Atal unease at money-power show
Sudarshan is company, PM prefers party
Cong twins hatch grand alliance
Priyanka durbar at captain’s bungalow
Calcutta weather

 
 
ATAL UNEASE AT MONEY-POWER SHOW 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 30 
With big money and industry ruling the roost in the Rajya Sabha polls, a nervous political establishment hopes that the all-party meeting convened by the Election Commission will address itself to the increasing dominance of wealth over political skills in indirect elections.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee articulated the political class’ fears when he told reporters this morning that the cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections was a “serious matter” afflicting all parties.

“All parties, big and small, are afflicted by this disease. It is a serious matter,” Vajpayee said in the context of reports of cross-voting which led to the defeat of a Congress candidate in West Bengal and reduced the BJP nominees’ winning margins in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress received a jolt in Orissa as well where at least five party MLAs are believed to have cross-voted for the BJD.

The poll commission, which has convened an all-party meeting on April 29, had expressed its worries on the eve of the biennial election. Election chief M.S. Gill said on Tuesday he was in touch with the finance ministry to “do something to prevent use of illegal money”.

Reflecting the mood of the political establishment, BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: “Some people are trying to make the Rajya Sabha a market place. The country is concerned about the use of money-power in the Rajya Sabha elections and all parties should come together to find a meaningful solution to end this menace.”

In a veiled reference to liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who despite his defeat, polled substantially more than his first preference votes, Naidu said: “I saw for myself how money was flowing freely in Karnataka. I don’t want to take names but a vulgar display of money power was seen.”

Across the political spectrum, there was suspicion that the success of non-political candidates over hard-core politicos was evidence of the trend that big money overcame party affiliations and prompted cross-voting. The trend was visible in Uttar Pradesh where Inder Khosla, a nominee of Sonia Gandhi, did not get six of the Congress’ 20 votes. The outcome was seen as an “open defiance” of the high command.

BJP candidate Sushma Swaraj alleged yesterday there was large-scale cross-voting even within her party and demanded an inquiry. Sushma had pulled through in the first round of counting along with Central minister Rajnath Singh, but the other three BJP nominees — Balbir Punj, Ram Baksh Singh Verma and Ram Nath Kovind —had several anxious moments before they were declared elected after the final round of counting.

The BJP is not yet thinking of a probe, although a general secretary estimated that as many as 20 legislators could have cross-voted for Rajiv Shukla, the Loktantrik Congress Party candidate who unexpectedly polled the highest number of votes in UP.

BJP sources said though they were “more or less certain” who the black-sheep were, it was difficult to garner circumstantial evidence against them. “We have a good idea of who has been meeting who, and who was in touch with who on phone,” the sources claimed.

They also admitted that a crackdown could upset the equation within the tenuous coalition government in the state. The BJP is in a minority and action against some legislators, sources said, could trigger a rebellion. “Somehow or the other the legislature party is being held together. But if some members are even as much as suspended, Kalyan Singh could play on their feelings and lure them away,” sources said.

n More reports on Page 6

Asked what prompted the show of dissidence, they said it was a “combination of attractive offers plus caste plus factional loyalties”.

   


 
 
SUDARSHAN IS COMPANY, PM PREFERS PARTY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 30 
Shy of inviting a fresh round of speculation on the Sangh-BJP “tensions”, the proposed one-to-one between RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was hurriedly converted into a larger gathering at 7 Race Course Road.

Reports earlier this week said that Vajpayee had invited Sudarshan for an exclusive dinner meeting tonight ostensibly to paper over differences.

The reports indicated that the main theme of the discussion would be “streamlining” the RSS-government coordination to ensure that the differences were not publicly aired.

But rattled by the threat of adverse media notice, both sides agreed to drop the proposal and it was decided that Vajpayee would host a tea party for the new RSS working committee as well as for senior BJP functionaries.

“Atalji does not know many of the newly elected RSS functionaries too well as they are much younger than him, so we thought this would be a good occasion for an interaction,” said BJP sources.

Today’s meeting was the first between Vajpayee and Sudarshan after the latter took over the RSS’ reins. Their last meeting was two years ago when Sudarshan had called on Vajpayee at four in the morning to persuade him to drop Jaswant Singh as finance minister and appoint Yashwant Sinha in his place.

PMO sources said the leaders discussed security issues, but there was no talk on economic policies, the flashpoint of the tension. “It was all done in an informal way and there was no structured discussion as such,” the sources added.

The impetus for a discussion on security was the massacre of Sikhs and the spurt in attacks on security forces in Kashmir.

The RSS has been unhappy with the Centre’s alleged failure to tackle militancy, and had articulated its views once through the VHP — which set a six-month deadline for L.K. Advani following terrorist strikes in Himachal Pradesh and Rajouri — and the other time through a statement from then sarsanghchalak Rajendra Singh after the Indian Airlines hijack.

