Fortress opens, for tea, jam and VIPs
Rival stokes Rumtek row
BJP grapples with Kandahar tremors
HC refuses stay on Sonia ouster plea
Tongue-tied BJP gropes for mouthpiece

 
 
FORTRESS OPENS, FOR TEA, JAM AND VIPS 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Siddhbadi (Dharamshala), Jan. 11 
Fifty bottles of raspberry jam, an equal number of cases of Tibetan tea and freshly-baked bread. This “holy” consignment was carted in the wee hours of the morning in a grey Mitsubishi Lancer from Dharamshala to Gyoto Rampoche temple at Siddhbadi, 15 km on the way to Palampur.

The temple and the monastery — a three-storeyed, imposing yellow structure visible from Dharamshala town — are located in the main campus of Gyotu Tantric University. It is sometimes used by the Dalai Lama himself.

The monastery, which is the current home of Urgyen Trinley Dorje, now resembles a fortress. The 17th Karmapa has been kept here, guarded by the Dalai Lama’s elite security guards and plainclothesmen of the Himachal Pradesh police. The bread, jam and tea are for the 14-year-old Karmapa, his sister and five followers.

A narrow pebbled road veers away from the Dharamshala-Palampur road towards the temple. A Mercedes Benz, Pajero, Volkswagen and a Lancer adorn the driveway. The Mercedes and the Volkswagen have Bhutanese number plates.

A plainclothesman tersely announces: “The monastery is closed. Don’t force us to throw you out.” Almost immediately, a man appears in the driveway flashing a ID card which says: “Department of security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

Soon, several cars arrive. One of the visitors is Lobsarg Khedip, secretary to the department of religion and culture and the minister Tashi Wangdi’s understudy. “Yes the Karmapa is here and I have been deputed to look after him,” he says frankly.

A woman accompanying Khedip asks him to shut up and come along. But he is no mood to do that. “He (the Karmapa) just loves Tibetan tea. He also likes raspberry jam. We are giving him lots of its,” Khedip declares.

Khedip adds the Karmapa wakes up at dawn and spends almost all his waking hours reading the scriptures. Most of the ministers in the Dalai Lama Cabinet have already met the Karmapa to seek his blessings.

All of a sudden there is feverish activity on the fourth floor balcony of the monastery. An elderly monk in saffron robes emerges from a heavily-curtained room. He is identified as Tai Situ Rinpoche, the monk who received the letter of instruction from the 16th Karmapa on where to find his reincarnation.

“There is nothing to be seen,” says a security guard, as two baskets of fruits arrive. But an old woman butts in. “The Karmapa looks good and healthy,” she says.    


 
 
RIVAL STOKES RUMTEK ROW 
 
 
FROM KESHAV PRADHAN
 
Gangtok, Jan. 11 
The Karmapa controversy has taken a new turn with a 23-year-old staking claim as the “real reborn” head of Rumtek monastery, the headquarters-in-exile of the Tibetan Kagyu sect.

Dawa Zangpo Dorjee Sherpa had earlier tried twice — on January 1, 1998, and January 16, 1999 — to storm the monastery with jeeploads of his followers to occupy the seat of the Karmapa. Both attempts were foiled by armed police personnel and Rumtek inmates.

Dawa had first declared himself the 17th Karmapa at a press conference in Siliguri in 1994. He renewed the claim following the sensational flight of the official Karmapa, 14-year-old Urgyen Trinley Dorje, from Tibet to India. Urgyen’s arrival has caused new year celebrations to begin early at the monastery.

Urgyen is recognised as the reincarnation of the last Karmapa, who died in 1981, by the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government and a majority of the Tibetan Buddhists.

But there is still another claimant to the Karmapa status — Thaey Dorjee, a Tibetan teenager propped up by Shamar Rinpoche, a rebel regent priest of Rumtek.

Upset at what he called a conspiracy to capture the wealth of Rumtek and its branches the world over, Dawa warned today: “There will be a lot of trouble if Urgyen is enthroned at Rumtek.” He also wrote to Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling yesterday, seeking a test of all three claimants.

