Mulayam blocks Sonia solo ride to power
Politics busts budget consensus
Slaughter in US school
Miandad quits amid buzz over booty
Rape alleged at Fort William
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 21 
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav plunged the drive for an alternative government into a wayside ditch this evening by insisting on either a third force government or a coalition with the Congress.

Mulayam?s obduracy, which enraged the Left and embarrassed Congress chief Sonia Gandhi ? who had earlier made facile claims that she had 272 MPs in her kitty ? now threatens to push the country into its second general election in two years.

It is not known yet whether the Congress will bow to Mulayam?s demands; so far, Sonia Gandhi?s party has been keen on a minority government supported by others from outside. ?We are not going to shift from our position. They should either support our minority government or be prepared for polls,? a Congress leader said.

The BJP continued needling its adversaries by laying claims to forming the government yet again. Senior BJP leaders met President K.R. Narayanan today and submitted to him letters of support from 270 Lok Sabha members ? a possible first step towards reclaiming power if the non-BJP parties fail to get their act together.

Sonia Gandhi called an emergency informal meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) late tonight to discuss the proposals of the non-Congress Opposition. But the party is extremely reluctant to head a coalition for it feels it would be a trap of unmanageable contradictions. The Congress? ? and the Left?s ?efforts to bring round recalcitrant elements continued into the night.

All-round pressure on preventing a poll may yet conjure a workable arrangement. The possibility of the Congress supporting a third force government from outside ? if only to avoid immediate general elections ? is not being ruled out. But there is a big question mark on the credibility and acceptability of such a formulation. Narayanan may himself raise doubts about its viability, especially in the light of the failure of two such governments in 1997 and 1998.

Trouble in the non-BJP camp surfaced at a meeting of non-Congress Opposition parties at Mulayam?s residence this evening. After a three-hour session, the only consensus arrived at was two counter-proposals to the Congress? plea for a minority government supported from outside: a third force government supported by the Congress or a Congress-led coalition.

Left leaders H.S. Surjeet, Jyoti Basu and A.B. Bardhan argued in vain for support to a Congress-led minority government in the face of stiff resistance from Mulayam, who had brought to the meeting a belligerent advocate in former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

While Chandra Shekhar argued against support to Sonia Gandhi, Mulayam told the meeting that his rank and file in Uttar Pradesh found problems in lending ?unconditional? support to her.

In the absence of consensus, the leaders decided to send Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav to meet Sonia Gandhi and present her the two options, both of which the Congress may find difficult to accept. After a short meeting at 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi said she would get back tomorrow after discussing the matter with senior leaders of her party.

Surjeet, Basu and Bardhan emerged fuming from the talks and left hurriedly. They said that if third force leaders could not agree about supporting the Congress, they should not have voted out the Vajpayee government.

At the meeting Surjeet accused Mulayam of playing foul at the last minute. The Samajwadi chief said he found it ?strange? that the CPM had become such an advocate of the Congress. Surjeet threatened to walk out but Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral persuaded him to stay.

What angered the Left further was the Samajwadi Party?s attempt to float Basu?s name for Prime Minister when the CPM leader has ruled himself out of the job. Apparently, when Basu?s name was brought up again at this evening?s meeting, the West Bengal chief minister swatted it. ?They are just trying to make a sacrificial goat out of Jyoti Basu,? a senior Left leader said.

Sonia Gandhi still has two days to get the numbers, although Mulayam?s stand has considerably deflated the confidence she displayed after meeting the President. During the 40-minute meeting, Sonia Gandhi expressed her willingness to form an alternative government and was told to furnish formal letters of support within two days.

As part of his consultations with leaders, Narayanan will meet Basu and Surjeet at 10.30 tomorrow morning and CPI leaders half an hour later.

Sonia Gandhi claimed after her meeting with Narayanan that she had the support of 272 MPs, though she did add a rider that Mulayam was yet to make up his mind.

Through the day, Congress managers were confident that non-Congress Opposition parties would eventually fall in line.

The Congress was even prepared to clarify most of the issue-based queries raised by Mulayam at a press conference in the afternoon. Among other things, Mulayam wanted the Congress to clarify its position on the women?s Bill and economic liberalisation.

The Congress? search for numbers does not end with Mulayam?s support. The BSP is still non-committal, as are the RSP and the Forward Bloc. The National Conference, however, made it clear it would support a Congress government.Dissident Samata MP Kalpnath Rai too said he would back Sonia Gandhi.

