Poll and Pramod pile agony
Sleaze-hit BJP to brazen it out
Top cricketers refuse to blink
Passengers watch as drunk rapes girl
BJP weighs court option
Ananth puts land allotments on the Net
Atal to make J&K amends
Jethmalani to be Valley messenger, not mediator
Clinic rule on anvil
Calcutta Weather

 
 
POLL AND PRAMOD PILE AGONY 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 16: 

Lyngdoh leash on Modi election rush

The Election Commission today rejected the BJP’s demand for early polls in Gujarat, dealing another blow to the party still reeling under the impact of murder allegations against Pramod Mahajan.

At the end of a marathon meeting, the commission said it would consider “framing a suitable schedule” in November-December after electoral rolls are corrected and conditions conducive to free and fair polls created. The three-member panel was unanimous that law and order in the riot-hit state “is still far from normal”.

The BJP had been pushing for elections in October. But the commission said there was an avalanche of representations against polls by almost all Opposition parties, some former Prime Ministers, retired chief justices of high courts, various NGOs and other social and cultural organisations.

Chief minister Narendra Modi had dissolved the Assembly last month and then cited the Constitution to argue that elections would have to be completed by the first week of October. Article 174(1) holds that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two Assembly sittings, and the Gujarat House had last met in April.

But the commission did not buy the BJP’s argument. “Article 174(1) cannot be read in isolation and it has to be read along with other relevant provisions of the Constitution, particularly Article 324,” it said.

“Article 324, which is not subject to the provisions of any other Article of the Constitution, including Article 174(1), vests the superintendence, direction and control, inter alia, of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and conduct of, elections to Parliament and state legislatures in the Election Commission,” it added. “Elections, in the context of democratic institutions, mean free and fair elections and not merely a ritual to be gone through periodically,” the commission stressed.

Hinting that imposition of President’s rule was the only option now, the poll panel said: “The non-observance of the provisions of Article 174(1) in the aforesaid eventuality would mean that the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution within the meaning of Article 356(1) of the Constitution and the President would then step in.”

Amid speculation that the BJP might go to court against the commission’s decision, the party held its silence and said it would comment only after studying the order. Putting up a brave face, spokesperson V.K. Malhotra said: “Whenever elections are held, the BJP will win hands down and that is why the Opposition wanted the polls deferred. We wanted the polls to be held before October 10.”

In a severe indictment of the Modi government, the commission said: “In this environment, election campaigns evoking passions will only shatter the fragile peace unless adequate confidence-building measures are taken up in earnest and with urgency.”

It released a 40-page order giving reasons why the situation is not conducive to polls. “The wounds of the communal divide following the riots have not yet healed. The slow progress in relief and rehabilitation on the one hand and non-arrest and non-punishment of the guilty and the fear of communal backlash on the other have hampered the process of restoration of normalcy to the state,” it said.

Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh and his colleagues, B.B. Tandon and T.S. Krishnamurthy, said people have lost confidence in police, administration and the political executive.

   

 
 
SLEAZE-HIT BJP TO BRAZEN IT OUT 
 
 
RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Sleaze-hit BJP to brazen it out Radhika Ramaseshan New Delhi, Aug. 16: Assailed by an almost daily dose of scandals, the government and the BJP closed ranks behind senior minister Pramod Mahajan, accused of being involved in the killing of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar.

A day after Madhu Sharma — the wife of Haryana police official Ravi Kant Sharma who is the prime accused in Shivani’s murder — made the sensational allegation, Opposition demands for the resignation of the communications and parliamentary affairs minister were turned down by the ruling combine.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani gave the cue that the party and the government must be one with Mahajan during the crisis when he described Madhu’s charges as a “malicious campaign unleashed by vested interests to derail the probe, which is on the right track”.

Advani hailed Mahajan as a “valued colleague”. “It was all baseless allegations against a valued colleague, coming as it does from a suspect who is absconding,” he said.

Mahajan was advised by the BJP to go on the front foot and file a criminal defamation case against Madhu.

Last night, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee phoned Mahajan with the assurance that he had nothing to worry about.

Mahajan denied knowing Sharma or arranging a posting for him at Shivani’s behest. He, however, admitted to having known of “rumours” linking his name with the murder and of discussing the matter with Advani “a couple of times”.

“Are you people surprised? This kind of campaign has been going on against me for two years. When I met him (Advani) I told him if I have committed a crime, there is no need to shield me. I told him the sooner the case is solved the better.”

