Peace meet ends in continued war
Shekhar loses his farm
Govt seeks to dispel budget fear
Legal stamp on mother’s identity
‘Racist’ welcome for author
Spectacle or spectre in western sky
BJP swallows alliance bitter pill
Atal flip-flop on Gujarat splits loyalists
Classics & blockbusters star in Indian summer
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 19: 
The all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed today to end the standoff between the government and the Opposition over Gujarat failed to throw up a solution even as Parliament was adjourned for the fifth consecutive day.

All that emerged at the meeting, attended by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was an unrelenting Prime Minister daring the Opposition to bring a no-confidence motion.

Sonia stuck to the demand for a discussion under Rule 184, which requires voting, as opposed to a debate under Rule 193, which the government is suggesting and which does not entail a division.

With neither side budging, Sayeed has thrown the ball back into the court of the political leadership to resolve the tangle.

While all parties maintained that it was the prerogative of the presiding officer to decide under which rule the discussion would take place, Sayeed said after the all-party meeting: “Floor management is the responsibility of the respective party leaders and after consultations they should arrive at a solution in the next two-three days.”

Sayeed said he was deeply concerned over the loss of days of the session. He said only 63 hours were left for completing financial and other legislative business, underlining the need for an immediate resolution of the stalemate. The budget session concludes on May 17.

He said: “Though the Chair can take the decision on its own, it has always been the tradition of the House to reach a unanimous solution.”

BJP chief whip V.K. Malhotra, who attended the meeting, quoted Sayeed as saying that unfortunate as the Gujarat situation was — and he was willing to hear what the Opposition had to say on this — the discussion could take place under Rule 193 without detracting from the importance of the issue.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said there were ways for the Opposition to test if the ruling alliance has a majority. Besides a no-confidence motion, as suggested by the Prime Minister, the Opposition could move a cut motion to defeat the Finance Bill, he said.

Despite the brave front, the government has a lurking doubt if the Telugu Desam will side with it in a division.

Sources said Desam leader N. Chandrababu Naidu has not responded to soundings by government strategists on a written commitment of support. Persistent Desam demands for chief minister Narendra Modi’s resignation and Naidu’s silence on whether the discussion should be held under Rule 184 or 193 have made the floor managers even more nervous.

This is the reason the treasury benches are shying away from a division, though a defeat would only be moral and not trigger collapse of the government.

The other is the fear that a debate under Rule 184 will be long, giving the Opposition the opportunity to rake up a lot of mud. A debate under Rule 193 is restricted to two-and-a-half hours.

Government managers are working on a strategy to change the wording of the Opposition notice, which says the Centre failed in its duty towards Gujarat. BJP sources said if the notice is reframed, it may be admitted.

Another suggestion is for the government to table a confidence motion and prove majority.


New Delhi, April 19: 
Within two days of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar celebrating his 75th birthday, his 600-acre Bhondsi farm has been snatched from him.

The Supreme Court today ordered the Haryana government to take possession of the posh farmlands, but made it clear that there was no direction to launch a criminal case against Shekhar for grabbing the land.

The two-judge bench of Justices R.C. Lahoti and K.G. Balakrishnan, which handed down the judgment on a PIL by lawyer B.L. Wadhera, also imposed Rs 25,000 on Shekhar as cost of the petition.

Shekhar obtained the 600-acre plot from the Bhondsi gram panchayat for his Bharat Yatra Kendra Trust, formed during his “so-called Bharat Yatra in 1983” for the “upliftment of the poor”. The plot has an amphitheatre, boating facilities and several recreation spots with natural and artificial waterfalls.

Dealing a blow to Shekhar’s reputation as a “pro have-nots socialist”, the court said: “A politician of the stature of Shri Chandrashekhar cannot claim to minimise the sufferings of the people by constituting the trust and utilising the lands taken by it allegedly for the upliftment of the poor and the oppressed.

“This court cannot remain a silent spectator where people’s property is being usurped for the personal leisure and pleasure of some individuals under the self created legal, protective umbrella and in the name of a trust.”

Wadhera had filed the PIL alleging that the land had been “grabbed” by Shekhar. Today, the judges said there was no way it could be claimed that the land was being used for the uplift of the poor and the oppressed.

