Child abuse slur on ex-minister in Beur jail
PM II hogs limelight in Atal absence
Congress inVajpayeestand-in cry
Delhi salve for hurt Palestine
Supreme Court blasts injure 4
North-South gulf on Rajan return
Who’s afraid of funds & freedom? Tech schools
BJP sees shift in equations
Jaya vacuum spectre haunts heirless party
Mediator Gopal turns jungle guide

 
 
CHILD ABUSE SLUR ON EX-MINISTER IN BEUR JAIL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Oct. 10: 
Beur jail erupted last night over allegations that a former minister had been smuggling in minor boys for sexual abuse.

The police had to fire in the air to quell the violence that broke out after supporters of the RJD leader clashed with other inmates who protested the “immoral activities” of the VIP prisoner.

The majority of the inmates claimed that the politician, an accused in a corruption case being investigated by the CBI, regularly brought in “outsiders” who threatened to disrupt the peace of the jail. The leader, they alleged, was using his cell for “immoral activities”.

“Yesterday, two boys came from Phulwarisharif to meet the former minister. Some inmates knocked on the door of his cell and found them in a compromising state,” said an inmate.

This provoked the prisoners, who took away the two boys and demanded their medical examination. The inmates sat on a dharna till late in the night, saying they would relent only if the RJD leader was also charged with sexually abusing minors.

The former minister apparently instigated his men to take on the other detainees who had taken into their custody the two boys.

But Beur jailor Z. Ashraf denied that the boys had been sexually abused. “The boys are relatives of the former minister. They had brought medicines for him,” he said, adding that the inmates had “captured” the boys as they could not identify them.

Ashraf said the situation then went out of hand, forcing the “security forces to fire four rounds in the air to control the riotous mob”. The firing sparked a stampede in which six inmates were injured.

The jail authorities have filed an FIR, which is silent on what triggered the violence.

Embarrassed officials, however, offered a different version. Sunil Kumar, Patna’s senior superintendent of police, said the prisoners were angry with the way the former minister was using his influence to bring into the jail his supporters. “The undue privilege issue sparked a row,” Kumar added.

The two boys were later handed over to Phulwarisharif police station and a case of unauthorised entry was registered against them. Local police sources said the boys were residents of Sultangunge area and had been brought to the jail by two men, who escaped.

The inmates today said they would file a petition in the court on the minister’s conduct. Security has been tightened around the leader’s cell.

The controversial politician had earlier made headlines when he was thrashed by the inmates soon after he landed in Beur jail.    


 
 
PM II HOGS LIMELIGHT IN ATAL ABSENCE 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Oct. 10: 
One “PM” is in hospital after a knee operation. Another “PM” is back in the spotlight.

After being dropped as political adviser to the Prime Minister barely two years ago, “PM” —- as information and technology minister Pramod Mahajan is known to colleagues here —- appears to have wormed his way back into Vajpayee’s charmed circle.

Well-known for his backroom skills, Mahajan is the only Union minister, apart from L.K. Advani, who has been given free access to Atal Behari Vajpayee at Breach Candy Hospital. He is also in charge of handling the media on Vajpayee’s behalf and has been asked to coordinate between the Prime Minister’s Office and the hospital, BJP sources said.

Mahajan has asked the state BJP unit not to go overboard with “get well” programmes to spare the Prime Minister negative publicity and embarrassment.

He also took a surprise step by asking Vajpayee’s surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat to announce at a press conference that the Prime Minister would not be allowed visitors for at least three days.

Sources said the move was aimed at limiting the damage a noisy stream of visitors could have done to Vajpayee’s image by inconveniencing other patients.

Accordingly, securitymen today kept some state ministers and industrialists from visiting Vajpayee after the surgery.

A Mahajan aide said the Prime Minister had always liked the dynamic I-T minister because of his ability to get things done. Some partymen, jealous of his proximity to Vajpayee, had got him “eased out” of the PMO.

Even when he was out of the PMO, sources said the 51-year-old leader from Maharashtra’s Beed district stood by Vajpayee, sticking out his neck on most major issues. Mahajan backed Vajpayee when he rapped the Sangh parivar for meddling with governance, though he had been a hardcore RSS activist at one time.

