Rajnath air-dropped on sinking ship
BJP ends ‘misfit’ Gupta’s agony
Medha on MP fast track
Sonia readies satrap show of strength
BJP takes up cudgels for Andhra farmers
BJP pays Sardinha in own coin
Damper on Jaya heir hopefuls
Security cry for political pill in J&K
Shillong bandh

 
 
RAJNATH AIR-DROPPED ON SINKING SHIP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
At 49, Rajnath Singh will be the youngest chief minister Uttar Pradesh has ever had, and the BJP hopes, the most dynamic, too.

As the surface transport minister takes leave of the Centre after his brief stint — “a little reluctantly”, according to his confidants — he has his task cut out in Lucknow and outside as Uttar Pradesh plunges into polls late next year and the BJP finds itself up against formidable odds.

As well as ensuring that his party recovers some of the ground it had lost during the Lok Sabha polls of 1999, the new chief minister has to keep the BJP’s demanding allies happy and work out the right caste combinations. Rajnath will also have to put governance back on the rails, sort out the financial mess, straighten out law and order and above all ensure the coalition continues to survive even after Uttaranchal is formed. With the exit of 17 of its Uttarakhand MLAs, the BJP coalition will hang by a majority of just two.

Born in Chakiagaon in Chandauli district on July 31, 1951, into a family of farmers, Rajnath’s early induction into the RSS paved the way for a career in academics. After finishing his M.Sc. in Physics from Gorakhpur University, he took up a teacher’s post at Mirzapur Degree College.

He joined the Jan Sangh in 1970 and rose to become the Mirzapur district president in 1974. From the party organisation, electoral politics was only a jump away and in 1974, Rajnath was elected as MLA from Mirzapur. In 1988, he became a member of the legislative council, and in 1991, when the first BJP government was ushered into the state under Kalyan Singh, Rajnath was made education minister.

It was a ministry of crucial importance to the Sangh and the BJP, and Rajnath lived up to the brief given to him. He piloted the anti-copying Bill in the Assembly and when it was legislated, he was hailed as a “hero”.

But the rougher aspects of the law came into focus when the administration used it indiscriminately against young students, who were often arrested under false charges and taken handcuffed into custody.

The “anti-copying crusader” began to lose his sheen. When Mulayam Singh Yadav announced that he would repeal the Act if elected to power, students welcomed the idea. The law cost Rajnath his Assembly seat in the 1993 elections which he lost to a young Samajwadi Party member.

As education minister, Rajnath had stirred up another controversy by setting up a committee of historians to rewrite history books suited to the Hindutva viewpoint. Among the many changes the committee advocated was the portrayal of Babar as a temple-destroyer and a “barbarian”. The decision upset the minority communities.

In 1994 Rajnath was made Rajya Sabha MP and in 1997 he became the Uttar Pradesh BJP president. He and Kalyan Singh made a powerful duo — mighty enough to outmanoeuvre Mayawati when she acted tough with Kalyan during the BJP-BSP coalition in 1997-98. Rajnath authored the “Operation Shakti” coup when the BSP was split along with the Congress and Janata Dal to enable Kalyan to head a government.

But Rajnath’s tenure as surface transport minister was not significant, as he spent much of his time in Uttar Pradesh trying to retrieve the Thakur base.

Rajnath, said to be hooked to philosophical works, has two sons and a daughter, who lives in the US. One son is studying engineering in Indore and the other is a management student in Ghaziabad.    


 
 
BJP ENDS ‘MISFIT’ GUPTA’S AGONY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Oct. 24: 
Good guys never finish first. They also make bad politicians.

Mild-mannered and famously forgetful, Ram Prakash Gupta, who bid goodbye to the chief minister’s post today, was clearly out of place from the word go.

Wedged into the chief ministerial chair as a stop-gap, apparently to smoothen the many-hued feathers ruffled by the state’s caste-based politics, Gupta was on his way out the moment he was in.

To his detractors and supporters alike, the reason why he would be removed — though sooner than what most believed — was obvious. Like a cowboy afraid of horses, Gupta was a misfit in the rough and tumble of heartland politics.

Even his own partymen never understood why the 76-year-old, who last fought the polls in 1991 and was denied a ticket five years later, was chosen to replace Kalyan Singh, considered a wily politician. Apparently the BJP high command was trying to “please” the outgoing Kalyan by installing a “compromise candidate”.