But the Congress? efforts to break away some of the BJP?s other allies have not borne fruit so far, although the party believes groups like the Samata Party, the Biju Janata Dal and even the Telugu Desam will break once it is clear that the Congress will form the government.    

New Delhi, April 21 
The President has mounted a fresh bid to rescue the budgets after the BJP and its allies disrupted Lok Sabha proceedings and stalled the pending money Bills despite an all-party consensus to pass them today.

President K.R. Narayanan, who had directed the government to pass the Union and railway budgets as well as the finance and appropriation Bills at the earliest, summoned finance minister Yashwant Sinha and parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam to learn why no financial business could be transacted in the House today.

He also rang up Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, whose MPs had sparked the pandemonium by rushing to the Well of the House and hurling accusations of horse-trading at the Congress.

Sinha told the President the budget could not be passed as ?disturbing events? outside Parliament had agitated the members. He, however, assured Narayanan that the government was hopeful of getting the Bills passed tomorrow. ?If nothing of this kind happens tomorrow, we are hopeful the budget will go through,? Sinha said.

He added his party was keen to have the budget passed because it was after all ?our? budget.

It was largely at the President?s behest that the parties had agreed to bury the hatchet and assemble in the Lok Sabha to ensure the country?s economy did not suffer.

However, the BJP?s strategy appears to be delaying the budget discussions so that it can highlight the Congress intrusion into the domain of its allies and prevent the coalition from splitting.

Today?s House uproar is also viewed as the coalition?s indirect message to the President that they would not accept all his directives without a murmur of protest.

The House, specially convened to pass the two budgets without discussion, was plunged into turmoil as slogan-shouting treasury bench members repeatedly stormed the Well, forcing four adjournments.

The Desam, which is infuriated by the Congress? ?poaching? and targeting pliable MPs, set the ball rolling when its leader Yerran Naidu charged the Congress with offering inducement of over Rs 5 crore to woo his party members.

Yesterday, Desam MP Vijayarama Raju had switched sides to the Congress and addressed a press conference announcing his transfer of allegiance.

Following Yerran Naidu?s allegation, the treasury bench was on its feet. Some BJP members could also be heard shouting: ?Videshi neta, videshi paisa nahin chalega?.

The ruling party members raised this slogan even outside Parliament, referring to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her Italian antecedents.

Repeated pleas to MPs by Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed to allow conduct of financial business fell on deaf ears.

All through the uproar, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who, along with Sinha, had this morning assured the President on the passage of the budgets, was absent from the House.

House disruption can be used as a political ploy by the ruling coalition even tomorrow.    

Washington, April 21 
A suburban high school in Colorado became a battleground yesterday when a modern-day ritual unfolded with bloody accuracy. For six hours, it was under siege by two of its own students as bullets zipped through walls, students cowered under desks and teachers ducked for cover.

In the end, 15 students and teachers lay dead, including the teenage assailants. Twenty were wounded in the bloodiest rampage in the string of school shootings that have rocked the US over the past few years.

The two killers in black trench coats laughed and hooted as they opened fire on classmates in Columbine High School.

Terrified students narrated how they begged the attackers for their lives, and hid in closets and bathrooms when they heard gunshots ringing through the building at lunch hour.

?The attackers marched in with guns and pipe bombs, demanding that all jocks (athletes) stand up. We?re going to kill every one of you,? Aaron Cohn, a student, said. ?A gunman looked under a desk in the library and said peek-a-boo?, then fired, Cohn added.

Anyone who cried or moaned was shot again. One girl begged for her life, but a gunshot silenced her cries. Cohn said one killer put a pistol to his head but did not shoot. Instead, he said, the gunman turned to a black student, saying : ?I hate niggers?.

The students recognised the attackers as members of the ?trench coat mafia? which hates blacks, Hispanics and athletes. The two killers were identified as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Students said the group was fascinated with the Nazis and noted that Tuesday was Hitler?s birthday.

Kosovo was quickly removed from television screens as Americans grappled with violence in Littleton, a middle-class suburb of Denver with a population of 35,000. They watched in dismay yet another ?school massacre? ? a new genre of violence in the country. Swat teams and police spent hours sniffing through the building and found 13 explosive devices planted by the attackers.

President Clinton said he was ?profoundly shocked and saddened? but added that ?all the hows and whys of this tragedy? may never be fully understood.

Governor Bill Owens of Colorado, the state?s top elected official, called it a ?cultural virus?.    

