Cong bleeds at Chhattisgarh birth
Basu parting gift to hotel
Lanka icons on CBI list
Advani tribute in concrete to Iron Man
Snubbed Soren dumps NDA
Calcutta weather

Raipur, Oct. 31: 
The Congress convulsed in Chhattisgarh�s birth pangs as supporters of Vidya Charan Shukla beat up Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh minutes after tribal leader Ajit Jogi was picked to lead the new state.

As Chhattisgarh awaited its midnight tryst with destiny, alarm bells started ringing in the Congress as seven MLAs, all backed by Shukla, went into hiding. The party has 48 legislators in the House of 90. The BJP has 36.

The tremors started around 2 pm when about 200 men, including Madhya Pradesh minister Ashok Rao, confronted Digvijay as he drove into Shukla�s farmhouse to calm the leader who was eager to get the job but was shunned by the high command.

Shukla�s supporters refused to let the car in, but the chief minister stepped out and asked the men to behave themselves. This provoked the mob which hurled abuses and began heckling Digvijay until he fell.

Prabha Rau, the general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh who was also in the car, was spared but Ghulam Nabi Azad was not. As he wriggled through the crowd into Shukla�s home, some of the men slapped and hit him.

With no one to rein them in, the men continued to rain blows on Digvijay. They ripped his kurta, flung slippers and socked him at random. Shellshocked for the first few minutes, the chief minister started striking back.

As the mob continued to work on the chief minister, some of their colleagues stood guard at the gate, their eyes twinkling in glee. �Jaiye, dekhiye wahan mukhya mantri ki pitai ho rahi hai. Uska himmat kaise hua yahan aane ki? (Go, see the chief minister is getting beaten up. How dare he come here?)� they shrieked.

It was left to Shukla to control the men and escort Digvijay inside. �It was a very unfortunate and reprehensible incident. These were some anti-socials who had come in. Neither do they belong to the Congress nor do they have anything to do with me,� he later said.

But even as he was denying the men�s links with the Congress, the �anti-socials� trooped in to touch his feet, chanting �Vidya bhaiyya zindabad�.

Though Shukla refused to comment on Jogi�s nomination, the decision is a huge setback for the leader who had launched a mass movement for the new state.

On July 25, a few days before the Lok Sabha cleared the Bill, he demonstrated before Parliament with 16 of the 48 Congress MLAs in the region. This was to warn the leadership that he commanded sufficient support and could break the party.

But Shukla, a former Union minister, is not trusted by too many, especially 10 Janpath.

Jogi, on the other hand, has the backing of Sonia Gandhi though he lost last year�s Lok Sabha elections from Shahdol, not too far from Chhattisgarh.

The former IAS officer edged out Shukla after a two-hour meeting this afternoon between the Congress top brass and 41 of the 48 MLAs.

Shukla arrived for the meeting at 10.30 but left in a huff after an hour.

Jogi had almost given up hope on Sunday when Digvijay, Rau and Azad left Delhi for Raipur without him. �He thought his game was up,� an associate recalled. But a 10.35 pm appointment with Sonia changed it all: she told him to take the morning flight to Raipur. �I am confident you will do well,� a smiling Sonia said.    

Calcutta, Oct. 31: 
Presiding over his last Cabinet meeting, Jyoti Basu today promised a new beginning to an edifice that symbolises the rise and fall of Bengal.

The state Cabinet has decided to hand over exclusive management rights of the ailing Great Eastern Hotel to a French company, Accor Asia Pacific group. Accor is expected to turn Great Eastern into a 200-room, five-star heritage hotel.

�The privatisation of Great Eastern has been finalised at today�s Cabinet meeting. It�s a great achievement for us. Great Eastern will again become one of the best hotels in the city. No employee will be deprived of his legitimate claims,� Basu told The Telegraph tonight.

State tourism minister Manab Mukherjee said during the day that the voluntary retirement scheme as well as the final agreement will be worked out soon.

