Suicide shadow on Bidyut Ganguly’s death
Atal rules out No. 2 in all’s well signal
Amnesty on ICC backburner
Mama Sonia in match-fix mode
Calcutta weather

 
 
SUICIDE SHADOW ON BIDYUT GANGULY’S DEATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 2 
Speaking on the basis of evidence on hand, police and doctors are saying that Bidyut Ganguly, Bengal’s commerce and industry minister, set himself on fire.

Ganguly died early Monday morning of over 90 per cent burn injuries. Leaders of his party, the CPM, are too shocked to comment on the possibility of the minister having committed suicide, but some of them concede he was suffering from “acute depression”.

Investigators said initial findings suggest the 64-year-old Ganguly took his life in his home at Bhatpara, around 55 km from here. “This is not an accidental death,” said SP Kuldip Singh. “A probe has been ordered and it will come to its own conclusion after examining all evidence.”

Chief minister Jyoti Basu told The Telegraph, “I don’t know why he (Ganguly) suddenly had to do this. But till the probe is completed, I cannot categorically say it is a case of suicide.”

Around 8.30 pm on Sunday, neighbours noticed smoke, accompanied by the stench of burning flesh, wafting out of a first- floor room of the Ganguly home. Some of them rushed into the house through the front door. The door to the first-floor room was bolted from inside. “A few of us pushed hard against the door till it gave way,” said neighbour Shakti Banerjee. “We found Bidyutda lying curled up on the floor, clutching a pillow to his head, while the lower portion of his body was in flames.”

There was no one else at home at the time as the domestic help, a girl, had been sent to deliver a message to Ganguly’s wife who was at a local party office.

At 11.30 pm Ganguly was brought to SSKM hospital in Calcutta. D.D. Chattopadhyay, surgeon superintendent, said: “Barring his head, the rest of his body was burnt. It was almost impossible to save him.”

“Ganguly was extremely depressed,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, but insisted that his death was “accidental”, ruling out a party inquiry.

Politburo member Biman Bose was more forthcoming. “His depression had, in fact, been going from bad to worse,” he said. Party sources said one reason for Ganguly’s depression could have been a party inquiry into his “waywardness”. After the inquiry, Ganguly was given a “warning” and told to “correct his ways”. The inquiry had indicted him mainly on two grounds: spending “lavishly” on his younger daughter’s wedding and leading a lifestyle not befitting a communist leader.

Neighbours said domestic friction had also contributed to Ganguly’s depression. They said that on the night of the fire they had heard Ganguly and his wife, Hashi, quarrelling, after which she left the house. “But this was a regular phenomenon,” said Snigdha Saha, a neighbour. Daughter Indrani protested: “My father was such a cool person, I can’t believe he would end his life in such a manner.”

Forensic experts said: “The fire was localised to the spot on the floor where Ganguly was found. Even if a cigarette had been responsible for the fire, it could not have spread in the manner that it did.”    


 
 
ATAL RULES OUT NO. 2 IN ALL’S WELL SIGNAL 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, May 2 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will not have a number two.

His indisposition last week had started a debate on ‘after Vajpayee, who?’ However, a smiling Vajpayee told his party Mps today that his illness had been “blown out of proportion”. What he did not tell them was his quiet decision during the long weekend that he would not have a deputy Prime Minister. Not even L.K. Advani, the senior-most Cabinet minister after Vajpayee, would be formally named number two.

The Central Hall of Parliament — where MPs and journalists exchange notes, rumours and sometimes facts — had been abuzz since Vajpayee did not chair the last parliamentary party meeting a week ago. Vajpayee had never complained publicly about such rumours, which first made the rounds after he stumbled in Red Fort in August 1998. Even his cataract operations — one last year and another this year — had raised eyebrows.

By taking a firm decision that he would not name a number two, Vajpayee wants to dispel the rumours born out of “exaggerated responses”.

