Politicians with history of hijack
Delhi push for BJP retreat on Mamata
Naiduvision holds Advani in thrall
Web record with mother of all shows
Calcutta weather

May 19 
As politicians scampered to distance themselves from the “hijack” of an Alliance Air flight by a group of MPs, it came to light that the incident is not without precedent.

On May 12, some MPs from Bihar forced a flight from Delhi to skip Lucknow and fly to Patna. Indian Airlines officials said power-drunk politicians often play havoc with routes and schedules. “In the past two years, it has happened three times,” said a senior airline official. “We don’t know the exact dates when it happened because, after complaints from airline officials were not addressed the first time, we didn’t bother much about it.”

He blamed the government’s “heavy intervention” in the airline’s functioning for the sorry state of affairs. “Neta log bahut shor machate hain, kya karen? (Politicians create a ruckus, what can we do?)” the official asked.

The Alliance Air plane on a Delhi-Lucknow-Patna-Calcutta hopping flight was to have taken off from the capital around 6 pm, but passengers say that 27 MPs from Bihar insisted that the aircraft be first flown to Patna. They had their way after civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav ordered the airline to “drop them (MPs) at Patna first and then go wherever you want to”. The plane finally took off at 10.15 pm and landed in Patna around 11.30 pm, after which it went to Lucknow.

The MPs sought to blame Delhi airport authorities, saying the flight was delayed without any explanation. Prabhunath Singh, Samata Party MP from Maharajgunje, who, according to passengers, was the leader of the “hijackers”, said: “We had an important meeting in Patna. So we decided to take the flight to Patna first with Sharad Yadav’s permission.”

But sources in Patna said no meeting was slated for May 12. “Neither the Congress, nor the RJD nor the NDA had fixed any meeting,” they added. An airport employee, who was on the aircraft, scoffed at Prabhunath’s statement. “The MPs were dozing. They were talking of Bihar’s neglect, not of any meeting,” he said.

Union water resources minister C.P. Thakur, also on the flight, said it had rained in Delhi that evening, but it was not heavy enough “to postpone the takeoff”. “Prabhunath demanded an explanation and wanted to talk to Sharad. When the minister arrived, it was too late for the plane to land in Lucknow as there was heavy traffic there. So he asked the plane to be taken to Patna.”

But officials are wondering how Sharad allowed the aircraft to land in Patna at 11.30 pm, well past the security deadline. M.P. Modi, deputy general manager, Patna airport, said air traffic control had told Delhi that if the plane had to be brought to Patna, it had to be done early. “But our suggestion was not heeded,” Modi said.

The hapless passengers to Lucknow were served dinner at 12.10 am. But hardly anyone ate. “Have you hard of a midnight dinner,” asked a bemused Shailendra Jain.

A bigger ordeal was in store for the five passengers waiting at Lucknow to go to Patna. When the aircraft finally landed at 1 am, they were taken to Calcutta.

Apart from wasting an additional three hours’ fuel, the airline had to put up in Delhi the 10 passengers who refused to take the “hijacked” flight and the five others in Calcutta in five-star hotels. The amount spent: about Rs 10,000 on each of the 15 passengers.    

May 19 
The BJP is likely to scale down its demand for seats for the civic elections in Calcutta next month following pressure from Delhi.

Rejecting the Trinamul Congress’ offer of 19 seats, the state BJP yesterday announced it would contest 45 seats in the elections to be held on June 25.

But following reports that Mamata Banerjee had threatened to quit the ruling coalition, BJP president Kushabhau Thakre today summoned state leaders to Delhi for talks. P.D. Chitlangia and Shantilal Jain reached the capital this evening with a list of 30 nominees.

Sources said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will prevail upon the state leaders to scale down their demand. Union minister of state for communications Tapan Sikdar is likely to be present. He today accused Mamata of “blackmailing the BJP leadership” and said he would not “encourage” such behaviour.

But it appears the decision on seat-sharing will now be settled in Delhi, with state leaders playing little role. A meeting between Mamata and the BJP leadership is likely tomorrow. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi is already in touch with her.

After staking claim to 45 seats yesterday, state BJP leaders today said they would be “happy” if they were given 30 seats.

Trinamul leaders stated they could consider any reasonable demand. Mamata is learnt to have said that 19 seats were allocated to BJP though it has only two councillors in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and has no MLA or MP from the city.

BJP’s senior vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy said he expected an amicable solution. He added that vice-president Kailashpati Mishra is in Calcutta to sort out the issue. Asked if Mamata had threatened to resign, Krishnamurthy said: “We have no information that she would resign. Besides, I don’t think she would do so”.

Mamata Banerjee, a workaholic who attends Rail Bhavan whenever she is in Delhi, today stayed home to pile pressure on the BJP. Trinamul leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said she could not be expected to attend office when her party was going to contest against the BJP in several seats.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a director in the PMO, called on Mamata last night. But sources said he was not sent by Vajpayee, who is on good terms with the railways minister and usually calls her up himself if he has to talk to her. Kulkarni, who has been friendly with Mamata for a long time, took the initiative to speak to her on behalf of the party. Vajpayee has not got in touch with Mamata yet, indicating that he does not consider the civic elections important enough to necessitate talks.    

