Centre tests waters for Ayodhya talks
Atal raps allies for crossing the limit
Uma pins blame on kar sevaks
Buddha sets performance term for staff promotion
Naidu slams Delhi focus on temple
BJP berths top election-year blitz list
Cop opens fire after molest charge
Laloo berthsnub to Congress
Peace and Saddam on Jordan mission to Delhi
356 signal in Manipur

 
 
CENTRE TESTS WATERS FOR AYODHYA TALKS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s call for a negotiated, out-of-court settlement of the Ayodhya dispute has drawn a full-throated “yes” from Hindutva hardliners, a firm “no” from hawkish Muslim organisations and a tentative “may be” from moderate Muslims.

Government sources said John Joseph, a member of the National Minorities Commission, is liaising with some Muslim organisations in a bid to bring them to the negotiations table. It is in this context that Vajpayee’s Rajya Sabha statement that unconditional talks will be held assumes significance. Vajpayee today acknowledged that some effort “outside the ambit of the government” was being made.

Sources said talks between two community leaders will begin in January first week. One of the formulae mooted by Joseph envisages Muslim organisations agreeing to hand over the disputed land to the Ram Janmabhoomi trust in exchange of land for a mosque in a “nearby area”.

Moderate Muslim organisations want to know if “nearby” means within “panchkosi” (five km) of the temple or outside it. “If it means away from Ayodhya, it means nothing and no serious talks can be held. However, if the idea is to resolve the dispute once and for all, the mosque should be adjacent to the proposed temple,” a prominent leader said.

Radical Muslim leaders Syed Shahabuddin and Maulana Obaid Ullah Azmi, however, said they had no information about talks being held to resolve the dispute. “Only the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board has the mandate to hold negotiations, but to the best of my knowledge there has been no formal or informal contact,” Azmi told The Telegraph.

Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee convener Shahabuddin, too, adopted a tough posture, saying the disputed land in Ayodhya is “not for sale at any price”.

The former MP, who spearheaded the Babri movement before the mosque was razed, reacted sharply to the RSS proposal to “buy” land in Ayodhya. “Any construction activity for the proposed mandir, anywhere in the disputed area, whether outside the Babri masjid site or otherwise, is unlawful so long as the site plan subsumes the Babri masjid site and covers any part of the disputed area,” he said.

He said the Centre cannot release or gift any part of the acquired land against the existing status quo order of the Supreme Court and before Allahahad High Court gives its judgment in the disputed land title case.

“The Babri masjid committee suggests to the RSS that the first step for the VHP trust is to revise the site plan of the mandir to exclude the disputed land and, in particular, the Babri masjid site,” he said.

Shahabuddin was responding to a statement by RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya that the Centre should decontrol the land acquired by it at Ayodhya and hand it over to the Ram Janambhoomi trust, the original owners.

The Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Prayag Peeth, Swami Madhavnand Saraswati, has also offered to mediate. The seer is in touch with Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, a prominent Muslim organisation.

   

 
 
ATAL RAPS ALLIES FOR CROSSING THE LIMIT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today exhorted his allies to keep a “national perspective” after their attack on his Ayodhya statements left both him and the government red-faced.

Voicing displeasure over them “exceeding the limit”, he said that whatever their “political compulsions” on the temple issue, they should exercise “restraint” while stating their views.

Vajpayee said at a meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Party that though the allies had “regional interests” to take care of, they should bear in mind “national interests” which are of utmost importance, party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

Vajpayee’s remarks come in the wake of the attack on his temple statements by allies Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam. Both parties had alleged that his statements sparked communal tension in some parts of the country.

Desam Parliamentary Party leader Yerran Naidu was quick to counter Vajpayee’s remark. “We never crossed the limits. If anythi-ng beyond the NDA agenda crops up, it is our duty to express our views. It is the duty of political parties to react. We have a right to. It is a coalition government,” he said.

Malhotra said Vajpayee had reiterated that the Ayodhya issue could be resolved either through a court verdict or by dialogue between the communities.

