Mamata melts after Atal promise
CPM scoffs at Mamata ‘fax’ politics
Delhi says it with power & flowers
Mumbai team grills don
Key ‘killer’ squad hitman in police net
Auction Big II confess rigging
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Oct 6: 
The telephone connection surrendered yesterday was restored. By late afternoon, the security guards, sent off with what appeared to be farewell gifts on Thursday, were trooping in. Resignation forgotten and rollback consigned to some future date, Mamata Banerjee was back as railway minister. Springing a bigger surprise than her resignation last Saturday, the Trinamul leader announced she was returning to the Cabinet after receiving an assurance from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee about a rollback on his return from Mumbai.

In short, she had agreed to the condition the Prime Minister had set at the prompting of his Cabinet colleagues that Mamata withdraw her resignation without insisting on a rollback.

The government has budged exactly two words from the position it had taken at the impromptu Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. In his written “assurance” to Mamata today, Vajpayee said: “The entire issue (petroleum price hike) will be given a re-look and appropriate action taken after I return from Mumbai.”

The statement read out on Wednesday by Pramod Mahajan did not have the words “appropriate action”, words which Trinamul is describing as a “victory” for Mamata.

On the basis of this “assurance”, Mamata revoked her and Ajit Panja’s resignations, to the delight of the supporters who had gathered outside her residence today.

When it was pointed out that the letter did not mention rollback, Mamata said: “The Prime Minister shares our concern over the price hike and has conceded that it will cause hardship to common people. He has given us a written assurance to review the hike and take proper steps on his return from Mumbai. We are grateful to him and reciprocated his gesture by revoking our resignations.”

Asked what she would do if there was no rollback, she said: “If this happens, we will stick to our earlier decision (to quit the Cabinet).”

The entire episode of her decision to first resign and then withdraw it is being described by her rival, the Left, as “fax politics”.

Some political observers are describing it as “surrender” after realising that she had overplayed her hand by quitting. But the tone of Vajpayee’s letter today is a great deal different from the terse statement made by the government on Wednesday.

“Even though the government has tried to minimise the burden of price increase on the consumers, it cannot be disputed that the hike does cause hardship to the common citizens,” Vajpayee said.

Sources said Vajpayee has made a verbal promise to effect a rollback to provide “some relief” to consumers despite the government’s economic compulsions.

Trinamul sources spoke of the compulsions Mamata had to revoke her resignation with the Assembly polls months away. She was under pressure from the party’s rank and file not to press for acceptance of her resignation if the Centre offered an assurance.

Party supporters feared they would be exposed to “increased terror from the CPM cadre” if she quit. Mamata herself was worried about the fate of pending railway projects in Bengal after her resignation.

The thawing began last night with her private secretary in the ministry, Sunil Chaturvedi, coming over close to midnight to talk to her. Their discussions were interspersed with a string of phone calls from Delhi.

At the end of the afternoon, Mamata’s lieutenant, Akbar Ali Khondokar, was looking for Sunilda, the low-profile bureaucrat from the Bengal cadre.

He had disappeared after achieving his purpose. “I came to the city to pay my last respect to my minister. But fate decreed otherwise. My minister is back. I am going back a happy man,” he said.

Their meeting lasted till 3.30 am during which Chaturvedi described the various adverse scenarios that might come into effect as a result of the resignation.

The PMO has been interacting with Chaturvedi for the past year to gauge Mamata’s mind.    

Calcutta, Oct. 6: 
Mamata Banerjee’s decision to withdraw her resignation from the Vajpayee government has not surprised the state CPM leadership.

“Her return to the Union government is no news to us. It even bears no significance to the people of Bengal. Trinamul Congress leaders were also aware of the fact that Mamata will withdraw her resignation,” CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said while reacting to Banerjee’s decision to withdraw her resignation.

