Devyani twist in same story
Nitish clears Mamata return track
Hotel bad taste for Buddha reform
Pak frontrunner for cricket crown
Advani’s short stint at the top
Calcutta Weather

Kathmandu, June 14: 
Dipendra did it but an apprehensive Devyani tried to prevent it, the commission investigating the palace carnage concluded today.

The big picture as given in the 200-page report more or less matches the account of Captain Rajiv Shahi, an eyewitness who had gone public with his tale, but the findings have left a crucial question unanswered: how did Dipendra die?

In its report made public tonight, the commission set up by King Gyanendra said it was certain Dipendra carried out the June 1 killings in a drunken rage. “A drunken crown prince indiscriminately fired, killing the royals,” Taranath Ranabhatt, the Speaker of the Lower House and one of the two-man commission, said.

An uneasy calm hung over Kathmandu as news spread that the panel, headed by Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhaya, would make public its report in the evening. The commission members first submitted the findings to the king around 6.30 pm and after around two hours, disclosed their report to the media at the parliament secretariat.

Reconstructing the events of the night, Ranabhatt said the family had met for its traditional Friday dinner at Narayan Hity palace. Of the 24 royal invitees, three had opted out. The dinner was fixed for Tribhuvan Sadan, at the southeast end of the palace where the crown prince lived.

Contrary to Shahi’s account, which said Dipendra had walked into the dining hall “intoxicated”, the report says the prince was playing billiards all by himself when the guests started arriving around 7.30 pm. Dipendra then went out to fetch the queen mother.

Soon after, he started drinking and took a couple of pegs of his favourite “Grouse” whisky, on the rocks. But minutes before King Birendra arrived, a “drunk” Dipendra was helped to his first-floor bedroom by brother Nirajan, cousin Paras, brother-in-law Gorakh and Shahi, the son-in-law of Dhirendra, the king’s brother.

From his room, the report says, Dipendra called up his aide-de-camp (ADC) Gajendra Bhora and ordered for his “usual” cigarette laced with marijuana and a “black substance”. His orderly Ram Krishna K.C., ADC Bhora and ADC Raju Karki have deposed that Dipendra had been smoking the marijuana-laced cigarette for over a year.

Dipendra then called girlfriend Devyani from his cellphone (no: 98l02l5l3). He made one call, which Devyani returned. After some time, he again called to say “good night”. “I’m now about to sleep. Good night, we’ll talk tomorrow,” is what Dipendra reportedly told Devyani.

The report says Devyani, in her telephonic tape-recorded interview to Nepal’s ambassador to India B.B. Thapa, spoke of “a close relationship with Dipendra”. But she refused to disclose the details of her conversation with Dipendra, saying “they were matters concerning her personal affair”.

Soon after his first call, a worried Devyani rang up Bhora and told him to check on the prince whose voice sounded slurred. “Is he somewhat unwell?” is what she reportedly said. On the ADC’s instructions, orderly K.C. and chambermaid Jamuna Adhikari entered the prince’s room to find him sprawled on the floor. The two retinues helped him up. He then dismissed the two. And made the good night call to Devyani.

Minutes later, Dipendra, dressed in army fatigues and carrying three automatic weapons, staggered into the dining hall. He first fired at the ceiling with a 9mm MP-5 sub-machine gun. Dipendra then turned the gun on his father, who was standing near the billiards table. He retreated and came in again, this time aiming a 5.56-calibre Colt M-l6 A2 telescopic rifle. His second volley caught brother-in-law Gorakh Shumsher Rana, uncle Dhirendra and Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah. The prince then moved back to reach the door and again advanced to fire indiscriminately, hitting sister Shruti and aunts Princesses Sharada and Shanti.

But the report is silent on what happened after Dipendra moved out to the adjacent garden. Ranabhatt said: “Queen Aishwarya, prince Nirajan and Dipendra were found with bullet wounds at different places in the garden.”

Earlier today, traditionalists performed the katto ceremony for Dipendra to banish the ill fortune that has struck the palace. A priest defiled himself by eating a meal laced with animal marrow. He then dressed as Dipendra and crossed the Bagmati river on elephant-back into exile. At first, the elephant appeared reluctant to go. As dignitaries slapped its buttocks, the elephant turned tail and chased them up a narrow path before being brought under control.


