Sulking Sena forces PM to put off meet
Thackeray arrest signal
Nurse gangrape slur on doctors
Zee, STAR paths cross
Bihar police in fake warrant trap
Sonia set for trial by poll
Big 8 nudge neighbours to reopen dialogue
Caste and cash curb protest
Scandal salvo at Jethmalani
Tell-tale Tagore at Sotheby’s

 
 
SULKING SENA FORCES PM TO PUT OFF MEET 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
A sulking Shiv Sena decided to stay away from a meeting of National Democratic Alliance MPs, leaving its coalition partners jittery.

The meeting, convened by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee this evening, was cancelled. A fresh date has not yet been announced.

The Prime Minister, home minister L.K. Advani and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee are watching over the developments in Maharahstra jointly. Vajpayee has also deputed parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan to Mumbai to find ways of defusing the crisis without direct Central intervention.

Sources said Vajpayee has categorically ruled out intervention from the Centre and that efforts are on to convince senior National Congress Party (NCP) leaders, including Sharad Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal, not to precipitate matters and to allow a face-saver for Thackeray.

Sources said Mahajan and his Cabinet colleague Ram Naik — both from Maharashtra — also spoke to Pawar, while Sena MP Mohan Rawale and Chandrakant Kher met Vajpayee and told him that the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra was trying to foment trouble. Mahajan will also be in touch with chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

The government feels that while the Congress does not want to intensify the crisis, the NCP wants to cash in on the discomfiture of a cornered Thackeray.

A meeting of the MPs from the NDA may be convened after Vajpayee’s emissaries are able to work out a “face-saving” formula for the Sena chief, sources said, even as Sena hardliners are pressing Thackeray to pull out of the NDA.

Asked if the Sena will continue to support the Vajpayee government, party leader in the Lok Sabha Anant Geete said: “The government has to run with the support of the alliance partners. If they did not support each other in times of crisis, then what is the point?”

As the stand-off between the government and the Sena continued, Sena MPs met here this morning and deplored the fact that neither the government, nor any ally came out in support of Thackeray, likely to face police action shortly.

Geete termed the lack of support as unfortunate. “Shiv Sena MPs will not participate in the meeting to make it known to NDA partners that it was unfortunate that they did not say anything on the illegal acts of the Maharashtra government,” he said. The Sena leader, however, said party MPs will attend Parliament and also meet everyday to monitor the situation.

Though the protests emanating from the Sena leaders forced the Prime Minister to defer the NDA meeting today, BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said it was called off as Vajpayee is suffering from a throat infection. He was soon contradicted by another senior Cabinet minister who said the meeting was cancelled as several MPs did not turn up.

“Besides, it is not proper to have a meeting when Parliament has been adjourned as a mark of respect for Congress member Rajesh Pilot who died in a road accident,” Venkaiah Naidu said.

Thackeray arrest case

After days of suspense which kept the city on tenterhooks, the Mumbai police is planning to arrest Bal Thackeray this weekend, just before filing a chargesheet against him for his alleged role in the 1993 communal riots, reports our correspondent from Mumbai.

Highly-placed official sources said today that the police want to pick up the Shiv Sena chief before filing the chargesheet as the court might not take cognisance of the charges filed seven years after the riots, which followed the Babri Masjid demolition.

According to the sources, the police are planning to swoop down on Matoshree, Thackeray’s residence in Bandra, just after 10 am, arrest the Sena chief and whisk him away to court. While producing him, they would file the chargesheet.

“The court would then decide his fate. Even if it lets him walk free, the government can still claim a moral victory for arresting Thackeray,” the sources said. They added that the government was delaying the arrest as it did not have enough security personnel at its disposal.

The Centre has also been putting pressure on chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh not to go ahead with the arrest, but let the court decide Thackeray’s fate.

Sena sources said that Thackeray — in his recent meetings with BJP leader Pramod Mahajan and Ram Jethmalani, who resigned as law minister yesterday — had made it clear he would only submit to a court verdict.

They said, he had also ruled out giving in to the Congress-led Democratic Front government and apply for anticipatory bail.

Yet, despite its plan to arrest the Sena boss, the police are not sure the charges against him — inciting riots through his writings in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna — would stand in a court.

