Atal�s other knee heads for scalpel
Sangh labour lash on PM
Heavyweights for industry, health
Jaya case crusaders jump ship
3 priests shot dead in Manipur
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 16: 
The same doctor will perform the same operation on the same patient in the same hospital. The only difference: this time, it will be the right knee.

US-based surgeon Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat is flying down in the first week of June to perform the second knee replacement surgery on the Prime Minister at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai.

Last October, when he had operated on the left knee, Dr Ranawat had hinted that he might have to come down and see his VIP patient again in 2001.

The last time Vajpayee was hospitalised, political circles were humming with speculation on the condition of the Prime Minister�s health though he had been suffering from osteo-arthritis for quite some time and it is not a debilitating disease.

The second operation comes when the BJP and its allies have taken a knocking in the Assembly polls even before they could recover from the Tehelka revelations.

However, Vajpayee sought to delink the outcome of the just-concluded Assembly elections from the fate of his government by ruling out a mid-term poll.

Agencies quoted Vajpayee as telling reporters on his way back from Malaysia that �the Lok Sabha polls will be held on time�.

However, he admitted that the results were a �warning� to the NDA and that �it was high time the constituents girded up their loins for the polls�.

Asked if this meant a mid-term poll was around the corner, the Prime Minister said: �I did not say that. Lok Sabha elections will be held on time.�

Vajpayee was quoted as describing the results as �mixed�. �It is neither victory nor defeat. This is the situation that has emerged,� he said in what is being seen as an effort to console himself after two allies � the DMK and AGP � were voted out decisively and the BJP itself failed to register its presence both in Bengal and Kerala despite a no-holds-barred campaign led by the Prime Minister himself.

The BJP had to suffer the added humiliation of losing the Tiruchy Lok Sabha seat to the ADMK and coming fourth in the Shahjahanpur constituency from where the Samajwadi Party won.

To a question if this was an indication of tough times ahead for the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, Vajpayee said: �We are prepared for the fight.�

In a wide-ranging exchange on the political scenario, Vajpayee said the question of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee returning to the NDA was �not under consideration�. Former defence minister George Fernandes had recently said in Patna that if Mamata was willing, the NDA could consider her return.

In Tamil Nadu, he seemed to attribute the DMK�s wipe-out to the exit of the PMK and the MDMK from the broad-based alliance.

Asked if the BJP should go it alone because of its allies� poor performance, Vajpayee�s reply was: �No�. �Even after the alliance, one has to stand on one�s own feet. Wherever necessary, alliances are forged.�

But senior BJP office-bearers who are RSS whole-timers have sat down to a chintan baithak (introspective session) at Jhinjhouli on the Delhi-Haryana border to discuss whether their party should enter into alliances.

Ministry expansion

In what appears to be an exercise to strengthen his own hands after his position was undermined post-Tehelka, Vajpayee announced today that he would expand his council of ministers before the monsoon session of Parliament. �There are vacancies which have to be filled up,� he told reporters at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Asked if the expansion would take place before his right knee replacement surgery, Vajpayee said: �Maybe.�

Cabinet berths fell vacant after George Fernandes resigned as defence minister following Tehelka and Mamata Banerjee quit as railway minister. Besides, the PMK walked out of the NDA.

BJP sources said Vajpayee has given himself time till June as he expects the present �political churning� to crystallise into �positive developments� by then.

The party hopes that Trinamul and RJD would split and Ajit Singh�s Rashtriya Lok Dal would also become part of the ruling coalition.


New Delhi, May 16: 
The labour arm of the RSS, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, today described the Vajpayee government as �anti-national� and �anti-labour�, but stopped short of demanding its resignation.

�It is for the Opposition to demand this government�s resignation, but even if it doesn�t, the government is bound to fall under the weight of its own contradictions,� said BMS national general secretary Hasubhai Dave.

Unveiling the BMS� agitation agenda against defence reforms, Dave alleged that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was being kept in the dark about crucial disinvestment and economic decisions.

Referring to a meeting between Vajpayee and leading trade unions on May 12, Dave said Vajpayee was unaware that Hindustan Lever, which had bought the state-owned Modern Foods, had �referred� the matter to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR), which deals with sick companies.

�When we asked him to clarify, he was not in a position to say anything. The labour minister (Satyanarayan Jatiya) replied on his behalf,� he said.

