Economic peg to third front rerun
Atal back in seat of power
Hunger links past, future
VHP paves path of temple thorns for Vajpayee
Calcutta Weather

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct. 22: 
On the sidelines of the plenum here, the CPM today launched another attempt to forge a third force on the lines of the United Front of 1996.

Mulayam Singh Yadav could not come for the gathering of erstwhile United Front leaders at a seminar on Centre-state relations as he had hit the streets of Uttar Pradesh in an agitation against the BJP government. But Laloo Yadav, Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and CPI leader A.B. Bardhan were there to give Jyoti Basu company in a pale line-up of the original third front.

Unlike earlier efforts, the party is making a beginning in creating a common platform for third front allies not only on the basis of opposing the BJP but also to formulate a broader understanding of globalisation and its impact on India.

The meeting was Laloo’s show all the way. Addressing a mostly-Malayali gathering in Hindi, Laloo had the audience in splits with his jibes at the BJP. Basu paled in comparison with a speech peppered with statistics suited for an erudite audience.

Despite his witticisms, Laloo did not forget the underlying motive of the seminar. “If we have to get rid of the BJP, the third front should come together once more,” he said. Not content with merely forming an anti-BJP platform, Laloo underlined the need to attack the forces of globalisation. “The BJP is not only taking directions from the RSS. Don’t forget it is also being directed by Washington and the World Bank.”

Earlier in the day, politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the third front should be forged not only as a BJP-alternative but also be bound by a common understanding of economic issues. This, in effect, means taking a stand against free-market reforms.

The fact that Laloo has taken up anti-globalisation as a common cause marks a departure from his earlier indifference to the reform process. Coincidentally, Mulayam has started his jail bharo campaign to protest against the Centre’s economic policies.

Another issue on which the participants came together was Article 356.

CPM members were disappointed at the absence of Mulayam. Laloo-Mulayam relations had turned sour during the 1999 polls when Laloo had pitted a candidate against his former ally. But the CPM’s attempts to form an anti-BJP and anti-globalisation alliance show that its means business.

While the CPM tries to put together a third front again, its distance with the Congress has grown wider. This may work to the advantage of the CPM, which was alienated from National Democratic Alliance constituents like the Telugu Desam and the DMK for its proximity to the Congress.

Yechury had said earlier that the CPM’s current exercise in forging a third alternative would not leave out the BJP’s allies who were becoming aware of the beginning of popular disaffection with the Vajpayee government.

He said the third front would be vastly different from the United Front in that it would consciously try to avoid having any truck with the Congress. “It will not have the looks of the erstwhile United Front and it will be minus the Congress. We just do not have anything in common with them, be it ideology or approach or commitment to policies and issues,” Yechury said.

Aside from clarifying the contours of the effort, his comment was aimed at BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu’s claim that the CPM was seeking to formalise its relations with the Congress through the third front exercise. “He is known for his fertile imagination,” Yechury said.

The CPM reckons that some of the NDA allies would soon be forced by circumstance to take into account the “deep churning” that the economic policies of the BJP government had unleashed, exposing them to the risk of losing their mass bases.

Yechury said that the movement being conducted by the CPM following the recent police firing in Andhra on protesters against the hike in power tariff and the jail bharo campaign by sugarcane growers under the banner of Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party were pointers to this “churning”.    

Mumbai, Oct. 22: 
After spending 12 days cooped up in his hospital room, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today refused to take the backseat as he rode his bullet-proof car to Mumbai airport to catch the flight back home.

In a departure from the usual practice of sitting in the back of the car, Vajpayee sat in front next to the driver, waving goodbye to throngs of people lining the street outside Breach Candy hospital.

Vajpayee changed his seat on request from party leaders who said Mumbaikars should be given a chance to see him after securitymen shot down the proposal to ferry him to the airport in an open jeep, BJP sources said.

In Delhi, President K.R. Narayanan and Vice-President Krishan Kant set aside protocol, turning up at the airport to welcome Vajpayee.

As BJP workers waited hours outside Breach Candy chanting slogans, a milk-white Ambassador rolled out of a side gate around 2:30 pm, windows rolled up. In it was the Prime Minister, leaning forward against the windshield and waving to the crowd, which waved back.

There were three hawk-eyed carbine-toting commandos sitting in the back, scanning the crowds. Soon the car picked up speed and was lost in a long convoy of vehicles headed for Chhatrapati Shivaji airport. Around 3.40, an Indian Air Force plane carrying the Prime Minister and his aides took off for Delhi.

Just before leaving for the airport, Vajpayee looked calm in his wheelchair as he rolled down a ramp into the hospital yard for what turned out to be a photo call set up by Union minister Pramod Mahajan. He spoke for five minutes, but did not field questions from reporters.

“The time has come for me to leave hospital,” Vajpayee, dressed in short-sleeved khadi jacket and off-white kurta, said in a clear voice. “I had a chance to stay at Breach Candy for 12 days. I have been to hospital earlier also. I hope I won’t have to go there in future,” the 76-year-old leader said, face deadpan but tongue firmly in cheek.

Vajpayee said he was happy to go home in time for Diwali “as I had wanted”. The BJP plans to organise a big Diwali bash in Delhi to celebrate his recovery.

The Prime Minister thanked Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat for the successful knee-joint replacement surgery. He said he met the New-York-based surgeon for the first time in the US and went in for the operation on his advice. Vajpayee hoped he would be able to walk around freely and resume his normal duties in a short while.

