Assembly polls before budget bite
Sonia loses lifelong throne in BJP culture coup
Seat lies empty in foreign cockpit
Tibet challenger springs China trap on Delhi
Showcaused Saifuddin on guard
Basu, Mamata swap greetings
Shoaib express back on track
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 8 
Assembly elections in four states will be held in three phases from February 12 to 22, a schedule which will help the BJP�s allies escape an anticipated budget backlash.

The elections in Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur will be held on February 12, 17 and 22. By-elections to the Lok Sabha seats of Bellary and Kanauj and 30 Assembly seats spread over several states would be held simultaneously on February 17, the Election Commission announced today.

The dates were suggested by the partners of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, which felt a harsh budget may ruin their prospects in the Assembly polls.

The Janata Dal (United), Samata Party, Biju Janata Dal and the Haryana Vikas Party are key players in the three states going to polls. The polls were intially expected to stretch to March.

An increase in diesel price has already hit farmers and triggered protests from Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala. NDA partners do not want to go to the hustings burdened with unpopular economic measures the government may announce in the budget in end-February.

The government has resolved to stick to tough decisions, however unpopular. It refused to budge all through the furore sparked by the diesel price raise. Both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and finance minister Yashwant Sinha have indicated that more hard decisions would follow.

Bellary will hold a byelection as Sonia Gandhi vacated this seat in favour of Amethi. Kanauj was vacated by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav who opted for Sambhal, also in Uttar Pradesh.

The elections will put the three incumbent state governments headed by Rabri Devi, Hemanand Biswal and Chautala through an acid test.

The Rabri Devi government is tottering after Laloo Yadav bit the dust in the Lok Sabha polls. Orissa is fumbling on its way to recovery from the cyclone � Giridhar Gamang was forced to quit as chief minister because his administration failed to respond to the crisis.

Chautala will have an easier time than his two counterparts, but he will be hard put to explain his frequent switch of alliances.

�We will try to use electronic voting machines in all the four states,� said chief election commissioner M.S. Gill. The use of the machines will ensure prompt announcement of results.    

New Delhi, Jan. 8 
The Centre axed Sonia Gandhi as life president of the elite culture institute Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) and relegated her to the status of an ordinary trustee whose term may not be renewed next year.

A fresh batch of trustees in the revamped IGNCA board will scout for a new chief.

�We have advised the newly-appointed trustees to elect a new president in the spirit of democratic principle,� culture minister Ananth Kumar said.

The government in one stroke has sacked the entire �coterie� of the Nehru-Gandhi family from the board of trustees. These include Natwar Singh, Sam Pitroda, H.Y. Sharada Prasad, Ram Niwas Mirdha and Kapila Vatsyayan. Twelve members on the board have been shunted and the government has scrapped the amendment to the IGNCA constitution which had instituted presidentship and trusteeship for life.

�Of the 19 new trustee members, we now have 13 members who are from the world of arts and letters unlike in the old board where there were only seven who were culture personalities and the rest were public personalities,� Kumar said.

The new trustees include Bhimsen Joshi, Bhupen Hazarika and K.J. Yesudas, Aparna Sen, M.S. Swaminathan, Sonal Man Singh and Dedantham Sathyanarayana Sharma, former President R. Venkataraman and the Union ministers of culture and urban development. Other trustees are M.V. Kamath, Vidya Niwas Mishra, Anjolie Ela Menon and L.M. Singhvi. Former vice chancellor of Bangalore University N.R. Shetty is the new member secretary.

Kumar said four former members � Sonia Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Yash Pal and Abid Hussain � have been retained on the board.

According to the IGNCA constitution, the trustees have a 10-year term and going by this time-limit, Sonia may have to quit the board next year. When asked whether the Congress chief will have to leave next year, Kumar evaded a direct reply and said the institute will stick to its policy of a 10-year term for trustees.

The row has been dragged into the courts and a writ petition was filed in Delhi High Court, challenging the amendments to the institute�s constitution. A hearing is slated for Monday. In an interim order, however, the high court has asked the Centre to proceed with whatever action it �deemed fit� to revamp the IGNCA.

Kumar said the government�s action of overhauling the institute in its entirety has full legal sanctity.    

New Delhi, Jan. 8 
The hijack-hit ministry of external affairs, which has been in a state of paralysis ever since the compromise with terrorists, has now slipped into a coma.

During the weekend, it lost one of its four secretaries, and symptomatic of the crisis facing South Block, no replacement has yet been named.

