Sangh choice for Atal: Ayodhya or allies
Delhi to break 24-year lull to save terror law
Buddha Bill in Tripura trap
Deobandi dinner leaves bad taste
Prince won�t touch Midas Mittal
US flashes alert to families of Pak staff
Pakistan springs to ISI defence on television
UGC teaching quota for disabled
CPM ready for Cong alliance
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 19: 
The Sangh parivar and a section of hawks in the BJP are turning restive about the murmurs of resentment emanating from allies, like the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, against the Hindutva agenda.

The belligerent group is of the view that if the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has to give up power because of the temple, it should be allowed to.

�We have had enough of these so-called allies. Chandrababu Naidu wants a rollback on practically everything, he wants to have the cake and eat it too. Same for Mamata Banerjee. In Orissa, it was the BJD that plotted the attack on the Assembly and then blamed the VHP and the BJP. Where does all this leave the BJP? It will have to decide once and for all whether it wants to fight the next election with the allies or on its own,� said a senior Sangh leader.

But Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani reportedly felt that the NDA government must be allowed to complete its term on the basis of the national agenda for governance minus the Hindutva �encumbrances�. Taking into account the tenure in 1998, the Vajpayee government today completed four years in office.

After blowing hot and cold on the temple and the VHP, Vajpayee told the BJP parliamentary party meeting this morning that while he was not interested in clinging to power, he did have a responsibility towards the people. He could not be expected to abdicate this responsibility � in other words resign as the Prime Minister � midway.

Vajpayee said he, too, had �definite� views on the temple issue and was keen to share them during a day-long inner-party debate, which he asked parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan to organise. But BJP sources indicated that the soul-searching session might not take place yet as �the atmosphere is so charged�.

While NDA sources said the Vajpayee-Sangh �tensions� could exacerbate in the coming months, Sangh leaders asserted that the next big �flashpoint� would be June 2 � the VHP deadline for handing over the �undisputed� Ayodhya land.

Sangh sources said their leaders have conveyed to Vajpayee that he must take a Cabinet decision to this effect or enact a law in Parliament, irrespective of the Supreme Court�s ruling.

At today�s meeting, B.P. Singhal, Rajya Sabha member and brother of VHP leader Ashok Singhal, insisted on raising the mandir-versus-governance issue in the Prime Minister�s presence, though the MP was advised not to.

B.P. Singhal told Vajpayee there was no point in continuing in power if the BJP kept losing its �credibility�. �We have just one-and-a-half years left. So, why don�t we quit gracefully on the Ram temple issue?� a party source quoted B.P. Singhal as asking Vajpayee.

He also opposed a meeting between Vajpayee and the Jama Masjid Imam, who had called on the Prime Minister to express concern over the Gujarat carnage. �Why should the highest leadership meet a person who lauds the ISI and Osama bin Laden as a hero?� B.P. Singhal was quoted as asking.

But B.P. Singhal�s submissions were countered by Buxar MP Lal Muni Choubey, who strongly advocated the continuance of the NDA government without bringing in Ayodhya and other contentious issues.

Choubey had also cut his political teeth on the Sangh�s ideology. But sources close to Choubey said he questioned the logic behind raking up such issues as it was decided that the BJP would put Hindutva on the backburner when the NDA was formed to offer a �viable� government. �This amounts to betraying the allies� trust,� Choubey was quoted as saying.


New Delhi, March 19: 
The Vajpayee government is set to convene a joint sitting of Parliament on March 26 so that it can rustle up a majority to pass the anti-terror Bill, which seeks to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

If held, it will be the third combined session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The first was convened on May 6, 1961, to vote on the Dowry Prohibition Bill. The second joint session, held 24 years ago on May 16, 1978, was called to pass the Banking Commission repeal law, which was adopted by the Lok Sabha but rejected by the Rajya Sabha.

It would also be the first time that a Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker would preside over the session as the late Speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, died in a recent air crash.

