Delhi dressing-down for Modi
Patel to keep Gujarat balance
Poll plague knocks on Atal door
Two brands of Hindutva
Pay-up time for slave-drivers
Nepal general blames politicians
BJP, Mayavati come round
Masood shifted home with dole
Court for Afroz charge rethink
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 27: 
At the end of a meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi declared: “Everyone is satisfied.”

What he did not say was that he himself was leaving much less than satisfied. Vajpayee is believed to have shot down his proposal — backed by some senior Central leaders — to announce early polls in Gujarat to cash in on the perceived advantage the BJP would enjoy in a communally polarised state.

The Prime Minister told Modi not to paint a rosy picture of the state or unilaterally declare he was satisfied with the outcome of their discussions this morning. Modi was summoned yesterday after he failed to control the communal violence that is raging even a month since the Godhra carnage.

Sources said Vajpayee made it clear to Modi that instead of harping on the Godhra carnage and what followed thereafter, the chief minister should ensure better conditions in the relief camps and rehabilitation of those who have taken shelter there. The Prime Minister told Modi all those who are housed in refugee camps must be rehabilitated before he visits Ahmedabad between April 1 and 6.

Some BJP strategists feel this is the opportune time to go in for polls — scheduled next year — because in the surcharged post-Godhra atmosphere, bread-and-butter issues would weigh far less with voters than the “zeal” to send the party back to power after it had “taught the lesson of their lives to Muslims”, as a Gujarat MP put it.

Modi received a good-conduct certificate from the Sangh, too. RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said: “No government could have done what his government did. Modi did whatever he could and if there is any shortcoming it will come up in the enquiry commission’s report.”

That Vajpayee does not agree with this assessment was indicated by the priorities he set for the chief minister. Modi was directed to start rebuilding the houses that were burnt and damaged in the violence and restore the livelihood of those who lost it as part of a confidence-building exercise. By Modi’s own admission, as many as 97,000 people have taken refuge in 101 camps.

After his meeting with the Prime Minister, Modi said: “They (refugees) can go back only when things are normal.”

Vajpayee also conveyed to Modi that during his visit, he would only go to the camps and not have any other engagement.

Official sources said when Modi mentioned Godhra, the Prime Minister cut him short and said he did not wish to delve into what happened in the past but wanted to concentrate on what lay ahead. “How can the situation ever be normal when there are so many people staying in the camps?” he asked the chief minister.

When Modi expressed reservations about reconstructing the houses, saying it was impossible for the state government to undertake such a huge exercise, Vajpayee told him to find a way out, involve NGOs — as was done during the earthquake — and ensure the victims’ lives were secure once they returned to their homes.

Again when the chief minister voiced doubts about ensuring security, arguing it was easier to shift victims out of their villages into camps where there was safety in numbers, the Prime Minister reminded him of his responsibility to guarantee the safety of his people.

When Modi asked Vajpayee if he could tell the media that the Prime Minister was satisfied with his account, he was advised to steer clear of the issue and focus instead on the subjects that were discussed. “Of course, it would be unfair to say the Prime Minister was dissatisfied with the outcome,” sources said.


New Delhi, March 27: 
Unable to remove the Gujarat chief minister because of the strong support he enjoys from the RSS and the VHP, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is planning to induct Narendra Modi’s arch rival Keshubhai Patel into his Cabinet and create an alternative power centre in the state.

Patel, who was chief minister before Modi, was elected as a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat today.

Once close friends, the two fell out after Modi realised that as chief minister Patel was refusing to be dictated to. The rivalry between the two led to Modi being brought to Delhi and slotted in the party hierarchy. But he continued to needle Keshubhai and finally succeeded in dislodging him.

Modi was in Delhi today to brief the Prime Minister and home minister L.K. Advani about the situation in Gujarat. Vajpayee was reportedly furious with Modi for his failure to control the riots triggered by the Godhra killings, which together have damaged the image of the Central government.

