Mamata boycotts, others wrest Atal speech
VHP threatens nationwide satyagraha
Relieved residents spot ray of light
House clamour after govt puja plea
Spectator storm in court
Fiery facade, unlikely soft corner
Buddha bars temple rallies
Arundhati to Ayodhya
Sonia gives losers a second chance
Katiyar relic remark row

 
 
MAMATA BOYCOTTS, OTHERS WREST ATAL SPEECH 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bid to smooth the ruffled feathers of allies received a jolt tonight when the Trinamul Congress boycotted the NDA meeting he had convened.

Two other allies, the National Conference and the Lok Janashakti Party, which attended the session, slammed the government for its “partisan” stand.

The allies forced a reluctant Vajpayee to agree to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow to clear the government’s stand on the “puja” controversy. His strategists were against the idea this afternoon.

“We had a most free, frank and cordial discussion,” NDA convener George Fernandes claimed. But sources said National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, the junior foreign minister, and Lok Janashakti chief RamVilas Paswan took on the government. They said the Centre’s stand on the puja “attributed motives to the government” and that it was “taking sides” in favour of Hindus.

The Prime Minister is understood to have told them that “we thought status quo was required only with regard to the 40-foot-by-80-foot disputed area”.

MDMK chief Vaiko blasted the government for not consulting the allies. However, he told reporters later there was no threat to the BJP-led coalition government. Sources said the allies may not upset Vajpayee’s apple-cart, but all eyes were set on March 15.

Janata Dal (United) leader Devendra Prasad Yadav said the Telugu Desam Party, Trinamul and the National Conference would meet tomorrow morning to chalk out their future strategy. The allies held two rounds of meetings today. They later briefed Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu over phone.

An alarmed Vajpayee then convened a meeting of Yerran Naidu, Mamata Banerjee, Paswan and the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh with attorney general Soli Sorabjee. But they were not satisfied with the explanation though Vajpayee said “they looked satisfied”.

Later in the evening, the Prime Minister convened another meeting of the allies. But it ended on a jarring note as Mamata boycotted it.

Sources said the Trinamul chief was so agitated with Vajpayee for taking her for granted that she decided to stay away from the NDA meeting in protest. As if the “insult” was not enough, a party source said she was informed of the meeting just 10 minutes before, that too by a “PA” of a minister.

“We have taken very strong objection to the attorney general’s pleading in court on behalf of the government (on allowing puja),” Mamata had told reporters earlier. “This is not a BJP government but an NDA government. We feel we (allies) are being isolated.”

She said her party colleagues met Vajpayee three days ago but he did not tell them about the government stand. The Trinamul parliamentary party is meeting here tomorrow to take stock of the situation. Mamata, however, evaded questions on whether her party would withdraw support.

Desam’s Yerran Naidu, who termed the government’s stand in the court “objectionable”, said he was awaiting instructions from his boss in Hyderabad.

Chandrababu Naidu and Vajpayee had talked over phone before the attorney-general’s oral submission in the Supreme Court. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister had told Vajpayee that he should ensure that nobody took the law into his hands. The Prime Minister did not tell him anything about Sorabjee’s disposition.

Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed also convened a meeting of leaders of major political parties to solve the impasse. While the Opposition insisted on a statement from Vajpayee in the House, the government, represented by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, said only law minister Arun Jaitley would make the statement.

   

 
 
VHP THREATENS NATIONWIDE SATYAGRAHA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
Stopped by the court, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad today said it would decide on its next line of action when its apex decision-making body — the Marg Darshak Mandal — meets tomorrow in Ayodhya.

VHP leaders interpreted the Supreme Court ruling as a denial of the fundamental right to worship of Hindus and said if the kar sevaks are prevented from offering puja in the makeshift Ram temple they would launch a countrywide satyagraha.

General secretary Pravin Togadia voiced the mood in the outfit at a news conference he addressed with the other top leaders —- international president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, general secretary Acharya Giriraj Kishore and joint general secretary Onkar Bhave.

“While accepting the Supreme Court’s ruling we have to say that what the British and their courts could not do was done for the first time in Independent India. For the first time, Hindus were denied the fundamental right of worship,” he said.

“It is surprising that while the people of a certain community are not stopped from saying namaaz on the roads, Hindus are stopped from doing puja on (an) undisputed land in which puja goes on daily in as many as 14 temples.”

