Daughter damns father in maid molestation case
BJP blasts Sonia silence on Bofors
Quota revolt brews in Congress
George roars, Advani mum
Delhi doubts pullback claim
Zee slaps libel notice on Kher
Big B to host crorepati junior
Naidu takes grouse to Atal
Alert after triple strike
Azharuddin finds support

 
 
DAUGHTER DAMNS FATHER IN MAID MOLESTATION CASE 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Dec. 21: 
Pointing a damning finger at her father, the daughter of a top Punjab police officer alleged to have molested his maid, today said a CBI probe was required into his conduct.

“Even as a daughter I felt unsafe in the house,” said 29-year-old Sandhya Bansal, daughter of Punjab additional DGP (security), B.P. Tiwari.

Tiwari has been in the firing-line over the past week for allegedly trying to rape his 19-year-old maid Mamta Sharma. The case took its first twist yesterday after a scribe, Navjyot Sidhu, alleged he had behaved indecently with her when she went to gather his reaction to the molest story.

Sandhya darkened the slur on Tiwari, alleging that she was “forced to undergo a virginity test when I was 16 by a lady doctor with whom my father was having an affair. I was also made to read literature on sex by this doctor”.

Tiwari’s other children —- he has four daughters and a son —- were, however, quick to spring to his defence. “Her statements are being made under pressure from her husband,” said son Abhishek. “What Sandhya has been saying is false.” Tiwari’s youngest daughter Anamika echoed her brother.

Family sources do not rule out pressure from Tiwari’s rivals in the police force as the reason for Sandhya’s outburst. Tiwari belongs to the 1967 batch of IPS officers in the state.

Detailing the event-sequence, Sandhya said she had been forced to make a written request to take the virginity test. “The lady doctor’s association with my father created a lot of tension within the family,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

Sandhya then spoke about her siblings, saying her eldest sister, Pratibha, had committed suicide under mysterious circumstances in Hoshiarpur in 1991. The second sister, Nirmal, eloped with the driver, Manipal, and was living somewhere in Bulandshahr.

She said she was the next in line, and had a love marriage with Prashant Bansal. She was living in Sector 43 with her two children. Anamika was the fourth sister, unmarried but working with some firm, she said. Abhishek was the youngest.

Sandhya said that when the maid-molest story first broke, she called up her mother Promila. “My mother simply said everything would turn out right. ‘I just want all of you to keep quiet about the allegations’, is what she said.”

Sandhya alleged she had been receiving threats to keep mum and not issue any statements against her father. She said Tiwari had not taken her marriage well. “I met Prashant in 1987 and it was only in 1991 that I could marry him. Those days were fear-filled as Prashant was beaten up by policemen simply because we were having an affair,” she said.

Tiwari was not available for comment. Abhishek said his father was too shaken by the “false allegations of the maid and his elder sister” and was depressed. “We are very worried,” he said.

The turn of events has come as a shock to the people here. A student of Punjab University, Komal Singh, said: “Senior police officers molesting young girls seems to have become the in-thing in the region. If they are indulging in such things, then why do they put behind bars boys for teasing girls?”

   

 
 
BJP BLASTS SONIA SILENCE ON BOFORS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
Determined to use the Bofors controversy and Ottavio Quattrocchi’s arrest and release on bail as a political weapon against the Congress, the BJP today questioned Sonia Gandhi’s “eloquent silence” on the issue.

A statement released by BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said “...the most important question is why Mrs Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Opposition, is eloquent in her silence on the issue”.

Malhotra asked the Congress president if she could dispute the fact that “Mr Quattrocchi was her gift to this country” and if it wasn’t true that the Italian businessman shifted his base to India after she came here.

He alleged that Quattrocchi had derived his clout from Sonia’s presence and insisted that the nation demanded an explanation from her.

He also rubbished the Congress theory that his party had raked up Bofors and Ayodhya in anticipation of mid-term polls. “Nothing can be farther from the truth that the government would bring Bofors to counter Ayodhya,” he said.

Malhotra described Quattrocchi’s arrest in Malaysia and subsequent release on bail as a “significant development in the investigation and prosecution of those accused in the Bofors case”.

“The commercial decision to favour Bofors was taken by the government headed by the late Mr Rajiv Gandhi,” he said. “Obviously, the kickbacks could not have been paid to an unconcerned third party but only to those who could have influenced the choice of Bofors.”

