BJP not Hindu-friendly enough: VHP
Stuck in Ahmedabad�s camps of no-return
Centre firm against yatra
Karan breaches Cong boycott of Fernandes
�Pained� Jaya helps supporter find tongue
VHP ban call
CPM to seek Cong help, not hand
Give-and-take advice to Deuba
SC closes panchayat route for builders
CalTel rings in low-cost hotline

Ayodhya, March 21: 
Getting rid of the �soft-on-the-BJP� tag that it acquired after the March 15 no-show, the VHP today came down heavily on the BJP and demanded a �pro-Hindu government� that protects the interests of Hindus�.

In a sudden about-turn, senior VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said here the country needs a government that will have the interests of Hindus at heart. �The BJP has not been able to do it and as long as it functions within the NDA, it will never be able to do it,� he said during an interlude to the VHP�s two-day �introspection meeting�.

Kishore said �all those pseudo-secular forces who are opposing the temple by taking shelter in the judicial system must publicly announce that they want to actually build a mosque at the site. Let the truth be out.�

The Centre had sent Union minister Uma Bharti to pacify the VHP and soften its stance on mandir and other related issues, but her persuasive skills appear to have had exactly the opposite result.

A week after praising Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his efforts at �containing the explosive situation that could have erupted on March 15�, and assuring that the VHP would do nothing to unseat him, Kishore today said any government that cannot keep the Hindus happy must go. The VHP has now decided to go to the villages to create a �Hindu jagran�. Dubbed the Gram Sampark Karyakram, the project will be directed by the party�s regional leaders.

�Under this programme, Hindu awareness would be revived in the entire country at a greater level,� Kishore said. The outfit will organise bhajans, kirtans and yagnas throughout India.

Reacting to the VHP-led attack on the Orissa Assembly, Kishore said a three-member fact-finding team will be sent to the state to investigate. But he added: �It was mostly women who were injured in the incident and later some people found a Muslim youth in the crowd. That raises a lot of questions. So, though we condemn the incident we have to find out exactly what happened. Later, we will table our report to the government,� Kishore said.

Lending support to the VHP�s temple cry, the Sankaracharya of Govardhan Peeth, Nischalananda Saraswati, said there would be no compromise through the courts. He said all the four Sankarcharyas of the primary peeths were in close touch with each other on the Ayodhya dispute and would extend any help required by the government to defuse the crisis.

There can only be an out-of-court settlement, the Sankaracharya said. He said things can be sorted out if the Congress moves a resolution on the issue and the NDA agrees to support it. The courts, he said, have their limitations in dealing with cases revolving around faith and religion.

�I had initially (suggested) this formula to (former Prime Minister Narasimha) Rao but nothing came of it,� the Sankaracharya said. �There has to be a strong political will to resolve this issue and all parties have to come together. Otherwise it will continue to haunt us.�

Ayodhya hearing

An officer of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court was today appointed as the commissioner to record the evidence of those witnesses whose statements will not be taken by the judges hearing the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid title suit.

The appointment of Narendra Prasad, officer on special duty at the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri masjid section, was made by the special full bench of the court which is hearing the title suit in line with its yesterday�s order for daily hearing of the case to facilitate expeditious disposal of the suit.

Prasad will record the evidence of one Chaudhari Sibte Mohammad Naqvi, the 25th witness, on April 1.


Ahmedabad, March 21: 
For nearly three weeks since riots ravaged Ahmedabad, officials of the BJP�s Narendra Modi administration barely recognised the existence of the relief camp at Sha-e-Alam dargah, the city�s biggest.

Then, on Tuesday night, things got moving. A cheque for Rs 2.25 lakh arrived, two large tents were put up on the dargah premises where around 9,000 riot victims, many from Naroda where 67 people were burnt to death in a minority-dominated slum, have taken shelter.

This is home minister L.K. Advani�s constituency, which is home now to six relief camps sheltering over 20,000 riot victims. What stirred the administration into action was the impending visit of a team from the National Human Rights Commission that came yesterday.

