Advani joins Atal fan club in BJP
Party stands by price hike
Statute return fire on Sonia
Raid team killed in militant gunfire
Fourth link in Cronje chain
Samata stirs Thimpu trouble for Delhi
India replaces Nepal envoy
SC technical colleges order
Protege heat on defiant Patwa
Split spectre on Jaya

New Delhi, April 16 
Home minister L.K. Advani today joined the growing ranks of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s admirers.

At the conclusion of the BJP’s two-day national executive here, Advani said: “As we have grown, we have in Shri Vajpayee, a leader with a vision who has the widest national acceptability, who is going to lead India into one of the most powerful and developed nations of the world.”

Advani was disconcerted when a special issue of the BJP magazine, BJP Today — edited by his loyalist, Prafulla Goradia — hyped him up overly while ignoring Vajpayee.

BJP president Kushabhau Thakre had yesterday showered praise on Vajpayee, calling him the “tallest leader” in the country in a move to make amends for the rebuff.

“Today we are the largest political party in the country with more than two crore members. Shri Vajpayee, the founder president of the BJP, is the Prime Minister and the tallest leader in the country,” he had said.

In his concluding speech, Vajpayee called on the government’s functionaries and his partymen to be “particularly careful and sensitive” in speaking on minority-related issues.

Observers believe that the message was directed at Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta and some of his Cabinet colleagues, who allegedly made anti-Christian remarks when asked to react to the recent spurt in attacks on Christian schools in western Uttar Pradesh.

Gupta, on his part, was unambiguous in maintaining that the controversial Religious Places Construction Bill, passed in the Assembly, was intended solely to check “ISI activities” in madrasas and mosques. His remarks had angered the minorities.

Vajpayee also stressed on the need to improve the “quality of governance” and make it more responsive to the people’s needs. “We have to concentrate on improving the quality of governance. It must concentrate on serving the people and keeping national interests paramount,” he said.

He told the BJP cadre that the party must maintain its “distinct identity” through its “political behaviour”.

“We must endeavour to maintain our distinctiveness as a party. Our political behaviour will determine this. We must ensure that our programmes get the party’s support and we should attempt to carry all sections of the society with us in this task which we have undertaken,” Vajpayee said.

He slammed the Congress for its “unpredictable behaviour” and “stooping low” in attacking the government on issues like the Constitution review and emphasised that the BJP must maintain a “dignified posture”.

“We have also been in the Opposition for a long time, but we have never stooped so low. The language used by some leaders on the statute review issue has acquired a new low. But we must maintain a dignified posture,” he said.

He also accused the Congress of staging a “political somersault” during its meeting with US President Bill Clinton.

“The Congress delegation told Clinton that India needed a minimum credible deterrent. The Congress spokesman told the media this. Later the party denied having ever said this. Petty political considerations resulted in this political somersault,” Vajpayee alleged.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Even as the NDA constituents insisted that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee should reconsider the price hike and subsidies’ cuts, the BJP rallied behind him.

The economic resolution adopted last night by the BJP’s national executive endorsed the Centre’s policies even though they seemed to go against its swadeshi orientation of economics. Whether it was disinvestment and privatisation or rise in issue prices under PDS or the hike in the price of urea, kerosene and LPG or the removal of quantitative restrictions on imports under the WTO — the resolution accepted them unquestioningly.

BJP sources said, in his discussion on the economic resolution, Vajpayee said there would be no rollbacks, whatever the pressure from the allies. “We are not here for the pursuit of power alone. We have to do something concrete and put the economy back on the rails. If hard decisions have to be taken, we will go ahead,” Vajpayee was quoted by sources as telling the national executive.

The presence of Jagdish Shettigar, a swadeshi advocate and the head of the BJP’s economic cell, in today’s press briefing was to reinforce the perception that even the party’s critics of liberalisation and globalisation had fallen in line with the government.

Shettigar was virtually the last dissenting voice in the party after his colleague, Jay Dubashi, was dropped from the national executive when the Vajpayee government came to power. But Shettigar has apparently “softened” after being co-opted in the government’s economic advisory cell.

