Atal sweats over Bills consensus
Kidnap slur forces suicide bid by youth
Muslim male citadel lets women in
Kalyan rhyme right, sum wrong

New Delhi, Nov. 28 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today launched a luncheon-cum-dinner campaign for a consensus on key reforms legislation slated to come up during Parliament?s winter session beginning tomorrow, but could not get a firm assurance from the Opposition.

Apart from Bills on insurance and those linked to world trade talks, Vajpayee is striving for unanimity on foreign policy issues, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Pakistan coup.

Vajpayee hosted a lunch for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders to apprise them of crucial economic Bills and stress on effective floor coordination. He also wanted to reassure some allies who are wary of the reforms. Vajpayee was scheduled to address alliance MPs tomorrow morning, but the meet was called off tonight without any reason being cited.

A dinner meeting with 20 Opposition leaders, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was also part of the larger manoeuvre for a consensus. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan described the dinner meeting as ?good?. ?We hope it will be a smooth session without any problems,? he added.

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee said the dinner dialogue was cordial, but added that ?it will not be a smooth session despite the government?s claim?.

At the dinner, the Centre indicated that top priority would be given to the insurance and trade Bills. But the Left demanded that the legislation be referred to a standing committee, which was rejected by the government.

The Congress, which was also represented by Manmohan Singh, remained non-committal, saying a decision could be taken only after studying the Bill.

Before the dinner, a jarring note was struck with the Congress reacting sharply to the Prime Minister?s indication that the government would not take any step to remove Rajiv Gandhi?s name from the Bofors chargesheet. ?If anybody has any objection, they can approach the courts for redress,? Vajpayee told PTI.

The Congress said it would be ?difficult? to play the role of constructive opposition, if the government continued to make personal attacks on its leaders. The party also warned against taking its support for granted in the House.

The CPM has reservations about the seven trade Bills which must be in place before next year according to the terms of the World Trade Organisation.The trade talks are resuming in Seattle this week, and as a conciliatory gesture, the government had included a representative each from the Congress and the CPM in the team for the US.

Another contentious legislation, the Women?s Bill, has reportedly been pushed down the priority list. ?I raised the issue but Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed it and said he will not allow the Bill to be passed. The government kept quiet,? Chatterjee said.

He said the CTBT, public sector disinvestment, Prasar Bharati and Centre-state relations would also be taken up. According to Chatterjee, Sonia, who was silent till then, agreed that these issues have to be given priority.

Mamata Banerjee deputed Sudip Bandopadhyay to attend the NDA meeting, though the party has not yet joined the alliance.    

Calcutta, Nov. 28 
Debajyoti Roy, one of the three youth arrested for allegedly kidnapping a cellphone dealer, tried to commit suicide by swallowing sleeping pills at his Kasba residence this afternoon, his parents said.

He was rushed to a nursing home on Broad Street where doctors washed his stomach before he was declared out of danger.

Debajyoti and his friends, Chandan Saha and Hridibrata Roy, were charged with kidnapping cellphone dealer Sharad Nangia and arrested by the Karaya police.

The three were granted bail on Thursday after the investigating agency failed to produce sufficient evidence in support of its charges against the youth.

Recounting the events leading to the suicide bid, Debajyoti?s father, Jayanta Roy, an income-tax officer, said his son went for the clerkship examinations at Calcutta High Court this morning. ?He sat for the examinations and came back home around 2 pm,?he added.

Debajyoti?s mother, Mita, said she asked him whether he wanted to have lunch. ?He told me that he wanted to.? While the cook prepared lunch, the mother retired to her bedroom, leaving Debajyoti chatting with a friend in his room.

After lunch, the friend left for home and Debajyoti went to sleep. Debajyoti?s sister said she ?smelt something wrong? when she entered his room later.

Finding his legs and body ?abnormally cold?, the sister shouted for help, waking up their mother.

They tried to speak to Debajyoti but there was no response. ?Suddenly, I noticed a piece of paper on the table. He had taken the paper from me before lunch,? the sister said.

The signed note said: ?We have been found guilty without doing anything. I do not want to live any more. The officer-in-charge (OC) of Karaya police station should be held responsible for my death. I do not want to live because of inhuman torture by the OC. I have lost everything. I repeat again that I am completely innocent. I convey my love to everybody. I am taking Clepsonil tablets.?

Dr Nabarun Guha of the nursing home said Debajyoti?s stomach was washed as soon as he was brought to the nursing home. Debajyoti is now in intensive care, but his condition is stable.

Debajyoti?s father said late tonight the Kasba police station refused to accept his written complaint blaming the Karaya police for his son?s suicide attempt. ?They (the police) told me that they will teach me a lesson. They threatened that if I continued my fight, they will again arrest my son,? he said.

However, the duty officer of the Kasba police station denied the charges. ?I do not have the details as the officer-in-charge is not here,? he added.    

New Delhi, Nov. 28 
For the first time, 15 out of 49 berths on the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board have gone to women.

The board, till now a male preserve, is the apex body of Shia, Sunni and other Muslim groups in India. It regulates and interprets Shariat and other Islamic laws which have often been misused against women.

Significantly, the initiative to draft women into the board has come from conservative clerics who had recently also given the go-ahead to reservation for women in Parliament and other legislative bodies.

