Prasada draws up 8-point plan for power purge
Rama fumes at Kesri parallel
Pressure on Laxman to pipe down Nagpur cry
Pokhran adds muscle to nuke might
Jaya matches rival, verse for verse
Kallu set to score Varanasi first
Green signal to DTH proposal
Brisk Basu sets up poll planks at farewell rally
Naidu joins foodgrain cry
Surjeet blows up merger plan

 
 
PRASADA DRAWS UP 8-POINT PLAN FOR POWER PURGE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
Jitendra Prasada today ruled out withdrawing from the race for Congress president, claiming that he was forced to enter the fray against Sonia Gandhi after he was refused an assurance on restoration of inner-party democracy.

Without naming mediators Ahmad Patel, Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath, Prasada said: “I had discussions with senior party leaders. To the best of my knowledge, they did not object to the issues raised by me. I waited and then filed nomination on the last day when I failed to get any response.”

Prasada asked party workers to cast off the Sonia regime and promised to change the power structure “upside down”. Adding that he would strive to restore workers’ dignity, Prasada claimed they were being ignored by the present set-up. He termed the party polls as “a battle between coteries and grassroots party workers”.

At his first press meet after filing nomination, Prasada released an eight-point action plan to “correct” the practice of authorising the leadership to take vital decisions. “This practice is the root of the culture of sycophancy and does no good to the party. There should be accountability at all levels,” he said, citing the example of Chhattisgarh where MLAs have authorised Sonia to select a new chief minister.

Prasada exuded confidence while saying he would score a victory over Sonia. “Every candidate contests to win. I have filed my papers. Where else can I go now?”

Lashing out at the coterie around Sonia, Prasada said: “Coteries do not serve the party. They encircle the leadership, insulate it from workers and block intra-party communication....Coteries are a cancer that eat into the vitals of all political parties. We must save the Congress from them.”

Prasada also released his agenda titled Why I am a candidate. Full of barbs at Sonia, the draft claimed the Congress had lost elections where leaders had campaigned but performed “impressively” in panchayat and municipal polls without any campaigning by national or state leaders.

The dissident leader appears to aim at curtailing Sonia’s vast powers as the party chief. Demanding the constitution of the central parliamentary board, Prasada said the board and the Congress parliamentary party executive should meet regularly to review emerging issues and formulate the party’s response.

Prasada appealed to the party workers to make the first organisational polls of the new millennium “a turning point” in the party’s history. “There are important lessons to be drawn from the setbacks the party suffered in Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and other states,” he said.

Poll forgery claim

The Congress polls took a new turn with three members from West Singhbhum in Bihar denying filing nomination papers on Prasada’s behalf, adds our Ranchi correspondent. They claimed they had not visited Delhi and their signatures were forged.    

 
 
RAMA FUMES AT KESRI PARALLEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
The widow of Rajesh Pilot, Rama, today reacted sharply to Jitendra Prasada’s claim that his bid for the Congress president’s post was a tribute to Pilot and Sitaram Kesri’s memory, wondering how he could equate them when they were poles apart in their political thinking.

Speaking to The Telegraph, the MP from Dausa said: “I was deeply hurt when I heard Prasada dragging in my late husband’s name. What was more unfortunate is that he took Pilot’s name along with Kesri. There was nothing in common between them. Everyone knows that.”

Virtually puncturing Prasada’s campaign for restoration of inner-party democracy, Rama said: “Pilot would have never liked this kind of remark. Why drag his name in now when he is not there? Pilot aur Kesriji mein to chhatish ka ankra tha. (Pilot and Kesri were constantly at loggerheads).”

Rama recalled it was during Kesri’s tenure that Pilot became the victim of back-room manipulations during the Calcutta plenary when he lost the Congress Working Committee (CWC) polls by a narrow margin. Prasada had then sided with Kesri.

With Rama distancing herself from Prasada, the dissidents are unlikely to get her support and, therefore, that of the large group of Pilot’s followers.

The dissidents are now targeting the central election authority, questioning its impartiality in conducting party polls. Prasada today criticised Ram Niwas Mirdha’s statement that counting of votes would be done state-wise, saying that all votes should be mixed and then counted to maintain secrecy of ballot.

The battle for supremacy in the Congress now appears to be loaded in favour of Sonia. However, had it not been for the untimely death of Pilot and Kesri and the conviction of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the JMM bribery case, the Congress president would have faced a much more formidable challenge.

