SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

‘Merchant of Death’
Gulf in Cong over her comment
New Delhi, December 8
There is a serious disconnect within the Congress over party president Sonia Gandhi’s description of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as a “merchant of death”.

Sonia fires more salvos at BJP
Mumbai, December 8
Undeterred by the ruckus created by the BJP over her remarks calling the Gujarat government ‘merchants of death’, Congress president Sonia Gandhi fired yet another salvo today.

It’s better to be at mercy of God than Sonia: Modi
Rajkot, December 8
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s taunts, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today said it was better to be at the “mercy of God” than Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

Suresh Mehta quits BJP
Ahmedabad, December 8
In a jolt to the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat, senior party leader and former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta today quit the organisation accusing the top brass of “surrendering” to the whims and fancies of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.





EARLIER STORIES




Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen (left) inspects a guard of honour during a ceremonial welcome at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Saturday.
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen (left) inspects a guard of honour during a ceremonial welcome at The Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Saturday. Sen is on a three-day visit to India during which he will meet government officials and business leaders. — AFP

SC finds no foul play in death of Army Major
New Delhi, December 8
The Supreme Court has not found any foul play in the death of Maj S.Ravishanker, whose mutilated body was found near railway track close to Mathura junction in August 2003. The authorities had declared it to be a case of suicide.

Mahabodhi Tree-Cutting Case
Chief priest, 2 others booked
Patna, December 8
Much to the dismay of Buddhists across the world, Bhadant Bodhipai, the chief priest at Buddhism’s holiest site at Bodh Gaya in Bihar and two others have been accused of chopping off a branch from the sacred Mahabodhi tree.

Safeguards Pact with IAEA
Second round of talks next week
Mumbai, December 8
Seeking a broad-based template for India-specific safeguards with the IAEA, a follow-up to the civil nuclear deal with the USA, the country's negotiators will hold the second round of talks with the international atomic watchdog in Vienna next week.

Action against Bhajan held in abeyance
New Delhi, December 8
The Congress tonight held in abeyance any action against its veteran leader and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal after he and his son quit the party and floated a new outfit. The Congress’ Disciplinary Action Committee (DAC) headed by defence minister A.K. Antony met for over two hours here.

Ram Setu ‘may be man-made’
New Delhi, December 8
The controversial Adam’s bridge off the Tamil Nadu coast could be “man-made” and has an “echo in the ancient mythological epic, the Ramayana”, says a government publication tabled in Parliament last week, a development that could put the Congress-led government in a piquant spot.

Four die in Hyundai plant
Chennai, December 8
Four persons died of asphyxiation after inhaling poisonous gas during maintenance work at a sewage treatment plant in the Hyundai car factory at Sriperumbudur, about 70 km from here. Another person, who fell ill after inhaling the gas, has been admitted to a hospital here.

Notice against absconding DGP
Bhubaneswar, December 8
The Orissa police has served a public notice on suspended director general of police B. B Mohanti, asking him to surrender before January 10 or he will be declared “proclaimed offender”.

Attack on Docs
MLA booked on court order
Hyderabad, December 8
Following a court’s directive, the Andhra Pradesh police today registered a criminal case against Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislator Afsar Khan for allegedly assaulting doctors at a government children’s hospital here last week.

TN varsity students call off stir
Chennai, December 8
The 10-day-old agitation by the students of the seven colleges affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) was called off today following an assurance from Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi that the issue could be resolved amicably through talks.

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‘Merchant of Death’
Gulf in Cong over her comment
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 8
There is a serious disconnect within the Congress over party president Sonia Gandhi’s description of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as a “merchant of death”.

Earlier this week, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had endorsed the description, saying it was “most apposite” and some may even call it mild especially after Modi’s reported public statement justifying the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake encounter.

Faced with strong attack from the BJP, union minister Kapil Sibal, who is also heading the party’s media committee for Gujarat election, backtracked. The Congress president’s remarks, according to him, were not aimed at Narendra Modi but state functionaries.

Today, the Congress called a special briefing to deny Sibal’s remarks. It fielded Singhvi again to reiterate that the party stands by Sonia Gandhi’s description and that the comment was indeed about Narendra Modi.

He, however, refused to comment on Sibal’s statement.

“In the light of Modi’s confessional statement a few days ago and his government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court, the Congress stands by its earlier description of the chief minister”, Singhvi told reporters. The Congress, he said, had nothing to say about any other utterances or comments on this issue and there was no question of being apologetic about the party’s stand.

