Centre eyes court route to polls
Visit furore rattles Kalam office
Congress, Samajwadi inch closer
Hurriyat open to talks with Jethmalani
Sena backs Delhi on Gujarat, not on scam
Media cry for freedom
Fears of Parliament on Pervez leash

 
 
CENTRE EYES COURT ROUTE TO POLLS 
 
 
R.VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 10: 
The Centre is examining all legal possibilities, including moving the Supreme Court, if the Election Commission does not hold elections in Gujarat by October or even a month later.

One of the options being weighed is to challenge the decision of the commission on grounds that there should not be a gap of more than 180 days between two sittings of an Assembly, sources said.

The Assembly was dissolved in July on chief minister Narendra Modi’s recommendation. Before the dissolution, the Assembly had been last convened on April 6. The House, therefore, should be constituted and meet by October 3. The 180-day period ends on October 2, as May, July and August have 31 days.

However, the poll panel has announced that elections cannot be held immediately or even by October. Under Article 324 of the Constitution, the panel is responsible for the “superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the legislature of every state and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President”. This empowers the commission to say that electoral rolls have not been prepared properly or even claim that the situation is not conducive for conducting elections.

The government has tried to counter this by contending that “elections are the blood vessels of a democracy”, denial of which amounts to “choking the blood vessels, resulting in the murder of the democratic system itself”. According to those involved in the preparation of legal arguments, “superintendence, direction and control” does not mean that elections can be denied to the people who are supreme in a democracy.

However, there are legal opinions against this proposition. “The six-month gap between the sittings of two Assembly sessions is wrongly interpreted,” said former chief justice of Delhi High Court, Rajinder Sachar. “It is for the existing Assembly (to decide), and once it is dissolved, this rule does not apply.”

Former Union law minister and designated senior Supreme Court advocate Shanti Bhushan, however, argued: “It will not be denial of any democratic right if it is in the opinion of the Election Commission that free and fare elections could not be held, and (if) it postpones the same.”

“In fact, it would be the opposite to say that if elections are held in an atmosphere wherein free and fare elections are not possible, it would be against the principles of democracy,” he said.

Sachar said courts of law can throw away any petition seeking a direction to mandate the commission to hold elections. Bhushan responded, saying the “Supreme Court will not entertain such a petition at all”.

“Nobody can prevent anybody from approaching the court of law for a remedy or a perceived remedy. But it depends on the facts of the case,” both the lawyers agreed.

Sachar cited a 1971 decision of the apex court during the Indira Gandhi era. “Several Assemblies were dissolved and the argument was that for the conduct of presidential elections, polls should be first conducted in those state Assemblies which are part and parcel of the presidential electoral college. But the decision of the court did not favour this argument.”

   

 
 
VISIT FURORE RATTLES KALAM OFFICE 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 10: 
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s proposed visit to Gujarat has assumed heavy political overtones.

Rashtrapati Bhavan is rattled by the great expectations that Kalam’s “routine” visit to the Sabarmati Ashram has generated. Informed sources said Kalam would meet delegations of riot victims at Raj Bhavan along with other sections, including intellectuals and political workers. The sources added that Kalam would not visit riot relief camps in the state.

Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said Gujarat became Kalam’s first destination outside Delhi because the President was keen to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati Ashram.

Seeking to set at rest the controversy over Kalam’s proposed visit to Gujarat, the Narendra Modi government today clarified that it had invited the President to Sabarmati and to review the rehabilitation programme for riot victims.

While the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and former Chief Justice of India A.M. Ahmadi welcomed Kalam’s move to visit the riot-scarred state, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad expressed its dismay. The VHP, instead, urged the President to visit refugee camps in Jammu and Kashmir to see the “plight” of Kashmiri Hindus living there.

The VHP even wrote a letter to the President. Ramakant Dubey, the VHP’s Jammu chief, wrote: “It has shocked us as you have not thought of visiting our state where Hindu refugees, 50 times more in number than in Gujarat, were hounded out from Kashmir valley and are living in outside camps in pitiable conditions for the last 12 years.”

“We, on behalf of Hindus of Jammu and Kashmir, earnestly request you to postpone your Gujarat visit and first come to the state’s refugee camps, see the light of hapless Kashmiri Hindu refugees, extend a healing touch to them and thus establish your impartiality and sense of natural justice,” the letter added.

Former Chief Justice of India Ahmadi termed Kalam’s proposed Gujarat visit “very significant” in the context of the recent communal violence and the debate on whether or not to hold early elections in the state.

“When a President visits any place, it’s always significant and this (Kalam’s proposed visit) is particularly significant in the context of what has taken place in Gujarat only a few months back...And on declaring elections,” he said.

   

 
 
CONGRESS, SAMAJWADI INCH CLOSER 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 10: 
After a protracted spell of one-upmanship, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party are coming together in Gujarat, taking the sting out of Sharad Pawar’s move to prop up a “third front” in the run-up to the Assembly elections.

Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav met Sonia Gandhi at Congress leader Manmohan Singh’s residence yesterday. At the meeting, the Congress president expressed her desire to take the Samajwadi along as part of a broad-based front against the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

A meeting with Mulayam and AICC general secretary Kamal Nath followed. There, the two sides agreed “in principle” not to field candidates against one another. Mulayam was reportedly keen to have a share of six seats in the elections while the Congress was prepared to concede “two to four”.

Congress sources, however, said the issue of number of seats would not come in the way of seat adjustments.

Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh today confirmed that a pact with the Congress was under consideration. “If there is any offer from that party, we will consider it,” he said.

Singh claimed that though the Samajwadi is in a position to take on the Congress in Gujarat, it favoured a tie-up with the party to keep the communal forces out. The Samajwadi leader ruled out any such arrangement with Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.

   

 
 
HURRIYAT OPEN TO TALKS WITH JETHMALANI 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Aug. 10: 
The Hurriyat Conference today ruled out participating in the Jammu and Kashmir elections “even if the Centre imposed Governor’s rule”, but said it is open to talks with the Ram Jethmalani-headed Kashmir Committee.

After the Hurriyat executive meeting here this afternoon, conglomerate chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said the general council of the organisation would meet on Monday to finalise a response to the dialogue offer made by Ram Jethmalani.

The Hurriyat executive today “extended” Bhat’s term as chairman for another year. All the seven members of the Hurriyat executive “unanimously decided (on) Saturday to extend my term by one year”, Bhat said. “The new election will be held next year in July.”

“We discussed certain vital issues during Saturday’s meeting, including the dialogue offer by Ram Jethmalani. The executive decided that the general council meet here (on) Monday will discuss the offer,” Bhat said.

The committee “appears to be a non-government exercise launched by Jethmalani. But we have to confirm that first and we will do that before the general council meets on August 12”, the Hurriyat chief added. “There is no problem talking at a non-government level.”

Bhat said there was no point talking about the possible imposition of Governor’s rule in the state as the outfit has decided not to take part in the Assembly elections in any case. “We have nothing to do with these elections, which we consider to be a farcical exercise,” Bhat said.

“We have not withdrawn from our committed position on Kashmir. The dispute can be resolved only if India, Pakistan and Kashmiris join heads and discuss the issue sincerely. Without that, there is going to be no solution. If India does not want to involve Kashmiris in the parleys with the stated aim of resolving the dispute, there would be no result,” he added.

The Hurriyat chairman expressed concern over the “deteriorating health of the Hurriyat leaders languishing in Indian jails”. “We are worried about the failing health of Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Geelani,” he said.

Indian officials are not optimistic about the prospects of talks as the Hurriyat has repeatedly rejected appeals to contest the Assembly elections. One official who did not wish to be identified admitted that there has to be a quid pro quo.

“Why should we talk if the Hurriyat stubbornly stays away from the polls. Politics is a two-way game. Both sides have to get something,” he said.

“If the Hurriyat wants to stay aloof from the democratic process, why should we be interested in rushing in for talks?”

   

 
 
SENA BACKS DELHI ON GUJARAT, NOT ON SCAM 
 
 
ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, Aug. 10: 
The Shiv Sena has roared once again. Upset by the Election Commission’s “reluctance” to hold Assembly polls in Gujarat, Sena chief Bal Thackeray is believed to have told BJP president Venkaiah Naidu that the poll panel should not face problems in holding elections in Gujarat as the situation there is normal.

“How can the Election Commission agree to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir, but send delegation after delegation to Gujarat?” asked the Sena chief, who maintained that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is “more dangerous”.

Naidu came out of the meeting with Thackeray at his Mumbai residence last night saying the two discussed “nothing in particular” during their 50-minute closed-door discussion.

A BJP leader, however, disclosed that the Sena chief was upset. “The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is far more dangerous, Balasaheb told Naidu and stressed that the exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley also could not be ignored,” he said.

Thackeray’s views on Gujarat found an echo in the BJP when Naidu addressed party workers today. “Why is the Congress creating such a ruckus on the issue of holding elections in Gujarat? Is Kashmir not a far more serious problem? What about the lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits who have been forced to flee?” asked the BJP chief.

But though the Sena is with the BJP on Gujarat, it does not seem to be supporting Union minister for petroleum Ram Naik on the recent petrol pump scam. The Sena’s mouthpiece, Samna, even hinted that it would be wiser for the BJP to sack Naik.

Maintaining that the BJP is “introspecting” its next move on Naik, the Samna editorial today said the scam had “affected the party’s stand on morality and national duty”. If the BJP does not act now, the editorial said, it will be tough for the party to wash off the blot of being the “Bharatiya petrol pump party”.

The Sena mouthpiece noted that the allotment issue was very suspicious though the Prime Minister’s directive to cancel all such allotments was a clear sign that the BJP was ready to clean up the mess. The Sena, however, did not spare the Congress for “talking about morals when many of its leaders have profited from pump allotments in the past”.

Thackeray also maintained that the Opposition’s call for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s resignation was “surprising and uncalled for”.

