Cong cool to Atal anguish
Sound of Kargil snore rises from the east
Sangh sings conscience tune
Water and food for Asim, but votes...
Laloo locked in turf war
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 29: 
Forty-eight hours after Sonia Gandhi’s emotional explosion, a “pained” Prime Minister tried to defuse the charged political atmosphere by issuing a clarification but the Congress indicated that the issue would be taken to the “people’s court” in the Assembly elections.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in a statement he had not said “anything objectionable” to warrant the comments from the leader of the Opposition on Friday, when the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die on an acrimonious note.

The Prime Minister, whose reputation as a suave statesman has come under attack, dismissed as “baseless” Sonia’s charge that his government was vindictive towards the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Congress, however, remained unmoved, saying Sonia’s anger was aimed at Vajpayee’s “doublespeak” and that his “Teflon-like image was wearing thin”. “What she felt angry about was the doublespeak of the Prime Minister. Actually, he is now feeling really bad that the Teflon-like image he enjoyed is now wearing thin,” party spokesperson Ambika Soni told a television channel.

Congress leaders said Sonia was “provoked” to react sharply when Vajpayee said several issues were cropping up in which morality would not be a single party’s preserve.

The comment was interpreted by the party leadership as a threat that there was more to come on the Bofors kickbacks case and other corruption charges against erstwhile Congress regimes. “She decided to neutralise the threats by painting the Vajpayee regime as vindictive,” a party leader said.

The issue will be played up when Sonia kicks off her campaign for the polls in five states from Assam tomorrow. On May 1 and 2, she will visit Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where she will target the Vajpayee government on Tehelka and for allegedly harassing her and her family. She will then travel to Bengal for two days to campaign with Mamata Banerjee.

In Congress circles, Sonia’s outburst has made considerable impact, particularly on two counts. It has glossed over the party’s failure to pin the government down on Tehelka in the second-half of the budget session. On a personal note, the Congress chief is being seen as capable of striking back at her political adversaries.

The move to evoke the Nehru-Gandhi legacy is also aimed at galvanising the party rank and file, especially in states going to polls. “Now whatever the government does on Bofors or other issues, one can always dub them as acts of political vendetta,” a party MP said.

Clarifying his position, Vajpayee said he had looked forward to a “constructive dialogue and cooperation” with the main Opposition party both within and outside Parliament.

But, the Prime Minister said, he was “pained” by Sonia’s charges when Advani went to greet her and the other members of the Opposition as is the custom at the end of a session. “It was not an occasion to express anger. Such episodes lower the prestige of the Indian Parliament,” Vajpayee said.

Sources close to home minister L.K. Advani said he had disagreed with Sonia’s charges in the House itself, but his remarks could not be heard in the din. Sonia had also apologised to Advani for losing her temper before him.

The Prime Minister wondered why his speech provoked such an angry and personalised outburst from the leader of the Opposition. He discounted Sonia’s charge that the BJP had allowed “abusive language” to be used against former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, which, he said, “several Congress MPs used against me in the House”.

Vajpayee said that as leader of the Opposition and as an ordinary MP, he had always stood up against the use of derogatory remarks in Parliament.

Vajpayee appealed to members of all political parties to put “this unfortunate” episode behind them. He said both sides should make a new beginning towards re-establishing the high standards of debate in Parliament in the true spirit of democracy and mutual respect. “This is what the people expect of us, irrespective of the party we belong to,” he added.


New Delhi, April 29: 
The “capture” of Pyrdiwah in Meghalaya by the Bangladesh Rifles was no less an intelligence failure on the part of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau than the blunder in Kargil.

For four days — April 15 to 18 — neither RAW nor IB sent a report to the Centre. The only message came from Meghalaya chief minister E.K. Mawlong’s office to the Union home minister on April 17.

Even at the IB headquarters here, senior officials might have been at fault and there is now the hint of a cover-up. The only IB report on the incident reached the home ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office on April 18. By then, Pyrdiwah had been “captured” and on that night 16 BSF jawans were brutally tortured and killed.

