Outsiders take RS honours
Cong defeats partyman in thumbs-up to Mamata
Centre plugs property law gaps
On the boil over cook transfer
Calcutta weather

March 29 
Two industrialists � R.P. Goenka and Baijayant Panda � and a media man, Rajiv Shukla, upstaged politicians in the countrywide Rajya Sabha elections today.

All three bagged the highest number of first preference votes in the states from where they contested, leaving veteran politicians like Sushma Swaraj, Janeshwar Mishra and Moolchand Meena behind in the race.

Although liquor baron Vijay Mallya lost the contest as an Independent in Karnataka, he too made a mark by polling 35 ballots, 17 more than the official first preference votes of 18 Janata Dal (United) MLAs.

Quick to react to the outcome, BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur blamed �some rich Independent candidates� for indulging in the misuse of �money power�.

�This malpractice is found in some states and that too by some rich Independents. This dangerous trend will have to be stopped once and for all,� Mathur said in Calcutta.

The biggest shock defeat was that of Congress candidate D.P. Roy in West Bengal who lost to the Trinamul Congress-backed Independent, Jayanta Bhattacharya, for the fifth seat in the biennial polls. Bhattacharya bagged 43 votes, while Roy secured 36.

Though Congress Working Committee members Pranab Mukherjee and Ambika Soni had camped in Calcutta before the elections to keep the legislature party together, as many as 25 votes seem to have gone astray.

The surprise victory was that of Shukla, a former journalist who was fielded in Uttar Pradesh as a Loktantrik Congress nominee. Political pundits had predicted tough going for Shukla as he had the assured first preference support of just 20 LCP legislators.

Cracks had developed within the party with one section inclined to vote for an Independent, M.M. Aggarwal. But the results showed that not only were the inner-party differences papered over, by bagging the highest number of first preference votes � 50 � Shukla apparently secured the surplus votes of the Samajwadi Party and BJP as well as quite a few of the Congress� primary ballots.

Although BJP heavyweights Rajnath and Sushma got through in the first round of counting, they polled fewer votes than Shukla. Rajnath got 37 and Sushma 36 votes.

For the Congress, the results were a mixed bag of fortunes and for Sonia Gandhi, a personal blow. Her nominees, Roy and Inder Kumar Khosa in Uttar Pradesh, lost the race. In both cases she reportedly over-ruled the choice of the state unit and pushed through her own.

However, the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Karnataka, Ashok Gehlot and S.M. Krishna, managed to hold their own against formidable Independents. In Rajasthan, R.D. Sharma, a BJP-backed Independent, reportedly tried hard to pull in the surplus Congress votes, giving anxious moments to its three official nominees. But ultimately, apart from Goenka, both Jamuna Beru Pal and Molchand Meena got 50 votes each while Sharma secured 45.

In Karnataka, although the Congress candidates � Rehman Khan, K.B. Krishnamurthy and Bimha Raiker � sailed through comfortably, the fact that Mallya polled 35 votes proved there was cross-voting from the ruling party.

In Bihar, Congress leaders Mohsina Kidwai and Ajit Jogi managed to do a better job in keeping the legislature party together and voting for the RJD candidate, Vendhamma Viriyo.

In Uttar Pradesh, all the five official BJP candidates have won.    

Calcutta, March 29 
Opening up possibilities of newer anti-CPM configurations in Bengal politics, Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul today ripped apart its parent party as the bulk of Congress legislators cross-voted to catapult Jayanta Bhattacharya, the Trinamul-backed Independent, into the Rajya Sabha.

Bhattacharya posted a 43-36 victory at the expense of Debi Prosad Roy, the Congress� official candidate, to become the fifth entrant to the House from Bengal.

The supporters of former PCC chief Somen Mitra, whose claim for nomination had been overlooked by the high command despite a unanimous CLP resolution, are believed to have cross-voted almost en bloc, causing the upset.

At day�s end, a dejected Roy said he had not bargained for �the grand betrayal. This is the character of Congress MLAs in Bengal. I will lodge a complaint with the high command.�

A jubilant Bhattacharya quipped that �there is no permanent enemy in politics� � implying the possibility of a reconciliation between Trinamul and a part of the Congress.

In the 294-member House, where the effective strength stands at 292, the four nominees of the CPM-led Front polled 209 votes, six more than its own number, courtesy smaller parties like the GNLF and the SUCI.

An upbeat Mamata hailed Bhattacharya�s victory as �indicative of positive changes in West Bengal�s political scenario.�

As soon as the results were known, a group of slogan-shouting Chhatra Parishad supporters stormed the Assembly lobby, demanding stern action against the �black sheep� who betrayed the party.

CLP leader Atish Sinha conceded that the result was a major setback. �I am shocked. This will have an adverse impact on the party with the civic and municipal polls round the corner,� he said.

Criticising Sonia Gandhi, Mitra�s supporters Sultan Ahmed and Abdul Mannan said the result was a lesson for the high command which �imposed a candidate on party MLAs who, too, have their own feelings.�

Ahmed said the defeat was a result of �the party MLAs� revolt against Delhi�s decision as the AICC had humiliated both the PCC and the CLP�.

Mitra, however, was diplomatic: �As a party worker, I am pained at the outcome. We should introspect,� he said.

