BJP in Babri treason probe
Ayodhya Advani fires riot gun
Darkness in sun temple at new dawn
Sailesh and Misa on blind date
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 8 
The BJP has begun an ??informal?? inquiry into speculation that some party MPs instigated the Congress to step up its attack on home minister L.K. Advani on the Ayodhya issue.

For the past two days, Advani has been the target of an Opposition onslaught demanding his resignation on the ground that his name figures in the Babri Masjid demolition chargesheet. BJP sources said the party had taken a ??serious?? note of the ??embarrassment?? caused to Advani on the floor of the House.

Sources said the needle of suspicion pointed towards some Delhi MPs ??upset?? with the home minister for stalling their entry into the Cabinet.

Their grouse, the sources added, is that despite being veterans since the Jan Sangh era, they were ignored and a ??relative newcomer?? like Jagmohan was rewarded.

The BJP?s feedback is that these MPs encouraged the Opposition to focus its assault on Advani ? though Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti are also charged ? and not to ease the demand for his resignation.

Asked if action would be taken against the suspected MPs, a BJP functionary said: ??In such a situation, it is difficult to get clinching evidence. But the leadership will ensure these MPs are thoroughly marginalised.??

Advani and BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre, in consultation with the RSS, are believed to have prepared the list of ministers. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was involved only in the ??last stage??.

Vajpayee, said sources, wanted to keep himself ??aloof?? from the process as he was still cut up at having to drop Jaswant Singh as finance minister under the Sangh?s pressure when he took over last year.

BJP sources said that ever since the Ayodhya debate began, Advani has been offering to quit on the plea that he did not wish to be a ??stumbling block?? in the government?s functioning. The sources added that Advani told party colleagues that it may be ??untenable?? for him to continue in government.

The compulsions of running a coalition government with allies who are keen to be viewed as minority-friendly apparently weighed on Advani when he contemplated resignation. But BJP leaders talked him out of the idea.

Asked why, then, did he offer to quit yesterday in the Lok Sabha and handed over a letter to Vajpayee, a BJP functionary said: ??It is in his nature. He is a sensitive person and cannot withstand personal attacks.??

Sources recalled Advani?s ??anguish?? at the demolition following which he had immediately resigned as leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Later in 1996, Advani resigned from the Lok Sabha when he was implicated in the hawala scam.

The BJP, however, is divided on the resignation drama. Some members felt Advani?s offer has helped revive the Hindutva plank. ??It is good that the Ayodhya issue has bounced back again, it will be beneficial to us,?? said an MP known for his hardline stand.

The moderates, however, felt Advani need not have taken the ??extreme?? step. ??He should start distancing himself from the issue,?? said sources.

??If someone can succeed Vajpayee in the BJP, it is only Advani. But the issue of succession will become a problem if he allows the Ayodhya ghost to haunt him again and again,?? the sources added.    

New Delhi, Dec. 8 
L.K. Advani today announced the Centre?s plan to set up a fresh commission of inquiry into the Sikh riots of 1984. The promise comes a day after the Congress revived another old dispute ? that of the Babri masjid demolition ? and targeted Advani himself.

Home ministry sources said that since the minister has made a commitment in the Rajya Sabha, the groundwork of setting up a commission or at least discussions on the possible terms of such a probe panel would shortly be set in motion. Advani said he was only giving in to the demand of the members of the Upper House and observed that there was unanimity among almost all parties except the Congress on the need for such a probe.

There has already been several probes into the Sikh riots, beginning with the Rangnath Mishra Commission and followed by two more committees in 1987. It is, however, true that the Congress governments never acted on the reports of these committees.

It was the judiciary which dealt with a number of individual and collective cases moved on different aspects of the riots and adjudicated them separately. In most cases, the accused Congress leader got away for want of evidence. Overcoming its initial hesitance, the Congress has even begun rehabilitating these leaders. Jagdish Tytler was permitted to contest the polls this time, though he lost.

It was clear in the Rajya Sabha that it was Advani?s turn now to needle the Congress, which had tried to pin him down yesterday on his alleged involvement in the Babri case. The issue was raised by BJP member K.R. Malkani, considered close to Advani.

The home minister handled the issue subtly, saying the Centre did not want to be accused of a witchhunt and that the fresh probe would be allowed only if there was a broad consensus on the subject. The issue would have died down after holding the attention of the House till Zero Hour, but the Sikh members, except leader of the Opposition Manmohan Singh, trooped down the aisle and demanded chairman Krishan Kant?s attention.

Kant, eager to move on with the day?s schedule, had to give them a hearing because the number of members demanding a fresh probe swelled. The Sikh MPs were joined by nominated member Kuldip Nayyar, many members from the BJP, Shiv Sena and a few from the Left parties.

Advani continued to harp on the need for unanimity before he allowed such a probe. Senior CPI MP Gurudas Das Gupta then argued that since there was no voice of dissent, the home minister could assume that unanimity had been achieved.

Advani still demanded that Manmohan Singh should make a statement. Singh, however, left the House without responding.    

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 8 
When the first ray of the sun strikes India?s mainland at Konark to herald a new millennium, there will be no one to welcome the sun god.

The Orissa government has cancelled all celebrations at cyclone-ravaged Konark, famous for its 743-year-old sun temple. The seaside town will be the first place in the mainland to witness the sunrise on January 1, at 6.21 am, barely 20 minutes after the sunrays touch the Katchall island in the Andamans.

