BJP lines up big gun for Sonia
Manisha does a Jaya on Nepali Congress
Vice-chancellor picks relation for varsity post
Model killed at socialite hotspot
Gill flashes red signal at Centre

New Delhi, April 30 
The BJP today declared its intent to field a ?formidable? candidate against Sonia Gandhi in the coming Lok Sabha polls once she identified her constituency.

The party also indicated it would launch a high-voltage anti-Sonia campaign to resurrect the Bofors issue and the Ottavio Quattrocchi connection.

?The Congress president has not yet identified her seat. Once she does, the BJP and its allies will put up a formidable candidate against her and see to it that winning won?t be easy for her,? BJP spokesman K.L. Sharma told reporters today, outlining the contours of the anti-Sonia plank.

Sharma described Sonia Gandhi as a ?controversial? figure and set her off against A.B. Vajpayee, the BJP?s prime ministerial prospect, terming him the ?symbol of unity?. ?Sonia Gandhi is a non-starter. She is a controversial leader from the start. As and when she starts campaigning, controversial issues like Bofors and her Italian connections are bound to get raked up,? he asserted.

As part of the anti-Sonia campaign, the BJP has coined a number of slogans. One goes: ?Hata do woh videshi naari, jisne hataya Atal Behari? (Throw out that foreign woman who had thrown Atal Behari out).

But Vajpayee made it clear he is not in favour of projecting Sonia Gandhi as a ?videshi?. Clearly wishing to keep his ?liberal? facade in circulation, Vajpayee claimed in an interview to a weekly magazine that he did not want a debate on Sonia Gandhi?s foreign antecedents as it would not be ?healthy?. Asked what the BJP?s poll slogan would be, without naming the Congress president, he said: ?Suggestions have been made to amend the Constitution to debar those not born in India from holding the offices of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and even the Chief Justice of India. But my fear is such a debate will not be healthy. I am choosing my words very carefully.?

In an interview to another weekly magazine, Vajpayee said while he himself was not for making Sonia Gandhi?s ?foreign origins? a campaign theme, ?it looks as if it may? turn out so.

Although the RSS and the BJP hardliners are keen to play up the swadeshi-versus-videshi card ? symbolised respectively by the ?home-spun? Vajpayee and the ?Italian-born? Sonia Gandhi ? the party?s moderates are of the view that this line may boomerang on the BJP and end up creating sympathy for the Congress chief.

The moderates think it is only the urban, upper class which sees Sonia Gandhi through the ?Italian? prism, while the working classes and the rural voters have accepted her as their own. Vajpayee, who hails from the Hindi heartland, the moderates feel, was more in tune with the latter?s sentiments than the BJP?s urban strategists.

?It is the tradition in our society that a daughter-in-law, no matter which part of the world she comes from, becomes an integral part of it once she is married into it. Sonia has essayed her role perfectly. She behaved like any traditional Hindu bahu would once she lost her husband. She also did not plunge into politics at the first shot, but took her steps carefully to show she was not over-ambitious,? a party source said, echoing the moderate viewpoint.

A decision on how far the BJP ought to go with its Sonia Gandhi card ? and if it should allow the Sangh?s hardline constituents like the VHP to rave and rant over her ?foreign? antecedents ? is expected to be taken up at the national executive which meets here tomorrow for two days.

Elaborating on the ?stability? issue, Sharma said the BJP and its allies would seek a mandate for a Lok Sabha which will last its five-year term. ?The Congress and its allies are divided ? they are talking in different voices. The party is unable to clarify who its allies are, in which states it is going for alliances and what kind of alliances these are going to be. The BJP?s clarity is there for everyone to see, as is the Congress? confusion. Clarity versus confusion is the theme song,? he stated.

Alluding to the ADMK-Tamil Maanila Congress? refusal to work together as part of a common front, Sharma described the Congress? position as ?pathetic?, saying: ?If one ally comes to join the party, another leaves.?

The BJP?s recently-constituted Election Management Committee had its first meeting today.    

Kathmandu, April 30 
What Jayalalitha has done to India, Nepal-born Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala is attempting to do in Nepal. If the Tamil star-turned-politician set in motion a chain of events in Delhi which brought down the BJP-led government, Mumbai-based Manisha Koirala?s aim here is to prevent the ruling Nepali Congress from getting a majority in Parliament as Nepal gears up for its third elections in eight years on Monday.

