Tragedy after tragedy in Natwar Singh’s family
Gill stuck with Gujarat squad
Peace takes toll of air force
Goa back on tape to haunt Atal
Dressed to make a killing on mail
Nothing Hindu about The Hindu Times
Telecom throne to pacify allies
Sneak-out CM runs for cover
Now, Bollywood blockbusters in House library
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 9: 
Tragedy struck for the second time in two months in Congress leader Natwar Singh’s family tonight when his daughter Ritu Singh died in mysterious circumstances. Police and family sources said she committed suicide.

Early reports said Ritu had hanged herself. Shortly before her death, she met representatives of the Chinmaya Mission who are believed to have performed a puja in the house.

On March 17, Singh lost his daughter-in-law Natasha Singh who was found dead in a five-star hotel here. Her body was discovered on the first floor terrace of the hotel and so far police have not been able to establish whether Natasha, estranged from husband Jagat, had jumped to her death or been killed.

Wiser after being criticised for exceeding their brief during investigations into Natasha’s death, when they gave conflicting versions, the police this time are tightlipped.

Ritu, 31, was found in the first floor room of the Singhs’ Vasant Vihar residence around 7.30 pm. Her maid servant Surinder Kaur found the room locked from inside and informed family members who broke it open, family lawyer R.K. Anand and a police spokesman said.

There was no suicide note, the police spokesman told PTI. The circumstances pointed to the possibility of suicide.

Anand said Ritu, who was unmarried, had tied the rope of her sleeping dress round her neck and fastened it to a hanger kept in the almirah and pulled herself.

The police spokesman said there were marks on her neck.

Ritu, like Natasha a fashion designer, had been suffering from chronic depression for years and had taken a heavy dose of the sedative Alprex before her death, Anand said.

Under the shock, Natwar Singh complained of chest pain and was being attended to in his home by a team of doctors from Escorts Hospital. He is likely to be shifted to a hospital once his condition stabilises.

Ritu was to return to London where she had been living before she came to India in March when her sister-in-law and friend Natasha died. The two had known each other from school and Natasha was introduced to Jagat by Ritu.

Family sources denied that there was a link between the two tragedies.

They said Ritu was undergoing psychiatric treatment and suffering from bulimia, a disease that had afflicted the late Princess Diana. Bulimia patients go on eating binges — usually triggered by dieting — and then throw it all up, overwhelmed by self-criticism and even self-loathing.

Ritu’s body will be taken to the ancestral home in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, tomorrow. A post-mortem was conducted at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences.

On May 7, another senior Congress leader, Shivraj Patil’s daughter Sapna had committed suicide in Bangalore.

AICC chief Sonia Gandhi was among the first to reach Singh’s residence. Some Congress leaders who called on the family said Singh looked shattered.

Apart from Sonia, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, who is related to Natwar Singh, visited the family’s residence.


Guwahati, May 9: 
Denied the assistance of his own boys — Punjab commandos — Gujarat security adviser K.P.S. Gill today said he had full faith in the local police force, seeking to bury the controversy over his request for outside help.

Punjab has refused to spare forces for deployment in Gujarat, where communal riots have been raging for nearly two-and-a-half months now, saying it did not have enough in reserve after meeting regular commitments.

Reacting to Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh’s decision not to send the state’s elite commandos, Gill said: “Punjab has its own problems. I will have to make do with the CRPF in Gujarat.” He clarified that he had sought Punjab commandos as “force multipliers and not because I don’t have any faith in Gujarat police”.

The request by Gill, credited with breaking the back of Punjab militancy when he was the police chief there, for forces from outside kicked up a controversy in Gujarat, with chief minister Narendra Modi facing uncomfortable questions from some his Cabinet colleagues who saw the appointment of a security adviser as a slight to the administration.

There were fears that an angry local administration would not cooperate with a Central appointee. Although Gill today swore by his confidence in Gujarat police, sources in Chandigarh close to him drew a cricket analogy to underline his handicap. “When you’re playing a tough match, you prefer your own bat rather than someone else’s. Gill may have asked for Punjab commandos whom he himself had trained and they know how to go about their business under him.”

The sources said that if Singh did not have political compulsions, he would have happily helped Gill as “they are the best of friends”. The Congress government in Punjab does not want to send its forces to a BJP-ruled state. “It is also wary of being dragged into a communally-sensitive issue if there are allegations of excesses by forces from outside,” the sources said.

