Orissa police, Naxalites live and let live
When simple Gupta speaks, party squirms
BJP blank on statute review
Delhi braces for Clinton Pak visit
Cong drops 2 ministers from poll list
Tada clone hits speed-breaker
TMC chief whip quits over support to Jaya

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
Class enemies have become cohabitants. The outgunned Orissa police have asked the force in three districts bordering Andhra Pradesh to ensure “peaceful co-existence” with fugitive Naxalites who cross over from the southern state.

The “cosy arrangement” mocks the Union home ministry’s comprehensive plan to mount a campaign across five states against Left-wing extremists. The ministry had also set up a coordination centre, chaired by the home secretary, of the police chiefs of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The Orissa “peace formula” was disclosed at a two-day meeting of the centre in Hyderabad this month.

At the meeting, Orissa director-general of police Bana Behari Panda told Union home secretary Kamal Pande that his force would not take any action against members of eight units of the People’s War Group (PWG) who have taken shelter in the forests of Gajapati, Malkangiri and Raigarh on the border with Andhra Pradesh.

From the hideouts in the three districts, the Naxalites cross over into Andhra Pradesh for hit-and-run raids.

Government sources in both Orissa and Andhra Pradesh told The Telegraph the Orissa police chief warned that the “situation would spin out of control and there would be no end to retribution from the PWG”, if his force attempted to “disturb the status quo”.

Panda added that policemen on anti-Naxalite operations were poorly equipped in terms of arms and ammunition, vehicles and communication sets.

Therefore, they would be in no position defend themselves in the event of attacks by the PWG cadre, the meeting was told.

The home secretary, the sources said, was “stunned” by Panda’s bombshell. But he could do little more than reprimand him.

The sources also referred to an incident where the deal went awry.

A few months ago, Naxalites killed eight Orissa policemen in the jungles of Malkangiri after mistaking them for those from Andhra Pradesh. Their weapons were snatched.

The next day, when the extremists realised their mistake, they put out posters declaring they were “ashamed” and “sorry”.

An official said of the five states, Orissa seemed to have a “particular distaste” for taking on Left-wing extremists.

At a meeting of the coordination centre in July last year in Mumbai, the then Orissa chief secretary told Pande that his state would be able to fight the Naxalites only if the home ministry released Rs 10 crore for constructing a bridge.

The chief secretary was quick to mention that his police force would then be able to cross a river and tackle the militants.

Pande, according to the sources, “blasted” the chief secretary for making such “frivolous” proposals.    

Lucknow, Jan. 29 
When Ram Prakash Gupta replaced Kalyan Singh three months ago, the BJP cadre and bureaucrats in Uttar Pradesh alike were pleased that they at last have a low-profile chief minister who would listen more and speak less.

While Gupta has been an avid listener, keen to give a patient hearing to politicians and bureaucrats, he has splashed egg on the government’s face whenever he has chosen to speak on sensitive issues.

His latest comment on the Ayodhya issue has stunned partymen and senior officials alike. Though a denial has been issued that Gupta did not state that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would be allowed to build a temple if they stayed within the “limits of law”, it has done little to control the damage.

Gupta told The Telegraph today: “I am a simple man. Sometimes, I mean something else, but when I say it the press misunderstands”.

The BJP has dissociated itself from Gupta’s remarks. State BJP chief Om Prakash Singh said: “Our stand is clear. We are committed to the National Democratic Alliance agenda. As far as the Ram temple is concerned, we will abide only by the Supreme court verdict on the issue. There is no other view on this,”

He added that the chief minister had denied that he had said that the VHP would be allowed to build the temple if there was no law and order problem.

BJP leaders and officials of the chief minister’s secretariat conceded that Gupta “treats public forums and drawing-room discussions alike and speaks his mind irrespective of the circumstances”.

A senior bureaucrat said: “The press conference was called to project the government’s achievement in the power sector by ending the strike. The meet was going very well till Ayodhya was raised. Immediately, the chief minister was asked by his staff to say that only questions regarding his government would be answered. We were taken aback when he replied to the question.”

