Grey Gujarat darkens Delhi sky
Mamata misses flight and berth
Pak swaps offence and defence
Drive down the distress-sale road
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GREY GUJARAT DARKENS DELHI SKY 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT AND BASANT RAWAT
 
July 20: 
The BJP today beat the drums louder for early polls in Gujarat, stirring fears of a constitutional crisis if the Election Commission took a divergent view.

With several senior BJP leaders relentlessly citing a grey area in the Constitution to push their case, legal luminaries cautioned that the issue could turn into a tussle for primacy between the government and the commission.

The commission is meeting in Delhi tomorrow and on Monday to assess the constitutional validity of holding elections ahead of schedule.

Another confrontation was also brewing with the BJP rejecting demands from several quarters, including non-government agencies and the Opposition, that Gujarat should be brought under President’s rule before the election is announced.

Even before the commission had its first sitting on the issue, the BJP and the government have started citing Article 174 — which says the gap between two sittings of an Assembly should not exceed six months — to build their case.

The BJP insists that as the Gujarat Assembly has not met since April 2, elections must be held before October 2, when the three-month “deadline” expires.

But opponents of the plan claimed that the issue is not as “clear-cut” as the BJP is claiming. They said the commission could contend that the six-month period applies only to an existing Assembly, not one that has been dissolved.

Constitutional experts also cited other factors that will have to be taken into consideration, particularly since the state has yet to recover from the worst-ever riots.

If the poll panel finds that minorities are afraid of going out to vote, if the law and order situation is not conducive or if the revision of electoral rolls is not complete, it can cite them as grounds for not holding the election, an expert said.

Violence has subsided but the embers continue to smoulder. A pocket near Ahmedabad remained under curfew even today as the toll of yesterday’s clash on the outskirts of the city rose to two.

Without waiting for the constitutional cloud to clear, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi today declared in Rajkot — his constituency — that the election campaign has begun. Modi, who laid the foundation stone for an irrigation project, will take the roadshow to Baroda tomorrow.

Modi said the Assembly had been dissolved at the “right time” and expressed the hope that the commission would adopt a positive stand for early elections “so that people could get their own government”.

Modi’s expression of confidence in public is in line with what the Centre has been trying to impress upon the commission in private.

BJP general secretary and former law minister Arun Jaitley had reportedly told the poll commission yesterday that even the use of Article 354 — which vests the control of elections with the panel and empowers it to act in contingencies not provided for by law — should be read in tandem with Article 174.

Jaitley today briefed deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president Venkaiah Naidu about his meeting with the commission. “What is more moral than for the state government to recommend dissolution and go to the people?” Naidu asked during the day while talking to reporters.

Several experts said the aggressive political campaign being waged for early poll goes against democratic traditions and raises questions about who — the executive or a constitutional body like the commission — has primacy.

“In a democracy, the power to decide when to hold polls vests solely with the Election Commission, which is independent of the government,” a lawyer pointed out. He said the panel could approach the Supreme Court, if it feels that the government is bullying it into holding the election.

   

 
 
MAMATA MISSES FLIGHT AND BERTH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
Mamata Banerjee today ended a days-long wait for a face-saver in the rail row and a Cabinet berth, returning to Calcutta empty-handed and unsure when she could break into Vajpayee’s ministry.

The Trinamul Congress leader was scheduled to leave on Friday evening to prepare for a public rally her party would organise in Calcutta on Sunday to commemorate Shahid Divas. But sources said the Prime Minister asked her to stay on in the capital for two days, fuelling speculation he was working on a formula to induct her into the Cabinet.

Mamata suppressed her disappointment when the Cabinet did not take up the Eastern Railway bifurcation issue at a meeting on Thursday night.

But the wait proved futile. There was no word from A.B. Vajpayee and NDA convener George Fernandes yesterday or today. Mamata, who had cancelled her flight tickets, left this evening as she could not afford to miss the “huge” rally in Calcutta. She is likely to use the platform to lambast railway minister Nitish Kumar for “playing politics” and bifurcating Eastern Railway to create a zone headquartered at Hajipur in Bihar, his home state.

On her return, Mamata asked partymen in Calcutta to launch a “vigorous movement” in the month ahead to stall the bifurcation. She will announce her next course of action at the rally to commemorate the death of 13 Congress workers in police firing in 1993.

“Mamata Banerjee would have left on Friday itself. But she did not want to give the impression that she was leaving in a huff, disregarding Vajpayee’s request,” said a source.

It was a humiliating week for Mamata in Delhi. She was upset that the Cabinet did not discuss the bifurcation contrary to the decision taken by Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Fernandes and Kumar that the issue be referred back to the Cabinet for reconsideration.

Worse, Kumar cocked a snook at her on Thursday — the day the Cabinet was supposed to have discussed the issue — when he said in the Lok Sabha that there was no question of a review and that the carving-up process had begun. A sulking Mamata rushed to Fernandes in the afternoon and asked him to restrain Kumar. But the railway minister snubbed her again the next day by reasserting his stand.

Mamata’s fate hangs in balance as the Prime Minister is reportedly keen to have her in the Cabinet, but the camp led by Advani and Kumar is proving a hurdle.

   

 
 
PAK SWAPS OFFENCE AND DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
The Pakistani army has redeployed a few units over the last two months to positions of “defensive offence”, information analysed in the defence ministry suggests. Despite the official line to the contrary, there are signals of a relaxation in the eyeball-to-eyeball standoff between the two armies.

Experts in the security establishment have also concluded that Islamabad is just short of “dropping all pretence that it has stopped all infiltration” into Jammu and Kashmir.

