Leaders in jail, strikers face deadline
Roshan guides police on hitmen
Talks-jinx no bar to nomination
BJP in Bihar backward push
Hijack-hit Delhi shy of test ban
Sky marshals plan irks pilots

Lucknow, Jan. 22 
The Uttar Pradesh government today arrested the two senior-most leaders of the power strike — Shailendra Dubey and Akhilesh Kumar Singh — under the National Security Act.

It also declared that none of 495 employees dismissed so far will be taken back even if the strike is withdrawn.

However, the government faces a contempt case from the wives of employees arrested in midnight raids. The high court, which heard a petition filed by the wives against the government and the Lucknow district police, asked the petitioners to take their case to a contempt court on Monday.

Dubey, general secretary of the Northern India Power Engineers’ Federation and convener of the committee formed to co-ordinate the state strike, was picked up after midnight under the Essential Services Maintenance Act.

This morning, before the chief judicial magistrate Lucknow, he pleaded he was not on strike. The court granted him bail.

But soon afterwards, the district police issued an arrest warrant under the NSA and took him into custody. There is no immediate bail provision under this Act.

State energy minister Naresh Aggarwal said Dubey was arrested for “inciting violence, provoking people and giving false information to the media”.

To replace the sacked personnel, the power department has begun the process of fresh recruitment. Aggarwal said advertisements would be published over the next two days. These appointments will be on an ad hoc basis.

On the fate of the sacked employees, Aggarwal replied: “They will not be taken back. Many employees draw salaries and do not work. They also consume power worth Rs 10 crore a month and pay only Rs 4 crore, since they pay a fixed bill of Rs 200 a month. Why don’t union leaders talk of this?”

A committee to monitor the crisis has been formed by chief minister R.P. Gupta. It has Aggarwal, urban development minister Lalji Tandon and parliamentary affairs minister Hukum Singh. It was felt that the two other ministers would help resume the talks even if the employees burned bridges with Aggarwal.

The power minister, however, said: “I am still the sole deciding authority and I have made it clear that there will be no talks unless employees return to work and withdraw their demand for reversing the reforms process.”

He has also set a deadline. “Any dialogue is possible only till tomorrow evening. Once a nation-wide strike is called and the UP power employees support it, there will be no talks. After that, the government will talk and the employees will listen.”

A rapprochement appears unlikely now. The Prime Minister’s special aide Shivkumar, who was in Lucknow today, is learnt to have conveyed to the chief minister the Centre’s concern. Aggarwal denied Shivkumar’s presence had anything to do with the strike.    

Mumbai, Jan. 22 
Police said they have got vital clues to the identity of the two men who shot actor-turned-director Rakesh Roshan yesterday.

Roshan, who was released from hospital today, had a miraculous escape as a bullet passed through his left arm and pierced the left chest but did not hit the heart or a lung.

Two hitmen, believed to be from the Abu Salem gang, had sprayed six bullets on him outside his Santa Cruz office as he was getting into his car.

Deputy commissioner (north zone) Rajendra Singh, who has jurisdiction over the site of the crime, said investigating officers had dug out vital information on the assailants.

State home minister Chhagan Bhujbal confirmed that the police had traced the crime back to Abu Salem, whose gang specialises in extortion.

Bhujbal was attending a passing out parade of 78 crack commandos of the Mumbai police, who have been specially trained to man a mobike squad at Ghatkopar.

Roshan, who was able to give a statement to the police shortly after being operated on, described his attackers as lean men in their twenties. The police have refused to give away any other clue to their identity.

The film industry was shocked by the attack, especially since Roshan was seen as a clean man who had nothing to do with the underworld.

He had even pawned his wife’s jewellery and mortgaged his house in Juhu to raise the money for his first major hit Khudgarz in 1986. In 1997, the director complained to the police about threats he had received, after which he was given police cover. The security was withdrawn later as the threat perception seemed to have diminished.

Joint commissioner D. Shivanandan said yesterday’s attack was not a case of police failure to protect film industry people.

“The problem is that they rarely come to the police. We have given protection to those who have complained to us, and that includes Shah Rukh Khan. Rakesh Roshan, too, was given protection when he had sought it, but it was withdrawn when the threat vanished,” the officer said.

