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INDIA-L  October 2000

INDIA-L October 2000


India Network News Digest - October 4 , 2000


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Today's India Network News Digest is compiled by the India Network Services
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                             Wed 4 Oct 2000

India Network News Digest - October 4 , 2000  Volume 12 Issue 170
Brought to you in co-operation with Various News Reports from India
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Today's News Items
#1. PM buys peace with Mamata
#2. TDP wants Govt. to reconsider decision
#3. Priority to remove disparity: Venkaiah Naidu
#4. Bengal flood toll climbs to 1,020
#5. PM to decide on oil price hike rollback: Laxman
#6. Surprised Congressmen come out to celebrate
#7. Vajpayee expresses concern over spread of nukes
#8. Foreign interference in Jammu and Kashmir should be stopped: Putin

#1. PM buys peace with Mamata
By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI, OCT. 3. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is
reported to have bought peace with the Trinamool Congress chief,
Ms. Mamata Banerjee, by promising an additional berth to her party in the
Council of Ministers and agreeing to at least a partial rollback of the
recently announced increase in the price of petroleum products. The
partial rollback decision is expected to be taken after a Cabinet meeting
on October 6.

The buckling comes just when the Government and the BJP were getting ready
to celebrate the completion of one year in office by the Vajpayee
Government; the projection was that the Government had grown from strength
to strength with the United States' visit seen as the icing on the cake.

It seems the Prime Minister was keen on untangling the Trinamool imbroglio
before going in for his knee surgery, although the Defence Minister,
Mr. George Fernandes, and the Finance Minister, Mr. Yashwant Sinha, had
serious reservations. Government sources today confirmed that the package
worked out in Calcutta today - where the Prime Minister's emissary,
Mr. Sudhendra Kulkarni, has been camping since last night - included the
elevation of Mr. Ajit Panja to a Minister with independent charge of Mines
and Minerals, and the induction of a new Minister of State from the
Trinamool, in all likelihood Ms. Krishna Basu, who could be given the job
Mr. Panja has been holding, Minister of State rank in the Ministry of
External Affairs.

Ms. Banerjee announced her resignation as Minister of Railways, along with
that of her colleague Mr. Panja as MoS, External Affairs, on September 30,
the very day Mr. Vajpayee inducted some new faces into the Council of
Ministers. What reportedly angered Ms. Banerjee was the induction of
Mr. Satyabrata Mukherjee, a BJP MP from West Bengal, making the BJP score
two Ministers out of two MPs from the State, the other being Mr. Tapan
Sikdar. On the other hand, the Trinamool with a strength of nine MPs also
had a quota of two - one Cabinet berth held by Ms. Banerjee and a MoS
position held by Mr. Panja.

The Trinamool's public posture was that she would press the resignations
unless the Vajpayee Government rolled back the increase in prices of
petroleum products which had ``hurt the poor and therefore hurt us
too''. Naturally, there was no mention of the demand for an additional
portfolio, though it was known that this was also a grudge.

When exactly the ministerial inductions will take place has not been
indicated. It seems Ms. Banerjee has let it be known that she will
withdraw her resignation only after the Government announces the reduction
in the recent increase in prices of petroleum products, especially
kerosene, LPG and diesel. The ministerial inductions would probably
follow, if other coalition partners do not start protesting.

#2. TDP wants Govt. to reconsider decision
By Our Special Correspondent

HYDERABAD, OCT. 3. The Telugu Desam has demanded that the NDA Government
reconsider the hike in oil prices in view of the hardship it caused to the
poor and low income groups.

A meeting of the party politburo convened by the Chief Minister,
Mr. N. Chandrababu Naidu, today felt that the hike in the prices of
kerosene, diesel and cooking gas was bound to hit the common man hard. The
price of kerosene shot up from Rs. 3 to 9 in just a year - a burden too
heavy for the poor.

Initially, the party urged the Centre to cushion the burden to some extent
by granting exemption to the `below poverty line' (BPL) families covered
by the `Deepam' (cooking gas supply) scheme. Today's meeting called for
the withdrawal of the increase in prices of cooking gas, kerosene and
diesel, particularly the first two.

The politburo decided to convey the people's dissatisfaction in no
uncertain terms to Delhi. The Telugu Desam Parliamentary Party will also
formally communicate the view to the Centre. The idea is to step up
pressure on Delhi in time for the October 6 Union Cabinet meeting.

The party also wanted the people to appreciate that barring the increase
in power tariff by the Chandrababu Naidu Government, all other hikes were
consequent to decisions taken by the Central Government.

Meanwhile, the politburo also termed the `provocative' statements of some
State BJP leaders as being `in bad taste'.

The TDP did nothing to embarrass the NDA coalition or its principal
constituent politically. So far each respected the other. It noted that,
of late, the spirit of cordiality was under strain as a result of comments
made by some BJP leaders.

