Blast revenge attack on bus to Lahore
Victory in Patna, loss in Delhi
Dal banks on Cong vote of ‘conscience’
Mamata in rollback signal
Vajpayee poll bail-out trip to Mauritius
Budget a sellout, says Basu

Chandigarh, March 4 
Punjab Hindu Shiv Sena activists today forcibly stopped the Delhi-Lahore bus near Phagwara and threw stones at the vehicle. None of the 34 passengers was injured.

The activists, led by state Sena president Surinder Dogra, were protesting against yesterday’s bomb blast in a Delhi-bound bus which killed nine persons.

Around 11.50 am today, the bus, headed for Lahore, was stopped at Chehrari village under Phagwara police station. The Sena activists, who had collected an hour earlier, started waving a red flag when the bus rolled into sight. When it did not stop, the activists started hurling stones, damaging a window pane.

The protesters burnt an effigy of Pakistan’s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and set fire to a Pakistani flag, eyewitnesses said.

The police escort car diverted the bus to the Phagwara Town Hall. The activists followed the bus to the hall, where they shouted slogans against Pakistan for spreading terrorism in India. They also took photographs of the bus.

The protesters fled after a large police contingent, led by Phagwara police deputy superintendent Pritam Singh, reached the spot. The damaged window was repaired and the bus left at 2.30 pm under heavy security which included army personnel.

Police arrested six of about the 70 protestors. Sena chief Dogra and three police constables attached to him as security guards were taken into custody and a case has been registered against them, senior superintendent of police Gaurav Yadav said. Dogra’s Maruti Gypsy was also impounded as the case property, Yadav said, adding more miscreants had been identified and the police were trying to nab them.

In Delhi, the external affairs ministry asserted that the bus service, launched with much fanfare with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trip to Pakistan last year, will continue with necessary security. “We wish the service to continue and will provide necessary security to the bus and its passengers,” a ministry statement said.

Delhi transport minister Parvez Hashmi, whose department operates the Indian end of the Delhi-Lahore bus service, condemned the attack and said security for the service would be stepped up. He added the Delhi Transport Corporation was in touch with the Punjab government and had told state authorities to provide increased security cover to the service.

The Sainiks, however, threatened to step up the heat. “They (Pakistan) are trying to destabilise us. We will launch a state-wide agitation if the bus and train services are not cancelled,” party secretary P. Prabhakar said.

“Yesterday’s blast was engineered by the ISI. While Pakistan is bent on creating trouble in India, how can we remain silent?” asked another party member.

Isfaq Khan, Pakistani liaison officer of the bus, said there were 22 Pakistanis, 11 Indians and one Briton on board the bus.    

New Delhi, March 4 
With the coronation of Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik as the chief ministers of Bihar and Orissa, the BJP is abuzz with speculation on who would fill up the Cabinet berths they have vacated.

BJP sources said Patnaik, who had been Union minister for steel and mines, may be succeeded by his nominee from the Biju Janata Dal, but the same may not hold good for the agriculture minister’s seat, vacated by Nitish. In other words, his successor may not be from the Samata Party.

BJP sources explained why: “The Bihar contingent from the Samata and Janata Dal (United) is already more than adequately represented in the Cabinet in proportion to its parliamentary strength.

“We had no choice but to induct heavyweights like Nitish, Ram Vilas Paswan and George Fernandes. Now that there are no heavyweights to oblige from their ranks, we could consider giving the post to either the BJP or another ally.”

The sources ruled out the possibility of objections from the Samata, saying that Nitish had been “sufficiently” compensated with the Bihar chief minister’s post, overriding the BJP’s own claims.

Patnaik, it is learnt, has made it clear that his successor would have to be from the BJD.

The BJP’s central election committee is meeting on March 9 to finalise the list of candidates for the Rajya Sabha vacancies which will be contested this month.

Sources said while Sushma Swaraj’s nomination from Gujarat was still “uncertain”, those who would definitely make it were Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley (the former from Uttar Pradesh and the latter from Uttar Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh) and Prafulla Goradia from Gujarat.

