15th August 1997 - Telegraph
Or here for 14 August 1997
Left gives in to Basu on oil price hike
Last-minute burst of joy clears Pak clouds
MPs fuss over translation of President’s speech
Hindi too harsh on Rabri tongue
CBI rapped for Kesri clean chit
Kesri bid to make peace with Antony, Mamata
Special police to guard Mumbai shooting spots
Patriotism dances to pop tunes
Army on alert in Kashmir

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu has convinced senior members in the CPI(M) and CPI not to oppose the proposed hike in petroleum prices.

To offset the adverse impact of the hike, Left leaders have also asked Prime Minister I.K. Gujral to persuade the Congress not to go on an offensive against the United Front on the issue.

After resisting a hike for months, the Left finally relented, realising the Front would otherwise be unable to break out of the oil pool stranglehold. Before the Standing Committee met yesterday, Mr Basu urged senior Left members to be reasonable while opposing the hike. Though the next rung of leadership and the party rank and file are still to endorse the hike, the Left top brass believe there is no other way of covering the huge oil-pool deficit.

The deficit, that stands at Rs 25,000 crore, is soon expected to escalate to intractable proportions. The only other way the Front can avoid a price hike is by borrowing from the international market. But this will have a more adverse impact on the economy.

There is speculation the recent dinner meeting between Mr Gujral and Mr Basu had much to do with the Left’s softening of stance on the issue. Mr Gujral has been pleading with the Left that his government does not have any soft options and it is better to take hard decisions now than allow the problem to spin out of control.

The Left is worried the hike may give the Congress an additional handle with which to beat the Front government. The Congress high command has already come out in the open against the proposed hike. This is why Left leaders are keen that Mr Gujral neutralise the Congress’ offensive.

With the Left having mellowed its stand, the government is likely to announce a formal decision next Thursday. The Left is hoping the Front will cushion the blow by increasing the quantum of rice and wheat to be distributed among the poor through the public distribution system.    

Karachi, Aug. 14 

Pakistan was a country divided by age on the eve of its 50th anniversary of independence.

At the level of the state and elder intelligentsia, Pakistan’s golden jubilee celebrations were almost overshadowed by the passage yesterday in the lower House of Parliament of a controversial anti-terrorist Bill that gives the law enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers — including the right to arrest without warrant and to shoot to kill on the mere assumption of terrorist intent — ostensibly to deal with sectarian violence.

The Opposition walked out of the National Assembly terming the new legislation a “black law” while the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called the new law “a curious golden jubilee gift.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the nation from a hastily convened National Assembly session at 12.01 am last night was also mostly bereft of any grand vision of the previous or coming 50 years and focused more on a defence of the new piece of legislation. It was hardly what Pakistanis had expected to mark the beginning of the country’s 50th birthday bash.

But on the ground, almost as if stung by the media criticism of the lack of visible joy and disgusted by the politicians’ lack of grace, young Pakistanis took to the streets with a vengeance. Cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and cycles festooned with Pakistani flags had started doing the rounds of Karachi’s roads since early evening last night. By midnight, roads such as Karachi’s equivalent of Wall Street, the I.I. Chundrigar Road, were jam-packed with traffic and youngsters singing and dancing in the middle of the street to the music pounding out from car stereos and loudspeakers.

In contrast to even only a day earlier, the streets were alive with people come to “see the lights” and the sound of ebullient honking of car horns. Buildings swathed in yellow, green, red and blue fairy lights — and, in the case of one, a giant lighted 50 — presented a riot of colour in combination with the swirling mass of green and white flags.

“Till yesterday I was depressed about the lack of celebrations,” shouted out a young man to me above the din of bhangra and breakdance behind him, “but today I am so happy to be a Pakistani. I feel real pride!”