Togadia declared that his main agenda was to “arouse” the feelings of Hindus all over the world so that a Ram temple could be built on the very spot on the disputed site which houses Ram Lalla’s idol.

“We will take the issue to the people’s court and create a mandate in favour of the temple,” Kishore said. “Whichever political party supports our agenda gets our support in turn.”

In an oblique criticism of the court’s ruling, Togadia said: “It should be noted that the puja on the disputed site is carried out everyday with the court’s sanction. In these circumstances to deny Hindus the right of puja on the undisputed land is most unfortunate.”

He outlined a four-pronged strategy to counter attempts by secularists to “defame” the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas.

Implement the decision taken by the sants on what to do on March 15

Allow the Purna Ahuti Yagna to continue till June 2

If kar sevaks are denied entry into the temple, launch a countrywide satyagraha

Exercise the “fundamental birth right” to build the Ram temple.

The government got a pat on the back for pleading before the court that a puja should be allowed to take place on March 15. “The government tried its best but that did not happen,” Togadia said.

   

 
 
RELIEVED RESIDENTS SPOT RAY OF LIGHT 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, March 13: 
Whatever the VHP says about the Supreme Court verdict — interpreting at will and putting words in the mouth of the judiciary — residents of this temple town are breathing easy. They see a window of hope opening for them.

“Finally, we can now hope that the barricades will be removed and get back the customers who have long deserted us,” says Ved Prakash Gupta, who runs a puja samagri shop.

Without naming the VHP, he says the “custodians of Hinduism” have crippled Ayodhya and left it to fend for itself. “Things have been going from bad to worse since 1990,” Ved says softly. “But year after year we just live on hope.”

Hashim Ansari, too, is happy. The original plaintiff in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case of 1961, Ansari says: “The judiciary has saved India from another division.” But more than anything else, the state convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee feels the verdict has ensured that Muslim pride and dignity have remained unhurt.

“We constantly live in fear as the VHP performs one programme after another, kar sevaks converge here periodically. But we never lost faith in the (Supreme) Court,” Ansari’s cousin Aftab says.

Sad tales abound in Ayodhya. Some have lost their houses, some have lost their sons, yet others have been struggling since the last decade to make ends meet. Business has slumped and most temples now wear a forlorn look, shorn of pujaris and pilgrims.

The pandas have, perhaps, been hit the hardest by those promising to build a temple they do not really need.

“It is funny that the district magistrate and even the Governor have directed their men to feed monkeys who are hungry,” Pandit Narayan Shastri says. “They read about these monkeys in newspapers. But people, too, are going hungry. Perhaps, they missed that.”

After hearing of the court verdict, K.L. Maurya hurriedly posted himself outside the first barricade leading to Ayodhya. Stopping every journalist coming out of VHP working president Ashok Singhal’s news conference, Maurya hands them a cyclostyled piece of paper. “My land was taken over by the government in 1989 to build the Ram Katha Park,” Maurya says. “Till today, we haven’t received the compensation we were promised. My father died fighting this case. I hope everything will now be sorted out.”

There is hope everywhere — hope that triumphs over fear of communal violence, hope that wants to forget hunger and poverty.

“All this thing is not good for us. It has not been good for anybody,” Kirpal Singh, a fruit vendor, says. Kirpal fills barely a half of his basket these days. “Kya karen, dharam ki rajniti me na to raj bhala hain, na to niti,” he says, showing the heap of unsold oranges, some of which show signs of rotting.

Kirpal does not know about the court order, but someone has told him his business will pick up soon. He does not know whom to thank.

Ayodhya was virtually deserted after the court ruling with only a handful of people on the main street. About 6,000 police and paramilitary personnel have sealed the city off, ringing with roadblocks to bar anyone but residents or people with special permission.

   

 
 
HOUSE CLAMOUR AFTER GOVT PUJA PLEA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
If the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya judgment quietened them somewhat, the government’s plea for a “symbolic puja” had Opposition parties back on their feet, stalling Parliament and clamouring for an assurance from the Prime minister that he would issue a clarification.

Though foreign minister Jaswant Singh said in the Rajya Sabha the government was “committed” to abide by the verdict, the rival lawmakers demanded that the Centre explain why it had pleaded for a symbolic puja.

