Priyanka Amethi trip sparks debut whisper
Sonia cheers up ‘sorry’ Jairam
Mamata of MP lands behind bars
Peeved UP allies at Atal door
Germany woos IT superbrains with green card
Swami lands in Bihar with broom

New Delhi, May 15 
Priyanka Gandhi will be in Amethi later this month to test the political waters amid speculation that she is contemplating her debut from Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress is in a mess in Uttar Pradesh. Virtually every Congressman agrees that if saviour Priyanka does not step in, the party will be routed in the Assembly polls next year.

At the national level, too, Sonia Gandhi’s position is becoming increasingly vulnerable as she is fast losing the support of grassroots workers.Those around Sonia are convinced that the downswing can be reversed if the party is revived in Uttar Pradesh.

Insiders at 10 Janpath said Priyanka is keen on taking up Uttar Pradesh and Amethi affairs, though she is expecting. Her child is due around September-October “Her move to visit Amethi at the end of the month is an indication that nursing Amethi is a priority,” a source at 10 Janpath said, pointing out that she is ready to stay in Amethi in her condition despite the heat.

The previous generation of Gandhis — Rajiv, Sanjay and Sonia — had taken the plunge into active politics from the top, launching themselves from the capital. If Priyanka chooses to debut from Amethi, it will be the first Gandhi entree from the “grassroots” level in years.

In her New Delhi office in a bungalow allotted to Satish Sharma, Priyanka has deputed a retired wing commander of the Indian Air Force to look after day-to-day problems — like small-time politicians arriving from Amethi, Sultanpur or Rae Bareli.

Over the last two days, a large number of Congressmen called on Sonia, asking her to intervene in Uttar Pradesh. “It is no longer in the hands of Salman Khurshid, Jitendra Prasada, Satish Sharma or Narain Dutt Tiwari to bring about change. Priyanka alone can turn the tide,” a Congress MP from the state said. Former Congress MPs from Uttar Pradesh, Ratnakar Pandey and Baba S.P. Mishra, who were part of Rajiv Gandhi’s shouting brigade in the Rajya Sabha, met Sonia today to tell her Priyanka is the only solution.

Though her in-laws are excited about the prospect of her getting into “active politics”, Priyanka is tight-lipped. Last September she had told this correspondent that she had no immediate plans about entering politics. “Not now. Let me work hard to deserve that,” she had said.

Many partymen feel she has worked hard since, particularly after ensuring the defeat of Arun Nehru — the ex-Rajiv Gandhi loyalist who deserted the Congress — from Rae Bareli in the Lok Sabha polls.

In Congress circles, disquiet against Sonia is growing. Many of her close supporters have begun wondering how long will she be able to withstand the pressure. A prominent leader from Uttar Pradesh said earlier the party was not bothered much as dissident activities were restricted to some “out-of-work politicians in Delhi”, but now it is spreading to state and district headquarters.

“If the trend in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar continues, she may meet the fate of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri,” he said, emphasising that “assistance” from Priyanka was imperative. “Do not forget, they are the best of friends too,” he added.    

New Delhi, May 15 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi pardoned Jairam Ramesh and asked Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna not to remove him as deputy chairperson of the state planning commission.

Jairam met Sonia and disowned the remarks he is reported to have made against her. Offering an “unreserved apology” for the publication of an interview which has embarrassed the party, Jairam professed complete faith in her leadership.

Jairam was served a show-cause notice by AICC general secretary Oscar Fernandes for his remarks criticising the Congress president.

Well-placed sources said Sonia was convinced by Jairam’s explanation and even asked somewhat downcast economist to “cheer up”.

Sensing the mood in Delhi, Krishna changed tone in Banglore and said he would speak to Jairam before taking any action. Earlier reports had said that Krishna had asked Jairam to step down as deputy chairman of the state planning board.

However, a section of the Congress hostile to Jairam is exerting pressure on Sonia not to close the chapter. Leaders gunning for Manmohan’s deputy have told Sonia that if she publicly accepts Jairam’s apology immediately, it would send “wrong signals” to the party rank and file.

When Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva was asked today if the controversy had ended, she said: “The matter now rests with the AICC chief.”

Those sympathetic to Jairam include Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee. But partymen from Andhra Pradesh and a section of the Congress Working Committee wanted Sonia to remove him as the secretary of economic department which formulates the party’s economic policies.

On his part, Jairam claimed his interview was torn out of context and misinterpreted. “I am sorry that it has given the impression that I have violated party discipline,” he said.

