Sangh and Atal vie for Advani
Ayodhya case put on rapid-action route
Minister finishes mob mission
Ajit bait too hard to spit or swallow
Budget relief for retiring employees
Pak waves behaviour bonds at militants
Security focus in Indo-Nepal talks
Fun taxed out of Mumbai
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 20: 
After a string of poll debacles, the BJP is under pressure from the RSS to revamp and implement its own limited version of the “Kamaraj plan” by bringing back senior ministers to the organisation.

Speculation was rife that home minister L.K. Advani could be persuaded to take over as BJP chief, though the official position held that K. Jana Krishnamurthi would not quit mid-way.

The BJP constitution is silent on cutting short the term of a sitting president. But sources said if a change is in the party’s “interest”, it would be done “smoothly”. Krishnamurthi could be inducted into the Cabinet.

The rumour of a change was set off by Krishnamurthi’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha, an accepted route to the Cabinet. But sources close to the Prime Minister said there was no way Atal Bihari Vajpayee would spare his “number two”. “At least not now,” they said. “(But) Closer to the general elections, anything can happen.” The polls are due in 2004.

The sources also said the unstated feeling was that if an individual as “strong and charismatic” as Advani was party chief, the government’s supremacy could be challenged, which Vajpayee would not want.

Sources close to Advani said when he recently met RSS leaders, they voiced their anxiety at the BJP’s falling electoral fortunes and the government’s “alienation” from the rank and file. “The Sangh’s credo is the party should be superior to the government. If that is not possible, the party leader should be one who will push his say on policy matters. We are sure Advaniji is that kind of a person. Even if he is out of the government, his word will count with the Prime Minister,” they claimed.

The RSS cited the example of the CPM to hammer home its point. “The Left has been able to rule Bengal for over 20 years because of the perfect harmony between the party and government. The stature of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu was not diminished because they visited the CPM office regularly. Why can’t the BJP ministers do likewise?” Sangh leaders reportedly told Advani.

But they were subtle in getting their message across. “It was not as if they told Advani he should take over the BJP within a month or so. But enough hints were dropped that he should take a more active interest in party matters. After all, a leader of his stature does not need a formal position to be taken seriously by the cadre,” sources said.

While Advani was expected to drop in more often at the party headquarters, sources said ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj may be brought back into the organisation.


Lucknow, March 20: 
Setting the ball rolling for speedy resolution of the temple tangle, Allahabad High Court today ruled that the Ayodhya case be heard on a day-to-day basis.

In a boost to the Centre’s plea that the case be put on fast track, the Lucknow bench also gave the go-ahead for one or more commissions to be set up to record depositions by witnesses.

Aware that the court was facing a shortage of judges, the bench said hearings would not stop in their absence and that the commission would “go to the witnesses” if they were unable to come to the court.

“We reiterate that this case must be heard on a daily basis,’’ the bench of Justice Sudhir Narain, Justice Rafat Alam and Justice Bhanwar Singh observed. A similar order had been passed on an application by the state on July 12, 2001.

The other plaintiffs — the Central Sunni Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhada — objected to the Centre’s plea moved by additional attorney-general R.N. Trivedi. However, the court said it was imperative that the case come to an early end.

Unlike its earlier order, the court stressed that more commissioners could be appointed to hasten the process of recording evidence. At present, there are two commissioners on the job.

The contention of the two main plaintiffs was that the Centre had no locus standi as it was not a party to the dispute. They argued that there could be similar applications from “non-parties” that could in the long run delay the hearings.

The Waqf board had moved an application in 1995 for impleading the Union of India in the matter. But the application was strongly opposed by the Centre and dropped on May 25, 1995.

Trivedi had argued that the Centre did not require to be a party in the dispute as it had been nominated receiver and was responsible for maintaining status quo at the disputed site.

Another point the Centre has repeatedly underlined is that it is spending a whopping Rs 30 crore annually to ensure security at the disputed site.

The Waqf board and the Nirmohi Akhada have welcomed the decision to speed up the case. “We are absolutely with the court on this,’’ Zafaryab Jeelani, counsel for the board said. Vireshwar Trivedi, counsel for the Nirmohi Akhada, said: “Everyone wants this case to end, it has taken too long.’’

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad tonight began closed-door talks in Ayodhya to chalk out its course of action. Before heading for the meeting, Union minister Uma Bharti asked the outfit to defer its temple construction programme and wait for the court verdict as requested by the Prime Minister.

VHP leaders, however, differed on acceptance of the court verdict. Senior leader and BJP legislator from Faizabad Vinay Katiyar advocated negotiations between the communities, saying there was no guarantee that the verdict could be respected.

Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, who had unsuccessfully mediated for a negotiated settlement, said that political interference was posing problems.


Ahmedabad, March 20: 
The mobs of Gujarat can rest easy. A minister has launched a campaign which ensures that the victims of the riots are not left in peace even in relief camps.

Gujarat civil supplies minister Bharat Barot wants riot victims living in four relief camps in his constituency to be shifted immediately. Over 10,000 people sought refuge in these camps in the Dariapur-Kazipur areas of the city after violent mobs sacked and burned their homes in the recent riots. More than 40,000 people are still crammed in 47 relief camps across the city.

In a letter to home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia, Barot urged him to immediately shift these four camps out of his constituency. “Hindus no longer feel secure in their presence in the locality,” he wrote last Saturday. “It is necessary to remove these camps as some of the outsiders living in these camps have indulged in rioting....”

Over the last two days, Barot has been “threatening” the camp manager, Inamul Haq Iraki, “to shift or face consequences”. Iraki, a one-time confidant of the minister, is resisting the move. “I told him we will not move until alternative arrangements are made. We will face bullets but we will not shift,” he said.

The riot victims, who accused the minister of harassing them, today complained to the National Human Rights Commission, which is on a three-day visit to Gujarat to study the communal flare-up. But Barot is adamant. The camps must be relocated, he says. But where? “That is not my problem,” he retorted. “Let the concerned departments handle it.”

Not too long ago, Barot was popular with the minority community. Several Muslim youths in his constituency had even joined the BJP.

Today, all of them have turned hostile. But the minister does not care. “After all, he knows that Muslims won’t vote for him any more,” says a youth at one of the relief camps.

Barot’s letter was also sent to Haren Pandya, but the revenue minister said he was not authorised to speak on the subject. “Only the government spokesman, Purushottam Rupala, can speak to the press,” he said.

Rupala, when contacted, said he was not aware of any such letter written by the civil supplies minister. “So how can I react on this issue,” he said. Senior BJP leader and minister Ashok Bhatt defended Barot but refused to elaborate.

Barot said he was demanding the relocation of these camps because of two reasons. He said schools have been closed to accommodate the riot victims and second, Hindus living in the area fear the victims would settle down permanently — as had happened after the 1969 communal flare-up. In some pockets, the minority population went up by 80 per cent.


New Delhi, March 20: 
Virtually declaring an open confrontation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, agriculture minister Ajit Singh has sent a note to his Cabinet colleagues seeking to raise the purchase price of wheat by Rs 15 to Rs 625 a quintal for the coming harvest.

Singh has gone ahead with the populist Cabinet note even as Vajpayee and his finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, have advised him against insisting on a measure that the government can ill afford.

The grain mountain — which is created by government purchases from farmers to ensure a food buffer stock — has swelled to 58 million tonnes. Wheat alone accounts for 30 million tonnes of the overflowing stock.

The BJP government is loath to buy more wheat to add to a stock that embarrassingly refuses to disappear even as it costs over Rs 9,000 crore a year to store. The government would, in fact, prefer to discourage more Central purchase of wheat.

But Singh, a new minister from a small partner in the BJP-led coalition — the Rashtriya Lok Dal — wants to pander to his farm constituency, and has decided to move the resolution at the very next Cabinet meeting.

Usually, the BJP’s other farmer-supported partners — the Akalis and the Om Prakash Chautala-led National Lok Dal — press for a hike in purchase prices (known in bureaucratese as “support prices” — a comfort level that assures farmers that they will not have to sell their produce at distress levels).

However, both Chautala and the Akalis are strangely silent and it has been left to Singh, supported by the Congress chief minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, to embarrass the BJP.

But lack of pressure from the Akalis and Chautala will not let Vajpayee off the hook as the failure to address Singh’s demand will lay him open to the charge of being anti-farmer, a label that could add to his list of problems in the north in any future general elections.

The higher price, if agreed upon, will translate into a staggering bill of Rs 12,500 crore spent on buying wheat this year. Experts estimate that at this price, farmers will offer up to 20 million tonnes of wheat. At the lower price, experts feel between 12 and 16 million tonnes of wheat would be offered, carrying with it a lower bill of Rs 7,500-10,000 crore.

Singh’s move has been opposed by the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices, a government-appointed body, which feels farm input costs do not justify higher purchase prices.


New Delhi, March 20: 
Finance minister Yashwant Sinha tonight fully reinstated an investment avenue to retiring employees, capping a heated budget discussion that saw a ginger group of allies led by Mamata Banerjee clamouring for rollback after rollback.

Sinha lifted the Rs 2 lakh ceiling on investment in RBI Relief Bonds for employees retiring from government service and public as well as private sectors.

