Deadlock at Jaffna doorstep
Maruti on highway to selloff
Lawyer seals Kapil’s lips
Cola clash uncorks star fizz
Calcutta weather

 
 
DEADLOCK AT JAFFNA DOORSTEP 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN IN COLOMBO
 
May 12 
Tamil Tiger guerrillas today advanced to Jaffna’s door-step but were still to break through the air defences mounted by Sri Lankan fighter jets.

The navy and air force blasted the Sangupiddi causeway, which the Tigers use to move reinforcements towards Jaffna, information director Ariya Rubasinghe said. Troops also destroyed the main communication tower of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at nearby Pooneryn town, he added.

For the first time since the guerrillas launched Operation Unceasing Waves, the government hinted at troop withdrawal, saying sustained “terrorist” attacks had forced soldiers to “re-adjust their defences temporarily towards Colombuthurai east”.

Colombuthurai is barely 1 km away from Jaffna and if the troops have retreated from there, it signals that the Tigers are closing in remorselessly.

But what may have delayed the Tigers’ final push into Jaffna is the sustained bombing and firing by Lankan fighter jets on rebel positions and backup units.

Describing the battle as “a decisive moment” in the ethnic conflict, President Chandrika Kumaratunga exhorted the soldiers to fight on, saying: “Steps have been taken to provide you with the most modern armaments, equipment and technology.”

An official in Jerusalem told Associated Press that Israel has agreed to sell eight Kfir fighter planes to Sri Lanka for $24 million. Israel sought permission from the US before clinching the deal as the Kfir has an American engine.

As the war intensified, New Delhi received another SOS from the island with a pro-government Tamil leader asking India to intervene in the crisis.

Douglas Devananda, leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, and a supporter of the battle against the LTTE, said he had called up foreign minister Jaswant Singh and requested “some form of intervention: military, humanitarian, whatever you call it”.

“If Jaffna falls,” Devananda warned, “the lives of hundreds of thousands of its residents would be in danger as the Tigers would never forgive them for choosing to live under the Chandrika government.” “Jaswant agreed to consider my appeal sympathetically,” the Tamil leader said, adding that he had also spoken to DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, who is against Indian intervention.

Associated Press said the Tigers had warned civilians to flee Jaffna. “Please go to places of safety, as we can move in any moment,” the LTTE said in a radio broadcast.

However, the ground situation continued to belie the rebels’ claim. Though the LTTE had claimed yesterday that Jaffna was “as good as gone”, a political commentator said he had received a call from Jaffna that suggested life was normal and no fighting was reported in the vicinity.

Speculation that the guerrillas are not as well-placed as they claim gained ground as the Tigers’ clandestine radio said fighting was on for Navatkuli bridge. Ironically, for the past two days the LTTE has been claiming control over the strategic bridge.

The army evacuated 86 wounded soldiers to the Pallali air base hospital. That the airport — the military’s main supply link — is still not under attack indicates that the Tigers have not made enough advance beyond Pallai on the A9 highway for the airbase to be within their firing range.    


 
 
MARUTI ON HIGHWAY TO SELLOFF 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, May 12 
The government is planning to put its crown jewel — Maruti Udyog Ltd — on the block. A core group of secretaries met here today to discuss plans to hawk the government’s 50 per cent stake in the car venture it formed with Suzuki Motor of Japan back in 1981.

The sale of the Maruti stake was discussed along with plans to divest the government’s holding in 17 other top-notch public sector units. However, there were indications that the department of heavy industries — which is in charge of the government’s divestment programme — was stalling for time on the Maruti selloff. The proposal will now go before the cabinet which is expected to take a decision by the end of this month.

The government hopes to earn some Rs 9,500-13,500 crore through sale of its stake in several PSUs this financial year. Last year, it had raised a paltry Rs 2600 crore from its divestment programme.

Government officials estimate that the sale of the Maruti stake (face value: Rs 65 crore) will fetch about Rs 3,000 crore, which would work out to about Rs 46 a share. Officials say the divestment will most likely be in two separate tranches of 26 and 23 per cent respectively, though the possibility of a sale in one go is not being ruled out. “The exact modalities will depend on what the global investment advisors say,” officials added.

The selloff of the government’s holding in the Rs 8200 crore Maruti Udyog is certain to generate a lot of heat. Politicians across the spectrum have been resisting the move and are bound to dub a deal as a sellout.

Suzuki, the overseas partner in the car venture, has for a long time been trying to persuade the government to relinquish its stake in the company which had recorded a net profit of Rs 523 crore during the year ended 1998-99.

Of late, the media has been abuzz with speculation about negotiations between the government and Suzuki Motor over the sale of the former’s stake. There has also been talk that Suzuki Motor could ask General Motors, the world’s largest corporation and a 10 per cent shareholder in the Japanese automaker, to pick up the government’s stake.

Last November, Richard G. Wagoner, GM’s global president and chief operating officer, had indicated that the world’s largest automaker was interested in picking up a stake along with Suzuki. “Any talks on Maruti will be in association with Suzuki,” Wagoner had then said.

The relations between the two partners in Maruti Udyog, the country’s largest carmaker with a 62.9 per cent marketshare, have been fairly strained over the past few years. Last year, Suzuki Motor was able to persuade the government to remove managing director RSSLN Bhaskarudu about four and a half months before his tenure was due to expire under an out-of-court settlement reached in 1998. Bhaskarudu was replaced by the Suzuki candidate Jagdish Khattar.    


