Search for Ram and power mix
Verma says what Advani did not
Lagaan lesson for Hollywood
Musharraf forced to hit where it hurts
Sonia to show off class of 14 at annual exam
DMK packs punch in Atal praise
Bourgeois bulge in people’s party
Satta surprise on CPM panel
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SEARCH FOR RAM AND POWER MIX 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 24: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is keen that the BJP national executive — to meet at Panaji from April 12-14 — should reinforce the message that his government would complete its full term and adhere to the NDA’s common minimum agenda which steers clear of Ayodhya.

After pledging to his allies that he would not pander to the Sangh parivar to try and get a reprieve for his coalition, BJP sources said Vajpayee has indicated to the party that the Panaji meeting should not get into the “claptrap” of Hindutva versus governmental compulsions.

But going by the BJP’s mood, it may not be easy for Vajpayee to push his wish-list through.

“The Prime Minister has just weathered a crisis which was mostly created by the VHP. The last thing he wants is that his party should resurrect Ayodhya and other issues which are red rags for our allies,” sources said.

However, by the sources’ own admission, because the VHP’s agenda was backed by a large section of the BJP, the political resolution is expected to be worded more tactfully and say that while the party is still committed to its original ideology, the coalition cannot be dictated by it.

Besides, neither the BJP nor Vajpayee will abdicate their “responsibility” of running the nation mid-term just because some quarters want to put the Ram temple on the political map.

“We are in a bind,” conceded a national executive member. “If we don’t mention the word ideology in the resolution, our cadre would get restive again.”

The other concession the BJP has apparently made towards the hardliners is not to take action against Vinay Katiyar and Mahant Adityanath who had a spat with the NDA partners in Parliament nor even isolate them, though Vajpayee was in favour of both.

The BJP’s predicament is all the more acute because the session will also take stock of the recent poll results. Given the drubbing it suffered, sources said questions would be raised if this happened because the party had jettisoned Hindutva. “In such circumstances, we cannot ignore ideology altogether,” they said.

The balancing between “ideology” and coalition compulsions was evident in an address Vajpayee made at a rally in Shimla today. Agencies quoted him as describing the Godhra incident as “most unfortunate” and the fallout as “regrettable”. He said while the Godhra culprits would be dealt with according to the law, a panel had been set up to inquire into the ensuing violence. He said the “senseless” killings, in both cases, had tarnished the country’s image.

   

 
 
VERMA SAYS WHAT ADVANI DID NOT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 24: 
The National Human Rights Commission today publicly rebuked the Gujarat government for its inability to prevent the Godhra carnage and the subsequent riots, delivering a blunt verdict that stood out in sharp contrast to the “clean chit” given by home minister L.K. Advani.

The commission chairman and retired judge, J.S. Verma, who toured Gujarat last week, called on police officers of the state not to seek permission to fulfil their duties under the law. “They must act,” he said and promised the officers “all help” on the issue.

Verma’s exhortation and assurance are significant in view of reports that senior Gujarat police officers had petitioned chief minister Narendra Modi to give them a free hand to act.

Verma said though the episodes were a matter of inquiry, if the administration was not able to anticipate and control events, “to say the least, it is inaction and inefficiency”.

“Things could have been better and all that happened could have been averted,” he said. “If unusual things happen, it must be because of a certain failure.”

Punching a hole in another claim of Modi, Verma said the situation on the ground does not support the contention that normality was restored within 72 hours. “Three weeks are enough to bring about normality. But I did not find it anywhere,” the former judge said.

Verma’s expression of concern coincided with reports of more violence in which three people died. A 30-year-old woman was stabbed to death in Ahmedabad.

Verma disclosed that no minister or high-ranking official had visited the relief camps to date. “The conditions I saw speak of the feeling of insecurity. I met several anxious victims who wanted some shoulder to cry upon as I was the first person at the high-level to visit them.”

