Forcible bandh declared illegal
BJP goes to war with business
Police shake-up greeted with more bloodshed
Reel cricket comes to America
Rap on knuckle for squealing minister
Advani line fails to wash
Afghan focus in Iran talks
After walkout, Naidu squeaks before PM
Modi dusts broom for exiles at home
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 10: 
Political parties throughout the country can no more call a bandh and force people to participate, coerce shops into downing shutters and damage public property.

The Supreme Court has declared it would amount to “an unconstitutional act” and a party “has no right to enforce it by resorting to force or intimidation”.

In these terms, the apex court today upheld a judgment of Kerala High Court but struck down two other directions to the Election Commission mandating de-registration of such political parties.

A division bench of Justices V.N. Khare and Ashok Bhan said in a 35-page judgment: “1. That there being no express provision in the Representation of the People’s Act or in the Symbol Order to cancel the registration of a political party and as such no proceeding for de-registration can be taken by the Election Commission against a political party.

“2. The Election Commission acts quasi-judicially while exercising its power to register a political party and it has no power to review the order registering a political party.”

If coercion does take place, the way to justice will be conventional, the victim will have to proceed under criminal law. In the case of damage to public property, the government official concerned, too, will have to follow the usual legal procedure.

Responding to the judgment, political parties and trade unions of all shades claimed they neither use coercion nor damage property. “The question of using force does not arise — neither does the question of damaging public property,” said CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechuri, whose party is a regular organiser of bandhs.

Yechuri asserted that the judgment was a vindication of his party’s stand against Kerala High Court’s direction to the Election Commission to de-recognise political parties enforcing bandhs.

The Supreme Court upheld the commission’s right to de-register a party only if it had obtained registration by fraud or forgery, if the party amended its rules and regulations declaring that it ceased to have faith and allegiance to the Constitution or to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy or it would not uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

On a petition by an NGO, the Institute of Social Welfare, Kerala High Court had given six directions: (a) Enforcement of a hartal call by force, intimidation, physical or mental and coercion would amount to an unconstitutional act and a party has no right to enforce it by resorting to force or intimidation.

(b) Direction to chief secretaries, DIG police and all administrative authorities and police officers in the states to implement the above direction.

(c) A writ of mandamus to the Election Commission to entertain complaints against registered political parties.

(d) A writ of mandamus to the panel to consider and dispose of, in accordance with law, a complaint against a political party for forcing a hartal or bandh.

(e) Directions to the chief secretaries, DIG police and all other officers to give effect to the judgment.

(f) Direction to the state government, district collectors and other officers to take action for recovery of damages in cases where public property is damaged or destroyed during a bandh or hartal.

Among these six directions, the apex court struck down the third and the fourth and upheld the others. It upheld the main direction that enforcement of a hartal call by “force, intimidation, physical or mental and coercion would amount to an unconstitutional act”. It also upheld the order for “recovery of damages to public property” during a hartal or bandh.

The Congress, the CPI and others had moved the apex court against the Kerala judgment.


New Delhi, May 10: 
For the first time in the long relationship between the government and Indian industry, the ruling party has made the country’s leading body of business persona non grata.

The BJP today slammed the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for displaying “political partisanship” on Gujarat and creating confusion on an issue of protocol by asking Congress president Sonia Gandhi to open its plenary here a couple of weeks ago.

It advised BJP leaders to stop participating in CII functions.

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: “The CII works for the right of industries but it has some Congress-minded representatives who have used the body to function like a political Opposition. And we do not like this.”

He added: “The CII is no longer a commerce or industry body. It has been converted into a political platform.”

The CII refused comment.

Malhotra took serious exception to the fact that at the CII plenary, an entire session was devoted to Gujarat in which the discussion centred on what he described as “politically loaded” questions, such as whether Gujarat was an experimental laboratory for the Sangh parivar and whether investors should continue to put their money in the state.