Mahajan denied a conspiracy was hatched against him within the BJP. “The way the party people have been phoning me, if there is a stray person here or there feeling upset, I don’t know. But as a party I don’t suspect.”

Initially, the BJP gave the impression that it was wary of defending a minister who has been embroiled in one controversy or the other, which had a knack of bobbing up whenever he was perceived to be rising in the government or the party.

His presence and active participation in the consultations preceding last month’s Cabinet and organisational reshuffle led to Mahajan being unofficially anointed the “number three” after Vajpayee and Advani.

But in the end, the party fielded chief spokesperson Arun Jaitley to dismiss Madhu’s charges as “mala fide and the allegations by the wife of a suspected killer and an absconder”. He regretted that the media had played up her allegations.

Earlier in the day, after a Cabinet meeting, sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti, an Advani loyalist, went out of the way to court TV reporters and tell them how “very sad” she felt about the incident. “This way anybody could name anybody.”

There are several reasons for the BJP rallying behind Mahajan. The most important, sources said, was that with “more skeletons tumbling out of our cupboards in just a month than out of the Congress’ in 50 years” — as a party veteran put it — the question that was being asked was: “How many heads can be sacrificed?”

The petrol pump scam had implicated Ram Naik and the land scam Ananth Kumar and Vijay Goel. Earlier, George Fernandes had been accused of corruption and Yashwant Sinha of failing in his duties as finance minister in the UTI debacle. But all of them escaped virtually unscathed.

“If George gets away, why should Mahajan not continue?” asked BJP sources.

The second is a feeling that the BJP should extricate itself from the “web of morality” it has spun around itself. “We should boldly say the Congress did all this and more, so why shouldn’t the BJP?” the sources said.

Third, while there is no love lost for Mahajan in a section of the party, members feel that tomorrow the boot may be in their foot.

   

 
 
TOP CRICKETERS REFUSE TO BLINK 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Aug.16: 
Unless the International Cricket Council (ICC) backs down on the contentious Player Terms, top Indian cricketers will skip next month’s Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka.

If it does come to that, they probably won’t be alone. Now, even the West Indies Players’ Association has advised member-cricketers to reject the terms.

“Irrespective of what anybody may say, we won’t sign the terms in its present form. The ICC had no business taking us for granted — now, the ICC alone must look to resolving this problem,” is what a leading Indian cricketer told The Telegraph today.

Speaking from Chelmsford, he added: “Moreover, it’s extremely disappointing if some in positions of responsibility are choosing to portray the current standoff as a money-over-country issue. We are professionals and surely can’t be at the receiving end of unilateral contracts.”

More than anybody else, captain Sourav Ganguly, vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag stand to run foul of personal sponsors if they sign the terms.

Quite simply, endorsements which clash with the ICC’s own sponsors are out. That, too, on occasions — the mini World Cup (Champions Trophy) or the World Cup — when everybody will naturally be seeking maximum mileage.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), of course, is taking a “patient” line. Not least because president Jagmohan Dalmiya is himself perhaps convinced that the cricketers are being wronged.

[Incidentally, the powers-that-be in the ICC are in “regular” contact with Dalmiya. The former ICC president could, therefore, have a big role in any compromise — something which can’t be discounted.]

In keeping with its being-patient approach, the BCCI has indefinitely postponed announcing the Champions Trophy squad. Cricketers who don’t sign the terms are ineligible, which is why it’s somewhat intriguing how the West Indies side has already been picked.

The cricketers’ top objection is to clauses 7, 10 and 13. And, they have the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association’s full backing.

Besides consenting to the “exploitation” of recordings of performances — with no time limit mind you, every cricketer must agree to (directly or indirectly) not lend his name, voice or image in “any advertisement or endorsement” in any media “by or on behalf” of any product of a competitor of an official sponsor, global partner or official supplier of the ICC.

Worse, the image rights will be “forfeited” 30 days before the first match and “restored” only 30 days after the final of the tournament in question. Additionally, as the TV and marketing rights have been sold till the 2007 World Cup, as a package, the terms will remain the same till then.

Clearly, despite the hardline taken by ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, the body will have to back down if the most high-profile events are to retain sheen.

In fact, till the other day, three countries — world champion Australia, England and New Zealand — had not even signed the Participating Nation Agreement. Then, while other countries have signed that, their cricketers have shunned the terms.

