In the tight embrace of album of memories
Rupan sees Gill gang hand in son ‘witchhunt’
Proof debate on secret tapes
Biju’s favourite Ray in Naveen’s black book
Naidu on power tariff tightrope
1 killed in civic poll violence
Jester and lover, Net catches dotcomic Laloo

 
 
IN THE TIGHT EMBRACE OF ALBUM OF MEMORIES 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN IN TRICHY
 
 

Our eyes are filled with tears

But our hearts with pride

Your loss is unbearable

But your glories incomparable. These four lines on a sheet of paper stand in a modest frame among the memories Major Mariappan Saravanan have left behind.

A colour picture of the 28-year-old Saravanan in his army uniform, evidently blown up from a passport-size photograph — the only one available with his family — dominates the niche in this middle-class home at Bhima Nagar at Trichy in central Tamil Nadu, once the capital of the Chola kings.

A small brass lamp, flanked by a couple of fresh deep-red flowers, lights up the corner strewn with a couple of citations, some shields and the Vir Chakra awarded post-humously to Saravanan, who died on May 29 last year. Saravanan had fallen to a hail of bullets from the Pakistan-backed Mujahideen in the Jubar Hills at Batalik.

His body, embalmed by nature at ice-laden 14,000 feet, was retrieved only when his Bihar 1 regiment recaptured the Jubar Hills in the first week of July.

Almost the entire state seemed to grieve when the retrieved body was brought on a special plane to Trichy by Union minister and local MP Rangarajan Kumaramangalam. The funeral was attended by thousands of mourners who seemed to line up the streets right from the airport to the cremation ground.

Amirthavalli, his mother, tears welling up in her eyes, but restraining herself with some difficulty, recalls: “It was a moving sight. In our moment of tragedy, it was gratifying to find so many people turning up to express their sympathy, share our grief... I had lost my only son (she has two daughters but), none could compensate that of course. But when everyone, from the PM down to the unknown faces in Trichy, commiserated with us, I realised that many, many others too seemed to have lost someone dear to them... That was, that was perhaps...” her voice trails off.

This was the second death of an armyman in the family. Saravanan’s father, Adi Mariappan, a lieutenant-colonel with the medical corps, had died in a road accident in Bangalore.

Younger daughter Revathi, a computer engineer, was with her mother. Her eyes lighted up when she recalled her brother’s personal traits: “He was a lively person. Made friends fast.” In the flood of memories, the tide of her voice su-ddenly turned: “We miss him, but we’re very, very proud of him.”

Chitra, the elder sister, a doctor, was away. She has pain-stakingly built an album, putting together all the news clippings on her brother, the course of the Kar-gil war, some magazine write-ups.

Mother Amirthavalli and sister Revathi fondly turn the leaves, lingering a moment or two on the pictures, animatedly discuss when his body was retrieved, “Was it July 3 or 7 or 6?” Their faces brighten when they reach the last page, a magazine cover with the roll of honours, Maj. Saravanan heading the list. Finally, with some reluctance, it seemed, they close the album.

The brief exercise seemed to illustrate the way Saravanan’s family is coping without him, weeping behind a curtain of dignity.

In their grief, though, there is no rancour. “Did they hate Pakistanis? Do they hold them responsible for his death?” “Certainly not,” both shot back, “Why should we? Entire Kashmir is a mess. We only want the issue to be sorted out amicably, without further loss of life.”

They have no complaints either, against the government or anyone else. Various agencies have chipped in with generous amounts. Chitra, in the state government medical service, was able to get her posting near Trichy.

When it’s time to leave the family to grieve in private on the first anniversary of Saravanan’s death, enters T.S. Raman, a strongly-built man sporting a handle-bar moustache.

“An uncle of Saravanan,” the family introduces him. A major, now retired. More Saravanans could hail from this military stock.    


 
 
RUPAN SEES GILL GANG HAND IN SON ‘WITCHHUNT’ 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, May 28 
Rupan Deol Bajaj, the IAS officer who won a sexual harassment case against supercop K.P.S. Gill, today alleged that the former Punjab police chief’s sympathisers had launched a witchhunt against her son.

Eighteen-year-old Ranjit Bajaj is in custody on charges of kidnapping, robbery and violation of the Arms Act.

