RSS keeps temple flame burning
Paramhans rubs in role to save govt
DMK smells revenge in raid rerun
Gujarat curfew footprint spreads
Warrant out for VC accused of molestation
Japan aid blow to Indian projects

Bangalore, March 16: 
Barely a day after the Vajpayee government heaved a sign of relief over Ayodhya, the BJP’s ideological gurus in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh made it clear that the last word has not been said on the temple controversy.

Any respite, the RSS cautioned, is temporary. The Hindus, its leaders said, would have to “avenge” not just Ayodhya but also Kashi and Mathura.

“After 74 years, the RSS has come to the centre of the national stage. And we want to say that the future and the destiny of this nation is linked to the Hindu samaj,” said the organisation’s spokesperson, M.G. Vaidya, at a public meeting on the second day of the Sangh’s annual general meeting here.

If Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was trying in the Lok Sabha to douse the fire ignited by the kar sevaks and Gujarat killings, his mentors in the RSS — the fountainhead of inspiration for not only the BJP but also the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — were trying their best to keep the flame burning.

It has been a time-tested strategy of the Sangh parivar to talk in different voices through a host of organisations it has at its command.

When the RSS’ turn came today to talk, it did so with abandon — warning both Muslims and Christians, not to “take advantage of tolerance”. “Why should we have an Article giving minority communities the right to establish separate educational institutions?” asked Vaidya.

Unlike the BJP, the Sangh did not try to walk a tightrope between the recent horrors in Gujarat and the Ayodhya turmoil.

The annual general body meeting of the RSS comes at a time when it is caught in the middle of a tussle between its two “children” — the BJP and the VHP.

Both belong to the Sangh parivar, but the compulsions of governance and contradictions of heading a alliance have forced the BJP to distance itself from some core issues like Ayodhya. But the VHP is still carrying on the “battle” with both overt and covert support from the RSS, which had to coax it to retract in the recent Ayodhya dispute.

“It will finally be our victory. All our Gods, whether Ram or Krishna, were victorious. We will understand the character of our enemy and devise a strategy,” Vaidya said.

RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan studiously avoided the media glare and left the podium to the organisation’s spokesperson. “All the acts of humiliation must be avenged. Now they are saying that we cannot perform puja at the site,” Vaidya said.

Unlike the VHP, which is adept at street politics, the RSS has a shadowy presence — whether in exercising a direct or an indirect influence over the BJP. If it has been forced to keep its intervention low, it is only because of the ‘cosmopolitan’ political character of the NDA partners. “Their compulsions are purely electoral,” said Vaidya.


Ayodhya, March 16: 
Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans today sought to turn what is being seen as a “defeat” by kar sevaks and VHP activists into a “moral victory”, saying he was prompted by the need to “save the dignity of the government”.

“I abided by the Supreme Court decision (by not performing shila daan near the acquired land). I saved the government’s lajja,” the chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, said.

“There could have been bloodshed, had I gone ahead with my plan of donating the shila near the acquired land. That is why I dispersed the kar sevaks who had come along with me,” Paramhans added.

The mahant, who has been leading the temple movement, continued his love-hate relationship with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by saying there was no need to further embarrass the government.

“We have already proved our point by doing a puja and donating the shilas to the government,” he said. “It has been a moral victory for us and we have to wait and see what will be the next move of the government.” The 93-year-old sadhu had only the day before blamed Vajpayee for “all the evils inflicted upon Ayodhya”.

Earlier, VHP president Ashok Singhal had blamed the bureaucracy for stopping kar sevaks from entering Ayodhya and turning the temple town into a virtual jail. However, almost immediately after Singhal’s reconciliatory gestures, Paramhans had lashed out at Vajpayee, calling him “a Hitler-like dictator”.

“How can the bureaucracy gather so much courage as to stop trains from coming to Ayodhya. It is all Atal’s doing,” he had said.

Paramhans and Singhal had come under fire from kar sevaks yesterday when their procession, along with the shilas, was stopped midway and they were forced to perform both the puja and the donation at the Digambar Akhada instead of the Ramkot temple.

Many of the kar sevaks assembled at the akhada, the seat of Paramhans, openly castigated the two leaders. It was only when Singhal announced that their demand to get back the acquired land was being looked into by the government that the mob quietened a bit.

However, all that seemed to be forgotten today when the sadhu announced that the government had not cracked down on the mandir movement.

“It has been our victory and the government has not gone against us,” Paramhans said. He also announced a mass protest in Ayodhya to remove the barricades.

