RS ticket for Sushma return
Seshadri leads linkman race
Advani defends Pande
Laloo hurls state permit threat at CBI
SC asks lawyers to end strike
Notice on karela patent
Murdoch net over cybercity

New Delhi, March 13 
Sushma Swaraj’s political rehabilitation may have begun with her Rajya Sabha nomination from Uttar Pradesh after weeks of uncertainty.

The former information and broadcasting minister, who went on to become Delhi chief minister days before the November 1998 election, was left cooling her heels once the BJP lost its government.

For a while, her high-profile battle in Bellary against Sonia Gandhi indicated that Sushma was back in the reckoning. But after the defeat, she was nudged out in the scramble for Central ministerships. Although she was later offered the posts of the BJP spokesperson — a position that had earlier catapulted her to limelight — and the general secretary, Sushma declined to accept either.

Speculation has begun that Sushma may be finally rewarded with ministership after the Prime Minister indicated today that a Cabinet reshuffle could take place shortly.

Central ministers who are not members of either House — Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Ram Jethmalani — will contest the Rajya Sabha elections from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra respectively. Jaitley was initially keen to fill the lone vacancy from Himachal Pradesh, but the state BJP passed him over for a local functionary, Kripal Parmar. The high command finally turned to Gujarat, where the party has three vacancies, to bail out the I&B minister. To accommodate him, Prafulla Goradia, a sitting MP whose term has ended, was denied a renomination.

Jethmalani hopes to make it on the strength of the surplus votes of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. But the leadership is believed to have had a tough time persuading Sena chief Bal Thackeray to agree on Jethmalani’s name.

From Maharashtra, the BJP’s primary nominee is a RSS pracharak-turned-lawyer, Balasaheb Apte, who was among those that attended the just-concluded delegates’ convention in Nagpur.

Apte is a former president of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Sangh’s student wing, but he has never been a BJP member. He was advocate-general in the BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra.

Apte is considered an effective speaker, and although the BJP had approached him in the past for a Rajya Sabha nomination — because of his debating skills — he kept turning down the offer. This time, BJP sources said, the RSS leadership prevailed on Apte to join mainstream politics, although he was described as a “key member of the inner circle of 15 swayamsevaks” and plays a key role in the outfit’s policy-making.

Among the others who figure on the BJP’s list are former Madhya Pradesh heavyweights Kailash Joshi and Vikram Verma (both lost in the Assembly polls), Patna lawyer Ravi Shankar Prasad, former member of Rajiv Gandhi’s “shouting brigade” S.S. Ahluwalia, former Congress Union minister Rajasekhara Murthy and former editor Balbir Punj.    

New Delhi, March 13 
RSS leader H.V. Seshadri may be chosen as the linkman between the Sangh and the Vajpayee government, BJP sources said.

At the reconstituted RSS executive in the recent Pratinidhi Sabha at Nagpur, the leadership could not zero in on someone who would liaison with the BJP government.

Seshadri had been the second-in-command in the earlier Sangh dispensation as general secretary and should have taken over as the sarsanghchalak, but for “ill-health”. In the new hierarchy, he has been pushed down to the post of a joint general secretary along with Madan Das Devi, younger than him by nearly 15 years.

But stressing Seshadri was not “demoted”, BJP sources said he was retained in the new dispensation for his latest assignment. They added Seshadri would shift his base from Bangalore to the capital to keep in “constant touch” with the government and the party’s central leadership.

Since the new RSS executive has inducted pracharaks in their fifties and sixties, who are younger by quite a few years than Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, it was thought that an older person like Seshadri would be better suited for the job of the coordinator. Even new sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, a hardliner, is younger than Vajpayee and Advani by at least five years.

The BJP feels the older Seshadri, who has also rarely articulated his views on policies and issues impinging on the government, may be a little more flexible on the Centre’s policies which would clash with the RSS’ official line. Even Sheshadri’s public addresses sound more philosophical than political.

BJP sources said Madan Das was likely to be appointed as coordinator for the RSS front organisations previously handled by Sudarshan.

The new Sangh dispensation has created a history of sorts by inducting a “young” person, Mohan Madhukarrao Bhagat, 49, as general secretary and the second-in-command in Seshadri’s place. In taking this step, sources said the RSS hoped to repeat its experience with M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak, who succeeded K.B. Hedgewar.

Golwalkar was in his early thirties when he was elevated to the top job, but BJP sources said the idea was to have a person who would be on his toes literally all the time and create a coun- try-wide infrastructure for the RSS.

In his 33-year tenure as RSS chief, Golwalkar set records by touring the entire country over 60 times. His successors, Balasaheb Deoras and Rajendra Singh, came nowhere close to his itinerant record, let alone surpass it, as shortly after taking over both were handicapped with various ailments which checked their mobility.

