Power puts shishya on par with guru
Turkey, Delhi share terror track
US sees hope in Musharraf Kashmir move
Statute panel no to White Paper
Naidu family and friends in power trap
Vananchal Bill at Rabri door
Centre pledge on jobs for backwards
Digvijay defends stunned Sonia
Laloo finds berths, looks for work

Nagpur, March 29 
From Doctor Saheb (Keshav Baliram Hedgewar) to Param Poojya Guruji (MS Golwalkar) to Balasaheb (Balasaheb Deoras) to Rajju Bhaiyya (Rajendra Singh) and now plain Sudarshanji (K.S. Sudarshan) — the prefixes and suffixes attached to the names of the successive RSS sarsanghchalaks testify eloquently to the kind of equation the family head has had with the extended clan’s members. The relationship has come a full circle after hovering between reverence and unchallenged authority to benevolent paternalism and finally parity with Sudarshan’s anointment.

Sangh observers were, however, quick to point out that the metamorphosis has not only to do with the fact that at 69, Sudarshan is younger than the leaders of the other RSS constituents — notably A.B.Vajpayee and L.K. Advani of the BJP and Dattopant Thengadi of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). It was recalled that when Golwalkar took over as the sarsanghchalak, he was not even 40.

Underlying the RSS versus the rest of the parivar debate is the reality that with the BJP, and precisely Vajpayee, ensconced in office, the family head’s writ no longer runs over the political wing.

“The BJP is like a bone stuck in the RSS’ root — it can neither swallow it nor spit it out,” said a Nagpur-based swayamsevak-turned-journalist. He rattled off examples to buttress his perception — starting with the infamous role of Sudarshan and another RSS veteran, H.V. Seshadri, in scuttling Jaswant Singh’s appointment as finance minister in 1998 and pushing through Yashwant Sinha, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s opposition to the presence of the pro-reforms bureaucrats in the PMO, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s strictures against home minister L.K. Advani when militants struck in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu, the BMS’ criticism of the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill and so on.

The government’s handling of these pinpricks has been uneven: Vajpayee has managed to co-opt the supposedly “pro-swadeshi” Sinha into pursuing the economic liberalisation agenda to the RSS’ chagrin, and the swadeshi band’s bugbear N.K. Singh has stayed put. The IRA Bill was passed after the swadeshi brigade was silenced, while on the abrogation of Article 370, even BJP hardliners have become less rigid and come around to the view that “it would become a dead letter on its own”.

Sangh sources admitted that letting go of the BJP-led coalition would be “disastrous”. “It’s like this, if this government were to fall and the country plunged into a mid-term poll, neither the BJP nor the Congress can get a majority on its own. The spectre of the so-called third front is frightening. It means handing over power to Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav and Kanshi Ram. Unlike the BJP and Congress, these are men driven only by power with no serious outlook or perspective on the economy, international matters and national security. Better that a coalition headed by the BJP is allowed to continue with all its problems,” they said.

The BJP, too, has forced this “hard truth” down its throat, which is why this time around it is determined not to allow the RSS to even embarrass the government, let alone rock the boat. A party vice-president said when Sudarshan had recently demanded dismantling the Indian Constitution, he was “audacious” enough to rebut him and point out: “This is an unrealistic demand in the present circumstances.” Asked whether his loyalty lay with the RSS or the BJP, he replied: “It’s not a question of loyalty. It is that in the existing circumstances, all of us should support the government, come what may.”

With a qualitative shift in the BJP-RSS relationship (“It is no longer the guru-shishya relationship of the past,” remarked a BJP Cabinet minister), the latter’s role has become one of making critical but not threatening noises about the government on areas like economy, where policy continuity is sacrosanct and, therefore, the noises are meaningless, lobbying for an occasional nominee to say, the Rajya Sabha, or monitoring the “conduct” of BJP ministers. Even in the last area, the only “incriminating” evidence the RSS has gathered so far is against a Cabinet minister and two ministers of state who have allegedly appointed their relatives 1in their private secretariat, “overruling” the claims of Sangh candidates.

