Last page of Bofors whodunit
Blood flows in blind vendetta
Signless Advani slap to Kalyan
Charity begins at relief dens
Calcutta weather

 
 
LAST PAGE OF BOFORS WHODUNIT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 16 
The final act in the 12-year-long Bofors drama has begun. The Swiss authorities today handed over the last set of documents on the case to the Indian ambassador in Berne.

The papers hold the answer to the big question: whether Rajiv Gandhi received kickbacks in the tainted gun deal that brought down his government and has tormented his party ever since.

Though the former Prime Minister was named as an accused in the CBI chargesheet, the investigating agency has so far found no proof that he took the payoffs money.

A CBI team is likely to leave for the Swiss capital soon to bring back the papers. The investigating agency will have to get the documents translated to uncover the names of the recipients of the Rs 64-crore kickbacks.

The agency requires this set of papers to fill the gaps in the chargesheet it has already filed before the Delhi High Court. Apart from Rajiv Gandhi, the chargesheet names former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and Dubai-based arms dealer Win Chaddha.

The names of the Hinduja bothers ? Srichand, Prakash and G.P. ? were omitted, evoking loud protests from the Congress and the Left parties. The London-based businessmen had gone to court to block the transfer of Bofors papers to India.

?The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police have confirmed to us that the appeal to prevent the transfer of the documents to India has been rejected as there was no merit in it,? foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said this afternoon.

?The case of the appellants was meant only to delay the criminal investigation being carried out by the Indian authorities,? he added.

The spokesman confirmed that the documents have been handed over to the Indian ambassador in Berne, K.P. Balakrishnan.

For the BJP-led government, the Bofors papers could prove to be a major political weapon to be used against the Congress and its president, Sonia Gandhi.

With barely a week left before the winter session ends, the Congress may have little chance to react on the issue in Parliament. The contents of the documents will not be known till the translation is complete. The papers will be made public only when the CBI places them in court, unless they are leaked to the media before that.

But the Bofors case is expected to dominate the Budget session. If the documents contain any explosive revelations, a disturbed Congress may not be as sympathetic to the government?s economic agenda as it has been this session.

But the issue could boomerang on the BJP if the papers do not contain Rajiv Gandhi?s name. The Congress will then go to town over the victimisation of its assassinated leader and his family.

While the Congress has been at the receiving end of the Bofors case, it has also been hanging like Damocles? sword over the BJP. The Congress has alleged that some of the party?s top leaders have ?close links? with the Hinduja brothers, who have been blocking the transfer of the documents.

The Swiss authorities informed the Indian ambassador in Berne last night about their decision to reject an appeal by ?the petitioners? not to transfer the documents to India.

After some Bofors documents were handed over to India in January 1997, the Hinduja brothers appealed to the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police not to transfer the final set claiming that would seriously jeopardise bilateral relations between the two countries.    


 
 
BLOOD FLOWS IN BLIND VENDETTA 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 16 
Naxalites hacked to death a minister and killed four children in a wave of vendetta violence that flashed through three states.

Madhya Pradesh transport minister Likhiram Kanware was killed at his residence in Sonpuri village in Balaghat a little before midnight. The People?s War Group has accepted responsibility, saying they carried out the attack in retaliation against the deaths of three of their leaders in a ??fake police encounter?? in Andhra Pradesh.

Around the same time across the border in Bihar, the naxalites blew up rail tracks near Jehanabad, seconds after the Patna-Dhanbad Ganga Damodar Express crossed the blast site.

The rebels stepped up violence in Andhra Pradesh as well, killing a family of five, including three children, and a six-year-old girl undergoing treatment for heart ailment.

The PWG has called a bandh in the state to protest against the deaths of their colleagues. Police say the three leaders died in an encounter on December 2, but the naxalites believes they were killed in custody. The outfit received a fillip with the high court ordering a second post mortem.

The attack in Madhya Pradesh is the first in which a minister has been killed. Director-general of police S.C. Tripathi said Kanware reached his village around 11 pm last night and sent back his personal guards to the Kirhapur police station. Around 11.20 pm, hearing knocks on his door, the minister opened the latches. The assailants overpowered him and slashed his throat. Kanware was alone in the house as his family stays in Bhopal.