For the last six months, the dissidents have been holding secret conclaves to throw a leadership challenge at her.

The gatherings usually included some senior leaders and those expelled or forced to leave the party under Sonia, the common enemy of disgruntled elements. While some are unhappy that a person of foreign origin has occupied the top post, others hate the rise of Arjun Singh and Vincent George. Another section is sore about being denied tickets for the Rajya Sabha and other posts.

But the “movement for restoration of inner-party democracy” lost momentum after Pilot was killed in a road accident near Dausa in Rajasthan. Kesri then became a rallying point for the dissidents.    


 
 
PRESSURE ON LAXMAN TO PIPE DOWN NAGPUR CRY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
BJP chief Bangaru Laxman is under pressure from senior colleagues to finetune his Nagpur message and not take the RSS head-on over the minorities issue.

A senior leader said Laxman is expected to convey a “political message” at a press conference here tomorrow in an attempt to mend fences with the Sangh and BJP hardliners who frowned upon the pro-minorities aspects of his presidential address.

According to a general secretary, the chief is “expected to dilute some aspects of the Nagpur speech” because a section of the party feels that in the process of winning over Muslims, the BJP’s “traditional Hindutva constituency” should not get “alienated”.

Asked what parts could be “diluted”, he said Laxman could come up with a statement acknowledging the RSS’ “moral authority” over its progeny and its role as the BJP’s “friend, philosopher and guide”.

Officially, the BJP said the press conference has been called to mark the beginning of a fortnight-long countrywide campaign to spread the “Nagpur message” among the rank-and-file and as a post-Diwali get-together. However, sources said the “political” component was just as “important, if not more”.

Some senior partymen feel that Laxman has taken the RSS-Atal Behari Vajpayee face-off “too far”.

Shortly after RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan asked Muslims and Christians to “integrate” themselves into the “Indian cultural and social mainstream” at the Agra mahashivir, Laxman came out with a statement saying that the BJP had nothing to do with Sudarshan’s views.

He added that it was up to the “different sections of our diverse society to react to these views, as they deem right”.

Laxman’s virtual rejection raised eyebrows within his party. “What is the use of carrying on a ding-dong battle with the Sangh?” said a veteran. “Can we ever afford to disown the RSS or dissociate ourselves from it? The BJP and the Sangh, in the ultimate analysis, are one.”

The BJP interpreted the statement — issued at a press conference in Gurdaspur where he was supposed to talk about the Centre’s package to farmers in Punjab — as Laxman’s “way of pleasing the Prime Minister”. Some thought he had done it at the instance of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “He probably thinks the Prime Minister will be happy with his rebuttal,” said sources.

But Vajpayee, who has so far balanced the compulsions of governance with a token nod to some of the Sangh’s sermons, did a bit of juggling again.

According to sources, he went out of his way to accommodate home minister L.K. Advani who placated the RSS by attending the Agra conclave, where he went through the motions of a swayamsevak in a shakha.

Sources say Vajpayee accepted Advani’s advice to replace Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta with Rajnath Singh, who is supposed to be the home minister’s candidate. Laxman, they say, was kept out of the decision to drop Gupta and was not even consulted.

Insiders say, BJP hardliners have advised Laxman to “emulate” Vajpayee and be “diplomatic” while taking on the Sangh.    


 
 
POKHRAN ADDS MUSCLE TO NUKE MIGHT 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 30: 
Atomic Energy Commission chairman R. Chidambaram said today India is capable of producing nuclear warheads of “high yields” following its “success” in the Pokhran tests.

The five “carefully planned and completely successful” tests two years ago “gave us the capability to design and fabricate nuclear weapons from low yields up to around 200 kilotons,” said the top scientist behind the nuclear blasts which provoked similar tests by Pakistan.

“That was in May 1998 and a great deal of scientific and technological development has taken place since then,” Chidambaram said.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had declared India a nuclear weapons state after the tests.

Chidambaram for the first time gave details of India’s nuclear capability in a speech to nuclear scientists, engineers and other staff at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) in Mumbai. The scientists had gathered to pay tribute to Homi Bhabha, the man who pioneered the country’s nuclear programme, on his 91st birthday.

The commission chief, however, refused to answer questions on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability. “I am not here to compare,” he said.