The police have posted a team of security guards outside the Roshan home.

Last night, while Roshan was being treated at Nanavati Hospital, a ring of policemen gave cover to his son Hrithik. Hrithik’s debut film, produced by his father, recently opened to 100 per cent collections. The success was most probably the reason for the assault.    

New Delhi, Jan. 22 
The BJP, Janata Dal (U) and the Samata Party have told their candidates to file nominations for the first phase of the Bihar polls, as seat-sharing talks remained deadlocked for the seventh day.

However, the BJP is still trying to avert the possibility of “friendly fights” as the JD(U) claimed it would contest 32 of the 108 seats going to polls on February 12. The BJP would contest about 60, while the Samata refused to specify its number.

With just 48 hours to go before nomination for the first phase closes on Monday, L.K. Advani, who is to return from the Northeast tonight, will make a last-ditch bid to reason with the JD(U) and Samata.

A meeting at Advani’s residence tonight is expected to be attended by Samata’s George Fernandes and the JD(U)’s Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav and Ramakrishna Hegde. The BJP’s Govindacharya and Kailashpati Mishra will also join the talks.

But neither Samata nor the JD(U) seems ready to yield ground. Newly-elected Samata chief Jaya Jaitley said: “There is no question of any 50-50 seat-sharing formula with the JD(U).”

Jaitley met BJP president Kushabhau Thakre today and said she stressed that the BJP should be “firm” with the JD(U). “We cannot have endless talks,” she told Thakre.

JD(U) spokesman M. Raghupathi declared: “I want to make it very clear that our party is very strong in Bihar and our social base is broad.”

After a party meeting today, Raghupathi said the leadership had asked 32 candidates to be ready to file their nominations in south Bihar, where the JD(U) has practically no base.

Despite their mutual hostility, both Samata and the JD(U) stated that neither had a “clash of interest” with the BJP. “There is no clash between the BJP and Samata,” said Jaitley.

BJP sources indicated the party may scale down its demand if Samata, too, tried to accommodate the JD(U).

“Our natural claim is for over 170 seats but we are ready to bring it down to 156, provided the Samata gives up its insistence on a three-digit figure and settles for 96 or so. We are ready to give up 12 seats, but we’ll insist that this is evenly shared by our allies,” said a source.

Identifying Samata as the “spoiler”, the sources claimed that both the JD(U) and the BJP had agreed to accept whatever formula was proposed by Advani.

In Haryana, too, seat-sharing talks have hit a rough patch. The BJP has hinted that it was ready to go solo if INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala insisted on cornering most of the 90 seats.

“On the basis of the reported statements by Chautala, it appears he wants to go alone. If that is the case, who are we to stop him?” said BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, who is in charge of Haryana.

Chautala announced that he would fight 70 seats and leave just 20 to the BJP. But the BJP demanded that the only yardstick for seat-sharing should be the 1996 Assembly polls, in which the BJP’s “victory percentage” outstripped that of the INLD.

The BJP won 11 of the 25 seats contested and had a victory percentage of 44, while the INLD contested all 90 seats, won 22 and had a victory percentage of 24.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, too, the BJP claimed to have polled three per cent more than the INLD.

BJP sources said if the party split with Chautala, another options was tying up with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had five to seven thousand votes in each constituency.    

Patna, Jan. 22 
As the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (U) stand snarling at each other, the BJP is quietly pushing its own OBC candidate for the Bihar chief minister’s post.

The BJP’s move to plug Sushil Modi, Opposition leader in the Bihar Assembly, is part of its strategy to field other backward caste leaders all over the country after its most acceptable OBC face, Kalyan Singh, quit the party.

Uma Bharati, who recently launched a tirade against the Madhya Pradesh government, is seen by many as the future head of the last major Congress bastion in the Hindi heartland.

It is no coincidence either that Narendra Modi is being projected as the next chief minister of Gujarat.

Last week, while the JD(U) and Samata fought over who would be the Bihar chief minister — respective candidates being Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar — K.N. Govindacharya asserted that a BJP member would be the natural choice for the post.

