Dal blow to BJP Bihar conquest
Rakesh Roshan shot at
Hit on another Sonia-led trust
Power arrests in dead of night
Calcutta weather

 
 
DAL BLOW TO BJP BIHAR CONQUEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 21 
Laloo Yadav landed an unexpected bonus on the eve of the Bihar Assembly polls with the Samata Party splitting from the Janata Dal(United) and deciding to seek recognition as a separate entity in the Lok Sabha.

The Samata move came after the Election Commission yesterday de-recognised George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and other MPs as party office-bearers on an affidavit by the JD(U), saying that Samata had merged with it before the general elections and the parties had contested on a common symbol.

Fernandes today requested Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to recognise a 12-member group as a separate party. If Balayogi grants Fernandes’ request, he will be named leader of the new parliamentary group which will be allotted separate seats and an interim name. Jaya Jaitley is the new Samata president.

Following the split, Samata MP Jainarain Prasad Nishad today crossed over to the JD(U). Fernandes claimed his group had the backing of Lok Shakti member and Union minister Sreeniwas Prasad. However, sources said, Prasad had not taken any decision and would clarify his position only after meeting Balayogi on Wednesday.

Today’s developments have cast a bigger cloud on the Bihar seat-sharing talks between the BJP, JD(U) and Samata, headed nowhere over the past five days. A breakthrough had looked possible yesterday when home minister L.K. Advani managed to bring around the bickering leaders — Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan of the JD(U) and Fernandes and Nitish Kumar of Samata — with a “mutually acceptable” formula.

But the JD(U) today again insisted it would contest the same number of seats as the Samata, which refused to concede the demand. If both parties stick to their guns, BJP sources fear one might have to part ways with the National Democratic Alliance.

Kumar, however, dispelled the fears, maintaining that talks were still on. “We have already scaled down our demand and expect others to reciprocate,” he told reporters. Jaya Jaitley said the split in the JD(U) would not affect the Vajpayee government as the new party — to be formally christened — would support it.

Another round of talks is likely tomorrow. BJP sources said if this too is inconclusive, the only option left will be to seek Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s intervention. With 48 hours to go for withdrawal of nominations for the first phase, Vajpayee’s task — to ensure that there is no repeat of the Karnataka drama — appears cut out.

During last night’s talks, the BJP and Samata suggested that based on the number of seats contested in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP would fight 174 constituencies, Samata 96, the JD(U) 42 and the Bihar People’s Party (BPP) 12. Everybody, except the JD(U), accepted the formula. Even BPP chief Anand Mohan, who had pegged his demand at 40, did not make a noise.

But with the JD(U) toughening its posture, Samata has raised its demand from 96 to 108 seats. “We will stick to a three-digit figure,” a leader said. JD(U) spokesman M. Raghupathi rejected the proposal, claiming the party had identified 150 seats from where it was strong enough to take on both the RJD and Congress.    


 
 
RAKESH ROSHAN SHOT AT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Jan. 21 
Alleged Abu Salem assassins today fired at actor-turned-hit director Rakesh Roshan outside his Santa Cruz office. The filmmaker, celebrating the mega-success of his latest blockbuster — Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai, launching son Hrithik — survived the attempt and was admitted to hospital with wounds on his arm.

Sources said two assailants struck as Roshan was getting into his black Mercedes outside his office at Mayur building around 6.30 pm. They fired six rounds, of which two bullets hit the actor on his left arm, while another struck his shoulders. Roshan’s driver, who was not injured, shoved him inside the car and sped away to the nearby Santa Cruz police station. The police later took the actor to Nanavati hospital near his Juhu residence, behind Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow.

Hospital sources said Roshan was operated upon by Sharad Pandey. His family members have been allowed to meet him. Though he is out of danger, Roshan has been kept in the intensive cardiac care unit as he is a heart patient.

Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai opened to 100 per cent collections last week, dispelling much of the gloom cast following the flops of big-budget films like Mela and Bulandi.

Police sources have yet to confirm if Roshan had received extortion calls from the underworld after the apparent success of his film. A senior officer at the Santa Cruz police station said the director had received an extortion threat in the past following which he was given security cover, which was withdrawn after some time.

Today’s incident is the latest in the string of attacks on Bollywood producers. Music tycoon Gulshan Kumar was shot dead in August 1997, also by gangsters allegedly belonging to the Abu Salem gang. Composer Nadeem is an accused in the case.

A few months later, top producer Mukesh Duggal was gunned down for refusing to honour commitments made to the underworld, which is believed to have financed his films.

Rajiv Rai, director of mega-hits such as Tridev and Gupt, had also received extortion threats and was provided police protection. But the assailants did manage to breach the security ring and fire at him. Rai, who was saved by his guards, left the country soon after and returned a few months ago.

The underworld began targeting Bollywood producers after the property business crashed in the mid-nineties and the traditional source of their extortion income dried up.

Roshan, a not-so-successful actor in the seventies and early eighties, produced and directed a string of hits, including Khud Garz, Khoon Bhari Maang and Karan Arjun. The director had left home for office in the afternoon after an interview session at which Hrithik was present.    


 
 
HIT ON ANOTHER SONIA-LED TRUST 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Jan. 21 
After easing out Sonia Gandhi as life president of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, the government has targeted another family foundation headed by her. It has slapped an eviction order on the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial, asking the trust to vacate the 12 Willingdon Crescent premises by February 1.