The NHRC chairman has sought a comprehensive report from the state government and said he emphasised to Modi the immediate need for “generating and inspiring confidence” among the victims.

Departing from the ambiguous statements of some political leaders, Verma termed Godhra and the fallout as “equally gruesome”. “No distinction of victims must be made on the basis of religion. Perpetrators of the crimes were all criminals and offenders and must be classified according to the offences committed. None of them belongs to any religion,” he added.

Advani today called Modi and asked him to ensure that Muharram and Holi passed off peacefully in the state.

   

 
 
LAGAAN LESSON FOR HOLLYWOOD 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY AND SUMAN BHUCHAR
 
Los Angeles, March 24: 
As Ashutosh Gowarikar set off with Aamir Khan and their respective wives for the Kodak Theater amid the tightest Oscar security seen in Hollywood history, the director of Lagaan was in a philosophical mood.

All streets around the Kodak Theater, from where the Oscar ceremony was being broadcast live to a world audience, have been sealed off and officers of the LAPD were patrolling the area in scenes which resembled hundreds of American movies.

Gowarikar recalled the sequence in Lagaan where the clouds were passing over the village to the accompaniment of the song, Ghana Ghana.

“The question is whether it will rain or whether the sun will come out?” quipped Gowarikar.

A source in the Lagaan camp said: “We heard it is between Lagaan and No Man’s Land.” Most people are tipping the French entry, Amélie, though.

Lagaan has made such a good impression on members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Science and Arts that many people in Hollywood are now keen to do business with Bollywood.

At a glittering reception hosted at the Century Plaza Hotel in Beverly Hills last night for the Lagaan team by Lalit Mansingh, the Indian ambassador called for greater collaboration between Hollywood and Bollywood.

But there was an angry response from Deepak Nayar, the Los Angeles-based Indian producer of films such as Bhopal Express, who revealed that Oliver Stone wanted to shoot a $120-million movie on Alexander the Great. But India, said Nayar, was not equipped to offer the necessary facilities.

Mansingh told the guests, who included actress Goldie Hawn: “What we seek with Hollywood is a strategic partnership.”

The new positive mood in Hollywood towards Indian films was reflected at a seminar held at the Academy yesterday attended by all five directors nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category.

The seminar was moderated by Mark Johnson, chairman of the foreign films committee of the Academy, who told an audience, including dozens of Academy members who had voted, that Hollywood had much to learn from outsiders.

He pointed out that Lagaan had used 10,000 extras in one scene, impressive even by Hollywood standards. “This year has been a spectacular year for us. Last year we thought we had topped ourselves with films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Amores Perres. But this year the nominated five films surpassed last year’s,” said Johnson, who has produced Rain Man.

He commented: “The films we chose this year represent the best world cinema has to offer and can clearly humble those of us working in Hollywood. I offer up as I did last year that those of us working in Hollywood should get our passports renewed if we are looking to the future.”

In a separate interview with The Telegraph, Johnson revealed that he had personally sat through 35 of the 51 films submitted for Best Foreign Film this year. On Lagaan, he said: “I loved it. I have seen it twice. It reminds me of the best of American musicals. When it was over, the entire crowd (at the Academy) burst into applause. It’s so beautifully made.”

Aamir told The Telegraph of a comment made to him by an Academy member: “The five foreign films are better than the five in the Best Picture category.”

However, according to Nayar, the high expectations raised by Lagaan may not be met. Nayar said: “Mr Mansingh said about India and Hollywood getting together. I think it’s far-fetched simply because India does not have the infrastructure. They (Stone) are going to end up shooting in Morocco.”

Nayar said: “The Indians must understand that when film personalities of this stature (Stone) come, we must welcome them with open arms and allow them a little more flexibility as we do for our Indian counterparts. Imagine Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan — and doors would open.”

Doors have certainly opened for Aamir — he decided to wear a Tarun Tahiliani sherwani to the Oscars — and Ashutosh who intended to “party all night” at the Governor’s Ball.

