Gupta back in limbo after whitewash
Mauled BJP licks wounds
CPM pins hopes on mayor race
Sonia in salt satyagraha
MK keeps out of media glare
Homeless minister hijacks hotel rooms

New Delhi, June 29 
Rattled by its miserable performance in the Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections, the BJP is planning a complete overhaul with party sources indicating that chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta could soon get the axe.

Putting up a brave front, the BJP argued that panchayat polls were not contested on party symbols. Therefore, popularity of individual candidates and the caste factor influenced results rather than policies or party affiliations.

Though it is not possible to get a party-wise tally of the results, candidates backed by the BJP have lost. Even in panchayats that fall under Lucknow, the Prime Minister�s parliamentary constituency, the party�s nominees have lost.

The BJP�s panchayat poll debacle has come close on the heels of a string of losses, including the humiliating defeat in the Soron Assembly by-election.

Senior party leaders here said they were waiting for a detailed report from the state before deciding on the future course of action. But with the state unit riven with factionalism, casteism and corruption, a leadership change is unlikely to be smooth.

Party leaders are awaiting Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee�s return from Lisbon to take a final decision. The organisational elections will be over by the third week of July and a change of guard is possible only after that.

Asked if the chief minister would be replaced, senior vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said the party�s approach will not be ad hoc. He said the BJP needs to tone itself up at three levels � organisation, government and the relationship with allies.

On change of leadership, Krishnamurthi said: �If toning up of administration requires that, we will go ahead�. He said the poll debacle has given the party �another opportunity to take a hard look�.

Repeatedly asked if the party was planning to sack the chief minister, Krishnamurthi said: �I neither rule out or rule in anything�.

But given the schism within the state unit, changing the chief minister will not be easy. The central leadership had earlier tried to replace Gupta but was forced to drop the move following strong opposition to the candidature of Union surface minister Rajnath Singh.

Singh, an upper caste Rajput, was state president and had played an important role in the ouster of former chief minister Kalyan Singh. After Rajnath was inducted into the Vajpayee Cabinet, a backward Kurmi, Om Prakash Singh, was appointed state president on an ad hoc basis.

Sources said Gupta, Singh and PWD minister Kalraj Mishra were opposed to Rajnath taking over as chief minister. A move to bring in Assembly Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi was opposed by human resources minister Murli Manohar Joshi as he did not want another Brahmin to steal the limelight in Uttar Pradesh.

With a view to improving the image of the party and the government, general secretary in charge of UP K.N. Govindacharya had drawn up a code of conduct for ministers. But there are no takers for the code as most ministers are finding it difficult to give up their lavish lifestyles.    

New Delhi, June 29 
Battered and mauled, the BJP is seeking solace in the CPM�s poor performance in the Calcutta municipal elections.

The party today predicted that the Left Front�s days were numbered in West Bengal as Jyoti Basu�s charisma was on the wane.

The BJP again stressed on the need for a mahajot (grand alliance) of Opposition parties, including the Congress, against the communists. The party said the results showed a �definite� anti-CPM trend in the state.

Despite its dismal performance � the BJP won only four wards in Calcutta and none in Salt Lake � senior leaders scoffed at speculation that Mamata Banerjee would dump the party and join hands with the Congress for the Assembly elections due next year.

�I don�t think she (Mamata) is against the BJP. The results have underscored the need for all anti-CPM forces to come together,� senior BJP vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said. �The Trinamul-BJP alliance will begin preparations full speed for the Assembly polls.�

Krishnamurthi denied that factionalism in the state unit had cost the party dearly in the civic polls. �I don�t agree that we have been wiped out. We have our own pockets of influence in West Bengal. We do learn lessons from the past. The situation at the time of the Assembly polls will be different,� he said.

Shifting the focus on the Left, the BJP leader said the results reflected Bengal�s disenchantment with �groupism and internal bickering in the CPM�.

Krishnamurthi tossed aside reports that Jyoti Basu would return to campaign for the party for the Assembly polls. �Any attempt by Mr Basu is not going to retrieve the situation for the CPM,� the BJP leader said.

�People are losing faith in his leadership and there is no alternative leader to inspire the cadre,� he added.

Krishnamurthi said that coming on the heels of the Panskura defeat, the loss of the municipal board is a �very big blow to the CPM�.

