Betting zones dot upmarket Delhi
Voice tests leave room for doubt
Ace Dawood-hunter on cricketers’ trail
Poll trouble brews in Cong
Jaswant prefers book to Sattar
Sonia lights up women’s hour

New Delhi, April 8 
Every upmarket mohallah in Delhi has its own betting racket, replete with a buzzing telephone-network always in touch with the real operators along the Dubai-Karachi-Mumbai betting route.

Over the years, cricket-betting has become institutionalised in the capital like satta. Every neighbourhood selects one major operator — usually a trusted and “respected” person, because a lot of currency will pass through his hands — to handle the money.

Though the Delhi police pleads helplessness, saying it has only a “vague understanding” of the nexus and its style of functioning, it has come to light that Delhi, like Mumbai, is divided into a number of zones with a principal bookie in each zone. Names of some such alleged bookies had cropped up following Manoj Prabhakar’s accusation that a colleague had offered him Rs 25 lakh to play the way the bookies wanted.

“You or I cannot go to a market and easily identify the bookie who is accepting the bets. They’ll smell a rat if you are not introduced by somebody they trust or if you are not the regular punter. Like the heroin-addict knows where to find the smack peddler, the cricket gambler knows how to identify the cricket bookie,” said a Delhi police official who has been probing the new-age version of satta.

The rates are not fixed in Delhi. Such crucial decisions are taken by the controlling syndicates in Dubai-Sharjah, Karachi and Mumbai. Through cellphones and landline ISD calls, the rates are passed on within minutes to these neighbourhood bookies. Fixers are generally appointed by syndicates to control the operation and ensure the matches conclude in a pre-determined manner and not too many people benefit from the result.

For example, it was assumed that India, which had suffered humiliating defeats in Australia and then again back home against South Africa in a test series, could not stage a comeback under a new captain in the one-day tournament. That South Africa would win was easy to predict and most bettors had put their money on the Springboks. Fixers could have stepped in to alter the course of that predictable outcome. The bookies themselves make maximum money in case of an upset result.

“This investigation has the scope to unravel the entire racket,” insists a senior Delhi police officer. “It can strike at the roots of the operation and instil fear in the minds of both betting syndicates and unscrupulous players.”

Cricket-betting has grown in proportion since Sharjah became the happy hunting ground for sub-continental players more than a decade ago. Betting boomed on the sidelines of the Sharjah stadium, said Delhi police sources. They also felt that the Mumbai underworld and probably the many offshoots of gangs led by the likes of Dawood Ibrahim control the betting operations in India.

In Delhi, the police says, the bettors often carry their money-laden briefcases to very respectable shops dealing, for instance, in well-known multinational brands. “The whole operation is so silently carried out that it is impossible for outsiders to get wind of what is actually happening,” a source said. Rajesh Kalra, who owned two cars and lived quietly in his GK-II residence, was treated with dignity with neighbours. His associates were a “respectable”, upwardly-mobile crowd and there was no suspicion of their involvement in the racket.    

New Delhi, April 8 
Voice verification can prove beyond doubt the authenticity of transcripts submitted as proof by 90 per cent, but it can only be used as corroborative evidence, experts said.

The identification is done by digitalising the recording and comparing it with the voice of the accused. Delhi police have sought Interpol’s help to prove that the person in conversation with bookie Sanjeev (alias Sanjay) Chawla is that of South Africa skipper Hansie Cronje.

A senior voice analyst said: “The recorded voice of the accused (Cronje) will first be digitalised. The accused’s voice is again recorded and then digitalised to match the signal levels. Digitalisation is a process by which the rise and fall and accent of a spelt word (under normal speech) is taken on a graph and recorded on a software. The two speeches or spelt words (of the accused) are synchronised to establish whether the voice is of the same person or that of an imposter.”

“The chances are that the voice may not be the same if the accused speaks in a different accent and mood. But then his earlier recorded voice can be procured from telephone companies, which are bound to produce them under licence agreements. This can then be used to compare the two voices,” the analyst added.

The hi-tech method can also be used to doctor a voice. A previously recorded voice can be fed into a computer and then edited to suit the need.

“It is a very simple process. It has been undertaken by many agencies (both police and defence) to nab culprits. A recorded voice is printed (in technical terms, run on the computer) and then the cut-and-paste method is used to doctor it. This has been effectively done in films and audio plays,” the analyst said.

