Heat drives Atal to Advani home
Pant protection price for parleys
Alive, not dead, nor a murderer
Madhuri’s talisman for Mamata
Bomb rocks Panja meet on PM parade
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 2: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee drove over to home minister L.K. Advani’s residence yesterday for a three-and-a-half-hour luncheon meeting.

In the one-on-one session at Advani’s Pandara Park home, the two leaders discussed a gamut of issues, ranging from Sonia Gandhi’s outburst at the Prime Minister in Parliament to the complex RSS-government equation and the criticisms hurled periodically at Vajpayee and his aides by the Sangh leadership. The latest round of invectives came from the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) ideologue, Dattopant Thengadi.

Government sources said the Vajpayee-Advani meeting was occasioned by the “hard” time the government had in the second leg of the budget session when almost no serious business was transacted with an intransigent Congress insisting on a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the Tehelka disclosures.

Although at the end of the day, the government managed to pass the railway and general budgets — the first through a voice vote and the second after a half-hearted discussion — the sources said Vajpayee was “very upset” by the Congress president’s personal tirade against him soon after the House was adjourned on April 27.

The sources added that the Prime Minister was also “worried” that if the Congress-government standoff persisted beyond the Assembly elections, he would have a tough time handling the monsoon session as well. The duration of the next sitting of Parliament is likely to be extended to accommodate the time lost in the curtailment of the budget session, as a result of which important Bills could not be passed.

The fact that Sonia chose to speak out before Advani — when he went up to greet her along with parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan — was said to have disconcerted Vajpayee all the more in the context of the perceived tension in his relations with the number two in his Cabinet.

Apart from Sonia, sources said, Vajpayee and Advani also discussed the Sangh’s blow-hot-blow-cold attitude both towards the Prime Minister and his government.

Vajpayee had reportedly asked Advani to speak to the Sangh leadership since the home minister has a “better understanding” with its veterans like H.V. Seshadri — who, despite being number three in the formal structure, continues to call the shots — and Thengadi after the RSS demanded the removal of PMO officials Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh and the BMS boss slammed finance minister Yashwant Sinha in a public rally in Delhi.

The sources said Vajpayee was keen on dispelling the impression that the Sangh was out to destabilise his government after reports that Thengadi had planned to launch a series of “satta chhodo” (quit the government) rallies all over the country, culminating in a big show in the capital in August.

Advani told him that he had managed to “repair the damage” to the extent that Sangh leaders had stopped attacking the Prime Minister, his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and Mishra by name in their recent diatribes.

The Prime Minister and the home minister also shared their “concern” over the National Democratic Alliance government’s image. The feeling was that while the government had not been sullied by the stigma of major scams or “other blunders”, a perception had gained ground that it was a “non-performing” administration.

“Three years have gone by and people have started saying what has this government delivered? Apart from the Pokhran blasts, there is not a single achievement to its credit and this is a source of worry,” the sources said.

Vajpayee and Advani talked about the Assembly elections and the Indo-Bangladesh border bloodshed, they added. This is the second time the Prime Minister has dropped in at Advani’s residence during his second tenure. The first was a dinner to which Vajpayee and his foster family were invited.


New Delhi, May 2: 
Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant is a worried man. Not because the peace talks in Jammu and Kashmir are not making much headway, but because he is spending too much time mulling over the security he deserves.

The Centre’s interlocutor for initiating a peace dialogue with all groups in the embattled state recently submitted a set of security “requirements” and met home minister L.K. Advani to drive home the point.

“It almost reads like a customised demand for upgrading his security. The category he has sought appears to be higher than Z+,” a home ministry official said. Pant wants armed personnel in his convoy and extra men to be posted at the four gates of Yojana Bhavan and his official residence.

From the unsigned note submitted to the home ministry, it appears that he also needs a battery of security personnel when he travels to Jammu and Kashmir to hold talks with all groups — political, militant, social and religious.

