Advani kin imposter falls into police net
Basu snaps at recurring headache
Trinamul breather for Delhi
NDA team for disturbed area tag
Jaya rallies behind ‘periyavar’
Party blinks at PM volte-face
Thanksgiving to friend on Capitol Hill
Temple debut in us congress

New Delhi, Sept. 13: 
A criminal has taken on the nation’s home minister.

Lal Krishna Advani is baffled by an imposter who has been merrily going around the country defrauding people by posing as his son-in-law. That, too, when his daughter is separated and living with him.

Mahesh Tanna, who has sundry cases of fraud and cheating against him in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Thane, has fooled many gullible people into loosening their purse strings by bragging he can fix anything as the home minister’s son-in-law.

The 38-year-old imposter was arrested in Mumbai today.

A resident of Jyotsna Nivas at Kalva in Thane, Mahesh went to St John Baptist School and dropped out after his higher secondary.

According to police files, Mahesh married one Reshma, an adopted daughter of Dharam Advani who, he says, is the home minister’s younger brother. Dharam passed away in 1997. Reshma left Mahesh in 1994.

Sources close to the home minister said he never had any brother. He has a sister who lives in Mumbai. His immediate family comprises his wife, son Jayant and daughter Pratibha.

Sources close to Advani said the home minister was incensed by Mahesh’s fraudulent activities. First, because his family was “getting a bad name” and second, innocent people were being cheated.

Around 1982, Mahesh tried his luck in Hindi films but came a cropper. In 1986, he started dealing in used cars at Lokhandwala complex in Mumbai’s Andheri suburb. Seven years later, he came in contact with a Delhi-based car dealer who apparently initiated him into stealing and disposing off stolen vehicles.

Mahesh appears to have hit upon the brilliant idea of making easy money by posing as Advani’s son-in-law around the time the BJP government came to power in 1998. He would pose as Advani’s damaad and approach people by saying he could solve their problems because of his “proximity” to North Block.

One of the first cases of impersonation against Mahesh was registered in May 1999 at Ahmedabad. On May 19 that year, Mahesh checked into the government circuit house in the morning, posing, of course, as Advani’s son-in-law.

The circuit house staff, who smelt a rat, began inquiries and found the claim to be bogus. When Mahesh returned to the circuit house in a siren-wailing car fitted with a beacon light used by VIPs, the police were waiting for him.

But that did not deter him. In January 2000, Mahesh was arrested in Delhi on a complaint filed by Energy India chairman S.A. Rizvi, a resident of Chittaranjan Park. Mahesh had approached Rizvi and boasted he could get any work done and demanded Rs 5 lakh for services to be rendered.

Rizvi got a rude shock when he checked with the home minister’s residence on whether the “appointment through Mahesh” was still on. Mahesh was arrested around the third week of January. His bail petition was initially rejected but he later managed to get himself released. The trial is on.

Mahesh has against him eight pending criminal cases in Mumbai (Oshivra police station), as many as 23 cases at various police stations in Delhi, including Tughlaq Road, Vasant Vihar, Chittaranjan Park, Parliament Street, Greater Kailash and Lajpat Nagar.

The Telegraph has in its possession a report of deputy commissioner of police (New Delhi district) Pranab Nanda which lays out in detail Mahesh’s “criminal career”. He has been interrogated by the Intelligence Bureau and Delhi Police special branch, but they haven’t found any insurgent or terrorist angle to his activities.

Some reports reaching North Block suggest that Mahesh enjoys the patronage of a minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet. Inquiries have revealed a larger nexus between a section of Mumbai-based politicians and cheats like Mahesh. “We are trying to find out the depth of this nexus and how it impinges on internal security,” a senior home ministry official said. “There is more to it than meets the eye,” he added.    

Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Jyoti Basu today ruled out sitting at the table with Mamata Banerjee in an effort to stall the violence spiral in the state.

The chief minister, who also shot off a letter to Union home minister L.K. Advani, disclaiming George Fernandes’ report on the five scarred districts, said there was no point in talking to the Trinamul Congress leader as she is a “person who incites violence”.

Basu’s blunt refusal follows his deputy Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s invitation to Mamata to come to the talks table.

Basu snapped at reporters for persisting with questions on Mamata’s demand for President’s rule and her allegations that the state administration had sponsored “terrorism” in the five districts. “Mamata, Mamata! How many times will you ask me about her ? I have told you before she is a person who incites violence,” Basu said at Writers’ Buildings.

Basu claimed that the situation in the affected areas was improving. “The people in the troubled villages are now returning. We are tackling the situation administratively and politically,” he said.

In his letter to Advani, Basu said that he found it strange that “Fernandes did not bother to talk to district officials or me or the deputy chief minister”.