“The BJP has been asked to govern the country, so it will take the final decision on all issues. Other organisations (Sangh parivar) can play the role of a watchdog, but we are here to govern,” Mahajan said at a recent press conference.

Mahajan’s growing clout was evident when his brother-in-law and former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde was promoted to a national vice president in the party.

Mahajan, however, denied any role in Munde’s selection, and said he was chosen because he was from a backward caste.

Munde said Mahajan made it back because of his dogged “determination and grit that has always prompted him to take on challenging assignments”.

A supporter said Mahajan had always made the best of a bad situation. “You can never keep him down.”

An architect of the BJP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena, the second-largest party in the National Democratic Alliance, Mahajan has been credited with “saving it from the brink” time and again in the last two years.

Vajpayee also sent him to pacify Bal Thackeray after Sena MPs resigned from the Union Cabinet, demanding that the Maharashtra government be dismissed for prosecuting the Sena chief over his alleged role in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots.    


 
 
CONGRESS INVAJPAYEESTAND-IN CRY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIALCORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
Minutes after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was operated upon at Breach Candy hospital, the Congress asked why Delhi was left without an alternate arrangement to meet any emergency.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, while wishing Vajpayee a speedy recovery, directed party spokesman Ajit Jogi to raise the point.

Jogi said even for brief periods the nation should not have been left without an alternative. While admitting that there were no constitutional provisions for the stop-gap arrangement, Jogi said: “He should have set a precedent.”

The Congress accused the Vajpayee regime of ignoring “national interest”. Jogi said: “There should have been some arrangement to meet any eventuality.” He hinted that the government consciously avoided temporary arrangement as it would have indicated a line of succession for future.

Jogi said the party was raising the objection in the “national interest.” In the nuclear era, there are challenges before the nation and while planning for Vajpayee’s surgery, the government should have taken this into account.    


 
 
DELHI SALVE FOR HURT PALESTINE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
India has decided to send medicine and relief material worth Rs 20 lakh to Palestine in a measured response to the violent developments in West Asia and to continue its engagement in the region.

Over 90 persons, mostly Arabs, have been killed and many injured in recent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The consignment will be handed over to Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) chief Yasser Arafat by Indian officials in the next few days.

In a statement last week, India expressed deep concern over the recent violence, saying it had led to a “most regrettable loss of lives and property and vitiated the atmosphere for the peace process”.

The statement said the “issues involved in the peace process are of immense complexity, that is why the need now is for restraint, avoidance of provocation and of shunning all such acts as could destabilise the process”. Delhi felt UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s initiative to stop violence was timely and should be supported by the parties concerned.

Though India made a conscious attempt to strike a balance in its statement, the Palestinians felt it was “too weak” and that Delhi should have come out in stronger terms against the killing of Arabs by Israeli forces.

South Block refused to alter the statement, but conjured up the relief gesture to assure the Palestinians of its continued sympathy to their cause. But unlike in the past, India has not offered to bring the injured here for treatment.

Delhi’s desire not to go overboard in its reaction stems from its current bonhomie with Israel. Though diplomatic ties were normalised in 1992, it is under the BJP government that bilateral elation are said to be the strongest. Recently, the Israelis even came out in support of India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. But Delhi does not want to improve ties with Tel Aviv at the cost of its old friendship with Palestine.

India’s engagement with both the Israelis and Palestinians is at a crucial juncture with both parties seeking its support. A few weeks ago, both Arafat and Israeli leader Shimon Peres came to Delhi to apprise Indian leaders of the latest developments in the peace process.

Arafat’s visit in the wake of speculation that Delhi was improving its ties with Tel Aviv at the cost of its traditional Arab ally, helped Indian leaders assure its critics that there was no cause for concern over its policy towards West Asia.

But by maintaining a balanced stand on the volatile situation there, India has driven home a point to the Palestinians that Delhi’s support should not be taken for granted. Indian leaders have expressed disappointment at the failure of Arafat and other Palestinian leaders to condemn Pakistan for its support to cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Even during the Kargil war, Palestine maintained a hands-off policy by asking both parties to show restraint to ensure peace in South Asia.    


