BJP eyes Lucknow escape hatch
Saffron in panchayat poll whitewash
Centre sounds Congress on House silence
Punjab joins autonomy chorus
Sangh school plan for Gujarat
Kesri hails messiah Mamata

Lucknow, July 3 
Desperate to put its chaotic house in order before facing the people, the BJP has found an escape hatch in a constitutional clause that it plans to invoke in an effort to postpone the Assembly elections.

The party has fallen back on Article 172, which says that the �five-year life� of a legislative Assembly begins not from the day it is constituted, but from the day it holds its first meeting.

The beleaguered party, keen on deferring the state elections scheduled for October 2001, is now saying the polls can be held six months later.

Justifying the party�s stand, Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi argued that �the House was in suspended animation for the six months that Governor Romesh Bhandari imposed President�s rule. Though the Vidhan Sabha was constituted on October 26, 1996, it could hold its first sitting only on March 27 the next year�.

Battered in the just-concluded panchayat polls by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and its chief minister R.P. Gupta realises it is in no position to face the Assembly elections so soon and is pinning its hopes on Article 172 to avert potential disaster.

Reading the Article, Tripathi said: �Every Legislative Assembly of every state, unless dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer.� He claims that the party is doing nothing wrong or unconstitutional.

Echoing Tripathi, state unit president O.P. Singh said: �Because there was no majority in the House, there was President�s rule under Bhandari from October 26, 1996 to March 26, 1997. It was only on March 27 that the Assembly had its first sitting under (BSP leader) Mayavati.�

While reiterating that the period under Central rule should not be included in the Assembly�s team, Singh admitted that it was a �grace period� which the party will use to remedy �a lot of things�.

But an impatient Opposition, which has seen through the BJP�s gameplan, has already loaded its guns.

�Everyone knows the reasons which are pushing the BJP to do something like this. They have never been in a worse shape. They realise their pathetic performance in the panchayat polls is only a pointer to worse things that could follow. Inki niyat theek nahi hai (Their intentions are not good),� said Ram Sharan Das, Uttar Pradesh chief of the Samajwadi Party.

Things are so bad for the BJP that even some party leaders are not willing to give it no more than 60 seats in the Assembly.

With a chief minister who has just lead the party to its most humiliating panchayat polls and who continues to be hounded more by his own partymen than by others, Article 172 could be the oxygen that could somewhat resuscitate the BJP before the elections.    

New Delhi, July 3 
The BJP today claimed that its base in Uttar Pradesh is intact and that its performance in the recent panchayat elections in the state has been far better than what has been portrayed by critics and rivals.

Party vice president J.P. Mathur said BJP secured 1,008 seats out of the 2,173 for which elections were held, having officially fielded 1,748 candidates. Besides, 483 candidates supported by the party have also won, he claimed.

Marshalling election data collected from three out of the four regions, the party said it has been able to retain more or less the same percentage of votes in Awadh, Braj and Kashi regions while results were yet to be collected from Paschim region.

Party leaders indicated that a change of leadership in the state could be taken up after completion of organisational elections in the third week of this month.

Senior vice-president Jana Krishnamurthi said in 1995 the BJP had won 491 out of 1,771 seats in the three divisions while in 2000 it has won 476 out of 1,771. The percentage of votes in 1995 was 28.95 while that of the current year was 28.39 per cent registering a very negligible difference, he said.

In Lucknow, the Prime Minister�s Lok Sabha constituency, the party had in 1995 won four out of 21 seats it contested, while in 2000 it contested 19 seats and won four, contrary to media reports which said the party has been wiped out in Lucknow area.

�These results show that we have not performed as badly as our opponents portrayed our showing at the panchayat elections,� Krishnamurthi said.    

New Delhi, July 3 
The Centre has been sending feelers to the Congress not to rake up the Kashmir autonomy issue in Parliament as it could have global ramifications.

The Congress, which has not been having cordial relations with the government, has also received signals that the Prime Minister is willing to consult Opposition parties outside the House on the issue.

As the Congress is divided over bailing out the Centre on Kashmir, party chief Sonia Gandhi will soon convene a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, possibly on Saturday. So far, the party has taken a very rigid stand that it will never accept the resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Senior leaders Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Ambika Soni, Ahmad Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad are cut up with the way the Vajpayee government has handled the issue. They feel Kashmir is closely linked to political developments in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling coalition�s partners, MDMK and PMK, have been making pro-Eelam noises.

