Scramble to save govtThe Vajpayee-led government averted getting sucked into an immediate crisis tonight by conceding the demand of its ally Telugu Desam not to plunge into an election in Gujarat now. But it was silent on the Desam’s insistence on removing Narendra Modi as chief minister.
N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Desam kept a decision on whether or not to withdraw support in abeyance, saying it would be “uncompromising” on its demand for resignation of Modi and in its opposition to early elections in Gujarat, due next year in the normal course.
On his return from Goa after the BJP’s national executive, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an emergency meeting of the National Democratic Alliance convened. A resolution adopted at the meeting said: “NDA appeals to TDP, which as our valued friend has steadfastly supported us all these four years, to continue its support to the government.”
Although the resolution was silent on the BJP’s move for early polls in Gujarat, NDA convener George Fernandes said the meeting decided that elections would be delayed. The BJP resolution at Goa was read out at the meeting to clarify that it did not say elections would be held immediately.
As for Modi’s removal, the argument was offered that it was a decision which could not be foisted from Delhi but had to be taken by the BJP legislature party in Gujarat.
“The NDA is of the view that in a federal polity, interference in the democratic functioning of states or of Delhi determining who is or is not to be the chief minister of any particular state will completely distort the constitutional balance of federalism.”
The statement ignores the fact that Modi himself was sent by Delhi to take up the Gujarat leadership, replacing Keshubhai Patel.
Earlier in the day in Goa, Vajpayee had ruled out dismissing Modi. “No talks are being held on Modi,” he said, indicating that the issue was non-negotiable.
At the NDA meeting, the BJP, however, made the concession of agreeing to send an alliance team to Gujarat in a couple of days to review relief and rehabilitation in the riot-hit areas.
Ahmedabad continued to be convulsed by violence with three persons dying and at least 12 getting injured in police firing. Senior BJP leaders of the state were closeted together until late tonight to discuss the mandate Modi had returned with from Goa: to dissolve the Assembly and hold elections.
The day began with the Prime Minister speaking to Naidu. Vajpayee is believed to have told the Andhra chief minister that he should visit Gujarat first and see the situation for himself before judging Modi.
Fernandes cut short his visit to Moscow, arriving at 4 am in Delhi and getting on the phone to Naidu at 11 am and again at 4 pm. He beseeched Naidu not to take any drastic step as the Congress would be the singular beneficiary if the government was destabilised, sources said.
Vajpayee asked Fernandes to talk to Naidu. Declining to divulge what he told Naidu, Fernandes said the Desam leader expressed “his inner feelings”.
“The NDA has been and remains fully committed to its agenda. It reaffirms unequivocally its confidence in the leadership of the Prime Minister,” the resolution said.
A senior Cabinet minister belonging to an alliance partner did not set great store by the NDA meeting and the statement issued later, suggesting that the crisis might not be over yet. If Naidu continues to make an issue of Modi’s removal, it could erupt any moment again.
Although the meeting sought to send out the message that the alliance was united behind the Prime Minister, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress and the Lok Jan Shakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan stayed away, giving some anxious moments to coalition managers.
Fernandes said Paswan was out of Delhi and could not reach in time. According to him, Mamata could be contacted only in the afternoon, but said she was busy with Bengali New Year Day programmes. In Calcutta, Mamata said she could not go because she received the information late.
Both had opposed holding a snap poll in Gujarat, which the BJP believes it can win on the assumption that the perceived communal polarisation there would see Modi back in power.
The hour-long meeting tried to work on the allies’ Congress phobia. “The NDA is unanimous in its resolve to defeat the scheming of the Congress and its cohorts. We will not permit any destabilisation of the country at this critical juncture, and that too when our defence forces are deployed on the borders of the country.”
It criticised the statements of Congress president Sonia Gandhi at Guwahati about the Prime Minister losing his mental balance. “They are not only irresponsible and in bad taste, but they also represent the lowest ebb of political immorality.”
Vajpayee said: “Her comments show her mentality.”
After a meeting of the politburo, which gathered even as the NDA session continued in Delhi, the party said: “We will not give up and will fight out the issue on the floor of Parliament.”
It would also oppose holding early elections in Gujarat.
The politburo did not pull the trigger on the Vajpayee government, which it supports from outside, as had been indicated by the leadership earlier in the afternoon.
