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News Watch 18 Mar 2009

HEADLINES

LEAD

After BJP, it was Congress's turn to scream betrayal on Tuesday. The party was stunned when its "loyal" partners RJD chief Lalu Prasad and LJP boss Ramvilas Paswan did a Naveen Patnaik on it, parcelling out 37 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar among themselves, leaving the lead player of the ruling coalition with a humiliating three. The ruthless hand dealt by Lalu, who fancied himself as the oldest and all-weather ally of Congress, marked a blow to Congress's plan to retain office at the Centre and could potentially lead to the reconfiguration of UPA as well as Third Front's expansion, besides starkly bringing out the RJD boss's vulnerability on his home turf. In contrast, Paswan was a clear winner, forcing Lalu to give in to his tough terms for a seat-sharing pact. The LJP, which had contested eight seats in 2004 and lost four, has walked away with 12 seats. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the Lalu-Paswan-Congress alliance had swept 29 of the 40 seats from Bihar, derailing the calculations of NDA which was banking on it for a bagful of seats. Congress, which was happy playing third fiddle the last time, had upped its ante this time. Feeling more confident of its chances and because of the widespread perception about Lalu's diminished clout, the party was insisting on improving its share of seats from the four it got last time. Naturally, one seat less has come as a shocker. (TOI)

  • New Delhi: If Maharashtra now has a DGP who won't be trusted to deal with the upcoming election, it is because the Election Commission has passed the buck to the SC for undermining, however unwittingly, its own mandate to implement police reforms. In its March 9 response to Maharashtra on whether S S Virk could be appointed DGP in the run-up to the election, EC hinted that Virk could not be considered for DGP's post since he fell in the category of police officers who had been previously removed by it the EC had ordered his removal as DGP of Punjab before the 2007 assembly election because of his alleged proximity to the Congress CM Amarinder Singh. Yet, thanks to a go-ahead given last year by SC to Maharashtra to consider him for any posting of the rank of DGP, EC held itself back from expressly turning down the state's application this month seeking permission to appoint Virk for its highest police job. Instead, it imposed a restriction that should have rendered him unfit to shift from the innocuous post of DGP (housing) to the all-powerful DGP of the entire police force. (TOI)
  • New Delhi: The alleged communal remarks of the BJP's Pilibhit candidate Varun Gandhi in his constituency have drawn criticism from political parties. Terming them "highly deplorable," the Congress said it was preparing to lodge a formal complaint with the Election Commission. "The kind of statement Varun Gandhi has come out with is highly deplorable and deserves proper action. He has not only communalised the situation but [also] used abusive words against the minorities," All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijay Singh told journalists here after leading a party delegation to the Commission. The Congress also took note of the young BJP leader's statements "belittling" Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Singh said. It was obtaining the CDs of Mr. Gandhi's speeches for legal examination. Once that was done, "we will put up a complaint formally." Asked about BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's statement that Mr. Gandhi's remarks came owing to his "past Congress connection," Mr. Singh retorted, "What rubbish." "Ever since L.K. Advani took out the Ram Rath Yatra, he has totally communalised the Indian polity. We have seen communal riots. Every time election comes, Ram mandir becomes an issue," he said. (HINDU)

BJP

BJP's media campaign for the Lok Sabha plans extensive use of the "chhand" form popularized by wellknown humour poet Kaka Hathrasi but the party has run into a hurdle with Election Commission scissoring out a punch line on a minister who played serial dresser when bombs were going off. The obvious reference to former home minister Shivraj Patil is part of the first recordings that the BJP campaign team has prepared for release on FM and other radio stations. Set to a catchy rhythm, the stanzas take a dig at UPA's record in office and end with an appeal to voters to back BJP for a stable govt and a decisive leadership. But while the party looks to mount an offensive on the govt by going for its weakest points like its response to terrorism, BJP will have to rework its lines on Patil. Party leaders point out that they did not see why the lines had to be censored as there was no direct reference to the former minister and Patil has anyway been attacked by Opposition speakers in Parliament and at public rallies. BJP plans to produce two "kaka" episodes a week as a sharp counter to Congress's "jai ho" poll jingle. The saffron party has zeroed in on the rustic, earthy sarcasm of the "chhand" to attack what it feels is Congress's poor to mediocre scorecard. Using the wit inherent in the style, the audios attack Congress on joblessness, rural distress, high prices of food and the urban mess. (TOI)

