Modi dares Sonia to poll bout
Boom! it began just like that
Healer George hurts camp
Hunt for Atal ‘death’ forger
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MODI DARES SONIA TO POLL BOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
April 20: 
As Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened a meeting of senior ministers to discuss the Parliament deadlock, Narendra Modi — the man at the centre of the standoff — shovelled more fuel into the fire by challenging Sonia Gandhi to fight an election against him in Gujarat.

In a statement issued in Ahmedabad, Modi accused the Congress of pushing Gujarat into a communal frenzy as well as crippling Parliament.

He asked the Congress president to contest against him, adding: “Sauda ghate me rahega” (it will be a loss-making proposition).”

His statement came hours after the BJP indicated in Delhi that the only “concession” it could make in Parliament was not raise Sonia’s comment that Vajpayee had “lost his mental balance”. She had later issued an apology.

At the meeting, Vajpayee and his Cabinet colleagues from the BJP rejected the Opposition’s demand for a discussion on Gujarat under Rule 184, which requires voting.

BJP sources said the option of bringing in a confidence motion was also discussed as a way of “deflecting” attention from Gujarat and for papering over differences within the coalition. They said they were certain that if it came to a confidence vote, the allies would support the government.

Despite the tough talk, the strain of walking a tightrope showed when Vajpayee addressed a seminar on national development. “Whatever happened in Gujarat was condemned by me in the strongest possible words,” he said. “But today, those very words have been used against me. It is being said that since I had called the events a blot (on the nation), what is wrong in discussing Gujarat in the House?”

Vajpayee said he was not against a discussion but the “Centre is not ready to accept just any rule”. Vajpayee, who today greeted Telugu Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu on his 52nd birthday, denied that there were problems within the NDA. “The ruling alliance is united,” he said.

With Vajpayee a few feet away, Nafisa Banot, head of a voluntary organisation in Gujarat, broke down while narrating the trauma of riot victims.

Vajpayee then said: “I wish to assure Nafisaji that I have been through more trying times than these. The country is going through a difficult phase. This country, with a population of a hundred crore, is distinguished for its diversity. It takes its inspiration from the past but looks forward to the future.”

   

 
 
BOOM! IT BEGAN JUST LIKE THAT 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, April 20: 
The chemistry was just right. And neither could ignore it.

It was a muggy August evening in New York nearly three years ago. The party had just begun.

Padma Lakshmi, the model-cum-actress, was gliding around the hall, saying hi, shaking hands and throwing smiles. She was doing precisely what she was expected to by her editor, who had thrown the party to mark the launch of her first book, A Tome on Cookery.

Then, it happened. Something her editor had not expected of her or for that matter of Salman Rushdie, the Mumbai-born British novelist then on the run from fundamentalists seeking his scalp.

Since that evening in 1999, Rushdie and his girlfriend have never been out of touch. “We share our lives. We are in touch every day,’’ Lakshmi said.

The 28-year-old is in Mumbai, trying her hand — and luck — at Bollywood, much the same way she tried her hand at everything else before, including Rushdie. “He is an important person in my life. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me,’’ the would-be Bollywood actress said.

She is one of the three models — the other two being Madhu Sapre and Katrina Keif of the UK — picked to play gangsters in a film called Boom, a “Hinglish” production seeking to explore the fictional relationship between the fashion industry and the Mumbai underworld.

The film, to be directed by Kaizad Gustad of Bombay Boys fame and produced by Ayesha Shroff, is slated to be shot in Mumbai, Dubai and Thailand and released during Christmas.

Born to Tamil parents in Delhi, Lakshmi did a bit of schooling in Chennai before leaving for the US with her mother, a nurse. She does not remember her father because her parents divorced when she was a toddler.

Lakshmi said acting, not modelling, is her first love. “When I was barely 10 years old, I acted in a drama. Later, in high school in the US, I was very much involved in drama.”

Modelling came much later when she was in college in Massachusetts. She said she took it up mainly to put herself through college.

“College education was expensive and I largely supported myself through modelling,” Lakshmi said. Ever since, she has done it whenever she felt like it, especially when she felt that she “needed a little bit of money”.

But her first love, she stressed, is the stage. So much so that she switched halfway through college from psychology to theatre. “I decided it is my calling. I thought I should do something I enjoy.”