“Advani would have done well to visit the villages concerned a year ago when he could have seen the violence unleashed by Trinamul Congress activists,” he wrote in his three-page missive.

Referring to the home ministry letter of September 8, which said the media and the intelligentsia were concerned about law and order in the state, Basu told Advani that he was in touch with eminent people and they “don’t share your perception”. Basu took exception to the home ministry’s statement that the state government’s reply on the violence was “not comprehensive”.

“If there are some specific issues that remain unanswered, you may please write to me so that I can give you further information,” Basu said.

He also pointed out to Advani that his ministry had named different districts at different times. The clashes, Basu said, were mostly confined to eight police station areas in three districts. West Bengal has 445 police stations.

Basu, however, assured Advani that steps were being taken to prevent political clashes.

Additional security personnel have been deployed in the affected areas and the people who had fled their villages are being asked to come back.    

Calcutta, Sept. 13: 
Mamata Banerjee today returned the Prime Minister’s gesture of sending George Fernandes to tour the disturbed areas of Bengal by ruling out any plans to quit the Cabinet immediately as threatened.

But she refused to let Atal Behari Vajpayee breathe freely, adding the rider that her decision “depends on circumstances”.

“We are now a part of the NDA and are fighting our battle against the ruling CPM as a part of it. Why does this question of quitting the NDA arise now? If the situation demands, we will think it over,” she told reporters after persistent queries on whether the Trinamul Congress would withdraw from the NDA as the Centre has not yet imposed President’s rule on Bengal.

Asked how much time she would give A.B. Vajpayee t West Bengal before quitting, Mamata said she would be patient. “In politics, some times you have to wait,” she said.

Asked about her plans now that there are indications from the Centre that it would not impose President’s rule, Mamata said: “We know what to get, when to get and how to get. We are self sufficient and know exactly how to carry on our political battle against the CPM.” Mamata seems to have adopted a wait-and-watch policy after Fernandes submitted a strongly-worded report to home minister L.K. Advani.

, describing the law and order situation in Bengal as “worse than Bihar”.

Party insiders said the Trinamul chief has decided to wait for Vajpayee’s return from the US before taking a final decision. In the meantime, she intends to exert constant pressure on the Centre to initiate steps that will keep the Left Front government on tenterhooks.

Mamata’s purpose seems to have been served as she said the Left Front government was shaken for the first time in 23 years after the Centre issued a “stricture” on the “lawlessness”. “That is why Jyoti Basu is saying he will give a reply to the Centre himself,” she added.

Mamata said she was not “killing” democracy by seeking President’s rule in Bengal. “Our demand for President’s rule and the declaration of five districts as disturbed are perfectly within the framework of the Constitution. There is no democracy and people cannot exercise fundamental rights in West Bengal,” she said.

“We are always for peace. We were the first to demand an all-party meeting to restore peace in Midnapore and other districts. We have also met Governor Viren Shah a number of times with our memoranda,” Mamata added.

She has informed the Union home ministry about violence in Narayangarh, Debra, Belda and Danton in which Trinamul supporters were killed over the past two days.

In a further boost for Mamata, Congress general secretary and MLA Sultan Ahmed today joined Trinamul with many supporters. This will help the party woo the Muslims in Calcutta and adjoining areas.    

New Delhi, Sept. 13: 
The six-member NDA fact-finding committee, which visited Midnapore and other “disturbed” districts in West Bengal last month, today demanded that the Centre invoke Article 355 and declare some troubled areas in the state as “disturbed zones”.

The Telugu Desam-led team, however, disappointed the Trinamul Congress by not endorsing its demand for President’s rule. Article 355 recommends Central intervention. The committee called for deployment of Central forces to restore law and order. It also flayed the 23 years of “misrule” by the Left Front government, encapsulating in its eight-page report incidents of red terror unleashed on political opponents.

“The violence and terror perpetrated and the persecution indulged (in) have convinced the team that they have no option but to recommend that Midnapore be declared a disturbed area as there is a total failure of law and order,” the report said. The report, which was handed over yesterday to NDA convener George Fernandes, added that if no immediate action was taken, the situation could take a turn for the worse.

According to it, “in four or five districts”, the administration was “not being run in accordance with the provisions” of a democratic set-up. It also said the Centre should take steps to protect the innocent, the downtrodden and the poor.

However, Desam MP S. Venugopalachari — who led the team — told reporters that his party was opposed to the use of Article 356, despite NDA ally Mamata Banerjee’s clamour for President’s rule. Trinamul’s Sudip Bandopadhyay was also part of the team.

The other members were C. Krishnan of the MDMK, Shiv Sena’s Suresh Ramrao Jadhav, Samata Party’s Prabhunath Singh and Sanjoy Paswan of the BJP.

