Sonia walks tightrope on nuke arms cap
Atal applies balm on shrine Bill wound
Rebel rocket misses J&K House
Bajaj defends son with theft slur on friend
Shourie warning on Former Four
Jagmohan builds defence with demolition durbar

 
 
SONIA WALKS TIGHTROPE ON NUKE ARMS CAP 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 19 
Sonia Gandhi has finally firmed up her mind on the party’s stand on the nuclear issue, recognising the need for upgrading nuclear technology but said her party was opposed to the arms race in the subcontinent.

In an informal interaction, Sonia today said: “Our nuclear policy is to strive for total nuclear disarmament which alone can provide security to the world community from nuclear disasters. We do recognise the need to upgrade the nuclear technology but at the same time, we cannot allow unintended arms race in the subcontinent.” About the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Sonia asked the government to evolve a national consensus before finally deciding to sign the treaty.

Sonia’s remarks on the nuclear issue assume significance in the wake of a raging debate in the Congress over the need for minimum nuclear deterrent. While Mani Shankar Aiyar and K. Natwar Singh had favoured continuation of the total disarmament policy on the basis of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, 1988, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and others were supportive of the nuclear weaponisation programme on grounds that it had become inevitable in the post-Pokhran II era. Sources said the Congress formulated its views on the nuclear issue after consulting several apolitical experts, including J.N. Dixit, K. Raghunath, Amitabh Matto, Kanti Bajpai and others and decided to opt for a “middle path” to strike a balance between two divergent views.

Reacting to the political situation in Sri Lanka, a cautious Sonia articulated the party’s point of view. “We want a peaceful resolution of the conflict, a resolution that will fully protect the legitimate interests of all ethnic groups including the Tamils. A solution must be found, safeguarding the territorial unity and integrity of Sri Lanka,” she said.

She welcomed the Vajpayee government’s move to start a dialogue with Hurriyat leaders in Jammu and Kashmir and said: “The government must not hesitate to initiate a dialogue with various groups in Jammu and Kashmir but it must not compromise on the basic constitutional framework of our country.”

Sonia has appointed a working group of Kashmir, comprising senior leaders like Manmohan Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Ahmad Patel, M.L. Fotedar, Karan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Pranab Mukherjee and Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, to keep a close tab on the political developments in the valley. The group recently called on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, raising queries about the law and order situation in the state and the government’s proposed move to hold talks with Hurriyat leaders.

Sonia said the Congress was not opposed to the information technology Bill but wanted a more detailed and informed debate in Parliament. “We are not against adopting a new information technology law to provide legal support for electronic commerce,” she said.

As the budget session of Parliament has ended, Sonia will now focus on party matters while touring various parts of the country. On Monday, she will visit Maharashtra and then proceed to the drought-hit areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan. She today appointed V. Narayanswamy as PCC chief of Pondicherry.    


 
 
ATAL APPLIES BALM ON SHRINE BILL WOUND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 19 
Having consolidated his position within the National Democratic Alliance, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is now trying to reach out to minorities.

In an effort to woo Muslims, who have largely stayed away from the ruling coalition, Vajpayee has written to the rector of the Nadwa School of Islamic Theology that the government was prepared to review the controversial Religious Buildings and Places of Worship Bill, 2000.

Vajpayee added in his letter to Maulana Rabey Nadvi, who succeeded Ali Mian as rector, that the Centre was committed to secularism and would ensure its strict enforcement in all spheres.

The Uttar Pradesh government has also agreed to set up the state minorities’ commission scrapped by the Kalyan Singh regime. The decision was reportedly taken at Vajpayee’s behest despite opposition from the Sangh parivar.

Vajpayee told Maulana Nadvi, who also heads Dini Talimi Council, an educational trust consisting of thousands of madrasas scattered all over Uttar Pradesh, that the religious places Bill was being re-examined by experts and had not been sent to the President for his assent.

Muslim scholars and leaders are up in arms over the Bill, claiming it will interfere with their religious activities. Muslim organisations have also objected to the state government’s argument that thousands of madrasas along the porous Indo-Nepal border were becoming a breeding ground for ISI agents. The Bill proposes making government sanction mandatory for construction of any religious shrine in the state.

Informed sources said Nadvi had earlier written to Vajpayee asking him to direct the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw the controversial Bill in the “larger interests of the nation”.

