Govt accepts motion of thorns
George faces women’s fire
Come-clean order on candidates
Trapped Musharraf awaits Delhi rope
Hizb offers Atal chance to deflect riots fire
Babus not to play Gujarat parrots
Twin panels for harmony
Mayavati, BJP woo restive constituencies
Mamata becomes parivar’s Bengal face
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GOVT ACCEPTS MOTION OF THORNS 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 2: 
The Centre is in a fix after it took the Opposition by surprise by deciding to support the Congress-sponsored motion on Gujarat under Rule 170 in the Rajya Sabha.

This rule, like its equivalent in the Lok Sabha, involves voting. Going by the numbers, the government would have been sure to lose in the Upper House where it is in a minority.

The reason for the government being uneasy lies in the motion’s wording that “urges” it 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”.

The Centre is under no obligation to “intervene” — in spite of the motion being passed — but having now offered support, it has left itself open to continued Opposition heckling for not keeping its word if it does not.

Government sources said the decision to back the Congress motion was taken three days ago for two reasons: first, its strategists felt the text was “mild and mutually acceptable” and second, the BJP wanted to cover the cracks in the ruling coalition after allies Telugu Desam and Trinamul Congress insisted on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s resignation.

When the leader of the House, Jaswant Singh, announced the government’s support to the Congress motion this morning, BJP sources claimed the Opposition was stumped. “You have thrown a googly at us,” government sources quoted a Left MP as saying.

The BJP’s explanation was that the move to support the motion was made last week when its floor strategists pre-empted the CPM’s Jibon Roy from bringing in a private resolution on Gujarat which was “more strongly” worded than the present one.

A joint resolution, the sources said, would have projected the image of a “united” House and, to an extent, washed away the acrimony that marked the Lok Sabha debate on Gujarat.

Though the BJP felt it was mild, the motion was based on the assumptions that: the Gujarat violence was very serious, the state government had done little or nothing to uphold the Constitution, and the Centre so far had been a mute spectator.

Dwelling on the ambit of Article 355, Congress MP Kapil Sibal said it was recommendatory and “imposed a duty and obligation” on the Centre to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance, but was not a source of power.

Sibal suggested 355 should be read in tandem with Articles 352 and 356 according to a Supreme Court judgment. Both confer actual powers on the Centre — Article 352 to proclaim internal emergency in the event of external aggression or internal disturbance and 356 to impose President’s rule.

Sources made light of Sibal’s speech and said they were under no “obligation or pressure” to implement the motion which, in effect, meant the Centre would have to issue a warning to Modi to act in accordance with the Constitution and, if he did not, have no choice but to dismiss him.

   

 
 
GEORGE FACES WOMEN’S FIRE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, May 2: 
Defence minister George Fernandes’ defence of Narendra Modi has landed him in trouble. Some women MPs are planning to approach the deputy Speaker demanding a discussion on his “perverted” comments on women in the Lok Sabha.

The MPs, who have sought Fernandes’ apology, have suggested that they will meet President K.R. Narayanan seeking action against the “fallen” socialist.

In his speech against the Opposition motion on Gujarat, Fernandes said: “Had the governments been sincere during the last 50 years there would not have been 15,000 incidents of rioting.”

“This is not the first time that riots started in Gujarat and it is not the first time women were ill-treated and subjected to crimes like rape and (were) burnt alive.”

After his justification of Gujarat, the defence minister has lost the right to defend the women in the country, the MPs said.

“A pregnant woman’s stomach being cut, a daughter being raped in front of her mother” were not new things, Fernandes had said.

The Opposition was shocked, and both the Prime Minister and the home minister tried to control the damage. In his intervention on Tuesday night, Atal Bihari Vajpayee said: “It is shameful if rapes have occurred and are not being condemned.”

L.K. Advani snubbed Fernandes, saying: “When viewed from his longer perspective, the violence might seem usual. But for me, Gujarat is a matter of much pain and anguish.”

