Congress flags off move for government
Jaya, Mulayam lift roadblock
Budget green signal dispels gloom
Metro slips into chaos through open doors
Muslim scholar at home with Upanishads
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 19 
Amid signs that major allies may not insist on sharing power, the Congress today took the first formal steps towards staking claim to the Centre, sending a two-man team to President K.R. Narayanan to state the party was ready to form an alternative.

P.J. Kurien and Oscar Fernandes met the President today and handed to him copies of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) and Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolutions which underlined the party?s decision to form a government.

But while ADMK leader Jayalalitha and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared to have dropped their insistence on joining the government, the RSP and the Forward Bloc continued to hold out against the Congress, leaving the anti-BJP parties with more mopping up to do.

The Congress, though, is confident the CPM leadership will eventually bring around the rebel Left rump and appeared upbeat on government formation. Emerging from a meeting of the CPP this morning, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi left nobody in doubt that the party was keen to form a government. Asked whether she would be forming an alternative government, she said: ?Yes, I would do so.?

The BJP, on the other hand, drew mileage from the delay in alternate arrangements and mocked its adversaries. BJP general secretary Venkaiah Naidu said: ?They said there would be an alternative government in five minutes, but 48 hours have gone and no government is there. There are only two options now: back to Vajpayee or back to the people.?

Although the BJP kept up the pitch for Vajpayee staking claim again, the move to keep hopes of power alive is being seen as aimed at keeping the flock of allies together. Caretaker Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held a meeting of allies at his residence this morning and received a unanimous vote of confidence. The surprise presence at the meeting was the Telugu Desam, which yesterday announced the end of its links with the BJP. But the surprise absentee was new-found ally DMK.

The BJP?s posturing on a return to power has given a handle to the likes of CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet who are using it to coax fence-sitting non-BJP groups to quickly announce unconditional support to a Congress-led government.

The Congress approached the President after Mulayam and Jayalalitha met Sonia Gandhi and tentatively agreed to drop their insistence on power-sharing. For the first time since the fall of the Vajpayee government, both Jayalalitha and Mulayam indicated that they were willing to back a Congress-led government from outside.

Later in the day, a confident Arjun Singh said the Congress would be able to produce letters of support from non-BJP groups if it is asked by the President to furnish them.

The Congress now hopes to get a formal invitation from the President once the Union budget is passed in Parliament on Wednesday, as it feels that the party resolutions presented to Rashtrapati Bhavan would give the President enough ground for extending an invitation.

Sonia Gandhi, Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, Subramanian Swamy, Sharad Pawar and Arjun Singh are all working on one theme: to instal an alternative rather than give the BJP a chance to stake claim again or face a mid-term election.

The Congress is holding out the veiled threat of snap polls to parties still unwilling to pledge support.

Pawar, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh and senior leaders like Arjun Singh, Kamal Nath, Bhajan Lal and others have stepped up efforts to dismantle some of the BJP allies, namely the Samata Party, the Trinamul Congress, the Biju Janata Dal and the Akali Dal.

The Congress is eyeing Ajit Panja, Krishna Bose and Bikram Sarkar from the Trinamul while the Samata list consists of Kalpnath Rai, Abdul Ghafoor, Shakuni Chaudhry, Hari Kewal Prasad and Sushil Kumar.

Although the BJP?s allies are holding on, the belief among Congress leaders is that some of them will break away once it becomes clear that the Congress is going to form the next government.

Arjun Singh, in fact, laughed at the efforts of leaders like George Fernandes to keep the allies together by requesting the President to invite Vajpayee to form the new government again. ?Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall. All the king?s men and all the king?s horses cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again,? he said.

Arjun Singh also dismissed the BJP?s claim that the country was heading for mid-term elections. ?All those who have lost relevance are attempting to frighten the MPs. There is no need for mid-term poll. An alternative stable government will be provided,? Arjun Singh said.    

New Delhi, April 19 
The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM) and ADMK today diluted their insistence on participating in a Congress-led government at the Centre and said their first priority was to put an alternative in place.

ADMK chief Jayalalitha met morcha chairman and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at his residence, and later held a separate round of discussions with West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu at Banga Bhavan.

?We are not hankering for power. An alternative government has to be formed at the Centre,? Jayalalitha said after emerging from a meeting with Basu.

She made it clear that the Opposition does not want the BJP to return to power by default. ?We will see to it that the BJP does not come back. Consultations are on and there will be no problem in the way of an alternative government formation,? Jayalalitha said.

Asked whether she would agree to a government with Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister, Jayalalitha said: ?If Mr Basu agrees, the ADMK will be overjoyed to support him.?

?We have no objection to supporting a Congress-led government either, but all the Opposition parties should also agree to that,? she added.

