Yashwant in forged letter trap
China bomb ticks for Clinton
Boy run over on killer stretch
Fernandes plays saviour
Government steps off godfather shadow
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 15 
An intriguing letter, alleged to have been signed by MPs from both Houses and whose authenticity was questioned by Opposition legislators, took away much of the sting from finance minister Yashwant Sinha?s rebuttal of charges brought against him by his former adviser Mohan Guruswamy.

At the end of the two-day debate in the Rajya Sabha, the government shot down the Opposition demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe. Sinha argued his ?friend?, the former adviser, had lost ?credibility? and he was not as powerful as he claimed in two articles and an interview.

An issue raised during the eight-hour debate was that efforts had been made to unload ITC shares owned by Unit Trust of India to multinational tobacco giant BAT. Sinha?s first scoring point was Guruswamy had been appointed by him, his job was of ?consultant to the department of expenditure?; and his designation ?adviser to the finance minister?.

Sinha said a news report had appeared on January 18, saying some MPs had sent a plea to the government to allow UTI to sell its shares. Two days later, Guruswamy sent him a note saying they should take this seriously because both UTI and ITC stood to gain by early off-loading of shares. Sinha had then said: ?Let us discuss.?

At this point, the Opposition demanded that names of MPs who had sent the letter be disclosed. Sinha said no such letter had reached him, but he had been able to track down a letter signed by 40 MPs, including five from the Rajya Sabha, only after enquiries with the PMO. An angry Opposition again wanted to know the names. Sinha said the letter had been written on January 12 but was received by the PMO on March 5.

The continued clamour for the names forced Sinha to say the signatories had given their Rajya Sabha membership numbers. As he read out a couple of numbers, Congress MP Krishan Chandra Dev said his signature must have been forged and demanded ?protection from the Chair?.

Sinha appeared to have erred by admitting he was unsure if the signatures were genuine. Immediately, CPI?s Gurudas Dasgupta demanded how a senior Cabinet minister could bring a ?forged? letter to the House. CPM?s Biplab Dasgupta echoed him. Pranab Mukherjee (Congress) demanded that an independent investigating agency take up the forged signature issue.

Springing to Sinha?s rescue, vice-president Krishan Kant, who was then in the Chair, ruled the minister should only authenticate if it was the same letter that had reached the PMO. The question of forgery should be verified by another agency, Kant added.

On raising imported steel prices, Sinha denied it had been decided by a panel of Naveen Patnaik, Ramakrishna Hegde and himself. But Patnaik said his ministry had proposed a price rise as the domestic steel sector was going through a crisis. The Opposition immediately said this proved Guruswamy had a case.    

Washington, March 15 
China?s nuclear programme gained greatly from the pilferage of America?s most advanced nuclear secrets as the Clinton administration, focussed more on enhancing trade with Beijing, dragged its feet in investigating a mole in its premier laboratory.

National Security Advisor Samuel Berger yesterday admitted that ?there?s no question that they (the Chinese) have benefitted? from information leaking from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Last week Berger fired Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at Los Alamos who is suspected of passing on the design of the most sophisticated US miniature nuclear warhead known as W-88 to his benefactors in Beijing.

Even as the nuclear theft line was being exposed, The New York Times reported today that China has 20 or so intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States and about 300 other nuclear weapons aboard medium-range missiles and bombers that can hit India, Japan and Russia. Experts and analysts are wondering whether the Chinese nuclear programme which is currently considered defensive could turn offensive with an ambitious modernisation plan. Ironically, secret warhead designs stolen from the US are helping shore up Beijing?s reach.

Clinton, who has avidly wooed Beijing despite consistent reports of Chinese violations, is under seige from Republicans and some Democrats who are posing hard questions. The mushrooming scandal of Chinese nuclear espionage has raked up memories of the infamous Rosenberg case of the 1940s when some American scientists ? also from Los Alamos ? were caught passing on nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

It is for the first time that Clinton is forced to face China?s aggressive nuclear policy, something that has been evident in South Asia for at least two decades. Now that Beijing has been found with its finger in the American nuclear establishment, US officials are finally looking for answers. China has vehemently denied the charge, accusing the US Congress of fabricating reports to malign the government.

But the match has been lit under Clinton?s ?constructive engagement? policy as front-page reports and a barrage of columns question his tendency to go slow in investigating the breach of security. The suspicion that Wen Ho Lee was passing on information from Los Alamos first arose in 1996 but the administration failed to take concrete action.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to strip the suspect?s security clearance but the Department of Energy which controls US government labs dithered over the decision. Berger, who was informed the same year of the goings on, claimed on television yesterday that first reports were preliminary.

He then tried to pass the buck and the blame on to the FBI and the Department of Energy, saying Wen?s security clearance was a matter for them to resolve. But Berger is under the spotlight and many have demanded his resignation.