 
 
SUPREME COURT BLASTS INJURE 4 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
Three low intensity bombs exploded today at the entrance of Supreme Court, injuring two policemen, one security guard of the court and a vendor.

The security guard posted at the entrance gate sustained eye injuries. Upendra Mohanti, the man found hurling the bombs, was arrested by the police on the spot. He was taken to the Tilak Marg police station for interrogation.

Mohanti, police said, was in his thirties and of unsound mind. The accused said he was denied entry into the court premises on September 24 by the security staff.

Deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Ashok Chand said the blast seemed to be the act of a disgruntled man. A head constable of the Delhi police and a constable of Central Industrial Security Force were also injured.

Police said no motive could be ascertained from him.    


 
 
NORTH-SOUTH GULF ON RAJAN RETURN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
Chhota Rajan’s extradition is leaving home and foreign ministry officials red-faced, though claims of “perfect coordination” between North and South Block and Maharashtra are flying back and forth.

On the ground there is no evidence of any coordination. While North Block claimed Maharashtra had sent the papers “directly” to the external affairs ministry, a foreign office spokesman said he would have to check up.

Asked the rules on routing extradition papers, a foreign ministry spokesman said: “Ask MHA (ministry of home affairs).”

The home ministry had on Saturday blamed the Maharash- tra government in a press statement for not sending it Rajan’s papers.

But rules say that extradition matters have to be processed in North Block before they are passed on to the external affairs ministry for despatch to any foreign country. Given this, the papers should not have been sent directly to the foreign office.

Amid the confusion, a facade of cooperation is being put by North and South Block. But neither has been able to convincingly answer pointed queries.

A home ministry spokesperson said the Centre and state governments were keen to get all criminals abroad extradited and that the Indian government had issued “red-corner” notices against all wanted persons.

As though to buttress its claim, the home ministry said a Mumbai police team was grilling Rajan. But the interrogation is of little use as Rajan cannot be arrested in the absence of an extradition treaty between New Delhi and Bangkok.

The home ministry added that Rajan’s extradition papers were sent directly to the external affairs ministry yesterday and is being examined by South Block. Whether Maharashtra can send extradition papers directly to the external affairs ministry without routing it through the home ministry is another question.

Though Mumbai Police have informed Thai authorities that Rajan’s passport —- he entered Thailand as Vijay Ramakrishna Kadam —- was fake, neither the home nor the foreign office could say for certain that it was not genuine. The passport, number AO930085, was issued from Chennai on May 16, 1996, and is valid till May 15, 2006.

This passport was processed under the file number B13220/96. It gives Kadam’s date of birth as February 5, 1960, and Tamil Nadu address as Mannargudi, 10 Kumaran Street, Ramapuram, Ambattur. Kadam’s spouse is named as Rajeshwari and his father as Ramakrishna Kadam.

In private, home ministry officials indicated the passport was fake. They said it was worth investigating how a passport could be issued without verifying facts.

The home ministry said since the document was issued by a regional passport office, headed by the chief passport officer, the matter should be addressed to the external affairs ministry.

“We are referring it to the MEA,” a North Block spokesman said, adding the thumb impression on the “red corner” notice matched Rajan’s.    


 
 
WHO’S AFRAID OF FUNDS & FREEDOM? TECH SCHOOLS 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
“Autonomy” may spell magic for some politicians, but it is a dirty word in academia.

Teaching staff of engineering colleges do not want autonomy from universities; neither do universities want to free them. But the 700-odd technical institutions in the country will have to stand on their own feet if they want to reap the benefits of a massive World Bank project for upgrading them as “centres of excellence”.

“The programme spread over 10 years involves a sum of Rs 9000 crore,” said M.K. Kaw, secretary, higher education, at a conference on technical education this afternoon.

The World Bank programme aims at total modernisation of technical institutions by revamping the curriculum, improving the quality of teachers and education and upgrading facilities. The human resources development ministry is targeting about 50 institutions in the first phase of the programme.

Any technical institution can join the programme if it meets the eligibility criteria, which include, apart from autonomy, high academic performance, an income-generating potential, the readiness to go in for accreditation and a satisfying record in developing faculty and supporting staff.