Midnapore, June 14: 
Manoeuvres to pave the way for Mamata Banerjee’s return to the BJP-led coalition broke through the veil today with Nitish Kumar, her successor in the railway ministry, making a public offer to give up the berth for her.

“Mamata went away on her own. If she wants to come back, I will be the first person to welcome her. But, then, she has to decide on it first. Let her make up her mind first,” Nitish told reporters after inaugurating a railway halt.

“I will be happy to hand her over the ministry even. After all, railway is my additional charge. First of all, I am a minister in the department of agriculture,” Nitish added.

The magnanimous offer came a day after a guarded Mamata told her legislators that she would consider returning to the Central coalition only if it was allowed to happen in a “respectable and honourable manner”. But Mamata had added that she was in no hurry to return.

Nitish also confirmed that Mamata had met his party leader George Fernandes to discuss the issue.

Asked whether giving up railway would not make him “unhappy”, Nitish Kumar smiled and said: “I think my mind is not so narrow that I would fail to welcome her in this ministry. Of course, it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative which department he hands over to whom.

“Mamata has met our party leader George Fernandes and had a satisfactory discussion over this. The Samata Party has no objection to her entry. But what about the BJP? They should take a decision on this. So far as the Bengal BJP is concerned, I know they are a house divided.”

The halt — at Duan between Balichak and Radhamohonpur in the Howrah-Midnapore section — Nitish inaugurated had been promised by Mamata before the Panskura bypoll.

The minister denied that any new train or project announced by Mamata in her budget was in the cancellation queue. “The Digha-Tamluk rail project is going to be completed by June next year,” he said.

Nitish conceded that the railway was going through a finance crunch, but added that there was no proposal to raise passenger or freight rates, which had been left untouched by Mamata.

“We have a plan to downsize railway budgets in the future. But the best judge of this is the railway board. They are the technical men to deal with this. I have called a meeting of all the general managers on June 23. We will discuss a new freight policy there,” he said.

But a PTI report from Delhi quoted unnamed sources as saying that the railway has decided to dissolve with immediate effect a committee headed by Sam Pitroda. The panel was set up by Mamata to suggest a modernisation plan and identify areas for resource mobilisation.

Nitish contested charges that Bengal was being given fewer orders to make wagons. “Out of 23,000 wagons to be manufactured this year, 6,000 have been ordered from the private sector. Two thousand will be made in our own workshops. Of the remaining wagons, the maximum number would be made in Bengal,” he added.

Anthem uproar

Capping a day of controversies in the Bengal Assembly, the national anthem began and was stopped midway as the Governor was leaving the House after delivering his address on the first day of the new session.


Calcutta, June 14: 
Jyoti Basu’s last hurrah has become Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s first big headache.

Accor Asia Pacific, the lone bidder for the loss-laden Great Eastern Hotel, has decided not to proceed with the deal even as the state government admitted today that it was in no position to hand over the hotel as an unencumbered asset, a condition that the French hotel major had set for the takeover.

Tourism minister Dinesh Dakua, however, said the state government had not received any communication from Accor indicating that it was pulling out of the talks that have been going on for the past two years.

“Even if Accor wants to take over the hotel now, we are not prepared. There are so many litigations against the hotel,” Dakua told The Telegraph. He said the chief minister would now hold talks with Accor.

The chief minister could not be contacted. His second-in-command and industry minister Nirupam Sen said he did not know the details of the case. However, Sen added that the state’s policy on privatisation would not be affected by any development at Great Eastern.

One of Jyoti Basu’s last acts as chief minister was to push through a Cabinet resolution approving the handover of the hotel to Accor. The transfer of the hotel had acquired the dimensions of a litmus test for the new government’s ability to deliver on its privatisation promises.

“The matter has been referred to the chief minister. I will see how to run the hotel professionally till the deal is through,” said Dakua.

Despite saying that Accor has not yet backed out of the deal, the government has initiated steps to renovate the hotel. Dakua held a meeting today to consider ways to renovate the hotel and run it properly.

Accor has been incensed over three issues. First, the government changed the whole matrix within which the talks were being held by raising the wages of the workers last October in accordance with the recommendations of the state’s fourth pay commission.

Accor had offered to retain only 100 of the 540 employees of Great Eastern; the wage hike has considerably increased the cost of the separation packages for those who will be retrenched.