Vajpayee thanked the allies for backing the government on the Lok Sabha censure motion, and appreciated that they did not “fall into the trap of the Congress”. This “had strengthened” the NDA, Malhotra quoted him as saying. Vajpayee added that the government had no role to play in resolving the Ayodhya issue.

Vajpayee said that if the Opposition had not stalled proceedings in Parliament, there would have been no need for him to speak on it outside the House.

He said home minister L.K. Advani had been deputed to forge a consensus among allies on the women’s reservation Bill. The Bill is likely to come up in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

“Though there appears to be some movement in the direction of evolving a consensus among allies on the Bill, they appear to have some misgivings on reservation for other backward classes,” Malhotra said.

“No consensus has yet been evolved on the Bill and Advani has felt that there should be consensus among allies before discussing it with other political parties,” Malhotra said.

On the government’s defeat in the Rajya Sabha on the temple motion, Malhotra said: “It was expected as we do not have a majority in the Upper House. But the Prime Minister is the leader in the Lok Sabha and it is the outcome in the Lok Sabha that matters.”

Malhotra said he had no information that some allies, led by Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, were planning to float a secular front.

   

 
 
UMA PINS BLAME ON KAR SEVAKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Singing a different tune on her alleged involvement in inciting kar sevaks on the day the Babri masjid was brought down, sports minister Uma Bharti today indicated that she was nowhere near the structure when the mob was trying to demolish it.

Bharti chose to forget the much-publicised photograph near the demolished mosque in which she is seen hugging Murli Manohar Joshi. At the time the masjid was being brought down, Bharti was quoted as having said “Ek dhakka aur do...”.

Deposing before the Liberhan Commission, the chargesheeted BJP leader laid the demolition blame on kar sevaks alone and sought to clear senior colleagues L.K. Advani and Joshi.

Bharti told Justice (retd) M.S. Liberhan that the angry kar sevaks refused to listen to appeals from Advani, Joshi and then VHP general secretary Ashok Singhal, who wanted them to dismount from the dome of the mosque.

Bharti said that when she was called to address the crowd from the Ram Katha Kunj manch, a makeshift dais facing the masjid, she saw a number of people climbing atop the dome. According to her, she did not deliver the speech and instead brought to the notice of Advani, Joshi and Singhal the manner in which the kar sevaks had proceeded to the structure.

“They were shocked. They started appealing to the people to get down. But in the din caused by the massive crowd, the appeal could not reach the people who were already atop the dome,” she said.

However, she added, upon instructions from party leaders, she went to the rear portion of the mosque with a public address system in hand, but was told by the kar sevaks “to go to hell”.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SETS PERFORMANCE TERM FOR STAFF PROMOTION 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Dec. 19: 
The Bengal government has linked timely attendance and efficiency and accountability to promotion.

An employee will need to have a 70 per cent punctuality record for three consecutive six-month periods to be eligible for promotion.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta said all employees would be graded on 100 marks after every 18 months.

“Twenty-five marks will be for attendance, 50 for performance and 25 for efficiency and accountability,” Dasgupta said.

The government will grant promotions under the new norms in the six-month period from January 1 to June 30, 2001. “We are doing this so that no one is denied promotions already due. Though they will get the letters after June 30, the promotion will be effective retrospectively,” Dasgupta said.

For group B and C employees (clerks, head assistants, etc.), their open performance record will consist of “objective evaluation of efficiency and accountability for three consecutive six-month periods by the reporting officers.”

“The officers will take into consideration the employee’s knowledge of work, initiative, promptness, communication skills and behaviour with colleagues and members of the public,” the finance minister said.

“There is no question of biased evaluation as the reports are open and will go to each employee for their signature. It is no use coming on time and doing no work,” Dasgupta added.

Those who fare poorly will be told in writing where they are lacking and asked to improve. Continued negligence of duty will be sternly dealt with, the minister said.

“We will tell the officials to win the confidence of their staff by guiding them and interacting with them as well,” Dasgupta said.

The new norms will also apply to officers evaluated in the annual confidential report. “Added emphasis will be given on behaviour,” Dasgupta add- ed.

