Tottering Vajpayee loses twin pillars of support
Cong back on Mamata radar
Third miracle in three centuries
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 15: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was grappling with a snowballing crisis tonight after he lost two of his most high-profile Cabinet colleagues, Mamata Banerjee and George Fernandes, in quick succession with more in the queue.

On a day one tremor after the other convulsed the political landscape, Mamata�s Trinamul Congress also withdrew support to the ruling coalition.

Defence minister Fernandes quit after his department came under a cloud following the Tehelka expose; railway�s Mamata pulled out to protest Fernandes� initial refusal to step down. Mamata�s party colleague in the government, junior foreign minister Ajit Panja, has also quit. Their resignations have been accepted.

Soon after, Fernandes� Samata Party associates in the government, agriculture minister Nitish Kumar and two ministers of state � Sreenivas Prasad and Digvijay Singh � put in their papers. However, their resignations have not been accepted.

The Tehelka sting operation claimed yet another casualty as Samata Party president and Fernandes� confidante, Jaya Jaitly, relinquished office.

After a meeting late tonight, the Samata Party agreed to support the government but from outside.

The BJP sought to put up a brave front, saying Fernandes� exit will �maintain the unity� of NDA and attributed Mamata�s pullout to �compulsions� of Assembly elections in West Bengal.

Vajpayee, who was forced to let go of Fernandes under pressure from both friends and foes, has lost his key trouble-shooter who could be relied upon to turn intransigent allies around, function as an effective convener and lend his government its much-needed secular credentials.

Mamata�s exit is also a loss for the Prime Minister because, despite her tantrums, she held Vajpayee in high esteem and, even today, described him as the �leader of the nation�.

After a live televised address to the nation, Fernandes handed his resignation to the Prime Minister and urged Vajpayee to order an inquiry into the allegations brought to the fore by the Tehelka tapes.

Though Fernandes� resignation was one of Mamata�s conditions for staying on with the NDA, she said there was no question of returning to the government. �We have made it categorical that we are not going to rethink our withdrawal of support even if he resigns,� Mamata said. �We told the Prime Minister�s aide that we had to take this decision with a heavy heart. It is too late now.�

In the morning, Vajpayee had sent his emissary Sudheendra Kulkarni to Mamata with the message that he was ready to accept any of her demands but the one for Fernandes� removal.

The furore over the scandal reached fever pitch as rival MPs almost came to blows outside Parliament. Although the government hoped to buy peace with the Opposition after Fernandes� resignation, the Congress, at a high-level meeting at 10 Janpath, decided to continue with the protests in Parliament until Vajpayee quits.

Vajpayee is also under pressure from the BJP and the RSS to get rid of his principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, whose name figures in the tapes.

The government is still safe in numerical terms � the withdrawal of the Trinamul brings down its majority from 29 to 20. But BJP sources conceded that the departure of the four PMK MPs in February and now Trinamul has made the government �far more susceptible� to the pulls and pressures of allies like the Telugu Desam.

Telugu Desam�s Chandrababu Naidu had also demanded the resignation of Fernandes late last night. Other allies have made it clear that they would not compromise on corruption. Janata Dal (United) leader D.P. Yadav demanded �transparency� in all business deals and asked the Prime Minister to accept Fernandes� resignation.

DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, who was silent till now, expressed his anxiety at the turn of events and said that a �seemingly small event� like Mamata�s resignation was a �cause for concern�.

The dramatic developments started unfolding with Trinamul passing a unanimous resolution announcing its decision to quit the NDA after Vajpayee said he would not seek Fernandes� resignation. Soon after, Vajpayee and L.K. Advani went into a huddle at the Prime Minister�s residence.


New Delhi & Calcutta, March 15: 
Mamata Banerjee�s resignation from the National Democratic Alliance has opened up the possibility of her party reaching an alliance with the Congress for the Bengal elections.

Sources close to Mamata, however, said: �She has given her word to the BJP and she is unlikely to go back on that.� This suggests an incredulous scenario where she snaps her ties with the BJP at the Centre because of the tarred reputation of the government, but continues with the alliance in Bengal.

The Congress high command is elated at the prospect of joining hands with its truant daughter � Sonia Gandhi always wanted Mamata back in the party. Short of that, she was anxious to have at least a poll understanding.

Kamal Nath, AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal, called up Mamata twice today to congratulate her on her �brave� decision. Sonia Gandhi plans to take charge of the negotiations after Kamal Nath does the groundwork.

Mamata has, however, kept the Congress guessing, partly because she will be in a stronger position when the bargaining starts for seats if she dangles the threat of the alliance with the BJP.

The other reason she is not rushing into withdrawing from the seat adjustment in Bengal is her reluctance to cause further hurt to Vajpayee. The Trinamul resolution sent to the Prime Minister today curiously said that Mamata and Ajit Panja were resigning to strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister. She told the media as much.

This triggered speculation that after George Fernandes� resignation she might return to the ministry. At the least, she was keeping the door open to the BJP.