Meanwhile, former BCCI president A.C. Muthiah, who signed the agreement, gave a fresh twist by pointing out that clause 13 (image rights) wasn’t there when he put pen to paper.

The question to be asked is: Did Muthiah give a blanket assurance on fulfilling all terms and conditions?

Significantly, nobody from the ICC was available for comment right through the day. Apparently, the brass was in Monaco for a closed-door meeting.

Rethinking time?

   

 
 
PASSENGERS WATCH AS DRUNK RAPES GIRL 
 
 
ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, Aug. 16: 
As India was preparing to celebrate 55 years of freedom, a little nameless girl was raped on a local train in full view of fellow passengers.

The depravity didn’t end there. A drunken Salim Khan pushed the 12-year-old mentally-challenged girl to the littered, metal floor of the last train from Churchgate to Borivili. Five men, perhaps even seven, stood watching, “too scared to move or protest’’ leave alone save the girl screaming for help.

One of the witnesses, journalist Ambarish Mishra, however, wrote in carefully chosen detail about the incident in a first hand, first person story the next day — August 15.

“I protested once and asked the man to stop,’’ Mishra said. He “froze with fear’’ when Salim threatened to throw out of the train anyone who intervened.

Two other men who witnessed the rape of the child at the hands of an inebriated, visibly weak man recounted their shocking tale of horror and fear. “Fear” that stopped the “men” from confronting a drunk, doping man as he forced himself on a struggling, screaming street urchin.

“He could have been armed and dangerous,’’ said Vasant Kulai. He and Mishra were among the four persons who helped the police arrest Salim once he disembarked at Borivili, after taking his time in raping the girl.

There was no saviour for the girl, who couldn’t even articulate her misery to the police.

Ravi Ingole, another witness, echoed Kulai and Mishra when he said it could have been risky to act as the drunk rapist “could have done anything’’. They didn’t try to stop the train as they felt Salim would escape into the darkness, Ingole added.

However, the police aren’t buying the argument. Inspector Prabhakar Patole of Borivili police station, who recorded the complaint on Wednesday, said even if one person had protested or acted in time, the rape could have been stopped. “There were five grown-up men who literally stood over the girl and watched the rape,’’ he said. “What I can’t understand is how so many people could do absolutely nothing to save the girl. Many things could have been done; the chain could have been pulled, help from passengers in the next compartment could have been sought.’’

Two other persons slinked away before they had to depose before the police.

Salim, who claimed to have come to Mumbai from Calcutta 15 years ago, has been remanded in custody till August 28. The 24-year-old labourer said he is ready to face the consequences as he “might have committed a grave sin”.

Senior police inspector S.V. Balekar of Borivili station said after arresting Salim around 2.10 am on August 15, it took three hours to locate the victim. “We found the girl in a dark corner of platform No. 1,’’ Balekar said. “She was crying all by herself, too scared to talk even to the police.’’

The girl, whose identity is yet to be ascertained, has been sent to the Dongri Children’s Home after being examined at the Nagpada police hospital.

The railway was quick to add that the incident was not a fallout of inadequate security. There are around 500 railway police personnel posted in the ladies’ compartments of local trains, said a senior official. “The incident occurred in the general compartment, in front of several passengers,’’ he added.

   

 
 
BJP WEIGHS COURT OPTION 
 
 
BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Aug. 16: 
The BJP is preparing to challenge in a court of law the Election Commission’s decision to defer polls in Gujarat.

“We would have appreciated it if the commission had decided to hold elections in October. Now that early elections have been ruled out, we can study the commission’s decision before deciding to challenge it,” BJP state general secretary Nalin Bhatt said.

All other parties, representatives of minority communities and NGOs have welcomed the commission’s decision and its directive to the state government to update the electoral rolls by October 15.

Recently, chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh had led a full team of the commission to the riot-scarred state for a first-hand feel. Before that, a nine-member team from the panel had visited the state.

In his Independence Day message to the people of Gujarat, caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi had reiterated that early elections would be the only solution to the state of uncertainty and confusion created by Opposition parties and other anti-BJP forces.

“How long people of Gujarat will be denied their democratic right to elect a popular government?” Modi, who had dissolved the Assembly last month, asked.

