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Manmohan Singh begins his first day in office as PM

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today began his first full working day in office in his second five-year term at the head of a Congress-led coalition government. He presided over a cabinet meeting at his residence, a day after he and 19 cabinet colleagues took the oath of office and secrecy. "The meeting was called to decide when to convene parliament and discuss the modalities for presentation of the union budget," said a prime ministerial aide. Beginning his second innings in office, Manmohan Singh visited the Rajghat where he placed a wreath at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. The prime minister, who has drawn out a 100-day action plan for his new government, has emphasised that his focus will be on an economic revival and ensuring inclusive growth. According to officials in his office, he is expected to give emphasis to the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) unfinished agenda, especially in the infrastructure and development sectors, and announce a fresh stimulus package to pull the economy out of its present slowdown. Talking to reporters after the swearing in at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Friday, the prime minister said: "Our first priority is to restore the economy, especially keeping the global recession (in mind)." "Industrial production is down. Certain sectors need revival, though the Indian economy is not so badly affected. Corrective measures have to be taken. Growth will be our main focus. "And when I mean growth, I mean inclusive growth that will carry everyone along including the underprivileged." Kapil Sibal, one of the cabinet ministers, said that there would be a qualitative difference in ministry formation this time. "The quality of governance will be different. Efficiency and performance will be the hallmark of this government," he said.

Parliament session to begin on June 1

New Delhi: The first session of the 15th Lok Sabha will begin June 1. The decision was taken today at the first meeting of the cabinet that was sworn in on Friday. The cabinet, which met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence here, decided that the newly elected members of the Lok Sabha would be sworn in on June 1 and 2. The speaker of the house will be elected on June 3. President Pratibha Patil will address the joint session of parliament on June 4. There will be a debate on the president's adress and motion of thanks on June 5, 8 and 9. "There will be a short break before the budget session," P. Chidambaram, one of the newly sworn in 19 ministers, told reporters.

Indian diplomacy in Washington presents a new face

Washington: The face of Indian diplomacy in Washington underwent a change this week as Meera Shankar, the second Indian woman envoy to the US, presented her credentials to the first black American President Barack Obama. Following a three and a half year stint as Indian envoy in Germany, career diplomat Shankar follows in the footsteps of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1949-1952), sister of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In between, there have been 60 long years of a succession of politicians and pin-striped bureaucrats. A White House car brought Shankar, 58, her husband and daughter to the presidential mansion a little before 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Received by the protocol officials, she was then escorted to the fabled Oval office that has become symbolic of the power and prestige of the US presidency. Standing there before his Resolute desk, made from the timbers of British ship HMS Resolute, which has been used by most presidents since 1880, Obama - in a dark blue suit and a red tie - greeted Shankar with a warm smile. The ambassador - who served as minister (commerce) at the Indian embassy here from 1991 to 1995 - was in a navy blue sari with a maroon and white border, accessorised with a round gold and black pendant. The president's desk with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal - placed in front of three golden draped large south-facing windows - formed the backdrop as Shankar presented Obama two letters, one recalling Ronen Sen and the other appointing her as India's new envoy. The president and the envoy then sat down in the Oval office built with features drawn from baroque, neoclassical, and Georgian traditions by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, for a little chat on how to build on the emerging strategic partnership between the world's oldest and largest democracies. Shankar, who has served as director in the Prime Minister's Office, headed the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) overseeing India's cultural diplomacy and looked after the United Nations and International Security as additional secretary, was now ready for her most challenging role. Obama, who kept a bust of Mahatma Gandhi in his senate office, recalled the Mahatma's words, "You must be the change you want to see in the world", to express his belief that the US and India can deliver the change that will address the challenges of the 21st century. The words had a symbolic ring for Shankar too!

UPA must bring us development, peace, says northeast

Agartala/Guwahati: Economic stimuli and peace - that's what India's restive northeastern region is looking for as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government begins its second term at the centre. Some of the eight northeastern states are also hoping for a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which is aimed at tackling insurgency. "The prime minister has a base in Assam's principal city Guwahati and the UPA has a record of giving priority to the development of economically backward northeast. People are expecting more to speed up development, improve connectivity and infrastructure besides efforts to bring back peace," said Nityananda Das, a political science professor at Tripura University. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is hoping for greater focus on connectivity and infrastructure. "We are definitely optimistic that the new UPA government will give more attention towards development of the region. The Assam government will definitely be asking for more economic packages and we are confident of getting a positive response," Gogoi told newsmen in Guwahati. "The creation of more employment opportunities, providing social security to all sections of society and establishing peace are some of the priority issues of the landlocked northeastern region." The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) had become a major poll issue during the Lok Sabha elections in the northeastern region, especially in Manipur, with demands for its repeal becoming louder. "The repeal of the AFSPA is the main issue in Manipur before the new UPA government while terrorism is a cause of concern for the centre," said Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh, a social activist. After many years, the Congress has won both the Lok Sabha seats from militancy-ravaged Manipur. In fact, the northeastern region, which has 25 seats, has sent 13 Congress MPs to the Lok Sabha. The Bodo People's Front is an ally of the UPA and the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) has also declared its support. The Congress is in power in five northeastern states - Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram - while the Left Front, the Nagaland People's Front (NPF) and the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) have been ruling Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim respectively. While Tripura is Left-ruled, it too expects generous help from the centre. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told journalists: "The UPA has got the mandate of the people to rule the country. We would observe the functioning of the new UPA government and its attitude towards northeast India for the time being and then we would take our course of action." Gautam Das, CPI-M spokesman in Tripura, told IANS: "We are hopeful that the UPA government would not deprive the northeastern region of developmental programmes and suitably utilise the region's untapped resources." The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) is a separate ministry to look after the northeast region. But Mani Shankar Aiyar, who had taken several initiatives as DoNER minister, has lost the elections.

Cabinet to meet at PM's house

New Delhi: The morning after taking oath for his second consecutive term, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today called a meeting of the new cabinet at his residence here. "The meeting is basically to decide the dates for parliament sessions and when to present the budget," said an official at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The cabinet meeting is scheduled to be held around noon. The 19 ministers who took oath on Friday with Manmohan Singh have not yet been assigned their portfolios. A second round of oath taking is scheduled on Tuesday, when more cabinet ministers as well as junior ministers are expected to join the government. The new government is expected to start the new parliament session with a vote of confidence.