There are five vacancies in the BJP’s quota from Uttar Pradesh and three from Gujarat.

The other probables mentioned in BJP circles were its economic cell convener, Jagdish Shettigar, from Karnataka and Ravi Shankar Prasad and S.S. Ahluwalia from Bihar.

Ahluwalia had quit the Congress over the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin and joined the BJP before last year’s general elections.    

New Delhi, March 4 
The Janata Dal (United) today sprang to Bihar Governor Vinod Pande’s defence even as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) parliamentary party leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh threatened to paralyse Parliament from Monday in collaboration with like-minded parties till the Governor “corrects” his “illegal” order.

Holding that Pande’s invitation to Nitish Kumar was “proper” and “lawful”, Dal(U) spokesman Mohan Prakash tore into Opposition parties, particularly the Congress, saying they were blaming the Centre and Pande only to cover up their own lapses in approaching the Governor.

He said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would prove its majority on the floor of the House much before the stipulated 10 days. The Dal(U) leader claimed that several RJD and Congress legislators have pledged support to the NDA.

Party sources, however, said that despite NDA leaders wooing Congress and BSP legislators, not a single Opposition MLA had so far sent their letter of support to Kumar.

A senior Dal(U) leader said they would get five RJD MLAs admitted to hospitals on the day of the confidence vote if the Congress MLAs backed out.

Asked if the NDA was trying to split the Congress, the spokesman said the Congress MLAs would cast “conscience” votes during the trial of strength in the Assembly. Given the “established” tradition of Congressmen opting for conscience vote, “we hope all the 23 Congress MLAs will vote in favour of the NDA government”.

He said some Congress MLAs had even met the Governor to air their differences with the party high command on supporting the RJD and added that the NDA hoped to secure the support of 17 or 18 Independents.

The Congress, which had fought against the “corrupt” RJD at the hustings, has been thoroughly exposed by supporting the RJD now, he said, adding that the people of Bihar were not ready to continue with a “proxy” government.

A CPI-ML delegation met President K.R. Narayanan today and demanded the Governor’s immediate recall for “clearly flouting the spirit of fairness and democracy in the state”.

In a memorandum, the party said: “In the delicate balance of forces prevailing in Bihar, the installation of an NDA government could only be viewed as an invitation to horse-trading and a repetition of the BJP’s infamous Uttar Pradesh example in Bihar.”

The CPI-ML has six MLAs in the 324-member Bihar Assembly. Demanding an early recall of the Governor to arrest “further deterioration” of the situation, the party described Pande’ action as “hasty, ill-conceived, blatantly biased and undemocratic”, a party release said.

The delegation consisted of party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, politburo member Swadesh Bhattacharya, party MP Jayanta Rongpi and central committee member Rajaram. The party is observing a protest day in the state today and has called for a state-wide bandh tomorrow.    

Calcutta, March 4 
The Trinamul Congress will urge the Centre to reconsider the budget hike in the prices of rice and sugar in the public distribution system.

This was indicated by railway minister and Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee during a “face-to-face” programme at the Calcutta Press club this afternoon. “We are aware of the hike and intend to take it up at the next meeting of the National Democratic Alliance,” she said.

The Trinamul leader also appeared concerned over the Centre’s move to close down sick public sector units which cannot be revived. “An experts’ committee is looking into the condition of such PSUs. We will take up the matter once the panel submits its report,” she said.

Reiterating that the RSS issue would not drive a wedge between the NDA partners, Mamata said attempts by the opposition parties to destabilise the government would not succeed. She also did not attach much importance to the recent meeting of four former Prime Ministers to find out an alternative to the Vajjpayee government.

Clarifying her stand on the RSS issue, the railway minister said the Centre, as per constitutional provisions, cannot direct the Gujarat government to revoke its decision. “It would be better if the Gujarat government withdraws its decision on its own,” she said.

Mamata, however, appeared critical of the ruling Marxists, saying there were some state governments which tried to “politicise” the entire administration. “If the police, teachers and doctors indulge in politics, how can the common people expect a fair deal?” she asked.

The minister also skirted the developments in Bihar, saying she was not in a position to comment on the role of the Governor who happened to be the constitutional head of the state.