As Rajya Sabha chairman Krishan Kant is the country�s Vice-President, he will not be a part of the joint sitting. Deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah is out of the country. So P.M. Sayeed would have to chair the session.

Official sources said the joint sitting, if convened, would be telecast live to ensure that the members maintain decorum and discipline.

Last night, the Lok Sabha passed the anti-terror Bill with 264 voting for and 148 against it. The Bill will be taken up by the Rajya Sabha on Thursday but is sure to be rejected as the National Democratic Alliance is in a minority in the Upper House. Under Article 108, a joint sitting of both the Houses can be convened only after the Rajya Sabha rejects a Bill.

Official sources said the government is likely to send a request to President K.R. Narayanan on the night of March 21 itself once the Bill is defeated in the Upper House. In the Rajya Sabha, the government would fall short by about 25 to 30 members in getting the Bill passed. A joint sitting will have 781 members. One Independent Rajya Sabha MP died in a road accident today.

Though Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress is likely to abstain, NDA leaders are hoping to get around 425 votes with the support of the 18-member ADMK.

Sources said the gov ernment�s managers are working on Mayavati�s Bahujan Samaj Party and Sharad Pawar�s Nationalist Congress Party for their backing.

Political parties have issued whips to their members in both Houses to be present if a joint sitting is held, Parliament sources said.

In the Rajya Sabha, the NDA block comprises 49 BJP MPs, 13 Telugu Desam MPs, nine DMK members, the Shiv Sena�s five, the Akali Dal�s four, three members each of the Biju Janata Dal and the National Conference and two of the Indian National Lok Dal.

The Asom Gana Parishad, the Samata Party, the Haryana Vikas Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Loktantrik Congress Party have one member each. Four are Independents.


Hyderabad, March 19: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s plans to get the party leadership to green-signal the proposed Prevention of Organised Crime Act appear to have hit a fresh speed-breaker in the form of Tripura.

Sources indicated tonight that critics of Bhattacharjee�s move had strengthened their case by citing Tripura, where the ruling CPM does not feel the need to arm itself with a new law to combat insurgency and terrorism.

�There is no gainsaying that Tripura, like Jammu and Kashmir, has been ravaged by the twin spectres of insurgency and terrorism. Yet, we are not talking about getting something like the anti-crime law in place,� a senior CPM leader said. �How are we going to account for the differences in approach?�

The next 48 hours in Hyderabad, where the CPM is holding its party congress, are crucial for Bhattacharjee as he tries to bring the party round to his view that the Act is needed to combat crime in Bengal. But indications emanating from the party tonight do not augur well for him.

Most members of the party�s Kerala and Andhra Pradesh units have voiced opposition to Bhattacharjee�s plan. But more than these states, Tripura is proving to be a complex sticking point.

Tripura, which has the only CPM-headed government other than Bengal in the country now, is one of the states facing the brunt of the country�s terrorism and insurgency.

�This is why Tripura�s opposition is going to be heard with a more serious ear than that from the other units,� the senior CPM leader explained. �Here�s a state which, possibly, suffers more from the insurgency and terrorism threat but is still not seeing any justification for a new law. Obviously, this is going to carry a lot of weight and convince a lot of people,� he added.

The Trinamul Congress� strategy of sidestepping the Lok Sabha vote last night has also queered Bhattacharjee�s pitch. The Congress is also expected to toe the Delhi line of opposing �Draconian� laws.

�The Opposition will beat Bengal Communists with the Tripura example and the Tripura comrades with Bengal�s insistence on the law,� a CPM leader said.

With senior CPM leaders, including Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Anil Biswas and Prakash Karat, failing to arrive at a �conclusion everyone is comfortable with�, the anti-law lobby could press for an unambiguous party line, CPM leaders said.�If that happens, it will most probably mean a quiet burial for the proposed Act,� one of them conceded.


New Delhi, March 19: 
Pakistan�s Deobandi leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman would not have approved.