Back to the future: India chooses the middle path

New Delhi: The Congress' victory in successive elections, and that too with more seats and higher voting percentage on the second occasion, means that the country has returned to the safe and sound middle path. Both the earlier lurch to the right and the recent dogmatism of the Left have been negated. Instead, the familiar moderation of the Congress with its emphasis on secularism and modernity has received a vote of confidence from a discerning electorate. This is not the first time that voters have acted wisely. As their rejection of Indira Gandhi in 1977 for her oppressive Emergency, and their disillusionment with the Congress in the mid-nineties showed, they have always been shrewd judges of politicians and parties. The Congress lost favour in those periods for two reasons - the taints of authoritarianism and corruption and the inept attempts, first, to please Islamic fundamentalists by overturning the Supreme Court's Shah Bano verdict on alimony for Muslim women and then cozying up to Hindu militants by unlocking the Babri Masjid gates. These blunders helped in the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its combative pro-Hindu agenda. But, as the latest electoral outcome shows, it didn't take long for the fascination with xenophobic politics to wear thin. The ordinary people evidently have no time for the demonisation of the minorities, which is the cornerstone of the BJP's policies. Similarly, the Left has suffered a precipitous fall from its 60-odd Lok Sabha seats in 2004 to 24 now. What is more, its strongholds in both Kerala and West Bengal have crumbled. The setback in West Bengal is all the more devastating for the comrades because of their 30 years of dominance in the state. Now, there is a distinct possibility of the communists losing the assembly elections as well. The reason why both the Left and the Right have been rejected so comprehensively is the common man's abhorrence of extremism. As a result, neither the BJP's cynical exploitation of Hindu religious sentiments nor the Left's blind anti-Americanism, as was evident in its opposition to the nuclear deal, secured the voters' approval. On the question of the nuclear deal, the BJP may have shot itself in the foot by perversely opposing it even while clarifying that it was not anti-American. Evidently, the party was against it only because the Congress was for the measure, thereby demonstrating that national interest had little meaning for the BJP despite all its chest-thumping patriotic rhetoric. The Left's opposition to the economic reforms showed that its faith in the tax-and-spend, public sector-dominated socialism remains undiminished although the wooing of the private sector by West Bengal's Marxist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was a sign that at least some of the comrades had woken up to the values of the market forces. In contrast to these ideologically-driven parties - one hoping to provoke and use Hindu animus against the minorities for its success and the other banking on a dead doctrine - the Congress presented a picture of reasonableness. Its follies may relate to the misuse of the governor's office and of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for partisan purposes, but these were minor foibles compared to the officially-patronised anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, for which BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi and several of his ministers are facing an inquiry conducted under the Supreme Court's supervision. The Left's persistent obstructionism on the economic front, which could not but hamper the growth rate, was also apparently a more substantial offence in the eyes of the electorate along with its attempts to scuttle the nuclear deal, which would have pleased India's two inveterate enemies, Pakistan and China, if the comrades had succeeded. It is worth noting that the latest rejection of the BJP has come after the voters gave the party a chance to rule at the centre for six years from 1998. But the party failed to make any permanent gains because it had no one other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee to pursue a line of moderation, which included his attempts as prime minister to initiate a peace process with Pakistan by undertaking a bus journey to Lahore. However, as Vajpayee later ruefully pointed out, it was the Gujarat riots which led to the BJP's defeat in 2004. Five years later, and after another more substantive defeat, Yashwant Sinha, who was a minister in Vajpayee's cabinet, regretted that it was the absence of the former prime minister during the BJP's campaign which was responsible for its setback. Even if this comment was a dig at the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani's inadequacies as a propagandist, Sinha's point is valid - that only a moderate line can succeed in multicultural, multi-religious, multilingual India. Since the Congress, as a big tent party, favours neither the domination of one community or the pursuit of a doctrinnaire economic line, it has always been the natural party of governance while the Left and the Right belong to the periphery. The Congress had lost its way in the nineties because of corruption and the absence of an inspirational leader after Rajiv Gandhi's death. But, now, the leadership vacuum has been filled by the troika of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. They also have a fairly competent team comprising, among others, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram. The Congress, therefore, is back in business while its opponents are licking their wounds.


DMK-Congress talks fail, Karunanidhi returns to Chennai

New Delhi/Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi left for Chennai today saying the DMK would give only outside support to the Congress-led government after talks on the distribution of ministerial berths failed, hours before the new government was to be sworn in at Rashtrapati Bhavan. "We will give outside support to the central government as the formula given by Congress has to be discussed at the party's executive council meeting," DMK chief Karunanidhi told reporters at Delhi airport before leaving. Some of the action shifted to Chennai with DMK's executive council meeting scheduled in the city today. The Congress is expected to send a senior party leader to Chennai for another attempt to resolve the deadlock. However, the Congress continued to be a "friend", said senior leader T.R. Baalu who left the national capital to reach Chennai early in the morning after talks between the two failed on Thursday night. "Congress is a friend and DMK MPs will attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Manmohan Singh government in Delhi today evening," he said at Chennai airport. While the DMK appeared to have made up its mind, crisis managers within the Congress were making desperate efforts today morning to convince the DMK to join the Congress-led government. Congress sources said the party would send its general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad to Chennai to mollify the DMK, which has contributed 18 seats to the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) kitty of 322 - including outside support from the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The DMK is asking for seven ministerial berths - three cabinet level, two ministers of state (MoS) with independent charge and two other MoS. The Congress is willing to give two cabinet and five MoS berths, what it had in the earlier government. The negotiations are still on, a Congress leader said. Congress spokesperson in Chennai Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy said on Thursday evening: "Whatever we proposed, they did not accept and wanted more. So they said they will support from outside, but it does not mean that dialogue with them is over. We are still discussing with them." Thursday night's talks featured senior Congress leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad. Karunanidhi led the DMK team, assisted by Baalu, Arcot Veeraswamy, Dayanidhi Maran and others. There had been a similar deadlock in 2004, when within 48 hours of the UPA ministry being sworn in, the DMK threatened to pull out its nominees on the ground that the promised portfolios were not allotted to its members.

