Sangh split on govt liaison
Civic poll damper for reforms Naidu
Laloo friends add RS berths
Crores go down RSS order drain
Protests overtake Bill
Atal ace for poll-bound Mauritius PM
Bardhan mission
Order on cooperative heads

 
 
SANGH SPLIT ON GOVT LIAISON 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
Nagpur, March 12: 
The new RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, was quick off the block cracking the economic whip on the Centre, but the Sangh has not yet chosen a person to liaise with the Vajpayee government.

Three functionaries — Madan Das Devi, Suresh Rao Ketkar and Srikant Joshi — are being considered for the co-ordinator’s slot, so far filled by Sudarshan.

Amid the uncertainty over the liaison man, the Sangh’s working committee was reconstituted last night, relegating H.V. Seshadri, the second-in-command, to a joint general secretary for “health” reasons.

Mohan Madhukarrao Bhagwat, until recently a pracharak in Bihar, will now be the number two in the RSS dispensation. Along with Seshadri, the Calcutta-based Madan Das has also been made a joint general secretary.

Insisting that Seshadri was not “demoted”, Sangh sources cited a precedent in 1984, when Rajendra Singh, Sudarshan’s predecessor, was pushed down the line to a joint general secretary.

But opinion in the RSS is divided on who should fill the crucial post of the linkman with the BJP. Some consider Madan Das, known for his proximity to Rajendra Singh and being “pragmatic”, ideal for the job. But another section argues in favour of Ketkar, who, like Sudarshan, is known for pursuing the hard line.

Joshi, the publicity pramukh, is regarded a “moderate”. Those pitching for Madan Das or Joshi contend that with a “hardliner” like Sudarshan at the helm, it was important to maintain a balance by appointing a co-ordinator who would “understand and appreciate” the practical difficulties of running a coalition government. A moderate will have a more “flexible” approach towards Atal Behari Vajpayee and his colleagues.

On the other hand, those backing Ketkar felt that the RSS should not dilute its agenda and demands before the Centre anymore by issuing conciliatory statements on contentious issues as Rajendra Singh had done.

Asked about the qualifications of a co-ordinator, a Sangh leader replied: “He should be theoretical and practical, and experienced in matters of governance. He should have more than just a working relationship with all those who matter in the government.” Madan Das told reporters at the end of the three-day convention that the work allocation would be done by the end of next week.

Worried by the feedback of dwindling membership in RSS shakhas, Madan Das said all state units have been directed to initiate a mass contact programme between November and January to enlist new members and retain existing ones. He admitted that the drop-out rate had increased in the RSS.

A Sangh leader attributed this to two factors: “Those who are attracted to our ideology but who crave for power have found other channels to fulfil their aspirations. They head straight for the BJP or the ABVP, BMS and VHP which are seen as passports to success by careerists.”

The other reason, according to him, was the “proliferation of TV channels and programmes as well as tutorial classes which often coincide with our shakhas”.

Asked to comment on the ABVP’s ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day in Kanpur, Madan Das said he favoured a nationwide debate on the issue. “Just because it is celebrated in America does not mean we have to imitate them blindly. This business of seeking lovers before a marriage will affect the health of our society.”    


 
 
CIVIC POLL DAMPER FOR REFORMS NAIDU 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 12: 
The Telugu Desam Party has not lived up to expectations in the Andhra Pradesh civic polls.

According to the results declared today, the ruling Desam has won 52 of the 103 municipalities and only two corporations (Vijayawada and Guntur), though it was hoping to win at least 90 municipalities. The Congress has bagged 35 municipalities and two corporations (Kurnool and Visakhapatnam).

The BJP, which aligned with the Desam, has bagged 10 municipalities and one corporation (Warangal). The Left parties have been washed out, despite the CPI’s alliance with the Congress. The Majlis-e-Itahadul-Musalmeen (MIM) has won the Bhainsa municipality in Adilabad district.

In view of the local bodies’ reforms it had launched, the Desam had attached a lot of significance to the municipal polls. It aimed to control all municipal bodies for better implementation of its Janmabhoomi programme, a development scheme with people’s participation.

But the Opposition alleged that funds for the project are used by the Desam to strengthen its support base. The Congress campaign, which claimed that the municipalities would lose financial autonomy if the Desam gained majority, also proved effective.

The Desam had issued a first-time municipal polls manifesto and chief minister Chandrababu Naidu had toured the state for over nine days. The helicopter he used had clocked over 65 hours of flying. To ensure an absolute majority in the municipal bodies, Naidu had also postponed the panchayat elections.

