Hint of Tehelka tape echo in Vittal report
EU keen on annual India summit
Left readies for divorce as Mahanta flirts with BJP
DYFI raid on police station
Militants ban kirtans
DMK loses friend to Amma
EC to consult parties before sensitive tag
Chhoto Angaria gears up for CBI team visit
CPM block member killed on way to meet
Graffiti glut on Chinsurah Raj relic

 
 
HINT OF TEHELKA TAPE ECHO IN VITTAL REPORT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 1: 
Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal today indicated that his final report on a series of defence deals since 1986 makes critical observations on the role of middlemen.

Speaking to reporters after the second D.P. Kohli memorial lecture on Anatomy and Epidemic of Corruption here this morning, Vittal declined any specific comments on the contents of his report, but said the Tehelka exposé only “vindicated my stand”. The CBI organised the lecture, delivered by Justice K.T. Thomas of the Supreme Court, on the occasion of the agency’s foundation day and in honour of its first chief, D.P. Kohli.

Asked about the role of middlemen in some of the deals which former defence minister George Fernandes had asked the CVC to probe after the Kargil war in 1999, Vittal said: “I think it will not be proper to comment on any part of the report at the moment.”

He was also tightlipped on the number of “questionable” transactions. All the deals, including those made during and immediately after Kargil, which the CVC had been asked to probe were worth over Rs 75 crore.

Vittal, however, said several allegations on kickbacks appeared to be true. The commission went through nearly 500 files and scrutinised more than 20 allegations levelled against the army, air force and navy. During the probe, an important file on the role of middlemen went missing, only to be traced a couple of months later.

In his speech, the CVC opposed state funding of elections, saying party candidates would “always manage to get more funds from other sources to compliment the share made available by the government”. Rejecting state funding “outright”, Vittal said: “When there is not enough funds for drinking water, schools and other social sectors, it is dangerous for the state to fund elections.”

Vittal suggested “doing away with political corruption” by bringing in transparency in government functioning and “removing black money, which accounts for 40 per cent of the country’s GDP”, from the system.

In his lecture, Justice Thomas said “expensive polls was one of the real causes of corruption” in the country. Suggesting that financially dishonest individuals enter the fray to further corrupt the political system, he pointed out: “When the courts pronounce a person guilty of corruption, he contests the polls and wins.”

On the state funding of elections, Vittal differed with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee who, after the Tehelka exposé and the subsequent resignation of BJP president Bangaru Laxman, George Fernandes and Jaya Jaitly, favoured a debate on the matter before a final decision was taken.

Vittal was also unhappy over how the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the CVC Ordinance of 1998, which the Union Cabinet recently accepted, had reduced the commission from “a watchdog to a lapdog”.

He particularly mentioned the government’s acceptance of a key JPC recommendation to retain the “single directive” principle. It implies that investigating agencies like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, will need the government’s permission to proceed against any officer of the rank of joint secretary and above against whom there are corruption charges.

   

 
 
EU KEEN ON ANNUAL INDIA SUMMIT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, April 1: 
The European Union, Delhi’s largest trading partner, is keen to turn its summit-level meeting with India into an annual feature. The next India-EU summit is scheduled to be held in Delhi this October.

The decision, being seen as evidence of India’s rising stock in the West, comes in the wake of the Vajpayee government’s move to further open up its market. The export-import policy announced yesterday removes quantitative restrictions from most sectors, including agriculture, in line with Delhi’s commitment to the WTO agreement. The trade figure between the two sides run to over 21 billion euros, and is expected to go up with the opening up of the market.

The last India-EU summit was held in Lisbon last year. Apart from India, there are five countries — the US, Russia, China and Japan — with which the EU holds such meetings. The sixth summit takes place with the African nations as a whole. The EU’s desire to extend this honour to India shows its growing importance in the outside world, both politically and economically.

“There is a move now to institutionalise this dialogue at the summit level,” an official said. The Delhi summit may be preceded by a business meeting, possibly jointly organised by the CII and the Ficci for a better response from foreign investors.

