story patiently. As they did the stories of Fatima Bi from Naroda, Reshma from Naroda Patiya, 13-year-old Pathan Arif Khan and his sister Noorjehan from Visnagar, their uncle, Pathan Yusuf Khan from Mehsana and 11-year-old Raja Bundubhai from Naroda Patiya. Their addresses are now relief camps in Ahmedabad.

Fatima Bi lost 19 of her family. Reshma saw a pregnant Kausar Bano raped and brutalised. Arif and Noorjehan saw their father and mother being killed � their father was taking them to safety. Their uncle, Yusuf, saw 11 of his family slaughtered. Raja Bundubhai, steel in his voice, recited for the umpteenth time � and now to the head of state � his account of the events in Naroda Patiya on February 28.

The 40-minute meeting in a drawing room of Rashtrapati Bhavan was emotional. Last evening, the victims � 40 of whom reached the capital yesterday morning � sought an appointment, half-expecting the President to meet them at such short notice. This morning, the President�s secretariat got back and asked a delegation of nine to come and meet him in the evening. The President was disturbed by what he had read in the newspapers today.

Reshma and Fatima Bi and Ghanchi could scarcely believe that they were in Rashtrapati Bhavan. When the President walked into the room with his wife and aides, they stood stupefied. For a long moment, the President stood, too, among the men, women and children in stunned silence, barely hearing a request from an aide to take a seat.

Narayanan and his wife were especially interested in meeting the children. Turn by turn, each of the victims went up to the President and told him of their experiences. Narayanan asked for details, asked them where they lived, how they escaped, what had happened to their homes and their families and the condition at the refugee camps.

�It is unimaginable,� Ghanchi recalled the President saying. �How do I comfort you? With what words?� There was anguish in his voice. One aide to the President dabbed an eye as Reshma narrated her story.

The President told them that he would do his best. His wife was by his side through the 40-minute meeting. For the children, they gifted a large basket of fruits. �I will do my best. I will do what I can,� the delegation recalled the President saying.

Sources said Narayanan has written to the Prime Minister, seeking clarifications on the rehabilitation measures being taken. He will do so again.

Teesta Setelvad of Communalism Combat magazine was part of the delegation. Through the day, the team from Gujarat briefed politicians but none from the ruling NDA turned up to hear their testimonies.


New Delhi, April 27: 
For the rest of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru died on May 27, 1964. But for the Uttar Pradesh power board, India�s first Prime Minister is still alive and liable to cough up dues of Rs 2.27 lakh run up by his ancestral house, Anand Bhavan, in Allahabad.

Nehru�s name is 126th on the defaulters� list drawn up by the electricity board. The sprawling bungalow was witness to several momentous decisions taken during the freedom movement. Mahatma Gandhi used to stay in one of the rooms during the freedom struggle.

Now run by a trust, Anand Bhavan houses a museum displaying the memorabilia of the Nehru-Gandhi family and collects an entry fee of Rs 5 per visitor.

The defaulters� list has intrigued state Congressmen, who have wasted no time in smelling a government ploy to tarnish the Nehru family�s name.

Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Sriprakash Jaiswal said Anand Bhavan trustee R.N. Sethi had told him that the trust had never been given a notice for dues. �It has been 38 years since Nehruji died. How has the power board woken up now?� Jaiswal asked.

Jaiswal has threatened to launch a statewide agitation if the list was not withdrawn.

AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai demanded an inquiry by Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri. �Uttar Pradesh is under Governor�s rule and Shastri is responsible for this,� she said. �It shows Uttar Pradesh is being run by people who know nothing.�


New Delhi, April 27: 
A muddled debate on Gujarat that ran into a wall of non-sequiturs, some feel-good pop economics and lousy ornithology summed up a day of impassioned debate at the CII annual conference.

The centrepiece of the plenary sessions on the final day of the conference was the debate on Gujarat � which incidentally became the leitmotif for the entire two-day conference insinuating itself somehow into every single session.

After two days of uncertainty over whether anyone from the Gujarat government would address the subject of communal carnage, state industry minister Suresh Mehta arrived in the capital � the first Gujarat minister to take a public platform outside the state since the two-month mayhem began � to face the ire of civilised society.

Mehta stonewalled every single charge that was thrown at him by Anu Aga, chairperson of CII�s Western Region and Thermax Ltd, and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.

Aga, who toured two relief camps housing riot victims, said she had returned with horror stories of rape, murder and pillage. Mehta said facts had been twisted out of context and that Aga�s story was unfounded and pure hearsay.

