Sharif brother in cricket diplomacy
Buoyant Laloo puts Dalits
Women�s Day gift for Rabri
UK glosses over blasts after Delhi tough talk
Phone rentals set to be doubled
Godmother sinks in legal quicksand
Opposition picks on Khurana resignation
Jaya case posted for Thursday
United Opposition trains Bhagwat gun on government
Mayavati scoffs at Mamata �joke�

New Delhi, March 8 
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may still be undecided about his trip to India, but his brother Shahbaz is likely to come here on April 1 to watch a one-dayer between India and Pakistan at Mohali.

Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the Pakistani province of Punjab, has been invited by his Indian counterpart Parkash Singh Badal to visit Chandigarh to watch the match.

Those close to Badal say it is his way of returning the grand hospitality shown by Shahbaz when the Indian delegation accompanying Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took the inaugural bus from Delhi to Lahore on February 20.

While there was general bonhomie between the Indian and Pakistani leaders and officials during Vajpayee�s trip, the chief ministers of the two Punjabs showed that they shared a special bond. Badal, who had carried some mementoes from his state, was overwhelmed by Shahbaz�s response to his complaint about the non-availability of good stud sheep in his state. To his surprise, the next day his Pakistan counterpart presented him with six dumbas, the Lahore stud sheep well known in the sub-continent.

Though it is not yet clear whether Shahbaz has accepted the invitation, going by the enthusiasm in the Badal�s camp, it appears that he will make the trip.

During the Indo-Pak Test series which ended last month, there was speculation whether Nawaz Sharif would take a cue from Zia-ul- Haq and come to watch one of the matches. However, since Sharif had already extended an invitation to Vajpayee and the latter had accepted it, it became difficult for the Pakistani Prime Minister to embark on a cricket-diplomacy mission. But he may do so now by sending his brother to India in an attempt to keep the track-II diplomatic channel open with New Delhi.

When Shahbaz comes here, it will not be only for the one-dayer. The Punjab government will also make arrangements for him to visit other parts of the state like the Golden temple in Amritsar and the Anandpur Sahib gurdwara.

Irrespective of whether Shahbaz comes to India, speculation is rife over the Pakistan Prime Minister�s possible visit and dates of the Lahore-Delhi bus service. Initially, the service was hampered by non-availability of buses from Pakistan.

The Pakistanis, though impressed by the Indian bus, were not ready to buy it from Delhi State Transport Corporation for Rs 22 lakh. Instead, they negotiated with Mitsubishi to buy buses fitted with more gadgets, including a modern toilet. Pak blasts Advani Pakistan today flayed Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani for �reviving the concept of akhand Bharat�. It said �war games� by Indian Air Force close to its border would �vitiate the atmosphere� and undermine efforts to normalise relations.    

New Delhi, March 8 
A buoyant Laloo Prasad Yadav today ruled out early Assembly elections in Bihar and declared the first priority of the reinstated Rabri Devi government would be to uplift Dalits.

As the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government got a lease of life, Laloo Yadav made a new promise � distribution of 400 acres of land among Dalits in Jehanabad, the district where two massacres in less than a month had led to the sacking of the Bihar government.

Hours after home minister L.K. Advani announced the revocation of President�s rule, Laloo Yadav marched down to the lawn outside Parliament where Mahatma Gandhi�s statue stands, garlanded it and said the reinstatement of the Rabri government was a tribute to International Women�s Day.

Later, he addressed a press conference inside Parliament, signalling his intention to govern better. Heeding the Left�s criticism of the complete absence of land reforms in Bihar, the RJD chief declared his first task would be to distribute land and focus on development activities � matters that never really figure on his agenda.

Since the Jehanabad massacres and the subsequent axe on the Rabri government had put the Dalit issue at the centre of the debate on President�s rule in Bihar, Laloo harped on his duty towards Dalits. �I will go on a padayatra with Rabri Devi to Jehanabad,� he said.

The ruling BJP and its ally Samata Party had tried to brand Laloo Yadav and his allies as �anti-Dalit�, and the RJD chief today signalled his resolve not to let the accusation to stick.

He focused on Dalits, land reforms and development, in that order, to take the wind out of the Opposition campaign.

In his hour of victory, the Bihar satrap turned generous towards his traditional political adversaries � the CPI(ML), which has taken a lead in organising the landless poor in central Bihar.

�I will release from prison the Naxalites who have been falsely incriminated. But they also must give up terrorism,� he said.

The entire Opposition, including the Congress and the Left, had rallied behind Laloo Yadav in his hour of crisis and he effusively thanked his friends in need. He had a special word of gratitude for Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

During the crisis, Laloo Yadav had mopped up allies and buried the hatchet with the Congress and Left � parties which had been extremely critical of his functioning.

