Women Bill slips past Yadav fist
Hardline push in CPM
Sonia in coterie musical chairs
Terror busters on FBI model
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 23 
The government today rammed through the women?s reservation Bill in a charged Lok Sabha littered with torn papers and tough posturing.

Minutes after the legislation was tabled, an infuriated Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav struck back by holding an impromptu news conference where he declared the Bill null and void. ??The women?s reservation Bill has not been tabled. We had demanded a division on it but the government refused,?? Mulayam thundered.

The government had braced itself for a tough bout on the last day of the winter session with the Yadav brigade threatening to ??go to any extent?? to scuttle the Bill.

As Zero Hour began, members of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal gathered at the Well of the House, preparing themselves for the moment the legislation was going to be moved. Law minister Ram Jethmalani sat in the front row, waiting for his turn to rise and table the Bill. Twice in the past, the Lok Sabha had convulsed with the fury of the anti-reservation lobby ? Samajwadi members had once snatched the Bill and torn it up.

Flanking Jethmalani were Mamata Banerjee and Yashwant Sinha, both of whom kept whispering instructions to the law minister. The government had to catch the anti-quota brigade off guard if it wanted to push through the Bill.

As the finance minister reeled out a statement on the winding up of non-banking finance companies, the Speaker alerted Jethmalani to introduce the Bill. Taken aback for a moment, the anti-reservation group scampered to the front benches. Desperate to thwart the legislation from being moved, Samajwadi member S.P. Baghel shoved his hand inside the desk to snatch the Bill. But he could lay his hands only on some papers which he tore into shreds.

By then, Jethmalani declared the Bill tabled as Mamata and Sinha held out their arms to shield the minister. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and BJP MP Vinod Khanna formed a second cordon, warding off Samajwadi members who tried to jostle their way ahead.

Amid cries for a division, Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi took a voice vote and declared the Bill tabled. As the rival lobbies continued firing salvos at each other, Balayogi adjourned the House.

The din continued even after the members reassembled. The BJP, joined by the Congress and the Left parties, heaped scorn on the anti-quota camp which found a voice of support from the treasury benches in Samata Party member Prabhunath Singh. ??The Bill is against the interests of backward castes and minorities,?? he fumed.

With neither group willing to yield an inch, the Speaker adjourned the House yet again. Much of their anger spent, the Samajwadi-RJD members appeared in a less belligerent mood after the House reconvened in the evening and left the floor to Mulayam. ??The government should evolve a consensus and the Prime Minister should address the concerns raised by the House,?? the Samajwadi chief said.

Though the government has somehow pushed its way through in the first round of confrontation, it has a rough terrain ahead. The Bill grants 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and Assemblies ? its opponents are demanding a sub-quota for backwards and minorities.

The government needs two-thirds majority to get the Bill cleared and the numbers are on its side. The BJP, Congress and the Left, along with some NDA allies like the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam, will be able to outflank the anti-quota groups.

But some NDA partners like the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) are vehemently opposed to the Bill. Dal member D.P. Yadav had lashed out at the government yesterday and asked the government to first thrash out a consensus.    

Calcutta, Dec. 23 
The West Bengal CPM leadership today appeared close to seeking an explanation from transport minister Subhas Chakraborty for his comments on the party?s style of functioning.

CPM sources said the move to confront Chakraborty ? one of the masterminds of the ongoing debate in the party ? could crystallise at a meeting of the state secretariat tomorrow.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta and central committee member Niren Ghosh are reported to be spearheading the drive against Chakraborty. In CPM circles, the two are believed to be responsible for the marginalisation of the transport minister.

Chakraborty told The Telegraph that a handful of apparatchiki cut off from reality were running the party.

?I don?t want to repeat what I have said. You know I am a straight-talker and when I say something, I stand by it,? Chakraborty said. ?There is no democracy in the CPM, and the hide-bound leaders, who have no vision, are running it according to the norms of the world they live in. But it must be noted that I am not, we are not, against the party.?

It is widely perceived that the target of Chakraborty?s ire are politburo members Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri in Delhi and state secretary Anil Biswas in Calcutta.

Chakraborty had made incendiary comments about some party leaders and their style of functioning on Wednesday in Delhi.

Many in the party support him and the unrest is expected to gather momentum by the Calcutta civic elections, scheduled in the middle of next year.

Though Dasgupta and Ghosh are insisting on stringent action against Chakraborty, Biswas is believed to be resisting the pressure. Biswas and the dissidents do not see eye to eye, but the state secretary is keen to ensure that both the dissidents and the party are not pushed into a point of no return.

Biswas has tried to reason with the hardliners by citing the role of chief minister Jyoti Basu and his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya as peace-makers. He has told the pro-penalty lobby that an uncompromising line could be eventually interpreted by dissidents as a salvo against the Big Two.

It was Bhattacharya who had organised Monday?s meeting between Basu and two prominent dissidents, Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda, both close to him.

Bhattacharya and Chakraborty belong to two clashing political worlds, but they have lately developed a bond on the current tussle between the pro-changers and no-changers.

During Monday?s meeting, Chowdhury and Putatunda had given Basu a list of their points of contention for submission to the politburo for discussion next month.

The secretariat is expected to discuss this as well as the infighting in North-24 Parganas unit which provoked Chakraborty into the confrontation.

