Atal settlement: temple at site
No-trust ploy to torment allies
Flood fury stirs up front wave
Navy�s shootout story sinks
Maqbool is fida, but Madhuri missing
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave another fillip to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement by saying that if were there to be a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya dispute, it could only mean the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site.

Leaving no room for restoration of the Babri masjid at the place where it stood, Vajpayee said: �If there is a negotiated settlement, the temple should be built at the site and a mosque can be built elsewhere.�

The Prime Minister did not say where the mosque could be located.

Amplifying yesterday�s statement on Ayodhya, Vajpayee said at an iftar gathering at the residence of Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, the minister of state for human resources development: �When I said the task is incomplete, I meant the dispute which is unresolved should be solved. And the only solution is how and where the temple should be built.�

He said there were two solutions: �The court gives its verdict and everyone accepts it. Second, Hindus and Muslims sit together and arrive at a negotiated settlement.� But he specified the settlement himself: �The mandir can be built on that (the original) site while an alternative site can be found for the masjid.�

Stressing that his government would stick to the coalition�s national agenda of governance, Vajpayee admitted that his allies were �unhappy� with yesterday�s statement describing the Ayodhya agitation as a �manifestation of nationalist feelings�. But he claimed that Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and the Telugu Desam Party�s K. Yeeran Naidu returned �satisfied� from meetings with him.

�I told them what I said about Ayodhya was neither to influence the court nor the CBI. Courts are independent and will give their judgment without fear or favour. Although the CBI is under me, I have never interfered with its working on Ayodhya or any other issue,� he said. He insisted that the government did not have a �secret agenda� on Ayodhya.

Mamata told reporters she was satisfied with Vajpayee�s clarification, while Naidu said: �The question of being satisfied or not satisfied does not arise. The coalition government is supported by the TDP and we have to go as per the national agenda.�

The orchestrated exercise carried out by Vajpayees media managers was meant to �appease� the allies by giving the impression that he would not deviate from the agenda. Early in the day, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra had said the Prime Minister was expected to �clarify� his Ayodhya statement.

The �clarification� seemed to have the intended effect on some NDA partners. A Samata Party MP said: �We must make a distinction between the fact that when the Prime Minister speaks on Ayodhya he does so in his capacity as a BJP leader. But as the Prime Minister he still swears allegiance to the NDA�s agenda. So, what objection can we raise?�

In this exercise of packing contradictory signals in a single statement, the VHP grasped its message as well. General secretary Praveen Togadia said the temple construction schedule would be announced at the three-day meeting of the Dharam Sansad (religious parliament) from January 19 to 21 at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela. �Thereafter, our activists would spread out to 5.75 lakh villages across the country to create awareness,� he said.

Malhotra denied party MPs had forced Vajpayee to take a public stand. �In the 1999 elections, the BJP did not even issue its own manifesto, its members accepted the NDA agenda as their own,� he said. This was in response to the revelation by two MPs yesterday � Swami Chinmayanand and Mahant Aditya Nath, from Uttar Pradesh � that time and again they had raised the temple issue and demanded an explanation for not being permitted to speak on it when allies were �at liberty� to pursue their own agendas.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
The Congress plans to move a no-confidence motion against the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and force a vote on the Ayodhya issue if its demand for a debate under rule 184 is rejected in the Lok Sabha.

The move is aimed at cornering some �secular allies� of the BJP like the Trinamul Congress, DMK, TDP, National Conference, Janata Dal(U), Samata Party and some smaller groups in the light of Vajpayee�s statements endorsing the move to build a Ram temple at the disputed Ayodhya site.

Targeting National Democratic Alliance constituents, the Congress today demanded the Prime Minister�s resignation for �interfering� with the judicial process and for �contempt of court�.

Madhavrao Scindia, the Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, said that if the Prime Minister stuck to his remark, he should step down.

�He stands unmasked, he has no right to make such a statement as the Prime Minister,� Scindia said. He wondered how the judiciary could perform its task in an independent manner if the Prime Minister of the country was making such a statement.

Working in tandem with other Opposition parties, except the Samajwadi Party, the Congress floor strategy is to stall parliamentary proceedings till the government concedes its demand for a debate followed by voting under rule 184.

According to the Congress assessment, the allies would try to avoid voting on the Ayodhya issue as Assembly polls are due in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu early next year.

The no-trust motion would force the allies to take a decisive stand.

No parliamentary business has been conducted since Monday and, going by the hard posture adopted by the Opposition, there is a question mark on resumption of normal working next week.

A number of crucial bills and debate over disinvestment, Kargil and bank denationalisation are on the agenda for the winter session concluding on December 22.

Both Houses today were plunged into turmoil over Vajpayee�s statement on construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Belligerent Opposition MPs stormed the Well of the Lok Sabha even before the proceedings began. There were similar scenes in the Rajya Sabha where Opposition members shouted �shame, shame� as Vajpayee arrived in the House. BJP members chanted in reply: �Prime Minister zindabad�.

The Congress questioned how the CBI could be expected to function impartially in the Ayodhya case when the Prime Minister, in charge of the agency, was giving a clean chit to some of the key accused.

�It is thoroughly presumptuous to assume that Vajpayee is the chief spokesman for national sentiments. Are we all non-resident Indians?� an angry Scindia asked.

AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad sought to draw the attention of BJP allies towards prima facie findings and observations of the Ayodhya judge on L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

�The allies should now tell the nation to what extent they will go in supporting the present government for the sake of power alone,� Azad said.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
Jyoti Basu�s flood funds dharna turned into an informal but fresh initiative for a new third front with Mulayam Singh Yadav putting in a guest appearance and urging his one-time mentor to take the lead in forging an alternative to the BJP and Congress.

