Mamata, Cong locked in baiting game
Zee rocks cricket with racist slur on ICC
Iago sinks Figo in Lisbon’s silver river
Nearly half on less than dollar a day
Calcutta weather

June 29 
Eyeball to eyeball, Mamata Banerjee is staring hard at Congress leaders, trying to wean away the party’s councillors to form the Calcutta civic board in a power game that will be lost by whoever blinks first.

The Congress has dug its heels in, revelling in the idea that its 14 councillors have made it the kingmaker. The party’s high command in New Delhi today named its price to Mamata: she must dump the BJP.

“The writing on the wall is clear. Mamata is an emerging force in Bengal. But the minorities are with us. If she wants to be chief minister, she should make up her mind fast,” said a senior AICC leader who handles Bengal affairs in Delhi.

Mamata’s immediate concern, however, is not the chief ministership for herself but the crown of mayor for Subrata Mukherjee. Trying to engineer a split in the Congress, she said: “We will welcome anyone who wants to fight the CPM. We are optimistic of forming the board.”

The Congress high command is waiting for Mamata to make the first move. Senior Congress leader, while agreeing it will be “too much”to expect the Trinamul chief to ditch the BJP, want Mamata to at least make a “face-saving gesture” so that the two parties can get closer.

The leaders will be willing to consider support if Mamata considers giving the Congress the Deputy Mayor’s post and denies a mayor-in-council berth to the BJP. The leaders in Delhi believe Mamata’s next move will be in accordance with the “ground realities” shaping the run-up to next year’s assembly polls.

The Trinamul-BJP combine claimed it had moved a step closer towards forming the board. A Trinamul leader said that lone Nationalist Congress Party councillor Hridayananda Gupta has pledged his support. The Trinamul said it now has the support of 65 councillors and needs six more to win a vote in the 141-member house.

However, the State Election Commission has still not made an official proclamation on the results of the civic polls.

In the Left camp, many were stunned by the CPM’s decision to contest the mayoral poll despite its poor showing. Veteran members of the party’s state and Calcutta district committees feared that the CPM will be further embarrassed in the mayoral poll.

The new mayor of the CMC will be selected by secret ballot in an election by councillors in the third week of July. The term of the present board expires on July 14. If the election results in a tie, the mayor will be selected by the toss of a coin.

The anti-defection law is not applicable in the CMC. This crucially tilts the balance in favour of Trinamul’s candidate, Subrata Mukherjee, who will bank on cross-voting by Congress councillors in his favour unless the party splits and supports Trinamul.

Wary of this, the Congress is trying to create firewalls around its municipal party. Party chief Sonia Gandhi telephone Ghani Khan Chowdhury and congratulated him. Sources said 10 Janpath has taken direct charge of monitoring developments in Calcutta.

At a meeting called by Chowdhury, Somen Mitra, Pradip Bhattacharya, Sultan Ahmad, Saugata Roy and Manas Bhuniya took a tough stand. They said it was inconceivable that Congress councillors will support Subrata Mukherjee. The Congress is confident that at least nine of its 14 councillors, who are from the minority community, will have nothing to do with Trinamul-BJP.    

Mumbai, June 29 
The threat of a split loomed over the world of cricket after Zee Telefilms today alleged that the International Cricket Council was “racist”. Zee also promised — without going into specifics — to chart a course for a new cricket regimen that will be by, for and of Asians.

Zee’s threats push cricketdom towards a breakup, a development long suspected by many watchers of cricket politics as “inevitable” after Jagmohan Dalmiya won the rights to host the 1996 World Cup in the Indian subcontinent. The suspicion traces its origins to the acrimony in the MCC’s Long Room at Lord’s.

An angry Zee stoked memories of apartheid in cricket after the ICC’s decision to award telecast rights of the game to the World Sports Group (WSG) despite bidding a whopping $ 666 million, as against the Rupert Murdoch firm’s $ 550 million. The bids were made for commercial rights of ICC’s major events for seven years.

