Anniversary jolt to demolition trio, Rao
Vajpayee turns truce gun on hawks at home
Sonia-shy Yadav shuns Basu party
Naidu: to roll back or not
Wary of allies, BJP banks on adversaries
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Nov. 23: 
With the Ayodhya anniversary barely two weeks away and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) sharpening its campaign to demand the construction of a Ram temple, the Liberhan Commission today issued summons to Union ministers L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

The panel, probing the events leading to the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992, has asked them to depose before it as witnesses next month. Summons have also been sent out to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

The commission’s summons come in the midst of the winter session in which the Opposition has been unable to seize the political initiative and put the NDA on the mat mainly due to its internal differences.

But with Ayodhya likely to unite even sworn enemies like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party on the secularism plank, observers believe that the summons may revive the Opposition’s demand for the resignations of Advani, Joshi and Bharti.

The possibility of the Opposition citing the resignations of Harin Pathak and Ashok Bhatt from the Union and Gujarat governments respectively as a precedent to bolster its case for the heads of Advani and the others was indicated today in the Lok Sabha by CPM lawmaker Suresh Kurup. During Question Hour, he asked that since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had set a “noble” precedent in the Pathak case, would Advani, Joshi and Bharti follow suit in the Ayodhya litigation?

However, chances of the BJP waffling over the matter were evident in law minister Arun Jaitley’s reply. He said the question of persons chargesheeted in criminal cases being barred from Assemblies and Parliament could arise only after their conviction.

Speaking to this correspondent, a Cabinet minister rejected the Pathak precedent as “untenable” in the present case and argued: “There is a difference between that case and this one. The Ayodhya case relates to a political agitation while the earlier case involved a murder charge.” He stressed that the resignation of Advani and the others was not germane since a chargesheet has not been served on them.

As for the Liberhan summons, the minister said: “I do not know right now whether Advaniji will appear or not. But there’s no problem since the commission has merely asked them to elaborate on the incidents of December 6, 1992 as witnesses.”

The commission headed by Justice M.S. Liberhan, who recorded Bharti’s statement today, has asked Joshi to appear on December 19 and 20 and Rao on December 26 and 27. Advani has been asked to depose on December 29. The commission adjourned the recording of Bharti’s statement to December 12.

In her deposition, the sports minister said she was in favour of construction of the Ram temple at the “disputed” site in Ayodhya. But she added that since the issue was “emotive”, it should be settled through dialogue.

“The ultimate solution to this issue can be attained only through a dialogue and this has been the basis of my speeches on Ayodhya,” she stated.

Bharti went on to say: “Some kind of sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims have been involved in the issue, and so sentimental an issue could be resolved only by their holy men and not by courts.”

Interestingly, the BJP — which had earlier maintained that the Ayodhya issue was a “matter of faith” — modified its stance after coming to power and said it would await the court’s verdict before a settlement was thrashed out.

Bharti, in her statement, also said that almost all parties were involved in the issue, either directly or indirectly, as the situation in the country was “charged” before the demolition. She added that the BJP had favoured construction of the temple in a resolution in a national executive in 1984, while the Congress had permitted the shilanyas (foundation-laying) in 1989. “The problem has a social angle in which all political parties are involved and the issue has got many dimensions,” she said.

For the BJP, the revival of the Ayodhya plank is a double-edged sword: while it could expose the differences in the NDA and within the party itself, sources said the hardliners — chafing under the turnarounds of Vajpayee and Bangaru Laxman on the minorities and Kashmir — may grab this as an opportunity to assert their ideological position in the party.    

New Delhi, Nov. 23: 
Promising to make the ceasefire a success, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today brushed aside ally Shiv Sena’s cries for withdrawal of the Ramzan truce and asked opponents of the peace initiative to be guided by “national interest”.

“There is no going back on the ceasefire. We will make it a success,” Vajpayee said in reply to the Sena’s demand that he rescind the offer after yesterday’s massacre of truck drivers near Jammu.

Vajpayee, who described the killings as an “unfortunate” incident aimed at defaming the army, chided the Sena, saying he did not mind their “natural concern” over the killings, but their reaction should be within limits dictated by national interest.