May 19 
Mamata Banerjee, please note. Chandrababu Naidu is getting his way, all the time, without throwing tantrums. And, after giving him his way, BJP leaders are falling over each other to shower him with encomiums.

While Mamata kept away from the railway ministry and sulked at home over a civic poll seat-sharing dispute with the BJP, Naidu was lecturing L.K. Advani and another BJP minister, Arun Shourie, on governance for the future.

Mouse in hand, CyberNaidu held an elite audience of ministers, bureaucrats, diplomats and heads of business groups spellbound with Doordarshan telecasting the show.

Advani quickly dubbed him a “visionary”, then followed a string of laudatory expressions. “Chandrababu Naidu has built up credibility with the people, the state and the country. We have a lot to learn from today’s presentation,” he said.

The chief minister’s presentation was a show-window of how he was using information technology in governance, the unequivocal message being that under him Andhra was on the road to superpowerdom.

Naidu will never cease to surprise. He plays the visionary in one place and at another he brings up the anti-reforms vanguard, all in one day, and not for the first time either. He had opposed the reformist subsidy cuts recently announced by the Centre while pushing for power sector reforms in his state.

Three BJP ministers sat with him today to persuade him to allow the Centre to sell the hugely loss-making government-owned Vizag steel plant. That in itself is a flattering ego-massage since it is unusual for the Centre to plead with a chief minister before deciding to sell something it owns itself. But at the end of a long session, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley and Dilip Roy came away with the vision of an adamantly opposed Naidu.

The chief minister also insisted on being provided with a status report on the entire public sector divestment programme.

Apparent contradictions within “Naidu-ism” were pointed out at the presentation by the less-impressed members of the audience at the presentation. One asked why so many farmers were committing suicide in his state. Naidu didn’t reply to this question but wondered how Kerala, which is high on the human development index had the largest number of suicides.

With 27 MPs, Naidu is used to getting his way with the Vajpayee government. A BJP leader in Hyderabad said: “Chandrababu Naidu has been getting the same treatment as Jayalalitha in the last regime.”

Only, Naidu does not make public threats about withdrawing support to the government every time he is unhappy.

As Advani said after hearing Naidu out, it’s all about credibility. “Credibility grows out of commitment to a cause, along with commitment you need competence. Today, Chandrababu Naidu has built (that) credibility.”    

Washington, May 19 
It nearly stopped trading on Wall Street. It virtually took afternoon traffic off the streets in 10 US cities — and in 40 other cities worldwide.

As two million computer users worldwide logged on to the Internet on Thursday afternoon, history was made in more ways than one. The live webcast which slowed down the world this week was a 25-minute fashion show which cost $10 million to produce and which raised $3 million for AIDS research.

As Internet users logged on to the fashion site, the world’s top fashion models like Tyra Banks, Laetitia Casta and Heidi Klum, wearing the tiniest garments sashayed across their computer screens, live from Cannes in France.

“This was the most watched webcast in history,” Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of Intimate Brands Inc., owned by Victoria’s Secret lingerie retailers, organisers of the show, said. “This was the most watched fashion show in history. This was the most expensive fashion show in history,” he added.

But, if on-line traders on Wall Street were drooling over the models on Thursday afternoon instead of furiously punching buttons to sell or buy stocks, it was not simply because some of the world’s most attractive women were walking across their computer screens wearing little.

The webcast was also an experiment in e-commerce with a “shop-while-you-watch” feature — a pioneering effort on the Internet.

As viewers watched the live show, their computers had a split screen, which, on the right side displayed consumer versions of what the models were wearing on

the left side of the screen. If you liked what you saw, you could order those right away, leaving the colour and size to be specified later so that there wasn’t too much distraction from the live models themselves.

Retailers said a bigger challenge than the show itself was the flood of underwear orders, filling these out quickly and correctly and delivering them. If the experiment is successful, it could dramatically change retailing business the way self-service supermarkets transformed shopping in the 1960s.

In recognition of the business potential of the webcast, the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday was rung by supermodel Tyra Banks and Leslie Wexner, chairman of Intimate Brands. Of course, the opening bell was broadcast via satellite from Cannes where the fashion show was taking place.

Last year, Victoria’s Secret had similarly made models run across the information superhighway from New York, but the show was a flop.

Of the 1.5 million people who logged on to watch, less than half were able to do so. The company’s servers could not support the overload.

This year, thanks to better technology, viewers, who were denied access to the show, were digitally escorted to an “e-lounge” where they watched video clips of Victoria’s Secret. Once space was available on the live show, viewers were given the option to move on to that part of the webcast.

The show was not without its critics, though. Internet access management companies, which help clients shut out items considered undesirable, issued strong statements attacking live webcasts of women in skimpy underwear during working hours. but clearly, these did not deter two million viewers worldwide from logging on to the site in what could be a trendsetter in retail business in the future.

There were others who were critical for aesthetic reasons. “The girls looked like ants on the computer screen,” one viewer said. “Very well-dressed ants, but ants nonetheless. I wanted to project the whole thing on the screen.”    

Temperature: Max: 36.5°C (+1) Min: 29°C (+2) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 91% Minimum: 54% Rainfall: 0.1 mm (upto 8.30 pm) Today: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of shower or thundershower towards the evening. Maximum temperature likely to be 35°C Sunset: 6.09 pm, Sunrise: 4.56 am    

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