Today, the Lok Sabha was adjourned in the wake of an Opposition boycott of Fernandes.

Three MPs — Shama Sinha and Prabha Rao of the Congress and N.K. Premajam of the CPM —asked what signal Fernandes was giving to the nation. He is saying that this (“rape, burning and murders”) will go on because it has happened in the past, Premajam said.

   

 
 
COME-CLEAN ORDER ON CANDIDATES 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, May 2: 
The Supreme Court today gave electoral reforms a leg-up by directing that candidates “shall” furnish details about their criminal records, wealth and educational qualifications for every election.

A three-member bench of Justice M.B. Shah, Justice B.P. Singh and Justice H.K. Sema asked the Election Commission to bring into effect its directives within two months. The order makes it compulsory for candidates to provide the following details to the poll panel at the time of filing nomination:

whether they were ever convicted or acquitted or discharged of any criminal offence and, if convicted, whether punished with imprisonment or fine;

six months before filing nomination, whether they have been accused in any case/ pending case of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more for which charges has been framed or cognisance taken by a court of law;

assets (immovable, movable, bank balances, deposits, shares, etc) of the candidates, spouses and dependents;

liabilities, particularly dues payable to any public financial institution or the government;

educational qualifications.

The directions came on an appeal by the Centre against a Delhi High Court verdict, which contained similar directions, a few months ago on a public interest litigation filed by the Association of Democratic Reforms. Upholding the high court verdict, the apex court said: “The little man may think over before making his choice of electing law breakers as law makers.”

The Centre had contested the petition in Delhi High Court, contending that no court could direct the Election Commission to carry out these directions without legislation on the matter. But the apex court said the high court’s directions are not “unjustified or beyond its jurisdiction”, rejecting the Centre’s argument.

“The Supreme Court would have ample power to direct the (election) commission to fill the void in the absence of suitable legislation covering the field and the voters are required to be well-informed and educated about their contesting candidates so that they can elect proper candidates by their own assessment,” said the bench.

The apex court justified the judiciary’s entry into an “unoccupied field” under the “Doctrine of Unoccupied Field” as there is no legislation nor any executive effort on the topic. “It is the duty of the executive to fill the vacuum by executive orders because its field is coterminous with that of the legislature, and where there is inaction by the executive, for whatever reason, the judiciary must step in,” the judges said.

The directives have been hotly debated ever since the two panels on poll reforms took them up. A credential objection from various quarters has been that a politician of the ruling party could file or foist criminal cases against political rivals.

   

 
 
TRAPPED MUSHARRAF AWAITS DELHI ROPE 
 
 
FROM BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
Lahore, May 2: 
It will be more of the same in India-Pakistan relations. General Pervez Musharraf’s policy towards India is stuck and he has little room to manoeuvre, political observers here believe. And this situation, they feel, is unlikely to change unless India gives him some space or there is external pressure from the US to settle differences.

“Pervez Musharraf does not have an India policy now. The policy that Pakistan has been following is not sustainable as it is based on supporting militancy. Other than that there is no policy. Musharraf is keen on changing the Kashmir policy but the diplomatic breakthrough needed is not there. That has to come from India. So Musharraf is stuck,” Aamir Ahmed Khan, the editor of the Herald, argued.

Arif Hasan, an eminent architect, argued that Pakistan’s India policy would be governed to a large extent by its negotiations with the US. “Pervez Musharraf will have to depend heavily on the US for his survival. If Musharraf is badly needed by the US, he will push and negotiate for the policies he has always followed. If he is not needed, then he will listen to the US. I think there is very little room for him to manoeuvre,” Hasan claimed.

Hamid Mir, the editor of the daily Ausaf, thought that in the run up to the October elections, General Musharraf might rail against India. “By constantly criticising Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, he will project himself as someone who did not compromise on Kashmir. After October, however, he will be under pressure from the West to start a dialogue with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But Vajpayee is no fool and may refuse to talk. No military government in Pakistan has been able to achieve a breakthrough in relations with a civilian government in India,” Mir said, suggesting that nothing was likely to change even now.

