Supreme Court blow to hostage states
Nedumaran skips rescue mission
‘Blackmailer’ Bharti berth angers BJP
Hill cry against outsiders
Party protests Marandi choice
Jharkhand home lies in ruins
Not on the list, but most wanted
Gujarat eye-opener to Bank
Kanishka pilot widow overcomes stigma
Sonia snaps Prasada lifeline

 
 
SUPREME COURT BLOW TO HOSTAGE STATES 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
The Supreme Court today blocked the move by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments to release comrades of Veerappan in exchange for hostage star Raj Kumar and castigated the two states for “complicity” with the bandit.

“No court of law can be party to this deceit and camouflage,” the bench of Justice S.P. Bharucha, Justice D.P. Mohapatra and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal said while quashing the Mysore trial court’s order freeing the 51 prisoners facing charges under Tada.

The apex court, however, made it clear that the ruling will not prevent the accused persons from appealing for bail as their cases progress.

Writing the main judgment, Justice Bharucha again lashed out at the two states for their inability to nab the smuggler-poacher. “On about 16,000 acres of forest land, half in Karnataka and half in Tamil Nadu, a man named Veerappan has held sway for more than 10 years... (the special task forces of the two states) have been unable to apprehend him and unable to bring him to justice.”

Coming down heavily on the governments for bowing to Veerappan’s diktat, the bench said: “The way the applications were made for dropping of Tada charges against 160 accused, including Veerappan, before the designated court in Mysore shows it was a package deal.

“The deal was that Tada charges will be dropped and then the 51 accused, who are in judicial custody, will file bail applications which will not be opposed. This showed the government’s complicity with the accused.”

The judgment came on a petition challenging the release of the prisoners from the father of a police inspector who was killed in an encounter with Veerappan’s gang in 1992.

Apart from Veerappan, 160 people were named accused in the murder. Fifty-one of them are still behind bars facing Tada charges while the rest are either out on bail or could not be apprehended. The brigand has also demanded the release of five Tamil separatists jailed in Tamil Nadu.

The ruling is a blow to the governments which are under mounting pressure to secure the release of Raj Kumar, who has been in captivity for 100 days.

The court said there was no guarantee that the bandit will set free Raj Kumar even after his supporters are released.

“It seems to us for certain that Veerappan will continue with his life of crime and (it is) very likely that those crimes will have anti-national objectives,” the bench added.

Again voicing apprehensions over Veerappan’s links with secessionists, the judges said: “If democratically elected governments give an impression to the citizens of this country of being law breakers, it would breed contempt for law and invite citizens to become a law unto themselves...governments have to consider and balance the choice between maintenance of law and order and anarchy.”    


 
 
NEDUMARAN SKIPS RESCUE MISSION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Nov. 7: 
Efforts to rescue abducted Kannada actor Raj Kumar suffered another setback with Tamil nationalist leader P. Nedumaran today opting out of meeting brigand Veerappan. Nedumaran took strong objection to Tamil Maanila Congress legislature party leader S. Balakrishnan demanding his arrest in the Assembly.

“If I am so much of a threat to national security, I’d rather not go at all…I’m opting out of the mission altogether. Let Balakrishnan himself go to the forests as an emissary and rescue Raj Kumar,” Nedumaran said. Balakrishnan had called upon the government to prevent Nedumaran from meeting Veerappan again and asked that he be arrested.

He feared that Nedumaran and the other emissaries, who sa-luted the “Tamil flag” in Veerappan’s hideout last time, would further his agenda. Allowing him to forge links with the bandit would strengthen the secessionist forces, which are demanding a Tamil nation, he said.    


 
 
‘BLACKMAILER’ BHARTI BERTH ANGERS BJP 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
The BJP took exception to Uma Bharti being rewarded with a Cabinet berth. Giving her a ministry was placing a premium on “indiscipline, tantrum-throwing and blackmailing”, the party felt.

Several partymen privately agreed that the boost to Bharti’s “whimsical” brand of politics was an “unhealthy” trend. While most expected Bharti to get the status of a minister of state with independent charge, the elevation to a Cabinet rank surprised them.

“The message is clear: those who work hard without making a noise cannot expect to get a position of consequence. But if a person sulks and screams, he or she is bound to get noticed by the powers that be and is suitably rewarded for fear they may create trouble,” a source said, referring to the Sadhvi’s periodic threats to “withdraw” from politics and retire.

Bharti’s warning that if she was not given a Cabinet post, she would not campaign for the BJP in the Assembly elections next year seems to have got her the job. There were also reports that she was planning to instigate backward caste MLAs in Uttar Pradesh against the upper caste leadership in the state. A couple of backward caste ministers had spoken out openly against Rajnath Singh and demanded that the “oppressed classes” must also be represented more “fairly” in the BJP’s scheme.

