Centre set to shrink VIP security cover
Brewing Dalit storm ties Sonia hand
Lame duck allies, Opp. boost BJP hardline
Congman crossover fillip to BJP
Buddha pledge to Dunlop
White House team in Andhra
Nepal border task force
Star burst to perk up Atal campaign
Killer schoolboys granted bail
Jaya hits election trail

 
 
CENTRE SET TO SHRINK VIP SECURITY COVER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7 
The Centre today decided that only those political leaders who “genuinely” face terrorist threat will be provided security at government expense. This is one of several recommendations of a home ministry panel which studied the VIP security issue.

Announcing the revised policy on “personal security” — the phrase “VIP security” has been scrapped — Union home secretary Kamal Pande said: “Existence of threat to an individual from his professional rivals will not itself be the basis for provision of security. Such threats should predominantly come from militants or terrorists.”

No security will be provided if the individuals do not face a direct threat from militants because of “their position or things done by them from such positions in the government or due to the public stand taken by them against terrorism”.

Without being specific, Pande hinted that National Security Guard cover could be withdrawn based on periodic analysis of threat perceptions by security agencies. He said a final decision was yet to be taken on whether to withdraw the NSG cover given to certain leaders.

But sources believe at least 15 politicians stand to lose NSG cover. The four big leaders whose security cover is likely to be retained are home minister L.K. Advani — though he himself wants it withdrawn — Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal.

The rest may have to forego the security ring of Black Cat commandos. They are: ADMK chief Jayalalitha, former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, Congress leaders Rajesh Pilot, Arjun Singh, S.B. Chavan, H.K.L. Bhagat, Matang Singh, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, former home minister Buta Singh, former Youth Congress chief Maninderjit Singh Bitta and Punjab Kesri journalist Ashwini Kumar Meena.

The home secretary said the deployment of the NSG would be constantly reviewed and replaced by state police escort. In cases where NSG escort is provided, those protected would be told that the commandos would not accompany them to public places like parks or hotels.

“Only plainclothes personal security officers will accompany them if they continue to visit gardens, hotels and restaurants,” Pande said.

On general security, however, the home secretary said: “Due consideration will be given in cases where such threat emanates from organised criminal mafia or gangs and the protectee himself is not involved with them.”

The other salient features of the new policy are:

Government experts will assess the threat and recommend the level of security. Local threat perception will also be taken into account. No security will be provided on grounds that the person concerned had occupied a sensitive position in the past. “Positional security” provided to political leaders and other individuals will be withdrawn after they quit office.

Government housing will not be recommended by the home ministry on grounds of security. There are cases where those protected try to “overplay” the threat level in order to get government accommodation. There are 15 such persons. They will be asked to vacate the houses after due notice.

Those provided state security will be asked to “scrupulously” follow home ministry advice on making the security less obtrusive but effective. Security will be withdrawn if the protectees are found misusing it or if there are complaints of misbehaviour with security personnel.

Securitymen will have to be “courteous” to the public. Special training on how to behave with people will be given periodically.

Protectees will not be allowed to make alterations in the government accommodation. The state will not bear the cost of structural changes if the protectees live in private accommodation.    


 
 
BREWING DALIT STORM TIES SONIA HAND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7 
A “Dalit rebellion” is brewing in the Congress, forcing Sonia Gandhi not to take any drastic action against rebel leader Meira Kumar.

The Sonia camp senses there could be trouble after the Assembly elections as dissidents and fence-sitters are closing ranks to take on 10 Janpath.

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao is also becoming active, testing waters in Maharashtra and Karnataka, holding meetings in the two Congress-ruled states.

The top brass is concerned about reports of leaders deserting the Congress. Former Union minister Kamaluddin Ahmad joined the BJP today, while Rajesh Khanna, P. Upendra and Shivraj Patil are reportedly planning their exit, too.

Congress circles are intrigued why AICC general secretary Sushil Kumar Shinde took the initiative yesterday to meet Meira, though she accused Sonia of promoting “darbari culture”.

Shinde’s move is a snub to his colleague Ambika Soni who, till the other day, charged Meira with accepting government accommodation in exchange for defection.

Shinde wants the CWC to discuss Meira’s resignation. But Sonia loyalists fear that A.K. Antony, Jitendra Prasada, Rajesh Pilot and Pranab Mukherjee would oppose her expulsion, creating a rift in the CWC.

