Panja cries in Mamata revolt
House truce bid crushed in JPC tussle
Lok Pal rebirth to fight Tehelka
Big brother under surprise siege
Mughal Gardens death
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, April 17: 
In a dramatic display of rebellion against Mamata Banerjee, amateur actor-MP Ajit Panja strode the chair as the stage of mutiny, raising his voice to condemn the Trinamul leader’s style of functioning and breaking down in tears at his humiliation at her hands.

Contrary to expectations that at best he would express anguish at being kept in the dark on talks with the Congress on forming the alliance before scotching swirling rumours about his secret negotiations with the BJP, Panja today sprang the first-ever serious revolt against Mamata.

“Our party is nobody’s private property,” he said, stopping just short of calling Mamata a dictator. Expulsion was a possibility he was not shying away from.

With tears streaking down his cheeks, Panja narrated his “humiliation in the party during the past two-and-a-half years” at a news conference at the Calcutta Press Club.

“I have been kept in the dark about the party’s electoral activities, including selection of candidates and drafting of the poll manifesto. I have been subjected to a great deal of insult and humiliation. But the treatment meted out to me during the past one month was too much. I feel I am no longer required by my party,” he said.

Panja’s outburst in the run-up to polls took Trinamul leaders by surprise, but they responded with conciliatory gestures. “There is no question of initiating any disciplinary action against him, though what he said was not desirable. He is still the chairman of our party’s state unit. He should have raised the issues at the party’s executive committee,” Sudip Bandopadhyay, also an MP, said.

Trinamul’s all-India general secretary Dinesh Trivedi contested Panja’s claim and said Mamata always consulted MPs on policy issues. “Let us be fair to the lady. She has always regarded Ajitda as an asset and taken him into confidence. I am surprised at Ajitda’s stand, which, I feel, is the product of some deep personal hurt. I am sure the two will shortly get together and resolve the issue,” he said.

Panja, who has been at the centre of speculation along with a handful of other Trinamul MPs over keeping the door of return to the National Democratic Alliance open, described how Mamata once pulled him up in the presence of junior party colleagues for keeping in touch Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee without her knowledge.

“She even pointed a finger at me, saying she knew how to deal with such activities. This was too much at my age and I came out with a bowed head,” he said.

He claimed Mamata did not consult him or other party MPs before deciding to pull out of the NDA. “It was a case of absolute non-application of mind.”

Panja’s disaffection had become palpable when he stayed away from the release of the manifesto and of the revised list of candidates. He was also absent from Sunday’s Trinamul-Congress unity meeting to which he was invited to preside over.

Playing the role of the martyr to the hilt so that he is not suspected of rebelling simply to pave the way for rejoining the NDA, Panja ruled out quitting the party. In a throwback to the days of revolt in the CPM led by Saifuddin Chowdhury, he demanded greater inner-party democracy.

“Why should I leave the party which I and Mamata had formed together?” He also offered to campaign, if asked to. Panja attacked old foe Pranab Mukherjee, the Bengal Congress chief, accusing him and “CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet (to) have hatched a conspiracy to grab our party”.

The CPM was elated. “Panja is crying. George Fernandes had cried earlier. Now it is for the people to weep,” state secretary Anil Biswas said.

Dressed in a light yellow kurta and white churidar with the Trinamul emblem on the left of his chest, Panja came with a posse of several hundred supporters, some of whom cheered and clapped as he spoke. Panja said he had declined to release the manifesto and the candidates’ list as he was not consulted on either.


New Delhi, April 17: 
Hopes of a truce in Parliament were dashed today as the government and the Congress turned back after coming close to a deal and drew fresh battlelines.

The main Opposition party pressed for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Tehelka exposé but the Centre rejected the demand. Both the camps’ stands mark a reversal of roles — the government was once keen on a JPC, while the Congress was then against it.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said in the morning the House could consider a JPC and “whatever consensus emerges, will have to be accepted by the Opposition and the government”. But the Congress said the panel should come first and the discussion later.

The stand-off broke the fleeting respite that greeted the House today and allowed the question hour to progress without any hitch. However, as soon as the JPC deadlock set in, the two sides shouted slogans against each other and forced Parliament to be adjourned.

In the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, the government seemed to have the upper hand as the Congress was isolated within the Opposition. Only its Bihar ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, backed the Congress.

The CPM, which had so far worked out a joint floor coordination strategy with the Congress, distanced itself from the demand. “Though we are not opposed to the JPC, we want that the guilty should be prosecuted first,” party MP Somnath Chatterjee said.

With no immediate solution to the parliamentary stalemate in sight, the government is “preparing for the worst”. It was hoping to pass the rail budget, the finance bills and the demand for grants through a voice vote if the Congress insisted on stalling the House and then adjourning it sine die, sources said.

If this happens, it will be the first time that a budget will be passed by voice vote.

An effort was made to end the impasse late last night when the parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan met the deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Madhavrao Scindia.

NDA sources said the government offered not to press the charges levelled against Sonia Gandhi by Subramanian Swamy if the Opposition party settled for a discussion on Tehelka.

But Congress sources said the leadership wanted an unequivocal and open clarification on the allegations and was not willing to strike an “underhand” deal.

However, the Congress, which had initially sought the government’s resignation, was ready to accept a JPC as a “face-saver”.

Rejecting the demand, a senior BJP leader said: “How can a political inquiry replace a judicial inquiry? How will the government appear in the eyes of the judiciary? The Congress is not consistent in its stand. When we were in the Opposition, we always had an escape route in mind to go back to the House if ever we decided to stall it.”