India crucial to defeating terror threat in Pak, says US

Washington: Recognising India as "an increasingly important strategic partner" of America, the top US military official has underlined the importance of India in accomplishing the goal to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan." "Of particular importance in accomplishing this goal is India, which has emerged as an increasingly important strategic partner of the United States," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a key Senate panel on Thursday. "The historic regional security dynamics between Pakistan and India complicate an already complex situation, he said. But he noted "some progress in transparency and timeliness of communications between the two nations, particularly in the aftermath of the attacks in Mumbai last November. "To the extent that we can continue to assist our two partners in resolving points of potential conflict and cooperating to address extremist threats to both nations, the better will be the effects of our actions already underway in South Central Asia," Mullen said. Mullen faced a grilling from Democrat members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over an administration request for 400 million dollars to help Islamabad with counter-insurgency operations against Islamist militants. Several US senators insisted on imposing conditions on proposed military assistance to Pakistan, saying that past aid had been delivered without strings attached. "There is a significant unease here in Congress over what has happened previously in the transfer of our funds," Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the committee, said. Under the previous Bush administration, there was little accountability for billions of dollars' worth of military assistance for Pakistan, he said. "Many of us did not learn until last year some time that for those six or seven years that the prior administration was transferring very significant sums of money to Pakistan, we didn't have a clue where it was going," Kerry said. "And we learned subsequently that most of it was going into their general budget. That is not going to fly here and they need to know that," he said. Kerry and other senators said they had proposed legislation that would ensure "adequate levels of scrutiny, accountability." Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, said he had introduced an amendment that would prohibit the funds from being used to support the development or deployment of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Mullen told the committee the US administration was trying to build trust with the Pakistani government and that it was crucial the military assistance package was not overloaded with restrictions and conditions.

No ministry? Farooq Abdullah leaves for South Africa

New Delhi: National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah left for South Africa to watch the IPL early today after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) failed to take a decision on a cabinet berth for him. "I always told you people (the media) earlier that it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister and the chairperson of the UPA to decide," Abdullah told local news channel when asked if he was unhappy that he was not offered a cabinet seat. "The prime minister was very kind, he spoke to me last night and told me they wanted to sort out the difficulties with the DMK," Abdullah added. "It doesn't mean the world has come to an end. There's always the future," he said on a philosophical note. His son and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was not so sanguine, however. He told a news channel on Thursday night that his father, "who had been in politics long enough" had "certainly not expected this from the UPA". "He is quite happy and is leaving for South Africa. This won't bother him." Farooq Abdullah had said Thursday that his party was not interested in ministerial berths. "We have given our unconditional support. The National Conference is an ally of the UPA and hopes to remain an ally of the UPA," he had said. The National Conference has three Lok Sabha seats.

Congress persuades DMK to stay within UPA

New Delhi/Chennai: Crisis managers within the Congress were making last-ditch efforts on Thursday night to persuade the DMK to stay within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after the Tamil Nadu party, dissatisfied over the allocation of ministerial berths, threatened to give outside support to the new government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi telephoned DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi to soothe his ruffled feathers after he demanded seven ministerial berths, including three at the cabinet level. The compromise formula, according to Congress insiders, was that the party would stick to the pattern in the earlier dispensation of two cabinet berths and five at the minister of state (MoS) level, but with changed portfolios. After talks between the Congress and DMK ran into rough weather, the latter on Thursday evening announced outside support to the UPA and indicated it may not attend the swearing in of the new government Friday. DMK leader T.R. Baalu, who was transport minister in the outgoing cabinet, announced after day-long negotiations with top Congress leaders that his party was prepared to support the government from outside. "After discussions with the prime minister, we have decided to support the Congress from outside. Our leader Karunanidhi will go back to Chennai tomorrow (Friday) and will hold discussions with the party," he said. Meanwhile, a DMK MP, privy to the talks, said the party MPs were returning to Chennai today morning and wouldn't attend the swearing in of the new UPA government in the evening. The DMK MP said the party wanted three cabinet berths, two of MoS independent charge) and two of MoS. However, the Congress was willing to give two cabinet and five MoS berths - what it had earlier. "It is a question of numbers," said the DMK MP, referring to the improved Lok Sabha tally of the Tamil Nadu party - to 18 this time from 16 earlier. Congress spokesman Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy said: "Whatever we proposed, they did not accept and wanted more. So they said they will support from outside, but it does not mean that dialogue with them is over. "We are still discussing with them," he said. The Congress reportedly wants status quo to be maintained in the case of the DMK. Senior Congress leaders like Pranab Mukherjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad and others held discussions with DMK party leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, assisted by senior leaders like T.R. Baalu, Arcot Veeraswamy, M.K. Alagiri, Dayanidhi Maran and others. Some DMK leaders are hoping there would be no repeat of the 2004 episode. In 2004, within 48 hours of the UPA ministry being sworn in, the DMK threatened to pull out its nominees on the ground that the promised portfolios were not allotted to its members. At that time, DMK leader M. Karunanidhi categorically said that continuation of DMK ministers in the government depends on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said the DMK ministers will not assume charge if the portfolio allocation issue was not resolved and showed the media the written agreement between him and the Congress general secretary. His complaint then was that the Congress did not allot DMK the Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of State of Finance with the Revenue Department and the Department of Personnel.

Girls outperform boys in CBSE Class 12 board exams

New Delhi: Girls have once again outperformed boys in the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Class 12 board exams, the results of which were declared today in the three zones of Delhi, Guwahati and Allahabad. The pass percentage of girls was 85.94 percent, as compared to 77.40 percent for boys, the CBSE spokesperson said. The overall pass percentage recorded a marginal 0.09 percent increase from last year. The pass percentage this year was 81 percent. The results, which were uploaded in the board's website, were declared for the three zones at 10 a.m. In the Ajmer, Chennai and Panchkula regions, the CBSE results had been declared on Wednesday. The overall pass percentage was the highest in the Chennai region - 92.06 percent. This year, 637,578 students - 264,248 female and 373,330 male - took the Class 12 board exams in the country and abroad.

India remembers Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary

New Delhi: President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries gathered today to remember former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on his 18th death anniversary at his memorial Veer Bhumi, three days after Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran who ordered his assassination was killed in Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi's family - his widow and Congress president Sonia, their son Rahul, daughter Priyanka and son-in-law Robert Vadra - paid floral tributes to the leader, who was assassinated on May 21, 1991 by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber when he was attending a public rally in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. Also present were Vice President Hamid Ansari, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and several leaders of the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance, including National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah.

