Political trial begins
Amma vows revenge
Statute supreme: SC
Leader’s fall leaves allies unfazed
MLAs 200 per cent richer
Blood spills as Pakistan erupts in anti-America fury
Lucknow alert on strikeback
Iran clutches at Straw to end post-fatwa isolation
Sinha solace for economy
Dividends for Delhi

 
 
POLITICAL TRIAL BEGINS 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
Sept. 21: 
From triumph against the electoral odds to an adverse judicial verdict, it has been a tough landing for Jayalalithaa. The five-member bench of the Supreme Court was unanimous in its ruling, with no hint of ambiguity.

For a party built around the appeal and the power of a single leader, this is truly a trial by fire. More than anything else, her ability to unite the ranks and close divisions will now be put to the test. What goes in her favour is the absence of an alternative power centre.

There is also the tactical advantage of having sensed which way the proceedings could go in court. The election of her handpicked successor was a foregone conclusion.

The puratchi thalaivi’s (revolutionary leader’s) will is supreme in her party. Opposition is unthinkable and dissenters are unknown. If nothing else, her 130-strong clutch of MLAs, fresh from a victory at the hustings in May 2001, is solidly behind her. A single-party majority makes her impervious to the pressures of allies.

Most of the legislators have come into the House for the first time. Having been routed in 1996, Jayalalithaa has assiduously weeded out anyone with a hint of disloyalty and inducted local-level leaders beholden to her for their meteoric rise. By one reckoning, over 80 MLAs are below 40.

If the past is a guide, the ADMK cadre will try converting the resignation into a high-voltage drama. Having been handed an adverse verdict in the courts, she will reach out to her own mass base to rally support.

The state machinery will remain at her beck and command. In a society that is highly polarised and much more violent than many outside observers recognise, these are major advantages. They may become crucial if the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s workers should choose to take to the streets. The brute force used in the arrest of M. Karunanidhi and his followers earlier this year was a show of strength.

The latest setback is not the first even if it turns out to be the worst she has seen. The former chief minister of Tamil Nadu has had an extraordinary if chequered political life. Her entry into politics was due to her close equation with matinee idol-turned politician M.G. Ramachandran. He made her propaganda secretary in the early eighties and sent her to the Rajya Sabha. She had all but the crown itself.

But his death saw Jayalalithaa humiliated within the party and humbled in the 1989 Assembly polls. She headed a rump group but staged a comeback two years later. The aftermath of Rajiv’s assassination swept her into power to rule from Fort St George for five years.

It is the omissions and commissions of that period that spawned the lawsuits and cases that now threaten her political career itself. By the time she crafted and led a multiparty alliance to victory this summer, the cases had moved ahead and she had even been convicted.

The rejection of her nomination papers from four constituencies worked in her favour, especially among women. But it is still unclear where she goes now. Only acquittal in the courts can clear the way for her to contest a by-election afresh. No one can set a timetable for the workings of the courts.

More ominously, there is always the chance, remote as it may now seem, that an alternative power centre will emerge within her party, led by those who hold ministerial office. An unfriendly Union government would be quick to smell such dissension and the Opposition more than willing to take full advantage of them.

But the fact is her party is firmly in her grip. Regional parties in India tend to be one-woman or one-man shows. Even the Shiv Sena is not as tightly controlled by one individual as the ADMK. Both Maharashtra and Bihar have showed how state governments can be run by remote control. Lest one forgets, not so long ago, many Congress state ministries were “run” by the High Command.

Not in any of her hit films had the heroine pulled off such a miracle. The verdict may be in. But the political trial has only begun.

   

 
 
AMMA VOWS REVENGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Sept. 21: 
A hush settled on the imposing gates of 36 Poes Gardens today as Jayalalithaa bowed out of office as chief minister followed by the entire Tamil Nadu Cabinet.

As the Supreme Court scripted a verdict never seen before in the state’s post-Independence history, Jayalalithaa, clad in a green sari, looked as unflappable as usual. “I will face the cases in the courts, prove my innocence, get elected to the Assembly as an MLA and once again come back to head the government as chief minister,” she declared after a meeting with the Governor.