CONGRESS

The Congress on Tuesday described the seat-sharing arrangement for Bihar proposed jointly by allies, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) as "unacceptable" but maintained that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was still intact. Briefing mediapersons after a joint press conference of the RJD and the LJP, Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who was entrusted with arriving at a seat-sharing arrangement in Bihar said: "The Congress will contest as many seats as possible. Our workers are so angry that they have threatened to leave the party if we accept what has been offered to us by the two parties." Though in the morning he indicated that the party was prepared to field candidates in as many as 11 constituencies, Mr. Shinde refused to give any number later in the evening when asked how many seats the Congress planned to contest. Sitting with disgruntled RJD leaders including president Lalu Prasad's brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav, Jai Narain .Nishad' and Ramai Ram who have expressed a desire to join the Congress, the Minister said he would communicate their offer to the party's central leadership. He denied that his party was trying to orchestrate desertions from an ally. "They have come to us on their own." Another visitor at Mr. Shinde's residence was convicted LJP member of the Lok Sabha, Rajesh Ranjan (alias Pappu Yadav), who is currently on bail. However, he did not put in an appearance at the press briefing addressed by Mr. Shinde and RJD leaders. (HINDU)

LEFT PARTIES

Forming a govt at the Centre by the Third Front looks difficult, but given a chance the Left may join the govt this time, said CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu at his Salt Lake residence in Kolkata on Tuesday, a day after CPM general secretary Prakash Karat had left it to the party's central committee to take the call. According to party insiders, the CPM patriarch hinted at the possibility only to reassure the Left-of-the-Centre voters in Bengal that the Left, if voted to power, won't just act as watchdog but would also take more responsibility that people expect from them. "The Third Front's forming a govt is difficult. Yet, the Third Front is the alternative. And if it manages to form the govt, the Left may join unlike before," the CPM patriarch said with a tacit reference to the "historic blunder" debate in 1996, when he was offered to lead the govt but was prevented by the CPM CC led by Karat, Biman Bose and Sitaram Yechury. Even at that time, Basu wasn't in favour of sharing power without responsibility, as has been the case with the Left in the preceding coalition govts, including the latest Congress-led UPA. (TOI)

I. CURRENT AFFAIRS

Law officer seeks perks for kin: Assistant solicitor general Dhaval G Nanavati, a law officer for the UPA govt in Ahmedabad, wrote to the DGCA asking for special perks for his sister on a Qantas flight.(TOI)

India snubs Pak queries: Some of the 30 questions posed by Pakistan in the 26/11 probe bordered on the frivolous and India has dismissed them with contempt in its reply handed over to Islamabad last week.(TOI)

Antony pulls up Army for tardy probe: Defence minister A K Antony has pulled up the Army for its indifference in investigations into the shootout at Bomai in north Kashmir's Baramulla district that left two youths dead on February 21.(TOI)

STATES

ASSAM

'Cong will form govt': Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was accused to have engineered the split in the ruling coalition, said here on Tuesday that they are confident to form the govt in the frontier state of Meghalaya as majority of the legislators are with them. Mr Sarma said, "The Congress party paraded 31 legislators in front of Meghalaya governor on Tuesday. This is one more than the majority in the actual strength of the Meghalaya Assembly."(AA)

