Tuesday, May 18, 2004


India: New challenges await Sonia Gandhi
India's prime minister elect Sonia Gandhi will meet with president Abdul Kalam again tomorrow to stake her formal claim to power. This time she will go armed with letters of support from members of parliament accepting her as their new prime minister. With over 320 supporters her position is assured, but challenges remain.

Presenter/Interviewer: Kanaha Sabapathy
Speakers: Amit Mitra, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce; Somnath Chatterjee, leader of the Communist party of India (Marxist); Manmohan Singh, Congress leader and former finance minister

SABAPATHY: Once her position as prime minister is secured Sonia Gandhi must move quickly on a number of fronts if she is to establish confidence and stability.

The stock market which dipped by 17 percent to an all time low on Monday has rebounded by six percent but Amit Mitra from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce says the market will return to normal only when other factors are finalised.

MITRA: Prime Minister is more or less certain, but the cabinet is not certain. Common economic program is not certain. The kind of front it will be is not certain - what is the kind of structure it will be.Therefore the minute these certainties will come in place, you will see the market returning back.

SABAPATHY: The Congress is the largest single party, but with its allies it controls only 219 seats in the 545 seat parliament. The left parties which control just over 60 seats are opting to stay out of government but have agreed to support the Congress in order to keep the BJP out. Somnath Chatterjee is the leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

CHATTERJEE: You see we have our different policies and programs especially economic policies it is well known and in the three states we are in power our main politcal adversary is the Congress Party. And therefore we can't take a dual role, fight there and be in the government here.

SABAPATHY: It is the Marxist views on economic development that are the source of concern. The CPI has from the very begining said that its against disinvestment and wants a more human face to economic reform, thus generating the fear that Congress may be forced to back track on economic development. Congress leader and former finance minister Manmohan Singh however says there's no need for panic.

SINGH: There is an uncertainty, I think - justified or unjustified. My own feeling is the fundamentals of this country's economy are sound; therefore there is no need for panic.

SABAPATHY: Infact Mr Chatterjee says that the panic in the stock market had been manipulated to create instability.

CHATTERJEE: I can tell you this is nothing but a manipulation which has been done by a section of the people who are sympathetic to the BJP and who have got all sorts of unmerited benefits out of this BJP's compromise with some sections of the market industry.

SABAPATHY: Standing by the performance of the Marxists especially in the state of West Bengal… where it has been in control for the last 27 years, Mr Chatterjee asserts that they are not for isolation.

CHATTERJEE: We are not for isolation we are not for a closed-door policy. We are inviting everybody only thing we are saying it cannot always be a jobless growth; it has to be a pro-development growth and development for the common people. Nothing else, we are only saying let us not go on selling our undertakings for the sake of only disinvestment. Disinvestment must be tested at the crucible of public benefit.

SABAPATHY: Sonia Gandhi nonetheless faces a number of other pressing issues. She needs to negotiate with her partners and form a cabinet soon. Who gets what portfolios will indicate the course India will take in the future. If Manmohan Singh, the architect of India's economic reform program, is given the finance porfolio, market stability would be ensured. He has already said a capital market is important for India.

SINGH: A healthy, well-functioning capital market is in the interest of the country and we will take all necessary steps to ensure that our markets continue to perform that function as efficiently as possible.
Source; ABC, May 2004

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European satellite sees Great Wall of China
The European Space Agency's Proba satellite shows a winding segment of the 7240-km long Great Wall of China situated just northeast of Beijing. The Great Wall's relative visibility or otherwise from orbit has inspired much recent debate.
Source; ESA, May 2004

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