But the rally, though marked by an impressive turnout, was marred by the boycott of Vajpayee’s southern ally, the DMK. The Telugu Desam, which is not part of the NDA but supports it from outside, also stayed away though an invitation was sent to Chandrababu Naidu.
More than half the crowd was brought by Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, clearly evident as Indian National Lok Dal flags outnumbered the BJP buntings. Lok Jan Shakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan also contributed sizeably to the rally’s health.
Explaining the DMK’s absence, sources said party leaders could not make it as they were busy with poll preparations. However, MDMK chief Vaiko made an appearance.
The speakers harped on conspiracy theories behind the Tehelka exposé and blasted the Opposition for stalling Parliament and trying to unleash anarchy.
Vajpayee, the last speaker at the meeting which began around noon, attacked the Congress for “creating chaos” in the country. “This is war... you have declared. We accept the challenge. We will take the battle to the people’s court as well,” he said.
Admitting that corruption was gnawing away at the system and that called for introspection, he blamed the four-decade-old Congress rule for the rot.
Though the Prime Minister strongly defended former defence minister George Fernandes — who resigned following the portal’s revelations — and praised his efficiency and integrity, he did not speak out for Bangaru Laxman, who was forced to quit as BJP president. Nobody mentioned Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee either, who left the NDA after the exposé.
“Does the Congress want to create chaos in the country... It is calling us enemy and traitor. Either they don’t know what they are saying or the seriousness of their utterances,” Vajpayee said, without mentioning Sonia’s speech at the Congress plenary in Bangalore, in which she accused the government of condoning traitors.
Later, he took the battle to Sonia’s court, saying: “Srimati Sonia Gandhi has come down (to) using “apshabd (abusive language).” Without taking names, he referred to one of her speeches again, where she had said the Prime Minister did not have “tameez (manners)”. “May be they think they have tameez. They are teaching tameez. I do not know whether they know the meaning...,” he said.
Declaring that his government would not bow to the Opposition’s “hullad bazi (lumpen tactics)”, he said he accepted the “challenge of war” thrown by those “desperate to gain power”. In an obvious response to Sonia’s speech, declaring “war” on the NDA government, Vajpayee said: “They have sounded the bugle, now there is no going back.”
Speaking earlier, Fernandes also assailed Sonia, saying a person who did not want to become an Indian citizen until recently was today giving sermons on patriotism.
“She is teaching us patriotism,” he taunted, accusing the Congress of spreading lies and blaming the media for lapping them up. He said though he has been a minister in three different governments, he still did not own a house anywhere in the country.
About a dozen NDA leaders, including L.K. Advani, Fernandes, Farooq Abdullah, Chautala, Parkash Singh Badal, Navin Patnaik, Jana Krishnamurthi, Paswan, Sharad Yadav and Manohar Joshi, also assailed the Congress for spreading “falsehood”.
A resolution adopted on the budget in the concluding session noted: “While initiating the second generation reforms, including labour reforms, as these are in the overall interests of the economy and to improve quality of human life, utmost care should be taken by the government to protect interests of the poorer sections and workers with regard to increase in employment opportunities and accessibility to essential items.”
Caution was the byword in the economic resolution, which was an unmitigated praise of Budget 2001. When it was forced to respond to the stock market fluctuations soon after the budget, the blame was shifted on the Tehelka exposé and the Congress.
The document said: “The Central budget for 2001-02 has received widespread appreciation, surpassing the earlier three budgets of the NDA government. Yet, within a fortnight of presentation of the budget, when there was an all-round sense of hope and confidence, the phoney crisis created by the Tehelka tapes and the sinister exploitation of the same has caused damage to the economy.” The resolution went on to affirm the executive’s resolve to “expose this cynical game of the Congress party by educating the people”.