According to Section 468 of the CrPC, the chargesheet should have been filed within three years of the riots. The police now need to appeal to the court to remove the “time bar” before proceeding against Thackeray.

“Arresting him first is the best option before the government and then it can immediately produce him in court to keep on the right side of the law,” the sources said.

They said after turning up the heat, it would be a loss of face for the government if it had to back down from its promise to take Thackeray into custody. “The government has to arrest Thackeray even if for an hour or two,” they said.

According to them, the Maharashtra government is in a better position now to pick up Thackeray since Congress-ruled states have despatched forces to the city. Though the government asked for 27 companies of paramilitary forces, the Centre sent in only eight.

The government needs these forces to keep peace not only in Mumbai but also in other districts because Thackeray’s arrest could trigger a backlash from angry Shiv Sainiks, the sources said.

Yesterday, Raj Thackeray, the Sena chief’s nephew, had warned they would not “sit idle” if Thackeray was arrested.    


 
 
THACKERAY ARREST SIGNAL 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, July 24: 
After days of suspense which kept the city on edge, the Mumbai police is planning to arrest Bal Thackeray this weekend, just before filing a chargesheet against him for his alleged role in the 1993 riots.

Highly-placed official sources said today that the police want to pick up the Shiv Sena chief before filing the chargesheet as the court might not take cognisance of the charges filed seven years after the riots, which followed the Babri Masjid demolition.

According to the sources, the police are planning to swoop down on Matoshree, Thackeray’s residence in Bandra, just after 10 am, arrest the Sena chief and whisk him away to court. While producing him, they would file the chargesheet.

“The court would then decide his fate. Even if it lets him walk free, the government can still claim a moral victory for arresting Thackeray,” the sources said.

The Centre has also been putting pressure on chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to let the court decide Thackeray’s fate.

Sena sources said Thackeray, in recent meetings with Pramod Mahajan and Ram Jethmalani, who resigned as law minister yesterday, made it clear he would only submit to a court verdict. They said he had ruled out giving in to the Democratic Front government and apply for anticipatory bail.

The police, however, are not sure the charges against Thackeray — inciting riots through his writings in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna — would stand in a court. According to Section 468 of the CrPC, the chargesheet should have been filed within three years of the riots. The police now need to appeal to the court to remove the “time bar”.

“Arresting him first is the best option before the government and then it can immediately produce him in court to keep on the right side of the law,” the sources said.

They said after turning up the heat, the government could not possibly go back on its promise to take Thackeray into custody. “The government has to arrest Thackeray even if for an hour or two,” they said.

According to them, the Maharashtra government is in a better position now to pick up Thackeray since Congress-ruled states have despatched forces to the city. Though the government asked for 27 companies of paramilitary forces, the Centre sent in only eight.

The government needs these forces to keep peace not only in Mumbai but also in other districts because Thackeray’s arrest could trigger a backlash from angry Shiv Sainiks. Yesterday, Raj Thackeray, the Sena chief’s nephew, had warned they would not “sit idle” if Thackeray was arrested.    


 
 
NURSE GANGRAPE SLUR ON DOCTORS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, July 24: 
A 30-year-old nurse has alleged that she was gangraped and tortured by four doctors. The doctors — her colleagues whom she considered “friends” — also attempted to kill her, she said.

Aliza Beg, a nurse in Meerut’s city hospital, has stated in the FIR filed at the city’s Nauchandi police station that on July 22, the doctors — Tasleem, Praveen Rathi, Manoj Kumar and Alok Agarwal — drugged her and gangraped her when she was in a semi-conscious state.

Beg, who hails from Kerala, alleged that the men then tortured her and tried to strangulate her before fleeing from the house near Nandan cinema hall in Meerut where she was held captive.

Medical reports have confirmed the rape and the torture. While stating there were torture marks on her head and body as she was beaten with lathis, the report also said there was a “deep gash” on her neck that pointed to attempted strangulation.

The Meerut police, who arrested the four accused today, said Beg was admitted to a hospital in a “highly drugged state”.

Beg had wanted to leave the hospital and approached Tasleem to help her with a new job, a sub-inspector said. He took her to a house saying he would “get her in touch with people who can help her”.

