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News Watch 31 Jan 2009

HEADLINES

  • Before Islamabad reports, its envoy says: Mumbai plot not planned in Pak (IE)
  • British rule, BJP.s divisive politics same: Rahul (IE)
  • Centre will work for early restoration of peace in Sri Lanka, says Pranab (HINDU)

LEAD

Pakistan today said it had completed its preliminary investigation into India.s dossier on the Mumbai Terror attacks and would share its findings but there were not too many fingers crossed in New Delhi. Top officials said that New Delhi was extremely sceptical of the report, given Islamabad.s record of flip-flops and denials. This seemed to be reinforced by a statement from Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Pakistan.s High Commissioner in Britain, who told NDTV their investigation had shown that the attacks were not planned in Pakistan. Hassan said Pakistan hoped other countries would accept the findings. "We are not doing any whitewashing business. We believe in going about facts. Our findings will be acceptable... They (the investigators) categorically informed me that (the) UK was not involved. Pak (Pakistan) was not involved. Its territories were not used for planning this operation," Hassan said. (IE)

  • In a move guaranteed to stir up institutional and political controversy, Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami has suo motu sent a recommendation to the President that Election Commissioner Navin Chawla should be removed from office on the alleged ground of 'partisanship.. The President has forwarded the CEC.s missive to the PM. Mr. Gopalaswami.s action has raised eyebrows within the govt on account of its timing as well as its departure from well-settled readings of the relevant constitutional provisions. The 15th general election, along with Assembly elections in some States, will be held in April-May 2009. Mr. Gopalaswami himself will retire as CEC on April 20 and Mr. Chawla will succeed him. The sequence of events is as follows. On March 16, 2006, BJP Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and 204 MPs submitted a petition to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam seeking the removal of Mr. Chawla as Election Commissioner under Article 324(5) of the Constitution. A month later, BJP leader V.K. Malhotra sent a copy of this petition to the CEC. With the President forwarding the petition to the PM, the matter rested there with the political govt evidently finding no merit in the BJP.s allegations. (HINDU)
  • CHENNAI: The Centre will continue to work for a political settlement of the issues in Sri Lanka, including meaningful devolution and early restoration of peace, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on Friday. "Our concern for the safety and security of innocent civilians in the conflict will continue to lead us to do whatever we can to ameliorate and resolve the situation," Mr. Mukherjee stated in his letter, which was read out by Finance Minister K. Anbazhagan in the Assembly. Referring to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.s statement on Thursday, providing 48 hours for free movement of civilians, Mr. Mukherjee said: "I understand that necessary instructions to this effect have been given by the Govt of Sri Lanka to allow the movement of civilians trapped in the conflict zone to safer areas." He noted that this was an issue he had raised in his discussions with Mr. Rajapaksa during his recent trip to the island nation. (HINDU)
  • New Delhi: Tension between India and Pakistan may flare up once again with India set to reject any claim by the latter that the Mumbai attacks were not planned from its territory. Such a response would be completely unacceptable, sources said on Friday amid growing indications of Pakistan.s reluctance to accept that 26/11 was engineered by jihadi groups operating from its territory. The declaration of intent followed the reported claim of Pakistan.s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Wahid Shamsul Hasan, that the Mumbai attacks were not planned in either UK or Pakistan. (TOI)
  • Ahmedabad: Comparing the political ideology of the BJP with that of the British rulers, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Friday said the saffron party was pursuing the "divisive politics" that was once practised by the British rulers to perpetuate their reign over India. Addressing Congress workers from all over the state on the conclusion of a month-long "Abhay Udaan, Bharat Mahaan" programme, Rahul said the divisive politics was based on "spreading of fear which is used to divide people and create schism in various sections of society". There was another type of politics which united and brought the people closer. It was based on Mahatma Gandhi.s philosophy. "It is Gandhiji.s politics which is the need of the hour," he said, adding that it was the Congress which was practising the politics taught by Gandhiji. Rahul maintained India need not fear anyone. "It will stand on its own feet and lead the world," he said. "But not with the support of any politician but with the contribution and support of its poor, downtrodden villagers and city dwellers." (IE)
  • New Delhi: Congress feels it is nicely poised to rein in aggressive allies and gain some voice in the otherwise defensive coalition game, with the AICC stressing that it was the sense of the marathon CWC held on Friday. If Congress did not back off from rebuffing Sharad Pawar and Mulayam Singh Yadav, two men seen as crucial in any "secular formation", the overwhelming view is that allies need Congress more at this juncture than the other way round, which was true in 2004 polls. Pawar and Yadav are exploring ways to raise their share in UPA by seeking seats outside their states. The aggression in Congress, in evidence at the CWC talkathon, AICC believes, may have consequences for alliances, specially the one being discussed with SP in UP. There was an overwhelming view against a deal which showed Congress in poor light, with leaders taking exception to the meagre offer from SP. While a leader dwelt on the historical role of UP in Congress.s growth, another said conceding too much would further weaken the organisation. The alliance is not off, because the heir apparent Rahul Gandhi himself was seen as advocating honourable deals, but the CWC view is likely to exert pressure on SP to part with more for a tie-up. (TOI)
  • New Delhi: Closing ranks with leaders opposing pub culture in the aftermath of the Mangalore incident, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Friday said it was against Indian ethos and asserted that the proposed National Alcohol Policy would help curb it. "We definitely condemn the incident where women were attacked, but the pub culture must stop. It is because of this that youth in the country have taken to drinking in a big way," Ramadoss said at a press conference here. Linking youngsters visiting pubs to increased rates of accidents due to drunken driving, he said, "In India, 40 percent of road accidents are alcohol-related." These young people not only jeopardise their lives but also endanger others on the roads, he said. "It is not our culture. If it goes this way I don.t think India will progress," Ramadoss said, adding, most of the people losing their lives due to such road accidents and alcoholism were in their early twenties, which are the most productive years. (IE)