But the Prime Minister is in no position to remove him, first because Vajpayee’s standing in the BJP and the Sangh parivar is not too strong now as he has been unable to deliver election victories and second, because Modi is being backed by the RSS and the VHP. Besides, Modi has been promising the party bosses that the polarisation of votes in Gujarat will benefit the BJP.

There is no unanimity on the issue, though, with many in the ruling party holding the view that the enterprising Gujarati business community is fed up with the dislocation caused by the continuing violence. Hindus and Muslims want to get back to their everyday routine and are unlikely to favour a government that has done little to ease the tension.


New Delhi, March 27: 
Election woes swept down on the BJP from the heartland to the capital where the Congress tonight was marching to victory in the Delhi civic polls.

Results of the Rajya Sabha elections rubbed more salt into the wound as widespread cross-voting brought out into the open the fissures within not only the BJP but also its partners.

BJP legislators broke ranks in Karnataka to ensure the victory of Independent candidate and liquor baron Vijay Mallya. Coalition partner Biju Janata Dal suffered the same fate in Orissa.

In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress had to swallow the humiliation of four of its legislators voting for the nominee of the Congress, which lost but managed to claim a “moral victory”.

The Delhi debacle is the second in quick succession for the ruling party at the Centre after it lost miserably in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections last month, setting off open celebrations in the Congress and not-so-open celebrations in a section of the BJP.

In the 134-member Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Congress has won 95 seats by late tonight when the results of 117 were out. The BJP, which now holds the civic body, bagged only 14 seats.

A section of the BJP and Sangh parivar could hardly hide its glee. They privately said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should “read the signal” from the results as a warning of the consequences of going back on the Hindutva agenda.

The state BJP unit has been sharply divided for some time. The Madan Lal Khurana group alleged that the poll outcome was a result of Delhi’s influential Punjabi community’s disenchantment with the BJP leadership.

In customary fashion, a buoyed Congress was quick to attribute the victory to the “mature leadership” of the high command, namely Sonia Gandhi. Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy made a dig at the Prime Minister, saying: “It is a vote against Vajpayee’s tired leadership. They (the BJP) sought to make Poto (anti-terror Ordinance) and Gujarat as its poll plank in the MCD polls, but it fell flat.”

Congress leaders said the result was a demonstration of middle-class outrage against the budget surcharge and price increases.

In the 1998 Assembly poll, the BJP had lost Delhi after an extraordinary burst in onion prices across northern India. Congress’ victory in the civic polls has come against the tide of so-called anti-incumbency since the Delhi government is also run by the party.

The victory brought Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and AICC general secretary Kamal Nath together. They generously complimented each other while Sonia chose to acknowledge both saying it was a “team effort”.

The Rajya Sabha elections saw the maiden entry of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the return of Congress leader Natwar Singh. Videocon chairman R.N. Dhoot made it to the House, while actor Shatrughan Sinha retained his seat.

Stunned by the poll revolt in Karnataka, the BJP expelled the six legislators who voted for Mallya.


New Delhi, March 27: 
On a day the RSS reaffirmed its call to the minority community to earn the “goodwill of the majority”, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to distance himself from the brand of Hindutva being preached by the Sangh and the VHP.

The RSS defended the resolution passed at its recent general council in Bangalore which said: “Let Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority.” Sangh spokesman M.G. Vaidya also laid down the course the minority community would have to follow to earn the “goodwill”. “Muslims should explain what is the true meaning of jihad and kafir. They should stop attacking pilgrims who go for idol worship to Sabarimala and Amarnath.”

He mentioned as “irritants” to a working relationship between the communities the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits, the “massacre” of Amarnath pilgrims, religious conversions and the words “jihad” and “kafir”.

Vaidya had a kind word for Vajpayee, whose intervention in the debate in Parliament he praised. Denying there was pressure from the Sangh on the government, he said: “We are happy with the Prime Minister’s reply.”

A day after his retaliatory outburst against Sonia Gandhi for insinuating that he was working under RSS pressure, Vajpayee tried to demonstrate that his intervention yesterday was no posturing. He said it would be better to “keep a distance” from the kind of Hidutva being practised by “some”, though he did not name them.

