33 feared dead in bus crash
Sonia returns BJP ?low-level? foreigner fire
Jessica killer-suspect surfaces
Indian swing out of control with new ball
Calcutta weather

Berhampore (Murshidabad), May 6 
All 24 passengers of a Malda-bound state bus from Calcutta drowned when the vehicle ploughed through a bridge on National Highway 34, one km from here, and plunged 50 feet into the Bhagirathi river a few hours before dawn today.

Twenty-two bodies have been recovered. The district administration fears the toll could rise because though 24 passengers were travelling with valid tickets, others may have boarded on the way. Unofficially, the toll is put at 33.

The dead, all residents of Murshidabad and Malda, include seven children and three women. The bodies of the two drivers and conductor have been identified.

In the absence of any witness, there are conflicting accounts of the cause of today?s crash. It could have occurred because of brake failure or while the driver was overtaking another vehicle. An inquiry has been ordered.

The North Bengal State Transport Corporation express bus left Esplanade terminus with 25 passengers around 9 pm last night to reach Malda at 8 am today. It pulled into Berhampore at 2 this morning, where one man got off.

The bus, WB-63 0988, had been plagued by snags, and technicians at the depot here detected a fault. It was repaired and the bus with 21 passengers, two drivers and a conductor left for the last leg of the journey at 2. 25 am.

Parulbala Das, who lives in a hut just below the bridge in Khagrahat, where the mishap occurred, said she heard an explosion. ?I ran out and saw that the railing of the bridge was broken. It was dark, but when I looked into the river, I saw there were ripples. I realised something very heavy had fallen into the river,?? Das recalled.

Soon, thousands of people lined the banks of the river. A truck driver claimed that he had seen the bus go down. Senior district administration officials arrived 30 minutes later, but merely waited for morning.

S.P. Mondol, a resident, said: ?They should have immediately had launches scour the river for survivors.?? Another resident, Matin Hussein, said: ?People were screaming. We knew that every second counted.?? It was soon clear that the swift Bhagirathi, 40 feet deep near the spot, had become a death trap and bodies would have been swept kilometres away.

To add to the confusion, the administration was not sure whether it was a Siliguri-bound rocket with 31 passengers or a lorry that had plunged into the water. Later, word came from Malda that it was not the rocket.

Around 9.30 am, an NTPC crane arrived and salvage operations began. Instead of professional divers, the administration called in boys who had helped in similar operations at Jalangi, where 60 children had died. Local swimmers also joined in.

The bus got caught in a pillar of the bridge and its rear wheels were about three inches above water. The boys dived in and saw bodies jammed between seats. As the crane lifted the bus, the bodies were extricated and placed on country boats. The bus was then hauled on to three country boats and a launch tugged them. Within minutes, the boats overturned and the bus sank again.

Search operations were called off around 1.30 pm after the bus sank the second time. District magistrate H.K. Dwivedi said it would be fruitless for divers to risk their lives and scour the river as the current would have dragged the bodies away.

One body was found 30 km downstream near Shaktipur and another near a canal. Calcutta Port Trust and navy divers are expected here tomorrow.

Minister of state for transport Sushanta Ghosh said Rs 20,000 would be given to the next of kin of each killed. He admitted NBSTC buses are in a poor condition.

NH 34 was closed to traffic between 10 am and 2 pm today.    

New Delhi, May 6 
An aggressive Sonia Gandhi today charged the BJP with running a ?pathetically low-level campaign? and exuded confidence that the people of India would distinguish between ?right and wrong, between truth and falsehood?.

Without referring to the BJP?s attempts to make her Italian birth an election issue, Sonia Gandhi said the party?s decision to target her betrayed its insecurity. ?This to me only betrays their fear and insecurity. I have full faith in the ability of our people to distinguish between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood,? she said.

This is the first time the Congress president has complained about the nature of her opponents? campaign. So far, she had chosen not to react to the BJP?s personal attacks against her.

Ironically, in the 1998 elections, she, too, had come under the ?low-level? charge. A.B. Vajpayee had then deplored Sonia Gandhi?s style of campaigning after she accused him of telling ?white lies?.

She also attacked the Samajwadi Party, holding it responsible for the Opposition?s failure to form an alternative government. ?We were not prepared to succumb to political blackmail. Bending at the knee is a BJP habit. It is entirely appropriate that the Samajwadi Party has found its destiny in the arms of the communal forces of this country,? she said.

Launching the party?s election campaign, Sonia Gandhi urged voters to go for the ?solid, reliable and time-tested plank of stability? offered by the Congress and reject the ?multi-headed monster represented by the BJP and its allies?.

Sharad Pawar echoed the line that the ?Rome Rajya? campaign would have no impact. ?The issue was settled during the last Assembly polls when voters overwhelmingly rejected the BJP?s campaign against her,? he asserted.

Party leaders K. Karunakaran and Arjun Singh said that by raking up the issue, the BJP was acting in a ?most disgusting and un-Indian? fashion. Karunakaran said the BJP and its allies were defying the age-old Indian tradition of standing by a woman who had lost her husband and mother-in-law, both of whom were killed while defending the nation?s security and integrity.

Speaking at the Indian Women Press Corps, Pawar called for Priyanka Gandhi?s entry into politics. He said Priyanka?s presence would galvanize the party and strengthen its support-base among the youth. He is the first top leader to make the demand openly.

