Jittery police brace for long-haul mobster chase
Cadre chafe at truce call, brass in line
Democracy sermon to CPM
Sangh digs up Indian link in America find
‘Eyewash’ slur on govt
New-year birth for CWC avatar
Taj entangled in Friday fare fracas

 
 
JITTERY POLICE BRACE FOR LONG-HAUL MOBSTER CHASE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Nov. 25: 
Mumbai police today readied for renewed gang war as officers despaired of ever trapping notorious gangster Chhota Rajan, who escaped from the guarded fourth-floor Bangkok hospital room yesterday.

“We finally got a chance to catch him, but lost that,” police commissioner M.N. Singh said. “It will be a tough task to trace him again.”

Singh said police apprehended gangland violence in the commercial capital because the Rajan gang was likely to take revenge on Dawood Ibrahim associates for the attempt on Rajan’s life in Bangkok on September 15.

“Rajan will try to settle scores with his attackers now that he has escaped,” Singh said, adding that the police had tightened vigil in different areas in the city.

After lying low for a while since the attempt on Rajan’s life, his hitmen struck early this month when they killed a Mumbai hotelier, a former Rajan associate, on suspicion he had tipped the Dawood gang about Rajan’s whereabouts in the Thai capital.

Rajan made a dramatic getaway in the early hours of yesterday, escaping through his fourth-floor hospital room window, using a bedsheet as a rope.

“It has to be an inside job,” a senior official said. “How could he have escaped had at least some of the policemen on watch not collaborated with him?”

The official said the Thai police were also not forthcoming with the details of his escape.

A member of the investigating team said there was evidence that Rajan used rock-climbing gear. “The climbing rope was used and we found several pieces of climbing gear such as hooks at the site,” he said. At least two of the seven guards face disciplinary hearings, adds Reuters.

Rajan’s lawyer Sirichai Piyapichetkul today said in Bangkok that the mobster used the emergency exit at the hospital to escape after paying 25 million baht to a “two-star” Thai officer, adds PTI.

Another official suspected that the Thai police might have let the gangster go at the end of a 70-day deadline yesterday for giving evidence. “He may have been allowed to leave the country after the deadline was over.”

Officials said they were not happy with the Centre’s role in the episode. “The Union home and external affairs ministries have a lot to answer for.”

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the responsibility for Rajan’s escape rested with the Centre because “they have been directly dealing with Thai authorities”.

Bhujbal, who is home minister, said the CBI should try to track down the gangster with the help of Interpol.

The Centre, however, denied it was linked with Rajan’s escape yesterday, reports UNI. “There is no truth in these conjectures or accusations… The reports in question seem to be a mischievous attempt on the part of vested interests to misguide the people,” an official statement said.    


 
 
CADRE CHAFE AT TRUCE CALL, BRASS IN LINE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
BJP president Bangaru Laxman’s reiteration that the Centre will not be cowed down by efforts to sabotage the peace initiative in Kashmir is clear indication that despite the disquiet among the party cadre, the top brass are determined to fully back the ceasefire.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s declaration of ceasefire has reportedly not gone down well with the BJP rank and file.

When the party was in the Opposition it was used to calling bandhs in Delhi or Jammu even when a stray killing took place, a Delhi leader grumbled. “Now despite the killing of five truckers in Srinagar and the kidnapping and murder of five others in Doda after the ceasefire was announced, we have been forced to preach restraint,” he said.

Delhi BJP sources also maintained that with the Shiv Sena going to town over the killings, their own cadre were apprehensive that the Sena was one up on the BJP in the eyes of the Hindutva constituency.

“It nearly happened after the Babri masjid demolition. The Sena was upfront about it and Bal Thackeray proudly took credit for the demolition. The BJP, which spent years building up the Ram temple issue, suddenly shied away from owning up its role,” a source said.

“If the mandir-masjid issue was suspect, why did our leaders take it up? The same thing is going to be repeated with Kashmir,” he said.

A senior BJP leader involved in parliamentary affairs admitted that priorities had changed now that the party was in power. “It is the image of the BJP and the Prime Minister that has to be built up carefully so that people remember our government even after five years. It is not George Fernandes or Murli Manohar Joshi’s individual achievements which will be remembered, but what Vajpayee did.”

The Kashmir and Pakistan initiatives are seen as part and parcel of this image build-up for the Prime Minister. “If a lasting solution is eventually found in Kashmir, it will be to Vajpayee’s credit entirely. A small price may have to be paid. After all Sant Longowal was killed shortly after the Punjab accord was signed, but at least the move paved the way for peace and normality in the state,” the leader said.

