RSS takes recast, Modi case to Vajpayee
EU velvet-glove punch on riots
BJP seal on Mayavati coalition
Clash spreads to Baroda
Desam House vote meet today
Sankaracharya bid to marginalise VHP
Death for Omar’s kidnap aides
Musharraf ‘accepts’ invite

New Delhi, April 27: 
A high-level meeting of the RSS and BJP brass was held this morning at the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence, mainly to discuss the impending Cabinet reshuffle and changes in the party organisation.

The meeting, held over lunch, was attended by the RSS patriarch, H.V. Seshadri, the sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan and Madan Das Devi, and lasted over two hours.

BJP sources said the prospective coalition with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Gujarat scenario were also discussed. While the RSS welcomed the Uttar Pradesh coalition, sources said the leaders did not take kindly to the criticisms levelled against the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, from diplomatic quarters.

The leaders decided that the parivar, including the BJP, must put its weight behind Modi and convey that India would not brook external “interference” in its “internal” problems.

Vajpayee’s keynote address in a plenary session of the Confederation of Indian Industry just hours after the parivar meeting reflected the consensus on going on the offensive.

He said the Gujarat violence should not lend itself to sweeping generalisations about India and present a “wrong” picture abroad. He appealed to the CII representatives to rectify the distortions that had crept in.

With today’s meeting, BJP sources said, the exercise of a Cabinet reshuffle/expansion and organisational changes had begun. It was apparent that finance minister Yashwant Sinha may stay put despite the speculation that he was on his way out.

Sinha’s presentation on the budget at the BJP’s national executive in Goa and his partial rollback have blunted the edge of the attack that was mounted against him, said sources.

Though the RSS was unhappy with him for his volte face on reforms, sources said Vajpayee’s commendation of Sinha in his CII address today was a “clear” signal that his job was not in danger. The Prime Minister said: “... I would say, believe in India. And I would add: Believe also in our finance minister.”

However, speculation was rife that food and civil supplies minister Shanta Kumar’s position was shaky after he took off in the media against Modi and the VHP. Kumar has since apologised for his remarks but the RSS reportedly felt it was “not enough”.

The issue of inducting a senior Cabinet minister into the party organisation was also deliberated on. It seems information technology minister Pramod Mahajan has already offered to come back to 11, Ashoka Road, the BJP headquarters.

Sources said a special post of secretary-general may be created for him and the interregnum between now and the end of the party president K. Jana Krishnamurthy’s tenure next week could be used to groom him to step into Krishnamurthi’s shoes.

The meeting also took the RSS’ formal consent to go ahead with the BSP alliance, which was initially disapproved of by the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP.

The RSS has been concerned about the perception that the party has been reduced to being an adjunct of the government. Given the political fluidity and the chances of a mid-term poll, its concern was that the organisation should be revved up to face the eventuality.

The meeting also took the RSS’ formal consent to go ahead with the BSP alliance, which was initially disapproved of by the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP. Apart from Vajpayee and the RSS brass, the meeting was attended by home minister L.K. Advani, human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Jana Krishnamurthy and Kushbhau Thakre.


New Delhi, April 27: 
The European Union has struck a diplomatic balance by sugarcoating its concern over the sectarian violence in Gujarat with kudos for the steps announced by the Vajpayee regime to deal with the situation and the National Human Rights Commission’s forthright report on the atrocities.

In a demarche submitted to the Indian government, the EU has referred to media reports that the violence in Gujarat was planned and many of the government agencies were late in reacting. But, contrary to speculation, it has not made any comparison between the Gujarat developments and the fascist policies of Adolf Hitler or the apartheid regime in South Africa.

There has been no demand for the removal of the Narendra Modi government, too. The EU has also offered help in resettling the affected families in Gujarat. In fact, the absence of a hectoring tone may make it much more acceptable for the Indian government to live with the EU position.

Over the past two weeks, sections of the Indian media have been carrying “internal assessment reports” of the various European missions based in Delhi on the Gujarat developments and alluding to a EU declaration which allegedly compared the communal clashes with fascism and apartheid. The reports also suggested that the EU would be making a strong demand for Modi’s removal.

