Upbeat Mulayam in heartland poll rush
Sonia’s stalwarts vie for No. 2
Minorities gift Kanpur crown to Congress
Dressing-down for Desam MP
Delhi goes about work as usual
CBI probe twist to Anand age row
Experts meet on cholera alert
Patriot police pounce on Prabhakaran worshipper
Paswan in Samata poach plan
Power rift stalls convergence Bill

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
Bolstered by its good showing in the Uttar Pradesh civic polls, the Samajwadi Party said it was preparing for early Assembly elections.

According to the BJP and the Election Commission, polls are not due before March 2002. But the Samajwadi is looking at elections in October next year.

The party, which emerged a close second in the civic polls, has decided to go it alone for the Assembly. If it needs help to form a government in case of a split verdict, it would do business with Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Dal and Apna Dal rather than the Congress, sources said.

The Samajwadi rejected the BJP’s contention that the present legislature came into existence from the date on which it was constituted and not the day results were notified.

“By this logic, the term of the Assembly would be five-and-a- half years and not five years as stipulated by the Constit- ution,” said Akhilesh Singh, the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP had argued that since the Assembly came into being almost six months after the results were notified in October 1996, its five-year term would expire in March 2002, and not October 2001.

Singh challenged this view, saying: “All the legislators started drawing their salaries and enjoying the perks of office from the day the results were notified. It would be unconstitutional if they continued to enjoy them after the five-year term expires.”

The Samajwadi MP claimed the party would get a majority or come close to one, with the strength of the House reduced after the creation of Uttaranchal.

“In the 406-member House, we will need only 203 legislators. This is not such a tall order, provided our vote base of Yadavs and Muslims does not get divided,” he said.

But if the Samajwadi fell short by 15 or 20 MLAs, it would take the support of “like-minded” parties like Kalyan Singh’s Rash- triya Kranti Dal and Apna Dal rather than the Congress.

“Our problem with the Congress is not just Sonia. We are opposed to its economic policy of unbridled liberalisation which goes against the interests of farmers,” he said.

Like the Samajwadi, Singh said, Kalyan Singh’s outfit and the Apna Dal represented the Mandalised politics of Uttar Pradesh.

“Kalyan Singh commands eight per cent votes of the Lodhi Rajputs and that is no mean achievement. In any scenario, he will get at least 15 to 20 MLAs,” he pointed out.

Samajwadi sources said Kalyan and Mulayam Singh Yadav were in constant touch even after the Samajwadi chief’s attempt to prop Kalyan as chief minister failed.

“It would have succeeded had Kalyan not taken wrong advice from a BJP ideologue who asked him to be upfront on the Ayodhya issue and pre-empt his expul- sion from the party,” said a source.

Once Kalyan marched to Ayodhya, it was “politically unwise” for Mulayam to have any truck with him and risk losing the minority votes.    

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
Sonia Gandhi is busy giving final shape to the new team of ‘Navratnas’ who will be drafted in through the elected and nominated categories in the Congress Working Committee.

While the Congress president’s wish-list is a closely-guarded secret, hectic lobbying has begun for 12 CWC berths. The members will be elected by the 1000-odd AICC delegates.

The chief ministers of Congress-ruled states and state unit chiefs are also set to play a key role in the crucial round of elections, which can make or break the political career of many regional satraps.

Four senior leaders —- Madhavrao Scindia, Ambika Soni, Ahmad Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad — are locked in a tight race to bag the maximum number of votes.

Their victory a foregone conclusion, these stalwarts are eyeing the number two slot in the party which has been lying vacant since the exit of Sharad Pawar and Jitendra Prasada’s humiliating defeat in the elections to the Congress top post.

But the man tipped to get the maximum votes is sitting pretty. Former Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony, known as ‘Mr Clean’, is not even in Delhi, let alone throwing lavish lunch or dinner parties for MPs and other influential leaders.

The following are likely to be in the elected and nominated categories with another band of leaders as special\permanent invitees.

Elected category: A.K. Antony, Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Madhavrao Scindia, Ahmad Patel, Kamal Nath, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Chandresh Kumari, Margaret Alva, Rajasekhar Reddy, Vilas Muttemwar and Rajender Kaur Bhattal or Santosh Chowdhury.

Nominated category: Manmohan Singh, D.P. Yadav, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Motilal Vora, S.C. Jamir, Oscar Fernandes, Prabha Rau, Mohsina Kidwai, Anwara Taimur, Hanumanthappa, Manorama Singh or Shyama Sinha.

