Cong prods Jaya for rapid action
Desperate BJP dials Dravidian rivals
Hunt for city contact of Ganguly abductors
Russia catches Cold War fever
US rebuke forces Delhi retreat on airstrikes
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 10 
The Congress is pressing ADMK chief Jayalalitha to withdraw support to the Vajpayee government before Parliament resumes on Thursday.

If that happens, the party will ask the President to direct the Prime Minister to seek a trust vote. But if Jayalalitha does not pull out, the Congress will try and ensure that the Vishnu Bhagwat issue is put to vote under Rule 184 during the House debate.

However, the party?s floor-managers are not too confident of censuring the government on Bhagwat?s ouster as a section of the Opposition, especially the 20-member Samajwadi Party, has made it clear it is opposed to a debate on sensitive defence matters.

The Congress leadership is also reluctant to table a no-confidence motion against the government as it does not want to be seen as a scheming ??toppler??. Some Congress Working Committee members, along with Tariq Anwar and Rajesh Pilot, have publicly cautioned Sonia Gandhi not to ??rely too much?? on Jayalalitha.

The Congress feels the government should instead seek a trust vote. AICC general secretary Pranab Mukherjee said since the President had invited Vajpayee to form the government after getting letters of support from its allies, the Prime Minister should ask for a vote of confidence in case any partner withdraws.

Congressmen are awaiting Jayalalitha?s visit to Delhi on Monday to thrash out finer details of the ??oust-Vajpayee?? plot. Top leaders said a meeting between the Congress and the ADMK chiefs is on the cards. CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet, who is scrambling to put together a Congress-led alternative coalition, will be present at the meeting of the two ladies.

Party leaders said Sonia Gandhi has cancelled her trip to Anandpur Sahib on Monday to participate in the Khalsa tercentenary celebrations. While security has been cited as the official reason for the change of plan, partymen pointed out that Jayalalitha will arrive in the capital the same day.

Indicating that the Congress is ready for power, Sonia Gandhi said in Andhra Pradesh her party will not shirk the constitutional responsibility of forming a government if the situation so demands. But, at the same time, she brushed aside BJP allegations that the Congress was conspiring to dislodge the Vajpayee regime.

?Where is the need to topple it when it is crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions?? she asked.

Ridiculing the Centre for avoiding a joint parliamentary committee probe into charges levelled by Bhagwat and Mohan Guruswamy, former adviser to the finance minister, Sonia Gandhi said: ??Why is there such a hesitation if the government is innocent??

Confident that the government is on its last leg, the Congress has begun working on its future strategy. Last night, Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of senior leaders, including Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and Manmohan Singh, to discuss the options before the party.

Though no formal decision has been taken, the high command has set a few ground rules:

The alternative government should be headed by the Congress.
It will try and avoid sharing power with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav and other third force parties.
The leadership is divided on whether to include ADMK in an alternative coalition as it would completely alienate the DMK.
The Congress will not dilute any of its policies or programmes while leading such a government.
The alternative arrangement will be stop-gap. The party will press for early polls given the fractured nature of the Lok Sabha.
If the third force leaders make ??unreasonable demands??, the Congress will not hesitate to seek a fresh mandate.

New Delhi, April 10 
A jittery BJP, struggling to muster enough numbers in the event of Jayalalitha finally withdrawing support, is wooing the ADMK and the DMK simultaneously, but has not made much headway with either of the Dravidian parties.

The situation got more precarious for the BJP as Om Prakash Chautala, leader of the Indian National Lok Dal, ruled out rescuing the government and BSP leader Mayavati scoffed at reports of a bail-out pact. Chautala, however, also refused to back a Congress-led government, pledging support only for a third force-led alternative.

The beleaguered saffron camp courted the southern adversaries over the telephone, with home minister L.K. Advani urging Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi last night to support the coalition, and human resource development minister M.M. Joshi reportedly asking Jayalalitha today to continue as an ally.

DMK leader S. Muthiah told the press that Joshi had contacted Jayalalitha but that she was non-committal. Jayalalitha, he added, had only told Joshi that she would come to a decision after meeting various leaders during her stay in Delhi from Monday.

Joshi later told a television channel that he had made a ?courtesy call? to her, but insisted no politics was discussed.

The conversation, said to have lasted 10 minutes, was the first direct approach to Jayalalitha by a top BJP leader after the ADMK?s April 3 meeting authorised her to forge an alternative if the party?s demands were rejected.

Advani had to call Karunanidhi as earlier talks between BJP emissaries and the DMK chief did not result in anything positive. Sources said Karunanidhi did not commit support to the BJP.

