BJP rivals cool to Rajnath
Laxman’s flock back on Ram path
Unity drive in mourning Cong
Friends, foes together in last farewell
BJP-wary Cong in island rally
Swadeshi sermon from out-of-favour ideologue
Medha final struggle with black Diwali
SC clears air on poll challenge time
Cousin batters Bahuguna
68 militants surrender in Assam

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP’s main adversaries in Uttar Pradesh, are dismissive of the leadership change in the state.

“The BJP chapter is over in Uttar Pradesh. Only the BSP and the Samajwadi Party are in the political forefront. I don’t think Rajnath Singh will be able to do anything to improve the BJP’s image,” BSP leader A. Ambedarajan said.

Reoti Raman Singh, senior Samajwadi Party legislator from Karchana, Allahabad, conceded that Rajnath could tone up the administration to an extent but said he would not be able to deliver the goods on other counts like reviving the cash-strapped economy, reining in the price line and controlling law and order.

Singh wasn’t even sure if the new chief minister could handle the BJP allies, the main reason why he was rushed to Lucknow by the high command.

Rajnath’s brief is to make sure that the government does not collapse once Uttaranchal comes into existence in November. The coalition’s strength will be reduced to a wafer-thin majority with the exit of 17 Uttarakhand MLAs.

“The allies have reduced the government to a bargaining counter and their demands seem endless. What special magic wand does Rajnath have to make them see reason?” Singh asked.

The Samajwadi leader also scoffed at the theory that Rajnath’s anointment would stop the shift in Rajput votes towards the Samajwadi Party.

“Uttar Pradesh’s political history shows that among all communities it is the Rajputs who tend most to remain on the right side of power,” he said.

“Right now they see the BJP as a sinking ship. Why should they climb on to it?”

BJP sources admitted that despite Rajnath they were more or less reconciled to a defeat in the coming Assembly polls, even if they were held after a year.

According to them, the change has more to do with the post-poll scenario.

“In case the BJP finishes second and is the main Opposition party, we need an aggressive leader who can keep the government of the day on its toes. Ram Prakash Gupta could not have done this, nor any other BJP leader,” said sources.

The BJP isn’t the only party which believes that a hung House could emerge. Both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP privately think the results may not be conclusive.

The BJP has already indicated that it is willing to again go in for a coalition experiment, even if it means shaking hands with its former ally, the BSP.

In such a scenario, the high command thinks Rajnath is the best bet to plan the backroom manoeuvres. As a senior leader said: “He is an ace strategist.”

But BSP sources are wary of Rajnath. Though he is better suited than any of his colleagues to deal with allies like the Loktantrik Congress Party and the Jantantrik BSP, the original BSP, they said, was a different cup of tea.

“There is no meeting ground between Rajnath and Mayavati,” they said.

“We cannot forget it is he who principally split our party and helped Kalyan Singh attain majority. He can’t be trusted easily.”    

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
BJP president Bangaru Laxman is distancing his party from the strident tone that has marked public speeches of the leading lights of the Sangh parivar in recent weeks. But the controversy is unlikely to die away due to conflicting signals that are emerging from the party’s own camp.

Drawing a parallel with the Congress’ affinity with Mahatma Gandhi, he distinguished between the role of the former as a guiding force and the actual policies of the latter. The equation of the party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was on similar lines. The former was open to Indians of all creeds and faiths, and had no affinity with the ideal of Hindu rashtra or nationhood. It was also honour-bound to respect any court verdict on the Ayodhya case.

Yet, it is an open question whether Laxman protests too much. The shift of political equations in much of north India may leave the party no option but to test waters on emotive issues. The challenge will be to do so in a manner that does not threaten the coherence of the ruling coalition at the Centre. Until now, most allies have not attacked the view that there was nothing official in the views of RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan.

But political circumstances in north India are perhaps pushing the party in a different direction. Last Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh state unit of the BJP held a public meeting in Sultanpur to commemorate a volunteer killed in police firing at Ayodhya in October 1990. Key leaders, including state party chief Kalraj Mishra and the then Union transport minister Rajnath Singh, reaffirmed their commitment to the construction of a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Of course, such meetings are no novelty. But the timing is of the essence. This is the first public and open affirmation of the temple agenda since last year’s general elections.

Further, senior state and Union leaders have begun to assume a more public posture on Hindutva issues than at any time in the last two years. Union home minister L.K. Advani’s presence at the vast RSS rally in Agra assumes special significance in this context.

