Allies cool to Farooq meet
A scholar and a liberal passes away
Bad PR charge on Atal, Modi
Ajit seeks bar on genetic food import
Scam cloud on Badal aides
Rajan man killed in escape bid
Sidhu fate in President hands

New Delhi, April 20: 
National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah’s plan to convene a conclave of allies to discuss the Gujarat issue has failed to evoke any interest in the NDA. Some alliance leaders suspect the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister’s true motive is to drum up support for his candidature for the post of President, which will fall vacant on July 24 when K.R. Narayanan demits office.

National Conference sources said Omar Abdullah, Farooq’s son and minister of state for external affairs, may return to Srinagar sometime in May to take the reins of the state and free his father to concentrate on lobbying for his possible candidature. If the move falls through, he could give the post of Vice-President a shot.

But the route to Rashtrapati Bhavan seems strewn with thorns for Farooq as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has gone on record saying he would oppose the move tooth and nail.

Allies are also stunned by Farooq’s stand on Gujarat. “Barring the BJP and the Sangh parivar outfits, the entire political spectrum, including the allies, demanded Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s removal. Farooq’s criticism of the allies for seeking Modi’s scalp is quite baffling,” said a Janata Dal (United) leader.

Asked if his party would attend the meeting, he said: “We have not yet given serious thought to it. We don’t know what is to be achieved by a conclave.”

Another leader took a swipe at Farooq, asking since when he had usurped the role of NDA convener George Fernandes.

Crucial ally Telugu Desam Party, which has been leading the remove-Modi chorus, is also not happy with him for supporting the BJP’s and the Sangh’s stand that “Modi should stay”.

The Sena today strongly opposed Farooq’s expected bid for the presidency, with Thackeray saying that “if Farooq is to be made the next President, then what is wrong with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf”.

“It is believed that Abdullah is aspiring for the post, but I want to declare that under no circumstances (will) he be allowed to become the President,” he said.

Thackeray flayed Farooq for seeking autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir and said the Sena was opposing his candidature keeping the “country’s interest in mind”.

“Pakistan also desires that Jammu and Kashmir should be an autonomous state and once Abdullah’s demand is fulfilled, then the Valley would soon become an independent nation,” the Sena chief said in a statement.

“Our opposition to Abdullah is in the country’s interest but if somebody is daring to instal him as the President, then the post be given to Musharraf, then all questions would be resolved,” the Sena chief said sarcastically.

Though Thackeray did not spell out who he was going to support, his aides said he was not opposed to Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander’s candidature. Alexander reportedly has an “extremely good relationship” with Thackeray.

What endeared Alexander to the Sena chief was his non-controversial way of functioning as Governor during the Sena-BJP rule in the state.

Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Nirupam praised Alexander, saying: “He always goes by law, is always non-controversial, erudite and likeable,”


April 20: 
Contemporary Indian historiography lost a pillar in the death of reputed scholar Prof. Sarvapalle Gopal after a brief illness in Chennai today. He was 79 and is survived by wife Indira.

Gopal had been ailing since 1995 with a kidney problem, said family sources. Last week he was admitted to Apollo Hospital when his condition worsened. He breathed his last this afternoon around 2.15. The cremation is scheduled for tomorrow.

As Gopal’s body lay under the gaze of an austere black-and-white photograph of his philosopher-father Sarvapalle Radhakrishnan at his old residence, the overwhelming sense of loss of the voice that spoke out firmly against any distortion of Indian history by “anti-secular elements” sank in.

Gopal’s thoughts, reminisced his former colleagues and students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, have special relevance today when liberals and freedom of expression are facing an onslaught from the Right wing.

In 1977, Gopal had reacted passionately to the banning of textbooks by the then Janata regime. His essay, Fear of History, one of his students recalled, was a defence of all forms of historical thought. “He was one of the finest liberal minds,” he added.

Of late, particularly since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, Gopal was an intellectually troubled man. In fact, his last book was an edited work, Anatomy of a Confrontation, on the Ayodhya issue.

In a moving condolence message to the bereaved family, President K.R. Narayanan said Prof. Gopal had “contributed immensely to the historiography and the understanding of modern Indian history and significantly enriched the tradition of writing and teaching history to numerous students and scholars in India and abroad”.

At a time when “correct interpretation of history is being subjected to controversy, the traditions set by the historians of the stature of Prof. Gopal need to be evoked for scientific understanding of our history, so that future generations remain free from prejudice and passion while reading the subject and pursuing research in the field”, he added.

