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|January 27, 1999
Supreme Court judge to head inquiry into Stains' murder
The three Union ministers who visited Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district of Orissa, where Australia-born missionary Graham Stewart Stains and his two sons were brutally murdered, today said the crime was part of an international conspiracy to topple the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led coalition government.
The government has ordered a time-bound inquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court into the incident on the recommendation of the team led by Defence Minister George Fernandes.
Fernandes told a press conference in New Delhi that the inquest would expose the internal and external forces that were conspiring to pull down the government.
The inquiry commission will submit its report within two months. Its terms of reference will be finalised in consultation with Chief Justice Adarsh Sein Anand.
The two other members of the ministerial team, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and Naveen Patnaik, as well as Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan were present at the press conference.
Fernandes denied that the team sent by Prime Minister Vajpayee to make an on-the-spot assessment was giving a clean chit to the Bajrang Dal, but maintained that neither was there any religious animosity nor had any conversion taken place in the area. Moreover, none had named the Bajrang Dal, he said.
Making a dig at the Janaki Ballab Patnaik-led Congress government in Orissa, Fernandes said the local people were upset with its 'inertness' in taking action against prime suspect Dara Singh and his associates despite many FIRs (first information reports) being lodged against them.
Asked if this is a fit case for dismissal of the Orissa government, Fernandes quipped, "We are part of a government and governments act."
A point made by some people in Manoharpur was that Dara Singh had been close to the local legislator, Jaidev Jena, who is a minister in the state government, Fernandes said. He demanded the immediate arrest of Singh and his gang.
Fernandes, who faced a volley of questions regarding the Orissa police's statement that Bajrang Dal activists were involved in the gory murder, pleaded ignorance about the political affiliations of the 53 suspects rounded up so far.
The defence minister, quoting data on incidents of attacks on churches and church functionaries in the last two decades, said things are being blown out of proportion now in national and international fora to malign the central government.
"What is going to be the benchmark to judge whether the government is in control?" he asked.
He took strong exception to the branding of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition as Hindu fundamentalist in spite of its secular credentials being brought out in the national agenda of governance.
Fernandes wondered whether the central government was in control when 3,500 people were killed. He was obviously referring to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.
Asked whether Stains had ever been threatened, Fernandes, quoting the Keonjhar district magistrate, said there was no such threat. "There was some talk of 37 new conversions, but there is no evidence. It was checked with those whose names were mentioned. They denied it."
The minister repeatedly displayed a photocopy of a five-page document signed by several local people pointing towards the apathetic attitude of the state government.
He said that not a single individual who met them in the area blamed militant Hindu outfits for the killing.
When a reporter asked whether the team's judgement was typical of instant coffee -- a one-hour visit and a one-hour assessment -- Fernandes said, "We saw and heard what we wanted to see and hear."
In the same vein, the minister made a dig at the visual media. "You should not ask such questions as your bytes are quick and short."
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