Jethmalani pins quit blame on Sorabjee
Atal arms for double trouble
Allies take ‘singlespeak’ vow
Sonia solves mahajot mess with gift to Ghani
House unites in perks protest
Lara back as AIDS angel
Double boon for Telugu films
Hurriyat damper on autonomy

 
 
JETHMALANI PINS QUIT BLAME ON SORABJEE 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, July 23 

Trouble had been brewing for quite some time between Ram Jethmalani and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee.

In Pune, Jethmalani today lashed out at Sorabjee, accusing him of machinations that led to his resignation. Sorabjee denied the allegations strongly.

The BJP government refused to involve the attorney-general in the Jethmalani resignation episode. He paid a price for his own errors, especially for his regular face-offs with Chief Justice A.S. Anand, the highest quarters in the capital suggested.

Jethmalani, who clammed up last evening after faxing his resignation to Delhi, today directly accused Sorabjee before news agencies. “You are the singlemost important factor responsible for the resignation,” he said in his hard-hitting style. He added that Sorabjee had let him down by not defending him properly in the Supreme Court during the hearing on the Srikrishna Commission inquiry report on Friday.

The former law minister even suggested that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had been weak enough to choose a “pliant attorney-general” ahead of a “no-nonsense law minister”. He was “unhappy” with Vajpayee’s choice.

Jethmalani was dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to him in Race Course Road in recent months. He was not consulted on most tricky legal issues despite being the law minister. Information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley and Sorabjee frequented Race Course Road more than the minister himself.

Jethmalani said “constant pinpricks” from the attorney-general led to his exit. “I cannot stay in the Cabinet with an attorney-general like this. Right from the day I became law minister, he had started giving me pinpricks.”

Saying the attorney-general had failed him in his duties, Jethmalani added: “Sorabjee should have stood up and told the court that my minister is not here and he should be accorded a chance to explain his stand. The attorney-general almost encouraged the chief justice to make all those observations.”

He explained that there was nothing new or unknown about the friction with the attorney-general. “It started from the day I became law minister and things continued to deteriorate. I was very unhappy with the manner in which the attorney-general function,” Jethmalani emphasised.

The former law minister cautioned that he had quite a few cards up his sleeve and that he may reveal them in due course. He said he been long “unhappy with the Prime Minister” and that he “had many disappointments” in his dealing with either South Block or Race Course Road. But he was not going to say anything now. “My resignation had nothing to do with the observations of the Chief Justice or the case against Bal Thackeray,” he said — a point which does not have many takers in Delhi’s power circles.

Sorabjee was equally caustic. He said the law minister had an “inexhaustible store of pinpricks” and was himself to blame for his ouster. He said: “Jethmalani knows the reasons for his resignation. He did not require my help for his exit...” According to Sorabjee, a recent examples of the pinpricks was the “intemperate criticism of the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court in his press statement issued after the court proceedings.”

The attorney-general also disputed Jethmalani’s insistence that he had not defended the law minister in court. “His account is incorrect,” he said. “In fact, I retrieved the situation by reiterating the government’s previous stand on the affidavit and persuaded the court not to record its oral observation in the order.”

The three-member bench hearing the Srikrishna Commission case had only made a verbal statement, saying the Centre appeared to be speaking in many voices.    


 
 
ATAL ARMS FOR DOUBLE TROUBLE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
Faced with two restless allies and a determined Opposition, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will have to walk the tightrope in the monsoon session of Parliament beginning tomorrow.

The Opposition is raring to go all out against the Vajpayee government after law minister Ram Jethmalani’s resignation and his tirade against the Prime Minister and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee. The Centre’s flip-flop on the Kashmir autonomy issue will also dominate the opening session. As both the Shiv Sena and National Conference are NDA allies, Vajpayee’s task becomes that much difficult.