Along with this, the government has modified the career advancement scheme for employees who have no scope for promotions for long periods.

“We have decided to give an employee the benefits of a higher pay scale after every eight years,” Dasgupta said. The norms for being eligible for career advancement, which is a non-functional promotion, remain the same.

The formats of open performance records and annual confidential reports are being changed. “They will be detailed and will have to be ready by this month,” the minister said.

   

 
 
NAIDU SLAMS DELHI FOCUS ON TEMPLE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 19: 
Blaming all parties for wasting time on an “irrelevant” temple, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu today stepped up the farmer offensive and charged the Food Corporation of India with pursuing a “partisan and negative” policy.

Naidu, facing a farmer backlash in the wake of a glut that spread panic, said the corporation was not buying grain as promised by the Prime Minister and the Union food minister.

Only 11,000 tonnes of paddy have been purchased till now, though the corporation’s quota was 3 lakh tonnes, he said.

The Centre’s promise to lift the excess foodgrain was seen as a price it paid for Naidu’s concurrence to drop insistence on a steeper cut in oil prices.

Asked whether he was contemplating any action against the Centre, Naidu said he would “not keep silent”, but before that he would monitor the procurement. “I will not keep silent if the interests of the farmers or the state are deliberately ignored by the corporation or the NDA government,” he said.

An initially reticent Naidu castigated both the Centre and the Opposition for harping on the Ayodhya dispute and ignoring the plight of the farmers.

“I am attacking the Centre and the Opposition as both are responsible for diverting attention from real issues. We were not given proper opportunity to raise farmers’ issue in Parliament,” he said.

Naidu’s party has yesterday kicked up a storm in the House over the issue.

“I don’t know why the people are bothered about a temple which has no relevance to the present situation. One should not waste Parliament time on issues which will not help the people at large in any manner,” he said.

   

 
 
BJP BERTHS TOP ELECTION-YEAR BLITZ LIST 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
If political parties splurged on advertising their virtues in election-year 1999, so did the incumbent BJP-led government.

Figures publicised in Parliament reveal that the Union government pumped an additional Rs 16 crore into print advertisements last year.

Various ministries spent as much as Rs 81.13 crore in 1999-2000, against Rs 65 crore in 1998-1999, on advertisements in newspapers and periodicals issued through the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity.

A break-up of the bill sheds light on which ministry spent the extra Rs 16 crore in the crucial year when the ruling coalition went to the hustings.

The big spenders were the ministries of health and welfare, personnel, public grievances and pension, communications, ministry of home, ministries of human resources development, science and technology, power and space and atomic energy.

Compared to the jumps in so me departments, the spurt in the adspend of the information and broadcasting ministry was moderate. The ministry hiked its bill by only Rs 48 lakh to Rs 10.68 crore.

The expenditure of the power ministry, headed by the then BJP minister R. Kumaramangalam, shot up to Rs 14.57 lakh from Rs 1.99 lakh. Health and welfare, another BJP berth, spent Rs 10.2 crore — almost thrice more than the previous year’s Rs 3.70 crore.

The home ministry, headed by L.K. Advani, spent little less than double the amount of the previous year. The ad expenses were Rs 7.09 crore, compared with Rs 4.26 crore earlier. The ministry of science and technology, again a BJP portfolio, forked out Rs 3.12 crore — three times that of the previous year.

The finance ministry under Yashwant Sinha, who has been pleading for belt-tightening in the government, was among the few which practised what they preached. It managed to lower the amount to Rs 4.85 crore from Rs 5.83 crore.

Some of the key allies also figure among the big spenders. George Fernandes’ defence went up by Rs 1 crore to Rs 9. 44 crore, while Ram Vilas Paswan’s communications doubled its bill to Rs 3.46 crore.

However, majority of the ministries which stepped up the adspend belongs to the BJP. Many of these ministries are responsible for communicating social and development messages, but even then the sudden spurt dur- ing an election year is signifi- cant.

Besides, these figures exclude the amount the ministries spend in advertising directly through agencies.

