Twins show democracy double face
Sit-tight General snarls at India
Sonia come-hither to Mamata with hug

New Delhi, Oct. 13 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today took over as the Prime Minister of a mega team of 71 members, keeping the lion?s share for the BJP and doling out just one-third of the power pie to allies. As expected, Mamata Banerjee has got the railway portfolio.

Bihar was rewarded with 11 ministerships, including five of Cabinet rank, with an eye on the Assembly elections due early next year.

The big four portfolios ? home, finance, defence and external affairs ? have been retained by L.K. Advani, Yashwant Sinha, George Fernandes and Jaswant Singh.

Murli Manohar Joshi will remain in charge of human resources development while Ram Jethmalani and Jagmohan will continue as law and urban development ministers respectively.

Pramod Mahajan has been shifted from information and broadcasting to parliamentary affairs. The new inductee, Arun Jaitley, will be the I&B minister of state with independent charge.

Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav has been put in charge of civil aviation, earlier held by the BJP?s Ananth Kumar, who has been moved to culture, sports and youth affairs.

Yadav?s colleague, Ram Vilas Paswan, has bagged the prize post of communications minister. Ram Naik, the veteran Mumbai MP, will be the new petroleum minister.

Senior DMK leader Murasoli Maran has got commerce and industry while his party colleague T.R. Balu will look after environment and forests. Former BJP chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Sunderlal Patwa has got rural development.

Another former chief minister, Manohar Joshi of Maharashtra, will be the minister for heavy industries and public enterprises while the other Shiv Sena Cabinet member, Suresh Prabhu, has secured chemicals and fertilisers.

This is the first time that such a mammoth Cabinet has been constituted. Though BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu claimed that ??it is the best Cabinet we have had in recent years because of its social, political and regional balance??, the fact that Bihar and Tamil Nadu have walked away with the biggest chunks shows that the BJP?s political compulsions coupled with pressure from allies were the main yardsticks for the appointments.

BJP leaders will be in charge of 15 of the 26 Cabinet berths, three of the seven posts of minister of state with independent charge and as many as 28 of the 38 slots of minister of state.

Barely had the last strains of the national anthem faded away than Vajpayee was saddled with problems. The first to strike a jarring note was the most notable exclusion, Lok Shakti leader and former commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde. He said he was ??hurt?? on being ignored by party colleague Fernandes and accused him of holding ??unilateral?? consultations with Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister, however, made light of Hegde?s exclusion. ??There are many more senior people who have not been accommodated,?? he said. BJP sources said Vajpayee and Advani were unhappy with Hegde for speaking out against the Karnataka BJP after an alliance was struck with the Dal (U).

The Karnataka Dal struck back by snapping ties with the BJP, blaming it for the poll debacle. The state unit, however, added it would continue supporting the Vajpayee government.

Rumblings have begun within the BJP as well. Two former chief ministers of Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma, who were sure of getting Cabinet berths, were reportedly ??shocked?? that only one Delhi MP, Jagmohan, found a place.

Verma, claimed BJP sources, expressed ??shock?? on being short-changed by the party leadership, which had promised him a Cabinet berth after he was persuaded to step down as chief minister on the eve of the Assembly elections last year.

The other omission was that of Sikandar Bakht, who held the industry portfolio. Bakht, said BJP sources, was glossed over because of ??old age and failing health??.

??The old guard has to make way for new and younger leaders,?? said a senior BJP functionary. Bakht, he added, may be placated with governorship.

The most surprising inclusion was that of Jaitley, a senior lawyer and BJP spokesman who is perceived to have done a good job defending his party on TV. He is the only minister who is not a member of either House.

Two defeated candidates also found a place ? the BJP?s Bangaru Laxman and O. Rajagopal. Both are, however, Rajya Sabha members. While Laxman was picked because he is a Dalit, Rajagopal is the party?s lone representative from Kerala.

Vajpayee has retained two controversial ministers in the last government, Jagmohan and Uma Bharti. As communications minister, Jagmohan had raised the hackles of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.    

Islamabad, Oct. 13 
A day after his forces overthrew Pakistan?s democratically elected government, army chief Gen. Parvez Musharraf showed no signs that he planned to relinquish power and warned India not to try to take advantage of his country?s instability.

India put its military on high alert after Gen. Musharraf vaulted to power, apparently after long-smouldering resentment that the civilian government had backed down during the Kargil conflict.

Ousted premier Nawaz Sharif remained under house arrest here, where troops loyal to Gen. Musharraf staged yesterday?s bloodless coup. The army chief, scheduled to return to the capital from Karachi today, gave no indication of his plans.

Outside government offices in the capital, scores of confused civil servants pressed against the shuttered gates, seeking answers from the soldiers standing guard inside, their rifles casually slung over their shoulders.

But the troops remained silent. ?No one knows what the situation is, who is in charge,? a government worker said.

Soldiers guarding Sharif?s residence laughed at reporters who tried to enter, shooing them away with a wave. Airports in the country remained closed. But airport officials said normal international flights would resume at 4 pm local time.

