PM buys peace with President
Prabhakar hooks fraud bouncer
Friends fling boy to death in river
Trader’s wife killed at home off Lalbazar
Siege on treasure field after gold rush
Calcutta weather

June 3 
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has bought peace with Rashtrapati Bhavan with a string of important appointments meant to please President K.R. Narayanan.

Beneficiaries of the peace package include his daughter, an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, the President’s secretary, Gopal Gandhi, and a judge who will potentially be the first Dalit chief justice of India.

Some of the appointments have been announced while others are in the pipeline. They have caused severe heartburn and resentment within New Delhi’s establishment.

But sources in the BJP, on condition of anonymity, justified the expedient choices on the ground that “in addition to a coalition Cabinet, we now have a coalition with the President as well. In coalition politics, it is necessary to parcel out patronage. The President is no exception.”

The first cause of annoyance — in the foreign service — is the appointment of the President’s daughter, Chitra Mohan. A middle-level IFS officer of the 1978 batch, she has been named ambassador to Sweden.

In Stockholm, she will succeed a string of secretaries who have held the job, including the incumbent, Sushil Dubey, her senior by 14 years. Dubey is due to retire shortly.

Chitra Mohan’s last posting abroad was as a junior first secretary in the Indian embassy in Washington.

She has not only not headed any mission or post before, she has not even had any responsibility at a senior or even middle level in any Indian embassy or in the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

Since her return from Washington, Chitra Mohan was given lightweight jobs since she was partly engaged in ceremonial duties at Rashtrapati Bhavan along with her mother, First Lady Usha Narayanan. She has frequently travelled with the President, creating protocol problems. While travelling abroad, she has always been ranked higher than her IFS seniors in the presidential entourage by virtue of being the President’s daughter, though as a serving officer she was usually the juniormost on the VVIP aircraft.

In recent years, she has worked mainly out of the Nehru Memorial Museum on what is called a policy planning job for MEA in view of her inability, owing to responsibilities in Rashtrapati Bhavan, to cope with the demands of a post in South Block.

If Chitra Mohan’s appointment was not difficult for the PMO to push through, this was not the case with the choice of Gopal Gandhi, the President’s secretary, as high commissioner to Colombo.

Sri Lanka, strategic to Indian foreign policy even in normal times, has become crucial in view of the latest resurgence of Tamil Tiger activity.

Traditionally, MEA has posted its seniormost diplomat after the foreign secretary or someone with considerable experience as envoy in neighbouring countries as high commissioner to Colombo. The only exception was the incumbent, Shiv Shanker Menon, but his outstanding reputation and his record of handling China stood him in good stead.

Among the previous high commissioners in Colombo are the formidable J.N. Dixit, N.N. Jha, who was the seniormost career diplomat when Dixit became foreign secretary, and N. Dayal, who was until recently the seniormost secretary in South Block before being sent as high commissioner to London.

Gopal Gandhi, who resigned from the IAS a few years ago, has little diplomatic experience. He headed the Nehru Centre in London in the early 1990s and was briefly high commissioner to South Africa, a job offered to him since he is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson.

IFS officers with experience of Colombo had set eyes on the high commissioner’s job there at this important time.

But, apart from the IFS, the PMO had to placate the BJP’s ally, the DMK, which wanted a South Indian with understanding of Sri Lanka and sensitivity towards the problems there to get the Colombo job.

Both Menon and Dixit were from Kerala. So were several previous high commissioners such as Thomas Abraham and K.P. Kesava Menon. In trying to mollify the DMK, the PMO argued that Gopal Gandhi, being the grandson of C. Rajagopalachari, India’s first governor-general, was half-Tamilian.

The argument did not wash with the Tamil Nadu chief minister, but in the end M. Karunanidhi appears to have accepted that it was necessary for the National Democratic Alliance to have a coalition with the President as well.

The third appointment where the government appears to have acted as the President would like it to do is of K.G. Balakrishnan as Supreme Court judge. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, the swearing-in is yet to take place, Balakrishnan was chief justice of Madras High Court.

Balakrishnan, 58, will have a seven-year run at the Supreme Court and could become its first chief justice with a Dalit background.

After the retirement of Justice K. Ramaswamy, also a Dalit, President Narayanan had despatched a note to the then Chief Justice M.M. Punchhi that there were meritorious candidates among SC/STs also who should be considered for the Supreme Court.