He added that known “BJP-bashers” were asked to moderate the session and the speakers’ panel consisted of “BJP critics” and “that was regrettable”.

When it was pointed out that the panel also included BJP Rajya Sabha MP Balbir Punj and Gujarat industries minister Suresh Mehta, Malhotra alleged that their inclusion was an “afterthought” and “done only after we made a noise”.

The BJP was peeved with the CII for asking Sonia — rather than Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as is the custom — to open the plenary. Vajpayee delivered the concluding address. The change of roles had been commented upon in the media at the time.

Sonia used the departure from practice to score a point over the Prime Minister by claiming it was a reflection of the “change in the political climate”.

Vajpayee replied in kind by asking if it was industry’s or the people’s mandate that decided who would govern the country.

Malhotra asked why the CII did not react during earlier incidents of violence, as in Bihar or West Bengal “where there is so much labour unrest”.


Ahmedabad, May 10: 
After 72 days of ceaseless violence, chief minister Narendra Modi took the broom to his police force but the sweep affecting 14 senior officers was greeted with another day of bloodshed, costing eight more lives.

Modi had a meeting last night with security adviser K.P.S. Gill before the transfers were made, the key among them being the shunting out of Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C. Pande. But it was not clear if the much-maligned Pande was paying the price for failure to stem the orgy of violence or for reportedly telling the chief minister to take his men off the back of the police force.

“Allow us to work,” the police chief is believed to have told Modi, which plunged their relations to a depth where they stopped talking to each other.

The man replacing him, K.R. Kaushik, was additional director-general (CID, crime) and had been investigating the Godhra train massacre.

Accused of sidelining Muslim officers, the government also appointed A.I. Sayeed, joint director of the state police academy, as officer on special duty to Gill.

The security adviser is believed to have handpicked Kaushik, Satish Sharma, who comes in as joint commissioner from his post in Surat, and Satish Verma, the Rajkot DIG who has been made additional commissioner.

While in the anti-terrorist squad, Sharma had correctly predicted an outbreak of violence after L.K. Advani’s rathyatra in 1990 and had been dumped in some insignificant position for speaking his mind.

The transfers come within days of Gill’s return from Delhi after talks with home minister Advani and discussions with ministry officials and police officers in Gujarat, during which he would have learnt about the parallel chain of command in the police force, a phenomenon Pande had hinted at.

The decision was preceded by an administrative crisis caused by a flash strike by firefighters in protest against the burning of an ambulance of the fire brigade and an attack on their colleagues. Although the firemen called off the strike after the municipal commissioner assured them of police protection, the damage was done during the 15 hours they stayed off work.

Within seven hours of the transfers, violence erupted in the Jamalpur area and spread to three other sensitive localities, forcing authorities to clamp indefinite curfew this morning.

Before Kaushik had warmed his new seat, he was thrown into the thick of what Ahmedabad has been experiencing daily for two-and-a-half months. Stabbing, burning alive, arson, stoning and bomb explosions left eight people dead and at least 48 injured.

Taking advantage of the strike by firemen, early this morning a mob set on fire shanties near Phool Bazaar in Jamalpur, which was tense because of a stabbing last evening. When the flames leapt up in the air, there were no firemen around.

People from both communities came out on the streets and clashed near a temple in Jamalpur. Four persons died as the police opened fire after several shanties and a guest house were set afire. In a retaliatory attack at Behrampura, near Jamalpur, a youth, Rakesh Rajput, riding a motorcycle was burnt alive under Kalupur tower. Asked why they did not come to his rescue, the police said they thought garbage was being burnt.


Washington, May 10: 
Lagaan may do to America what Great Britain could not do after nearly two centuries of colonial settlements here.

“Could this be the movie that finally brings cricket to the US and destroys America’s professional baseball leagues?”

The Washington Post today posed that million-dollar question to its readers in its review of the Oscar near-miss blockbuster as the Indian film is being released commercially from coast to coast in the US.

