Sonia lines up governance test for CMs
Hurriyat leaders under house arrest
Somen on comeback trail
Beevi takes Jaya case to President
Witness flip-flop law in pipeline
Probe report leaves Nepal cold
Cost-conscious Bengal cries off tourism fest
BJP split on Trinamul
Mamata on NDA tightrope
Oracle in citizen interface talks

New Delhi, June 15: 
“Head mistress” Sonia Gandhi will conduct a performance assessment of 11 chief ministers tomorrow, asking each of them a simple question — Why should people vote for the Congress?

The chief ministers are expected to reply under the watchful eyes of Sonia, members of the Congress Working Committee and former chief ministers.

Each of them can ask any question and if the chief minister concerned is not fully prepared, there might be a question mark over his/her future.

The chief ministers are also expected to thrash out controversial issues such as downsizing of government, subsidies, power sector reforms and giving a boost to the agriculture sector. A debate on reservation for weaker sections in the private sector is also on the cards.

“Teacher” Sonia has five mantras to share — good governance, fiscal management, sustainable development, agriculture and attending to weaker sections.

Sheila Dixit, Ashok Gehlot, S.M. Krishna, Digvijay Singh, Ajit Jogi, S.C. Jamir, Mukut Mithi, Vilasrao Deshmukh, V. Shanmugham and the new entrants, Tarun Gogoi and A.K. Antony, have to stick to these five issues if they have to survive.

According to Sonia, there are no short cuts to success. The Congress cannot match the caste or communal-based agenda of other parties, sources said. So, good governance alone can bring back the country’s oldest political party back to power in the Centre.

“Unless the voter can distinguish between the quality of governance offered by a Congress and a non-Congress ruled state, he/she will not vote for the Congress,” Sonia told party functionaries.

The Saturday exercise is in continuation of a similar conclave on November 17, 2000, when she had bluntly asked the chief ministers of Delhi and Maharashtra to pull up their socks. The chief ministers were given 27 proposals for implementation and tomorrow, Sonia will scan the progress report.

Sources close to the Congress chief said Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh and his Karnataka counterpart S.M. Krishna are rated highly by the leadership. There is a suggestion that Diggy Raja should prepare a “manual” for the chief ministers.

The leadership, the sources said, is particularly impressed by the “district governance” scheme aimed at decentralisation. Many AICC functionaries said that other Congress-ruled states should be asked to float similar schemes.

Hectic preparations are on for tomorrow’s meet. Sources said Sonia plans to set up review panels to keep a watch on all Congress-ruled states.

In another development, the party had a heated debate on party membership. According to existing rules, there are two categories of Congress workers — active and primary members. The younger lot wants the leadership to scrap the two categories and have just one category of active members.

But the old guard is resisting the move on the grounds that it was part of the Congress’ freedom struggle era when Gandhiji utilised it for mass contact programmes.


Srinagar, June 15: 
The Jammu and Kashmir government placed two top leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference under house arrest today.

Policemen, assisted by paramilitary forces, in a pre-dawn swoop laid siege to the residence of Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat at Jawahar Nagar and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chief of the political bureau of Jamaat-e-Islami, at Hyderpora, official sources said.

The Hurriyat had called for protests against last Friday’s grenade explosion at Chrar-e-Sharif in which six women were killed. However, the separatist leaders did not call a general strike, which they believe “would vitiate the atmosphere for the forthcoming summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf”.

Those present at Bhat’s residence during the swoop included Ghulam Nabi Sumji, Muslim Conference vice-president, general secretary Shabir Dar, Abdul Rashid Antoo and Altaf Ahmad Masoodi, they added.

The Hurriyat chairman said policemen were deployed at his residence. “I was put under house arrest along with my partymen.”

Despite tight security, there were dozens of demonstrators shouting pro-freedom slogans in Maisuma. They were, however, chased away by the police.

Police fired warning shots and used teargas and batons to disperse stone-pelting mobs in downtown Srinagar. There were reports about protest demonstrations from Sopore and Budgam, too. Last evening, JKLF vice-president Javed Ahmad Mir and another leader were arrested.