While the Opposition will insist on a statement from Vajpayee on the resignation of the three Sena Union ministers, Manohar Joshi, Suresh Prabhu and Balsaheb Vikhe Patil, the Sena MPs will not let any opportunity to exhibit loyalty to their supreme leader go begging. Sena ministers have made it clear that they will not retract their resignations if Bal Thackeray is prosecuted by the Maharashtra government.

Until late night, Vajpayee and his floor managers were working overtime to avoid a showdown between the Sena and the Maharashtra government. But sensing Vajpayee’s discomfiture, the Congress has made it clear that it will make a big issue of the Centre’s refusal to provide additional paramilitary forces to Maharashtra.

On the Kashmir autonomy issue, the government’s floor managers are keen to restrict the discussion as they do not wish the debate to become a free-for-all on the federal system, particularly after some of its southern allies — the MDMK and PMK — openly favoured the creation of an independent Eelam. Through informal channels, the government has urged the Opposition to be cautious on Kashmir in view of its possible international repercussions.

But a stormy session seems in store as a Congress floor leader said the Vajpayee government’s “honeymoon period” was over and the main Opposition party would not treat the government with “kid gloves”. He said the party will also focus on the government’s move to replace Tada with an equally “draconian law”, its “reckless” disinvestment policy and “mishandling” of foreign policy matters. The Congress signalled it would reject the CTBT against the government’s move to thrash out a consensus on it.

On the legislative side, the government is non-committal on pushing through controversial Bills like the ones on women’s reservation, creation of the states of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, Lok Pal and electoral reforms. Parliamentary affairs ministry sources said 39 new Bills are likely to be introduced. The Right to Information Bill, Cable Television Network (Amendment) Bill and Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill are some of the important ones among them.

If the NDA is struggling to keep a united face, the Opposition is also divided on key economic issues like disinvestment. The Left has made it clear there will be no coordination with the Congress on economic issues. CPI secretary A.B. Bardan said the Left would play the role of the “main Opposition” as the Congress appeared to be “confused”. “We are not sure what it is going to do,” he said.

The left parties are set to raise a hue and cry over the government’s “big-ticket privatisation”, including several profit-making PSUs. “It is like selling family silver and we are opposed to it,” CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri said.

Congress leaders said they were also opposed to “the manner” in which the Vajpayee regime was going about disinvestment. In sharp contrast to the Left’s total opposition to disinvestment, the Congress will formulate its opinion on a “case to case basis” as it is not opposed to the idea of disinvestment per se. He said that the party was in the midst of an exercise to “fine-tune” its economic thinking. The Congress’ economic introspection group will meet on July 26.    


 
 
ALLIES TAKE ‘SINGLESPEAK’ VOW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
The National Democratic Alliance leaders who met at the Prime Minister’s residence this evening on the eve of the monsoon session resolved that all partners of the ruling combine would “speak in a single voice”.

NDA convenor George Fernandes made it clear after the meeting that this had been unanimously decided.

Before the budget session, a similar resolution had been made but pro-subsidy allies like the Trinamul Congress and even the Telugu Desam continued to make statements that went against the official line of the BJP-led government.

This time the government realises that unless there are major liberalisation decisions, recalcitrant allies are unlikely to embarrass it.

At the same time, the partners extracted a promise that there would be no deviation from the national agenda for governance. They do not want the government to surreptitiously bring in issues that are favoured by the hardliners within the BJP and the Sangh parivar.

The government also made it clear to the pro-subsidy group that they could not clamour for anti-liberalisation gestures when the agenda had clearly agreed upon the broad economic path to be pursued by this government.

The Shiv Sena leaders were conspicuously absent. Fernandes said that sensitive issues like Kashmir autonomy or Thackeray’s arrest were not discussed in detail at the meeting.

Leaders of the different parties in the coalition were briefed about government positions and recent developments in Fiji and Sierra Leone to ensure that they were not caught off-guard when the Opposition parties raised these issues in the coming days in the Parliament.    


 
 
SONIA SOLVES MAHAJOT MESS WITH GIFT TO GHANI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 23: 
West Bengal Congress chief A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today held a 40-minute meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi, defusing the crisis in the state party. Sonia gave Chowdhury a fresh lease of life as state unit chief and a grateful Ghani dropped his insistence on a mahajot.