The move backfired as Kalyan left the party in a huff. After his departure, compromise gave way to confusion and chaos.

To be fair to the outgoing chief minister, no one expected him to steer the party through the storm.

When Gupta was pulled out of political oblivion and thrust into what must be the toughest chief ministerial job, his own partymen greeted the decision with cynicism and condescension. They whispered, sniggered and laughed at the fact that a shuffling, wheelchair-bound senior citizen had been assigned to maintain decorum in a house of “delinquents”. To make matters worse, the door seemed to have been bolted from outside.

Throughout his reign, Gupta offered the perfect counterfoil to his predecessor Kalyan. Everyone listened to Kalyan, though no one liked him. Everyone liked Gupta, but no one listened to him. While Kalyan was a master at cornering people, Gupta remained in a state of perpetual gheraos, most of the time by his own men.

Kalyan grabbed power with both hands and turned into a megalomaniac. In Gupta’s reign, everyone — bureaucrats, politicians, even traders and turncoats — became powerpoints, except the chief minister himself. When Kalyan was forced to relinquish his throne, he went out with guns blazing. Gupta never fired a shot.

Gupta’s political epitaph will not be carved in gold. The BJP has never fared so badly, both as a political party and as a ruling party.

BJP insiders expect a drubbing in the Assembly polls. And with close to 20 BJP legislators making their way to Uttaranchal, dark clouds hovering over the BJP have never looked more foreboding.

But most importantly, in a state like Uttar Pradesh, any chief minister to hang on to his chair has to talk fast and talk caste. Gupta was interested in neither.

Instead, he believed that the meek shall inherit the earth. He found out that there was no place for this piece of Biblical wisdom in heartland politics.    


 
 
MEDHA ON MP FAST TRACK 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Oct. 24: 
It’s hectic in Madhya Pradesh. While the state administration is busy with the creation of Chhattisgarh scheduled for November 1, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar will go on a five-day fast here starting tomorrow.

The decision was taken last evening after Patkar, along with Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, headed a protest demonstration with a 4,000-strong crowd of affected villagers and sympathisers in Barwani, the southernmost district in west Madhya Pradesh bordering Maharashtra, just 15 km from the Narmada banks.

Speaking to The Telegraph from Barwani this morning, Patkar said: “I will be fasting along with five others in protest against injustice at large. The Supreme Court’s judgment is only part of it.” Patkar will journey 450 km from Barwani by road to reach Bhopal tomorrow morning. She will start her fast around 10.30 am.

“We have not decided on the venue in Bhopal yet. There are many who want to fast with me but we want only five more persons along with me to fast,” she added.

Patkar says there will be a huge gathering of affected villagers of the valley, though she could not specify numbers.

Asked why she preferred to hold her fast in Bhopal rather than in Baroda, Ahmedabad or Mumbai, she stated: “The main portion of the valley is in Madhya Pradesh. This state has 193 of the 245 affected villages with 33,000 people who will be homeless. Hence, we have decided to hold our dharna here.”

But the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader denied that she chose Madhya Pradesh because it is friendlier on the issue than Gujarat and Maharashtra. “I don’t expect any help from the Madhya Pradesh government. But yes, the state has kept itself away from any encroachment on the issue,” she said.

“The judgment of Justice Bharucha is completely different from that of Chief Justice Anand and Justice Kirpal. This is a serious issue. It is Justice Bharucha who has been in the bench since the petition was filed. On the other hand, Justice Anand came in only two years ago while Justice Kirpal joined one-and-a-half years ago,” Patkar said.    


 
 
SONIA READIES SATRAP SHOW OF STRENGTH 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
Leaving nothing to chance, the Congress has summoned all state party unit presidents, chief ministers of Congress-ruled states and Congress Legislature Party leaders to Delhi on October 28 to file nomination papers for Sonia Gandhi as the next party chief.

A huge pandal has come up inside 24, Akbar Road, where the party polls will be conducted. Indications are that all Pradesh Congress Committee units will back Sonia to send a strong signal that she alone is acceptable to them. The move is aimed at dissuading Jitendra Prasada from entering the fray.

Sonia’s managers are working overtime to finalise the list of party delegates who form the electoral college. Admitting the delay, AICC central authority chairman Ram Niwas Mirdha — who was gheraoed by a party supporters from Bihar — said: “The process will be completed by tomorrow or before October 28.”

