Footfall of the mighty at funeral
1000-day milestone with Advani megaphone
Fidelity test by fiery rod
Trader forum to fight crime
Fantasy on lips, first neighbours bid farewell
UK tour to bar terror funds
Calcutta Weather

Mumbai, July 7: 
Till my last breath, I will work. To retire, there is only one place — the cremation ground.

Dhirubhai Ambani bowed out on Sunday as he once said he would.

The last journey of the founder of India’s biggest private business empire was witnessed by one of the largest-ever conglomeration of mourners from the country’s political, business and entertainment worlds.

Among those who paid their respects was deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who cut short his first visit to his constituency Gandhinagar since his elevation to reach the Ambani home.

“He was an embodiment of initiative, enterprise and determination. Because of his initiative and courage, he has been one of the great achievers in India,” Advani, accompanied by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, said.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sent the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Vijay Goel, to place a wreath. Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi deputed R. K. Dhawan.

Other politicians who visited the Ambani house, Sea Wind, included the chief ministers of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, new Union minister Vinod Khanna, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar.

Amitabh Bachchan, wife Jaya, son Abhishek, Karisma Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and wife Suzanne went to Sea Wind, as did industrialists Ratan Tata and Rahul Bajaj. “He had a far-sighted vision and thought global in size,” Bajaj said. “If you have a thousand Dhirubhais in India, we will become an economic power.”

Ambani’s body was laid out on a knee-high dais on the ground floor of the 19-storey condominium tower in south Mumbai that housed his extended family.

Outside, thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession of the man who launched the equity cult in India.

Ahead of his funeral procession and cremation, the billionaire tycoon’s body was covered in flowers: red roses, white hibiscus and white jasmine.

Family members, including sons Mukesh, 45, and Anil, 43, who now run the business empire Ambani founded, received a serpentine queue of mourners who waited patiently to pay homage.

The building compound was swathed in sheets of white cloth, with large photographs of Ambani encircled by wreaths of flowers. Affixed to some were Ambani’s quotes. “Think big, think fast, think ahead, ideas are no one’s monopoly,” said one.

Ambani’s funeral pyre was lit by Mukesh and Anil at Chandanwadi crematorium shortly after 6.30 pm. Later, Mukesh and Anil thanked the people for their support.

Near the opulent Ambani residence, Amit Gujar, a graduate in his early twenties, was doing brisk business selling floral bouquets from a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop.

Gujar said he had never seen Ambani, but drew inspiration from the accomplishments of the son of a poor school teacher who founded what is now one of the world’s 30 largest energy companies. “Each time I look at his house, I get inspired to work hard,” Gujar said.


Ahmedabad, July 7: 
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who has been insisting that A.B. Vajpayee, and not he, would lead the BJP into the next elections, today virtually kicked off the party’s campaign from his homeground, saying no other coalition government had managed to touch the 1,000-day mark.

Trumpeting the achievements of the Vajpayee-led government on his first visit to Gujarat since his elevation, Advani said the coalition was set to record another milestone tomorrow as “no previous coalition government could survive so long — not even last half as long”.

But government sources in Delhi said the Prime Minister’s camp was not giving much importance to such “milestones” and no programmes had been lined up to tomtom the “achievement”. They also pointed out that the government’s tenure would add up to 1,000 days only if Vajpayee’s earlier stint in 1998 was taken into account.

Vajpayee continued a series of one-to-one meetings in Delhi that began yesterday with sessions with the finance and foreign ministers. Today, in another sign of renewed interest in affairs of the party, he held extensive talks with new BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.

Advani said the government had survived because it had been practising “coalition dharma’’ under the leadership of Vajpayee who was acceptable not only to the BJP and the NDA but beyond the coalition partners. “It was gratifying to note that no coalition government has lasted half as long,” he told a news conference.

The biggest secret behind the coalition’s survival was that it had fulfilled its commitment of giving a stable government to the people, Advani said. The BJP had also demonstrated its ability for “radical restructuring” and capacity to undertake “innovative experiments”, he said.

“In my opinion, the change in the party and Cabinet is a milestone in the history of the BJP government,” Advani said, referring to the shuffle during which two performing ministers were inducted into the party and the BJP national chief absorbed into the Cabinet. He hinted that more ministers could be moved to the party.

The sweeping changes were proof of the BJP’s penchant for prayogadharmita or experimentation, he said. Through them, the party had again shown that it had the will to respond more effectively to the country’s changing needs than any other party.

More efforts would be made to change “swaraj into surajya”, Vajpayee’s deputy promised. “We need to conduct a mid-course review of our policies and programmes. We want especially to focus on improving the government machinery’s capacity… with the twin objectives of accelerated poverty alleviation and employment generation,” he said, eyes firmly focused on the next elections.