The killers left behind a couple of hand-written leaflets saying the PWG was behind the murder. While one was found on the body, the other was stuck to the wall.

??Three of our comrades ? Shyam, Mahesh and Murli ? were gunned down by the police. Amar shahid ki khoon ka badla khoon liya (We have taken blood for the blood of our immortal martyrs),?? the pamphlets said.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh, who described Kanware as his ??personal friend??, has promised he would ??leave no stone unturned to punish those involved in the dastardly act??. Senior police officers said the minister had ??no enmity, personal or otherwise?? with the PWG.

Kanware was also the minister in charge of Balaghat. The district, which is around 50 km from Nagpur, is a happy hunting ground for naxalites as it offers them the shelter of dense forests.

The tremors of the murder were felt in Parliament with the BJP demanding the dismissal of the Digvijay Singh government and a CBI inquiry.

Balaghat MP Pralad Patel alleged that Kanware?s killing was the result of rivalry within the Congress. The Congress hit back, saying the BJP was politicising the murder.

The vendetta killings continued today in Andhra with the PWG refusing to spare even a child with heart problem. The naxalites, who had attacked the house of a village landlord in Karimnagar, were requested to let the girl go.

??We pleaded with them to wait till she was given the saline drips. But the PWG men refused to wait and the blast killed the sleeping child when the house caved in,?? said a villager.

The violence spilled over into neighbouring Nizamabad, where the naxalites blew up the house of a Telugu Desam leader, killing his family, including three children.

The outfit also blasted train tracks, attacked police stations and houses of political leaders.

Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has asked ministers and MLAs to stay in urban areas and not visit district towns.

Coinciding with Kanware?s killing last night, PWG activists in Bihar also struck to avenge their associates? deaths. The outfit planted a time-bomb, which, if it had gone off a few seconds earlier, would have blown up the Dhanbad-bound Ganga Damodar Express. The explosion left a four-feet gorge and twisted the tracks near Taregna station, around 26 km from Patna and 30 km from Jehanabad.

Sources said a group of 15 men, their faces covered and wearing black clothes, swooped down on a railway crossing near Masauri Bridge. They overpowered the gateman, tied him to a post and gagged him. The train had left Patna at 10.45 pm and crossed Taregna at 11.20 pm.

??The explosion took place just seconds thereafter. The timer may have developed a snag which saved thousands of lives,?? said a railway police officer.

Officials said Taregna block has been a battleground for the warring naxalite outfits. The villages adjoining Taregna are PWG pockets.    


 
 
SIGNLESS ADVANI SLAP TO KALYAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 16 
L.K. Advani today lashed out at his prot?g? Kalyan Singh for saying that all was not well between the BJP Big Two but the diatribe, launched through an unsigned statement, triggered speculation that the home minister had done so under pressure from the Prime Minister?s Office.

Condemning Kalyan?s remarks against Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as ??perverse and misleading??, Advani said in a statement that the decision to remove Kalyan as chief minister and expel him from the party was ???unanimous??.

??The manner in which he has used my name in his statement yesterday has a mischievous dimension,?? says the statement, which neither carries Advani?s signature nor his name.

The unsigned paper has sparked rumours that Advani, a stickler for rules, was pressured by the Vajpayee camp to issue the statement drafted by the PMO.

BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu, however, played down the issue and said statements issued by leaders usually did not have their signatures.

But Kalyan?s reaction to Advani?s attack later in the day added to the speculation. Reiterating his charge that Vajpayee was plotting to politically terminate Advani, the expelled leader said: ??Advani is a gentleman, an ideal man. I respect him. That is why I am not replying to his statement. But I stand by what I said about Advani and Vajpayee yesterday.??

Asked if the home minister had issued the statement to save his chair, Kalyan said: ??Advani is a serious man and I do not think he will issue such a statement to save his chair.??

