Test of strength unites Atal, Pervez
Pakistan gets its General election
President voices riot anguish
Reliance officials sent to jail
Twin tragedies of death and recall
African envoys pay for West�s plainspeak
Parivar opens two flanks on Gujarat
Hunt for job binds Sourav & Sachin
Song & dance for the Prince
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 29: 

Vote-eve jitters in Paswan stepdown

Coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan resigned from the Cabinet and the National Democratic Alliance today, setting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee scrambling to prevent the rebellion from spreading on the eve of voting on Gujarat.

He spoke to Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, while his troubleshooter and NDA convener George Fernandes got on the line to Telugu Desam�s N. Chandrababu Naidu, who kept Vajpayee guessing on his party�s position on the voting under Rule 184 in the Lok Sabha tomorrow.

Paswan�s resignation � ostensibly over the situation in Gujarat � knocks four MPs off the NDA tally of support and does not put the government in any danger of losing the vote. The National Conference, with five MPs, and Sharad Yadav�s Janata Dal (United), with six, have not issued a whip to their members to vote against the motion.

Mamata has said her party, with nine members, would vote with the government. Another big chunk, the DMK with 11 MPS, will also go with Vajpayee, despite its qualms about the Gujarat violence. Its Tamil Nadu rival, ADMK, will abstain, much to the relief of the government.

Mayavati�s Bahujan Samaj Party is also expected to throw in its lot of 13 members with the government following the deal with the BJP to form a coalition in Uttar Pradesh.

Although Naidu had till late tonight not decided one way or the other amid speculation that he would keep Vajpayee on tenterhooks until the last moment, the expectation was that the Desam would at worst abstain. As would the National Conference. Abstention would signal a fractured coalition, not an alliance torn asunder by defeat in Parliament.

Asked if the Desam would back the NDA, Fernandes said: �I am confident that Naidu will not do anything that will harm the government.�

To present a united picture, the government convened an NDA meeting and briefed the allies on Gujarat. Encouraged by Fernandes� peace march in Ahmedabad yesterday, the meeting decided to hold more such events with a proposal being made that Vajpayee himself should lead one. The Prime Minister promptly agreed.

The Lok Sabha is expected to have an effective strength of about 540 members tomorrow as two BJP members and two or three of the Congress are unlikely to attend for personal reasons.

Even without counting on the Desam, the Dal(U) and the National Conference, the government can muster between 280 and 285 votes and defeat the motion.

The Desam was said to be considering two options: abstention and voting against. The majority of the MPs, who have been meeting Naidu in Hyderabad over two days, have told the Andhra chief minister that it was time the party distanced itself from the BJP.

After the NDA meeting, Fernandes said there was no discussion on Paswan�s resignation with Vajpayee informing the allies that his office had tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with the coal minister. Fernandes said till this morning Paswan had given the impression that he would attend the NDA meeting.

Mamata said: �We will support the government for the sake of stability.�


Islamabad, April 29: 
After yet another coup, people in Pakistan used to wonder jokingly that if there were a general election, which General would win? They can rest assured now.

This Tuesday�s referendum will be a pure and simple General�s election. It will seek to put Pakistan on the path to a kind of democracy whose contours are not very clear as yet.

What is clear, however, is that most political parties will contest the polls in October and are saving their energies for it rather than actively opposing the Presidential referendum by courting arrest.

In 1985, the Pakistan People�s Party (PPP) had boycotted the non-party elections. It has regretted the decision ever since. When it returned to the political field in 1988, it found that many of its constituencies had been taken over by anti-PPP politicians who unlike them had contested in 1985.

This time it is readying for the October elections.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) as well as the other political parties, which are a part of the grand alliance called the All-Party Conference formed earlier this week on April 26, will contest the October polls. This is a much bigger formation than the 15-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and includes all shades of opinion opposed to General Pervez Musharraf � the mainstream parties, the religious parties, some regional parties, civil society organisations and even the Pakistan Oppressed Nationalities Movement.

