Sub-plots at play against BJP’s ace
Split verdict on poll panel power
Legal boost to FDI rule
Naidu set to allot work to new team
Malik released and re-arrested
Lid off bank question paper racket
No risk from lost camera: Scientist
Pondicherry post for Malkani

 
 
SUB-PLOTS AT PLAY AGAINST BJP’S ACE 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
July 20: 
The dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly ahead of schedule sets the stage for a battle royal between Narendra Modi’s party and a Congress led by his old rival, Shankersinh Vaghela.

Inner-party disunity remains a major hurdle, as does the fear that the ruling party’s record of governance will overshadow an appeal to ideology.

The Hindutva party hopes to bring back saffron flavour into national politics. The time, its strategists feel, is just right and Gujarat is the place. The prelude to Godhra and the riots earlier this year was a string of electoral setbacks, both in local body elections and in byelections to the Assembly.

Modi has been in election mode since he took office last October. His strategy is a mix of arousing Gujarat’s regional pride or asmita. For the ruling party leadership, regionalism is overlaid with appeal to Hindu pride.

This is not the first time the politics of “being Gujarati” has been important. In the nineties, the Narmada project symbolised a new modernising state under the late Chimanbhai Patel. But in the riot-scarred polity of 2002, regionalism uses one set of divisions to override others.

Under the surface, the saffron party is deeply divided over the personality cult around the head of the government.

Modi’s predecessor, Keshubhai Patel, may yet prove a spoiler. His Pattidar community is powerful and numerically significant. It has historically dominated state politics, and its core region of Saurashtra has remained peaceful. Nor was the Kutch region of industries minister Suresh Mehta affected by violence to any significant degree.

The chief minister is an OBC, a highly divided group in the state, even though it accounts for 40 per cent of the electorate. The idea is still that Hindutva will paper over caste divisions. Many hopes are also pinned on the polarisation of sections of Dalits and adivasis against the religious minorities.

The Congress’ choice of Vaghela plays on both fears. A former RSS worker and early architect of the BJP in the state, he has an OBC base and knows the weaknesses of the ruling party from within. In the last Assembly polls, his regional outfit polled 12 per cent of the vote. It merged with the Congress over three years ago.

There is little doubt that Hindutva sells in the state. The BJP won the Assembly polls in 1995 and 1998, even though its vote share stayed around 43-44 per cent. The high point was in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when it got over half the popular vote, but that may be difficult to reach in a provincial poll.

Good rains have lessened anxieties over the last month. Several new welfare schemes target key vote banks. Two of these, the Green Guards and the Gram Mitra, hope to rope in unemployed youth as a new vote bank for the ruling party. Other programmes target women and artisan communities.

But governance is not a strong wicket for Modi. The handling of the earthquake last year proved a nightmare even in party strongholds like Ahmedabad. Water and power problems have been chronic. Until February this year, few gave his party even a fighting chance.

The stakes have not been so high in an Assembly poll for a long time. Having been routed in Uttar Pradesh in March, the BJP badly needs to win Gujarat. For Sonia Gandhi, this is the first head-on Assembly contest with the Hindutva forces since the winter of 1998.

A victory will still hinge on the internal equations of the two contestant parties. In the Congress, Vaghela has to rally together old loyalists like former chief minister Amarsinh Choudhary. The appeal to peace and prosperity is aimed to cut across the communal divide and appeal to the business sense of the common man.

The saffron party has to undergo a trial by fire. Modi hopes for an unprecedented third straight win for his party, a feat no one has achieved in the state since the 1970s. Divisions of caste and personality and the pull of different sub-regions have undone Gujarati strongmen in the past.

The very shape of national politics may well be set by the poll outcome. Gujarat has often set the lead in Indian politics. A win would silence doubters and enable the party to play the same card in the five Hindi belt Assembly polls due in 2003. Time will tell which way its voters point out for the rest of India.

   

 
 
SPLIT VERDICT ON POLL PANEL POWER 
 
 
FROM R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
Opinion is divided on whether the Election Commission has the powers to decide whether or not to hold the Gujarat Assembly polls.

While one section of leading lawyers holds that the poll panel is the only authority that can decide on the issue, another section says it has no option but to conduct the elections within the constitutionally-stipulated period of 180 days between two subsequent sessions of a state Assembly.

