It?s Basu versus Sonia for Delhi throne
Politburo on second date with history
Bungle murmurs in Congress
Brother kidnaps sister?s fiance
Calcutta weather

 
 
IT?S BASU VERSUS SONIA FOR DELHI THRONE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
April 24: 
The alternative to the BJP now has two prime ministerial candidates, multiplying contradictions but not enough numbers.

Even before the CPM approves him as contender, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Jayalalitha pushed Jyoti Basu to the forefront as the alternative within the alternative, a rival to Sonia Gandhi of the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi?s hopes were already suffocating at the hands of Mulayam; Jayalalitha today snuffed them out by casting her weight firmly behind the West Bengal chief minister.

?The Congress forming a minority government on its own is ruled out,? the ADMK boss said. ?The only way out is a third force coalition with the Congress supporting it from outside and Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister.?

Basu agreeing is the alternative?s only hope. Basu disagreeing is the last straw Sonia Gandhi and the Congress are clutching at.

If the CPM rejects the power offer at its Politburo meeting on Sunday, Congressmen believe they have a chance of forcing recalcitrant elements behind them in the name of keeping the BJP at bay and averting snap polls. But chance would be a fine thing.

Basu already has far greater acceptability among non-BJP parties than Sonia Gandhi. Mulayam adds 20 MPs instantly to the non-BJP tally.

Although, on paper, Basu is still short of committed support ? the BSP and Chandra Shekhar are yet to open their cards ? help could come from unexpected quarters. The Telugu Desam, for instance. Officially, the party is not committing itself yet, but Chandrababu Naidu indicated he was not averse to seeing Basu as Prime Minister.

Once Basu agrees, non-BJP groups feel the Congress will be forced to extend outside support. But if the support comes, it will be reluctant and grudging. The Congress will be bitter about being pipped at the post and unhappy about supporting those who pipped it.

The only consolation the Congress could draw is that running a third force coalition teeming with political and personality conflicts will be a thankless, indeed, injurious task.

Basu, as Prime Minister, faces the prospect of presiding over a government full of elements that are not only volatile and conflicting but also unsavoury, at least in the eyes of his party. Not too far in the recent past, the CPM had charged both Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav with corruption.

But first the Basu-led alternative has to cross the presidential hurdle. Narayanan may not agree to the Congress providing outside support. Besides, nothing prevents him from calling Vajpayee back.

The CPM Politburo is torn between a chance at correcting the ?historic blunder? of refusing premiership in 1996 and apprehensions of ending up with Historic Blunder II.

The leadership is well aware that the coalition it will have to head is unwieldy, to say the least. But it perhaps feels equally burdened by the task of keeping the BJP out and avoiding mid-term polls.

A Jyoti Basu government will make history as India?s first led by a Marxist, but there remains a huge question mark on what future it will have.    


 
 
POLITBURO ON SECOND DATE WITH HISTORY 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, April 24 
The odds are ticklishly balanced on the CPM endorsing Jyoti Basu?s candidature as Prime Minister of a third front-led alternative government at the Centre.

The Politburo is meeting tomorrow to discuss the possibility of Basu leading a non-Congress government ? a move which was not on the CPM?s agenda till yesterday ? if only to stall the BJP?s return and avert mid-term polls.

CPM chief ministers have been summoned to the capital for tomorrow?s meeting which could be a turning point for both Basu and his party. On the eve of the meeting, the Bengal leadership of the CPM sent out a clear message to Delhi that it stood behind the move to turn the party line around and allow Basu to head a coalition.

At a truncated state committee meeting in Calcutta today, leaders of the group that defeated the 1996 initiative to instal Basu at the head of a United Front coalition ? like Niren Ghosh and Biman Bose ? took a U-turn.

Till yesterday, the CPM refused to yield to pressure from the Samajwadi Party and from within its own ranks ? the RSP and the Forward Bloc ? and spurned leadership overtures.

Basu flatly rejected the proposal more than once. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet questioned the very existence of a third front and its credibility to lead an alternative government.

