Buddha buries angry past with officer’s return
Rebels held for killing CPM leader
Joshi Diwali fades in Shahnawaz iftar glow
George draws chopper fire
Shatrughan barb irks BJP
Najma drive
Salem double-agent catches police napping
Heartland rush to load Devgan and Shotgun
Amma’s rival passes reform-rage buck
Grounded airlines chief returns for a day

 
 
BUDDHA BURIES ANGRY PAST WITH OFFICER’S RETURN 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Nov. 29: 
Eight years ago, the politician — then an impulsive No. 2 in the government — ticked off the bureaucrat, tore up his notes and threw the file back at him which the latter had brought for him to sign.

After reducing the bureaucrat to tears and sending him scurrying for cover to the chief minister of the day, Jyoti Basu, the politician walked out of the government to pen Duhshamay (Bad Times), a play, sitting at a place he felt more comfortable in — theatre complex Nandan — and leaving tongues to wag that his interface with the bureaucrat was one of the many reasons for his quitting politics.

Today, eight years later, the politician, now chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, made amends as he appointed Arun Bhattacharya his principal secretary and thereby completed the process of healing old scars that began in 1999 when Bhattacharya was made secretary of Bhattacharjee’s information and cultural affairs department.

Bhattacharjee actually returned to the Cabinet in 1994, a year after walking off in a huff, and today’s appointment of Bhattacharya as his principal secretary could be seen as the culmination of a process of sobering down the impulsive politician that began in earnest with then boss Jyoti Basu and senior party colleagues taking the lead.

Bhattacharya’s appointment was part of Bhattacharjee’s first reshuffle of the senior bureaucracy after being voted to power in the May 2001 polls. Well-placed sources in the government did not deny that the chief minister — by showing that he was not interested in losing any more time — had sent a signal to the bureaucracy it would not be able to ignore.

Though little is known about what exactly transpired after Bhattacharjee’s intemperate behaviour with his department’s secretary in 1993, sources say that the civil servant complained to Basu. The then chief minister had actually ticked off Bhattacharjee about the “unseemly behaviour” with a respected bureaucrat, at least helping the then No. 2 make up his mind about his resignation.

Bhattacharya was brought back to the information department at the end of 1999, stepping into the vacancy created by Amit Kiran Deb who was appointed Basu’s secretary.

   

 
 
REBELS HELD FOR KILLING CPM LEADER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Belpahari (Midnapore), Nov. 29: 
Five PWG activists, including a woman, were arrested and three others detained for interrogation today in connection with the murder of Sudhir Singha Sardar, CPM local committee secretary. A bandh was observed at Binpur and Belpahari areas in protest against yesterday’s daylight murder.

A number of protest rallies were also held throughout the day. Sardar’s body was later taken from the Jhargram sub-divisional hospital and handed over to his wife Anila Sardar at Bhimarjun village.

The arrested persons are Nayan Sardar, Mandodori Sardar, Paritosh Sardar, Lalmohan Sardar and Banshi Mahato. Police said the assailants were mostly “outsiders” who reached Banhspahari a day before committing the crime and spent the night at Nayan Sardar’s house. As they did not know the CPM leader, the assailants sought the help of a local villager to identify him.

District superintendent of police K.S. Meena, however, felt they might have come from adjoining Salboni. Two students of Banshpahari K.P.S. High School, who witnessed the murder, said the assailants were not local residents.

Police, however, are still not sure whether the murderers came from other states or from other parts of the district.

   

 
 
JOSHI DIWALI FADES IN SHAHNAWAZ IFTAR GLOW 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
Both achieved their intended objectives. Syed Shahnawaz Hussain’s iftar was planned to make it to page three of the capital’s dailies, while Murli Manohar Joshi’s belated Diwali Milan was the expected annual get-together he has been hosting for mediapersons for the last several years. But the point was not lost on scribes who covered both the dos this evening.

The Union human resources development minister’s party paled into insignificance when compared to the civil aviation minister’s who is far junior to Joshi in years and in the BJP’s hierarchy.