Congress sources said Shinde was never considered close to Meira and his belated support to the Dalit leader seemed to be part of a “larger gameplan”, allegedly masterminded by Sharad Pawar.

Shinde, like Meira, is considered to be close to Pawar and could be playing the Maratha chieftain’s game of “fishing in troubled waters”.

In Pawar’s scheme of things, the Sonia-led Congress is likely to fare miserably in the elections in Haryana, Orissa, Bihar and Manipur. This would be most conducive to an attempt to dislodge Sonia.

Acknowledging “disquiet” in the party, AICC leaders added, however, that there would be no threat to Sonia “either before or after the Assembly polls”.

The party chief said the Congress had got just nine out of the 90 seats in Haryana in 1996 and 26 out 324 in Bihar. “So we are likely to improve our performance,” she said, adding that a poor show in Orissa would be due to the supercyclone, which was beyond the party’s control.

Asked why Sonia was shying away from taking action against Meira, Congress leaders said she did not want to expel a Dalit leader who also happened to be a woman.

“It would be a politically incorrect decision just before the Assembly polls in Haryana and Bihar. We will wait till Meira herself walks out and joins the BJP or its allies,” a member said.

Four days have passed since the daughter of Jagjivan Ram lambasted Sonia and the people around her, but the high command is yet to decide on her resignation.    


 
 
LAME DUCK ALLIES, OPP. BOOST BJP HARDLINE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7 
The BJP hardliners are coming out in the open, thanks to the government’s pliant allies and an ineffective Opposition.

The spurt in pro-Hindutva activities has failed to draw any sharp response from either National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners or the Opposition bench.

Hardliners have been busy of late. The Gujarat government recently lifted a ban on its employees participating in RSS activities. The Uttar Pradesh government passed the Regulation of Public Religious Places and Buildings Bill, giving district magistrates the power to prevent the construction of places of worship.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister went ahead to say he would not stop the VHP and Bajrang Dal from building the Ram temple. The Sangh parivar has also been up in arms about the shooting of Deepa Mehta’s Water in Varanasi.

But the BJP allies have greeted Hindutva’s advocates with silence, at best with muted disapproval.

Even the DMK, an NDA partner, which claimed it was wedded to “secularism”, said there was nothing “objectionable” in the Gujarat government’s fiat. “Our chief minister M. Karunanidhi has already stated that Vajpayeeji is not a communal person. It is a state government order and legally and technically we can have no objection because the RSS is not a banned organisation,” said an MP from the southern party.

BJP sources said it was “power”, and not the ideology of secularism, that had cemented the NDA coalition. “Our allies have realised there is no alternative to the BJP. Most of them cannot opt for the Congress because their politics is based on anti-Congressism. And on their own or even together they cannot form an alternative government. Even if they do, it will not last judging from the United Front government’s experience,” a leader said.

The Vajpayee-led dispensation had the “magnanimity” to accommodate even one-member parties in “fairly important” positions, BJP sources said. “There are self-styled regional and caste satraps who were out of power for so many years and were dying to become ministers. We have taken care of them and we are confident they will not upset the applecart,” a source said, referring to Janata Dal (United) leaders Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan.

The exit of Meira Kumar from the Congress has been a shot-in-the-arm for the BJP.

“Instead of strengthening itself and gearing up to play the role of a major Opposition party, the Congress is becoming enfeebled. We are waiting for more Meira Kumars to quit the party after the Assembly elections,” said a BJP leader.

The BJP’s allies were also mum on the controversy over Water, while the Congress did not react reportedly on the advice of its Uttar Pradesh leaders who felt that Hindu “sentiments” must not be “hurt”.

The silence gave an upper hand to RSS protesters who eventually forced the state government to toe their line and ban the film’s shooting even after the Centre’s assurance to Mehta.

Information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley, perceived by the Hindutva proponents as being on Mehta’s side, was advised to go out of the country once the VHP began a whisper campaign against his “westernised image, lifestyle and views” and renewed its agitation against the film’s shooting in Varanasi.

Even the major Opposition party in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, has not spoken a word on Water.