However, there are leadership problems that the main Opposition parties face. �There is a leadership void in the country today. Both the popular leaders, Benazir Bhutto of the PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML(N) are out of the country and General Musharraf has said that they will not be allowed to return and contest.

�There is no one to fill this vacuum. At the same time, there is no clear �King�s Party� emerging. The PML (Quaid-e-Azam) which supports General Musharraf cannot get the numbers to form a government and has no clear leader,� Shahid Abbasi, a former civil aviation minister in the Sharif government and a PML(N) leader, sums up the situation. Abbasi spent 18 months in prison as he was the chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines at the time of the Musharraf coup.

So what might happen in October? �In the best case scenario, you would get a hung National Assembly. However, this is not something that General Musharraf wishes. I would say that the government still does not have a clear game plan,� Abbasi felt.

However, the Musharraf regime is busy creating and propping up small political groupings (like Imran Khan�s Tehreeq-e-Insaf, Imtiaz Sheikh�s Sindh Democratic Alliance).

It has formed alliances with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Sindh, the Awami National Party in the North-West Frontier Province and the Baluchistan National Party in Baluchistan. And it has co-opted powerful politicians of the Pakistan Muslim League through a split, creating the PML (Quaid-e-Azam). Instead of a �King�s Party�, General Musharraf may then be seeking to form a �King�s Alliance� while undercutting the support bases of the two main Opposition parties.

Prof. A.H. Nayyar of the Quaid-e-Azam University drew a parallel with what had happened in Pakistan earlier. �It will be the re-run of the 1985 elections with a slight difference. General Pervez Musharraf would be looking for his own Mohammad Khan Junejo as the Prime Minister but perhaps a safer Junejo � not the Junejo who later confronted Zia,� he said. But he thought that the democracy that would emerge would be subservient to a powerful President.

About the likely political structure, Shahid Abbasi said, �The President would need Constitutional Amendments to indemnify all his actions, justify his role as the President as well as the Chief of the Army Staff, as of now a clear violation of the Constitution, and assume executive powers which are far beyond just setting up a National Security Council.�

Prof. Khalid Mahmud of the Institute of Regional Studies was of the view that �the first thing General Musharraf will do is to further amend the constitutional provision to give the President the power to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the National Assembly with the provision that new elections are held within 90 days. Second, he will amend the Constitution to constitute a National Security Council.� Even Benazir Bhutto wanted a National Security Council. But she wanted the Prime Minister to head it.

Now the President, who would also be the army chief, would be its chairman. This then would become the measure through which the army in Pakistan would share power with the elected government. Prof Mahmud believes that �the army does not want a day to day interference in governance but it does want to be the final deciding authority on key issues which may create a deadlock, lead to the breakdown of the system or force an army take-over�.

According to him, �Pervez Musharraf will monitor the National Assembly from above. He has said that he has an agenda and he will see that the National Assembly implements it. The politicians will be forced to work in a framework defined by him.�


New Delhi, April 29: 
President K.R. Narayanan, who opened the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan to the riot victims and heard them out in stunned silence on Saturday, tonight voiced his anguish in a message that referred to the �devastation� in Gujarat as a �crisis of our state and society�.

In his first official comments that came less than 24 hours before a trial of strength in the Lok Sabha on Gujarat, Narayanan also spoke of the continuing violence in the state, where the body count climbed today in fresh clashes.

�I have been deeply anguished and pained at the violent incidents and killings that have disturbed the peace and communal harmony in Gujarat and elsewhere,� the President said in the message whose tenor was similar to his unprecedented statement that followed the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and sons in Orissa.

Pointing out that communal violence has �devastated� Gujarat, Narayanan expressed concern over the �distressing situation� of the victims and the fact that violence continues to occur even after two months.

Three more people were killed, one of them in police firing, and 20 injured in the rioting in the Kalupur area as violence continued unabated in parts of Old Ahmedabad today.

In his message, the President added: �It is the duty of every Indian, political, social and religious leaders and the common man and woman to strive their best to restore peace so that the foundations of our state and tradition of tolerance are preserved and strengthened in this crisis of our state and society.�

The President said many people have sent him representations about the �distressing situation of the victims�.

