Governor stumbles after Laloo punch
Vajpayee unruffled by setback
Saffron scrambles for fig leaf
Nitish defeat strengthens Sonia hand
Hijack rap for govt
Left stand-off nears flashpoint

 
 
GOVERNOR STUMBLES AFTER LALOO PUNCH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, March 10 
Nitish Kumar’s failure to muster a majority has not only left the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with egg on its face, but also sullied the image of the Governor.

When he arrived at the Assembly this morning to deliver his address, Vinod Pande looked downcast. The Governor almost fell, missing a step, as he got up from his chair and was escorted by securitymen.

Pande’s decision last Friday to invite the NDA to form the government, though it did not have the numbers, had raised a storm with Laloo Prasad Yadav taking his protest to the streets. The rumblings reached Delhi and Parliament was put on hold by an angry Opposition which demanded a discussion on the conduct of the Governor.

After the NDA backed off the Speaker’s election yesterday and Nitish told him the response from anti-Laloo groups was not heartening, Pande braced for the loss of face.

When he calls Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Rabri Devi to form the next ministry, Pande might have to retract some of the statements against the previous government that he read out in his speech today. For instance, he said today that central government projects were not implemented properly during past 10 years despite availability of funds.

To avoid the humiliation, the only option before the Governor is to take a transfer to another state like his predecessor S.S. Bhandari did. The RJD has already made it clear that it will not call off its campaign for the removal of the Governor.

But if Pande decides to stay on in the state, the Governor’s House will be embroiled in a tug-of-war with the new government, likely to be headed by the RJD. This would lead to a replay of a situation which prevailed in Bihar in 1998-99, before S.S. Bhandari was shifted out of the state.

Nitish’s career is also in the doldrums now as he is just an MP now, having resigned his surface transport portfolio at the Centre after taking over in Bihar. With Sushil Modi around, he is unlikely to be made leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, a position that Modi held in last term.

Nitish might choose to return to Delhi and reclaim his ministry, but his politics of anti-Lalooism will be grounded. “Unko to bali ka bakra banaya” (He was made a sacrificial goat), said Laloo as he was leaving the Assembly today.

Nitish, however, put up a brave front in the Assembly, vowing to carry on the war. “I will neither give up nor let him rule smoothly,” he told some of his associates.

NDA partners privately admit that they made a mistake by rushing to form the government. “We did not really visualise our numbers before approaching the Governor,” said a minister in Nitish’s Cabinet.

Samata leaders were clearly unhappy over the way the BJP, the major partner in the NDA, failed to rise up to the challenge. “Unlike in Uttar Pradesh a few years ago, no one enjoyed supreme authority to strike a deal, no one played a Rajnath Singh here,” said a former Samata MP. During the crisis in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP state president had played a pivotal role in wooing MLAs.

But the BJP does not appear to have any regrest over the way the situation was handled. Nandkishore Yadav, BJP state president, blamed the Congress and the Left parties “for a second betrayal on the cause of Bihar”.

He said the first betrayal was when the Congress had opposed the decision to impose President’s rule in the state. “It is now clear that snapping of ties with the RJD by Congress was a fake drama staged to hoodwink the people of Bihar,” he said.

Kailashpati Mishra, national vice-president of BJP, said the Left parties wanted to perpetuate the anarchy in the state. “Bihar is on the brink of chaos now,” he added.

But NDA sources admitted that blaming other parties would not protect the alliance from blame.    


 
 
VAJPAYEE UNRUFFLED BY SETBACK 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Port Louis (Mauritius), March 10 
Guns had just begun booming in salute to the state guest. Looking different in a safari suit, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee climbed down the staircase from his special aircraft to be overwhelmed with greetings from Mauritian dignitaries. The island nation’s Prime Minister N. Ramgoolam was among them.

Standing next to the host Prime Minister as the national anthems of both countries were played out, Vajpayee looked unruffled despite news of Nitish Kumar’s resignation in Patna having reached him. The information had little news value to him. Early this morning or probably, soon after the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) withdrawal from the race for the Speaker’s job, the Prime Minister knew the inevitable. Laloo Prasad Yadav was close to conquering Bihar yet again.

In Mauritius, where over 60 per cent of the population is of ethnic Indian origin, Bihar matters. A high proportion of these Mauritian Indians speak Bhojpuri. Starting from the hotel reception desk to the tiled, picturesque cottages that dot this beach resort, there is keen interest in the fate of Bihar.

But the shadow of Bihar could not suppress the high spirits of the elite on Vajpayee’s arrival. The two Prime Ministers met exclusively. Four agreements were signed. A banquet was hosted in honour of the Indian Prime Minister.

