Topple-wary Atal wears iron gloves
Mamata questions Godhra theory
House flutter after Sonia sting
Ashamed Advani absolves Modi, pats police
Hatred gave ammo, Godhra pulled trigger
Buddha sets up direct talks with district heads
BJP picks Keshubhai
CPI fires betrayal slur
BJP sees gains in Modi�s loss of face
Congress fields economist

New Delhi, March 11: 
The Centre is firm: whatever be the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya, the government will not allow a rerun of Ahmedabad or 1992.

The backroom boys may be busy trying to negotiate a settlement to the dispute, but the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is aware that any deviation from the NDA agenda could lead to a fall of his government. This has prompted the Centre to ensure that whatever happens, there should be no security slip-up.

Vajpayee today gave details of the security arrangement made by the government in Ayodhya. About 5,500 security personnel and state police force were already on the ground in Ayodhya, he said.

Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri has asked the Centre to keep the army on alert, but it will be called in only as a last resort.

However, Vajpayee described the situation in the temple town as �totally under control�.

The Centre does not want to make the mistake made by the Congress government of Narasimha Rao in 1992. Despite having received ample warning from intelligence agencies that there was the danger of the mosque being destroyed, the Centre chose to go by the assurance given by the Uttar Pradesh government.

Though Central forces were around, the state authorities refused to deploy them.

Responding to Opposition concern over the VHP�s threat to go ahead with its proposed bhoomi pujan on March 15, the Prime Minister said the �government will not allow any activity in Ayodhya till the Supreme Court pronounces its judgment�.

At the same time, he indirectly appealed to the judges who would hear Wednesday�s petition, saying he hoped the decision taken by the court would help in a final resolution of the dispute.

Vajpayee rejected Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav�s allegation that �Ayodhya is burning�, saying �Ayodhya is quiet� and the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust has given a written commitment that it would abide by the court verdict.

A senior government source said if the court were to give primacy to the immediate situation in Ayodhya, it might favour a status quo, but if it took a long-term view, then �it could solve the problem once and for all�.

The Centre is also prepared for a situation where the court lobs the ball back to the executive. One possibility is that the court puts off hearing for a bigger bench and asks the government to do whatever it thinks fit in the meantime so long as the VHP maintains its promise to go by the final court verdict.

The government counsel will reassure the judges on Wednesday that it will enforce the rule of law in Ayodhya and even if a puja is allowed, the authorities will ensure that it is just a symbolic religious rite, without fuss or fanfare even though thousands of kar sevaks have massed in the area.


New Delhi, March 11: 
BJP�s allies at the Centre, especially the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam, today slammed chief minister Narendra Modi for his failure to protect people�s lives and properties in Gujarat even as the BJP and the Shiv Sena tried to whitewash the ghastly killings in the state.

Though Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee did not press for home minister L.K.Advani�s resignation, she doubted the role of intelligence agencies when kar sevaks were burnt to death on Sabarmati Express.

Mamata said as railway minister she used to receive IB reports when there was any major security threat to railways. Mamata refused to believe the role of foreign countries behind the ghastly incident.

Coming down heavily on Modi, she said the Gujarat chief minister cannot say it was a spontaneous reaction. He should have said he would tackle the situation instead, Mamata said, backing former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda�s demand for an inquiry into the Godhra massacre by a sitting Supreme Court judge.

Participating in a discussion on Gujarat incidents in the Lok Sabha under Rule 193, which does not entail voting, Mamata said she was ashamed of what happened both at Godhra and elsewhere in Gujarat.

�I feel ashamed. I feel sorry. I feel disgusted that we are in in this dirty politics. Somebody supports Hindus, somebody supports Muslims, why can�t we be supporting Indians?� the Trinamul chief asked.

She regretted that the mandir-masjid issue had become the �only issue� while important questions like employment, problems of farmers, women and children were not addressed. �Because of this, there is no philosophy, no vision, no mission, no thinking, nothing for the future generation,� she added.

