Sonia tussles with ticket home truths
The price for swadeshi: prime plot for a pittance
Forecast damper on Sunday cooler
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 9 
Paucity of campaign funds and selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections are posing a problem for Sonia Gandhi, who wants to weed out the corrupt and allocate 50 per cent of the tickets to younger leaders.

The Congress chief, who is in the process of framing guidelines for selecting candidates, is finding ticket distribution to be a tricky business. There are just too many losers and tainted leaders in the party.

In Uttar Pradesh, 73 of the party?s 85 candidates forfeited their deposits in the 1998 general elections. In Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh has lost two successive polls but is expected to get a ticket in view of his loyalty to 10 Janpath. Oscar Fernandes is another leader close to Sonia Gandhi who has been losing elections.

Sources close to Sonia Gandhi said she is keen on fielding ?young and honest? people for the general polls. She is considering Manmohan Singh?s name as a candidate from Delhi. Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, is tipped to contest either from New Delhi or South Delhi, where he enjoys goodwill among the middle classes and intelligentsia.

Party-hoppers Buta Singh, Renuka Chowdhury and Kalpnath Rai, who is likely to join the Congress tomorrow, have sparked another controversy.

The party had decided at its Panchmarhi conclave that ?migratory birds? would have a two-year ?cooling period?, but these leaders seem to be in no mood to wait. They claim that they have been promised Lok Sabha nominations by the Congress.

The issue of corruption is also worrying Sonia Gandhi. She has made it clear in the past that there is no place for tainted leaders in the party. However, Buta Singh, Kalpnath Rai, Satish Sharma, P.J. Kurien, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat ? all involved in one case or the other ? are vying for tickets.

These leaders feel they have a ?right? to seek tickets in view of the party?s plans to have seat adjustments with the ADMK and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. ?If the leadership can join hands with Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav, who have several cases against them, why should we be singled out?? a tainted aspirant asked.

Sonia Gandhi plans to delay launching the party?s campaign until after the Goa Assembly polls as there are not enough funds to sustain it for five months.

All outgoing MPs and ticket-seekers have been asked to raise their own funds. ?We will provide the talking points such as the election manifesto and other literature,? an AICC functionary said.

The Congress chief has appointed a committee of Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel, Murli Deora, Kamal Nath, Satish Sharma, Jairam Ramesh and Lalit Suri to explore avenues for raising funds. They will get in touch with captains of industry.

A senior Congress leader said frequent polls had made the task difficult. ?A lot of them politely tell us ?sorry?. It is much more difficult to get money in white,? he said.    

New Delhi, May 9 
The sangh parivar?s swadeshi spearhead has quoted its price for toiling for a level playing field for the domestic industry: a playing field of its own at an eye-popping subsidy.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the economic battering ram of the parivar, is keen to acquire over 1,000 sq. yards of prime property in south Delhi?s R.K. Puram at Rs 35 lakh ? Rs 4.15 crore below the market price. The manch wants the land at Sector VI ? where each square yard now costs an ordinary citizen Rs 45,000 ? to set up its headquarters.

The location of the plot is a fitting tribute to the saffron credentials of the manch: the promised land houses a Shiva temple. Gyan Swarup Sharma, Delhi unit chief of the manch and a close associate of the body which runs the temple, has sent an application to the ministry of urban development, asking for the land lying vacant in front of the temple.

An application was submitted in 1988, too. But this time, sources said, the parivar is keen to ensure that the BJP-led government prevails on the ministry to concede the request. The Vajpayee government, keen to placate the manch after a series of economic showdowns, will find it difficult to reject the proposal.

K.J. Alphonso, secretary to the urban development ministry, confirmed that the ?Swadeshi Jagran Manch has applied for the land, but the minister is yet to sign it?. However, Sharma said the manch ?has not applied for the land?. Asked whether he has, Sharma offered a cryptic reply: ?It is my wish whether I want to tell you about that or not.?

But there are rumblings within the temple complex itself. The sources said the priest of the mandir wants the land to be given to a Garhwali association.

The manch, which shot into prominence by opposing the reform initiatives of the BJP-led government, does not have a permanent headquarters now. In the capital, the manch functions from an unassuming government quarter allotted to a BJP Rajya Sabha MP. The MP from Banswara in Rajasthan, Kanak Malkatara, is due to retire next year. It has another working space ? better known as the mela office ? at the official quarter of Virendra Singh, an Uttar Pradesh BJP MP.

?If the government can give land to schools, charitable institutions and other non-profit organisations at a concession, why not to us? We are here for a noble cause. Protecting the domestic industry and championing its cause is a noble task which we as a non-profit body is propagating,? said an office-bearer of the manch.

The manch has also drawn the attention of the Vajpayee government to a worthy role model. The manch says its first formal office in the country started functioning in Gujarat two months ago, courtesy the BJP government in the state.    

Calcutta, May 9 
The temperature dropped and the mood lifted in the city as dark rain clouds appeared in the sky, shutting out the scorching sun.

After an unusually long hot and dry spell, Calcutta and the rest of South Bengal today received the first heavy showers of the year.

A marked depression that stretched from north-east Madhya Pradesh to east-central Bay of Bengal brought in its wake moderate to fairly heavy rainfall since early morning across the Bihar plateau, north Orissa and north Bay of Bengal.

The depression above caused elation below. Calcuttans awoke to the smell of wet earth after a long time, and many looked forward to spending a pleasant Sunday.

The drop in temperature coincided with Rabindra Jayanti celebrations. Thousands of the poet?s followers thronged the customary open-air venues in the city since 6 in the morning, many of them lured by the cool weather.

The skies opened up around 8 am and many Rabindrasangeet enthusiasts, who had till then braved the intermittent droplets, ran for the nearest shelter. The brolly, so far used for protection against the scorching sun, proved ineffective against the heavy downpour.

The rain was accompanied by cyclonic winds over Gangetic West Bengal, an official at the Alipore Meteorological Office said. But the weatherman held no hope of such conditions continuing beyond tomorrow morning.

?The overcast skies and the rain are in no way a precursor to the monsoon. Neither are they a Nor?wester, though the gusty winds may have suggested so,? the official said. ?But tomorrow there is likely to be light to moderate rainfall in South Bengal.?

He feared a return to cloudless skies and a fiery sun soon, with temperatures soaring once again. This crushed any hope that the distressing drought affecting several districts of the state may have ended.

Officials said the standing boro crop would be affected by today?s downpour. The rain is also likely to affect the mango crop in Malda. High winds ripped through the orchards, damaging some of the fruit.

Several city areas recorded between 20 and 25 mm of rainfall in a 40-minute spell. This was not enough to cause waterlogging as the parched ground and drainage system quickly absorbed the water.

?We did face a problem, however, as a reverse flow of drainage water swamped the pumps at the Ballygunge station,? said Calcutta Municipal Corporation?s chief engineer (drainage and sewerage) Rathin Das.

The thunderstorms and rain began in the districts around 3 am. In Behrampore, the torrential rainfall forced temporary suspension of the search for victims of Thursday?s bus accident in the Bhagirathi.

In Memari, three labourers died when they were struck by lightning this afternoon. Another labourer, injured in the incident, is in hospital.    

Today?s forecast: Generally cloudy sky. One or two showers or thundershowers towards afternoon or evening. Marked rise in day temperature.
Temperature:Maximum 26.9 (9?C below normal)
Minimum 25.9?C (Normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 97% Minimum 66%
Rainfall: 36.2 mm
Sunset: 6.03 pm Sunrise: 5.02 am    

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