Arguing that the threat to the peace initiative was not from militants, the Prime Minister said: “Some people are bound to get excited and look at things in their own way. And even before the ceasefire has been enforced, they are talking about its withdrawal.”

Vajpayee found support from his right-hand man Jaswant Singh, who said “barking mongrels” cannot stop the caravan of peace.

Describing the shot at peace as a “calculated risk”, Vajpayee said the decision was taken after weighing all “pros and cons and after due consideration and preparedness”. “We had also taken cognisance of the possibility that there could be mischief after the announcement. But the apprehension that our security forces will become complacent is misplaced. They were apprised of the situation before this step was taken and asked to be fully alert,” he added.

The Prime Minister assured the members that holding fire did not imply easing vigilance along the Line of Control and the border with Pakistan.

Vajpayee’s firm statement followed the Sena’s assault on the government. The Sena charge, begun by its leader in the Rajya Sabha Ajit Shirodkar, was intensified by Sanjay Nirupam who fired a barrage of volleys at Vajpayee as he was about to leave the House.

“Every time we have extended our hand of friendship, they have retaliated,” Nirupam said, adding that the ceasefire should be “bilateral and not unilateral”.

Vajpayee countered by saying that the government wants to tap “the growing yearning for peace among the people”. “In a way,” he added, “we took a risk.”

The announcement, he claimed, had created ripples among militant groups. “There are differences among them. They are discussing it and we like this,” he said, adding that some outfits had reacted “positively” to the truce call while some others had begun retracting from the Valley.

Jaswant took the baton from his leader and said that the ceasefire notwithstanding, the Centre will be “unambiguous and unrelenting” in tackling cross-border terrorism. “Everytime the government takes such steps towards normality, our enemies will take steps to sabotage it.”

Jaswant likened the saboteurs to “village mongrels”, saying: “The caravan carrying the message of humanity and peace has started rolling and nobody can stop its onward march. Even the barking mongrels in villages cannot halt it.”

Despite the spirited defence from Vajpayee and Jaswant, the Sena boycotted the Lok Sabha today and sat on a dharna outside Parliament.    

New Delhi, Nov. 23: 
The Congress-Samajwadi Party crossfire is threatening to spoil the December 10 farewell for Jyoti Basu in Calcutta.

Samajwadi boss Mulayam Singh Yadav has decided to skip the party because he thinks the Left Front is too close to the Congress and his pet hate, Sonia Gandhi. At one time, Mulayam looked on Basu as the “supreme saviour” of secular values.

Mulayam told The Telegraph he would not be able to attend the Calcutta function —- which will bring together all third front stalwarts —- as he had prior commitments. But many feel the decision is prompted by his disillusionment with the Left over ties with the Congress.

Mulayam made light of reviving the third front, questioning its logic as Laloo Yadav was sharing power with the Congress in Bihar. “The entire rationale of the third force stands defeated if there is no equidistance from the BJP and the Congress,” he said.

He did not mince words while talking about Sonia, claiming she was behaving more like a leader of the Congress than the leader of the Opposition.

Bengal transport minister Subhas Chakraborty is in Delhi, handing out invites to the farewell.

Mulayam has promised to get back in three days after consulting general secretary Amar Singh as a party meet is scheduled in Nagpur the same day.    

New Delhi, Nov. 23: 
Chandrababu Naidu today came to the capital and set sights on diesel price rollback but chose not to conquer.

A few hours after declaring that he would seek a 50 per cent cut in the diesel price hike, Naidu backtracked, saying he did not want to embarrass the beleaguered Prime Minister.

The Andhra Pradesh chief minister, who arrived here to address a conference organised by the India States Reform Forum, told reporters at noon that he would ask for a rollback as the price increase had hit the farmers hard.

However, a few hours later, he changed tack. “The issue is over now. We do not want to stretch it and embarrass the government. It is a fact that we had asked for a 50 per cent rollback. But they have already reduced the price partially,” he said after a meeting with Telugu Desam MPs in the evening.

Naidu stuck to his new stand when he met A.B. Vajpayee for dinner and skipped the diesel price issue. “The chapter is closed. We never demanded a rollback. It was only a suggestion,” Naidu said after the dinner.

Sources said Naidu focused on farmers’ plight during his meeting with Vajpayee. Naidu was peeved with the Food Corporation of India for using the godowns in Andhra to store grain from the northern states while his state was grappling with a glut.

