Venkaiah statute review vow stumps BJP
Turkey rubs salt into Pak Clinton wound
Old PMs back in business
Islamabad hails Kashmir focus
BJP Clinton pat for Vajpayee
Nuclear cloud in Cong camp

New Delhi, March 27 
BJP central leaders were left groping in the dark after general secretary and spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu announced that the party was bringing out a �comprehensive White Paper� on the review of the Constitution.

At a press conference in Hyderabad today, Naidu said his party would release a �White Paper� on April 14 on constitutional amendments made in the last 50 years to �expose the hue and cry� raised by the Congress over the Centre�s decision to take a second look at the statute.

April 14 is the birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar � the architect of the Constitution. The Congress plans to observe the occasion as �Save Constitution� Day in Nagpur, the main seat of Dalit militancy and the place where Ambedkar and his followers embraced Buddhism in protest against the Brahmanical stranglehold over Hinduism.

Naidu said the BJP would �reveal� how many times the Congress had �tampered� with the document during its rule at the Centre. �We will expose how Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had pushed through 58 amendments out of the total of 79 in the last 50 years.�

�After shaving the Constitution, the Congress is now talking of saving the Constitution,� he sniggered, saying the �White Paper� was intended to �counter the Congress�s disinformation campaign, expose its double standard, political bankruptcy and rank opportunism on the issue�.

He accused the Congress of using the Constitution review �ruse� to divert attention from its own failures and the �looming threat� to Sonia Gandhi�s leadership after the recent electoral rout.

BJP sources admitted that they had no clue as to what triggered Naidu�s outburst. �The most charitable assessment is that he was probably misquoted by the press,� party sources said, denying that there had been any talk of bringing out a �White Paper�.

�How is a political party competent to issue a White Paper? It can be done only by the government or an institution,� said a source. According to them, Naidu had probably meant that the BJP would marshall its arguments in favour of a review as and when the government-appointed committee sought the views of other parties.

The other explanation proffered was that the BJP was thinking of putting its ideas on the subject in the form of a resolution which could be discussed, adopted and released during its working committee meeting scheduled to be held in Delhi on April 15 and 16.

Though BJP sources moved fast to downplay Naidu�s assertions, his announcement interestingly coincided with the release of a special issue on the review by the RSS mouthpiece, Panchajanya.

The issue, which hit the stands today ahead of its usual Wednesday schedule, has a number of persons writing on the subject and the common refrain is: it is time that Ambedkar�s document was looked at more closely and changed.

Among the contributors are former Allahabad High Court judge H.R. Khanna (who was passed over for the Supreme Court Chief Justice�s post by Indira Gandhi), former Darjeeling MP and journalist Indrajeet, the late Jaya Prakash Narayan, and a member of the review panel, Subhash C. Kashyap.

Shortly after taking over, RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan had stressed the need for a �brand new� Constitution after dismissing the present document as a �British legacy�.    

New Delhi, March 27 
Even before Pakistan has picked up the pieces after President Bill Clinton�s diplomatic blow, another time-tested friend has dealt it another: Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is coming calling on Delhi later this week, but will give Islamabad the slip.

Ecevit will land in India on Thursday for a three-day official visit, which will include detailed talks with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. He is also scheduled to visit Santiniketan, where he will be conferred the Desikottama award for his scholarly works, including the translation of the Gitanjali into Turkish.

The prime ministerial visit, the first after almost one-and-a-half decades, is significant because it comes so soon after the US has announced its pro-India tilt vis-�-vis Pakistan. It is also a signal that Ankara wishes to deepen relations with Delhi, and is willing to do that at the expense of its ties with Islamabad.

Pakistan has always shared good relations with Turkey, and counted on its support over the Kashmir dispute. It was also one of the first few countries Pervez Musharraf visited after the October 12 coup. In this context, Ecevit�s decision to skip Pakistan is a slap in its face.

Like Turkey, India too is keen to strengthen bilateral relations. Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: �Ecevit�s forthcoming visit is expected to provide a strong impulse to the strengthening of Indo-Turkish cooperation, particularly in the economic and commercial spheres.�

Though Ecevit will land here on Thursday, official level talks between the sides will begin only on Friday. He will hold talks with Vajpayee the same day.

