Support for Azhar, not for his ‘community’ spin
Laloo rush to put out packet fire
Advani to miss court date
Basu calms democracy crusader Subhas
High courts get people-friendly
Harappa link in gold-rush farm
India turns to US in Sierra hostage crisis
Gujarat blow to students

New Delhi, June 16 
Hansie Cronje’s startling disclosure notwithstanding, the Muslim community is stoutly behind its hero Mohammad Azharuddin but feels the ace cricketer should not have brought the “minority angle” into the match-fixing allegations.

Many political and community leaders said they would first ascertain facts before reacting to Azhar’s statement that he was being victimised because he was a Muslim.

“Normally, it is not expected of a person of Azhar’s stature. I do not know under what circumstances he has made that remark. Was he provoked or it was journalistic interpretation,” said an Imam of a prominent mosque who has been playing an active role in politics.

In the narrow bylanes of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Nizamuddin and Jamia, there was considerable speculation and even satta on whether Azhar’s name would figure amid wild charges of his alleged involvement with bookies and the underworld, much before Hansie’s Friday bombshell.

Cronje’s statement has dampened the spirit of Azhar fans. It became a matter of intense debate after “jumma prayers” today in the Jama Masjid area where there was near unanimous view that a mere allegation should not be held against the former captain.

“After all, it is coming from a person who has taken several somersaults. There is no proof of Azhar’s alleged guilt,” said Razi, a businessman. He said if people were to believe Cronje, they should also give due weightage to Azhar’s emphatic denial.

Shakil Shirin, a social activist, said: “Azhar has made significant contributions for the nation. So fitness of things demand that he should be given a fair chance.”

Anis Durrani, who heads the Delhi Haj Committee, said Azhar could have avoided a reference to the fact that he was being framed because he came from the minority community.

Businessman Khalil-ur-Rahman Kidwai questioned sports minister S.S. Dhindsa’s suggestion that Azhar should withdraw from the national team till his name is cleared. “Why should a player be debarred just because someone somewhere said any thing against anyone,” he said, adding that if such a precedence was observed in politics, each minister would have to quit.    

Patna, June 16 
Laloo Yadav today stepped in to defuse communal tension sparked by reports that packets made from pages of a minority community’s holy book had flooded the city.

Around 1 pm, the Patna district administration received news that some paper packets made from the book’s pages were being distributed by some trouble-makers in the communally-sensitive Sultanpur area of the old city.

As religious leaders of the community started an investigation to trace the origin of the packets, more such packs were recovered in shops across the city and were also spotted floating along the river bank.

The discovery of more such packets triggered rumours that the holy book had been defiled. The news spread fast, laced with additional spice.

“Around 2.30 pm, at least 1,000 men, armed with weapons, took to the streets,” said a police officer.

Their first target was an eatery in Sultanpur from where the packets were first seized. Trouble erupted after the group demanded that the shop be shut, leading to a clash with a rival gang. Bombs were hurled and a few gunshots were heard. It was then that Laloo swung into action. “Around 2 pm, I came to know of the trouble. I could not sit idle and be content directing the officers to take care of the situation as I was aware of the dangerous consequences it could have had,” he said.

Braving the anger of both communities, Laloo entered the localities wracked by communal disharmony. Picking up a microphone, Laloo appealed to the residents to remain calm. “I am here. So don’t fear. There are some miscreants who are trying to fan passions. There is a conspiracy. I warn you. Stay quiet,” he said.

Laloo then called leaders of both communities and spoke to them separately. An hour after his visit, the police arrested four persons and began grilling them. At least 400 paper baskets made from pages of the holy book were seized.

“I told you the RSS-Bajrang Dal had been on the job. But they would not succeed,” Laloo said.

Faced with multiple fodder scam cases and an impending trial over unaccounted-for assets, Laloo today grabbed the opportunity to recover some of his lost glory.

