Gujarat strangles Andhra weavers
Motion omissions let BJP breathe easy
House contempt cloud on Atal
RJD springs privilege notice
Diplomats squirm under riots glare
Last team, novel theory
Mamata lines up tit-for-tat rap for Bengal
Peace tangos with caution
Front steps up ouster heat
All but one cleared in Gulshan murder

Pochampally, April 24: 
The riots in Gujarat have sparked a suicide spree in Andhra Pradesh.

Gujarat has been one of the biggest buyers of silk sarees from weavers of Pochampally, about 45 km from Hyderabad. With the flare-up bringing about a business slump in the state, sarees worth almost Rs 10 crore have been “lying in the houses of weavers”, said Bikshapati, secretary of the weavers’ union in Pochampally.

L. Ramana, chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Board, said five weavers, including 20-year-old G. Vijayalakshmi and 35-year-old R. Lakshmaiah, have committed suicide. “Unless the government undertakes a rehabilitation programme immediately, there may be some more suicides,” he warned.

Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Delhi are the leading purchasers of Pochampally silk sarees. The village, famous for the Bhoodan Movement launched by Acharya Vinobha Bhave, once housed 300 weaver families and around 52 retail outlets.

“The lack of patronage has brought down the number of weaver families to less than 100. Many of them are working in the powerloom sector in the cities,” said Raghu, a weaver and a retail shop-owner in Pochampally.

P. Govind, 55, was the first weaver to end his life. He hanged himself early last month in a room full of his unsold stock of sarees.

Govind’s death sent shockwaves among weavers who made an appeal to chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, asking him to make arrangements to sell their sarees in other states.

Naidu has been blowing hot and cold on the Gujarat issue. He had initially demanded the removal of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi but gradually softened his stand.

With the communal frenzy continuing in Gujarat and with no relief coming forth from any quarter, four more weavers, including two women, committed suicide.

Bikshapati said the weavers had borrowed heavily from local landlords to buy yarns. “Each family had borrowed Rs 1 to 2 lakh. If everything had been alright, they would have earned almost Rs 4 lakh in three months.”

With the marriage season on, the weavers expected there would be more demand for the sarees in Gujarat and in northern states.


New Delhi, April 24: 
Surprised by the decision to allow a vote on the Gujarat motion in the Lok Sabha, government floor strategists were a relieved lot today after a watered-down version was admitted under a matching provision in the upper House by chairperson Krishan Kant.

The motion, based on a notice given by leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Manmohan Singh and others, was admitted under Rule 170.

The tersely worded motion expressed “deep sense of anguish” at the continuing violence in Gujarat, the “loss of lives” and “destruction of property worth crores of rupees”. It urged the “Central government to intervene effectively under Article 355 of the Constitution to protect the lives and properties of the citizens and to provide effective relief and rehabilitation to the victims of violence”.

Government sources were pleased that the motion did not refer to the state government, did not contain a single word of censure and most important, did not use the word “communal”.

An added reason for their delight was that today’s motion nullified an earlier one served by CPM MP Jibon Roy in the form of a private member’s resolution. It was listed for admission on Friday, when private member’s Bills are routinely taken up in the post-noon session.

The resolution might have been admitted for discussion this Friday, but the upper House is not meeting on that day. A resolution that is not admitted within a week of being served automatically expires. Roy’s resolution, far stronger than the one admitted today, blamed the Centre for being unable to intervene effectively under Article 355.

It also slammed the state government for having “utterly failed to discharge its constitutional responsibility of maintaining public order and enforcing the law to protect the lives and properties of its citizens and to provide effective relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal violence”.

Government sources said that while Roy’s wording was more or less retained, there were three important departures. The first was the deletion of the following words: “the inability of the Union Government to intervene effectively under Article 355 of the Constitution to protect the state from the ‘internal disturbance’”. This, the sources said, amounted to a censure.

The second was the reference to the Gujarat government’s utter failure. The third was the use of the word “communal”.

The sources were so thrilled with the motion that they joked that the ruling benches could even consider supporting it.

The sources admitted that from the legal viewpoint, the chair could have rejected the amended motion since Roy’s resolution was already listed for admission. “While admitting a private member’s resolution, often the House secretariat is not that alert,” they said.

