BJP places Pope before parivar
Musharraf moves for Nepal date with Atal
Prime Minister disarms Bofors-weary Congress
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Oct. 27: 
The Centre today tried to apply the healing touch to Christians and the international community by assuring Parliament that the Pope?s visit next month will be treated with full honours and no disruptions will be allowed.

Faced with loud protests from the Opposition benches, two BJP leaders and Cabinet members ? L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh ? were forced to condemn the outbursts against the Pope?s visit by outfits linked to the Sangh parivar.

?Pope John Paul II is not only the revered head of a great religious community, he is also head of the state of the Vatican. He is coming to India at the invitation of the government,? Advani said in the Lok Sabha.

?The Pope is a revered guest of the country and the Government of India condemns burning of his effigy and disapproves of any protest against his arrival,? he added.

Butting through the volley of charges and countercharges between the Treasury and Opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha, Jaswant Singh said: ?Our commitment is to ensure that the Pope?s visit from November 5 to 8 is a glittering success and the government will fulfil its responsibility impeccably.?

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been protesting against the Pope?s visit, attempted to paper over the differences between the government and the Sangh parivar. ?We are also welcoming the Pope. But we want to express our anguish,? said Manohar Puri, director, VHP media cell. Puri said the organisation has sought a meeting with the Pope and will sit in peaceful dharnas if denied an audience.

Without joining issue with the government, Puri made the VHP?s displeasure at the papal visit clear. ?As head of the Vatican, the Pope should not be allowed to attend religious meetings,? he said.

During the tenure of the last BJP-led government, there was a string of attacks on Christians. The Pope?s imminent visit sparked aggressive protests from Sangh parivar units, adding to the community?s sense of insecurity and causing worldwide alarm to the great diplomatic discomfort of the government.

Armed with a volatile agenda, the Opposition in both Houses kept the government on its toes today with Congress president Sonia Gandhi egging on backbenchers. In the Rajya Sabha, members staged a walkout.

?The Pope is our honoured guest and Indian tradition treats the guest as god,? Jaswant Singh said quoting from the Vedas, ?athithi devo bhava?.

But the foreign minister put his foot in his mouth when he said ?repentance? was part of Christian ethics, even though the government did not ?expect? the expression of any such thing during the visit. Sangh outfits have been demanding an apology from the Pope for ?atrocities in Goa?.

Opposition members were quick to strike back. Though Singh maintained that their ?concerns and fears were overstated?, Congress MP Pranab Mukherjee demanded the minister withdraw the word ?repentance?. Pointing out that such loose usage of words could be misunderstood, Mukherjee walked out of the House.

Rajya Sabha chairperson Krishan Kant also ticked off the government. ?The government should send a clear message that the Pope is an honoured guest of the country and was welcome in the best Indian traditions. Promoting fundamentalist forces will not help,? he said.

The BJP?s ally, the Telugu Desam Party, tentatively pitched in with Opposition protests. Describing the issue as ?sensitive and emotional?, Desam MP Yerran Naidu urged the Centre to take precautionary measures to maintain communal harmony.

Shiv Sena members, however, struck a dissonant note, demanding apology for conversions in Goa 400 years ago just as he had recently done before Red Indians in the US.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Congress members Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Mani Shankar Aiyer charged the government with looking the other way while its allied organisations burnt effigies of the Pope, even outside the home minister?s office in North Block.

Referring to the threatened Goa-Delhi march, Congress leaders said the government could not allow protest rallies by Sangh Parivar outfits.

In the din of exchanges between government and Opposition, the Catholic Church today welcomed the Centre?s efforts to make the Pope?s visit ?one of the best ever in Asia?. Delhi archbishop Alan De Lastic condemned the VHP?s demand for an apology from the Pope.

?The demand for an apology from the Pope is distasteful. How far back in history can we go? Do you expect Macedonia and Greece to apologise for Alexander?s invasion of India?? he asked.

The BJP today criticised the Congress and the Left for ?politicising? the visit of the Pope and said ?no obstructions? would be allowed to crop up during his stay in the country.

BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu said: ?The Congress and communists do not seem to have learnt the lessons of the past, and continue to practise vote-bank politics. They communalise each and everything and are bent upon creating apprehensions in the minds of people.?    

New Delhi, Oct. 27: 
General Parvez Musharraf will lead Pakistan?s delegation to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Kathmandu next month.