The BJP reacted with scorn, advising the Congress to field Rahul Gandhi also to complete the family-rule chain. The BJP added the Vajpayee government was pulled down because the Congress was ?nervous? about the Bofors probe.

Sonia Gandhi has rejected G.K. Moopanar?s proposal for an alliance with the Tamil Maanila Congress, the DMK and the Left in Tamil Nadu. Addressing state chiefs and legislature party leaders, Sonia Gandhi said the BJP has replaced the ADMK with another Dravidian party (the DMK) as its poll partner in Tamil Nadu, effectively ruling out any Congress alliance with the DMK.

Instead, she admitted Tamil Maanila Congress leader N. Dennis into the parent organisation today. ?We have now decided to open our doors to all Tamil Maanila members. Sooner or later, Moopanar will come back,? a senior party leader said. But he was doubtful whether Chidambaram would return.    

New Delhi, May 6 
Manu Sharma, prime accused in the Jessica Lal murder case, surrendered to the police in Chandigarh this morning. He was brought here tonight, six days after the model was shot dead at an upmarket south Delhi restaurant.

Son of a former Union minister, Manu gave himself up to the police at a guest house in Chandigarh. He was brought to Delhi under armed escort and taken straight to the Hauz Khas interrogation centre of south Delhi police.

He will be produced in court tomorrow. In Chandigarh, Manu denied he was involved in the murder. ?I am innocent,? he told reporters, before being whisked away by Delhi police, who shielded him from the media.

Manu had allegedly shot Jessica Lal at Tamarind Court, a restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani,over a demand for drinks. Along with some friends, he had reportedly asked for drinks long after midnight. Enraged when denied by the staff, he had fired at the model.

Yesterday, the police had picked up two executives of a soft drinks company. The duo, known to be close to Manu Sharma, was also reportedly present on the spot at the time of the murder. They were denied bail today by a city court.

Manu?s surrender at 11.30 am followed a prolonged police interrogation of his father Venod Sharma, minister of state for food and civil supplies in the Narasimha Rao government. Till recently, Venod Sharma had been president of the Congress unit in Chandigarh, but stepped down on Sonia Gandhi?s directive after the controversy erupted.

Police said they are still on the lookout for another of Manu Sharma?s associates, Vikas Yadav, alias Vikky, son of D.P. Yadav, senior Uttar Pradesh politician and leader of the Janatantrik Congress. The politician had recently told the police that both he and his son knew Manu quite well, but he did not know how his son could be involved in the murder. It is believed Vikky may not have been directly involved, but could have helped Manu Sharma get away.

The Delhi police team in Chandigarh was tipped off that Manu would come to a guest house in the city this morning to meet his uncle, known popularly as ?Vinod Dada?.

The police, however, believe the visit was stage-managed. Venod Sharma knew all along where his son was hiding, but it was only after yesterday?s interrogation that he asked his son to hand himself over, they feel.

Hence, Manu made a show of calling on his uncle to find out how his father was this morning and walked into the hands of the waiting police team, police sources claimed.    

Calcutta, May 6 
Either the South Africans are practising in vastly different conditions or Jawagal Srinath and Co. are swinging the ball that much more.

Whatever the case, there?s some confusion in the air. Who knows, it could even all be intentional. Part of strategy, perhaps.

Yesterday, South African spearheads Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock insisted the World Cup version of the Duke?s ball (narrower seam) wouldn?t swing as much as the conventional Duke?s offering.

This afternoon, however, Indian coach Aunshuman Gaekwad had something different to tell The Telegraph.

Contacted at the Stakis Hotel in Leicester, he said: ?In fact, our boys have been having a bit of a problem controlling swing...?

Gaekwad quickly added: ?There?s probably little point talking about it now, but we would have preferred the Kookaburra. The swing, at least, can be controlled.?

The Kookaburra, which has many fans in the cricketing fraternity, was used as recently as the tri-series in India. Of course, it was the official ball in the last World Cup, too. It?s the prerogative of the hosts ? the England and Wales Cricket Board, in the present context ? to make the selection.

Balls made available to teams, in the run-up to the World Cup?s latest edition, are the ones that will actually be used during the May 14-June 20 tournament. Gaekwad?s assessment is far from satisfactory. ?It?s not just the swing. Even the seam is coming off rather quickly. Also, this particular Duke?s ball is much too hard,? Gaekwad pointed out.

Incidentally, the World Cup balls will also be used during the official warm-up games, beginning tomorrow. As match-conditions are different from sessions at nets, teams still have time to alter strategy, if needed, should the balls force a return to the drawing boards.

The Indians open against Leicestershire, their host County, and all the top guns will be fielded.

It is understood Sadagopan Ramesh, Amay Khurasia (who has recovered from a right ankle injury), Nikhil Chopra and Debashish Mohanty will sit out.

Leicestershire, though, have decided to ?rest? in-form captain Chris Lewis. A spokesman for the County offered no reason, and only stated: ?Ben Smith will lead.?

Though it was overcast for much of the morning, a fall-out of last night?s rain, the response to tomorrow?s game at Grace Road (Leicester?s HQ) has been terrific. ?We expect a full house (around 4,500 paying spectators),? the spokesman remarked.

South Africa open versus Sussex, their host County, at Hove. It will truly be a warm-up match for Hansie Cronje?s team as South Africa?s opening World Cup game, against India, is at Hove itself.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky with possibility of development of thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35.9 (Normal)
Minimum 28.7?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 85%
Minimum 58%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 6.02 pm
Sunrise: 5.04 am

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