Her nightmare started when the three others, who were in an adjoining room, barged in and asked her repeatedly for sexual favours. Enraged by her refusal and her threat to report the matter to the police, the four beat her up and drugged her before raping her. Then they tried to kill her by strangulating her.

“The doctors didn’t know the matter would take such a serious turn,” the sub-inspector said. “They thought Beg would keep quiet.”    


 
 
ZEE, STAR PATHS CROSS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Zee News has fired the first salvo in the war over ratings for news and current affairs programmes.

Announcing the channel’s upgradation of content, presentation, technology and marketing, Zee News chief executive Deepak Shourie said he was targeting the metros and other big cities where the viewership had increased by four per cent.

Industry watchers see in this announcement a pre-emptive move to take on STAR News’ efforts to increase Hindi content. From July 31, STAR News will telecast two new Hindi programmes from Monday to Friday. The half-hour programme Saat Baje, beginning at 7 pm, will be a recap of the day’s major events.

Preceding this, there will be another half-hour programme from 6.30 pm, STAR Bazaar. This will be a wrap-up of the market news aimed at stockbrokers, merchants and tradespeople.

Curiously, STAR News’ strategy is opposite to that of Zee. Whereas Zee wants to revamp its image as an upscale, popular channel with a changing viewer profile of younger, more contemporary and affluent audience, STAR wants to acquire a larger mass base.

STAR, which already has the metro viewers with it, has adopted a strategy to reach smaller towns.

Media planners in advertising say Zee News needs to revalue its brand equity for the large corporate advertisers. Although the channel has an edge as far as numbers are concerned — reaching 12 million cable and satellite homes, 28 per cent higher than STAR — the large corporate advertisers prefer STAR for their television adspend.

However, Basav Sarkar of O&M, Delhi, says the perception of Zee News is changing and the channel has jazzed up its presentation.

Shourie said a dedicated marketing team has been built, the prime time band has been expanded and quality brands like Prudential ICICI, Honda, Hyundai, Reliance and Raymonds have now begun to advertise on Zee News.

These initiatives, he said, have resulted in an 84 per cent increase in revenues in the first quarter. He was not prepared to give the base revenue figure.

Shourie is trying hard to hold on to this changed interest. Zee News is redesigning its sets, introducing new graphics and adding a slew of new programmes. All this is being done with in-house resources. The only area where the company has gone in for investment of less than Rs 10 crore is technology upgradation. Zee News has got new digital cameras and production equipment, simulated satellite links and on-the-spot broadcast capability.

Zee News, with kaleidoscopic ease, is consolidating itself by bringing all newscasts under its umbrella. It will also run Alpha News in the regional languages.    


 
 
BIHAR POLICE IN FAKE WARRANT TRAP 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, July 24: 
Bihar policemen had threatened to take leave en masse today. Some citizens of this state might wonder whether they are better off with the lawkeepers on leave permanently.

Take, for instance, the Munger family, five of whose members were arrested and transported from their village to court. However, after producing the accused persons in court, the police were told that the warrant they were furnishing was fake.

The incident has sparked off a legal row in Munger and the “accused” may soon file a case against the local police for harassing them and smearing their reputation. The local residents are planning to move the state Human Rights Commission.

It now appears that there is a well-organised racket in the district that sends fake arrest warrants to the police to harass people or settle scores. Superintendent of police Dhrubnarayan Gupta has ordered a probe into the racket.

According to sources, the Basudevpur police outpost in Munger received five arrest warrants by post, purported to have been issued by the court of the first-class judicial magistrate, K.K. Pandey, Dhanbad. The warrant (no. 1413/98) involved a case between the state government and one Anil Mandal, among others. Six accused — hailing from a village called Basgara — were named in the case.

The police raided the village and arrested the persons named in the warrant, first taking them to Munger and then to Dhanbad.

“From morning till late noon we were kept hungry and not even allowed to touch water. We reached Dhanbad court around 1.30 pm,” said Parmeswar Mandal, one of those arrested. After hours of waiting, they were brought back to Munger and let off.

At Dhanbad, the police went looking for the court of K.K. Pandey. They searched the entire district headquarters building only to discover that no such court existed. They then went to the chief judicial magistrate’s office to verify the authenticity of the warrants.The magistrate told them the warrants were fake.