�People will not laugh at us if we say this will be the last CPM regime in West Bengal,� Krishnamurthi said.    

New Delhi, June 29 
The CPM central leadership today conceded erosion in its base in Calcutta, but stressed that it was still very much in the mayoral race.

Senior CPM leaders quoted the party state secretary as saying that the dent in the Left�s support was evident from the loss of nine municipal seats in the recent civic polls in the city.

But despite the setback, the party maintained that it was on an even keel with the main Opposition, the Trinamul Congress and the BJP. Sources in the party said the four Independents would play a crucial role in forming the corporation.

As far as the Congress is concerned, the CPM is publicly stating the official position taken by the Congress� central leadership. �So far, the Congress has indicated it will not join the Trinamul,� said a CPM leader. In private, however, the party is not ruling out a split in the West Bengal unit of the Congress.

The CPM�s best bet is that the Congress keeps a safe distance from Mamata Banerjee. Till now, the Left has managed to hold sway over West Bengal because of the disarray in the ranks of its adversaries.

In fact, the CPM�s apprehensions of a threat from the mahajot were put at ease after efforts to knit together a grand alliance of the Trinamul, the BJP and the Congress floundered on the rocks of �ideological� hitches. The same considerations, party leaders hope, will stop the Congress from teaming up with the Trinamul at this juncture.

For the time being, CPM leaders are drawing solace from the fact that the Trinamul does not have a distinct numerical edge over them.

Though they admitted an erosion in its base, CPM central leaders argued that the civic poll results were not a trend and wouldn�t be reflected in the Assembly elections as the majority of rural voters were still with the Left.

They also said that as long as Mamata was in alliance with the BJP and was a Cabinet minister in the NDA government, there wouldn�t be any banding together of anti-Left forces in the state.    

New Delhi, June 29 
The Congress and the Sangh parivar have found a novel issue to squabble over. Leader of the Opposition and Congress president Sonia Gandhi is sparring with the Sangh and the government over its decision to withdraw compulsory use of iodised salt.

In a letter to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Sonia has expressed concern over the decision and said: �Iodisation is essentially a preventive measure. With considerable investment we have reached a stage where the vast majority of households in the country are consuming iodised salt.�

Stressing that the use of iodised salt has put a brake on the rise of diseases related to iodine deficiency, Sonia has said: �Over the years we have found that the incidence of such diseases was on the rise. It was not possible to leave the choice of using iodised salt to individuals in a country where many were illiterate and ill-informed.� It was in 1984, she reminded Vajpayee, that her party had taken the �historic� decision to make iodisation of salt compulsory.

Last month the health ministry decided to rescind the policy by issuing a notification proposing withdrawal of compulsory iodisation of salt. Sangh parivar outfits like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and several Sarvodaya leaders had met the Prime Minister and requested him to lift the ban on sale of non-iodised salt. They argued that the iodised salt policy was benefiting foreign companies and dismissed the medical warnings against the use of non-iodised salt.

The government has proposed a discussion on the issue and the pro and anti-iodised salt lobbies have 45 days to thrash out their view before the preliminary notification is made into an order.

Union health minister C.P. Thakur is believed to be siding with voluntary health organisations campaigning against the use of non-iodised salt. Sonia has also joined issue with the Sangh parivar to prevent the government from going ahead with the withdrawal of the ban on non-iodised salt.

In her letter Sonia has said: �Virtually all states have issued notifications prohibiting the sale of non-iodised salt for edible purposes and most of them have included iodised salt in the public distribution system.� She added: �Millions of children have been saved from the scourge of diseases because of their consumption of iodised salt.�

She also debunked the belief that the price of salt has gone up because of iodisation. �The cost of iodisation is only a very small part of the average total cost of production and transportation of salt,� Sonia countered.    

New Delhi, June 29 
Mukesh Gupta stayed away from the media glare a day after he suddenly appeared before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for questioning.

Mukesh�s father Krishan Mohanlal was at a loss for words when asked how his son could resurface when he had been insisting that he was �away holidaying�.

The elder Gupta, who, along with his son, owns a jewellery shop in the posh South Extension-I market, refused to comment when asked about Mukesh�s whereabouts. �Please leave me alone. I am about to close the shop and have to do the day�s stock-taking,� he said.

