Governor lobs UP into Centre court
Atal works on VHP moderates
To be or not to be in jail for three months
Business back with boycott
Cough syrup haul on border
Laloo writer jailed for rape
DMK lauds seer initiative
Atal, Sonia at Balayogi funeral
20 die in truck blast
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GOVERNOR LOBS UP INTO CENTRE COURT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
March 6: 
Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri tonight recommended the imposition of President’s rule in the state, saying no single party is in a position to form a stable government.

The Governor has also suggested that the newly-elected Assembly be kept in suspended animation, in a replay of the events of 1996 when the state fell under President’s rule for more than a year.

The recommendation was sent hours after a Samajwadi Party legislator was shot dead by a youth at the gates of the Raj Bhavan in front of hundreds of policemen and onlookers in the afternoon.

The murder took place in the middle of a demonstration to protest against the Governor’s “unfair delay” in inviting Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to form the government. Mulayam’s Samajwadi had emerged the single largest party with 145 seats but fell far short of the 202 needed to touch the majority mark in the Assembly.

Shastri told the Centre that with no big political party offering support to another group, he concluded that none of the parties or combinations could form a stable government.

The Governor’s proposal first reached the Prime Minister, who forwarded it to the home ministry. After perusal, it was sent back to the Prime Minister’s Office, which is expected to put it up for discussion in the Cabinet.

If the Cabinet, which is likely to meet tomorrow, endorses the recommendation, it will be forwarded to the President for a formal declaration.

The Governor sent the report after the Congress failed to meet him. The Congress was supposed to inform the Raj Bhavan of its position today but the party said it was too preoccupied with the carnage in Gujarat to comment about government formation in Uttar Pradesh.

State Congress president Sriprakash Jaiswal was in Aligarh, which witnessed sporadic clashes over the last few days.

A decisive blow was struck yesterday itself when Mayavati, who has a block of 98 legislators, called up the Governor to inform him that she would not support either the Samajwadi or any other group.

The BJP alliance had also told the Governor that taking into account the mandate of the people, it would sit in the Opposition. Mayavati and the BJP professed disinterest after their efforts to strike a deal fell through.

The focus then shifted overnight to the Congress, which had been asked by the Governor to make its stand clear by today.

Had the Congress pledged the support of its 25 legislators to Mulayam, it would not have been sufficient to hit the majority target but it would have brightened the Samajwadi’s prospects of drawing fence-sitters in other parties. But the Congress eventually limited its support to feeble overtures by its legislature party leader Pramod Tiwari.

Mulayam, who had staked claim but did not furnish a list of supporters, grew restive in the evening and charged the Governor and the Centre with acting against the “mandate” of the people by keeping him waiting.

Even before the Governor’s recommendation for President’s rule was disclosed, Mulayam said the people of the state would not take the “gagging” of their mandate lying down.

BJP state president Kalraj Mishra said his party favoured President’s rule.

   

 
 
ATAL WORKS ON VHP MODERATES 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 6: 
The Centre is working overtime to isolate VHP hardliners and coax the “moderates” into promising a written assurance of honouring the court verdict on the disputed Ayodhya site even as the outfit stuck to its official position of no written commitment.

BJP sources claimed that VHP working president Ashok Singhal had given in writing that the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas would abide by the court verdict even if it went in favour of the other camp.

But quoting an “assurance” from Nyas convener Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans yesterday to Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, VHP general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore reiterated: “We merely stated that status quo ante would be maintained on the disputed site pending the court’s verdict.”

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board tonight threatened to pull out of negotiations if the VHP “backs out” of the commitment to honour a court verdict.

BJP and RSS sources maintained that the Sankaracharya — who is mediating between the VHP and the Muslim Personal Law Board to hammer out a solution on the Centre’s behalf — accepted the brief only on condition that the former would agree to honour the judgment. And that Singhal had promised to do so, too.

The Kanchi seer had said the assurance was the “minimum” that Muslims would expect to “amicably” resolve the dispute and even consider handing over portions of the acquired land deemed “undisputed” by the VHP.

Government sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also felt no formula would work unless the VHP stopped acting tough. They said it was not only the Muslim law board, which wanted the assurance but the Opposition and NDA allies as well.

Vajpayee has asked the Sankaracharya to speak to the VHP leaders again. The seer, who was to leave for Chennai today, postponed his trip by a day. Vajpayee also asked NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes to brief the allies on the developments.

The government’s endeavour to sew up the loose ends reportedly threatened to come apart when the Sankaracharya spoke much more than he was mandated to at yesterday’s news briefing, which was telecast live.

