Jaya gives signal to Congress, time to Atal
Bristling BJP in waiting game
Belgrade burns in bomb rage
Hunt for Ganguly lead
11-year-old beats friend to death
Calcutta weather

April 3: 
Jayalalitha today served an ultimatum on the Vajpayee government and raised the spectre of a ?new alliance?, kicking off a scramble among non-BJP parties to explore possibilities of an alternative coalition. But the ADMK chief kept her options open by giving the Prime Minister ?reasonable time? to respond to her demands on the Bhagwat issue, including the removal of George Fernandes.

The entire Opposition appears to be convinced that this time the BJP will find it difficult to engineer a last-minute compromise with Jayalalitha having finally thrown down the gauntlet. By evening, talks of an alternative arrangement were doing the rounds in Delhi and leaders of both the major and fringe parties were planning on arriving in the capital early next week to try out all the permutations and combinations.

Jayalalitha was entrusted with the responsibility of formulating a new alliance after the ADMK?s day-long general council meeting. It indicated the possibility of severance of ties with the BJP and joining hands with the Congress and other Opposition parties.

ADMK leaders were all fire and brimstone, castigating the BJP government, especially power minister P.R. Kumaramangalam for his ?insulting statements? against Jayalalitha.

After Kumaramangalam?s outburst, the ADMK leadership had given enough indications that they were not averse to joining hands with the Congress. Today?s authorisation for the formation of a new alliance implied that they wanted the deal to be wrapped up as early as possible.

Jayalalitha, however, diluted her party?s stand and said later in the evening she was giving ?reasonable time? to Vajpayee to meet her demands. These include removal of defence minister George Fernandes from the Cabinet, reinstatement of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and setting up of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe his dismissal and related issues.

?We will make our next move only after getting the Prime Minister?s response on these aspects,? Jayalalitha said. ?You can expect exciting developments in the days ahead.?

Warning the government not to ?test her patience?, the BJP?s chief tormentor said: ?We can replace the driver any time. In fact, the engine can be attached to any train and any number of bogies can be attached or detached.?

It appears that the Vajpayee government is in a position to meet only one of Jayalalitha?s demands. The government can set up a JPC to probe the Bhagwat issue, but it is impossible for the BJP to terminate its relations with the Samata Party by sacking Fernandes. Neither is it feasible for the government to eat humble pie and bring back Bhagwat.

To further complicate matters, Fernandes ruled out resigning and argued in an interview to a magazine that Bhagwat?s ouster was not his decision but that of the Cabinet as a whole.

He again rapped the former navy chief for violating norms and service rules.

Vajpayee could try to wriggle out of this tight situation by agreeing to meet Jayalalitha?s other ?silent? demands like taking away the petroleum portfolio from Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress chief V.K. Ramamurthy, who is a known Jaya-baiter.

The ADMK chief has also not pardoned the government for depriving one of her trusted lieutenants, Sedapati Muthiah, of the surface transport minister?s job on graft charges. Whether Jayalalitha can be assuaged by these sops remains to be seen.

The Congress today began discussing alternative arrangements after being convinced that Jayalalitha meant serious business and that her stand on the Bhagwat issue had gone beyond the ?posturing?? stage.

An official statement issued by the party, however, maintained a distance from these developments and said the ?ragtag coalition at the Centre was on its last leg? and that it was ?hurtling and bumping along?, weighed down by its own ?contradictions?.

But the Congress is grappling over whether it should form a new government on its own or prop up yet another coalition government and prepare for elections.

A senior Congress leader said a clearer picture would emerge once Parliament resumed and a no-confidence motion was moved against the Vajpayee regime. He added there was bound to be pressure on party president Sonia Gandhi to have a Congress government instead of another hopeless administration led by a non-entity.

For the Third Front, which is in a disarray, the ADMK ultimatum might mean another bout of unity attempts.

?I welcome this (Jayalalitha?s) move,? said West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu.    

Panaji, April 3: 
Unwilling to take the blame for precipitating matters, the BJP leadership tonight chose not to rush into a response to Jayalalitha?s brinkmanship.

?We may respond tomorrow after getting the full details,? said party spokesman and general secretary Venkaiah Naidu, even as he made it clear that the government was not willing to give in to her demands on the Vishnu Bhagwat issue. Reiterating the position taken by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee himself, Naidu said: ?There is absolutely no question of removing George Fernandes or reinstating Admiral Bhagwat.?