There are several reasons why Vajpayee, advised by his political aides, have been forced to take the stand. Any decision on a successor would be interpreted as a tacit admission that he is unwell. Second, there are too many names to choose from. If Vajpayee decides on Advani, defence minister George Fernandes may feel alienated.

A section of the media has propelled Jaswant Singh’s name also to the contender’s slot, but the Prime Minister’s political aides have not given much credence to the suggestion.

Vajpayee feels that the way things are being run now is good enough. The present arrangement with the senior-most Cabinet minister, Advani, standing in for Vajpayee in his absence is working fine. It was Advani who had presided over the crucial Cabinet meeting in 1998 which decided to recommend President’s rule in Bihar. Vajpayee was then in New York for a United Nations meeting.

The aides also felt that there was no constitutional compulsion on the Prime Minister to appoint a deputy.

Jawaharlal Nehru had a number two in Sardar Patel. But whether Patel was the deputy Prime Minister or not is disputed. Gulzarilal Nanda was the senior-most minister towards the end of Nehru’s tenure and during the brief stint of Lal Bahadur Shastri. He even officiated as Prime Minister but never earned himself the glorified title of deputy Prime Minister.

Indira Gandhi never allowed a number two around her. Similar was the attitude of Rajiv Gandhi. When Morarji Desai headed the Janata Party government, there were two contenders to the number two slot, Babu Jagjivan Ram and Chaudhury Charan Singh.

There were two occasions when Prime Ministers heading wobbly coalitions had to opt for a deputy Prime Minister. Charan Singh named Y.B. Chavan as deputy Prime Minister. Chavan had just broken away from the Congress and Charan Singh wanted to express his gratitude for the support to his fragile coalition.

When V.P. Singh became Prime Minister, he had to name Devi Lal as his deputy because Lal had been part of the grand conspiracy to keep Chandra Shekhar out.    


 
 
AMNESTY ON ICC BACKBURNER 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, May 2 
David Richards, the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive, has jumped the amnesty-gun.

“It wasn’t a top issue... It couldn’t have been. Given the situation, according amnesty wouldn’t be seen as real action,” insisted a well-placed source, when contacted by The Telegraph in London late tonight.

Instead, what has taken centrestage at the end of Day-I of the two-day specially-convened Executive Board meeting, is the likelihood of the ICC constituting an “independent” investigative body.

This body, comprising stalwarts from outside the cricket fraternity, will also work independent of the ICC’s Code of Conduct Commission, set up a year ago.

Richards, in his second term at the ICC, was quoted Sunday as saying the Executive Board would consider “granting amnesty” to those who made a clean breast of everything.

Specifically, of course, dealings with bookies and fellow-conspirators.

“As it was listed on the agenda, very generally, the amnesty bit was briefly spoken about. But, if a player himself acknowledges having broken the laws of his country, the ICC has no locus-standi to grant amnesty.

“He will be open to criminal prosecution and, then, we can’t say everything is fine by us,” remarked another source, invited to the closed-door meeting called by hassled ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya who, by all accounts, chaired the meeting admirably.

The source added: “Personally, the legal point of view, too, ought to have been circulated with the agenda itself. In any case we, in the ICC, can’t end up looking silly. A worst possible scenario is even that nobody could avail of the amnesty offer!”

Clearly the ICC’s solicitors, Simmons and Simmons, don’t appear to have been overburdened in the lead-up to today.

Now, however, they may have hands full.

In fact, their brief could centre around the feasibility of slapping a life ban on cricketers guilty of match-fixing. The ICC, thus far, had been advised to refrain from imposing that directly.

Significantly Dalmiya, who has denied accusations of TV contract-fixing, signed a pledge (alongwith all other Executive Board members) that he had “no financial interests, direct or indirect, in the game either nationally or internationally, other than those declared to by the domestic board.”

Besides Dalmiya, the cynosure at the meeting was United Cricket Board of South Africa managing director Dr Ali Bacher.

