Vajpayee push to hold back hurt Farooq
Hurriyat rubs in Delhi snub
Congress scoffs at autonomy flip-flop
Mamata renews appeal to Cong
Karnataka to oppose water policy
More mud on Laloo as assets trial begins

New Delhi, July 4 
Minutes before the Cabinet met to discuss the autonomy resolution, the Prime Minister convinced Farooq Abdullah that he should not take any hasty decision and sever the National Conference�s ties with the ruling coalition at the Centre.

Atal Behari Vajpayee conveyed to Abdullah that the Cabinet decision would not go in his favour. In a meeting on last Friday, the Prime Minister had indicated to Abdullah that he had an open mind on the issue, provided the demand was constitutional.

A dejected Abdullah promised the Prime Minister that the National Conference would not leave the alliance.

More than anybody else in the Cabinet, Vajpayee has been worried over the possible fallout of the outright rejection of the autonomy demand in the international arena.

The Prime Minister was keen to avoid criticism abroad that India did not make any concessions to Kashmiris. During his recent tour of Europe, the Western press had played up the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Vajpayee told Abdullah that the resolution, as moved by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, had several consequences and had given rise to a multi-dimensional debate.

Other states were linking it to devolution of power. Not just the RSS, but even the Congress was fearing the upsurge of secessionist tendencies.

For quite some time, relations between Abdullah and Vajpayee have been more than cordial. But Vajpayee was slightly hurt when the resolution was pushed through last Monday. Abdullah had not warned him of this possibility.

Despite the political manoeuvres, the Kashmir chief minister holds Vajpayee in high esteem. While labelling the RSS �anti-Muslim� yesterday, Abdullah had said that Vajpayee was not a Sangh man. He is �the Prime Minister of India�, the chief minister had pointed out.

Abdullah today refused to meet the media at the J&K House on Prithviraj Road in New Delhi. However, he said later the Cabinet decision was rather unfortunate and too hasty.

He said he would keep the issue alive and go on campaigning in favour of autonomy. He regretted that the Centre did not wait for a thorough study of the resolution before summarily rejecting the proposal.

�It does not mean the end of the road for us,� Abdullah said. He said there was no question of his snapping links with the National Democratic Alliance. He explained that the two issues � of being part of the alliance and passing the autonomy resolution � should not be viewed from the same perspective.

Abdullah said that the rest of India needed to realise that autonomy was different from secession and his allegiance to the Constitution and Indian sovereignty was never in doubt.

�We will carry out a mass awareness programme and educate the people and political leaders about the resolution passed by the Assembly,� he added.    

Srinagar, July 4 
The autonomy gambit appears to have backfired on Farooq Abdullah as its rejection by the Centre today has not only embarrassed his National Conference but sharpened criticism from his political adversaries.

Having labelled the autonomy resolution as a �gimmick� earlier, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) today demanded the resignation of Abdullah for his failure to extract �even limited autonomy� from New Delhi. �Autonomy has no relevance to us but Abdullah has failed to get even that. If he has any guts, Abdullah should step down,� said senior APHC leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Another APHC leader, Abdul Ghani Lone, reacted with a sense of vindication saying: �The decision to reject the autonomy resolution only reflects the colonial attitude of New Delhi towards Kashmir.�

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, whose party has run close to the National Conference in recent elections in the Valley, said: �Abdullah has succeeded in not only sabotaging the Centre�s talks with the Hurriyat but also in trivialising the Kashmir issue. He has made it look like a localised problem between the National Conference and New Delhi rather than an international problem.�

But National Conference leaders, who are meeting here tomorrow to formalise their response to the Centre�s rejection, kept a brave front. Industry minister and younger brother of Abdullah, Mustafa Kamal, said: �The Centre�s rejection has no legal validity. We are only demanding the restoration of eroded autonomy and we shall continue that struggle.�

The Centre�s decision has placed the National Conference on a tightrope; the party now faces the prospect of having to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance, if only to salvage credibility in the Valley. After all, the autonomy demand has been rejected by a coalition of which Abdullah is a part; his son Omar is a junior Central minister.

Abdullah has already made it clear that he will pursue the autonomy demand despite its rejection by the Union Cabinet. But that may not be quite enough. Other than politically intensifying the demand for autonomy, there will also be considerable pressure on his party to quit the NDA.

The common Kashmiri remains as indifferent to the rejection of the state�s autonomy resolution as he was on the day the Assembly passed the autonomy resolution. However, this general indifference does not mean that there is no heat about the autonomy issue here.