Already rattled by Kalyan Singh’s appeal among the Lodhs and other backward sections, the BJP leadership was desperately searching for an “OBC face” to take him on. In their reckoning, Bharati, also a Lodh, was the suitable candidate.

In her earlier ministerial stints, the Sadhvi had not exactly steeped herself in glory. The first time the Vajpayee government was sworn in, she sulked at being made her bete noire Murli Manohar Joshi’s deputy and did not attend office for months on end.

Bharti herself had described her daily routine then as one involving long hours of puja, a leisurely bath, pottering about in her garden, playing with her dog, topped with a long stay in Kedarnath. “If I can have this kind of a life with the perks of power, what is my problem?” she reportedly said.

The second time, Uma was appeased with the post of a minister of state with independent charge. But sources close to her claimed she did not find tourism “weighty” enough. She did little apart from making a spirited speech on India to NRIs from the UK, proving a big hit in London and promising to convert Ayodhya and Mathura into tourist resorts.

But she suddenly resigned as tourism minister to plunge herself full-time into Madhya Pradesh politics, thinking chief minister Digvijay Singh’s decision to sack daily-wagers en masse was an “opportune” moment to “wage a war” for the poor and oppressed. Her real intention was to take advantage of the leadership vacuum in the Madhya Pradesh BJP and position herself as a potential chief minister, sources said.

But the gamble failed when the well-entrenched Sunderlal Patwa-Lakshminarayan Pande axis scotched her ambition and almost sabotaged her plan to hold an indefinite fast against Digvijay. A dejected Uma returned to Delhi and found herself out of job.    


 
 
HILL CRY AGAINST OUTSIDERS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Dehradun, Nov. 7: 
Uttaranchal will be born on Thursday but the hills are unlikely to fall silent in a hurry. Thirteen organisations which led the campaign for a separate state are rallying forces for Round Two.

“What the Centre has given us is what we don’t want or could do without. We are not just agitating for a new state, we are fighting for our pride and dignity. The Uttaranchal Bill doesn’t talk about our major demands,” Kamal Pant, president of the Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, said. She held a Savdhan rally today at Dehradun’s historic Gandhi Park.

Echoing her, Col (retd.) Ganga Singh Rawat, head of Uttarakhand Purv Sainik Sangathan, said it is farcical that Uttaranchal will have a Governor from Punjab and a chief minister from Haryana. “After years of struggle, the least we ask for is Paharis as heads of our state. What do they take us for?” he asked.

With Nityanand Swami being billed as the state’s first chief minister, the agitation has got another salvo to fire at the Centre. “As if Barnala being the Governor is not enough, we now have Nityanand as our chief minister. We will not accept the decision,” said Puran Singh Lingwal of the Sangharsh Samiti.

The Uttarakhandis are also peeved at the Centre’s decision to make Dehradun the capital of the new state. “It is absolutely not feasible. We want Gairsain as the capital for rational reasons,” said Jan Chetna Manch’s Narendra Singh. The Uttarakhandis contend that Gairsain should be chosen as it lies at the centre of the state, between Garhwal and Kumaon.

The agitation will continue till Gairsain is made the capital of Uttaranchal, said the participants at the Savdhan rally.

Uttarakhandis demand a complete say in the management of three “Js” that nurtures the economy of Uttaranchal — jal, jungle and jamin.

Though Uttaranchal has ceased to be a part of Uttar Pradesh, the latter continues to have control over most of the hill state’s resources.

The protestors also want “absolute transparency in all departments” of the government. “We don’t want to be like the other states,” said M.N. Banduni of the Uttarakhand Poorv Sainik Sangathan, adding: “We will not rest until politicians and public servants declare their assets. We also want all land transactions in the last 20 years to be made public.”    


 
 
PARTY PROTESTS MARANDI CHOICE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Ranchi, Nov. 7: 
The race for the Jharkhand chief minister’s post turned bitter with a section of the BJP MPs and MLAs locking horns with the high command for nominating Babulal Marandi as chief minister.

The discontent came out in the open as some BJP MPs and MLAs publicly flayed the decision and urged Karia Munda, who was offered a minister’s post at the Centre, not to take oath.

“Please take sanyas from politics, Munda,” his supporters said in a faxed message from here. Among those who expressed unhappiness over the decision is BJP Jharkhand unit president Dukha Bhagat. “Karia Munda is the seniormost leader of the party and he deserved it,” Bhagat said.

