‘Molest’ doctor held
Attack on clinic after patient death
Vajpayee sermon to military and media
AK-47 sets off alarm as Kanpur burns
Party gift to Bangaru on birthday
George blames middlemen
Tehelka challenge to Centre
Sonia in last-minute rethink on coalition
Cong steps backwards on reforms
Hegde threatens walkout

 
 
‘MOLEST’ DOCTOR HELD 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Santiniketan, March 17: 
Students of Visva-Bharati University boycotted classes for the second consecutive day to protest against the alleged molestation of a Kala Bhavan colleague by a doctor attached to the varsity hospital.

Slogan-shouting students also gheraoed vice-chancellor Dilip Kumar Sinha at his residence demanding “exemplary punishment” for the doctor and protested against Thursday’s police lathi-charge on them.

The accused, Dr Chandra Shekar Kundu, was arrested and later released on bail.

The students, however, decided to resume classes from tomorrow after university authorities slapped a showcause notice on Kundu for the second time in the day asking him to reply within the next 48 hours. He was also asked to proceed on a month’s leave.

In another development, the university registrar, Dwijadas Banerjee, resigned owning moral responsibility for the “untoward incident”. The vice-chancellor, however, has not accepted his resignation.

Sinha later said the matter has been referred to the ‘Women’s Harassment Committee’ (a standing committee at the varsity) for a thorough probe.

“We have already taken action against the erring doctor,” he said, adding that Dr Sisir Dutta, a member of the committee, came down from Calcutta this morning and examined the victim.

“Dr Dutta, on examination, found evidence of molestation and on the basis of that I have already asked Dr Kundu to go on leave after slapping a fresh showcause notice on him,” Sinha said. He promised that all appropriate steps will be taken “as per university rules”.

Priti Nartia, a close associate of the victim and president of the Kala Bhavan unit, said that students were “satisfied” with the measures being taken by the authorities.

The university vice-chancellor has also forwarded a letter to the state home secretary, Sourin Roy, urging him to have a look into the alleged police harassment of university students who were demanding action against the “guilty” doctor.

   

 
 
ATTACK ON CLINIC AFTER PATIENT DEATH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Midnapore, March 17: 
A group of boys ransacked a nursing home in Jhargram and assaulted its owner this morning after a patient died during childbirth.

According to eyewitnesses, Manju Dey (21) was admitted to the nursing home around 7.00 am. She died at 10 am after a caesarean operation was performed on her.

As the news spread, nearly 500 local boys went on the rampage and roughed up the nursing home owner, G.M. Jana. Policemen rushed to the spot to rescue him. “We have taken the doctor into custody for interrogation,” said Sankar Chakraborty, sub-divisional police officer, Jhargram. He added that a police picket has been posted in front of the nursing home to prevent further violence.

Police records confirm that Jana had been arrested earlier on charges of negligence.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE SERMON TO MILITARY AND MEDIA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
After yesterday’s there-has-been-no-bad-deal-yes-there-is-corruption-in-the-system address to the nation, the Prime Minister today warned the armed forces to “constantly raise” the “standards of probity, transparency and accountability” while at the same time asking the media to keep off the military.

Addressing a seminar on the Role of Military in Democracies, Atal Bihari Vajpayee warned the media to stay away from military matters because “national security overrides all other considerations”.

Vajpayee clarified that national security “is given a higher level of protection against external oversight to prevent interference in its functioning”.

Vajpayee appeared more relieved this morning after having ordered an inquiry last evening.

Participants at the seminar were eagerly waiting to hear what the Prime Minister had to say after the Tehelka exposé forced him to sacrifice defence minister George Fernandes, BJP president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party chief Jaya Jaitly, besides having to do without the Trinamul Congress in the National Democratic Alliance.

After briefly focusing on the role the military should play in a democratic society, the Prime Minister minced no words in telling the media not to interfere in national security matters.

He implied that the government could do without the media’s supervision in military affairs and that the Fourth Estate could be the watchdog of any institution but the armed forces.

“Because national security overrides all other considerations, it is given a higher level of protection against external oversight to prevent interference in its functioning. Even the press, which normally plays the role of a watchdog on other institutions of a democracy, has to accept restrictions in covering military matters,” Vajpayee said.

