Jaya pulls out ministers
Congress toys with coalition draft
Human bridge across Atlantic
Basu blasts police on Ganguly
Calcutta weather

 
 
JAYA PULLS OUT MINISTERS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, April 5 
Jayalalitha today delivered a blow to the BJP-led government by withdrawing her two ministers from the ruling coalition.

After the Cabinet rejected outright all her demands on the Bhagwat issue, the ADMK chief held a meeting with her war council tonight and withdrew her two nominees ? law minister M. Thambidurai and minister of state for personnel K. Janarthanam.

This drastic step falls just short of formally pulling out of the coalition, signalling a bitter end to the BJP-ADMK dalliance that had been negotiated two months ahead of the polls that brought Vajpayee to power.

Jayalalitha has not taken the final step because the alternative arrangement is yet to take shape and the disjointed Opposition is not in a position to decide how a new government can be formed. The Congress evaded a direct statement. ?We are watching the developments keenly,? a leader said.

The political tremors jolted the Bombay Stock Exchange and stock prices crashed.

The government put up a brave front and was hopeful of sailing through a no-confidence motion without Jayalalitha?s 18 MPs. But there was no explanation for this assertion and leaders like M.M. Joshi, Pramod Mahajan and M. Venkaiah Naidu were unwilling to explain the numbers game in Parliament once it reconvenes for the second phase of the budget session on April 15. The BJP asserted that the party would emerge stronger whether its government ?stays or goes?.

Though the Left egged on the Congress to lead the alternative configuration, the principal Opposition party was hesitant to take the plunge. Sonia Gandhi appeared unprepared and was still debating whether accepting the responsibility of governance with another ?ragtag coalition and unpredictable partners like Jayalalitha? was advisable.

An emergency meeting of the Union Cabinet was convened this morning after the BJP leadership returned to Delhi from its three-day national executive in Goa. After the 90-minute meeting in South Block, Mahajan said the ADMK?s demands for the removal of defence minister George Fernandes, reinstatement of Vishnu Bhagwat and a joint parliamentary probe had been rejected. Thambidurai, Jayalalitha?s lone Cabinet nominee, was not present at the meeting.

Jayalalitha later convened a meeting of her aides and announced the two ministers will resign tomorrow. Thambidurai has said he will abide by the decision but Janarthanam refused comment.

The ADMK chief?s decision to withdraw the ministers was taken even before her troubleshooter and current political guide, Surbramanian Swamy, could return to Chennai to brief her.

Swamy had been in the capital for the past 48 hours and had sounded out all Opposition partners, including the Congress and the Left. He wanted to find out what Jayalalitha stood to gain from an alternative configuration after the fall of the Vajpayee government.

Like BJP leaders across the country, the Prime Minister?s Office seemed optimistic that Vajpayee would come through. It banked on two assumptions, one of which was proved wrong by the evening.

First, the Vajpayee camp believed that Jayalalitha would scale down her hostility. The withdrawal of the two ministers suggested that the PMO had been misled.

Second, close aides of Vajpayee wondered if the Congress was prepared to bring down the government now and help in the formation of another ?non-performing and hamstrung government?.

Jayalalitha will not rely on Swamy?s assessment alone and will make a trip to Delhi on April 12 to study the Opposition mood. She was scheduled to come to the capital on April 11 to attend the Khalsa tercentenary celebrations in Amritsar. But with the Akali Dal having gone against her, she is unlikely to attend the Sikh function.

This evening, Jayalalitha told reporters in Chennai that a final decision on continuance of support would be taken after talking to other parties and bearing in mind the ?supreme national interests?. That she was now more inclined to ensure the exit of the Vajpayee regime was evident from her declaration that her Delhi trip would be to ensure the forming of a government that delivered instead of making mere promises.

She described today?s Cabinet meeting as ?unprecedented?. She said the meeting had been convened after ensuring that the representative of an important ally was absent. It was held only to chastise that ally.    


 
 
CONGRESS TOYS WITH COALITION DRAFT 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 5 
The Congress today asserted it would not allow the Vajpayee government to ?force snap polls? on the country, giving a clear hint that it was set to form an alternative government if and when the ruling coalition caves in.

Senior Congress leaders were engaged throughout the day in thrashing out the nitty-gritty of an alternative government with non-BJP groups. At the talks, Congress leaders offered five possibilities emerging from the present situation:

A Sonia-led Congress government: A majority of party members are convinced that the time has come for 10 Janpath to lead the nation. Party leaders claim they have a blanket assurance from CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet that if Vajpayee falls, the Congress will be backed from outside by all non-BJP groupings, so that the alternative arrangement is both ?stable? and ?lasting?.

