Ally scare keeps BJP off Sangh vote
Twin blunders force Cong on backfoot
LS held to ransom for fifth day
Sonia shows door to Matang
CPM hugs Basu peace formula
‘British’ Oscar for Om Puri

New Delhi, March 1 
Though the Opposition failed to drive a wedge between the BJP and its allies by insisting on a discussion under Rule 184 regarding Gujarat’s decision to allow employees to join the RSS, the Centre appears nervous about the support of some of its allies.

Lok Sabha was stalled for the fifth consecutive day today. But the Vajpayee government is determined not to allow a discussion under Rule 184 as it is worried about the neutral stand of the Desam and the Lok Dal, which have 34 MPs but are not part of the government.

“We are not worried about those inside the government. Barring the Shiv Sena, the rest of the allies have reservations about the RSS,” said a Cabinet minister, hinting at the reason behind the Centre’s reluctance to allow the motion under Rule 184, which entails voting.

Desam leader Yerran Naidu and Trinamul Congress’s Sudip Bandyopadhyay asserted that they would not back the Opposition motion under Rule 184, but said they were not averse to a simple discussion under Rule 193.

For the Desam, in the midst of municipal elections in Andhra Pradesh, backing the Vajpayee government on an issue like this is politically suicidal. The Congress, too, has hardened its stand, sensing that the RSS issue has spawned an undercurrent of division in the National Democratic Alliance ranks.

While the Congress is holding a protest rally on March 6 against the Gujarat government order, civic polls in Andhra will be over by March 9. Logically, both parties should drag the issue for some more time.

Rebutting this civic-election rationale, a Desam source, however, stressed that the reason for not supporting the Gujarat order was purely “ideological”. “Right now, we cannot back the RSS,” he said.

Though Vajpayee convened a meeting of allies today to find out if they will vote against the Opposition motion under Rule 184, he seemed to have got no firm commitment from either the Desam or the Lok Dal.

After the meeting was over, Naidu and Bandyopadhyay told reporters that a “consensus” had emerged and that it would be appropriate to proceed with discussions under Rule 193.

Bandyopadhyay said that though the Trinamul Congress did not approve of Gujarat’s decision, it appreciated the role of the Central government. “We are happy that the Centre does not approve or sponsor the Gujarat decision,” he said.

A senior Cabinet minister said the government could allow a discussion under Rule 184, but only on two conditions.

One, the allies — especially the Desam and the Lok Dal, who are not part of the government — give a “100-per-cent guarantee that they would not back the Opposition motion.

And two, the Opposition change the wording of the motion to something like `the House takes serious note of the Gujarat government’s move’, instead of saying that the decision is “anti-constitutional” and that “the Centre failed in its constitutional duty”.

According to the minister, if the original motion is passed, the entire Opposition would bay for the Prime Minister’s blood and demand that he resign on moral grounds since he “failed in his constitutional duty”.

No self-respecting person would want to remain Prime Minister after that, he added.    

New Delhi, March 1 
The Congress was today twice forced on the backfoot in the Rajya Sabha as the debate on the Gujarat government having allowed its employees to join the RSS lingered on.

Firstly, the Congress and the Left appeared to have put words in the mouth of law minister Ram Jethmalani and attributed quotes to him which he had never said. Secondly, Kapil Sibal read out from a book that was given the impression of being an RSS publication but which later turned out to be the work of independent authors.

It was much more than an embarrassment for the Congress after the recorded tape of proceedings in the House showed that their charge, that Jethmalani had made snide remarks against stalwarts of the independence struggle, was erroneous. Playing the tape of a speech to check out what the member had said is something, which old-timers insisted, had never happened before in the usually sedate House.

Deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah ruled that the tape be referred to after pandemonium broke out in the House. The House was adjourned for 15 minutes due to the chaos.

Congress leaders, including Pranab Mukherjee and CPI veteran Gurudas Dasgupta, were enraged by a section of Jethmalani’s speech, in which they claimed to have heard him say that those leaders who had agreed to the partition had slain Mahatma Gandhi. They said the statement was actually directed against the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallavbhai Patel insinuating that they were responsible for Gandhiji’s assassination.

Congress member Vyalar Ravi was the first to rise and make a point of order on Jethmalani’s remarks. Ravi insisted that the law minister’s remarks were objectionable and should be withdrawn immediately. After this, Pranab Mukherjee, looking angry and hurt, insisted that the House be adjourned immediately to find out what Jethmalani had said. If he had made those remarks, he would have to plead for forgiveness from the House, he said.

The Congress plea for adjournment was met with strong protest from the BJP. It would set up a bad precedent, many National Democratic Alliance members said. Even home minister L.K. Advani, who was then in the House, joined the chorus. But with the Opposition growing more vocal, Heptullah agreed to the adjournment demand.

When the House re-assembled, it was Jethmalani who walked in triumphant. Heptullah informed the House that she had heard the tape and also secured the transcript of Jethmalani’s speech which showed that he had made no such comment. Heptullah pointed out that Jethmalani had said Gandhiji’s spirit had been killed by those who had consented to the partition. Jethmalani’s exact statement was: “Those who consented to the partition killed Gandhiji. Gandhiji said time and again that “my body would float in the Arabian Sea if anybody divided India.” Those who consented to the partition killed Gandhiji’s spirit.”

A little later Sibal sparked off another row when he made some references to the RSS which was found objectionable by the BJP. The BJP was sceptical of Sibal’s remarks attributing to RSS leaders Hedgewar and Golwalkar.

