Clinton maps Goa-to-Delhi route
Samata sends feelers to Meira
BJP ‘disowns’ Sangh ties
Desperate Laloo in debut plea for votes
Mann paean to Bluestar ‘martyr’
Cong slams Sangma statute link

New Delhi, Feb. 12 
President Bill Clinton is likely to kick off his five-day tour of India from Goa and not from the capital which will be engrossed in Holi revelry on March 20. He may also make a brief stopover in Islamabad on his way out of the subcontinent.

Because of Holi, it was thought that the US President would halt in Pakistan before coming to India. Though the White House has not made any official announcement on Clinton’s travel programme, indications are that he may finally land up there, even if it is for a technical halt or a brief stopover, to hold talks with Pervez Musharraf.

Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh has told US officials to expect a negative reaction in India if Clinton puts Pakistan on his itinerary. But realising that the President is keen on visiting Islamabad, Mansingh has clarified that the decision to visit any country was the sovereign right of the Americans.

Clinton, in his last term in office, wants to bow out playing peacemaker between the nuclear neighbours.

He has described the subcontinent as the “most dangerous place in the world” because of the dispute over Kashmir.

But to ensure that by visiting Pakistan, Clinton does not mar his trip to India — the first by a US President after 22 years — his advisers are thinking of putting Islamabad in the last leg of his visit.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today made it clear that India would not brook any interference in its internal affairs or “allow others to meddle in our bilateral relations”.

“Today’s India is ready to play its part in shaping a new and equitable international order. While we will not brook interference in our internal affairs, we are ready to engage with any country in a cooperative framework,” he told a conference on contributions by people of Indian origin here.

The Prime Minister’s assertion coincided with reports in a Pakistani daily quoting foreign minister Abdus Sattar as claiming that Clinton is considering a proposal to call a summit between the nuclear twins.

During his stay in India, the President will hold meetings with almost all top leaders. Meetings with Opposition leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, are also in the cards.

Besides, the government is considering convening a joint session of Parliament to allow Clinton to address members of both houses.

Besides Goa, the President, along with wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, is scheduled to spend some time in Agra. Chances are that the Clintons will see the Taj Mahal on a full-moon night. Jaipur is also part of the presidential tour programme, but it is not clear whether Clinton will be able to accompany his wife and daughter to the pink city.    

New Delhi, Feb. 12 
The Samata Party has requested Meira Kumar, who quit the Congress last week, to campaign for the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar and Haryana for the Assembly elections.

Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley told Kumar over the phone today that she was welcome to the Samata fold and requested her to campaign for the NDA. Jaitley is scheduled to meet Kumar tonight to discuss the modalities of her joining the Samata Party.

Jaitley told The Telegraph that defence minister George Fernandes had not met Kumar or offered her a Rajya Sabha berth as was reported in a section of the press.

“We had requested her to campaign for our candidates. If she wants to join our party she is welcome. She has to make up her mind,” Jaitley said.

The Congress had accepted her resignation on Thursday after bids to pacify the Dalit leader failed. Kumar, who lost the parliamentary election from Karol Bagh, was miffed with the Congress leadership for not getting her elected to the Rajya Sabha.    

Chennai, Feb. 12 
BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu today asserted that there were no links between his party and the RSS. “It’s all a media creation,” he said at a news conference here.

Naidu did take care to mention that the RSS was a “patriotic, nationalist, cultural, social-service organisation”, one which had done Yeoman’s service to the nation.

But, he said, the party did not intend taking up with the Centre the issue of allowing government employees to participate in RSS activities. “It is not an issue before the NDA or the government,” he added. However, he backtracked when reminded that senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur had said the matter would be discussed with the ruling alliance.

“Well, now that Karunanidhi has written to the Prime Minister, the letter would be placed before the NDA,” the spokesman said.

Making light of the letter, in which the DMK chief said the decision to let government staff join the RSS would erode public faith in the civil services, Naidu said: “A CM writes to the PM and it is for the latter to respond. Our party does not come into the picture at all.” Moreover, he agreed with Karunanidhi’s contention that no government employee should be allowed to hobnob with the cultural wing of a political party.

He added tongue-in-cheek: “Well, the RSS is not the cultural wing of the BJP nor the party the political arm of the RSS.”

At one point, Naidu even denied that the government was considering dropping the RSS from the list of organisations out-of-bounds for its staff. But again he had to beat a retreat when reminded that Advani himself said he was contemplating a revision. “Well, anything should be studied in-depth before any action is taken,” the spokesman added hastily.

Though he tried to steer clear of the RSS controversy, Naidu did not mince words when it came to attacking those who criticised the Varanasi incidents.

“Why this fuss?” he wondered. “When some people in pursuit of dollars seek to blow out of proportion some minor problems and sell such stuff to a Western audience, Hindus naturally get agitated as they feel slandered.

“Time and again, various communities have expressed their anger when their sensibilities are hurt by some film or play or novel and they have been withdrawn.    

Danapur, Feb. 12 
Battling to keep afloat his sinking political fortunes, Laloo Yadav today broke tradition to break the Madhepura jinx.

The once-all conquering emperor of the underdogs visited his constituency on polling day, the first time he has done so in his roller-coaster career.

