Atal marches off to soldier on
Captain takes fresh guard
Kidnap hope in contact line
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL MARCHES OFF TO SOLDIER ON 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 31: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who rarely speaks his mind in public, dropped a bombshell at a BJP parliamentary party meeting this morning by declaring he would resign as Prime Minister.

But the crisis dissipated almost as suddenly and dramatically as it arose when Vajpayee was persuaded to stay on by colleagues L.K. Advani, Jaswant Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Pramod Mahajan.

A statement issued by Mahajan, the parliamentary affairs minister, said Vajpayee expressed his desire to quit “in view of his ‘inability’ to have the NDA function in a coherent and disciplined manner”.

BJP sources said shell-shocked MPs took a couple of minutes to recover from what they described as a “bolt from the blue” but, having done that, “in one voice” they asked the Prime Minister not to leave.

Vajpayee appeared in no mood to relent and abruptly left the meeting which routinely takes place every Tuesday and Thursday when Parliament is in session.

“Since I am the Prime Minister, I am responsible. I feel I have not been able to manage and discipline the NDA. I have grown old. People also say I am unwell and, therefore, I should retire. But rather than wait for people to say I should retire, I have myself decided to step down,” sources quoted him as announcing over the mike, which he determinedly took despite Jaswant and Mahajan’s efforts to persuade him to change his mind, before walking out.

The sources said the reference to the lack of cohesion in the NDA — cited by Vajpayee as the reason for offering to quit —was probably occasioned by the Shiv Sena’s allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was involved in the UTI scandal. In the Rajya Sabha yesterday, Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam alleged that certain phone calls made to former UTI chairman P.S. Subramanyam were traced to PMO officials.

Nirupam had said one of the calls was made by a PMO official who is now in the Planning Commission, a reference to N.K. Singh.

Singh today threatened legal action against Nirupam unless he apologised. The former secretary in the PMO claimed that in the normal course he would speak to heads of financial institutions. It was not clear, though, why it is “normal” for a PMO official to interact with chiefs of financial institutions, especially when finance minister Yashwant Sinha has claimed that the government does not interfere in their day-to-day business.

The PMO, too, came out with a denial saying that no official had spoken to Subramanyam.

Vajpayee’s offer to quit had an immediate impact on the allies who rallied around him with even Sena leader Bal Thackeray phoning the Prime Minister to distance himself from Nirupam’s allegations. Nirupam, too, was partly repentant, though he stuck to his accusations. “I have never made allegations against the Prime Minister,” he said, after craftily bringing Vajpayee’s son-in-law into the picture yesterday.

A meeting of the NDA has been convened tomorrow ostensibly to pass a resolution reposing faith in Vajpayee. While the move will shore up the Prime Minister’s supremacy within the NDA and possibly blunt the edge of the allies’ attack over the UTI scandal, political observers believe the BJP’s own misgivings about the government will persist.

Party sources admitted that it was not so much Nirupam’s charge that seemed to have disconcerted Vajpayee as the attack on him from within the BJP. “His resignation offer seemed to be the cumulative result of what was happening within the party over the last few days,” the sources said. Therefore, they said, he chose to make the offer in a BJP — and not an NDA — forum.

In the just-concluded BJP national executive, Vajpayee, Jaswant and Yashwant reportedly came under fire over UTI, the Agra summit and induction and reinduction of NDA constituents.

The sources said a veteran national executive member told Vajpayee that he had allowed President Pervez Musharraf to “trample all over him”. The former Rajasthan chief minister, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat — a Vajpayee confidant — attacked the Centre’s unilateral confidence-building measures on the Indo-Pak border. If implemented in Rajasthan, they would “convert Jodhpur and Jaisalmer into another Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Vajpayee was also upset by BJP chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi’s iterations that the NDA should evolve some norms before inducting or reinducting parties into its fold. Krishnamurthi’s “unsolicited” advice was seen as an “intrusion” into the Prime Minister’s prerogative.

Recounting this morning’s events, the sources said that when the meeting began, Maheshwar Singh, a Himachal MP, complained about how communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan was not taking BJP members on telephone advisory committees.

The sources said Vajpayee interjected to express a desire to speak. “I felt something was amiss and asked Jaswant Singh to find out what he wanted to say. Jaswant Singh said he was talking of resigning,” said a source.

   

 
 
CAPTAIN TAKES FRESH GUARD 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee silenced in-house critics with a perfectly-timed threat of resignation. The BJP parliamentary party found itself rising to a man in his support. Coming as it did on the eve of a full-scale NDA meeting, this will only strengthen his hands in dealing with sniping from allies.