“We are thankful to the Supreme Court. But the Prime minister must answer us. Why did the government’s attorney general plead for puja? It is virtually a violation of the court order,” said CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee.

The Prime Minister and the home minister watched the row silently but refused to meet the Opposition’s demand.

But the volley of criticism, both from political adversaries and from within the ruling alliance, forced Atal Bihari Vajpayee to go into a huddle with the top brass in the BJP and the government.

Vajpayee met home minister L.K. Advani, law minister Arun Jaitley and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj. The government decided to field the law minister in the House to answer the Opposition’s queries.

Jaitley had earlier tried to speak in the midst of the Lok Sabha clamour but the Opposition had shouted him down.

“It is a vindication of what we were saying all along that the BJP in power wants to play a communal card,” said the Opposition. It was clear that political acrimony between the ruling party and its adversaries and also some of the crucial NDA allies had not receded with the Supreme Court judgment.

In the Lok Sabha, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav cried “foul”, pointing a finger at the Vajpayee government. “You have played a fraud on the nation,” he said.

Other Opposition parties joined in the criticism and demanded that the Prime Minister come clean on the government’s stand on Ayodhya.

In the Rajya Sabha, senior Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi asked the government for an explanation.

   

 
 
SPECTATOR STORM IN COURT 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
The hearing that transfixed the nation almost did not happen.

When it eventually did, passions rose so high that the bench had to remind a counsel that “this is no Parliament”.

A steady stream of supporters of both camps in the Ayodhya dispute had started flowing into the Supreme Court from early in the morning. By 10.30 am, Court No. 2, the usual starting point for the court, was virtually besieged by lawyers and visitors.

The deafening noise and the crush of the throng prevented the three judges — B.N. Kirpal, G.B. Pattanaik and V.N. Khare — from commencing the proceedings.

“Will you keep quiet or should we retire?” Justice Kirpal asked. The question fell on deaf ears, forcing the judges to rise with the words “we retire”. At this, attorney-general Soli Sorabjee suggested that the matter could be heard later after other issues were taken up.

Pandemonium continued for some more time as hundreds of lawyers and onlookers tried to storm the door to gain entry.

“Bolt the door from inside. Tell the registrar to stop the inflow,” Justice Kirpal ordered, raising his voice.

From the court master’s desk, placed along the side of the judges’ podium, calls were made to registrar, vigilance and administration, to control the crowd.

Inside the court, Justice Pattanaik ordered: “Lawyers not party to the case should keep quiet and perhaps go out of the court room.”

Several newspaper correspondents, who were not accredited to the apex court but could obtain passes, could not enter the court room at all.

It looked almost certain that the case would not be taken up when Justice Kirpal declared: “We are going away. We shall come back when some semblance of sanity prevails here.”

Justice Pattanaik observed: “If you do it to the Supreme Court, what would happen to a sub-judge’s court. It is shame for all of us. You are all lawyers.”

Then Justice Kirpal read the riot act. “Remove all of them... tell the security to send guards for this court room....close the door.”

By the time more security personnel reached the door of Court No. 2, it was bolted from inside. And the hearings began. Tempers did not cool even then. Several lawyers appearing for various clients tried to speak together.

The Babri Masjid Action Committee’s counsel and Rajya Sabha member, R.K. Anand, drew a rebuke from the court.

When Anand interrupted attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, the bench said: “This is no Parliament, Mr Anand, that you can interrupt anybody at any time. Allow the attorney to speak and you will get time when the court requires your assistance.”

   

 
 
FIERY FACADE, UNLIKELY SOFT CORNER 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Ayodhya, March 13: 
Three garlands of rosaries fall limply over the flaccid chest exposed between the unbuttoned Nehru jacket that hangs over the potbelly. But the eyes between the matted hair and flowing grey beard are still fiery.

This evening, sitting among disciples in the Nyas’ “workshop”, Ramchandra Das Paramhans, the godman of Ayodhya, would rather be Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s nemesis than the somewhat downbeat shadow of his roaring television self. He swears he will have his way yet.

He has a simple explanation for Vajpayee’s problems – and his own.

“The problem with Atal Bihari is that he is surrounded by women – from the south, east, north and west. Had I married, he would not have bothered me. Had he married, I would not be bothered,” says Paramhans.

