Sonia turns to coalition at hung sign
Raid-riled Dhaka calls off Delhi trade meet
Sorry if I hurt some people: Mahajan
Eyes wide open, Warner cuts Kubrick
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
The ??pragmatists?? in the Congress have prevailed upon ??purists? in forcing Sonia Gandhi to concede that the party is not averse to forming a coalition government in case of a hung Parliament.

Party sources said ADMK chief Jayalalitha played a role in the turnaround. She is believed to have told Sonia that her insistence on single-party rule will adversely affect prospects in Tamil Nadu as the ??masses?? want amma to be part of the Delhi durbar.

Congress leaders said Sonia made the remark on being open to a coalition after an internal assessment said the elections would throw up a fractured mandate. ??It is a signal to the fence-sitters and other non-BJP groups that we are game for a coalition. The mistakes of April will not be repeated when the non-BJP groups failed to form an alternative government after the Vajpayee government fell,?? a Congress Working Committee member said.

Apart from the diktat from the south, a powerful lobby of Congressmen, comprising Manmohan Singh, A.K. Antony and Ahmad Patel, too, lobbied for a change of stand.

The issue of whether or not to form a coalition government had been intensely debated in the CWC. But the ??purists? over-ruled the ??pragmatists? and incorporated a line in the party manifesto which says: ??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.??

Sonia?s remark indicating a turnaround has created a minor ripple in the party, with some leaders saying that the Congress? USP ? its stability plank ? had lost much of its shine.

Ridiculing the changed stand, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said the Congress has been forced to accept that coalition governments are here to stay. At a rally in Aurangabad, he asked the party to make its stand clear on Article 356. Echoing Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani said the Congress? stability plank has been ??smashed to smithereens??.

CWC member Pranab Mukherjee said while Sonia?s remarks reflected the party?s view on coalitions, the Congress is confident of crossing the majority mark on its own. ??The matter is now closed. There is no scope of doubt after the Congress president?s views. They reflect the collective thinking of the CWC,? Mukherjee said, going back on his stand taken in a TV programme debunking the idea of a coalition. Quoting the party manifesto, he had then said there was ??no scope?? open for a coalition.

Party leaders said in the event of a coalition government, Sonia is unlikely to be a prime ministerial candidate. Manmohan Singh would be a front-runner, followed by N.D. Tiwari.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
Dhaka today called off a meeting scheduled to discuss the transhipment issue with Delhi following the diplomatic row over Indian security forces entering Bangladeshi territory to carry out a raid on Inter-Services Intelligence agents without permission from the Sheikh Hasina government.

A senior government official from Dhaka said the situation was not conducive to holding the meeting. ?Some of the recent developments in India have put Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an embarrassing position and, therefore, it is not possible for us to hold the meeting at this juncture,? he said.

But West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu expressed surprise at Dhaka?s move. ?I don?t know why they have called off the meeting on the transhipment issue....I shall talk to the Bangladesh foreign minister,? he said.

Relations between the countries soured after Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta disclosed in his Independence Day address that security forces had entered Bangladeshi territory in pursuit of ISI-backed militants and seized a huge quantity of RDX without informing Dhaka.

This was followed by Bangladesh recovering 300 kg of Indian sulphur near the border and the firing in Tripura over land.

A late-night agency report today said Bangladesh had sounded a nation-wide alert fearing subversive activities by the ISI.

Security has been beefed up at the state-run radio and television centres and oil and gas installations.

Officially, India maintains that its security forces did not enter Bangladesh and that the RDX was seized from a place on the Indian side of the border. But recent reports said North Block had confirmed that the raid was carried out deep inside Bangladesh.

Aware of the strain in bilateral ties, India has been trying to play down the issue. It has issued a statement saying that the flare-up along Tripura?s border with Bangladesh was under control.

?After a flag meeting on August 25 followed by a joint ground inspection, an amicable solution has been found to the situation in the Tripura sector on the India-Bangladesh border,? a foreign ministry statement said.

?It was also agreed that in future situations neither side would resort to firing. If a problem could not be solved at the local commanders? level, it would be brought to the attention of higher authorities,? it added.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said the area in Belonia, where the firing took place, was yet to be demarcated according to the 1974 agreement.

He claimed that the settlement of the Tripura dispute was ?reflective of the mutual understanding that exists between India and Bangladesh?, but maintained that the tension was sparked by firing by the Bangladesh Rifles on Indian cultivators who, Dhaka claimed, had strayed into its territory.

The recent string of incidents has come as a blow to the Awami League in Bangladesh which has been trying to convince the people that the transhipment pact will benefit the country.

There have been violent anti-government protests against the proposed agreement, with the Opposition Bangladesh National Party claiming that transit facilities will allow free movement of Indian troops in the country.

