Sangma & politics in statute panel
Sangh seeks to silence outcry over ban lift
NDA thorn in Laloo’s side
Black or white, India in win-win position
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
After asserting that political personalities would not find a place in the committee that would review the Constitution, the government today included in the 11-member panel a Congress rebel and another who had distanced himself from the party.

Nationalist Congress Party leader P.A. Sangma and retired bureaucrat Abid Hussain — who was perceived to be close to Rajiv Gandhi — have been drafted into the Constitution Review Commission to be chaired by former Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah. Sangma, the only active politician in the panel, met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee this morning before agreeing.

Sangma, who, along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar, had revolted against Sonia Gandhi, saying people of foreign origin should be barred from holding high offices, said he would raise the issue in the commission.

“I’ll take up the matter. I don’t think it is a political issue. It is a national issue concerning every citizen,” he told a television channel tonight.

The commission has been given a year’s term and will look into the “working of the Constitution in the light of the 50 years experience without reviewing the basic feature or structure and parliamentary democracy”, the Prime Minister’s press adviser H.K. Dua said.

Dua claimed that Sangma was included not as a politician but as an “eminent person”. “He is a tribal, a Christian and from the Northeast. Moreover, he is a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The letter of appointment was issued to him as a person and was not sent to the NCP, the political party he represents,” he said.

The Congress, which had yesterday alleged that Sangma was hand-in-glove with the Sangh parivar, today said the former partyman was “biased” and “his contribution to the commission would not be neutral”.

Hussain, a former ambassador to the US, resigned as vice- president of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation last year. The move triggered speculation that he had fallen out with 10 Janpath.

The other members of the commission are attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee, former Supreme Court judge R.S. Sarkaria, who headed a committee on Centre-state relations, former attorney-general K. Parasaran, Mahatma Gandhi’s grand-daughter Sumitra Kulkarni, who joined the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections, Justice Kondapalli Punniah, media personality C.R. Irani and Law Commission chairman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy.

Former Lok Sabha secretary-general Subhash C. Kashyap has been drafted as a member, and not as member-secretary as earlier speculated.

Dua was hard pressed to explain how a politician was chosen despite Venkatachalaiah’s demand that no person “with a political shade and ideology” should be named. Union law minister Ram Jethmalani, too, had earlier promised that only constitutional law experts would be included.

Dua said Venkatachalaiah met Vajpayee this morning and was “obviously” consulted. Care was taken to include all sections and parts of the country and the Indian society in the commission, he added.    

New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
Paying heed to the Prime Minister’s appeal not to cause “new problems”, the RSS leadership appears to have decided to puncture its trial balloon to safeguard the BJP government.

In the wake of growing apprehension among NDA partners that the Sangh parivar is trying to sneak in its hidden agenda, RSS chief Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiyya today clarified that the outfit had never asked the Centre to revoke the ban on government employees participating in Sangh activities.

“Whether the ban is to be lifted or not and when to lift it would depend on the judgement of the government. It should be remembered that we have not sought lifting of the ban,” he said in a statement in the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya.

Observers see the comment, the first from the RSS chief after the controversy erupted, as a signal to the NDA allies and the Opposition that the Sangh is not forcing its agenda on the government.

Sources in the RSS denied that the outfit was on the warpath with Vajpayee. “It is not a war, it is not a truce either. Both have their own constituencies to address, so the game goes on. The RSS knows it cannot get a more friendly government than the present dispensation,’’ a Sangh leader said.

Vajpayee’s immediate compulsion is to see through the budget session slated for later in the month. The government is expected to announce some hard economic measures and it has to carry the allies with it. Vajpayee will also have to ensure that President Bill Clinton’s tour is trouble-free.

Sharing the dais with Rajju Bhaiyya at a function organised by Panchajanya last Friday, Vajpayee said: “Our efforts to put across our views should not cause new problems, compounding the existing ones. Things should not result in one section being set against the other.”

NDA partners raised their eyebrows after Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel allowed government employees to participate in RSS activities and the BJP rulers in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal announced they could follow suit. The allies’ apprehension gained ground after Vajpayee described the RSS as a “cultural organisation” and home minister L.K. Advani proposed reviewing the ban at the Centre as well.

Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, the most influential ally of the BJP, spoke to the Prime Minister and made it clear that he was against any such move. Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, who sent out conflicting signals, wrote to Vajpayee to protest the statements. The Samata Party, whose leader George Fernandes was instrumental in imposing the ban as part of the Morarji Desai government, told the government not to rescind the decision.

Describing the controversy as “unfortunate”, Rajju Bhaiyya said he had cited the case of Britain — where government employees except those in the judiciary and police were free to participate in the activities of not only socio-cultural organisations but also political parties — to support his argument and not to canvas for its implementation in India.


Patna, Feb. 13: 
Rubbing their hands in glee following poll-eve reports of divisions in the National Democratic Alliance, Laloo Prasad Yadav and his band now find the tables turned on them.