 
 
LAWYER SEALS KAPIL’S LIPS 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, May 12 
Kapil Dev has clammed up after he broke down during a television interview.

Kapil’s lawyer has asked him to keep out of media glare — he would not even allow a photograph to be taken — and not say anything to hurt his chances of defending himself against Manoj Prabhakar’s damning disclosures if the CBI approaches him for a statement.

Prabhakar had told former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief Inderjit Singh Bindra and Union home minister L.K. Advani that Kapil offered him Rs 25 lakh to play “below par” in a Singer Cup one-dayer in 1994. He repeated the allegation to the CBI.

Standing at the threshold of his two-storied bungalow in Sundar Nagar with three-year-old daughter Ameya in his arms, Kapil would only say: “Where is the proof that he (Manoj) has taken my name (to people Like Bindra and Advani)? Show me the proof.”

“My lawyer is very annoyed and he wishes that I do not say anything about the matter yet. I will speak when the time comes,” he said, holding back from even hinting at what action he was contemplating against Prabhakar and how far he was from suing Bindra for defamation.

“No comments,” he said when asked if he would cooperate with the CBI. “No comments”, he repeated when asked if Prabhakar harboured any grudge against him or why he was trying to tarnish Kapil’s name so many years after the alleged bribe offer.

During the 10-minute conversation, Kapil received three calls on his cell. He told one caller he “would not like to make any comment”.

He smiled fondly when Ameya pecked him on the cheek. A couple of Doberman Pinschers ran about the driveway, inside the house and out again.

Asked if he was in the right frame of mind to accompany the Indian team to Dhaka for the Asia Cup, Kapil kept silent. Pressed for a response, he wished Sourav Ganguly’s team “best of luck”. Kapil has been hedging questions on whether he will go with the team.

A Mumbai eveninger has put out a story that Prabhakar handed over a blank cheque signed by Kapil to the CBI when he was “informally” questioned two days ago. There are also stories Prabhakar had also shown Advani the cheque.

But sources confirmed that Prabhakar is yet to hand over any documentary evidence which could point the needle of suspicion at Kapil.

“Had it (the cheque) been presented, the CBI would have quickly recorded his statement formally and begun a regular criminal case of bribery,” a source said.

“A cheque by itself will not prove that it was specifically given to him for underplaying or that it is linked to the game of cricket. The cheque could have been given for any purpose,” the source added.    


 
 
COLA CLASH UNCORKS STAR FIZZ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, May 12 
There’s no war like the cola war, and it’s sizzling. Hrithik Roshan, the millennium’s first heartthrob, and Shah Rukh Khan, the reigning deity whose throne he is eyeing, are fighting an off-the-silver-screen proxy battle for the man who would be king.

Enraged by the latest Pepsi ad in which Shah Rukh makes fun of a Hrithik look-alike who wears braces, papa Rakesh Roshan has shot off a letter to the multinational, saying the ad is in bad taste.

A hurt Hrithik, too, has written to Shah Rukh, Pepsi and Prahlad Kakkar, the adman who directed the film. “Hrithik wrote a letter saying he was a newcomer and such an ad would be detrimental to his image. He even wrote that people should encourage him rather than put him down,” said Roshan Sr, whose Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai continues to rake in the moolah five months after its release.

Rakesh feels the ad is a deliberate attempt to spite his son, who has been scooped up by Coca-Cola. “Prahlad (Kakkar) apologised to me, saying Pepsi had forced him to put the Hrithik look-alike in the ad. Initially, both Pepsi and Coke were behind Hrithik. But we went for Coke. So Pepsi did this to spite us,” he said.

Pepsi rebutted the charge. “Prahlad Kakkar told me that Hrithik had seen the ad and felt it was cute,” Deepak Jolly, executive vice-president, corporate communications, told The Telegraph from Pepsi Foods’ corporate headquarters in Gurgaon.

The spot shows a young girl (model Tara Sharma) who strolls into a bowling alley where Shah Rukh tells her that she would have to kiss the person in whose direction the Pepsi bottle points. He spins the bottle which stops in the direction of the Hrithik look-alike .

Shah Rukh then tells the guy “ek smile ho jaye” (a takeoff on the Coke punchline jo chaho ho jaye, Coca-Cola enjoy). The Hrithik look-alike opens his mouth and the braces go ‘ping’.

Shah Rukh spins the bottle once more and it stops in the direction of a little boy. He tells him that he is too young for a kiss and spins it again to stop the bottle on himself. The girl says she won’t kiss him. But she does when she sees him get upset.

Playing down the controversy, Jolly said: “This category (soft drinks) is full of fun. We have done extensive research before going ahead with the ad.”

The company denied that the model resembles Hrithik. “We have nothing but affection for Hrithik. The young man in our ad wishes he looked like Hrithik, but in fact looks nothing like him,” Pepsi Foods said in an official reaction.

Earlier, too, the cola war had spilled over beyond the small screen with the two giants pitting cricketers against each other.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 36.5°C (+1) Minimum: 26.3°C (Normal) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 85% Minimum: 53% Today: Hot and humid day. Maximum temperature likely to be 37°C Sunset: 6.06 pm, Sunrise: 5.00 am    
 

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