Cong loads gun for Bofors battle
Truckers, Centre test nerves
Jaswant, Talbott hunt for neutral November venue
Revolt begins at home for Laloo

New Delhi, Oct. 23 
Anxious to prevent the Bofors spectre from haunting Sonia Gandhi?s stint as leader of the Opposition, the Congress today cautiously disowned links with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi. 10 Janpath clarified that ?after 1993,? there had been no contact with the fugitive, who is now in Malaysia.

The Congress will treat Bofors as a political battle and take to the streets instead of fighting for the honour of its deceased leader in courts under Section 394 of the CrPC. The party plans to block proceedings on Monday in both Houses of Parliament.

The Congress appeared defensive on the Nehru-Gandhi family?s links with Quattrocchi. ?Since when has friendship of a social nature become the basis for filing chargesheet and criminal prosecution?? AICC spokesman Kapil Sibal asked.

The CWC discussed legal and political aspects of the case. Congress legal eagles Kapil Sibal and Ashwani Kumar, who were invited to attend the CWC, advised against seeking court redress. The old guard ? Arjun Singh, Sitaram Kesri, Pranab Mukherjee and V.N. Gadgil ? called the chargesheet the Vajpayee government?s ?political vendetta? against the party and a ?personalised campaign? against Sonia.

A CWC resolution warned the government that ?maligning and vilifying? Rajiv Gandhi will not be tolerated. ?The newly-installed coalition government has filed a chargesheet in the Bofors matter with the sole objective of denigrating Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress,? the resolution said.

The Congress fielded its ?A? team consisting of Manmohan Singh, A.K. Antony and Rajesh Pilot to defend Rajiv Gandhi. The trio said: ?With no evidence to substantiate the charge, the name of Rajiv Gandhi has been dragged in. This smacks of vendetta.?

The government rejected this accusation, saying the chargesheet was not meant to ?denigrate any individual or political party?. A spokesman said its only objective was ?to unearth the truth?.

The Congress claimed that Rajiv Gandhi was ?innocent?. Sibal said: ?The sad part is that they have put Rajiv?s name in column 2 of the chargesheet so that we could not defend him. This is the government?s conspiracy to make political capital out of it.?

The Congress feels the accusations against Rajiv Gandhi lack legal basis. Leaders said if there had been any proof, evidence would have been cited, as has been done in the cases of Win Chaddha and Quattrocchi. The CBI has claimed it has traced the bank accounts where Quattrocchi and Chaddha deposited the money.

Sibal said the chargesheet was filed even before the arrival from Switzerland of the sixth set of papers on the names of kickbacks recipients. The only statement in the chargesheet was about an alleged conspiracy between 1982 and 1987, he added. The Congress asked the government to probe Sugargate and the telecom deal if it was sincere about fighting corruption.    

Oct. 23 
The first round of talks between the Centre and the striking truckers today failed to break the diesel price deadlock, but the transporters? union hinted at the possibility of a settlement in ?one or two days?.

As the strike entered the third day, vegetable prices shot up in most markets across the country.

?There is a possibility of resolving the issue in the next one or two days. The strike will not be withdrawn till the diesel price hike is rolled back. But we will be practical and soften our stand depending on the government?s offer,? said O.P. Agarwal, president of the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC).

However, the government ruled out any rethink on the price increase, contradicting Agarwal?s claim that the Union transport secretary had assured him the issue would be taken up with the finance ministry.

Transport secretary Ashoke Joshi, who represented the government at the talks, denied making the promise and made it clear the price issue was not negotiable

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha and petroleum minister Ram Naik, too, ruled out a price rollback.

The government will go ?full speed and full throttle? in implementing hard decisions, Sinha said. As the strike is ?totally unjustified and anti-people, it should be withdrawn as early as possible?, he added.

A government statement said tonight ?the talks with the transporters were held in a cordial atmosphere and there was better appreciation of each other?s stand?. It said the talks were expected to continue.

?The AIMTC wanted to know how diesel prices are fixed as per the import parity formula. They will examine it and come back to us,? Joshi said.

The government and the AIMTC also decided to set up a committee to ?look into various issues?, including toll tax, harassment by police and permit fees, affecting transporters.

The panel is expected to convene on the first Monday of every month and the first meeting is scheduled for November 1.

Bengal freight panel

The West Bengal government today decided to set up a committee to suggest a fixed fare structure for goods transporters.

The decision came after the government failed to persuade truck operators to call off their strike lined up from Tuesday.

Though the trucker strike has not yet affected stocks in the state, prices of some commodities, especially perishables, have gone up .( Full report on Page 9)    

New Delhi, Oct. 23 
The stalled bilateral dialogue between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott is likely to resume in the middle of next month. But the venue will be in a neutral country, search for which is on.

Though the exact date is yet to be fixed, the meeting is likely to take place after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Durban from November 12 to 15. The last meeting between Singh and Talbott took place here early this year.

Though the Indo-US dialogue will focus on nuclear issues, the developments in Pakistan will also be discussed. The Saarc summit to be held in Kathmandu in late November now looks uncertain after some members suggested that it be postponed because of the coup in Islamabad. If the summit takes place, it could give India and Pakistan a chance to meet.

The US is keen that India should help the West to constructively engage Pakistan. Coup leader Gen. Parvez Musharraf has taken steps to withdraw Pakistani troops from the Indo-Pak border and offered to hold talks with Delhi. The US finds this encouraging and wants India to respond.

