Crisis, what crisis: Basu
Silent Citu backing for hotel sale
Shocked home disowns crook son
Twin legal steps for gang of five
Mongia shrugs off charge
Probe to check out ISI hand
Sparring partners hug, paper over cracks
Global security under Indo-US scanner
Sonia returns coterie fire
TN turns back on Prasada

 
 
CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS: BASU 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
On the penultimate day of his 23-year regime, chief minister Jyoti Basu ruled out the possibility of a crisis befalling his successor, saying the government will continue to run well after he steps down.

“Though I shall not remain chief minister, the government, led by Buddhadev Bhattacharya, will function smoothly,” Basu said at Writers’ Buildings today.

“Neither the party nor the government will collapse. Wait for six months and you will find us back in power,” he said.

There was a record crowd outside Basu’s chamber today. In the VIP corridor on the first floor, more than 200 visitors were waiting to greet him.

He did not deprive anyone, especially three handicapped to whom he distributed, on behalf of Bikash Bharati Welfare Society, aids and appliances, his last such gesture while in office. This brought a smile to the faces of 12-year-old Abinath Chakraborty, a spastic, Bulbul Aich, a deaf and dumb student and Kakoli Barui, a blind lady.    


 
 
SILENT CITU BACKING FOR HOTEL SALE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 2: 
The CPM and its labour arm, Citu, today made it clear that they were determined to privatise the Great Eastern Hotel and will not yield to pressure from the hotel’s unions, including the one affiliated to Citu.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said the decision to privatise the hotel was taken long ago. There was tacit support from state Citu secretariat member, Kali Ghosh. “Let us see first what the government offers to the employees,” he said.

“It’s not that we have decided to hand it over to the private sector only a couple of days back. Now we are only implementing the decision,” Biswas added.

He said that the hotel was on the government’s list of loss-making organisations. “We are trying to save its employees by handing it over to an international hotel organisation. Our decision will not harm the interests of the employees,” Biswas said.

Asked why the CPM was supporting the move at a time when it planned to launch a nationwide protest against privatisation, Biswas said: “The Centre is trying to privatise the public sector undertakings (PSUs) in order to close them down. But we are not closing down Great Eastern Hotel. We are trying to save the employees by handing it over to a private party. You should not compare our move with that of the Centre.”

Biswas would not attach any importance to the move by the hotel’s Citu unit to oppose the privatisation. Asked whether the Citu will accept the government’s move, Biswas said: “How can I tell what Citu is planning? You ask Citu leaders.”

The hotel’s Citu unit today organised a meeting at the Durbar Hall which was attended by a large number of employees.

Piyush Kanti Roychowdhury, the union leader who presided over the meeting, said the employees were determined to oppose the government’s decision. He also urged them to oppose the move unitedly irrespective of their political identities.

The Citu at the hotel, however, did not plan any other moves. “We are waiting for the government order and after that we will decide on our course of action,” said Pravas Samir Roy, the Citu leader who looks after Great Eastern affairs.

It is learnt that the hotel Citu unit will not go for any “drastic move” until Rajdeo Goala, the unit president, returns to Calcutta from Punjab. He is expected in the city early next week.

Sources said the Citu leadership has contacted the hotel unit and asked it not to launch any violent protest.

Roychowdhury, however, urged Citu members in the hotel to develop unity at the grassroots so they could fight the government’s decision. “We have received tremendous response from all hotel employees and are planning to fight the move unitedly without caring for our political identities”.    


 
 
SHOCKED HOME DISOWNS CROOK SON 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Nov. 2: 
Shamed and shattered, the once proud home of the gentleman cricketer now wants Azharuddin to be stripped of all honours.

“He should return all awards and prizes, including the Arjuna award,” said Tejdip Kaur, a 13-year-old student.

Tejdip’s anguish was shared by most Hyderabadis who feel cheated and want the disgraced former captain to give back to the government all gifts he received, including cars and land.

Azhar continued to remain out of sight, but is said to have spent some time with his children yesterday. Calls at his Jubilee Hills residence received curt replies: “Please do not harass us. We do not know where he is. We also do not know if he is in town. Try Mumbai,” was the standard answer.

Stunned into silence yesterday after the CBI made public Azhar’s confession that he took bribes for fixing matches, Hyderabad woke up in outrage this morning.

Shivlal Yadav, former Test off-spinner who now is the secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), said Azhar should have bowed out in dignity as, after all, he had a glorious career. “He ought to have spoken to the HCA, his parent organisation, instead of confessing to the CBI,” Yadav said.

The cricket association is awaiting instructions from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on what action to take on Azhar’s proposed sports academy. Sources said the government is considering cancelling the allotment of six acres of land to Azhar for the academy.

