Temple soundbite rips print restraint
Chicken legs, liquor lure for Punjab
Badal dares apex court on canal
Iron man booms in martial belt
Sonia, VP bonhomie in post
Bridge without end for PMs

 
 
TEMPLE SOUNDBITE RIPS PRINT RESTRAINT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 2: 
The scourge of terrorism dominates the BJP’s election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh, but the party played safe on Ayodhya, relegating the thorny issue to the last paragraph of the 32-page document released today.

Focusing on the “threat of terrorism”, the manifesto underlines the BJP’s commitment to an “atank mukt raj”.

The emphasis on terrorism did not come as a surprise. Chief minister Rajnath Singh has been harping on how the BJP is the only party that is both equipped and able to fight the menace. The party has also been stressing on India’s diplomatic victory over Pakistan and the government’s “uncompromisingly tough posture” at the border.

Though the BJP treaded softly on the issue of constructing a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, it promised to accelerate the process of finding a solution to the problem, either in court or out of it.

But the addresses by state unit chief Kalraj Mishra and the chief minister that followed the release of the manifesto hardly matched the document’s restraint on the festering Ayodhya dispute.

Away from the glare of the written word, Kalraj said the temple issue was connected to belief. It was a national and cultural issue, he added, even as Rajnath confronted the Samajwadi Party, asking it to clarify its stand on the controversy.

“They (the Samajwadi Party) have to explain their old statement which said they will build a mosque at the disputed site,” Rajnath said, accusing the BJP’s main rival in the state of confusing the electorate. “Anyway, why should we not want a temple to be built there if the court so decides,” he added.

The manifesto points out that India has been battling Islamabad-sponsored militancy for the last 20 years and gives the issue a twist by saying that Uttar Pradesh is being targeted by the Inter-Services Intelligence.

“Earlier governments have encouraged these kind of attacks by their inaction and feebleness,” the manifesto says, attacking political parties pursuing “vote-bank politics”.

Pakistan-backed outfits have targeted many districts of Uttar Pradesh. But the BJP has in the last five years fought these groups consistently and courageously and even succeeded in stemming the attacks, the manifesto says, adding that only the BJP is “equipped and committed” to fight the menace.

There is, however, no mention of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India.

India has been ravaged by attacks on freedom, religion, culture, society and education, the manifesto says, adding that the attack on the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, was an example of this kind of intolerance and terrorism.

The BJP also promised to strengthen and broaden intelligence networks, while putting in place a “Poto-like law” in Uttar Pradesh if it is voted to power again. Bangladeshi refugees, too, would have to go home.

The manifesto promises a lot to farmers. They have been assured of a “kisan credit card,” and adequate insurance, along with fair support price for their produce.

The manifesto promises to connect villages with main highways. The 14.6 lakh families living below the poverty line have been assured of ration cards so that they can avail cheap rice and wheat. Ten lakh houses will be built for the homeless under the Indira Awaz Yojana, the manifesto says.

   

 
 
CHICKEN LEGS, LIQUOR LURE FOR PUNJAB 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Ludhiana, Feb. 2: 
Leg and peg come for free in the Punjab Assembly polls. In thousands of villages ranging from Rajpura to Wagah, liquor is flowing free for all those who care to have good time.

The Congress, Akalis and other parties are competing with each other to lure voters, in clear violation of the Election Commission’s code of conduct, by offering complimentary murg mussalum (roasted chicken) to go with the liquor.

In Mukhtsar, Faridkot, Moga and rural Ludhiana, political parties are setting up bhatis (makeshift breweries) to serve freshly brewed country-made liquor, prepared in ahatas (courtyards) under the watchful eyes of lathi-wielding party activists. Every evening, freeloaders come in groups, singing the praise of the patron. Often, the same set of people is spotted showering praise on the rival candidate at another “liquor langar”.

The police and the local administration are aware of what is going on but they have decided to turn a blind eye. “Leg and peg are part of Punjabi culture. Why should we come in the way? If people want to have good time and some are prepared to extend largesse, where do we come in?” said a senior superintendent of police.

Tipplers have coined many slogans that are doing the rounds. Says one: “Vote kiski? Jo pilaye whiskey. (Who gets the vote? Whoever offers the whiskey).” Others are not so committed. They make no bones about saying that free liquor might not translate into votes. “Khao piyo aish karo mitron, vote per kise no paye re (Eat, drink and make merry, friends, and decide about votes later on),” said Gurcharan Singh of the Rampura Phool constituency under Bhatinda district.

Here, an independent candidate, Swaroop Babu, has become a legend of sorts. Every evening, he polishes off half a bottle before kicking off his “campaign”. He goes around sharing the rest of his liquor with the voters. When the bottle is finished or Swaroop Babu has passed out after having had one too many, it is the end of the day’s campaigning.