Mirdha had also been gheraoed by Congressmen from Punjab, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

An isolated but determined Prasada today shot off his fifth letter to Mirdha lamenting the delay in releasing the list. Prasada said he had gone to Lucknow for the list but was told it was not ready.

Prasada demanded that Mirdha ensures immediate release of the list. A helpless Mirdha told the Congress high command that he was drawing flak due to “no fault” of his.

It appears most lists will be ready by tomorrow after AICC functionaries met at the party headquarters late last night to expedite the party polls.

In the absence of the delegates list, the Prasada camp refused to reveal its future strategy. It said it could not contest the polls without knowing the electoral college.

Reiterating charges of manipulation and irregularities, the dissidents said senior AICC functionaries were supervising lists themselves, making a mockery of party polls and inner party democracy.

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni stoutly denied the charge and said the polls would be free and fair. She wondered how many parties’ organisational polls were so transparent.

She and a battery of Congress spokespersons today said “others” were “most welcome” to contest elections.

While senior leaders like K. Natwar Singh shot down the possibility of rapprochement with Prasada, sources close to Sonia said the option was not being ruled out.

Keen to avoid a contest, Sonia-managers are prepared to look into some of Prasada’s grievances, but made it clear that a patch-up was subject to two conditions.

First, Prasada will have to restrain himself from directly attacking the AICC chief.

Second, he should not file nominations before October 28.“If he files nomination, then all options for a patch-up will close,” a 10 Janpath insider said, adding that Sonia’s desire for rapprochement should not be “misunderstood” as weakness.    


 
 
BJP TAKES UP CUDGELS FOR ANDHRA FARMERS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: 
New Delhi, Oct. 24: After the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, it is the turn of the BJP in Andhra Pradesh to pressure the Centre into buying surplus substandard foodgrain.

Junior minister for urban development and poverty alleviation Bandaru Dattatreya today shot off a letter to Union minister of consumer affairs and public distribution Shanta Kumar, urging him to direct the Food Corporation of India to relax the 14 per cent moisture content norm by one per cent to boost the sale of paddy.

Dattatreya said that with godowns overflowing with grain and FCI not procuring levy rice, Andhra farmers were having to face severe financial problems. The crisis had been aggravated as state godowns were being used to store grain meant for north Indian states.

The junior minister urged Kumar to shift the buffer stock —- meant for consumption of other states —- so that more storage space is available for grain produced by Andhra farmers.

Dattatreya said the FCI decision not to procure rice with moisture content exceeding 14 per cent had hit the farmers as millers were refusing to buy paddy from farmers. Last year, the FCI procured rice with moisture content of 15 per cent.    


 
 
BJP PAYS SARDINHA IN OWN COIN 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA AND AGENCIES
 
Panaji, Oct. 24: 
Manohar Parrikar was today sworn in Goa’s first BJP chief minister after three days of hectic politicking .

Governor Mohd Fazal administered the oath of office and secrecy to a 14-member council of ministers. Parrikar was invited to form the government after Francisco Sardinha resigned ahead of the trust vote.

Sardinha’s fate was sealed when, in a late-night development, four ministers — Alexio Sequeira, Francisco D’Souza, Venkatesh Desai and Arecio D’Souza — quit his Goan People’s Congress Party (GPCP). The 11-month coalition had been reduced to a minority in the 40-member House after the BJP pulled out following the resignation of three of its ministers last Saturday.

As of now, the BJP has a comfortable cushion in power equations. Its ranks swelled from 10 to 18 after four Congress MLAs and another four-member group of former Congressmen crossed over.

Two Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MLAs and the four-member GPCP (Desai) group have pledged support.

Those sworn in today were Ravi Naik, Ramakant Khalap, Digambar Kamat, Sheikh Hassan Haroon, Prakash Velip, Pandurang Raut, Suresh Amonkar, Sanjay Bandekar, Prakash Phadte, Manohar Ajgaokar, Philip Neri Rodrigues, Jose Philip D’Souza and Ramarao Desai.

Sources said Naik, a former Congress chief minister, will be rewarded with the deputy chief ministership. But Parrikar said an order to this effect would be issued shortly.

Parrikar is Goa’s first chief minister from the economically dominant Hindu Saraswat Brahmin community.

The fast-paced developments have left the Congress badly bruised as it suffered its third split since the Assembly was formed 11 months ago.

