Statute review in Supreme Court backroom
Pay up or perish: Brahmins to Prime Minister
Atal in consensus pitch
Congress chases chimera
Lonely author at Allah?s feet

New Delhi, Dec. 12 
The BJP-led Centre has not just been thinking aloud about changing the Constitution. It has already set in motion a review.

The Bar Association of India has taken the lead in the matter under the chairmanship of jurist Fali Nariman who was recently nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the government.

The association has constituted under Nariman a ?Constitution Assembly?, which will meet for three days from December 19. A review report will be presented to the President, the Chief Justice and Parliament ?in the early part of 2000?. The name of the forum bears a striking similarity to the Constituent Assembly, which included the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution of the late Forties.

A chamber (No. 93) in the Supreme court has been converted into an ?Assembly Secretariat?. The assembly session will be attended by representatives of all political parties, NGOs and minorities, parliamentarians, SC/ST commissions, jurists and academicians. ?Even students to whom the 21st century belongs to? will participate, association general secretary Lalit Bhasin said.

Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee is the ex officio chairman of the association and the solicitor and additional solicitor general, Harish Salve and Altaf Ahmad respectively, are ex officio members.

The background note prepared for the assembly says that ?there is a need for an independent, protective and critical overview, including the assessment and evaluation of working of the Constitution, in not only strengthening democracy and the Constitution but for setting new directions based on the lessons learnt from the working of the Constitution and the system during all these years?.

Almost all areas of the Constitution, including the fundamental rights and duties and the directive principles of state policies, are sought to be reviewed. The assembly?s review report is described as the ?gift for the millennium to the nation? by the association.

A crucial chapter relates to the ?zones of silence, vagueness and uncertainties? regarding Articles 73, 74, 102, 191, 163, 164, 166, 167 and 356. They pertain to choosing the Prime Minister, assessing who enjoys confidence, who should be invited to form a government ? whether the single largest party or the single largest group ? and how to assess who enjoys majority and the role of the Speaker.

The review will take up the entire 10th schedule, which deals with defections, splits and the requirement of at least one-third members for a split and the recognition of a splintered group as a political party.

The role of Governors, the use of Article 356 (often invoked to dismiss elected state governments), the definition of a public servant, the commission on appointing judges, the creation of new states on cultural basis and economic reforms will also come under scrutiny.

Another important feature for the review is the uniform civil code, a prominent feature in every BJP manifesto till it was shelved during the last elections.

The assembly will review Centre-state relationship, the role of the minorities commission, special schemes for minorities and amendments to provisions for declaring a state of Emergency.

It will touch on the powers of a caretaker government, especially since such an expression does not figure in the Constitution.    

Meerut, Dec. 12 
Snarling against betrayal of the cause, the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh today took their case to a caste comrade: Atal Behari Vajpayee.

?Brahmins do not want a Prime Minister who is just charismatic, intellectual or speaks effectively. He must be a doer and deliver his promises. He must be someone who works for the community?s interests,? the first speaker at the Brahmin Mahasabha in Meerut said, setting the tone for a congregation peeved with the BJP?s reservations policy.

The opener, Jagdish Prasad Sharma, also had a word of advice for Vajpayee. ?Mahatma Gandhi was successful in politics because there was no discrepancy in his words and deeds. Atalji still has a chance if he, too, does not make a distinction between what he says and does.?

The main reasons for the disenchantment with Vajpayee were his announcements of a fresh set of sops for Dalits and tribals on seniority in government service and promotions. The possible revival of the BJP?s alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party also added fuel to the fire.

?The changes in the reservation policy are blatantly anti-upper caste. Promotions should be decided by merit alone. If that does not happen, competent officials will feel demoralised and stop working,? asserted Sharma.

A hapless BJP member ?Shakuntala Kaushik, vice-president of the Women?s Morcha and convener of today?s function?tried to stop him from saying more, but he was unstoppable.

?The gathering should pass a resolution demanding the Centre withdraw its proposals to the SC/STs. If that does not happen, I want to warn the BJP that it will be wiped out from western UP whenever Assembly elections are held.?

As the tirade went on, the state government?s representatives? PWD minister Kalraj Mishra and chairman of the Urban Development Board Mahesh Dutt Sharma ? looked palpably disconcerted.

Mishra made the appropriate gestures: he wore a saffron tilak, lit a lamp placed before a portrait of Parasuram, the legendary Brahmin icon who vowed to destroy the Kshatriyas, and touched the feet of Swami Madhavanand, the Shankaracharya of the Badrikesh Ashram.

But the occasion called for more than just tokenism. ?Social harmony and social equality do not mean excluding certain communities from the ambit of government policies,? asserted Mishra, who is close to Vajpayee and was part of the anti-Kalyan Singh brigade.

The younger lot in the congregation were more vocal. Deepak Sharma, a student, said: ?This new policy is a spark which will ignite the anger of Brahmins all over Uttar Pradesh. Under Vajpayee, our future is bleak.?    

Kulu, Dec. 12 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today sought support from the Congress to push economic reforms, but suggested that the party should not link its backing to the Bofors case.

In a veiled reference to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi?s inclusion in the Bofors chargesheet, Vajpayee refused to promise a consensus on matters ?pending in the courts?.

