BJP ties Mamata to joint manifesto
Atal peace nudge to Musharraf
Political battle on cricket pitch
Hindujas keep court date
India dispels Agni fears
Railway budget
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
Wary of increasing contact between the Congress and Mamata Banerjee, a jittery BJP today agreed to accept the Trinamul Congress chief as the �undisputed� leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in West Bengal.

The party has also decided to fight the Assembly elections under a joint �secular� manifesto. Mamata welcomed the decision, making it clear she had no desire to part company with the BJP.

The two parties will run a joint campaign. The BJP was keen to sew up a firm alliance with Mamata to pre-empt any Congress-Trinamul tie-up, sources said.

After meeting the Trinamul chief, BJP state president Ashim Ghosh said �the question of Mamata Banerjee going with the Congress does not arise�.

The decision on a common agenda was taken at a Trinamul-BJP meeting organised by L.K. Advani at Mamata�s residence today. To avoid the bickerings witnessed during the Lok Sabha polls, Advani and Mamata will have the final say in seat-sharing disputes. Talks on division of seats start in the first week of February.

The BJP leaders, including Ashim Ghosh, vice-president Muzzafar Khan and general secretary Pratap Banerjee, later held a press conference at Mamata�s residence. The Trinamul election symbol was displayed prominently for the television cameras. Mamata skipped the press briefing as she is still nursing her leg injuries. Party general secretary Mukul Rai was, however, present.

The BJP leaders said they had a long meeting with Mamata and were �very glad� that a large number of issues were sorted out. �Mamata Banerjee is our undisputed leader, under whose leadership we will fight the CPM,� Ghosh said.

Talking to a group of journalists later, Mamata said the joint manifesto was �a good suggestion� and would send �the message in a better way�. �It will convey that we stand by some principles and ideology and are firm believers in secularism,� she added. On the once-sour ties with the state saffron leadership, Mamata said: �It is okay now. It�s good.�

�Our one-point programme now is to oust the Marxist-led regime for the greater interest of West Bengal,� Mamata and Ashim Ghosh said separately.

Asked if she would welcome the Congress into the alliance, the Trinamul chief said she did not want to comment on other parties. �But it is the people�s desire (that all unite and fight the Left Front)�.

Asserting that the Trinamul was the �original� Congress in Bengal, Mamata said the Congress has a problem with the BJP. �They have to decide. It is their prerogative. They have their national policy and ideology, but our appeal (to join the anti-Left alliance) is open to all,� she added.

Asked if she was satisfied with Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s reaction to her demand for Central rule, Mamata said: �The Prime Minister is serious. He expressed real concern. It is up to you people to interpret.�


New Delhi & Calcutta, Jan. 18: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today virtually asked Pervez Musharraf to demonstrate that he is in command by �condemning� and reining in militants operating from there before the two sides could resume dialogue.

�I urge the leadership of Pakistan to demonstrate its sincerity and commitment to the dialogue process by condemning terrorist violence by Pakistan-based militant groups and effectively checking their anti-India activities,� Vajpayee said at Udupi, near Mangalore, this evening.

�The onus of creating a positive atmosphere for bilateral talks rests clearly with Pakistan,� he said, noting that the recent spurt in violence in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere unleashed by Pakistan-based militant organisations �has vitiated the atmosphere for resumption of talks�.

Vajpayee�s remarks came after the twin blasts in south Srinagar today that killed six security personnel in the latest in a series of violent incidents in the Valley.

Vajpayee hinted that Pakistan-backed militants were working against the interest of resumption of dialogue between the two sides and, therefore, it was imperative for Musharraf to rein them in and establish his command.

He said the string of violent incidents showed that militants opposed to the peace process �are alarmed at the prospects of fruitful dialogue between India and Pakistan�.

This is a clear indication that Delhi is still willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the military ruler and his proclaimed intention of resuming talks.

But unless Musharraf is in full command, Vajpayee does not want to be caught in a situation where he makes an effort to resolve disputes with Islamabad, but still faces another Kargil-like intrusion.

�We have strongly demonstrated our sincerity to create a conducive atmosphere for talks through specific confidence-building measures such as unilateral cessation of combat operations in Jammu and Kashmir,� Vajpayee said. However, he pointed out that the continuation of militant activities in and outside the state showed that the objective behind these unilateral initiatives was not being fulfilled.

�What is particularly surprising and distressing is the fact that the leadership of Pakistan continues to do nothing to restrain these terrorist organisations, which operate from Pakistani soil, even as it professes its eagerness to resume talks with India.�

He made it clear that Delhi is not willing to buy Islamabad�s argument that violence will stop once the dialogue resumes. �It is strange, to say the least. It convinces neither India nor the international community.�

�There cannot be meaningful talks for resolving outstanding issues and normalising bilateral relations when the guns of terrorist outfits continue to do their own talking,� he added.


Mumbai, Jan. 18: 
It�s not cricket.

With former chief minister Sharad Pawar and former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar locked in a do-or-die battle, the Mumbai Cricket Association election scheduled for tomorrow has degenerated into a political slanging match.