In the opulent New York counties of Long Island, readers of the local daily Newsday had visions of the Statue of Liberty “raising a cricket bat”, an image which the newspaper’s film critic John Anderson painted in his review of Lagaan. Anderson coined the term “political sports movie” to describe Lagaan, a description which may become a memorable addition to American film lexicon, thanks to Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar.

“Nut-job musical epic that is the most expensive Bollywood film ever made”, was how Newsday described the new release, which is expected to draw non-ethnic Indian audiences for the first time to movie theatres to watch a Hindi film, albeit with English sub-titles. “If there was a film that could cross over the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between American and sub-continental cinema, it’s this Oscar-nominated musical drama.

“The appeal might have something to do with our common colonial heritage — the villainous Brits of Lagaan are nearly as vicious as those in The Patriot — but the more likely attraction is the formula,” Anderson wrote. “Having introduced cricket to its various colonies, Britain has watched those colonies dominate it almost thoroughly on the international playing field, just as — in India, at least — the very English language has been appropriated, culturally tweaked and turned into something local.”

Sheila Norman-Culp, film writer for the Associated Press, says of Lagaan’s release in American theatres that “an epic, boisterous musical from India’s extravagant Bollywood film industry has swept across the oceans to challenge Hollywood on its own turf”.

“Aamir Khan has the steely gaze of Tom Cruise, the infectious exuberance of Mel Gibson, the sly wit of Robert Redford, the gritty determination of Russell Crowe and the social conscience of Jimmy Stewart. Did we mention the dance moves of Gene Kelly and the working-man appeal of Bruce Springsteen?”

For reasons of profile, the release of Lagaan in America could not have been better timed. It comes only a few days after organisers of the world’s most prestigious film festival announced that the Hindi film, Devdas, is to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival next week.

Devdas, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit, will be one of five films in the non-competitive section. Festival organisers at Cannes have said this will be the first screening of a mainstream Bollywood film at the festival.

The lasting impact of Lagaan in America, however, may be as much on the social scene as on Hollywood.

At an elite Fifth Avenue dinner party in Manhattan last week, New York’s society columnists reported that the toast of the evening was “India’s hottest new import” — Aamir Khan.

In attendance at this exclusive dinner at the apartment of screenwriter Tracey Jackson, the media here recounted, were journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, Shashi Tharoor, top aide to the UN secretary-general and author of Show Business, a novel about Bollywood, antique books dealer Glenn Horowitz, and Amy Gross, the editor-in-chief of O, the Oprah magazine.

Society trends have a strange way of catching on. And if Aamir Khan’s popularity in New York’s dinner circuit is any guide, Bollywood figures may soon replace India’s trademark god-men as celebrities from the Orient in America’s social circuit.


New Delhi, May 10: 
L.K. Advani has ticked off Gujarat industry minister Suresh Mehta for allegedly “leaking” out proceedings of Wednesday’s meeting between Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues.

Mehta and several others had tried to corner the chief minister over K.P.S. Gill’s appointment as security adviser, wanting to know if he had asked for the supercop or Gill was sent as part of Central intervention under Article 355.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Gandhinagar, Modi’s colleagues also pointed out that the continuing violence had “tarnished” the BJP’s image in the state and outside.

BJP sources said Mehta told the home minister he was not responsible for the leak and suggested that the beleaguered chief minister’s loyalists may have done it to pre-empt any move to replace him. The sources said the No. II in the Gujarat Cabinet also made it clear that the violence would not benefit the party in elections to the extent it was being made out.

A section of the BJP had interpreted Modi’s inquisition by his colleagues as the first sign of an impending rebellion against his leadership. Even ministers perceived to be Hindutva hardliners — and by implication his loyalists — like Ashok Bhatt and Bharat Barot had joined the chorus.

