Father’s father flaunts clout in PMO
Samata silence after slur
Bangaru Laxman falls for a lakh
Tapes trace army dirt track
Cong wakes up to virtues of coalition
Nervous Laloo issues whip
Jaya seals ‘lucky’ deal
Bike-borne terror returns to strife zone
Margi murdered on ashram campus
Congman crossover

 
 
FATHER’S FATHER FLAUNTS CLOUT IN PMO 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
The tehelka.com exposé comes exactly a day after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the Lok Sabha by surprise when he slammed the media in his reply to the motion of thanks to the President’s address. He accused magazines and newspapers of publishing “baseless” stories and playing their “own games and politics”.

Although Vajpayee is not implicated, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Ranjan Bhattacharya, his foster son- in-law, have not emerged unscathed.

R.K. Gupta, an RSS trustee who comes across as a major conduit in deal-making, has been quoted as alleging that the Prime Minister’s principal secretary and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra’s “price” was one crore.

Mishra has been cited as the principal go-between for clinching such exercises with the government “because he has access to the defence, foreign and other related ministries”. “He deals with the bureaucracy. And also conveys the views of the bureaucracy to PM.”

Of Bhattacharya, Gupta says: “Ranjan Bhattacharya ... is the PM’s son-in-law,” and later, “I have cut him into pieces. I have gone through the party. PM can’t say no. Party’s getting 100 crores. He won’t say: ‘No my son-in-law is getting 100 crores. Leave it.’ We are his father’s father.”

The transcript makes it clear that Bhattacharya’s alleged involvement in settling deals was restricted to the power sector. “As far as defence things are concerned I don’t think he has much. Somewhat in power projects. This and that.”

Mishra was the main focus of an exposé published earlier by a weekly which said that he and the officer on special duty for economic affairs in the PMO, NK Singh, called the shots.

“Mishra and Singh constitute the powerful arms of the PMO, which has now become an imperial power centre, riding roughshod over the bureaucracy and foisting controversial decisions on various ministries without as much as consulting them,” the article alleged.

The most shocking claim made by the article was about the unprecedented clout acquired by a few select business houses, who, it said, had the power to convene Cabinet meetings at short notice and set up an audience with the Prime Minister.

It went on to say that much of the favours bestowed on industrial houses were passed off as economic reform, causing a section of the industry to protest and call the moves as “licence raj in a different garb”.

   

 
 
SAMATA SILENCE AFTER SLUR 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
The Tehelka revelations have not only dealt a blow to the Samata Party move to topple the Rabri Devi regime in Bihar, but also to the carefully-cultivated image of defence minister George Fernandes as a “crusader” against corruption.

According to the tapes, Jaya Jaitly was given Rs 2 lakh for influencing certain defence deals. The money was accepted ostensibly for “party funds”.

After the Ajay Jadeja episode last year — when she kicked up a row over an income-tax raid at her residence in connection with match-fixing charges against the cricket star — Jaitly has again come under a cloud giving rebels in the party a toehold to relaunch a campaign against her.

There was no word from the Samata camp. All Samata leaders went underground immediately after word was out about the Tehelka tapes. Their phone calls were not answered and cellphones were switched off.

Much of the incriminating conversation Tehelka conducted was with Samata treasurer R.K. Jain, who claimed that he acted as the link between arms dealers and Fernandes and Jaya Jaitly.

In her conversation with the Tehelka pointsman, Jaitly said money was needed for the party fund. She said party leader and Union minister of state Srinivas Prasad is hosting the Samata national council “where 500-800 people will be going”. Giving details of the national council, Jaitly said: “We need some help because he (Prasad) said ‘Look I can do 50 per cent expense. You do the rest....So the rest... whatever contributions.” Bits of the conversation with Jaitly were conducted in Malayalam.

R.K. Jain, a little known businessman, was made Samata treasurer two years ago by Fernandes. Known as Fernandes’ “briefcase” man, the Tehelka held a series of meetings with him to strike the deal.

According to Tehelka, he proved to be a “goldmine” of information on present and past defence deals.

