Mirzapur elbows out mother’s wish
Marxists refuse to toe ally’s plot line
Moohbola bhais with an inside view
Malkhan’s envy, Man’s love
Fury at Rajnath house
Phoolan had met Jaitley
Mulayam stalls UTI offensive
Atal puts Pakistan on future-talks notice
Sonia under attitude attack
Starving crew lay siege to Turkish ship

New Delhi, July 26: 
In death, too, controversy surrounded Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi.

Even as thousands thronged Phoolan’s official residence at 44 Ashoka Road, two groups were vying for control over her mortal remains. Phoolan’s mother and other family members were keen that the bandit-turned-lawmaker is cremated in Delhi. “Let there be an Indira Gandhi-like samadhi for her,” Phoolan’s mother Moolah Devi demanded.

However, urban development minister Jagmohan and other ministers of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet were saved from saying an unpleasant “no” to the bereaved family. Samajwadi Party leaders, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, insisted that the last rites should be performed in Mirzapur, about 350 km away from the tiny hamlet called Gurhan ka Purwa, in Jalaun district, that served as Phoolan’s birth place.

But her mother could not understand the significance of Mirzapur. “What is there in Mirzapur?” she kept asking everyone without getting any convincing answer.

For Mulayam, the move to cremate Phoolan’s body in Delhi was nothing short of a “political conspiracy”. The Samajwadi chief made it clear that Phoolan belonged to the “Samajwadi parivar”. Therefore, the party was within its rights to decide on the venue of her cremation.

He vetoed mother Moolah and sister Munni who kept pleading for a cremation in Delhi. Munni said it would have been better if Phoolan was given a place “next to Indira Gandhi” at the Rajghat-Shantivan area on the bank of the Yamuna.

They were, obviously, unaware of an urban development ministry ruling that there will not be be any more samadhis in the area.

Rajesh Pilot’s body was taken to Dausa amid demands for a “Kisan Ghat”, while the mortal remains of Jitendra Prasada were taken to native Shahjahanpur. Even Sitaram Kesri’s body was consigned to the flames at Danapur in faraway Bihar.

In caste-ridden Uttar Pradesh, even a cremation has political significance. The Samajwadi’s insistence on Mirzapur is aimed at strengthening the party’s support base in the state’s volatile eastern region. The calculation is that Phoolan’s samadhi would soon become a pilgrimage of sorts, especially for those who come from the weaker sections. Such a landmark would pose a threat to arch rivals like the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, which are eyeing the Dalit votebank.

A galaxy of political leaders had gathered at Phoolan’s house before the slain former dacoit queen’s body began its final journey to Mirzapur. Vajpayee, his Cabinet colleagues and leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi were present. Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan could hardly hold back his tears, lamenting who would tie the rakhi on him on August 4, as Phoolan had been doing for many years.


New Delhi, July 26: 
The CPM is refusing to buy the Samajwadi Party’s theory of a BJP plot behind Phoolan Devi’s assassination yesterday. “It is too early to say anything. Let the evidence come out,” said party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet this afternoon.

Rarely does the CPM contradict the Samajwadi Party openly. But this time it is finding it difficult to echo the Samajwadi Party’s cry of a sinister BJP-sponsored assassination plot. Surjeet made it clear that the evidence should be laid out before any party starts pointing a finger at another.

The CPM seldom misses an opportunity to criticise the BJP, but this time it is wary of jumping the gun. Ironically, the CPI had insinuated in its statement on Phoolan’s murder that the BJP had a hand in the killing.

Samajwadi leader Amar Singh had lost no time in putting the BJP in the dock and tarring it as a culprit, even before the police had come out with preliminary information. With the Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, all parties, sources point out, will try to cash in on the incident.

Though the CPM is always ready to humour Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, it is not willing to compromise its “credibility” over a murder that is yet to be fully investigated. It is likely that Surjeet, who has always acted as Mulayam’s counsellor, will speak to the Samajwadi chief and restrain him from launching a tirade against the BJP, at least for the time being. With the BJP hinting that the probe into Phoolan’s murder may turn the strobelights on the Samajwadi Party, the Left feels it is premature to heap the blame on the BJP.

So far, the Samajwadi Party has been able to keep its conflict with the CPM to a minimum as the latter feels that Mulayam, being the most potent anti-BJP force in Uttar Pradesh, should be kept in good humour.

