Sonia signals sacrifice for Mamata
Sushma learns to battle in Bengali
Morality belt against temptation
Intimate Indira disturbs dynasty
Broker rebellion brews in Calcutta
Hole in tape leak case
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi & Calcutta, March 29: 
Signalling that some sitting Congress legislators may not get election tickets, Sonia Gandhi today asked the West Bengal unit to make “sacrifices” and put “national interests” first while clinching a seat-share deal with Mamata Banerjee.

Pointing out that the scenario has changed after Mamata parted ways with the BJP, Sonia sought a blanket authorisation from the state’s leaders that they would not be rigid in their demands. “We have to do something,” the Congress president said at a meeting with the Bengal leaders in New Delhi.

A confident Mamata said she hoped to seal an electoral alliance by tomorrow. “The Congress is holding an in-depth discussion on the issue in Delhi tonight. I expect a final settlement by tomorrow,” the Trinamul Congress leader said in Calcutta. She is expected to make an announcement either tomorrow or on Saturday.

Kamal Nath, the AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal, called up Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay late tonight and said that differences with the state Congress unit on seats had been sorted out.

Nath said it will take another two to three days for an alliance to be sewed up and he will go to Calcutta again to hold talks with Mamata.

Paving the way for a pact, senior Bengal Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee, Somen Mitra, Pradip Bhattacharya, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Atish Sinha and Kumud Bhattacharya, who individually met Sonia, said they will obey the high command’s decision on sharing seats with Trinamul.

While Mamata is willing to set aside 56 seats, the Pradesh Congress Committee has prepared a list of 97 constituencies to which the party will stake claim. It includes 43 seats won by the Congress, 27 where it finished second in the 1999 general elections and another 27 seats spread over various districts.

In her brief but forceful intervention, Sonia stressed on the need to back Mamata because of her “bold” decision to dump the “communal and corrupt” BJP.

Elated at the prospect of having an effective campaigner like Mamata against the BJP, Sonia cautioned the Bengal leaders against taking a hard stance on seat-share. She argued that the Congress was fast regaining the secular space in Bengal and also in Tamil Nadu, where it has teamed up with Jayalalitha.

Sonia acknowledged the “genuine aspirations” of the state leaders, but urged them to take a “realistic and pragmatic” view while identifying seats.

Nath, who held talks with Mamata on Sunday night, said in his presentation that Trinamul and the Congress had reached an informal understanding on 43 seats.

The feedback from Trinamul was that it was willing to concede 56 seats, but the state leaders considered this “too little”. Sonia promised she will try and get the best bargain in Bengal and bag winnable seats.

Somen, Pradip and Pranab demanded that all sitting MLAs be retained. But many in the AICC do not agree and they pointed out that in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the party got only between two and six per cent of the votes in some of the Assembly segments held by the Congress.

“The rule is that there should be no rule. If we go by the seats where we have done well, we will restrict ourselves to the three districts of Murshidabad, Dinajpur and Malda,” a party functionary said.

Bengal Congress sources said the state leaders, who were initially against conceding any seat to Trinamul in Malda and Murshidabad, have relented at Sonia’s behest. Das Munshi is believed to have agreed to give Mamata a few seats in his Raigunj Lok Sabha constituency.

Mamata will kick off her election campaign on April 15 with a rally at the Shyambazar 5-point crossing.


New Delhi, March 29: 
Shifting from Bellary to Bengal, Sushma Swaraj is memorising her lines — this time in Bengali — to take on Mamata Banerjee and Sonia Gandhi in the Assembly big fight.

Sushma is taking lessons from husband Swaraj Kaushal, who is fluent in Bengali but does not speak the language of the BJP leadership.

Sushma, who gave Sonia a tough fight in Bellary during the last Lok Sabha elections, had earned extra pockets of support in Karnataka by mugging up some Kannada phrases.

Though Sonia succeeded in edging out “outsider” Sushma by 56,000 votes, her grit and proficiency in Kannada won her several admirers in the BJP high command.

The Bellary bout had helped Sushma claw back from political wilderness. Soon after the high-profile contest, Sushma was elected to the Rajya Sabha and then inducted into the Cabinet as information and broadcasting minister.

