Famous In India

Archive for March 2009

Varun Gandhi, the lesser-known grandson of Indira Gandhi, was pitched into the centre of a national row yesterday after an election campaign video showed him apparently delivering a venomous attack on Muslims.

The video, played repeatedly on Indian news television channels and on websites, shows him denigrating Muslims while addressing an election meeting in his parliamentary constituency in northern Uttar Pradesh, the home state of the charismatic Nehru-Gandhi family.

The election commission, which is overseeing the April-May vote, ruled yesterday that all future rallies held by Varun Gandhi should be monitored and recorded on video, and ordered his party leadership to explain his actions.

Though Gandhi doesn’t deny giving the controversial speech, he insisted the video had been “doctored” and that what he said was “mangled”.

“I believe very firmly that this is the result of a political conspiracy,” he said. “This is not my voice, those are not my words. I’ve a soft voice, [but in the video] I sound like [Bollywood star] Amitabh Bachchan.”

The state election authorities have ordered an investigation, and the local police have registered a criminal case and sent the video for forensic tests. Gandhi is a candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), whose leaders often stridently promote Hindu causes.

“The video contains outrageous statements,” said Aditi Phadnis, a political analyst. “It’s dreadful. If Varun said all that then obviously what propelled him was the desire to polarise voters along communal lines. He wants to consolidate the Hindu vote behind him.” A Congress leader demanded that Gandhi be arrested and prosecuted.

Gandhi, 29, is seeking to make his debut entry into parliament from Pilibhit, a constituency long nurtured by his mother, Maneka Gandhi.

In Pilibhit the number of Muslim voters, traditionally hostile to the BJP, has shot up to 420,000, increasing the pressure on Varun Gandhi to mobilise his base. In the video he is seen telling the audience: “Go to your villages and give the call that all Hindus must unite to save this area from becoming Pakistan.”

He is even heard mocking a rival candidate, a bearded Muslim, calling him Osama bin Laden, and then saying: “America couldn’t get Osama, but Varun Gandhi will catch many after the elections.”

“This is not the ‘hand’ [a reference to the Congress election symbol], this is the hand of the ‘lotus’ [the BJP symbol],” Gandhi is seen as saying, with his palm raised toward the crowd.

“After the election [this hand] will cut the throat of the circumcised [a derogatory colloquial Hindi reference to Muslims]. Hail Lord Ram!”

All four Nehru-Gandhi family members active in politics are contesting the forthcoming polls from Uttar Pradesh, but from opposite sides of the political divide.

Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, projected as a future prime minister, are contesting as leaders of the Congress party which is currently in power, while a family feud made Varun and his mother join the opposition BJP.

Until now, despite the family squabble, all the Nehru-Gandhis have had a reputation for being secular and untainted by communal politics. The venomous statements in the campaign trail video have therefore shocked the nation.

If the video is genuine, analysts say, it shows the extent to which some politicians would go to divide voters and win an election. “People who know Varun say he’s a very intelligent young man,” said Phadnis. “But sometimes people who are too sharp can end up cutting themselves.”



Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan

You’re only as big as your last hit, right? Perhaps that’s what explains how actor Aamir Khan, who was nowhere on the 2007 Filmfare Power List, is up there at No. 1 this year. It must have something to do with the Rs 265 crore (gross) that his film ‘Ghajini’ earned worldwide, making it the biggest hit in the history of Bollywood.

The actor has also scored a hat trick by emerging first in the pecking order of actors and directors as well. As for producers, the father-son team of Yash and Aditya Chopra is still the top name in the game, but Aamir is close behind — his two films ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ and ‘Taare Zameen Par’ had the box-office jingling sweetly.

Shah Rukh Khan
remains entrenched at No. 2. Yash and Aditya Chopra, for two years in a row, are down to No. 3, preceded by the two Khans — Aamir and Shah Rukh — who are now eyed as the two power centres in filmnagari.

A surprise showing was Ronnie Screwvala, a new entrant who has stolen a march over Karan Johar who produced just the one film this year, ‘Dostana’. Contrast this with Screwvala’s company, UTV Motion Pictures, which has had a golden run in 2008 with commercial success for ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ and critical acclaim for ‘Aamir’ (the film not the actor), ‘A Wednesday’, ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Oye Lucky Lucky Oye’ and ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’.