The guest list at Hussain’s iftar boasted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani, former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and I.K. Gujral, as well as diplomats representing Islamic countries and a bevy of film stars, mostly has-beens.

For a person who was on the BJP’s sidelines for years and was dependent on “seniors” like Uma Bharti and Delhi MLA Vijay Jolly to get noticed by the leaders, the event proved that Hussain had arrived — politically and socially.

The “generational” difference between him and Joshi was that while the BJP veteran realised the importance of making it to page one of a newspaper, Hussain represented that brand of career politicians who were conscious of page three as an added input in their success. An understanding he shares with Amar Singh and Kapil Sibal.

Not surprisingly, his role model is Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s son, Omar Abdullah, who combines political savvy and ministerial competence with social skills and has emerged as a favourite with the capital’s party circuit besotted with power politics.

However, unlike Singh and Sibal, who are not anchored in grassroots politics, Hussain fought his way to success from Bihar’s Kishangarh constituency, which in the past was represented by high-profile MPs like Syed Shahabuddin and M.J. Akbar. He has told confidants that he was determined not to repeat the “mistakes” made by the BJP’s other token Muslim - Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

In 1998, Naqvi was the party’s only elected Muslim MP from Rampur and by virtue of that “achievement” had made it to Vajpayee’s council of ministers. But he spent his political energies in proving to the Sangh parivar that he was as loyal a “Hindu” as any of them by taking a rabid stand on Ayodhya and other issues. The result was he lost whatever Muslim support he managed to garner in Rampur in 1999 and his seat as well. Hussain, on the other hand, has figured out that if he is to be an “asset” to the BJP and “enhance” its secular credentials he has to keep the Muslims on his side.

Therefore, last year during Ramazan, when he was heckled in a Delhi mosque where he went to offer namaz after Vajpayee had described the Ram temple as an expression of nationalist sentiments, he did not make a hue and cry. Instead, he quietly organised an iftar in which the Prime Minister clarified that the dispute should either be settled by the court or through a dialogue between Hindu and Muslim representatives. His clarification was later elaborated upon in his Kumarakom musings penned from Kerala.

Today Vajpayee refused to speak to the press but went through the motions of wearing a skull cap and accepting a wall hanging depicting the Kabah.

But what made Hussain’s party the iftar of this season was that it managed to attract an assortment of celebrities and not just politicians wanting to look and seem correct by obliging the BJP’s only minority-community MP.

   

 
 
GEORGE DRAWS CHOPPER FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
Defence minister George Fernandes today claimed there had been no violation of Indian airspace by any American naval helicopter even as the Opposition walked out of the Lok Sabha accusing him of “immorally” occupying the Cabinet berth.

Facing a hostile Opposition that kept shouting “No, no”, Fernandes said there had been no report either from the air force, the navy or civil authorities or the national airport authority indicating violation of Indian airspace.

“The helicopter was flying over international waters,” Fernandes said, adding that Indian territorial waters and airspace extended to 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from the coast.

He denied that the helicopter had flown over Kalpakkam nuclear plant. “I would like to assure the honourable members that no such overflight over Kalpakkam nuclear installation took place.”

India had yesterday asked the US embassy for an explanation on the flight of the helicopter from the USS John Young. Commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair, too, had sought a report from the commander of the warship.

Fernandes’ statement in Parliament today was largely based on these explanations. He said facilities given to the USS John Young were part of the specific requests in connection with Operation Enduring Freedom.

“These requests conform to our existing policy guidelines for overflights and refuelling of aircraft and port,” he said. “It is in this context that the USS John Young was given permission to dock at Chennai commercial port.”

Chief of Air Staff A.Y. Tipnis also said there was no violation of Indian airspace by the helicopter. “I don’t think there is anything to be alarmed about it as civil aviation has said there was no violation of airspace,” he told reporters at the National Defence Academy at Khadkwasala near Pune.

When Fernandes stood up to read the statement today, the Opposition raised the issue of his continuance in the government. Opposition members have stopped asking Fernandes questions relating to the defence ministry on grounds that he is “illegally occupying ministerial berth”.

