Kalraj quits after corruption charge
Allies turn up rollback heat in House
Veil on drought deaths
UP attack clean chit to Sangh
Andhra crackdown on Naxalites
Jagir faces case on daughter
Upper caste armies run amok in Rabri land
Clinton drive to reap India harvest

New Delhi, April 27 
Senior Uttar Pradesh minister Kalraj Mishra today resigned from the Ram Prakash Gupta ministry following corruption charges against him, but the chief minister has refused to accept his resignation.

The BJP minister, who demanded a probe into the graft charges, stuck to his guns, saying: “If I remain in the post, the inquiry may be affected and it is not proper to continue in such a situation.”

Mishra, who held the public works and medical education portfolios, was part of the old troika — which included Kalyan Singh and Lalji Tandon — in the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP. With Kalyan out of the party, the old order has made way for the emergence of a new phalanx of leadership, BJP sources said.

Mishra announced his resignation in dramatic circumstances in the state legislature during Zero Hour. He later submitted it to Gupta, a day after an Opposition legislator referred to an allegation made by the PWD Engineers’ Association that he had taken money for transfers and postings.

Denying the charges, Mishra said he had resigned on “moral grounds” and stressed that he would press for an inquiry. He ruled out reconsidering his decision after the chief minister told reporters that there was no question of accepting it. Gupta also said the matter was within the purview of Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi, since it was announced in the Assembly.

According to agency reports from Lucknow, a letter allegedly written by the president of the Uttar Pradesh PWD Engineers’ Association, Ambika Prasad Mishra, had charged the minister with corruption. It was read aloud in the House by Samajwadi Party MLA Babu Ram.

Though Mishra urged the Speaker to have the accusations investigated by an agency or a House committee, Tripathi reserved his ruling and ordered that Ambika Prasad Mishra be summoned to the House tomorrow at 1300 hours.

“An inquiry, if required, would be held against the concerned person irrespective of the fact whether he was a member of the House or not,” he said. Mishra is a member of the Upper House (Vidhan Parishad). Tripathi also washed his hands off Mishra’s resignation, saying it concerned the minister and the chief minister.

BJP sources in Delhi, however, saw Mishra’s decision as “more serious than just a token gesture”. According to them, Mishra had so far enjoyed Atal Behari Vajpayee’s direct patronage. Vajpayee, they said, wanted Mishra to replace Kalyan Singh as chief minister but changed his mind once it was pointed out that it could worsen the factional feuds in the state unit.

But of late, the sources said, Vajpayee had begun “distancing” himself from Mishra, after he came to know of allegedly incriminating evidences against the minister regarding his son’s overseas education.    

New Delhi, April 27 
The BJP’s allies stepped up pressure on the government to reconsider its decision to raise the prices of foodgrain, kerosene, LPG and fertilisers and restore the subsidies.

At a debate on price rise under Rule 193 in the Lok Sabha today, the allies made a fervent plea to the government to review the decision. Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said: “No poor person can support the government’s action. Don’t think you will tarnish your image by reconsidering the price hike.”

He said the allies did not demand a “complete rollback”, but merely called on the government to reconsider its move. But Bandyopadhyay also made it clear if there were attempts to topple the government through cutback motions, the allies would stand firmly behind it.

The Telugu Desam Party, Janata Dal (United), Shiv Sena and Samata echoed similar views, but Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, bent on “exposing” their “posturing”, advised them to stop behaving like the BJP’s “bonded labourers”.

“Stop this drama. You are not genuine. If you are honest, then withdraw your support to the government,” he said.

In the Rajya Sabha, the DMK, a key NDA constituent, put the government on the mat on the same issue. Seeking a clarification to the reply on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, given by foreign minister Jaswant Singh in the Prime Minister’s absence, DMK leader Viduthalai Virumbi said the price hike should be rolled back as it was “agitating people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari”. “We understand the difficulties of the government but the government should understand the difficulties of the people,” said Virumbi.

He asked the government to increase the price of motor oil or aviation fuel to reduce its oil subsidy, but not kerosene or diesel as that would have a cascading effect on the price rise of other essential commodities as well.

Jaswant hinted at a possible review of the food, fertilisers, LPG and kerosene and the subsidies cut. “Concerns of the members will be faithfully conveyed and it is for the Cabinet to consider it,” he told the House. On food subsidies, Jaswant claimed that the Vajpayee government had “merely” implemented a decision taken by the United Front government in 1997.

In a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party this morning, public distribution and consumer affairs minister Shanta Kumar said the decisions were taken after “considerable thought”.