Mukesh was named by Hansie Cronje as the bookmaker from whom he accepted his first bribe to throw a match. According to the sacked South African skipper, he was introduced to Gupta, or MK, by Mohammed Azharuddin and their meeting took place at a Kanpur hotel in December 1996.

Gupta had gone underground ever since he was named by Cronje during his deposition before the Judge Edwin King Commission investigating corruption in cricket in South Africa.

The CBI, which interrogated Gupta for five hours last evening, today questioned off-spinner Nikhil Chopra as part of its investigation into the alleged links of Indian cricketers with match fixers.

Chopra lives at C-540 Defence Colony, a stone�s throw away from Gupta�s bungalow at C-538.

Security guards at Gupta�s residence did not know where their employer was.

Saheb to ghar par nahin hain. Woh to solah tarikh se ghar nahin aaye hain. Kal to hajir hue the CBI ke paas, lekin ghar nahin loute raat ko. Kuchh case chal raha hai. Aap unke pitaji se baat kar lijiye dukan par (Saheb is not home. He has been away since June 16. He appeared before the CBI yesterday but did not return home in the night. There is some case on against him. You may talk to his father who is at the shop),� they said.

CBI sources had said yesterday that Gupta�s version matched with Cronje�s on some points. He was also asked whether he had any links with Indian cricketers.    

Patna, June 29 
Rabri Devi may have managed to please all while doling out ministries, but she has not had the same success when it came to finding her handpicked colleagues a home � and some are resorting to direct action to remedy this.

Four months after inducting Congress members into the government to save her regime, the chief minister has not been able to give most of them a place to live in or to work at or even a telephone connection.

Disgusted with the running around they have to do, some ministers have been sharing flats with their colleagues, others staying with their relatives. Now they have reached the end of their tether.

Like Chandrasekhar Dubey, minister for labour, employment and training, who moved out of his relative�s house, reached Kautilya Bihar hotel on Birchand Patel Path here and grabbed two rooms of the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation.

The tourism corporation filed an FIR against the minister for encroaching on a hotel without even taking the management into confidence.

Dubey�s reply, as given to The Telegraph, is that he had only moved into two rooms, but if required he would �capture the entire hotel�.

�I am a minister and I have been moving around on the street without a house to live in,� Dubey said. �Will it be a good show if I move into a hutment on the roadside?� Four months of lobbying for a home had made him a bitter man, the minister added.

A month ago, Dubey said, the chief minister told him that she had directed housing minister Taslimuddin to allot him a house.

Taslimuddin told Dubey a week later that a house had been allotted to him. �When I went there to take possession, I found a Rashtriya Janata Dal legislator already occupying it,� the angry minister said.

Tourism corporation managing director Atul Prasad said he was not present when the minister took over the rooms in Kautilya Bihar. �He came there with his henchmen who terrorised the employees and forced them to open up the rooms for the minister,� he said.

Prasad said he had written to the state chief secretary as well as the director-general of police about the encroachment.

Dubey had first occupied two air-conditioned rooms and this afternoon he got two more opened up for his securitymen, the tourism official complained.

The minister confirmed this, and added with an impish smile: �For the moment, I am thinking of grabbing this floor.�

He explained that he had 10 security guards and six officers who needed to be with him.

Dubey�s drastic action has put the tourism department on alert. A senior official expressed apprehension that it might encourage more homeless ministers and legislators to occupy state-owned hotels.

According to sources, out of 83 ministers in the state, 18 do not have a house as yet. Besides, 30 MLAs have also been asking for allotment.

The move to occupy houses began even before the ministry was formed, but then the police could the stop the MLAs because they were not ministers.

Now, it is different. �How can we stop a minister from encroaching on a hotel or, for that matter, the house of an ordinary resident?� wondered an officer at the Kotwali police station here.

It is learnt that houses are distributed to ministers and legislators from two pools. One is the central pool, meant only for ministers and controlled by the state housing minister. The other, meant for MLAs, is controlled by the Speaker.

Taslimuddin accused the Speaker of not adhering to the court ruling on the central pool.

But Speaker Sadanand Singh said the allotments he had made were perfectly in accordance with court orders.

With the war of words unlikely to end soon, the chaos over allotment is here to stay and create more melodrama.    


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