Fathima falls in step-by-step strike
Fernandes team tilts to dismissal
After law, death knocks
Subhas aide in stadium net
Calcutta Weather

 
 
FATHIMA FALLS IN STEP-BY-STEP STRIKE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 1: 
Setting the tone for phased action in tumultuous Tamil Nadu, the Centre today recalled Governor M. Fathima Beevi after virtually branding her the state government’s rubber-stamp. This is the first instance of such a removal of a constitutional head.

Beevi, a former Supreme Court judge, was given her marching orders for failing to discharge her “constitutional obligations” in the wake of the arrests of former chief minister M. Karunanidhi and Central Cabinet members Murasoli Maran and T.R. Baalu.

Beevi sent her resignation to President K.R. Narayanan in the evening. Andhra Pradesh Governor C. Rangarajan will hold additional charge of Tamil Nadu until the Centre names a replacement.

The decision to dismiss Beevi was taken after an emergency meeting of the Cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Cabinet, after considering “at length” the report sent by the Governor, recommended that the President be advised to recall her as she did not “objectively reflect” the situation and had “merely forwarded” the views of the state government on the events in Chennai yesterday, law minister Arun Jaitley said.

The report insinuated that Maran and Baalu had tried to obstruct the police from carrying out their duties. “In fact, several portions of her report are verbatim contents of the report of the chief secretary sent to the Union home secretary,” Jaitley added.

The law minister said the report is silent on the assault on Maran and the injuries received by Baalu. “These are not ordinary incidents…a Governor is not there just to rationalise what the state government does,” he said.

Jaitley said human rights of political workers in Tamil Nadu had been abrogated and press freedom was in peril. The Governor, he added, was duty-bound to inform the Centre objectively about the situation. “But she failed to protect the Constitution and constitutional guarantees,” the minister said.

The Cabinet will meet again tomorrow to discuss the reports submitted by the George Fernandes-led NDA team and the delegation despatched by the Union home ministry.

The NDA team firmly believes that Central rule should be imposed in the state. BJP leader V.K. Malhotra, part of the three-member team, said “there is no alternative barring strong action” against the Jayalalitha regime.

The Bihar fiasco still fresh on its mind, the Vajpayee government is, however, unlikely to use Article 356 in a hurry given that it does not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha.

What it can do is invoke Article 355, an advisory that is binding on the state government, to secure the release of the two Central ministers. The use of the Article is a warning to the state government that it has failed to carry out its constitutional duties.

Sources said a senior Cabinet minister spoke to Karunanidhi and Maran over phone today. Maran advised him to delay invoking Article 355 as the NDA would gain political brownie points if their incarceration continues for one or two more days.

If Jayalalitha defies the Article 355 directive, a BJP source reasoned, it would strengthen the Centre’s hands in executing its next strike: invoking Article 356.

According to the BJP’s scriptwriters, this is where a “pliable” Governor could come in handy as a fresh report, recommending President’s rule because of the collapse of constitutional machinery, would make the Centre’s task easier.

They believe that the new Governor can reject the demand for reinstatement of Jayalalitha as chief minister — in case Parliament refuses to ratify President’s rule — on the ground that she was disqualified from contesting elections because of her conviction by a special court.

Sources said even the support of the Telugu Desam, which is in principle opposed to Article 356, has been secured.

Asked if the Centre was thinking of a direct-rule option, Jaitley said “various other subjects will be discussed” at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

The Centre’s decision to recall Beevi was influenced by the preliminary report sent by the Union home ministry team this morning. In contrast to the NDA delegation’s visit, this was a low-profile mission led by special secretary M.B. Kaushal. The officials, who reached Chennai late last night, met Beevi around 7.30 this morning. Half-an-hour later, the team met the police brass. The officials also called on Maran at the hospital and then went to Vellore, where Baalu is being held.

   

 
 
FERNANDES TEAM TILTS TO DISMISSAL 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Chennai, July 1: 
The three-member NDA team led by George Fernandes that visited the city today has unanimously agreed that the Jayalalitha government should be dismissed and President’s rule imposed.

