Sangh rallies behind Modi
Ayodhya shadow on board succession
Am I required or not, Pervez asks Pakistan
Red faces over brown-eyed boy
Gowarikar slams critics of Oscar dream
Atal tough-talk salve for victims
Blast rocks train to Sealdah
Cloud on RS-bound Laloo
CPM finds friend in small ally
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 5: 
A day after the Prime Minister asked Narendra Modi to follow raj dharma, the RSS sprang to his defence, dismissing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advice as “sentimental outpouring” and warning him against sacking the Gujarat chief minister.

“It is very dangerous to kick Modi out because think of what will happen if he is kicked out. He becomes an enemy of the BJP, and, in effect, the Sangh and the VHP also become enemies of the BJP. The party will lose two of its most important constituents,” a senior RSS member said.

Violence erupted at Sabarmati and Vatva in Ahmedabad late tonight, forcing police to gun down two people. Another person was stabbed to death.

The Sangh is slated to give its first official certificate of commendation to Modi in the next issue of its mouthpiece, Organiser. Editor Seshadri Chari, who is writing the piece, said he would quote Vajpayee’s raj dharma phrase (which he described as “fair enough ”); reproduce excerpts from a Gujarat government report on Godhra and the ensuing violence; and conclude that “a new beginning has to be made in Gujarat and for this everybody should rise above party and ideology”.

Claiming there was more pressure on the BJP leadership to sack not Modi but his predecessor Keshubhai Patel, RSS sources said the chief minister’s greatest asset was “his ability to create and lead an effective team”. “The moment the Delhi brass try to tamper with him, be sure this team will come to his rescue.”

Pointing out that Vajpayee had taken “utmost care” to keep Modi in good humour during his Ahmedabad visit, the sources stressed that sacking him will not be easy.

“The Prime Minister made it a point to first visit Godhra and the train, and the camps came much later. That set the tone and tenor of his visit. Whatever he said later about events being shameful and the entire country being with the victims were sentimental outpourings because he’s an emotional person.”

The BJP, too, persisted with its defence of Modi, interpreting Vajpayee’s advice as a “general remark”. “We do not see it as a disapproval of Modi,” spokesman Sunil Shastri said.

But rumblings have begun in the BJP about how Modi can turn into a “liability” if the Gujarat violence continues. Many see Vajpayee’s comments yesterday as a stern message to Modi to “pull up his socks”.

A national executive member said: “Apart from the VHP and the RSS’ backing, everything else has gone against Modi. But, so far, the heat is only on him. The moment it reaches Vajpayee, he will have to act.”

On when Vajpayee would “act”, the explanation was: “In similar situations, Congress governments have also taken their own time to act. As in Orissa, where Giridhar Gamang came under enormous pressure to quit (after the supercyclone) but the high command sacked him after the heat and dust had settled.”


New Delhi, April 5: 
The death of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board chief Qazi Mujaid-ul-Islam yesterday has triggered a succession war between Ayodhya hardliners and moderates.

The non-BJP parties — the Samajwadi, the Congress, the BSP and breakaway groups of the Janata parivar — are not only keenly watching the power struggle, but are abetting it.

Qazi was a moderate and his last wish was to see an amicable settlement to the vexed mandir-masjid issue. He had approved the board’s move to hold a dialogue with the Sankaracharya of Kanchi on Ayodhya. The decision invited criticism from hawks and non-BJP parties, who also resented the presence of PMO official Sudheendra Kulkarni at his residence and hospital.

According to the board mandate, one of the three vice-presidents — Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Saleem Siddiqui and Maulana Siraj-ul-Hasan — will take charge till the 70-member executive decides on the new chief. Sadiq, a Shia leader, is most likely to be interim chief.

The board is representative of almost all sects in India and its head is usually chosen by consensus. But with the race taking on a political colour this time, an election is not ruled out.

Several names are doing the rounds. The favourite is Maulana Rabey Nadvi, a suave scholar from the Nadwa school of theology in Lucknow and a moderate. Rabey is apolitical and is seen in the mould of his mentor, the late Maulana Ali Mian. When Ali Mian died a few years ago, several organisations had favoured Rabey taking over from him as board chief. But because of a lack of consensus on him, the mantle fell on Qazi. The Nadwa school agreed that Rabey should gain more experience.

