Allies flash alert on secret agenda
Review to target statute twin pillars
Opposition echoes President
Gupta goes with peace in creation and demolition
Samata SOS to Atal
Delhi waiting game on Clinton date
Riot-hit UP cracks whip on police

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
The allies are backing the Vajpayee government on the Constitution review, but will not allow the BJP to sneak in any hidden agenda.

While most parties are against changing the parliamentary form of government to the presidential form, they agree with the idea of repealing Article 356 and giving more financial and legislative powers to the states.

Backing the Centre’s move to review the statute, Telugu Desam politburo member and spokesman C. Ramachandraiah, however, cautioned: “The Telugu Desam will be the first to oppose tooth and nail if any attempt at saffronisation is made through a constitutional review.”

He said some parties feared the BJP might use the opportunity to saffronise the levers of power, but Desam would not allow such a thing.

Ramachandraiah said there was nothing wrong in reviewing the Constitution. “We have been repeatedly demanding the repeal of Article 356 as it was misused a number of times and virtually every party has been its victim,” he added.

Desam also wants more financial and legislative powers for the states. The party feels the Constitution ought to be changed to fulfil the aspirations of states in a true federal way.

Party president and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu even wants the Centre to permit the states to borrow directly from international lending agencies.

Janata Dal (U) general secretary Mohan Prakash said the allies’ fear of saffronisation was unfounded. “Nobody can change the parliamentary system to the presidential system or to Hindutva as it is against the basic feature of the Constitution,” he stated.

“Though we are committed to reviewing the Constitution in the NDA manifesto, we are more committed to upholding the values of freedom movement, out of which the Constitution was synthesised,” said the Dal(U) member.

In any case, he added, without two-thirds majority in Parliament and half the state Assemblies supporting it, nobody could tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution.

Once the recommendations of the review committee were submitted, there would be a nation-wide debate and a consensus would have to be evolved, said Prakash.

The DMK said it was against any drastic changes in the Constitution but would welcome the repeal of Article 356 and more autonomy for the states.

“In fact, the DMK was in the drafting committee of the NDA manifesto which promised the Constitution review,” said an aide of chief minister M. Karunanidhi.

Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly, too, said the review was part of the alliance manifesto.

“We cannot think that there is something surreptitious in it. It is just an academic review and nothing to be alarmed about,” she said.

Trinamul Congress sources said they would keep a strict watch on the review though the party is not averse to scrapping Article 356 and giving more powers to the states.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
Minutes after declaring that the Constitution’s basic features will not be tampered with, law minister Ram Jethmalani said expressions like ‘‘socialism and secularism’’ in the Preamble should be examined in a ‘‘different’’ light.

The concept of ‘‘socialism’’, the minister said, needed re-examination as it had ‘‘failed utterly’’. ‘‘Likewise, even the expression ‘secularism’ should be seen in its correct perspective. For example, if a religious preaching says ‘go forth and multiply’, it should be banned as population control is the aim of the Republic,’’ Jethmalani said.

‘‘This,’’ he added, ‘‘is the correct perspective of true secularism.’’

Elaborating, Jethmalani said: ‘‘Your religion shall not come in the way of the politics and economy of the Republic. Religious dogmas should be submissive to the rule of the Republic. If some doctrines of certain religions are inconsistent with the policies of the Republic, they shall be rendered redundant.’’

‘‘If a religion preaches its followers to bring more children to this earth, then it should be banned as it is against the Republic’s policy of birth control. Birth control is the policy of the Republic,’’ he added.

The minister called for ‘‘uniform justice’’ instead of a uniform civil code. ‘‘How can we tell a Hindu to marry under nikah and a Muslim under saptapadi? Let them practice their respective religions, but let justice be uniform,’’ he said.

Branding socialism an utter failure, Jethmalani said: ‘‘There is a class of people opposed to it as, after all, it relates to the mode of acquiring wealth and its distribution. In a modern world, there is an argument that socialism has no place. So why then should we not re-examine such expressions in our Constitution.’’

According to the minister, the Constitution can be changed in three situations: Where there is a severe lacuna in the statute. When it is misinterpreted. When a part of the Constitution based on philosophy is abandoned by the people.

Socialism, Jethmalani believes, falls under the last category.

Home minister L.K. Advani, too, sought to justify the proposed move, saying the statute needed to be rejuvenated after 50 years.

Advani pointed to Centre-state relations and the electoral system as the two areas that needed restructuring. ‘‘At present, chief ministers have to come to Delhi every few months. At the time the Constitution was drawn up, no one had envisaged such development and the states have meagre resources,’’ the home minister said.

Like Jethmalani, Advani also tossed aside apprehensions that the BJP would tailor the Constitution according to its ideology. He said the Supreme Court had already warned against altering the statute’s fundamental tenets.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
The Opposition today urged the Vajpayee government to abide by the President’s advice and refrain from setting up a Constitution review committee.

The Congress said the BJP-led coalition should pay heed to President K.R. Narayanan and “refrain from the futile exercise”.

Senior leader Pranab Mukherjee said: “Instead of rushing to set up the commission with half-baked ideas, the government should listen to the advice of the President...who has given them an opportunity to come out of the mess.”