The Congress’ dithering on the proposed Constitution review was another booster for the BJP. After opposing the exercise, the Congress veered round to the view that a review was acceptable as long as the BJP did not sneak in its “hidden” agenda — a standpoint that was promptly grabbed by the BJP to justify its intentions.

The allies were either quiet or, like the Telugu Desam Party, supported the idea of the review. DMK sources admitted that while they had no objections against constituting a review panel, they did not approve Vajpayee’s choice of former President R. Venkataraman to head the panel because of his alleged differences with Karunanidhi. Once Vajpayee agreed to jettison Venkataraman and appoint M.N. Venkatachaliah, the DMK was willing to lend support.    


 
 
CONGMAN CROSSOVER FILLIP TO BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 7 
The BJP’s attempts to reach out to the minorities got a fillip today when veteran Congressman Kamaluddin Ahmed joined the party.

Ahmed, who was head of the Andhra Pradesh Congress and a member of the Narasimha Rao Cabinet, said he joined the BJP to do his “little bit” to change the attitude of minorities towards the party. Ahmed quit the Congress in December after four decades. He said he had toyed with the idea of doing social work “above party lines” but decided to join the BJP after hearing Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on December 23 when he released Jesus Christ’s stamp.

“Vajpayee said religious bigotry and discrimination on religious lines were alien to our culture. Later, the BJP national council passed the Chennai declaration which made certain observations which appeared to be a big policy change towards the religious minorities.

“Certain minorities’ sections remain uninfluenced by the BJP’s appeal, but there is a big change in the party which has emerged as the country’s largest and heads the central government. I was motivated to do whatever little I could to bring about a change in the attitude of minorities.”

Ahmed said he left the Congress because its organisation was declining in strength “day by day” and it was not gaining electorally. While Meira Kumar is yet to announce her plans, BJP circles are abuzz with talk that another Congressman, Rajesh Khanna, may join the party. Khanna is learnt to have sent feelers to the BJP high command through Delhi MP Madan Lal Khurana.    


 
 
BUDDHA PLEDGE TO DUNLOP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Sahagunj, Feb. 7 
Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya today said the Dunlop management has been informed that Citu would not oppose reopening of the Sahagunj factory.

“The district magistrate has told the Dunlop management in writing that Citu would not prevent reopening of the unit,” he said this evening.

Bhattacharya added that the Dunlop officials did not appear to be “making a serious effort to reopen the factory”.

He said the Citu is ready to ratify the minutes of the unions’ meeting with the management provided their amendments are included in it. “But this cannot be an issue that will prevent the reopening of Dunlop.”

Earlier, chief minister Jyoti Basu had said: “I don’t think the reopening depends on signing the minutes of talks.” “Factories are not re-opened in this manner,” he added.

The Dunlop factory at Ambattur will reopen on Wednesday. The management has issued a letter saying the suspension of work has been lifted with effect from February 7.

R. Venkatesan, vice-president of the Ambattur union, said: “The management has said the plant will be formally reopened on February 9 when maintenance work will start. There will be a tripartite meeting with the Tamil Nadu government tomorrow to decide how the arrear payment of our statutory dues will be made.”

A section of the workers blamed Citu for the delay in the reopening of the Sahagunj unit. “We know our management is not trustworthy. We should have given them a chance to reopen the factory. If they were unable to run it, then we could point the finger at them. At least, the workers would have earned something,” one worker said.

Ranjit Neogy of the Intuc-backed union said: “It is only due to Citu’s non-cooperation that the factory could not be reopened.” The Intuc union will go on a relay hunger strike from tomorrow. It will also hold a protest outside the Dunlop head office on Mirza Galib Street.

However, Dipankar Roy of the Citu-backed union said: “We have never opposed reopening. But we cannot sign an agreement which says the discussion on arrears payment will start in the second year of operations.” The Citu union will demonstrate outside the head office tomorrow.

Bibek Sen Sharma, the Dunlop official who issued the letter saying the factory would not open today, had written to the Hooghly district magistrate on February 4 confirming the commitment to reopen the factory on the scheduled day.    


 
 
WHITE HOUSE TEAM IN ANDHRA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Feb. 7 
An advance team of White House officials arrived here today to scout for places US President Bill Clinton could visit during his trip to India in March.

Clinton has not yet confirmed his visit to Hyderabad, but chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said the advance team’s arrival showed that he was likely to come.

