Sonia turns treason tables on Atal
Cong faces Mamata red-rage trial
RSS adds temple to govt’s woes
Delhi rules before judge
Escorts on train become robbers
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SONIA TURNS TREASON TABLES ON ATAL 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Bangalore, March 17: 
Clobbering the BJP with its own patented stick and giving an emotional spin to the Tehelka tapes scandal, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today charged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with condoning “treason”.

“The Prime Minister is trying to shield the guilty. Inkay samay me jo kuch ho raha hai woh desh ke sath dhokha aur gaddari hai. Ise maaf nahin kiya ja sakta hai (Whatever is happening is treason and betrayal of the country. It is unpardonable),” Sonia said, handpicking words high on the BJP’s political lexicon to launch one of her most scathing attacks on Vajpayee .

Sonia did not mention Bofors — the BJP’s lethal weapon against the Congress and her family — but referred to the “vitiated” atmosphere and fabricated allegations Rajiv Gandhi had to face. “They created such an atmosphere that my husband — your leader — Rajiv Gandhi, had to pay with his life,” she said.

In the brief but fiery inaugural address at the Congress plenary, she demanded Vajpayee’s exit and directed the party to take Defencegate to the “people’s court”. Reacting to the BJP’s cri-ticism of stalling the Lok Sabha proceedings, Sonia asked: “What was their role when they were in the Opposition? Have they forgotten their track record?”

The tapes, she said, had confirmed what the BJP was all about. “The true face of the BJP is out in the open,” she said, drawing applause from party workers who have been drifting listless ever since Vajpayee returned to power last year.

Sonia confined her speech to the Tehelka expose, describing the Vajpayee regime as one “neck-deep” in corruption. She said it had lost the moral right to govern. “He is trying to defend the indefensible to stay in power and the government is making commerce of national security.”

She rejected Vajpayee’s move to initiate an inquiry into the expose, describing it as a measure to buy time.

After Sonia’s speech, Arjun Singh moved the political resolution, which focused on corruption in high places. “What has been unveiled displays the pattern of corruption in governance which has characterised the last three years of BJP governance at the Centre,” the draft said.

Speaker after speaker said the BJP-led alliance had lost the moral right to rule. The Congress will launch a nationwide agitation against the Vajpayee regime in “accordance with the Gandhian spirit”. The issue will figure in Sonia’s presidential address tomorrow and the concluding “Bangalore declaration”.

The draft resolution also touches upon Ayodhya with a striking omission — the paper has no mention of the party’s stand that it will abide by a court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute.

The draft makes it clear that the Congress was not against bu-ilding a Ram temple in Ayodhya. “In a civilised society, any attempt to resolve a dispute should be guided by the high good of civil society and they should be determined through a peaceful, civilised and transparent method,” it said.

Balance lost, says BJP

Reacting to Sonia’s outburst, the BJP tonight said she “seems to have lost her sense of balance” in pursuit of power.

   

 
 
CONG FACES MAMATA RED-RAGE TRIAL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi and Calcutta, March 17: 
Mamata Banerjee today kept options open on reaching an alliance with the Congress for the Bengal elections but told the party to take a “clear-cut anti-CPM stand”.

The Congress reciprocated by saying that it will not be the “B-team of either communism or communalism”.

Two days after walking out of the BJP-led coalition, Trinamul continued to keep the Congress guessing. “The Congress, which has a pact with Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav, should clarify its stand on corruption. It must also spell out its stand on the CPM, which is our enemy number one in Bengal,” Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee said.

Mamata made it clear that her party would abstain from voting in case the government tables a confidence motion in Parliament. “There is no question of supporting either the Third Front or the NDA on the confidence motion,” she said in Calcutta.

Elated at the prospect of reuniting with its prodigal daughter, the Congress ruled out joining hands with the Left parties. The party’s political resolution, presented at its 81st plenary in Bangalore, makes a forceful appeal to Mamata to “distance” herself from the BJP in Bengal and join hands with the Congress.

“The Congress refuses to be the B-team of either communism or communalism. It would welcome the distancing of the Trinamul Congress from the BJP. It is prepared to work with non-Left secular forces with the aim of ending the sway of the Left Front and installing a secular government in the state,” the resolution says.

The political document says that in Bengal, the Congress’ struggle was against the “venality and violence that have characterised two decades of the Left rule”. The strong words are aimed at fulfilling Mamata’s condition that the Congress should have no truck with the Left.