JHARKHAND

Cracks are visible in Jharkhand's UPA, with its constituents Congress, RJD and JMM struggling to honour the seat-sharing formula worked out by their leaders in Delhi last week. Congress blames JMM for the fresh crisis. Jharkhand Congress spokesperson Ravindra Singh did not even hesitate to say that the party would go it alone. "If our partners don't follow the coalition dharma, the alliance is bound to break," he said. "For past one week, JMM leaders have been giving statements that negate what was decided at the Delhi meeting, attended by JMM chief Shibu Soren. Guruji's elder brother, Durga Soren, who is also the JMM general secretary, and some party MLAs have announced that the party will contest all the 14 seats," said a senior Congress leader. "Why should only Congress make compromises to save the alliance? If JMM and RJD go back on the New Delhi meeting decisions, we'll be forced to field our candidates in all 14 seats," he added.(TOI)

KARNATAKA

The former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Ramesh Kumar has said that it is time for cleansing the State unit of the Congress of leaders who have vested interests. He was speaking at a function to mark the 85th birth anniversary of K.H. Patil held on the Gadag Cooperative Cotton Sale Society premises here on Monday. Mr. Ramesh Kumar appealed to the Congress leadership not to give ticket to "crorepatis" to contest in the Lok Sabha elections. He recalled the concern for the poor the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had and urged the party leaders to emulate her. Just because parties such as Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) were giving ticket to "millionaires", there was no need for the Congress to do so. "Give ticket to those who are committed to serving the people," he said.(HINDU)

MADHYA PRADESH

Senior BJP leader and NDA candidate for the lone Lok Sabha seat from Chandigarh, Satya Pal Jain, on Tuesday held the Congress responsible for "back-breaking" price rise in the past five years. Addressing a convention of party workers in Manimajra, he said that whenever the Congress had come to power at the Centre, "prices of articles of daily use sky-rocketed so much that these went out of the reach of the common man". He alleged that even kerosene was not available to the poor people in the Union Territory of Chandigarh thanks to the policies of the UPA regime at the Centre. He promised that on coming to power, the BJP Govt would restore the 30-litre monthly quota system. Mr. Jain further alleged that the Congress had done nothing for development of Manimajra and rather the residences of poor people had been demolished. He assured that on assuming power in Delhi the NDA regime would develop Manimajra on the pattern of Chandigarh and alterations made by residents in their houses would be approved. (HINDU)

TAMIL NADU

Desperate to retain PMK in the Congress-DMK front in Tamil Nadu for the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is said to have gone to the extent of sacrificing a seat held now by its senior leader in Tamil Nadu and Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who enjoys close rapport with the Gandhis since the early days of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress is said to be offering Mr Aiyar's Mayiladuthurai Lok Sabha seat to the PMK and in return get the Puducherry seat currently in the regional party's hands. Even the Congress high command is stated to have contemplated fielding Mr Aiyar somewhere up north owing to the aforesaid seat exchange arrangement with the PMK. Some state Congress leaders, who are upset over Mr Aiyar neglecting Tamil Nadu and staying put in New Delhi, were stated to be playing behind the scene behind this too. A MLA from Vasan camp, requesting anonymity, said Mr Aiyar had hardly done anything for the party's growth in the state: "When was the last time he visited Satyamurthy Bhavan?" Mr Aiyar said, "I have absolutely no doubt that the Congress would retain the seat it had successfully held since 1957. I was elected thrice from this constituency, including in the 2004 polls." (AA)

UTTAR PRADESH

An inquiry has been ordered into a Congress' complaint against BJP's Lok Sabha candidate from here, Murli Manohar Joshi for alleged violation of model code of conduct. Deputy district electoral officer Praveen Aggrawal said that following the complaint regarding pasting of posters at public places in the name of Deen Dayal Upadhyay Vichar Pravah Sansthan allegedly containing photographs and message of Mr. Joshi, an inquiry was ordered on Monday. Mr. Aggrawal said the inquiry is being conducted by the City Magistrate Shrinath Shukla. Meanwhile, another case for allegedly violating poll code conduct has been registered against the saffron party candidate from Ghosi (Mau) Parliamentary seat Ramiqbal Singh. (HINDU)

II. INDIA & THE WORLD

 
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