I.A. Rehman, the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, however, argued that the internal problems of the country would push the General to change his attitude towards India to some extent. “He will not have donor support for continuing his present policy. They will ask him to make up with India. But I don’t think he has the will or the capacity for radical change. And the Indian state will also continue to give him excuses for confrontation,” he said.

Prof. A.H. Nayyar of the Quaid-e-Azam University analysed General Musharraf’s attitude to India saying, “At one level, he is rabidly anti-India. At another, he is a pragmatist — if he finds that a particular policy is not working, he will quickly change track.

Because of this, his policy towards India will be short-sighted and, therefore, fail. After Kargil, India has had the moral upper hand in this relationship. Musharraf was responsible for Kargil. A corollary of this is that as long as Musharraf is around, India will continue to have an upper hand morally.”

However, he felt that “the only thing that has tarnished India’s moral position, and continues to do so, is Gujarat”.

Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission thought that General Musharraf would not take any negative steps towards India as Pakistan cannot afford to annoy the West.

“But the infiltration (into Kashmir) will continue. The Pakistan establishment will continue to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes — pulling back when it is under scrutiny and starting again when the attention is not focused on it,” Yusuf said.

Was that why the General had released all the jihadis he had arrested in mid-January?

“Strictly from a legal point of view, he could not have brought them before a court. There was no prosecutable evidence against them. But as long as the Kashmir policy remains what it is, how can he act against the jihadis? Under court orders the government is paying Rs 10,000 per month to Maulana Masood Azhar (of Jaish-e-Mohammad) because he is under house arrest and his sources of livelihood have apparently disappeared. This is unprecedented in the legal history of Pakistan. No other prisoner gets such a facility,” Yusuf pointed out.

Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, a banker and an art historian, summed up the situation saying, “The only way we can survive is by coming to a working arrangement with India which is stronger than us — militarily, economically as well as politically. The US today sees India as the senior-most power in the region and wants to operate through it. India is numerically strong and the US wants to lock it into its scheme of things before China starts flexing its muscles.”

However, he said that if India has to fulfil its role as a regional power, “it has to show the requisite maturity. It can do so but for a severe body-flaw, which has been shown up in Gujarat. The Indian attitude to its Muslims is no longer an overhang of the partition. It is a part of its body politic”.

This, Aijazuddin suggested, would come in the way of India becoming an effective regional power that is also accepted as such by its neighbours, including Pakistan.

   

 
 
HIZB OFFERS ATAL CHANCE TO DEFLECT RIOTS FIRE 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, May 2: 
The pieces are falling into place in Kashmir, though with little help from the Vajpayee government which is preoccupied with Gujarat.

The Hizb-ul Mujahideen has announced through a newspaper article in Srinagar that it was willing to lay down arms, if New Delhi began a “genuine process of settlement and peace”, offering Vajpayee a chance to divert attention from its sorry plight on Gujarat.

Senior government officials refused to comment on the Hizb’s move, saying there was no formal message from the outfit and the Centre cannot respond to newspaper articles.

However, the officials said in private that this was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to revive his image, which has taken a beating since his flip-flop over Gujarat. A breakthrough in Kashmir before the Assembly elections, scheduled for September, could be just what the Centre needs now.

The Hizb deputy supreme commander, Moin-ul-Islam, said in his article that “once india takes an initiative with good intentions, she will find us 10 steps ahead of her one step. We will at once give up guns and observe real ceasefire so that solution finding path receives a headway.

“We are not fighting or resisting the Indian onslaught for the sake of fighting. Gun is not a hobby with us, it is a symbol of compulsion and token of India’s obduracy.”

Even Omar Abdullah’s resignation, which the Prime Minister has so far refused to accept, suits the government’s overall plans for Kashmir.

The fact that the junior foreign minister did not ask for Narendra Modi’s resignation during the debate in the Lok Sabha is also an effort not to break ties with the Centre completely.

