Change of heart for Cong, Samajwadi
Custody death probe deadline
Schoolboy at centre of clashes in Hyderabad
Farooq completes term
Scindia seal on alliance
Ranbir panel summons Joshi

New Delhi, Oct. 12: 
The Congress and the Samajwadi Party are believed to be shedding their mutual aversion realising they could be forced to do business with each other if the Uttar Pradesh polls again throw up a hung Assembly.

Although sources from both parties insisted talks have not yet started, the first signs of a thaw were visible when Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh shared a dais with Sonia Gandhi at a Rajiv Gandhi Foundation symposium here yesterday.

Singh, who was instrumental in preventing a Sonia-led government from coming to power in 1998, apparently had a change of heart.

�She was not at all what I expected,� he was quoted by a section of the press as saying: �We were together for quite sometime and I found her warm and friendly. I really liked her informal and genuine attitude.�

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni, however, reacted guardedly to Singh�s praise. �If an individual revises his opinion about the party and its president, it is a good thing and we welcome it,� she said.

Soni said �not much� should be read in the Sonia-Singh meeting, but added: �Our top priority is to fight communalism. If we were not committed to secularism why would we have supported Laloo Prasad Yadav and Jayalalithaa?�

Samajwadi Party sources made it clear there would be no overt pre-poll understanding. If after the elections the two were forced to join hands, Sonia would have to take the initiative to break the ice with party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and not expect �power-brokers� to do the job, they said.

�If the Congress has its queen, we too have our own prince. And the queen must descend from her throne to meet the prince, otherwise she may as well sit inside her palace,� the sources added.

The mutual climbdown seems to have come about for several reasons.

Both parties acknowledged that chief minister Rajnath Singh had stemmed the BJP�s decline and could even ensure it emerged the single largest party, which would make it the first claimant to forming a government in case of a hung legislature.

Second, the BJP-Ajit Singh alliance would help the Rashtriya Lok Dal chief retain supremacy over western Uttar Pradesh. Samajwadi Party sources also conceded that if the BJP builds up a high-voltage campaign around the terrorism issue and the ban on the Students� Islamic Movement of India, it could polarise voters and consolidate Hindu votes behind the ruling party, at least in the cities and towns.

In such a scenario, an understanding with the Congress � even though it has weakened in Uttar Pradesh � may send a �positive� signal to Muslims that the secular front was at least intact.

Congress sources said if the Samajwadi Party fell short of majority by about 30 or 40 MLAs, it made sense for the party to fill in the gap. Not from outside but by being part of the government to make it more durable as in Bihar.

Samajwadi Party sources said while Mulayam and Sonia may have had problems, their boss� equation with individual Congressmen was �excellent�.

�In fact, we may have a tacit understanding even before the elections with the Congress in some constituencies to prevent a split in the secular vote,� the sources said.

But as talks of a Samajwadi-Congress rapprochement began doing the rounds, a troubled BJP began mulling the implications both in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre.

�It�s bad news because if the Muslim votes get consolidated the SP would be well ahead of us. And if the SP-Congress can form a government in UP, the axis could become a rallying point for disenchanted NDA allies. And that could threaten the government�s stability,� said a BJP office-bearer.


New Delhi, Oct. 12: 
The Supreme Court today said that magisterial proceedings on all custody death cases in the country should be complete in four months.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand and Justices R.C. Lahoti and P. Venkatarama Reddy said: �It is appropriate to direct all the states and Union Territories to issue instructions to the agencies concerned for completing the magisterial inquiry into the causes of death in police custody as far as possible in four months.�

The interim direction came on a public interest litigation on the conditions of jails and the state of undertrials.

Almost all the states and Union Territories had filed affidavits submitting that it would be impossible for them to finish the cases of custodial deaths within the earlier stipulated time of three months.

�In case the inquiry into death in police custody cannot be completed within four months, the reasons thereof shall be recorded and permission to be sought from the sessions judge of the respective district for grant of more time to complete the probe,� the bench said.

Now on, probe at every district and taluk level would commence and appropriate magisterial courts would have to be moved by the states and Union Territories.

Counsel Abhisek Manu Singhvi, appearing in the case as the amicus curiae of the court, suggested that it could direct even �video recording of the post mortem procedure� in such cases. The apex court asked Singhvi to formulate this suggestion while posting the matter to October 19 for further hearings.