Calcutta, April 21 
Money was at the centre of differences within the Pakistan team after the 1992 World Cup ? few were happy with all the dollars and rupees flowing exclusively into captain Imran Khan?s cancer hospital trust.

Eventually, a piqued (even disappointed) Imran opted out of the England tour ? the then world champions? first engagement after the World Cup ? and never again took the field.

Apparently, a cash dispute has surfaced again. But with a difference ? it?s not over a charity or trust. Nor about rupees and dollars, either. Actually, it?s got everything to do with some dirhams. And, this time, before a World Cup.

Ironically, it?s Javed Miandad, who had a big hand in instigating teammates against Imran, who is at the centre of a storm.

Indeed, damaging reports in this morning?s Urdu-language papers prompted Miandad, a national icon like Imran, to quit as coach.

It is a stunning development, coming just weeks before the World Cup. Pakistan, already positioned as one of the favourites, may now find odds lengthening somewhat.

Miandad, of course, has denied the allegations, attributed to unnamed senior players.

He told Reuters tonight: ?The allegations (that he didn?t share the money awarded to the team, in Sharjah last week, by a Pakistani businessman) are untrue. But the reports indicate the players don?t want me. I don?t want them either.?

It?s sensational stuff. But, quite frankly, typical of the intrigues that often take centrestage in the Pakistan dressing room.

Surprisingly, Miandad didn?t touch on the reports in his terse ?letter? of resignation, faxed from Karachi in the afternoon, to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) headquarters at the Gaddafi in Lahore.

Miandad merely said he wouldn?t continue owing to ?pressing family commitments.? Absolutely nobody is going to buy that.

Significantly, Miandad?s contract was to end with the World Cup. He took over from Haroon Rashid last August, before the Sahara Cup. In fact, the PCB had even given him the ?option? of making a comeback.

That didn?t go down well with all the players. However, that had nothing to do with today?s headlines.

Just who leaked the dirham-related reports wasn?t clear, but The Telegraph?s sources indicated all was not well in the Pakistan camp even though the team has had a fantastic 1999.

It is understood Miandad recently spoke to PCB chairman Khalid Mahmood, asking for a bigger say in just about everything. Specifically, team selection and enforcing discipline. Sources point out Mahmood only gave a patient hearing as Wasim Akram, the on-a-roll captain, would never ?accept? an even more powerful Miandad.

It?s no secret, in cricketing circles, that Akram and Miandad have, in the past, had major differences. Too much, therefore, should not be read into their ?great captain? and ?great coach? lines, parroted in recent weeks.

Though taken aback by developments, the PCB is playing it rather cool. Speaking exclusively, the Lahore-based Mahmood remarked: ?The resignation came so late during working hours that our secretariat couldn?t establish contact with Miandad. That will be done tomorrow.?

But would the PCB ask Miandad to reconsider? ?Well, it will depend on what he has to say about ?pressing family commitments.? At the moment, I can?t be more specific. In any case, whatever he says will have to be put before the Council (the PCB?s supreme body), which meets in Karachi on May 1.?

Mahmood declined to comment on this morning?s reports, but it?s likely the PCB will probe what has been alleged. It?s even possible that some senior players may force the PCB?s hands.

Confessing he hadn?t had time to think of a replacement, Mahmood did suggest Pakistan A coach Mohsin Khan could take over in the short-term.

But the dark horse may be former captain, manager and coach Intikhab Alam. Though removed after the last World Cup, Inty had a hand in Pakistan?s 1992 success.

Pakistan leave for the World Cup on April 27 ?- they could well do so without a coach. The tournament, of course, begins May 14 and Pakistan?s first match is on May 16, versus the West Indies (Bristol).

The off-the-field fun and games, in Pakistan, may only have just begun.    

Calcutta, April 21 
A 26-year-old employee of a nursing home was gangraped behind the Fort William boundary wall off Strand Road last night, according to an FIR filed with the police.

The complaint said the incident occurred while the woman was returning home with her brother. They were forced to walk along the Strand after their bus broke down around 9.30 pm.

The police quoted the woman as saying four ?well-built men? accosted them near St George?s Gate. Two of them dragged the brother to the river bank and beat him senseless, while the rest raped his sister. They were joined later by the other two.

The brother alerted the river traffic police which found the woman dumped on Strand Road.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 36.0?C (Normal)
Minimum 27.6?C (3?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 87%
Minimum 49%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.56 pm Sunrise: 5.14 am    

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