The rights panel has rejected a Gujarat government report on the riots as �perfunctory� and sought a more comprehensive one in the next few days. �The situation in the state is far from normal, there is a sense of insecurity among the people,� commission head Justice J.S. Verma said.

With reports of stray violence coming in almost every day � six people were stabbed in Ahmedabad even today and one died in police firing � no one at the camp wants to return to what were once their homes and pick up the threads of their devastated lives.

In the biggest incident of arson since February 28, which is being seen as an attempt to avenge the Naroda killings, about 100 shops owned by members of one community were set on fire today. Indefinite curfew was clamped on two areas after the rioting.

Safibhai Memon, one of the organisers of the camp, pleads helplessness when confronted with the question of rehabilitating the riot victims. �Probably,� he said, �we will ask the government to give a written assurance that they will be safe when they go back.�

But he also admits that not many will trust the government and the police. Memon is looking for a piece of land where all refugees can be temporarily settled.

Sajid Malek, a victim, whenever asked what he planned to do with his life would only say that he would return, but only to sell whatever is left of his property. And, thereafter, silence.

Rehabilitation will have to wait. Before that, women and children � traumatised by violence � need medical care and counselling, which they are yet to get. Some NGOs have decided to send their trained counsellors to the camps from Monday.

Arju, a student of class X, is so disturbed she has told her parents she would not be able to write her examination, even though she has more than 45 days to prepare for it.

Over 50 students of classes X and XII, whose books were reduced to cinder along with the rest of the belongings of their families, were provided with the full kit a week ago by an NGO.

Yet, Rafi Malek, a volunteer working at the camp, said he was not sure how many of these students would finally write their examinations.

There are hundreds of other children in lower classes whose future is as uncertain. �Maybe they will get mass promotion. This will not be unusual. Last year after the quake, the state government had given mass promotion,� said Malek.

Any effort to get the victims back to normal life must start with payment of compensation, but that is not going to happen in a hurry because first the damaged properties have to surveyed.


New Delhi, March 21: 
Rattled by the latest VHP move to carry the ashes of the Godhra victims across the country, the Vajpayee government is set to abort the processions before they get off the ground.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi will be firmly told by the Centre to rein in the hotheads and make sure the ashes are neither collected nor taken out of the state. The government realises that the price of indulging the Hindutva brigade on this is one it cannot afford to pay even to please its Hindu votebank. The Gujarat riots, senior government sources said, have already damaged India�s reputation abroad and the country cannot afford another bout of communal blood-letting.

Already furious with Modi for mishandling the Hindu backlash after the attack on Sabarmati Express, the Vajpayee government is in no mood to concede any ground to these forces. �There is no question of allowing the ashes to be taken to other places. The chief minister will have to stop it,� a senior official said. How he does it, by placating the VHP or taking a tough stand against them is entirely up to Modi, the official added.

The allies have publicly voiced their opposition to the move. This time around, unlike during the recent Ayodhya flashpoint, the government will not yield an inch. �Law and order will be maintained at all cost. No government can give the green signal to a few disruptive elements to destroy the peace of the land. If these hotheads persist with their plans, the law enforcers will do what has to be done in such cases,� an official explained.

The Centre has gained confidence since the March 15 deadline in Ayodhya went without a hitch. The government has learnt one important lesson from that experience: if there is political will, law and order can be handled firmly.

Officials said if some people in Gujarat were determined to go ahead with their dangerous scheme, they may be put behind bars in Opposition-controlled states. Non BJP-state governments are unlikely to treat the Hindutva forces with kid gloves. Neighbouring governments of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are both under Congress rule. If Hindu hotheads go ahead with the ashes, their Muslim counterparts can also launch a similar plan for those who died in the Gujarat riots.


