Poll-wary Mulayam gags Sonia in House
Desam lends voice to Opp. war cry
Sena stings Centre from within
Hurriyat links ceasefire to dialogue
Tainted Jagir not to get second term as Sikh chief
Delhi cold to Dungarpur diplomacy
Sinha promises China wall
Sister states disown staff
Mamata invokes Mrs G in bank war
‘Leader of leaders’ snubs Subhas

 
 
POLL-WARY MULAYAM GAGS SONIA IN HOUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
Sonia Gandhi’s efforts to prove herself an effective leader of the Opposition were thwarted today by the Opposition itself. This comes close on the heels of her win in the Congress chief’s election.

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party MPs barred Sonia from moving an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha on the plight of farmers.

To the immense amusement of the Treasury benches, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Left MPs started clamouring against each other. Frustrated Congress members broke the self-imposed barrier of not rushing to the Well of the House. Neither did the Congress chief prevent them.

“You all saw it, I was not allowed to speak. I wanted to raise the important issue of the farmers’ suffering, but you saw what happened,” an indignant Sonia said.

Congress floor-managers said the Samajwadi Party did not want Sonia to walk away with the credit of raising issue when the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are around the corner.

“The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls seem more important than the plight of farmers,” Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva said.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi criticised the conduct of the Opposition MPs and adjourned Lok Sabha for the day twice after postponing the proceedings.

Tomorrow, the Congress will give fresh notices and Sonia may get the chance to move the adjournment motion.

In his ruling, Balayogi condemned the behaviour of the members, regretting that some were neither willing to listen to the Chair nor were they permitting the House to debate the farmers’ issue in an orderly manner. “However, I am still prepared to allow a discussion on the subject tomorrow,” he added.

The Samajwadi Party members wanted the Speaker to give preference to their notice as it was submitted before the Congress motion. But the Congress MPs objected, saying the leader of the Opposition should be accorded due importance as it was part of parliamentary convention and practices.

The Left MPs trooped to the Well protesting against the Centre’s decision to reduce its equity in nationalised banks.

The lack of unity among the Opposition benches and the all-out effort to prevent Sonia from leading them once again highlighted the bitterness among their ranks that had prevented her to form the government in May 1998.

A Congress functionary said that today’s events proved that Sonia will have to cross many hurdles before becoming a key player at the national scene. “She has convincingly stamped out challengers from within the Congress but now some Opposition parties are resisting to accept her as the leader of Opposition,” she said.

Sonia’s managers said they have been trying hard to establish “functional relationship” with the Samajwadi Party without success. As the leader of the Opposition, she avoided calling a meeting of leaders of all Opposition parties on the eve of the winter session of Parliament.

She had accepted Somnath Chatterjee’s proposal that saw the CPM MP playing host to the Opposition conclave. As she was busy with Indira Gandhi’s birthday on November 19, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Madhavrao Scindia were asked to represent the Congress.

Claiming that Sonia was keen to keep the Opposition united, the leaders had agreed to focus on the agriculture sector as there was a general feeling that the government was playing “havoc” with it.    


 
 
DESAM LENDS VOICE TO OPP. WAR CRY 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
The Vajpayee government’s major ally, the Telugu Desam Party, appears to have no problems courting strange bedfellows. The party has decided to support the CPM, the Congress and the Trinamul Congress in Parliament on issues which are likely to put the government on the mat.

The Desam will back the Congress-sponsored adjournment motion on farmers’ problems which will be discussed in the Lok Sabha tomorrow. But the party will not vote against the government on the motion, Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said.

The Desam has also decided to support the CPM’s demand for adequate central funds for relief and rehabilitation of the flood-hit in Bengal. At the same time, the party will support the Marxists’ bete noire Mamata Banerjee’s demand for reservation for religious minorities.

The Left MPs will organise a dharna outside Parliament tomorrow to protest against the “discriminatory” attitude of the Centre towards flood relief operations in Bengal. Senior CPM member Somnath Chatterjee requested the Desam to join the dharna. Naidu said though the Desam will not join the dharna, it will support the CPM in the Lok Sabha.