An 11-page Zee press release on Thursday titled “ICC Cricket; the 2nd innings of Apartheid” said: “It is not the fight between News Corp and Zee TV or a fight between Zee and any other broadcaster or production company.

“The present day battle and warfare for cricket is against the offer of $550 million by a whiteman company with one dollar networth as opposed to the offer of a $666 million by an Indian company with capitalisation of close to $10 billion. (It is shocking that ICC has favoured) the whiteman. (This) is reflective of the age old racial discrimination.”

Zee said just as it has provided a platform to budding artistes, whether from Pakistan or India or any part of Asia, it is committed to giving a viable platform to Asian sportsmen “to showcase their talent and thereby ignite the Asian pride.

“We, at Zee, are determined to fight to the finish. We cannot be subjugated again,” the statement issued by Satish Menon, deputy CEO, sports, at Zee reads.

What does Zee mean by promising a platform for Asia? The press release does not go into details. But Zee’s reaction raises visions of an independent governing body for cricket in Asia.

The Asian Cricket Council has already been formed, primarily at the initiative of Jagmohan Dalmiya,whose term as ICC chief ends tomorrow. Marketmen across the world know that cricket has its biggest audience in this continent and is a moneyspinner. A cricket world minus Asia will only be a caricature of itself.

Lest its spat with the ICC be interpreted as a division of the cricket world between Rupert Murdoch and Subhash Chandra, Zee cast itself in the role of a fighter against racism. “It is of least concern (sic) whether we or somebody else won the bid. As an Asian company fuelled and powered by Asians, we cannot let Asian pride suffer anymore. After all, we are Asians. We owe ourselves to Asia and Asians. Let Asia lead cricket.”

A News Corp official, when contacted, said they were not surprised by such statements. “We were expecting them to say something like this.” He further added that while representatives from India and Pakistan supported the Zee bid, the other Asian country, namely Bangladesh, supported WSG. In addition to the other countries, even the West Indies had favoured WSG.    

Lisbon, June 29 
Meandering past Lisbon, the Tagus suddenly widens as it approaches the Atlantic.

From the skies, the river on its way to the confluence looks like a silver fish. The Portuguese call it Mar da Plata — the silver waters.

But the silver lost its gleam when the sun finally set over the jumbo Sony screen two hours before midnight, after the disputed penalty destroyed the dreams of thousands of Figo fans, worshippers of Conceicao and devotees of Nuno Gomes. Twelve hours later, Portugal is still mourning its exit from Euro 2000.

Yesterday, at 7:45 pm, honking motorists reminded each other that it was time for the kick-off, when Figo would outshine Zidane. Flapping in the breeze, the red-and-green national flags fluttered all over Lisbon, the harbour and the Ritz Four Seasons, where the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was staying unnoticed.

It was already seven in the evening. As a bright sun slanted its rays on the Portuguese capital, Nuno Ferreira paced up and down inside the Indian Media Centre at the Dom Pedro. But his boss wouldn’t let him off.

Nuno was one of those assigned to help out journalists in the Prime Minister’s entourage with the computers and fax machines. “You really want to come?’’ he asked. “Tell my boss that you want to go. Then we can all drive off to Sony Square. We are already late. It will take more than half an hour to reach because of the traffic jam. If you’re coming, my boss will let me go.’’

He didn’t wait for a second nod. With a few of us in tow, he clambered down the staircase to the lobby and to his waiting car parked on the pavement. He revved up the engine and was off in a flash. He almost crashed into a parking lot at the Sony stadium. The Jumbotron screen was silent. Kick-off was still 15 minutes away.

Thousands had already assembled — Joanas, Martas, Marias, de Gamas — faces Nuno knew. “That girl there has beautiful blue eyes,’’ he said in his broken English as we left the concrete airport-tarmac-like patch to buy our beer at the kiosks.

There was excitement in the air, as the sea of voices screaming “Portu — gal, Portu – gal’’ broke on the giant screen, died away to surge again in echoing crescendo.

