BJP turns statute table on President
Ring ready for fresh reform bout
Laloo scare seals BJP deal
Sourav signs up for county
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
The BJP today turned the President�s argument on statute review to its advantage, saying that only a fresh look could answer his question whether it was the �Constitution that failed us or it is we who have failed the Constitution�.

Taking up the cudgels for the government, Union minister Shanta Kumar argued that a review was the �best way� to address this �very important issue�.

At a news conference in Jalandhar, he said: �The query posed by President K.R. Narayanan was a very important issue and no single individual can answer it. Only a panel set up to study the Constitution, its functioning etc, as proposed in the agenda of national governance, can clinch the issue.�

Strongly advocating the presidential form of government, Kumar said he believed it was the best bet for India. �I have been chief minister of Himachal Pradesh twice and my experience is that the political system has failed in parliamentary democracy. We badly need a presidential system of government,� he said.

The ruling BJP worded its defence of the review decision in �patriotic� idiom.

In a reference to Narayanan�s comment, BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said the �we� in the President�s question did not mean the common people but the rulers of the country.

Naidu said: �It ought to be a matter of deep concern for every patriotic Indian that even after 53 years of freedom and 50 years of the Republic, the fruits of development have still not reached a majority of our countrymen. Political democracy rings hollow without economic freedom and social justice. Power is still concentrated at the Centre, and there has been insufficient decentralisation at the grassroots.�

In a bid to allay suspicion that the review would conceal a Hindutva agenda, the BJP leader claimed the main purpose was to make the Constitution an �effective instrument for speeding up socio-economic development�, increasing stability of governments and giving greater powers to states and local bodies.

Turning the tables on the biggest Opposition party, Naidu said if anyone had failed the Constitution it was the Congress, as the BJP had been in power for less than two years.

�It is the Congress party that has failed the Constitution with its inability to translate the noble ideals in the Preamble into reality,� he said.

He also attacked the Left for its anti-review stand, saying it �reeks of hypocrisy�.

�The communists have always dubbed the Indian Constitution as the Constitution of the bourgeoisie. Their pompous talk of bringing about a people�s democratic revolution (in the case of the CP-M) or a national democratic revolution (in the case of the CPI) is premised on the belief that the present �bourgeois Constitution� needs to be overturned,� said Naidu.

He sought refuge in the Constitution itself to justify the need to review it. Quoting Ambedkar, he said those who had drafted the statute had �refrained from putting a seal of finality and infallibility upon the Constitution� but had provided a �most facile procedure for amending it�.

He reminded the Congress that the Constitution had been amended 79 times mostly by its own governments. But, he added, there was no need to be apprehensive since there could be no change without a review.

�All that the NDA government is proposing is a comprehensive review, without in any way seeking to change the basic structure and the core ideals of the Constitution,� he asserted.

What was mooted was a �mere study and review, based on the widest possible debate in Parliament and the country as a whole�.

�Democracy functions through the will of the people. Debates and discussions are an inseparable part of this function. Parliament has the power to reject any amendment,� he said.

Hazy agenda

Even as it mounts a vocal defence of the statute review, the BJP itself is clueless on how specifically it would want the Constitution changed.

�It is not a partisan demand aimed at saffronisation,� said BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, who had presided over a meeting of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in Bhopal three years ago, where a �model Constitution� was released. The ABVP document suggested a polity in which social democracy would merge with the RSS� world view of �cultural nationalism�.    

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
Propelled by the power strike in Uttar Pradesh, trade unions today struck the gong for the second round in the economic reforms showdown.

Six unions, including an officers� association, in public enterprises have threatened to go ahead with a nation-wide strike in the sector on February 2 against the Centre�s privatisation policy.

The unions refused to call off the strike after talks with the Centre failed to break the deadlock. Labour minister Satyanarayan Jatiya, who represented the government at the talks, said tonight he had discussed with Prime Minister the unions� demands, which include increasing the frequency of wage revisions.

The unions have sought a meeting with the Prime Minister before the proposed strike. They also want the ministries of finance, industry and commerce involved in the talks.

The unions include the Citu, the Aituc and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha. However, Intuc president G. Sanjeeva Reddy said his union would not support the strike.

�The government is resorting to reckless disinvestment and privatisation without consulting the trade unions,� Citu leader M.K. Pandhe said.

He added that the minister had not given them any firm commitment on this.

�Since the minister did not give any commitment on the issues involved in the strike notice, the meeting could not come to any positive conclusion. We appeal to all PSU workers to go ahead with the strike as scheduled,� Pandhe said.

Pandhe said the minister showed �apathy� towards the demand for bringing down the periodicity of the wage revision in PSUs to five years from the current 10 years.

Port workers had recently gone on a strike on a similar demand. The strike was called off after the government gave an assurance that the issue would be settled by the end of March.

Labour secretary L. Mishra said the ministry was trying for settlement of the outstanding wages and statutory dues of workers of the PSUs.

