The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal aims for moon, Sonia spots craters
Buddha smiles, Rabri whines

Vaishali, Feb. 10: Post-Pokhran-II, Buddha smiled again today in this sleepy hamlet, which basks in the glory of an illustrious history. And, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, full-throttle into his mandate-renewal drive, said he was euphoric to have set foot on the land that gave the world its first republics and the first lesson in democracy.

Vajpayee, who pressed a button to start work on the last leg of the Buddhist Rail Circuit project between Hajipur and Sugauli, however, came down on the “prophets of doom” (read Congress) for seeing everything bad when the country felt good.

The long-awaited, Rs 324-crore, 148-km project envisages a rail link that would complete the circuit of places which mattered in Buddha’s life — Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Patna, Vaishali, Kesaria, Lauria, Kushinagar and Sarnath. Buddha had stopped at Vaishali on his way to Kushinagar and announced his impending nirvana here. These places boast good international tourist traffic, especially from where Buddhism is still in vogue.

Addressing a mammoth gathering of villagers, Vajpayee said: “Some prophets of doom say the country is going to the pits. Where are those pits' These people do not know that our scientists are preparing to go to the Moon. But that is not our priority. Hum apni dharti par chand khilana chahte hain. Hum dharti ko swarg banana chahte hain. (We want to bring the Moon down to our land. We want to convert our land to heaven).”

The Prime Minister said roads were as important as rail links. “We (the Centre) have given enough money to the states for building and developing roads. The states should be accountable and responsible for giving a facelift to the road network. Political differences should not matter in this nation-building task,” Vajpayee said as chief minister Rabri Devi listened. Bihar is known for its bad roads.

Vajpayee did not address the chief minister’s demands that Bihar should be given a special package and declared a special category state. “We owe Rs 40,000 crore to the Centre. Every year Bihar pays Rs 3,500 crore as interest on these borrowings. I appeal to the Prime Minister to waive these outstandings. Bihar should get special assistance,” Rabri said before Vajpayee spoke.

The Prime Minister, instead, went into the logistics of tourism development. Nearly three crore tourists came to India last year and the country earned foreign exchange worth Rs 3,200 crore. “But this is not enough for a big country like ours. Remember, some countries make huge incomes from tourism,” he said.

Vajpayee also touched upon another problem area vis-à-vis the state government — that of the ambitious project of linking all the major rivers of the country. The Bihar government has expressed reservations about the scheme.

But the Prime Minister said: “Connectivity of the rivers will not only stop wastage of precious water resources but also help solve the perennial problem of floods and droughts. Our economy has entered a positive phase. The national income is rising. Mungeri Lal ke sapne sach ho rahe hain (Dreams of the common man are coming true).”

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