Bhat said the Hurriyat executive will meet soon to discuss the situation in the state and denied reported differences among members.

The Special Operations Group and the army, during a joint search operation, killed five Lashkar-e-Toiba militants in Sangalnar Kandi village in Kupwara district.


New Delhi, June 15: 
Virtually giving up on Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi now plans to set the house in order in Bengal with Somen Mitra tipped to replace Pranab Mukherjee as the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief.

Tomorrow, Mukherjee and AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal, Kamal Nath, will hold talks on the succession issue.

Party sources said Mitra is the front-runner though Adhir Chowdhury is also vying for the post with the backing of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. However, Sonia is reluctant on Chowdhury because of his anti-alliance stand during the Assembly polls.

Mukherjee has been insisting on relinquishing the post to concentrate on parliamentary work — an argument that has few takers at 24 Akbar Road. However, AICC functionaries said Sonia has asked Nath to look for Mukherjee’s successor. Some Congress leaders fear that Mukherjee’s removal will send a “wrong signal” and other states might start making similar demands.

The Congress leadership is slowly reconciling to the fact that the alliance with Mamata may not continue for long. In Sonia’s scheme of things, a split in the Trinamul Congress will adversely affect her party.

“If a section of Trinamul leaders, mainly MPs, part ways, we will lose as it will lead to the rise of the BJP in the state. We cannot afford that. Trinamul must stand united, either this side or that,” a senior party leader said, reeling out statistics that showed that the BJP had forfeited deposits in 255 out of the 267 Assembly constituencies it had contested.

The Sonia camp is rather disappointed with the Trinamul chief as she did not reject the possibility of a rapprochement with the NDA. For Sonia, an anti-BJP stand is necessary in view of the prevailing political situation in the country. “Unfortunately for Mamata, the basic article of faith is not that important due to state-level considerations,” a party functionary said.

The leadership is also upset over Mamata’s secret parleys with George Fernandes and L.K. Advani. For Sonia, this development is in sharp contrast to Mamata’s statement during their joint campaign in Bengal that under no circumstances would she return to the NDA.

Congress leaders, however, made it clear that the party will not take a lead in snapping ties. “Let the decision be entirely hers. We will stand by her if she stays away from the NDA,” a party MP said.

In the Congress’ assessment, Mamata stands to lose her credibility if she joins hands with the NDA. “The NDA will not forgive or forget her easily. In Bengal, she will lose her credibility further,” a party functionary said, admitting that Sonia and Mamata are no longer in close contact.

“We will give advice if we are asked to,” a Congress MP said when asked if Sonia was trying to dissuade Mamata from going back to the NDA.


New Delhi, June 15: 
Tamil Nadu Governor Fathima Beevi’s “sudden” visit to Delhi, amid demands for her removal for swearing in Jayalalitha as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has taken political circles by surprise.

Beevi had reportedly come to Delhi on Thursday to attend a meeting of the Maulana Azad Educational Trust, of which she is an executive member. The Governor is slated to be in the city till Sunday.

What has set political tongues wagging is that the Tamil Nadu Governor had an hour-long meeting with President K.R. Narayanan, “ignoring” Union home minister L.K. Advani.

“She has not even sought an appointment with the home minister. How can we, on our own, request her to come and meet us?” asked a home ministry spokesman. “Hum unko bolenge kya? Aayiye miliye? (What should we tell her? Come, meet us?)” he asked.

A Governor is constitutionally an “agent” of the President. Ministry sources, however, pointed out that “administratively” a Governor reports to the Union home minister, who is responsible for internal security and other internal matters of the country cutting across states and the respective ruling parties.

Under constitutional provisions, the Governor’s report is sent to the President. But, for administrative measures, the reports are also directed to the home ministry, especially during “failure of constitutional machinery warranting imposition of the Centre’s rule in states”.