In fact, the CPM refused to attend Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s tea party recently to placate the Samajwadi leader who harbours little love for the Congress.


New Delhi, July 26: 
Shivnath, the cook, was rolling out chapatis in the kitchen as Munni awaited her sister Phoolan Devi’s arrival for lunch. Little did they know that others were also waiting, but with a far more sinister recipe.

When the assassins struck yesterday afternoon, gunning down Phoolan at the gate of her bungalow a stone’s throw from Parliament, there were three others in the house. Though they cannot be called eyewitnesses in the true sense, the people in 44 Ashoka Road were nearest the site of the murder and, therefore, important conduits to clues that could help crack the case.

The sub-plot is mostly peopled with characters described as moohbola bhais — Phoolan’s friends and acquaintances — who were either staying with her or had landed at her place yesterday morning. The setting: a household set-up that resembles that of any politician, who has visitors dropping in from his constituency and state.

As the gunshots rang out, the reports rocked Phoolan’s younger sister Munni and Shivnath in the kitchen. Also jolted were Vivek Kumar, said to be a party worker who came to live with his bua two months ago, and Uma Kashyap and her husband, Vijay, who were in the office next to the kitchen. Barring Munni, none of those at home were Phoolan’s relatives.

It was a motley crowd inside Phoolan’s bungalow. The trauma still fresh on their minds, the insiders today kept repeating their accounts to all and sundry looking for information.

Shivnath and Vivek had rushed out on hearing the shots and found Phoolan lying in a pool of blood. “We screamed and asked cars passing by to stop, but none did. Then we rushed her to hospital,” they recounted.

Among those present inside yesterday, a question mark hangs over Uma. What brought the Kashyaps to Delhi yesterday morning? Suspicion is also fuelled by the fact that the assassins used her car, driven by one Pankaj, to make their escape.

Pankaj is absconding. As the needle of suspicion swung towards Pankaj, the residents also turned their attention on this person, whom Uma described as her brother. The police claim Pankaj had visited Phoolan’s house once in the past, but the householders have a different story. “We have seen him every month here during the last one year,” said Shivnath.

The cook has another nugget of information: yesterday, Phoolan introduced Uma’s husband, Vijay, to him for the first time, even though Uma had been a familiar face in the Phoolan household. The police, who are interrogating Uma, said the couple worked for Phoolan’s political outfit, the Eklavya Sena.

Phoolan’s driver Vinod Kumar Pal, who was not present at the time of the shooting, has another interesting account. He had seen the green getaway Maruti parked in the bylane a little after 12 noon.

Pal had been working for Phoolan for two years and would have driven her back from Parliament had the car not met with an accident earlier. “I had to fetch the car from the Okhla garage, and while going there I noticed the green Maruti waiting in the lane,” he said.


Gwalior, July 26: 
When truckloads of armymen dropped by at Gwalior Central Jail one afternoon to see the daring young woman whose picture was splashed in magazines — rifle in hand and a red band tied around her head — the other dacoits, all men, were jealous.

Malkhan Singh, Ghanshyam Baba and Ramesh Shikharmar were also housed in the jail. Malkhan, who led a gang of 120 men in Chambal, was more than 20 years older and led a bigger gang, armed with the most sophisticated weapons of the time.

But children queued up outside the jail’s main gate for one glimpse of the “mahila dacoit”. Families of bureaucrats, armymen and government officers took special permission to see the bandit queen. A jealous Malkhan shouted himself hoarse: “Ha, ha. She, a dacoit? That girl can’t even hold a gun straight.”

The Gwalior jail was where Phoolan spent 10 years and 8 months from February 1983 to October 1993. According to jail records, Phoolan Devi, aged 22, daughter of Devidin, caste Mallah, resident of Sheikhpura, police station Kalpi, district Jalaun (Uttar Pradesh), was a surrendered dacoit booked as an undertrial under Section 171 of the Indian Penal Code. Madhya Pradesh had three criminal cases against her and Uttar Pradesh 49.

“At first she was uncontrollable,” recounts Chandra Kumari Shukla, a jail matron who had the job of handling the “daku rani”. “She was no pretty girl. She was thin and dark. She coughed, threw up everything she ate and was very sickly.”

In the first couple of years, Phoolan “abused everybody who came to see her. Everyone. She never fought with female inmates. Her quarrel was with the big men. Malkhan was her favourite,” Chandra Kumari said.

