Jail and boomerang unseat Jaya
Advani Bangla silence unsettles party flock
Bengal turns national alliance lab
World Cup boycott ball in Atal court
House holiday plan revived
Satellite hiccup
Ticketless rage singes office
Naga link in RAW officer killing
Zoologists find new frog species
CPM resists fee hike

Madurai, April 24: 
Jayalalitha, one of the most indomitable as well as enigmatic politicians in the country, today suffered the ignominy of having all four of her nominations thrown out one after the other.

In a decision that could become a benchmark in the political lexicon, two returning officers cited her conviction with a jail term in a land deal case as one of the key reasons for the rejection.

But an element of the unexpected was added to the widely anticipated move when the officers hurled back at Jayalalitha a bombshell her supporters had lobbed yesterday.

Citing a second decisive reason for the rejection, they said the candidate was being disqualified as nomination papers were filed in four seats. In a last-gasp lunge, Jayalalitha’s supporters had filed papers in two more constituencies on her behalf, hoping against hope that if the earlier two were rejected, the new seats might come in handy.

An ADMK leader argued that those who filed the papers in the additional seats had not been authorised to do so, but both sets of papers carried Jayalalitha’s signature.

Soon after, Jayalalitha displayed her famed nonchalance, asserting that she would be the chief minister if her party wins the elections. So far, her party has been considered the front-runner.

The sensational turn of events did not light any spark on the scale feared, barring one incident, in Tamil Nadu, a state known for explosive expression of outrage. Jayalalitha moved fast to calm nerves and prevent a repeat of the conflagration that greeted her conviction a few years ago.

Campaigning in southern Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha told her supporters to “maintain peace in the face of adversity”. Accusing chief minister M. Karunanidhi of “conspiring” to get her nomination rejected, Jayalalitha said: “If people desired, they would thwart this conspiracy. I can only say that it is the people who can render justice and give a befitting reply. Ultimately, dharma will win.”

Jayalalitha’s party fears that a violent backlash so close to the elections would backfire. But there is a flip side: if there is no protest, her rivals will construe it as evidence that the disqualification has been welcomed by the people.

But Jayalalitha’s immediate worry is to find a stand-by nominee for chief minister in case legal complications crop up. In the ADMK, much like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, there is no one who can match either the popularity or the verve of the supreme leader.

However, when the chips are down, she is expected to settle for the widow of Nedunchezhian, who was finance minister in the Jayalalitha Cabinet. A factor that tilts the scales in Vishalakshi Nedunchezhian’s favour is her lack of a support base, which will ensure her loyalty to the party leader.

The lone contender with some semblance of support is T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of Jayalalitha’s confidante Sasikala. But Dinakaran is fighting a Fera violation case.

By disqualifying Jayalalitha, the returning officers of Krishnagiri and Andipatti — one of them her namesake — cleared the air on a legal issue. They said a person convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act for offences carrying a jail term of over two years would stand disqualified. Jayalalitha was last year sentenced to two separate terms of hard labour — one for two years and another for three years.

But Jayalalitha had won a high court stay on the sentence. This had triggered a debate whether the stay applied to the conviction as well. The high court later held that the sentence and conviction could not be separated, but left the final decision to the Election Commission. This grey area was cleared when the returning officers said the commission has stipulated in August 1997 that a pending appeal would not nullify the disqualification.

Lawyer and former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who represented Jayalalitha before the Krishnagiri officer, was crestfallen.

Subramanian Swamy claimed that Jayalalitha could be sentenced to a seven-year-term for not honouring her sworn affidavit that nominations would not be filed in more than two constituencies.


New Delhi, April 24: 
The isolated voices of disquiet within the BJP coalesced into a chorus today as several party legislators confronted the top leadership with probing questions on the Bangladesh border flare-up.

In a parliamentary party meeting attended by A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, MPs quizzed the government on what it had done to contain the border intrusion, whether it had advance information, and if so, what action it had taken. Sources said the BJP big two kept mum, allowing Jaswant Singh to make a suo motu statement.

BJP sources voiced “surprise and concern” at Advani’s silence and the way in which he let Singh handle the “damage-control”. Sources said Advani turned away MPs who asked him for a briefing, saying the only channel of communication with Bangladesh existed at the foreign ministry-level and his ministry only had “administrative control”.