BJP

With general elections intervening, the BJP.s organizational poll process is on hold, but party president Rajnath Singh is not likely to get an extension to stay on till the end of 2010 as some of his followers have been hoping. The BJP president had initially taken over from party senior L K Advani who had himself taken charge from M Venkaiah Naidu following the NDA.s defeat in the 2004 polls. Having completed Naidu.s unfinished presidency, Singh was confirmed for a fresh three year term which is now drawing to a close. Singh.s supporters have tried to test waters about the possibility of the leader being given an extension till the end of 2010 and there has been speculation about such a proposal being moved at the forthcoming BJP national executive and council in Nagpur. The speculation seems quite unfounded. Party sources said there was no proposal to give an extended term to Singh as the elections would get over by May and it would not need more than three months to wrap up BJP.s organizational polls thereafter. This had already been decided upon and organizational elections were put on hold. No further authorisation was now required. The moves to circumvent what has been the party.s decision are perhaps reflective of the unease of the official faction over having to hand over the baton in a few months from now. With RSS also no longer enamoured of the current leadership, some of Singh.s supporters are arguing that it will not be possible to complete the interrupted organisational polls soon after the general elections.(TOI)

  • CHANDIGARH: The ruling BJP in Punjab on Friday rejected its alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal.s demand for implementation of the controversial Anandpur Sahib Resolution passed by the Akalis in the 1970s, saying it would be a "step towards disintegration of the nation". "It (the resolution) is a step towards disintegration. The resolution passed in the 1970s is not acceptable to the BJP," said the chairman of the election campaign committee of the Punjab BJP, Balramji Dass Tandon, addressing a press conference here. Mr. Tandon said the resolution had been interpreted in different ways with no clear approach coming out of it. "Some spoke of setting up of a separate State while others spoke of more powers for the State and another viewpoint veered around to defence, finance and foreign affairs being with the Centre and the rest of the affairs managed by the State," said Mr. Tandon elaborating the reasons behind the party.s refusal. "With so many different interpretations, this does not tally with the viewpoint of the BJP," the former Punjab Minister said. (HINDU)

