Naidu message to Goa: Go Modi
Rising east, setting west
Medical divide after stabbing
Gujarat schism scars Bengal
Flying Coffin downs Atlantique shooter
Church to talk with militants
Boardroom baptism for Cong Inc.
Laloo looks to old pal
Interest-cut axe on staff provident fund
Calcutta Weather

April 11: 
A storm broke over the Vajpayee government on the eve of the BJP’s national executive with ally Telugu Desam demanding the immediate sacking of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Already besieged by cries for finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s scalp from within the BJP, the Prime Minister reacted to calls from allies for Modi’s dismissal by saying: “Goa mein vichar hoga (this will be considered in Goa).”

On his way back from a tour of Singapore and Cambodia, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who will attend the BJP executive beginning in Goa tomorrow, said he would consult his colleagues before commenting on Modi’s fate.

Vajpayee was not aware then of Desam’s demand that was voiced after a meeting of the politburo. In a resolution, the BJP’s largest ally said: “The Telugu Desam Party demands the BJP to immediately effect a change of leadership in Gujarat.”

Some of the other allies have already sought Modi’s removal for failing to contain violence.

It did not appear though that N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Desam had decided to withdraw support if its demand was not met. During the politburo discussions, Naidu said the party’s indictment of the Gujarat government had no immediate bearing on support to Vajpayee. The Desam has 28 MPs and is delaying nominating the Speaker, a post lying vacant since G.M.C. Balayogi’s death.

Even if the Desam does pull out, Vajpayee will not be under any threat since the BJP has already established a working arrangement with the 11-member ADMK and the five-member Indian Federal Democratic Party. If it now thrashes out a tie-up with the 13-member Bahujan Samaj Party, it will have the support of 29 MPs.

In its resolution, the Desam said: “The administration and leadership in Gujarat have failed miserably.”

Although there were suggestions that the Prime Minister was unhappy with Modi, the party has stood behind the chief minister with president K. Jana Krishnamurthi earlier ruling out his removal.

That is not the case with Yashwant Sinha, who is steadily losing friends in the party. Sources said Krishnamurthi’s opening remarks at the executive could indicate how the party feels about what it sees as “negative” aspects of Sinha’s budget.

If that represents the milder version of the criticism the finance minister might face, a senior Cabinet colleague darkly threatened more. “We will see to it that he gets several socks on his chin at the national executive,” he said.

The reference was to an interview Sinha gave, saying that he believes in taking criticism “on the chin”.

The economic resolution to be adopted at the executive will not criticise the budget, but the earlier plan to highlight its “positive, people-oriented” measures has been dropped, sources said.

Even L.K. Advani, who has backed Sinha in the past, is not keen on bailing out the finance minister this time, sources close to the home minister said.

Tonight’s development around Modi could, however, acquire greater immediacy. Law minister Arun Jaitley, who is a close friend of the chief minister, rushed to Ahmedabad for a meeting.

It will not be an easy night Modi spends. And for Vajpayee the nightmare continues. “Aadhi raat beet gai, aadhi raat baaki hai (half the night is gone and the other half remains),” he said today in reference to his tenure as Prime Minister.


Guwahati, April 11: 
In a cocky display of confidence of a party on the upswing, the Congress is labelling its own conclave in the east and the BJP’s in the west as “Guwahati versus Goa”.

With Atal Bihari Vajpayee going into the party’s national executive with nothing but problems — recent election setbacks, the Gujarat violence and a cry for finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s scalp — Congress president Sonia Gandhi is set to showcase herself as the prime minister-in-waiting at the Guwahati conclave starting tomorrow, when the BJP meet also kicks off.

A Congress leader summed up the contrast thus: “Consolidation of triumph at Guwahati against the BJP’s preparation for retreat from Goa”.

The gathering of the 14 Congress chief ministers and the top leadership on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra is intended to be not merely a bureaucratic recital of various programmes of the states, but to assert that only the Congress knows the art of governance.

