‘Deepak Kuntawala is a fake 26/11 hero’

26/11 survivor to host charity dinner in London

Deepak Kuntawala, an NRI, will probably never forget those horrific hours when Mumbai came under siege by a handful of terrorists last year. A survivor, he will host a commemorative charity dinner in London which will be attended by many film personalities, both from Bollywood and Hollywood.

Amongst those who are expected to attend the fund raiser are Prince Michael of Kent and Bollywood movie actors like Konkona Sen, Lara Dutta, Boman Irani and director Shekhar Kapoor, an official statement here said.

Fake 26/11 hero takes British royalty for a ride

Prince Michael of Kent hosted a charity gala for Deepak Kuntawala after the latter claimed of saving 150 lives during 26/11
He was one of the survivors of the 26/11 attacks, but neither UK-based businessman Deepak Kuntawala (37) nor his father Vinay (60) could have imagined the horrific ordeal would, exactly a year later, allow them to rub shoulders with British royalty and Bollywood stars at Kensington Palace – as heroes.

Immediately after their providential escape, the father-son duo gave interviews to leading London-based publications who were eager to get a first-hand account from ground zero, recounting how their actions saved around 150 lives that night.

“No-one knew what to do, so I took charge,” Deepak Kuntawala told the British media. “We tore up the curtains and any material we could get our hands on. I made people get into four teams and pretty quickly we had our makeshift ropes ready. We tied them to pillars. People were fighting to go down first. But I restored calm and made sure people got down OK, starting with the elderly and then the women. It took 30 minutes.”

A few days later, Kuntawala received an award from the hands of Maharashtra Governor as a ‘surviving hero’. He returned triumphant to London where he decided to set up The DVK Foundation that aims to help survivors and families of the victims of 26/11. Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, agreed to be patron of The DVK Foundation and personally hosted a gala charity on the first anniversary of 26/11 at the Kensington Palace in London.

The event was attended by several leading Bollywood names including Lara Dutta, Kabeer Bedi, Konkona Sen-Sharma, Pooja Bedi, Shekhar Kapur, Boman Irani and Arshad Warsi, besides several of London’s movers and shakers including Prince Michael himself. The night was a grand success with an impressive 2,50,000 pounds pledged in support of The DVK Foundation.

But things started unravelling for Deepak Kuntawala soon after.

Reports surfaced that Kuntawala’s claims of saving 150 people during the 26/11 attacks could be a self-serving account of the sequence of events that night, supported only by his own claims, and backed only by his father. Neither the Mumbai media, the local police, the Taj authorities – no one – had any idea who the man was. Neither did anyone seem to know about his bragging to UK-based publications.

Deepak dramatically told one such publication that he was dining at the Sea Lounge when “I looked out into the harbour and saw a few boats coming ashore. They were full of hunched men, dressed in black. It reminded me of a scene in the film Under Siege.”

The fact is that the dinghy carrying the terrorists docked at a small jetty in Machchimaar Nagar, which falls between Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point, and definitely not visible from the windows of the Sea Lounge.

Deepak Kuntawala with his wife

Meanwhile the South Indian Education Society (SIES), which was seeking out survivors of the attack to felicitate them at function they had organised, where the Governor was a guest, spotted the interview and decided to include Kuntawala in the list for citations.

The citation liberally quoted from Kuntawala’s own claims to the British media, mostly because SIES had no reason to doubt and little time for verification. SIES President V Shankar told Mumbai Mirror, “The decision to award him was taken based on a report of Kuntawala’s bravery. We verified the claims with Kuntawala and his father. The details could not be confirmed by the hotel or the police.”

But Kuntawala confidently told this paper that the wording of the citation was “drafted by the Governor and his advisors,” a claim that has been rubbished by Raj Bhawan.

In London, Kuntawala apparently met Prince Michael of Kent and on the basis of the citation, his picture with the Governor, and published media interviews, convinced him to become patron of the DVK Foundation floated by him.

