PMO hands in show of innocence
No justice for Vajpayee
BJP runs from Calcutta to capital
Mamata, Congress set talks table
Naidu pledges support, not trust
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 19: 
The Prime Minister’s two-most influential men, Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh, today refused to quit their posts despite mounting pressure on them to do so following the Tehelka revelations.

The two men, who wield enormous clout in the Prime Minister’s Office, confronted the media and said they were here to stay because they still “enjoyed” Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s confidence.

Mishra, principal secretary to Vajpayee and national security adviser, and Singh, officer on special duty in the PMO, have been sucked into a storm following the sting operation. The Opposition as well as the BJP’s allies have demanded their removal for their alleged involvement in defence deals. The Sangh parivar, too, had dubbed the PMO a super power-centre, but later toned down its criticism.

The shift in the RSS’ stand has given the PMO officials a shot in the arm. Vajpayee’s team members are trying to send the message that they are a cohesive group and are far from “incompetent” or vulnerable to corruption.

Mishra explained that they had to call a news meet because Parliament had been crippled and the government had not been able to clarify the PMO’s stand.

Mishra, who spoke first at the unprecedented news conference, denied any wrongdoing and said allegations that he fixed defence deals and helped fund the BJP were “baseless”.

He said he has been the Prime Minister’s principal secretary for three years and the national security adviser for over two years, but Vajpayee had never discussed any defence deal with him.

In a one-page statement, Mishra said: “Bangaru Laxman has never spoken to me about any defence deals or about funding his political party with my help or that of the PMO. I do not know Mr R.K. Gupta (the arms sales middleman who features in the Tehelka tapes) or his son and have not had any contact with them.”

Like Vajpayee and George Fernandes before him, Mishra took potshots at the press. The statement said: “Media ethics demand that before allegations against a person are made public, he or she is given a chance to rebut them. It is regrettable that in the present case, ethical values were not observed.”

Asked if he would follow the path taken by Fernandes and resign, pat came the reply: “I shall go if it helps strengthen the Prime Minister’s hands.” He asserted that he had not been asked to quit nor had he offered to do so.

Mishra defended the Prime Minister’s son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya. “Bhattacharya does not work in the PMO. I have never seen him in the PMO in the last three years that I have worked there,” the principal secretary said.

“My family lives with me in my house. Is that extra-constitutional?” he added.

On the criticism from the Sangh parivar, Mishra was quick to point out that two different statements had been attributed to RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan on the “inefficiency” in the PMO. He did not know which one was being referred to and so would not like to comment.

Mishra reminded reporters that in his resignation letter, Laxman had said he had never spoken to the Prime Minister or with anyone else in the PMO about defence deals.

Mishra agreed that the defence establishment had been penetrated by middlemen. But he denied that he was a superpower in the PMO.

Both Mishra and Singh sought to send the signal that the PMO was not a super-office that dabbled in everything.

The officials took pains to assert that the PMO did not interfere in the running of ministries and involved itself only in case of specific requests.

They pointed out that a system of checks and balances was in place which did not allow the PMO to take a dictatorial posture.


New Delhi, March 19: 
In a setback to the Vajpayee government, Chief Justice A.S. Anand today refused to spare a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to head a commission of inquiry into the Tehelka findings.

Anand has “turned down” a personal request from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that a sitting judge of the apex court be nominated to investigate the transactions in the tapes, legal sources said.

A letter from Vajpayee was delivered to the chief justice on Saturday, a day after the Cabinet decided to set up a one-man commission of inquiry, “preferably headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge”. In the letter, Vajpayee is understood to have requested Anand to spare a sitting judge “in view of the seriousness” of the matter, the sources added.

Immediately after receiving the letter, the chief justice “consulted” his colleagues and the “unanimous view” was that no sitting judge should be spared for “such inquiries”, the sources said.

The decision is a blow to the government as the Prime Minister was hoping to restore his credibility by getting the investigation conducted by a sitting judge. The administration believes that a probe by a retired judge or any other person will not have the same impact as that by a sitting judge.

