Rabri minister in police net for poll murder
Boycott shadow on Andipatti
VHP twin props for BJP
Upper caste thrust in Cong list
Public trial for private beach

Patna, Jan. 19: 
A senior minister in the Rabri Devi government was arrested along with three family members in connection with the murder of an election candidate’s supporter this morning during campaigning for the Nawada panchayat bypolls.

Director general of police R.R. Prasad said: “Minister in charge of fisheries and animal husbandry Aditya Singh’s wife Urmila Devi is contesting the local bypoll against Manzar Alam.

The minister and his men attacked a group of Alam’s supporters near Narhatbazar of Nawada district this morning, killing one of them, Amar Paswan. The minister was first detained and later taken into custody on charge of his alleged involvement.”

Police said trouble started around 9 am, when Alam and 20 supporters started the last round of campaigning for tomorrow’s bypoll. An FIR lodged with Hisua police station alleged that the minister’s son, Pappu Singh, whipped up a counter-campaign in favour of his mother around the same time.

An altercation broke out between the two groups, and Pappu and others opened fire at Alam. Sensing that Alam’s life was in danger, Amar Paswan tried to push him out of the line of fire. Paswan was shot in the process and died on the spot.

The killing, coming after a series of attacks on and murders of elected panchayat members and candidates for the coming bypolls, has kicked up a row in Bihar.

The BJP accused the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress combine of unleashing terror in the state. Opposition leader Sushil Modi said: “When ministers are involved in political killings, what more evidence of the state’s anarchy does the state government want?”

The seeds of the conflict lie in the fact that the bureaucrats and ministers have refused to forego power in favour of the panchayats ever since these bodies were formed after 23 years in July last year.

Last week, a mukhia was shot dead by a block development officer in Bihita, Patna district, when he was pleading for funds at a meeting with bureaucrats.

Last month, at least four members of Sheikhpura panchayat were killed following a row between ministers Aditya Singh and Rajballav Yadav, who is close to Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Sources blamed the Nawada killing on the fight between the two ministers, which has virtually turned into a caste war with the Bhumihars pitted against the Yadavs.

Police said this morning’s incident triggered caste tensions in Nawada district, 180 km from the capital. The district superintendent of police is camping there and prohibitory orders have been imposed in Hisua block.


Jan. 19: 
The Tamil Maanila Congress and the Left parties tonight decided to boycott the Andipatti byelection in protest against the Election Commission’s decision to go ahead with polling in the constituency Jayalalithaa is contesting from while deferring those at Vaniyambadi and Saidapet due to “malpractices” in the revision of electoral rolls.

Sources in the Left parties said G.K. Vasan, N. Sankariah and R. Nallakannu, leaders of the TMC, CPM and CPI, reached the decision after “considering all possibilities” during a discussion on the issue.

Earlier today, 10 DMK parliamentarians submitted a memorandum to President K.R. Narayanan, requesting him to stop the “cruel joke on democracy” and threatening to boycott the February 21 poll.

Following complaints of irregularities, the poll panel had withheld byelections to Saidapet and Vaniyambadi last week.

The “irregularities have been much more grave and blatant in Andipatti” than in the two other constituencies where elections have been postponed, the delegation said.

“In tune with the public mood, many of the important political parties of the state have begun to reconsider their decision to participate in the election,” it added.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi wrote to Narayanan last night, seeking his intervention and underlining that the DMK would “have no option but to reconsider its decision to participate in the Andipatti election unless immediate action is taken to ensure free and fair polls”.

He said holding elections only for Andipatti went against the “grain of the democratic spirit”.

State Congress president E.V.K.S. Elangovan said they have sent another telegram to the poll panel today, urging postponement of the Andipatti polls. The Congress tonight decided not to field any candidate for Andipatti, adds PTI.

Even as these parties were straining to stop the bypoll, MDMK leader Vaiko today announced that his party was fielding V. Jayachandran, an agriculturist, for the bypoll.

Earlier, Dalit leader and Puthiya Tamizhagam president Krishnasamy had announced that he would contest against Jayalalithaa.

The DMK had received no response from the President till late this evening.

Karunanidhi did not rule out the possibility of the DMK and its NDA allies “boycotting” the byelection.

“It (boycott) is not an easy decision to take, but when all the other Opposition parties are considering a poll boycott, we are also mulling the idea,” he said.


Ayodhya, Jan. 19: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has found a way to bail out its beleaguered cousin, the BJP, in the uncertain Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh next month. It will use Ram and the “Ravan of terrorism” to lend weight to the BJP’s campaign.

The VHP is launching the Chetavani Yatra (warning rally) from Ayodhya on Monday to “build a national consensus on the issue of constructing a Ram mandir at the disputed site” and to “convince the aam janata (masses) about the dangers of terrorism”.

Announcing this at Ayodhya, VHP chief Ashok Singhal today said “terrorism has affected the temple movement”.

Though the Sangh had not “toned down” its stand, certain inevitable circumstances had definitely slowed down the movement, he said.

Singhal said the movement to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya was not merely about a mandir. “It is much more than that. It’s about culture, nation and identity, ” he said.