Asked if the BMS considered Vajpayee unfit to rule, Dave paused and said: �We can�t say if he is unfit or not, but he should at least keep himself informed of crucial policy matters. After all, Modern Foods is a Delhi-based company and if the Prime Minister does not know what is happening right under his nose, it is indeed unfortunate.�

However, industry analysts said Hindustan Lever had only �reported�, not �referred� as claimed by Dave, the financial status of Modern Foods to the BIFR as required under the rules. When half the net worth of a company erodes, the board has to be informed. The analysts said the plunge was a direct fallout of the losses Modern Foods suffered during state control.

Dave said the BMS had told Vajpayee how the various economic ministries were �encroaching� on the labour ministry�s jurisdiction. The context was Jatiya�s unhappiness with finance minister Yashwant Sinha�s unilateral announcement of a slew of labour reforms.

Dave confirmed that National Labour Commission chairman Ravindra Verma had offered to quit to protest Sinha�s move, but said he was unaware whether Jatiya, too, had wanted to resign.

Dave said defence production units would go on an indefinite strike from July 3 to protest the move to let in the private sector and foreign investors. �Such an important decision seems to have been taken at the instance of a few bureaucrats who have vested interests,� he said.

More important, from the Sangh�s viewpoint, he said the move would �ultimately endanger sovereignty, integrity and security of the country�.

Sinha stays firm

However, finance minister Sinha stood his ground. Addressing overseas investors in Hong Kong, Sinha vowed to press ahead with the reforms despite calls from RSS hardliners for his scalp.

Asked if opposition from the Sangh would impair the reforms process, he was quoted as saying: �No it will not. The Prime Minister has come out very openly and forthrightly in favour of reforms. He is the leader of the government.�

Brushing aside the criticisms, Sinha said: �Whether they come from the RSS or if they come from any other quarter, it is our duty to talk to them (the critics) and to carry conviction with them to the extent that is possible, which is what we have tried to do.�


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 16: 
A combination of Sen and Sen could be Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s formula for Bengal�s industrial revival.

The CPM�s highest decision-making body at the state level will meet tomorrow to put its seal of approval on the party�s list of ministers, but indications are that Nirupam Sen will be allotted the high-priority portfolio of industry and commerce.

Bhattacharjee has already listed industry, health and education as areas on which his government will focus attention.

In Delhi to attend the party�s politburo meeting, Bhattacharjee said he would seek the help of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to put Bengal on a new economic track. �I have earlier consulted Prof. Sen and will consult him more in the coming days.�

Party ideologue Nirupam Sen, who won from Burdwan (south), will be the second man in terms of importance to Bhattacharjee, though he is joining the government for the first time.

Suryakanta Mishra, the leader from Midnapore, is expected to get health, his seniority � third in the government pecking order � very much in tune with the significance the chief minister attaches to the portfolio.

At its meeting today in Delhi, the CPM politburo left decisions on ministry-making to the �able hands� of the state leadership. After the state secretariat gathers tomorrow to finalise the party�s nominees, the Left Front committee will meet to draw up the full list where the candidates of the allies will come in.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta said tonight Sen was going to get a key portfolio.

In education, where too Bhattacharjee intends to introduce a new agenda, status quo is expected to continue despite reservations in a section of the party about persisting with higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty. State party secretary Anil Biswas controls education from his seat in the headquarters at Alimuddin Street through men of his choice in government and appears to be getting his way in the coming ministry, too.

Unless the balance changes dramatically against Chakraborty at the secretariat meeting, Bhattacharjee may be seen as a loser in his attempt to free government decision-making in education from the clutches of the party.

In much the same way, the likely appointment of Sen as industry ministry will be viewed as another victory for the party in that he is a strong organisation man, having been Burdwan district secretary with a long history of working as a backroom boy.

At the same time, though, the heavyweight choice would send a strong signal that the government is serious about its industrialisation effort. Even though Sen�s views are conventional, they would not weigh down Bhattacharjee�s thrust because of the consensus in the party over putting industrialisation on top of the new government�s agenda.

The CPM today denied the cooperation portfolio to Forward Bloc, the second largest partner in the Left Front, turning a deaf ear to its protests. It allotted forest and tourism, instead.


Chennai, May 16: 
The wave that smashed the election barrier and swept Jayalalitha to power is threatening to swallow the corruption cases against her.

Stunned by the landslide and wary of a backlash, key players in investigation and prosecution have started distancing themselves from the cases.