PM has matured into a seasoned politician: Desai

New Delhi: Economists make good politicians and a person like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a 'techno-pol', has succeeded as he was able to implement many of his ideas that he thought were good for the country, feels economist, writer and member of the British House of the Lords Meghnad Desai. "When Manmohan Singh joined the government in 1991, he was a 'techno-pol', whose expertise was needed to restructure the country's economy. Over the years, he has been able to execute his ideas. Now he has matured into a seasoned politician. Economists generally make good politicians but they need a lot of support from the government," Desai told media in an interview at his residence in the capital during his recent to visit to India to release his new book, "Dead on Time", a thriller. India has had a very good elections and the mature mandate reflects people's faith in the ruling government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the economist said. The mandate, according to Desai, will not have any impact on the ties between India and Britain because "the relationship between the two countries is bipartisan". "It does not make any difference which party is in power. I foresee more cooperation between trade, investment and issues pertaining to the Commonwealth," Desai said. India and Britain share very active trade, Desai said. "UK has a separate committee on India with Lord Karan Billimoria, me and Swaraj Paul as members. People are aware how much Britain needs India on the economic front," the economist said. Commenting on the role that Britain would like to play in solving regional conflicts in south Asia, he said, "Britain would like to interfere in Kashmir but the problem is that British diplomats do not understand a thing about Kashmir". "If Pakistan falls apart and the country goes to the Taliban, Kashmir would be hell. Britain does not understand it," Desai said. "But I personally believe that had Kashmir been a part of British India, it would have gone to Pakistan like the Muslim majority provinces like Sindh and Balochistan. Or may be, Jammu would have come to India and Kashmir would have gone to Pakistan. I was brought up to believe that India had no claim on Kashmir and human rights in the state had been grossly violated for the last 60 years," the economist said. It is a very prickly issue and any official comment on the state can cause a storm, Desai said. "Just look at the hungama (storm) British foreign secretary David Miliband caused with his comment (in an article in The Guardian) that India and Pakistan should should resolve the Kashmir (issue) to rein in the militants. India was so angry. I'd rather not make any official comment about it," Desai said. He preferred to switch to his writings, reading habits and favourite movies. "I plan to write a serious book about the history of Indian cinema," he said. Desai, who has written a book on the life of Bollywood thespian Dilip Kumar, has just finished reading a volume on Bimal Roy. "It is being brought out by his daughter Rinki Bhattacharya. This is Roy's centenary year," said the economist, who is a movie buff. Desai's favourite movies are "Andaz" starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, "Maltese Falcon" directed by John Houston and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence", by John Ford. "But my favourite stars are definitely Dilip Kumar and Marlon Brando," he said with a laugh. Desai reads five books in an average week. "I am currently reading a book on Europe by David Marsh and have just finished proofing a book on John Keynes (the economist). I think some Indian writers of non-fiction like Ram Guha and Ashish Nandy are very good," he said. As a child Desai read almost everything. "I was brought up in Baroda and then moved to Mumbai. I strengthened my English by reading the sports page of The Times of India. I snipped out the photographs of my favourite cricketers and followed football scores," he recalled. Who are his favourite British politicians? The question makes him nostalgic. "I miss my good friend John Smith of the Labour Party, who died 15 years ago of a heart attack. Had he been there, I would have been a minister now. But the London mayor Boris Johnson is a very colourful character," Desai said.

Allies bargain berths, PM postpones meet with President

New Delhi: A meeting scheduled between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil this morning on government formation was postponed, reportedly because the list of the council of ministers was yet to be finalised, sources said. According to a top government source, the Congress led United Progressive alliance's key allies that included the DMK (which won 18 seats) and the Trinamool Congress (19) intensified their demand for more ministerial positions than they had been offered. Once the list of council of ministers has been sorted out, the prime minister is expected to call on Patil later in the day. Manmohan Singh will be sworn in on Friday as prime minister of India for the second consecutive term. The DMK has reportedly sought seven posts, including four cabinet portfolios, while the Trinamool Congress (TMC) wanted six. Highly placed sources said that DMK chief M. Karunanidhi's wish list included cabinet posts for his son M.K. Azhagiri, daughter Kanimozhi, grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran and Helen Davidson, the only woman elected from Tamil Nadu in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls. The DMK is making a bid for key ministries including surface transport, railways, IT and communications and tourism. Veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, who is spearheading discussions with the DMK, has already had a "lengthy session" with Karunanidhi once and will be meeting him again to firm up the ministerial berths. TMC leader Mamata Banerjee who is eyeing the railways portfolio for herself is also keen on coal and mines and civil aviation ministries. Party insiders said Dinesh Trivedi, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Sultan Ahmed and Mukul Roy of the TMC are likely to become ministers. With 19 seats, the TC is now the UPA's second largest member after Congress. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) with nine seats is hopeful of retaining the agriculture and civil aviation ministries but is reportedly not averse to be given the power ministry in the event of civil aviation being handed over to the TMC. The Congress party is expected to retain all the top five cabinet posts including finance, home, external affairs, defence and commerce. The UPA has the support of 322 MPs, including the 48 MPs from the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the president at Rashtrapati Bhavan Wednesday evening to stake claim to form the government.

Mayawati gives ministers a patient hearing

Lucknow: In an unusual move, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on Wednesday gave a patient hearing to her ministers and legislators during a meeting at her official residence here in the wake of the party's poll debacle. After obtaining detailed feedback from them on the bureaucracy and the police, she made it clear that action would follow against officials who were becoming a stumbling block in the implementation of various welfare schemes and who were abetting corruption. Mayawati surprised many as she let others speak for nearly half of the time the three-hour meeting lasted. This was in sharp contrast to the meeting Mayawati chaired at the party office on Tuesday when she delivered a nearly three-hour monologue. While the ministers mostly remained mum, the legislators spoke out against the perceived ills in the government. Some of them blamed the party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections on the tardy implementation of various schemes and alleged corruption in the administration as well as in the police. Most of the speakers trained their guns at bureaucrats occupying key positions, as well as police in general. Their anger was also visible against certain ministers and core officials in the chief minister's personal secretariat - the key power centre. Two legislators were understood to have gone to the extent of talking quite plainly about the "unabated corruption" at various levels in the bureaucracy, according to some of those who attended the meeting. "We have to literally beg before officers, who treat us like petty servants, while they openly indulge in corrupt practices," said an outspoken legislator who was also very critical of police. "Nothing moves in the police without greasing the palms of cops. At higher levels, the only difference is that the amount of bribes is higher," the legislator alleged. Another legislator complained that while recommendations of the people's representatives were ignored by the police, those with money could manipulate the police.