There is a view now that Rabey’s apolitical profile might come in the way of his appointment as the board is full of leaders with political affiliations. The political group is pushing Maulana Syed Nizamuddin, the board’s secretary. Nizamuddin, also a moderate, was among those who had called on the Sankaracharya.

The other contenders are the amir of Jamiat-e-Islami, Maulana Siraj-ul-Hasan, Maulana Saleem Siddiqui and Maulana Abdul Karim Parekh, all hardliners. The Jamiat is a radical outfit but has, of late, softened its stand on Ayodhya, agreeing to consider an out-of-court settlement. This option is popular with most community leaders.

Religious leaders of both communities met in Ayodhya today as part of efforts to resolve the dispute. The meeting was presided over by the main trustee of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas.


Islamabad, April 5: 
Sporting four rows of medal ribbons, Pervez Musharraf reappeared in drawing rooms across Pakistan on prime time to ask a politician’s question with a general’s bluntness.

“I want you, the people of Pakistan, to tell me whether I am required or not,” he said, pointing at the camera as he unfolded on television the plan for a referendum in the first week of May.

Musharraf vowed to stick to the October timetable for parliamentary elections, but made it clear that “checks and balances” would be in place in his own brand of democracy. “There should be checks and balances on the authority of everyone,” he said. “That is how democracy in Pakistan will function.”

He proposed the formation of a national security council, which, observers said, could give the army a role in Pakistani politics.

Musharraf made “continuity of his reforms” the cornerstone of his campaign and made it clear that he expects the future elected government to stick to his agenda.

“He (the new Prime Minister) dare not reverse the reforms. This I will ensure,” Musharraf said, promising to make the Prime Minister the chief executive with “all the powers”.

In the address that stretched for nearly 100 minutes, the President did not spell out how long he wanted to stay in office, but he is widely expected to seek the usual five-year presidential term in the referendum.

He also tackled potential challengers by ruling out any political role for former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. “They have looted the country and they have no role in Pakistan politics,” Musharraf said.

Keen to avert a repeat of the low turnout for the first — and till now only — referendum held by Zia-ul Haq in 1984, the President lowered the eligible age for voting to 18.

He asked those “sitting on the fence” to clear their minds and take any of the two positions — either support or oppose him.

Cataloguing his efforts to address Pakistan’s many ills — corruption, extremism and poverty — Musharraf littered his Urdu speech with words and phrases in English, most frequently “continuity”, “economic revival” and “national interest”.

“I am interested to find out what role I will have in the future political set-up of the country, and what environment the National Assembly will have after the elections in October”, he said.

Analysts expect Musharraf to win the vote by mobilising the machinery of state, despite opposition from the main political parties that were sidelined after his bloodless coup in October 1999.

The referendum might satisfy the West — Musharraf is valued as a key partner in the US-led war on terrorism and American support is all but guaranteed — but it is unlikely to give his regime much more than a thin veneer of legitimacy at home.

An official said Musharraf would launch his campaign from Lahore on April 9 by addressing a public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan, a monument built to mark the independence of the country.


Washington, April 5: 
He was projected as the beacon of the Indian community’s future in New Jersey. But the image that came through was far less complimentary.

Thousands of Indians across America have been trying this week to log on to, the website of Roger (Rajesh) Chugh, who claimed to be the “First Assistant Secretary of State of New Jersey”.

And not only Indians. The website evoked titillating fantasies of Full Monty, the popular film about male strippers, what with Chugh describing himself on the site as follows: “I am Roger Chugh, born in New Delhi, the capital city of India. I am 5’10” tall, with an ideal weight of 150 (pounds) which I maintained for several years. Today I am a little overweight at 165 (pounds). From my appearance — with my light complexion, brown eyes and dark hair — it is often thought that I am of Italian decent (sic!). I love life, enjoy Broadway shows, candle-lit dinners, listening to music and going to basketball games...”

