Water ban brigade at Advani door
Congress motion to save Sonia, test BJP allies
SC vetoes US ruling on child custody
Strike trial for legal reforms
Cronje one up before a ball is bowled
City robbery

New Delhi, Feb. 21 
Home minister L.K. Advani today agreed to go through the Water script after a delegation of RSS-affiliated outfits met him and demanded his intervention to ensure that the Centre withdrew its approval to the film.

Insisting on a countrywide ban on its shooting, the 17-member delegation also urged a debate on the issue in Parliament.

K.K. Mishra, spokesman for the Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangharsh Samiti — the umbrella organisation which spearheaded the Varanasi protests — was quoted by agencies as saying that Advani had agreed Deepa Mehta’s film was an “onslaught on Indian culture” and the government would do whatever was “in its limits”.

The Sangh is perceived to be unhappy with the “liberal-leaning” Atal Behari Vajpayee who has made it clear to the hawks he will not tolerate a repeat of the Varanasi-type vandalism.

Sources said Vajpayee had “informally” conveyed to the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal — the two states which have invited Mehta to shoot — to crack down on anyone, including Sangh outfits, who over-stepped the norms of “civilised conduct”.

Veena Pandey of the BJP and a member of the Kashi Vidwat Parishad, which was also involved in the Varanasi agitation, said that during the meeting, Advani was initially reluctant to involve himself in the controversy.

“He told us he had viewed the issue only from the law and order viewpoint and had not seen the script. But when I handed him a copy, he readily accepted it and assured us he would go through it carefully,” she claimed.

Sources close to Advani, however, maintained the home ministry was not involved. “We have no role to play in the matter, it is within the purview of the information ministry,” they stressed.

With the budget session two days away, the Opposition is preparing to mount an offensive against the BJP-led government on the Hindutva package — the Gujarat government’s decision to allow employee participation in the RSS, the Uttar Pradesh legislation making the government’s permission mandatory to construct places of worship, the Water protests and the Kanpur attacks on Valentine’s Day revellers.

Advani’s decision to go through the script may give the Opposition another stick to beat the government with as it was cleared by the information minister and the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for resuming the shoot.

Pandey said that in the meeting with Advani, they pointed to the “carelessness” of the information ministry.

“We told him the first time the script was cleared by some indifferent babus. But when it was sent back to the ministry, after our protests, we expected them to go through it with a toothcomb. Instead, they cursorily changed four or five lines. Such changes do not alter the film’s theme,” argued Pandey and declared their main demand now was that Mehta should jettison the subject — portraying widows’ plight in the 1930s.

She demanded the script be tabled in Parliament and said she would camp in the capital to elicit the support of female MPs like Mamata Banerjee. Pandey claimed Congress members were backing the drive, but she refused to name them.    

New Delhi, Feb. 21 
Sonia Gandhi will move an adjournment motion against “saffronisation” and constitutional review in the Lok Sabha on Thursday as part of her two-pronged strategy to take on the Vajpayee regime and quell dissidence within the Congress,

All chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, PCC chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders have been summoned to Delhi on Wednesday to chalk out a strategy to “fight against the RSS”.

The exercise will also serve as a “save Sonia” campaign with the results of the Assembly polls in Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur due shortly. The Congress is not likely to fare well.

The adjournment motion under rule 184, which requires voting, will force some NDA partners into an uncomfortable position. If the motion is admitted, it will be a test for the DMK, Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desam Party, who have not endorsed the BJP leadership’s support to the RSS.

The Opposition leader plans to write to the DMK, Trinamul, Desam and other non-BJP parties for a broadside against the BJP’s alleged “hidden agenda”. It remains to be seen how NDA partners — and leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar, severely opposed to the Congress chief — will react to the offer.

The adjournment motion is likely to be based on the composition of statute review panel; the RSS-employees link controversy; the Water controversy; cultural policing by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP; the Indian Council of Historical Research row; and Uttar Pradesh’ Bill on the construction of places of worship.

