Laloo locks up legislators at residence
BJP brave face over Gujarat turnaround
CPI awaits Delhi signal
Bihar, RSS keep Parliament on hold
Washington silent on sanctions
Clinton wave displaces beggars
Somen lobby at Sonia door

Patna, March 10 
Laloo’s men are having a ball of a time at his own residence. They have no choice.

Soon after the NDA agreed to a Congress Speaker, the triumphant Laloo Yadav bundled 140 MLAs, including Congressmen who have pledged support, into 30-odd Tata Sumos and white ambassadors, and whisked them off to his residence. They will remain there under duress till tomorrow, when chief minister Nitish Kumar has to prove his majority.

Till then there is non-stop entertainment, of the wholesome, rustic kind, at 1 Anne Marg, with Laloo himself playing master of ceremonies.

A mathari ka khel is on for the “guests”. The nomads are performing their tricks. A small girl is trying to balance on a rope, to the accompaniment of her brothers’ singing. “Do you mind if we perform this way? This is how we live,” they chant. To that, one of the MLAs answers: “Yeh political mathari ka khel se bhi behtar hai (This is better than the political trickery). The other men join in the refrain.

Two hundred cots and mattresses are littering the sprawling grounds of 1 Anne Marg for the MLAs who are sitting in small groups, while Laloo is maintaining strict vigil from the outhouse. Around 2 in the afternoon, food packets were distributed. Before that, there was tea and snacks, after which Laloo came out. “Ab yahin raho kal tak (Now stay here till tomorrow),” he announced.

The RJD chief, who was awake throughout last night, refuses to take a break lest an MLA goes astray. “Koi MLA bahar nehi jayega (No MLA should go out now),” he told one securitymen while talking to this correspondent. Stretching himself out on his bed, he muttered: “Bahut khel ho raha hai (They are up to a lot of tricks of now). The NDA have neither numbers nor the majority. How can they now fight with us? They have only one way: making our MLAs disappear.” He spoke to an MLA from Muzaffarpur. “Kya taklif hai? (What’s the problem?) Laloo asked. But without waiting for an answer, he shot off: “Stay put there.”

Ten minutes later, however, Laloo began to doze off despite his struggle to keep his eyes open. An RJD legislator from Siwan stepped into the outhouse to complain. “My sister is getting married. I have to take your leave for a while. I’ll have to take my sister-in-law to my town for the marriage. And I’ll return soon,” he promises.

Laloo will not relent. “Where does your sister-in-law stay?” he asks. “In R-Block of the city.” “R-Block? That is a risky area. I don’t want you to take any risk,” Laloo says with a finality in his voice. The crestfallen MLA goes back to his cot.

Laloo is not worrying without reason. The night before a BSP legislator was abducted. This morning, some NDA leaders moved into Hotel Pataliputra where the Congress MLAs are putting up. Their visit coincided with a demonstration by a section of Congress workers from Jharkhand who were ready with a garland of shoes for their party MLAs supporting Laloo. Before the NDA men were able to strike up a successful dialogue with the MLAs, Laloo stormed into the hotel with his supporters. When the Congress demonstrators started abusing, the police moved in and the crowd was lathicharged.

Six underworld dons who were elected this time and yesterday had been allowed to move free in the Assembly to solicit support from Independent MLAs were conspicuous by their absence today. They had been found talking things over with RJD legislator Mohammad Shahabuddin and Sadhu Yadav, Laloo’s brother-in-law, yesterday.

Though the underworld MLAs are officially saying they want the “jungle raj” to end, they are sending out ambiguous signals. One of the dons, Rajen Tiwari, believed to be the sharpshooter of the Seu Prakash gang in Uttar Pradesh, was often breaking into self-parody and also into song. “Jungle raj banana hai, naya Bihar banana hai (We have to drive out jungle raj and build a new Bihar), he sang, but kept making strange faces. It was not certain to which side he belonged, the jungle raj’s or civilisation’s.