The interview, titled Sonia no longer a saviour, had quoted Jairam as saying that under Sonia, the Congress would not come to power in the next 50 years. Jairam, however, clarified that he had only said that as long as the party was not revived in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Congress’ prospects of returning to power were bleak.

Claiming he had no intention to criticise Sonia, Jairam said he had given the interview in “good faith and with no intention to criticise the Congress or its leadership”. He said his objective remained to work under the leadership of Sonia to strengthen the party.

Jairam pointed out that he was working closely with the Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh without any remuneration. “My objective remains to work, in my own little, humble way, under the leadership of the Congress to strengthen the party,” he said.    

Bhopal, May 15 
Like the flat anti-climax to Uma Bharti’s hunger-strike, another attempt to resist the Digvijay Singh government’s decision to retrench 30,000 daily-wage earners fizzled out today with the arrest of Congress MLA Kalpana Parulekar this afternoon.

At 4:20 pm, a 150-strong police contingent arrested Parulekar an-d a handful of supporters from the site of the dharna, just outside the party office and barely a couple of yards away from the busy market place at the centre of the city.

While Parulekar and some 15 others gave in without a fight, the rest of her supporters fled.

The MLA from Mahidpur, near Ujjain, had started her agitation on May 11, giving the Digvijay government seven days to resolve the issue. On the eighth day — May 18 — she had threatened to set herself on fire if the chief minister still refused to take back the sacked workers.

But five days into her dharna, sources close to Parulekar said that she felt she was fighting a lonely battle.

Speaking to reporters, the MLA — who is fast shooting into prominence as the Mamata Banerjee of Madhya Pradesh — said that a number of Congress leaders, including former Union ministers Kamal Nath and Arjun Singh and senior leader Suresh Pachauri, were supporting her cause. But no one had the courage to bell the cat.

She also said the police had tried to arrest her late last night, but failed. “I have been in jail 24 times. I am not afraid of being arrested. But the way Digvijay Singh is trying to arrest me is insulting,” she said.

Parulekar was arrested less than ten days ago on the night when the police went in search of Uma Bharti. The BJP leader, however, managed to give them the slip. Parulekar, who has had a bypass surgery, was kept in the Intensive Care Unit.    

New Delhi, May 15 
Uttaranchal has again run into rough weather with some allies of the BJP and a section of the ruling party opposed to the inclusion of Hardwar and Udhamsinghnagar in the hill state to be carved out of Uttar Pradesh.

Loktantrik Congress chief Naresh Aggarwal met the Prime Minister and said his party might have to pull out of the BJP-led coalition in Uttar Pradesh if Hardwar was included in the new state. The Janat Dal(R) has taken a similar stand.

Under pressure from the allies, the sub-committee set up two years ago to settle the dispute today decided to constitute another committee to ascertain the views of residents of the two towns.

The government plans to introduce the Bills for the creation of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in Parliament on Wednesday, the last day of the budget session.

But even if the Bill is introduced now, a fresh one could be tabled during the monsoon session starting mid-July if the committee so recommends.

The sub-committee is headed by George Fernandes and includes Parkash Singh Badal and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. Set up in 1998, the panel has never met.

Badal is head of the Akali Dal, a BJP ally at the Centre, which is against inclusion of Udhamsinghnagar in the new state.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta is reported to be opposed to the inclusion of Hardwar in Uttaranchal though he is publicly backing the hill state.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister arrived here today and held talks with BJP president Kushabhu Thakre.

Sources said Gupta supported the Loktantrik Congress demand for retaining Hardwar in Uttar Pradesh.

Thakre made light of the threats issued by the Loktantrik Congress and the Dal(R) but refused to comment on the statehood issue.

Gupta said that he had “explained” in detail all the matters concerning the state, including Hardwar and Udhamsinghnagar.

The BJP has asked all parties to support the formation of the three states. Congratulating the Centre for clearing the statehood Bills, party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said: “Our action is proof that we are fulfilling our promise. We are making the slogan a reality.”

Reacting to the pullout threat of the Loktantrik Congress and the Dal (R) if Hardwar was included in Uttaranchal, Naidu said: “Let Parliament take a decision after discussion. Let us see the collective wisdom of Parliament. I don’t want to give any rise to controversy.”

The Samajwadi Party also today said it would oppose the inclusion of Hardwar in the new state.    

New Delhi, May 15 
Choosing India as the country for his first visit to Asia, German foreign minister Joschika Fischer, who arrives here on May 17, will try to deepen ties with India with an offer of strategic dialogue between the two sides.

