BJP bows out, enter Mulayam
Focus on ‘others’ in number hunt
A&A team in full play
Party backs capital-chaser CM
Spotlight on Indian at Winter Olympics
MPs divided over zero hour telecast
6 and 9 to guard Jaya of Nine Lives
Bhattal keeps up CM fight
Naidu poll sermon to BJP
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Feb. 25: 

Hands full yesterday, empty today

Queen Bee Mayavati, who had looked set to be Uttar Pradesh’s next chief minister till this afternoon, has had her hive taken away by the BJP.

Having given the impression that she was willing to do business with the BJP in the “interest of the Bahujan Samaj” before TV cameras till last evening, she went incommunicado after her prospective ally ditched her.

BSP sources claimed the BJP’s feelers prompted Mayavati last evening to fly out of Lucknow where she was guarding her “vulnerable” legislators. They said she met Atal Bihari Vajpayee for 15 minutes, though sources close to the Prime Minister denied any such meeting.

But all the “goodwill” disappeared the moment her “friends” in the BJP — Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra — were reminded by outgoing chief minister Rajnath Singh that the BJP alliance would crumble if they had anything to do with her. That would leave the BJP, with 88 MLAs, and BSP, with 98, short of the majority mark of 202.

A desperate Mayavati turned to her mentor, Kanshi Ram, once she got the bad news from the BJP. Kanshi Ram rushed back to the capital from Punjab.

BSP sources are now afraid that the Samajwadi Party might start preying on her Muslim and upper-caste MLAs, using the Ayodhya “card” to “emotionally blackmail” the former and ministerships to lure away the latter, as the BJP had done in 1998.

They even began to read in Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh’s reported willingness to “build bridges” a message meant for the BSP. Singh said: “We are making all-out efforts for a secular alternative as the electorate has clearly voted against the BJP and we are prepared to build bridges with any party.”

Samajwadi sources, however, ruled out a Mulayam-Mayavati rapprochement, insisting that they would rather look for numbers in the group of “others” (26) and the BJP’s allies (19). “We cannot forget how Mayavati had humiliated our leader after she pulled out support to his government in 1995,” they said.

Mayavati, BSP sources said, needs to be in power to expand her base just as the BJP is prepared for a spell in the Opposition to recover its own.


New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
Washing its hands of Mayavati, the BJP decided to “accept and respect the people’s verdict” and sit out in the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh.

The decision, taken by the BJP’s apex decision-making body, its parliamentary board, has effectively cleared the decks for the Samajwadi Party to be invited to prove its majority in the legislature as the single largest party.

BJP sources said the clincher was the threat by its 19 allies to quit the Uttar Pradesh alliance if the party helped instal Mayavati as chief minister. It is learnt that the 14-member Rashtriya Lok Dal and the breakaway BSP legislators vociferously stated that the BJP should have nothing to do with her.

Once it dawned on the leaders that the BJP alliance’s own numbers would shrink and it might not hit the halfway mark with the BSP, the party decided to back out. “Together with our 88 and the BSP’s 98, we would have made only 186. It would be ridiculous to stake claim to form a government,” a BJP leader said.

Even Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reportedly went along with the view that rather than get into the murky business of breaking parties to make Mayavati chief minister, the party should sit in the Opposition.

But the sources said that till last evening, Vajpayee was tilting towards the BSP and had a 15-minute meeting with Mayavati who rushed to his house immediately after reaching Delhi.

Vajpayee, it is learnt, was also informed of how the Brahmin votes in Uttar Pradesh had shifted en bloc to the BSP, the Samajwadi Party or the Congress wherever one of them had put up a strong candidate from the community.

The sub-text was the frenetic campaigning by the BJP’s two Brahmin stalwarts — Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi — left one of the party’s most committed constituencies cold. Vajpayee, the sources stressed, had little choice but endorse the dominant view in the BJP.

The other imperative was the VHP’s threat to lay siege to Ayodhya. The party reckoned that if it was part of a Mayavati government, from outside or inside, it would have to face the Ram bhakts’ backlash in the event of a crackdown. Mayavati had cracked the whip in Mathura in 1995 when the BJP was backing her government.