Gill vowed to “go by the book”. “This is a situation which has to be handled very carefully and with a great amount of caution. One cannot afford to be accused of having committed excesses,” he said over the phone from Ahmedabad.

He has been accused in the past of making his own rules to deal with law-breakers. He said it was too early to say when the situation will be contained. “I have just arrived here and am still studying the ground situation. My brief is to restore law and order but I am yet to set a timeframe for myself.”

There is no reason for Gill to feel uncomfortable with the CRPF as he also had a stint with the paramilitary outfit. Additional CRPF companies were being moved into Gujarat where a youth was burnt after being stabbed to death.


New Delhi/Chandigarh, May 9: 
A frontline ground-attack aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed during take-off into the runway fence at Ambala this morning, killing the young pilot, Flying Officer S. Paliwal.

This is the seventh IAF plane to crash this year and the second in a week since a MiG-21bis flew into a bank in Jalandhar.

After Operation Parakram — the largest forward deployment by the Indian military — began in December, the army, too, has lost about 175 soldiers in landmine accidents and other mishaps.

Many small wars account for fewer casualties. In the 1999 Kargil war, the air force lost two fighter aircraft and one helicopter.

Paliwal’s Jaguar IS from the Ambala-based 14 Squadron was taking off on a routine flight when it “lost control”, crashed into the fence and — fully loaded with fuel — burst into flames

The aircraft was at full throttle and the tip of a wing probably scraped the perimeter fence.

“We have no clue what happened. All that we know is that a crash has taken place and the burnt aircraft is lying entangled in the wire mesh of the air force station’s boundary,” Ambala deputy commissioner D.D. Gautama said.

The air force has ordered a court of inquiry, which is routine in such cases. “We cannot say anything. We are looking into the causes of the crash,” an officer said.

An aircraft is at maximum risk during take-off. The Jaguar IS, designed to hit strategic targets deep inside enemy territory by flying low is capable of flying at a speed of 1.5 mach — one-and-a-half times the speed of sound.

Paliwal’s rank, flying officer, indicates he would probably have had less than three years of operational experience. The IAF gives its fighter pilots five years to be fully operational. In his early 20s, Paliwal would have been among the junior officers in his squadron. But the fact that he was not flying a dual-seater Jaguar IB trainer indicates he had graduated from flying MiG-21 trainers. The MiG-21 is usually the first fighter flown by combat pilots.

The twin-engine Jaguar was originally built by British Aerospace and included French components. It is now produced under licence in Hindustan Aeronautics and has been given an Indian name, Shamsher.

Since April 30, the army and the air force have begun a series of manoeuvres that are part of an exercise code named “Op Parakram II” and/or “Op Brahmashava”. It is possible that IAF aircraft from Ambala are involved in these manoeuvres.

IAF chief S. Krishnaswamy ordered MiG-21 type-75 trainer squadrons to be grounded last week after the crash in Jalandhar, in which nine people died. Air headquarters does not see sufficient reason to take a similar step on Jaguars, which have a far lower accident rate.

Four MiG-21s, a MiG-29, a MiG-23 and now a Jaguar IS have so far crashed this year. But IAF sources say that contrary to impression, accidents are fewer now than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, despite more hours of flying. In the last five years, the average number of accidents in the IAF has been about 22 a year, down from 30 in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Former IAF chief A.Y. Tipnis is on record saying that accident rates are high in the subcontinent because flying conditions are most difficult.

The flipside of the argument, of course, is that the accident rate is still high and at a time when the forces are mobilised, soldiers are getting killed, though a war is not being waged. Planners in the air force worry about the impact such mishaps have on recruitment, for they drive away motivated youth.


New Delhi, May 9: 
Did Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee slip in a crucial ‘aise (such)’ while replaying his Goa speech in Parliament? This is the first question that will confront Speaker-designate Manohar Joshi when he takes the Lok Sabha Chair.

The Congress has moved a privilege motion against the Prime Minister, accusing him of doctoring his own quote.

According to Congress member Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vajpayee “revised” his remarks made in Goa while quoting it during the wee hours of May 1 when the Lok Sabha was discussing a censure motion on Gujarat. Das Munshi also submitted transcripts and a videotape of what he termed as Vajpayee’s speech in Goa.

Das Munshi’s records quote Vajpayee as saying: “Jahan jahan Musalman hain woh milkar rahna nahin chahte, auron ke saath ghulna milna nahin chahte aur shantipurna dhang se apna prachar karne ke bajaye atank se, bhay se, dara dhamka kar apne mat ka prachar karna chahte hain (Wherever there are Muslims, they don’t mingle, don’t live in peace and harmony. They do not propagate their faith through peaceful means but through fear, intimidation and terror).”