The scene was repeated in most parts of the city. Spontaneous dance competitions were held on roundabouts while some neighbourhoods had organised singing competitions or music concerts that began after midnight and continued well into the morning. Sweets were distributed in the city and late-night tea kiosks did roaring business catering to high-spirited revellers.

The jubilant mood was helped by the common shopkeepers, office owners and private flat residents who had, at the last minute sensing the lack of an atmosphere of celebration, chipped in to illuminate their shops and buildings.

An English columnist reflected this aggressive reaction to the intelligentsia’s preoccupations in this morning’s paper, even as groups of young people still roam the streets with flags and buntings. “Birthdays are for being sentimental and, if possible, happy,” wrote Ayaz Amir in today’s Dawn. “They are not occasions for drawing up a balance sheet of the cosmos.”    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

Acrimony has not ceased in the Rajya Sabha even on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of India’s Independence. In today’s Zero Hour, bitter feelings surfaced over the translation of the President’s speech during the special midnight session of both Houses of Parliament.

BJP members wanted to know why the United Front government had departed from convention, and asked Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral to translate President K. R. Narayanan’s speech into Hindi.

Mr Narayanan will deliver his speech in English. His speeches in the past, including the one given at the function when he took over as President, were translated by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah.

Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Jayanthi Natarajan replied: “The government has a limited role to play in the matter. In fact, it has no role in this. The function is being organised elsewhere. If the House so wishes I can convey its sentiments to the Speaker.”

But the assurance came with a rider. “I do not know if it is proper to convey the sentiments of the House to the Speaker,” Ms Natarajan said.

A howl of protest followed Ms Natarajan’s intervention. BJP’s T.N. Chaturvedi accused her of “misleading the House”.

When the minister protested and said, “I believe in certain principles, and do not mislead the House,” Mr Chaturvedi’s retort was, “What principles does she have? She is a Congress member sitting in the treasury benches.”

The Tamil Maanila Congress, to which Ms Natarajan belongs, is an offshoot of the Congress, but it has not yet been recognised as a separate block in the Rajya Sabha.

But Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI came to Ms Natarajan’s rescue and told Mr Chaturvedi his comments were unwarranted.

The discussion was initiated by V. K. Malhotra (BJP) who demanded to know why a time-honoured precedent was broken by the government 15 days before the midnight session on Independence eve.    

Patna, Aug. 14 

Tomorrow, Rabri Devi faces her most difficult task yet as Bihar chief minister.

After unfurling the Tricolour at Gandhi maidan, she will have to deliver the Independence Day address.

But Rabri Devi can speak only in Bhojpuri and cannot read fluently either. Therefore, a 10-line speech has been prepared for her to memorise. Over the past three days, the chief minister has been spending most of her time at home practising reading it aloud.

She is being helped along by her daughters, who read out each word and make “Mummy” repeat it over and over. In fact, they made her go through the speech so many times, she got irritated.

For all the effort, Rabri Devi has not been able to master the speech. She is having trouble even pronouncing words like “Swadhinta” and “Swatantrata”. She takes time to read each word, slowly, letter by letter.

“Though she is literate, she has lost touch with the written word because she did not need to read anything for the past several years,” an official said.

Officials are worried about the embarrassment the government will suffer if the chief minister fails to deliver even a few sentences.

There was a suggestion that Rabri Devi get her speech recorded to be played at Gandhi maidan. On Independence Day, she would simply have to synchronise her lip movement with the pre-recorded version. But officials decided against the idea, saying she should speak, come what may.

There was another suggestion - that she be allowed to speak in Bhojpuri. But an official said: “Even in Bhojpuri, it will be difficult for her to speak before a congregation.”

Recently, in Ranchi, when Rabri Devi rose to speak, the officer on special duty, Mahabir Prasad, was on stage, prompting her. His voice could be heard on the loudspeaker.

But this will not be possible at Gandhi maidan. So, Rashtriya Janata Dal workers have decided to chant Jai Hind, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Rabri Devi Zindabad all through to drown her speech.