�I am indebted to Sonia Gandhi,� he said and then individually named all Left, Janata Dal, Tamil Maanila Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders who had spoken up on his government�s behalf in the Lok Sabha.

The RJD chief also made it a point to underline that Janata Dal leader Ram Vilas Paswan was not among those who had befriended him. �I thank all Opposition leaders minus Ram Vilas Paswan,� he said.    

Patna, March 8 
It was the ideal Women�s Day gift for Rabri Devi.

Basking in the glory of being reinstated on her throne, Bihar�s first lady even touted her �triumph� as a �big victory for women on Vishwa Mahila Diwas�.

Today, all roads led to 1, Anne Marg, the most important address in Patna. A steady stream of party leaders, workers, former ministers and legislators trooped in, smothering Rabri Devi with garlands and bouquets. The area, deserted till this morning, reverberated with slogans.

Bureaucrats and police officers, including deputy superintendents of police and inspectors in uniform, who had been shunted out of Patna during President�s rule, joined the chorus.

With husband Laloo Prasad Yadav in Delhi, Rabri Devi had to handle the surging crowd with help from brothers Sadhu and Subhash Yadav, who strutted around with cordless sets.

In the melee, ministers and legislators rubbed shoulders with orderlies, secretaries, telephone operators and security personnel. Laddoos and green gulal passed from hand to hand. �It�s like Holi and Diwali simultaneously,� crowed family friend Raghubar Jha. The chief minister�s son, Tej Pratap, surveying the proceedings from his mother�s lap, ordered: �Bring rasgullas.�

Smiling broadly, former Union minister Kanti Singh declared: �This is a historic victory for Lalooji and Rabriji.�

As soon as she was told about the Centre�s decision to revoke President�s rule in the state, Rabri Devi remarked: �They had to swallow what they spat out.� She added: �It was a wrong decision. They (the BJP and Samata Party) thought that by dismissing the government, they will ruin us. They are living in a fool�s paradise.�

Rabri Devi repeatedly thanked the Congress and its chief Sonia Gandhi, whose adamant stand against Central rule forced the Vajpayee government to backtrack.

On her future plans, she said: �Now my government will work more cautiously and strictly.� She said transfers made during President�s rule will be reviewed. �S.S. Bhandari should go now,� she said. �Apna gathri mutri bandh kar izzat se chale jaiyen (He should pack up and leave with dignity).�

Stating that all paramilitary forces posted during President�s rule should stay on, senior RJD leader Shankar Prasad Tekriwal added, helping himself to a laddoo: �The politically-motivated transfers will be cancelled.�

Bhandari seemed unperturbed over the Centre�s turnabout. Asked about the demand for his resignation, he replied: �I have not thought about it.�

He said he was merely discharging his constitutional duties, adding that he was not concerned about the Centre�s decision.

�I hope the new government will take full charge. But since the Assembly was kept under Article 356, the new establishment has to take oath,� Bhandari said.

Asked if he was willing to co-operate with the reinstated state government, Bhandari quipped: �Tali dono haath se bajti hai.�    

New Delhi, March 8 
India today made it clear to the UK that while it was willing to accept the two sides� difference in perception on the nuclear issue, it would not brook the West�s attempts to prescribe solutions on matters of sovereignty.

During a meeting with visiting British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said India wanted co-ordination with the developed world but a lot would depend on the international community�s efforts to create a conducive atmosphere in South Asia.

Prescott handed over to Vajpayee a letter written to him by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Gauging the mood of the Indian leadership, Prescott admitted in the evening that the two countries had agreed not to let the nuclear issue come in the way of bilateral relations.

�There has been differences between us on the nuclear issue. But both sides have agreed to build a positive atmosphere. The nuclear issue is now behind us,� he said.

Prescott�s trip is significant as it is the highest-level visit from London since the Pokhran tests. The thawing in Indo-British relations may have started with two visits of national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and foreign minister Jaswant Singh to UK earlier this year. The response from UK in sending Prescott shows its keenness not to let the pace flag.

Asked how he read Vajpayee�s remarks, Prescott said: �It was a very positive statement. It simply meant that India does not want any lectures on issues like the nuclear one which are considered to be the sovereign right of a country.�

Mixing wit with diplomatic one-liners, the seasoned politician deftly side-stepped any topic that may spark off a fresh controversy.

Asked whether he got any hint as to when India would sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, he said: �I am not going to tell you anything of the indications that I got during my talks with the Indian leaders. I am keeping it for my Prime Minister.�

Replying to whether attacks on Christians were discussed with Vajpayee and other leaders, Prescott replied in the negative. He praised the subsequent steps taken by New Delhi and cited the condemnation of the attacks from the highest political quarters here.

Prescott also referred to the violent killings of the religious minority in Northern Ireland, trying to show that such assault was not peculiar to India.

