BJP ahead in needle finish
Cong hopes for the ?unexpected?
Coalition headhunters stoop to conquer
Mission wins battle for teachers
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 16 
The BJP sneaked ahead of the Congress in the neck-to-neck battle for numbers in the confidence vote. The margin could be narrow, though the threat to the Vajpayee government had receded tonight.

Mayavati?s announcement in the Lok Sabha late this evening that she was abstaining sealed the fate of the Opposition exercise. The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), which kept the Opposition on tenterhooks throughout the day, announced late tonight in the House it would vote against the government.

The three-member TMC?s stand pushes up the Opposition?s strength to 267. If the Opposition manages to get the vote of the lone undecided MP ? Kalpnath Rai ? it can match the BJP-led coalition?s professed tally of 268. But in the event of a tie, the Speaker could bail out the government through his casting vote.

But the BJP is not out of the woods yet. It may not be a majority government any more and will always be vulnerable whenever crucial money Bills are put to vote. It will be held to ransom by the likes of Mayavati and will have to learn to live with new compromises with new Jayalalithas.

The Congress? last hopes lay with amenable, disgruntled MPs in a few of the ruling coalition?s allies. But the BJP insisted it was on the verge of turning the tables on Jayalalitha and the drama she unfolded more than 10 days ago.

After the DMK confirmed the support of its six MPs and Om Prakash Chautala did a somersault with his four-member Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the BJP camp had a lead of four this afternoon. Congress-ADMK hopes then hinged on the role of the two undecided entities, the five-member BSP and the TMC.

Though the TMC turned its back on the government, the BSP decided to abstain, dealing a body blow to the Opposition.

There were imponderables like the growing dissidence within the Samata Party, which the Congress had been ambitious of exploiting with the help of Rai, one of the dissenters who had come out in the open. Rai alleged in Parliament today that his family was being threatened to ensure his vote. The allegation sparked a furore, including a strong denial by Samata leader and railway minister Nitish Kumar.

But the Congress objective made little headway, because Rai was alone in his war against the Samata leadership. Other dissidents like Prabhunath Singh, Shakuni Chowdhury and Abdul Ghafoor appeared to have fallen in line. A lonely Rai was debating late tonight after meeting Jayalalitha whether to cast his lot with the Opposition and risk disqualification.

The Congress was jolted into action by the DMK decision and the Chautala turnaround. The party?s announcement of the decision to form an alternative coalition government with Sonia Gandhi as leader came rather late in the day.

By that time, the BJP ? which had assembled its trouble-shooters in Delhi ? had completed all the hard bargaining with success.

True, the Congress had to hold back its cards to try and ease out the contradictions of having to keep the door open for strongly opposing forces like the DMK and the ADMK. But the delay in spelling out the readiness to form an alternative arrangement was an expensive one, leaving the field open for the BJP to tie up one loose end after another.

A desperate Congress tried to maintain contact with soft targets, including MPs from the Akali Dal and Biju Janata Dal, through Sharad Pawar and Kamal Nath. But with less than a day left for the vote, it was more of a last-ditch effort.

On the other hand, the BJP had flown in the wilier of its politicians from state capitals for help.

Former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat participated in the negotiations, as did Pramod Mahajan?s brother-in-law and Maharashtra deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde.

Kalyan Singh was around, but his presence was more to ensure that the leadership does not hand over his government to BSP?s Mayavati on a platter.

The BJP fell back on its ally, the Akali Dal, to broker a deal with Chautala. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal came over to Delhi and it was at his residence that Chautala announced the reversal of his earlier decision. Devi Lal?s son, who had congratulated Jayalalitha only on Wednesday for following his example and daring to leave the coalition, was singing a different tune.

He said since the shape of the alternative was nowhere in sight, he was giving the BJP another chance. ?The Congress is trying to come back to power. We do not want to push the country from the frying pan to the fire,? he said. Chautala said Kalyan Singh and Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel had spoken to him. Sources said former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar was also instrumental in effecting the turnaround.

However, Chautala hinted to the Opposition that he may change his mind if a farmer was considered for the Prime Minister?s post. He had walked out of the ruling coalition a few days before the budget in mid-February, claiming farmers? causes were ignored.

Chautala is himself not an MP and it is more than apparent the BJP, with the Akali Dal, had poached on his territory with a degree of success. Some of his four MPs were willing to jilt him and Chautala did not want to risk a split by siding with the Opposition.

