Plot against Sonia brews in conclave
Cong threat to review ties with Pawar party
Cong eyes Laloo base
Statute seat shot-in-the-arm for Sangma
Dal(U) blasts �partisan� President
Scholars defend SGPC chief

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
Dissidents and fence-sitters in the Congress have begun plotting against Sonia Gandhi.

Nine dissident leaders met at a senior party functionary�s residence tonight to thrash out a strategy. They are planning to raise the �one-man, one-post� slogan if the Congress fails to win in any state in the Assembly polls in Bihar, Haryana, Orissa and Manipur.

The dissidents, who include five Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, want to corner Sonia on her style of functioning, her �failure� to lead an effective Opposition and the party�s confusion over key economic and political issues.

Though the dissidents are unwilling to come out in open, the names doing the rounds are Jitendra Prasada, Rajesh Pilot, R.K. Dhawan, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Pranab Mukherjee, Vijay Bhaskar Reddy and M.L. Foteder.

Sonia has deputed senior party leaders Ahmad Patel and K. Natwar Singh to hold talks with the dissidents. While Ahmad has met Pilot, Shinde and Dhawan, Natwar called on Pranab and Prasada.

Both dissidents and loyalists are eyeing the outcome of the Assembly polls in four states to make their next move. Sonia-supporters are hoping to win Manipur and Haryana and improve its tally in Bihar. Orissa, however, is considered beyond redemption due to the impact of the supercyclone and the abrupt exit of Giridhar Gamang.

The dissidents feel that another round of drubbing should be taken seriously as the party has already suffered its worst ever defeat in the 1999 general elections.

They are claiming the support of 40-odd Lok Sabha MPs which is enough even to split the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP).

Those favouring a change in the Congress leadership plan to bring up the �one man-one post� demand on the ground that Sonia has not been able to �do justice� to the twin posts of leader of Opposition and that of the AICC chief.

Though the �one-man, one-post� norm was relaxed by the AICC general body in 1993 during Talkatora session, the dissidents feel a time has come to look anew.

�She should not be burdened too much,� a CWC member said, claiming their efforts were aimed at �greater transparency and democratic decision making�, and not against Sonia.

But the Sonia camp said the �one-man, one-post� norm was a pretext to dislodge her.

�The same slogan was used against Narasimha Rao in January 1997. Once he was removed as the party chief, he was edged out as the CPP leader,� a leader said.    

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
Criticising the inclusion of P.A. Sangma and others in the Constitution review panel, the Congress has alleged that the BJP is trying to debar Sonia Gandhi from holding high offices.

Alleging that about seven panel members were �biased�, senior party leader P. Shiv Shankar blasted the entire exercise as �politically motivated� and said the Congress will take the matter to the �people�s court�. The party is planning to hold a protest rally in New Delhi on March 3.

Taking strong exception to the inclusion of Sangma in the committee, Shiv Shankar asked: �What is his locus standi other than being anti-Congress.�

He said the manner in which the BJP was going about the exercise showed that it was �individual centric� and added that �political witch-hunting has never succeeded in this country. The BJP must learn from the experience of the Shah Commission.�

Shiv Shankar said the Congress has taken a serious note of the remarks made by Sangma about Sonia�s foreign origins, and added that they reflected the former Lok Sabha Speaker�s biased, partisan and prejudiced mind�.

He said the Congress will have to review its ties with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, where the two are running a coalition government. �It is strange that an NCP leader is targeting our leader while sharing power with us in Maharashtra,� Shiv Shankar pointed out. The issue will be taken up with the NCP at the �right quarters�, he added.

Congress spokesman Anil Shastri said the Vajpayee regime�s claim of an �apolitical exercise� has fallen flat.

�It seems that now `a� has got delinked with `political� and the BJP�s hidden agenda is there for everyone to see.�

Shastri wondered how Sangma could speak about debarring persons of foreign origin from holding top posts. �He does not know the job. The terms of reference are not known. It is most amazing and unfortunate that Sangma is speaking like this,� he said.

Shastri also criticised the attack on Bohra reformist Asghar Ali Engineer at Santacruz airport yesterday.

�The Maharashtra government must investigate the matter. In a democratic and civil society, there is no place for violence and vandalism to settle differences in opinion,� Shastri said.    

Patna, Feb. 14 
In contrast to her campaign strategy in south Bihar, Sonia Gandhi today attacked the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to wean away those sections of Dalits and minorities who are disillusioned with Laloo Yadav but who also would not vote for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

At a rally in Hajipur, the Congress president called the RJD government �irresponsible� and blamed it for the plight of the masses.

�Politics is a means of serving the people. In Bihar, it is to deprive them. The poor have become poorer because of the ineptness of the present rulers,� she said at the rally attended by about 10,000 people in the stadium ground.

Caught between a pro and anti-Laloo polarisation, the Congress has been struggling to create a base ever since it snapped ties with the RJD.

By the time Sonia�s campaign schedule was chalked out for north and central Bihar, the party manifesto had cleared the decks for an all-out attack on the RJD by �apologising for the role the Congress played in opposing the move to proclaim President�s rule in the state�.

The Hajipur rally was the climax of her diatribe against the Laloo regime. �Atrocity on Dalits has increased in the state despite proclamations of social justice.

There is no one whom the poor and weaker sections can approach for redress of grievances,� she said. She even blamed the differences within the so-called �social justice school� for the BJP�s rise in the state.

While the crowd � comprising mostly minorities, women and Dalits � applauded her speech, Sonia also harped on the local dynamics of caste politics and blamed leaders for the �caste paranoia� that has gripped the region.