Naidu said Desam’s performance was an outcome of the poor coordination between his party and the BJP, besides the alarming number of rebels in the fray. “About 20 per cent of the candidates were rebels,” Desam general secretary Lal Jan Pasha said.

In Rayalaseema and Telengana, where the Congress bounced back, Naidu’s party had done well in the Assembly elections.

The civic polls indicate that middle class and urban voters are averse to Naidu’s measures. One of the reforms which did not go down well with the electorate was the decision to impose a flat 35 per cent tax on rental income.

The proposal to raise power tariff, in line with the reforms initiated by the Naidu administration, was also used by the Opposition to turn voters against the Desam.

The Left parties have drawn a blank even in districts like Vijaywada, Khammam and Nalgonda where they were considered strong.

The Congress bagged the Kurnool municipality by fielding a Muslim woman candidate, Faizia Begum. Another major setback to the Desam was its defeat in Visakhapatnam where Congress candidate Rojaramani was elected due to the internal tussle within the Desam.

A Congress candidate for Ward No. 7 of Hyderabad was elected by toss after both the Desam and Congress candidates got equal votes.

The defeat of Desam candidates in five Assembly segments held by state ministers also took its toll on the party.

The voting pattern was not fully evident with the PWG boycott. Around 55 to 60 per cent polling was reported. The Desam got 34 per cent of the votes.    


 
 
LALOO FRIENDS ADD RS BERTHS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, March 12: 
Encashing their bargaining chips, Laloo Prasad Yadav’s friends-in-need have stretched their demands from Vananchal and Cabinet slots to Rajya Sabha berths.

In addition to its demand for at least 10 Cabinet berths, the Congress has asked for a Rajya Sabha nomination for Ajit Jogi, who lost the general elections from Madhya Pradesh. Jogi, who camped in Patna during the crisis, was instrumental in resisting poaching on the flock of 23 Congress MLAs. Sources said he has sought Syed Shahabuddin’s help for his elevation to the Rajya Sabha.

The RJD chief will have to spare another seat for the CPM’s Sitaram Yechuri. Laloo has decided to gift a nomination to Deepankar Bhattacharya, the CPI(M-L) general secretary, in exchange for his party’s support on the floor of the House. If the RJD parts with three seats, it will be left with only one for its candidates.

Of the nine Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant in Bihar, three belonged to the RJD, one to the Congress and the rest to the NDA. Since the Congress does not have the numbers to push through a candidate for the seat vacated by Jagannath Mishra, the RJD’s support is crucial. The Left parties are also dependent on Laloo to see their candidates through.

The Congress and the other parties’ ever-increasing reward-list has wiped the smile off Rabri Devi’s face. Laloo Yadav was muttering: “God protect me from my friends.”

“The RJD chief is going broke making political compromises,” a sitting RJD Rajya Sabha member said from Delhi. He was worried about the increasing marginalisation of the party identity under pressure from its allies. In a feeble attempt to hold its own, RJD leaders have shot down the Congress suggestion that technocrats be drafted into the commissions that the Congress has asked the new government to set up.

The Congress legislators, all but one of whom want to be members of Rabri Devi’s ministry, today claimed key portfolios like finance, PWD, power and agriculture even before the party’s central leadership formally announced the power-sharing deal. A party MLA said: “The high command knows the result of not sharing power. It is just a matter of time now.”

The spiralling demands of the Congress have triggered a wave of discontent in the RJD. Senior party leaders feel it is time to heed Mulayam Singh Yadav’s warning about not trusting the Congress.

Chief minister Rabri Devi expanded her ministry this eveningby inducting Ramchandra Purve as minister for legislative affairs to fulfil the constitutional provision for calling an Assembly session. The party will go in for a full-fledged expansion only after the Congress’ final formal support letter arrives.

Till then, the “conditional support” of Congressmen and the demand of the other allies will continue to give Laloo sleepless nights.    


 
 
CRORES GO DOWN RSS ORDER DRAIN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 12: 
Had finance minister Yashwant Sinha cared to look at the galloping fare meter of Parliament while both the Centre and Gujarat dithered on the RSS circular, he would have come across a startling figure: Rs 6 crore.

That’s what the stand-off cost the nation, if the number of session-hours lost are taken into account.

Daily expenses of running the House — which normally meets for seven-and-a-half hours everyday, excluding lunch-break — amount to Rs 58.26 lakh. A minute-by-minute break-up of procedural cost comes to Rs 12,950. The corresponding hourly figure is Rs 7.77 lakh.

