Delhi expansion plan to save Uttar Pradesh
Hard talk after secret Pak snub
Mamata alliance signal to Congress
Wanted, militants ready to surrender
Calcutta weather

Nov. 21: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has decided to expand his jumbo ministry tomorrow, springing the surprise plan to stem a silent, but snowballing, revolt among allies in Uttar Pradesh. Some portfolios could also be shuffled.

Uttar Pradesh party chief Rajnath Singh, Janata Dal (United) leader Ramakrishna Hegde and Akali Dal Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa are among those who are expected to be sworn in tomorrow evening.

Till late tonight, Rajnath, believed to have played a pivotal role in easing Kalyan Singh out as chief minister, was resisting the move to shift him to Delhi. However, BJP sources claimed he had little choice but to yield. Talks between Vajpayee and his aides continued into the night at the Prime Minister?s house.

?The Prime Minister spoke to me twice today. He spoke very politely and asked me to remain in Delhi tomorrow,? Rajnath, who was camping in the capital, told The Telegraph. Asked whether he was being inducted into the ministry, he said: ?It?s possible?.

The flashpoint for the sudden ministry expansion came in the evening after a veiled threat from the dissidents in Uttar Pradesh that the state government might be toppled if the humiliated Kalyan is not appeased somehow.

Ever since he was forced to sign on the dotted line and resign, Kalyan has been demanding that Rajnath and two prominent state ministers be replaced. But the high command ignored him.

A fuming Kalyan lobby set in motion a pincer attack, with BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya stepping up the heat from one flank and the allies, without whose support the state government cannot survive, from another.

Sources said Govindacharya told the Prime Minister that Rajnath must be shifted immediately or the party should be prepared to sacrifice its government in the heartland.

The Loktantrik Congress Party, a key ally of the BJP, also joined in with its president Naresh Aggarwal saying in Lucknow this evening that ?the BJP should be under no impression that we will continue to support it because we are scared of elections?. Aggarwal spoke with the Prime Minister, too.

What made Delhi sit up today was a call from a Loktantrik Congress minister to Rajnath. The minister dropped enough hints to confirm the BJP?s suspicion and rumours doing the rounds in Lucknow that the Samajwadi Party had taken the plunge to fish in troubled waters.

The BJP had received reports over the weekend that emissaries of Samajwadi chief Mulayam Yadav have established contact with key leaders of the allies. An immediate fallout of the Samajwadi parleys was the threat of a minister yesterday to resign for being denied his favourite portfolio.

The allies had turned against Rajnath after new chief minister R.P. Gupta?s portfolio allocation. Rajnath has emerged as an integral part of the Gupta think tank and several of his Thakur brethren bagged key portfolios.

The BJP, which had initially taken a decision to ?go slow? on replacing Rajnath, decided to advance the operation once it became clear that it could be on the verge of losing Uttar Pradesh.

Hegde, the other big name on Vajpayee?s shortlist, has been in a sulk since he was bypassed in the first round of expansion. Two days ago, Hegde had held talks with the Prime Minister.

Since the formation of the government last month, senior Dal(U) leaders, including civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav, have been pleading with Vajpayee to include Hegde to provide ?greater stability? to the government.

Dhindsa was to be inducted in the first round, but could not be sworn in as Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was undecided on his party?s participation in the government.

Some more MPs from Bihar and one from Goa are also expected to find berths, but the sources did not confirm this. C.P. Thakur, Lok Sabha MP from Patna, is likely to land a portfolio. Assembly elections are scheduled in Bihar next year.

Goa is being given preference in light of the political upheaval, and the BJP?s desire to participate in a new government.

The swearing-in is scheduled for 5 pm at Rashtrapati Bhavan, official sources said. The list of ministers with new portfolios is likely to be sent to President K.R. Narayanan tomorrow.

The changes in portfolios are expected to be ?minor?. But some sources said since Nitish Kumar was not happy with the surface transport slot, he could be given another berth. Several portfolios, including agriculture, have been retained by Vajpayee. Some will be allotted to his colleagues.

Additional portfolios like information technology, being held by communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan, may be assigned to another minister.

This will be the first reshuffle of the Vajpayee ministry since it assumed office on October 13.    

New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
Notwithstanding the hardline statements, India and Pakistan have been quietly talking to each other to explore the basis for a future relationship.

?People have been coming here, going to Pakistan or meeting in third countries and reporting to both governments on their discussions,? a high-level source in the Indian government said, confirming that ?Track II? talks were continuing despite the coup.

The ?Track II? talks at unofficial levels, so called because they are aimed at supplementing diplomatic contacts, are similar to visits made by Indian secret envoy R.K. Mishra to Pakistan and by Pakistan?s former foreign secretary Niaz Naik to India during the Kargil conflict.

Sources said that a hardening of the Indian stand on dealing with the army regime in Islamabad was an outcome of these unofficial meetings.

At one such crucial meeting held in a third country, a retired general considered very close to General Pervez Musharraf told his Indian counterpart, a defence analyst, that the junta was keen to restart the bilateral dialogue. The Indian reiterated the official line that cross-border terrorism, especially in Kashmir, had to end.

The retired Pakistani general was candid. He reminded the Indian that talks between the two had been held in the past despite continuing violence in Kashmir.

?Let the talks carry on like before,? he told the Indian. ?But the liberation struggle in Kashmir will also continue.? He pointed out that even on the day Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had arrived in Lahore by bus, there were violent deaths in the valley.

The Indian was equally candid. He said it was earlier possible for Vajpayee to continue talking to Pakistan because he could hold up deposed Premier Nawaz Sharif as a peace envoy and blame the cross-border terror on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi or its Inter-Services Intelligence.