The NDA government’s “success” in containing the inflation rate around 4 per cent in terms of consumer price index despite such setbacks as an erratic monsoon, low agricultural growth and escalation in world petroleum prices was lauded. The resolution also took note of the government’s “concrete measures” to promote the agricultural sector’s long-term interests and cited the 24-per cent enhancement in overall credit support to agriculture and the extension of kisan credit cards to all eligible farmers as examples.
It said the proposed amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, to facilitate free movement of foodgrain would end the “paradoxical situation of surplus in certain regions and simultaneously shortage in other regions within the country”.
Even the government’s decision to reduce the interest rate on small savings from 11 per cent to 9.5 per cent — which was mildly criticised in the inaugural address of new BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi yesterday — was justified in unambiguous terms in the resolution.
“Though there is a cut in actual gain by 1.5 percentage points as compared to the immediate past, in real terms they (the depositors) continue to be the gainers. Because, inflation in terms of consumer price index is still around 4 per cent, over 5 per cent below the new interest rate,” it argued.
Another resolution on the demolition of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban urged the Centre to request the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and Unesco to “carefully monitor the Taliban militia’s activities”.
You have to cross a security fence of carbine-toting plainclothesmen whose piercing gaze sizes you up as you enter the yard of Mayur building, Santacruz, on the way to the third-floor office of the director-producer.
His home is off-limits to anyone but his dear ones.
His teak-panelled office is windowless and the door always bolted from inside.
Inside, the former actor sits in a plush chair in an air-conditioned cubicle, affable beneath a steely exterior.
When most Bollywood stars and directors have buckled under underworld pressure, you are defying the mob, despite the fact that there was a deadly attempt on your life. What gives you the courage?
My honesty and my straightforwardness. You have to work sincerely and be very honest about your profession. Once you are honest in your profession, you are not worried about anything.
So you are not scared?
It is not that I am not scared of them. I am scared because life is very precious to everybody, not mine but my family’s is more precious to me. My son’s life is more precious to me. My daughter’s life is very precious to me. You are scared, but then you have to work. You should not succumb to their pressure, to their demands because once you succumb, it becomes difficult...
There is no end to it.
Absolutely, no end to it.
But how did it all start?
I can’t tell you the whole story. This should not come out in the press. It is only between me and the police.
When did it begin?
It started in the very week Kaho naa... pyar hai was released. When I was shot.
Nothing before that?
You said you are afraid for your family, for your son. But how worried is Hrithik? Is it affecting his work?
No. It doesn’t affect his work. He is putting in his best and he works sincerely. These things do trouble you sometimes, but that trouble I don’t pass on to Hrithik. It is only with me.
You mean they don’t threaten him directly?
So as father you take him under your wings?
Yes, I do.
Now that entire Bollywood is under police surveillance following the Chori chori chupke chupke episode is everyone worried in the industry?
Everybody is worried (about the underworld). Nobody wants this added tension. This is always on your mind. So, it becomes very difficult (to face the underworld threats) when you are working hard and struggling to be a success.
Because nothing comes easy in Bollywood?
Why Bollywood? Everywhere. If a businessman gets a threatening call, he becomes worried. Then he starts thinking ‘am I working for myself and my family or for others?’ A common man does not always understand this. But if he gets a similar call and has to give away Rs 10 from his earning of Rs 100, he will also get worried.
That’s true. But how does it feel when you cannot move around in your own city without police tailing you. Is it suffocating?
It’s not a question of suffocation. It has become a way of life now. Initially, we felt suffocated, did not know what to do. But, then, to move ahead in your life you just cannot sit at home. You have to work. So, it has become a way of working now.
How did you cope?
Nothing. We were worried that this thing has happened.
You didn’t turn to someone like an astrologer for example?
No, astrologers cannot help you in these circumstances.
You don’t believe in astrology?
It is not that we don’t believe. I do believe. But those people cannot help you in this. Nobody can help you in this. It is only God who can help you. We left everything to Him. We prayed to the God and said you have to look after us. We have not cheated anybody, always helped people, so you should take care of us. With his blessings, we are moving around.
