Trouble at HS centres
Cong back on CPM’s list of enemies
Tab on Tehelka leads sleuths to home hub
Magazine banned for Mrs G story
Satraps summoned for Sonia screen test
BJP mounts quit heat
Sangh arms go after Atal aides
Bush sends security guru to Delhi
Another stock suicide
Atal in tolerance appeal

 
 
TROUBLE AT HS CENTRES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
At least three persons were arrested today for creating trouble at higher secondary examination centres at different places in the state. The second language tests were held today.

Sudin Chattopadhay, president of the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education, however, said there were no complaints from any centre.

Examinations were disrupted at a school in Siliguri when two local youths attempted to snatch a question paper from an examination hall. .

Both of them were chased by the school employees who managed to catch them. They were later handed over to the police.

Chattopadhay said preliminary investigations revealed that the two men had plans to help some examinees at the centre with the answers. Their intention was to run away with the paper and return with the answers for their friends taking the examinations.

In another incident at Egra in Midnapore, police arrested Gurupada Mishra on charges of impersonation. Mishra attempted to take the exams posing as Jhnatu Kumar Gatait, the genuine candidate.

Tension gripped Diamond Harbour when candidates from Fakir Chand College heckled invigilators for their strict conduct.

Chattopadhay said a team of officials will be sent to the centre to inquire into the incident.

Paper-snatch alert

The West Bengal Board of Secondary Education has alerted all its 19,000 examiners after snatching of papers on Wednesday.

Benoy Krishna Roy, an examiner of history paper was attacked by miscreants in a local train. When he tried to prevent them from taking away the scripts, he was thrown out of the train. Roy is battling for life at the SSKM hospital.

   

 
 
CONG BACK ON CPM’S LIST OF ENEMIES 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 22: 
Anticipating a Congress-Trinamul alliance in Bengal, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas today renewed his attack on senior Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee and A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury.

“I feel pity for state Congress leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and Ghani Khan Chowdhury. They have been in politics for long and played important roles in the past. Still, they have to bow before Mamata Banerjee. This is very unfortunate and the Congress will have to pay the price for this in future,” Biswas said.

He described the possible Congress-Trinamul alliance as “opportunistic”, but said the combine would never be able to present an alternative to the communists. Biswas described the Congress as the Left’s political enemy and clubbed the party with the Trinamul and the BJP.

Saifuddin miffed

Like the CPM, the dissidents who broke away from the party to float their own outfit — Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda — were also disenchanted with the Congress. Chowdhury, president of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), said seat-sharing talks with the Congress had failed.

Sources said PDS general secretary Putatunda today met Pranab Mukherjee to discuss poll alliance. “But Mukherjee told us that they are waiting for Mamata Banerjee and expecting an effective alliance with her,” a PDS leader said.

   

 
 
TAB ON TEHELKA LEADS SLEUTHS TO HOME HUB 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
A home ministry official is suspected to have introduced one of the two Tehelka reporters to Shashi Menon, the defence official who led the undercover reporters to senior army officers.

A discreet inquiry on how the news portal could approach key defence ministry officials has been launched. Intelligence officials are keeping constant vigil on not only the dotcom, but also on the defence ministry and military officials who had met the reporters and received gifts and money in exchange for passing on sensitive army procurement plans.

Thomas Mathew, a director in the organisation and management division of the home ministry, is believed to have introduced Samuel Mathew, one of the two Tehelka reporters, to Menon.

A section of the media today reported Thomas Mathew is against the Vajpayee government and allegedly helped the portal carry out the sting operation. A home ministry statement said an inquiry has been ordered into his role.

However, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has been able to establish that Samuel Mathew had got in touch with Thomas Mathew. This came to light last October following an IB inquiry into a story that Tehelka had done on the clandestine funding of Northeast and Bihar insurgents by Dutch NGOs acting as fronts for the American Central Intelligence Agency.

The inquiry revealed that a section officer in the home ministry’s northeast division, Neeraj Kumar, had passed on “classified” information on the financing of Northeast and Bihar insurgents by Dutch NGOs to Samuel Mathew.

According to the IB probe, hand-written notes of home ministry officials on the subject as well as photo-copies of the minutes of a meeting attended by them were given to Samuel Mathew.

Tehelka’s story, put on its website on October 9, quoted entire portions from the documents Kumar passed on to Samuel Mathew.

The section officer confessed to the IB that he had also promised to pass on to Tehelka documents about the Centre’s counter-insurgency plans. Besides, Kumar made promises to hand over classified documents on the Purulia armsdrop case, which he did not directly handle or was privy to.

Kumar also revealed that it was he who had provided inputs regarding Shishir Sinha, the son-in-law of health minister C.P. Thakur. The story that Tehelka did on Sinha, who was director of the sensitive Kashmir-I division, was that he had ferreted out top secret information to the Inter-Services Intelligence after being “entrapped” by two Nepalese women.

