Atal sounds Tehelka rally retreat
Kashmir talks offer to all, no strings
Salute to Singh in scam spinoff
Why Mathew was branded mole at home
Tape taste for Cong
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL SOUNDS TEHELKA RALLY RETREAT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, April 5: 
The tape-tarred Vajpayee government will review its decision to hold Tehelka rallies in a meeting tentatively scheduled for Sunday.

The official explanation is that “Tehelka is no more an issue” — as put by BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra — but National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sources attributed it to “non-cooperation” by allies and the “less than enthusiastic” public response to the meetings.

Sunday’s Mumbai rally, which was to be addressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has been called off after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said it was “politically expedient not to touch controversial issues”. If at all he was forced to share the dais with Vajpayee, Thackeray said, he should be allowed to “speak his mind out”.

BJP sources said Maharashtra leaders developed cold feet after Thackeray’s warning. They feared he could embarrass Vajpayee by again raking up the demand for the removal of his key aides, Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh.

The NDA is already red in the face after the Janata Dal (United) boycotted Vajpayee’s Bangalore rally today. Yesterday, ally Telugu Desam shunned the Hyderabad meeting addressed by home minister L.K. Advani and former defence minister George Fernandes.

“Our state leaders were unhappy with the BJP for not taking them into confidence when planning the rally. At the Centre, there is a coordination mechanism between the BJP and other NDA constituents but in the states, there is none. Moreover, our Karnataka leaders cannot forget how the late J.H. Patel (former chief minister) was treated by the BJP,” Dal(U) spokesman Mohan Prakash said.

But the most important reason for the Dal(U) boycott is senior leader Ramakrishna Hegde’s reluctance to share the dais with Fernandes. Hegde had called for Fernandes’ resignation immediately after the Tehelka exposé.

NDA constituents have been questioning the wisdom of carrying out such a long-drawn countrywide exercise “just to protect one individual (Fernandes) who is after all a member of one of the many constituents”. Many are irked by the larger-than-life role the Samata Party leader chalked out for himself as convener of the coalition.

Chandrababu Naidu was the first to announce that the Desam would not participate in the rallies as it was supporting the government only from outside.

Though Biju Janata Dal leader and Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik initially prevailed on Vajpayee to address a rally in Bhubaneswar, he was later advised by his strategists not to go public on a corruption issue and give the Congress a talking point, NDA sources said.

Patnaik has reportedly told BJP leaders that he is no longer interested in the Bhubaneswar show.

If the allies’ indifference is one aspect of the problem, there is also a view within the BJP that the government should not go “out of its way” to take the Tehelka controversy to the people.

“The Tehelka revelations may have caused major tremors in cities and larger towns but in mofussil areas and villages, our feedback is that no one has heard about the tapes. So what is the sense in introducing them to this controversy and appear as if we are defensive about the whole thing and make Tehelka a household name? Ignorance is bliss in such matters,” said BJP sources.

There is also a perception within the BJP that it might be “improper” for Vajpayee to publicly shield Fernandes as the judicial commission has already started its probe into the controversy.

The NDA is likely to go ahead with the rallies scheduled till mid-April. However, the April 15 meeting slated for Lucknow has been converted into a kisan rally on a suggestion from the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit.

The BJP spokesman said the other rallies would focus on Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s alleged corruption and the CBI case against her private secretary, Vincent George. “Tehelka is no more an issue. So our rallies will be on what the Congress position is, what offensive to launch against Vincent George and Sonia Gandhi,” Malhotra said.

   

 
 
KASHMIR TALKS OFFER TO ALL, NO STRINGS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 5: 
Carrying its commitment to usher in peace in Kashmir a step further, the government today invited all political parties, including the Hurriyat Conference, militant groups, non-government organisations and even trade unions to the talks table “without any pre-conditions”.

The offer is the most sweeping gesture from New Delhi since it declared suspension of hostilities against militants in the state four months ago.

The government said in a statement that the dialogue on “peace and how it may be attained” would be led by K.C. Pant, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

The Centre is keen to sit at the table before the ceasefire period ends in May in an attempt to tell those against the truce and the global powers that it is serious about bringing back peace in Kashmir.

The decision is also a notice to the National Conference government of Farooq Abdullah that Delhi is now willing to talk to almost anybody in the state. The Hurriyat, too, was being sent a message that it is not the only group the government is willing to negotiate with.

