After tapes, tap taint on PMO
3-year ban on Sharjah, Toronto
Dejected Cong still in pursuit of ‘best bargain’
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, April 1: 
Midway through the battle to contain the Tehelka tape tremors, the Prime Minister’s Office today found itself fending off charges of tapping Opposition leaders’ phones, an issue that had once brought down a government.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav today claimed he had “conclusive evidence” that his and other Opposition leaders’ phones were being bugged to implicate them to counter the Tehelka exposé.

Mulayam’s allegations coincided with a newspaper report in which Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was quoted as saying that her phones were being tapped as well.

The PMO moved with alacrity to deny the charges this evening. It said such charges are made almost in every regime.

“The allegations are completely baseless and unfounded. The PMO will look into every complaint it receives from Opposition leaders on either phone-tapping or harassment by the Central Bureau of Investigation. But the complaints should not be sketchy and off-the-cuff. They have to be specific,” a spokesman said.

The sense of urgency displayed by the PMO is not without reason. Rajiv Gandhi had withdrawn support to the Chandra Sekhar government on charges of vigilance by policemen at his residence and tapping his phone lines.

The PMO also denied the involvement of any of its officials. Mulayam had alleged that Ashok Saikia, an official in the PMO, was behind the tapping “conspiracy”.

“Saikia is using the CBI to tap my telephone lines,” Mulayam said, adding that the Centre should start investigating Saikia’s role. He said Saikia, “who formed a trio along with Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh”, had been “on the job for quite some time”.

“Everyone is raising a hue and cry over the deeds of Mishra and Singh, but no one is taking notice of Saikia, who is the main conspirator,” he added.

“My phones are being tapped by the government, which is using the CBI to do this dirty job,” Mulayam said in Lucknow. He added that several other Opposition leaders were also on the tapping list, but refused to name them.

Mulayam said he would release the list later.

“I have details which will put a lot of question marks on the government’s clandestine activities. I will release all the information at the opportune time,” he said.

The Samajwadi leader said the Centre was being forced to tap the phones because of the Tehelka fallout. “The government is doing all this to divert attention from the serious revelations made in the Tehelka tapes,” Mulayam said.

Mulayam did not spare the Congress either. He said though the Centre had enough proof against “Sonia’s George”, it did not move against her private secretary for two years because “the Congress was helping the government at the Centre”.

Now that the Congress has broken ties with the BJP, Vincent George is being used to penalise them, he said.

“No one knows what is happening at the Centre,” Mulayam said. “There is absolute chaos. The finance minister wasn’t aware of the raids on customs officials. The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. These raids were aimed at diverting the attention of people from the controversy involving the government in defence deals.”


New Delhi, April 1: 
Not only Sharjah, but also Toronto and Singapore have been struck out of the Indian cricket calendar for the next three years.

An official release issued here today at the behest of the sports ministry said the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been informed of the government’s decision not to allow the Indian team to travel to Sharjah for the tri-series beginning later this month with Pakistan as one of the participants.

Pakistan reacted strongly, reaffirming its threat to boycott India in all future tournaments. Munawwar Rana, director of the Pakistan Cricket Board, told PTI the decision not to play India in future would be forwarded to the government for approval.

The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS), organisers of all tournaments at Sharjah, expressed anguish at New Delhi’s decision but said the tri-series would go ahead as scheduled from April 8 with New Zealand replacing India.

“We regret that the government of India has made this decision. The CBFS would like to thank the BCCI for their support and understand their predicament due to this unusual breach of contract forced upon them,” UNI quoted the Sharjah organisers as saying.

India is under contractual obligation to play in Sharjah until April.

The release issued by the government in Delhi said: “(the) Indian cricket team should not participate in cricket tournaments at non-regular venues such as Sharjah, Singapore, Toronto, etc, for at least three years.”

The home ministry believes a three-year bar would ensure that the role played by the underworld in tournaments like that in Sharjah would gradually diminish. The underworld does not stand to make money if Pakistan does not play India.

Home ministry sources had made it clear earlier that it was against tournaments in Sharjah because of the way the underworld got access to mingle with cricketers. After careful deliberation on inputs from its own intelligence agencies, the ministry said the situation in Sharjah remained unchanged even after the match-fixing scandal. It expressed opposition to allowing the team to play there at this point of time on these grounds.

Rejection of Toronto and Singapore as venues is a new development. Sources said: “If India is going to play cricket with established cricket-playing nations in regular venues, we have no objection.”


New Delhi, April 1: 
News of Trinamul conceding 55 seats greatly disappointed the Congress high command, but it tried to put up a brave face, claiming that it would succeed in persuading Mamata Banerjee to grant another dozen.

Kamal Nath, Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal, said: “Nothing is final. We will continue our efforts to get the best bargain. I am going to Calcutta tomorrow. The talks on seat share are on and will go on. Nothing is final till the filing of nominations.”

Three party MPs, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Adhir Chowdhury, want Sonia Gandhi to take up the question of raising the Congress share with Mamata.

The Congress high command sent a fax to an exasperated Mamata to allow it to field some of its sitting MLAs in “friendly contests” against Trinamul. But Mamata replied without losing much time, rejecting the concept.

“We have received the fax. But we have rejected the proposal,” said Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay.

Despite the snub, the Congress leadership is making it clear that there is no question of going back on seat adjustments with Trinamul. Sonia’s brief for Nath and Bengal party chief Pranab Mukherjee is: reach an alliance by any means. If Nath’s Calcutta mission fails, the AICC chief will directly intervene.

Mukherjee, who reached Calcutta tonight, said he expected the deal to be finalised tomorrow. Trinamul leaders said Mamata, too, was keen to “clinch the issue” by Monday.

But Trinamul is not enthusiastic about “friendly contests” on the grounds that it will reduce the “big fight” against the Left to a joke. Brainchild of Das Munshi and Mukherjee, the friendly contest idea was put forth by Congress leaders who cited two precedents — one in Midnapore where Trinamul and the BJP had followed a similar course in the 1998 general election and in Salt Lake during the municipal polls.

Trinamul is also adamant about contesting the Sealdah seat held by Somen Mitra, adding to Sonia’s problems.

Nath is leaving for Calcutta tomorrow after talks with Sonia today. He said efforts were being made by both sides to find an amicable solution to vexed issues.

Nath, Mukherjee and Das Munshi sat till 4 am to prepare the draft that was sent to Mamata, suggesting friendly contests.

Party leaders are tightlipped about their next move, now that Mamata has dismissed the possibility. Nath appears to be upset with a section of the state leadership for putting up roadblocks.

Nath’s detractors, however, reacted sharply, mocking his claim of having extracted “quality seats”, arguing that half of the 55 seats identified for the Congress were not winnable.

Congress sources said the leadership was finding it “awkward” to dump more than a dozen sitting MLAs in view of their loyalty. At the same time, the leadership recognises Trinamul’s problem in disturbing too many of the seats for which candidates had been announced before talks with the Congress began. Besides, in many Assembly segments held by the Congress, the party received less than 6 per cent votes in the 1999 election.

Mukherjee ruled out any threat to seat adjustment and said Mamata would be projected as the chief ministerial candidate. He said a common minimum programme would be prepared and a front floated to defeat the Left.

Mukherjee said various formulations were being discussed to break the impasse on seats for sitting MLAs.




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