Sonia’s managers are hopeful that the fight against the Sangh parivar would put a lid on dissidence within the Congress even if the party fails to win any state.

Confident of tiding over the leadership challenge in the post- poll scenario, a Congress Working Committee member pointed at the TINA — “There Is No Alternative” — factor. He also said Sonia will get more sympathy from the grassroots level now.

Sonia sympathisers also point out that it has been less than two years since she took over as Congress chief. “Political parties in power today waited for 45 years. So why can’t the Congress be more patient, as it has been less than four years that the party lost power?” a leader asked.

He, however, admitted that disgruntled partymen will target people around Sonia. An attempt will also be made to block Rajya Sabha nominations to 10 Janpath loyalists Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh, he said.

BJP olive branch

The BJP today said it respected President K.R. Narayanan and did not find any fault with him for his stand on the Constitution review, reports PTI.    

New Delhi, Feb. 21 
Overruling a US court verdict and deviating from the settled Hindu law, the Supreme Court has given a mother the custody of her minor children in a landmark judgment.

When Sarita Sharma’s marriage with her NRI husband broke up, a US court gave the custody of their children to the father, Sushil Sharma, granting her only “visitation rights”. Hindu law, too, was against her, holding that the father was the natural guardian of a minor.

But Justice G.T. Nanavati and Justice S.N. Phukan overruled the US court’s decision.

In America, Sarita was allowed to visit the children only on weekends. She took them away during one visit and flew back to India. She moved the Delhi High Court, but was directed to hand over the custody of the two children to Sushil Sharma along with their passports as they were American nationals.

Striking down this order, the apex court said: “In spite of the order passed by the US court, it was not proper for the high court to have allowed the petition of the husband and directed the wife to hand over the custody of the children to the husband and permit him to take them away to US.”

Citing various judgments, the apex court said “welfare of the children” was paramount and a court of law should always decide in whose custody the children would be safe and brought up in a normal way.

The judges said in the present case, the husband was living in the US with his elderly mother, aged about 80, and “there is no one else in the family”. Further, the husband “appears to be in the habit of taking excessive alcohol”, the judges observed.

“Though it is true that both the children have American citizenship and there is a possibility that in USA they may be able to get better education, it is doubtful if the respondent (husband) will be in a position to take proper care of the children when they are so young,” they said.

“Out of the two children, one is a female child aged five years,” the judges noted, holding “a female child should be allowed to remain with the mother”.

The court justified its move to give the male child’s custody also to the mother, saying: “If a female child has to stay with the mother, it will be in the interest of both the children that they stay with the mother.”

With this, the apex court has overridden Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, which says the “father is the natural guardian of a minor child”. It said: “The provision cannot supersede the paramount consideration as to what is conducive to the welfare of the minor.”    

New Delhi, Feb. 21 
As lawyers of Calcutta High Court began a five-day strike today against an amendment which the Centre claims will ensure speedy justice, the Supreme Court Bar Association threw its weight behind the protesters who claim the new law will curb their rights.

The apex court bar association will “abstain from work” on Thursday, a day after Parliament’s budget session is to begin. The proposed amendment to the Civil Procedure Code — the flashpoint of the strike — figures high on the government’s agenda.

If the code is amended, litigants will not be allowed to appeal before a high court division bench once defeated before a single bench. An order from the single bench can only be challenged in the Supreme Court. Also, a case involving money matters below Rs 25,000 will not be eligible for a second appeal.

Saying the changes will create more difficulty for litigants, bar associations in various parts of the country today passed resolutions to strike work on Thursday.

With Calcutta High Court lawyers on a five-day ceasework, the few cases that were heard were moved by the litigants themselves. Advocates of lower courts in Bengal will join the protest from tomorrow.

Supporting the strike, the Supreme Court lawyers’ association, in a resolution, said it “expresses solidarity with the members of the bar in their resolve to oppose the move to enact laws which are subversive to the autonomy of the legal profession and detrimental to the administration of justice for the people”.