The website has been hastily pulled down and Chugh, 47, one of new governor James McGreevey’s five ethnically-diverse political appointees in New Jersey, is in the eye of a storm.

The storm that has erupted around Democratic governor McGreevey, with Republicans baying for Chugh’s head, is not because of the controversial website alone. Chugh has made tall claims, of which only one has gone unchallenged so far: that he belongs to the Congress party and that “I was chosen general secretary of the National Students Union of India (NSUI) under the leadership of the late Cabinet minister of India, Mr (Rangarajan) Kumaramangalam”.

Yesterday, the governor’s office clarified that Lizette Delgado, and not Chugh, is New Jersey’s assistant secretary of state. And that the position of first assistant secretary of state does not exist.

Anxious not to alienate New Jersey’s large and affluent Indian-American community, McGreevey’s office pointed out that the governor has appointed two Indians to prominent jobs: the other is Seema Singh as public advocate for the state.

Governor’s office spokesman Paul Aronsohn was quoted in the media here today as saying Chugh is actually assistant commissioner — a newly-created job — and that his annual salary is $84,000.

Aronsohn admitted partial responsibility for the controversy when he said the governor’s office had, indeed, sent out a press release several weeks ago, which mistakenly named Chugh as assistant secretary of state.

“It was a minor mistake,” he said, adding that Chugh is “an important member of this administration, it’s a senior position, he works very closely with the secretary of state”.

The controversy surrounding Chugh is, however, unlikely to go away with the clarification by Aronsohn.

With Congressional and some gubernatorial elections due in November, Republicans in New Jersey believe that they have got in Chugh a good stick with which to beat the Democrats.

They accuse the governor of having campaigned on a promise to clean up the administration and then creating highly paid government jobs for his undeserving friends and supporters.

Republicans are now distributing clippings of some interviews that Chugh gave to newspapers in India soon after his appointment in January.

He had claimed in these interviews that the governor had authorised him as the single window for the state’s dealings with India.

Taken aback by the Republican onslaught, New Jersey state department spokesman Mike Kinney was quoted this week in newspapers in Trenton, the state capital, as denying that Chugh had any such responsibilities.

Kinney said Chugh only dealt with the Asian and Pacific American Advisory Council, the New Jersey Commission on American-Indian Affairs and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.

A former travel agent and printer, Chugh was McGreevey’s main liaison man with the Indian American community in New Jersey and he personally contributed to the governor’s campaign.

Chugh described himself on the now-defunct website as chairman of the National Conference of Asian Americans for Political Awareness, an organisation which reporters and others have been unable to locate.

Chugh is not giving any interviews and his website now carries the mere announcement that “as you need to update your wardrobe periodically, our site is also being updated with current information”.


Kuala Lumpur, April 5: 
The normally mild-mannered Ashutosh Gowarikar, director of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, today launched an uncharacteristically robust attack on Indian commentators who argued there was no need for Indian filmmakers to seek approval of the West by attempting to win American Academy awards.

Speaking at the hill resort of Genting, near Kuala Lumpur, where Lagaan is up for several awards, including best picture, director and actor, being given by the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA), Gowarikar said: “I detest these statements. I think they are being childish. They are being completely non-progressive. They are taking us back.”

Gowarikar, who is proving to be a star draw at this year’s IIFA, the third to be held following those in London and Sun City, South Africa, added: “It’s like saying that if an athlete wins the Arjuna Award in India, he should not go for the Olympics. Those people who are passing these statements need to grow up and back anything that goes out from India. If we make a film that is naturally crossing over and people like it crossing boundaries, then if it’s growing it should grow.”

Rehearsals were being held today at this remote resort for Saturday’s show, which will be telecast by Sony Television to an estimated audience of 500 million — half the audience for the Oscars —across the world.

Actress Sushmita Sen, dressed in white, dancing to Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend from Moulin Rouge, was asked if she was not in danger of being compared with Nicole Kidman, who performs the number in Moulin Rouge. The former Miss Universe, at her disarming best, shot back: “That’s not such a bad thing, is it?”

