Give-and-take hope for House
Naidu names his man for CBI
Poppy minus opium for masses
Trinamul matches Ghani in Malda mischief
Panja to break silence
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 16: 
Prospects of a truce in Parliament brightened tonight with the Congress and the government inching closer to an unofficial deal.

If the undeclared understanding crystallises into a quid pro quo agreement, the government is expected to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to look into the Tehelka exposé.

As part of the pact, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will clarify that the government has no intention to probe the charges levelled against Congress president Sonia Gandhi by Subramanian Swamy.

As an early-summer downpour cooled the capital, the first signs of a respite for Parliament, too, emerged. Test-firing the first part of the deal late tonight, the Congress said it would allow the smooth functioning of the House if the government formed a JPC and took action against those “seen as culpable” in the video evidence.

The Congress’ demand marks a somersault as the party had turned down the government’s repeated offers to set up a JPC last month when the Tehelka tremors paralysed Parliament for seven consecutive days.

The Congress, which has been insisting on Vajpayee’s resignation, was forced to climb down as it was isolated in the Opposition camp. The government also put the party on the defensive by referring to the CBI a letter sent by Swamy to the Prime Minister on March 12, detailing a string of charges against Sonia.

The Congress turnaround was announced by Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy, who had categorically stated a few hours earlier that the party would stall the House tomorrow and that its position on the government’s resignation remained unchanged. The party said it would not relent unless the government stopped the “naked vendetta”.

However, late in the night, Reddy said: “To break the impasse in Parliament, even at this stage, we call upon the government to set the law in motion against all those seen as culpable on the Tehelka tapes and agree to the setting up of a JPC to look into all aspects of the exposé.”

Asked whether the government’s resignation was no longer a condition, Reddy said that for transacting business in Parliament, “this is our proactive initiative to break the deadlock”. He, however, said the Congress continued to maintain that the government has lost the moral right to continue in office.

The Congress began the day in a pugnacious mood, rejecting a proposal to reschedule the rest of the budget session to let MPs campaign for next month’s Assembly elections. Over 200 MPs are expected to be away electioneering in five states.

The CPM and a few others welcomed the plan as their interest in the Tehelka issue has waned and the BJP is not their main enemy in the states going to the polls. The Congress, however, feared that the reschedule proposal was sprung by the government to buy time to bury the Tehelka issue and allow the CBI to ago ahead with the probe against Sonia.

Sources said NCP leader Sharad Pawar, a restive ally of the Congress in Maharashtra, mooted the proposal for rescheduling the session. The suggestion was to adjourn the House on April 28 and go in for a recess till May 14. Sources said the government was not averse to the idea, provided the House cleared crucial legislative business, like the Finance Bill and the railway budget, before the recess.

Before Parliament was adjourned today as a mark of respect to former Prime Minister Devi Lal, who died last week, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi convened an all-party meeting to resolve the standoff, but in vain.

However, most Opposition parties, barring the Rashtriya Janata Dal, were not vociferous in supporting the Congress demands and spoke in favour of the smooth running of the House.

In the evening, a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee was convened, but it, too, failed. Soon after, the political affairs committee of the Congress met.

However, both sides are learnt to have made moves behind the scenes after that and floated the compromise formula.

Before the initiative came, Reddy had lambasted the government for adopting “dubious and diversionary” tactics. He said the government was speaking in different voices.

“We are pained to note that the Prime Minister has chosen to operate at the same level of maturity, responsibility and probity as that of Swamy,” the Congress spokesman said. He added that the party could not be “lured by his (Vajpayee’s) carrots and frightened by his stick”.

The Congress said instead of taking legal action against those against whom “video evidence” was available, the government has launched a “witch-hunt” against the leader of Opposition.


New Delhi, April 16: 
Andhra Pradesh ally Chandrababu Naidu is mounting pressure on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to appoint the state police chief as the next CBI director.

With less than two weeks remaining for CBI chief R.K. Raghavan to retire, Naidu has turned the heat on Vajpayee to appoint his nominee as successor. Raghavan retires on April 30 and the new chief will take charge from May 1.

