Three gifts in a week for Naidu
Karunanidhi ‘free’ hand to Atal
Party whips dead Bidyut
Unpaid bills in Gowda Jr trail
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 5 
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, the only BJP ally capable of toppling the government, has extracted three gifts from the Centre within a week.

First came the assurance that there would be no review of Naidu’s favourite Sankhya Vahini data carrier project. The IT sops, expected to benefit the computer revolution he is leading in Hyderabad, followed soon after. Today, the government announced that Andhra Pradesh would get additional foodgrain to be distributed at lower rates through ration shops in drought-affected districts.

The Cabinet’s gift to Naidu this evening amounts to a partial rollback of public distribution system prices, raised earlier this year. The BJP’s allies, led by Naidu’s Telugu Desam, have been clamouring for a rollback.

The government argued that it could not bypass Andhra Pradesh which, like Gujarat and Rajasthan, is drought-affected. Cabinet spokesman Pramod Mahajan said the government had merely decided to extend the benefits already announced for the two western states.

As a result of this decision, families above the poverty line will get 20 kg rice at below-poverty line rates apart from the 10 kg of foodgrain they are already getting at normal rates. Families living below the poverty line, which receive 20 kg of foodgrain at lower rates, will receive 20 kg more at the same rates.

Naidu will be a big beneficiary because he has already announced that 20 of the 23 districts in Telengana, Rayalseema and along the eastern coastline are drought-affected.

In Delhi, leaders of sulking BJP allies today said they would keep the price rise issue alive till the government agreed to a rollback. They are meeting here on Monday to formulate their plan of action.

The leaders said they had been given the impression by both Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and finance minister Yaswant Sinha that “they would keep in mind the sentiments of the allies”. They added that they were disappointed with Sinha’s refusal to reconsider the rise in prices, especially those of foodgrain.

Yerran Naidu of Telugu Desam, Sudip Bandopadhyay of Trinamul Congress, Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) and S. Indora of Indian National Lok Dal will meet on Monday to draw up a strategy.

They wrote a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday expressing disappointment after Sinha refused to consider a rollback during the reply to the budget debate in the Lok Sabha.

Devendra Yadav today said “the government’s attitude is negative. The government needs us for floor coordination. We will see when it comes to us for floor coordination in the House”.    

New Delhi, May 5 
India today kept its fingers crossed as the Sri Lanka government said the 40,000 soldiers who had moved beyond Elephant Pass into the northern Tamil stronghold of Jaffna peninsula had not yet been cut off.

The Vajpayee government has already resolved not to provide military help to the island, but Delhi could have found itself in an embarrassing situation — given its status within Saarc — if the Lankan troops were left to fend for themselves.

A day after forcing the Vajpayee government to limit the ambit of “humanitarian” aid it had offered Lanka, Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi sought to take centrestage by “advising” the Cabinet on how to tackle the Lanka question.

The government stuck to its stand that it would provide only humanitarian aid to the island, but still refused to specify.

Karunanidhi, who was miffed with the government for not inviting any DMK minister to the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting that discussed the Lanka problem, appeared to have softened his stand after his talks with Vajpayee.

“We exchanged our views. We had a free and frank discussion. The whole issue is within the jurisdiction of the Union government. It is their sole privilege to take appropriate actions in the interest of the nation. We did not want to interfere in that. We do not want to tie the hands of the Centre. But, at the same time, we should not forget the past. We do not want any overflow of Sri Lankan matters into Tamil Nadu,” the DMK boss said.

Asked whether he would allow humanitarian assistance to Lanka, Karunanidhi hedged the issue, saying he would not respond to hypothetical questions.

For Karunanidhi, the Lanka issue has immense political gains, especially with Assembly elections slated for next year. After marginalising Jayalalitha’s ADMK, the DMK chief now wants to be seen as championing the cause of ethnic Tamils.

Government sources said the Sri Lankans had initially only sounded out India on military assistance to rescue the soldiers if they are trapped in the Elephant Pass. With the southern allies of the BJP taking a strong stand, the government decided not to follow the “IPKF route”.

The sources, however, clarified the Sinhalese had not made any demand. “They just sought our opinion on such an intervention,” the sources added.

The Lanka administration, which is in touch with the government here, qualified its status report of the war by suggesting that the situation in Jaffna is touch and go and could alter any moment.

Intelligence agencies here are preparing daily reports not just for the service chiefs but for the defence and foreign ministers as well. The foreign ministry has kept its diplomatic channels with Colombo open to ensure there is no misunderstanding.

In Colombo, the Chandrika Kumaratunga government said thousands of Lanka soldiers regrouped at a defence line to protect Jaffna from the advancing Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The military successfully repulsed several rebel attempts to breach the defence line, the information department said.    

Calcutta, May 5 
The Bengal government today broke its silence on the death of Bidyut Ganguly, admitting that the industries minister committed suicide.

But the stunner came from his party when state CPM secretary Anil Biswas issued a stinging indictment, saying Ganguly led “an indisciplined and reckless life”, for which he had been “warned several times” but failed to “rectify” himself.

In the first official reaction of the party since Ganguly died, Biswas said: “His family was also greatly disturbed about his lifestyle and there were disputes over this but Ganguly failed to keep his promise (of changing himself).” This, Biswas concludes, led him to commit suicide.