Talking to reporters, BJP spokesman M Venkaiah Naidu quoted Kumar as saying a “broad consensus” had emerged on the issue way back at a chief ministers’ conference in 1996 and subsequently the UF government had decided that foodgrain supplied to people above the poverty line would be at 90 per cent of their market cost, while those supplied to people below the poverty line would be at 50 per cent. of the market cost.    

Ahmedabad, April 27 
The Gujarat government today lined up all its ministers to pass off two suspected drought-induced starvation deaths as “food-poisoning” casualties, but local agencies and villages contested the claim.

Even before the release of the full post-mortem report, revenue minister Vajubhai Vala said: “Saheba Bumbadia and his daughter Savita had consumed makki roti and subzi of mango on Monday.” The deaths occurred in Khedbrahma taluka of the tribal Sabarkanta district.

Vala told The Telegraph that Bumbadia had bought 6 kg of wheat, 1 kg of rice and 2 kg of salt from the village ration shop. Villagers, however, said the shop has been closed for weeks.

Vala said: “The family had undergone routine medical check-up at the relief camp last week and all of them were physically fit. The sample of makki roti consumed by the family has been sent to the food laboratory to ascertain the content.” Asked how the deaths could be traced to food poisoning even before the laboratory report was out, he said: “All facts point to the same.” The Keshubhai Patel government is at sea trying to justify its persistent stand that only Saurashtra and Kutch have been affected while the rest of the state was “normal”.

On Tuesday, Saheba Bumbadia, 35, and his seven-year-old daughter died in front of their hut. Bumbadia’s another daughter, also without food for more than two weeks, is in a critical condition in a primary health care centre at Poshina. She was taken there after her husband and son died.

This is the third death in this taluka this month. The government labelled the first one as tuberculosis death even though the post-mortem report was not made public. In the first week of April, Ditabhai Okrabhai Gamar of Sebalia village died at a relief work site. The death was not reported for over a week because the media was not following the drought story closely then.

The other two deaths have come in the wake of severe criticism that the Gujarat government is facing for its inept handling of the drought crisis.

The Opposition Congress has upped the ante over these deaths because Sabarkantha is Opposition leader Amarsingh Choudhary’s constituency. He dismissed the government’s claim that the deaths were due to food poisoning as “pure hogwash”.

He said: “The tribals of north Gujarat are the poorest of the lot. On top of that they are getting nothing to eat as the state’s relief works are being delayed. I cannot accept that they have died due to food poisoning because these tribals digest nothing.”

“These tribals are so malnourished and suffer from various diseases. They are likely to die when they are made to do physical labour to make ends meet. It is a combination of complex factors which is leading to these deaths,” Choudhary added.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in Pune has said that it had predicted the drought in Gujarat six months ago and had sent detailed reports to the chief secretary, the Union Cabinet secretary, the Prime Minister’s Office and all other concerned departments. IMD additional director-general Dr U.S. De said: “The IMD had issued several bulletins indicating that rainfall will be scarce in Gujarat.”

The fortnightly Aridity Index Report of the period October 8 to 21, 1999 stated that Kutch and Saurashtra had a “minus 58 per cent anomaly” during the last monsoons and the situation could repeat itself. Even this report was ignored.    

New Delhi, April 27 
Much to the relief of the BJP-led government, the National Commission for Minorities, which probed the recent attacks on Christian schools in Agra and Mathura, has given the Sangh parivar a clean chit on Christian bashing.

The commission today submitted its report to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani. Panel sources said they had investigated all the three incidents and found there was nothing “communal” about them.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday condemned the incidents in Parliament. Vajpayee told the Lok Sabha that he had directed the home minister to ascertain the facts from the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. BJP allies Trinamul Congress and Telugu Desam Party had also criticised the government for its failure to protect Christian institutions.

The four-member commission-team comprised Justice (Retired) Mohammad Shamim as chairman, Sardar Tarlok Singh as vice-chairman, A.M. Sethna and John Joseph.

Joseph said the team visited Sacred Heart School, Mathura, where the principal told them that two local political leaders Sheetan Singh and Suryakant Prashar — who are not from the Sangh parivar —approached them with the demand that their failed children be promoted. The principal refused to oblige. On April 6, the politicians brought an angry crowd to the school. The principal hid himself to escape the mob.

Another reason behind the flare-up was the steep hike in tuition fees from Rs 300 to Rs 800.

Protesting the fee hike and denial of promotion, another leader, son of a local MLA, threatened to destroy St Dominic School in the same area, even though this school did not take any such steps.

John Joseph said robbery was the motive behind the attack on St Teresa School at Kosi Kalan from where the miscreants looted Rs 1 lakh. The commission has recommended strong disciplinary action against the Agra SHO for keeping two priests in the lock-up without any reason.

