London hotel trail leads sleuths to Jaya
Vajpayee vets Laxman line-up
Bangaru’s BJP adopts new slogan
Mamata threatens ‘extreme’ step
Chief guest spoils Silicon dinner
Gore and Bush on Atal please-all agenda

Chennai, Sept. 2: 
Riches keep tumbling out of Jayalalitha’s treasure-trove. Vigilance authorities today announced that the former Tamil Nadu chief minister was the owner of two luxury hotels near London until two years ago.

A case under the Prevention of Corruption Act has been registered against the ADMK leader and T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of her confidante Sasikala, in connection with the multi-crore deal.

The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption will file a case on Monday in a special court constituted to try Jayalalitha and her associates on corruption charges. The ADMK leader is already facing trial for alleged possession of unaccounted assets worth Rs 66.65 crore.

The vigilance authorities alleged that on Dinakaran’s advice, a British solicitor N. Desai bought Hobbs Craft Hotel, worth Rs 55.20 crore. The other hotel, Slaley Hall was built on land purchased by Desai. Both properties are located on London’s outskirts.

The transactions took place during Jayalalitha’s tenure as chief minister from 1991-96, vigilance officials said.

The four-star Slaley Hall, with 139 luxury suites and a golf course over a 1000-acre land, is an impressive edifice and was valued at over Rs 193 crore, the officials added.

Both hotels were leased out and subsequently sold. The proceeds were invested in financial companies like Dervent.

Though it was Dinakaran who technically owned the hotels, the police argued that he had no independent sources of income and was acting as Jayalalitha’s frontman in all the deals.

The investigators stumbled on the hotels in the course of an inquiry by the Enforcement Directorate into Dinakaran’s overseas transactions.

Dinakaran came to Chennai from Mannargudi in Thanjavur district in 1988, after Sasikala had become an influential member of Jayalalitha’s household. He was virtually penniless at that time and even his business ventures flopped.

Dinakaran subsequently floated numerous companies abroad and was fined a whopping Rs 31 crore for foreign exchange violations. During Narasimha Rao’s regime, Dinakaran was booked under Cofeposa. He promptly went underground.

While the police pleaded inability to nab him, Dinakaran was seen sitting next to brother Sudhagaran at the famous wedding of 1995. Still he was not arrested.

He was finally taken into custody in February 1996 and remained behind bars for a year. By the time he came out, Sudhagaran had lost influence in the Jayalalitha coterie. Dinakaran became her most trusted aide after Sasikala.

His stock rose sharply as the law started catching up with Sasikala, throwing her career into jeopardy. He soon became the effective no. 2 in the ADMK and could be projected as the chief ministerial candidate if Jayalalitha is disqualified from contesting the next Assembly elections.

In last year’s Lok Sabha polls, Dinakaran was fielded from a relatively safe constituency, Periakulam, displacing a senior leader like former Speaker Sedapatti R. Muthiah. He won comfortably.

Listing Dinakaran’s investments, vigilance sources said he started “Adventure Holdings” in Singapore and deposited money “illegally acquired” by Jayalalitha. Later, he started two more companies there for the same purpose.    

New Delhi, Sept. 2: 
BJP president Bangaru Laxman held two meetings with Atal Behari Vajpayee over yesterday and today to finalise his team of office-bearers before the Prime Minister leaves for the US. He would announce his new team early next week, Laxman told reporters.

It is learnt that Vajpayee discussed the names suggested by Laxman with home minister L.K. Advani. Asked if the Prime Minister had anything to say about his team, Laxman said: “I asked him if he had suggestions and he said he will let me know.”

In his meeting today, Laxman was accompanied by his predecessor, Kushabhau hakre, who is most likely to function as organising secretary in charge of the party organisation, without holding a formal designation, BJP sources said. Thakre has moved back to the party headquarters where he has been allotted an office, apart from a room to stay.

Party sources said the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle is likely to take place after Vajpayee’s return from the US.

With Sushma Swaraj turning down an offer to become general secretary-cum-spokesperson, the leadership is in a dilemma on whether general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu should be “given away” to the government since he is also the party’s most effective spokesman. Despite his official assertion, sources said Naidu himself was keen to become a minister.

Sushma’s decision also means the leadership will have to hunt for effective woman nominees for the two posts reserved for them among office-bearers.

As of now, the lone woman representative is Bhavna Chikhalia who is a vice-president. While she is likely to continue in the post, sources said Maya Singh, a relative of Vijaya Raje Scindia, is likely to be inducted as a general secretary. Maya was a secretary during Thakre’s tenure.

At the meeting today, Laxman said he also asked about the Vajpayee’s health in view of his US trip. “He said all was well and his health was okay,” said Laxman.    