Shibu Soren's son Durga dies in his sleep

Ranchi: Durga Soren, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's (JMM) national general secretary and son of former chief minister Shibu Soren, died in his sleep in his Bokaro home today. Durga, 39, who fought for the Godda seat in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election and lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, went to sleep Wednesday night and didn't wake up, said sources close to the family. They got to know about the death when some family members tried to wake him up. The body has been kept at the Bokaro General Hospital. Though sources said it could be kidney failure or heart attack, doctors were tightlipped and said nothing about the cause of the death. Shibu Soren and his second son Hemant were in New Delhi to attend the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) meeting on Wednesday. on Thursday morning, they were reported to be on their way to Bokaro in a chartered plane. Durga, who was legislator from 2000-2005, believed that the Congress was responsible for the defeat of his father in the Tamar assembly by-poll. The defeat forced Shibu Soren to quit as chief minister in January, and Durga was determined to oust the Congress from Godda, said a close associate. Durga lost but sitting MP Furkan Ansari lost the election too. After the polls, he was sidelined both in the party and the family, the associate said.

Message of Election 2009: Perform or perish

New Delhi: Performance scored over identity politics, inclusive agenda scored over communal agenda and regional parties demonstrated they can have their space along with national parties if they deliver. This was the message of Election 2009 in India. "It is a national verdict more in favour of an alliance that can guarantee a cohesive, progressive and secular agenda. We can now say that along with national parties important regional parties will continue to stay in Indian politics," Zoya Hasan, a professor of political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said. Political scientist Imtiaz Ahmad said in these elections, voters in many states preferred a national party to non-performing regional parties. He cited the instances of Uttar Pradesh, where Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got only 21 of 80 seats, and Bihar, where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) made a big sweep with 20 of 40 seats. "People have rejected Mayawati because her state government failed to perform while people voted for Nitish Kumar because he delivered what had been expected from him," Ahmad said. N.P. Chekutty, a Kerala-based political analyst, said: "I don't think that it is a reversal of the trend of coalition politics. Regional parties will have a major role to play in Indian politics, but their role will depend on their performance. "They will also have to rise above personalities, identity and emotional issues." In India, the first coalition government came to power at the centre in 1989 when V.P. Singh became prime minister with support both from the Right and the Left. Since then the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have also given in to the compulsions of coalition politics, forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) respectively with the help of various regional parties. In the results of the 15th Lok Sabha polls declared Saturday, the UPA emerged as the largest coalition with 270 seats in a house of 543 and the Congress as the single largest party with 206 seats. The last time the Congress won more than 200 seats was in 1991, when its tally was 232. The UPA also has the support of four independent MPs, taking it beyond the halfway mark of 272. With BSP, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal offering support from outside, the strength of the treasury benches has gone up to a comfortable 322. "Regional parties will continue to have their own space," said Kamal Akhter, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Samajwadi Party. "As far as the issue of performance is concerned it is the same for both the regional and national parties. Both will have to perform for their existence," Akhter said. Congress leaders have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of the party in Uttar Pradesh where it won 21 of 80 seats. The party had won only nine seats in the state in 2004. "The results in Uttar Pradesh are surprising. The credit goes to UPA policies, especially schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and a loan waiver for the farmers which have benefited even the poorest of the poor," Prithviraj Chavan, party general secretary, said. Pralay Kanungo, a professor of political science at JNU, said besides development, several other factors connected to regional parties play a major role in determining voting trends. "Calling the verdict a reversal of coalition politics would be immature. Along with developmental issues many other regional and local factors will continue to play a major role in determining voting trends," Kanungo said. He cited the example of Orissa where the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a regional party, has won assembly elections for the third time in a row and also picked up 14 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state.


Valuables missing from Scindia's Gwalior palace

Bhopal: Thieves struck at the highly fortified Jai Vilas Palace of Gwalior's erstwhile ruling family and took away costly silverware and antiques from the drawing room of the late Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, police said on Wednesday. Police have lodged two reports, filed separately by Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia and his aunt and BJP MP Yashodhara Raje Scindia, about the theft in the eastern portion of the palace where Vijayraje used to live and where her belongings are locked. Yashodhara, in her written complaint through her personal secretary on Tuesday night, said silverware and antiques worth lakhs of rupees were missing from the drawing room of her late mother Vijayraje. Jyotiraditya lodged a similar report on Wednesday. There is a dispute in the Scindia family over the ownership of Vijayraje's assets. Several cases related to these disputes associated with the palace and trust's property are pending in different courts. "We would ascertain who controlled the portion where the theft took place and investigate the matter," additional superintendent of police Manohar Verma said.

What drives youngistan in endorsement deals ?

Recently, a screaming headline in a tabloid grabbed my attention. Out of work Sushmita Sen loses advertising deal to petite Asin. A sophisticated diva like Sushmita Sen, given the heave-ho, for a product she has been associated with for years Pantene, and replaced by pretty South Indian actress Asin, of Ghajini fame.

Why, even Shah Rukh Khan, whose other name seemed to have been Pepsi Khan, dropped from Team Pepsi in their outing. Ditto for yesterday's queens like Ash Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta.

On the cricket front too, similar tremors have been felt. Yesterday's icons Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, V. V. S. Laxman, even the sensational Sachin Tendulkar, have suffered anything between a meltdown to a slowdown.

It's the T-20 kids – M. S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Ishant Sharma, Suresh Raina, Zaheer Khan, who are zooming centre-stage and replacing the old players in the endorsement sweepstakes.

In Bollywood, new dazzlers rocking it include Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Asin, Genelia, Jiah Khan, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padkone, even Farhan Akhtar.

With half of our one billion population said to be under the age group of 25, marketers are indeed getting hot in the business of torpedoing this target base, all the way.

Is it working and what drives it ? Who better to kick-off this debate with the very person who founded and coined the ground-breaking term youngistan, which for Washington Post defines young India as also TV channels and political parties identifying the new India – Soumitra Karnik, creative head of JWT's Pepsi team.

Karnik says, "Much as I am tempted to say that I suddenly dreamt it all up one stormy night – like fake directors or smart plagiarists. I didn't! Its just that, while reading up something, the words 'Young' and 'Hindustan' struck me as interesting cues for coining something new, fresh, simple along street-speak lines that would resonate with the target base. That's how it was really born."

"If it captured popular imagination instantly, I guess its largely because it was red-hot topical, had the required bindaas tone to it and reflected the mood, colour and voice of today's most important segment-youth." Karnik says, who doesn't munch his words and packs in a solid punch when he says that today's marketers live in the here n' now and grab only what they believe will rock their product.