New Delhi, March 21: 
While Sonia Gandhi today led a walk-out in the Lok Sabha, protesting against the continuation of George Fernandes in the Cabinet, her party MP in the Rajya Sabha, Karan Singh, had no qualms about putting questions to the defence minister.

Singh broke the party�s �ban� on Fernandes on March 13 when he asked a question (number 151) on the role of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in phasing out MiGs. Chief whip Pranab Mukherjee and deputy leader K. Rahman Khan tried to dissuade the former maharaja of Kashmir but he went ahead posing the supplementary question.

There are many red faces in the Congress as Sonia has sought an explanation. The Congress chief has been told that it was a �mistake�. But the leadership is unconvinced about the �unwitting lapse�.

Singh-baiters within the Congress have given a twist to the faux pas, alleging that he tried to �legitimise� the defence minister with an eye on Rashtrapati Bhavan. The presidential polls are likely to be held in July and Singh is perceived to be among the few lobbying for the coveted post.

Sonia�s move to boycott Fernandes has not been fully endorsed by some senior leaders, particularly those in the Upper House. They feel such a strategy beyond some time is flawed on many counts.

First, it challenges the Prime Minister�s prerogative of selecting ministers in his council of ministers. Senior leaders fear that the ruling coalition may retaliate, according similar treatment to Congress ministers when they return to power.

Moreover, the Congress forms the government in 14 states and if the Opposition in these states decides to boycott the chief ministers and the ministers, it would challenge the concept of parliamentary democracy.

Sonia loyalists are, however, unfazed. They say the party took a conscious decision not to accept Fernandes� reinduction when the Tehelka probe was still going on. �If we go back now, we will become a laughing stock,� said a Congress floor leader in the Lok Sabha.

In the lower House today, Sonia boycotted Fernandes by leading a noisy walkout. As soon as the House assembled during the question hour, Congress and other Opposition members questioned his right to continue as defence minister in the wake of the �coffin scam�.

As Fernandes rose to answer a question on welfare schemes for ex-servicemen, Sonia along with members from her party, the Left and the Rashtriya Janata Dal walked out. However, ADMK and Samajwadi Party MPs remained seated.


Chennai, March 21: 
Raja lost his tongue, Jayalalithaa her peace. Today, the two met at her Poes Garden home, Raja with a new tongue, and Jayalalithaa with a new smile.

She was used to supporters prostrating themselves at her feet, but nothing could have prepared her for Raja�s sacrifice.

Raja had vowed that he would sacrifice his tongue if Jayalalithaa overcame all legal hurdles and became chief minister.

On March 2 � the day the ADMK leader was sworn in as chief minister � Raja headed straight for the Tirumala hills, where using a blade he hacked off a part of his tongue and dropped it in Lord Venkateswara�s hundi, fulfilling his vow to the Lord of the Seven Hills of Andhra Pradesh.

But this sacrifice rattled the chief minister. She arranged for Raja to be admitted to the Apollo Hospital here where plastic surgeon Sridhar managed to restore Raja�s tongue.

He was discharged this morning, and went straight to Amma�s residence for what turned out to be an emotional meeting.

Jayalalithaa beamed. Raja cried with joy.

�Are you able to speak now?� asked Jayalalithaa. �Yes, Amma, I am able to speak now.�

But it was not a quiet moment. Present were reporters and television crew. Flashbulbs popped, TV crews thrust forward microphones to catch the sound bytes.

�I cannot forget this gesture for the rest of my life,� said Raja.

Jayalalithaa also made a speech, a small one. She said she had not only been �terribly pained� by the act, but also �numbed and shocked�.

�On hearing of his act, I immediately ordered that he be admitted to Apollo Hospital for treatment�. Only today my soul rests (in peace) after seeing him with his tongue and faculty of speech back.�

She said the medical expenses for Raja�s treatment would be borne by the MGR Trust floated by the ADMK. Dr Sridhar has, however, waived his fees for the complex surgery.

