Action Atal in please-all speech
Pawar strikes alliance with ?foreign? hand
Cyclone roars towards city on ashtami

New Delhi, Oct. 16 
Dipping into the wisdom of his melting-pot national alliance, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee tonight served up an all-embracing agenda that promised to reach out to the ?last person in the last row? and signalled a new wave of economic and political reforms.

In the first address to the nation since his return to power, Vajpayee strove to make a pan-Indian vision, peppered with a mix of Nehruvian and Gandhian idealism, the cornerstone of his new dispensation.

If the overriding message was that his is a government that cares, the professed mission was ?to wipe every tear from every eye?.

Jostling with the high ideals was a strong hint of impending action on the economic front. The Prime Minister?s reform blueprint:

Speed up economic reforms and focus on infrastructure development. The new century demands a new mindset.

Introduce new laws for financial sector reforms.

Improve expenditure management, deep tax reforms and speed up restructuring and disinvestment of public sector units.

Promote investments, including foreign inflows.

While the Prime Minister called for a tolerant society, he said ?zero tolerance? would be the guiding principle in tackling terrorism and corruption.

In an indirect warning to Pakistan, Vajpayee said, ?Our message is loud and clear: the life of every Indian citizen under our dispensation is precious.?

In another oblique reference to the developments across the border, the Prime Minister said: ?It is a matter of great pride for all of us that our nation has once again demonstrated its unshakeable commitment to democracy.?

Vajpayee said corruption ?that has bred contempt for the law? would also be tackled. He said the long-delayed Lokpal Bill will be one of his government?s first legislations ?so that the rot can be checked from the top?.

He added that a comprehensive electoral reforms Bill would be introduced soon to ?weed out muscle and money power?. ?It is my solemn pledge to all of you that nothing shall prevent us from the task of good governance,? he added.

Promising a ?proud and prosperous India?, Vajpayee said his government was ?wedded to a common ideal: to create a kinder, gentler and more tolerant society, free from all discrimination, fear and insecurity?.

Turning his speech into a please-all exercise, the Prime Minister said development priorities would be recast to provide drinking water, healthcare, education and shelter to all.

?The number of young men to whom jobs must be provided continues to increase. Children still go to bed hungry. A sense of insecurity prevails. The soul of India rebels against this reality,? Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister pledged to narrow the gap between ?our performance and your expectation?. ?The mandate of ?99 is a bond of trust between people and government. We shall not betray this trust,? he said.

Referring to the highly personalised campaign during the last election, the Prime Minister extended a hand of conciliation to the Opposition. ?Now that the election is over, we should put the acrimony and bitterness of the last couple of months behind us.?    

Mumbai, Oct. 16 
Five months after his debilitating mid-summer break with the Congress, on a dramatic autumn evening Sharad Pawar offered his hand in alliance to the party that is led by a person of foreign origin.

The Congress and Pawar?s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will form the government in Maharashtra, with the Governor today scheduling the swearing-in for Monday.

Two weeks of intense wrangling, during which Pawar was said to be supping with two devils, was capped by some last-minute suspense as the Congress and the NCP struck a deal with three-quarters of an hour left for Governor P.C. Alexander?s deadline to expire.

Congress state chief Prataprao Bhosle rushed to Raj Bhavan minutes before 7.30 pm to submit a list of 151 MLAs. As part of the arrangement, the Congress has conceded the post of Speaker to the NCP. The Congress? Vilasrao Deshmukh will head the government ? the deputy chief ministers? post going to the NCP. The two parties are meeting tomorrow to complete other formalities. The allies have drummed up the support of 19 MLAs of smaller parties and Independents to move past the 145 majority mark.

Earlier in the day, the Sena-BJP combine submitted a list of 136 MLAs, the secret talks between Pawar ? who has been holding simultaneous negotiations with the Congress ? and the BJP obviously falling through.

Acting chief minister Narayan Rane, who led the saffron combine?s delegation to Raj Bhavan, said he had told the Governor that he had the verbal assurance of four other MLAs.

The Governor had yesterday stepped in to resolve the deadlock, setting both the Sena-BJP and the Congress deadlines to show they had the support of 145 MLAs. Alexander?s urgency stemmed from the compulsion of putting a government in place by October 22.

The Congress got its appointment with the Governor postponed from 1 pm to 7.30 pm, hoping to clinch the deal with the NCP.

The deal was struck as late as 6.30 pm even as NCP spokesman Vasant Chavan was addressing a news conference on the lawns of the party?s state chief Chhagan Bhujbal?s official residence. Chavan had been speaking about the Congress? unbending stance. He said since the Congress? promised proposal had not reached the NCP till 5.45 pm, the party did not have time to discuss anything before the Governor?s deadline.

However, he kept the media at the venue, saying it would be better to wait till 6 pm. At about 6.45 pm, Bhujbal announced that the two parties had sunk their differences and had decided to form the government.

?In the interest of giving the state a secular and stable government, we have decided to be in government with the Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular), the CPM, the Samajwadi Party and the Peasants? and Workers? Party. The new government will be a united alliance, though after the Sena-BJP?s misrule we are afraid to use the word ?alliance,?? he said.

There was no word from Pawar till late this evening on this homecoming by half but a spokesman said the decision has been ?very difficult?.    

Calcutta, Oct. 16 
A severe cyclonic storm was bearing towards the Bengal-Orissa coast this evening, carrying with it the threat of heavy rain in the city and the rest of south Bengal from tomorrow morning.

The weather office said the cyclone is expected to enter the mainland tomorrow evening, bringing gusty winds and rain which could continue for 24 hours.

The director of the Alipore weather office, R.N. Goldar, said the storm had wind speeds up to 80 kmph. ?There will be spells of heavy rain from tomorrow morning and the cyclone will weaken by Monday morning,? he said.

The apparent severity of the storm has prompted the city?s civic and police administration to alert puja committees in the city.

The meteorological office said the storm was located about 550 km south-east of Puri this morning and headed in a north-westerly direction. It expected heavy rain in Howrah, Hooghly, Midnapore and South 24 Parganas. The worst affected could be Calcutta and the southern districts.

The cyclone has rapidly intensified during the day. The storm is expected to pick up further and then dissipate rapidly over land.

The weather office has alerted the port authorities and the district administration to warn fishermen not to venture out to sea in the next 24 hours.

A series of warnings has gone out in the city itself. According to the deputy commissioner (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, the police have instructed puja organisers to shut off power inside the pandals during the storm. ?We are worried that the storm might cause electrical short circuits and spark fires,? Ghosh said.

He said power supplier CESC Ltd has also been alerted. ?I have spoken to CESC engineers and asked them to switch off power in waterlogged areas to prevent electrocution,? Ghosh said.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation commissioner, Asim Barman, said the drainage and conservancy departments have been warned on waterlogging. ?We don?t want people wading through water during the pujas,? he said.

Although a number of new pumps are being installed in the city to drain out water, the work will not be completed in the next six months. ?But we will not let this deter us from promptly clearing the water from the streets,? said Barman. ?I promise Calcutta that the CMC will do its best during the pujas.?

With September 24?s deluge fresh in mind, Calcutta will keep its fingers crossed on ashtami.    


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