Mukherjee warned the exercise would be fruitless as any constitutional amendment required the ruling party to have two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament and also in half the state Assemblies.

Since the National Democratic Alliance did not have the numbers either at the Centre or in the states, “what is the need for making this faux pas”, he asked.

Mukherjee said the Congress was against a fixed five-year term for the Lok Sabha and was wedded to parliamentary democracy. So were the Left parties, he added.

The restraint on and the balance between the legislative and executive bodies would be lost by such a measure, leading to disastrous consequences, the Congress leader cautioned.

Citing post-war France, Mukherjee said the country suffered political turmoil for a decade as the President did not have the power to dissolve the house of deputies.

Supporting Narayanan’s views, the CPI said the BJP was campaigning for the statute review to introduce several changes, “some openly expressed, and some as yet veiled”.

In a statement here today, the CPI said: “It is not usual in our political system for the President to speak out critically about the government’s policies. It is the BJP which has to thank itself for creating such a situation where the constitutional head could no longer keep quiet.”

The party alleged that to call for a review was to put a question mark on the Constitution itself. It added that the President had put forth timely and strong arguments against such an attempt.

“The BJP has been campaigning for a review with the avowed purpose of bringing in a number of changes (some openly expressed, and some as yet veiled) which will cripple our parliamentary system, curtail democracy, reduce accountability of the government and so forth,” said the CPI.

The Republican Party of India (Athawale) also criticised the government’s move and urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to take the President’s advice.

Party chief Ramdas Athawale said the review move was a “deep conspiracy” of the Sangh parivar aimed at replacing parliamentary democracy with a presidential form of government.

He said Dalits all over the country were strongly opposed to the review as it would mean tampering with the Constitution framed by Babasaheb Ambedkar. Athawale urged all secular parties to resist this.

Indian Union Muslim League president G.M. Banatwala charged the government with proposing the review to further its “hidden agenda”.

The BJP and its allies had become a serious threat to secular democracy, he told reporters in Patna.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta today said his government would allow the Ram temple to be built in Ayodhya if the construction was carried out as ‘‘peacefully’’ as the demolition of the Babri masjid.

Addressing his first news conference in the capital after taking over from Kalyan Singh, Gupta said there was ‘‘nothing wrong’’ if Sangh parivar constituents such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal wanted to construct a Ram temple on the mosque site as long as they did not affect law and order.

Gupta asserted his government would not intervene if an attempt was made to build the temple.‘‘Why should we stop the VHP and Bajrang Dal from building a Ram temple? The government’s job is to maintain law and order. If a law and order problem is created, then we may step in,’’ he said.

He argued that the Babri masjid demolition had not disrupted communal harmony as it was carried out in a ‘‘peaceful’’ manner.

However, BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu tonight denied that Gupta had given the VHP and the Bajrang Dal clearance to construct the temple.

Gupta triggered a controversy last month by saying that constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya remained on the BJP’s agenda although it was not a part of the National Democratic Alliance manifesto. His statement came in the midst of Parliament’s winter session when the Opposition had demanded the resignation of the three Union ministers chargesheeted over the Babri demolition.

Incensed allies of the BJP had pilloried the party for raking up the issue, forcing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to clarify the statement. Gupta later retracted his remark, claiming he was ‘‘misquoted’’ although he had made the statement at a televised news conference in Ayodhya.

Gupta today insisted that the BJP had not jettisoned its three pet themes — Ram temple, a common civil code and scrapping Article 370 granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Gupta justified the Uttar Pradesh Religious Places Bill, under which permission would have to be taken from the district magistrates for constructing religious buildings, saying the legislation was aimed at stemming the ‘‘proliferation’’ of ISI activities along the Indo-Nepal border.

‘‘The Airbus hijack should be a reminder of the extent to which the ISI has infiltrated both sides of the border because the hijackers entered our aircraft in Kathmandu. Therefore, it is necessary to have such a legislation,’’ he said.

Gupta said the law would not be used against minority-run institutions. ‘‘The trustees of Jain temples met me and expressed their fears. I assured them it will not be misused. If necessary, we can amend the Act,’’ he added.

Gupta made it clear that the government would not rescind its decision to restructure the electricity board though it had agreed to defer the reforms process by a year.

‘‘It is important to bring in economic and infrastructural reforms. There is absolutely no going back on our decision to privatise the power sector I am sending our teams to states which have already privatised their power sector and seek their guidance,’’ he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 28 
Samata Party leaders have asked Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to resolve the Bihar impasse over seat-sharing, even as the threat of “friendly” contests looms large over the first phase of the Assembly polls.

Samata sources alleged that the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) had “ganged up” to corner the sure-fire seats, allotting the “weaker” ones to it.

A final round of talks between George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Yashwant Sinha will be held tonight at the latter’s residence. Sinha deferred his Davos trip by a day and is expected to leave only after a compromise is reached.

The BJP claimed that 200 of the 324 seats have been identified but refused to give details. Party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu admitted that nominations in excess of the number of seats officially allotted to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had been filed for the first phase of polls. Efforts were on to persuade “unofficial” contestants to withdraw, he added.