The police did not notice that though the warrant had been issued from Dhanbad, the stamp on the envelope was not of the Dhanbad post office but of Jamalpur.

The sources said the arrest warrants, which come from other districts, do not reach the police outpost directly. They first reach the office of the SP and then are directed to the outpost concerned. But these facts were not verified before the arrests were made.

Gupta said there have been cases of fake warrants being served by a gang of imposters in the district to harass the public. “We have registered a separate case against unknown accused persons for issuing fake warrants. Shankar Sahu, the officer in charge of the outpost, has himself drawn up an FIR,” he said.

The police admit that these fake warrants were complete with the official paper, imprint of the Ashok Chakra, rubber stamps of the court and impressive signatures.

“We have been taken for a ride,” said a Munger police officer.    


 
 
SONIA SET FOR TRIAL BY POLL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The Congress Parliamentary Party executive elections are set to be a trial of strength between the Sonia Gandhi camp and the dissidents who plan to challenge her leadership.

The CPP polls were announced today after considerable delay, indicating that the high command was reluctant to hold them. Normally, the treasurer, the three secretaries and the eighteen-member CPP executive are elected in the first session of Parliament but this time, the elections are being held after nine months.

The outcome of the CPP elections will reflect the leadership’s grip over the parliamentary wing of the party. Those unhappy with Sonia Gandhi have made it clear they would field “independent” candidates to defeat the “official panel”.

But the Sonia camp sought to downplay the significance of the CPP elections, claiming the high command would not interfere with “free and fair” polls.

A section of the leadership is toying with the idea of working out a “consensus” and avoiding polls, thereby preventing both dissidents and loyalists from displaying their strength.

The dissident camp has refused to buy the argument of “free and fair” polls, pointing out that during the Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri regimes, the leadership had forced its way with “official panels”.

Control over the CPP executive is crucial for both Sonia loyalists and pro-changers.

The CPP executive had played a crucial role in removing Narasimha Rao as the parliamentary party leader. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Prithviraj Chavan, as CPP secretaries, had passed a resolution bluntly asking Rao to give in his resignation.

The CPP polls were notified today. The last date of filing nomination is August 3 and withdrawals are permitted till August 7. The elections will be held on August 10.

Sonia Gandhi will address the CPP general body tomorrow and articulate the party’s floor strategy for the monsoon session. The issue of Bal Thackeray’s prosecution will figure in the speech.

The Congress plans to move an adjournment motion against the Atal Behari Vajpayee government on the Kashmir autonomy issue, disinvestment policy, air safety, atrocities against Dalits and minorities and the Subrahmanyam panel report on Kargil.

Congress floor leaders said the party will move motions under rule 184 which provides for voting. However, if the Speaker disallows them, the party would settle for a discussion under rule 193 in the Lok Sabha.

Efforts are on to work out floor coordination among Opposition parties.    


 
 
BIG 8 NUDGE NEIGHBOURS TO REOPEN DIALOGUE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The Group of Eight statement issued after its Okinawa summit has expressed concern over the tension between India and Pakistan, urging the two to resume talks and ratify the test ban treaty.

This is a shift from the group’s stand at its last summit in Cologne, Germany — held during the Kargil conflict — where its focus was on making Pakistan retreat from Indian territory. But the circumstances then were different.

“The level of tension between India and Pakistan remains a cause of international concern. We call on the two countries to resume dialogue as soon as possible in the spirit of Lahore in order to realise a sustainable peace in the region,” said the statement, issued after the world’s eight most developed nations met in Okinawa, Japan, last week.

The portion on India and Pakistan is not part of the main communiqué, but figures in the group’s observation on regional issues. It has urged India and Pakistan to “join international efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation and disarmament regime”.

“We reiterate our call for them (India and Pakistan) to carry out fully the concrete measures set out in the UN Security Council resolution 1172, including signing and ratifying the CTBT,” said the group.

As far as New Delhi is concerned, this statement is not something to crow about. After the Cologne summit, foreign ministry officials here had gone to town on the G8 statement since it categorically vindicated Delhi’s position.

But clearly embarrassed now, South Block officials are trying to downplay the development. The evasion was obvious as they did not respond to the reference to South Asia in the G8 statement. Delhi has been able to ignore the reference because it is not part of the main communiqué.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who will leave for Bangkok the day after tomorrow to participate in the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meet, will get an opportunity to discuss the G8 statement with ministers from other countries.

