S. Africa links extradition to probe result
Cronje borrows Clinton excuse
Kalra in for hawala grilling
29 charred in shock tragedy
Coalition wake-up call brews for Sonia
BJP meet

 
 
S. AFRICA LINKS EXTRADITION TO PROBE RESULT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 13 
Aware of its sensitive bilateral relations, South Africa today assured India of full cooperation in the match-fixing probe while making it clear that it would consider extraditing Hansie Cronje if officials from Pretoria find the allegations to be correct.

A team of officials from South Africa is expected here shortly.

The South African government has decided to set up an independent judicial commission headed by a senior judge to look into all-aspects of the controversy involving Cronje and four of his teammates.

Pretoria’s high commissioner in Delhi Maite Nkoane-Mashabane said her government had begun the “process of instituting an independent judicial commission of inquiry” to conduct a “full-scale examination into all aspects of the recent allegations”.

“The extradition issue is not the beginning of the process but will be part of it if there is need for that,” she said when asked whether Pretoria would entertain a request for extradition of the sacked skipper.

Indications are that the government here is also not keen to push the extradition issue too far with South Africa.

Aware that a request to extradite Cronje has the potential of damaging relations, officials in South Block maintain that the matter may not be pursued with vigour since Delhi was satisfied with the assurance given by Pretoria about cooperating with the inquiry. A team of senior Indian officials is likely to visit South Africa soon.

Asked whether South Africa will assist Delhi police in deciphering parts of the taped conversation in Afrikaanas, Nkoane-Mashabane said: “We will extend full cooperation to Indian authorities. But we will wait till we get a request from the Indian police through the external affairs ministry.”

Her remarks and the response of the South African government indicate Pretoria is extremely cautious not only about the sensitive nature of the controversy involving its cricketers, but also about its bilateral relations with India.

Ties between the two sides took a serious beating during the Nam summit in Durban in September 1998 when then South African President Nelson Mandela, much to the shock of the Indians, expressed growing concern about the nuclear tests.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took serious exception to this “unprecedented outburst and reference to South Asia” by Mandela and it was left to other South African leaders, particularly Thabo Mbeki (who succeeded Mandela) to smoothen ruffled feathers.

Subsequently, both sides tried to play down the issue, but the incident did dent bilateral relations. The two sides are aware that unless the present controversy is handled properly, it could once again damage ties which have been on an upswing over the past few months.

Describing the incident as “unfortunate”, Nkoane-Mashabane, however, assured Delhi that it will not affect bilateral relations. She said her government had received “positive” response from the Indian foreign ministry on its request for making available copies of the FIR and access to the tapes of the purported conversation between Cronje and bookie Sanjeev Chawla.

Reading out from a statement issued by the South African sports ministry, she said that though Cronje has admitted receiving money from bookies in lieu of information, there was nothing from the sacked cricket captain’s confession to suggest that he also took money from Indian punters during South Africa’s tour of the country.    


 
 
CRONJE BORROWS CLINTON EXCUSE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 13 
Delhi police say it is the Clinton formula. Hansie Cronje is taking refuge in the fine distinction between fixing a full match and fixing parts of it.

Police officials have been saying from the day the scandal broke that here were classic examples of not just match-fixing but fixing of deliveries, progress made in an over, fixing who would bowl first, who would be the first change and how many runs would be scored by the opener.

What is baffling for the police is why the innocent punter should place his money, say, on the number of runs to be scored by Herschelle Gibbs. He would not stake lakhs on such particular and specific aspects of the game because the choices are too obvious. Only under exceptional circumstances would Cronje not open with Shaun Pollock. There could be a wager on whether Nantie Hayward or Lance Klusener would open the bowling with Pollock. In fact, Klusener is an unlikely choice because the South African skipper has often brought him on later in the match.

“This is where the doubts creep in,” said a police officer, giving much thought to part betting. “I can accept that there could be a bet on a particular batsman getting so many runs. But shouldn’t the punter smell a rat when he is asked to wager on who the opening bowler would be along with Pollock now that Allan Donald has virtually retired from one-day cricket? How can such bets which smack of some foul play convince those who are putting in their money?” he asked.

The officer believes that such part-betting has crept into the game from football which roughly allows three or four bets on the same match. In England, people do bet on who would win, by what score and who would be the scorers. Cricket, even in its shortened one-day version, is a seven-hour affair and restless punters cannot be expected to sit through 100 overs betting only on the final outcome. That is why from the days of Kerry Packer and the first Prudential World Cup, part-betting has gradually become the order of the day.

“Cronje cannot get away by saying he did not fix the whole match. He can argue that he was not in a position to force the outcome of a game as the South African skipper because he had only three or four players over whom he had strong influence,” Delhi officials said. They pointed out that by fixing parts of the match, Cronje was taking risks whereby his side could have lost. “He was playing into the hands of the fixers all the time in lieu of money,” the officials added.

