Secular allies dig up Atal of 1992
Ulfa leaders’ kin killed
Front chorus amid Basu vandana
Manisha freezes with Anupam
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 10: 
The National Democratic Alliance today adopted a unanimous resolution affirming its “unreserved commitment” to a secular agenda, while refusing to take cognisance of the two controversial statements made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Ayodhya last week.

At a two-hour meeting, the alliance vowed to follow the rule of law in the mandir-masjid dispute.

Although the NDA meeting was convened ostensibly to discuss the ramifications of Vajpayee’s statements describing the Ayodhya movement as a “manifestation of nationalist feelings” and later suggesting that Hindus and Muslims should agree to hand over the disputed site for construction of a Ram temple, George Fernandes told reporters the Prime Minister had said nothing of the sort.

“He has never made any such statement and he has never deviated from the national agenda of governance in word and deed,” the NDA convener and defence minister said after the meeting at 7, Race Course Road.

NDA sources said at the meeting, too, Fernandes tried to paper over Vajpayee’s statements and insisted that the constituents had gathered only to find ways of “ending the deadlock” in Parliament on the Ayodhya issue.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee stopped him by pointing out that it was her insistence on a clarification from Vajpayee that had occasioned the meeting. Mamata, sources said, began her submission by telling Vajpayee: “With great respect I want to say whatever you have said has sent the wrong message across the country.”

Mamata was backed by Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, DMK minister T.R. Baalu and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

However, Farooq’s demand for an apology from Vajpayee was rejected out of hand by the other constituents with Shiv Sena MP, Sanjay Nirupam, arguing: “What is wrong with what he said?”

The sources said a defensive Vajpayee pleaded he had been “misquoted” by the media which had “picked” up only the “sensational” aspects of his statements while excluding his “affirmation” to abide by the NDA agenda and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the dispute.

Ignoring the Prime Minister’s most recent remarks, the NDA resolution ferreted out a statement by Vajpayee immediately after the Babri mosque demolition in December 1992 and maintained that this was a “view that is held by all parties of the NDA”. Vajpayee had then described the act as “most unfortunate”.

The sources said the draft was rewritten thrice after the first copy was shown to Mamata by PMO official Sudheendra Kulkarni. Sources close to Mamata said at her insistence the first two paras, reaffirming the Centre’s faith in the rule of law and the secular manifesto of governance, were inserted. The early expressions, said the sources, were not so “direct and clear cut”.

Despite objections raised by Mamata and the Telugu Desam — with whose leader N. Chandrababu Naidu she was in touch all day — the resolution incorporated the NDA stand of not favouring the resignation of the three ministers chargesheeted in the Ayodhya demolition. Naidu felt such a reference would give the Opposition another handle to use against the government.

Sharad Yadav and Farooq had subtly raised the question of L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti resigning, but the three BJP representatives present — Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Sikander Bakht — dismissed it outright.

Signals coming out of the BJP suggested that the party was prepared to face mid-term polls rather than give in to the demand for resignation. None of the three chargesheeted ministers attended the meeting.

Later, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said the government was ready to discuss the issue of resignation in Parliament “under any rule”, making it clear that it was not fighting shy of a vote which the Opposition wants.


Guwahati, Dec. 10: 
Unidentified assailants shot dead two family members of Ulfa militants and set fire to another one’s house within hours of the Governor announcing steps to protect the kin of militant leaders.

A group of about seven masked assailants last night killed 30-year-old Lakhan Rabha, brother of Ulfa militant Shatrughan Rabha, at Belpara under Rangjuli police station in Lower Assam’s Goalpara district.

In another incident, assailants shot dead 55-year-old Numal Manta, father of Ulfa militant Birbal Manta, in Morigaon district. Police recovered the victim’s body from the 4th Mile area, bordering the hill district of Karbi Anglong, last night.


Calcutta, Dec. 10: 
Lining up a diva once demonised by the apparatchiki to belt out an unabashed tribute, the Class of ’96 reunited today to thrust upon Jyoti Basu a Panama hat and the mantle to stitch together the tattered third front.

Egged on by a galaxy of movers and shakers of the erstwhile United Front government at the Centre, Basu asked the Opposition to work out a common minimum programme on the basis of which a front can be floated again.

But the mood at the Salt Lake stadium, which drew a capacity crowd to felicitate Basu, was captured by a vandana by Usha Uthup, whose performance once symbolised “decadent culture” for a section of CPM leaders.