The Indian government — initially the foreign office and later Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — had reacted sharply to the reports and cautioned the foreign missions not to meddle in India’s internal affairs.

The “confidential demarche” was submitted by the EU council of ministers to India’s ambassador in Spain, Dilip Lahiri, in Madrid yesterday. Spain holds the EU presidency and the decision to hand over the document in its capital was taken after South Block refused to give dates to representatives of the EU troika to meet foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and deliver the demarche in Delhi.

A demarche in diplomatic parlance means a chance for a country, or a group of countries, to state their position on an issue to the host government. It now remains to be seen how the Indian government reacts to the EU’s observations.

Senior officials of the EU troika will meet Iyer at Hyderabad House on May 2 to review bilateral relations. As in the past, regional as well as international developments are likely to come up for discussion. It is possible that the Gujarat developments might figure during the talks.

To avoid further controversy, the Indian foreign office may issue a brief statement after the interaction and attempts would be made to scuttle an interface between the media and the EU officials.

It is not clear whether the EU demarche has been “watered down” following Delhi’s reaction and its assertion that outsiders had no business commenting on the internal affairs of India.

But insiders claim that the document had no intention either of embarrassing the government or lecture it.


New Delhi, April 27: 
The BJP parliamentary board tonight rescinded its decision to sit in the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh Assembly and approved the party joining a coalition government led by the Bahujan Samaj Party, putting an end to all speculation.

Prior to the board meeting at his residence, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held talks with senior RSS leaders, including K.S. Sudarshan, H.V. Seshadri and Madan Das Devi, on the Uttar Pradesh situation and other national issues.

With the board’s approval, the government formation in Uttar Pradesh is expected to take place in the next couple of days. While an accord has been reached on portfolio distribution, the BJP’s insistence on former chief minister Rajnath Singh heading the proposed state-level coordination committee is yet to be sorted out.

The meeting, chaired by the Vajpayee, was attended, among others, by party president Jana Krishnamurthi, home minister L.K. Advani, former party chief Kushabhau Thakre, Rajnath Singh and state party leaders Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon.

Asked about portfolio distribution and who will head the coordination committee, Jana Krishnamurthi said the issues had been left to the state leaders, who would sit with Mayavati and finalise the details.

Asked when the new government will be sworn in, Krishnamurthi said, “As soon as possible. But I do not know how soon.”

The parliamentary board had, in the wake of the BJP’s electoral rout in Uttar Pradesh, decided to sit in the Opposition.

Hardliners led by home minister L.K. Advani, former chief minister Rajnath Singh and senior state leader Kalraj Mishra were opposed to any truck with the BSP in forming the government.

But the Vajpayee camp managed to convince the hardliners the “advantages” of propping up BSP chief Mayavati with BJP support. Following the Gujarat incidents, several allies, especially the Telugu Desam Party, had been rethinking on their support to the NDA.

The Vajpayee camp believes that by allying with the BSP, its 13 MPs could bolster the NDA by extending support at the Centre and as and when Parliament elections are held, the BJP could benefit from the BSP’s Dalit vote bank not only in Uttar Pradesh, but also in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttaranchal.

Party sources said the board discussed a detailed report from party leaders Kalraj Mishra, Rajnath Singh and Lalji Tandon.


Ahmedabad, April 27: 
Fresh bouts of violence have claimed at least four more lives in Gujarat, two of them in Baroda where curfew has been imposed in six police station areas of the walled city.

One person was killed in police firing last night and another stabbed to death today.

At least 23 people were injured in police firing and stabbing. The police opened fire to disperse a mob that set fire to over 100 shops owned by the minority community.

The walled city of Baroda remained peaceful after the Godhra incident. But suddenly on Friday, tension built up in the walled city area after a burning rag was thrown into a place of worship.

At night, rumours spread fast and people came out on the streets and pelted stones, forcing the police to open fire. One person was killed and eight others injured as violence rocked Vadi and Panigat areas of Baroda.

Curfew was clamped in Fatepura, Vadi, Babamanjura and Panigate this afternoon, around 1.45 pm, after one person was stabbed to death and a number of others were injured in stabbing, stone throwing and bomb explosions.