Permanent/special invitees (four each): A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Ram Niwas Mirdha, P.M. Sayeed, Bhajan Lal, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, K. Karunakaran/Natwar Singh, N.D. Tiwari and Madhavsinh Solanki.

From the existing CWC, a number of leaders like Prasada, Sushil Kumar Shinde and R.K. Dhawan are likely to be dropped. However, sources said, Sonia plans to draft them into various panels and departments. As Ajit Jogi has been appointed Chhattisgarh chief minister, Shinde may head the AICC panel on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Prasada has been kept on the “watch list”: if he continues to show defiance he would be isolated. However, a “constructive” approach can get him a CWC berth at the expense of some “loyalist” who would be shifted to the special invitee category.

Though a number of working committee aspirants like Salman Khurshid, Prithviraj Chavan, R. Prabhu, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vayalar Ravi and Santosh Mohan Deb are busy preparing to contest the polls, they may have to wait for their turn.

They are hoping that Madam will ensure free and fair polls in the elected category. “If that happens, all of us will have a fair chance,” said a young Turk.    

Lucknow, Nov. 27: 
The Congress has pulled off a surprise in the Uttar Pradesh civic polls, wresting the Kanpur corporation and eating into the Samajwadi Party’s minority votes.

A beaming Sriprakash Jaiswal, president of the state unit, said: “How do you think we gained so much in this election? The Muslims had left us in a phased manner earlier but now they are coming back. They have lost faith in the Samajwadi Party.’’

Jaiswal claimed this was just the beginning and the “process of rehabilitation’’ would be complete before the Assembly polls.

Kanpur’s Congress mayor Anil Sharma added that Muslims voted for the party in large numbers “wherever our candidates were strong”.

Denying the shift in minority votes, Samajwadi leader Bhagwati Singh alleged that the BJP had “stopped’’ Muslims from voting for the party.

“It’s wrong to say that Muslims have deserted us. They supported us this time too but the state machinery came in the way. Muslims were stopped from voting for us.’’

But Said Khailque Mohammad, a Muslim leader from Lucknow’s Narhai area, contradicted him.

“Why should we support a party which has consistently refused to pull down the government? Mulayam refused to pass a no-confidence motion even when all the Opposition parties said they would back him,’’ he said.

Performing better than expected, the Congress has gained 58 corporators and a mayor. What makes the performance more remarkable is that the party was grappling with dissidence and organisation polls till as late as November 14 while other parties had started campaigning from November 5.

Also worrying for the BJP and the Samajwadi Party is the creditable performance of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has spread its tentacles in urban areas.

Despite replacing R.P. Gupta with a “stronger’’ Rajnath Singh as chief minister, the BJP lost two mayoral posts — Gorakhpur to an Independent and Bareilly to a rebel candidate — and also halved its corporation posts.

The party has not performed well in traditional strongholds of Varanasi and Ayodhya and in the Prime Minister’s constituency, Lucknow.

In Varanasi, the BJP’s 1995 tally of 48 corporators came down to 25. In Lucknow, its strength dwindled from 75 to 46. In Kanpur, the tally came down from 62 to 35.

In Ayodhya, Congress candidate Mahendra Singh defeated BJP’s Shiv Shanker to become the chairman of the Nagar Palika Parishad.

If these results are anything to go by, the state looks set for another hung Assembly.    

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
A Telugu Desam Party MP paid the price for daring to take on the Prime Minister a day after the Supreme Court set a panchayat polls deadline for Andhra Pradesh.

Chandrababu Naidu gave a tongue-lashing to R. Ramachandraiah on Saturday, on a picnic in Jaipur, for criticising Atal Behari Vajpayee in the Rajya Sabha. Naidu is desperate for BJP support in the polls.

Ramachandraiah, who thought by taking up the plight of the flood-hit in Andhra he was in tune with the Desam’s shrill cry against the Centre’s “indifference”, was in for a rude shock.

A furious Naidu had the transcript of Ramachandraiah’s speech faxed to Hyderabad to scrutinise it for himself. By the time he finished, most Desam MPs had left for Jaipur for a picnic. The chief minister reportedly traced Ramachandraiah in Jaipur to reprimand him for vitiating the atmosphere when there were attempts on to mend fences with the BJP leadership.

Since Naidu had not been able to speak to Ramachandraiah immediately, he blasted Desam’s Rajya Sabha leader Alladi Rajkumar.

Criticising the Centre was all right for Desam MPs till Thursday, when Naidu met Vajpayee for a patch-up dinner. Before the dinner, Naidu told the Desam Parliamentary Party it should not indulge in politics of blackmail “like Jayalalitha” or confront the government unnecessarily.