Tehelka said the conversation “incriminated beyond redemption” the defence minister and the Samata Party. Jain said he was handpicked by Fernandes for the job. “I am close to the boss because of money matters, he has to talk to the treasurer.”

Jain talked about his role in the first defence deal after Fernandes became minister. According to Tehelka, when the Samata had no money and had just come to power, Suresh Nanda of the Crown Corporation paid Rs 1 crore for help in getting the order of 250 Armoured Recovery Vehicles for a Slovakian company. The tender was worth Rs 250 crore, Jain is quoted as saying. The other competitors were a Czechoslovakian and Polish firm.

Jain also worked for the Air Jet Trainers project. He said he was approached by Mapo-MiG people. “I went to boss (Fernandes) and told him, sir, this is something. This is very big job, worth Rs 4,000 crore, Rs 3,600 to be precise.”

The commission was fixed at 10 per cent and in this particular deal, the Prime Minister is also going to be involved at one stage. It needs Cabinet approval. “So my party expects at least three per cent, PM House will expect at least three per cent,” Jain is quoted as saying.

Jain admitted that Jaitly gave him permission to go to Moscow to sign the deal with the MiG people.

   

 
 
BANGARU LAXMAN FALLS FOR A LAKH 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
After protesting innocence through the day since the tehelka.com tapes revealed he had accepted Rs 1 lakh as “bribe”, BJP chief Bangaru Laxman resigned late tonight.

Earlier in the day, Laxman had said the money he took from the dotcom reporters posing as arms dealers was “actually meant as party fund”.

A rattled Laxman, who reluctantly met the media at his residence, said: “He (the reporter) did not come as an arms dealer. They said they are traders, and so many traders and businessmen come. They paid the money saying it was for party fund.”

He added: “The videotape also says it was party fund. I took it and gave the money to the treasurer (Ved Prakash Goyal).”

However, the transcript of the tapes says the money was meant as a “New Year gift”. The reporter says: “I have Rs 5 lakh. And today I will give you Rs 1 lakh. For just the beginning. A New Year gift. It’s a small gift for the New Year party. Right?”

At this point, Laxman accepts the money and tucks it away in his table drawer.

The reporter asks the BJP president if the next tranche of payment should be made in rupees or dollars, to which Laxman’s prompt answer was: “Dollars. You can give me dollars.”

Asked what he would with dollars, he retorted: “What can I do with dollars?”

It appeared that Laxman had to quit under pressure from the party as no senior leader had come out in his support. The resignation represented a complete reversal from the position he had taken earlier when he said: “Why should I resign when my conscience is clear?”

He had alleged that the expose was a “motivated political conspiracy” to undermine his position as a Dalit leader. “The Congress party is present all over in the media. A Dalit president is coming up and they want to get him finished off,” he said.

He dismissed the suggestion that the West End International scam would have far-reaching ramifications for either the BJP or the Centre. “They (the Opposition) are not getting anything against this government, they have no issues. The political storm will continue for just a few days.”

It has just claimed its first victim in the BJP president himself.

Indications that such assertions may not save his scalp were evident in BJP leaders admitting in private that the leadership would have to take a “serious view” of the evidence in the videotapes and then consider if he should continue to head the party.

Apart from accepting the payment, the transcript also quotes Laxman’s secretary, Satyamurthy, as saying he was involved in the Sukhoi fighter aircraft deal and had five or six overseas accounts. “Because after P.V. Narasimha Rao he is the only South Indian who is involved in this... And this kind of deals in India only South Indians can do. Nobody else can do,” Satyamurthy says.

The only semblance of a defence for the BJP chief was put up by party vice-president and spokesman Jana Krishnamurthy who, however, made it clear he had not seen the video recording nor had he read the transcript. “The impression I gain is somebody has deliberately planned to sensationalise a non-existent scandal using modern techniques. There is no basis, proof or evidence adduced to substantiate the allegation,” he said.