The Centre’s policy planners on Kashmir believe that despite aberrations, Farooq Abdullah’s ruling National Conference will return to power in the state.

“After all, it is the only party which has a proper organisation in every village and taluka in the state. No other party, neither the Congress nor the BJP, can match the National Conference’s reach in all districts of the state,” a senior official said.

For a short time, the Centre was toying with the idea of backing Shabir Shah, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, believing that he would be more acceptable to Kashmiris. The idea was dropped because Shah was hesistant and could not deliver on promises made to officials in Delhi.

After the December 13 attack on Parliament, home minister L.K. Advani also believed that Farooq Abdullah, who had spoken out so clearly against terrorism and Pakistan, could not be dumped.

There was always the suspicion that others, including any of the Hurriyat leaders willing to take on the mantle of chief minister, could not really be trusted.

“How are we to know what happens when an unknown is put at the helm of affairs. The Abdullah family is known to us and the government knows they will not compromise India’s position,” an official dealing with Kashmir explained.

The Centre prefers Omar to his father because he would be a new face in Kashmir and would be perhaps much more acceptable by those who dislike the chief minister.

The final decision would, however, have to be made by the family, but the Centre want to make it easier for the father by promising the post of Vice-President. Even if this does not work out, Abdullah will be suitably accommodated by the government.

   

 
 
BABUS NOT TO PLAY GUJARAT PARROTS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 2: 
The Vajpayee government has won the vote in the Lok Sabha, with ministers defending the Narendra Modi regime in riot-ravaged Gujarat to the hilt.

But the bureaucrats are caught in a jam: they do not want to play the apologist for the government and are reluctant to draw the storyboard on Gujarat.

American investors who have shovelled funds into Gujarat — they include General Motors and Monsanto — have been eager to find out what is happening in the state and what the authorities are doing to deal with the unending violence.

They were looking for some answers at a seminar organised here today by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce where commerce secretary Dipak Chatterjee was present.

“US investors want an explanation of the events and how they are being tackled. We have not been able to give them any satisfactory answer so far. The government will have to come out with a storyline that will restore confidence in the country,” said Bimal Sareen, regional president of the chamber.

“American businessmen are jittery: it’s not because of the tax policies, customs duties or procedural gridlocks. They are worried that the social unrest in Gujarat could engulf the country — and they need the government to spell out what is happening out there,” said Sareen.

“Our image is at stake and we need to do something fast. After all, the US is the country from where we get the maximum foreign direct investment,” he added.

But Chatterjee refused to play ball. “As a joint forum, you are better equipped to explain what is happening on the social and economic fronts,” he said.

Chatterjee, who had been invited to talk about the new export-import policy and its implications for trade with the US, said: “We are trying to put the mid-term export-import policy in place and see that it is fully implemented. As a nation we have been unreliable as exporters. But I think that you can create an awareness about our ability to handle current issues.”

This is the second time in close succession that representatives of the government have had to tackle Gujarat at an interaction with industry. Last week, the annual session of the Confederation of Indian Industry was almost entirely hijacked by the Gujarat issue.

Although finance minister Yashwant Sinha then sought to dispel fears over the violence affecting foreign investment, questions thrown at the commerce secretary today suggest industry’s concern can simply be wished away by the government.

Chamber president R. Veeramani, said: “The government will have to look at both the issues — social and economic. On the social front, the investors need to have faith in the country otherwise they will pull out. On the economic front, they need long-term stable policies and implementation of all the announcements on the ground.”

Samuel Kidder, commercial counsellor for the US embassy, said India would have to bring about social and economic changes if it wanted to push ahead. He added that William Lash from the US department of commerce would be coming to India to hold talks with his Indian counterparts.

   

 
 
TWIN PANELS FOR HARMONY 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Gandhinagar, May 2: 
The National Commission for Minority (NCM) today announced the formation of two committees representing Hindu and Muslim leaders to initiate the process of dialogue and help restore communal harmony in the riot-ravaged state.