The resolution, drafted primarily by Shettigar, said while the BJP was in favour of continuing subsidy support to the needy sections, “others have to minimise their dependence on the government in the interest of the economy”. It suggested that the hike in issue prices under PDS and the price rise of urea, kerosene and LPG should be viewed in this light.

The resolution also said the disinvestment and privatisation policy was in tune with the Chennai Declaration which stated that the government had to “contend with its role as a facilitator of economic development rather than a controller of the economy”.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Stung by the Congress’ offensive on the Constitution review panel, the BJP described the campaign as a “save Sonia” and not a “save Constitution” campaign.

The political resolution adopted by the BJP’s national executive in its two-day session gave the battle over the statute review a personalised colour. It said: “The BJP, however, notes with deep dismay and concern the vicious and motivated campaign launched against the Constitutional Review Commission by the Congress and some other Opposition parties...Its (the Congress’) ‘save Constitution’ campaign seems to be actually a ‘Save Sonia’ campaign.”

Claiming that the “democratic people of India” would see through the Congress’ “game”, the resolution urged the national executive to exert itself fully to foil the Congress propaganda, centering around the plank that the review panel was an “insult to Babasaheb Ambedkar”.

If the meeting was concerned about how the statute review exercise would affect the Dalits, it seemed equally anxious about the effect of the women’s reservation Bill on the other backward castes (OBCs) with the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samata Party clamouring for a separate quota for women from the backward castes and minorities.

Although the document did not mention the women’s Bill, BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said there was a discussion during which some members expressed the view that since no unanimity was in sight, the government could consider amending the legislation and bringing a separate quota for OBC women within the earmarked 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and legislatures. Naidu said the discussion was “inconclusive”.

The very fact that members dared to even suggest the quota-within-quota provision — in the face of the BJP stand that the Bill should be passed in its present form — indicated that the party’s OBC lobby was gearing up to oppose the official position. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was opposed to caste-based reservations and had pulled up MPs for dissenting with the Bill in the past.

While hailing the BJP and the NDA as a “proud landmark in the unstoppable evolution of the BJP”, the resolution admitted that the outcome of the Bihar Assembly polls was not satisfactory and blamed it on the “lack of proper coordination” between the NDA allies. “Let the Bihar experience remind us of the cardinal importance of a harmonious relationship between the NDA partners,” it stressed.

Applauding the “visionary leadership” of both Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, the resolution underlined the need to stay committed to the party’s “founding ideals”.

“In the ever-changing arena of politics, where principles and morals are easily sacrificed at the altar of short-term and partisan gains, what has constituted the mainstay of our journey in the past two decades is our commitment to ideals, idealism and ideology,” it said.

Pointing at the Congress’ decline to show that “political opportunism as opposed to principle-based politics is never a road to success”, the resolution said: “It (the Congress) is caught in a cruel trap. It thinks that there is no survival for it without succumbing to the cares of a dynasty; but the more the dynasty takes the Congress into its own fiefdom, the faster becomes the party’s erosion.”

It also accused the Left of “compromising” its “ethical and political base” by teaming up with Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav.    

Srinagar, April 16 
Five policemen were among six persons killed in a fierce encounter at Lassana village in Poonch district.

Following the encounter, the authorities disallowed the main Muharram procession in Srinagar. Police used batons and fired teargas shells to disperse Shia mourners who tried to march in a procession at the Abi Guzzar locality here this morning.

The administration has imposed strict security restrictions in the city. However, small processions were allowed in various localities.

A senior police officer informed that the police and Central Reserved Police Force jawans, on a tip-off, raided a house at Lassana near Surankote. But when they encircled the house, where the militants were hiding, they came under heavy fire.

Four policemen and a civilian were killed in the ensuing gunbattle, while two injured policemen had to be shifted to hospital. One policeman later succumbed to injury in Poonch district hospital. Reinforcements were rushed to the spot immediately.

However, the militants, taking advantage of darkness, managed to escape. Early this morning security forces moved in the area and mounted a search operation to nab the militants. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has claimed responsibility for the attack. State forest minister Chowdhary Ramzan and director-general of police Gurbachan Jagat flew to Poonch today to take stock of the situation.

Ramzan later informed over phone from Jammu that security forces were engaged in a massive search operation in the area. The situation in Lassana was stated to be tense.

