CBI stuck at starting point
Jaya case raid on racing titan
Kidnap drama in Katchal
Fera dug out to hit Sonia aide
Anxious Atal for Christian talks
Bhan lines up varsity nightmare for govt
CPM October update in south
Lawyers on rampage
Cable-row minister rolls back resignation

New Delhi, June 15 
The King Commission in South Africa might have set the cat among the pigeons in four days but the Central Bureau of Investigation is still battling at the preliminary stages of its cricket probe. Although the CBI was guarded today, it is now evident that it will take up the new revelations about Azharuddin in its investigation.

The CBI convened a meeting of the investigating team today. Senior officials who are not part of the probe were present to give their opinion and advise the staff on how they could circumvent what appeared like dead ends. The meeting was over an hour or two before the newsflash on Cronje’s revelations came through.

The probe team pointed out the difficulties they were facing, how Manoj Prabhakar had not been able to substantiate his allegations despite the quotes in the videotape. They also discussed how the present and former cricketers who had deposed before the agency were contradicting each other and the leads they had obtained from both Delhi police and the income-tax authorities.

Strangely, the government has been lying low ever since Prabhakar handed over the transcripts and the tapes to the CBI. The minister of state for sports and youth affairs, S. Shahnawaz Hussein, was initially interested in consulting with the CBI and seeking a preliminary report. But Cabinet minister S.S. Dhindsa, after his return from abroad, had told The Telegraph that Prabhakar’s entire effort was “unethical”. He had promised to get an early report from the CBI but has not done so till date. Both ministers are out of Delhi at present.

Sources in related investigating agencies argued that what Cronje had said was hardly an accusation against Azharuddin. Azharuddin has termed Cronje’s claim as “rubbish”. A Delhi police official added: “Where is the evidence? Indian penal system requires evidence and Cronje had not given documentary proof to suggest that Azhar had met him along with Gupta.”

With the CBI having made little headway in the Kapil Dev case, there are doubting Thomases in other investigating agencies that the same will happen with Azharuddin. However, the CBI is aware that Azharuddin has been under surveillance of some agencies for some time and these sources can be tapped for leads.    

June 15 
The Central Bureau of Investigation has raided the house and offices M.A.M. Ramaswamy, industrialist and one of the most influential racehorse owners in the country, as part of a renewed drive to crack the mystery behind an unaccounted deposit of $300,000 in Jayalaitha’s overseas account.

The search on the premises of Ramaswamy in Chennai started on Tuesday, but the news was leaked today. The money was remitted in a British account of the former Tamil Nadu chief minister in 1991. Jayalalitha had said the draft from abroad did not mention the sender’s name and reason was given for the payment.

The case did not make any substantial progress during the previous Vajpayee government.

However, when the present government assumed power, Jayalalitha’s arch rival M. Karunanidhi, an ally of the central coalition, made sure that the case was dusted and put on the fast track.

A senior CBI officer had recently visited London for the probe.

Ramaswamy is known to be close to Jayalalitha. It was on his sprawling grounds that the wedding of Jayalalitha’s now disowned foster son had taken place in 1995.

In the deposit case, Jayalalitha had claimed immunity under a scheme announced by the then P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress regime.

But the CBI had made it clear that as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu then, Jayalalitha was not entitled to the immunity scheme.

Jayalalitha also faces cases being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate. Sources said “prima facie” she can be tried in“at least” four cases of foreign exchange violations running into several crores of rupees.

The raid coincided with a tug-of-war between Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi over their assets.

Jayalalitha has said she was willing to exchange her properties for those of chief minister Karunanidhi’s.

However, Karunanidhi has refused the offer .“All her properties are frozen...I don’t want to join issue with her on such matters,” he said.    

New Delhi, June 15 
Senior Congress leader Manoranjan Bhakta was kidnapped and held to ransom by Sri Lankan Tamil refugees for three days in the millennium island of Katchal in the Andamans. He was rescued after three days of captivity by the Indian Navy.

Navy personnel had to fire in the air to free the former MP.

Bhakta, who represented the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for seven terms in Lok Sabha, was returning from the Great Nicobar Island when he stopped over at Katchal and was taken hostage by agitated Tamil refugees demanding more land as settlement area, Congress sources said.

Bhakta had been advised by the local police to keep away from the refugees on the island which many tourists had visited to see the first sunrise of the millennium.