The Congress insists on a debate under Rule 184 that entails voting. The government is unwilling to concede, saying the Opposition cannot question the Prime Minister’s prerogative of choosing his ministers.

Congress leaders Shivraj Patil and S. Jaipal Reddy met parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, but the two sides failed to resolve the issue. Congress sources said the party was prepared to dilute the wording, but the talks broke down as the government failed to give any assurance. Negotiations will resume on Monday.

   

 
 
SHATRUGHAN BARB IRKS BJP 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The BJP has taken exception to its Rajya Sabha MP Shatrughan Sinha’s remarks that defence minister George Fernandes was not “indispensable” to the Vajpayee government and warned that disciplinary action may be taken against the film star.

Sinha’s comments to television channels came after he was asked about the Opposition’s protests against the defence minister’s reinduction.

“It is not desirable to challenge the Prime Minister’s prerogative to appoint his ministers publicly,” BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said. “He (Sinha) should not deviate from the party line that the PM alone has the prerogative to appoint his council of ministers.” Malhotra said the party would decide if disciplinary action needs to be taken against Sinha.

Hours after Malhotra’s warning, Sinha made an appearance at civil aviation minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain’s iftar. Hussain escorted him to the Prime Minister but it seemed more like a perfunctory exchange of greetings.

After that Sinha took a seat away from Atal Bihari Vajpayee and did not go up to him again. He also refused to talk to reporters.

   

 
 
NAJMA DRIVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
It is not often that Rajya Sabha chairperson Najma Heptullah goes out of her way to meet CPM leaders. This afternoon, she drove all the way to Banga Bhawan to see Jyoti Basu and spent 20 minutes with him.

Speculation was rife that Najma had gone to “lobby” for the post of Vice-President, which will be vacated by Krishan Kant next year. This is not the first time her name is doing the rounds for the Vice-President’s office. Najma was in contention the last time, too, before Krishna Kant pipped her to the post.

At one time, she was in the reckoning even for the office of President.

Sources say Najma’s “unique selling points” are her gender and religion. The combination, they feel, could ensure her a special profile that would improve the nation’s image both at home and abroad.

The Rajya Sabha chairperson is believed to be meeting many political leaders “who matter”. It is, therefore, not surprising that she called on Basu. The CPM leader, who is also head of the People’s Front, has enough clout and enjoys a wide swathe of acceptance that could help Najma’s candidature. Her relations with the Left parties have been cordial and her experience as Rajya Sabha chairperson spans over a decade.

   

 
 
SALEM DOUBLE-AGENT CATCHES POLICE NAPPING 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Nov. 29: 
Three Madhya Pradesh policemen were suspended last evening for having verified papers and addresses for the passports of three non-existent persons – one man and two women.

The fraud came to light after police in the United Arab Emirates recovered one of the passports from Abu Salem when the mafia don was detained there recently.

In a breakthrough this evening, police discovered that the passports meant for Danish Baig, his wife Rubina Baig and Fauzia Usman, were received by a man called Shiraz. Investigators found out that Shiraz, who was posing as an informer for the Intelligence Bureau had, in fact, been working as an informer for Salem all along. Shiraz is absconding.

The passport (number B-5554774) recovered from Salem was issued by the Bhopal passport office in the name of Danish Baig on June 29, 2001. State home minister Mahendra Baudh said this afternoon that the office had issued the three passports after the local police verified the identities and addresses. Both the people and the addresses given (1927 & 1928 Gandhi Nagar, Bhopal) are non-existent.

Two other passports, numbers B-5554775 and B-5554776, were issued the same day in the names of Rubina Baig and Fauzia Usman, Danish’s friend and neighbour.

As Danish’s passport was recovered from Salem, police suspect Rubina’s passport may have been used by Salem’s wife and the third for the movement of an actress, who was with the gangster when he was detained.

UAE police informed the Indian foreign ministry about the passport issued under Danish Baig’s name immediately after Salem’s detention. The ministry then sought a detailed report from the Bhopal passport office, which found two more passports had been issued for the women.