Fernandes, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said separately that each of them is in favour of Central rule. But the team may stop short of recommending the measure in the report that Fernandes is drafting and will submit to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow.

“Governor Fathima Beevi has been recalled but we feel that the unprecedented constitutional crisis created by the state government calls for sterner action. What that will be, we will leave for the Union Cabinet and the Prime Minister to decide,” Fernandes said.

Shortly after returning to Delhi tonight, Malhotra said the report will recommend steps “stronger” than the recall of the Governor. It was clear that Fernandes and his team wanted Central rule despite the practical difficulties.

First, the Congress, an ADMK poll ally, is unlikely to support the move. Second, there is no report from the Governor recommending Central rule. Besides, ally Telugu Desam has publicly opposed the dismissal, though it has promised to “endorse” whatever decision the Centre takes.

But Fernandes said: “I think despite the practical difficulties, steps should be taken. I think the entire country has condemned the manner of the arrests.”

The discomfort with the idea of Article 356 continues despite the strong words. The DMK itself has opposed the provision in principle but now wants it invoked.

The team met Union commerce minister Murasoli Maran at the Apollo Hospitals where he is under arrest and Karunanidhi in his “12 feet by 12 feet cell in the maximum security area of Chennai Central Prison”. They were scheduled to meet Beevi at 3.30 pm but cancelled the appointment.

“This morning we met Maran. We have also received videotapes from Sun TV of what happened at Karunanidhi’s house and they gave the lie to the statement of the chief minister. They are proof that the police used violence. Karunanidhi is in a hot cell in solitary confinement but, in the circumstances, he was in good humour.

“The diabolical nature of the charges made against Karunanidhi by the Chennai commissioner, Acharayalu, an IAS officer with a dubious record who took over only on June 27 because his predecessor refused to fix Karunanidhi, and the arrest of two Union ministers who have been publicly called street rowdies by the chief minister... (have) led us to believe there is a total breakdown of the Constitution,” said Fernandes.

   

 
 
AFTER LAW, DEATH KNOCKS 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
Chennai, July 1: 
The sickly sweet smell of burning incense wafting about 21 Oliver Road immediately announces a death.

Tragedy begot tragedy in the Karunanidhi household today.

His mother-in-law, 80-year-old Shivapakkiam, died at 6.30 this morning, just hours after learning of Karunanidhi’s incarceration in prison.

On hearing the news, Karunanidhi’s followers at the DMK headquarters in Anna Arivalayam immediately got lawyers and instructed them to apply to the authorities at Chennai Central Jail for his parole so that he might attend the cremation and perform the last rites. However, Karunanidhi refused.

At 12, a lawyer who reached the gates of the prison was turned back and asked to come later because the George Fernandes-led NDA team was to arrive any minute. An hour later, the lawyers were asked not to file the application.

“He has decided not to seek any favour from this government,” Karunanidhi’s son-in-law, Aravindam, told The Telegraph. Aravindam is married to Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter by his second wife, Rajarthi Ammal, who lost her mother.

“When the police came and raided the house on Friday night, my wife’s grandmother was in her own room and was not aware of what was happening despite the melee,” said Aravindam. “We also kept the news from her but then one of the maids told her about the incident. She is old and had not been keeping well. Obviously, she could not bear the shock.” The maid, too, was ignorant of the incident till she saw it all on Sun TV, the most popular Tamil channel and one patronised by the DMK.

The family delayed the cremation till 3.30 this afternoon, expecting parole to be granted. “Anybody can get parole for such a tragedy,” said Shanmuganathan, an aide to Karunanidhi at 21 Oliver Road. However, there was some confusion over whether parole can be granted to somebody who is in remand to judicial custody and not a convict.

Kalaignar (litterateur) Karunanidhi has three sons and two daughters. Alagiri, the eldest son, Stalin, who is the Chennai city mayor and also in jail, Tamilarasu and their sister Selvi are his first wife Dayalu Ammal’s children.