But the “alert” floor strategists of the NDA got their act together two hours before the House was to meet. They first read out Roy’s resolution to home minister L.K. Advani and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, who is also the leader of the upper House. While Advani suggested that the phrase “inability of the Union Government” should be knocked out, Singh advised dropping “communal”.


New Delhi, April 24: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have clarified his remarks but deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed is hurt at the fall of another parliamentary convention that prohibits members from interpreting the chair’s ruling, even in private correspondence.

Sources close to Sayeed wondered why Vajpayee chose to comment on his ruling in Rashtrapati Bhavan when parliamentary practices and procedures bar members from questioning the chair.

According to Shakdhar and Kaul, an authority on parliamentary rules and procedure, “a member who protests against the ruling of the Speaker commits contempt of the House and the Speaker”.

In 1937, when P.D. Tandon was Speaker, a Muslim League MP was heard saying in the Parliament lobby (not inside the House) that he had no faith in the chair. The Speaker offered to resign and withdrew only after the MP tendered an apology.

P.M. Sayeed had taken care to informally consult parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan throughout the House logjam on Gujarat. Sources said he cleared the discussion in the Lok Sabha under Rule 184 only after getting consent from leaders of the ruling coalition and the Opposition.

The powers of the Speaker are sweeping and he is not bound to give reasons for his decisions. In 1966, a parliamentary rules panel had felt that the Speaker had inherent powers not to justify his decisions on notices when a proposal to have a specific rule to that effect was made.

Sayeed, a nine-time Congress MP from Lakshadweep, is also upset over the “whisper campaign” that he admitted the motion under Rule 184 to favour the Congress. Sayeed had called on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday leading a delegation from Lakshadweep.

According to sources close to Sonia, the engagement was fixed much before the Gujarat stand-off and there was no one-on-one between her and the Lok Sabha deputy Speaker. The Congress today deplored Vajpayee’s observations on Sayeed’s ruling.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy alleged that Vajpayee was “indulging in a sin by way of indiscretion”. No Union minister, leave alone a Prime Minister, in the history of independent India had ever made an adverse comment on the ruling given by a presiding officer of the Lok Sabha, Reddy said.


New Delhi, April 25: 
Charging Atal Bihari Vajpayee with “casting aspersions on the chair”, Rashtriya Janata Dal member Raghuvansh Prasad Singh today gave a notice of privilege motion against the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha.

Talking to reporters after an investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan yesterday, Vajpayee had said Parliament was not the right forum to discuss state issues. The discussion on Gujarat would set a wrong precedent, he said.

Vajpayee was reacting to deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed’s decision to admit the Opposition motion on Gujarat violence under Rule 184, which entails voting. The Prime Minister was also quoted as saying that the ruling was “unfortunate”.

But late in the night, the PMO issued a clarification that Vajpayee had described the motion, not the ruling, as “unfortunate”.

Raising the matter soon after the Lok Sabha assembled this morning, Raghuvansh Singh said the leader of the House had lowered its dignity by questioning the ruling of the chair. The House witnessed a furore as Singh said he had given a notice of privilege motion against the Prime Minister.

Congress and Left Front members supported him and demanded admission of the notice. For five minutes, the Lok Sabha saw agitated members seeking the chair’s observation on Singh’s notice and Sayeed asking them to take their seats and allow question hour to proceed.

The deputy Speaker said the matter could be raised during zero hour. “I have seen the report and I have also seen the denial in newspapers. We have to proceed according to rules. The established convention is that after the information is verified, then the House will decide what is to be done. Please leave it to me,” he said.

To initiate privilege action against a member, the procedure is that the notice is verified and authenticated by the member concerned and then sent to the privilege committee for a decision.


New Delhi, April 24: 
The continued violence in Gujarat has put South Block mandarins in a spot.

The brave public front notwithstanding, Indian diplomats are finding it difficult to suppress their growing frustration in defending the “indefensible” stand of the government on Gujarat.

The ministry of external affairs is also not in a position to stop foreign missions from leaking their internal assessment reports to the Indian media to share their views on the Gujarat riots.

South Block officials will, however, get an opportunity to thrash out the matter with their European counterparts within the next few days, when the Indo-British round-table talks begin in London, and also during Delhi’s talks with the European Union foreign ministers early next month.

