Atal-baiters whet knives for showdown
Monsoon date for divorce Bill minus marriage claus
Cong chooses Mamata over Left
Kashmir orphaned by kind mother’s death
Security net for Nepal flights
Population chart-toppers under Centre scanner

 
 
ATAL-BAITERS WHET KNIVES FOR SHOWDOWN 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR AND KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 11 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been having his way with his party for quite some time.

Since the Bangalore national executive of the BJP, he has been carrying the party with him, silencing the few odd critics. The Chennai declaration last year at another national executive was a conclusive victory for his style of functioning.

Recently, however, critics both on the right fringe of the party and in Sangh parivar outfits have been raising their pitch against him. The hawks are preparing to take him on at the Uttar Pradesh national executive to be held possibly in end-August.

Vajpayee has some time to hone his strategy and win over a few critics by slowing down reforms during the monsoon session, but these compromises are hardly likely and his opponents are waiting for a showdown.

Very soon, there is going to be a meeting between Union ministers and top RSS leaders, especially on economic issues. The BJP, which is officially supporting the Prime Minister, is readying a fact-sheet which will give the rationale behind the reforms and try to bridge the “communication gaps” which may have alienated the RSS and organisations like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The manch was critical of the reforms at its Agra conclave in June and has a protest programme ready.

The Prime Minister may depute his finance minister Yashwant Sinha to explain the government stance on liberalisation, especially on foreign direct investment.

The meeting with the RSS is of further significance because the Prime Minister had met Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan soon after he assumed office earlier this year.

The RSS has been feeling betrayed of late because there has been no change in the Prime Minister’s policies even after the discussions. Vajpayee has gone on with the same economic agenda almost with a vengeance as was evident during the budget session.

The government-RSS confrontation is having an impact on the BJP. Though officially the party is supporting the Prime Minister, the murmurs of dissent can be heard at 11 Ashoka Road, the party headquarters.

The numerous voices reflect the confusion among both senior and middle-ranking leaders. Not all are coming forward openly with their views, but quite a few are positioning themselves to assert their allegiance either to the government or the Sangh parivar.

Govindacharya’s recent outburst against Christians and also the government’s economic policies is a case in point. A senior general secretary of party, Govindacharya obviously wants to be seen as someone close to the RSS.

Similarly, leaders like K.R. Malkani are waving the saffron flag openly. He recently complained in a television show that the English media were not criticising the government’s liberalisation policies enough. Narendra Modi is quiet for the time-being, but his leanings towards the RSS is well-known.    


 
 
MONSOON DATE FOR DIVORCE BILL MINUS MARRIAGE CLAUS 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 11 
Contrary to its earlier decision to shelve the Christian personal law, the Centre will introduce a portion of amendments relating to Christian divorce and table a Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament.

Union law minister Ram Jethmalani told The Telegraph that amendments to the Indian Divorce Act, 1869, pertaining to Christian divorce would be introduced as “there is consensus” on the issue.

After amendments in Divorce Act, “Christian men and women would be on par”, the law minister said. Under the prevailing legal system, a Christian woman has to prove adultery coupled with desertion for getting a divorce whereas a man has to prove any one ground of “cruelty, adultery, insanity and desertion”.

In Syrian Christian Act, too, the woman has to prove all three grounds of cruelty, adultery and desertion while the man has to prove only one ground.

“Now even Syrian Christians would be on par with this new Act,” the law minister said.

Earlier, the government had decided to bring a comprehensive personal law for the community through amendments to both the Christian Marriage Act, 1872, and the Divorce Act.

The government had convened a meeting of 15 major Christian organisations and over 20 Christian members of Parliament cutting across party lines.

Congress member Oscar Fernandes, one of the participants, also said there was unanimity on amendments proposed to the Divorce Act, but not so on those involving the Marriage Act.

Jethmalani said even the differences on the Marriage Act were focused on only one issue — “the proposal to bring marriage between a non-Christian and a Christian under the Special Marriages Act”.