Das Munshi said that in the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee inserted “aise” in the sentence. The word changed the complexion of the sentence which now reads as “jahan jahan aise Musalman hain…”.

It implied that the critical observations cover only a section of Muslims, said Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy. “The insertion of the word ‘such’ divided Muslims into two groups, while his Goa speech referred to the entire community,” Reddy added.

Reddy, who is chairman of the Lok Sabha’s privileges panel, said since he was making public statements on the issue, he would withdraw himself from the proceedings if the matter was referred to the committee.

Joshi, set to be elected Speaker tomorrow as a “consensus” candidate despite Opposition reservations, will have to decide whether the motion can be admitted or not. “It will be the first test of Joshi’s claim that he would be non-partisan,” said an Opposition member.

Privilege motions involve elaborate procedures. First, the Speaker has to decide whether to admit it. In this case, he can seek Vajpayee’s clarification before going ahead. Depending on the clarification, the Speaker can either drop the proceedings or refer the motion to the privileges committee.


New Delhi, May 9: 
There’s moolah in the man who carries the mailbag — and Pramod Mahajan wants to cash in.

Mahajan, the IT-savvy minister who can sniff a deal when he sees one, has decided to offer companies the opportunity of turning the humble postman into their brand ambassadors by sporting company logos on their uniforms — much like what Sachin and Sourav do for Sahara, Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

The department of posts is part of Mahajan’s bailiwick, but the minister for communications, information technology and parliamentary affairs has not had much time to pay attention to its affairs till now.

Mahajan is doing a double deal at the DoP, which was set up in 1854 and is one of the oldest public sector undertakings.

First, he has ordered that postmen should don uniforms again. Many of the 80,000 postmen in India and another 50,000 Group D employees, who are supposed to wear khaki uniforms, have slipped into civvies over the past few years.

The DoP is looking at the possibility of farming out a clothing contract to a textile company to provide the uniforms for these employees. The contract could run into crores of rupees and will be a huge captive order for the company that wins it.

The second deal will be to invite companies to bid for the rights to advertise their logos on the shirtfronts of postmen. Mahajan wants to sew up both deals soon. This isn’t the first time an exclusive clothing contract is being given out to a company. In the late 1980s, the Indian Air Force decided to change its uniform from khakis to light blue tunics and grey trousers. The contract was farmed out to Raymond’s.

But not everyone is taking kindly to the deal-making at DoP. “How can they even think of it?” asks a senior official in the department of post.

“It is demeaning for our postmen, who already sport a government logo on their uniforms, to sport a private company’s label.”

There are also concerns that the deals might not be above board. “This will only lead to corruption within the department,” said the official.

The secretary-general of the National Federation of Postal Employees’ Unions, S.C. Pillai, points out: “Earlier, the government had proposed to change the colour of our uniforms from khaki to blue shirts and navy blue trousers, but not much progress was made on this front.”

Mahajan has urged private industry to invest in the postal department. He believes this will give the department the necessary coverage and bring in cash.

A few industrial houses might be interested in providing smart uniforms to the postmen, embellished with their corporate logos – but it’s still too early to say whether Mahajan is looking at a comprehensive uniform-cum-logo deal with them.


London, May 9: 

Lyrics of the Oasis song, The Hindu Times:

I get up — when I’m down/I can’t swim — but my soul won’t drown/I do believe — I got flare/I got speed and I walk on air

Cos God gimme soul and all rock ‘n’ roll (babe)/Cos God gimme soul and all rock ‘n’ roll (babe)

And I get so high I just can’t feel it/And I get so high I just can’t feel it

In and out my brain, runnin’ through my veins/Cos you’re my sunshine you’re my rain

There’s a light — that shines on/Shines on — me — and it keeps me warm/It gimme peace — I must say/I can’t sleep — cos the world won’t wait.

Noel and Liam Gallagher, the brothers who make up Oasis, one of Britain’s most popular bands, carefully selected the name of their new hit single, The Hindu Times, down to a tee — or, more accurately, a tee shirt.

The Hindu Times, which was released on April 15 and was the first Oasis single for nearly two years, has just got to number one in Canada, having also topped the charts in the United Kingdom and in Italy.