The letterhead of the foundation, which is in the possession of Mumbai Mirror, also carries the logos of two reputed watchdogs – the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and the Fundraising Standards Board (FSRB). Investigations have revealed that this may have been an attempt to mislead.

Carol Mack, the deputy chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations categorically said, “The DVK Foundation is/has not been a member of ACF and we are not associated with them.”

Meanwhile, FSRB told Mumbai Mirror that while DVF Foundation has signed up with them, it doesn’t mean that they vouch for its activities or credentials. “Our role is not to endorse the activities of the DVK Foundation or the activities of any of our 1000+ members that have signed up,” said Kory McLeod, membership and compliance manager of FSRB, adding, “Where a member falls short… we have processes for dealing with them which may include carrying out an investigation.”

Further investigation showed that DVK Foundation may not be registered with the Charity Commission in London. In fact, it is neither a trust nor a charity, but a privately-held company (Registration number 07034081).

It also emerged that Kuntawala attended another charity auction, hosted by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, barely a few weeks before his own gala at Kensington Palace. The big ticket event also boasted guests such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sir Ben Kingsley, Duchess of York and Hollywood actress Sigourney Weaver.

An eyewitness revealed to Mumbai Mirror on condition of anonymity, “Among the many items being auctioned were tickets to the London premiere of Avatar, with Sigourney Weaver for company. Kuntawala won them with a bid of 13,000 pounds and was congratulated by everyone present, including Sigourney. But not only did he constantly delay payment, he actually put them up for auction at his own event. We were aghast how he could sell something he had neither paid for nor owned.”

Kuntawala also made contact with Suki Dusanj, who handled some parts of the Gaj Singh event, and asked her to media manage his upcoming gala being hosted by Prince Michael of Kent, and get in Bollywood stars. Suki got in touch with her sister Parveen, who is Kabir Bedi’s girlfriend and things started rolling.

But horror was in store for all the vendors Kuntawala had engaged through Suki to put together the charity night at Kensington. DVK first delayed and disputed the invoices of everyone right from the travel agent, the London transport company, the PR firm and the event organiser, and then sent out repeated erroneous remittances, which meant the payments were never actually made, copies of which are available with us.

In one instance, the numeric figure mentioned in the Barclays Bank remittance by DVK to East West Travels was ‘Rs 15,299.74’ while the amount in words was specified as ‘Fifteen laks two hundred ninety nine & seventy four rupees only.’

Later, Kuntawala’s media manager said, “It is understood that due to bank transmission protocols, two attempted electronic remittances were delayed. Deepak Kuntawala, personally compensated the travel agency by covering any of the travel agency’s bank interest charges due to the delay.”

Documents in the possession of Mumbai Mirror prove otherwise.

When this paper finally got in touch with Kuntawala, telling him we had evidence and witnesses and were alerting Prince Michael’s office, his version of the fateful 26/11 was extremely watered down – and didn’t include even a passing mention of having saved any lives, forget 150.

“My father and I were having a snack in the Sea Lounge when the terror attack began. Given the danger we escaped into the Banqueting Room which is next to the Sea Lounge,” Kuntawala said.

Far from rallying guests and forming escape teams, Kuntawala was busy saving himself and his terrified father. At 3 am, when the gunshots became intense, he was scurrying to find a better hiding place. “I checked whether it was safe to escape and ran back into the Banqueting room to collect my father and anyone else who wanted to come.”

The shimmy down the broken windows was a frantic affair. In Kuntawala’s own words, “Our escape from the Taj happened under an intense and dark situation which flashed past very quickly.” Asked whether there was anyone who could verify his more ambitious claims, he said, “It would be very difficult to recall anyone especially as the room was already being filled with black smoke and it was pitch dark.”

Meanwhile Kuntawala’s media manager, Natasha Mudar, wrote back making an appeal that “Mr Kuntawala and his family have faced yet another knock down and is constantly experiencing stress related symptoms. All he really asks for is a chance to reshape his life.”