Rupan, a principal secretary in the Punjab government, said the alarm raised by the police over her son’s arrest amounted to a “conspiracy of sorts”.

She said Ranjit had suffered stab wounds on his chest in an attack on April 19. The row allegedly involved a girl. “He had to have 94 stitches and two of his fingers, too, were severed,” Rupan said. She added that it was strange that Ranjit’s attackers were arrested a day after he surrendered.

A day before Ranjit surrendered, two police personnel in plainclothes allegedly fired at his car. Referring to the “incident”, Rupan said: “The massive manhunt launched by the police over five to six days when Ranjit was seeking bail and the shots that were fired at him were frightening. The shots fired at Ranjit’s car could have killed him. Equally worrying is the fact that the two persons who fired at him — a tall man and a woman wearing jeans — were in civilian clothes and later identified as belonging to the Chandigarh police.”

Ranjit surrendered on May 23, days after the police registered a case on a complaint by another teenager, Sunny Garg, that Ranjit had abducted him, beaten him up and robbed him of valuables. “He did not surrender earlier because he was seeking bail. But the way the police handled the case by ordering a manhunt was not proper. Ranjit is no terrorist. All the cases against him do not lead to a death sentence,” Rupan said.

Claiming that the two police officers who fired at Ranjit could be seen strolling outside the Sector 17 police station, where he is lodged, Rupan said it was a “potentially dangerous situation”. She added that she had met the Chandigarh administrator Lt Gen. (retired) J.F.R. Jacob for reassurance that her son should not be harmed. “I have also demanded action against the two police officers who shot at Ranjit to arrest him,’ she said.

Rupan wondered why the police had to order a manhunt. “I had even met Chandigarh SSP Parag Jain and asked him to withdraw the orders as they were potentially very dangerous,’ she said.

“I am not blaming Gill for what has happened with Ranjit. I feel that his sympathisers are behind the manhunt that was launched for his arrest. Ranjit is a delinquent. He is not a dreaded criminal,” Rupan added.

Rupan had accused Gill of harassing her sexually at a party here in the eighties. She went to court and, after a long-drawn battle, won the case. Gill was handed a suspended prison sentence. The matter is now in Supreme Court.

Referring to the case, Rupan said from July 1988 to October 1995, when the Supreme Court ordered the supercop’s trial, she had to go through numerous problems. “But I faced all of them. Now this hysteria over Ranjit that seems to have been created deliberately.”

Rupan alleged that the police were not registering their FIR alleging that Sunny had made a false complaint. She also claimed that the weapon recovered from Ranjit’s car was a dummy pistol.

Despite the dealer’s certificate, the police had registered a case under the Arms Act and sent it to the forensic laboratory. “Their report confirms what we have been saying,” she added.    


 
 
PROOF DEBATE ON SECRET TAPES 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, May 28 
It might be a war of attrition so far, but in the final analysis the law of evidence will play the decisive role in the cricket scandal. Top on the agenda is the very admissibility of video or audio tapes as evidence in a court of law.

While Kapil Dev’s lawyer Virendra Nath Koura “just dismisses” the tapes as evidence, Manoj Prabhakar’s counsel Nidhesh Gupta claims that they are “corroborative circumstantial evidence”.

Both of them, speaking to The Telegraph separately, gave contradicting legal views. Koura labels the tapes “cheap gossip”. “Will you take a statement of a person in a party where people normally gossip and hold it out as evidence?” asked Koura. “At a high level it is accusation and at a low level it is cheap gossip. However, in both cases it would certainly not amount to evidence,” Koura said.

On the other hand, Gupta said the conversations taped by Prabhakar with various cricketers and board members constitute “circumstantial evidence”. “I make an allegation. Now I come out with circumstantial evidence. It corroborates my version that in private conversations all those persons recorded admit and even vouchsafe for the offence. But they don’t come out publicly. So the tapes are the only evidence left with me to prove the charges”, Gupta argued.

Prabhakar went to each and every one he had recorded with a “hidden” camera and struck a friendly conversation without the other person realising that the episode was being video-taped. Pointing to this, Koura said the very act itself constituted an offence: the breach of privacy of a person.

“This alone would be enough to dismiss the tapes as evidence,” Kapil’s counsel said. “A gossip session, that too illegally video-taped, cannot be admitted as evidence.”

However, the Supreme Court set an example in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case by viewing video tapes in the open court to determine the petitions filed by the accused.

