Atal break in Clinton blow
Sena sit-out for plum portfolios
Mamata, Basu tracks meet
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
India today heaved a sigh of relief after the US Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, though the government maintained that the developments in Washington would not affect its stand on building a consensus for signing the pact.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said India?s stand on the CTBT ??remained unaltered?? despite the military takeover in Pakistan and the treaty?s defeat in the Senate.

??There is no need for us to consider any change on account of the developments in Pakistan,?? Singh said this afternoon after assuming office in South Block for the second consecutive term.

Crushing one of President Bill Clinton?s major foreign policy goals, the Republican-dominated Senate yesterday rejected the treaty banning all underground nuclear testing in a 48-51 vote. The vote, largely along party lines, failed to gain a simple majority, let alone the two-thirds support needed for ratification.

This was the first time that the Senate had defeated a major international security pact since the Treaty of Versailles, creating the League of Nations, failed to win its approval in 1920.

Experts said the most immediate impact of the Senate rejection might be to undermine the US? ability to persuade India and Pakistan to sign the treaty, a campaign the Clinton administration has been waging since last year?s tit-for-tat nuclear tests.

The longer-term effect could be to undermine the ability of the world?s leading nuclear power to limit membership in the nuke weapons club, stop nuclear development by Iran and North Korea and persuade Russia and China to keep lids on their arsenals.

Several European allies of the US saw the Senate defeat as the gravest abdication of American leadership on arms control in the post-Cold War era. ??I think the effect will be disastrous, both psychologically and substantively,?? a European diplomat said.

Asked if the Senate decision would give India some elbow room in its negotiations with Washington, Singh said Delhi was holding talks with several countries, including the US, to apprise them of India?s security concerns.

Singh maintained that India would not stand in the way of the CTBT?s entry into force, adding that ??it is our expectation that other nations would also act accordingly??.

In private, however, foreign ministry officials admitted that the Senate rejection had come as a blessing for South Block.

??Can you imagine the kind of pressure the Americans would have exerted on us if the Senate had ratified the treaty??? a diplomat asked.

He said the developments in Washington will now help India drive a hard bargain on access to dual-use and sophisticated technologies which had so far been denied to it.

When the treaty was being negotiated in Geneva in 1996, Delhi, which had reservations on the wordings, wanted to opt out. But Britain and some other Western countries brought in a provision that all countries possessing nuclear reactors would have to sign and ratify the treaty for it to come into force. Since India had nuclear capability, it, too, was included in the group.

Though the CTBT has been demonised in India, there is no reason why it cannot sign the pact now as the nuclear veil has been exploded. The BJP government has also said so, but unsure of the Opposition reaction, it has been hedging on the issue by pleading to build a national consensus before inking the treaty.

But the Senate refusal to ratify it has given Delhi more time. Ajit Panja, Singh?s newly-appointed deputy, said as much. ??It clearly shows that the difficulties in finding a consensus for the treaty that India has been raising was not without basis,?? he said.

Echoing Panja, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: ??The situation regarding the ratification of the CTBT as well as the debate in the US Senate indicates that the treaty is not a simple, uncomplicated issue.??

Of the 44 nations which have to sign and ratify the treaty, only India, Pakistan and North Korea have not done either.    

New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
Atal Behari Vajpayee?s government got off to an uncertain start today as the three Shiv Sena ministers refused to assume charge till ?desired portfolios? were allotted.

?We are not happy with the portfolios allocated. They are not resigning but will not take charge till the desired portfolios are allotted,? Sena spokesman Subhash Desai said in Mumbai.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray also expressed disappointment, but said he had not told the three to either resign or not to take charge. Saying he had 15 MPs, he took a dig at Mamata. ?Parties which have eight MPs have been given better portfolios.?

The Sena also used its mouthpiece to warn that it may be forced to pull out its ministers and offer outside support to Vajpayee, but Thackeray did not appear to be willing to go that far. ?I don?t want to be another Jayalalitha,? he said.

Sena?s Manohar Joshi yesterday took oath as Cabinet minister for heavy industry and public enterprises, Suresh Prabhu was given chemicals and fertilisers and Balasaheb Vikhe-Patil finance as minister of state.

Prabhu called on the Prime Minister tonight, but did not divulge details of the meeting.

The jarring note is also being traced to the strain in the saffron alliance in Maharashtra following speculation that the BJP was trying to rope in Sharad Pawar to form a government in the state.

Ramakrishna Hegde, who was denied a berth in Vajpayee?s jumbo Cabinet, too, remained a headache for the alliance. Sharad Yadav, the reunited Janata parivar?s head, called on Hegde, but failed to pacify him. Hegde continued to accuse George Fernandes of ?betraying? him. Sympathy for Hegde came from within the BJP when ?old friends? Sushma Swaraj and her husband Swaraj Kaushal called on him.

Sushma, who fought an unsuccessful election against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, had expected a ?suitable? reward, BJP sources said. They added that Sushma, like other former Delhi chief ministers Sahib Singh Verma and M.L. Khurana, is peeved with the leadership for ?using? her when they thought it politically expedient and then ?discarding? her.

In Mumbai, Sena eveninger Dopahar ka Saamna quoted party sources as saying there was a ?serious? discussion on whether the ministers should pull out.

To make matters worse for Delhi, Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane of the Sena alleged that the BJP was hobnobbing with Pawar?s party.

BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu, however, said his party had told Thackeray that it was willing to accept a Sena chief minister.

The Congress tonight met the Maharashtra Governor to stake claim.    

New Delhi, Oct. 14: 
If morning shows the day, railway officials are going to be on their toes for the rest of Mamata Banerjee?s term.

A tireless Mamata did not leave office till late evening on her first day as railway minister. She moved into top gear straightaway, asking for files, holding meetings with senior officials, setting up a calendar of targets and stressing she will not accept delay, while not forgetting to take tips from former railway minister Madhavrao Scindia.

Much of Day 1 was spent making announcements. A CBI inquiry was ordered into the Gaisal train accident. The strident Trinamul Congress leader told reporters that the inquiry had been ordered a fortnight back, but officials did not make the announcement as they were waiting for a minister to take over. The inquiry will continue along with the internal probe by the Railway Board.

On Jyoti Basu?s statement that she was expected to do something for West Bengal, the railway minister said: ?I am grateful to him for saying so. Our political paths may be divergent. But we need his cooperation for a number of projects which have run into trouble because of land acquisition problems.? She added: ?If he wants, I shall talk to him.?

Mamata said safety, security and passenger amenities will be her priorities.

Punctuality was another area which demanded attention, she said.

On October 23, Mamata will meet the entire Railway Board in Calcutta to look into the problems plaguing Eastern Railways and the Metro Railway.

Within a month, Mamata will meet all senior officials of her ministry, including chief general managers and divisional railway managers.

The Trinamul leader said she would talk to all chief ministers in the country to get first-hand accounts of the problems they were facing with railway networks in their states. She said she does not want to be a regional leader as her priority was improving the railways across the country.

Mamata ruled out any increase in train fare in view of the recent hike in diesel prices.

She also said she would start a special drive against corrupt officials and touts. All officials will be made accountable, she added.    

Temperature: Maximum: 30.3?C (+2) Minimum: 24.0?C (0)
RAINFALL: 63.9 mm
Relative humidity: Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 72%
Today: A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thundershowers. Slight rise in day temperature. Not much change in night temperature.
Sunset: 5.09 pm
Sunrise: 5.36 am    

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