Earlier in the day, chief minister Jyoti Basu said: “We now have the post-mortem report with us which says that he (Ganguly) committed suicide.”

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya later said the post-mortem, along with the police report and circumstantial evidence, indicated that Ganguly had taken his life.

Last Sunday night, after noticing smoke coming out of the first-floor room of Ganguly’s home, neighbours broke open the door to find the minister in flames.

Ganguly was rushed to hospital where he died the next morning before the police could record a statement.

Bhattacharya today said while it was true the police had not recorded any statement, Ganguly had spoken to the attending doctors as well as to those who had accompanied him to the hospital. “But I am not in a position to divulge any of the details,” he said.

Bhattacharya also refused to comment on why the minister took his life. “I will not say anything beyond this, except that the death was ante-mortem in nature.”

Bhattacharya ruled out a CBI probe, as demanded by the opposition Congress and Trinamul. “Our police are intelligent enough to handle such a case,” he said.

The post-mortem report was submitted to the state government yesterday afternoon. However, the forensic as well as the viscera, or chemical examination, reports are still awaited.

While the post-mortem report has indicated that Ganguly committed suicide, the viscera report will ascertain the exact cause of death.

Sources said the doctors who had conducted the post-mortem had found some “white sticky substance” in the stomach. They believe it could be pills, possibly tranquillisers, but this will only be confirmed by the chemical analysis report.

CPM sources said Biswas’ statement on Ganguly was meant to be a warning to other leaders.    

New Delhi, May 5 
H.D. Kumaraswamy, son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is alleged to have fled Mauritius yesterday without settling huge hotel bills. A case of cheating, fraud and theft has been registered against him with the police in the island nation.

According to government sources, the case against Kumaraswamy, who was elected to Parliament from Hasan in the 1996 general elections, was filed yesterday at Blue Bay police station. The former Prime Minister’s son was in Mauritius to shoot a Kannada film he is producing.

The complaint was lodged by the management of Blue Bay hotel and resort, where Kumaraswamy had put up, along with some of the actors and actresses and the film crew. As many as 50 persons had checked into the hotel on April 10, while Kumaraswamy arrived 10 days later.

The Mauritian government is learnt to have informed the Bangalore commissioner of police that Kumaraswamy was wanted in Mauritius.

Kumaraswamy is alleged to have fled without paying Mauritian Rs 700,000 (about Indian Rs 12 lakh), due as hotel and food charges at the upmarket Blue Bay hotel, located on the beach. The complainant has alleged that members of Kumaraswamy’s team had “stolen” hotel goods and equipment before boarding a flight to Mumbai yesterday. Kumaraswamy had put up in an exclusive bungalow on the beach.

The matter came to light yesterday morning when employees of a tour operator, Vivendi, who had been engaged by Kumaraswamy, arrived at the hotel to take the film cast to a location for a shoot and did not find them there. Kumaraswamy and the team left earlier, informing the hotel staff that they would be going out for shooting.

The hotel staff had no reason to disbelieve the film producer. But taking the opportunity, Kumaraswamy is learnt to have directed his driver to take the car towards Plaisance, where the international airport is situated. He then boarded an Air Mauritius flight for Mumbai.

When the Vivendi employees insisted Kumaraswamy had promised to accompany them to the shoot venue, the staff smelt a rat. They waited for the film team to return.

When they failed to turn up by evening, the hotel management, which had been informed of the disappearing act, promptly lodged a case with Blue Bay police station, alleging that the film producer had caused a loss of Mauritian Rs 700,000, besides having allegedly stolen hotel property.

“In any case, the Mumbai police isn’t staffed by people who don’t know their job. Do you believe they would have sat on something as sensational as what the lawyer claims to have overheard?”

Kapil added: “As I’ve said yesterday, my conscience is clear. I cherish the credibility I enjoy. Why should I go around attempting to convince people I’m in the clear when I haven’t done anything wrong?”

Asked whether he would speak to Prabhakar, who returned to Delhi from Lucknow this evening (instead of in the morning), Kapil countered: “Again, why should I? We aren’t chums like, say, Jimmy (Mohinder Amarnath) and I that I’ve got to talk to him. I don’t socialise with Prabhakar...

“In fact, I don’t recall Prabhakar being very close to any one player during his playing days... Specifically, Prabhakar hasn’t said anything. The talking has all been done by Bindra, somebody I respected enormously but for whom, now, I have no respect.”

Kapil paused, probably telling himself not to get carried away, and then continued.

“In the past few weeks, my stand has been among the strongest. I said I’m ashamed to be a sportsman (when Hansie Cronje acknowledged having interacted with a bookie); I also suggested India stop playing for six months, till things were cleared. I’ve been for cleaning things up. Yet, I stand accused.”

Going by Kapil’s tone he has, today, taken fresh guard. Now, others will have to be on guard.    

>b>Temperature: Maximum: 33.8°C (-2) Minimum: 24.7°C (-1) Humidity: Maximum: 93% Minimum: 47% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be 35°C Sunset: 6.02 pm, Sunrise: 5.04 am    

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