Mulayam stings Congress, spares BJP
Dump-Kusum diktat on Kalyan
Vajpayee covers price flanks
Supreme court notice to Basu on plot allotment
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 10 
Shovelling fuel into speculation of a tacit realignment in the heartland, Mulayam Singh Yadav has shot off a treatise spewing venom on the Congress but sparing the BJP.

In a four-page statement, the Samajwadi Party chief, at pains to fend off charges that he is tilting towards the BJP, accused the Congress of ?looting the country since Independence?. He also made an oblique reference to Sonia Gandhi?s Italian origin, saying his decision not to support a Congress government after A. B. Vajpayee lost the trust vote was ?taken to save the country from going into the hands of foreign forces?.

Mulayam Singh has also made it clear that ideological considerations would not shackle him. He will orchestrate a campaign which will be primarily directed against the Congress with desultory references to the BJP and ?communal politics?.

He said he would dredge up memories of the Congress? ?complicity? in demolishing the Babri Masjid to paint the party as communal as the BJP.

Despite ridiculing the possibility of a deal with the BJP, Mulayam Singh?s statement steered clear of a direct onslaught on the party. The critical references were used more to project the Congress as another face of the BJP.

?The Congress and the BJP were united on all important issues like the women?s reservation Bill, the insurance Bill and the patents Bill,? he said.

He accused Sonia Gandhi of having kept the BJP government going for 13 months in Delhi, when she could have toppled it a long time ago.

Mulayam Singh?s repeated thrust on the Congress, which fared miserably in the last election in Uttar Pradesh, rather than on his ?main enemy? BJP, is being seen as a tacit admission that he fears a dent in his minority votebank in the state.

With the Congress and the Samajwadi Party lunging for each others? jugular in the heartland, the BJP stands to gain.

The Congress, which feels it is on the comeback trail in Uttar Pradesh, has been eyeing the upper caste votes in the state. Along with minorities? votes, if the party manages to win over some pockets of the upper castes, it could pose problems for the BJP in several seats.

However, if Mulayam Singh manages to split the anti-BJP votes between himself and the Congress, the BJP will be able to retain the top slot in the state.

His statement also outlined the post-trust vote events ? how Jyoti Basu proposed his candidature for prime ministership at a meeting at Mulayam Singh?s residence, how he suggested Basu?s name and how there was unanimity on his candidature.    

New Delhi, May 10 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh was summoned here today by BJP president Kushabhau Thakre to try and resolve the crisis stemming from the revolt by 30-odd party legislators.

Singh, who met Thakre for an hour at the party chief?s residence, was told that while a change in leadership in Uttar Pradesh was ruled out, certain other demands of the rebels may have to be conceded, BJP sources said.

The most important among them was the removal of two of Singh?s prot?g?s ? Kusum Lata Rai and Rajendra Tiwari ? as chairpersons of the Uttar Pradesh chapter of the All-India Social Welfare Board and the Essential Commodities? Corporation.

Both appointments had been made in controversial circumstances. Questions were raised within the BJP at Rai?s ?meteoric? rise from being a Lucknow councillor to the helm of a Central board merely on the strength of her alleged proximity to the chief minister.

Though there were two other equally ?powerful? contenders for the job, Rai?s appointment was cleared by minister of state for youth and women?s affairs Uma Bharti and the chairperson of the central Women?s Welfare Board.

While BJP sources felt Tiwari could be persuaded to step down, they were unsure about Rai.

?She is not a political person. So it is possible that she may resist resigning till the end. But Singh was told the situation has serious dimensions and he should try his level best to talk to her. He is a political being and knows what the implications are, especially with Lok Sabha polls a few months away,? a senior BJP leader said.

The ousters have been tentatively thought up as the ?most feasible? strategy in the circumstances to quell dissidence for now. The party high command felt that it would be ?politically suicidal? to replace Singh at this juncture, keeping in mind that a last-minute replacement in Delhi on the eve of the Assembly polls yielded no electoral dividends.

?The rebels will get the feeling that even if they have not got Singh?s head, they have succeeded in removing two of those closest to him. They will feel the chief minister has been brought down a peg or two,? a source said.    

