Sangh-schooled Advani spits fire
Jeans Janes in Kanpur revolt
Sonia buries Panchmarhi for Laloo
Lonely hearts’ club of former PMs
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 2 
Home minister L.K. Advani today hammered through the government’s defence of the RSS as the Prime Minister stepped in to launch a parallel effort to break the deadlock in the Lok Sabha.

Refusing to yield an inch to the Opposition, Advani ruled out asking the Gujarat government to rescind its order lifting the ban on government employees participating in the outfit’s activities. “There is nothing wrong with the RSS. The plus points in me are from the RSS and my parents,” he said, replying during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha.

Warning the BJP’s allies that the party was not prepared to compromise on the issue, Advani said: “When the Janata Party began attacking the RSS (on the dual membership issue), they started undermining their own interests.” The Telugu Desam, the BJP’s most influential ally, and the MDMK have opposed the Gujarat order.

Amid the tough posturing, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, who has had a difficult time refereeing the aggressive opponents, invited Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to his office in an effort to find a solution acceptable to all.

According to their plan, the Speaker will leave it to the House to decide through a voice vote the rule under which a discussion should be held. The Opposition is insisting on Rule 184 which allows voting, while the government is agreeable to a general discussion under Rule 193. The standoff crippled the Lok Sabha for the fifth consecutive day today.

The BJP is against Rule 184 as it would amount to accepting the Opposition stand that the RSS is a political outfit against the country’s interests. “The battle is a long-drawn one, and we cannot afford to lose it in the initial stages,” said a BJP Cabinet member.

The government believes the Congress will not relent until Monday when the party is to hold a rally here to protest against the Gujarat decision. Sources feel the Congress will come around after that.

Advani ridiculed the Opposition effort to highlight fissures in the ruling alliance. “It is not manipulation which has brought us to this position, but our earnest appeal to people and parties whose ideology may be different but who share our idealism,” he said.

But the minister is believed to have told his partners yesterday that if they had their own agendas to be pushed through in their respective states, the BJP, too, had its priorities. Advani said that since the BJP had a majority government in Gujarat, it was “at liberty” to issue circulars.

Asked by a southern ally why the state could not be directed to withdraw the circular, Advani made it clear the Centre had no “jurisdiction” to do so.

BJP sources said such was its “uncompromising” stance on the RSS that its ministers have refused to give in to the Speaker’s request to “appreciate” the Opposition’s stand.

Sources said a Cabinet minister told Balayogi, who belongs to the Desam, that “for us, the RSS is more important than the House”. The Speaker reportedly replied: “By RSS are you referring to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat or something else?”

BJP sources pointed out that the majority of its MPs were from the RSS and would not tolerate any “compromise”.

“They have their political careers to think of, they have to fight several elections. If the Sangh does not cooperate, it will leave them nowhere,” said a Cabinet minister.

Observers linked Advani’s spirited defence today to the fact that he was an MP from Gandhinagar who would “lose face” if he went “soft on the secularists”.

A backward caste MP from eastern Uttar Pradesh, rooted in the RSS, echoed the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in the BJP.

“Our top leaders, including Atalji and Advaniji, started off as RSS pracharaks. They showed their commitment to the Sangh earlier when they pulled out of the Janata government on the dual membership issue. If it comes to that this time, we expect them to display the same boldness.”    

Lucknow, March 2 
Kanpur’s clothes cops have a violent rebellion on their hands. Stopped from entering college in jeans, a group of girls let loose their martial arts skill, raining chops and high kicks on the students’ union president they hold responsible for enforcement of the dress code. A fortnight ago, S.N. Sen College had accepted the dress regulation laid down by the BJP’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Rachna Bhatia and Heena Koisar were denied entry to a passing-out farewell party held on the campus last evening as they were clad in an “improper dress”. Furious at being told to return wearing salwar-kameez, the two students came back with 15 girls from other colleges and barged their way into the campus, beating up whoever challenged them.

They did not even spare principal Madhulekha Vidyarthi. According to eyewitnesses, Rachna and Heena “grabbed” Vidyarthi when she tried to intervene, “twisted her arm and threw her to the ground”.

But their classmate Priya Trivedi, who heads the ABVP-affiliated union, bore the brunt of the backlash against culture policing. Priya was rushed to hospital after she fell unconscious. Doctors said her condition had deteriorated and they were not ruling out the possibility of serious internal damage.

The college was closed today and the principal, who has filed an FIR, held a meeting with senior faculty members on the fate of the two students.

The college has given Heena and Rachna 24 hours to “justify” their action and report to the college authorities, failing which they would be expelled.

Police have sent a report to the city magistrate, recommending that the two girls submit a surety of Rs 50,000 each, which is to be forfeited on repeat offence.

The students were taken to the police station last evening and charges of non-cognizable offence were pressed against them. They were handed over to their parents around midnight.

The police said they were trying to hurry up Priya’s medical report so they could slap formal charges on the two girls. They did not rule out the possibility of filing a case under Section 307 which deals with attempt to murder.

Heena and Rachna, however, continued their agitation today and led a small band of protesting girls to the college.