Arch enemy and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, however, said the law had taken its course. “I am neither happy nor unhappy,” he said, adding he did not envisage any constitutional crisis.

Jayalalithaa was not “formally required” to put in her papers as she ceased to be chief minister after the verdict. But a beaming ADMK boss drove to Raj Bhavan in a Tata Safari around 1.30 pm to intimate the Governor of her “next course of action”.

Soon after news broke around 11 this morning, the mood turned listless at Fort St. George, the seat of government here. Hundreds of partymen, numb with shock, made a beeline for Jayalalithaa’s residence. But most, barring ministers and some top officials, were stopped in their tracks as police beefed up security and barricaded roads leading to Poes Gardens.

For nearly two hours, no one had a clue what Jayalalithaa’s next move would be. She stayed closeted with her ministers, party MPs including P.H. Pandian, and advocate-general N.R. Chandran. Though she had no option but to quit along with her cabinet, the official word was eagerly awaited.

After the meeting ended at 1 pm and the leaders streamed out, there was not a whisper from anyone, not even finance minister C. Ponnaiyan. Newshounds scrambled for a signed statement, but could not figure out if the leaders were headed for the party office. Minutes later, the pilot car whizzed out of the courtyard, indicating the chief minister was headed for Raj Bhavan.

Things became clearer after Jayalalithaa met the Governor as she chose to explain her position to reporters. She said she could not continue as chief minister but the ADMK government, with its 131 elected MLAs, was intact and would continue. The legislature party would meet in the evening to elect a new leader and a “new chief minister and a fresh Cabinet will assume office by tonight”, she said.

   

 
 
STATUTE SUPREME: SC 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
The five-member Constitution bench verdict in the Jayalalithaa case has opened up a Pandora’s Box with spin-offs on criminalisation of politics and supremacy of the statute over people’s will.

In his concurrent judgment, Justice Pattanaik refers to one of the debates in the “criminalisation of politics” case. “Casteism, corruption and politicisation have eroded the integrity and efficacy of our civil service structure also,” he observes, quoting senior counsel Anil Divan’s arguments during the two-week debate.

“The manifestos, policies, programmes of the political parties have lost meaning in the present system of governance due to lack of accountability,” he adds.

Justice Pattanaik also quotes Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to buttress his argument that “those who get elected to these democratic institutions (Assemblies and Parliament) are neither trained in law making nor do they seem to have an inclination to develop the necessary knowledge and competence in their profession”.

Justice Bharucha, in the judgment on his behalf and two others, holds that “the Constitution prevails over the will of the people as expressed through the majority party. The will of the people expressed through the majority party prevails only if it is in accordance with the Constitution”.

According to English law, Parliament is supreme whereas in the US, the Supreme Court is predominant. But in India, the Constitution is above both these institutions. Indicating this, Justice Bharucha cites the case of a judge who was appointed to Gauhati High Court. As he was involved in a corruption case, the apex court used the quo warranto writ to quash his appointment and in an interim order stopped him from taking oath. Through quo warranto, the judiciary asks a person “on what authority you are holding the office”.

   

 
 
LEADER’S FALL LEAVES ALLIES UNFAZED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
If former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s allies are upset by her “political and legal setback” they are not showing it.

The Congress maintained that the ADMK chief will continue to be the leader of the party’s alliance in Tamil Nadu and the CPM wondered why the Tansi land case has not been taken up.

“Then all other cases connected to it would have been taken up and we would have known whether she was guilty or not,” CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said.

For the ruling BJP, the verdict was a vindication of the party’s stand. “The party had been saying right from the beginning that it was a wrong decision by the Governor to appoint Jayalalithaa as chief minister, overruling the Indian Constitution,” said BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri.

His party has for long been campaigning against Jayalalithaa’s appointment. The Supreme Court judgment also boosted the morale of the DMK, which is locked in a bitter fight with the ADMK.

Till a couple of months ago, the third front had been actively hobnobbing with the ADMK chief and toying with the idea of pulling her into the People’s Front.

