Statute panel ready for LS term debate
At gunpoint, child turns groom for 20-year-old
Uma fires women’s Bill salvo
AIDS to rescue of Cronje-hit Mbeki
Plan to restart Tibet trade
Kalra bail plea rejected
Paswan stirs Dalit trouble for Delhi

New Delhi, April 22 
The commission looking into the Constitution today set up nine sub-committees to deal with subjects of review.

Panel spokesman Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy said that while “fixed tenure of the Lok Sabha” is not a specific subject of review, a discussion on it “might come up” once members pick up the issue for debate.

“We certainly will go into the aspects of political stability and good governance,” he said, indicating that the commission would discuss “ways and means” to ensure stability.

“Executive renders accountability to Parliament on day to day basis and a fixed term is not a necessary ingredient of the parliamentary system. However, the issue may come up for discussion,” Justice Reddy said after the commission’s second meeting.

Justice Reddy said questionnaires inviting suggestions would be distributed among the public, but the parliamentary system of governance and the basic features of the Constitution will not be tampered with. “Parliamentary democracy, basic structure of the Constitution and rights of minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes are non-negotiable,” he said.

“These areas will in no way be curtailed or diluted. Efforts will rather be made to strengthen them.”

Justice Reddy is the member in charge of subjects dealing with strengthening of institutions of parliamentary democracy, working of the legislature, executive and judiciary, their accountability and “exploring the possibilities of stability within the discipline of parliamentary democracy”.

Subhash Chandra Kashyap, former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha, is in charge of electoral reforms and Justice K. Punnayya will look into socio-economic development and removal of poverty.

Former attorney-general K. Parasaran has been entrusted with literacy, employment and social security while Justice R.S. Sarkaria, who heads a one-man commission on Centre-state relations, has been given a similar task.

The only political representative, former Speaker P.A. Sangma, will study “decentralisation, devolution of powers and strengthening of panchayati raj institutions”.

Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee will handle subjects like fundamental rights and media personality C.R. Irani has been given charge of fundamental duties. Social worker Sumitra Kulkarni will look into enforcement of directive principles of state policy.

The commission will hold its next meeting on May 16. Experts from outside the commission also have been drafted. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer will chair the committee on fundamental rights and Justice O. Chennappa Reddy will preside over the panel on directive principles of state policy.    

Patna, April 22 
Men must be very scarce in Bihar with parents kidnapping seven-year-old boys to get them married to their adult daughters.

This week, Manjit Yadav, 7, was abducted from Raghunipur, his village in Bhojpur district, drugged and married to a 20-year-old girl from the same village.

On Wednesday, his brother was getting married and Manjit, a student of Class I, was very excited. He did not think much when two men from the locality called him aside and offered him sweets mixed with sedatives.

He soon fell asleep. The seven-year-old, who had spent the entire day planning how to make the most of his brother’s wedding, was dragged through the motions of his own.

A barely conscious Manjit was taken to a farmhouse by his kidnappers. Late that evening, he was planted in front of a leaping fire — the yagna flame — and surrounded by priests and gun-toting elders.

When the “bride”, the 20-year-old Pramila, appeared, a most unusual marriage was solemnised with the groom falling asleep again, oblivious to his surroundings.

Next morning, as his elder brother Ranjeet’s baraat returned with the bride, the younger son also came back a married man. But his “wife” was not allowed to enter the house of Vishnudayal Yadav, Manjit’s father, at first. She was permitted to enter after the village panchayat pleaded on her behalf, though the village elders dubbed the marriage illegal.

But the police stepped in and Pramila was taken into custody. Although she had no role in the marriage, she would face the charge of “coercive marriage” being older, additional superintendent of police Shiv Prasad said. She was produced in the chief judicial magistrate’s court today in Ara and later sent to a government home.

Sensing trouble, Pramila’s parents have gone underground. Says Ranjeet, the kidnapped boy’s brother: “We were outraged by the act perpetrated on my brother. That is why we went to the police to get the case registered.”

Manjit’s “marriage” is a fresh reminder of the “cloak-and-dagger” weddings which became a menace in the early Nineties in the districts of Munger, Madhubani and Begusarai.

Daughters’ parents — sometimes helped by gangs specialising in kidnapping grooms — were on the prowl when the marriage season set in. Doctors, engineers or other prospective grooms with unaffordable price tags attached were kidnapped and married at gun-point. This way, a daughter was married off to a suitable boy without a heavy dowry. Grooms got kidnapped for another reason. Sons from rich, landed families were also abducted and married forcibly, if the bride’s father had an eye on the property, whether for her or for himself.

At least a dozen cases of forcible marriages were registered by the police in the districts in the Nineties. “We were flooded with complaints of abduction and forced marriages in every marriage season. No one is ready to file a written complaint for fear of reprisal now,” said a senior officer at Munger.

However, even if the practice goes on unnoticed, rarely do the girls’ parents catch someone so young as Manjit.    

