George under poll foul-play fire
PM-to-be & shaky PM due for Durban date
BJP in now-or-never Laloo lunge
SC frowns on Bangla influx, state silent

New Delhi, Sept. 20 
The Election Commission today virtually accused defence minister George Fernandes of electoral malpractice.

In a hard-hitting press conference, the three-member commission lashed out at the minister for causing an unnecessary furore over the printing of ballot papers outside Bihar, at Saraswati Press in West Bengal.

The commission said Fernandes, who is contesting from Nalanda, called chief election commissioner M.S. Gill on September 17 and said he had information that ballot papers for Bihar were being printed at the state government-owned Saraswati Printing Press in Calcutta in excess of the numbers ordered.

The minister added that he had contacted the director, Intelligence Bureau, who confirmed that excess ballot papers were printed.

Claiming that Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav had planned to rig elections in Bihar, Fernandes urged the commission to raid the press and seize the ballot papers.

Gill asked him to give his complaint in writing and to send copies to all three members of the commission. The defence minister also called election commissioner G.V.G. Krishnamurthy to lodge the same complaint.

The next morning, the panel asked Union home secretary Kamal Pandey to hand over a copy of the IB director?s report referred to by Fernandes. In the afternoon, Pandey got back to say the IB director had told him he had sent no such report to Fernandes.

The commission today said it ?takes grave note of the fact that Shri Fernandes, who apart from being a candidate, also happens to be the minister for defence, has by his own written admission, sought to use the director, IB, to disturb the constitutional electoral process.?

?It is even more strange that there is an official denial by the home secretary on behalf of the director, IB, of such intervnetion. The highest authorities in the Government of India, surely need to clear this contradiction between the minister?s writing and the IB director?s denial, to the commission?s and the country?s satisfaction.?

The poll panel said though it knew all along that the complaint was ?in the vaguest of terms and with a confirmed misstatement about the director, Intelligence Bureau,? it still sent a team to Calcutta to make a thorough check at the press. The team has reported that the printing of ballot papers was executed completely within the regulations and directions of the law and the commisssion. There was no excess printing, it asserted.

The commission then sent another team of officers to Patna to be present when the ballot papers for the September 25 poll arrived. The team was asked to supervise the handling, distribution and use of the ballot papers. Instructions were issued to observers for all constituencies in Bihar that they must ?take a special interest in their work?.

The poll panel today said it is ?seriously concerned and disturbed that loose allegations, without any serious basis, are being made and publicised to the maximum, perhaps to disturb the electoral exercise being undertaken in the state?.

The commission said that in 1998, as a ?special precuation, it had ordered the printing of Bihar ballot papers in another state.?    

New Delhi, Sept. 20 
The first post-Kargil meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers could take place at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Durban in November.

But the proposed meeting comes with a rider: Atal Behari Vajpayee should be re-elected India?s Prime Minister and Nawaz Sharif, facing a countrywide agitation from Opposition parties demanding his ouster, is able to hang on to his chair till then. The Durban summit will be held from November 11 to 14.

Even if Vajpayee is replaced, it is important for Sharif to continue as Pakistan Premier if a meeting between the heads of governments is to be held.

If he is ousted, Pakistan could plunge into political chaos. Islamabad, then, will be more interested in putting its house in order rather than attending meetings like Chogm.

South Block said the Pakistani Premier?s message to his new Indian counterpart after the polls could indicate Islamabad?s position on renewing bilateral talks. The next government will take into account its nuances before going ahead with the meeting.

The Prime Ministers will get another chance to meet later in November during the Saarc summit in Kathmandu. The forum has traditionally provided an opportunity for heads of governments to meet on its sidelines.

A bilateral meeting between the two foreign ministers ? Jaswant Singh and Sartaj Aziz ? in New York is being ruled out for now since Delhi has not yet received any formal proposal from Islamabad. But Saarc foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on September 28 during the UN General Assembly. The two leaders may get an opportunity then.

But this cannot be seen as a formal bilateral meeting as Singh will avoid discussing with Aziz issues concerning the neighbours at the Saarc forum.

Both countries are scheduled to address the General Assembly on Wednesday. Pakistan, which is smarting under the Kargil defeat, will try to raise the Kashmir issue by drawing the attention of the global powers to South Asia as a nuclear flash-point. It will also attempt to score points by reiterating its suggestion for a strategic restraint with India to bring down the temperature in the region.

According to Indian diplomats, Singh would not like to turn the General Assembly into an ??India-Pakistan debating society??. But he will use the opportunity to draw the focus of world leaders to the threat posed by international terrorism. By highlighting the menace of cross-border terror and the spill-over effect of the Afghan syndrome which became evident during the Kargil war, he will try and get the global leaders to speak out against Pakistan for supporting such activities.    