Nadvi, a moderate leader, said if the Bill was withdrawn it would go a long way in restoring harmony and peace in society.

A large number of Muslim organisations and individuals, including Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Imam Syed Abdullah Bukhari, have launched a public movement against the Bill. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, headed by hardliner Qazi Mujjahid-ul-Islam Qasmi, has also threatened to launch a stir.

Nadvi was in the running for the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board chief’s post but withdrew in favour of Qazi at the last moment. Despite the setback, he is seen as the successor to Ali Mian as an ideological leader of Indian Muslims.    


 
 
REBEL ROCKET MISSES J&K HOUSE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar May 19 
The recent spurt in violence in the embattled valley continued with militants making an abortive attempt today morning to blow up the Jammu and Kashmir state Assembly building in the heart of the city, even as the administration imposed night curfew in the entire border district of Kupwara from today.

According to police sources, the rocket, fired from a shoulder-held disposable rocket-launcher, missed its target and hit a wall at the Maisuma bund, wounding six people, including three children and a woman. They were admitted to a hospital.

Security forces immediately sealed the entire area and conducted thorough searches. They said the remains of the rocket-launcher were recovered barely six metres from the site of the explosion which rocked the whole city.

A high-level home ministry delegation — led by T.R. Kakkar, special secretary (home) in charge of Kashmir affairs — will arrive here tomorrow to take stock of the deteriorating situation in the state.

The team will be briefed about the latest situation by state police chief Gurbachan Jagat and other senior officials, sources said.

This is Kakkar’s second visit to Srinagar this week. He had held detailed discussions with state officials after power minister Ghulam Hasan Bhat was killed in a landmine blast on Monday.

In another incident late in the evening, militants attacked an escort vehicle of Doordarshan Srinagar with a hand grenade, injuring eight persons, including four members of the Central Reserved Police Force.

The injured CRPF jawans and civilians were rushed to hospital, where the condition of two was said to be critical.

Militants also gunned down members of the police Special Operation Group at Kulgam of Anantnag district in south Kashmir this morning.

The spurt in violence has forced the administration to impose night curfew in the entire border district of Kupwara.

Kupwara deputy commissioner Mohammad Yassin Shah said that the curfew would remain in force in the entire district from 10 pm to 4 am. He said there would be complete restriction on movement during night for security reasons. Steps have been taken to prevent infiltration in the district, sources said.    


 
 
BAJAJ DEFENDS SON WITH THEFT SLUR ON FRIEND 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, May 19 
Rupan Deol Bajaj’s husband today dismissed charges of kidnapping, robbery and illegal possession of arms against their son and said he would soon move court for bail.

Police are on the trail of 18-year-old Ranjit after the teenage son of a city industrialist filed a complaint against him. Sixteen-year-old Sunny Garg alleged that Ranjit kidnapped him, beat him up and robbed him of money and valuables.

But B.R. Bajaj, principal secretary (information systems and administrative reforms), insisted his son was innocent. He added that he would file a bail petition in Punjab and Haryana High Court “so that the truth becomes known to all”.

Bajaj admitted that Ranjit had beaten Sunny “because he had been stealing things from the house and was caught by two of Ranjit’s friends on May 14”. Ranjit is studying for his BBA in London and had come down to the city following a death in the family.

Bajaj said Sunny had come to meet Ranjit at home on May 14. “Ranjit was having a bath at that time. Two other friends who came after Sunny found him rummaging through Ranjit’s bag. The moment he saw them he left the house. The incident was narrated to Ranjit by the two friends and a search of the room revealed that some things were missing,” he said.

“After dressing up, Ranjit went to pick up a friend, Shivi, in his car. The two were supposed to go out together when they spotted Sunny by chance. A search revealed some items that had been stolen from Ranjit’s room. Sunny confessed that he had stolen the items and went home in his own car to bring back the other items.”

The principal secretary said Sunny apologised for the theft and requested him not to tell his parents, who own a factory in Dera Bassi, near here.

Bajaj said Ranjit had asked him to report the matter to the police. “But it was my wife, Rupan Deol, who felt that it would attract adverse publicity,” he added.

