Bihar loses lives, wins good marks
BJP budget trial balloon bursts
Gill calls for balance in seat size
Cong slams BJP for attack on President
Samata denies CM post deal
Voice of saffron in loyalty lecture

Patna, Feb. 17 
On a day that “went well” according to the Election Commission, eight people were killed, several booths stormed and police arms looted in the second phase of Assembly polls in Bihar.

The loss of life was limited compared with that on the first day of polls when over 20 people died, but reports of electoral poured in from many of the 108 seats that went to polls today.

A Doordarshan exit poll tonight forecast that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would bag 118 of the 216 seats where polling was held in two phases.

The exit poll, conducted by DRS, predicted 50 seats in the two phases for Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD and allies, 17 for the Congress and 31 for others.

The survey gave 65 of the 108 seats to the NDA in the first phase and 53 of the 108 seats in the second phase for the BJP-led combine. The third phase of polling for 108 seats in the 324-member House would be held on February 22.

Despite the incidents of booth-capturing and ballot-snatching, Chief Election commissioner M. S. Gill said: “I am afraid you’ll disagree with me but the day has gone very well.”

He pointed out that no policeman was killed today, unlike in the first phase when security forces had to bear the brunt of Naxalite strikes. Besides, the toll had not reached the double-digit mark.

Gill claimed that most of today’s incidents occurred at a distance from the polling station. “These chaps were indulging in their favourite pastime or hobby of firing at each other,” he said.

The election commissioner insisted that “disturbingly, Bihar violence is experiencing a downslide. I would like to believe that there is a generic change of heart in Bihar”.

Gill heaped praise on the police force in the state. “They do get a lot of flak — the Bihar police and civil administration. But they had promised to cooperate and now they are giving all that and more,” he said.

But reports from the ground said thugs went ahead in capturing booths, carrying away ballot boxes and assaulting the poll personnel in large parts of Mokama, Raghopur, Siwan and Chapra.

Gangs of saboteurs belonging to rival parties exchanged fire in at least 12 booths. The police opened fire at Mokama to disperse a clashing mob, but could prevent their guns from being snatched in several places. In Raghopur, Laloo Yadav’s second seat, the police were mobbed and their rifles stolen.

In the afternoon, polling had to be stopped in at least 30 booths after raids by ballot-snatchers.

However, chief electoral officer A. K. Basu said the “stray incidents of violence” notwithstanding, 55 to 65 per cent of votes were cast. Five hundred people, including a Samata Party candidate, were arrested.

Polling had begun on a peaceful note, but the first fatal incident was reported from Siwan where two persons were killed when supporters of a party hurled bombs to scare away voters.

From 11 am, such strikes started recurring in Barh, Raghopur, Samastipur and Gopalpur. A passer-by also died in a bomb attack.


New Delhi, Feb. 17 
The BJP’s first foray into the slippery terrain of budget-planning fell flat when it was forced to deny Jana Krishnamurthi’s reported suggestion that wealthy farmers be brought within the income-tax net.

Not only did the party formally deny any proposal to tax agricultural income, Krishnamurthi — the senior vice-president widely tipped to take over the reins from Kushabhau Thakre — went out of his way to retract his statement.

The suggestion to tax rich farmers was opposed by partners in the ruling alliance representing the farm lobby — the Indian National Lok Dal, Akali Dal and Telugu Desam. Even sections of the BJP, including its Kisan Morcha and MPs from rural areas, reacted negatively.

So far, no government has dared to even articulate a plan to tax farmers, let alone implement such a decision.

With Assembly elections in Haryana a week away, BJP sources feared that Krishnamurthi’s statement, which was picked up by the Hindi press, might affect its own prospects as well as that of the INLD. The BJP feels the combine may not do as well as it had been expected to.

Rattled by the possibility of repercussions, the BJP leadership frantically contacted Krishnamurthi in Agra a day after his statement was published and sought a “clarification”, said party sources.

Maintaining that he was quoted “out of context”, Krishnamurthi said his view was a “personal” one and not the party’s. “What I said was all those engaged in agriculture and farming and in a position to pay taxes should do so and let the government plough it back into development projects in the rural areas,” he said.

BJP sources, however, said there was more to Krishnamurthi’s plan. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha had met members of the party economic cell a couple of weeks ago. Two members, a former bureaucrat and an ex-banker, made a “strong” case for taxing rich farmers, the sources added. Their suggestion was promptly shot down by Venkaiah Naidu and cell convener Jagdish Shettigar, who felt it was “politically unviable”.

“If we have to survive politically we have to think 10 times before considering any such thing,” they reportedly said. Sinha was believed to have kept quiet.

Party sources wondered why Krishnamurthi raked up the issue at a “politically unwise” juncture even after the cell had vetoed a tax. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Thakre are learnt to have expressed concern about its fallout.

Krishnamurthi said the BJP would not give any inputs to the government on the budget. “Whatever the government does will reflect the party line. We are sure about that,” he stressed.

Krishnamurthi has been de facto president in the absence of Thakre, who is ill and immobile. He chaired the recent central election committee meetings to finalise the Assembly candidates and has been overseeing organisational elections.

Some BJP members feel that for all his skills, Krishnamurthi is not quite in sync with realpolitik.    

New Delhi, Feb. 17 
Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill today called for reshaping constituencies to bridge the gap between isproportionately-populated parliamentary or Assembly segments.

Gill agreed with the Centre that there should be a freeze on delimitation and said there was no need to decrease or increase the number of seats in a state.

Arguing against a delimitation commission, Gill said he had impressed upon Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, home minister Lal Krishna Advani and law minister Ram Jethmalani the need for the Election Commission to probe the issue of balancing the size of constituencies.