The commission also held separate meetings with religious leaders of the minority community and representative of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, and asked the community leaders to select 16 representative from each community who would hold the dialogue.

The names of the members of the proposed committees were finalised by their respective communities. The committees are expected to meet some time next week, NCM vice chairman Tarlochan Singh told reporters.

The commission also met chief minister Narendra Modi “who assured his full co-operation to any peace efforts”. Earlier in the day, Modi led a peace march in Baroda, accompanied by Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

Though the chief minister complained to the NCM, saying nobody was listening to his version, he agreed to facilitate meetings between the two groups. The chief minister will convene the first meeting between the two communities, the date for which is likely to be announced tomorrow, Singh said.

The NCM claimed to have made the representatives of the two communities understand that the need of the hour was dialogue, which could lead to harmony and peace.

Claiming that representatives of both communities had shown willingness to initiate dialogue and “are prepared to meet anywhere, any time,” Singh said, “it is only through this process that peace and communal harmony can be restored.”

Citing the commission’s earlier initiative of dialogue between the RSS and Christian organisations in the wake of the attacks on Christian institutions, he said the commission was able to bring peace and restore confidence after five meetings. “For the last six months, you do not hear any reports relating to an attack on Christian institutions.”

The NCM, which has already rejected the state government’s Action Taken Report, today refrained from making any critical observations, saying the commission was not here, for a second time after visiting Gujarat on March 12 and 13, on a fact finding mission.

Singh said the commission strongly felt the need for reconciliation and confidence building measures. “That is the what these committee do,” he added.

A delegation of central trade unions has decided to observe May 15 as a protest day against the genocide in Gujarat and demanded legal action against Modi for dereliction of duty. Gujarat will observe the day as “harmony day” and meetings and rallies would be organised all over the country, said AITUC secretary Gurudas Das Gupta.

The delegation visited four relief camps where riot victims told it why they were not returning home, even when some of the victims had their houses intact.

   

 
 
MAYAVATI, BJP WOO RESTIVE CONSTITUENCIES 
 
 
FROM YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
Lucknow, May 2: 
Caution seemed to be the watchword as the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party leaders sat today to give final touches to a new social script by installing a coalition government headed by Mayavati tomorrow.

The BJP leadership extended an olive branch to the upper caste lobby within the party by making former chief minister Rajnath Singh in charge of party affairs in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Singh had stiffly opposed the BJP’s alliance with the BSP and many upper caste party legislators in Uttar Pradesh empathised with him.

Chief minister-in-waiting Mayavati, too, sought to assuage Muslim supporters by iterating that “giving a sense of security to religious minorities and the downtrodden will be the first task of my government”.

As the official machinery worked round the clock to set the stage for the swearing-in at the sprawling La Martiniere school ground, Mayavati told BSP workers today that only a compact team of 16 will take oath with her tomorrow. “But there will be a Cabinet expansion soon.”

Authors of the BJP-BSP coalition are aware that the queue of aspirants for a ministerial berth in the coalition is too long for everyone to be accommodated. Since the BJP alone does not command majority support in the present state Assembly, even a minor group could bring down the government by walking out of the coalition.

They don’t want frustration among the ones denied a berth to set in too early in the game. Especially as their common enemy, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh is waiting to fish in troubled waters at the first sign of a crack in the tenuous coalition.

The Hindutva ideologues, who wrote the script of the third BJP-BSP marriage, are confident that despite the failure of the two earlier ones the experiment will succeed this time round. “The Dalits and the upper castes have lived in harmony in the past. There is no reason why they cannot revive the old bonhomie,” they argue.

Others are quick to point out that the earlier upper caste-Dalit coalition in north India was based on the jajmani system of patron-client relationship where the Dalits survived on the upper caste benevolence. “The situation has changed upside down since then and the Dalits are now calling the shots,” they point out.