Karnik continues to explains, "They are pretty much like fair-weather friends – and why not ? They have a job to do. If its not working, then its goodbye time. The new kids on the block, both in the Cricket and Bollywood arena, reflect this reality in dramatic fashion, right? The age of loyalty is over, boss. It is the age of Return on Investment (ROI)."

However, industry-watcher Ashish Kukreja chooses to rain on Karnik's parade. He reckons all this is "a bimari (a disease) and fad grabbing the new-age marketers, looking for a quick kill. It has no logic, focus or perspective. Its just a brainless follow-the-herd mentality. Where is the brand-fit ? Does a Yusuf Pathan or Praveen Kumar go with the profile of a Pepsi ?"

Gullu Sen, vice-chairman and chief creative officer, Dentsu India, believes that Kukreja must have both his head and eyes examined immediately because he seems to be living in another planet.

"Soumitra is spot-on. Youth is definitely in and the role-models for big buck celeb deals are selected completely on the basis of who's the flavour of the day. No question about that. It has to do with that segment the product is targeting and with the kids' universe getting more impatient, adventurous and promiscuous towards brand usage than ever, shifts in role-models take on critical dimensions," avers Sen.

And L. K. Advani's visuals of pumping iron to attract the young voter, is further indication of the might of youth power, right ? At the end of the day, other aspects come into play too.

For one, there is a definite fatigue-factor when one single celeb endorses a brand forever, especially in today's impatient, novelty-driven times. Two, age does matter. Three, success is the key, which is explained by Dhoni's dynamic leadership and subsequent success strike-rate has, which got him endorsement to this staggering amount of Rs.300 crore.

You can't have a poor run of scores, either in cricket or Bollywood, and expect the sponsors to keep pampering and batting for you. Nestle dropped Rani for South Indian actress, Trisha, who also, ironically, replaced Preity in the Scooty Pep Ads.

The once-bubbly Zinta was also relieved of her endorsement with Perk, Lyril, BSNL and Santro. However, all is not lost for the likes of Ash, who was recently replaced by Katrina in the Nakshatra Diamond endorsement deal.

The power of two, thanks to the humongous and insane curiosity, influence and impact that both Bollywood and cricket attract, ably-supported by media, is gaining huge momentum and so the John-Bips, Saif-Kareena, Ajay-Kajol, Ranbir-Deepika and Ash-Abhi combo can keep earning those big bucks, before another recession arrives.


LTTE vanquished, victory for our country: Rajapaksa

Colombo: The victory "achieved by defeating the LTTE" is the victory of the country, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa said while addressing parliament here today, adding the Tamil Tigers had killed statesmen like former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. "Our aim was to protect the Tamils from the clutch of LTTE. In order to protect the innocent Tamilian civilians our soldiers sacrificed their lives," said Rajapaksa. "The victory we have achieved by defeating the LTTE is the victory of our country, our motherland. To protect the Tamil population in this country is my responsibility and duty." In the speech he began in Tamil, the president did not mention the death of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran. The government had Monday said Prabhakaran had been killed, but the pro-LTTE website TamilNet Tuesday claimed the LTTE supremo was alive. Rajapaksa said: "All should live with equal rights. They should live without any fear. They should live with equal rights. That is my expectation too. Let us all be united and build up this independent country. Today we have been able to liberate the country from the clutches of LTTE." "Ours has always been an independent country and we have always been able to fight against invasion." Talking about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the president said: "They killed statesmen like (former Indian prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi, our greatest defence minister...LTTE was one of the biggest terror organisations, known all over the world as one of the most powerful organisations. "They had their own administration, own police station and courts. They used so much money that it is yet to be assessed... Our armed forces were able to defeat these forces." "We have set a fine example for the entire world," Rajapaksa said, adding "we don't want advice from other country about how we should treat our people." The LTTE has been waging a bloody war for secession from Sri Lanka for over 25 years, claiming that Tamils in Sri Lanka do not get justice from the majority Sinhalese. Over 90,000 people have been killed in the ensuing civil war.

UPA partners to meet pre-poll allies on Wednesday: Congress

New Delhi: After its resounding electoral win, "pre-poll" partners of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are to meet on Wednesday to discuss the future course of action, the Congress said today. However, nothing was said on whether the RJD and Samajwadi Party would be attending. "On May 20, there will be a meeting of UPA where all our pre-poll alliance partners are invited. That day we will sit together and discuss our future steps," Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters here. The meeting will take place at 10, Janpath, which is UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's residence. Dwivedi refused to comment on whether Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party boss Mulayam Singh Yadav would be attending. The RJD and Lok Janshakti Party, which had been part of the UPA, had de-linked from the alliance for the elections. The two parties, along with the SP - another ally, had formed a separate grouping for the polls, the Fourth Front. Since they were not the UPA's pre-poll allies they are not expected to attend the meeting. The Congress's Parliamentary Board will meet on Tuesday morning during which the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party will be chosen. The UPA, which has bagged 263 Lok Sabha seats, is poised to form the government again.

Post Prabhakaran's death, security tightened in Chennai

Chennai: Relief and frank disbelief - as news came in that Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran had actually been killed, some in this Tamil Nadu capital said it was long in coming and others simply refused to believe it was true. Unwilling to take chances, the establishment tightened security all over the state and especially in Chennai, where the issue of Tamil Eelam, or a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka, has always been an emotive one. Security was particularly stepped up around the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in the heart of the city, making it difficult for people who lived and worked in the area. "No chances are being taken as this could prove to be an emotional issue amongst a small section of society. Armed pickets have been posted at all vulnerable areas," a police official told IANS. And while police went on alert, the reactions to the death of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief in Sri Lanka's Mullaitivu area varied widely. "If the news is true, the last hope of Tamils in Sri Lanka who once ruled that island nation, long before the Sinhalese, is lost forever. Whatever may have been his shortcomings, he will always be hero to us," said K.N.P. Dasarathan, a business executive. Added a Sri Lankan Tamil student: "Knowing Thambi (brother), the news is probably untrue as there are little chances of his being killed by the enemy. However, if the story is true... he has become a martyr." But for businessman N. Suresh, it was a matter of human life and the toll that the LTTE had extracted. "If one looks at human life, the deaths in Sri Lanka sadden me whether it is Prabhakaran or anybody else. Prabhakaran extended the elastic bit too long and lost. He should have entered into a dialogue with the Sri Lankan government early. "It should also be remembered that the LTTE killed other groups and leaders fighting for the Tamil rights cause." Added homemaker R. Vasantha: "Terrorism has no space in a civil society. Whether it is Prabhakaran or Veerappan, both have to be eliminated." Political analyst Cho Ramaswamy welcomed the development. "Sri Lanka is now rid of a problem and it is a great relief... "The LTTE has eliminated many Tamil leaders though there are some remaining alive. In Tamil Nadu, some fringe groups may indulge in violence and there may some self immolations. The state police can easily quell that as there is no support for them from the people," he said. The pro-LTTE political parties were unavailable for comment. Both Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa had endorsed a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils during the last days of the election campaign. The decades long conflict for a separate Tamil homeland left nearly 90,000 people dead in the island nation, separated from India by a narrow stretch of sea.

