Atal and Advani give Panja company
Sonia’s sorry to Advani keeps pot boiling
Too short for bells, not wedding
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL AND ADVANI GIVE PANJA COMPANY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
Trinamul Congress’ lonely dissident Ajit Panja today called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, building on his declaration that he would not burn his bridges with the ruling coalition at the Centre.

Panja was quick to ridicule insinuations that he was testing the waters for a Cabinet berth. He said he just discussed the Bengal election scenario, the law and order in the state and the overall political picture in the country with Vajpayee and Advani.

Today’s was his first visit to Delhi since his outburst against Mamata at a news conference in Calcutta. Later, he had announced that he continued to support the ruling coalition at the Centre.

BJP sources, however, described Panja’s visit as “goodwill gesture”. The ruling coalition has an unwritten policy of rewarding a constituent with a Cabinet berth and a junior portfolio if it brings five MPs to the alliance. Panja is not expected to wean away more than three to four MPs in case Trinamul splits after the polls.

Panja told Vajpayee that the Congress-Trinamul alliance would be defeated as voters were aware of the nature of the last-minute deal. Mamata, he said, would have had a smooth ride had she aligned with the BJP or even fought alone. “She had accused the Congress of being the B-team of the Left,” he added. “Now her politics smacks of similar opportunism.”

Panja claimed that he has supporters in the Trinamul parliamentary party. Those who were not speaking out now against Mamata’s “tyranny” would become vocal after the election results are announced.

“(But) I cannot behave like Don Quixote at the moment,” he said, implying that he would not quit and would rather wait for any disciplinary action.

The MP from the Calcutta North-East constituency said the Trinamul might even try to return to the NDA fold if it was defeated. The party has not yet formally informed Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi of its decision to quit the NDA.

Panja, who had earlier expressed his willingness to share the dais with the Prime Minister when he launches the Bengal campaign, repeated the offer today.

Panja disputed Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay’s claim that all Trinamul MPs had signed the resolution dissociating themselves from the NDA.

   

 
 
SONIA’S SORRY TO ADVANI KEEPS POT BOILING 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 28: 
The cloud of scandal that hung over the capital gave way to a blast of smouldering tempers with both the Congress and the BJP refusing to let the dust settle on Sonia Gandhi’s unmatched outburst in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

Spellbound pundits on both sides of the divide were quick to scent a whiff of mischief in what was essentially seen as a mother’s expression of anguish at her family being dragged into a mud-caked political scrimmage.

Against the backdrop of perceived differences within the government, Congress leaders today took pains to point out that Sonia chose L.K. Advani, not A.B. Vajpayee, to “lodge her complaint”. Besides, they insisted that Sonia had told Advani yesterday that she was not angry with him.

“Mr Advani, I am sorry I am losing my temper at you,” a party leader quoted Sonia as telling Advani after her emotional explosion. The Congress leader claimed that the apology was lost in the din, and hence, went unreported.

The Congress feels the dramatic event in the House would dent Vajpayee’s image of a suave statesman. A leader of the ruling coalition, too, conceded that the Congress can cash in on the controversy.

He agreed that Sonia’s choice of Advani was not lost on allies either. “Look, she is complaining to Advani against Vajpayee’s bad behaviour,” he said, adding that Advani had shown more statesmanship by being circumspect all through the controversy.

The BJP today insisted that it has never “abused” the Gandhi family in the last 40 years. The Congress struck back by asking the BJP to verify parliamentary records and see for itself “how many times the Lok Sabha Speaker expunged indecent remarks against Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi”.

If the inflamed tempers are not cooled, it can affect Vajpayee’s famed motto of governance through consensus.

Reacting to Sonia’s allegations yesterday, BJP leader J.P. Mathur said: “It is most unfortunate and inexplicable as to why she lost her temper and exploded even after the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die.”

He said the Congress had termed the Prime Minister a “gaddar” and called it the “height of irresponsibility and lack of political decorum”. “Never in the House did any member, much less Prime Minister Vajpayee, accuse anyone of being unpatriotic or a thief. Unfortunately, slogans were raised in the House by Congressmen, calling Vajpayee a thief. One expects the leader of the Opposition and the Congress president to maintain dignity within and outside the House.”

A Congress leader said Mathur was frustrated by the impact of Sonia’s combative mood and was trying “valiantly but in vain to shield his leader”.