Deepak Kuntawala greets Prince Michael of Kent at the gala

But Kabir Bedi, who anchored the Kensington Palace night, is horrified by the affair. Though legally, as patron, Prince Michael is not liable for the conduct of the DVK foundation, Bedi feels he cannot escape moral responsibility for endorsing this dubious affair. “How did Prince Michael of Kent allow himself to become patron of the DVK Foundation, created by a man making fraudulent claims of heroism during 26/11? We trusted in Prince Michael’s endorsement of DVK. What due diligence checks did he do on foundation of which he became a patron?”

Meanwhile the vendors, have been running from pillar to post for payments from Kuntawala for almost two months now. Aparna Manghnani, who owns East West Travels, says, “Since I personally know Kabir and trusted the goodwill of Prince Michael, I agreed to work with just 50 per cent advance payment. It never came.

DVK then srtarted delaying payments on one excuse after another, pushing me to the brink of financial ruin. I have lost all hope now and have contacted an attorney in London to start legal proceedings against the foundation.” London-based KSPARK and Woodthorpe Communications, who handled entertainment and public relations respectively, are also in the process of issuing writs against the company.

Prince Michael, was in Mumbai over the weekend on a private visit, could not be located. His office in London also failed to reply to the many mails sent to them. Meanwhile, there is word that Kuntawala himself is arriving in Mumbai on Tuesday, this time “on a fact finding mission to ascertain what the Chabad requires in terms of a Kitchen – DVK and Chabad House will then re-build the kitchen.”

The funds, which apparently will be used, is the money already collected at the Kensington event. Whether or not Kuntawala is planning another charity gala in Mumbai now is not known.

‘China behind hacking of Indian computers’

National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan’s assertion that hackers have tried to penetrate government computers in vital ministries is true as there have been several attempts in the past to gain access to important documents, say security officials.

In an interview to The Times, Narayanan said his office and other government departments were targeted Dec 15, the same date that US defence, finance and technology companies, including Google, reported cyber attacks from China.

“This was not the first instance of an attempt to hack into our computers,” Narayanan told The Times in an interview, adding that the would-be hackers sent an e-mail with a PDF attachment containing a Trojan virus.

The virus, which allows hackers to download or delete files, was detected and officials were told not to log on until it was eliminated, Narayanan said.

In April 2008, hackers, suspected to be from mainland China, made deep intrusions into the secure computer systems of the ministry of external affairs, said a ministry official.

The serious breach was detected during a routine security audit by the intelligence agencies – the hackers had left clear trails.

Alarmed by the breach, the government had that time sent a team of intelligence officials to audit the security standards of systems and computers in key Indian missions around the world, starting with the embassy in Beijing.

“Auditors were able to verify the details including internet protocol addresses and the Media Access Control (MAC) addresses of the hackers, confirming they originated in China,” the officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.

A MAC address, also called hardware address, is a unique identification number that helps analysts trace the systems back to its country or location. All of these point to China, the officials said.

In March last year there were again attempts at hacking into the computers of Indian embassies, but no sensitive information was stolen in the process. A number of computers were found to be compromised with spyware.

“The malicious software sent copies of internal e-mail messages to a rogue address,” said one official.

The ministry of external affairs and Indian embassies have instituted a stringent protocol on the usage of e-mail by serving officers, that includes frequently changing passwords and using e-mails only for routine communication.

Besides the ministry has instituted a periodic security review of all MEA computers to ward off cyber threats, the official sources said.

“Hacking has been going on for the last few years, but the safeguards have ensured that national security was not breached,” said another official, who spoke on official clearance but was not willing to be identified.

Three years back a specialized team from the Intelligence Bureau had carried out an audit of computer systems in key government offices and put in place a security net.

“People seem to be fairly sure it was the Chinese. It is difficult to find the exact source but this is the main suspicion. It seems well founded,” Narayanan told The Times, adding that India was cooperating with the US and Britain to bolster its cyber defences.

The Chinese government has denied any role in the attacks, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying: “Hacking in whatever form is prohibited by law in China.”