It is learnt that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee took strong exception to Gupta’s remarks, particularly the line that the demolition of the Babri masjid was peaceful. This comment has not been denied or disputed either by chief minister or by any BJP leader. “Yes, I heard that line on television,” the state BJP chief said.

It was at the Prime Minister’s directive that the chief minister issued the denial that “the remarks” attributed to him in a section of the press were “incorrect”. But after his two line denial this morning, Gupta issued another late this evening. “The Ram temple cannot be constructed till either the court allows the same or till the issue is sorted out through mutual discussion. Some newspapers have misconstrued what I said and have expressed their own opinions.” he said.

The chief minister had earlier admitted that he “does not know the ways of the world (hame duniadari maloom nahin)” and goes by his own instincts.    

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
Even as it mounts a vocal defence of the statute review, the BJP itself is clueless on what it expects from the exercise and how specifically it would want the Constitution changed.

“It is not a partisan demand aimed at saffronisation,” said BJP leader K.N. Govindacharya, who had presided over an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad meeting in Bhopal three years ago, where a “model Constitution” was released. The document suggested a polity in which social democracy would merge with the RSS’ world view of “cultural nationalism”.

Govindacharya is, however, more guarded now in advocating the RSS’ concepts and would only go so far as to suggest that the directive principles be made statutory rights. “The right to work, for instance, should be made a fundamental right,” he said.

On incorporating the theme of “cultural nationalism”, he said: “We should rid the Constitution of all foreign influences and see it reflects the spirit and the essence of Indian traditions.” Quoting a Gandhian theorist, he said: “Even Dharam Palji has advocated a radical approach towards the Constitution.”

It was, however, evident that the BJP did not want a radical stand, because Govindacharya refused to be drawn into a debate on whether the statute would enforce a common civil code or do away with reservations, as the RSS had suggested.

“There is no proposal for a common civil code. A lot of dishonest propaganda has been unleashed against us by the Congress. Before the 1998 Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Advaniji had talked of a constitutional review and the Congress alleged it was a ploy to scrap reservations for Dalits and tribals,” he said.

BJP sources admitted that there was no debate in the party on what it expected from a revised Constitution.

Observers believe the main objective of setting off a debate is to deflect attention from the problems faced by the government — from the embarrassment of having to release three terrorists to the allies’ squabble over seats.

The Centre also had to cope with the Uttar Pradesh power strike and the chief minister’s out-of-turn statements on Ayodhya. A tough budget, too, is probably in the offing.

However, the RSS seems to be clearer on what it wants out of the review. Senior leader K.S. Sudarshan has reportedly been “examining” the document for years.

RSS sources said Sudarshan, tipped to succeed as organisation head, favoured an indirect form of election for the high offices of the executive, with a system that would have direct election at the lowest tier and electoral colleges to form the next levels of the government right up to the top post.    

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
Keen on a visit from Bill Clinton, South Block is preparing for a situation where the US President’s itinerary may also include a stop-over in Pakistan.

If that does happen, New Delhi may take it in its stride without much of a clamour to ensure that the long-awaited Clinton visit here passes off without a hitch.

“Can you impose conditions on a guest you have invited to your house?” a senior foreign ministry official said in response to a query whether the Indian leg of Clinton’s trip would be called off if he were to visit Pakistan as well. “How can you say if you come to my house you can’t go to somebody else’s house?” the official asked.

Publicly, however, Delhi has not stated any of this. It has not even given its final approval to dates suggested by the US on the presidential visit, since Washington has not indicated officially whether Clinton would also go to Islamabad. But signals from South Block suggest that India is preparing the ground to ward off possible criticism if the US head of state goes to Pakistan.

“How are we to react if the US says if you come our country you cannot go to Cuba or Iraq?” an official argued. He said the decision would be Washington’s and Delhi had no say in it.

The Vajpayee government is reluctant to make its displeasure known about the Pakistan visit as it may amount to an admission of its failure to deal with the US.

Since foreign minister Jaswant Singh started his talks with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, South Block gave the impression that bilateral relations were on a new high.

