Dying declaration dispute in Ballia
Hung House shadow over NDA hopes
DMK in Sangh denial replay
Truck crushes 15 in market
Delhi sends French signal to Clinton

Ballia, Feb. 13: 
The �dying statement� of one of the two students killed here last week has cast aspersions on the �integrity� of the administration.

Ballia district magistrate Baburam Yadav and senior police officials are caught in a new controversy even as the town remained under curfew for the second day. The curfew will be relaxed for two hours tomorrow.

While Yadav insists that Naveen Pandey�s dying declaration has been �sealed and sent� to the chief judicial magistrate, residents and Pandey�s family members say �no such thing has been done�. They allege that �no one bothered to take Naveen�s dying declaration�.

Twenty-four-year-old Naveen of Satish Chandra College was shot dead by sub-inspector Vishwajeet Rai on Friday. While the police claim that �the revolver had gone off accidentally after a scuffle between them�, witnesses say Rai killed him after �threatening to end his netagiri�. Pandey was a popular student leader.

Witnesses at Pandey�s deathbed claim the student repeatedly said �Rai called me in and killed me�, and that doctors and hospital staff were privy to his statement. But the administration claims he made no such remark and that �before his death he exonerated Rai saying the revolver went off accidentally�.

�I was there when Pandey�s dying statement was taken. I sealed it and sent it to the CJM,� Yadav said. But he contradicted himself, saying he �does not know� what Naveen said before he died.

The police feel an attempt is being made to tarnish their reputation. SSP P.B. Rama Shastri said: �It is a political stunt to frame the policeman. There were others when the dying statement was taken. They (Naveen�s family members) are lying.�

However, Naveen�s father Lallan Pandey said the police and the DM were trying to hide the truth because of Rai�s political clout. �We have witnesses who are willing to take the risk and go to court. They say the only thing the police did was get a blank piece of paper and get it forcibly signed by Naveen,� he said.

A fuming Pravin, Naveen�s elder brother, said: �In fact, they (the police) were even trying to whisk away Naveen�s body. It was only after residents protested vehemently that the police let us take my brother�s body. Tell me, what can we expect from such people?�

One of Naveen�s neighbours, Madhav Mohan, said: �These people belong to the same family as freedom fighter Chittu Pandey. Look at their state now. The administration has even refused them curfew passes. No one can visit them nor can they go anywhere.�


New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
Political observers said Bihar is headed for a hung Assembly despite exit polls predicting a majority for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the first phase of elections.

The Congress decision to distance itself from Laloo Prasad Yadav is paradoxically helping the Rashtriya Janata Dal rather than the NDA, an observer said. For instance, in Matihani, he said, the upper caste Bhumihars backed the Congress candidate because the BJP candidate is considered too weak to take on the RJD. In Begusarai, the Bhumihars are backing the CPI candidate to defeat Laloo�s nominee.

Of the 108 constituencies which went to polls on Friday, the exit poll have given 65 seats to NDA, 13 to RJD and its allies, the CPM and the Janata Dal (Secular), 15 to the Congress and 15 to others including the CPI(ML)-CPI front and Jharkhand parties.

According to pollsters, there was an 18 per cent swing against the RJD and a nine per cent swing against the NDA, while the Congress registered six per cent swing in its favour. There was a 27 per cent swing for others compared to the Lok Sabha polls.

The exit poll said the NDA got 38 per cent of the total votes polled in the first phase, followed by the Congress with 22 per cent, the RJD and allies with 21 and the others with 19 per cent. The survey said the Congress is expected to improve its position. The performance of the CPI(ML)-CPI too is likely to be better than expected.

The exit poll predicted that the RJD is likely to retain its hold in central and north Bihar countering the NDA�s gain in the first phase, which covered south Bihar.

In the 1999 parliamentary elections, despite the Janata Dal (United)-Samata Party-BJP truck, the RJD registered a four per cent swing in its favour though it lost more than half of its Lok Sabha seats.

�The bickerings in the NDA and its failure to project a chief minister have cost it dear,� said CPI state executive member Shakeel Ahmed. Unlike in 1999, Atal Behari Vajpayee�s image has been dented considerably, he added.

Dal(U) general secretary Mohan Prakash claimed that going by the current trend, the NDA would bag 224 of the 324 seats and that it would perform even better in the second and third phase of polls.

A Dal(U) source said the NDA would also benefit from the �foolish decision� of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to field many Muslim candidates, hitherto a RJD vote bank. �This will split the Muslim votes three-way, much to the NDA�s advantage,� he reasoned.

He added that the Dal(U) has successfully divided the Yadavs, RJD�s traditional support-base, with its four Yadav candidates comfortably winning in 1999.    

Chennai, Feb. 13: 
Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi today came out with yet another disclaimer on the RSS.

In a statement issued here, he iterated that he had never suggested that his government would consider allowing its employees to participate in RSS activities.

Lashing out at critics for distorting his statement, he said it was not political decency �to harp on something which had already been refuted comprehensively.�

Though Karunanidhi has gone overboard with his disclaimers, he did say at the �historic� news conference that he would consider permitting state employees to join the RSS if they so wished.

