BJP spares politicians in UTI offensive
Pankaj who, ask Behmai residents
Pervez praise derails minister’s hopes
NSCN rejects truce rollback
Probe into Bihar bonded labour

 
 
BJP SPARES POLITICIANS IN UTI OFFENSIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 28: 
The BJP has urged the Centre to probe the nexus between the corporate sector and Unit Trust of India as well as the investment decisions made by UTI over the last 10 years. But the party was silent on the role of politicians in the UTI debacle, which has drawn flak for finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee dismissed allegations made by counsel for former UTI chairman P.S. Subramanyam in a Mumbai court yesterday about Sinha asking him to provide “assistance” to a Lucknow-based software company. Talking to reporters after attending the BJP national executive at the Parliament Annexe here today, Vajpayee laughed and said: “Are you people going to believe him (Subramanyam’s counsel) or what?”

An economic resolution, unanimously adopted by the national executive late last night, said mutual funds like UTI should be prevented from accepting “private placement of shares at prices higher than the prevailing market prices”. It also demanded that the board of trustees and senior officials be made accountable for any violation of investment norms.

Asked why politicians were exempted from the ambit of the probe, BJP economic cell convener Jagdish Shettigar said: “As per our analysis of the situation, we feel there is only a nexus between UTI and the corporate sector.”

Apart from the proposals for cleaning up UTI, the economic resolution also called for professionalising all stock exchanges on the lines of the National Stock Exchange and strengthening Sebi on the pattern of the US’ Securities Exchange Commission.

The BJP also came out strongly on PSU disinvestment after the Centre was put on the mat for the Balco sale. The resolution said: “Efforts should be made to realise maximum returns in case of disinvestment of PSUs. There could be internal valuation of the PSU concerned in addition to valuation by the global advisers.”

With an eye on the Assembly polls in two major agrarian states, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the BJP said the Centre should shore up the purchasing power of farmers either by checking the falling prices of farm produce or reducing the cost of agricultural operation and protecting the agricultural sector against the import threat. It also asked for free movement of foodgrain by amending the Essential Commodities Act.

In reply to a question on BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi’s observation yesterday that certain norms should be evolved for admitting and readmitting parties into the NDA, the Prime Minister said: “It is a good suggestion from Janaji. But before anybody is admitted, everyone’s advice is taken.”

Vajpayee made it clear that the Pattali Makkal Katchi was still not formally reinducted into the NDA. He said a meeting of the ruling coalition will be called to decide on the matter.

Congress parliamentary party chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi today alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office might be behind the US-64 scam, adds PTI. “It was also found earlier that the PMO was involved in the controversial Tehelka expose. I have a strong belief that the PMO played a role in this scam as well,” Das Munshi said in Siliguri after attending the working committee meeting of the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen.

   

 
 
PANKAJ WHO, ASK BEHMAI RESIDENTS 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Behmai, July 28: 
“For 20 years we wept tears of blood while the whole world — government, media, politicians, filmmakers — made a heroine out of a woman who made me fatherless when I was a child of three,” shouts a hysterical Lallan Singh, now 24.

The town is giving vent to its emotions at last. But they deny knowing anyone by the name of Sher Singh Rana or Pankaj Kalra — the self-confessed killer of Phoolan Devi. He had claimed yesterday that he had been to Behmai last year and “saw the pain and anger on the faces of the widows”. If he did, no one in Behmai remembers either him or his visit.

To these people, it doesn’t really matter who killed the “bandit”. Two decades ago, this village of 100 families cremated 20 of their men on a single day. Now, no one here is sorry — at heart — that Phoolan is dead.

For the record, though, they have their lines memorised for the cameras. “We are sorry. She should not have been killed like this...” But underneath surges a volcano of hatred.

Tears roll down the cheeks of Raja Ram Singh. “I was born a Thakur, a Kshatriya warrior by birth and I hid under the haystack trembling while I saw them dragging away my brothers. My brothers were shot while I hid inside like the coward that I am. I have hated myself since. They shot 27 of them. This village of Thakurs was suddenly a hamlet with two dozen young widows.”

“They came looking for my husband,” said 44-year-old Santoshi Devi, the widow of Banwari Singh who was one of those killed. “When I refused to let them in, one of the dacoits picked up my six-month-old daughter and threw her down. My Sita has not grown since.”

Memory haunts Lallan. “My father was dragged out of his hut and shot in the head. Every Diwali, Holi and Karwa Chauth, I have grown up seeing my mother weep and sigh. I have never known what it means to have a father. What wrong did my father do?” he asks.