He appealed to all �my fellow citizens to restore communal harmony and do everything to end the communal violence and harness all our resources to provide relief and rehabilitation to all the affected people.�

Narayanan�s statement and the action of meeting the riot victims stand out in sharp contrast with those of the representatives of the government.

Unlike the President, who used words like �devastation� and �crisis� to describe the situation in Gujarat, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has referred to the carnage as a �deviation�.

Besides, no senior minister has found time to meet the riot victims who are camping in the capital.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, associated with groups trying to rehabilitate Gujarat refugees, said he had sent word yesterday to home minister L.K. Advani, requesting a meeting. Till this evening, he has not received a reply.

But when the victims had approached Rashtrapati Bhavan for an appointment with the President, his secretariat had arranged one the next evening.


New Delhi, April 29: 
Two senior officials of Reliance Industries, India�s largest private sector company, were sent to prison today following a 1998 charge that secret government files were found from the corporate giant�s office in Delhi.

The court blow came on a day Reliance bid for a 26 per cent government stake in Indian Petrochemicals Ltd. Today was the last day for bidding.

The CBI had filed charges of criminal conspiracy against three top executives of Reliance for �receiving, collecting, possessing and handling of secret classified documents of the various ministries and departments of the government in the interest of Reliance Industries Limited�. The charges tantamount to subversion of the Officials Secret Act, 1923.

Rejecting bail pleas, chief metropolitan magistrate Sangita Dhingra remanded Reliance group vice-president A.N. Sethuraman and corporate affairs general manager Shankar Adawal in judicial custody till May 13.

The third accused, then group president V. Balasubramanian, was not in the court on medical grounds. The Reliance counsel has been asked to submit medical documents to prove Balasubramanian underwent treatment for brain tumour.

As soon as the order was delivered, the two officials were taken to the court lock-up and later shifted to Tihar Jail.

The CBI has attached with the chargesheet documents it claimed to have found during raids on the offices of Reliance. The first document, marked secret, runs into 15 pages and has points discussed at a high-level meeting on September 14, 1998, by the �core group on economic matters � challenges of economic sanctions against India�.

The two-page second document has a note, purportedly in Shankar�s handwriting, saying: �Document dealing with various ministries plus issues. Point No. 3 on Page 2 deals with us.�

The eight-page third document contains minutes of the 37th meeting of the Core Group of Secretaries on Disinvestment, convened by the Cabinet secretary on September 21, 1998.

A letter from then petroleum secretary T.S. Vijayaraghavan to revenue secretary Javed Chowdhury, discussing the government�s proposals for rationalisation of customs and excise tariff rates for the hydrocarbon sector, is also among the papers produced by the CBI.


New Delhi, April 29: 
For the Vajpayee government, the story of Gujarat is just an �aberration�.

But the story of Gujarat is also that it should take so much to make a dent in the public conscience.

Take Dilawar�s story, for instance. It is a tragedy at two levels: one in the deed and the other in its narration � the fact that it has to be narrated to the public in the national capital simply because it does not have an audience that is easily moved to action.

Dilawar and his sister, Salma, are minor children. Dilawar will not be more than 11 years. His sister is younger.

They are in Delhi today, with 15 other victims of the pogrom. Their escort is a youth whose face is set in stone, their uncle, Maqbool.

On March 1, at Sardarpura village in Mehsana district, a mob attacked the Muslim locality comprising some 20 households. Sardarpura is a largish settlement with about 1,000 households. The mob was led by the village sarpanch.

Dilawar lived in a joint family � his father, Abbas, mother, uncle, aunt and their 5-month-old nephew. The mob attacked the line of Muslim households and burnt 10 houses.

Dilawar saw his father and mother being electrocuted and burnt. An 11-year-old child saw his parents killed. He was electrocuted, too. But survived. Maqbool lost his wife and their infant son.

Dilawar is asked to narrate his story at a public meeting this afternoon. He is sobbing into the hand-held microphone, his voice chokes.

