Prime Minister cries halt, party carries on
Congress fires Sugargate at Atal
Booming stocks flirt with 5000
Loyal subjects of queen without empire

New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today called a halt to ??indecent?? attacks by some senior colleagues in the National Democratic Alliance on Congress president Sonia Gandhi but the BJP continued to justify the campaign against her in a roundabout manner.

In a snub to Pramod Mahajan and George Fernandes, who have made personal remarks against Sonia from the campaign trail, the Prime Minister said in Jaipur: ??I am deeply distressed to note the transgression of standards of decent and dignified electioneering. I especially disapprove of any remarks about Congress president Sonia Gandhi that are or can be construed to be undignified.??

He added, though, that he also wanted to ask ??friends in the Congress?? not to encourage attacks of a ??baseless and tasteless nature??.

??NDA partners and poll campaigners should desist from saying anything that is gender insensitive and lowers the standard of campaign in the Lok Sabha elections. All of us are proud of belonging to a land that is the largest democracy in the world. Democracy is an integral part of our ancient culture and civilisation. Decency and discipline strengthen democracy, not weaken it. Let us conduct the last general election of this century in a manner that further brightens the reputation of Indian democracy in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes,?? Vajpayee said.

The Election Commission also joined in and asked parties and candidates to refrain from criticising all aspects of their opponents? personal lives. Following the Congress tirade against Fernandes? anti-Sonia remarks yesterday, the panel met today to consider complaints regarding allegations about the ??tenor and tone?? of the campaign speeches by its opponents. The commission urged candidates not to make undesirable remarks about their opponents, least of all women.

Mahajan, who sparked a controversy by equating Sonia with Monica Lewinsky, found himself at the centre of another row with the Nationalist Congress Party demanding an apology for calling its chief Sharad Pawar ??Elizabeth Taylor??.

At an election rally, Mahajan, referring to Pawar, is believed to have said: ??He marries, divorces, remarries and again divorces.??

Vajpayee?s statement was released to the press by the BJP at its daily briefing, but party leaders continued to defend Mahajan and Fernandes in the same breath. Spokesman Arun Shourie ducked questions on whether he approved or disapproved Fernandes? comment that Sonia?s only contribution to India had been to give birth to two children.

Shourie, on the contrary, released a statement which held the Congress responsible for ??personality-based?? attacks in the elections, saying: ??In refuting Mahajan and Fernandes? statements, the Congress has made malicious personalised allegations against both ? alleging that Mahajan is involved in a criminal offence, an allegation based on imaginary material; yesterday it issued a statement questioning Fernandes? patriotism. Such statements were also made against the defence minister at the peak of the Kargil conflict.??

Shourie was asked whether Fernandes? and Mahajan?s statements would boomerang on the BJP. ??I don?t think so,?? Shourie replied. Asked if these leaders were trying to sabotage the NDA?s poll prospects like they did earlier, launching a vituperative attack on Indira Gandhi enabling her to accrue public sympathy and win, Shourie said what his party wanted to say was in its statement.

??One has to keep in mind Sonia Gandhi?s incompetence to be prime minister in terms of experience, the values Vajpayee personifies and her fitness to decide on nuclear issues,?? he added.

The spokesman, who faced a hostile press, advised reporters not to be ??purveyors of allegations of either side??.    

New Delhi, Aug. 30: 
Terming it ?Sugargate ? the scandal of the century?, the Congress today accused Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee of ?compromising national security? by importing Rs 900 crore worth of sugar from Pakistan. It alleged the deal benefited the ISI-controlled Pakistan Army Welfare Trust and Nawaz Sharif?s family.

The government tonight denied the allegation, describing it as ?ridiculous?.

AICC spokesman Kapil Sibal claimed to have ?evidence? of the ?active connivance? of Vajpayee to get the deal through ?as a price? for Sharif?s friendship. ?What was the bottomline of the deal? That Vajpayee bought Sharif?s sugar as the price for his bus journey to Lahore?? Sibal asked.

The Congress ?chargesheet? on ?Sugargate? sought an inquiry into various aspects of the deal and asked:

Why were sugar imports from Pakistan continued despite the demand of farmers? cooperatives and the sugar manufacturers? associations to stop it?

Why did the government order sugar imports when there was a glut in the Indian market? An estimated 10.4 million tonnes of sugar was lying unsold in godowns at the time.

Isn?t Pakistani sugar of poor quality?

Did the government know that ISI controls the Pakistan Army Welfare Trust and that it would use the money for funding anti-India activities like the Kargil intrusion?

Will the government disclose the name of the company which imported sugar from Pakistan? Besides Delhi-based Kundan Rice Mills, was there any other company involved?

Isn?t Pakistani sugar priced significantly higher than prevailing international rates?