The Indian pointed out that with Sharif out of the picture, India had to talk directly to the army, which it was all along blaming for the troubles in Kashmir. He said under these circumstances, Vajpayee would be pressured into not resuming the talks.

The Pakistani general said the Musharraf regime would not even consider reducing its support for the separatists in Kashmir. He said if New Delhi was serious about the talks, it would have to be prepared for a dialogue held in the backdrop of the continuing ?freedom struggle? in Kashmir.

The ?Track II? feedback strengthened the hands of those in Delhi who were opposed to any dialogue at this stage. This eventually led to a hardening of the Indian stand in Durban.    

Calcutta. Nov. 21: 
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee today made a subtle call for an alliance with the state Congress, a move that could set in motion a decisive realignment in Bengal politics.

Nearly two years after striking out on her own, Mamata said she was open to an alliance with the Congress, if it demonstrated the will to fight the communists.

However, she was quick to point out that an alliance with the Congress would have to come about within the framework of the collaboration she now has with the BJP.

Since its dream debut in February 1998, the Trinamul-BJP combine has come to control 10 parliamentary and four Assembly seats.

?I am not averse to an alliance with the Congress, if it cuts its links with the CPM,? Mamata told a press conference. ?But I must make it clear that a relationship with them (the Congress) will never be at the expense of the arrangements we have with the BJP.?

One of the striking features of the Trinamul leader?s announcement today was that, unlike before, it was devoid of anti-Congress barbs.

Instead of heaping insults on the Congress, she spoke in a serious vein, offering a perspective on likely configurations as well the impact of such an alliance on Bengal politics.

She indicated that the alliance with the Congress would have to be forged in a step-by-step manner, keeping the big picture ? the Assembly elections due for 2001 ? in mind.

For example, as a first step, the two parties might come to an understanding for the elections to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and 83 other municipalities scheduled next year.

?They (Congress) will have to decide first whether they will live life without the communists. We can always begin to talk about fighting the communists together once they are clear in their mind,? she said.

The results and voting patterns of the two parliamentary elections in the past 21 months indicate that a Mamata-Congress deal could spell trouble for the ruling communists.

In both the elections, the CPM managed to win several seats only after capitalising on the fragmentation of the anti-Left votes.

A few months before the 1999 elections, the Trinamul, the BJP and the Congress came close to forging a working relationship in Bengal, but the move fell through owing to the stubbornness of some of the players.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas termed today?s development as ?their matter, which does not relate to us?.

But the state Congress, in a calibrated response, welcomed Mamata?s announcement.

?We are ready for a party-to-party talk with Mamata on a poll pact. But such an agreement cannot take place at the expense of our prestige,? said Saugata Roy, MLA and state Congress vice-president.

?All our previous overtures to work out an arrangement were spurned by her,? the Congress leader added.    

New Delhi, Nov. 21: 
The Centre has offered Northeast militants a package deal if they give up their guns.

The grand surrender-and-rehabilitation scheme, drawn up by the home ministry, looks straight out of a situations-vacant ad. Those who wish to apply for the scheme ? which carries a number of benefits, including monetary incentives ? must fulfil certain criteria. The scheme is applicable to those militants who surrender at least one weapon. However, in ?exceptional and deserving cases??, militants who surrender without arms may also be considered for rehabilitation. There is no bar on age.

Quite similar to organisations looking for the best professionals, a screening committee will scrutinise the names of those willing to surrender. But the final decision will be taken by the Unified Headquarters or the state government concerned. No bribes will be entertained.

Eligible insurgents will initially be lodged in rehabilitation camps where they will undergo training to take up a trade or vocation. The surrendered militants could opt for streams of their liking and must have an aptitude for a particular calling.

Once the names are cleared, each surrendered insurgent would be paid a monthly stipend of at least Rs 2,000. The scale of stipend for various categories of militants who have laid down arms will be decided by the state governments in consultation with the home ministry. The more hardcore the insurgent, the higher his stipend, but the Centre promises not to dishearten budding insurgents. It is not clear whether stipend scales are negotiable.

Board and lodging will be free for a year. The Centre will not leave the surrendered insurgents in the lurch and will make all attempts to ?settle? them. Those who had committed minor crimes will be not be booked, but the law will follow its course against those who had committed crimes like murder, rape and abduction. Suitable non-governmental organisations will run the rehabilitation camps and training courses, all at government cost.

The state governments and NGOs will help those attempting to return to the ?mainstream? by opening joint fixed deposit accounts from the money raised through the surrender of arms and ammunition. The fixed deposit accounts will have NGOs as the nominees.

The inspector-general (Special Branch) of each state will act as the Surrender and Rehabilitation (S&R) Officer, although the army, Central paramilitary forces, state police forces and nominated NGOs will find automatic involvement in the scheme.

A militant shall be free to surrender before any unit of the army, paramilitary forces, district magistrates, superintendents of police, range DIGs, IGs (operations), sub-divisional magistrates and sub-divisional police officers. Insurgents may also surrender in states other than those in the Northeast.

Once proper identification is made, the officers before whom the surrender is effected will provide immediate security to the militant.

An impact assessment of the policy will be done every year to ensure corrective action. If the percentage of surrendered militants successfully, rehabilitated is below 80 per cent, the NGOs would be changed.

The scheme is applicable to those insurgents who have surrendered or will surrender now. However, granting monthly stipend to those who have surrendered and facilities to NGOs will be with prospective effect.    

Maximum: 28.9?C (normal)
Minimum: 21.1?C (+3)
Relative humidity:
Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 61%
The met office predicts partly cloudy sky. Slight fall in night temperature
Sunset: 4.47 pm
Sunrise: 5.59 am    

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