Jayalalithaa made it clear that there should be no repeats. �I am happy as all is well that ends well. But I make a fervent appeal to my partymen not to mortify themselves by indulging in such acts.�


New Delhi, March 21: 
The Congress today demanded a ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal accusing them of pursuing an agenda of �communal hatred� in the country, reports our special correspondent.

�Organisations like (the) VHP and (the) Bajrang Dal have been systematically spreading communal hatred, violence and showing disrespect to the law of the land. They should be immediately banned,� said AICC spokesman Anand Sharma.

The NDA allies should take a serious note of the Sangh parivar�s �systematic attempts to denigrate constitutional institutions in a liberal democracy�, he added.    

Hyderabad, March 21: 
The CPM will not form any alliance with the Congress but is not averse to seeking the help of the �main Opposition party with a mass base� in its attempt to dislodge the BJP.

A day after the party revealed its divisions vis-�-vis its Congress position, its leaders tried to maintain a balance between avowed anti-Congressism and the need of the hour during the discussions on the draft political resolution at the ongoing party congress.

CPM politburo member Prakash Karat today said the party would seek Congress help to defeat the BJP-led government during the joint session of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, meeting to vote on the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance on March 26.

�We expect the Congress to support us in opposing the BJP attempts to gain approval for the controversial Ordinance,� Karat said.

�As our only aim is to keep the BJP away from power, it will not be wrong to expect support from the Congress,� he reasoned.

Karat�s views were shared by Sitaram Yechuri, another politburo member, who did not rule out exploiting the Congress�s strength in trying to dislodge the BJP, though the next Lok Sabha polls were still some time away.

�There is no doubt that Congress has managed to keep its mass base intact and is the main Opposition party in the Lok Sabha,� Yechuri said.

However, according to Yechuri, the Congress is, directly or indirectly, encouraging communal forces. �This, we feel, is equally dangerous,� he said, adding that the CPM would not go in for any electoral alliance with the Congress. But even he could not vouch that the party would never seek Congress support.

Despite admitting his party�s inability to combat the BJP at the national level, Yechuri made it clear that its only aim was to form a third alternative to both the Congress and the BJP.

�People in our country have no choice but to cast their votes either for the Congress or the BJP,� he said. �We want to offer the people of India a third alternative to enable them to exercise their franchise in the right direction,� Yechuri said, supporting his theory with the Uttar Pradesh poll results, which showed that people are �really seeking an alternative to both the BJP and the Congress�.

It would be the CPM and the Left parties that would lead the third front, bringing the secular and democratic forces under one umbrella, Karat and Yechuri added.

The CPM expressed its displeasure over the Telugu Desam Party�s stand on the BJP. �The Desam will have to tell the people clearly with whom they want to ally. We are not saying it is a communal party but it is providing support to the communal BJP,� they said. The CPM has no plans of including the Desam in the third front until it snapped ties with the BJP, they added.


New Delhi, March 21: 
Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba today sought India�s cooperation in dealing with groups aiding the Maoists in his country and wanted assurances that trade and economic impediments would be removed soon.

This is Deuba�s first foreign visit after his election in October last year.

The six-day official tour will give him an opportunity to get India�s support in his government�s fight against the Maoist rebels as well as assurances from Delhi to pave the way for quick implementation of trade agreements between the two countries.

Deuba�s visit, which began yesterday, also includes a trip to Calcutta on Saturday.

The Premier also sought India�s cooperation in preventing the flooding of large areas in Nepal because of two barrages coming up at Siddhartnagar in Uttar Pradesh. Work was suspended last year and experts from the two countries met a couple of times to stop the flooding.

The visiting Prime Minister has come with a 100-member delegation that includes Nepali Congress leaders, MPs, businessmen and mediapersons.

Deuba will attend a business meeting tomorrow where he is likely to seek the cooperation of captains of Indian industry to bolster Nepal�s economy.

Deuba, who was accorded a ceremonial welcome, met all important leaders, including President K.R. Narayanan.

