“I am proud of what I have done,” he said after his surrender-cum-arrest in Dehra Dun this morning. It was not police that got to him but he was the one who got to them.
Two days after killing Phoolan in front of her Ashoka Road residence, Pankaj popped up at the press club in Dehra Dun to talk to reporters. The police picked him up from there and he readily confessed, said A.K. Sharan, Uttaranchal director-general of police.
He appeared to have phoned some journalists, asking them to come to the club as he had “something to divulge”.
Information tumbled freely out of Pankaj’s mouth. Speaking at Samiparvati police station, he named Ravinder Singh of Meerut, a distant relative, as his accomplice, who is absconding. Ravinder had opened a liquor shop in Hardwar in Pankaj’s name.
There is no indication yet of who the other of the three masked men that shot Phoolan six times on Wednesday is. Pankaj, however, says there were only two of them.
Pankaj said he killed Phoolan to avenge the massacre of 23 Thakurs at Behmai in 1981. “It was in my mind for quite some time. I had also visited Behmai last year and saw the pain and anger on the faces of widows of Thakurs.”
After his hour-long news conference, he was arrested at 10 am.
Delhi police, however, claimed credit for “the major breakthrough”. A Delhi police team headed by deputy commissioner M.S. Upadhyay had picked up a number of people, including Pankaj’s sister and brother-in-law. It also procured a photograph of Pankaj.
Pankaj was brought to Delhi this evening and will be kept in transit remand for further interrogation. Uma Kashyap, chief of Phoolan’s political outfit Eklavya Sena, and her husband Vijay Kumar continue to be in police custody.
Pankaj, a Rajput, told the police in Dehra Dun that he decided to kill Phoolan last year after visiting Behmai. He said he had been planning the murder for the past two months.
“He also mentioned that to achieve his aim he befriended Uma and her husband,” Sharan said.
But Delhi police commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma raised doubts about Pankaj’s statement. “We are not very sure about Pankaj’s version of revenge killing. We can only provide some answers when we interrogate him here.”
A graduate of DAV College in Dehra Dun, Pankaj was involved in politics while studying for his degree. K.K. Paul, joint commissioner of Delhi police, said: “Financially stable, Pankaj owned four bighas of land, and a dairy and had entered into a contract with several liquor shops.”
His two younger brothers, Raju and Vikram, own liquor shops in Hardwar. The two have been missing since the day of the crime.
Pankaj told the police that a few seconds after Phoolan alighted from the car that dropped her at her residence, he fired from a country-made pistol. “She collapsed immediately and I randomly fired several shots at her.” Delhi police had said yesterday six shots were fired at Phoolan.
“At this moment, Phoolan’s gunman tried to intervene, but my associate Ravinder Kumar fired at him.”
Pankaj escaped in the green Maruti, in which he had dropped Phoolan at Parliament in the morning, but had to abandon it as it developed a snag, possibly from shots fired by Phoolan’s guard.
He then took an autorickshaw to the interstate bus terminus from where he came to Hardwar, allegedly contacting some politicians there. He stayed at Hardwar and Rishikesh yesterday and arrived at Dehra Dun this morning.
Roorkee police officers camping at Dehra Dun said Pankaj had allegedly paid Phoolan Rs 10 lakh for a gas agency through the Kashyaps. “According to Pankaj, Phoolan did not keep her promise but did not return the money,” an officer said.
“We are exploring this angle as Pankaj (who claimed to be 21) was just about born when Behmai happened.”
“The way he was answering our questions made us think there is more to the murder. We fear he may retract his statement or even force the court to either declare him hostile or insane,” a senior officer said.
The Samajwadi Party, which has been holding the BJP responsible for the incident, could be embarrassed by a statement Pankaj made. He said he had heard Phoolan abuse senior Samajwadi leader Amar Singh. “When I met her in Roorkee, she was abusing Amar Singhji. This had really enraged me,” said Pankaj.
“Pankaj had visited Phoolan twice earlier along with Uma Kashyap,” the police said. However, this claim is being contradicted by the staff at Phoolan’s house who say they had been frequent visitors.
“Uma and Pankaj are from Roorkee and have known each other for the last two-three years,” said Qamar Ahmed, additional commissioner of police.
Pankaj told reporters Uma had no knowledge of the murder plot. Uma was a small-time beautician earlier and is believed to be in charge of a women’s cell of the Samajwadi Party. However, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said he saw Uma for the first time in the hospital where she had brought a shot-up Phoolan. He said: “She is no way connected with the Samajwadi Party.”
Pankaj said: “My one wish has been fulfilled. I hope that the other wish would also be fulfilled.” The other ambition, as he put it, is to bring the memorial of Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan from Kandahar to India.