“He was only authorised to read out an appeal issued jointly with the Muslims and mention a proposal that was in the offing without giving away the contours. But after spilling the beans, both the VHP and some Muslim leaders upped the ante,” sources said.

Apart from the strategy to “marginalise” the hardliners, the government’s perception is that the VHP deliberately upped the ante to extract its part of the bargain before committing things in black and white.

   

 
 
TO BE OR NOT TO BE IN JAIL FOR THREE MONTHS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, March 6: 
Writer-activist Arundhati Roy has left it until tomorrow to decide if prison will be her home for three months, but her utterances before entering Tihar jail today suggested she has already made the choice.

The Supreme Court today awarded a day’s token imprisonment to the Booker prize winner and environmental activist for contempt of court. It also fined her Rs 2,000.

“In case of default in the payment of fine, the respondent (Roy) shall undergo simple imprisonment for three months,” a division bench of Justices G.B. Pattanaik and R.P. Sethi said in a 75-page judgment.

Before walking up the steps of the Supreme Court to receive the judgment this morning, Arundhati penned a note to the “citizens” of India.

“I stand by what I said. And I am ready to suffer the consequences,” she said.

“The message is clear. Any citizen who dares to criticise the court does so at his or her own peril — the judgment only confirms what I said in my affidavit. It is a sad realisation,” the note read. It was not a note written by someone who was ready to kneel after refusing to sit.

If she does decide to pay the penalty and avoid imprisonment, it will be because of pressure from fellow activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), who want her to be free to promote the cause. The NBA is a protest movement against the Sardar Sarovar dam.

“She will decide tomorrow whether to pay the fine,” her counsel Prashant Bhushan said.

The judges took a lenient view of the fact that Arundhati is a woman — the generosity is unlikely to be accepted well by the author — while awarding the token punishment.

As soon as the judgment was pronounced, Delhi police took Arundhati to Tihar jail, made famous by Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Charles Sobhraj.

Outside, fellow activists courted arrest, the media zoomed in and NBA leader Medha Patkar said it was up to Arundhati to decide whether or not to pay the fine. “But there is no reason for her to,” added Medha.

Arundhati, Bhushan and Medha had shouted slogans denigrating the dignity of the judiciary when they staged a sit-in in front of the Supreme Court to protest against the verdict allowing construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

When the court issued notices, Patkar and Bhushan filed affidavits refuting the allegation and were let off. But Arundhati’s affidavit, written in her own hand, was found objectionable under the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act.

Arguing her own case, Arundhati even dared that “if the law is so”, she would jolly well go to jail.

In its judgment today, the Supreme Court said “as the respondent has not shown any repentance or regret or remorse, no lenient view should be taken in the matter”.

The judges said: “We have no doubt in our mind that the respondent has committed the criminal contempt of this court by scandalising its authority with mala fide intentions. The respondent is, therefore, held guilty for the contempt of court punishable under section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act”.

“Her contempt for the court is evident from the assertion (in her affidavit) ‘by entertaining a petition based on an FIR that even a local police station does not see fit to act upon, the Supreme Court is doing its own reputation and credibility considerable harm’,” the judges said.

“Court’s shoulders are broad enough to shrug off the comments. But in view of the utterances made by the contemnor in her show causes filed and not a word of remorse, it is difficult for us either to shrug off or to hold the accusations made as comments of outspoken ordinary man and permit the wrongheaded to err therein.”

For someone who wanted to be as free as an “autonomous, sovereign republic”, three months of confinement may be stifling — but as someone said —“She will come out and write another book.”

After The God of Small Things, she hasn’t written another novel.

   

 
 
BUSINESS BACK WITH BOYCOTT 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT AND REUTERS
 
Ahmedabad, March 6: 
After the blasts in 1992, the Bombay Stock Exchange had reopened in a hurry to send the blood pumping back into the nation’s financial system. Its Ahmedabad counterpart has taken much longer — back in action today a week after the Godhra carnage — and there are signs that not everyone wants business to be as usual.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has called for a boycott of Muslim business establishments. “This is what we want,” said Haresh Bhatt, vice-president of the VHP’s Gujarat unit, explaining that they were banking on the “spontaneous reaction” of the majority community to the Godhra killings to make the boycott a success and that there was no official call.

Naseruddin, who used to work in a tailor’s shop before the riots, does not expect to get back to work for another month. But for a different reason. Like many, he is afraid of violence and believes that whatever trust had existed between the two communities before the violence has disappeared. But even his means of livelihood is under attack.