“He was defence minister and minister of state for home several years ago. At that time, he did not take any action for which he should deserve security deemed by us to be of a category higher than Z+,” a North Block official said.

As Planning Commission deputy chairman, Pant holds a Cabinet rank. Under the home ministry’s revised guidelines on VIP security, Pant, as a Cabinet minister with “non-specific positional threat”, is entitled to ‘Y’ category security cover. VIPs who face “specific threat” are given Z or Z+ cover.

The home ministry under Advani has taken a strong stand against VIPs seeking security cover at state expense and flaunting it as a status symbol. Leading by example, Advani has done away with Black Cat commandos of the National Security Guards and is content with the armed personnel provided by Delhi police.

There are now very few VIPs who enjoy Z or Z+ category cover. Based on an exercise carried out time to time by the Intelligence Bureau and home ministry officials, the security cover of “undeserving” politicians and civil servants has either been withdrawn or downgraded.

Pant’s case has surprised the home ministry. “We offered a certain category of security, but he doesn’t seem to agree with us. If he believes that since he is carrying out the government’s brief to hold the peace talks, he needs an upgraded security paraphernalia, he should be more realistic,” a senior official said. “There is no immediate threat to his life at the moment.”

Separatist leader Shabir Ahmed Shah, who has received threats after he deputed a team to seek clarifications from Pant, has turned down the government’s offer to provide security, adds our correspondent in Srinagar.

“I told the officials who met me that I don’t need security. Death is destined and nobody can escape it when it comes,” Shah said.


Shillong, May 2: 
His revelations have sent a chill down the judiciary’s spine. Rusid Sangma was supposed to be dead five years ago, according to police.

He has now told the court he is very much alive and is not Deep Charan Kaipang, an accused in a murder whose role he has been made to play before the court for the past six years.

The Meghalaya People’s Human Rights Council has brought the case, heard today, to light. The judge, B.R. Lamare, ordered another hearing on May 8 to ascertain the identity of the person, declared dead by the police in 1995.

The exposure, first made in Gauhati High Court’s Shillong Bench on April 10, revealed that the district jail authorities had been producing Rusid in court to play Deep Charan, a hardened criminal whose whereabouts were not known.

Deep Charan was purportedly arrested on April 20, 1992, from Malki for killing a man and thereafter admitted to the Meghalaya Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences after complaints of abnormal behaviour from the district jail authorities.

A psychiatrist on deputation to the institute, Dr Jagat Ram Rana, told the court on April 30 that Deep Charan was produced by the jail authorities for the first time in 1995 in prison. Rana said Deep Charan was abnormal and his behaviour started showing symptoms of sleeplessness, violence and other oddities.

When asked to produce the treatment register, Rana said it was gutted in a fire on April 9. He, however, said the accused was now responding to verbal cues to queries.

The court ordered that the accused be sent for ENT treatment. It was after his return from hospital that the accused, now completely cured, revealed his identity as Rusid and not Deep Charan. He spelt out his name, his wife’s name and his daughter’s name.

The petitioner for Rusid told the court that he has reason to believe that the accused, Deep Charan, who is from Tripura, was not the person produced in court for the past seven-eight years and that Rusid had been foisted in his place.

He claimed that during these years Rusid was subjected to wrong treatment for “insanity with some mala fide intention to not allow him to get cured so that the truth about Deep Charan shall not be revealed”.

On April 10, after studying a report by the director of Meghalaya health services, the court found that the accused could talk normally and his speech was goal-directed. He was declared free from insanity and fit to stand trial.

Rusid was admitted to Tura Civil Hospital in 1993 to be treated for mental sickness. He was last spotted around Baghmara, his home in the South Garo Hills, by the BSF which handed him to over to the police.


Calcutta, May 2: 
She was a student of biology in a Mumbai college when she was chosen to star opposite Tapas Paul, already a name in Bengali cinema, in a Hindi family potboiler, Abodh. Fifteen years on, that nymphet blossomed into Madhuri Dixit, once-reigning queen of Bollywood to M.F. Husain’s famed muse to the wife of a US-based surgeon who still invites the oohs and the aahs.