But the complete change in attitude came from Friday, when the Supreme Court directed Andhra Pradesh and some other states to hold panchayat elections within March 31.

On the same day in the Rajya Sabha, Ramachandraiah, MP from Mehboobnagar, lambasted the Prime Minister for his lack of “sincerity” in coming to the help of the flood-hit people of the state. Though the Prime Minister promised ex gratia payments of Rs 50,000 to each victim’s relatives, “ek paise bhi nahi diya,” he said in a blistering attack on Vajpayee.


New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
It was a partial bandh in Delhi, but the strike was quite complete in industrial pockets, where polluting industries have been shut down following the Supreme Court verdict.

Unlike bandhs in Calcutta, no one stopped vehicles. There were only less buses and almost no au-to-rickshaws on the streets and not a single incident of violence.

Though most Delhiites appeared to be sympathetic to the plight of the workers rendered jobless, they went about their business as usual. In fact, most felt it was one of those rare pollution-free days in the capital, where schools remained closed.

The Rajya Sabha witnessed of acrimonious scenes over the issue of shifting polluting as well as non-conforming industries from residential areas.

Even as chief minister Sheila Dixit met Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with all 54 party MLAs, Ambika Soni said in the House that the Centre should amend the Delhi master plan and allow co-habitation of household and industrial units in residential areas.

Soni said times have long changed and the old master plan had to take on a modern, practical outlook to cope with the capital’s ever-expanding population. The plan, she pointed out, had been prepared almost three decades ago and had outlived its utility.

Soni repeated what Dixit had already complained about to the Prime Minister. She insisted that urban development minister Jagmohan soften his rigid stance on the subject. She was supported by Left MPs.

Soni’s stand was almost similar to that of BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana, who raised the issue in the Lok Sabha.

Khurana, who is against politicising the issue, told reporters outside the House that Jagmohan was going back on his word as he had promised there would be status quo ante as far as possible.

He also blamed the chief secretary of the Delhi government for picking up poor people like peanut sellers from areas like Subzi Mandi and reducing the anti-pollution drive to a farce.

In his response, Jagmohan said he was prepared to meet Dixit, workers and even MPs to discuss the issue but ruled out amending the master plan to the extent of allowing a “mixed-land-use-pattern” in residential areas. The urban development minister has stressed the need to segregate industrial and non-industrial areas in Delhi to keep the city clean.

Jagmohan said his crusade was neither against industrialists nor against workers. He reiterated that the problem resulted from a Supreme Court verdict on shifting of non-conforming industries in 1996 that had to be obeyed. The court had then ruled that these industries would have to move to delineated industrial zones.

The minister — who has been trying to embroil the Delhi government in the controversy — said an assurance had been given by the state administration at the time that the order would be implemented, but nothing was done to follow the court’s order.    

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
The Supreme Court today agreed to a CBI probe into the controversy over Chief Justice A.S. Anand’s age, but only to find out “how documents from London showing the year of birth of the CJI as 1934 and not 1936 reached person or persons in India”.

This is the first time that a chief justice is being embroiled in a CBI inquiry.

The controversy was sparked by former law minister Ram Jethmalani who produced a purported certificate from the London Bar Examination Records to contend that Anand was born in 1934 and not 1936. Jethmalani had demanded a CBI inquiry.

The “To Whom It May Concern” certificate signed by S. Behr of Allied Sanis House, 412, Greenford Road, Middlesex, said “this is to certify that the above (Adarsh Sein Anand) was enrolled as a student member of Inner Temple on January 4, 1962 and at that time, gave his year of birth as 1934”.

Following Jethmalani’s claim, a Chennai lawyer, S.K. Sundaram, sent a telegram to Anand, asking him to step down.

The division bench of Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice R.P. Sethi took up the telegram as a “contempt of court” and began proceedings.

The chief justice’s office had earlier issued a press release annexing the certificate from the London Inner Temple’s chief executive of the general council of the Bar, Niall Morison, which said: “We now acknowledge that the certificate of September 4, which was produced by us was incorrect. Mr. Behr, at the time of writing it, had not seen the original records held by the Inner Temple, wherein Chief Justice Anand, at the time of seeking admission to the Inner Temple on 21 November 1961, had made a declaration of his date of birth being 1, November 1936, which we accept as being accurate.”

But Jethmalani refuted this and produced another certificate from Jonathan Hirst, chairman of the general council of the Bar of England. Hirst had written to the chief justice in response to his letter.

“This letter contained the following statements: the general council of Bar of England had received records from information provided by the Inns of Court on forms completed by those applying for student membership of the Inns; these records had been scanned onto an electronic database at the general council; having examined the scan- ned image relating to the CJI’s records closely, it appears that the year of birth was recorded as 1934.”