The Samajwadi alliance, which has 145 legislators, is short of the halfway mark by 57. Even if the Congress with 25 were to support it, it would still require 32 MLAs.

Mulayam Singh has a long way to go before he can think of securing the Congress’ help. Samajwadi sources said party strategists were working on the group of 26 “others” who include 14 Independents, Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) and the Apna Dal.

But of these, one legislator from the Hindu Mahasabha —who won Gorakhpur with a BJP MP’s backing — would find it as difficult to join a Mulayam-led coalition as he would find it politically untenable to induct him.

However, even if by a long shot Mulayam got this lot’s support lock, stock and barrel, he would still be short of six. Sources close to him said he was looking at the BJP’s allies, which include Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Janata Dal (United).

But this could also be an uphill task in light of the past antagonism between Mulayam and Ajit. Given the fact that Ajit extracted a Cabinet berth in the Centre after much difficulty, it is unlikely he would give it up to join hands with an old adversary.

The Samajwadi is counting on the BJP’s smaller allies, who have no ideological problems with Mulayam, to provide five more legislators. If he succeeds, he will still need one more to breast the tape. With counting to be done in two more constituencies, the Samajwadi is hoping that the outcome would see it through this arduous exercise.

With Delhi holding the key to who would be the next chief minister in Lucknow, the day began with a breakfast meeting between Vajpayee, the outgoing chief minister Rajnath Singh and state BJP chief Kalraj Mishra.

The CPM general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who is working hard to bring the Samajwadi and the Congress together, met Mulayam and his general secretary, Amar Singh, earlier in the day before the BJP made up its mind on Mayavati.


Lucknow, Feb. 25: 
Remember Naresh Aggarwal? This is the gentleman who broke away from the Congress and helped Rajnath Singh save the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh.

Aggarwal is repeating history in a manner of speaking. He is now helping Rajnath Singh’s opponent, Mulayam Singh Yadav, to form a government in Lucknow. The man who was in the BJP-led government even last year — and was thrown out unceremoniously by Rajnath Singh — is using his experience to collect the numbers Mulayam needs, working alongside the other member of the A team, Samajwadi leader Amar Singh.

Aggarwal has won from Hardoi on a Samajwadi ticket. He has “friends” in every party — the Congress, which he broke to form the Loktantrik Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh and even the BJP with whose members he rubbed shoulders when he was power minister in its government.

Says a BJP minister close to Aggarwal: “Naresh always worked more as a political operator rather than a politician. That is his strength.”

Aggarwal has already initiated talks with his “friends”, who will have a greater incentive to negotiate with him since Mulayam appears to be the only horse in the race with the BJP now opting out. The Samajwadi leader is expected to arrive here tomorrow and stake claim.

Senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, who is said to be eyeing the deputy chief minister’s post, sees no harm in reaching a “respectable understanding” with the Samajwadi Party.

Still simmering from his broken relationship with the BJP, former chief minister Kalyan Singh has said he will support any anti-BJP dispensation.

Of the 98 MLAs Mayavati’s BSP has this time, only 29 have been legislators with the party since 1996. Most are new and their commitment to the party untested.

Moreover, it has MLAs like Amarmani Tripathi who joined the party a short time ago after being thrown out of the Cabinet.

There are 14 Independents who would like to sail with the wind instead of wasting time in the Opposition or sitting idle in the event of President’s rule.

“Naresh and Amar can manage the rest,” a Samajwadi Party legislator said, adding, “anyway, who in their right senses would not like the perks of power?”

Amar and Aggarwal have Uttar Pradesh’s time-tested principle going for them: “Mantri banao, support pao.


Calcutta, Feb. 25: 
The CPM today embraced chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s plans to “aggressively chase” private capital, launch a disinvestment programme and introduce norms for contractual employment.

“When I began, I had doubts whether my party would support my initiatives. I am now happy to note that my party is firmly behind me, encouraging me to carry out the job it has entrusted my government with,” Bhattacharjee said amid cheering by delegates attending the CPM’s twentieth state conference which ended today.

