Vajpayee defends �dropped� Venkaiah
Basu leads CMs in battle with Centre
PM plays to hawks� gallery on Pakistan
Naidu slams finance panel
Delhi set to win even if talks fail
Sonia salve for Ghani

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went out of his way to give a �clean chit� to BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu, claiming that even before the party could consider his name for the president�s post, Naidu had himself wanted to opt out of the race.

Naidu was projected by a section of the press as Kushabhau Thakre�s successor along with another southern office-bearer, Jana Krishnamurthi. Bangaru Laxman�s emergence as the �consensus� candidate surprised not just the press but the BJP�s own MPs and workers.

In a statement today, Vajpayee stated: �I wish to formally contradict news items in a section of the press in relation to Shri Venkaiah Naidu. Even before we could consider Shri Naidu�s name, Shri Venkaiah Naidu informed me and other senior colleagues that he did not wish to be presently considered for party presidentship.� He added: �His services are a great asset to the party.�

The Prime Minister�s �certificate of merit� to Naidu was preceded by a congratulatory message to the newly-anointed BJP chief and a note of appreciation for the outgoing Thakre.

BJP sources expressed surprise at Vajpayee�s sudden defence of Naidu and admitted his statement left some unanswered questions. It was asked why the Prime Minister chose to congratulate Laxman six days after he was elected unopposed. On the day that Laxman filed his nomination at the BJP headquarters, Vajpayee was present and was the first to propose his candidacy. Sources also wondered why the Prime Minister had opted to exonerate only Naidu and not Krishnamurthi and Gujarat Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, whose names were also circulated to the press.

A BJP office-bearer explained: �Krishnamurthi takes things in his stride. When he felt he may face embarrassment for a while if he remained in Delhi, he quietly left for Chennai to be away from the media glare. Naidu on the other hand is image-conscious.�

However, some BJP leaders gave a different picture. Apparently even as late as a month before Thakre�s successor was to be chosen, Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan were unable to decide on a consensus choice. It is believed that while the Prime Minister was in favour of a second tenure for Thakre, Advani had pitched for the �younger� Naidu.

The leadership�s decision to implement an amendment in the BJP constitution, allowing just one three-year term for the party president, with prospective effect, was seen as a means to facilitate a fresh tenure for Thakre.

In Thakre�s tenure, the BJP had ended up playing second fiddle to the government and seemed more than willing to endorse the latter�s policies even if they went against its stated agenda.

Advani�s assertion a fortnight ago to a television channel that Thakre would step down as he was no longer �healthy� again set the cat among the pigeons. The home minister�s statement came after a one-to-one meeting with Thakre. BJP sources insinuated that he had �managed� to push through Naidu�s name with RSS approval.

At this juncture, the Prime Minister�s advisers swung into the act, fearing that Naidu may function as an Advani proxy and reassert the BJP�s position on critical issues even if these went against the government�s policies, sources said.

Laxman was immediately contacted and a meeting between him and Vajpayee took place on July 28. Copies of Laxman�s bio-data were also promptly released to the press a little before his nomination was finalised.    

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Jyoti Basu led chief ministers in their fight against the creation of a federal law enforcement agency.

Defending the state government�s role in the area of law and order. Basu said: �Any attempt at the creation of a federal law enforcement agency with concurrent jurisdiction to investigate crimes without the consent of the state government will disturb the federal structure of our Constitution,� he said at the chief ministers� meeting here on internal security.

Both Left and Congress-run state governments have been suspicious of the Centre�s move.

�On account of terrorist activities of the anti-national forces backed by foreign countries, we do recognise that a special situation has arisen in the country,� he admitted. However, �cases involving international ramifications and threatening national security may be investigated by a specialised wing of the CBI after obtaining concurrence of the concerned state government in each case,� he added.

Basu cited the Purulia arms-drop case, saying it was handled by the CBI after obtaining concurrence of the state government. He argued that concern for national security is shared equally by the Centre and the states and national security can be best protected by cooperation and coordination between the Centre and the state governments.