The trust has moved court but the government is determined to drive it out of Lutyens’ Delhi, the high-profile area within a four-km radius of Parliament House. The eviction order, dated January 18, was issued by the directorate of estate under the urban development ministry.

Senior Congress leaders fear that the next salvo would be fired against the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial, also chaired by Sonia. The Congress president heads about a dozen trusts named after Nehru and the Gandhis.

Party leaders alleged that the eviction order was part of the government’s ‘‘political vendetta’’. ‘‘Otherwise, why has no action been taken against the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial, Jagjivan Ram Memorial and the Charan Singh Memorial which are even being used for residential purposes,’’ asked a CWC member.

The trustees find it ironical that the order was issued by a ministry headed by Jagmohan who shot into fame when Sanjay Gandhi was calling the shots. As a top official of the Delhi Development Authority during the Emergency, Jagmohan had diligently carried out the anti-encroachment drive planned by Sanjay.

Moreover, the Union Cabinet includes Sanjay’s wife Maneka Gandhi, who had nothing to do with the trust since it was set up in November 1980. Sources said that Maneka, when she fell out with Indira Gandhi, was handed over a wing of the trust dealing with animal welfare which functions from Rajauri Gardens.

Parveen Davar, the trust’s de facto secretary, said that Jagmohan had refused to hear them out. ‘‘His approach is in total contrast to his predecessor, Ram Jethmalani, who was extremely sympathetic and had promised to take up the matter with the Cabinet Committee on Allotments,’’ Davar said, adding that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had asked Jethmalani to ‘‘do the needful’’. But, he added, Jagmohan seems to be in no mood to oblige.

Trustees N.D. Tiwari and Rameshwar Thakur plan to call on Vajpayee in their last-ditch effort to retain the premises which, they claimed, has strong emotional links with the Congress. ‘‘Indira Gandhi stayed in this house between 1977-80,’’ said a functionary.    


 
 
POWER ARRESTS IN DEAD OF NIGHT 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Lucknow, Jan. 21 
Around 11 last night, Sangeeta Vajpayee was clearing the dinner table in her two-bedroom flat when there was a loud bang on the door. Even before she could respond, five policemen had smashed open the door, dragged out her husband from bed and hauled him into a waiting Black Maria. U.B. Vajpayee is an engineer of the Uttar Pradesh electricity board.

Defying a high court order, the Lucknow police continued its crackdown on striking power employees through the night. The court had directed the administration not to carry out night arrests.

Hearing a petition yesterday filed by the wives of the employees, the judges had said: ‘‘The government should desist from disturbing the privacy of the petitioners by their visitations at the place of residence during odd hours of the night in connection with the arrest of their husbands who happen to be employees of the UPSEB.’’

But the police seem to be under orders to maintain the pressure on the employees who have struck work since Saturday to protest against the decision to trifurcate the state power utility.

Three hours after packing off Vajpayee to jail, the police returned to the Indralok Junior Engineers’ Colony: their target Captain Singh.

But this time the police were careful not to create a ruckus. They entered through the window of the second-floor flat after sawing off the grills. ‘‘They came like thieves,’’ said Singh’s wife.

The ‘‘harassment’’ did not end there. The policemen, who had concealed their identity tags, entered the Singhs’ daughter’s bedroom and pulled off her covers to see if ‘‘anyone else was hiding’’.

Lucknow superintendent of police G.P. Sharma refused to comment on the arrests, saying: ‘‘I do not wish to be disturbed.’’ But other officials shrugged away the night-raids as ‘‘routine checks’’ to arrest leaders who are ‘‘disrupting the normal functioning of the government’’.

State power secretary A.K. Srivastava tried to justify the action. ‘‘Under the Essential Services Maintenance Act, we have the right to arrest anyone who comes in the way of maintaining essential services. But I have not yet received written reports of any injuries during arrests. So, it seems unlikely that any force was used,’’ he said.

Angry residents of the colonies of power employees scoffed at the argument. ‘‘Does roughing up my daughter or abusing me form part of maintaining essential services?’’ fumed the wife of Avinash Chandra, a senior engineer of the Kanpur Electric Supply Corporation who was picked up at 2 am.

What the police describe as a ‘‘routine check’’ has been a nightmare for the employees and their families. Between 2 and 3, when the crackdown intensified, S.D.R. Pandey, A.K. Shukla and A.K. Saxena, all senior engineers over 50, were dragged out and asked to get into the police vans. Their wives were not even allowed to give them clothes or shoes.

‘‘A sub-inspector told me ‘We will take good care of him in jail where he will be a guest of honour for six months’,’’ said Saxena’s wife.

Fourteen engineers were picked up from the Indralok colony itself as the total number of arrests reached the 6,000 mark. Several others were arrested from the Aligunj complex.

The wives of around 30 arrested employees have decided to file signed affidavits which will be annexed to a contempt of court notice to be filed tomorrow morning by legal activist Mudit Mathur. His writ petition challenging the trifurcation of the state electricity board is to come up for hearing on February 3.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Today’s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in minimum temperature. Max. temperature: 28.4°C (1° above normal) Min. temperature: 17°C (3° above normal) Maximum humidity: 87% Minimum humidity: 46% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 5.11 pm Sunrise: 6.25 am    
 

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