Mud flies in Delhi-Bengal water war
Retreat hopes rise as skies clear
Albright sets up Atal-Sharif double date
Poll pariah mocks model state

Calcutta, Sept. 28 
Bengal and Delhi hit the warpath, going for each other in a flurry of charges and counter-charges.

Following up his charge that the ruling Marxists had failed to improve living conditions in the state, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said the CPM was ?providing false reports on the Centre?s flood assistance to the state government?.

Speaking at an election rally in Krishnagar, Vajpayee said: ?I am ready to release whatever amount is required to combat the flood in the state. We have never brought political differences to bear on our approach to natural calamities.?

Earlier, reacting sharply to Vajpayee?s comments yesterday that industrial investment and power generation were lowest in Bengal during the Left Front?s regime, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta and information and cultural affairs minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said the Prime Minister had no moral right to criticise the performance of Bengal on the basis of wrong information supplied by his partymen.

?Vajpayee has come here to address his party?s election meetings. We advise him to make only political speeches at party rallies and not speak on issues which should be discussed in separate forums,? Dasgupta said.

Both ministers reiterated the state?s claim for Central funds to implement its Rs 160-crore megacity project. ?But the Vajpayee government has released only Rs 16 crore for this project so far. We have discussed all this several times with the Prime Minister in Delhi. It seems that he has grown older and forgets things easily,? Dasgupta said.

After a visit to flood-hit Nadia district, Dasgupta said at a hurriedly-convened press conference that the state government has ?received nothing? of the Rs 250 crore it has sought from the Centre to combat floods.

The Prime Minister, however, gave it back, almost charge for charge. ?This is false. It is an attempt to cover up the failure of the Left Front government in taking proper, timely and adequate flood control measures.? Dasgupta had also said Vajpayee was ?ignorant of the actual situation? and did not know how the state was trying to tackle floods.

Vajpayee said the Centre had released Rs 66.33 crore during 1998-99 in addition to the amounts released under National Fund for Calamity Relief. ?No state government received greater flood assistance than West Bengal last year.? Emphasising that the United Front government, supported by the CPM, provided no financial assistance under the NFCR to West Bengal, Vajpayee said two instalments of Rs 22.25 crore had been released to the state government.

The third will be given on Friday and the fourth ? due on January 1, 2000 ? could be released now. He said more funds were being released because of the floods. Vajpayee further said the state government has no account of the Rs 66 crore it received as flood assistance last year.

As Vajpayee slammed his government, chief minister Jyoti Basu rejected Vajpayee?s demand that he apologise for calling Union home minister L.K. Advani ?a criminal?. ?What else should I brand him since the case against him did not progress as the police played a partisan role in the Babri masjid demolition case because he is the home minister,? Basu said at an election meeting in Asansol.

In tune with the Prime Minister?s blistering attack in Bengal, the BJP in Delhi spared the Congress for the first time and targeted the Left Front, calling its ideology an ?historic relic?.

Holding the CPM government responsible for the ?underdevelopment of West Bengal,? the BJP said figures relating to economic backwardness of the state are startling. BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley said Bengal is among the most backward states in the country in terms of rural development, industrialisation, education, availability of drinking water and electricity.

The BJP said the CPM today was a ?cheerleader of not only the dynasty the Congress is trying to promote, but also the corruption-tainted alliance of the Congress, the RJD and the ADMK?.    

Calcutta, Sept. 28 
Hopes of the floods receding in the state brightened today as there was a let-up in the five-day rain fury.

The toll rose to 46 with casualties being reported from North and South Dinajpur and is likely to climb.

About 50 lakh people in 15 districts have been affected by the floods. The state government, which has released Rs 32.5 crore for relief, has evacuated 500,000 of them to temporary camps.

In Calcutta, large parts of Tiljala, Tangra, Patipukur, Lake Town, Bangur and Dum Dum Park remained waterlogged even five days after the deluge.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta admitted: ?We could not drain out water from these low-lying areas due to the high tide in the Hooghly. With the tide receding, we have installed pumps to drain out 100 cusec of water near the Bagjola canal. We feel Lake Town, Bangur and Dum Dum Park will be free of water in a couple of days.??

The situation in Ekbalpore improved today after the Mominpur pumping station started functioning.

Dasgupta, who toured Nadia and Murshidabad districts, said the flood had wreaked havoc in Nabadwip and Kandi.

He said the overall flood situation was improving slowly, with the rain holding and controlled discharge of water from dams. He, however, added: ?We are keeping our fingers crossed as the low pressure belt over the state has not cleared yet.?    

New York, Sept. 28 
Pakistan?s foreign minister Sartaj Aziz on Monday assured US secretary of state Madeleine Albright that Islamabad would ?get down to serious business? with India when the prime ministers of the two countries go to South Africa for the Commonwealth summit and to Nepal for the Saarc summit. Both the summits are to be held in November.

Wilting under fire from a tough-talking US secretary of state, Aziz moved away from the main theme of his speeches and media appearances here in the last one week ? that India was blocking the resumption of talks with Pakistan ? and held out the possibility of not one, but two meetings between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in November.