But BJP sources here maintained it was “too early” to say if Modi will be asked to go. Indications were Advani was determined to stand up for him despite the feedback that the chief minister was functioning “undemocratically” and the situation was getting out of hand, leaving even committed supporters like the business class weary. “He (Modi) never consults anyone, not even his senior colleagues. They were kept in the dark about Gill’s appointment,” said Gujarat BJP sources.

Advani is believed to have asked law minister Arun Jaitley to visit Gandhinagar over the weekend to assess the mood among the legislators. Jaitley is a close friend of Modi and BJP sources claimed that the “outcome” of his feedback was, therefore, a foregone conclusion. Jaitley, however, said he was going to Khera to attend some public functions.

BJP sources in the state, however, maintained that the voices of “protest” against Modi would continue to ring. “Once it has started, it will spread. We have information that even the MLAs of Vadodara and Ahmedabad (two of the worst affected cities) are up in arms against him,” they said.

“After initially giving an impression that the rioters were free to do what they wanted, the chief minister now seems like he is wanting to distance himself from the events only to save his gaddi,” the sources said. “His loyalists feel let down.”

BJP sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee still thinks getting rid of Modi was the only way of salvaging the situation. Earlier this week, he had said in the Rajya Sabha that his initial impulse was to sack him.

Such a step is unlikely in the immediate future. But sources said the imminent induction of Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel in the Central Cabinet and Sanjay Joshi’s appointment as the prabari (in-charge) of the Gujarat BJP could put a brake on Modi. Joshi and Modi are known rivals.

Sources said BJP leaders in Delhi as well as the “moderates” in Gandhinagar — Mehta is one of them — felt that reports of ministers openly felicitating the riot accused after they were released from jail have damaged the party’s image outside. Some of the accused were involved in gang rapes and the murder of women and children.

A Central minister from Gujarat said his assessment was that even if the post-Godhra communal polarisation is taken into account, the BJP could at best win only 110 of the 182 Assembly seats if elections were to be held now. In Saurashtra, which accounts for 53 seats, he said the BJP was on sticky wicket because of the power and water shortage. “The polarisation that is being talked about has happened only in the riot-affected areas. We may gain here but the rest the picture is uncertain,” the minister said.

What was certain, he said, was that if elections are held according to schedule next March or, perhaps, even advanced to September-October after the rains, the impact of the “polarisation” could lessen.

“Suddenly, everybody is feeling the pinch — Hindus, Muslims, rich and poor,” he said. “There’s a growing view that we must get on with life.”


New Delhi, May 10: 
The continuing violence in Gujarat was predictably the focus at today’s meeting of the home ministry’s consultative committee, addressed by L.K. Advani.

Advani made the usual reassuring noises about the government’s desire to contain the violence in Gujarat, but failed to convince the Opposition. “It was an attempt by the government to seek alibis for doing nothing,” said Congress leader Arjun Singh. “The attempt now is to whitewash the inefficiency of the state administration.”

The senior Congress leader said if the Centre was sincere about restoring law and order in Gujarat, it should first sack chief minister Narendra Modi.

Advani went to great lengths to tell members of the committee what intelligence agencies had anticipated since violence began nearly two months ago — that Pakistan would try to take advantage of the situation.

“There are reliable reports (including intercepts) that speak of underworld elements being in touch with their mentors in Pakistan regarding retaliatory action in Gujarat and even in parts of Maharashtra,” Advani said.

Certain groups, which wanted to indulge in revenge-killings, had sought arms, ammunition and explosives from across the border, the home minister said. The Pakistan-based leader of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and associates of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim had plans to retaliate, he added.


New Delhi, May 10: 
The developments in Afghanistan, particularly the shape of the new regime to be put in place next month and its regional impact, will be one of the main focus of the Indo-Iran Joint Commission meeting to be held here between May 20 and 21.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazzi, are the joint chairmen of the commission.