The state government, along with the tourism and hotel industries, had planned a night-long celebration on the sprawling Konark beach on December 31. The preparations had started in August, a senior tourism department official said. But the plan was scrapped after the October 29 supercyclone left Konark and its surrounding areas in a shambles, sparing the sun temple.

?How can you welcome the sun god with pomp when thousands of homeless people are begging for warmth with the winter setting in,? the official said.

Odissi guru Gangadhar Pradhan, who lives in Konark, had choreographed a ballet for the occasion. He and his troupe were to perform in the wee hours of January 1 to ?welcome the sun? in a traditional way.

Twenty-one priests were supposed to perform a yagna on the beach and sing vedic hymns as ?the sun emerged from the sea to herald a new dawn.?

After the government posted the news on the internet a few months ago, the event was a sell-out, said Bhrigu Bakshipatra, managing director of Wishbone, a Bhubaneswar-based tourism promotional agency, which created the website, www.millennium

Over 75 American and European couples had already booked a three-day, $935-a-couple package before the supercyclone struck, he said.

?The millennium sunrise was a big draw for the Americans and they were e-mailing constantly because they would witness it much later than us,? Bakshipatra said. ?It is a big disappointment because this moment will never come back.?

The government had also asked the Oberoi group of hotels to pitch in with packages and the South Eastern Railway to run special trains between Howrah and Puri to meet the rush to Konark.

Bakshipatra said the cyclone not only ?killed? the millennium celebrations, but also dealt a blow to the tourism industry. ?It is a huge financial loss to hundreds of people directly or indirectly involved in the industry. In Konark, we had expected at least 3,000 tourists on the beach on the night of December 31.?    

Jamaluddinchowk (Danapur), Dec. 8 
Shehnai strains wafting from a simply decorated house are drowned in the cacophony of bellowing truck horns. There is nothing VIP about the building, except that it is the destination of a tilak party from the residence of Bihar?s first couple.

??Yes sir, Lalooji is expected in half an hour for the last ritual before his daughter?s marriage on Friday,?? says a smiling guard.

Standing next to the shehnai band, almost inconspicuous, is the 24-year-old VIP groom. His face impassive, Sailesh Kumar is unperturbed by the importance of being Laloo?s to-be son-in-law.

??I had to marry a girl. The daughter of the chief minister had to be married to a boy. So I said yes,?? he says matter-of-factly.

As with most arranged weddings in this part of Bihar, the bride and groom are yet to meet each other. ??It is simply another negotiated marriage. And it has happened the way such weddings take place,?? adds Sailesh, a senior systems analyst with Bangalore-based software major Infosys.

Educated in Central School here, Sailesh did his plus-two from Baroda. An electronics engineer from Baroda Engineering Institute, he subsequently completed his MBA from a B-school in Lucknow.

Sceptical of politics, Sailesh says he is unaware of what ??special incidents occur in the family of the chief minister??.

??I believe the children of politicians should be spared media scrutiny. As for my would-be in-laws, I will learn to adjust once I reach there,?? he says.

??I have heard a lot about my would-be father-in-law, I don?t care about the controversies. I believe controversies is what politics is all about.??

Sailesh shrugs off the marks row surrounding his would-be doctor wife. ??That, too, is part of politics.??

A small patch of land in front of the house has been covered to seat the honoured guests.

Unlike the overcrowded 1 Anne Marg residence of Laloo and his chief minister-wife, their daughter?s would-be sasural has only a handful of outsiders ? some cooks and some elderly men with a young priest supervising the pujas.

Inside the two-storied house, about 30 masons are working at a frenetic pace to construct a new wing.

Work began only four days ago, but Laloo has issued strict instructions that the job has to be finished by Friday. ??We will do it,?? says head mason Satyendra Singh.

The marriage will be held at Sailesh?s ancestral house in Kunjwa village, about 20 km from Danapur.

The backward village, without electricity and no road to speak of, has shot into the limelight. Roads are being laid out, ponds have been dug up. The road from Danapur to Kunjwa is also being repaired.

The hectic pace at which work is being carried out indicates that the wedding was fixed in a hurry. But family members are tightlipped on how the marriage was ??negotiated?? and where Laloo heard of the ??bright boy??.

??God only united us,?? quips Rambabu Pathik, the father of the groom.

Added a Laloo aide: ??In our community, boys of his standing are rare. Since it is a small community, we get to know who is doing how well.??

In contrast to the modest show at the groom?s house, 1 Anne Marg has been decorated lavishly.

The house has been lit up and colourful shamianas have been put up on the sprawling lawns.

Laloo?s guests have begun pouring into Patna with token gifts of rice, clothes and mithai. Hotels are packed and guest houses have displayed ?no-vacancy? signs.

Marks controversy

A BJP member today alleged in the Lok Sabha that Misawas given the maximum marks in the MBBS examination under pressure from the Rabri Devi government.    

Temperature: Maximum: 29.5?C (+2) Minimum: 17.1?C (+2) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 96%, Minimum: 48% Today: The met office predictsa partly cloudy day. Mainly clear night. Slight rise in night temperature. Sunset: 4.48 pm Sunrise: 6.10 am    

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