   

 
 
TAPES TRACE ARMY DIRT TRACK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
The Tehelka expose has suddenly bared the porosity of the military establishment and its vulnerability to lucre and sleaze. Three major generals have been entrapped, all going overboard to explain to an unknown arms dealer — West End International — how it can strike deals.

The defence ministry was tightlipped tonight. A semi-official statement from South Block insisted that the tapes had been obtained and were being scrutinised to find out their veracity. There are, however, indications that the defence ministry will conduct its own inquiry, especially because those involved include several key serving officials.

Major General M.S. Ahluwalia of the Directorate General of Quality Assurance gives strong indications that the system is steeped in deep-rooted corruption. No one person can operate on his own to ensure the smooth signing of defence deals. The entire apparatus works with its different cogs and everybody has to be satisfied if the deals have to go through. He insists that without Blue Label — one of the best Scotch brands — he does not feel inspired enough to function. He takes Rs 50,000 after an initial show of reluctance.

S.P. Murgai, a retired major general who was additional director general in quality assurance when Tehelka met him, gives several tips on how West End International should go about getting into the thick of defence procurement. He accepts Rs 20,000 gladly as honourarium for teaching West End the ropes.

Major General P.S.K. Choudary is painted as a key man by some of his colleagues named in the transcript. He is additional director general in the weapons and equipment wing and appears to have enormous powers in getting things done. Among other advisers that Tehelka’s undercover reports pick up during their hunt for sources within the defence establishment is Major General Satnam Singh, a key figure because his designation is director general (operations) of Kargil.

The murkiness of these men can be gauged from the excerpts from the transcript. Tehelka claims: “Major General Murgai (Retd) went to Major General Choudary’s office and invited him over for dinner to meet a West End representative. Choudary, being under surveillance, was reluctant to come to a five-star hotel. At the dinner in Murgai’s house, the ice with Choudary was broken. Initially, as in later meetings, Choudary kept asking for West End’s product range so that he could provide a helping hand.... He also accepted a gold chain as a small gift and promised to have detailed meeting about a week later.” The major general later accepted a cash incentive of Rs 1 lakh.

Not just these major generals, their subordinates too play roles in defence transactions. Brig Anil Sehgal, a director in the directorate general of ordnance and supply, provides the starting point for West End’s entry into the murky world of defence deals. He drops the names within the military establishment which the Tehelka reporters follow up. Brigadier Iqbal Singh, prospective procurement officer, also passes on information.

   

 
 
CONG WAKES UP TO VIRTUES OF COALITION 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 13: 
It was more than a coincidence — the day the Congress think-tank chose to open doors for like-minded parties to keep the “communal forces” at bay the Vajpayee government was facing its worst crisis.

The draft political resolution to be vetted by the AICC plenary this weekend in Bangalore makes it clear that the days of one-party rule are over. It marks a significant shift from the Panchmarhi declaration that favoured the “ekla cholo re” approach.

At the Panchmarhi brain-storming session in 1998, the Congress had termed coalitions a temporary phase in Indian politics and provided for power-sharing only in “exceptional circumstances”.

But the “vision document” for Bangalore sets no such conditions. Unless drastically altered at the last moment, Arjun Singh’s formulation focuses on the Congress’ acceptance of “ground realities” that the party may have to join hands to check “communal forces”.

In the draft economic resolution, the idioms used suggest the Congress is leaning towards left-of-centre policies while paying lip-service to reforms. The party will oppose disinvestment unless 51 per cent equity remains with the government. Since the 1991 election manifesto, the Congress policy documents have favoured disinvestment without putting any cap.

Coming at a time when the Vajpayee government is battling against serious charges of corruption, the shift in the Congress stand is a signal to non-NDA parties that it is game for an alternative coalition.

The Congress think-tank today made it clear that there will be no repeat of May 1999 when the party failed to lead an alternative coalition following differences with the Samajwadi Party on power-sharing. The Samajwadi Party may still avoid joining hands with the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition, but the main opposition party is now prepared to make concessions to smaller parties in the sense that it would not mind sharing power with them.