When the police came for Karunanidhi, Aravindam and Kanimozhi were at their home in Santhome, about 5 km from Oliver Road. Kanimozhi rushed to the police station where her father was taken briefly before being remanded and was by his side till he was taken to jail.

Family friends, relatives and DMK workers crowd the two-storeyed house of stone and brick. Often, an elderly party worker beats his chest and lets out a solitary wail. “What a shame, what a shame!” He is quickly taken to a corner and calmed down.

“I can take you upstairs and show all that the police did to the house,” says Shanmuganathan “but now is not the time.”

Shivapakkiam’s body is kept in the outer room. Wreaths and garlands have been placed around it. A huge portrait of pensive Karunanidhi adorns one wall.

Rajarthi Ammal sits next to the body surrounded by quiet, elderly women, one of whom squeezes her hand, while another has an arm over her shoulder.

Councillor dead

A DMK councillor, who had suffered brain haemorrhage while watching television pictures of Karunanidhi’s arrest, died this afternoon, adds PTI.

The 42-year-old Kalapatti councillor, Gnanavel, was admitted to hospital last evening.

A DMK activist, who was hospitalised after an attempt to immolate himself at Udumalpet, was said to be improving.

   

 
 
SUBHAS AIDE IN STADIUM NET 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, July 1: 
The “clean” image of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government suffered a body blow today as police arrested a key aide of embattled sports minister Subhas Chakraborty, accused of harbouring criminals in Salt Lake Stadium.

Hours after Chakraborty submitted a report to the CPM leadership, stating his position on Tuesday’s arrests, Tapash Ghosh, one of his close associates, was arrested. He was accused of allowing the criminals to hole up in the stadium’s youth hostel.

Ghosh was picked up from his Baguiati residence this morning. A police team from Howrah and North 24-Parganas took Ghosh to an undisclosed destination, where Gautam Chakraborty, deputy inspector-general, and Somen Mitra, Howrah superintendent of police, questioned him.

In the faction-ridden North 24-Parganas politics, Ghosh is a member of Chakraborty’s core group and an important functionary of Friends of the Stadium. The voluntary sports organisation, remote-controlled by Ghosh’s mentor, runs the stadium.

“We arrested Ghosh after we were convinced that he played an active role in letting out the hostel rooms regularly to criminals who had direct access to him,” a senior police officer said.

The arrest — implausible without clearance from the government and the CPM — lent credence to reports that the CPM leadership has begun considering a proposal to take the sports portfolio out of Chakraborty’s hands.

On the second and last day of the party’s state committee meeting, Chakraborty’s chief detractor, Amitava Bose, sought to raise the stadium issue but was prevented by CPM secretary Anil Biswas and politburo member Biman Bose. The issue was not on the agenda, they said.

Neither Bhattacharjee, who is believed to have taken a serious note of the scandal, nor the party leadership, which has begun weighing Chakraborty’s liability factor, is in favour of acting against him.

The party feels that any action would only give the Opposition more ammunition. Besides, Chakraborty’s rivals fear, a crackdown could offend his mentor, Jyoti Basu. The party is keen to avoid a three-cornered tussle where Alimuddin Street, Writers’ Buildings and Indira Bhavan (Basu’s house) are pitted against one another.

Sensing that a crisis is building up on the government, Trinamul and the Congress have decided to end the Assembly boycott.

Caught in a pincer attack from the police — actually the government — and the party, Chakraborty reportedly told his followers: “They are trying to kill me politically.”

He asked for their “patience and calm” even as the police brought two of the arrested to the stadium today for a reconstruction of activities in the complex.

“I fear more arrests because they have decided not to allow me to live in peace. They will continue to embarrass me, harass me and humiliate me till I feel compelled to leave the party and the ministry,” he said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.1°C (-2)
Minimum: 24.6°C (-1)

Rainfall

20.4 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 79%

Today:

A few spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts.
Sunrise: 4.59 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
   
 

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