New Delhi, May 10 
The Vajpayee government, going into the elections with memories of last year?s onion shock still hurting, today tightened the price control mechanism lest another spiral queers its pitch at the hustings.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee instructed the Cabinet Committee on Prices to meet weekly from now on to monitor developments that could lead to an upsurge in prices. The prices panel, like other Cabinet committees, has so far been meeting every three months.

The committee met against the backdrop of good monsoon and crop forecasts. The inflation rate, too, is at a healthy under-four per cent mark.

But these happy tidings have not quite erased the memory of what the soaring prices of onion ? among other issues ? did to the BJP in the Assembly polls in three states last November. The price of the bulb started increasing around June-July and by September, when the festive season was peaking, it rocketed to over Rs 55 a kilo.The party lost in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Though the Prime Minister?s Office has kept a sharp eye on the key price-controlling and forecasting ministries since then, today?s decision to meet weekly has sent out the message that Vajpayee does not want to take chances if the weather plays truant.

Agriculture secretary R.S. Paroda said despite the good crop, the government had to keep a watch on the availability of wheat, pulses, sugar, potato and onions. He warned that hoarders could force a sudden price escalation. The committee today reviewed production, availability and prices of essential goods. The exercise would be performed at every meeting.

The meeting was attended by agriculture minister Som Pal and food minister S.S. Barnala. The two ministries had let down the PMO by not being able to predict and handle the onion shock. Others present were Jagmohan, P. Kumaramangalam, Yashwant Sinha and Ramakrishna Hegde.

The ministers greeted with some cheer the news that the annual rate of inflation had slumped to 3.92 for the week that ended on April 24. Inflation went down primarily due to the plummeting prices of non-food items. The 3.92 figure in contrast to last November?s 8.85 (and 5.95 last April, a month after Vajpayee assumed office) will get top spot in the government?s list of achievements.

After the meeting, Som Pal stayed back and filled in Vajpayee on the details.    

May 10 
The Supreme Court today issued notices to West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu and three of his Cabinet colleagues on two petitions which alleged his involvement in ?illegal allotment? of Salt Lake plots.

The notices follow the apex court?s admission of a special leave petition (SLP) filed by Trinamul Congress councillor Tarak Singh and a public interest litigation by former IAS officer Dipak Ghosh, who have challenged a Calcutta High Court ruling dismissing a plea for a CBI inquiry into the allotments.

Confirming that he had received the notice, Basu told The Telegraph tonight that he had asked his lawyers to look into the matter as advocate-general N.N. Gooptu was ill. ?We are aware of the development and will take necessary measures,? he said.

Besides Basu, home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya have been made respondents in the case by the division bench of Justice S.P. Bharucha and Justice M. Srinivasan. Former urban development minister Prasanta Sur and Salt Lake municipality chairman Dilip Gupta have also been served notices.

Counsel for the petitioners Shanti Bhushan submitted in court that Basu did not follow any guidelines or norms while allotting plots at Salt Lake from his discretionary quota.

The counsel said Basu had allotted plots to his close relatives, Cabinet colleagues, friends and personal staff, legislators, judges, bureaucrats and the husband of his biographer Surabhi Banerjee. The petitioners have sought the imposition of an ?exemplary? fine on the chief minister.

Bhushan told the judges that Tarak Singh had filed the same petition in Calcutta High Court, which was dismissed in March on ?technical grounds?. He said Justice Pinaki Ghosh, in whose court the petition was filed, had observed that the allottees had not been made parties in the case, and hence the writ was not maintainable.

The counsel said though Justice Ghosh had dismissed the writ, he had directed Basu to henceforth justify why he was allotting plots to whoever it may be from his discretionary quota.

Presenting his case in Calcutta, Tarak Singh had drawn a parallel with Satish Sharma?s out-of-turn allotment of petrol pumps.

Basu had made 294 allotments since June 11, 1987, from a total special quota of 2,185 plots. This followed a Cabinet decision to distribute 25 per cent of Salt Lake plots through the chief minister?s office.

Arunava Ghosh, Singh?s counsel at the high court, said Justice Ghosh?s ruling that there should be justification of plot allotments perhaps formed the basis for admission of the petitions.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Slight rise in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 34.1 (2?C below normal)
Minimum 25.9?C (3?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 99% Minimum 55%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.04 pm Sunrise: 5.02 am    

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