Atal finds his feet again in party and government
Chauhan ends exile, vows to keep up fight
Mamata pact still on: Cong
Manipur MLAs keep safe distance from home
3 medical colleges in pipeline
Pervez rules out LoC solution
Chamber plea for Pak B-team
Alimony law set for House debut
BJP courts minority brethren before polls
Centre calls state meet to check foeticide

New Delhi, June 27: 
With both his knees straightened up, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to have reasserted his authority not just in the government but his party as well.

BJP sources said party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi has been asked to consult former party chief Kushabhau Thakre before taking any crucial decision.

�Thakre has a far deeper understanding of heartland politics than Krishnamurthi. In a year in which Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are both expected to go to polls, Thakre�s guidance and knowledge are invaluable for the party. He knows practically each and every district-level worker in these states by name,� said a source.

Thanks to his organisational experience, Thakre has been made the central prabari (in charge) of not just Uttar Pradesh but Uttaranchal and Delhi as well. While Uttaranchal is expected to go to polls along with Uttar Pradesh, Delhi is gearing itself for corporation elections in 2002. The BJP�s stake in the three exercises is, by the party�s own admission, �inordinately high�.

However, sources said there was another � �more important� � reason for Thakre�s clout in the BJP�s decision-making process as a virtual surrogate president. �It has to do with his proximity with Atalji.� Sources said Vajpayee was �not too comfortable� with Krishnamurthi for two reasons. One, he is perceived to have L.K. Advani�s backing. Two, he is seen as a �person with a mind of his own�.

On the other hand, when Thakre was the BJP president, he gave the impression of willingly playing second fiddle to the NDA government and Vajpayee and went out of his way to justify the Centre�s policies even if they went against the BJP�s core ideology.

Because of the �special� Vajpayee-Thakre equation, the former BJP chief has been involved in all crucial matters, from the Manipur crisis to Pervez Musharraf�s visit.

Sources said Vajpayee had sought his feedback on what the thinking of the BJP was on these issues. Thakre also briefed him on the BJP Uttar Pradesh unit�s working committee meeting held a couple of weeks ago in Saharanpur.

In the recent reshuffle of BJP office-bearers, Thakre�s clout with Vajpayee enabled him to ensure important placements for his nominees. Om Prakash Kohli, for instance, has been made the prabari of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. General secretary Maya Singh has been made in-charge of the central office � a post held formerly by Krishnamurthi himself.

BJP sources said, at another level, by amending the service rules to ensure a two-year extension for Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad, Vajpayee managed to scuttle the prospects of home secretary Kamal Pande � whose chances of succeeding Prasad were billed to be the highest. Pande was being backed by Advani.

In the process, Vajpayee managed to placate Chandrababu Naidu who was pitching for Prasad�s extension. �Atalji has shown his skill in realpolitik. He has used an ally to get an upper hand in his own home,� the sources said.

However, Vajpayee is unlikely to go in for a major Cabinet reshuffle. Before he was wheeled in for his knee surgery, there were rumours of a big Cabinet overhaul which would involve not just filling in the slots that fell vacant after Mamata Banerjee and George Fernandes quit, but also dropping of old faces from the BJP and inducting new ones at the level of minister of state.

Government sources, however, said Vajpayee was expected to undertake a small exercise between July 18 and 22, mainly to allocate the railway and agriculture portfolios to another person.


Chandigarh, June 27: 
Nearly 22 years after he went into self-imposed exile, Jagjit Singh Chauhan landed last night in the country he wanted to split, and said he would keep up the fight for Khalistan.

After remaining incommunicado for nearly 24 hours, the 70-year-old Sikh separatist leader, who had declared himself president of the �Republic of Khalistan�, reached Chandigarh late tonight on Shatabdi Express.

The beaming leader was mobbed by reporters at the station who rushed inside his coach.

He said he would meet political leaders, including chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, in a day or two to chalk out his course of action.