Within the BJP, there was a feeling that so far the Vajpayee government had done nothing to “distinguish” itself from its predecessors, apart from offering a relatively stable coalition in its second stint in office.

“All of Vajpayee’s predecessors symbolise one major achievement: Nehru is remembered for enunciating the principles of Panchsheel and non-alignment, Indira Gandhi for bank nationalisation, the abolition of privy purses and the liberation of Bangladesh, Rajiv Gandhi for introducing panchayati raj and Narasimha Rao for ushering in economic reforms. Vajpayee too must leave his imprint in history,” a source said.    


 
 
DEMOCRACY SERMON TO CPM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
West Bengal tourism minister Manab Mukherjee today obliquely cautioned his party leadership against following a dictatorial path.

“Lenin is no more and Mao Ze dong is dead. There is no single socialist model that the party leadership can claim to espouse as the only one,” said Mukherjee.

One of the younger ministers in the state Cabinet, Mukherjee is known to be close to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as well as dissident leaders like Subhas Chakraborty, Gautam Deb and Samir Putatunda.

Mukherjee did not shy away from airing his view on expelled party MP Saifuddin Chaudhury. “I would love to have Saifuddin back in the party. He was one of my political mentors. But I feel that the path he is treading at the moment is not correct.”

Mukherjee pointed out that the Soviet Union was dead and the days of one-party rule were over. The CPM leadership, therefore, must learn to respect divergent views within the party.

“There is difference of opinion within the party and the special conference at Thiruvananthapuram proved that,” the minister said. He added that the “multiple views cannot be shoved aside”.

Mukherjee’s remarks indicated that the struggle between the “pro-changers” and the “no changers” in the CPM was far from over.

At the Thiruvananthapuram conference, Mukherjee had said that the CPM’s immediate task was to combat the danger from the BJP and the Trinamul Congress. “We will have a lot of time to discuss issues of democracy once we can ward off the danger from the Trinamul,” he had said.    


 
 
SANGH DIGS UP INDIAN LINK IN AMERICA FIND 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
Who discovered America? Christopher Columbus, of course. Says who? counters the RSS.

The Sangh’s obsession with all things Indian has now crossed continental barriers. Columbus, argues the RSS, was just another explorer who happened to visit the Americas in 1492.

So, who pray discovered the Americas? It’s the Indians, stupid.

“There is proof of images of Indian art in the temples of the Aztecs (in Mexico) which prove that Indians had already been there,” preaches Hindutva — A view and a way of life, a booklet brought out by the Sangh as part of its two-month-long Rashtriya Jagran campaign to familiarise non-believers with the saffron ideology.

The booklet has a section called The Supremacy of Hindu View in which the Sangh argues that behind every original invention, idea and discovery in any sphere — be it physics, mathematics or geography — is an Indian.

Even the “so-called” Pythagoras theorem is an anomaly. The RSS is convinced that one of mathematics’ most enduring and famous theories was mentioned in the Sulva Sutras, which were laid down long before Pythagoras’ birth in circa 582 BC.

The questions flow thick and fast. Samples: Who discovered the sea route to India? It wasn’t Vasco da Gama. The theory according to RSS is that the Portuguese explorer’s ship was towed from Africa to Calicut by an Indian sailor. The Indian ship was many times bigger than that of Da Gama’s.

Indians, according to the great Sangh theory, even beat the Japs and the Yanks to the computers, by centuries. “The concept of binary numbers used by computers for all calculations existed in the Hindu scriptures thousands of years ago. A number in binary format is either 1 (it exists) or 0 (it does not exist). All numbers are combinations of 1 and 0. Our Upanishads say, ‘All creation is a combination of existence (1) or non-existence (0).”’

In its endeavour to propagate its Hindu-centric worldview and make Hindutva sound politically correct, the RSS has garnered support from a motley of icons, ranging from Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to the more predictable ones like Gandhi, Yehudi Menuhin and Swami Vivekananda.

The creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, known for his irreverence, is invoked reverentially by the Sangh. The booklet quotes Mark Twain as describing India as “the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great-grandmother of tradition”. Never mind if Twain’s description itself was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.    


 
 
‘EYEWASH’ SLUR ON GOVT 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
A lawyer, who has moved a public interest petition in Delhi High Court against a multi-crore scam in the purchase of safety cranes for the railways, today accused the Centre of filing an inadequate affidavit, calling it an “eyewash”.

Advocate Vivek Khare, on whose petition the court issued notices to the railway ministry, told reporters that the Centre justified ordering cranes of lesser capacity, pleading that Indian tracks could not bear a crane speed of more than 60 km per hour.

But, he pointed out, that “even the first fast track Rajdhani introduced in India between Howrah and Delhi in 1969 could bear a speed of more than 160 km per hour”.