   

 
 
COP OPENS FIRE AFTER MOLEST CHARGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Dec. 19: 
A policeman shot dead eight people, including tribals, as he fired at unarmed villagers protesting against the molestation of some women vendors and the beating and detention of a local resident in a Naxalite-infested district, an official source said today.

Constable Shripat Gaikwad opened fire without warning after more than 500 residents of Keshori village surrounded an anti-Naxalite outpost in Gondia district, about 180 km from Nagpur, last night.

They had been demanding the release of a local resident held in the outpost after he protested the molestation of the tribal women by some policemen in a market.

Gaikwad killed three people on the spot. Five others died today at Bhandara district hospital. The condition of three injured persons is critical.

Most of those killed were tribals.

Senior administration officials, including additional inspector general of police (Nagpur) P.K.P. Chakroborty, are camping in the village to defuse tension.

The outpost, manned by state reserve police personnel, has been in the village bordering Madhya Pradesh for more than a decade. This is the first time the policemen there have faced an allegation of molestation.

Tension erupted after a police team out on patrol started questioning a few women vendors reportedly new to the weekly market in the village last afternoon. The women complained to their male colleagues sitting nearby that the policemen were molesting them in the name of questioning.

When a male vendor protested, the policemen took him to the camp, where he was brutally beaten up. As word spread, angry villagers gathered around the outpost, demanding immediate release of the vendor and the arrest of the policemen who had allegedly molested the women.

Suddenly, Gaikwad pulled out his automatic rifle and started firing at the crowd, killing and injuring the villagers.

It is not known how many rounds the policeman fired or the exact number of the injured.

It is also not clear whether the police top brass have taken any action against the errant constable.

   

 
 
LALOO BERTHSNUB TO CONGRESS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Dec. 19: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav has left the Congress in the lurch during a ministry shuffle originally meant to fill the berths vacated by the party when Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar.

The Congress had demanded that the posts held by its ministers before the bifurcation should be given to its nominees. Former state party president Chandan Bagchi was one of the strong contenders to a berth.

However, all the 11 departments vacated by the Congress have either been filled by RJD candidates or put under the additional charge of ministers already in office.

The RJD’s commercial tax minister Abdulbari Siddique has been given additional charge of the road construction portfolio, earlier held by the Congress’ Furkan Ansari.

The labour department, which looked after by the Congress’ Chandra Sekhar Dubey, has gone to panchayat minister Upendra Prasad Verma.

Forests and environment, previously under Congress’ Monoj Yadav, has been handed over to Jagdanand Singh, already in charge of irrigation and water resources.

The Rabri Devi government has abolished some of the berths, too. A senior officer said: “Some of the minor departments like development and planning (state) have been withdrawn to cut down expenses.”

The reshuffle has angered the Congress legislators who have accused the RJD of taking decisions unilaterally and riding roughshod over their views.

Minister quits

State minister of state for higher education Ramdas Rai resigned in protest against the re-allocation of portfolios, adds PTI.

Rai handed over his resignation to Rabri this morning following rejection of his claim for elevation to Cabinet rank. Rai said he would, however, continue to be in the party.

CPM links Panja with Kamtapuris From our special correspondent New Delhi, Dec. 19: The CPM today alleged that Trinamul Congress leader Ajit Panja had met suspected Kamtapur separatists in prison. The party said it has taken up the matter with Union home minister L.K. Advani.

Castigating Trinamul leaders for supporting the separatist movement in north Bengal, CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee charged Mamata Banerjee’s party with “openly extending moral support” to the Kamtapur People’s Party.

Chatterjee alleged that Trinamul leaders were “in league” with the separatists and were abetting Pakistan’s Inter-State Intelligence carry out operations in north Bengal by lending support to the Kamtapuris.

“Of the two Union ministers from that party (Trinamul Congress), one even went to see an accused in jail,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee said he had also apprised Advani of the camps set up by the Kamtapuris with the help of the ISI in Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to train militants and send them back to India.

