Congress throws out gang of three
Sonia shuts out party
Sonia taken care of, BJP plugs ?able? Atal
Cricket bosses to sound Sachin today
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 20 
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) tonight expelled Sonia-challengers Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar from the primary membership of the party for six years by a majority vote, setting the stage for a split.

Leader of the rebel trio Sharad Pawar, who has been hardening his stand against Sonia Gandhi over the past few days, is now likely to float a regional party in Maharashtra. He is scheduled to return to Delhi shortly and could initiate talks with the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam and the Trinamul Congress for an electoral alliance.

The CWC decision was not unanimous with senior leader A.K. Antony registering a note of dissent. Harping on the theme of unity, he objected on procedural grounds, saying the party should first slap a showcause on the dissidents and suspend them before taking any extreme step.

??Let us first suspend them. Give them a chance to explain their conduct,?? Antony said. But he was overruled by other CWC members, especially hawks like Arjun Singh, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy and Pranab Mukherjee, who chaired the meet.

Sitaram Kesri, Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada and Ahmad Patel also favoured a ??step-by-step?? approach to deal with the rebels. But they abided by the majority view in keeping with the mood of party workers who wanted stringent action.

The CWC decision was immediately conveyed to Sonia Gandhi by AICC general secretary Oscar Fernandes. But she remained unmoved.

The decision will have to be ratified by the AICC session, the date and venue for which are yet to be finalised. Some leaders feel that if Sonia Gandhi does not relent, the AICC should pressure her to rescind her resignation.

The CWC meeting was preceded by dramatic scenes at the Congress headquarters where Kesri was manhandled by an agitated crowd. His car was damaged and the veteran leader had to return home to change his torn kurta, cap and dhoti. Kesri, who is a special invitee to the CWC, was targeted because of his proximity to Anwar. Prasada and Pilot were also roughed up over their alleged sympathy for the dissident troika.

At night, Sonia Gandhi apologised to Kesri on behalf of the party workers. She again instructed Congress general secretaries to restrain supporters.

The CWC met several times during the day before its formal gathering to iron out differences on how to tackle the rebels.

Antony, Ahmad and Pilot argued that the party should follow procedure as laid down in the party constitution. Mukherjee, Reddy and Arjun Singh countered that the CWC had powers to waive these rules. ??It is in keeping with the party constitution and precedents of 1977 and 1986,?? Mukherjee said.

Justifying the expulsions, he said Pawar, Sangma and Anwar had violated party discipline by not abiding by the majority decision of Sunday?s CWC meeting which rejected their demand. The trio wanted the election manifesto to include a clause that the party will bring in a constitutional amendment to bar Indians of foreign origin from occupying high office.

Mukherjee said the issue had no political logic. ??Who should be the Prime Minister is an issue which should be decided by the voters who elect the MPs,?? he added.

The CWC members alleged the rebels had deliberately taken up an issue which was raked up by the BJP. ??They have joined hands with the communal and fascist forces,?? they said.

The Congress feels the expulsion of the three leaders will have an impact in Maharashtra. ??We may lose some seats but Pawar will also be finished without the Congress? organisational set-up,?? an AICC general secretary said.    

New Delhi, May 20 
The Congress? hopes of persuading Sonia Gandhi to withdraw her resignation as party chief sank further today when she abruptly cancelled all party functions in connection with the eighth death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi tomorrow.

For the fourth consecutive day, Sonia Gandhi remained adamant on her decision. ?I see no change in her attitude,? AICC secretary and former associate of Rajiv Gandhi Mani Shankar Aiyar said.

Sonia Gandhi will, however, visit Vir Bhoomi, the samadhi of Rajiv Gandhi at Rajghat, in the morning. She will spend the rest of the day with daughter Priyanka, son Rahul and close friends.

Priyanka, who had gone to Mussourie on Sunday, returned last night. She, along with Rahul, reportedly played a role in making up Sonia Gandhi?s mind to step down as party president.

Sonia Gandhi will also not be visiting Sriperumbudur, where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a human bomb in 1991.

She was to attend a series of functions organised by various party outfits: the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, Indian Youth Congress, Congress Seva Dal, National Students? Union of India and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. ?If Sonia Gandhi does not attend, she will be doing so for the first time since her husband?s assassination,? a party leader said.

10 Janpath insiders said Sonia Gandhi decided not to attend the functions to keep partymen, planning to besiege her to take back her resignation, at bay. Party workers continued pouring in at 10 Janpath today to pressure her to change her mind. But, possibly getting the message that she was not in a mood to oblige them, they were not so enthusiastic.

Sources had earlier claimed she would make a speech at one function to indicate her mind on the resignation. However, when AICC functionaries placed tomorrow?s list of programmes for her approval, she only ticked at Vir Bhoomi prayer meeting.

Sonia Gandhi today again directed party leaders to return to state capitals and concentrate on local matters. Heeding her advice, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh returned to Bhopal where Governor Bhai Mahavir sought a clarification on how his government was functioning after Singh?s resignation. Singh told him he had only offered to resign.    

Churulia (Burdwan), May 20 
The BJP is looking to the Congress? rebel troika and Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to carry on what it started: question Sonia Gandhi?s eligibility to lead the country because of her foreign origin.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said today that his party?s election committee would look into the increasing demand to debar a person born outside the country from assuming high offices, including those of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister.

