Vajpayee dash to douse Sonia fire
Mamata, Congress race against debut deadline
Ditched DMK sends aunt to Maran
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 14: 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tonight clarified that the CBI had not launched a probe against Sonia Gandhi, capping a stand-off that saw the Congress president boycott an all-party meeting and cloud the government’s drive to salvage the remaining part of the tumultuous budget session.

The Congress threw a fit when it was reported that the CBI had begun a probe against Sonia on the basis of allegations made by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy.

Vajpayee’s clarification came on an evening of subtle twists and turns. Briefing reporters after the all-party meeting, O. Rajagopal, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and railways, said Swamy’s complaint had been referred to the department of personnel but Vajpayee had no knowledge about it.

However, Vajpayee contradicted Rajagopal, telling a few reporters that he had been “aware” of the CBI’s move. The Press Information Bureau later informed journalists of Vajpayee’s denial of Rajagopal’s statement.

“The question of any inquiry does not arise at the moment. So far, no decision has been taken for any kind of probe,” Vajpayee said.

Some reports had appeared that the CBI had taken cognisance of a “chargesheet” filed against the Congress president by Swamy. He had alleged, among other things, that Sonia had taken up a job as an insurance agent in 1972 when she was not yet an Indian citizen and that her mother and sister had “LTTE links”.

Swamy sent his “chargesheet” to Vasundhara Raje Scindia, minister of state for personnel, who then referred it to the CBI after purportedly getting Vajpayee’s go-ahead.

A section of the press reported that CBI special director P.C. Sharma had confirmed that his department was “examining” the document and the course of action to be taken.

Stung to the quick, Congress leaders met at Sonia’s residence and decided to boycott Vajpayee’s meeting.

But Opposition sources confirmed that Vajpayee had conceded at today’s meeting that while he had “received and acknowledged” Swamy’s “chargesheet”, he had no intention of ordering a probe.

“Vajpayee quipped and said, ‘You are all familiar with Swamy and his chargesheets. Once he even tried to trap me,’” a source quoted the Prime Minister as saying.

Sources said with key Bills to be passed in the second leg of the budget session beginning on Monday, Vajpayee needs the cooperation of the Congress, especially as the ruling alliance is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress had stalled Parliament for several days over the Tehelka issue in the first leg of the budget session. But now the BJP cannot afford any more adjournments as a lot has to be squeezed into a 16-day session.

Before the Prime Minister’s clarification, the Congress camp had made angry noises, with Manmohan Singh coming out with a vitriolic statement. “It is impossible for the Congress to cooperate with the government which has chosen to refer to the CBI for investigation the baseless charges.” However, after the clarification, the Congress lowered the pitch.

By pacifying the Congress, Vajpayee has rubbed some of his own partymen the wrong way. BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra insisted that the Congress must not be allowed to “blackmail” the government whenever there is the smell of a scam in it is involved.


Calcutta, April 14: 
Mamata Banerjee and the Congress burned midnight oil and tried to hammer out a deal on the last fistful of seats before the couple debuts tomorrow on a public platform at a venue with symbolic significance.

Congress leaders said late tonight they expected the stalemate on Malda’s Englishbazar and Harishchandrapur, which veteran party leader Ghani Khan Chowdhury has refused to yield to the Trinamul Congress, to be broken by tomorrow.

On Sunday afternoon, Mamata is scheduled to kick off her roadshow for the Assembly polls at a rally at the Shyambazar five-point crossing in north Calcutta.

The meeting will also be addressed by Congress leaders, including state party chief Pranab Mukherjee and former president Somen Mitra. The five-point crossing was also the venue of Mamata’s maiden rally where she had announced the names of her party candidates on the eve of the 1998 Lok Sabha polls after she had broken away from the Congress.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi met Mamata to finalise the deal on Raigunj which falls in his Lok Sabha constituency. Some other Congress leaders, too, called on Mamata after her return from Jangipara in Hooghly where she had gone to inquire into the circumstances leading to the killing of two Trinamul workers.

If the differences are ironed out by tomorrow, Trinamul sources said Mamata might announce the candidates at the rally.

Amid the hard bargaining, roles reversed in the Congress with Mukherjee, once a reluctant supporter of the alliance, targeting “overnight” sceptics in the party.

In an apparent reference to Ghani Khan, Das Munshi and member of Parliament Adhir Chowdhury, the state Congress president said it was unfortunate that those who once asked for an alliance with Mamata were overnight creating hurdles.

“Instead of wasting time on petty issues, we should see to it that this combine puts up a united fight against the ruling communists,” he added.

Adhir Chowdhury is aggrieved over the poor “winnability” of the slots set aside for his supporters in his stronghold. Das Munshi, who had a heated argument with Mukherjee in Delhi over the candidate for Durgapur, was vocal in his criticism of the deal earlier but softened after yesterday’s list met some of his demands.

Das Munshi echoed his new sense of optimism tonight, saying it was unfair to say that some leaders were unhappy with the alliance. “We feel that the contentious issues will be resolved in a day or two,” he added. Ghani Khan was not available for comment.

Mukherjee, however, admitted that the Congress was not given its due share compared with its political presence in Bengal. He threatened disciplinary action against 12 party MLAs who have floated the Save Congress Committee after having been denied tickets.

Mukherjee’s defence of the alliance caught many Congress leaders by surprise. Some leaders said Mukherjee might have changed his mind after Mamata assigned him to draft a common agenda of governance.


Chennai, April 14: 
The southern version of the dynasty drama was played out today with senior DMK leader and the party’s face in Delhi, Mursasoli Maran, dealing a pre-election blow to his chief minister-uncle M. Karunanidhi by pulling out of politics, citing poor health.

Stunned by his nephew’s decision, Karunanidhi sent his wife Dayalu to talk it out with Maran, who is believed to be upset with the growing clout of the chief minister’s son, M. Stalin, in party affairs.

Maran’s decision came shortly before Karunanidhi announced his list of candidates for the Assembly elections.

While there were no surprises in the DMK list, Jayalalitha sprang one by announcing that she would contest from two constituencies, Krishnagiri in the northwestern region and Andipatti in southern Tamil Nadu.

Maran broke the news to a couple of news agencies this morning. But he refused to say whether he would quit the Union Cabinet, where he is the minister for commerce and industry.

Not many are, however, willing to buy Maran’s explanation that he is withdrawing from politics because of his health. After recently recovering from a serious heart problem, he was now believed to be keeping well.

Observers believe it was the tension between him and his cousin Stalin over alliances and seat-sharing that led to his abrupt decision. They pointed to the absence of any prominent role for Maran in the run-up to the elections vis-ŕ-vis the importance given to Stalin, who is the mayor of Chennai.

Though Karunanidhi had not tired of projecting Maran as his “conscience-keeper”, it was Stalin who was taking all the decisions. Sources said the chief minister was swayed more by his son’s inputs than those given by others.

Hours after Maran’s decision, a fire broke out in the offices of Sun TV, owned by his family, in the DMK headquarters. No casualty was reported.




Maximum: 30.9°C (-5)
Minimum: 23°C (-2)


0.9 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 88%,
Minimum: 57%


Partly cloudy sky with possibility of development of thundercloud in the afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 34°C
Sunrise: 5.19 am
Sunset: 5.53 pm

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