The BJP members insisted that it was a Communist publication from which Sibal was reading out his quotes. Sibal said he would not withdraw his statements because he was not fabricating anything.    

New Delhi, March 1 
The Lok Sabha was paralysed for the fifth day today over the RSS issue as a determined Opposition disrupted proceedings, demanding a discussion under Rule 184 which provides censure of the government and voting.

Within eight minutes of assembling, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi adjourned the House till 2 pm. The furore began soon after the Speaker welcomed the visiting Russian parliamentary delegation. The Opposition ruckus forced the House to be adjourned again for the day even after it met at 2 pm.

As soon as the House assembled, Opposition members belonging to the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Republican Party of India and the Bahujan Samaj Party rushed to the Well raising slogans for a discussion under Rule 184.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan rejected the plea, saying a discussion had already begun on the matter, under Rule 193, which does not provide for voting, and they should allow the Question Hour. But the Opposition did not relent.

Mahajan was vociferously backed up by National Democratic Alliance members who charged the Congress and other Opposition parties with holding the House to ransom and requested the Speaker to take necessary steps.

Balayogi’s repeated pleas to allow the Question Hour fell on deaf ears. Dissatisfied with the Chair’s refusal to give any categorical assurance, the Opposition members continued to inquire about the fate of their notice. Amid the din, the Speaker adjourned the House till 2 pm.

When the legislators reassembled, the same scenario was repeated with Opposition members cutting across party lines rushing to the Well, shouting slogans: “We want 184, we want 184.” Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who was in the Chair, repeatedly urged them to return to their seats, but the members did not budge.

Singh said the Opposition demand for holding the discussion under Rule 184 was under the Speaker’s consideration and they should await his ruling. He then allowed tabling of the papers listed in the day’s business even as the shouting grew louder before adjourning the House for the day.

Opposition members told the Chair that they cooperated with the government yesterday during the presentation of the budget and now it was its turn to accede to their demand.

Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia said: “We didn’t disturb the general and railway budgets. Some reciprocity has to be shown.”

Earlier at an NDA meeting, the allies felt that the Speaker had rightly disallowed the adjournment motion as also a discussion under Rule 184.

They asserted that there was no question of holding the discussion under Rule 184.    

New Delhi, March 1 
In a bid to clamp down on dissidents, the Congress high command today expelled former Union minister Matang Singh for allegedly “hobnobbing with the BJP” and bringing “disrepute to the party”.

The AICC’s central disciplinary committee headed by Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy met yesterday to take stock of complaints lodged by Santosh Mohan Deb on behalf of the Assam unit. A committee member said there were complaints from other north-eastern states that Singh had backed rebel leaders in the elections.

Singh, a self-styled supporter of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, suffered another setback when sources close to him disowned his proximity to Rao.

In Congress circles, Singh’s exit failed to make much impact. Senior party leaders said Singh, a powerful minister in Rao regime, had lost clout after the former Prime Minister’s exit as CPP leader and AICC chief. He unsuccessfully contested CWC polls in the Calcutta plenary and his efforts to get close to Sitaram Kesri, too, proved futile.    

Calcutta, March 1 
The CPM is showing signs of embracing chief minister Jyoti Basu’s formula for retaining peace and unity in the party by accommodating the marginalised factions in the district units.

A day after Tuesday’s CPM state committee meeting, it became clear that the party leadership was working towards re-inducting 12 members of the minority group into the North 24-Parganas district committee.

The district unit had, however, decided to re-induct these members back to the party fold before the meeting. It was only waiting for the state committee’s go-ahead.

The 12 members were dropped in 1998 when the faction led by transport minister Subhas Chakraborty lost the power game to the ruling Amitava Bose-Amitava Nandy lobby in the district. They had lost in the party’s organisational polls, too.

But Chakraborty and his followers raised a hue and cry over their removal. They alleged that these members were dropped because they were close to Chakraborty. The transport minister and his followers also boycotted several meetings of the district unit in protest against the party decision.

Chakraborty had taken up the matter with party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

Sensing that a split in the district unit was inevitable, the CPM central committee instructed the state committee to iron out the differences among the faction-ridden party units in Bengal by December 1998.

Following the central leadership’s instruction, the state secretariat set up a five-member sub-committee, consisting of Jyoti Basu, Anil Biswas, Biman Bose, Sailen Dasgupta and Nirupom Sen, to tackle the matter.

It was Basu who urged the state leadership to settle the disputes by re-inducting those who were dropped in 1998.

Basu personally discussed the issue with both the state and district leadership and urged them to accommodate the minority groups for “greater party unity”.    

London, March 1 
Om Puri has been nominated for Best Actor in this year’s BAFTA, the British equivalent of the Oscars, it was announced today in London.

He has been picked for his performance in East is East, the Anglo-Asian comedy in which he plays George Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who is determined to bring up his brood of mixed race children as orthodox Muslims.

His leading lady in the film, Linda Bassett, who plays his wife, Ella, has been nominated for Best Actress.

The writer, Ayub Khan-Din, has been picked in the category for Best Screenplay (Adapted) — Ayub adapted his own stage play, an autobiographical account of his growing-up years in Salford near Manchester. East is East has also been nominated for Best Film and the Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film of the Year.

Another Indian who has done well is M. Night Shyamalan, whose Sixth Sense is included in the categories for Best Film, the David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction and Best Screenplay (Original).

East is East attracted attention at the Delhi film festival. It is due to be released in India but censors are objecting to the last scene featuring the model of a vagina which one of the Khan children has made in art school.

Last year, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (triumphed) on BAFTA night though he did not get the Best Director award.    


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