Following the dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly by the Governor under Article 174 of the Constitution, it has been mandated on the poll panel headed by J.M. Lyngdoh to hold elections under Article 324.

However, according to a designated senior counsel, who requested anonymity, under Article 324 of the Constitution it is the poll panel which decides on elections as “superintendence, direction and control” of conducting elections are vested in the commission.

Another expert said Article 174, under which the Governor has dissolved the Assembly, has to be read with Article 324, which empowers the Election Commission to supervise, direct and control elections.

BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley, himself a designated senior lawyer, and Supreme Court advocate Dev Shekhar believe the poll panel has to hold elections now.

According to Shekhar, once an Assembly is dissolved, the next democratic process is conducting elections, which the Election Commission cannot say no to. “For, after all, the Election Commission is meant to perform its democratic functions and holding an election is the basic in a democracy,” Shekhar said.

However, the leading constitutional expert who requested anonymity is of the opposite view. “Supposing the law and order situation is such in the state that the Election Commission feels that it cannot conduct elections in a free and fair manner, then how could it conduct elections?” he asks.

Besides, in Gujarat, there is another hair-splitting constitutional argument: whether the 180 days mandated by the Constitution is the gap between two sessions of an Assembly or between the date of dissolution of an Assembly and the convening of the next one. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said this “grey area” had to be “looked into”.

After the riots in Gujarat, thousands of voters were said to have lost their voter cards and other identity documents. The poll panel has about three months to revise electoral rolls.

   

 
 
LEGAL BOOST TO FDI RULE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 20: 
The Centre has justified its move to allow foreign direct investment in the print media and contended that courts could not interfere with a government’s policy decision as Madras High Court dismissed a petition challenging the FDI decision.

Chennai-based social activist S. Shivakumar had moved the court, contending that FDI in print media would endanger the country’s sovereignty. A division bench of Chief Justice B. Subashan Reddy and Justice T. Murugesan said the Cabinet decision could not be stayed at a stage when the government is laying down a policy. The judges said the courts’ power of review came into play only when there was any serious flaw or violation in the implementation of a law by the executive.

Solicitor-general Harish Salve, appearing for the Centre, had argued that allowing FDI in print media was a policy decision of the Union Cabinet which could not be called into question by any court of law in the country.

The Centre’s contention was based on a Supreme Court decision in the telecom case. When private cellular operators were allowed to run their network, it was challenged on the ground that it would endanger national sovereignty.

The apex court said normally courts of law could not interfere in the policy matters of the government of the day. However, it made one exception. In the “rarest of rare cases”, when a policy was against the principle of natural justice and endangered larger public interest and common good, a court could step in.

Buttressing his argument with the decision of the apex court in the telecom case, Salve contended that allowing 26 per cent foreign direct investment in the print media was a matter of policy that did not infringe on natural justice. The question of judicial intervention would arise only when the policy was being implemented within the regulations stipulated by the Reserve Bank of India, he added.

   

 
 
NAIDU SET TO ALLOT WORK TO NEW TEAM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu is expected to formally announce the duties and responsibilities of his new team of office-bearers tomorrow.

In a press briefing here today, Naidu indicated that in a departure from past practice, all five general secretaries might have a specific mandate.

In the past, barring the organisational secretary, the other four general secretaries were given only a vague brief. The general secretaries come next in line to the president in the BJP hierarchy.

Naidu has divided the jurisdiction of the general secretaries into six categories: political affairs and their geographical allocation, public issues and problems, management of the central headquarters, programme planning, monitoring tours and coordinating with the states, minority affairs and affairs of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and women.

The political affairs cell would be managed by Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, sources said.

While Jaitley is expected to articulate the party’s stand on political issues, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister would be engaged in the nitty-gritty of managing realpolitik and interacting with the state units.

Mukhtaar Abbas Naqvi would look after minority affairs and the party headquarters while Anita Arya would be in charge of matters concerning Dalits and women, the sources added.

Sanjay Joshi would continue to hold the all-important post of organising secretary.

The general secretaries and vice-presidents would also be allotted the job of looking after the various states as prabaris.

In addition, Naidu will reconstitute the various party cells and appoint new conveners. Apart from the high-powered economic and foreign affairs cells, he is expected to announce the formation of a new cell which would be in charge of corporate matters.