But the town, which had been turned into a fortress over the past few weeks, heaved a sigh of relief. Though security is still tight in and around Ayodhya, people were allowed to move more freely today. Residents poured into the streets, which till yesterday wore a deserted look, to shop or just for a stroll.

Governor Vishnukant Shastri also signalled better tidings by announcing in Lucknow that a part of the barricades around the town would be removed and restrictions on the entry of men and material eased. Bus services will be restored tomorrow, he told reporters here. Shastri said he would send a written request to the Centre to resume train services, which were suspended to prevent kar sevaks from converging in large numbers.

A senior VHP leader, however, said the mandir movement would go on and that the “compromise” was made in view of the post-Godhra situation.

“We had a high level meeting with sadhus today and deliberated on our future course of action,” he said, adding that the Purna Ahuti Yagna would continue till June 2, the day by which the VHP has asked the government to hand over the acquired land. He added that “peace will be a priority” and they would not do anything to jeopardise the survival of the Vajpayee government.


Chennai, March 16: 
It is payback time again in Tamil Nadu.

Barely two weeks after ADMK leader Jayalalithaa returned as chief minister, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption launched search operations at the residence of several former DMK ministers.

Former transport minister K. Ponmudi was the first to face the brunt with two of his houses (in Chennai and Villupuram) raided in two days.

Other ministers of the earlier DMK regime to come under the scanner for allegedly possessing “assets disproportionate to income” included Andhiyur Selvaraj, Samayanallur Selvaraj, Suresh Rajan and N.K.K. Periyasamy.

Jayalalithaa had warned yesterday that legal action would be taken against Ponmudi for alleged irregularities committed in the State Bus Transport Corporation when he was transport minister. The Assembly witnessed two days of acrimonious exchanges on this issue. However, no one had expected that Jayalalithaa would act so soon.

At Nagercoil, bank lockers of former tourism minister Suresh Rajan were examined today. The vigilance directorate did not spare even former Madurai mayor Kulandaivelu.

The directorate has registered cases against all the ministers whose houses have been raided.

The crackdown came just two days after the chief minister ordered the winding up of two of the three courts set up by Karunanidhi to try corruption cases.

The decision to close down the courts came in the wake of the “extremely difficult financial position” that the state is in. The government also deemed it “unnecessary to continue with all the three courts with just seven of the 46 cases filed by the previous DMK regime against ADMK ministers pending”.


Ahmedabad, March 16: 
Curfew has been clamped in two more police station areas in the walled city and seven police station areas in Baroda following fresh violence.

Authorities also plan to “tighten security” for the chief minister and some other VIPs.

“Z-plus security” is being planned for chief minister Narendra Modi according to sources. Security has also been tightened for VHP leader Pravin Togadia.

Curfew remained in force in Petlad and Balasinor towns, while it was relaxed in Bharuch till 7 pm.

Four people have been killed since last night, while the authorities describe the situation as “peaceful”. No major incident was reported today from curfew-bound sensitive areas in Ahmedabad and Baroda.

In Ahmedabad, curfew was clamped in Madhavpur and Dariapur areas after one person was killed in police firing and another died after he was picked up for defying curfew in Dariapur. He died of “heart attack” in the hospital where he was admitted after he became nervous.

Army and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed in the curfew-bound areas and combing operations have started. An uneasy calm prevails in areas such as Shahibaug and Ashram Road, which are not under curfew but wore a deserted look, with very few vehicles on the road and people preferring to stay indoors in view of the tense situation prevailing in the city.

In Baroda, curfew was initially clamped in one police station area, but after incidents of firing and arson, another seven police station areas were also brought under curfew. One person was killed in the police firing and five others injured, taking the death toll to 33 since February 28.

An “accidental” explosion at Rajkot airport created panic in the city early this morning. The explosion, however, caused no damage to life or property.

Rajkot police commissioner Upendra Singh said no one was injured in the explosion.

Singh said it was not a “bomb blast” but an “accidental explosion” caused by marine cells, used by ships in the high seas as distress signal.

A Gandhidham-based company had sent marine cells to a Mumbai-based shipping company through a Rajkot-based courier company. The firm had brought the parcel of marine cells to the airport to transport it in a plane. One of the cells exploded at 5:15 am at the airport’s cargo terminal, Singh said.

Since marine cells are prohibited from being transported on planes, the commissioner said the police would register an offence against the courier agent, who is likely to be arrested under the Aviation Act.

Though the offence is serious, it is not clear whether the courier company had been regularly sending such consignments by air.

“We are investigating that aspect,” Singh said.