Amitabh Bachchan, who has always supported the idea of showcasing Indian cinema to an international audience, is taking a leading role at IIFA. He is being supported this year by, among others, Sanjay Dutt, Karan Johar, Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutt and Farhan Akhtar. A private jet is said to be bringing over more stars from Mumbai.

The premiere of Aankhen, which stars Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal, Sushmita and Paresh Rawal, was held here today. Its director, Vipul Shah, said: “People now feel anyone can be nominated for an Oscar.”

In the aftermath of Lagaan, filmmakers appear to be much more ambitious. Gowarikar’s attitude to awards is markedly different from that of Aamir Khan, who failed to turn up for the IIFA because “he does not attend Indian awards”.

Gowarikar explained: “I just love awards, not for myself, but the whole process of a select body of people who are professionals in their various fields, selecting the most important films of the year. I think that is a celebration.”

Asked about the reception he had received on returning to India from the Oscars in Los Angeles, Gowarikar said: “It’s just been condolence meetings. Every person I meet either don’t want to look at me in the eye or if they stumble upon me go ‘Dreadfully sorry for what happened.’ It’s a tremendous sorrow but I really think that yes, we did not win but I am glad we lost to No Man’s Land and no other film.”

He told Danis Tanovic, the director of No Man’s Land: “One country that you must release your film in is India. It is going to be a huge hit here quite simply because the Indian population would like to see the film that beat Lagaan.”

Asked if he would like to work in Hollywood, Gowarikar replied: “Absolutely. The last trip I was able to finalise one thing: find myself an agent, which is ICM.” On his next film, he was able to reveal: “I am working on a script, which is getting more and more interesting for me. That is the one I will make next. But I am not closing any doors to the West. I am open to scripts coming in from ICM.”

Lagaan would get a theatrical release in America on May 10, while France “would flag off the European release on June 26”.

Gowarikar would have a busy year attending the country by country release of Lagaan. “The film is being represented at the Brazil film festival on April 18, and the Australian film festival in Sydney on June 10.”

Gowarikar predicted that some forthcoming Indian films might be good enough for an Oscar nomination. “I know a couple of Hindi films which are very interesting. I know of at least two Bengali films — one is about a river — which are damn good. And a couple of Malayalam movies,” he said.

“I am also keenly looking forward to Devdas. I want to use all my experience for the next film that comes out. They should not make the mistakes that we probably have committed. We went in late and missed the Golden Globe. Campaigning is a complete art form on its own.”


Ahmedabad, April 5: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit has raised the hopes of the Gujarat riot victims, who were badly in need of a healing touch.

While Vajpayee’s explicit displeasure with chief minister Narendra Modi angered the Sangh parivar, it has somewhat reassured the minority community. However, the feeling of injustice is deep-rooted and will go only after the culprits are punished and Modi is sacked. The community holds him responsible for the killings.

Though Vajpayee ruled out a change of leadership in the state, the tough talk at a press conference last night when the Prime Minister advised Modi to follow raj dharma (the ethics of governance) suggested that the chief minister is on an “extended probation’’.

If the chief minister is sacked, he will go down as a martyr for the cause of Hindutva. In that case, his “popularity graph will rise” and the party might reap electoral benefits.

Instead, if he chooses to act and control the unabated violence, he will continue to rule the state till the elections. The BJP’s so-called secular partners at the Centre would also be pacified.

But in the process, the Hindutva card might get diluted and the party might not gain from the communal polarisation.

A section of political observers believes that Modi, the wily politician, would like to be sacked and sweep the next polls.

But others point out that it would will be difficult to reinstate the chief minister after he is sacked for breakdown of law and order.

The biggest challenge for Modi is the rehabilitation of over one lakh riot-affected, especially in Ahmedabad, where the victims want to settle near minority-dominated localities but the Prime Minister has ordered that resettlement should not lead to further ghettoisation.

Clash near Godhra

A clash between two communities over a road accident between a rickshaw and a tractor at Lunavada, about 40 km from Godhra, forced authorities to clamp indefinite curfew in the town. The vehicles were being driven by men from different communities.

The Gujarat government will bear the medical expenses of riot victims, social welfare minister Fakirbhai Waghela said today.