He also said: “Mamata’s politics of fax messages is nothing new to the people of Bengal. Before the last municipal polls, she had displayed a fax message from Delhi stating that all the six public sector undertakings (PSUs) facing closure, will be revived. But the people of Bengal know their fate.”

“I had told you within an hour after she had tendered her resignation last week that it was nothing but a gimmick. My observation came true and people of Bengal don’t have any faith in the politics of fax messages,” he added.

The CPM and its front-ranking leaders like Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose had been vocal against Mamata ever since she tendered her resignation last Saturday. Both Biswas and Bose had described the incident as a “gimmick”.Even chief minister Jyoti Basu had dubbed it as “playacting”.

The CPM’s observation on Mamata’s resignation turned out to be true on Friday. The party had reacted in a similar fashion when she had resigned from the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1992.

CPM activists have already chalked out agitational programmes against Mamata. CPM supporters under the banner of Howrah-Katwa Suburban Passengers Association, have announced a series of agitations against the Trinamul leader for not fulfilling her commitment to introduce double line system in the Bandel-Katwa section.

CPM supporters also organised meetings in Midnapore demanding immediate completion of the Digha-Tamluk rail link which Mamata announced after she became the railway minister.

If Mamata had stuck to her decision to resign, the Bengal CPM would have probably said that she had quit because she realised it would be impossible for her to keep all her promises to the people of Bengal as a railway minister.

Now that she has withdrawn her resignation, the CPM will try to convince the people of Bengal that it is in keeping with her habit of indulging in politics of gimmick and trying to gain some mileage out of it.

But the Marxists are worried over Mamata’s continuation as the railway minister. Once she makes progress with the railway projects she has undertaken, the CPM will be in trouble at the 2001 Assembly polls.


New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Mamata Banerjee’s resignation rollback prompted a collective sigh of relief from the BJP and the NDA government as it had ensured that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee goes into his operation without a crisis to worry about.

Kailashpati Mishra, BJP vice-president in charge of West Bengal, said: “Mamata knows very well that the NDA was voted to power on the stability plank. She did not want to do anything which would destabilise the government.”

BJP sources said that after the initial “goof-up”, resulting from the assurances given to Mamata by the Prime Minister’s emissary, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Vajpayee’s mediators used “more political arguments” during subsequent talks.

Rather than give the impression that the Centre would allow itself to be “bulldozed” by Mamata, the negotiators decided to appeal to her “political instincts” and not just talk of a rollback.

Both defence minister George Fernandes and Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu, who spoke to Mamata on Vajpayee’s behalf, stressed that it made “more sense” for her to remain a minister since the Assembly polls are round the corner.

While clarifying that the Centre was not in a position to impose President’s rule or declare the violence-hit areas “disturbed”, Fernandes is learnt to have emphasised that “with the government’s backing, you can be assured the Left Front government will not resort to strong-arm tactics beyond a point during the elections”.

Naidu asked her to rejoin the ministry and then press for a rollback with his “support”. “First join the government, then we can do anything,” Naidu told Mamata, according to Telugu Desam sources.

Although Naidu has made token noises of protest, he also assured Vajpayee that he supported the decision. Armed with this assurance, the Centre decided to get tough with Mamata.

While Vajpayee kept himself out of the parleys, BJP sources said he did his bit to soothe Mamata’s nerves. Yesterday on her birthday, he sent her flowers through a personal emissary. “She respects Atalji and this gesture must have meant a lot to her,” the sources said.    

Mumbai, Oct. 6: 
Mumbai police today interrogated Chhota Rajan in Bangkok after their Thai counterparts re-arrested the wounded mob boss within a day of setting him free.

Rajan was about to fly out of Thailand with some of his closest associates yesterday when he was stopped by Bangkok police on India’s request, sources said. He was arrested this morning on charges of entering the country on a forged passport.