Jayalalithaa had met Left leaders when she was in Delhi and said she would like to be part of the People’s Front. Legal developments later, however, tamed the enthusiasm of the People’s Front about including Jayalalithaa.

   

 
 
MLAS 200 PER CENT RICHER 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Sept. 21: 
Their big brothers in Parliament did it last month. Now, legislators in Madhya Pradesh have gifted themselves a raise of over 200 per cent.

The Madhya Pradesh Speaker and Deputy Speaker, Leader of Opposition and Assembly Member Salary, Allowance and Pension Rules Amendment Bill 2001 was passed last evening amid a chorus of “Yes” from both the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP. The lone voice of dissent came from an Independent MLA, Ram Pratap Singh, who walked out of the House.

“This is not fair. The government is bankrupt and retrenching daily wagers while we are being selfish,” Ram Pratap said — his feeble protest lost in a roar of approval as his peers rejoiced.

Ministers of the Digvijay Singh government are the biggest beneficiaries of the scale revision. Drawing a salary of Rs 7,000 plus allowances till now, their pay has been hiked to more than Rs 20,000 from October 1 – a whopping increment of Rs 13,000 at one go.

Salaries of ministers of state have been increased from Rs 6,000 per month to Rs 17,000 plus allowances. The Speaker, the deputy Speaker and the leader of the Opposition will draw a salary equal to that of ministers – that is, Rs 20,000-plus. Deputy ministers and the legislative secretary will get Rs 13,500 compared to the Rs 5,000 that they get now.

MLAs have agreed to a hike of Rs 6,000. The legislators’ salary package, including allowances, will be Rs 17,500. Daily allowance of Cabinet ministers, state ministers, deputy ministers, the legislative secretary, the Speaker, the deputy Speaker and the leader of the Opposition have been increased from Rs 200 to Rs 500.

The chief minister will get a revised protocol allowance of Rs 15,000 per month – three times the amount he has been drawing. His ministers will draw Rs 8,000 each and deputy ministers Rs 5,000 as the same allowance.

Cabinet ministers, ministers of state, the deputy minister and the legislative secretary will get an additional Rs 8,000 a month as “constituency allowance”, against the earlier Rs 3,000. The Speaker, the deputy Speaker and the leader of the Opposition will draw the same amount as ministers as constituency allowance. However, MLAS are entitled to only half the amount. All MLAs will get an increased medical allowance of Rs 3,000 per month and a special allowance package for “postage and stationery”. Telephone allowance has been increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 8,000 a month for all MLAs.

   

 
 
BLOOD SPILLS AS PAKISTAN ERUPTS IN ANTI-AMERICA FURY 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Karachi, Sept. 21: 
At least four people were killed and over a dozen policemen injured as thousands of protesters took to the streets of Karachi against their President’s decision to help the US track down Osama bin Laden and punish his Taliban protectors, on a day when most of the country remained paralysed by a strike.

Police said gunshots erupted at a rally after Friday prayers in the Sohrab Goth area in the city. Protesters shouted “God is Great” and “Down with America” at rallies across the country in response to calls by Islamic groups for a show of support for bin Laden and the Taliban.

At the main rally in Lahore, about 20,000 people streamed through the city centre brandishing flags from the 35 Islamic groups that called the protests and one-day strike. “If America attacks, we will turn Afghanistan into their graveyard,” announced one speaker, amidst cheering crowds.

In Peshawar, home to over a million refugees from nearby Afghanistan, about 5,000 turned out to denounce Washington for demanding that Kabul hand over its “guest” Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man. “We will fight until the destruction of the US,” they chanted.

Demonstrators, mostly Pushtoon speaking people, burnt an effigy of US President George W. Bush, who had yesterday issued an ultimatum to the Taliban to hand over bin Laden.

However, today, Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef said handing over bin Laden to the US “will be an insult to Islam”.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to support Washington — a decision that has split the country. “We have to show and tell the people how unjust America’s actions are to try to attack the Taliban without any concrete evidence,” said Abdul Khaliq, spokesman of the hardline religious party Jamiat Ulema Islam. “The government should know what the people are thinking,” Khaliq added.