On arriving in New Delhi yesterday, he was whisked away by security agencies for interrogation. �I was treated very well,� he said.

His wife, Charanjit Kaur, said she was happy he was back home after �so many years�. He was escorted to his home in Mohali Phase II by Chandigarh police.

But before starting for India, Chauhan had applied for anticipatory bail, saying he apprehended arrest on arrival. However, Punjab and Haryana High Court today turned down his plea on technical grounds.

Justice Nirmal Singh said the application did not have Chauhan�s signature and since the petitioner was in the country, he could file the application himself.

This was Chauhan�s second bail plea that was turned down. The first one, filed last week, was rejected because the application was only a faxed copy of the original. Chauhan said he would again move court for anticipatory bail in a day or two and added that he had �full faith in the judiciary�.

Chauhan, a medical practitioner who took up the cause of Khalistan, left India for UK in 1979. Originally from Tanda, a small town about 180 km from Chandigarh in Hoshiarpur district, Chauhan rose to become finance minister of Punjab in a Congress-backed government in the late sixties. But after that he took up the cause of Khalistan.

His Indian passport was revoked in the early eighties by the Indian high commission in London after reports that he had hoisted the flag of Khalistan.

He had retorted saying that he would print a Khalistani passport and currency notes of the country he wanted to carve out of India.

He was blacklisted along with 200 other Sikhs living abroad. But when Khalistan Commando Force chief Wassan Singh Zaffarwal was allowed to enter India in May this year, Chauhan applied to Punjab and Haryana High Court through his wife, seeking directions to the Government of India to provide him with travel documents to enable him to enter the country. On May 29, Justice V.K. Jhanji directed the government to provide him with the papers.

�Returning to one�s own country is the fundamental right of a citizen and as such the assessment of intelligence agencies in view of Dr Chauhan�s stand in favour of �Khalistan� could not stand in the way of an individual�s right,� Justice Jhanji said.

Even Sarbjit Singh, Punjab�s director-general of police, said there would be no objection if certain Sikh extremist leaders living in Europe and the US came back and surrendered before Indian law enforcement authorities.

Justice Jhanji also said in his judgment that once Chauhan returned to India, the Centre could hold an inquiry into whether he had acquired the citizenship of any other country, and if so, take steps to deport him.

But Chauhan, in all the years that he had been away, had reportedly refused to apply for a British citizenship, saying he wanted to return to India and visit the town where he grew up.


New Delhi, June 27: 
After a war of words with Mamata Banerjee, the Congress today adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the Trinamul Congress, but made it clear that the alliance will be off the moment Mamata returns to the NDA.

West Bengal Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee took the lead in softening the party�s stand. Pranab said the alliance has succeeded in checking the rise of the BJP though it failed to isolate the Left in Bengal. He said the Congress had entered into the alliance with the twin objectives of defeating the Left and driving out communal forces from the state. Pranab said his party and Trinamul needed each other in the state Assembly to keep a check on the Left Front government.

AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy endorsed Pranab�s line, discounting yesterday�s �liability and burden� slur. He said the verbal duel should be seen in the context of �local politics�. �Our alliance with Mamata was forged in the context of her quitting the NDA government. That context still continues.... So long as she is not part of the NDA government, the alliance continues,� Reddy said.

Asked to explain his earlier statement that the alliance with Trinamul was �apparently� on, Reddy said he is withdrawing the word �apparently�.

The Congress-Mamata rapprochement began last night after senior party functionaries watched Mamata on a private TV channel. In the absence of Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath (both are in the US), AICC functionaries got in touch with Pranab and, after consulting him, decided to play down the crisis. �We will not take the blame of calling off the alliance,� an AICC functionary said.

However, party leaders made it clear that Mamata would not be allowed to �interfere� in internal matters of the party such as its tie-up with the Left for the Punjab Assembly polls. �Ours is a national party. In a vast and diverse country like India, the Congress will adopt different yardsticks to keep the communal forces at bay,� a Congress MP said.

