Jigsaw pieces fall into place in Mumbai
Scandal shadow looms over cub cricketers’ dreams
Doctors shield ‘sick’ Kishen
Sonia silences anti-Rabri cry
Cong heat over Naidu panel
Mahajot tremors rock Kerala

 
 
JIGSAW PIECES FALL INTO PLACE IN MUMBAI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 12 
There were smiles again at the R.K. Puram anti-extortion cell of the crime branch this evening after reports poured in from the team sent to Mumbai that corroborative evidence was coming through.

The hotel room numbers where Sanjeev Chawla, the principal suspect in the match-fixing scandal, and Hansie Cronje had stayed, as mentioned in the taped conversations and as revealed by Rajesh Kalra, were all matching. The Delhi police was being able to gradually build a fool-proof case as they had pledged.

This was the only good news after doctors at the Kailash hospital virtually blocked the police team’s attempt to interrogate Kishen Kumar earlier in the afternoon.

The policemen had waited almost two hours before they were allowed into Kumar’s room, and that too for only 20 minutes, which was hardly enough to grill the actor.

Every time they asked a difficult question, the doctors intervened saying that monitors showed that the patient was under severe stress.

Last night, the team sent to Cochin and Bangalore had confirmed that Sanjeev Chawla and Cronje had stayed in the same hotels in the respective cities. Confirming that this was a major development, a Delhi police officer said: “It was strong circumstantial evidence to prove the link between the two. Look at the strength of the evidence along with the taped conversation.”

The same team had made another breakthrough last night. They had found out the bank numbers of all the Chawla brothers — Sanjeev, Gagan and Rajesh. While Sanjeev has moved to London, Gagan and Rajesh stay at Jangpura in Delhi.

However, since it was Ramnavami today, the police could not make inquiries at the Delhi-based banks to find out if major transactions had been made over the past month.

But doubtful if they would be able to trace any major transaction from these accounts, the police said they would need to uncover the hidden accounts of the brothers before they can come up with any concrete evidence.

The Enforcement Directorate, which would also pursue this line of inquiry, today again served a notice on Kumar asking him to turn up for interrogation at the earliest. The Delhi police denied that they have been able to unravel the monetary route.    


 
 
SCANDAL SHADOW LOOMS OVER CUB CRICKETERS’ DREAMS 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Mumbai, April 12 
Until yesterday, Rubesh Kumar was just another of several 16-year-olds sweating it out in pursuit of the Great Mumbai Dream: wearing the India cap. Today, he’s shattered.

As the wannabe wicketkeeper — he’s training in Dilip Vengsarkar’s academy — got on the local train for Churchgate in his cricket whites, a fellow passenger remarked: “Aren’t you ashamed to be a cricketer? They are all thieves.”

A shocked Rubesh — a student of Poddar College, which boasts of having Vengsarkar, Vijay and Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri among its alumni — tottered to his cricket school, but could hardly glove the balls.

“I’m startled. People have actually started becoming suspicious of cricketers after the Hansie Cronje scandal,” he said.

Vengsarkar’s Elf Academy trains 80 boys between 12 and 19. They were selected by the former India captain who watched them perform in different club tournaments. Some like Rubesh have also made it to the Mumbai Under-19 team. Ajit Agarkar is a product of the academy.

Dazed by Cronje’s confession, the Elf boys just went through their paces. Said A. Chawre, one of the coaches: “We are trying to do a normal job. This (Cronje’s admission) hurts. It’s difficult to hold our heads high. These boys are so young, we don’t want such influences to ever tarnish their game.”

Maxwell Mota, an 18-year-old budding all-rounder in the “Robin Singh mould” was pained that his father, who “played decent club level cricket”, told him to “see for himself if the game was worth it”.

“At dinner last night, we argued. I won on the ground that no Indian has ever been caught. So why should we let it bother us? But I’ll be honest with you. I am not feeling too nice,” Mota said.

The boys seem to have grown overnight. At Shivaji Park, Mumbai’s cricket cradle, coach Naresh Churi, who has taken over from the legendary Ramakant Achrekar, said his boys were “not feeling up to it”.

“They practised all right but they came to me and asked ‘Will everything be alright sir? Why did Cronje do it? People will not think highly of us.’ I tried to reassure them the best I could,” Churi said.

To the uninitiated, these cricket centres are more than just play grounds. Cricket is not just a game. Involvement means waking up at five, catching a local train with heavy gear, commuting for over an hour and at times more, then taking a break to go to school, coming back for more practice and returning home in soiled cricket whites. Tired, but proud.