Finance minister Nitin Patel, when contacted, said: “We accept the commission’s decision. It’s OK with us. We wanted early elections because we have been maligned and accused of so many things. So we wanted to go to the people to seek fresh mandate and let the people decide.”

Although Patel believes delayed elections would give the BJP more time to consolidate, other functionaries like Bhatt do not share the optimism. They are upset because they feel the so-called communal polarisation might get diluted if elections are held after December or January.

Senior Congress leader Hashmukh Patel said his party is prepared to face the electorate. “We had told the commission it could hold elections any time if it feels that free and fair elections can be held. But the commission feels that the situation is not conducive. We appreciate the commissions judgement,” he said.

Relief camp organisers are thrilled that polls have been deferred. “It’s good news. We are satisfied,” said Shafibahi Memon, in-charge of the Shah-e-Alam relief camp. “Now whenever elections are held, minority community members will be able to vote. We salute the commission for not succumbing to the pressure of the ruling party and for taking an objective view of the situation.”

Human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash praised the commission for its “right” decision to ask the state government to update the electoral rolls so that all those who had been “disenfranchised” could participate in the elections. There’s absolutely no need to rush into early elections, he said.

Report excuse

The state government today said it did not show an Intelligence Bureau report on Gujarat’s poll-worthiness to the poll panel because “it had not asked for it”.

The report, prepared a fortnight ago, gave details of the spread of post-Godhra violence across the state and said the time was not right for Assembly elections.

Modi, who has been insisting that Gujarat has recovered from the riots, rejected the report and did not mention it to Lyngdoh when he visited the state last weekend.

   

 
 
ANANTH PUTS LAND ALLOTMENTS ON THE NET 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
The urban development ministry went into a huddle this morning after it got sandbagged by media reports over a land allotment scandal in Delhi.

Allegations have been levelled that people close to top BJP officials, including minister of state in the PMO Vijay Goel, were among the major beneficiaries of the allotments.

“There were a series of meetings with the secretary and minister throughout the day. Although they have not reached a consensus on how to carry forward the inquiry, they agreed that everything should be done to unearth the truth of the allegations. In a day or two, the ministry will decide on what course of action it proposes to take,” said Hudco sources.

Late tonight, an official release said urban development minister Ananth Kumar has released a list containing more than 200 names of institutions to which allotments had been made from 1995 to 2002. The list can be accessed at the ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation website, www.Urbanindia.Nic.In www.Urbanindia.Nic.In, and also at the website of the land and development office www.Ldo.Nic.In www.Ldo.Nic.In, PTI quoted the release as saying.

Kumar said the beneficiaries of the land allotment come from various quarters, cutting across party, language, region, religion, caste or creed, and after fulfilling procedures.

The scam revolved around the allotment of prime land in Delhi at rock-bottom prices to people belonging to the Sangh parivar. At least seven plots in prime locations were allocated to RSS and Sangh outfits at prices that were 96 per cent lower than prevailing market prices.

While a few of these plots were on the outskirts of the capital like Mehrauli-Badarpur road, Dwarka, and Rohini, other allotments were in the heart of the city like Sarojini Nagar and the upscale Vasant Kunj.

“This is a terrible shame; the government seems to be rolling from one crisis to another. The whole ministry is trying to find a way around the accusations, but what we would like to know is the real story,” said a government official.

A newspaper had said the price of land in some of these areas was around Rs 60,000-Rs 90,000 per square feet. However, a realtor in Delhi said: “This calculation will really depend on when these plots were acquired. In recent times, the price of land at these places have hit a low; but five years ago they were more costly.”

The plots were reportedly sold to the RSS and other BJP allies for various purposes like setting up a school to spread Hindu culture.

   

 
 
ATAL TO MAKE J&K AMENDS 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 16: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for a change in mindset on reforms, particularly in the power sector, even as he criticised President Pervez Musharraf’s double standards on terrorism.

“We will defeat the forces of terrorism,” the Prime Minister asserted yesterday from the ramparts of Red Fort. “Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, a symbol of Indian secularism,” Vajpayee said in his address to the nation, referring to Musharraf’s terming of Jammu and Kashmir as a “core issue”.

Vajpayee wondered how incidents like the Kaluchak and Amarnath yatra massacres could be deemed as part of a freedom struggle. He said nobody would be allowed to disrupt the elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which he said would be free and fair.