Mulayam Singh Yadav said much the same thing at a press conference earlier. ?The morcha, with its 37 MPs, will play a constructive role. Our first responsibility is to put together an alternative government at the Centre. The issue of participation can be discussed later,? Mulayam said after his meeting with Jayalalitha.

The Samajwadi Party chief also met Congress president Sonia Gandhi tonight.

Yesterday, Mulayam?s lieutenant and Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh had rooted strongly for the morcha?s participation in government. But today, his leader spoke in a milder tone.

Though both ADMK and the morcha would like to participate in any alternative government, they may not pitch their demand at this moment, sources said.

One of the reasons could be that the exercise of getting together all partners to support a Congress-led government is proving to be sticky. Once the others back out, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is part of the morcha, is also not likely to insist on participation.

Since none of the Opposition parties want a mid-term poll, it is not in their interest to scuttle an alternative government.

CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has been telling non-Congress Opposition parties to keep out of an alternative government and extend outside support.

The Left has already taken a formal decision to stay out and give issue-based support to a Congress-led government.

Today?s meetings between Jayalalitha and non-Congress Opposition leaders are significant for having accelerated the process of a new government formation. ?This meeting is an important step in fulfilling our pledge to provide an alternative government,? Mulayam said after meeting Jayalalitha.

Surjeet was the first person Jayalalitha met in the non-Congress Opposition camp after she arrived in Delhi this time. Last week, she called on the CPI leadership at the party headquarters. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, too, had advised the ADMK to keep out of government.    

April 19 
Calming jittery markets and investors, all political parties today agreed to pass the Union and railway budgets without any amendment on Wednesday.

The news of this rare consensus in the middle of a political vacuum in Delhi pulled stock prices and the rupee out of an alarming downward spiral that began last Saturday, when the Vajpayee government lost the confidence vote.

The markets were wobbly when they opened this morning. The Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index, which lost more than 250 points on Saturday, started the day at a shaky 3331.71 points and was poised to dip when positive political news arrived to lift the gloom. The sensex hit the day?s high of 3468.5 before closing at 3451.43, 124.45 points above Saturday?s close.

In the currency market, the rupee see-sawed, breaching the Rs 43-per-dollar mark to touch the day?s low of Rs 43.10. It recovered to close at 42.86, still 15 paise down on the previous finish.

In Delhi, outgoing finance minister Yashwant Sinha said the budget will be taken up for consideration soon after Parliament convenes at 11 am on Wednesday. Leader of the Opposition Sharad Pawar said the budget will be passed in full. Parliament will also pass the Railway Appropriation Bill on the same day.

Senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh, who also attended the 35-minute all-party meeting convened by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, said: ?There is no need to panic. The Congress does not want to destabilise the economy.? Asked if the budget could be amended, Singh said: ?If the new government wants to bring in amendments, it could always do so later.?

Industry was happy that all parties, including the Left, had reached a consensus for the sake of the economy even when they were bitterly divided on political lines. Apex chambers of commerce described the step as a ?mature act?.

Sudhir Jalan, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said: ?Any political differences in the passage of the (finance) Bill would have created a host of problems, including refund of revenue collected, which could have complicated matters and led to a constitutional crisis.?

Confederation of Indian Industry president Rajesh Shah said: ?With the passage of the Bill, the investment climate would improve and the capital market would get a boost.? The chambers have emphasised that a similar consensus was needed to pass economic legislation like the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill, Fema and the Prohibition of Money Laundering Bill in the Lok Sabha.    

Calcutta, April 19 
Metro rail services were disrupted for nearly two-and-a-half hours today because of the failure of the doors to close in four rakes.

A Metro railway spokesman said the trouble started at about 9.30 am. As a result, 27 trains were cancelled and two delayed. Normal services were restored after noon.

Trains are run in ten minute gaps in the morning. But because of the door trouble, the gap between each train rose to nearly 16 minutes. The authorities, thus, had to run 18 specials to make up for the delay.

The delay led to overcrowded stations and frayed tempers. Some higher secondary examinees were heard ruing their decision to take the Metro.

Trains that ran during the period were overcrowded, forcing many commuters to avail of other means to reach their destinations, throwing out of gear an already overburdened public transport system.

Soma Basu, a resident of Tollygunge, who takes the Metro to reach her office in Chowringhee every day, was in a fix. Perspiring profusely, she said: ?I will have to consult an astrologer before setting off from my house as nobody can can pinpoint when Metro services would be disrupted. Sometimes trains stall in the dark tunnel, at times they refuse to budge from stations.? Her anger rose with the soaring temperature.