The administrative exercise will be followed by an AICC revamp to send out a signal that Sonia is ready with her team to capture Delhi.

Sources said Sonia delayed the organisational changes to pick her “dream team”. In this sense, the Guwahati meet is much more than a performance appraisal of chief ministers.

Sonia wants to galvanise the Congress rank and file with the slogan that the BJP may use emotive issues to get votes, but she stands for development and good governance. She hopes to spread the feel-good factor to states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal where the party’s prospects are dismal.

In her presidential speech, Sonia will harp on Gujarat, contrasting with Narendra Modi’s performance the conduct of Congress chief ministers who kept a strict vigil on the communal situation. She is, however, unlikely to take a firm stand on issues like power and labour law reforms and rightsizing of government.

On the anti-terror law, the leadership would not give a clear directive. Senior leader Salman Khurshid said: “Pota is a law. It is up to the local administrative authority to decide whether Pota will be applied or not.”

The chief ministers will make presentations before Sonia and a team of experts on rural development, decentralisation, education, health, poverty alleviation and programmes for weaker sections. Arunachal chief minister Mukut Mithi will speak on fiscal reforms and host Tarun Gogai on Assam’s rural development mission.

Sonia plans to get “independent” agencies to conduct surveys later to see that the chief ministers do not get away by dishing out long lists of achievements prepared by bureaucrats.


Ahmedabad, April 11: 
Hindu doctors in Gujarat have been asked not to practise in minority-dominated areas.

The directive has come from the Ahmedabad Doctors’ Forum, an organisation backed by the RSS. Dr Bharat Amin, founder-member of the forum, said: “I have warned Hindu doctors that they are not safe practising in minority-dominated areas.”

Dr Vijay Bhatia, vice-president of the Ahmedabad Medical Association, backed up Dr Amin, saying: “Who will protect us if we are attacked?”

Health minister Ashok Bhatt dismissed the forum as a non-official body but said it was society’s responsibility to ensure that doctors are safe. The medical association had said in a resolution that the onus of doctors’ security lies with the government.

A Hindu doctor was stabbed by a youth in his clinic in Juhapara yesterday, the first time he had opened it after the riots. As he ran out screaming for help, residents of the ghetto — nicknamed “mini Pakistan” — rushed to his rescue.

Dr Amit Mehta, who is not a member of the doctors’ forum, has decided not to go back to Juhapura where he has been seeing patients for over 20 years.

“I do not want to take any risks. Even if I want to go there, my family will not allow me,” the 46-year-old doctor said from his hospital bed. “I have not decided what I will do. But, certainly, I am not going to restart my practice in Juhapura. Had I been stabbed on the road, I would not mind continuing my practice there. But I was stabbed in my clinic!” he said.

Already, Hindu doctors are reluctant to go to areas dominated by the minority community.

A paediatrician and a physician from V.S. Hospital, run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, have refused to visit relief camps for riot victims, saying some residents had misbehaved with them.

Yesterday’s was the second attack on a doctor since the riots. Earlier, a clinic in Gomtipur was set on fire.

If doctors split along communal lines, minorities will suffer. Less than 3 per cent of the 4,500-odd medical practitioners in Ahmedabad are Muslims and there are very few super-specialists in the community.


Calcutta, April 11: 
Is the educated, middle-class Bengali going the Gujarat way?

Have communal feelings managed to penetrate the bhadralok psyche, the last bastion of secularism, that has fed on Ray and Marx, Gandhi and Netaji?

And does Bengal, conventionally perceived to be far removed from anything remotely connected with fundamentalism, need to learn anything from the Gujarat holocaust?

The West Bengal Minorities’ Commission, for the very first time since its inception, finds itself grappling with these issues as it goes into that time of the year when it prepares its annual report. The commission is finding — to its discomfort — that the usual micro-level problems have yielded place to a macro-level topic that it has never been forced to address before.

Unfortunately for the commission, the answers to all the three questions above seems to be in the positive.