“When millions of landless agriculturists are struggling to get some land for feeding their families and protecting their lives, the respondent no. 7 has manoeuvred to usurp about 600 acres of land, apparently for not any public purpose,” it said.

Expressing shock that “even the three-room dispensary has not been built on the land in controversy”, the court said any reasonable person, as the respondent was presumed to be, would have returned the land to the gram panchayat once a writ petition was filed in public interest after much controversy.

“We are not impressed with any of the pleas raised on behalf of the respondent that the land was acquired bona fide for the proclaimed object of upliftment of the people of this country in general and of the area in particular.

“We fail to understand as to how the country can be uplifted by personal adventures of constituting trusts and acquiring hundreds of acres of lands for the purposes of the trust. It is nothing except seeking personal glorification of the persons concerned,” the judges said.

Of the 600 acres, 500 are registered in the name of the Bharat Yatra Kendra Trust. Haryana has been ordered to take back this land and hand it over to the Bhondsi gram panchayat. The court has also ruled that “only persons” specified in the Gram Panchayat Act should be given portions or pieces of land for public purposes.

The state has been asked to set up a committee within 15 days to take over the land. The takeover has to be completed in two months of the date of constitution of the committee and a compliance report submitted to court by July 30.

The committee will also have to formulate a scheme for the utilisation of the land and place it before the Bhondsi gram panchayat for approval. The gram panchayat will give effect to the scheme.


New Delhi, April 19: 
Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan today indicated that the House deadlock would not impact the budget or the government’s ability to appropriate funds to keep essential business going.

He said the government had enough time to clear the general and railway budgets and claimed that the adjournments now bedevilling legislative business were likely to end shortly.

The government does not plan to split the Financiations Bill, which sanctions expenditure through this month, while letting the tax proposals hang fire.

“We have enough time to clear the Finance Bill. Some discussions will have to be curtailed, but there is no need to split anything,” Mahajan said.

Long adjournments in the past had not stopped budgets being from being cleared. “Everybody will cooperate in a matter of national importance, I don’t think there is any need to think otherwise,” he said.


Calcutta, April 19: 
Moving with the changing times, Bengal is set to bring a law making the mother’s identity sufficient for a child’s social and legal recognition.

Once the law comes into force, the father’s signature will become optional on the admission form (for delivery) of hospitals and schools or even on passports.

State advocate-general Balai Roy has submitted a proposal to the government after detailed consultations with Baidyanath Chakraborty, the gynaecologist who pioneered the test-tube baby revolution here. Test-tube babies made with the help of unknown donors’ sperms are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of the law. So will children born out of wedlock and divorced mothers who do not want their children to associate with their former husbands.

Roy’s proposal is based on a study of laws in countries that have enacted the legislation. These include the US, the UK and Germany. If enacted, this law will be the first of its kind in the country.

Though the proposed law includes other babies in its ambit, test-tube babies have given it a big push. “There have been several instances where the foetus have grown in the mothers’ — or surrogate mothers’ — wombs after fertilisation using unknown donors’ sperms,” Chakraborty said.

“The mother’s identity is, therefore, always confirmed but the same cannot be said about the father,” he pointed out.

Roy said the idea came to him during a conversation with Chakraborty about a test-tube child’s difficulties in securing admission to a reputed city school. “The child’s condition prodded me to think seriously about a new law,” he said. There are around 1,500 test-tube babies in the country with Bengal alone having over 600.

State law minister Nisith Adhikary said he had gone through Roy’s proposal. “We have to initiate such a law, but the Bill will be tabled only after the issues involved are thrashed out,” he said.

The proposed law would keep provision for an agreement between the surrogate mother and the biological parents, Roy added.


Calcutta, April 19: 
Age-old discrimination in A New World struck a jarring note in his Freedom Song. Award-winning author Amit Chaudhuri was detained and interrogated by authorities at Hong Kong airport late on Wednesday, on what he described angrily as “racial grounds”.

For an hour, the 39-year-old Calcuttan arriving in Hong Kong to attend a literary festival, was kept confined to a closed room with other South Asians, at the Chek Lap Kok airport.