Former BJP treasurer Sukumaran Nambiar might head this cell after he turned down an offer to become the general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit.

Naidu, however, said no decision has been taken on restructuring state units and dismissed as “speculation” reports of Central ministers Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje going to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

   

 
 
MALIK RELEASED AND RE-ARRESTED 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, July 20: 
Kashmir police have clamped down on separatist leaders, detaining the All Parties Hurriyat Conference top brass and re-arresting Yasin Malik after a court granted him bail.

The senior executive members of the Hurriyat were put under house arrest last night to pre-empt a march they were supposed to take out today in protest against the killing of 28 civilians in Jammu last week.

Police encircled the houses of Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, former chairman and executive member Moulvi Omar Farooq and senior leader Moulvi Abbas Ansari. “We were not allowed to come out of our homes by the police deployed in strength outside our homes,” Bhat told The Telegraph over the phone this morning.

“We were to take out a disciplined peaceful procession against the killing of innocents at Jammu. But they did not allow us to come out and let the world know that people of Jammu and Kashmir are subjected to state terrorism. We wanted to protest against the killings and the unwarranted arrests of Hurriyat leaders,” he added.

Malik was re-arrested this afternoon minutes after he was released by a designated court on the plea that he needed a kidney scan. He had been arrested on March 25 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Sources in Jammu said a medical board constituted by the government to comment on the health of the ailing JKLF leader lodged in Kotbalwal jail had advised the scan recently. Malik has a heart condition.

But the facility is not available in the state. So his counsel pleaded that Malik be released to enable him to avail of a kidney scan outside the state. The judge accepted the plea and released the JKLF chairman on a surety bond of Rs 1 lakh.

Earlier in the day, police and paramilitary forces deployed in strength in Srinagar stopped JKLF vice-president Javed Ahmed Mir from leading scores of supporters gathered outside the Hurriyat headquarters in a procession. When angry activists began pelting stones, police responded by firing teargas shells. The forces also resorted to repeated baton charges on the demonstrators, who were shouting pro-freedom slogans. Reinforcements were rushed to help control the situation.

Mir was held along with a dozen others and taken to Rajbagh police station. In the Lal Chowk area, police detained several burkha-clad women shouting pro-freedom slogans.

   

 
 
LID OFF BANK QUESTION PAPER RACKET 
 
 
FROM MUNTAZIR IMAM
 
Patna, July 20: 
Nalanda police have busted a gang involved in leaking question papers of the State Bank of India’s probationary officers’ examination, with the arrest of three touts and three students appearing for the examination.

Nalanda superintendent of police Amit Lodha said two of the touts — Sanjeev and Raso, who were arrested yesterday from Biharsharif — had come from Mumbai to sell the question papers.

“The two were taken into custody when they were planning to go to Ranchi to strike a deal with middlemen,” adds PTI from Biharsharif. They were caught in front of the PMS College under Laheri police station in Nalanda. The third person involved in selling the leaked question papers, Sanjib Kumar, was arrested today from Biharsharif.

On interrogation, the two members of the gang who were arrested yesterday revealed their links with one Patel of Goregaon, west Mumbai. Patel, they said, had sent them to Bihar and asked them to contact some coaching centres in Patna for selling the leaked papers, the police superintendent said.

The police official added that Sanjeev and Raso were from Biharsharif and worked at a printing press in Mumbai.

Three candidates — Harishanker Chaudhary, Amit Bhardwaj and Vivek Kumar — who were to receive the leaked papers, were also arrested from Gitanjali Hotel in Biharsharif immediately after Sanjeev and Raso were interrogated.

The candidates have given detailed information about the racket to the police, said the superintendent.

The three had been asked to stay at the hotel where the touts would give them the question papers and also supply the answers.

According to the police official, the candidates admitted that they had agreed to pay Rs 5 lakh for one question paper.

They had already paid Rs 25,000 to the touts in Patna and the remaining Rs 4,75,000 was to be paid at the hotel this evening after they got the papers.

“The interrogation of the six arrested persons clearly indicates that the question papers are either in Patna or in Biharsharif. We expect to recover the question papers soon. Based on information provided by the six arrested persons, massive raids are going on, particularly in some coaching centres of Patna,” said Lodha.