The figures, however, exclude costs of preparation of answers to starred and unstarred questions.

The budget session, which began on February 23, concludes on March 16 for a month-long recess. The House was adjourned for the day on February 23, after the President’s address and obituary references. The very next day trouble erupted and the House was adjourned following uproarious scenes over the Gujarat order.

Barring February 25 and 29 — the days when the railway and general budgets were presented — the Lok Sabha became virtually non-functional. Not counting Saturdays and Sundays, the House was paralysed for roughly 12 days till March 10, when the Gujarat government withdrew its directive.

But with the Opposition still demanding a discussion on RSS activities and the conduct of Bihar Governor Vinod Pande, Parliament could be in for another round of bedlam tomorrow.

Though Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi pleaded with the Opposition to allow Question Hour, his requests fell on deaf ears.

The cost of running the House has multiplied since the first Parliament was elected in 1951. In February that year, Question Hour expenses were Rs 6,000 per hour, or Rs 100 per minute.

According to a ministry projection, the total expenditure for running the House in 1999-2000 is estimated to be Rs 142.76 crore, as against Rs 27.72 crore during 1990-91. Of this, Rs 97.75 crore is for the Lok Sabha and the remaining Rs 45.01 crore for the Rajya Sabha.

The estimate was calculated after taking into account normal working hours for 245 working days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and the 16 closed days) in a year. There is no standard basis for calculating expenses incurred in preparing answers to questions, starred or unstarred, since it depends on the nature of the question and the information that has to be collated.

Tabulating exact expenses is also not possible as, in some cases, ministry staff and employees of state governments, public organisations and government undertakings have to collect the necessary information.    


 
 
PROTESTS OVERTAKE BILL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
March 12: 
From gas leak victims in Bhopal to students in Dhaka to fundamentalist outfits in Hyderabad: protests against President Bill Clinton’s visit are gathering steam a week before he is slated to touch down in the subcontinent.

Over a thousand Bhopal survivors are on way to Delhi to demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on Tuesday. Their purpose is to remind a nation eagerly dressing up for the presidential visit that a US multinational was responsible for the industrial disaster that killed over 3,000 people in December 1984.

Headed by the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, the victims plan to submit a memorandum to A.B. Vajpayee, urging him to raise the issue of Union Carbide’s gross violation of people’s right to a healthy life. NGOs say the toll has risen to 16,000 over the last 15 years, and that 100 people die annually from after-effects.

In Hyderabad, 58 Left wing and Islamic outfits have banded together to protest against Clinton’s March 24 visit to the city. They have been holding rallies in front of government buildings since March 7. Dubbing Clinton a war criminal responsible for killing thousands in Iraq and Yugos-lavia, a Muslim outfit chief said: “About 10,000 of our supporters will leave Hyderabad before the unholy feet of the US President touches our soil and return only after he leaves.”

In Dhaka, nearly 300 Leftist students burned a straw effigy of the President and marched through the Dhaka University campus shouting anti-US slogans. They stoned several cars when police stopped them from marching to the US embassy.

Earlier this month, in an open letter in the New York Times, the Bhopal survivors invited Clinton to visit their city to see for himself the extent of the disaster. “As people whose memories are forever etched with the suffering caused by the poison cloud... we would like you as a global defender of human rights to visit our city and witness the gross violation of our right to a healthy life by a corporation of your country...,” the letter said.

Cut up that the US, a global champion of human rights, had not taken action against Union Carbide, convener of the Bhopal sangathan Abdul Jabbar said: “The US claims to be the protector of human rights. The country has put restrictions on Iraq and wants to solve the Indo-Pak crisis in the name of human rights. Yet, the US has not taken any action against one of its own multinationals...”

According to Jabbar, the US department of justice and the Interpol have not even been able to trace Warren Anderson, the then Carbide chairman who jumped bail in 1984.    


 
 
ATAL ACE FOR POLL-BOUND MAURITIUS PM 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
Port Louis (Mauritius), March 12: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s hectic campaign schedule in Bihar did not catapult the National Democratic Alliance to power. But his three-day visit to this island will indirectly brighten the electoral prospects of Mauritian Prime Minister N. Ramgoolam.

Polls in this picturesque island are due in December this year. Ramgoolam’s chances are not as dim as Laloo Prasad Yadav’s were on the eve of the Assembly elections. But the Mauritian Prime Minister is not one to sit idle and leave everything to fate in an election year.

