BJP closes gap for Saturday final
Jayalalitha gives blank cheque to Sonia
House heat scorches markets
Insulin, Dettol to cost more
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 15 
A possible touch-and-go result during Saturday?s trust vote kept politicians on their toes in the capital today.

There was good news, however, for the Vajpayee government with the DMK flashing signals that it might try to bail out the ruling coalition. With the DMK edging closer to the government, the Opposition?s advantage has been minimised.

The stage for the closest vote in the history of Parliament was set after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee moved the trust motion and initiated a 17-hour debate. It will culminate in voting at noon on Saturday.

Apart from the six-member DMK, the government needs the backing of the Indian National Lok Dal (four MPs), the BSP (five MPs) and the Tamil Maanila Congress (three MPs). The BJP camp was wooing the BSP, promising to replace Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh and pave the way for Mayavati?s takeover.

But home minister L.K. Advani has virtually pre-empted any such deal by summoning Kalyan Singh to Delhi and announcing that he will not be replaced. Such a pledge is only going to alienate the BSP.

The Vajpayee camp still hopes the BSP will at least be persuaded to abstain during the voting. But the Opposition camp, too, is active. Sources said a Mayavati-Jayalalitha meeting is being organised.

Janata Dal MP Ram Vilas Paswan, whom the BJP was counting on because of his animosity towards Laloo Prasad Yadav, today made it clear that he will vote against the government. The BJP is targeting two Dal MPs from Karnataka. Sources close to former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, however, said no Dal MP would back the government.

The INLD and the National Conference said they would reveal their stand at the time of voting. National Conference leader Saifuddin Soz said the working committee of the party will meet tomorrow to take a final decision.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has already said there was no reason for withdrawing support. But his party abstained both during the first trust vote and during the Bihar debate.

After INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala?s statement yesterday that his party will vote against the government, BJP managers are now trying to split his four-member group. His party MP Kishan Singh Sangwan today said the INLD had not taken any decision yet. That revealed the potential for a rupture within the party.

DMK leader Murasoli Maran said: ?We will wait and see.? But sources said Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu spoke to DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and convinced him of the need to bail out the government.

Naidu sent an SOS to party MP Chandulal Ajmer ? who had gone to Brussels as part of a two-member parliamentary delegation ? to return immediately. He directed the other 10 MPs to reach Delhi immediately.

The BJP is trying to win over the three-member TMC through Maran. The TMC is still waiting and watching. For the TMC, secularism is a professed standpoint and it will be difficult for the likes of former finance minister P. Chidambaram to vote for the government. The party is in a dilemma over walking out of a cemented alliance with the DMK.

Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Naveen Patnaik and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee scotched rumours about splits in their parties. However, senior Congress leader P. Shiv Shanker claimed likely support from four BJD rebels, six from Samata, three Akalis, two from Shiv Sena and three from Trinamul, apart from six Independents.

Sources said CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet is in touch with senior Akali leaders. Two MPs of the G.S. Tohra faction are willing to break away and are looking for a third rebel to make the split legal. Party president Parkash Singh Badal has issued a whip for the eight MPs to be present and vote in favour of the government.

The Samata Party ruled out a split and said all its MPs would vote for the confidence motion. ?Just because one of our MPs ? Kalpnath Rai ? is disgruntled does not mean the party is splitting,? general secretary Jaya Jaitley said.    

New Delhi, April 15 
ADMK chief Jayalalitha today offered her party?s unconditional support to a Sonia Gandhi-led Congress government in the event of the Vajpayee regime?s fall.

Confident of Vajpayee?s exit, Congress leaders today began preparations for a Sonia Gandhi-led alternative with outside support from third front parties. The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee and Bihar Congress legislature party passed resolutions today and faxed them to 10 Janpath, urging Sonia Gandhi to take the leadership of the country.

After her 90-minute meeting with the AICC chief, Jayalalitha said her party was keen to be part of the new government. ?The ADMK had been part of a coalition government. There is no question of the ADMK not being willing to join an alternative government,? she said.

Sources said a range of issues, including the revival of a Congress-ADMK pact in Tamil Nadu, figured in the meeting, with both leaders agreeing to a ?lasting relationship? between the two parties.

Jayalalitha eluded reporters after meeting Sonia Gandhi as she left through the rear gate of 10 Janpath. Officially, there was no word from the Congress about the meeting. But Jayalalitha spoke to reporters at her hotel. She claimed that Sonia Gandhi had not yet made up her mind about formation of the new government.

The ADMK chief will meet Sonia Gandhi again on Saturday after the trust vote. ?They will meet after the fall of the Vajpayee government,? said Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy.

The unanimous view in the Congress is that Sonia Gandhi should be Prime Minister even if the party is forced to head a coalition government and share power with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM), ADMK and other smaller parties. Sonia Gandhi, however, is reluctant to head a shaky formation and is considering Manmohan Singh, Sharad Pawar or Arjun Singh for the top job if the Congress is forced to head a coalition. Her preference is to lead a minority government with outside support from parties like the RLM, ADMK and others.