The Loya Jirga (the grand council), scheduled to meet next month in Afghanistan, where the country’s elders will sit together to get a new administration to replace the interim regime in Kabul, is the talking point for most world leaders now.

It will be the same for India and Iran, the two countries which had worked closely in supporting the Northern Alliance, along with Russia, to ensure that the only pocket of resistance remained in the country when the Taliban was in control of most of Afghanistan.

But post-September 11 developments have not only created a new situation in Afghanistan and the region but have also posed new threats and problems.

However, for India, things could not have been better. Having lost almost all its contacts in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, it has come back to play a significant role in the country’s developments.

India has had a series of high-level meetings with key players there since the Taliban’s ouster, and is now in the process of broad-basing its contacts with the important ethnic groups, including the Pashtoons, who had been the backbone of the student militia.

For Iran, the situation in Afghanistan has created new problems. Chief among them is the presence of the Western forces, particularly the Americans, in its neighbourhood.

The US and Iran have had a long diplomatic and ideological battle since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and it has only got worse with President George W. Bush’s inclusion of the nation, with North Korea and Iraq, in its “axis of evil” a few months ago.

The return of Afghan King Zahir Shah and the role he is likely to play in the country’s destiny is also a cause of worry for Teheran as it reminds it of its own days under the monarchy.

The number of al Qaida and Taliban members who have melted in the region following the US-led campaign in Afghanistan is a worry shared by Delhi and Tehran.

The Joint Commission meeting will give the two sides an opportunity to share each other’s perceptions on Afghanistan and discuss ways and means to co-ordinate and co-operate to strengthen the new Kabul regime.

The commission will also provide the two sides a chance to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations and an issue which is likely to come up is the progress on the proposed Iranian pipeline which is to bring gas from Iran to India.

The feasibility studies of the land route, which includes a major part through Pakistani territory and the sub-sea level pipeline bypassing Pakistan, are underway.

Teheran, which has one of the largest deposits of natural gas, is keen that India — the biggest market for the gas in the region — agrees to an arrangement that is likely to involve Islamabad.


New Delhi, May 10: 
For over a month, he had played a cat-and-mouse game on Gujarat. Today, Chandrababu Naidu virtually squeaked before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Telugu Desam chief, who had kept the NDA government on tenterhooks on supporting the Opposition motion seeking Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s dismissal, told Vajpayee he had no plans to destabilise the Centre.

Naidu, whose party had walked out before the Lok Sabha voted on the censure motion, said he was compelled to take the stand keeping in mind his party’s secular constituency, according to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The sources said Vajpayee, in turn, assured the Andhra Pradesh chief minister he would look into all his seven demands relating to development projects. A detailed list has been given to PMO officials.

Following his talks with Naidu, Vajpayee has convened a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance here tomorrow to discuss the political situation in the country. Official sources said it is a routine meeting as is the case when a Parliament session nears its end. The budget session ends on May 17.

Naidu, who arrived here today after a gap of four months, had a 30-minute one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister and a one-and-a-half-hour session with PMO officials to discuss projects awaiting Central clearance. Earlier in the day, he met Union ministers Shanta Kumar, Ajit Singh, Murasoli Maran and T.R. Balu. He will call on Union home minister L.K. Advani tomorrow.

The Desam boss was cagey about discussing with reporters what he and Vajpayee had talked about Gujarat. He, however, gave a detailed account of the number of demands he had made, including the release of 10 lakh tonnes of rice during May and June.

“Gujarat was also discussed,” Naidu said to repeated queries, pointing out that it would not be proper to disclose what had transpired at the one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister. He did not refer to Modi even once.

Naidu said his party stood by its demands. “Who told you that it is over,” he retorted, when asked if the Gujarat issue was over — as far as his party was concerned — in the light of his meeting with Vajpayee. About the fresh flare-up, he said: “We have always maintained that violence has to be stopped in the state”.