He complained to the Prime Minister about the Planning Commission’s inadequate resource allocation to his state. The chief minister also raised the issue of alleged discrimination in transfer postings of the Andhra IAS cadre.

The dinner was attended by home minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Yashwant Sinha, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

An unconfirmed report said Naidu had been pressured by Vajpayee’s strategists into backtracking on diesel. Sources said Advani had spoken to Naidu over the phone before the somersault.

Naidu also met Sinha, food minister Shanta Kumar and agriculture minister Nitish Kumar to discuss problems faced by farmers in his state.

Several of his MPs had felt that Mamata Banerjee had stolen the show by getting cooking gas and kerosene prices rolled back and that the Desam should also up the ante. They pointed out that farmers were hit most by the diesel price and several of them were being driven to suicide.

When the Desam had earlier made the rollback demand, petroleum minister Ram Naik had ruled out considering it.

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu had said: “The diesel price hike should be reduced to a reasonable level of 50 per cent. Diesel is more useful for the farming sector. The chief minister has already written to the Prime Minister.”

But asked if the government would consider the demand, Naik had asserted: “Impossible.”    

New Delhi, Nov. 23: 
The NDA partners’ attack on the Vajpayee for its “indifference” to farmers has set off the alarm in the BJP which sees the assault from its allies as a sign of the pitfalls ahead.

The BJP — which had claimed that the winter session would be smooth-sailing thanks to a divided Opposition and a “coopted” NDA — is less sure whether economic Bills on the privatisation of banks and public sector disinvestment would be carried through smoothly without its allies creating a ruckus.

The BJP had taken the Congress’ support for granted on key economic issues. But with Sonia Gandhi’s party showing signs of reverting to the socialist agenda, the BJP’s parliamentary strategists are busy wooing the Congress for support on important legislation.

“The opposition from the Congress and our own allies is somewhat unexpected. Our leaders will have to put their heads together and devise strategies to see that things don’t go out of hand,” a senior BJP leader said.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan is in touch with Congress leaders Madhavrao Scindia and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi as well as with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav.

BJP sources claimed that Mahajan had advised Mulayam not to create further problems for Sonia, the leader of the Opposition. The Samajwadi Party had blocked her from moving an adjournment motion on agriculture policies on the opening day of the winter session.

Parliamentary affairs ministry sources said that in case the government failed to thrash out a consensus on contentious Bills like bank denationalisation, divestment and women’s reservation, they would be referred to various standing committees in a bid to buy time.

For instance, when Das Munshi raised the divestment issue in the Lok Sabha today and demanded an explanation on Air-India’s status, Mahajan tactfully shifted the onus of giving a commitment to Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi. “It is the Speaker’s discretion as to what step should be taken, whether a standing committee is needed or if it should be attached to a related standing committee,” he said.

With disinvestment being a new area of parliamentary concern and debate, a separate standing committee is yet to be formed. At the same time, Mahajan claimed the government has no objection to a discussion.

Despite the brave face, the BJP had reason to worry with most of its allies remaining silent all through the Congress onslaught. While Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress has already objected to the move to sell stake in banks, others, including the DMK, are expected to follow suit.

Disinvestment apart, the Shiv Sena has signalled that it is in no mood to relent on the Kashmir ceasefire. Its MPs boycotted the Lok Sabha and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the announcement following the massacre of five truck drivers near Jammu yesterday.

Despite Vajpayee’s assertion that he would stand by his truce call, Sena MPs said they would persist with their opposition to the Centre’s new peace initiative. “It’s a question of retaining our support of hardcore Hindutva voters. Our feedback is wherever our leaders are going in Maharashtra, people are cursing them for Vajpayee’s handling of Kashmir. We have to dissociate ourselves from the Centre on this issue,” said a Sena Rajya Sabha member.

The BJP was guarded in its reaction to the Sena’s stand. “We are not condemning the Sena’s attitude, because yesterday’s killings have sparked anger across the country. But it is not a ceasefire in the sense that the government will not shy away from taking action against the murderers,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.    



Maximum: 32.1°C (+3)
Minimum: 20.3°C (+3)


5.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 36%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C    

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