�We will give the management rights to Accor for 30 years and in return receive 3, 3.5 and 4 per cent of their gross profit in the first, second and third decades respectively,� Mukherjee said. He added that the state would see to it that the best VRS scheme in the country was worked out for the staff.

Accor�s move to take over the hotel in 1995 was cut short as all the unions, including the CPM-controlled Citu, objected to the VRS package.

Accor will not be granted the right to mortgage the land on which the hotel is located. �They can however mortgage whatever movable property they develop,� Mukherjee said.

Emotions ran high as Left Front ministers attended the last Cabinet meeting chaired by Basu. Basu�s colleagues in the cabinet unanimously adopted a resolution congratulating him for his tenure as chief minister.

The meeting virtually turned out to be Basu�s farewell meeting. Basu entered the Cabinet room at the state secretariat around 11.15 am. Basu said the success of the government did not lie in the performance of a person. �It is not my credit alone. It is the collective success of the Left Front. No individual or a single party can claim the credit for success,�� he said.

On his successor Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Basu told his colleagues: �I have told him that you will have to run the government by taking assistance from all and you have to give importance to all your colleagues.��

Hundreds today gathered in the corridor of Writers� Buildings to have a glimpse of him. The first and second floor corridors were crowded with bureaucrats, officers, peons and visitors. Basu, known for his brisk stride, paused today and greeted them.

The door to Basu�s chamber, usually heavily guarded, was kept open and no one was prevented from entering his chamber. Basu did not turn away a single visitor. The confidential assistants of the ministers presented him a dhoti and panjabi, along with a bouquet of red roses. They also posed with Basu for a photograph.    

New Delhi, Oct. 31: 
The CBI report on match-fixing mentions the names of retired Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and ace batsman Arvinda De Silva. One of the two English players whose names figure in the report was identified as former England captain Alec Stewart by sports minister S.S. Dhindsa today.

After consultation with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Dhindsa announced that he would make the report public tomorrow.

Vajpayee reportedly made it clear to the sports minister that there should not be any secrecy about the report. The Prime Minister said that since cricket is a favourite with most Indians, the government should make the report public at the earliest. Dhindsa, who was also against secrecy, agreed readily.

The sports minister confirmed today that Mohammed Azharuddin has been named as having been involved in match-fixing.

He added that no evidence has been found against Kapil Dev, accused of having offered money on behalf of the bookies by Manoj Prabhakar.

The CBI said today that Azharuddin had worked in tandem with bookies. According to his own admission which was corroborated by bookie Mukesh Gupta, Azharuddin �fixed matches� with the help of Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, the agency said.

It is the former Hyderabad-based captain who had helped the CBI with information on how foreign players like Stewart, Mark Waugh and Ranatunga were hooked by Indian bookies.

The other players from abroad whose names figure in the report are former Australian batsman Dean Jones, former West Indies captain Brian Lara, axed Pakistani middle-order batsman Salim Malik, former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe and disgraced South African captain Hansie Cronje. They were all approached by Indian bookies and offered money for throwing matches.

Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Sharma are the other Indian cricketers mentioned by the CBI for having links with bookies and having accepted money for fixing and throwing matches.

The CBI has also named Ali Irani for passing information on matches and the composition of the team to bookies. The report says that Irani allegedly �acted as a conduit for receiving payments on behalf of Azharuddin from Mukesh Gupta and other bookies�.

The CBI says that Azharuddin has received large sums of money running into lakhs from Mukesh Gupta and Ajay Gupta and associates directly and also on a number of occasions through Irani.    

Kevadia (Gujarat), Oct. 31: 
Remote-control in hand, L.K. Advani today poured a tonne of concrete to resume the Narmada dam construction, questioned the patriotic credentials of the anti-dam campaigners and praised the patience of water-starved Gujarat.

But the patience wore thin soon after as some of the 2-lakh-strong crowd, infuriated at being made to walk 10 km to the site from an impromptu parking lot, torched three ministers� cars. The ministers were injured.