Fischer, who will be on a two-day visit, will also offer the “green card” scheme to Indian entrepreneurs, specially those in IT, to work in Germany for five years.

The green card is not India-specific. As many as 20,000 applicants from different parts of the world will be granted permission to work in Germany for five years. Though right-wing groups are opposed to such a move, the German IT industry has over 70,000 vacancies and are looking for professionals from various countries to come and work there.

The proposed scheme has already evoked a positive response in India. The German embassy receives nearly 40 calls a day from interested professionals.

But Germany, a candidate along with India for a United Nations Security Council seat, had taken a tough line during the Pokhran II tests. Its reaction to the spate of attacks on Christians a few years back was also harsh. But now it not only describes India as a “natural candidate” for the UNSC seat, but is also willing to get into an agreement of supporting each other’s candidature at the council.

The German leadership finds India “a factor of stability” in the region and recognises its potential to play a greater role in Asia. Delhi, it seems, collected most of the brownie points through its initiative during the Lahore peace-process with Pakistan and its handling of the Kargil conflict.

Germany’s keenness to improve relations with India is also reflected in Bonn’s changed views on India’s religious tolerance. “Secularism is one of the centre-pieces of Indian society,” Heinrich Dietrich Dieckmann, the German ambassador here, said. The remarks are significant as it was Dieckmann who went on record lodging a strong protest against the Christian killings in different parts of India two years back.

Briefing reporters on Fischer’s visit, the German ambassador described India as a country with “huge untapped potential”. He explained that German investment and its trade with India was less than one per cent and there was huge scope for increasing this. Dieckmann said Germany regards India as a natural partner in the global challenges the world faces today.

Fischer, who arrives in Bangalore on May 17 and comes to Delhi the next day will call on the President K.R. Narayanan, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi.

But the high point of Fischer’s visit will be his meeting with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh later in the day. A discussion on a strategic dialogue between the two sides will be taken up at the talks between the two foreign ministers. “The global challenges that are before us cannot be met by ignoring one-sixth of the world’s population,” the ambassador said while referring to India’s partnership in these efforts.

On the nuclear issue, the two countries have tried to close the earlier gap with Germany deciding to work together with India in creating a nuclear-free world. For the time being, however, it will be happy to see Delhi’s signature on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ( CTBT ).

Fischer’s visit will pave the way for more high-level emissaries from Germany. These will include a visit in July from the finance minister and two months later by the German President who will be here to inaugurate the Indo-German cultural festival.    

Patna, May 15 
Godman Chandraswami spent two days in the hill town of Rajgir and vowed to clean the “muck” from Bihar’s social and political life, neck-deep as he is in criminal charges.

As usual with Chandraswami, his visitors included not just devotees, but hordes of counsel-seeking politicians. News of the visit spilled over and caused ripples in political circles, despite best efforts by the Birayatan ashram, where Chandraswami had put up, to keep the trip a secret.

The godman, who arrived on Saturday, refused to speak to reporters and avoided all questions relating to his alleged involvement in criminal cases.

At a pravachan function — a story-telling session on the great epics and lives of saints — he served out a cocktail of spiritualism and politics. “It is the muck everywhere that is taking Bihar downhill. Clean up this place. Stay transparent in your life and you will attain bliss,” he told a gathering of politicos and Jain devotees.

He said the immediate need was creating the right environment. “Only in an ideal environment can one have a clear perspective. Thinking gets muddled in an atmosphere like this.” He added villages and cities had to be cleansed to usher in an age of development.

Chandraswami’s exhortations followed several references to the inner God. “You can cheat men, this world, your friends, but you cannot betray the ‘antaratma’ — the God inside you.”

Police sources said a line-up of politicians met the tantrik privately. Among them were members of a party whose leader maintained close contact with Chandraswami. There were at least two ministers from the state’s ruling coalition and a former Congress education minister Surendra Prasad.

Ashram insiders dubbed Chandraswami’s visit “merely religious”. “He had come here to pay homage to his own guru who had set up Birayatan in Rajgir more than two decades ago,” said an ashram spokesperson. They said Chandraswami was accompanied by Sadvi Chandrama from Calcutta.

The ashram flourished during the Congress regime in the state in the seventies and eighties. Started by a voluntary organisation, it was meant to be a pilgrim centre for the devotees of guru Amar Muni, but later developed into a pathology centre and an eye hospital for the old and the infirm.    


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