Despite all the hype surrounding ‘Singh is Kingg’, Akshay Kumar slid from No. 3 to No. 6, while composer A R Rahman (obviously the poll was a pre-Oscar one) is at No. 8. In a more serious upset, Hrithik Roshan is now at No. 9, having been rocked by filmmaker-turned-actor Farhan Akhtar who is at No. 7.

Kareena Kapoor is the only woman in the top 10, and she’s made it by the skin of her teeth at No. 10. None of the Bachchans grace the coveted list this year.

Power list-2008
1. Aamir Khan
2. Shah Rukh Khan
3. Yash and Aditya Chopra
4. Ronnie Screwvala
5. Karan Johar
6. Akshay Kumar
7. Farhan Akhtar
8. A R Rahman
9. Hrithik Roshan
10. Kareena Kapoor

India, the world’s largest democracy with 714 million voters, will pick a new government over five phases between April 16 and May 13, and the result will be declared May 16, it was announced Monday.

In what is often billed as a grand festival of democracy, six million civil officials as well as police and paramilitary personnel will oversee the conduct of the election, the 15th to the 545-seat Lok Sabha since India became independent in 1947.

Making the much awaited announcement, Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami said that 124 Lok Sabha constituencies would go to the polls April 16, followed by 141 on April 23, 107 on April 30, 85 on May 7 and 86 constituencies on the final day on May 13.

The votes will be counted across the country May 16.

Gopalaswami said elections to the Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim assemblies would also take place simultaneously. State by-elections would also be held in Mizoram, Jharkhand and Karnataka (one seat each) and Nagaland (four seats).

The Lok Sabha election, the biggest such exercise in the world, will cost a whopping Rs.10,000 crore (Rs.100 billion), said a study by Centre for Media Studies.

Political parties hailed the announcement of the election, which will take place exactly five years after voters delivered a verdict in April-May 2004 that unseated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and brought into power a Congress-led coalition.

“We have confidence that on May 16 when the counting would be done, the country would get a new government under the leadership of L.K. Advani,” asserted BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad, confident that the vote end five years of Congress-led rule.

Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan echoed him: “We welcome it. I am sure the elections will be concluded in a free and fair manner.”

More than four million civil officials and 2.1 security personnel would be on duty in 828,800 polling stations, an increase of 20 percent over 2004, to ensure free and fair elections.

There will be one polling station in Gujarat for just one voter.

The strength of the Indian electorate, more than the combined population of Russia and the US, has gone up by 43 million in 2004 to 714 million now, Gopalaswami said.

A total of 1.36 million electronic voting machines would be used. The new Lok Sabha has to be constituted before June 2.

Troubled Jammu and Kashmir as well as Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, would see polling spread over five phases while Bihar would have four rounds of balloting.

Maharashtra and West Bengal would undergo polling over three phases. Eight states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Orissa and Punjab – would witness voting over two phases. Fifteen states would end the exercise within a day.

Goapalaswami, set to retire April 20, hit out at the use of money power by politicians.

“We have taken serious note of illegal use of money power. The polling officers have been told to strictly monitor the expenditure (by candidates),” he said.

This would be the first general election after the delimitation of the Lok Sabha constituencies. With this, there are 84 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes (79 in 2004) and 47 for Scheduled Tribes (41 in 2004).

There are 412 general category seats.

He said electoral rolls had been updated throughout the country and photo electoral rolls would be used in 522 of the 543 constituencies where polling would take place. In a house of 545, the president appoints two members of the Anglo-Indian community.

Monday’s announcement comes a day after President Pratibha Patil rejected Gopalaswami’s controversial suggestion to sack Election Commissioner Navin Chawla from the poll panel on grounds that he was biased. Chawla will take over from Gopalaswami when he retires.

It also accompanied discussions over possible tie-ups underway between political parties, all of which know that none of them can bag a majority on their own and that only a coalition is the key to success.

News from:

A dozen heavily armed gunmen today carried out a commando-style attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team and their police escort in Lahore, Pakistan, injuring up to six of the visiting players and killing five policemen.

In scenes similar to the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November, the gunmen attacked with heavy weapons, spraying the Sri Lankan team bus with bullets as it drove to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.