Surprisingly, the relations between India and the EU have strengthened only over the past few years though it has remained one of Delhi’s major trading partners. The turning point was perhaps the aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear tests, when, the British presence notwithstanding, the EU, mainly because of the French initiative, resisted sanctions against Delhi. The EU move is an indication that it has identified Delhi as a key player not only in the region, but at the international level, too, with whom it is keen on having closer and deeper cooperation.

The relations will receive further boost as foreign minister Jaswant Singh leaves for Stockholm to attend the India-EU troika meeting on April 4. Singh will stop at Denmark and hold bilateral talks with his Danish counterpart, Mognes Lykketoft, at Copenhagen on April 3.

At the meeting, Singh will have wide-ranging discussions with Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

A number of developments in the region, including India-Pakistan relations and the possibility of renewed dialogue, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, are likely to come up for talks. The EU may also seek Delhi’s views on the developments in Sri Lanka.

The US-proposed National Missile Defence system is another area where both sides would like to know each other’s views and discuss the likely fallout if the US goes ahead with it. The EU, which was initially opposed to the programme, has softened its stand and is keen to know whether the shield would be extended to them.

India is against militarisation of outer space, but has adopted an ambiguous position on a land-based missile defence system. It has not yet joined China in condemning Washington’s proposed move.

However, Delhi is worried about the cascading effect it may have on security in South Asia and, therefore, would be eager to ascertain the EU’s views.

   

 
 
LEFT READIES FOR DIVORCE AS MAHANTA FLIRTS WITH BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, April 1: 
The Left today steeled itself for a bitter parting of ways with the Asom Gana Parishad as chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta shed his pretensions and headed towards an electoral tie-up with the BJP. Veteran CPM leader Nandeswar Talukdar summed up the Left’s response to the AGP’s dalliance with saffron. “We are pulling out. There is no question of aligning with a communal party,” he told The Telegraph.

A source in the CPI confirmed the Left’s decision. “We have no option but to snap ties with the AGP,” he said.

The AGP had agreed to adopt the Left’s anti-Congress and anti-BJP stance during the last meeting of the four-party ruling alliance. The alliance partners were scheduled to meet again on Wednesday to discuss poll strategy and finalise the seat-sharing arrangement.

State CPI secretary Bhogeswar Dutta said the alliance had reached the point of no return with the AGP virtually committing itself to a truck with the BJP. “The CPI considers the BJP a communal, reactionary and pro-imperialist party. Hence, it will not maintain ties with any party joining hands with the BJP,” he said.

Members of the AGP’s central executive went into a huddle tonight to discuss the new political equation. Party sources said the outcome of the meeting would be known only tomorrow.

The AGP’s general body is also assembling here tomorrow.

A source in New Delhi told The Telegraph over phone that talks were on between AGP and BJP leaders on the issue of seat-sharing. He said all other issues had been “settled”.

The BJP is reported to have demanded 25 seats held by the AGP. However, the latter has agreed to leave only 18 seats to its prospective ally.

While the vibes between the AGP and the BJP’s central leadership are positive, the saffron party’s state unit is still opposed to the idea of an alliance.

Sources said BJP leaders here had expressed “displeasure” over the high command’s decision to align with the AGP. A meeting of the city unit of the BJP turned stormy when several members questioned the logic behind the high command’s move.

“Grassroots-level workers of the party are campaigning against both the AGP and the Congress, while our central leadership is trying to forge an alliance with Mahanta,” one leader said.

State BJP president Rajen Gohain was the first to oppose the proposal to align with the AGP.

However, the party’s central leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K. Advani, appears to have worn him down. The BJP high command is of the view that an alliance with the AGP will prevent a split in the anti-Congress votes.

   

 
 
DYFI RAID ON POLICE STATION 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK AND DEBARATI AGARWAL
 
Raigunj, April 1: 
Eight persons, including a senior police officer’s daughter, were injured in a clash between police and DYFI activists. The police had opened fire to disperse the activists who had attacked the local police station.