Leader of the Opposition Sushil Kumar Modi is enjoying her discomfiture. “She has not spoken even 15 sentences during her 15 days in office,” he said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

Delhi High Court today took the CBI to task for its “clean chit” to Congress president Sitaram Kesri in a bribery case.

The court has asked the agency to update the probe report and submit it in sealed covers in three weeks. The division bench of Justice Jaspal Singh and Justice Manmohan Sarin, told the CBI: “You have not properly probed the allegations regarding bribing of (Bihar) MLAs (allegedly by Mr Kesri to be elected to Rajya Sabha in 1988 and 1994).”

They ordered the investigating agency to look into the huge cash deposits made by some MLAs in Bihar between January and February 1994, in various banks. The MLAs were allegedly bribed to vote for Mr Kesri in the Rajya Sabha elections he contested successfully that year.

“Did you properly scrutinise the bank accounts and the amounts deposited?” the judges asked the investigating agency.

The directive follows the petition by freelance journalist Madhuresh.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

Having tightened his grip over the party, Congress chief Sitaram Kesri is now assuming the role of a “peace-maker” to win over A.K. Antony and Mamata Banerjee, and pacify leaders from Gujarat who want the leadership to dump chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela.

Mr Kesri offered a Congress Working Committee berth to the former Kerala chief minister who boycotted the AICC plenary in Calcutta. Mr Antony will meet Mr Kesri tomorrow in the capital.

The Congress president is visiting Sabarmati on August 25 to sort out the Gujarat problem in the wake of a virtual revolt in the party over continuing support to the Vaghela government.

Mr Kesri plans to fill CWC vacancies in a phased manner. Early next week, he will nominate Mr Antony (provided he accepts it), Manmohan Singh, Oscar Fernandes and Meira Kumar. Others lobbying hard for the nominations are Naval Kishore Sharma, Jayanti Patnaik, Janardhan Reddy, Hanumanthappa and K. Karunakaran.

Mr Kesri seems to have softened towards Ms Banerjee. indicating that another set of dialogue will be held to bring her back. Mr Kesri’s close aides like Jitendra Prasada and Ahmad Patel are said to have advised the high command against taking action on her.

Impressed by Ms Banerjee’s show of strength during the plenary, they feel her exit will damage the party particularly when it is trying to consolidate its hold in West Bengal.

Mr Kesri is also working on a gameplan to revive the party at the national-level because the I.K. Gujral government is not going to last long. Leaders like Pranab Mukherjee have, however, said the fall of the government would not be because of the Congress.

Due to increasingly hostile attitude of the Left, Mr Mukherjee suspects it is working on a gameplan to distance itself from the Gujral government.

“The Left parties have a tendency to move nearer to power without responsibility. If a government starts becoming unpopular, they start distancing themselves,” he said.

Mr Mukherjee is also unsure about the Left alliance with leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chandra Babu Naidu. “The Left does not have much base outside West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Mr Yadav and Mr Naidu will also decide about their future after objectively assessing the ground situation,” he said.    

Mumbai, Aug. 14 

The Maharashtra government will deploy two battalions of the State Reserve Police to guard film locations in Mumbai, as an immediate step to pacify Bollywood, shaken by the slaying of Gulshan Kumar on Tuesday.

Deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde spent two hours with a delegation of more than 40 artistes from the Hindi film industry. The mood was combative. The delegation members felt as minister of state for home, Mr Munde, could not shirk his responsibility of maintaining law and order.

However, the delegation did not provide him with the list of possible extortion victims, drawn up yesterday at the meeting of the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association. One producer said: “We may supply a name but tomorrow another man may be hit. We told Mr Munde that names are coming up in the Press, so why don’t you act on that?’

Describing the meeting as “partly satisfactory”, producer G.P. Sippy said: “We told Mr Munde that Mumbai is the birthplace of Indian films, and these slayings are a matter of shame. Mr Munde is supposed to know the names of all criminals, he can prevent the crimes.