He said the committee would decide whether the call for such a constitutional amendment should be included in the common manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance ? the new name for the BJP-led coalition ? or not.

It appears that with election dates yet to be announced, the party has a lot of time to decide on the issue. Now that the Pawar-Sangma-Anwar trio has raised the foreign origin issue within the Congress, the BJP leadership wants to wait and watch.

A leader accompanying Vajpayee on his tour of West Bengal and the Northeast said the BJP never wanted to raise this issue to such a pitch that the polls would ?degenerate?? into a referendum on Sonia Gandhi?s eligibility.

He agreed it was an ?unavoidable issue? but added the party wanted to make ?Bring Back Vajpayee? its main war cry.

Asked to elaborate on his recent remark that there should be a national debate on people of foreign origin taking over the nation?s highest offices, Vajpayee smiled and replied: ?The debate is going on.?

The BJP top brass seems happy to have Pawar and company take it upon themselves to oppose Sonia Gandhi?s candidature for the top seat, just when the saffron band was about to launch a drive against her through hardliners.

The BJP is well aware that public opinion on Sonia Gandhi?s eligibility is not one-sided.

?Our first issue for the polls is that there is no alternative to Vajpayee,? said the BJP leader. The BJP?s confidence in projecting Vajpayee as the only ?able? leader has obviously been boosted by the turmoil within the Congress.

The party believes even if Sonia Gandhi returns to steer the Congress, she will find it impossible to regain her previous unassailable stature.

The blow to her authority has also damaged her mass appeal as the inheritor of the Gandhi-Nehru mantle, the BJP feels. The saffron group does not believe that Sonia Gandhi would be able to give Vajpayee a run for his money within the next two years.

Apart from the ?Bring back Vajpayee? drive, the BJP will stress on the solidity of its coalition, especially now that Jayalalitha is out of it. The party will insist that the process which began in 1996 has now acquired a nation-wide dimension and the BJP was now more inclined to contest polls with friendly parties.

With last year?s onion crisis now part of history, the BJP plans to weave its campaign around Vajpayee?s bus trip to Lahore, the bomb and the budget.

These are the key areas of the government?s ?able? performance. Its turnaround early this year after the first eight months? floundering has made the BJP reckon that it has not done badly.

Sonia Gandhi is last on the poll issues list, the BJP leader claimed. ?And even then, we shall highlight her inexperience,?? he said. He was quick to add, however, that her birth was definitely an issue because the ?majority of Indians feel that way??.

?The debate has always been there and we need not get mired in it. We shall avoid commenting on the issue as far as possible,?? he said.    

Mumbai, May 20 
Sachin Tendulkar is likely to rejoin the Indian team on their World Cup mission. Though cricket officials had not spoken to Tendulkar ? who attended his father?s funeral today ? they said they might ask him tomorrow and get to know his decision.

An official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said: ?Having known him for so long, it is inconceivable that he will not return. However, he has not said it in so many words to anybody.?

Mumbai Cricket Association chairman Ratnakar Shetty said: ?We are all waiting to hear from Sachin. We have all returned from the funeral only this morning. We have decided to let him be. We have left him alone so that he can be with his family and mourn in private. We will probably get to know of his decision by tomorrow.?

Shetty clarified Sachin had not spoken to anyone about rejoining the team yet. ?We decided against asking him anything about it. We have not asked his brothers Ajit and Nitin either. They arrived last night after a long flight. We will ask Sachin tomorrow. Later in the day, we will get to know his decision officially,? he said.

India team manager Brijesh Patel said in Bristol that there had been no communication with Sachin today. ?We will wait for at least another day before trying to find out when is the earliest that he can return,? he said. India take on Kenya on Sunday before playing Sri Lanka at Taunton on May 26 and England at Birmingham on May 29.

BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele said Sachin was likely to fly back to London tomorrow. But Shetty said Lele, too, had not heard anything from Sachin.

?He just called up to check if I had heard anything from Sachin,? Shetty said.

Earlier in the morning, Sachin attended the funeral of his father Ramesh Tendulkar at the Shivaji Park electric crematorium, just across the road from the cricket cradle where he had learnt his game under the guidance of his coach Ramakant Achrekar.

At 5.45, as dawn broke over the waves at Chowpatty, Sachin?s eldest brother cremated the body of their father.

For years, around the same time, Sachin used to reach the Shivaji Park ground with his kit for his cricket lessons. Today, he reached in a Tata Sumo with his brothers dressed in white.

The funeral was attended by about a hundred mourners. Cameramen were kept outside the crematorium, but reporters were allowed inside the courtyard. Before leaving for home, Sachin thanked all those who attended.

Sachin?s childhood friend Vinod Kambli came for the funeral with his family.

?This is the first time that I have seen Sachin cry. He was upset and tense, things I have never seen him be,? Kambli said.

Apart from Kambli, the entire Mumbai cricket team turned up at the funeral. Former chief minister Manohar Joshi, cricket officials like Sharad Diwadkar and Shetty and former India captain Ajit Wadekar were also there.

Numerous Marathi poets and critics ? peers of Ramesh Tendulkar ? turned up for the funeral. It was perhaps appropriate that cricketers and poets should meet to mourn the father of the man whose batting is often considered poetry.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain accompanied by thunder in some parts. Slight rise in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 34.2 (2?C below normal)
Minimum 25.7?C (1?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 93% Minimum 57%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.09 pm Sunrise: 4.56 am    

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