Before the story could be uploaded on the website, Sinha was removed from the Kashmir desk.

The IB zeroed in on Thomas Mathew and linked him to activities of Kumar and Tehelka. Before joining government service, Kumar worked as a research assistant with a Patna-based Dutch NGO, Asian Development Research Institute. He was sacked for allegedly harassing a Dutch lady colleague and a criminal case was filed against him in Ranchi for continuing to torment the woman.

Following the revelations made by Kumar, IB director Shyamal Dutta wrote to home secretary Kamal Pande in December last year and recommended penal action against Kumar and Thomas Mathew.

However, on its own, the intelligence agency mounted a surveillance on Tehelka and sources said that every move of the news portal’s reporters had been watched by the IB. But before the agency could report to the government, Tehelka made public its tapes.

Mystery man

Tehelka today showed additional footage of a shot of an unidentified man receiving Rs 2 lakh from the reporters inside George Fernandes’ official residence. “It doesn’t matter who the person is: the fact is he is Jaya Jaitly’s aide. We have found a grab of that man on our tapes and have released it,” Tehelka chief Tarun Tejpal said.

The clip also had shots of Fernandes’ home and bundles of money being wrapped up in a newspaper as the man who took the “arms dealers” into the house said they could not take a briefcase in.

Tejpal scoffed at the Samata Party’s attempts to deviate from the actual findings. “The truth is that at no point does the Tehelka investigation claim that the money was handed over to (Union minister) Srinivas Prasad. It merely mentions that Srinivas, too, was in the room. The only error is that Tehelka mistakenly assumes that because of Jaya’s reference to Srinivas, he was also in the room.”

   

 
 
MAGAZINE BANNED FOR MRS G STORY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, March 22: 
The Congress-led Democratic Front government today banned the latest issue of a news magazine and threatened to sue it for running an “indecent” article about the personal life of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“It is disgusting enough to make any decent person hang his head in shame,” deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said of the write-up in the Assembly, announcing the ban on Outlook.

Maharashtra is the first Congress-ruled state to ban the March 26 issue that provoked outrage among Congressmen. Party workers had burnt the copies of the magazine in the financial capital, while pcc chief Gobindrao Adik had demanded that all copies of the magazine be confiscated.

The magazine drew the Congress fire after it ran an article on the book called Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi. The book, written by Katherine Frank, was brought out by Harper Collins.

Adik called the book “a pack of lies” and full of exaggeration and castigated the magazine for running the article. He warned the article might provoke violence.

The deputy chief minister announced the ban after Opposition leader Narayan Rane raised the issue in the Assembly. Bhujbal said the government was planning to take Outlook to court for the “objectionable article about a person who is not alive”.

The Opposition virtually backed the government in its decision to ban the magazine. bjp legislator Eknath Khadse called the article “vulgar and indecent”.

House furore

Ruling front mlas today stalled the Lower House for more than 15 minutes to protest remarks of a bjp legislator against President K.R. Narayanan.    


 
 
SATRAPS SUMMONED FOR SONIA SCREEN TEST 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has summoned Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh and his Chhattisgarh counterpart, Ajit Jogi, to match the debating skills of Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley in the studios of television channels that are taking the Tehelka battle into the drawing rooms.

With private channels flooding Congress general secretary Ambika Soni’s office with requests for panelists to be pitted against NDA and BJP leaders, the main Opposition party has woken up to the acute shortage of leaders who could effectively counter the likes of Swaraj, Jaitley, Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Narendra Modi.

The party has tried out Kapil Sibal, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Salman Khurshid, Kamal Nath, Soni and Jaipal Reddy. But, reluctant to repeat the leaders, the channels are demanding fresh faces. Moreover, AICC general secretaries like Nath, Soni and Ghulam Nabi Azad are caught up with political work in the states going to polls.

“Diggy Raja” and Jogi are rated highly by Sonia. The party president believes that her chief ministers will be able to forcefully present the Congress’ point of view and convince the nation that the party’s boycott of Parliament was not a political stunt, but aimed at focusing concern on national security.

The Congress is planning to ask party leaders to fan out in the interiors and hold simultaneous press conferences, almost like a “carpet bombing” operation, to spread the party’s viewpoint. Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes has issued a circular to party functionaries, asking them to visit district and state headquarters. When a group of party leaders called on Sonia today, she chided them: “What are you doing here? Go to the people and explain how the BJP is playing havoc with the nation.”

Sonia has called off her visit to Amethi and taken charge of the campaign against Vajpayee. She asked the AICC general secretaries to submit reports of the preparations. All state unit chiefs, including that of the Jammu and Kashmir unit, have been asked to hold rallies and meetings against the government.