The audience is gracious enough to excuse him. It mostly comprises journalists, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who is associated with groups trying to rehabilitate Gujarat�s refugees, social workers from Muslim charities, Swami Agnivesh, Father Valson Thampu, television crews.

It is a sympathetic audience and many are moved to tears.

Dilawar and Salma and Maqbool now live in a relief camp in Himmatnagar. With them, Feroze Bhai Sheikh � he is Kausar Bano�s husband � formerly of Naroda Patiya, now of the Darya Khan Gomar relief camp, has had to trudge all the way to tell their stories.

(Kausar Bano was raped and killed, her belly ripped open and the foetus thrown into the fire).

Last week, too, a group of 40 victims came to Delhi. They met journalists, politicians from non-NDA parties, Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit. They sought an appointment with the President who was equally keen to meet them.

Yesterday, Bhatt sent word to Union home minister L.K. Advani requesting a meeting to ask for their rehabilitation. He has not received a reply till this evening.

�The government has gone into denial mode. They simply refuse to acknowledge what is happening in Gujarat,� says Bhatt.

Defender after defender of the Modi administration has refused to take cognisance of the testimonies of the victims on such grounds as �there is no first information report�.

But the testimonies are on record. Apart from newspaper and television reports, there is live footage on film. Pankaj Shankar, a Delhi-based documentarist who was in Gujarat from March 2 for a month, screened his film In the Name of Faith today. This is the second documentary on Gujarat since the killings began.

�Even as you are watching this, someone in Gujarat is being burnt,� the film concludes.

Maybe that�s happening even as you are reading this.


New Delhi, April 29: 
India cancelled a tour of Jammu and Kashmir by a group of African envoys in the wake of the controversy over Gujarat involving South Block and some European missions based in the capital.

A group of 15 ambassadors and high commissioners of African countries based in India were to be taken on a tour of the state by junior foreign minister Omar Abdullah last week. But the visit was called off.

The ostensible reason for calling off the trip is said to be inconvenience about the dates. Many among the group of 15 were either out of town or had prior engagements. This, however, does not explain why the dates were fixed in the first place without consulting the envoys.

Another plausible reason could be the developments in Gujarat and the response from some European missions here.

Internal assessment reports of some of these missions, criticising the government�s handling of the situation in the riot-racked state, had found their way to a section of the media. The external affairs ministry, outraged by the reports, had asked the foreign missions to lay off from what has been described as India�s �internal affair�.

It may be that a section in South Block felt that the African officials should not visit Kashmir at a time when the government was busy battling the western envoys on Gujarat.

The decision to take the African ambassadors on a tour of Kashmir came after many of them complained to Indian officials that despite being in the country for a few years, they were never given the opportunity to visit the Himalayan state. They had argued that since their counterparts from western nations visited Kashmir at regular intervals, it might be a good idea if the foreign ministry made similar arrangements for them.

When the idea was put before him, Abdullah showed keen interest and also agreed to be their host in Srinagar. South Block felt it would be a good opportunity for the African envoys to personally assess the situation in the militancy-ravaged state. The visit, foreign ministry officials thought, would also make the envoys aware of the difficulties the government is facing in controlling the situation there.

Sudanese ambassador Abdal Mahmood Abdal Haleem Mohammad was given the responsibility of organising the team and co-ordinating with the other members. But foreign ministry officials said the visit had to be called off because many of the ambassadors called to postpone the trip, saying they would be either out of town at the time of the visit or were pre-occupied with other engagements.

South Block claims the visit is now being re-worked and soon new dates will be announced. The officials also argued that there was nothing to be apologetic about the visit of the African ambassadors. On the contrary, they said, it was an occasion India would have liked to bring to the notice of others.

But the link with Gujarat cannot be ruled out.

One reason why South Block reacted strongly to comments made by the European missions on Gujarat was that if outsiders were not stopped from commenting on the state, they would soon be talking about the situation in Kashmir.

At a time when the government is already on the defensive on Gujarat, it may not have been prudent to open another front on Kashmir, South Block officials said.