It appears Surjeet is still sticking to his stand. After a Politburo meeting this morning, the CPM general secretary asked reporters: ?Where is the third front?? He also emphasised that the question of Basu becoming Prime Minister does not arise at present.

?At the moment, we are talking about a Congress alternative,? Surjeet said. Basu, however, kept the media guessing and repeatedly gave enigmatic replies to whether he could be the prime ministerial nominee. ?The Politburo will decide the issue,? he said.

The CPM lobby which has resurrected the ghost of Basu?s candidature for the top job is harping on the fact that his taking charge is the only way of keeping the BJP at bay and stalling a snap poll.

The other group in the CPM ? arguing against Basu taking the job ? is stressing that the decision will spell doom for the chief minister and his party.

Members of this group said the political situation at present is far more critical than in 1996. Any Prime Minister who heads an alternative government now will have to tackle unreliable partners like the ADMK, Samajwadi Party and the BSP. ?What about Jayalalitha?s and Laloo Yadav?s corruption charges? Can the CPM suddenly turn a blind eye to all this?? a party leader asked.

Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar, who said he would not attend the Politburo meeting, ruled out the possibility of the Politburo deciding in favour of the party heading a coalition. ?The CPM is not in a hurry to come to power,? Nayanar said, indicating the deep divisions that still exist in the party on the issue.

Only last year, the CPM congress in Calcutta had passed a resolution stating the central committee was correct in refusing to participate in the Front government in 1996, ruling out Basu?s candidature as Prime Minister.

The West Bengal chief minister, however, had felt let down by his party. In the aftermath of the Front?s debacle, Basu dubbed the central committee?s decision an ?historic blunder?. But his party at the Calcutta conclave did not endorse his view and stood by the central committee?s decision to shut the door on history.

If the Politburo gives the go-ahead to Basu?s prime ministership, the decision will have to be ratified by the central committee. What pro-Basu advocates in the CPM are banking on is the party?s ?pathological? hatred for the BJP, a sentiment that has gained ground after the Vajpayee government?s stint in power.

At this point, Basu?s candidature appears to be the only weapon in the Opposition?s armoury to strike down the BJP with.

The CPM is hoping the Congress will support a Basu-led alternative and keep out of it. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has said Basu himself declined the offer of prime ministership. RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav gave an indication of the Congress? mind when he told reporters today: ?The Left parties have agreed to extend issue-based support to Congress from outside. Surjeet and Basu are not fickle political leaders, they will stick to their stand.?

Laloo also said his party was committed to a Congress-led government. ?My party has given the President a letter of support to a Congress-led government. There are no other claimants,? he said.    


 
 
BUNGLE MURMURS IN CONGRESS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 24 
Resigned to failure but uneasy over Jyoti Basu emerging as a candidate for Prime Minister, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today sought to placate party members.

ADMK boss Jayalalitha today met Sonia Gandhi and told her that most parties in the non-BJP Opposition bloc wanted Basu as Prime Minister.

Soon after Jayalalitha declared that the Congress? bid had come to naught and the ADMK would back Basu, gloom settled over the Congress. Officially, nobody was willing to react. ?Let us see how Basu?s party takes the proposal,? a senior Congress leader said.

?I guess we have to support him (Basu) from outside. But the Congress will have to pay a political price for it,? he said. ?We can only count on the CPM Politburo and central committee to shoot down his candidature,? he added.

Congress leaders have been intrigued by the manner in which Basu and a section of the CPM developed a ?sudden interest? in power after the West Bengal chief minister himself ruled out taking up the top job.

Last week, Congress leader Sharad Pawar had sounded out Basu much before Sonia Gandhi became a prime ministerial candidate, but he declined.

Hectic efforts to win over Mulayam Singh Yadav for a Sonia Gandhi-led Congress government have also failed to yield results. For the first time since she took over as party chief, there were murmurs of disapproval over the way the crisis was handled.

