Cong & Bihar stand by Laloo
Relatives get encounter bodies back
BJP blows hot and cold on Sangh ties
Closure cloud on Pak train
Former four take stock of grand pact
Stalwarts frown at Shabnam roadshow
Thackeray truce bid

New Delhi, April 7 
The Congress today directed disgruntled ministers in Bihar to support chief minister Rabri Devi in her “hour of need” while promising to take up the portfolio distribution with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Five Congress ministers met AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai and senior leader Pranab Mukherjee. Kidwai told the ministers, who were threatening to resign, to exercise restraint. She pointed at Sonia Gandhi’s assertion in Amethi yesterday that there was no change in the party’s stand towards the RJD government.

Several Bihar ministers, including Chandrashekhar Dubey, Vishnu Mohan Sharma, Shakil Ahmad and Ashok Kumar, are camping in Delhi. They want the Congress high command to issue a notice to the Rabri government over its failure to assign “proper portfolios” to the party’s ministers.

Senior leaders admitted that there was disquiet in the party over its relations with the RJD. Manmohan Singh and Mukherjee are upset with the RJD for its failure to pick technocrats for heading the finance, agriculture and planning ministries. Singh was keen that the finance portfolio should go to former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey, but Laloo Prasad Yadav vetoed the suggestion.

Mukherjee is unhappy over the RJD’s “indifferent” attitude towards the common minimum programme. He claims that many provisions of the programme have not been attended to by the new administration.

The Bihar issue will figure prominently in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting next week. Rajesh Pilot, who wants to take an anti-Rabri line, is mobilising support within the apex body. He is in touch with A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Jitendra Prasada, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and R.K. Dhawan.

But party leaders are confident that Sonia will have her way in the meeting. They said the CWC will go by the legal opinion on Rabri’s chargesheet. Three legal experts — Kapil Sibal, H.R. Bhardwaj and Shiv Shankar — will brief the CWC on the issue. An authorised version of the chargesheet is with Sonia.

Pilot plans to focus on the “moral question”, referring to the Panchmarhi declaration. He argues that it is wrong to raise the issue of L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who continue to be in the government though they are facing trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The Congress must have its own moral yardstick instead of comparing it with others, he told some party workers today.

Bihar bandh flops

National Democratic Front leaders courted arrest in Patna today even as the bandh called by them in protest against Rabri Devi’s refusal to step down after she was charged in a corruption case failed to evoke an enthusiastic response.

NDA leaders, led by Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi, courted arrest while violating prohibitory orders in the capital, adds our special correspondent from Patna. There were stray incidents of violence in the state during the day.

Claiming the NDA got “a people’s rebuff”, Rabri said: “We have faith in people. If NDA wants to fight us let them fight us politically”. The chief minister dismissed the demand for her resignation.

The bandh’s failure came as relief for Laloo, who is being held in Beur jail after being charged in the disproportionate assets case, in which his wife was named a co-accused.    

Srinagar, April 7 
Bodies of five persons shot dead by security forces, who claimed they were involved in the Holi massacre of Sikhs in Anantnag, were handed over to relatives today .

The relatives identified the bodies, charred beyond recognition, from the clothes and other marks on them in the presence of senior government officials. The administration initially refused to hand them over but had to relent when tension began to mount.

Kashmir divisional commissioner Khurshed Alam said “the bodies were entrusted to the relatives subject to the condition that correctness of the identification will depend on DNA tests as the bodies were charred, disfigured and not recognisable”.

The bodies were exhumed under pressure from residents of Pathribal village in Anantnag, where the five were gunned down on March 25. The villagers had insisted that those killed were not militants, but innocent civilians.

While two bodies were exhumed yesterday in the presence of minister of state for home Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, the remaining three were exhumed today.

The victims were identified as Jumma Khan, Mohammad Youssuf Khan, Zahoor Ahmed, Jumma Khan and Bashir Ahmad Bhat. They had gone missing a day before the Pathribal “encounter”.

On March 26, one day after the “encounter”, chief minister Farooq Abdullah had announced in the Assembly that all the five killed were militants in combat uniform. They were involved in the massacre of 36 Sikhs in Chatti Singhpora village, he asserted.

During his visit to the state, Union home minister L.K. Advani also congratulated then Anantnag district police chief Farooq Khan for “eliminating the butchers responsible for Chatti Singhpora massacre”.

Advani was given a detailed briefing by the army on the “encounter”, conducted jointly by the army and the special operations group of the Jammu and Kashmir police. The bodies had been buried by the police.

Security in the curfew-bound Anantnag district has been tightened further. The curfew was clamped after seven people were killed as security forces opened fire on a violent demonstration on April 3. The protesters were alleging that authorities had staged the Pathribal encounter.

Jawans of the Special Operations Group and the CRPF began firing after thousands of protesters hurled rocks at their Barakpora camp, three km from Anantnag.

The demonstrators were demanding the exhumation of the bodies of the five people shot in what the government said was an “encounter” with militants. Residents, however, alleged that those killed were innocent civilians who were rounded up by the security forces and shot dead.