Despite the last-ditch efforts to patch up with its fractious ally, the BJP continued to sound brave. Advani predicted the government would ?sail through? a no confidence motion with support from ?new members?, because ?there is no feasible alternative,? except fresh elections. The home minister said no ally was under any compulsion to stay in the coalition.

The BJP also ridiculed the CPM claim that the DMK would be guided by it on voting in Parliament. Terming the claim ?misleading?, BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur said Karunanidhi?s party could decide on its own course of action.

Despite the BJP?s brave assertions and the burst of statements against Jayalalitha over the past few days, the renewed wooing indicates the BJP is nowhere nearly as assured as it makes itself out to be.    

Calcutta, April 10 
The police today registered a kidnapping case at the Alipore police station as detectives launched a massive hunt for the local contact of the gang which abducted Exide chief Satyabrata Ganguly.

Ganguly returned home yesterday morning, a week after he disappeared, and said his was a case of mistaken identity. He had vanished on April 2 as he set out for his morning walk in the Horticulture Gardens.

Detectives, however, said there was more to his story and its veracity would be checked. Police sources believe the Exide boss was kidnapped for ransom by a gang based either in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

The detectives are working on two leads and feel the abduction could have been done either by Akhilesh Singh or Fazlu ? both gangsters with a long reach.

Singh, a member of the Babloo Srivastava gang, has a wide network in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and, of late, has been trying to establish a base in Calcutta. Fazlu has kidnapped city businessmen in the recent past.

DC(DD) Narayan Ghosh said the officer-in-charge of Alipore police station went to Ganguly?s residence at 5C New Road and recorded a kidnapping case today.

?This is clearly a case of kidnapping with ransom as the motive,? Ghosh said. However, he said he was not aware if any ransom had been paid for Ganguly?s release. The Exide chief said yesterday that no ransom was given.

A source said detectives raided four places in central and south Calcutta in search of a businessman who, they suspect, is the gang?s contact in the city and who brokered the ransom deal with the family. Detectives said they were tipped off that the ?local contact?, too, had arrived in the city last evening. ?The man was missing for the past few days,? a senior officer added.

Sources said it was the same person who had brokered the deal between businessman Sajjan Jalan and his kidnappers.

Jalan was kidnapped from central Calcutta while he was out on a morning walk in mid-January.

Ghosh confirmed that a Bihar or Uttar Pradesh-based gang was behind Ganguly?s kidnapping. ?I have spoken to several superintendents of police in the two states. Investigations are on,?? Ghosh said, adding that Ganguly may be questioned soon.

Sources said Darbhanga SP Shova Ohatkar had sent a list of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar-based criminals linked with Srivastava, who has a network in Calcutta.

Police chief D.C. Vajpai and additional commissioner S.I.S. Ahmed separately met police officers during the day. ?Officers-in-charge have been asked to start special patrol between 4.30 am and 7 am, especially in Victoria Memorial, Alipore Road and Rabindra Sarovar, where a lot of people go for morning walks. Officers were also told to check all vehicles plying during that period,?? Ghosh said.

Sources said the police contacted GRP officers to verify Ganguly?s statement that he travelled without ticket on the train which brought him back.

Ganguly spent the day relaxing as relatives and Exide officials flocked to his house.    

Moscow, April 10 
Almost a decade after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia is resounding with Cold War rhetoric and gestures as politicians, officials and journalists denounce Nato attacks on Yugoslavia as an imperialist plot.

The lead in the anti-Nato rampage has been taken by the Communists, the largest opposition party, who have eagerly dusted off Cold War slogans as the fear grows among Russians that Nato is a threat.

Others have joined in. Russian generals have put out wildly exaggerated claims of Nato losses and claimed weapons of mass destruction are being used against civilians. Russian officials mutter about American plans for global domination. And much of the Russian press has portrayed Yugoslavia as a gallant little nation single-handedly battling the forces of Western oppression.

?Anti-Western hysteria still rages in some Russian news organisations,? press commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote in the Moscow Times, adding that some Russian journalists ?can turn on a dime when it comes to reverting to the 1970s style of writing about the West?.

A few officials and organisations have gone beyond rhetoric, kicking out or banning Americans and other Westerners. Although a far cry from the days when the Soviets and the West practised mass expulsions and boycotts, a few American athletes, missionaries and others have been denied visas or told long-planned visits are no longer welcome.

The actions, mostly by low-ranking officials or non-government groups, are not condoned by the government, and some have been quietly reversed. Four American teachers dismissed by a St Petersburg business school were given their jobs back within days when senior officials intervened.