After Bhakta entered the refugee camp, a mob of about 500, including women and children, detained him, making it clear that he would be released only after an assurance from the island administration that more land would be granted to them.

The stand-off continued. The local police, fearing bloodshed, stayed away. It was then decided to alert the navy which moved in swiftly. It fired in the air, which scared Bhakta’s captors, and the Congressman was rescued easily.

The navy arrested 18 persons who have been handed over to the local police. Bhakta was so shaken that he had to be admitted to the G.B. Pant hospital in Port Blair. Concerned senior party leaders called him up.

A former secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Bhakta is extremely popular in Congress circles. But his popularity cuts across party lines. He counts railways minister Mamata Banerjee among his admirers.

The incident has again raised the issue of uninterrupted entry of Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka into the Andamans despite strong objections by the defence ministry. The ministry has been telling the Centre that the entry of refugees from Sri Lanka was posing a threat to the island strategically important for India.    

New Delhi, June 15 
The Centre has given the nod to the Enforcement Directorate to proceed under the lapsed Fera in cases which are under investigation, including the one involving Sonia Gandhi’s aide Vincent George, provided the FIR was lodged when the legislation was in force.

The move is being seen as an attempt to embarrass the Congress leadership and turn up the heat on the government’s rivals. Under Fera, foreign exchange violations were treated as criminal cases but under its new avatar, the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act (Fema), these are civil misdemeanours. The government has discretionary powers to investigate cases under Fema.

George and his wife Lily are under investigation in a case involving foreign exchange violations. Their names were revealed by Abhishek Verma, a Congress MP’s son, who was arrested last year along with former Enforcement official Ashok Agarwal for illegal hawala transactions.

During interrogation, Verma claimed that he had acted at George’s behest. The 10 Janpath honcho and his wife were twice summoned to the Tughluq Road police station for questioning.

But though Verma was arrested when Fera was still in force, the directorate was at a loss on how to proceed against George as no case had been registered against him.

A confused directorate approached the law ministry, which said that even cases under preliminary inquiry could continue under the lapsed law.

“We have opined that even cases under investigation which were not registered cases (RC in police parlance) should continue to come under Fera, although the government retains its discretionary power to investigate cases under Fema,” an official source said.

The source said that like the pending cases under Tada, economic crimes, too, would come under Fera. George’s case is different as it is not a pending case, but one under investigation.    

New Delhi, June 15 
Concerned over the spurt in attacks over priests and churches and to find a solution to the “hate campaign” from both sides, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee plans to convene a meeting of bishops of all denominations throughout the country.

Sources said Vajpayee may convene more than one such meeting. The exercise is to understand the gravity of the situation and find remedial measures. The date and other details are being worked out.

A meeting of Hindu and Christian spiritual leaders will also be convened to start a dialogue and end the acrimony and mutual suspicion.

The Prime Minister’s initiative comes in the wake of widespread attack on churches and the reported threat of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu to withdraw support to the Vajpayee government if RSS hand in anti-Christian violence was proved.

Though Naidu denied having issued any such threats, he spoke to the Prime Minister over the phone after the reports on the threat was published in a national daily.

The church leaders who met him at Hyderabad on Monday reiterated that he did assure them that he could even withdraw support if RSS hand was proved in the incidents.

The Prime Minister is worried over the vitiating atmosphere and the damage the hate campaign has done to the image of the country outside.

The bishops have been blaming Sangh parivar outfits such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal for the anti-Christian campaign, while the parivar suspects the hand of ISI in the recent blasts in churches.

National Commission for Minorities member John Joseph had met Vajpayee today with 23 “constructive suggestions” to end the “hate campaign” and attacks.

His suggestions included convening a meeting of all bishops in the country as well as meetings of inter-religious leaders sans politicians, but in the presence of the Prime Minister.

Joseph said the Prime Minister was “very positive and immediately responded to the suggestion”. He said Vajpayee has called him for another meeting tomorrow to work out the details. Joseph is meeting the Prime Minister along with a group of bishops from Kerala who arrived here today.

The commission had visited several places where churches and priests were attacked in recent months such as Agra, Mathura, Kosi (Uttar Pradesh), Rewari (Haryana) and Goa. Its report did not say the violence had any communal colour and some church leaders even demanded reconstitution of the commission alleging that some of its members were coopted by the govern- ment.