The subject of his speech, though chosen by the organisers of today’s seminar long before the Tehelka bombshell landed on the government, appeared to have been scripted last night.

Vajpayee did not want “military decisions (read signed transactions) to be dragged into political controversies in a democracy”, obviously referring to the political use of the Tehelka investigative story by the Opposition, much to the embarrassment of his government, which stood for su raj (good governance).

However, the Prime Minister, aware that not everything was right with the armed forces, wanted the “men in uniform” to “constantly raise the standards of probity, transparency and accountability”.

In other words, he was not happy with the “cancer” of corruption that had spread in the military. This was an admission that the Tehelka tapes were an eye- opener and that the armed forces needed to set their house in order .

Vajpayee also took the opportunity to attack Pakistan and its unfinished agenda to inflict terrorism on India.

“Terrorism is a global menace and becomes deadlier when it is combined with religious extremism and receives cross-border support,” he said.

   

 
 
AK-47 SETS OFF ALARM AS KANPUR BURNS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, March 17: 
Evidence that additional district magistrate (finance) C.P. Pathak was shot with an AK-47 yesterday and the use of other sophisticated weapons by rioters has set the alarm bells ringing in the district administration even as Kanpur burned for the second day.

Ignoring shoot-at-sight orders, protesters today attacked a Provisional Armed Constabulary (PAC) patrol party at Yatim Khana in the walled city with crude bombs, forcing the police to open fire in the air in self-defence.

A PTI report quoting official sources said mobs went on the rampage, setting afire at least five places of worship and burning about 45 shops belonging to the minority community in the Shivala area this afternoon. Five people died today, taking the toll to 11.

A policeman succumbed to his injuries as incidents of firing, bomb-throwing, arson and stone-pelting were reported from across the city throughout the day. Another policeman was admitted to hospital with serious head wounds and about 30 persons were injured.

Senior superintendent of police G.P. Sharma said the district administration had made several arrests and was doing all it could to control the situation. But the administration has been rattled as evidence surfaced that trouble-makers had sophisticated weapons like assault rifles and 9mm pistols at their disposal.

Shoot-at-sight orders were issued earlier in the morning against rioters in the curfew-bound areas of the city amid incidents of arson at two places this morning.

The sources said a mob indulged in arson in Phoolwali Gali in areas under Moolganj police station and on P-Road under Bajaria police station, prompting security forces to stage a flag march. Some shops were reportedly set on fire on P-Road, where Pathak used to stay.

Curfew was clamped in seven police station areas and Rapid Action Force and PAC were deployed yesterday after a pitched gun battle between Students’ Islamic Movement of India activists and the police left six people dead and 24 injured.

The trouble broke out when police prevented Simi activists from assembling at Parade Chowraha after Friday prayers to protest against the alleged burning of the Quran in Delhi.

The administration has extended the curfew to two more police station areas, in addition to Moolganj, Chaman Ganj, Anwarganj, Bajaria, Rai Purwa, Karnel Ganj and Beconganj, which are under indefinite curfew.

Security has been beefed up in communally-sensitive areas of the city where the situation remained tense.

Describing the flare-up as “unfortunate”, Uttar Pradesh BJP president Kalraj Mishra has reiterated his demand for a ban on Simi.

Talking to reporters in Lucknow, Mishra said that “it seems that deliberate attempts are being made by certain anti-national forces to create political instability”. He demanded that the government deal strictly with the culprits involved in yesterday’s episode. Simi, on the other hand, has demanded that the Centre ban the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which, it alleged, had “committed sacrilege by burning the pages of Holy Quran” recently in Delhi.

Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, Simi president Sahid Badr Falahi said the “act of the Sangh parivar has hurt the feelings of 30 crore Muslims”.

   

 
 
PARTY GIFT TO BANGARU ON BIRTHDAY 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
Deluged with reports that its cadre was demoralised ever since the Tehelka tapes claimed heavyweight casualties like former party president Bangaru Laxman, the BJP has initiated a series of confidence-building measures to “restore its own credibility and regain their trust”.