A Congress government not headed by Sonia Gandhi: Instead of becoming the Prime Minister herself, a section of the Congress feels, Sonia Gandhi would prefer to crown loyalist Manmohan Singh to guide the nation out of the economic crisis or appoint a lightweight like P. Shiv Shankar who is a backward leader from Andhra Pradesh?s Telengana region.

A United Front government with outside support from the Congress: Few takers in the Congress. The idea is looked down upon on the grounds of instability and lack of requisite number of Lok Sabha MPs in the third front.

United Front government sharing power with the Congress: Virtually no takers in the Congress, but some Front partners feel power-sharing on an equal basis will prevent early collapse.

Fall of Vajpayee government but his continuation as caretaker Prime Minister: Congressmen opposed to the party forming the government now feel this is the best option. In a fresh round of elections, Sonia Gandhi can get decisive majority and lead the nation for five years. A lame duck Vajpayee can be further discredited on Jayalalitha?s allegation that his foster son-in-law, too, was involved in murky deals.

While some Congress leaders like Kamal Nath want the party chief to move a no-confidence motion against the Vajpayee government on April 15 ? when Parliament resumes ? others feel that non-BJP parties (including the ADMK) should approach President K.R. Narayanan, who would direct the Prime Minister to seek a confidence motion. ?Such a strategy would be better, as the government will go on its own instead of the Congress emerging as a toppler,? said a CWC member.

Gearing up for a final charge at the BJP-led government, the Congress is wooing other Opposition parties at two levels. A core group of senior leaders ? Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Shiv Shankar ? is talking to H.S. Surjeet, H.D. Deve Gowda, Laloo Yadav, Chandra Shekhar and Kanshi Ram. Kanshi Ram, however, is proving to be a difficult customer as he has not given any assurance to the Congress and other Opposition parties.

A second tier of party leaders, consisting of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, P.J. Kurien, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Rajesh Pilot, is dealing with leaders of smaller parties and Independents. Buta Singh is in touch with Independents from the Northeast.    


 
 
HUMAN BRIDGE ACROSS ATLANTIC 
 
 
FROM SEEMA SIROHI
 
Washington, April 5 
With the refugee deluge from Kosovo threatening to engulf the Nato military strategy, allied leaders announced yesterday they will airlift 100,000 Kosovo Albanians to temporary shelters abroad as President Bill Clinton sternly warned that the alliance will ?persist until we prevail ? against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Clinton, faced with heavy criticism for pursuing a failing military strategy, demanded a complete surrender by Milosevic before any halt in the bombing campaign can take place. In official statements from the State Department and the Pentagon, the Clinton Administration tried to scotch reports that Belgrade was getting ready to offer a conditional cease-fire now that most of the Albanians had been driven out of Kosovo.

The intelligence reports emerged after a reported meeting between the Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia and the Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova in the regional capital of Pristina. Rugova is apparently discussing the contours of a peace agreement with the Yugoslavs but Nato has discredited the reports saying he is probably under duress.

Washington is trying to maintain control of a fast-escalating situation as it struggles to respond to the hungry, freezing refugees amassing on the borders of Kosovo. The airlift is expected to begin late on Monday but delays are already being reported in flights to evacuate the sick.

The United States will accept 20,000 ethnic Albanians with Germany taking 40,000, Turkey 20,000, Norway 6,000 and Canada and Norway taking 5,000 each to ease the burden on Albania and Macedonia. US officials will house the refugees in the territory of Guam and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The announcement was accompanied by threats to intensify the air campaign against Yugoslavia as bombs fell on Belgrade?s suburbs on the 12th day.

According to the latest reports, an army headquarters, oil refineries and other targets were hit by NATO bombers in and around Belgrade.Yugoslav units, which are systematically forcing the Kosovars out of their homes, were moving toward the western mountains where Albanian guerrillas were said to be regrouping for the ?last stand,? a Nato spokesman said.

A huge anti-Nato demonstration of nearly 10,000 people was held in Podgrocia, capital of Montenegro, as the local government expressed fears that Milosevic may try to engineer a coup against the independent-minded government of the republic. Montenegro is the smaller of the two republics in the ever-contracting Yugoslav federation.

Despite the best intentions of Nato leaders and their belief in a ?clean? war, there is little hope that instability can be contained with the precision of high-tech bombs. The hatred aroused among the Serbs alone against Nato will ensure continued eruptions even after peace is enforced by the allies.

Caught unprepared by the enormous flood of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo, Nato leaders are struggling to take control of the war they initiated against Yugoslavia. Dissent among policy makers is becoming front-page news with sections of the establishment trying to distance themselves from the decision to launch an air war without support from the ground.