Another top nuclear scientist A.N. Prasad, a former Barc dierctor, said India’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons with high yields demonstrated it had “the technology” to increase its yields further.

“Once you have the technology, the yields really do not matter,” Prasad, one of the UN inspectors sent to unearth Iraq’s hidden nuclear arsenals, said, while speaking informally at the end of the gathering.

Prasad said the basic difference between India and Pakistan’s nuclear programmes was: “While ours is indigenous, theirs is borrowed.”

Analysts said India has enough plutonium to produce 85 to 90 nuclear weapons, while Pakistan possesses enough uranium for 40 nuclear warheads.

The nuclear tests by the two countries caught the world unaware and the West responded with economic sanctions.

Barc director Anil Kakodkar said India has nearly completed the “post-test” investigations. “These have confirmed that all objectives of the tests have been fully met.”

Chidambaram said India is no longer considered a developing nation internationally on the nuclear front, but “developed”. “India is a founder member of International Atomic Energy Agency, where we are now a technical assistance giver, not a taker.” A number of scientists from developing countries are now trained in India, he said.

Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Barc earlier this month, Chidambaram said it indicated the rapidly increasing momentum in India’s nuclear power sector and its growing cooperation with Russia in the area. Putin was the first foreign head of government to visit the Barc.    


 
 
JAYA MATCHES RIVAL, VERSE FOR VERSE 
 
 
FROM T. N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Oct. 30: 
When in distress, poetry pours forth from the pens of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mamata Banerjee. Now Jayalalitha has joined the pained poets’ club, crossing acid-dripping pens with her rival and unlikely muse, Karunanidhi.

Sample a stanza: With just one foot in the grave, should you still be conspiring against others?

I must die as I weave another conspiracy and my very ashes should stink of conspiracies….

No prizes for guessing who the interrogator or the brazen respondent are. The poem, credited to Jayalalitha and carried by her party’s mouthpiece, is being seen as a line-for-line reply to a poetic diatribe by Karunanidhi in his party’s organ.

Jayalalitha’s so-far dormant creative talent was stimulated by a poem by Karunanidhi, known for his flair for words and trenchant phrases. On Saturday morning, Karunanidhi’s Murasoli came out with an innuendo-packed “interrogative” poem.

Gardens, groves, hotels... are you still not satisfied? ... property worth sixty crore... wedding for a hundred crore (the extravagant marriage of Jayalalitha’s foster son had stirred an uproar when she was chief minister.) Is it just?

That’s why I undertake pilgrimages frequently... for atonement.

Well, the temples could forgive you, but not the courts...

The barb could not but have touched a raw nerve in Jayalalitha, who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in the Tansi land case. Jayalalitha hit back the same evening through her publication, Namadhu MGR.

After the unkind “one-foot-in-the-grave” reference (Karunanidhi is 77 years), Jayalalitha lets her pen run loose.

All your four sons (Karunanidhi has four sons) accumulate properties all over the country. How come? The pace is amazing.

Simple. I used and misused power to steal from the state. I took my cut in rice, wheat and sugar deals.

One son as mayor is looting the city. And you’re promoting him in the party. Is it fair?

He’s full of all the vices I have. Not reason enough for me to promote him?

Apart from promoting your family, what else is your outstanding quality?

Well, I’m out to crush my opponents. Am crafty as a fox too.

Jayalalitha could have taken tips on writing poetry from the editor of Namadhu MGR, but the bitterness and the barely disguised references in the repartee have seldom been matched in the political history of Tamil Nadu, which had its fair share of fiery speakers known for emotional outbursts.    


 
 
KALLU SET TO SCORE VARANASI FIRST 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Oct. 30: 
Kallu’s “dream man” is Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh. But the role models are Shabnam Mausi and Kamala, the eunuchs from Madhya Pradesh who made it in politics, one as the first eunuch MLA and the other as a civic body head.

“And why not?’’ asks Kallu, alias Salamuddin, who is fighting the civic polls on a Samajwadi Party ticket. If elected, Kallu will become Varanasi’s first eunuch councillor.

But many in the holy city are not amused. A BJP leader is condescending. “It just proves that there are no men left in the Samajwadi Party,’’ he says.

Kallu, who feels it’s time to come out, is unfazed. “Being a eunuch I am used to disparaging comments. But soon the world will sit up and realise that a eunuch can do much more than just dance and clap around. It’s time to come out from the shadows.’’