Emerging from a five-hour meeting held at the residence of chief minister and party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu said of withdrawing support: “So far, we have not taken any decision. This is a matter of national importance. We are discussing the pros and cons.”
With 27 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the Desam’s backing is crucial to Vajpayee’s survival.
“Our stand is very clear. We are demanding removal of Modi to restore public confidence. We should protect the secular fabric and national interests,” Yerran Naidu said.
The politburo examined the resolutions passed by the NDA in Delhi, appealing to the Desam to continue its support to the government.
“We have taken note of the resolution passed by the NDA. The politburo will meet whenever needed and will take a stand on the issue of our support to the NDA. We will act on the basis of the public perception on the Gujarat developments.”
“You will see from tomorrow how we are going to raise these issues in Parliament,” Yerran Naidu said.
Reminded that the BJP had ruled out removing Modi, he said: “We are not demanding change of chief ministers everywhere. In the interests of the nation, we are asking for Modi’s replacement.”
The party was in touch with other “secular” allies of the BJP through the day and one reason for choosing to continue with the status quo could be the realisation that the threat of withdrawal of support by the Desam alone was not enough to shake up the Vajpayee government.
“The chief minister has contacted Mamata Banerjee and Ram Vilas Paswan,” Yerran Naidu said.
During the politburo meeting, Naidu kept calling NDA allies and sought their opinion. Mamata assured him that she would follow in his footsteps.
“Modi’s continuation in office has become an embarrassment for all of us in the NDA. Why should we shoulder the liability of the BJP?” Paswan, the leader of the Lok Jan Shakti, told Naidu.
Saying he was surprised and pained over the “baseless and misinformed criticism” of his speech delivered in Goa on Friday, Vajpayee said it contained nothing that is against either Islam or Muslims.
“It is projected as anti-Islam and anti-Muslim. A motivated propaganda both within the country and internationally is sought to be launched on the basis of such misrepresentation. My remarks taken in totality contained nothing that is either against Islam or Muslims,” the Prime Minister said in a statement.
Vajpayee had said on Friday: “Wherever they (members of the minority community) live, they create trouble. They don’t know how to get on with other communities. Instead of preaching their religion peacefully, they propagate it through money and terror.”
The clarification — issued 48 hours after the speech and 12 hours before the resumption of the budget session of Parliament — followed some allies’ enquiries at the NDA meeting whether the Prime Minister made the comments attributed to him.
The allies also expressed concern about its possible fallout in the House tomorrow. Coalition managers said the Prime Minister did not make any controversial remark and gave transcripts of the speech to NDA leaders.
Tonight, Vajpayee said that in his speech at Panaji, he had drawn attention to two contradictory streams in Islam.
“I had said Islam has two forms. One is that which tolerates others, which teaches its adherents to follow the path of truth, which preaches compassion and sensitivity.
“But these days, militancy in the name of Islam leaves no room for tolerance. It has raised the slogan of jihad. It is dreaming of recasting the entire world in its mould.”
The Prime Minister said that in pointing out these two divergent facets of Islam, “I have not said anything new or different from what numerous perceptive observers, including many devout and concerned Muslims around the world, have already said”.
“When I said in my speech that some people tend not to live in co-existence with others, not to mingle with others, and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, resort to threats, my reference was clearly to followers of militant Islam, and not to ordinary Muslims in general,” Vajpayee said.
The Prime Minister clarified that he had emphatically said in his speech that India was a multi-religious but secular nation, which gives the right to all its citizens to follow their faiths freely.
“There cannot be any discrimination in India on the basis of the faith of a citizen. My view that madarsa education should include, apart from the teaching of Islam, lessons in science and other subjects is also reiterated by many people, including all forward-looking Muslims,” he said.
The Prime Minister added that “it is indeed strange that I am praised as a secular leader when I condemn, as I recently did, intolerance and other negative features exhibited by certain self-styled champions of Hindutva, but criticised as a communal leader when I point out the negative aspects of militant Islam.”
“Such double standards do no good to a healthy debate on what is true secularism and what is in the interest of our nation and the world,” Vajpayee said in a statement.
The three primary akhadas — the Nirmohi, the Digambar and the Nirvani — are already divided on the issue of supporting the VHP and Nyas chairman Ramchandra Das Paramhans in their attempts to revive the temple movement.
Formed to lend direction to the temple agitation and collect funds, the Nyas itself looks like it will cave in to the fissures within. Senior trustee and dissenting Mahant Dharam Das has moved the high court for the “dissolution” of the “dysfunctional Nyas”.
