Bet-busters pad up for SA tour
Preach reforms, pass the buck
Meet race in massacre-hit Bihar
God save Jaya from J&J

 
 
BET-BUSTERS PAD UP FOR SA TOUR 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, June 19 
A team of officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Delhi police will visit South Africa shortly to hunt for leads in the match-fixing scandal.

The modalities of the trip will be worked out after a delegation representing the Edwin King Commission probing corruption in the sport in South Africa arrives in Delhi later this week.

The CBI and Delhi police want to visit South Africa for separate reasons. The police want to cross-check the numbers that had been dialled by both Hansie Cronje and the bookies and also question Hameed ‘Banjo’ Cassim, the owner of a sweet shop who claims to have been in touch with several Indian and South African cricketers, including Mohammed Azharuddin and Cronje.

The police also want to examine Cronje’s bank transactions. The Enforcement Directorate, which is trying to trace the hawala route, is already in touch with authorities in Pretoria for information on phone calls made there.

The police have prepared separate letters rogatory for Cronje and Sanjeev Chawla, the absconding bookie.

The CBI, which is investigating allegations of match-fixing, will try and understand the bookie network in South Africa and discuss with King Commission investigators how far they have been able to unravel the involvement of their country’s players.

The sleuths, for instance, have to find out more from Cronje on Mukesh Gupta and Sunil Dara, the two India-based bookies, who according to the former South African skipper, had approached him with bribes.

The government today said the Indian cricket team would be kept under scrutiny during all future tournaments at home. Sports minister S.S. Dhindsa said the players’ movements will be monitored and their acquaintances screened.

Dhindsa also said that Indian authorities are in touch with their South African counterparts to seek Cronje’s extradition, though the two countries do not have a treaty to that effect.

To get Cronje to India, Delhi police will have to convince courts in South Africa that they have a prima facie case against the sacked captain. But the police are yet to file a chargesheet in the case even after two months of the FIR.

For the police, the investigation has reached a crucial stage. They are yet to get responses to the queries they have faxed to both the South African police and Scotland Yard. The information is crucial for the chargesheet, without which it will be difficult to demand the extradition of either Cronje or Chawla.

Cronje, who has testified that he has accepted nearly $100,000 in bribes over four years, is set to take the witness stand for cross-examination tomorrow. He has been offered immunity from prosecution as long as King is satisfied he has made a full disclosure.

A PTI report from Cape Town said Azharuddin may be called to testify before the King commission, depending on possible further disclosures by Cronje. The deposed skipper told the inquiry last week that Azharuddin had arranged the meeting with Gupta, known as MK, in a Kanpur hotel in 1996 which began his slide to ruin.

Commission spokesman John Bacon said: “We have not yet looked at the situation of international players who have been named. Once Cronje’s cross-examination is finished and after taking into account whatever further disclosures are made regarding international players, we will have to discuss the matter.”

CBI sources said the team deputed by the King commission is expected to reach Delhi on Thursday. The commission wants to build a foolproof case against the guilty players and would like to talk to the police and the bureau on their investigations and also find out more about the bookies with whom Cronje may have collaborated.

The officials will also try and get the audio-tapes of the cellphone conversation Cronje had with the bookies in India.    


 
 
PREACH REFORMS, PASS THE BUCK 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, June 19 
The BJP government wants to give its reforms a human face but is fighting shy of picking up the tab.

The Union Cabinet is expected to take up a scheme tomorrow to insure the poor, but finance minister Yashwant Sinha wants the Life Insurance Corporation and state governments to bear the financial burden.

Ironically, amid the subtle exercise to pass the buck, the government will try to sneak onto the Cabinet’s agenda the closure of certain public sector units and make good use of the absence of Mamata Banerjee, an opponent of the shutdown.

The government has been advocating the closure of ailing units like Mining and Allied Machinery Corporation, Cycle Corporation, National Bicycle Corporation, Tanneries and Footwear Corporation and Tyre Corporation. The targeted companies have a considerable number of employees in Bengal

With Mamata immersed in civic elections in Calcutta, the government hopes to push through the proposal tomorrow.

The insurance scheme — the Janashree Bima Yojana — was announced with much fanfare in this year’s Union budget.

The finance ministry had initially said the government would pick up part of the tab by augmenting a social security fund set up by the LIC out of its profits, but backed out later.

The budget promise was that for an annual premium of Rs 10 , a person living below the poverty line could get a cover scheme which would yield Rs 50,000 in case of accidental death or total disability, Rs 20,000 in case of natural death and Rs 25,000 in case of partial disability.

But LIC realised that with the social fund corpus of just Rs 350 crore — rustled up by setting aside one per cent of its profit every year — it would be hard to bankroll such a huge scheme. The corporation then asked the project’s pilot, the Centre, to pay up.

North Block, saddled with an all-time high fiscal deficit, does not want to shell out any money, though the BJP-led government is keen to hog the credit for it.

LIC feels the scheme could be worked out if the beneficiaries cough up a far higher premium or if someone else chips in.

The finance ministry now has found a scapegoat in state governments. States keen to insure their poor will be asked to subsidise the scheme for which the BJP and the allies will claim credit.

If the states do not agree, their resident poor will have to pay a higher premium. There will be no compulsion, but realpolitik will make it difficult for any state to refuse to subsidise the scheme and leave the poor in the lurch.