The incident kicked up a controversy which persisted after Punchhi retired. Chief Justice Anand openly declared during the golden jubilee celebrations of the Indian judiciary that merit alone should matter in the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges.    

New Delhi, June 3 
Wearing a black-and-white striped shirt, Manoj Prabhakar walked out of the CBI building this evening and burst into a diatribe against reporters accusing him of involvement in the chit-fund scam.

“They are accusing the person who is trying to clean up Indian cricket,” he said.

The reporters wanted to know if Prabhakar had offered the CBI anything new on the tehelka tapes. But he was busy distributing photocopies of the rejoinder to the Haldwani scam reports.

Prabhakar has been named prime accused in the Rs 5-crore scam involving a finance company of which he allegedly was managing director. The company disappeared with the money of about 500 investors, mostly from Haldwani near Nainital, in November last year. Raising his voice above the din, Prabhakar declared: “These are false allegations. I am not involved at all.”

As the focus appeared to shift away from the match-fix tapes, the representiative from, the website that conducted the secret interviews in tandem with Prabhakar, hurriedly intervened.

“We have handed over to the CBI the unedited interviews Manoj and our journalists had carried out. We showed you an edited 90-minute version. To the CBI, we have given the unedited raw cassettes —- about eight to 10 —- that runs for 40 hours,” he said. Manoj was still distributing the photocopies.

He said in the computer print-out of his rejoinder: “This is to specify that I am neither a co-promoter nor on the board of directors of any Lucknow-based, APACE group of companies. The relevant documents and receipts from the Department of Company Affairs, proving my non-involvement, is attached herewith.”

Prabhakar added that he was dismayed by the “vilification campaign”. “This motivated campaign against me started around the time that I was slated to appear before the CBI to reveal to them the name of the teammate who offered me Rs 25 lakh.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs that instead of acting on the information that I helped dig out, sections of the media should be more concerned with shooting the messenger rather than taking the investigation forward.”

The photocopies included a letter from Divya Nautiyal, reportedly a general manager with the APACE group, which said: “You are requested to confirm your non-association with companies of our group....” Nautiyal identifies himself as director of the group.

Surprisingly, the letter is dated May 23, which is after the Lucknow-based Hindi dailies had started hinting at Prabhakar’s collusion with the company. It is also not written on the official APACE letterhead and just says: “From the Desk of Divya Nautyiyal”.    

Calcutta, June 3 
Eager to teach a 12-year-old boy a lesson for being afraid of the water, four school students tossed him into the Hooghly and then cheered in glee as the strong currents swept him away.

The four boys, students of Class IX and X of Sarada Charan Vidyalaya in the Jorabagan area of north Calcutta, were arrested today after witnesses narrated how Santu Mukherjee, a Class VII student of the same school, was thrown to his death.

After initially denying their role in Santu’s death, the boys have admitted to the police that they had indeed thrown him into the river after tossing him around. But, they said, it was done “playfully” and they had not expected him to die.

Witnesses have told the police that on the evening of June 1, the four boys — Avijit Lai, Animesh Pal, Abhijit Bardhan and Manab Samiran Datta — were playing at a park on B.K. Pal Avenue when they were joined by Santu.

“We stay in adjoining neighbourhoods so Santu was known to the boys,” said Santu’s father Swapan Mukherjee, who runs a vegetable stall at Sovabazar Market. “It was not surprising then that he should join them in a game even though the boys were senior to him.” Santu was his only child.

But the boys had other ideas. Instead of playing with Santu, they apparently forced him to accompany them to the nearby Beniatola Ghat on the Hooghly, aware that he did not know how to swim.

Once there, the “fun” began. Narayan Ghosh, deputy commissioner of the detective department, said: “We have spoken to various people who have corroborated the events of that evening. They said they (the boys) bullied him for sometime and then started tossing him around, as if he was a cricket ball.”

Even though Santu protested, the boys paid no heed and carried on with their “game” for sometime. Finally, they came close to the river and tossed Santu into the swirling waters of the Hooghly.

“The four boys were evidently enjoying themselves,” Ghosh said. “Witnesses have said that while Santu was struggling in the water, the boys were laughing heartily.”

Within minutes, the current had pulled Santu towards the middle of the river and then he disappeared from sight. The four boys waited for some time for Santu to resurface, but when he did not, they left the ghat and went their own way.