The Desam leader said the party wanted more time for discussion on the farmers’ issue. Backing the Congress motion, he said the move will help all parties to have a “free and frank discussion”. “We will express our views freely and frankly. If that amounts to an attack on the government, so be it. But we are not going to vote against the government,” Yerran Naidu said.

A number of Andhra farmers had committed suicide recently following crop failure and a cash crunch, causing embarrassment to the Desam. Yerran Naidu said the Centre’s decision to import palm oil had created problems for the farmers in the state. “Our chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has demanded more excise duty so that palm oil price will not fall,” he said.

The party will also back Mamata’s demand for reservation for Muslims and other minorities. Asked if the party supported reservation on religious grounds, Yerran Naidu said: “The Desam will always welcome any move for the welfare of minorities, weaker sections and the OBCs.”

K.M. Saifullah, Desam chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, said the Andhra government had appointed Justice Puttaswamy Commission for ascertaining the need for religious quota three years ago and were waiting for its report. He said the Centre should amend the Constitution to accord quota to minorities.

But the chief minister disappointed the CPM and the Trinamul Congress by deciding to support the government’s move to denationalise banks. “We are fully supporting the government on disinvestment in banks. We will support any reform steps,” Yerran Naidu said.    


 
 
SENA STINGS CENTRE FROM WITHIN 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
If it is Kashmir, it must be the Sena; if it is the cellular policy, it must be the Sena; if it is PSUs disinvestment, it must be the Sena... It seems the tiger will never stop gnashing its teeth.

If a listless Opposition looks as though it will let the Vajpayee government off the hook in the winter session of Parliament, the signals from the NDA allies are different. And heading the list of dissenters within the ruling coalition is the Shiv Sena with its flock of 15 MPs.

The Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, described the Centre’s decision to suspend combat operations against militants in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan as “shocking” in its Monday edition. A senior Sena minister told reporters that party MPs Anant Geethe, Satish Pradhan and Sanjay Nirupam would ask the Vajpayee government what prompted the move, given that another major peace initiative — the Lahore bus trip by the Prime Minister — had backfired on India and led to the Kargil war.

Asked how the Sena could oppose the decision considering it was taken by the Cabinet, the minister replied: “If our MPs feel strongly about it, what can we do? Balasaheb Thackeray’s word is what matters.”

The Rajya Sabha today witnessed the unexpected sight of the Sena’s Sanjay Nirupam taking on communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan on the cellular policy. Nirupam, who was backed by the DMK’s Viduthalai Virambi and the BJP’s Narendra Mohan, demanded a clarification on who benefited more from the revenue-sharing arrangement under the government’s cellular policy devised in 1999 — the private operators or the government. Paswan evaded giving an answer to a question which was meant to be raised by Congress leader Manmohan Singh.

Yet another source of consternation for the Centre is the Sena’s flip-flop on the Maruti disinvestment. Less than 24 hours after the government decided in principle to sell off its stake in Maruti Udyog Limited, heavy industries minister Manohar Joshi of the Sena put a spoke in the wheels, denying the decision. “The Cabinet has only decided to set up a committee of secretaries who will consult Suzuki on the options available,” he said.

Joshi indicated that the road to selling off the Maruti stake would be “tough” and various options would be considered: the government could sell its stake to Suzuki, or a third party with Suzuki’s consent, or even Indian financial institutions or individual shareholders. The government could even buy out Suzuki’s stake to be sold off to another buyer.    


 
 
HURRIYAT LINKS CEASEFIRE TO DIALOGUE 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Nov. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s announcement of ceasefire against militants in Jammu and Kashmir during Ramzan, starting on Monday, evoked an ambivalent response from the All-Party Hurriyat Conference.

“If it is hackneyed politics, it does not appeal to us,” said a statement after executive committee members held a three-hour closed-door meeting presided over by Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat.

Bhat, however, said the offer would be a positive change in the attitude of the Indian leadership if the ceasefire leads to the resumption of dialogue, resolution of the Kashmir dispute and restoration of peace in South Asia.