Koura, however, said “confession recorded being viewed by the court is a different case. Here a gossip is recorded, that too illegally without the knowledge and consent of those who spoke to Prabhakar.”    


 
 
BIJU’S FAVOURITE RAY IN NAVEEN’S BLACK BOOK 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
May 28 
For much of three years, chief minister Naveen Patnaik and sacked Union steel minister Dilip Ray were as close as a married couple before separation. They kept up appearances, hiding the strained relationship deftly from the public eye.

Ray was Biju Patnaik’s favourite, but never Naveen’s. Once an industrialist himself, Biju Patnaik liked Ray’s easy-going style and the dogged determination to make it big — more in business than in politics.

In 1990, the late chief minister rewarded the second-time legislator from Rourkela with a portfolio close to both’s heart — industry. Ray, a public school product, has not looked back since, growing into a mature politician and widening his influence in state and national politics over the years.

Though he remains with the Biju Janata Dal, born of the Janata Dal, Ray had little trouble acquiring prime land for his hotels in Bhubaneswar during a different regime or in Darjeeling during Left Front rule.

His aides said he counts among his friends Chandan Basu, son of West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, and Ranjan Bhattacharya, son-in-law of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Naveen Patnaik wouldn’t have minded Ray having such acquaintances. The one he didn’t like was Bijoy Mohapatra, expelled by Naveen from the party in the run-up to the Assembly elections barely three months ago.

Ray, on his part, has always maintained that he never supported Mohapatra’s rebellion against Naveen. But he would complain all the same that Naveen was not taking him into confidence, the reason why he publicly opposed Mohapatra’s expulsion.

Party leaders knew from long before that all was not well between the two, but both were determined not to let the cracks show. Ray would often visit Naveen when in town and the two would lunch or dine together after a “meeting”.

Ray has little mass support, except in hometown Rourkela. But it is the possibility of a coming together of Ray and Mohapatra that is troubling the Naveen camp.

Sources close to the chief minister feel the duo may now try to split the party. Several party leaders resent Naveen’s “autocratic” functioning and, with the resignation of Ray, the rebel ranks of the party have swelled.

Sources said Naveen was suspicious of an ambitious Ray, who is close to ADMK chief Jayalalitha and had been a “trouble-shooter” for the Vajpayee government in 1998. He had a secret meeting recently with Mohapatra, which set the alarm bells ringing in the Naveen camp.

Ray, a minister of state in the Vajpayee government, tried to promote himself to Cabinet rank after Naveen, who took over as Orissa chief minister, quit as mines minister. But Naveen got in the way, making it clear to the Prime Minister he had a different choice. For the record, on reaching Bhubaneswar from Delhi today, Naveen denied he had a hand in Ray’s sacking.

A fortnight ago, the chief minister got his confidant Arjun Sethi (who has become a Central minister with Cabinet rank now) elected leader of the BJD’s parliamentary party, much against the wishes of nearly half of the BJD’s nine Lok Sabha members.

Some dissidents had favoured Ray for the post. Four MPs are miffed with Naveen and only three members are required to split the parliamentary party.    


 
 
NAIDU ON POWER TARIFF TIGHTROPE 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, May 28 
The Andhra Pradesh tariff regulatory commission cast a shadow on the Chandrababu Naidu roadshow at his party’s hyped annual convention at Vijaywada, announcing a 20 per cent hike in power tariff, the third in a decade.

The move sent Naidu scurrying to reconcile his party cadre to the steep hike, slated to be implemented from June 4. But the mood of the delegates at the Mahanadu was subdued after the “shocking” news. The hike is likely to be challenged in courts and will affect the party’s prospects in the forthcoming panchayat polls. A song by a 10-year-old girl eulogising Naidu and a folk dance programme could barely lift the partymen’s spirits.

The hike is expected to bring an additional revenue of Rs 1,059 crore per year for Aptransco (Andhra Pradesh transmission corporation), which is already weighed down by a debt burden of over Rs 2,500 crore.

The government had agreed to a 15 per cent increase in tariff earlier. But the power utility pressed for a higher hike in view of its investments to the tune of Rs 4,500 crore in the power sector and its efforts to institutionally fund the reforms.