In Delhi, lawyers will take out a protest procession on Thursday. The Supreme Court lawyers will join the rally which will begin at the Tis Hazari complex and converge at India Gate.

Lashing out at the protesters, law minister Ram Jethmalani said: “They have no business to strike.” He said under a Supreme Court ruling, a lawyers’ strike “is illegal”. Chief Justice A.S. Anand, too, had described the strike as unethical.

Jethmalani said lawyers should first conduct a plebiscite among their clients on the proposed amendments before protesting. He said he was confident that all litigants would favour the amendments as these would speed up cases. “As such, 32 lakh cases are pending in the high courts. The amendments will only help to bring a speedy end,” Jethmalani said.

The amendment also proposes that the defendant file his written statement within 30 days of institution of the case. Normally, lawyers claim unavailability of documents which results in delays.    

Calcutta, Feb.21 
The Test series is still three days away, but all the points in the lead-up have been garnered by South Africa.

It’s one bonus captain Hansie Cronje and coach Graham Ford would have least expected. Equally, it’s one bonus they would have given their right arm for.

Consider this: Shortly before the series’ first selection, Sachin Tendulkar decides to quit once the Tests end. Then, coach Kapil Dev skips the selection meeting.

And, in less than 24 hours after that drama, comes the supreme irony: Mohammed Azharuddin, who strongly influenced the duo’s decision, pulls out of the first Test! Struck on the right thumb by quick Mornantau Hayward, Azhar has suffered a fracture, not just a bruise. He has been replaced by Ajay Jadeja.

Of course, it will be debated whether Sachin would have gone ahead with his “I-will-quit” announcement had Azhar’s injury been diagnosed as a fracture yesterday.

[According to an agency report from Mumbai, speaking at a book release function, Sachin “suggested” either Sourav Ganguly or Ajay Jadeja succeed him.]

So much for individuals. Now, to talk of the Board. Like it or not, it’s a moment of crisis for Indian cricket. Yet, the Board is least perturbed.

In fact, when The Telegraph sought Board secretary Jaywant Lele’s reaction to Kapil’s “I have been humiliated” statement, he replied: “By being absent, it’s the coach who has humiliated the Board... He ought to have been present, commenting on the players’ performance in Australia...”

Point, yes, but why were two invitations, the first partial followed by the more conventional one (this time, in keeping with practice) sent to Kapil? “I won’t answer that... When I’m not too concerned, why should others be so concerned?” was Lele’s reply.

It’s inconceivable an accountable office-bearer, in a professional set-up, would have reacted thus. Neither is Lele accountable, nor is our Board professional.

Instead of seeking to clear the air, before a series which today is more important than when it was finalised, the Board is intent on continuing with its sorry game of one-upmanship. Sadly, the Board doesn’t realise there will only be losers.

Indian cricket’s biggest problem lies within, in the system and set-up. Till that is remedied, an appalling communication gap — in an age when there are a million ways of communicating — will continue.

Even Pakistan, belatedly, has woken up to the need for a system where accountability and professionalism must hold centrestage. With a core group, packed with former stars in place, a beginning has been made.

Actually, it’s reasonable to assume a lack of communication and a system which shows no signs of turning pro are also factors which influenced Sachin’s stunning decision.

For his part, Lele added Kapil would be invited to the next selection meeting too (on Day-IV of the Mumbai Test). “It’s for him to decide whether he’ll attend or not,” the secretary said.

But will the invitation be partial, or a full-fledged one? Lele’s response was predictable: “Why should I tell the Media?”    

Caclutta, Feb. 21 

Six armed men looted eight shops across Salt Lake late on Monday. They fired on securitymen at one shop and hit two employees with pistol butts at another. The men came riding in a Maruti car and on a two-wheeler.

Police said the looting spree started around 10 pm. Traders are planning to call a bandh on Tuesday.    


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