At Handwara in north Kashmir, three militants were killed in another encounter with security forces. Troops shot dead the militants and recovered arms and ammunition.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Investigations into the match-fixing scandal have thrown up a fourth player in Delhi and a diary.

The probe — which till now revolved around bookie Rajesh Kalra, actor Kishen Kumar and Sanjeev Chawla — has taken the sleuths to a Delhi-based businessman.

The Enforcement Directorate today declared in court that the businessman has provided “some vital clues” during interrogation. The directorate’s lawyers refused to name the businessman, but said it was mentioned in a diary of Kalra, arrested in the match-fixing scandal involving deposed South African captain Hansie Cronje. The lawyers pleaded with the court to extend the custody of Kalra to process the clues culled from the diary.

Sources said the directorate was hoping to put together a comprehensive list of the bookie network from the information provided by the businessman and the diary.

“We have got some vital information about many bookies and punters and also about hawala transactions from the city-based businessman and the diary,” Subhas Bansal, a directorate lawyer, told the court. The court extended Kalra’s custody, which was to expire today, for two more days.

Asked if the businessman would be arrested, Bansal later told PTI: “At the moment we can’t say anything.”

Kalra told the court that the diary was not his. He denied his involvement in the scandal and said he was being falsely implicated. He complained of “mental torture”, saying he had been made to sign several papers under pressure.

Kalra said he was being warned with dire consequences by the investigators and false charges were being heaped upon him.

The directorate also received court permission to question Kumar in the hospital tomorrow if he is not discharged. However, the hospital is expected to give a fitness certificate.

The directorate’s pending application for removal of Kumar to a government hospital, probably the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, will come up for hearing on Monday. The directorate wants an alternative medical check-up which, it feels, will disprove Kumar’s plea that he cannot withstand interrogation.    

New Delhi, April 16 
The Samata Party has again started giving sleepless nights to South Block officials. Though this time the target is not China — which defence minister George Fernandes once described as Delhi’s “security threat number one” — but “time-tested” ally Bhutan.

What has brought back the frowns in both Delhi and Thimpu was the presence of several senior Samata leaders at the first convention yesterday of the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society, a forum for highlighting the activities of Bhutanese pro-democracy elements — particularly those opposed to the King.

Fernandes did not attend the meet. But Samata president Jaya Jaitley was one of the speakers at the convention, which dwelt on the current political situation in Bhutan and the refugee problem. Also present was the controversial chairman of the Druk National Congress, Rongthong Kunley Dorji, who was at the centre of an extradition stand-off between the two countries a few years ago.

Worried by the developments, Bhutan has decided to send its foreign minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley, to Delhi for a week-long visit starting April 18. Officially, neither side is willing to admit the real reason for Thinley’s visit, which starts a day after a procession by the pro-democracy members in the capital against alleged human rights violation and suppression of political activities in Bhutan.

Thinley will call on President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But sources in South Block said his main meeting would be with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh.

Though Delhi has specified nothing, a Bhutanese embassy press release said “matters of mutual interest” will come up for discussion between Thinley and the Indian leaders. Bhutan, one of India’s closest friends, has reasons to be worried. A few years ago it made a futile request to Delhi to extradite Dorji, who was wanted on alleged charges of misappropriation of funds and other crimes. But to many, the real reason was his opposition to the King.

The United Front, in power at the time, dragged its feet for months before finally telling Bhutan that it was not possible to extradite Dorji as it could lead to a lot of opposition within the country, particularly from human rights and civil rights groups. Instead, Dorji was tried here and released on bail.

According to sources, there were also some who tried to link India’s reluctance to Bhutan’s failure to clamp down on the northeast rebels camping in the Bhutanese jungles. But the situation was amicably resolved after Thimphu accepted Delhi’s assurance that it would not allow any anti-Bhutanese activity on Indian soil.

But yesterday’s pro-democracy conference has brought back Thimphu’s worries. This too, at a time when there are indications that Bhutan is ready to participate in a joint operation with Indian security forces to drive out Ulfa and Bodo rebels. Thimpu’s liberal king has also another reason to be concerned. With Nepal’s pro-democracy movement still fresh in mind, he must be thinking what Big Brother India intends to do.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Three months after the hijack of the Indian Airlines airbus from Kathmandu, India has decided to replace its ambassador to Nepal K.V. Rajen with Dev Mukherjee, now the high commissioner in Dhaka.

