Board stirs to sweep cricket clean
Cong lays Babri trap for Vajpayee
India nudges Pak for next step
From seat of power to sit-in
Calcutta Weather

Ahmedabad, Dec. 5: 
Repeatedly accused of inaction, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has finally acted on match-fixing. Even more stringently than either the Pakistan Cricket Board or the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

Mohammed Azharuddin, India’s most successful captain, has been banned for life. It’s another matter that Azhar, at 37, is already in the December of his career. What will be talked about is the punishment and, today, the fall of a one-time icon is complete.

The ban was announced by BCCI president A.C. Muthiah in Chennai late this evening. The formal decision was taken by the disciplinary committee, chaired by Muthiah himself, which met again this afternoon.

The meeting was held as scheduled by an absolutely firm Muthiah even though one of the two vice-presidents on the committee, former Union minister Kamal Morarka didn’t turn up. Ram Prasad, the other member and a hardliner, did.

The committee’s decision couldn’t be communicated to Morarka till tonight as he was in “transit”. Obviously, not everybody in the BCCI will take too kindly to his being absent and, thereby, indirectly dissociating himself from the verdict.

But, then, Morarka’s dove-like approach on the match-fixing issue isn’t exactly a state secret.

A life ban has also been slapped on former India allrounder Ajay Sharma, whose last international appearance was back in late 1993. But in today’s context, when Muthiah withstood incredible pressure from within and without, the penalty is significant.

Ajay Jadeja, though, has been let off with a five-year ban. He will soon be 30 and, effectively, the punishment will end his career. Never a regular in Tests, five years on it will be more difficult for Jadeja to stage a comeback even in the ODIs.

Assuming, of course, he will be wanted.

Muthiah was under choking pressure, in particular, to reduce Jadeja’s ban to three years, if not just one or two, and needs to be complimented for strictly following the Code of Conduct, which calls for a minimum five-year punishment for match-fixing and/or links with bookies.

Also in the Jadeja-bracket is Manoj Prabhakar, though his case is different as he quit playing in 1996. Still, on technical grounds, the BCCI had to punish him. It’s on similar grounds that one-time physio Ali Irani, too, has been handed out a five-year ban.

Nayan Mongia and Kotla groundsman Ram Adhar Choudhury have been exonerated. Both were cleared by the BCCI commissioner, K. Madhavan, and the disciplinary committee, eventually, went along with his opinion.

Till late last night, indications were Mongia would at least be reprimanded. The punishments, in fact, tally with what was reported by The Telegraph today.

Contacted in Chennai, Muthiah insisted it was a “sad day” for cricket in India but quickly added: “Our decision has been in the best interests of Indian cricket… We did weigh the players’ contribution, but also gave weightage to the future of cricket in India.”

What Muthiah left unsaid is that, unofficially, the sentiments of the clean cricketers were taken into account. Indeed, for the past couple of days, some of those connected with the game were regularly asked about the “current players’ mood”.

For the record, not one teammate sprang to the defence of either Azhar or Jadeja when they found themselves in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s dock. This evening’s decision is bound to be quietly welcomed by many in the present squad, even some who aren’t today playing for a variety of reasons.

Muthiah, rather generously, announced the affected players are free to appeal to the BCCI, but its own constitution has no such provision. Rule 38 states: “The decision of the (disciplinary) committee shall be final and binding on the offending player and the Board.”

The relevant Rule includes the following: “The action, if any, taken by the committee as a result of an inquiry shall not be called into question in any court of law.”

According to Muthiah, who read both the CBI and Madhavan reports “at least twice” besides obtaining the opinion of a clutch of legal eagles (including a former attorney-general), the disciplinary committee worked on three parameters.

Firstly, match-fixing; then nexus with bookies and, finally, general conduct.

As both the CBI and Madhavan held Azhar and Sharma guilty of match-fixing, the maximum penalty (life ban) spelt out in the Code had to be enforced. As for Jadeja and Prabhakar, the BCCI commissioner himself held them guilty only of an undesirable nexus with bookies.

Yes, Madhavan was scathing in his observations regarding Jadeja but, as he didn’t reach a definite conclusion on his involvement with match-fixing, Jadeja got away. Though an overwhelming majority of BCCI members wanted Prabhakar punished “most severely”, he couldn’t get a sentence more severe than Jadeja. More to the point, Madhavan had cleared him of match-fixing.

As for Irani, he’s been punished because he had to be after being identified as a conduit between bookies and players. However, Irani has been out of Indian cricket for over three years and the ban really won’t mean anything.    

New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
The Opposition hardened its stand on the resignation of ministers L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti even as Parliament was adjourned for the day over the Babri demolition case.

On the eve of the demolition anniversary, the Congress has lined up a series of steps to embarrass the government. The party said it will insist on a discussion under rule 184 in the Lok Sabha and rule 170 in the Rajya Sabha that provide for voting. For the time being, it is focusing on a limited legal issue, demanding a clarification from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on why he was following two sets of rules.

“The government asked Harin Pathak to quit for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy case. In the Ayodhya case too, the court has stated a conspiracy angle and charged Advani, Bharti and Joshi. Why aren’t they following Pathak’s example?” Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad asked.

With a divided Opposition, the government doesn’t appear “unduly worried”. The Samajwadi Party today accused the Congress of being hand-in-glove with the BJP in the events leading to the demolition. The Left was unhappy with the Congress for raking up the issue 48 hours before the anniversary.

