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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

In Porbandar, Sonia forgets to remember Bapu
Sonia Gandhi Congress president Sonia Gandhi today started her election campaign in Gujarat by reading out a report card on the achievements of the Congress-led UPA government and seeking votes on the promise of providing “a strong, stable, honest and visionary government” that she claimed has been development-oriented.

No SC reprieve for overweight air hostesses
New Delhi, April 24
The Supreme Court today refused to temporarily restore the services of nine air hostesses dismissed by Indian Airlines (IA), now merged with Air India, for being overweight. A Bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and HL Dattu, however, allowed an application by some of the terminated air hostesses to be tagged along with a bunch of petitions that had challenged a Delhi High Court verdict.

Pebbles in Anil Ambani’s Chopper
ADAG blames rivals
Mumbai, April 24
The police are questioning employees of some private aircraft maintenance companies after a helicopter, belonging to industrialist Anil Ambani, was found tampered with.


EARLIER STORIES

Congress, BJP in war of words over Kandahar hijacking
New Delhi, April 24
The Kandahar hijacking is back in the focus, at the centre stage of fierce wrangling match between the Congress and the BJP. In response to BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s attempt to “set the record right” with his revelation that the party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was opposed to the move to free terrorists, the Congress on Friday retaliated, questioning why the External Affairs Minister in the Vajpayee government had chosen to maintain a “studied silence on the issue for all these years”.


Supporters dance as BJP candidate Sarvesh Kumar Singh goes to file his nomination papers in Moradabad on Friday. — PTI

Pay hike for Lt Gens okayed
Chandigarh, April 24
Rectifying earlier anomalies in the Sixth Pay Commission, the government has accorded financial sanction for moving Lieutenant Generals and equivalents into a higher pay band. The orders were signed by the Ministry of Defence (Finance) today, thereby clearing the last hurdle for the issue of the Special Army Instruction detailing the new pay scales.

Cong to EC: Ban Art of Living discourse in Gujarat
New Delhi, April 24
The Congress has asked the Election Commission (EC) to impose a “prohibition on the purported discourse by Swami Mahesh Giri”, scheduled to held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on Sunday.

No Left support to form govt: Pranab
Burdwan/Arambagh, (WB), April 24
Two days after saying in Kolkata that the Congress was open to Left support to form the next government at the Centre, senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee today ruled out the possibility.

Poll candidate survives ambush attack, two killed
Guwahati, April 24
One personal security officer (PSO) and a driver of an escort vehicle were killed when unidentified militants attacked a convoy of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) election candidate SK Bwismutiary and a number of BPF leaders at Panijani forest area under the Bogoribari police station in Kokrajhar district of western Assam today.

 





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In Porbandar, Sonia forgets to remember Bapu
Dinesh Kumar writes from Jetpur (Rajkot)

Congress president Sonia Gandhi today started her election campaign in Gujarat by reading out a report card on the achievements of the Congress-led UPA government and seeking votes on the promise of providing “a strong, stable, honest and visionary government” that she claimed has been development-oriented.

Although she began her election tour with this sub division which forms part of Porbandar constituency named after Mahatma Gandhi’s birth place, she altogether skipped mentioning his name while otherwise extolling on the achievements and sacrifices of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

However, in complete contrast to her speeches delivered during the 2007 assembly elections when she controversially termed Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi ‘a maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death), Sonia’s 13-minute address here was mild and devoid of any personal attack against her political opponents. She was no doubt critical of the present BJP government in the state and the previous BJP-NDA led government at the Centre but only on matters of policy and achievements in the education, agriculture and other social sectors.

However, her solitary sharp remark against the BJP, which she did not qualify, was, “Unlike the BJP we have never showed our back on fighting terrorism”. Without naming the BJP or any other party, Sonia also alluded to the NDA government’s caving in to the hijackers of the Indian Airlines aircraft in Kandahar in December 1999 saying, “It would have been better if those who talk of terrorism reflected on what they have done”.

Both remarks were greeted with cheer among a section of the approximately 25,000 strong crowd that otherwise sat rather silently, if not indifferently, throughout her speech in the scorching heat. Sonia, however, had the courtesy to start her address with an apology for keeping the audience waiting for almost two hours in the scorching heat. Much of the public, which had been supplied Congress caps and seemed to have been specially brought from neigbouring Junagadh, Amreli, Porbandar and Rajkot districts in trucks, buses and tractor trolleys, melted away within minutes of her speech ending. The only slogan that was greeted with a roar from the crowd was Jai Hind, which figured at the very end of her address.