NDA allies saved the government from embarrassment by not demanding the resignation of Modi or Advani.

However, Opposition parties, including the Congress, the CPM, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, launched a savage attack on the government and the BJP for trying to inject �communal poison� into the society to arrest BJP�s dwindling electoral prospects. The Opposition, too, wanted a sitting Supreme Court judge to probe the incidents.

Telegu Desam Party chief K. Yerran Naidu said the state government should have taken preventive steps keeping in mind the history of communally sensitive areas. He regretted that no preventive arrests were made despite the Vishwa Hindu Parishad giving a bandh call and the situation remaining tense. Demanding action against guilty officers, Naidu said the army should have been deployed immediately.

DMK member S.S. Palanimanickam also criticised the inaction of the state government and said the home minister should take strong action and give up the soft approach.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi wanted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to set an example by dismissing Modi and asking Advani to quit as the incidents were a �blot on the nation�.


New Delhi, March 11: 
Rival lawmakers traded angry words in the Lok Sabha today after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi caught the government on the wrong foot during a debate on the Gujarat flare-up.

The war of words began when BJP member Bhavana Chikaliya, in a debate on the Gujarat flare-up, said the mastermind behind the Godhra massacre was a Congress municipal councillor from the town. The allegation drew sharp protests from Congress members, but Chikaliya waved a leaflet and said she was quoting from it.

An alert Sonia immediately sprang up to say she saw an officer distributing leaflets to ruling BJP members in the House.

Sonia went up to Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who was in the chair, and personally took up the matter as agitated Congress members rushed to the well of the House demanding a ruling. Heated exchanges followed with BJP members denying the allegation.

As charges and counter-charges flew, Advani, who was not in the House when the uproar began, rushed back to restore calm. The home minister urged the members to continue the discussion and suggested that the chair, in consultation with the Deputy Speaker, could give a ruling tomorrow.

�I was not here. I am not aware what had happened. I have not seen it myself. Whatever your ruling or of the deputy Speaker will be applicable to members and officers. You can give a considered ruling tomorrow,� he said, appealing to members to resume the discussion.

A few minutes before this Raghuvansh said that under the rules members should not talk to officers or exchange any paper with them in the House. He added that under another rule, a member could not distribute literature or leaflets not connected with the business of the House.

Congress members continued to protest and said they had seen that an officer had handed over some papers to BJP member Kirit Somaya, who was sitting near the officers� gallery.

As BJP members, led by Vinay Katiyar, shouted back, denying the allegation, Congress members said when Sonia raised the matter the officer left the House. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the chair could see the video recording to verify the allegation.

Congress member Renuka Chaudhury was seen walking towards the treasury bench side and talking to an officer in the officers� gallery, inviting protests from BJP MPs.


New Delhi, March 11: 
After waxing eloquent on the senselessness of the communal outrage in Gujarat, L.K. Advani got to the real point: the role of the Narendra Modi government while the state was on the boil.

But the chief minister and his police had nothing to fear. The Union home minister had no intention of condemning either the government or the state police. Instead, he patted both on the back for coming to grips with the situation within 72 hours.

�I do not agree with the Opposition�s charge of passivity and complicity against the Narendra Modi government. It had, in fact, brought the situation under control within 72 hours,� he told the Rajya Sabha at the end of a discussion on the carnage.

But the killings, he said, had shamed his government. �There is a black mark on our claim.... that the NDA government has been able to maintain communal peace for the last four years,� the home minister said. �Hereafter we cannot say it.�

Advani said the Godhra incident deserved to be condemned but the �reaction� that followed it was unjustified. �At the same time we cannot indulge in the luxury of selective reaction,� he stressed, backing the BJP�s accusation that the Opposition had not condemned the Godhra massacre and had only denounced the riots.

The home minister was merely reinforcing the line taken by his government as a whole. The BJP and most of its allies, barring a handful, have let the Modi government off the hook and defended it to the hilt. Some allies like the Samata Party went to the extent of saying that the Opposition�s �selective reaction� had unleashed the riots.