In his reply today to Vajpayee, Anand wrote that “in principle”, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court should not be nominated for such investigations.

Later, a government release said the chief justice agreed to nominate a retired judge of the apex court.

Legal sources feel that the apex court did not want to involve itself with an inquiry on how defence deals can be struck by bribing the high and mighty. Moreover, they pointed out, reports submitted by several such commissions in the past have been put in the cold-storage and this could also be one of the reasons why the court preferred to stay away from an inquiry.

Under the Commissions of Inquiries Act, any panel constituted does not have powers similar to that of a court of law and the majority of such reports have been put on the backburner.

The chief justice’s letter was delivered to the law ministry today. Sources said the ministry, headed by Arun Jaitley, itself can go ahead with the job of finding a retired judge as the chief justice’s permission is not needed in such a case.

Supreme Court corridors were agog with reports of the purported telephone conversation between Vajpayee and Anand, who was “actually guided by the collective wisdom of his fellow judges”, lawyers said.


New Delhi, March 19: 
The BJP has brought forward its national executive to March 24-25 and shifted the venue from Calcutta to Delhi in the wake of the Tehelka expose.

The fallout of the revelations, the Trinamul Congress’ withdrawal from the Vajpayee-led coalition and the party’s ambivalence on an alliance with the BJP for the West Bengal Assembly elections have forced the BJP to shift the venue of the Calcutta meeting.

The party had originally planned to kickstart its campaign for the Assembly elections in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry with a “grand” rally in Calcutta. The meeting was to be addressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee.

But with the Opposition putting the BJP on the defensive with its no-holds-barred campaign on the Tehelka tapes and the NDA itself showing signs of fraying at the edges, the leaders thought it politically expedient to remain in the capital and try to counter the charges of corruption and wheeling-dealing.

Therefore, it was decided that the NDA would hold a rally on Delhi’s Ram Leela Maidan on March 25. Vajpayee and former defence minister George Fernandes, who is projecting himself as an individual more sinned against than sinning after his resignation, will be among the speakers.

BJP sources conceded that the NDA rally was meant to be a response to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s scathing attack on Vajpayee in her Bangalore speech. Sonia had opened the Congress’ 81st plenary on Saturday with a sharp attack on the Prime Minister, accusing his regime of “treason and betrayal”. “The people of India will decide whether they want Atal Bihari Vajpayee or a videshi ladki ( foreign woman) by the name of Sonia Gandhi,” said a senior BJP office-bearer.

Fernandes will be the “star” speaker at next Sunday’s rally. But disgraced former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman is not expected to be present though he had indicated he wanted to go public with his point of view on the Tehelka revelations.

The BJP’s leaders and strategists have been putting their heads together to evolve ways to contain the damage to the party’s image in the aftermath of Tehelka.

While the Calcutta session’s agenda was to discuss and finetune the strategy for the Assembly polls, Armsgate has redefined the BJP’s priorities. The immediate task is not so much to deliberate on election strategies as to try and contain the adverse impact of the Tehelka tapes.

The BJP today talked tough with the Trinamul, saying it would go alone in the Bengal polls unless Mamata made her party’s stand on the National Democratic Alliance clear.


Calcutta, March 19: 
Decks have been cleared for seat adjustment talks between the Trinamul Congress and the Congress with the high command directing the state unit to adopt an anti-CPM stand.

State Congress leaders who returned from the plenum in Bangalore expressed willingness to discuss seat-sharing with Trinamul. Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of the Trinamul policy-making body, welcomed the Congress gesture, saying “we intend to initiate a dialogue within a day or two”.

Bengal Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee is expected to hold discussions with Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday. Mukherjee, who held a round of talks with Mamata earlier this month, will return to the city from Delhi tomorrow. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has ridden roughshod over state leaders, not too happy about the prospect of allying with Mamata, telling them to work out a seat-sharing deal.

