BJP, Congress in poll date tussle
Boy points finger at gandi aunty
Poisoned pat for Mulayam
Jaya packs up with Sonia parcel
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 27 
The BJP and the Congress locked horns on the date of polls as chief election commissioner M.S. Gill continued consulting parties before announcing the election schedule.

The BJP and its allies have demanded polls in June to capitalise on the perceived ?sympathy wave? in favour of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, while the Congress and parties like the ADMK have indicated they would prefer the exercise to be deferred till September.

The BJP and the Samata Party today requested the Election Commission to conduct the mid-term polls in June, saying a September election would not be ?favourable? because of the onslaught of rain, flood and cyclone.

Parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam and defence minister George Fernandes called on Gill separately at his residence and said they wanted ?early? elections. Kumaramangalam told PTI that he had conveyed to the poll panel chief that monsoon would cause floods in the Northeast, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh in September, while cyclones around the same time in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala could throw life out of gear and thwart the movement of security forces on poll duty.

At a press conference, Fernandes said development would take a back seat if a caretaker government functioned for six months. The ministers said Gill had assured them that the panel would look into their demand.

Officially, the Congress has maintained that the panel alone is competent enough to finalise the poll schedule. Congress leader Kamal Nath called on Gill today.

Party spokesman Arjun Singh criticised Fernandes for his alleged attempts to pressure Gill. ?Whatever is in Fernandes? interest is made out to be in the national interest,? he said. The Congress slammed the BJP for launching a whisper campaign against the President and now against Gill for refusing to play ball.

?The ruling party has started a new political culture by criticising institutions like the office of the President and the chief election commissioner, which are above board,? a Congress leader said.

Congress sources, however, admitted that delayed polls would suit them better as the party felt the ?sympathy wave? would have ebbed by then.

Election Commission sources said besides the time-frame for the polls, logistical issues came up during Gill?s discussions with leaders. Following his meeting with the President yesterday, Gill had told reporters he would consult the government and ascertain the views of various parties before finalising the poll dates. He also said the ongoing revision of electoral rolls to include new voters would be completed only by July 20.

But the BJP and the Telugu Desam insisted the polls could be conducted with the old electoral lists since a delay on grounds of revision would lead to ?total stagnation of all sectors? and a slowdown in the economy. The BJP said schools and colleges would be in vacation in June and the premises could be used for polls.

BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said it was also in the country?s interest to have a ?responsible and responsive? government at the earliest.

Despite their initial reservations about early polls, the BJP has got its allies around to its view that if elections are held in June, the coalition would be returned with a ?comfortable? majority, thanks to the ?Vajpayee magic?.

Akali Dal leader and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, for instance, welcomed the President?s decision to order fresh polls. ?I am happy that fresh elections have been announced,? he told reporters in Chandigarh.

The Desam was, however, in a bind on whether parliamentary and Assembly polls should be held simultaneously. While the Congress is keen on the idea, the Desam seemed averse to it. ?The Assembly polls are still nine months away. The present context pertains only to the Lok Sabha,? party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu said.

He added that it was ?impossible? to hold polls in September as the entire administration would be preoccupied with relief work in case the state was hit by a cyclone, which normally strikes Andhra around this time. Naidu has stated his arguments in separate letters to the President and the chief election commissioner.    

Calcutta, April 27 
Sumit Sharma, the boy who went out with his father and brother for their usual Sunday jaunt, today told police that a ?gandi (dirty) aunty? had tried to strangle him, according to deputy commissioner (detective department) Narayan Ghosh.

Sumit?s father Manoj is still missing. Manoj, a businessman dealing in spare parts, told his wife Kusum that he would take the boys to Victoria Memorial and would return after having dinner.

When they did not come home even after 11.30 pm, relatives panicked and went to search for them.

In the early hours of Monday, they found the family?s Maruti 800 parked near the crossing of Park Street and Camac Street. Sumit?s eight-year-old brother Mudit was lying dead in the vehicle. Sumit was found wandering in Debra, Midnapore, by a highway patrol and was brought home last night.