The home minister made it clear that the government was in no mood to lift a finger against Modi though the Opposition is demanding its dismissal and stringent action against the policemen guilty of inaction.

Advani described all communal violence as �wrong� but defended the state�s custodians of law and order. �I have spoken to the police authorities. I know of incidents when the police have saved many lives,� he said. But if any are found guilty of not having done their duty, they will face the �consequences�, he added.

It was clear that the Central government had exonerated Modi and the state police even before the judicial inquiry instituted by the chief minister got under way. The Opposition had demanded an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge but Advani refused, saying the Centre could not foist a decision on the state government.

Tossing aside reports of a top police official in Gujarat justifying the killings as a �reaction� to Godhra, Advani said: �I asked the police official about the statement. And he replied that such inaction could only have been an aberration � also that policemen are also human.�

The home minister cited examples to back his claim that the police had taken action against the rioters. �Unlike in 1984, when thousands were killed and not a single shot was fired, in Gujarat, more than 100 people were shot by the police and they saved 180 lives,� he said. Advani was also pleased by the conduct of the Bhavnagar police.


Godhra, March 11: 
It was 7.40 in the morning at Godhra. The Sabarmati Express pulled in at the station. High on Ram, a group of kar sevaks got off the train. Some wanted tea; some had come from areas around Godhra and were on their way back home.

An eyewitness at Godhra station said two things happened. First, the kar sevaks who were returning home had an altercation with an autowallah. �He had a beard, but I am not sure whether he was a Sikh or a Muslim,� he said. �The driver was dragged into the station by the kar sevaks.�

Next, there was a �lafda (altercation)� with a tea-seller, Siddiqui. His stall was just outside the station. A group of sevaks had tea but refused to pay him. An argument followed, and the kar sevaks beat up the man � in his fifties � to teach him that Ram bhakts are not to be taken for granted.

All this happened within five minutes. The train, which was late by about four hours, left the station at 7.45. It stopped within minutes, 500 metres from the station.

After being beaten up, Siddiqui had run to the thickly populated Muslim locality of Signal Falia, a stone�s throw from the station. It is not clear whether Signal Falia was waiting for the kar sevaks.

They may have known about the train carrying the sevaks, more so because the sevaks� reputation was preceding them at stations. But it didn�t take much organisation to carry out what happened next. Siddiqui had run back to Signal Falia before the train had pulled off.

Two or three boys had jumped into the last compartment of the train and pulled the chain.

The news of the kar sevaks manhandling Siddiqui spread like wildfire. At that time in the morning, when everybody was there, it didn�t take much to get the crowds.

It is also not clear whether the ammunition used to burn the coach, mainly handmade petrol bombs, glass bottles filled with petrol, was put together with the kar sevaks especially in mind.

But the one fuel that is the most easily available � hatred � was in abundant supply.

As the train ground to a halt, the passengers, especially those who were in S-6, where the men who beat up Siddiqui were supposed to be, saw a column of people coming up to the tracks from both sides.

There were not only men, but also women and children, screaming, ranting, baying for the kar sevaks� blood.

They started to throw stones at the train. At first, two coaches adjacent to S-6 were also at the receiving end. The passengers closed the doors and downed the shutters. It was then that the attack was focused on S-6.

With the doors shut, things became easier for the mob. They threw petrol bombs below the train and above. A vestibule pipe caught fire first.

The lucky ones escaped. �There were about 3,000 people. I was standing by the door and could escape,� said Indubhai Bharwad, a kar sevak from Ahmedabad.

Some others, with the desperation of dying men, bent the window bars and wriggled out. The rest remained inside.

The coach was carrying about 180 people, three times the actual capacity. It was set on fire around 8 am. Within two hours, the Sabarmati Express bogie was burnt. Fifty-eight people had been roasted alive in the fire.

Those who were rescued after the police began to arrive in some strength were taken to the Civil Hospital in Godhra.

At the beginning there were only eight or nine policemen from the railway station battling the crowds. M.J. Zala, officer- in-charge, Godhra railway police, says that is the best that he could do.

