Madhepura-mauled Laloo pins hopes on Danapur
Nitish cries foul at Bihar raw deal
Storm clouds loom over Sonia
Jailbirds jostle with Governor’s VIP guests
Fresh power talks to end impasse
Delhi plans hotline protest
CID steps into sex slave case
Indian Oil lifeline for art heritage

 
 
MADHEPURA-MAULED LALOO PINS HOPES ON DANAPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Jan. 23 
Defeated from Madhepura in the general elections, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav has decided to contest the Assembly polls from Danapur.

Releasing the RJD candidates’ list for the first phase of polls scheduled for February 12, Laloo said that after contesting many times for both Parliament and Assembly, he was “coming back to Assembly again”.

Earlier Laloo spoke to reporters. “I had made up my mind to contest...If, of course, you have no plans to keep me unemployed,” he said jokingly.

Party insiders, however, said Laloo had little choice but to enter the fray. The debacle at Madhepura, where he lost to arch rival and Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav, has been haunting him.

According to RJD sources, Laloo’s gameplan is simple. Even if the party fares badly, he can at least end up as leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, a rank at par with that of Cabinet minister.

Laloo contested Assembly polls in 1995 from Raghopur and Danapur and won from both. Partymen believe this time he will increase his margin of 30,000 as he has “established a new relationship with the constituency by marrying his daughter off to an engineer from Danapur”.

But chastened by his 1999 loss, the RJD chief, is not taking any chances. He has dropped four ministers who have not been maintaining a “good image”.

Among them are Ram Naresh Singh and minister of state for higher education K.B. Prasad Yadav who today joined the BJP. Laloo has also changed the constituency of four sitting MLAs.

Laloo, however, could not deliver on his earlier promise of dropping “30 per cent of the sitting MLAs”. But RJD sources said that while he succumbed to pressure from the sitting MLAs, the rethink irked many party workers. The resentment and the resulting commotion forced him to stay away from the party office when the candidates’ list was released.

“We were disappointed to see the same old faces had been given tickets,” said Rumki Ram, one disappointed candidate from Masaurhi. Many of these candidates were planning to contest independently, sources said.    


 
 
NITISH CRIES FOUL AT BIHAR RAW DEAL 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, Jan. 23 
Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar today lashed out at the NDA, saying its seat-sharing policy for the Bihar Assembly polls was an act of “blatant injustice” to his party.

Of the 324 seats, the Samata has been allotted 90. The BJP is contesting 150 seats and the Janata Dal (United) 64. The remaining 20 have gone to the Bihar People’s Party (BPP).

“There is no rationale behind the distribution of the seats — neither the 1995 yardstick, nor the 1999 poll results,” the Union agriculture minister told The Telegraph. He alleged that instead of working through co-operation, the NDA thrust the seats on the Samata.

The Samata chief-minister-designate is currently attending party meetings in and around Patna.

“I cannot blame anybody for the ills that will plague my party. I started ‘anti-Lalooism’ in 1995. I started the fire. The fire is now consuming me. While fighting Laloo Yadav, our partners are now training their guns on me. I have made myself ridiculous,” says Kumar, bitter and sarcastic.

He says he cannot help it if his disappointment affects the poll campaign. “We have swallowed poison by setting aside seats for Ram Vilas Paswan and his followers. We indulged Janata leaders by increasing their seats in the last Lok Sabha polls. Now we are paying the price by losing our seats to the JD(U).”

Kumar charges the BJP of being the amused by-stander. “The BJP was enjoying the whole scene. They did not have to fight in the streets to get their seat share.”

However, he refuses to grant Laloo any advantage. On whether the open war among the alliance partners will split the anti-Laloo votes, Kumar says: “As long as the NDA is officially together, it is unlikely that the votes will split.”

Kumar agrees that this could boost the Rashtriya Janata Dal. “Laloo never imagines he would get this windfall — our differences. He must be thrilled now,” he says.

“But I don’t think he would be able to fetch anymore seats by digging up our differences. Don’t the people want a change?”