In Ayodhya, his homeground for 70 years, Paramhans is well known. He is somewhat reticent about revealing his past, which, he claims, “has been the subject of so many, many books”.

Paramhans, 93, was born to parents who had lost several children at childbirth before him. The family lived in a village called Siringipur — now washed away by the changing course of the Ganga — in Bihar’s Chhapra district.

In his own words: “My father sought succour from a babaji (a sage) who blessed him but on the condition that the next born will be given over to the babaji. As it happened, it was my turn. But after I was born and the babaji came, my father told him ‘not in my life’. The babaji relented, but after my father died, the babaji came again. At that time, I was being looked after by an elder (presumably cousin) brother. My brother, too, refused. When the babaji insisted, my guardian said: ‘OK. But you will take care of his education and turn him into a scholar. You know I have a school certificate.’ ”

Paramhans says his father lived 140 years. His guru lived 187 years. “Every one in my family has lived long. A grandmother lived till she was 147 years.” What is the secret of his long life? “Nothing special. I live like a common sadhu. But I perform havan diligently every day, even when I am travelling.”

Paramhans was ‘ordained’ into the Shri Ramandiya Digambar Akhada in Ayodhya – of which he is now the mahant – 70 years ago.

What he does not say but is common knowledge in Ayodhya is the help he was given by a Muslim benefactor when little was known of him. The late Anwar Hussain donated money and, it is said, probably even some property for Paramhans.

Begumpura, the Muslim locality of Ayodhya with about 70 houses, where the Hussain family lives, is desolate today. Most of the families have fled, fearing that tension over the dispute could snowball into violence that will engulf them. But even in Begumpura, many Muslims have asked Hindu neighbours to tend to their cattle while they are away. One of the few still left behind says: “Paramhans is not so difficult. In fact, we can vouch that because of this early association in his life, he has a soft corner for Muslims.”

The veracity of that claim is being severely doubted since Paramhans claimed earlier this week that “Ram Lalla” came to him in his dreams and instructed him to go ahead with building the temple come what may. Since that day — or night — Paramhans has taken on the title given to him by peers in other akhadas many years ago — Prativadi Bhayankar (one who protests loudly, even angrily) — more seriously than ever.

“All I want to do is donate a stone for the Ram temple. If the government accepts it, fine. If not, can a government that has threatened to take on Pakistan in a war, put us unarmed sadhus in jail? I have been through so much in life – I have been an editor of a philosophical paper, I am now president of my akhada – see, I even keep a pen and notebook in my pocket because I have to keep accounts. Really, Atal Bihari is a bechara today,” he says.

   

 
 
BUDDHA BARS TEMPLE RALLIES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 13: 
A “relieved” state government today welcomed the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict even as it geared up to tackle any situation by banning all rallies and processions till further notice.

“We feel relieved at the judgment,” Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said. “Those of us who believe in democracy and want the democratic tradition to flourish, are very happy at this development.”

Bhattacharjee called district magistrates and police bosses to a meeting to review the law and order situation in the state and asked them not to drop their guard as the situation was still tense.

The chief minister asked the officials to prevent all kinds of processions — including peace rallies — either in favour of the temple movement or against it. Chief secretary S.N. Roy and home secretary A.K. Deb were told to keep all districts on high alert and to beef up security in sensitive areas.

   

 
 
ARUNDHATI TO AYODHYA 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
First came the Arundhati Roy verdict, then the ruling on Ayodhya. In both cases, one of the judges was Justice G.B. Pattanaik.

In time, Justice Pattanaik, like the other two judges on the bench which passed the verdict on Ayodhya today, will become the Chief Justice of India after Justice S.P. Bharucha’s term expires a little over a month from now.

But Justice Pattanaik is the second in line. Ahead of him is Justice B.N. Kirpal, the presiding judge on today’s bench. After him in the line is Justice V.N. Khare, the other judge on the bench.

However, for Justice Khare, it will only be a 15day wait after Justice Kirpal’s term ends. Justice Pattanaik will get only about two weeks in the top judicial seat.

Justice Pattanaik was also part of the fivemember bench which unseated Jayalalithaa as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He went with the unanimous judgment that a convicted person, until acquitted by higher courts on appeal, could not be sworn in as chief minister or Prime Minister or any minister.