The VHP chief stepped up his tirade against the minority community and said it did not have any say in the mandir-masjid issue any more. He added that the Chetavani Yatra would now be known as the Sant Yatra.

In Lucknow, VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore echoed Singhal, saying “terrorism and temple are deeply interlinked.”

The Sant Yatra would focus on both “mandir nirman and aatank. (temple construction and terrorism)”, he added.

Asked if the VHP’s programme would be manoeuvred to suit the BJP’s poll rhetoric – that Ayodhya is not a political but a cultural issue — Kishore said the schedule for temple construction would be postponed only if the elections are postponed.

He said the Sant Yatra will culminate at Delhi’s Ram Lila grounds on January 27, when over 5,000 sants will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then hold a meeting of the Marg Darshan Mandal, the VHP’s apex decision-making body. “But in all probability, temple construction will start after March 12,” Kishore said.

The VHP is confused on the stand it should take before the elections. Signals coming from the BJP are not helping either.

Some sections within the BJP are trying to replace terrorism with internal security as an election plank. BJP state chief Kalraj Mishra on Friday said Ayodhya will not figure as a political issue in the polls. “At the most, it is a cultural thing,” Mishra said, adding it “might” find a place in the BJP manifesto.

VHP organising secretary in Uttar Pradesh Purshottam Narain Singh said talks were on between VHP leaders and sants regarding the “correct line” to be taken at the dharam sabha in Ayodhya tomorrow.

Singhal said the VHP will work towards making the mandir-masjid issue a “dharma vivad (religious debate)” rather than a “rajneetik vivad (political debate)”.

“Even the Indian Parliament should stay away from the Ayodhya issue,” Singhal said, adding that all political leaders should understand the significance and sensitivity of the issue by now.


New Delhi, Jan. 19: 
The Congress, which today released a list of 303 candidates for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, has fielded a large number of upper caste and minority community members.

The party also released a list of candidates for 51 of the 70 seats in Uttaranchal.

The nominees for the remaining 100 seats in Uttar Pradesh, which include high-profile Amethi and Rae Bareli, will be announced soon.

The Uttar Pradesh list includes 48 Muslims and 95 candidates from the upper castes — 60 Brahmins, 24 Thakurs, nine Banias and two Kayasthas. Twenty-four women figure on the list. All 13 sitting MLAs have been renominated.

The Congress has been wooing the upper castes, especially Brahmins, who are disenchanted with the BJP after it anointed Rajnath Singh, a Rajput, as chief minister.

Addressing a rally at Kanpur last week, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had said the party would not have anything to do with casteist parties. Sonia’s remarks were meant to appease the upper castes.

With Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Dal, and the Apna Dal commanding backward-caste votes, the Congress’ strategy seems to be to consolidate its base among the upper castes and the minorities.

Last time, the minority votes were shared between the Samajwadi and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

But with Mayavati and the BJP reportedly having a discreet understanding on a post-poll alliance, voters of the minority community may opt for either the Samajwadi or the Congress. The BSP’s loss could be the Congress’ gain.

Former chief ministers Ram Naresh Yadav and Jagdambika Pal, Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari and former minister Lokpati Tripathi figure on the Uttar Pradesh list.

Former chief minister N.D. Tiwari, former Union minister Satpal Maharaj and former Seva Dal chief Harish Rawat are on the Uttaranchal list.

Yadav, who was chief minister during the Janata Party rule over two decade ago, has been fielded from Phulpur. Pal, who has the dubious distinction of heading the state for only a day a few years ago, has been renominated from Basti.

After the last elections, Pal had supported Naresh Aggarwal, who had split the state Congress to form the Loktantrik Congress and support the BJP’s bid for power.

Tiwari has been renominated from Rampur Khas and Tripathi is again the party nominee from Majhwa. Louise Fernandes, wife of former Pradesh Congress Committee president Salman Khurshid, has been given the ticket from Karimganj. Ashok Bajpai, son of the late Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, and R.P.N. Singh, son of the late Union minister, C.P.N. Singh, have been nominated from Allahabad North and Padurna.


Panaji, Jan. 19: 
Privatisation of one of Goa’s prominent beaches has raised a public outcry, and a one-man committee is currently documenting public opinion on the issue.

The fate of Miramar beach will be decided after the Nandkumar Kamat panel hands in its report by February 3. “The panel has an eight-week mandated time-frame, from December 8. So, by February 3 the report should be handed in,” Kamat, an environmentalist, said.

He said the options before the panel were either to accept the “beach-management project” as it is, suggest modifications or reject it. Asked if the government would implement the report, Kamat said the government had gone “on record” that it would be open to modifications, if needed.

“The chief minister has given full freedom. There is no pressure (from the government). On the contrary, there is much more pressure from the public,” he said. “I’ve already received 3,000-4,000 signatures (against the privatisation plan). But it must be made clear that no public hearing is based on a vote.”

Kamat also said he had received “not less than 40” petitions till date.

Kamat said he had undertaken a “desktop and electronic” survey to frame the rules for conducting the public hearing, which was held in the presence of the press and recorded on video with one applicant appearing at a time.

“Rules have been based on the European and American public hearings. That’s the only knowledge available on public hearings,” he said.


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