“While the authorities were polite, their methods were very crude. All the others in the room were either Pakistanis, Bangladeshis or Indians. There were only three others who were Chinese. There were no white people detained or questioned. This is blatant racial discrimination against South Asians, post September 11.”

According to regulations, Indian passport holders do not require visas to visit Hong Kong for up to two weeks. Chaudhuri says he had all his papers in order, and was never questioned about their authenticity. “The type of questions they asked me during that hour are the type I have answered countless times at various international airports at customs. But it usually takes five minutes, not an hour. And I have never been detained before. It was very demeaning to be discriminated against.”

The novelist said a friend of his had visited Hong Kong recently and faced a similar situation, but had shrugged it off. “We South Asians take things like this lying down. It’s high time we did something about it. The Indian Consulate in Hong Kong told me that they were going to take this seriously and approach the government, but people should be made aware that this is going on,” he declared.

Chaudhuri said he had been warned by a few well-wishers before embarking for Hong Kong, but had not expected to be treated with such disrespect. “I’m not even a tourist here. I was invited to the Hong Kong literary festival by the organisers, as well as the Standard Chartered bank in Hong Kong and the Correspondents Club. These are all respected institutions. And yet, I was treated as though I was doing something wrong,” he added, outraged.

Chaudhuri is not the first Indian invitee to Hong Kong to face such harassment. Singer Shubha Mudgal says she too had suffered at the hands of the airport authorities when she visited Hong Kong in November 2001. She says she was left “more than a little bewildered and shaken” by the experience. Mudgal had been invited by the University of Hong Kong for a two-day stay to visit an Indian arts exhibition and give a talk on Indian music. She was accompanied by her husband and a harmonium player.

“All three of us were detained for about an hour. The room we were in was full of South Asians, mainly Pakistanis and Indians, some of whom had been there for several hours… Both my husband and the accompanying musician were asked very odd questions. For example, my husband was asked about the discrepancy between his educational qualifications and his career. They were suspicious about the fact that he is an economics graduate but a musician by profession. It was absurd, specially considering the fact that he has visited Hong Kong before, and never been detained.”

Mudgal emphasised that she wasn’t implying that security be lessened, but that everyone should be treated equally and with respect. “As a musician I have travelled all over the world and I don’t want to break any rules or do anything that is wrong. But how can terrorism and the like originate from only one part of the world, from people of a certain skin colour and ethnicity?” the singer asked. “This isn’t security. It is racial profiling. Why were there no white people? Why only non-whites? When something like this happens, it sours the whole experience and ruins the fun of the visit.”


Calcutta, April 19: 
The five brightest planets visible from the earth have lined up in a spectacular celestial design, a rare phenomenon that won’t be seen again until 2040.

Through the next four to five weeks, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will appear clustered on the western sky in the evening, and can be seen with the naked eye.

Astrologers here say the cosmic alignment is not favourable for India as the country would plunge into economic crisis that could see inflation spiral and unemployment soar even higher. Some even predicted that the country could go to war over Kashmir.

“The planets, except for Jupiter, are in the rasi of Taurus and the focus is on Saturn. India will be most affected because of this. There is a possibility of war over Kashmir and political unrest will grow,” warned Murarimohan Bedantatirtha Shastri, astrologer and chief calculator of the Gupta Press almanac.

Astronomers, however, said the phenomenon was “pure science” and cannot have such impact.

“We deal in pure science and don’t take into account astrological predictions,” said Mrinal Kanti Pal Roy, an astronomer at the Positional Astronomy Centre of the Government of India.

Similar clustering of planets occur every 20 to 30 years but are not always visible. The last time they could be seen like this was in 1940.

The last time such unusual alignment of the five planets along with the sun and moon had occurred was in May 2000, but it was not visible from earth.

Astronomers have a word of advice for those interested in watching the rare phenomenon: select a place well away from the glare of city lights and look at the space between the western horizon and the sky-top.

“One can get a clearer view with a powerful binocular and from the top of a high-rise building. I had a fantastic view with the help of a telescope at IIT Kharagpur last week. It is a very rare opportunity,” said Pal Roy.