Asked when she expected the Indo-Bangladesh railway link to be set up, Mamata said: “On our part, we have completed the necessary work. Now it is for Bangladesh to give the green signal.”    

New Delhi, March 4 
Responding to Mauritius Premier Naveenchandra Ramgoolam’s appeal, Atal Behari Vajpayee will visit the island-state next week to bail him out in his own country.

Vajpayee’s visit is intended to help Ramgoolam garner support among the Hindu-majority voters. Even if it is too early to predict Vajpayee’s impact, the proposed March 10-13 visit alone indicates the Prime Minister’s keenness to help Hindu brethren in another country.

The dates of the elections, to be held by year-end, are yet to be announced.

On the face of it, Vajpayee will visit Mauritius as the guest of honour for the country’s National Day on March 12 and will hold a series of meetings with Ramgoolam and other senior leaders.

This visit will be Vajpayee’s second as Prime Minister in two years. The last visit took place in August 1998 on his way back from the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) summit in Durban.

Vajpayee is also scheduled to inaugurate the Indira Gandhi Institute for Culture, which has been designed by Satish Gujral. He will also open the Rabindranath Tagore Centre for Education and Culture. Leaders of the Indian community there plan to host a civic reception for Vajpayee. A university wants to confer an honorary doctorate on him.

Vajpayee is also scheduled to open the Apravasi ghat — the place where the first Indian immigrant had landed more than a century back. He is likely to deliver a speech before the Indian community on his vision of the “new world order” and sign a number of agreements, including those relating to cooperation on oceanography, trade and information technology and extend a line of credit to Mauritius.

For politicians in Mauritius — where the population consists of nearly 68 per cent Hindus and 72 per cent of those with Indian-origin — courting Indian leaders has become a tradition. “Flaunting Indian leaders has been the trump card for politicians in the island-state,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

The strong links the BJP always had with Indian leaders and Hindu organisations in Mauritius have become stronger with the BJP’s coming to power in Delhi. An additional factor cementing the relationship has been the recent preference of Mauritian youth for Indian brides.

But though Hindus are a majority in Mauritius, the community does not back any single party. Ramgoolam’s Labour Party faces a serious challenge from Aneerooddh Jugnauth’s Mauritius Socialist Movement. Parties representing the Creoles or the Chinese or the Muslims have taken advantage of this. The division in Hindu votes has forced leaders of Indian origin to rely on coalition partners.

The leader of the Mauritian Militant Movement, Paul Berenger, who had left the Labour Party-led government to join Jugnauth, has parted ways with Jugnauth and wants to form a coalition with Ramgoolam. But the Mauritian Prime Minister does not want to take a chance time and wants a majority on his own to corner most of the 60 seats in Parliament.

A visit by Vajpayee, therefore, may go a big way in helping him consolidate the Hindu votes.    

Durgapur, March. 4 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today lashed out at the budget, saying it was heavily tilted against the working classes.

He said it did not have any provision for the revival of Central public sector undertakings.

Basu said he had written to the Prime Minister, protesting against the Centre’s “negative attitudes” towards public sector units.

The chief minister, inaugurating “Horizon 2000”, an investors’ meet here today, said the BJP government talked about “swadeshi” culture but was, in practice, introducing “videshi” investments and selling out the country to multinationals by its policy of disinvestment in public sectors.

Basu said: “While we are trying our best to attract new investments and focusing attention on endeavours dedicated to revitalisation of old industrial and mining establishments of this region, there has been a perceptible fall in the business prospects of many Central industrial undertakings. This has caused a slowdown of economic activity in the area.”

The chief minister added: “When we came to power in 1977, we inherited an economy facing industrial decline, stagnation in agriculture, deficit in power and political turmoil. We have come a long way from that position.” He said: “We are committed to improving the industrial scenario of the state. We are keen to do for industry what we have done for agriculture.”

West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation chairman Somnath Chatterjee, attacking the Union government, said it had been indulging in spreading rumours and deliberately giving the impression that there was neither any work culture nor any infrastructural facilities available in West Bengal.    


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