Naidu, here to step up the BJP’s nationwide programme to bolster interaction at the grassroots level, also took the opportunity to lash out at the Opposition. “Parliament is being used (by the Opposition) to settle personal rivalries,” the BJP president said. “It is a national disservice to disrupt parliamentary proceedings. If the Opposition is not happy with something why can’t it debate on the issue in Parliament?”

The BJP chief also dismissed the Congress threat of launching a nationwide protest and taking its agitation to the streets on August 16. “We are not worried,” Naidu said. “The Congress campaign will boomerang and bring them nothing.”

Naidu maintained that the party was now going through a “generational change”. The recent induction of “fresh and young blood” in the party organisation was to infuse it with dynamism and spirit, he said. “Veteran leaders will be valued for their experience and will be there to ensure the party cruises smoothly through the challenges that lie ahead,” the party chief added.

The BJP, Naidu said, is ready for introspection and is pulling out all stops to take its Delhi declaration to the people. Starting August 27 in Bangalore, the party will hold five regional conventions in Bhopal, Calcutta, Jaipur and Guwahati.

   

 
 
MEDIA CRY FOR FREEDOM 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 10: 
In a rare show of solidarity, journalists today closed ranks to ask the ruling National Democratic Alliance to allow the press to work without intimidation and harassment.

The move comes following increasing attacks on the freedom of the press and the growing intolerance of dissent by both the Centre and state governments cutting across party lines.

In a resolution passed after a short discussion, editors and journalists appealed to the government to preserve the freedom and independence of the media and stop overt and covert ways of stifling dissent.

Editors across the political spectrum said they believed that the attack on journalists was an attack on democracy. However India Today’s Swapan Dasgupta, while condemning “the amazing acts of stupidity” of the government in some cases, felt there was a general assault on democratic principles. He added that reporters were not above law.

Dasgupta dubbed as stupid the Centre’s actions against Time correspondent Alex Perry, who did an article on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s health under the headline Asleep At the Wheel. Aniruddh Bahal’s arrest by Delhi police on grounds of assaulting a CBI official was another such case, he said. Bahal’s arrest was for a crime as innocuous as wrong parking, he maintained.

The Indian Express was represented by resident editor Coomi Kapoor. “This particular government has been as repressive as other governments it has criticised for just this kind of attack on press freedom,” she said.

She added that it was also important for journalists to do proper investigation and ensure that the authorities were not able to deny the stories.

Kapoor said it was much easier for journalists working out of the capital to fight against the authorities than reporters in smaller towns and cities across the country.

Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal said that the role of the future journalists should be to act as a “leash on power”.

He said when the Watergate scandal broke in the US leading to the fall of Richard Nixon, nobody questioned the political ideology or the motives of the two Washington Post reporters who broke the story.

Tejpal said journalists should stand firm not just against the government’s attempts to terrorise uncomfortable reporters, but it was also necessary for them not to be seduced by the ruling party.

   

 
 
FEARS OF PARLIAMENT ON PERVEZ LEASH 
 
 
PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 10: 
President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to hold general elections in October might signal the return of democracy in Pakistan, but fall short of creating an effective Parliament that can take on the military regime.

“We are going to see a very tame Parliament emerging after the October elections,” said Mubashir Hasan, former finance minister of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (SB) faction.

Hasan said “nothing spectacular” is expected from the coming elections in Pakistan.

“Elections will be held, and I hope they will be free and fair, but there will be nothing effective to oppose General Musharraf or his appointed Prime Minister,” he said.

“Nor will it stop the US from seeking further cooperation from the Pakistani President in dealing with terrorism and fundamentalism,” the former finance minister said.

The Pakistani leader pointed out that the situation in Afghanistan will take time to settle down and that militant activities from Pakistan will also take time to stop. He argued that though Musharraf is keen to “eradicate” militancy from Pakistan, it is going to be a “formidable” task.

This, he said, was mainly because of the anti-US feeling among the people of Pakistan, who will be extremely reluctant to cooperate with Musharraf against the militants.

Hasan, who has been a close associate of former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and held several important portfolios in Pakistan, said more than 90 per cent of the leaders of the country’s two main political parties, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, were keen to win favour with Musharraf.

“Neither of these parties have any qualms to collaborate with the military,” he said.

According to him, as long as the members of the new Parliament get their share of permits, agencies, jobs for their children and funds to spend for their constituencies, they will not put up any serious opposition to Musharraf. However, there is a large number of people in Pakistan who are worried about the gradual erosion of the democratic structure in the country, but do not have very many options to choose from to change the situation.

Hasan, however, did not take seriously reports about possible deals Musharraf has struck with both Bhutto and Sharif.

Describing the reports as part of the “hefty psychological” war going on in Pakistan for the past 12 months, Hasan said this was being done mainly to confuse the workers of Opposition parties and prevent them from organising agitations against the military regime.

The former Pakistani finance minister was also quick to point out that it would be a mistake to think that the governments of Bhutto and Sharif to be democratic either.

Hasan said no one in Pakistan could survive politically without the support of the military and added that both the leaders had made deals with the army when they were in power.

“The strength of a ruler in Pakistan comes from the military and, at the moment, Musharraf has it in full measure,” he said.

   
 

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