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News Watch 21 Mar 2009

HEADLINES

Politics in India can't be 2-party affair: Karat (TOI)

LEAD

As its ties with crucial allies fray, the Congress faces the risk of losing its edge over BJP in alliance-making. Angered by what it sees as betrayal by its Bihar allies, Congress has decided to punish Lalu Prasad and Ramvilas Paswan by fielding candidates who could cut into the votes of the two Bihar satraps. The aggressive intent, which found reflection on Thursday in the embrace of the controversial Sadhu Yadav, the favourite brother-in-law of Lalu who turned persona non grata after his rebellion, is proposed to be carried forward by handpicking candidates who could hurt RJD. A similar plan could be in the works for Paswan as well, with Congress strategists engaged in talks with Pappu Yadav, another tainted politician. So far, Lalu and Paswan have not reacted to the provocation. Lalu, in fact, spoke of his continuing rock-solid support for Sonia Gandhi, keeping hopes alive for some sort of working relationship if not rapprochement. But resentment in their camps is rising and continued hostilities may undermine their equations with Congress, rendering them vulnerable to lobbying by other claimants over who leads the next non-BJP coalition at the Centre. Already, the duo are in touch with Mulayam Singh Yadav, who will be a key piece in the post-poll power puzzle, and who has barely been able to mask his bitterness with Congress. Sources said that the two Yadav satraps have drawn plans to campaign for each other.(TOI)

  • NEW DELHI: In an interim relief to Varun Gandhi, BJP candidate from Pilibhit, the Delhi High Court on Friday restrained the U.P. police from arresting him in the case of his alleged communal speech at a recent election meeting. The Barkhedha police station in Pilibhit registered the case on March 17 on a direction from the Election Commission under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between classes and 188 (disobedience to an order duly promulgated) of the IPC and Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Mr. Gandhi approached the High Court as there was no provision for grant of anticipatory bail in the Criminal Procedure Code in U.P. Justice Reva Khetrapal said that in case Mr. Gandhi was arrested, he would be released on bail on his furnishing a bail bond for Rs. 50,000. However, protection from arrest would be available to Mr. Gandhi only till March 27, when the court takes up the matter for hearing to decide whether it has the jurisdiction to consider the case as the place of occurrence of the crime is outside Delhi. The Allahabad High Court is expected to take up Mr. Gandhi's petition seeking quashing of the criminal case against him. Earlier, the Delhi govt counsel submitted that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction in the matter. The court issued notice to the U.P. police, asking them to file a reply to Mr. Gandhi's plea by March 27. (HINDU)
  • External affairs minister and Congress candidate from Jangipur Pranab Mukherjee on Friday said that he was neither taking sanyas from politics nor would this be his last Lok Sabha election. "I had yesterday said that I was growing old but my words had perhaps been wrongly interpreted. I have no plans for taking retirement from politics nor will this be my last election," he explained. On Thursday, while campaigning in Suti area of his Jangipur constituency, Mr Mukherjee had hinted that he would not contest any election after the 15th Lok Sabha polls. He urged the people to vote for him as this could be his last term. "I had just made a simple statement with my advancing age in mind. By the time the 15th Parliament comes to an end, I will be older by five years. Everything will depend on what will be my physical condition five years from now and what will be the political situation," he elaborated. For the second consecutive day, Mr Mukherjee launched his road show in Jangipur. On Friday, he campaigned in Lalgola, Punditpur and Saidapur area. "In the past five years, he has emerged as the second most powerful person in the UPA govt," a school teacher said.(AA)
  • Lucknow: In her determined charge for the PM's post, BSP chief Mayawati has fallen back on the formula of forging a bloc of Brahmins and Dalits which brought her to power in UP in May 2007. The BSP on Friday named as many as 20 Brahmins out of 28 upper castes among its 80 candidates in UP. The breakup 20 Brahmins, six Thakurs, two Banias and one Punjabi Khatri makes it a big leap on the Dalit party's 'sarvjan' policy. Polls 2009 marks a long journey in BSP's over two decades of existence when, appearing on the UP horizon as a rabid Dalit outfit, it antagonised the upper castes with its offensive slogans. Mayawati's strategy for the well-publicised 'Project PMO' is a throwback to the assembly polls which saw her break UP's 18-year record of returning hung assemblies. While the attempt is to forge a Brahmin-Dalit combination, it is backed by the BSP's bid to supplement it with Muslim votes, evident in the nomination of 14 minorities which includes weathered warriors who also have a reputation for strongarm tactics. Akbar Ahmed Dumpy, who went out of favour some time back, has been reinstated from Azamgarh. Mayawati, who announced the final list after months of chopping and changing, has plumped for 'winnability' even if it comes at the cost of her plank of "anti-criminalisation" which saw her trump Mulayam Singh Yadav not long ago.(TOI)
  • Mumbai: The Congress and the NCP have almost finalised a seat-sharing arrangement in Maharashtra under which the Congress would contest 26 seats and NCP the remaining 22. This is one seat more than what the NCP fought in 2004 Lok Sabha elections. A formal announcement will be made later as the allies still have differences on who should get Osmanabad in Marathwada. Congress heavyweights and ex-chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Shivajirao Patil-Nilangekar are eyeing this seat, while the NCP is keen on fielding controversial ex-minister Padamsinh Patil, who is related to party chief Sharad Pawar. The scene has once again shifted to Delhi where central leaders of both the parties are expected to resolve the issue. NCP leader Praful Patel and state unit NCP president R R Patil held a meeting with CM Ashok Chavan and MPCC president Manikrao Thakare here on Thursday night, but failed to reach a decision on Osmanabad.(TOI)
  • Nagpur: RSS has decided to lend full support in the ensuing general elections to a party which espouses national interests and does not divide people by its votebank politics of appeasing a section of the society. RSS cadres will fan out across the country under the initiative Dharma Raksha Manch led by saints, sadhus in a campaign for its preferred party. The decision was taken at the three-day Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha of RSS which commenced in Nagpur on Friday. Over 1,300 representatives of the sangh parivar from across the country are attending the event. On the opening day RSS 'sarkaryavah' (general secretary) Mohan Bhagwat, in his report asked the saffron brigade to "emulate Amarnath agitation which has showed the way to conquer all our problems.'' RSS propaganda chief Manmohan Vaidya said RSS is happy that one of its swayamsevak L K Advani is being projected as the prime ministerial candidate. (Another swayamsevak AB Vajpayee has been the PM). However, Vaidya added the Sangh was "not going out of the way to campaign for BJP.'' The sarkaryavah's has appealed people to come out in full force for voting. "But he also stressed that while exercising the vote, one should focus on national interests without getting swayed by petty considerations like caste and religion,'' said Vaidya. (TOI)