He stressed that the government at the Centre should ensure �continuous interaction between the state and Central agencies, including those dealing with military intelligence�. But a Central law enforcement agency was out of the question. �As regards the need for a Central law and Central enforcement agency to deal with certain specified crimes against the state, I would like to make it clear that my government is totally opposed to this move,� he reiterated. Public order is a prime responsibility of the state governments as enshrined in the Constitution, he said.

Basu also voiced his government�s antipathy towards the proposed �Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000�. He said his government has so far not invoked the National Security Act.    

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today said there were problems in dealing with Pakistan as the state was founded on the basis of fear and suspicion.

Speaking at a function to mark the birth centenary of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Dwarika Prasad Mishra, considered the �Chanakya� of Indian politics during the sixties and seventies, Vajpayee said there was merit in what Mishra had said decades ago about Indo-Pakistan relations.

The late Congress chief minister is the father of Vajpayee�s principal secretary and the country�s national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra.

Coming at a time when the Centre�s talks with Hizbul Mujahideen are evenly poised, Vajpayee�s remarks are aimed at placating the hawks within the BJP and the Sangh parivar who are uncomfortable over the �softline� on Kashmir.

At another level, Vajpayee sought to justify the BJP�s ideological stand on Pakistan that there were difficulties in establishing friendly relations with Pakistan.

Quoting from Mishra�s autobiography, Vajpayee said the former chief minister had stated there were inherent problems in extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan as it was created due to fear, suspicion and ambition. �Our dealings with Pakistan reinforced Mishra�s observation,� he said.

A galaxy of Congress leaders, including P.V. Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh, Sitaram Kesri, Natwar Singh, Digvijay Singh, Sheila Dixit and Narain Dutt Tiwari, heard Vajpayee with rapt attention.

Vajpayee adopted a similar hawkish approach at another gathering when he asked state governments to come up with funds for modernisation of police forces and said: �With the people on our side, we can and we shall defeat diabolical external forces in a decisive manner.�

He said Islamabad�s aim was not confined to Jammu and Kashmir�s separation from India. �Indeed, it is a sinister aim that targets India�s unity and integrity.�

Vajpayee referred to Pakistan�s proxy war against India, which he said came to a head last year in the form of the aggression in Kargil, and said: �There is an attempt to describe this cross-border terrorism as jehad (holy war), but we reject that suggestion. The threat that we face today is nothing but state-sponsored terrorism by our neighbour.�

Arms haul

In the second big arms haul in 24 hours, troops today recovered a huge cache of arms and explosives from Rajouri and Kupwara districts.

The haul included rockets, rifle grenades and a rocket-propelled grenade. An army spokesman said units conducting search operations in the frontier jungle belts found one rocket-propelled grenade, 13 rockets, five boxes of ammunition, 25 rifle grenades, five improvised explosive devices, 35 explosive pipes and 10 detonators.

Last night, troops had recovered 81 rifle grenades and 20 kg of explosives from Nambian forests in Rajouri district. The army launched the search after it was tipped off that terrorists were stashing weapons to disrupt Independence Day celebrations.    

Hyderabad, Aug. 5 
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today blasted the Eleventh Finance Commission for pampering �non-performing governments which promoted poverty�.

At a hurriedly-convened press conference, Naidu said the state stood to lose Rs 985 crore during the current financial year because of the commission�s recommendations.

Naidu, who is not averse to the idea of forming a forum of chief ministers, said he would ask Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to call for an emergency meeting of the National Devolvement Council.

According to him, the commission was hostile to state governments and supported centralisation of fiscal powers.

Quoting statistics, Naidu said: �While the states are demanding over 50 per cent of devolvement in the Central pool of taxes, the commission has recommended a ceiling of 37 per cent.�

The commission, he said, had failed to allocate funds based on the performance level of states.

�The finance commission is favouring those states which have failed totally in implementing poverty alleviation programmes through decades of funding. This is a blow to states which have achieved success in eliminating certain levels of poverty,� he contended.

As per the commission�s suggestions, Andhra Pradesh�s share is only 7.13 per cent of the Rs 4,34,905 crore.

The state is scheduled to receive Rs 31,011.18 crore But, it stands to lose nearly Rs 3,500 crore as a result of the recommendations. In 2000-01 itself, it loses Rs 985 crore.

