Tax watch on wives of 2 cricketers
Sardarji� on prowl at Pune camp
President returns nuke gesture
Advani debut foreign trip to Israel
Clear out, Jagmohan tells parties
Calcutta weather

Mumbai, May 30 
The income-tax department in Mumbai has started a secret inquiry into the assets of the wives of two Indian cricketers whose names have come up in match-fixing allegations.

Also in the ambit of investigation at the moment are five-six relatives of the two cricketers. The net will be spread gradually to cover more of their friends and relatives, a source said.

Admitting that the probe is at a preliminary stage, the source claimed that it has already established some evidence of a nexus between these cricketers and bookies. Senior officials of the income-tax department, however, refused to comment.

The source said none of the cricketers, accused of being involved in betting or match-fixing, was assessed by the local income-tax department. �However, their wives and their relatives hail from the city and the probe will enable us to get to the bottom of it.�

The purpose will be to establish whether they are acting as frontmen in holding assets way above what the cricketers can be expected to reasonably earn from modelling, sponsorships and by playing.

The inquiry is believed to have stumbled on a few critical leads, the source said. While the government had ordered the CBI probe on the recommendation of the cricket board, the tax authorities started investigating the scandal on their own. The CBI has yet to involve other government agencies in the probe as it is still grappling with the preliminaries, the source said.

Eventually, as the scope of investigation widens to cover possible foreign exchange violations, specialised agencies such as the enforcement directorate will be brought in. That is the indication coming out of Delhi, too.

Meanwhile, the income-tax inquiry � now being conducted in a low-key manner with the main characters not being contacted yet � will be expanded with more investigators being put on the job.

Our Delhi bureau adds: The BJP today called for a �time-bound, thorough� probe into the match-fixing allegations.

The party said the probe should be expedited to first clear the cases relating to the �current Indian players�.

�The cloud of suspicion should be taken out of their heads at the earliest, so that they can concentrate on playing and hold their heads high,� it said.

Describing the allegations as �disgusting�, party spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said the ICC should see to it that all records achieved by the players should be removed if they were found guilty. Banning them for life is not enough, he said.

Asked if Kapil and Azharuddin should step down pending completion of investigations, Naidu said: �No, not at all. Inquiry should be thorough so that doubts are cleared.�    

Dhaka, May 30 
Manoj Prabhakar was in Pune during the Asia Cup conditioning camp where, reportedly, he moved around disguised as a sardarji.

While nobody is willing to talk about that hush-hush trip, it seems Prabhakar did try to contact players � obviously with video camera in bag. That he was in Pune, at the Holiday Inn (not the players� hotel), has been confirmed.

One learns Prabhakar checked in a few days before the camp ended (May 22). In keeping with his new-found style of operation, Prabhakar �instructed� the hotel staff not to reveal his presence.

Apparently, Prabhakar wanted to begin his undercover-operation by video-recording Mohammed Azharuddin in New Delhi, late last month. However, that fell through as Azhar, for whatever reason, didn�t play ball.

As somebody in the know of things remarked: �Thank God, Azhar didn�t meet him. Unguarded, who knows what he would have said... Indian cricket could well then have received one more huge blow�. Indeed, the question doing the rounds is: What else has Prabhakar taped? Also, when will he cause the next tehelka?

National coach Kapil Dev, Prabhakar�s target No. 1, is himself confused. Confidants insist he largely has two queries: Is Prabhakar acting alone? If not, who exactly is the mastermind?

Another question doing the rounds is: Could a business rivalry have been the catalyst for everything that has unfolded? Kapil�s standard answer has been: �I�m not into deals which would rattle any big-wig. Why should anyone waste time?� It�s significant that the other evening, Kapil reminded it wasn�t now a fight between individuals, �but between one person and cricket�.

Among those in the know, an interesting theory is developing � that Kapil could have been party to a Four Square offer, directed Prabhakar�s way, during the Singer Cup (September 1994). And, Prabhakar may have given that a 360-degree twist, seeking to achieve whatever he set out to.