The Centre said security forces will be allowed to “vigorously” pursue anti-militancy operations. This signals that the ceasefire will not be extended for a fourth time since a dialogue process with “all those desirous” of peace will be set in motion by then.

Extending the offer to Kashmiri militant groups like the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the statement said: “The doors are also not closed for Kashmiri organisations which are currently engaged in militancy in the state but are desirous of peace.” But the Hizb said it saw no point in negotiations that did not include Pakistan.

There was no mention of any conditions being attached to the dialogue. Pointing out that this was what the Hurriyat has been insisting on, the statement said: “It is now for the Hurriyat to consider whether it would not be inconsistent for them to set pre-conditions for the dialogue.”

Delhi made it clear it was not averse to resuming talks with Islamabad. The government said it “reaffirms its faith in such bilateral dialogue and hopes that Pakistan will help in its resumption by curbing cross-border terrorism and putting an end to vicious anti-India propaganda”.

But the government stood firm, saying talks can begin “in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the spirit of the Lahore declaration”.

The dialogue process kickstarted by Pant will be monitored by home minister L.K. Advani. Sources said Pant was chosen because of his experience in handling security in Jammu and Kashmir while he was defence minister in the Congress government. As head of the plan panel, he has been dealing with the state government on development issues. Besides, the government has been looking for a Kashmir trouble-shooter after the resignation of George Fernandes.

Government sources said Pant was also picked to checkmate the authority of national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who has been under a cloud after the Tehelka expose.

   

 
 
SALUTE TO SINGH IN SCAM SPINOFF 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, April 5: 
It is the mother of ironies and the most unexpected of coincidences. Tehelka.com has catapulted Indo-US relations and achieved what was considered impossible only weeks ago in New Delhi’s dealings with the new Republican administration in Washington.

Thanks to the dotcom exposé, the minister for external affairs and defence, Jaswant Singh, will receive an unexpected military guard of honour when he arrives at the Pentagon tomorrow at the start of his official visit to Washington. What is more, Singh’s appointment as defence minister last month, following the defence purchase allegations, has made possible what Indian officials have been working on for years — a visit by an Indian defence minister to the US.

In the 54 years since Independence, only one Indian defence minister — K.C. Pant — has visited the US. Despite the much-touted upswing in Indo-American ties during the Clinton era, such a visit, crucial to the strategic ties that the two sides are attempting, eluded the bonhomie between New Delhi and Washington.

Tomorrow, however, Singh will have 30 minutes of talks with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the most important of the triumvirate of Bush foreign policy players whom the Indian minister will be meeting during his 45-hour visit. The others in the triumvirate are secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleeza Rice.

Anxious to underplay the fortuitous role that Tehelka has played in the latest turn of events in Indo-US official exchanges, Indian officials maintain that Singh’s meeting with Rumsfeld was fixed even before he replaced George Fernandes as defence minister — and that the Pentagon would have given the visiting Indian minister a guard of honour anyway, even if he was only the minister for external affairs. But there are few takers here for these claims.

Although only 30 minutes have been allotted as of now for the Singh-Rumsfeld talks tomorrow, it is expected to be the most important of the Indian minister’s meetings here.

America’s defence secretary, along with vice-president Dick Cheney, the ‘prime minister’ of the Bush presidency, has influence over the Republican administration’s external relations that is overwhelming compared to that of Powell or Rice. Rumsfeld has been outspoken in his criticism of New Delhi’s cosy strategic tie-ups with Moscow, pulling up Russia for supplies to Indian nuclear power plants and clubbing India with “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran, which are beneficiaries of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, has already had a meeting with Rumsfeld during a multilateral conference in Germany. But the two men did not go beyond generalities in their brief interaction, it is learnt. Despite the negative signals from Rumsfeld on non-proliferation, Singh is meeting him with high hopes, even expectations of a breakthrough in Indo-US strategic relations.

This is obvious from the composition of the defence team accompanying Singh. Admiral Madanjeet Singh, who will meet Pentagon officials tomorrow, is director-general of the Defence Planning Staff.