As of this evening, Tapas Paul is asking for votes in the rain in a soggy slum near Durgapur bridge in his constituency in Alipore, south Calcutta.

The two events need not necessarily signpost the rise and rise of one and the fall and fall of the other. The moral of the story is elsewhere: Tapas can work wonders for the careers of women. Should he be able to contribute to Mamata’s political career the way he did to Madhuri’s cinematic, the Tigress of Tollygunge will be eternally grateful to him.

To his daughter actually. For it was on her birthday — last December 31, that Mamata won him over.

“We always visited her on Kali Puja,” recalls Nandini, Tapas’ wife.

Tapas nods and adds helpfully: “She has always been on first-name terms with me.”

“In fact, Didi had asked him to help her out in the past too, but Tapas has been reticent. Of course, he has never hesitated in helping out with social work — with thalassaemic children, the deprived in the slums and others.

“That evening Didi came, as she always does on our daughter’s birthday every year, and told us she had something very important to discuss with Tapas and could we please leave them together for some time?,” Nandini narrates.

“After we were left alone, Didi said I must take the plunge, join the Trinamul and campaign actively. I told her how overwhelmed I was but that I was not so confident of myself. But she would have none of it. ‘I have confidence in you,’ she said. Finally after 40 minutes or so, I called my family and friends and announced the decision to them,” finishes Tapas.

For his political debut, Mamata asked him to contest from Alipore. In the Trinamul and the Congress, jealous aspirants say it was a gift really, because Alipore has a history of supporting the strongest non-Left candidate in recent years.

“It also helps greatly that people know me by name and by face. I just have to go up to them and say ‘My Name is Tapas Paul’ and they fawn all over me — they know me because of Dadar Kirti and Guru Dakshina and Saheb. I am happy to see them happy. You must see how many of these people live. In the slums, sometimes there are as many as 10 people in a room,” says Tapas.

There are nine contestants in the fray in Alipore but the signs are this would be a one-sided affair. So much so, that the acrimony that marks the exchanges in a political campaign is not of such high decibel here.

“I respect Dr Meera Bhowmick. She is older than me,” says Tapas of the CPM candidate. “In politics you choose your path and I have chosen mine.”

In the 1996 Assembly polls, the Congress candidate, Saugata Roy — contesting from Dhakuria this time — won by 21,000 votes. He, too, had Mamata’s backing. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Alipore segment of South Calcutta gave Mamata a lead of 38,000 votes.

In the corporation elections, all Trinamul candidates won in the wards and despite a low turnout, the party had a combined margin of 17,000 votes.

“This time we expect to win by a margin of 40,000 votes,” says Samir Sutradhar, Tapas’ election agent.


Calcutta, May 2: 
A bomb exploded in front of Trinamul Congress dissident Ajit Panja’s house today while he was announcing his decision to attend the Prime Minister’s rally in the state on May 6.

Panja was holding a press conference on the first floor of his Central Avenue house when two scooter-borne youths hurled two bombs. Only one went off. State BJP president Ashim Ghosh and vice-president Muzaffar Khan were present at Panja’s house when the incident occurred.

Police arrived within minutes of the explosion but the youths had fled by then. Panja, however, identified one of them as Pradip De. “He had contested against Trinamul nominee Sadhan Saha during the CMC polls on a symbol of twin leaves. I know him because he lives in my Lok Sabha constituency,” Panja said. He added that the other youth was wearing a red T-shirt and had curly hair.

“These bombs are dangerous and powerful enough to kill people,” Panja said. “The CPM had many years ago attacked my house and shattered the doors and windows. But they had failed to enter my house.”

Panja accepted the BJP’s invitation to attend A.B. Vajpayee’s meeting at Kamarhati in North 24-Parganas.

Asked whether the move will be considered by Mamata Banerjee as anti-party, Panja said: “Not at all, because Trinamul is still a constituent of the NDA.”




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