Speaking at the release of a book written by BJP veteran K.R. Malkani, the Prime Minister said when Swami Vivekananda spoke of Hindutva, no one accused him of being communal. “But now some people have defined Hindutva in such a manner that it is better to keep a distance from it,” he said.

Vajpayee said Hindutva should not be equated with religion as it was “a way of life” which kept evolving. “We should keep away from such Hindutva which is stagnant, which does not move ahead with time. Hindutva is not religion, it is a way of life,” he said.

Vaidya, who had earlier justified the code of conduct the Sangh had issued to the minorities, changed tack and claimed that the RSS was not “fundamentalist” by nature but only “intolerant towards the intolerant”.

“Those who call us fundamentalists do not know the meaning of the word. A fundamentalist does not give you any choice but to follow him.”

This stood in contrast to his previous statement that the only protection for the minority was to win the trust of the majority.

He had quoted Justice M.B. Neogy as saying in his report of 1956 on Christian missionaries: “The best safeguard any community can have is the goodwill of the majority community and the right attitude of the minority is one of trust and confidence in the fair sense of the majority.”


Washington, March 27: 
Black activists and class action attorneys who have extracted apologies in recent years for slavery are rallying behind a lawsuit filed in New York yesterday for reparations from three American companies for profiting from slave labour.

Aetna Inc., America’s foremost life and health insurance company, CSX, the railroad giant, and FleetBoston Financial, the multi-million dollar banking conglomerate, have been named in the lawsuit filed by a 36-year-old Black activist, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann.

She studied for a law degree with the determined objective of claiming legal compensation for slavery and researched data at 60 US companies on how they had assisted the institution of slavery.

The companies cooperated with Farmer-Paellmann for five years until they discovered to their horror that they were at the receiving end of reparation claims.

The lawsuit has been encouraged by the recent success of Jewish claims which have so far extracted at least $8 billion on behalf of holocaust victims under Nazi tyranny.

The current value of unpaid labour for slaves is estimated in this case at $1.4 trillion, about one-eighth of America’s gross domestic product.

Twelve more companies are to be named soon for claims, Roger Wareham, attorney for Farmer-Paellmann, said at a news conference yesterday.

“This is a case about wealth built on the back and from the sweat of African slaves,” he said. “We expect those companies that are targeted to stand up.”

FleetBoston, successor to Providence Bank, was founded by businessman John Brown, who owned ships which ferried slaves, according to the lawsuit. The bank lent money to Brown and collected customs duties from ships transporting slaves, thus profiting from his slave trade.

Aetna’s predecessor is cited for insuring slave-owners against the loss of their human possessions with the full knowledge of the horrors of slavery.

CSX is successor to railways whose lines were built from slave labour.

Both Aetna and CSX said slavery was a regrettable chapter in US history. But the companies argued that the events in question occurred so long ago that a courtroom was not the proper venue to decide on reparations. FleetBoston has so far been silent on the claim.

The lawsuit makes the point that descendants of slaves are still suffering economic and social impairment because of the condition of their ancestors. Farmer-Paellmann is asking for a jury trial, the appointment of an independent commission, compensation for descendants of slaves and abrogation of illicit profits.

In November 2000, a group of lawyers announced the formation of a “Reparations Assessment Group” to go into the question of slave labour compensation. However, they are yet to file any lawsuit.

These lawyers are all members of what is known as the “100 million dollar” club. Each of them has conducted cases which have secured payments for damages of at least $100 million.


Kathmandu, March 27: 
At a time when the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) is facing criticism from various quarters for its alleged excesses, the army chief today defended the soldiers and blamed the politicians for the years of misrule and the critical situation in the Himalayan Kingdom.

It was 12 years ago that a popular movement overthrew the autocratic Panchayati system of governance and the parliamentary democracy was restored in Nepal.

“Who has brought the country to such a pass? Is it 12 years of bad governance or the army?” asked Gen. Prajwalla Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who was speaking during a convocation ceremony of army officers at army staff college in Shivapuri, Kathmandu, today.