What about chances of backstabbing increasing in the situation? “I don’t believe in the culture of backstabbing. In fact, this is my limitation. I could have gone far if I had used muscle power and underhand means. “Even now I cannot do it. Look at my hands. Do they look rough?” he asks.

He would join the NDA campaign if he was asked to. “But when has this ever been done in the past? All the partners have different identities. They now have different symbols too.”

The future of “anti-Lalooism” is for the future generation of politicians to decide, Kumar says. “I have gone through the most bitter part of the exercise. If the people of the state don’t want a change of goonda raj, Lalooism will go on,” he adds.

His bitterness with the JD(U) grew specially towards the final phase of the seat-sharing negotiations when the JD(U) wanted Samata MPs to sign an affidavit which had been lying in the dust for long. “It said MPs of the JD(U) parliamentary party cannot be a member of any other organisation. Some MPs signed without looking into the intent of the paper,” Kumar alleges.

“They wanted us to sign the death warrant for the Samata without completing the formalities for merger with the JD(U),” Kumar laments.

However, he is not ready to consider a post-poll alignment in case Laloo gets a majority. “Let Laloo get a majority first,” he says.    


 
 
STORM CLOUDS LOOM OVER SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Jan. 23 
The Assembly poll stakes have turned high for Sonia Gandhi with critics in the Congress rallying support for a showdown if the party fails to perform well in the four states.

The Congress faces an uphill task in the poll-set states — Orissa, Bihar, Manipur and Haryana — though Sonia is leading the party’s campaign.

Since none of the four states are directly ruled by the BJP, the anti-incumbency factor will also not favour the Congress. In fact, the Congress regime in Orissa will find it difficult to dodge the post-cyclone voter backlash.

The dissidents in the Congress are closing ranks to take on the leadership if the poll results turn out to be a rerun of the Lok Sabha election debacle.

While some want a direct attack on Sonia, others are trageting the leadership through an onslaught on AICC general secretaries Ambika Soni, Motilal Vora and Mohsina Kidwai. The dissidents will also exert pressure on Sonia not to reward loyalists Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh with Rajya Sabha berths.

The loyalist camp is now working overtime to quell the potential revolt. Sonia directed Kidwai to visit an ailing Sitaram Kesri and get the list of party candidates for Bihar cleared by him.

Sonia has already packed the Congress Working Committee with allies like Narain Dutt Tiwari, Natwar Singh and Vora to meet the challenge from Kesri and dissatisfied leaders such as Jitendra Prasada, Rajesh Pilot, R.K. Dhawan and Meira Kumar.

Another name doing the rounds in dissident circles is Pranab Mukherjee.

Sonia’s crisis managers have also extended a hand of friendship to another deposed party chief, P.V. Narasimha Rao.

The rapprochement with Rao is aimed at neutralising Prasada, Pranab and potential trouble makers like Janaki Ballabh Patnaik and Bhajan Lal. Patnaik has asked Rao to campaign for the party in Orissa.

Sonia’s meetings with Rao have puzzled leaders belonging to the erstwhile Tiwari Congress. They fear that the development will add fuel to dissidence and turn the former Prime Minister into a rival power centre.

The shadow of Sharad Pawar is also looming large. Some dissident MLAs from Delhi and Rajasthan are in touch with Pawar, keeping chief ministers Sheila Dixit and Ashok Gehlot on their toes. 10 Janpath was considering a proposal for disciplinary action against wavering MLAs, but it has not been able to make up its mind.

Sonia loyalists have revived the issue of Priyanka’s formal entry into the Congress, but she wants to bide her time.Soni and other AICC functionaries are persuading Sonia to rope in Priyanka to campaign for the Assembly polls. But the party president is not keen on two counts.

First, 10 Janpath feels that Priyanka is a trump card which should not be over-exposed. Second, Sonia is unsure about the possible impact of Priyanka on the Assembly polls dominated by local issues and caste equations.    


 
 
JAILBIRDS JOSTLE WITH GOVERNOR’S VIP GUESTS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, Jan. 23 
While the rest of Uttar Pradesh was plunged in darkness due to the power strike, Lucknow witnessed Governor Suraj Bhan’s son’s illuminated wedding reception last night. And the guest list included two persons who outshone the politicians, bureaucrats and other celebrities.