Of course, the case being legally pursued does not differentiate between tanking and part-fixing. It simply says matches were fixed. Cronje might take solace from the fact that he had not betrayed his nation because he was influencing his colleagues only to a limited extent and never compelling them to play in a way that the side would lose. In a court of law, such a stand would mean little.

Cronje’s role would be seen as that of a match-fixer.

Delhi police agree it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint part-fixing in the future. There are so many aspects of the game waiting to be exploited by imaginative bookies that it makes the entire betting scenario extremely complex. They knew for a long time that people were betting on slog overs, predicting the number of runs that would be scored each over from the 46th onwards. Now it appears that even runs to be amassed by individual batsmen, the way the coin would show up at the toss are all being separately staked.    


 
 
KALRA IN FOR HAWALA GRILLING 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 13 
The Enforcement Directorate today took Indian cricket bookie Rajesh Kalra into custody to interrogate and probe the “definite hawala” route of the money that changed hands in the entire episode.

Sources said involvement of two or more nations or nationals meant this was a hawala deal or an illegal transit of money from one country to another. It is a “criminal act” which invited provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (Fera) and the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act (Cofeposa). These charges will be added to the chargesheet to be drafted jointly by the Enforcement Directorate and the Delhi police.

Under these Acts, Kalra or any suspect could be taken for an initial custody of 24 hours for interrogation and his or her premises could be searched and documents, if traced, seized, without even a warrant. “The money laundering Bill has been passed by Lok Sabha only. Hence, these two Acts, Fera and Cofeposa, are being now invoked,” an official said.

Enforcement personnel have taken Kalra under a two-day custody. He has to be produced before the court either on Saturday or Monday for further detention.

It is being suspected that the money involved in the illegal transaction could have been in forms of rupee, dollar and rand. “More forms of currencies could have been involved and hence we want to know the truth through interrogation,” the official said, adding: “Kalra’s interrogation is to mainly find out the channel of the transaction.”

Preliminary investigations, according to sources, have revealed that the “bad money” had travelled through hawala channels to London from India, where it was allegedly deposited in various bank accounts of Hansie Cronje and “three others”. Boje, Gibbs and Strydom “could be” these three others.

However, it would take up to June to file formal chargesheets, according to sources as “corroborative evidence” has to be collected from “persons like Kalra”. The filing of the chargesheet was delayed because so far it has been treated as a cheating, criminal conspiracy under Sections 420 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code. Now provisions of Cofepos and Fera will be added with the Enforcement Directorate taking up the case partially.

A mobile phone was said to have been handed over to Hansie Cronje by Kalra in Delhi. The very first call from this phone was an international call made to a place in South Africa. Then Sanjay Chawla had spoken on this number from London to Cronje.    


 
 
29 CHARRED IN SHOCK TRAGEDY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, April 13 
A cable carrying 11,000 kilovolts snapped and struck a Ram Navami procession in Palamau, killing at least 29 midnight revellers.

More than 25 people were injured in the stampede sparked by the electrocution. They have been admitted in hospitals in Daltonganj, where the tragedy occurred.

The excitement of over 2,000 people who marched through the roads of Daltonganj turned into a nightmare during the last leg of the journey.

Around 1 am, when the procession neared the congested Arya Mandir Road, some revellers tried to push back the overhead electricity wires with a bamboo stick to enable their chariot to pass. As they hit the two parallel wires — each carrying 11,000 KV — one snapped and hit the crowd, causing a huge spark.

“The people on whom the wire fell were instantly electrocuted,” Palamau district magistrate F. Alam said. Twenty persons, most of them between 20 and 30, were charred beyond recognition. Nine of the injured later died in Daltonganj Hospital.

Of the injured, two are said to be in critical condition at Rajendra Medical College and Hospital in Ranchi.

The tragedy sparked a spontaneous bandh in the town. Bihar power minister Shyam Razac suspended six employees of the Bihar State Electricity Board for dereliction of duty. The government has announced Rs 1 lakh compensation to the victims’ relatives.

Razac, who toured the area with a five-member expert team from the power board, is expected to submit a report to the government.

The minister said a separate probe would be ordered to find out if there had been any administrative lapse.

As the shaken residents tried to come to terms with the tragedy, the Khalifa of the local Muharram Intazamia Committee, Surab Ali, told the divisional commissioner that they would not take out the Muharram procession on Sunday to “mourn the death of their brethren”.

Last night’s Ram Navami rally was organised by the Sankat Mochan Dal, a local religious group.

Politicians from Palamau said the administration had taken precautionary measures to ensure smooth movement of the procession. “Lights and telephone lines remained disconnected for a long time yesterday. Power was restored only after 10.30 pm. However, neither the district administration nor power department officials was around when the incident occurred,” former Palamau MP Jorabar Ram said.

He felt the tragedy could have been averted if they had been around.    


 
 
COALITION WAKE-UP CALL BREWS FOR SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, April 13 
The Congress leadership is under pressure to formally abandon the Panchmarhi declaration and accept coalitions as a “reality of contemporary Indian polity”.

