Atal picks up Ayodhya House vote gauntlet
Ominous Kamtapur nexus unearthed
Consensus sows seeds of strife
President makes a splash
Big B double minus the beard
US wheel of fortune swings back and forth
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
Under pressure from allies to control the snowballing Ayodhya controversy, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today agreed to the Opposition’s demand for a debate in Parliament under a rule which entails voting.

Vajpayee also said he was prepared to hold an NDA meeting on the issue.

At a luncheon meeting hosted by party spokesman V.K. Malhotra, the Prime Minister emphasised that he had already said whatever he had to on the matter and had nothing more to add.

“If I have to say anything further, I will say it in Parliament. We are ready to face any sort of discussion,” he told reporters. “If a party gives a resolution under 184 or any other rule and the Speaker deems it fit for discussion, it is acceptable to us. But they should also accept it.”

Vajpayee also indicated that he was for an early resolution of the impasse that has paralysed proceedings. “I can understand if the House is stalled for a day or two. But if it goes on like this for days on end, it will not strengthen democracy.”

The Prime Minister’s comments came amid mounting pressure from key allies, including the Trinamul Congress, the Telugu Desam and the DMK, for a clarification.

Hardening her stand, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee said her party was ready for any sacrifice to uphold secular commitments. “We do not want to pull down governments every year. But, at the same time, deviation from the NDA agenda is not acceptable to us,” she said. “Secularism is something we cannot compromise on. We will not allow any dilution of it. We are ready to make any sacrifice.”

Mamata said she was waiting to hear what Vajpayee says in Parliament on Monday. “What we will do will depend on the situation. We hope the Prime Minister will clear all doubts and say simply that he will not deviate from the NDA agenda.”

The Desam warned of “serious consequences” if there was any deviation from the coalition’s common agenda, while the DMK disapproved of Vajpayee’s statements

But despite the veiled threats, the Prime Minister did not retract any of his comments, though he did give the impression that he wanted to address the concerns of the allies.

Vajpayee said he had “merely” clarified his stand on the Opposition’s demand for L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti’s resignations. He attributed the latter half of his statement — in which he spoke of the temple agenda as a “manifestation of nationalist feelings” — to the “cleverness of the press”.

“Those who stalled Parliament proceedings on December 6 on the issue of the resignation of the ministers know they have been working as ministers for many years and their resignations were never sought earlier. I only reiterated that there was no need for them to resign. It is the cleverness of you people that made me say something more,” Vajpayee said.

The BJP’s lone Muslim minister, Shahnawaz Hussain, also came in handy. At a press briefing, the minister of state for human resources development said Vajpayee had assured him in a meeting this morning that the “government has no intention to intervene in the judicial process and would stick to the national agenda”.

Hussain, who was yesterday heckled by members of his own community after namaz, said he was “satisfied” with the assurances. He also said that Vajpayee had made it clear that no negotiated settlement would be foisted on Muslims.


Cooch Behar, Dec. 9: 
Police today claimed to have made their first breakthrough in establishing the existence of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and its nexus with the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) following disclosures made by two arrested north Bengal militants.

Cooch Behar superintendent of police Kailash Chandra Meena said three suspected KLO activists were detained on Wednesday at the rally held by the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) here.

“Of the three, two are hardcore KLO operatives — Lalan Das (19) and Chakra Das (21). Both have confessed in-camera that they underwent advanced arms training in the Ulfa camp tucked away in the Fifshu jungles of Bhutan,” Meena said.

The other person arrested is one Naresh Chandra Burman, a resident of Matigara near Siliguri. All three are in police custody.

Shedding light on the KPP-Ulfa-KLO nexus, the militants said in their statement: “We were repeatedly told not to be seen at any public meeting organised by the KPP or AKSU (All-Kamtapur Students’ Union) lest we implicate them. The KPP and AKSU have a different role in the statehood demand. We will step in if they fail. We have different paths but the same goal.”

Meena said that Lalan and Chakra were assigned “technical or operative” code names at the Ulfa camp. While Lalan was known as “Fat” and “Bhutia”, Chakra had the alias “Dinabandhu Das”. Both are residents of Uttar Haldibari village in Kumargramduar area of Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri district.

“During interrogation, Lalan and Chakra revealed that they were part of a 60-strong batch of KLO and Ulfa cadre who had received advanced arms training between April 15 and July 15 last year at the Ulfa’s Nichula area command camp,” the Cooch Behar SP said.

The Nichula base is a day’s walk from Kalikhola on the Indo-Bhutan border north of Uttar Haldibari. Though the arrested insurgents could not give the exact location of the camp, they maintain it is around 8 km north of “Allay busty” inside the Fifshu jungle.

The KLO militants also admitted that their elusive “commander-in-chief” Jeevan Singh alias Tushar Roy, also a resident of Uttar Haldibari, was present at the “induction day” in March 1999 and at the “passing out parade” on July 15, 1999.