�The Indian Prime Minister has said that he is appalled by the attacks on the Christians and that is very much a strong condemnation of the incidents,� he said, adding that it was also a clear proof that the government was not behind the killings.

Prescott described Vajpayee�s Lahore trip as a �very courageous� decision that might lead to an amicable settlement of all disputes.

Prescott, who also holds the environment and transport portfolios, said his main agenda was to engage Indian leaders on some of Britain�s concerns like the environment and its commitment to tiger conservation. But he deliberately underplayed his role in gauging the mood of the Indian leaders on the nuclear non proliferation and disarmament.    

New Delhi, March 8 
In the new tariff schedule for the telecom sector to be announced tomorrow, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) plans a steep hike in rentals and local call charges and a reduction in long-distance call rates.

The tariff proposed by Trai is likely to come into effect from April 1, after the official gazette notification is issued by the end of March. The tariffs are likely to rationalise present rates, bringing rural and urban consumers on par. The measures are expected to remove the cross subsidy currently offered to rural subscribers at the expense of urban phone users.

Number of bi-monthly free calls is expected to be made uniform for rural and urban users. At present, urban callers get up to 150 free calls while those in rural areas get 250. The rentals will be increased by over 100 per cent.

The consultation paper proposed four slabs: Rs 0.43 per minute for up to 50 km, Rs 3.90 for up to 200 km, Rs 9.75 for up to 500 km and Rs 19.50 for above 500 km. This will benefit long-distance callers. Currently, a call (per minute) made to the US costs about Rs 75 during peak hours. The proposals will bring it down to Rs 39 (per minute) during peak hours.

Following a series of countrywide open house sessions by Trai, this will be the first time in five years that the price of telecom services will be revised. The new prices will attempt to accomplish three things. One, to ensure consumers get better service. Two, give a fair opportunity to private operators. Three, allow incumbent operators to continue to make profits.

Trai�s move will not only determine the future of telecom services, but also its ability to fulfil the social objective of so-called universal service obligations.

The final outcome will set a benchmark for more than the telecom sector. It will influence pricing policies for other infrastructure sectors. Under the new telecom policy, Trai is at the helm of affairs when it comes to suggesting tariffs, which translates to less uncertainty on tariffs for operators and consumers.    

London, March 8 
The Godmother, which was to be the highlight of �Tongues of Fire�, an Asian women�s film festival in Britain, has been withdrawn, it was announced today.

Shabana Azmi, who plays the lead role in the film, is due to come to Britain to attend the festival and promote the film, which was to be shown on Friday in London and on Sunday in Glasgow.

The film was pulled out at the last minute due to �legal shenanigans�.

Pushpinder Choudhary, one of the main organisers of the event, said: �We feel very disappointed. People are very interested in The Godmother.�

Meanwhile, audiences for the festival are still looking forward to meeting Shabana Azmi, who remains the chief guest.

She will be holding seminars and workshops.

Instead of The Godmother, they will now have to content themselves with seeing another of her films, Bada Din, which is set around Christmas Day in Calcutta.

Cary Rajinder Sawhney, a programmer at the National Film Theatre, who saw The Godmother at the Hyderabad festival, remains optimistic that the film will attract a commercial market in London.

�The film represents a fresh telling of the lives of Asian women. It is like The Godfather set in India,� he said.

He predicts that one song-and-dance sequence, in which drunk Rajasthani women announce that the rajas have gone and the ranis are here, will go down in cinema history.

The Godmother marks the directorial debut of scriptwriter Vinay Shukla, who wrote the screenplay of Virasat.

The film is said to be based on the real story of Santokben Jadeja, a Gujarati woman who became a local don after her husband lost his life in gang war.

It is understood that she has taken the producers to court in order to get a better financial deal for herself. The festival committee pointed out that she was consulted about the film.

Sangeeta Datta, one of the main speakers, remarked that The Godmother was one of the major attractions of the festival and termed the controversy around it �a small-scale Bandit Queen affair�.

Another Shabana film, Deepa Mehta�s Fire, will also be shown at the festival, but this has been commercially released already and the screenings have gone without a fuss.

The actress is becoming something of a feminist icon for Asian women in Britain, in particular the second generation, largely through her role in Fire.

This will be her third visit to Britain in the space of a few months. The Birmingham International Film and Television Festival, held in November, paid a tribute to the actress and celebrated her 25 years in the industry with screenings of her films and an �in conversation� session.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London followed suit in December.

Datta explained: �She is looked upon as an Asian woman who has made it in the world.�    

New Delhi, March 8 
The Opposition today embarrassed the BJP government by playing on the differences between the ruling party and its former parliamentary affairs minister Madan Lal Khurana.

Home minister L.K. Advani had just swallowed defeat on Bihar, when the Opposition raked up another sensitive issue � Khurana�s resignation that exposed the extent and depth of internecine differences within the BJP.