Manisha is not a candidate in Nepal?s elections. Nor is she campaigning. But voters across the country are discussing a two-page, emotional appeal which the actress has distributed here in defence of her father, Prakash Koirala, who has been denied a ticket by the Nepali Congress.

In typical filmi style, the appeal recalls what Prakash Koirala had told his daughter when she was a little girl. ?Politics is the way to fulfil your dream for your country?, he had said.

She goes on: ?Do tell me, daddy, what happened to your dream? Are you less qualified or less deserving than others? Are you not a nationalist? Are you a thorn in the side of many who want to use the election platform to fulfil their own greed whilst our nation suffers??

In an election which is surprisingly devoid of anti-Indian rhetoric, Prakash Koirala sticks out like a sore thumb. But the Nepali Congress, which is upset with his antics, has neutralised him by discreetly exposing the hypocrisy of his anti-India platform.

Prakash Koirala, Nepali Congress insiders say, has been railing at India in public, but he has been lobbying in private in Mumbai and New Delhi to get the Reserve Bank of India to exempt his actress daughter from paying in foreign currency for purchases of property in India.

They say Prakash Koirala?s dissidence is no threat to the party, his ancestry as the son of B.P. Koirala, founder of the Nepali Congress notwithstanding. But his actress daughter?s popularity here is another thing.

Manisha?s is one of the best known faces in Nepal, where access to people is difficult and politicians do not often get to meet their voters because of the terrain and inhospitable weather.

Manisha, though, is not the only Bollywood actress who has become a talking point here in a closely fought election. Some time ago, as Nepal was drifting towards an election because of a fractured Parliament elected in 1994, actress Madhuri Dixit arrived here for a much-publicised world-wide audio release of the movie Arzoo.

At the release, she talked of Nepal being the most beautiful part of India and got her Nepali history all wrong.

For India-baiters here, it was just the opportunity they were waiting for. A theatre where her movie was playing was attacked and she was besieged by angry crowds at her hotel. Her hosts quickly smuggled Dixit out of Nepal and once she was back in Mumbai, she sent a public apology through a signed statement.

?I was deeply saddened to hear that my comment about Nepal was misunderstood,? she stated. Like Manisha?s appeal, Dixit?s apology provides a colourful aside to voters here who are otherwise apathetic towards an election campaign which, many expect, will produce yet another divided and indecisive verdict.

With Dixit and Manisha in focus, Nepali film producers have also jumped into the sidelines of the poll campaign, hoping to make some good business of politics.

Upset that their films are at the receiving end of Bollywood, they recently organised a boycott of Hindi cinema, hoping to cash in on any nationalist sentiment. But alas, the campaign was short-lived, with even hard-headed nationalists preferring Hindi films.    

Calcutta, April 30 
Before the dust raised by the appointment of Surabhi Banerjee settles, Calcutta University vice-chancellor R.N. Bose has kicked up another storm. He has named a close relation, A.B. Rudrapal, as deputy-inspector of colleges by using his special powers under the Calcutta University Act.

The recruitment was made as the university was going through the usual procedure of selecting a candidate after inviting applications. But before the selection committee had the opportunity of sifting through the applications, the vice-chancellor?s relation was chosen.

The vice-chancellor, handpicked by the CPM, would, of course, have to get the appointment cleared by the syndicate but this is considered a mere formality as it is packed with party faithfuls.

An official of the Calcutta University Officers and Supervisory Staff Association alleged that the authorities had turned the recruitment procedure in the university into a farce. This is the second such incident in recent times, the first being the appointment of Jyoti Basu?s biographer Surabhi Banerjee as pro vice-chancellor.

?He (the vice-chancellor) could have waited for a few days to enable the university to go through the applications it received for the post instead of rushing through it in the way he did. It?s very improper,? a senior university teacher said.

Bose, however, brushed aside the charges. ?I have acted according to the powers vested in me by the university. There is nothing wrong in what I have done. Besides, it is only a temporary appointment,? he said.

But university officials are quick to point out that in practice all such appointments are later regularised. ?The chances are all the more since the appointment has the CPM?s blessings,? said an official.