“The undercurrent of communalism that we see now in the state has, unfortunately, never been witnessed before,” a senior state minority affairs department official said.

“The report that the commission is preparing this year will definitely mull on this problem and it will be a very major deviation from the reports that were submitted to the government in the past,” he added.

The Gujarat events have caused a definite “polarisation on communal lines”, say commission members. “The Bengal of today is not the Bengal of yesterday,” one of them said, adding that this year’s report would contain a reflection of this change.

Besides the ground-level reports they were drawing from various areas of the state, a letter that commission chairman Justice K.M. Yusuf received gave a sign of things to come, Commission officials said.

The letter, apart from denoting Yusuf with unprintable epithets, calls him an “ISI agent”.

“You are ISI agent in India doing spionage (sic) and sabotage activities, abetting and encouraging illegal smuggling, racketing (sic),” the letter says. It ends by calling him a “Pakistani at heart” and warning him to “be careful in the future”.

“We will inform the chief secretary and the home secretary of this letter,” a commission official said. “Even more unfortunate is the fact that the sender is purportedly an advocate who has not felt ashamed to disclose his identity,” he added.

Goaded by this “grim reality”, the commission is also doing what it has never felt the need to do before: calling intellectuals and politicians, including Cabinet ministers, of all communities for a discussion — towards the end of this month — on how to tackle the fast-deteriorating situation.

“The suggestions they throw up are also likely to find place in the report we submit to the government,” officials said. The fact that the commission was calling such a meet before filing its report betrayed the anxiety within, they explained.


New Delhi, April 11: 
The Indian Air Force ace who shot down a Pakistani maritime reconnaissance Atlantique aircraft in August 1999 has all but finished his flying career after the fighter he was flying crashed last week. Squadron Leader Prashant Bundela, a pilot in his early 30s, ejected but had a bad fall that has left him with a serious spinal injury.

Bundela was flying a MiG21bis from his squadron in Jodhpur on a routine sortie on April 4 when the fighter, capable of flying at speeds in excess of 300 kmph, developed a technical snag. Bundela ejected and parachuted down but is reported to have landed on his back. He was first admitted to the military hospital in Jodhpur and has now been shifted to the speciality orthopaedic centre of the armed forces hospital in Pune.

Critics of the aircraft have often referred to the MiG21 as “The Flying Coffin”. But there are others — like the former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis — who insist that the aircraft is versatile and indispensable to the IAF. Three years ago Tipnis flew a MiG21 in Bareilly at the age of 61 years to be the oldest fighter pilot to fly the aircraft.

Bundela’s plight will surely re-focus attention on the MiG21bis. Just last week, a Lok Sabha Public Accounts Committee report on aircraft accidents in the IAF recommended that the MiG21 aircraft be scrapped because of its high accident rate.

There is some debate on whether the high accident rate of the MiG21 is due to human error — said to be caused by the lack of an Advanced Jet Trainer — or technical malfunctioning. An inquiry is still being carried out into the accident that might have put Bundela out of action. But the preliminary conclusion is that it was due to a technical failure of the aircraft.

Bundela has been flying the MiG21bis for long — he has more than 1,200 hours of flying experience. In August 1999 he shot down the Pakistani Air Force Atlantique that had intruded into Indian airspace and was suspected to be taking images of the shifting waters of the strategic Sir Creek region in the Rann of Kutch bordering Pakistan.

The Atlantique went down in a ball of fire after Bundela hit it with a French-made Matra missile fired from his MiG21. He was awarded the Vayu Sena medal for gallantry for the action.

The IAF has 20 squadrons of the single-engine MiG21 (about 200 fighters) in its fleet of over 800 fighter aircraft. One report says the accident rate of MiG23s and MiG27s is higher than the MiG21. The MiGs comprise 74 per cent of the IAF’s aircraft. The MiG21 is originally of 1960s vintage but the MiG21bis is of the mid-1970s. Under the contract signed with the Russians in 1997, Hindustan Aeronautics is to upgrade the MiG21bis fleet.