In other words, in the present scenario, the RSS, it seems, can only aspire to become another pressure group, albeit one the government cannot ignore at all times.    

New Delhi, March 29 
Turkey has decided to bring out a joint statement with India at the end of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s talks with his Delhi hosts, highlighting their desire to work closely in combating terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

The statement, which signals Ankara’s wish to work in closer cooperation with Delhi, will chart out the future orientation of bilateral ties and lay special stress on terrorism and obscurantism.

Ecevit’s decision to skip Pakistan has already put the military regime in Islamabad in a deep sulk. The statement, though not signed but agreed upon, is likely to put General Pervez Musharraf’s government in a deeper sulk.

The Turkish Prime Minister arrives here tomorrow evening for his three-day official visit, beginning Friday. On April 2, he will leave for Ankara after a special function at Santiniketan, where he will be conferred an honorary D.Litt degree. He is a known Indophile and has paid rich tributes to India since coming to power.

In certain sections of the Turkish media, questions have been raised about the wisdom of skipping Pakistan, a time-tested ally of Turkey.

But Ecevit’s decision to bypass Pakistan despite Musharraf’s invitation is a clear indication that Turkey has chosen India as its natural ally in South Asia. It also shows that Ankara is in no mood to condone Musharraf for the military coup and would like to put its bilateral relations with Islamabad in a freeze till the restoration of democracy.

Apart from the joint statement, two other agreements — on cooperation in the field of culture and in irrigation, power generation and agricultural projects — will be signed during the visit.

Terrorism is a major problem for both Turkey and India. While Ankara faces problems from the Kurdish rebels, Delhi has to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. Moreover, both countries have strong secular credentials and have a long history of fighting religious obscurantism. The countries are going through a series of coalition governments and therefore, there is a lot of common ground that the two can cover together.

In the past, the Cold War divide had found the two countries on opposing sides, with Turkey part of the US-led Western bloc and a Nato member and India, despite leading the Non-Aligned Movement, was found closer to the Soviets. But now the equations have changed. “The baggage of the Cold War are not relevant anymore,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

The different perceptions on disputes over Kashmir and Cyprus have also changed and both countries have agreed that they will not use these contentious issues to embarrass the other. Delhi, which supported Greece on the Cyprus issue, now admits that a “tremendous attempt is being made between Turkey and Greece to find a settlement to their long-standing dispute”. Likewise, Ankara has also had a change of heart in supporting Pakistan on the Kashmir issue against India.

Turkey, which has always been “the bridge between the East and the West” because of its geographical location, has always enjoyed a high profile in its region. It is already a Nato member and there are indications that soon it will also join the European Union, enhancing its standing. It has a booming economy and has established its expertise in areas like infrastructure development.

Turkey has identified India, China and Japan as the three key countries in Asia with whom it needs to build up its relations. Ankara is seeking to utilise Delhi’s expertise in railways and oil exploration while the latter is seeking cooperation in infrastructure development. Ecevit’s visit is not only likely to bring the two countries closer in the political field, but will also boost their cooperation in trade and commerce.    

Washington, March 29 
The Clinton administration has reason to smile. Sources here believe that Pervez Musharraf, the chief executive of Pakistan, is testing the waters and preparing the ground to scale down support for terrorist violence in Kashmir.

As evidence, they are citing an interview by Musharraf to Financial Times of London in which Musharraf has explicitly offered to persuade militants to reduce tension in Kashmir to set the stage for a resumption of talks with India.

In return, Musharraf wants India to ensure respect for human rights in Kashmir. The interview, published on Tuesday quoted Musharraf as saying: “There has to be reciprocity in all actions. They (Indians) want something from our side. We will try to address this issue, try to persuade the freedom fighters to reduce tension. But there has to be reciprocity. They should never expect us to take unilateral action.”