“We have suspended an inspector of the special branch, L.S. Chahar, an assistant sub-inspector, Jagdish Prasad Badgaiyya, and constable Irfan Ahmed for the issue of fake passports,” superintendent of police Arun Pratap Singh told The Telegraph. “It was Irfan Ahmed who was supposed to go and verify the persons and addresses. We questioned Irfan but the man insists that he did go and found the people and the addresses correct. We, of course, know he is lying. Irfan will be questioned further.”

The application forms for the passports were submitted on May 16, 2001 at the Bhopal office. No one came to ask for the three passports and no one also enquired after them.

Yet, they were passed on June 29. Three days later, the passport office despatched the documents by registered post.

Superintendent Singh said he was informed about the fake passports on November 9, after which he started an investigation. By November 12, the police knew that the names as well as the addresses were fake. “We notified the passport officials and asked them to cancel the passports with immediate effect,” Singh added.

The police are “sure” that Shiraz – who was a member of the Salem gang in the early nineties — is the link between the gangster and the officials involved in the fraud. Shiraz came to Bhopal a few years ago and had bought a house in Gandhi Nagar.

   

 
 
HEARTLAND RUSH TO LOAD DEVGAN AND SHOTGUN 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 29: 
The Samajwadi Party is eyeing actor-turned-producer Ajay Devgan as a candidate to add glamour and consolidate upper-caste votes in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Son of former action director Veeru Devgan, Ajay is likely to be pitted against Satish Mahana, a minister in the Rajnath Singh cabinet, from Kanpur Cantonment.

Ajay Devgan shot to fame with hits like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Diljale, and eventually married top-ranking actress Kajol. But his career has been going downhill ever since. His multi-crore Raju Chacha bombed in the box office.

Samajwadi Party sources claimed the out-of-work actor was not averse to joining politics.

The Samajwadi Party has already persuaded Amitabh Bachchan to campaign for its candidates. Bachchan recently paid a visit to Allahabad where he asked voters to vote for “brother Amar Singh’s Samajwadi Party”.

The Congress is trying to rope in discontented BJP Rajya Sabha member Shatrughan Sinha, who recently invited Sonia to watch his play, Pati, Patni aur Main.

Not one to oblige such requests, Sonia, however, sat through the entire play, enjoying every moment of a political satire directed against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sonia plans to invite Sinha for her iftar party on December 11. Senior Congress leader Ahmad Patel is in touch with Sinha.

If Ajay takes a plunge into politics, he would have come a long way from his days as a struggling actor. Ajay’s role model is his father, who came to Mumbai four decades ago to make it as an actor.

Having failed as an actor, Veeru Devgan established himself as a stuntman and later became a successful fight director.

He produced Phool aur Kante as a vehicle to launch his son’s acting career. The film was a box-office hit. Ajay soon joined the ranks of Salman Khan and Aamir Khan as a top-drawing actor.

Devgan’ portrayal of a terrorist in Diljale established him as a star. Having received much appreciation for his role in the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Major Saab, Ajay won the national award for playing an illegitimate son in Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm.

Ajay soon carved a niche for himself as a sensitive and mature actor, different from the prevailing crop of glamour stars. He then decided to branch out into producing films.

With more and more Bollywood stars venturing into politics, Delhi may soon earn itself the moniker “Dollywood”.

Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani are great Hindi film buffs and miss no opportunity to catch the latest films, which are specially screened for them.

   

 
 
AMMA’S RIVAL PASSES REFORM-RAGE BUCK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Nov. 29: 
Jayalalithaa’s mother of all reforms package has evoked a low-key protest from arch rival M. Karunanidhi.

Even as state government employees held a meeting in the secretariat complex this evening against the sharp cuts in perks and the ban on creation of new posts, the DMK chief shifted the onus of protest on Amma’s allies.

“I am happy if Jayalalithaa’s allies, who helped bring the ADMK to power, and the people are happy with these steep hikes in user charges, including electricity and bus transport, besides the other drastic changes proposed,” a shrewd Karunanidhi said. He declined to comment on the ADMK’s charge that it was the “terrible mismanagement of the previous DMK regime” that forced it to take these extreme steps.