TDP leaders cited statements by a BJP MP that the TDP Government would not
last long and by a Union Minister's caustic remark that Mr. Chandrababu
Naidu `is not our leader'.

#3. Priority to remove disparity: Venkaiah Naidu

NEW DELHI, OCT. 3. Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu, who assumed office as Union
Rural Development Minister today, said his priority would be to remove the
disparity between rural and urban areas.

His ministry would function in a ``transparent'' manner. He was confident
that his rural background would be useful to him in taking up the current
responsibility.His effort would be to provide drinking water, hygiene and
other basic amenities in rural areas in an effort to curb migration to
urban areas.

Mr. Naidu said he would interact with MPs, MLAs and other elected
representatives as this exercise would enable him get a better
understanding of the problems of the people.

He took office after offering prayers in the presence of his two Ministers
of State, Ms. Rita Verma and Mr. Subhash Maharia, and senior officials of
the ministry.

#4. Bengal flood toll climbs to 1,020

CALCUTTA: The official death toll from floods in West Bengal rose to 1,020
Wednesday, amid growing concerns over the fate of some villagers who have
been marooned for up to two weeks.

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu said the situation was especially
critical in the district of 24-Parganas, east of the state capital
Calcutta, where some areas remained under 10 feet of water.

Tens of thousands of villagers in 24-Parganas were still sheltered on
elevated railway tracks and national highways, while others were spending
nights in trees or atop electricity pylons.

"Three hundred troops and a large number of relief workers, equipped with
speed boats, are doing their best to reach these people," Basu said.

Fernando Soares, a member of an International Federation of the Red Cross
team sent to West Bengal, said some areas had been flooded for as long as
two weeks.

"The truth is we don't know exactly how many people have been marooned or
for how long," Soares told AFP.

"We met one guy who had swum 10 kilometers (six miles) to get some
supplies for his family. He said the water level in his village was up to
his neck, even when he was standing on a truck.

"That shows how critical the situation is in some areas."

Red Cross medical officer Jari Vainio said there was a "considerable
risk" of an outbreak of water-borne disease, given the continued lack of
access of many people to clean drinking water and proper food.

The flooding in West Bengal, which has spilled over into neighbouring
Bangladesh with equally devastating consequences, has so far affected some
17 million people.

#5. PM to decide on oil price hike rollback: Laxman

CHENNAI: BJP President Bangaru Laxman said on Wednesday that Prime
Minister A B Vajpayee would take a decision on reducing the hike in the
prices of petroleum products, considering the sentiments expressed by
people from all walks of life.

Laxman, who was on a transit visit here, told reporters at the
Meenambakkam airport that the banner of revolt raised by Trinamul Congress
leader and Railway Minister Mamta Baneerjee on the issue would be sorted
out soon.

He said such problems were common in a coalition government.

On the results of the civic elections in Gujarat, where the BJP had put up
a poor show, Laxman said it was due to problems within the BJP. However,
the results were not positive for the Congress.

#6. Surprised Congressmen come out to celebrate
The Times of India News Service

AHMEDABAD: There was a spring in their walk, a sparkle in their eyes and a
conviction in their voice. Suddenly, years of despondency have been shaken
off in a moment of exhilaration. Some Congressmen, who gathered here on
Monday to celebrate the unexpected win in the civic elections, could be
pinching themselves to make sure they were not day-dreaming.

Leaders, sulking at home all this while, were out in their starched,
spotlessly clean kurta-pyjamas, almost with that ``I-told-you-so''
look. The tricolour scarves were out too and so were the Gandhi caps,
taken out from closets, still carrying the sharp whiff of moth
balls. Leaders, who were talking about resignations just a few days ago,
suddenly found their voice. The apologetic tone was missing, replaced with
a new-found self-confidence.

The complete transformation in the persona of the average Congressman in
Gujarat is to be seen to be believed after the triumphant win in the civic
and panchayat elections. Not surprising, this. Take Rajesh Parmar, an
active Congress member of Rajkot. He says ever since he joined the
Congress 25 years ago, he has seen only his rivals ruling over the
municipal corporation.

Now 45 years old, he sees this as a first opportunity to taste political
power, even if it is city-specific. ``Our leaders may have been fighting
against themselves, but workers like me never lost touch with the
people,'' he says. For Congressmen like Parmar, Gujarat was a nightmare,
what with the BJP controlling the three-tier machinery associated with
power -- the Union government, the state government and the civic bodies.