It was only earlier in the morning that grim faces in the Prime Minister’s entourage had given away a premonition of the disaster to strike Bihar later in the day. The unfazed officials were not over-eager to find out what had happened in the Patna Assembly.

There is a growing feeling in the Prime Minister’s think tank that the Bihar development was not really a slap on the Union government’s face. It was the Samata and the Janata Dal (United) which had more at stake. The bickering on seat sharing that overshadowed poll preparations had disenchanted not just the electorate but also the BJP leadership. They knew the BJP alone could not bail out all the NDA constituents.

Even ceding ground to the Opposition on the Gujarat RSS circular issue is not being viewed as a loss of face for the government in Delhi. “If anybody is embarrassed, it is the Gujarat government,” said a highly-placed government source on the flight carrying the Prime Minister.    


 
 
SAFFRON SCRAMBLES FOR FIG LEAF 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 10 
Coming close on the heels of the RSS fiasco in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar’s resignation as Bihar chief minister has left the BJP with egg on its face.

An embarrassed BJP leadership today tried to put up a brave front saying they would “reassess” the situation in the state.

Asked if the failed experiment had cast doubts on the National Democratic Alliance continuing in Bihar, a senior functionary admitted that mutual suspicion and internal bickerings had effectively queered the pitch for the partnership.

“Party leaders will sit together to reassess the situation to find out what went wrong,” he said.

Though, a week ago, some party leaders had talked of keeping the Bihar Assembly in suspended animation after imposing President’s rule, the BJP now seems to have woken up to the new political reality in the state.

“I leave it to the Governor. I am not asking for suspended animation,” said BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu, when asked if his party was in favour of Central rule in the state.

The Governor should take the next step as per the Constitution, Naidu said. “He is a learned man, a non-political person and we have full confidence that he will take such action which is legally and constitutionally correct.”

Naidu defended Vinod Pande’s decision to swear in a minority government led by Nitish Kumar and said that his party was against recalling him.

“The allegation against the Governor is absurd. Whatever he did was within his constitutional powers. He is known to be an impartial person. It is not proper to demand his recall. There is no question of his recall,” he asserted.

Before Kumar submitted his resignation, both Houses of Parliament remained paralysed for the fourth day as agitated Opposition members demanded a discussion on Pande’s conduct.

Proceedings had to be wrapped up when the chair refused permission to discuss the Bihar situation.

The BJP had tried everything within its powers to help Kumar prove his majority on the floor of the House. The party had initially backed Sushil Kumar Modi for the chief minister’s post, but realising that the numbers did not add up, beat a tactical retreat offering the post to its allies. Its second choice was Dal(U) leader Ram Vilas Paswan.

With the defeat still smarting, the BJP today tried to find solace in the emerging Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-Communist entente, saying that both the Congress and the CPM would rue their political opportunism.

It may be a temporary setback for the NDA, but “this will decimate the Congress and the communists”, Naidu said. “They have acquiesced, collaborated and helped in returning the Jungle Raj.”

Slamming the Congress, Naidu said “the party has forgotten its apologies to the people of Bihar and the promise of a probe into the 10-year-old RJD regime”.

He also refuted allegations that the Centre had a role in Kumar’s installation as chief minister. “The Centre never interfered. It was exclusively the prerogative of the Governor. He went by precedents and conventions.”    


 
 
NITISH DEFEAT STRENGTHENS SONIA HAND 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 10 
The political developments in Bihar gave Sonia Gandhi much-needed relief to force her way in party matters, particularly in the selection of nominees for the Rajya Sabha seats.

Although there have been serious differences in the Congress on the question of supporting Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Sonia camp feels that the decision to back him has been vindicated in view of Nitish Kumar’s resignation today. The Congress sees it as yet another defeat for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), coming as it has on the heels of the Centre’s backtrack on the RSS issue. Sonia followers in the party are also saying that to have kept the Bihar Congress Legislature Party (CLP) intact despite allurements and political divisions was a victory for Sonia. “The developments of the last few days have demoralised Sonia’s would-be critics in the party,” an AICC functionary said.

Sonia today felt bold enough to reward loyalists Arjun Singh, R.P. Goenka, D.P. Roy and Hansraj Bhardwaj with Rajya Sabha nominations. Roy, who started as a Chhatra Parishad activist, first entered the Rajya Sabha in 1984. He edged out Somen Mitra and Arjun Sengupta for the lone slot from West Bengal.

Close aide Arjun Singh bagged the prized nomination from Madhya Pradesh despite stiff resistance from a section of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members. The prospects of AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi getting into the Upper House have also brightened on account of his deft handling in keeping the party united in Bihar.