Unleashing a volley of loaded queries, Malhotra asked why the kickbacks were deposited in the Swiss Bank accounts of Quattrocchi, one of the “closest friends of the Gandhi family”, and on whose behalf was he holding the money as his employers, Snamprogetti, were never in the arms business.

He also asked why the P.V. Narasimha Rao government did not impound Quattrocchi’s passport and arrest him after the CBI was officially informed by the Swiss authorities that he was a recipient of the kickbacks paid by Bofors.

Privately too, BJP sources emphasised that the revival of Ayodhya and Bofors was more “accidental than by design” and was certainly not a barometer of possible mid-term polls. According to them, the BJP wouldn’t let any political churning upset the NDA applecart at the Centre till the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections were over.

“Uttar Pradesh will be the litmus test of our strength or weakness... If we do not fare well in the state, there is no way we can risk a Lok Sabha election,” sources said.

The spectre of mid-term elections had surfaced briefly after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee turned uncharacteristically upfront on Ayodhya and seemed willing to risk losing the support of NDA allies rather than jettison Hindutva altogether. For a while it seemed the BJP was game enough to take the electoral plunge.

The speculation was based on two premises: the Congress was worse off than it was before the 1999 polls and that a mid-term poll would effectively quash the third front’s bid to regroup, courtesy Jyoti Basu and V.P. Singh.

The BJP, on its part, saw two immediate advantages in resurrecting Bofors.

“First, it would again drive a wedge between the Congress and the other Opposition parties. The Left, especially, will find it untenable to back the Congress on a corruption issue,” said BJP sources, exulting at the prospect of their all-too-brief solidarity on Ayodhya crumbling. “Second, Sonia Gandhi’s supremacy in her party may become shaky again.”

   

 
 
QUOTA REVOLT BREWS IN CONGRESS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
The Congress is committed to supporting the women’s reservation Bill, but a near revolt is brewing against quota system in the party organisation.

While senior leaders like A.K. Antony and Digvijay Singh want Sonia Gandhi to nominate the 24-member Congress Working Committee (CWC) and correct the lacunae in the amended party constitution, younger leaders favour polls.

The CWC consists of 12 elected and an equal number of nominated members handpicked by the AICC chief. In the new constitution, four seats have been reserved for women in each category with a provision that if they get elected in the “general” pool, their numbers could go up beyond eight seats. Two seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in each category.

The revised provisions have caused a lot of heartburn, particularly among Young Turks like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kamal Nath, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Santosh Mohan Dev, Prithviraj Chavan, P.J. Kurien, Suresh Kalmadi, Subbirami Reddy, Vayalar Ravi, Murli Deora and others who are vying for CWC berths.

These leaders fear that if Sonia packs the working committee with different quotas, her promise to infuse fresh blood and make the Congress a party of the “best and brightest” will not be realised.

The young lot feels that if out of 12 elected berths six are reserved, they will be pitted against leaders like Madhavrao Scindia, A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmad Patel and Ambika Soni for the lone remaining berth. Similarly, in the nominated category, they would have to contend with veterans like Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes and N.D. Tiwari, who are all CWC members.

The old guard, however, is opposed to polls as the veterans do not relish the prospect of losing to “juniors”. The outcome would also indicate how popular they are with the electoral college that consists of 1000-odd AICC delegates.

Digivijay said today that he was in favour of Sonia being authorised to select the entire CWC polls. “Abhi halat aise hain ki madam hi sab ko select karen (The conditions are as such that she should select all),” he said. Digvijay’s view is endorsed by Antony, Pranab Mukherjee, Janardhan Reddy, Vora, Azad and Patel.

Scindia, Soni, Aiyar and some other younger leaders want Sonia to hold elections instead of nominating the entire CWC. They said if Sonia is authorised to pick the entire CWC, all those who are left out would turn into dissident leaders.

The AICC’s central authority chairman, Ram Niwas Mirdha, has announced CWC polls on January 6 and 7. But some senior leaders today expressed doubts about the poll schedule.

They said that in view of the Tamil and Assamese new year, the polls will be held after Makar Sankaranti (Hindu new year). They have conveyed to Sonia that the period before that is inauspicious.

   

 
 
GEORGE ROARS, ADVANI MUM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
Mamata Banerjee’s roadshow featuring victims of clashes in West Bengal had more high-profile visitors today.

Home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi visited the maimed men and widows who have been squatting at the Constitution Club lawns for the past three days.

Both Advani and Fernandes used the visit to launch an election campaign against the CPM, exhorting the people to vote out the Marxist-led state government.