A despondent Churi summed it up. “A little bit of the pride of being a cricketer has gone in each of the boys. This is worse than not middling the ball or bowling short of a good length. And no amount of practice can correct this,” he said.

Vengsarkar, however, hopes all is not lost. “The plus point is that these boys still have time to dream. If the scandal stops here, we can all get on with the game. After that it is up to the boys to decide what kind of individuals they want to be. And Cronje will be nobody’s hero. I can assure you that.”

Vengsarkar sees a silver lining in the cloud of despondency that hangs over cricket nurseries — the oval maidan at Churchgate, the Azad maidan at Victoria Terminus and of course Shivaji Park in Dadar. “Mumbai has reacted very strongly. A strong message has been conveyed that dishonesty will not pay. This experience will further cleanse the system,” said the former skipper.

But the wounds will take long to heal.    


 
 
DOCTORS SHIELD ‘SICK’ KISHEN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 12 
Kailash hospital doctors were desperate to present Kishen Kumar as a high blood pressure patient whose condition could deteriorate any moment if he was exposed to too much stress.

Five doctors, a nurse and several attendants took up position around the table where Kumar was pushed out in a wheel-chair. The actor, wearing a stubble of four days, his hair dishevelled, was carefully made to appear like a sick person.

Wearing a blue shirt, Kumar played the role of a grim patient who had been very considerate towards the media demand for an interview. Before he began his short speech — questions would follow later — the doctors, who had kept an ‘emergency crash cart’ ready, pointed out there was an eight-inch blood pressure monitor that would record Kumar’s systole-diastole levels every moment.

The doctors were at pains to explain how the equipment worked and called over a volunteer among cameramen to the podium to check his blood pressure levels. The whole drama being enacted on the stage resembled a magic show where members of the audience are made to climb on the stage and become part of the act. The doctors insisted that the photographer’s blood pressure was normal.

They said Kumar’s wasn’t, and then read out his treadmill test report. The test is carried out on hypertension patients to find out their increased blood pressure levels under stress.

The diastole level of Kumar was 100 — not dangerously high for a B.P. patient — before the test began this morning, according to the report. The doctors claimed his systole-diastole level read 180-110 at the end of the test, but would not say how long Kumar had walked on that equipment. Generally, cardiac patients are advised not to take a treadmill test when they face a life-threat.

The doctors wanted to dictate how the press meet would be conducted. They stressed that reporters should choose a senior journalist to address all questions and that the meet would have to be completed quickly.

The reporters booed the doctors, saying such conditions would not be followed and that Kumar, since he had agreed to a press meet, would have to address a normal conference with every reporter having his or her chance to field questions as they liked.

Along with Kumar emerged a number of his cohorts who stood around like bodyguards. The doctors made a fuss over the emergency crash cart and the gadgets stacked on it. Even as Kumar spoke, the doctors tried to butt in, but were jeered and forced to take their seats by angry reporters.    


 
 
SONIA SILENCES ANTI-RABRI CRY 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 12 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today bulldozed her way in the Congress Working Committee, leaving out the anti-Rabri Devi lobby from the hurriedly-convened meet. She got a fresh seal of approval on the Bihar chief minister’s continuation.

In the absence of Rajesh Pilot, Sushil Kumar Shinde, A.K. Antony and Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Jitendra Prasada was the only one who pointed at the Congress’ “age-old” practice of fighting corruption. However, he accepted the Sonia-line after being told to take a “pragmatic view” of the Sangh parivar’s designs to weaken secular forces and its “highly politically motivated campaign” against Rabri Devi. Two members of the AICC’s ethics committee, Manmohan Singh and Ahmad Patel, endorsed former law minister Hansraj Bhardwaj’s line of argument that the chargesheet against Rabri was “bad in law.”

The decision to convene a CWC meet on Bihar was taken at 1 pm, giving four hours notice to Pilot, Antony, Reddy and Shinde who were out of Delhi. Pilot was in Mumbai while Antony was in Calicut and Reddy in Hyderabad. The party also left out legal eagle Kapil Sibal, one of the three experts who usually brief the CWC on legal matters.

The field was open for Bhardwaj who termed the chargesheet as “bad in law” as the case was filed against Rabri Devi after she became the chief minister of Bihar. Sibal has fallen out with 10 Janpath.

The outcome of today’s CWC meet underlined one thing — the AICC chief is in a fighting mood and would not give in to her detractors. “It was emergence of a new Sonia Gandhi. Unlike the past practice of arriving at a decision after deliberations in the CWC, she first set the line on Bihar in Amethi and then asked the CWC to endorse. The message is clear to the dissidents — come out in open or shut up,” an AICC functionary said.