Earlier, during election rallies at Chhapra and Darbhanga, Sonia focused on the region�s lack of economic development and the steady slump in small investments due to social unrest.

�That is why my party has offered a package of growth for everyone � from the very poor to the middle class. There is a need for all of us to save the state from total collapse,� she said at Darbhanga.

To maintain the tempo set by Sonia, the Congress has pressed into service veterans like Madhavrao Scindia and Arjun Singh.    

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
Happy days are here again for P.A. Sangma. He is back in the news as the sole representative from a political party on the 11-member Constitution review commission, after his unremarkable role as a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader.

Sangma asserts he is on the panel not because of his party. �I am in the review commission not as a representative of the NCP. I am there because of my experience in Parliament and in the North East,� he says.

�I am here in an individual capacity. The commission is not a political forum,� repeats the former Speaker.

The inclusion seems to have revived the hope of a political future for Sangma, long holed up at his Aurangzeb residence, waiting for political spotlight.

It is likely that in his �individual capacity� Sangma would be able to do what the NCP could not. He will drum on the panel the need to bar persons of foreign origin from occupying the posts of Prime Minister and President.

The NCP started on the same track but got derailed after the Lok Sabha elections. With less than a handful of MPs, the future looked bleak for the party.

For a political leader whose name was once bandied about for prime ministership, Sangma fell on bad days after his split with the Congress. But it is those days in the Congress � his tenure as Meghalaya chief minister and his success as the Lok Sabha Speaker � that served him well in hard times.

�The videshi issue is my personal agenda and I will raise it with the commission. It will then be up to the commission to take a decision. There can be unanimity, a majority decision or a dissenting note,� says Sangma.

He knows he has many friends both inside and outside the commission to back him and his �personal cause�.

The BJP, the driving force behind the review, is as much enamoured of the videshi campaign as Sangma and his colleagues in the NCP.

For Sangma the foreign origins issue is not outside the scope of the terms of reference of the review commission. �It does not in any way alter the basic structure of the Constitution,� he adds.

The commission will not touch any aspect of the Constitution that is part of its basic character. �Our parliamentary system, concepts of secularism, fundamental rights and federalism � these are some basic tenets of the Constitution,� says Sangma.

He has one year to plead his and his party�s case for barring foreign nationals from occupying the Prime Minister�s seat, but the former Congressman has achieved the one thing he was desperately seeking: political rehabilitation.    

New Delhi, Feb. 14 
The Janata Dal (United) today said President K.R. Narayanan was suffering from a �Congress hangover� and accused him of being partisan on the issue of Constitution review.

Dal (U) national vice-president Jeevaraj Alva praised the RSS in the same breath, saying its �nationalism cannot be questioned�. Its contribution to the country�s cultural ethos was second to none, he added.

Attacking the President for sending out a �dissenting voice about the government�s move�, Alva said he had not so much as raised a murmur when previous Congress-led governments allegedly assaulted the Constitution.

�During his long tenure of service to the people and the country in various capacities, holding such important positions as member of Parliament, ambassador, external affairs minister and Vice-President, he knew of the onslaught on the statute several times and yet remained silent all through,� Alva said, alleging that the Congress had stifled him.

�It is most unfortunate that such a distinguished person should air his views in public on an important occasion on the proposed amendment to the Constitution without even giving a hint to the Prime Minister.

Such attempts, he said, will perplex the intelligentsia and the people may lose faith in the �intellectual honesty of our eminent people like K. R. Narayanan,� he said.

�We are inclined to think that the Congress hangover is still haunting his mind despite his clean and valuable service as guardian of law,� Alva added.    

Chandigarh, Feb. 14 
The Institute of Sikh Studies, which held a one-day convention here yesterday, has indicted Akal Takht jathedar Puran Singh for his hukumnama (religious eddict) against Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee president Jagir Kaur.

The institute, a body comprising Sikh scholars and intellectuals, in a resolution said Puran Singh�s decision to ex-communicate Kaur for implementing the Nanakshahi calendar based on solar calculations was wrong. If the calendar is adopted, dates of Sikh festivals, which now coincide with those celebrated by Hindus, will change.

This is the first time a well-known Sikh body has spoken against the jathedar.

�When a step is taken in slavish compliance with the interest of a political faction it must be considered condemnable and despicable,� the resolution said.

Institute president Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon and secretary Narinder Singh even demanded the resignation of three other priests of historical gurdwaras on �moral and ethical grounds�.

Dhillon alleged that Puran Singh was an RSS stooge and had stalled the introduction of the calendar at the saffron brigade�s bidding. �There can be no explanation other than this if one considers the jathedar�s views that Sikhs were descendants of Luv and Kush. This statement seems to have been dictated by the RSS,� he said. Dhillon urged the Sikh community to reject Puran Singh�s edict of ex-communicating Kaur.

Elaborating on the controversy generated by the SGPC chief to implement the calendar, Dhillon said the issue was orchestrated by the RSS elements in the BJP. �The saffron brigade wants to swallow Sikhism. Sikhism is an institutional religion. The Takht is supreme. No one can play with it as Puran Singh has done. This is an �individual hukumnama� which Sikhs should beware of,� he added.

The convention also ridiculed the jathedar for gathering five Sikhs to proclaim the edict on Kaur while he was en route to Maharashtra on January 25. �The hukumnama has created terror in the minds of the Sikhs and the convention is aimed at removing those doubts,� Dhillon said.

Gurtej Singh, B. S. Danewalia, Kharak Sigh, Sukhjeet Gill, Narain Singh, Dalbir Singh, Kirpal Singh and Sukhjeet Kaur also spoke at the meet. The high point of the convention was the hard line adopted by moderates on the issue of the calendar�s implementation.    


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