But the Indian counterpart of Fazlur Rahman�s organisation, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, last night picked a Delhi five-star hotel for the Islamic new year celebration, spread over a five-course meal.

The Deobandi sect, known for its hardline postures, played host to Delhi�s diplomatic corps and other notables. Ambassadors from Arab countries, representatives from Germany, the European Union and leaders of the Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities rubbed shoulders with Shahi Imam Syed Abdullah Bukhari, a few members of Parliament and heads of various Muslim organisations.

Gujarat and Ayodhya were the overriding themes at the dinner and fiery speeches were made against the VHP and the BJP over the �Gujarat genocide�. Jamiat chief Maulana Asad Madni, however, narrated incidents from Prophet Mohammad�s life to emphasise that the true spirit of Islam was in compassion and peace.

Madni�s speech was followed by that of John Dayal, head of the All-India Christian Council, who underlined the need for Muslim-Christian unity.

The gathering then broke for dinner, feasting on Mughlai cuisine. The conversation revolved around the Gujarat killings and the Muslim community�s approach towards Ayodhya. Madni and Bukhari minced no words in condemning the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board�s bid to resolve the Ayodhya tangle through negotiations.

The Jamiat�s move to celebrate new year, however, has raised many eyebrows within the Muslim fraternity. Leaders from the Jamiat-e-Islami laughed off the event, saying Islam attached no significance to western concepts such as new year celebrations.

They also pointed out that the month of Moharram had witnessed the biggest tragedy in Islamic history � the battle of Karbala. The month is observed as a period of mourning by the Shia sect.

Representatives from the Muslim Personal Law Board, who had faced a stiff challenge from Madni and Bukhari for opening negotiations with the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, wondered how the community leaders could have organised a feast when Muslims were suffering in Gujarat.

�Instead of organising relief and rehabilitation, they were celebrating,� said a board member.

He recited a couplet by poet Akbar Allahabadi to sum up his feelings: �Quam ke dard mein leaders dinner khate hain hukkam ke saath. Ghum to bahut hai lekin aaram ke saath (The agitated leaders break bread with the rulers. They, too, are grieved, but in leisure).�


London, March 19: 
Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born steel tycoon, was the absent star at a glamorous Asian function in London where the chief guest was the Prince of Wales.

Mittal, 51, was confirmed once again as the richest Asian in Britain by Eastern Eye newspaper with a fortune valued at �1.9 billion, up from �1.2 billion last year.

It is understood that St James� Palace made it clear on behalf of Prince Charles he would be happy to attend the �Rich List� dinner but he was anxious to ensure that the front page picture would not be that of him shaking hands with Mittal or any other �controversial� Asian businessman.

This behind-the-scenes deal, which has been the talk of the Asian community for weeks, has given deep offence to Mittal and his staff, one of whom said: �This is not nice, and, in any case, he does not ever go to Rich List functions. This is an insult to Mr Mittal.�

Last night�s banquet at the Natural History Museum had a touch of Bollywood, enhanced by the presence of Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber, producer of the forthcoming musical, Bombay Dreams.

His leading British-born actors, Preeya Kalidas and Raza Jaffrey, sang one of their numbers.

A further touch of Bollywood was provided by the Bombay singer, Alisha Chinai, who is famed for her song, Made in India.

Most of the achieving Asians last night, however, were very much made in Britain. Prince Charles provided a few soothing words for the sustained media attacks on Mittal, and before that, on the Hindujas and Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, have made many Asians feel more vulnerable than they have for many years.

Prince Charles did not want to be seen celebrating �wealth� but he was happy last night to present the Young Achiever of the Year award to Shelim Hussain, 29, a former waiter who now employs a workforce of 200 at food processing plants in Newport, South Wales, and in the London suburb of Croydon.

Prince Charles, whose Prince�s Youth Business Trust is likely to benefit by about �150,000 from tonight�s gathering, said he wanted �to celebrate the achievements that the Asian community has made in this country�.