Out of college, she got into film acting, playing a native American in an Italian movie. “It just so happened that I speak Italian and Spanish fluently, besides Tamil and English.”

Three films later, when she came to Mumbai in late January to sit on the jury of a Miss India pageant, she ran into Gustad. “I had no idea when I was talking to him that he was auditioning me for the film,” Lakshmi said.

When she left for New York at the end of the pageant, Gustad followed her. “In New York, he made the offer. When I read the script, I found it sharp, witty and well-written, and so said yes.”

Lakshmi said she, however, had no intention of playing “typical babes” in Bollywood flicks and would “not do anything that does not stimulate me intellectually”.

For now, Lakshmi is resolved to make her role in the film “look real”, almost as real as her relationship with the man that made her famous before her acting did.

   

 
 
HEALER GEORGE HURTS CAMP 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, April 20: 
When George Fernandes began his “healing mission” in Gujarat yesterday, he squeezed in a reality check at the Dariyakhan Ghummat riot-relief camp here.

The verdict today from camp in-charge Inamul Iraki: “We do not trust this man.”

The hope that the BJP-led Central coalition’s secular face evoked in the morning evaporated when he reached the dais of an industry chamber.

At the Dariyakhan camp, the defence minister had heard out the inmates and enquired about the number of students there. The inmates told him that 114 students there and another 200 in the locality had not appeared for the examinations — at the centre of a controversy after students from the minority community boycotted them.

However, addressing members of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fernandes claimed that almost 100 per cent students took the tests.

“How do we trust this man? After all, he was here as a representative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who has been changing his colours like a chameleon,” said Iraki.

Gujarat education minister Anandiben Patel today rejected the demand for re-conducting board examinations. The minister had said yesterday — after the Supreme Court asked the state why supplementary tests cannot be held in June — that the government would consider giving another chance to the students.

The industry meet also reflected the disenchantment with politicians. An industrialist asked Fernandes to “take away” the charred compartment in Godhra as “it signals bad omen for the state” and “has unnecessarily become a tourist attraction for VIPs”.

Fernanades was told at the relief camp that even after 50 days, the state government had not announced a rehabilitation package. Trying to placate Iraki and his colleague Ataullah Khan, Fernandes said he would do his best to bring both to rebuild trust.

To this, Iraki retorted: “Muslims were butchered for political gain which has become so apparent after the BJP high command asked Narendra Modi to hold elections. Unless Modi goes, there can be no peace.”

Fernandes could only nod his head and say: “I understand your feelings.”

Most Muslim leaders urged the defence minister not to withdraw the army.

Fernandes’ credibility came under attack on the political front, too. The ADMK has dismissed as “totally false and mischievous” Fernandes’ statement that it was “clarified” to him that Jayalalithaa had not demanded the resignation of Modi.

   

 
 
HUNT FOR ATAL ‘DEATH’ FORGER 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, April 20: 
Police in Gwalior are hunting for an advocate who flaunted a fake death certificate of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to blackmail three tehsildars.

Nayab tehsildars Mahendra Lal Shrivastav, Mukul Gupta and Aditya Sharma met district collector Waseem Akhtar yesterday and produced a photocopy of a death certificate, saying “Atal Bihari Vajpayee, s/o Avadh Bihari Vajpayee...” died on December 13, 2001, the day terrorists struck at Parliament.

They said an advocate, Manoj Sharma, had tried to blackmail them with the copy, saying he had forged their signatures on the “agya patras (affidavits)”.

The photocopy of the death certificate with Vajpayee’s name on it threw the administration in a tizzy. An FIR was lodged at the Kotwali police station in Gwalior, triggering a manhunt for Manoj, who is absconding with the certificate. A cheating and forgery case has been registered against the advocate.

Initial inquiries showed that the father’s name and the address on the document did not match those of the Prime Minister’s. The despatch number on the certificate was also false.

The tehsildars told the police that Manoj came to their office with the copy and pointed out the forged signatures. Stating that the original was with him, he asked them to pay up. But he did not specify a ransom and breezed out, saying: “See you later.”

Manoj’s neighbours told the police that the middle-aged advocate is a mischief-monger.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Max: 35.1°C (-1)
Min: 28.1°C (+3)

Relative humidity

Maximum: 85%
Minimum: 65%

Rainfall

Nil

Sunset: 5.56 pm

Sunrise: 5.15 am

Today

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

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