Curious to discover whether Noel and Liam Gallaghar, famed for their hell raising, room trashing and foul-mouthed behaviour, were about to sign up to the BJP and a promise of good behaviour in the future, Zee TV in London approached the brothers.

The Hindu Times, it emerged, has, on the face of it, nothing to do with the Hindu times. The explanation given to the Indian channel was bizarre, even by the standards of rock stars.

According to a senior Zee TV executive: “Noel Gallaghar said that normally when the band records soundtracks, it gives each track a number. But on this occasion, it noticed one of the English technicians wearing a tee shirt with the words, “The Hindu Times”.

“So, instead of a number they called the track The Hindu Times and the name stuck.”

However, there might after all be a deeper sub-conscious link with India, suggested a knowledgeable Indian source from the pop world. “Obviously, they thought The Hindu Times has a resonance with modern times and their music,” she said.

A recent review by Neil McCormick, a national newspaper pop music critic, began: “News that a mop-topped Mancunian (a native of Manchester) with a foul mouth was thrown out of London’s exclusive Met Bar after abusing fellow drinkers and trying to start a fight with several giant bouncers could only mean one thing. Oasis are back.”

He added: “The bad boys of Britpop released their first single in two years, The Hindu Times, to a distinctly mixed reception...The public, nevertheless, has been voting with their pockets.”

McCormick went on: “I have to say I am on the side of record-buyers on this one... Oasis can be depended on to put some colour back in the cheeks of British pop music, particularly with Liam in such confrontational form.”

The forthcoming Oasis album, Heathen Chemistry, which will not be released officially until July, has been played to McCormick under conditions of strict security at his home.

The critic observed: “It turns out to be a dirty, bluesy, heartfelt, singalong, rock-and-roll opus that represents a vast improvement on the last two Oasis offerings.”

There are many highlights, including the epic ballad Stop Crying Your Heart Out, which Liam promises will be number one when England are knocked out of the World Cup.”

The personal lives of the brothers attract as much attention as their music. Liam Gallagher, the lead singer of Oasis, has had a stormy relationship with his actress wife, Patsy Kensit. The couple has a son, Lennon Francis, named after Liam’s hero, the Beatle John Lennon. Their child’s godmother is the actress Liz Hurley.

The couple has endured a stormy relationship since they announced they were an item in 1996, a year after they first became friends. Public rows — including the time when Kensit kicked Gallagher’s BMW in the street after he was reported to have spent the night at the home of the model Kate Moss — raised doubts over their relationship.

They married in April, 1997, but temporarily separated last September after Gallagher allegedly threw his wife and her son out of their £1.25 million home in north London.

The couple was reunited five weeks later after the singer promised to end his hell-raising lifestyle.


New Delhi, May 9: 
The BJP-led government has decided to offer the plum post of chairman of the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to one of its allies.

The move is being seen as a thinly-disguised attempt to placate allies who have been upset over the recent riots in Gujarat and the Vajpayee government’s doggedness in supporting the Narendra Modi regime. BSNL is one of the largest public sector telecom companies with a net worth of Rs 60,000 crore.

Communications, information technology and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan has decided to carve up the post of chairman and managing director of BSNL.

The decision to split responsibilities and offer the chairman’s post to a political appointee is being viewed within the company with concern.

A team of senior Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officers who met Mahajan early this month to protest against the move were curtly told to manage the “operations” of BSNL and not tutor him on appointments.

The present incumbent who straddles both posts is Prithpal Singh, an ITS officer. Singh is, however, a stop-gap arrangement. He was pitchforked into the position after Mahajan removed D.P.S. Sheth as CMD of BSNL following a bitter wrangle over several issues.

Singh holds holds additional charge of member (operations). Sheth was made member (services) in BSNL.

The BJP has kept its allies in good humour by offering them important posts in most ministries. If a Union minister is from the BJP, the minister of state is from one of the alliance partners and vice-versa.

Some time ago, Mahajan and other senior BJP leaders had offered to step down and work for the party. However, the move has since run out of steam after which the BJP’s allies have stepped up their demand for plum posts.

Sources in the communications ministry said: “The managing director of BSNL will be selected by the Public Sector Enterprises Board while the chairman will be a political appointee. Normally, we have had IAS officers controlling public sector companies. But it now seems that we will a have person without any bureaucratic background.”


Ranchi, May 9: 
Chief minister Babulal Marandi’s attempt to do a Rajiv Gandhi in Jharkhand has boomeranged with the police establishment expressing strong reservations over his decision to leave the capital yesterday without alerting the force about his travel plans.