He said: �The community has contributed enormously to the wealth and development of Britain. Their entrepreneurial skills have, in many cases, created opportunities that in turn have enabled others to succeed. I cannot think of a better model to follow than the nominees for this year�s Asian Business Awards.�

The problem occurs when Asian businessmen move out from small time to big time, as was acknowledged by one of the guests, Lord (Swraj) Paul, a well known Labour Party donor. He is ranked at number 6 with �225 million, up from number 7 last year with �225 million.

�That�s a gross exaggeration of my wealth,� he protested.

On how Asian tycoons could avoid controversy, he had this advice to offer: �If you are ethnic, you have to be 120 per cent correct � and that�s just for starters. Without that, you don�t have a hope. As you move up the ladder, you create more jealousy, so you have to be 200 per cent correct.�


Washington, March 19: 
Even as Gen. Pervez Musharraf struggles desperately to shore up his authority in the wake of Sunday�s attack on a church in Islamabad, the US state department yesterday authorised the �voluntary departure� of dependents of American embassy and consulate personnel in Pakistan.

Warning Americans to defer travel to Pakistan, the US government also said the �attack on worshippers at a church service in Islamabad underscores the possibility that terrorists may seek civilian targets�.

Sunday�s terrorist attack, which killed US embassy staffer and spouse Barbara Green and her 17-year-old daughter, has left a lot of egg on the faces of those here and in Islamabad who dissect Pakistan for policy-makers in Washington.

Green and her daughter, Kristen Wormsley, a school student in Islamabad, had left the Pakistani capital for the US as part of a departure plan authorised by the state department for US embassy staff dependents following the war in Afghanistan.

But they returned to Pakistan after the US government concluded on March 2 that it was safe for them to go back to Islamabad. The state department had issued a formal advice which allowed these dependents to return.

Predictably, there was a lot of quibbling yesterday at state department spokesman Richard Boucher�s daily briefing about the nature of this evacuation of non-essential US personnel.

�On March 2 we issued a new Travel Warning that indicated that we were allowing our dependents to go back...People at posts were looking forward to h aving their families back with them and at that time we operated on the best security information we had�, Boucher said.

In an attempt to limit the damage, Boucher explained that there were various categories of such departures: �authorised departure, ordered departure, and then evacuation�.

Yesterday�s new travel warning said US consulates in Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi will not remain open for visa services. The US embassy in Islamabad is open for all services, but �from time to time, the missions in Pakistan may temporarily close or suspend public services�.

After a telephone conversation with Musharraf yesterday, President George W Bush said in Missouri that �that part of the world (Pakistan) is a dangerous place at times� where people �kill for political reasons�. Bush said Musharraf did not yet know who was behind the attack on the church.

Secretary of state Colin Powell also spoke to Musharraf. �Without going into any detail, I would say that we have cooperation (from Pakistan) in this matter and commitment to bringing people to justice�, Boucher said of the telephone talk.

There was speculation here that Christina Rocca, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, who arrived in Islamabad yesterday had brought a tough message for Pakistan�s President. Although Musharraf swiftly removed Islamabad�s inspector general and senior superintendent of police, it is doubtful if that alone would satisfy Washington, which sees Sunday�s attack as a disastrous security lapse.

Police officers sacked

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf removed the capital�s two most senior police officers today after a weekend grenade attack on a church killed five people, officials said.

Musharraf expressed �dismay� yesterday at the security lapse that allowed a man laden with grenades to walk into a church in Islamabad�s diplomatic enclave where dozens of foreign diplomats and aid workers were worshipping.

Officials said the President, who summoned senior government and security officials today to review law and order after the attack, removed Islamabad�s inspector general and senior superintendent of police. �They have been removed,� said one senior official who attended the meeting. Although there has been no claim of responsibility, the spotlight has fallen on hardline Islamic groups opposed to Musharraf�s support for the US-led war on terror.

Sunday�s attack threatens to scare off much-needed foreign investment and commentators said it has damaged Musharraf�s credibility as an effective partner in the anti-terror campaign.