Oct. 12: 
With his schoolbag slung across his back, 14-year-old Mustaq Ali threw stones at police in riot gear near the Charminar in Hyderabad.

The busy square, in front of the 400-year-old Mecca Mosque, was packed solid with protesters like Mustaq, shouting anti-US slogans and flashing placards denouncing the war against Afghanistan.

Senior policemen, including commissioner Aravinda Rao, as well as several lensmen were injured in the stone-pelting.

Police lobbed teargas shells at the protesters and hosed them with water cannons.

Trouble started when a group of people came out of the mosque after the Friday prayers to find a posse of policemen standing guard. They had closed three of the mosque�s four doors and were asking those inside to come out in small numbers. A group started throwing stones at the policemen. After an hour-long battle, the police commissioner asked his forces to enter the mosque to flush out the unruly elements.

At that point, the legislator of the Charminar Assembly segment intervened and urged the police to withdraw their forces.

The protests in Delhi were muted in comparison. Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari�s call for a protest march against America to the US embassy turned out to be a no-show. Police did not allow the procession, and the Imam settled for a prayer meeting inside Jama Masjid.

The Imam blasted President Pervez Musharraf for having allowed Western troops to step on Pakistani soil.


Srinagar, Oct. 12: 
Suicide attacks, pervasive scepticism and an unrealised autonomy dream. Five years after the Farooq Abdullah government came to power, not many Kashmiris are willing to bet on a dramatic change in fortunes.

�Five years and still breathing,� said a resident, summing up the mood.

An official spokesman said 7,350 militants have been killed in the past five years. �But the situation has not shown any improvement,� he said.

On development, the government has not done badly, said a spokesman. �As many as 227 bridges, including 76 major ones, were constructed,� he said. But critics dismissed the achievements, alleging corruption among officials.

�We have nothing to sell to the people during elections next year. Restoration of autonomy could have made a difference.We are hopeful the Centre will still consider our demand,� said a ruling party member.


Chennai, Oct. 12: 
Madhavrao Scindia, who died in a recent aircrash, helped the Congress clinch an alliance with P. Chidambaram for the coming local bodies� elections in Tamil Nadu, reports our special correspondent

�It was Madhavrao Scindia who wanted me to have an alliance with the Congress,� the former Union finance minister said today.

The alliance has emerged as a focal point for anti-BJP forces that are uncomfortable with Jayalalithaa�s ADMK. The ADMK-led front has been left only with the Tamil Maanila Congress and the CPI, as even the CPM has decided to go alone. The DMK-BJP combine has been strengthened by the return of the Vanniyar-dominated PMK, but it has been at the cost of the Dalit Panthers of India.


Santiniketan, Oct. 12: 
Visva- Bharati University will confer Deshikottama on sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and scientist C.R. Rao. The university will present the award to Khan and Rao at its convocation in December.    

Patna, Oct. 12: 
A commission probing the political links of Ranbir Sena, the private army of landlords, today asked two Union ministers to depose before it.

The panel, set up three years ago, has also summoned 22 other politicians. It asked the leaders to appear on November 6 and 7.

Union human resources development minister Murli Monohar Joshi and health and family welfare minister C.P. Thakur figure on the list along with leader of the Opposition Sushil Modi, Bihar BJP president Nandkishore Yadav and Samata Party state president Raghunath Jha.

The only RJD ministers summoned are Shivanand Tiwari and Akhilesh Prasad Singh. The presence of only two ministers from the Rabri Devi government on the list has stirred a controversy, with the Opposition crying vendetta.

�The commission was sitting idle for the last three years and suddenly it has come up with a list of names for primarily maligning their image,� BJP state vice-president Kiran Ghai said.

Janata Dal (United) spokesman Lakshmi Sahu said: �By calling Opposition politicians the commission wants to settle political scores on behalf of the ruling party.�

A spokesman for the commission said the leaders� names had come up in the course of the witnesses� accounts. �After the commission scrutinises the statements of these leaders, the final report would be complete,� he said.

Witnesses who named Tiwari have allegedly referred to his tenure in the Samata, the party he was in till 1999.


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