The late Prime Minister’s similar journey to Mehrauli had created a furore in New Delhi’s police establishment. The difference was that while Rajiv had gone out alone in his Jonga, Marandi was moving with his security personnel in a full convoy of eight vehicles.

Marandi had a close brush with suspected extremists in Hazaribagh National Park yesterday after his convoy entered the dense forest reserve without informing the Hazaribagh district police or the state police headquarters.

The chief minister’s securitymen fired 12 rounds when they spotted “two or three armed men” in the park.

The chief minister, who returned to Ranchi today, said he had gone out to confirm reports that road and rail traffic had been paralysed during the 72-hour economic blockade called by the MCC and the People’s War.

Marandi told reporters that he was free to travel in his state and saw nothing wrong in stepping out at will. He, however, was at a loss of words when reminded that anything could have happened, especially because yesterday was the last day of the blockade.

A senior police official said Marandi’s act smacked of “irresponsibility” because he had “violated” the norms of VIP movement. “VIPs, howsoever popular, are not supposed to take their security regulations lightly. In the chief minister’s case, the violation was more serious because he belongs to a state where 11 of the 22 districts are in the grip of Naxalite violence. His movement was through the extremist-affected Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Koderma and Giridih districts,” the official added.

Marandi said he had visited the national park because he wanted to check whether some orders passed by him as the Union minister of state for forests had been implemented. “I was inside the national park for some 30 minutes. The in-charge of Ichak police station trailed me and told me that my being there was not safe. While I was coming out of the jungles, two or three men were seen running,” he said.

Marandi’s securitymen opened fire on the “intruders”. It was not known if they returned the fire.


New Delhi, May 9: 
Film buffs in the government have found a good use for the new Parliament library — Sansadiya Gyanpeeth — which was inaugurated by President K.R. Narayanan on Tuesday.

The sleek auditorium meant for conferences and meetings inside Gyanpeeth will screen films for ministers, MPs and other VIPs. The hall has a seating capacity of over 1,100 people, a permanent screen and a well-equipped projection room.

Home minister L.K. Advani, who started his career as a film critic for RSS mouthpiece Organiser, usually does the film diplomacy in the government. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, another enthusiast, and a horde of VVIPs are often among Advani’s invitees for special screenings of Hindi blockbusters. There are times when the entire cast of a film is invited to the shows as well.

The new “futuristic and intelligent” Parliament library, one of the largest and most modern in the country, does not look much different from the many buildings in adjoining South and North Blocks with its red sandstone structure and 12 domes of various diameters, glazed and opaque. But the new complex, built at a cost of Rs 197 crore and spread over 46,914 sq m, is expected to stack three million publications.

A senior Cabinet minister today confirmed the plans to screen films for members in the Library auditorium. Apart from the government’s Big Two, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and law minister Arun Jaitley are Hindi film aficionados, too.

Till now, Mahadev auditorium, which is about a kilometre from Parliament, was used for the special screenings. During the winter session of Parliament, the Prime Minister, the home minister and several others in the Cabinet watched Kabhi Khushi, Kabhie Gham at Mahadev.

Hrithik Roshan starrer Mission Kashmir was screened at Siri Fort auditorium for the Central top guns and, Aamir Khan’s blockbuster, Lagaan, was shown at Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

Vajpayee and Advani were all praise for Lagaan and its leading man. The home minister, in fact, went on to say that the Prime Minister’s good words had contributed to the film’s success.

The “nationalistic” Gadar was another blockbuster specially screened for the BJP’s top brass.

Tomorrow, Vajpayee and his team will see Company. But they will have to be content with Mahadev as the Parliament library hall is not ready for film screenings yet. All of Company’s stars, including the new sensation, Vivek Oberoi, have been invited for the show.

The library complex will be computerised and linked with state legislatures, foreign parliaments and other international organisations. It will provide for microfilming, audio-visual accessories, national and international linkages through satellites, CD-ROM, email and multi-media facilities.

Parliament jubilee

Taking advantage of the President’s vacation from May 8-23, the government has hijacked the golden jubilee celebration of Parliament, reports our special correspondent.

Fifty years ago on May 16, late President Rajendra Prasad had addressed the first joint session of Independent India. The government is planning to organise a function in the new library on May 13 to commemorate the occasion.




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Minimum: 29°C (+3)


4.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 55%

Sunrise: 6.03 am

Sunset: 5.03 pm


Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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