Kapil himself can�t confirm whether he did approach Prabhakar. �I remember assisting the gentleman who came with the contracts but, so many years down the line, I honestly don�t remember whether or not I spoke to Prabhakar. It�s possible I did, equally, it�s possible I didn�t...�

He is, for now, trying to re-establish contact with that gentleman (a former ITC staffer). �Perhaps, he can throw some light,� Kapil added. When not immersed in plotting strategy for the Asia Cup, Kapil is catching up on reading � not journals, but the tehelka transcript. �As is my habit, I read every line more than once,� he said, grinning.

Kapil himself declined comment on the transcript, though he acknowledged making notes for his lawyer, but many here are shocked Prabhakar has dragged Union home minister L.K. Advani into the controversy, too.

�They are all the same,� Prabhakar is quoted as saying when Kiran More talks about his former teammate�s meeting with Advani and the CBI�s poor record (the tandoor case and Harshad Mehta being cited as examples). Advani can�t be very amused.

Incidentally, it is understood Sunil Gavaskar �tipped off� Kapil about Prabhakar being on the evidence-collecting drive. Gavaskar, of course, had no idea every session was being clandestinely video-recorded.

The tip-off was via a call. It�s unlikely Kapil will ever forget that. He also won�t forget Sachin Tendulkar�s gesture of telephoning him (�Paaji, I feel sorry�) within minutes of that BBC interview, where he broke down.

That was the first of many supportive calls Kapil received.    

Beijing, May 30 
President K.R. Narayanan today dropped a paragraph stating India�s determination to retain a minimum nuclear deterrent from his only formal speech during the China visit in deference to the Chinese �gesture� not to raise the issue of the Pokhran nuclear tests.

Sources in the Indian foreign office explained the last-minute deletion as a move to �avoid making mention of an issue that had not been raised by the Chinese in the first place�. The paragraph was dropped from Narayanan�s speech at Peking University this morning. (see page 6)

Later in the day, Narayanan met the chairman of the Chinese National People�s Congress (NPC), Li Peng, who was the premier when Rajiv gandhi made his pathbreaking visit in 1988.

Narayanan said the joint working group of the two countries needs to speed up surveys of the disputed border and the exchange of maps plotting the line of actual control (LAC).

Maintaining that �substantial work needs to be done� on delineating the LAC, Li gave the assurance that China would �support� any step India takes to expedite a resolution of the dispute.

Today�s round of meetings, which included an exchange with Li Ruihuan, the chairman of the National Peoples� Consultative Committee, came as confirmation to the Indian side that the Chinese were keen on injecting a new air of �warmth and openness� in relations.

Summing up the talks, a foreign office source said the atmosphere carried enough clues that the Chinese were beginning to look at India with a re-adjusted, more positive perspective.

�It is too early to assume that the Chinese have accepted India�s nuclear status or have agreed to treat us as a world power, but there is a conscious effort to see India in new light. One indication of this is that they have made a deliberate effort during this visit not to sound a negative note on any issue�, the source said.

He added that the Indian side has been �given to understand by the Chinese that they think the visit has gone very well�. The source quoted President Jiang Zemin himself as telling senior Chinese leaders that he was �very happy� with his talks with Narayanan.

The absence of any reference to the Pokhran blasts from the Chinese side and the effort to keep Pakistan out of the discussions are being seen as signs of the changed Chinese approach.

The Narayanan-Li Ruihan meeting threw up a few moments the Indian side feels typified exchanges. At one point, Li Ruihan said that when lovers meet the atmospherics have to be right. Narayanan responded by saying that when people get together, sometimes they create jealousies in others. When India and China got together they made others unhappy, a reference perhaps to the West, whose dominance over global concerns has been an abiding concern for the President.

To this, Li Ruihan is reported to have said that if others become unhappy, perhaps India and China are doing the right thing.    

New Delhi, May 30 
In his first foreign tour since taking over as home minister in 1998, L.K. Advani will visit Israel next month to discuss the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists and ways of containing it.

The trip, to begin from June 13, is significant as Israel has been sending feelers on the common cause it shares with India.

For two years, Advani has steadfastly refused to go on trips abroad, saying as home minister he preferred staying at home.