Mention the gangrape, and Raja Ram shakes his head. “Kissi bhi mai ka lal mein itna himmat nahi tha ke woh Phoolan ke taraf aankh utha kar bhi dekhe. She was one woman, a leader in a gang of 50 men and all 50 of them ate out of her hands. You think people like us with wives and children would have raped her in the presence of our mothers and sisters. Don’t we live in society?” says Raja Ram.

Ramesh Singh, now the pradhan of the village, was not present during the massacre. He was away working at the fields when Phoolan and her gang struck.

Singh, however, recalls: “The situation of this village during that time was unimaginable. Today’s genteel intelligentsia has no idea. The police would come here to receive complaints dressed in plain clothes. In the late seventies and early eighties there was no government in Behmai. We had a sarkar of dakus.”

Raja Ram was the key witness to the Behmai massacre. He was the person who went to the police station to report the killings on the evening of the massacre.

“Around 40 of them came around 2.30 pm that day. They surrounded the village. With the Yamuna on one side, our men could not even run. Man Singh, Balwan, Shwepal, Mustakim, Phoolan Devi and their men dragged all the men present in the village to the place next to the well and shot them. Twenty-seven men were shot. Twenty died on the spot. And they were gone by 5 pm,” recalled Raja Ram.

Though no villager says Phoolan personally killed all the victims, they believe she was the “root cause”.

According to Ramesh Singh, the Behmai episode started with each gang leader wanting to possess Phoolan.

“There would be endless fights between gang members over who would have Phoolan for the day. Sometime in 1980, Vikram Malla shot Babu Gujjar dead at the Devkali mandir near Oraiya after a showdown. As Babu Gujjar was a Thakur who could not possess Phoolan and Vikram Malla, a lower caste man, did, this infuriated Sriram and Lalaram (the other gang leaders),” he said.

Phoolan was allegedly gangraped by Sriram, Lalaram and their men. The rape was the outcome of Thakurs not being able to have Phoolan, villagers here say. Behmai denies Phoolan was raped in the village but Phoolan picked Behmai for her revenge.

“Because this is the village of Thakurs. More than 98 per cent of the people here belong to that caste,” Raja Ram says.

“She alleged that we were sheltering Lalaram and Sriram. But we were helpless. Till day, Chambal dacoits are ruled by caste factors and every caste supports its own gang. The police never came here, the government did not bother for our safety. We too needed protection. But it is wrong to say that we, the villagers here, raped her. We did not have the guts to,” he added.

   

 
 
PERVEZ PRAISE DERAILS MINISTER’S HOPES 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 28: 
Samata Party leader Digvijay Singh could have got his preferred portfolio in the latest Cabinet shuffle but for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to India. The lavish praise heaped on the general — who left New Delhi licking its wounds — by Singh has turned out to be the former junior railway minister’s undoing.

Seven days after his appointment as minister of state for commerce and industry, the sulking leader from Bihar is yet to take charge. He wanted a better portfolio, like minister of state in the external affairs or defence ministries or independent charge of any other department. Asked when he would join, an aide said no decision had been taken. “Maybe, we will think about it on Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

Singh’s disappointment is accentuated by the fact that commerce and industry minister Murasoli Maran does not allow his deputies any say in decision-making. Singh’s predecessor Omar Abdullah had to suffer for long before prevailing upon the Prime Minister to shift him.

Singh, who was minister-in-waiting to Musharraf, was the only leader besides Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to spend a long time with the general.

The indiscretion that cost Singh dearly was his interviews showering praise on Musharraf when a miffed Indian side and BJP hardliners were trying to score in a propaganda war. Musharraf returned Singh’s compliments in his Islamabad press conference.

In his interviews, the Samata Party leader had said: “Musharraf came across as a frank, casual and candid person who is interested in all sorts of issues. Chatting with him (the general) was like chatting with a JNU student. He was curious about everything.” Singh was also quoted as saying that Musharraf had obviously done his homework.

Singh, who had sensed the impending Cabinet shuffle, had begun lobbying for his retention as minister of state for railways before the arrival of the Pakistan President.

But once Vajpayee made up his mind to give the agriculture ministry to Ajit Singh and retain Nitish Kumar as railway minister, it became clear that Singh would be shifted out as two leaders from the same party and from the same state could not be in the same ministry.

The next best, Singh thought, was the post of a minister of state in the external affairs ministry. But foreign minister Jaswant Singh had other ideas. In a smart move, he got Farooq Abdullah’s son Omar inducted as his junior, presenting a suave, liberal Muslim face in times of heightened Indo-Pak media war.

Sources said Singh’s praise for Musharraf did not go down well with the Vajpayee establishment.