Apart from senior government officials, a large business delegation will accompany Ecevit. He will also call on President K.R. Narayanan and other leaders, including finance minister Yashwant Sinha and junior foreign minister Ajit Panja. A meeting with leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi is on the cards. That Ecevit�s visit will be covered by a 49-member media team is indication of the importance Turkey attaches to it.

Several agreements, including one on cooperation in agriculture and another to set up a mechanism for regular political consultations between the foreign ministers, are likely to be signed.

On Saturday, Ecevit will address the Indo-Turkish Joint Business Council meeting being organised by Ficci. He will then go to Agra, from where he will leave for Calcutta. He will be conferred the honorary D. Litt on Sunday at a special function in Santiniketan, and leave for Turkey the same afternoon.

Though Delhi and Ankara have maintained high-level contact, they have never warmed up to each other. At the presidential level, interaction has been more frequent. While President Suleyman Demirel came to India in 1995, his Indian counterpart returned the visit three years later. But there has been a stiffness at the prime ministerial level. While Torgut Ozal came to India in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi visited Ankara in 1988.

One of the reasons for this could be Turkey�s closeness to Pakistan and its support to anti-India resolutions on Kashmir in the Organisation of Islamic Conference. Ankara�s pro-Islamabad tilt was, in turn, a response to Delhi�s support to Greece on Cyprus.    

New Delhi, March 27 
Four out-of-work former Prime Ministers met again to take stock of the political situation. They had first met a few days ago in the wake of the controversy over Gujarat government�s RSS order, fuelling speculation on the revival of the third front.

The four Premiers � Chandra Shekhar, I.K. Gujral, H.D. Deve Gowda and V.P. Singh � met at Singh�s residence to discuss national issues including the law and order situation, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. They also took up the economic scenario, rise in prices of foodgrains and cut in kerosene and LPG subsidies.

Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao did not attend the meeting as he was out of town, said Gujral. �We will inform him of the discussions,� he said. Gujral said Rao was interested in joining the ex-Premiers� club.

On whether the meeting discussed a strategy to revive the third front, Gujral said it was not on today�s agenda. The meeting was called to take note of various happenings in the country.

Earlier, Singh, Gujral and Deve Gowda had met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to oppose the eviction of slum-dwellers from colonies attached to railway properties and elsewhere. V.P. Singh had sat on a dharna against the eviction. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and CPI leader A.B. Bardhan too had joined the team.

West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu had recently suggested the coming together of secular, democratic and Left forces and said Left parties should take the initiative to counter the �fundamentalist BJP� and the �anti-people� policies of the Vajpayee government.

After meeting the delegation, Vajpayee directed urban development minister Jagmohan to look into the eviction immediately.

The three former Prime Ministers and the Left leaders strongly opposed the eviction of the �poor slum dwellers without adequate alternative arrangements�.

�We impressed upon the Prime Minister that this is a matter concerning poor people. They should not be evicted without alternative arrangements,� Singh said.

�We all impressed upon him the 1996 Supreme Court verdict on the provisions for alternative arrangements,� Singh added, stressing the need for a comprehensive national policy on it. Deve Gowda said he hoped that some solution will be found �amicably�.    

Islamabad, March 27 
Pakistan has expressed satisfaction over US President Bill Clinton�s emphasis on the need for settling the Kashmir issue.

�We are quite satisfied with the US President�s continuing focus on the need to resolve this root cause of tension in South Asia,� foreign minister Abdul Sattar said today. �We respect him for emphasising the need for settling the Kashmir question,� and added that Pakistan understands that India does not want the US President to play the role of mediator.

Sattar said his country has never made any claim on Kashmir. Pakistan�s stand has been that the issue should be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, he said.

According to him, a substantial part of the nearly one-hour-and-fifty-minute discussion with Clinton dwelt on ways of reducing violence and move towards breaking the deadlock.

Citing statistics given by spokesmen of Kashmiri outfits, especially the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Sattar said more than 70,000 Kashmiri have been killed in the last decade. �Surely, that deserves the attention of the world community when so many people have been killed, when so many have been denied their human rights,� he said.