Humiliated by arch-rival and caste cousin Sharad Yadav in Madhepura, Laloo knows that he must win from Danapur if he has to regain the crown of the badshah of Bihar. Though he is also fighting from Raghopur, where his victory is almost assured, a defeat in Danapur — daughter Misa got married into a family in this railway town 35 km from Patna — will add another scar to his blotted image.

The RJD chief lunged for the panic-button after reports trickled in that his opponent Ramanand Yadav, a former partyman now with the BJP, was drawing huge crowds much like Sharad Yadav did. His advisers also reminded him that Danapur’s residents were unlikely to forget that Laloo had dumped them for Raghopur in 1995 when he won from both constituencies.

With Yadavs and Muslims comprising well over 70 per cent of the 2.5 lakh electorate, Danapur has been a RJD bastion. But with Ramanand in the fray, the backward and minority votes are set to be split which could spell trouble for Laloo. In Madhepura, too, the RJD chief lost after Sharad successfully divided the Yadav votes.

Laloo, who was to fly to Jhajha this morning for campaigning for the second phase on Thursday, cancelled his visit minutes before his flight was due to take off. He summoned a car and headed for Danapur. Laloo has never been seen in his constituency on ballot day: even during the Lok Sabha elections, he was in Patna on the day Madhepura voted.

By 10.30 am, the RJD boss, accompanied by two securitymen, was in Danapur, where the weather, too, was uncannily similar to the overcast day he bit the dust in Madhepura.

Stepping out of his car, Laloo trudged through the mud and slush of the dingy lanes to feel the pulse of the people and force them to go to the polling booths. “Vote in large numbers. Vote fearlessly and peacefully,” he exhorted.

At a fish market, he stopped by a make-shift kiosk where a Dalit couple was haggling with a customer. “Khali bechbolu ki vote debolo? Jake vote dalo (Will you only sell your fish? Go and cast your vote),” he said.

Devi, a fisherwoman, refused to budge. “Hum gaon se aaye hain aur bechkar hi jayenge (We have come here from the village with our catch. We will vote only when we have sold our stock),” she said.

It was the same story almost everywhere. Poor men and women, who once regarded Laloo as their messiah, were more concerned about earning their daily bread than queuing up before the polling booths.

At another market, Laloo walked up to a group of four woodcutters and asked the surprised men: “Lakria katbo ki vote dalbo (Will you only cut wood or go and vote also)?”

To his relief, the men showed him the ink marks on their fingers. Laloo moved closer and whispered something before leaving the spot with a smile. “He was asking if we stamped on the lantern,” the woodcutters said.

No far from Jalaluddin Chowk where Misa’s in-laws stay, Laloo stopped near a booth at DAVP school. As he was about to enter, a BSF guard asked the RJD chief’s securitymen to wait outside, earning a pat on the back from the former chief minister.

Danapur’s residents were taken aback by Laloo’s sudden visit. “He did not visit the constituency much during campaigning. He, however, did not waste time in reminding the people of their duty today,” said Mohammad Saifuddin, one of Laloo’s election agents.    

Fatehgarh Sahib (Sirhind), Feb.12 
Radical Akali groups celebrated the fifty-third birth anniversary of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale here today.

Among those present were Bhindranwale’s wife Jagir Kaur, son Ishwar Singh and nephew Jasbir Singh. The celebrations, attended by over 5000 people, ended with a prayer “to carry on the legacy of Bhindranwale who had no enmity with anyone and loved all communities.”

A resolution passed on this occasion said Bhindranwale had played a significant role in the revival of Sikh religious fervour in Punjab. “It was due to his efforts a large number of people gave up intoxicants and drugs,” it added.

The resolution appealed to the Akali-BJP government in the state to declare Bhindranwale “a Sikh national hero and observe February 12 every year as a public holiday.”

Speaking on the occasion, Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, took a serious view of the activities of the RSS in Punjab. “The RSS is spreading its tentacles all over the countryside in Punjab. They are trying to subvert Sikh culture and religion,” he said. He demanded a ban on the organisation in the state.    

New Delhi, Feb. 12 
The Congress today reacted sharply to the government’s reported move to draft P.A. Sangma into the Constitution review panel, alleging that the former Lok Sabha Speaker was hand-in-glove with the BJP and the RSS, reports our special correspondent.

Party spokesman Anil Shastri said: “We are opposed to the idea of Sangma’s inclusion in the panel. He is biased, prejudiced and partisan. He has links with the Sangh parivar.” Describing Sangma as “ambitious”, Shastri said his projection as a non-political person was a “crude joke” and a “laughable matter”.

He said that if Sangma was considered non-political, the Vajpayee government must be redefining the meaning of non-political. Shastri said Sangma’s inclusion would prove the Congress point that the purpose of setting up the Constitution review panel was “political” and it had nothing to do with the BJP’s professed objectivity.

Test ban plea

The Congress today urged Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to “look afresh” into the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the wake of the US Senate’s refusal to ratify it.

K. Natwar Singh, Manmohan Singh and Madhavrao Scindia called on the Prime Minister as a follow-up of the Vajpayee-Sonia Gandhi meeting on December 17.

They briefed Vajpayee on the party’s stand, thrashed out at the Congress Working Committee meeting. Most CWC members opposed the signing on the ground that it had become a “dead treaty”.    


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