A decision by Afghanistan’s senior Islamic clerics for Kabul to persuade Saudi-born bin Laden to leave, did not appear to have eased the angry mood. “If Musharraf supports the Taliban that is good, if not he is our enemy,” said one protester in Peshawar who described himself as a mujahideen, or holy warrior.

Shops in Peshawar and most other cities were closed — some in support of the strike but many fearing the rampaging protesters, if they were seen to be ignoring the call.

In the commercial capital, Karachi, armoured personnel carriers, police vans and paramilitary rangers protected the US consulate and patrolled the city.

The business centre was virtually deserted. “The city looked lifeless,” said one resident. Karachi, home to 11 million people is frequently a hotbed of religious clashes. A transport strike kept many people from their jobs, forcing nearly all businesses and schools to remain closed.

“We have issued a call for a peaceful strike and assured the authorities that there will be no violence,” one of the organisers said. “We are taking all possible precautions despite assurances from the clerics,” said police chief Syed Kamal Shah.

Police contingents in riot gear and toting semi-automatic weapons were deployed around the city. Army trucks patrolled the streets, packed with soldiers in combat gear and with machine guns mounted in front. Government officials in Peshawar warned foreign media to avoid the narrow streets of the city’s bazaars.

   

 
 
LUCKNOW ALERT ON STRIKEBACK 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 21: 
Alarm bells have started ringing in Uttar Pradesh ahead of an imminent US retaliation against Afghanistan for failing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime accused in the terror attack.

The state administration has put over 70 districts under general alert and seven districts under specific high alert. Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi have been earmarked as places under “maximum threat”.

Muslims in large numbers turned up at the Bara Imambara today and burnt American flags, but that is not all that is worrying the administration.

On Thursday, six youths in a Maruti drove up to the Auli Public School in Agra and distributed pamphlets to students and teachers that warned of death if India supported America in any way in its campaign against bin Laden. They fired shots in the air before leaving, chanting pro-Taliban and pro-Laden slogans.

The same day, in Muzaffarnagar, some youths barged into a Jain temple and stuck pamphlets of bin Laden that also warned India of “serious consequences” if their “most revered leader’’ was not let alone.

There is a virtual pamphlet war going on between the Students’ Islamic Movement of India and the Bajrang Dal here.

In Allahabad, police seized “scores” of video cassettes of bin Laden’s speeches when some persons were in the process of making copies and distributing them.

But in a city tired of communal tensions and bloodshed, the silver lining, officials say is that the SIMI posters — calling for support to Laden and jihad against all those after him— are being ripped off as soon as they are pasted.

The SIMI has launched a vicious and vitriolic campaign against “supporters of America”, and intelligence reports say that a massive recruitment drive is on in communally sensitive districts like Bahraich, Kanpur, Muzaffarnagr, Azamgarh, Lucknow, Meerut and Gorakhpur.

   

 
 
IRAN CLUTCHES AT STRAW TO END POST-FATWA ISOLATION 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Sept. 21: 
Today’s big news from London is that Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, is going to Tehran.

This follows yesterday’s telephone call to President Khatami of Iran from Tony Blair from his plane as the British Prime Minister was crossing the Atlantic on his way to see George Bush.

In all this, there is no mention of the author who was the cause of the rift between the two countries — Salman Rushdie.

Technically, the Iranian fatwa on Rushdie, imposed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in February, 1989, still remains valid. What the Iranians have said is that it has only “theological” validity and that Iran will not send death squads abroad to ensure it is carried out.

This formula has been accepted by the British, diplomatic rel ations restored and ambassadors exchanged. As part of a tour of West Asia, Straw will visit Israel, Palestine, Jordan — and now Iran.

No one should doubt Blair’s resolve to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush. America will go to war, and British forces will fight alongside Americans.

It is more than likely that Britain’s elite SAS (Special Air Service) has already slipped its men into Afghanistan with a view to tracking down America’s current number one enemy, Osama bin Laden, and putting down the markers that will manoeuvre laser guided bombs to their targets.

However, many countries are seizing this moment to forge a new world order. Khatemi, who has his own problems with rigid hardliners at home, is seeking to end his country’s isolation.