Without going into specifics, Dr Bacher himself observed: “It was important for all present to quickly realise match-fixing is a major problem. That it’s a form of cancer that must immediately be challenged. I’m happy everybody was on the same wavelength.”

Though under pressure, Dr Bacher had begun the day in customary fashion: With a pre-breakfast jog. That he sounded relaxed, so late in the evening, suggests the sub-continent didn’t exactly take him to task for uncharitable utterances.

India, by the way, was represented by former board president Raj Singh Dungarpur as current president A.C.Muthiah had to return home mid-journey owing to his mother’s death.

Predictably, the ICC threw out Inderjit Singh Bindra’s unusual “request” that he be allowed to stand-in. Bindra, after all, isn’t even the immediate past president —- Raj Singh is.

There are whispers the Executive Board could “curtail ODIs” with a view to checking match-fixing. Well, this doesn’t make too much sense.

In any case, the ICC has forgotten a suggestion from all nine Test-playing captains, back in July 1997, that no country play more than 25-27 ODIs in a calender year.

To have suddenly realised this may be a solution is amusing.    


 
 
MAMA SONIA IN MATCH-FIX MODE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 2 
Mama Sonia is looking for a suitable girl for Rahul. And if the young Gandhi says yes, he’ll be the first in the family since great grandpa Jawaharlal Nehru to settle for an arranged marriage.

Sonia prefers an Indian girl for her son — employed as a bank securities broker in London — who is as yet determined not to take up the family profession.

Assisting Sonia in match-making is family friend Satish Sharma, who, during Rahul’s visit here in March-April, introduced him to at least a dozen girls, all suitably refined and belonging to society’s creme de la creme.

10 Janpath insiders said one girl has been shortlisted but her identity is being kept under wraps. The girl, like Rahul’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, is from Uttar Pradesh. Her family, however, has long settled in Delhi.

If Gandhi Jr goes along with mama’s choice, it would put an end to speculation about his friendship with a girl from Colombia who was Rahul’s guest on millennium-eve in Katchal island in the Andamans. The rumours began after the couple was photographed at a cricket world Cup match in Birmingham last year.

The Colombian girl was also spotted accompanying Rahul in Rajasthan, curiosity written all over her face, fascinated by the sun and the sand and the havelis and mahals of former maharajas and their lores of love and chivalry.

Though Rahul himself is keen to steer clear of a career in public life, for millions of Congressmen, his marriage is a huge political event. If he decides to tie the knot with the girl from Latin America, it could trigger another round of whisper-campaign on people of foreign origin seeping into the Nehru-Gandhi family.

During the Lok Sabha polls, Sonia’s foreign origins were discussed at length — albeit in hushed tones — even in Congress circles with loyalists defending the party boss, recalling how mother-in-law Indira’s end came on the comforting lap of her elder bahu.

If Rahul agrees to an arranged marriage, it would be the first after Pandit Nehru’s famous wedding with Kamala, solemnised in Bazar Sitaram of old Delhi.

Indira and Feroze had a love marriage as did Rajiv and Sanjay, both going against the wishes of their mother.

While journalist-writer Khushwant Singh helped in the Maneka-Sanjay wedding, Mohammad Yunus Khan played a key role in getting a reluctant Indira to agree to Rajiv’s wedding with the Italian-born Sonia. Friend Amitabh Bachchan was Rajiv’s best man at the wedding.

Priyanka, too, had defied the family in marrying Robert, though Sonia later gave in. Mama has since undergone a change of heart and her damaad (son-in-law) is now a 10 Janpath favourite.

Family sources said Sonia and her children are extremely close and all decisions are usually taken together in post-dinner deliberations. This time, Priyanka, after giving her mother vital tips on her political battles, is set to play the most crucial role in deciding who should be the bahu of the nation’s most high-profile bahu.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 35.3°C (-1) Minimum: 28.9°C (+3) RAINFALL: 21.8 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 84%, Minimum: 58% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of thunderclouds developing towards the afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 34°C Sunset: 6.00 pm Sunrise: 5.06 am    
 

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