North Dinajpur district magistrate Manoj Agarwal said five persons, including two CPM district committee members, were arrested for attacking the police station.

Tension prevailed following the clash and Agarwal and senior police officials were camping in the area to avoid any untoward incident.

The incident took place following the DYFI meeting at the Raigunj bus stand in protest against yesterday’s incident in the town in which two persons were killed in police firing.

It is learnt that the activists attacked the car in which the inspector-in-charge of Raigunj police station, Jyotibikash Dey, and his daughter were travelling, when they passed through the area. Dey’s daughter was also injured in the pelting of stones. When the news of the attack on Dey reached Raigunj police station, policemen reached the bus stand and resorted to lathicharge. More than 10 DYFI supporters were injured.

In the evening, 500 men, including DYFI supporters, attacked the police station with lathis and swords. The police opened fire, injuring several persons.

Though the police claimed to have fired five rounds, eyewitnesses said the police fired more than 50 rounds injuring 20 people. Today’s incident was a sequel to yesterday’s in which two youths were killed in a police encounter at Bandarsahar under the Raigunj police station.

Superintendent of police A.K. Rai claimed that the two youths were antisocials and had attacked the police team, which had gone to arrest them. Rai added that they had recovered one foreign-made revolver and a number of pipeguns from them.

But the DYFI contradicted the police version and claimed that there was no police encounter but that the killing was a cold-blooded murder.

   

 
 
MILITANTS BAN KIRTANS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Agartala, April 1: 
After lying low for sometime, NLFT militants have started interfering in the traditional religious rites of the people.

The Church-backed militants have banned the use of traditional musical instruments for performing kirtans (devotional songs) by Hindu tribals.

In pamphlets distributed among the Hindu tribals, NLFT marauders warned against the use of traditional musical instruments.

The fiat has triggered panic among the Hindu tribals living in the interior areas like Borakha, Patni, Barkathal and Sonai in Sadar subdivision. Sources in the Sanatan Dharma Parishad said there are seven Hindu tribal groups, which perform kirtans with traditional musical instruments.

Over the past five years, the NLFT has been consistently attacking and killing Hindu tribals and forcing them to convert to Christianity at gunpoint. During this period, altogether 35 Hindu tribals, including leading Hindu tribal saint “Shanti Kali Maharaj” or “Shanti Kumar Tripura” and two leading Vaishnavaite leaders Tachhidas Reang and Sanjit Reang have been killed by the NLFT.

Besides, many Hindu ashrams and religious centres run by the tribals have been destroyed by the militants. Sources said even on March 26, a group of NLFT rebels raided the Hindu Jamatya tribal-dominated Bandarghat village and beat up six tribals for practising their traditional faith in violation of the group’s diktat. They also abducted the subdivisional secretary of the Jamatya Hoda (community council) in Amarpur, Nilmoni Jamatya.

   

 
 
DMK LOSES FRIEND TO AMMA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, April 1: 
Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s list of friends-turned-foes grew today with one of his senior ministers, Thamizhkudimagan, defecting to the Jayalalitha camp in the countdown to elections.

Thamizhkudimagan, in charge of Hindu religious and charitable endowments, walked out after his constituency was allotted to a DMK ally.

Failing to persuade Karunanidhi to change his mind, Thamizhkudimagan put in his papers today. He called on Amma at her Poes Garden residence and joined the ADMK with a few of his supporters.

Later, he claimed that Karunanidhi was being manipulated by his son Stalin and a clique. “He is a prisoner in their hands,” he said. The disgruntled minister added that he had been sidelined within the party because he refused to propitiate Stalin.

A Tamil professor and a college principal earlier, Thamizhkudimagan was the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly between 1989 and 1991.

He became a minister in 1996. He was considered a Karunanidhi loyalist, but apparently fell foul of Stalin.