Sonia loyalists, however, justified the holding of the CWC meeting at a short notice. The Congress chief and the CWC would be busy with the rally in Nagpur on Friday to mark B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, so today was the most suitable day for the meet. The Parliament session is resuming from Monday and the Bihar issue would be the first item in the House, so the Congress MPs must know where the party stands on Rabri’s chargesheet.

Many said the Congress should not be “too defensive” on Bihar when the BJP was getting away with every thing — be it alliance with Sukhram or abandoning the Ram temple issue. “When they can make all sorts of compromises and still be the ruling party, why should we continue to take extremely moralistic stand,” an agitated CWC member said.

An AICC office-bearer said the Congress must make a distinction on these “moral questions” — ones relating to party members and others like the parties supporting the Congress. “While we should maintain high standards of probity in public life, others should be judged by different yardstick leaving such matters on their conscience,” she said.

Having settled the Bihar issue, Sonia now has to focus on Maharashtra where the Congress is faced with prospects of a rough ride with Sharad Pawar’s party. She will address four rallies in the state to test ground realities.    


 
 
CONG HEAT OVER NAIDU PANEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 12 
The Congress has taken strong exception to Jairam Ramesh’s inclusion in Chandrababu Naidu’s economic advisory panel, making it clear that the AICC economic department’s secretary should decide whether he wants to stay in the party or join hands with an arch-rival.

Senior party leaders said a decision on Jairam would be taken after ascertaining “full facts”.

AICC secretary Anil Shastri mocked Naidu for trying to “loan” economists belonging to the Congress. “It shows the total bankruptcy in the Telugu Desam Party and Naidu’s desperate attempts to gain credibility by associating names of Congress experts.”

Jairam has been feeling isolated in the wake of growing criticism of economic reforms within the party. A powerful section of the Congress Working Committee, consisting of Arjun Singh, Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada, A.K. Antony and Pranab Mukherjee, wants to take a U-turn on liberalisation to earn a pro-poor image for the party.    


 
 
MAHAJOT TREMORS ROCK KERALA 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, April 12 
The proposed mahajot (grand alliance) of Trinamul Congress and its parent party in West Bengal has thrown major Kerala parties into turmoil.

The Indian Union Muslim League has threatened to pull out of the Congress-led United Democratic Front and join the CPM-led Left Democratic Front if the Congress decides to have a tie-up with the Trinamul, a BJP ally.

Though no official announcement has been made, IUML leaders have told the Congress that they would not tolerate any direct or indirect tie-up with the NDA, sources said.

The IUML is also unhappy with the covert understanding between local Congress leaders and the BJP to ensure the Left’s defeat in civic elections. The friction between the Congress and the IUML has been growing steadily since 1985-86 over this alleged covert understanding with the saffron party. Till December 1992, the IUML overlooked this but the Babri masjid demolition drastically altered political perceptions.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad visited Kerala on March 26 and on April 6 to assuage the feelings of the IUML leaders following the League threat to pull out.

If the IUML parts ways with the Congress, polarisation in Kerala politics will take a dramatic turn since the difference of vote between the UDF and LDF is only one per cent.

But the dynamics of Kerala politics do not offer any quick fix solution. The League is divided on the issue of joining hands with the Marxists who had earlier dubbed it communal and decried “minority communalism”. The CPM is also divided on whether or not to admit the IUML into the LDF.

IUML legislature party leader P.K. Kunjalikutty is rooting for an alliance with the LDF, while national leaders E. Ahmed and G.M. Banatwalla are non-committal. State president P.S.M. Ali Thangal is said to be the deciding factor.

The CPM Politburo is meeting here soon to take stock of the situation in Bengal and Kerala.

The IUML has 13 MLAs and four MPs, two each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. It can tilt the balance in the four Muslim-dominated northern districts of Kasargod, Kannur, Kozhikode and Malapuram accounting for 60 Assembly constituencies. Some in the Left think tie-up with the IUML will bolster its sinking stock despite opposition from hardcore anti-League elements.

While another group feels in case of a tie-up, the front may lose the support of Hindus, it’s main support base. Besides, the Sunnis, who form the base of the IUML, is traditionally anti-CPM and they may defy party line and vote against the Marxists.

If the IUML withdraws from the UDF, the Congress citadel will crumble like a pack of cards.

The Marxists’ dilemma is compounded by a perception that weakening the Congress will benefit the BJP, which is struggling hard to open its account in Kerala. The saffron party, though did not win a single seat in Kerala had polled eight per cent votes in the Lok Sabha elections last year.

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