A widely-used Reuters photograph of Naseruddin last Friday summed up the terror that had engulfed Gujarat — stranded on the balcony of a blazing building, cut off by an enraged mob, he put the palms of his hands together and pleaded for help he thought would never come.

Today, as the stock exchange reopened, as did big companies like Nirma, Arvind and Torrent and ATMs began to belch out cash again, 29-year-old Naseruddin, the father of two, spoke at his home at Rehmatnagar.

“I owe my life to the military, to the army which helped me. Had they not come I would have been killed,” he said, recalling how he was stuck in a two-storey building with a mob of nearly 50,000 setting fire to everything in sight.

His friend Rafik’s motorbike showroom downstairs was already on fire. According to one estimate, nearly 500 shops were set ablaze in Ahmedabad. Still that is less than the number of people killed, which today rose by another 24 in a series of attacks, including in Godhra, to over 560.

Many of them burnt beyond recognition, 212 unclaimed bodies were given a mass burial here. Under pressure, chief minister Narendra Modi announced a judicial probe into the violence.

Economic boycott calls have not succeeded in the past. “It will work now because it is the demand of the common people who were angered to see the charred bodies brought from Godhra,” Bhatt said.

   

 
 
COUGH SYRUP HAUL ON BORDER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Behrampore, March 6: 
In a joint raid, the BSF and police seized 950 boxes of Phensydril cough syrup, worth Rs 25 lakh, from Jalangi yesterday.

The cough syrup, widely used by drug addicts for “that extra kick”, was intended to be smuggled into Bangladesh.

“BSF jawans and our men jointly intercepted a mini truck laden with Phensydril…. We learnt that the owner of a transport company and a medicine dealer are involved in the racket,” said Rajesh Kumar, Murshidabad superintendent of police.

   

 
 
LALOO WRITER JAILED FOR RAPE 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY AND MUNTAZIR IMAM
 
Patna, March 6: 
A Patna court today sentenced Laloo Prasad Yadav’s biographer, Mritunjay alias Bablu Yadav, to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and an additional jail term of six months for raping the wife of a senior IAS officer.

Additional district and sessions judge H.K. Srivastava also convicted Bablu’s mother, Hemlata Yadav, a senior Rashtriya Janata Dal worker, for abetting the rape.

The judge said she was instrumental in victimising Champa Biswas but released her after taking into account the three years she spent as an undertrial.

The court had convicted the two on February 27 but the jail terms were announced today.

The verdict brought the curtains down on a high-profile case in which the names of a galaxy of Bihar’s political leaders figured.

The case rocked the state’s politics in the late nineties and dragged the ruling RJD into a vortex of allegations, ranging from confinement of women, using them as bait for politicians and terrorising them into silence. Laloo’s name also figured but the court dropped the charges against him because of lack of evidence.

Hours before the judgment was delivered, Bablu was heard shouting that if he had to go to jail it was because of a section of top RJD leaders who had framed him and that they should also be dumped in jail.

Champa, whose husband B.B. Biswas is now posted in Jharkhand, had accused Yadav and the others of raping her on various occasions from September 7, 1995 to November 1997.

Her statement was recorded on August 19, 1998, in Delhi, where she was shifted after she refused to make a statement in Bihar out of fear.

Thirty-five witnesses corroborated the charge and the DNA test ordered by the court also confirmed the rape. Bablu was arrested on August 26, 1998 while his mother surrendered before the court.

Four other accused, one man and three women, are absconding. The state government had earlier paid Champa Rs 7 lakh as compensation on the orders of Patna High Court.

Bablu’s conviction ended his efforts to climb the rungs of power through his politically influential mother, who had used her connections with Laloo to become chairperson of the state’s social welfare advisory board between 1990 and 1998.

The 32-year-old postgraduate in English from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University used to throw his weight around, exploiting the gullible by dropping Laloo’s name. That is how he met Champa, whom he impressed with his intellectual appeal.

Bablu fashioned himself as Laloo’s Lytton Strachey, after the famous British biographer. “I want to take Mr Yadav from Bihar and present him to the international readers,” he had once claimed while penning the chronology of the former chief minister’s rise from a poor farmer’s son to the pinnacle of power.

Written in flawed English, Rags to Regime was an uncritical tribute to Laloo at a time when the RJD chief was passing through a bad phase. After the book hit the stands, Bablu declared himself an expert on Laloo and even went about lecturing on the leader at various seminars.