In its affidavit, the railway ministry had denied that the cranes supplied by a German firm were not performing satisfactorily, saying that the speed of the cranes depended on the track on which they ran. It sought to project that the rail tracks were bad.    


 
 
NEW-YEAR BIRTH FOR CWC AVATAR 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
A “new-look” Congress Working Committee (CWC) will be elected in the first week of January during a day-long AICC session to be held in Delhi. Sonia Gandhi today converted the existing CWC into the steering panel as per provisions of the party constitution.

Congress sources said in view of the Assembly polls in February, the party plenary will be held in April to ratify organisational polls and other amendments to the party constitution. It is for the first time that the election of the CWC and party plenary is being delinked.

There are indications that many of the old guard may not find a place in the apex decision-making body as the new CWC is expected to be Sonia’s “shadow Cabinet.” The AICC issued a statement on behalf of Sonia, saying: “Consequent upon the election of the Congress president, in terms of provisions of Article 15, the Congress president has converted the existing working committee into the steering committee.”

For the time being, Sonia has retained all AICC bearers. She has also discovered a via-media for loyalist Ambika Soni who had stepped down as general secretary to take on challenger Jitendra Prasada. A Sonia aide said Soni continues to be part of the Congress President’s Office (CPO). “She had not resigned from the CPO,” a 10, Janpath insider said.

Another key trouble-shooter, Ahmad Patel who had resigned as treasurer, has staged a comeback through the backdoor. He is now heading the Kashmir group that looks after party affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.

Senior leaders like K. Karunakaran, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Pranab Mukherjee, Narain Dutt Tiwari, K. Natwar Singh, Motilal Vora and Arjun Singh are a worried lot as they may not figure in the new CWC. Arjun Singh has announced that he will not be contesting the CWC polls. However, he is open to the idea of getting nominated to the CWC.    


 
 
TAJ ENTANGLED IN FRIDAY FARE FRACAS 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 25: 
The hike in entry fee to monuments maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India has sparked protests in Agra.

Yesterday, people demanding free entry to offer Friday prayers at the Shahjahani mosque on the Taj grounds were locked in a face-off with ASI staff manning the ticket counter. The agitators refused to pay and obstructed collection of gate money. They submitted a memorandum to the commissioner of Agra, demanding that Fridays be earmarked for free entry.

ASI authorities hold that all the agitators were not namazis. They blamed vested interests of fomenting discontent and firmly ruled out a rollback. The agitation was petering off, they claimed. By late afternoon, the ASI counter was functioning normally.

The ASI stressed that those who come for Friday namaz both at the Shahjahani mosque and Firozshah Kotla are not charged entry fee. The authorities are emphatic about not wishing to disturb the customary rights of worship. At the Taj, special arrangements are made for the entry of namazis, they claimed.

ASI authorities as well as top officials in the department of culture said there was no question of allowing free entry on Fridays. A culture ministry official explained that it would be difficult to manage the 70,000 to 1 lakh visitors if there is free entry. “Think of the wear and tear and conservation problems in a monument like the Taj if so many people came in.”

The ASI feels the decision to impose or hike entry fee has ruffled feathers in some sections of the travel industry — tourist guides, small hotel-owners, touts. The tour operators are not happy because they booked tours at a certain rate, and now the enhanced entry fees would go out of their own pockets.

The ASI is also engaged in a conflict with the Agra Development Authority (ADA) regarding the Taj and Agra Fort. The ADA used to collect a toll tax of Rs 500 for a tour of the heritage sites in and around Agra from the ASI counter. When the ASI hiked its entry fees, it asked the ADA to stop using its counter. On the ADA’s refusal, the ASI went to court. Observing that only one authority is entitled to charge entry fee, a Supreme Court division bench directed the ADA not to collect toll tax from the ASI counter or from anywhere near it.

The ASI hopes to hike its revenue collection to Rs 19 crore per year from the present Rs 5 crore by imposing a differential rate of entry fee. The new rates, which became operational from end October, are $10 for foreigners and Rs 10 for Indians to the 14 World Heritage monuments, including Konarak, Taj, Fatehpur Sikri, Khajuraho and Humayun’s tomb and $5 and Rs 5 respectively to the other ASI monuments. No fees are charged at the Thanjavur temple and the Goa churches as these are still places of worship.

The ASI defended its decision to impose differential entry rates by citing the examples of Russia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries. At The Hermitage in St Petersburg, foreigners are charged $10 for entry, which is 10 times what the local visitors are charged.

Officials in the department of culture said the additional revenue will be ploughed back to provide better facilities by way of improved signs, proper landscaping and maintenance of grounds and better security measures.    

 

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