President weighs role of caretaker
BJP bristles at poll code leash
CBI set to question Rabri Devi
Two boys on bicycle run over by bus
Bowlers fire ball-tampering charge
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 5 
President K.R. Narayanan will have to fall back again on constitutional experts with the Opposition vehemently protesting ?violation of democratic norms? by the BJP-led caretaker government.

The President?s role has assumed significance as the powers of a caretaker government are yet to be defined. The Election Commission had said yesterday the ball was in the President?s court since the panel could not intervene and enforce the model code of conduct till the poll schedule was announced.

The panel had indicated it needed a month to decide the poll dates. In the intervening period, the caretaker government will face no checks and balances if it pushes through policy decisions and shuffle more bureaucrats, the Opposition has pointed out while approaching the President.

The President, who will be in touch with legal experts over the next few days, has the unenviable task of deciding whether this government can take decisions such as the ones that followed the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

The BJP government has taken some economic decisions, including the revision of a programme for the aged, which has raised many eyebrows. It has also transferred several senior bureaucrats, including the home secretary, in two rounds of transfers.

After the Left parties yesterday, it was the turn of the Congress today to lodge a complaint with the President. The Congress, according to party spokesman Ajit Jogi, told Narayanan that the government had appointed Kamal Pandey home secretary principally because he is related to human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

It is learnt that the President?s initial response to these complaints has not been as sharp as the Opposition expected. But if the BJP goes in for policy decisions with deep impact, Narayanan might change his mind.

Some legal advisers feel if this government is not regarded as a caretaker, it will affect the sanctity of Parliament, where the coalition lost its right to rule after the trust vote defeat.

Much hue and cry was raised over Parliament?s primacy when Narayanan ruled on the eve of the second phase of the budget session that this government would have to seek a trust vote.

Narayanan has not stooped to join issue with his sangh parivar critics who are insisting he succumbed to Opposition pressure.

His clearance of the government?s request to prosecute former Congress minister Madhavsinh Solanki suggests that the President does believe that this government is not entirely a disempowered one. But there is also a view that the nod was given because the request was sent before the government lost the trust vote.    

New Delhi, May 5 
Unable to get its way with the Election Commission in the choice of poll dates, the BJP has gone on the offensive, deciding to go public with its opposition to the panel?s decision to enforce the model code of conduct from the day the dates for the Lok Sabha polls are announced.

Although an official announcement has yet to be made, well-placed BJP sources said the leadership has not taken kindly to chief election commissioner M.S. Gill?s decision.

The party argued that the commission?s guidelines should be applicable from the day the election schedule was notified. Sources sought to make a distinction between the announcement of dates and the formal notification of the schedule.

?The dates can be announced informally through the press, so there is no sanctity to the process. On the other hand, we can only take a formal notification seriously and as binding on parties. We are sure other parties will endorse our view,? a senior BJP office-bearer said.

Sources warned if Gill insisted on sticking to his decision, the BJP ?would have no choice? but openly confront him. ?Surely he cannot expect governance to come to a standstill during these months,? they said.

Though the BJP has accepted the commission?s decision to hold polls in September, and not June as it had demanded, sources privately said it was done under Opposition?s ?pressure?.

The party today hailed the President?s decision to sanction the prosecution of former Congress minister Madhavsinh Solanki in the Bofors case.

Solanki?s prosecution, the BJP hopes, will indirectly hurt Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on the eve of the elections. ?Solanki could well spill the beans on who asked him to carry the letter to the Swiss authorities, asking them to go slow in the Bofors investigations,? BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said.

Naidu alleged that the Congress stepped up its bid to unseat the Vajpayee government once word got around that Solanki would be prosecuted for trying to thwart the Bofors probe.

?After 12 years, it was under our government that a probe into the Bofors scam was being taken to its logical end. The guilty will be prosecuted and those who looted the country will be punished,? he asserted.

Naidu demanded that other non-Congress parties, particularly the CPM, CPI and the Janata Dal, should come out in the open on the Bofors issue.