Asked if Sonia’s outburst was “stagemanaged”, as some senior BJP leaders suggested yesterday, he said: “It was natural for anybody to react the way she did. She did not invite Advani to stage-manage the reaction.”

   

 
 
TOO SHORT FOR BELLS, NOT WEDDING 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Rajgarh (Madhya Pradesh), April 28: 
Siya of Kandlakhera is dazzling in a bright magenta lehenga and all her wedding finery. Escorted by her uncle and father-in-law three hours after her marriage, she climbs the stairs to Jalpaji Mandir, situated on a hillock off Jaipur Road, 5 km from here. Her husband holds her by the hand tightly, lest she runs after a priest distributing coconut kernels among devotees.

Obeying her uncle’s orders, she sits before the deity. “Be happy. May God bless you both with a long and fruitful married life,” the head priest chants even as the bride eyes white sugar balls kept as an offering for the goddess. In less than three minutes, the puja is over.

There is a long queue of newly-weds. The priest hurriedly hands the bride a piece of coconut, which she practically snatches off his hand, her eyes longing for more. “Next,” the priest yells.

But the bride is not satisfied with the ceremony. “I want to ring the bell,” she pleads. Her husband can just about reach for the huge brass bells hanging before the deity. But the bride can’t. She is less than three feet tall and seven years old.

The husband is duty-bound. Karan Singh (14) of Narsinghgarh holds up his wife so she can reach for the gong.

Siya and Karan were not the only children who tied the knot yesterday. Thousands of children, some only two years old, were married off in Mandsaur, Shajapur, Rajgarh, Guna and other districts of west Madhya Pradesh bordering Rajasthan. All down National Highway 12, tractors carried baraats to girls’ houses.

And in most cases a little boy with a garland round his neck sat beside the driver. He was the groom.

The state administration is unhappy with this annual affair of thousands of child marriages held on Akshaye Tritiya. Hindus believe weddings can take place throughout the day and there is no need to look up the Hindu calendar for the right time.

Thursday was this year’s Akshaye Tritiya. Like every year for the past six years, the state government distributed pamphlets — particularly in Rajgarh district which holds chief minister Digvijay Singh’s Assembly constituency and his brother Laxman Singh’s Lok Sabha constituency — educating people about punishments that might follow reports of child marriages.

According to the Sharda Act of 1929, parents who get their minor wards married could be punished with three months imprisonment and a fine.

If the groom is more than 18 years old but less than 21, he can be sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment and/or a fine up to Rs 10,000.

Here, however, no one is scared of the law. This may be because they know that, with the prevailing electoral equations, no government or political party can afford to take action against child marriages in these areas.

Whether it is the Congress government led by Digvijay Singh or the Opposition BJP, no one advocates police action to stop child marriages.

Most child marriages take place within the Tawar Rajput community, which includes several sects of backward Rajput classes like the Dangis, Sondhiyas and Lodhas. These three sects comprise more than one-third of the voting population in Rajgarh Lok Sabha constituency.

Most marriages among the Gujjars and Yadavs in these areas are also child marriages.

“This is common in the bordering areas of Rajasthan. No one thinks child marriage is crime here,” says an administration officer in Rajgarh.

“Child marriages are a part of the centuries-old tradition. Sudden police action and arresting people for getting minor children married might result in chaos and violence,” says the officer.

“My son is only 10 years old and I have had to search high and low for a girl. Finally, I got one two years older than him,” says Bhagat Singh Gujjar of Lakshmanpura village. “If he doesn’t marry now, when should he marry? When his friends are getting their sons married?”

Hiralal Tawar, the panchayat pradhan of Madhapura, says he got his sons married when they were 10 to 13 years old.

“I know the law says you cannot get your son married before he is 21. But if I wait for my son to be 21 there will be no girl left for him. At best, we might pay a lot of money to a girl’s father and get him to divorce her husband and marry my son or, maybe, get a widow for him. Which father wants his son to be married to someone else’s wife?” Tawar asked.

Akshaye Tritiya is not the only day for child marriages. According to Tawar, 25 child couples will be married at a ceremony on May 2 at Bakiapura near Piraudi.

The only solution, according to the state education department, is literacy.

According to the Rajiv Gandhi Siksha Mission, the rate of literacy for women in these areas in 1991 was 15 per cent. It is 37 per cent in 2001.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 27.8°C (+2)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 88%,
Minimum: 63%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of thundercloud formation towards afternoon or evening
Sunrise: 5.08 am
Sunset: 5.59 pm
   
 

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