Although the Samata and JD(U) are unlikely to give in, Govindacharya’s statement encouraged the party to push Sushil Modi’s case at the state level.

Modi’s five-year stint as leader of the Opposition is believed to give him an edge over another contender, state BJP chief Nandkishore Yadav.

The BJP is keen to avoid being branded a Yadav-backer and wants to instal an OBC leader so that its social base may be widened and the dominant Koeri and Kurmi castes included in the party structure.

Nandkishore Yadav may be placated with a plum portfolio. Kailashpati Mishra, veteran Bhumihar leader in the BJP, and Union minister C.P. Thakur, also from that caste, would be expected to pacify the restless Bhumihars.

The BJP aims to use the Janata parivar squabble to corner as many seats as possible.

The party’s earlier poll gains were mostly in southern Bihar, rather than the northern and central regions.

It is now trying to consolidate its base in Koshi, Magadh and Mithilanchal.

In some areas, “dummy” candidates are being considered to wreck the chances of Samata and the JD(U).

Samata and the JD(U), which are not on talking terms, today said they would now discuss seat-sharing only with the BJP.

“However, the issue of chief minister remains unsettled”, said Lakhsmi Sahu, JD(U) spokesman. Samata spokesman P.K. Sinha declined to make a statement.

But both parties have ignored the BJP claim. “If the BJP instals its candidate as chief minister, the government at the Centre will fall”, warned Sahu.

Samata, too, warned that if BJP tried to manipulate things, “the party will again reduce itself to the status of a regional party confined in south Bihar, a status it had in 1995”.

Observers believe that with the main forces in disarray, the smaller parties winning even one or two seats would be the deciding factor in Bihar.

This would give Laloo Prasad Yadav a chance to elbow out the National Democratic Alliance and return to power.    

New Delhi, Jan. 22 
Having received a blow to its ‘‘tough’’ image after the militant-for-hostage swap, the BJP-led government is reluctant to ink the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty just yet.

The BJP, under fire from within the party and outside for the Kandahar tradeoff, has indicated it would defer the decision on initialling the pact until summer.

The government fears that a signature on the treaty now could draw cries from the Opposition that it is a ‘‘soft’’ government crumbling under pressure from the US.

Delhi, therefore, is unlikely to take a final decision unless it ascertains the views of the Opposition and gets the support of the Congress.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, after his two-day talks with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott in London, made it clear that his government would have to build the ‘‘broadest possible consensus’’ on signing the treaty and for this the issue would have to be debated in Parliament. The budget session begins from end-February and will continue till May.

The Indian leadership is divided on when the treaty should be signed: before or after President Bill Clinton’s South Asia tour in March. Those who want the pact initialled before or during Clinton’s visit to the country argue that it will help in strengthening relations with the US.

Though Washington maintains that the President’s trip is not linked to Delhi’s signature on the CTBT, US officials believe it can ‘‘make the difference between a good visit and a great one’’.

But others advising caution argue that the government should not ignore the domestic compulsion.

As chief negotiator with the US, the foreign minister — who was severely criticised by a section in the BJP for accompanying the released militants to Kandahar — is under considerable pressure to ensure that the party’s image does not take a further beating by any hasty decision on the test ban pact.

Some within the government believe that the Pakistan junta could agree to sign the treaty to ensure that Clinton includes Islamabad in his itinerary.

A few weeks after overthrowing the civilian government, Pervez Musharraf, in a bid to send the right signals to the West, had indicated that Pakistan would ink the CTBT by the middle of January. But now it could link its signature to Clinton’s visit to the country.

India maintains that its decision on signing the CTBT is not linked to Pakistan or any other country.    

Hyderabad, Jan. 22 
The Centre’s decision to deploy sky marshals on 37 critical domestic and international air routes has angered Indian pilots, says our special correspondent.

“The pilot will have to consult and act in collaboration with the sky marshals, who have security clearance to fight hijackers and shoot if necessary,” said Air Marshal P. Rajkumar, new chief of the Aeronautical Society of India.

“Most pilots consider such an overwhelming presence of sky marshals an erosion of their authority,” he said.

He added that the society was debating the issue but had not taken a stand yet.    


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