Singh had told the Rajya Sabha yesterday that his statement on the border killings was made in his capacity as foreign, not defence, minister. “The defence ministry is not involved in this and there is no deployment of army (on the border),” he said. Singh added that though the BSF was under the purview of the home ministry, the foreign ministry was handling the flare-up as it involved another country.

Sources close to Advani claimed he was keen to “distance” himself from an incident which could project India as a “soft state” and tarnish his ‘Iron Man’ image.

The BJP has apparently decided on a two-layered strategy to deal with the flare-up. While the Centre will pursue a moderate line to ensure India’s equation with Bangladesh is not upset, the party’s rabble-rousers will take the battle to the streets, and link it to the “illegal” immigration issue with an eye on the Assam and Bengal elections.

The Delhi BJP is taking the lead by organising a demonstration outside the Bangladesh High Commission tomorrow.

BJP sources said Ambala MP Rattan Lal Kataria and Delhi MP V.K. Malhotra spoke up at today’s meeting. They reportedly said that due to “improper” handling of the flare-up, the “reputation gained after Kargil had been completely eroded”. The Centre should have taken a “tougher” posture, they added. They also voiced concern that India had not behaved in a “responsible” manner though it played a key role in the liberation of Bangladesh.

The Centre drew fire after Singh said there had been no intelligence failure and the government had taken necessary steps, including starting a probe, getting Bangladesh security forces to vacate areas in Indian territory and lodging a “strong” protest with Dhaka.

But party members were not “satisfied”. One MP asked if Delhi had really extracted an “apology” as an official communiqué from Dhaka claimed otherwise. At this point, Vajpayee intervened to say the news was not correct.

Despite the pressure, Singh reportedly held his own, saying the “ties of friendship between the two countries were deep and acts of criminal adventurism would not be allowed to affect these ties”.

Fresh firing

A fresh exchange of fire was reported from Assam’s Karimganj district last night, with the BDR raining shells on Latu. The Karimganj deputy commissioner said “not a single bullet was fired from the Indian side”. Bangladesh is recruiting 20,000 new border guards, an official in Dhaka told PTI.    

Calcutta, April 24: 
Fifteen days to go, and Bengal votes in an election that could alter the future course of politics in the country.

A victory for Mamata Banerjee, or even a hung Assembly, will mean that Sonia Gandhi, by allying with a regional partner and putting it in command, will have achieved what neither her husband nor her mother-in-law had: unseating the entrenched Left from Writers’ Buildings. The stature this will bestow on Sonia can transform the Congress’ fortunes.

The message will go out to the constituents of the ruling NDA that they stand to gain more by allying with the Congress and dumping the BJP.

None of the other Assembly polls — there are five states going to the hustings — can have similar ramifications.

Assam holds hope for the BJP but its alliance with the AGP has come at the cost of a split in its state unit. A Congress victory there would add a feather to Sonia’s cap but it cannot shape her political destiny.

In Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi’s DMK, an NDA partner, looks set to be defeated by the Jayalalitha-Sonia handshake — a victory for the Congress no doubt, but not one significant enough for it to claim that it can register pan-Indian wins — against both the Right and the Left.

Even defeating the Left in Kerala, which has a history of changing governments, will not deliver that message.

The Opposition never stood a better chance in Bengal. The Bengal election, above all, will be a measure of the resentment against the Left Front. Mamata Banerjee has always personified the depth of resentment against the state government. She can make it if she succeeds in expanding its breadth in the face of the CPM’s formidable poll machinery.

The Left knows best what this poll is all about. In half a century, this is the first Bengal poll without Basu. The former chief minister is campaigning — he holds one public meeting a day — and yet he is a token presence.

The curious thing is that the Left Front, whose face he is, is pinning its hopes of victory on Basu’s absence from the centrestage. This is a vote on Basu’s Bengal, not Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s and the Left has already given it the thumbs down.

The anti-incumbency factor is running so high that the Mamata-Congress alliance threatens to aggregate the non-Left vote in its favour.

This is the first time that the Left is going into an Assembly poll having lost a larger share of votes to its opponents in two Lok Sabha elections immediately preceding it.

Adding to the elements of a possible cliff-hanger are the BJP, contesting in as many as 240 of the 294 seats, and Saifuddin Choudhury’s Party for Democratic Socialism.