If these are the cases Justice Pattanaik may most be remembered for, then Justice Kirpal will be known for his ruling on “green” issues.

Before his stint in the Supreme Court, he had been a Delhi High Court judge. Then, he had taken keen interest in matters relating to education. He had said that the mushrooming of schools in Delhi was like sprouting of “education shops” aimed at fleecing as much money from parents as possible.

Now, his hands are full of “green cases”. He was the one to ban nonCNG public transport from Delhi. He also made it mandatory for frontseat passengers to fasten their seat belts.

Along with Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice, Justice Kirpal passed important judgments in the Jain hawala case. He was also on the bench which decided several cases of godman Chandraswami. He was part of Justice Verma’s bench which had held time and again that “how so ever high you may be, the law is above you”.

Justice Khare is a quiet person in comparison. He speaks out only when he feels there is a need for him to speak and a point has to be emphasised. He is known for his pointed questions to various counsels.

All three of them are presiding judges of courts two, three and four, next to that of the Chief Justice who presides court one. This is the first time that presiding judges of three successive courts next to that of the Chief Justice have constituted a special bench.

   

 
 
SONIA GIVES LOSERS A SECOND CHANCE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
Defeated Lok Sabha candidates today figured prominently on the Congress list of nominations for the Rajya Sabha.

In the absence of a Congress Parliamentary Board, party chief Sonia Gandhi has given Upper House nominations to All India Congress Committee treasurer Motilal Vora, former diplomat K. Natwar Singh, fund raiser Murli Deora, former spokesmen Prithviraj Chavan, Subbirami Reddy, Suresh Pachauri and Prabha Thakur, who lost the 1999 general elections.

Sonia dropped former Union ministers Shankarrao Chavan, N.K.P. Salve and industrialist K.K. Birla. Sources close to Birla said he had not been keen on the seat because of health reasons.

The list also includes two leaders who have recently defected from the BJP. Abrar Ahmad and Yatin Oza have been given tickets from Rajasthan and Gujarat, respectively.

Maulana Obaid Ullah Azmi, a close associate of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, has been given a ticket from Madhya Pradesh despite opposition from chief minister Digvijay Singh. Azmi, an RJD MP from Jharkhand, joined the Congress on the eve of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Congress circles are intrigued over Azmi’s selection as the party performed badly in the state.

The second seat from Madhya Pradesh has gone to Suresh Pachauri, who will be running for his fourth term in the Upper House. Usually, MPs are not given more than three terms in the Rajya Sabha.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi did not appear pleased over the choice of detractor Motilal Vora and Ramadhar Kashyap. He was keen on accommodating Veena Rao.

From Assam, the Congress has decided to give another term to outgoing members Karnendu Bhattacharya and T. Sharma.

Economist Arjun Sengupta has been fielded from Bengal and Morris Kujur from Orissa. Since the Congress does not have the strength to see through its candidates in these two states, it is hoping that Sengupta and Kujur will wean away some Trinamul and BJD votes.

Former Bihar unit chief Sarfaraj Ahmad is the nominee from Jharkhand. AICC’s media secretary T. Subbirami Reddy and former MP Nandi Yelliah are standing from Andhra. Reddy and Nandi pipped former Union ministers P. Shiv Shanker and G. Venkataswamy.

PCC general secretary Alka Kshatriya and former MLA Yatin Oza, who recently resigned from the BJP, are the party nominees from Gujarat.

   

 
 
KATIYAR RELIC REMARK ROW 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, March 13: 
The reported “blasphemous remarks” of a senior BJP leader that the holy relic preserved in the Hazratbal shrine belonged to a Hindu seer today triggered unrest in Srinagar.

Angry youths took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans and pelted stones on police and security forces. They forced shops to down shutters and attacked passing vehicles. Police had to fire teargas shells and lead a baton charge to disperse the mob.

BJP MP Vinay Katiyar had threatened to go to court earlier this week to “challenge the belief of Muslims that the holy hair preserved in the Hazratbal shrine is from the beard of the Holy Prophet Mohammad”, a New Delhi-based newspaper reported.

Katiyar was said to have claimed that “the holy relic belongs to Nimnath Baba, a dharma guru of the Hindus”. The report was prominently displayed by all the Srinagar-based dailies this morning.

   
 

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