A few days ago, the Centre had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a relaxation in the rule that any appointee should have a maximum tenure of two years.

The Vajpayee government has prepared a list of senior officers, out of whom the new CBI director will be chosen.

Naidu nominee H.G. Dora, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) director-general Trinath Mishra and CBI special director P.C. Sharma figure on the shortlist. Of the three, Dora has a little over two years of service left. The other two have less than two years before retirement.

A high-powered panel, including the Cabinet secretary, the home secretary and the personnel secretary, will soon send its final recommendation to the appointments committee of the Union Cabinet.

Some senior Cabinet colleagues have advised Vajpayee not to give in to pressure from the Andhra ally and appoint a senior police officer who the government thinks is competent enough to handle the job.

They have also asked Vajpayee to take a careful decision while appointing an IPS officer as Intelligence Bureau director. The post will fall vacant on May 31, when present incumbent Shyamal Dutta retires.

But Vajpayee has expressed helplessness and is likely to go along with Naidu for “pragmatic political considerations”.

The Prime Minister has also told his Cabinet colleagues that there are no grounds for denying Dora the top job since he is the senior-most IPS officer in the country and has an outstanding career record.

The National Democratic Alliance government has been under severe pressure from Naidu since the Tehelka exposé.

The Telugu Desam forced the government to drop its plans to move a confidence motion in Parliament, with Naidu making it clear his party will bail out the government only if it faces a no-trust vote. He also refused to address a rally in Hyderabad with the Prime Minister.

After the exit of the PMK and the Trinamul Congress, the Vajpayee coalition is heavily dependent on the 29-strong Telugu Desam team in the Lok Sabha. And the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh is making the most of the situation.


Lucknow, April 16: 
Say no to drugs. But never say no if poppy comes to your kitchen as Sujata.

Indian scientists have scored a global first by developing a strain of opium-free poppy, christened Sujata. The new variety is not only the answer to the global fight against opium-linked abuses but also a rich source of cholesterol-free edible oil.

J.R. Sharma, a scientist at the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, said the patenting process of Sujata is almost over and the new variety is all set to hit the market. Sharma had toiled for eight years to genetically convert narcotic opium poppy into a non-narcotic strain.

“It will solve a lot of problems relating to the manufacture and smuggling of opium, especially in places like Uttar Pradesh, which records a large sale of opium,” said Pushpangadan, the institute’s director.

The scientists at the institute are thrilled about a letter of acknowledgement from the United Nations Drug Control Programme, which congratulated them saying that until now there was no such variety in the world and that it will usher in a new chapter in the use of poppy as an edible seed and oil source.

Last year, India imported around 4,484 tonnes of poppy seed, which scientists now say could be a thing of the past. “We can (even) start exporting it,” Sharma said. Demand for edible poppy is high in Germany, the US and the Netherlands.

The opium-less variety developed by the institute not only has a high calorie content but is also rich in proteins.

With 52 per cent oil content — much higher than that of mustard at 42 per cent — Sujata is a better option for making vegetable oil. Sujata has 75 per cent unsaturated fatty acids. Scientists said it drastically reduces the risk of cholesterol-linked diseases.

“We have received applications from Japan and the US to jointly market Sujata, but we will be much wiser this time,” Pushpangadan said. India had lost many a trade war by giving samples to foreign countries before getting a patent themselves.

The only hitch, a scientist said, is the dilly-dallying by the Indian Narcotics Commission. “They are not coming forward to do the registration because that will hamper their business. But once we get the patent they will have to give in.”

Samples have been sent to the International Narcotics Commission where they have been tested. The institute’s scientists are sure they will receive a positive reply. “There are a few techno-legal problems though,” says Sharma. He feels that Sujata should only be grown in non-traditional areas because of the danger of cross-pollination.

Farmers growing it should be registered and a tab kept on them so that they do not grow opium-poppy in Sujata fields. “This is very important because both varieties look the same,” Sharma said.

Scientists are looking into ways of getting around this problem. “We will introduce genetic differences but that will take time, maybe 10 more years,” said a scientist.