On April 16, 1983, Phoolan was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for violence in jail. Four months later, she was taken to Jay Arogya Hospital for uterus problems. She was operated upon on August 30, 1983.

Two years later, Phoolan was a changed person. She stopped abusing and “became a good human being”. On April 9, 1985, surrendered dacoit Man Singh announced that Phoolan and he were in love. “Humne gandharv vivah kar liya,” Man declared. They filed an affidavit with the notary and for one year from April 9, 1985, after a registration within the jail premises, the two were allowed to live as husband and wife.

Till date, the other inmates have not forgotten this. “I came here a year before she did. I am still here while she went out, fought elections, got married. Everyone loved her because she was the woman dacoit. She romanced, married and lived with Man Singh inside the jail and we were not even allowed to see our wives and children for more than 10 minutes,” Ashok Sharma, a surrendered dacoit of the Ramesh Shikharmar gang, said bitterly today.

But Phoolan never got what she most wanted — to be a mother. “She was great friends with my children. I had no one to take care of the children at home so I got them here and Phoolan would bathe and feed my Rakhi and Bipul,” recalled Chandra Kumari. “She would be emotional when she saw children.”

While men envied the bandit queen her stardom, she felt she never knew happiness. “My whole life will pass away in pain. I was married off when I was 11 to a man three times my age. When I went to my mother’s house, dacoits took me away and tortured me. I became a baaghi and now I am in jail,” she would say.


New Delhi, July 26: 
Samajwadi Party activists today vented their wrath on the bungalow of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh, barely a few houses away from the site of yesterday’s grisly murder of Phoolan Devi.

After Samajwadi leader Amar Singh gave the go-ahead for a “full onslaught” on the BJP, accusing it of plotting Phoolan’s assassination, the party activists were ready to attack the chief minister’s house. They had little resistance from police — the attack ended as swiftly as it had begun and the damage was as much as possible in the 15 minutes the brigade had to itself in and around Rajnath’s residence. They first wrenched out the chief minister’s nameplate and broke it as members of the Uttar Pradesh police watched the action from within the bungalow.

Then they began pelting a waiting bus with stones, smashing its window panes. Since the Uttar Pradesh police could not intervene, Rajnath’s PRO Prabhat Tripathi sent Delhi police an SOS and waited while the Samajwadi cadre went on the rampage. Mediapersons shouldered their way through the crowd to catch the activists in action. After Delhi police descended on the scene, the brigade scattered in the bylanes and disappeared before any arrests could be made.

Under attack from the Samajwadi for his government’s decision to reduce the security cover of VIPs, Rajnath today said Phoolan Devi had not sought extra protection.

“At no stage had Phoolan Devi asked for additional security,” Rajnath told reporters in Lucknow, adding that he himself had asked for a file from the home department and checked all her papers in this connection. The Samajwadi, he said, was unnecessarily trying to “politicise” the murder.

The chief minister, however, was non-committal when asked whether his government would review the security provided to MPs and MLAs and revoke the decision to cut down security for VIPs. “I am concerned about the safety and security of the people of Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

Asked whether his government would provide security to expelled Bahujan Samaj Party MLA Mukhtar Ansari, who was recently attacked in a gang-war, Rajnath said he had received a request from Ansari and had directed the home department to give him protection.

The chief minister also came under attack from within his own Cabinet. Minister of state for institutional finance Amar Mani Tripathi criticised the decision to reduce the security cover to VIPs and said that one MP had already paid the price for it.


New Delhi, July 26: 
A few days before her death, Samajwadi Party MP Phoolan Devi had met Arun Jaitley, the union minister for law and justice, and apprised him of certain personal problems she was facing.

Sources said she had some disputes with family members over money matters. She was also not happy with affairs in the Samajwadi Party. They said she looked “very worried” and “shattered”. Jaitley confirmed the meeting but declined to give details.

Giving a new spin to the gruesome killing, BJP spokesperson Vijay Kumar Malhotra today said Phoolan had met “many important people” and “told them many things”. But he refused to elaborate. Asked if she met BJP leaders also, he said: “She also approached BJP leaders.”

When a reporter asked if she was trying to join the BJP, Malhotra replied “No”.

Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh had yesterday alleged that the murder was the result of a deep-rooted and pre-planned conspiracy. He also alleged that the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had deliberately downgraded her security despite threats to her life.

