Naxal violence spectre on Bihar ballot
Jittery govt bows to allies
Atal walks into RSS permit trap
Culture recast in the works
Civilians killed in market blast
Mufti talks plea to PM
TN challenges Jaya acquittal
LS defeat shadow on Mr Clean

Patna, Feb. 11 
After a decade-long reign, the countdown for the mother of all battles begins tomorrow for Laloo Prasad Yadav.

The Bihar Assembly elections — beginning with voting in 108 seats in the first phase — is a fight for political survival for the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief.

Mired in Naxalite violence, the blood-stained saga of the state elections took a new turn this time as hundreds of antisocials joined the fray from both inside and outside jails.

While the Naxalites have threatened voters with chopping off their hands if they cast the ballot, criminal gangs supporting their “dons” have warned rivals of severe reprisal.

Fresh posters have been pasted by the Maoist Communist Party throughout Sisai, Palkot, Bharno, Ghagra and Bishnupur blocks in Gumla district.

In Sisai, the MCC has reminded people of Congress leader Ramsharam Jayasawal, who was shot dead for asking people to vote last year.

Director-general of police K.A. Jacob said he was “using a large number of paramilitary forces to provide all sensitive booths maximum security”.

“Secrecy” is the keyword for the authorities planning security. Everything, from deployment of forces to arrangement of polling personnel, has been kept under wraps to foil militant attacks.

Stating that the forces would try to ensure zero casualty, Jacob justified his optimism on the basis of the arrests made. He said the police had netted “over 200 extremists who are sufficiently senior, seized weapons and ammunition”.

He was, however, embarrassed to see criminals with over 70 murders to their name campaigning with gun-toting private armies. The police chief told the press: “If you let us know where they are moving, we will arrest them.”

According to reports in the local press, at least 12 candidates are campaigning with truckloads of armed supporters. Jacob claimed about 60,000 preventive arrests had been made and 423 illegal arms seized. “This would ensure some peace,” he hoped.

The police chief said he was giving hundred per cent security cover to cities like Patna and Jamshedpur to prevent criminals from infiltrating the urban centres.

Politically, the first phase of the polls will decide the fate of the key players, including Laloo and the BJP’s Sushil Modi.

At stake is the BJP’s strong tally of 22 seats in south Bihar. To increase its share, the party is dangling the carrot of statehood before the voters, asking them to cast one vote for two states: for Bihar and for Vananchal.

The Congress, which fared well in the Lok Sabha polls by bagging 14 seats from south Bihar, is seeking a mandate on the “fake politics of statehood” as well as “Laloo misrule”.

The RJD will be a key player in central Bihar, which also goes to polls tomorrow. But internal dissent has spoiled its chances of fully utilising the upheaval within the National Democratic Alliance.

But Laloo may still gain from the confusion that warring NDA partners have created by fielding multiple candidates in several seats. Till this evening, at least 14 extra candidates refused to retire.

There is some confusion over the NDA symbols, too. The Samata Party, which contested the general elections on the “arrow” symbol has been awarded their old “flaming torch” symbol.

“It has become a real challenge to tell the voters which symbol belongs to which candidate, although all are alliance members,” said a Samata election agent in Gaya.

Besides, some senior alliance leaders, including Jayanarayan Nishad, are not contesting as a protest against their parties’ apathy to extremely backward castes.

The other challenge for the NDA is to persuade the upper and middle castes to turn out in large numbers.

There is a chill in the air due to a few spells of light shower this morning. The candidates fear that the damp weather could be reflected in the voters’ mood, too, and that public enthusiasm to vote out the “Laloo raj” might not be very visible.

“This could be because of bickerings within the NDA. Laloo’s defeat at Madhepura could have caused a sense of victory among the masses. But this sense of euphoria over the fall of a giant is too temporary to last till another election,” said a retired Congress leader.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
Rattled by protests from the DMK and the Telugu Desam on government employees participating in RSS activities, the BJP today took a step backward and said it would “take into consideration” the advice of its allies.

Home minister L.K. Advani had announced recently that the Centre was considering lifting the ban on its employees joining the RSS, in line with the Gujarat government’s order.