“We said the film industry feels a state of emergency. Everyone feels unsafe. We hoped we would meet again before the next murder.”

The delegation was more agitated by Mr Munde’s reported remarks on black money in the film world and financing by the underworld. A producers asked him: “What about the black money in politics?”

Mr Sippy pointed out that 75 per cent of the films did not bring back even the capital invested. He wondered which criminal would be foolish enough to invest in such a business. Mr Munde claimed his comments had been misconstrued. He promised protection to all those who felt threatened. In addition, the police would also try to gather information, he added.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

Only after music director A.R.Rahman did a Michael Jackson and Vande Mataram acquired a disco beat did the crowds rise to celebrate India’s 50th anniversary celebrations at Vijay Chowk tonight.

“Hindustan Zindabad. Bharat mata ki jai,”’ they shouted as a prancing Rahman belted out his Vande Mataram number, dedicated to children. Smoke filled the stage, men in shiny clothes played the guitar and people, especially the young, were finally on their feet.

But for all the 50th anniversary caps, bags and T-shirts, and the fluttering flags, the show was as much a tamasha as an example of patriotic exuberance. Till Rahman did his number, few people appeared interested in the performan-ces on stage whether it was Mallika Sarabhai dancing, Hema Sardesai singing Sare Jahan Se Accha or Louis Banks playing. Little children screamed and people ambled around, soaking up the moment.

The laser display drew occasional ripples of applause. People appreciated the images of spaceships and astronauts and the Taj Mahal and the final fingers of light and the fireworks evoked gasps of wonder.

For a brief, shining moment late in the evening, the fireworks and the excitement lit up the night. But Wizcraft’s (Witchcraft, according to Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh) image of a compact disc changer brought derisive laughter. “Villages don’t have drinking water; they’re showing CD changers,” said one young man in a Gandhi topi.

The function began quietly and when the first strains of Vande Mataram filled the air, barely 10 per cent of the seats were taken. Invitation cards, officials regretted, were not distributed on time.

Vijay Chowk began to fill up only after the procession of several thousand tricolour-waving Indians, including freedom fighters, arrived, their march from National Stadium via Rajpath ov-er. Havildar Hari Ram of the INA, wounded at Imphal, came wearing his medals. He had joined the INA at Singapore and fought all the way to Burma and Manipur. “The present times are all about bhras-htachar (corruption),” he felt.

P. Jha, a 75-year-old farmer from Madhubani, Bihar, remembered running away to Nepal after the British Police wanted him for cutting telephone wires in his sub-division. Other freedom fighters stumbled into the function, leaning on walking sticks, clutching bottles of Bisleri. The majority of the processionists appeared to be younger, many of them being political workers.

Kalle Gowda, who represented the country in the Handi-capped Games, walked all the way from the National Stadium.

Prime Minister I.K.Gujral overshadowed by the Rahman antics, made a brief appearance and declared: “We are one. We have succeeded and we will succeed,” as former Prime Ministers stood around. He greeted a group of freedom fighters. This came after Mr Sahib Singh announced that Subhas Chandra Bose would have been Prime Minister if he were alive in 1947.    

Srinagar, Aug. 14 

Troops took up position around the Bakshi stadium and other parts of the city on Independence Day eve.

Security arrangements for this year’s Independence Day function have been tighter than previous years despite claims by the state government of an improvement in the law and order situation.

Almost all the multi-storeyed buildings around the Bakshi stadium where the chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, will take the salute and unfurl the National Flag have been occupied by troops. Red flags have been put up on the roof-tops of these buildings.

All roads leading to the stadium were sealed by troops this evening. Specially trained commandos and heavily armed troops around the stadium are searching passing vehicles and pedestrians.

Separatist groups like the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, have called a strike in the Valley tomorrow. They have asked the people to observe a “black day”.    


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