BJP grabs trust vote command
Numbers block on Atal?s path
Surjeet?s home shattered in Jaya sweep
Pak replies with Ghauri
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 14 
Faced with the spectre of being thrown out of power, the BJP tonight put up a display of calculated courage by promptly embracing the President?s directive to seek a vote of confidence.

After Jayalalitha announced her expected withdrawal of support in the morning, President K.R. Narayanan responded to a united Opposition?s demand for asking the Vajpayee government to prove its majority, but did not set a deadline for the vote.

The BJP rushed to greet the command with an offer to stage the showdown tomorrow itself. The Prime Minister would move the motion at 11 am, putting in abeyance all other business of the House, parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam said after a government think-tank meeting at Vajpayee?s residence late tonight.

A surprised Opposition, however, was not ready to agree to this as some of its members are not in town yet. The Congress wants the vote to be held on Monday.

The Speaker has convened a meeting of leaders of all parties at 10 am tomorrow when Parliament reassembles to continue the budget session after a recess. The BJP wants Doordarshan to broadcast the debate and the vote live, as had been done during the confidence motion of the 13-day Vajpayee government of 1996, hoping to take its case to the nation.

By reacting with alacrity to the presidential directive, the party has caught the Opposition on the wrong foot and cut short the time headhunters had counted on to trap members of its own flock.

If the President had desisted from fixing a time-frame for holding a trust vote with the intention of giving the House time to pass the budget, the government put paid to the possibility. The vote may now take precedence over all else, plunging the budget into a gulf of uncertainty, for which the blame will be placed at the Opposition?s door.

After a day?s lull, Jayalalitha stirred out of her temporary Delhi residence at the Chandragupta suite in Maurya Sheraton to deliver her long-awaited knockout punch to set in train the day?s dramatic developments.

She held a series of meetings with other Opposition leaders as fast-emerging political alignments brought together such diverse elements as herself and CPM leader H.S. Surjeet. But the expected talks with Sonia Gandhi did not take place. The two are now scheduled to meet at 5 pm tomorrow.

Immediately after she went to the President to announce withdrawal of support, a chorus rose from the Opposition ranks demanding resignation of the Vajpayee government.

Acting quite the queen bee in the hum of Opposition activity around her, Jayalalitha met Surjeet, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala to discuss the numbers game in the Lok Sabha and the strategy for forming a government after Vajpayee?s fall.

By afternoon, it was clear that the countdown had begun as Chautala visited Jayalalitha at her hotel suite to ?congratulate? her for dumping the BJP-led government and pledged support to an alternative if it was not headed by the Congress. The other person who came calling with a congratulatory message was Laloo Yadav, who said he came ?to thank her for taking on the communal BJP?.

The ruling coalition, which had hoped to get the support of the four-member Chautala group, appeared crestfallen. On the other side, Chautala?s statement came as further encouragement to an upbeat Opposition, which marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan to insist that Vajpayee seek a trust vote.

Belying government expectations, the President did not take very much time ? but long enough to induce expressions of impatience from leaders like Jyoti Basu ? to issue his directive. The communique was a one-liner which did not ascribe any reasons for the decision. Finding the political situation far too volatile, the President may have chosen to try to curtail possibilities of horse-trading and floor-crossing.

Such troubles beset the government in the evening. The first sign of a split in the Samata Party appeared when Kalpnath Rai demanded the resignation of the Vajpayee government. Rai, who claimed to have the support of other party MPs, had held talks earlier with Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav. A jittery party chief George Fernandes summoned an emergency meeting of the parliamentary party to keep the flock together.

A subdued BJP maintained that it would survive but it was apparent it was short of the magic number, even though the DMK virtually made it clear it would support the government.

The Prime Minister was informed of Jayalalitha?s withdrawal when he was addressing the BJP parliamentary party meeting. Speaking to party workers at his residence immediately after that, he struck a confident note. In the evening, allies were called for an emergency meeting.

The Congress held its strategy session at 10 Janpath, with Sonia Gandhi holding parleys with four of her seniormost colleagues: Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar, Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee.