“Some incriminating documents have already been seized by the police in raids at various coaching centres at Patna. Many coaching centres in Patna are directly involved in the racket. The candidate Harishanker Chaudhary, who was arrested late last night, also runs a coaching centre — Excellent Coaching Centre — in Patna,” revealed the police officer.

“The probationary officers’ examination was to be held at the national level on Sunday. We have informed the general manager of the State Bank of India about the development and the possible leakage of the question papers,” Lodha said.

   

 
 
NO RISK FROM LOST CAMERA: SCIENTIST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, July 20: 
Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Anil Kakodkar today allayed fears of a missing radioactive device encased in a gamma ray radiography camera causing “skin burns”. The Iridium-192 device was misplaced when it was being transported by employees of a Calcutta-based company from Lakhimpur to Digboi in Assam a few days ago.

“It (the radioactive device) is a very small source and it is not of any significance. We will retrieve it as early as possible,” Kakodkar told reporters after a function at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation here. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) had promptly got in touch with the local authorities and the police to trace the radioactive substance, he added.

Kakodkar said several industries, including those in refining and petrochemicals, used the device for “industrial radiography”. It was a “small pencil-like substance” placed inside a shielded camera and “as long as no one fiddles with it, there is no problem”, Kakodkar said.

Stating that the AERB had the tools to detect radioactive devices even from a distance, Kakodkar assured that the nuclear establishment would try its best to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in future.

Nearly nine years ago, a US drilling company sub-contracting for ONGC was caught in a similar quandary in Chennai when a disgruntled employee stole some radioactive devices from the firm and dumped them into the Cooum river snaking through the city.

The AERB retrieved the devices from the shallow river after a massive search operation. Kakodkar assured that there was no cause for alarm in this case too.

The AERB kept a full inventory of all the radioactive devices in use within and outside the department, including for commercial and medical purposes. Hence, there was no risk of any such device being “misused”, he said.

The AEC chief today released a unique study on land resources of Kudankulam, Vijayapati and Erukkandurai villages in Radhapuram taluk of Tirunelveli district, where a nuclear power plant is coming up with Russian assistance. The first copy of the report, released in the presence of eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, was received by agriculture minister R. Jeevanantham.

Denying a report originating from London that accused India of making a “dirty bomb” with nuclear wastes stored in its power plants, Kakodkar said “the report was wrong”. The “general statement” issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had referred to some 100 countries pursuing radioactive activities and India had not been singled out, he added.

On the contrary, he pointed out, the radioactive protection infrastructure in India was well developed and one of the best in the world with extensive regulatory mechanisms and rules besides advisory mechanisms. “It simply cannot happen,” he shot back when questioned on fears of nuclear waste falling into the hands of any terrorist group.

Asked if international pressure had been piled on India after Pokhran II to subject its nuclear facilities to more safeguards and inspections, Kakodkar said the process “has nothing to do with Pokhran”. “There is a World Association of Nuclear Operators and they review our nuclear plants.”

But there were constraints on technology, he said. “If someone wants to look at the safety of our nuclear power plants, we have no problem interacting with anybody. But those who insist on safety should also give us access to new technology,” Kakodkar said.

   

 
 
PONDICHERRY POST FOR MALKANI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 20: 
After mollifying the Vishwa Hindu Parishad by appointing its star lawyer Rama Jois as the Jharkhand Governor, the Centre pacified die-hard BJP ideologue K.R. Malkani too with a Governor’s post. Malkani is most likely to be sent to Pondicherry to replace Rajani Rai.

Rai, a former activist of the RSS’ women wing, reportedly fell foul of the Sangh for reasons nobody was willing to talk about.

Malkani was a close associate of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani from the pre-Independence days when both started their political career as RSS pracharaks in Sind.

But he has been languishing on the margins of the BJP for the past four years for his vocal criticism of the Centre and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

At the BJP national executive held soon after the Agra summit last year, he berated the Prime Minister for “kowtowing” before Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and allowing him to steal the thunder from the Indian government, reliable BJP sources said. Malkani was also believed to be critical of former foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s perceived closeness to the US.

His rehabilitation from virtual oblivion is being seen as a “victory” for Advani, although neutral BJP observers clarified this was not the first time the deputy Prime Minister had had his say on a gubernatorial appointment.

   
 

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