But there was no rally to mark the conclusion of the four-day meet as had been the practice for the past two decades. Having joined the race to attract private capital, the party perhaps did not want to choke the city’s main roads and risk sending wrong signals to investors.

If this was one small victory for Bhattacharjee, the praise showered on him by mentor Jyoti Basu was another. But it was not Basu alone who applauded the chief minister as he announced that his government would chase private capital and encourage setting up of private industries without departing from its fundamental goal of protecting the welfare of the poor and the needy.

Bhattacharjee was replying to questions on “Left Front government and our tasks” — a document placed during the state conference by industry minister Nirupam Sen. The Left Front will discuss the proposed government initiatives in the next few days before they are ceremonially unveiled.

Though speaking the language of reforms, Bhattacharjee told party leaders that not a single employee of state-run PSUs would be thrown out of job if the government closed down the units. “It is really difficult for the state government to run some of the PSUs which have been constantly making losses. But we will not allow any of their employees to go without jobs,” he said.

He told delegates that the government had no alternative in the changed economic scenario but to woo private capital to make the state industry-friendly.

At the same time, Bhattacharjee also urged trade union leaders — who were among the delegates — to shun militancy and associate themselves with issues like productivity.

“You have to understand the bare fact that the private sector plays a vital role in this existing capitalistic set-up and we have no alternative,” the chief minister reportedly told the delegates.

The conference cleared Sen’s document. Only, Laxman Seth, party MP from Haldia, wanted to add an amendment. Seth urged the party leadership to incorporate the line “Left Front government is the highest expression of class struggle” into the document. But central committee member Benoy Konar objected. Subhas Chakraborty rose in support of Seth.

Today’s session also re-elected Anil Biswas as state secretary for another three years. Biswas drew a round of applause when he took on a section of the delegates which was picking on a South 24-Parganas lobby, accusing it of being in cahoots with the Party for Democratic Socialism. “If you think you can target someone just because he has opposed your views, then I must warn you that the party will not tolerate attempts to disrupt unity. You will have to learn to live with multiplicity of opinions in the party,” he said.

Basu touched on the election results in four states. “The BJP has lost the popular mandate. Vajpayee claimed that the election result should not be interpreted as shrinking of BJP’s popular support. There is no way that the election result can be interpreted otherwise.”

Two members of the outgoing state committee — Renupada Das and Amal Sen — were dropped from the state committee this time. Important among the 10 new members in the reconstituted committee are Ranjit Mitra and Amitava Nandy.


Washington, Feb. 25: 
Millions of Americans and Europeans who were glued to their TV sets a fortnight ago watching Olympic athletes march during the glittering opening ceremony in Salt Lake City gasped when India’s name was called out.

Athletes from tropical India at Winter Olympics? Their surprise turned to confusion when a lone youth marched in, proudly carrying India’s Tricolour: a striking contrast to 40 or 60 athletes from countries in Europe or even China and Japan.

Since then, India’s sole Winter Olympic athlete Shiva Keshavan has become a curiosity of sorts in Olympic village.

At the luge finals, 14,000 spectators cheered as Keshavan finished 33rd among 50 competitors, nowhere near a medal, but attracting most attention after the three medal winners.

The luge is a sport where athletes go hurtling down snow tracks at breathtaking speed on hi-tech sleds. It is extremely popular in the mountainous countries of Europe.

To watch luge competitions, fans have to trudge up icy terrain and wait for hours in the cold only to see lugers rush past in fractions of minutes.

How on earth did 20-year-old Keshavan become a luger, enabling India to send any athlete at all to Winter Olympics?

His story goes back to 1997, when the International Luge Federation (ILF) decided to see if it could promote the winter sport in tropical countries.

Keshavan was then studying at a boarding school in Himachal Pradesh and when the ILF’s letter landed at his school, the principal sent up Keshavan’s name.

Neither Keshavan nor the principal knew much of what luge was. But the school reasoned that after all Keshavan’s home was Manali, where there is snowfall. And off went Keshavan to a selection camp funded by the ILF along with 34 others to be trained by Austrian luger legend Gunter Lemmerer.