   

 
 
PEACE AND SADDAM ON JORDAN MISSION TO DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
Jordan has sought India’s support in alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people and help in bringing the Saddam Hussein regime to the international mainstream.

Jordan has also expressed happiness at Delhi’s stand on the West Asia peace process and said India’s support for peace in the region will be “an important factor” in the coming weeks.

India’s growing importance and acceptance among key nations in West Asia was demonstrated once again when Jordan’s foreign minister, Abdel Elah M. Khatib, flew into Delhi from Amman yesterday for holding consultations on the West Asia peace initiative and the situation in Iraq.

The Israelis and Palestinians have been in regular touch with the foreign office here on the developments in the region.

That Jordan, a key country in the region which houses more than 1.5 Palestinians, has also approached India for support in restoring peace in West Asia is an indication that Delhi’s views are being sought by important powers in India’s extended neighbourhood.

Khatib is the first foreign minister from Jordan to visit India. He made it better for India by ignoring Pakistan during his visit to South Asia.

The signal was not lost on Indian leaders, and the fact that the two sides discussed at length the threat from terrorism also shows that Islamabad is not on the top of Amman’s priority list.

Khatib held talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Vice-President Krishan Kant and foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who hosted a dinner in the dignitary’s honour.

To cement bilateral ties further, there is a possibility that King Abdullah of Jordan might visit India in April next year.

The two sides also stressed on increasing economic cooperation. Jordan, which recently signed a free-trade pact with the US, urged the government to take advantage of this by setting up joint ventures on its soil, and showed special interest in tapping Indian expertise in information technology.

Khatib, who presented his country’s view on the West Asia initiative, was told by both Vajpayee and Jaswant that there was no other alternative but to revive the peace process for amicably settling the dispute between Palestine and Israel.

The situation in Iraq, especially the continuance of UN sanctions and unilateral decisions taken by the US and British governments to impose “the no-fly-zone”, came up for discussion.

India pointed out that though it supported the decision to lift the sanctions on Iraq in tandem with Baghdad’s compliance of the UN resolution, it was veering round to the view that the sanctions were “unjustified and unwise”

The Indian leaders argued that the unilateral decision to impose a “no-fly-zone” in Iraq was also proving counter-productive and it was time that fresh proposals were made to bring Baghdad into the international mainstream.

Khatib’s visit is part of the policy which India is pursuing to improve and intensify engagements with the Arab world.

   

 
 
356 SIGNAL IN MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Dec. 19: 
In the backdrop of the Congress’ views on imposing President’s rule in Manipur, the Centre has summoned Governor Ved Marwah here for “urgent discussions” on the law and order in the state.

There are indications that Article 356 may be slapped on Manipur, which has been in the throes of administrative, financial and political uncertainty for some time, after the end of the winter session of Parliament.

According to highly-placed sources, Union home minister L.K. Advani will hold deliberations on Manipur with Marwah, defence minister George Fernandes and chief of army staff N. Padmanabhan tomorrow at his North Block chamber.

A couple of weeks ago, Marwah was in Delhi and had met top officials of the intelligence bureau and the home ministry.

“The Governor has been called over and he is expected to arrive by tomorrow, armed with his report on the prevailing law and order situation and political instability,” top government sources said, adding, the decision of imposing Central rule in the state will have to be taken in a full meeting of the Union Cabinet.

The sources said the Congress’ views expressed by senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee were still being “studied” by the government.

They added that given the political complexities in the state, where the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) — a breakaway faction of the Congress — has formed the coalition United Front of Manipur (UFM) government under W. Nipamacha Singh, a decision to invoke Article 356 will be taken after the Parliament session ends.

The MSCP is represented by one MP in the Lok Sabha, Th. Chaoba Singh, and is a partner in the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

The UFM government is evidently under pressure following Advani’s statement in Silvassa on Saturday that the government was in touch with the Congress on the issue.

Deputy chief minister Chandramani Singh is camping here and trying to convince the home ministry that Central rule was not the solution for Manipur. He denied that some Cabinet ministers had links with the militants.

   
 

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