Congress leaders said they will wait and watch before making any move in Bengal. Pranab may have to continue for some more time as state Congress chief though he is keen to relinquish the post. �The leadership will decide on the successor issue once its relation with Trinamul is sorted out,� an AICC functionary said.


New Delhi, June 27: 
The joke doing the rounds in the tense Imphal valley is that �the overground has become underground and the underground has become overground�.

More than 40 elected representatives of Manipur are �underground� in Delhi since last Friday, fearing for their lives. They do not plan to return to the state at least till July 8, when the fourth high-level meeting between Manipur leaders and the Prime Minister and home minister will be held to thrash out a solution.

After the June 18 violence in Imphal, the MLAs do not intend to return till the Centre bails them out by withdrawing the ceasefire extension to Manipur.

The hapless legislators are whiling away time meeting leaders of different political hues with a single-point agenda � to get the ceasefire extension outside Nagaland withdrawn, so that they can go back and even try and form a �popular government�.

Having met President K.R. Narayanan, A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Amar Singh, P.A. Sangma over the past few days, the MLAs are planning to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Telugu Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu with an appeal for help.

Yesterday, they requested the President to appeal to the people of Manipur not to disturb peace in the state. Apart from sending a message back home to the militant student bodies that the elected representatives are doing their best to get the ceasefire withdrawn, the meetings would also help mount pressure on the BJP-led government by allies and Opposition parties to review the agreement. Besides, the meetings also serve as �time pass� for the legislators in self-exile.

Fourteen persons were killed and two former ministers attacked by protesters on June 18 after the ceasefire agreement between the NSCN(I-M) and the Centre. The protesters belonging to the All-Manipur Students� Union and four other bodies had torched the Assembly building and houses of Union minister of state Chaoba Singh and former deputy chief minister Chandramani Singh.

In all, 42 legislators belonging to the BJP, the Samata Party and the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) are in self-exile. While some of them are holed up in the safe confines of Manipur House, others are living in the houses of relatives and friends.

Security has been beefed up at Manipur House and access to the legislators has been restricted. Some like former chief minister Radhabinod Koijam have brought their families with them. Koijam is staying at a south Delhi house, guarded by his personal securitymen and the Delhi police.

Speaker Dhananjoy Singh, who was seriously injured when he was attacked by the mob protesting against the ceasefire agreement, said he had no plans to go back till July 8. Asked if he would go back after July 8, Singh said: �I will see.�

Shana Yaima, an MLA belonging to the MSCP, was quite candid when asked as to how long they would stay in the capital. �The situation is not favourable. We are demanding immediate withdrawal of the ceasefire agreement. If they do not withdraw, we will stay here to do something. They do not know the actual position in Manipur. If the ceasefire is not withdrawn, the people will not respect any government there,� he said.


Calcutta, June 27: 
Three medical colleges will soon be set up in Midnapore, Malda and Murshidabad districts.

This was announced by minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee at the Assembly today while replying to a question by Tapan Hore of the RSP.

The minister said his government would welcome private entrepreneurs to set up more medical colleges provided they agreed to abide by the rules of the government like conducting admission of students through joint entrance examinations.

In a bid to meet the demand for medical courses, the government has decided to increase the number of seats at state-run colleges in North Bengal, Bankura and Burdwan. Each of the three colleges will admit 50 more students from the current academic session.

The minister said the Medical Council of India has approved the increase in the number of seats and the total number of seats available for medical courses has risen to 905. The government has released Rs 1 crore and has allotted land to the autonomous Centre for Advancement of Higher Education for setting up the proposed medical college at Midnapore.


Islamabad, June 27: 
Summit-bound President Pervez Musharraf today asserted that the Line of Control was at the core of the Kashmir problem and could not be seen as a solution to the dispute.

Speaking at an all-party meeting called to discuss next month�s meeting in India, Musharraf reiterated that as far as he was concerned, Kashmir would be the central issue for discussion and everything else would follow from it.