Among the people Singh plans to meet in Bangkok are US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov and French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine. Attempts are also on to set up meetings with the foreign ministers of China, Japan and Canada.

Though India refused to publicly comment on the latest G8 statement, in private South Block officials tried to point out that there was nothing new in what has been said in Okinawa and that the group has only reiterated its earlier position.

They argued that though the statement mentioned UN Security Council resolution 1172, which called for the dismantling of the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan, the emphasis was on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty .

Indian diplomats said this was because of Delhi’s ambiguous position on the test ban issue. By making a reference to the treaty at this juncture, the G8 wanted to ensure that the Indian government seriously tried to build a consensus on the sign-up in the current session of Parliament, they added.

For Delhi, what is more embarrassing is the call for resumption of dialogue with Islamabad.

India has been trying to convince key world leaders that unless Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism and anti-India propaganda, it is not possible for Delhi to return to negotiations.

However, through its statement, G8 appears to be indicating that the Indian stand is unrealistic and that talks are essential to cool tempers in the subcontinent.    


 
 
CASTE AND CASH CURB PROTEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, July 24: 
Caste and “cash” have proved to be the twin blocks to the success of the strike call given by the Bihar Police Association.

The strike was called as part of a pressure tactic to force the government to concede the association’s demands. Caught in a dilemma, the majority of the junior officers reported for duty today, fearing they would lose out on “cash benefits” that automatically come with plum postings.

With more than 60 per cent of junior officers in the rank of sub-inspector and inspector — who number about 18,000 — attending work, the strike call had a marginal impact. Except in about 17 Naxalite-affected districts where the administration deployed paramilitary forces and put the army on high alert.

The state also posted officers of the forest and excise department to man police stations in Naxalite-dominated areas.

In a belated move, the state home department today suspended 200 junior officers who joined the strike. Home commissioner U.N. Panjiyar said all striking policemen have been asked to deposit their weapons and ordered to be present in their respective police lines pending enquiry.

The poor response came as a disappointment to Bihar Police Association president Bhanupratap Singh and the association’s secretary, K.K. Jha. But the junior officers, who are mostly Laloo Yadav loyalists, had their reasons. According to them, it would have been improper to embarrass the government which they had voted to power for the third time.

The officers also alleged that the demands laid down by the association did not directly benefit them.

Some of the major demands concerned rationalisation of transfers and postings, political interference and adequate facilities for Naxalite-hit police outposts.

“They are not talking of pay and perks. Unless the demands are related to our bread, there is no point in striking work,” said a Yadav sub-inspector who was on duty today at the Kotwali Police Station in Patna.

However, an overwhelmingly large number of police officers in “key” areas reported for work as staying away would have meant “huge loss in income”. In cities like Dhanbad, Bokaro and Jamshedpur, policemen “earn” anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000 every day.

Aware that this was a potent weapon to take the wind out of the stir, director-general of police K.A. Jacob issued a directive to all the officers, saying if they went on strike, they would be transferred to less lucrative areas.

A confident Jacob later told the press: “I can assure you that the strike will not have any impact in Dhanbad, Bokaro and Hazaribagh.”

Reports coming in from the districts suggest that there has been very little impact in these districts. Even in some urban police stations of Patna and Hajipur, association bosses were found to be on duty despite their earlier assurances to the leaders. As a sub-inspector on duty at the Patna district court today said: “Who will forgo a day’s income?”    


 
 
SCANDAL SALVO AT JETHMALANI 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy today filed a complaint with the CBI to register an FIR and prosecute Ram Jethmalani in the MS Shoes land scandal.

Swamy, who was law minister during Chandrashekhar’s tenure as Prime Minister during 1990-91, said Jethmalani “abused his position as a public servant and sought to obtain for MS Shoes Ltd, Sitaram Bhandar Trust and others, valuable land and pecuniary advantage”.

Swamy had sought sanction from the Prime Minister for criminally prosecuting Jethmalani.

“Now that Jethmalani is no more a minister, I do not need the Prime Minister’s sanction. Hence I have filed a complaint with the CBI asking it to register an FIR and arrest Jethmalani to prevent him from escaping abroad and taking asylum in a foreign country as he did in 1976,” Swamy said.

