Rabri walks Vananchal tightrope
Bribery cloud on Congress cross-voters
Party cracks rebel whip
Roshan attack trail leads to Bahrain
Clinton soothes China after India trip
Save-the-cow missive from Paul to PM
Gangrape raid on tribal hub
SC clean chit to Bihar ex-official
Murder stink in Priya mystery death

Patna, March 30 
Forced into a corner by the Congress on the Vananchal issue, the Rabri Devi government today said it would convene a special session of the Assembly to table the legislation.

The statement, 48 hours after the Centre sent the Bill to the government, is being seen as a signal of appeasement to the Congress which had made the separate state issue a condition for its support to the Rashtriya Janata Dal government.

Yet to finalise his strategy on how to tackle the disproportionate income case against him and his wife, the Vananchal issue could blow up in the face of Laloo Yadav.

While the RJD chief refused to comment on the NDA’s latest move to embarrass the regime, Rabri’s terse one-line statement underlines the tension that has gripped 1 Anne Marg.

Laloo left for Delhi this evening for talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He may try and talk Sonia out of the issue by convincing her that the Centre’s move was “politically motivated”.

The 83-member Rabri Devi ministry, which met for the first time today, skirted the issue. “There was no way we could discuss it. It was not raised,” said Cabinet member Bagan Sumrai.

Home commissioner U.N. Panjiyar said the Bill has to be sent back to Parliament within six weeks. The Speaker, therefore, has to summon a special Assembly session.

Laloo is in a fix as he had campaigned against carving out a Vananchal state in the run-up to the Assembly elections. His opposition to the move helped him win a sizeable chunk of votes in north and central Bihar.

But he was forced to rescind his decision to get the support from the Congress.

Ironically, if the statehood Bill is passed in Parliament, the RJD will not have to depend on the Congress for survival. With the southern areas accounting for 81 MLAs, the strength of the Bihar House would be reduced to 243. The RJD will then need just 122 for majority, and with only nine legislators from South Bihar, the party can reach the target with the help of Independents.

The Congress, on the other hand, will be marginalised in the changed power structure. In Vananchal, the party has a strength of 11 MLAs, but the NDA will enjoy majority with 52 legislators.

Once the new state is carved out, the BJP-led alliance will struggle to retain its identity in the rest of Bihar. The NDA will have just 88 MLAs with the BJP having 35.

The Samata Party, which refused to take a stand during the elections, will have to explain to its north Bihar constituents why it agreed to split the state. “We had opposed Laloo-raj as it stood for corruption and lack of governance. But we had to accept the issue of bifurcation under compulsion in a political adjustment,” said a Samata Central minister.    

Bhubaneswar, March 30 
Smarting from yesterday’s defeat in the Rajya Sabha polls, a red-fac-ed Congress today threatened to take action against at least five legislators who had cross-voted to ensure the defeat of the party’s candidate Radhakant Nayak.

On the strength of their members in the Assembly, both the BJD and the BJP were set to win one seat each. But cross-voting by Congress members helped the BJD bag the third seat as well. Though the Congress has 26 MLAs in the House, Nayak received only 21 votes.

Virtually admitting that party legislators had accepted bribes, Congress spokesman Ar-ya Kumar Ganendra said money played a key role in yesterday’s poll. The high command, he said, would soon form a two-member inquiry committee to identify the errant legislators.

He added that the legislators responsible for scuttling the party’s chances could even be suspended, as the Congress had done earlier in Maharashtra. AICC secretary in charge of Orissa Anil Shastri, who was present during the vote, left for Delhi today to brief party president Sonia Gandhi on the developments.

Ganendra blamed chief minister Naveen Patnaik for the horse-trading. “Giving bribe is the same offence as receiving it,” he said. “The BJD won the Rajya Sabha seats through illegal and unfair means.” Patnaik, however, denied the allegation.

Ganendra said the Congress suspected that there were more than five MLAs who indulged in cross-voting. The CPI, the CPM and the Janata Dal — which had one MLA each — had pledged to vote for Nayak, he said, adding that the probe panel would find out the exact number of MLAs involved.

Congress legislator Umesh Swain, who had earlier warned that some legislators could play truant, said it was “an unhealthy trend in democracy”. He added that it was regrettable the way public representatives “sold themselves out”.