Today, the dons were not allowed to come out of jail on the charge that they had violated the condition for attending Assembly.    

New Delhi, March 9 
Putting up a brave front, the BJP today said the decision to withdraw the controversial Gujarat government order permitting its employees to participate in RSS activities was “no embarrassment to the party” and was aimed at breaking the two-week-long stalemate in Parliament over the issue.

“We took the step only to ensure that the highest democratic institution of the country (Parliament) resumes normal functioning. It is no embarrassment at all for us,” party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said.

The issue, however, has again brought to focus the rift between the hardliners led by Lal Krishna Advani and the Vajpayee camp.

Advani had justified the Gujarat order often and had even said the Central government may also reconsider the ban on its staff joining the RSS.

A few days earlier, the home minister supported the Gujarat government in Parliament, much to the discomfiture of the Prime Minister’s camp which was trying to persuade chief minister Keshubhai Patel to rescind the order.

A senior BJP leader today said the government was worried over the logjam in Parliament and the idea that it was paralysed.

“The stalling of Parliament proceedings for about two weeks did not show the government in good light. The business community was also worried,” he said. The issue also united the Opposition while some allies grew restive.

Despite the impact of the order on the House, it took 14 days for the Prime Minister to get the hardliners fall in line. The first hint that the RSS bosses understood the gravity of the situation and the Gujarat government would capitulate came when Rajendra Singh issued a statement on Monday, saying the RSS was “unconcerned whether the original circular of the Gujarat government exists or not”.

Defending the Gujarat government decision to allow its employees to participate in RSS activities, Naidu said: “To deny a person employment due to his social philosophy is a negation of human rights.”

The spokesman added that the view has been held by a number of high courts in the country. It is on account of this that the notification banning RSS workers from joining government employment was rescinded by the Gujarat government.

“The Congress campaign against RSS has failed to evoke any response with the rallies in Ahmedabad and Delhi being flops,” Naidu told reporters.

He said the matter was entirely a state subject and the Centre neither suggested that the circular be issued nor be rescinded.

The Gujarat government was constitutionally and legally right and had the power to issue such a circular, he said.

Sangh conclave

A day-long conclave of the RSS national executive began in Nagpur today amid reports of change of guard in leadership. With RSS chief Rajendra Singh, alias Rajju Bhaiyya, asking to be relieved of his post for ill-health, the mantle may fall on senior leader K. Sudarshan, number three in the hierarchy.    

Calcutta, March 9 
A day after it rejected the CPM’s offer of a Rajya Sabha seat in 2002, CPI sources said the party may not ask its ministers to submit their resignation to chief minister Jyoti Basu before the CPM’s three-day central committee meeting ends on Sunday.

Sources said the party is expecting “a favourable response” to its claim for a seat in the March 29 polls. The CPI has decided to quit the Left Front Cabinet in protest against “big brother’s” refusal to concede its demand.

The CPI’s state council will meet tomorrow to take stock of the situation. But the party’s rejection of the CPM offer has only hardened postures on the other side.

“We had offered the CPI a seat from our quota for the 2002 Rajya Sabha polls. Now that it has declined our offer, we are withdrawing it. We have no moral responsibility for the continuation of the impasse,” state secretary Anil Biswas said today.

Biswas, Jyoti Basu and other important central committee members left for Delhi later in the day to attend the three-day meeting beginning tomorrow. No fresh development is expected before Monday when Basu returns to the city.

However, the CPI got a shot in the arm when another Front constituent, the Forward Bloc, urged the CPM to “sacrifice its interest for the sake of Left unity in West Bengal.”

Fearing that the stand-off might send wrong signals in the backdrop of the “alarming political situation in the country”, Forward Bloc secretary Ashok Ghosh said: “This is only encouraging anti-Left and reactionary forces.”

He urged CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet to find a way out of the impasse by initiating a discussion with leaders of both parties. He also requested his party general secretary Debabrata Biswas to take up the matter with CPI and CPM leaders in Delhi.