During Rajiv Gandhi?s tenure, MPs of these parties had resigned along with those of the BJP from the Eighth Lok Sabha, protesting the scam.

?These parties toured the country and organised meetings, asking for a probe into the scandal. Now that prosecution has started, we hope these parties will explain their stand,? he said.

Naidu claimed the Congress? reaction, stating that ?law would take its course?, betrayed ?nervousness and confusion?.    

Patna, May 5 
The CBI will question Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi next week in connection with a fodder scam case in which her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav is accused of having assets disproportionate to known sources of income.

Sources said CBI officers had approached the Bihar chief secretary on Monday, asking for ?convenient time? from the chief minister for quizzing her.

State government sources said Rabri Devi would like to field the CBI questions at a bungalow on the outskirts of the city. Laloo Yadav also was questioned first in the same building.

CBI joint director Upen Biswas is expected here this week to finalise the date of questioning Rabri Devi.

The investigating agency had accused Laloo Yadav of possessing unaccounted income of Rs 42 lakh. Rabri Devi?s name figured in the case after her husband told the investigators that a large part of the income originated from her dairy farm.

The assets case is one of the four being probed by the CBI. The agency has already filed chargesheets in two cases and arrested Laloo Yadav once.

If the CBI is not satisfied with Rabri Devi?s explanation, it can rearrest the former chief minister, who is now out on bail.

CBI sources said Rabri Devi?s interrogation would precede the review of the fodder scam cases by Patna High Court on May 21.

The high court had expressed dissatisfaction over the tardy progress of the probe. If the CBI manages to question Rabri Devi, it will help the agency shore up the progress report to the court.

Though Laloo Yadav refused to react publicly to the CBI?s move to question his wife, he told his party colleagues this was part of the BJP?s gameplan to tarnish his image on poll-eve.

?But don?t worry. The more CBI will persecute us, the more popular we will become,? he told his colleagues. Laloo Yadav?s party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, feels that if the CBI?s attempts to arrest him coincided with the elections, a sympathy wave would ensure its victory.

Similarly, if Rabri Devi is interrogated, Laloo Yadav is expected to make that a campaign issue, alleging harassment of a woman chief minister.

Laloo Yadav and his party had whipped up a storm earlier when the CBI had searched Rabri Devi?s official residence.    

Calcutta, May 5 
A bus carrying schoolchildren mowed down two boys on a bicycle on a narrow North Calcutta lane, before disappearing into the approaching dusk.

The police said the bus, carrying a group of students of Bethune School, hit Badshah Ali, 15, and Chunnu Ansari, 12.

The boys were cycling down Khelat Babu Lane in the Chitpur police station area after school. They were catapulted after the bus hit them and were run over as they lay on the road.

?He (the driver) must have been mad to drive so fast along such a narrow lane,? Rakesh Gupta, deputy police commissioner (north), said.

The two boys were declared dead when they were brought to hospital.

They were identified as residents of the nearby Lockgate Road.

As the driver sped away, angry residents hurled stones at the disappearing vehicle. At least four children seated towards the rear of the bus were injured by the missiles.

A spokesperson for Bethune School said tonight the institution regretted the deaths, but could not be held responsible for the ?unpardonable behaviour? of the driver.

The bus was chartered by a group of guardians for ferrying their children to and from the school, the spokesman added.

?But we will most certainly try to fix responsibility of the accident on the people concerned with the killer vehicle,? she said.

Antara Ghosh Dastidar, a student in the bus going towards Dum Dum, said there were nearly 20 children on board.

After dropping off a few students, one just before entering the lane, the bus suddenly gathered speed, Antara said.

?It swerved when it was just behind the boys who were cycling keeping to a side of the lane and rammed into them,? she said.

Locals blocked the road for more than half-an-hour. They dispersed after senior police officers went to the spot and promised to check reckless driving.

Joint commissioner of police V.V. Thambi said the driver had lost control of the vehicle when he neared the boys on the cycle.

?He may have tried to get away from them, but it was too late . Besides, the lane was so narrow that there was hardly any room for any last-minute manoeuvring.?