CONGRESS

The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) on Friday authorised Congress president Sonia Gandhi to nominate a candidate for the lone Rajya Sabha seat that the United Democratic Front (UDF) can hope to win on the basis of its combined strength in the Assembly. The KPCC election committee, which met here briefly, took this safe route out of the maze created by party leaders themselves over the selection of a candidate for the Rajya Sabha seat that the Congress decided to contest overlooking the claims of its coalition partner, the Kerala Congress (M) led by K.M. Mani. The election committee passed a one-line statement authorising Ms. Gandhi to take an appropriate decision. In the meantime, KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala who was touted as one of the three strong contenders for the seat opted out of the race by making a public announcement at a Youth Congress leadership camp in Pathanamthitta. (HINDU)

  • Gearing up for the next general elections, the Congress will come out with the first list of candidates next week. Congress sources said the central election committee of the party is likely to meet in the next few days and the first set of LS candidates, including that of Uttar Pradesh, will be announced soon after. Although they did not disclose the number of seats likely to figure in the first list, Congress sources said some of the seats in UP may be the ones where the SP has already declared its candidates. The SP has already declared candidates on around 52 seats so far in order to exert pressure on the Congress, which wants to have an alliance with it in UP. The Congress has already stated that the two parties can have "friendly fight" on around eight seats. In order to support its point, the Congress leaders observed that SP had friendly fight with CPI(M) in two seats during the last Lok Sabha polls. Congress leaders said the SP had an electoral arrangement with the CPI(M) on four seats in 2004 but the Left party contested on two more seats where it had a friendly fight with the SP. Congress sources said negotiations with the SP are taking time as the Congress wants between 25-30 seats but the SP is not willing to part with more than 15 out of the total 80 LS seats in UP. Stating that it wants the alliance, the Congress clarified its stand on the former BJP leader Kalyan Singh joining ranks with the SP recently.(HINDU)

I. CURRENT AFFAIRS

B K Modi seeks Satyam stake: B K Modi has offered to buy 51% stake in Satyam for Rs 2,000 crore. (TOI)

Manmohan may be discharged today: PM Manmohan Singh is likely to be discharged from the AIIMS on Saturday. He was "convalescing very well" after undergoing bypass surgery. (HINDU)

STATES

ANDHRA PRADESH

Aimed at shifting the attention towards the main Opposition party, the Telugu Desam Party, the Congress Govt, which is facing all kinds of allegations over "favouring" Maytas Infra while awarding the Metro Rail Project, has trained its guns on TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu by accusing the former CM of padding up the profit figures of his family-owned firm, Heritage Foods Limited and also questioned his land deals. Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy has directed Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy to submit a report on the land deals of Heritage Foods and the alleged irregularities involved. At the crux of this inquiry is a report published in the Telugu daily Sakshi that Naidu.s firm cooked up figures to show that Heritage Foods Limited was running in profits when it actually incurred losses. Sakshi, is owned by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the CM. Political parties have turned the heat on the Congress after the Satyam fraud came to light. (IE)

BIHAR

RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav, who called Bihar CM Nitish Kumar a "copycat" recently for "trying to become a mass leader", might have to eat his words, for his party has decided to organise a "Paidal Yatra" in response to Kumar.s ongoing "Vikas Yatra". Most RJD leaders, including Lalu, were dismissive of the Vikas Yatra for the first few days. However, its success has virtually "forced" the RJD to think out of the box. RJD.s decision to march on foot to blocks and villages in the state assumes political significance as the party never "walked to the masses" during its 15-year rule. An upbeat NDA has termed the "Paidal Yatra" a "desperation march". Lalu has decided to keep away from the march. Only RJD MPs, MLAs and top functionaries will participate in the yatra. The RJD president, however, may drop in at some function if and when he has the time. (IE)