Do you have nightmares, sometimes, despite being guarded by the police round the clock?
Yes, I do. What I have gone through, I only know. No one can feel the pain that I felt when I was shot.
Was there anybody who stood by you at the time?
The whole world was with me.
Anybody you remember in particular?
No, it was literally the whole world. Until then, I did not know that so many people loved me. When I was in hospital, the whole industry was there. I got phone calls from all over the world. So many letters I got from people I don’t know at all, blessing me, my son. That’s what gave me the courage. I felt I had nothing to be scared of when the whole world is with me, God is with me.
Do you think the arrest of people like Nazim Rizvi and Bharat Shah will help cleanse the system?
Yes, I think so.
But once the police focus shifts away from Bollywood, will things be back to square one?
You never know. I can’t comment on that.
But has there ever been any crackdown before on Bollywood people with mob links?
No, this is the first time this has happened.
Are the bad elements in film industry scared because of police pressure?
I wouldn’t know that because I don’t know who they are.
Are the good people still scared?
Good people are working, But what’s at the back of their minds I don’t know. But there is tension.
You mean a fear psychosis?
Yes. Good people are suffering from that psychosis.
How did the rot start in the industry?
I wouldn’t know that. My job is to come to the office and just make one film every two years and then I go back home. I am a family man. I am not so much associated with film people. I have very few friends in the industry.
You don’t socialise much?
No, I do. But that is with my friends only.
So you are not an outdoors person. But what about Hrithik?
Hrithik is also like me. An indoor type. He prefers to stay at home after work.
But can the rot be stemmed in the industry or is it beyond redemption?
It can be. Things are changing now, getting better.
There is a ray of hope?
I am hopeful.
Something positive will come of the police action?
I think so. But we’ll have to wait and watch.
You and your son are the mob target because you are a success, right?
I don’t know really. When I was hit within five days of Kaho naa... pyar hai’s release we had no idea the film was going to be a major hit. All we knew at that time was it would not be a flop. So, I don’t know why they chose to attack me then.
May be, the mob had better business instincts. They sensed the film would be a major hit and Hrithik would be a megastar.
You had a close call. Even now you and your son have death threats looming over your heads. Don’t you think it is a very high price to pay for success?
You have to. What to do. You cannot close down shop and sit at home because of the threats. You can’t do that.
You have learnt to live with it?
Yes, we have. We are doing a job.
How did you make a sudden comeback with Kaho naa... pyar hai?
I was always there. I started making my films in 1983. I made Kamchor that ran for 75 weeks, then I made Khudgarz that ran for 15 weeks, then Khun bhari mang and Kishan kanhaiya, both ran for 25 weeks. I made Karan Arjun which ran for 75 weeks, Koyla and then Kaho naa.... I was there all through. I have made 10 films, nine of them superhits.
But Kaho... naa has earned you maximum kudos, unlike any of your other films.
Because I made the film with my son. To make a film with a newcomer and if that film becomes a success, you get publicity 10 times more than usual. Kaho naa.. turned out to be a big hit and my son became a big star, so I got double publicity.
Did you teach Hrithik acting?
Not acting. But he was with me as assistant director for five years. He made most of my films, including Karan Arjun, Koyla and Khel, with me. He was learning what is right and what is wrong.
You brought him in or he came on his own?
He wanted to join films. So, I told him ‘you better come and assist me and you will learn more about films’.
Was acting his passion or film making?
Well, when you join as an assistant director, you know the inside and outside of film making. You learn not just what happens in front of the camera, but behind it. You learn about the sound, light and editing. This helps you as an actor later and gives you more experience.
How would you, as a director and not as father, rate Hrithik the actor?
So, you spotted the talent early in the day?
Yes, that’s why he did his very first film with me.
Your mother is a Bengali. How strong is your connection with Calcutta or for that matter Bengal?