There is a third view expressed by Dalit intellectuals like Chandra Bhan.

“The principal contradiction in the rural society in the 1950s and 1960s was between the Dwijas (upper caste) vs the rest, in which the Dalits and the backward castes fought against the upper castes. But now that the upper castes have been politically upstaged by the Mandal forces, they will tend to join forces with the Dalits to protect their political relevance,” they say.

   

 
 
MAMATA BECOMES PARIVAR’S BENGAL FACE 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, May 2: 
In taking her place firmly in the Sangh parivar during the Gujarat debate in Parliament, Mamata Banerjee has risked her credibility, as never before, to not only Muslims but also sections of her middle class constituency. She will henceforth be counted among those worthies who rose in defence, not just of the Vajpayee government, but of Narendra Modi whose administration stands accused on national and international platforms for the pogrom in Gujarat.

In other words, she took her place among the accused.

Yet she was the first among the BJP’s allies to cry foul over Gujarat and demand Modi’s resignation at a time when even the biggest ally, Telugu Desam, was dithering on the issue.

Once the Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, too, joined the oust-Modi chorus, an elated Mamata promised she would do as Naidu did.

Then came the volte-face she did not care to explain even to “friend” Naidu . She still wanted Modi to go but announced that she would vote with the government against the Opposition-sponsored censure motion on Gujarat.

She did so, while the Desam walked out of the Lok Sabha in disapproval of the Prime Minister’s reply to the debate on Gujarat.

Publicly, she offered an explanation for the about-turn, which rang pathetically hollow. She had to vote against the motion, she said, to ensure the government’s — and the country’s — stability. She had to do her bit to save the government because the people did not want another mid-term election.

The argument was so ridiculous that even Mamata could not deceive herself enough with it. The fact clearly was that the support, opposition or abstention of her nine MPs in the Lok Sabha during the voting would have made no difference to the government’s survival.

Nobody expected the government to fall, not even if the Desam joined smaller allies like the Jan Shakti and the National Conference to abstain from voting because the 13-member Bahujan Samaj Party moved in to back the government in return for the BJP’s support to Mayavati’s chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh.

A quid pro quo was actually Mamata’s logic, too, though she would not admit it in public. She too had struck a deal a la Mayawati — to return to the Union Cabinet — and Gujarat was a price she thought she could afford to pay for it. That is why she could not do what the Desam did.

After all, the Desam supports the NDA government from the outside. But she was — and waiting again to be — an insider. She thinks she needs a place in the NDA government to breathe life back into her fight against the Marxists. But her political compulsion has become something of a trap, forcing her to pay a huge price.

Yet, the Gujarat motion gave her an excellent opportunity to stand up and be counted differently. After making her party’s point about Gujarat, she could have stayed away from the voting. That would have salvaged her credibility without unnecessarily worrying Mamata about the government’s stability.

Two basic things would now stare her in the face on home turf in Bengal. She would lose the confidence of the Muslims almost completely.

In political terms, this could be a huge loss because, leaving aside Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal has the second largest Muslim population — 24 per cent against Assam’s 28 per cent — in the whole country.

To this, her predictable retort would be that West Bengal’s politics is polarised, not on communal, but ideological lines. She had to compromise on the Muslim support, she might argue, the day she decided to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

True, breaking away from the BJP and aligning with the Congress did not stop her from losing the Assembly polls. But the Gujarat carnage has come as a test for each political party and it is bigger than a numbers test. Mamata may have to pay dear for failing that test.

The other consequence of her supping with the saffronites will unfold in Bengal as never before.

Despite the early attempts by the Hindu Mahasabha and the legacy of Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, the saffron parivar failed to strike roots in the state. Mamata now will be the parivar’s most recognisable face in Bengal, no matter what her other pretences are.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.1°C (-1)
Minimum: 27.6°C (+2)

Rainfall

0.5 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 86%
Min: 53%

Sunrise: 5.07 am

Sunset: 6.00 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some areas
   
 

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