Delhi assembly's budget session from June 15

New Delhi: The Delhi Legislative Assembly's budget session would start from June 15 and end on July 1, Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit said today. The state cabinet today recommended to Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna to summon the budget session of the fourth legislative assembly from June 15. "The budget session of assembly would commence on June 15 with address by the lieutenant governor. The 17-day-long session would end on July 1," Dikshit told media persons after the cabinet meeting. The budget for the year 2009-10 would be presented in the assembly June 22, and would be passed June 25, according to an official statement.

Trinamool to support UPA govt, no conditions: Mamata

Kolkata: A triumphant Trinamool Congress today passed a resolution informing President Pratibha Patil of its support to a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre and said their backing was unconditional. The resolution was passed at a meeting of the Trinamool parliamentary party in which all the 19 newly elected Lok Sabha MPs, including its chief Mamata Banerjee, were present. The meeting also unanimously elected Banerjee as its parliamentary party leader and Sultan Ahmed and Govinda Naskar as deputy leaders. Briefing newspersons after the meeting at her Kalighat residence, Banerjee said Trinamool general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy was leaving for Delhi tonight to hand over the letter of support to Patil. Asked whether her party had set any conditions for the support, Banerjee replied: "There are no terms and conditions involved. This is not a joint venture project. We had a pre-poll alliance with the Congress." The meeting also authorised Banerjee to talk to the Congress about government formation. On a coordination mechanism among UPA partners, Banerjee said: "We will have to talk to the Congress". Asked about the ministerial portfolios her party hopes to get, she said: "We maintain good relations with them. There is no need to talk about ministry or which ministry. When people have blessed us, what is more important than that?" she asked. Banerjee said she saw no problem in continuing her party's relations with the Congress till the West Bengal assembly polls two years from now. "There will be no problem. Our good relations will continue." When asked if she would speak to West Bengal's ruling Left Front constituents like the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) to bring them into her alliance, Banerjee said: "We have said the Left is not bad. But the CPI-M-led Left Front is bad. All left parties are not bad." The Trinamool won 19 seats while its alliance partners Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) got six and one, respectively, in West Bengal. The ruling Left Front suffered a defeat, managing victories on only 15 of the state's 42 seats. Banerjee said with the SUCI opposed to the Congress ideologically, its sole member Tarun Mandal would not support the UPA. "They have a long-standing anti-Congress policy. So the letter of support will contain the names of our 19 MPs. But as far as sitting arrangements in the Lok Sabha are concerned, our 19 MPs and Mandal will sit together. Ours will be a block of 20 MPs."


Sonia invites Lalu to attend cabinet meeting

Patna/New Delhi: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi today rang up RJD chief and Railways Minister Lalu Prasad asking him to attend a meeting of the outgoing cabinet on Monday and invited him to join the new government, sources close to the minister said. Bhola Yadav, personal assistant of Lalu Prasad, said from Patna minutes before the minister left for Delhi that: "Sonia-ji called up and invited him (Lalu Prasad) to attend the meeting and also join the government." "Lalu-ji has already regretted that the RJD did not ally with the Congress in the elections," he added. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and another estranged United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partner Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had contested the elections in Bihar minus the Congress, which went on its own. While the RJD got four seats out of 40 in Bihar, the LJP of Ram Vilas Paswan did not get any. The Congress managed to get two seats. The UPA has bagged 262 seats in the Lok Sabha, just 10 short of simple majority and is set to form the government again in New Delhi.

I'm actually taller than Deepika, says Farhan Akhtar

Mumbai: Bollywood actors aren't normally comfortable pairing up with tall actresses, but director-turned-actor Farhan Akhtar had no problems working with Deepika Padukone in "Kartik Calling Kartik" and says she isn't taller than him as believed by many. The fun element spilt over on the sets of "Kartik Calling Kartik" when Deepika decided to end the controversy about how tall she is. "So far I presumed she was taller. I had even measured her height on my talk show 'Oye! It's Friday' and I was okay with the fact that she looked taller than me. I've absolutely no problem being shorter than my heroine," Farhan said. "She made me stand next to her. And to my surprise she turned out to be no taller. In fact, maybe I'm a half inch taller than her. Deepika says she isn't as tall as she looks. It comes from having long legs I guess," he added. Farhan, who debuted as an actor with hit flick "Rock On!" last year, admits he is having a ball shooting for director Vijay Lalvani's "Kartik Calling Kartik". "My earlier films were somehow connected with the entertainment industry and therefore they had a direct or indirect bearing on my life. But in 'Kartik Calling Kartik' I'm totally out of character. Also, in all my films so far I play a troubled introvert. In 'Kartik...' I start off as an introvert and then become a totally flamboyant guy. It's fun," he said. But at the same time he is itching to get back to direction. "Given a chance I'd like to direct a film this year. Unfortunately 'Voice From The Sky' didn't work out and I start 'Don 2' next year," said Farhan, who has directed films like "Dil Chahta Hai" (2001), "Lakshya" (2004) and "Don - The Chase Begins Again" (2006). While Farhan's father Javed Akhtar scripted his version of "Don", a remake of the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer of the same name, the sequel is Farhan's idea. "When I opted for an open ending in 'Don' I wasn't leaving room for a sequel. I just wanted to show that the protagonist is cleverer than everyone else. But now that ending comes in handy to carry the story forward into a sequel," he said. Farhan confirms that the film will star Shah Rukh and Priyanka Chopra. "But there are lots of supporting cast that will change."