RBI Relief Bonds, which carry an interest rate of 10.25 per cent, have emerged as the small investor’s favourite with the interest rate of most other instruments languishing around 9 per cent.

In his budget speech, Sinha had proposed to curtail the RBI bond option by disallowing investments above Rs 2 lakh. The proposal had sent a wave of dismay among employees planning to invest most of their pension benefits in the bonds.

While announcing the removal of the ceiling in the Lok Sabha tonight, Sinha hinted at a review of some more budget and tax proposals.

Sinha also appealed to all political parties to rise above “petty politics” in a thinly-veiled reference to the scathing attack mounted by his own allies a few minutes earlier.

Mamata led the offensive, demanding a rollback on virtually everything and lashing out at the government for not doing anything to generate jobs.

“A joint session of Parliament (should) be convened to discuss the unemployment problem rather than Poto (the anti-terror Ordinance),” she said. She said voluntary retirement schemes should be enforced on politicians, not common people.

Mamata was cheered by her rivals, the Left members, who said “we are happy that you are talking our language”. Mamata retorted: “I am speaking for the common people.”

She carried her battle outside the House, too, meeting several “like-minded” NDA allies like the Telugu Desam. The group is meeting again on Friday.


Islamabad, March 20: 
Shaken by Sunday’s attack on a church in Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf plans to launch the second phase of his crackdown on Islamic militants and has decided to reorganise the entire intelligence gathering network and the judicial and policing systems.

The decisions were taken at a meeting Musharraf held with top officials yesterday. “The President categorically told the meeting that no more violence and terrorism is acceptable and, if it happens in future, the officials concerned will be taken to task,” Rashid Qureshi, press secretary to the President, said.

An interior ministry official told Reuters that new moves to counter militancy would include weaning adherents away from groups and making them sign “good behaviour” bonds.

More militants would be detained in the second phase of a crackdown that Musharraf ordered in January. “The second phase of the crackdown is likely to begin in light of an action plan which was discussed at Tuesday’s law and order meeting,” the official said.

In Sunday’s attack on a church in the Pakistani capital, five people, including the wife and daughter of an American diplomat, were killed.

Again on Tuesday, three people were killed in Lahore by two motorcycle riders and two more died today when unidentified attackers hurled grenades on a leader of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.

Mian Ikhlaq Guddu’s driver and a bystander were killed in the grenade attack. Guddu and one of his two guards were wounded, police said.

“People are sick of violence and terrorism and if the personnel of the police, rangers and other paramilitary forces do not perform well, they will be sacked from their services,” Qureshi quoted the President as saying at the meeting.

Musharraf said the police, backed by the rangers and the army, where required, must ensure peace and law and order during Muharram.

The President asked officials attending the meeting why three people had again been killed in Lahore and whether any responsibility had been fixed.

Qureshi, who also heads Inter-Service Public Relations, said the President had told the meeting that in the first place law enforcement agencies should prevent the incidence of violence and terrorism by improving their intelligence-gathering services.

“And if any such incident occurs, then you must get hold of the culprits and I would not listen any excuses,” he was quoted as saying.

Musharraf said a system should be evolved where the judiciary could accelerate the process of meting out punishment to culprits involved in subversion and terrorism.

The action plan for a new crackdown on militants was prepared at an inter-provincial meeting last month “to root out extremism from the grassroots level”.

“A large number of arrests will be made of people suspected of their involvement in sectarian killings,” the interior ministry official said. “It’s a sustained plan and operation which will continue for several months,” he said.

Administrators of Pakistan’s four provinces have been told to make lists of office-bearers of banned religious and sectarian groups to monitor their activities.

Under the plan, intelligence agencies will be asked to make inroads into the militant groups with the objective of disintegrating them.

The plan says senior “A-category activists” must sign a two-year “good behaviour bond” as a condition of their release from detention.

“Other activists who do not fall in the A-category may be released after clearance is given by the federal government, if they give written statements disassociating themselves from the proscribed organisations,” it says.

“If they are not willing to give such a statement, they may also be bound down under the law as in the case of category A activists,” the plan added.

The plan asks provincial governments to ensure that top-level activists do not engage in any activities under the name of their banned groups or any other new group.


New Delhi, March 20: 
When home minister L.K. Advani calls on visiting Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba tomorrow, their talks would focus on security and ways to deal with Maoist rebels, terrorists and gunrunners who take advantage of India’s long, porous border with Nepal.

Deuba’s six-day trip includes a stopover in Calcutta on his way back for talks with West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Faced with a violent uprising, Deuba wants tough measurers against the Maoist insurgents who have close links with Naxalites in Bengal. Nepal wants coordinated action between the Centre and the governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal to crack down on the separatists taking shelter in India and stop the steady flow of arms from Indian gunrunners to the rebels.