She will not be in much of a hurry to break off with the BJP in Bengal and forge a new alliance with the Congress. Ajit Panja said: �We are all going back to Calcutta tomorrow. We shall decide our future course of action only then.�

Mamata will be the happiest if she is spared the unsavoury task of snapping the electoral understanding. �If the BJP decides to walk out of the alliance, we have nothing to do,� Trinamul sources said.

There were indications that, before anything else, the Trinamul leader may prepare a list of candidates for the 39 seats she has given to the BJP to provide for a situation where she contests without an alliance.

Even though Mamata was noncommittal about the fate of the seat adjustment with the BJP, her close confidant and chairman of Trinamul�s policy-making body, Pankaj Banerjee, said in Calcutta that the arrangement would have to be reviewed. �Now that we are no longer a part of the NDA, we will have to take a fresh look at the situation,� Banerjee said.

A Mamata associate said that for talks of an alliance to start, the Congress �will have to dump the Left�. The Congress should be prepared to do this. Trinamul will also insist that Congress leaders who have crossed over to its side will have to be allowed to maintain their separate identity. This is a condition the Congress will find hard to swallow, but will eventually give in.


Calcutta, March 15: 
Andrew Stoddart in the 19th century; Mike Brearley in the 20th and, now, Sourav Ganguly in the 21st century.

No matter what the other feathers in Sourav�s captaincy-cap, today�s 171-run win in the second Test won�t be dislodged from the top spot.

Only thrice (in 1535 Tests), after all, has a team risen like the proverbial Phoenix to erase the ignominy of following-on with a spectacular victory.

Both previous occasions, too, found Australia being upset. And, coincidentally, the winner both times was England. However, the margin of India�s first innings arrears (274) remains highest.

So, to India goes the credit for the most stunning comeback in almost 125 years of Test cricket. Appropriately at the Eden, which hosted an extraordinary Test where sterling individual performances abounded.

Man of the Match V.V.S. Laxman�s record-rewriting 281. Harbhajan Singh�s match haul of 13 for 196. Rahul Dravid�s character-packed 180. A fifty in each innings by Matthew Hayden... Not to forget Sachin Tendulkar�s first spell this afternoon which fetched three wickets.

Sachin is a happening-cricketer and, if he has had a poor match with the bat, looks to contribute by picking wickets. If even that doesn�t materialise, Sachin aims to do his bit as a fielder.

Today, it�s the bowler in Sachin who made the contribution. And, for the benefit of mischief-makers, the vibes between the captain and Sachin are excellent.

In fact, it�s Sachin who uncorked champagne in the dressing room.

The three-Test series is now tied 1-1 and the decider, in Chennai from Sunday, a potential humdinger. Only, much of the pressure will be on Australia as, traditionally, India has done well at the Chepauk.

[The Indians, by the way, have disturbed a successful combination, dropping three players. A welcome pointer that sentiment can�t overrule the demands of the day.]

�My first reaction? It�s a great moment for this team. Just vindicates my stand that everybody should have faith in us. I don�t see this as anybody�s individual achievement,� Sourav told The Telegraph, as he reached the end of an emotion-charged lap of honour.

One down in under three days (in Mumbai), the heat was on Sourav as he took to his first Test as captain on home turf. It didn�t help he was himself a failure in the first innings and India conceded what then appeared a crushing lead.

At 4.12 this afternoon, amid rejoicing unique to Calcuttans, Sourav�s India crushed Australia by 171 runs. Not just the margin, but the event itself merits an entry in the next edition of Ripley�s Believe It Or Not.

Having had it easy for 16 Tests in a row, the Australians just weren�t able to handle the pressures of a fifth-day turner, a frenzied crowd and umbrella fields. Of course, a couple of questionable decisions didn�t make it any easy.

But Steve Waugh, who failed to lead from the front this one time, insisted his team would recover quicker than most expected.

�We didn�t bat well enough in the last session (losing seven wickets), but we�re pretty upbeat and are looking forward to Chennai,� Steve said.

Though Sourav set a 384 -run target, which could have been chased in a minimum of 75 overs, Steve acknowledged Australia stopped fancying victory once India�s overall lead crossed 300.

In the event, the Australian second innings folded in 68.3 overs, well before stumps were to be called one final time.

Despite the 10-wicket win in Mumbai, Steve consistently maintained that Test had taken a lot out of his team. �The best of our 16 successes,� was one way of conveying the respect Australia had for India.

After what unfolded here, it wasn�t misplaced.

Incidentally, not only did the Indian team earn full marks but, for the one water pouch hurled at Sachin (on Day-III), full marks to the consistently huge turnout too.

While the team was on its lap of honour, CAB president Jagmohan Dalmiya and the police commissioner, Dinesh Vajpai, had good reasons to congratulate each other.

Both, it may be recalled, were forced on the backfoot by the crowd�s appalling behaviour in the last Test, versus Pakistan, in February 1999.

The Eden�s next game will be a one-dayer, against England, next season.




Maximum: 36�C (+2)
Minimum: 23.2�C (+2)



Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 32%


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35�C
Sunrise: 5.49 am
Sunset: 5.41 pm

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