Sonia yields to coalition pressure
Split symptom in BJP allies
DMK alert to Congress, Left on Jaya
Chanakya in Chandragupta suite
77-yr-old killed by taxi driver for protest
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 13 
The Congress today finally made its opening move to dislodge the Vajpayee government with Sonia Gandhi saying her party was willing to consider sharing power ?as a special case?.

The Congress chief said she would meet Jayalalitha once the ADMK leader withdrew support to the Vajpayee government. Both might happen tomorrow itself.

An ADMK release, issued late tonight in Chennai, said Jayalalitha will meet the President at 11 am on Wednesday.

After attending shabad kirtan at Arjun Singh?s residence to mark the Khalsa tercentenary celebrations, Sonia Gandhi said: ?I will meet her as and when required.?

Apart from Sonia Gandhi?s veering round to the idea of a coalition, politics moved at a snail?s pace in the capital despite Jayalalitha?s presence at the Maurya Sheraton hotel. Those who turned up at the hotel were political lightweights like R.S. Gavai of the Republican Party of India, G.M. Banatwala and E. Ahmed of IUML and P.C. Thomas of the Kerala Congress (Mani). Each party representative spent an hour with her. Also present at different times during the day was Jayalalitha?s Man Friday, Subramanian Swamy. According to Swamy, Laloo Prasad Yadav spoke to the ADMK leader over phone from Lucknow.

Countering the BJP?s mid-term elections bogey, Sonia Gandhi said snap polls was not her party?s priority as it was prepared to discharge constitutional obligations once the BJP government collapsed.

The Congress chief said though the party line on coalition politics, adopted at the Panchmarhi conclave, was against sharing power with regional groups, the party was willing to discuss the issue in view of the present circumstances. Newly-appointed AICC spokesperson Arjun Singh also said: ?Normally the party line is not changed, but under certain circumstances, it can be changed.?

Sonia Gandhi?s remarks assume significance as they are aimed at signalling to restless third force parties and disgruntled BJP allies that the Congress will not remain indifferent towards hammering out an alternative government after the fall of the present dispensation. Her stress on snap polls not being on her immediate agenda was also aimed at dispelling the impression that the Congress was not serious about forming an alternative government.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Swamy and Laloo Yadav spoke to Sonia Gandhi today, complaining about the Congress? ?rigid? and ?inflexible? attitude towards dislodging the Vajpayee government. They lamented that some senior Congress leaders, like Salman Khurshid and P. Shiv Shankar, were sending out confusing signals.

Sonia Gandhi summoned Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Shiv Shankar, P.J. Kurien and others and decided to send out a clear signal to the non-BJP groups that her party was now prepared to dump the Vajpayee government.

She expressed unhappiness at Khurshid?s remark that the party would have nothing to do with Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha.

Sonia Gandhi then directed senior party leaders, including Congress Working Committee members, not to go public with their views and appointed trusted aide Arjun Singh as ?authorised spokesperson to deal with all issues relating to the current political situation?.

Arjun Singh?s emergence as key troubleshooter once again indicated the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister?s clout in 10 Janpath.    

New Delhi, April 13 
The BJP?s allies are keeping the government on tenterhooks amid speculation that at least three key coalition constituents ? the Samata Party, Biju Janata Dal and Trinamul Congress ? were turning vulnerable to a split.

Samata, sources said, has already initiated moves to retain five of its ?soft? MPs. In the 13-member Samata, five MPs are enough for an official split.

Sources said the MPs being targeted by the Congress were Sushil Kumar Singh, Hardwar Singh, Prabhunath Singh, Hari Kewal Parshad and Kalpnath Rai.

Efforts were also afoot to win over two former dissidents, Abdul Gafoor and Shakuni Chowdhury. Though Gafoor, Chowdhury and a third MP, Mahendra Baitha ? all erstwhile Congressmen ? were set to return to their parent party, they reportedly reconsidered their strategy.

The rethink came as they felt that the Congress? chances of revival in Bihar had diminished once it teamed up with Laloo Prasad Yadav and opposed Central rule.