Fernandes congratulated Mamata for bringing the people to Delhi as it would help the entire world witness Red terror.

The defence minister suggested that a special court should be set up “to try those who committed atrocities on women”.

Neither Advani nor Fernandes spoke of Central intervention. Das Munshi, who came to express solidarity with the Trinamul Congress leader, said: “Mamata Banerjee has brought the violence unleashed by the Marxists to the notice of Delhi. It (Red terror) is a known fact.”

Thundering that Jyoti Basu’s “act of barbarism” should be displayed to the entire nation, Fernandes said: “The people of West Bengal should liberate themselves from Marxist rule in next year’s elections. If they do not, the era of terror will continue for decades.”

Advani later said: “I hope people in West Bengal will soon get an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and that they will make use of it.” Asked whether the Centre will intervene, the home minister replied: “I have nothing to say.”

When Fernandes arrived, the women started wailing. He chided them: “Rone se baat nahi banega, ladne se banega... yeh Jyoti Basu ka democracy hai (Tears are of no use, fight your battle, this is Jyoti Basu’s democracy).”

The women, over a dozen of them wrapped in brand new black shawls given by Trinamul leaders, wailed again when Advani arrived. “Please do something in West Bengal,” cried out a man from the behind.

Advani said the scene was “heart-rending” and the photo-exhibition (showing violence allegedly perpetuated by CPM cadre) was agonising.

He said that while many parts of the country witnessed communal and caste violence, political violence was something unique to Marxist-ruled states.

Asked on the Centre’s stand on the issue, especially in the backdrop of Fernandes’ report on violence in the state to the home ministry, Advani merely said: “The Central government is not in a position to make any comment on the issue right now.”

Advani said he had already told chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to look into individual cases of violence and ensure further incidents don’t occur.

Advani said the chief minister was also advised to look into the problem of hundreds of people who were leaving the state and seeking refuge elsewhere.

   

 
 
DELHI DOUBTS PULLBACK CLAIM 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
The government today said it would support any step that leads to “real de-escalation and reduction” of tension in the subcontinent, but appeared sceptical of Pakistan’s announcement of a partial troop pullback from the Line of Control.

Delhi made it clear that it will not make an immediate reciprocal gesture as the security forces stationed in Jammu and Kashmir are battling armed militants, including a posse of foreign mercenaries, who are operating there.

“India has always stood for and will welcome any step that leads to real de-escalation and reduces tension,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

Referring to the statement of the spokesman of Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence press directorate that some soldiers had already been withdrawn, Jassal said: “India’s ministry of defence is assessing the ground situation and we can comment on this only after a complete evaluation of the Pakistani claim has been made.”

Pakistan said the truce extension had a “positive tone”, but was not enough to resume dialogue.

Agency reports from Islamabad quoted foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan as saying the truce extension “falls short of a clear response to Pakistan’s initiatives that may justify optimism for an early start of a meaningful negotiating process on the Kashmir issue”.

Key world powers today welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to extend the ceasefire by a month and Pakistan’s announcement of partial withdrawal of troops and stressed that the Kashmir dispute should be settled through negotiations.

President Bill Clinton felt encouraged by the steps taken by both nations and said the dispute should be settled through peaceful means.

The Russian foreign ministry, in a statement from Moscow, also stressed that the two sides should settle their dispute in accordance with the Simla Agreement and in the spirit of the Lahore peace process.

But the most significant reaction came from Tunisia, the first country in the Arab world which said it felt encouraged by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision.

Through a note verbal to the foreign ministry, Tunisia stressed that negotiations between India and Pakistan should be settled under the Simla Agreement and the Lahore pact.

India’s response to Pakistan’s announcement is a clever one. By re-affirming its support to reducing and de-escalating tension in the region, Delhi wants to reassure the world that it is committed to peace. At the same time, the government also made it clear that it will not rush into anything purely on the basis of Islamabad’s claim.

Defence minister George Fernandes took a similar line and said Islamabad’s claim has to be first “verified” before a response could be given. “We have to understand the meaning of these claims. How can troops be withdrawn overnight from high up in the mountainous terrain that marks the LoC?” he wondered.

Fernandes cast doubt on Pakistan’s announcement that some of its troops had already been withdrawn, saying it was difficult to pull back from such terrain at short notice.

   

 
 
ZEE SLAPS LIBEL NOTICE ON KHER 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Dec. 21: 
Zee Telefilms Ltd today served a legal notice on Anupam Kher, dumped host of Sawal Dus Crore Ka, asking him to apologise in 10 days for allegedly defaming it or face a Rs 100-crore defamation suit.