DMK leader Murasoli Maran dealt a near-fatal blow to the Opposition in the afternoon. He congratulated Vajpayee for a fresh lease of life, now that he had exorcised the ?ghost??. He did not name Jayalalitha, but said he pitied the Congress because the ?ghost? would haunt the party now.

Maran concluded by announcing his party?s decision to vote against the ?mother of corruption??. It appeared the BJP had worked hard at achieving this alliance with the DMK. Even the now low-profile Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu?s help was sought in convincing Karunanidhi to change sides.

The TMC remained a divided lot through the day. Its leader, G.K. Moopanar, went over to 10 Janpath and discussed ways out of the impasse. The TMC was finding it difficult to desert its trusted friend, the DMK, and Moopanar told Sonia Gandhi that it would be able to lend support only if Jayalalitha was kept out of the alliance.

But the Congress could not make an immediate commitment. Later, the TMC decided to stay with the Opposition, but made it clear if an alternative configuration emerged, its concerns will have to be addressed.

The key factor which helped the BJP in the end was its ability to accept the sentiments of regional parties and the very idea of running a coalition government with greater ease than the Congress.

While the Congress took time to emerge from a debate on straying from its policy as laid down in the Panchmarhi declaration, the BJP banked on trusted allies.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Desperately seeking the exit of the Vajpayee government, the Congress leadership today made a last-ditch effort to win over the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and claimed that it would get support from some ?unexpected quarters? to defeat the government-sponsored trust motion tomorrow.

The leadership, however, admitted that the decision of the DMK and Om Prakash Chautala to bail out the BJP-led coalition was a setback. Till late at night, Congress leaders kept trying to persuade the Bahujan Samaj Party to vote against the motion but their efforts came to a naught when Mayavati told the Lok Sabha that her party would abstain. The BSP has five Lok Sabha members and its neutral stand is bound to help the government.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi met TMC chief G.K. Moopanar to formally seek the support of his party, which has three MPs. Moopanar said his party was prepared to back a Congress-led government provided it did not have Jayalalitha?s ADMK. The TMC is likely to vote against the trust motion, Moopanar said.

However, another TMC leader, P. Chidambaram, said his party would take a decision tomorrow, keeping in mind what would be the contours of the next government.

Senior Congress leaders, while admitting that the BJP had an edge in the numbers game, said they had not lost hope yet. ?We are still counting on support from some unexpected quarters,? a Congress Working Committee member said. He claimed that non-BJP groups had not counted on support from the DMK and Chautala.

The Congress has summoned Orissa chief minister Giridhar Gamang, who is still a member of the Lok Sabha.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh also reached the capital today to muster support for a Congress-led coalition.

The Congress also sought to dispel the impression that it was not clear about the composition and nature of the alternative government in the event of Vajpayee?s fall.

AICC spokesperson Arjun Singh said the party will stake claim to form a government under Sonia Gandhi?s leadership tomorrow after the Vajpayee government is defeated.

The Congress made it clear that it was open to the idea of leading a coalition with parties like the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha, ADMK and Janata Party and with disgruntled allies of the BJP willing to ditch the ruling alliance.

Arjun Singh clarified that there was no clash between the Congress stand on coalition taken in the Panchmarhi declaration and the possibility of sharing power with non-BJP groups.

Quoting from the declaration, he said there was an admission in it of the difficulties of forming a one-party government in the current situation.    

New Delhi, April 16 
ADMK chief Jayalalitha may nurse an eternal grudge against the BJP for not being ?deferential? enough to her block of 18 MPs. But no sooner had the Vajpayee government?s main pillar of strength dislodged itself from the ruling coalition that its managers and strategists, sprung out of their seats of power, abdicated whatever ego hang-ups they may have had, humbled themselves before the high-and-mighties (in this case, regional satraps or one-member outfits? chieftains) who were likely to tilt the power-scales and put their front foot well forward to ensure that the 13-month government lived to see a few more months of self-proclaimed ?glory?.

In the end, it was the BJP?s superior PR that helped the government gain a slight edge in what is turning out to be a bitterly-contested fight on the floor of the House. Only the dramatis personae in today?s chapter were different.

It was not the predictable Pramod Mahajan-P.R. Kumaramangalam-George Fernandes trio alone that worked overtime on behalf of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Help came from quarters as varied as Murli Manohar Joshi, two former chief ministers who were out on a limb ? Madan Lal Khurana and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat ? Tamil playwright and occasional power-broker Cho Ramaswamy, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee and sundry players from Uttar Pradesh like Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh. The most unexpected of all was former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who, in every trial of strength the government faced, voted against it and has missed no occasion to lambast the government. But last Monday?s meeting with Vajpayee apparently occasioned a change of heart.