   

 
 
MUSHARRAF FORCED TO HIT WHERE IT HURTS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, March 24: 
General Pervez Musharraf has taken a small step against cross-border terrorism, but it may turn out to be a giant leap for Kashmir.

In an unprecedented action on the eve of Pakistan Day, Mehmood-ul-Hasan, the deputy commissioner of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (PoK), announced that six Islamic militants belonging to Harkat-ul Mujahideen had been detained in PoK.

The detention is the first action by the military junta against militants within PoK, which has been a no-go region for those engaged in the anti-terrorist campaign within Pakistan even after Musharraf decided in September to join forces with the US against the Taliban and al Qaida.

When Musharraf agreed to implement US action in freezing the assets of terrorist organisations active in India and round up their leaders, he had held out an olive branch to them: Islamabad would look the other way as long as militants confined their activities within PoK and extended it to Jammu and Kashmir from there.

The weekend’s arrests under the law for maintenance of public order, which allows detention without trial for three months, means that Musharraf’s assurance to these groups is no longer sacrosanct.

It is a reflection of the twin pressures which Musharraf is under — from New Delhi and Washington — after the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the attack on a church in Islamabad.

Indications during the weekend are that Pakistan’s military strongman is beginning to wilt under a threat of US military action within Pakistan against terrorists, who have escaped from Afghanistan and are clearly regrouping and reorganising in Pakistan for action in Afghanistan and within India.

In the weeks following Pearl’s murder, India has been using a combination of intelligence information and reasoning to convince Americans that they are riding a tiger in their delicate equations with Pakistan.

In this effort, India has been working closely with Israel, which has a virtual veto on US policies because of the influence of the Jewish lobby in America.

An inkling of what is going on within the Bush administration on Pakistan was provided when an off-the-record briefing last week for Indian community organisations by Harry Thomas, director for South Asia in the National Security Council, was detailed in the media.

Thomas told community leaders that the Bush administration has been asking Musharraf to act on India’s list of 20 wanted terrorists.

“We have asked the Pakistanis to hand these terrorists over to India or even try them in their own country and convict them... That will lead to a reduction in tensions... We will work hard at it,” Thomas said.

But in a reflection of Washington’s thinking that all this needs to be done very subtly and secretively, Thomas is now severely under fire within the administration because news of the briefing appeared in the media.

Musharraf has agreed under intense US pressure to allow American hot pursuit of al Qaida fighters into its territory.

This was acknowledged in early stages of the war in Afghanistan by General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of the US Central Command, which covers Pakistan.

So far, it was only in the realm of the possible, but the Daniel Pearl murder and the church attack suddenly changed that.

Last week, Major General Frank Hagenbeck, US field commander in Afghanistan, and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, both hinted in public at US military action within Pakistan.

Musharraf is paranoid that any such action would be viewed by most Pakistanis as a brazen violation of their country’s sovereignty.

Already, surveys show that there is little sympathy within Pakistan for US military action in Afghanistan.

The weekend’s arrests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir may be a desperate act by an illegitimate ruler in Islamabad to ward off the inevitable, but New Delhi can be rest assured that its Pakistan policy is, indeed, paying dividends, albeit slowly.

   

 
 
SONIA TO SHOW OFF CLASS OF 14 AT ANNUAL EXAM 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 24: 
Sonia Gandhi plans to showcase “good governance” in 14 Congress-ruled states as the party’s USP.

Sensing that general elections could be held much before their scheduled time, the Congress chief plans to act as headmistress to her class of 14 and conduct a performance appraisal test for the chief ministers.

Sources said chief ministers of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Assam, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Kerala, Uttaranchal, Pondicherry and Madhya Pradesh would be quizzed on governance, policy, planning and manifesto implementation. They would be grilled by panels comprising senior members like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh, who are known for their administrative skill and political acumen.