In the notice, Zee said Kher had defamed the company in a section of press by saying the gameshow studio allegedly did not have proper electricity and that the programme was bad.

It also said Kher had allegedly said there was no coordination between the organisers and participants. The contract between Kher and Zee did not provide for either party to talk to the press about the gameshow, Zee sources added.

Before the blow, Kher today charmed a press meet in Delhi on his return from a shoot schedule in Mauritius for his directorial venture, Om Jai Jagdish. Indignant, composed, logical and candid by turn, Kher started off by saying he had been told that an Amul hoarding had gone up in Mumbai saying Kher Na Raha.

But the message Kher sent out was that all was not over with him yet. He said he respected the court’s decision not to stop telecast of Sawal... as per his plea, but that did not mean he would spare Zee. He hinted that his lawyers would look up the arbitration clause to carry on the battle.

“I have lost but I had the courage to stand up so that my colleagues can learn from the way I have been exploited and they do not suffer,” Kher declared, adding: “You cannot trample truth.”

The actor said he had been approached to anchor the show at the eleventh hour, but had still accepted the challenge. The shoot began in three days when the sets were not fully ready or the airconditioning complete.

Taking a swipe at Zee, Kher said he had been introduced as a “most capable” person when the show was kicking off, but when things went awry, the blame was conveniently pinned on him. He said he had been sceptical about two anchors from the start.

   

 
 
BIG B TO HOST CROREPATI JUNIOR 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, Dec. 21: 
Calling all children on KBC.

After adults, kids will now get a chance to crack the jackpot at the mega game show Kaun Banega Crorepati.

Buoyed by the phenomenal success of KBC, STAR TV is planning to extend the super duper brand to children next year. On the cards is a Junior KBC for kids under 15 years of age, likely to go on air by the beginning of the second quarter of 2001.

“We just want to make the show accessible to a wider section of the population. The details of the junior show are being worked out, but it has been decided that Amitabh Bachchan will stay host for the kids too,” said Sumantra Dutta, executive vice-president, sales and marketing, News Television India Ltd, speaking from Mumbai.

In a similar vein, to make KBC accessible to more advertisers, STAR TV has decided to free commercial airtime and do away with co-sponsors on the show. “This will make the show accessible to more brands”, said Dutta, who felt KBC can now accommodate more than 20 brands per night as opposed to the 12-14 advertised in the 10-minute slot now. “To give better value to the advertisers, we would like to create a clutter-free atmosphere for them, as well as provide them with a level playing field,” said Dutta.

STAR hopes to kill two birds with one stone by this masterstroke. “One, we can rope in more advertisers and two, we can rake in at least 35 per cent more revenue through better rates, as co-sponsors usually resort to bulk-booking of slots, and hence, claim discounts,” Dutta added.

With KBC being a test case, the modus operandi to do away with co-sponsors is likely to slide off to the other shows as well. “We will wait and watch for a couple of months how things shape up. After that, I see no reason why we can’t open up commercial time in the other shows as well,” said Dutta.

As further value-addition to what already is the hottest property on Indian television, STAR will keep up airing the exclusive episodes of KBC, the next major draws being Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee, to appear on the New Year’s Eve show. The sizzling pair hosted by Bachchan will be the showpiece of a star parade on STAR Plus that will usher in the new year.

A New Year’s special of Family Fortunes will pit the Siski cast against the Kyonki Saas.... family, to be followed by a special episode of Chalti Ka Nam Antakshari shot on location the India Gate.

Bringing the 31st night to a fitting finale will be a song-and-dance extravaganza featuring Bollywood heavyweights like Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna.

KBC has propelled STAR Plus’ prime-time channel share to a phenomenal 20 per cent, as opposed to 9.5 per cent for Zee and 6.4 per cent for Sony. “More than 80 per cent of the total industry adspend is on the 8-11 pm slot and we have created a roadjam in the 9-11 slot with KBC, Kahani Ghar.... and Kyonki..., leaving the competition way behind,” quipped Dutta.

KBC also plans to do a set of episodes every month, open only to special categories like state specials, police specials, teachers, industrial workers, and the physically challenged.

   

 
 
NAIDU TAKES GROUSE TO ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 21: 
At the behest of his boss Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam leader in the Lok Sabha Yerran Naidu today called on the Prime Minister to convey the party’s displeasure over his remark that the allies were “crossing the limits”.