The Tehelka expose delighted the Congress. Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee were going through the draft resolution over soup and cucumber sandwiches when the news reached them. The party has decided to stall parliamentary proceedings till the government explains. The party has decided to stay in touch with the CPM’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and other non-NDA leaders to prepare for “any eventuality”.

A senior Congress leader said: “Anything can happen. We are ready for all eventualities. Let us see how the government reacts,” he said, wondering how Mamata Banerjee will react to today’s development.

   

 
 
NERVOUS LALOO ISSUES WHIP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, March 13: 
Laloo Prasad Yadav today revealed a crisis of confidence in the rebel-hit Rabri Devi government by issuing a whip today to ensure the presence of party members to pass the budget.

Rashtriya Janata Dal sources said the whip will be renewed every day to deter members from voting against government motions or forming a bloc within the party.

The move comes despite the support expressed by his MLAs at a meeting last night after the resignation of finance minister Shankar Prasad Tekriwal.

The RJD chief pressed the alarm bell as Treasury benches recorded thin attendance since morning. Around 4.30 pm, just half-an-hour before voting, Laloo heaved a sigh of relief to see all the members present in the House. Tekriwal, too, had to be present. He was, however, occupying a different seat.

Before the budget was passed by voice vote, Tekriwal sought the Speaker’s permission to inform the House about his resignation. Tekriwal is set to issue a statement tomorrow.

The former finance minister’s message on the lack of development in the state has earned sympathy from RJD ministers and MLAs. Youth and culture minister Monazir Hossain said: “Mr Tekriwal has touched a chord in a number of the ministers. I, personally, support his views on the condition of the state.” Eight Independent MLAs, backing the Rabri Devi government, will hold a meet tomorrow to discuss Tekriwal’s allegations and resignation.

Two women RJD MLAs have decided to meet rebel leader Ranjan Yadav, who is expected here tomorrow.

Tekriwal is believed to have held parleys throughout the day at his residence, meeting many MLAs, some of whom had attended the RJD MLAs’ meet yesterday at Rabri’s residence. He told the members: “I have now got out of a snake hole. I will help you, too, to become free.”

Laloo, too, has been actively lobbying against the rebels. He has unfolded a BJP conspiracy to topple his government.

   

 
 
JAYA SEALS ‘LUCKY’ DEAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, March 13: 
Jayalalitha has finally decided on her seat-sharing arrangements.

In a statement today she announced that the ADMK would be contesting 141 seats in the Assembly elections next month. She had wanted to contest 144 seats, the digits totalling nine, her lucky number, but thanks to the demands of her allies, especially the TMC and the Congress, she had to settle for less.

Her numerologists are believed to have assured her that six — 141 adds up to that number — also is lucky for her.

Jayalalitha was keen on as many seats as possible to gain absolute majority in the 234-member House. But with 141 seats, she cannot afford to lose more than 23. Otherwise she will have to form a coalition government with the support of parties like the TMC whose loyalty would be “suspect” in her eyes. But desperate to prevent an encore for the DMK, she has reconciled herself to contesting a lesser number of seats.

She had allocated 47 seats to the two Congresses and 27 to the PMK. But the two Left parties demanded a minimum of 10 seats each. Jayalalitha would not concede more than eight each. The deadlock stalled the final announcement even as the “auspicious hour”, set again by her astrologers, approached fast.

The ADMK chief served the ultimatum — if she did not get a response from the Left by this morning, she would allocate the seats meant for them to the other allies.

The bravado of local Left leaders, who told reporters they were ready to fight the elections on their own if Jayalalitha remained unmoved, evaporated as word came from the high command in New Delhi asking them to accept Jayalalitha’s terms in the “interest of secularism”.

CPM general-secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet prevailed upon his CPI counterpart A.B. Bardhan into accepting Jayalalitha’s offer. While the CPI leadership, under pressure from local unit leaders, was toying with the idea of a third front, Surjeet had no such “qualms or misplaced notions of self-respect”.

The CPM then called on the ADMK chief at Poes Garden and signed on the dotted lines. “They didn’t even bother to take us into confidence,” rued a CPI leader.