The 40-year-old Kallu, who asserts that despite the “masculine” name, people should use the feminine pronoun to address “her”, is armed with an agenda. “It is not just for my community that I will be fighting for,” Kallu says. “I will be fighting for all the downtrodden, the poor and the marginalised. Against any kind of discrimination, be it based on caste, religion or gender.”

“I feel the pain of poverty,” says Kallu, who is from a poor weaver’s family. An active Samajwadi Party worker for the last two years, Kallu says more than winning or losing, it is her “sadness” at the state of affairs that is to be put across to people.

“Look at the potholes on our roads,’’ Kallu states, adding with vehemence: “The government is talking of power reforms, but most of our lives we spend in darkness. These things have to change. The quality of our lives have to improve.’’

Kallu may be unsure about electoral prospects, but the Samajwadi camp is upbeat. Says Kanhaiya Lal Gupta, the party’s city unit chief: “We are sure Kallu’s will be a thumping victory.’’

Explaining the party’s choice, Gupta says: “Ours is a party that believes there should be representations in decision-making bodies from the most neglected classes in society. Kallu’s candidature is in keeping with the policies of the party.’’

Kallu is candid enough to point out her other “shortcomings”. With no formal education — she can barely write her name in Hindi — Kallu is a misfit in Varanasi’s political circles. “On top of that I am also poor and have no money to spend on people.

“What I have though is humanity and pride,’’ adds Kallu, who promises not to abandon the eunuch’s “traditional profession” even if elected a councillor. “That is my bhagya and I will not shy away from it.’’ Giving Kallu company would be Rekha, a eunuch from Jaunpur, who is fighting the civic body elections as an independent on November 20.    


 
 
GREEN SIGNAL TO DTH PROPOSAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
The group of ministers led by Union home minister L.K. Advani on Ku-band direct-to-home services (DTH) held three meetings yesterday and this morning. The ministers accepted the DTH proposals unanimously.

Briefing the press, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj has been appointed the administrative authority for preparing a Cabinet note on the group of ministers’ deliberations. The report will take roughly a fortnight to prepare.

It will then be circulated among the members of the Cabinet and will be taken up at the subsequent Cabinet meeting.    


 
 
BRISK BASU SETS UP POLL PLANKS AT FAREWELL RALLY 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Oct 30: 
The sky over Esplanade was overcast. On the ground, partymen formed human chains and periodically raised the slogan, Comrade Jyoti Basu lal selam. At 5.15 pm, the octogenarian bhadralok arrived in his white Ambassador for his last rally as chief minister of West Bengal.

Basu’s successor-designate, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, had arrived half-an-hour earlier. But he did not climb the dais, choosing to wait on one of the chairs on the Shahid Minar ground, wet after the weekend’s rains, smoking one cigarette after another. CPM leaders Dipen Ghosh, Shyamal Chakraborty and Rabin Deb hovered around him.

Basu’s car pulled up next to the dais. Dressed in a spotless white dhoti, panjabi and Jawahar coat, Basu got out and climbed up the steps brisk as ever. Dipen Ghosh, editor of CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti, urged the chief minister-designate to follow suit.

As Basu moved towards his seat in the front row, the modest audience burst into a thunderous applause. Bhattacharya initially made his way to the seat next to irrigation minister Debabrata Bandopadhyay, but later sat beside Basu following a request from politburo member Biman Bose and photographers. He spoke to Basu occasionally.

Bhattacharya did not address the audience which included ministers, former ministers and party leaders. Asim Dasgupta, Ashoke Mitra, Satyasadhan Chakraborty, and Samir Putatunda were present.

Rising to speak around 6.15 pm, Basu made it clear the petroleum price hike and the recent floods would be the Left Front’s poll planks in the coming Assembly elections. The rally was organised to protest the rise in prices of petroleum products and the Centre’s “apathy” towards flood-hit West Bengal.

By the time Basu began speaking, it was already dark. The lights around the podium were not enough, so securitymen held a torchlight to his scribbled notes. The chief minister asserted that the Trinamul-BJP combine would not win the 2001 Assembly polls. But he did not once mention his retirement or his successor Bhattacharya. That was left to Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta.

Basu was cautious while attacking the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine. “I know this is not an election rally, still I must say something against them because they have betrayed the people of Bengal,” he started.

