Atal braves women?s Bill storm
US rips Laden veil in valley
Surjeet reaches out to Subhas
Sena?s Sanjay shames sabha with slur
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 22 
Turning a deaf ear to the looming Yadav threat and paying scant heed to fissures within the ruling coalition, Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee stuck by his decision to table the women?s Bill in the Lok Sabha tomorrow, the last day of the winter session.

?The government will introduce the Bill tomorrow in its present form,? Vajpayee said after an all-party meeting failed to thrash out a consensus. But he assured that efforts to evolve a consensus would continue.

The Prime Minister?s statement came amid fears that there would be violence in the House, with the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal threatening to oppose the Bill ?at any cost?.

?Hum is bill ko kisi bhi halat mey ane nahi denge (We will not allow introduction of this bill at any cost),? Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh said at a panel discussion on reservation in the Press Club.

Singh struck a more ominous note, saying he was in touch with other constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, including the Janata Dal (United). He would spare no effort to stall the Bill, even if that made him the ?villain of the piece?, he said.

But he declined to divulge his modus operandi. ?That will only embarrass them as they are part of the ruling coalition. What I can tell you is that unlike many other parties, my party does not indulge in any type of hypocrisy,? he said.

The cracks within the ruling alliance came to the fore at the all-party meeting, with the Shiv Sena, DMK, National Conference, Dal (U) and Akali Dal making it plain that they would oppose the Bill when it came up for consideration and voting. The Loktantrik Congress said it did not want the Bill tabled at all.

Claiming that there was merit in Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav?s argument, DMK leader Murasoli Maran suggested that women?s quota should be brought down from 33 per cent to 10 or 15.

Maran recalled that during the Deve Gowda regime, parties had almost agreed on a 15 per cent consensus.

Among the Opposition parties, the Congress, CPM, CPI, RSP, Forward Bloc and ADMK back the Bill in its present form. Within the ruling alliance, only the BJP, Trinamul Congress, Telugu Desam and Biju Janata Dal are for the Bill.

Sonia Gandhi said the Congress wanted the Bill introduced, discussed and, if possible, passed in its present form.

Later, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said no party had opposed the Bill in principle and that most parties wanted it introduced on Thursday.

Differences would be sorted out through discussion or at the consideration stage, he added.    

New Delhi, Dec. 22 
Signalling a better understanding of India?s security environment, the US for the first time has publicly admitted the involvement of international terrorist Osama bin Laden in Kashmir.

The US also warned the Taliban in Afghanistan for sheltering bin Laden and said that it was time they heeded the international community?s concern over the Saudi exile.

?His (bin Laden?s) operations and operatives are worldwide in scope and increasingly play a role in areas such as Kashmir, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Chechnya and Dagestan,? US assistant secretary of state Karl Inderfurth was quoted by agencies as having told reporters in Washington yesterday.

?There is no question that terrorism is a growing threat to stability in south Asia and we are working hard to end these threats,? Inderfurth said. ?We know the countries of the region recognise this threat and we want to seek expanded cooperation with them in addressing it,? he added.

Inderfurth?s remarks not only expressed America?s anxiety over bin Laden, but was also an admission that the Taliban training camps are breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalists.

The US statement, however, stopped short of directly naming Pakistan as abetting terrorists in Kashmir. In fact, it suggests that Washington would like to involve Islamabad in its efforts to fight terrorism in south Asia.

But there is a feeling here that in the next few weeks the US will start getting tough on Pakistan if Islamabad?s military regime fails to take steps to combat Islamic fundamentalists and to normalise relations with Delhi.

The US statement comes a day after Washington accepted Delhi?s right to have a minimum nuclear deterrent. The US position indicates a keenness to help the Indian government build a national consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It is also likely to address Opposition parties? questions about the level of understanding shown by the US towards India?s security concerns.

Indian officials described the US statement as a ?positive step?, but made it clear that it was time Washington recognised Islamabad?s role in encouraging cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. ?How can bin Laden sitting in Afghanistan encourage terrorist activities in Kashmir unless he gets support from Pakistan?? a foreign ministry official asked. ?There should be an implicit recognition of Pakistan?s complicity in the entire business,? he added.

Inderfurth?s remarks come at a time when two senior foreign ministry officials, Alok Prasad and Rakesh Sood, are in Washington to hold discussions. The main thrust of their visit will be on tying up loose ends before the crucial talks between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott in London next month.

Indications are the two sides are trying to harmonise their positions on a broad range of issues and not only merely on nuclear-related topics.    

New Delhi, Dec. 22 
The Marxists? master dealmaker has stepped in to set his own house in order. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet today took the initiative to woo Subhas Chakraborty, the West Bengal transport minister widely perceived as the dissident leader.

Surjeet appealed to Chakraborty not to let the situation spin out of control. ?He asked me to strengthen the party in West Bengal and I told him I will put in 100 per cent effort to do that,? said Chakraborty, who made it clear that it was Surjeet who had sought the meeting. ?I did not go. He called me up,? Chakraborty said.

This is the second time that Surjeet has met Chakraborty in the last couple of days. The new round of talks is being seen as a sign that the high command, jittery about the party?s prospects in the civic elections in April and Assembly elections in 2001, is desperate to placate the rebels.