Clearly embarrassed by Sibal’s remarks, the Congress felt compelled to reiterate its position as it would have looked to be an admission of guilt and that the BJP had succeeded in bullying it into submission. Just yesterday, leader of opposition L.K Advani had taken a strong objection to Sonia Gandhi’s “merchant of death” remark and said the Election Commission should take action against her.

But having defended Sonia Gandhi’s statement, Singhvi then attempted to deflect attention from this issue to stem any polarisation of votes and Hindu consolidation in Modi’s favour.

Seeking to put the spotlight back on the issue of development, he reeled out facts and figures to emphasise that Modi’s claims on economic growth in Gujarat were misleading.

Gujarat, he said, had experienced abysmal economic growth under Modi who had failed to utilise huge amounts of funds made available to his government by the Centre. Whether it is in the area of economic development, inflow of FDI, tribal development or education, Singhvi said Gujarat was lagging on all fronts.

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Sonia fires more salvos at BJP
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, December 8
Undeterred by the ruckus created by the BJP over her remarks calling the Gujarat government ‘merchants of death’, Congress president Sonia Gandhi fired yet another salvo today.

Addressing an election rally of her party in Mandvi, near Surat, Gandhi continued to highlight the communal nature of the BJP in Gujarat. The voters of Gujarat would have to choose between the “ideologies of fear and illusion and communal harmony and development”, she said.

“If you want communal harmony and development, then vote for the Congress,” Gandhi said.

Attacking Narendra Modi’s “Vibrant Gujarat” campaign, Gandhi noted that the BJP had betrayed the tribesmen and farmers. “Why is the government not filling vacancies in government jobs for SC/STs,” she asked. “Most of the development in Gujarat was due to the policies of the previous Congress governments and efforts by the people of the state.” She wanted that the BJP government be made to account for the money received from the Centre for development works.

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It’s better to be at mercy of God than Sonia: Modi

Rajkot, December 8
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s taunts, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today said it was better to be at the “mercy of God” than Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

As the poll campaign got more bitter with just three days left for the first phase of polls, Modi reacted in this manner to Manmohan Singh’s remarks at an election rally in Surat that people of Gujarat were at the “mercy of God” if they opposed the BJP government.

Modi’s choice of words were same as Manmohan Singh apparently to get even with him when he asked “Isn’t it better to be at the mercy of God than being at the mercy of Sonia Gandhi? My advice to the Prime Minister is that if he is also at the mercy of God rather than the mercy of Sonia Gandhi it will be better for the country,” Modi said while addressing election rallies in this district. — PTI

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Suresh Mehta quits BJP

Ahmedabad, December 8
In a jolt to the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat, senior party leader and former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta today quit the organisation accusing the top brass of “surrendering” to the whims and fancies of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

“I am quitting the house (BJP) that I help build into a palace, because it is no more suited for my stay. When I saw that the entire party was surrendering before one person (Narendra Modi) then I thought it was best to quit,” he said announcing his resignation at a press conference. — PTI

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SC finds no foul play in death of Army Major
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, December 8
The Supreme Court has not found any foul play in the death of Maj S.Ravishanker, whose mutilated body was found near railway track close to Mathura junction in August 2003. The authorities had declared it to be a case of suicide.

His father had sought a CBI probe into the death of his son, alleging that he was being harassed by his superiors in the Army for raising the issue of “rampant corruption” at Mathura, where he was posted. He alleged that it was not suicide but a murder.

A Bench of Justices A.K Mathur and Markandey Kathu, after taking into account the reports of Army’s two courts of inquiry and investigation done by the Railway Police, came to the conclusion that no CBI probe was required in the case and rejected the petition of Ravishanker’s father Sakiri Vasu in this regard. The Army as well as the Railway Police investigation had come to the conclusion that Ravishanker had committed suicide.

His father had moved the Supreme Court after the Allahabad High Court had earlier rejected his petition on the same grounds. Vasu had alleged that his son had repeatedly referred to “rampant corruption” in Mathura unit of the Army and when he raised the issue with his superiors, it apparently became the cause of his “murder”.

Even Army’s domestic help provided to the Major, had reported that after his making an oral complaint to his superiors, he had remained tense for a few days before his body was found near the railway track.

But the apex court after examining the entire material placed on record said “it does not disclose a prima facie case calling for an investigation by the CBI.

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Mahabodhi Tree-Cutting Case
Chief priest, 2 others booked
Ambarish Dutta
Tribune News Service

Patna, December 8
Much to the dismay of Buddhists across the world, Bhadant Bodhipai, the chief priest at Buddhism’s holiest site at Bodh Gaya in Bihar and two others have been accused of chopping off a branch from the sacred Mahabodhi tree.