Standing beside a 12-foot bronze statue of Sardar Patel he just unveiled, Advani, the perceived political heir of the Iron Man of India, shook an iron fist at the anti-dam lobby and celebrated the �victory of development nationalism�. Sardar Patel had conceived the Narmada project, and the Gujarat government has chosen his 126th birth anniversary today to relaunch the work.

Without mentioning either Medha Patkar�s Narmada Bachao Andolan or Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, Advani said: �It is the same lobby which has criticised Pokhran tests. That is why one wonders whether they are being instigated by some foreign forces,� he said. Roy had written an explosive essay condemning the Pokhran tests.

Advani�s comments came close on the heels of a letter from the state government to the Centre, seeking a CBI inquiry into the funding sources of the Andolan.

Coming down heavily on the Andolan, the home minister said the construction could not be stopped after spending thousands of crores of rupees.

�It is unfortunate that the Andolan filed a public interest litigation which delayed the construction. Had the Andolan not moved the court, there would have been no water scarcity today in Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat,� he added.

While criticising environmentalists and anti-dam lobby for opposing development in the name of �protecting environment�, Advani said �development projects do not destroy environment�.

Terming the Supreme Court verdict allowing construction a the Union minister expressed the hope that the project will be completed ahead of schedule.

He assured that he will use his good office to convince Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to cooperate with Gujarat in completing the the project which will benefit four states. Rajasthan will get water from the Narmada canal. However, none of the chief ministers of the beneficiary states attended the function, though they were invited

The Gujarat government deployed state transport buses for ferrying people free to the site. But the joyride lost its lustre when the crowd learned that a long walk awaited them.    

Patna, Oct. 31: 
Shibu Soren has decided to quit the NDA after talks with coalition convener George Fernandes for the Jharkhand chief minister�s post failed yesterday in Delhi. The JMM chief will meet Laloo Yadav here tomorrow to �cobble up a majority to form an alternative government with the help of the Congress and Left secular parties�.

Soren, who was recuperating from fever in Bokaro, sounded bitter. �We were cheated once again. Now we will either sit in the Opposition or form the government with the help of non-NDA leaders. If the second option does not come through, we will go for the first.� Echoing Soren, party spokesman Prasant Kumar said: �It was humiliating to beg for something which we believe is our legitimate demand.�

The JMM has called a legislative party meeting at the house of its leader in the Bihar Assembly, Stephen Marandi, here tomorrow to ratify Soren�s decision. Once the party gives the go-ahead, Soren will meet Laloo Yadav.

A small JMM team is believed to have met the RJD leader today, who assured all help. After all, Laloo is desperate for a �friendly� government in Jharkhand since most fodder scam cases will be shifted to Ranchi, where the CBI plans to set up two special courts.

RJD spokesman Shivanand Tiwari said: �The JMM is welcome to break free of the NDA and seek our help. In Jharkhand, it is imperative to look after the interests of the tribals, backwards, Christians and Muslims. Who can take care of the different groups other than Shibu Soren, who fought for the problems of the region for so long?�

Soren�s decision to pull out of the NDA came after a JMM delegation, led by his son Durga, failed to extract a pledge from Fernandes to appoint Soren as chief minister. Instead, Fernandes offered Durga, an MLA, the deputy chief minister�s post and some key portfolios for other JMM leaders.

L.K. Advani was equally intransigent. He urged the JMM to stay on in the NDA but refused to set any condition. He was quoted as saying: �I respect you as a leader of the region. But the post of chief minister is not negotiable.�

The BJP has 32 MLAs while the JMM has 12 in the proposed 82-member Jharkhand Assembly. The BJP is citing this numerical superiority to claim the top post but the Jharkhand party argues that it is not enough to form the government. �As an NDA partner, we easily stand a chance owing to our popularity and contribution to the movement for a separate state,� Durga said.

Without the JMM, the NDA strength is 40, two short of majority. The JMM-RJD-Congress-Left combine will not be far behind with 38 MLAs. In such a scenario, the focus will be on the four Independents.    



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Partly cloudy sky. Maximum temperature likely to be around 31�C    

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