He was elected from Ilayankundi constituency, which has now been allotted to the newly born Makkal Thamizh Desam, led by a former ADMK minister. The new party seeks to mobilise Yadavas, Thamizhkudimagan’s community. When the seat was offered to Desam, Thamizhkudimagan saw in it a DMK attempt to nurture a challenger in his home turf.

Thamizhkudimagan is the latest in a string of leaders to desert the DMK. Karunanidhi first lost Ramadoss, then Vazhapadi Ramamurthy and then Vaiko.

Ironically, Tamizhkudimagan was instrumental in setting off a chain of events which eventually saw Jayalalitha being assaulted by DMK legislators in the Assembly.

A man like Thamizhkudimagan, with little mass base, switching loyalties and choosing the ADMK as his destination point to the mood in the DMK camp.

The defection will give more ammunition to Karunanidhi’s detractors who have been claiming that he is losing grip over the party.

   

 
 
EC TO CONSULT PARTIES BEFORE SENSITIVE TAG 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, April 1: 
The chief election officer of Bengal, Sabyasachi Sen, today met all the parties in the state to discuss the code of conduct for the May 10 polls and assured them that he will consult the parties before declaring any booth or area “sensitive”.

Representatives of the Congress and the Trinamul Congress complained about several areas, which according to them were “disturbed”, and demanded elaborate police arrangements.

“I told them to submit a list of those areas and I will consult every political party while identifying any booth or area as sensitive,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Manas Bhunia of the Congress alleged that the state election department had identified thousands of polling booths as sensitive in the past but deployed only lathi-wielding policemen. The administration had deployed armed personnel in many booths that were not sensitive at all, he alleged.

“We demanded that the election authority should consult us before declaring any booth or area sensitive,” Bhunia said.

He also alleged that food and civil supplies minister Kalimuddin Shams had instructed the rationing authority to issue ration cards, specially in border districts, without “valid papers”.

“I think this instruction has been given to enable CPM supporters to become voters,” he said.

Sen said the Election Commission had sought his report on this. “I am compiling reports and sending them to Delhi within a day or two,” he said.

About 85 per cent of the Bengal electorate have been given photo identity cards. Those who have not received the cards will also be able to cast their vote using the ration card to establish their identity.

Sen, however, said that the Election Commission was yet to inform him about the valid alternatives to the photo identity cards. He said he will inform the electorate and the parties about the alternatives to the photo identity cards.

Trinamul’s Pankaj Banerjee urged Sen to make arrangements to ensure that villagers who have been forced to abandon their houses because of political violence are able to vote.

“Thousands of villagers in Midnapore, Hooghly and Bankura are living outside their villages and I have requested Sen to make arrangements for them,” Banerjee said.

Sen assured that he will take measures to enable such voters to use their franchise.

Sen today asked the parties to remove their graffiti from government buildings within 72 hours. Or else “we will remove them on our own and charge the respective parties the cost”, he said.

Most parties have put up posters on government buildings much before the announcement of the polls.

   

 
 
CHHOTO ANGARIA GEARS UP FOR CBI TEAM VISIT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chhoto Angaria, April 1: 
The Midnapore district administration is gearing up for a team of CBI officials, scheduled to visit this village where 13 people were allegedly massacred on January 4.

District intelligence officials said the team is expected to arrive tomorrow following a Calcutta High Court order.

Additional superintendent of police S.S. Panda, however, said: “The CBI has not informed us anything on this. The CBI officials are probably coming independently as it is not mandatory for them to inform us. However, we are ready to provide all sorts of help to them, if required.”

Another official said the administration will not hesitate to take action against police officials who the CBI team find guilty of negligence of duty.

He said the high court judgment has come as a relief for villagers who fled the village after the alleged massacre. “At least 50 per cent of those who had deserted their homes have returned during the last two days,” he claimed.

Many were seen returning till late this evening with their belongings. There was a festive mood in several houses with villagers celebrating the return of their neighbours.

“This is a great a relief for us,” said 80-year-old Kulsan Bibi, mother of Baktar Rahaman Mondal, the prime witness of the alleged massacre. Rahaman had been recuperating in a Calcutta nursing home.