He cannot meet the Americans directly since Tehran and Washington do not have diplomatic relations but he can certainly offer hospitality to the British foreign secretary, who is very close to Blair, who has edged himself very close to Bush.

In any case, the Iranian regime does not like the Taliban and for many years, Iran has looked after two million Afghan refugees without any thanks from the west. And if Blair can restore cordial relations with Tehran, he will open the door to new opport unities for British businesses in the reconstruction of Iran.

Where does that leave Rushdie? He can never completely lift the shadow of the fatwa but he has resumed something approaching the kind of celebrity-filled life he wants to lead with a new partner, Padma Lakshmi, and an apartment in New York. He has long ceased to be a factor in international relations.

This is why Iran, yesterday’s enemy, has become today’s friend.

   

 
 
SINHA SOLACE FOR ECONOMY 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Karnal, Sept. 21: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha today admitted that there was a “feeling of uncertainty” in the economy following the terror strikes in the US and the war preparations, but felt there “was no need to panic”.

“We are monitoring the stock exchange and foreign exchange reserves and the impact is likely to be short-term rather than long-term,” he said.

The finance minister, here to attend a kisan mela organised by the Haryana government, assured that measures had been taken to check “any slowdown in the Indian economy”.

However, he added that “more measures will be taken to correct” any damage.

“The only uncertainty,” he said, “was the scale of US operations against Afghanistan and certain apprehensions.” But he did not specify what the “apprehensions” were.

Asked about a possible oil price jump, Sinha said petroleum minister Ram Naik had attended a meeting of his counterparts in China recently. “Moreover, Opec has promised to keep supplies going and that is a comforting signal,” he added.

   

 
 
DIVIDENDS FOR DELHI 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Sept. 21: 
Notwithstanding Washington’s new proximity with Islamabad, the resolute call to arms against terrorism by President George W. Bush last night, may ultimately bring dividends for India in its own fight against militant religious fundamentalism.

The assessment in New Delhi a day after Bush spoke to the US Congress for 30 minutes, interrupted by 30 standing ovations, was that the all-out American campaign against the Taliban will ultimately tighten the noose on the various outfits created by Pakistan to fight its proxy wars.

New Delhi expects the Taliban to be the first casualty of an American attack on Afghanistan to take Osama bin Laden “dead or alive”. But Bush made it clear last night that he would not be satisfied merely by the capture or death of bin Laden. He listed several non-negotiable demands, including the closure of terrorist training camps.

The Taliban has already emptied terrorist training camps in its territory, albeit temporarily, in anticipation of a US attack on them.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh said yesterday that he had intelligence reports to the effect that Afghan and Arab volunteers sponsored by the Taliban and Pakistan to fight in Kashmir were withdrawing to Afghanistan to battle the US.

What Singh did not say was that the US had already shared with India its intelligence reports that Pakistani irregulars propping up the Taliban against the Northern Alliance had started withdrawing from Afghanistan anticipating an imminent wave of US air attacks. This has already weakened the Taliban militarily.

The US and India also share the assessment that once an American attack is certain, many local commanders will switch their loyalty from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance.

In 1996, and thereafter, it was the decision of several such commanders to switch loyalty away from the Northern Alliance to the Taliban, which enabled the fundamentalist militia to control upto 90 per cent of Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance believes that an American attack will be the ripe time for it to attempt a repossession of the territory although its leadership is peeved that help has not been swift from states, which have been promising assistance to the Alliance.

If this assessment turns out to be true, the Taliban government may collapse within days of commencement of a US military action. A change in regime in Afghanistan is not only in India’s interest: New Delhi has been actively seeking such a change.

India also believes that the current anti-terrorist campaign by the US will not end with the capture or assassination of bin Laden and the destruction of the al Qaida network in Afghanistan.

The second stage of the campaign will put the spotlight on terrorist outfits around Afghanistan patronised by successive governments in Pakistan.

Bush promised last night to “pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism”. Though Pakistan, which fits this description, will by no means be targeted as a state, the US will have to tackle the terrorist network in Pakistan if its planned anti-terrorist campaign in South and Central Asia is to bring lasting results.

   
 

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