“Yes, it’s an option that could b
e considered. In any case, I’ve been consistent in saying those who come clean (in India) should be treated leniently,” informed Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the minister for sport.
Speaking to The Telegraph on his mobile, soon after reaching Chandigarh tonight, Dhindsa added: “The idea is to get to the truth... Amnesty is also a form of leniency but we (in the government) could still specifically talk about it. As I’ve said, it’s an option.”
Hansie Cronje, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams have all been offered indemnity from criminal prosecution for coming clean before the King Commission. They actually have.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the CBI’s seemingly tardy progress, Dhindsa replied: “A time-frame couldn’t be announced as the CBI is interacting not just with Interpol but the South African government as well... That can take time, as also the depositions... However, this investigation is being accorded priority. I’ve been assured that.”
Dhindsa insisted he didn’t wish to “pressure” Mohammed Azharuddin or national coach Kapil Dev when he called upon those against whom allegations have been levelled to step aside till the air clears.
Last night, though, Dhindsa only mentioned Azhar by name.
“It should be treated as a suggestion, nothing more. After all, I can’t pressure anybody nor would I like somebody else to pressure others. I only spoke from the moral point,” pointed out Dhindsa, who hosted an unprecedented meeting of past and present cricketers and administrators in end-April itself.
Something similar isn’t exactly planned in the near future.
Predictably, Dhindsa hasn’t taken too kindly to Azhar’s stinging riposte to his suggestion that he step aside till “cleared of the serious allegation”.
The allegation, of course, is the one brought by Cronje: That Azhar introduced him to a bookie during the Kanpur Test in 1996.
In an interview to an English daily in Hyderabad, Azhar countered: “Why should I step down? Cricket is my livelihood, my passion, my love. The campaign against me has been because they don’t want me in the team...
“Because our police taped him (Cronje), the South Africans have conspired to fix the blame on Indians. What value is there in the statement made by a man who himself admits that he has been lying? And, the sports minister wants me to resign on the statement of such a person.”
Somewhat uncharacteristically, Azhar also lashed out at those who have “singled him out” because he belongs to a minority community.
“I’m being victimised and targeted, mainly because I belong to a minority community, specially by some ex-cricketers who have personal grudges.”
While some may describe this as a shrewd Azhar move, most believe he shouldn’t have harped on the minority-majority bit. It’s volatile territory.
Dhindsa himself reacted thus: “Dekhiye, Azhar ko jaat-paat ki baat nahin karni thi... Also, the allegation has come from a South African (Cronje). How does the minority community come in?”
Still, could this one remark be made into a political football?
Dhindsa answered calmly: “I hope not... The law of our land, for instance, doesn’t deal with crime keeping in mind the religion of the accused... The law never discriminates.”
Incidentally, according to the daily, Azhar will sue, among others, Cronje, Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Manoj Prabhakar. Thus far, Azhar’s stand had been that the cricket board “should do the needful”.
The shift is significant.
Gupta is also either owner or part-owner of a thriving jewellery shop at South Extension, one of the capital’s premier shopping districts. Gupta seems to have disappeared soon after his name was revealed by Hansie Cronje before the Edwin King Commission yesterday.
The Telegraph has in its possession the cellphone number of Mukesh Gupta but the number has not been responding since this evening. Sources said it was difficult to reach the right Mukesh Gupta. Both the first and the last names are very common and the Delhi telephone directory has at least two dozen Mukesh Guptas. In all of Delhi, there are at least 200 with that name.
The bureau managed to trace Gupta as it has made some progress in decoding the vast network of bookies operating in Delhi and Mumbai.
Defence Colony is also the home of the absconding kingpin among bookies, Mohan Khattar. Delhi police, who are not really interested in the Azharuddin case, are still not sure if Cronje had met Khattar or Mukesh Gupta. The CBI, however, ruled out Gupta and Khattar being the same person.
The agency today confirmed that it had nothing to proceed with in the Azharuddin case unless more details came forth from South Africa. “It is only a statement. There has to be some back-up by way of evidence,” a key investigator involved in the match-fixing probe said about Cronje’s charge. He said that at this stage the Azharuddin file was weaker than Kapil Dev’s because, except for Cronje’s statement, the CBI had virtually nothing on its hands other than hearsay.
On the Kapil Dev file, too, the CBI said, not much headway has been made. “We have not yet reached the stage when we could decide whether there is a prima facie criminal case.”
The source said the agency was not planning to interrogate Azharuddin in the immediate future. But Azharuddin can come forward to make his own statement if he wants to. Yesterday, Azharuddin had announced he would come to Delhi today, but later retracted. Today, he said he had not made up his mind yet.
Delhi police, which set the ball rolling with the Cronje tapes, said the deposed South African captain’s testimony substantiated the case they had on their hands.
Two persons were arrested from the Mohammad Ali Park area in Calcutta tonight on the charge of betting on the Sri Lanka-Pakistan match. A police spokesman said betting was detected by tapping the phones of the duo he described as the Sarafs.
The ignorance — or, more likely, sloppiness — of the sculptor has delayed the VHP’s proposed yatra from Jaipur to Ayodhya by about three months.
The yatra, which was to have been flagged off later this month, has now been deferred to September-end or early October.
The reason: a marble idol of Lord Ram was sculpted with the dhanush (bow) in his right hand instead of the left. The faux pas was detected a few days ago when all arrangements had been made for the yatra.
The intervening period between June and September till Navratri (falling between September-end or the first week of October) is considered inauspicious. The yatra will, most probably, be flagged off in October, VHP sources said.
The idol of Ram Lalla was to have accompanied a replica of the Ayodhya temple made of thermacol. The model temple — 21 feet high, 14 feet long and 11 feet wide — is already complete.
A new marble statue of Ram Lalla is being sculpted with the dhanush in the left hand, VHP chief Acharya Giriraj Kishore told The Telegraph today.
The yatra from Jaipur with the Ram mandir and Ram Lalla will cruise through four states on way to Ayodhya and could take three to four days to reach the temple town.
The yatris will take turns in walking and specially-designed raths (read trucks) have been ordered.
The VHP has already announced its plans to begin constructing the Ram temple at the disputed site where the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.
Asked whether Ram was a left-hander or a right-hander, senior BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur, quoting from an advertisement jingle, said in a lighter vein that he was not sure, but the BJP was neither left nor right but “dil se”.
Mathur said he did not anticipate any law and order problem as a result of the proposed yatra. He said there will be problems only if the “secularists” create them.
Another senior vice-president, Jana Krishnamurthy, said the VHP was free to do what they deemed fit.
“Every organisation is independent. We have nothing to say on it (the yatra). As for any law and order problem, it is up to the government to tackle it,” Krishnamurthy said.
Acharya Giriraj Kishore said the VHP was not doing anything illegal.
“I do not think there will be any interference from the government’s side. We are not doing anything illegal. There will be no threat to law and order. The yatra will be peaceful,” he said.