New Delhi, Sept. 2: 
Visitors to the BJP headquarters could not be faulted today for wondering whether they had landed up at the Samajwadi Party hub by mistake. In a far cry from the days when slogans like “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev” rent the air at 11 Ashoka Road, a roar of Allah-o-Akbar emanated from the premises, prompting many to think how long it would be before Bangaru Laxman was called “Maulana Laxman” as Mulayam Singh Yadav was at the height of the Ayodhya movement.

Clearly buoyed by Laxman’s presidential address in Nagpur —in which he warned the BJP not to hurt its prospects by alienating Muslims — a large group of representatives from the minority community gathered to felicitate him and reciprocate his call to assimilate Muslims in the political, social and economic mainstream by presenting a skull cap and the symbolic green safaa.

Many eyebrows were raised at the new sights and sounds in the headquarters. When a reporter quizzed a senior office-bearer of RSS vintage on whether “Jai Shri Ram” was consigned to the Bajrang Dal and VHP fringes, he shot back: “When did we ever say Jai Shri Ram? It exists only in the media’s imagination.” When reminded that through much of the nineties, BJP conclaves started and ended with the Ayodhya war cry and even the party MPs felt emboldened enough to raise it in Parliament, he looked the other way.

Today’s function was organised at a short notice by Chandni Chowk MP Vijay Goel, who appeared to be more keen on ingratiating himself with his new boss than expanding the party’s social base. Goel was pulled up by party leaders for springing the programme on them, but once the import of it sunk in, everybody, including the hardliners, put their best foot forward.

Vice-president J.P. Mathur set the tone by reciting four shayarees in flawless Urdu, stressing the need for a Hindu-Muslim “reunion” and echoing Laxman’s description of Muslims as the “flesh of our flesh and the blood of our blood”. In the famous Nagpur speech, Laxman said while Muslims had come to trust Atal Behari Vajpayee, they still had misgivings about the BJP; and these, he added, should be immediately dispelled. “Start working with our party and you will realise what we really are,” he said. Laxman clarified that his pro-Muslim call was not dictated either by electoral considerations or the need to get minority votes to “debunk” certain myths about the BJP.

Spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu was, however, less subtle. He insinuated that Muslims who had joined the party were suitably rewarded by citing the names of Mohammad Fazal, who became Goa Governor, and Kamaluddin Ahmed, who was appointed a member of the Planning Commission.

The community’s response was mixed. While a woman regurgitated a well-rehearsed slogan, saying that if Pakistan attacked India, the latter would give a befitting reply (“mooh tod jawab denge hum”), others sounded sceptical. One speaker said Laxman’s conviction was on test, and if he was as sincere as his words, Muslims were “ready to give their lives for the BJP”.

The last time the BJP had organised a function for Muslims was an Id iftaar in 1998. It lacked the hospitality and munificence associated with saffron dos — for one there was not enough food to go around and the fare was vegetarian, though the BJP often serves non-vegetarian dishes. It was as though the organisers wanted to get over with an unwanted ritual.    

Calcutta, Sept. 2: 
One day after the rally in Khanakul where her supporters were allegedly attacked by CPM activists, Mamata Banerjee threatened to retaliate.

Accusing chief minister Jyoti Basu of instigating violence, the railway minister said: “If our lives are exposed to constant threat and intimidation, then we are left with no option but to retaliate.”

She said the Trinamul Congress policy-making body will meet tomorrow to finalise its strategy on how to take on the Left Front.

Mamata said she would have to take an “extreme decision” on the violence unleashed by the Left in Midnapore, Hooghly and other districts. Asked whether quitting the Atal Behari Vajpayee government will be her “extreme decision”, Mamata retorted: “No, not at all. I have told you earlier that I have no plans of quitting the BJP-led coalition at the Centre. It is the duty of the state government to provide security to the people of the state. If the government fails to do this, we can’t sit idle.”

She added that thousands of people from all over the state will attend tomorrow’s maha michhil (procession) in the city.

“The maha michhil will mark the end of the first phase of our movement against the CPM’s atrocities unleashed in Bengal. We will go for a bigger movement after the Pujas,” she said.

Senior officials at Lalbazar said traffic will be diverted on Central Avenue and Shyambazar due to procession.

Making a dig at Basu, the Trinamul leader said: “The chief minister himself is issuing provocative statements against our party only to instigate his cadre in the districts. We met all senior government officials to stop violence on our activists, but with no effect. The CPM cadre, accompanied by the police, are killing our men. We will have to take an extreme decision to stop this.”