After the riots of the late eighties, Laloo had made communal amity the bedrock of his politics. He succeeded in his mission as Bihar has remained relatively free of communal strife during his and his wife’s reign.

His opponents, however, dismissed Laloo’s action today as a gimmick aimed at deflecting the media glare from the graft cases.

“It’s nothing but an effort to brush up his image tainted by so many cases,” said a BJP leader.    

New Delhi, June 16 
Union home minister L.K. Advani will not appear before the Gwalior bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court despite warrants for personal appearance on June 21.

The home minister has been accused of declaring two places as his “normal place of residence” — Gwalior and Gujarat.

Advani, now in Israel, is returning to India on June 24 or 25, official sources said, adding: “Hence he would not be able to appear in person.”

Before contesting the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat, while he was a Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh, Advani had stated he was “ordinarily a resident of Gwalior”.

Former finance minister Manmohan Singh is another glaring example. Singh had declared that he is “ordinarily a resident of Guwahati” to get elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam.

A PIL was filed against Advani, challenging his bona fide and seeking a writ of Mandamus against him from the Madhya Pradesh High Court (Gwalior bench). The court had issued bailable warrants against Advani.

Even for a bailable warrant, the person concerned has to appear in person on the date of hearing fixed by the court and failure to appear would invite non-bailable arrest warrants.

Advani has to now seek exemption from personal appearance either under Section 207 or 317 of the CrPC. While the former is for a permanent exemption from personal appearance, the latter is for exemption for a particular hearing or hearings.

To avoid an embarrassing situation, especially when the Congress had made a big issue out of it, Advani’s lawyers will move a petition seeking exemption from personal appearance on June 21 when the court will take up the case and will also cite his engagements in Israel and Paris.

The court may or may not, depending on the facts of the situation and the case, grant exemption to Advani.    

Calcutta, June 16 
Concerned at the escalating feuding in the party, chief minister Jyoti Basu today urged the warring factions to refrain from splitting the state CPM.

“I request you and others not to break up the party for the growth of which many of us worked a lifetime,” Basu is believed to have told transport minister Subhas Chakraborty at a meeting in the morning. Chakraborty, who has been campaigning for democracy in the party, recently raised some leaders’ hackles by accusing the Left Front government of doing nothing for daily wage earners.

State party secretary Anil Biswas had reacted to the statement saying Chakraborty had no business continuing in the ministry.

Sources close to Chakraborty said the dissident leader ventilated grievances to Basu against the party bosses who, he said, were trying to stymie his progress.

Basu said: “He (Subhas) came to me to explain why he reacted the way he did to Anil (Biswas)’s statement. I told him that they (Subhas and Anil) should desist from making such statements.”

Taking a cue as though from the leadership’s position, Biswas mad some sort of a climbdown today as he described Chakraborty as “one of our most mature leaders who knows what to say and when to say it.”

Chakraborty, however, stuck to his demand for greater inner-party democracy. “Our slogan for socialism can no longer attract the youth. Marx might have been relevant a hundred years back, but society has changed. So, his doctrine is not applicable in the changed socio-political scenario,” he said, not for the first time.

At the centre of a storm, Chakraborty appears to be keeping his options open on joining hands with Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.

“She is still one of my political opponents, but nobody is untouchable in politics. A turn in politics depends on the situation that prevails. I cannot forecast what will happen in the future. Perhaps nothing will happen, but something big may also occur.”

Chakraborty’s renewed call for democracy in the party is expected to spark fresh controversy, coming as it does so soon after his criticism of the government.

Asked what he would do if the leadership takes action against him, he said: “Let the party take a decision. I am mentally prepared to obey whatever it decides.”

At the CPM headquarters in Alimuddin Street, Biswas reaffirmed that there was no question of pressing Chakraborty for resignation. “The issue (Chakraborty) may be discussed at a meeting of the state committee, the date for which is yet to be fixed,” he said.