The chief minister said the Trinamul Congress and the BJP had demanded imposition of Article 356 at a time when the state was devastated by floods.

“When the state government was trying hard to rehabilitate people in the nine flood-hit districts, Mamata Banerjee and her men were busy demanding imposition of Article 356,” he said amid loud cheers.

“Mamata Banerjee described the recent flood as man-made at a time when several industrialists, schoolchildren and many organisations came to me to make donations for the flood victims,” he added.

The chief minister also came down heavily on the Centre for demanding Rs 15 crore from the state for using army helicopters and boats to rescue flood victims and distribute relief.

Basu dared Mamata to confront the Centre on the petroleum price rise. Criticising her for enacting “a drama of resignation”, he said the Centre had increased prices of petroleum products four times last year.

Hitting out at the Centre, he said: “The Centre made a bulk oil purchase when the price of petroleum products was comparatively low in the international market. But they are selling the oil at a higher price.”    


 
 
NAIDU JOINS FOODGRAIN CRY 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Oct. 30: 
Chandrababu Naidu has demanded that concessions granted to Punjab and Haryana in procurement of foodgrain be extended to Andhra Pradesh as well.

The state Cabinet today sought the same excise duty concessions given to the two northern states in procurement of rice, paddy and maize by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). It urged that FCI speed up procurement of rice at a minimum support price at par with Punjab and Haryana. A team of ministers plans to visit Delhi tomorrow to inform the Centre about the suffering of farmers here following overproduction.

At a meeting of peasant leaders today, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal from Punjab said: “The Centre had owned up responsibility for supply of adulterated seeds through its agencies.”

The meeting was attended by the Shetkari Sanghatan, Karnataka Rajya Ryotu Sanghatana, led by M.D. Nanjundaswamy, and Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait of Uttar Pradesh, Vijay Jawandhia of Maharashtra and Yudhvir Singh of Delhi.

They resolved to oppose the import of agricultural products and promotion of genetic crops.    


 
 
SURJEET BLOWS UP MERGER PLAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 30: 
If CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan raised hopes by suggesting an unification of his party with the CPM, these hopes were shattered by CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet who lashed out at Bardhan for making the proposal.

“If you have come to an understanding that with the adoption of the updated party programme the differences between our two parties have become a thing of the past, we beg to disagree,” the CPM general secretary says in an open letter to Bardhan.

In his own party circles, the CPI leader is known for his fondness of the CPM, which could be a reason for his harping on the unification theme time and again. But the CPM appears to be allergic to any such suggestion and is quick to cut it down before it can gain any substantive weight.

Bardhan is held ‘guilty’ of speaking out in support of unification of the CPM and the CPI at a press conference immediately after the CPM wound up its deliberations at its special party conference.

This is not the first time that the CPI general secretary has urged unity and this is also not the first time that he has been rebuffed.

But the tenor of Surjeet’s letter is more accusing than before, slapping one charge after another on the CPI, taking it back to days when it was supporting the Congress to the hilt and ‘disrupting’ Left unity. “The CPI has played the role of disrupting Left unity and placating the Congress. Your collaboration with the Congress party remained firm for years,” accused Surjeet.

The Marxist leader denies that the CPM has ‘softened’ its stand towards the Congress, as reportedly told by Bardhan. “We do differentiate the Congress from the BJP on secularism, but even here experience shows that the Congress has compromised with communal forces,” stresses the CPM leader.

The basic thrust of his letter to Bardhan is that the CPM programme has not made any shifts from its original premise and its differences with the CPI on basic issues still hold good. The CPM general secretary lists out the programmatic differences and tells Bardhan: “I was rather surprised to learn that despite your vast experience you continue to hold on to old positions, which have been proved wrong by experience as well as developments.”

It is common knowledge that, despite more joint actions and closer cooperation, there is a deep undercurrent of tension between the two parties. Regardless of Bardhan’s wishes, his cadres at the lower levels are resentful of the ‘big brother’ and its bullying tactics.

The CPM has always accused the CPI of hobnobbing with the Congress, particularly during the Emergency. It took the CPI many years to put behind it the stigma of supporting the Emergency but for the CPM the issue is still alive.

“In Kerala, the CPI joined hands with the Congress party in an anti-CPM alliance and later had one of its incumbents to lead the ministry,” reminds Surjeet.    

 

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