�We fired four rounds first. The crowds dispersed a little. But then it was not like a solid crowd. They were coming in waves � of 200 people, or 500 people � with petrol bombs. One group exhausted themselves and went back, but a new crowd rushed in. There were also announcements from the nearby masjid in Signal Falia to go the station,� a police constable said.

�We fired 29 rounds in all. Two people died,� said Zala.

�What could we do? It was like a spontaneous combustion,� said another police official. �There were such huge crowds and there was just not enough police to combat them at first,� said B.K. Nanavati, deputy superintendent of police, Godhra.

It took about an hour to collect all the forces, of Godhra police and railway police, to reach the crime scene. By then, the coach was already burnt.

The VHP and the Bajrang Dal believe this was a pre-planned attack. �They just wanted to teach us a lesson,� said Haresh Bhatt, all-India vice-chairman of the Bajrang Dal.

Other kar sevaks who were on the train also think that the burning was pre-planned. But then they also deny that the sevaks misbehaved at any railway station.

They also said there was no incident involving the chaiwallah. �Why should a Ram sevak bow down so low as not to pay a chaiwallah?� asked Anilbhai.


Calcutta, March 11: 
Concerned over delay in implementing rural development projects and poor health services in rural hospitals as well as lack of initiatives in introducing e-governance, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has summoned all district magistrates and sabhadhipatis.

Bhattacharjee will hold a meeting with them at the Great Eastern Hotel tomorrow to review on-going projects and ascertain the causes of delay.

This is the first time the chief minister will have a one-to-one interaction with the district magistrates. He had held meeting with them in July where, in the presence of his senior Cabinet colleagues, Bhattacharjee described the plans and policies of the sixth Left Front government and directed them to make all efforts to implement them.

Sources in the chief minister�s office said Bhattacharjee is not happy with functioning of most district authorities, as many development projects are either excessively delayed or lying incomplete for years.

The chief minister has also expressed displeasure for lack of initiative of some district administration in gathering speed in different sectors, especially in improving the healthcare system in rural Bengal, taking up employment-oriented projects and giving priority to e-governance, sources said.

According to Writers� Buildings officials, the chief minister�s office is flooded with letters, most of which are on poor health services, appeal for employment and inaction of a section of policemen to provide security to the people. The chief minister held a meeting with his senior officers last week, and made it clear that he wants prompt work.

�I am not ready to hear any excuse. If any project takes off, it must be completed within the stipulated period and if there is fund crunch then do not start the work. I know the government has several constraints and limited funds but we have to work within this. Do not forget, we have promised the people to provide better services,�� he reportedly told them.

The chief minister, who has been promising a better and corruption-less administration and making all efforts to speed up development projects, want a clear picture from the district heads on how many projects are in progress, how many are in the pipeline, fund status, the causes of delay and move to ease it. Health and rural development minister Suryakanta Mishra, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and chief secretary S .N. Roy will also be present in the meeting.

�The chief minister will speak to the district magistrates and sabhadhipatis, take their views and give his directives,�� officials said. Guidelines have been framed on the quick implementation of development projects, restoring work culture and stopping misuse of funds, the officials added.


New Delhi, March 11: 
In a calculated bid to build on the political �gains� of the Godhra carnage, the BJP nominated former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel for the Rajya Sabha elections from the state.

Patel, Narendra Modi�s predecessor, is being brought to the Centre for two reasons: To check dissidence in the Gujarat BJP and give him a berth in the Central cabinet.

Patel, who has a sizeable following in the dominant Patel community, went into a sulk after he was sacked and allegedly worked against the BJP in the three recent Assembly by-elections. Modi won his own seat by a whisker, while the BJP lost the other two.

Realising Patel�s damage potential, the party leadership decided that inducting him into the cabinet was the best way under the present circumstances to retrieve the Patel votes, crucial for any party to capture power, according to BJP sources.

�By being a Central minister, he can serve his community�s interests without antagonising the others,� the sources said.