Sources, however, said the Tamil Nadu Governor “is not obliged to meet the home minister as she is working as a Governor and holding the constitutional office only under the stamp and seal of the President”.

Beevi, who met the President last evening, is understood to have given a suo motu explanation for her inviting ADMK chief Jayalalitha — a “convicted person” — to form the ministry in Tamil Nadu.

Beevi, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, reportedly gave extensive explanations from the provisions of the Constitution. She reportedly told the President that under the Indian model of governance “people are supreme sovereign” and there was “no way out” other than calling Jayalalitha to head the ministry.

The decision has, however, invited the wrath of the BJP and its ally in Tamil Nadu, the DMK. Both parties have demanded removal of the Governor. Advani, too, is said to have expressed his “displeasure”, especially as she did not consult anyone before taking the decision.

More than half a dozen petitions have been filed in the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court challenging the ADMK chief’s holding the office of the chief minister and the Governor’s action of inviting her to head the state Cabinet.


New Delhi, June 15: 
The Centre will soon amend crucial provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to stop witnesses from turning hostile in criminal cases which often result in the failure of the prosecution.

The proposed amendments will prevent “anomalous” situations like the BMW murder case in which almost all the witnesses have turned hostile. Even in the Jessica Lal murder case, quite a few witnesses had turned hostile.

Union law and justice minister Arun Jaitley today confirmed that the Law Commission recommendations proposing the amendments were received. But they have been forwarded to the home ministry as “the criminal code is administered by the home ministry”, he said.

“Money and muscle power influence witnesses in almost all the cases in the country,” ministry circles pointed out, explaining the need to bring about a change in the legislation.

The crucial provision is Section 161 of the CrPC under which police record the evidence of a witness. But then, at the trial stage the recorded evidence is often retracted.

The proposed amendment envisages that the evidence is recorded in the presence of a judicial magistrate so that at a later stage it is not retracted by the witness.

The provision will also allow recording of evidence in the presence of the counsel for the witness so that the counsel, too, does not argue for retracting the evidence later.

Jaitley called the proposed amendments “important” but could not say anything more than “I had sent it to the ministry concerned”.

A witness “legally” turns hostile when he or she makes a statement about a crime before the police but retracts and refutes it in the trial court when called as witness.

In its 155th report, the Law Commission had suggested that it should be made mandatory for an investigating officer to get statements of all material witnesses, questioned by him during the investigation, recorded on oath by a magistrate. Such recording of statements before the magistrate would prevent the witness from turning hostile.


Kathmandu, June 15: 
There are few takers in Nepal for the inquiry report on the royal massacre of June 1.

While police armed with batons, tear-gas masks and riot shields were gathered in small groups at street corners, bewildered people avidly read newspapers that — to their utter disbelief — carried “detailed” reports branding the late crown prince, Dipendra, a murderer. The report, made public on Thursday night, said Dipendra gunned down nine members of Nepal’s royal family in drunken shooting spree. It, however, does not explain the motive behind the killings.

After more than 12 days of speculation, the Nepalese are today as angry and perplexed as they were after the first hearing of the carnage. People in the traumatised Himalayan kingdom say the report has raised more questions than it has answered.

“Today the country is in the hands of King Gyanendra. What else can we expect from the findings of the probe report. It was more of a comical tragedy,” said Suman Gurung, a college student. “Speaker and commission member Taranath Ranabhatt practically made a fool of himself in front of the international media last night while making public the report,” Gurung added.

“But life has to go on. As our beloved king and his family are no more we will have to learn to live with this sad memory. Nevertheless, there are questions like why didn’t the guests react when Dipendra entered the hall, guns blazing. What was his ADC doing? Devyani had told him that Dipendra did not sound well. The government could have spared dragging dead crown prince Dipendra’s name into the ‘mockery’ of an investigation,” asked Gurung.

“The report is silent about what Paras did with the ‘joint’ of hashish and the ‘unknown’ black substance after he got it from Dipendra’s orderly? Neither is the report clear as to how a drunken Dipendra could manage to get into army combat fatigues without help, despite being unable to take his clothes off a few minutes before,” Gurung said.