Assistant commissioner, Anantnag, Azir Ahmed Parrey, was directed to examine the corpses to establish their identity. The officer was asked to take assistance from forensic experts. He was also told to get in touch with relatives of the missing persons.    

New Delhi, April 7 
Even as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee breathed fire at the RSS at a function in the capital last night to celebrate 20 years of the BJP, far away in Mumbai, two of his senior colleagues launched into a please-Sangh drive on the same occasion.

Both finance minister Yashwant Sinha and infotech minister Pramod Mahajan were at pains to emphasise that there was nothing amiss in the RSS-BJP equation after K.S. Sudarshan was anointed the new sarsanghchalak.

Sinha and Mahajan, who addressed party workers from the same platform, also stressed that Vajpayee and Sudarshan were “independent of the current political scenario” and dismissed the perceptible differences between the two leaders on economic policies as mere “media speculation”.

BJP sources interpreted their defence in different ways. According to them, both had fallen foul of the RSS — the former recently and Mahajan for some time.

In fact, during Vajpayee’s first stint as Prime Minister, Sudarshan and Sangh veteran H.V. Seshadri had fought hard to get the finance portfolio for Sinha, though the Prime Minister’s personal choice was Jaswant Singh.

Singh’s nomination was ruled out because, to the RSS, he came across as an “unabashed proponent of economic liberalisation with contempt for swadeshi economics”.

But as it turned out, Sinha lost little time in toeing the liberalisation agenda adopted by the Vajpayee government on the ground that “continuity had to be maintained in matters of the economy”.

The presence of “pro-liberalisation” bureaucrats — Montek Singh Ahluwalia and N.K. Singh as Sinha’s “advisers” and the marginalisation of swadeshi advocates Mohan Guruswamy — who subsequently resigned as the finance minister’s adviser — and S. Gurumurthy irked the swadeshi lobby. In the Sangh’s eyes, Sinha became a “turncoat”.

As for Mahajan, the RSS saw him as a “dealmaker” with little taste for ideology. He also came under fire for the Sankhya Vahini internet project with US collaboration.

However, the infotech minister has lately distanced himself from the project. According to sources, Mahajan even claimed that he had opposed it at a Cabinet meeting along with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

BJP insiders see Sinha and Mahajan’s “pro-RSS” statements as a way of “ingratiating” themselves with Sudarshan and other RSS leaders. According to them, the tilt was the result of speculation that the Sangh was pressuring Vajpayee to shift them from their present ministries. However, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office trashed such talk.

In Mumbai, Sinha asserted that there were no differences between the BJP and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), while Mahajan compared the Sangh-BJP bond to a “flesh-and-blood” tie. It was the BJP’s “birthright” to maintain relations with the RSS, he stressed.

Sinha and Mahajan apart, two other ministers appeared to have got on the wrong side of the RSS: Arun Jaitley and P.R. Kumaramangalam.    

Chandigarh, April 7 
Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani today hinted that bus and train services to Pakistan may be discontinued.

“Both services are being reviewed at the moment. I cannot possibly say what the final decision would be, but their feasibility is definitely being reviewed,” he said. Advani was here on a day’s visit for the annual convocation of DAV College.

The home minister reiterated that the Centre had not invited leaders of the Hurriyat Conference for talks on Kashmir. “The release of Hurriyat leaders is aimed at creting an environment where purposeful talks can be held. There has so far been no offer for talks by the Centre,” he said.

Advani categorically stated that the Centre was open to talks with the Hurriyat leaders or with any party which lays down arms and agrees to discuss the Kashmir issue under the Constitution.

“The release of the Hurriyat leaders is no casual decision. We had been thinking of releasing them for the last few months,’ Advani added. He denied President Bill Clinton had asked for the release of the Hurriyat leaders.

On whether India was ready for talks with Pakistan, the home minister said Islamabad must first create conditions by ending cross-border terrorism. The US, he added, had finally realised that the onus for beginning talks on Kashmir lay on Pakistan.

“Earlier, after the Kargil war, the US had been trying to impress on India to carry on with the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Lahore. But subsequently, events like the stepping up of violent activities in the Valley, sending suicide squads to storm security camps and the Chatti Singhpora massacre have made the US realise that it is Pakistan which should create conditions to enable India to hold talks with Islamabad on Kashmir,” Advani said.

The minister said the Chatti Singhpora massacre, in which 36 Sikhs were killed by terrorists, was aimed at internationalising the Kashmir issue, especially with Clinton in India. “Instead, it was Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism that got internationalised,” he added.

Advani said the support received by India internationally on the Kashmir issue was due to the democratic traditions followed in the country.    

New Delhi, April 7 
For the four unemployed former Prime Ministers, the churning in the Congress has come as a blessing.

The ex-premiers — Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral — who recently joined hands to relaunch themselves by reviving the third front, are meeting here shortly to take stock of the situation arising out of the proposed anti-Left Congress-Trinamul tie-up in West Bengal.