Rudrapal, who was assistant secretary in the science and technology department, is known to be close to the ruling party.

What has agitated university teachers even more is that several important posts have been lying vacant for years but no effort has been made to fill them up.

?When work is being held up because several important appointments have not been made for years, what was the hurry in recruiting Rudrapal,? a spokesman for the Calcutta University Teachers Association said.

The spokesman complained that the department of controller of examinations, which is considered far more important, was short-staffed. Four posts of assistant controllers, of a total of five, have been lying vacant for years.

Special powers vested in the vice-chancellor by the Act were last exercised in a controversial manner by Santosh Bhattacharya who had terminated the services of five employees about 12 years ago.    

New Delhi, April 30 
As the capital debates the rising trend of violence among its upper classes, wild gunshots early this morning claimed the life of a 34-year-old model at an upmarket restaurant, Tamarind Court, run by socialite Bina Ramani.

All because he had not been given a drink long after midnight, a tipsy man, enraged by the denial, brought out his revolver and fired two shots. One bullet grazed the ceiling while the other went through the head of Jessica Lal ? a Ramani prot?g? in the middle rung of the capital?s ramp models.

A few weeks ago, Delhi police had been grilled by reporters on the growing lawlessness among the capital?s rich and famous. Recently, a senior government official?s son working with Zee TV committed suicide after killing his female colleague.

A few months ago, an admiral?s grandson, highly inebriated, had mowed down seven pavement dwellers after midnight. Police officials agree the capital?s moneyed classes are showing a predilection towards rowdiness.

Tamarind Court, near Qutb Minar, is on a lane leading away from Mehrauli Road. The restaurant is jointly owned by Ramani and her husband, George Maloit. Jessica, who had appeared on television on a few occasions and is a relatively known face in Delhi, was serving drinks last night.

It was almost 2 am, and Jessica was helping Bina, her husband and her daughter, Malini, close the bar and call it a day, when the two men walked in. They had parked their black Tata Safari outside the restaurant and had walked in to gulp down a few drinks.

Initially, they were polite. But soon they lost their temper and the stouter one of the two, in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, whipped out a revolver and fired two shots. Jessica lay in a pool of blood. She was first taken to the Aashlok Hospital nearby and then moved to Apollo Hospital. At Apollo, she was declared dead. The bullet had pierced her brain.

Later in the evening, joint commissioner of police Amod Kanth said an alert has been sounded and it was known that the black Safari had a Chandigarh registration number CH 01 W 6535. The car has been traced to the proprietor of a cinema hall in Chandigarh.

Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh police have been cautioned about the vehicle. ?We are on the hunt and the authentic identification of the vehicle they used will help us to track them down,? Kanth said. Jessica had gained experience as an event manager and was scheduled to leave for Dubai next month to take up a managerial job in a hotel. Her family expressed shock and said they did not know how to react.

But Ramani?s woes have just begun. Before she could recover from the shock of Jessica?s murder, the police began hounding her for the bar licence. Police sources said initial investigation revealed that Tamarind Court did not have a licence to sell liquor. To bypass law, Ramani had alcohol retailed against coupons. The coupons had to be bought from the bar counter.    

Sydney, April 29 
Without entering into a debate on the powers of a caretaker government, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill today asked the Centre to exercise restraint and abide by the Constitution and accepted democratic norms, keeping in mind that the country was in ?election mode?.

This is the first time that Gill has cautioned the Centre. Yesterday, while addressing the Confederation of Indian Industry, he had advised state governments to act with restraint.

The code of conduct comes into effect only after election dates are announced. The dates will be finalised after Monday?s crucial all-party meeting. It appears that the chief election commissioner will find it difficult to fulfil the BJP?s demands of holding polls in June.

The Congress today, without specifying its preference for September elections, insisted that polls should be held only after the revision of voters? lists and inclusion of over four million new voters who have just turned 18. It argued that it was Rajiv Gandhi after all who had introduced the legislation that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The party feels that young voters should not be deprived of their rights.

Smaller parties, like the Tamil Maanila Congress, have also demanded late polls.

Reacting sharply to media reports, Rashtrapati Bhavan issued a release saying that at no point of time had the President interfered with the poll panel?s jurisdiction on deciding election dates. It said the conduct of elections is solely the business of the commission.    


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