The first time it was Sardinha who broke away toppling the Congress ministry to assume power with BJP help. But today, the process boomeranged on him when the BJP toppled his government with help from eight former Congressmen.    


 
 
DAMPER ON JAYA HEIR HOPEFULS 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Oct. 24: 
Sending a message to friends and foes hoping to reap dividends from Jayalalitha’s legal troubles, her party today resolved to seek the mandate in next year’s Assembly election for a government under her leadership.

The ADMK general council also empowered Jayalalitha to initiate talks with prospective allies who would agree to the plan.

The assertion of the party is being seen as a response to speculation that Jayalalitha — facing disqualification from contesting elections after her conviction in the Tansi land case — may have little option but to project someone else as the party’s leader during the poll. G.K. Moopanar, leader of the Tamil Maanila Congress, was considered one of the possible choices.

The council’s day-long convention sent another signal, too, by flaunting an impressive turnout. Party managers were quick to interpret the size of the crowd as a sign of Jayalalitha’s “enduring popularity” despite the court verdict.

Speaker after speaker heaped praise on the “Puratchi Thalaivi” for her visionary leadership and denounced the courts for “unjustly punishing her”.

The convention also set the stage for the “political debut” of Jayalalitha’s aide Sasikala, who was also convicted in the land case. Sasikala, nominated recently to the general council, was seated in the front row, not on the dais.

Today’s was the first meeting of the general council after Jayalalitha gave the boot to most senior functionaries and nominated relatively new faces. Many of the discarded leaders were found avidly watching the proceedings from corners, making some effort to draw the attention of the leader.

The council also passed a resolution attacking the Karunanidhi government for its handling of the Raj Kumar abduction issue and charged that it had forged a nexus with anti-national elements.    


 
 
SECURITY CRY FOR POLITICAL PILL IN J&K 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Oct. 24: 
Echoing the army, the paramilitary Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) has proposed that Kashmir’s problem should be sorted out through political means.

“We have been telling the politicians of the country that Kashmir is a political problem which needs to be resolved politically,” P.C. Joshi, inspector-general of CRPF, Kashmir, told a news conference at the heavily-guarded Amar Singh Club here.

“I want the political leadership of the country and others involved in the conflict to take a final decision, right or wrong, on Kashmir to avoid further bloodshed,” he said.

“We are facing problems in fighting our own people,” Joshi said. “It would be easier to take on Pakistan if we confront her directly.”

For the first time after the massacre of the Amarnath pilgrims on August 1 at Pahalgam, the inspector-general admitted that his troops had played a part. “A couple of people might have been killed in retaliation by the CRPF after the militant attack,” he said. “I admitted this before the Prime Minister when he visited the area two days after the massacre.”

The government, which has ordered an inquiry into the killings, had blamed militants for the massacre.

Joshi said militants were now increasingly using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which, he said, were “proving deadly”. He added that each IED strike causes 15 casualties.

To tackle the menace, Joshi said that high frequency jammers were needed immediately. “We require about 70 jammers for the 26 CRPF battalions deployed in Kashmir. Even 15 to 20 jammers will help neutralise the danger to a great extent.” He said each imported jammer costs about Rs 1 crore.

He added: “This year the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) has begun manufacturing the prototype of the apparatus, which is less expensive, and is being used by the security forces.”

The jammers would be used mainly by the road opening parties, he said. The army, he said, has already got 10 such jammers.    


 
 
SHILLONG BANDH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Shillong, Oct. 24: 
Security arrangement in the state has been beefed up for the dawn-to-dusk bandh called by the Meghalaya Students’ Federation (MSF) tomorrow, our correspondent reports. The MSF, an umbrella organisation of the Khasi Students Union (KSU), the Jaintia Students’ Union (JSU) and Garo Students’ Union (GSU) has called the bandh in protest against the government’s failure to come up with a “concrete decision” on “illegal migration” and the imposition of inner-line permit (ILP) in the state. Police sources said the “special security arrangements” for the bandh include setting up of pickets in vulnerable areas and vigorous patrolling during the day. More paramilitary forces have been requisitioned by the state government to maintain law and order during the bandh.

The state government has instructed its employees to attend office tomorrow, sources said. The Meghalaya Transport Corporation has also been directed to operate buses. The state government claimed that the bandh in support of the demand for the imposition of inner-line permit in the state was uncalled for.    

 

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