BJP strategists also thought it wise to shift Patel to the Centre in case he staked claim to the chief minister�s post.

This is especially in view of speculation that Modi may recommend dissolution of the Assembly and call for a mid-term poll. The BJP was clear that Modi would be the �natural� choice.

�He has become a hero not just within the BJP but also the Hindu community for the way he dealt with the Godhra incident,� said sources.

The other candidate to be nominated from Gujarat was Jayantbhai Barot, while Ajay Maru has been named from Jharkhand.

The names were finalised by party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi to take advantage of the perceived consolidation of Hindu votes.


Calcutta, March 11: 
State water resources development minister and CPI leader Nandagopal Bhattacharjee today accused the CPM of betraying his party by denying it a seat in the Rajya Sabha from its quota. The minister pointed out that former Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta had promised the Rajya Sabha seat to the CPI.

During the the Rajya Sabha election in 2000 also, the CPM had promised a Rajya Sabha seat to the CPI from its quota as part of Left Front�s policy, but eventually backed out of its promise.

�The CPM�s betrayal has hurt us. But we are not going to pull out of the ruling Left Front as it will help strengthen Opposition forces like the Trinamul Congress and the BJP,� said Bhattacharjee.

He said the CPI had demanded a discussion with the CPM on the issue of seat-sharing for the Rajya Sabha elections but the latter did not agree.

�This is insulting for us as we are not ready to accept such treatment from the principal Front partner, CPM. Still, we will not quit the Front because we had joined the Front because of political compulsions, which are of utmost importance in the present-day situation,� he told reporters after the party�s state executive meeting.

Criticising the CPM for its big brother attitude, Bhattacharjee alleged: �The CPM often neglects minor Front partners and does not consult them on major political issues. This tendency will weaken (the) Front in the coming days.�

Asked whether his party would boycott the Rajya Sabha election in protest against the CPM�s �betrayal�, Bhattacharjee said,

�We shall not take any decision, which will harm the unity of the Front and strengthen the hands of the Opposition Trinamul Congress and its allies.� He also made it clear that his party would vote for the Front nominees at the March 27 Rajya Sabha polls.

In a related development, CPM nominees, Prasanta Chatterjee, Tarini Roy and Khabiruddin Ahmed today submitted their nominations to the state Assembly secretary.

Meanwhile, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today apprehended trouble tomorrow in such areas as Asansol, Bongaon in North 24-Parganas, and Swarupnagar in Nadia and some other pockets in the state.

�We have received reports from our party sources that VHP activists might try to foment communal tension in these areas tomorrow as (the) Shivaratri festival falls on the day. We shall organise rallies in these areas from tomorrow and continue till March 15 to thwart any move to disturb communal harmony in our state,� Biswas said.

He also revealed that some people were collecting firearms, swords and bows and arrows and stockpiling them at home.


Ahmedabad, March 11: 
When chief minister Narendra Modi learnt that Sonia Gandhi was coming to Gujarat on March 8, he wanted to reach at least some of the relief camps ahead of her. He could not.

The chief minister was told that the survivors could turn hostile on seeing him. Jeers, not cheers, would greet him, Modi was told.

The chief minister�s office had called up Inaumul Haq Iraki, one of the few Muslim office-bearers in the state BJP, several times requesting him to arrange Modi�s visit to any of the relief camps. But Iraki, who has been managing a camp at the Shibaug area, told the chief minister he was helpless. The victims, who see Modi as the riot villain, are seething with rage, Iraki told him.

The chief minister has missed a photo-op, but his party is sniffing a bigger opportunity to turn around its fortunes in next year�s Assembly elections.

Though Opposition parties are gunning for him and seeking his dismissal, sources close to the chief minister said Modi and the BJP are not unduly worried.

�If Modi is dismissed, he will go down as a martyr. If he continues as chief minister, it would only consolidate the party�s base which was fast eroding,� said a BJP leader.