During the Kargil war, the government had carried out voice matches before releasing the tapes of the conversation between Pakistan army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the chief of general staff, Lt Gen. Mohd. Aziz, that proved that infiltrators were controlled by the military.

Criminal lawyer Ashok Arora said the most important thing for the prosecution would be to prove that the entire conversation between Cronje and Chawla was an uninterrupted talk and not in bits and pieces, and to establish its link with the crime, adds PTI.

“Once a chain in the talk is broken, its admissibility will become doubtful as it will be then considered only a doctored version,” Arora said.    

New Delhi, April 8 
Ishwar Singh, inspector in Delhi police’s anti-extortion cell, does not want to look behind. Born of illiterate parents in Jind district of Haryana, Singh can take credit for busting cases that have been nationally important over three years. That the Union home ministry took him seriously is proof enough of the credibility he carries and the weightage of his evidence.

Singh, the officer who filed the First Information Report (FIR) against Hansie Cronje, his South African compatriots and other Indians involved, admits that in Jind he and his small family are still non-entities.

“Our home is very close to Hissar,” he says with a degree of friendliness. But once Singh realises that the information can cause trouble for him, he becomes reluctant to speak. “Please wait till tomorrow when I am able to speak with more clarity on matters of national importance,” he says.

Singh has already given up his rights to investigate the case. According to a Supreme Court judgement, he is not supposed to file a case as a complainant and go on to investigate the same case.

Says Singh: “I do not mind being taken off the case. In reality, I am hardly taken off. It is only that I will assist Prithviraj Sharma, the new investigating officer. I had filed the FIR yesterday therefore I cannot be directly involved. It is for others to find out if others were involved.”

Singh relates how he had come in close touch with the underworld of wheeler-dealers about two years ago. He had first gained a first-hand knowledge of what was happening in the cricket world when he sealed the fate of Syed Abu Nasser in Silguri. Nasser had 2 kg RDX in his possession.

Says Singh, who was also the first person who linked Romesh Sharma’s arrest with Dawood Ibrahim, that this was one of the clear cases dealt with by the “anti-extortion and anti-kidnapping cell of the Central Bureau of Investigation”.

Singh had been able to break down telephone links between criminals operating within the Tihar Jail and outside. It was clear that he gained a great influence among criminals operating with blessings from Dawood and his fellow conspirators.

He has learned the ropes from his cousins who held influential jobs in the army and other wings of the defence establishment, Singh says.    

New Delhi, April 8 
There is more bad news for Sonia Gandhi. Congress organisational polls panel chief Ram Niwas Mirdha has expressed his unhappiness with the leadership, conceding that he deferred the party polls under duress.

However, Mirdha, widely respected in Congress circles for his integrity, has spared Sonia from a direct attack, launching his tirade on senior leaders Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel and Madhavrao Scindia.

Mirdha said the move to postpone organisational elections was initiated by those who do not participate in membership enrolment drive. Moreover, it would erode the authority and credibility of the polls panel which was supposed to be an autonomous and independent body, he said.

Sources in the AICC said Mirdha was initially adamant on not deferring the polls, but after two days of pleading by Singh, Scindia, Patel and Mukherjee, he reluctantly yielded.

The Congress membership enrolment drive was to conclude in March, but now it has been extended till May. It means that party polls — including that of the AICC chief — will not take place in July-August. In fact, now there is doubt on whether the party polls will be held at all in 2000.

Officially, the Congress has said the polls were deferred on grounds that they were clashing with the budget session of Parliament. “The party MPs did not get time to participate in the membership drive. Moreover, there were Assembly polls in Bihar, Orissa, Manipur and Haryana. So partymen did not get time to concentrate on enrolment,” AICC spokesman Ajit Jogi said.

However, dissidents alleged that Sonia was shying away from facing the polls due to growing disquiet in the Congress. “Her handling of party matters in Bihar, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Delhi has left a lot to be desired. Under these circumstances, she is hardly in a position to get elected unopposed,” a CWC member said.

Mirdha also criticised the handling of the West Bengal crisis, wondering how A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Somen Mitra were allowed to negotiate with the Trinamul when it was an ally of the BJP. Mirdha said the “short-sightedness in Bengal” would cost the party dearly.    