The director of advance programme, Rosen Than, led a team of 17 officials from the White House, the foreign office, FBI and the US consulate in Chennai. They visited the Satyam Computers facility at Bahadurpally, 30 km from here, and made an aerial survey of other venues lined up by the state government.

Hillary Clinton had wanted to visit Charminar but the US team has struck that down as too risky. Instead, the state government suggested the inclusion of Golconda Fort and Salarjung Museum in the itinerary.

The President is also likely to visit the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the American Research and Studies Centre.    


 
 
NEPAL BORDER TASK FORCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Feb. 7 
The state government will set up a special Indo-Nepal task force to check the movement of subversive elements between the two nations. State home secretary S. Roy said this evening: “We’re awaiting the Centre’s sanction to our proposal.”

Roy, who earlier reviewed the law and order situation with district magistrates and superintendents of police of six north Bengal districts, said the present border police force “is not sufficient”. This force was set up by the state government during the Gorkhaland agitation.

Referring to the recent airbus hijacking, Roy said the situation along the Nepal border was different from what it was before.    


 
 
STAR BURST TO PERK UP ATAL CAMPAIGN 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Feb. 7 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will address election rallies at Palwal and Mahendragarh in Haryana on February 11. BJP leaders here said the party will also try to rope in atleast six Bollywood stars to woo the electorate. The party has made a pact with the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) for the Assembly polls on February 22.

BJP leader Ram Bilas Sharma said Vajpayee would be accompanied by Union home minister L.K. Advani, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, minister of state for home I.D. Swamy, consumer affairs and public distribution minister Shanta Kumar, former tourism minister Uma Bharati and former Delhi chief minister Madanlal Khurana.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, defence minister George Fernandes, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and his Punjab counterpart Parkash Singh Badal have also agreed to campaign for the BJP-INLD combine.

The INLD has already hired more than 25 video vans to exhibit its development activities in the last six months. The Congress has decided to depend on Sonia Gandhi’s vote-catching abilities.

The INLD, in its manifesto, has promised uninterrupted power and water supply.

It has also promised drinking water provision in each village and proper sewerage system. The electorate has been assured of the implementation of the crop insurance scheme, but no time-frame has been fixed for realising these objectives.

The manifesto assures the people of an early solution to the Sutlej-Yamuna link canal, an issue in which the state has been in a tug-of war with Punjab for several years. It also proposes changes in the education system to provide vocational training.

The party has also vowed to implement reservation guidelines in the private sector and reduced rates of interest for loans for tubewells and tractors. The manifesto promises to introduce English from class one. Prepared by a three-member committee headed by state finance minister Sampat Singh, the manifesto vows to take up raising the exemption limit of income-tax with the Centre. The party has also promised to set up a panel to monitor the manifesto’s implementation. A combined INLD-BJP manifesto is expected to be released soon.

A political front, touted as the Third Font, excluding the Congress, the BJP-INLD combine and the Left, has come together and announced a common minimum programme as their manifesto.

The parties include the Samajwadi Party (National), the All-India Shiromani Akali Dal, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Naryana), the National Congress Party, the All-India Punjabi Naujawan Sabha, the Haryana Pichadi Janata Party and the All-India Farmers Co-ordination Committee.

The front members met at Ambala yesterday to decide the candidates they would support. The front is trying to get the BSP to join it. If BSP chief Kanshi Ram agrees, his party would automatically gain the front partners’ support.

All India Shiromani Akali Dal state unit general secretary Kartar Singh Takkar said the front’s manifesto proposed a reasonable minimum amount of payment to labourers and a support price for farmers.

He said if the front came to power it would waive the outstanding loans of small shopkeepers, poor labourers and farmers.    


 
 
KILLER SCHOOLBOYS GRANTED BAIL 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Chivemla (Nalgonda), Feb. 7 
A juvenile court today granted bail to the killer teenagers who hanged a friend from a tree to force a school holiday.

The judge in Warangal upheld the bail applications filed by the boys’ parents arguing that their children would turn criminals if sent to the juvenile homes.

The police, however, registered a murder case against the teenagers — Mohammed Sharif (14), Najeer Ahmed (13) and Abdul Gafoor (12) — after they confessed to killing seven-year-old Abdul Rehman who studied with them in Bait-ul-Uloom, a theological school in Kudkuda village in Nalgonda, 160 km from Hyderabad.