Sonia has executed a minor reshuffle in the AICC secretariat, inducting new secretaries — Satyajit Gaikwad, Imran Kidwai, Meem Afzal, K.K. Sharma and Major Prakash.

Soni has been relieved of the charge of Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir as she is in charge of media, the Congress President’s Office and looking after Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Kamal Nath will now look after Gujarat, while Mohsina Kidwai has been given charge of Jammu and Kashmir.

   

 
 
BJP MOUNTS QUIT HEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
Seizing on the CBI case against her personal secretary Vincent George, the BJP today launched an indirect attack on Sonia Gandhi, saying the Congress should force her to step down both as party chief and leader of the Opposition.

The party made it clear that it would not press for Sonia’s resignation. Rather, the Congress should “pressure” her to resign from these posts.

“It suits us to have Sonia Gandhi continue as Congress president. Why should we ask her to resign? Let Congressmen demand her resignation,” BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said at a press briefing today.

Malhotra denied that the CBI move was prompted by “political vendetta”.

“Vincent George was showered with gifts. Did the government send them out of vendetta? Properties worth crores of rupees have been registered by the government in his name in Delhi, is this vendetta?” he asked.

The spokesman maintained that the chargesheet against George related to the period between 1984 and 1989 when his boss, Rajiv Gandhi, was both Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition.

“Vincent George came in the public servant category,” Malhotra said.

Stating that the Bofors scam had also erupted in the same period, he said the “needle of suspicion” pointed as much towards George as the former Prime Minister.

As a result of his alleged involvement, Sonia, Malhotra added, owed an explanation to the country on why she had allowed “such a corrupt person to remain as her secretary for 10 years”.

To shore up his case that the Congress should seek Sonia’s ouster, Malhotra said: “There were no charges against George Fernandes and yet he resigned as defence minister. The BJP president resigned and so did Jaya Jaitley.”

Malhotra also asked the Congress to retract its demand for the resignation of the Vajpayee government and to call off its fight at the grassroots on the Tehelka revelations.

   

 
 
SANGH ARMS GO AFTER ATAL AIDES 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
The Sangh parivar has kept up the heat on the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and its officials after the Tehelka exposé despite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rooting for Brajesh Mishra.

The PMO came under attack from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) which said it was headed by persons who were “insensitive to national interest”.

“The government is facing a crisis created by people like N.K. Singh (officer on special duty in the PMO) and Montek Singh Ahluwalia (member, Planning Commission) who do not have any mandate or accountability to the people,” SJM’s all-India organiser Murlidhar Rao was quoted as saying.

Speaking on the credibility challenge the NDA government is faced with, Rao added: “When key policy-making positions are given to people who are insensitive to national interest, such problems are bound to happen.”

Another Sangh constituent, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), asked Vajpayee to punish everyone, including PMO officials, if they were found guilty in the investigations ordered into the Tehelka exposé.

“The exposé has happened for the good of the country in the sense that it has woken us up to the malaise in the system. I urge the Prime Minister to punish everyone including PMO officials if they are found guilty,” said VHP working president Ashok Singhal.

Both Singhal and Rao were soft on Vajpayee in varying degrees, though. The SJM convener said the Prime Minister himself was not involved in corrupt practices, but had handed over governance to “bureaucratic leadership”.

“This government lacks a political direction. It is not led by a political leadership, but by a bureaucratic leadership and we have always opposed that,” Rao said.

He added it was not possible for people to believe in the “sincerity and credibility of a government which has such people at the helm of affairs”.

Interestingly, Rao is close to the K.N. Govindacharya-S. Gurumurthy combine. The trio has assailed the Vajpayee government’s economic policies in the past. After being marginalised by the BJP, Govindacharya has kept a low-profile as has his confidant, Gurumurthy. But they have apparently not allowed the SJM to ease the pressure on the government.

Singhal expressed his differences with RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, who had claimed last week that the present crisis confronting the government was the making of “incompetent” PMO officials.

“It is for Vajpayee to decide who is competent and who is not. Vajpayee is a spotless leader and there is nobody head and shoulders above him to lead the nation,” he said.

   

 
 
BUSH SENDS SECURITY GURU TO DELHI 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
Ending days of speculation, President George W. Bush today appointed Robert D. Blackwill the US’ new ambassador to India.

Blackwill will replace Richard Celeste, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton’s Democratic government and served here for over three years.

The career diplomat turned Republican academic can play an important role in not only maintaining the current momentum in Indo-US relations but also help strengthening them further.

“Bob Blackwill understands the important place India holds in my foreign policy agenda and he will be an outstanding American to India. He will bring a wealth of expertise to the position,” Bush said soon after his appointment was announced in Washington.