At the instance of Sonia, a senior Congress leader is expected to speak to Mamata before formal talks begin.

Former PCC chief Somen Mitra and vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya said this afternoon that seat adjustments with the Trinamul should not pose any problem as the Congress has agreed to accept Mamata as leader of the anti-CPM movement in Bengal and project her as the chief ministerial candidate. “We are hopeful about having a fruitful discussion with Trinamul leaders as soon as possible,” Mitra said.

But he underscored the party’s political compulsion at the national level to fight the BJP. “Mamata should not object to our party putting up nominees in 39 seats which she allotted to the BJP. There can be seat adjustments between us and the Trinamul in rest of the seats to ensure one-to-one contests against the Left Front,” a Congress leader said.

The state Congress envisages a scenario in which it will be free to field nominees against the BJP and the Left Front in 39 seats and contest in 55 other seats, leaving the remaining 200 for Trinamul.

Mamata had released a list of 227 party nominees earlier this month, keeping aside 39 seats for the BJP, six for the Kamtapur People’s Party and the rest for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and some pro-mahajot Congress legislators.

Since the KPP has pulled out of the alliance with Trinamul, Mamata will have some leeway in offering seats to the Congress if a deal comes through.

Pankaj Banerjee, however, insisted on having “both the BJP and Congress as co-travellers”. “We have been asking the Congress to come and join hands with us. We expect some positive developments in the wake of the Bangalore AICC session which will help both the parties reach an understanding,” he said.

State BJP vice-president Muzaffar Khan said the central leadership has endorsed the party’s demand for “safe seats” from the Trinamul. A BJP delegation today briefed the Prime Minister in Delhi on the issue. Khan said if Trinamul allowed the Congress to contest in the 39 seats allotted to the BJP, “we will also field nominees against Congress candidates in other constituencies.”

Trinamul insiders said Mamata “wants the state BJP to begin the process of confrontation. That will make it easier for her to break ties with the state BJP”.


New Delhi, March 19: 
Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu has put the government in a spot by refusing to support any confidence motion it moves in the Lok Sabha to counter the Opposition’s demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation.

Naidu, who does not want to be seen defending the government sullied by the Tehelka expose, told the Prime Minister it would be difficult for his party to vote for the Centre “at this juncture”.

Sources said Naidu assured Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the Desam’s continued support but said he should avoid a confidence motion to spare the ally from embarrassment. The Desam is, however, ready to vote for the government if the Opposition brings a no-confidence motion.

Since the Opposition is unlikely to oblige the government, which has a majority in the Lok Sabha, with a no-trust vote, the Prime Minister’s managers have not ruled out a confidence motion. Efforts are on to turn Naidu around and party sources said he could relent later.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, however, ruled out a trust vote. “There is no impasse,” he said today.

The Prime Minister, who was planning a confidence motion to blunt the Opposition attack, sought Naidu’s support last Thursday. But the Desam leader was non-committal, sources said. Vajpayee then discussed the proposal with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders on Friday.

Naidu also sought the views of his MPs in Delhi through a teleconference. Most members said public perception was against the government and the Desam should not be seen to be bailing it out.

According to unconfirmed reports, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet spoke to Naidu immediately after the Tehelka revelations. But the Desam chief is playing his cards close to the chest. An election is the last thing Naidu wants now and he will not do anything in a hurry.

Rashtriya Janata Dal sources said Laloo Prasad Yadav also spoke with Naidu, but Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu denied this. Yerran Naidu said “a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha is not necessary”.

“If the Opposition is very particular, there are several occasions when it can test the government strength in the budget session during voting on money bills,” he added.

The Desam chief made it clear that there was no question of his party withdrawing support to the government. “We have never spoken about withdrawing support,” he told reporters. “There is no possibility of a mid-term poll. Government enjoys full majority in the Lok Sabha,” he added.




Maximum: 37°C (+3)
Minimum: 22.9°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 22%


Mainly clear sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 37°C.
Sunrise: 5.45 am
Sunset: 5.43 pm

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