British foreign secretary Jack Straw, who was in Islamabad today, said “more” needs to be done to end infiltration. There was no meeting between him and Pervez Musharraf.

The experts described the redeployment that was spread over about six weeks as “more defensive but with the option of an offensive capability maintained”. It cannot be said that the Pakistani army’s posture of “offensive defence” has been scaled down.

It is possible that the Indian army will also relocate a few units of its strike corps to “suitable places from where they can move quickly to the border”, sources in the security establishment said.

One report last week suggested that three divisions of a strike corps in Punjab and Jammu were being pulled back, but this was promptly denied by the army. Officially, the defence ministry’s position continues to be that no de-escalation is taking place.

The sources said the Indian army’s holding (defensive) corps will remain in their operational locations with the Border Security Force under their command. It is likely that the strength of a few logistics units (that supply water, ammunition, etc.) will be brought down from optimum levels but in a way that they can be quickly refurbished.

The sources said the Pakistani army has moved a few armoured elements of its 2 (strike) corps to Chunian and Okara. The 2 corps is headquartered in Multan. Elements of the 1 (strike) corps are also in the Ravi Syphon (the area where the Ravi river drains). The 1 Corps is headquartered in Mangla.

These units are now opposite areas adjoining Amritsar and Bhatinda, in one stretch, and opposite Gurdaspur region farther north. They face the Indian army’s 10 and 11 corps, both defensive formations.

The sources said the movements cannot be interpreted as “de-escalation”.

Some of the Pakistani army positions are like this: two divisions of the Frontier Command Northern Areas in Gilgit, 12th division in Murree, 40th and 14th division in Okara, 212 Independent Brigade in Chunian, 15th and 8th division in Sialkot, 16th division in Pano Aqil and 18th division in Hyderabad.

Elements of the Pakistani strike corps are spread all along the northern stretch of the International Boundary and the Line of Control with heavy concentrations in the Ravi-Jhelum corridor.

The sources said the top security consideration of the army immediately was to ensure that pilgrims on the Amarnath yatra are not attacked by militants.

The threat perception of such an attack is “very high” because infiltration was again on the rise. “The way things are looking, Pakistan is using infiltration like a tap that can be turned on and off at their convenience,” the sources said.

   

 
 
DRIVE DOWN THE DISTRESS-SALE ROAD 
 
 
FROM SHASHWATI GHOSH
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
India’s MPV dream has gone bust. The Versa — India’s first multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) that Maruti Udyog launched with great fanfare in August last year — is being offered by some dealers at a bargain basement price of Rs 3.90 lakh, which is cheaper than the Santro and on a par with the Indica.

The Versa — the snub-nosed vehicle that was marketed with a high-octane ad campaign featuring Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek — has failed to ignite interest in the MPV, a niche segment that Renault had created in the early eighties with its Espace that caught the imagination of Europe.

Maruti offered the Versa at an ex-showroom price of Rs 5.80 lakh at the time of launch; today, it is being offered by Gautam Motors — one of the largest Maruti dealerships in the capital — at Rs 3.80 lakh, a whopping 34 per cent discount.

The dealer has prominently displayed a banner across the Versa that boasts “it is available at a price even less than Santro”.

Santro, the flagship model of Hyundai Motors, is one of the best selling compacts in the country at the moment after the Fiat Palio and Tata Indica. The 1.1 GS model of the Santro is priced at Rs 3.94 lakh, though the other two models LE and LS comes cheaper than the Versa’s discounted price.

“The dealers are not given this kind of a margin. At the same time, we do not monitor how the dealer operates. Once he buys the car, he can do anything with it,” a Maruti spokesman said.

However, industry observers rubbished this claim, saying no company would allow a dealer to offer its branded product at a discount without its sanction. Large price discounts always devalue the brand.

Highly-placed officials at Gautam Motors said: “The company gives us a target — a period of time within which we have to sell a particular number of vehicles in each segment. If we succeed, we get a gift package that more than compensates for the loss we make while giving discounts to the customers.”

“Generally, the target is so outrageous that most of the dealers do not even attempt to meet it. A few of the established dealerships have tried this but only for a limited period of time — say 15 days,” they added.

Gautam Motors in Delhi isn’t the only dealer that is selling the Versa at a discount. At many online shops, the Versa is retailing at anywhere between Rs 3.4 lakh and Rs 4.2 lakh. Sources say the bargain basement discounts on the Versa are being offered at all cities that have more than 4-5 showrooms.

Sources explained: “We are given a 2-2.5 per cent of margin on an average on the models. In hard times like this, when the customer demand is really low, we end up giving away 95-100 per cent of our margins. Bulk car makers like Maruti and Hyundai face trouble to keep volumes up during these periods and we get pressurised. But the company has realised the folly of appointing too many dealerships in the same city. There are 14 in Delhi and we are all competing for a shrinking pool of customers.”

From the day that the Versa was launched by Amitabh Bachchan and his son, Maruti Udyog has been struggling to ratchet up sales of the car. Although the company refuses to say how many Versas it has sold till now, auto analysts reckon it will not be more than 1,500 units.

Maruti Udyog isn’t the first to make such distress sales. In June, ailing automaker Daewoo Motors sold the Matiz directly from the factory premises at a discounted price of Rs 50,000 on a sticker price of Rs 3.25 lakh. However, the market was rife with reports that the car was even offered at as low as Rs 2.50 lakh, which was about the price of a Maruti 800.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34°C (+2)
Minimum: 28°C (+2)

Rainfall:

0.1 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 72%

Today

Sunrise: 5.05 am

Sunset: 6.21 pm

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers

   
 

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