A ransom call, demanding Rs 5 crore, has also been received, investigators said. “We have definite information that he is alive,” said Partha Bhattacharya, inspector-general of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
This came as the first confirmation that the investigators had established “some sort of contact” with the abductors.
Tapping into the network of informants in and around Tiljala, from where Roy Burman was abducted, the investigators came up with valuable nuggets on gangs capable of executing such an audacious abduction and narrowed their focus on the inter-state outfit run by Manoj Singh .
Nearly 40 armed policemen, packed into 10 Gypsies, left for an undisclosed destination around 10 pm.
The development was preceded by a talk between the CID investigators and relatives of Roy Burman, the scion of Khadim’s, one of the biggest recent success stories in Bengal.
The police took more than 10 hours to instal a caller-line-identification (CLI) device at Roy Burman’s Salt Lake residence. Two days after the kidnap, they were still installing CLIs at various Khadim’s outlets.
Eyewitnesses told interrogators that Roy Burman’s abductors had interacted with passers-by on the Tiljala road — they even exchanged pleasantries with some — where they waited for one-and-a-half hours for their quarry.
Repeated questioning of the witnesses helped artists of the investigating agencies to compose the “identikit” of one of the three abductors.
The picture that has emerged — of a fair-skinned, stout youth — matches the description of a local criminal, say officials. They did not reveal his identity as that could hamper investigations.
The pictures of the other two abductors posed a problem for the artists because there were conflicting versions of how they looked.
Police continued to keep the gangs headed by Ramu Nayak and Ajay Singh within the ambit of their investigations. Teams have been sent to Orissa, Jharkhand and Gaya and Patna in Bihar to track them down.
Roy Burman’s driver, Naba Kumar Mondal, continued to make things difficult for the interrogators. Initially, he told them that the gang had three members, besides the driver of the getaway car. But today he said there were four men apart from the Maruti driver.
The search for the car proved unsuccessful. Police, however, believe that the abductors used the small Maruti only for negotiating the narrow Tiljala lanes and changed to a bigger and sturdier vehicle after they reached Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.
Counsel for P.S. Subramanyam, former UTI chairman, said in an open court in Mumbai that the “finance minister has several times said assistance should be given to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar”. Cyberspace Infosys, in whose scrips UTI sunk Rs 32 crore of public money at Rs 930 a share, is based in Lucknow.
The lawyer also said that Sinha used to speak to Subramanyam on financial policies and investment decisions taken by him, though he had told Parliament that he had no knowledge about the affairs of the country’s largest mutual fund.
“Such allegations have irreparably dented the BJP’s image,” said sources who attended the party’s three-day national executive which began today.
Sinha tried to explain and chart out plans for the Trust, but he was frequently interrupted. “Kaafi toka toki hui Sinha ke saath,” said an MP from Uttar Pradesh.
The finance minister reportedly assured the members that the government would seriously consider implementing the recommendations of the Deepak Parikh committee, which was set up during the Trust’s first crisis in 1998.
The committee had recommended an equal distribution of its funds between debt and equity. Recently, however, the balance had tilted in favour of the more risky equity: 60 per cent in shares and 40 per cent in debt.
The sources said Sinha attributed this imbalance to “compulsions of having to keep up with the changing investment climate”. Not one person reportedly spoke up for Sinha, though the official line was: “We are satisfied with the finance minister’s explanation.”
“Jis ko jo khana tha woh to kha liya (Those who wanted to fill their coffers have filled them),” said a former chief minister.
The draft economic resolution — which is expected to be amended and released to the press tomorrow — calls for a thorough probe into the Trust’s links with the corporate sector following the allegation that some top-drawer private companies were tipped off about the freeze on sale and repurchase of units months in advance.
The draft also seeks an investigation into UTI’s investments over the past 10 years. It calls for rules to prevent the Trust and other mutual funds from purchasing shares at a price higher than that quoted in the market and fixing of accountability right from the top. It was stressed that UTI’s troubles began with its “adventurism” in the stock market.
The sources said despite the seething anger against Sinha, they did not expect the Prime Minister to take any action against him immediately. “First of all we have to find a suitable replacement. That is a pretty tough job at the moment,” said a Cabinet minister.
Besides, if Sinha were to be dropped now, it would amount to admitting that he had a role to play in the UTI bungle. The Prime Minister has turned down calls for his resignation.
After the sputtering starts by C.V. Devan Nair of Singapore, Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius and Mahendra Chaudhry of Fiji, Canada may soon have its first Prime Minister of Indian origin.
Canada’s media and political lobbies are agog with speculation that the minister for fisheries, Herb Dhaliwal, has thrown his hat into the ring to succeed Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
The immediate cause for speculation is Dhaliwal’s decision to enrol for a two-week immersion course in French at a language school in Quebec.