Swain urged the legislators to stop cross-voting because it affected all parties. He cited the example of A.U. Singh Deo — now a member of Naveen Patnaik’s Cabinet — who lost because of cross-voting two years ago. “It was then that a bad precedent was set by the members,” he said.

Sadan Nayak, another Congress MLA, interrupted Swain and urged deputy speaker Ramchandra Panda, who was in the chair, not to all-ow any discussion on the cross-voting.

BJD MLA Damodar Rout also urged the chair not to record Swain’s comments to stop the media from reporting it. Swain’s comments would create a wrong impression about the legislators, he said. Panda, however, refused to expunge Swain’s remarks.    

New Delhi, March 30 
Alarmed by cross-voting in West Bengal, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, the Congress today made it clear that it will punish those guilty of defiance.

Faced with growing dissatisfaction within the party, Sonia’s managers are working overtime to quell dissidence and enforce fear of the high command on erring partymen. After Kapil Sibal’s outburst, voices of dissent are pouring from all over. Madhavsinh Solanki, C.K. Jaffer Sharief and Chhabildas Mehta have written letters to Sonia virtually questioning her authority.

Last night, Sonia succeeded in prevailing upon Pranab Mukherjee from joining the ranks of dissidents. Pranab, enraged over the controversy surrounding her remarks on CTBT, agreed not to go public. But he made it clear that the issue would be raised in the next Congress Working Committee meeting as the veteran leader is determined to prove his point that the country must have a minimum nuclear deterrent. Pranab has spoken to the entire Congress Working Committee and nobody is in disagreement with him.

Pranab’s target is Sonia loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar who had forced a volte-face on the nuclear issue. Aiyar had pointed out that the spirit of Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan for Disarmament was against nuclear deterrence.

The defeat of D.P. Roy in West Bengal and cross-voting in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh is set to witness stringent disciplinary action. “Many heads will roll”, an AICC general secretary said ruling out a possibility of the issue being over-looked. He said the leadership will act swiftly on reports to be submitted by AICC general secretaries in-charge of these states.

In West Bengal, Sonia is unhappy with A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chawdhary-Priya Ranjan Das Munshi duo. With the Assembly polls due next year, the AICC chief is keen to set the house in order. In the absence of strong state-level leadership and mass support-base in West Bengal, Sonia does not have a clear strategy to revive the party in the state except for hoping for a hung House and aligning with Mamata Banerjee after the Assembly polls.    

Mumbai, March 30 
The Mumbai police have arrested five persons, owing allegiance to the Bahrain-based Ali Budeshi gang, in connection with the January 21 attempt on the life of actor-director Rakesh Roshan at Santacruz in suburban Mumbai.

Rakesh Roshan was shot at by unidentified assailants in front his office barely a week after the release of his son Hrithik Roshan’s debut film Kaho Na ... Pyar Hai that has grossed the highest returns this year.

Speaking to reporters here today, additional commissioner of police Subhash Awte said the five —- identified as Sachin Khambe (20), Anant Jadhav (30), Abdul Mamuni (26), Uttam More (26) and Sunil Gaikwad (33) —- were arrested from Vadala and Kalina in the metropolis in the past week.

The breakthrough came with the interrogation of Sunil Gaikwad, arrested in another case, leading to the arrest of Uttam More, one of the key shooters. The other shooter in the case was Sachin Khambe.

Ali Budeshi, according to police sources, is a close friend of Abu Salem. Gaikwad’s interrogation revealed that when Rakesh Roshan refused to give international distribution rights of his film to two frontmen of Salem, he asked his Bahrain-based friend, Ali Budeshi, to carry out the killing.

The five shooters were promised a payment of Rs 5 lakh in addition to one flat each, Awte said.

The police have also recovered a .45 calibre US-made revolver, a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver, two countrymade hand guns and 17 live cartridges from the five. The gang, according to Awte, was also involved in the murder of one Jagdish Dhakan at Dahisar on April 16, 1999 and the murder of Ziauddin Shaikh at Vikhroli in the third week of March.

According to Awte, two members of the gang had also tried to assault two constables, who tried to arrest them after the dacoity case. They had also abducted a businessman at Bangalore in February for ransom.