Dharam Das said his fight was against Paramhans, the principal architect of the March 15 shila daan at Ayodhya, VHP leader Ashok Singhal and others who appropriated the mandir movement for “their narrow, personal gains”.
On his appeal to dismantle the Nyas, Dhram Das said: “My main demand is the removal of Singhal, Paramhans and (VHP leader) Vishnu Hari Dalmiya as trustees from the Nyas.’’
The senior mahant, who worked with Paramhans and the VHP until he was marginalised, said there would be a new trust called the Vishwa Dharam Raksha Parishad.
“This will be the true body representing genuine leaders working for the Ram mandir movement,’’ he explained.
Adding to the chorus of a growing number of sadhus who want the VHP and Paramhans to dissociate themselves from the Mandir Nirman Samiti, Dharam Das said “this small clique’’ not only cheated people of huge funds but also did nothing for the temple. “Imagine, Rs 2 crore was spent on the March 15 shila daan, which was basically nothing,’’ he fumed.
The rebel mahant is supported by Nritya Gopal Das, the Nyas vice-president, who was conspicuously absent from the shila daan.
The heads of the Nirmohi and the Nirvani akhadas have also condemned Paramhans, Singhal and the shila daan. The two akhadas had boycotted the VHP programme, saying they didn’t want to “stain their hands with blood”.
Dharam Das said the solution to the vexed mandir-masjid issue was not “as difficult as everybody makes it out to be”.
“I have already kept 10 acres near the Parikrama Road, belonging to the Nyas, for constructing a mosque,’’ the mahant said, adding that Muslim leaders have no problems in allowing a temple to be built on the disputed land.
Sadhus are also angry that the VHP’s mishandling of the temple issue spread the area of contention from the original disputed 80 feet by 40 feet to 67 acre.
But Paramhans, under attack from various sadhu factions after the shila daan, said there was no rift in the community. “I have spoken to all those who have felt left out. There is no problem now, everybody is happy,” he said.
In an attempt to save the VHP from the ire of those who felt that the shila daan was a let down, Paramhans claimed that the programme was his “personal idea”.
Mahant Ramvilas Vedanti also said that after Paramhans’ clarification, there were no more differences among leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
Though Singhal and Mahant Avaidhyanath are in Ayodhya to broker peace among the warring groups, little progress has been made.
There has been no let-up in Dharam Das’ criticism of the VHP and Paramhans.
“Notices have been served to Singhal, Dalmiya and Paramhans to dissolve the Nyas and constitute a new one,’’ he said.
“The Nyas has become the fief of a few. I will take the help of the court to break their hold over it.”
Delhi feels that a resounding victory would make the general far more belligerent towards India than he has been till now.
Officially, India has not reacted to Musharraf’s plan to hold a referendum on April 30 and has been referring to it as “an internal matter” of Pakistan. But, in private, officials and policy makers are assessing how developments in Islamabad are likely to affect relations between the two countries.
What is worrying India is the high chances of political power concentrating in the hands of Musharraf, who is also the chief of the armed forces, with a stamp of legitimacy.
“We are for democracy in Pakistan,” a senior official in the foreign ministry said. “We want a constitutionally valid process of democracy and power in the hands of a democratically elected government.”
It is being argued that in Pakistan, too, there are sections that are vocally opposed to Musharraf’s referendum. The main Opposition parties — the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League — have buried their differences and agreed to hold a massive rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on April 27.
The parties have threatened to defy the government’s ban on political rallies to oppose the referendum.
A senior judge of the five-member Election Commission in Pakistan, Justice Tariq Mahmood, has resigned in protest against the referendum.
Justice Mahmood, also a judge of Baluchistan High Court, made it clear that the commission has no mandate to hold the referendum and resigned after questioning it’s legitimacy.
Indian policy makers are of the view that the US, by putting pressure on the Pakistani dictator, can force him to give up his plans to circumvent the democratic process and instead make him take urgent steps to restore democracy in Pakistan.
So far, the Bush administration has adopted an ambiguous stand on Musharraf. US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca gave an indication of that attitude when she said that it was for the court and people of Pakistan to decide whether the referendum has any legitimacy.
There are indications that some opinion makers in the US have second thoughts on whether it should maintain the ambiguity on the referendum.