The Congress has also taken exception to home minister L.K. Advani�s attending the Erode conference, at which MDMK workers flaunted pictures of Prabhakaran, LTTE leader named by the CBI in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

While the Congress is in favour of strengthening the �legitimate demands� of states, it wants to draw a �Lakshman rekha� so that the Centre remains strong in the federal structure.

Mukherjee, Manmohan, Azad and Patel feel the government has made a faux pas in opening the Pandora�s box on Kashmir. �It is not the question of the Congress� apprehensions, it is a question of practicability. How can a state say that it wants go back by 50 years?� Mukherjee asked.

Referring to the 1975 accord between Indira Gandhi and then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Sheikh Abdullah, Mukherjee said: �All this should be taken into account. Simply saying that we should go back to a particular cut-off date in history is not possible.�

The leaders said it was ironical that the National Conference, which is demanding autonomy, was part of the NDA government while the BJP was opposing Article 370.

�The National Conference and the BJP should have decided the issue behind the scenes before it came to this focus. It was the job of the government to sort out the issue before it came to this level,� Mukherjee said.

Farooq for debate

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today contended that the autonomy resolution passed by his state Assembly would lead to �a healthy debate on federalism and strengthen the unity of the nation�, reports our special correspondent in Bangalore.

Speaking to reporters here, Abdullah said people all over India wanted greater autonomy and �I want our resolution to be discussed across the country and a consensus achieved. My ministers will go to other states and discuss the issue with other regional parties. It�s high time we started thinking about a truly federal India.�

He rejected suggestions that the autonomy mantra would lead to Balkanisation of the country. �Have the United States, Canada or Australia vanished from the map because they have given greater autonomy to their regions?� he asked.

�On the contrary, they have progressed by leaps and bounds. India must also think on similar lines.�    

Chandigarh, July 3 
Any move to provide greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir could have wide-reaching repercussions in Punjab.

Akali Dal sources said more autonomy to Kashmir would be met with a similar response from Punjab.

�If Parliament clears the resolution for greater autonomy passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly after discussing it, then it will also have to discuss Punjab�s demands for more powers to states,� a senior Akali leader said.

While legislators of the ruling Akali Dal and even rebels led by Gurcharan Singh Tohra have stood firm for a true federal India, radical elements owing allegiance to the legacy of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale are closely monitoring the Centre�s move on the Kashmir resolution.

A committee of experts appointed by the Punjab government will be meeting members of the national commission tomorrow to review the working of the Constitution to plead Punjab�s case.

�Our job is simple. More powers. If the national commission fails to deliberate on Punjab�s demands and if Punjab�s case is not given a patient hearing, the next Assembly polls will be a referendum on the state�s long-standing demand. The Centre can definitely provide more powers to states which now find themselves reduced to beggars,� a panel member said.

The Jammu and Kashmir resolution has also had a major fallout in Punjab politics. It has opened the gates for a possible reconciliation between the two Akali warring factions led by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Tohra.

The reasons are evident. A divided Akali party is not expected to win comfortably in the Assembly polls slated for next year.

Moreover, the autonomy issue is expected to be raked by rebels in various factions in the party, embarrassing both Badal and Tohra.

A united Tohra and Badal thus have a better chance of putting pressure on the Centre for more power to Punjab if Jammu and Kashmir�s greater autonomy move finds favour, albeit some changes by the BJP-led government.

�The Centre must realise Punjab�s problems. Any move on Kashmir will open a Pandora�s box in Punjab. It will give rise to militancy again, which would be disastrous.

�The Centre must move cautiously. If more autonomy is granted to Jammu and Kashmir, then other states should also be given more powers,� a senior Akali leader said.

While Badal continues to assert that the national commission, set up to review the working of the Constitution, will solve most of Punjab�s problems, many within his own faction believe it is the last chance for the Sikhs to establish their own separate identity.

�This is the reason why the greater autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly is important. It has put the Centre in an unenviable position vis-a-vis Punjab.

�Even a discussion on the issue in Parliament will rake up ugly memories of how Punjab has been treated by the Centre. The Anandpur Sahib resolution will again be called �secessionist�. It could drag the state to militancy again,� an Akali leader warned.    

Ahmedabad, July 3 
Making use of the steady flow of donations from cities, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) plans to set up Ekal Vidyalays � informal schools � in tribal areas of Gujarat to counter the efforts of Christian missionaries.

