13-lucky Atal sets up date with five
2-in-1 BJP bargain tempts Pawar
Merchants of death descend on Delhi
Politburo meet next month on Basu
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Oct. 10 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who was unanimously re-elected leader of the National Democratic Alliance parliamentary block, will meet President K.R. Narayanan tomorrow at 12.30 pm to formally stake claim to form the next government.

Vajpayee is expected to be sworn in Prime Minister for the third time at 10.31 am (the numbers add up to five, the years he wants to stay in power this time) on October 13 in deference to astrological configurations. This is a lucky number for Vajpayee ? his first stint in power lasted 13 days and the second 13 months.

Before the Prime Minister goes to Rashtrapati Bhavan, an NDA delegation, led by George Fernandes, will meet the President and inform him of Vajpayee?s election as NDA leader. The President is then expected to invite Vajpayee to form the government.

The process for Vajpayee?s reinstatement was set in motion this morning when BJP MPs formally chose him again as the leader of the parliamentary party. This was followed by the NDA meeting, which was attended by the leaders of the BJP?s allies, including Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and his Punjab and Haryana counterparts, Parkash Singh Badal and Om Prakash Chautala. Vajpayee?s name was proposed by Fernandes and seconded by L.K. Advani.

The Telugu Desam Party ? which has yet to confirm its participation in the government ? stayed away from the meeting, which saw an overwhelming solidarity in support of Vajpayee, even from his erstwhile adversaries like Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan.

Sources close to Vajpayee said Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu conveyed to him today that a final decision would be taken tomorrow, but indications from the Desam quarters were that it would continue supporting the government from outside, ostensibly for enhanced leverage.

?The Desam will be supporting us from outside but nothing is known so far about them joining the government,? Vajpayee told reporters. Responding to a question on whether this could make his government inherently unstable, he said: ?I don?t think so.?

The sources said Vajpayee has completed consultations with his party colleagues on distribution of portfolios. The confabulations with his allies will begin tonight when Karunanidhi calls on him. The sources said with the Desam likely to decide tomorrow, the Prime Minister?s job, either way, would be made that much easier.

The NDA meeting, where 10 sets of nominations proposing and seconding Vajpayee?s name were presented, gave an indication of what the next Cabinet would look like. A majority of the proposers and endorsers were Lok Sabha MPs and represented the entire spectrum of the NDA. Dal(U) leaders Fernandes, Yadav and Paswan were among Vajpayee?s cheerleaders. While Fernandes hailed him as the ?main architect of the NDA?s victory?, Yadav described him as an ?elder brother who has always given us valuable guidance?.

The other ministerial aspirants were Murasoli Maran (DMK), Vaiko (MDMK), E. Ponnusamy (PMK), S. Thirunavukkarasu (MGR-ADMK), Sikander Bakht and Juel Oraon (BJP), Suresh Prabhu (Shiv Sena), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamul Congress), Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Kailasho Devi (INLD), and Tarlochan Singh Tur (Akali Dal).

The National Conference, which has managed to squeeze itself into the NDA, got one of its senior MPs, Ali Mohammad Naik, to propose Vajpayee?s name. Party chief Farooq Abdullah?s son Omar Abdullah is already waiting in the wings for a ministerial berth.

Other smaller constituents also declared their intent loud and clear. These include the Sikkim Democratic Front, the Manipur State Congress, the Himachal Vikas Congress and the Loktantrik Congress. Though the Loktantrik Congress is making its parliamentary debut with two MPs, the BJP depends on its support in Uttar Pradesh.

Amid the congratulations, Vajpayee threw in a word of caution: ?The voters are no longer tolerant of indifferent performance. They want their basic needs fulfilled. Therefore, all the constituents of the NDA have a common responsibility to effectively communicate to the people the true aim of our pro-development initiatives.?    

Oct. 10: 
Sharad Pawar?s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) may be working on an unlikely alliance with the Shiv Sena-BJP combine in Maharashtra in return for political rewards in New Delhi.

The NCP today virtually shut the door on a coalition with the Congress in Maharashtra by laying claim to chief ministership despite having fewer seats. The possible meaning of this flip-flop: sabotage talks with the Congress and make an alliance with the Sena-BJP a fait accompli.