Sibal alleged that the government purchased sugar from Pakistan at higher rates, which allowed the Pakistan army to obtain foreign exchange. Sharif?s family profited from the deal as eight of the 15 sugar mills in Pakistan are controlled by close relatives of the Pakistan Prime Minister.

?Is it not a fact that Vajpayee sacrificed the interests of our jawans and cane growers to benefit Sharif?? Sibal asked, claiming that the BJP government continued to import sugar from Pakistan throughout the Kargil crisis.

Sibal said Vajpayee ordered the imports despite a glut in the domestic market and overruled objections from the food ministry. ?Vajpayee is personally responsible for losses to the exchequer to the tune of Rs 900 crore in foreign exchange,? he said. He added this was done at a time when Pakistan was facing sanctions. ?In effect, Vajpayee was bailing out Sharif?s government even while he was whining publicly about being betrayed. He was providing valuable foreign exchange to the Pakistani army to buy equipment and ammunition,? Sibal said.

The Congress also questioned the role of R.K. Mishra, chairman of a newspaper group, who, it alleged, brokered the deal. The party claimed that Mishra visited London on September 26, 1998, and obtained a multi-entry Pakistani visa. ?Normally, Pakistan does not give multi-entry visas to Indian nationals and in Mishra?s case, a special endorsement waived the need to report to Pakistan police stations,? Sibal said.    

Mumbai, Aug. 30 
A wave of euphoria gripped the stock markets today with brokers getting ready to pop their champagne bottles as the sensex ? the key barometer of the Bombay Stock Exchange ? looked set to break through the stratospheric level of 5000.

The sensex has been breaking records almost everyday over the past week. On Monday, it came tantalisingly close to 5000 in early trading as financial institutions, foreign brokerages and speculators scrambled to scoop up shares.

The market gasped as the sensex opened at 4953.73, a massive 83 points above Friday?s close of 4870.66.

A minute later the sensex hit an intra-day high of 4965.79 on frenzied buying. The bulls soon found the scorching pace set by the sensex too hot to handle and started booking profits.

The pundits, however, said the brokers will have to wait for a few more days before they get to savour their bubbly. One reason for this is that the current settlement on the National Stock Exchange ? which has seen its Nifty 50 set records of its own ? ends tomorrow. The market mavens reckon this will force operators to wind down their positions. Unlike the Bombay Stock Exchange, the NSE does not allow members to carry forward their trades in pivotal stocks into the next settlement.

So, is the 5000-mark relevant? ?It?s just a round figure that may be of interest to a pop psychologist,? says Ramesh Damani, a senior BSE broker.

Brokers are more enamoured by the fact that the market is fundamentally very sound. Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Financial Consultants, a leading brokerage in the city, says there isn?t any reason why valuations shouldn?t improve. But ask him to predict where the sensex will be in the next few days and he retorts: ?Only a fool will predict where the sensex is headed.?

Parag Parikh, a broker reputed for his ability to spot winners early, is not impressed by the latest rally. ?It is in a dangerous zone. I am totally confused by the current market sentiment,? says Parikh. ?I don?t understand; it?s not normal.?

He refers to last week?s stomach-churning roller-coaster ride when wild rumours knocked 200 points off the sensex on a single day. ?If this is the strength of the market, it is better to stay away,? he said.

Most marketmen are looking for stocks that have not joined the party yet. Punters snapped up hotels and fertiliser stocks on Monday ? counters that have been pretty sedate uptil now. Dealers said the economy is making a turnaround and that will certainly ramp up hotel occupancy levels.

The majority of the foreign institutional investors (FIIs) and mutual funds are staying on the sidelines as they feel the market is close to its fair value. Late into the rally, small investors have started creeping back into the market.    

Dharmapuri, Aug. 30 
When the Queen Bee of Tamil Nadu ? also known as Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader), Yenga Thai (our mother) and Roja (pink rose) ? holds court, even the venue will have an appropriate name: Coronation Ground.

But even in places in the Arcot-Salem belt of Tamil Nadu which do not have names as suggestive as this, Jayalalitha?s meetings are drawing thousands and thousands of followers.

The ADMK chief seems to know that organisation is the handmaiden of successful campaign management. Not for her a sweaty, grimy 18-hour campaign day. She stirs out of her hotel only after 3 in the afternoon, having ensured that her cadre have filled up the venue of her meeting.

In Krishnagiri ? 300 km southwest of Chennai ? ADMK supporters in white trousers, T-shirts, white, red and black caps with Jayalalitha?s face emblazoned on them and belts on which the party symbol has been engraved, line the street across her hotel. In keeping with her new pro-minorities profile, Jayalalitha?s day begins with a visit to Krishnagiri?s oldest mosque. Aides said a visit to a church or mosque ? depending on whether Christians or Muslims are in a majority in the area ? is mandatory.