According to sources, Rajen may take over as secretary (east) — a post lying vacant since Nareshwar Dayal was appointed India’s high commissioner in London — or be asked to head the Foreign Service Institute at Akbar Bhavan.

That Delhi is keen to improve Indo-Nepal relations is also evident from the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s decision to receive the new Nepalese Prime Minister, G.P. Koirala, for a two-day official visit from May 8.

Officially, South Block is not saying that Rajen is being recalled. He has already served nearly five years in Kathmandu —well beyond the usual three-year tenure for a diplomat. Besides, if Rajen’s transfer is made out to be anything but routine, it could raise questions as to why other senior officials were not being punished.

South Block officials, however, conceded that the government was irked by the Indian embassy’s “failure to lead” during the crisis. According to them, an effective Indian mission with adequate intelligence operatives would have intercepted and countered the hijack plot.

Sources in South Block said another reason for the transfer was the slow progress on key economic issues like the Mahakali and the Kosi multi-purpose projects.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh had discussed ways to improve ties with his Nepalese counterpart, Chakra Prasad Bastola, on the sidelines of the recent Nam foreign ministers’ meet in Cartagena.

Bastola’s appointment as foreign minister in the Koirala Cabinet has, therefore, brought back smiles in the Indian establishment. He is considered Delhi’s “close friend”, who had served as Nepal’s ambassador to India during the pro-democracy period from 1991 to 1994. The new foreign minister has assured India that he would try his best to iron out differences and take steps to normalise ties.    

New Delhi, April 16 
The Supreme Court has ruled that a private technical college can be affiliated to a university with the approval of the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) alone, and that the sanction of the university is not required.

The division bench of Justice M. Jagannadha Rao and Justice M.B. Shah said: “The state (concerned) cannot have any policy outside the AICTE Act and if it had a policy it should have placed the same before the AICTE.”

This means a state cannot have a “policy” on private technical education colleges for the purposes of affiliation with a university. Once the AICTE gives its approval, the college gets affiliated to the university recommended. The state government, as well as the university, cannot cancel or object to the affiliation.

If a state government wants to create a policy, it should be with the approval of the AICTE. “The so-called ‘policy’ of the state was not a ground for refusing approval,” the apex court said, striking down the refusal of affiliation to a college run by the Jaya Gokul Educational Trust, Kerala.

Even if “certain facts” come to the notice of the university warranting cancellation or disapproval of affiliation, the university “could only place the said facts before the AICTE,” the judges said.

“Once the procedure laid down in the AICTE Act and Regulations had been followed under Regulation 8 (4) and the Central Task Force had also given its favourable recommendations, there was no scope for any further objection or approval by the state,” the judges said.

“We may, however, add that if any fresh facts came to light after an approval was granted by the AICTE or if the state felt that some conditions attached to the permission and required by the AICTE to be complied with were not met, then the state government could write to the AICTE to enable the latter to take appropriate action,” the judges held.

“If there was any default on the part of the college to comply with the conditions of approval, the only remedy for the university was to bring those facts to the notice of the AICTE so that the latter could take appropriate action,” the court said.

The court added that the state government’s refusal to grant permission was illegal and void. In view of a decision in a Tamil Nadu case where it was held that after the Central Act, regarding grant of permission to start private engineering colleges, the states’ permission and any enactment by a state legislature, empowering the local government to grant permission, has been rendered redundant.    

Bhopal, April 16 
Union minister for rural development and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Sundarlal Patwa might find himself in trouble for attending a farmer’s meet in Raipur last week.

The state BJP leadership had last week declared the Kisan Sammelan as “unauthorised” and detrimental to the interests of the party.

Rajya Sabha members Sushma Swaraj and Lakhiram Agarwal announced at a press conference that the matter has been referred to BJP president Kushabhau Thakre.

The disagreement between Patwa and Agarwal, who is in charge of party affairs in the state, has been simmering ever since the Chhattisgarh proposal has been turning a reality. Control over the BJP’s organisation in Chhattisgarh continues to be the present bone of contention.

Not long ago Agarwal was considered Patwa’s protégé. A tendu leaf trader from Chhattisgarh, Agarwal was brought into mainstream politics by Patwa.

