Retreat sparks Sangh power strife
Cheers for Sonia triumph
Laloo flock forces House shutdown
Court baby-leave gift
CPI snubs seat truce offer
Sack bar on probationers
Culture cops lunge for the lips

New Delhi, March 8 
The three-day high-level conclave — the pratinidhi sabha — of the RSS begins in Nagpur from Friday against the backdrop of a fluctuating Sangh-BJP equation and the persona and office of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who started as an RSS pracharak.

The RSS-BJP relationship, described by old-timers as a “guruchela” one, has changed since Vajpayee came to power with the unstinted backing of NDA constituents.

BJP sources saw the Gujarat government’s retreat on its controversial circular as a sign of the changing times.

Not only did the Centre manage to persuade the unwilling Keshubhai Patel government to do a turnaround — and risk alienating its hardcore Hindu constituents — but also persuaded RSS chief Rajendra Singh to give the Patel regime an excuse for the withdrawal.

Rajendra Singh issued a statement distancing the Sangh from the government’s order. Apparently, the posture of indifference made it easier for Patel to backtrack.

The speculation about Rajendra Singh stepping down as RSS head during the Nagpur conclave and handing over the reins to K.S. Sudarshan is being seen by Sangh-watchers in the context of changing equations.

RSS sources said while Rajendra Singh was keen to step down for health reasons, logistical and political factors might put off the decision.

Sources in the Sangh as well as the BJP confirmed that Rajendra Singh had a “good” relationship with Vajpayee and was willing to bail out his government whenever things became hot on the Hindutva front.

His intervention in Gujarat and on an earlier occasion — when home minister L.K. Advani had hinted that the Centre, too, may allow its employees to join the RSS — were cited as examples.

“A section of the Sangh is, therefore, keen to see that Rajendra Singh stays in office as long as Vajpayee is around as Prime Minister,” said a BJP source.

Sudarshan, widely tipped to be his successor, is thought of as “far less pliable”.

“He has an agenda of his own and there is every chance he may resurrect the hardline Hindutva plank and create problems for a coalition government,” said the source.

Indications from the BJP circles were that so long as Sangh constituents like the VHP and Bajrang Dal made noises about the Ram temple and religious conversions without doing anything “drastic”, Vajpayee was prepared to be indulgent.

Party sources, however, said the Prime Minister was wary of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) at a time when his government was going full throttle on economic reforms and foreign investments.

Sudarshan is a swadeshi ideologue and under his leadership the swadeshi lobby, reined in for the moment, may begin flexing its muscles.

It was Sudarshan who prevailed on Vajpayee to drop Jaswant Singh as finance minister during his first tenure and bring in Yashwant Sinha.

The SJM has already hinted it may reassert its pet positions. After a recent session in Vrindavan, it issued a booklet demanding the scrapping of a Rs 3,000-crore venture between the Department of Telecommunication Services and the IUNet (a subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University) because of “serious” security ramifications.

While the leadership change is still undecided, RSS sources said the Nagpur conclave might see Rajendra Singh’s second-in-command H.V. Seshadri stepping down and being replaced by Mohan Bhagwat, who looks after Bihar.

Although the SJM has not yet given an opinion of the budget, the Nagpur meet is expected to throw up an economic resolution which, sources insisted, would be more in the nature of a “policy thrust and direction” for the government than a critique.

The session, to be attended by over a thousand delegates, may also take up the temple and conversion issues.

It will review the RSS’ growth and functioning in the three years since the last such sabha — a topic that Sangh sources felt was of “utmost importance”, given the likelihood of the BJP overshadowing its parent organisation in the years to come.    

New Delhi, March 8 
The Congress greeted with glee the Gujarat government’s decision to withdraw its order allowing state employees to participate in RSS activity.

Terming it Sonia Gandhi’s first major victory in Parliament, senior party leaders said the BJP volte face would help her consolidate her position within the Congress, with dissidents and fence-sitters suspending hostilities.

Sonia was modest about it, describing it as “a victory for the Congress”. Party leaders said it was she who had forced a hard line on the RSS issue, overruling a section of the Congress Working Committee which had advised a more cautious approach.

“She courted arrest on January 30 on the same issue. The success of the March 6 rally in Delhi proved that she has political instincts,” said a party MP.

The shot in the arm came at a time when Sonia’s leadership was under scrutiny from her own partymen. There is sharp division on the way the leadership has handled the Bihar developments. In fact, some leaders were eagerly waiting for Sonia to falter so that they could regroup dissidents.

The gameplan was to corner her during ticket distribution for the Rajya Sabha and force her to deny nominations to aides like Arjun Singh and K. Natwar Singh.

Sonia’s supporters said besides enhancing the Congress’ image among the minorities and weaker sections, she had succeeded in bringing the party back to the centre of the anti-BJP platform.

A party leader said the party would gain mileage in Uttar Pradesh, where it had finished a poor fourth in the Assembly byelections.    