Pradipta Biswas, a resident of Bhowanipur and a higher secondary examinee, was visibly disturbed as he feared he would not be able to reach his examination centre at Rashbehari on time.

However, the Metro railway authorities did not seem to be bothered about the predicament of the commuters. ?Do you really think that city officegoers are worried about punctuality?? a spokesman asked.

However, he hurried to add: ?We were lucky because the situation did not go out of hand as we ran special trains to cope with the heavy rush. Otherwise, anything could have happened.?

Alliance Francaise

A day after a devastating fire gutted the Alliance Francaise office in Park Mansion, authorities said it would take at least two weeks for them to find a suitable place to resume French classes.

Alliance Francaise director Danis Pluger said a notice was put up at the entrance this morning informing students that French classes would remain suspended for the time being.

A. Dromsom, a senior official of the French embassy in New Delhi, is arriving here tomorrow to inspect the damage.

He will meet information and cultural minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, at Writers? Buildings at noon.

Pluger said Bhattacharya would be requested to help find a suitable place for resuming classes.    

Kalady, April 19 
Harmonising seemingly irreconcilable odds, an academic born in Adi Shankaracharya?s hometown has become the first Muslim woman in the country to earn a doctorate in Advaitha Vedanta.

Forty-five-year-old K.S. Pathumma Beebi, the recipient of the doctorate, is a teacher of Sanskrit and the wife of an Indian Union Muslim League leader.

Beebi has written a thesis on symbols in the Upanishads. On March 13, the Sankaracharya University, named after the 8th Century seer whose Advaitha Vedanta propounded that man is one with God, awarded her a PhD.

?Symbols in the Upanishads have always intrigued me,? says Beebi. ?When you analyse each symbol and get to the bottom of it, you find they all portray perfection and excellence. That seems to be the ultimate goal of the Upanishads, the pursuit for perfection and truth.?

Analysing and teaching Hindu scriptures, Beebi has never felt she is a lesser Muslim or that she is trespassing on a religion not her own.

?I am very much a practising Muslim. But I was born and brought up in Kalady, the birthplace of Shankaracharya. In other words, it is the birthplace of Vedanta itself,? she says. ?I was born with the Vedantas as a part of me.?

Schooling in the prestigious Brahmanandadaya High School in Kalady meant she had to study Sanskrit. Though Beebi at first treated it as ?any other subject?, her interest in the ancient Hindu scriptures developed as she graduated to high school.

?When I joined the Sree Sankara College for my pre-degree as a science student, I opted for Sanskrit as my second language,? she said.

It was not just the popularity of Sanskrit in Kalady that inspired Beebi to pursue the subject. Her father K.A. Zaidali, a retired government employee who took lessons in astrology and palmistry from pandits in his spare time, insisted that she study Sanskrit, not Physics or Mathematics.

?I was the first of my father?s eight children,? said Beebi. ?He hoped I would fulfil his ambition of reading the scriptures in Sanskrit. He was fascinated by the idea of his daughter reciting the Vedas to him.?

On her father?s insistence, Beebi chose Sanskrit in college. In 1974, she graduated with a first class in Vedanta from Sree Sankara College here. Two years later, she got her master?s degree, once again securing a first class.

The first Muslim woman to have done her master?s in Sanskrit, she soon found a job as a lecturer in a government Sanskrit college and later as a reader in the Shankaracharya University. Beebi has also written a book simplifying Vedanta for students.

Marriage to P.P. Abdul Khader, district council member and regional treasurer of the Muslim League, did not come in the way of her vocation.

Though Khader is an active Muslim League member and has never been interested in the Hindu scriptures himself, Beebi says he has been supportive.

?My husband is a Haji, he is a better Muslim,? she says. ?He has always encouraged me. Maybe I would have had trouble had he lacked the knowledge of a better Muslim.?

Khader adds: ?The Vedas and all the books in Sanskrit she goes through are part of her curriculum, her profession, a job. She has never seemed to me to be a lesser Muslim. She respects Islam as much as I do. I really don?t see why I should have objected to my wife acquiring more knowledge about Hinduism.?

For Beebi, though, the Vedantas are more than just a job. ?I have taught Vedantas for 16 years now, I know them like the back of my hand,? she said. ?But there are times when I ask myself, why me? Perhaps because I am the one chosen by God. I believe in destiny. Like Prince Siddharth became Gautam Buddha, maybe I took up Sanskrit because it was my fate.?

?My only regret is I have not been appreciated by my own community. Hindus in Kerala and Muslims in the Gulf have always encouraged me but my own community in my own country has been indifferent,? she said.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 37.6?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.4?C (2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 89% Minimum 44%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.55 pm
Sunrise: 5.16 am    

Maintained by Web Development Company