New Delhi, April 22 
Uma Bharati is emerging as a rallying point for the “pro-poor” and the “pro-backward castes and Dalit” forces in the BJP.

Uma, who quit her job as the Union minister of state for tourism a few months ago, has been lying low since then. But she fired her first salvo against the leadership by reopening the chapter on the women’s reservation Bill in the party’s national executive meeting last week.

Uma demanded to know whether the BJP-led government would allow the legislation to be passed in its present form or after providing for a quota for other backward castes (OBC) women within the 33 per cent reservation.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre who were present in the meeting, departed from the past practice of disallowing “contentious” matters to be discussed in an open-house and allowed Uma to speak her mind. She said the government should take the initiative of including the quota for OBC women, rather than settle for an amendment later and let parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samata Party take the credit. “It’s like the Mandal Commission report. The BJP eventually accepted it but the message sent out was it had done so reluctantly because it was still an upper-caste party,” said a source.

Sources said Vajpayee —who had dismissed the demand for caste-based reservation outright “patiently” heard out Uma. The “normally calm and reasonable” Bihar leader, Sushil Modi followed suit accusing the leadership of “ignoring the poor”. However, members like Sushma Swaraj and M. Venkaiah Naidu opposed it, saying the BJP should not support caste-based reservations.

As the discussion remained inconclusive, Thakre reportedly assured OBC members that he would soon convene another national executive to specifically discuss the women’s Bill. However, the OBC group — which comprises one-third of the executive along with the Dalits — made it clear there would be no voting on the issue, since it was outnumbered by the upper-caste members.

Despite their marginal presence in the national executive, BJP sources admit that it was “impossible” to ignore the OBC lobby in the Lok Sabha, since they had 40 MPs who could create hurdles in the passage of the women’s Bill.

The pro-OBC group claimed its “campaign” was not restricted to the Women’s Bill but had the larger objective of changing BJP’s “character” and remoulding its image as “poor friendly”.

An MP from this group had met Yashwant Sinha after he announced the price hike and subsidies’ cut-backs and proposed that the subsidies could be restored by cutting down the budgetary allocation for rural development.    

Washington, April 22 
AIDS has come to the help of Hansie Cronje-hit South Africa. President Thabo Mbeki has turned to the pandemic which is slowly killing 4.2 million South Africans — and a quarter of sub-Saharan population — to restore South Africa’s moral supremacy in the community of nations.

In what diplomats here and at the UN believe is a shrewd attempt to divert attention from the cricketing scandal which has convulsed South African society and eroded its moral aura, Mbeki has challenged global efforts, sponsored mainly by the rich Western nations, to deal with AIDS.

Indeed, he has even challenged theories by Western scientists that the HIV virus causes the dreaded disease and that two drugs discovered by scientists are so far the best tools to combat the pandemic.

Indications so far are that Mbeki’s efforts may be paying off. He has sent hand-written letters to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, President Bill Clinton and a host of other leaders asserting South Africa’s right to chart its own course in dealing with what he calls the “uniquely African (AIDS) catastrophe”.

The crusade against AIDS has unprecedented moral and emotional appeal across the African continent, and indeed, the whole world. No wonder then, Mbeki’s initiative to restore South Africa’s moral aura through a war against AIDS is already paying dividends.

The Washington Post reported this week that Mbeki’s hand-written communication to world leaders so panicked the Clinton Administration that it rushed Sandra Thurman, director of the National AIDS Policy, to Atlanta for a meeting with South African health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

The anti-AIDS drive is one of the pillars of the Clinton Administration’s policies and the US President wants his global efforts against the pandemic to make a mark before he steps down from office early next year.Washington is particularly worried that Mbeki’s new moves could derail an international conference on AIDS to be held in Durban in July. The Post quoted a senior US official as saying “there has never been a significant political controversy over AIDS. This (Mbeki’s letter) could be the seed of one”.

In his letter, Mbeki wrote of the persecution faced by those who oppose conventional AIDS remedies: “In an earlier period in human history, these would be the heretics burned at the stake”.

While senior White House officials were conferring with Pretoria’s health minister, South African diplomats at the UN — where a key nuclear non-proliferation conference is to open on Monday, most likely under South Africa’s chairmanship — opened their own front to promote Mbeki’s initiative.

The UN, which has a massive organisation to combat AIDS in Geneva, is also keen to avoid any major controversy over the fight against AIDS. Both the UN and the US would, therefore be willing to accommodate South Africa. Analysts believe Mbeki’s moves have the potential to make him a hero even if it may disrupt global anti-AIDS efforts.

South African diplomats at the UN are, of course, dismissing any link between Mbeki’s letter and the effort to restore Pretoria’s moral authority worldwide. They say Mbeki wrote the letter on April 3, before the cricket scandal broke out. But there is scepticism about the date of the letter considering it arrived in world capitals only much later even though it was sent by diplomatic bag.    