The church, however, is sceptical. All India Catholic Union national secretary John Dayal said the BJP was trying to whitewash the incidents.    

Hyderabad, April 27 
Within hours of killing six members of the Rachakonda dalam of the People’s War Group (PWG) in Nalgonda yesterday, Andhra Pradesh police today gunned down 10 members of Warangal’s Parakala dam. The slain militants, including four women, where intercepted by a police patrol near Kavakondagutta in Chandragiri village. No policemen were injured in either encounter.

But even as the police offensive touched a new high, the president of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Ratnamala, accused them of following double standards. “While they are killing Naxalites for not giving up arms, they are supporting a former extremist, Kattula Sammayya, who declared in public that he would kill all PWG men,” she said.

The force has also come under the scanner after they ignored appeals by newspaper editors and the suggestion of the Cabinet sub-committee to end encounter killings. “The government should end such killings when it had offered dialogue with the PWG,” said B. Balgopal, former secretary of the Civil Liberties Committee.    

Chandigarh, April 27 
Punjab and Haryana High Court today issued notice to the state of Punjab, the police chief and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Jagir Kaur for May 12 in response to a petition filed by Human Rights Reforms lawyers regarding Kaur’s daughter Harpreet’s death on April 20.

Punjab police too have ordered a probe into the death. Harpreet is said to have died of dehydration caused by diarrhoea.

Later today, Kamaljit Singh, who claims to be Harpreet’s “husband”, filed a petition in the high court against Kaur, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, the Kapurthala SSP and the station house officer of Bogowal, Harpreet’s village, asking for a probe into the alleged destruction of evidence which caused Harpreet’s death.

In his petition, he also alleged that there were threats to his and his family members’ lives.

Harpreet died at CMC Hospital in Ludhiana on the night of April 20. Her body was cremated in Bogowal next morning in the presence of Badal and Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti. The bhog ceremony was held today at Bogowal amid tight security.

The Human Rights Reforms lawyers had not made Kaur a party in their petition. Justice R.L. Anand, while issuing the notice, observed: “From the allegations in the petition, I am of the view that notices be issued to SGPC president Bibi Jagir Kaur.” He also said “law must prevail” and asked the media not to “make a monkey of the law”.

Punjab police circulated a note regarding a probe into Harpreet’s death. It stated that Kapurthala SSP Iqbal Singh had been deputed on April 25 to investigate the death.

“Consequent upon the directions of the honourable chief minister Punjab, K.K. Attri, IPS IGP/Crime Punjab jab has now been directed to inquire into the matter and form a special team for the purpose.”

The issue has rocked the ruling Akali Dal. Badal, aides insist, took time to order a probe into the matter because he wanted to wait until the bhog ceremony was over. Media reports, too had been adding to the pressure of conducting a thorough investigation.    

Patna, April 27 
A rise in upper caste fringe armies similar to the Ranbir Sena and the spate of Dalit killings has put the Rabri Devi government in a tight spot.

Among the four persons killed yesterday by some upper caste people in Rohtas district was a BSP district president, Upendra Das. He was part of a marriage party heading towards Sultanpur village when the upper caste gang abducted him and six others. They were taken to a desolate road of the village, handcuffed and shot at from close range. Four of the victims, all belonging to the Ravidas community, died on the spot. Three others are now in a critical condition in Rohtas Hospital.

On April 15, three members of another Dalit village, Panki in Biharsheriff district, had been killed in a similar way. The private armies of the local landlords had entered the houses of the Dalits and dragged them out before shooting them.

Though the Ranbir Sena did not claim responsibility for the above killings, the RJD politicians and activists of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties allege that at least five private upper caste armies were involved in resisting the Dalit villagers from staking their claim on land and wages. In all the cases, the Dalits were branded as Naxalites before being gunned down. Among the caste armies killing the Dalits in Jehanabad, Purnia, Gaya and some parts of Nalanda is a new outfit called Pandav Sena. It is headed by one Sanjay Singh, a Rajput, who claims to have killed at least 12 persons, most of them belonging to backward caste communities.

After the Rohtas killing, chief minister Rabri Devi sent Cabinet members Ramai Ram, Jayprakash Yadav and Shyam Razac to Sultanpur. She also announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the next of kin of the victims.

and proposed to set up a statue of Das. BSP chief Kanshi Ram, who is expected in a day or two in Patna, had earlier threatened that the party might withdraw support to the Rabri government if the Dalit killings continued.

According to minister for small irrigation Jayprakash Yadav, who visited Rohtas yesterday, most of the caste armies were supported by “feudal forces in a village represented by the BJP and the RSS”. Ramai Ram, himself a Dalit, has directed the state police’s task force to launch a crackdown on the new outfits.