A beaming Chowdhury claimed that Sonia had given him a “free hand” to run the state party. Obviously, the issue of his resignation as PCC chief found no mention during the meeting. Chowdhury got so carried away by Sonia’s show of affection that he even criticised some of his close associates for raising the mahajot issue. “All those saying such things are not working in the interest of the party,” he said.

Chowdhury also requested Sonia to visit Bengal. He said he would visit Midnapore and stay put there for about 10 days to set the “house in order”.

Chowdhury set the mood for today’s amiable meeting by despatching a box of “Fazli” mangoes from his personal orchard to 10 Janpath yesterday.

The Chowdhury camp claimed that it had got Sonia’s permission to bring about changes in four districts, an issue over which the state party chief had clashed with the party general secretary in charge of Bengal affairs, Prabha Rau. In a day of reconciliation, Rau paid a visit to Chowdhury, acknowledging his supremacy.

Singing a different tune, Chowdhury said, with or without Mamata Banerjee, mahajot was not on his agenda. “My priority is to strengthen and revive the party in the state. How can we bargain with others if we, ourselves, are not strong,” he said. The septuagenarian leader said he had been a “fighter” all along, so there was no question of piggyriding on someone’s back — an obvious reference to the Trinamul Congress. Triumphantly he declared: “How many times I have been a sole Congress representative in the Lok Sabha from Bengal.”

Chowdhury, who appeared relaxed, sought to downplay his differences with Rau which forced him to “boycott” yesterday’s meeting at the party headquarters.

He said he was “used” to directly dealing with the high command. “Why should I repeat things which I would say to the Congress chief?” Chowdhury asked.

Significantly, the temporary truce with the Bengal Congress comes at a time when organisational polls are underway. Sonia is keen to assure a second term for herself and Bengal is among the few states where her camp is unsure about cent per cent voting in her favour in the event of a contest for the top party post.    


 
 
HOUSE UNITES IN PERKS PROTEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 23: 
Not content with Laloo Prasad Yadav baying for his blood, Governor V.C. Pande has made a fresh enemy in Bihar: the NDA.

The alliance’s honeymoon with Pande, who had offered its leader Nitish Kumar the first opportunity to prove majority in the House, came to a bitter end in the ongoing monsoon session of the Assembly even as the debate over the increase of MLAs’ perks and salaries boiled over.

Pande has not cleared the file on the proposal despite unanimity in the House.

While Laloo, angry with the Governor’s consent to the CBI in the disproportionate assets case against him, has put Pande in the firing line, NDA leaders now appear to vie with the RJD chief in their tirade against the Governor on the perks.

Ganesh Prasad Yadav, leader of the JD(U) legislative party who led a joint delegation to the Governor last week, quoted Pande as saying that the MLAs had come there after forming a trade union. “The Governor is not supposed to make a remark like that. This is not expected of him,” said an angry Ganesh Prasad.

Brijendra Yadav, another JD(U) legislator, said the Governor should regret his remark on trade unionism “when actually they had gone to him to secure his consent on the proposals”.

Laloo went a step forward. He said during the Assembly debate that the Governor should be shifted to the MLA quarters and the Raj Bhavan be declared a second secretariat.

The MLAs have been demanding a salary hike after the rise in the price of essential commodities. Now, an MLA draws a salary of Rs 13,500 per month, inclusive of all facilities. The proposal sought to increase it to Rs 23,000. The Assembly discussed the proposal on Friday and Saturday and passed a resolution accepting it. The proposal, which also includes a separate scheme for the appointment of assistants for MLAs, was then sent to the Governor for approval.

Pande has not expressed his views clearly on the proposal. The fact that the new pay structure would involve an additional financial burden of Rs 13.5 crore could be holding back the Governor’s consent. The appointment of assistants would also mean an more pressure on the state exchequer.