Jethmalani has also annexed these documents in his book Small Men Big Egos, published after he was removed as law minister.

Jethmalani had accused the chief justice and attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee of “plotting the conspiracy” to remove him as minister.

The bench headed by Justice Thomas, which took up the Sundaram contempt case today, questioned the veracity of the documents procured by Jethmalani and ordered the CBI to probe how these papers were obtained by those who tried to show Anand’s year of birth as 1934.

“We deem it necessary to have a full investigation by (the) CBI to conduct detailed investigation as to how that document (the ones by Behr and Hirst) given by the general council of Bar annexed in Ram Jethmalani’s book came into existence, and find out the person or persons responsible for it,” the judges said.

They added that the contempt case would be taken up tomorrow for further hearing.

The judges observed that “on perusal of the documents produced by solicitor-general Harish Salve, we feel, prima facie, that the document purported to have been sent by the general council of Bar, London, on September 4, 2000 is not a genuine document as it speaks only about the year of birth of CJI”.

The bench also directed the Supreme Court registry to send a formal complaint to station house officer of Tilak Marg police station for lodging an FIR regarding the document’s authenti- city.

“After the FIR is registered, the Tilak Marg police station SHO will forward it to the CBI for further investigation. On completion of the investigation, CBI shall submit the report to the appropriate court with a copy to this court,” the judges orde- red.

The judges barred the CBI from probing the actual year of Anand’s birth on grounds that the President had already rejected a petition and accepted the age declared by the chief justice.

“It is made clear that as (the) President of India is the sole authority to decide the age of a judge of a high court, the CBI is not to go into the question of age of CJI A.S. Anand,” the bench said.    

Calcutta, Nov. 27: 
A significant step towards predicting and controlling diarrhoea was taken today with the inauguration of the first national training progr-amme on the molecular epidemiology of diarrhoeal diseases with emphasis on cholera.

The 10-day course is being held at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) here, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).

Infections due to cholera and other germs causing enteric diseases are a perennial problem in many regions of the country. Recent advances in the methodology for the identification of such organisms have not yet reached many research centres in India. Fifteen scientists from government hospitals and research centres in different states are taking part.

“Epidemiology (the study of the outbreak of infectious diseases) classically involves time, place and person. But with the advances in technology and knowhow, we are now able to take up the study of the pathogens (germs) of the disease itself through molecular epidemiology,” said NICED director S.K. Bhattacharya.

“We now have several techniques like polymerised chain reaction (PCR) and gene sequencing at the molecular level that will enable us to monitor changing trends in the organisation of genes in enteric bacteria so as to identify the specific clones involved in an outbreak and its mode of transmission.

“These methods produce results that are invariable from laboratory to laboratory, allowing comparative analysis and the establishment of a reliable database,” Bhattacharya said.

The training course, supported jointly by Jica and NICED, “plays a vital role in unifying methodology from identification of pathogens to initiating a database for the first time in the country,” he added.

And by understanding the nature of the pathogen, future outbreaks can be controlled and possibly even prevented.

“Vibrio, or the cholera germ, may look the same in Bangladesh, Nepal or India. But when genetic techniques are used, the source of the virus can be identified,” said S.C. Sehgal, chief of international collaboration at ICMR, who was here for the inauguration.

“Earlier, these germs were cultured and took over three days for results, which were not always uniform. But through examinations at the molecular level, the results are almost instantaneous and accurate,” he added.

At the request of ICMR, Jica may be taking up new areas of assistance, like tuberculosis, AIDS, leprosy and occupational diseases, the Jica’s resident representative in India, Tadashi Sato, said. He said: “ICMR director-general N.K. Ganguly met our ambassador, Hiroshi Hirabayashi, on Friday to thank him for the ongoing assistance in the project for the prevention of emerging diarrhoeal diseases.”    

Chennai, Nov. 27: 
Keen to refurbish its patriotic credentials, the Karunanidhi government is not taking any chances. A Tamil nationalist has been taken into custody for seeking to offer prayers in a temple on the birthday of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Somasundaram, a functionary of the Thamizhar Dhesiya Iyakkam, has been performing poojas at Watrap in southern Tamil Nadu in a temple dedicated to Goddess Muthalamman for years now.

He performs poojas on November 26 for his idol’s long life and greater glory and distributes prasad. Otherwise, the day would pass off uneventfully.

But this time, the overzealous police swooped on the 42-year-old Somasundaram as he entered the temple yesterday. The pooja was foiled since he was “praying for the welfare of the head of a banned outfit”.