KERALA

With the CPM central leadership refusing to yield to his demand of removing state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in the wake of the SNC Lavalin scandal, Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan is gearing up for his next big battle. Leaders close to Achuthanandan are in touch with his sympathizers who were purged from the party over the last few years. The rebels are said to be in the process of setting up parallel units across the state, anticipating a possible exit of the veteran Marxist from the party. Sources close to Achuthanandan told The Indian Express that he.s determined to walk out of the post, and perhaps even the party, if the leadership continues to back Vijayan, an accused in the SNC Lavalin case. Vijayan was the state power minister when the govt-run electricity board signed a controversial deal with the Canadian power company. The CBI has sought the Governor.s permission to prosecute Vijayan. (IE)

MADHYA PRADESH

The Lok Sabha elections are yet to be announced, but politicking is on at a feverish pitch in Indore, the commercial capital of MP. This time, it.s an intra-party battle that has embarrassed the ruling BJP that retained the state with an impressive tally of 143 seats in the recent Assembly elections. A section of the BJP, led by the supporters of Industries Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya, is bitterly opposed to the candidature of senior leader Sumitra Mahajan. The opposition began in Indore, when a few MLAs and leaders met at a hotel in the city, and now the disgruntled voices have reached the state capital and Delhi, where Mahajan.s fate will be decided. Mahajan.s name figured in the list of candidates for 14 seats where only one name each has been recommended. The state unit has sent a list of candidates for 29 seats to Delhi. Vijayvargiya.s acolyte Ramesh Mendola, whose candidature was opposed by Mahajan during the Assembly elections, is now taking his revenge by mobilising those who are not in favour of retaining Mahajan. Mahajan had wanted a ticket for her son, but failed in the venture. (IE)

UTTAR PRADESH

About 50 per cent of the BSP tickets will be given to youth in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, CM Mayawati announced on Friday. "While other political parties remember youth and talk about their proper representation during election time and forget all about it after polls, the Bahujan Samaj Party is the only party, which is totally committed to giving them proper representation," Ms. Mayawati said in a release here. The remarks came a day after Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi reportedly called for a system of "quota" to field 30 per cent young faces in the parliamentary elections, at a Congress Working Committee meeting in Delhi on Thursday. Claiming that no other party had given as much representation to the youth as had the BSP, Ms. Mayawati said that these "young faces" would promote party policies and work to establish a constructive "Sarv Samaj" in the country. "BSP in the real sense has been bringing all sections of society together, unlike its political adversaries," she said. (HINDU)

II. INDIA & THE WORLD

Washington: US President Barack Obama on Thursday branded Wall Street bankers as "shameful" for giving themselves $18.4 billion in bonuses as the economy was deteriorating and the govt was spending billions to bail out some of the nation.s most prominent financial institutions. "There will be time for them to make profits,and there will be time for them to get bonuses," Obama said. "Now is not that time.And that.s a message that I intend to send directly to them,I expect (treasury) secretary (Tim) Geithner to send to them." Vice-President Joe Biden was harsher. "I.d like to throw these guys in the brig (jail)," he thundered. Obama was reacting to a report by the New York state comptroller that found financial executives had received an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for 2008, less than for the previous several years but the same level of bonuses as they received in 2004, when times were flush. "That is the height of irresponsibility," Obama said. "It is shameful. And part of what were going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility."(TOI)

EDITORIAL

Number theory: The Congress party.s decision to limit its electoral alliances to the state level is unsurprising. In recent weeks it has been publicly pressured by allies like the NCP and the Samajwadi Party to accommodate their candidates for general election. In stating its status as the "national" party leading the UPA coalition, it would obviously be aiming to call the bluff of its over-assertive alliance partners. The move could also increase the space for negotiations with new allies after the elections, if the Congress indeed happens to be in a position to form the next Govt in New Delhi. However, it is not clear whether the privileging of state-level alliances over the ruling coalition.s national identity would impact the nature of the UPA in the next Lok Sabha. It is certainly a curious development.(IE)

 
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