A senior vigilance officer probing the disproportionate assets case � the most potent pending charge against the chief minister � has resigned citing �health grounds�. The officer, N. Nallamma Naidu, had been given an extension in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption by the erstwhile Karunanidhi regime to complete the investigation. Most of the procedures were through when the elections intervened.

In another ominous sign, two of the public prosecutors attached to the special courts, set up essentially to try Jayalalitha, also stepped down. A third prosecutor is expected to follow suit soon.

The stream of exits has cast a cloud on the fate of the special courts and fuelled speculation that the judges could be transferred.

Jayalalitha may need the help of the Centre to disband the courts. Such a proposal was mooted in Delhi when she was part of the BJP-led coalition, but it did not crystallise because of Jayalalitha�s pullout. A sympathetic stand by the Centre now may act as the reunion point for the BJP and Jayalalitha, who has kept her options open on returning to the alliance.

Jayalalitha, who was busy today garlanding statues of leaders of the Dravidian movement, mentioned in passing that she was planning to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shortly for a �courtesy call�. The Prime Minister had yesterday taken the trouble of congratulating Jayalalitha from Malaysia even as his party colleagues were lambasting the Governor�s decision to swear in the debarred politician as chief minister.

Sources pointed out that Governor Fathima Beevi, a former Supreme Court judge, would not have acted without consulting the Centre. Beevi had reportedly asked Jayalalitha to wait for a day or two to avoid a controversy. But Jayalalitha was insistent that she be sworn in on Monday. The reason lay in the stars � ashtami and navami fell on the following two days, making them inauspicious.

A nonchalant Jayalalitha today underscored the fact that Beevi was a former judge. �Governor Fathima Beevi was a Supreme Court judge and she knows everything. She herself is a legal expert. No one needs to teach her what is the law. Her action cannot be justiciable.�

The back-with-BJP pot was kept boiling by a senior MP and aide of Amma, K. Malaichamy. He told a channel: �Well, I cannot predict what madam would do next. At the moment, you know, we are opposed to the BJP since it is an ally of the DMK� I don�t know what shape things would take in the future� Our instructions are that we should not adopt any confrontationist posture, but that we should go by the issues that come up. If something is done in the interests of the people of Tamil Nadu, why should we mindlessly oppose it?�

Unlike Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha does not have irreconcilable ideological differences with the BJP. She stormed out earlier only because Vajpayee would not oblige her by dismissing the DMK government.

Neither does Jayalalitha have any political compulsion like Mamata. Being seen in the company of the BJP does not mean the loss of too many votes as the minorities have only a scattered presence in the state and they are not a decisive factor in more than a few constituencies.

Even during the time of MGR � Jayalalitha�s mentor who had cast an astonishing spell on the electorate � it was the DMK which used to attract a major chunk of the Muslim vote. But the DMK still could not worst him at the hustings. Jayalalitha had tacitly supported the Ayodhya kar seva and spoken of the �need to appreciate the majority sentiments, too�. The saffron brigade in the state has grudging admiration for Jayalalitha, a Brahmin and a regular fixture on the temple and yagna circuit.

A Hindutva supporter had once declared that �a devout Amma is any day a better bet than the godless DMK�, alluding to the iconoclastic ideology of the Dravidian movement. Southern patrons of the Sangh parivar supported the DMK this time but with reluctance and only because of its support to the Delhi coalition.


New Delhi & Calcutta, May 16: 
Three Catholic priests were shot near Imphal last night, sending shockwaves through the Christian community.

The killing of the priests at the Don Bosco Celestian Noviciate, located on the Nagarian hills about 30 km east of the Manipur capital, is believed to be part of the sustained militant campaign against the community.

Last night�s killings took the number of priests murdered in the state in recent times to six. Eight Catholic schools in Imphal have also been closed down after failing to meet the extortion demands of a militant group.

Police said three gunmen came to the training school at 8 last night and demanded a huge sum of money. Sources said the priests gave the gunmen Rs 35,000 but they were not satisfied and opened fire on them.

The 30 students inside the building were warned by the intruders not to venture outside. After an hour of negotiation, the students first heard the sound of a single shot and then the staccato sound of automatic weapons.

Father Raphael Paliakhara, 45, and Father Andreas Kindo, 33, were shot dead first. Brother Shinu Joseph Valliparampil, 23, the assistant who ran out to help his superiors, was also not spared.

The Catholic Bishops� Conference of India condemned the killings and appealed to the Prime Minister, home minister and Manipur chief minister to �come to the rescue of Christians� so that they could �carry on their work of love and service to humanity�.




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