In Qila Raipur, Congress nominee Gurdial Kaur Khangura has lodged a formal complaint with chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh accusing Akali candidate Jagdish Singh Garcha of distributing free liquor to the poor. In the nearby Samrala Assembly segment, Akalis allege that supporters of Congress candidate Amrik Singh Dillon, a liquor baron, organise “liquor langar” every evening, where unlimited quantities of liquor is offered to one and all.

According to a conservative estimate, Punjab’s consumption of liquor has gone up by 30 per cent. In Raikot and Qila Raipur, three people have died from alcohol overdose.

Congress leaders said this trend was a reflection of the feudal tendencies prevalent in such areas as Mukhtsar, Faridkot and rural Ludhiana, where votes could be bought in exchange of liquor. “The miserable financial condition of Dalits and labourers come handy,” said a Congress MP, while conceding this was unethical. “In elections, it is all fair. We are doing politics not sadhu samaj seva,” he said, candidly.

   

 
 
BADAL DARES APEX COURT ON CANAL 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Feb. 2: 
Punjab chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president Parkash Singh Badal today vowed to defy the Supreme Court verdict asking Punjab to complete its portion of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal to allow water to flow to Haryana.

“We will fill jails. The party will shed blood but not allow a single drop of Punjab’s water to flow into Haryana. The court can send me to jail, but it cannot shoot me,” he said.

Badal, who released his party’s manifesto for the Assembly polls today, also denied the Congress allegations appearing as advertisements in major dailies that he had taken money in lieu of the SYL canal’s completion.

“The Congress is capable of doing nothing but sling mud at its opponents. The party has done nothing for Punjab,” he said.

The chief minister announced that, if voted to power, the Shiromani Akali Dal would introduce a Bill in the first session of the Assembly, making it mandatory for all members to declare their assets.

“Corruption will be dealt with an iron hand. For five years we strove hard for peace and brotherhood among all communities in the state. We will deal sternly with corruption in the next five years,” he said.

Unveiling a daring blueprint for economic growth and social welfare, Badal announced a five-year moratorium on electricity tariff for domestic consumers, 24-hour power supply to all villages, towns and cities by revolutionising the power sector, introducing a crop insurance scheme with premium to be borne by the state, waiving off of interest up to Rs 1 lakh on all cooperative loans, a promotion scheme for state government employees and setting up of an extensive network of processing units in the small-scale industrial sector.

“We deliver what we promise. Last time we had said we would provide free electricity to farmers and we achieved that with practically no support from anyone. This time we will go after corruption and eradicate the menace from the state,” he said.

The Shiromani Akali Dal has also offered a number of sops for the backward classes and the Dalits. “Caste and not income will be made the criterion for issuing certificates to the backward classes,” Badal said, announcing that the ceiling of Rs 36,000 on state relief to students belonging to the scheduled castes and backward classes would be removed.

Slamming the Congress manifesto for its sops, Badal said his party was not only spelling out what it would do in the next five years but also the manner in which it would go about doing what it is promising.

Describing the document as a plan for development and growth, Badal said: “We are taking the people into confidence on the steps we will take to turn our promises into performance. This is what makes this manifesto unique in the history of the country.”

The chief minister also announced continuation of all schemes announced by the Akali-BJP government during the last five years.

   

 
 
IRON MAN BOOMS IN MARTIAL BELT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
Roorkee, Feb. 2: 
A tough-talking L.K. Advani today appealed to the martial psyche of Uttaranchal residents, making a strong case against Pakistan’s proxy war and assuring them the Kashmir problem will be solved once and for all.

“Shimla was a lost opportunity,” the home minister said, alluding to the 1971 victory over Pakistan and in a mild criticism of the Congress for not making use of the victory though 93,000 Pakistani soldiers were forced to surrender. “(But) don’t worry, opportunity will come again. That day we will solve the Kashmir problem forever.”

Advani’s election speech in this town on the bank of a tributary of the Ganga focused on terrorism and national security. “On December 13 the terrorist(s) attacked Parliament. They attacked 100 crore people of Hindustan. That day they crossed the lakshman rekha,” he said in a bid to hardsell security concerns to the people of the newly carved out state, which boasts of the Kumaon and Garhwal army regiments.

Advani claimed the BJP was the only party which has won the confidence of the people “because we are the only party which practises what it preaches”. Our biggest challenge today, he said, was security, especially border security.

The home minister said India had won three wars with Pakistan — 1965, 1971 and Kargil — and that Islamabad had started a proxy war after realising that it could not win in the open maidan.