The Mumbai crime branch team, led by assistant commissioner of police Shankar Kamble, questioned Rajan for more than an hour. The gangster was initially reluctant to answer the questions but later gave in, sources said. Rajan has not yet recovered from the September 15 shootout, when he received bullet wounds in his stomach and thighs. He spoke haltingly.

One member of the gang that attacked Rajan was arrested in Lucknow today by the special task force.

Mumbai commissioner M.N. Singh said the police were trying to bring Rajan back to face trial for murder, extortion and other charges. “Though India does not have an extradition treaty with Thailand, Rajan could be brought back if both countries agree on his deportation,” he added.

Rajan was first arrested in Bangkok after the attempt on his life, engineered by rival mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim. He was charged with entering the country on a false name, a minor offence for which he was fined. The don claimed his Indian passport was original but admitted to doctoring the document to avoid detection.

The Thai immigration police released him last morning before the Mumbai team arrived, saying they had no other charges against him and had not received any request from India to deport the mobster. They re-arrested him after India declared that Rajan’s passport was forged.

Indian authorities, who were dragging their feet on Mumbai police’s demands for Rajan’s extradition, stirred into action yesterday after the Maharashtra government blamed the Centre for “allowing the gangster to go scot free”.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is in charge of home, accused the A.B. Vajpayee government of sitting on the extradition request. He also slammed the Centre for delaying the Mumbai police team’s visit to Bangkok.

Officials said the Centre had reason to ignore the police requests because Rajan was “a big help” in the country’s fight against terrorism unleashed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Thai police told the Mumbai team that they had impounded Rajan’s passport and blacklisted him to prevent him from re-entering the country.    

Lucknow, Oct. 6: 
A key member of the hit squad that shot mob boss Chhota Rajan in Bangkok last month was today arrested in Lucknow.

Noor Baksh, a Pakistani national born in Baluchistan, was in charge of the seven-member killer gang’s getaway from Thailand after the September 15 strike.

He arranged bogus visas and passports and was waiting in a car with two others when four hitmen stormed into the Bangkok flat where Rajan was dining with friends and opened fire. Though the mafia boss survived the attack, his host Rohit Verma was killed.

Noor Baksh, alias Yaseen Baluchi, alias Naseer Hussain, claimed he was promised $10,000 for the job. D Company, Dawood Ibrahim’s gang of which Rajan was once a part, had ordered the killing. Baksh said Dawood and his right hand man Chhota Shakeel had instructed teams spread across many countries “not to rest before completing their mission”.

Lucknow police’s elation over the big catch gave way to anxiety as Noor Baksh revealed an elaborate hit-and-run game that could now be played in India.

The special task force, which arrested Baksh, has found a diary containing names of accomplices in Zanjibar, Sri Lanka, Canada, Ghana, America, England, Nepal, Dubai, Singapore and Pakistan. It also found dozens of photographs of women, most of them Indians, who Baksh claimed were his “pen pals”.

Sources in the task force said the immediate fear was that D Company would be “preparing for a welcome” if Rajan was extradited to India. But they are happy the force now has information that could help the Interpol and Thai authorities get to the bottom of the drama. Interpol has already been alerted.

Baksh revealed that his team had been trailing Rajan for the past two months and they had accomplices in Malaysia monitoring his movements.

The finishing touches to the Rajan assassination plan were given at a meeting in Dubai in the last week of August. The meeting was attended by Chhota Shakeel, Dawood’s brother Anees Ibrahim and 10 others. It was then that D Company decided that Rajan “had to be killed in Bangkok and there would be seven members in the hit squad”. By September 4, the team had acquired a detailed blueprint of Rohit Verma’s flat was staying in.

Baksh and two others, Qayoom and Aziz, stayed on in Bangkok after the failed attempt till September 19. Baksh then flew to Dubai where he was received by Chhota Shakeel who gave him more instructions. He reached Karachi with Shakeel on September 20, after which they split again. Baksh then went to Kathmandu and after a week, entered India through the Uttar Pradesh border.