For the city, the revelations have come as a blow. Azhar’s success was a story Hyderabadis narrated with pride. Born into a lower middleclass family, Azhar started off as a clerk in State Bank of India’s Old MLA Quarters branch. His on-field heroics earned him fame and glory and he was soon promoted as chief manager. He was also director in several cooperative banks and companies.

Many people were surprised that Azhar had admitted taking money from bookies, while other felt his humble beginnings had made him crave for more money.

His relatives and friends said he was advised by moulvis to accept his mistakes rather than compounding them. “This has been Azhar’s second lapse after his divorce and remarriage. His initial denials have made Azhar appear as a compulsive liar,” said Mohammed Bin Abdullah, a fan of the stylish batsman.    


 
 
TWIN LEGAL STEPS FOR GANG OF FIVE 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
The law ministry, which will give its opinion on the match-fixing report in a few days, is likely to recommend two sets of cases against the tainted cricketers.

Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma, who are government employees, can be prosecuted as public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The other three will have to be booked under the Income Tax Act, sources said.

Initially there was confusion about the “status” of the accused — whether they were public servants and if so, “how to prove it”. But the government employees among the cricketers certainly fall under the public servants category, sources said.

“The voluminous CBI report on the scandal has just reached the (law) ministry. We have to tie it along with the income tax reports... to make out a case,” a source said.

Tax raids were conducted on cricketers and bookies across the country and covered almost all the players named in the report.

“Several of these cricketers live in mind-boggling luxury and beyond the known sources of their income,” a ministry source said. “This aspect comes under the Income Tax Act.”

“As public servants, Azhar (chief public relations officer of the State Bank of India in Hyderabad) and other cricketers in similar positions can be prosecuted,” a law ministry source said.

But solicitor-general Harish Salve’s opinion that the evidence was “poor” and “scanty” still “matters”, the source added. “This is precisely why we need to have tax documents and other materials so that if cases under Prevention of Corruption Act or criminal charges under the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code fail, cases under income tax laws could be strengthened.”

“Certainly, a case is made out against all the cricketers but it may not stand the touchstone of the law of evidence of the country. So the income tax angle has become crucial. The ‘booty’ unearthed during raids on cricketers could be assessed and at least a penal tax levied,” a law officer said.

The law ministry believes that in the case involving criminal conspiracy and aiding and abetting the crime, many links in the chain are missing. It may not be possible to trace these links given that the case involves coordination with investigating agencies in several countries.    


 
 
MONGIA SHRUGS OFF CHARGE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Nov. 2: 
The high cane chairs which dot the Cricket Club of India turf in the evenings are somewhat unique. And, so, remain much in demand — from eight-year-olds to eighty. Parked on one such chair today was Nayan Mongia.

With a couple of friends around him, Mongia didn’t look isolated. In fact, he insisted he wasn’t alone in what must rank as his most miserable hour (after being “disciplined” for two matches in late 1994).

“I don’t know why Azhar (Mohammed Azharuddin) has implicated me. He’s talked of three fixed matches (in his deposition before the Central Bureau of Investigation), but I didn’t even play in all three. So, how was I a party to the fixing?” he asked The Telegraph, sounding genuinely incredulous.

But had he spoken to Azhar to, at least, try and get an answer?

“I don’t have his number, but just about everybody else has tried and reached a dead-end. I believe a senior board official, too, couldn’t establish contact,” Mongia replied, adding he was overwhelmed by the “support” provided by his office team (SunGrace Mafatlal) and their opponents (Western Railway) during the on-going Times Shield game here.

“One would normally be devastated but, honestly, I’ve taken it coolly... I intend meeting the board’s top brass, probably later today, and arguing my case... I wasn’t even raided... No one else has made any allegation. What else can I say?” Mongia trailed off.

Few can answer that.    


 
 
PROBE TO CHECK OUT ISI HAND 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
Long before the CBI submitted its report on match-fixing, the home ministry had asked police and security agencies to inquire into alleged links between the tainted cricketers, particularly Mohammed Azharuddin, and the Dawood Ibrahim gang.

North Block wanted to know if any cricketer had connections with Dawood’s gang in Mumbai and whether they were a threat to security. The home ministry believes Dawood and some of his men are agents of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The CBI report, which says Azharuddin “stated during his examination that Abu Salem had rung him up on a couple of occasions to fix matches but he had refused”, has given credence to the home ministry’s suspicions.

Former Indian team physiotherapist Ali Irani, who was a conduit between Azharuddin and the bookies, said the cricketer “had told him once that he was ‘doing’ matches for Anees Ibrahim (Dawood’s younger brother) and hence he could not ‘do’ matches with anyone else”.

