BJP keeps door ajar for Cong rebels
Sonia lobs party poll gauntlet at dissidents
BJP returns review fire
Govt defiant on water dispute
Pak faces peace force trap
Tame allies boost Sangh saffron agenda

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
Presuming that the Congress’ performance at the Assembly elections would be disastrous, the BJP is looking forward to a post-poll “split” in the party.

Several “top” Congressmen were in touch with the BJP to air grievances against Sonia Gandhi and indirectly dropped hints that they were more than ready to cross over, a senior BJP leader said. “The unhappiness which had set in after the general elections seems to be intensifying by the day, now that the Congress is more or less reconciled to the prospect of losing Orissa, not being able to regain Haryana and sliding further down in Bihar,” he added. However, he did not disclose the Congressmen’s names.

BJP sources said the leadership would not adopt any “open arms policy” for the prospective defectors. “We will choose them carefully because if the defectors are heavyweights they will naturally expect important positions and we may not be in a position to oblige them,” sources said.

Meira Kumar, who recently quit the Congress expecting to join the BJP, had to be turned away because she had bargained for a Rajya Sabha seat, sources said. The BJP itself has a bevy of top-notch persons, including two Union ministers — Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley — waiting for Upper House berths.

Former filmstar and Congressman Rajesh Khanna, who too had been knocking on the BJP’s door, met with no luck for the same reason. “What kind of a leader is he? Will he prove useful to us? On top of that he is also eyeing a Rajya Sabha position,” a source said.

On the criteria for inducting Congress defectors, a leader said: “The most important consideration is their grassroots worthiness: they should be able to help us electorally on the ground, instead of just being charismatic. We will also take into account the advice and sentiments of state units to which the defectors belong.”

In the run-up to the 1996 and 1998 elections, the BJP’s strategy was to rope in as many Congressmen as possible to drive home the point that the once-premier party was on the decline and that the BJP was emerging as the “only stable pole” on the national scene. The Congressmen then also gave a veneer of “respectability” to the saffron brigade.

“Times have changed,” said a BJP general secretary. “We have many big names and we have been completely accepted by the country’s establishment. We don’t have to prove a point to anyone any more.”

The “ideal” scenario for the BJP would be a formal “split” in the Congress of one-third of its MPs seeking a “more attractive” political future who would become part of the ruling NDA government. “Nothing suits us more,” a source said. “A big chunk of the Congress would lend more stability to the government and keep our existing allies on the leash. Their bargaining power will automatically be undermined.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
In a bid to checkmate dissidents, the Congress leadership today announced election of the party chief to be held on June 30 challenging “pro-changers” to put up a candidate against Sonia Gandhi.

The election of the Congress president will be held through a secret ballot by an electoral college consisting of 10,000 state-level delegates. A simultaneous polls for 12 berths in the Congress Working Committee have also been announced which will be held after the election of the party chief.

The election schedule is such that it effectively puts the incumbent AICC chief at an advantage as the regional satraps need support to get into the CWC. “It is a clever ploy to create division among dissidents. Now, everyone will be keen to get into the CWC instead of focusing on ousting Sonia,” a dissident leader admitted after the announcement.

The announcement comes after Sonia loyalists K. Natwar Singh and Ahmad Patel held a series of meetings with dissidents and fence-sitters who were holding secret parleys to challenge Sonia’s leadership on the pretext of “one man, one post” norm. At present, Sonia is holding the posts of AICC chief and leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Natwar and Ahmad told a group of CWC members and other dissatisfied leaders to settle the leadership issue “democratically” instead of creating a situation which may lead to a split in the party. “If majority of the partymen are dissatisfied with Sonia’s style of functioning, they can vote against her through a secret ballot,” a Sonia loyalist said.

Ahmad also succeeded in wooing back cine star Rajesh Khanna who was threatening to quit the party. Khanna today agreed to campaign for the Congress in Haryana. The party, in turn, has decided to ignore his criticism of the leadership.

The news of party polls dampened the dissidents’ spirits who, until yesterday night, were confident of cornering Sonia. They admitted that party polls in June were “close enough” to accept Ahmad-Natwar’s logic of taking on the leadership in the organisational polls.

Dissidents are, however, aware of the Congress president’s hold over the organisation as each and every PCC chief is hand-picked by her. During party polls, these “loyal” PCC chiefs make sure that they return the favour.

Of 10,000 PCC delegates, about 1,500 come from Uttar Pradesh and about 1,000 from Bihar. Both UPCC chief Salman Khurshid and BPCC president Sadanand Singh have been retained by Sonia despite protests. These party chiefs and their counterparts in Haryana, Maharashtra, Northeastern states, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and other smaller states will be blindly backing Sonia if she is in the fray.

Thus, on the face of it, the prospects of a credible challenger to her are remote.

Partymen are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Assembly polls in Bihar, Haryana, Orissa and Manipur. If the Congress loses in all the four states, Sonia will come under attack but a mixed result will ensure her continuation as the party chief.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
The BJP today slammed the Congress and the CPI for criticising the Centre’s decision to set up a Constitution review panel, saying it was “misplaced and politically motivated”.

Briefing the press, BJP general secretary and spokesman M Venkaiah Naidu said in 1976, it was the Congress which had set up a commission headed by late Swaran Singh to take a “second look” at the Constitution, while the CPI had described the document as a “fascist tyranny and a Constitution of national opportunism”.

He recalled that the Swaran Singh committee was constituted because the Congress felt that the Constitution had to keep pace with the “fast changing situation and ought not to be rigid”. Naidu quoted extracts from the report, one of which sought the insertion of a new clause in Article 368 to the effect that “any Constitution amendment, passed in accordance with the requirements specified in that Article, shall not be called in question in any court on any ground”.