Malhotra today castigated the Samajwadi leadership for giving a political twist to the murder. And in a veiled warning, he said Samajwadi leaders might “have to explain many things themselves”.

Police are also probing the possible involvement of Samajwadi partymen in the crime. A Samajwadi MP from Etawah, Raghuraj Singh Shakya, had dropped Phoolan at the gate of her residence seconds before she was shot. But the MP today claimed he did not hear any gun shots.

Malhotra cautioned Samajwadi leaders from making wild allegations with an eye on the coming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, saying the ploy would not work.

The BJP national executive meeting is beginning here tomorrow and the issue is expected to figure prominently during discussions on the political resolution, especially its implication on the Uttar Pradesh polls where caste plays a key role in determining results.

The BJP leadership is expected to work out a strategy to counter the Samajwadi’s bid to make political capital out of Phoolan’s murder. “Though there is still time for the Assembly elections, we would have to take steps to counter the campaign being launched by the Samajwadi Party in the wake of the killing of Phoolan Devi,” said a senior party leader.

A few months ago, Phoolan had met Samata Party leader Jaya Jailty to commiserate with her following the income-tax department’s bid to raid her residence in connection with cricketer Ajay Jadeja’s alleged links with match-fixers. The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha by Bahujan Samaj Party member Rashid Alvi, who had attacked Jaitly in the House. Phoolan had defended the Samata leader and later told her that “all these people are corrupt (income-tax wallahs)”.

She had said that when she received Rs 19 lakh as royalty from the film Bandit Queen, the IT wallahs demanded a cut from her though the money was in the custody of the court. Phoolan, Jaitly said, had told them “I will give you joota”.


New Delhi, July 26: 
Mulayam Singh Yadav has put Manipur before UTI, baffling his ally Left which was keen to turn the scandal into a menacing weapon against the government.

Sources said though the Opposition wanted to discuss the UTI issue on a priority basis, Mulayam, much to the BJP’s relief, wanted the Manipur crisis to be given preference.

Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had discussed the agenda before the Lok Sabha with leaders of all parties on Monday and Tuesday.

The leaders of the People’s Front also had a separate meeting to discuss their strategy in the House. At both the meetings, Mulayam was not very enthusiastic about UTI, the sources said. A Samajwadi leader was earlier linked with a suspect in the security scam.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan has been saying that the government is ready to discuss any issue, whether it is the Agra summit, Manipur, UTI or the Air-India disinvestment. However, government managers have set in motion a subtle exercise to put off a discussion on UTI.

A source in the Left and another in the RJD said they were surprised over Mulayam’s sudden interest in Manipur, where the Samajwadi did not have a presence.

When an angry Opposition MP asked Mulayam if he thought UTI was not a serious issue concerning lakhs of people, the Samajwadi chief is understood to have said Manipur was more important to him.

The CPM is planning to move an adjournment motion over the US-64 issue even as other Opposition parties are demanding the resignation of finance minister Yashwant Sinha for failing to protect investors.

The sudden death of Phoolan Devi has sent the Parliament schedule haywire. The House was adjourned yesterday and today as a mark of respect. The UTI crash will come up for discussion only next Thursday.

But it appears the Opposition may not get a chance to raise the issue as Mulayam is reported to have said today that his party will stall Parliament proceedings to protest Phoolan’s murder.

Indications are that the Samajwadi Party will disrupt proceedings from Monday. But the party may allow ratification of President’s rule in Manipur on Monday as the stipulated two-month period ends on August 2.


New Delhi, July 26: 
Rubbishing allegations that “hardliners” within the Indian government had sabotaged the Agra Summit, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said such utterances could pose problems for future talks between the two countries.

Talking to reporters at a function to mark India’s victory in the Kargil war, Vajpayee said: “This kind of talk can create difficulties in future talks between the two countries.”

A section of the Pakistani establishment was quoted as saying that India and Pakistan could not sign a joint declaration at the Agra summit due to a “split in the ranks of the Indian government” and blaming “hardliners” for the failure.

The Prime Minister said the Indian delegation was “fully united” while taking decisions during the summit. Vajpayee said no member in “our delegation” wanted terrorists to be called “freedom fighters”, nor was there anyone in the team who wanted to ignore the existence of cross-border terrorism.

Asserting that the talk about presence of “hardliners” had no basis, the Prime Minister reaffirmed that “there were no differences in our delegation”.

