CPM rebel held in Das murder
Monday date for Mamata debate
‘Forged’ letter whirlwind catches row-ridden govt
Dial MM for cross-border tieup
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Aug. 24: 
Sudhir Bhattacharya, one of the architects of the CPM’s Dum Dum bastion and later a rebel, was arrested today on charges of masterminding the murder of Sailen Das, his successor at Dum Dum Municipality.

The search for the mastermind ended at the doorstep of 82-year-old Bhattacharya after the overnight arrest of S.P. Kamat, a low-level hospital employee and die-hard Amitabh Bachchan fan, inspector-general (South Bengal) Prasun Mukherjee said.

Bhattacharya, Kamat and three small-time realtors plotted the liquidation of Das, the chairman of the municipality.

“Evidence shows they began to plan the murder from April after realising that Das’ continuation in office would be inimical to their objectives. You can say a collection of vicious motives converged to encourage the murder. The promoters’ lobby, too, played a crucial role,” Mukherjee said.

Das, 72, was gunned down on August 13. The three hired assassins fled on a motorbike snatched from an unsuspecting neighbour. Another bike, abandoned by them, was the kick-off point for the investigation.

A reconstruction of the crime suggested that Bhattacharya had given the contract — of Rs 1.1 lakh — for the murder to Kamat, who hired the killers.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said with Bhattacharya’s arrest, one of the six made in the past 36 hours, the police had all but wrapped up the probe. “A few more arrests may take place.” The three hired killers are still free.

But even Das’ family reacted with disbelief to Bhattacharya’s arrest. Breakaway CPM groups scented a “conspiracy”.

“We don’t believe Sudhirbabu was behind my father’s murder,” said Das’ son, Ananyabrata, recalling Bhattacharya had helped his father acquire land for his music school, Batayanik.

The arrests were part of a late-Wednesday swoop. First to be picked up were promoter Babulal Sharma and his partners, Mrityunjay Ghosh and Tapas Bhattacharya. Later, real-estate broker Debashis Ghatak alias Bhaba and Kamat were detained. All five separately confessed that Bhattacharya was the mastermind.

Bhattacharya was picked up from his residence this morning and brought to the Dum Dum police station in a cycle-rickshaw. “We cross-checked information given by Kamat and others with him. We also verified his movements on the day of the murder,” investigators said.

Bhattacharya was formally charged and arrested in the evening. The arrested were remanded in police custody for 10 days.

The police recovered a part of the Rs 1.1 lakh allegedly paid to the killers; Sharma yielded Rs 5,000, Ghatak Rs 10,000 and Kamat Rs 25,000.

In the evening, officers searched Bhattacharya’s house, checked his bank passbooks and questioned his family to find out if he had taken money out of the bank as Kamat had revealed. “They were here for about an hour,” said Shampa, Bhattacharya’s daughter-in-law.

Investigators have learned from those arrested that the crime was planned in a chain in which all the links were not in contact with each other. Bhattacharya did not know who Kamat had engaged to kill Das; Sharma, who Kamat got in touch with, contacted Ghatak to hire the assassins but did not care to know who they were.

Investigators said the motive for the murder was the threat from the Das-led municipality to the promoter-raj Bhattacharya and his councillor-son Chandan had built in the area. Even after being expelled from the party in 1974, Bhattacharya had ruled as municipality chairman for a record 32 years till 1999, contesting under his own outfit, Poura Unnayan Sanstha.


New Delhi, Aug. 24: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has convened a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance here on Monday. The meeting is likely to decide on the re-induction of the Trinamul Congress into the NDA and the fallout of the leak of Tehelka tapes, showing that the website had used prostitutes.

Samata Party leader and NDA convener George Fernandes was to meet the Prime Minister today to discuss Tehelka-related issues, but a Vajpayee aide said no appointment had been sought. Sources said the Fernandes camp, too, wanted an NDA meet to discuss what they consider Tehelka’s violation of the Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act.

Vajpayee is also hosting a dinner for MPs of the alliance on Wednesday before the monsoon session of Parliament ends on Friday. The sources said if the NDA meeting on Monday formalises the re-entry of Trinamul, Mamata Banerjee and her party colleagues will also be invited to the dinner. A tentative dinner list drawn up today, however, did not have Mamata’s name.

A decision on re-induction of Trinamul has been hanging fire because of reservations among some BJP leaders. Party president Jana Krishnamurthi had even suggested a six-month cooling-off period for prodigal allies, though the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) was taken back without consulting the BJP leadership.

Sources close to the Prime Minister said Monday’s meeting has no structured agenda. Samata leaders disclosed that Fernandes will raise questions about the credibility of the Tehelka revelations, following which he had to resign as defence minister, with the fact now coming to light that its reporters had used prostitutes. The Samata leadership is agitated over the indifference of the Vajpayee government to the ministerial rehabilitation of Fernandes.

There is a feeling in the party that the Venkataswami Commission probing the revelations may take about two years to submit its report, forcing Fernandes to wait. The commission has to investigate 14 deals and, even after six months of commencing the work, it has only started to probe the first deal, that too of a minor nature. The remaining are bigger deals and may take months.

The probe into Operation West End, Tehelka’s sting job on politicians and defence officials, comes last. The Samata leadership wants the commission to investigate this first.

Although supporters of Fernandes in the NDA are lobbying for his immediate re-induction into the Cabinet, the NDA convener is worried over the indifference of senior party colleagues like railway minister Nitish Kumar.