Sudarshan was also afflicted with a heart problem some years ago, and there was talk in Sangh circles that his travels may be restricted. At a time when there was an admitted decline in the RSS membership, it was felt that “youth and dynamism” were the need of the hour.    

New Delhi, March 13 
Home minister L.K. Advani today rejected the demand for recalling Vinod Pande even as the Congress-led Opposition walked out of the Rajya Sabha in protest against the Centre’s defence of the Bihar Governor.

Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha Manmohan Singh criticised Advani who quoted from Pande’s letter which said that the Congress had not decided on supporting the Rashtriya Janata Dal till the night of March 2. The next day, Pande had invited Nitish Kumar to form the government.

Singh said Advani’s claim was “totally false” and that the Governor had “misled” the home minister. An angry Opposition, led by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, then demanded that Advani place the letter on the table of the House after authenticating it.

Pressed by the Opposition to specify if Pande had given any time-limit for submitting a list of supporters, Advani sidestepped the issue saying there was no basis to accuse Pande of flouting constitutional norms.

Earlier, RJD leader in the Lok Sabha, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, accused both Advani and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of pressurising Pande to invite the NDA to form the government. He also alleged that the CBI was framing “false cases” against RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.

In reply to a short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha, Advani said: “There is no question of recalling the Governor. He has not done anything illegal or unconstitutional in inviting Nitish Kumar to form the government after the fractured verdict in the Assembly polls.”

The home minister stressed that the evidence placed before him by the Governor indicated that there was “no haste or partisanship in asking the Nitish Kumar-led NDA to form a government as he was ahead in the numbers game at that time”.

The Opposition in both Houses has been demanding Pande’s recall for his allegedly “partisan” role. While the Rajya Sabha chairman agreed to a short-duration debate, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi admitted a motion on the Governor’s role under Rule 184, which entails voting. The motion was moved by the RJD.

Sources in the parliamentary affairs ministry said a discussion under Rule 184 may be taken up when Parliament reassembles on April 17 after the recess.    

Patna, March 13 
Getting his own back at the CBI for planning to prosecute him at the height of the scramble for the Bihar crown, Laloo Yadav today said he would make it mandatory for the agency to secure state permission before starting an inquiry into any case.

Coming down from his stand yesterday that he would not allow the CBI to operate in the state any longer, Laloo said: “I will enforce the mandatory requirement of state consent to any case that the CBI plans to investigate. It cannot take up any case on its own.”

The CBI is in Laloo’s line of fire because it gave the Opposition ammunition to target Rabri Devi by seeking to prosecute the first couple in an unaccounted income case a day before Nitish Kumar was toppled. The Opposition had then argued that Rabri did not have the moral right to chief ministership as she was facing CBI charges. BJP leader Sushil Modi had even faxed a note to the Governor.

The issue hotted up further when reporters hounded Laloo with the same query after Rabri was sworn in chief minister. “The CBI is a BJP agency let loose to harass us,” Laloo fumed.

The last straw came when the issue was raked up yet again after yesterday’s Cabinet expansion, forcing a furious Laloo to say he would not allow the CBI to step into Bihar again.

Laloo’s clarification this afternoon was accompanied by a statement from RJD spokesman Shivanand Tiwari. He said the move would curb the “free run” enjoyed by the CBI by virtue of pre-consent given to it under Section 5 of the Delhi Police Act.

“We will withdraw the pre-consent and subject to state scrutiny any case the CBI wishes to take up. Only then will we give our approval,” Tiwari said.

This means that from now on, the CBI will have to secure state consent to probe any case except when it is ordered by court. However, it is free to prosecute central establishments in the state.

Laloo’s outburst against the CBI may have been triggered by fears of a replay of the 1997 fodder scam case, after which he was put behind bars. At that time, he had threatened to stop the then CBI joint director (east), U.N. Biswas, from entering Patna.

This time, the CBI is targeting him and wife Rabri over an unaccounted Rs 42 lakh in his 1998 income tax returns. The case was first taken up by the I-T department, and is now with the appellate section of the I-T department.

Laloo is outraged that, even as proceedings were under way, the CBI linked the case to the fodder scam, and prima facie filed an FIR alleging the money accrued from scam earnings. He is worried that Rabri might have to suffer his 1997 fate. “How can the CBI take up the case? I had filed returns. The Income-Tax had filed its own assessment. I am contesting it. How can the CBI take it up now?” he asked.

Laloo’s move has raised Opposition hackles. Nitish said: “The CBI is not at the mercy of Laloo Yadav that he can kick it out whenever it suits his interest.”    