Senior leaders and ministers have been asked to address party meetings to expound the government’s “standpoint” on the exposé and the BJP has released a series of printed allegations in daily instalments against the Tehelka management and the wheeler-dealers who figure prominently in the tapes to show the operation as a “con job”. But most interestingly, after distancing itself initially from the disgraced Laxman, who was shown accepting fat wads of currency notes in the video tapes, the BJP has changed tack and seems determined to cast its lot behind him.

As Laxman completed 61 years today, the entire phalanx of top leaders, including “acting” president Jana Krishnamurthy, general-secretary (organisation) Narendra Modi and treasurer V.P. Goyal, called on him. However, no minister, barring minister of state Munni Lal, dropped in.

Lal is a Dalit, and sources maintained that the “pressure” from the BJP’s Dalit block not to “unfairly victimise” Laxman for his alleged role in the undercover defence deal while many got away scot-free forced Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to rehabilitate the former chief, who was projected as the party’s “face of the oppressed masses”.

Yesterday, over 40 BJP MPs, mostly Dalits, met Vajpayee and cautioned him that side-stepping Laxman might erode whatever base it had built among the backward classes. It was also pointed out that in the complex equation of “social engineering”, the Opposition may play up the charge that the BJP was all-too-willing to “sacrifice” a Dalit but ready to fight for an upper caste official like Brajesh Mishra, also named in the tapes. The BJP also feared that the appointment of a Brahmin, Krishnamurthy, in Laxman’s place may not go down well at the grassroots.

However, more than the Dalit factor, BJP sources said disowning Laxman would amount to disowning the party itself.

“His involvement in the tapes is a very big and unprecedented thing because it is for the first time in the world that the president of a major political party has been shown accepting money on film. But if we wash our hands of him, it would amount to an endorsement of the deed he has committed and that is disastrous for the party. Therefore, we decided there was no question of disowning Laxman,” said the sources.

Laxman seemed to have picked up the threads from where the Tehelka controversy had left them and said there was “definitely a change for the positive” in the BJP’s attitude towards him.

When asked why no assurance was given if he would be reinstated in case the judicial inquiry exonerated him as in the case of defence minister George Fernandes, he told reporters: “Fernandes’ return was assured only to send a message to the Samata MPs who were feeling restless after he quit. I was a worker of the BJP and will continue to be a worker. Your question on whether I would be rehabilitated should be asked at the appropriate forum.”

   

 
 
GEORGE BLAMES MIDDLEMEN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
Opening a new flank in his defence offensive, George Fernandes today said that middlemen who had “lost access” to the ministry he headed were trying to destabilise the Vajpayee government and projecting the defence establishment as a “den of corruption”.

“I believe those middlemen who had lost access to the defence ministry following decisions I had taken and were unable to manipulate the defence purchases have got this thing done,” Fernandes said in an interview with news agencies.

To substantiate his allegation, the Samata Party leader said it was not easy to manipulate defence deals and this was clear from the fact that it took Tehelka eight months to get their scoop.

Fernandes admitted he knew that his former party treasurer R.K. Jain was “trying to get himself” involved in deals but he had kept his distance. “I won’t say I had no idea of Jain trying to get himself involved...that will be wrong. But I have never ever allowed him to come anywhere near me with any of his business propositions or any of his concerns,” the former defence minister told a television channel in a separate interview.

Fernandes, who was forced to quit his post following the outrage over the revelations about the fictitious arms deal, repeated that it was his “concern for national security” that had impelled him to give in his resignation. “There are highly motivated people who want to create an impression (that) the ministry of defence is a den of corruption by tarring everyone, including uniformed personnel, with the same brush,” he said.

Unlike most within and outside the political class, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who feel the Tehelka revelations have come as a “timely warning” to the nation, Fernandes said if the news portal was truly concerned about national security, it should not have followed the path it did. “They should have met Atal Bihari Vajpayee and told him the state of affairs and the need for an investigation,” he said.

Fernandes added that the manner in which it was done “had objectives that were not wholly honourable and it would demoralise the defence forces and create doubts in the minds of the people about national security”.

Shrugging off speculation about an early collapse of the Vajpayee government, Fernandes maintained that the NDA’s image had not been sullied by the expose. People, he said, will know it was a “concerted effort to destabilise the government”. A “loyal” soldier of his government, Fernandes said he had tried his best to dissuade his Samata colleagues from quitting the government. “But they did it out of respect, sentiment and concern,” he added.