A fortnight from now Bengal votes for change. A changeover will be as important for Bengal as for India.


Calcutta, April 24: 
Taking the cue from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is seeking an immediate audience with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The IOA’s meeting with Vajpayee, yesterday, ensured the Afro-Asian Games wouldn’t be scrapped because Union sports minister Uma Bharti wished it that way.

Now, the BCCI would like the Prime Minister himself to spell out (at the rare one-on-one) exactly what his government’s stand is on issues such as playing Pakistan and refraining from playing at “non-regular” venues. Obviously, the BCCI will remind Vajpayee that cricket alone shouldn’t be penalised. In other words, if the government has no qualms about encouraging contacts in hockey and table tennis, why must it adopt double-standards in cricket?

The past eight months have seen India shy away from four commitments which featured Pakistan, a move which led the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to talk of “not playing India anywhere.”

Till the Prime Minister directly reviews the position, the BCCI decision (reached at a working committee meeting in New Delhi today) not to field teams in “multilateral tournaments,” including the 2003 World Cup, stands. It’s a high pressure tactic, yes, but the BCCI has still shown it won’t remain a spectator when being pushed around. Of course, India have no commitments in “multilateral tournaments” till the Asia Cup next year, to be hosted by Pakistan. There is, therefore, much time to play around with.

Clearly, the government’s “no” to India’s participation in the just-ended tournament in Sharjah provoked the BCCI into taking a hard line. For now, at least. “We are hopeful of meeting Mr Vajpayee within a fortnight,” a top BCCI official told The Telegraph late this evening, soon after president A.C. Muthiah’s announcement.

Though it’s been left to Muthiah to finalise the 7 Race Course Road-bound party, one learns the delegation will include Raj Singh Dungarpur, Jagmohan Dalmiya and influential Rajya Sabha member Rajiv Shukla, who is associated with the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association. This delegation, headed by Muthiah, is expected to meet home minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and Bharti, too.

Speaking in New Delhi, Muthiah said: “Till the government’s policy is clear-cut, the BCCI will only field teams in bilateral and triangular tournaments.

“After all, the government’s (recent) letter to the BCCI only talks about not playing at certain venues. What if we run into Pakistan in a tournament?”

Besides the BCCI’s message to the government, there’s an indirect one to the PCB as well: That it is committed to ensuring ties aren’t snapped for good and that the Asian solidarity within the International Cricket Council (ICC) doesn’t suffer irreparable damage. It’s no secret the traditional powers, within the ICC, couldn’t be terribly unhappy with the turn of events in the subcontinent.


New Delhi, April 24: 
After wangling an assurance from the Congress to cooperate in passing the financial bills and a discussion on setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee, a fresh move is afoot to adjourn Parliament sine die on April 27, instead of May 11 as scheduled, to enable members to campaign for elections.

Though government sources said there is near consensus on the issue, the Congress said it was not aware of the move. It has, however, said it will make its stand clear tomorrow in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting that Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi plans to convene to sort out modalities of discussing the Tehelka issue and also the demand for adjourning sine die thereafter.

A day after the pact between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi ending the Parliament impasse, the BJP vehemently opposed the constitution of a JPC on the ground that it cannot go hand in hand with the judicial commission probe that has already been ordered.

The Congress, however, saw no impropriety in it and a final view will be taken at the BAC meeting tomorrow.

Tomorrow, Balayogi is likely to call on President K.R. Narayanan, who has to prorogue the House after it is adjourned sine die, to apprise him of the government move.

The demands for grants by the rural development and disinvestment ministries were passed today and the budget will be taken up for discussion tomorrow. On Thursday, the House is likely to discuss the Tehelka issue and whether or not to set up a JPC. It is likely to reject the demand for a JPC probe after a brief discussion, sources said.

Asked if the Congress supported the move for sine die adjournment, chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the party will take a view tomorrow and inform the Speaker. The Congress was earlier opposed to the move as it wanted to discuss the share-market crash, the telecom scam and the arrest of the former customs and excise chairman to put the government in the dock.

But most other parties, including the BJP, the Left and the Samajwadi Party, wanted the House to be adjourned as nearly 200 MPs will be electioneering. Though the BJP does not have much at stake in the polls, it too urged sine die adjournment as it wanted avoid a discussion on the scams plaguing the government.