Punjab voted for Manmohan despite SGPC campaign

Chandigarh: He might not have been their candidate in the 2009 Lok Sabha election but a large number of voters in Punjab and Chandigarh voted for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - the man and his policies - despite a smear campaign against him. In an election which saw campaigning hitting a personal low with Manmohan Singh even being termed as "not a Sikh" by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar, there were many, including professionals, youngsters and urban Punjabis, who voted for his clean and positive image. "It is a matter of great pride for the whole Sikh community that someone from a minority holds the most coveted and responsible position of our country. Sikhs constitute only two percent of the population of our country, yet one of us is leading the country for another term of five years," Jaspal Bhalla, an industrialist running a business of precision equipments in Dera Bassi in Punjab, told media. He added: "This verdict of the masses has reinforced the fact that India is a secular nation in true spirit." Harmanjit Deol, a young entrepreneur based in Sangrur in Punjab, said: "We were hardcore fans of BJP but this time we supported Congress just because of the presence of Manmohan Singh at the helm of affairs. His ideologies and attitude depict the bright future of India." Deol said that even US President Barack Obama agreed with the economic policies of the Indian prime minister and had also praised him at various international conventions. "If some opposition leaders cannot see and acknowledge that, it reflects on their thinking," he added. Added Gunjan Sidhu, a Ludhiana-based share broker: "I never voted in the past but this time I have voted for the personality and clean image of Manmohan Singh. I firmly believe that only Manmohan Singh as PM can bring India out of this financial slump." Manmohan Singh will be the second candidate after India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to hold the top post immediately after completing the first full term of five years in office. "After the 1984 riots, I had never voted for Congress. But this time, I changed my decision. This is not because I have gained belief in the philosophy of Congress but because we wanted to see a turbaned Sikh prime minister in the centre," said Jalandhar-based Kanwarjit Singh Khalon, a victim of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Pawan Kumar Bansal, who scored a hat-trick by winning the lone Chandigarh parliamentary seat with a record margin, told media: "Manmohan Singh has been one of the most successful PMs. People are quite satisfied with the developmental projects started by him that are directly related to the growth of this region." "Manmohan Singh has a close association with Chandigarh. He had stayed here, studied here and even taught here in Panjab University (PU). So we also feel connected to him in one way or the other," said Pulkit Bansal, a student of journalism at PU. The university is the alma mater of Manmohan Singh and it is here that he started his career and went on to become a professor at the age of 32. First-time voters and industrialists are quite enthusiastic over the second term of Manmohan Singh. "This was my first vote and the presence of Manmohan Singh made the task of choosing the right political party easier for me. He does not need to prove his intelligence and honesty to anyone," said Priyanka Sharma, a student. She added: "Now, he should also bring Rahul Gandhi and other young winning candidates in the cabinet. I am sure that he would certainly change the face of the country in the next five years. "I am happy that UPA government under the leadership of Manmohan Singh has got clear-cut majority. Their stability will certainly boost the Sensex and investment climate in the country," said Adheesh Jain, who exports automobile parts from Ludhiana. Gaurav Saini, a real estate agent and a builder based in Zirakpur, Punjab, told media, "Manmohan Singh has very clear ideas in his mind and he understands the intricacies of business and importance of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in a growing economy. We want him to rope in more FDI to rejuvenate various industries. "Earlier there were many decisions that UPA could not take because of undue pressure of Left but I think now they can easily work for the betterment of corporates."

Congress 'discussing' SP's offer of support: Moily

New Delhi: With the UPA now needing just 10 more seats to get simple majority in the Lok Sabha, the Congress was today undecided on taking the support of the Samajwadi Party, which has emerged the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh. A little after SP general secretary Amar Singh offered the party's "constructive support" to the new United Progressive Alliance government, the Congress said it was deliberating on the issue. Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily told a news channel: "The Samajwadi Party had supported us at the time of the trust vote in parliament on the nuclear deal (July 2008). But they fought separately in UP and Bihar. It doesn't mean that they are away from us and we are away from them." Moily said that internal discussion was ongoing on the SP's hand of support. "The discussion in the party is going on to consider the SP's role in the government, which form and how," he said. Moily re-asserted the prime minister's statement Saturday that secular forces should join hands. "We have been inviting all the secular parties to join the government," he said. The Congress-led UPA has won 262 in the Lok Sabha elections and need only 10 more seats to get a simple majority in the house. The SP claims the support of 26 new members, including two independents. After the good showing by the Congress, some party leaders Saturday had expressed unwillingness to take the SP's support in parliament. The Congress has also won 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh, confounding poll pundits.

Pakistani newspapers splash UPA's electoral victory

Islamabad: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) victory in the Indian general elections made front page news in the Pakistani media today, with at least one newspaper saying "disparate groups of voters prescribed a middle path" under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "care". "Indian voters choose middle path", said the headline in the local newspaper. "Dr Manmohan Singh looked set on Saturday to become India's prime minister for a second successive term after disparate groups of voters prescribed a middle path under his care, rejecting both the left and the rightwing brand of politics. They gave him just enough seats in parliament, however, where his Congress party would have legitimacy but not an absolute majority," it said in a despatch from its New Delhi correspondent Jawed Naqvi. With the "emphatic abbreviation" of the Bharatiya Janata Party's tally in the month-long April-May polls, "the voters' decision augurs well for India's troubled relations with its neighbours, particularly with Pakistan", Naqvi wrote. He noted in this context that Manmohan Singh "rarely used an aggressive word for Pakistan even in the face of the grave of the November (2008) massacre in Mumbai. The next step would be some gesture from Islamabad of seriously pursuing the plotters of the brazen attack". "Congress wins election, Singh to remain PM: India votes for hope; rejects religion, caste", the headline in the local newspaper said. The UPA's victory had boosted hopes "of a stable government that seeks extensive economic reforms and better ties with Pakistan", an agency report in the newspaper said. "Pakistan would top the foreign policy agenda of the new administration, with the US expected to renew calls for reduced tensions to help stabilise the region," it said. The local newspaper carried a similar report, headlining it "Congress-led alliance wins Indian election". It also highlighted the fact that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had stressed that Manmohan Singh would remain prime minister "amid widespread speculation that he could step down in favour of Sonia's 38-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, who was the star campaigner for the Congress." "India's Congress to pick allies after election win", said the headline in the online edition of a local newspaper. The UPA, "toasting a sweeping victory in a general election, began choosing on today a small group of allies to support the coalition and focus on reviving a slowing economy", a report said. "In a country where unwieldy coalitions were becoming the order of the day and hobbling policy, the electoral verdict this time means Congress will call the shots in coalition building rather than being dependent on the goodwill of regional parties," the report added.