Sources close to V.P. Singh said that any truck between the Congress and the Trinamul would erode the credibility of the parent party, especially in the eyes of the minorities.

Rather, the Congress’ indirect alliance with the NDA would give the aspiring quartet the opportunity to court the minorities and secular forces, though not if Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee pulled out of the saffron camp. In that case, they would have nothing to rejoice about.

Barring the Left, the Congress was the only centrist party with a track record of fighting the BJP. Even the Janata Dal (United) compromised its secular principles to ally with it. Sources close to the four said they are avidly following the developments. A source close to Singh said if the Congress aligned with the Trinamul, the third front would benefit.    

Mumbai, April 7 
After ‘her’ triumphant entry into the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, the country’s first eunuch MLA Shabnam Mausi has got busy again.

On Wednesday, Mausi spent the day campaigning for three eunuchs who are contesting the crucial Aurangabad municipal corporation elections.

According to sources, the overwhelming response she got has worried several BJP and Shiv Sena heavyweights who are in the fray. The three eunuchs are contesting under the banner of the Aurangabad Traders People’s Party.

Talking to The Telegraph over phone from Aurangabad, Lakshmi, who is contesting from two wards, showed her gratitude to Mausi, who had effected a turnaround in their collective fortune.

“Shabnam Mausi has been receiving invitations from eunuchs from all over the country who are contesting elections at various levels,” she said. “We are grateful that she listened to our appeal and came and campaigned for us.”

As news of Mausi’s visit spread, thousands of school children, housewives and members of both the Congress and the BJP lined up the streets throwing town traffic completely out of gear.

Mausi and the three eunuch candidates — Lakshmi, Sheikh Khaja and Bhagwan Parsaya — clearly revelled in the limelight. Walking behind an autorickshaw, they announced into the loudspeaker: “The eunuchs of your town have come to campaign. You must make them win.”

That Mausi’s recent victory had created a ripple was evident from the fact that a local cable TV network even telecast the visit live. Close circuit television sets were also put up at important junctions in the city, covering Mausi’s campaign schedule right from the time she arrived in the town to the time she left.

Coming out against communalism, Mausi narrated a story from the Ramayana to suggest that the reigns of power would pass into the hands of eunuchs in this century.

“When Ram left for his exile, a huge crowd waited for him on the banks of river ‘Saryu’,” she said. “He asked all men and women to go home. Thirteen years later, while returning, he found a group of people on the same spot on the banks of the river.

“It was his brother Lakshman who enlightened him. He told him that since he had asked only men and women to go back home, the eunuchs had waited for thirteen years because he had not ordered them to go back. Pleased, Ram told the group that there would be a new world order where they, and not men and women, who would rule,” she narrated.

“The new world order began with me elected as an MLA. Now my aim is to see that our community gets maximum representation in all elections from the grassroots level to Parliament,” Mausi said.

“I am confident we will soon have the first eunuch entering Parliament and then, who knows, even the Union Cabinet.”

Going by the response, Mausi’s visit should unnerve BJP Aurangabad president Atul Save. But asked if the eunuchs could upset their calculations, he said: “All these gimmicks won’t affect us”.    

Mumbai, April 7 
Amid the heightening war of words between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, Bal Thackeray has warned that a weak alliance would help Sharad Pawar regain lost ground.

In a bid to end the battle of attrition, the Sena chief extended an olive branch to the BJP in Aurangabad yesterday, saying his party was ready to concede the chief ministership if the alliance succeeded in overthrowing the Vilasrao Deshmukh government.

“Dislodging the Congress is our main aim. For that we are willing to go to any length to keep our alliance strong. Even if it means giving up the chief ministership to the BJP when we come to power,” he said.

According to political observers, Thackeray, who has had to eat his words after promising to topple the Democratic Front regime by April 5, is trying to strengthen his relationship with the BJP to keep the alliance intact.

Contrary to the belief that former chief minister Narayan Rane has Thackeray’s support, the Sena boss, sources said, is believed to have held him solely responsible for the deteriorating ties.

Former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde has openly spoken out against “Rane’s poor performance” as leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Munde went a step further while campaigning for the Aurangabad municipal elections, saying: “The Shiv Sena should be immersed in Aurangabad.”

Thackeray rebutted Munde’s remark in his column in the Sena daily Saamna, arguing that if the Sena was immersed, Hindus would be immersed as well. But, at the same time, he made it clear that he had no intention of foregoing his relationship with the BJP.

Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party described Thackeray’s statement as a “panic reaction”. Deputy chief Minister Chaggan Bhujbal said: “Bal Thackeray has made a last ditch attempt to keep his flock together. That is why he is giving them dreams of coming to power. He is scared that the majority of the youth wings of the Shiv Sena in the districts have broken up and their members have joined the NCP.”

The NCP is on the upswing having swept the Navi Mumbai municipal polls and is poised to do well in the corporation elections in Kalyan and other suburbs. Pawar has also embarked on a major mass contact exercise.    


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