?She has changed a lot,? said Haji Syed Abbas, a municipal councillor of Salem and a member of ADMK?s newest ally, the India National League. ?True, she had supported the BJP on Ayodhya, but she has apologised. She even had the honesty to admit that she had sent kar sevaks for the demolition of Babri masjid. But that is a thing of the past. Jayalalitha has given a seat to a Muslim, something the DMK never did through the decades the Muslims supported them,? he said.

As she is on her way to the mosque before visiting Coronation Ground ? a name that is a relic of the raj ? the roads leading to the venue are packed with people. The buildings around the ground are spilling over with followers who want a grandstand view of their leader.

Another 35 km from Krishnapuri, the scene is similar at Vallar Arivalayam ground at Dharmapuri. Jayalalitha arrives at 8 pm ? three hours behind schedule ? but the ground is overflowing. The crowd patiently waits out her delay. Even in her absence, she looms large over the place. Portraits of a svelte Jayalalitha with Perriyar Ramaswami and Annadurai ? the spearheads of the Dravida movement ? and a more matronly Jayalalitha in a white sari with her mentor M.G. Ramachandran look down upon the crowd.

Red, green, orange, yellow and purple neons bathe the ground. One neon ? a map of India with Jayalalitha at the centre ? stands out. In perhaps a message to the Congress about who needs who more in Tamil Nadu, Sonia Gandhi?s poster is tucked away somewhere amid those of Annadurai and Perriyar.

There is no mention of Sonia Gandhi in Jayalalitha?s speech either. Expectedly, she starts with an assault on DMK chief Karunanidhi. She arrives with not a hair out of place, untouched by the rigours of travel, silences her minions with an imperious gesture and begins. ADMK Dharmapuri candidate K.P. Munnuswamy stands to attention behind her.

?Karunanidhi has been trying to liquidate me and my party. But I have withstood the victimisation thanks to your support,? she says. The crowd is already in raptures.

In her 40-minute speech, she does not mention her former Tamil Nadu allies. None of her new allies ? Congress, CPM, CPI or the Muslim League ? have either the caste base of the PMK and MDMK or the winning streak of the BJP.

Jayalalitha leaves the attack on S. Ramadoss of the PMK and Vaiko of the MDMK to her party leaders. She trains her gun on the BJP, particularly Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

?The BJP leaders I trusted turned out to be poisonous vipers. With your support, I looked on the BJP as a trusted ally. But what were they doing for 13 months? Just hobnobbing with Karunanidhi. I wanted to take up issues related to the welfare of Tamil Nadu, but this stubborn man Karunanidhi scuttled my agenda because of his secret pact with Vajpayee. The Women?s Bill was killed and the Cauvery deal signed with Tamil Nadu getting nothing in the bargain,? she says.

She hinted that the Cauvery pact involved a quid pro quo. ?Insidiously, L.K. Advani gave a clean chit to Karunanidhi in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case though he was named in the Jain Commission report. Karunanidhi was so grateful to Advani that he went along with the terms of the Cauvery agreement although it was a betrayal of Tamil Nadu,? she said.

Trying to detract from the BJP?s claims of victory in the Kargil conflict, she blamed the Prime Minister for the death of Indian soldiers. ?In October last year, intruders from Pakistan crossed over and occupied our territory. All this when Vajpayee was shaking hands with the Pakistan Prime Minister. Vajpayee and our great defence minister George Fernandes even promised a safe passage to the intruders. Vajpayee is squarely responsible for the killing of our soldiers.?

Jayalalitha cited Vishnu Bhagwat?s sacking as one of the things that made her drift away from the BJP. ?The chief of naval staff, known for his integrity and honesty, levelled serious allegations against Fernandes. When I raised the issue with Vajpayee, Fernandes called on me and tried to coax me into dropping the issue. But the charges were so serious that I pursued them with the Prime Minister. But instead of safeguarding the country?s interests, Vajpayee safeguarded Fernandes? interests. The more I saw of the BJP?s true colours, the more I considered it necessary to distance myself from the party.?

Jayalalitha spoke about every controversy the BJP had been involved in: Mohan Guruswamy?s revelations, Madan Lal Khurana?s indictment of the Sangh parivar and the telecom scam. ?The telecom scam is shocking because it involves Rs 50,000 crore which was supposedly paid to members of Vajpayee?s family. Vajpayee poses as a gentleman. But since when did nice old gentlemen get involved in corruption cases??

Jayalalitha wound up her speech with a ditty whose refrain was: ?You cheated us, gentleman Vajpayee.? ?He clasped Karunanidhi in his palm, he took us for a ride on Cauvery, he promised us heaven and earth, this nice gentleman called Vajpayee. But what did he say and what did he do? He simply betrayed our trust.?    

Today?s forecast: One or two showers or thundershowers.
Maximum: 30.8?C (-1)
Minimum: 25.5?C (-1)
RAINFALL: 1.0 mm
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 98%,
Sunset: 5.54 pm
Sunrise:5.21 am

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