“Till four in the morning I pleaded with my colleagues but they refused to pay heed. At the NDA meeting yesterday also, I had tried to persuade them. But, they somehow didn’t respond,” Fernandes said.

   

 
 
TEHELKA CHALLENGE TO CENTRE 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
Tarun Tejpal, the editor-in-chief and managing director of tehelka.com, today dared the government to “expose” any illegalities relating to Tehelka.

Tejpal accused the Prime Minister’s Office and Brajesh Mishra, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s principal secretary, of carrying out an “orchestrated campaign” against him and his portal which had come out with the exposé of corrupt defence deals.

The PMO rubbished his charges as baseless, saying the law ministry’s Department of Company Affairs had denied looking into the financial affairs of the dot.com company and its holding pattern.

The ministry was reported to have ordered investigations under the Companies Act to find out Buffalo Networks’ financial status, including equity shares, resources and debentures.

At a crowded press conference, Tejpal released his company’s Certificate of Incorporation and share-holdings “as on March 17, 2001” to refute charges that his company was illegal and operating without a valid registration.

The “self-disclosures” came after reports that the Centre had ordered a probe into the affairs of his company under the Companies Act and his firm was being funded by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

“They have been levelling wild charges, including that my father was very close to Congress leader Arjun Singh who granted him several building contracts. In fact, my father (Inderjit Tejpal) was in the Indian army and fought for the country in three wars,” he said.

“We have started receiving threats and we have reports that that agencies like the CBI, income-tax department and enforcement directorate have been told to dig out everything against us,” Tejpal said.

He added that one of the reporters involved in the expose, Mathew Samuel, was questioned by the Intelligence Bureau six times in October, said PTI.

According to documents released by Tejpal, the assistant registrar of companies, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Haryana (common for both the states), had given a certificate stating: “I hereby certify that Buffalo Networks Private Limited is this day incorporated under the Companies Act, 1956 (No. 1 of 1956) and that the company is limited. Given under my hand at New Delhi, this twentieth day of June two thousand.”

The shareholding statement said Tejpal owns 41.75 per cent of the shares, Aniruddha Bahal, who probed the deals, owns 16.93 per cent and Tejpal’s brother Kunwar Jit owns 17.22 per cent. The other shareholders are Neena Tejpal Sharma, Mahim Mehra , Kapil Pareenja, First Global Stockbroking (P) Ltd, and First Global (Mauritius) Ltd.

   

 
 
SONIA IN LAST-MINUTE RETHINK ON COALITION 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Bangalore, March 17: 
Sonia Gandhi is under pressure to make changes in the political resolution that relaxed the party’s traditional aversion to joining coalitions and omitted its known stand that it was for a court verdict to decide the Ayodhya dispute.

Late tonight, Sonia called a meeting of Congress chief ministers and her thinktank to “fine-tune” the stand on coalitions. The document had envisaged the party playing a “pro-active role” in restoring secular governance.

The political resolution is now being printed again, incorporating last-minute changes.

A lobby of Congress leaders, including Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, favours restoration of the party’s primacy in national affairs on the ground that coalitions lead to instability and force ideological compromises. Digvijay feels the Congress must maintain its own identity.

“If the Congress can win in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and five other states, why can’t it regain its lost glory in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar?” he asked.

The delegates from Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tripura are up in arms against the Congress warming up to coalitions and pointed out the contradictions in the resolution drafted by Arjun Singh.

“It is criticising the Left in Bengal and inviting Mamata to team up to end Left misrule. But 18 paragraphs later, it is favouring a secular alliance. Given the composition of the 13th Lok Sabha, the Congress cannot play a pro-active role without the Left,” a delegate from Bengal said.

But those favouring coalitions said that revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Bengal would take too long. “Does that mean that till then we keep sitting and allow the BJP to play havoc with the country,” a leader said.

According to him, the political resolution was not restricted to the 13th Lok Sabha. “The plenary will again meet after three years. It is the base document that is saying that we are game to keep the BJP at bay,” he said.