The Prime Minister was at a public rally in central Panaji when news of the resolutions adopted at the ADMK meeting was brought to him. He is believed to have immediately told senior party leaders not to respond in a hurry. Speaking a little later at the rally, Vajpayee attacked the Congress and the Left parties for effecting desperate moves to topple his government and said he was prepared to face them.

The top BJP leadership is likely to meet at Goa Raj Bhavan, where the Prime Minister is staying, later tonight to discuss the response to the ADMK?s latest volley. Though the party is officially keeping its reactions measured, anti-Jayalalitha sentiment is rising with every new condition and threat she trots out. ?Her demands are not only unreasonable but ridiculous,? said a senior BJP leader. ?She is the one endangering the alliance, not us.?

The BJP?s strategy at the moment appears to force her into quitting the alliance rather than being cornered into expelling her, which is what Jayalalitha wants. ?Any response from the party at the moment will give her a handle,? the BJP leader said. ?We will wait and watch her next step.?

Asked whether the authorisation to Jayalalitha to look for new alliances was not provocation enough for the BJP, the leader said: ?That is what she wants, she wants us to act.?

There is a growing sense in the party ? and this was palpable among delegates at the national executive ? that it is only a matter of time before the BJP and the ADMK part ways and Jayalalitha forges an alliance with the Congress. But some are banking on the Congress being still unprepared to assume power at the head of a coalition. Their assessment is that the Congress has still not been able to firm up either the nature of such a coalition or the numbers in the Lok Sabha.

So there may be yet another attempt to pacify and bring round the recalcitrant ADMK boss, perhaps with the offer of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat. Although officially the BJP has ruled out any such probe, senior leaders have indicated that a JPC inquiry might be on the table if Jayalalitha is ready to bargain.    

Washington, April 3: 
Last night, Belgrade burned as NATO cruise missiles struck at the heart of President Slobodan Milosevic?s government, burning office buildings and leaving a blazing inferno.

The buildings housing the Interior and defence ministries went up in flames shortly after midnight on Friday as fire fighters struggled to contain the fire. The sight of downtown Belgrade in flames is likely to have a psychological impact on the Yugoslavs who have spent their nights in bomb shelters since the air raids began.

It was a sharp and determined escalation of war by NATO leaders who so far had avoided hitting Belgrade to prevent civilian deaths. But

continuous television footage of thousands of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo and the capture of three US soldiers has helped take the ?gloves? off NATO commanders.

General Wesley Clark, the American general leading the NATO effort from the Brussels headquarters, has got clearance to go all out to hurt

Milosevic. The hawks in the military had complained that NATO was fighting only ?half a war? and that too by committee. Target lists and strategy were being vetted by 18 NATO leaders who are part of the alliance.

President Jacques Chirac of France reportedly was opposed to striking Belgrade for fear of the conflict spreading to other countries.

Milosevic can easily draw the largely sympathetic Serbs in Macedonia, which split from Yugoslavia earlier, into the Balkan cauldron.

The humanitarian disaster created by the forced evacuation of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo is already threatening to engulf Albania and Macedonia. Hungry children are fighting for loaves of bread as the old collapse from the exhaustion of walking across the border. Cases of pregnant women being forced to walk for miles have come to light.

Food, medicines are tents are in short supply and aid from other countries has been slow in coming. US officials say that nearly 600,000

ethnic Albanians have been driven from their homes. They have either crossed the border or are internally displaced.

There is growing talk of carving out ?safe havens? for the Albanians in Kosovo once Milosevic=92s army is subdued by NATO bombs and driven back to the barracks. It would be a self-governing enclave protected by NATO forces. US officials say that envisaging a Kosovo within Yugoslavia is becoming more and more difficult. Passions among Milosevic?s ultra-nationalist supporters ? called the ?goon squad? by western analysts? are also boiling. If the Kosovo Liberation Army is finding ready recruits in the refugee ranks, Milosevic is gaining support among ordinary Serbs in Yugoslavia to fight another 100-year war against the west.

Serbs, wearing posters showing themselves as ?targets? for NATO bombs, lined up on the main bridge in Belgrade to make a human chain. In a war that is also being fought on television, Milosevic is sending out spokesmen to issue counter threats.