Without any support from the French-speaking province of Quebec, Dhaliwal would find it difficult to make it to the top job.
The present Prime Minister is from Quebec. So are a number of leading Canadian politicians, including the late Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s best known politician.
The National Post reported this week that Dhaliwal had appointed a new fund-raising chief to his campaign staff. The paper said the new appointee had already raised 3 million Canadian dollars for Dhaliwal’s biggest political fight of his life.
Herb (short for Harbans Singh) Dhaliwal, was born in the village of Phagwara in Punjab and arrived in Canada as a six-year-old boy, speaking only Punjabi.
Before going into politics, Dhaliwal built up hugely successful businesses in airport ground transport and building maintenance.
He is one of the richest men in the Chretien Cabinet and could count on the enormously wealthy Indo-Canadian community when he formally enters the race.
South Asians are projected to total one-third of Canada’s population in the census that is now under way. In addition to Dhaliwal’s home town of Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and algary all have large Indian vote banks.
But the Post quoted a source close to Dhaliwal as saying that “he does not want to run as the ethnic candidate. He would run as a British Columbian and a Westerner”.
National election in Canada is not due until 2004, but pressure is building on Chretien, now nearing 70, to step down early in favour of a younger politician who can lead his Liberal Party into the next poll.
Besides Dhaliwal, five others are in the race. They are foreign minister John Manley, finance minister Paul Martin, industry minister Brian Tobin and health minister Allan Rock.
Dhaliwal has been carefully moving pieces on the political chess board for some months now. He has got Chretien to appoint a broadcaster from his home province of British Columbia to the powerful job of chairperson of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Dhaliwal is campaigning to move federal ministries to British Columbia and had urged that cabinet meetings should periodically be held in Canada’s western provinces as a sop to voters in the region. He is also engaged in organising a huge trade mission from the western provinces to Dallas and Los Angeles. It was Dhaliwal’s success as a member of the trade mission which accompanied Chretien to India in 1996 which catapulted him to prominence.
The Prime minister asked him to join as minister for national revenue the following year and subsequently he was made minister for fisheries. Last year, he won his third term in Parliament.
Five Indo-Canadians are MPs and till recently, British Columbia had an Indian, Ujjal Dosanjh, as Prime Minister of the province.
To begin with, India plans to invite former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistani People’s Party Benazir Bhutto to the country for consultations. The discussions will focus on the Agra summit and its fallout on Indo-Pak relations.
Another option is to ask MQM leader Altaf Hussain to come and address the media about the atrocities being perpetrated by the Musharraf regime on muhajirs in Karachi. Hussain is also keen. He had expressed these views in a series of interviews before the Agra Summit.
New Delhi had earlier dropped the idea of inviting Hussain as it would have seemed like a retaliation of Musharraf’s tea-meet with the Hurriyat leaders at Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi’s residence on July 14. But South Block mandarins are wondering if Hussain should not now be asked to come to India to air his views. However, chances of asking the MQM leader to visit India are remote as officials are not sure if it would be the right move.
“Unlike the MQM leader, Benazir is the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and is well known in the outside world as a political leader of South Asia,” a senior official in the ministry of external affairs said.
But it won’t be a direct invitation from the Indian government. There are several NGOs keen to invite Benazir to address their members and participate in seminars on peace in South Asia. But once she is here, she could also hold detailed discussions with the Indian leadership about ways and means to improve relations between the two nuclear neighbours. Though the dates are yet to be finalised, she could be here as early as August.
Benazir had been critical of the military dictator’s handling of negotiations in Agra. She had said that a civilian leader would have known how important it was to return to Islamabad with a document rather than empty-handed.
She felt Musharraf should have stayed on at least another day to tire out the Indian negotiators, instead of leaving the talks table midway in a huff.
In the run-up to the Agra summit, Benazir, an exile who shuttles between Dubai and London, had expressed her desire to visit India. But South Block, aware what such an invitation would have meant to Musharraf, decided to put it on hold.
But after the Agra talks, and with the Pakistani leadership trying to be “too clever by half”, using Indian media and leaking out important sections of the draft agreement to journalists, Delhi feels it is about time it revives the invitation to Bhutto.
Irrespective of the outcome of the talks with the Pakistani People’s Partychief, India wants to send out a clear signal: there is a large space in Pakistan that exists outside Musharraf and, if need be, that space will be used.
The proposed move is a tough one. It clearly wants to tell Musharraf not to be overjoyed by the legitimacy factor.
Among the Pakistani military ruler’s gains from Agra, is the legitimacy conferred on him by India with its invitation for the summit. By inviting Benazir, India could get the message across to the General that though Delhi is dealing with him at the moment, it will not hesitate to open channels with a democratic leader and strengthen the ties if the military regime continues to be obdurate in addressing cross-border terrorism .