Police lobbed 35 teargas shells and fired more than 60 rounds to disperse mobs indulging in stone pelting and arson.

Parishad scoffs at rally

Strongly defending “the justified and natural reaction of the suppressed Hindu community” to the Godhra carnage, the VHP today dismissed the peace rally to be led by defence minister George Fernandes in the city tomorrow as a mere nautanki.

Those who would join the peace march tomorrow had not bothered to find out the condition of Kashmiri Pandits living in refugee camps, VHP Kendriya Marg Darshak Mandal member Acharya Dharmendra said. Nor did they visit the families of those killed in the Godhra train massacre, he added.


Hyderabad, April 27: 
Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu today said the Telugu Desam Party had neither sought a Rule 184 discussion nor voting on the issue of removal of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

His party would never take any hasty decision on any issue, Naidu told reporters in Tirupati. He was responding to the caution expressed by the BJP yesterday, asking the Desam not take any decision in a hurry.

Naidu said the Desam parliamentary party would meet tomorrow and decide on the action to be taken in the Parliament in the next three days.

Commenting on the decision of ADMK chief Jayalalithaa to keep away from voting on the Rule 184 discussion in Lok Sabha, Naidu said she was neither a member of the NDA nor a party to any coalition till now.

“The TDP has more commitment to secularism and we will not stray from it,” Naidu said.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Union minister for information technology Pramod Mahajan will be in Hyderabad with a delegation of senior BJP leaders to convince Naidu of the need for his “favourable disposition” towards the NDA. The BJP leadership is driven to hard bargaining in view of reports of discontent among Desam members on continued support to the NDA.

Telugu dailies played up the view of Nizamabad Desam member Ganga Reddy that the time had come for the party to take a practical decision.

Chautala backs NDA

Haryana chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala today pledged his party’s support to the NDA government during the discussion and voting on the Gujarat issue in the Lok Sabha.


Ayodhya, April 27: 
Undeterred by the failure of his peace initiative in March, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati, air-dashed to the temple town to explore the possibility of a consensus among Hindus and Muslims on the mandir-masjid controversy.

“It was just an exploratory mission, but I return convinced that the efforts to built a consensus must be accelerated to prepare all parties to accept the court’s verdict,” the seer said at the end of his visit today.

During his two-day state-facilitated visit— he flew in and returned in a state plane — Jayendra Saraswati held talks with local Muslim leaders and mahants.

While Hashim Ansari, one of the plaintiffs in the Ayodhya dispute being heard by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, was there to meet him, the seer could not meet any of the VHP leaders, including Rama Janmabhoomi Nyas chairman Ramachandra Paramhans of Digambar Akhara.

Later, the seer met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Delhi and is believed t have discussed his talks with Muslim leaders at the temple town.

Political observers saw this as a subtle move to marginalise the VHP’s role in future parleys. As if to underscore the point, his local host and Choti Chhawani mahant Nritya Gopal Das told reporters that the March 15 shila daan by Paramhans and VHP leaders like Ashok Singhal “was a farce”.

The Sankaracharya was taciturn about the purpose of his visit. “I came here just to assess the ground situation,” he said. Most Ayodhya mahants wanted politics to “be kept out of religion”, he added.

The Sankaracharya was quick to point out that there was scope for not only continuing the peace talks but also to expand their scope. The Sankaracharya said the Muslim leaders had suggested that a wider consultation be held in Lucknow and that he would continue with his efforts in future.

“These efforts are necessary to prepare a congenial atmosphere when the court gives its verdict,” Saraswati pointed out. “Whatever the decision, one of the parties must lose and we must prepare the ground so that the people are in a mood to accept the court’s verdict,” he added.

The Ayodhya mahants who met the Sankaracharya were sharply critical of the manner in which some VHP leaders were trying to politicise the dispute.

“It is for religious leaders like you to ensure that such elements are not allowed to hijack an emotive issue and play with the people’s sentiments,” mahant Dharma Das told him.

Dharam Das recently led an agitation against Paramhans and VHP leaders Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia, alleging that no account of the funds collected by the Nyas are kept. He even got court notices issued to them to show cause why the trust should not be dissolved.