Dire political necessity at the state level is pushing the party into a corner, with the Ram temple card the only option. The creation of the new state of Uttaranchal will reduce the majority of the already beleagured BJP-led ministry to only four seats. The second largest coalition partner, the Loktrantik Congress Party, has already announced it will go it alone in the forthcoming polls to urban local bodies.

With little to show in its track record of governance, hopes lay high in the kisan yatra of Mishra. It elicited a lukewarm response, and the fuel price put a damper on attempts at mobilisation. When in trouble the party has no recourse but to turn to the cadres of the parent body.

Sudarshan has sharpened his rhetoric; Laxman’s bid to insulate the Vajpayee regime. Here, in a nutshell, is the controversy that tore apart the Janata Party in 1979.

There is a crucial contrast: the Sangh was under attack from lifelong socialists like Madhu Limaye.

Now, it is men in the BJP itself who are trying, in a half-hearted manner, to give themselves the semblance of a distinct identity. But the shifts in social alliances in the Gangetic plain may yet give plains speak in the saffron sense the turn it is waiting for.    

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
In life, he always held out a threat for Sonia Gandhi. But in death, Sitaram Kesri may do her a great favour.

The grief of Chacha’s demise galvanised Congressmen into a last-ditch effort to avoid a trial of strength between Sonia and the dissidents led by Jitendra Prasada.

The Congress Working Committee passed a special resolution in memory of Chacha. Setting aside differences everybody attended the meeting, including Prasada. As a mark of respect to the former chief, the party deferred filing of nomination by a day. Nominations can be filed tomorrow between 11 am and 1.30 pm and the last date for entering the fray is October 28.

As Prasada was coming out of the meet, a partyman, Pratap Bhanu Sharma, confronted him. “Sir, will you respect the wishes and sentiments of millions of partymen?” he asked. Prasada smiled, but said nothing.

The rapprochement drive began at yesterday’s meeting of AICC office-bearers, where several leaders felt efforts should be made to avoid a contest. When the matter was put to Sonia, she said she was ready to look into the grievances of all partymen, including Prasada.

Prasada, too, softened his stand, saying he was for unanimity and that his agenda was limited to restoring inner-party democracy.

Several senior leaders like Ahmad Patel, Digvijay Singh and Pranab Mukherjee are mediating in the hope of an amicable solution. Patel met Prasada today and efforts are on to arrange a meeting between Prasada and Sonia to clear their “misunderstanding”.

The dissidents are trying to extract a promise from Sonia that the coterie would be dismantled after the polls. Some partymen unhappy with the coterie today reasoned with Prasada that his tough posture was helping the coterie. “Join us in our common fight,” the chief minister of a Congress-ruled state said, inviting Prasada to join the ginger group formed to restore inner-party democracy. He argued that a contest would lead to further bad blood and weaken the party.

The party’s central election authority chairman Ram Niwas Mirdha is keeping a close watch on the developments. The former Sahitya Academy chief will be most delighted if party polls end smoothly. Over the past few days, Mirdha has emerged as a punching bag because of the Congress managers’ failure to prepare the list of state delegates who form the electoral college for the party president’s election. Mirdha wants to notify party polls tomorrow, but on condition that at least 70 per cent of the delegates list is handed over to him. For the Sonia camp, it is a race against time.    

New Delhi & Calcutta, Oct. 25: 
Waking up to the news of Sitaram Kesri’s death, the Congress parivar today united in grief to bid its last farewell to the leader who had served the party for 65 long years.

Kesri’s 7 Purana Qila home milled with Congressmen of all colours since morning, headed by party chief Sonia Gandhi, who sat with the mourners. Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, whose United Front government was pulled down by Kesri, was among the earliest to show up.

The body was ferried to Danapur, Kesri’s home town, late this afternoon after the CWC met to pass a condolence resolution. Senior leaders Motilal Vora, Ahmad Patel and Mohsina Kidwai accompanied the body.

Laloo Yadav, who had a special rapport with Kesri, rushed back from Bettiah to receive the body. Looking pale and tired, Laloo jostled and shoved aside crowds —- the cortege was just setting out for Danapur by the time he reached the airport —- to lay a wreath on the body.

Eyes brimming over at the “abrupt end”, Laloo said: “He was responsible for the rise of the Dalits and backwards in Bihar, and for their cause, he often earned the displeasure of many, including his own party.”

Local residents, mostly from the backward castes, lined the Danapur-Patna road as the body was taken to Kesri’s ancestral house this evening. A large number of Muslim and Dalit leaders turned up at the airport, but there were few Congress ministers.

Many of the leader’s classmates visited his house. A Danapur shopowner, who always chided Kesri for his “foolish involvement” in politics, said: “He always eluded us, even in death.”