Trinamul chairman Pankaj Banerjee said 22 party supporters are undergoing treatment at the SSKM hospital. “All of them received bullet injuries on their way to attend Mamata’s rally in Khanakul yesterday,” he said.

In another development, 14 of the 19 PCC members from Jalpaiguri district, including a former treasurer, today joined the Trinamul. Krishna Kumar Kalyani, popularly known as Kishan Kalyani, and Mantu Sanyal told reporters at Mamata’s Kalighat residence that they had quit the Congress and joined Trinamul along with more than 2,000 supporters.

“Congress leaders in Jalpaiguri district are in league with the CPM bosses to mastermind the attacks on Trinamul workers before the Assembly polls. That is why we are under tremendous pressure from our supporters to switch over to Mamata to counter the CPM attacks,” Kalyani and Sanyal said.    

Santa Clara (Silicon Valley), Sept. 2: 
The invitations to the banquet had been sent; the menu, a lavish Indian one, prepared. Now, Kailash Joshi, president-elect of the influential TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), is having to ring up guests individually to apologise for the last minute cancellation of the dinner following the decision of the chief guest to pull out.

The cancellation of the San Francisco leg of the Prime Minister’s visit is being seen by many observers here as a huge public relations disaster. For weeks, Joshi and his colleagues at TIE, the organisation that represents the growing power of Indian software engineers, had been preparing for Atal Behari Vajpayee’s arrival. Now, he is not coming because of a knee problem.

“A lot of people had put in a lot of energy into making this a historic visit,” said Joshi. Stanford University and TIE were scheduled to jointly host dinner for the Prime Minister on September 12 to which 1,000 of the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley had been invited together with the political leadership of California, including the Governor.

It was a chance for Vajpayee to acknowledge that Silicon Valley had become the driving force in the strengthening of relations between India and the US.

There are many in Silicon Valley who believe that Vajpayee’s visit to Stanford University and the west coast was, in some ways, more important than his routine trips to New York and Washington.

Several of the key players in Silicon Valley — and not Indians alone — are considering investing billions of dollars in India and would have been encouraged by a pep talk from the Prime Minister at this critical juncture. They feel badly let down.

“In all, 6,000 people were due to attend the Prime Minister’s functions,” Joshi said. “It’s a disappointment. There is no doubt that his trip to Silicon Valley would have turned another page in the growing relationship between our two countries”.

For weeks, Indian security officials have been doing the rounds in San Francisco and Vajpayee’s personal physician has been in touch with local hospitals in case an emergency arose, diplomatic sources said. All this will have to be written off as junkets.    

New Delhi, Sept. 2: 
Having agreed to go ahead with the Prime Minister’s visit to the US at a time when the tenure of the Clinton administration is coming to an end, India is not taking any chances for the future.

Arrangements are being made for Atal Behari Vajpayee to meet both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates — Al Gore and George W. Bush Jr. —to ensure that Delhi has an edge with whoever comes to power in Washington. A luncheon meeting with Gore, the Democrat candidate and Vice-President, has been fixed for September 15 in Washington.

A meeting with Bush is yet to be fixed. The Republican leader has a busy campaign schedule, and, according to Indian officials, will not be in Washington during the Prime Minister’s visit. Since his schedule was drawn up months ahead, it may be difficult for him to change the dates now.

However, plans are afoot to arrange a rendezvous between the two in New York. Indications are that Bush will be in the Big Apple when Vajpayee arrives there on September 8. A meeting between the two may take place, even if it is a brief one, to familiarise them with each other.

Though many have questioned the wisdom of the government in planning a prime ministerial visit to the US when Clinton is on his way out, South Block has defended the decision.

“It’s the best thing that could have happened,” a senior foreign ministry official said. He pointed out that the Vision Statement, issued by the two nations during Clinton’s visit to India in March, envisaged an arrangement where the top leaders could meet each other as frequently as possible.

“Moreover, it was a personal request from Clinton that the Prime Minister visits Washington before his tenure is over,” the official added.

He argued that if the trip had taken place at a time when neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had finalised their candidates, it could have put Delhi in a fix.

“But now the Prime Minister gets the chance of meeting both,” he said.

India’s eagerness to go ahead with Vajpayee’s trip stems from past experience. Relations between India and the US had taken a nosedive over two decades. Though two Prime Ministers — Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao — did visit Washington, their trips did little to infuse life into bilateral relations. The Pokhran blasts further soured ties.

Clinton’s visit — the first by an American President since Jimmy Carter came here in 1978 — helped break the ice. Indian officials are, therefore, keen to maintain the momentum.

Between March and now, senior leaders and officials of the two sides have held several meetings on key issues, including, terrorism, drug trafficking, democracy and disarmament.    


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