MANMOHAN SINGH & GOVT

PM Manmohan Singh on Thursday said communalism and casteism were enemies of the country and everyone had to contribute in the fight against the twin evils. He was reacting to a question on BJP Pilibhit candidate Varun Gandhi's alleged inflammatory remarks against Muslims during his campaign. This was Dr. Singh's first informal interaction with the media after his heart surgery. The PM said that while Mr. Varun Gandhi had clarified that he had not made such remarks, if they had been, "it is unfortunate." Earlier Dr. Singh attended the Defence Investiture Ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. On the possible fallout, especially of the political turmoil in Pakistan, the PM said India continued to face threat from terrorists. He said it was not correct to assume that the threat had ceased to exist. "We have to be alert." To a question, he said differences among the United Progressive Alliance partners would be sorted out. Dr. Singh said tensions were built into the country's body politic. "I am confident everything will be worked out." He said he would take part in the election campaign. (HINDU)

BJP

The BJP, which distanced itself from Mr Varun Gandhi's alleged hate speeches, however, is backing his candidature from Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency. "Varun Gandhi is our candidate from Pilibhit. He is the declared candidate of the party," said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. However, at the same time, the BJP on Friday informed the Election Commission that Varun Gandhi's remarks do not represent the views of the party. The party, however, maintained that he will continue to remain the BJP's candidate from Pilibhit in UP despite being hauled up by the Election Commission for his allegedly communal speeches. Mr Gandhi and his party on Friday filed their replies to the EC's notices. Mr Gandhi, meanwhile, was granted anticipatory bail by the Delhi high court. Stating that it was unaware of the speech by Mr Varun Gandhi till its contents were telecast by news channels, in its reply to the EC the BJP has asked that the authenticity of the CD be checked. The party said it "completely" disapproved of the contents of the CD containing the controversial remarks but could not be held responsible for it. The EC is likely to look into the replies on Saturday. On Friday, two UP officials visited Mr Varun Gandhi's New Delhi residence to hand over the CD of his speech. (AA)