The report merely says in two paragraphs: “According to a report, exchange of fire between the Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) took place (0430 hrs, April 18, 2001) near Kakripara Border Out Post (BOP) under P.S. Mancachar, district Dhubri, Assam. Two residents of village Kakripara sustained bullet injuries...

“This is the second incident of firing by BDR during the current week. It may be mentioned that earlier, on the intervening night of April 15/16, 2001, BDR resorted to firing on BSF’s BOP Pyrdiwah...” (DIB UO No. 10/BD/2001(2)-553 dated 18.4.2001 refers).”

The officer under whose signature the report was sent works in the NGO (not to go to office) section, which handles top-secret matters and is directly and exclusively under the IB director’s control. The April 18 reports should have routinely been sent from the Northeast desk in IB.

But what has come as a shock is that an IB report sent from the agency’s Shillong bureau on April 16 has now “disappeared”. The seniormost officer of the IB’s subsidiary intelligence bureau in the Meghalaya capital did send a report to its headquarters on April 16. But that report is now untraceable or is being suppressed.

The first RAW report was despatched to the government as late as April 21. It didn’t mention how the capture took place.

It spoke only of the BDR chief, Major Gen. A.L.M. Fazlur Rehman. The report said: “He is known for his strong anti-India, anti-BSF sentiments… He is a rabid fundamentalist...”.

Reports in the Bangladesh media, however, say he is close to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The RAW report appears to have been tailored to suit the “line” followed by the foreign ministry vis-a-vis Hasina. Rehman has been made to appear anti-Hasina to buttress the belief in Delhi that the BDR committed “local adventurism”.

Sources said the home ministry sent a number of messages to RAW officials here and the Indian High Commission in Dhaka between April 16 and 20 to be greeted by silence. This has raised the question whether it was simply another intelligence failure or if there was more to it. In other words, was there a deliberate attempt to blackout information because a critical operation was being given shape to at Pyrdiwah? Was that operation intended to help India’s friends in Bangladesh?

Bangla protest

Opposition parties in Bangladesh today held nationwide rallies and burnt A.B. Vajpayee’s effigies. They sought Vajpayee’s apology for the BSF’s “intrusion”.    

Calcutta, April 29: 
Alarmed at the spectre of a division in anti-Left ranks in Bengal because of a three-cornered contest this time, an opinion favouring “conscience” voting is gaining strength in the Sangh parivar.

The Sangh believes a split in the votes, making way for another Left victory, is inevitable since the BJP, with its allies, has put up candidates in almost all Assembly seats.

“In Bengal, voters are by and large polarised as they cast votes either in favour of the Left or non-Left forces, represented this time by the Congress-Trinamul combine. Given this, we have called upon members of the Sangh parivar to cast conscience votes,” said a Sangh functionary.

Another RSS source said Sangh activists would closely watch for signals in the speeches of senior BJP leaders like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj.

Joshi, already in Calcutta, said: “Under no circumstances will we allow the CPM to return to power.” At the same time, though, he stressed that “there will be no friendly contests”.

The growing opinion in the Sangh’s state leadership in favour of conscience voting fits in well with the view in a section of the BJP high command that the party should keep its door open for Mamata Banerjee, however ridiculous the possibility may look at the moment.

The Sangh — unlike the BJP — is not always guided by immediate considerations but takes a larger view. “We are determined to prevent a division in the anti-CPM votes this time to keep the Left Front at bay,” said VHP general secretary Ajoy Nandy.

Echoing Nandy, city RSS chief Manoj Ghosh said swayamsevaks across the state are worried about a split in anti-Left votes. He also admitted that some swayamsevaks had distributed a leaflet on the subject. “I believe there is nothing wrong if swayamsevaks act according to their conscience,” he said.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s students’ wing, is also toeing this line. “Though we have asked members to vote according to their choice, the fact remains that the Parishad controls students’ unions in at least nine colleges jointly with Trinamul,” a leader said.

Voices of protest are being heard even from a section of BJP leaders who had opposed fielding candidates in so many seats. “Instead of contesting all the seats, we should have chosen a few key seats for friendly contests and conceded the rest to the Congress-Trinamul Congress combine by way of a secret understanding with Mamata Banerjee,” said a leader.