At the moment, India can only issue strong statements against the foreign missions. “We note with regret that some foreign missions in India continue to interfere in the already vigorous democratic debate going on in our country, at all levels of Indian society, on the situation in Gujarat, by deliberately leaking their internal reports or making substantive political comments on the subject,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said today.

Rao pointed out that Parliament, the political parties, the courts, the National Human Rights Commission, the minorities’ commission, the media and intellectuals were “openly and freely debating” in minute detail the developments in the state. This was a reflection of the strength of the Indian democracy, she argued.

The spokesperson charged “some foreign countries and missions in Delhi” with “injecting themselves into the highly politically charged internal debate” and giving an impression of “playing a partisan role”.

“This is contradictory to well-established norms of diplomacy and injurious to the friendly relations that exist between India and the European Union as well as individual European countries identified in the press as sources of leaks and political interference,” she stressed.

This is the second time in three days that the foreign ministry has come out with a statement asking the foreign missions not to meddle in India’s internal affairs.

But many more foreign leaders came out with public statements today expressing concern over Gujarat.

Visiting Canadian minister for inter-governmental affairs Stephanie Dion was the latest to do so. But he made it clear that his views should not be seen as meddling in India’s internal affairs. Here on a four-day visit, Dion said he was keen to participate in the peace rally proposed by defence minister George Fernandes.

Switzerland, which had voiced its concern yesterday, was a little cautious this afternoon. Its foreign minister, Josef Deiss, refused to comment on the issue, saying it was an internal matter of India.

But British high commissioner Rob Young, whose high commission was the first to leak its internal report to the media, today iterated that Gujarat continued to be a cause of concern. He, however, added that London appreciated and welcomed India’s condemnation of the violence and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s assurance that all the people responsible for it would be punished.

If this was mild criticism, there were other foreign missions that used much stronger language. A newspaper, quoting the German internal assessment document, said Muslims were specifically targeted in Gujarat. The Dutch report, also quoted in the media, denounced the partisan police action after the Godhra attack.


New Delhi, April 24: 
The National Commission for Women (NCW), a high-ranking organisation sponsored by the Centre, was the last to tour Gujarat, after all other women’s organisations had presented their reports on the riots.

The NCW is also perhaps the only women’s organisation that has not blamed the Narendra Modi government for the violence. Its report, released to the press today, neither names the Modi government nor uses the word “Muslims”.

“For us, all women are the same. Even one case of atrocity is bad enough,” chairperson Poornima Advani explained.

Instead of the government, the NCW heaped blame on the media. “The visual and the print media should present news in such a manner that there is no sensationalisation but a positive sense of working towards the twin goals of peace and national harmony,” it said.

In a way, the statement also carried a stricture against other women’s organisations that have given a micro picture of the horrors suffered by women.

The NCW report, in contrast, is replete with broad sermons to the governments at the Centre and the state. The only reference to the complicity of the state government in the killings is indirect. “The committee that visited Gujarat received complaints of abdication of responsibility by the police,” the report says.

Instead of getting down to the incidents of outrage, the report goes over the constitution of the NCW, its mandate, the duties of the state under the Constitution, international conventions and the organisation’s meetings with NGOs, ministers and government functionaries. The assessment of the violence is done away with in three paras. The sermons follow. “Now is the time to look ahead rather than backwards,” says the report.

At the press conference, Advani stressed over and over again on the need to give the victims a sense of security, but refused to say whether the Modi government could do it.

The NCW chief said there had been cases of sexual atrocities, some too horrifying to narrate, and some cases where the police refused to file FIRs. But despite prodding by the media, she did not blame Modi.

Minority panel

Irked by the government’s silence on its recommendations, the National Commission for Minorities today sent a directive asking the Modi regime to submit an action taken report on the measures it was asked to take to restore normality.


New Delhi, April 24: 
Stung by the admission of a discussion on Gujarat under Rule 184, the ruling coalition is planning to hit back by bringing a similar censure motion against West Bengal and Bihar.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is compiling a list of incidents of Red terror to make a case for a discussion on Left Front-ruled Bengal.

On Bihar, the BJP will collaborate with the Samata Party to give a joint notice under Rule 184 and put Laloo Prasad Yadav on the mat. But it will leave the initiative to Mamata for the motion on Bengal.

The BJP has directed its MPs to prepare a list of violent incidents in the two states.

“If the Trinamul Congress brings a notice under Rule 184, we will support it now that a precedent has been set that Parliament can sit in judgment of state law and order,” BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said today. “We hope such motions will be accepted in future also.”