Several players and one Briton in the convoy of vehicles were reported to have received “superficial” injuries. A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official said two players, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana, had been taken to hospital. He said three more players were slightly injured and the head coach, Australian Trevor Bayliss, sustained minor injuries.

Television footage showed glimpses of the assailants running through the streets with machine guns in their hands and rucksacks on their backs.

The attack happened in Gulberg, an upmarket area of the city, at around 9am (4am GMT). All the gunmen remain at large after retreating into a nearby commercial and shopping area.

Police cordoned off the area, saying they would kill or capture the terrorists.

Habibur Rehman, the police chief of Lahore, said there were around 12 gunmen, at least some of whom arrived in auto-rickshaws.

“Because the police were protecting them [Sri Lankan team], we were the main victims,” said Rehman. “They [the gunmen] looked like trained people. The security provided was good.”

The vehicle carrying the umpires Simon Taufel and Steve Davis and match official Chris Broad, the father of England bowler Stuart, was also attacked.

A rocket launcher and grenades were recovered from the scene.

The Sri Lankan cricketers, who were playing a Test match against Pakistan in the city, are to be evacuated by military helicopter from the area immediately.

“This was a planned terrorist attack. They had heavy weapons,” said Salman Taseer, who heads the provincial government as the governor of Punjab. “These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit Mumbai.”

Around 170 people died in Mumbai when militants staged a three-day gun attack. Earlier this year, there was an armed attack on government buildings in central Kabul.

Today’s attack is another indication that extremists may have adopted new tactics, preferring guns to the suicide bombings that had become their hallmark.

Cricket teams had stopped visiting Pakistan due to the country’s deteriorating security situation, with an international tournament cancelled last year.

Australia and India refused to go on pre-planned tours, and it was with great difficulty that the Pakistani cricket authorities persuaded Sri Lanka to tour the country.

Sanath Jayasuriya, a Sri Lankan cricketer who was not part of the touring team, said that, even in conflict-torn Sri Lanka, cricketers never became the target.

“The good news is that they [the team] are all safe,” Jayasuriya said.

Squad member Kumar Sangakkara told the Sri Lankan radio station Yes-FM that “all the players are completely out of danger”. “Luckily there’s nothing serious and everyone is fine.”

The second Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan ha been called off, according to a Sri Lankan cricket board official. “We are trying to bring the team back as quickly as possible. The test match has been cancelled,” he told Reuters.

The former England all-rounder Dominic Cork who was in the stadium to do commentary work for Pakistan TV, told Sky Sports News: “The Sri Lankan players are quite shocked. They all fell to the floor of the team bus when the attack happened.

“Some of them have wounds but I think most of them are superficial wounds. I have spoken to ] Sangakkarra; he has a shrapnel wound in his right shoulder.

“The team are sitting in the changing room watching local TV. They are waiting for helicopters to arrive to take them to a local army base and wait for a connecting flight to Abu Dhabi.”

Cork also spoke to former England opener Broad. “He said it was the most frightening experience of his life,” Cork said. “Their driver was shot and they had to ask a policeman to drive them to the stadium.”

The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, condemned the attack on his country’s cricket team and called for the players to come home immediately.

In a statement, Rajapaksa, who is currently on a visit to Nepal, described the attack as cowardly. He ordered his foreign minister to immediately travel to Pakistan to help with the team’s evacuation and ensure their safety.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said authorities did not believe the attack was carried out by the separatist Sri Lankan rebels, the Tamil Tigers.

Government forces are on the brink of defeating the rebels in the north and ending a 25-year civil war.

India’s home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, speaking in New Delhi, said his country condemned the attack. “We are sorry for the Sri Lankan team,” he said.

The police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said five officers died in the attack.

Today’s developments will probably mean the end of international cricket in Pakistan for months, if not years.”It is a terrible incident and I am lost for words,” said the umpire Davis.

Nadeem Ghauri, a Pakistani umpire who witnessed the attack, said the umpires were behind the bus carrying Sri Lanka’s players when they suddenly heard gunshots.

“The firing continued for 15 minutes,” he said. “Our driver was hit, and he was injured.”

The driver of one of the vehicles in the convoy told Pakistan’s Express news channel that he saw a man firing a rocket towards their van. Someone then threw a grenade, but the weapons missed the vehicle.

Source from:

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