The party has been losing one election after another in Gujarat in the past two years � beginning from the panchayat and civic polls to the recent Assembly byelections. The BJP could retain only one of the three seats in the bypolls.

But the ground situation has significantly changed. If elections are held now, �the BJP will get at least 10 more seats�, said Yatin Oza, the former MLA from Sabarmati. Oza feels Modi would dissolve the House as that would suit him.

Though not all Congress leaders share his views, they admit that Modi stands to gain. But the Congress, they said, will come to power as the riots had been confined to major cities and certain rural pockets which cannot influence all the 182 Assembly segments.

Congress insiders feel the real impact of the riots will be felt in other states. The BJP, which has been walking a tightrope between hardliners and moderates, might be forced to jettison its moderate image by the unfolding political scenario, they said.

With pressure mounting from the Opposition and NDA partners like the Telugu Desam, the Trinamul Congress and the Samata Party, the BJP might find it difficult to pacify its constituency.

Though the BJP is looking for a soft option, the Sangh parivar will force the party to make hard choices and it will have to decide whether to give up its carefully nurtured liberal image.

But the BJP is confident of retaining power in post-Godhra Gujarat, with the communities polarised like never before. And if the party is looking for the right time to dissolve the Assembly, this is it.

No one will be surprised, not even the Congress, if Modi recommends dissolution of the House. The Assembly�s term ends on March 11, 2003.

However, party chief Jana Krishnamurthi today ruled out a mid-term poll in Gujarat.

�Neither there is any such demand from the people, nor does the party want to cash in on the post-Godhra situation,� he said.

After filing his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha, the BJP president said in Gandhinagar: �There is no question of a mid-term poll. We do not want to exploit the recent developments in Gujarat.�


New Delhi, March 11: 
Short by more than 15 votes, an optimistic Congress high command has decided to field economist Arjun Sengupta for the biennial Rajya Sabha polls from Bengal.

Party president Sonia Gandhi and senior leader Pranab Mukherjee�s calculations are based on the premise that Sengupta would get an �extra push� from the Trinamul Congress and a section of the Left which is unhappy with the CPM.

Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul has 11 surplus votes. Added to the Congress� tally of 26 and the four members of the JMM and the GNLF, this would ensure smooth sailing for Sengupta if some CPI legislators decide to back him.

Cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls is not new in Bengal. Two years ago, Congress nominee D.P. Roy suffered a humiliating defeat when party MLAs loyal to Mamata defied Sonia�s diktats to vote for J. Bhattacharya.

Congress leaders like Somen Mitra feel the time has come to �avenge� that incident. They plan to �capitalise� on the disquiet within the Trinamul over the likely nomination of Dinesh Bhai Trivedi as party nominee. Trivedi hails from Gujarat.

Somen�s detractors, however, recalled his role in the events that led to Roy�s defeat. They alleged that a number of MLAS belonging to the Somen camp had indulged in cross-voting when he was denied Rajya Sabha nomination.

The contest for Rajya Sabha nomination is set to have crucial bearing on both Pranab and Somen. On more than one occasion, Pranab has expressed the desire to relinquish office but Sonia is not to keen on a change of guard.

Sources said Sonia was reluctant to replace Pranab with Somen, keeping in view Somen�s role during the mahajot with the Trinamul.

In Orissa, the Congress high command has 28 votes whereas it needs 35 to win an Upper House berth.

Several names are doing the rounds but the leadership has shortlisted Hemlata and Santosh Kujur.

J.B. Patnaik-loyalist Niranjan Patnaik is also trying hard to get a Congress nomination.

Jairam Ramesh, Murli Deora, Suresh Pachauri and Motilal Vora are set to get Rajya Sabha berths from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively.

Hectic lobbying is on for the second seat in these Congress-ruled states with senior leaders like Makhan Lal Fotedar, Mohsina Kidwai, Maulana Obaid-Ullah Azmi and Mukul Wasnik trying to bag a nomination.

The absence of any guideline and criteria has resulted in a free-for-all contest for partymen of all hue and shades.


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