Sources said the Congress legislators who cross-voted to ensure Roy�s defeat are eager to join Trinamul and expect Mamata to give them tickets in the Assembly polls. According to them, once the exodus is complete she will try to project her party as the main Opposition.

However, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, believed to have been instrumental in Roy�s nomination, said the legislators who had voted against the official nominee could leave the Congress if they liked.

Those who won from the Left Front are Dipankar Mukherjee, Nilotpal Basu, Biplab Dasgupta (all CPM nominees) and RSP�s Manoj Bhattacharya.    

New Delhi, March 29 
Flooded with complaints about evasion of registration fees, the Centre today moved to plug legal loopholes and block illegal transfer of property.

The government announced it would make necessary legislative amendments to prevent unscrupulous property buyers from getting away without paying registration charges. The new laws will even insist on registration of property transacted through powers of attorney.

The Cabinet considered three simultaneous amendments to three related Acts � the Registration Act of 1908, Transfer of Property Act, 1882 and the Indian Stamp Act, 1899. The government will enact the Registration (Amendment) Bill to carry out the changes.

The Cabinet took note of the minutes of the conference of chief ministers and state finance ministers held in September 1998.

Even a general power of attorney will now have to be registered and it has to be done in the area where the property is located.

States had earlier complained that through powers of attorney, buyers were getting away without paying the registration fees, depriving the exchequers of substantial revenue. Besides, the governments said, buyers were misusing the freedom to register one�s property anywhere in the country. For example, Bengal had complained that registration for transaction of property in Calcutta was being done elsewhere in the country, especially in places where the fees were lower.

To prevent such misuse, the Cabinet decided to amend relevant portions of the relevant Acts. All powers of attorney related to transfer of immovable property will be subject to compulsory registration. Necessary changes will be made in Section 53A of the Transfer of Property Act and sub-section (2) of Section 30 of the Registration Act.

States like Maharashtra, Bengal and Delhi are expected to benefit from the order. In Bengal, even if direct sale of property has not been allowed in Salt Lake, a Calcutta exurb, benami transactions have continued through long-term leases granted with the general power of attorney.

For these transactions, the buyer did not have to pay any registration fee to the state government.

The Cabinet also decided on certain other directives on property transactions. It will now be compulsory for the registering officer to preserve records in computer floppies and diskettes. In addition, any person executing a property document will have to affix his passport-size photograph and finger-prints on the paper.    

Mumbai, March 29 
If too many cooks spoil the broth, one good cook can threaten political turmoil.

Nitin Gadkari, the portly Opposition leader of the Maharashtra Legislative Council and a respected food critic, has turned the heat on the Democratic Front government for a personal reason: his taste buds.

Gadkari, who weighs 115 kg and lives food � he loves cooking, eating, trading recipes on the Internet and writing for international food magazines � is livid with the government for transferring his favourite cook Rajaram More to the residence of PWD minister V.M. Patil.

To keep his gastronomic juices flowing like before, Gadkari has decided to stage a dharna in front of the Vidhan Sabha to demand the �release of his cook�.

�Food is my only passion. I know the best restaurants in Mumbai and Nagpur (his home town) like the back of my hand. My cook, Rajaram More, makes the best food I have ever tasted and has taught me many recipes. The government has acted in a vindictive manner so that my health and mental peace is affected,� says Gadkari plaintively.

More, a cook of the PWD department, was given to Gadkari when he became the PWD minister during the Shiv Sena-BJP regime.

With Gadkari�s fondness for food known widely, More�s influence grew in the corridors of power.

Department insiders said that the cook was approached by industrialists and contractors.

During his tenure, senior bureaucrats, ministers and journalists made it a point to turn up at Gadkari�s parties. Many said More�s cooking was �world-class�.

But all good things come to an end. Last month, the Democratic Front government issued More�s transfer orders and he was posted as the cook as the official residence of the PWD minister. More had, in fact, been Patil�s cook when he was PWD minister during the chief ministership of Sharad Pawar.

Patil is very pleased. �He is my old cook and he is a government cook of the department. How can Nitin Gadkari claim monopoly over the cook? These threats of sitting on a dharna are only publicity stunts.�

But Gadkari is not amused. �I do not want to talk much about this. I will do what I have to do. Sarkar ne mere pet par lath mara. (The government has kicked me on my stomach).�

Gadkari has reportedly refused to permit the new cook to prepare his meals. The cook is allowed to make snacks and tea while Gadkari does the cooking himself when he is in Mumbai. However, in Nagpur, his family does the cooking. That is when Gadkari is not eating at his favourite restaurant.

Worried by the future of his stomach, Gadkari has not found time to react to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray�s call to Opposition MLAs to bring down the Democratic Front government by the first week of April. Thackeray, in his address to MLAs in a five star hotel last week, asked the Opposition leadership to garner the support of 19 additional MLAs to topple the Democratic Front government.

The Sena-BJP combine has 126 MLAs and needs 145 to get a majority. On the Sena chief�s call, Gadkari said, �Ask him. He should know the formula to topple the government. At the moment I am concentrating on my work.� Which is getting back his cook.    

Temperature: Maximum: 35.2�C (normal) Minimum: 23.2�C (normal) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 66%, Minimum: 33% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Little change in maximum and minimum temperature. Sunset: 5.47 pm Sunrise: 5.35 am    

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