The autonomy clause pinches most of all. After the policymakers in the human resources development ministry jotted down the terms of participation in the programme, the state secretaries, fearing repercussions, expressed reservations in one voice about autonomy.

“For the last two years we have been asking our polytechnic institutes to become autonomous. But not one among the 40 institutes has come forward,” said a technical education expert from Punjab.

The director of technical education from Tamil Nadu said university vice-chancellors feel threatened by autonomy.

“Their resistance is both psychological and financial. Giving autonomy to technical institutions would mean giving up their lumpsum revenue from examination fees,” the director said. University authorities also want to retain a full grip on the institutes as a symbol of their power, he added.

If universities are reluctant to abandon their fiefdoms of power, the technical colleges and institutions are no less reluctant to face the full glare of financial and academic freedom. Ashok Chandra, senior official in the human resources development ministry, said they have a point.

Autonomy, in most cases, meant a complete withdrawal of any form of support — financial or otherwise — from the university and the state, stressed Chandra with the directors. “Already battling a severe financial crunch, the institute heads cannot be expected to shoulder the full burden of additional financial responsibilities,” he said.

Today’s conference was an exercise in sounding the states on whether they agree with the approach of the programme.

The secretary of higher education summed up the debate: “Everybody — universities and colleges are opposed to autonomy, though for different reasons.”

Kaw explained autonomy has become a greatly “misunderstood” concept. The success stories from the southern states which have experimented with autonomy have found it greatly to their advantage, he added.

“The All India Council of Technical Education should conduct a campaign to popularise these success stories and dispel misgivings about autonomy,” Kaw said.    


 
 
BJP SEES SHIFT IN EQUATIONS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
The BJP did not rule out the possibility of Jayalalitha’s conviction changing political equations in Tamil Nadu and said it was time for the ADMK’s allies, including the Congress, to review its association with a party whose chief was found guilty of corruption.

BJP vice-president and spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy told the media: “I would not rule out the possibility of political equations changing in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha continues to be the sole life and soul of her party. If she is not able to contest elections because of this verdict, we will have to see how far the morale of her followers and partymen stands the test of this crisis.”

Krishnamurthy remarked that the ruling in the Tansi land deal cases, sentencing Jayalalitha to three years of rigorous imprisonment, had made the ADMK nervous.

This was evident from the sudden postponement of the party’s general council meeting, scheduled to be held today in Chennai.

He maintained that even if Jayalalitha were to appeal to a higher court, the move would not alter the nature of the special court’s verdict, which effecti- vely disqualified her from contesting elections for the next six years.

“At best, her arrest can be stayed but the verdict cannot be set aside,” argued Krishnamurthy.

Commenting on the Congress’ dilemma on whether to continue with the ADMK alliance or not , he said, “The Congress is anyway marginalised in Tamil Nadu. Now it has to decide whether it will jump from the frying pan into the fire.”

Asked to explain why the BJP had sealed an alliance with Jayalalitha in 1998 and took her support to form a government at the Centre, he replied: “When we entered into an agreement with her, there were only charges against her. Getting punished is another thing.”

When it was pointed out that legislators and MPs belonging to the BJP and its allies had contested elections from behind prison bars and even won their seats in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Krishnamurthy said that the situation in Uttar Pradesh cannot be compared with the case of Jayalalitha.    


 
 
JAYA VACUUM SPECTRE HAUNTS HEIRLESS PARTY 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Oct. 10: 
After the reigning deity, it is deluge in Tamil Nadu’s cult politics. As Jayalalitha confronts a possible exile from electoral politics, her party is struggling to come to terms with the sinking realisation that she has not groomed a successor.

Like the late M.G. Ramachandran, her mentor, Jayalalitha had made little effort to keep an inheritor on stand-by in case of a contingency. MGR’s perceived indifference during his last days had plunged the party into a series of squabbles.

The ADMK has started splitting hairs on Jayalalitha’s conviction and three-year prison term yesterday in the Tansi land case, looking for loopholes that could help her dodge the poll contest bar that a sentence of over 2 years invites.