The Prime Minister also sent signals to his allies that he would not yield to fresh demands for creation of new states, apart from the three already decided upon. He said the proposal for setting up Vananchal, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh has been sent to the President.

It was clear that Vajpayee was trying to reassure its ally Telugu Desam. The Desam, which had initially blocked the statehood Bill, had requested the Centre not to go ahead for fear that it would encourage Telengana separatists in Andhra.

In a reference to the Congress, the Prime Minister, who laid the foundation stone for a 800 megawatt hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, said: ?The parties should help in developing economic consensus. Economic and political consensus is important but the two cannot be linked. There can be no political consensus on those issues which are in court. The court will take its own decisions in due course. The Opposition parties also understand this aspect.?

Vajpayee, who wants to hasten reforms, has realised he cannot push through economic Bills without support from the main Opposition party that still retains its majority in the Rajya Sabha.

At the same time, he feels the Congress cannot expect the government to go out of its way and withdraw Rajiv Gandhi?s name from the Bofors chargesheet. That issue is to be decided in court.

Vajpayee needs Congress support also for committing to sign the nuclear test ban treaty. ?We have already begun talks with them (the Opposition),? he said at a news conference later.

On Pakistan, Vajpayee reiterated India?s stand that talks cannot be held unless Islamabad takes steps to restore trust.    

New Delhi, Dec. 12 
Two months after its worst poll debacle, the Congress today prescribed an 18-point regimen to pull itself out of the sick bay. The revival package, made of 18 of the 20 recommendations by the A.K. Antony panel, suggests structural changes in the organisation, but some were greeted with scepticism by partymen. A resolution that raised eyebrows in the party recommended ?advance selection of poll nominees?. The Congress Working Committee, which endorsed the plan after a marathon meeting, felt that candidates should be decided at least three months before the polling day. But many in the party consider this too ?utopian?. Most state committees are faction-ridden and it will be difficult to choose a name so early. The self-reform ball will be set rolling by revamping the All-India Congress Committee secretariat. Of the six secretaries, as many as four will be asked to quit. The Congress feels that because of the inherent weaknesses in the secretariat, the party is not being able to project itself as an alternative to the ruling coalition. The party wants to be more reasonable about alliances and believes that the Panchmarhi declaration allows enough scope for ?adequate flexibility?. The party ? which feels that its choice of allies had gone wrong this year, especially in Bihar ? hopes to approach this question in a ?pragmatic manner, weighing pros and cons on a case-by-case basis?. Keen to broadbase its input structure, the Congress will set up a resource and research centre equipped to deal with complex issues, such as global trade talks. An effort is also on to revamp the state executives and prune the jumbo pradesh committees. The party constitution stipulates that none of the state committees should have an executive of more than 21 members. But the Uttar Pradesh panel has 275 executive members. The decision-making process in these committees will be made simpler to give them more teeth. Sonia Gandhi is expected to start implementing these policies before the Assembly polls scheduled early next year.    

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 12 
At nine she thought she was Radha and betrothed to Krishna for ever. But 58 years later, she has shifted allegiance to Allah.

Poet and painter Kamala Das, alias Madhavi Kutty, 67, who has sent a series of shock waves with her explicit, erotic writings and paintings, has stirred another hornet?s nest. But this time with her decision to convert to Islam, announced yesterday.

She will be known as ?Suraiyya? henceforth. The conversion rites will take place on December 23 at Palayam mosque here.

?I have lost faith in the Hindu gods,? she said over phone from Kochi. ?I have given away all the photographs and idols I have had. Now they are lying in a heap by the roadside, smashed out of shape. I do not want to personalise god in any form or shape. God may come in rain or thunder, but not in idols.?

Islam, Das says, showers her with compassion and love.

?Hindu gods are not forgiving. Neither are they compassionate. The gods torture and punish humans for their sins. I don?t need to be punished. Allah forgives sins. I want a forgiving god so that I can live with my past,? she explained.

Islam came as an answer after several months of uncertainty. ?There was a time when I wished religion to be outlawed in India. Then came the realisation.? Muslim friends showed her the way to her new religion, which she is sure is one that protects women.

?I have been a widow for so many years now. My children live far away and being a woman I need protection. Being lonely, I also need to feel for someone who in turn needs me. Allah needs me and I can feel his presence. I want to love and be loved,? Das says.

And what about her childhood mate, Krishna?

?Krishna is like a dream,? she says. ?He is a part of me, half of me. I am sure Krishna is there for me even now.?

As with her former religion, the poet is also not completely at ease with her milieu, the conservative Hindu Malayalee community. Her autobiography My Story, though translated into many languages, drew flak at home: she was ridiculed by some as a fallen woman out to corrupt innocent members of her sex.

But the worst came when she took to painting women in the nude. Her full-bodied nudes sent shocks throughout her native land, even as they sold at high prices like hot cakes.

She treated that the way she treats all criticism ? with disdain. Asked can Islam accept a woman who paints nudity, she assures: ?They have already accepted me.?

But isn?t it ironic that Das, the bold votary of a woman?s freedom, is now an advocate of the purdah?

?I prefer the purdah. In fact, I have always loved the purdah. In it you can walk around freely, anonymously. It serves as a protection,? she explained. Recently, she went to Kannur in purdah and distributed rice to the people as ?an orthodox Muslim woman, away from the press clicking photographs?, she said.    


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