Since India has said violence in Jammu and Kashmir must cease and cross-border terrorism must be ended before the Lahore process can resume, the expectation here after talks between Aziz and Albright is that Pakistan may take some steps to fulfil these conditions, at least to enable the two prime ministers to meet in Durban and Kathmandu on the sidelines of the two summits.

Significantly, Gen Ziauddin, chief of Pakistan?s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been in Washington for the last one week, fuelling speculation that the US may be putting pressure on the ISI to curb violence in Jammu and Kashmir and across the Line of Control (LoC) even as the US wants Pakistan to help it nab the Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden.

In many ways, Indo-US talks and Pakistan-US talks here on Monday were a replay of the US role during the Kargil conflict. Virtually repeating a quote from Indian external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to Albright at their meeting here on Monday that ?one of the highest priorities of the new Indian government would be to see that the bus to Lahore which got diverted to Kargil will again go to Lahore?, Albright told Aziz that President Bill Clinton was taking a personal interest in seeing the resumption of the Lahore process.

She told Aziz that Pakistan should sign and ratify CTBT. A senior state department official told reporters that Albright had conveyed to Aziz the US view that signing CTBT was in ?Pakistan?s own interest? and that Islamabad had a lot to gain in terms of world opinion by doing so.

The official said Albright also talked to Aziz on Afghanistan, specifically the Taliban, the safe haven that Taliban provides for bin Laden, human rights, particularly on trafficking in women and children in Pakistan. Given the Clinton Administration?s firm stand on these issues and in view of the strong public opinion in the US, these are subjects of intense discomfort for Islamabad.

If the pep talk that Aziz got from Albright was uncomfortable, what was embarrassing was a public criticism of Pakistan by the US state department spokesman, James Rubin, on Monday. Rubin criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?s government for arresting several hundred Opposition demonstrators.

The meeting between Albright and the Indian external affairs minister, by contrast, was ?very cordial?, according to a state senior department official, who described the Aziz-Albright talks as ?friendly and frank?. Partly because the elections are under way, there was no pressure on India on non-proliferation of the kind that Aziz was put through on Monday.

Indeed, the state department official said the talks between Jaswant Singh and deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, the signing of CTBT and even the discussion on the Draft Nuclear Doctrine were all ?on hold? until after the formation of a new government.

Apart from Clinton?s proposed visit, the two sides agreed on a string of ministerial trips, including one by Albright and energy secretary Bill Richardson.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 28 
Mahatma Gandhi had visited them in 1935. Since then, only K.R. Narayanan stepped into the village of the Nayadis in Karamcode way back in 1991.

After that, the Nayadis have been lost in political vacuum. Narayanan, then a Congress candidate from the Ottappalam reserved constituency, had at least considered them worthy of a visit. In 1999, they have not even been given that honour by any of the three candidates ? of the CPI, Congress and the BJP ? contesting from Ottappalam. The candidates, all of them from the Scheduled Castes, have not bothered to pay any attention to this most downtrodden section of their brethren, a clan of ?untouchables? settled in north Kerala?s Palakkad district.

The Nayadis, about 500 families spread over 15 colonies in Karamcode, Edakkad, Chettinad, Nechulli, Peruvambu, Kunissery and Peringottukurissi, are totally cut off from the last elections of the millennium. ?No, no one came,? says 75-year-old Unnikrishna, sitting down to eat his meal. ?You are the first visitor here after years. People don?t come to our houses. We are the Nayadis,? he told this correspondent in a language which, locals say, is ?not Malayalam and definitely not Tamil?.

Not that the absence of political roadshows is much of a loss. For the tribe, considered the last among Chandals and placed on the lowest rung of the caste system in the Malabar region, elections have not brought any relief from untouchability, poverty and illiteracy.

Most of the Nayadi settlements are far removed from the main populated areas, because even in Kerala, India?s first state to abolish untouchability in 1957, the average Palakkad resident does not flinch before claiming that seeing a Nayadi?s face in the morning ?brings bad luck and disaster follows?.

The Nayadis? diet consists largely of rat meat and gruel. Centuries ago, they were cultivators and killed rats to save their crop ? Palakkad is known as the rice bowl of Kerala. That skill is now helping them survive. Every Saturday, they are allowed to enter the townships to beg, but must not get too close to a house to ask for alms.

Vijaya Ambika, a government officer at the district collectorate, explains: ?When they beg, they shout from a distance of at least 15 metres from a residence. This also serves as a warning that a Nayadi is in the area.?

The children, having no scope for any education, have only rat-hunting and begging as vocation.

In 1935, famine hit Palakkad and every Nayadi well ran dry. Not a drop of water was offered to the untouchables and not a single well was made available to them. Hearing of their plight, Gandhi came down to their village in Karamcode and got the largest well in the neighbourhood constructed.

In the 65 years since then, the government has added just one more tube-well for them.

Numerically weak, the Nayadis have never known the power of political bargaining. Most believe they have been ?punished by God? for past sins and have no right to ask for more.    


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