The gang was also responsible for the death of a boy at Wadala in 1990 and the murder of one Nanwa at Ghatkopar in 1989.    

Washington, March 30 
Back in Washington after his one-week sojourn in South Asia, US President Bill Clinton is realising that popularity has a price.

Clinton’s trip may have gone down extremely well with the Indians, but not so with the Chinese. Consequently, the President, despite a week-long backlog of foreign policy agenda back here, has been forced to rush national security adviser Samuel R. Berger to Beijing to mollify the Chinese about the nice things he said in New Delhi about the Indians —- and all the home truths he said about Pakistan, a long-standing ally of China. Of course, the official line here is that Berger is in Beijing to sort out the tension between China and Taiwan following the election of a pro-independence President in Taipei. True enough, Taiwan will figure in Berger’s talks in Beijing —- and figure prominently —- but the truth is that his journey was decided in New Delhi as the presidential entourage received signals of Chinese discomfiture over what Clinton was saying and doing in India. The press party of White House correspondents, which accompanied Clinton to South Asia, was told in New Delhi that Berger would go to Beijing to brief the Chinese on Clinton’s India visit.

It is well known here that the Chinese were fiercely opposed to the idea of Clinton going to New Delhi. They saw the presidential visit as a reward for a proliferator who had defied world opinion and sabotaged global arms control. But unlike the Indians, who lobbied publicly and in vain to prevent Clinton from stopping over in Islamabad, the Chinese did not make any such fuss. They quietly campaigned with the Australians, the South Africans and other nuclear evangelists to uphold the sanctity of a punitive UN Security Council resolution against India following Pokhran-II.

Clearly, Washington would like to carry the Chinese along in Clinton’s effort to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. The White House realises that Beijing can upset Clinton’s South Asian applecart, and is acutely aware of the proximity which the Chinese leadership has developed with Pervez Musharraf as opposed to the wariness it displayed towards Nawaz Sharif.

The choice of Berger for the mission to Beijing is significant. It was the national security adviser who crafted the settlement in Kargil at a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, in Geneva last year. As a follow up to this meeting, the US persuaded Sharif to withdraw from Kargil. Indications so far are that Berger’s talks in Beijing have not gone off well. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, gave few details of the talks and there has been no Chinese briefing, leaving journalists covering the visit to rely on their wits.    

New Delhi, March 30 
Paul McCartney is out to make his voice heard, but on cow-slaughter. The veggie ex-Beatle has written to Atal Behari Vajpayee to ban the killing of the animals. He has found a worthy messenger too: home-grown animal lover and minister for social justice and empowerment, Maneka Gandhi, who has carried the letter to 7 Race Course Road.

Says Jason Baker, a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) from Mumbai and part of the drive against cow-slaughter: “All that we demand of the Prime Minister is that he responds to McCartney’s demand in a sympathetic manner, however brief the statement.”

But the Prime Minister’s Office has hardly responded, though Baker was told that Vajpayee was “looking into the demand”.

McCartney’s letter is not exactly music for Vajpayee’s ears. Cow-slaughter is too sensitive an issue for the Prime Minister to react immediately, who has just been able to call off a war with the RSS on the matter. He does not want to poach into an area which would only please the RSS volunteers.

In his letter, McCartney — who turned vegetarian more than a decade ago and is also against the use of animal leather — urges India to end its slaughter of cattle for leather and meat. “Despite India’s excellent animal protection laws these gentle animals suffer shamefully from cruel transport conditions,” he writes.

Baker explained that Indian laws are laudatory. Only six cows should travel in a truck when being taken to the slaughter-house or when being transported over great distances. But the PETA, which set up office in Mumbai only two months ago, has found evidence of 30 animals being crammed into a single vehicle and being forced to travel in those awkward conditions over hundreds of miles. He felt the laws were there but the implementation of regulations was extremely poor.

McCartney reminds Vajpayee of Mahatma Gandhi’s statement which said a nation would have to be judged in the manner in which it treats its animals.

The former Beatle writes: “India’s cows were the Mahatma’s cherished example of how India led all the other nations to respect animals. Please do not allow his words to ring hollow in the 21st century.”    

