Pawar shepherds anti-Sonia flock
RSS permit doubletalk ties Karunanidhi in knots
Nazi tag on BJP
Mandal messiah to save slums
Battle-ready BJP sniffs victory in polls
Govt mulls curtains for Pakistan train
Glasnost power for illiterates

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
Sharad Pawar is at work again. Sensing disquiet in the Congress over Sonia Gandhi�s style of functioning, the Pawar camp is encouraging dissidents and fence-sitters to turn the heat on the party chief and the people around her.

A group of CWC members are becoming hostile to Sonia � a reminder of the last days of Narasimha Rao regime when Pawar, K. Karunakaran, Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Ahmad Patel, Balram Jakhar and Ghulam Nabi Azad ganged up to throw out the then party chief.

In the year 2000, the line-up is likely to consist of Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada, R.K. Dhawan, Sushil Kumar Shinde, A.K. Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and Vijay Bhaskar Reddy.

Having led a revolt last May, the Nationalist Congress Party leader is confident of isolating Sonia after the Assembly polls in Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur.

The resignation of Meira Kumar, considered to be close to Pawar, and Shinde�s support to her indicate that Pawar is fishing in troubled waters.

It is an open secret that the Maratha leader wanted to make Shinde chief minister of the NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra, a move scuttled by the Congress because Shinde�s anti-Pawar credentials were not sound.

What is worse for Sonia is that unlike in May, she no longer has the backing of younger leaders who had forced her to withdraw her resignation. The �young Turks� are disillusioned with Sonia for her failure to bring about a �generational change� in the party set-up.

�In fact, she did go for generational change. But it was for the wrong side. Instead of 50-60 plus, she went for 70-80 plus persons, inducting Natwar Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari and Motilal Vora in the CWC and giving Rajya Sabha seats to Karan Singh and A.R. Kidwai,� a Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh said bitterly.

The Sonia camp is aware of the discontent but has made it clear that it is no position to �please� all disgruntled partymen. �We are in the Opposition. There are only a few posts and positions which can be doled out. It is unfair to expect that everyone will be rewarded,� an AICC general secretary said.

The Congress president is facing a three-way onslaught. While Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar are taking the credit for creating trouble for Sonia, supporters of Narasimha Rao are trying to project the former Prime Minister as the alternative.

Rao, who is keen on a �second innings� on the advice of his astrologers, is touring Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Veteran Sitaram Kesri also nurses a grudge against Sonia and hopes that he can pip Rao to the post on the strength of his �better image� among backward castes and minorities.

Sonia loyalists, however, rule out any danger from either Rao or Kesri on grounds that both lack credibility among the party cadre.

�The dissidents are so ambitious that they will prefer Sonia to anyone from the CWC. Moreover, who will draw the crowds, not to talk of getting votes throughout the length and breadth of the country?� a Congress MP wondered.    

Chennai, Feb. 8 
Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi today backed the Prime Minister�s stand that the RSS was only a cultural organisation, but added that he would not allow state officials to mix with the Sangh outfit, as the Gujarat government has done.

The endorsement comes from a person who is a veteran of the anti-Brahmin and anti-North Dravidian movement. An MP from Karunanidhi�s party, the DMK, had said yesterday that �legally and technically�, it could have no objection to the Gujarat government�s step.

In justification of this lack of opposition to the RSS, Karunanidhi asked at a news conference: �What is so communal about it? How could you say it is communal in the first place? Simply because some people belonging to one particular religion have banded together and formed an organisation, would you call it communal? Like, would you call the Indian Union Muslim League communal simply because of its name?�

He said: �The RSS is like any other social movement. Like our own Dravida Kazhagam. I myself come from the Dravida Kazhagam. We may have ideological differences, but that�s a different matter altogether. But if in Gujarat, the RSS takes to political activities, so do many social organisations here (a reference to Dalit and other backward caste set-ups).�

The chief minister, who initially tied himself in knots on the Gujarat move, later found himself saying: �Ah, yes.... If any of our employees appeal to us seeking permission to join the RSS, it would be duly considered.�

He professed support for Atal Behari Vajpayee�s view that the RSS was only a cultural body and hence found nothing wrong with Gujarat government staff being allowed to join the organisation.