A final round of talks on seat-sharing in Haryana is also expected tonight between information technology minister Pramod Mahajan and Indian National Lok Dal leader and chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

BJP sources said it has been more or less decided that the Lok Dal would contest 60 seats and the BJP, the remaining 30.

Sources also said the process of seat identification was almost over, barring four or five seats. “Haryana is out of the numbers game. The problem has got grounded in four or five seats. When you are nearing a solution, often the most serious problems arise when you have to cross the last mile,” a source said.

In Orissa, where Mahajan is negotiating with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the BJP has reportedly scaled down its earlier demand of 74 Assembly seats and is willing to settle for 63 seats, leaving the remaining 84 for the BJD.

But BJP sources said BJD leader Naveen Patnaik is demanding another 10 seats, which the BJP finds “unacceptable”.

In Karnataka too, the allies seem to be working at cross-purposes. Giving in to the wishes of the Karnataka BJP, the party leadership today decided to field its candidate in the Bellary Lok Sabha constituency though the Janata Dal had made it clear that it wanted to contest the by-election from there.

According to Dal sources, Karnataka leaders Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel would also announce their candidate after “consulting” state BJP leaders.    

New Delhi, Jan. 28 
Unsure of whether the US President’s proposed South Asia tour includes a stop-over in Pakistan, India is holding back finalising the dates of Clinton’s visit to the country.

According to sources, Washington has suggested some dates in the third week of March. But New Delhi is yet to approve them as it is still not clear if Pakistan has been included in Clinton’s itinerary during his much-awaited tour of the “volatile” region.

Officially, India maintains that the dates of the presidential visit will be announced simultaneously by New Delhi and Washington. But a lot will also depend on whether Clinton makes a short stop-over in Pakistan and meets Pervez Musharraf before coming to India and Bangladesh.

Reports from Washington suggest that the Clinton administration is divided over including Pakistan in the President’s itinerary. Leading American newspapers have been carrying editorials on the need to exclude Islamabad to send a strong signal to Pakistan’s ruling junta.

But there are others in Washington who advocate against totally isolating Pakistan. It remains to be seen how India reacts if Clinton decides to visit Pakistan.

While some in South Block feel New Delhi should send a strong message to the US by calling off the Indian leg of the visit, others argue that irrespective of the fact whether Clinton goes to Pakistan or not, India should not jeopardise its relations with Washington which it has been trying to bring back on tracks for the past one-and-half years.

The dilemma stems from Clinton’s decision to let Pakistan off the hook on the hijack issue. India has accused Islamabad of its complicity in the incident and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had even said he would take up the matter with the US to ensure that Pakistan is declared a terrorist state.

But Clinton’s recent remarks saying that there was no evidence of Islamabad’s complicity has embarrassed New Delhi.

Publicly, however, India continues to criticise Pakistan for sponsoring terrorists and its attack on the judiciary.

Referring to the dismissal of the Pakistan Supreme Court chief justice and other senior judges by the Musharraf regime, Indian foreign minister spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “This is further confirmation, if any was required, that Pakistan is in the grip of a martial law dispensation.”

Jassal said that, for a very long time, Pakistan has been sponsoring terrorism. “We have time and again pointed to facts and events that underscore our judgment that Pakistani officials continue to nurture terrorist organisations,” he added.    

Lucknow, Jan. 28 
The Uttar Pradesh government today removed the Azamgarh commissioner and indicated that heads in the police force might roll as communal strife intensified in the town.

The clashes are a fallout of yesterday’s fracas at a degree college over the singing of Vande mataram on Republic Day.

There has been no relaxation of curfew in four of the seven outposts in Azamgarh. Thirty-eight people have been arrested, including eight held today.

The Shibli Post Graduate Inter College and the Shibli Degree College are two renowned minority institutions situated on the same campus.

Police sources said on Republic Day, some students of the majority community at the degree college wanted to sing Vande mataram but others objected, saying only the national anthem would be sung. The principal “went by the view that while the national anthem should be sung, Vande mataram need not be allowed”.

Azamgarh deputy inspector-general of police A.L. Banerjee said: “There was a sharp difference of opinion between those in favour of singing Vande mataram and those against.” Those against Vande mataram prevailed.

The next day, angry students reached the campus at 10.30 am and torched two cycles and some furniture. They also set fire to a scooter belonging to a sub-inspector, D.K. Srivastava.

The violence grew as the students poured out on the streets. The police said the clashing groups pelted each other with brickbats and used firearms. The police had to fire in the air to stop them. Fourteen persons were seriously injured, of whom four suffered gunshot wounds. Banerjee said the gunshot wounds were not due to police firing.

This morning, when the situation appeared to be returning to normal, 20 young men entered the home of a prominent doctor from the minority community, dragged his car out of the garage and set it ablaze. The district police later arrested eight students.

The clashes have taken on the usual political colour, with college principal Iftikar Ahmed accusing the BJP government of “targeting Muslims”.

The local BJP has demanded action against the police for “daring to arrest” the “brave” students.    


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