“Hurriyat Conference is ready to participate in any meaningful, result-oriented political process that would lead to the lasting solution of the Kashmir issue,” said the statement issued after the meeting at the Hurriyat headquarters here at Rajbagh.

“We want a comprehensive dialogue to be initiated involving the concerned parties with a view to achieving a breakthrough in the interest of peace, stability and bright future in the sub-continent,” Bhat said.

“We cannot go and do not want to go against a comprehensive peace process, which is intended to banish the ghosts of atomic war in south Asia. The path to peace passes through Kashmir and let us, therefore, rise to the occasion and resolve it,” he added.

“Unless all attention is paid towards resolving the Kashmir issue on a permanent basis, peace cannot be restored (in the state),” the umbrella organisation said.

Holland-based separatist leader Hashim Qureshi criticised outfits that have rejected the ceasefire offer and asked the people of Kashmir to reciprocate the Indian government’s gesture.

“If a non-Muslim Prime Minister shows respect to the month of Ramzan by declaring ceasefire, militants and Muslim activists should respond positively,” said Qureshi, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party.

The Jamaat-e-Islami said the ceasefire should not be for a particular period but “forever as Kashmiri society not only aspires for peace and security but also wants peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue”.

It asked the Centre to adopt a “realistic approach” and “show its desire for tripartite talks without wasting further time” to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue.

In its statement, the Hurriyat urged India and Pakistan to facilitate a dialogue with both countries and the militant leadership for result-oriented talks for solving the issue. “Kashmir is not an integral part of India or Pakistan. The future is yet to be decided,” the statement said.

It also said the Hurriyat was willing to hold talks with the governments of India and Pakistan as well as the leadership of militant groups.

“The government has announced the ceasefire as a mark of respect for the fasting month of Ramzan but after Id, the combat operations would be resumed,” the Hurriyat chairman said.

The militant Jaish-e-Mohammadi, headed by Masood Azhar, who was freed last year at Kandahar in exchange for the release of hijacked Indian Airlines passengers, has rejected the ceasefire offer and announced it will intensify its attacks during month of Ramzan. It urged the other outfits also to intensify their attacks.

Al-Umar Mujahideen head Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, who was also released with Masood Azhar at Kandahar, rejected the offer and said the Indian government “should have consulted Pakistan” before announcing the ceasefire.

“No move on Kashmir can be successful unless Pakistan is involved in it,” he added.    


 
 
TAINTED JAGIR NOT TO GET SECOND TERM AS SIKH CHIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chandigarh, Nov. 21: 
The Shiromani Akali Dal has decided not to nominate Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president Jagir Kaur for a second term in office. This was decided today at a meeting of the party’s political affairs committee.

Jagir was present at the stormy meeting, which decided to authorise Punjab chief minister and party president Parkash Singh Badal to nominate a person of his choice for the post.

The CBI has charged Jagir under Section 302 of the IPC along with six others with the murder of her daughter Harpreet in April this year. Jagir is the only accused yet to be arrested by the CBI.

A senior Akali leader said Jagir will be barred from holding any religious post till her name is cleared by the CBI. “There is no way for her to continue in the post. She has been dropped and will not contest the SGPC chief’s post slated for November 30,” he said. Jagir has been named as an accused in her daughter Harpreet’s murder.

Badal said the political affairs committee of the party has asked him to nominate a candidate for the SGPC chief’s post. “I will announce the name on November 29 at a meeting of SGPC members in Amritsar,” he added. He denied that the decision to ban Jagir from contesting was taken at the meet.

Asked whether it was proper for a person charged with murder to remain SGPC chief, Badal said: “There is none among us who has never been chargesheeted. I was put in jail under Tada. But that did not mean I was guilty.”

The demand for removing Jagir as SGPC chief has been gaining momentum within the party during the last few days. A senior member of the party’s political affairs committee and state finance minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh had said that Jagir should have stepped down after the case was registered against her.    