Amiable and soft-spoken CPI leader R.K. Nallakannu was so cut up that he would not call on Jayalalitha for the signing ceremony.

   

 
 
BIKE-BORNE TERROR RETURNS TO STRIFE ZONE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, March 13: 
Violence reared its head in Midnapore again today with hordes of motorcycle-borne Trinamul activists barging into villages in Pingla, ransacking and torching houses of CPM supporters and opening indiscriminate fire.

Seven persons were injured in this morning’s clashes as about 200 armed Trinamul men —- earlier driven out of their villages —- descended on 20 hamlets in Pingla. Along with women carrying lathis and broomsticks, the activists vandalised and torched about 60 houses of CPM supporters. A local CPM leader, Gopal Samanta, was seriously injured in firing by the Trinamul activists.

Midnapore police superintendent A.K. Maliwal said the Trinamul initially targeted Purusottampur, Numgoda, Gangrah and Laxmibari villages. Five persons, including Samanta, were injured after the toughs fired from guns in Laxmibari village. Samanta has been shifted to Pingla hospital, where he was operated upon.

Similar attacks were carried out in several other villages, including Beluria, Bhatia, Borisha, Asathtala, Tileswari, Jalchak, Ragpur, Gobordhonpur, Pindrui and Chandipur. In all, five CPM supporters and two Trinamul activists were hurt.

As the Trinamul men went on the rampage, panic-stricken CPM supporters fled their houses and took shelter in villages in the neighbouring Moyna block. The clashes badly disrupted traffic.

As tension mounted, a huge police contingent led by Kharagpur additional SP Vineet Goel rushed to the villages. Maliwal left for Pingla this evening.

Jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles have also been rushed to the villages. The police carried out raids, arresting 10 persons.

As fingers were pointed at the Trinamul, Pankaj Banerjee alleged in Calcutta that his partymen had been fired at by CPM supporters when they tried to enter their villages to visit relatives.

“A 12-year-old boy received bullet wounds. This is ample proof that the CPM will not allow free and fair Assembly polls. We will meet Governor Viren J. Shah on Thursday,” Banerjee said.

CPM cadre took out processions in protest against the attack. District CPM secretary Dipak Sarkar said the Trinamul wanted to shatter peace in the villages.

   

 
 
MARGI MURDERED ON ASHRAM CAMPUS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 13: 
Tension spilled over at the Ananda Marg headquarters in Purulia today after 55-year-old Acharya Bhudebananda Abadhut, was found murdered on the campus.

The body, with several injury marks, was found in front of the veterinary college hostel by an ashram inmate. District police officers said there were several cut-marks on the head, throat and abdomen.

Police said a high-level probe had been ordered to track whether the monk —- an acupuncturist —- was a victim of infighting between the Ananda Margis or a target of the CPM. The body has been sent to the Purulia police morgue for post mortem.

Senior police officers have been questioning the ashram monks and local people. A sniffer dog has been requisitioned from Durgapur to trace the assailants. No one has been arrested.

Ananda Marg Pracharak Sangha official Acharya Manteswarana Abhadoot alleged the murder was pre-planned by the CPM to “annihilate the Margis from Purulia”. He added the party “had killed 12 monks in the district since 1990”.

The Ananda Marg is demanding a judicial probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge. “We will launch a worldwide campaign against the reign of terror unleashed by communists on innocent Margis.” But a CPM spokesman denied the involvement of party workers.

   

 
 
CONGMAN CROSSOVER 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, March 13: 
State Congress treasurer and MLA from Burrabazar, Rajesh Khaitan, today announced his decision to join the Trinamul Congress.

Khaitan, Burrabazar legislator since 1982, has written to Sonia Gandhi saying people in Bengal want a change and are rallying behind Mamata Banerjee.

“People of West Bengal belonging to all castes and creeds want us to wake up to this reality. I shall wake up to this reality in my humble way to support the anti-Left Front movement headed by Mamata Banerjee,” he said.

Referring to A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s recent moves to form a mahajot with Trinamul, Khaitan said the need of the hour was to support Mamata.

   
 

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