Not satisfied, the army chief accused the politicians for hankering after power at a time when the army was fighting pitched battles with the banned Maoists.

Gen. Rana also blamed the present crisis on the role played by political parties saying that recommendations given by the army on national security were consistently ignored.

Gen. Rana said only the Prime Minister and a few young ministers were supporting the army in its drive against the insurgents. Nepal is under a state of emergency and recently the defence ministry claimed that security forces have been able to inflict heavy casulaties on the rebel side.

Referring to the criticism that the army was not moving out of the safety of the district headquarters, Gen. Rana said the clashes between the army and the Maoists dispel such “baseless rumours”.

Gen. Rana’s comments are seen here as a direct rebuttal to comments made by former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala who alleged during a public programme last month that the army, rather than the government, was responsible for imposition of the state of emergency in the country.

Gen. Rana also warned that the fight against terrorism would be long and difficult and added there would be reverses and obstacles for the army.

But he said despite these setbacks, the army would never waver from its national commitments. Gen. Rana also said the army was seriously concerned about civilian casualties during military operations and were taking utmost precautions to avoid it.

In order to strengthen the security situation in the capital, the home ministry has requested all landlords to register the names of their tenants or people who have migrated into the valley and are taking shelter in their premises within the next seven days.

According to an appeal issued by the home ministry, all the concerned owners are supposed to fill up a form, available free of charge at the nearest police station, and hand them over to police authorities along with a photograph of the tenants.

The home ministry has also warned the house owners of legal action against those who do not comply with the request.


Lucknow, March 27: 
After their initial tantrums, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP are now ready to be partners in government to keep the Samajwadi Party out of power in Uttar Pradesh.

Signals from BJP leader and former Cabinet minister Lalji Tandon — who can be seen as the voice of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — indicated as much when he said today “no one is either willing or ready for another election”.

Tandon said his party would try to avoid such an unfortunate course of action, just to rid the state of President’s rule. “Efforts are on (to set the process of government formation rolling),” he asserted.

In the absence of any other alternative, the only way out is a BJP-BSP alliance. The Samajwadi Party does not have the numbers, nor has it been called by Governor Vishnukant Shastri to prove its majority on the floor of the Assembly.

Though neither the BJP nor the BSP has said they are holding talks, there have been enough signs over the past few days that the two are involved in hectic parleys.

The only hurdle in the way of a BJP-BSP marriage of convenience is the Thakur lobby. Led by former chief minister Rajnath Singh, the group is opposing the moves by Tandon and BJP leader Kalraj Mishra to keep Mulayam out. While Tandon and Kalraj are open to the idea of aligning with BSP leader Mayavati — both are her “rakhi brothers” — Rajnath, loath to relinquish the hot seat, is not.

Rajnath’s voice of dissent has found echoes within the BJP. Bharat Singh, BJP legislator from Basti, is leading the charge against Mayavati.

“It was after an understanding with the BSP that our seats came down from 179 to 88,” he said, adding that it would be disastrous to forge an understanding with the party again. “From past experience it should be very clear to the leadership that if we go with the BSP again, we will suffer tremendous losses.”

At the March 24 review meeting after the elections, a section of BJP legislators had protested against any understanding with the BSP. Most MLAs from eastern Uttar Pradesh were unanimous that it would be “suicidal” to partner Mayavati and made it clear that the BJP should sit in the Opposition for some time.

Another view that rationalises the Thakur group’s argument is that a pact with the BSP — with the chief minister’s post going to Mayavati — would send confusing signals to the BJP’s upper-caste voters. They also feel that with Mayavati in power, the BJP’s agenda would be “drowned” by the BSP’s and wash away whatever credibility the party has been left with after the dismal show in the polls.

“One can’t cut off one’s nose to spite the enemy,” a BJP leader said. “To sit with Mayavati just to keep Mulayam out would be digging our own graves.” The party, he added, has to get its priority right.

“Our primary need is to strengthen our weakening base, not to erode it further by sitting in the government with the BSP, which is sure to impose its agenda over the BJP’s,” another senior leader said. “We can tackle Mulayam later.”