Sources said Samata president George Fernandes has been hosting dinner parties for his flock of MPs and extending sops to disgruntled members like Hardwar Singh, who heads a union of Food Corporation of India (FCI) workers in Patna. With the union on the verge of a break-up, the Centre has announced some measures for the FCI workers.

Samata sources said a Haryana leader, considered a past master in the ?Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram? brand of floor-crossing politics, was working on the MPs on behalf of the Congress.

Stung by attacks on its leaders yesterday by Chowdhury and Rai ? while the former blasted Nitish Kumar, Rai lambasted Fernandes ? Samata staged a ?show of solidarity? today.

Chowdhury held a press conference to extol the virtues of the Agni-II test in which he also asserted: ?Now we are united. We will see what our party will do if this government falls.?

Samata general secretary Jaya Jaitley and spokesman Digvijay Singh held another press meet in which three dissidents, Baitha, Gafoor and Bashisht Narain, were paraded.

But the efforts were partially negated when Rai declared that the dissidents would form their own group as soon as Jayalalitha formally withdrew support to the government.

Though the Biju Dal seemed more intact than Samata, BJP sources said two of the nine MPs could cross over to the Congress, if an alternative government looked feasible.

Sources said in the Trinamul, four MPs were identified as potential defectors in the event of the collapse of the government.

Meanwhile, amid the numbers game, the BJP today mounted an unusual offensive in public, virtually ?advising? the President why he should not ask the Prime Minister to move a trust motion if Jayalalitha pulled out.

A day after A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani had called on the President, government spokesman Pramod Mahajan said: ?From Day 1, this government has been a minority government. So, if the ADMK withdraws support, how does the question arise of us losing our majority? It is a contradiction in terms,? he said.

The Congress protested Mahajan?s remarks, saying ?he is trespassing on the discretion of the President?.    

New Delhi, April 13 
The Left parties today went to work to keep the DMK behind the BJP-alternative taking shape in Delhi as their Tamil Nadu ally sent out clear signals of its unease with the emerging political formations.

The DMK warned the Congress and the Left that it might be forced to support the Vajpayee government if they associated with its rival, the ADMK.

After a meeting of the party?s executive committee, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said Jayalalitha posed a ?greater danger to the nation than communalism in the present circumstances?.

He appealed to all parties, particularly the Left, to keep the ADMK factor in sight while taking a decision.

BJP leaders have been working on this contradiction to persuade Karunanidhi to bail them out in a Parliament showdown after Jayalalitha calls off support.

?We will take an appropriate decision after watching developments in Delhi,? he added.

To reassure the DMK, Jyoti Basu said the CPM cannot be part of an alliance in which the ADMK is a partner. CPI leader A.B. Bardhan echoed his stand.

Before the DMK executive met, TMC chief G.K. Moopanar visited ally Karunanidhi, possibly to dissuade him from backing the BJP.    

New Delhi, April 13 
Her silence made noises today, her inaction triggered activity.

In the Chandragupta suite at the Maurya Sheraton, Jayalalitha seemed indifferent to the frenzied curiosity and chaos she was generating six floors below in the hotel lobby. She did not venture out of the presidential suite. And if she did speak to anyone, the soldiers downstairs had no inkling of the conversation.

ADMK sources said their chief does not schedule important meetings on a Tuesday: it is inauspicious.

If nothing else, the most sought-after woman in Indian politics could not have chosen a better place to park herself. At Rs 25,000 a night, the suite ? the most expensive in the country ? had played host to Hillary Clinton, Sheikh Hasina, Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohammed, heads of G-15 nations and the Saarc.

Even Jayalalitha ? whose demands have repeatedly pushed the BJP-led government to the brink ? could not have asked for more. The rosewood and silk suite is equipped with a jacuzzi, a huge sitting room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a terrace garden.

Apart from the suite, Jayalalitha has taken five ?low-rate? rooms on the same floor for her entourage. Her nine-day stay alone is likely to cost over Rs 2 lakh, while that of her retinue will be about Rs 5 lakh.

Though Amma will only be paying for the suite and the other five rooms, the hotel has sealed off the entire 40-room floor. Nobody but her personal attendants, butler, ADMK MPs and leaders who have an appointment are allowed up to the floor.