Sanjay Singh took some journalists to an undisclosed destination in Jehanabad and displayed an array of sophisticated weapons including AK 47, carbines, steinguns, sophisticated explosives. He said: “You have been publicising the Naxalites’ power. We are not behind.” He said his outfit, active in Jehanabad, Gaya and some parts of Rohtas, had vowed to eliminate the Naxalites.

The state police’s intelligence websites, which had been updating information on the Ranvir Sena, has to now accommodate data on at least five more upper caste armies some of which sprouted about six months back. These include the Pandav Sena, Niraj Sena, Trimurti Sena and the North Liberation army. Each group has its own pockets of influence. The intelligence reports hinted that Ranvir Sena chief Barmeswar Singh is working towards a consolidation of all these caste armies to fight the Naxalites.

According to CPI (ML-Liberation) state secretary member Umesh Singh, whose party workers have been bearing the brunt of the caste armies’ onslaught, most of these groups were enjoying political patronage and were into politics. “Once you are in politics, you assume an inflated role of yourself and can even call the press to display your weapons,” he said.

State home commissioner U.N. Panjiyar said most of the new outfits were gangsters trying to graduate to the role of a caste army. Some of them parted ways from the Ranvir Sena to form their own groups.

“When a big group splits, it fragments into smaller units before melting away. The smaller groups may be an outcome of our crackdown on the Ranvir Sena,” a senior IG of the state police said.    

Washington, April 27 
President Bill Clinton, determined that his visit to India should leave a historic mark on Indo-US relations, is moving swiftly to consolidate its gains.

Although there are no grand declarations in this regard yet, the Clinton administration would like to see the nucleus of “Asian security” cooperation between India and the US put in place by the time Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arrives here on a return visit in September.

Towards this end, intense diplomatic activity is under way to arrange a visit by defence minister George Fernandes to Washington as soon as possible. If the maverick defence minister, who has a reputation here of being anti-US, anti-free market — indeed, anti-everything — drags his feet on travelling to Washington, his American counterpart, William Cohen, has expressed willingness to go to India to meet Fernandes, according to knowledgeable sources.

Aware that the idea of India and the US cooperating on “Asian security” will be resented in many quarters in India — maybe even by Fernandes, definitely by India’s communists — the White House floated a trial balloon on the new idea this week.

Clinton administration officials who worked on the President’s visit to India called leaders of the Indian-American community to the White House and discussed, among other things, the concept of “Asian security” ties between Washington and New Delhi. it is the hope of the administration that the seeds planted during that discussion will germinate in the coming weeks and produce a feedback by the time under-secretary of state Thomas Pickering visits New Delhi next month. The vision statement signed by Clinton and Vajpayee has a passing reference to “Asian security” and provision for its follow up during meetings such as the one to be held between Pickering and his Indian counterpart, Lalit Mansingh.

Depending on the progress made by Mansingh and Pickering, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and the US secretary of state Madeleine Albright are expected to go public in greater detail when they meet in Warsaw in June.

The Clinton administration is conscious that it has only limited time in office and that respecting Indian sensitivities is the key to making progress towards any historic legacy from the Clinton visit. This was obvious from several other developments in bilateral relations since the President returned here from India.

While administration officials who briefed Indian American leaders this week on Clinton’s trip spoke supportively of India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, the US permanent representative to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, indicated that Washington was willing to relax the ceiling of 21 members that it had earlier fixed for an expanded Security Council. This will end the stalemate in the UN over reconstitution of the council.

More importantly, when proposals for loans to India totalling $ 743.68 million came up before the World Bank this week, the US did not lobby for stopping those loans. American lobbying would have blocked those proposals.

The Americans did not vote in favour of the package, but walking such a thin line at the World Bank had more to do with US commitments to non-proliferation, especially at a time when the US is under fire for a variety of reasons at the ongoing conference in New York to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is the first time since the Pokhran-2 nuclear tests that the World Bank has approved loans for India which do not fit the definition of “basic human needs”. Out of $ 512 million in this week’s package for Uttar Pradesh, $ 150 million is for power sector restructuring while $ 251 million is for fiscal reform and public expenditure restructuring — areas not covered by “basic human needs”.

Meanwhile, Clinton continues to talk in public about his India visit, a strategy aimed at keeping India in focus and responding to Indian sensitivities. At a fundraiser for congressional elections in New York on Monday in New York, he not only spoke of his recent trip but also praised leaders of the congressional caucus on India, a subtle way of encouraging congressional support for his Indian initiatives.    


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