The 20-odd political leaders who attended the meeting extended their full support to the President for his summit talks with India�s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They asked Musharraf to go into the discussions as a messenger of peace and try to impress upon the Indian leader that an early end to hostilities was in the best interest of the people of both countries.

The meeting, that stretched to five hours, was boycotted by the mainstream 19-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), which included PPP and PML (Nawaz) of former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif respectively. Among those present was cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

The political leaders assured Musharraf of their �fullest support in his endeavours to solve the long-standing issue of Kashmir and prayed for his success, their domestic political differences notwithstanding�.

The leaders told the President that they did not expect a solution to emerge from the first visit itself. But, they added, they �expected the Indian leadership to send out positive signals from the summit�.

They also expressed the hope that India would realise the �futility� of a dialogue that did not focus on the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Musharraf said he was �encouraged by their sense of patriotism and commitment to the cause of the Kashmiri people�. He said it was his belief that they were �all on board the same ship and loved their country in an equal manner�.

The spirit in which the political leaders had expressed their views, the President added, �reflected the national unity on the core issue of Kashmir, national integrity, nuclear deterrence and national security�.

Musharraf assured the politicians that he would visit India with a clean and open mind and hold discussions keeping in mind Pakistan�s national interests.

He agreed with a suggestion from a politician that he would keep the consultation process going with the politicians in future and would seek their views while carving out the roadmap for restoration of democracy.


New Delhi, June 27: 
Indian industry is unhappy that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is not bringing a business delegation along with his entourage for the summit-level talks next month.

�We are urging the government to bring the business agenda to the forefront and for that we need to have a small conclave of our own with our counterparts from Pakistan,� said an industrialist.

The sentiments were echoed in the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

The chambers have also been disappointed that the Pakistan president has been cool to their request that Musharraf address Indian industrialists during his two-day stay in Delhi.

Representatives from the chambers have already met the commerce ministry to insist that �a business team should come with Musharraf if India wants to see any concrete results from business to business talks�.

Sushanta Sen, deputy director general of CII, said: �The Pakistan business community is under far too much political pressure. They cannot make a move on their own. Business-level talks will add a new dimension to Musharraf�s visit which is taking place at a time when there is a thaw in the turbulent relations between the two neighbours.�

The CII spokesperson said: �We have requested the commerce ministry to arrange for Musharraf to speak at a business meeting which will pave the way for the future negotiations between the business communities.�

Sen said: �The present $800-million trade can boom to $5 billion if the floodgates for direct trade is opened up. We have asked the commerce ministry to grant some special considerations to Pakistani goods even if it means sacrifices by India.�

CII said the India business community is ready to market and organise exhibitions for the Pakistani businessmen.

Sen said: �Among the Saarc countries, India and Pakistan are the largest economies. So for overall development of trade and commerce among the countries, these two economies need to be on better terms. Our prime concern at present is to build confidence among the businessmen.�

�Money needs to flow between Pakistan and India. In the present scenario, Indian businessmen will not be keen to deposit cash in a Pakistani bank,� he added.

Sources said Indian businessmen have received a positive response from some tractors and motor cycle manufacturers in Pakistan, but everything will depend on Musharraf�s visit.

Until now, Islamabad has not responded to a proposal to grant India the most favoured nation (MFN) status under the terms of the WTO agreement to which both countries are signatories.

But the chambers are in constant touch with the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry to put business on the President�s agenda.


New Delhi, June 27: 
In a legislation with far-reaching consequences for the rights of women who have filed for divorce, the Centre is set to introduce a Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2001, in the monsoon session to ensure that interim maintenance or alimony is given within 60 days of filing the petition.

The legislation will amend laws relating to all communities, except Muslims who are governed by the Shariat personal law. It will change the provisions of the Indian Divorce Act (as applicable to the entire Christian community), the Special Marriages Act (those who do not marry under any other religion-based code), the Hindu Marriage Act (as applicable to all Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others coming under the law), and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act.