Vajpayee was the chief guest at the National Day Parade in Port Louis today. The gathering may have been small, the parade nowhere as impressive as the Indian Republic Day celebrations, yet the message was clear: Ramgoolam has the Indian Prime Minister standing by his side on the first national day of the millennium.

Vajpayee emerged as an exponent of Indian culture. From Ramayana to a plea that a Hanuman temple be built on a hill-top in Mauritius, he moved over to “Sarva Panth Samabhav”, wooing Mauritians of Indian origin who are a majority of the country’s 1.2 million population.

Praising the “hard and honest” work of succeeding generations of their “forefathers” brought over as indentured labourers, he acknowledged that it was “they who built the free, modern and prosperous Mauritius that we see today”. He added that Indian Mauritians, “while liberally mixing with new people and accepting new cultures, still retain their basic cultural legacy and contributed to the progress of their adopted countries.”

Vajpayee’s speech in Hindi, being translated into Creole, was lapped up by the audience amid bursts of applause. The Prime Minister quoted from Tulsidas, saying: “If one is a slave, there is no happiness even in one’s dreams.”

He spoke about the early Indian Mauritians’ attachment to Ramayana. “I am happy to know that even today there are Ramayana mandalis in all the villages of Mauritius.” He extolled the virtues of the Mauritian Hindu sage Krishnanand.

Vajpayee’s playing to the gallery is bound to have an impact. The Prime Minister had come to Port Louis in 1998 and there was no compulsion other than subtle political support to repeat a trip in less than two years.

Ramgoolam needs Vajpayee for several political reasons. The Indian Prime Minister is seen here not merely as a Hindu leader, but as a statesman who has matured through a long political struggle carried out in the Hindi heartland. Caste barriers have fragmented Mauritian Hindu society in the same way as they have divided India. Vajpayee comes here as a leader who is a symbol of Hindu and Indian unity.

Ramgoolam himself has not been able to coalesce the fractured Hindu mandate. Though he is a Koeri, he has the support of Brahmins and Kshatriyas and also the creamy layer of the Vaishyas. But he is not as popular among the lower castes and Dalits. Yet, as the leader of Mauritius’ Labour Party, he needs the Hindu vote en bloc.

The original African settlers, the Creoles and others of French or Dutch origin prefer to rally around the volatile Beranger, leader of the Mauritius Militant Movement (MMM).    


 
 
BARDHAN MISSION 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 12: 
A day before the crucial national executive meeting in New Delhi, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan rushed here today to discuss the imbroglio arising out of the CPI’s decision to quit the Left Front government over denial of Rajya Sabha ticket to its sitting nominee, Gurudas Dasgupta.

Minister for water resources development Nandagopal Bhattacharya and minister of state for civil defence Srikumar Mukherjee have stopped attending office at the Writers’ Buildings since Wednesday to protest against the CPM’s move not to re-nominate Dasgupta from West Bengal.

Tomorrow’s Delhi meeting, convened to discuss the issue, assumes significance in the wake of the CPM’s rigid stand not to concede any of its three Rajya Sabha seats to the CPI nominee.

CPI sources said Bardhan met senior party functionaries here this morning before he left for Midnapore to attend a meeting to condole Gita Mukherjee’s death.

“Bardhan is here to work out a strategy to avert the present crisis in the ruling coalition,” said a CPI office-bearer. “We are all looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting for some guidelines,” he added.

The RSP, another Front constituent, today nominated Manoj Bhattacharya for the Rajya Sabha polls slated for March 29.    


 
 
ORDER ON COOPERATIVE HEADS 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, March 12: 
The Supreme Court has ruled that a cooperative society chairman, like a municipal councillor, is not a public servant and cannot be prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Justice G.B. Pattanaik and Justice N. Santosh Hegde said the Cooperative Societies Act is a self-contained statute with specific offences different from the offences under the Indian Penal Code. Hence, a society chairman and a municipal councillor should not be deemed public servants under Section 21 of the IPC.

The Maharashtra government wanted to prosecute Laljit Rajshi Shah. a cooperative society chairman. Bombay High Court had said a state legislature was competent to amend Section 21 of the IPC, but “it not having been done”, the chairman could not be prosecuted under the IPC.

Upholding the verdict, the apex court said the IPC and the Cooperative Societies Act “cannot be taken to be statutes to form one system. Even though the legislature had incorporated the provision of Section 21 of the IPC into the Act to define a “public servant”, those “public servants cannot be prosecuted for having committed the offence under the IPC”.    

 

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