“Most people are questioning the motive behind the carnage. What forced Dipendra to selectively kill only the members of his own family and spare those of King Gyanendra’s?” asked an executive at a private firm.

“Though the report has tried to establish Devyani’s close relationship with the crown prince and gives vivid descriptions of the cellphone conversations between Dipendra and Devyani, it does not mention what they discussed just before the family was decimated,” the executive pointed out.

“The report says that Dipendra walked backwards each time he killed a royal member. How could a drunken man walk backward without falling and with such heavy guns as they showed last night on TV as evidence? How did the queen, Nirajan and Dipendra die? Who killed them?” asked Bandana Pradhan, a housewife in Ashan.


Calcutta, June 15: 
A change in the minister in charge may mean a change in a lot of other things, the tourism department is finding out.

The department has decided — at the prodding of new tourism minister Dinesh Dakua — to cry off the 2001 edition of the annual Himalayan tourism festival, which former tourism minister Manab Mukherjee had goaded the department into participating in for the last three years.

Though the festival will have a new participant, Arunachal Pradesh, officials say much of the sheen will be lost if West Bengal, the largest producer of tea, cries off. Another change the festival will undergo is that what was the Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival last year is going to become the East Himalayan Tourism Festival this year to account for Arunachal’s presence and Bengal’s absence, officials added.

The other participants, Sikkim and the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which is in charge of tourism in the Darjeeling Hills, however, stay.

The festival will start on December 11 as planned earlier but will come to an end on December 24, four days before the original closing date of December 28 because of West Bengal’s absence.

The new move, say officials, is logical. West Bengal spent Rs 35 lakh every year for three consecutive years on the festival; the huge amount was spent on as diverse activities as cultural programmes, motor rallies and water sports.

Sikkim, the other government-level participant, spent an equal amount. Besides, the Union tourism ministry gave each state Rs 5 lakh every year to spend on the massive publicity drive that accompanied the festival.

West Bengal, however, gained little despite the huge amount it spent, officials said. The flow of tourists to Darjeeling and Sikkim increased dramatically last year; even in the winter. But officials admit they could not ascertain how much of it was due to the unusually bright weather in the hills last winter and how much due to the festival.

Besides, what was the DGHC’s and Sikkim government’s gain was not necessarily a cause to cheer for the West Bengal government, officials explained. The Dooars sector, where the inflow of tourists would have resulted in a gain for the tourism department, was neglected by most tourists as they went in droves to the hills in Darjeeling and Sikkim.

Though the decision to cry off the festival is now being viewed as a one-year experiment, the chances of Bengal’s return are “quite bleak”, officials say.

“We will think of participating next year only if we see that our decision not to participate this year has resulted in a huge drop of revenue,” a senior official disclosed. And chances of that happening were not very bright, he added.


Calcutta, June 15: 
BJP vice-president Kailashpati Mishra today said the party was not averse to Mamata Banerjee’s re-induction into the NDA.

Yesterday, railway minister and Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar had offered to give up his portfolio for Mamata.

Mishra pointed out that on its own, the BJP had drawn a blank in the recent Assembly elections.

“We could have fared better had we fought in alliance with the Trinamul Congress. It is regrettable that the party which had one MLA in the outgoing House will remain unrepresented this time,” he added.

Mishra made a brief stopover at the party office today on his way to Bhubaneswar and met a number of party functionaries to gauge their feelings on Mamata’s possible re-induction.

Asked if he was aware of some Bengal BJP leaders’ aversion to the re-induction, he replied in the negative.

Mishra also denied any knowledge about the leaders’ interaction with district-level workers on the issue. “Actually, they are touring the districts to acquaint themselves with organisational lapses,” he added.

But the state BJP was divided on the issue of Mamata’s possible re-admission. to the ruling coalition. Though Union minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar and his two aides, Asim Ghosh, state unit president and lone vice president Muzaffar Khan have opposed the idea, there are others who feel Mamata’s return will strengthen the NDA.

