Cong raises Laloo’s power price
Desam joins Opp. cry on budget
40-minute session for Bill
Clinton to walk nuclear tightrope
Cong lines up rollback rallies
Murdoch date with Jaitley
Jagir set to defy festival bar

Patna, March 15 
On the eve of the trust vote in Bihar, comeback king Laloo Yadav is worried not about how he will keep his crown but about how he will share the spoils of power with his newly-acquired friends.

His largest ally, the Congress, today sprung a fresh demand: apart from ministerial berths for its 22 MLAs, which Laloo has promised them, the party wants ministerships for some senior legislative council members also.

The Congress is demanding not only key portfolios, but also the involvement of technocrats in the finance, agriculture and irrigation ministries. A senior MLC close to Laloo said: “It is not the number of ministries but the portfolios that may cause a rift between the Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal.”

Laloo, who has the backing of 161 MLAs, is likely to cruise home on the floor of the House tomorrow if his motley flock does not turn its back on him. With the effective strength of the House reduced to 320, he requires only 159 votes to make the magic number.

Apart from 22 Congress MLAs, the Rashtriya Janata Dal — which has 123 seats — has the support of six Independents, five BSP legislators, two members each from the CPM and Krantikari Communist Party and one from the MCC. Therefore, the decisions of the CPI to vote against the government and of the CPI (ML) to abstain will not affect Laloo’s chances.

Even rebel leader Beena Sahi, who has been opposing the Congress decision to support the RJD, will vote for the government. “I have no other option,” she said.

Though the Congress’ lengthening wishlist is an indication of the problems in store for Laloo, PCC chief Chandan Bagchi set doubts at rest. “We have made it clear that the demand for technocrats is solely to increase the efficiency of the government. It is not a demand of the party, but a demand from the voters,” he said.

This morning, MLCs Chand-rama Singh and former PCC chief Sarfaraz Ahmed swamped Bagchi with their demands, swearing by their secular credentials and undying loyalty to the party. Ahmed said he had kept out of the poll fray hoping that “my party will recognise my role over the past decade”.

However, Bagchi told The Telegraph that the Congress would first meet the demands of its MLAs. “There are others who are lobbying for ministerial berths, but it is only after majority is won that the party will formally go to the chief minister,” he said.

In the face of the mounting demands, AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar Mohsina Kidwai and party spokesman Ajit Jogi this evening urged the MLAs to “perform their duty” first. “We will go into the issue of ministries only after majority is won,” Jogi said.    

New Delhi, March 15 
The Telugu Desam Party today put the Vajpayee government in an awkward spot when it criticised the general budget and the Telecom Regulatory Authority Bill (Trai).

Participating in a debate on the budget in the Lok Sabha, Desam leader K. Yerran Naidu described it as “routine” and “without any innovation. In Andhra Pradesh, we are making innovations by bringing in changes,” he said.

Criticising the Telecom Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Desam leader Ramachandraiah said: “I am constrained to agree with the views expressed by my Congress colleague Kapil Sibal. The Trai has no meaningful role and the authority is truncated.”

Naidu, who sounded more like an Opposition member, earned kudos from the Opposition benches as Congress and Left MPs taunted the ruling party members and thumped desks in appreciation of his speech. CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee even went to the extent of telling him to change his seat and sit with the Opposition.

Congress leader Rajesh Pilot also praised Naidu. As minister of state for finance Dhananjay Kumar kept nodding while Naidu spoke, Chatterjee told him: “Don’t just nod, do something.”

The Desam leader criticised the government for the huge borrowings, saying that the thousands of crores being paid as interest were a drain on the exchequer and warned the finance minister that the country was falling into a “debt trap”. He also slammed the Centre for insufficient allocation for rural development.

“We are also implementing reforms in Andhra Pradesh, but we have not treated subsidies as populist measures. The farming community still need subsidies. That is why we are asking for a rollback in fertiliser prices,” he said.

Stressing the need for decentralisation, Naidu said the Centre could only be strong with strong states.

Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia slammed the budget as anti-poor, anti-farmer and retrograde and warned that it would bring down industrial growth, shrink job opportunities and shatter agriculture.

The Opposition accused finance minister Yashwant Sinha of resorting to jugglery of figures in the budget, which, they said, could lead to increasing bankruptcy.    

New Delhi, March 15 
Forty minutes have been allocated for the special joint session of Parliament to be addressed by US President Bill Clinton on March 22.

Parliamentary affairs ministry sources said the dais in the Central Hall of Parliament — where the session would be held — will be shared by four persons. Apart from Clinton, they are Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Krishan Kant and the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Krishan Kant will kick off the session with an introductory speech, for which about five minutes have been allotted. Vajpayee will speak next for the same duration.

Clinton is expected to deliver his speech after this for about 15 to 20 minutes. Ministry sources said he would speak extempore, and it was difficult to fix a specific duration for the speech. The session would wind up with a thanksgiving address by Balayogi.

As per protocol, the US President and the Indian Prime Minister will enter the House together. The first row of the Central Hall has been reserved for Cabinet ministers and senior Opposition leaders. Time permitting, Clinton may be introduced to some of the ministers and Opposition leaders seated in the front row.

Cinton’s daughter Chelsea, his national security adviser Sandy Berger and secretary of state Madeleine Albright will also be seated in the front row. A special block has been set aside for US officials. The press team accompanying Clinton will share the journalists’ gallery on the first floor, overlooking the Hall.

A section of the visitors’ gallery will be cordoned off to make room for diplomats and relatives of the Prime Minister and other VIPs.

The details of the session were finalised last night by Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C Balayogi and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

Ministry sources were, however, worried about the Central Hall not filling up because Parliament will be adjourned for a long recess tomorrow, and most MPs will return home to celebrate Holi. “Since the session will be telecast live, there is no special impetus for them to rush back to Delhi for just half-a-day to see and hear Clinton,” said sources.    

Washington, March 15 
Keen to avoid controversies and stress the positive during President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, the US has finally laid out the benchmarks for the presidential engagement of Indian leaders.

Walking a tightrope to reconcile the reality of the Indian nuclear bomb with America’s non-proliferation concerns, Clinton will take the view, while in New Delhi, that India’s missiles or bombs are not a direct threat to Washington. However, the US will regard proliferation “anywhere” as “our number one security concern”.

While insisting that the Pokhran II nuclear tests were “a historic mistake”, the US will concede that New Delhi has the sole sovereign right to decide what is necessary for its defence and security.

Clinton will not ask India, while in New Delhi, to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But that will not deter him from seeking universal adherence to NPT.

These, and several other pointers to US thinking on engaging India during Clinton’s visit, came through between the lines when US secretary of state Madeleine Albright delivered a lecture at the Asia Society here on Tuesday.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh and US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott will continue their dialogue. Without publicly saying so, they will set a target for tangible progress in their talks by June, when Singh will meet Albright in Warsaw.

Clinton will ask India to strengthen its export controls of nuclear and other material even while conceding that they are “already effective”.

However, a multilateral moratorium on production of fissile material, pending the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), to be proposed by the President in talks with Indian leaders, may meet with resistance from New Delhi.

The US administration clearly believes that it can off-set the negative fallout of the President’s decision to visit Pakistan. Clinton hopes to achieve this by emphatically stating while in India that the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir is sacrosanct.

Albright said on Tuesday: “Tangible steps must be taken to respect the LoC. For, so long as this simple principle is violated