Bangalore, April 24: 
A “minor” blot has surfaced after the “textbook” launch of a rocket meant to carry India to an exclusive club.

The experimental communications satellite, launched by GSLV last week, has fallen short of its destination by about 1,000 km. But as the satellite was an experimental one, there would be no impact on communication links.

The failure of the satellite to reach its parking slot in space is being played down as the main mission was to test the launch vehicle, the GSLV, which was successful.


Guwahati, April 24: 
In an ugly turn to the ongoing differences over selection of candidates, a Congressman who was denied a ticket, stormed the party headquarters here with nearly 300 supporters.

The incident took place at 11 am when P.M. Bujarbaruah — an aspirant for the Guwahati (West) seat — along with busloads of his supporters, barged into Rajiv Bhawan, looking for Congress leaders Bhubaneswar Kalita and Sarat Borkotoky.

Party workers told Bujarbaruah that no senior leader was present at the headquarters. Kalita — a former MP and member of the seat selection committee — is away in his constituency, Rangiya, following the Congress high command’s decision to field him as a candidate.

The last-minute change was effected after the high command decided not to field any present MP including PCC president Tarun Gogoi.

Failing to find Kalita and Borkotoky, Bujarbaruah and his followers vented their anger by smashing glass panes and furniture. The mob also burnt posters and shouted slogans against Gogoi blaming him for inefficiency. The fire brigade had to be called in to douse the flames from heaps of poll posters and other material.

APCC secretary Narayan Kotoky said an FIR had been filed with the Dispur police against P.M. Bujarbaruah, Apurba Bujarbarua, and Mridul Patowary. Eyewitnesses said the mob found it easy to enter the party headquarters as there was no security.

The disenchanted partyman said senior Congress leaders had taken large sums for allotting seats and blamed Kalita and Borkotoky, the PCC general secretary. The mob damaged a room of a party functionary on the first floor and the fax machine.

The supporters came in buses and Maruti Gypsies and laid siege to Rajiv Bhawan for almost 45 minutes. The police said P.M. Bujarbaruah was arrested but later released on bail. Many senior Congressmen have filed nominations as Independent candidates after they were denied tickets.

Joint manifesto: The AGP and the BJP have decided to go to the hustings with a common election manifesto.

BJP general secretary, in charge of Assam, Sunil Shastri today said the co-ordination committee of both the parties had agreed on common issues on which they would contest the polls. Senior leaders of both the parties met at the residence of chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta today to thrash out the “common issues”.

On the Illegal Migrants’ (Determination by Tribunal) Act, the senior BJP leader said the issue was being discussed for inclusion in the joint manifesto.

The AGP-BJP combine is preparing for big-league campaigning as it was announced that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani would address the joint election campaign in the city in a show of solidarity.

The dates of the rallies are, however, yet to be fixed. Though the AGP had earlier denounced the BJP as “communal” and denied any move for an alliance, speculation was rife that the former would ultimately enter into a marriage of convenience.

Shastri today said the BJP was yet to decide on joining an AGP-led government in case the party was voted back to power.


Imphal, April 24: 
A Naga militant outfit may have been behind the killing of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) functionary Pankaj Kumar Mishra here yesterday, according to Manipur director-general of police D.S. Grewal.

The police chief told The Telegraph here today that the two assailants who gunned down Mishra at Dewlahland in Imphal appeared to be “tribal youth”. He said a team of police officials would go to Ukhrul district to investigate the killing.

A deputy field officer in the RAW-affiliated Special Bureau, Mishra was recently transferred to the state capital after a two-year stint in Ukhrul district. Two unidentified gunmen called him out of his house yesterday and shot him dead.

While Grewal said the assailants were probably Naga militants, an intelligence source said they could be members of a major valley-based insurgent outfit. He expressed surprise over the attack on Mishra, saying the Special Bureau was not involved in any counter-insurgency move.

RAW or Special Bureau officials were unavailable for comments. A police official said it was difficult to contact RAW operatives. “They do not even give their telephone numbers to us,” he said. The official said RAW operatives had been deployed in Manipur to keep tabs on “agencies” across the border with Myanmar. He said the intelligence agency probably had clues to Mishra’s killing, but were loath to share the information with the police. “The only thing RAW officials have enquired about is the progress of our investigation,” the police official said.