Sushma is one of the BJP’s most articulate faces on the small screen. Many Congress leaders admit that facing her in a television debate is not easy.

Party managers make sure to field Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kapil Sibal or R.K. Dhawan if they find out that Sushma is on the panel.

But the Congress rubbished Sushma’s Bengal bid. Party general secretary Ambika Soni said: “Let her enter Bengal. Mamata Banerjee will fix her.”

Making light of Sushma’s changing role, Soni said the minister should decide where she belongs. “She says she is the daughter of Karnataka. She should make up her mind if she belongs to Karnal, Ambala, Delhi, Karnataka or Bengal.”

West Bengal Congressmen are also not “unduly” worried about the “Sushma effect”. They believe that the “enlightened” Bengal electorate will not be “carried away by such gimmicks”.

“The election is going to be fought on some issues. The Left misrule is one such issue. The BJP is not a serious player. It can act as spoiler in a few seats. That is it,” an AICC functionary said, ruling Sushma out as a serious challenger.

But unmindful of these snide remarks, Sushma is busy picking up phrases like kemon aacchen, bhalo aachhi and aami ektu ektu Bangla boltey pari as she gets ready for the Bengal battle.


New Delhi, March 29: 
A day after home minister L.K. Advani admitted that the coalition made a “mistake” in looking for conspiracies behind the Tehelka expose, newly anointed BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi took the cue and underlined the need to evolve a code of ethics for the party’s ministers and legislators.

“There is a need to evolve a code of conduct for the party’s elected representatives which would govern their conduct. I will ask my party colleagues to prepare a note on that subject which I will place before the national executive at its next meeting,” Krishnamurthi said during his first conference as party president.

In an interview to a television channel yesterday, Advani had said: “Our first reaction that there is a conspiracy behind the Tehelka tapes was a wrong response for a party in power.”

Asked if the party was contemplating action against his predecessor Bangaru Laxman, Krishnamurthi said: “We had a national executive meeting last Saturday and Sunday. One or two persons in passing mentioned that he (Laxman) should resign from the Rajya Sabha. But the collective decision was that he will continue.... If and when he is found guilty by the inquiry, we shall not hesitate to take action, but the question of expelling Laxman right now doesn’t arise.”

On the NDA, Krishnamurthi said: “The BJP will realise its responsibility towards the country. It will take all necessary steps to strengthen and consolidate the NDA.... The NDA’s agreed agenda of governance is the government’s agenda and the BJP will place its full weight behind the implementation of the agenda.”

Krishnamurthi said the NDA government was constituted not for the pursuit of ideology but on the basis of a common agreed programme. “The NDA is a voluntary association based on a common agreed programme. The only compulsion of the NDA constituents is inspired by their own parties and when the government was formed, it took up the common agreed programme and not ideology,” he said.

Krishnamurthi’s statement was apparently a throwback to a distinction drawn by Advani in a national executive earlier in which he stressed the need to “de-ideologise governance”, the message being that certain basic policies should continue, irrespective of the political persuasion of the government of the day.

Krishnamurthi sought to underplay the RSS’ role in the BJP’s political scheme by likening the Sangh-BJP relationship to that of a student and his university. “The RSS is like a university. Many of us (BJP members) graduated from this university where we learnt certain values like love for motherland, dedication and devotion, and we are applying all these values here,” Krishnamurthi said, assigning to the RSS the role of a conscience-keeper.


London, March 29: 
Sonia Gandhi has taken “strong exception” to the new biography of Indira Gandhi and is even considering “legal action” to prevent its distribution, the book’s British publishers, HarperCollins, said in London today.

In Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, published in London earlier this month, the American-born author, Katherine Frank, examines intimate aspects of her subject’s life.

What appears to have especially upset Sonia is the suggestion that Indira’s husband, Feroze Gandhi, may have had an improper relationship with his mother-in-law, Kamala Nehru.

It is understood that Sonia, who met the author on four occasions and assisted her by providing contacts, feels that the biography “besmirches” the memory of her mother-in-law.