But speculation was rife that the ruling coalition developed cold feet on the JPC after a section pointed out that such a probe would be time-consuming and could delay the rehabilitation of George Fernandes.

Addressing the BJP’s Parliament members, Vajpayee slammed the Congress for “imposing pre-conditions” for resuming parliamentary business. “It is highly improper and undemocratic,” he was quoted by party spokesman V.K. Malhotra as saying.


New Delhi, April 17: 
Dogged by allegations of corruption in high places, the government today dug up the legislation for setting up a Lok Pal that will monitor the conduct of constitutional offices and brought into its ambit the Prime Minister.

In 1998, the NDA government had tabled the Bill, but the Prime Minister was kept out of the jurisdiction of the three-member panel, though the Prime Minister’s Office was included.

By getting the Bill out of the backburner and bringing the Prime Minister within its purview, the Tehelka-tainted government wants to send the signal that it is serious about maintaining probity in public life.

More important, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his image having taken a beating following the murky disclosures that brought under a cloud his close associates, is eager to prove to the people, and the Opposition, that he does not cringe from putting himself under the scanner.

Six attempts have been made so far to get the legislation cleared by Parliament. The first was by Indira Gandhi in 1968. Rajiv Gandhi tried to push through the Lok Pal Bill twice, in 1985 and 1989. Each time, the move fell through because of the Opposition’s demand that the Prime Minister be included in the list of those whose conduct would be subject to a probe by the Lok Pal.

Vajpayee has chosen to be the first Prime Minister to give in to that demand at a time when he has been cornered. Sources said other aspects of the Bill remained much the same.

There has also been a debate on who would appoint the Lok Pal after it was decided that like the Election Commission, it would be a three-member body headed by a chairperson.

According to the last Bill, a committee headed by the Vice-President will recommend to the President the three names for appointment. The committee will consist of the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the home minister and the leaders of the Opposition in the two Houses. The Bill also said that complaints filed after 10 years of the date of offence would not be entertained.

The Vajpayee government had said in its first draft that “to ensure that the Lok Pal functioned independently and without fear or favour, the chairperson and the two members would not be removed from office except by an order of the President on grounds of proven misbehaviour or incapacity”.

Under the amended draft legislation, the Lok Pal will investigate complaints against the Prime Minister, the PMO, ministers and MPs. The panel will have the powers of a civil court.

Those out of the ambit of the Lok Pal are the Vice-President, the Speaker, the Chief Justice, Supreme Court judges, the comptroller-and-auditor-general, election commissioners and members of the UPSC.


Pyrdiwah and Shillong, April 17: 
The trademark disquiet on the western frontier has crept up on the east.

As 19 jawans of the Border Security Force spent their second night in “captivity”, soldiers took positions on hilltops and braced for a showdown with the intruders from Bangladesh who have ringed the outpost on the eastern frontier in Meghalaya.

Troops from the Bangladesh Rifles forcibly took possession of Pyrdiwah, 5 km from Dawki on the border, on Sunday night.

With flag meetings held between the two sides over the past two days failing to yield a breakthrough, heavy reinforcements have been rushed to the area, sparking fears of a flare-up.

Two companies from the BSF, along with five armoured vehicles, reached Pyrdiwah in the afternoon. Across the border, soldiers from the Bangladesh Army have taken up positions in Fatehpur and surrounding areas.

Deputy commandant S.S. Dhillon, who is in charge of the camp, said the 19 men, led by S.S. Rawat, were “not trapped but were holding on to their positions”.

Talking to The Telegraph near the zero line, BSF inspector Gopal Singh said the simmering tension could snowball any time. But he was confident that the intruders would have to retreat. “Look at them”, Singh said, pointing to the BDR and Bangladesh Army positioned at a distance, “if they fire, then we will sandwich them, though they have surrounded us from four sides.”

Vowing to protect his trapped colleagues, Singh said the BSF would not move an inch from the area as the land, though disputed, has been under “our control for decades”.

The village is on the international boundary and is divided into two — Pyrdiwah I, which is in Bangladesh, and Pyrdiwah II, which is in India.

Trade in the Dawki land customs outpost, one of the booming export routes to Bangladesh, has come to a halt as the border has been sealed.

Last night’s exchange of fire sparked an exodus as the 1000-odd villagers, most of them Khasis and Santhalis, fled the area or took shelter in the nearby forests, leaving their houses and belongings at the BDR’s mercy.

The people said they were devastated by the sudden aggression by the Bangladesh jawans. Most of the families have taken refuge in make-shift huts built on cliff tops and forest areas.

Radha Santhal (60), an adivasi Santhal whose father had settled in the village, described the Bangladesh aggression as “horrifying”. The BDR men, he said, dragged him out of his house and asked him to show them the pillar demarcating the border.

But Radha believes that had the BSF reacted when alerted by the villagers at 7.00 pm on Sunday, the intruders could have been pushed back.

Like Radha, others too had similar stories to tell. Phokri (50) had to flee the village with her children and today she has to survive in the heat and in the open forest.


New Delhi, April 17: 
A constable posted at Mughal Gardens in Rashtrapati Bhavan was killed in a shooting incident.

It is not yet clear whether it was an accident or he had shot himself wilfully, or if someone fired from his gun by mistake.

Yesterday, Chanakyapuri police station received information that a constable, Asman Singh, had been injured in firing near Mughal Gardens. The police rushed to the gardens and found an injured Singh at his duty point.

Singh was on duty from 8 pm to 2 am. Around 11.20 pm, the security picket staff heard gunshots and found a seriously injured Singh. He was taken to hospital where he died.




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