A BJP leader from central Calcutta cited cancellation of the party’s nomination in the Vidyasagar seat simply to help Trinamul candidate Mahua Mondal, rebel Trinamul MP Ajit Panja’s daughter. “Such deals could be worked out in other places to prevent a triangular fight,” he said.


Calcutta, April 29: 
Last Saturday, when The Telegraph first contacted Bengal finance minister and CPM candidate from Khardah Asim Dasgupta, he said he didn’t plan to campaign in his constituency that day. “I have been asked to go to other constituencies.”

So, was he going anywhere in Khardah the next day?

“I wouldn’t like to be accompanied by the media when I’m going around meeting my voters,” Dasgupta replied. “Why don’t you, instead, go directly to them?” he suggested, adding: “I hate bachalata (verbal diarrhoea), especially before elections.”

The bachalata-hater is a minister who loves unloading reams of statistics to the often-confused media at the drop of a hat. So, when even he isn’t keen on being accompanied by reporters and photographers as he goes around his constituency, one has to take him for his word.

What exactly has Dasgupta been doing for the past few days in his constituency?

People of Khardah Station Road have played host to Dasgupta in the past week. “He has addressed small meetings where, we were told by local comrades, we could ask questions,” said one of Dasgupta’s voters, refusing to be identified.

“But we found that we were at the receiving end of a lecture about the country’s economic condition and how the party which has ceased to be a partner in the NDA was responsible for it.”

East of the railway line, which bisects his constituency, he had gone around homes asking for a “little water” at some places; at others, he asked for “some food”. The minister wasn’t refused at most homes. But when he asked for their votes on May 10, he didn’t get a direct reply, according to CPM dissidents who were at the helm of Dasgupta’s “election-management” in 1996.

Is Dasgupta a little worried? Even CPM insiders say he is. Relations with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty — never warm — having plumbed the depths over the past few months, Dasgupta has good reason to feel anxious; it was Chakraborty’s lieutenants who “managed” the polling for him five years ago. Most of them have chosen to lie low this year.

Their attitude reflects that of the average voter. One of Dasgupta’s main worries would be the mood of the average factory-going voter who makes up a significant chunk of the constituency. More factories are closed than open in Khardah, notwithstanding the hurried few reopenings in the last few weeks, and Dasgupta should be wary of their changing affiliations. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, this Assembly segment put the CPM behind by 17,000 votes; in 1996, Dasgupta had won by over 21,000 votes.

The party’s machinations in the only institute of excellence within the constituency, the Rahara Ramakrishna Mission, has also put Dasgupta in a tight spot. How a Presidency and MIT-educated minister could be behind the CPM-affiliated teachers’ regular agitations on the school campus has many voters confused.

The minister, too, is confused at the number of queries his comrades have had to face lately on this single issue.

Dasgupta’s opponent and Trinamul candidate is the former inspector-general of police, Ranjit Mukherjee.

He acknowledges his presence may force the local police to act a “little less partially”, but is confident that intra-CPM feuds and the large-scale voter-dissatisfaction are enough to see him through.

Surprisingly, even CPM activists accept that Dasgupta is fighting the most difficult battle of his life.

No one will say he’s losing, but choose to put it this way: if Dasgupta wins, the CPM will sail through most of North 24-Parganas’ 28 seats.


New Delhi, April 29: 
After splitting Laloo Prasad Yadav’s flock in the Lok Sabha, the rebels today shifted focus to the Upper House and Patna with the support of the National Democratic Alliance partners.

Laloo Yadav held his ground in Patna for the time being, retaining most of his MLAs. However, a possible legal pitfall around the corner kept him on tenterhooks. If Laloo is arrested again in the fodder case, he is expected to be lodged in a jail in Jharkhand, ruled by the BJP.

Laloo’s party today adopted a resolution condemning the Jharkhand government’s statement that Hazaribagh jail was being prepared to accommodate the RJD chief.




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Relative humidity

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Partly cloudy sky with possibility of the development of thunderclouds towards evening.
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Sunset: 5.59 pm

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