The National Conference of Officers� Association has also told its affiliates to support the PSU strike. Besides moral support, the officers would not cross picket lines and would not do any task that is normally assigned to the workers, the association said.

�If safety requires that certain equipment should not be operated, officers would not allow the operation of that equipment,� it added.

The anti-reforms rhetoric heated up on the political front, too, with West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu saying the liberalisation policy would ruin the country.

�There is no basic difference between the former Congress governments and the BJP-led government in economic and industrial policies. Barring some fields, the country has not developed much during the last 51 years and the liberalisation policy will deal a further blow to it,� the chief minister said.    

New Delhi, Jan. 29 
Alarmed by an intelligence report that Laloo Prasad Yadav is gaining ground, warring partners of the National Democratic Alliance united today to clinch a seat-sharing deal in Bihar.

Alliance leaders said they had cleared about 300 of 324 constituencies and the dispute over the rest would be sorted out by tonight or tomorrow.

The parties were fighting over the 108 seats � mostly in south Bihar � going to polls on February 12, but following a report that a divided NDA was aiding a Laloo recovery, the Samata Party and Janata Dal(U) sunk differences over the crucial central and north Bihar constituencies where elections would be held later.

BJP, the major partner, also succeeded in working out a formula with allies in Orissa and Haryana.

The only hitch now remains settling the demands of the Bihar People�s Party. Senior NDA leaders said the Bihar pact was delayed because of hard bargaining by BPP chief Anand Mohan.

Under a deal brokered by L.K. Advani, the BJP got 150 seats, Samata 90, Dal(U) 64 and the BPP 20. But the BPP insisted on 28 seats and later climbed down to 25.

Anand Mohan today accused Samata and the BJP of staking claim over seats which belonged to his party. �They want to contest even from my own constituency Sheohar. I will never allow that,� he said. Sources said the BJP offered him a Rajya Sabha nomination, but he rejected it.

The alliance leaders met late last night and again today. The final round is expected tonight before candidates are announced.

Anand Mohan said if no agreement was reached tonight he would walk out of the NDA.

Sushil Kumar Modi, leader of the Opposition in Bihar, said between the BJP, Samata and the Dal(U), about 300 seats had been identified. The last hurdle was the BPP. �But we will solve the problem by tonight,� he said.

Samata leader Nitish Kumar also voiced this confidence. Regarding the overlapping of candidates in the first phase, Kumar said they could be asked to retire. �The NDA will support only one candidate in each seat,� he said.

Samata president Jaya Jaitly claimed that the delay had not sent a �wrong message� to the voters.

In Haryana, the BJP will contest 30 seats and the remaining 60 go to the Indian National Lok Dal. Both may give two each from their share to the Akalis.

Orissa row

In Orissa, the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal came to a settlement after much wrangling. Under the pact, the BJD will contest 84 out of the 147 seats, while the rest go to the BJP.

Before the deal was struck, the bickerings had pushed the alliance towards a flashpoint, adds our special correspondent in Bhubaneswar.

Angered by the regional party�s hard bargaining, BJP leader Juel Oram, who returned from Delhi today, said the party was prepared to go it alone if the seats were not shared equally.

The BJD, too, was on a short fuse. Party workers demonstrated before their leader Naveen Patnaik�s house to press for the original demand for 100 seats. The workesr broke a window pane and heckled a Naveen aide.    

Perth, Jan. 29 
Sourav Ganguly, the India vice-captain, today signed a two-year contract with one of the most high-profile of English Counties, Lancashire.

Sourav will be Lancashire�s overseas pro both this summer and the next. Muttiah Muralidharan had done duty last year while, before that, Wasim Akram was Lancashire�s long-serving overseas recruit.

The last Indian to wear the Lancashire cap was Farokh Engineer and, among the legends to have done duty at the County, is Clive Lloyd.

�I was looking to play in England and, when something came up, I accepted... Yes, you could say there�s that bit of excitement,� Sourav told The Telegraph, shortly after signing the contract and faxing it to Old Trafford in Manchester, Lancashire�s HQ.

The gain, of course, is Lancashire�s too.

According to Sourav, he was formally approached only earlier this week � after that brilliant 141 in Adelaide, against Pakistan � and negotiations (the contract obviously is lucrative) were directly handled by the County�s chief executive, Dave Edmundson.

Sourav will leave for Manchester in the third week of April, and though he will be required till mid-September, he has the County�s �permission� to return home for the Asia Cup in Bangladesh (May 27-June 5).

Fortunately, besides the Asia Cup this year, the Indian board hasn�t made commitments in what used to be the traditional off-season.

Otherwise, Sourav could have run into multiple board-placed hurdles. He will be making his county debut.    

Today�s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Fall in minimum temperature. Max. temperature: 24.3�C (4� below normal) Min. temperature: 18.3�C (4� above normal) Maximum humidity: 96% Minimum humidity: 52% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 5.17 pm Sunrise: 6.22 am    

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