Senior CPI leader Indrajit Gupta raised the issue during Zero Hour, saying: �Khuranaji had wanted to read out a statement explaining his resignation to the Lok Sabha. We were told a notice has been served to the Lok Sabha secretariat.� The Opposition insisted the matter was listed on the Lok Sabha�s business agenda last Friday. Deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, however, denied it.

The Congress pitched in and senior party leader P. Shiv Shanker asked: �We waited the whole of last week to hear Khuranaji. How much longer do we have to wait?�

The man whose resignation had landed the BJP in a spot was present in the House and seemed to enjoy his party�s discomfiture. �Khuranaji is present and he should either confirm or deny about the statement,� said Gupta. Khurana did not oblige, but was barely able to conceal his glee.    

New Delhi, March 8 
Turning a deaf ear to repeated pleas from the Centre to dismiss the petition of former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha seeking to quash the special courts against her, the Supreme Court today fixed March 11 for further hearings in the case.

Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee contended that Jayalalitha�s petition had become infructuous after the Centre�s notification transferring the 46 corruption cases against her from the special courts established by the state government to the normal courts.

Sorabjee also pleaded for dismissal of the Tamil Nadu petition challenging the validity of the Union notification shifting the corruption cases against the her.

The Centre argued that under Section 4(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, it alone had the power to transfer cases. But the state counter-argued that when special courts were already established under Section 3 of the Act, the powers of the Centre were exercised �colourably� for political reasons.    

New Delhi, March 8 
Opposition parties today closed ranks to take on the BJP-led coalition government on corruption charges during the budget session of Parliament. The parties have also decided to table a censure motion tomorrow against the Centre on the dismissal of former naval chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

This decision was taken at a meeting of leaders convened by leader of the Opposition Sharad Pawar. Senior Congress leaders said the nation should know the �murky� deals behind the sacking of the former naval chief.

The parties are planning to give notice for discussion of the sacking under Rule 184, which entails voting to put the government on the mat. However, there is no unanimity on whether it should be under Rule 184 or 193, under which there is no voting.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Tamil Manila Congress leader P. Chidambaram, Republican Party of India leader R.S. Gavai and DMK legislator C. Kuppusamy were among the senior leaders who attended the meeting convened by Pawar.

Last week, the Opposition in the Lok Sabha had demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the sacking of the former naval chief and the allegations of kickbacks levelled against certain senior ministers by Mohan Guruswamy, former advisor to finance minister Yaswant Sinha.

The Opposition parties had also tried to raise the matter in the Rajya Sabha, but Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernandes prevailed upon them not to rake up the issue in the House as it involved �national security�.

However, the Opposition leaders did not agree with the Prime Minister. They said they would not discuss anything which undermined national security, but added that their move was to expose a scam.

Some Congress leaders alleged that the defence minister received kickbacks in defence deals and the sacking of Bhagwat was linked to it.

Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi asked that if an issue like Bofors can be discussed in Parliament, why not the issue of the sacking of the naval chief.

The Opposition leaders felt Admiral Bhagwat was sacked without informing or consulting Parliament.

As a strategy, the leaders decided to separate the two issues of dismissal of the former naval chief and the charges of corruption levelled by the sacked Admiral Bhagwat.

Sources said while the Opposition was united over raising the dismissal issue, opinion was divided on raking up corruption charges.    

New Delhi, March 8 
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayavati today denied she was part of the Mamata Banerjee-sponsored �women brigade�, formed to ensure the survival of the Vajpayee government.

Reacting strongly to a statement made by the Trinamul Congress leader in the course of Rajat Sharma�s televised interview on Janata ki Adalat, Mayavati told here: �I have nothing to do with her women�s brigade. I am the national vice-president of the BSP, which is a national party. I have twice been the chief minister. If I have to form a brigade, it will be under the BSP�s banner.�

Embarrassed by Mamata�s remark, which was played up by the press to insinuate the possibility of the BSP supporting the Vajpayee-led coalition, Mayavati sought an explanation on phone.

Mamata, said the BSP leader, dismissed the remark as a �joke�. �I pointed out that the papers had not reported it like a joke, but had taken her seriously. To how many people can I go around saying she meant it as a joke? I told Mamata to contradict her statement and say it was a joke.�

Mayavati said since Mamata is a BJP ally, people would tend to �read deeper meanings� in her remark, and the BSP�s supporters may get confused. �All parties have latched on to Mamata�s statement and are trying to confuse my partymen,� she stressed.

Though the BSP had opposed the Centre during the vote of confidence last year, it had supported imposition of Central rule in Bihar. Mayavati clarified the move was not aimed at �strengthening the BJP�s hands�, but �protecting the interests of Bihar�s Dalits� since Article 356 was invoked after Dalit killings in Jehanabad.    


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