Arrest spectre on Rabri, Laloo
Stocks stagger in twin blows
BJP fishes in mahajot muddle
Calcutta weather

Patna, April 4 
The CBI today filed chargesheets against Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi and her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav, casting a cloud on the fate of the three-week-old coalition government.

The chargesheet, filed in the court hearing the fodder scam case, has accused Laloo of acquiring disproportionate assets worth Rs 42.5 lakh between 1990-96 when he was chief minister. Rabri has been charged with aiding and abetting Laloo to amass illegal wealth.

The CBI action comes less than a month after Governor Vinod Pande gave the agency the go-ahead to prosecute the chief minister and her husband, now an MLA from Danapur and Raghopur. Special judge S.K. Lal took cognizance of the chargesheet and issued notices to Laloo and Rabri.

The couple moved swiftly to avert arrest. Rashtriya Janata Dal sources said that Rabri had filed a petition for anticipatory bail in Patna High Court. If bail is rejected, the chief minister could appeal in the Supreme Court, like Laloo had done before being arrested in 1998. However, legal experts said the Bihar first couple’s arrest was inevitable.

The legal blow could trigger a leadership struggle in the RJD. While Laloo has ruled out his wife’s resignation, sources said allies could turn the heat on Rabri if she is arrested.

The National Democratic Alliance, still smarting under the humiliation of having to give up power for lack of support, fired the first salvo. Nitish Kumar, who resigned after an eight-day stint at the top last month, demanded Rabri’s immediate resignation “for an chargesheeted accused has no precedence to stick to power”.

Nitish met the Governor shortly after the CBI pressed charges and asked Pande to use his discretionary powers to dismiss Rabri. The NDA has called a Bihar bandh on April 7 as part of its campaign against the chief minister and said it would launch a state-wide agitation from tomorrow.

Laloo, who went into a huddle with legal advisers in the morning, scoffed at the resignation call. “The NDA wants the political battle to be fought in the court. They lost the elections. Rejected by the people, they have now politicised the CBI,” he said.

Laloo sought to turn the gun back on the NDA by renewing the demand for Union home minister L.K. Advani’s resignation for being named in the Babri Masjid demolition chargesheet.

“Ask Advani to step down. There cannot be two rules of equality, one for Rabri Devi — a backward caste chief minister of Bihar — and another for the Union home minister,” he thundered.

But despite the brave front, Laloo could face problems from the Congress whose support is essential for the government’s survival.

Though the party refused to react , saying it would first ascertain the implications of the chargesheet, a section of the state unit opposed to the RJD could pressure the high command into taking a tough stand.

The RJD’s erstwhile allies, CPI and the CPI(M-L), joined the cry for Rabri’s ouster, but they insisted that Advani should first quit before any action is taken against the Bihar leaders.

Originally probed by the Income-Tax department, the CBI took up the case on the directive of the Patna High Court. The agency registered the case in August 1998 and subsequently carried out raids in the chief minister’s house.    

Mumbai, April 4 
Mauritius and Microsoft sent Mumbai crashing today.

The BSE sensex plummeted 361.48 points to 4691.46 — the second-largest ever — after two straight days of steep losses on the Nasdaq, and fears that foreign funds registered in Mauritius would have to cough up income tax.

The 30-scrip index opened weak at 4907.41 and plumbed its intra-day low of 4666.95 before closing a shade higher at 4691.46 in a 7.15 per cent loss.

The meltdown came a day after Microsoft’s was pronounced guilty of monopolistic practices, sending the Nasdaq into a 297-point slump to 3926.66 on Tuesday. Together with Monday’s fall, the exchange, home to the world’s best technology firms, saw gains made over a year being wiped out in two sessions.

On the BSE, infotech favourites like Infosys, Satyam, Wipro and SSI took it on their chins, the fall in their shares being capped at the maximum permissible 8 per cent in the early hours of trading. The size of the fall worried marketmen and regulators, who feared the selloff might trigger a payments crisis on a few stock exchanges.    

New Delhi, April 4 
Mamata Banerjee’s mahajot kept the capital on tenterhooks today with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee seeking an assurance from his Cabinet colleague on her commitment to the NDA and Sonia Gandhi asserting she was ready to discuss an alliance, provided the Trinamul Congress leader parted ways with the BJP.

Fishing in troubled waters, the BJP welcomed the proposal for a grand alliance against the Left Front in Bengal, but said the Congress should first sort out its differences and end schism in the state unit.

“There are so many Congresses and they are all at loggerheads with each other. Let these Congressmen willing to fight the Marxists first settle their differences,” BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said.

Mamata once again ruled out ditching the BJP, but said the mahajot should not be seen in the context of a “national level” alliance as it would be “Bengal specific”. She said the “need of the hour” was for everyone opposed to the Left to share a platform.

State Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury said he would get the Trinamul leader to align with his party. “Why are you talking about the BJP? Where is the BJP in Bengal? I will have talks with Mamata alone. No one else,” he said.

Congress leaders believe the Sonia-Chowdhury combine will finally prevail upon Mamata to change her mind. “We have declared our intent. Now it is for her to reciprocate,” an AICC functionary said, claiming that the Trinamul leader’s refusal to drop the BJP should not be taken at face value.

“The Assembly polls are due early next year. There is plenty of time to think and rethink,” the functionary added.

Sonia’s managers agreed that if the grand alliance does not take off, there could be an exodus from the Bengal unit. “The sentiment in Bengal is to throw out the Left. Only Mamata can lead us to achieve that goal,” Chowdhury said.

Hours after Sonia agreed to discuss the alliance, Congress and Trinamul functionaries in Calcutta decided to launch a joint agitation against the Left before the June municipal elections.

Congress MLA Tapas Roy, believed to be close to working president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who is against the mahajot, said: “We should join hands with Mamata since she represents the main anti-CPM force in Bengal.”

Sonia’s advisers have summoned a meeting of Bengal leaders tomorrow to thrash out a common stand on the alliance. These leaders are then expected to authorise Sonia to hold direct talks with Mamata.

“Soniaji has adopted a pragmatic approach. She has an open mind about the grand alliance. If the Pradesh Congress is so keen, it should suggest the mechanism for the party to align with Trinamul without sacrificing its ideology,” the AICC leader said, add-ing those willing to join hands with the BJP were free to leave.

In keeping with the rapprochement mood, Chowdhury softened his stand and offered to submit a written apology for his failure to prevent cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls that led to the defeat of the Congress nominee and spurred Mamata to call for a mahajot.

Sonia, moved by the elderly leader’s gesture, said she would act according to the wishes of Bengal Congressmen. “As long as we do not join hands with communal forces, I am prepared for anything and everything,” she said.

Sonia “authorised” Barkatda to hold negotiations with Mamata. “Please go ahead. I have full confidence in you,” she said.

Das Munshi, dubbed as the prime “culprit” by Chowdhury and Somen Mitra for the Bengal fiasco, called on AICC general secretary Prabha Rau to narrate his version. Das Munshi claimed he had floated the idea of a mahajot a long time ago, but there were no takers, including Mamata.    

Temperature: Maximum: 36.4°C (normal) Minimum: 26.3°C (+2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum: 44% Today: Mainly clear sky. Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in maximum temperature. Sunset: 5.49 pm Sunrise: 5.29 am    

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