The volte-face on Panchmarhi is likely to take place once Sonia Gandhi gives the “go-ahead”. Highly placed sources said the leadership was veering round to the view that the principle of ekla cholo re (let’s go it alone) was not working and there was a need for a pragmatic approach.

The Panchmarhi conclave had rejected coalitions and pledged to restore Congress primacy in national affairs. However, since September 6, 1998, when the resolution was adopted, the party has been forced to overlook it in Maharashtra, Bihar and Pondicherry. According to Congress assessment, it would be compelled to have similar power-sharing arrangements in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and other states going to the polls next year.

A majority of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members has told Sonia that many of her problems would be resolved once the party takes “corrective measures” on coalitions. Sonia, keen to survive as the AICC chief in the wake of growing disenchantment with her, is considering the proposal.

While Sonia has an open mind on coalitions, what is bothering her is the pressure to make a departure from her focus on ethics and morality in public life. In yesterday’s CWC meeting, many of her colleagues made a strong case for ignoring corruption charges against the Congress ally, RJD, terming them as politically motivated. The Panchmarhi declaration had committed itself to making the Congress under Sonia “the party of the brightest and the best, a party of principle and ideology, a party of ethics in politics”.

Leaders like A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada and Ahmad Patel feel that any dilution of the party’s “crusade” against corruption would cost the party dear. However, Sitaram Kesri, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Arjun Singh, Ambika Soni and others counter the argument, saying the party should have different yardsticks for its own members and leaders of other political parties. Citing Rabri Devi’s example, these leaders said the fight against corruption should not help communal forces. “A distinction should be made between genuine corruption charges and politically motivated cases,” a CWC member said.

But Sonia is worried that in the process, her focus on morality will get blurred. Equally determined not to lose the secularism plank, Sonia supporters admitted that their actions were sending “confusing and contradictory signals” to the party rank and file.

“What we need is a massive education drive — to inform our people about our intentions and the problems of contemporary political system. As a political party we cannot shun power, yet we cannot be seen compromising on ideology and principles to grab power. How to blend the two is the question before us,” an AICC general secretary said.

Some party leaders feel a public stand on accepting coalitions as “reality” would have a bearing on the NDA government as it will pave the way for the coming together of all anti-BJP forces under one umbrella.

But on the flip side, it will mean the virtual end of Sonia’s political ambitions as she is not acceptable to the Samajwadi Party, the NCP, the Forward Bloc and the RSP as a prime ministerial candidate.    


 
 
BJP MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 13 
Cross-voting during the recent Rajya Sabha biennial elections and the political churning in West Bengal are likely to come up for discussion at the BJP national executive to be held here on April 15 and 16.

This is the first time that the party’s working committee will meet after the Chennai National Council last December. Deliberations, therefore, will focus on political developments in the intervening period.

BJP sources said the performance in the February Assembly polls will be a thrust area. Sources admitted the setback in the Rajya Sabha polls, especially in UP, was another area of concern.

Even those who qualified for the first preference votes polled less than the nominee of an ally, the Loktantrik Congress Party, who should have had a tough time.

“The role of money and other allurements over party affiliation is something we will have to seriously apply our minds to,” said a BJP vice-president.

Though the election results have triggered anxious parleys in the ruling party circles, the BJP sounded optimistic about developments in West Bengal, where the state Congress is warming up towards the Trinamul Congress, a BJP ally.

BJP sources claimed that though the Congress high command has issued statements that its West Bengal unit will not be part of a front which included the BJP, the mahajot (grand alliance) against the Left Front regime would eventually materialise.

According to their calculations, a large section of the Congress would break away and either float a separate outfit or merge with the Trinamul.

Sources said home minister L.K. Advani’s open call to the Congress yesterday to join the anti-CPM platform was aimed at exposing these “fissures” within the party.

The Congress’ failure to speak in one voice on the political flux in Bengal has already had an impact on Kerala, where the Indian Union Muslim League has hinted that it might pull out of the Congress-led United Democratic Front and join the CPM-led Left Democratic Front if the Congress had anything to do with the BJP.

According to party insiders, the National Executive is expected to pass a comprehensive resolution on these issues and also focus on the Congress decline under Sonia Gandhi.

The meeting is expected to adopt two more resolutions. On the economic scenario which would touch upon the Union and rail budgets, and the other on US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India and the diplomatic “success” against Pakistan at the recent Nam summit.

While the economic resolution may avoid even the mildest criticism of the two budgets, sources said the cut in subsidies and the price hike of kerosene and LPG might come up for discussion as MPs have brought to the leadership’s notice that the moves were drawing flak on the ground.

The meeting will also finalise a schedule for the election of the party president as Kushabhau Thakre’s term expires this month.

Though a section of the BJP feel Thakre should be given an extension as he has served only one term, sources said he himself was not too keen on health grounds. According to them, speculation at the 11, Ashoka Road headquarters has again begun veering around the name of senior vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy.

   

 

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