President Boris Yeltsin?s government, which opposes the airstrikes, has been working to restart talks to solve the crisis.

While harshly denouncing Nato, the government has said it won?t get involved in the conflict.

Yeltsin?s government knows the country has neither the military muscle nor the wealth to even think of risking a confrontation. The economy is in crisis and the military in shambles, short even of food and uniforms.

But that has only encouraged the opposition, who see Yeltsin?s stance as another political club with which to flail the President.

With Yeltsin facing possible impeachment for his policies, the Communists are attracting growing support from Russians disillusioned by years of failed market reforms and the country?s growing weakness.

In the Duma, Communists are spouting Cold War rhetoric that would have seemed laughable just a few months ago. ?The Nato aggression against a small, freedom-loving Slav nation is a premeditated scare action. Serbia forced to its knees would symbolise the triumph of pax Americana,? said Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist parliamentary Speaker, set off alarm bells when he claimed that Yeltsin ordered missiles to target Nato countries. But Seleznyov?s spokesman later said the two men only discussed the possibility.

Many Russians see Yugoslavia as a fellow Slav nation with close historic and cultural ties and really do not understand the reasons for Nato?s actions.

Russia, when it comes to the Balkan conflict, is living in a virtual world, in which the Albanians simply do not exist,? said commentator Andrei Piontkovsky.

A change came only when some Russian journalists realised that Kosovo had become a Russian domestic political issue and they were giving support to the Communists, who advocate a revival of Soviet-style controls.

Some TV channels and publications began paying attention to the refugees. Leading TV anchorman Yevgeny Kiselyov said unbalanced coverage of Kosovo could be a threat to Russian democracy. ?I understand that the anti-Nato, anti-Western, anti-American hysteria could lead to a situation when we would have restored Communist Party rule,? he was quoted as saying by the Moscow Times.    

New Delhi, April 10 
Fear of jeopardising its relations with the US has led India to shy away from shaping a strong Non-Aligned Movement statement against Nato airstrikes in Yugoslavia.

The strong position taken by India after the Nato airstrikes began evoked a sharp reaction from the US. Last week, US assistant secretary of state Karl Inderfurth summoned Indian ambassador Naresh Chandra to lodge Washington?s disappointment over New Delhi?s stand.

Indian leaders realise that pushing the issue further might have an adverse impact on the on-going Indo-US dialogue. Wisened by the mild US rebuke, India has now decided to go slow in its attempt to rally Nam?s support to its stand.

In public, Indian officials cite divisions within Nam as one of the main reasons for its go-slow policy against Nato. ?We don?t want to be seen as taking the lead in convincing Nam members to come out with a sharp statement against the unilateral Nato action,? a senior foreign ministry official said.

The official justified New Delhi?s decision on the issue because of persisting differences in opinion among member countries. ?What is the point of being the vanguard of a movement when you are not sure of its direction?? the official argued in reference to divisions in Nam on the Kosovo issue.

Differences within Nam centre around the wording of the proposed statement it is to issue on developments in Kosovo. Nearly 50 per cent of the 113-member body comprises Islamic nations which have wholeheartedly supported the Nato action on the alleged human rights violation against the Kosovars.These members have made it clear that they will not be party to any statement which mentions Nato by name or has the words ?unilateral action? in it.

On the other side, Cuba, Belarus, Vietnam and Mexico favour a strong Nam statement against the strikes in the Balkans.

Nam?s charter states all its resolutions and statements will be adopted through consensus. Given the sharp differences among members, if there is a Nam statement on Kosovo, it will be ?very weak?.

The hardliners wanted India to convince the other side to allow Nam to take a strong position. But New Delhi is refusing to play this role. ?India?s position has been made clear. Why should we try to force Nam into taking a position it is reluctant to take,? South Block officials argued.

But this has put India in an uncomfortable position. It was banking on Nam to support its stand against the Nato action. The softening of New Delhi?s stand means that in future, if Kashmir becomes a flashpoint inviting similar ?unilateral Nato action?, India will have few friends to turn to.

The final draft which is being debated by Nam in New York, talks about respecting the ?sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states?.

It also mentions Nam principles and the ?sanctity? of the UN charter in expressing its deep ?alarm at the worsening crisis in Kosovo, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Balkan region?.

The closest it comes to criticising the Nato action is by reiterating the fact that the ?primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security rests with the United Nations Security Council?.

While expressing concern over the plight of refugees from Kosovo, it also urges the UN secretary general to ?investigate all human rights abuses?.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Slight rise in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 34.4?C (2?C below normal)
Minimum 24.9?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 88%
Minimum 59%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 5.51 pm
Sunrise: 5.24 am

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