He said it would be easier for sky-watchers to locate the planets if they have a chart of the night sky. “Those who are interested can contact us for night charts at our office at P-546, Block-N, New Alipore,” he added.

Astronomers, however, said the planets will not be in the same straight line every evening as their daily motions are different. “The alignment of the planets will vary from day to day due to their own orbital motions and their different distances from the sun,” said one.

“I have been viewing the celestial phenomenon for the past three to four days,” said Piyush Pandey, assistant director of Birla Planetarium.

Pandey said during the next few days, the position of Mercury and Venus would shift a little because of the speed of their revolutions.

Pal Roy said the uniqueness of the celestial array is that all five planets will be visible together in the evening sky. “One will not have to look for the different planets at different times of the night. But Mercury will disappear soon after dusk as it sets with the sun. Venus will be visible till about 7 pm and Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can be seen till about 9 pm,” he said.

According to Shastri, the conjunction would also have an adverse impact on global politics. The world, he said, will not be free from the scourge of terrorism and the Kashmir problem will not be solved without a war.

“The time between April and June is most critical as the Central government will plunge into a deep crisis. If there is an election, there will not be a single party majority, there will again be a coalition government. The movement of Shani (Saturn) will keep politicians on tenterhooks,” he said.


Lucknow, April 19: 
The marriage is on, but the honeymoon may be anything but sweet.

A section of the Uttar Pardesh party leadership, led by former chief minister Rajnath Singh and state unit president Kalraj Mishra, is still shooting arrows at the Central leadership.

Back from the crucial meeting of the BJP in New Delhi, Mishra couldn’t desist from saying what he and Rajnath have all along been saying: “Whether the experience is bitter or sweet, the alliance (with the BSP) is in place. We cannot help but make things work out.”

Though the Central leadership, prodded to a large extent by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has succeeded in impressing upon the dissenters that a coalition with the BSP would help it in the Lok Sabha elections and that politics don’t end or begin at the state level, a strong faction among the state leaders has taken the “understanding with Mayavati” with a pinch of salt.

They are apprehensive that the BSP leader will relegate them to the position of junior partner and ride roughshod as she had done in the past. Mishra, however, was quick to dissociate himself from what many in the state unit say is a “suicidal step”.

Dodging most of the pointed questions, Mishra reiterated that “all decisions have been left to the Central leadership and have been made by the Central leadership”.

He also refused to divulge if the nitty-gritty of governance with Mayavati at the helm had been chalked out. “The last word will be that of the parliamentary board,” he said. “The final decision will come anytime next week,” he added.

A senior leader, meanwhile, said that while the draft is ready, certain details are yet to be worked out.

But even as there is a resigned sense of acceptance of a Mayavati-led government in Uttar Pradesh, some senior leaders, each trying to extract the maximum mileage for himself, have started a cat-and-mouse game out here.

Two senior leaders are still trying to convince the Central leadership of the need for a deputy chief minister — “to hold the leash on Behenji,” as one MLA put it.

While one of them is playing the backward card and the necessity of sending the right message to the fast-slipping backward votes, the other is trumpeting his “expertise” and well-known “organisational skills”.

Two other senior leaders are trying to get past each other in the race for a plum posting at the Centre. One of them is reported to have “expressed” his views on how much the state needs the other leader as “he has tremendous reach within the people and has a great understanding of grassroots-level politics in the state”.

A senior leader said: “It is obvious that no one wants to shoulder the enormous burden of reviving a party which is gasping for breath and has little credibility left among even sections of its original votebank like traders and upper-caste people.” Seizing the opportunity in a party pushed to the back foot, a section of the party’s second-rung leaders is also believed to be trying to go up the ladder, using every trick in the book.


New Delhi, April 19: 
The Prime Minister’s flip-flop on Gujarat has divided his close aides in the PMO into two camps.

Pragmatists feel Vajpayee had no choice but to fall in line with the party’s backing of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. But a smaller group believes that the Prime Minister, as the first among equals, could have handled Gujarat much better had he acted on his personal beliefs.

Both factions are loyal supporters of Vajpayee and want him to finish his full five-year term in office but differences are surfacing over how he should have tackled Modi.

