PM vows to clean up, not turn betting legal
S. Africa tilts to wraps-off inquiry
Allies resume rollback chorus
Cong couple hides third arm
Kamla on the run from her own father

New Delhi, April 16 
Piercing his colleague�s trial balloon, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today said there was no proposal to legalise betting in cricket and vowed to eliminate the �menace�.

Vajpayee told the BJP national executive here that he had read reports on legalising cricket betting, but clarified that �the government has no such proposal�.

Sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa had said in Chandigarh yesterday that the Centre might consider making betting legal to minimise the �mischief potential of manipulators�. Dhindsa was also quoted as saying that the step could be taken only after talking it over with experts.

Hours after Vajpayee�s clarification, Dhindsa reneged on his statement, saying he had been �quoted out of context�. In a retraction issued from Chandigarh, the minister was quoted by agencies as saying: �What I meant was that the meeting of cricket experts I have called on April 27 may discuss the issue (of betting), if someone raised it.�

According to BJP sources, the turnaround came after infotech and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan contacted Dhindsa last evening and sought an explanation for his statement.

Dhindsa, the sources said, told Mahajan that he had been �misquoted�, after which he was asked to issue a clarification.

Underlining the need for both the BJP and the alliance partners to speak in one voice, Vajpayee, referring to Dhindsa�s statement, said: �We must be very careful about all our statements to the press. We must resist the temptation of speaking out too frequently.�

The Prime Minister�s Office only came to know of Dhindsa�s statement from agency news monitors and television channels. It was brought to Vajpayee�s notice quickly, since the government felt that the proposal could touch off an uproar.

Sources in the Prime Minister�s Office said there were two reasons which forced Vajpayee�s aides to work overtime and force Dhindsa to issue today�s statement.

First, there has to be a review of gambling of all forms and a national debate before any step to legalise betting on a particular event could be allowed.

Second, the government felt that popular mood was against betting as thousands of cricket fans were feeling short-changed. At this sensitive juncture, it was impossible to contemplate a step like this, the sources said. The government wants to tread with caution and prefers a clean-up of the system first.

Since Dhindsa would have taken offence if any official from the Prime Minister�s Office had called him up, the job was left to Vajpayee�s trouble-shooter and Cabinet spokesperson, Mahajan.    

Johannesburg, April 16 
South Africa is launching a judicial inquiry into allegations of match-fixing against former cricket captain Hansie Cronje tomorrow amid indications that the exercise may be made public.

Sources say the International Cricket Council has come out in support of the open-inquiry stand understood to have been taken by the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

Bronwyn Wilkinson, communications manager of the South African board, said a judge was expected to be named tomorrow, following which discussions would be held to fix the terms of reference of the inquiry.

Although it is up to the judge to decide what form the inquiry should take, there is the view that the findings as well as some of the submissions be made public.

If the judge holds the same opinion, it is the sort of good news South Africa needs now as a transparent approach is seen as the best way to clean up what has become a national issue.

[India still cannot decide whether to make the Justice Chandrachud report on allegations of match-fixing by Indian players public. The uncertainty is difficult to explain since, from all accounts, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud did not find any hard evidence.]

South Africans woke up today to another round of disillusionment with fallen national hero Cronje as reports suggested that the sacked captain may have been lying when he denied having fixed matches.

Another report appeared to indicate that Cronje had confessed to taking $8,200 from an Indian bookmaker after a meeting with deputy minister for foreign affairs Aziz Pahad. He was told at the meeting that there was �irrefutable evidence� and that in his best interests it would be �advisable to come clean�.

Pahad�s meeting with Cronje followed his talks with the Indian high commissioner, Harsh Bhasin, in Pretoria a week ago.

Cronje, it seems, decided to make the 3 am confession to board chief Ali Bacher after meeting Pahad.

Publication of a transcript, for the first time here, of purported conversations between Cronje and bookmaker Sanjeev Chawla has come as a fresh jolt to South Africans, AFP reports.

If the transcript is genuine, it flies in the face of Cronje�s denial of match-fixing. In it, Cronje tells the bookmaker before the Nagpur match that South Africa would set a �target� of 270. Chawla had allegedly said: �OK, so if it touches 270, it�s off.�

The South Africans, however, scored 320, fired by a thunderous innings by Lance Klusener, apparently leading to the collapse of the so-called deal.

The writer is international cricket correspondent with CricInfo    

New Delhi, April 16 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s party has agreed to toe the tough price line, but his allies are persisting with the demand for a rollback of subsidy cuts.

At a meeting with the Prime Minister this evening, the partners of the ruling coalition dropped hints that they could give him anxious moments during the second half of the budget session of Parliament, beginning tomorrow.

The allies are not expected to precipitate a crisis, but the government fears that the Congress, which has threatened cut motions, will try to exploit the price hike rift. A similar Congress strategy had paid off during the first half of the budget session, forcing a divided government to persuade Gujarat to withdraw the controversial circular on employees� links with the RSS.

Vajpayee was today compelled to promise the recalcitrant partners that the contentious financial issues could be sorted out once finance minister Yashwant Sinha returns to Delhi from the World Bank-IMF meet early this week.

The Prime Minister requested the partners to stand guard against the machinations of the Congress to drive a wedge among them.

Almost all the allies have objected to the subsidy cuts, which they fear will hurt their electoral prospects.The partial removal of subsidies has pushed up prices of foodgrain, fertilisers, kerosene and cooking gas.