Although NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal officially denied talks with the Sena-BJP leadership in Mumbai, sources close to Pawar indicated the drift of the party.

?We have run a very bitter campaign against the Congress and there are obvious problems coming together,? they said. ?We do have a meeting point with the Sena-BJP in the sense that we are both strongly anti-Sonia,? they added.

Pawar will find the Sena?s company uncomfortable and may even face problems selling the idea to some MLAs who have long fought the Sena-BJP combine on the ground in Maharashtra. But ideology may become subservient to realpolitik for the moment.

Himself reduced to a manor player because of his split with the Congress, Pawar is looking for opportunities to stay afloat politically. An alliance with the Sena-BJP, though uncomfortable and subservient, will help him keep a foothold in Maharashtra and fetch some rewards in Delhi. The BJP has things to offer at the Centre; the Congress has none.

Senior NCP leader P.A. Sangma is believed to be pushing hard for a tie-up with the Sena-BJP in Maharashtra because he sees in it a chance to become Lok Sabha Speaker again. Speculation that Pawar might become a member of the Vajpayee government if the deal goes through is doing the rounds in Delhi?s political circles, though senior BJP leaders are feigning ignorance of any such possibility.

Pawar?s road to purchasing prominence in Delhi may not be easy ? TDP leader N. Chandrababu Naidu may want to retain the Speaker?s job for his nominee. Besides, other allies may frown on Pawar being inducted into the Cabinet as he was not a pre-poll ally and has only seven MPs in the 13th Lok Sabha. But observers believe a deal could be round the corner if the NCP were to facilitate the installation of a Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra.

In Mumbai, shadowboxing between the Congress and the NCP on alliance formation continued. AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra Madhavrao Scindia and Mohsina Kidwai met 74 of the party?s 76 MLAs at the Congress? Tilak Bhavan headquarters to assess their views on government formation with the help of the NCP.

Scindia said after meeting each MLA individually that his assessment was they were in favour of establishing a secular government along with the NCP. But the Congress considers the NCP?s demand for chief ministership totally unacceptable. Central Congress leaders felt the NCP had made the demand with an eye on ?sabotaging? talks.

However, Bhujbal, an NCP chief ministerial aspirant, held that the demand was not unreasonable. ?We had first shown the inclination to form the government with the Congress. But their attitude does not behove well, we have proposed that the chief minister should be from our party. We are still discussing offers and counter-offers,? he said.

The Sena-BJP, still well adrift of the magic 145 majority figure, elected outgoing chief minister Narayan Rane as its legislature party leader.

Rane, who plans to formally stake claim to power tomorrow, said he was confident of getting the required majority with ?the help of Independents who are ready to support us?.

The Sena and BJP claim they have secured the support of 139 MLAs, and are confident of notching up another six from among the ranks of 12 Independents.    

New Delhi, Oct. 10 
With the depletion of weaponry in the Kargil conflict, heightened security threat perceptions and the formation of a new government, arms manufactures are descending on New Delhi in anticipation of huge orders.

An incredible 190 companies, including some of the world?s biggest arms manufacturers, are in New Delhi to take part in Defexpo India 99, the first land and naval systems exhibition organised by the ministry of defence.

The five-day show is to be opened by defence minister George Fernandes at the sprawling Pragati Maidan exhibition grounds on Tuesday.

Leading the charge of the ?merchants of death? on the capital is none other than Bofors, a household name in India for having ended Rajiv Gandhi?s prime ministership in 1989 in a long-running arms purchase bribery scandal.

The Indian government having recently removed Bofors from its blacklist and the Swedish howitzer guns having proved their worth in the Kargil conflict, the company at the centre of the continuing bribery scandal is no longer an untouchable on Raisina Hill, the seat of power here.

Those uninitiated in the intricacies of international arms production are, however, unlikely to recognise Bofors at the exhibition. It is participating in Defexpo under its new name Celsius AB ? following a management and ownership restructuring.