New Delhi, March 8 
The Bihar issue rocked Parliament again today, forcing the chair to adjourn both Houses for the day.

In the Lok Sabha, agitated Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) members were on their feet as soon as it assembled, accusing Bihar Governor V.C. Pande of “murdering” democracy by installing a “minority” NDA government. They alleged that the NDA was “indulging in horse-trading” to win Friday’s trial of strength in the Assembly. Shouting slogans, RJD members trooped to the Well of the House, demanding Pande’s recall.

Lok Sabha RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh earlier gave a notice for an adjournment motion over the Bihar issue. However, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi rejected it. When the RJD members refused to go back to their seats, the Speaker said the issue could be discussed at the business advisery panel meeting shortly. This failed to satisfy them and the Speaker adjourned the House till 2 pm.

When the House re-assembled, the RJD members again disrupted proceedings forcing deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed to adjourn the House for the day.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said: “The Governor is holding a Constitutional office and acted independently using his own discretion.”

However, the Opposition allowed a brief discussion to mark International Women’s Day with women members, cutting across party lines, demanding passage of the women’s reservation Bill in the current session.

Pandemonium prevailed in the Rajya Sabha when angry RJD members, joined by the Congress and Left parties, demanded an immediate discussion on Pande’s “undemocratic” conduct. When Opposition members rushed to the front benches, chairman Krishan Kant adjourned the House.

Yesterday, he had admitted a Congress motion under Rule 170 which entailed censure of the Governor and voting, much to the discomfiture of the treasury benches. The time and date of the discussion is yet to be fixed as the government is trying to delay a debate till the NDA government wins the vote of confidence in Bihar.

However, before the uproar broke out after Question Hour, the House heard an impassioned plea by deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah that political parties come to an understanding and unanimously pass the women’s reservation Bill providing for 33 per cent seats in Parliament and state legislatures.    

New Delhi, March 8 
The Supreme Court today handed down an appropriate Women’s Day gift to female daily-wage earners saying that they are also entitled to maternity leave.

In their judgment, Justice S. Saghir Ahmad and Justice D.P. Wadhwa said India was a signatory to various international covenants and treaties, including the United Nations’ “Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women”.

The verdict came on an appeal filed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi opposing demand for maternity benefits by female workers on muster roll.

Directing both the state and the Central government to issue necessary notifications under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, the judges ruled that female daily wage earners employed by the corporation were entitled to maternity benefits.

“A just social order can be achieved only when inequalities are obliterated and everyone is provided what is legally due. Women, who constitute almost half the segment of our society, have to be honoured and treated with dignity at places where they work to earn their livelihood,” the judges observed.

“To become a mother is the most natural phenomena in the life of a woman,” said Justice Ahmad.

“Whatever is needed to facilitate the birth of a child to a woman, who is in service, the employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realise the physical difficulties which a working woman would face in performing her duties at the workplace while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing up the child after birth.”

Rejecting the corporation’s argument that a tribunal could not have given a direction on the matter, the apex court said: “This is a narrow way of looking at the problem which essentially is human in nature. Anyone acquainted with the working of the Constitution, which aims at providing social and economic justice to citizens of the country, would outright reject the contention.”

The judges pointed out that “the relevance and significance of the doctrine of social justice has, times out of number, been emphasised by this court in several decisions. India seeks to create a democratic, welfare state and secure social and economic justice to the citizens.”

The bench also rejected the argument that maternity benefits were applicable to women in an industry and not in a corporation.

“It is too stale an argument,” the judges said, pointing out that a corporation was also an industry.    

Calcutta, March 8 
The crisis in the Left Front over the CPI’s decision to pull out of the Jyoti Basu government deepened today with the party rejecting the CPM’s offer of a Rajya Sabha seat in 2002.

The CPI had yesterday decided to quit the state Cabinet in protest against the CPM’s refusal to concede a seat to it in the March 29 Rajya Sabha elections.

At an emergency meeting of the Left Front committee, state CPM leaders urged the CPI to reconsider its decision, saying it could enter the Upper House in 2002 when six seats would fall vacant. Of the six seats, three could be shared by the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the RSP. The CPM, the Front’s main constituent, could have the remaining three.

But CPI leaders rejected the offer, saying it was unacceptable. In keeping with their stance yesterday, neither Nanda Bhattacharya nor Srikumar Mukherjee — the two CPI ministers in the government — attended office at Writers’ Building. “We will also not use our official cars or enjoy other facilities as ministers,” Bhattacharya told reporters.

However, neither has submitted their resignation to Jyoti Basu, indicating that the party is keeping its options open.

According to CPI leaders, there is little scope of resolving the impasse at the Left Front level. “The issue has now been taken up by general secretaries of the two parties in Delhi,” said Bhattacharya. “The CPM’s central committee, which will meet for three days from March 10, may also discuss the matter. If there is any fresh development, we will act accordingly,” he added.