However, the offer would be open only to those admitted to government-run hospitals.


April 5: 
Breaking a brief lull in militant violence in Lower Assam, two improvised explosive devices went off on the rail tracks in Kokrajhar as the Sealdah-bound Kanchenjungha Express was rolling by today.

Four persons were injured in the blasts that occurred in Alokjhar area between Gossaingaon and Srirampur railway stations at 4.06 am. A third IED, weighing 25 kg, did not go off.

With no militant outfit claiming responsibility, police are unsure which group is responsible for the sabotage. “Though the needle of suspicion points towards the NDFB, the involvement of the Ulfa cannot be ruled out,” a Kokrajhar police officer said. The Ulfa will observe its raising day on April 7.

The Bodoland Liberation Tigers — which is holding peace talks with the Centre — gave a twist to the incident by blaming “anti-BTC forces” for the blasts.

Of the injured, three were travel ticket examiners, identified as A.C. Dey, Sukumar Sarkar and Debashish Nag. The fourth, a civilian, was identified as Utpal Saha (25). He has suffered compound fractures on his right leg and is in Alipurduar Civil Hospital. The others have been discharged.

Top railway officials, including the Alipurduar divisional railway manager, the chief security commissioner and chief safety officer, went to the spot. “The impact was not much as the IEDs might have gone off between two coaches,” sources said.

Northeast Frontier railway sources said a goods train on its way to Numaligarh had crossed the spot at 3.25 am.

“Police recovered an activation device with battery and wires,” deputy commissioner Ashis K. Bhutani said.


New Delhi, April 5: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav’s shift to national politics appears to have unnerved the BJP.

Fresh moves are on to entangle the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief in a spate of fodder scam-related cases so that he is not left in peace to take on the BJP-led government at the Centre.

During his Lok Sabha stint in 1998-99, the former Bihar chief minister had many times made BJP leaders eat humble pie with his speeches spiced with native and earthy humour. He would single-handedly taken on the BJP shouting brigade and even cornered Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani several times.

Laloo’s flamboyance made him an instant hit with the media, much to the consternation of BJP leaders.

This time round, Laloo is expected to be more hostile to the NDA government and the Sangh parivar, while his presence in the Rajya Sabha will be an added advantage to the Opposition. The former chief minister has said he would try to bridge the chasm between the Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and bring all secular parties together to fight “communal forces”.

Laloo had angered NDA leaders by campaigning for the Congress in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, which saw the BJP relegated to the third position. His aggressive campaigning was typically Laloo. The BJP, he said, stood for “Bharat Jalao Party” (Burn India Party).

But if the BJP-led government has its way, the CBI will continue to harass him by linking him to all the 64 fodder scam-related cases, giving him little or no time to stoke the anti-government flames.

The cases have been building up ever since the scandal erupted in 1995. From 18, the number of cases has risen to 64 relating to various treasuries in Bihar and Jharkhand. The former chief minister has been chargesheeted in six cases in which he had allegedly direct involvement.

After spending months in and out of jail in Patna and Ranchi, Laloo finally got bail in all the six cases.


Calcutta, April 5: 
For Big Brother CPM, relief came from the smallest partner.

Under attack from most partners, including the CPI, the Forward Bloc and the RSP, the CPM received unexpected support from the West Bengal Socialist Party which today praised the CPM and attacked its Front allies for their critical attitude.

Fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda, the party’s general secretary, told party supporters that not a single partner of the ruling Front would be able to win a single seat in the Assembly without the CPM’s support.

“Still, these parties criticise the CPM on various issues and sometimes these Front constituents become more vocal against the CPM than Trinamul Congress or Congress,” Nanda said while addressing the ninth biennial state conference of his party at the Sahid Minar grounds this afternoon.

Nanda criticised the partners in the presence of Front chairman Biman Bose, the main speaker. “Strengthening of any party in our Front means strengthening of the Front as a whole,” Bose later said.




Maximum: 33.5°C (-3)
Minimum: 24.8°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 54%

Sunrise: 5.28 am

Sunset: 5.49 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening

Maintained by Web Development Company