Chakraborty said he expected the leadership to discuss why ?there is an absence of democracy in our party where only a handful leaders are cracking the whip?. As Biswas was indisposed, he could not be contacted for comment.    

New Delhi, Dec. 23 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today reconstituted the party working committee and appointed three new AICC general secretaries.

Motilal Vora, Mohsina Kidwai and Prabha Rau have replaced Pranab Mukherjee, Madhavrao Scindia and R.K. Dhawan. Hectic lobbying by rivals left favourites Rajesh Pilot and Kamal Nath by the wayside. Nath, however, is tipped to head the AICC?s media cell, as spokesman Ajit Jogi was today appointed secretary in the department for SC/ST and OBCs.

Pranab and Scindia have been dropped in keeping with the ?one-man, one post? norm, while Dhawan paid the price for his ?non-performance? and successive Lok Sabha defeats.

Pranab had reportedly requested Sonia not to assign him a party job as he was keen to concentrate on specialised parliamentary work. For the first time, the AICC will have three women as general secretaries ? Ambika Soni, Kidwai and Rau.

Sonia?s first major reshuffle after the party?s poll debacle underlined her insistence on loyalty. Disregarding the criticism of the ?coterie?, she drafted Natwar Singh in the CWC.

The party chief appeared sensitive to the charge of inaccessibility and packed the newly-created ?Congress president?s Office? with Soni, Janardhan Dwivedi and R.D. Pradhan.

In the CWC, Sonia retained all those elected at the AICC plenary in Calcutta and added loyalists K. Natwar Singh, N.D. Tiwari, Rau and Motamma. She also elevated Vora, who had been until now a special invitee to the apex body. Ganga Potai and Laxmi Devi, who were nominated by Sonia, have been dropped from the CWC for ?non-performance?.

There are still two vacancies in the 24-member CWC. Sources said a berth has been kept for Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar in case he returns.

V.N. Gadgil has also been axed as special invitee to the CWC. Of late, Gadgil had been extremely critical of the leadership, particularly on the issues of secularism and economic thinking.

Sonia, however, refrained from unseating Sitaram Kesri and K. Karunakaran as permanent invitees even though there was a demand to ?remove the dead wood?.

Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir, who was to be the CWC member from the Northeast, also had to be content with the place of ?permanent invitee?.

Former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal has been made special invitee with an eye on the Assembly polls in the state. P.M. Sayeed, too, has joined the rank of special invitees while Madhavsinh Solanki retains the status.

The AICC revamp indicates that revival of the party in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar tops Sonia?s agenda. Sushil Kumar Shinde and Mohsina Kidwai have been given charge of the respective states. Sources said this was done as the Antony committee had urged the leadership not to ?overburden? AICC functionaries.

West Bengal, a state where the party is in a bad shape, has been assigned to Rau. The former MP will be assisted by Pawan Kumar Bansal, MP from Chandigarh and the new AICC general secretary.

The next phase of restructuring will include overhaul of state units in Orissa, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra.    

New Delhi, Dec. 23 
The Centre is considering setting up a crack agency on the lines of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to track down terrorists and trace their links with organised crime syndicates across the world.

A brainchild of home minister L.K. Advani and home secretary Kamal Pande, the organisation will have the character of a ??federal law enforcement agency??.

The proposal is still at a nascent stage but several ??ideas?? are being worked on to give the organisation a worthy name. It will be another premier investigating agency, comparable in importance with the CBI and will enjoy countrywide jurisdiction.

Government sources said there is a ??felt need?? to classify some of the acts of militants, especially pro-Pakistan terrorists, as ??federal crimes??.

An official said that with no end in sight to terrorism, the government needs to set up a federal investigating agency. The official said some militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast have trans-national links with organised crime syndicates. As a result of this ??developing?? nexus, gun-running, narcotics trafficking and smuggling have assumed dangerous proportions in the country.

By ??federal crimes??, the government means criminal actions that have an effect on the country as a whole and also on its unity and integrity. For example, a Pakistani ISI agent working in a village is not an isolated operative. He is connected to a vast network and, therefore, a crime committed by him has ramifications which extend beyond boundaries. The same holds true of Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers, who are wanted not only for their involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, but also for international smuggling and drug trafficking.

The CBI, more often than not, is entrusted with the task of investigating terrorism-related violence and other international crimes in India. The agency also pursues trails that lead to other countries. As security agencies, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, in certain cases, carry out informal inquiries within the country and outside.

Crimes with international dimensions are also investigated ? often without much success ? by the Economic Intelligence Bureau and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, whose jurisdiction is only within Indian territory.

The Prime Minister?s Office and the home ministry are studying various issues, including the constitutional and legal framework within which the agency will function, the financial burden on the exchequer and the kind of personnel it needs.

Though officials are tightlipped, the proposal was briefly discussed by Pande at a meeting last week with home secretaries of states and the directors-general of police. Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee is believed to have discussed the need for a federal agency with CBI director R.K. Raghavan.

The states are yet to react to the proposal. To some extent, they will lose their final say on law and order because the proposed body is expected to act fast and take lightning action against terrorist groups and other federal criminals. Therefore, the niceties of seeking permission from the states concerned might be overlooked. The home ministry is aware that the states could object to such overriding powers for the agency.    

Temperature: Maximum: 26.2?C (-1) Minimum: 15.4?C (+1) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 46% Today: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature. Sunset: 4.52 pm Sunrise: 6.20 am    

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