Since 1989, Patwa got him elected twice as state party president in the face of stiff opposition from stalwarts like Virendra Kumar Saklecha, Kailash Joshi — both former chief ministers — Uma Bharti and Pyarelal Khandelwal.

With the help of Patwa’s unchallenged authority Agarwal was elected state president first, defeating Saklecha and then Kailash Joshi.

However, Patwa’s priorities are now undergoing a radical change. With the possibility of Chhattisgarh becoming a separate state, Patwa is backing his new protégé Brijmohan Agarwal, MLA from Raipur, while Lakhiram Agarwal is staking claim for his son Amar, MLA from Bilaspur.

Last week when Devji Bhai Patel, a rebel BJP leader and president of a farmer’s organisation, announced the Kisan Sammelan in Raipur on April 13, the state BJP general secretary and MLA from Kasdol Gauri Shankar Agarwal, an ally of Lakhiram Agarwal, appealed to party workers to keep away from it.

He said the sammelan was being held to “glorify certain people”, including Patwa loyalist Brijmohan Agarwal and Raipur mayor Tarun Chatterjee, who joined Patel in a bid to show their muscle power.

Brijmohan Agarwal said the party workers were not bonded labourers that they could be stopped from joining a BJP farmers’ meet on the instruction of some leaders.

Agarwal’s camp has been shouting itself hoarse declaring that the sammelan is “not a BJP programme”. Gauri Shankar Agarwal further charged that the organisers were using the BJP’s banner and symbol illegally.

But Patwa went ahead with his show of strength. Over 40,000 gathered at Raipur and the sammelan was successfully held under the BJP’s banner. Patwa was the chief guest.

At the press conference, Agarwal reiterated that the sammelan was organised by a “rebel” BJP leader and the party had not been taken into confidence.

Asked if he had recommended disciplinary action against his one-time mentor Patwa, he said: “The matter is now with the party president.”

For Patwa, this is the first instance when his authority is being challenged within the party unit in Madhya Pradesh and by the same man he picked up from a tendu leaf retail shop.

Today, the tendu leaf trader is virtually controlling the organisation. The state BJP president Nandakumar Sahay is Agarwal’s protégé, working president Vikram Verma is also his ally.

Besides most of BJP’s office bearers in Chhattisgarh area are Agarwal’s men. Patwa is left to seek a rebel leader’s help.    

Chennai, April 16 
Expelled senior leaders of the ADMK have sworn to wreak vengeance. They are meeting in the state capital on Monday to chart out their course of action and debate whether to force a split in the party.

Former Speaker Sedapatti Muthiah, former minister S. Raghupathy and Tirunelveli strongman Karuppasamy Pandian have, in separate interviews, alleged that Jayalalitha is under the spell of the Mannargudi Mafia, as the Sasikala clan is dubbed by the local media.

Muthiah said: “She acts as if she is in a trance. The Sasikala clan has cast a spell on her and the party is fast hurtling towards disaster.”

He is offended not only because he was a senior partyman but also an unswerving loyalist. He is also in deep trouble after his conviction in a disproportionate assets case and his family has been arraigned by chief minister M. Karunanidhi.

His comrade-in-distress, Raghupathy, noted: “Is it not inhuman to turn the knife on Muthiah’s wounds, throw him out of the party and isolate him when he needs solace and succour the most?”

Pandian threatened to go public with the omissions and commissions of the Jayalalitha-Sasikala duo.

The leaders denied Jayalalitha’s charge that they had rigged the party elections to get favoured candidates elected to key posts. However, they were ambiguous about whether they would float a party or join the DMK. The general opinion is that the party machinery’s vote-mobilising capability will be hampered in the absence of such veterans.

However, Jayalalitha is unfazed. She claimed, in a statement, that she had acted to save the party from being hijacked by vested interests. She accused the trio and their associates of intimidating the rank and file and planning to capture the party by getting their nominees elected to party posts.

She claimed that even after their expulsion, they were threatening the cadre with dire consequences. She denied that Sasikala or Dinakaran had any role in the revamp.

“Whatever has been done is in the best interests of the party and the ADMK will come out with flying colours in the next election,” she declared.    


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