   

 
 
WHY MATHEW WAS BRANDED MOLE AT HOME 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 5: 
Thomas Mathew, the suspended director in the home ministry, was victimised because he was the stumbling block in a move to keep crucial wings of the internal security establishment an upper-caste Hindu bastion.

The action against him was timed to coincide with the Tehelka revelations and his political beliefs are being used as evidence to build the case against him.

While Mathew was handling information crucial to the administration in the dispensation of his responsibilities as director (organisation and methods), it was in his role as the liaison officer for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes that he ran foul of the government. Ironically, the government took umbrage because Mathew was using his powers to execute a constitutional amendment passed in April last year.

The amendment increased job opportunities for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the home ministry and the wings directly under it — the Intelligence Bureau and paramilitary forces. The liaison officer was empowered by the amendment to withhold the recruitment process unless the departments of the government adhered to the amendment in letter and spirit.

Appointments in the ministry and its departments are closely monitored and the security establishment is touchy about recruitment and the composition of the staff in crucial wings.

Apparently, Mathew had withheld files and clearances for recruitment because some of these wings were not “carrying forward” SC and ST vacancies in adequate numbers. In this, he was adhering to the latest instructions under law, but this is not what the government appeared to want. In effect, his actions subverted the anti-Dalit lobby in the government, but not the Constitution.

Government-inspired insinuations in the wake of the Tehelka revelations suggest that Mathew leaked information to the portal and set it on the trail of scamsters in the defence ministry.

The allegations against Mathew range from being a Naxalite to an ISI contact to a conduit for Northeast rebels. The volley of charges hurled at the officer indicates that the government cannot make up its mind on what Mathew really is and what he has done that has so embarrassed the establishment.

Thomas Mathew, an officer from the Central Secretariat Service, was posted to the home ministry in September 1998. Before that he was officer on special duty to Ram Vilas Paswan. In the home ministry, he was transferred thrice in six months before taking his current charge as director (organisation and methods) in North Block.

In April last year, Mathew was given additional charge as secretary in the Justice Nanavati Commission set up to probe the use of force on a lawyers’ demonstration in the capital.

Subsequently, Justice Nanavati, a retired Supreme Court judge, also sought his services in the commission of inquiry into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Mathew had earlier worked as secretary to the Dr Ambedkar Centenary Celebrations Committee and was acknowledged in the home ministry as an expert on reservation.

Outside his professional duties, Mathew has an interest in the Dalit movement and has authored three books on the subject.

At the time of the Tehelka exposé, when the government was looking for a suspected “deep throat” in the establishment, Mathew and his political proclivities came in handy.

The home ministry suspended him, his belongings at home and in office were searched and some of them confiscated.

Alongside, reports on his “dubious” connections were also put out.

Campaigners against Mathew used his political beliefs and his experience in the home ministry as “evidence” of his “suspicious” linkages.

Mathew was active in Left radical student politics in Kerala in the early 1970s.

More recently, he had attended a meeting to condole the death of a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University who was killed in an encounter by the police on the suspicion of being a “Naxalite”. Mathew had known the student during his time in the university where he did his M.Phil.

Sources in the ministry say his knowledge of politics was manifest in his work.

When a junior officer passed on a file on Naxalite activity in Bihar and described the MCC as the Marxist Coordination Committee, Mathew corrected it to Maoist Communist Centre.

The allegation about his connection with Northeast rebels stems from the fact that he facilitated the visit of Janata Dal leader Surendra Mohan to Bangkok when the Centre was trying to draw the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) into talks (which did start and the Nagaland ceasefire still holds).

   

 
 
TAPE TASTE FOR CONG 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, April 5: 
It is now the Congress’ turn to taste the Tehelka medicine.

Karnataka Congress president A.K. Koujalgi is at the centre of a controversy following a claim by a contractor that he had videotaped the politician receiving a bribe of Rs 40,000 in 1998.

Anil Kadam has alleged that Koujalgi took the bribe after promising him a contract from the Belgaum Zilla Parishad. Koujalgi, who took over as party president from chief minister S.M. Krishna last year, hails from Belgaum.

Koujalgi has denied the allegation and the existence of the tape but said the Lokayukta has launched a probe. The BJP has demanded the resignation of Koujalgi and Krishna.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 37.6°C (+2)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+3)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 20%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 38°C.
Sunrise: 5.28 am
Sunset: 5.50 pm
   
 

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