 
 
DELHI COLD TO DUNGARPUR DIPLOMACY 
 
 
FROM A CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
Cricket administrator Raj Singh Dungarpur met foreign minister Jaswant Singh this evening, seeking a review of the veto on the Pakistan tour scheduled from January. He argued that resumption of cricketing ties would foster people-to-people contact between the two countries and help improve the standard of both Indian and Asian cricket.

But a foreign office spokesman ruled out a rethink, saying: “There is no change in the announcement made earlier.”

Delhi had clamped down on the tour saying Pakistan’s hostile propaganda and calls for jihad against India had created an environment in which the Indian team’s tour would be “inappropriate”. The move drew sharp criticism from the ICC, with president Malcolm Gray threatening a financial penalty and even suspension of India’s membership to play other Test-playing countries.

The former BCCI president, who was in Lahore and Islamabad recently as a member of the ICC marketing and finance committee, said he decided to knock on the government’s door after experiencing the “sea of disappointment” and resentment among Pakistanis after the tour was called off. Waxing eloquent on the warm welcome he received, Dungarpur quoted the people there as saying that India’s decision was like a “death in the cricketing family”.

Touched by this reaction, Dungarpur met the Indian envoy in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, who agreed that cricket ties should not be snapped. He continued his mission on return, explaining to foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh that a cancelled tour could lead to further coldness between the two countries, while a positive gesture would help set in a thaw.    


 
 
SINHA PROMISES CHINA WALL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha assured the BJP that the Centre was aware that cheap Chinese contraband goods were flooding the market and would do its best to check smuggling across the Indo-Nepal border.

Rajya Sabha MP Dinanath Mishra had raised the issue in the BJP’s parliamentary party meet.

It was pointed out that while a Chinese bicycle was sold for Rs 200, an Indian bicycle was priced as high as Rs 2,000. The indigenous toy and ceramic industries had been badly hit. The issue has been bothering the BJP since small industry and trade form the backbone of the party.

The violent protests by owners and workers against the relocation of small industries in Delhi following a Supreme Court order also cast its shadow on the meet.

Delhi MP Lal Behari Tiwari demanded the Centre’s intervention to amend the Delhi masterplan. BJP sources interpreted Tiwari’s intervention as a broadside at urban affairs minister Jagmohan, who was accused by the Delhi government of refusing to change the masterplan even after the apex court’s directive.

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the newly-appointed chief whip and spokesman of the BJP parliamentary party, said the masterplan should be changed to redefine the meaning of “household industries” and ensure that industries employing less than 10 workers are allowed to work outside residential areas.

“In this way, 60 to 70 per cent of the existing industries will be regularised while a time-bound programme to relocate the others can be evolved,” he said. Malhotra also demanded that “non-polluting” industries should not be sealed.

After Tiwari and Mishra, it was the turn of Uttar Pradesh MP, Ram Nagina Mishra to bring up the problem of sugarcane growers in his state.

Spokesman choice

The choice of Vijay Kumar Malhotra as the new spokesman of the BJP parliamentary party has surprised many partymen. Malhotra is known to have a hardline Hindutva stand and a straitjacket approach on issues like the common civil code and Kashmir. As such, partymen find it difficult to reconcile his appointment with the BJP’s quest for a new identity as a “moderate and liberal” entity.    

 
 
SISTER STATES DISOWN STAFF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Nov. 21: 
Jharkhand and Bihar are locked in a tussle over distribution of civil servants, leaving 111 employees in the lurch.

Acting on the Centre’s recommendation, Bihar Vidhan Parishad president Jabir Hussain yesterday despatched the employees to Ranchi. Hours after the staff reached, the Jharkhand government refused to welcome them since “there was no provision of an Assembly Council in the new state”.

“If there is no provision for a Council along with the state Assembly, what are we going to do with these employees?” asked Jharkhand director of personnel and establishment in a letter to Hussain.

The employees have returned to Patna. “What are we going to do? We suddenly find that we have no takers,” said an employee, Hemendra Jha, lounging on the Council premises.

Questioned on the fate of the employees, Hussain said: “I have relieved them of duties in my office. I will wait for further instructions from competent authorities.”