Earlier, even such marriages could be performed in a church. But the government’s effort to bring them under the Special Marriages Act was opposed by some Christian bodies and the late Delhi archbishop Alan de Lastic.

“In the absence of consensus on such a matter, especially when it involves sensitive personal laws, there are possibilities of the government being misunderstood,” Jethmalani said.

On the issue of the Constitution Review Commission going into the details of the new economic policy, Jethmalani said there was nothing wrong with the move and that the commission would only review the provisions which were inconsistent with the government’s aim of “poverty allevation”.

“After all, poverty alleviation is part and parcel of the directive principles of state policy as enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.

The minister clarified that “it would not amount to the commission interfering in a policy matter”.    


 
 
CONG CHOOSES MAMATA OVER LEFT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 11 
The West Bengal Congress has decided to provide issue-based support to the Trinamul-BJP combine at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Former state Congress chief Somen Mitra left for Delhi today to meet party president Sonia Gandhi and inform her about it.

He is also expected to convince Sonia that lending issue-based support to the Trinamul-BJP combine would not amount to forming an alliance with it. A formal announcement in this regard is expected after state Congress president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s return from Malda.

“You see, we don’t want to see the Left Front hop back to power by winning a no-trust motion in the CMC house six months later. We will not help topple the Trinamul-BJP CMC board at any cost,” said state Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya.

At a meeting between Mitra, Bhattacharya, state Congress general secretary Sultan Ahmed and a good number of the 13 party councillors, they decided that the Congress Municipal Party should lend issue-based support to the Trinamul-BJP civic board.

After having the decision endorsed by Ghani, Mitra left for the capital as his emissary.

After staying away from the mayoral election last Saturday, the state Congress has been in a fix over the role it should play in the CMC.

“We will become a laughing stock if we keep on absenting ourselves from all major developments in the CMC like no-trusts, voting on important decisions and the budget. So, we decided to lend issue-based support to the Trinamul-BJP combine in the CMC,” said Sultan Ahmed.

Observers said that for the state Congress it is like a two-edged sword. “If the party supports the Left Front, it will lend further credence to Mamata’s slogan that the Congress is CPM’s ‘B’ team. If it supports the Trinamul-BJP, it will be accused of allying with communal forces.

“So, there is no other way in front of the Congress than to support the Trinamul-BJP only on issues without getting directly involved,” said one of them.

It is, in fact, the question of survival for the Congress and maintaining its credibility as an anti-CPM force in Bengal.

“We can’t remain neutral. In the event of a no-trust against the Trinamul-BJP six months later, we will have to vote against it or else it will send wrong signals to the people. And, mind you, it will not be a secret ballot again like the mayoral poll,” said a leader.    


 
 
KASHMIR ORPHANED BY KIND MOTHER’S DEATH 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, July 11 
The grand old lady of Kashmir’s national movement, Begum Akbar Jehan, died this morning. She was 84.

Known as Madr-e-Meherban (kind mother), Begum Jehan was the widow of Sheikh Abdullah and mother of chief minister Farooq Abdullah. She is survived by two other sons and two daughters.

Farooq was attending the police passing-out parade at Reasi when the Begum died around 10 am of cardiac arrest at the chief minister’s residence on Gupkar Road.

All official engagements have been deferred. The National Conference meeting to decide whether the party will remain a part of the coalition at the Centre following the rejection of the autonomy proposal has also been postponed.

Born in 1916 in the family of Michael Harry Nedu, an European settler who converted to Islam after marrying into a local Gujjar family, Begum Jehan married Sheikh Abdullah in 1933.

The Begum shot into the limelight when she spearheaded the “Quit Kashmir” movement while Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned by Maharaja Hari Singh.

She proved an able organiser when she successfully mobilised the people during the movement.

In the absence of her jailed husband, Begum Jehan received Mahatma Gandhi at Soura when he visited the Valley in 1947. Gandhi began his public meeting in Srinagar only after Begum Jehan r