During interrogation, the boys said they chalked out the plan last Thursday after Sharif recalled that a school he had earlier gone to in Warangal had announced a 10-day holiday to mourn the death of a student.

The trio decided to strike on Friday when they are let out for some time after afternoon prayers. The statement reveals that the boys had chalked out the plot in great detail and the murder was a cold-blooded one.

The teenagers lured Rehman into playing chor-police after another boy, Rahim, refused. The seven-year-old, who was taken to a secluded field on the outskirts of the village, did not suspect mischief when his hands were tied from behind and he was strung up from a tree with a rope hidden in the nearby bushes. ‘‘We succeeded in muffling his cries and returned to school,’’ Gafoor said, nonchalantly.

Village authorities noticed Rehman’s absence in the evening following which the police interrogated all students to figure out the mystery.

But even after confessing, the boys expressed no regret and kept on asking whether holidays had been declared. ‘‘I did not know that Rehman was going to die. I thought we could go back and bring him back after a holiday was announced the next day. I even left some biscuits for him to eat in the night,’’ said Najeer.

Most of the 68 students at Bait-ul-Uloom are orphans from nearby villages. Set up around 40 years ago, the school trains the children to become preachers. ‘‘Mostly poor and destitute children choose to study in these schools where free day-meals are served,’’ said Imam Mohammed Sharif of Hazi mosque, near Kudkuda.

Village elders blamed Rehman’s death on the strict discipline enforced by the school authorities. But its principal Moulana Abdul Haziz brushed aside the charge.

‘‘The discipline is similar to that of army schools. The youngsters are not exposed to television or movies. They are taught to read from the Arabic scripts of the Quran at least thrice a day and also offer prayers at least five times a day,’’ he said.    


 
 
JAYA HITS ELECTION TRAIL 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Cuddalore, Feb. 7 
The Dharmapuri fires might still be raging. Angry students are still screaming for justice. But nothing seemed to daunt ADMK supremo Jayalalitha as she kicked off her campaign today for the three Assembly by-elections.

Sizeable crowds kept stopping her caravan at different points as Jayalalitha hit the election trail to Nellikuppam near here. Neither she nor her followers seemed to have been affected by the Dharmapuri fall-out as cries of “Puratchi Thalaivi Vaznga” rent the air wherever she went.

Nellikuppam in the northern region, Trichy-2 and Aranthangi in the central region go to polls on February 17. The ADMK is fielding candidates in all the three constituencies and they are supported by almost the entire Opposition, including the Tamil Maanila Congress.

Though the ADMK front candidates trailed in these segments in the last Lok Sabha polls, party leaders say Jayalalitha is hoping to wrest at least one of them to show that she is on the comeback trail.

In her speeches, delivered from within her well-furnished van with, of course, Sashikala in tow, Jayalalitha stressed that even though victory in the by-elections may not lead to the ouster of the “anti-people” government, they would surely signal Karunanidhi’s defeat in next year’s Assembly polls. However, she neatly skirted the bus-burning episode.

Jayalalitha portrayed herself as a victim of chief minister Karunanidhi’s machinations, but said that she hoped to come through unscathed with the support of her “beloved people”.

She also referred to the recent large-scale smuggling of rice to Bangalore. Though none of the persons involved had yet been arrested, many suspect the hand of some ruling party functionaries.

But Jayalalitha merely referred to this in passing and dwelt at length on her own “persecution” by a vindictive Karunanidhi.

Then the caravan moved on to the next campaign point. She would again give a brief speech from within her van with the respective Assembly candidate in a nearby jeep, standing with a sheepish grin and folded hands.

When she left her Poes Garden residence around 2:15 in the afternoon, the traditional arathi was performed. But the usual lustily cheering crowd was missing.

An amma faithful rued that those who generally perform this task are still in prison. “So we could not put up a better show. But wait, we will have enough and more to cheer after the results come out,” he warned.

As for Jayalalitha, she is leaving no stone unturned. On any given day, she would mortar down difficult roads for several hours in gruelling heat to drive home her appeal for deliverance.

Whether this would help in the changed atmosphere of the state remains to be seen. But the crowds should give her some hope.    

 

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