A section of party leaders also rejected Sikdar’s decision to welcome the Trinamul Congress minus Mamata and her aide Sudip Bandopadhyay.

“The Trinamul does not exist in Bengal without Mamata. So the demand for the party’s inclusion minus its chief does not sound logical,” observed state unit vice-president P.D. Chitlangia.

Echoing Chitlangia, state unit treasurer Sanat Dutta said the party should not have any objections to Mamata’s return to the NDA since it has been proved that she is a force to reckon with in Bengal.

“The party which failed to bag a single seat this time may fare better next time if it forges alliance with the Trinamul. We must admit that coalition politics is welcome to us,” he observed.

However, the anti-Mamata lobby has decided not to budge an inch from its stand. “We will continue our protest if the Central leadership re-admits Mamata without taking us into confidence,” reaffirmed Khan.


Calcutta, June 15: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee gave a guarded response to home minister L.K. Advani’s reluctance to call the demolished structure in Ayodhya a mosque and Union minister Nitish Kumar’s offer to make way for her in the railway ministry.

Deposing before the Liberhan Commission on Wednesday, Advani had declared that he was opposed to calling the demolished structure in Ayodhya a “masjid or a mosque”, contending that it was a disputed structure. Yesterday, at a rally in Midnapore, railway minister Nitish Kumar had welcomed Mamata back to the NDA, even offering to give up the portfolio for her.

Mamata, however, chose to be circumspect. “I will have to know the details first before making any comment,” she said today after a meeting in south Calcutta to review the party’s organisation in North 24-Parganas.

Mamata has called a meeting of all MPs and MLAs on June 25 and is expected to seek their opinion in this regard. Though Mamata has kept her options open, many of her party’s newly-elected MLAs are opposed to the idea.

Some MPs, however, have already argued that returning to the NDA will help the Trinamul combat the “terror tactics” of the CPM in rural Bengal. Trinamul sources said that MP Ranjit Panja and Bikram Sarkar are among the principal advocates of a return to the NDA.

The MLAs countered that they have become MLAs with an announced alliance with the Congress. It will, thus, be difficult to convince voters about a switch-over to a diametrically opposite political configuration so soon after the poll debacle. “It will not only send a wrong signal to the voters, but will also raise doubts about our credibility” said a Trinamul legislator.

Mamata’s cautious approach to the issue of rejoining the NDA was also evident in party stalwarts like mayor Subrata Mukherjee, who also avoided commenting on the statements by Advani and Kumar.

At tonight’s meeting, Ranjit Panja was appointed chairman of Trinamul’s North 24-Parganas unit and MLA Nirmal Ghosh as the convener.


New Delhi, June 15: 
The West Bengal government plans to use Oracle database software for its on-line government-citizen interface.

Oracle, which today launched Oracle9i, its latest database software, has already made presentations to the Bengal government on the use of its products to enhance the IT infrastructure in the state.

“We made presentations to the West Bengal government and highlighted the benefits of our products and also presented case studies of various other states that have adopted the Oracle database software,” said Dipankar Sanyal, director, technologies, Oracle Software India.

Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu use Oracle’s database software for their government-citizen interface.

“The discussion with West Bengal is at a preliminary stage. It would be premature to divulge any detail about the nature of discussions we held with the state government. The officials were more interested in the security aspects and services capabilities of our software,” said Sanyal.

“The government sector is emerging as a major customer for our products. Our new product — 9i — will also be targeted at government institutions. We hope the government and public sector companies spends 3 per cent of their budgets to implement IT projects in their department,” he added.

The new software will have a bilingual interface. The software can be programmed in English and in one of 10 Indian languages, including Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi.

Oracle9i database with real application ‘clusters’ (a set of computers connected to various servers) acts as a single database in a cluster and does not require the data to be separated on to multiple computers.

Customers can add computers to the clusters and the new software will simultaneously upgrade all the new computers without physical installation.


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