This has been conveyed by Pakistan to Nepal, which is scheduled to host the meet from November 26 to 28. A senior Pakistani official said: ?Gen. Musharraf, as the chief executive, is the head of the Pakistan government and as per the Saarc charter he can represent the country at the forthcoming meeting in Kathmandu.?

The official said Nepal and Sri Lanka, which were reportedly in favour of postponing the summit in view of Nawaz Sharif?s ouster, are now not talking about calling off the meet. ?Both Nepal and Sri Lanka have assured us that they are in favour of holding the Saarc summit as per schedule,? he added.

This has brightened prospects of a meeting between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf on the sidelines of the summit. If the meeting takes place, it will be the first one between the heads of government of India and Pakistan after Kargil.

The Pakistanis are, however, disappointed that the unilateral gestures by Musharraf ? withdrawal of troops from the international border and his desire to resume bilateral talks ? have not been received well by Delhi.

?We are extremely disappointed by the negative response of the Indians to the gestures shown by Gen. Musharraf to normalise relations,? the official said.

Reports from Washington said US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has asked Gen. Musharraf to withdraw troops from the LoC. ?He said he would withdraw on the border. We would also like a withdrawal on the LoC,? she said.

Following reports that Pakistani troops tried to capture two border posts in Uri sector in Kashmir, Albright called on both sides to take steps to reduce tension.

Albright?s remarks indicate that US is keen that both sides continue to respect the sanctity of the LoC. They assume greater significance since Gen. Musharraf had taken the initiative to change the status quo on the LoC during the Kargil war. It also takes care of apprehension here that Washington was taking a soft line on Pakistan?s military rulers.

Clinton trip in February

US President Bill Clinton will visit India in February, deputy trade representative Susan Esserman said in Washington today.

?The President is going to India in February and looking on this visit very, very carefully,? said Esserman, who herself is visiting the country on Monday. ?This is a very important aspect of our relationship, and it will be important to promote a stronger economic partnership,? she said.    

New Delhi, Oct. 27 
An edgy Congress today turned down Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee?s offer for a discussion on Bofors in the Lok Sabha even as it accused the government of ?misleading? the nation on including Rajiv Gandhi?s name in the chargesheet.

The party is also having second thoughts on carrying out its threat to scuttle the Fema, insurance, patents and money laundering Bills in the Rajya Sabha as it does not want to derail the unfinished economic reforms agenda. The ruling coalition is in a minority in the Upper House, and needs Congress support to pass the Bills.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who sat in the Lok Sabha through the day, made it clear that she was against stalling proceedings. ?We will continue to register our protest through peaceful means. There will be agitation outside Parliament once the session ends on Friday,? an AICC official said.

But the Congress? efforts to fix the spotlight on its demand to delete Rajiv?s name from the chargesheet fell through after Vajpayee made a dig at it for ?withdrawing? from a discussion yesterday.

Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyer raised the issue this afternoon, demanding a response from Vajpayee. The Prime Minister?s prompt rejoinder questioning why Aiyar withdrew the notice for discussion on Bofors under rule 193 stumped the party.

?What is the point of having another discussion on Bofors which has taken place on umpteen occasions in the past 13 years?? a Congress floor manager asked.

In the evening, Congress? legal eagle Kapil Sibal stepped up the attack on the government, contesting Arun Jaitley?s claim that it was not competent to drop Rajiv?s name from the list of the accused.

?A responsible government cannot take such a stand (of naming a dead person as an accused). There has been neither any court decision nor a judicial precedent in the matter,? Sibal alleged.

He claimed that in 50 years there had been no court decision in which a dead man was included as an accused. ?That is clearly not the law. If a person has been named an accused, he has all the rights of an accused. How you can make anyone an accused, who has no right to defend himself?? he asked. But Sibal conceded that if the names of Indira Gandhi?s assassin, Beant Singh, and Rajiv?s killer, Dhanu, had been included in column two of the chargesheet, it was wrong and against the law.

Sibal cited the Baroda dynamite case, in which George Fernandes was an accused. He said after the Janata Party came to power, the government withdrew the case ?in public interest and changed circumstances?.

?This gives a lie to the government?s claim that only the investigating agency has the power to make additions or deletions in the list of the accused,? Sibal said, adding that unlike the dynamite case which was withdrawn, the Congress only wanted Rajiv?s name deleted.    

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