Though the Opposition was euphoric, the shape of an alternative configuration and the government that would take over was still quite nebulous. Mulayam Singh Yadav still has his reservations, as does Chautala. The Congress has yet to work out a deal with the demanding Jayalalitha who added to the confusion, saying: ?Why are you so sure ADMK will join the government?? v    

New Delhi, April 14 
The Vajpayee government?s hopes of surviving a trust vote receded today, with the Indian National Lok Dal announcing it would oppose the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha and other smaller parties refusing to commit their support.

Till last night, the BJP was banking on former ally INLD and the DMK, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Tamil Maanila Congress to provide the requisite numbers.

BJP sources said a party leader close to Om Prakash Chautala made one last attempt to turn the INLD chief around, but was not ?entirely successful?. INLD sources said during the talks, Chautala expressed his disgust over past attempts by the government?s ?managers? to split his party.

The DMK said it would not support any move for forming an alternative government at the Centre, giving the BJP the only piece of good news it heard today. The Tamil Nadu party said it would take into account the Vajpayee-led coalition?s refusal to sack the Karunanidhi government before deciding which way to vote.

But its ally, the Tamil Maanila Congress, and the BSP kept the government guessing.

BSP chief Kanshi Ram told reporters his party would unveil its stand only on the ?floor of the House?. He added that his first priority was elections. ?We want elections. Frequent polls are in the interest of the bahujan samaj (the oppressed classes),? he said.

Tamil Maanila Congress leader G.K. Moopanar was non-committal, merely saying that he was ?keenly watching the fast unfolding scenario in Delhi?.

The BJP?s hopes of getting the the support of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who met A.B. Vajpayee on Monday, also dimmed when his party said the government must immediately seek a confidence vote.

Disappointed by the failure to win new friends and threatened by the prospect of desertions, Prime Minister Vajpayee called an emergency meeting of the BJP?s allies at his residence this evening before the President?s directive.

Officially, the BJP and its allies kept up a brave front, expressing confidence that the government would prove its majority.

The National Conference, an ally of the government which has been neutral in past trials of strength, promised unconditional support in a trust vote.

?The Opposition is divided and we will be able to prove majority over the others,? BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu boldly claimed.

Leaving nothing to chance, the BJP asked all its allies to issue whips to their MPs to be present in the House.

The BJP might find it difficult to hold its allies together if an alternative arrangement shapes up. Samata Party MP Kalpnath Rai has already raised the voice of dissent, demanding Vajpayee?s resignation.

Another strategy session of the parliamentary party of the BJP and its allies will be held tomorrow morning.

The BJP parliamentary party, which met today, took note of the Opposition?s efforts to ?pull down the government? and listed its own ?achievements?, including the test-firing of Agni-II. Naidu quoted the Prime Minister as saying, ?there are enough numbers on our side and we will succeed in defeating the gameplan of our opponents?.    

New Delhi, April 14 
Wily CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet had to pay a heavy price for all his political manipulations and plotting against the BJP government this evening.

His austere drawing room was ransacked by uninvited cameramen. After the rampage, a crestfallen and ailing Surjeet shrugged as he looked around at the mess. The photographers? trail of destruction had removed the grin he had had when Jayalalitha first stepped out of her Tata Sierra in the portico.

As Jayalalitha alighted, photographers and television camera crew scampered after her. They shoved aside a frail and protesting Surjeet and forced their way in.

As the technicians set up their tripods and other equipment, they climbed on to the sofa for vantage positions. Surjeet looked around in dismay at the stampeding cameramen, some of whom complained that his room was too small and that they could not really be blamed for the damage to his furniture.

Cameramen, however, found it difficult to manoeuvre around Jayalalitha. Her security guards kept ambitious lensmen at bay. Photographers had to maintain a discreet distance from the elevator at the ground floor lobby of the Maurya Sheraton.

In her sixth-floor suite, Jayalalitha today ordered her staff to make use of the kitchenette and enjoyed a Tamil meal. Today was Tamil New Year day and Jayalalitha was bent upon starting the year with a political bang.