?The claim of the Assam chief minister has come as a major boost to what BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia has been trying to warn the people about,? a senior Bangladeshi diplomat said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 28 
Expressing anguish at being dragged into the middle of an unsavoury controversy, information and broadcasting minister Pramod Mahajan today clarified that he had never equated Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky.

In a statement issued while electioneering in Chandrapur in Maharashtra, he said: ?I have never compared Smt Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky in my speeches while addressing rallies in Maharashtra. These rallies have been attended by a large number of mediapersons, but no newspaper till date has ever published anything of this sort except a particular newspaper in New Delhi.

?I am extremely pained and anguished at being dragged into an unnecessary controversy... if some people have felt hurt... I am sorry about it.?

Mahajan said a general criticism of the Congress for projecting a person of foreign origin as a prime ministerial candidate should not be taken as a personal criticism of that person.

?Having said so, if some people have felt hurt because of this particular report, which is nothing but an inference of a reporter, I am sorry about it,? he added.

BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre, too, sprang to Mahajan?s defence, saying his comment had been ?distorted?.

The minister?s apology and his clarification, however, did not wash with Congressmen, furious after the statement appeared in a Delhi paper yesterday. Senior leader Pranab Mukherjee said they were ?not sufficient?.

Yesterday, the Congress went hammer and tongs at Mahajan, demanding his immediate dismissal from the Cabinet. Senior leaders Najma Heptullah and Ambika Soni said his statement was ?an affront to the women of India?.

Mahajan said Sonia would always be welcomed as the wife of Rajiv Gandhi, treated with affection as the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, and respected as Congress chief. But she should never be made Prime Minister because of her Italian origin.

?I will continue to say the same thing because making a person of foreign origin Prime Minister is an insult to the Indian nation, including Indian women,? the statement said.    

London, Aug. 28 
Who?s afraid of the BJP? Could it be Warner Brothers?

The makers of the late Stanley Kubrick?s sexually explicit film, Eyes Wide Shut, have done an unexpected about-turn and are this week editing the scene which had offended Hindu organisations in America and in Britain.

The changes are being made at vast cost to a master tape at studios in London before the revised version is transferred to 400 copies for general release in Britain on September 10.

The film?s two main stars, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, are due to attend the film?s London premiere on September 3.

What had offended Hindu groups was the recitation of a shloka from the Bhagvad Gita to spice up an orgy scene. The character played by Cruise wanders across the screen in the sequence while the orgy occurs and the words from the Bhagvad Gita are heard in the background.

A rough translation of the shloka, given by Hindu groups, offers the following: ?When evil descends on earth, I, as Krishna, will manifest in the form of a human being and destroy that evil.?

The Warner Brothers change of heart has taken Hindu groups in America, which began the campaign against the film, and in Britain by surprise.

In an earlier statement, Jan Varlan, executive producer of Eyes Wide Shut, had offered an apology to Hindus and said any offence caused was unintentional, but he had also insisted that the film could not be changed.

Hindu groups protested by posting a website on the Internet ? a modern technique which is being exploited by an ancient religion ? and the resulting 600 comments have been forwarded to Warner Brothers. However, there is speculation in London that since most Hollywood companies intend to expand into India, Warner Brothers may have had second thoughts about annoying the BJP ahead of a possible election victory.

The explanation from Julian Senior, European vice-president of Warners, was more contrite. He said: ?We asked ourselves what Stanley would have done??

He would apparently have changed the offending scene without a second?s hesitation since the mistake was made unwittingly, Senior added. ?We are editing the film this weekend, remixing the track,? he said.

According to a film industry source, though, ?Kubrick would almost certainly have behaved like Shekhar Kapur and put his foot down, ?I won?t change a frame?. Editing the tape will cost Warners an arm and a leg.?

Hindu organisations in Britain have generally been less energetic than their Muslim counterparts in pursuing perceived insults to the faith. But now they have adopted the line, ?No sex please, we?re Hindus.?

Hashmukh Shah, spokesman for the Bradford-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad, expressed delight at what is seen as a remarkable victory for ?one billion Hindus across the world?. ?I am extremely pleased they are taking account of Hindu sensitivities. For long Hindus have been intolerably tolerant. But we can no longer go about with our eyes wide shut,? he commented.

From the US, Ajay Shah, of the Hindu Anti-Defamation Council, said: ?This will teach the Hollywood mega-companies not to exploit Hindu scriptures and symbols.?

He admitted he was ?astounded? by Warners? decision but believed the change may be related to the prospect of another BJP government. ?I told Warner Brothers that as part of the Time-Warner group, which wants to expand into other countries, it would be in their interest in keep Hindus happy,? he added.    

Today?s forecast:A few showers or thundershowers..

Temperature: Maximum 32.1?C (Normal)
Minimum 25.5?C (1?C below normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 98%
Minimum 70%

Rainfall: 34.6 mm

Sunset: 5.56 pm
Sunrise: 5.20am

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