Saturday, November 4, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Ambika Soni quits as Gen Secy
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Nov 3—Even as Ambika Soni today resigned as AICC General Secretary to campaign for Ms Sonia Gandhi in the party’s presidential elections, dissident leader Jitendra Prasada said that it was premature to judge the mood of Congress delegates by presence or absence of leaders during his visits to the states.

Talking to media persons here, Mr Prasada, who returned after visiting Rajiv Gandhi’s memorial at Sriperumbedur, asserted that the time to make an assessment of the mood of Congress workers would come when results of the election for Congress president were out.

Mr Prasada sought to explain the absence of senior Tamil Nadu Congress leaders during his yesterday’s visit to Chennai by saying that all were aware of the pressures on Congress workers and leaders and their apprehensions. ``We are all aware of the present environment within the Congress party. I fully appreciate why not all of my supporters can come out into the open at this stage,’’ he said. Mr Prasada, however, added that his colleagues were fully satisfied with his visit to Chennai.

Claiming that his contesting the poll was not a challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family, he said that his fight, in fact, was to save the legacy of the great family. ``I visited Sriperumbedur yesterday and after paying homage to Rajivji I have started my campaign to approach Congress delegates. It is a clear proof that my decision to contest is not a challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family,’’ he said.

Asked about Sonia Gandhi’s reported remarks about the existence of a coterie even at the time of Rajiv Gandhi, Mr Prasada said ``If mistakes had been made in the past, these should not be repeated now.’’

Calling on the Congress delegates to vote according to their inner conscience, Mr Prasada said that as a loyal Congress man he could not disclose what he had advised the former party presidents. ``I have not aired publicly the views conveyed to Congress President Sonia Gandhi from time to time. To do so would yield immediate gains but that would not be in keeping with my responsibility as a Congress worker,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson, Mr Anil Shastri, today said that Ms Ambika Soni’s decision to resign as General Secretary was in keeping with the highest traditions of transparency as desired by Ms Gandhi. Ms Soni's resignation was accepted by the party chief today.

Ms Soni was the General Secretary in charge of the seven north-eastern states.

Mr Shastri said that while Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad would look after the party’s Media Department, Mr Oscar Fernandes would take charge of the north-eastern states in addition to his present assignments.


3000 Sikh pilgrims to visit Pak
From Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

AMRITSAR, Nov 3 — In a significant development, the Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PGPC) has inserted the word “Sikh” in the religious body to win over the Sikh community all over the world.

An invitation has been sent by Mr Sham Singh, a Pakistani Sikh and Co-Chairman, PGPC, to the Sant Samaj on the letterhead of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee: This is being seen by the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal as an achievement.

The SGPC had stopped sending jathas to Pakistan after April 13, 1999, in protest against the formation of the PGPC. Bibi Jagir Kaur had announced that the SGPC would not send any jatha to Pakistan till the government there disbanded the PGPC headed by Mr Javed Nasir, a former ISI chief.

Talking to TNS on the telephone from New Delhi, Mr Parmjit Singh Sarna, a former President of the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee, claimed that Mrs Mamata Banerjee, Railways Minister, had exempted the fare for visiting Pakistan as a goodwill gesture to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

He claimed a deputation comprising Mr Harwinder Singh Sarna, Mr Harminder Singh, Secretary, SHSAD (New Delhi), and Prof Joginder Singh had met Mrs Banerjee at her office this evening where she announced the concession for the Sikh pilgrims. Mr Sarna said a similar facility given to Haj pilgrims.

Mr Sarna said despite the “diktats of the SGPC, more than 3,000 pilgrims would leave for Pakistan to pay obeisance at Sikh shrines there. At least 4,000 Sikhs pilgrims from Canada, the USA, England and Germany would also visit Pakistan. The USA-based Radical Sikh, Mr Ganga Singh Dhillon, was camping in Pakistan to cooperate with the PGPC.

While most Sikhs would leave for Pakistan by special trains or the Samjhauta Express, 80 of them would go by air from New Delhi. Baba Mangal Singh, acting President, Gurbani Gurmat Parcharak Sant Samaj and a confidant of former Jathedar Giani Puran Singh, would lead a jatha of 501 Sikhs. Mr H.S. Bhullar, of Bhai Mardana Trust would take 400 Sikhs to Pakistan.

The invitation letter of the PGPC says the government of Pakistan has not denied visa to any Sikh desirous of paying obeisance at Sikh shrines in Pakistan. The letter of Mr Sham Singh criticises the SGPC for not sending jathas to Pakistan on the occasion of Gurpurb.

Though Bibi Jagir Kaur has repeatedly announced that she will lead a deputation to Pakistan for taking up the case of disbanding the PGPC, she has failed to even meet the Prime Minister or the Union Minister in this regard.

Baba Mangal Singh, acting President of the Sant Samaj, said large jathas would visit Pakistan despite the ban by the SGPC. He said the SGPC must rethink its decision, to a question, he said he would appeal to the Sikh youths who had taken political asylum in Pakistan to return to India during his visit to Pakistan.

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