No case was registered against him and he was set free in the evening itself. He had been held under Section 151 of the CrPC which enables the police to take a person into preventive custody without a warrant.

A senior district official said: “There is nothing novel about this exercise. Even last year, he was arrested and released on November 26. We have to show that we mean business, that is all.”

The alacrity was not shown in the arrest alone. Some posters had surfaced in Chennai greeting Prabhakaran on his birthday. After a newspaper raised a hue and cry, the city police meticulously tore away the posters.

Ever since the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the subsequent poll debacle of the DMK, Karunanidhi has become wary of any kind of display of solidarity with the Tamil Tigers.    

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
After splitting the Janata Dal (United) in the Lok Sabha, Ram Vilas Paswan has set his sights on the Samata Party.

The communications minister is trying to persuade five Samata MPs and three more from the Dal (U) to join his new party, Jana Shakti. Indications are that some disgruntled Samata and Dal (U) members could join Paswan’s party, throwing Bihar politics into further turmoil.

Dal (U) spokesperson Mohan Prakash today lashed out at Paswan, saying that he should resign from the Union Cabinet and the Lok Sabha and seek re-election if he was so confident of his support base. He also accused the minister of “self propaganda”.

But Paswan countered, saying he was ready to quit his Lok Sabha seat if Sharad Yadav also resigned. Sources said Nawal Kishore Rai, Sashi Kumar and Dinesh Chand Yadav of the Dal (U) and Manjay Lal, Mahindra Biatha, Prabhunath Singh, Brahmanand Mandal and Arun Kumar of the Samata are willing to switch sides.

But Paswan said he was not planning to rope in more MPs from either the Dal (U) or the Samata at the moment, but added that the MPs themselves were disenchanted with their party leadership.

The Dal (U) members who have already joined Jana Shakti are former Union minister Jainarain Prasad, Ramesh Jigajinagi, a former Karnataka minister who is close to Ramakrishna Hegde, and Ramachandra Paswan, the communications minister’s brother.

Paswan said his new party would be launched at a rally here tomorrow but said he would continue to be part of the ruling NDA at the Centre. He justified his move to split the Dal (U), saying he was frustrated by the party’s “inaction” under Sharad Yadav’s leadership. The party, he said, had become totally silent on various issues, including Laloo Prasad Yadav’s “corruption” in Bihar.

Paswan said Jana Shakti, whose thrust would be on social justice and secularism, would make a bid for a big entry in Uttar Pradesh in next year’s Assembly polls. The party, he said, would also contest in other states, including West Bengal and Assam, where elections are due next year.

Asked if he would demand more berths in the Vajpayee government, Paswan said: “We have not formed this party to get more ministerial berths.” On the possibility of allying with other parties for the coming Assembly polls, he said it was too early to talk about it but added that “if some parties want to join us realising our strength, they are welcome”.    

New Delhi, Nov. 27: 
The group of ministers on the convergence Bill has again decided to defer clearance to the legislation.

The ministers could not agree on the powers being sought to be given to the super-regulator for voice and data communication through telecom and broadcast medium, according to sources.

Another meeting will be held on December 4. The sources said industry leaders will be consulted before finalising the Bill.

Under the proposed Bill, the regulator will take over much of the powers now being exercised by the ministries of communications, infotech and information and broadcasting.

The government had planned to introduce the Bill in this session of Parliament. But, after tonight’s deadlock, this seems unlikely.

The draft Bill initially prepared by information and broadcasting ministry was referred to the group of ministers to iron out differences over the manner in which convergence in three areas — telecom, information technology and broadcasting — would be brought about.

The government wants the new regulatory structure and the new law to be flexible to adapt to new developments in the fast-changing technological environment. It has suggested subordinate legislation from time to time to meet unpredictable changes.

Panel for farmers

The government has conceded the Opposition request to set up a statutory parliamentary committee to look into farmers’ problems.

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is planning to convene an all-party meeting to decide about the parliamentary committee for farmers. A committee for agriculture exists but members felt it was not adequate to address the problems being faced by the farming community.

The statutory committee being set up will encompass the ministries of agriculture, food, civil supplies and the finance, sources said. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan has conveyed to Balayogi that the government was not opposed to the proposal of creating the committee if leaders of all political parties agreed.

Last week, the Parliament debated a Congress-sponsored adjournment motion on the farmers’ issue, but it was defeated by the treasury benches. Though BJP allies such as the TDP, BJD, Shiv Sena and INLD criticised the Centre for its indifference to the plight of farmers, they voted against the Congress motion to save the government from embarrassment.    


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