Musharraf continued: “I would say stop all human rights violations, stop atrocities against civilians, release all the innocent Kashmiri leaders who are behind bars ... I am trying to tell the Indian community ... We must face facts boldly. What is unrealistic about this?”

What Musharraf has outlined in the interview is precisely what President Bill Clinton wanted. He had carried a message to Islamabad from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that India would resume talks with Pakistan if it ended cross-border terrorism, respected the Line of Control and swore by the principles of the Lahore Declaration.

Sources here believe that if Pakistan acted to scale down cross-border violence in Kashmir, India will not be found wanting in reciprocating this action. The Indian response to such a Pakistani initiative will be a significant troop reduction in Kashmir. This, in turn, will set the stage for discussions aimed at a resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue in a matter of months.

Officials here have been keeping their fingers crossed during and since Clinton’s South Asia trip over Musharraf’s willingness and ability to launch such a bold initiative. They believe such an initiative requires courage of the kind Nawaz Sharif showed in inviting Vajpayee to Lahore.

Clinton acknowledged to American reporters who travelled with him to South Asia that Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives, especially during Kargil, weakened the ousted Prime Minister.

The Americans are aware that reducing support for militancy in Kashmir could similarly weaken Musharraf. Therefore, they expect him to proceed with caution in any such effort. Officials here, therefore, see the interview to Financial Times as an attempt to test the waters. If the reaction to this interview is not too negative, they expect Musharraf to broach the subject in the domestic media as the next logical step. Significantly, Musharraf also told the Associated Press during a visit to Kuala Lumpur that he wanted to resume the dialogue with India. He said Clinton would not mediate between India and Pakistan, but all the same, Pakistan expected the US to facilitate talks between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The expectation here is that, as at the time of the Kargil negotiations involving Clinton, there will be much to be read between the lines in the coming weeks in everything that is said in New Delhi and Islamabad about their bilateral relations.

But at least for the moment, the assessment here is that Clinton is getting his way in Islamabad even as the US President’s South Asian initiative suits India.    

New Delhi, March 29 
Setting at rest speculation, the Constitution Review Commission today said it would not prepare any White Paper on the statute relook. “We are not influenced by any political party’s idea on the matter,” the panel’s official spokesman, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, said.

BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu had triggered a row on Monday, unilaterally declaring that the party would bring out a White Paper on April 14 on the amendments made in the Constitution over the past 50 years. Naidu took back his statement yesterday, saying he had wrongly described a “fact-sheet” as a White Paper.

Justice Reddy said a White Paper was never on the agenda of the commission and it would neither pay heed to the statement of the BJP, nor to the “opposition to the review itself generated by the Congress”.

He added that the panel would not look into the issue of “people of foreign origin occupying high offices in the country”. “The question has not arisen in our meeting and hence we have not taken up the issue,” Justice Reddy said. But, he clarified, “if in our subsequent meetings all the members agree to go into the question, the commission will review the relevant provision”.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution also announced setting up of ten expert committees to go into core areas.

According to Justice Reddy, the areas listed by the commission are: strengthening the institution of parliamentary democracy and accountability; electoral reforms; pace of socio-economic changes; development and removal of poverty; Centre-state relationship; decentralisation, development, empowerment and strengthening of panchayati raj institutions; fundamental rights and their enlargement to improve the rights and privileges of weaker sections and minorities; fundamental duties; enforcement of directive principles of state policies and legal control of fiscal and monetary policies.

Expert committees will finalise questionnaires on these subjects and submit them before the next meeting of the commission fixed for April 22.

Justice Reddy reiterated that the commission would not re-write the Constitution. Each member has been assigned specific areas. While Justice Reddy will be the co-chairman of the committee on strengthening institutions of parliamentary democracy and their accountability, attorney-general Soli Sorabjee will head the committee on enlargement of fundamental rights.

The lone politician in the commission, P.A. Sangma, has been assigned the post of co-chairman of the expert group on strengthening of panchayati raj institutions.    