The desecration of the holy tree in Bodh Gaya took place in July last year allegedly as a money-making scheme as the accused planned to sell pieces of the said branch to pilgrims.

The two others implicated in the case by the state administration are Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee (MTMC) ex-secretary Kalicharan Yadav and temple PRO Bhajju Yadav.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Gaya, Jamuma Prasad Singh, took action against the MTMC chief priest Bhadant Bodhipai, among three others, for allegedly masterminding this act and hurting the sentiments of Buddhists across the world.

The news about the case had created ripples the worldover with countries like Sri Lanka, Japan and Thailand expressing serious concern over the issue. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister had reportedly even called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and had asked him to look into the matter further embarrassing the already embarrassed Centre and the Bihar government over the act.

Subsequently, both the Centre and the Bihar government had handed over the matter to the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun. Following a complaint filed by a Bodh Gaya based monk, Arup Swami, the court had asked the Magadh Division Commissioner K.P Ramaiah to look into the issue.

In his complaint filed in CJM court, Arup Swami, who had brought the matter to light, had alleged that while the chief priest Bhadant Bodhipai had given instructions to cut the branches of the sacred tree, a temple employee Deepak Malakar had carried out these instructions.

Later during interrogation, Malakar reportedly admitted having cut branches of the sacred tree on the instructions of the chief priest.

While investigations into the incident have been on for the past one year, in his report submitted to the court earlier this week the Magadh Division Commissioner K.P Rammaiah found the charges against three persons, including the chief priest, to be true.

Advocate Pranay Kumar Sinha, who filed the case on behalf of Arup Swami, told the media that the court had taken cognisance of the case on Thursday under Sections 406,426.120B and 34 of the IPC and Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.

Meanwhile, the former chief priest of MTMC Bhadant Prajyasheel and the All-India Monks Association general secretary, Bhadant Anand demanded immediate arrest of the present chief priest, besides a CBI inquiry into the case in order to unearth the alleged larger scandal involving the temple property.

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Safeguards Pact with IAEA
Second round of talks next week

Mumbai, December 8
Seeking a broad-based template for India-specific safeguards with the IAEA, a follow-up to the civil nuclear deal with the USA, the country's negotiators will hold the second round of talks with the international atomic watchdog in Vienna next week.

"The second round of talks will be held next week by the Indian negotiators towards finalising the broad-based template for India-specific safeguards agreement," atomic energy department officials said here.

The first round of talks with the IAEA concluded last month.

It is expected that after two more rounds, the desired template should be ready, they said.

The move would enable the USA to initiate talks with 45-member nuclear suppliers group (NSG) for getting exemptions for India to start nuclear commerce. After this, the deal, enabling 123 Agreement, will again go to the US Congress for a vote.

New Delhi has made it very clear it will not sign any pact with the IAEA before the Indo-US nuclear deal is signed.

Till then, this template will be kept on hold, the officials said, adding "once the deal is done, we will go to the IAEA's Board of Governors for further approval before formally signing an agreement with the agency".

"After the Indo-US nuclear deal is signed, the same template could be made adaptable for any country doing civil nuclear commerce with India," they said.

The purpose of this exercise is to assure the global community that India will not be diverting any of the imported material for strategic purposes, they added. — PTI

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Action against Bhajan held in abeyance

New Delhi, December 8
The Congress tonight held in abeyance any action against its veteran leader and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal after he and his son quit the party and floated a new outfit. The Congress’ Disciplinary Action Committee (DAC) headed by defence minister A.K. Antony met for over two hours here.

Bhajan Lal (77) and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi had severed ties with the party last Sunday after attacking party chief Sonia Gandhi.

Bishnoi, the Lok Sabha MP from Bhiwani, has already been suspended from Congress for his diatribe against party leadership. According to party sources, the central leadership is waiting for a report from its state unit which is working on some legal steps to deal with the resignation of the father-son duo.

Meanwhile, the DAC suspended for six years AICC member Natha Singh for contesting against the official candidate in the Assembly elections from HP — PTI

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Ram Setu ‘may be man-made’

New Delhi, December 8
The controversial Adam’s bridge off the Tamil Nadu coast could be “man-made” and has an “echo in the ancient mythological epic, the Ramayana”, says a government publication tabled in Parliament last week, a development that could put the Congress-led government in a piquant spot.