Helen Ellis, spokesperson for HarperCollins in London, said the firm’s representatives in India were trying to calm down the controversy. She blamed “hysterical” accounts of aspects of the book, notably in a magazine. “The article has misrepresented the book,” said Ellis.

However, a reading of the article shows it is substantially based on the book.

It is estimated that 4,000 copies of the biography, which has been widely reviewed and generally praised in Britain, have been exported to India.

Frank launched the book at the Nehru Centre, technically a part of the Indian High Commission, in London.

The book says that Indira slept with Feroze before marriage. It also deals with claims that Indira had an affair with her father’s private secretary, M.O. Mathai. It was Mathai himself who encouraged such speculation, including the suggestion that he had made Indira pregnant.

The author said that while she accepted that the Congress president was upset, “she cannot have read the book. There is nothing to get upset about”.

As a biographer, she had to deal with the rumours and a poster campaign in Allahabad that Feroze had had a relationship with Kamala.

But Frank said she had made it clear that “an affair between Kamala and Feroze, however, was inconceivable given Kamala’s poor health, her values and the complete lack of privacy at Anand Bhavan, though it is true that Feroze often travelled with her”.

She also thought it was “unlikely” that Indira had been involved sexually with Mathai. “This is a serious book,” she said. “I don’t want to be seen as sensational. I have spent six years writing it.”

HarperCollins, however, must have mixed feelings about the controversy, which is bound to help sales. In western biographies, authors attempt to dig out as much new material on the personal lives of their subjects.

Anything salacious or damaging is considered a bonus, whereas in India the distinction between a biography and a hagiography is still to be established.


Calcutta, March 29: 
After hurtling from one crisis to the other, the Calcutta Stock Exchange is staring at a virtual revolt by its brokers, with the majority of them threatening to throw out the bourse’s committee if it does not “resign voluntarily”.

The first signs of the rebellion emerged today when 140 of CSE’s 500 brokers turned up for a meeting called by three former presidents — Ajit Day, S.L. Bardhan and J.M. Choudhary — to discuss a “survival strategy” for the exchange.

“We all knew most of the members were very angry with the committee because of its serious lapses that have jeopardised everybody’s future here. But we never knew that the anger had transformed into such a fury,” said one of the past directors.

Keen to avoid an immediate showdown, the veterans have reportedly persuaded the brokers to give the committee 10 days to resign on their own.

“But if the committee does not resign, we have decided to call an extraordinary general meeting to seek a mid-term poll,” a senior CSE member said.

Sources said the former CSE presidents called the meeting after Pratip Kar, executive director of the capital markets watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, and P.G. Daga of the Unit Trust of India met Day and Bardhan yesterday to reportedly discuss turnaround strategies for the exchange. This gave rise to speculation that Sebi had asked the veteran members to intervene.

All committee members, except CSE president Kamal Parekh, have been avoiding the brokers since the crisis erupted.

Three top brokers — Harish Biyani, Dinesh Singhania and Ashok Poddar — along with their associates bought a large number of shares of DSQ Software, Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd and Global Tel. But when prices started crashing a day after the budget, they avoided depositing the mandatory margin money with the exchange.

But CSE did not take any action against the defaulting brokers till the situation went out of control, putting the exchange in one of the worst payments crises in its history.

Nearly 75 per cent of the brokers bought shares on behalf of the three big bulls of CSE with an understanding that if prices dropped, the three brokers would pick up the tab.

But the three did not, wiping out the fortunes of these brokers.

They are also sore with the committee for its alleged foul play in the sale of 28 lakh HFCL shares when the payments crisis was at its peak. The scrips were sold at a discount of Rs 100 to the market price on that day, leading to a loss of Rs 28 crore to the bourse.


New Delhi, March 29: 
The CBI is learnt to have conveyed to the home ministry that no criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act could be lodged against Thomas Mathew, the official suspended on charges that he leaked classified documents to Tehelka.

The government had asked the CBI to lodge a case of violation of the secrets Act against Mathew, a director in the home ministry. But the CBI feels that there was no evidence that Mathew was conspiring to destabilise the government or passing on top-secret documents.

The ministry will now be forced to pursue only a departmental inquiry against Mathew for being a CPM card-holder.




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