New Delhi, Aug. 24: 
Battlelines between the NDA and the Opposition were redrawn after the Vajpayee government stumbled into another controversy, this time involving a “forged” letter written by Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad to Brajesh Mishra, the Prime Minister’s principal secretary. The letter questions the process of disinvestment adopted for Air-India.

Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi created a flutter last night when, during a Lok Sabha discussion on disinvestment, he produced a letter purportedly sent by Prasad to Mishra on July 7. According to the letter — copies of which were made available to the press by the BJP — disinvestment was not feasible because “Air-India is an asset which carries a lot of emotion being the national carrier of the country, hence, the argument that a minimum reserve price and single bidder will be appropriate does not hold good in ensuring a smooth disinvestment process through Parliament and government”.

It went on to say: “We should look at the aviation policy as a whole rather than keep changing the policies to either suit the process or the objective that we are trying to accomplish in a transparent manner.”

Minister of state for disinvestment Arun Shourie tried to blunt the Opposition’s protests by ordering a CBI inquiry. Shourie informed the House that he spoke to Prasad, who told him the document was “forged” as he had not written any such letter.

BJP sources said Shourie wrote to CBI officials requesting them to conduct an “expeditious” inquiry into the matter which had the “gravest” implications. According to PTI, the investigating agency today registered a case of forgery. CBI sources also did not rule out the possibility of Das Munshi being questioned.

The Congress, however, said the government should have first referred the matter to the Speaker as the letter was the property of the House.

“It involves a secret correspondence. What aspect will the CBI inquire into — whether the letter was forged or the signature was forged?” asked Congress sources. But the party was clear on one point: that the onus was on the government to prove that the letter was fabricated. The Congress was backed by the CPM, which argued that the letter should be sent to a privilege committee and not to the CBI.

The BJP reacted strongly to the Congress stand. Spokesman V.K. Malhotra said it was “deplorable” that the party should brandish a “forged” letter on the floor of the House. “The Congress should be sure of its facts and not base its allegations on forged documents,” he said.

“They should have understood that the language in the letter cannot be one used by the Cabinet secretary. Instead of all this, Congress leaders could have placed their views on disinvestment in the debate.”

Malhotra said the Congress treated issues related to forged documents like a “cottage industry”. “First you had the St Kitts case. Then (Chhattisgarh chief minister) Ajit Jogi claimed he had documents to show that the Prime Minister’s Office was involved in the Balco deal. We had challenged him but there has been no response so far,” he said.

Government sources admitted that a CBI inquiry was unlikely to prove anything. “If it’s proved that the letter is fake, at most Munshi will apologise. It’s only a technical matter and, by the time the investigation is over, the whole thing would have passed out of public memory,” said a Cabinet minister.


New Delhi, Aug. 24: 
We can’t break the political gridlock, and we won’t play cricket. But we can cut a deal in the world of business. Pakistani technocrat Malik Khan and Indian software genius Manickam Sridhar are bridging the Great Divide that rives the two nations by forming an IT venture called Sitara Networks.

Sitara Networks, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, designs, develops and markets a comprehensive suite of high-performance networking products for enterprise and communications service providers. And now the company is all set to enter India and set up offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. It will target banking, finance and the government sectors to sell its products.

Malik and Sri were colleagues in Motorola’s Boston office for several years and rarely exchanged anything more than pleasantries. Malik, who was on the sales side of things despite an engineering background, had been flitting around the world. Sri was an out-and-out techie who had cranked out a series of cutting-edge modems for Motorola.

The ice really broke at a product review meeting back in 1990 when Sri was explaining the virtues of the latest gizmo. Malik had found a soulmate.

Over the next few years, the Indian techie and the Pakistani manager grew closer. Sri is from Tamil Nadu and studied engineering at REC Trichy before going to the US to graduate from the University of Iowa. Malik came from a small village near Abbotabad and had studied in Karachi Grammar School before going to MIT for a masters in chemical engineering.

Sri had worked in the telecom company GTE before joining Motorola in 1984. Khan took a management degree from Harvard and sold software for Jacobs Engineering before joining Motorola around the same time. Over the next few years, they and their families got to know each other.

In 1996, Malik left Motorola to work as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the venture capital firm OneLiberty Ventures. It was just a pit stop for greater things. Those were the early days of the Internet, of Netscape and Yahoo, and back in Motorola, Sri’s mind boiled over with the possibilities of what the future held.

Malik’s venture capital firm, meanwhile, urged him to tap anyone with good ideas in the Internet space. Over several weekends, the two friends chewed on business plans on their kitchen table. They finally threw up the idea for Sitara Networks, a firm to manufacture products capable of personalising bandwidth for different services.

Which means if you need to run just e-mail, you can buy low bandwidth for your computer; if you want to watch a movie, buy a lot more (sounded futuristic then, but it is already happening).

Money was no problem. Khan’s VC connections raked in $5 million in the first round and they have raised $100 million to date. In March last year, they started shipping their products and have been growing at 70 per cent quarter on quarter.

Sitara designs products to remove limitations of Internet protocol (IP) in order to optimise all network performance, ensure the availability of mission-critical applications, and ultimately allow service providers to deliver additional, revenue-generating services on demand.

Sitara Networks has subsidiaries in Canada, South America, South Africa, Europe and Asia. Its Asia-Pacific office is headquartered in Hongkong and it has a presence in Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney, Beijing and Shanghai.

Musharraf and Vajpayee may not have cobbled a path-breaking protocol on Kashmir, and Waqar Younis and Sourav Ganguly will probably not walk out to toss a coin, but Malik and Sri are hoping to come up with networking solutions for the subcontinent. It’s just plain business sense.




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