Thirty-two-year-old Baksh said he was put in charge of the team’s safe passage from Thailand because of his expertise in the use of firearms and “arranging” false passports.

Baksh has been with D Company since 1988, arranging false passports and smuggling narcotics. He said he had been jailed in Dubai more than five times and deported to Pakistan on a couple of occasions. He was working for the Dubai police and posted at the international airport when he first got in touch with Dawood.

The Pakistani national, who already holds a fake Indian passport in the name of Naseer Hussain, a dead Bangalore resident believed to have been his friend, was arrested from Lucknow’s Passport Office while validating a new passport under another bogus name.

Baksh first visited India in 1985 when he came to Mumbai holding a passport in the name of Yaseen Baluchi. He was caught by the police along with Mumbai based accomplice Abu Bakr when he was trying to flee through the Porbandar sea route in 1987.    

Washington, Oct. 6: 
Do you have an exquisite Chola bronze or a riveting Mughal court miniature safely tucked away in a secure attic or a locker on the assumption that it was worth a few million? Have you bought a piece of Hitler memorabilia or a Churchill signature or a Tibetan vase at an exorbitant price from a Sotheby’s or Christie’s shop?

Well, it is time to have them valued all over again! In a dramatic finale to months of rumours about price-fixing conspiracies by art and antique auction houses, the former chief executive of Sotheby’s yesterday pleaded guilty in a Manhattan court to charges that her auction house, in collusion with Christie’s had ripped off art connoisseurs for several years.

Diana Brooks, the most powerful woman in the art world for a decade, who resigned as Sotheby’s chief executive in February, now faces the prospect of three years in jail. She could also be fined upto one billion dollars, which is twice the loss hitherto reported by victims of her fraud.

Simultaneously, Sotheby’s pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to pay a fine of $ 45 million in addition to a $ 256 million payment to auction buyers and sellers, agreed to last month in a civil lawsuit.

Christie’s has already agreed to pay a similar $ 256 million to buyers and sellers. Christie’s will not face any criminal charges because it volunteered confessions of price-fixing and was given a conditional amnesty.

Between Sotheby’s and Christie’s, they control almost the entire $ 4 billion a year market for art and antiques.

Yesterday’s gripping court proceedings were the result of a three-year investigation by the US Justice Department into allegations of fraud by the two auction houses.

At a press conference here yesterday, US acting assistant attorney-general Douglas Melamed said that from April, 1993, to December, 1999, antique dealers and sellers of memorabilia paid highly inflated commissions as a result of price-fixing by the two auction houses.

“Those charged today engaged in classic cartel behaviour, price-fixing pure and simple,” he said. The prosecution’s case is that Sotheby’s alone made over $ 225 million during this six-year period in seller’s commissions.

It lists details of meetings attended by Brooks and others at which prices of auction material were inflated by fixing seller’s commissions and reaching agreements on which auction house would take the lead in publishing its non-negotiable commission rates.

The new president and chief executive of Sotheby’s Holdings, William Ruprecht, yesterday apologised to clients for its part in the fraud. “The behaviour that led to today’s plea was wrong and is unacceptable,” he said.

The guilty plea by Sotheby’s and its former chief executive yesterday sets the stage for the prosecution of Alfred Taubman, a 75-year-old Detroit shopping centre developer who bought Sotheby’s in 1983. His fortune is estimated at over $ 700 million.

Although Taubman resigned in February as chairman of Sotheby’s, he remains its controlling shareholder. He has agreed to pay $ 156 million of the $ 256 million that the auction house has agreed to compensate buyers and sellers in the civil suit. He will also pay $ 30 million to Sotheby’s shareholders as compensation for wrongdoing.

Christopher Davidge, chief executive of Christie’s resigned last year-end after the auction house agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department.    



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Minimum: 25.6°C (+2l)


0.1 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 63%


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some parts of the city and suburbs    

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