“In a sense, the IAF is making the best of an outdated aircraft by going in for mid-life extension. We are aware that there are much better aircraft available today for the role the MiG21 plays but till such time as these aircraft are available to us in adequate numbers, there is no alternative,” one source said.


Shillong, April 11: 
In a landmark decision, the Meghalaya government today accepted the Khasi Jaintia Church Forum as the official negotiator for holding talks with the banned Hynniewtrep National Volunteer Council (HNLC).

A meeting of the political affairs committee of the government today also accepted “in principle” the ceasefire and proposal for safe passage mooted by the Church forum but said “it would be left to the forum to work out the modalities”.

The state government will send a letter to the Church leaders tomorrow asking them to finalise the modalities for the talks.

Meghalaya finance minister A.H. Scott Lyngdoh told newsmen that the decision to extend feelers for talks to the HNLC as well as to another banned outfit from the Garo Hills, the A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), was taken after weighing the pros and cons of the proposal submitted by the Church forum.

However, the state government has decided to continue its operations against the militant outfits till the ceasefire is implemented. Lyngdoh said suspension of operations would come under the ambit of the ceasefire.

Leaders of the Church forum had recently met chief minister F.A. Khonglam and his Cabinet colleagues and submitted a proposal wherein they had wanted the government to make them the official negotiator and also create an atmosphere conducive to talks with the militant outfits.

Lyngdoh said the government was also prepared to support the Church leaders’ forum if talks with the militant outfits were held in a foreign country. “We want peace, we want the situation in the state to become completely normal,” Lyngdoh said.

He said the government was prepared to discuss all the issues spelt out by the militant outfits but added, “Their agenda has to be known and that is possible only through talks”.

To a question on the response from the HNLC and the ANVC, Lyngdoh said there was no record to suggest that the Church leaders’ forum had received any feelers from any militant outfit. He welcomed the negotiations between the Church leaders and the militant outfits., he said the government would wait for a response.

“We also decided to tell the Church leaders to extend their proposal to negotiate with the outfit from the Garo Hills,” Lyngdoh said.

The government’s decision has come as a surprise to many as just a couple of days back, Khonglam and deputy chief minister D.D. Lapang had said a ceasefire would not be possible unless it came from both sides. They had also ruled out the possibility of any decision on the issue within the next few days.

Lapang had said the government would examine the proposals of the Church leaders thoroughly before announcing its decision. “We will have to see the response from the other side before taking any decision,” he had told The Telegraph.


Guwahati, April 11: 
It is Congress Inc. The image of pan-chewing, khadi-clad Congressmen sitting cross-legged on chandni and reclining on masnads has changed.

The Guwahati conclave starting tomorrow will have a boardroom-like seating arrangement with chief ministers using Powerpoint and computer graphics to showcase their achievements to chief executive Sonia Gandhi.

Not all are comfortable with technology though, and some chief ministers would prefer to speak in Hindi and make their presentations with diagrams and charts. But techno-savvy chief ministers from Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Assam will add glitz to their presentations.

All the 14 Congress chief ministers have been asked to cut flab. There will be no “bhashanbazi” this time as they would be expected to stick to the time limit of half-an-hour for each speaker.

Nobody would be allowed to use cellphones or leave the venue without permission. All facts and figures have to be substantiated and accounted for under the watchful eyes of Sonia, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Salman Khurshid and Jairam Ramesh.

Four years ago, Sonia had appointed a task force under P.A. Sangma to suggest changes in the party’s work culture. His first suggestion was to change the seating arrangement in party meets. In an era of television, the image of the old guard lazily reclining on masnads in the Congress Working Committee and AICC sessions was putting off the younger lot, Sangma had said.


Patna, April 11: 
Almost everyone had forgotten about Mohammad Yunus Azad. All, except Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Azad — also called Yunus Lohia — had once fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Laloo in the days of Jaiprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution. But life had been on the skids ever since. At 75, Lohia had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. And no money to live on.