“I still told Sunny that I would have to speak to his parents in his presence. I was taken to his aunt’s house where his father and mother were present, and narrated the incident to them with a request that their son should undergo a medical check-up as stealing things was not normal behaviour. I came back thinking the issue had been settled. But the police came to my residence and began searching the premises without even showing me the complaint. It is not Sunny but we who are the aggrieved party.”

Bajaj said the stolen items his son recovered from Sunny’s car included “a gold chain with a medallion, two wrist watches, a discman, CDs, Archie comics, two goggles, a cell phone, a VCD player, a camera, and two SIM cards”. He added that he had written to the police, demanding the registration of a case against Sunny.    


 
 
SHOURIE WARNING ON FORMER FOUR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 19 
Arun Shourie, minister for administrative reforms, today cautioned Telugu Desam boss and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu against paying any heed to the noises of the “former Prime Ministers”.

The former Prime Ministers had recently formed a group to relaunch the third front and were hoping that Naidu may back them at the appropriate time.

Shourie said if three-four former Prime Ministers and the Congress join hands, the reform process will suffer a set back.

He praised Congress leaders Manmohan Singh and S.B. Chavan for supporting the reform process in the Rajya Sabha earlier this week. “Manmohan Singh said we cannot go back on subsidy cut, while Chavan made a stronger endorsement,” he said.

The minister said times have changed and we must embrace technology. “We cannot stop time,” he said adding the efforts of Naidu was in the direction.    


 
 
JAGMOHAN BUILDS DEFENCE WITH DEMOLITION DURBAR 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, May 19 
Jagmohan, probably the only minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet whose job is on the line, today launched an elaborate public relations exercise to prove that he had no option but to be Delhi’s Khairnar, a strong proponent of demolition of illegal constructions.

At the end of the day, there was no sign of the urban development minister relenting on his proposed drive for demolition and cancellation of allotments.

The demolition agenda has rankled the BJP most as the party, which holds all the seven parliamentary seats in the capital, fears a backlash from a part of its votebank.

All Delhi Mps barring Jagmohan have met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and complained that the demolition programme would lead to harassment of innocent citizens and only fill the already-bulging pockets of corrupt Delhi Development Authority officials.

The six MPs were led by the forever aggrieved former chief minister, Madan Lal Khurana, and included heavyweights like Vijay Goel, V.K. Malhotra, Sahib Singh Verma, Anita Arya and Lalbehari Tewari.

Jagmohan, till now not known to be politically streetsmart or media-savvy, delivered a master stroke. He announced a “public durbar” for those who feel that they were being harassed by the officials. Today, the minister sat through a 12-hour session, listening to the woes of flat-owners. He also requested journalists to witness the proceedings.

Of the 100-odd complaints filed, only a couple were on “unfair demolition”. The rest were tales of how elderly and helpless citizens were being harassed by unscrupulous neighbours illegally adding space to their flats.

Wearing a grin of vindication, the Jagmohan, once the lieutenant governor of Delhi, later said he was only trying to ameliorate the sufferings of a majority of the residents of the capital.

The Prime Minister has retained Jagmohan in the Cabinet principally because of his reputation as a “scrupulously honest man” and a “good administrator”.

Otherwise, Jagmohan would have found it difficult to survive in power after his stubborn refusal to compromise with cellular operators when he was the communications minister last year. Today’s durbar is expected to help Jagmohan push his case for “politically unwise” but “morally correct” decisions.

The stream of complainants who trooped into his first-floor office at Nirman Bhavan were all singing paeans to Jagmohan. They went on citing examples of the “law of jungle” prevailing in Delhi where the “mightier always believes he is in the right”. Most of the complaints were on illegal encroachment, with little regard for those staying on another plot or in an adjoining house.

Jagmohan said he would do everything in his power not only to cancel the allotment of illegal builders but also preserve the remaining patches of green in Delhi. He wanted haphazard construction of commercial complexes to stop, especially in the historical areas of Delhi.

While the durbar was in full swing, Khurana was addressing a press conference elsewhere in Delhi to insist that he supported Jagmohan’s demolition drive. But Khurana did not forget to wonder whether such a mission would be successful, given the corruption among civic officials.

Jagmohan has a strong opponent in V.P. Singh, too. The former Prime Minister is supporting the cause of slum-dwellers. Jagmohan’s defence is that he was not discriminating between the rich and the poor, but he said little about Singh’s campaign against him.    

 

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