Among the employees, 30 are from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who were thrilled about the transfer. Hussain wasted no time in turning the heat on the nascent tribal-majority state. “Let the new government of Jharkhand say that the tribals have no place in Jharkhand. They are precipitating their (the employees’) problem,” he said.

But there is more to Jharkhand’s refusal. Sources in the government said cases of illegal appointment were pending against most employees and the accountant-general was scrutinising the expenditure incurred in appointing more people than needed.

“We are committed to an efficient government. Why should we take the burden of employees recruited through unfair means?” protested a Jharkhand official. But the employees have furnished papers showing that the transfer order came from the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, and not the Council. The order clarifies that if the employees cannot be absorbed in the departments they belonged to, they could initially be posted in the regional development council.

But Jharkhand is adamant, saying Bihar misled them on the employees’ position. “Most of them are relatives of RJD leaders,” said an officer. However, Hussain said only 17 were new recruits and they may be facing cases but, “if the high court dismissed them they would be out of their jobs whether they were in Jharkhand or in Honolulu.”    


 
 
MAMATA INVOKES MRS G IN BANK WAR 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
Memories of Indira Gandhi still haunt Mamata Banerjee.

The Trinamul Congress leader today betrayed her “soft corner” for the assassinated Prime Minister, confronting the Vajpayee government — of which she is a part — for agreeing to sell stake in 19 public sector banks. Mrs Gandhi had nationalised all these erstwhile private sector banks in 1969.

Questioning the Cabinet’s decision approving a legislation to bring down the government’s stake in the banks from 51 per cent to 33 per cent, Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay today wrote to NDA convener George Fernandes, protesting against the move, which, he said, was taken without consulting the allies.

“The NDA should have discussed the issue,” Bandopadhyaya said in his letter.

Though the Cabinet has given its nod to the legislation, it will still need clearance from Parliament where it will be moved in the ongoing winter session.

The Bill could also be referred to a select committee of Parliament. Mamata, therefore, has enough time to garner support from others, especially the Congress, to stall the sell-off. “Some parties have a soft corner because the banks were nationalised by Indira Gandhi,” Mamata said, but did not name the parties.

Distancing herself from the Centre’s decision, the Trinamul leader said she was not party to the go-ahead as she was away in Andhra Pradesh when the Cabinet met.

Mamata, however, welcomed petroleum minister Ram Naik’s announcement of a partial rollback in prices of cooking gas and kerosene. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Mamata said the West Bengal government should now follow suit and reduce sales tax on the two products.

She claimed the sales tax on cooking gas and kerosene was highest in the state.    


 
 
‘LEADER OF LEADERS’ SNUBS SUBHAS 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 21: 
The CPM today virtually censured transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for putting individual leadership above collective decision-making.

A day after Chakraborty clashed with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Jyoti Basu today intervened to settle the controversy in his successor’s favour.

Chakraborty had said yesterday: “I believe in one-man leadership and not in collective leadership.”

Basu, described by Chakraborty as “a leader of leaders in the CPM”, did not agree with the argument that individuals were entitled to take decisions to run the administration.

“Sometimes individuals may tend to take decisions, but these have to be subjected to collective endorsement. We have been doing this for years,” he said.

Basu recounted that he, too, had taken decisions on his own on a number of occasions. “But every time I took into confidence party colleagues and Left Front partners,” he added.

He conceded that sometimes individual decisions turned out to be not prudent. “Some of my decisions as chief minister were negative in character and some of them were also correct. But I never hesitated to consult my party and the Left Front before finalising my stand on administrative matters,” he said. Asked if the party would take disciplinary action against Chakraborty, Basu evaded a direct answer, saying: “We will discuss the matter”.

Basu, however, defended Chakraborty’s stand on the Hrithik Roshan show earlier this month. “I find nothing wrong in organising the function as many people had assembled to enjoy the grand programme,” he said.

Before Basu explained his stand, Biswas issued a statement reminding “all members of the Left cabinet of the need for maintaining collective leadership which has been the driving force behind the party and the government.”

Bhattacharjee iterated his stand on collective leadership. But he described his differences with Chakraborty as a “non-issue.”    

 

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