Auditor assault case on Jaya
Firefighter Jaswant on Christian mission
More government muscle in Bhagwat panel
Delhi colony turns into human furnace
Calcutta tee cup brims over
Calcutta weather

Chennai, March 14 
Jayalalitha was back in the centre of a bare-knuckle bout today, with the state police filing a case of attempt to murder after her former auditor accused her of ?brutally beating? him with high-heeled shoes.

An infuriated Jayalalitha dismissed the charge as ?false and imaginary? and accused Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi of instigating the ?bogus? case to tarnish her image.

The names of Jayalalitha?s aide Sasikala Natarajan and her nephew V. Mahadevan also figure in the first information report registered at the Teynampet police station here.

The FIR was filed on the complaint of R. Rajasekhar, a chartered accountant who had handled Jayalalitha?s accounts and tax matters until about two years ago, police said. The three were also charged with assault, wrongful confinement and violation of sections of the Arms Act.

Rajasekhar, with bandages on both wrists and his right eye, told reporters at a hospital that the trio forced him to sign papers acknowledging lapses on his part in filing their income-tax returns.

Rajasekhar said Sasikala, along with Jayalalitha, beat him with high-heeled shoes, while Mahadevan attacked him with a lathi. ?They made me sit down to make it easier for them to beat me up. At one point, they took the lathi from Mahadevan and rained a few blows on me,? he added.

However, the ADMK chief said she would never indulge in such uncivilised acts and was pained by the charges. ?I am aware of the value of culture and civilisation. I have never resorted to such methods,? she said.

Jayalalitha did not mention Rajasekhar in her statement, but referred to ?mercenaries? acting under instructions from the state government to implicate her in a criminal case.

She alleged that Karunanidhi?s sole aim was to tarnish her image ahead of the Supreme Court hearing in the special courts case on March 16.

She recalled that there was an attempt a year ago to plant a photograph in the media, showing her in the company of a woman resembling Dhanu, Rajiv Gandhi?s assassin.

Rajasekhar said Mahadevan had come to his house yesterday to take him to Jayalalitha?s Poes Garden residence to discuss some matters. His brother Ganesan, an advocate, had accompanied them.

However, Ganesan was stopped at the entrance. Rajasekhar said that after a brief conversation with another chartered accountant now handling Jayalalitha?s tax matters, he was confined to a room by Jayalalitha, Sasikala and Mahadevan.

After injuring him in the eye, wrists and legs, they got him to write down two letters, dictated by Sasikala in Tamil, that he alone was responsible for the lapses in the filing of their tax returns, Rajasekhar alleged.

He claimed he was also forced to sign two statements on papers, with revenue stamps affixed on them, acknowledging that he had taken Rs 30 lakh on one occasion and Rs 20 lakh on another.

Asked about the motive for the alleged assault, Rajasekhar said they appeared to be convinced that he was responsible for all the tax proceedings against them.

After he had signed the papers, Rajasekhar said, he was taken to his office by Mahadevan as Jayalalitha wanted the official seal of his firm ? Rajasekhar & Co ? along with his signatures.

On the way, Mahadevan brandished a revolver and warned him not to disclose the incident to anyone. He threatened to ?destroy his family?, Rajasekhar alleged. On finding the office locked, Mahadevan dropped him nearby and asked him ?to fetch the office seals on Monday?, he added.    

New Delhi, March 14 
Fearing renewed criticism over attacks on Christians in the country, the Centre has decided to field its best candidate ? foreign minister Jaswant Singh ? to defend the government at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, beginning in Geneva from March 22.

Singh will be in Geneva on a twin diplomatic mission. Apart from addressing UNHRC either on March 24 or 25, he will also make a statement at the conference on disarmament on March 26.

That the government is taking the UNHRC session seriously is evident from the fact that it is sending Singh. He is one of the most respected Indian ministers in the international community.

The last time India took UNHRC seriously was in 1994, when then minister of state for foreign affairs Salman Khurshid and Opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee jointly thwarted Pakistan?s effort to pass a resolution on alleged human rights violation in Kashmir. It is more than a decade since a foreign minister of Cabinet rank was sent to Geneva to defend India on any issue.

The Kashmir issue is expected to be put on the backburner with human rights violations rising in Kosovo and other parts of the world. However, the government is worried that the recent attacks on Christians may attract criticism from some of Delhi?s adversaries.

An indication to this effect came from Australia a few days ago when its Senate passed a critical resolution on the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in Orissa, and attacks on Christians in other parts of India. The European Union and a number of NGOs active in the Geneva circuit may join the Australian bandwagon and launch a major offensive against India.

Singh?s speech at UNHRC cannot be very different from what he and other senior ministers have already said. The stress will once again be on India?s tradition of tolerance towards religious minorities. He will attempt to convince the international audience that there has been no shift from this position under the BJP government.

India?s argument will be that the attacks were an ?aberration?, that they have been condemned from the highest political quarters. Largescale arrests and other steps taken by the government to prevent such attacks will also be cited.

Though this position is well known, the government feels the reiteration of its stand by its quick-witted foreign minister will carry more conviction with the global audience than in the past.

Singh?s presence at the conference on disarmament will also be significant. It is the first time India will make a statement at the high-profile conference since its newly-acquired nuclear status.