The transport minister defended his criticism of the government about failing to lift the living standards of 30 lakh workers in the unorganised sector. “We have come to power with their votes, but most of the state government’s plans and programmes have benefited only the rich and middle classes,” he said.

Chakraborty asserted that he would continue to support property developers as they provide work to nearly four lakh people every day. “There are laws to take care of unscrupulous promoters,” he said.

Asked to elaborate on his slogan of “greater democracy,” the transport minister said: “We have not taken any lesson from the disintegration of the Soviet Union. There is no point in trying to pull up a ship which has already sunk.”

Explaining his stand, Chakraborty said: “I have been raising my voice in the party to make its programmes more realistic. People want immediate relief and cannot wait for the advent of socialism for an indefinite period.”

“Our party leaders want socialism, but all their activities veer round parliamentary democracy with a view to capturing power from the panchayats to Parliament,” he said.

“All this leads to fights over tickets, factionalism and strange political alliances. Is it not then better to give up the slogan for socialism and replace it with one for parliamentary politics? I hate this kind of dichotomy,” Chakraborty said.    

New Delhi, June 16 
For the first time in the country, all high courts will soon have public facilitation centres along the lines of the Supreme Court.

The litigant-friendly proposal was mooted at the All India Law Secretaries meet held today where participants asked all the high courts to arrange for funds to establish such centres which would provide case-related information to litigants among a host of other benefits.

Enquiry and facilitation centres for the litigant public are already there in the high courts of Bombay, Guwahati, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh.

After the meeting was over, a judiciary official said work on these centres could begin soon since fund allotment to the judiciary was listed as non-plan allocation.

The image makeover comes complete with net-surfing facilities. The Centre’s ambitious plans of linking all courts through computers also came up at the session, where, as a first step, a proposal to computerise all district courts was mooted to ensure speedy disposal of cases.

If everything goes according to plan, all functions — like filing of cases, posting of benches, cause lists, preparation of notices, orders, judgments and decrees and issuance of summons — could be available at the click of the mouse as also legal data-base access and inspection of records.

“The time saved both for the judges and court functionaries now would be utilised to speed up cases and trials,” the official said.

To underline the benefits of a computerised judiciary, a grand presentation was made by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the official government agency of information technology. The NIC has also computerised the apex court.

According to court officials, a sum of Rs 280.43 crore has so far been released for the modernisation drive and other infrastructure facilities for high courts, district and subordinate courts. States and Union Territories are expected to utilise an amount of Rs 532.84 crore through matching funds.    

New Delhi, June 16: 
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) believes that the treasures dug out of a farm in Uttar Pradesh could date back to the Harappan civilisation.

A farmer in Mandi, a speck of a village in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh, found gold coins weighing around 10 kg along with other treasures while tilling his land. The news of the find sparked a mad gold rush, forcing the police to seal the land.

The newly-appointed ASI director-general, Komal Anand, told a news conference today that the find, including pottery, gold, onyx beads and bricks, could date back to 2000 BC.

Anand pointed to the “exciting, wonderful discoveries in Uttar Pradesh in recent months”. Other than Mandi, a hoard of 31 copper anthromorphs, thought to be a cult figure, was found in a brick kiln at Madarpur in Moradabad district two months ago. Some of these anthromorphs are distinctive in that they have one arm raised instead of both arms hanging down. These have also been dated to 2000 BC.

Archaeological survey officials said that the presence of ochre coloured pottery suggests that the treasure trove could belong to the Harappan age. Initially, some archaeologists in the state had said that the site had Kushan associations. Kushan bricks have indeed been found at the Mandi site.

However, some cautious archaeologists label Mandi as mature Harappan and the Madarpur “copper hoard” as post-mature Harappan. There is no doubt, however, that the chance discoveries have great antiquity.

It is presumed that much of the gold and other treasures have been removed by the villagers already. Some others are lying in the local treasury. The ASI has requested the district administration to acquire the treasures and have them sent to ASI. The ASI has also asked for an acre of land in the area to begin excavations.

