Advani calms Mamata with report diplomacy
Militant held on conclave-eve
Tehelka not the first, may not be last
Arrest sword over sting sleuths
Vajpayee seals Sangh peace with salute
Speaker push for ruckus code
Throat-slit gang puts tech capital on edge
Tussle between PM’s men bursts into open
Arafat seeks Atal West Asia tips

 
 
ADVANI CALMS MAMATA WITH REPORT DIPLOMACY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The Centre is likely to seek a report on the law and order situation in West Bengal from the chief secretary in the wake of mounting pressure from Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata had met home minister L.K. Advani twice in the last 48 hours demanding Central action to arrest the “worsening” law and order situation.

Yesterday, she took up the matter with Advani at Parliament’s Central Hall. Sources said the home minister assured Mamata that the Union home secretary would write to the Bengal chief secretary seeking a report on the situation.

Today, Mamata led a team of Trinamul MPs to the home minister to give a detailed account of the “lawlessness” and press for Central intervention in curbing the alleged post-poll violence, including kidnapping of businessmen.

“Post-poll violence in the state has assumed alarming proportions. Immediate measures must be taken to check kidnapping of businessmen, besides the deteriorating law and order situation,” Mamata said after the 30-minute meeting with Advani. She said the home minister gave them a patient hearing and assured them that he would ask for reports on the situation prevailing in the state.

The Trinamul leader, who blamed the cadre of the ruling Left parties for the state of affairs, said the violence spiral has terrorised people in Midnapore, North 24-Parganas and some parts of Hooghly. Businessmen in the state were also feeling “highly insecure” because of the huge ransoms demanded by abductors operating from more than one state, she added.

Bikram Sarkar, Trinamul MP from Panskura, who was also part of the delegation, said 20,000 people were forced to flee their homes in fear of anti-social and criminal elements.

Sarkar said they brought to the notice of the home minister the increasing number of kidnappings in the state and the nexus between Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai-based gangs. He alleged that Chunnu, an anti- social, was instrumental in the kidnapping of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman.

The delegation also apprised the home minister of activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence in the northern part of the state and the circulation of fake and Bhutanese currency notes there.

   

 
 
MILITANT HELD ON CONCLAVE-EVE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Aug. 22: 
Ahead of the visit of 10 ministers to Jalpaiguri, a woman, suspected to be a militant, was arrested from Banarhat after three nights of a cat-and-mouse chase.

Police launched a search on Sunday night after a tip-off that militants of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) had sneaked into the district.

Jalpaiguri superintendent of police Ranvir Kumar said a massive operation was launched in Moynaguri, Dhupguri, Kranti and Banarhat blocks. “Six or seven Ulfa militants, along with half-a-dozen KLO rebels, had entered the district. A special task force was pressed into action along with CRPF jawans, the district commando force and the state armed police. However, the past two nights failed to yield anything.”

Last night, the team raided a KLO hideout in Banarhat. “While we failed to net any hardcore rebel, we arrested Menoka, sister of Sonali Roy. Twenty-six-year-old Menoka is the fiancée of a local KLO commander. We have also rounded up Menoka’s father, Deven Roy Adhikary, and her brother for sheltering militants,” Kumar said.

Security has been beefed up in view of the inauguration of the state agricultural secretariat for north Bengal in Jalpaiguri on Wednesday.

At least 10 ministers, including municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya, agriculture minister Kamal Guha and tourism minister Dinesh Dakua, will attend.

“Raids will continue as we believe that the militants are holed up in the district,” Kumar added.

   

 
 
TEHELKA NOT THE FIRST, MAY NOT BE LAST 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The nozzle of a carbine pointing through a bunker of sandbags in south Delhi’s Soami Nagar marks out the building behind it as the office of Buffalo Networks, best known for its dotcom, Tehelka. The frisking at the reception is thorough. Tarun Tejpal and his business venture are under heavy police protection.

The irony — after the story broke this morning that Tehelka’s journalists supplied senior army officers with prostitutes to scoop “Operation Westend” — is that the State is protecting those who laid the honey trap that has put its army in the dock.