The focus of attention at the exhibition is expected to be the Rs 6,000-crore-plus order for Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft for the Indian Air Force, which may be one of the earliest decisions to be finalised by the new BJP-led government.

Three companies which are in the final lap of the five-year race for that order are all taking part in Defexpo. These are British Aerospace which is hawking its Hawk aircraft, Aerospatiale Matra which is manufacturing the French version of AJTs and MiG Mapo, which is lobbying for the Russian MiG AT aircraft.

Also in focus will be two recent entrants into the Indian arms market, South Africa and Israel. India bought huge amounts of critical weaponry from both these countries during the crucial days of the Kargil conflict and their manufacturers are now here to consolidate these windfall gains.

South Africa, in fact, is the biggest participant in Defexpo and has a huge national pavilion at the show.

Others showing off their weaponry under the roof of separate national pavilions are Israel, Russia and the UK.

In a sign of the times that smart bombs and electronic war has come even to South Asia, there is a heavy presence Of defence electronics firms such as Thomson CFM, Sagem and Sofema of France, Elibit and Rafael from Israel, Denel from South Africa and Elecon from Russia. These are all pioneers in their field.

Of particular interest to Indians will be the participation of DCN International, a French company which manufactures Augusta 90-B submarines.

New Delhi?s interest in he company stems from its supply of Augusta submarines to Pakistan.

Among the 190 participants in Defexpo are 74 Indian defence production companies.

These include the three naval shipyards, five defence public sector undertakings, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Ordnance Factory Board.

Sources in the ministry of defence said their participation was designed to show that India is a major producer of weapons systems and is keen to increase its defence exports.

For the record, the exhibition is organised in association with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), but the CII?s role is restricted to logistics.

In view of the show?s sensitive nature, it is being so tightly controlled by the ministry of defence, which is even vetting visitors of Defexpo.

The show will be open to the public during the last two days, but it is expected that many sensitive exhibits will be removed before the general public is allowed into Pragati Maidan on those days.    

Calcutta, Oct. 10 
Giving in to Jyoti Basu?s repeated appeals, the CPM Politburo has decided to convene a special session next month to discuss his offer of voluntary retirement from politics.

?I am happy that they have understood my health concerns and agreed to discuss my retirement from active politics,? Basu told The Telegraph from New Delhi tonight.

However, the chief minister added that he would continue to be available for party work, including election campaigning, in the near future.

Basu laughed off the succession question, but CPM sources said the retirement reports have rekindled the issue, prompting the party to toy with at least three names.

The Politburo, which concluded a two day-session in New Delhi on Saturday, did not take up Basu?s retirement as the meeting was devoted to assessing the post-poll scenario.

However, Basu discussed the issue with senior leaders, including general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet. ?I pleaded with them to allow me to step down, if possible in the current month, because I am advancing in age and ailing,? Basu said, ?but they deferred a decision till next month.?

Suffering for the past few years from a severe backpain and an irritable bowel syndrome, Basu voiced his decision on retirement in early 1998 but has been putting it off owing to pressure from the party and other quarters.

After returning to Calcutta, Basu will discuss the issue with party leaders and constituents of the Left Front. ?I hope I will be able to convince them like I did my colleagues in Delhi that it?s time I retired,? he added.

The chief minister said he was aware that many in the party, particularly those from Bengal, ?are unwilling to allow me to step down and want me to continue till the next Assembly poll. But I have made it clear that I want to retire and take rest.?

Asked if a successor had been chosen, Basu laughed and replied with a question. ?Why are you people worrying about my successor? Let me step out of office first... I am sure the party will definitely choose somebody to replace me.?

Although home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya is being tipped as an immediate successor, party sources said Somnath Chatterjee, high-profile MP and leader of the party?s parliamentary wing, and Surya Kant Mishra, land reforms minister, are also on the shortlist. Besides, many think party ideologue Benoy Konar could be a dark horse.    

Maximum: 33?C (+1)
Minimum: 26?C (+1)
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 93%, Minimum: 54%
The weatherman says the sky will remain partly cloudy.
Sunset: 5.13 pm Sunrise: 5.35 am

Maintained by Web Development Company