India’s swine flu toll jumps to 1,136

A whopping 16 swine flu deaths, 13 from Gujarat alone, were reported Monday, taking the toll due to the contagious virus in the country to 1,136, health department officials said.

In Gujarat, seven people died in the day, while six deaths had occurred earlier but were confirmed Monday.

Officials said with the 13 deaths in the state, the toll has gone up to 189.

Two deaths were also reported from Rajasthan, where the toll has now risen to 172.

In Kerala, one person died due to the Influenza A (H1N1) virus. So far, 35 people have succumbed to the virus in the southern state.

However, Maharashtra continues to top the list of states that records the highest deaths in the country. As many as 300 people have died due to the swine flu in the state since Aug 3 when the first causality was reported.

“Five new swine flu cases took Delhi’s infection tally due to influenza A (H1N1) to 9,600,” a health ministry official told IANS.

With 9,600 cases, Delhi continues to lead the national infection tally. The death toll in the city remains unchanged at 89.

Also, 56 new cases were reported in the country, taking the number of people infected with the swine flu to 28,251.

New cases were also reported from Gujarat (19), Maharashtra (16), Rajasthan (six), Uttar Pradesh (five) and West Bengal (one).

Is this the begining of the end of Myspace?

The original king of Social Networking, Myspace.com seems to be in troubled waters, but the signs were already there. According to numbers released by web analytics firm Compete.com MySpace’s U.S. traffic dropped from 55.6 million unique visitors in August to 50.2 million in September. It has nearly shed off 20% of its U.S. traffic since June and lost a little over a million U.S. visitors between June and July, but more than 4 million between July and August and over 5 million between last month and this month.

Comepetes tarffic rank of Myspace: Freefall?Comepetes tarffic rank of Myspace: Freefall?

What is further worrisome is that change in leadership has not yet produced results. So even though it is among the top social networks in the world today, if some major changes are not implemented NOW to attract the people back, Myspace would lose relevance in the realm of social media.

Alexa's traffic report on MyspaceAlexa’s traffic report on Myspace

But then that is what makes the web so exciting. According to me, it just isn’t a place for monopoly and if you cannot keep pace with the million innovations happening everday and implement the ones that matter, any site will go down the hill after the initial hype phase. This has happened right from the very beginning. Stickyness is social media’s biggest problem. Myspace failed to reinvent itself with time.

Personally i will not be surprised if i see Facebook and Twitter head the same way in 5 years. But certain things have changed now. People have learnt from others mistakes. Social media brands today are investing enormous time on remaining relevant and adding new features that can keep the audience coming back. But even with that, it would be difficult to believe that the near future does not hold anything which is more interesting than Facebook, more dynamic than Twitter etc. Maybe social media itself will become less relevant. Time will tell.

As for Myspace , i think its time to head to the drawing board and start again. Music is their strongest forte and they need to clearly think about how they are going to position themselves. How they can be different from the others. That way they will always have a steady list of people with them to feed the traffic. And they need to listen.Listen carefully to what people are saying.Not just about them. But just in general, so that they know what people are looking for.

Myspace rank across countriesMyspace rank across countries

Google runs into Arunachal controversy

The Google Maps application has run into controversy for depicting three versions of the status of India’s northeastern state Arunachal Pradesh, TV reports said on Monday.

Arunachal Pradesh, one of the seven states in the north-eastern part of India, has a democratically elected government and is a part of the country.

Google India shows Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India but its Chinese edition depicts the entire state as a part of China.

Even more interestingly, the international edition of the map shows Arunachal Pradesh is shown as a disputed territory, Times Now reported.

Google said it is a standard practice of the company to show all disputed regions on its global maps according to prevailing geopolitical situation and claims made by disputing nations, but not endorsing anyone’s position.

“Products that have been localized to the local domain of a region may depict that country’s position as per the mandate of their local laws. As in the case of Google India and Google China,” Google reportedly said in a statement, reacting to the issue.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari has protested the Google stance and said the government would call the search engine giant to account.