The home ministry has taken seriously the CBI’s observation that the “lure of easy money has gradually attracted the underworld into the racket. It seems that it is only a matter of time before major organised gangs take direct control of this racket, a phenomenon that would have implications not only for cricket but for national security as a whole”.

North Block officials said it is worth pursuing whether any of the tainted cricketers had links with members of criminal syndicates close to the ISI. They feel the cricketers may have confessed to fixing matches but “may have been shrewd enough not to disclose their links with international crime lords”.

The general opinion is that the ISI, through Dawood’s gang, could be “using” cricketers as “talent spotters” to tap government officials. At least one of the cricketers named by the CBI may come under surveillance.

“The ISI had penetrated the Mumbai film industry and used a number of actresses as talent spotters in the late Eighties and early Nineties,” an official said. “It is possible even cricketers may have been approached. Susceptibility to accepting money may have led them to work for agencies inimical to the interests of the country.”

The CBI received intelligence inputs on threats to bookie Mukesh Gupta’s life from Dawood’s D-Company and disgruntled elements of the Mumbai underworld which had penetrated the match-fixing and betting racket.

The home and law ministries are consulting each other on the CBI report which was sent to them by the sports ministry for recommendations.

BJP ultimatum to cricket board

The BJP has told the BCCI that if it failed to clean up its act, the Centre would have no choice but to step in to “regulate matters”.

“We feel that the BCCI will have to evolve a regulatory scheme to see that the lure of lucre does not wean away any of our cricketers. It should get them motivated to play for higher purposes,” party spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy said today.

“The BJP does not want governmental interference,” he said. “But if the cricket body fails to regulate itself and bring a good name to the country, there is no other way but for the government to step in.”    


 
 
SPARRING PARTNERS HUG, PAPER OVER CRACKS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. At yesterday’s meeting in Jaipur, the general secretaries of the CPI and the CPM — A.B. Bardhan and Harkishen Singh Surjeet — were seen warmly embracing each other.

Just that morning, Bardhan had read the “abrasive” letter from Surjeet, attacking him for suggesting “unification” of the two Left parties. At the meeting, however, neither Surjeet nor Bardhan touched the skittish subject. They discussed other issues and returned to Delhi.

Surjeet seemed keen not to offend Bardhan too much, though his juniors may not share the sentiment. In the CPI, Bardhan’s junior colleagues were more upset than he, with the “offensive” tone of Surjeet’s letter.

Bardhan too is cut up with the strident tone of the letter. “I will send a reply to Surjeet after consulting my colleagues in the party,” he said.

But his letter will be “mild” though it will remind Surjeet of the time when the CPM was the first to vouch unconditional support to a Sonia Gandhi-led government to halt the BJP’s march to power at the Centre. In his letter to Bardhan, Surjeet charged the CPI with colluding with the Congress in the past.

Bardhan will advise Surjeet that it is better for both parties to bury the past. The CPM also has a chequered past and both general secretaries should steer clear of raking up old controversies.

The CPI is still puzzled at what provoked such a harsh response from Surjeet.

“Bardhan did not say anything he had not said before,” said a party leader. Bardhan himself explained that he never suggested an immediate unification of the two communist parties. What he had said was that “unification” has become an “objective necessity”.

Some Left leaders feel it was Bardhan’s reaction to the CPM’s decision to participate in a Central government that rattled the party. Bardhan, at a press conference had said, it was wrong on the CPM’s part to downplay the amendment in the party programme so that it could join a Central government in future.

CPI leaders believe that regardless of the CPM’s efforts to play down the amendment, the change in para 112 was virtually an “undoing of the historic blunder”.

All through the special conference at Thiruvananthapuram the CPM leadership had dismissed the participation debate as “irrelevant” and Bardhan’s comment on it, some leaders feel, could have led the CPM to react strongly.

The rank and file in the CPI, however, want their general secretary to hit out at the CPM, which has always ‘bullied and browbeaten them.    


 
 
GLOBAL SECURITY UNDER INDO-US SCANNER 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
Riding high on their current bonhomie, India and the US today concluded the first-ever meeting of the Joint Working Group on United Nations peacekeeping operations.

The working group will help the two sides harmonise their positions on strengthening the international security system and activities of the UN.

The two countries already have a Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism and have been meeting regularly to discuss issues like disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and exports control. The working group on peacekeeping is part of this on-going exercise.

The two-day meeting, which ended here this afternoon, discussed both civilian police and military components of present-day peacekeeping operations and laid stress on high standards of professionalism, skill and conduct. It also agreed that UN peacekeeping operations would need to take into account present and future challenges to international peace and security.

The meeting, though it focused on UN peacekeeping, is significant. It indicates the two sides’ keenness to have close contact on important issues, even on those where they have major differences.