Naidu said the Desam’s differences with the BJP on Gujarat persisted and claimed he had “not minced words” during his meeting with Vajpayee. “I am very firm on issues,” he said, but declined to respond to persistent queries on whether there had been any meeting point to resolve the differences. “We did discuss them,” he said. “Our stand has been made very clear in Parliament.”

Asked whether he was satisfied after meeting Vajpayee, he said: “I never said I am satisfied or dissatisfied.”

On whether the Desam-NDA relationship would be cordial, he said: “On issue-to-issue, we will work”.

Sources said both leaders discussed the presidential polls due in June-July. The Desam camp is speculating that Naidu would try to get Vice-President Krishan Kant anointed as the next President. Naidu had called on Kant in the morning.

Naidu downplayed the possibility of Kant succeeding K.R. Narayanan, saying he, too, had heard the rumours. He said his meeting with the Vice-President was a courtesy call as Kant was earlier the Governor of Andhra.

Asked why the Desam chose to support a Shiv Sena MP for the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post, he said his party had already conveyed its decision of not accepting it. “So, there is no issue at all,” he said. “I am fighting on issues, not individuals.”


Ahmedabad, May 10: 
Chief minister Narendra Modi wants to close down the refugee camps sticking out like a sore thumb for the outside world to grab and point a finger at his failure to restore normality even two-and-a-half months since Godhra.

Yet, the state government under the chief minister has not worked out a plan to rehabilitate the nearly 100,000 riot victims, over half of them in Ahmedabad itself, living in camps. Not even after Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced a Rs 150-crore assistance on the floor of Parliament.

If the camps are closed down — the state government’s move has been challenged in the Supreme Court — where will the refugees on their own land go?

Some are making their own arrangements.

The Gujarat Sarvjanik Relief Committee, a non-government organisation run by Muslims, has already purchased 12,000 square yards in Sarkhej on the outskirts of the city.

An official source in Gandhinagar said the chief minister, instead of taking the initiative to resettle the victims, is hoping that they would accept the compensation, at which point the government’s responsibility can be shown to have ended, and leave the camps.

The reason, said the source, is that Modi risks a sharp drop from the pedestal of hero in the hardline Hindu constituency if he is seen to be vigorously organising rehabilitation of minorities.

At the same time, Chhota Sardar, as he is being referred to by his admirers who view him as a worthy successor to Sardar Patel, is under pressure from Delhi and the influential business community to get a grip on the situation, and quickly.

The state government has rejected requests for allocating land to those who do not want to return to their original place of living, fearing more attacks. The survivors of Naroda-Patia and Chamanpura, where more than a hundred people were burnt alive, had asked the government that they should be resettled at some other place.

But Modi gave no assurance to Mohsin Quadri who recently met him. Quadri is in charge of the Shah-e-Alam relief camp where the survivors from these two worst-hit localities are living since March 1.

Minority leaders running 49 relief camps in the city are unanimous that the victims of Naroda-Patia and Chamanpura cannot be expected to go back to the place where they saw their lives being charred beyond recognition.

“This will create one more ghetto,” explained relief commissioner G.C. Murmu, rejecting suggestions to resettle them in a different area.

The government has not been able to prevent ghettoisation earlier and it is highly unlikely it can do so now, given the depth of distrust. And there is no law that can stop segregation which is already a reality.

The Gujarat Sarvjanik Relief Committee plans to build 300 houses on the land it has bought at Sarkhej. Afzal Memon, who heads the organisation, said it is purchasing another plot at Vatva.

Murmu said rather than resettling the victims, the government is keener on creating an atmosphere where inmates of the camps can return home. He claimed that more than 30,000 people have already gone back and many more will do so by the end of this month.

As of today, there are 92 camps in the state housing 88,000 refugees, 59,000 of them in Ahmedabad. But Murmu, too, admitted that many of those who dared to return home had to come back as they were threatened by neighbours.




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Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 67%

Sunrise: 5.02 am

Sunset: 6.04 pm


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