The body will be taken to Sadaquat Ashram, the state party headquarters in Patna, tomorrow morning. The last rites will be performed at the Bansghat crematorium in the afternoon.

In Delhi, President K.R. Narayanan paid homage to the leader. Consoling Kesri’s son Amarnath, he said: “Kesri’s death is a great loss to the nation.”

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is recuperating after knee surgery, sent a message saying that in the death of the octogenarian, the nation had lost an able parliamentarian.

Three former Prime Ministers —- P.V. Narasimha Rao, V.P Singh and Chandra Shekhar —- also paid their respects, as did Vice-President Krishan Kant and home minister L.K. Advani.

Sonia lauded Kesri’s contribution, saying the party valued his secular credentials and his fight for the downtrodden.

“We value his long contribution to the party. He was a secularist. Throughout his life he worked for the uplift of the downtrodden,” she said.    

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
Rattled by the BJP’s move to penetrate its bastion in Lakshadweep, the Congress is planning a massive show of strength in the coral island.

Lok Sabha deputy Speaker P. M. Sayeed, who has won eight successive parliamentary elections from Lakshadweep, is taking the initiative to organise the first-ever rally which will be addressed by party chief Sonia Gandhi and Congress chief ministers.

The public show of strength is tentatively scheduled for the first week of November. Congress sources denied that it had anything to do with the BJP’s plans to open a unit in the island. They pointed out that nearly 100 per cent of the population was Muslim, and the BJP could never get a foothold there.

BJP sources claimed that their immediate aim was not to win elections, but to register a presence there in the light of party chief Bangaru Laxman’s pro-minority line. Mohammed Koya — a prominent Muslim leader who was earlier fielded by the Janata Dal (United) against Sayeed — is being approached by the BJP to head the new unit.

Sources added the BJP is trying to register its presence in the island and increase its strength in Kerala, a line of action boosted by its recent triumph in Goa, where it formed the government for the first time.    

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
As the BJP sings hosannas in praise of economic reforms and globalisation, former general secretary K.N. Govindacharya has struck a warning note.

The ideologue — clearly persona non grata in the Vajpayee dispensation — appealed to the party to revive the swadeshi model of development without using the word, now taboo in saffron circles.

In a letter to BJP MPs, including ministers and office-bearers, Govindacharya pointed out that globalisation, liberalisation and “market fundamentalism” had brought about “unprecedented changes in our socio-economic cultural fabric”.

Therefore, he argued, there was need to “revive the belief that the nation has the resources, the capability, the alternatives to sustain its development”.

Govindacharya said the process of globalisation, that gained momentum from 1985, was “ill-thought” and had led experts to believe that it had increased rural poverty and unemploy- ment.

He stressed the need to gather information on activities of organisations like the IMF and the World Bank because peasants, artisans and small industries had been affected by them.

RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had also underscored the need for an alternative economic model based on the needs of the village in his address in the recent Agra mahashivir.

According to sources, Govindacharya’s services have been drafted by the Sangh to evolve a swadeshi blueprint to cou- nter the Vajpayee government’s economic policies and, in a sense, act like its “conscience keeper”.

The former general secretary has taken a two-year sabbatical to study the ‘Impact of globalisation in the civilisational context and the alternatives’.

But despite his call to Indian society to be “proud of its identity and its history”, BJP sources were not sure if his appeal would find too many takers at a time when the party was content to play second-fiddle to Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The sources said finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s open endorsement of liberalisation and reforms was the “biggest snub” to the swadeshi lobby, more so after it had fought tooth and nail to get him the job against Vajpayee’s initial opposition.    

Bhopal, Oct. 25: 
As Medha Patkar launched her “final struggle” with a five-day protest fast, residents of 245 villages threatened by the Sardar Sarovar dam turned their backs on Diwali to mark the “darkness” in their lives.

“What Diwali?” cried 16-year-old Mamta Raje Singh of Ekkelbara village in Manowar and one of the seven fasting with Medha. “The Supreme Court’s judgment has brought darkness into our lives. How do you think we can celebrate the festival of lights now?”

Medha wondered how the apex court judges could have differed so much while giving the verdict. “See the order, the majority judgment by (Justices) Kirpal and Anand are completely opposed to (Justice) Bharucha’s, who has been on the bench from the beginning of the case. How can his ruling be completely opposite the majority judgment?” she said at a news conference at Polytechnic Square, the site of her dharna.

“The ruling has been eventful. It is eventful because of the manner in which the Supreme Court has argued its judgment,” Medha added.