A book ‘Images India’, published by Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) that comes under the Department of Space, says that the satellite images have revealed an “ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka in Palk strait”.

“The origin of the bridge is a mystery. Archaeological studies have revealed that the bridge dates back to the primitive age, that is about 1,750,000 years.”

“Its structure suggests that it may be man-made,” it says on page 39 of the coffee table book under the sub-title ‘Stunning Structures’.

“This 30 km long bridge, named as Adam’s bridge, is made of a chain of shoals and links Rameshwaram in the south India to Sri Lanka.” It goes on to say: “This has an echo in the ancient Indian mythological epic, the Ramayana. According to the epic, such a bridge was built by Lord Rama and his followers to reach Sri Lanka. Studies are still on but the bridge is seen as an example of ancient history linked to the Indian mythology.”

The revelations in the book, with a foreword by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G. Madhavan Nair, are in contrast to what the government has been maintaining so far that the setu is formed by giant tombolos, bars of sand connecting an island with another island of the mainland.

It also contradicts the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which says there is no “historic or scientific” evidence of the existence of Lord Ram or Ram Setu.

The government has given the nod to a multi-million dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, which requires breaking a portion of Ram Setu to make a route navigable for ships around the Indian peninsula.

However, Hindu hardliners have protested construction of the canal arguing that it would damage the “ancient” bridge that they say was built by Lord Ram and his army of monkeys to save his wife Sita who had been kidnapped by demon king Ravana and taken to Lanka. — IANS

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Four die in Hyundai plant
Arup Chanda
Tribune News Service

Chennai, December 8
Four persons died of asphyxiation after inhaling poisonous gas during maintenance work at a sewage treatment plant in the Hyundai car factory at Sriperumbudur, about 70 km from here. Another person, who fell ill after inhaling the gas, has been admitted to a hospital here.

It happened last night when five employees were cleaning the tank, used to store wastes of paints and other chemicals, fire brigade officials said. The maintenance of the tank was outsourced to a contractor and the private company assigned the Friday’s work to four of its employees.

Four staffers went into the 20-foot deep and 12-foot wide tank. As the four did not come up a labourer entered but after inhaling the poisonous gas shouted for help and was rescued by the fire brigade personnel.

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Notice against absconding DGP

Bhubaneswar, December 8
The Orissa police has served a public notice on suspended director general of police B. B Mohanti, asking him to surrender before January 10 or he will be declared “proclaimed offender”. The notice was pasted at Mohanti’s official residence at the Cantonment Road in Cuttack and other places yesterday following a directive by a Jaipur court, which issued a “standing warrant” against the officer and his rape-convict-son Bitti Mohanti, who jumped parole on December 4 and since then is absconding. — UNI

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Attack on Docs
MLA booked on court order
Ramesh Kandula
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, December 8
Following a court’s directive, the Andhra Pradesh police today registered a criminal case against Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislator Afsar Khan for allegedly assaulting doctors at a government children’s hospital here last week.

Khan, who represents the Karwan constituency in the city, and 29 others were booked under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 354 (assault or use of criminal force against women to outrage their modesty), 448 (trespass) and 506 (criminal intimidation).

The investigation into the incident was in progress and a report would be submitted to the court on Monday, the police said.

Acting on a petition filed by agitating medicos, the 12th additional chief metropolitan magistrate court yesterday directed the police to register a case against the legislator and his followers, who had allegedly thrashed doctors at Niloufer hospital.

The arrest of the MLA under non-bailable charges has been the main demand of the junior doctors at Niloufer, the biggest children’s hospital in the state. They are also demanding his suspension from the Assembly and an ordinance for the protection of doctors from such attacks.

While rejecting the main demands, the government has, however, assured to consider introducing a legislation for the protection of the hospital staff. The high court has asked the medicos to resume their duties keeping in view their moral responsibility to attend to patients.

Meanwhile, the state Human Rights Commission conducted an inquiry into the assault case and heard the version of junior doctors. 

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TN varsity students call off stir

Chennai, December 8
The 10-day-old agitation by the students of the seven colleges affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) was called off today following an assurance from Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi that the issue could be resolved amicably through talks.

After Karunanidhi appealed to them to call off their stir and return to classes, the striking students, who had launched an indefinite fast as part of the agitation from December 6 to press their 11-point charter of demands, announced their decision to call off the fast.

The Chief Minister made the appeal after reviewing their demands in detail with the chief secretary, agriculture secretary, finance secretary and the director for agriculture at the state secretariat here. — UNI

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