Reporters kept troubling her on the configuration of the alternative formation, but Jayalalitha would divulge little. A beaming Subramanian Swamy made frequent appearances in the hotel lobby armed with a cellphone. ?The BJD, Samata and even the BJP are all splitting,? he said. Asked about BJP MPs who might walk out, Swamy said: ?Do you think I shall fall into the trap of revealing those names and allow the BJP to buy them up?? He pointed at his cellphone and said: ?There is only a button to press and the government will go out of power.?

Om Prakash Chautala caused a lot of confusion with his statements. He said if the government moved a confidence motion, he would oppose it and if the Opposition moved a no-confidence motion, he would support it. Before reporters figured this out, Chautala said he would oppose a Congress-led government. His clarification was even more confusing. He said Congress could join the government, but the Prime Minister would have to be someone other than a Congressman.

At the AICC headquarters on 24 Akbar Road, Congress workers were at a loss. The action appeared to have shifted to the fortified 10 Janpath.

Sonia Gandhi was trying her best to be impartial to party managers. She wanted Sharad Pawar, Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh to be present at all the discussions. When Pawar arrived late for one such meeting, she asked Manmohan Singh to wait.

Another destination for Congressmen is 20 Canning Lane, residence of the new party spokesperson Arjun Singh. And at 1 Tughluq Road, Kamal Nath was emerging as another centre of power.

Laloo Prasad Yadav suddenly realised this afternoon that the media had lost interest in him. Reporters walked out as he began speaking about Sunder Singh Bhandari instead of briefing them on the day?s developments.    

Islamabad, April 14 
Two days after India tested Agni-II, Pakistan responded today, test-firing Ghauri-II, its own long-range ballistic missile, ignoring international appeals for restraint. India was given prior notification in accordance with the Lahore accord, an official statement said.

The solid-fuelled missile, with a range of 1,500 km, can hit targets deep inside India with conventional as well as nuclear warheads. There may be another test soon, this time on a sea target, to explore the missile?s full range of 2,300 km, APP, Pakistan?s official news agency said.

The statement said the Advanced Hatf-V (Ghauri-II) missile, tested at 10.40 am local time, from Tilla Jogian in Jhelum district, hit its target after eight minutes near the coastal town of Jiwani in Baluchistan. The earlier Ghauri was tested on April 6, 1998.

It was a festive occasion for residents near the launch site as they rushed to their rooftops to watch the launch. ?Everyone was happy, clapping their hands and dancing as the missile could be seen rising,? said Mohammed Hafeez, resident of a small village near Tilla Jogian.

The test was witnessed by senior military officials, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan?s missile programme, under whose supervision Ghauri was developed at the Kahuta Research Laboratory.

There was spontaneous celebration in the country over a ?strong reply to India? as people hugged each other amid shouts of ?Pakistan zindabad?.

The official Indian reaction was guarded. Defence minister George Fernandes said the test was expected. ?We all knew that our neighbour will test their defence capability after we tested our Agni-II,? he said.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh said there would be no arms race in the subcontinent. Architect of India?s missile programme A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said missile technology could be offered to friendly nations.

Global reaction to the test-firing ranged from concern and regret to silent approval.

The US has blamed India for the Ghauri test. ?We believe India has a special responsibility in this regard. Clearly, Pakistan is responding to Indian actions, including the nuclear and missile tests,? assistant secretary of state for south Asia Karl Inderfurth said today. Earlier, White House issued a statement ?regretting? the test. Russia also expressed concern, saying Pakistan?s move could trigger a nuclear missile race in Asia.

Japan said the test could threaten peace and stability in South Asia. ?It is extremely regrettable as we have repeatedly asked (Pakistan) for self-restraint,? chief Cabinet secretary Hiromu Nonaka said.

Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said his country ?deeply regrets? the test. ?I urge both countries to refrain from entering into a destabilising missile arms race...? he said.

China maintained silence, but its official news agency described the test as ?a matching response? to India?s Agni-II trial.    

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

Temperature: Maximum 36.6?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.0?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 92%
Minimum 51%


Sunset: 5.53 pm
Sunrise: 5.19am

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