The driver panicked when some passers-by screamed and started hurling missiles from all sides. The police said there was no trace of the bus till late in the evening.    

Hove (England), May 5 
When Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly go out to bat here 10 days from now, they will love it. Their South African rivals, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, won?t.

The Duke?s balls to be used in the World Cup won?t swing and seam as much as is widely expected in English conditions. The reason: the seam itself.

Speaking after the team?s first practice session, Donald and Pollock said the balls have been altered in design and been held together with a narrower seam than in the past.

?It (the seam) is definitely a bit smaller and quite different from all other Duke?s balls I have seen. I think they might have done it to get higher-scoring games because there has been some criticism of the ball in the early stages of the game,? Donald said.

The South African team usually plays with the Australian-made Kookaburra ball. But in the seven one-day matches against the West Indies earlier this year, they used English-made Duke?s balls.

?The weather in the early part of the season means there will be moisture in the pitches to give the seamers even more assistance. When we played against the West Indies, it was darting all over the place off the seam, which is probably why they changed it,? Donald said.

A ball normally has six lines of stitches around it (the seam), holding together the two hemispheres of leather. The seam is usually 3/4 of an inch wide.

Nothing in the laws of cricket categorically says how wide or how high the seam of the ball should be. In fact, the Kookaburra ball is said to have a narrower seam than the Duke?s ball. ?The height of the seam varies from maker to maker, as does the elevation of the seam,? said Geoff Piggott, sales assistant at Fordham Sports in Kingston Vale in outer London.

A narrower seam would restrict the ball?s movement before and after pitching. ?The ball will deviate less off the seam. It is very important for a new ball to have a prominent seam to aid movement. Otherwise, it is next to impossible,? former India cricketer Arun Lal said.

For India, this can be a double-edged sword. The decrease in movement of the ball to be used for the World Cup must be worrying for Indian new ball bowlers like Ajit Agarkar, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.

But that seamers in the opposition may not be able to generate as much movement as they thought before will probably be some consolation for the batsmen in the bitterly cold early English summer.

For Pakistan?s speed merchants, the narrowed seam could bring another worry. Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar, the two men who can make the old ball talk by reverse swinging it, will have a problem on their hands. Without a prominent seam, the reverse swing will not get going in as deadly a manner as usual.

Comparing a new Duke?s ball used in the West Indies-South Africa series with the ball to be used for the May 16 to June 20 tournament, Pollock said: ?You can see the difference. They have definitely flattened the seam and I am also not sure there is as much lacquer on the ball as there used to be, which means it won?t swing as much as it used to.?

?I don?t know if they have done it on purpose but if they have, I think it is aimed at trying to stop the ball from doing too much in the first 15 overs,? he added.

Duke?s managing director Dilip Jajodia admitted from the company?s headquarters in Canterbury that the World Cup ball was different but denied the changes had been made specifically for the tournament. ?Isn?t it amazing how sensitive these chaps are? They notice the slightest change,? he said.

A little change, though, could change a lot. That is what South Africa coach Bob Woolmer feels. He said this alteration in the ball could lead to a shift in the team?s tactics. More pinch hitters could be used with teams making bigger scores than expected.

The ball not doing as much as expected in the first 15 overs and pinch hitters making hay is sure to be good news for the likes of Sri Lanka?s Sanath Jayasuriya, Australia?s Adam Gilchrist and South Africa?s Herschelle Gibbs. Don?t forget Sachin Tendulkar, though no one will describe the world?s best batsman as a pinch hitter.

Bowlers have been at the receiving end of ball-tampering allegations so far. This time, the boot is on the other foot. In a game already heavily loaded in favour of batsmen, bowlers are crying foul. The altered Duke?s ball will wrest away some of the advantage bowlers thought they would have in the heavy English conditions.    

Today?s forecast:Partly cloudy sky with possibility of development of thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Slight rise in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 34.5?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.3?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 81%
Minimum 59%


Sunset: 6.01 pm
Sunrise: 5.04 am

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