The training enabled Keshavan to take part in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan at the age of 16 and finish 28th, a score better than in Salt Lake City this winter.

India’s debut at the Winter Olympics was in 1964, but it has been unable to take part in every Olympics since then for want of qualified athletes in winter sports. Of the 10 Winter Olympics since 1964, India had to skip four altogether.

It has not been easy for Keshavan either to try and keep his national flag flying. He has no coach in India. To Salt Lake City, he brought his father Sudhakaran doubling as a coach. But the father is disarmingly candid and admits he came primarily to offer his son some emotional support. Sudhakaran told reporters: “I know more luging than any coach in India. Other than that, I know nothing.”

There is only one other luger in India, says Keshavan. But he is in the army and can only devote part of his time for the sport.

India’s pioneering luger Olympian gets more support from abroad than from his home country. His mother is Italian and the Italians have given him training and other facilities.

Keshavan is grateful to villagers in and around Manali who are proud of him. They have been generous with donations and other support to train him.

What the Keshavan family does for a living is running an Italian restaurant back home, where his Italian mother is the chef and Keshavan and his younger brother wait at tables.


New Delhi, Feb. 25: 
Parliamentarians are divided over a proposal to telecast zero hour proceedings live. Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi discussed the issue at an all-party meeting today but owing to a lack of consensus decided to hold another meeting to consider all aspects.

At present only the question hour is shown live on Doordarshan. The general purposes committee of Parliament had recommended that zero hour and special mentions be also telecast live.

But today, a section of MPs opposed the move, saying some leaders would take the opportunity to “play to the gallery”. The other view — shared by Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM — was that a live telecast would force MPs “to behave themselves” in the House. Congress leader Shivraj Patil said only business transacted as per rules could be shown and anything said or done without the chair’s permission could not be telecast.

The Speaker also sought cooperation of various parties and groups in conducting the House in an orderly manner to make use of the available time — 236 hours — during the budget session which began today.

Apart from Balayogi, Chatterjee and Patil, others who attended the meeting include Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, BJP chief whip V.K. Malhotra, Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu, Samajwadi Party member Ramji Lal Suman, IUML member E. Ahmed and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

The Speaker said a total of 41 sittings will be available, including 18 in the first phase. This will end on March 22 for a three-week recess for departmental standing committees to take up scrutiny of budget-related proposals.

Balayogi said the business advisory committee will meet on Thursday to decide the list of business for next week. The meeting will also decide rescheduling of discussion on the President’s address to both the Houses. This has become necessary as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is leaving for Australia on February 28 and returning on March 9.


Chennai, Feb. 25: 
It’s all about numbers — lucky numbers.

Having trampled over competition in Andipatti after a series of positive court verdicts, Jayalalithaa has decided to reinforce her luck with the right numbers.

Nine, for instance, is one of her lucky numbers. So, her swearing-in has been scheduled for March 2 — as 2.3.2002 adds up to a nice nine.

Six is her other lucky number. The hour of the swearing-in has been fixed with that in mind: 10.50, which adds up to a super six.

Jayalalithaa didn’t take a chance with the venue as well. In 1991, she was sworn in at the Madras University Hall. In that stint, she ruled for five years. She’s picked the same hall which is now being spruced up.

Last May, Jayalalithaa was sworn in in great haste at the lawns of the Raj Bhavan. This time, though, Amma can wait —she’s said as much, blaming procedural delays.

Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao, who has formally invited Jayalalithaa to form the ministry “at the earliest” after the O. Panneerselvam ministry resigned last evening, also requested the ADMK leader to send a list of persons to be appointed as ministers in her new Cabinet with their respective portfolios.

Jayalalithaa is learnt to have sent the list late last night. Some major changes in the outgoing Cabinet are likely, sources said.

She now aims to make “Tamil Nadu the number one state”, and ADMK a “national party”.

Even as some of the hoardings in the city hail the return of Amma as a feat by someone “born to win”, there are billboards that have sprung up in the city with a vintage picture of her late mother, Sandhya, affectionately greeting a young Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa is only the second woman candidate to have got elected from Andipatti in the last 40 years after social worker and Gandhian A. Krishnaveni of the Congress won the seat in 1962 defeating T. Muthian of the Forward Bloc.