Jyoti Basu, Jyoti Basu, Don’t worry Jyoti Basu, Aamra tomar sangey, Uthup sang, the tune suspiciously sounding like a clone of a southern hit number: Mustafa Mustafa, don’t worry Mustafa.

If Uthup gifted the theme song, the theme was underscored by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who recently showed that the years that took him to the chief minister’s chair have not doused the fire that once raged against decadent culture. Bhattacharjee said Basu would play a leading role in national politics. “Let it be the main theme of today’s rally,” he said.

All the speakers at the big bash — mounted by Subhas Chakraborty on a scale rivalling the Hrithik Roshan show which had upset Bhattacharjee — religiously stuck to the theme.

In one voice, they underlined the urgency of forging a third front to oust the BJP-led government and appealed to Basu to lead it.

“There is no light at the end of tunnel. Our freedom, sovereignty and integrity is in danger. You are a symbol of hope. So, please show us the path to save the country and its people from the hands of the ruling communal forces — Jyotibabu aap humlogoko jyoti dijiey, hum desh ko aage barhayenge,’’ fromer Prime Minister V.P. Singh said.

Deve Gowda warned of the dangers of allowing the BJP, RSS and Bajrang Dal to remain in power. “I request Joytibabu to lead the third front and we will give him all support,” he said.

Never lost for words, Laloo Yadav said: “Desh me neta ek hi hai aur woh hai Jyotibabu. He is a tiger of Bengal. We want him to lead the third front.”

Basu rose to the occasion, saying he would try his best despite his age and poor health. “We will have to oust this (BJP-led) barbaric government. Communal and reactionary forces are now in power who are selling the country to multinationals. We have to prepare for a struggle as vigorous as the one before Independence for the East India Company is here in a different form,” Basu said.

Basu’s face was splashed across two digital screens. The crowd saluted him by lighting up torches made of rolled-up newspapers, a practice that is par for the course at the Eden Gardens after cricket matches.

Prafulla Mahanta, the chief minister of Assam, and Mulayam Singh, the Samajwadi Party leader, were not present, but they sent their representatives carrying messages of support.


Mumbai, Dec. 10: 
The fault lies not in the cloning, but in the stars.

Zee TV announced today that it has dropped co-hosts Anupam Kher and Manisha Koirala from Sawal Dus Crore Ka, as their “bad vibes” with each other were spilling over into the sets.

After 26 episodes of Sawal, billed as the answer to STAR’s Kaun Banega Crorepati and Amitabh Bachchan, Zee said the contract with Anupam and Manisha Koirala had been terminated due to their “individual egos”.

Zee cited popular opinion for “freezing” the hosts. “Today, after 20 episodes have gone on air and six episodes are waiting to be telecast, the company, after taking a fresh review of market ratings, bows to public opinion and accepts the audience ratings in keeping with the traditions of Zee,” the channel said.

The channel has also decided to restructure the show to draw more viewers.

“It has been unfortunate that both the anchors continued to lack rapport and harmony ever since the launch of the show,” an official at the network added.

While Anupam has gone public with his outrage at being dropped from the show and is reported to have threatened legal action, the news of Manisha being dropped has come as a surprise to the entertainment industry.

“Although there may be few other reasons for the poor performance of the show, lack of rapport and the absence of a working relationship between the two anchors has been a big reason for the poor performance of the show,” the Zee official said.

“There has been preponderant public opinion on the lack of rapport between the two anchors, otherwise so versatile and distinguished,” he added.

But Zee still seems to be searching for the answer to the Rs 10-crore question: who can upstage Bachchan in KBC?

Ashutosh Rana, the new-age Bollywood villain known for his versatility and fluency in Hindi, is expected to pop the questions on Sawal now. However, Zee officials refused to confirm this, saying no agreement has yet been signed.

On legal implications, the Zee

official said the company’s decision was in line with the clauses in the contract. “We have discussed, informed and sent letters to both of them,” he said.

The industry grapevine was abuzz that the relationship between the two had strained so much that on one occasion, Zee had to cancel the shooting of an episode.

Manisha reportedly felt that she was being sidelined by Anupam and had complained to Zee officials.

Zee announced that the new, improved Sawal, slated to be beamed from the new year, would have only five contestants instead of the 21 now. The contestants will be allowed to buy answers from the anchor. For this, the contestant will have to give away 25 per cent of the prize money the first time he uses the benefit and 50 per cent on the second occasion.




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