The Bill mandates that courts dispose of interim maintenance applications within 60 days of serving notice on the respondent to ensure that the wife to be divorced gets alimony within a maximum period of two months after filing for divorce.

The provisions in the marriage and divorce laws enabling a woman to approach a court for maintenance pending the litigation will be amended. There is no provision in the entire gamut of the existing laws for quick disposal of the applications for interim relief even as the main petition for divorce is pending. As alimony is always delayed, the purpose of the provision for application for maintenance gets defeated in the long drawn legal battles.

�The proposed amendments will also curb the tendency to obtain adjournments on frivolous grounds, which normally adds to the trauma and tragedy of the affected parties, and the special personal laws under which frivolous adjournments are often sought, which have been engaging the attention of the government for a long time,� the spokesman said.

The government has also decided to amend Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code to do away with the ceiling of Rs 500 for maintenance. Section 125 of CrPC contains a ceiling of Rs 500 fixed in 1955 and retained in the amendment Act of 1973.


New Delhi, June 27: 
BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi today urged the party�s minority morcha to �make every effort� to reach out to �our Muslim brothers� in Uttar Pradesh and bring them �nearer to BJP� in the run-up to the Assembly elections.

�Some parties are under the false notion that they enjoy the support of minority communities fully. My appeal to the minority morcha and through it to our brothers and sisters of minority communities is that this claim of other parties must be proved to be false,� Krishnamurthi told a convention of the minority morcha here.

�Very soon... Uttar Pradesh is going to have elections. Let the minority morcha make every effort to reach out to our Muslim brothers in Uttar Pradesh and bring them nearer to the BJP,� he added.

�It is the BJP which is the largest political party, not only in India but also in the entire democratic world. It has the vision of making our country great and is determined to make the 21st century India�s century,� he said, describing his party�s USP. Krishnamurthi�s appeal to the BJP�s Muslim members was apparently dictated by the perception that the party was starting with a disadvantage in Uttar Pradesh by losing the support of 15 per cent Muslims.

Although the party claimed that minority votes were divided between the three Opposition parties � Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress � BJP sources admitted that in elections since 1993, Muslims tended to vote tactically in favour of the party which was best poised to defeat the BJP. This trend had worked to the party�s disadvantage in nearly half the Assembly constituencies.

But unlike his predecessor, Bangaru Laxman � who used emotional rhetoric to woo the minorities in his �flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood� speech in Nagpur � Krishnamurthi�s speech was matter-of-fact. He reminded the minority morcha that its office-bearers and members were bound by the BJP�s policy and programmes.


New Delhi, June 27: 
After years of indifference, the government seems to have woken up with a start and placed female foeticide on its priority agenda. Following a meeting of religious leaders last Sunday, the Centre has summoned officials from all states to brief them on tightening of the law against selective abortion of the female foetus.

�Representatives from all strata of administration � from the block level to state level � have been asked to come,� said a health ministry official.

The initiative to combat female foeticide this time has come from the health ministry. Human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi has suggested setting up a committee to look into the fast-spreading malaise of foeticide and suggest possible solutions.

Health ministry officials said the government is keen to draw out information from all sources and block officers know more than anyone else what is going on at the grassroots level.

That foeticide has been growing with the collusion of a wide range of people � parents, doctors, clinics and the administration � is clear from the latest Census figures.

The government is hoping to nudge state administrations into action so that they can begin to implement the guidelines in the Bill and also take action against offenders.

Non-governmental organisations, including the Lawyers� Collective, have been advocating stringent implementation of the Prevention of Ante-natal Diagnostic Act which has not been able to bring a single offender � doctor or parent � into the net yet.

Many of the provisions of the Act have not been put into effect in majority of states. For instance, the states, according to the law, are expected to register all clinics that are equipped to carry out amniocentesis. �The record is absolutely appalling and it is only after the Supreme Court�s recent order that states tried to rectify the mistake,� said a member of the Lawyers� Collective. But even then the record is dismal, proving that the law has been far from effective.


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