�How would he get what he and his father willingly gave up? Such serious issues need a fighter and all of us know, Abdullah is anything but a fighter,� said Fayaz Ahmed, a local advocate. Tahir Ahmad, a computer engineer reacted sharply to the rejection of the autonomy resolution passed by the Assembly during its historic special session on June 26. �What will they offer to Hurriyat when they are not ready to even concede anything under the Constitution of India?

�National Conference is only demanding the restoration of the eroded autonomy. They are not even ready to accept that the state�s accession is limited to three subjects only. I feel there should have been through debate over the issue.�

Mehraj-ud-Din, a fruit seller on Srinagar�s Residency Road, said: �You see there is no reaction from the people on the streets. They are as unconcerned about the issue as they were when the resolution was passed.� He added: �And will the restoration of autonomy solve the problem for ever?�

Zahiruddin, associate editor of the largest selling English daily in the Valley, Greater Kashmir, said: �The Kashmir problem cannot be solved by short cuts like autonomy. It needs to be addressed in right perspective. It is only Abdullah and his bunch of jokers who want its restoration.�    

New Delhi, July 4 
The Congress today said the handling of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly�s autonomy resolution by the Vajpayee government exposed �the flip-flop-flip� of the government.

The BJP, however, has welcomed the Cabinet�s rejection of the resolution.

Senior BJP vice-president K. Jana Krishnamurthi said he hoped chief minister Farooq Abdullah will �understand and appreciate the decision of the Union Cabinet and will not rake up this question again�.

Accusing the government of bungling over the issue, Congress spokesperson Ajit Jogi said an integral constituent of the NDA had passed a �completely unsustainable and untenable resolution� while both the Prime Minister and the home minister said the resolution could be considered and discussed in the Parliament.

�In yet another somersault, the idea of consideration in Parliament was dropped and the Cabinet took up the issue and rejected it,� he said.

He said �this gross inconsistency of conduct� on a vital and sensitive issue of national significance like Jammu and Kashmir is not only �deplorable but also a blatant and crude attempt to escape the government�s undeniable guilt by association since this unprecedented resolution was passed by its own integral constitutent in the first place�.

The BJP, while welcoming the Cabinet decision, launched a blistering attack on Abdullah.

Party vice-president J.P. Mathur said: �The naked truth is that Abdullah is encouraging fundamentalism in the state as no one in Jammu or Ladakh supports the resolution.�

He said: �The acceptance of pre-1953 status for the state would have encouraged fissiparious tendencies in the country.�

�Only Muslim fundamentalists in the valley represented by Farooq Abdullah want the resolution on autonomy. Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh are against it. Now there is no question of bringing the resolution before Parliament as the Cabinet has rejected it,� he added.

Asked if the autonomy issue will be discussed in Parliament, a senior party leader said the question did not arise. �National Conference is free to raise it in Parliament. It is an open house,� he said.

The resolution may bring back the focus on devolution of powers to the states and the Parliament may have to discuss it. The eleventh Finance Commission report, likely to be submitted to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in a month or two, is likely to form the basis for such a discussion.    

Calcutta, July 4 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday renewed her call to the state Congress to join forces with the Trinamul to take on the Left Front in the Calcutta civic board with only four days left for the election to the mayor�s office through secret ballot.

�As an anti-CPM force, the Congress should support us,� she told a news conference.

At the same time Mamata and Subrata Mukherjee, the party�s nominee for the mayor�s chair, sat this evening to draw up a list of the probables for the posts of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation chairperson, deputy mayor and the nine members of the mayor-in-council.

There are two posts --- deputy mayor and chairperson of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation --- which needs to be filled up soon after the mayor�s election on July 8..

Anil Mukherjee appears to be a favourite for the post of the chairperson. Rajiv Deb has been tipped as the deputy mayor. If he does not make it, he is almost certain to find a berth in the mayor-in-council.

Another contestant for the office of deputy mayor is Pradip Ghosh, former Congress leader of the opposition in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and protege of former PCC chief Somen Mitra. If Subrata Mukherjee does not agree to it, Ghosh will have to be content with being a member of the mayor�s council.

A number of other names are also in the air for the posts of the nine members of the mayor-in-council.

At least five council members are expected to be selected from south Calcutta and Behala where Trinamul has performed well. Mala Roy, Anup Chatterjee, Manjushree Majumdar are likely to get berths, party sources said.