The Telugu Desam, one of the most vocal opponents of the subsidy slash, today repeated that it would oppose the Centre�s decision. Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu told his MPs that the scaleback would impose a severe burden on the state government and he preferred that the withdrawal of subsidies be done in a �phased manner�.

The Trinamul Congress, which is gearing up for local polls in West Bengal, has also been speaking out against the price increases.

This evening, the allies wanted the government to reconsider the price increases. However, sources said, the allies did not strike a belligerent stand, but preferred to couch the demands in appeals.

Another potential flashpoint for a confrontation between the government and the Opposition in the House is the controversy over the Constitution review. The Congress, keen to turn the spotlight away from Sonia Gandhi�s troubles, started the build-up on B.R. Ambedkar�s birth anniversary itself.

However, the Opposition is unlikely to find too many cracks in the ruling alliance on the Constitution review. Even today, Vajpayee�s partners had little to disagree on the issue.    

Calcutta, April 16 
Mamata Banerjee and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury today set out to structure an alliance between the Trinamul Congress and the Congress in West Bengal after deftly nudging the BJP to the background.

During a 30-minute meeting at Chowdhury�s Salt Lake home, Mamata addressed the arduous task of stringing together the mahajot (grand alliance) in rural districts where the ruling communists are a formidable force.

Neither Chowdhury nor Mamata, however, allowed the issue of the BJP�s place in the alliance to figure in the talks because of its perceived unacceptability to the Congress.

�We talked about an alliance between the Congress and Trinamul,� Mamata said after the meeting. �The BJP does not need to figure in any talks on such an alliance. This understanding is only between the Congress and us. Our alliance with the BJP will continue. But it is a separate issue for the Congress,� she said.

Chowdhury, too, refused to admit that his party�s alliance with Mamata�s party had anything to do with the BJP.

�Why are you raking up the same old issue again and again? Mark my words, we are not going into any kind of alliance with the BJP. I am doing all this with party president Sonia Gandhi�s permission,� he said.

Mamata assured Chowdhury that she would not field her candidates in seats where the Congress had won in the previous municipal election. Chowdhury promised to reciprocate the gesture.

Congress sources said it would be explained to the high command that as the party had polled only 13 per cent votes in last October�s Lok Sabha polls, it would not be possible to find candidates for all seats in civic elections.

Asked whether the mahajot would be formally launched before the forthcoming municipal polls, Mamata replied: �Why not? The common people want to see that the Congress and Trinamul are together.�

Chowdhury made no bones about the need for his party to join forces with Trinamul. �Mamata and her party have proved to be the greatest anti-CPM force in Bengal. We could not do what she has done. Now we need her help,� he added.

Mamata was also all praise for Chowdhury. �It is Barkatda who first welcomed my proposal for a grand alliance,� she said.

Asked whether Chowdhury would head a mahajot ministry in the state if the Left Front was voted out, Mamata said: �It will be for the common people to decide.�

Reacting to the day�s development, chief minister Jyoti Basu told The Telegraph that this would help the Left Front expose the �bunch of opportunists�.

�This will come in handy for us to expose the state Congress for its hidden understanding with the communal BJP,� Basu said, adding that its impact would be felt all over the country.    

New Delhi, April 16 
Beads of perspiration threaded Kamla�s forehead as she stood before the counsellors in the office of Shaktishalini, a women�s organisation in south Delhi. She was fleeing home, escaping an abusive father and desperately seeking safe shelter. Kamla was only 17, but nothing could coax her to return to her parents.

She pleaded with the counsellors to let her live in the short-stay home run by Shaktishalini. The story Kamla told the counsellors that afternoon changed when the girl pieced together the details that had messed up her life. �In the beginning, Kamla told us she had serious difference of opinion with her family and that she wanted out,� says Jahanapa who was dealing with the case.

There were glaring gaps in Kamla�s story � gaps which narrowed after she spent one month at the short-stay home. She had left her home and her parents not because she was a rebellious daughter and was resentful of her overbearing, dictatorial father. She walked out because she could no longer stand her father�s sexual abuse � a story retold by several children in a study made public recently.

�She had everything a girl of her age could want. And it took us days to get to the real pain she had locked up inside her,� says Jahanapa. The bungalow with its freshly painted walls and thick curtains was the site of a crime committed daily by a father on his daughter. Every morning after his wife left for work and his elder daughter for college, Kamla�s father raped her. She covered her agony in silence and her mother and sister carried on with life as usual.

Kamla loved music. Her father objected to her going for music lessons, but reluctantly gave permission. It seemed as if he was buying her silence in exchange for her body. �It was not that Kamla was trading her body for music. But her father exercised full control over his daughter,� says Jahanapa.

Unable to stand the daily torture, Kamla made inquiries about places of refuge for distressed women. She came to know about Shaktishalini from a friend. Before staying at the short-stay home, Kamla had to fulfil the formalities of admission. She had to lodge an FIR with the police.

In the FIR, Kamla changed her name and address so that her parents could not reach her. But Kamla had also told a friend about Shaktishalini. �A group of Kamla�s friends came to our office one day and wanted to meet her,� says Jahanapa.

Within days of their visit, Kamla�s parents drove up outside the Shaktishalini office. Her father threatened the counsellors with legal action for �incarcerating� his daughter. �We sent the mother out of the room and directly confronted the father. Kamla still refused to meet her parents,� added the counsellor. Ultimately she yielded � maybe it was fear of �public shame� and �family blemish� that forced Kamla to return to her parents.

But before handing her over to her parents, Shaktishalini made Kamla�s mother sign a paper. It would be her mother�s responsibility to see that Kamla would lead a safe life within her family.    


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