“No doubt, some Bush administration officials would like to perpetuate a relationship with Pakistan that allows the US to do business with a single, relatively cooperative general,” the Washington Post said in an editorial.
“But a likely outcome of the referendum initiative is a weakened leader who will be mired in power struggles with the civilian politicians elected in October,” it added.
Health secretary Javed Chowdhury is due to retire on April 30 while family welfare secretary A.R. Nanda and telecommunications secretary Shyamal Ghosh are due to retire on May 31.
According to sources, the IAS lobby wants water resources secretary B.N. Navalawala, who came from the Planning Commission and not the IAS, out. The move to shift him has gained momentum and Navalawala could be replaced by a secretary in the rural development ministry. The ministry has two secretaries — Arun Bhatnagar and A.K. Goswami.
The first recent secretary-level change took place in the education department of the human resources development ministry when B.K. Chaturvedi was moved from higher education to the petroleum ministry.
For now, primary education secretary S.K. Tripathi has additional charge of higher education. According to human resources officials, a new higher education secretary is likely to come in soon.
Before Murli Manohar Joshi took charge of the human resources ministry, there was one secretary for education. Joshi split the department and appointed two secretaries — Achala Moulik for primary education and M.K. Kaw for higher education.
Kaw, a known Joshi acolyte, was replaced by Chaturvedi after he retired as higher education secretary.
In most ministries, the transfers have been without much of a murmur but the health ministry is agog with speculation about Chowdhury’s successor.
One of the names doing the rounds is that of J.V. Prasada Rao, the director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) and a special secretary in the ministry.
“The name of an Enforcement Directorate official is also coming up,” said a ministry official.
Rao, however, has been a controversial name in the health and family welfare ministry. He has faced resentment from several quarters for his “clout”. As Naco director, Rao has been high-profile. The organisation, which is flush with funds, has been envied by other cash-starved sectors in the ministry.
Rao has several important subjects like disease control programmes and medical education under his supervision, apart from AIDS — one of the primary areas of concern for the government.
“The health secretary’s post is powerful in the ministry and anybody would want it,” said an official.
But the Naco director has many detractors. They had earlier complained against his “independent” functioning in Naco where, they said, he often signed files without routing them through proper bureaucratic channels.
But men and women are not invited.
This is the Rashtriya Kinnar Sammelan (National Eunuchs’ Conference). The delegates consist of municipal councillors, beauty queens, film stars, gurus and community heads — all from the eunuch society and hailing from across the country.
Over a thousand eunuchs from West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Delhi are participating in the conference, which was inaugurated this morning in Raisen district, 140 km from Bhopal.
Invitees from the eunuch community are expected to join from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.
The political delegates include councillors Hirabai, Gulshanbai and Shobha Nehru. Hirabai was the third eunuch councillor to be elected in Madhya Pradesh, while Shobha is the first eunuch civic body representative from Hissar in Haryana.
However, Shabnam Mausi, the country’s first eunuch MLA, will not attend the conference. Shabnam has sent her regrets because of her busy schedule in Mumbai, where a film based on her life is being made.
Shabnam, busy dividing her time between appointments with director/producer Mahesh Bhatt, actor Ashutosh Rana who plays Shabnam’s character and the budget session of the Assembly, has sent her apologies for her inability to attend the convention.
But the eunuch community is not swayed by Shabnam’s excuse. “Since Shabnam has reached the status of a star, she is no longer one of us. Henceforth, we will not send her an invitation,” said Suraiyya Bai of Bhopal.
Suraiyya has recently been chosen Miss World in the All India Eunuchs’ Beauty Pageant, which was held in the Madhya Pradesh capital on March 29. Suraiyya now has plans to contest Assembly elections when Madhya Pradesh goes to polls in December 2003.
The future political agenda will be discussed behind closed doors. No outsider will be allowed to participate.
The conference is being held in the memory of Tara Jaan, a member of the community who passed away two years ago.
A rally this morning kicked off the convention, with the eunuchs donating a gigantic brass bell to a temple. They then proceeded to a dargah, where they laid a chaddar in memory of Tara.
“Look at us,”’ said Pinky Bai, a resident of Sangam Vihar in New Delhi. “In our community, we all live together — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. Hum dharam jorte hain, torte nahin.”
Every afternoon till April 20, the eunuchs will sit for their panchayat sessions to sort out quarrels among community members. “If there is trouble among ourselves, why should we go to police and unnecessarily drag our own people to court? The panchayat’s decision is a command for the rest to follow,” said Kamla Bai from Rajasthan’s Marwar.