Sonia feels the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime may not last much longer. At a dinner last night for party MPs, Sonia said though she was in no “hurry” for snap polls, the MPs should be geared up to face “any eventuality” as the BJP-led coalition appeared disjointed.

Sonia is also revamping the organisation and reallocating work among party functionaries. Sources said she intends to drop at least seven secretaries whose performance is below par. The idea is to tone up the AICC secretariat.

Another likely measure is replacing Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Sriprakash Jaiswal who has failed to revive the party in the crucial heartland. Uttar Pradesh sends 81 members to the Lok Sabha.

Sonia told party MLAs from the state that in her assessment, general elections would be held much sooner than expected. She asked the MLAs to stay in touch with their constituencies. “We may need your help much before,” she told them.

Sources said Sonia would give directives on contentious issues like the implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Congress-ruled states. Party chief ministers are, however, divided on implementing the Tada clone.

The chief ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka feel there would be nothing wrong in invoking the Ordinance once it is passed by the joint session of Parliament. But Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh has a different view. According to him, Congress-ruled states should avoid using the Ordinance as it infringes on civil liberty.

Sonia has also told Congress MPs and functionaries that the events in Ayodhya and Gujarat should not distract them as the “silent majority” would not side with emotive issues and any communal agenda. She said the agenda of development and growth, closely identified with the Congress, would fetch them votes.

   

 
 
DMK PACKS PUNCH IN ATAL PRAISE 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, March 24: 
The DMK today mentioned a “dichotomy” in its ties with the BJP at the Centre and the state but showered praise on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for weathering the Ayodhya crisis and steering the nation to peace.

The party general council, which met today, urged the Centre to ensure that the NDA’s common agenda, which promises full protection to minorities as enshrined in the Constitution, continues to be implemented, signalling that Vajpayee should not allow the Sangh parivar to control the destiny of the ruling coalition.

Mentioning the surge of violence sparked by the Ayodhya standoff and the RSS resolution warning minorities, the DMK expressed its apprehension about the flare-ups engulfing India in the main political resolution.

Delivering his valedictory speech, Karunanidhi made it clear that the political flexibility of the DMK as a member of the NDA was limited to the Agenda for National Governance adopted in 1998. “We are not prepared to surrender our basic principles (of the Dravidian movement) at any cost,” he added.

The party chief pointed out that when the DMK gave up the demand for the “separate Dravida Nadu” in the early 1960s, C.N. Annadurai had said “there is nothing wrong if we bend a little for the survival of the DMK and for the country’s good”. Karunanidhi justified his party’s ties with the saffron BJP drawing on that logic, but said it did not imply “we throw to the winds our basic principles defining the DMK”.

To emphasise his stand, Karunanidhi pointed out that commerce minister Murasoli Maran’s suggestion to “put a full stop to the internal bickerings and reiterate the NDA’s commitment to the common agenda of governance” clinched the issue at the recent meeting of the allies with the Prime Minister on Hindutva.

Asserting that the DMK would never flinch from expressing its differences on the issue, the DMK said Vajpayee’s deft handling of the Ayodhya crisis and his assurance that there will be “no deviation from the NDA agenda” saved the situation.

At the same time, the DMK chief did not hide his displeasure with the BJP’s state unit, which he accused of “going overboard to praise the Jayalalithaa regime, particularly inside the Assembly”.

Taking off on a BJP leader’s slotting of his party’s ties with the DMK as a “relationship” and its attitude towards the ADMK as “friendship”, Karunanidhi said: “Our’s is a relationship with the BJP at the Centre and a friendship with the Tamil Nadu BJP.” He pointed out that the “stance of the central BJP leadership vis-a-vis the DMK is different from that of the BJP’s state unit”.

“This is no curse I am spelling, but you may come to grief later for being overfriendly with the ADMK,” he said. Karunanidhi later criticised the state BJP leaders’ posturing as “the sole protectors of Hinduism”.