Laloo now wants him to fight the Bihar council polls.

Azad couldn’t believe it when yesterday the chief minister’s official car stopped in front of his roadside shanty at a nondescript colony in the Old City of Patna. Nor could Azad’s neighbours. The driver had had to stop thrice to ask directions to find the old man.

Half an hour later, Azad was in Rabri Devi’s house, hugging Laloo, tears running down his cracked cheeks.

Laloo smiled. “Aaj aap ko bahut jarurat hai (I need you very badly now),” he said.

But the past suddenly reared its head. He recalled how after those heady streetfighting years, he had scouted for jobs, found none, sold biscuits and toffees to school kids, and sunk — steadily but surely — into filthy misery.

In his shanty, there was nothing but torn clothes and biscuits that he could not sell. “What is left of me now?” asked Azad.

Yet, in the forties, he had joined the non-cooperation movement and gone to jail. In the sixties, he had met Rammanohar Lohia and been inspired by his pro-poor ideology. After Lohia’s death, he had added Lohia to his name.

But having spoken his heart out, he was willing to reconsider. “Some people want a postcard version of history, ignoring the contribution of Muslim leaders. But I have my ways to prove otherwise.”

His eyes lit up. “I never expected him (Laloo) to remember me. In those days of struggle, Laloo was a rabble-rouser and we used to be at the forefront of the agitation. When police cracked down, Laloo would shout: ‘Chacha bhaag ….’ But before I could give the police the slip, Laloo would vanish.” The chuckle is unmistakable.

Azad fondly remembers Laloo’s jokes on “rampaging fat policemen and politicians” and their “air of importance”.

Satire, said the old man, had always been Laloo’s strong point. “Even in recent times when he used to bump into me — he in a VIP car and me walking with the aid of a stick — he would joke on my brisk stride and ask me if I was running away mistaking his car to be a police vehicle chasing me.

Speaking of Azad, his son Faiz Ahmed said: “He had never bothered to join power politics. He never flaunted the fact that Laloo Prasad Yadav knew him. But nobody could ever ignore him when he chose to take up the fight for the poor.”

But what will Azad do if he is elected to Bihar’s Upper House? To begin with, he will move into a sprawling house. He will have a fixed salary, a car, the works. That, however, will not change him, said Azad. “I pray to Allah that I may retain my love for the people,” he said.


New Delhi, April 11: 
The finance ministry has won the battle with the central board of trustees of the Employees Provident Fund and the labour ministry this time round.

The finance ministry today announced that it would slash the interest rate of the Employees Provident Fund by 50 points from the present 9.5 per cent to 9 per cent on the eve of a special meeting of the fund’s board hosted by labour minister Sharad Yadav.

At the last meeting of the board in January, its members had urged the finance ministry not to reduce the interest rate. However, the ministry refused to yield to the board’s demand though it was endorsed by the labour ministry. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha has already reduced the interest rate on General Provident Fund and Public Provident Fund by 50 points.

About 80 per cent of the EPF corpus amounting to Rs 48,000 crore is invested in the government’s Special Deposit Schemes. The Centre had reduced the rate of interest on these special schemes from April 1.

This is another instance of the finance ministry overruling the labour ministry’s recommendations.

Earlier, a row erupted between the two when Sinha announced in Parliament the decision to amend labour laws without consulting either the labour ministry or the trade unions. This had sparked a furore among union leaders who claimed it was labour’s prerogative to make the announcement.

Yadav is believed to be unhappy with Sinha for “riding roughshod” over his ministry.

Tomorrow’s meeting is a special session that the Rajya Sabha committee on subordinate legislation recommends in case of a dispute between the fund’s board and the Centre. Finance ministry officials will explain their position before the board tomorrow.




Maximum: 30.8°C (-5)
Minimum: 19.6°C (-5)


4 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 49%

Sunrise: 5.24 am

Sunset: 5.52 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with chance of rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder, in some parts

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