Those who have already found roles in films are giving lessons to the younger lot. Hasina Chaudhary describes herself as a Bollywood favourite who can be spotted in every second film where a true eunuch plays a role.
“We are missing Shabri Begum of Lahore,” lamented Baby Jaan from Ajmerz. “We have sent invitations to our community members in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They usually come. Let’s hope they will turn up.”
President K.R. Narayanan might have to decide on that as Governor Bhai Mahavir has refused to give “undisputed” assent to the Indore Police Commissioner Bill, 2002, after it was passed in the Assembly.
The BJP opposed the Bill on the ground of “ambiguity” in the two-day debate and demanded that the Bill be redrafted. But the party was not opposed to most of its contents and it was passed without much of a showdown.
Mahavir had not received a copy of the Bill but he has gone on record saying he will check the “legality” of the Bill before deciding on the “action”. He might refer it to the President as well, Mahavir said.
Apart from the four metros, 23 cities, including Ahmedabad, Pune and Hyderabad, have police commissioners. Indore would have become the first city in Madhya Pradesh to have a police chief with magisterial powers.
But Mahavir, a Sangh parivar veteran, is allegedly not trusting a Congress government with a police commissioner. The Governor’s “doubts” will delay the launch of the new police set-up by at least six months.
State home minister Mahendra Baudh said the Bill did not require a Central sanction. But if Mahavir refers it to Narayanan and he refuses approval, it will be the second such embarrassment for the Digvijay Singh government.
Last year, the Governor had referred the Lokayukta and Uplokayukta Amendment Bill to the President. Narayanan had refused assent to the Bill that sought to give a Lokayukta chairman certain powers equivalent to a high court chief justice’s.
Assent of the Governor or the President would be essential for the introduction of the police commissioner’s post.
After the assent, the government has to declare the municipal area of Indore a metropolitan city area under the definitions of the CrPC. Mahavir said he would check whether Indore, with a population of over 12 lakh, could be called a “metro”.
The government contends there is no legal definition of a metro city. The government also has to redraft and define the magisterial powers of the commissioner as the Bill is silent on the issue.
Koleen Brooks, who was ousted last week as mayor of the mountain town of Georgetown, 40 miles west of Denver, amid charges that she showed off her breasts in public at a local bar, faces imprisonment for up to 18 months and a fine of up to $ 100,000 if it is proved that she concocted the attack.
Brooks, 37, who was a stripper at a night club in Denver before being elected mayor, lost her job when the Georgetown residents, in an unprecedented move, recalled her after the town’s administration came to a standstill because of her almost daily fights with city officials.
She has been mayor for year, but her tenure was colourful. Brooks denies allegations that she bared her breasts at a local bar.
Brooks may be down with the loss of her job as mayor, but she is by no means out. Within days of her ouster from the town council, she flew to Chicago and spent two days posing nude for Playboy magazine’s website.
“I was pleased with how the pictures came out,” she told reporters after her court appearance in connection with the allegedely fake attack on herself.
“Depending on how many hits I get I will determine my fee”.
The charges against her stem from a report to the police in February that she was attacked near her home and slashed all over her body.
Although she did bear scars, the police concluded after exetensive investigation that Brooks invented the story about the attack to garner sympathy for herself at a time when she was under threat of losing the mayor’s post.
Now the deposed mayor is asking for a change of court in the case to another town arguing that the publicity surrounding her would prejudice the local jury. Judge Edward Casias fixed a hearing on the request for next month.
“There are some people in Georgetown that I don’t trust”, the fiesty ex-mayor told reporters after the hearing which has attracted wide publicity across America.
Although the prosecution maintains that her wounds were self-inflicted, Brooks said she is “scared to death” because her attacker is still on the prowl, possibly looking for other victims.
All the same she declared that she would run for mayor again in 2003. And what would she do during the year till then? “The year off will give me time to promote Georgetown”. Hopefully, not through Playboy style publicity!
Meanwhile, James Traficant Jr the Democratic Congressman from Ohio, who faces upto 63 years in jail following his conviction on Thursday declared that he will contest re-election to the House of Representatives as an independent in November.
Analysts said the colourful and maverick politician had a good chance of success. Democrats have called for Traficant’s resignation from the House, but he typically responded yesterday with profanities at House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt.
Sunrise: 5.21 am