State government sources said the proposal for the new salary structure was first granted Cabinet approval in April 1999. This was sent to then Governor B.M. Lal, who had returned the file, asking the state Cabinet to furnish details on salaries and perks enjoyed by MLAs and ministers in other states.

The Cabinet made a list of 21 states and the file was again sent to the Raj Bhavan in November 1999. This time the Governor asked for details of salaries and perks for MPs and ministers at the Centre.

The file was again sent to the Governor’s house in March this year, when Pande had already been instituted Governor.    


 
 
LARA BACK AS AIDS ANGEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, July 23: 
Lara Dutta, the dusky girl with a husky voice who made Bangalore proud by winning the Miss Universe 2000 contest, returned home last night, saying “there is no place like home”.

Addressing a press conference today, she said she had spent 17 years of her life here, and felt honoured at the warm reception she had got on winning the contest. “Whatever you have achieved, you want to share it with your people. That’s the best way of celebrating,” she added.

On coming to Bangalore for the first time after winning the beauty pageant, Lara went straight from the airport to chief minister S.M. Krishna’s house. He was all praise for Lara for turning the city from IT capital to beauty capital and now beauty-with-the-brains capital.

Lara said as the United Nations had designated this year as the year to combat AIDS, she would work for the propagation of methods to control the spread of the disease, epsecially in India and Africa which had the highest number of HIV patients. “AIDS is a deadly disease and it is high time society started talking about it, rather than brushing it under the carpet,” she said.

She said she was not aware of any politicking and lobbing that go on behind the Miss Universe pageant, adding, “there were some girls more beautiful than me, but the contest is all about 70 percent intelligence and 30 percent looks. I would like to believe that I won purely on merit.”

She said winning the contest had not changed her in any way. “If you change, it is not worth it. If the experience makes you grow, then yes. After one year of ambassadorship which will take me to more than 40 countries, I will return to being a normal person.”

Asked whether she saw a “commercial rat” in more and more Indian women winning the beauty pageants to promote the entry of multinationals into India, Lara said MNCs were surely interested in the large market India provided, “but it is not correct to say that the girls are winning because of MNCs’ interest”.

She said she felt saddened by the fact that Bangalore had turned violent at a beauty pageant held four years ago. “It was really an opportunity to put your city on the world map. A lot of countries vie for the honour. But it was sad that some people did not see it that way.”

Lara said she would continue to work for social causes like ensuring compulsory primary education for children and mobile reproductive units for rural areas, even after the end of her ambassadorship.    


 
 
DOUBLE BOON FOR TELUGU FILMS 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, July 22: 
The face of Telugu cinema is changing. Literally.

NTR Nagar, the yet-to-be-released multi-starrer, is the first film to bring together the big four of Telugu cinema — Venkatesh, Nagarjuna, Chiranjeevi and Balakrishna. But look carefully and you can spot the difference. The stars are not really stars, but their look-alikes!

The real names of the dummies are a closely-guarded secret. The female lead is debutante Manichanda.

The story is about four men resembling the superstars who come to the city with hopes of making it big as actors. But they get involved in a murder and flee to a village where their looks get them the hospitality of villagers and the attention of damsels.

Song-and-dance and fistfights follow. When their identities are finally revealed at the end, they are still accepted on the strength of their golden hearts.

This is the first such experiment in south Indian cinema, says Babji, director of the low-budget film.

It is hoped that the look-alikes will accomplish what the real things have failed to do of late: deliver a hit.

Mounting losses have hit the industry so hard that the number of films released last year was a record low of 65. In the first half of 2000, only 25 were released.

“The films that grossed good revenues were dubbed versions of Telugu films, like Modalvan and Sakhi,” said Dasari Narayan Rao, eminent director and president of the Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce.

Rao has also had little luck this year, with three of his films bombing at the box office.

He hit the headlines recently with his call for banishing cable TV from the studio floors as early exposure had killed over 30 productions last year.