Sensing the resentment, Sonia Gandhi today summoned party MPs, senior leaders and CWC members who favoured formation of a Congress-led minority government. They told Sonia Gandhi that mid-term polls should be avoided at all costs and the party should even be prepared to give outside support to an alternative.

For the time being, critics have targeted Arjun Singh and M.L. Fotedar, but they said the Congress chief could come under attack if the gameplan of toppling the Vajpayee government boomerangs. Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Rajesh Pilot are seen as the rallying points for disgruntled partymen.

Congress MPs from Kerala are vehemently opposed to the idea of Basu as Prime Minister. The seven MPs feel the party unit in Kerala may be forced to go the ?Trinamul way?, referring to the split in the West Bengal Congress.

CWC members A.K. Antony and K. Karunakaran held separate meetings with the Congress chief and told her that they were against the Congress backing Basu.

Party MPs from Maharashtra and Rajasthan, too, wondered how the Congress would be able to justify hoisting communists at the Centre to keep the BJP at bay. ?What will happen to our stated policy of economic reforms?? an MP asked.    


 
 
BROTHER KIDNAPS SISTER?S FIANCE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 24 
Tormented by suspicions that his friend was having an affair with his sister, Rahul Bothra saw escape in crime. He kidnapped friend Rohit Ganeriwal and demanded a ransom of Rs 1.5 crore.

But the kidnap drama in Ballygunge on Thursday, which saw fancy cars and cellphones crackling, ended within 24 hours as constant interrogation by detectives broke the abductors, making them release their victim in panic.

Police said Rahul and his friend Manoj Singh were arrested today while a hunt is on for their accomplice, who might have criminal links. The incident comes two weeks after Exide chief Satyabrata Ganguly was released by his abductors.

Deputy commissioner, detective department (special), Manoj Malviya said 21-year-old Rohit, a resident of upmarket Ballygunge Park Road, was told by a friend to be at a dhaba on Ballygunge Circular Road at 3 pm on Thursday. Rahul, Manoj and another man were waiting for him there. ?The boy who told Rohit to wait at the dhaba is not involved. Rahul and Manoj had forced him to make the phone call,?? Malviya said. He said a case of kidnapping has been started.

As Rohit entered the eatery, the two boys asked him to get into their Maruti Esteem, saying they would help him get the railway reservations he needed to make.

But Rohit did not return home that night. Around 11 pm, his father J. Ganeriwal received a ransom demand of Rs 1.5 crore. The family did not inform the police till they received a second ransom call around 11 am yesterday.

Detectives said they suspected Rohit?s friends to be behind the abduction. ?We worked purely on suspicion at first and asked one of Rohit?s friends to tell Rahul to wait at a place on Ballygunge Circular Road, from where we picked him up for interrogation,? Malviya said.

?Rahul and a few friends were taken to Lalbazar for questioning. By 6 pm, we were certain that he had kidnapped Rohit and was keeping him in his old house in Palm Avenue. We took Rahul?s cell phone away,?? the officer added.

But when Malviya led a team of detectives to the house, they found it empty. Around 7 pm yesterday, Rohit returned home.

Detectives in Lalbazar said as soon as the team left for Palm Avenue, Rahul took a cellphone from one of his friends and called Manoj Singh, asking him to release Rohit and escape.

Rohit did not want to speak to detectives after he was freed and Rahul was allowed to go back to his Ballygunge Circular Road home. This morning he broke down during interrogation.

Rahul, who was arrested around noon, said he abducted Rohit to take revenge because he was allegedly having an affair with Rahul?s 18-year-old sister. ?All the boys come from extremely rich families,? Malviya said. Detectives then asked Rahul to tell Manoj, a resident of Lord Sinha Road, to meet him in Beckbagan. Malviya drove with Rahul in his Maruti Zen to the rendezvous point and nabbed Manoj.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day and night temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35.9?C (normal)
Minimum 27.9?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 88%
Minimum 66%

Rainfall:Nil

Sunset: 5.57 pm
Sunrise: 5.12 am
   
 

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