From Uttar Pradesh, Inder Khosla, a family retainer and trustee of the Kamala Nehru Memorial has been short-listed though the Congress does not have the requisite number of MLAs to ensure his victory. Support from the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal and surplus votes from the BSP can get him to the Rajya Sabha.

Others who have been short-listed for the Rajya Sabha include P. Shiv Shankar, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy (Andhra Pradesh) Radha Krishna Malviya (Madhya Pradesh), DilIp Kumar (Maharashtra) Madhavsinh Solanki, Raju Parmar (Gujarat), Hanumanthappa, Rahman Khan, Janardhan Poojari (Karnataka) and Ram Niwas Mirdha and K. Natwar Singh from Rajasthan. Sonia also cleared Sitaram Kesri’s name from Bihar. Kesri’s return will depend upon the support from Laloo Yadav which should not be a problem as he had lobbied for a Congress-RJD rapprochement.

AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai is returning to Delhi tomorrow to consult Sonia.    


 
 
HIJACK RAP FOR GOVT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Nagpur, March 10 
The BJP-led government today earned praise as well as criticism from the RSS, though both were doled out in small doses.

On the Indian Airlines hijack, H.V. Seshadri, the outgoing second in command, said: “Though by-and-large the government’s decision to release the three dreaded terrorists can be conceded as the only way out to get the hijacked passengers out of the death trap, there is a strong feeling in the country that the problem could have been handled more deftly at the early stages itself, and saved our nation from the agony of humiliation it has suffered.”

Seshadri also said the incident had exposed the “dangerous” chinks in the country’s national security and advised the government to take “stringent measures to plug all such holes and wipe out every single enemy hideout and agent.”

He was releasing the RSS’ annual report of 1999-2000 at the Pratinidhi Sabha here.

Seshadri patted the NDA government for leading a “successful” defence against the US-led western nations at the World Trade Organisation and for “defeating their plans “by securing the support of many developing and under-developed nations”.

Advising the government to adopt swadeshi economics, Seshadri said: “It goes without saying that the voice of swadeshi which is fast catching up among all sections of our people, right from industrialists to workers and farmers, must have had its wholesome impact in strengthening our government’s hands in taking up that uncompromising stand in the interests of millions of the economically poorer families the world over.”

He prodded the government to “play its natural role as a great nation in upholding our national interest and of all the economically less developed countries” in all the world fora against US interests.    


 
 
LEFT STAND-OFF NEARS FLASHPOINT 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
March 10 
The CPM central committee has refused to yield to the CPI’s demand for a Rajya Sabha seat and has urged its Left Front partner to reconsider its decision to quit the West Bengal government.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said a meeting of the party’s national executive has been called on Monday to clinch a decision on the issue. “The national executive will decide whether we will remain in the Front or not,” he said.

“The development is harmful for the unity of the Left Front, but what can we do?” said chief minister Jyoti Basu.

The CPM central committee members were in an unyielding mood today, refusing to buckle under pressure from a junior partner.

“The unity of the Front does not depend on just one partner. We have to take into consideration the views of all the partners,” said a politburo member. The CPM has agreed to leave a seat in the 2002 Rajya Sabha polls.

Though the central committee members shrugged off the impact of the row on the municipal and Assembly elections in the state, the CPI warned that the dispute would affect poll results.

The two CPI ministers — Nandagopal Bhattacharya and Srikumar Mukherjee — also stayed away from office for the third day today. However, they maintained that no decision had yet been taken on their resignation from office. However, the CPI state executive committee, which met today, endorsed the secretariat’s decision to pull out its ministers from the Cabinet.

Relations between the CPM and its three junior partners have never been particularly smooth, but till now, the Front had put up a united public face.

“Of late, this unity seems to be cracking up with junior Front partners taking a more independent and strident stance,” said a Left leader.

The CPI’s hopes of the central committee meeting going in its favour were belied this afternoon after the CPM stuck to a “no-nonsense” stand. The members said they will endorse the CPM state committee’s decision on the Rajya Sabha seats.

Of the five Rajya Sabha seats, the CPM will contest three, the RSP one and the other has been be left to the Congress to contest. The CPM leadership today re-nominated Biplab Das Gupta, Dipankar Mukherjee and Nilotpal Basu as the party’s nominees.

Bardhan’s insistence that it was former Left Front chairperson Pramod Das Gupta who had begun the precedent that all Front partners should each have a Rajya Sabha seat was refuted by the CPM leadership.

“There was no such understanding. The CPI came late into the Front. By then, we already had a formula,” said Sitaram Yechury.    

 

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