That the meeting took place despite the fact that American sanctions imposed after the May 1998 nuclear tests are still in place shows that the two sides are willing to broadbase relations through frequent exchanges on mutually beneficial issues.

In the recent past, India has been critical of America’s effort to despatch multilateral forces, bypassing the UN mandate, to different trouble spots in the world. Delhi has refused to be part of such multilateral efforts or “humanitarian intervention” initiated by Washington in Kosovo, Iraq and other places.

But Delhi also realises that if it has to play a meaningful role in UN activities, it needs the support of the US. This could also pave the way for India’s entry into the Security Council, if and when the UN body comes up for expansion and restructuring.

The decision to broaden cooperation in peacekeeping and other areas of UN activity was taken during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s US visit in September. Both Vajpayee and US President Bill Clinton had agreed that the two sides needed to work together.

“The decision reflects the desire of the two countries to work together to strengthen the international security system, including in the UN, and to support the UN’s peacekeeping efforts,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.    


 
 
SONIA RETURNS COTERIE FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 2: 
In a clear break from tradition, Sonia Gandhi has decided to lead the campaign against challenger Jitendra Prasada in the race for the Congress top post.

With Sonia’s managers going all out to win over disgruntled leaders and fence-sitters, a bitter and murky contest is on the cards.

Prasada has, so far, failed to rustle up any support from influential leaders. Though he’s got the backing of Tariq Anwar, it counts for naught as the Nationalist Congress Party leader cannot swell his support base. Anwar had left the Congress in protest against Sonia’s foreign origins.

Sonia, who has gone to Lakshadweep, today lashed out at her rival.

“Was there not the allegation of a coterie when Prasada was adviser to the Prime Minister and the Congress president?” she said, reacting to Prasada’s charge that she had given rise to a coterie. “I would like him to stop and think how he used to work in those days. Were there not accusations of a coterie around him?”

Prasada was political secretary to both Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao when they held dual charge of prime ministership and AICC chief.

In a point-by-point response to Prasada’s charge that the coterie was calling the shots, she said all vital decisions were taken through consensus. The AICC chief also disagreed with the view that she was the first member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to have been challenged from within the Congress.

Sonia said that after her 1977 defeat, Indira Gandhi was removed from the party. She also pointed at the “conspiracy” hatched by some Congressmen in 1987 against Rajiv Gandhi to topple his government with the help of then President Giani Zail Singh.

Sonia’s remarks are significant as they mark a shift from Congress traditions where the incumbent president refrained from joining issues with the challenger. The late Sitaram Kesri had maintained a studied silence despite constant provocations from rivals Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. Kesri had tamed them with huge margins.

But though Prasada has failed to get any support from within the Congress, Sonia is leaving nothing to chance. Sources say dissidents and fence-sitters never had it so good with regard to easy access to the leadership.

In the last few days, Sonia has met a number of leaders who were seen as sympathisers of Prasada. She also spoke to V.C. Shukla on phone.    


 
 
TN TURNS BACK ON PRASADA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Nov. 2: 
He came and went back, without meeting anyone. The much-awaited launch of rebel Congress leader Jitendra Prasada’s election campaign from Sriperumbudur proved a non-starter today as most local leaders avoided him.

It was clear from Day One that Prasada would be unwelcome at the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Though faction leaders remained at each other’s throats, they took care to swear their fealty to “madam” Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress, which is yet to recover from G.K. Moopanar’s revolt, has no leader with a mass base. Hence state leaders, who can only hope to survive with the high command’s blessings, will not dare to antagonise the powers-that-be.

But Sonia’s managers did not take any chance. On the eve of Prasada’s visit, all senior dissident leaders — K.V. Thangabalu, Tindivanam Ramamurthy and M. Arunachalam — were summoned to the capital for “discussions”.

The rebel leaders had ganged up against Tamil Nadu party chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan. They had come out jointly against “the flawed electoral processes” and charged that Elangovan and his “real boss”, former Union Minister R. Prabhu, and Mani Shankar Aiyer had conspired to nominate their own men as election officers.

The dissidents had warned that they would not accept anyone chosen through rigged elections. But in case the high command turned down their demand, “we won’t quit the Congress..we’ll continue to fight from inside…”

They were hijacked by the high command. There was not a single important leader to receive Prasada he arrived at the airport. Only Seva Dal leader Harikumar was there.

Prasada despaired at the news conference. “Why should they run away scared? I can’t force them to vote for me…I didn’t intend to…”

He went to the Rajiv Gandhi memorial at Sriperumbudur with some of his Uttar Pradesh colleagues in tow and returned to Chennai for the news conference where he reiterated that he had nothing personal against Sonia. He said he was only raising some issues and would not withdraw from the contest at any cost.    

 

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