According to reliable sources, there was resentment even within his own party that he should have gone so far in his attempt to placate Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Some senior leaders, including Speaker Palanivel Rajan, reportedly advised Karunanidhi to retract his statement and contain further damage. The very next day, he said he had been misquoted and that he would write to Vajpayee to clear the air.

However, criticism would not die down. Local cartoonists had a field day, one caricaturing his evolution from a Dravidian leader to a Sanghi, complete with khaki shorts and the black beret. Another showed him as a split personality, one half in the Dravidian stream and another in the Sangh.

His former friend, G. K. Moopanar of the Tamil Maanila Congress, said Karunanidhi was saying outrageous things only to keep himself in power in the state and at the Centre.

The Opposition, from the Left parties to the Dravidar Kazhagam, also lampooned his new-found love for the RSS.

�It�s not so much the votes in the bypoll as the knocks his image as a Dravidian leader has received that is making him come out with such desperate disclaimers,� said T.S.S. Mani of the Human Rights Initiative.    

Lucknow, Feb. 13: 
Fifteen people were crushed to death when a speeding truck lost control and ploughed through a crowded vegetable market off Grand Trunk Road between Varanasi and Allahabad. Seven persons were seriously injured.

The incident took place at 3.15 this afternoon at Babusarai, a small market town, 15 km from Aurai in Bhadohi district.

The driver of the truck, who was reportedly drunk, has been arrested and detained at the Aurai police station.

Soon after the accident, angry residents set fire to the truck, closed all the shops and staged a �chakka jam�, severely disrupting traffic on the busy national highway.

Unofficial sources put the death toll at 15 � 10 women, three children and two men. Twelve persons died on the spot while three succumbed to injuries at the Varanasi district hospital.

However, Mirzapur commissioner Sushil Kumar said he could confirm only 12 deaths.

According to the district police, the truck, which was empty, was on its way to Mirzapur, adjoining Bhadohi. At Babusarai, the driver tried to overtake a car at full speed but lost control.

The truck then veered sharply to the right and ran over three vegetable trolleys killing the vendors and buyers at the weekly Sunday market. All the victims were from nearby Mahedpur, Padbase and Shivrampur villages.

According to reports coming in from the area, furious residents have threatened to lynch the owner of the truck. They also gheraoed the Aurai police station and demanded that the driver be handed over to them.

The district police superintendent and all senior officers have reached the spot. Local MLA Ranganath Mishra, who is also the minister of state for home, has left for the accident site.

According to official sources, the government is likely to announce an ex gratia compensation for relatives of the dead and the injured by tomorrow after post-mortem is conducted on all the bodies.    

New Delhi, Feb. 13 
In a sign of growing closeness between the two nations and their desire for a world order not dominated by any single country, French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine will be in New Delhi on a two-day visit next week.

It will be followed by the arrival of three French frigates in Mumbai for a joint exercise with the navy later this month. In the first visit by an Indian President, K.R. Narayanan will tour France in April.

The intense activity between the two sides starts with a meeting of the Indo-French forum tomorrow where policy-makers are expected to toss up ideas to bring the countries closer.

Vedrine, who arrives on February 17, will � along with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh � address the concluding session of a two-day seminar on �multipolarity� at the India International Centre.

Last week, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra spoke on the subject at the French Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris. India�s decision to join hands with France to highlight multipolarism is also being seen as a signal to Washington.

The French government�s decision to allow three frigates to hold joint exercises with the Indian Navy indicates that the dust of the May 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests has finally settled.

The US has also invited the Indian Navy to participate in its millennium Independence Day celebrations at New York harbour on July 4.

But France, which played an active role in not only blocking sanctions from the European Union and the Group of Eight after the nuclear tests but also projected its point of view at these fora convincingly, has beaten the Americans in renewing defence ties with India.

Narayanan�s proposed visit, scheduled from April 20 to 24, is also significant because both India and France are dominated by coalition politics. According to sources, President Jacques Chirac, who was here in January 1997, will be keen to exchange notes with Narayanan on coalition governments.

Though Vedrine�s visit is part of a series of high-level exchanges over the past two years, it will not culminate in the signing of agreements. However, it shows the confidence in bilateral relations that the two sides have developed in recent times.

Sources say Vedrine will probably discuss with the Indian leadership its relations with Pakistan and China.

Paris, which has been playing a supportive role for the Indian cause, will, however, make it clear that since the South Asian twins are nuclear powers, any development in the region that has the potential of escalating into a military flare-up will cause serious alarm in the West.

The possible cooperation between the two sides on defence and civilian nuclear energy will also come up for discussion.

But the main thrust of the growing Indo-French relations and their stress on multipolarity can be interpreted as New Delhi�s desire not to put all its eggs in the American basket.

The Clinton administration�s oft-repeated remarks on the Kashmir problem and the US President�s desire to play peacemaker in South Asia has forced India to fall back on other key players like France to assert that it is in no mood to oblige Washington on issues which are purely bilateral.    


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