William Safire, a respected conservative columnist, wrote that a web of intrigue had been woven around the Clinton administration by people close to the Chinese government. He implied a connection between campaign funds donated by proven illegal Asian sources to Clinton and his soft trade policy toward China, high-level access to the White House by a high Chinese military intelligence official, the transfer of satellite technology by Hughes Corporation to China following campaign contributions and finally the four-year foot-dragging in firing Wen.

?Mr Berger would have us believe that these are not facts, and if they are, they are wholly unrelated,? Safire pointedly wrote. He questioned Berger?s spin that countries, specially friendly countries, always spy on the US.

The Congress is demanding an investigation into the administration?s handling of the whole affair. Congressman Christopher Cox, co-chair of a special commission that looked into China?s attempts to pilfer US technology, has accused the administration of downplaying the evidence and failing to keep the Congress informed.    

Calcutta, March 15 
Rash driving claimed two more lives in the city today as a water tanker crushed to death a 12-year-old boy on Central Avenue and a policeman on duty was run over by an oil tanker at the crossing of Burdwan Road and Alipore Road.

Twelve-year-old Dayananda Mishra was killed at 9.15 am at the very spot marked by the police as accident-prone. Dayananda and his brother, both students of S.B. Modern High School, were crossing the road in front of Liberty cinema.

?Dayananda?s brother was walking ahead of him and had reached the other end of the footpath. Dayananda was about to step onto the pavement when a Kashi Viswanath Manch water tanker ran him over,? said Jagannath Adhikary, an eyewitness.

Within minutes, as Dayananda lay bleeding on the road, a mob gathered. The terrified driver of the tanker, Nagendra Yadav, abandoned the vehicle. The police claimed he later surrendered at Jorasanko police station.

Dayananda, who lived in Ramsadai Street, was taken to hospital where he was declared dead. At the accident spot, the angry crowd ? swelling by the minute ? sent policemen scurrying back to Jorasanko police station. The tanker was set afire. Traffic was thrown out of gear as the mob threw stones at vehicles and abused drivers. Police assistance booths were torn down and shops closed up.

Deputy commissioner of police (central) Raj Kanojia, who arrived with a huge contingent, was greeted with a flurry of stones and abuses. The mob claimed six people had been killed on that particular stretch of Central Avenue over the last few months. Eyewitnesses said policemen seldom patrol the area or monitor traffic.

Policemen then waded into the crowd, swinging their batons. A 20-minute charge finally scattered the crowd. By 11 am, the area was deserted. The fire brigade was called in for the burning tanker.

A few hours earlier, around 3.45 am, 50-year-old Bhagwan Pandey, head constable of the Alipore police station, was knocked down by an oil tanker while on patrol. His colleague P.K. Pal took him to SSKM hospital, where he was declared dead.

Joint commissioner of police (traffic) V.V. Thambi said this evening that rash driving would be checked.

A case is already pending on whether the police have the authority to issue a showcause notice to a rash driver. A social worker, Shibani Dey, filed a petition before the high court last month, seeking severe action against rash drivers. Accepting the writ, the division bench made her a party to the earlier case. Since January 1998, 450 people have been killed in accidents on Calcutta roads.    

New Delhi, March 15 
Defence minister George Fernandes was chief patron of an LTTE-backed fund-raising committee for the 26 convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The body, called the Fund-raising Committee for Protection of Tamils, has been seeking donations through advertisements in Tamil publications to save the 26 persons sentenced to death.

A document in possession of The Telegraph names Fernandes as the ?puravalar (Tamil for chief patron)? of the committee. The panel chairman is a former Congress politician from Tamil Nadu, P. Nedumaran. Fernandes confirmed he was patron of the committee but added: ?I ceased to be associated with them once I became a Union minister.?

According to Nedumaran, though, Fernandes continues to be ?associated with us in this cause?. Nedumaran said the defence minister is also the convener of another outfit formed to express solidarity with the Tamil Eelam.

The appeals for funds have been periodically circulated since the 26 convicts moved the Supreme Court after being sent to death row by a special Tada court in Tamil Nadu.

Speaking to The Telegraph from Chennai, Nedumaran said the fund-raising committee?s ?accounting? is currently on and details will be published once it is over. He declined to comment on whether foreign funds were being received. ?We cannot say anything at the moment. Once we complete accounting, it will be made public,? he said.

According to the document, the funds should be sent to 27/1, Narasimha Puram, Mylapore, Chennai.

The committee?s appeal in Tamil says: ?Many facts have been suppressed in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination...lawyers of the accused were threatened...the whole inquiry was a mockery resulting in capital punishment for 26 Tamils.... It is the duty of every Tamil to uphold justice ...donate liberally to save those Tamils standing at the threshold of death.?

