BJP waves Bill to bar dual duels
Sonia, Jaya reconnect amid coalition hardtalk
Sing-and-sting swadeshi show
ID advice issued for Bengal
Calcutta weather

Bellary, Aug. 23: 
Union home minister L.K. Advani today said a Bill proposing to bar candidates from contesting elections from more than one Lok Sabha constituency has been drafted.

?It is already on the anvil,? Advani told reporters here. He said the draft amendment prohibiting such ?convenience? in future will be introduced in Parliament if the BJP was returned to power. Advani himself had contested from both Gandhinagar and New Delhi in 1991. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had been a candidate in Lucknow and Gandhinagar in 1996.

?There is a consensus among political parties on the issue,? Advani said. His remarks come in the wake of Congress president Sonia Gandhi deciding to contest from Bellary and Amethi.

But the Congress was quick to dispute Advani?s claim of a consensus. ?Nobody has talked to our party in this regard,? Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said in Bellary. ?Let us see the general opinion, the opinion of political parties. This is an issue which should be discussed threadbare both inside and outside Parliament,? he added.

In Delhi, the Congress was even more vehement in its response. A party spokesman said since Advani and Vajpayee had found nothing wrong with contesting from two seats simultaneously in the past, there was definitely something ?hypocritical about the BJP standpoint?.

The spokesman said: ?This is an instance of the BJP?s double standard and yet another attempt to rewrite the Constitution.?

He added that the BJP was out to change the path of Indian democracy by clamping down a presidential system of government and fixing a five-year term for every Lok Sabha. The CPM also criticised the BJP?s stance.

Samata Party general secretary Jaya Jaitly, however, supported Advani.

The Election Commission refused to comment. Sources said the panel had failed to decide on the issue when it had been brought to its notice a few years ago.

It appeared that Advani had not consulted the poll panel before announcing that such a legislation was on the anvil. The panel appeared not too perturbed as such a law will not take effect before a new government is in place.

Advani urged the panel to take parties into confidence before arriving at vital decisions affecting the poll process. The home minister said he was surprised at the commission?s ?blanket embargo? on political advertisements in the electronic media and poll predictions in the press. ?Such restrictions are not imposed anywhere in the world,? he added.

The minister also expressed dismay at the commission?s decision to cancel polls in four Assembly constituencies in Karnataka. He said since the courts could not intervene once the election process was on, ?I wish the commission interacts with political parties in these matters?.    

New Delhi, Aug. 23: 
A non-aggressive Congress today tried to play down Jayalalitha?s snub to Sonia Gandhi in Villupuram and clarified that her absence could not have been caused by the Congress? opposition to a coalition.

Party leaders asserted that the Congress had made it clear to the ADMK chief that it was against sharing power.

Some observers feel Jayalalitha may have been upset by Sonia?s remark at her maiden news conference that the Congress will not share power with its allies.

But senior party leaders like Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee said today that Jayalalitha had not raised the issue in five pre-alliance meetings with the Congress.

Nevertheless, the Congress appeared keen to keep its Tamil Nadu alliance going and was at pains to stress that there was no strain in the relationship between the two party chiefs.

As part of the damage control exercise, contact was established between Jayalalitha and Sonia yesterday and they spoke for about 10 minutes today, too. ?Everything is all right and there is no threat to the poll pact,? an AICC member said.

Senior Congress leaders A.K. Antony and Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy spoke to the ADMK leader as well. Also soothing any possible ruffled feathers were a retired IPS officer and a former Governor.

The ADMK leader is said to have taken exception to Manmohan Singh?s statement in a television interview that his party would not bail out ?tainted? leaders like Jayalalitha and Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Clarifying the point today, Singh said: ?There can be no compromise in matters relating to corruption. However, cases should not be used to settle political scores. The Congress is of the view that all matters should be dealt with in accordance with law.?

The former finance minister said this when asked whether his remarks on television had prompted a miffed Jayalalitha to cancel the joint rally with Sonia.

Senior Congress members said they would drop the Villupuram incident, but added that the party would not budge from its stand on power sharing.

Terming coalitions ?impractical?, Mukherjee pointed out that the party election manifesto completely rejected it. Quoting from the manifesto, he said: ?Experience has shown that coalitions have never worked at the Centre. The choice now is between a coalition that has failed miserably and a cohesive Congress alternative.?

According to the Congress think-tank, any change of stance on the coalition issue would dilute the party?s USP of stability and benefits of single-party rule.

?If we agree to share power with Jayalalitha and Laloo, we will lose our USP and would be seen as offering just another coalition,? a Congress Working Committee member said.

The leader pointed out that if the party had been willing to share power, it could have struck a deal with Mulayam Singh Yadav after the Vajpayee government fell and formed an alternative government.

In Chennai, Jayalalitha canvassed for Congress candidates today and hit out at her friend-turned-foe, the BJP, calling the saffron leadership ?traitors in the guise of sanyasis?.

She said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had gone back on his pledge to dismiss the DMK government though he had promised her so before the 1998 polls.    

Patan (North Gujarat), Aug. 23: 
The heat does not bother Mahesh Kanodia. He preens and puffs before the chipped mirror, readying himself for the song-and-dance number which he performs at every big election campaign.