When Tehelka’s secret cameras caught army officers and former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman accepting bribes from fictitious arms dealers, it raised several questions not only on the legality of the “sting operation” but also on the ethics of journalism. After the news — not revealed to the public by Tehelka earlier — that it sold sex to win a story, the media in India is divided on the question of the ethics of it. Tejpal himself is convinced that “extraordinary stories and extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary methods”.

The closest parallel that he draws is the story of Kamla. In the 1980s, a reporter of The Indian Express, Ashwini Sarin, bought a woman named Kamla and described his experience first hand to establish that traffic in humans was part of the Indian reality. Back then, the story was described as a landmark in Indian journalism and inspired a generation of journalists.

What followed were use of similar tactics to break stories though none had the impact and the shock value of Kamla. Reporters got themselves arrested, refused bail and went to prison to report conditions in Tihar jail.

In 1992, a reporter disguised himself as a kar sevak in the march to Ayodhya that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He has even deposed before the Liberhan Commission that is inquiring into the December 6, 1992 event. On a smaller scale, just a couple of months ago, a reporter posed as a policeman on the beat after buying a Delhi police uniform as he went about collecting his “hafta”.

The idea that journalists should live the event they are reporting is not entirely new. In fact, its novelty has worn off in the US where Hunter S. Thompson blazed a trail with “gonzo journalism” in the early-mid 1970s. “Gonzo” is a writing technique based on the reporter’s personal experience. While working on a story on gangs of motorcycle outlaws, Thompson actually went around with one and was even beaten up. The experience went into his book Hell’s Angels. But Thompson did not hide his identity as a reporter.

He followed similar tactics in reporting on drug addiction and even on political stories in his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

More recently, Richard Price — and Tejpal claims to have drawn inspiration from Thompson and Price — wrote Clockers, made into a film by Martin Scorsese. “Clockers” is slang for the lowest level of drug peddler, so called because he is available round the clock. The writer nearly turned into a drug addict while researching the story.

Those were the days when “new journalism” defined a style of reportage, not — as now — new media. Print being the dominant medium then, new journalism found its best expressions in the columns of newspapers. An extension of the new journalism to new media — Internet and television — is but logical.

Tehelka has shocked because of the sex and the sleaze. Tejpal’s defence is that his reporters were posing as arms dealers and the “run of the story” required using the tactics they resorted to. “Wine, women and booze are part of the world of arms deals in India, and probably in the world and the reporters were posing as arms dealers,” he says.

Will he resort to such tactics again? Tejpal does not say no.

   

 
 
ARREST SWORD OVER STING SLEUTHS 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The Tehelka team members, who allegedly supplied prostitutes to top defence officials for clinching fake deals, could be arrested under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Traffic Act.

“However, a political decision awaits the legal course,” sources said. “Without a first information report being filed against others who took the favour from the Tehelka team, it could be difficult to sustain a case.”

The “others” list, sources added, would also include ousted BJP president Bangaru Laxman, Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly and defence officials, as they were the ones who allegedly accepted the favours — whether in terms of money or women.

Law minister Arun Jaitley was closeted in a lengthy meeting at the ministry’s conference hall and repeated attempts to reach him failed.

“There was certainly a discussion on arresting the Tehelka team members. For, even without taking cognizance of the offences allegedly committed by others, the team members could have been arrested under the various provisions of criminal law,” said a source.

Senior counsel and Supreme Court Bar Association president Kapil Sibal said: “Of course, under the IPC and the Immoral Traffic Act alone, the Tehelka team could be arrested, if the government wanted to. But it would be foolish... They (the Tehelka journalists) are not pimps. It is part of the sting operation. If the government arrested the Tehelka journalists, it would be on account of a deal which never existed.”

Apart from various provisions preventing flesh trade, Sections 161, 165 and 165 (A) of the IPC are also being examined in the case. These sections relate to a “public servant taking gratification” and “abetment” by a party.

