Elections to start in September
President?s nod for Bofors trial
Poll twist to home secretary exit
Back ache forces Basu to take break
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 4 
Mid-term polls will be held in September and early October, the Election Commission announced today. The exact dates and the notification will be issued later.

The decision to hold the polls towards the end of the monsoon followed chief election commissioner M.S. Gill?s meeting with all parties yesterday. The Congress was elated, as were several other Opposition parties. The muted BJP response was: ?We accept the Election Commission?s decision.?

The model code of conduct, however, does not come into effect now. Only after the dates are announced will the set of ?restraints? on parties become applicable.

In a four-page press note, Gill laid down several reasons for finally opting for a late poll.

Since the Lok Sabha last met on April 22, it is constitutionally imperative for the House to be reconstituted by October 21. The commission says if polls are concluded by early October, there should no difficulty in having the 13th Lok Sabha in place by the October deadline.

The Congress welcomed the announcement. Officially, the party said it had not exerted any pressure on the panel and had suggested late polls to avoid the monsoon, which makes the conduct of elections almost impossible.

Unofficially, joyous Congressmen harped on the fact that delayed polls meant at least 30 to 40 per cent seats more for the party. They feel whatever sympathy Vajpayee may have generated for his government by accusing the Opposition of unnecessarily destabilising his ?performing government? will disappear at the end of a five-month period. The Congress, on the other hand, will have a lot of time to put its organisational mechanism in place and build a massive campaign against the ruling coalition.

The BJP did not want go public with its disappointment. ?June or September, we are going to win,? was the refrain of party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu. He argued that Congress and the communists have given ample proof of their fear about facing the electorate. That is why they wanted polls in September, he said.

The BJP has hinted that it cannot be expected to sit idle. It will not function in a caretaker capacity and continue taking policy decisions. Naidu said his party ?had asked for June, bearing in mind the interests of the country and the concern of the voters?.

The commission argued that the country was experiencing a heatwave, with temperature soaring to around 48 degrees Celsius in some areas. ?The pattern of the monsoon and possible floods later is also a danger,? the panel said. ?The commission cannot instantly and blindly announce a poll schedule,? it added.

Experience has shown that the central police planning requires a minimum of four weeks of repeated and intensive discussions of its working groups.

The panel will have to organise a meeting with chief secretaries and chief electoral officers of the states to find out their views and to make its own arrangements.

?Therefore, the commission?s finalisation of the election schedule follows this intensive effort that takes place over a minimum period of a month,? the panel said.

Besides, the enrolment of new voters has already been taken up and ?has been half done and large numbers have been registered?. Gill said the ?work will be completed on July 21. It has also been indicated to the commission that any aborting of this work, at this stage, can be legally challenged?.

While the poll panel has decided to hold the Lok Sabha polls in September and early October, no decision has been taken on simultaneous Assembly polls in states where they are due either later this year or early next year.

?Now that the Lok Sabha polls have been ordered, the panel has to consult and decide how best to undertake this duty and according to schedule. The question of linking some, or all of them, with the Lok Sabha voting schedule also has to be examined,? it said.

Gill said: ?The crisis leading to another election is not of the commission?s making. The commission?s sole constitutional duty is to ensure the polls are held in good time to enable the Lok Sabha to meet before October 21, 1999.?    

New Delhi, May 4 
The CBI will process the case against former external affairs minister Madhavsinh Solanki as quickly as possible following the presidential sanction to prosecute the Congress leader in the Bofors case.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqu? today said: ?In the matter of sanctioning for prosecution of Solanki, the President has, as per constitutional procedure, approved the recommendation containing legal advice from the government.?

Solanki refused to comment, saying the matter was before the court.

A minister, even a former one, cannot be prosecuted under anti-corruption law without the President?s nod. K.R. Narayanan?s approval reached the Prime Minister?s Office yesterday.

The BJP-led government wants the case to acquire momentum, now that it will seek to project Bofors as a poll issue. Bofors had been a potent issue in general elections since 1989.

However, a section of the CBI team dealing with Bofors believes the case against Solanki and a few others could be made foolproof if the agency waited a little more and sifted through the second set of documents, expected to be received from the Swiss authorities.

The documents are likely to be handed over to the agency within next month.

These papers are expected to reveal the names of people who had received the last round of kickbacks, and would bring to an end a controversy started almost 12 years ago.

The CBI will also frame charges against former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and wife Maria, and the Indian agents for Bofors ? Win Chadha and son Harsh.

The agency has readied the necessary documents and the empanelled lawyers have been briefed about the investigation. Accordingly, the court will be moved against the five either next week or the week after.

In 1992, Solanki, as external affairs minister, had delivered a letter to his Swiss counterpart at Davos. The letter allegedly carried India?s request that the Swiss agencies move slowly on Bofors.

A leak of the letter caused a furore, with the Opposition insisting that the Congress government was hushing up the case.

Solanki refused to name the person on whose behalf he had acted. He was forced to resign as the storm snowballed and has been in political wilderness ever since.