My mother was originally from Calcutta and I like the language very much.
You speak Bangla?
Ektu ektu bolte pari, kintu bhalo kore bolte parina (I can speak it a bit, but not well enough). I used to visit my grandparents in Delhi. They were all Bengalis. I used to stay with them, have machher jhol and chacchadi. My mother still makes machher jhol and chacchadi at home. So, there is a close association (with Bengal). All my films have done very well in Calcutta. It looks as if they are fond of the family, as if we are from Bengal.
How often do you go to Calcutta?
I don’t go often. But whenever I go to Calcutta, I feel as if I have come to my hometown. I don’t know why I feel that way.
Does Hrithik feel the same way? Calcutta is quite crazy about him anyway.
Very much. He has inherited the same feelings that I have for Calcutta. He has the same love for Calcutta. That’s why he did his first public show in Calcutta. He had made the decision himself.
What are you working on now?
I am working on two or three scripts, but have not finalised yet.
With Hrithik in the lead?
Would you do outdoor shoots with Hrithik despite the threats?
You don’t see any problems?
If there is a problem, we will face it. If you are destined to die, you will die anyway, even while crossing the road. Does it mean you will stop crossing roads or stop boarding trains or airplanes for fear of accident?
Signalling that the revelations would be a key plank of the Left Front’s campaign, Jyoti Basu and V.P. Singh mounted a blistering attack on Mamata at a rally at the Brigade Parade ground.
“She (Mamata) quit the railway ministry, the NDA alliance and came away from Delhi as she was scared after the Tehelka expose mentioned that like defence and power, fixers were cutting big deals in the railway ministry too. People named her before the spy camera,” Basu said.
The Tehelka expose and “anti-people” economic policies of the NDA government were the focus of the two-and-half-hour meeting.
The number of Left Front supporters stretched to a few lakhs. Some of them came marching, while some rode on buses to reach the ground from different parts of the state.
Singh, Bhattacharjee and Basu sought to plug into the gathering, whipping the morality and ethics horse and accused Mamata of double-standards, falsehood and political violence.
Impressed by the size of the crowd, Singh said: “Faisla to ho chuka hai, aab intezaar hai tarikh ke liye” (the results are already out in favour of the Left, people are only waiting for the announcement of the poll dates), prompting loud cheers and chanting of slogans.
Setting the tone of the meeting, Singh said Mamata’s refusal to send in a formal letter of withdrawal of support from the NDA to the President and her studied silence on the need for a clear-cut announcement about snapping ties with the BJP were evidence of her “double-standards”.
“Why isn’t she writing to the President about her withdrawal of support from the NDA? This and a few other acts of hers give rise to the suspicion that she has strong subterranean links with the BJP and the NDA,” Singh said.
The former Prime Minister criticised the Vajpayee government for its decision to have the charges levelled by Tehelka probed by a committee under a retired judge as he felt that the charges were already well established.
“There is no need for a probe . Everyone has seen BJP and Samata leaders accepting money for a defence deal,” he said .
“What good is a truth committee or commission. The country has seen the formation of a great number of them to find out the truth and fix the culpability of wrongdoing on the involved national leaders. But in reality, none of these committees achieved anything remotely connected with the brief given to them. In fact, a committee is set up only to suppress the truth.”
Bhattacharjee, Basu, Biman Bose and other Left Front leaders accused Mamata of pandering to “separatist and divisive forces” in Bengal and cited her tie-ups with the Jharkhandis and the Kamtapur People’s Party — both of fighting for separate homelands.
“She is out to create anarchy in the state. We are not going to allow her to replicate her violent Keshpur or Garbeta line in other parts of Bengal,” Bhattacharjee said, addressing his first Brigade meeting as chief minister.
However, neither Basu nor any other Left leader criticised the Congress, which is currently holding talks with Mamata to forge an electoral alliance, even though they slammed the BJP, accusing it of being communal.