The Left is working on a strategy which revolves around the Congress forming a minority government and allies extending issue-based support. The Left feels the allies of the new government must leave the nuances of governance and levers of power with the Congress.

Despite the 10 Janpath shortlist, Congress MPs feel that Manmohan Singh lacks the political acumen to lead a coalition. Arjun Singh?s prospects are thought to be dim because he has lost two successive Lok Sabha polls. Leader of Opposition Sharad Pawar, who enjoys considerable influence among a section of Congress MPs, is not entirely trusted by those close to the party leadership.

Sonia Gandhi chaired a high-level meeting at her residence to assess the political situation. The leadership has summoned Orissa chief minister Giridhar Gamang, a Lok Sabha member. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh is also in the capital to mobilise support for the Congress.

Pawar met Mulayam Singh, Laloo Yadav and others last night. The meeting continued till early Thursday morning. Pawar was in favour of a minority government headed by Sonia Gandhi, but Mulayam was keen on a coalition government headed by any Congress leader, including Sonia Gandhi.

Mulayam Singh and Laloo Yadav have offered a ?Tamil Nadu-type? poll pact with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As part of the agreement, the Congress will have to leave out a majority of Assembly seats for the two Yadavs in two states, while it will have an upper hand in candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. But there are few takers for the proposal in the Congress.

The Congress today issued a three-line whip to its members to be present in the Lok Sabha during the debate and vote.    

Mumbai, April 15 
As the spectre of the BJP-led coalition?s collapse loomed over the economy, stock exchanges and forex markets were today overrun by skittish operators who clobbered the rupee and sent share values plunging across the board.

While the rupee hit an intra-day low of 42.87 against the dollar, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) sensex shed 107.40 points to close at 3357.12 over Tuesday?s finish of 3464.52.

As the Lok Sabha debated the confidence motion moved by the Vajpayee government, fears over its outcome devoured Rs 13,000 crore from the market capitalisation ? the total value of listed shares ? of 7,376 scrips on the BSE. And, after all that bloodbath on bourses, analysts predicted bleaker times with the 30-share index dropping to 3,250 points. The markets will stay open on Saturday for a special trading session.

Key shares were pounded as nervous investors swarmed stock exchanges with sell-orders and a jittery market watched the numbers game unfold in Parliament with bated breath. ?There was a domino effect on share prices. The fall in stocks has been sparked by concerns over which combination will form the next government,? Gul Tekchandani, a dealer with a foreign institutional investor (FII), said.

Foreign institutional investors offloaded large volumes in the high-priced software and pharmaceutical scrips. However, mutual funds and domestic financial institutions reportedly picked up select blue-chips and helped stem the slide.

Even reports that software major and market favourite Pentafour would hold a meeting on April 28 to consider a bonus, and a string of healthy corporate results, failed to improve market sentiment.

Businessmen are worried that the much-acclaimed Finance Bill could be stalled, choking economic recovery and throwing industry off balance. ?The markets will breathe easy again only when it sees a stable government and the market-friendly budget being passed,? Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Securities said.

In the foreign exchange market, the rupee was hammered to 42.87 as banks and importers scrambled for dollars amid swirling speculation that the currency would plunge headlong through the 43-mark.

Dealers said the rupee opened weaker at 42.75/79 over Tuesday?s close of 42.74/76 but nervousness soon set in among banks and importers ? who need dollars to fulfil import commitments ? due to renewed fears of political instability.

What ensued was a frantic buying of dollars which drove down the currency 12 paise to its intra-day low of 42.87. However, the decline was checked when the State Bank of India reportedly sold $100 million. This increased the supply of dollars and propped up the rupee to 42.80 at close.

Observers expect the rupee to recover marginally on Friday. The belief is based on hints from the DMK that the party could support the BJP-led coalition. Though the currency is expected to rally to 42.75, it will rule in a narrow range of 42.70 and 42.75. At the same time, dollar sales at higher levels could cushion the rupee?s slump.

n More reports in Business Telegraph    

New Delhi, April 15 
The prices of 20 commonly-used medicines, including Erythrocin, Novalgin, insulin, Dettol and Betnovate, will be raised, while that of three will be lowered.

The new prices, announced by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, will be effective from April 28. The hike ranges from two to 19 per cent.

The wholesale price for a 10-ml vial of insulin injection, which controls diabetes, will be increased to Rs 72.34.

A strip of 10 Novalgin tablets, used for pain and fever symptoms, will be priced at Rs 5.26. The price of a 50-ml bottle of Dettol antiseptic solution will go up to Rs 9.60.

A 20-gm tube of Betnovate C skin cream will cost Rs 18.02. The price of a strip of 10 Erythrocin tablets of 100 mg each has been raised to Rs 13.78.

Madopar tablets, meant to combat Parkinson?s disease, and Cinkara, an ayurvedic drug for blood disorder, will also cost more.

Prices will be lowered for three formulation packs ? Becosule and Zevit capsules, both Vitamin B complex formulations, and Huminsulin Lispro, an imported drug.    

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

Temperature: Maximum 38.4?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.6?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 92%
Minimum 44%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 5.53 pm
Sunrise: 5.19 am

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