The Congress has already challenged the BJP government to complete the investigation and come out with the names of the recipients.

The party has accused the BJP of unleashing an unjustified vilification campaign against the Nehru-Gandhi family. Even Sonia Gandhi had said at an election rally: ?Vajpayee was telling white lies.?

It appears that the BJP has some time to build up its campaign on Bofors as the investigation enters its last phase.

If some revelations are made within the next few months and the case stays in the headlines, it is likely the BJP tirade against Sonia Gandhi would have some impact.

Apart from her Italian antecedents, the revival of the Bofors issue is the only other weapon in the hands of the BJP to embarrass 10 Janpath.    

New Delhi, May 4 
Home secretary B.P. Singh was shifted because he allegedly did not present the government?s case for holding polls in June to the Election Commission ?forcefully enough?, sources in the Prime Minister?s Office (PMO) said.

In his meeting with chief election commissioner M.S. Gill last week, Singh was told a 40-lakh-strong paramilitary contingent would have to be deployed for the polls, whenever they were held, PMO sources said.

Singh was asked if the home ministry could give a commitment on whether it was possible to make security arrangements on such a scale in two months, they added. Singh was reportedly reluctant to commit himself.

?As a senior administrative officer, he had first to fulfil his constitutional responsibility. The political diktat came only after that. It only requires common sense to understand that such large-scale security arrangements cannot be made before June. The time span is just too short. Had he given an assurance and then failed to fulfil it, he would have cut a sorry figure,? a bureaucrat said.

The BJP favoured a June election because of the ?Vajpayee sympathy wave? which, it feels, will help the party and its allies better their 1998 tally and may get them close to the majority mark. As soon as the Lok Sabha was dissolved, the BJP and allies let loose a feverish campaign advocating early polls in the ?national interest?, while the Opposition demanded elections in September.

The BJP refused to confirm or deny Singh?s reported poll assessment before Gill. ?The meeting did take place, but whatever the government had to say was communicated to the Election Commission. We have nothing to do with the government,? said party spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

But within officialdom, Singh?s surprise transfer has acquired political overtones. The ousted home secretary is being seen as a ?pawn? in the alleged shadow war between Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. After presenting the home ministry?s case to Gill, Singh appeared to have lost the PMO?s confidence. It was felt that a ?tougher and more impartial? official was needed.

The PMO?s choice then zeroed in on Kamal Pandey, an Uttar Pradesh cadre officer who has a reputation for being a ?tough, no-nonsense? bureaucrat. ?He has taken on chief ministers as powerful as Veer Bahadur Singh and N.D. Tiwari. Unlike Singh, who was more accommodating, Pandey will listen to no one,? a source in the bureaucracy said.

BJP sources close to Vajpayee confirmed the PMO?s view and said Singh ought to have been transferred earlier. ?It has not come a day too late,? a minister said.    

Calcutta, May 4 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today cancelled his official programmes for the next three to four days following an aggravation of an already ?persistent back pain?.

A fall in the bathroom on Sunday is believed to have caused the aggravation. Basu, who has been advised rest, developed a lower back pain last month as he missed a step while climbing down the stairs at the CPM?s Delhi headquarters after being blinded by television camera lights.

This morning, Basu was taken to a south Calcutta nursing home for X-rays. His personal physician, Dr A.K. Maity, and other doctors examined him before he underwent the X-ray test. ?X-rays show that there were no cracks. It?s a great relief for me. But I must rest for a few days,? Basu said.

He said he would not go to Writers? Buildings tomorrow, but would attend a function already lined up for laying the foundation stone of the Calcutta Riverfront Beautification Project on Strand Road.

?I am also on a strict diet and taking medicine everyday... I am following doctors? advice to the letter,? he said.

Basu could not attend a meeting of the Federation of Small and Medium Industries today. Tomorrow, he will skip the meeting scheduled at Writers? Buildings on the drought situation in districts.

Finance minister Asim Dasgupta tonight called on Basu at his Salt Lake residence and discussed the points to be raised at the meeting. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said Basu would not be able to attend his official programmes for the next few days.

As soon as the news was made public, people called newspaper offices enquiring after him. The CPM headquarters at Alimuddin Street was also flooded with enquiries.

Late in the evening, Dr Maity said: ?There is no reason for alarm. He is very stable. In fact, a few days of rest will enable him to take care of the pain, which is the result of a bad sprain. I don?t see any reason why he can?t resume attending office soon.?

Basu is also suffering from a heat-induced cold and a viral infection. ?But there is nothing to worry, as he will be all right in a day or two, ? Maity said.

Basu, who will not attend the two-day CPM Politburo meeting beginning Friday in Delhi, will leave for London on May 11 for treatment. He is expected back by June 17.

In Basu?s absence, home minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya is the Left Front?s campaign manager for the May 15 polls to 11 municipalities.    

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

Temperature: Maximum 35.5?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 28.3?C ( 2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 86%
Minimum 51%


Sunset: 6.01 pm
Sunrise: 5.04 am

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