Amid silk chiffons, designer bandhgallas and ethnic kurta pyjamas, Raj Kumar Rastogi and Sunita, convicted for life for murder, stood out in their white striped jail uniforms. Lucknow jail superintendent Suresh Chand Srivastava stood next to them.

Bhan had written to IG, prisons, Sri Krishna inviting any two jail inmates to his son’s reception. Srivastava chose Sunita, 50, convicted of murdering a man who confiscated her land in her village in Sitapur district, and Suresh Kumar Rastogi, about the same age, convicted of murdering his uncle over a family dispute, also in Sitapur, to attend the reception.

The Governor’s son, Arun Kumar, married Tina, the daughter of Balwant Kumar, his long-time political opponent in Ambala. Balwant has now decided to “gift” the Ambala seat to Bhan’s son and asked him to contest the next elections from there.

The newly-wedded couple spoke to Sunita and Rastogi, making it one of the happiest days of their lives.

However, this is not the duo’s first visit to Raj Bhavan. Sunita visited Raj Bhavan last year during raksha bandhan, while Rastogi led the jail band that was invited to play there to celebrate the New Year on January 4.

Rastogi, who has been in jail for seven years, is granted special leave to meet his family for 15 days every year.

For both, it is the first party they attended since they have been in jail. Sunita has been in jail for the last five years.

An excited Sunita, tucking into her puri aloo dum, had only one regret. “I was not allowed to wear a silk saree. Everybody is looking at us. But we are happy and honoured to be with the cream of society,” she said.

Rastogi chipped in: “It’s nice to spend an evening with free people.”

Bhan took time off to see that the special guests were comfortable. He inquired if they had eaten well and thanked them for coming. His wife, Chameli Devi, also chatted with Sunita.

Asked what he thought of the invitations to the convicts, superintendent Srivastava said: “I simply followed orders. I chose these two persons because they are soft-spoken and their behaviour has been exemplary.”

At 10 pm, Srivastava asked the convicts to bid goodbye and board the prison van.    


 
 
FRESH POWER TALKS TO END IMPASSE 
 
 
FROM AGENCIES AND OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, Jan. 23 
The striking Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board employees tonight held fresh talks with the state government seeking to end the nine-day old agitation, in a revival of the negotiations that had broken down two days ago following differences on the trifurcation issue.

Energy minister Naresh Agarwal and six leaders of the powermen’s unions attended the fourth round of talks apparently aimed at trying to find a common ground. The two sides had held three rounds of talks on Thursday and Friday last before breaking apart.

The fresh talks took place even as government maintained a tough posture by terminating the services of 2,000 powermen, arresting 6,833 and setting in motion the recruitment of new hands.

Earlier, both the powermen’s union leaders and Agarwal said they had received feelers from each other for fresh negotiations.

Agarwal had earlier told reporters that government officials would meet the powermen union leaders to try and find a common ground before talks resumed.

The talks had collapsed as the government refused to withdraw the notification trifurcating the UPSEB while the strikers insisted that the notification be deferred for at least a year. Support for the striking UPSEB employees has come from various trade unions in different sectors like coal, railways and road transport. At a meeting today, workers’ bodies and different trade unions decided to support the striking employees. The Workers Association of the Singrauli coal mines in the state said it would go on a wildcat strike if the demands of the power sector staff are not met by January 26.    


 
 
DELHI PLANS HOTLINE PROTEST 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 23 
Following yesterday’s attempt to capture an Indian post in the Akhnoor sector of Jammu and Kashmir, director-general of military operations Lt-Gen. N.C. Vij will lodge a strong protest with his Pakistani counterpart when they talk to each other over hotline on Tuesday.

The DGMOs of both countries have traditionally maintained the Tuesday hotline link to discuss matters of mutual concern.

Army sources said the assault by the 25 Pakistani troops of the 24 Baluch Regiment to capture Post PP13 near Raipur along the Line of Control (LoC) will “obviously” be at the top of Vij’s agenda.