The party is planning to give notice for a discussion on Bihar under Rule 184, which entails voting, next week, Malhotra added.

The Trinamul parliamentary party will meet on April 29 to discuss the strategy in the light of the Gujarat precedent.

Mamata was unavailable for comment, but party leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said: “What is happening in West Bengal is not a mere law and order problem. There are a number of cases of atrocities against minorities, women and Dalits. The matter cannot be treated as a state subject.”

The party had tried to raise the issue earlier but in vain. To give notice for a discussion under Rule 184, at least 50 MPs should back the motion. The nine-member Trinamul had earlier failed to gather the requisite support.

But with the BJP determined to teach the Opposition a lesson, numbers will not be a problem now.

Bandopadhyay said the Centre had the right to intervene in the case of Bengal. “We had tried to raise the Chhota Anagaria case where 11 persons were butchered last year. Hundreds of our workers were killed, two brothers were brutally murdered in South Paraganas, 25 of our workers were killed in the last two months and the killing spree goes on.”

Ridiculing the language of the motion on Gujarat admitted in the Lok Sabha yesterday, Bandopadhyay said: “Modi’s name was not even mentioned. It is unfortunate. Now we have a doubt whether the Opposition is serious at all. It was an ill-drafted motion.”

Malhotra asserted that “in the states where conditions are really bad, like Bengal and Bihar, motion under 184 should be accepted by the chair”.

The BJP spokesperson claimed that the violence in Bihar was 10 times that in Gujarat. “It is not a question of tit-for-tat. A home ministry standing committee report has said Bihar is the most violent state. Three ministers have been accused of murder; one minister’s son killed a young boy under the influence of alcohol; there was a jail-break in Chapra,” he said.

“If a motion on Gujarat is okay, then our resolutions (proposed) are also okay. You can’t have two sets of rules,” Malhotra said.


New Delhi, April 24: 
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga today welcomed the efforts to bring peace in her island nation but stressed on caution while dealing with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — an outfit as “ruthless and efficient” as Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida.

Kumaratunga is the first Sri Lankan leader to visit India after Velupillai Prabhakaran’s recent peace overture, in which the LTTE chief had called for lifting the ban on his outfit by both Colombo and Delhi.

The Sri Lankan President shared her perceptions on developments in the island nation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Later in the day, she also called on President K.R. Narayanan and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi.

It is no secret that Kumaratunga is a little wary of the LTTE warlord’s public postures.

She was one of the first Sinhalese leaders to accept that for lasting peace in her country, the aspirations of the Tamil minorities would have to be met.

However, Kumaratunga was clear on one point: there would no separate homeland for them. Their aspirations would have to be accommodated within the island’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Kumaratunga’s attitude towards the Tamil Tigers underwent a fundamental change after the LTTE launched a murderous attack on her a few years ago. But she has not shifted from her basic policy — that peace could only return when the minorities of the country also have a stake in it.

Vajpayee was accompanied by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra during the “restrictive” meeting with Kumaratunga.

The Prime Minister said Delhi would support any peace move by Colombo provided it met the aspirations of the Tamil minorities while safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity.

Delhi has in the recent past made it clear to Colombo that while it was not going on an overdrive to get Prabhakaran — wanted for former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination — extradited to India, it would also do nothing to jeopardise the peace process by encouraging some regional parties in Tamil Nadu.

Perhaps, what the Indian leadership wanted to know from Kumaratunga is to what extent she is willing to go along with the efforts of her political rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to bring peace to the island.

The Sri Lankan President told Vajpayee and the others that though she wanted the LTTE to credibly demonstrate its good faith to the peace initiatives, she would not do anything to upset the current move to find a lasting solution to the ethnic problem.


Ahmedabad, April 24: 
A Lok Morcha delegation visited Gujarat today to “understand the gravity of the situation” and said the front will intensify its nationwide campaign to expose and oust the Narendra Modi government and force the NDA allies to take a clear stand on the Gujarat issue.

Addressing a news conference after visiting riot relief camps, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said: “The situation is quite grave. So we have decided to intensify our campaign on Gujarat to highlight the danger facing the nation.”