At Hyderabad House today, the two countries signed an agreement for cooperation on science and technology.

In his meeting with home minister L.K. Advani, Deuba discussed the problems posed by terrorists who take advantage of the porous India-Nepal border. The Nepal Prime Minister wanted Delhi to take firm action against groups which provided refuge and arms to the Maoist rebels.

Advani sought the neighbouring country�s cooperation to deal with the ISI that was operating from Nepal and smuggling arms and sending men to India.

The home minister suggested that the 1953 extradition treaty between the two countries be reviewed and amended to deal with the situation in the aftermath of the September 11 strikes on the US.

He also suggested that the two countries should have a mutual legal assistance treaty and work closely on intelligence sharing to help both countries to man their borders effectively.

Deuba also met defence minister George Fernandes though details of the meeting were not available.

India has provided the Himalayan kingdom with military hardware like helicopters in its fight against the Maoists.


New Delhi, March 21: 
Construction activity throughout West Bengal will undergo a sea-change, following a Supreme Court ruling that fresh permission has to be obtained under the West Bengal Town and Country (Planning and Development) Act for any construction, extension, addition or alteration, despite earlier sanctions obtained under the West Bengal Panchayat Act.

�Sanction obtained from the panchayat, which ran contrary� to the Town and Country Act �could not continue�, said a three-judge bench of Justices V.N. Khare, Ashok Bhan and D.M. Dharmadhikari.

The issue was brought to the apex court by Hotel Sea Gull, which had got permission under the Panchayat Act to build a five-storeyed building. But permission was not obtained under the Town and Country Act.

A division bench of Calcutta High Court ruled against the hotel, which then moved the apex court. Senior counsel for the appellant K.K. Venugopal contended that a new law could not nullify the sanction obtained under the earlier Act. The Town and Country Act had come into force after the Panchayat Act.

The Supreme Court disagreed. �The case of the appellant is that they have obtained permission from the panchayat under the Panchayat Act and, therefore, permission continues to be valid even after the coming into force of the new Act. We do not agree,� it said.

�Any sanction obtained from the panchayat, which ran contrary to the interim provisions of the development plan under preparation, could not continue by reason only of the fact that permission, approval or sanction under any other law for the development had been obtained,� the bench said. �Fresh approval was required to be taken. Otherwise, it would be a negation of provisions of� the new Act, it ruled.

The apex court added that, from April 1, 2002, applications should be made under the new law for construction, addition, alteration, extension or similar development activity on a land or on existing structures.

On failure to apply for permission, the authority shall be free to proceed according to law, including demolition of built area, cancelling of lease and other methods normally adopted by the authority in cases of illegal construction, the judges added. The applicant would have to pay development charges assessed by the authority.

Senior officials of the West Bengal urban development department and the Calcutta Municipal Development Authority welcomed the ruling, saying it would help check mushrooming of illegal buildings, adds our staff reporter.

The Act determines zones where structures could come up. �The Act ensures safe and sound constructions,� a senior CMDA official said. �No one can just obtain permission from anywhere and construct a building by merely leaving four feet open space around it,� he added.


Calcutta, March 21: 
Calcutta Telephones has introduced a facility that will allow groups of two or more to have virtual �hotlines�. By paying monthly fees � ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per person � individuals in the group can communicate for unlimited hours over the phone.

Officials said a two-member group is enough to form a Centrex unit. A special dial tone will be available to the members and each group will be given an identification number which can be used by all the members.

�All calls made within the group will be free of charge,� Calcutta Telephones chief general manager S.P. Chakraborty said. In case of a two-member Centrex unit, each person will have to pay Rs 50 every month. The rate will increase to Rs 75 per person for three-member groups. In larger groups, each member will have to shell out Rs 100.

�Irrespective of the number of calls made, we are assured of a revenue,� a Calcutta Telephones official said. To call someone outside the group, Centrex members will have to dial 9 before the telephone number. This facility is available in Chennai and Hyderabad .


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