CONGRESS

Deepening further the differences among the UPA alliance partners in Bihar, the Congress on Friday claimed that for division in secular votes in the state the party "should not be blamed" as the announcement of the seat-sharing agreement between the RJD and LJP is a "breach of trust". Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari, while reacting to LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan's suggestions that the leading party in the UPA should not do anything, which damages the alliance, said, "We were not expecting to contest less than from what we contested in the last elections. Alliance in the state could have fructified if we were given at least five seats, as we contested four last time. But getting three seats is humiliating and so we are hurt. They have broken our trust." The Congress is now left with no option but to go alone in the state and planning to field at least 26 of its candidates, he added. Sources in the Congress, however, claimed that the party might go in for contesting all the 40 seats in Bihar. Meanwhile, concerned over the Congress' decision to go alone in Bihar by fielding as many candidates as possible and lurking division of the UPA (secular)'s votes in the state, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav had a hour-long meeting with Mr Paswan here late on Thursday night. After the meeting Mr Paswan said, "Soniaji will not do anything which weakens the UPA and strengthens the NDA." Mr Paswan's meeting with Mr Yadav took place an hour after the Congress announced its decision to contest over 26 seats in Bihar and admitted Mr Lalu Yadav's rebel brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav along with half-a-dozen RJD leaders. Asked whether the LJP will concede any more seats to the Congress from its quota of 12 seats, Mr Paswan said, "We have got only 12 seats against our demands for 16 seats." Mr Paswan said, "There's still time. We have time before elections."(AA)

LEFT PARTIES

Maintaining that both UPA and NDA are on a shaky ground, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has said time has come for a viable non-Congress, non-BJP combination at the Centre. In an article in the latest issue of 'People's Democracy', Karat even said that some of the UPA allies like NCP have hinted that alignments might change after the election. In this context, Karat said developments in the second week of March have "dramatically confirmed" what the CPM has been maintaining: politics in India cannot be straitjacketed into a two-party system. "Both the major all-India bourgeois parties are unable to command a mass base and the support of the people in many parts of the country," he said, adding that in two major states of UP and Bihar, Congress and BJP together could not claim to represent even one-third of the seats to the Lok Sabha. He said the attack on Third Front by Congress and BJP proved that it has caused consternation to them. He criticized Pranab Mukherjee for his remarks that the Third Front has no common programme. (TOI

I. CURRENT AFFAIRS

20 Brahmins in Maya's UP list: In keeping with her "sarvjan" formula, BSP chief Mayawati on Friday named 20 Brahmin candidates for Uttar Pradesh, alongside 17 Dalits in the reserved seats, and 20 OBCs.(TOI)

Clean chit to LeT in Lahore attack: Pakistan has blamed "foreign countries" for the attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore while giving a clean chit to the Lashkar-e-Taiba.(TOI)

STATES

ANDHRA PRADESH

Immediately after his arrival here on Friday, S.S.P. Yadav was formally asked to hand over temporary charge as Director General of Police to Additional DGP, Welfare, Umesh Kumar. The former DGP landed here at 4 p.m. from Tirumala on his way back from Singapore to attend an international conference on homeland security when he was stripped of the key post by the Election Commission for violating the model code of conduct. Orders went to him to hand over charge to the Additional DGP till his successor was chosen. Meanwhile, a panel of five names of IPS officers was submitted by the State govt to the EC for being considered for the DGP's post in Mr. Yadav's place. The officers named in the list are M. L. Kumawath, Director-General, Border Security Force, M. V. Krishna Rao, DG, Sashastra Seema Bal, K. R. Nandan, A. K. Mohanty and P. Gautham Kumar, the last three serving in different posts in Andhra Pradesh.(HINDU)

GUJARAT

The noted dancer, Mallika Sarabhai, daughter of the famous space scientist, Vikram Sarabhai, has decided to join the poll arena to challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate, L. K. Advani, in Gujarat's Capital city constituency of Gandhinagar. Ms. Sarabhai, who had also acted in several Hindi and Gujarati films, said she would contest as an Independent and would not accept the ticket of any political party. "But any party believing in secularist ideologies and supremacy of the common man will be welcomed to extend support to me from outside," she said. The question was raised because of the reported move by the Congress to put her up as the party candidate against Mr. Advani. The Congress is still on the lookout for a suitable candidate to challenge Mr. Advani in Gandhinagar but has so far not zeroed on any. Ms. Sarabhai, however, said, she would not contest on the Congress symbol and would prefer to remain independent. She said many of her well-wishers and supporters had set up "Friends of Democracy," to prop up her candidature and she would stick to it. (HINDU)

JHARKHAND

Notwithstanding the seat-sharing deal with the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha president Shibu Soren's son, Durga Soren, said on Friday the party would contest all the 14 seats from Jharkhand and a final decision would be taken after his father recovered from illness. According to party insiders, Mr. Durga's was a lone dissenting voice and everything would be settled as per the deal. They said he might be trying to bargain more for the party as the Assembly was in suspended animation and the JMM was keen on forming a govt in the State once more.(HINDU)