New Delhi, April 29: 
The Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh and the BJP have resorted to different strategies to counter the growing evidence of violence against Muslims in Gujarat. While the RSS warned of Godhra-like incidents recurring in other states, the BJP suggested that rape cases were mostly fabricated as virtually no FIRs were filed by the victims.

RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya told a news conference today that one of the objectives of the two-day meeting of Sangh leaders, including sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan, with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani was to inform them that Godhra could be repeated all over the country.

�Because we work in so many states, we get feedback and if it is worth passing, we pass it on to the government. This time we had information that would cause concern to people about internal security. Godhra is not an accident, It can be one of the things in a chain of events,� claimed Vaidya.

He added that there were �elements� interested in destabilising the country and there were some who helped them. �We explained this to the government that Godhras may take place if not in Gujarat then in other states. When, where, it is for the intelligence agencies to find out and take the necessary precaution.� Asked who the �elements� were, the RSS spokesman said: �Mostly foreign sponsored.�

But Vaidya could not substantiate the basis of his input. �It�s an apprehension based on a general all-India feedback. But we don�t have information on specific states,� he said.

The RSS spokesman accused the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) and maulvis from Uttar Pradesh for �poisoning the minds of the Muslim youth (of Gujarat) with anti-national and anti-Hindu thoughts�. He even circulated two questions that were purportedly asked in a quiz programme organised by Simi.

One question was: �During the Kargil war, prayers were offered at some mosques for slain Indian soldiers. However, the Holy Quran prohibits Muslims from offering such prayers for non-Muslims, so what if they are his own parents. Point out in which two ayats of Quran this command is given.�

The other asked: �The Somnath temple was a den of corruption and malice in which the Brahmins fleeced the pilgrims. Point out who broke the exploitative cycle of these Brahmins and freed the pilgrims from their clutches.�

Asked if the violence that scarred Gujarat from February 28 onwards was also unprovoked, the RSS spokesman protested: �There is no reason why Godhra should have happened. Had Godhra not happened, there would not have been that most unfortunate reaction in Gujarat.�

BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra described Sahmat as the �most notorious Hindu-basher� and flayed its attempts to turn the capital�s attention on Gujarat by bringing some of the victims who recounted the horrors they suffered at the hands of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. �Baseless horror stories are being told in Delhi but all things will become clear,� he said.

According to Malhotra, since only two FIRS were lodged by rape victims, the proportion of the crime was vastly exaggerated. But he was unable to answer why the state police refused to record complaints lodged by victims � borne out by their testimonies even on TV � and why they insisted on a medical examination when it was not possible in most cases as the women were either burnt, murdered or had to flee for their lives.


Mumbai, April 29: 
Rahul Dravid complains to Sourav Ganguly: �How will I bowl? Yeh khali �ooh ooh� karta hai!� Sachin Tendulkar adjusts his abdomen guard compulsively, taking a break only to shout �chhakka, chhakka!� Dada readjusts his scowl.

It was not easy. A brave new Indian cricket team has sweated it out for days to perform all this. Now it is waiting out there � to be picked up by film producers.

They are the doubles � �duplicates�, as they call themselves � of the original players. They appear in an MTV Fully Faltoo series that, using only clones, spoofs the top two passions of India � cricket and Bollywood.

But the series has also helped put a team of cricketers� clones in place.

�Since the MTV job, we have been looking for work together,� says Saurav Bhandari, a second-year engineering student who plays Rahul Dravid in the spoof and is not sure if he likes engineering as a career. �There�s Sachin, Kambli, Ajit Agarkar, me, Sourav, Srinath, Harbhajan Singh and Sehwag,� he says. �It would be nice if we could appear on a TV show,� he adds.

In the MTV series, India XI always takes a beating from Bollywood XI, featuring the clones of Bollywood biggies. In one episode, a Sanjeev Kumar lookalike, dressed up as the armless thakur from Sholay, catches the ball with his mouth and dies of it. The cricketers are left gaping.

Jumping Jack Jeetendra bowls to Dravid to the accompaniment of �maston baharon ka main ashiq�. It is he who lets out a low but persistent �ooh, ooh� everytime he bowls.

