Resignation drama after demolition din
Rethink on foreign media entry
Bengal in undertrial dock
Vande mataram drill for youth
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 7 
The furore over the Ayodhya issue in Parliament climaxed today when home minister L.K. Advani and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi offered to resign after a combined Opposition demanded that those charged in the Babri case should not continue in office.

The high drama fizzled out when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee turned down their offer, saying an allegation in a ?political? case ? as the BJP has described the demolition ? could not be equated with corruption or misuse of office and did not merit resignation.

Three members of the Vajpayee Cabinet ? Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti ? have been charged with criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting violence on December 6, 1992, when the Ayodhya mosque was brought down.

Confirming the resignation offers, Vajpayee said: ?Advaniji offered to resign. Then Joshiji also handed over his letter, but I did not accept them. You know there is a difference between an allegation of corruption and misuse of office and this kind of a case.?

Intervening in the impromptu debate on Ayodhya started by the Opposition, the Prime Minister termed the demand for Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti?s head as ?untenable?.

?In view of the fact that there is no change in the status of the court charges or no allegation of corruption, the demand that the ministers should resign is untenable. Neither the court nor law can disqualify a minister from holding office because charges have been filed by the police or are pending in court,? Vajpayee said.

But he assured the House that the cases would be allowed to proceed ?without interference?. ?My government never interfered although the CBI is directly under me,? he added.

Having scored a tactical victory, even if the resignations were mere token gestures, the Opposition threatened to press ahead. Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi said: ?We are going to politically raise the issue outside Parliament till our demands are met.? The Ayodhya issue is also expected to be raised during Question Hour in Rajya Sabha tomorrow and Advani may have to answer.

BJP sources could not confirm whether the resignations were part of an orchestrated effort to stump the Opposition or a spontaneous gesture.

Amid the Opposition?s brouhaha that the chargesheeted ministers should immediately relinquish office, Advani was seen writing out a note. Sources close to him confirmed it was his resignation offer, indicating that the decision was taken on the spur of the moment.

However, earlier in the day, Advani had met Vajpayee and reportedly pointed out that the hawala scam and the Babri case were ?different?. The home minister gave up his Lok Sabha seat when he was implicated in the hawala case.

Sources said the terse letter, addressed to Vajpayee, expressed his desire to quit office if the Prime Minister felt Advani was an ?obstacle? in his functioning. However, the sources claimed he did not own moral responsibility for the demolition. As the buzz spread that Advani had offered to resign, Joshi, sitting next to the home minister, followed suit and began drafting a long letter. Advani reportedly advised him to make it short.

Both of them handed over the notes to Vajpayee, who then signalled his rejection through a gesture.

Although BJP sources maintained that the demand of the Opposition, especially the Congress, was ?politically motivated? and aimed at mitigating the ?embarrassment? of having Rajiv Gandhi?s name in the Bofors chargesheet, the likelihood of the resignation drama being instigated by inner-party rivalry was not denied.

There was a whisper campaign in BJP circles that three ?anti-Advani? MPs had persuaded the Congress not to take the heat off Ayodhya. The Prime Minister hinted that the last was yet to be heard on the subject when he said: ?I hope they (the ministers) will not insist on their resignations.?

BJP sources admitted that Advani was not happy with the events in Uttar Pradesh where, despite his best efforts, Kalyan Singh was shown the door for taking on Vajpayee. Sources added that Advani was also against the move to revive an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, allegedly with Vajpayee?s blessings.

Quashing the suggestion of inner-party tension, spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: ?Only a sick mind can think along these lines.?    

New Delhi, Dec. 7 
The government is veering round to allowing foreign investment in the print media.

Information and broadcasting secretary Y.N. Chaturvedi said there was a broad consensus among policy makers to allow foreign funds in the print media.

??There is a consensus now on the need to loosen restrictions on allowing investments by foreign companies in the domestic print media and the issue will come up before the government during the next few weeks,?? he said while addressing a session on media and entertainment at the India Economic Forum.

A Cabinet resolution adopted in 1955 had barred the entry of foreign companies in print media. Chaturvedi said the decision was then taken as the domestic print industry was at its infancy.

??However, the situation has now changed as domestic companies in the print medium are on stronger foot,?? the information and broadcasting secretary added.

The issue had come up in 1990, but no decision was taken then. But in the changed economic scenario, Chaturvedi said the government was hopeful of evolving a ??more opened-up policy?? for the print media.

The Centre is currently reviewing the broadcast Bill which is expected to be tabled in Parliament during the budget session.

The information and broadcasting secretary hoped that the legislation would be in place by the middle of next year. He said the government would take another look at the Bill.

??The efforts are to lessen the provisions,?? he said.

As part of the review, the government may consider allowing private sector entry into terrestrial broadcasting. Currently, private companies cannot terrestrially air their channels as there is no separate law for it. Only Doordarshan has the right.