The commission chairman, Mohammed Shamim, said the BJP government in Gujarat has stalled the proposed visit of the commission to investigate into incidents of attack on Christians in the state allegedly by Hindu fundamentalists on the plea that it was busy tackling the drought situation.

“We have written to the Gujarat government about our decision to visit the state to investigate into the incidents of attack against Christians. But the government has stalled our visit saying it will not be able to provide any assistance to the commission at present as it was busy taking measures to counter severe drought conditions in the state,” Shamim said. He said the chief minister has expressed his inability to assist the commission saying he was busy touring various places in the state to assess the drought situation and to assist administration in measures to counter the adverse conditions.    

Lucknow, June 15 
Activist-Governor Suraj Bhan has decided to lose some sleep again. Preferably inside universities.

Bhan, who had been on a collision course with the ruling BJP over some of its pet projects — the Religious Places Bill and the Universities Bill — is now targeting the state government’s running of universities.

“I will go to the universities in the night and I will go there in the day. I will even sleep there if necessary, but I will change things,” says the zealous Bhan.

He has decided to go to universities “every two days” and see for himself the state of affairs. The Governor has sent questionnaires to all the universities and asked them to reply within the next 15 days.

Asked if he is not exceeding his brief, Bhan says triumphantly: “There is nothing called a rubber stamp Governor, if that’s what you mean.”

Though the BJP, miffed with him because of his “un-Governor like” statements, has accused him of “trying to be a parallel chief minister by attending even block level meetings”, Bhan remains unruffled.

“I am the head of the state and I have every right to visit all the nooks and corners in the state. Who can stop me?” he asks.

Bhan also voiced his reservations on the state government’s recent proposal barring students with less than 50 per cent marks in their graduation from taking admission to post- graduate courses.

“There has to be a provision for the under-privileged,” he said. “Though the decision is yet to be implemented, there are a lot of loopholes. There has to be a provision for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”

But Bhan is also taking up the cudgel for other Governors.

He says several crucial matters will be discussed at the Governors’ conference to be held in New Delhi on July 12 and 13.

Though the “agenda remains a secret”, the Governors’ demand for a “well-defined procedure” for their removal — as even “peons are chargesheeted before they are removed” — will be discussed and is likely to have a much broader political ramif- ication.

Apparently many Governors, including Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander, are “unhappy about the arbitrary manner in which Governors are being removed these days”.

The Governors are also likely to place before the President and the Prime Minister their demand for a development fund of Rs 10 crore per year.

In a recent letter to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Bhan had emphasised the rapidly-deteriorating relationship between the state and the political heads, especially in the context of Bihar, and also the need for a Governor’s fund along the lines of the MPs’ fund.

The Governors’ conference will also take up rules in border states and the role of a university Chancellor.

Bhan’s displeasure with the BJP regarding universities and the Chancellor’s power dates back to the Uttar Pradesh State Universities Bill of 1998 which divests the Chancellor of all power regarding appointments of vice-chancellors. Bhan, who like his predecessor Romesh Bhandari, has refused to give assent to the Bill, says: “The Bill is still pending.”

As an afterthought he says with a smile: “Not all Governors like to sit at home doing nothing.”    

New Delhi, June 15 
The CPM politburo today decided to adopt its updated programme at a special conference to be held in Thiruvananthapuram between October 20 and 23.

In a major departure from its policies, the updated programme, if adopted by the special conference, will allow the party to join a future government at the Centre within certain parameters.

The Central Committee had adopted the draft programme at its meeting held on April 25-28 after much deliberation.

Submissions of amendment proposals and suggestions to the draft programme will be accepted till August 31. The next Central Committee meeting from July 28 to 30 will decide on the number of delegates to be elected to the special conference.

The politburo today also discussed a report by party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet on the defeat of Left Front candidate Gurudas Dasgupta in the recent Panskura Lok Sabha by-election by over 40,000 votes at the hands of Trinamul Congress candidate Bikram Sarkar.

Sources said Surjeet blamed poor management, indifferent administration and rigging by the Trinamul Congress for the debacle.

The politburo also discussed the ongoing tussle between Left Democratic Front (LDF) partners in Kerala for the two Rajya Sabha seats. Sources said the party has decided not to do anything to upset the stability of the government and the unity of the LDF.

Indications are that the CPM candidate may be asked to withdraw or the party may transfer its votes to the other LDF candi- dates.

The CPM, the CPI and the RSP have fielded their candidates for the June 23 election. Despite a series of meetings between the LDF leaders in Kerala, a solution to the problem could not be arrived at till today. The last date for the withdrawal of nominations is June 16.