In Delhi, BJP parliamentary party spokesperson V.K. Malhotra played down the DMK’s decision to distance itself from the state unit. He said both in Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir the BJP is “locally” fighting Central allies National Conference and Indian National Lok Dal.

   

 
 
BOURGEOIS BULGE IN PEOPLE’S PARTY 
 
 
TAMAL SENGUPTA AND G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 24: 
It is the middle-class which dominates the central leadership of the CPM.

The party today released a report which revealed that of the 679 delegates at the 17th congress here, 253 belonged to the middle-class. There were 142 middle-class peasants at the party congress.

The working class and poor peasants were represented by 103 and 80 delegates, respectively.

According to the report released on the concluding day of the party congress, 26 delegates represented the landlord class, while only two belonged to the bourgeois class and 11 the petty bourgeois.

There were 25 delegates who represented the rich peasants in the country. Only 35 delegates were agricultural labourers.

Of the 679 delegates, 49 earned more than Rs 10,000 a month. The monthly income of 137 delegates varied between Rs 5,001 and Rs 10,000.

Only 10 earned less than Rs 500 a month. The report added that 188 delegates earned less than Rs 2,000 per month.

That the CPM is gradually withdrawing itself from movements and class struggles is evident from the fact that 384 delegates have never gone underground.

Forty-eight went underground for less than two months while 63 delegates were underground for two to six months only.

The report pointed out that only three delegates went underground for more than 10 years. P.K. Chandranandan, a delegate from Kerala, spent the longest time underground — 12 years and eight months.

Tejeswar Rao of Andhra Pradesh spent three years, nine months and 26 days, which is the longest period of imprisonment among all the delegates.

   

 
 
SATTA SURPRISE ON CPM PANEL 
 
 
FROM TAMAL SENGUPTA AND G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, March 24: 
The CPM today re-elected Harkishen Singh Surjeet as the party general secretary for the fourth consecutive term. The party’s new politburo and central committee were also elected on the sixth and final day of the 17th party congress.

There were no major changes in the CPM’s central leadership apart from Koratala Satyanarayana of Andhra Pradesh finding a berth in the politburo. The leadership also elected 14 new members to its central committee taking its total membership to 77.

The maximum number of the new central committee members were from Bengal. Former state transport minister Shyamal Chakraborty, health minister Suryakanta Mishra and Shyamoli Gupta were inducted in the central committee from Bengal. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have two members each.

Six women were also inducted in the new central committee. They are Subhashini Ali, Mallu Swarajyam, Pappa Umanath, Josephine, Shyamoli Gupta and Brinda Karat.

However, Shyamoli Gupta’s entry into the central committee has stunned many in the CPM leadership. The state party unit had to suspend Gupta following her alleged association with satta don Rashid Khan, who was arrested under Tada and is now languishing in jail. More than 50 people were killed in an explosion at Rashid Khan’s Bowbazar residence about a decade ago.

But it is learnt that Gupta was inducted following the leadership’s decision to increase the number of women leaders in the party.

Supporters of Jyoti Basu were upset with Shyamal Chakraborty’s inclusion in the central committee as they had expected the selection of transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.

It is learnt that Basu had tried to convince the party leadership to include Subhas Chakraborty in the party’s central committee.

But the transport minister is not even a member of the party’s Bengal state secretariat and it is not certain that he will be inducted in it this time.

The 17 politburo members are Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, E. Balanandan, E.K. Nayanar, V.S. Achuthanandan, Prakash Karat, S. Ramchandran Pillai, Sitaram Yechuri, P. Ramchandran, R. Umanath, M.K. Pandhe, Biman Bose, Anil Biswas, Manik Sarkar, Pinarayi Vijayan and Koratala Satyanarayan.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 33.9°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.4°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 93%
Min: 58%

Sunrise: 5.40 am

Sunset: 5.45 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky with possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening.
   
 

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