The timing of Vajpayee’s threat was prompted perhaps by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam’s speech in which he just stopped short of accusing the PMO of a direct role in the UTI scandal. Covert criticism within the ruling alliance has been the bane of the Vajpayee government. But no one has ever struck so close to the Prime Minister’s own team.

Given the centrality of the UTI issue among the middle class votebank of the BJP, there is no doubt the allegations do have a sting in them. At stake is the credibility of the party as the friend of the common man.

Until now, it was finance minister Yashwant Sinha who has had to fend off charges of having interfered with UTI’s investment decisions. Party chief Jana Krishnamurthi left no one in doubt when he called for a full probe into the links between corporate houses and finance ministry officials.

This served grist to the Sena’s mill. The Sena’s attitude is no surprise. The oldest ally of the BJP has scented blood in recent days and had not minced words during the Agra summit.

Conflicts within the alliance rather than its existence are the main cause for anxiety. There is little threat to the survival of the ministry, what with the PMK and Mamata Banerjee knocking on the door to re-enter the club. More seriously, critics within threaten to limit the manoeuvring space of the government. Each ally is fiercely protective of its own interest, and eager to increase its own clout.

The BJP’s own limitations have become painfully apparent over time. The party has had to surrender key economic ministries to partners. It is unable to be vocal about its own major ideological tenets. As L.K. Advani reminded its members, the rank and file still behave more like Opposition activists. Economic policy-making has often suffered.

None of this will vanish due to Vajpayee’s warning to his MPs. But it will serve to rally them around him, as the alternatives to his continuance in office are too grim for them to contemplate.

Much of Vajpayee’s appeal at large derives from the image of being affable. His wit and oratory are legendary but should not detract from a willingness to crack the whip when the need arises. Old timers recall the voluntary exile of Nanaji Deshmukh in the early days of the party, and the more recent retreat of K.N. Govindacharya.

But the NDA is an altogether different entity. The allies cannot be browbeaten easily, especially when the stock of the premier party is not especially high.

This was a call to close ranks around the leader. No magic wand to solve ills, it will give him the muscle he needs to assert who is in charge. The storms have not abated, but the captain has waved his baton, asking the team to fall in line.

   

 
 
KIDNAP HOPE IN CONTACT LINE 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, July 31: 
For the first time since the kidnapping of shoe magnate Parthapratim Roy Burman, police today indicated that they “may be close to a breakthrough” in a case that has been dogging them for the last six days.

“Parthapratim is injured, but he is alive and safe,” IG, CID, Partha Bhattacharjee said today. “The Roy Burman family is cooperating with us and we are hopeful of getting to the bottom of this soon. Our first priority, of course, is to see that Parthapratim returns home safe and sound.”

CID sources indicated that contact has been established with the abductors and that “a process of reconciliation” is taking place. Refusing to divulge details, they said that the “dialogue so far has been encouraging” and that the family believes that “it may finally see a bit of light at the end of the dark tunnel”. Bhattacharjee, however, hastened to add that “at least to my knowledge, there is no ransom demand”.

Sources said that the police neither want to “rush the matter” nor “precipitate a crisis that could endanger anyone’s life”. “This is no child’s play,” an official said. “We are dealing with dangerous people and the situation must be handled very carefully.”

Officials, however, did not comment on the nature of treatment that the injured Roy Burman was receiving at the hands of his abductors.

The police today said that they had managed to track down two criminals who had “facilitated” the abductors’ getaway from the crowded C.N. Roy road in Tiljala. The two are known to be associates of Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, who was arrested by the police on Sunday.

“Chunnu may not be directly involved in the crime but he allowed this to happen,” an official said. “A number of his associates has given us enough evidence of this.”

The police say that a crime of this nature could not have happened in Tiljala without him being aware of it.

For reasons of investigation, the police are not revealing the names of the duo. But the police said the two were chatting with the abductors who were waiting for Roy Burman to arrive.

“This obviously gave the impression to the others around that they were all Chunnu’s men,” an official said. “As a result, nobody messed with them when the abduction actually took place.”

Though no one seems to be certain about the gang that has committed the crime, indications are that it could be either from Bihar or from eastern Uttar Pradesh and carried out the kidnap, using a number of local contacts. Besides the two associates of Chunnu, a number of others have also been picked up after raids in different parts of the city.

“We have detained a number of people, but arrested only Chunnu and Roy Burman’s driver,” Bhattacharjee said. “Investigations are proceeding on the basis of what we have managed to get out of them.”

An official said the police hoped these people would finally lead them to the kidnappers. “Some of the stuff that they have revealed is very positive,” he said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.2°C (+2)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+1)

Rainfall:

7.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 68%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.10 am
Sunset: 6.16 pm
   
 

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