Basu said the Congress is not communal, but some of its leaders at times get involved with communal elements.
The former Prime Minister who presided over the launch of the reforms is dead against “clearance sale” of the public sector units. According to him, liberalisation does not mean privatisation.
“To put it bluntly, sale is certainly not the next generation of disinvestment. Let us not delude ourselves. Sale is a totally different species not the new generation of disinvestment,” Rao said in a paper titled ‘Liberalisation and public sector’. The document will provide a theoretical framework to Sonia to move backward on reforms.
The paper is doing rounds in Congress circles and for once, reforms guru Manmohan Singh and Ramesh cannot find fault with it.
Referring to the BJP’s “disinformation” that it was following Rao’s disinvestment policy, the former Prime Minister asked reform gurus to ponder on whether foreign investment is benefiting the Indian public. “The power sector, for instance, has belied all our high hopes so far,” he said.
Rao said in the reforms package of 1991-96, “competition” had been the remedy for stagnation, obsolescence and lack of modernisation due to the government’s mounting financial stringency.
“There was no intention of transferring ownership,” Rao said, adding that even at Davos — Mecca of the worldwide capitalist industrial fraternity — his government had made it clear that there was no reversal of “mixed economy”.
Rao’s words gave a boost to Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, who is fighting over Balco, when he said the Centre has no right to transfer de facto and de jure ownership of the people. “No one has a right to do so, least of all a government with clearly unclear popular support. Further, it is not a question of the terms on which the sales are made. It is the very idea of permanent alienation of the nation’s own joint property — the structures along with the land they stand on — that can not be countenanced,” Rao said.
Rao argued that the government should be treated as a trustee of the land and national resources without any mandate to tamper with people’s ownership. “You cannot sell off people’s property worth two lakh crore without batting an eye,” he said.
Making a strong case against sale of airports, Rao recalled that the single feat of taking control of Srinagar airport in 1947 helped India retain Jammu and Kashmir.
“Whatever the shrinking global village may bring, I, for one, do not see the complete withering away of the nation state in the foreseeable future,” he said.
Rao said the basic criterion for determining the lines of advance must not be private profit but social gain. “Neither the Parliament nor any political party has said anything opposed to this dictum so far,” Rao said, asking Congressmen not to let the social gain bit get jettisoned.
“An impression is sought to be created that public sector is totally unnecessary and that private sector could have done wonders with industrialisation. As a person who lived through those stages, I reiterate that the emergence of public sector was one good thing that happened to the country”, Rao said.
Revealing the seat-sharing equations of his front, Karunanidhi said the BJP and the MDMK will get 21 seats each, Pudhiya Thamizhagam (a Dalit outfit) 10, Dalit Panthers 8, Makkal Thamizh Desam, a party of Yadavs, 6, Muslim Jamath 3, and the rest will go to minor groups with pockets of support. Three have been set aside for the “friends of the DMK”, a reference to the followers of those who quit the Tamil Maanila Congress under the leadership of former finance minister P. Chidambaram.
The chief minister kept the door ajar for possible partners, saying his party could reduce its own quota by a couple of seats and allot them to others interested in joining hands with him.
Believed to be fighting with his back to the wall, Karunanidhi is perhaps hoping that contesting more seats would translate into more seats in the Assembly. Incidentally, the ADMK will be fielding candidates in 141 seats. In a move that seems to be a ploy to pre-empt any rebellion, most smaller parties, barring the Pudhiya Thamizhagam, will contest on the DMK’s symbol. Those elected on the rising sun symbol will be considered DMK members and would attract the anti-defection law if they seek to vote against the government.
The swoop on Moktan, chief of the Gorkha Liberation Organisation’s Kalimpong unit, comes a day after police laid their hands on Subba at a hideout on the Nepal border. Police have been trailing the former Kalimpong MLA since the Tinkataria encounter with suspected Naga militants last November.