It is this group that Vajpayee and Tandon have to prevail upon if Mayavati is to become chief minister with the BJP’s help.


Islamabad, March 27: 
Masood Azhar, leader of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad, has been shifted from the jail in Mianwali to his home at Bahawalpur in southern Punjab where he will be detained.

The review board of Lahore High Court which ordered Masood shifted also directed the government to pay Rs 10,000 per month to his family as sustenance allowance. A heavy police force has been posted outside his house.

Masood was detained a few months ago after Pervez Musharraf’s government banned Jaish. He had been set free from an Indian jail in December 1999 as part of a deal to release the passengers of Indian Airlines’ hijacked flight. One of his associates, Sheikh Omar, is in a Karachi jail facing the charge of kidnapping and murdering Daniel Pearl, the correspondent of Wall Street Journal.

But Pakistan today said three men suspected of killing Pearl were still on the run within the country despite last month’s arrest of suspected mastermind British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

Interior minister Moinuddin Haider also raised the possibility of Indian involvement in the kidnap and murder of the reporter in Karachi on January 23.

Pakistan police have released the sketch of a man suspected to be involved in the grenade attack on International Church here on March 17 in which five people were killed and over 40 wounded.

The police have placed an advertisement in a number of Pakistani newspapers, asking the people to provide relevant information that would help identify the suspects. A reward has also been promised. But so far, no clue has been found. The identity of the fifth victim of the grenade attack has not been established, but some believe it is that of the assailant.

Though Musharraf has begun a crackdown on some militant outfits in the country, his government condemned India’s anti-terror law that Parliament passed yesterday.

“The government of Pakistan has noted with deep concern the adoption of Poto (as the law is popularly known),” a foreign office spokesman said here in a statement.

He alleged that over the past few months this “Draconian law” had been ruthlessly used by the BJP-led government to intimidate Muslims in India as well as intensify its “savage repression” of the Kashmiri people.


Mumbai, March 27: 
A special court today asked the police to reconsider whether Mohammad Afroz, suspected al Qaida terrorist, should be charged under the Centre’s anti-terror law or the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

In a surprise move, the police had yesterday dropped charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act against Afroz.

Judge A.P. Bhangale said that keeping in view the seriousness of the offences, like a conspiracy to blow up foreign targets, a rethink on the applicability of the laws was necessary. The court asked the police to reconsider yesterday’s decision and file the chargesheet by April 9.

Bhangale added that he would consider the applicability of either the Central anti-terror law or the state law after the chargesheet was filed. The sedition case also involves Farooq, Afroz’s absconding brother, and Mubarak Musalman, Afroz’s uncle based abroad.

The episode rocked the Assembly today with the Shiv Sena and BJP members staging a walkout. Both legal experts and Opposition leaders expressed sharp reactions and saw it as Congress chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s attempt to abide by his party’s stand on the anti-terror law.

The special court witnessed drama when advocate Vijay Pradhan filed an affidavit on behalf of Afroz, but the undertrial told the court he had not engaged any lawyer. Pradhan later said he would not press for Afroz’s bail but would assist the court as “amicus curiae”.

The judge told Afroz that in view of the police stand to withdraw anti-terror law charges against him, he had a right to get bail. But the accused said he would seek bail after March 30 as he was taking a meditation course in jail.

In the Assembly, the Shiv Sena-BJP walked out, charging the Congress-led government with “political motivation” to drop charges under the Central law against Afroz. Opposition leader Narayan Rane wanted to know whether the government had consulted the advocate-general before withdrawing the charges against a terrorist allegedly involved in the conspiracy to blow up the House of Commons in London and Parliament.

BJP leader Gopinath Munde said if applying the Ordinance on Afroz was a “mistake” — as said by the police in court — action should be taken against police commissioner M.N. Singh.

Lawyer Satish Maneshinde, too, reacted strongly to the police flip-flop and said it seemed that the force had invoked the Ordinance against Afroz to curtail his freedom. “In the Democratic Front government, the Congress, not the Nationalist Congress Party, has probably taken a political decision,” he said.




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