George guns as Jaswant holds fire
Lucknow assumes power to license God’s home
Nehru ace in statute draft
CPM go-slow after threat of punishment
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 5 
As the foreign ministry toned down its rhetoric against Islamabad, defence minister George Fernandes picked up the bullhorn and virtually challenged Pakistan to fight a war “anytime, anywhere”.

Returning military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s nuclear salvo, Fernandes said Pakistan is ‘‘mistaken’’ in its belief that by flexing its nuke muscle, it would be able to wrest Kashmir without India being able to strike back.

“They held out a nuclear threat to us on May 31, 1999, and did it again yesterday without absorbing the real meaning of nuclearisation, that it can deter only the use of nuclear weapons, but not conventional war,” he said at a seminar here.

Musharraf, in an interview to CNN yesterday, had said he would not hesitate to push the nuclear button if the country was threatened.

Throwing the gauntlet at Islamabad, the defence minister said India’s forces “have the ability to win a limited war at a time, ground and means of fighting chosen by the aggressor”.

With the US asking India to table sufficient evidence against Pakistan, the foreign ministry under Jaswant Singh sought to slow down its campaign to isolate Islamabad.

But, observers said, by letting Fernandes speak out, the government wants to send a signal to the people, cut up over the hijack, that Delhi is in no mood to give in to Islamabad. At the same time, the government, if pulled up by the US for making inflammatory statements, can argue that Fernandes is a ‘‘loose canon’’ who should not be taken too seriously.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh is scheduled to meet deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott later this month and the Airbus hijack is certain to figure in their talks. By firing from Fernandes’ shoulder, the government wants to ensure that the heat remains on Pakistan.

President Bill Clinton, in the national strategy report presented to the US Congress, has said easing tension between India and Pakistan will top his agenda this year.

But India ruled out third party intervention. ‘‘We do not see any role for a third party in the resolution of bilateral issues between India and Pakistan,’’ foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

Jassal tried to play down the US refusal to declare Pakistan a rogue state, saying Delhi and Washington were working in tandem to weed out terrorism. He pointed out that outfits like the Harkat-ul Ansar are based in Pakistan and the US is aware of India’s concerns.

In private, however, several diplomats have started questioning the US’ seriousness in combating terror. ‘‘The Americans may from time to time make critical remarks on Pakistan, but they will not go beyond a point to put Islamabad — their time-tested ally — on the mat vis-à-vis India,’’ a foreign ministry official said.

He argued that the US and other world powers are aware of Pakistan’s role in terror export to Kashmir. ‘‘Taking congizance or not taking cognizance of these facts is a matter of one’s convenience,’’ the official added.

The disappointment was echoed by Fernandes. ‘‘The US has to be made to realise that terrorism knows no borders. They aim at Osama bin Laden but overlook what is being done to India by Pakistan,’’ he said.    

Lucknow, Jan. 5 
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly today cited ‘‘national security’’ to rush through a controversial Bill giving the government sweeping powers to permit or stop construction of religious buildings, triggering fears in the Opposition that it will be used as a tool to persecute the minorities.

However, legal experts said on condition of anonymity that the Bill has wider ramifications since it impinges on the individual’s right to worship.

Government sources said the legislation — called the UP Public Buildings, Places of Worship Regulation Bill — has been introduced to prevent the mushrooming of mosques and madrasas along the porous Indo-Nepal border which touches at least seven districts in the state. The government is flooded with intelligence reports that these religious centres are often used as bases by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

‘‘National security is our prime concern. We are not against any community. The Bill is necessary to prevent the misuse of any religious place, be it a temple or a mosque, by anti-national elements,’’ said state parliamentary affairs minister Hukum Singh.

Once the Act comes into force — the Bill has to be cleared by the legislative council —individuals or groups will have to seek permission from the district magistrates concerned to either use a place for religious purposes or construct a building meant for religious activities.

The Bill says that a district magistrate can halt the construction of religious structures or stop the use of any finished building for religious purposes. The onus would be on the builder or the user to convince the district magistrate why the use or construction of the building should be allowed.

The legislation was moved late last night, catching most of the Opposition and even the majority of the ruling alliance MLAs unawares.

The Opposition slammed the Bill, saying it had exposed the BJP’s anti-minority face.

‘‘The sole purpose of the Bill is to stop the construction of mosques and prevent teachings in madrasas,’’ fumed Ram Avtar Shakya of the Samajwadi Party.    