At one time, Kathmandu even suspected Delhi of turning a blind eye to the insurgents who crossed into India to escape Nepalese security forces. Nepal saw it as India’s way of needling the government of the day. But much of those doubts have now been cleared.

Of particular concern to India is the number of madarsas that have sprouted over the last two years just inside Nepalese territory along the border. Indian intelligence agencies believe that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence are using these madarsas to fuel anti-India sentiments as a result of which they have become breeding grounds for jihadis and terrorists. Intelligence sources here say the ISI often recruits highly motivated cadre from these religious schools to carry out terrorist strikes in India.

Senior Nepalese diplomats are anxious to allay Delhi’s fears that the ISI is being given a free run to carry out anti-India operations from Nepalese soil. “India is more important to us than Pakistan. Our trade and commerce are closely linked with India. Realising how vital these links are, it would be foolish to act against New Delhi,” a senior diplomat said.

Nepalese officials say the madarsa issue has been blown out of proportion. “Yes, they are many new madarsas that have sprung up recently, but Nepal has nothing to do with these schools. They are run and operated by Indians,” the diplomat said.

As there are no restrictions on free movement between India and Nepal across the international boundary, most of these madarsas shifted to the other side after states like Uttar Pradesh passed laws regulating their growth. Diplomats say Kathmandu did not react as it was perfectly legal for people to cross over across the open border and settle where they wanted.

Indian officials who have raised this issue several times with successive governments in Nepal are confident that Deuba would take note of their concern and enact laws to check the trend. According to Delhi, the Deuba government, forced on the defensive by the Maoist upsurge, is now much more attuned to India’s security anxieties.


Mumbai, March 20: 
Bangalore is bad news for Mumbai. And we are not referring to IT or fashion.

The country’s entertainment capital is now losing out to its southern cousin in entertainment as well.

An Arthur Anderson report declares Mumbai as an increasingly “unfavourable” destination for live entertainment, a fast-growing segment in the Rs 130 billion entertainment industry.

Needless to say, the same report dubs Bangalore the most favoured destination for such events.

Anderson blames Mumbai’s decline chiefly on Maharashtra’s prohibitively high entertainment tax, which has stifled the Rs 1.5 billion live entertainment sector. It also cites a litany of other woes plaguing the segment, including excessive government restrictions.

Nothing could be more shocking for fun-loving Mumbaikars, who do not mind lining up for hours for tickets to shows by Bryan Adams and Scorpions.

Anderson says Maharashtra slaps a whopping 49 per cent as entertainment tax on live entertainment events. In neighbouring Karnataka, the tax is as low as 10 per cent.

Little wonder why Mumbai is losing out to Bangalore.

Anderson calls entertainment tax “the biggest hurdle” facing the industry. It says a high tax rate makes events unviable, so the states “charging high rates will lose out”.

Event management, started in the eighties, has ballooned into a full-scale, tech-savvy industry in the past two decades, if a bit disorganised. More than 1,000 live entertainment events were organised in the country last year, with annual revenue of Rs 1.5 billion.

With an annual growth of 30 per cent, the industry is expected to nudge nearly Rs 6 billion in five years.

Though Mumbai and Bangalore host most of the live concerts, New Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai are increasingly claiming a share of the growing pie.

Realising its potential, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has formed the Event Management Association of India in a bid to organise and regulate the industry.

Lured by the easy buck, stars-— from Shah Rukh Khan to Aishwarya Rai — have plunged in, swaying on stages to hip-hops all over the country. The stars gobble up 40 per cent of the cost of an event organised. The rest goes on production and travel expenses.

With corporates chipping in with buckets of money as sponsors and cable channels hosting events to boost viewership, money is no longer a problem for event managers. But government regulations are. And that’s another reason for Mumbai’s decline.

According to Anderson, 18 different “approvals” are needed on an average from different government departments to stage a big-ticket event in a city. This includes permissions from municipal, police and fire brigade authorities.

It is not easy for event managers to swing such permissions in the commercial capital, where police and corporation require them to adhere to strict rules. In contrast, authorities in Bangalore make it easy for events to be organised in the city.

“A significant reason for Bangalore attracting many events is the helpful attitude adopted by the state government and city authorities towards the event management industry,” Anderson says.

On the entertainment front, Bollywood remains Mumbai’s saving grace, with Hindi films continuing as “the most popular form of entertainment”, the report says. It produced 230 films last year.




Maximum: 36.5°C (+3)
Minimum: 23.6°C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,

Sunrise: 5.44 am

Sunset: 5.44 pm


Mainly clear sky. Maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be around 36°C and 23°C, respectively

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