Meena said that the Rajbongshi youth are either lured by job offers or are coerced into taking up guns. “Both Lalan and Chakra were recruited by KLO ‘spotters’ when the duo had gone looking for jobs at the Border Security Force’s Kadamtala recruitment camp near Siliguri in March 1999,” he added.


New Delhi, Dec. 9: 
A rare consensus between Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra on who will be the next foreign secretary could lead to more trouble for the foreign minister than his differences with the national security adviser would have created.

Both Jaswant and Mishra have picked Kanwal Sibal, India’s ambassador in Paris, as the replacement for Lalit Mansingh.

Sibal is due to come here in March, ostensibly to replace K.V. Rajen as secretary (east) in the foreign ministry, but, according to many, to join as the next foreign secretary.

Sibal, a 1966 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, is being brought in superseding a dozen-odd officials. At the core of this decision is a clear signal that none of the diplomats from the 1964 and 1965 batches are good enough to head the foreign service.

The decision, if implemented, could create a lot of heartburn.

Mansingh, whose tenure ends on March 31, 2001, has been chosen as the next ambassador to the US. But the possibility of Mansingh leaving for the US earlier than expected, either in end-January or February, has opened up the race for the top job.

Several diplomats, who had not been considered earlier because they would have got only a few months after Mansingh retired, will now have close to a year if promoted to head the foreign service.

Heading this group is the ambassador in Kathmandu, Deb Mukherjee. A 1964 batch officer, Mukherjee is due to retire in November 2001. But if Mansingh leaves earlier, Mukherjee can be brought from Nepal to head the service for nearly a year.

Siddharta Singh, the ambassador in Rome who is due to retire in February 2002, will get over a year if Mansingh leaves early and the government names him the foreign secretary.

Several others from the 1964 and 1965 batches are also in the race. For instance, ambassador to Ireland Chokila Iyer is from the 1964 batch. If chosen, she will be the first woman foreign secretary and will also have nearly one-and-a-half years in the chair since she retires in June 2002.

Moreover, there is Yogesh Mohan Tiwari, India’s ambassador in Cairo, who is not only from the same 1966 batch as Sibal, but retires in July 2003.

Insiders in South Block argued that Mishra’s decision to back Jaswant’ss choice may be a deliberate one as the national security adviser is aware of the troubles that lie ahead in case Sibal is given the job.

Indications are that even Jaswant realises that appointing Sibal could have an adverse impact on the functioning of the ministry. As a way out of this tricky situation, the government is now exploring possibilities of appointing another officer for at least a year before making Sibal the foreign secretary.


New Delhi, Dec 9: 
Ploughing another furrow that runs contrary to the line pursued by the government and the establishment, President K.R. Narayanan has cast his lot firmly and rather openly with the opponents of the controversial Narmada dam.

The President has said the nation must take “every possible care to see that the impact of dams we build is not ruinous to the lives of our tribal brothers and sisters inhabiting our forests and river valleys”.

Speaking directly in the context of the Narmada dam, whose construction is now proceeding amid widespread protests on one side and celebrations on the other, Narayanan said: “Let us try to make our forests and river valleys, forests and river valleys of joy and not of human misery and deprivation.”

Narayanan’s remarks were made at the presentation of the Dr Ambedkar International Award for Social Change to Baba Amte on December 6 and their import probably got drowned in the media’s preoccupation with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Ayodhya-related statements.

But by lending his voice and moral support to the anti-Narmada dam movement, Narayanan has placed himself on a counterpoint to the Centre, which has given short shrift to the environment lobby led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and wholly backed the construction of the dam in the name of development.

The President chose to commend the Narmada Bachao Andolan while felicitating Baba Amte and said: “Baba Amte described the Narmada Bachao Andolan as the new battlefront for youth action and as an outburst of Gandhian courage and concern for antyodaya (the uplift of the poorest)...the struggle for environment is the biggest religious and spiritual movement in the world today.”

He also took a jibe at the development lobby, saying: “I recall that during the Independence struggle the late V.K. Krishna Menon, directing his verbal missiles at British audiences, declared that the British imperialists had gone around the world damming rivers and damning peoples. Let us, now that imperialism is gone, take every possible care to see that the impact of the dams we build is not ruinous to the lives of our tribal brothers and sisters inhabiting our forests and river valleys.”

Perhaps articulating his opposition to the manner in which land had been acquired by the government for the project, Narayanan quoted Ambedkar as having said: “The land shall belong to the state and shall be let out to the villagers without distinction of caste or creed and in such a manner that there will be no landlord, no tenant and landless labour...all wasteland shall be acquired by the state and distributed among the Dalits and tribals.”

And having quoted Ambedkar, Narayanan said: “In the blind and remorseless march of modern development it is good for us to pause and recall these words.”

In the days leading up to his remarks on the Narmada issue, President Narayanan had been lobbied for support by several activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, including Magsaysay awa rd winner Medha Patkar.