The Congress floor managers were still confident of a “win-win” situation. “The government is on the mat. If the Prime Minister makes a statement, his secular image will take a beating. If the motion is put to vote, it will expose allies like the Trinamul, DMK, Telugu Desam,” a Congress leader said.    

New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
India today officially reacted to Pakistan’s maximum-restraint offer by reiterating its commitment to resuming “composite dialogue” early, but was firm that export of terror and infiltration had to stop if the neighbours were to return to the talks table.

Delhi hoped that Islamabad’s announcement was a “precursor” to a meaningful change in its attitude. It also said it was ready to hold talks with “all parties and groups” in Jammu and Kashmir, including militants, provided its conditions were met.

However, South Block made it clear that there was “no room for any kind of third party” in these negotiations, hinting at the Pakistani proposal for holding bilateral dialogue alongside talks with the Kashmiri leadership.

In a statement, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal today conceded that there had been a “recognisable reduction” in firing across the Line of Control (LoC). There had not been much infiltration either due to tighter vigilance by Indian security forces, he added.

Jassal declined to give a categorical answer when asked if India would resume talks with Pakistan if this “restraint” continued till the end of Ramzan. He merely said the situation would be reviewed then and a decision taken accordingly.

Though the Prime Minister has off and on indicated Delhi’s response to Islamabad’s offer, foreign minister Jaswant Singh was to have made a suo motu statement in Parliament yesterday. However, the House was adjourned over the Babri ruckus before Jaswant could do so.

South Block felt that delaying its response further would not serve any purpose. Therefore, it was left to Jassal to read out the statement.

Jassal said the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, Vijay Nambiar, had been called to the Pakistan foreign office and handed the statement made by foreign secretary Inamul Haq on December 2. He said Pakistan had conceded “there was nothing new in its proposal but there were new ways of saying things”.

The spokesman pointed out that Indian security forces had “always shown maximum restraint in the face of persistent Pakistani provocation and violation along the LoC and will continue to do so.” But he added that “any attempt to misuse this phase and push terrorists will be robustly met”.

Jassal said the Union home ministry would grapple with the Hurriyat leaders’ demand to cross the border to hold talks with the Pakistani government if and when the situation arose. Dubbing Vajpayee’s November 19 ceasefire statement as “positive and forward-looking”, he said it gave a chance to all parties, including Pakistan, to respond favourably.

From the two-page statement, it is clear that Delhi does not rule out resuming talks with Pakistan. But it will not do so till Islamabad stops cross-border terrorism.

India is also not sure whether the Musharraf regime is willing to return to the Lahore peace process. Musharraf had derailed the process by masterminding the Kargil intrusions barely three months after Vajpayee took the peace bus to Lahore.

India is also worried because the Pakistan foreign secretary had hinted at finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute through UN resolutions and earlier agreements. Delhi sees his reference to “repression of Kashmiri people” and proposal to deploy UN military observers group as an attempt to involve a “third party”.    

New Delhi, Dec. 5: 
At the age of 86, Jyoti Basu is metamorphosing back from chief minister to street-fighter. In more than two decades, this is the first time he is in Delhi not as chief minister but merely as a member of the CPM politburo to attend a meeting of his party.

He has a hectic schedule on hand. One of the important events listed on Basu’s programme is the sit-in he will attend on Thursday along with Left Front MPs and MLAs to protest against the Centre’s “injustice” towards Bengal.

“On Thursday, all Left Front MPs and MLAs, led by Jyoti Basu, will sit in a protest dharna in Vithalbhai Patel House. The Centre has not given us any money to fight the havoc caused by the floods,” said Somnath Chatterjee, MP.

Although the Centre is insisting it has released enough money for Bengal, the Left Front is demanding that assistance be given from the National Calamity Contingency Fund, yet to be set up. For this, the Centre will have to pass a Bill in Parliament.

The Left Front is alleging that the Centre has only disbursed money from other departments in the name of providing flood assistance. Bengal’s flood bill for the Centre stands at Rs 1,437 crore.

The former chief minister’s presence at the sit-in will heighten its importance since Basu still commands the attention of political leaders and the media. Forever letting fly repartees, Basu is sticking to this habit, even out of office.

Asked whether the politburo meeting was going to discuss the induction of his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Basu snapped back: “Why are you asking me this? There is a person in our party deputed to answer these questions.” He appeared to be referring to his senior, party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

Satgachhia MLA Basu will address party MPs tonight. Tomorrow, he will release a book by columnist A.G. Noorani on the RSS at Banga Bhavan. On Thursday, he will open the new building of the CPM’s labour wing, Citu, in the heart of Delhi.

But he is yet to begin stitching together a new third front. No, he is not meeting V.P. Singh or Chandra Shekhar, Basu told reporters. His party leaders, however, said now that he is free from administrative responsibilities, Basu will use all the goodwill he has among third front leaders to cook up a reunion.

Basu’s main campaign is to push the Trinamul Congress to the wall. The CPM politburo, during its current session, is also focusing on its strategy for the coming elections in Bengal.

The party has already decided to place Basu at the centre of the campaign and use him as a rallying force to hit back at the Trinamul. The CPM is worried about the Trinamul but not as much as it would have been if Mamata Banerjee had tied up with the Congress.    



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