Advani, however, ruled out any changes in the Gujarat leadership. Patting Narendra Modi for having performed well while Gujarat burnt, he said the chief minister now needed to concentrate on governance. Modi could take a cue from the innovative steps the Centre had taken to ensure that normality returned to the riot-wracked state, he said.


Indore, July 7: 
Sita chose to pass through fire on the banks of the Sarayu to prove her purity to husband Ram. She emerged unscathed, but he wasn’t happy. Sita was banished to the forests. That was in the Ramayana.

On Friday, 20-year-old Sangeeta Sauda went through another agnipariksha at a park in the heart of Indore as hundreds watched, and “passed” un-scalded. She paraded in front of the gathering for 15 minutes clutching a red-hot iron rod and was proclaimed “pure” by community leaders as her palms were unharmed. But the 21st-century Sita, too, could not win her husband’s trust. He has refused to take her back.

Sangeeta’s fault? She had gone on a pilgrimage without informing her husband. The daughter of a grocer here, Sangeeta married Rajesh, a video photographer in Ujjain, three months ago. In the last week of May, she went to Mumbai to attend a wedding. From there, she took off on May 28 with friend Sarita for a trip to Vaishnodevi, and returned to her in-laws on June 11.

Not convinced with her version of events, the in-laws turned her out. Sangeeta’s journey ended at her parents’ home here, but her fiery ordeal had just begun.

Sangeeta, who claims to have cleared Class VIII, does not think so. “It was my fault. I had not taken my husband’s permission to go to Vaishnodevi. I was away from home for more than a fortnight. My husband has a right to suspect me. I had to prove my fidelity so that no one can raise a finger at me. Had I not taken the test, people would have called me names,” she justified.

Sangeeta’s trial by fire was the latest chapter in the subcontinent’s unending tale of brutalisation of women, brought to sharp focus by the gangrape of a girl in neighbouring Pakistan. On another fateful Friday last month, she was violated in the presence of hundreds on the panchayat’s order as penalty for her brother’s alleged love affair with a girl from a higher social perch.

Public outcry forced Pakistan to launch a crackdown after several days. In India, the administration woke up to the horror more than 30 hours after the incident.

Five persons were arrested, including Sangeeta’s husband Rajesh Sauda, mother-in-law Champabai and father-in-law Radhakishan, and cases lodged against 11 persons, including a few heads of her Khanjar community.

The elders of the tribe decided Sangeeta was at fault when her parents approached them in a desperate bid to save her marriage. The community chiefs got in touch with the heads of the Khanjars in other parts of the state — Bhopal, Khandwa, Sehore, Ujjain — and even Mumbai. They ruled that Sangeeta had to go through the “khante se imaan” test, a modified version of an agnipariksha. The date was fixed for July 5.

On Friday, more than 300 tribesmen from across the state collected at the Vaid Khayaliram ka Bagicha in the heart of the city. Sangeeta was bathed and turmeric paste was applied on her as priests chanted mantras. She then emerged wearing a white sari for the ultimate test to prove her fidelity.

The only protection her palms had was a thin layer of turmeric paste under a sheath of peepul leaves as an elder carried a glowing iron rod with a pair of tongs and placed it on Sangeeta’s hands. She walked from man to man under their scornful gaze to prove that she hadn’t cheated. Fifteen minutes later, when the elders were satisfied, she dropped the rod.

Once the peepul leaves were removed, her palms showed no signs of burns. The community celebrated Sangeeta’s suffering with a night-long feast: a new-age Sita was born. But her trauma continued as Rajesh refused to take her back.

Police had arrested the people from Indore and Ujjain after questioning her. Following the arrests, about 400 Khanjars gheraoed the police station and threatened the force with dire consequences if the administration tried to intervene in the community’s internal matters.

Even Sangeeta is peeved with the arrests. Police action and government intervention were “spoiling the chances of saving her marriage”. “Why are the police doing this? Why arrest my husband and in-laws? This way my marriage will break. They will never accept me,” she cried.

The protests were continuing till this morning. The community members said they would court arrest if those detained were not released. Amar Singh Mallaiya, a Khanjar elder in Indore, said: “If the government can allow Muslims to walk on red-hot charcoal during Muharram, what’s wrong with a Khanjar tribal woman proving her fidelity by holding a red-hot iron rod?”

The state women’s commission chairperson, Savita Inamdar, has sought an explanation from the police superintendent.


Patna, July 7: 
Driven to the wall by extortion and kidnap gangs, traders of Bihar have formed a group to protect themselves against anti-socials, powerful politicians and their relatives.

The Bihar Vyabsayee Sangharsh Morcha (Bihar Traders’ Struggle Forum), formed under the stewardship of former state finance minister Shanker Prasad Tekriwal, also demanded the formation of a commission for protecting traders’ rights and asked them to apply for licensed guns to protect their lives and property.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, appealed to the traders not to migrate to other states and asked them to fight for their rights democratically and peacefully under the banner of the newly-formed forum.