Unhappy at being marginalised in the RJD, several party leaders are contesting as Independents to queer the pitch for the official candidates.

Having failed to resolve differences with senior RJD leaders like Ranjan Yadav and Nagmani, Laloo found himself pitted against Ramanand Yadav, a former partyman now with the BJP, in Danapur. Ramanand, who is believed to be close to Ranjan Yadav, could bite into Laloo’s support base of backward classes and the minorities.

Even in the Lok Sabha elections, Ramanand had queered the pitch for the RJD in Patna where he contested as an Independent and split the backward votes with, some party leaders allege, the blessings of Ranjan Yadav.

“No wonder Ramanand privately still vows loyalty to Ranjan Yadav,” said an election agent of the Danapur candidate.

The Madhepura humiliation still haunting him, Laloo visited Danapur yesterday — the first time that he visited his constituency on polling day — to feel the pulse of the people. The BJP has complained to the Election Commission that Laloo and his supporters tried to “gatecrash” polling booths. In the letter to the chief election commissioner, the BJP has demanded repolling in 300 booths, including 90 in Laloo’s constituency. It has also demanded Laloo’s arrest.

RJD leaders like Ramkripal Yadav, who lost from Patna, are miffed at what they claim is inaction on Laloo’s part in silencing dissidents like Nagmani who had publicly described the party chief as “insane”.

These loyal soldiers say the party frittered away an opportunity to take the battle to the NDA which was wracked by dissent in the run-up to the polls. Though not all alliance leaders see eye to eye, they have waved aside their differences for the time being.

The attack on Union ministers Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar yesterday, which observers said reflected the ruling party’s “desperation”, has helped the NDA to put up a united front. Said a Samata Party leader: “Even now there are skeletons in the NDA cupboard. But Saturday’s attack has forged an artificial sense of unity.”

Union home minister L.K. Advani blamed Laloo for the incident. “The attack shows how deep the root of the jungle raj is in Bihar,” he said.

Exit polls predict that the NDA is set to win 65-68 of the 108 seats that voted yesterday. The RJD has been given only 13 seats.

In North Bihar, where Laloo is struggling to regain lost ground, the RJD chief has failed to rein in the rebels. In Gopalgunje, where he fielded brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav, party workers like Reyazul Haque and Ramchandra Yadav are contesting as Independents to “put an end to the reign of terror”.

Naxalite threat

The MCC and the People’s War, who have claimed responsibility for killing 23 police and poll personnel, have threatened more reprisals if their arrested leaders are not released by Wednesday. The outfits said they were training human bombs, 30 women, 10 children and 50 men, to kill politicians.    

Calcutta, Feb. 14: 
If software king N.R. Narayanamurthy and beauty queen Sushmita Sen are two faces of New India, add a third — of a knight in shining armour.

Come tomorrow, two Indians will sit facing each other, pitting black against white. One will be playing for the Grandmaster crown and the other to take the first of the three steps to the title.

If 23-year-old Abhijit Kunte from Pune either wins or draws against Calcutta’s Sandipan Chanda in the ninth round of the Goodricke International Open, India will get its fourth Grandmaster.

Sandipan, who has scalped three Grandmasters, has only to appear for the match to wrap up round one in his march to the destination of all chess players’ dreams.

Either way, India can’t lose. It was not until 1987 that India got its first Grandmaster in Lightning Kid Viswanathan Anand. Within a decade, it had two more, Dibyendu Barua in 1991 and Pravin Thipsay in 1997. Tomorrow, Kunte is likely to join the ranks of these world-class Indians.

The charge of the chess-horses doesn’t end with him and Sandipan. K. Sasikiran, the reigning national champion, needs one more norm to join the club led by Anand. Tamil Nadu’s G.B. Prakash will get his first if he beats Grandmaster Bogdan Lalic of the UK.

Chess, like Infosys boss Narayanamurthy, is benefiting from globalisation. Chess in India has never been so vibrant since it’s only now local players are getting a chance to compete in a home tournament against the best in the world. “The Goodricke Open offers such a strong field. In most other meets, players can’t secure GM norms as they don’t get opponents of that calibre,” says Thipsay, the second of whose three GM norms came after this very event in 1994.

Thipsay, in fact, had to wait for 12 years to clinch the decisive norm after bagging his first in 1985.

In contrast, it’s been smooth sailing for Kunte. After getting his first norm at the Asian junior meet in Jaipur in December 1997, it took him just four months to collect the second in Kozhikode.

At Udaipur last month, the third norm eluded Kunte. “I missed out by half a point in a couple of meets but didn’t prepare specifically for this event,” he said this morning after playing out a quick, 12-move draw with Argentine GM Maxim Sorokin. Kunte said he had expected the third norm to come quicker. Tomorrow can’t be too late.    

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