�You could have changed the course of national politics had you accepted the leadership in 1996. It is not too late. Even now you can rally around the forces opposed to the BJP and Congress and save the country from their clutches,� the Samajwadi Party chief said.

Mulayam�s arrival heightened the combative mood at the Left�s sit-in, giving it a new twist. Out of the blue, a third front seemed to come alive on the podium with Mulayam calling for its resurrection.

His presence signalled that he had not totally burnt his bridges with the Left, though he has been keeping safe distance from the CPM. He also skipped a seminar on the sidelines of the CPM�s Thiruvananthapuram plenum, at which he was much sought after.

But Mulayam today atoned for his absence. Showering accolade upon accolade on Basu for being the only leader having the courage to dub the BJP �barbaric and uncivilised�, he said: �I have been asking you to leave Calcutta and play a more fruitful role in national politics. And I am glad you are finally doing it.�

RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad lent his voice to Mulayam�s cry. Leaders of Sharad Pawar�s NCP and Jayalalitha�s ADMK also showed up as did Rajya Sabha MPs Shabana Azmi and Jayanthi Natarajan.

Basu, in his new role of street-agitator, stole the show. Scheduled to lead the procession to the dharna venue, Basu was forced to scurry back into his car as soon as he stepped out with an army of lensmen laying siege. Comrades then formed a ring around him, as he marched to the podium flanked by Surjeet and Somnath Chatterjee. �At this age and after being in politics for 60 years I find myself being ruled by barbarians. The Prime Minister has said Ayodhya is a political issue. But I say it was a criminal act,� Basu declared, pulling no punches. �They must change their policies. Else they must go. And to achieve that we must unite.�

He lashed out at George Fernandes for accusing Bengal of not keeping accounts of funds given to it. �The government is not Fernandes� paitrik sampatti. I have just heard that he has said the Centre has given us Rs 10,000 crore. I would like to ask: in how many years has he given it?�


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
The navy�s claim of a break-in and a subsequent shootout in Admiral Sushil Kumar�s residence lay in tatters with the naval establishment today saying that the marine commando, who was allegedly shot at by the intruder, had tried to commit suicide.

The navy had earlier said that the commando, Satbir Singh, returned around three dozen rounds of fire at the intruder who shot him in his right thigh after being challenged on the night of December 1. The intruder, according to the navy, managed to escape.

Delhi police have a different story. A report, to be submitted to the home ministry shortly, says no one broke into 12 Rajaji Marg, the navy chief�s official residence, and that the alleged shootout was the result of a row between two commandos. Satbir is believed to have shot himself in an effort to implicate a colleague.

Caught on the wrong foot after putting out the intruder theory, the navy today said that Satbir had claimed in his statement before the court of inquiry that he had tried to commit suicide as he was �suffering from severe depression� caused by family problems.

This leads to queries on who cooked up the story on the so-called intruder having left behind wires and cordex (mechanism to trigger an explosion) in the navy chief�s house.

Delhi police crime branch officers, who questioned Satbir twice, said the commando had an altercation with a colleague. An enraged Satbir shot himself in the thigh. In order to deflect the police�s line of inquiry, the other guards fired 35 rounds to suggest that Satbir had tried to shoot the intruder.


New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
It was the launch of the labours of painter M.F. Husain�s late life love; the labour was there, the love wasn�t.

Actress Madhuri Dixit, or shall we say Mrs Nene, declined to turn up at the high-profile premiere of Gajagamini, produced, directed and envisioned by arguably India�s most famous living painter, as the admiree is said to be upset with her admirer. Maqbool is still quite fida, but Madhuri made it clear this evening she is not reciprocating the sentiments, noble as they may be.

Not only Madhuri. The star couple of actress-turned Rajya Sabha member Shabana Azmi and Urdu poet Javed Akhtar also decided to stay away.

But Husain did manage to lend his dream project a profile of sorts as he got foreign affairs minister Jaswant Singh to host and launch the premiere. The showman-painter also ensured that though the brightest star was missing, some sort of a constellation was there. The Siri Fort Auditorium, where the screening was held, was studded with luminaries from the capital�s cocktail circuit.

The premiere coincided with the film�s commercial release in Delhi. But going by reports from parts of the country wherever Husain has attempted to release his film, Gajagamini is rising the popularity charts only at the speed of an elephant.

Husain stole a line from Satyajit Ray to launch his movie: �It is easy to make an art or commercial film. But it is difficult to make a sensible film.�

The evening brought an extra gift � a short titled Through the eyes of the painter that Husain made in the late 1960s. �It is an attempt in praise of Shakti � the power of women,� the painter said in his short speech. There was no reference to Madhuri or why she could not come.

Foreign ministry insiders said that till the morning Husain claimed that Madhuri will come. Her absence brought anxious moments for the officials who wondered whether or not the auditorium will be filled up. Luckily, a sizeable crowd did turn up.

One can understand Husain�s obsession with Madhuri. What remains unanswered is the foreign minister�s obsession with Husain.

Inaugurating the function, Singh expressed his �delight� at the �great opportunity� of organising the special screening. �It�s not about any one person,� the minister reminded, �but about femininity�.

Singh spoke about his friendship with Husain and how the painter walked into his South Block office and requested him to organise the special screening.

The foreign minister�s engagement with Husain will extend to other events. Tomorrow he will be hosting a cocktail for 400 invitees at the Maurya Sheraton.

The fact that Singh is launching a film made by Husain, who was persecuted by the Shiv Sainiks, also bolsters the foreign minister�s secular credentials.

But as far as the film is concerned, a viewer commented: �It is as confusing as India�s foreign policy. You can hardly tell whether it is good or bad.�




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Sunny day. Clear night. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14�C.

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