Even as other speakers hailed him as “Rashtrabhakt”, Advani said he did not believe Pervez Musharraf would do what he had announced at America’s prodding — root out terrorism from his country. “I said we will not go by the announcement. It is to keep you (the Americans) happy.”

He said if infiltration had ebbed now, it was because of the heavy snowfall between December and February.

About 175 km from Delhi, Roorkee was the last of the three places in Uttaranchal that Advani visited. Before he arrived here in the evening, he addressed meetings at Rudrapur and Uttarkashi.

There was no place for Hindutva, Ram mandir or any other contentious issues. Though there was no frontal attack on either the Congress or the Samajwadi Party, the home minister repeatedly reminded the audience that Uttaranchal owed its existence to the BJP.

“If the BJP had not come to power at the Centre, there would not have been an Uttaranchal,” he said, pointing out that his party had delivered on its promise of a separate state while others had opposed the bifurcation of Uttar Pradesh.

Chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Roorkee candidate Suresh Chand Jain, Hardwar Lok Sabha MP Harpal Singh Sathi, state party chief Puran Chand Sharma, who spoke before Advani praised the home minister for his patriotism and “nationalistic” views.

   

 
 
SONIA, VP BONHOMIE IN POST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
Sonia Gandhi and V.P. Singh have proved again that there are no permanent foes in politics.

The Congress president on Thursday wrote to her bete noire, agreeing on the need for greater transparency and accountability in the use of constituency development funds by legislators and greater probity in public life. Singh replied promptly today, thanking “so much for your very positive response to my proposal”.

Singh had called on Sonia on Wednesday — for the first time in 15 years since he quit the Rajiv Gandhi government over the Bofors payoff scandal — seeking support for his new project to ensure transparency in the spending of MPs’ funds and to evolve a “national consensus” on issues that would strengthen the people’s “right to information”.

“There is a lack of transparency in our current politics, administrative system and in the other areas of public life, besides a mismatch in our words and deeds. There should be a collective effort to remove this,” Sonia wrote to Singh.

Besides, she said, every citizen of India had the right to know how the funds for MPs’ local area development scheme or that of MLAs were being used. In reply, Singh said: “This will go a long way in enriching the democratic process of our country.”

The Congress, however, downplayed the import of the rivals warming to each other. Asked if there was a political message in their meeting, party spokesperson S.Jaipal Reddy asked reporters to read the letters they had exchanged and find out the issue.

He said Singh had met all party leaders regarding the use of the constituency funds, and met Sonia in the process.

Another spokesman Anand Sharma clarified that the Congress’ stand on Singh’s campaign on the Bofors scam is not relevant in the current scenario.

Singh is cosying up to Sonia Gandhi after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to part with 13 Assembly seats Singh wanted for his supporters in the Kisan Vikas Manch.

But much to the consternation of the former Prime Minister, a wily Mulayam gave only one seat to the vice-president of the manch.

Significantly, a few of Singh’s acolytes have joined the Congress. Last month, former MP Gangacharan Rajput and Singh’s niece joined the Congress, following the footsteps of former MP Washim Ahmed, who had joined a couple of years ago.

   

 
 
BRIDGE WITHOUT END FOR PMS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Feb. 2: 
How many times does a development project become a launchpad for political mileage before it is actually completed? As many times as politicians of Bihar want it to be.

The Digha-Sonepur railway bridge is one such project for which Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be visiting Patna tomorrow. Vajpayee will inaugurate work on the Rs 650 crore project through videoconferencing at the Gandhi Maidan.

This is a Nitish Kumar show. The railway minister is busy projecting himself as development-oriented. By inviting Vajpayee, Kumar has sought to transform the inauguration into a mega political event.

The Prime Minister will address a public rally during his visit. Patna is getting a facelift as huge mounds of garbage and roadside dirt are being cleared to make the city presentable for the Prime Minister’s visit.

But Vajpayee is not the first Prime Minister to gain political mileage out of this project. On December 22, 1996, then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda laid the foundation stone of the project in yet another mega publicity event. Deve Gowda had used the opportunity to castigate his predecessors for ignoring Bihar.

Six years later, the project continues to hang fire, but affords Kumar an opportunity for some more political mileage.

“We are going to start work on the bridge now,” Kumar said, adding, “six years ago, the foundation stone was laid only.”

“How many more political shows would it need to complete the project, only time will tell,” said Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI (M-L).

After the NDA’s hope of unsettling the Rabri government by transferring the fodder scam cases to Jharkhand came a cropper, Kumar went on a whirlwind inauguration spree of new computer reservation centres and stopping long-distance trains at stations near his constituency.

   
 

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