KERALA

Thiruvananthapuram: The CPM's proclamations of ushering in equal rights for women doesn't seem to have cut ice with its southern ally, Kanthapuram Aboobaker Musaliar, who heads the all-powerful Sunni sect in Kerala. Musaliar, popularly known as "Arival Sunni'' (Sickle Sunni) for his Left slant, has said a strict no to a clause in the party's manifesto which says that efforts would be made to "ensure equal rights to women of all communities''. "This is against the Koran and we will oppose it,'' Kanthapuram said. His office spokesperson Hussain Sakafi Chullikode reaffirmed this. "Islam is very close to nature which has created men and women as biologically different creatures. Even the size of their brains differs and so does their kidneys. (TOI)

ORISSA

Post its 11-year-old alliance with the BJD, while the BJP is confident it will emerge a winner in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in Orissa, the Congress too, for similar reasons, believes the stakes are high for it this time. The saffron party, which bagged seven Lok Sabha seats in 2004, hopes to manage at least six on its own in 2009 General Elections and believes it will manage a "simple majority" in the Assembly polls. Banking on tribal votes in Nabrangpura, Balasore, Keonjhar areas, the BJP held a Vijay Sankalp rally in the state early this week to protest against the "betrayal" of the Navin Patnaik govt. But even as the BJP is weighing its options by contesting all the 21 seats, it is not ruling out that a division in the anti-Congress votes may ultimately benefit the Congress party. But the saffron party leaders said an increase in the Congress' share will not be "significant." Tribals account for 23 per cent of the population while SC's are around 15 per cent in Orissa. Realizing the stakes for the party have increased after the BJD-BJP split, Congress president Sonia Gandhi recently asked the three former chief ministers, Mr J.B. Patnaik, Mr Giridhar Gamang and Mr Hemananda Biswal to be present at the state screening committee to help it arrive at a broader consensus in selecting the LS candidates.(AA)

RAJASTHAN

Speculation is rife here over the chances of former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin fighting the Lok Sabha election on Congress ticket from Rajasthan. Azharuddin may not have any Rajasthan connection other than his periodic pilgrimage to the Dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, but the Congress party, looking for a Muslim candidate for one of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from Rajasthan, may in all likelihood opt for him. While the first list of the Congress party for Rajasthan is expected any time now, a surprise visit by Azharuddin to the State capital on Friday added fuel to the rumours here about his getting a ticket for the newly created Tonk-Sawai Madhopur Lok Sabha seat. In Jaipur, the former cricketer called on two Ministers, Aimaduddin Ahmed and Babulal Nagar. Mr. Ahmed is said to be an old contact of Azharuddin. Mr. Nagar is the Congress party's Minister in charge for the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur seat. Azharuddin was not available for comment but Mr. Nagar, when contacted, remained non-committal on the candidature of the former. "His was a courtesy call. We discussed things in general," Mr. Nagar said. (HINDU)

  • JAIPUR: The Congress party's new ally from the Sangh Parivar, Kirori Lal Meena, is proving an additional issue for the party to settle while deciding on the Lok Sabha tickets from Rajasthan in the current poll season. Dr. Meena, who walked out of the Bharatiya Janata Party before the Rajasthan Assembly elections this past November protesting over the distribution of BJP tickets in the eastern districts, is now engaged in a tough bargain with the Congress. Dr. Meena's wife, Golma Devi, is Minister of State in the Gehlot Govt here and his support is precious for the Congress not only because of the coming Lok Sabha elections but also considering the thin majority the Govt has in the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly. After several days of consultations in Delhi involving CM Ashok Gehlot, Pradesh Congress Committee president C. P. Joshi and the members of the Screening Committee headed by P. J. Kurien, the Congress is still not in a position to announce the names of its candidates for the Lok Sabha seats from Rajasthan. (HINDU)

II. INDIA & THE WORLD

Islamabad: A worried Pakistan has decided to raise the issue of a possible extension of the US covert war to Balochistan with the CIA chief Leon Panetta during his visit to the country. Mr Panetta would be arriving here on a two day visit on Friday. "Pakistani authorities will raise this issue with the CIA chief when he arrives here and he will be cautioned that drone attacks on Balochistan could be catastrophic for the country's stability," the Nation quoted a top Pakistani official as saying. According to sources, Mr Panetta is likely to meet PM Yousaf Raza Gilani's adviser on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, senior officials in ISI and FIA, and other top officials during his stay. Islamabad, on several occasions, has said that the drone attacks are proving detrimental to the "War on Terror", and that the US strategy in this context should be reviewed. Earlier, Pakistan had rebuked media reports which claimed that the US was planning to expand its military operation beyond the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan.(AA)
 
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