“Even Chiranjeevi-Soundarya starrers had not fared well as people had seen clippings on cable TV before the films’ release,” the director said.

The film industry is in the doldrums with many theatres in the state folding up, hit by the government’s unwillingness to revise the entertainment tax which was converted into “slab rates” in 1995.

Two cinemas in Hyderabad and three in Vijayawada have closed in the past three months.

But chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has rejected the industry’s demand for changing the tax structure on grounds that the industry has no social commitment.

The use of dummies is hardly a new phenomenon. Stars have always used them for action sequences and other difficult scenes. Some, in fact, graduated to stardom after entering films as a dummy.

One example is prominent Telugu character actor and former Telugu Desam MP K. Satyanarayana, who had made his debut as a dummy for N.T. Rama Rao.

The concept of NTR Nagar, though a first in southern cinema, is not alien to the Mumbai film industry. Ajay Dev’s Ramgarh ke Sholay starred an Amitabh Bachchan look-alike, while the story was on the lines of Bachchan’s megahit Sholay.

Look-alikes have also been central to a popular coastal Andhra form of entertainment — “record dances”.

Dummies of top actors were booked well in advance to perform at the harvest festival, jiving to the tune of the latest hits. Suitable female props were hired to complete the ambience.    


 
 
HURRIYAT DAMPER ON AUTONOMY 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, July 23: 
The new chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) Abdul Gani Bhat has dismissed the possibility that restoration of autonomy can solve “a stubborn dispute like Kashmir”.

In his first exclusive interview after taking charge, Bhat said: “I want everybody to be guided by the political reality and not any conditionality. Autonomy is a constitutional arrangement between New Delhi and Srinagar. It is not a permanent solution. We are offering sacrifices for a final resolution.”

Told that the chief minister was saying that restoration of autonomy will end alienation, he shot back: “If Farooq Abdullah believes autonomy can bring in a permanent settlement, my good wishes, but the caution that he cannot achieve a permanent settlement through autonomy. Kashmir was an autonomous state but the dispute still existed.”

Describing Kashmir as a “nuclear flashpoint”, he said the issue can only be resolved only through tripartite talks involving the Kashmiris, India and Pakistan. “The tit-for-tat nuclear blasts have added a new dimension in the sub-continent. If nuclear peace is to be preserved we have to address issues which constitute a threat and Kashmir tops the list,”he said.

“This places a heavy obligation on the shoulders of the people in India, Pakistan and in Jammu and Kashmir who matter, that the dispute is addressed and resolved in all sincerity and seriousness.”

He said the Kargil war could have led to a nuclear conflict had there been no restraint. “The lesson learnt is that the Kashmir issue has to be settled,” he said.

Pushing a tripartite dialogue Bhat said: “Let India and Pakistan talk. No Problem. But if they take the Hurriyat into confidence, we will be able to generate a proper political climate not only in Kashmir but across the South Asian region for peace and stability in the whole area.”

He declined to comment how the problem could be resolved and added: “I want a buyer for my solution and the buyer is in New Delhi, Islamabad and Kashmir.”

Responding to the Centre’s offer for talks, he said: “You don’t gain anything but lose many things when you talk for the pleasure of it.” He added: “I don’t say yes or no. But talking to achieve a breakthrough — no short cuts, no interim measures. We want a permanent settlement.”

When asked about home minister L.K. Advani’s statement that the talks have to be under the Constitution, he said: “I don’t want to be guided by the conditions. I want to be guided by political realities rather than conditions.”

However, he said he did not rule out bilateral talks: “Wait, I am going to issue a statement soon”.

“I am hopeful we will achieve a breakthrough in the coming months, if not in weeks, because it is in the interest of the south Asian region.” He added: “The various countries in this region will have to appreciate the efforts we propose to put in to achieve a breakthrough.”

He described the human rights situation in Kashmir as “very grave”. However, he added: “The rights violations are linked to the root cause of the unresolved problem of Kashmir. If you settle the issue, I assure you there won’t be any human rights violations.”    

 

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