While Section 161 says a public servant who accepts gratification can be punished, under Section 165 (A), “whosoever abets” a public servant to commit a crime “shall be punished”.

This section was inserted in the IPC in 1952 when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister. Besides, there are provisions for criminal conspiracy (Section 120-B), fraud, forgery and cheating.

“The current problem is how to isolate only the Tehelka team and arrest them. For, (otherwise), it would generate a hue and cry of a political nature,” the sources pointed out, adding that the government would like to wait for the comments of the Justice Venkataswami commission, which is probing the scandal.

The sources said that if the commission takes a stand on the exposé indicting the portal’s CEO, Tarun Tejpal, and his men, it would at least give the government a chance to take the Tehelka team to task.

During its resumed hearings tomorrow, the commission is likely to take up the hitherto unpublished issue of the Tehelka tapes featuring prostitutes being supplied to defence officials.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE SEALS SANGH PEACE WITH SALUTE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Four days after he made his peace with RSS sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee swore his allegiance to the Sangh’s saffron flag (bhagwa dhwaj) by offering the ritualistic “Guru Dakshina” in a function held this morning at textile minister Kashiram Rana’s residence. The unpublicised event was attended by all BJP ministers belonging to the Sangh fraternity as well as neo-converts like urban development minister Jagmohan and MPs present in the capital.

The event has been an annual occurrence since 1925 between Raksha Bandhan and Guru Purnima. It entails a voluntary cash offering which is deposited in a sealed box placed before the RSS flag. The offering is treated as a swayamsevak’s annual contribution to his parent organisation.

While the ritual is normally devoid of speeches, this time RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya gave a mouthful to the BJP on how to deal with Pakistan. Sources quoted Vaidya as emphasising that victory against “evil” was important and quoted two examples to buttress the point: Shivaji vanquished Afzal while Prithviraj Chauhan was cowardly and allowed himself to be vanquished. He said that though Indira Gandhi had emerged as a victor after Bangladesh’s creation in 1971, she lost the initiative in the Simla summit to Pakistan as she agreed to release 90,000 Pakistan prisoners of war.

Vaidya was quoted as saying: “Indira Gandhi’s mentality was shaped in such a way she believed that the hosts must be conciliatory towards the guests. So she gave in.”

His advice to the BJP ministers and MPs was: “Our tolerance must not be seen as a sign of weakness, we must be assertive.”

For the past two years the event used to be held at the residence of human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. But this year the venue was shifted as Joshi was out of Delhi.

The guru dakshina has not been the only meeting point between the BJP top brass and the Sangh in the past few days. After the much publicised meeting between Vajpayee and Sudarshan in a book release function at the Prime Minister’s official residence on Saturday, home minister L.K. Advani picked up the baton and called on the RSS chief at the Jhandewalan headquarters last evening. Advani was away in Lucknow during the book release.

According to Sangh sources, in the 45-minute meeting, Advani briefed Sudarshan on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir as well as parts of the Northeast. He also spoke of the “pro-active” measures the Centre had initiated to tackle militancy and cross-border terrorism in states where the ISI was suspected to have entrenched itself.

Only 10 days ago, Advani had dropped in at the RSS headquarters during a memorial service in honour of four swayamsevaks who were slain by Tripura insurgents. The visit, which came in the wake of a spate of killings in the Jammu region, reportedly saw the home minister facing an “angry and anguished” lot of swayamsevaks who sought to know from Advani why the government had failed to get on top of the situation.

   

 
 
SPEAKER PUSH FOR RUCKUS CODE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Leaders willing, there will be no more adjournments and disruptions in the Lok Sabha that, apart from presenting an ugly picture of Parliament, cost Rs 9.32 lakh per hour when the session is on.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is fed up with constant adjournments and disruptions. Today, he issued an ultimatum to leaders of all political parties asking them to make up their mind on contentious issues and get back by 10 am tomorrow. If the Speaker succeeds in getting a mandate from the members, he plans to push through an amendment in the rule book that would debar agitated MPs from rushing to the well of the House.