All the six BJP MLAs from the Khunti parliamentary constituency, which Munda represents, have threatened to agitate if he is given a “raw deal”. “I don’t know the sin I have committed for which the Central leadership is depriving me of of the opportunity to serve the state,” Munda said. But he said he would not defy the party line.

Munda, who is serving his sixth term as MP from Khunti, was a minister in the 13-day-old Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998. But he was was not made a minister when Vajpayee came to power for the second time in 1999. There has been resentment in the Ranchi BJP ever since.

What has added salt to his wounds is that Munda has been offered the portfolio given up by Marandi, who is considerably junior. The BJP chose Munda to appease the Santhal leadership as JMM(S) leader Shibu Soren is out of the NDA.

Soren reached Patna today to rustle up the numbers to stake claim to form a government.

During his meeting with RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav this morning, Soren told him how he was promised the chief minister’s post and dumped. “I never made false promises and I was opposing the BJP brand of new statehood,” Laloo told Soren. Soren regretted his decision to go with the NDA in March this year.

Laloo said the RJD was in favour of Soren becoming the chief minister. The RJD leader said he believed that a “truly secular party” could serve the interest of Jharkhand where tribals and large number of people from the minority communities live.

Soren will also meet the Congress, the Left and the RJD MLAs to seek their support.    


 
 
JHARKHAND HOME LIES IN RUINS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Ulihatu, Nov. 7: 
As the tribals of south Bihar get ready to celebrate their greatest victory, the place where it all started over a century ago lies uncared for, a victim of politicians’ perfidy.

Nestled on a steep hill around 70 km from Ranchi, the would-be capital of Jharkhand, the village of Ulihatu was the centre of a massive mass movement of tribals led by Birsa Munda in the closing years of the 19th century. Martyred in 1900, Birsa became the “God and Prophet” of the Jharkhand struggle which began in 1967.

The state will be formally born on November 15, Birsa’s birthday.

What ought to have become a pilgrimage centre for tribals has been reduced to a footnote. Nothing in this remote and extremely backward hamlet evokes any sense of history despite the promises of motley politicians over the years.

The village is cut off from the rest of the world as the two bridges over the “Burrah Nadi” that separates the “holy hamlet” from the rest of the tribal world have not been repaired. There are no motorable roads to the village. Cars can come up to Seiko, a small colony in Khunti. After that, it’s a 10-km trek along the steep and circuitous roads snaking around the mountains.

“We have been hoodwinked by politicians who used Birsa’s name for votes but did nothing to offer the tribals a fundamental right: to preserve their history. The promises of turning Ulihatu into a tourism centre are a big hoax,” fumes Purna Prakash Purti, local postmaster and one of Birsa’s descendants.

Laloo Yadav had visited the village in 1995, when he was still chief minister, just before the Assembly elections.

As his helicopter had touched down, the tribals had welcomed him with their traditional hospitality. Laloo’s words held out hope for the people as he inaugurated a small, brick house built at the site where Birsa’s cottage once stood and from where he was picked up by the British, never to return again.

Neither did Laloo.

Re-elected to Bihar’s throne, the messiah of the backwards found little time for the tribals, and with the law catching up soon after, the promises remained just that.

The house that he inaugurated was to have become a memorial library. Five years on, all that’s there is a small statue of Birsa. The shelves are barren: not a single book has been purchased. Adjacent to the house is a tin plate listing the promises made by Laloo: a high school, a library, a maternity centre and a motorable road.    


 
 
NOT ON THE LIST, BUT MOST WANTED 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
Welcome to the Taj Mahal, brought to you by Pepsi. Or, how about the Wills Taj Mahal?

Companies are queuing up to donate to the National Culture Fund set up by the Centre’s department of culture for the upkeep and “adoption” of major national monuments.

Not surprisingly, most companies want to associate themselves with the Taj Mahal. But the Centre is fighting shy, lest it kicks up a storm of allegations.

“That (the Taj) is one place we are extremely careful about. We do not want any company to give the image that it is ‘sponsoring’ the Taj,” said an official of the human resources development ministry.

But the enquiries keep pouring in, particularly after the National Culture Fund invited participation by companies to develop facilities at other national monuments. Some of them — like the Taj — are on the list of 16 World Heritage Sites in India.

“The Taj Mahal is not on the list of monuments that we would like companies to ‘adopt’. But inevitably most enquiries are on the Taj,” said a ministry official. “Also, we are aware that whatever the funds crunch at the Centre, there will never be a shortage of funds for the upkeep of the Taj. Institutions from the world over will want to be associated with it.”