Patna, Sept. 20 
George Fernandes was in no mood to mince words; he probably hadn?t the time either, for he was already running late for the morning?s first meeting. He tore through the huddle of supporters and hangerson, Ram Vilas Paswan on his wings, and said: ?The chief minister of this state has been asking people to throw stones and bricks at Ram Vilas during his meetings. This is no ordinary matter ? Rabri Devi should be charged with inciting people to murder. Today it is bricks, tomorrow it could be bullets. How much more could you have of jungle raj??

Some 30 km away to the north, in Paswan?s Hajipur constituency, Laloo Yadav, perpetrator-in-chief of Fernandes? alleged jungle raj, alighted from his bullet proof car to address an election gathering and flung the allegation right back at his opponents. ?George and Paswan are in a conspiracy to rob the poor of their rights, they are terrorising our people and spreading all manner of falsehood about us. They are the ones trying to win votes with liquor and terror. This is not an election, this is a war.?

In the fortnight to come, this election ? or war as Laloo Yadav calls it ? could turn pretty ugly, even bloody.

Laloo Yadav is fighting with his back to the wall and his many promises peeling off it. This would be make or break. A reverse now would be just the preface the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) needs to script Laloo?s ouster from the state in the Assembly elections six months down the line. Or, if the NDA comes back to power at the Centre, even before that. Who knows?

For the NDA, this is the most determined assault it can launch on Laloo?s bastion. Every force, every party in the state barring the peripheral Congress and the more peripheral Left. If they cannot beat Laloo now, they probably never will. If Laloo can retain his base even in the face of their consolidated thrust, he could cause them headaches not only in Bihar but in New Delhi as well. Who knows?

Neither side will give up easily. And in a state where the support of gangs and gangsters is as much part of the political discourse as the support of casteist and communal forces, what guarantee could there be of polls being peaceful? Close to 40 deaths in round one. How many more to go? ?The battle for Bihar,? says a close aide of Laloo Yadav, almost expectantly, ?is only now entering a decisive phase. This is going to be the serious business of Laloo Yadav?s homeground in central and north Bihar. It will be a fight to watch.?

The campaign for the second and third rounds of polling in Bihar had a pretty hectic inauguration last night. Former railways minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar?s house was attacked by an angry mob. Two men died in the violence and several were injured.

The incident has injected fresh charge into an already heated mood. Leaders are trading charges, their flanks are swearing revenge.

No wonder, then, that despite the presence of more than 130 companies of paramilitary forces in the state, the administration is asking for more. In fact, much more ? the state wants the Centre to depute 600 companies for poll duty in Bihar. Will that be enough to ensure free and fair and peaceful elections in Bihar, the two senior officials were asked. ?We cannot say, we cannot say. We cannot claim that will be the case, we can only hope.?

In a situation so hopeless, what else do you do but hope?    

New Delhi, Sept. 20 
The Supreme Court today gave the Centre eight weeks to file its affidavit on the illegal migration of Bangladeshis into the country.

The West Bengal government, however, continues to defy the earlier direction of the apex court to file an affidavit on the matter.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand and Justices Rajendra Babu and R.C. Lahoti expressed serious concern today over the migration ?posing danger of changing the demography? in the Northeast, West Bengal, Delhi and Mumbai.

?It is a serious matter. Serious and honest attempts should be made to stop illegal infiltration into the north-eastern states where it is threatening to change the demography,? Chief Justice Anand observed, while hearing a public interest litigation filed by the All India Lawyers? Forum for Civil Liberties.

Additional solicitor-general R.N. Trivedi, representing the Centre, told the court the government was ?actively considering? the suggestion of the Assam government to repeal the Illegal Migrants? (Determination by Tribunal) Act, but a decision can be taken only after a new government is formed.

The apex court had ordered the West Bengal government to file an affidavit on the petition that the demography of West Bengal was drastically changing due to the illegal migration.

In its first response, the state government said it was impossible for the government to deport the illegal migrants as they could not at all be identified.

?Unscrupulous politicians and officials? have legalised their stay in the state and the local population did not cooperate with the government in identifying them,? it said.

Not satisfied with the explanation, the apex court told the state government to file a detailed affidavit informing on steps taken to stop the migration. But the state government continued to defy the directive, although other states, including Assam and few North-eastern ones, filed their affidavits.

In its affidavit the Assam government pleaded for a direction to the Centre to repeal the Illegal Migrants? Act.

It also wanted no cut-off dates to determine the ?foreigner issue?, which formed the very core of the Assam agitation and the subsequent election of the students to power.

The Assam affidavit said the ISI has stepped up its activities and its action plan included destabilisation of the Indo-Bangla border.

Tripura too expressed concern over the issue and said in its reply to the apex court that the illegal migration of Bangladeshis has ?virtually engulfed? the indigenous tribal population ?previously enjoying majority?.    


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