Almost every second day of the first session has been called off because of protests by members on a range of issues — from the UTI mess to Kashmir to the police “excesses” in Tamil Nadu.

On the face of it, almost all political parties are committed to decorum in Parliament. In 1997, leaders from across the political spectrum had given an undertaking that they would not rush to the well. The occasion then was 50 years of India’s Independence where each and every speaker lauded democracy in India coming of age and maturity.

What is more surprising now is that the treasury benches, too, have begun disrupting proceedings. NDA ally Samata Party wants to lodge its protest against the way the Rabri Devi government is functioning while DMK members want the Centre to crack the whip on the Jayalalitha regime.

The Uttar Pradesh polls may be slated for February-March 2002 but, at least once a week, the state casts its shadow on the House. If it’s the Samajwadi Party one day, it is the Bahujan Samaj Party the next.

Balayogi wants to put an end to this. He wanted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi to attend a conference of presiding officers in Chandigarh in June to arrive at a consensus but both opted out on other grounds.

Sources close to the Speaker said disruptions in the Lok Sabha were lowering the prestige of the House in the public eye. Balayogi has tried various options. First he asked party leaders to rein in and discipline their own flock but it did not work as leaders were often seen inciting their MPs to rush to the well. He then began the practice of calling off zero hour if question hour was disrupted, but it had little or no impact on parliamentarians.

Running out of options, the Speaker told party leaders today: “Something needs to be done, it should be done fast.” The leaders nodded in agreement but it has to be seen whether they do so tomorrow as well.

   

 
 
THROAT-SLIT GANG PUTS TECH CAPITAL ON EDGE 
 
 
FROM HABIB BEARY
 
Bangalore, Aug. 22: 
Police officials in this high-tech city are on edge. A throat-slitting gang is on the prowl, spreading fear across the Karnataka capital.

Worried that the spate of ghastly murders would dent the government’s image, chief minister S.M. Krishna and home minister M. Kharge have asked the force to get its act together and arrest the assailants, suspected to be part of the ruthless Dandupalya gang.

Director-general of police V.V. Bhaskar, who visited the murder sites and met relatives of the victims, went a step further asking his men to either perform or quit. “It’s true we are spending sleepless nights,” an assistant commissioner of police said.

Residents of this burgeoning metropolis are also worried about reports that Bangalore, home to the country’s software industry, is turning into a hideout for Mumbai’s underworld. Early this month, three hoodlums of the Chhota Rajan gang were killed in a shootout near the airport. Rajan’s aide Rohit Varma had shot dead Dawood Ibrahim’s associate Mohan Kotian on the Bangalore-Chennai highway a few years ago.

Most members of the Dandupalya gang, said to be responsible for over 70 murders in Karnataka and neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, are lodged in city jails, barring four who escaped. Going by the modus operandi, police suspect the hand of the escaped quartet in the killings.

Dandupalya, a village an hour’s drive from the city, has gained notoriety for breeding criminals. Police describe the gang members as psychopaths who target elderly people.

“Even for a bottle of arrack, they will kill,” said an inspector who is part of the probe team. Rape and sexual abuse of the victims before slitting their throat is their trademark. Women are also active members of the gang.

Last week, a 91-year-old man and his 40-year-old daughter-in-law were found with their necks cut open at their home in the crowded Vijaynagar area of the city. However, medical tests did not reveal any sexual abuse. “I have never seen such ghastly killings in my career. Our suspicion is that it is the work of the Dandupalya gang. But we are not ruling out other possibilities,” said deputy commissioner of police N. Chebbi.

The state home ministry has approved a plan to set up criminal intelligence units and provide 1,000 motorbikes to Bangalore police. According to Bhaskar, motorbike patrolling would help restore confidence of the people in the force, which has started circulating ‘Dos-and-Don’ts’ handbills among residents.

The DGP, however, was left red-faced by what happened on Tuesday. Armed burglars had terrorised residents at Dobbspet, barely a kilometre from the police station, injuring nine persons before escaping with cash and jewellery. The police arrived at the scene an hour after the dacoits had fled. “The police reaction was shocking. If they had come in time, they would have caught the dacoits,” said local MLA H.C. Chennigappa.