Sources close to the former Prime Minister said he was softened by the idea that Vajpayee had taken the trouble to personally call him up and solicit his ?advice? on how to tackle the ADMK-sponsored crisis. Chandra Shekhar was reportedly miffed with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders for the royal ignore.

The meeting has scripted a piquant situation, according to which Chandra Shekhar may eventually vote against the government as in the past after working in the background to ensure its survival. He used his clout with Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala to prevail on him to bail out the government.

Chandra Shekhar also used his Thakur antecedents to work on the Rajput MPs of the Samata Party ? Prabhunath Singh and Sushil Kumar Singh ? who looked as though they may split up from Fernandes and company and float their own outfit. The ?farmer? sentiment clicked with Chautala and the Thakur kinship feelings melted the Samata MPs.

Chandra Shekhar took his seat in the treasury benches today, his face appeared as though under a dark cloud, and he hit out at the Congress whenever something inconvenient was mentioned about the BJP.

Khurana did his bit to persuade Chautala and was back in the television frame after a brief spell in oblivion following his resignation from the Cabinet. Badal dashed from Chandigarh to cajole old friend Chautala. BJP sources said two arguments were used: one that the Congress would certainly head an alternative government ? an idea that is anathema to the INLD leader ? or failing that, the country would be plunged into a snap poll. Badal, sources said, asked Chautala to ?take a long walk? and think ?coolly? about the scenario.

Shekhawat used the Thakur connection to coax Bihar MP Anand Mohan Singh, while BJP sources said Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh was on a different mission: to see to it that the BJP and BSP do not strike a deal which would entail sacrificing his gaddi.

Joshi and Mamata talked to BSP leader Mayavati. The principal player who prepared the ground for the BJP-DMK nexus was Cho Ramaswamy, after which Vajpayee himself stepped into the drama. Mahajan was in touch with the TMC block.    

Calcutta, April 16 
The Left Front government?s attempts to impose its education policy on Ramakrishna Mission-run schools suffered a setback today as Calcutta High Court upheld two of the schools? right to appoint monk-teachers.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Amitava Lala asked the government to withdraw all the 23 teachers it had appointed in the Mission?s Rahara and Baranagar primary schools and allow them to appoint monk-teachers and monastic headmasters. ?Till these teachers are relocated in the area, other candidates for teaching posts in other primary schools under the Baranagar and Khardah circles cannot be appointed,? the judgment stated.

The judge also asked the North 24-Parganas primary school council to pay salaries to the 23 teachers till they were placed elsewhere. The process of withdrawal and relocation of teachers will have to be ceremonially initiated by the CPM dominated-North 24-Parganas primary school council.

The council found itself caught in a major storm a year ago over its attempts to foist the Marxist government?s education policy on Mission run-schools.

Although Justice Lala?s five page-judgment relates to the two schools, there is little doubt about other Mission run-institutions using it in justification of their likely defiance of various government directives.

To be able to be independent in the area of recruitment of teachers, both the Baranagar and Rahara Mission schools will have to forsake the annual grant they receive from the government. Counsel for both the Mission and the government have agreed to the court?s ruling.

The Mission had filed a petition in the high court a year ago, praying for an order permitting it to appoint monk-teachers to impart value-based education to pupils in its primary schools.

The school authorities had objected to the government?s policies like abolition of English and the absence of promotion-by-examination system at the primary level. But the government, through teachers appointed by it, kept pursuing its own policies.

The Baranagar and Rahara school authorities? reluctance to go by the government?s diktat led the state to insist that its education policy be followed on the ground that the Mission received annual grant. But the Mission made it clear that it would not sacrifice its ideals. It debated that the government had a special set of rules for it which empowered them to follow its educational ideals even after availing of grant. The Mission had also petitioned that induction of non-monk teachers by the council in their primary schools was hindering propagation of its ideals. On hearing it, the judge suggested that the council seek permission from the education department to enable them to recruit monk-teachers.The government agreed to the proposal.

In a separate petition, the authorities of the Baranagar Ramakrishna Mission Primary School sought the court?s permission to retain a few teachers out of the 23 in its secondary schools. The judge ruled that such a proposal could also be placed by the mission before the government.

The judge recorded the undertakings of both the Mission and the council that due to changed circumstances the career of students in the schools in questions should not be harmed.    

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

Temperature: Maximum 37.8?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 91%
Minimum 43%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 5.54 pm
Sunrise: 5.18 am

Maintained by Web Development Company