The Washington Post reported today that US military chiefs had expressed deep reservations about the Clinton Administration?s approach in the weeks leading up to the war. The four-star generals, including Gen Henry Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had argued for economic sanctions against Milosevic to compel him to come to the table.

The military brass also said there were no long-term US interests at stake to warrant intervention. They opposed the ?domino theory? proposed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who argued that ?losing? Kosovo would lead to wider destabilisation in the Balkans and jeopardise US interests in Europe, the Post reported.

But ultimately the Pentagon fell in line although doubts lingered. The military chiefs remain unconvinced that an air war alone can achieve the goal of stopping Milosevic?s army in Kosovo. They see the gradual escalation of the war as yet another ?Vietnam type? involvement with an open-ended commitment.

Even now the sentiment in the Pentagon favours amassing enough troops to take over Kosovo if the job is to be done properly. But the political implications of such a decision weigh heavy on President Bill Clinton who was roundly thrashed in the Sunday papers in almost all the columns for leading the US into a war without clear goals and for getting involved mainly to relieve the collective western conscience.

Maureen Dowd, a stringent anti-Clinton columnist in the New York Times, was scathing in her portrayal of the present. ?Yuppies are going to war. The most self-indulgent generation in history is being asked to sacrifice by the most self-indulgent commander in chief in history. The free-lunch president is trying his best to give free-lunch Americans a free-lunch war,? she wrote.

Some military analysts accused Clinton of criminal negligence for launching the air strikes without preparing for the refugee flood even though intelligence reports had clearly indicated that Milosevic would drive the Albanians out.

The condition of the refugees in Albania and Macedonia, meanwhile, has become alarming with the old and the young both succumbing to cold weather and disease. Babies are being born in the open as hepatitis and pneumonia rage through the make-shift camps. There are no toilets, few blankets and little food.    


 
 
BASU BLASTS POLICE ON GANGULY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 5 
Jyoti Basu is believed to have pulled up the police top brass for the failure to trace Exide Industries chief Satyabrata Ganguly even as industrialists appealed to the chief minister to expedite the investigation into the mysterious disappearance.

Sources said Basu held a meeting with senior officials at his house on Sunday evening and gave them a dressing down for the lack of a breakthrough in the Ganguly case.

?He was extremely upset and made his displeasure known to the highest level of the police administration at the meeting,?? a source said.

Basu?s initiative came in the wake of a meeting on Saturday between him and representatives of the eastern chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry where the association is believed to have expressed its concern in a forceful manner.

A measure of the CII?s concern was available in the statement it issued today. ?We understand that every effort is being made by all government agencies to locate him. We are concerned that till date there is no further news. We look forward to receiving some positive news of his well-being shortly,?? it said.

Ganguly went for a morning walk to the Agri-Horticulture Society Gardens in south Calcutta around 4.45 am on Friday and did not return home.

The sources said Basu has sought an explanation from home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who announced in the Assembly today that the police have found three concrete leads. Bhattacharya, however, did not give in to the Opposition demand for a CBI inquiry.

Bhattacharya today summoned city police chief D.C. Vajpai and other senior officers to Writers? Buildings and conveyed the chief minister?s displeasure.

During the meeting, Vajpai submitted a preliminary report on the case. ?There is no firm evidence to prove that Ganguly was kidnapped. However, it is plausible,? the report said.

The city police are also in touch with the Mumbai force which is seeking help from Rajan Raheja, owner of Exide Industries. Deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Narayan Ghosh said the Rahejas have said they have not received any ransom calls or notes.

Vajpai has stressed that Ganguly?s family was late in informing the police about the disappearance.

Vajpai said they have questioned Ganguly?s family members, relatives and friends, but none could provide definite clues.

Bhattacharya told the Assembly that Ganguly?s family is not cooperating with the police. However, Ganguly?s son-in-law Purnendu Roy Chowdhury said: ?We have always cooperated with the police. His elder brother Subrata is in constant touch with the police.??

?We thought that the police would have got some information about him. But we have not heard anything. The family is extremely perturbed,?? he added.

The deputy commissioner visited the Exide office in the morning. He came across three letters and several documents which appear to be relevant to the case.

As the mystery deepened, the corporate world has started worrying about its impact on investor confidence. ?The state has earned a bad name for its work culture. If law and order starts deteriorating, we will lose the last hope of wooing investors,?? said B.D. Bose, president of Birla Eastern.

The Bengal and Indian Chambers of Commerce will meet on Wednesday to discuss the incident.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Today?s forecast:Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 35.2?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 26.1?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 90%
Minimum 55%

Rainfall:Nil

Sunrise:5.29 am
Sunset:5.49 pm
   
 

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