Telecom strike

Trouble is brewing for Ram Vilas Paswan who had offered free phones in exchange for reforms. Telecom employees have called a nationwide strike on June 28, rejecting hints that the freebie was the price for corporatising the Department of Telecom Services.    


 
 
MEET RACE IN MASSACRE-HIT BIHAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, June 19 
The mayhem at Mianpur has triggered a race for political oneupmanship in Bihar with rivals scrambling to call all-party meetings.

Seven-day chief minister Nitish Kumar called a meeting on June 25, only to be checkmated by Laloo Yadav who scheduled his for June 22. “I have called an all-party meet on June 22. This is scheduled before Nitish’s programme. I have invited Nitish Kumar, too, to join it,” Laloo said.

With her husband busy scoring meeting-points, chief minister Rabri Devi aimed at wangling Central aid as part of damage-control efforts after the Aurangabad massacre.

More heads have rolled after Friday’s carnage. The Aurangabad police superintendent has been transferred and the officers-in-charge of Goh and Daudnagar police stations suspended. The government has decided to post officers in the rank of additional director-general in all five zones of the state. Gumla SP Sanjay Latekar is taking over in Aurangabad.

Rabri today wrote to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, seeking Rs 900 crore to implement pro-poor projects, the lack of which, she said, is the prime reason for the escalating caste violence.

Responding to Vajpayee’s eagerness to assist the state in fighting terror, she said: “The Prime Minister’s announcement is a welcome signal, but the Centre has been holding back funds for panchayats on the plea that elections were not being held. It is not proper that only massacres should remind the Prime Minister about the state’s needs.”

At a meeting with bureaucrats, she reviewed law and order and welfare programmes.

A divisional commissioner’s report informed her that several of these were stuck due to lack of funds.    


 
 
GOD SAVE JAYA FROM J&J 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, June 19 
With confidante Sasikala in tow, Jayalalitha is wooing the gods ferociously.

Away in Thanjavur on pilgrimage, the ADMK chief did not turn up today at the special court trying the Tansi land scam case. The judge threatened to issue a non-bailable warrant against her and Sasikala if they missed the next sitting.

To make matters worse, the stars are casting an evil eye. Jayalalitha’s birth star is Maham, which has come under a “baleful influence” after the annual flight of Jupiter from one position to another. The planet-crossed Amma is now anxious to counter the adverse impact of Jupiter’s journey.

Though head of a Dravidian party and therefore an “agnostic”, in theory at least, Jayalalitha has never made a secret of her “devout” nature and loves to wear her faith on her sleeves. Her devotion usually increases in direct proportion with the intensity of a crisis.

The current religious phase, however, is the most fervent till date. For over a week she has been touring temple after temple. It is not known when she will return. “We’re expecting madam any time” is all associates could say.

Jayalalitha had gone to Thanjavur to attend the marriage of another of Sasikala’s nieces. She was also present at a function in an engineering college run by a trust floated by the Dravidar Kazhagam, the parent organisation of Dravidian parties. From there she headed straight for a temple. That is what she has been doing since.

With crucial judgments lined up in special courts and an angry birth star hanging overhead, a difficult time lies in wait for the Jayalalitha-Sasikala duo. Apart from the Tansi case, there is a wealth case staring them in the face. The prosecution has been claiming that its case is water-tight in both the instances and conviction is certain.

Chief minister M. Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha’s bete noire, is adding to her woes. He is believed to have directed the prosecution to ensure that the trial in both the cases are completed by October.

Time is running out for Jayalalitha. The Assembly polls are hardly 10 months away and she knows a two-year conviction is enough to disqualify her from contesting elections.

Desperate, she is out to appease the bad-tempered stars. She has even visited a little-known temple dedicated to Rahu and Shani, both of whom can be very malevolent. She also performed a midnight yagna at a Kali temple.

Poes Garden insiders, however, said even under normal circumstances Jayalalitha performs elaborate pujas.

The former chief minister has turned to the gods often when let down by fate, or other parties. When she was trounced by the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress combine in 1996, she had gone on a temple-tour in the northern Tamil Nadu districts. It proved to be of little use as she was jailed by Karunanidhi soon after.

But like the true faithful, Jayalalitha held on to her gods. Even in the prison she would wake up at 4 am and perform her pujas before a picture of Kali.

When she was released, she said the pujas and the proximity to the Goddess had been her only source of sustenance.

Not Jayalalitha alone: several illustrious Dravidian movement leaders were believers — never mind what their politics demanded.

Periyar EVR, the founder of the movement, called those who believed in God fools, and those who preached His message barbarians. But that did not stop Jayalalitha’s mentor and former ADMK chief MGR from frequenting the Goddess Mookambika temple in Karnataka, if only on the sly.

DMK chief Karunanidhi is not immune to religion either — but he, too, would rather not go public. His family members, including his wife Dayalu, often haunt temples. Karunanidhi is also known to have consulted astrologers — not to mention the mysterious yellow shawl draped around his neck.

Though on coming to power in 1991 Jayalalitha had described herself as the “latest stage in the evolution of the Dravidian movement”, she never kept her faith a secret.

More than anyone else, it is astrologers and priests who have access to Amma. Even her party cadre and leaders resort to “pious” acts — like eating food served on the bare floor of the temple — to get into her good books.

To catch Jayalalitha’s eye, a senior woman leader made the rounds of a temple in Chennai clad in nothing but neem leaves.

Call it stark faith.    

 

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