Sonia, who carried with her a sheaf of papers which she kept consulting during her speech, touched three different parts of the state - Jetpur in Rajkot district of Saurashtra; Kheralu in north Gujarat which forms part of Modi’s home district of Mahesana, and Halol, which forms part of Panchmahal constituency where Godhra, the site of the infamous February 2002 train carnage, is located.

Sonia’s speech was otherwise full of rhetorical praise for her party and how her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi and husband Rajiv Gandhi had sacrificed their lives for the country. The only BJP-bashing came from a handful of Congress MLAs, one of whom spoke in Sonia’s presence. The Congress’ leader of opposition in the state assembly, Shaktisinh Gohil, criticised the BJP government for caving in at Kandahar and took exception to LK Advani offering a ‘chaddar’ at Jinnah’s grave during his visit to Pakistan a few years ago. He also accused Modi of living lavishly while talking of simplicity.

The only entertaining and controversial speech came from Sneha, a young Gujarati actress who pleaded her inability to speak in Gujarati and chose instead to speak Hindi in an anglicised accent. The actress, who came across as a novice, observed that even though terrorist attacks on Parliament and the Akshardam temple had taken place during the BJP’s rule, the Congress had not asked for the BJP government’s resignation “because the Congress does not speak about small issues”. This was almost akin to Maharashtra’s former deputy chief minister’s infamous remark that cost him his job after the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai. “Small incidents do occur in big cities,” is how he had described the terror attacks. However, Sneha received little response from the crowd which did not seem to take her seriously and which also by then was getting restive at Sonia’s delayed arrival.

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No SC reprieve for overweight air hostesses
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, April 24
The Supreme Court today refused to temporarily restore the services of nine air hostesses dismissed by Indian Airlines (IA), now merged with Air India, for being overweight. A Bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and HL Dattu, however, allowed an application by some of the terminated air hostesses to be tagged along with a bunch of petitions that had challenged a Delhi High Court verdict.

“We understand your difficulty, but we can’t help you at this stage,” Justice Chatterjee remarked.

The HC had, on June 4, 2008, upheld the airlines’ right to take action against air hostesses who failed to comply with the contractual obligation relating to the need for keeping their weight under control.

Appearing for the airlines, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Gopal Subramanium said services of the air hostesses were dispensed with as they were unable to “knock off a few pounds” despite being given time of nearly four years.

The airlines would be unable to face global competition unless the air hostesses remained within the parameters of their contractual obligation, the ASG argued.

Counsel Arvind Kumar Sharma, who appeared for the dismissed air hostesses, expressed the apprehension that the airlines might remove more such personnel unless the court issued a restraint order. As many as 6,000 air hostesses were working across the country, he said.

The airlines, which started grounding overweight air hostesses some time back, might even resort to “coercive methods”, Sharma said.

The ASG, however, maintained that the petitioners’ plea did not deserve even consideration as the two courts had ruled that the airlines’ policy was valid.

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Pebbles in Anil Ambani’s Chopper
ADAG blames rivals
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, April 24
The police are questioning employees of some private aircraft maintenance companies after a helicopter, belonging to industrialist Anil Ambani, was found tampered with.

As per a police complaint filed by maintenance engineers responsible for Ambani's aircraft, stones, mud and pebbles were found in the petrol tank of a Bell 412 helicopter. The mischief was discovered hours before Ambani was to fly the chopper to his office in Navi Mumbai. Engineers said mud and stones could clog the chopper's engines resulting in a crash. The mischief came to light when an engineer found the fuel tank's cap loose. A thorough check-up revealed possible damage.

The helicopter was being maintained by Air Works India Engineering Company, a private company engaged in looking after the aircraft owned by Ambani. Today, the police said four persons have been taken in for questioning. All of them were responsible for maintenance of the helicopter, the police said.

PTI adds: Meanwhile, Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) today alleged that business rivals may be behind an "attempt to murder" the industrialist by trying to sabotage his helicopter.

“The planned manner in which the pebbles and gravel were put in the filler cap at a height of 10-feet in the gear box and the gear-box cap was closed thereafter, clearly shows that some persons, possible business rivals, were attempting to take away the life of Anil Ambani,” Capt. RN Joshi of Anil Ambani group company Reliance Transport and Travels said in a complaint to Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan and Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor while requesting an investigation by the crime branch.

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Congress, BJP in war of words over Kandahar hijacking
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 24
The Kandahar hijacking is back in the focus, at the centre stage of fierce wrangling match between the Congress and the BJP. In response to BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s attempt to “set the record right” with his revelation that the party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was opposed to the move to free terrorists, the Congress on Friday retaliated, questioning why the External Affairs Minister in the Vajpayee government had chosen to maintain a “studied silence on the issue for all these years”.

Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal claimed that Jaswant Singh’s statement was suspicious in timing and intended to cover up Advani’s “mishandling of the sensitive situation”. Terming Singh’s disclosure a “clear case of political expediency”, Sibal said “his only aim was to portray the party’s prime ministerial candidate in a favourable light”.

In fact, Sibal also chose to indirectly blame the kidnapping and brutal murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl on the Saffron Party’s decision to release the terrorists.

However, the BJP says that it was only trying to put the record straight. Party’s spokespersons say the entire controversy had been unnecessarily created by the Congress and Jaswant Singh was only trying to put the record straight and raising a pertinent point that a situation like Kandahar could be faced by any government. In fact members of the Saffron party say that Advani never tried to come out publicly that was opposed to the release of hostages.

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Pay hike for Lt Gens okayed
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 24
Rectifying earlier anomalies in the Sixth Pay Commission, the government has accorded financial sanction for moving Lieutenant Generals and equivalents into a higher pay band. The orders were signed by the Ministry of Defence (Finance) today, thereby clearing the last hurdle for the issue of the Special Army Instruction detailing the new pay scales.

Lieutenant Generals and equivalents (other than Army Commanders) have been placed lower in pay than Directors General of Police. A substantial number of three star generals will now be placed in the Higher Administrative Grade--Plus (HAG+) pay band of Rs 75,500-80,000.

Lieutenant Generals and equivalent holding the appointments of GOC-in-C (Army Commander) or equivalent in the sister services are already in the apex scale of Rs 80,000 (fixed).

The anomaly of lowering of status of Lt Gens crept up when they were placed in pay band-4 (Rs 37,400--67,000) with grade pay of Rs 12,000 while state police chiefs were upgraded to HAG+ at the time of implementation of the sixth CPC recommendations.

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Cong to EC: Ban Art of Living discourse in Gujarat
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 24
The Congress has asked the Election Commission (EC) to impose a “prohibition on the purported discourse by Swami Mahesh Giri”, scheduled to held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on Sunday.

In a complaint to the EC on Friday, the party alleged that the BJP was trying to garner votes in Gujarat by appealing to religion and communal sentiments of people under the guise of Art of Living discourses.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who led an AICC delegation for a meeting with CEC Navin Chawla on Friday, said, “One Swami Mahesh Giri had been delivering communally provocative speeches in the guise of spiritual discourses under the aegis of Sri Sri Ravishankar’s spiritual organisation Art of Living all over Gujarat.”

Calling for the next discourse of Swami Mahesh Giri scheduled on April 26 at Ahmedabad to be banned, the Congress claimed that the Swami had openly been securing votes for BJP candidates in brazen violation of the model code of conduct and other laws in force.

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No Left support to form govt: Pranab

Burdwan/Arambagh, (WB), April 24
Two days after saying in Kolkata that the Congress was open to Left support to form the next government at the Centre, senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee today ruled out the possibility.

“The Congress has always formed the government at the Centre without the support of the Left parties. In 2004, they themselves came forward to support the Congress-led UPA to stop the BJP and save their existence,” Mukherjee said in a poll rally at Parul village near Bhatar in Burdwan district.

He said the Left parties were not a political force in the national arena and did not exist outside the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Mukherjee said at another election rally at Arambagh in Hooghly district he saw no chance of the Third Front coming to power at the Centre as indicated by the voting trends.

In two of the three CPM-ruled states—Kerala and Tripura—the voting trends indicated that the Third Front was not able to take off, Mukherjee, also the External Affairs Minister, told election meetings in Hooghly and Burdwan districts. — PTI

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Poll candidate survives ambush attack, two killed
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, April 24
One personal security officer (PSO) and a driver of an escort vehicle were killed when unidentified militants attacked a convoy of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) election candidate SK Bwismutiary and a number of BPF leaders at Panijani forest area under the Bogoribari police station in Kokrajhar district of western Assam today.

The slain PSO and driver were identified as Mannaf Ali and Suresh Basumatary.

The BPF poll candidate in Kokrajhar parliamentary constituency, SK Bwismutiary, along with a number of leaders of the party, was travelling in a convoy of over 40 cars to Panbari where houses of several BPF supporters were burnt down by miscreants last night after the polling in the constituency was over.

The police suspected hands of anti-talks faction of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) behind the attack even as the pro-talks faction of the NDFB, which is now in truce, has denied its hand behind that attack.

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