Yesterday, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan had asked Surjeet to intervene, but state leaders said they were not aware of any development which could make them revoke their decision to pull out of the government.    

New Delhi, March 9 
Contrary to expectations, the withdrawal of the controversial Gujarat government order allowing its staff to join RSS activities did not restore peace in the Lok Sabha as the Speaker was forced to adjourn the House for the day.

As soon as the House assembled, it was adjourned for an hour by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi amid unruly scenes with Opposition members protesting against the installation of a “minority” NDA government in Bihar by Governor V.C. Pande.

As the Speaker tried to restore order, another uproar followed with Samajwadi Party members trooping into the Well of the House demanding a discussion on RSS activities. They demanded that the Speaker announce when the Lok Sabha can take up the subject.

The Rajya Sabha, too, was adjourned for the fourth consecutive day following uproarious scenes over the conduct of the Bihar Governor. The Opposition wanted the chair to suspend the question hour to discuss Bihar. Leader of the House Jaswant Singh’s suggestion that the matter could be discussed on Monday failed to satisfy the Opposition. The House was first adjourned half-and-hour after it met in the morning and later after the lunch break at 2 pm.

Unlike in the previous days, the treasury benches today took the lead in disrupting the Lok Sabha proceedings as they were locked in a verbal duel with Samajwadi Party members over who should be given the floor first. Despite the climbdown by the Gujarat government, Samajwadi members insisted on a discussion on RSS activities, a demand which provoked BJP members Madan Lal Khurana, Vijay Goel and MDMK chief Vaiko.

As the House re-assembled after the lunch recess following two adjournments, K. Yerran Naidu, who was in the chair, gave the floor to Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav who had earlier insisted on being given a chance to speak on the RSS.    

New Delhi, March 9 
With barely 10 days left for President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, the United States is yet to decide on either resumption of lending from multilateral financial institutions or removing over 150 Indian organisations that were put on the Entities List following Pokhran II.

The US commerce department’s Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) today said it will remove 51 Indian organisation from the list of entities. These 51 are in addition to the 150-odd Indian establishments on which the US had imposed sanctions and stopped American firms from doing business with.

The state department had announced the removal of the 51 organisations earlier. But nothing had been done so far.

Over 300 Indian and Pakistani organisations were put on the US Entities List after the two countries conducted their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998.

“These 51 organisations have not been removed from the list yet. They will remain... until a notice is published in the Federal Register, effective immediately,” the BXA statement said. It pointed out that the high performance computers notification for India will be processed consistent with the National Defence Authorisation Act and “not be automatically converted into licences upon receipt”.

Referring to the BXA’a announcement, US commerce assistant secretary for export administration R. Roger Majak said: “The action is based on a consensus decision by the administration to more tightly focus the sanctions on those Indian entities most directly involved in proliferation activities of concern.”

Majak added: “The removal of the entities will make it easier for them to obtain US goods and technology — especially non-sensitive products that ordinarily do not require an export license for India... (but) the US policy of denial of dual-use items controlled for nuclear and missile technology reasons to all Indian and Pakistani entities remains unchanged”.

Reacting to the US announcement, Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “Since the decision has been taken to remove the 51 Indian entities from the list, it was only a matter of time before they find mention in the US Federal Register. We expect this to happen shortly.” But he refused to say whether this will happen before Clinton comes calling.

The BJP government had earlier made it clear that though the Americans were guided by their domestic laws to impose sanctions on India for the nuclear tests, Delhi was opposed to such moves. Describing the decision as “unfortunate”, the government had said “it would prove to be counter-productive”. The ruling coalition had also signalled that a visit by the US President would not be possible till the sanctions are removed.

However, in its keenness to ensure contentious issues are kept out of the way so that the US President’s forthcoming visit is a success, it is not even willing to ask the Americans whether the remaining sanctions will be lifted before Clinton arrives.    

Hyderabad, March 8 
Bill Clinton has turned into a nightmare for beggars.

In their zeal to ensure that the seven-hour presidential visit on March 24 is hitch- free, the city police have begun picking up beggars and packing them off to out-of-bound homes.