Ghosh said it is unlikely to be a case of kidnapping. ?We are yet to identify the woman, but are probing her relations with Manoj. The entire episode could be pre-planned,? he added.

Ghosh said six-year-old Sumit recounted the sequence of events today. According to the boy, they left their home in CF Block in Salt Lake around 4.30 pm on Sunday. Thirty-three-year-old Manoj stopped at a petrol station in Topsia. Ghosh said the cash memo found in the car showed he had filled 16 litres of petrol.

Sumit told the police that they went to Victoria Memorial where he and his brother played for a while. The boy said an ?aunty? wearing a salwar-kameez arrived and spoke to his father, who then took them for a pony ride.

?Sumit told me that the aunty was rude to him. He referred to her as gandi aunty. She also called Sumit ganda ladka. However, she managed to win the brothers over by giving them grapes and biscuits,? Ghosh said.

According to Sumit?s version, Manoj bundled them into the car after the pony ride and drove towards Vidyasagar Setu.

Sumit, who was sitting in the backseat, told Ghosh that just after they crossed the bridge he started feeling sleepy and slipped in and out of stupor.

?But the boy said whenever he awoke, he found ?gandi aunty? following them in a car. Sometimes she drove right next to them,? Ghosh said.

The boy said he was jolted out of sleep when he felt someone?s hands around his neck. ?He looked up to see the woman. She tried to strangle him and then pushed him out of the Maruti, thinking he was dead,? Ghosh said.

The boy blacked out at that point and does not recall what happened to his father and brother. Ghosh said some grapes and biscuits were found in the Maruti and samples have been sent for tests. ?We feel the boys were drugged,? the officer said.

Sumit was reticent when he was handed over to Midnapore superintendent of police M.K. Singh before being brought to the city. Singh said the boy looked drugged and was incoherent. ?All he said was that he rode a pony. He could not remember how he came to Midnapore. The boy was asleep most of the time here,? Singh said over phone.

Earlier in the day, Ghosh went to the Sharma house with a forensic expert to examine the ligature mark around Sumit?s neck. ?How many times do I have to show my neck?? the boy asked.

Manoj?s father R.G. Sharma could barely speak today. ?I have lost my grandson,? was all he managed. R.L. Joshi, the Sharmas? lawyer, said Manoj had no enemies in business, nor had the family received any demand for ransom.    

New Delhi, April 27 
The BJP and its allies are on a mission to embarrass Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and sow seeds of suspicion about his ?secular? credentials among his Muslim voters.

On Sunday, Samata Party leader George Fernandes thanked Mulayam for scuttling Sonia Gandhi?s march to power. Today, BJP MP Vijay Goel did the honours.

A full-page ad issued by an outfit called Lok Abhiyan catalogued the ??achievements?? of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The ad blamed five persons for toppling his government ? Sonia Gandhi, Laloo Yadav, Jayalalitha, H.S. Surjeet and Mayavati. Mulayam was not mentioned.

Vajpayee?s mug carried the caption: What wrong did this man do? The words Ask them were in bold print and pointed towards the pictures of Sonia Gandhi and the other ??villains?? with snide, one-line captions.

The blurb below Sonia Gandhi?s picture said: On the advice of Kalyug?s Arjun, hoisted (sic) an expensive and unwanted election on the nation. The one with Laloo?s picture was pithy: Patna fodder for Italian Bofors scam. The caption for Jayalalitha read: Asked for votes in Atalji?s name and used the very same MPs for betraying him.

Comrade Surjeet was dubbed a ??self-styled Chanakya?? who ??looked in vain for a Chandragupta but ended up looking like a Congress agent??.

Though the BJP refused to accept responsibility for the ad, Goel, the Delhi Sadar MP, said his outfit Lok Abhiyan was behind the PR blitz. Asked why Mulayam?s name did not figure though he too voted against the trust motion, Goel said: ??Mulayam sided with us in ensuring that Sonia Gandhi did not become Prime Minister. Like us, he did not want to see a videshi woman in this high office. This is our way of expressing gratitude to Mulayam.??