Apart from S.N. Sen College, St. Mary’s Convent, AND Girls’ College and Kendriya Vidyalaya in Kanpur have decided to follow the ABVP ban on western dresses. The AND college will include the dress code in its prospectus for the next session.

Sangh supporters had also targeted Valentine’s Day revellers in the city last month in a sudden surge of moral monitoring.    

New Delhi, March 2 
Disregarding the Panchmarhi declaration, the Congress tonight agreed to play second fiddle to the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar after Laloo Prasad Yadav promised to reconsider his stand against a Jharkhand state.

The Congress also extracted from the RJD concessions such as power-sharing and formation of a monitoring mechanism.

A formal announcement will be made tomorrow in the presence of Sonia Gandhi, who was in Madhya Pradesh today. The Congress Working Committee will also meet to give its seal of approval.

Though a section of the CWC has reservations on reviving ties with Laloo, it is unlikely to block it as the council is packed with Sonia-loyalists.

However, as part of a damage-limitation exercise, the party high command has summoned a dozen influential state leaders from Patna to Delhi.

They have been called to keep the Bihar legislature party and the state unit intact as the revival of the RJD alliance has not gone down well with some in the state Congress. Twelve of the 23 Congress MLAs have threatened to leave the party if it aligned with Laloo. (Details on Page 6)

With the Congress’ support, the chances of the RJD forming a government has brightened considerably. The deal takes the number of MLAs in Laloo’s camp, including fringe groups, to 155, seven short of the majority mark.

Laloo hopes that once the Congress announces the alliance, more will cross over to his side. The rival BJP alliance has secured the support of 146 legislators, including that of the JMM and Independents.

The other key features of the Laloo-Congress deal include setting up a task force to curb caste violence and protection of weaker sections and a time-bound programme for economic revival. Laloo has offered the home and finance portfolios to the Congress.

Bihar Congress chief Sadanand Singh, who was summoned from Patna to participate in the discussionss, endorsed the high command’s stand of aligning with the RJD. CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet played a crucial role in bringing a rapprochement between the Congress and the RJD.

After three-rounds of protracted negotiations between Laloo Prasad and a Congress team of Manmohan Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Mohsina Kidwai and Pranab Mukherjee, the two parties prepared a common minimum programme based on “good governance”.

However, the Congress’ demand to keep “tainted leaders” out was not put on paper as Laloo claimed that a number of cases were “politically motivated.”

The Jharkhand issue was responsible for the slow pace of negotiations. A desperate Laloo avoided giving a categorical assurance on creating the state. He, however, budged after speaking to Surjeet and realising that the Congress would prefer to sit in the Opposition instead of accepting his line on undivided Bihar.

Laloo told the Congress team that he was willing to consider the demand for Jharkhand but refrained from giving a firm commitment. For the Congress, Laloo’s softening of stand on Jharkhand is crucial as it will help appease the Bihar unit. Sonia had favoured creation of a separate state during the poll campaign.    

New Delhi, March 2 
Four out-of-work Prime Ministers are looking for a job. The prevailing tide of uncertainties — the difficulties of the BJP with its allies and the slow-death of the Congress — they feel can give them new relevance.

The first such meeting of former Prime Ministers saw V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral sinking differences in a bid to work out whether they could together forge a third front.

“Various dimensions of national life,” according to them, require “urgent attention”. Therefore, they have come forward to “do something”.

Hoping that their first meeting would not turn out to be their last, Gujral said the interactions should continue, adding that a fifth member of the former PM club — P.V. Narasimha Rao — had expressed his willingness to participate in the next round.

Convened at the residence of Chandra Shekhar, the meeting’s surprise package was V.P. Singh, who chose to forget how the Samajwadi Janata Party boss had toppled his government to instal his own minority Congress-backed regime in 1990. But then, the spirit of this let’s-look-ahead-together move was “Let bygones be bygones”.

Apart from the RSS issue that “threatens to divide the nation and the anti-poor economic package”, the former premiers also took stock of the criminalisation of politics, the Centre’s attempt to review the Constitution bypassing Parliament, rising unemployment and relations with neighbouring countries.

Asked about the meeting’s implication, Chandra Shekhar queried: “Can’t you wait for some more time? As individuals we cannot do much.” He said the group will meet regularly and raise matters of public significance. Asked if they would go to the people, he said, “Maybe, we will.”

Sources close to the leaders said they are elated with the recent Assembly poll results in the four states which witnessed the near rout of the BJP and the Congress. According to them, the outcome also showed that regional and secular parties could not be written off.

The leaders urged the Centre to direct the Gujarat government to withdraw its order permitting employees to associate with the RSS as it encouraged politicisation of the bureaucracy.

“The Centre should take a sensible view and ask the Gujarat government to withdraw the order,” said V.P. Singh.

“The controversy has led to an unprecedented impasse in Parliament,” Gujral told reporters. “We are concerned that the same ruling party in some states and at the Centre is presenting different views on the politicisation of civil services.”    

Temperature: Maximum: 32.1°C (-1) Minimum: 21°C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 88%, Minimum: 43% Today: Mainly clear night. Partly cloudy day. Not much change in maximum or minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.37 pm Sunrise: 6.02 am    

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