Kulsan, who is yet to recover completely from the shock, said: “We are confident of getting justice if the probe is conducted by the central agency.”

Echoing similar sentiment, her neighbour, Maya Bibi, said: “We have no faith in the state administration as a CID probe into the incident failed to come up with anything. Now, at least, we are certain about an impartial probe.”

Hossain Mondal, who owns a tea stall in the village, said he had enjoyed brisk business in the last two days as people have started visiting his stall like earlier after their return.

The local CPM leadership, however, has taken strong exception to the team’s visit. “We have reservations about a CBI team probing the incident and the state government has already planned to move the Supreme Court,” said Sukul Ali, a CPM leader from Garbeta.

He, however, made it clear that the party has no plans of organising a protest against the officials. “They are coming here following a directive from the high court and we have nothing to do with them,” Ali said.

   

 
 
CPM BLOCK MEMBER KILLED ON WAY TO MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Malda, April 1: 
A CPM block committee member was murdered allegedly by a group of Congress supporters near Chhilakata village in Malda police station area today.

Debashis Ray, the superintendent of Malda police, said miscreants attacked Atul Mondal (45) when he was on his way to attend a meeting of local fishermen at Atmail.

Ray said nearly five persons attacked Atul from behind and shot him from a close range. As Atul fell down and bled profusely, the miscreants hit him with a bhojali.

Local CPM supporters staged a demonstration and demanded an immediate probe into the incident. Biswanath Sukul, secretary of the Malda local committee of the CPM said: “It is surprising that the Congress began their old tactics of attacking our men within a day of the announcement of the election date.”

Nabarun Sinha, block Congress president, however, said the killing was a sequel to a intra-party rivalry.

Preliminary investigations revealed that there was an old family feud, which later developed into political rivalry, Ray said.

He said that no one has been arrested in connection with the murder. Ray added that a massive search was on to arrest the culprits.

   

 
 
GRAFFITI GLUT ON CHINSURAH RAJ RELIC 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Chinsurah, April 1: 
Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill might cry himself hoarse against poll graffiti, but the political vandals are not sparing even heritage structures, let alone public premises, in the scramble for vantage points.

The century-old clock tower at Gharir More — a four-point crossing that is the administrative and commercial hub of the district — has been splattered with graffiti, plastered with posters and wrapped with huge cut-outs of candidates and political leaders. This, despite a protective enclosure and a district PWD signboard with an appeal not to deface it.

Erected on the occasion of the coronation of Edward VII as King of England, the clock tower occupies pride of place in the Hooghly district headquarters with the offices of the district magistrate, DIG (Burdwan Range), superintendent of police and the district judge just a stone’s throw away.

Pointing out that defacing a heritage structure went against the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission, district magistrate Subrata Biswas threatened: “If they don’t clean the clock tower immediately, I will bring the matter to the notice of the Election Commission.”

“But before that, as I get the report from the SDO (sadar), I will send notices to the offenders. If they don’t reply, showcause notices will be issued against them. After cleaning the area, the administration will realise the cost from the offending political parties and candidates,” Biswas said.

District PWD engineer Dhruva Kumar Biswas, who is in charge of maintaining the clock tower, said: “The district PWD office received several complaints from residents against visual pollution and defacing of the clock tower by political parties. I submitted a report to the SDO (sadar) on Friday, requesting him to take steps against the offenders.”

Lokenath Banerjee, who runs a restaurant near the clock tower, said: “Defacing of the clock tower on such a scale has never taken place before.”

The issue was brought to the administration’s notice by social worker Chanchal Bhattacharaya, college teacher Kalipada Basu and a teacher, Dipasree Gangopadhyay, who protested against indiscriminate defacing of the historic clock tower and walls of other heritage buildings in the town.

Political leaders were not forthcoming on the issue. Trinamul Congress candidate Robin Mukherjee could not be contacted, while district CPM leader Anil Basu said: “We have directed our party workers to be careful about the code of conduct set by the Election Commission”.

   
 

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