Rollback Delhi restores Rabri raj
Surabhi row threatens to blot Basu record
Congress warms to Laloo offer
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 8: 
Fighting shy of certain defeat in the Rajya Sabha, the Vajpayee government tonight revoked President?s rule in Bihar, paving way for the return of Rabri Devi?s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government.

An ebullient Laloo Yadav joined Opposition parties in demanding the immediate recall of Bihar Governor S.S. Bhandari, who ran a sustained campaign for the dismissal of the Rabri government. But the ruling BJP was quick to project the Congress and RJD as the real losers in the month-long dismissal drama.

?By facilitating the return of the highly corrupt and criminalised Rabri Devi regime, which is the worst parody of governance seen in independent India, the Congress has conclusively proved its anti-Dalit character.... Sonia Gandhi has committed the gravest blunder since her late husband?s costly mistake in the Shah Bano matter in 1987,? BJP vice-president K.L. Sharma said.

The Congress and RJD, who may be on course for an alliance of sorts in Bihar, however, hailed the revocation as their victory, saying the ?undemocratic? Vajpayee government had received a resounding slap in the face.

In Patna, Bhandari ruled out the possibility of his resignation and assured the government ?full cooperation?. Terming the revocation a ?political decision?, he said: ?I will continue to discharge my constitutional responsibilities.? This was in the face of rumours that he might step down to spare himself the ?ignominy? of swearing in Rabri Devi.

The RJD government will resume office in Bihar tomorrow. A meeting of the RJD legislature party has been called to formally elect Rabri Devi its leader. Laloo Yadav denied he was interested in early polls to take ?advantage? of the ?victory in Parliament?.

Though the BJP looked off-colour after conceding this round of the Bihar battle to Laloo Yadav, it plans to launch a full-throated campaign to expose the ?anti-Dalit? face of the RJD and Congress. Laloo Yadav sought to pre-empt the BJP blitzkrieg by announcing a huge land reforms drive in Bihar, starting with distribution of 400 acres of land in poverty-stricken Jehanabad, the epicentre of the Dalit massacres.

Laloo Yadav also announced amnesty for ultra-Left activists languishing in jails. He vowed to ?seriously? implement land reforms in consultation with Left parties, which, along with the Congress, backed him to the last in Parliament despite earlier differences over his corruption cases.

This is the first time a government has been forced to revoke presidential proclamation on Article 356. It was faced with certain defeat in the Rajya Sabha as the Congress had decided to oppose the resolution.

The government?s decision is the latest in a series of humiliating rollbacks, beginning with the petrol price fiasco soon after tabling its first budget last June.

The Union Cabinet decided to formally revoke President?s rule after a 30-minute meeting this morning. Sources said the Cabinet decided that since Sonia Gandhi had rejected the Prime Minister?s last-gasp appeal, it had no option but to recommend withdrawal of the proclamation.

Home minister L.K. Advani announced the Cabinet decision in the Lok Sabha soon after Question Hour. In the Upper House, parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam made a similar statement. Late tonight, the President endorsed the resolution.

Advani?s announcement was greeted with thumping of desks by Opposition MPs, especially from RJD and Samajwadi Party. But the euphoria was clouded as MPs slammed the government for not tabling the resolution in the Rajya Sabha after it was passed by the Lok Sabha. The Constitution is clear that invocation of Article 356 has to be ratified by both Houses.

The Opposition in the Lok Sabha accused the government of undermining Parliament?s authority. Congress chief whip P.J. Kurien alleged the ruling coalition had ?taken Lok Sabha for a ride?. CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee dubbed today a ?black day?. He said the government had brought the resolution with ?much bravado? despite knowing it had no chance of being passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Later, Laloo Yadav demanded an apology from Vajpayee and Advani for ousting the duly-elected Rabri government.    

Calcutta, March 8: 
Away from the political storm raging over the new pro-vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, misgivings rippled through Alimuddin Street on whether the career graph of Jyoti Basu?s biographer would cast a shadow on the CPM?s two frequently recounted success stories.

A section of the leadership conceded that questions are being raised about the famed efficacy of the CPM in handling sensitive issues, and more important, about the poker-faced acumen of Basu to steer clear of political minefields.

By pushing through the appointment of Surabhi Banerjee in the face of an uproar, the CPM has opened itself to criticism that the mighty Red machine could be swayed by the charm of those close to the party elite.