Today, however, BJP sources said, “nobody passed any judgment against the government”.

Sources said the RSS leadership argued that since the BJP had buried Hindutva and swadeshi for tactical reasons, it must not dilute its hard line on security and lose its “distinct” identity altogether.

The issue of government-Sangh coordination was briefly touched upon. Vajpayee explained the “constraints” under which he was working, which sources claimed, was “appreciated” by Sudarshan.

RSS sources maintained Sudarshan was keen to dispel a growing notion that more than the BJP’s allies, it was the Sangh which was proving to be a thorn in Vajpayee’s flesh.    


 
 
CONG TWINS HATCH GRAND ALLIANCE 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 30 
Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s call for a mahajot (grand alliance) against the CPM has struck a chord in state Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray.

Buoyed by the victory of Jayanta Bhattacharya, her nominee for the fifth Rajya Sabha seat from Bengal, Mamata today issued an open invitation to all Congress legislators to be a part of her grand alliance.

Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Ray indicated that the Congress will not stand in the way of a union of anti-CPM forces, even if the BJP — to which both are strongly opposed — is part of it. Chowdhury openly hailed Mamata’s proposal, while Ray felt the Trinamul chief was capable of leading the alliance.

“There is no reason why the Congress high command should object to Mamata’s move if the state party responds to it,” he said.

Mamata reciprocated the veterans’ gesture, saying she will talk to Chowdhury shortly. “I will certainly talk to Barkatda,” she said.

Sources said the Trinamul leader has also been in constant touch with Ray for some time and expects him to play a major role in the anti-CPM campaign to be launched under the grand alliance.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas dismissed Mamata’s move, saying Bengal has no stomach for opportunistic formations. “Such an alliance can do little for the interest of the people,” he said.

Mamata ruled out the possibility of excluding the BJP from the alliance. “Our primary task is to put an end to the CPM’s misrule. It will be a political alliance of all anti-CPM forces, including some Left outfits,” she said.

The Trinamul leader’s initiative follows the Rajya Sabha victory, made possible by the Congress whose legislators voted en masse for Bhattacharya, dumping their own party’s nominee D.P. Roy.

The deputy leader of the Congress Legislature Party, Saugata Roy, has resigned owning moral responsibility for Roy’s defeat. A number of Congress MLAs have demanded a CLP meeting to discuss the debacle.

Mamata stoked the fire of revolt in the Congress by declaring: “My door will remain open even for those who did not vote for our candidate.”

She fuelled speculation that the two parties would unitedly contest the next Assembly polls with the loaded statement: “Negotiations will continue.”

Mamata said she intends to offer tickets to non-political personalities in the Assembly polls. “The outcome of the Rajya Sabha polls marks the beginning of the end of CPM’s misrule,” she said.    


 
 
PRIYANKA DURBAR AT CAPTAIN’S BUNGALOW 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 30 
She may not have been crowned yet. But the princess has already got her durbar.

Priyanka Gandhi will soon hold court at 34, Gurudwara Rakabgunj, gifted to her today by family friend Captain Satish Sharma. The bungalow will serve as her office. Here she will meet party workers from Amethi, Rae Bareli and other areas.

Sharma got the bungalow when he was elected Lok Sabha MP from Rae Bareli. The 10 Janpath loyalist will stay in his farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi.

Priyanka already has a government house allotted to her at 35, Lodhi Road, where she lives.

Priyanka’s huge office apparatus moved in at Rakabgunj Road today. It comprises a database on constituency profiles, maps, charts, profiles of Congress MPs and two personal secretaries, including one from 10 Janpath.

A strict vegetarian by choice, the young Gandhi has also put in a little pantry from where the sandwiches, coffee and salads for her afternoon meals will come. Water coolers, benches and dhurries are strewn about to make life easier for party workers.

Congress sources said she will spend six to eight hours each day attending to the poor.

Besides meeting party workers, Priyanka provides inputs for Sonia’s speeches, rewrites scripts and attends to the needy. There have been several instances of her staff sending directives to chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, asking them to provide employment, kiosks, admissions in schools or arranging for hospital beds. Her requests are never turned down, party leaders said.

She is also involved with NGOs like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.

Priyanka, who was largely responsible for mother Sonia Gandhi’s victory in Amethi and Bellary, is seen as a ray of hope by party workers who are getting disillusioned with the AICC chief over her style of functioning and inability to get votes.

A separate place of work for a junior Gandhi is not new in Congress culture. When Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister during Sanjay Gandhi’s heyday, 12 Willingdon Crescent played host to his political activities. Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi was functioning from 2A, Motilal Nehru Marg, as MP during 1981-84.

Congress leaders close to Sonia feel that Priyanka’s “growing” interest in politics will ensure smooth sailing for the AICC president.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 34.8°C (normal) Minimum: 24.5°C (+2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 43% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Little change in maximum and minimum temperature Sunset: 5.47 pm Sunrise: 5.34 am    
 

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