According to the Congress’ assessment, the country is heading for mid-term polls but it decided against saying as much in the resolution because it would send the wrong signal. “Why should we be seen as pressing alarm buttons? If the BJP falls due to its own weight, no one will be able to form the government as electoral arithmetic does not favour non-NDA forces,” a party MP said.

The Congress has also shifted its stand on Ayodhya. The party’s new line is that it is not against the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya but wants a “civilised, peaceful and transparent resolution of the dispute”. Coming a few weeks after Sonia’s mahakumbh dip, the move assumes significance as the party is trying to woo Hindus in Uttar Pradesh.

The first day of the AICC plenary was peaceful except for a clash between former Union minister Chanderjit Yadav and AICC secretary Janardhan Dwivedi, a 10 Janpath aide. Speaking on the political resolution, Yadav lashed out at the leadership, claiming that the Congress had become the party of the rich and lost its pro-poor tilt. Dwivedi, who was master of ceremonies, publicly ticked off Yadav, saying he had exceeded his brief.

Madhavrao Scindia targeted Vajpayee on defencegate. “Jawan ki jaan jati hai aur sarkar commission khati hai,” he said.    


 
 
CONG STEPS BACKWARDS ON REFORMS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
Bangalore, March 17: 
The economic resolution moved at the Congress plenary today reads like the party’s election manifesto with a distinct pro-poor tilt.

That the stamp of reforms guru Manmohan Singh is missing was evident when the former finance minister did not move the resolution, though he was chairman of the panel that prepared it.

The debate on the resolution was initiated by Pranab Mukherjee. Madhavrao Scindia seconded the motion.

Party sources said that the unprecedented move to keep Singh out was taken in view of the strong anti-reforms feelings among majority of delegates. Moreover, Singh had reservations on some aspects of the resolution.

The pro-reforms lobby, however, refused to see the development as a victory for those favouring the left-of-centre approach. They said Singh would speak at the concluding session of the plenary on Sunday to clear the “misunderstanding” over reforms.

While paying lip service to reforms, for the first time since 1991 the Congress has insisted on the government holding of 51 per cent in all profit-making public sector-units and nationalised banks.

On the budget proposal to amend the Industrial Disputes Act, the Congress said it would ensure that the interests of the working class could be protected. But a section from the West Bengal and Kerala units wanted the party to block the amendments.

The Congress paper said privatisation and disinvestment should not be seen as an assault on public-sector undertakings. But instead of endorsing the government’s stand on the issue, the Congress said PSUs should be made more autonomous, more focused and commercially viable.

“The public-sector should be freed from political interference so that it is enabled to function professionally and autonomously,” the resolution said.

Favouring a mixed economy and the Nehruvian model of development, the paper said: “India’s myriad social and economic problems admit of no single mantra as a solution. They demand a constantly evolving mix of approaches, a mix embodied in the Congress’ economic agenda.”

The economic think-tank of the Congress pointed at the party’s policy of continuity with change. It said reforms were one of the mix incorporated in the party’s economic policy evolving in the Avadi session in 1955 when Nehru talked about the commanding heights of the public sector.

   

 
 
HEGDE THREATENS WALKOUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 17: 
Janata Dal (United) leader Ramakrishna Hegde today threatened to quit the National Democratic Alliance in a move aimed at wrangling for himself the defence portfolio.

He told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he could not take the “insult” heaped on him by George Fernandes.

On Wednesday, Hegde had been asked to attend the NDA meeting but the invite was withdrawn when he demanded Fernandes’ resignation.

The second snub came yesterday when Hegde was not called for the second meeting which decided to retain Fernandes as convener of the alliance.

Sources said while Hegde is eyeing the defence portfolio, the Fernandes is doing his best to keep Dal(U) leader out as he is sure of returning to South Block in four or five months.

Hegde, who was a contender for the defence minister’s post in 1999 before Fernandes got the portfolio, criticised the government for saying he will be reinducted after the inquiry. He said the statement was “irresponsible” and could influence the probe.

Immediately after Hegde’s talk with Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani rang up the Dal(U ) leader requesting him not to do anything in a hurry. Advani assured him that matters would be sorted out.

Hegde, sources said, is in touch with three Dal(U )MPs who are not happy with party president Sharad Yadav’s “new-found love” for Fernandes.

   
 

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