BJP spokesman J.P. Mathur today said there was no question of allowing the Vajpayee government to collapse on the dual membership issue. In 1977, the RSS had directed the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s earlier avatar) to pull out of the Janata Party government after socialists insisted that the party’s ministers, including A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, give up their RSS membership.

“There is no possibility of any conflict with our allies on this issue, and I am sure it will be sorted out in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coordination committee meeting,” Mathur said.

The meeting is likely to be held on February 21, one day after the campaigning ends and two days before the budget session begins. Anticipating a full-throated offensive from the Opposition on RSS-related issues, BJP sources said Vajpayee wanted to at least keep his own flock together.

DMK leader M. Karunanidhi has written to the Prime Minister, warning him against permitting government employees to join the RSS. Telugu Desam leader N. Chandrababu Naidu has also advised him to reach a “consensus” within the National Democratic Alliance before making any move.

Sources said Mamata Banerjee and George Fernandes would also oppose the Centre’s proposal. If they had not spoken out yet, it was because Mamata is busy with the rail budget and Fernandes is occupied with the Bihar elections.

Mathur was evasive on the question of RSS membership, claiming the organisation did not keep a record of its members. “It is taken as a fact that all those who attend the shakhas psychologically become part of the RSS,” he said.

The Gujarat government’s order, lifting a ban on government employees becoming RSS activists, did not “signify much”, he added. “I can tell you with confidence that most of these employees will not take the trouble to attend the shakha every morning. The only meaning of the Gujarat government’s order is that persons with an RSS background will not be discriminated against in government service. It should not be a black mark against them,” Mathur said.

The BJP’s defensive posture marks a climbdown from the offensive mounted by Advani and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta on the issue. While the home minister told a television channel that he was planning to extend the Gujarat government’s order to the Centre, Gupta claimed he had no problems with RSS members joining the government.

Mathur indicated that another objective of the controversy was to start a debate on the RSS’ character and impress upon people that it was a “non-political” outfit. “We will be glad if people come to realise the RSS is a non-political organisation and, in accordance with that, there should be no restriction on government servants,” he said.

The differences between the Sangh parivar and the Vajpayee government surfaced today when RSS chief Rajendra Singh pleaded strongly for allowing Sangh members to join the government, except in the police and judiciary, but Vajpayee remained non-committal.

Asked to react to the controversy after a function organised by the RSS journal, Panchajanya, here today, Vajpayee said: “I do not want to say anything in the matter.” The RSS chief said the dispute was “unnecessary”.

The divisions were again visible on the question of giving precedence to the use of Hindi. While senior RSS leader KS Sudarshan rued the “increasing” importance of English over Hindi and other Indian languages, the Prime Minister warned that “English-bashing should not go to such an extent of crossing all limit”.

To make his point, Vajpayee recalled that an MP had once asked a question in Parliament in Hindi, but the minister concerned replied in English. The MP demanded to know why a “foreign” language was being used in Parliament. To this, the minister said that as far as he was concerned, Hindi was a “foreign” language.

“Incidents like this one should be kept in mind and we should not cross all limits,” the Prime Minister said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
Political party or socio-cultural outfit, no Central government employee is permitted to join or follow the views of the RSS or Jamaat-e-Islami, two previously banned organisations.

When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee recently defended the Gujarat government’s decision to permit its staff to join the RSS, he did not perhaps realise that his government at the Centre would not be able to implement the same decision if it plays by existing rules for the central civil services.

Sub-rule (1) of rule of 5 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, states that “no government servant shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or activity”.

On the participation by government servants in the activities of the RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami, sub-rule (16) says quoting a November 30, 1966, “office memorandum” of the home ministry: “As certain doubts have been raised about the government’s policy with respect to the membership of and participation in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Jamaat-e-Islami by government servants, it is clarified that the government has always held the activities of these two organisations to be of such nature that participation in them by government servants would attract the provisions of sub-rule(1) of the Rule 5 of the CCS (Conduct) Rules, 1964.”