“The Ministry of External Affairs will see that national boundaries are correctly depicted,” Tiwari said adding that if national boundaries recognized by United Nations or other bodies are not taken into account then the government will have a strong case against the company.

India and China spar over Arunachal Pradesh with India maintaining that the state is its integral part and China disputing the same.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh ahead assembly elections in October last year was protested by Beijing while India hit back reiterating its stand on the issue.

China had also objected to the visit of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh recently.

Where is Arunachal? Google’s contribution to global politics

Same land - Two Versions...Google's take on ArunachalSame land – Two Versions…Google’s take on Arunachal
“They see him here, they seem him there, the French seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven, is he in hell, the elsusive scarlett pimpernel.”

Recently Arucnachal Pradesh has been courting a lot of political speak from both sides of the Indo China border, with both countries claiming stake to different parts of the border as their own. The border controversy had gained so much of political heat that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese Premiere Wen  Jiabao in Thailand on Saturday, it was said that one of the major reasons for this meeting was to ease border tensions between these two countries, though South Block has made an official statement that Arunachal was not discussed in this meeting.

However while New Delhi and Beijing are indulging in their little trysts of Public Diplomacy, Google has been practising a different brand of “PD” in this whole controversy.

In August this year they got into heavy controversy  when Google India maps showed parts of Arunachal Pradesh in Chinese language and parts of  Arunachal’s southern boundary with Assam and northern boundary with China in broken lines, while the state’s eastern and western boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar were shown in continuous white lines.

Following the uproar from the media over this, Google India made a public apology and clarified its position, but that was 2 months ago. Things have changed from then. In what I can only describe as a desperate bid to keep everyone happy,  Google is showing different maps to Indians and Chinese. The Chinese version shows Arunachal Pradesh inside China’s borders while Indian version shows it inside India.

And if two versions were not enough to confuse us all who dare to search using Google maps,   there is third version – i.e. the global version (http://maps.google.com/) which shows Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory!

This, as Google says is in accordance with disputed territory’s political position for the country – Google follows same standard for J&K as well.

So while the Indians and the Chinese bicker over a piece of land Google is having to put all its public diplomacy skills to the fore to “map” the Arunachal Crisis. Shall we call this  “Mapping  Diplomacy” ?

All terrorists who stormed Taj Hotel were Indians: Kasab

Continuing his flip-flop, Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab on Monday told a special court trying the 26/11 attacks case that all the four terrorists who stormed Taj hotel were Indians.

 Kasab, whose statement is being recorded by the court on evidences adduced by the prosecution, told Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani that while one of the terrorists of the Taj hotel siege was a Kashmiri, another was from Gujarat.

 Kasab claimed the third terrorist at Taj was Abu Ismail from Mumbai. According to prosecution, Ismail was gunned down at Girgaum Chowpatty by the police in an encounter when he along with Kasab was trying to escape. He, however, did not elaborate on the identity of the fourth terrorist at the Taj.

 The Pakistani terrorist has been making conflicting statements in the court.

 While at one point Kasab confessed to his guilt and admitted having shot people at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus along with Abu Ismail before being captured at Girgaum Chowpatty, he later denied any involvement in the terror strikes.

 Kasab’s claim came when Judge Tahaliyani wanted to know if he had anything to say about the slain terrorists who had been identified by eyewitnesses.

 When the Judge asked how he knew that Abu Ismail was from Mumbai, Kasab said, “I can make out from his face.”

 After having initially confessed to his guilt, Kasab had recently denied involvement and told the court that he had come to India from Pakistan by Samjhauta Express several days before the 26/11 carnage and was picked up from Girgaum Chowpatty by police a day before the terror attacks.

 Later, speaking to reporters outside the court, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam described Kasab’s claim as “absurd and concocted.”

 “Kasab’s claim is absurd and concocted. He has been taking frequent U-turns and this is one of those. This will in no way weaken the prosecution’s case against him,” Mr. Nikam said.