Moreover, the BJP hawks did not want someone from outside the saffron camp in the defence ministry. The Prime Minister, therefore, picked Krishnam Raju from his party in Andhra Pradesh.

The thinking is that Samata Party chief George Fernandes may be eventually reinducted as defence minister after the Tehelka inquiry commission submits its report, and the BJP wanted its own man as junior minister there.

Earlier, Harin Pathak, BJP MP from Gujarat, was the minister of state for defence. He was forced to quit on being chargesheeted in a murder case. Fernandes was not keen on a junior, and so the post was not filled till last Sunday, when Raju was appointed.

   

 
 
NSCN REJECTS TRUCE ROLLBACK 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
July 28: 
The NSCN (I-M) in Nagaland is likely to be provoked into a more vigorous offensive against the security forces in neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the states to which the “ceasefire” had been extended earlier.

The NSCN (I-M) leadership issued a statement from Amsterdam tonight saying a truce “within territorial limits” was not acceptable to them.

The statement issued by the “collective leadership” of the NSCN (I-M) said: “During the two-day talks with the Centre’s negotiator K. Padmanabhaiah in Amsterdam, nothing was finalised on the review of the June 14 Bangkok agreement.” The statement said there is “no point in making an announcement on the issue of ceasefire limitation.”

It added that in view of the adverse situation created, “we are constrained to issue this statement to make things clear to both the Nagas and the Indians. It is understood that before implementing the ceasefire, it is necessary to keep the activities of the Indian armed forces under control. Thus any announcement or declaration or statement by the Union home ministry or any mass media is unfounded and so not acceptable to the Nagas.”

It has been decided to make the ceasefire monitoring group more broad-based by including respectable NGOs, civilians and observers, the release stated. However, the overall situation in Nagaland remained normal. A bandh called by a local youth organisation today passed off peacefully.

While Assam tightened its security net, tension simmered in neighbouring Manipur over the Centre’s decision to “limit” the ambit of the ceasefire.

A pro-ceasefire Naga organisation in Manipur has called a 36- hour blockade on two national highways in the state from midnight tonight. The Senapati-based Naga Youth Front will block National Highways 39 (Imphal-Dimapur) and 53 (Imphal-Silchar) in protest against the Centre’s decision.

While pro-ceasefire Nagas are unhappy over the “modification” of the ceasefire, the anti-ceasefire Nagas (Kabui Nagas) today mourned the death of 17 protesters in Imphal recently.

Nagas also took out torchlight rallies in Senapati and Ukhrul to oppose the Centre’s decision. Manipur police told The Telegraph that securitymen were monitoring the developments in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur hills.

   

 
 
PROBE INTO BIHAR BONDED LABOUR 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, July 28: 
Jugeswar Das, 41, appears emaciated. His freckled face tells the story of a man who has been in chains for several years. Jugeswar, a bonded labourer, used to put in eight hours of work on his landlord’s farm. Then in the evening for four hours he slogged it out at his master’s iron foundry. He was not compensated for the two shifts he did for his landlord.

After slaving it out for five years in Aldier village, under Bakhtierpur police station, without any wages, one day Jugeswar decided to do the unthinkable. He demanded his pound of flesh from his “master”. Predictably, the landlord threatened him with dire consequences — “I will lock your wife and son in a room for their lifetime,’’ he reportedly told him. Jugeswar had enough. He wanted to break free. With his family members, he fled the village. They landed up at the district magistrate’s office in Patna and lodged a complaint against the landlord.

“If my landlord was generous he would give me Rs 5 to 10. Occasionally, he would offer me 10 kg of vegetables. But for months there would be no payment,” he said.

Jugeswar is not alone. A number of such cases have come to light in north Bihar districts. In March, the state government had released 35 bonded labourers from the clutches of landlords at Katihar.

Dubbing the prevalence of the bonded labour system in Bihar and Jharkhand as “serious”, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has ordered probes in 24 districts. In Bihar, the worst-hit districts are Muzaffarpur, West and East Champaran, Motihari and Sitamarhi. In Jharkhand, the NHRC has ordered investigations at Deoghar, Ranchi and Giridih.

According to V.K. Singh, commissioner of labour and social security, in Bihar of the 7,868 bonded labourers, 7,763 have been rehabilitated. In the last six months, cases of 37 bonded labourers have come to light. However, the NHRC has asked for fresh probe in 24 more districts.

NHRC officials said they had been getting complaints about the existence of the bonded labour from several districts in the last few months. In March, a brick-kiln owner in Maner police station in Vaishali district is reported to have beat a bonded labourer to death. The incident sparked protest against the prevalence of the system. The commission has asked Bihar’s chief secretary and director general of police to submit a report about the incident within two weeks.

   
 

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