The Samata Party continued beaming positive signals to Mulayam who was hailed as ??patriotic?? by Fernandes. Fernandes said he was ready to strike a poll alliance with Mulayam and Chandra Shekhar in Uttar Pradesh.

However, BJP and Samajwadi sources rebutted rumours that Mulayam has been meeting Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh to work out an arrangement to counter a possible Congress-BSP alliance.

??It is not possible. We have 60 MPs from UP, and how many seats can we give Mulayam? He would like to contest as many as possible,?? said a BJP general secretary.

Political observers believe that rather than firming up a poll pact, Mulayam?s political dilemma has served the BJP well as it has caused a major churning in his Muslim vote bank.

The Muslims have voted almost en bloc for Mulayam since 1993. Reports from the state suggest that while they may not desert him completely, his so-called commitment to secularism stands suspect as he blocked the way for a Congress government.    

New Delhi, April 27 
The lady arrived with a bang ? toppling Atal Behari Vajpayee?s government ? but left with a bit of a whimper, unable to get an alternative installed. Jayalalitha, or Amma as her fawning courtiers in the ADMK call her, departed for Chennai this evening, leaving the debris of the Vajpayee government and an uncertain future in her wake.

Having tried at the last minute to instal Jyoti Basu in place of Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister, it was not clear whether she returned with an alliance with the Congress in mind.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet called on her yesterday at the Maurya Sheraton hotel. The only intriguing visitor today was Major Ved Prakash, an AICC secretary, who delivered a big white envelope from 10 Janpath.

There were rumours since morning that Amma was scheduled to meet Sonia Gandhi. Tamil Nadu special branch men posted at the hotel premises even flashed reports to Chennai that Jayalalitha was meeting Sonia Gandhi. But the meeting eventually did not take place. The only exchange between the two ladies was the enigmatic letter, cased in the envelope.

Ved Prakash refused to say if he was going up to meet the ADMK chief or was carrying a letter from Sonia Gandhi. He tried to hide the envelope from reporters. While the contents of the envelope remained a mystery, sources close to Amma said she had spoken to Sonia Gandhi on the phone yesterday.

The last day of Amma?s 15-day stay in Delhi was marked by ugly exchanges between the soundbite brigade and a few ADMK MPs. The photographers tried to take pictures of a mini truck into which the luggage of Jayalalitha and her entourage was being dumped.

Reporters counted up to 30 briefcases and an assortment of bags. There were 48 cases in all, but some had already been carted away. ADMK MPs Sundaram Thalavi and Naraikulathan objected to the media taking shots of the luggage. ?This is unfair. This country is very bad. Some 15 people accompanied madam, so why this fuss about the briefcases? Go and take pictures of the Prime Minister and other ministers. Sun TV (run by chief minister Karunanidhi?s family) will go to town with pictures of the briefcases,? said Thalavi, shooing away the journalists.

Amma?s departure was in sharp contrast to her arrival on April 12. There were no flowers or bouquets at the hotel or at the airport. Before she pulled down the government, senior BJP leaders used to line up at the airport with bouquets, a job which Subramanian Swamy later usurped.

Swamy, co-plotter in Operation Topple, was conspicuous by his absence today. He had left for Chennai already.

The ADMK chief appeared sombre. She came down from her suite a little after six in the evening, but disappointed journalists waiting for her. ?I have nothing to say. I have already told you that the ADMK took the decision (to dislodge the government) in the supreme national interest because the government failed to protect minorities and endangered national security. The government took certain decisions which resulted in the demoralisation of armed forces. Very soon, elections will be held. We hope to be part of the new government,? she said in a matter-of-fact manner and walked away without answering other questions.    

Today?s forecast:Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day and night temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 37.5?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 28.3?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 89%
Minimum 60%


Sunset: 5.58 pm
Sunrise: 5.10am

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