The visit comes at a time when not just the home minister, but even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agrees that there is an all-out effort by Islamic fundamentalists to damage the fabric of the �secular identity of the nation�. Advani has been crying himself hoarse warning about this larger goal of �ethnic cleansing of the Muslims and further balkanisation of India� by Pakistan�s Inter-Services Intelligence.

Advani is going to Israel essentially to convince Tel Aviv that both countries should share inputs on terrorism. He is going to tell them that India could utilise Israeli expertise in the war against terror. Israel has insisted in the past that the terrorism faced by India is different from the kind it has to tackle in Jerusalem, Lebanon and other parts of West Asia.

Ever since the Vajpayee government came to power, there have been talks of India sharing a �natural bond with Israel�. National security adviser Brajesh Mishra had flown to Israel after the Pokhran nuclear tests in May 1998. Two months ago, the Israeli national security adviser had visited India and met Mishra and even Advani.

From Israel, Advani will travel to Paris, and possibly Lyons where he is expected to meet Interpol bigwigs. India needs tips from Interpol on several crimes committed in the country, including the match-fixing scandal.

Advani will also go over to London to discuss the help that could be provided to India by British intelligence agencies. Now that Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary, too, is highlighting the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists, Advani will be in a good position to drive home his agenda. He will also meet British home secretary Jack Straw.

Along with Advani, home secretary Kamal Pandey is also planning to go on a four-nation tour which will include Israel, France and Germany. His trip will only supplement Advani�s visit to West Asia and Europe and formalise relations with the countries on sharing of intelligence and information on international criminal syndicates.    

New Delhi, May 30 
The capital�s demolition man Jagmohan is at work again. His ministry of urban development has slapped notices on all major political parties asking them to vacate their palatial houses in Lutyens� Delhi.

The Congress, the country�s oldest political party, leads the pack. It has the dubious distinction of being in possession of 15 premises in the heart of Delhi. This is in addition to premises being occupied by the party�s affiliated trusts and other bodies. The BJP has 10 while the CPI and CPM have been holding on to four and two accommodations respectively.

The notices have been issued under the Public Premises Act. If the parties fail to vacate the premises then they will be physically evicted.

A stickler for rules, Jagmohan wants the Congress and the BJP to retain one premise each. But both are pleading for three houses each. Jagmohan is unwilling to accommodate even his own party and has made it clear that the total number of general pool houses allotted to political parties will have to be reduced from 41 to about 15.

However, the urban development minister�s reputation and tough words notwithstanding, the Congress and the BJP are most unwilling as they are not in a mood to ask loyal party workers and karamcharis to fend for themselves. For the time being, the strategy is to buy time till things really go out of hands. The notice period will expire soon.

The Opposition party is in a fix as the AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road is already over-crowded. It is, in fact, searching for more houses to set up a research and reference centre for the Congress Parliamentary Party and a national training institute to train the party rank and file. The party managers cannot muster courage to ask Sonia Gandhi�s personal secretary Vincent George to vacate his C-II\109 Chanakyapuri house which was regularised on August 7, 1991.

Jagmohan wants the Congress to decide about yielding its rights over either the Youth Congress office at 5 Raisina Marg or the Mahila Congress headquarters at 26 Akbar Road.

Obviously, Jagmohan is in no position to oblige the BJP if it makes a similar demand for suitable accommodations for its mahila and youth wings.

The BJP�s 10 houses include the one given to party chief Kushabhau Thakre. The party�s headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road and the Delhi unit office at 14 Pandit Pant Marg should merge, according to Jagmohan�s scheme of things.

Sources close to the minister said he had to act against political parties in possession of palatial houses in order to turn down fresh requests from new political outfits like the Trinamul Congress, Loktantrik Party and regional groups like the TDP, DMK, PMK, ADMK and others who have been functioning from official accommodations allotted to their MPs.    

Temperature: Maximum: 36.4�C (+1) Minimum: 27.2�C (normal) RAINFALL: 0.9 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 94%, Minimum: 53% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of a thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Maximum temperature likely to be around 35�C. Sunset: 6.13 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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