While the government believes that investments for entering this would be large, the private sector would rather keep its options open.

If Parliament clears the new Bill, it would pave the way for 49 per cent foreign equity in the domestic broadcasting sector.

The Centre?s efforts to pass a legislation in 1997, facilitating enhanced foreign equity participation, was scuttled as the Bill was referred to a select committee of Parliament and the House was subsequently dissolved, Chaturvedi said.

On opening up FM radio transmissions, the information and broadcasting secretary said the government would issue licenses to 100 private companies for launching their radio service in 40 cities, including the four metros, by March 2000.

He said an additional 500 licenses would be given next year.    

New Delhi, Dec. 7 
The Supreme Court today lashed out at West Bengal for its shabby treatment of undertrials and directed all states to submit status reports within four weeks.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice M. Jagannatha Rao and Justice V.N. Khare rejected an ??inadequate?? affidavit filed by the West Bengal government on an undertrial who is in custody for 37 years. The court directed the state to file a fresh report within eight days.

Ajoy Ghosh was charged with murder in 1962. The trial was adjourned sine die in 1963 and he has been in custody since. The state did not even provide details of the case in the affidavit. The judges rejected the report, calling it ??totally unsatisfactory??.

Last month, the Supreme Court had asked all states and Union Territories to file affidavits on undertrials. The Chief Justice told the counsel for other responding states that they would be given four weeks to file affidavits detailing steps taken to deal with cases of undertrials, failing which the court ??would be compelled to summon all chief secretaries??.

??I will summon the chief secretaries of erring states if the status reports regarding the undertrials do not come within the time frame given,?? Anand said.

Narrating startling tales of undertrials, the judges took serious exception to the manner in which states had dealt with such cases, especially for petty offences.

The Chief Justice cited the case of a small boy who was severely beaten by his shop-keeper employer for stealing three packets of cigarettes. The boy is still in jail as there was no one to stand bail.

In a case of gambling, the police recovered the princely sum of Re 1 and 10 paise from the ??offenders??, Anand added.

The most tragic story is that of Ghosh. In 1963, a year after he was arrested on charges of murdering his elder brother, Ghosh was declared mentally ill and treated for chronic schizophrenia. In 1995, after languishing in Calcutta?s Presidency Jail for over 30 years, he was shifted to Antara, an NGO home in Baruipur, on the orders of the high court.

Amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar said over 1.85 lakh, or 73 per cent, of the 2.57 lakh prisoners in India were undertrials. The majority of them were booked for petty offences. Kumar said more courts should be set up to ease the burden of pending criminal cases. In Uttar Pradesh, he added, about 1.73 lakh sessions cases were pending trial.

The court adjourned the main case till January 20 but fixed December 16 for hearing the Ajoy Ghosh case.

Anand again criticised the Centre for not filling up vacancies in courts across the country. ??The recommendations made by various chief justices of high courts are shuttling between the Union and state governments,?? he said.    

New Delhi, Dec. 7 
The strains of Vande mataram are wafting across the corridors of the culture ministry in Shastri Bhavan. Culture minister Ananth Kumar will kick off a month-long ??Vande mataram?? programme later this week to make ??better nationalists and citizens?? of the nation?s youth.

To give it a pan-Indian slant, Kumar will flag off the ??campaign?? in Tamil Nadu on Saturday, the birth anniversary of poet Subramanya Bharati. The curtains will come down in Ahmedabad on January 12, the birthday of Swami Vivekananda.

Three organisations ? Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, National Cadet Corps and National Service Scheme ? will mobilise the youth and draw them into various activities ranging from rallies to seminars. The participants will sign a pledge as proof of their commitment to the country?s sovereignty and unity. National and zonal committees have been formed to popularise the programme, which Kumar hopes will firm up the BJP?s support among the youth. While the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan and the National Service Scheme are under the culture department, the National Cadet Corps is attached to the defence ministry.

While the Vande mataram committee at the national level is laying down a broad outline for the programme, zonal functionaries of the three organisations can improvise as they like.

Soon after taking over as minister of culture, youth affairs and sports, Kumar has taken up the task of detoxicating culture from ??polluting?? influences. He believes India should not enter the next millennium guzzling beer and should instead find ??other innovative?? ways of celebrating.

The Vande mataram programme has so far steered clear of any controversy that could spark Opposition outrage at the BJP?s attempts to dish out a particular brand of culture. ??But what about the name of the programme? That itself may alienate a section of the people,?? says a culture activist. ??Vande mataram has become a trademark of the BJP. The party has tried to appropriate it and that is where the problem lies.?? He pointed out that the BJP had triggered a controversy by making the singing of Vande mataram compulsory in Uttar Pradesh schools.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.5?C (+2) Minimum: !7.3?C (+2) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum:47% Today: Mainly clear night. Partly cloudy day. Not much change in night temperature. Sunset: 4.48 pm Sunrise: 6.09 am    

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