Dawa, who dresses like a monk and is addressed as “Rinpoche” by followers, said: “Let there be an interview of all three of us. Whoever exhibits supernatural powers and knowledge will be the 17th Karmapa. Let us together identify the objects used by the previous Karmapa in front of other Rinpoches and media personnel..Let us see who can sit on the throne without suffering for seven to 21 days,” he challenged. “The fake Karmapa will perish immediately.”    


 
 
BJP GRAPPLES WITH KANDAHAR TREMORS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11 
The BJP leadership is grappling with the disquiet among its cadre over the militant-for-hostage deal with the hijackers.

Home minister L.K. Advani reiterated today that the release of the three Kashmir terrorists had ‘‘damaged’’ the party’s image, but added that the government had little option under the circumstances.

At a convention of the BJP’s youth wing here, Advani said the government decided to release the militants to ensure ‘‘minimal damage’’ to the country. ‘‘However, the damage was to the image of the BJP because it was perceived to be different from other parties. People found it difficult to digest the decision taken by its government,’’ he said.

Advani, who is believed to be cut up with the swap and reportedly even offered to quit, had made a similar statement at the Prime Minister’s iftar party last week. But he had refused to elaborate, saying ‘‘that chapter is closed now’’.

BJP sources admitted that the home minister — seen by the party’s rank-and-file as the symbol of Hindutva and a ‘‘hard nation-state’’ — was forced to repeat his statement because the cadre are ‘‘still unhappy’’ with the way the government handled the Kandahar crisis.

‘‘Questions are still being asked on why the militants were released after the Prime Minister had categorically said at the beginning that there was no scope for negotiations. Our workers are comparing this incident with the earlier ones. They feel this government has come through looking worse than earlier ones because our foreign minister extended unusual courtesy to the terrorists by personally accompanying them to Kandahar. At least, P.V. Narasimha Rao and V.P. Singh did not do this when they were forced to release militants,’’ a source said.

The cadre ire, the sources added, was further fuelled by the perception that Advani had been kept out of decision-making. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who, along with national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, was at the forefront of the negotiations, is not viewed too favourably by BJP hardliners. They pointed out that after the poll debacle of 1984 — when the BJP won two seats — he had reportedly suggested that the party ought to be disbanded.

‘‘And today, he is at the centre of the decision-making process,’’ said a senior office-bearer.

RSS chief Rajju Bhaiyya’s statement in the Sangh mouthpiece Panchajanya branding the Hindu community a ‘‘bunch of cowards’’ and covertly criticising the Centre for compromising the nation’s security was also seen as a ploy to reassert the parivar’s ‘‘distinct’’ identity.

‘‘His statement reflected the RSS’ view that a nation can be as good or bad, as strong or weak as its society. If the society is weak, the nation is bound to be weak,’’ said a BJP functionary.

Former Panchajanya editor Bhanu Pratap Shukla recently penned a column in the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, rubbishing the BJP’s Chennai declaration as a ‘‘sellout’’ of the party’s ideology and ideals. The declaration formally jettisoned the BJP’s Hindutva agenda in the interest of coalition politics.

Shukla, a loyalist of human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, was unsparing in his criticism of BJP president Kushabhau Thakre (who he named in his column) as well as Advani and Vajpayee — though they were not mentioned by name — for ‘‘compromising’’ with the party ideology in their pursuit of ‘‘opportunism and self-aggrandisement’’.    


 
 
HC REFUSES STAY ON SONIA OUSTER PLEA 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11 
Delhi High Court today declined to grant an interim stay on the removal of Sonia Gandhi as life president of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA).

A single-judge bench of Justice J.B. Goel, however, reserved orders on an interim application seeking to stay the government orders to revamp the IGNCA, including Sonia’s ouster.

Justice Goel asked the Centre to reply to the interim application by Friday. The judge also issued notices to the government and other trustees of the IGNCA. The notices were issued on a suit by ousted trustees, M.C. Joshi and Ram Niwas Mirdha, against the Centre. The stay on the government order reconstituting the trust is likely to be decided tomorrow or on Thursday, while the other substantive issues of the suit will be heard from February 15.