Unofficial sources said Mishra was a bachelor and allegedly had a relationship with a Naga girl while being posted at Hundung in Ukhrul district.

The Special Bureau official may have been killed by Naga militants who did not approve of the relationship, they said. However, the police ruled this out. They said a love affair was not a plausible reason for the killing. Postmortem on Mishra’s body was conducted at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences here today.

Four jawans injured

Four jawans of the Army’s 59 Mountain Brigade were injured in a bomb attack by suspected valley-based militants at Khonghampat in Imphal West district today.

The rebels triggered the blast when an Army convoy returning to Leimakhong from Imphal was passing by. The incident took place at 4.15 pm.

The injured jawans are undergoing treatment at the Leimakhong Military Hospital. Incensed by the attack, a group of Army personnel allegedly beat up civilians in the area. Three of the victims were admitted to the J.N. Hospital in Imphal.


Bhubaneswar, April 24: 
Orissa’s Barbara forest, home to a large number of king cobras and rock pythons, can now push its way to zoology books. A team of wildlife experts led by an ornithologist from Bombay Natural History Society, Asad Akhtar, has discovered three new species of frogs after scouring an area of 400 square km, which falls under the Puri forest division.

According to team member S.K. Dutta, an amphibian expert from Utkal University, the two new frogs belong to a group of tree frogs known as Rhacophorids.

One of these two frogs is a member of the genus polypedates and the closest relative of this frog is found in the Northeast. The second species is an extremely small species, less than an inch in length. It belongs to the genus philautus and is found mostly in the Western Ghats and the Northeast.

The third is a ranid frog belonging to a widely-distributed species complex. This frog usually lives in and around water bodies and is of a jumping variety.

Expressing happiness over the discovery of the new species, Dutta said, “The discovery of these frogs explains the importance of the habitat. Barbara forest still has tropical evergreen forests which is similar to the rain forests of Western Ghats and the Northeast.”

Frogs play an important role in the eco-system since they devour flies and mosquitoes and also serve as fodder for snakes, birds and monitors.

Other members of the team include divisional forest officer, Puri division, S.K. Chaddha and secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa Biswajit Mohanty. The team undertook a survey on April 14 and 15. Team member Biswajit Mohanty said the species would be named very soon.


New Delhi, April 24: 
The CPM has poured cold water on human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s hopes of a political consensus on fee hike in colleges and universities.

A booklet issued by the CPM, Crisis of Higher Education in India, blames the World Bank for all the problems plaguing higher education. It holds the Vajpayee government guilty of kow-towing to the World Bank’s dictates, stressing that the policy of raising fees will hurt the economically-disadvantaged students.

The proposal of the human resource development ministry to hike fees three times over the present structure has dealt a blow to students seeking admission in the current academic session, the CPM says.

“The students are planning a big movement when the university reopens on July 17. The government and its World Bank-dictated policies will be responsible for any disruption of classes on the campus,” the party adds.

The fear of triggering student unrest has held the government back from going ahead with a comprehensive fee hike in higher education. Not just the Vajpayee government, earlier Congress-led governments at the Centre had also favoured a fee hike. The argument is simple — the well-heeled who spend an enormous amount on school education can afford to pay more for higher education.

Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Nayyar is among those who believe that it is time fees were raised. Students in prestigious institutions like the Delhi School of Economics pay a fee of less than Rs 20 a month.

But the CPM has rejected the government’s assurance of increasing freeships to meritorious students who will not be able to meet the extra charge.

“The proposal is based on the market principle that those who benefit, must pay. Poor students who cannot pay the fees, instead of dropping out from higher education, should take loans, get jobs and pay back loans,” the CPM says.

But education does not guarantee employment, it argues. Those unable to pay back the loan will be worst affected. The booklet holds out a range of arguments to pick holes in the government’s proposal of loans. For banks, the recovery of loans will be the most important consideration for giving loans.

“Therefore, they will not be willing to give loans to economically-weaker and educationally-deserving students. They would prefer to cater to the economically better-off students,” the party points out.

“If India’s future is to be ensured and improved, then attacks on higher education must be squarely resisted,” says CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury in his introductory comments in the booklet.


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