He also got Laloo to release the book, which got favourable reviews in some newspapers.

   

 
 
DMK LAUDS SEER INITIATIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, March 6: 
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi today waxed eloquent over the efforts of the Sankaracharya of Kanchi to resolve the Ayodhya tangle but refused to elaborate on the Assembly Speaker’s appeal to him to attend the budget session starting Saturday.

“As a result of the Sankaracharya’s mediation, if any breakthrough in the talks between the leaders of the Muslim community and the VHP is arrived at, the DMK will wholeheartedly welcome it,” Karunanidhi said, lauding the pains Sri Jayendra Saraswathi has taken to rush to Delhi to help evolve a solution to the Ram temple issue. He stressed that the DMK wanted the mindless killing of innocent people over Ayodhya to end.

Expressing faith in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s assurances of finding an amicable solution, Karunanidhi said: “The Kanchi Sankaracharya has stepped in to mediate only as a result of the PM’s initiatives.” He was optimistic that the present difficulties would not rupture the DMK-BJP ties.

The former chief minister added: “I am personally happy that someone from Tamil Nadu is today in a position to help resolve such a complex tangle like Ayodhya.” He hoped that the seer’s efforts would bear fruit and reasoned that anybody would welcome an amicable settlement.

Karunanidhi devoted most part of a press conference at the party office to praise the Sankaracharya’s initiative and paid little attention to the Speaker’s appeal to attend the budget session, belying the threat of losing his Assembly membership.

The veteran leader has cited health reasons to stay away from the Assembly since May after the ADMK led by Jayalalithaa swept back to power. He has to seek leave for “absenting” himself from the House or sign the Assembly register before the mandatory period of 60 days of attendance lapses. Otherwise, under the House rules, any member could move a motion to declare his seat “vacant”.

Though Speaker K. Kalimuthu brought up the issue by extending an invitation to Karunanidhi saying the House could benefit from “his vast experience”, the DMK chief refused to take the cue. Instead, he wrote a long open letter to Kalimuthu, quoting the “expressions in bad taste” used against him by Jayalalithaa in a recent statement to underscore that he feared similar treatment in the Assembly. “Do I need to again hear these unsavoury expressions inside the House?” he asked.

While political circles in the state believe he would have to at least sign the attendance register in the Assembly lobby discreetly to escape disqualification, he refused to elaborate on his plans.

He also played down superstar Rajnikanth’s meeting with him this morning. “We only discussed a new film that Rajni will be commencing shortly,” he said.

   

 
 
ATAL, SONIA AT BALAYOGI FUNERAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, March 6: 
The body of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, was cremated this afternoon at Amalapuram, his native town, in east Godavari district.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi were among those who attended the funeral.

The funeral procession started from the college grounds, where the body had been kept since Monday amid tight security.

Traffic was brought to a halt on the national highway, about 20 km away from the cremation ground. All roads leading to Amalapuram via Ravulapalem and Kakinada were blocked for the three hours that Vajpayee and Sonia spent at the funeral. The Coast Guard, too, kept vigil on the 130 km coast between Kakinada and Machilipatnam.

Balayogi’s body was kept for three days to make appropriate security arrangements in view of terrorist threats to the country.

The Prime Minister avoided going to Hyderabad, a known centre for ISI activities, and instead chose to land at Visakhapatnam. He drove down to Amalapuram after a short helicopter ride to Rajahmundhry.

Harish, the late Speaker’s eldest son, lit the pyre while priests chanted vedic hymns.

Nearly seven lakh people had gathered at Amalapuram to pay their last respects to the leader. The pyre was lit to a 48-gun salute.

   

 
 
20 DIE IN TRUCK BLAST 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 6: 
Twenty persons were killed when a lorry laden with explosives blew up in a residential colony in Karimnagar district today.

The materials, meant for well digging and road laying, were being unloaded in the BC colony in Kodiimunja when the explosion took place. Over 60 houses were damaged and 25 people seriously injured.

The explosives comprised gelatine sticks, gunpowder and dynamites. The blast, which took place around 11.30 am when people were watching the funeral of former Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi on television, created a big crater in the middle of the road. There is speculation that a cigarette butt or a stove left burning caused the explosion.

Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu went to the blast spot by helicopter. This is the second fire in the last 24 hours, which has left nearly 1,500 homeless.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.8°C (-1)
Minimum: 20.1°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 81%,
Minimum:26%

Sunrise: 5.57 am

Sunset: 5.38 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 21°C
   
 

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