Pressed further on home minister L.K. Advani’s remarks that all options — including Central rule — were open, Venugopalachari reiterated that the Desam did not subscribe to the use of the Article.

Venugopalachari said the two-day visit to the violence-torn areas had brought home the message that villagers living in Midnapore and other districts were politically conscious and aware of their rights. But the Bengal government was “trying to suppress their political consciousness”.

The report said since local inhabitants were not siding with the ruling CPM, they were being victimised.

The Congress has, however, dismissed the report as being of no consequence. New state unit chief Pranab Mukherjee said it was a matter between the Centre and the state.

According to him, even to declare certain districts disturbed, the Centre needed the consent of the state, but could bypass it by getting an ordinance passed. It was up to the Centre and the state government to sort out the issue, he added.

Congress sources said the handling of the issue would antagonise Mamata Banerjee and could even pave the way for her exit from the alliance.

A party leader also questioned the motive behind the media hype, especially when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was away.    

Chennai, Sept. 13: 
Jayalalitha has sprung to the defence of “periyavar” (patriarch) Jyoti Basu.

The ADMK chief today issued a statement here that despite the “periyavar” running a good government, the Centre was trying to oust him to appease Mamata Banerjee.

She alleged that defence minister George Fernandes was despatched to Bengal as part of a New Delhi conspiracy and that he had cooked up a false report. “Based on such an unsubstantiated hotch-potch report, the Centre is threatening to dismiss the Basu government when he enjoys the confidence of the people there. That is why he has been ruling the state for over 20 years,” she said.

Jayalalitha had fallen out with the Vajpayee government after the Centre refused to sack the Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu citing breakdown in law and order. With Vajpayee failing to toe her line, Jayalalitha withdrew support to his government.

Observers said Jayalalitha’s defence of Basu stems from her eagerness to safeguard the ADMK’s alliance with the CPM in the state.

Jayalalitha is also unlikely to forgive Mamata for revealing that at the first meeting of the National Democratic Alliance, the ADMK had complained about its leader’s income-tax problems and harassment by officials.    

New Delhi, Sept. 13: 
The BJP stoically accepted the Prime Minister’s “clarification” on the swayamsevak issue without questions. Party spokesman J.P. Mathur said: “The Prime Minister’s clarification should be accepted as it is. The media and others may not have understood the real spirit of what he said.”

Even as it appears that the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is meant to distance his Staaten Island address from the RSS, the BJP stressed that there is no “contradiction” between his first statement and the “clarification” that followed. The party claimed that Atal Behari Vajpayee continues to be as “loyal” to the RSS as before.

Yesterday, the PMO issued a statement to set the record straight on his speech last Sunday in a reception at Staaten Island, New York in which he described himself as a “swayamsevak”. The expression was construed to underline his association with his parent organisation, the RSS.

In his statement, Vajpayee maintained what he meant was that he would always be a “volunteer in the service of India and its people”, even if he ceased to be the Prime Minis- ter.

Vajpayee had proclaimed himself as a swayamsevak before a gathering of the VHP and the BJP’s overseas friends shortly after he had denounced Pakistan as a “medieval” state.

Asked whether his clarification was forced by the barrage of criticism from the Opposit- ion and, privately, from the NDA allies, Mathur asserted that it is not a “defensive” ges- ure.

“He is a swayamsevak and he said so in Nagpur,” he said, referring to Vajpayee’s visit to the RSS headquarters during the BJP’s conclave in the last week of August.

Leaders insist that the “clarification” only confirms the Vajpayee’s allegiance to the RSS. “The clarification should not be taken to mean that he disowns the RSS. There is no contradiction between what he said in Nagpur and in New York,” insisted Mathur.

To buttress the BJP’s reading of the controversy, sources point out the row that rocked the Parliament involving a circular issued by the Gujarat government to allow its employees to become RSS members.

During the debate, Vajpayee had “proudly” declared himself a member of the Sangh.

It is also pointed out that since Vajpayee had made an impromptu address in Staaten Island, he could not “but help” using the word “swayamsevak”.

“It is so deeply ingrained in his intellect that it comes out naturally when he addresses a gathering,” said sources.    

Washington, Sept. 13: 
Tony Blair could not do it despite Whitehall’s special relationship with the US and the British Prime Minister’s own personal proximity to President Bill Clinton. All the legendary power that Jews wield in America could not secure Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak the opportunity to address the current US Congress.

But when Atal Behari Vajpayee rises on Capitol Hill tomorrow as the first visiting head of state or government to address the 106th US Congress, it will also be a gesture of thanks from the Indian government to Congressmen and Senators to their often underplayed role in lifting Indo-US relations to their present high.