Cartagena, April 8 
The grounded relations nearly took off, but neither Jaswant Singh nor Abdus Sattar was prepared for it.

A chance meeting on the Avianca flight from Miami to Cartagena was perhaps a little too unexpected and a bit too fast. With it ended what could well have been a pathbreaking mid-air diplomatic initiative to kickstart the stalled talks.

The Pakistan foreign minister was well seated in the Colombian plane in Miami, from where he was to go to Cartagena — the venue for the Nam foreign ministers’ meet — when Singh trooped in, unannounced.

Settling himself in two rows behind his Pakistani counterpart in the economy section, Singh paid a cursory glance at fellow passengers. Though aware of the other VIP, his eyes did not even stop at Sattar.

Bleary-eyed and tired after a 24-hour flight from Delhi to Miami — with a brief halt for a few hours in Paris — Singh did not allow his fatigue get the better of his mind. With seasoned diplomatic élan, he took out a book from his bag and focused on the pages instead of the right-hand corner where Sattar was seated.

Not once during the two-and-half-hour flight did Singh’s body language suggest anything that could have been read as an attempt at breaking the ice. He completely ignored Sattar.

But the Pakistan leader, too, countered the silence-snub, immersing himself in the newspaper pages that he had spread before him.

At Cartagena, Sattar was the first to get off the plane. Singh followed a few minutes later and was whisked away by Indian officials.

If the cold flight was any signal, it is unlikely that the Nam meet will see the two ministers sit at the table.

Though Sattar echoed Pervez Musharraf by saying he was ready for talks “anywhere and anytime”, India has made it clear that negotiations can resume only if Pakistan stops supporting terror export to Kashmir.

The Nam meet will be the first where India and Pakistan will share the platform after the October 12 military coup.

Singh, who was scheduled to speak this afternoon, will indicate what Delhi expects from the organisation and how it wants to rally the support of the developing world on key issues, especially in the aftermath of President Bill Clinton’s ice-breaking visit to India.

However, neither country can gloss over the tension in the subcontinent and both will try and embarrass each other.    

Rae Bareli, April 8 
Sonia Gandhi’s version of womanpower makes no concession to men.

Denied entry at the Botanical Gardens where Sonia was exploding with bursts of feminist fury and firing up an overwhelmingly female audience as well, hordes of male Congress supporters could only crowd tree-tops to get a glimpse of her.

Sonia was speaking on the party’s Mahila Shakti Divas, an occasion which turned to be of Congresswomen, for Congresswomen and by Congresswomen only.

Gaping women in the Gandhi family’s home turf latched on to every word of the bahu as she cleverly skirted most controversial issues dogging the Congress now. Instead, the Congress chief concentrated on the sacrifices of her family for the nation even as “many doors are waiting to be opened by women in the 21st century”.

It was a shrewd remix of the traditional ideal with the idea of the space-age woman, but Sonia clearly struck a chord in her large audience who had come to attend the Congress party’s convention for women held here after a gap of 27 years. In her hurried 20-minute speech, interrupted repeatedly by women — who kept chanting “Yes, you will” to every promise she made and “No, you will not” to every assertion she made of not bowing down to “those forces against her family” — men were deliberately left out.

“I will not let anything affect the legacy and tradition of sacrifice left by my mother-in-law Indira Gandhi,” Sonia said amid deafening applause as she exhorted women to forget being “abala” (helpless) as they were traditionally perceived in India. She also asked them to trample into the remaining male bastions.

Reading her audience’s pulse, Sonia said: “There are some things I would like to tell only my sisters.” She went on to say how the fate of the nation lay in the hands of its women and that their responsibility towards the nation was immense.

It was an occasion of women, for women and by women. The men did not have a say, literally. Party stalwarts Salman Khursheed, AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh affairs Sushil Shinde and Captain Satish Sharma, sat quietly as none was offered a chance to speak.

However, briefly condemning the BJP government for “trying to douse the kitchen fires of women in India”, Sonia called for an agitation against the hike in LPG and kerosene prices. Maintaining that the Congress and the Gandhi family had always been the guardians of secularism, she referred to the BJP-led government’s rethink on its policy of allowing government officials joining RSS activities. Sonia also iterated she would not rest until the government changed its views regarding the Religious Places Bill as “it was obviously a dark ploy to target and harass the minorities”.    


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