The policemen were later hauled up by the home minister. A sub-inspector and a head constable were suspended for dereliction of duty. Kharge also told the police to crack down on possible links of Mumbai gangsters, who are extending their activities in the coastal Mangalore-Karwar belt and Bangalore.

   

 
 
TUSSLE BETWEEN PM’S MEN BURSTS INTO OPEN 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
After maintaining a “cold, but civil” relationship for nearly a year, the rivalry between Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh over foreign and security-related matters appears to have raised its head.

The latest tussle between the two seems to be over the appointments of Arun Singh and B.G. Verghese, both brought in by Jaswant to help run the defence ministry of which he has additional charge.

Arun, who had also served as defence minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, was appointed as consultant to the ministry of defence to head the higher defence management, set up in the wake of the Kargil Review Committee.

Verghese, a veteran journalist and former editor, was appointed as a consultant to the ministry to revamp the information machinery a few months ago following the Tehelka exposé.

Mishra, national security adviser and the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, who had been taking pot-shots at Jaswant at select press briefings, has managed to bring the issue of the appointments to the centrestage.

The Opposition parties — the Congress and the CPM — have raised questions in Parliament about their status, describing Arun as a “de facto defence minister” and Verghese as a “super spokesman”.

Jaswant, however, stoutly defended the role played by the two in Rajya Sabha yesterday. But there are indications that both have completed the tasks they were assigned and may now be on their way out in about two weeks.

However, the resurfacing of the controversy at this juncture is a clear indication of the rivalry between some of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s key advisers and how they are jostling for a position in a post-Vajpayee scenario.

The on-off rivalry between Mishra and Jaswant exploded in the open during the Pokhran blasts in 1998. It was again evident after the Agra summit with Jaswant tilting towards home minister L.K. Advani.

The closeness between the two has started worrying Mishra, who has been under considerable pressure after the Tehelka exposé and the UTI fiasco. There are indications that though Mishra continues to enjoy the Prime Minister’s confidence, he was marginalised by the Jaswant-Advani duo during the Agra summit.

However, there is nothing to suggest that the foreign minister has lost the confidence and trust of Vajpayee. But his closeness with Advani is being highlighted by his adversaries to drive home the point that Jaswant, too, has thrown his hat in the ring for the top executive’s job — as and when it is up for grabs.

But Jaswant has been criticised by senior foreign ministry officials who have started expressing their displeasure over the manner in which “outsiders” are being brought in to run South Block. The reference is to some retired IFS officials, including Sati Lamba and K.V. Rajan, who had been brought in as “advisers” to look after key areas in the ministry.

   

 
 
ARAFAT SEEKS ATAL WEST ASIA TIPS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is arriving here tonight on a whistle-stop tour to brief Indian leaders on developments in West Asia and seek their help in creating world opinion to restore the peace process.

Arafat will be coming here from Cairo and, after consultations with the Indian leadership, leave for Beijing as part of the consultation process with world leaders. He is expected to meet President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tomorrow.

The Palestinian President was here in August last year on a similar consultation trip to brief Indian leaders when the violence had resurfaced in West Bank and Jerusalem. Palestine has already invited Narayanan to pay a visit. Arafat, sources say, may once again reiterate the invitation.

India, which is traditionally close to Palestine but has also started improving ties with Israel, is of the view that both sides should refrain from pursuing any policy that could encourage violence in West Asia and derail the peace process.

At the United Nations, India’s permanent representative Kamlesh Sharma made a similar plea. Expressing regret over the loss of lives in the Palestine-Israeli conflict, he warned that spiralling violence in the region could not be a solution to the complex web of sensitive issues. Sharma called for a dialogue and peaceful negotiations in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council.

“Violence should not be allowed to undermine the peace process for which the leadership of Palestine and Israel have strived so hard,” Sharma was quoted by agencies as saying in New York.

   
 

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