But then again, he said his government would not permit its employees to join the RSS.

When asked what was wrong with following suit since he agreed with Vajpayee, Karunanidhi first said: �Er...well...let them go to court and get permission.�

But why to the court? Well, as per rules in Tamil Nadu, state employees are not supposed to belong to any political party.

But if the RSS was only another cultural or social organisation, what was wrong with letting employees join it, the media asked.

The chief minister had to concede that he would give due consideration to any such request.

�But do you or don�t you think the RSS is communal?� two brave souls persisted, even as the rest tried to move on to more comfortable issues like the ADMK�s involvement in the Dharmapuri bus-burning.

It was then that the cornered chief minister ended up virtually equating the Dravida Kazhagam with the RSS.

Karunanidhi thus seems to have come full circle from the time when he denounced the BJP itself as an organisation of trident-wielding fanatics. A couple of days ago, he said the BJP was secular and would remain so when it was in the DMK�s company.    

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
The Congress today urged the National Democratic Alliance partners to �discipline� the BJP, accusing the Vajpayee regime of �Nazifying� and �Talibanising� the country.

AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi lashed out at the Union government over its failure to allow shooting of film Water in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh government�s move to allow its employees to participate in RSS activities and L.K. Advani�s clean chit to the RSS in Patna.

�When we club these three developments, a clear picture emerges. The BJP�s hidden agenda is out. Vajpayee�s mask has gone. It is for everyone to see,� Jogi said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
V.P. Singh, who took political sanyas following the collapse of the National Front government, is testing the waters again.

The Mandal messiah has taken up the cause of the downtrodden again. For a starter to rejoining politics, the former Prime Minister will work on slums in the capital and later in different states.

Singh has adopted as his primary objectives providing of foodgrain through ration shops to the poor and educating them. He said lakhs of tonnes of foodgrain were rotting in godowns, but the poor are denied them. Education has become too costly for even the middle classes, not to talk of the impoverished, he added.

Singh warned that if the government did not take proper steps, he would launch a stir for the uplift of the poor.

An aide of Singh, however, said he was not testing political waters, but his �health�. Singh still undergoes dialysis of kidneys thrice in a week. The aide said Singh wanted to see if he could withstand the pressures of taking up a social cause.

Echoing President K.R. Narayanan�s warning to the government over the growing gulf between the poor and the rich, Singh said unless timely steps are taken, the fire in the empty stomach of the poor will assume menacing proportions.

The President in his address on the eve of Republic Day had said: �The unabashed, vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche has left the underclass seething in frustration.....Our three-way fast lane of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation must provide safe pedestrian crossings for the unempowered India also.�

Sharing the President�s concern, Singh said if the working class and the poor feel that they have no place, �they will not keep quiet for long�.

He was addressing a news conference, but refused to answer any political questions, fearing the issue of empowerment of the poor will be hijacked by the current political controversies.

The news conference held at his residence here was attended by more than a hundred of his supporters. Singh, however, denied that this was a prelude to joining active politics. The former Prime Minister had voluntarily decided to stay out of politics till 1999.

Singh said he would also fight the Centre�s decision to reduce land for rehabilitation of slum-dwellers. The Centre, he said, reduced it from 25 square yards to 12.5 square yards per family.    

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
Having resolved its seat-sharing problems with the allies, the BJP today claimed it was on the victory path in Bihar, Orissa and Haryana.

Briefing the press, party general-secretary K.N. Govindacharya, who returned after overseeing Bihar poll campaign, however, admitted there were 24 seats from which the NDA�s unofficial candidates had not yet withdrawn. Of these, nine would go to polls on February 12 � the first phase of elections. �But we are confident the remaining candidates will withdraw by the second and third phases of polling,� he added.