Immaculately dressed in a white shirt, green trousers, a green jacket and white shoes, the three-time MP from Patan is a music director, singer, dancer and actor. He has no time to bother about the 36?C heat. He powders his face instead.

?I am a performer first,? he says with a toss of his hennaed head. Kanodia, 62, who won the Patan seat convincingly in 1991, 1996 and 1998, is confident of winning again in this Patel-dominated constituency. He does have one regret, though. ?If there is anything I really feel bad about, it is my education,? he says. ?I have only studied up to Class II.?

Mimicking Sonia Gandhi and belting out parodies on her foreign origin, Kanodia is the BJP?s trump card in north Gujarat. He has sung in more than a hundred Gujarati films and created music for 150 others. Acting, singing and dancing his way through the campaign trail, he woos the voters in his almost effeminate voice.

In Mallekpurkhet, a small village of farmers 160 km north of Ahmedabad, Kanodia is in his elements. ?They enjoy my performances but they also know that I have done a lot of work for them. They are no fools,? he says.

As Ramilaben Desai, Ahmedabad district panchayat president, prepares the ground for Kanodia with her Sonia-bashing, he drums on the armrest of his chair in excited anticipation.

?It won?t be fun here,? he says, sweeping his glance through the crowd of about 50 people squatting on tarpaulin sheets. ?It will be fun when there are about 15,000-20,000 people. I will sing a better song in the next village.?

Kanodia keeps his word at Kheralu. Three splashes of attar and he is ready to take the stage. A table materialises and a dholakia and a tabalchi, along with a man with a harmonium, place their instruments on the table.

The crowd of schoolchildren, old women and drunken youth are impatient with Ramilaben. She hurriedly finishes her speech. ?Maheshbhai has made you happy in so many ways. He has sung for you, danced for you and done some work also. Vote for him and you will not regret it.?

A huge cheer greets Kanodia as he mimics Sonia Gandhi?s voice and says: ?Mein to maya jaal me phas gayi hoon, mujhe thoda mamata dikhana, nahi to amma ko kya jawab doongi.?

At Madrapur, Kanodia gets better. ?Atalji has said ?Don?t get a pardesi (foreigner)?,? he says before parodying a popular film number in the voice of a Lata sound-alike. ?Pardesi, Pardesi, aana nahin, mere desh mein, mere desh mein.?

Soon, the boisterous crowd demands a Gujarati song. Kanodia obliges, and with a swing of his hips, begins ?Maro Sona re.? There is laughter and applause as the crowd sings along with him.

Once the song is over, Kanodia wipes his forehead and throws back his head. ?Ten lakh people depend on me,? he laughs in a high-pitched cackle. ?I have to see to it that they are happy.?

They seem to be. Kanodia?s Congress rival Pravin Rashtrapal hardly seems to have an existence. The former income-tax official only says: ?Let the people decide who they want this time. The anti-incumbency factor is there to aid me.? But the Congress office at Patan belies his optimism. Without flags and workers, the office looks deserted.

The contrast with Kanodia could not have been sharper. While Kanodia?s house is a landmark in Patan, Rashtrapal is a candidate whom no one seems to know.

Kanodia knows he is on firm ground. ?I will send you one of my cassettes,? he tells two little girls who tug at his sleeve.

It is not just the two girls. Mahesh Kanodia seems to have his entire constituency eating out of his hand.    

Calcutta, Aug. 23: 
West Bengal chief electoral officer Jawhar Sircar today asked voters to carry some form of identification when they go to vote during the Lok Sabha polls.

?We advise voters to carry either their voter identity card, telephone or electricity bill, rent receipt or even a letter written to him at his address,? Sircar said. ?It is always better for a family to go together to a voting centre.??

The decision was taken to minimise booth capturing and bogus voting and cut down on the delay which occurs when party agents challenge voters and ask them to produce identification certificates, Sircar said.

?When a person is challenged, he can immediately produce a document and settle the matter within minutes,?? he said.

In the last elections, there were allegations of booth capturing and bogus voting across the state. The Trinamul Congress, BJP, Congress and other Opposition parties alleged that the Left Front had systematically targeted their supporters and prevented them from casting votes.

Many genuine voters did not cast the ballot after being asked to produce proof of identity. ?Genuine voters were deliberately harassed,?? said Arup Biswas, election agent of Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee.

At several booths, party agents challenged voters who found to their horror that someone had already cast their vote. However, if the voter takes the trouble of bringing identification, bogus votes can be cancelled.

According to records available with the chief electoral officer?s office, most polling officers had to cope with this problem. ?We are determined to curb such rigging. Our officers will be trained to ensure that only genuine voters cast their votes,?? Sircar said.

His office is giving the final touch to a document which will advise people on the dos and don?ts of voting. Polling officers and returning officers will also be trained in dealing with political agents and voters.

Sircar plans to visit sensitive polling centres in the city and adjoining areas. According to the chief electoral officer?s office, nearly 4.75 crore people will vote in 42 constituencies in the state.    

Today?s forecast:Light rain in some parts.

Temperature: Maximum 33.8?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.3?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 94%
Minimum 62%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 6 pm
Sunrise: 5.18am

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