In an eleventh hour order on Friday, hours before Nareshwar Dayal closed down his office to leave for London as India�s new high commissioner, foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh distributed Dayal�s heavy workload between two other secretaries.

In South Block�s history, it is unprecedented not to name a successor before an incumbent secretary hands over charge.

According to ministry grapevine, head-hunters for Dayal�s successor have zeroed in on Siddharth Singh, ambassador in Tokyo. But the grapevine is also replete with stories that Singh is refusing to return home.

Another officer sounded out for the job, Rajnikant Verma, high commissioner to Canada, has also said he does not wish to return to New Delhi now.

Indeed, the big worry for the ministry�s decision-makers in the aftermath of the hijacking is the sudden reluctance in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), across the board, to take up positions in New Delhi.

This is a sea-change from the mood in the IFS after the Lok Sabha election last year when there was immense enthusiasm for posts back home. Buoyed by the nuclear tests and the victory in Kargil, many IFS officers were keen to return to work under a �stable� BJP-led government.

As in the case of Singh and Verma, this enthusiasm has evaporated even as the perception of the BJP-led government changed rapidly on the New Year-eve from that of a bulwark against terrorism and subversion to one of being a soft target for India�s enemies.    

New Delhi, Jan. 8 
As the teenaged Buddhist leader recuperated from his arduous trek across the Himalayas, a rival faction of the sect he heads alleged that the boy had not ��defected�� but had arrived here with the ��full backing and support�� of the Chinese government.

Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, who had made an unsuccessful bid to hoist his nominee as the heir to Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, warned the government against recognising Urgyen Trinley Dorje as the head � or Karmapa � of the sect.

The 14-year-old is the heir-apparent to Rumtek � the headquarters-in-exile of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism � and ranks third in the spiritual hierarchy behind the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.

��The government here should know what is in the best interest of India,�� Rinpoche said at a news conference here.

After the 16th Karmapa died in 1982 without naming an heir, Rinpoche propped 17-year-old Trinlay Thaye Dorje as the real Karmapa in 1992. But a rival faction led by Tai Saitupa found Urgyen and named him successor. Backed by the Chinese, Saitupa succeeded in installing the boy at Tsurphu, traditional seat of the Kagyus.

On December 28, Urgyen, his 24-year-old sister Ngodup Palzam and five other followers slipped past the guards in Tsurphu and trekked for eight days to reach Dharamshala on Wednesday.

The young Karmapa, wearing a dark brown monk�s robe and light orange scarf, appeared in good humour when he arrived at Chonor House, a guesthouse inside the Dalai Lama�s residential compound. The Dalai Lama�s yellow car was used to transport Urgyen between the two houses, less than 500 metres apart.

The teenager has been described as exhausted and suffering from blistered feet and scratched hands after his journey.

Caught off guard by the ��defection��, the Dalai Lama�s government is treading cautiously. ��He has undertaken a long and difficult journey and is not talking properly. He is very tired and restless,�� Kalong Tashi Wangdi, minister for religion, said.

The Karmapa held a closed-door meeting with the Dalai Lama for half-an-hour. He has also met a middle-level Indian official.

Rinpoche claimed that Urgyen had come to India to get the crown of Rumtek. ��The Karmapa�s (his nominee) influence could shrink if Urgyen gets the crown,�� Rinpoche said. Moreover, he added, the ��crown�� was kept at a monastery in India and, therefore, it should not be allowed to leave the country.

Rinpoche is on weak wicket since Urgyen is not only recognised by China, but also by the Dalai Lama. But since Delhi had opposed Urgyen�s choice as Rumtek heir, Rinpoche is trying to give the controversy a political hue.

By stating that Urgyen�s ��escape�� is a Beijing plot, Rinpoche has thrown the gauntlet at the BJP. If the government recognises Urgyen, it can be charged with joining hands with China.

Beijing has tried to play down the ��defection��. The Chinese government said the Karmapa had not fled Lhasa but had gone to Dharamshala to buy ��musical instruments and black hats�� required for the Buddhist mass.

India, too, is walking a diplomatic tightrope. A foreign ministry spokesman said Delhi is ��inquiring into the circumstances�� that made Urgyen come to Dharamshala.    

Calcutta, Jan. 8 
The CPM today snapped out of its vacillation and showcaused dissident spearhead Saifuddin Chowdhury, drawing a guarded reaction from him.

Chowdhury was summoned to the party office this morning where he was served the notice. State party secretary Anil Biswas, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and senior leader Benoy Konar were present.

