Insurance Bill of battle and bargain
Go-Gamang cry in crunch hour
Culture shock for Sonia seat
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Nov. 30 
The government today braced for manoeuvres both inside and outside the House on the insurance Bill with the Congress setting conditions for its support to the legislation and employees of the sector calling a nationwide strike tomorrow.

The Congress said it would support the legislation ??in principle??, but would table some amendments if the Centre did not give a guarantee that resources generated would be used for welfare schemes.

But the BJP received a jolt as a section of its MPs led by Kirit Somayya opposed the law, saying it would threaten the existence of Indian companies.

A vote on the Bill will be held on Thursday. If the Congress remains neutral, it will ensure its smooth passage in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP-led government is in a minority. The BJP has issued a whip to its MPs to be present in both Houses tomorrow and on Thursday.

Unable to reach a consensus, the Congress has set up a committee of Murli Deora, Surinder Singla and Prithiviraj Chavan to study the Bill, draft amendments and hold informal negotiations with the government over the next two days.

If the Congress was divided, so was the ruling party. Even as Left MPs scampered to score points in the Lok Sabha, Somayya, first-time member from Mumbai, stood up to support the Bill and then ripped it apart. As he thundered ? much to the chagrin of a red-faced Yashwant Sinha ? several party MPs were found nodding in agreement.

Somayya argued that though the Bill allowed foreign companies to acquire only up to 26 per cent equity, loopholes in the law could permit them to indirectly hold far greater stake.

He asked the government to clarify what constituted an ??Indian company?? and warned that if the definition included foreign subsidiaries or Indian companies controlled by foreign firms, his fears on greater foreign control would be justified.

Somayya urged the Centre to include some safeguards in the Bill against manipulation of the capital market by the new insurance firms, a demand echoed by the Congress later in the day.

A special meeting summoned by the party threw up a split verdict. The pro-reforms lobby, which includes Manmohan Singh and Deora, favoured complete support as it was part of the Congress? unfinished agenda on reforms.

The socialist group, consisting of Rajesh Pilot, V.N. Gadgil, Jitendra Prasada, Santosh Mohan Dev and Vayalar Ravi, opposed the liberals. They preferred a ??political?? approach in view of the Centre?s refusal to remove Rajiv Gandhi?s name from the Bofors chargesheet. ??What is the tearing hurry to get the Bill passed? Why should we cooperate with the government which is bent on giving us a bad name on Bofors and the Indira Gandhi trust??? an MP asked.

A third group of Prithviraj Chavan and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi wants the party to follow a ??middle path?? and suggested certain ??safeguards?? including:

Absolute guarantee not to dilute the growth and structure of LIC\GIC;

A cap on repatriation of funds;

Legal safeguards to ensure that benefits are passed on to the social sector.

Das Munshi, chief whip in the Lok Sabha, said the party would ??support the Bill?? during Thursday?s vote. ??But in what form and shape is something which will be decided by us,?? he added.    

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 30 
The Congress high command today hinted that it might ask Giridhar Gamang to step aside in the face of demands for re-installing J.B. Patnaik as chief minister, but could not take a decision till late tonight.

Shortly after his arrival to gauge the mood in the state, the AICC general secretary in charge of Orissa, Madhavrao Scindia, said the central leadership will ?respond to the sentiments of the majority?.

He said Delhi still had faith in Gamang, whom he called a ?straightforward? man, but would accept what legislators wanted.

Gamang?s opponents, who have the backing of Patnaik and his former deputy Basant Biswal, have threatened to oust the chief minister at the Congress Legislature Party meeting tonight if Sonia Gandhi did not remove him. They called Gamang ?inept and ?incapable of running the government?. However, the meeting had not begun till 10 pm. But Gamang convened an emergency meeting of his council of ministers.

Former chief minister Patnaik pulled off a coup when Biswal, who had engineered his ouster in February, pledged support to him, party sources said. Patnaik?s supporters were hopeful that he would be re-installed with Biswal as deputy. Patnaik has been summoned by Sonia to Delhi to discuss the situation in Orissa.

Gamang, who had tried to appease the Patnaik and Biswal camps over the last nine months, said he would not mind giving up the chief minister?s chair.

?I am a rajyogi. I have no hankering for power or posts. I was asked to do a job and I have done it,? Gamang told The Telegraph. ?Gamang does not change with the season. He remains what he was,? he added.

Scindia and another AICC official met party legislators individually at the state guest house till late this evening to weigh the opinions. Their ?choice? would be ratified at the legislature party meeting.

Gamang had come under fire for his government?s poor showing after the cyclone. His Cabinet colleagues, many of whom are Patnaik loyalists, openly accused the chief minister of selling out the state?s interest after he let the Centre monitor relief operations.

Matters came to a head on Saturday when Gamang suspended special relief commissioner D.N. Padhi for alleged irregularities in procurement of polythene and ignoring instructions.

A number of senior partymen, including revenue minister Jagannath Patnaik, openly sided with Padhi, forcing the chief minister to revoke his order yesterday. An embarrassed Gamang denied having signed the order.

Party sources said Sonia had initially been reluctant to remove Gamang, whom she installed as chief minister in February.

Sources added that the party president had second thoughts after Pranab Mukherjee and Scindia said ?a change had become inevitable? because of dissatisfaction with Gamang both within and outside the party.    

New Delhi, Nov. 30 
The knot is tightening around the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

The Vajpayee government has initiated the process of taking control of the centre whose president is Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Culture minister Ananth Kumar has asked the law ministry to consider the legal implications of scrapping the present IGNCA constitution which will strip its board members of life trusteeship.

?The culture ministry in consultation with the law ministry is working out a format to streamline the IGNCA?s functioning. The law ministry is looking into the legal implications of the move,? said an official.

The government wants to be sure of its legal status if the other party moves court in protest. Though the tussle is primarily over a cultural institution it has all the potential of a nasty political row because the government?s action directly targets Sonia and pushes her out of the institute?s presidentship. The Congress will not take kindly to such actions and will hit back.

The BJP is in a hurry to ?cleanse? the institute but a vengeful Congress in Parliament may be too high a price for it to pay. The government may, therefore, prefer to lie low till it tides over important business scheduled for this session. Sources felt the BJP will strike in ?safer? times after the winter session.

?The Congress will definitely react harshly and if the move is made during the winter session, the Opposition may give the government a few sleepless nights,? said an official. The ongoing winter session is especially crucial for the government since it wants the Congress? support for World Trade Organisation related bills. If the Congress ditches the government then it is stuck in Parliament ? a situation it wants to avoid at all costs. The BJP has already refused to drop Rajiv Gandhi?s name from the CBI chargesheet on Bofors ? on top of it removing Sonia from IGNCA?s life presidentship may be too much of an affront for the party.

Recently, former President R. Venkataraman shovelled fuel into fire by quitting trusteeship of the board to protest its members? persistent refusal to revert to the institute?s original constitution ? in that there was no provision for life trustees and all members occupied tenure-based posts. Venkataraman?s resignation was also meant to highlight the financial irregularities underlined by the CAG report in the institute?s functioning. Immediately after Venkataraman?s resignation, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said the former President?s protest has vindicated the government?s stand and it will now swiftly move against the IGNCA.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.4?C (0) Minimum: 16.1?C (0) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 94%, Minimum:52% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Mainly clear night. Not much change in night temperature. Sunset: 4.47 pm Sunrise: 6.05 am    

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