The political symbolism that will undoubtedly be read into any attempt to rope in the corporate sector to develop the surroundings of the Taj is, however, less of a gamble when it comes to ‘adoption’ of other monuments.

The National Culture Fund was established in 1996 as a funding mechanism “distinct from the existing sources and patterns of funding for the arts and culture in India”. But only this year has the initiative met with the kind of response the ministry was seeking.

Donations to the fund, which are exempt from tax, are used for landscaping surroundings, setting up museums, information centres, revival of fountains, opening cafeteria and improving tourist facilities. In exchange, the companies get advertising space — the quantum of which is decided by a committee comprising the Archaeological Survey of India and culture department representatives. Most of the companies that are adopting monuments are from the hospitality sector.

The rush to ‘adopt’ monuments picked up in June this year. In Delhi, the Jantar Mantar is likely to be ‘adopted’ by the Apeejay Group’s Park Hotel. The Intercontinental hotel is keen to adopt the tomb of Safdarjung.

The Oberoi Group is investing about Rs 30 lakh in illuminating Humayun’s tomb, a World Heritage Site. The Aga Khan Foundation and the Indo-British 50th Anniversary Trust will spend about Rs 1.5 crore to revive the waterworks in the precincts of the monument. Work on the tomb is being carried out according to a plan drafted by the ASI.

The Red Fort is to be adopted by the Hotel Association of North India after Hyatt, which was initially keen on the job, shied away. The association is also likely to develop other monuments in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, such as the Mehtab Gardens.

Indian Oil Corporation’s foundation is adopting eight major monuments — the Qutb Minar complex, the Khajuraho temples complex (in Madhya Pradesh), the Nalanda Buddhist university ruins (in Bihar), Sarnath (in Uttar Pradesh), Vattakottai (in Tamil Nadu), the Kanheri caves (in Mumbai, Maharashtra), Rani ki Vav (Patan, Gujarat) and the Hampi temples (in Karnataka) — for which Indian Oil has asked the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, to draft a project for Rs 13 lakh.

Among the monuments for which the National Culture Fund is seeking partners are the Ajanta and Ellora caves (Maharashtra), the Hemis Monastery (Ladakh), Chittorgarh Fort (Rajasthan), Sanchi Stupa complex (Madhya Pradesh), Bekal Fort (Kerala), Bridhiswara Temple (Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu), churches and convents in Goa, the Tomb of Sheikh Chilli (Kurukshetra, Haryana), Unakoti (Tripura), the Dimapur Fort (Nagaland), the Stone Memorial of Narsiang (Meghalaya) and the remains of Bhishmak Nagar (Arunachal Pradesh).    


 
 
GUJARAT EYE-OPENER TO BANK 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Nov. 7: 
The World Bank agrees that common effluents treatment plants (CETP) have failed to solve the problem of industrial pollution.

The admission comes two weeks after Greenpeace activists, supported by community groups from south Gujarat, forcibly closed a World Bank-funded treatment plant in Vapi, saying it was a “polluting” unit.

After the direct action in Vapi, during which the environmentalists shut down the discharge of poisonous wastewater from the plant, more than 2,500 green workers from around the world have sent e-mail petitions to chief minister Keshubhai Patel and the World Bank, calling for a moratorium on polluting industries.

World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn, in response to a yet-to-be-released Greenpeace report called Deadly Investments, wrote to the organisation on November 1, saying he agreed with its assessment that “CETPs are the pollution, not the solution”.    


 
 
KANISHKA PILOT WIDOW OVERCOMES STIGMA 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Nov. 7: 
Life as the widow of a suspected mass murderer has not been easy for Amarjit, widow of Captain S.S. Bhinder, co-pilot on the Kanishka aircraft.

Bhinder was the principal suspect in the bombing that killed all 329 people on board — till Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were arrested by the Canadian police last month.

“Something has happened at last,” Amarjit said, wiping away tears from her eyes. “For years, I have lived with the stigma that my husband could have been involved. I have had to hear a lot of things from people, total strangers at that. I have lived through hell. I have lived only for my children, tried to play father to them,” she added.

The Air-India flight had blown up mid-air on June 23, 1985, off the coast of Ireland.

“The people responsible for the terrible tragedy, whoever they are, should be punished. Justice should be meted out. For the last one-and-a-half years, I have been reading reports that the case launched by the Canadian authorities would reach its logical conclusion. I have been waiting for the last 15 years,” Amarjit said.

“I was 36 when the whole world collapsed around me. I had two children, daughter Jasleen and son Ashamdeep. My daughter was ten-and-a-half years old and my son just eight. They had no idea what had happened. They used to cry whenever I would break down. But both had the courage to face the tragedy. Seeing them made me stronger,” she recalled.