Hyderabad, March 29 
Chandrababu Naidu’s scramble to save face over his unpaid power bills today backfired with the lid being taken off the dues totted up not only by him but also his friends and relatives in their native village.

According to details available from Naravaripalli in Chittoor district, the chief minister has run up a Rs 6,586 bill for power used by his agricultural pumpsets in 1998-99. His father and brothers too have not picked up the tab —- dues for electricity connections to their farms total Rs 17,368. Former Desam legislator and one of Naidu’s brothers, Ramamurthy, has defaulted on the payment of Rs 7,210.

Officials of AP Transco, the state power utility, said in Tirupati that of the Rs 3.96 lakh amount outstanding for the entire village, Rs 1.2 lakh had to be paid by the Naidu family alone.

An added problem was that other leaders in Naidu’s flock were taking the cue from the chief minister, a senior official said. Several Desam leaders in Chittoor and Nellore —- Naidu has defaulted on power dues for his mango orchards in this district —- were quoting the chief minister’s case to avoid footing their bills, he said.

“The power dues of Chandrababu Naidu and his relatives account for nearly Rs 1.20 lakh. Quoting the dues of the chief minister’s family as an excuse, other small and big Desam leaders are also defaulting in Chittoor and Nellore districts,” he said.

After the uproar in the Assembly on Naidu’s power bill, the chief minister’s office had directed superintending engineers of all divisions of AP Transco to provide data on the dues of all state ministers, Desam legislators and partymen. The Speaker had also sought information on the dues of Congress legislators as well as the leader of the Opposition.

Sources today said Andhra legislators owed AP Transco Rs 1.7 crore in dues, of which the amount run up by former and current Desam MLAs was about Rs 90 lakh. “The intention is not to punish, but only to keep the administration posted so that we are not caught napping on incidents similar to that of the chief minister,” an official in the Speaker’s office said.

Bill Gates invite

Naidu today turned down an invitation from Bill Gates for a two-day meet in Seattle on “Future of the Net” to keep himself free for the council of chief ministers in Delhi on April 4. The Union home ministry had called the meeting after Naidu accused it of being indifferent to his state following the killing of one of his ministers.    

Patna, March 29 
The NDA government at the Centre today sent the Vananchal statehood Bill to Bihar in another attempt to jolt the nascent Rashtriya Janata Dal government by exposing Laloo Prasad Yadav over his flip-flop stand on the issue.

Throughout his campaign for the Assembly polls in February, Laloo Yadav opposed any proposal to bifurcate Bihar, saying: “It could be done only over my dead body.” However, after the fractured mandate was delivered, the wily politician wasted no time in making a swift turnaround to woo the Congress MLAs from south Bihar. “When all the parties are ready to split the state, why should the RJD stand in the way (of division of the state),” he had said earlier this month.

This was obviously aimed at getting the Congress support and Laloo Yadav did not expect the BJP-led government to test his commitment so soon.

Sources in the state government said the modified statehood Bill was handed over to the resident commissioner of the Bihar government in Delhi. The Bill was subsequently forwarded to the state home department. State home commissioner U.N. Panjiar said the state government will be going through the Bill soon.

Laloo Yadav made no comments on the Bill and said he would react only after going through it later. But the fact remains that the RJD government will have to call a special session of the Assembly to either pass or reject the Bill as it did in September 1998 when the Centre had first sent the Bill to the state. The RJD had rejected the Bill then.

The government sources pointed out that Laloo Yadav had sent a one-line proposal for a separate state in 1990 without a Cabinet approval to woo the Jharkhand party MLAs, whose support he had needed to prove his majority. However, he went on to dump the JMM legislators, who had come to his rescue.    

New Delhi, March 29 
The Centre today ceded ground to its allies fighting for the cause of the backward groups and decided to do justice to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by fulfilling job reservation promises made to them by earlier governments.

For a long time, SC/ST groups had been clamouring against breach of pledges made by successive governments.