The same ministry order [No. 3/10/(S)/66- Est (B)] adds: “Any government servant, who is a member of, or otherwise associated with, the aforesaid organisations, or with their activities, is liable to disciplinary action.”

In case the Centre intends to follow the Gujarat example, it would have to review the existing rules. Home minister L.K. Advani said a few days ago that the Centre may “review” the issue of letting government servants to join “cultural” organisations.

The current rules make it very clear that the government considers both the RSS and Jamaat to be on a par with political parties.

Another office memorandum of the home ministry [No. 15014/3/(S)/80-Est (E), dated October 28, 1980] indicates that both organisations are “communal”.

The memo, circulated in all ministries and Central government departments, says: “In the context of the current situation in the country, the need to ensure secular outlook on the part of the government servants is all the more important. The need to eradicate communal feelings and communal bias cannot be overemphasised.”

The note continues: “No notice should be taken by the government and its officers, local bodies, state-aided institutions of petitions or representations on communal bias, and no patronage whatsoever should be extended to any communal organisation.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
More restructuring of the culture ministry seems to be in the offing. The BJP is weighing ideas that could keep the department in news even as Ananth Kumar divides his time between culture and tourism.

Kumar, who has shifted from Shastri Bhavan to Transport Bhavan, is now the Union minister for tourism after Uma Bharti’s exit and handles culture as additional charge.

The BJP may consider two options to keep the spotlight on the culture ministry. One, appoint a full-fledged culture minister, making Kumar only the tourism minister. Two, merge the ministries of tourism and culture with Kumar in charge.

“There are several possibilities, but the changes will take place only after the Assembly elections,” said an official in the human resource development ministry.

That culture is high on the BJP’s agenda became clear when HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi hived off a culture, sports and youth affairs and put it under Ananth Kumar. But his aggressive stint ended as Uma Bharti quit.

The suggestion for merging tourism and culture has come from within the BJP. One of its main advocates is former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana.

Khurana has been arguing that “cultural tourism” was important and a merger would help the promotion of culture among tourists. And tourism fetches revenue.

A ministry official cited countries which have combined tourism and culture. “The Malaysian tourism minister who is going to visit India is also its culture minister,” he said.

“But this is only one side of the argument. Those opposing the merger have their own arguments,” said an HRD official. According to them, culture is not just about promoting tourism, but has its own “national identity”. It is not a product that can be commercialised.

Since a merger could require a lot of reshuffling, the BJP take the easy way out and bring in a new minister to head culture.

According to officials, any restructuring of ministries is always political. At one time, the ministries of coal, power and petroleum were put together under the energy department. The industry ministry, years ago, included chemicals and fertilisers.

“The logic behind integration would be improved functioning and the argument for separating the ministries would be lop-sided treatment of the merged departments,” an official said.

In the BJP’s case, the party has its task cut out in both education and culture. “These are the soft areas where the Sangh parivar can enter without too much of a hue and cry,” said a culture activist.

Joshi has put “his men” in key positions in educational institutions and Kumar’s month-long Vande Mataram programme has helped the Sangh parivar to make “mass contact” with the youth throughout the country.


Srinagar, Feb. 11 
In the second massive explosion in less than 24 hours, a powerful bomb ripped through the busy market area near Abhinav Theatre in Jammu today killing three civilians and injuring 20 others.

Another major tragedy was averted at Vijaypur with the timely recovery of nearly 8 kg of RDX.

Coming close on the heels of yesterday’s train blast, the explosion plunged the area into disarray. With rumours of another unexploded bomb lying in the market, panic-stricken shoppers scurried for shelter. The area was later cordoned off by the police.

But senior police and civil officials who reached the spot came under attack from a group of people, protesting against the blast, who pelted them with stones. Police had to resort to a lathi charge to chase them away. A bomb- disposal squad was also rushed to the spot.

Tension ran high at the hospital in Jammu where the injured were rushed. The condition of at least ten is said to be critical.

Jammu Range police chief R.V. Rajeev, who visited the blast site this evening, has ordered a thorough combing operation to nab those responsible for the blast which coincided with the strike call by the All Party Hurriyat Conference on the 16th death anniversary of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat.