But Delhi maintains that Islamabad must stop fuelling cross-border terrorism before talks can resume. It seems the Clinton administration has decided to take up the terrorism issue with Pakistan and convince the army that it has to show progress on the issue to normalise ties with India.

National security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who is now in Washington, said India and the US had agreed to set up a joint working group to consider ways to tackle terrorism. After meeting with his American counterpart Sandy Berger, Mishra said India would not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty under pressure.

The US, it appears, expressed disappointment at the ?lack of concrete action? by Delhi in achieving non-proliferation goals.

?I can tell you frankly, no pressure works on us (to sign the CTBT). I have said it and the government has said it a number of times,? Mishra said after a meeting with Talbott yesterday. ?We did talk about the treaty and I reiterated our position.... We have not signed the CTBT, we are trying to have a consensus on adherence to the CTBT and we have said it is not possible without having a consensus in the country.?

Though the US has not specifically asked for it, indications are that India?s progress on the non-proliferation issue is important for ensuring the visit of President Bill Clinton here. Despite the US Senate?s refusal to ratify the CTBT, Washington is keen that Delhi at least sign the treaty and join efforts on non-proliferation.

The Singh-Talbott meet is crucial as it can lay the groundwork for Clinton?s visit early next year. Though India has maintained that a consensus is necessary for signing the CTBT, it is possible that the BJP government would put its signature on the treaty and leave the ratification for later.    

Patna, Oct. 23 
After being rebuffed by the state in the Lok Sabha polls, Laloo Yadav is facing rebellion at home. The de facto Bihar chief minister?s high profile brother-in-law, Sadhu Yadav, slammed Laloo as a ?power-blinded dictator? today and threatened to break the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and chart his own course if the leadership ?does not mend its ways quickly?.

In an hour-long chat with The Telegraph at his official residence this morning ? Sadhu is a member of the state?s legislative council and lives in a palatial bungalow down the lane from where his sister and chief minister Rabri Devi lives ? Sadhu said: ?Both the government and the RJD have lost track, Laloo Yadav has become a dictator who is cut off from the people and surrounded by chamchas. That is why we have faced such a humiliating defeat in the elections. If this continues, we will suffer an even worse fate in the Assembly polls?.

Most ministers, he said, were corrupt and worthless. ?They have been sitting in their gaddis for 10 years and produced no work, you are seeing the results. But our president does not seem to see all this, he is still surrounding himself with sycophants who will lead him into oblivion. I am not prepared to accompany him there.?

Asked whether he was also blaming his sister for the rot, Sadhu said: ?Of course, I am blaming my sister, too. I am raising questions about both of them and I will not wait too long for answers. But what will she do? She is trapped. The state and the party are run by Laloo Yadav.?

For a long time now, Sadhu has been an insider of Bihar?s ruling family. Indeed, he has been something of a liability, the chief minister?s spoilt brat little brother who has brought infamy to Laloo and the RJD more than once. If there is a reputation that Sadhu Yadav enjoys, it is not of a political heavyweight but of an extra-constitutional authority known to throw his borrowed weight about.

But now, he says, he does not feel part of it. ?I am an outsider in the party and the chief minister?s house. I have been raising these issues for a long time but because I am not a chamcha, nobody pays heed. Our party president has no use for me because I warn him against the incompetent and corrupt people he likes to surround himself with?.

He has demanded the dismissal of five ministers: Mohammed Ilyas Hussaid (road construction), Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav (education), Rabindra Charan Yadav (energy), Mahavir Prasad (health) and Munshi Lal Rai (public health).

?I have nothing personal against them, I want them out because they are all heading departments closely concerned with public needs and they have done nothing over the last 10 years. Lok Sabha chunav mein logon ne poochhna shuru kiya ki kaam kahan hai, ab humlog chunav maidan mein inko lekar jaayenge to public joota maaregi,? Sadhu said.

There is a strong element of personal pique in Sadhu?s public outburst against Laloo ? he has been repeatedly denied a ticket to either a Lok Sabha or an Assembly seat and kept out of the RJD leader?s charmed circle ? but he may be raising issues that worry large sections of the RJD and the Rabri Devi government as they prepare for assembly elections in the first quarter of the new millennium. The total absence of development during a decade of Laloo raj and rampant corruption, for instance, are the main issues being raised by the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance, which took a heavy toll on the RJD in the elections, grabbing 40 of the 50 seats that went to the polls and reducing Laloo?s share to a paltry seven.

?People want a change now and if Laloo cannot convey to the people that he will change and change the people around him, he will be taught a more bitter lesson,? Sadhu said, adding, ?Laloo is so insulated from reality, he is making basic mistakes like selecting the wrong candidates, we have lost at least six seats because we fielded the wrong man?.

He was particularly harsh on Shivanand Tiwari, till recently a member of the Samata Party but now Laloo?s chief political adviser. ?Who is this Shivanand Tiwari and from where has he come?? Sadhu asked. ?He was cursing Laloo and the government till the other day and suddenly he becomes the man closest to Laloo? The party is losing all over the place and Laloo keeps flying in the skies with Shivanand Tiwari. Gaddars are sitting in power, the honest people like me are in the doghouse?.

Sadhu Yadav?s sprawling west Patna bungalow does not exactly fit that description but then most of what he had to say this morning, his personal motivations notwithstanding, rang true.    


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