The ?empowerment of women? has finally broken the most difficult barrier, indicating the community leaders? desire to bring about sweeping reforms in Islamic society in areas such as marriage, maintenance and inheritance rights.

The newly-constituted board is headed by Islamic scholar Maulana Ali Mian, rector of the Nadwa school of theology in Lucknow. Other members include Shia leader Syed Kalbe Sadiq, Syedna Burhanuddin, Maulana Salman Nadvi, Zafaryab Jeelani, Syed Shahabuddin, Qazi Mujahid-ul-Islam and Abdul Mannan.

Prominent women members are Naseem Iqtedar Ali, Nilofar Akhtar, Qamur-un-Nisa, Azima Nahid, Moosa Mushra and Mumtaz Rasheed. They had attended the board?s recent meeting in Mumbai and addressed a crowd of about 40,000 at the YMCA hall.

The board has also decided to prepare a model ?Nikahnama? (marriage contract) to be circulated among the qazis and muftis all over the country. The objective is to check gross misuse of Islamic laws regarding divorce, non-payment of ?mahar? (bridal price) and maintenance. The last two had become controversial issues after the Supreme Court?s verdict in the Shah Bano case.

The board had openly opposed the court?s verdict and forced then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to overrule the apex court and amend the constitutional provisions.

The board is in the process of setting up Shariat courts in all districts and taluqas to settle civil disputes. Some board members admit that Islamic laws are often misused in the absence of any effective redress mechanism.

?The idea of moving district courts is both time-consuming and expensive,? a board member said. ?Community or family courts, on the other hand, can go a long way in bringing about justice quickly without much cost.? The board member said some Shariat courts were performing well in Kerala and Karnataka.

The move to bring about reforms in Muslim society gained momentum after the BJP and its allies came to power at the Centre. Muslim leaders feel it would be more prudent to set their house in order instead of waiting for the state?s intervention.

The board is extremely wary of the government?s move to review the Constitution. Board president Ali Mian fears that Articles 25 and 29 might come under review to draft a uniform civil code, a proposal the Muslim Personal Law Board bitterly opposes.    

Lucknow, Nov. 28 
The muse has not deserted Kalyan Singh, but math has. Unable to muster the numbers needed for revenge, the deposed Uttar Pradesh chief minister has taken to writing poetry that overflows with political pathos.

As state BJP chief Rajnath Singh cracked the whip, potential rebels fell in line and issued anti-Kalyan statements, leaving the cornered leader only with his verse.

To cause a split in the party, Kalyan needs 59 legislators, but till late this evening he could not get even five members to pledge support. Only three MLAs met him today ? Kailash Rajput from Umardha in Kannauj, Ram Chandra Maurya from Majhwa in Mirzapur and the Samata Party MLA from Ferozabad, Raghubar Dayal Verma. To the other visitors, mainly traders from the Chowk area of Lucknow and a handful of party workers, Kalyan read poetry ? penned to ?give vent to his feelings?.

The former chief minister has liberally distributed copies of his 11-stanza poem and said all he had to state was in the verse. ?Humko to mara apno ne hin/Gairon me dum kahan tha/Meri kashti wahin par dubi/Jahan pani kum thi (My own people have hurt me/Others never had the strength/My boat sank/Where the water was shallow),? went the lines.

The statements made against him by supposed loyalists were less soulful. ?He had a mistaken belief that he was bigger than the party. Without the party, he has no standing,? said state minister Hukum Singh from Muzaffarnagar.

Another minister O.P. Singh from Gorakhpur said: ?He was and would have been our leader if he had acted responsibly. His statements against the Prime Minister prove that he is bent on destroying himself. He can win very few friends with his actions.?

The two ministers, along with others considered close to Kalyan, had been warned by Rajnath that anyone sympathising with the suspended leader would meet with the same fate.

The suspension notice was served on him shortly after 8 pm yesterday by partymen Ashok Tiwari and Lakshman. The choice of messengers seemed deliberate. Tiwari is Rajnath?s secretary while Lakshman had been a Kalyan follower. The ministers? statements bode ill for Kalyan?s plans to float an independent party. Without the support of a respectable number of MLAs, any scheme to topple the R.P. Gupta government is not feasible.

Even if Kalyan could rope in about 15 legislators, he could reduce the BJP to a minority. The party and its allies have a strength of 224 in a House of 425, barely 11 more than a simple majority.

Though he faces political wilderness himself, Kalyan assured his few visitors that they would not. ?Each and every one of you, who have shown moral courage to support me, will benefit in the long run,? he told them.

He spoke of how he was humiliated by the Prime Minister as well as ?by the gang of three in Uttar Pradesh (Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh)? and added that he would prove his strength soon.

Kalyan has called a meeting of his supporters in the first week of December and kept in touch with the Samajwadi Party.

Significantly, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has called a backward caste convention here in the second week of December. It is learnt that Kalyan will be invited to the convention.

Despite the lack of ?movement? towards Kalyan, the BJP continued to guards its flanks. The party today rushed its general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh affairs, K.N. Govindacharya, to talk to state workers.

Govindacharya later said: ?I had two objectives: to ensure that opponents do not take advantage of the current situation and that there is no threat to the government.?

The state unit office-bearers have passed a resolution endorsing the high command?s decision. The resolution also condemned Kalyan?s utterances.

Under fire from all sides and left without an arsenal, Kalyan now finds himself in an unequal fight with a more established poet, Atal Behari Vajpayee.    


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