Defending himself, Jethmalani retorted: “I had then called a press conference and explained everything.” The MS Shoes scandal had erupted during Jethmalani’s term as Union urban development minister.

“It was I who had written to the CBI two years back asking the agency to conduct a thorough probe into the case without bothering whether or not I was involved in it,” Jethmalani added, reports PTI.

The former law ministers had earlier locked horns over numerous litigations, including defamation cases.

When Swamy sought sanction to prosecute Jethmalani, it was put before attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, who reportedly made an adverse comment on Jethmalani. This angered the just-resigned minister, who openly stated that he and the attorney-general were not on good terms “from the very first day” of Jethmalani assuming office.

With Jethmalani out of office, the MS Shoes scandal has once again burst out in the open. While Swamy had produced documents to support his contention that Jethmalani favoured the land mafia, Jethmalani wrote to the then CBI director, Trinath Mishra: “I have reason to suspect that some disgruntled officers of my department are passing on stolen official papers to Swamy.”    


 
 
TELL-TALE TAGORE AT SOTHEBY’S 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Tell-tale signs in the Tagore works and one by Pakistani painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai auctioned by Sotheby’s recently have raised doubts about authenticity.

Gallery-owners readily agree that the art market is awash with fake paintings, but are worried that counterfeiters may have succeeded in duping an international auction house with centuries of fine connoisseurship behind it.

Early last month, Sotheby’s held a sale of modern and contemporary South Asian paintings in London. In a 40x27-inch Chughtai painting, The last days of Shah Jehan, on the lower right the signature shows a name beginning with P written in Bengali and the date too in Bengali. Lahore-based Chughtai may have been influenced by the Bengal School of painters but, when he signed his work, it was in Urdu. Certainly not Bengali.

Even worse were the four lots of Rabindranath Tagore works — two small pen and ink sketches and two done in coloured ink. All the works are signed and three are dated.

Sotheby’s said it was taking the enquiry about steps taken to establish authenticity seriously. Chris Proudlove, spokesperson for Sotheby’s, said the auction house guarantees the authenticity of everything it sells. It also refunds the money to the purchaser if what is sold is not what it is purported to be.

Research done locally shows a lot of mistrust. The Tagore works were identified by more than one gallery-owner as having been in circulation in the domestic art market last year. When a gallery-owner took them to an eminent painter familiar with Santiniketan artists for authentication, they were dismissed as fake.

Without wanting to comment on the quality of the works, art historians are expressing doubts on the basis of signature and dates, especially on the Tagore sketches. According to art historians Dinkar Kowshik and R. Sivakumar, the year 1900 written in Bengali on two of the sketches invites suspicion.

Sivakumar said the style and simplification of signature (signed Rabindra) — evident in much later Tagore works — at that early date make their authenticity doubtful.

Kowshik, who has worked at length with Tagore’s paintings, said the existence of signed sketches of that nature dating to 1900 is highly improbable.

In 1893, Tagore had done some pencil sketches and he doodled a bit. But in several letters to family and friends, he disclaimed these efforts.

Yet, the sketches and drawings have well-worked-out provenances (places of origin). The Tagore works are said to be the property of Sir M.N. Ray Chowdhury of Santosh and by descent to the present owner who happens to be a lady.

Conservator and restorer Rupika Chawla, who has come across many fakes in the course of her work, said dealers in fake masters take care to build a convincing provenance. The buyer, in his desire to possess a certain signature, is half-prepared to be fooled.

Chawla and others confirm that a number of fakes are appearing in the market. Calcutta seems to be a centre of counterfeiting. A rough estimate suggests that one per cent of the works of the Bengal School and Santiniketan artists sourced from Calcutta is genuine. But hundreds of them surface every year, of which quite a few go to international auctions.

Auction houses put a caveat emptor (buyer beware) clause. In the section on Sotheby’s obligations to buyers, it is said that the auction house has the right to request the buyer to obtain at his or her cost reports of two independent and recognised experts in the field, acceptable to both sides, setting out the reasons why the lot in question is counterfeit. Christie’s has a similar clause.

Gallery-owners are concerned because fakes are depressing the market. They have been asking for an agency to undertake authentication.    

 

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