Chowdhury told reporters he would carry on his mission in the party�s interest, but without �hurting the sentiments of the veterans�.

�I got a one-page notice today asking me to reply to some charges. I will send a reply within a short time but this will not prevent us from carrying forward the campaign we have launched,� he said.

His comments were much restrained than those at a meeting in Picnic Garden meeting last month where he had mounted a direct assault on the party leadership.

Asked about the contents of the showcause, Chowdhury said: �Let me go home and read it first.� CPM sources said the leadership wanted to know why he took internal matters to a public platform and made adverse comments on the party�s functioning.

Chowdhury made it clear that he had nothing against the leadership�s decision to drop him from the central committee in 1995. �It is unfortunate that I am being misquoted by a section of the press in my bid to tell the truth about the organisation.�

Sources close to the rebel leader said he might once again call on chief minister Jyoti Basu to apprise him of the latest developments.

Basu, who is convalescing from a chill, told The Telegraph that he would take stock of the situation only after he recovers fully.

�I don�t know anything about the matter since I am unwell for the past couple of days,� he said. Chowdhury�s stand on immediate revision of the party programme had been echoed by Basu.

The dissidents claimed that the cause was being supported by leaders like Bhattacharya, central committee member Somnath Chatterjee and housing minister Goutom Deb.

Chowdhury was muted but fellow dissident Samir Putatunda said they would not �budge an inch from our stand�.

Though it took a week for the CPM to issue the showcause after deciding to do so on December 31, Biswas said there was no delay in serving the notice. �Safi came to the office and met us before accepting the notice,� he said.    

Calcutta, Jan. 8 
Jyoti Basu and Mamata Banerjee have exchanged New Year�s greetings.

The chief minister was the first off the block, dashing off a state-government card to Mamata.

The Trinamul Congress chief, who has promised to evict Basu and his followers come 2001 and the Assembly polls, reciprocated � in tune with her position as the nation�s rail boss � by wishing the chief minister ��a safe and sound journey into the new millennium��. Etched on the outer flap of the railway ministry card is a stanza from Rabindranath�s �Where the mind is without fear�.

This is the first time that the two sworn enemies have exchanged pleasantries over a new year and it follows their meeting at the inauguration of a flyover last month.    

Calcutta, Jan. 8 
Pace, raw and frightening, has always flourished on the hard grassy tracks of Australia, but of late it�s been left to just Brett Lee to define it. The young tearaway, however, will soon have company.

Shoaib Akhtar is back.

The Pakistani speedster, banned late last month after an advisory panel of the International Cricket Council found fault with his bowling action, was today given the go-ahead to participate in the tri-series Down Under by top officials of the world body.

�We are not overturning the verdict of our panel on illegal deliveries. We are simply acting on certain points raised by the Pakistan Cricket Board,� ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya said this evening.

The ICC chief and its cricket committee chairman Sir Clyde Walcott were asked to deal with the issue after the PCB appealed against the one-month ban.

�The panel felt Shoaib had a problem with his action while bowling a bouncer and, since bouncers are not used in one-day cricket as they are �called�, it would be best to permit him to play in the forthcoming triangular even as he continued with remedial coaching under PCB,� Dalmiya explained.

The ICC president informed that the panel would take another look at video clips of Shoaib�s action before Pakistan�s home series against Sri Lanka next month.

Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram told The Telegraph in Brisbane that Shoaib, who was in Perth when the news reached Down Under, is unlikely to turn out for tomorrow�s match against the Aussies though �he should play against India (on Monday).�

Interestingly, umpires Peter Willey and Darrell Hair and Match Referee John Reid, who had reported the �Rawalpindi Express� to the ICC during Pakistan�s recent Test series in Australia, had also questioned his �extra-fast deliveries� but the panel was fed with video footage of only Shoaib�s bouncer because �extra-fast was not defined well� in the reports.

This could well lead to complications, for it is obviously the effort to add extra pace that is taking Shoaib�s action into the controversial zone. Both the bouncer and the (fuller-length) extra-quick delivery require this extra effort.

The ICC president did point out that umpires were still free to apply the law on chucking, but with the new tendency to refer things to the panel rather than �call� on the field, it remains to be seen who will bell the cat.    

Today�s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Slight rise in night temperature. Max. temperature: 25.1�C (-2�C ) Min. temperature: 11.3�C (-2�C) Maximum humidity: 93% Minimum humidity: 34% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 5.03 pm Sunrise: 6.24 am    

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