Darjeeling police super Sanjay Chander said his team raided Moktan’s 16th Mile house after being tipped off that he would go there on a short visit. “On a tip-off, a special police party raided his house and arrested him around 5:30 pm. We have been on the lookout since the Tinkataria incident,” he said.
Chander claimed Moktan was a big catch because he was behind the revival of GLO’s Kalimpong unit and had organised arms training camps deep inside the jungles in collusion with “out-of-work” NSCN militants.
But the Gorkha National Liberation Front today scoffed at the back-to-back arrests, saying several conspirators behind the attack on Subash Ghising were still at large. Terming Subba’s arrest as that of a “joker who was ninth on the list of key conspirators”, it gave the police another week to net others involved in the attack. The GNLF has been threatening to indefinitely shut down the hills until the “guilty” are arrested.
In a meeting this afternoon of GNLF’s three branch committees under Kurseong unit chief I.N. Pradhan, the outfit unanimously demanded the arrest of all co-conspirators named during interrogation. It also set an April 1 deadline for their arrest pending which the indefinite bandh threat will be carried out.
“The GNLF, which reviewed the action taken by the SIT after the one-month ultimatum given to the Darjeeling administration which expired on March 18 and the subsequent seven-day deadline which expired today, has resolved to demand that all conspirators be arrested by April 1. If the Darjeeling police are not able to do so, the party shall be free to call an indefinite bandh from April 2 to press for the arrest of all terrorists involved in the dastardly attack on Subash Ghising,” Pradhan said.
On Subba’s arrest, he said: “Though Darjeeling police have done a commendable job in arresting some conspirators, they have failed to round up the main masterminds and financiers behind the conspiracy even after a month-and-a-half. Most of the key conspirators are still at large.”
As news filtered that the bandh had been put off, the hill people breathed easy. “The suspense over the bandh was too much. We have a week’s reprieve from another round of senseless bandhs,” a Darjeeling resident said.
Police said the incident happened in a club in Barberia village in South 24-Parganas where youngsters had gathered to manufacture crackers for Raksha Kali puja. They were mixing gun powder and other combustibles in an iron pot when it exploded.
“There was a huge quantity of crackers stored in a corner which caught fire due to the explosion. The room was engulfed in flames and four people died on the spot,” additional SP R.K. Singh said.
Identifying the examinee as Mridul Guchhait (15), he said she had fared well in Thursday’s English exams and had been preparing for the next one. “We did not have words to console her parents who are yet to recover from the shock,” he said.
The other victims are Surajit Bar, 8, Pankaj Bag, 10, and Prasanta Mete, 16. Nine persons received splinter injuries.
Witnesses said the accident happened due to excess heat generated by over-grinding of the ingredients. This set off sparks which spread to the crackers and caused a huge explosion. As black smoke engulfed the room which had only one exit, those inside got trapped. The fire brigade arrived much after locals put out the fire.
A passenger and a constable of the Government Railway Police (GRP) were wounded when they tried to resist the dacoits. Those injured were admitted to Malda railway hospital.
GRP sources said the armed gang, posing as passengers, boarded a compartment of the 265 Up Bandel-Bhagalpur train when it stopped at Sankopara station. After 10 minutes, the gang went on the rampage.
The GRP personnel, who were on duty in the compartment, tried to resist them. But they failed to stop the dacoits as they were wielding dangerous weapons.
The miscreants attacked GRP constable Khudiram Dey and a passenger, who tried to chase them, with bhojalis. They also tried to snatch a rifle from a railway policeman. The miscreants then stopped the train, which was approaching Bollalpur station, and fled.
The incident is the third train dacoity in Murshidabad in the past one month. In February, miscreants raided a train near Jangipur and looted cash and goods worth Rs 5 lakh from the passengers. In a similar incident, dacoits struck a compartment of Gour Express last month.
Murshidabad superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said a search has been launched to arrest the miscreants. All nearby police stations have been alerted and asked to maintain vigil.