New Delhi, Jan. 5 
The official committee to review the Constitution will scrutinise almost all its contours, including the fundamental rights and duties, directive principles, the powers of the President and the first-past-the-post system of voting in Parliament.

The background paper prepared by the law ministry, available with The Telegraph, says: “Having already amended the Constitution 79 times, it is futile for political parties to pretend that it cannot be touched.”

As if to give a fitting reply to the main Opposition, the Congress, the background paper quotes none other than Jawaharlal Nehru on the need to have a flexible Constitution. “We want no permanence in the Constitution. If you make anything rigid, you stop a nation’s growth,” Nehru is quoted as telling the Constituent Assembly in 1947.

The paper says the review would seek to incorporate the provisions “analogous to the German system of constructive vote of no-confidence.”

Under this system, a no-confidence motion would also specify an alternative. This would ensure that the Lok Sabha completes its full five-year term.

The review would also cover the “Westminster model of parliamentary democracy.” “The framers of the Constitution did not quite anticipate that India would not observe the customary role of one-party government,” the paper says. “Indian experience has given rise to coalition governments, hung Parliaments and the necessity for a caretaker government until fresh elections have yielded the necessary majority for a new government to be sworn in,” it adds. In this context the concept of Westminster system with a one-party rule would be reviewed.

The review would also focus on the powers of the President, especially “when a ruling government has lost its majority on the floor and when poll results do not declare a majority for any one single party.”

The paper says the review would also determine whether the President should be guided by the “views of a lameduck council of ministers, especially with regard to sensitive matters.”

It gives the government two options on the formation of the review committee: either appoint the serving or retired Chief Justice as the team captain or set up a parliamentary committee.

Giving weightage to the latter, it says: “The distinct advantage of a parliamentary committee is that its consensus recommendations will sail smoothly in Parliament as no single party or alliance is likely to have the majority required to amend the statute.”    

Calcutta, Jan 5 
The CPM leadership appears to have forgotten to issue the expected official punishment letters to the trio of rebels after their public censuring five days ago.

For example, former central committee member Saifuddin Chowdhury, who was showcaused by the party’s state committee on Friday, has yet to receive the letter.

Chowdhury, who is currently in Delhi, will be back in the city on Friday. CPM sources said Chowdhury had started drafting his reply to the showcause, but could not finish since he had not been informed of the leadership’s charges against him.

The sources said the party is deliberately going slow as it does not want to shut the door on the rebels now. It is giving them a chance to make a U-turn. Besides, efforts are on through back channels to have the rebels reconcile to the demands and requirements of the party.

“That is why the party is taking time to issue showcause letters to Chowdhury and others,” a senior CPM leader said.

State secretary Anil Biswas, however, refused comment.

The Bengal leadership is also hoping to defuse the crisis by holding on until the January 13 politburo meeting, which is expected to discuss changes to the party programme, one of the demands of the rebels. Jyoti Basu committed the party in public to taking up the issue at the coming meeting.

“It is expected that Chowdhury and others will be happy with the party’s decision to bring about changes to the party programme and give up the path of rebellion. Once it happens, the party will not punish them,” a senior party leader said.

On Friday, Chowdhury will meet some of his old comrades and friends to discuss the future course of action. Since he appeared with Chowdhury in public after a meeting with Basu, Samir Putatundu, the CPM’s South 24-Parganas district secretary, has been carefully skirting dissident activity. The third rebel leader, Subhas Chakraborty, is now maintaining close links with the state leadership.

These two developments are seen in the party establishment as a signal of the leadership’s success in “isolating” Chowdhury. The other view, of course, is that the extent of dissent is now too far gone for such a strategy to hit home.

CPM sources did not rule out the possibility of the party not moving any further with the showcause. With Basu at least partly throwing his weight behind the rebels by announcing a revision of the party programme, it is difficult for the state leadership to initiate further action against Chowdhury. On Monday, Basu had said changes would be made within a year or so.

Besides, there are instances of the CPM announcing punishment against dissidents and then not following it up with actual action.

Nepaldev Bhattacharya was removed from the state committee in 1994, but the party did not spell out the causes. Bhattacharya continues to be close to key leaders like Subhas Chakraborty.

Saifuddin Chowdhury is not a member of any of the decision-making bodies since being dropped from the central committee. Therefore, unlike Nepaldev’s case, the CPM does not even have to remove him from anywhere. Action against him can rest at Friday’s threat of punishment.    

Temperature: Maximum: 23.9°C (-3) Minimum: 11.8°C (-1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 38% Today: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature. Sunrise: 6.23 am Sunset: 5.01 pm    

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