�The report is not only a disappointment but also shocking as it aims to punish those states which have achieved results,� he said.

Naidu said the five states which had not performed and also �promoted� poverty had been allotted Rs 2,26,320 crore, which accounts for 52 per cent of the funds

. They were Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

�The Lakdawala Commission had done half the damage by projecting the poverty level in Andhra Pradesh at 28 per cent only,� he said. �Now the Eleventh Finance Commission has shocked us by further reducing Central allocation.�    

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
India stands to gain either way even if the proposed talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen end in failure.

Success would mean a peaceful solution to the festering Kashmir problem. But even if the talks fail, Delhi could play up its initiative in making a sincere effort to end the decades-old standoff.

However, the Indian leadership�s effort to lay the groundwork for the talks has a lot to do with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s visit to the US, which starts in less than a month�s time.

Armed with a political-level engagement with the people of the Valley, Vajpayee can at least confidently parry questions on Kashmir when he meets President Bill Clinton or addresses the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York.

From the outset, India has made it abundantly clear that it would talk only to its own people and not to outsiders.

Though critics of this line of thinking might say that the Hizbul is based in Pakistan, the outfit�s mainstay is Kashmir as most of its cadre are from the Valley.

However, the situation might change if the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba decides to join the negotiations.

By engaging with the Hizbul, India aims to achieve two things directly. One, it lowers the level of tension in the embattled state. And two, it creates an environment in the outside world where major players can become more supportive of Delhi�s stand.

Two factors necessitated the talks. From the internal point of view, the Indian leadership needed to look beyond chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Though the All Party Hurriyat Conference was also keen on talks with Delhi, it may not have made much of an impact on the ground.

The Hizbul, on the other hand, was an organisation which, for more than a decade, had waged war in the Valley for a separate state.

Though officials are reluctant to outline the framework of the talks, they stress on the Prime Minister�s emphasis on the word insaaniyat (humanism).

Vajpayee, they say, perhaps wanted to refer to an improved situation that would bring relief to both the residents and the security forces and help create a conducive atmosphere for negotiations to progress.

Diplomatically, Delhi is against holding talks with Pakistan at this point unless Islamabad stops inciting cross-border violence against India.

For the time being, however, its aim is to engage in a political dialogue with the �Kashmiris� to divert the focus of the international community on Pakistan to ensure that cross-border terrorism comes to an end in the strife-torn state.    

New Delhi, Aug. 5 
Caught offguard by a quit letter from A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today called up the West Bengal unit chief and asked him to continue till Monday and promised to discuss party matters with him.

Sonia�s response came in the wake of an �emotional letter� from Chowdhury, in which the septuagenarian leader offered to step down. He recalled his commitment to the party and his long association with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Chowdhury had reportedly expressed anguish against Congress general secretary Prabha Rau and said he wanted to put an end to ongoing speculation regarding his exit as PCC chief.

Chowdhury is said to be hurt over media reports suggesting his exit and believes that Rau is responsible for the �whisper campaign� against him.

Sonia�s move to pacify him and seek time till Monday indicates that the party chief is in two minds about replacing Chowdhury in view of his seniority. Moreover,

Sonia has sought Kamal Nath�s help to set the Bengal unit in order. As Nath is away for the weekend, party matters can be taken up only on Monday at 5 pm, party sources said.

Sonia�s advisers are also sharply divided on Chowdhury�s exit, but everyone wants the Bengal unit to gear up for the Assembly polls instead of continuing with the faction feud.

But the intra-party wrangling has been so intense that the ongoing organisational polls have not taken off in Bengal. Senior state party leaders have been pressuring Sonia to call off party polls there.

In such a scenario, they want Sonia to remove Chowdhury and his bete noire, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, but she has not been able to muster courage for drastic action.

The Chowdhury-Rau feud has finally come out in the open. Last month, Chowdhury boycotted a party meet convened by Rau and said he would only meet the AICC president.

A Sonia-Chowdhury meeting had cleared the air and Rau had also called on the senior leader in a goodwill gesture. A pleased Chowdhury had even distanced himself from the proposed mahajot with Mamata Banerjee. However, Rau�s return to Calcutta saw a reversal to the one-upman- ship.    


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