The communal violence poses a serious threat to the country’s secular fabric and that is why it is important to force the NDA allies to make their stand clear on the “continuation of the Narendra Modi government”, Surjeet said. “We do not want the secular parties to play a hide-and-seek game on the Gujarat issue. It is important to know who stands where,” the CPM leader stressed.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who led the delegation, criticised the state government for not “starting rehabilitation work”. He also slammed the administration for failing to restore confidence in the minds of the victims. “The people do not trust the administration and that is the biggest problem.”

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav suggested that all sensitive localities in the city be handed over to the army as the people do not trust the police. Mulayam claimed that troops had told him during an informal chat that they were not taken to sensitive places and were not allowed to play an effective role to control the violence.

CPI leader A.B. Bardhan, who does not view the army as a solution, tried to modify Mulayam’s statement.

“The Lok Morcha is not advocating replacement of the civil administration, but the effective use of the army to improve the situation,” Bardhan said. He accused Governor S.S. Bhandari of remaining a spectator and acting “in a partisan manner”.

Lashing out at the Sangh parivar for trying to divide people on communal lines much before the Godhra carnage, Bardhan stressed the need to bridge the gulf that has been created. Claiming that the toll might have crossed 2000, he challenged the state government to come out with the figure of missing persons, who are feared killed.


Mumbai, April 24: 
The five-year-long Gulshan Kumar murder case fell flat on its face today, with the trial court clearing all-but one accused, including Tips Cassettes director Ramesh Taurani.

The judgment is good news for music composer Nadeem Akhtar Saifee, living in London after Indian authorities failed to get him extradited. He can now breathe easy.

Though the “absconding” composer has yet to stand trial, the charges against him are effectively quashed, with the court acquitting co-accused Taurani. They were both booked on the same charges of conspiring to kill the music baron with the help of Dubai-based mobster Abu Salem.

Government lawyers said they plan to move Bombay High Court against the order.

Signs that the case was about to crumble had emerged from the courtroom yesterday when judge M.L. Tahilyani absolved all the accused of charges of conspiracy police had levelled against them.

Tahilyani acquitted 17 of the 18 accused, saying the police had failed to establish the charges against them. The only accused convicted was Abdul Rauf Daud Merchant, who had shot Kumar dead at an Andheri temple in August 1997. The court will announce his punishment on Friday.

The judge also released Mohammad Ali Sheikh, an accused, who had turned approver. He was re-arrested a few days ago after he told the court that police had forced him to be an approver, dealing a severe blow to the case. The judge today rejected a police appeal seeking his custody for investigation.

“The truth has come out. I am happy with the verdict,” Shravan, Nadeem’s long time friend and co-composer, said outside the courthouse. He said he knew from the beginning that Nadeem was “innocent” and would be “freed” in the end. “I hope he comes back now and starts working with me again,” Shravan added.

Majeed Memon, Nadeem’s lawyer, said the court verdict reflected that the police had no case against him. “The only charge the police levelled against Nadeem was conspiracy, but the court has rejected it,” he said. Memon would not say whether Nadeem had any plans to return to Mumbai. “Let’s wait and watch,” he said.

Investigating officials had bungled the case right at the outset. R.H. Mendonca, then Mumbai’s police commissioner, had jumped the gun by calling Nadeem a prime conspirator at a news conference on August 30 1997, barely 18 days after the killing.

Police sources said Mendonca’s announcement had alerted Nadeem, then holidaying in London with his family. Fearing arrest, he had refused to return, hampering the investigation.

Later, Mumbai police’s attempts to get him extradited fell through when a London court rejected the plea for lack of “enough” evidence and asked Indian authorities to pay a tidy sum to Nadeem in damages.

“God is great. I am happy the truth has prevailed after five long years,” a beaming Taurani said. His wife and brother, who were with him at the court, looked relieved. With the verdict going in his favour, Taurani said his faith in the judiciary has gone up. “I waited patiently for five long years for the verdict because I knew truth will come out.”

The police claimed Taurani had given Nadeem Rs 25 lakh, which was “handed over” to Dubai-based mobster Salem, to get the audio baron killed. Tips Cassettes was the main rival of Kumar’s T-Series.

The police, however, failed to establish the accusation in court. Actor Chunkey Pandey, whom the police had dragged into the case as a witness to the murder plot, flatly denied in court that he had been witness to any plot to kill Kumar during a visit to Dubai, where he had gone to perform in a musical.


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