It says a general council (of the fund-raising committee) has been appointed with Fernandes as patron, Nedumaran as chairman, Karur Kuppuswamy, ?comrade? Karmukil and Nellikkuppam Krishnamurthy as vice-chairmen and S.P. Veerapandian as treasurer.

The Supreme Court has already held two hearings on the plea of innocence by the 26 convicts. Further hearings on the matter are likely to resume in May.    

New Delhi, March 15 
For the Sangh fraternity?s paterfamilias, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP?s year in power has meant swinging between two ends of the power spectrum: the RSS initially essayed the part of the extra-constitutional authority, a sort of a watchdog outfit, and the Vajpayee government?s ?moral? conscience. But after months of a battle of wits, the government seems to have got the better of the RSS. Lately, the Sangh has shed its critical faculties and gives the impression of being quite happy to be an appendage of the government.

In the beginning, it looked as though the Sangh would weigh, millstone-like, on the government. It tied down Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee?s hands on an exercise as basic as his Cabinet formation. As Vajpayee had zeroed in on the name of his confidant, Jaswant Singh, for the finance minister?s post ? Singh had always propounded the pro-reforms line in the BJP as opposed to swadeshi economics and was, therefore, deemed as the ?right? choice for a coalition government which would be run by ?consensus and continuity? ? the RSS threw a spanner in his works.

Literally minutes before he was to have sent the list of his council of ministers to the President for his formal approval, the RSS second-in-command, K.S. Sudarshan, called on Vajpayee and made it absolutely clear there was no way Singh would be made finance minister. His choice was Yashwant Sinha, who, though a relative newcomer in the BJP (he joined it in 1993), was a ?favourite? of the Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). Vajpayee had no choice but fall to in line with Sudarshan?s diktat.

The economy continued to be the RSS? obsession. It made loud noises of disapproval over the IRA and patents Bills because the legislation went against the BJP and the coalition?s declared policies. Sudarshan went to the extent of proclaiming in an RSS session in Nagpur last December that: ?We regard all governments (irrespective of which party heads them) as ours. We always praise their good work, but if their policies work against national interest, we will not fight shy of confronting them,? in the context of the government?s pro-reforms agenda.

However, the RSS attack was not dictated by ideology alone. It selectively picked on top PMO and finance ministry officials and alleged they were responsible for ?misleading? the Prime Minister on the economic front. Overnight, as it were, the RSS dropped its favourite, Sinha, like a hot potato and warned him not to ?destruct? the country by inviting foreign direct investments in insurance.

The open spats between the RSS and BJP cost the latter dear in the November Assembly elections. In Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it was an open secret that RSS cadre ? a vital input in the BJP?s electoral success ? sat at home and hardly worked. ?They felt shortchanged by the government. The cadre realised after slogging for years, they got nothing from the government. In some cases it was personal jobs, but in most cases the cadre felt let down on an ideological basis,? said RSS sources.

Some mud-slinging followed, when former Union minister and Delhi BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana alleged the RSS was responsible for the BJP?s debacle. Though Vajpayee initially gave the impression he was on Khurana?s side vis-a-vis the RSS, he did a quick somersault when the Sangh cracked the whip and insisted action be taken against the former Delhi chief minister. Khurana?s resignation both from the Cabinet and the BJP national executive was promptly accepted. ?Vajpayee knows he will have to fight at least another election. He also knows he needs our help to win,? claimed RSS sources.

For the Prime Minister, a spell in governance has meant doing the balancing act between pleasing the impossible RSS and retaining a semblance of continuity of important policies. On issues like the attacks on minorities, Vajpayee has made the ?politically correct? noises of ?secularism and a plural cultural ethos? to keep his allies on his side. But when it came to pleasing the Sangh?s Hindutva lobby, he has been extra-cautious. ?That?s the main reason why we are so happy. After the Staines killing and the suspected involvement of RSS front outfits, a non-BJP government may have banned the RSS, VHP etc. But Vajpayee let them off with the assurance of a high-level enquiry,? said an RSS activist.

The RSS expressed its ?gratitude? by endorsing the obvious pro-big industry budget and the Lahore bus trip, notwithstanding its swadeshi hobby horse and the Pakistan paranoia. The explanations for the volte face are pat. As S.N. Bansal, RSS chief of the Delhi unit, put it: ?By swadeshi we never meant keeping foreign companies out. As for Pakistan I challenge you to quote any RSS leader as saying Pakistan is our enemy. We are for normalising relations between the two countries.?    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature

Temperature: Maximum 34.5?C (1?C above normal )
Minimum 20.8?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 83%
Minimum 32%


Sunrise:5.42 am
Sunset: 5.50 pm

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