Choti Chhawani’s mahant Nritya Gopal Das is said to be unhappy with the way Paramhans is playing into the hands of VHP hawks. His open support to Saraswati’s latest peace initiative is a clear indication that the counter-mobilisation of the sants against the VHP will get a boost.

Swami Swaroopananda of Dwarika Peetha had also tried an anti-VHP mobilisation of sants during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s regime when a Ramalaya Trust was floated for the construction of the temple.


New Delhi, April 27: 
In a “rarest of rare cases”, a Delhi court today sentenced to death three Pakistani militants of Harkat-ul-Ansar for kidnapping four foreign tourists — one American and three Britons — here in 1994 in a case in which Omar Sheikh was also an accused.

However, the Centre had dropped charges against British national Sheikh to secure the release of hijacked Indian Airlines passengers in Kandahar in 1999. He was recently arrested in Pakistan and is facing trial for the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Special judge S.N. Dhingra awarded capital punishment to Pakistani militants Nazir Khan, Abdul Rahim and Naser Mehmood Sodozey and sentenced their three Indian accomplices —Nurul Amin, Mohd Sayeed and Mahmood — to life imprisonment. Two other accused, Hazi Shamim and Mohd Yameen of Uttar Pradesh, were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Finding the Pakistani rebels guilty of kidnapping the foreign tourists, holding them hostage and killing them, the special judge said: “I sentence these three accused persons to death under Section 3(2)(1) of Tada.”

However, the death sentences have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court. According to legal procedure, the government will make a “reference of death” to the apex court that will adjudicate on the matter. The convicts can also directly file appeals to the Supreme Court as laid down by the special provisions of Tada.

Though the law lapsed long ago, the “saving provision” of Section 14 allows cases booked under Tada to be tried under it.

The special trial court also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on each of the six accused.

If the convicts awarded life imprisonment default on paying the fine, they will then undergo rigorous imprisonment of two years each, the court has ruled.

Indian accomplices Amin and Mahmood were further sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment for harbouring the other terrorists at various “safe houses” in Delhi.

In his order, Dhingra said the “accused did not deserve any leniency for the crime they had committed”, adding that the case was “rarest of rare cases” deserving the severest punishment of death penalty.

Saying one of the objectives of punishment was to deter others from joining terrorism, the court separately sentenced the six accused to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 under Tada for indulging in “terrorist activities”.

Khan and Sodozey were also sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 25,000 under the Foreigners Act, which tries foreign nationals involved in crime in the country.

On default of payment, they will have to undergo two more years of imprisonment.

The sentences under the provisions of different Acts will run concurrently.

“The accused persons are to be given the benefit of Section 428 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and sentence awarded to them under different provisions of Indian Penal Code, Tada and Foreigners Act shall run concurrently,” the court said. Section 428 of the CrPC provides that the time spent in jail by the accused while the trail is pending will be set off against the sentence.


Srinagar April 27: 
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has accepted the invitation to hold an Indo-Pak summit in Srinagar, according to four local lawyers who visited Islamabad for a conference.

G.N. Shaheen, G.N. Hagroo, Mohammad Amin Bhat and Mohammad Ashraf — members of Kashmir Bar Association — attended a lawyer’s conference on Peace through Law in Islamabad on the invitation of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.

“General Musharraf accepted our invitation to visit Kashmir in respect and honour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and described this peace initiative as a step forward in search of peace,” the lawyers told a news conference today.

“General Musharraf iterated his urge for a comprehensive and meaningful dialogue with India at any level, anywhere and anytime for resolution of the Kashmir issue, de-escalation on borders and normalisation of bilateral relations,” the lawyers said.

“The Pakistan President appreciated our idea of holding an Indo-Pak summit conference at Srinagar to be hosted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Shaheen. He said Musharraf, while appreciating the idea, said: “I wish it happened.”

The lawyers denied reports that their visit to Pakistan was “to convince the various militant leaders to join the Assembly polls being held later this year. This is a malicious propaganda. Election was not on our agenda”.

The lawyers hoped that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee “would appreciate our peace initiative and accept the proposal for resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue”.


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