Gopal studied history at Presidency College, Chennai, in the early 1940s and later at Balliol College, Oxford, before starting his career as a teacher at Andhra University, Waltair. He was subsequently an honorary fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and went on to receive the Padma Vibhushan.


New Delhi, April 20: 
High-profile member of the National Commission for Minorities, John Joseph, today said he had asked the Gujarat government to publish the names of those killed in police firing in various parts of the state, but the Narendra Modi government had not bothered to do so.

The commission had summoned the Gujarat chief secretary and home secretary to Delhi on April 6. “We grilled them for two-and-a-half hours and I suggested that they publish the names of Hindus killed in police firing. But the government declined, saying that it would create problems,” Joseph said.

“As on April 6, 126 persons were killed in police firing, of which 77 were Hindus. There is no doubt Muslims suffered a lot. If the real list was published it would have shocking revelations,” he added.

“The government of India and Gujarat government’s PR work is bad. It is a major lapse. A good number of Hindus were also killed. But I do not know why they are not disclosing the names,” Joseph said.

He said he would talk to Muslim leaders to come forward for a dialogue with the RSS. Joseph said, within hours of the Godhra carnage on February 27, “when the Sabarmati Express was still burning, I reached the RSS headquarters and talked to K.S. Sudarshan on how to solve this problem”.

Joseph, however, has been accused of being an RSS agent by the CPM leadership — former Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar made the allegation recently in a signed article — as well as a section of the Church.

Last year, Joseph was instrumental in arranging a dialogue between the RSS and Christian leaders after a series of attacks on churches. Now, he is trying to get the RSS and Muslim leaders to agree to talks. “But some vested political interests are trying to sabotage any dialogue,” he said. “My philosophy is that a solution is possible only if the victims and the perpetrators of violence sit together and discuss the problem.”

“Between 1998-99 and 2000, there were several incidents of attacks on Christians. When I joined NCM I wanted to put an end to Christian persecution,” he said. Joseph was a member of the commission between 1993 and 1996. He was re-appointed in January 2001. He said he first met the RSS chief in Calcutta in April 2001, “when the RSS used to criticise the Church, Vatican and Pope almost every day”. Joseph said he told the RSS boss to stop the unsavoury statements to facilitate a dialogue.

He claimed this was a turning point, as the attacks on churches stopped soon after. Talks between Christian leaders and the RSS were held at Delhi, Nagpur, Chennai, Alwaye and Bangalore.

“Nobody is blaming the Hindus for the attack on the minority community. They are blaming the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. So, there is no question of any solution without talking to them,” he said.

Joseph, who belongs to Kerala, said he was a social worker and trade unionist before he joined the minorities commission. His father was one of the leading lights of Pentecost church in India.


New Delhi, April 20: 
Alarmed at the surreptitious dumping of genetically modified food in the country, agriculture minister Ajit Singh has written a letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asking him to take immediate steps to check this as it could turn out to be a major health hazard.

The agriculture minister’s letter, D.O No 566/AM/2002, to Vajpayee says: “As you are aware, several concerns related to health safety of genetically modified crops and food products derived from them have been raised ... We are importing huge quantities of soya oil from countries like Argentina, Brazil and USA. The use of transgenic soybean varieties is widespread in these countries. There is a strong likelihood that soya oil being imported from these countries has been extracted from transgenic varieties.”

Singh’s letter comes in the wake of gentically modified cotton being allowed to be cultivated in the country, a step which many environmentalists and volunteer groups have opposed, saying that it would affect Indian agriculture.

The government had overruled their objections, stating that the cottonseeds would not be going into the food chain and would merely yield insect-resistant crops.

Singh said that as there were no laws requiring importers to declare whether the product they were bringing in was derived from transgenic varieties, genetically modified food was being imported without any risk-evaluation of what harm it could pose to health, to the food chain or to the environment at large.

Scientists have long been warning that the potential health effects of genetically modified food should be rigorously investigated before allowing them into the diet of the poor, children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases as they were the most vulnerable to changes in food.

The Royal Society in a report earlier this year had warned that the health of poor people in developing countries in whose diet a certain food product predominated, or formed a basic constituent, could be affected badly by any nutritional deficiency in the transgenic food sold to them.

The British report, which is being viewed with grave concern in Europe, also said that genetically modified food might contain unknown toxins, anti-nutrients, or allergens, which could cause new diseases to emerge.

The Society has consequently advocated that genetically modified food should not be accepted in the UK or the rest of Europe, where rigorous testing should apply.