Patiala, March 16: 
Nearly a month after an arts student of Punjabi University at Patiala filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment and lewd gestures against the vice-chancellor, a Patiala court has finally issued arrest warrants against the accused who has gone into hiding.

The warrants were issued after police booked the vice-chancellor, Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, under sections 376 and 511 (unsuccessful attempt to rape) of the Indian Penal Code, besides the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Ahluwalia has also applied for anticipatory bail in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case regarding the March 5 murderous attack on Harvinder Singh Bhatti, a reader in the university’s sociology department.

Police sources said the Punjabi varsity fine arts student, Saru Rana, in her statement recorded before additional chief judicial magistrate Sanjeev Berry, had alleged that Ahluwalia, through fine arts department in-charge Saroj Rani, had tried to molest here and also made lewd gestures.

The student also alleged that the vice-chancellor had misbehaved with her at the reception party of his son’s marriage, where she had been asked to go by Rani. At the reception, another person, Jaspal, misbehaved with her and had also passed vulgar remarks, she alleged.

The magistrate has asked the police to arrest all the accused and produce them in court on March 27.

Ahluwalia, however, says he has been framed.

“I have made my complaint and want justice to be done,” Rana said over the phone.

When the complaint against Ahluwalia was filed, then Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had not shown any interest in the case. Chief minister Amrinder Singh did not make any move till two days ago, after the local media raised a hue and cry.

The chief minister said the matter rested with the Governor, “but I would like to ensure justice is done”.

Inquiries at the university campus revealed that Ahluwalia, who is reported to be in hiding, had been running the day-to-day affairs of the university through fax messages that did not bear the originating number.

The vice-chancellor’s orders were being carried out though a joint action committee of university teachers, students and employees had warned the employees against implementing the vice-chancellor’s orders.

A student doing her Ph. D. in Punjabi drama, Inderjit Kaur, also claimed that she had been asked to visit the vice-chancellor’s residence in order to “concentrate” on the topic of her research.

“I had applied for the post of fellow at the university last year, following the publication of an advertisement by the university. I had two years of research work behind me and have also been writing on theatre for a newspaper. I was confident of getting the job,” she said.

Kaur recounted that after doing well in the interview, she received a message from the vice-chancellor through the department that he was leaving for abroad and if she wanted the job, she should come to his house to “concentrate” on the topic.

The student said she did not wish to discuss anything with the vice-chancellor at his residence, and had asked him how he would feel if female members of his family were forced into a similar position.

Senior police officers here said efforts were on to arrest Ahluwalia. “The arrest could be made today or tomorrow. We are narrowing our search for him and it is a matter of time now,” an officer said.


New Delhi, March 16: 
India’s biggest aid donor, Japan, has decided to reduce its Official Development Assistance budget by 10 per cent.

Though Japanese officials are tightlipped about the extent to which that will affect India, a number of projects, earlier believed to being built with Japanese assistance, may get knocked off the proposed list.

Much of the financial assistance under the ODA was frozen in 1998 when Tokyo decided to impose sanctions on India for the Pokhran II nuclear tests. Over the next three years, Japanese financial assistance was given only for emergency and humanitarian aid and grant assistance for grassroots projects.

Japan’s ODA to India so far has been over $ 5,659 million, but the grant aid and yen loans for new projects were frozen for the past three years. Tokyo decided to lift economic sanctions on India in October 2001.

Chihiro Atsumi, deputy director general of the Japanese foreign ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs bureau, who is here heading a 13-member delegation, is engaged in discussions with Indian officials on the implementation of various ODA programmes in India. The discussions are part of the policy dialogue on Japan’s economic cooperation with India, which was decided by the two countries during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Tokyo in December 2001.

The dialogue is the first of its kind since Japan’s decision to discontinue the economic embargo it had imposed on India. “The dialogue is deemed very significant by the government of Japan for the important inputs it will provide as Japan formulates its future strategy for the economic assistance to India,” a Japanese embassy statement said.

Atsumi announced Japan would be reducing its ODA budget by 10 per cent from the next financial year. He refused to identify the countries that would be affected by this cut and whether Tokyo will reduce the assistance amount to India.

“We want the funds to be used more effectively and efficiently,” he said, adding that he was not trying to insinuate that India had not been using the funds efficiently. The signals, however, were clear that some of the proposed projects would now have to be knocked off because of a tighter ODA budget.

The Japanese diplomat said the priority area of economic cooperation would now be poverty reduction programmes, including rural and agricultural development, healthcare, environment protection and help to build an economic infrastructure.

One of the projects that will soon be taken up is purifying the Ganga Basin. A contact team has been constituted but the specific areas that would be covered under the programme are yet to be identified.


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