Santu’s bloated body surfaced at the Beniatola ghat more than 24 hours later.

Ghosh, however, regretted the fact that none of the other people present at the ghat made any attempt to either stop the boys or rescue Santu. “That was really unfortunate,” he said.

When Santu did not return home till late in the evening, his father came to the park and found the four boys playing there.

“They told me that Santu had left along with his friends,” Swapan Mukherjee said. “We then started enquiring about Santu at his friends’ homes.”

After a futile search, Swapan lodged a missing person diary at the Jorabagan police station.    

Calcutta, June 3 
The wife of a city businessman was murdered at her residence on Pollock Street, just behind the city police headquarters, on Saturday afternoon. The body of the victim, Fatema Bibi, lying in the bathroom, was discovered by her relatives who reside in the same building.

Police said Fatema was hacked to death. The culprits also looted some cash and ornaments by breaking open the almirah.

Fatema’s husband, Mohammad Hussain, has a crockery shop at Chandni Chowk, and his three brothers, who reside in the same building, ply different trades. Their only daughter is settled in Akola.

According to police, the maid of the house left after her chores, leaving Fatema alone. Her husband was in his shop.

Hussain’s nephew, who lives in the next flat, heard the sound of water flowing out of a bathroom that is not used by the couple. He rushed to the adjacent flat and found Fatema lying on the floor of the bathroom, her body covered with blood.

Police have recovered a large chopper and two long sharp knives from the room where Fatema was killed.

Detectives feel it is not a case of murder for gain, because the victim was aged and ill and unable to walk.    

Lucknow, June 3 
When Manoj Kumar trumpeted mere desh ki dharti sona the sixties’ hit Upkaar, he was closer to the truth than he thought. Farmers in a north Uttar Pradesh village have struck gold, pots and pots of it dating back a thousand years, in their fields.

Thursday was like any other hot summer day in Mandi, a village 20 km from Muzaffarnagar near the border with Haryana, till a farm hand reported that he had found some round pieces of shining yellow metal while tilling the soil.

The landowners, brothers Anil Kumar and Sunil Kumar, knew at once they had a treasure in their hands or, more correctly, under their feet. They were not about to share it with anyone, not even the labourer who had made the find. The duo ordered all the workers out of the fields and started digging themselves.

But word spread like wildfire and villagers swarmed to the site like bees to a honeycomb. Inevitably, a free-for-all followed as the gold-diggers beat each other up to get to the booty. Some even came armed with guns and fired in the air to drive away the others.

When the police at Titawi police station got wind of what was happening, Mandi was already on fire. Station officer K.K. Bargoti rushed to the site with a police contingent but when they were unable to control the mob, he sent an urgent message to the Muzaffarnagar senior superintendent of police: “Mandi me bahut sona mil raha hai, pata nahin kahan se aa raha hai. Log sona lekar bhaag rahe hain, force chahiye.”

Finders keepers, said the villagers, who had dug up more than 12 kg of gold coins dating back to AD 1000. This was “bhagwan ka prasad (God’s way of blessing them)”, they added for emphasis.

But the police thought otherwise. Senior superintendent of police Asutosh Pandey arrived with sub-divisional magistrate V.K. Tripathi and “sealed” the fields. They also “flooded the fields with water” so that it would be difficult for villagers to spot the gold coins. About 10 armed constables are now posted at the site even as reports of gold being dug out from adjoining areas continue to filter in.

An excited Pandey said: “We have seized more than 10 kg of gold, worth nearly Rs 50 lakh, that was dug up in the fields there. But we suspect the find to be much more. Many villagers have absconded after stuffing themselves with the gold coins.”

Clearly overwhelmed, he gushed: “It is difficult to explain what is happening. So much of gold just lying around like that. Police had to intervene as the villagers would have killed each other. We have already arrested a couple of people for rioting.”

The landowners, Satpal Kumar and his sons Anil and Sunil, are among those “absconding”.

The police have also found many idols dating back to around 1000 AD and a large vessel made of brass, presumably containing the gold coins. The Archaeological Survey of India has been informed. “It must have been treasure hidden by some king fleeing his land,” said a police official.    

Temperature: Max: 35.3°C (normal), Min: 28.4°C (+1) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 92% Minimum: 55% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of a thundershower in some areas towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be above 36°C. Sunset: 6.15 pm, Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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