If the hotel is worried about revenue loss, there is nothing in the cheerful, helpful demeanour of the staff to suggest so. In this industry, customers are kings. And a high-voltage customer like the ADMK chief is kinglier than others.

For Jayalalitha, breakfast at Sheraton was croissants. Next, she unpacked her bags. Going by the amount of her luggage, that took some doing. While the rumour mill pegged the number of her suitcases at 48 (weighing 800 kg), the hotel?s public relations manager Sona Adhikari put it at a modest 12. ?She carries her own sheets, towels and several other items,? Adhikari said.

Unpacking was followed by browsing through some papers and a few telephones. No, ADMK sources were not telling who she called or what she read or readied. Amma gave lunch a miss. After a siesta, she had grilled cheese sandwiches.

Unlike the Taj Mahal Hotel, where Jayalalitha had last stayed, the Maurya Sheraton staff handled the media well.

While Amma gave reporters food for thought, the hotel provided food and coffee for them at a ground floor cafe.

Jayalalitha is not just churlish about coalition governments, but is also known to be fussy about the hotels she stays in. In Delhi last month, she had stormed out of Hotel Ashoka, saying the lift had not been working.

Not surprisingly, she was received yesterday with a bouquet. This morning, red roses were sent up to her because she said she was fond of them.

The lady will venture out tomorrow. But she will travel in her own Tata Sierra which has been brought from Chennai. The front seats of the car have special lights so that cameramen are able to see her better when she gets onto the car or off it.

Amma knows being telegenic is the name of the game. Even through her elusiveness.    

Calcutta, April 13 
A taxi driver refused to take his passenger to his destination in the middle of the ride, and when he protested, beat him to death on a crowded Chowringhee kerb this afternoon.

Ghulam Mustafa Lama, 77, took the taxi from Bankshall Court and said he wanted to go to Hospital Street, in Bowbazar. His daughter Arati was with him.

The driver, Ganesh Yadav, agreed to go to Hospital Street. Suddenly, when the taxi reached Moti Seal Street around 4 pm, Yadav said he had changed his mind.

As his driver refused to take him, Lama protested. A heated altercation ensued. Amid the exchange, the driver swerved, changed his route and proceeded towards Esplanade. The passengers eventually forced him to stop near Peerless Inn Hotel on Chowringhee.

Yadav forced his passengers to get down and asked them to pay. Tempers were frayed and the altercation degenerated into a scuffle. Ringed by passive onlookers, Yadav pummelled Lama unconscious on the road around 4.30 pm. As Lama?s daughter wailed for help, the driver, sensing that the crowd might turn furious, tried to get away.

But he was caught by some youth, who forced him to take Lama to SSKM Hospital. But he was declared dead when he reached.

Yadav, who lives in Deshapran Shasmal Road, was arrested. His taxi was taken to Taltala police station.

Bengal Taxi Association president Kalyan Bhadra promised stern action against Yadav. ?I will ensure that he never drives a taxi in Calcutta again,? Bhadra said.

Bhadra admitted that Calcutta commuters continued to be harried and hustled by taxi drivers who refuse passengers at will. He conceded there had been ?little improvement? in the drivers? behaviour.

Bhadra passed on the blame to the drivers, saying the association had tried and failed to drive home to them the basics of politeness and good manners. ?We held several group meetings to inculcate politeness in rogue drivers,? Bhadra said. He added there were about 25,000 taxis in the city now.

Joint commissioner of traffic V.V. Thambi said the police have been trying to crack down on rude and offensive behaviour from taxi drivers. But he, too, admitted matters had not got any better. ?We receive numerous complaints of taxi refusal and misbehaviour by drivers,? he said.

Thambi said he had asked his officers to take action against errant drivers. Traffic policemen on duty will also be asked to act swiftly on reports of misbehaviour.

Compensation to the bereaved family will be considered after a meeting of association leaders, Bhadra said.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35.5?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.0?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 92%
Minimum 53%


Sunset: 5.53 pm
Sunrise: 5.21 am

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