Calcutta, April 16: 
Talking tough to A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the Trinamul Congress today threatened to contest all 11 constituencies in Malda if the Congress veteran did not give up his claim on Englishbazar.

As Mamata Banerjee left for the Birbhum campaign, her partymen tried to bring pressure on the Malda strongman who has been unwilling to part with any seats in his district.

Trinamul’s Englishbazar candidate, Krishnendu Chowdhury, and other district leaders said they would even contest Sujapur and Kaliachak, where Ghani Khan’s sister Ruby Noor and brother Abu Hasnat are Congress candidates. Mamata had not fielded nominees for these two seats long before the alliance with the Congress was sealed.

On the Malda developments, Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy said this was “a local issue”. He iterated that Krishnendu was the candidate for Englishbazar. Krishnendu said Trinamul candidates would file nominations for Ratua, Araidanga, Harishchandrapur and Kharba tomorrow. “Candidates for the remaining seven seats will file nominations on Wednesday,” he said. Krishnendu today campaigned at several areas in Englishbazar.

Taken aback by the Trinamul offensive, Ghani Khan directed his party workers to “be prepared for any eventuality”. He has so far refused to give up Englishbazar, Old Malda and Harishchandrapur to Trinamul as part of the seat-share deal.

Ghani Khan has made it clear he will not compromise on Englishbazar and Old Malda. “There will be Congress candidates in all the Assembly seats under my Lok Sabha constituency,” he said, adding that he has spoken with state unit chief Pranab Mukherjee.

The Malda MP campaigned in Manikchak and Englishbazar today and will visit Harishchandrapur tomorrow. The Congress has not named its candidate for Harishchandrapur. But Mustaq Alam, a close associate of Ghani Khan, today filed his nomination.

A dejected district Congress chief Sabitri Mitra said: “A poll alliance with Trinamul Congress seems to be a far cry in Malda. Pranabda said Gautam Chakraborty would be the party’s candidate for Englishbazar. But we hear that Krishnendu Chowdhury will be given a ticket for the same seat. Trinamul has also threatened to put up its nominees in all the 11 seats. I don’t understand what is going on.”

The district Trinamul leadership is unhappy with Ghani Khan. Debasish Saha, a party leader, said: “Barkatda seems to have lost his mental balance. He cannot remember today what he said yesterday. He said he would offer Harishchandrapur to us in exchange of Old Malda and made a commitment to Pranab Mukherjee. But today he has declared Mustaq Alam as the party’s candidate for Harishchandrapur. This goes against the spirit of the alliance.”

Trinamul leaders have nominated candidates for the 11 Malda seats, including Phani Roy for Old Malda, Rajen Chowdhury for Kaliachak, Kalimuddin Ahmed for Sujapur, Badan Mandal for Manikchak, Nausad Ali for Harishchandrapur, Lukas Hansda for Habibpur and Naba Kumar Hembram for Gajole. The list has been sent to Mamata for her approval.


Calcutta, April 16: 
Trinamul Congress leader Ajit Panja will step out in public tomorrow to put a stop to speculation that he is planning to quit the party following differences with Mamata Banerjee.

Rumours have been circulating for some time about Panja’s unhappiness with Mamata pulling out of the Vajpayee government and forging an alliance with the Congress. There have also been reports of his being upset at having been left out of the negotiations with the Congress, which were either handled by Mamata or her appointed aide Sudip Bandopadhyay.

Panja’s absence from the Trinamul-Congress unity rally at Shyambazar yesterday set the tongues wagging faster, even though his brother and MP, Ranjit Panja, was present. Trinamul sources said Panja also skipped the programme where the election manifesto was released in spite of being invited by Mamata.

Sources close to Panja said at tomorrow’s news conference, he might express resentment at the manner in which Trinamul entered into the alliance with the Congress by dumping the BJP, but keep silent on Mamata.

Sudip Bandopadhyay said Panja’s news conference is being held with Mamata’s concurrence. “Ajitda will end all misinformation about him.”

In Delhi, BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, when asked if the party was in touch with disgruntled Trinamul leaders, said: “It is an internal matter of the Trinamul Congress.”




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