The children have stuck to their father’s profession in different ways. Ashamdeep will soon be flying a commercial airliner while Jasleen has married a pilot who works for a foreign airlines. “Jasleen, too, wanted to become a pilot but gave up the idea before getting married to a pilot,” Amarjit said.

Recounting the first few months after the crash, Amarjit said: “There was the fear that I could be put into jail or interrogated as my husband was a Sikh and memories of Operation Bluestar were still fresh in the memories of the people. But I must admit that I was never troubled by government agencies. It seems now that they knew all along that a bomb had been planted in the aircraft and my husband had no role to play in any conspiracy to blow up the aircraft in mid-air. I have never been troubled.”

Amarjit is Air India’s manager for Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and is based in Chandigarh.

“I had applied for a job in Air India after the incident and was made assistant manager after eight months, in February 1986. The organisation has been very good to me. Nobody has ever made me feel that I got the job after a tragedy that hurt Indians. I had no job experience then. I was just a pampered housewife. But that did not matter. Every employee helped me get along with life. And now, along with the news that some people have been charged with planting a bomb in the ill-fated aircraft, I have been summoned by my seniors for a promotion interview,” she added.

Amarjit, however, admitted that there is pressure on her from friends and relatives not to speak to the media. “I am not saying anything except that justice should be meted out to those who planted the bomb in the aircraft. I know how it feels. I was just 36 then with two small children...,” she said.

Accusing the media of jumping to conclusions about her husband’s role in the crash, Amarjeet said: “A lot of things were written, hinting at my husband’s involvement in the incident. But the media seemed to forget that my husband fought the 1965 and 1971 wars for the country. He was very patriotic and even his decision to join Air India stemmed from that. He could have joined any other airline but opted for Air India. Will the media apologise to me now? No one else but the media questioned my husband’s patriotism towards his own country,” she alleged.

Amarjit, along with her children, continues to visit the spot in Ireland where a memorial has been built for the crash victims.

“We go there to pray for the souls of all those killed. It was not just a tragedy for me but for all those whose near and dear ones died then. My prayers are for all of them,” she said.    


 
 
SONIA SNAPS PRASADA LIFELINE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 7: 
Sonia Gandhi today dealt a blow to rival Jitendra Prasada, delinking election of the state party unit chiefs from the Congress presidential poll on November 12.

Faced with a possibility of internal “sabotage”, Sonia-managers are leaving nothing to chance. In the faction-ridden Congress, the election of the PCC presidents could have given Prasada a foothold to emerge as the rallying point for disgruntled leaders.

Now Sonia can use the state chiefs’ bait as carrots to drum up more support for her candidature.

Prasada cried foul, accusing the leadership of resorting to unfair means. “All efforts are being made to throttle my election,” he said.

The rebel leader alleged that the list of delegates was being frequently altered and addresses of the party delegates from 17 states were being withheld from him.

Sonia, however, found an excuse in the Central Election Authority, a supposedly independent body headed by the genial Ram Niwas Mirdha.

Mirdha sought to downplay today’s development while admitting that there were “some changes” in the poll schedule due to “logistics”.

He meant that the election of PCC chiefs has been deferred in states where a contest was on the cards. As a large number of state units are set to authorise Sonia to pick the new state chiefs, the “problem states” will be dealt later on.

The decision to postpone election of the PCC chiefs was taken at a meeting convened by Mirdha.

State returning officers, hand-picked by Sonia, spoke in one voice pointing at numerous difficulties in holding polls of the national chief, PCC presidents and AICC members.

“We hardly have resources and the infrastructure to deal with such a gigantic task,” a state returning officer said, adding that in the absence of any law enforcing agency, the task was much more challenging.

“We only have a moral police to ensure free and fair polls,” he said.

While the contest for the top party post appears to be fairly one-sided, the Sonia camp is still wary of some leaders who held important positions in the Narasimha Rao regime. As the votes will be mixed before counting, the leadership will not be able to get the state-wise break-up and nail down culprits.

The leadership has got some feedback that some regional satraps were in touch with each other to reduce the victory margin so that Sonia is forced to remove some of the leaders around her.

Sonia today summoned Vidya Charan Shukla from Madhya Pradesh to Delhi. Shukla has been sulking since Ajit Jogi was installed as chief minister of Chhattisgarh.

Jogi and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh want the leadership to crack the whip following the October 31 incident when Digvijay was beaten up by a mob at Shukla’s Raipur residence.

Party sources, however, said that Sonia would not take any extreme step unless Shukla rebels.    

 

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