Cutting across party lines, a number of backward leaders — including communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan and MDMK leader Vaiko — had met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee earlier this year impressing upon him the need to fill the backlog.

The government also said it would delink the existing backlog from the 50 per cent ceiling on job reservation as directed by the Supreme Court.

But to do that, the Centre might have to surpass the 50 per cent mark, for which it would have to make appropriate changes to Article 16.    

New Delhi, March 29 
Even as Sonia Gandhi suffered the humiliation of a shock defeat of her nominee for the Rajya Sabha polls in West Bengal, two senior Congress leaders, Digvijay Singh and Ahmad Patel, today urged disgruntled partymen to end the “whisper campaign” against the Congress president and asked them to air their grievances at the “proper party fora”.

Sources close to Sonia said stringent disciplinary action will be taken against those responsible for D.P. Roy’s defeat. “There will be a purging,” said an upset Congress general secretary.

On a trying day, Sonia, however, got unstinted support on intra-party matters from Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh. Diggy Raja, who has returned from a visit to The Hague, described her as the “most democratic AICC chief”. He wondered why some leaders preferred to raise party issues in public instead of taking them up at the CWC.

“There have been oblique and sometime open criticism. Whenever something goes wrong, some people make it a point to single out Sonia Gandhi and seek to apportion all blame on her,” Digvijay said. Giving her a clean chit, Diggy Raja said: “I urge every Congressman to look into his heart. If there is a need for introspection, then there are appropriate fora to do so.

“All important issues are put before the CWC. She never tries to influence what the high forum of the party thinks in its collective wisdom to be right,” he added.

Digvijay’s support comes at a time when party leaders, namely Kapil Sibal, C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Jitendra Prasada, Rajesh Pilot and Chhabildas Mehta, have been criticising the leadership and the “coterie” around Sonia. These leaders want Sonia to take a clear-cut stand on economic reforms, the nuclear issue and power-sharing with regional parties.

Patel and Digvijay said they believed that dissident activities were lowering the prestige of the party.    

Patna, March 29 
After swearing in an 83-member jumbo ministry — both from his own party and the Congress — RJD chief Laloo Yadav has been saddled with the unenviable job of searching for new portfolios, even though they could be non-functional.

Earlier, Laloo had announced that he would split major departments for better efficiency as also to accommodate the new ministers.

According to sources, the land reforms ministry might be split into two departments — urban and rural. The department of relief and rehabilitation could also be bisected into social relief and rehabilitation for oustees, while a separate women welfare department could be carved out of the welfare ministry.

But despite the manoeuvres, Laloo’s troubles lie elsewhere. Some of these “rhetorical portfolios”, with high-sounding names, have little to offer in terms of actual work. “You can easily give a new name to a department, but where is the work?” said a senior government official.

With a real problem on his hands, Laloo has set up a panel of trusted bureaucrats to work out the bifurcations. This, coupled with resentment among a section of Congress MLAs — who had hopes of more Cabinet berths — is delaying portfolio distribution, RJD insiders said.

This morning, Laloo held a series of meetings with Ajit Jogi and Mohsina Kidwai to sort out Pradip Balmuchu’s demand for a Cabinet berth without which he refused to be sworn in.

Laloo has given 10 Cabinet berths and 12 minister of states to the Congress. He was even prepared to concede two more Cabinet berths to Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs but Kanshi Ram, who was in Patna yesterday, said that the BSP would only extend support from outside.

Although the two berths are still vacant, Laloo — who is already under pressure from his own partymen for key portfolios — does not want to concede any more to the Congress to “strike a balance”.

Ramai Ram, who was in charge of land reforms and cooperatives, has been demanding more important ones like revenue or irrigation. But Jagtanand Singh, one of the few Rajput MLAs and a die-hard loyalist, refuses to concede irrigation, which he has held for the last 10 years.

Proposals to break up some of the big ministries have also drawn flak with senior RJD MLAs opposing the division of the irrigation department into small irrigation and big dams.    


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