Along with Vajpayee, “the seat of power” shifted back to Delhi from the commercial capital. The makeshift Prime Minister’s Office, operating from the seventh-floor room at Breach Candy, closed down this morning as Vajpayee’s main aides — Ashok Saikia, S. Kulkarni, Ashok Tandon and Shiv Kumar —- packed their bags.

An aide said the Prime Minister will attend to work at 7 Race Course Road tomorrow, but stay away from outdoor meetings. Vajpayee, who is now using a walker, is expected to switch to a cane in a couple of weeks.    

Khatimunda (Bolangir), Oct. 22: 
The tale of three women — Bonita, her mother Sansara, and her eldest daughter Kalabati — bound by the tie of hunger endured through last evening’s marriage ceremony here.

Bonita yesterday went through the ritual of tying the knot with Bidyadhar Podho, the blind man with whom she has lived since she was sold.

Sansara’s husband died when Bonita was “six or seven”. Faced with the fearful prospect of finding enough to feed the kids and herself, Sansara, in her 20s then, decided to take the easy way out. Having been ‘claimed’ (with the symbolic act of grabbing a woman’s arm and putting on a bangle) by Banbaso Bag, she went on to remarry and settle down in Jampara village of neighbouring Bolangir district “for food, for survival”.

“But I kept in touch with Bonita who was growing up at Amlapally in Kalahandi district. And then, I heard that my daughter had been sold for Rs 40 by my daughter-in-law, Fanas Punji,” recalled Sansara.

That was 15 years ago and the mother decided to “stay away” from the daughter who had been “sold to save others from starving to death”, as she could “not help her financially”.

Stay away she did, separated by a few kilometres of dusty road, till she was informed of Bonita’s marriage.

A mother of five by now, the one moment when the 28-year-old Bonita allowed any emotion to show through on the day of her marriage was when a wizened woman in pink saree stepped off the “big car” that had gone to fetch her.

Mother and daughter clung to one another, the shadow of desertion not clouding the reunion. “I am happy that the daughter I had abandoned so many years ago is finally getting married,” sobbed Sansara.

The daughter was no less “grateful” for the mother turning up.

“This means so much to me on such an important day for me and my children. Kalabati will gain legitimacy from my marriage,” said Bonita, dark eyes shining with the hope that life will treat her daughters Kalabati, Junabati and little Surunani differently.

Forced to change into a new orange saree for her mother’s marriage, 11-year-old Kalabati spent the day shying away from the flock.

“People will come to meet mother and go away when their work is done. But nothing will change here,” she said softly.

Midway through the afternoon, and even before the actual marriage ceremony got underway, Kalabati had slipped back into a faded red saree and gone off to attend to the cattle and goats of some villagers in the hope that she would be paid “something” to ensure a meal for the family of eight (Bidyadhar’s old mother, the five kids and the just-married couple) once the feast is finished and the benefactors-for-a-day turn away.

Kalabati has grown up watching her mother sustain the household with the Rs 260 a month — and that, too, erratic — she gets as a helper in an Angadwadi kitchen.

Bonita gathers the remains of the day’s cooking at the centre, 10 kms from home, and brings it back every day as food for her family. Now, her first-born is trying to help her.

As the drums fell silent and darkness descended over Khatimunda yesterday, Kalabati turned in for the night with the thought of tomorrow’s hunger.    

New Delhi, Oct. 22: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad today welcomed Atal Behari Vajpayee back to the capital by announcing a series of Hindutva programmes, including the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Hardening its stand on the day the Prime Minister landed here after a 12-day stay in Breach Candy, the VHP said that if the ruling BJP wanted votes, “the mandir should be built”.

VHP working president Acharya Giriraj Kishore, however, denied that construction dates were being reworked keeping in mind the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Asked if the BJP’s allies in government would agree to the temple, he snapped: “Don’t they want votes?”

Kishore cited the Shah Bano case when asked what he would do if Supreme Court negatived the proposal. “If the government can subvert Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case, it can do so in this case as well.”

He reiterated the VHP stand that the apex court had no locus standi to decide the issue. Public opinion would force the government to convince court to rule in favour of the temple, he said.

The VHP has also decided to take up in a big way the ban on cow slaughter and export of beef, a stop on the construction of Tehri dam and the alleged anti-India activities of Christian missionaries in Tripura.

It claimed it had discussed Tehri with L.K. Advani, who had agreed on a “scientific reassessment” to decide if the hydro-electric project would destroy the river’s purity.

As part of its drive to whip up public support for the temple, the VHP will organise yatras in three lakh villages.

In the first phase, activists will fan out in the country, setting up Ram sankeertan mandals and collecting signatures in favour of the temple. In the second, a couple of senior religious leaders will tour the country to “educate” the people.

Kishore also announced the setting up of a temple construction committee, a sub-committee to mobilise public opinion and a mass awareness campaign “to force the government to allow the work (to proceed) unhindered”. He said a date to begin work would be decided by a harma sansad at the Allahabad mahakumbh in January.

The construction committee is headed by Mahant Ramchandra Das, chief of the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust. The sub-committee is led by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Swami Chinmayananda.

The awareness campaign, to be launched after Kumbh mela, will be on lines of the Ram shila pujan (brick worship), which eventually led to the Babri masjid demolition.    



Maximum: 34.3°C (+2)
Minimum: 26.7°C (+4)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%
Minimum: 51%


Partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Maximum temperature likely to be around 34°C


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