Stakes are high for the contenders for the top post of the country�s most prestigious cricket association.

Pawar, a political heavyweight, is head of the Nationalist Congress Party in power in Maharashtra, while Wadekar is being backed by none other than Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who has a score to settle with Pawar for the government�s decision to arrest him last year.

Wadekar is now vice-president of the association headed by Manohar Joshi, Union heavy industry minister and a senior Sena leader. Pawar�s decision to jump into the fray is viewed by analysts as an attempt to wrest the club from Sena control.

Pawar and Joshi have already been enagaged in another battle being waged by Garware Club and the Mumbai Cricket Association for the last 10 years over a property dispute. Pawar is the president of Garware Club. The dispute has cost both associations more than Rs 1 crore in court cases.

Things turned ugly yesterday when Wadekar�s driver was assaulted by some unidentified people. Bashir Sheikh was on his way to pick up the former Indian team manager from his Worli home when the attackers stopped his car and rained blows on him.

Although police blamed the attack on a feud which, they said, the driver had with a neighbour, Wadekar accused the Pawar camp of masterminding the assault to cow him down and lodged a police complaint. �This has never happened before. Why should it happen now?� Wadekar asked. He said he was not provided security despite minister of state for home Kripashankar Singh�s assertion after the incident that two armed policemen would guard him round-the-clock till the election was over.

�I personally spoke to the police station inspector for my security, but still nothing happened,� Wadekar said.

A Pawar aide denied the allegation and accused the former cricketer of trying to whip up sympathy for his candidacy. �He is so deperate, he is saying all kinds of things (against Pawar).�

The two traded charges and called each other names in interviews to local newspapers in the run-up to the election.

Wadekar said Pawar should not contest the poll when �he does not even watch sport�. In contrast, he claimed, Thackeray and Joshi were avid sportslovers who would come �with tiffin boxes� to the Dadar grounds to watch him and other local youngsters play cricket in his college days.

�Pawar is the president of Maharashtra Olympic Association, whose general meeting was held recently after a gap of seven years because he did not have time,� the former cricket captain said.

�Politicians should leave cricket clubs to cricketers because it is we who understand the problems a cricketer faces,� Wadekar said.

The Pawar camp said Wadekar was practising double standards because his main backer, Joshi, was a politician heading the cricket association.

Pawar said he was contesting to solve the Garware dispute with the association �once and for all� and save the huge money being spent on court cases. �This money should be used for the betterment of cricket.�

Pawar said politicians could run a sports organisation in an effective way using their position in society. He said that in any case, almost all the clubs or associations in the country were now headed either by industrialists or politicians.

�What�s wrong if I contest this election?� he asked.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
In a step shrouded in mystery, the Hinduja brothers arrived in India today, a day before they are due to appear before the Bofors trial court, despite �not having received the summons� issued by the special judge.

The Hindujas� defence counsel, Ujjawal Rana, said all the three accused in the kickbacks case, will appear in the special court of additional district and sessions judge, Ajit Bharihoke, tomorrow.

Chairman of the Hinduja group, Shrichand P. Hinduja, arrived in Delhi from London while his brothers, London-based Gopichand and Geneva-based Harichand, landed in Mumbai.

�Now that they (Hindujas) have arrived, they will appear before the court tomorrow. They firmly believe that the allegations made against them in the case were false and motivated,� Rana said.

The lawyer asserted that his clients were not the ones to shy away from any judicial process as they believed that the law would take its own course. �They will come like any ordinary accused or litigants and wait for their turn in the courtroom before the judge,� Rana said.

The special court had issued summons to the Hinduja brothers, asking them to appear before it on January 19, after taking cognizance of the CBI chargesheet, which alleged that they had received 81 million Swedish Kroners from the now-defunct AB Bofors which bagged the howitzer gun contract in 1986.

On January 10, the decks were cleared for the brothers� appearance when the CBI said it had asked the immigration authorities not to detain or arrest them on their arrival in India.

�After all, nobody wants to be arrested and for that matter every human being fears the term �jail�. And they are, after all, human beings,� a lawyer said.

Alleging that the government was not taking action against the Hindujas because of the Prime Minister�s proximity to them, the Opposition had challenged Atal Bihari Vajpayee to chargesheet the three brothers. Political circles argued that the arrival of the business tycoons will blunt the Opposition attack.


New Delhi, Jan. 18: 
India today tried to allay fears of an arms race in South Asia by reaffirming its commitment to maximum possible restraint and to act as a responsible nuclear power.

Delhi�s statement followed apprehensions expressed by countries like Japan and Australia following the Agni II test yesterday.

Officials here said if Pakistan was keen on restraint � as it said yesterday � it should seriously try to revive and implement the confidence-building measures agreed in the Lahore Declaration.

An official also pointed out that India�s security concerns were not limited to Pakistan and went far beyond.


Calcutta, Jan 18: 
Mamata Banerjee met officials of the railway ministry on Wednesday at her residence to discuss railway budget proposals.

Government sources said she has told the Prime Minister she should not be pressured to increase fares. The railway minister will try to raise additional resources through other means.




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