Naidu, who kickstarted power reforms in the state, said: “We are not contesting the hike before the commission. We will only try to convince them that the hike is steep. But that will be only after a detailed study of the tariff tree.” Pushed by the World Bank for a faster pace of reforms, Naidu is struggling to strike a fine balance between the demands of popular politics and the ground realities of shooting tariff and subsidy cuts.

But the chief minister has not been able to do away with power farm subsidies, though it is a huge burden on his cash-strapped resources. So, he is negotiating with the tariff commission for reimbursement of the farm subsidy on an annual basis. But the panel wants the state to pay the dues on a monthly basis. The state government is yet to reimburse last year’s subsidy of Rs 2,000 crore.

The first tariff hike since the corporatisation of the power utility has put a burden of Rs 110 crore on consumers. Although the government claimed that the hike was only 20 per cent, the non-telescopic aspect made the burden more painful.

Dissidence in Desam

Dissidence in the Telugu Desam came out into the open after former minister B. Gopalakrishna Reddy and deputy Speaker A. Cha-ndrashekhar Rao stayed away from the Mahanadu.

While Rao informed party chief Chandrababu Naidu of his inability to participate, Reddy went to the press questioning the validity of the session. In a statement, he said there was nothing to be achieved except listening to “long sermons from the party president”.

Reddy, a former legislator from Srikalahasti in Chittoor district, had written an open letter to Naidu after the Assembly polls criticising the party’s policies, including its tie-up with the BJP.    


 
 
1 KILLED IN CIVIC POLL VIOLENCE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, May 28 
Elections to 79 municipalities across the state today were marred by stray violence, which left one dead and several others injured. Counting of votes begins tomorrow.

The Congress and the BJP demanded repolling in several districts, alleging that the ruling CPM had resorted to largescale booth-capturing and rigging.

Congress vice-president Pradip Bhattacharya alleged that six polling agents were injured in North 24-Parganas when CPM activists and their “hired goondas” attacked them. State BJP president Asim Ghosh demanded repolling in six booths in the same district, alleging that the CPM cadre beat up party candidates, including a woman.    


 
 
JESTER AND LOVER, NET CATCHES DOTCOMIC LALOO 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, May 28 
After causing rickshaws to be named ‘Laloo Toofan Mail’ and appearing in Laloo khaini, a cartoon series named after him, Laloo Prasad Yadav, the hottest brandname to come out of the heartland, is going to re-launched — on the Web.

A website is being set up to market his magic. The subject is Laloo the comic relief, not the politician. The style is tongue-in-cheek. “Main hun lallu, naam hain Laloo, par andar se hai chalu (I look innocent, my name is Laloo, but inside I am cunning)” is how the much-jailed RJD chief is introduced on the site.

The site will cater to the endless demand for Laloo jokes. One anecdote tells how in the US Laloo had telephoned an airline staffer to know how long it would take to reach London from Washington. “One minute,” the woman at the other end had said as she was taking another call. “Thank you,” Laloo said, satisfied that he could reach the Continent in 60 seconds.

Director of the website, M.K. Sarof, says it is “Laloo the unknown” that the website will focus on. There will be scenes from Laloo’s early life, showing the RJD chief dressed as a woman, enthralling his audiences with a Bhojpuri dance.

The idea of the website, laloo.com, was taken up after a survey showed that despite his long stints in jail, the CBI dragnet closing in on him, the unaccounted-for wealth or his scant regard for law and order, public interest in Laloo only grows and grows.

The website, to be launched in July from Patna, will also feature Laloo, the naughty lover. Like the most famous lover from his Yadav tribe, Krishna, tormenting the milkmaids, Laloo would tease Rabri Devi — first his childhood sweetheart, then his wife and now chief minister — and then come back and make up with her. She would melt with his charm.

With this, Laloo joins top Indian politicians on the Net like A.B. Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi and Chandrababu Naidu, who all have websites to their credit. laloo.com also provides an online chat facility with the RJD chief.

There will also be a healthy dollop of criticism. Laloo’s brusque manner of settling every problem and his rough-and-ready solutions will be commented upon. Shekhar Suman will mimic Laloo, the leader of the downtrodden. Worse, Opposition leaders will speak their minds on him too.

But a sporting Laloo is thrilled with the website, very happy that it will host 250 of his photographs, his favourite quotes and jokes he likes. He will inaugurate the site himself.    

 

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