In real life, Sachin, Kambli, Dravid and Sourav hang out together in Goregaon, waiting for work.

Stage shows are welcome, where they have just got to walk in like the original and say a few things. Sachin usually ends his bit by saying something about �Visa Power� in the original�s tiny voice. It�s always a hit.

Sachin is in demand more than others. �Not only because the real Sachin is so great, but also because he keeps appearing in so many ads. Nowadays, there are so many spoofs of ads. Whenever someone has to make an ad against an ad featuring the real Sachin, the duplicates are required,� he adds, a note of disappointment in his voice.

But which Sachin? �There are about 15 to 16 Sachin Tendulkars. Two Sachins acted in the MTV series alone. Sachins are always wanted,� says Bhandari, who acts as Dravid�s clone.

Shankar Pujari, 27, one of the two Sachins, proudly says he was the one who had cried �chhakka, chhakka�, provoking the eunuch �neutral� umpires to attack him.

But Sachin Singh, 28, who is from Amritsar, says he is the real one and he was born with the same name. �I did all the voice, dialogue, delivery for MTV. I acted in six episodes. The other Sachin appeared in only one.�

�I have come all the way from Amritsar because people told me I look like Sachin. I have worked on the voice a lot. I also practise in front of the mirror to imitate the way Sachin moves his lips. Or the way he grinds his teeth,� says Singh.

They work closely with Kambli � Ravi Shankar � who says it was hard work working on his french-cut beard. He says he advised Sourav (Prashant Pednekar, who works with a bank) how to make his expressions look like Dada�s in the MTV spots. �I told him to lower his face and blink slowly. I told him how to look angry,� says Ravi.


London, April 29: 
Four of India�s biggest film stars are to give a Bollywood concert for 115,000 fans in Hyde Park in London to raise at least �250,000 for Prince Charles� favourite charity, the Prince�s Trust, it was announced today by the TV/film critic Jonathan Ross.

Explaining his unexpected involvement with the Indian film industry, Ross, who presents Film 2002 on BBC TV, said: �I have become a devotee of Bollywood movies in the last few years.�

He admitted that as a youngster living in the East End of London, he had occasionally visited an Indian cinema in Wood Green 20 years ago. �But I had no idea what was going on,� he added.

The �From India with Love� concert in Hyde Park on June 30 will bring together Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan and Aishwarya Rai. Preity Zinta is to come, too.

There will be a similar concert in Manchester the previous day at the Old Trafford football stadium. The Prince of Wales is expected to attend the concert but this will not be his first brush with Bollywood. On a visit to Mumbai more than 20 years ago, he was kissed by Padmini Kolhapuri, then an ambitious starlet who spotted what she thought was a wonderful photo opportunity.

Sadly, the encounter proved the kiss of death for her career.

For Indians, who think nothing unusual to have outings in groups of 10 or more, the concerts are likely to be expensive since the cheapest tickets are priced at �35. The VIP tickets will cost �60 each.

But Bachchan has endorsed the decision to give at least �250,000 to the Prince of Wales� charity. This is the first time Indian stars, who normally go to the Wembley Arena and the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, will perform in Hyde Park.

�It is a wonderful honour for the stars of Indian cinema to perform in two of the most prestigious venues of the world,� said Bachchan, who arrived at Heathrow from Mumbai on an early flight today.

He added in a statement: �I am personally very proud that we are able to have Prince Charles� charity, the Prince�s Trust, as a benefactor of our event in Hyde Park.�

Shah Rukh Khan said he was �really looking forward to bringing Indian cinema to the British masses.�

�I�m delighted that we�re finally attracting the kind of recognition that we deserve,� said Aamir Khan.

�You have the food and the culture here already and we are going to bring the magic of our cinema� was Aishwarya�s comment.

Their sentiments were reciprocated by Tom Shebbeare, chief executive of the Prince�s Trust, who commented: �It is going to be amazing to have the magic of Bollywood movies brought to Hyde Park for the first time.�




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