The Goa meet, where Vajpayee had uncharacteristically lashed out at Muslims, did nothing to bolster his image. The general picture emerging from the meet is that of a weak Prime Minister forced to bow under party pressure. Home minister L.K. Advani and other Modi supporters in the Cabinet, including law minister Arun Jaitley, seemed to have won this round over Vajpayee.

Some of his supporters, however, do not buy this argument. Trying to make a virtue of the party’s decision to allow Modi to hold elections, they say the Prime Minister, after all, had his way. Gujarat will be under President’s rule before elections are declared. Then it will be left to the electorate to decide whom they want at the helm of affairs.

A Vajpayee aide said the main hurdle in sacking Modi was the fact that Opposition parties, especially the Congress, were baying for Modi’s blood. Removing him could be seen as giving in to the Congress.

People close to the Prime Minister know he was deeply distressed by Modi’s handling of the riots. When the violence did not stop, his reaction was to change the chief minister. Vajpayee called the riots a “slur” on the nation. He was also worried about the ramifications the violence would have on India’s image abroad. The Prime Minister had even publicly said this in Gujarat.

Vajpayee, some of his aides believe, missed out on an opportunity to play the statesmen by refusing to give Modi a public dressing down and eventually sacking him for refusing to reign in the mobs. Modi’s transfer of impartial police officials was in blatant defiance of what the Prime Minister wanted.

Vajpayee, they said, should not have allowed himself to be distracted by the party’s stand. The Prime Minister would have got the backing of all the NDA allies and if it came to the crunch, he could have threatened to resign. The allies would be unwilling to back a BJP government without Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister has little to lose, the aides said, adding that he is old and unlikely to contest the next elections.


London, April 19: 
The masterpieces of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Shyam Benegal will be screened alongside popular Bollywood blockbusters like Lagaan and Mother India and British Asian films like Bend It Like Beckham in the biggest-ever festival of South Asian cinema being organised by the British Film Institute from next month.

ImagineAsia, the eight-month-long festival, will be inaugurated on April 25 at a star-studded gala with Asif Kapadia’s award-winning film The Warrior.

The festival will also include an exhibition on Bollywood film posters titled Bollywood in Love, a month-long course, Cityscapes — the representation of the city in Indian cinema — in association with the British Museum, and a major Bollywood season at Selfridges showcasing Bollywood lifestyles (with a reproduction of Dimple Kapadia’s designer apartment in Mumbai on the first floor of the department store) to be opened by none less than Amitabh Bachchan.

The season will include a retrospective of Ray’s films at the National Film Theatre, and the release of two videotapes of Ritwik Ghatak’s Titash Ekti Nadir Naam and Meghe Dhaka Tara by the BFI.

The festival will also showcase, in a special tribute in May, the films of Sharmila Tagore besides retrospectives of Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam along with films by Gurinder Chadha and Mira Nair.

Films from Sri Lanka, including the stunning Death on a Full Moon Day and from Bangladesh and Pakistan will also be shown. Documentary films from South Asia are also part of the festival.

In September-October, Dartington Hall in Devon, an arts school built on the lines of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan, will host a special season of Tagore and Ray films.

“This is a hugely exciting venture and will bring South Asian cinema to Britain in a big way,” said Cary Rajinder Sawhney, director, ImagineAsia.

“People in Britain are becoming very aware of Bollywood and this summer is going to be Bollywood season all over Britain. It may well be the crossover point that Bollywood film producers are waiting for.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams will open in June, giving British theatre audiences a taste of a totally new genre of musicals.

The festival is being held in venues all over Britain — from London’s National Film Theatre and local cinema halls to Leeds, Bradford, Nottingham, Birmingham and a host of other cities.

A galaxy of stars from Amitabh Bachchan to Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan are expected to visit Britain for the festival.

Interviews have been scheduled with filmmakers Mira Nair and Yash Chopra.

There’s something for cinema history fans as well. The BFI has restored a print of Franz Osten’s 1925 silent film Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia). The religious epic launched the Indo-German unit, which later became the famous Bombay Talkies film studio.

Restored prints of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India and Mughal-e-Azam will be screened and books on Yash Chopra and Shyam Benegal would be published during the ImagineAsia season.




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Max: 86%
Min: 65%

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Sunset: 5.55 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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