The Gujarat industry minister said he had been persuaded to attend the CII session on the understanding that the debate would focus on the economic fallout in Gujarat.

Mehta argued that the industry�s fears that investments in the state would dry up were totally unfounded. In fact, Shell had just signed an agreement with the state government to invest Rs 5,200 crore in an LNG project in the state while General Motors had announced its plans to expand its car project in Halol.

Moderator Naresh Chandra, former Governor of Gujarat, said the time had come to look for remedial action and a healing salve.

Earlier in the day, a bunch of economists debated growth prospects and came to the conclusion that India was a miracle economy that was waiting to happen. P.K. Basu, chief economist of Credit Suisse First Boston and based in Singapore, said the Indian economy was the only democracy with over 200 million people that had sustained annual real GDP growth of 5.8 per cent over a 20-year period.

The session rounded off on a weird note of pop economics. Jairam Ramesh, who heads the Congress� economic cell, said Basu�s theory was that cranes visited only those countries that grew at over 7-8 per cent.

But since India was growing at only 5.7 per cent, cranes would not be seen till it managed a higher rate of growth. �We only see a scaffold of bamboo poles and sacking,� said Ramesh, obviously referring to the sorry state of the relief camps in Gujarat.

Both Basu and Ramesh may be good at economics but when it comes to bird-watching, they�ve got some way to go. India, which has racked up the second highest growth rate in Asia after China, receives migratory Siberian cranes every winter. The cranes come from Russia which, incidentally, has a growth rate of just 4.3 per cent.


Karachi, April 27: 
Pakistan is going to elect its military dictator as its President. And its Supreme Court has said it is all right to do so.

The Supreme Court�s verdict came after an unprecedented sitting on a Saturday � the court does not normally sit on Saturdays. But today, a nine-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmad unanimously okayed the referendum.

The Supreme Court, in its ruling, has held that it was premature at this stage to go into the legal and constitutional issues raised by the petitioners. It said the Referendum Order 2002, which was being challenged by the petitioners, was within the framework and jurisdiction of the powers conferred by the Supreme Court on General Pervez Musharraf in March 2000.

The apex court was referring to its own judgment � which argued for the so-called �doctrine of necessity� � upholding the military overthrow of the democratically elected government of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The petitions against the referendum had been filed among others by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) � PML(N).

Only yesterday, the Chief Justice of Pakistan had hinted at the shape of the court�s judgment, saying the court would seek to strengthen the process of transition to democracy instead of disturbing it.

Whether today�s decision would lead to a transition to democracy is another matter. Now all the legal objections to the referendum have been set aside and Pakistan is readying to vote for the continuation of General Musharraf as President for another five years on coming Tuesday.

But political objections to the method adopted by the general and his intentions remain unresolved. Broad sections of Pakistani society are critical of the method adopted by General Musharraf to perpetuate his rule. Not only the bigger political parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party and the PML(N) but even smaller religious parties, bar councils across the country, businessmen, the intelligentsia and the traditional Pakistani elite is critical of it. Only the state-sponsored parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) and smaller regional parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Sindh, the Awami National Party in the North West Frontier Province, the Baluchistan National Party are among the supporters of General Musharraf. However, nobody knows whether those opposing the referendum can mobilise enough people against it.

But what is the referendum that has so deeply divided Pakistani society all about? Former Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Taj Haider said: �The real issue is not the referendum. The real issue is whether the army will continue to play a role in politics. This referendum is to consolidate that grip.�

Haider claimed: �The democratic struggle of the people of Pakistan has given them a political consciousness. This process is irreversible. So even those forces which, like the PML(N), had supported the last dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, are today a part of the broad national alliance against the army�s role in politics. So that is the issue which has to be decided.�

Karamat Ali, a veteran trade unionist and now director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research in this port city, agrees. �This referendum is all about the army itself. The decision being made is whether Pervez Musharraf will continue as the army chief for the next five years or not. As the President, people were willing to let him be,� he argued.

But what was not clear was whether the institution of the army would have allowed Musharraf to continue as the chief for the next five years or not, Ali said. Hence the need for the referendum, he argues.

The second question which is being decided through the referendum, according to Ali, is whether the offices of the President and the Chief of the Army Staff can be combined into one. �This is the real empowerment that Pervez Musharraf is seeking,� he claimed. General Musharraf has already declared his intention to continue as the army chief even after assuming a five-year presidency in the wake of the referendum.