Raniganj, March 30 
In a pre-dawn attack, a group of at least 20 armed men raided a brick workers’ colony in Raniganj, Burdwan, and gangraped five tribal women.

The colony is a stone’s throw away from the Punjabi More police outpost. All the five women have been admitted to Asansol Sub-divisional Hospital in a critical condition.

Protesting against the incident, brick-field labourers of nearly 150 units have threatened to strike work from tomorrow unless the district administration ensured proper security of the women workers who stayed in the colony.

Paresh Chandra Dawn, general secretary of the Brick Field Owners’ Association has demanded the immediate arrest of the culprits.

According to Asim Kanjilal, CPM councillor and owner of Star brickfield, the thugs armed with pipe guns and bombs raided the colony, which lies adjacent to the brickfield, at about 4 am.

Kanjilal said the men had tried to resist but were severely beaten. The miscreants, he said, did not even spare the babies.

Later, they picked up five women and tried to take them to a nearby jungle.

When the women cried out, a large number of people from the roadside garages and eateries came to the rescue. But the miscreants managed to flee with the five women, including a teenage girl. Before descending on the colony, the gang had disconnected telephone and electricity lines of the area.

Asansol additional superintendent of police Niraj Kumar Singh said the police were clueless about the incident. However, combing operation were on to nab the culprits, he added.

Brick field owners alleged that crimes against women in the area were on the rise and blamed the police for not taking adequate measures.

Kanjilal, who lodged an FIR immediately after the incident, said the police were trying to hush up the case.    

New Delhi, March 30 
The Supreme Court has quashed various charges of misbehaviour made against the former Bihar Public Service Com mission chairman, Ram Ashray Yadav.

A three judge bench of Chief Justice S. Anand and Justices Rajendra Babu and Doraiswamy Raju gave its findings on the Public Service Commission on a reference made by the President in January 1997.

The then President Shankar Dayal Sharma sought a reference to the apex court whether Yadav should be removed from office on grounds of misbehaviour.    

Mumbai, March 30 
Doctors who conducted the post-mortem on Priya Rajvansh said the actress was strangled after being hit on the back of her skull by a sharp object. The Mumbai police, however, is tight-lipped, since the report has not been handed over to the investigating team.

The actress, a close companion of producer and director, the late Chetan Anand, was found dead in the bathroom of his Juhu flat on Tuesday. Chetan is brother of actor Dev Anand.

Dr V.N. Vanmore and Dr P.M. Shinde, who conducted the post-mortem, told reporters that the death was caused “by closure of the windpipe due to strangulation with a rope”. They said there were injuries on the skull and body that appeared to be the result of being hit with a hard object.

With foul play established, the focus of the case has now turned on Chetan’s family — his sons Ketan and Vivek — in whose Ruia Park bungalow in Juhu Priya was found dead. Previously, Priya lived in a nearby bungalow presented to her by Chetan. She moved into this house shortly after Chetan’s death.

The police team investigating the case has come up with facts that are completely different from what the Anand family put out on Tuesday.

Ketan had said he was present in the house and was waiting for Priya to get ready to go to party. He said when the hosts called to check why she hadn’t arrived, a maid was sent upstairs to check. The maid found Priya’s body.

However, north-west region assistant commissioner of police Subhash Awte told reporters today that there was no one else present in the house during the time of murder.

Around 9.30, Priya, in a “depressed state of mind”, was drinking, when she asked the maid servant to get her some hot milk, Awte said. The actress was dead by the time the maid returned with the milk. Police sources said when the maid had gone to get the milk, someone came into the house, committed the crime and left.

The prima facie evidence turns the needle of suspicion towards the Anand household, since it would have been almost impossible for an outsider to slip in, go exactly where Priya was in the large bungalow, strangulate her and leave within less than 10 minutes, the time taken for the maid to warm the milk.

Ketan reacted angrily. “The police has no post mortem report. On what basis can we take the doctors’ comment to the press to be true? We are also waiting for Pri-ya’s brother Kamaljeet Singh to reach here from London. It’s unfair to speculate on these things.”

In the same house two years ago, Ketan’s German wife had committed suicide. Police sources said Chetan had left a large chunk of his property, including the Juhu flat where the actress lived, to Priya, who he lived with but did not marry.    


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