Since the commission was headed by three election commissioners, it was capable of handling the job in consultation with the political leadership of different parties in each state, he asserted.

Citing Delhi as an example, the chief election commissioner said there was an uneven distribution of population in the seven Parliamentary seats.

The Outer Delhi seat, from where former chief minister Sahib Singh Verma was elected in 1999, had a voter strength of about 28 lakh.

In contrast, Chandni Chowk, from where BJP leader Vijay Goel was elected, had less than four lakh voters.

“In effect, it means that the price of a vote in Outer Delhi is only one-sixth of that of a vote in Chandni Chowk. There is a need for balancing of arithmetic, of rational balancing,” he said.

Insisting that this was an unfair arrangement, Gill said this was not an isolated instance and there were several such irrational distribution of population in different states.

He emphasised that there was no question of delimitation. The job of rational distribution of the electorate within the state by re-demarcating the size of contiguous constituencies could be handled by the Election Commission, he said.

If the commission made a mistake in demarcating, the Supreme Court could always correct the imbalance.

Speaking against delimitation, Gill argued that states which had successfully implemented population-control could not be punished while rewarding others who had done the reverse.

The last delimitation exercise was carried out in 1976, he said.

He agreed with the government’s plan to freeze delimitation till 2026 as had been specified in the recently approved National Population Policy.    

New Delhi, Feb. 17 
Referring to the BJP’s “anti-Dalit antecedents”, the Congress today accused the party of “besmirching the reputation of the country’s first Dalit President, K.R. Narayanan”.

AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi alleged that the BJP was “systematically attacking the President, the Constitution, Parliament, the judiciary, the executive, the media and artists” and urged the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners to give up “crass opportunism” and intervene.

The Congress also said it was planning to boycott the Constitution review panel as the exercise was “politically motivated”.

In a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, senior party leader V.N. Gadgil asked her to boycott the panel like the Simon Commission of 1928.

Gadgil pointed out that no government or commission had the right to review the Constitution. The commission, he said, was mala fide and an attack on the sovereignty of Parliament.

“It is only the sovereign Parliament that has the right to review the Constitution,” Gadgil said.

Jogi also criticised the BJP mouthpiece, “BJP Today”, for launching a “vituperative attack of calumny” against Narayanan.

“The President, being a custodian of the Constitution, has been simply performing his foremost duty to protect the Constitution,” Jogi asserted.    

New Delhi, Feb. 17 
The Samata Party today denied having any pre-election agreement with the BJP on the question of Bihar chief ministership, casting a cloud on post-poll calculations.

The matter could only be decided once elections were over, it said.

The party also dismissed reports of a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) move to instal a deputy chief minister.

Though the state BJP had staked claim to the top post, Samata leader and minister of state for railways Digvijay Singh said the criteria of single-largest party claiming the chair need not be applied in Bihar.

“There is no hard-and-fast rule,” he said, while talking to reporters along with party president Jaya Jaitley.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had announced in Orissa that Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik would be the chief minister if the BJD-BJP combine came to power.

Asked why a similar pre-poll consensus eluded Bihar, Digvijay Singh said the alliance in Orissa was between two parties where the BJD was the major partner. In Bihar, it was a four-party bloc and NDA legislators would elect their leader, he said.

Refuting the major-partner theory — the BJP is contesting 150 of the 324 seats — Singh pointed out that the allies were contesting 154 seats, four more than the BJP.

Asked if the party will project Nitish Kumar for the chief minister’s post, Singh said it was unethical to do so when four parties were in the fray together.

He, however, said there was no difference with BJP on the issue.

Claiming that the BJP-led alliance will win a minimum of 200 seats and a new chief minister would be elected by February 29, Singh said that reports of Bihar heading for a hung Assembly were being spread by the Congress.

He also refuted allegations that the Samata Party had fielded a large number of candidates with criminal background.

The people would decide as the party has pledged to give a clean government to the state, he said.

Jaitley said because of the delay in reaching a seat-sharing agreement, some 10-15 seats were divided among the allies at the last minute.

“We had problem of finding candidates all of a sudden, and it is possible that some of them have a criminal background,” she said.    

Chennai, Feb. 17 
Opening himself again to allegations of speaking the RSS language, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has suggested that minorities should be taught to be loyal to the country.

Referring to a scene from Kamal Hassan’s film Hey Ram, the Tamil Nadu chief minister said: “Possibly this piece of dialogue does seek to show that minorities have such feelings. Whether they feel that way or not, it seeks to tell them that it is how they should feel.”

In the sequence, Amjad (Shah Rukh Khan) tells Ram (Kamal Hassan) that he had decided to stick to India. When pressed why he was doing so, Amjad retorts, raising his voice: “I’m a son of Gandhiji. This is my land. I don’t need anyone’s permission to remain here.”

Karunanidhi had courted controversy last week by equating the anti-Brahmin Dravidar Kazhagam, of which the DMK is an offshoot, with the RSS while endorsing the Prime Minister’s statement that the Sangh outfit was a social organisation. The chief minister later tried to backtrack on his statement following widespread criticism.

Observers wondered whether the Black Shirt movement — as the Dravidian movement was once called as its members wore black shirts as a mark of protest against the Brahminical order — was becoming increasingly saffronised.

Ironically, Karunanidhi has been sporting an yellow shawl around his neck ever since his return from political wilderness in 1996.

Political circles speculate that he begun wearing the yellow shawl on a suggestion from a controversial southern godman, Kalki, whose favourite colour is yellow. Since it brought him victory, the rationalist Karunanidhi would not part with it.    


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