The government had on Saturday removed Sonia as life president of the IGNCA but retained her as one of the trustees. P.V. Narasimha Rao, R. Venkataraman, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Sonal Man Singh, Bhupen Hazarika and M.S. Swaminathan have been retained on the board.

The government has argued that appointing anyone as life president or trustee is against the principles and deed of the trust and against Articles 7 and 9 of the trust. It is also against the provisions of the Indian Trust Act.

The suit, however, says that the government action was illegal and at best it could have only approached a court of law to re-constitute the trust. It contends that the government had no executive powers to declare the provisions of any trust null and void.

Rao deposes

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao today denied having bribed Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MPs to survive the no-confidence motion against his government in July 1993.

Deposing for the first time before the special court trying the JMM bribery case, Rao said: “I am not a party to the passing of money to the JMM MPs. I did not directly or indirectly send money to Suraj Mandal’s house.”    


 
 
TONGUE-TIED BJP GROPES FOR MOUTHPIECE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 11 
The BJP has lost its voice after the Airbus hijack. And it is not due to the cold wave in Delhi.

The problem is that the party cannot find a person who is willing to do the “unenviable” job of being the spokesman.

Since the dawning of the new millennium, the ruling party has not held a single press briefing. To be precise, the silence has not been broken since the party’s Chennai national council in December.

Every day at 3 pm, the scheduled hour for the BJP’s press briefing, reporters turn up at the party headquarters at 11, Ashoka Road and every day, the office staff informs the hacks that there is no one to brief them.

The reason? There is no spokesperson. The party earlier had four — M. Venkaiah Naidu, J.P. Mathur, Arun Jaitley and K.L. Sharma. While the task was fairly evenly shared, there had been murmurs of late that Naidu, the most high-profile and voluble of the quartet, wanted to “monopolise” the show.

But now the problem of plenty has been reversed. Naidu is grounded in Chennai after an eye surgery, Jaitley has become a Cabinet minister and Sharma is dead.

Mathur, who was considered not “sufficiently telegenic” by the BJP’s media “experts” till recently, has refused to accept the job, sources said. Sushma Swaraj, too, turned down the offer once she was out of the Cabinet.

Of the present general secretaries, K.N. Govindacharya and Narendra Modi flit in and out of Delhi. Both are involved in states like Haryana and Bihar where elections are coming up.

The lack of a voice also leaves the BJP in a quandary when it comes to briefing the press on the government’s alleged lapses.

Sources admitted that during the “honeymoon” of the first three months, it was fairly easy to parry hostile queries, but things started hotting up when the Opposition put the BJP on the mat in Parliament on the Ayodhya issue.

Even Naidu had a tough time fielding press queries on the resignation drama staged by home minister L.K. Advani and the reported Advani-Vajpayee rift.

Then the hijack happened. While the BJP had converted the initial embarrassment of the Kargil infiltration into a show of “nationalistic” fervour and later a “victory” for India, Kandahar was a different story. The party’s spin doctors struggled to explain why did the Centre did nothing in Amritsar or Dubai, the circumstances in which the three militants were taken to Afghanistan personally by Jaswant Singh, how the hijackers were allowed safe passage and so on.

In the past, whenever the BJP wanted to avoid meeting the press, it chose the easy way out: send a statement by fax. This time, there was not a single statement on the worst crisis faced by the Vajpayee government; not even one to “celebrate” the hostages’ release.

Instead, the BJP had to put up with Advani’s disconcerting statement that the freeing of militants had dented the party’s image as well as RSS chief Rajju Bhaiyya’s description of the Hindu community as a bunch of “cowards”.

The BJP’s Bihar allies have begun causing trouble in the run-up to the Assembly polls. And the party’s unofficial spokesmen have not exactly made things easy.

Yesterday, Mathur warned the two aspirants to the chief minister’s post — Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan — to hold their horses and quit the Cabinet if they were serious about replacing Laloo Prasad Yadav. Mathur, it is learnt, was ticked off by leaders for his remarks. The upshot is that the most accessible of the BJP leaders shut out the press today.    

 

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