Gangtok, April 22 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today said the Centre is planning to reopen border trade with Tibet through Sikkim which has remained closed since the 1962 India-China conflict.

He marked his first visit to the erstwhile Buddhist kingdom as home minister with a pledge to take up the payment of compensation to the former chogyal’s (ruler) family. The compensation was promised by Delhi at the time of the state’s merger into the Indian Union 25 years ago.

“We are considering restoring the border trade with Tibet,” Advani told reporters at Raj Bhavan. His plans to visit Nathu La, the border pass at 14,000 feet between Tibet and Sikkim, by helicopter had to be abandoned twice because of bad weather. He said he would try to reach it by road before he flies to the Tin Bigha corridor between North Bengal and Bangladesh tomorrow morning.

For several years, almost all political parties in Sikkim and neighbouring Darjeeling district have been pressing for the restoration of border trade.

Promising compensation for the chogyal’s family, Advani added that no one raised the matter with him today though scores of politicians and social and religious personalities met him.

Earlier, the Opposition, Sikkim Sangram Parishad, led by former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who also called on him, was vocal over the issue.

The home minister also ruled out the possibility of early installation of the 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Thinley Dorje, at his headquarters at Rumtek near here.

He said: “We have to take into account many things before taking a decision on this. The Dalai Lama, with whom we often hold talks about him, also wants him to stay and study at Dharamshala for some more time.”

Advani ruled out the possibility of setting up a CBI inquiry for the recent massacre of 22 people in Karbianglong in Assam. We want action not inquiries, he said when asked to comment on the Assam Congress’ demand for a CBI probe into the incident.    

New Delhi, April 22 
The nervous Delhi police today heaved a sigh of relief as the metropolitan magistrate’s court here rejected the bail application of Rajesh Kalra, one of the two arrested in connection with match-fixing.

The Enforcement Directorate, probing the possible hawala route through which a huge amount of money is suspected to have been siphoned out of the country by the match-fixer-bookie nexus, continued with its interrogation of Kishen Kumar for the second day at Tihar jail.

Kumar’s anticipatory bail application will come up for hearing on April 25 in the high court, which on Thursday had directed the police not to arrest him on charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy since he had moved two applications seeking interim relief and quashing of proceedings against him by the ED.

However, it was Kalra’s bail plea which had kept Delhi police Crime Branch sleuths jittery for the past two days since the grounds on which he was arrested are not strong enough. Conspiring to cheat, commit fraud or raising money to fix cricket matches are bailable offences.

Kalra was arrested on April 7, the day Delhi police announced that former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje had been in touch with match-fixers and that some of the matches of the South Africa-India Pepsi Cup series had been rigged.

The South African police today agreed to assist their Indian counterparts in investigating the scandal, adds PTI from Johannesburg. But a police spokesman said in Pretoria that they had not been given copies of the tapes purported to be conversations between Cronje and Chawla.

Bacher refusal

South Africa’s cricket boss Ali Bacher refused to retract allegations of match-fix at last year’s World Cup. “There’ll be an opportunity in London behind closed doors on Tuesday week for an honest and open discussion on the issue,” Bacher said in reference to the ICC meeting on May 2 and 3.    

New Delhi, April 22 
In a move that is bound to cause ripples in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), senior Janata Dal (United) leader and communications minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, is all set to convert the Dalit Sena into a political party.

The Dalit Sena today held a convention and Paswan’s brother and Lok Sabha MP, Ram Chandra Paswan, moved a resolution proposing the conversion of Sena into a political outfit. Another Dal (U) MP, Jainarain Prasad Nishad, was also present.

Paswan assailed the Vajpayee government for not specifying areas of the Constitution that needed review, leading to confusion. He criticised the Congress for shedding “crocodile tears over the move to review the Constitution”, saying during its 45-year-rule the Congress did nothing to help the Dalits.

“During the National Front regime a portrait of Babasaheb Ambedkar was installed at the Central Hall of Parliament and a Bharat Ratna was awarded to the late leader,” he said.

The move to convert the Dalit Sena into a party could lead to a split in the Dal (U). Paswan, moving cautiously, has established contact with six MPs and is just short of one, says an insider. He also has Ramakrishna Hegde’s support.

Sources said Paswan has the support of at least six MPs. They are, apart from his brother and Nishad, Ramjeevan Singh, Prabhunath Singh, Mahinder Baitha and Manjay Lal. With Paswan, the group has seven members. Eight members are required to split the 22-member Dal (U) group in the Lok Sabha. Dalit Sena was founded in the 1980s in Bihar and since then, Paswan has been using the Sena to mobilise the six per cent Paswan votes in Bihar.

Talking to reporters in between the convention, which was attended by about 5000 Dalit leaders, Paswan lambasted the Congress and the RJD for their “anti-Dalit” stand. He alleged that some 10,000 Dalits were massacred during Laloo’s regime.    


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