Consider the following. Eight years ago, an amendment by India-baiter Dan Burton cutting aid to India for its human rights violations in Kashmir and Punjab was passed by four votes. The last recorded vote in the Congress in India’s favour about a year ago was passed by a massive 396 votes to four.

Vajpayee has special reason to be pleased with this change. When he ordered the Pokhran nuclear tests two years ago, few Congressmen or Senators would give ambassador Naresh Chandra the time of day. They blamed the “Hindu nationalist” Vajpayee for the tests.

When the Clinton administration imposed sanctions on India, it cited laws passed on Capitol Hill as the reason for taking punitive measures. A year and a half later, the very Congress congratulated Vajpayee on his election victory and asked President Bill Clinton to partner India.

In the current euphoria over the upswing in the Indo-US relations, even South Block sometimes forgets that when General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Pakistan’s legally elected government last October, Clinton’s state department dithered for full 10 days over designating it as a coup. The state department called it a coup only when the House of Representatives International Relations Committee put tremendous pressure on the administration.

But what Vajpayee has to thank the Congress for more than anything else is perhaps the role it played on Kargil. The same committee, with both chairman and ranking member as influential activists of the India caucus, criticised Pakistan and urged its forces to pull out of Kargil.

When Nawaz Sharif hesitated on July 4 last year to agree to Clinton’s terms for such a pullout, it was this very resolution that the US President quoted as an example of the pressure on him to chastise Pakistan.

Vajpayee’s address tomorrow will be the first attempt by New Delhi at the highest level since P V Narasimha Rao climbed Capitol Hill six years ago to pay tributes to the low profile, but highly effective role played by the Congress in determining US foreign policy.

As the post-Pokhran developments in the Indo-US relations showed, the Congress acts as an effective check on the administration in foreign policy. On the issue of India’s nuclearisation, it is now acknowledged that opinion in the Congress changed before any change set in in the attitude of the Clinton administration.

If and when the state department designates the Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba as a terrorist organisation, as the Indians are expecting, it will also be because of the pressure which the Congress has been putting on the administration on the issue of terrorism.    

New York, Sept. 12: 
Venkatachalapathy is the proudest Indian in America this week. Another 48 hours and all the Indian TV networks will zero in on this obscure Indian who lives in Parma, a small town in Ohio. With all the newspapers in India likely to publish his photograph or write about him in their Friday editions, Venkatachalapathy hopes his will be a household name back home, at least till popular fancy finds another flavour of the month.

In a sense, this chief priest of Shiva Vishnu temple in Parma will make history in the US on Thursday. A few minutes before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addresses the US Congress, Venkatachalapathy will deliver a Hindu invocation at the session. In the two century-old history of the US Congress, this will be the first time that the members will go through a Hindu invocation.

Preparations for a Hindu invocation to the Congress had begun on Capitol Hill several months ago, almost immediately after it became clear following President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March that Vajpayee would make a return trip before there is a change of guard at the White House in January 2001.

Sherrod Brown, a member of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and one of the founders of the India Caucus on Capitol Hill, wrote to the Chaplain of the House to earmark a day for inviting a Hindu priest to deliver the invocation.

Christian invocations are the most common in the US Congress, but off and on, the Congress also witnesses invocations by Jewish rabbis. Some time ago, an imam from a mosque was invited to deliver an Islamic invocation.

Slots have to be reserved months in advance for these in view of pressures on the Chaplain from members to accommodate the religious and local interests of their constituents. Brown represents Ohio in the Congress and has a large number of Indian Americans among his constituents.

The idea in initiating early action to have a Hindu invocation was to ensure that the invitation to the temple priest would coincide with Vajpayee’s historic address. While Venkatachalapathy will be the first Hindu priest in US history to be on Capitol Hill in his religious capacity, Vajpayee will be the first and only foreign leader to address the 106th US Congress.

Only one state in the US has had a Hindu invocation at its local legislature in the past. Maryland’s House of Delegates had a Hindu priest delivering the invocation twice, thanks to efforts by a legislator of Indian origin.

In urging the Chaplain of the House of Representatives to invite a Hindu priest, Brown said the Congress would be honouring America’s diverse religious heritage and tradition of religious freedom. He also pointed out that with the increase in the number of Indian Americans, there are hundreds of thousands of Hindus who practice their religion in the US.

While Indian Americans are proud that a Hindu priest will deliver the prayer on Capitol Hill, not everyone in the Indian government is happy over the total identification of Hindu religion with the prime ministerial visit at a time when Vajpayee is trying to distance his party from Hindutva. Already, Vajpayee’s appearance at functions in New York with a Hindu slant and his speeches there have created ripples back home. The Hindu invocation before Vajpayee’s address to the Congress will also be set against demonstrations being planned in Washington by Christian organisations against what they call religious persecution in India.    


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