It had also raised concerns that infants eating babyfood were particularly vulnerable, as they had a very narrow diet. In case there were any nutritional deficiencies in the food, their health could suffer.

Singh’s letter which, sources said, has been written keeping in view the alarming report by the highly respected British body, has sought stricter rules forcing importers to declare whether their commodity is genetically modified and prescribed that such food should be subjected to intense tests by the Genetical Engineering Approval Committee.


Chandigarh, April 20: 
The Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) recruitment scandal

appears to be getting bigger, with fingers pointing at persons close to former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Jagman Singh, believed to be chairman Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu’s prime accomplice, allegedly told police that some of Badal’s aides were involved in the racket. The former chief minister was not available for comment.

Vigilance bureau officers investigating the scam had interrogated Jagman. They, however, refused to confirm that he had named Badal’s aides. “What he has mentioned to the media has not been revealed to us yet. We cannot say anything at the moment,” said superintendent of police (vigilance) Jaskaran Singh. Jagman had also made the allegation on television.

Other officers said the bureau was waiting for instructions from the chief minister’s office to proceed against those whom Jagman has named.

The superintendent said that the revelations so far are only the tip of the iceberg. “We are looking at a much larger scale of corruption in the PPSC... Many politicians and high officials may have benefited by paying to get their children into the state civil services,” he said.

Jagman has been accused of selling question papers and answer sheets to candidates on the eve of the civil services examination and depositing the money in bank lockers. His arrest led the vigilance bureau to the bank yesterday where Rs 8.16 crore was found neatly stacked in five lockers beloging to Sidhu and his family members.

Senior police officers refused to comment on allegations that a candidate, whose father is a sitting judge, was involved in the scam. “We cannot say anything at the moment. It would derail investigations. We deny any judge’s involvement,” an officer said, slamming the phone down.

The bureau is now exploring legal options to examine suspected beneficiaries of the scam. “We are looking at all angles. The children of high officials who have passed the civil services examinations and are waiting for their postings should be made to wait longer. They should not be given any posting till they are cleared,” an officer said.

The bureau is inspecting records of about 4,000 recruitments since Sidhu took over in September 1996.


Chennai, April 20: 
A gangster, believed to be an aide of Chhota Rajan, died in a shootout with the city police early this morning when he tried to flee from the lawkeepers on way to the airport.

Five policemen, including two inspectors, have been hospitalised with injuries.

Sanjay Ghatia, 31, was wanted in 30 cases, including 12 murders in Mumbai.

Ghatia was arrested yesterday by the Chennai police for trying to extort Rs 2 lakh form a Pune-based businessman. He was being taken to the airport today after he agreed to identify one of his associates, Sunil, who was flying down from Mumbai.

The jeep in which Ghatia was being taken crashed against a road-divider near the Guindy industrial estate around 5 am while trying to avoid hitting a cow. Taking advantage of this, Ghatia seized a revolver from a policeman, jumped off the jeep and began to run.

The police gave chase. Ghatia stopped and fired two rounds from the revolver he had snatched. The police retaliated, seriously injuring the gangster.

The police said they arrested Ghatia from a public call office yesterday, acting on a complaint by Divakar Shetty of Chennai. The complainant had told the police that his brother, Santosh Kumar Shetty, who ran a restaurant in Pune, was frequently receiving threatening calls from “someone in Chennai”.

This person was threatening Santosh with death if he did not pay up Rs 2 lakh.

The complainant also gave the police two telephone numbers from which the calls were originating. Armed with the information, police tracked down Ghatia at the PCO where he was allegedly making a call to Pune.

The police have registered a case after today’s shootout and ordered an inquiry. Chennai police commissioner K. Vijayakumar visited the injured policemen at the hospital.


New Delhi, April 20: 
The President can summarily dismiss Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu, who was arrested last month on charges of corruption.

According to Article 317, a member or chairman of a public service commission can be dismissed by an order of the President after the Supreme Court, acting on a reference by the President, holds the member guilty of “misbehaviour”.

“This is the procedure for removal of a chairman of a public service commission. In the mean time, pending reference and the finding of the apex court, the President can also summarily suspend him,” Justice Rajindar Sachar, retired chief justice of Delhi High Court, said. Law ministry sources here said “the government is aware of this”, but “would like to study the situation”.

Sidhu was raided by Punjab vigilance department sleuths who recovered Rs 8.16 crore in cash from bank lockers of his relatives. Earlier, Rs 20 crore was claimed to have been recovered. An intelligence estimate says the total seizurecould go up to Rs 100 crore with further raids.


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