Sattar said all political leaders in the state were either in jail or under detention. �There is no chance for them for engaging in political activity,� he said.

Asked if the Pakistan government was diverting the attention of the masses from domestic issues by raising the Kashmir issue, Sattar replied: �It is not Pakistan but Kashmiri people who have kept the Kashmir question alive...�    

New Delhi, March 27 
The BJP hailed US President Bill Clinton�s visit to India as opening a �new chapter� in the �friendship� between the two countries and hoped there were would be �constant interaction� at various levels, including international issues, trade and commerce.

Briefing the press today, BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy congratulated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and credited him with not only making the US �understand but also appreciate� India�s stand on �vital� matters. �Clinton agreed that the Line of Control (LoC) sanctity must be kept and that Indo-Pakistan dialogue for solving the Kashmir issue cannot proceed unless cross-border violence stops. Clinton also endorsed Vajpayee�s stand for a bilateral solution to the Kashmir problem without third-party intervention. He appreciated the Prime Minister�s initiative for friendship through the Lahore bus journey,� said Krishnamurthy.

The BJP spokesman tempered his party�s euphoria over Clinton�s trip with the statement that it was �successful� to a �limited extent� and that it managed to clear certain �misunderstandings� that existed on India�s US policy.

He said the visit gave �vast scope for both the countries to go ahead as two major democratic countries�.

Asked about President K.R. Narayanan�s banquet speech, in which he termed as �alarmist� the US President�s reading of Kashmir as a �nuclear flashpoint�, Krishnamurthy cautiously replied, �All of us understand the constitutional position of the President and have to pay the highest regard to him. The party feels Narayanan has not said anything to embarrass Clinton or the government.�

When queried why the talks with Clinton steered clear of the subject of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Krishnamurthy said: �The initial ice has been broken, let us wait and see.�

He also confirmed that the much-awaited Cabinet changes would be effected after the Rajya Sabha elections on March 29. �Whether it is a reshuffle to fill in the three vacancies or an expansion, small or big, remains to be seen. It is the Prime Minister�s prerogative,� he added.    

New Delhi, March 27 
The Congress is divided over India maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent even as it disowned reported remarks by Sonia Gandhi to the US President on the subject.

Sonia was said to have told Bill Clinton that her party was in favour of deterrence.

After the Congress team met him on March 22, Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee had said before reporters that Sonia had told Bill Clinton that the party wanted a minimum nuclear deterrent.

Apart from Sonia and Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Madhavrao Scindia had also visited Clinton.

On the remarks attributed to Sonia by Mukherjee last week, party spokesperson Ajit Jogi today said: �She did not use those words at all. What she actually said was that with regard to CTBT a national consensus has not yet emerged like in US.�

Jogi said Sonia talked about the need for a link between CTBT and total disarmament � a concept defined by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and outlined at the UN in 1988.

Soon after media reports over Sonia�s �remarks� to Clinton, party leaders Kapil Sibal and Mani Shankar Aiyar said the credo would mean a total reversal of Rajiv�s policy.

At the UN General Assembly in 1988, Rajiv had declared that India was committed to total nuclear disarmament by 2010. Kapil Sibal had in the Rajya Sabha reiterated this stand in the course of a debate after Pokhran-II in 1998.

Asked to clarify the contradiction in the party over the issue, a senior leader said: �The dominant view in the party is to maintain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, but there is another view in the party,� he said.

On the party�s stand on the issue, Jogi said: �We are aware of the fact that our nuclear policy is extremely important for the security of the nation and no one should politicise it or take political capital out of it.�

However, he said only the government could take a stance from time to time on nuclear deterrence, depending on threat perceptions. The party favoured a consensus on nuclear issues.

On why the Congress is not taking a clear stand, he said even the experts and the scientific community are divided on the issue. A former Atomic Energy Commission chairman has gone on record saying that the number of tests we conducted were not enough.

The government is privy to classified information on the subject and that is why only the government is in a position to take a view from time to time depending on the inputs they have, Jogi said. We should try and evolve a national consensus, he said, adding the government should take the Opposition into confidence.

He said the Congress feels that India�s long-term security interests are very important and for obvious reasons there has been no consensus.    


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