And to think that the victories came in spite of a lack of interest shown
in the elections by the Congress central leadership, which despatched
second-rung leaders like Balram Jakhar and Ajit Jogi for the campaign, has
come as a further source of strength and self-confidence for the state
leadership. The party wanted neighbouring chief ministers -- Ashok Gehlot,
Vilasrao Deshmukh and Digvijay Singh -- to campaign, but they apparently
thought Gujarat was a lost cause. Party strongman Ahmed Patel never showed
up for the campaign and stalwarts like Chhabildas Mehta and Sanat Mehta
felt more comfortable opposing the government's liberalisation and
globalisation policies, rather than the political brasstacks.

There are, however, leaders who would like to see these surprise victories
in the right perspective, lest the Congressmen get carried away by this
unexpected windfall. Says Madhusudan Mistry: ``We must admit that the
results show the weaknesses of the BJP rather than the strengths of the
Congress. It is more a negative vote against the BJP than a positive vote
for the Congress.''

But the point that Mistry makes is that the Congress should build up from
this platform provided by the people rather than surrender the advantage
which has been served to the party on a platter.

That's a view most Congressmen tend to agree with even in this atmosphere
of euphoria. The cocky look in their eyes suggest that they would like to
go in for a kill, given the opportunity. But the Keshubhai Patel
government is still half way through its present term and, given the BJP's
overwhelming majority in the assembly, the Congressmen can only pray they
don't lose the momentum two years from now.

#7. Vajpayee expresses concern over spread of nukes
(New Delhi, Oct 4)

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today expressed concern over
continuous proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles in "our
region" and said close Indo-Russian understanding was essential to peace
and stability in Asia and the world. Along with the well-being of our
people, we seek peace and security in our region and the world
over," Vajpayee said.

Addressing a special meeting of both houses of parliament, organised in
honour of the visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Prime
Minister said that India desired friendly relations with its neighbours
based on mutual respect and civilised norms of behaviour and "we intend to
pursue this approach".

Stating that the two countries shared common concerns and interests, the
Prime Minister said, "the history of the last five decades demonstrates
that close Indo-Russian understanding is essential to peace and stability
in Asia and the world. This is what makes India and Russia strategic

Our friendship is not based on short-term calculations, but transcends the
twists and turns of history and politics, " Vajpayee said.

Asserting that India remained committed to the creation of a nuclear
weapons free world, Vajpayee said that the country had consistently
striven for global disarmament and had been in the forefront of all
international efforts in this direction.

One of the major challenges which India in this region had faced over a
decade was the menace of international terrorism, religious extremism,
drug trafficking, narco-terrorism and separatism, Vajpayee said.

Asking the international community to resolve to overcome these challenges
through concerted efforts, Vajpayee cautioned, "these dangers do not
recognise any borders and affect all. Terrorism cannot be allowed to
become an instrument of state policy."

Expressing concern over the continuous proliferation of nuclear weapons
and missiles in the region, the Prime Minister said, "we have given formal
shape to our relations by signing the declaration on strategic partnership
between India and the Russian federation. This declaration will guide us
in further developing our cooperation.

"Your historic visit to India will help in the further cementing of these
bonds," he said, adding that it was of significance that the views of the
two countries overlapped and intersected on a wide range of international

Vajpayee said that he was confident that the strength of Indo-Russian
relations would prevail in creating a new world order which fostered
international peace, security and stability.

In this regard, the reform of the United Nations system became vital,
Vajpayee said and welcomed Russia's continued support to India's
candidature for permanent membership in an expanded UN security council.

Asserting that Putin's visit and his address in parliament would mark the
"beginning of a new era in the history of our time tested excellent
bilateral relations", Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi said that the two
countries were committed to the cause of world peace and a democratic and
just global order.

"Our views on a majority of regional and global issues including the
menace of global terrorism are similar, " he said.

Stating that New Delhi noted with admiration Moscow's transition to a new
democratic system based on free elections, free press and constitutional
governance, Balayogi said that both countries should also strive to add a
strong parliamentary dimension to the relationship.

Parliamentary interactions not only fostered goodwill between parliaments
but also provided informal channels of diplomacy through people's
representatives, he said.

#8. Foreign interference in Jammu and Kashmir should be stopped: Putin
(New Delhi, Oct 4)

Sharing India's concern on terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir,
Russian President Vladimir Putin today asserted that foreign interference
in the state should be immediately stopped and the issue resolved
bilaterally between India and Pakistan on the basis of compromise.

"This(Kashmir) issue should be resolved bilaterally and on the basis of
compromise. There should be unconditional respect for the line of
control(LoC), " Putin said while addressing a joint sitting of parliament

Maintaining that Moscow was aware of the developments in Kashmir, Putin
said "we fully support the Indian leadership on the collective front to
fight terrorism" in the state.

In his 15- minute speech, dotted with applause, the Russian leader said
"we share your concern about the violence that is going on here. It is
making relations between India and Pakistan tense."

He said some terrorist and extremist organisations were actively operating
in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Russia's Northern provinces.

End of India Network News Digest

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