At today?s meeting, Surjeet told Chakraborty of the ?new re-orientation? in the party programme.

The general secretary ? known for his acumen in bringing together irreconcilable forces ? also informed Chakraborty of Jyoti Basu?s discussions with Saifuddin Chaudhury, who had taken the lead raising the contentious issues.

What the rebels are demanding as part of updating the party programme are fundamental changes: a more democratic party structure and a flexible, tactical and strategic political line that would give the CPM more space in a multi-party parliamentary set-up.

Without spelling out anything, Chakraborty has suggested that the rebels want an ideological confrontation with the hardliners. Many in the party feel that several of the issues raised by them have Basu?s tacit support. Even Surjeet may be inclined to support them on a number of points.

What Surjeet and Basu could not achieve in 1996, the Subhas-Saifuddin lobby may do now by swinging more party workers to their side.

The rebels say the Basu-Saifuddin meeting went off ?well? and Basu was ?understanding?. But the dissident leaders are looking for more than that.

According to them, the party should ?rectify? itself in such a way that it can regain its ?lost glory?. The undemocratic functioning of the party bosses has to change, and as it appears now, the rebels will not be satisfied with cosmetic changes, a sympathiser of the dissidents said.

For the rebels, this is an opportune moment to strike at the leadership in Delhi. The CPM bosses know that the party is walking a difficult terrain in West Bengal.

The high command also realises that Chakraborty, if he keeps up his defiance, could unhinge the party more. Both Surjeet and Basu, therefore, are summoning their persuasive skill to rein in the dissidents.    

New Delhi, Dec. 22 
Parliamentary decorum reached its nadir on the penultimate day of the millennium?s last session as a Shiv Sena member of the Rajya Sabha mouthed invectives against Muslims, triggering a verbal crossfire with Shabana Azmi.

Stung by the onslaught unleashed by Sanjay Nirupam, Shabana rushed towards the Sena MP but was pulled back by the CPI?s Gurudas Dasgupta.

House chairman Krishna Kant tried to placate Shabana, who was on the verge of tears, saying he had not allowed any remark to go on record. But the uproar continued as Sena and BJP members traded charges with the Opposition, forcing Kant to adjourn the House.

The din reverberated in the Lok Sabha as well, with a Samajwadi Party member rushing menacingly towards agriculture minister Nitish Kumar. Such was the impact that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sprang from his seat to restrain the MP.

The Rajya Sabha flared up after Congress and Left MPs objected to the request of Sena members Nirupam and Satish Pradhan to take up the murder of a party leader in Rajasthan. The Opposition argued that nine other special mentions were pending, including the one on the shilanyas in Gujarat?s Halmodi village.

But the Sena members, backed by the BJP?s Venkaiah Naidu, said the murder issue was ??far more important??. As Kant pondered, Nirupam continued to shout and used offensive language against Muslims, drawing howls of protest from the Opposition.

The Congress and the Left demanded Nirupam?s expulsion and said they would continue with their protest tomorrow if action was not taken. ??It could be anything. He should be named or suspended,?? said a Congress MP.

But government sources indicated Nirupam may be let off. They said that BJP members had advised the Opposition not to pursue with their demand as Nirupam?s tenure is due to end in April and Sena chief Bal Thackeray is believed to be against renominating him. ??But if Nirupam is expelled, Thackeray may change his mind because he would see him as a martyr at the altar of Hindutva. The Opposition should just ignore him,?? sources said.

After the Elders reassembled post-lunch, the CPM?s Mohammad Salim demanded action against Nirupam, saying he had ??demeaned the prestige of the House??. Sena MP Adik Shirodkar defended his colleague and claimed the Opposition had ??put words into his mouth??.

As the Opposition continued to fire salvos at Nirupam, deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah ruled that since the Sena member?s remarks were not on record, no action could be taken. This sparked another round of uproar and Heptullah adjourned the House for the day.

As the Elders fought pitched verbal battles, the Lok Sabha, too, erupted after Samajwadi MP Devendra Singh Yadav rushed towards Nitish.

Chaos reigned the Lower House after Samajwadi chief Mulayam Yadav demanded a satisfactory reply from Nitish to a question on flood relief funds. Although Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had announced the next listed question, Mulayam continued with his tirade, prompting Nitish to say that since the Samajwadi boss is a former chief minister, he should be familiar with the rules of the House. ??You stand up repeatedly and interrupt. If you do not know the regulations, you should sit down,?? Nitish added.

Mulayam snapped back, saying he did not need lessons on parliamentary behaviour. As the two traded fire, Samajwadi members trooped to the Well and Devendra Yadav rushed towards the minister. But he was stopped on his tracks by BJP members. A shocked Prime Minister got up, gesticulating Devendra Yadav to go back to his seat.

After adjourning the House, the Speaker convened an all-party meeting to discuss the ??ugly?? incident. Reprimanding Devendra Yadav, Balayogi said such incidents were not only a reflection on the parliamentary conduct of the member concerned, but also eroded the dignity of the entire House.

??I deprecate the behaviour of the member in strongest terms and urge leaders of parties in the House to ensure dignified parliamentary behaviour from their members,?? the Speaker said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 27.4?C (normal) Minimum: 15.5?C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 88%, Minimum: 44% Today: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in night temperature. Sunset: 4.51 pm Sunrise: 6.20 am    

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