“Kashmir is not a piece of land. It is a test case of sarva dharma samabhava — secularism.... India has stood the test of a secular nation. Jammu and Kashmir is a living example of this. And this in itself is Kashmiriyat,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister admitted that successive regimes in Delhi may have committed some mistakes in Jammu and Kashmir but added that his government was prepared to make amends. “If any mistakes have occurred, we shall make amends. For this we shall talk to Kashmiri people’s representatives and organisations,” he said.

Vajpayee urged people to contest polls in large numbers to thwart the designs of “those sitting across the border”. “Jammu and Kashmir polls are an opportunity to create a new future in the state,” he said.

Vajpayee also said there was urgent need for a change in attitude on economic reforms. “If there can be consensus on defence and security, why not in the area of economic reforms?”

Vajpayee called for a concerted economic movement to accelerate growth rate, pointing that infrastructure development was key to achieving 8 per cent GDP. He also expressed deep concern over the country-wide theft of power aggregating about Rs 25,000 crore every year.

The Prime Minister announced a slew of measures, including the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Jal Samvardhan Yojna for water conservation.

   

 
 
JETHMALANI TO BE VALLEY MESSENGER, NOT MEDIATOR 
 
 
MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar Aug. 16: 
Chief of Kashmir committee Ram Jethmalani today said the panel’s role was to help initiate dialogue to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.

Speaking to newspersons after a four-hour meeting of the committee members with Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Ahmad Shah here, Jethmalani said: “Dialogue has to be peaceful. Violence has no part nor those who practise it”.

“All dialogues are spoiled by the veracity of the press and the weakness of the participants to reveal something,” he added.

“I am glad to report that we have not reached a deadlock. The dialogue will continue till the basic issue is thrashed out. We discussed every aspect of the problem.”

Asked if the committee had a mediator’s role between separatist leaders and the Indian government, Jethmalani shot back: “We are allergic to the word mediators. We are messengers and even much more than that.”

Reacting to chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s statement on the panel’s talks with the Hurriyat being an “exercise in futility”, Jethmalani said: “I am too much of a democratic to dispute Farooq’s right to say what he said, but I humbly disagree with his perceptions.”

Jethmalani arrived today afternoon on a three-day visit along with other panel members, including journalists M.J. Akbar and Dileep Padgaonkar and former Union law minister and Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan.

The panel members are scheduled to meet leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference tomorrow.

Democratic Freedom Party chief Shah told reporters that he was ready to meet the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister, if conducive conditions were created for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.

“I told the committee members that all the jailed separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, Mohammad Yasin Malik and Ghulam Nabi Hubbi, should be released, human rights violations must be halted and the Disturbed Areas Act withdrawn.

“We leave it to the Kashmir committee members to convince the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister to take steps on addressing the violence while looking for permanent and negotiated peace in the state,” the Kashmiri leader said.

“It is only through dialogue and deliberations that an intractable issue like Kashmir can be resolved. If the aim of my life was to fight elections and get into power politics, then I wouldn’t have spent so many years suffering in the prison,” he added.

“If the Government of India is bent upon holding the state Assembly polls, they can go ahead,” Shah said. But he confirmed that his dialogue with the committee members would continue even after the elections.

Shah said the ongoing militant violence was a part of the freedom struggle in Kashmir.

   

 
 
CLINIC RULE ON ANVIL 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 16: 
West Bengal’s health department has decided to frame the Clinical Protocol Rule to ensure optimum use of drugs from hospital stores.

The decision follows complaints that some doctors prescribe costly medicines manufactured by multinationals, which have to be purchased from outside though cheaper drugs with similar efficacy are available in the hospitals’ stores.

“For diarrhoea we have abundant stocks of oral re-hydration salt (ORS) and medicines like metrogyl and flagyl. So there is no need for our doctors to prescribe costly medicines such as norfloxacin manufactured by multinationals,” said a health official.

At present, a definite set of medicines is to be prescribed in cases of diarrhoea, malaria and head injuries.

“This is what we call clinical protocol. Now we are framing a set of guidelines for medicines to be prescribed for all diseases,” an official said.

Health services director Prabhakar Chatterjee said the hospitals have enough stocks of all types of medicines and there was no reason for drugs to be bought from outside.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 30.6°C (-1)
Minimum: 25.4°C (-1)

Rainfall

15.2 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 98%
Min: 75%

Sunrise: 5.16 am

Sunset: 6.06 pm

Today

One or two showers or thundershowers
   
 

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