Desam sources said Yerran told Atal Behari Vajpayee that his party could not defend itself since the Prime Minister had criticised the conduct of his allies at the BJP parliamentary party meeting.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Vajpayee had urged the NDA partners to exercise “restraint”, have a “national perspective” and not to cross the “limit” while criticising the government’s policies in Parliament.

Yerran produced clippings of newspaper reports quoting the Prime Minister criticising the allies. He is learnt to have told Vajpayee that though the Desam has no intention of embarrassing his government, he should also understand their political compulsions.

Asked whether he protested against Vajpayee’s remark, the Desam MP merely said: “We conveyed our feelings to the Prime Minister.” He added that he met the Prime Minister often to discuss various issues and “we have sorted out the problems”.

The Desam, however, continued to speak out against the Vajpayee administration and warned the government against deviating from the national agenda for governance. He asserted that his party would not allow the secular agenda to be side-tracked.

“We (TDP) are committed to secularism and the common agenda of NDA and will not allow it to be side-tracked,” the Andhra Pradesh chief minister said in Vijayawada.

Referring to his government’s standoff with the Centre on the farmers’ issue, Naidu said the Desam will not sacrifice the interests of the state. “We will continue the fight within and outside Parliament to see that farmers’ interests are protected,” he said.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the Centre’s response to the state’s demands on enhancement of paddy and rice procurement, the chief minister said he had not come here to talk about politics.

   

 
 
ALERT AFTER TRIPLE STRIKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENTS
 
Siliguri and Guwahati, Dec. 21: 
An alert has been sounded in all areas on the Assam-Bengal border after triple attacks by suspected Bodo militants in Kokrajhar last night, killing at least two people.

One passenger was killed and 16 were wounded as assailants, said to be from the National Democratic Front of Boroland, sprayed bullets on a convoy of Bhutan buses travelling from Gelephu to Phuntsholing.

Buses on this route have to traverse through Assam’s Kokrajhar and neighbouring Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts.

The militants, wearing army fatigues, struck in the jungles of Garuphela under Gossaingaon police station. In a simultaneous attack also at Garuphela, militants opened fire on a Toyota vehicle bearing the registration number of the kingdom. A child was killed. The insurgents also set on fire a Bhutan Police truck at Aunthabari, which, too, falls under Gossaingaon police station.

Cooch Behar superintendent of police Kailash Chandra Meena voiced concern at the new trend of the Assam insurgents targeting Bhutan nationals and vehicles that pass through Assam and Bengal. “This is the first time that Bodo militants have targeted Bhutan nationals. We are apprehensive of a possible spillover into Bengal,” Meena said.

The SP said an alert has been sounded all along the Assam-Bengal border following yesterday’s attacks. “Besides, extensive police patrolling is being carried out along the border in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts given the fact that the NDFB has close links with the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation,” he added.

Assam’s additional director-general of police G.M. Srivasatava said the police had seized two ponies carrying ration for NDFB militants and described last night’s strikes as “probable retaliatory attacks”.

Intelligence sources, too, said the attacks were carried out to “sound a warning” to the Assam police not to take steps culminating in cutting off supply lines of essential commodities to the militant camps in Bhutan.

However, they cited “other possibilities” behind the attacks. The sources said “it could have even been carried out by the Bodo Liberation Tigers to put pressure on the Bhutan government to evict the rival NDFB, which has refused to come forward for talks so far”.

   

 
 
AZHARUDDIN FINDS SUPPORT 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 21: 
Former cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin, who has been banished from the game after the match-fixing scandal, has been assured by Sultan Salauddin Owaisi, the president of Majlis-e-itahadul-Musalmeen (MIM) that his party will give him full protection.

The assurance came at an official iftar thrown by Owaisi for chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. Several Congress leaders and Azhar attended the gathering.

Owaisi told Azhar: “We are confident that you have not done anything wrong. The MIM will support you in this political battle to belittle you.”.

Azhar had earlier said being a Muslim he was being nailed down. He had also told Madhavan, the cricket board commissioner inquiring into the scandal, that being a god fearing person and faithful to Islamic tenets he would never resort to such means to earn money.

However, the CBI found him guilty in their investigations.

The support to Azhar, who has been clipped of his land allocations in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, has given a political dimension to the issue.

Owaisi heads the four-member MIM team in the Assembly. During the last elections the MIM had tried to rope in Azhar as a candidate.

   
 

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