Secretary of state Colin Powell had recently said that he wanted a career diplomat as ambassador to India. Though he does not strictly fit the bill, Blackwill is acceptable to both the White House and the state department.

One of Bush’s 10 key foreign policy advisers, he is known in Republican circles as a “political-professional”, which indicates his access to the President’s office as well as the ability to fulfil the objectives of the state department.

A Belfer lecturer in international security at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Blackwill is the author and editor of many books and is considered an expert on arms control and European affairs.

During his career in the foreign service, Blackwill has served as political counsellor in the US embassy in Tel Aviv. He was director of West European Affairs on the National Security Council Staff and principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

He was also the ambassador and chief negotiator at the negotiations with the Warsaw Pact on Conventional Forces in Europe and received a special award from the German government for his role in the re-unification of the country a decade ago.

As special assistant for national security affairs, Blackwill had worked closely with George Bush Sr in 1989-90. He was the lead author of the report on America’s security interest last year in a panel where the current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was also a member and played an important role in writing the Republican Party’s foreign policy objectives during last year’s campaign.

   

 
 
ANOTHER STOCK SUICIDE 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
Yet another shattered share investor killed himself in the capital, unable to bear the losses he suffered after the stock market collapse.

At 3.46 am when all was quiet in East Delhi, the phone kept ringing at the Mayur Vihar police station. The caller informed police about the suicide of Virender Kumar Maini.

Kumar’s body was found hanging in the drawing room. Little did Kumar’s daughter, who was visiting him, know that her father would take his life.

Kumar, 64, a retired State Bank of India employee, had invested a part of his savings in the share market. According to the police, Kumar had been depressed for quite some time but the stock market battering prompted him to take his life around 3 am.

He did not leave any suicide note for his three daughters and his wife. The body was taken to Jeevan Anmol hospital where Kumar was declared dead. A few hours before Kumar’s hanged himself to death, a broker and his family committed suicide in Rajouri Gardens in west Delhi.

The bodies of Sanjay Agarwal and his 10-year-old son Chirag were found hanging next to each other. His 33-year-old wife Sapna was found hanging in the bedroom and 10-year-old daughter Ashita in another next room.

Minutes before taking his life, Agarwal called his in-laws and told them that the children and his wife had already committed suicide and that now he was going to take his life.

Sapna’s parents immediately informed Agarwal’s father who lives across the road from his son’s house. With the help of the neighbours, Agarwal’s father broke open the door and found the entire family dead.

Police said Agarwal was a sub-broker with a stock broking firm in Karol Bagh.

The crash had stunned him into disbelief and he had returned from a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi a day before the mass suicide. Police said they found three suicide notes, one written by Agarwal, one by Sapna and the third was a joint note.

   

 
 
ATAL IN TOLERANCE APPEAL 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, March 22: 
After a series of Quran-burning incidents, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee issued a strong statement tonight, condemning attacks on the holy book and urging the states concerned to take immediate action.

“These acts are aimed at weakening national unity and communal amity in India by creating disharmony, disaffection and conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims,” Vajpayee said, but added that they were “isolated and aberrant in nature”.

Yesterday, Shiv Sena members were linked to Quran-burning in Amritsar. The week-long communal violence in Kanpur, which claimed over a dozen lives, was also triggered by posters of Quran-burning put up allegedly by Bajrang Dal workers in Muslim-dominated areas.

Vajpayee said two persons have been arrested in Delhi for burning the Quran.

The Prime Minister indirectly criticised Hindu fundamentalists. “Those miscreants who are reported to have defiled the Holy Quran as a protest against the destruction of the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan are therefore irreligious and anti-national criminals,” Vajpayee said.

He stressed that the Quran was sacred not only to Muslims but also to all other communities in India. “We believe in equal respect for all faiths and revere their sacred texts and symbols, since all religions profess universal values of peace and brotherhood,” Vajpayee said.

Despite the Prime Minister’s concern over the attacks on communal amity, the BJP maintained that along with the Tehelka revelations and the stock market crash, they were “part of a larger conspiracy hatched by external forces to destabilise the country”.

Vajpayee also appealed to all communities to “keep a strong vigil against extremist elements and provocateurs, who deliberately spread rumours and incite violence”.

“The past few years have witnessed a relatively high level of communal peace. The citizens and the government should together strive to maintain and further strengthen it. Similarly, sinister attempts by some organisations to fuel anti-India propaganda among Muslims in other countries should be foiled,” Vajpayee said.

On the heels of Vajpayee’s statement came another from Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, denying that his outfit was behind the Quran-burning in Amritsar.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh — who was attacked by the Opposition for failing to contain the Kanpur flare-up — said he was ready to form an all-party government if it helped maintain peace.

   
 

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