Singh told reporters yesterday that Vajpayee, along with his coterie, was trying to weaken Advani?s authority. ??But Advani is not in a position to speak his mind... he is feeling suffocated in the BJP. Vajpayee is crazy about power, while Advaniji is wedded to ideology,?? Kalyan had said.

Countering the allegations, Advani accused his prot?g? of trying to ??drive a wedge between Shri Vajpayee and me??.

Assailing Kalyan for carrying on a ??vicious tirade against the BJP in general and the Prime Minister in particular??, the home minister, in his unsigned statement, said Kalyan had ??lost his sense of balance and so I have been disinclined to react to what he has been saying??.

??His statements have been extremely offensive and have rightly earned him expulsion from the party,?? Advani added.    


 
 
CHARITY BEGINS AT RELIEF DENS 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Balikuda (Jagatsinghpur), Dec. 16 
Arrested block development officer (BDO) Madhusudan Prusty?s heart may not have bled for the homeless, famished cyclone victims, but he was generous with his staff. Each of the 40 employees at the block office took home one quintal of the premium quality rice meant to feed thousands of hungry mouths.

With the police stumbling upon the officer?s ?new act of generosity?, the theft of relief materials at the Balikuda block office is snowballing into a major scam.

Jagatsinghpur circle inspector Shivacharan Routray, investigating the case involving 11 arrested block and panchayat officials, said seized documents showed that Prusty had allowed the employees at the block office, including the field staff, to take away two sacks of ?export quality? rice each. He said each bag held 50 kg of rice and a kilo could cost between Rs 30 to Rs 50.

Central Industrial Security Force jawans, guarding the block office since November 16 to ?prevent theft of relief materials?, confirmed that the staff had taken out 80 sacks of rice last month. ?We let them out after they handed us permits signed by the BDO. We have kept all records, including the signed slips,? havildar S.D. Singh said.

The officials stole relief materials sent in by several state governments and aid agencies, including US-based CARE, for distribution among the cyclone victims in Balikuda. Balikuda was identified as the ?second worst-affected? block after Erasama in Jagatsinghpur district.

The circle inspector said the probe had so far revealed ?only the tip of the iceberg? and the officials might have ?stolen much more than what we found during raids on their homes, but sold them off in the black market?.

Routray added that the police were trying to find out what the block office had received in aid and where they were distributed. ?We are trying to find out as much as possible independently because some records at the block office could have been fudged.?

Sushanta Kanungo, a political science research scholar at Utkal University who filed the FIR against the 11 officials with the Balikuda police station, accused block officials of selling off relief materials worth Rs 30 lakh.

He was visiting his family in Balikuda on Monday night when he saw a car and a trekker smuggling out the stolen materials. Along with some local youths, Kanungo stopped the vehicles and called in the police.

Kanungo said he was offered a bribe not to file the complaint. After he refused, he said he was being threatened ?by some influential people? whom he refused to identify.

?On Monday night, I was offered Rs 25,000 and asked to settle the issue outside the police station. But after I refused, some influential people are threatening me, saying I have gone too far and would pay a price,? Kanungo said.

Biswajit Das, a local contractor and a prime witness in the case, said he was also under pressure to retract his statements to the police. He said he signed the seizure list after the police raided the homes of the officials.

With relief materials eluding them, thousands of cyclone victims living out in the open since the October 29 supercyclone are battling to survive wintry nights on empty stomach.

The block office is still piled high with sacks of undistributed rice and rolls of polythene sheets, but residents of Santua and Tentui villages, barely 10 km from the office, have nothing to eat.

?We have no work and nothing to eat while officials are looting relief materials. Not a single block official has bothered to visit us to find out how we are living even one-and-a-half months after the cyclone,? Kailash Mallick of Santua said.

The women complained that many of the children were down with fever, which they contracted from the night chill. ?My children shiver all night as I do not have a blanket or even a bedsheet to cover them with,? Kanak Jena of Santua said. ?We do not know how long we can survive like this.?    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 27?C (normal) Minimum: 14.3?C (normal) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 90%, Minimum:33% Today: Mainly clear sky. Slight fall in night temperature Sunrise: 6.15 am Sunset: 4.50 pm    
 

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