Reiterating that there were 54 Indian Prisoners of War languishing in Pakistani jails, Vajpayee said: “We will have to find out the details and send them to Pakistan.’’

The Prime Minister announced that the government was preparing a detailed scheme to extend affordable medical facilities to all ex-servicemen, while a high-level defence ministry committee has been asked to formulate a national welfare policy for former armed forces personnel by the year-end.

“I have asked defence minister Jaswant Singh to examine all the issues raised by ex-servicemen’s organisations and to make concrete suggestions by the end of this year,” he said.

The Prime Minister also announced institution of two awards — “Operation Vijay Star” and “Operation Vijay Medal” — in appreciation of the services rendered by military and paramilitary forces during the Indian campaign to oust Pakistani armed forces who had intruded into Indian territory.


New Delhi, July 26: 
The muddle over Sonia Gandhi’s “failed” tea party is becoming more and more confusing. This time it was the CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan to lash out at the Congress president, accusing her of offending some people who stayed away from her tea party because of her attitude.

In a joint talk show programme with Congress MP Margaret Alva, Bardhan asked: “If somebody ignores your greetings thrice and then suddenly decides to call you to a tea party, what would be the response?”

Repeatedly questioned on Sonia’s attitude, the CPI general secretary said it was not him but some others who had taken offence.

Rebutting Bardhan, Alva said Sonia was not “arrogant” and frequently met leaders — an assertion quickly refuted by the CPI leader who said he had never met her. “She is very much the leader of Opposition but that is not my choice,” said Bardhan.

The Congress MP clarified that the tea party was hosted to discuss Parliament strategies and work out a co-ordinated approach.

Bardhan’s predecessor Indrajit Gupta, too, had not shown much enthusiasm for meeting Sonia and in fact had once made it clear that he will meet her only in Parliament.

Sonia’s tea party was a washout when the major Opposition parties like the Left and the Samajwadi Party boycotted it. Senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee went half an hour before the scheduled time of the tea party and met her.

Later, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet indicated his party’s dilemma over Sonia’s tea party and said the CPM has to take several parties together — a task that sometimes gets too heavy.

Representatives of the Left Front in the Rajya Sabha, however, had tea with Congress leader Manmohan Singh and discussed a full-fledged Opposition strategy in the House. When asked whether Chatterjee had met Sonia in his individual capacity Surjeet replied: “There is nothing called individual capacity in our party.”


Haldia, July 26: 
High drama was enacted on the Haldi river here this morning as 23 members of a Turkish ship from Zedda went berserk and roughed up the captain of the ship and a pilot who had come to take the vessel to Calcutta port.

The starving crew members of MV Lima-(I) who had survived on little food and no money for the past three months, refused to vacate the berth at Haldia port and proceed to Calcutta port as ordered by Calcutta High Court.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel have been guarding the ship as the crew members have announced that they would set fire to their ship, a move which could jeopardise other ships, some laden with cargo, berthed in the area.

An SOS has been sent to the Turkish embassy in Delhi, asking the authorities to intervene “before it is too late”, A.K. Maliwal, superintendent of police, Midnapore, said.

The Turkish ship, carrying some chemicals and fertilisers, anchored at the Haldia port on April 9. Unloading was completed on April 27.

During the process, a Calcutta-based company, Paharpur Cooling Towers, moved the high court and sought detention of the ship at the port till the shipping company settled a previous debt. The court ordered the ship to remain at the Haldia port till it cleared its dues.

Gujarat and Mumbai high courts also passed similar orders on an appeal by Tramp Oil of London which, too, was owed money by the ship.

Global Merchants, the ship’s agent at Haldia, made a part-payment in the meantime.

Today, a pilot from the Calcutta Port Trust entered the ship to bring it to the city port. But the crew members turned violent.

They gheraoed the captain and wanted immediate payment of their salary for the past four months before the ship could proceed. They collected whatever jute and cotton they could find in the ship and threatened to set it on fire.

The CISF personnel intervened and urged the crew to calm down. They were pacified after some time, Debasis Bej, SDPO Haldia, said.

Bej said the Turkish embassy at Delhi have been contacted.

“The problem is that none of the crew members understands English. The embassy people are expected to arrived in Haldia tomorrow. However, we are keeping a close watch on the situation,” Bej said. Swapan Chakraborty, deputy chairman of Haldia port, left for Calcutta to consult senior officials.


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