?Surabhi Banerjee?s appointment will rank as one of the costly errors whose impact the party may not be able to offset at all,? a senior CPM leader said. ?Our experience shows that whenever we experimented with non-party appointees, we had to pay a price.?

But a more eye-popping twist in the biographer?s tale was the alacrity with which Basu rose to her defence. Besides singing paeans to Banerjee?s ?formidable? curriculum vitae yesterday, Basu conceded that he ?affirmed? the decision to appoint her when the education cell sought his opinion.

Through the defence, Basu unwittingly acknowledged the existence and reach of the Left Front?s best-known secret: its education cell which controls mind and matter in Bengal?s highly politicised education institutions.

Such a slip has happened but rarely in the chequered career of the patriarch renowned for his political savvy.

More disturbing to the CPM, this is the second time since February 8 that Basu failed to handle an issue with his legendary dexterity. When the city?s chambers of commerce urged him to persuade unions to call off the Bangla bandh, Basu responded with anger and ticked them off.

If that outburst struck a jarring note in the state government?s serenade to investors, the spirited defence of the university appointment has sent wrong signals to his partners in the front.

The disquiet today spread to the RSP and Forward Bloc which argued that Banerjee does not belong to the Left. The RSP said since the CPM appointed her, it is the sole responsibility of that party to face the music.

CPM?s bete noire, Mamata Banerjee, was also quick to seize an opportunity to target Basu. ?This one appointment shows how Basu rewards his favourites regardless of the fact that they are incompetent people,? she said.

Mamata has realised that she has been gifted an emotive issue to milk, thanks to Basu who has unknowingly turned what could have been a debate on Banerjee?s academic credentials into a discussion on his perceived nepotism.

At separate meetings, both Mamata and state Congress working president P.R. Das Munshi urged Governor A. R. Kidwai to review of the appointment in his capacity as chancellor of the university.    

New Delhi, March 8: 
The Congress today reluctantly accepted Rabri Devi as the next chief minister of Bihar after Laloo Prasad Yadav jokingly but firmly said he was not willing to marry again.

?Main ab doosri shaadi nahin kar sakta,? he told Congress leaders who informally asked him to consider a Dalit or a Muslim leader as the new chief minister.

He, however, renewed his offer for a ?Tamil Nadu-type? alliance or a tacit understanding with the Congress, and told Sonia Gandhi the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was prepared to ?crown? her the next Prime Minister. ?Aap ne humko municipality dee, hum apko sara desh denge,? he told the amused Congress president.

This is the second time the RJD chief has extended a hand in friendship to the Congress. The party, so far lukewarm to Laloo Yadav?s offer, is having second thoughts. ?We do not have much option. If we go it alone in Bihar with six per cent votes, it will take us till 2005 to make it. I see no harm in having a working relationship with Lalooji,? said a CWC member.

He said the predominant view in the Congress was against having truck with the RJD, but hoped that partymen, including the Bihar unit, would come to terms with the ?pragmatic? approach.

Laloo Yadav asked the Congress to renew its bid to topple the Vajpayee government. ?In Bihar, we (Congress-RJD) checkmated the BJP-Samata combine together. We can repeat it at the national level,? he said. He told Congress leaders in Parliament that he would persuade ?sister Jayalalitha? to dump the government.

A section of the Congress, uneasy with the idea of siding with Laloo Yadav, said Sonia Gandhi now had no choice but to live with an ?open-ended crisis?.

A Congress MP from Maharashtra said: ?God forbid, if there is another round of killings in Jehanabad, we will look extremely silly. Since we demanded Rabri Devi?s resignation on moral grounds, we will now have to justify her continuation.?

He said the party could have handled Bihar affairs more cleverly. ?We should have insisted on a leadership change as a condition for extending support,? he said, adding the RJD, in its desperation, would have agreed to it.

An AICC general secretary, however, disagreed. ?How can we dictate terms on an issue which is an internal affair of the RJD? Tomorrow, if there is a coalition government headed by the Congress, we would not like any of our allies to decide who should be our prime ministerial candidate,? he said.

Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi said the party would have liked a change of guard in Bihar but had decided to extend ?issue-based? support to the RJD government regardless of who headed it. ?We have set an example in Orissa. It is for others to follow it,? he said.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in day and night temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 36.9?C (4?C above normal)
Minimum 21.5?C (1?C above normal)
Relative humidity:Maximum 84%
Minimum 28%
Sunrise:5.56 am
Sunset:5.39 pm

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