Islamabad, March 19: 
Pakistan has come out with a strong defence of the role of the country�s premier counter-intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), saying there are no plans to close down its two crucial cells dealing with Kashmir and Afghan affairs.

Federal minister for communication Lt. General (Retd.) Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former head of the ISI, has denied reports that the agency�s Kashmir and Afghan cells would be discontinued, saying they would continue to function as they are needed to keep the government informed about the latest situation on the borders.

Qazi made these remarks in a Pakistan Television programme, the first of its kind in which the role of the ISI was openly discussed.

Replying to questions, Qazi said the Kashmir cell of the ISI would remain working as the agency had to keep itself informed about the situation in the state.

�After all, India has deployed 700,000 troops at the Kashmir border and it is the duty of the ISI to keep an eye on the movement of Indian troops,� he said.

Qazi strongly refuted reports in the foreign press about the pro-militant role of the ISI in regional affairs.

He described the ISI as a dynamic organisation and said that adjustments would be made in the organisation according to the needs and conditions. However, there will be no large-scale reorganisation of the ISI, he said.

Earlier, a series of reports in the New York Times and some other papers suggested that the ISI had decided to shut down its two cells that were dealing with the affairs in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The minister denied the ISI�s role in Kashmir, saying the organisation had not sent in militants. To a question, Qazi asked whether the ISI had rigged the elections in India-held Kashmir, which led to the renewal of the militancy.

He said 70,000 Kashmiris had sacrificed their lives for freedom and it was not an easy thing to sacrifice one�s life. �If I give you Rs 10,000 to 20,000, would you go and offer your life? So, there is nobody who can offer his life on the instruction of ISI,� he added.

Qazi asserted that Kashmiris were fighting for freedom and Indian soldiers had failed to crush the movement.

Had they started the movement on the bidding of the ISI, the movement would have been crushed a long time ago, he said. �No freedom movement can be waged on the orders from somebody.�

While admitting to �some cross-border activity�, Qazi said some Kashmiris living in Pakistan and belonging to split families had gone over to Kashmir.

�Some people belonging to the religious parties are also taking part in the freedom movement,� he added. However, he said the ISI had neither sent these men nor organised such activity.

Qazi said the Indians blamed the ISI but they did not see what they themselves had been doing.

�How was Bangladesh created? East Pakistan was made Bangladesh by the Mukti Bahini, which was supported by India,� he sad, adding that India should look into its own deeds and see what it was doing in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

To a question, Qazi said the ISI was a disciplined organisation.

�The juniors do not disobey their seniors. If anybody goes out of line, disciplinary action is taken against him. (The) Director General ISI can immediately sack his subordinate,� he said.

He said just as the army chief could take action against any officer, the DG, ISI, was the chief of his organisation and no subordinate could perform any task without his consent.


New Delhi, March 19: 
Three per cent of the University Grants Commission�s teaching posts will from now on be reserved for the disabled, including the physically handicapped and the visually impaired.

Like Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates, they will also get a five per cent relaxation in marks (from 55 to 50 per cent) for admission at the Masters� level.

A division bench of Supreme Court Justices Rajendra Babu and P. Venkatrama Reddi today allowed the three per cent quota plea made by the All India Confederation of the Blind.

After the judgment, Confederation counsel M.C. Bhandare and C.K. Sucharita said: �Although the Disabilities Act provides for the reservation in categorical terms, the UGC had refused to give any reservation or relaxation to the physically handicapped candidates, prompting the disabled to knock at the doors of the courts of law�.

During the course of litigation, the UGC agreed to provide reservation for the disabled, but refused to grant the five per cent relaxation in marks. The UGC argued that the physically disabled were not covered under Article 16 of the Constitution.

Under Article 16 (Equality of Opportunity in matters of public employment): �There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.�

Secondly: �No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for or discriminated against in respect of any employment or office under the State.�

Also: �Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any law prescribing� a class or classes of employment for a particular group, and so for a state government which, too, could make laws.