As the party waded through a procedural quagmire, it became evident that neither the party nor its chief had prepared themselves for the eventuality, though clear signals had emerged that the DMK-led government was determined to push ahead with the cases against her.

If Jayalalitha is unable to shake off the disqualification threat, chief minister M. Karunanidhi would not need another weapon to ensure a smooth transfer of power to his son, Stalin. Barring Jayalalitha — loyalties die hard in Tamil Nadu and she is still popular among certain sections — the state has few politicians capable of tapping the anti-Karunanidhi votebank.

In the worst-case scenario, Jayalalitha could have salvaged the situation somewhat by projecting an alternative leader and sharing power from the backroom. Tamil Maanila Congress chief G.K. Moopanar, who has a clean image, could have been an ideal choice. Moopanar had recently moved closer to the ADMK, fuelling speculation that he was anticipating a crisis similar to the current one.

But Jayalalitha had made it clear she was not keen to share power with anyone. She insulted Moopanar recently by proclaiming in his presence that her party was not for any coalition and would form a government by itself. She sought to mend fences later, but the message was unequivocal.

Last evening, the official organ of the ADMK, Namadhu MGR, carried an announcement saying Jayalalitha’s confidante Sasikala has been made a general council member, unwittingly belying the party’s decade-long claims that she is only a personal aide and has no political role or ambitions.

The announcement set rumours flying that Sasikala was going to play an increasingly prominent role in the party and she would contest the Assembly elections. But Sasikala has been handed the same sentence as Jayalalitha — if one stands disqualified, so will be the other.

That leaves only two names — T.T.V. Dinakaran, a notable from the Sasikala clan, and K. Kalimuthu, party chairman. But neither has proved his ability to sway the voters.

Jaya justifies protest

Jayalalitha has justified as “righteous” the widespread protests by her partymen against the verdict and condemned their arrest, adds PTI. “I strongly condemn the action of the Karunanidhi government for indulging in large-scale arrests of the ADMK volunteers engaged in righteous protest after the judgment was delivered,” Jayalalitha said.    

 
 
MEDIATOR GOPAL TURNS JUNGLE GUIDE 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, Oct. 10: 
The emissary has been reduced to a jungle guide with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka dumping Nakkeeran editor R. Gopal and naming a staunch Ta-mil nationalist and two others to negotiate with Veerappan for the release of hostage actor Raj Kumar.

The three men — P. Nedumaran, P. Kalyani and G. Sukumaran — are believed to have been chosen emissaries at the behest of the bandit who sent yet another cassette a few days ago.

Gopal, who has made four trips to the forests since Raj Kumar was kidnapped 72 days ago but returned empty-handed each time, will accompany the team to Veerappan’s hideout, but only to escort the three men through the treacherous terrain.

The journalist will not do the talking this time, but leave it to Nedumaran, a vocal advocate of the LTTE. A PTI report said Gopal is already in Erode where he will be joined by the others later tonight.

Gopal is said to be upset at having been sidelined. But chief minister M. Karunanidhi, sources said, persuaded him to accompany the three as a face-saver for both of them. Karunanidhi had earlier shot down proposals to send other emissaries along with Gopal.

The nomination of the fresh set of negotiators comes a day before the Supreme Court hearing on the release of the Tada prisoners as demanded by Veerappan.

In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to marginalise Gopal, the brigand and his gang are learnt to have insisted that emissaries of their choice be deputed for further talks on the release of the Kannada matinee idol and two of his colleagues. One captive had escaped from the bandit’s clutches last month.

Sources said that Veerappan sent an audio-cassette a few days ago to the Tamil Nadu government, in which he named the men he wanted picked for the job and threatened to break off the negotiations if they were not sent.

Veerappan is said to have remarked that on the last four occasions, Karunanidhi had on his own deputed Gopal to talk to him and he had agreed to receive the Nakkeeran editor out of sheer politeness. Karunanidhi, the brigand adds tongue-in-cheek, could now reciprocate by nominating the men he and his comrades would like to meet.

While Nedumaran heads the Tamil National Movement, the others, both human rights activists, are said to be sympathisers of the nationalist lobby.

Kalyani is a retired college professor and Sukumaran is general secretary of the Pondicherry unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.    

 

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