Apart from this change, there will be very little shift in India?s position on global disarmament of nuclear weapons. In fact, Singh is likely to argue it is the continuing stockpile of nuclear arsenal which led India to conduct its nuclear tests last May.    

New Delhi, March 14 
Anxious to take the sting out of a combined Opposition onslaught over the sacking of former navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat, the Centre has decided to enlarge the MPs? committee which will determine whether the issue should be debated in Parliament.

The decision will allow the Centre to rope in members of allies like the ADMK and the Telugu Desam into the committee. With more heads to clash, the expansion will enable the BJP-led coalition to prolong the debate within the groundrule-laying committee.

The expansion will also strengthen the ruling parties? niche, allowing the pro-BJP camp to try to limit the debate?s scope. The Congress has been crying for a no-holds-barred discussion, but the BJP wants to restrict it.

The proposed panel was to have 15 members originally ? 10 from the Lok Sabha and five from the Rajya Sabha. Sources said the panel will now have 21 members, four more from the Lok Sabha (one each from the Congress, BJP, Desam and ADMK) and two more from the Upper House (one each from the BJP and an ally).

Though the ADMK has been critical of the government on the controversy, the party is expected to support it in the committee. The Desam is a staunch supporter of the government on the issue.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Shiv Sena and another ally ? yet to be decided ? are being fielded. Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and Rajya Sabha chairperson Krishan Kant will finalise the names tomorrow.

The debate on corruption in defence deals is slated for March 17 in the Lok Sabha. Bhagwat?s dismissal will be raised only after the committee gives the nod.

The decision to enlarge the panel will be announced tomorrow by the Speaker. The 15-member committee unofficially announced last Thursday was loaded in favour of the Opposition with three former Prime Ministers, all non-BJP, leading the front.

The BJP and its allies had made futile attempts to prevent the Opposition from raising the issue in Parliament. After uproarious scenes and a series of meetings between the Speaker and government and Opposition leaders, it was agreed that the corruption charges should be debated, but a committee should be set up to decide whether to discuss the dismissal, as this could be detrimental to national interests.

The Lok Sabha panel will comprise former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sharad Pawar, former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, former home minister Indrajit Gupta, defence minister George Fernandes and parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam.    

New Delhi, March 14 
At least 28 people were charred to death after a devastating fire swept through a cluster of slums along river Yamuna in north Delhi. Unofficial figures put the toll at 40.

Most of the victims were burnt alive in a mosque where they had run for safety. Thousands, including the children pictured above, were left homeless. The area was inhabited mostly by ragpickers and stocked with inflammable material.

The plastic material and strong breeze from the river turned the slums into a huge incinerator. The fire raged from a Bengali basti and within minutes engulfed the whole area housing nearly 50,000 people. Police suspect a short-circuit may be the cause.

But CPM members of Parliament Hannan Mollah and Nilotpal Basu, who were to address a demonstration against deportation of ?Bangladeshis? from the colony, said the fire could have been the result of a sabotage.

Till late tonight, survivors were running from pillar to post in search of their kin.    

Calcutta, March 14 
The Sunday sun shone on Calcutta as homegrown dreams bloomed twice on the green.

Alipore lad Arjun Atwal today swung his way to the Wills Indian Open championship, among the top three golf tournaments on the Asian PGA Tour and the biggest it can ever get in India.

As the Royal Calcutta Golf Club erupted in cheers for its member of the moment, another thrilling twist was added to a story that began in a nearby jhuggi.

Caddie-turned-pro Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, whose jhuggi is right next to the ninth green, emerged the joint second overall with two others.

Atwal is only the third Indian to have won the Indian Open (Ali Sher won it in 1991 and 1993, and Firoz Ali last year). Like Atwal, Firoz, too, is a Royal Calcutta Golf Club member. How lucky can a club get?

?I was never tense, really,? Atwal said. ?I had come into this meet after such a bad phase, even after a par first round, I never thought I could win it.?

But Atwal did win, and his father was ?speechless?. Surely, H.S. Atwal counted his blessings ? and his son?s ? on the beads in his hand. The $ 50,010 purse was not as important. Pride and joy are priceless.

The biggest win of Atwal?s career was also the best. He now gets an automatic invitation to the major Japanese Tour meet, the $ 1.2-million Kirin Cup.

Atwal, who turns 26 Saturday, took to golf when he was 14. After he went to New York for studies in Class X, he started playing in college meets where he recorded a series of wins.

A high point in his career was at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand, when he was paired with Tiger Woods for a round. ?That was a great experience,? he recalls.

For Chowrasia, the $ 22,200 was well worth the toil. ?I had no pressure,? he said frankly. ?I had nothing to lose. If it happened, good, if not, no problem. I will need the money to make further progress in my game. I will try to finance some trips abroad, to play in those big tournaments,? said Chowrasia, who was a caddie till 1997. His father was a driver for the club.

For the record, Atwal will give ten per cent of winnings to his dear caddie, Panchu.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly clear sky. Little change in day and night temperature

Temperature: Maximum 33.2?C (1?C below normal )
Minimum 22.7?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 75%
Minimum 28%


Sunrise:5.50 am
Sunset: 5.41 pm

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