In an apparent warning to India, Musharraf said: ?No outside forces should try to take advantage of the prevailing situation in Pakistan.... We shall preserve the integrity and sovereignty of our country to the last drop of blood.?

People on Karachi streets bade a joyful farewell to Sharif. Many danced in the streets and waved flags, celebrating the ouster of a premier who had become hugely unpopular because of a deteriorating economy and his ongoing power struggle with political opponents and the military.

?I think martial law is better because we cannot believe

in our government, we cannot believe in our politicians... they are corrupt,? Mohammad Raheel, an engineer, told Reuters television.

Another resident summed up the prevailing mood: ?Everyone is saying the same, people are happy that the military has come,? he said. A university student said: ?Two-and-a-half years of the Sharif government were a curse. Thank God that is over.?

In Sharif?s hometown of Lahore, people swayed to the rhythm of drums, waving their hands and congratulating the army for its takeover. Outside the Sharif family home in a posh Lahore neighbourhood, scores of armed soldiers stood guard while small groups of people cursed him as corrupt.

Denouncing Sharif?s rule, Zahid Chaudhry, a shopowner, said: ?We gave him votes hoping that because he was a businessman, he would improve our economy. But the situation just went from bad to worse.?

Pakistani Opposition politician and former cricketer Imran Khan also slammed Sharif in a radio interview in London. ?The only thing that stood in the way of Sharif becoming a complete dictator was the army and he was trying to manipulate the army to get his man on top,? he said.

In a nationally televised address at 3 am local time, Musharraf accused Sharif?s government of ?systematically destroying? state institutions and driving the economy toward collapse.

?I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort to prevent further destabilisation,? he said.

The general urged calm and promised ?very soon? to announce his plans. A Pakistan army spokesman in Karachi said: ?A policy statement will be issued soon today that will answer all your questions.?

It wasn?t clear whether he would follow Pakistan?s constitution which calls for elections within three months of a government?s removal from power, or appoint an interim administration of technocrats and former politicians, or rule himself.

In a statement, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said: ?For Pakistan, October 12 will not be remembered as the day democracy died, but the day that it began to be reborn.?

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon played down worries over Pakistan?s nuclear weapons programme. He said in Washington that the coup had not changed the situation since control of the programme had always been in the hands of the military.

But senior US officials said President Bill Clinton?s scheduled visit to New Delhi and Islamabad early next year could be in jeopardy. Four leading Congressmen demanded retention of the Pressler provisions barring military sales to Islamabad, saying the coup was ?a complete mockery of the rule of law?.

The world community reacted by suspending aid, threatening diplomatic isolation and urging a speedy return to democratic government.

IMF managing director Michel Camdessus said Pakistan would receive no further financial aid until democracy was restored.

?We are in a situation which is not rare... where very serious political events occur, and friendly countries decide to suspend their assistance,? Camdessus said on French radio.    

New Delhi, Oct. 13 
Sonia Gandhi stumped Mamata Banerjee soon after the Trinamul Congress chief was sworn in today as Cabinet minister, by asking her to return to the Congress.

In what was obviously a spur-of-the-moment move, Mamata strode straight towards Sonia Gandhi, seated in the front row in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, after being sworn in. The two ladies hugged warmly, as onlookers, some a little stunned, watched. And then Sonia did her own spontaneous bit. ?Congratulations,? she told Mamata, ?But will you come back??

The invitation may have come at the most uncomfortable time for Mamata but seemed to have completely overwhelmed the Trinamul leader. There were tears in her eyes and the body language of the two women clearly demonstrated a deep bond that went beyond their apparent political differences. It seemed both instantly realised that the invitation did not really mean anything politically.

But Mamata reeled under its impact for long after the swearing-in ceremony was over. There were tears in her eyes even on the drive back home, Trinamul leaders said. ?For a while I could not understand whether she is with the BJP or the Congress,? one of her associates said.

They maintained, though, that there was no question of even thinking about returning to the Congress. But Mamata did not mind Sonia?s words which amounted to an open invitation. In fact, she could not say anything, not even a no.

Sonia too was not expecting her to respond. If her advisers are to be believed, she uttered the words without expecting anything in return.

?This was one of the things which cannot be explained in words. It was as if she could not help saying that,? a party leader, who witnessed the encounter, said.

Throughout her campaign for the Lok Sabha polls, Mamata did not utter a single word against Sonia nor did she endorse the personal campaign against the AICC chief focusing on her foreign origins. She still has a large portrait of Rajiv Gandhi at her home in the capital.

Mamata later told her friends that her meeting with Sonia was a reminder of 1991 when she took oath as a minister for the first time in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.

?I had rushed straight to 10 Janpath after swearing-in ceremony though Soniaji was not in politics that time.?

Of late, Sonia has been telling party leaders that Mamata?s exit was a major blow to the Congress and the West Bengal unit would always miss her.    


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