“Paradigm shift” is the coinage the foreign ministry used to describe Indo-US relations under the new dispensation in Delhi. However, after one-and-a-half years and several rounds of talks between Singh and Talbott, the two sides do not have much to show. Though Washington has made the right noises from time to time, not much else has been achieved.    

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 29 
The Congress dropped 14 sitting MLAs, including two ministers, as the party released a list of 141 candidates for the Assembly polls.

Finance minister Bhagabat Mohanty and panchayati raj minister Raghunath Patnaik were denied tickets despite their protests.

Mohanty, a close aide to former deputy chief minister Basant Biswal, was a staunch critic of PCC chief J.B. Patnaik.

He accused former chief minister Giridhar Gamang of sabotaging his chance.

The party fielded Indramani Rout in Kendrapara in place of Mohanty.

Raghunath Patnaik was replaced with Gupata Prasad Das in Jeypur in Koraput district.

Information and public relations minister Bhupinder Singh’s name did not figure in the list.

But Singh, on his return from New Delhi, said today that the high command had assured him that he would get a ticket to contest from Junagarh in Kalahandi district.

The party has fielded 13 women.    

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
The second round of the high-level meeting to finalise a draft legislation to replace Tada remained inconclusive today.

Law Commission chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy said afterwards: “We will have a few more meetings to finalise our recommendations to the government.... An important legislation like this should not be just hurriedly pushed through.”

The meeting was attended by representatives of the law and home ministries, National Human Rights Commission chief D.R. Kartikeyan and other rights activists.

“A broad consensus for the legislation is necessary,” Justice Reddy said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

He added that some of those asked to give their opinion on a Tada-type law opposed the very legislation, holding that existing criminal laws were enough to tackle even insurgency. “They also cite the failure of Tada,” he said.

Tada was enacted in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi regime and allowed to lapse on May 23, 1995. However, subsequent governments have felt the need for a replacement. The BJP-led coalition has been trying since 1998 to draft a Bill.

Justice Reddy said poor implementation and a weak judiciary accounted for Tada’s failure, emphasising the need for a similar legislation in the wake of “growing insurgency...and terrorist activities”.

The proposed legislation got a boost when Kartikeyan said: “In the name of human rights, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to terrorist activities.”

The Northeast figured as a major area in today’s discussions and the meeting felt that the new law should have “Northeast specific provisions”.

A suggestion was made to make the CBI effective in the region. In 1987, the agency wrote to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, complaining that investigation in the region was impossible as the political establishment was in league with the bureaucracy, which in turn associated with so-called social groups having links with the militants.

“The state machinery should be made accountable to the people so that the question of terrorism in the region is addressed,” an official said at today’s meeting.    

Chennai, Jan. 29 
The chief whip of the Tamil Maanila Congress’ legislature party, R. Chokkar, has resigned from the Assembly protesting against the decision to support the ADMK in the byelections.

Chokkar sent in his resignation directly to the Speaker. In a statement issued here, he recalled that he had contested from Virudunagar in southern Tamil Nadu as a candidate of the DMK-TMC front in 1996 and had then denounced the Jayalalitha regime’s corruption. He could not continue to remain an MLA now that his party had decided to support her. “It’s untenable and hence my resignation,” he said.

Chokkar accused some front-line leaders of pressuring TMC chief Moopanar into taking the decision “in order to enjoy certain benefits”. He did not specify what those benefits were.

The TMC leader, however, asserted that he would remain loyal to Moopanar and that he had no intention of resigning from the party.

When the TMC, along with its allies decided yesterday to support the ADMK, there was speculation that there was some resentment within the party over the move.

A pro-DMK Tamil daily reported today that former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram had walked out in a huff when other senior leaders decided to support the ADMK. He is seen as a Jayalalitha-baiter, and there have been rumours that he is toying with the idea of joining the BJP.

Some TMC leaders privately made light of the resignation saying Chokkar, a leading textile magnate, had acted to protect his own business interests. They added that he had built a personal rapport with chief minister M. Karunanidhi.

Chokkar denied that he had any personal motive. “We should not sacrifice our principles at the altar of our expediency,” he said.    


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