The drive, which began in the Begumpet, Assembly, Nampally and Secunderabad railway stations, is expected to cover other regions of cyberabad, including the old city. Besides, the police are cracking down on anyone found littering the streets or urinating in public.

“We have made provisions to keep around 3,000 beggars in state homes on the outskirts of the city till the visit is over,” said an additional commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad. NGOs have also been asked to give shelter to the beggars for a few days.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who pulled off a coup by getting Clinton to visit Hyderabad instead of silicon capital Bangalore, has set up three committees to coordinate arrangements for the trip. The committees are meeting twice every week to thrash out problems.

Naidu, who has been busy with the civic elections, has summoned a Cabinet meet next Monday to review the arrangements and decide on the felicitations to be accorded to the President. The chief executives of Andhra Inc. and the US of A are expected to meet thrice during the short visit even if they do not sit down for a one-to-one.

The police have swung into action, carrying out traffic and security drills. A task force comprising 700 policemen has been formed to oversee security. Identities of all persons checking into hotels since Monday are being verified.

Flowers will be airlifted from Bangalore, Pune and Ooty. Carpets and fine cutlery are being borrowed from the palace of Prince Mukkaram.

An American advance team, led by Dan Rosenthal, was in the city for two days to get their own assessment of the security scenario. The US air force plane which brought them is similar to the presidential Air Force One and made trial runs on the Begumpet runway.

Andhra chief secretary V. Ananda Rau, who met the US team, conveyed to the Americans the government’s request to hold a banquet dinner for Clinton at Naidu’s dream Hitec City. “We will get the clearance from the external affairs ministry after we get the go-ahead from the Americans,” said a senior secretariat official.    

New Delhi, March 9 
Armed with an MLAs’ support letter for Somen Mitra for the Rajya Sabha ticket, West Bengal Congressmen today met senior party leaders to request Sonia Gandhi on the matter. The Bengal leaders want Sonia to take into account “sentiments” of the local party unit.

Sonia is under pressure to set up norms for the selection of party candidates for the Rajya Sabha polls. While some partymen want her to consult the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the majority feels that the party chief should be authorised to make nominations on the basis of “merit”. The Rajasthan party unit has already authorised her to make selection of three seats from the state.

West Bengal unit chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Congress Legislature Party leader Atish Sinha and Congress Working Committee member Pranab Mukherjee are backing Mitra against the candidature of Arjun Sengupta. Manmohan Singh and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi are backing Sengupta, a noted economist.

The pro-Mitra leaders debunked the theory that his selection would send a “wrong signal” to Mamata Banerjee for a future rapprochement between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress.

“The whole premise of this line of argument is too far-fetched, full of ifs and buts. If Mamata wants to return, none in the Congress, including Somen will have any objection,” a Bengal Congress leader said.

With the nomination day nearing, hectic lobbying has began. For two seats in Maharashtra, Murli Deora is stepping down as Bombay Regional Congress Committee (BRCC) chief in favour of Gurudas Kamat. Murli had lost the 1999 general elections.

Twenty party leaders met Sonia yesterday asking her to make selection of Rajya Sabha candidates on “merit” instead of giving in to various lobbies. These leaders, claiming themselves to be a “ginger group”, said Sonia should select nominees in accordance with needs of the party, loyalty and parliamentary experience. “There is no point in picking persons on the basis of castes, sub-castes and other social considerations,” a former MP said.

A section of party leaders feel that all those who have lost in the 1999 elections should be debarred from getting Rajya Sabha tickets. If this criteria is implemented, leaders like Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Balram Jhakhar, P. Shiv Shankar, Motilal Vora, Murli Deora and others would lose the race for Upper House berths.

But those opposed to the move said there should not be such guidelines as they would antagonise senior party leaders. “How can the leadership reward persons who shied away from contesting polls and ignore claims of those who fought against heavy odds and lost by narrow margin,” a CWC member said.    


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