Zeljko Raznjatovic or ?Arkan,? indicted by The Hague as a war criminal and known for his brutal paramilitary force ?The Tigers,? is blasting NATO with verbal missiles on any US network that can find his telephone number. Sometimes, he calls himself. Yesterday, he vowed to make Yugoslavia another Vietnam for the Americans.

?You can bomb us for 30 years. Justice is on our side and we are Serbs. We have our culture, long before America had,? Arkan said on telephone to NBC. ?If you send ground troops, we will make hell out of you. You are war criminals, all of you.?

The Yugoslav foreign minister, Zivadin Jovanovic, compared the NATO aggression to Nazism and said the policy was ?senseless.? He said his country was treating the US soldiers in a ?civilised? manner but he refused to rule out reports that they would court-martialled by a military court.

Meanwhile, awareness grew that ground troops might have to be sent. In a poll done by CBS television, 61 percent of the people said they thought ground troops would be sent.    

Calcutta, April 3: 
Thirty-six hours after chairman and managing director of Exide Industries Satyabrata Ganguly went missing, police have no clue to his whereabouts even as the search has been intensified and exit points in the state put on maximum alert.

Ganguly went for his morning walk at the Agri-Horticulture Society Gardens in south Calcutta at 4.45 am yesterday wearing T-shirt and shorts. He did not return home.

Deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Narayan Ghosh said the police are exploring several angles, including professional rivalry. ?We are yet to stumble upon a clue as no one has demanded ransom,? he said.

?But we are taking a number of factors into account, including the fact that Ganguly was a witness during a defalcation case in 1992. Exide Industries? former vice-president Mihir Chakraborty and four others were accused of siphoning over Rs 2 crore. Ganguly was one of the witnesses and Chakraborty was later arrested. The trial is still on. The detective department is investigating whether his disappearance could be a fallout of the case,? Ghosh said.

The detective department today quizzed a number of former Exide officials regarding the defalcation case. The department suspects that the 57-year-old chief of the Rs 565-crore Exide Industries has been abducted, but officials are stumped about the motive.

A ?missing? diary was lodged with the Alipore police station today by Ganguly?s son-in-law Purnendu Roychowdhury.

Chief secretary Manish Gupta visited the Gangulys? residence in Alipore this morning and met the family. He later said: ?We cannot say anything right now as a police investigation is on.??

Gupta said all police stations on inter-state borders and the airport have been put on maximum alert.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu, too, has been informed about the investigations, but he would not comment on the incident.

Ganguly?s family said they have not received any information on his whereabouts.

Roychowdhury told The Telegraph that they are trying to get in touch with Ganguly?s two sons, Soumobroto and Jayobroto, who are in the US. His wife was not in the city when he went missing but returned later.

Soumobroto works in the US as a lawyer and Jayobroto is in Pittsburg seeking admission in one of the universities.

The police today contacted Ganguly?s relatives in Kharagpur and Durgapur, but they could not provide any clues.

The family has contacted Rajan Raheja, who now owns Exide Industries, and informed him of Ganguly?s disappearance. ?The police are also in touch with the Rahejas,? Roychowdhury added.

However, The Telegraph?s attempts to contact the Rahejas proved futile.    

Calcutta, April 3: 
A 10-year-old boy was killed by his 11-year-old friend in daylight today following an argument over puffed rice on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, central Calcutta.

Deputy commissioner of police detective department Narayan Ghosh, said the killer, Gudda, was absconding.

The victim, Kumar Bahadur, who worked in a sweet shop on Ganesh Chandra Avenue, and Gudda had been friends for two years. ?Bahadur, who is from North Bengal, is an orphan,? an officer at Bowbazar police station said.

Eyewitnesses said Kumar went to Gudda?s father?s pavement stall where puffed rice is sold. But Gudda refused to make masala muri for him, resulting in a heated exchange.

The witnesses said the two boys were seen pushing each other after a few minutes. ?They were abusing each other over some trivial issues which were not clear to us,? a pavement dweller said.

Then, Gudda pounced on his friend and rained blows on him for 10 minutes. Passers-by witnessed the incident but nobody stopped them, police said.

Gudda suddenly kicked Bahadur in the chest and the boy fell on the pavement, unconscious. He lay there for nearly 50 minutes before being taken to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital in a critical condition where he succumbed to his injuries.

Gudda vanished from the scene after hearing the news of the death. The police searched his residence at Metcalfe Street but he could not be traced.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 37.4?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 25.9?C (2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 92% Minimum 35%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.49 pm Sunrise: 5.30 am    

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