The dig is likely to begin this year after the monsoon. However, the mound where the treasures have been found has been razed, thus destroying valuable evidence. The archaeologists are hopeful, nevertheless, of significant findings. They are also excited over their finds in and around Fatehpur Sikri. Emperor Akbar’s summer quarters under a water body is said to be a major discovery.    

New Delhi, June 16 
With the stalemate over the hostage standoff continuing, India has turned to the US for the release of 21 of its soldiers taken captive by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels while doing UN peacekeeping duty in Sierra Leone.

Delhi has asked Washington to use its influence at the United Nations Security Council not to bring matters to a head by trying captured rebel leader Foday Sankoh as a war criminal and also to prevent a drastic change in the status of its troops from “peace-keepers” to “peace-enforcers”.

A resolution is scheduled to come up within a few weeks’ time at the Security Council to discuss the developments in the war-ravaged African nation.

Delhi fears that a tougher stand at this point could not only jeopardise the lives of the hostages but also raise serious questions about the role of the other UN peacekeepers there.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal, however, said that “the situation in the area remained peaceful. There is no change in the status of the Indian armed forces personnel there.”

Asked about the conditions of the soldiers, he said: “They are in good condition in the circumstances they are in.”

There was no hindrance to the supply of rations to the 21 hostages in Pendembu as also to the 213 Indian soldiers in Kailahun where the standoff with the RUF rebels continues, he added.

Yesterday in Washington, the director-general of military operations (DGMO), Lt-Gen. N.C. Vij, accompanied by Satya Pal, the second-in-command at India’s permanent mission in New York, held discussions with officials of the Clinton administration.

According to sources, they explained their concerns to US under-secretary of state (political) Thomas Pickering and other senior officials and sought their help to end the hostage crisis.

Delhi believes that the US, which virtually created Liberia — a neighbouring country of Sierra Leone and a key player in the present conflict — and continues to have tremendous influence over Liberian President Taylor, can play an important role in resolving the deadlock. However, it is not clear how far Taylor can influence the RUF rebels.

This could be a reason why India is against any step that could aggravate the situation by declaring Foday Sankoh a war criminal. Sankoh is presently in UN custody.    

Ahmedabad, June 16 
In a decision that could blow a hole in Gujarat’s investor-friendly image, the state government has introduced a scheme which will make it increasingly difficult for students from outside to get admission in professional colleges here.

Under the scheme, which will come into force next year, only those who have done their Class XI and XII in Gujarat will be eligible for admission. Over the next three years, one year will be so that 2004 onwards only those who have done their Class IX, X, XI and XII here will be eligible.

Students who need to take admission here because their parents work for companies that have invested in the state will be hit the hardest.

Critics of the proposed scheme point out that it will affect thousands of non-Gujaratis working in the private sector and also those who have transferable jobs.

But Bharat Barot, minister of state for higher and technical education, defended his government’s policy, saying it would boost enrolment of Gujarati students who do not get admission in other states.

“There is nothing wrong with the new admission norms. All other states have such rules. We already have limited seats in professional courses, so why shouldn’t we favour our students?” he asked.

“The decision has been taken to safeguard the interest of our students. Everywhere, sons of the soil are given preference. Karnataka and Andhra have eight to seven year norms. Why should we allow them to come here and get into professional colleges at the cost of our students?” he added.

Justifying the new rule, a senior official of the education department said: “We have followed some southern states where such rules already exist for years now.”

Critics slammed the BJP government for adopting a “parochial” policy. They said the move goes against the state’s policy of wooing investors and professionals from all over India and abroad. While investors and professionals are welcome, their children are not, they pointed out.

The government, however, says their is a way out for those who want their children to study in professional colleges here.

“Let them get admission in payment seats and NRI seats. After all, Gujaratis do that when they seek admission outside the state,” an official said.    


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