After assessing the response to the NDA�s meetings, Govindacharya said the BJP and its allies would get a two-thirds majority in Bihar. �In Vananchal, our slogan of two governments for one vote has clicked well. Voters know Laloo Yadav will be thrown out and there will be a new Bihar government as well as a newly-created Vananchal government,� he explained.

However, other BJP functionaries did not share Govindacharya�s views. �Our effort will be to ensure that the NDA gets a two-thirds majority in Bihar,� said a party vice-president.

Sources admitted that the initial bickerings over seat distribution had deprived the NDA of its cutting edge. �We are not sure whether the superficial unity between the Samata and the Janata Dal(United) will percolate down to their workers,� a BJP leader said.

In Orissa, Govindacharya said there were seven seats in which unofficial candidates of the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal were in the fray. �But this will be sorted out in a couple of days,� he said. He ruled out that the recent rumblings in the BJD, triggered off by Bijoy Mahapatra�s expulsion, could affect the alliance�s prospect.

Govindacharya maintained the Indian National Lok Dal and the BJP would sweep the Haryana polls as well, though sources disclosed the alliance did not expect rerun of the Lok Sabha poll results. �The Vajpayee factor played a big role then. We also have to reckon with the fact that Chautala (the Haryana chief minister) is not as popular now as he was six months ago,� a source said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
The Centre is considering stopping the Samjhauta Express between Lahore and Amrtisar because of the increasing seizures of fake Indian currency notes and explosives, a home ministry official said.

The official said the government is aware of the recent reports that had appeared in sections of the press. �Though a final decision is yet to be taken, there is a proposal to stop the train,� the official said, preferring not to be quoted. Several sawaris or carriers, working for the ISI, have been caught after they arrived by the train from Pakistan. The home ministry said these carriers are used to pump in counterfeit Indian currency notes and explosives.

Sources said the process would be �long drawn� because the views of several ministries, including the external affairs ministry, would have to be considered. The home ministry has sent a note to the external affairs ministry asking for comments on the matter.

But sources said considering the economy and threat to national security, it is unlikely that the proposal would be rejected. The sources, however, added that officials were also studying the problems that the relatives of people living on both sides of the border could face if the train was stopped.    

New Delhi, Feb. 8 
The Right to Information Bill, to be introduced in the budget session, intends to give all citizens the fundamental right to �inspect, make copies and obtain certified copies� of documents from almost all government departments and public sectors.

However, the government has placed �reasonable restrictions� on some documents relating to defence, internal security and internal and external intelligence � matters of national security.

Once the Bill becomes an Act, there will be �statutory obligation on the public information officer to even draft an application for information if the applicant is illiterate or does not know how to frame an application�.

The Bill stipulates the creation of an appellate authority and the right to appeal.

�There will be a public information officer for every public sector undertaking, government agency and the like�, who will be in charge and responsible for providing information to the public.

The draft for the Act, sought to be called �Freedom of Information Act�, has been readied by the Union law ministry. A note on the Bill says Section 3 is the �key� provision, guaranteeing that �all citizens must enjoy freedom of information�.

With the passage of the Bill, almost the entire sweep of the Official Secrets Act, under which governments of the day denied information to the press and the public, would be rendered redundant.

The Bill says: �The Official Secrets Act stands repealed to the extent that it contravenes the Freedom of Information Act. The latter shall prevail over the Official Secrets Act.�

The explanatory note says there are 11 exceptions in the US� Act of right to information whereas in India only six areas are proposed to be exempted.

According to law minister Ram Jethmalani, determination of �confidential� by the Executive is not conclusive and by calling something �confidential� it does not become confidential.

Jethmalani said even the Blue Book, which relates to the security procedures for VVIPs, could come under scrutiny. In a case involving the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Blue Book was called for by Justice Mathews.

Right to information, according to the law minister, is included in the right to freedom of speech and expression.    


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