The meeting also discussed the pros and cons of admitting the Indian Union Muslim League into the LDF. The CPM leadership in Kerala is divided over the issue.

Meanwhile, the CPI(ML) today said home minister L. K. Advani’s visit to Israel was a “dangerous” development for Indian foreign policy and domestic affairs.

In a statement here, party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said the visit had “all potentials of weakening India’s traditional friendship and cooperation with Arab countries.”

“Repressive skills acquired from an agency as notorious as Mossad can only add to the lawlessness and brutality of India’s security forces and worsen the already critical human rights situation in the country,” he added.    

Bangalore, June 15 
Violence erupted in Hubli and Dharwad today after the high court rejected a long-standing demand of the people of north Karnataka for a court bench in the region.

Police said miscreants set fire to three court halls of chief judicial magistrates in Dharwad this morning. The doors and windows were burnt before the police rushed to the spot.

Lawyers of Hubli-Dharwad held demonstrations in the court complex — which was closed due to a public holiday — and raised slogans against high court judges and the state government.

Police sources said traffic on the national highway was blocked for over an hour as the advocates resorted to rasta roko. Police intervened to persuade the protesters to lift the siege.

President of the Dharwad Bar Association B.D. Hiremath said the lawyers have decided to intensify the protest from tomorrow. They plan to launch an indefinite boycott of courts, lock government offices and gherao ministers and judges who visit the city. He said the legislators and ministers from north Karnataka will be pressurised to resign.

The demand for a high court bench in Hubli is being voiced for over two decades and it has become an emotive issue over the years with leaders of the area projecting it as a symbol of neglect of north Karnataka.

On the request of former chief minister J.H. Patel, the high court set up a five-member judges’ committee to look into the demand. The committee, headed by Justice Ashok Bhan, submitted a report last week saying that a separate bench in north Karnataka was “neither desirable nor feasible” and sought to end the issue.

The state Cabinet which considered the report yesterday, reluctantly accepted the recommendation of the judges’ committee though law minister D.B. Chandre Gowda said the demand should have been accepted in the larger interests of the state.

Eminent writer Patil Puttappa, who spearheaded an agitation last year against the “discrimination” shown to north Karnataka, said: “We have suffered for too long. I will not be surprised if the demand for separate statehood now intensifies.”    

Ahmedabad, June 15 
Gujarat minister Haren Pandya today withdrew his resignation after the BJP high command assured him that he could continue his fight against criminals unhindered.

Pandya, the minister of state for home, had put in his papers yesterday alleging he was being pressured to compromise on his principles.

Pandya said he was “hurt” by allegations levelled by his colleague Puroshottam Solanki that he was trying to frame his brother in an attempted murder case.

Taken aback by Pandya’s move, senior state leaders went into a huddle with chief minister Keshubhai Patel in his residence to persuade the minister to withdraw his resignation. Gujarat BJP president Rajendrasinh Rana rushed back to Ahmedabad from New Delhi in an effort to pacify Pandya.

BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, too, spoke to both Patel and Pandya and asked them to end the standoff.

Thakre promised Pandya that he could function without interference.

Solanki, deputy minister for labour and employment, had alleged that his brother Bharat was arrested at Pandya’s behest. Bharat Solanki was arrested last week for leading an attack on the office of the Skynet group of cable operators.

The Solankis run a cable network in their hometown of Bhavnagar and were believed to have been eyeing Skynet. Solanki, who too had threatened to quit, has decided to stay away from office unless his brother is set free. Bharat Solanki was granted bail today.

Describing Pandya’s decision as “hasty”, a BJP legislator said there was no need for him to take the drastic step.

But Pandya defended his decision, saying a situation was being created where he was being asked to compromise his principles. The minister was miffed at the manner in which Solanki had barged into the police station to get his brother released.

The chief minister also criticised Solanki for acting in a manner unbecoming of a minister. He, however, gave a clean chit to Solanki, saying talks of his criminal background were mere allegations.

The BJP central leadership, which was monitoring the developments from Delhi, told the chief minister to ensure that the row did not snowball.

Senior BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy described the row as “a storm in a teacup”.

But he refused to intervene in the matter, saying it was for the chief minister to sort it out with his ministers. “Keshubhai is a capable man and he will solve the problem,” Krishnamurthy said.    


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