When he was addressing his party cadre, however, Karunanidhi came out with a harder punch. “To place such a heavy burden on the people by blaming the previous DMK regime speaks poorly of the present dispensation’s capability,” he said in a bid to boost the workers’ morale.

Government sources today said the reforms package should help mop up nearly Rs 4,000 crore in a full financial year. The break-up follows: Rs 1,500 crore from power tariff revision, Rs 1,030 crore from transport fare hike, Rs 202.51 crore from taxes, Rs 308 crore from suspension of earned leave encashment for government employees, a Rs 330 crore ‘cushion’ from staggering of advances from the General Provident Fund, Rs 30 crore from downgrading travel eligibility for officers, and Rs 600 crore from revision in PDS price of rice and sugar.

The harshest critic of the sweeping reforms is the PMK, led by S. Ramadoss, who had tied up with the ADMK for the Assembly polls in May. “People will never forgive this government for all these measures,” he thundered, presiding over a day-long fast by partymen who sported Namams on their foreheads. (Naman is a traditional insignia that is also sometimes used to convey that one has been fooled.)

Worried that the freeze on recruitments in non-essential posts would prevent the backlog in reserved vacancies for OBCs from being cleared, Ramadoss vowed to take up the matter with various community leaders, including Dalits. The PMK depends on the backwards for its support base.

Jayalalithaa’s two ardent allies, the CPI and the CPM, are also on the warpath. The CPM state secretariat, which met here today led by secretary N. Sankariah, said the ADMK had “declared war on the people”.

   

 
 
GROUNDED AIRLINES CHIEF RETURNS FOR A DAY 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Nov. 29: 
He looked calm and composed in his neatly-pressed suit and blow-dried hair, hardly a man who claimed to have gone through hell. Now reinstated Air-India managing director Michael Mascarenhas was ready to embark on a new mission on his last day in office.

“I went through a state of shock and trauma. I did not know what to tell my 90-year-old mother, who kept asking for the details,” he said, hours after the civil aviation ministry withdrew his suspension.

Mascarenhas returned today to the 24th floor boardroom in Air India Building on Nariman Point overlooking the Arabian Sea. But his return was largely symbolic as he is due to retire tomorrow.

After the CBI cleared him of corruption charges for lack of evidence, civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain ordered his reinstatement almost immediately, though for a brief two days, largely to stay clear of legal wrangles.

The ministerial gesture at least helped Mascarenhas save his face to some degree, a colleague said. But the rage and humiliation of the “unfair, unjust and now illegal” suspension spilled out as the suave official spoke to the media for the last time as head of the nation’s carrier.

“I wish action would be taken against those who have maligned me by framing me up,” Mascarenhas, 58, said, refusing to point finger at anybody. He said he was going to withdraw the civil suit he had filed with the Bombay High Court, challenging his suspension. He had no plans to pursue those who had pursued him. He felt that in post-Tehelka India, anybody with a Rs 5 stamp paper could file an affidavit and frame somebody. “You can malign anybody now and the onus is on the accused person to prove his innocence,” Mascarenhas said. What’s worse, people now tend to believe what they are told, he added.

The Air India chief was suspended on May 23 after the CBI accused him of granting undue favours to an UK-based sales agent. This was grossly irregular and tantamount to corruption in high places, the bureau had said.

The CBI exonerated the official yesterday, saying “no irregularity of any kind can be associated” with the Air India chief.

Mascarenhas said he still had Air India’s interest in his heart. One of his unrealised dreams was to see it grow from a 31-aircraft fleet to one with 50 planes.

The Air India boss said his airline was starved of funds, while Indian Airlines was bankrolled by the Union government. And this was all he would say on the proposed disinvestments of the state-run airline.

Though suspension had cost him six months of service, Mascarenhas said he was not going to seek extension.

“Why should I? It’s so demeaning,” he said. “Moreover, I have brought down the retirement age to 58 years at Air India and I have no intention of violating that.”

   
 

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