Modi expressed shock over the rising incidents of crime against the business community and said migration was not the solution to the present crisis. He also asked traders to keep an oiled cane in their shops to deal with the goons in case there was a delay in getting gun licenses.

Modi pointed out that more than 10,000 small and big businessmen have left Bihar to settle in other states during the 12-year-rule of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi. Those who chose to stay back were suffering because they were not united, he said.

In the past, Modi said, traders would file complaints against the erring kin of powerful men in Bihar. But eventually they succumbed to their tormentors’ influence and withdrew their complaints. “This is the state of affairs in Bihar. Now the traders will not repeat such mistakes and will face all the challenges unitedly under the banner of the new forum,” he said.

Modi listed recent incidents that compelled thousands of traders to leave Bihar, particularly the forcible lifting of several cars from a showroom in Patna, the murder of leading businessman Manoj Kamalia and the terrorising of a trader in Raja Bazar. One such incident alone forced 1,000 traders to migrate from Bihar, he said.

A host of political leaders, except those from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, attended the foundation ceremony. Prominent among them were Naresh Agarwal, former power minister of Uttar Pradesh, and Anant Kumar Jaiswal, former MP from Uttar Pradesh. They called upon traders to remain united at various levels.


Mumbai, July 7: 
Bhuleshwar is in mourning. The crowded chawl brimming with people, shanties, small shops and petty businessmen has lost the one man who made it famous. Dhirubhai Ambani.

Jai Hind Society, the house where Dhirubhai began his tryst in Mumbai is in a state of subaltern grief, mourning the death of the man who had once lived here but went so far ahead that he left only fantastic dreams behind.

Shivarambhau, who once worked as a personal attendant to Dhirubhai earning Rs 3 a month, still remembers the time the Reliance chief first stepped into 3A Jai Hind Society, a poky one-room apartment.

“It (the room) was lent by his mentor in Aden, Leeladhar Gokuldas, as Dhirubhai had nowhere to stay when he came from Aden in 1957,” Shivarambhau reminisces. “Dhirubhai paid Rs 300 for it.”

Three families have since moved in and out. But few remember where they have gone. Another neighbour, 70-year-old Prabhaben Belgaonkar, says Bhuleshwar can never forget Dhirubhai. Not she at least. “He came here looking for a job that would sustain his family,” she says. “Those were tough days for him. He couldn’t even afford to get his family when he moved here in 1957. His family could come only a year later.”

Dhirubhai’s death has come as a shock to Prabhaben.

She still remembers how Dhirubhai would come home late at night and spend time with her family over pohas, cracking jokes. “He was a boisterous man, full of drive and ambition.” She watched Mukesh, Dhirubhai’s eldest son, grow up as he played with her son Shirish.

“We were involved with almost all the ceremonies in his family, but as he got bigger our interactions got limited,” Prabhaben says. Finally, she — like Bhuleshwar and most of Mumbai — could not keep up with Dhirubhai.

Another old acquaintance, Rashmibhai Zhaveri, says recollecting the rise of a man whose address in Mumbai was once his telephone number, a table and a creaky chair is like recounting a fantasy.

Still in the same chawl, Zhaveri says: “We kept praying for him after he was admitted to hospital on June 24. We all thought Dhirubhai would defeat this adversity, too. Nothing was impossible for him.”

Rajesh Mogabhai will always remember Dhirubhai differently. “I came from Junagadh 10 years ago, and Dhirubhai was my only hope. One day, Dhirubhai agreed to meet me as I was from his ancestral place. ‘I can help you’, he said ‘but you will have to work. Stand on your own two feet and make something of your life’.” Today, Rajesh runs a shop in Bhuleshwar.

That perhaps is the biggest legacy Dhirubhai has left behind as he took the elevator to success from the chawls of Bhuleshwar to the corporate towers of Nariman Point: man’s triumph over adversity and a success story that is only tempered by pride and quiet dignity.


New Delhi, July 7: 
India has sent a team of officials to UK to work out a joint strategy with their British counterparts to stop overseas funding of terrorists in Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir police personnel and officials of other security agencies would brief British authorities on how Pakistan’s ISI funnelled funds through expatriate Kashmiris to anti-government forces in Kashmir, reports in the media stated today.

Ayub Thakur, an Indian passport holder living in the UK, is said to be a key player. Hurriyat leader Syed Shah Geelani is one of those suspected of having received money from Thakur.

Britain has also cracked down on terrorist funding and is expected to cooperate with Indian authorities to stop this scourge. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had discussed Thakur’s activities with foreign secretary Jack Straw during the latter’s visit to India.

But Delhi is unlikely to ask for Thakur’s extradition as yet. “Our primary concern is to stop funds from UK being channelled to terrorists,” an official said.




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