Vij will also remind him that yesterday’s incident was against the agreement between the two countries to withdraw troops 1,000 metres on either side of the LoC.

He will also take up the matter of return of the bodies of five Pakistani soldiers, including that of a lieutenant, recovered after the “skirmish’’ which left 16 intruders dead.    


 
 
CID STEPS INTO SEX SLAVE CASE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA AND AGENCIES
 
Jan. 23 
The Andhra Pradesh Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has started a probe into the case of Lakireddy Bali Reddy, a mega-rich Indian businessman facing sex smuggling accusations in Oakland, California.

Reddy, 62, described as the wealthiest landlord in Berkeley and Oakland across the bay from San Francisco, is behind bars now, facing charges of “importing aliens for the purpose of prostitution and other immoral purposes”.

Reddy may have the CBI too on his trail soon. The Andhra government is likely to request the agency to start an inquiry into the alleged sex racket.

Revered as a “philanthropist” back home in Andhra Pradesh, Reddy has also been accused of inducing immigrants to illegally enter and live in the US.

The US police believe Reddy, who was arrested on January 14, brought at least three girls to Oakland from Velvadam and Mylavaram near Vijayawada and used them as sex slaves.

Reddy has been accused of bringing more than 74 girls to the US over the last four years. He will remain in jail until authorities decide how much bail will be enough to prevent him from fleeing, a judge has ruled.

Reddy’s lawyer protests his innocence. A federal grand jury will hear the evidence against him.

The charges came after two girls suffered carbon dioxide poisoning in an apartment he owned.

Sitha Vemireddy, 17, and her 15-year-old sister Lalitha were found unconscious in their apartment on November 24.

Sitha died later. Lalitha, however, survived. Investigators suspect a faulty heater and, possibly, a blocked roof vent caused a rise in the level of carbon dioxide in the apartment.

An anonymous letter written by a villager of Velvadam in Krishna district, from where Reddy hails, to the US consulates in Chennai and Delhi also alerted authorities against Reddy.

A graduate in chemical engineering, Reddy came to Berkeley 40 years ago after the death of his wife. He worked in various companies and restaurants. Later, he set his up own chain of south Indian restaurants and other companies.

Investigations revealed that he had been importing teenage girls and men to work in his restaurants and companies.

Twenty-five temporary visas sanctioned to the “Active Tech Solutions”, a San Francisco based IT company belonging to Reddy, has been cancelled.

Sitha and her sister were allegedly married off to strangers in India and brought to US by Reddy to work in his house.

US police are on the lookout for the alleged husbands of the other girls imported by Reddy.

“At least 200 girls are working for him in various parts of US,” says Bobby Miller, police officer in Berkeley. “Most of the 1,200 Indians working in his companies are his bonded labourers,” he added.    


 
 
INDIAN OIL LIFELINE FOR ART HERITAGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 23 
Taking the lead in corporate investment in arts and culture, Indian Oil has set up a Rs 25-crore fund to preserve eight heritage sites in the country.

For years, the Centre has been trying to woo corporates to fund arts and culture projects. But the response was poor. The government had formed a National Culture Fund in 1996 but it failed to attract companies.

‘‘Indian Oil is the largest business enterprise and we are setting a new trend by instituting a foundation which will work with the culture ministry and the Archaeological Survey of India in these eight projects,’’ Indian Oil chairman M.A. Pathan said at a news conference last week. Petroleum minister Ram Naik and culture minister Ananth Kumar were present.

The Centre has been trying to involve companies in education and culture and channelised corporate funds to the cash-starved primary education sector. But these efforts have yielded little and major business houses have been reluctant to fork out money for the social sector.

The Indian Oil move follows a request last year from the culture ministry asking public sector enterprises to help in preserving heritage sites.

The trust will begin with an initial corpus of Rs 25 crore with the petroleum giant contributing Rs 10 crore every year.

The eight sites chosen are the Qutb Minar, the Khajuraho temples, Hampi in Karnataka, Nalanda, the Elephanta caves, Sarnath, Vattakottai in Tamil Nadu and Rani-ki-Vav in Gujarat.

The foundation will also focus on community development around the monuments.    

 

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