New Delhi, March 13 
The Supreme Court today appealed to lawyers to call off their strike immediately.

The court appeal came even as the lawyers intensified their protest against the amendments to the Civil Procedure Code and a reported proposal to allow foreign law firms to operate in India. The lawyers have begun a relay hunger strike before the Delhi High Court.

The three judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice S.P. Bharucha and Justice S.B. Majmudar, the three seniormost judges of the apex court, said the strike has caused untold misery to the litigants and virtually halted the administration of justice.

The observation came during a hearing of two petitions seeking contempt action against the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Delhi High Court Bar Association for expelling and suspending some members, including the present and former law ministers Ram Jethmalani and Shanti Bhushan.

The contempt petition moved by the suspended lawyers from the Bar Association, Kamini Jaiswal, on her behalf and on behalf of Jethmalani and Bhushan contended that the action viol- ated an earlier order of the apex court.

The petition said the court had ruled that no lawyer appearing before a court should be prevented from doing so, even if lawyers resorted to strike on “rarest of rare occasion”.

Jaiswal and Bhushan were suspended as members of the apex bar association and a notice has been issued to them, while Jethmalani was expelled for “unbecoming and hostile behaviour towards his own community” during the lawyers’ strike.

The apex court issued notices to the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), its president K.K.Venugopal and the Delhi High Court Bar Association.

However, the judges advised the advocate association to “sit together and resolve the matter” of expulsion and suspension.

The judges also requested the Attorney General Soli J. Sorabjee and the solicitor general Harish Salve to intervene in the matter relating to the strike and see that it was resolved before the next date of hearing fixed for March 27.

“We hope by that time there would be no cause for this matter”, the court said.

The Chief Justice describing the injuries the lawyers sustained during the police lathicharge and tear gas bursting as “disturbing”, but added that abstaining from attending the courts is not justifiable. He narrated the story of a 14-year-old-boy now under custody for a petty offence and how he could not be even attended to by any lawyer although he has been in jail for more than 14 days now.    

New Delhi, March 13 
The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre on a petition contending that the government could do nothing about foreign firms patenting indigenous bio-diversity products despite a Bio-diversity Bill, reports our legal correspondent.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice Doraiswamy Raju, which issued the notice, sought a reply within four weeks.

The public interest petition by environment activist Vandana Shiva contended that after basmati rice, which was patented by the US firm, Rice Tec Inc. as Texmati, karela (bitter gourd), jamun (blackberry) and brinjal have also been patented by another US firm, Cromak Research Inc.

Giving the US patent number 6900240, the petition contended that Cromak has patented the items for their anti-diabetic properties.    

Bangalore, March 13 
Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna rolled out the red carpet for media mogul Rupert Mordoch today on the third day of his visit. Savouring masala dosa and steaming idlis over breakfast, Murdoch in return promised to invest “a few hundred million dollars” in the city.

The News Corporation chairman, who was accompanied by his India operations chief Peter Mukherjea, was given a warm reception at the chief minister’s home office “Krishna” — named so during Gundu Rao’s regime. Krishna welcomed Murdoch with a traditional Mysorean silk cocoon garland.

The 45-minute meeting was attended by senior officials of the state government, who briskly noted down Murdoch’s requirements.

After the meeting, Murdoch said he would set up “production facilities” for his television network, apart from the existing one in Mumbai. He said he had held productive meetings with information technology barons of the country including Narayanamurthy, Azim Premji and Pradeep Kar and had “several plans for out-sourcing software” from the country.

Sources said Murdoch had committed to investing around $100 million on setting up studios in Karnataka, though the location is yet to be identified. A team of officials from News Television India, STAR TV’s local outfit, would visit the city next week to finalise the details.

The chief minister said Murdoch was very impressed with the knowledge-based companies in Bangalore and “from our side we will extend all facilities to enable him to make whatever investment he would like to make”.

Krishna said the production facilities could be set up either in Bangalore, Tumkur, Mysore or Bellary. “They can decided wherever they want to have and we will clear it expeditiously,” he added.

Sources said Murdoch was essentially on a reconnaissance mission to expand News Corporation’s e-venture, for which it has Softbank of Japan as global partner.

During his meetings with the IT bigwigs, Murdoch showed keen interest in Internet companies which have set up dotcoms, they said.

Murdoch also appears to be looking for investment opportunities in WAP (wireless application protocol) technology, which delivers text and images on mobile phones. He is scheduled to meet BPL and Orange Company officials in Mumbai in this connection.

Murdoch, who wants to “move with the world” and identify new areas of investment, indicated that he would unveil his specific investment plans in India by April.    


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