The schools, to be run by motivated �Hindu missionaries�, will aim to inculcate Hindu values.

�We are just imitating our Bihar experience where the BJP could make inroads because of such schools run by the VHP in the Jharkhand region,� Kaushik Patel, a parishad leader, said.

The VHP has already set up 257 schools in Songadh in Surat and the Dangs � the epicentre of the anti-Christian violence that rocked the state last year.

If things go according to schedule, �by the end of this year, we plan to open 500 schools�, says Varsha Sheth, Gujarat in-charge of the scheme.

The schools � which teach children between five and 13 � give singing and dancing lessons and also train them in various games.

But with most government-school teachers reluctant to come here, the acharyas sometimes have to stand in, at times even ending up coaching regular teachers, says Sheth.

Selection of candidates, however, does not depend on educational qualifications � it�s unflagging commitment to the saffron ideology that matters.

The teachers, who are given a monthly honorarium of Rs 500, may have just studied up to Class VIII, or could even be a farmer or a small-time businessman. But they have to be locals, approved by the village committee, and dedicated to the job for at least five years.

What makes the VHP optimistic about achieving its target of opening 500 schools by the year end, is the state government�s support and the constant flow of funds.

There is no dearth of donors willing to �adopt� a village for either one year or for life, depending on their paying capacity.

Those who settle for one year have to contribute Rs 1,500, while those who want to sponsor a village for life, have to shell out a lakh.

As reward for his philanthropy, the sponsor is invited to inaugurate the school and his name is prominently displayed on a board which, according to the VHP, creates a link between people living in cities and those in rural or tribal areas.

It is the responsibility of the Fund Committee to persuade prospective benefactors to do their bit for the cause of Hindutva by opening Ekal Vidyalays.

So far, 55 city-based donors have helped set up these schools, with nine out of 10 sponsors who have donated one lakh belonging to Surat.

According to a VHP leader, the positive impact of these Ekal Vidyalays � which aim to bring tribals into the Hindu fold -- will be evident in the next general elections.

Pointing out that the experiment has been a huge success in Bihar, he said the VHP has already made inroads in tribal Gujarat, once considered a Congress stronghold.    

New Delhi, July 3 
Mamata Banerjee plans to expand the Trinamul Congress� base in Bihar and Assam where �Chacha Kesri� is assisting the �emerging force� to edge out the �rootless� leadership.

Kesri, while gloating over Mamata�s success in the Calcutta municipal elections, is predicting the �beginning of a new era� at the national level.

According to him, Mamata is set to overtake one and all � from Netizen Naidu and Digvijay Singh to the all-ladies club of Jayalalitha, Mayavati, Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi.

Kesri and Mamata have met a few times with a common agenda � to provide a platform for restless Congressmen in the �entire east�: West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and the Northeastern states, where the party is fast losing ground.

�The ground is all set for a Bihar unit of Trinamul,� a Congress leader close to the deposed party president said. According to him, the �grassroots� workers had thought of inviting Mamata just before the Bihar Assembly polls but Sonia�s assurance � which was never fulfilled � that she would set the party in order had scuttled the initiative then.

�Now that the Congress is playing second fiddle to Laloo, support for Mamata is gaining ground,� the Congress leader said.

Kesri is serious about Mamata�s �bright future�. �Redstar Jyoti babu may have failed to rise in Delhi due to a historic blunder but Mamata is going to be a strong challenger for the Delhi throne sooner or later,� he said.

Speaking with an air of confidence, Kesri said Mamata has everything going for her. From her �Indianness� to concern for the poor to her �fighter� leadership abilities. Moreover, he said, she hails from �the great Bengal� that has the reputation of throwing the leadership challenge to �Delhi� since the time of the Jawaharlal Nehru-Subhas Bose trial of strength in which Mahatma Gandhi�s support to Panditji tilted the scale.

Obviously, Chacha Kesri wants to forget all about the past: an agitated and angry Mamata had left the Congress in a huff when he was the AICC president.

Kesri, who served as the AICC treasurer for 17 years, is in political wilderness since March 14, 1998 when he was unceremoniously deposed by Sonia as Congress chief. Though Kesri never spoke out against Sonia, his supporters have been planning and plotting revenge since then.

The Kesri camp believes Mamata is the one leader capable of weaning away the Congress� grass-roots workers, at least in the east and Northeast, who are fast becoming disillusioned with Sonia�s lacklustre leadership.    


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