The report, he said, had also recommended greater centralisation of power by stating that education and agriculture should be placed in the concurrent list and the Centre should have the power to deploy police and other forces under its own “supervision and control” in any state where it is requisitioned to maintain law and order.

The Congress committee, Naidu pointed out, had invoked the authority of the Constitution framers to support its call for reviewing the document. “This was necessary to ensure that the Constitution kept pace with the people’s aspirations. It was recognised that Indian conditions were changing rapidly and the country was in a state of flux, politically and economically, and, therefore, the Constitution should not be too rigid...,” he quoted the report as stating.

Reacting to CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan’s opposition to the review panel, Naidu reminded him that the parliamentary party had supported the President’s joint address to Parliament on October 25, 1999 which reiterated the government’s intent to look afresh at the Constitution. “If the CPI’s parliamentary wing had not brought this to its general secretary’s notice, it is his problem,” he remarked.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
The Centre today told the Supreme Court that it could not be compelled to implement the verdict of the Inter-state Water Dispute Tribunal.

Arguing for the Centre before a five-judge Constitution bench in the Krishna water-sharing dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, solicitor-general Harish Salve said even a court of law cannot compel the government in the matter.

The Supreme Court cannot issue mandamus to the Centre which is not bound to implement and execute an award of the tribunal under the Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunal Act (ISWDT), Salve argued.

“Section 6-A is only an enabling provision and no verdict of the Water Tribunal could bind the Centre under it,” Salve said. Under Section 6-A, the tribunal formulates schemes for sharing river water among riparian states.

“Even assuming Scheme-B (formulated by the tribunal for sharing surplus water between Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka) is a decision of the tribunal, for the implementation of the same, the Centre cannot be compelled,” Salve said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
India has warned the United Nations not to include troops from countries where the army was in power as its peacekeepers, indicating its desire to put Pakistan on the dock.

The battle between the nuclear twins to embarrass each other at various world fora hotted up yesterday with Pakistan trying to raise the Kashmir issue at a trade forum in Bangkok while India launched the veiled attack on Pakistan at the UN.

“Introduction of contingents from military dictatorships in countries riven by conflict, alienation and misrule would send a wrong message and defeat the very purpose of such an operation,” India’s acting permanent representative to the UN Satyabrata Pal said yesterday while addressing the world body in New York on peacekeeping operations.

Though Pakistan was not named, the reference to India’s estranged neighbour was clear in Pal’s statement, copies of which were also made available here. He pointed out that if promoting democracy in countries where its absence has been a cause for conflict was the mission, it could hardly be achieved by the military, even if the troops were from a democracy. He argued that armed forces have little understanding of tasks of governance and development.

“The challenges that face the UN arise not from new missions being set up or old ones being expanded but from the manner in which they are set up and what they are asked to do,” Pal said. He added: “Surely the time has come to ask if running municipalities, establishing a legal system or spreading AIDS awareness are functions for a peacekeeping operation.”

Though India made an attempt to expose the flawed UN functioning on peacekeeping, the remarks in the statement does not escape the fact that they were aimed at embarrassing Pakistan.

At the Durban Commonwealth summit in November, India joined hands with other nations to get Pakistan suspended from the council for the military coup. Though it claimed that it was part of the concerted effort by the Commonwealth members and Delhi should not be singled out for the decision, there seems to be have been an increase in its anti-Pakistani propaganda over the past two months.    

New Delhi, Feb. 15 
The tactical retreat of RSS notwithstanding, the silence of allies of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has emboldened the Sangh parivar outfits to go ahead with their saffron agenda.

Whether review of the Constitution, or endorsing government employees right to join RSS activities, attack on Deepa Mehta’s films — Fire and Water — or attacking young couples and shops for promoting Valentines Day, as was done by ABVP activists in Kanpur yesterday, the allies have by and large been silent, barring token protests on selected issues.

Spurred by the enfeebled protests by the NDA partners, BJP chief ministers in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh too, endorsed the Gujarat government’s decision to allow government staff to take part in RSS activities. Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya went a step ahead yesterday when he told a private television channel that his government was thinking of allowing its employees to join other outfits also (such as the VHP, Bajrang Dal etc).

Being part of the power centre for quite some time now, the allies appear to have become pragmatic. The Janata Dal (United), which had voted against the Vajpayee government in the no confidence motion last year, has ironically become more loyal than the king. Dal(U) president Sharad Yadav after becoming civil aviation minister has decided not to react to anything political. Yadav’s visit to RSS headquarters at Jhandewalan here to seek the blessing of K. C. Sudershan, before being inducted into the Vajpayee government surprised observers and his socialist comrades.

Yesterday, the Dal(U) vice-president and a protege of Ramakrishna Hegde, went to the extent of accusing President K. R. Narayanan of being partisan and “suffering from a Congress hangover” while praising the nationalism of the RSS. That Alva convened a press conference in Delhi to attack the President has surprised many in his party as well.

CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet had last week written to alliance leaders, most of them from socialist and secular background, urging them to do something to stall Sangh parivar bid to sneak in its hidden agenda, but he is yet to hear from them.

Asked for his reaction to Surjeet’s letter, the Dal(U) vice-president launched a broadside against Surjeet. While all the allies backed review of Constitution, only DMK, that too after issuing conflicting statements, and Telugu Desam came out in the open against government employees participating in RSS activities, while Samata Party in a half-hearted reaction said the government staff should not be allowed to be part of any politico-cultural bodies.

But sources said till yesterday the letters supposed to have been written a week ago by TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and DMK’s M. Karunanidhi have not reached the Prime Minister’s Office. Karunanidhi, sources said, had in fact, despatched a letter on sales tax. Vajpayee yesterday told reporters in Patna that the chief ministers had only expressed their “views” and did not protest.    


Maintained by Web Development Company