Front sources said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan wrote to his CPM counterpart H.S. Surjeet seeking his intervention to end the standoff. Surjeet, according to them, has promised Bardhan to take up the matter with state party leaders who are expected to reach Delhi tomorrow to attend the central committee meeting.

Bhattacharya said the Rajya Sabha seat, being vacated by Gurudas Dasgupta, originally belonged to late Bhupesh Gupta.

“After Gupta’s death, the party nominated Kalyan Roy for the seat. Dasgupta contested Rajya Sabha polls from this seat after Roy’s death and has been a member for the past 15 years.”

Asked how they could demand a Rajya Sabha seat when the CPI had only six MLAs in the Assembly, party leaders said the CPI had been given the “perpetual right” to a Rajya Sabha seat from as per an agreement between Biswanath Mukherjee and Promode Dasgupta, the late secretaries of the CPI and the CPM.

“Number doesn’t matter. What is important is the need for maintaining Left unity and adherence to the bipartite agreement,” Bhattacharya asserted.

He also rebutted suggestions that the bickerings had sullied the Front image. “The Front’s image does not depend on whether we remain in the Cabinet or not. We will continue to remain in the Left Front and try to strengthen it. We consider this a greater responsibility,” he said.

State RSP secretary and irrigation minister Debabrata Bandyopadhyay said an early end to the crisis was “imperative in view of the coming civic and municipal polls”.    

New Delhi, March 8 
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a probationer cannot be dismissed arbitrarily even if the terms of employment say that he can be sacked without notice.

The division bench of Justice S. Saghir Ahmad and Justice R.P. Sethi in a judgment said: “A probationer, like a temporary employee, is entitled to certain protection and his service cannot be terminated arbitrarily without complying with the principles of natural justice”.

“A probationer’s service, even if the terms and conditions of his employment provided that it could be terminated without notice, could not be terminated in a punitive manner without giving a chance to defend himself,” the judges ruled.

The judgment came on a suit filed by V.P. Ahuja, who challenged his termination order from the post of chief executive in Punjab Co-operative Cotton.

Directing that Ahuja be taken back on duty with all “consequential” benefits, the apex court quashed his termination order.

Ahuja was appointed chief executive at the Punjab Co-operative Cotton Marketing and Spinning Mills Federation Limited on probation.

His services were terminated on grounds that his performance was not up to the mark. He had failed in his performance “administratively and technically”, the termination order said.

The high court dismissed his petition, holding that the “termination order is not stigmatic and nothing at all has been urged that may detract from such an order being passed during the currency of probation”.

Commenting on the high court order, the two-judge bench said: “It is surprising, to say the least.”

The apex court also observed that the termination order “could not have been passed without holding a regular enquiry and giving an opportunity of hearing to the appellant”.    

Lucknow, March 8 
No lipstick please, this is Kanpur.

After forcing colleges to enforce a dress code, the custodians of the city’s culture have now mounted a campaign to prevent girls from wearing lipstick to their institutions.

The latest “clean-up” drive is a joint venture of Prof. M.P. Singh, president of the Kanpur University Residential Teachers’ Association, and Shamser Singh, the all-powerful boss of the university students’ union who claims that 2.5 lakh students in the city support his move to change Kanpur’s contours.

Expressing disgust at the increasing “asleelta” (indecency), Prof. Singh said colleges should debar girls who come wearing lipstick.

He also frowned on the growing trend of students brandishing cellphones on campus.

“Though such laws cannot be made right now, there has to be a serious discussion on the issue of propriety in educational institutions. A threshold has to be decided upon,” Prof. Singh said.

Agreed Ram Nath Mahendra, managing committee chairman of S.N. Sen Girls’ College, which has been in the eye of a storm after two girls assaulted the principal and the students’ union president for enforcing the clothes code.

“Colleges are supposed to impart education, not become a platform for a fashion parade,” he said. Mahendra, a senior VHP member, said the dress code — which will make it mandatory for girls to wear only salwar kameez and saris — would be included in the S.N. Sen College prospectus for the next session.

“That will decide the issue of jeans and skirts once and for all,” he added.

Still smarting under the humiliation meted out by the two girls — Henna Koisar and Chetna Bharatiya — who have since been suspended for a week, S.N. College principal Madhulekha Vidyarthi said: “Any dress which will threaten law and order on the campus will not be tolerated.”

Justifying the jeans-and-skirt ban, she pointed to the consecutive murders of three students of the college under mysterious circumstances, saying it was up to the girls to look after themselves by wearing “decent” clothes.

Almost all girls colleges in Kanpur have implemented the code laid down by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student wing.

Even a no-nonsense, century-old institution like the St. Mary’s Convent has changed its uniform from skirts and shirt to salwar kameez.

Muslim organisations, which have already directed colleges to stipulate that all girls must wear burkhas, have not spared the boys either.

The Students Islamic Movement of India, which is trying to match the ABVP fatwa for fatwa, has said it would be nice if boys came to college wearing sherwanis, at least once a week.    


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