In the north, Swapan Samaddar is also expected to find a place as he has already been dubbed the �giant killer� after defeating the outgoing mayor Prasanta Chatterjee.

The BJP is expected to get a berth in the council, the likely candidate being Meena Devi Purohit.

Hridayanand Gupta and Moinul Haque Chowdhury, the Independent councillors who have joined Trinamul, are also among the probables, sources said.

�These two councillors were Independents just the other day. They could have joined forces with the Left Front but they were kept back. They may have been assured berths in the council,� they added.

Party sources say some of the aspirants who could not be accommodated in the council would be made chairperson of the 15 boroughs.

Mamata issued instructions to her party leaders to keep her flock of 66 councillors intact.

At a meeting this evening, Mamata asked party councillors not to yield to �temptations� from the CPM.    

Bangalore, July 4 
The national water resources council meeting convened by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on July 7 may be a stormy affair with Karnataka taking strong exception to many provisions in the draft national water policy.

An all-party meeting, convened by chief minister S.M. Krishna, today told the state government to oppose the draft guidelines proposed by the Centre as they were �totally against the interests of upper riparian states�.

A sub-committee comprising leaders of all parties and experts, including former chief minister Veerappa Moily, was formed to meet tomorrow and formulate the objections to be placed before the water resources council.

Major irrigation minister H.K. Patil said Karnataka had made many recommendations for inclusion in the national water policy after the Centre sent a draft in 1996. But none of them were incorporated in the revised draft received recently.

He said the draft sought to take away the right of states to undertake river basin development and to protect the existing users prior to the pre-plan period. He added that Karnataka opposed the provisions as the situation had changed after the reorganisation of states and the ground reality had to be recognised.

The all-party meeting authorised Krishna to attend the Cauvery river authority meeting convened by the Prime Minister on July 14 as �sufficient notice� had been given.    

Patna, July 4 
The trial in the disproportionate income case against Bihar�s first couple opened in the special CBI court today with the counsel exchanging allegations about the fudging of accounts belonging to Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi.

Sweating in the congested first-floor courtroom overlooking the Ganga, Laloo Yadav moved away from a sustained campaign against the NDA, �which is conspiring to topple his government�, and concentrated on the legal battle to stave off an imminent jail term.

Participating in a debate at the Assembly before heading for the court, Laloo Yadav told Opposition leader Sushil Modi: �The court case is a poor weapon to intimidate me politically. I have seen through it. My government is stable now.�

While Laloo Yadav put up a brave front, Rabri Devi gained a breather as the court, acting on her counsel�s plea, exempted her from personal appearance during the ongoing Assembly session.

The special court, headed by S.K. Pathak after S.K. Lal�s transfer, examined the first of the 187 witnesses � Manoj Kant Thakur, finance manager of Bihar State Housing Cooperative Federation Ltd.

The prosecution witness was presented by the CBI to testify to the money spent by the first couple in building their house in the Veterinary College compound. In course of cross examination of the witness, the prosecution and defence counsel argued over the housing finance loan application and whether Laloo Yadav�s share purchase to be entitled for the loan could be cited as income.

Thakur said Laloo Yadav had applied for a loan of Rs 2 lakh from the cooperative on July 31, 1993. The application was processed and admitted the same day and on August 3, the documents, including income certificate, land entitlement and design of the house, were submitted. The loan payments were made to him since August 3 in three instalments.

Describing the norms for the loan, the witness said the applicant had to buy shares of the bank to be able to apply for loans. Laloo Yadav had also purchased a token share of Rs 10,000. Yadav also had to deposit Rs 2,000 for group insurance and Rs 1,000 for general insurance. L.R. Ansari, the CBI counsel, got the figures verified from the witness and submitted to the court that these amounts were part of first couple�s assets, but their return files remained silent on this.

Beginning his cross-examination of the witness, P.N. Pandey, representing Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi, established that the land shown on the loan application was allotted to the cooperative of MPs and MLAs. Even Laloo Yadav clarified that the land was taken on lease and it could neither be sold nor transferred.

Laloo Yadav�s counsel next asked Thakur whether he had given a certificate to Laloo Yadav for purchasing the shares. He said since share certificates had not been given, the investment could not be counted as an asset by the CBI.

He also disputed the fact that the CBI was showing Rabri Devi�s NSC investment of Rs 2 lakh in 1992 as an asset. The defence counsel pleaded that a witness could not be accepted till this point was clarified. But the court overruled this. The next witness on the chief minister�s NSC would come up tomorrow.    


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