The spearhead of the struggle said she was disappointed with the way things have turned out. “We don’t think we were wrong going to court. For 15 years, this has been a democratic, non-violent fight of the poor, oppressed farmer against the repressive and corrupt state. After 10 years of struggle, we went to the Supreme Court with one report from the World Bank and another of the government of India. We had hoped the apex court will carry out its own enquiry and then mete out justice.

“We went to court because we respected the apex court much more than any political party or their leaders do. We are not shattered, but dhakka laga hai.”

Pointing to the 150-odd villagers, shouting slogans like “jaan denge, zamin nahin”, who had gathered at the site, Medha said she drew strength from their support. “The people of Narmada valley are very strong. They have shown amazing strength,” she said.

The villagers promised to fight to the finish. “Where will we go? We are not going anywhere,” said Kamala Bai Patidar, a resident of Pathrar village in Maheshwar. “We will stay wherever we live. We don’t approve of the Supreme Court’s judgment. The state sits here and in New Delhi to take all the decisions. Have these people ever visited our villages to find out where the truth lies?”

Medha and her comrades are considering meeting Madhya Pradesh Governor Bhai Mahavir to persuade President K.R. Narayanan to intervene. “Article 5 of the Constitution gives the President the power to protect the interests of tribals. Most of these villages affected by the Sardar Sarovar project belong to tribals. The state is a non-tribal organisation. Hence, the President can always protect the tribal against encroachment by the state,” said Medha.    

New Delhi, Oct. 25: 
The Supreme Court ruled that the 45-day limitation period to challenge an election result excludes the date of the outcome. A three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said the petition challenging the election must be filed within 45 days, starting from the day after the result is declared.

The verdict came on an appeal from Madhya Pradesh MLA Tarun Prasad who argued that the state high court had erred in accepting a petition challenging his election 45 days after the result was declared. Dismissing the appeal, the court said the first day of the limitation period should be excluded for the “convenience of the parties”.

The judges argued that candidates and voters should be given time to file a petition in case the result is delayed or is declared late in the night. “The law comes to the rescue of the parties to give a full period of 45 days for filing the election petition,” the court said.    

Lucknow, Oct. 25: 
Sunderlal Bahuguna, founder of the Chipko movement, sustained serious head injuries when he was attacked by his cousin.

Satyendra Mohan, a graduate who handled Bahuguna’s media relations, reportedly barged into the social activist’s Tehri house around 11 am today. After a heated argument over money, he started banging Bahuguna’s head on the floor. Bahuguna’s wife was also injured in the attack.

The police have arrested Mohan and charged him with criminal assault. Tehri police superintendent Deepam Seth said Mohan had been demanding a “share” in the sum of Rs 17 crore which, he alleged, Bahuguna had amassed from foreign aid for his social work.

Both the police and Bahuguna’s relatives maintain that Mohan is “mentally deranged”. They said when Mohan came to Bahuguna, he threatened to send him to a protection home in Punjab if the “madness” continued. It was then that Mohan assaulted him.

Bahuguna’s son Rajeev Nayan said a month ago, some miscreants had tried to barge into the house, but fled after the commotion alerted the neighbours. He added that Mohan was coerced by “certain people” to attack his father. “They took advantage of his mental condition and brainwashed him into the act,” Rajeev said, adding that the role of pro-dam forces — contractors keen on the Tehri dam being completed without Bahuguna’s repeated obstacles — cannot be ignored.

The police said they were looking into “all the possible angles”.    

Guwahati, Oct. 25: 
Altogether 68 militants of three different outfits surrendered before Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha and chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta at Bilasipara in Lower Assam’s Dhubri district today.

The surrendered militants include 54 from the Ulfa, four National Democratic Front of Boroland and 10 from the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam. The militants led by top Ulfa leaders Raju Chakrabarty and Khiren Nath laid down a large number of assorted weapons, including four AK-47 rifles, two US carbines, one SLR, one sten gun, several pistols and revolvers and a huge quantity of ammunition.

This year 1,106 militants —including today’s surrendered rebels — of different outfits returned to the mainstream. The process of surrender under the ruling government began in April 1988. In the past two months 488 militants have laid down arms.

The Ulfa leaders said the long-drawn out violence has halted the economic development in the state. They appealed to their comrades to come forward for “self-purification” by returning to the mainstream. Sinha said Assam is part of free India, so the state does not need “freedom as demanded by the Ulfa”. The Opposition expressed apprehension saying the ruling AGP was planning to use the surrendered rebels in the Assembly elections.    


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