The MQM is one of the few political parties which is not opposing the referendum. Nasreen Jalil, a former Senator and MQM leader, said: �By not giving a boycott call and by not asking our people to vote negatively, you might say that we are supporting the referendum. During Benazir Bhutto�s and Nawaz Sharif�s regime more than 1,500 MQM cadres were killed. Urban Sindh today supports Pervez Musharraf because during his regime the attacks on MQM cadres were minimal. But beyond that he has not helped us in any way.�

Her husband, M.A. Jalil, a former education minister of Sindh and member of the co-ordination committee of the MQM, suggested it was a tactical move. �We want some respite from the killings of our cadres. After all we have suffered at the hands of various government for the last 12 years. We need time to reorganise and get some breathing space for ourselves.�


New York, April 27: 
Wanted: a chairman for the 115-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Foreign ministers of the once-prestigious NAM have begun a painful search for a country willing to host the movement�s 13th summit after two states which had agreed to host the meeting abdicated that responsibility in quick succession.

NAM�s 12th summit in South Africa in 1998 had agreed that Dhaka would be the venue of its next summit, but in the personality-driven, volatile politics of Bangladesh, the proposal quickly became controversial.

Khaleda Zia, then opposition leader, denounced the idea as a waste of money by a poor country and campaigned against hosting the meeting in Dhaka.

NAM coordinating bureau sources at the UN reckon that Khaleda was then unsure of replacing Sheikh Hasina as prime minister and did not want the spotlight of NAM chairmanship to go to her rival.

But having campaigned against hosting the summit in the election last year, she could not change her mind and make an about-turn without losing face.

It was then agreed that Jordan would succeed South Africa and call for a summit in April. But in recent months, instead of making the elaborate preparations needed to receive the 70 to 90 heads of state and government who normally attend NAM summits, King Abdullah�s government has been dragging its feet on the issue.

It first proposed a change in dates to July or thereafter. Then Amman plainly told NAM�s coordinating bureau here that it simply could not host the meeting.

The Jordanians, sources here said, cited the crisis between the Palestinians and Israel as their reason for withdrawing from the summit. NAM officials agree that the critical situation in Palestine does make security and other arrangements in Amman a nightmare. But they suspect that the real reason for Jordan�s unwillingness to take NAM chairmanship is the threat of US action against Saddam Hussein.

If the Americans attack Iraq, Jordan will have to walk a very tight rope as it did during Saddam�s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

That will not be possible as head of NAM: the movement will undoubtedly come out strongly against any US action against Iraq.

NAM foreign ministers attending a two-day meeting in the South African city of Durban from tomorrow are now expected to choose Kuala Lumpur as the venue of the next summit.

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia�s Prime Minister, is not only Asia�s longest-serving leader, but is also an outspoken critic of US unilateralism and globalisation, themes which are still dear to NAM.

Reflecting the changing priorities in New Delhi, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has been lukewarm to the idea that India should step in and succeed South Africa as the movement�s next head.

There was a time when New Delhi would have rushed headlong and accepted such a proposal with open arms.

In fact, NAM�s sixth summit in Havana in 1979 had chosen Baghdad as the venue for the seventh summit, but the Iran-Iraq war prevented Saddam from succeeding Fidel Castro as head of the Third World group.

India then wholeheartedly agreed to host the summit in 1983 and Indira Gandhi became the movement�s chairperson.

This time, however, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh is not attending the Durban conclave. The Prime Minister nominated Omar Abdullah, the minister of state, to represent India, but even that decision was changed at the eleventh hour.

Instead, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister of state for coal and mines, a Rajya Sabha member, is leading the Indian delegation to Durban. The last minute change was because Abdullah, a Lok Sabha member, has been asked to be in New Delhi for any crucial voting in the lower House on Gujarat.

South Africa, which is widely perceived as America�s cat�s paw within NAM, has been uncomfortable with the chairmanship of the group, which it assumed when Nelson Mandela was being looked up to as a natural leader for NAM after he was elected to lead the post-apartheid government.

Pretoria is, therefore, anxious to get rid of the responsibility as soon as a successor is found.

Whoever heads NAM will come under intense scrutiny in Washington, where the Third World movement is seen as virtually the only vocal group actively resisting US unilateralism.

Even during Clinton�s presidency, when the attitude of developing countries was more liberal, the Americans quietly lobbied with Nicaragua against its decision to host NAM�s 11th summit. The summit was then shifted to Colombia in 1995.




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