Though Jayalalithaa this time polled more votes and had a bigger margin compared with her ADMK predecessor Thanga Tamizhselvan who had managed a 25,000-vote lead, it was still below the party’s expectations. This was largely due to a lower than expected polling at 64.70 per cent

The dominant Thevar community votes had polarised in favour of ADMK, leaving the DMK a major beneficiary of the Dalit votes in Andipatti. The performance of the other two main players, the MDMK and Puthiya Tamizhagam, was dismal.


Chandigarh, Feb. 25: 
The newly-elected Congress legislature party will meet here tomorrow to pick its leader amid hectic lobbying by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.

Bhattal, who was chief minister for four months till the last polls were held in February 1997, rushed to New Delhi yesterday for a closed-door meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She is believed to have staked claim to the chief ministership ahead of Punjab party chief Amrinder Singh.

“I cannot accept a junior post after being chief minister once,” Bhattal said today at a lunch hosted by Amrinder for party candidates. She also advocated a one-person-one-post system in the state, saying it would help strengthen the party.

That the relationship between Bhattal and Amrinder remained as strained as ever was evident from the fact that they kept to themselves despite reaching the lunch venue at the same time.

After Bhattal’s meeting with Sonia, Amrinder-backer Ambika Soni was sent to Dehradun as AICC observer for the legislature party meeting there and Motilal Vora, Ahmad Patel and Hari Prasad were sent to Punjab. Patel had announced during campaigning that Bhattal would be chief minister.

Soni might be present for tomorrow’s meeting but her role has not yet been defined.

Bhattal refused to elaborate on her talks with Sonia. “Raaz nu raaz hi rahn deo (Secrets should be kept secret),” she said.

The former chief minister enjoys the loyalty of at least eight party legislators and two Independents. The Congress, which won 62 of the 105 seats it contested, is facing problems with ally CPI which could win only one of the 10 seats it contested. Senior leaders are blaming Amrinder for the debacle.

MP Jagmeet Brar, who enjoys the loyalty of four legislators, does not see eye to eye with Amrinder and is reportedly in touch with Bhattal.

While Amrinder is likely to be elected chief minister tomorrow, Bhattal’s emergence as a separate power centre in the Assembly is likely to cause him problems, as pointed out by outgoing chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. If she splits the party, Badal could become chief minister again.

Bhattal was quick to say that the credit for the party’s victory should go to Sonia, not Amrinder. Sonia “made the difference”, she said, adding that credit should also go to the workers. About Amrinder, all she said was: “He happens to be the state party chief.”

Bhattal, whose presence at the lunch raised many an eyebrow, had skipped Amrinder’s invitation to his Moti Bagh Palace in Patiala on Saturday and dinner here yesterday. Instead, she rushed off to meet Sonia. Today, Bhattal made it a point not to eat, saying she had a bad throat.


Hyderabad, Feb. 25: 
The Telugu Desam today reminded the BJP of its diminished status in the coalition by expressing concern over the build-up in Ayodhya and declaring that “pujas and construction of temples” would not win elections.

The Desam parliamentary party expressed “serious concern” over BJP’s dilly-dallying over the Ram temple issue in the wake of VHP’s threat of direct action.

The VHP had laid the symbolic foundation to the “rightful abode of Ram” on February 17 and was firm on going ahead with the construction of the temple on the disputed site from March 15.

“The Telugu Desam believes that only the Supreme Court could resolve the issue and not the muscle power of the faiths,” chief minister Chandrababu Naidu told the parliamentary party as the budget session of Parliament opened. Naidu, however, backed the NDA government on labour reforms.

In a wry reference to former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh’s trip to Madanapalli to worship Hanuman, Naidu said: “Conduction of pujas and construction of temples will not win elections.” The Desam will take a “secular, no-nonsense step on the Ayodhya issue, he added.

The parliamentary party assured that the outcome of the recent polls will have no bearing on its relationship with the NDA government.




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