London, Dec. 9: 
BBC Television today screened a documentary on the making of Amitabh Bachchan’s waxwork model at Madame Tussaud’s, which revealed he will be depicted without his current trademark grey beard.

“He looks a lot younger,” confirmed Jas Shetra, who has produced and directed the documentary, Fame Immortalised, for BBC2.

Bachchan is the first Bollywood star to be chosen by Madame Tussaud’s in its 200-year-old history. The museum is expecting to be “deluged” by Indian fans after the 58-year-old actor, now riding a second wave of popularity after Kaun Banega Crorepati, flies to London on December 20 to unveil and be photographed alongside his likeness.

Judging by the nearly finished end product shown today on BBC2, Bachchan fans might conclude some more work needs to be done before the model looks like the real thing.

Shetra said: “Some more colouring and touching up needs to be done. He looks very light. They will make him darker.”

In an interview with the BBC, Bachchan, who was selected after winning a Net poll, was characteristically modest.

“I feel deeply honoured by this recognition,” he said. “I also feel terribly humbled. I truly believe that this should have gone to someone more deserving in the film industry.”

He added: “I want to express my gratitude and thanks to Madame Tussaud’s, particularly for giving Indian cinema a place in their very prestigious museum.”

The model is shown wearing a cream kurta-pyjama with a matching shawl, all donated by Bachchan from his wardrobe.

As he has chosen to be shown wearing chappals, experts at the museum had to measure his feet.

One of the museum’s senior sculptors, Stuart Williamson, has spent six months perfecting the £ 30,000 model from the hundreds of photographs and measurements — everything from “knees apart” to “rib cage” — taken of Bachchan at the only sitting he was able to give. Bachchan may regret that, unlike most other subjects, he did not return on at least one occasion for adjustments to be done.

The clay model from which the wax model was made bears an uncanny resemblance to the film star. The eyes were gouged out from the wax replica to allow acrylic eyes matching those of the actor to be popped into place.

One of the hair experts told the programme: “We took a small sample of his hair and this was sent away to a hair supplier so we could get the exact match and quantity.”

Bachchan is bringing with him a number of rings and a watch for the model. He will also hand over a change of outfit because the museum expects his cream kurta-pyjama to get dirty, partly through fondling by female admirers.

Even Diane Moon, the museum spokeswoman, was gushing in talking about Bachchan. “I would not dare to touch him if I met him in a street in Bombay but I can give the model a kiss,” she said.

She also predicted: “I don’t want to make promises but we may do another Bollywood actor. May be one day we will have a Bollywood hall of fame just as we do with Hollywood.”


Washington, Dec. 9: 
Thirty two days after Americans failed to elect their 43rd President, votes in Florida are being counted again.

When the presidency finally appeared to be within the grasp of George W. Bush, Florida’s Supreme Court yesterday dealt a potentially devastating blow for Republican hopes by upholding his rival Al Gore’s plea for a recount of all the disputed ballots in Florida’s 67 counties.

By a split ruling of 4 to 3, the Supreme Court also ordered the inclusion of votes recounted in two counties, but rejected by Florida’s chief electoral officer — a Republican — in the final tally. This immediately brought Bush’s majority in Florida down to a mere 154 votes.

In a day of dramatic developments, two judges in Florida in two separate cases dismissed pleas by Democrats to invalidate 25,000 votes for irregularities allowed by county election officials sympathetic to Republicans.

The judges conceded that there were irregularities by officials, but argued that invalidating votes would amount to punishing innocent voters.

A ruling in favour of Democrats in either of these cases would have hoisted Gore to the presidency. The Democrats immediately appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. Following the state Supreme Court’s judgement ordering a recount of disputed ballots in all of Florida, Bush authorised his lawyers to once again approach the US Supreme Court in a bid to overturn the decision.

He also moved swiftly in the federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta seeking a stay of the manual recounts. But that was not all. The first signs that America’s unprecedented political crisis was taking its toll of even the judiciary came when a judge ordered by Florida’s Supreme Court to supervise the recounts declined to do the job. The task had to be assigned to another judge.

Meanwhile, in a parallel Republican effort, Florida’s legislature yesterday began proceedings to name 25 of the party’s nominees as electors for Bush in case the legal wrangling continued or the cases went in favour of the Democrats.

Bush hosted a Christmas party for his staff and had hoped to announce some appointments for his presumptive White House yesterday in anticipation of victory, but the Florida Supreme Court’s decision cast a pall of gloom in the Republican camp. Tom Delay, Republican whip in the US House of Representatives, said: “Four justices of the Florida State Supreme Court have distorted the judicial process into nothing more than a mechanism for providing Gore with the victory he was unable to win on November 7”.

Former secretary of state James Baker, observer for Bush in Florida, said of the judgement:”It is very sad, it is sad for Florida, it is sad for the nation and it is sad for democracy”. The day began badly for Gore as judges ruled against invalidating the 25,000 votes and Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, described the mood in the party: “We had our black mourning suits out”.




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