The high command is worried about the “confusing” signals being sent out by Mamata on her tie-up with the BJP in the state. But Mamata stood by her ambiguous stand, saying: “We don’t betray friends, but can’t help if they betray us.”

The Bengal BJP today decided to accept the number of seats (39) allotted to the party by Trinamul, but wanted to exchange 15 seats.

   

 
 
RSS ADDS TEMPLE TO GOVT’S WOES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
The RSS has struck when the Vajpayee government has its hands full.

The Sangh today virtually rejected the judiciary’s role in the Ayodhya issue, urging the Centre to explore “every single avenue” to facilitate construction of the Ram temple on the disputed site.

A resolution adopted by the Sangh’s Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha — in session here for three days — also endorsed the time frame set by the VHP-sponsored dharam sansad for the Centre to hand over the land to the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust. “The sabha feels the ball is in the government’s court and it is up to it to explore every single avenue to respect the deep-felt sentiment vis-ŕ-vis the Ayodhya Ram temple,” the resolution said.

“The sabha also welcomes the wise decision of the dharam sansad to allow sufficient time for the government to do away with the hurdles which have been needlessly obstructing the temple construction over almost a decade,” it added. The sansad, in its conclave during the Maha Kumbh, had given the Centre a year’s time to do away with the “hurdles” which “obstructed” the construction of the Ram temple.

The timing of the statements is significant. The Sangh, which yesterday said there was nothing untrue about the Tehelka exposé, wants to keep Atal Bihari Vajpayee under pressure and remind him that the issue was still alive.

The RSS claimed that people had “unanimously” expressed their “will” in favour of the Ram temple several times and cited the 100 million signatures from all sections which were submitted to the President in 1993 as an example and a “world record”.

Another resolution denounced the razing of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban and argued that it was not a response to the demolition of the “so-called Babri structure” in Ayodhya. It noted that Islamic countries like Malaysia and Egypt have condemned the Taliban decree and blamed the majority of the Muslim clergy in India for upholding the Islamic rule of the seventh and eighth centuries as their “ideal”.

The resolution appealed to “enlightened” Muslims to “come forward to extricate the Muslim community from the seventh-century mentality and establish that form of Islam which would be in tune with the present times”.    


 
 
DELHI RULES BEFORE JUDGE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
Going on the offensive, the Centre today termed “false” the allegations ignited by the Tehelka tapes even before the name of the judge to probe the exposé was announced.

“If an inquiry was ordered, it would come out clearly that all allegations are false,” law minister Arun Jaitley told a BJP meeting.

Adding fuel to speculation that George Fernandes, who resigned on Thursday as defence minister, might be reinstated, Jaitley said: “Whosoever is found guilty should be punished and we will not let the image of those who are not found guilty be tarnished.”

Though Jaitley debunked the allegations, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee referred to them indirectly during a security conference. Vajpayee said the armed forces should constantly raise their standards of “probity, transparency and accountability”.

The government also questioned the timing of the Tehelka disclosures. Jaitley said the charges came in the backdrop of turmoil in the stock market. “It seems there is a plan to create disturbances in our economy and polity, with the Opposition regularly stalling Parliament,” he said.

Fernandes, too, targeted Tehelka, saying the revelations were the result of “efforts” made by middlemen who had lost access to the defence ministry. However, the RSS said tonight it had no reason to doubt the website’s bona fide.

Home minister L.K. Advani challenged the Opposition to move a no-confidence motion. “Let the Opposition come to Parliament on Monday and participate in the debate. Milk will be separated from water and we will come out as clean as milk,” he said.

Jaitley, on the Prime Minister’s directive, wrote to the Chief Justice to appoint a sitting judge to inquire into the charges. Vajpayee had announced last night the probe would be completed in four months.

The Cabinet secretary has been asked by Vajpayee to make the logistical and infrastructural arrangements for the commission.

   

 
 
ESCORTS ON TRAIN BECOME ROBBERS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 17: 
Four railway police constables went on a looting spree inside the ladies’ compartment of the Howrahbound Jodhpur Express, assaulting passengers throughout the night.

Railway sources said the constables of the Howrah Government Railway Police, who were returning after escorting another train, forced their way inside the compartment and robbed several passengers at gunpoint on Friday night.

The four were arrested and produced in court, where they were granted bail.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 24.4°C (+2)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96% ,
Minimum: 51%

Today

Partly cloudy sky with possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in some parts towards afternoon or evening.
Sunrise: 5.47 am
Sunset: 5.42 pm
   
 

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