Bhandare pointed out that the Disabilities Act was drafted, keeping provision for reservation for the disabled. Several state legislations, too, are made under this provision.

He said the UGC stand of not relaxing five per cent marks was contrary to the Government of India�s instructions.

�By the order of the court today, the physically disabled, particularly the visually impaired, will after a five-year- long battle enjoy the reservation of three per cent in teaching posts and also get the same relaxation of five per cent that is from 55 per cent to 50 per cent at the Master�s level as available to the SC/ST candidates,� Bhandare said.

Additional solicitor general Altaf Ahmed appeared for the Union government. Advocate Gaurav Banerjee appeared for the UGC.


Hyderabad, March 19: 
Seeking to marry political compulsions with its ideological moorings, the CPM today said it would make poll adjustments with bourgeois parties like the Congress only to be able to expand its base in the long run in states where the party is organisationally weak.

�This kind of poll adjustments are very temporary and such strategies have to be adopted to reach out to common people, most of whom are under the influence of bourgeois parties. But we have to keep in mind that this will never be our permanent strategy. However, we have to be very careful while making such alliances with bourgeois parties,� the draft organisational report prepared for the 17th party congress said.

According to the report, such strategies might land the CPM in trouble as people might misunderstand the party. �But, we have to exploit the situation politically and, in doing so, allying with bourgeois parties should not be considered a deviation from our ideologies,� it added.

The CPM would like to implement, at the national level, a third front of which the Congress will not be a partner, said party leaders such as general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Prakash Karat, at the inaugural session of the congress. The week-long congress attended by leaders such as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Basu, Anil Biswas and Manik Sarkar and 840 other delegates from all over the country, got off to a start with the hoisting of the party flag at a colourful ceremony. Delegates from 16 other nations are also attending the conference.

Karat reiterated the compulsions of poll adjustments. �Try to understand the political situations in states like Gujarat, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh where the BJP has lost its ground. We have to exploit the situation politically. If we fail to do it, we will not be spared by the common people who expect more from communist parties,� he said.

The CPM urged all secular and democratic forces in the country to rally under a new banner to fight communal elements represented by the BJP at the Centre. Politburo member Jyoti Basu, presiding over the inaugural programme, said the secular fabric of the country is threatened. �The Godhra killing, its aftermath and the March 15 drama at Ayodhya have exposed the BJP�s dangerous designs,� he added.

The internal policies of the BJP had turned the country bankrupt and made paupers of the middle-class, the former Bengal chief minister added. The policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation had driven the country into a deep recession, he said.

Surjeet said the BJP�s popularity has been on a downswing since the last general election.

CPI secretary general A.B. Bardhan urged a coming together of the Left democratic front and the initiatives to be taken by a �united Left� to provide a suitable third front to the country to free it from the clutches of �the corrupt Congress and the communal BJP�.

Sitaram Yechuri later told newsmen that it is time for the NDA allies who were earlier partners of the National Front and the United Front to rethink about their roles vis-�-vis the BJP. �They have to establish their credentials better now and ensure that they are not taken for a ride by the BJP as in the Ayodhya issue recently.�

The 17th conference will initiate the process of reconstituting the central committee from Thursday. Shyamal Chakraborty, CPM state secretariat member from West Bengal and former transport minister, is likely to get a berth in the newly-constituted committee. No new faces, however, are expected in the politburo from Bengal and Kerala as both states have four members each.

The CPM congress will hold in camera sessions from tomorrow for four days and endorse the draft political resolution, which has already been debated for almost two months. The proceedings of the meet will culminate in a public rally on March 25. The session will also elect a new general secretary to take over from Surjeet besides electing a new politburo and a central committee.




Maximum: 36.1�C (+2)
Minimum: 21.8�C (0)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 81%,,
Minimum: 31%

Sunrise: 5.45 am

Sunset: 5.43 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be around 36�C and 23�C, respectively

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