Second, Accor wanted an unencumbered asset — an internationally accepted norm in such acquisitions. “There were a lot of hidden factors like a forest of litigations. An international company cannot take chances,” an Accor source said. The third problem was that tenants were refusing to move out.

This is the second time that Accor has backed out. In 1994-95, protest from the workers had forced the company to call off the talks.

Accor had proposed to invest Rs 100 crore to develop Great Eastern into a five-star hotel. The loss-making hotel now pays the salaries of the workers from a state grant-in-aid.


Calcutta, June 14: 
The decks are more or less clear for Pakistan’s Ehsan Mani to become the second Asian, after Jagmohan Dalmiya, to head the International Cricket Council (ICC).

For now, Mani is set to be designated president-elect and succeed Australia’s Malcolm Gray in exactly two years. An announcement is expected in London early next week, after the ICC’s annual general meeting.

This is yet another pointer to Asia’s growing clout in cricket’s governing body. In any case, four of the 10 Test-playing nations are from Asia — actually, all from the subcontinent.

According to The Telegraph’s sources in the UK and Pakistan, “it’s almost guaranteed” that the acrimony which marked Dalmiya’s (unsuccessful) first push for the presidency, in 1996, will not be seen this time. The city-based Dalmiya got the much-envied position a year later, in 1997. His appointment for the customary three years was, eventually, unanimous.

Dalmiya would have been at the helm in 1996 itself had the then ICC chief, Sir Clyde Walcott, not played dirty after the elections which had seen Dalmiya garner a huge majority (25-13) against Gray.

The ICC has 10 Full (Test-playing) members and 25 Associates (including Germany, France and Italy). Each Full member has two votes, while the Associates have one each.

Even if elections do become necessary, Mani should sail through as the Asian club has a committed support-base. Also, despite the controversies, Dalmiya, who relinquished office last June, is pretty influential.

The move to have Mani in cricket’s top position was, one understands, quietly initiated during Bangladesh’s inaugural Test last November, versus India in Dhaka.

Till fairly recently, though, it was widely assumed that South Africa’s Dr Ali Bacher would succeed Gray but, in the weeks just past, even the England-Australia-New Zealand combine appears to have veered around to the Asian line of thinking.

That basically is: Formally (again) recognise and respect that the subcontinent has the single-biggest market and, potentially, is the No.1 revenue provider to the ICC.

In the immediate context, that translates to supporting Mani. Traditionally, of course, the England-Australia-New Zealand combine has been at odds with the Asian club.

The soft-spoken London-based Mani keeps a low profile but, for some years, has been among the most powerful within the ICC. He is, at the moment, a director on the board of the United Trust Bank.

As head of the ICC’s finance and marketing committee, Mani was deeply involved in negotiations for awarding the TV rights to the next two World Cups, last year. The contract went to World Sports Group.

Then, this year, Mani was on the ICC’s five-member panel which interviewed applicants for the chief executive’s post. The present Australian Cricket Board chief executive, Malcolm Speed, got the job.

Speed takes charge next month, when incumbent David Richards returns to Australia.

It’s a measure of the respect Mani commands that despite the many upheavals in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), he has remained the PCB’s man at the ICC.

Clearly, Mani is seen as an absolute pro.


New Delhi, June 14: 
L.K. Advani returned to the head of the Cabinet table this evening, two years after chairing a meeting which recommended President’s rule in Bihar.

Today’s Cabinet meeting took up a more sedate issue — the schedule of the monsoon session of Parliament from July 23 to August 31 — and wrapped up its business fast.

“We decided to hold the meeting today because the session has to begin within three weeks of the President issuing a notification,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

However, questions were raised whether the government could not have waited till early next week when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is scheduled to return.

BJP leaders said nothing more should be “read” in the meeting than a series of “unavoidable circumstances and schedules” which forced Advani’s hand. But Advani was reportedly reluctant to chair a meeting when Vajpayee is in the capital.

Even if Vajpayee returns by Tuesday, he has been advised not to move out of his 3 Race Course Road home (where he and his family live) till June 26. A full Cabinet meeting can only be held at either 7 Race Course Road (where he usually holds meetings) or in South Block. Postponing the meeting to June 26 would have meant another hitch — the parliamentary affairs minister will be out of Delhi. That left today and tomorrow. Advani chose the earlier day., though only 14 of the 27 ministers could attend.




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