Bhat was hanged on this day in 1984 in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Shops remained closed and traffic went off the roads following the strike call.

The death toll in yesterday’s powerful train blast has gone up to five.

Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited Vijaypur today along with senior railway and state police officials, enquired about the injured passengers, including two children who lost their parents in the blast.

Banerjee announced that the railways would adopt both the children.

Condemning yesterday’s blast, Mamata said she would take up the issue of security of rail tracks with the Union Cabinet.

“We will further intensify the vigil in consultation with the defence and home ministries and also the Jammu and Kashmir government,” she said.

She later held detailed discussions with the chief minister Farooq Abdullah before flying back to New Delhi.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
Concerned about the Kashmir situation, former Union minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed today urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to initiate talks with local militants as the Farooq Abdullah government had become “non-existent”.

The leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party claimed that some separatists were interested in a “meaningful” dialogue with the Central government.

Since the Prime Minister was keen to end the “unending violence” in the state, he should take a “personal initiative” to restore normalcy, Mufti said, adding, “If he does, I am confident that genuine representatives of the people of the state will respond.”

Opposing tough postures and greater involvement of armed forces, Mufti urged all sides to exercise restraint. “Reconciliation is essential for ending militancy,” he said. Pointing out that people of the valley had got alienated as they were denied basic democratic rights, Mufti stressed that the Kashmir problem should be viewed “politically”.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
The Tamil Nadu government today challenged the Madras High Court judgment which upheld the trial court order discharging former chief minister Jayalalitha in the Rs 6.5-crore coal import case.

In a special leave petition before the Supreme Court, the state government contended that both the high court and the special trial court did not take into account the “prima facie” evidence against Jayalalitha.

During her regime, 60 lakh tonnes of coal were imported from Indonesia allegedly violating tender norms causing a Rs 6.5-crore loss to the exchequer.    

New Delhi, Feb. 11 
The political stock of “Mr Clean” Manmohan Singh appears to be falling with Congressmen not very keen to invite him to campaign for them in the coming Assembly polls in Orissa, Bihar, Haryana and Manipur.

With no “demand” in sight, Sonia Gandhi wants the former finance minister to visit urban centres and hold discussions with “intellectuals”.

Sources say Manmohan’s image as author of economic reforms and his unexpected defeat from South Delhi in the general elections have diminished his stature within the party.

According to some Congressmen, the success of reforms which got linked to its “pro-rich” content reduced Manmohan’s “vote-catching” ability. Even the A.K. Antony report held the party’s “pro-rich” image partly responsible for the Congress’s worst-ever defeat in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

Not only Manmohan, Sonia loyalists and senior party leaders K. Natwar Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh have stayed put in Delhi even as a desperate Sonia, without support from daughter Priyanka and son Rahul, is touring the four states at a frenetic pace. A sulking Rajesh Khanna and an ailing Sunil Dutt have further robbed the party of “star campaigners”.

Compared to the “oldies”, younger leaders like Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot, Suresh Kalmadi, Kamal Nath and Mani Shankar Aiyar are in greater demand when it comes to campaigning. Kalmadi’s association with sports organisations have reportedly made him popular in Manipur where the Congress is facing a grim battle.

AICC functionaries Ambika Soni, Ahmad Patel, Motilal Vora, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mohsina Kidwai have also been campaigning as they are in charge of these states.

In Haryana, Congressmen want “Jat” leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar to address public meetings. Some upper caste leaders have requested Narain Dutt Tiwari’s presence in Bihar. Former Bihar Governor A.R. Kidwai, who was recently inducted into the Rajya Sabha from Delhi, will also be campaigning in the state.

However, there are no takers for deposed party chief Sitaram Kesri in Bihar. In contrast, Congressmen from Orissa wanted former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to visit areas bordering Andhra Pradesh. But Rao turned down the request of OPCC chief J.B. Patnaik.

The stakes are high for Sonia in these Assembly polls. According to sources, a section of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is planning to strike at the Congress president if the party draws a blank in the four states.

A number of leaders and state unit workers are also unhappy with the way the party has been functioning.    


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