The screen came alive on the banks of the Tagus. It was from here that Vasco da Gama had set sail for India five centuries ago. Teenagers were climbing pylons for a better view. The Portuguese team was jogging out of the dressing room. They were all coming out — Rui Costa, Couto, Joao Costa and then Figo. The stadium erupted: F… i…..g…o.

Waving his red-and-green flag, Bizarro explained the meaning behind the colours. The red, he said, was for blood, the green for environment and nature. Nuno said Bizarro usually told his wife at eight in the morning that he was going out for shopping and then drank Port wine and beer through the day. Paolo said Nuno had fallen from a height of 10 metres shouting for his team.

Then the match began and the crowd booed Zidane, Anelka and Deschamps. When Zidane dribbled past Joao Pinto, the crowd booed him with their thumbs down. Then Figo pushed the ball ahead for Nuno Gomes, but he couldn’t get past Lizarazu. A collective groan went up from the stadium, up the Vasco da Gama tower over which hunched a seafood restaurant.

Then came the goal. A sudden half turn and the long-haired Nuno was the new national hero, better than Ronaldo and Kluivert.

They hadn’t yet come back from the beer stalls after the interval when the French equalised.

With the match tantalisingly poised at 1-1, it was clear that the French were taking control. Suddenly, Sony Square was quieter, almost anxious. The sun hadn’t yet set. It was almost nine. The match went into extra time.

All the action was happening inside the Portuguese penalty area. The Austrian referee was being booed. The Portuguese hate the rise of neo-Fascists in Austria and wonder how the French tolerate them.

They were counting seconds before the nail-biting penalty shoot-out would begin. Then came the blow, like a storm from beyond the Tagus, from the choppy waters of the Atlantic.

The referee was now the villain, and as the furious crowd seethed at the injustice, beer flew out of trembling glasses and empty bottles smashed on the hard ground.

“Unjust,’’ screamed the crowd, as Zidane prepared to take the kick. The red-and-green flags seemed to have suddenly lost their lustre. As the sun finally set, there were tears in hundreds of eyes.

The party never happened. Nuno drove back balancing his last beer glass between his knees. Portugal sank into a gloom that a sunrise this morning could not lift. Pale shadows of shattered dreams linger everywhere.

“Inglorio”, screamed one tabloid. “Raiva” or Anger, raged another. At last night’s banquet hosted by Vajpayee, Portuguese premier Antonio Guterres was not really smiling. Only Nuno said: “We are not like Englishmen. We don’t like violence. But the Austrian referee was like Iago.”    

Calcutta, June 20 
Eleven Indians made it to the Forbes list of the world’s 200 richest men earlier this month. Today, nearly half a billion Indians appeared on another list — of the world’s poorest people.

The annual human development report prepared by the UN revealed that 44.2 per cent Indians live below the international poverty line, defined as $1 a day in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), a measure used to compare real price levels across countries.

But the good news is India has gone up the ranks in terms of the human development index by four to 128, just above Pakistan at 135, but way below Sri Lanka at 84, among its neighbours.

The index is based on three indicators: longevity, as measured by life expectancy at birth, educational attainment (a combination of adult literacy and gross primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratio) and standard of living.

For the first time since it began to be issued 10 years ago, the report, which ranks 174 countries and territories, has introduced a new element — human rights, linking it to development.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has written the conceptual framework for the report. He said: “Human development and human rights are close enough in motivation and concerns to be compatible, yet different enough in strategy and design to supplement each other fruitfully.”

India finds high praise in the report for its human rights record. Conversely, civil and political rights are not enough if people are starving and do not have access to education, proper health care and a decent way of making a living.

India has been found wanting here. It has 48 doctors per 100,000 people, even less than Pakistan. But a health bomb may be ticking elsewhere, the report warns. India has the highest number of people with AIDS, estimated at 4.1 million, or about 13.6 per cent of 30.1 million people with the disease worldwide.    

Temperature: Maximum: 33.3°C (normal) Minimum: 25.5°C (-2) RAINFALL: 2.1 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 60% Today: One or two showers or thundershowers. Sunset: 6.23 pm Sunrise: 4.58 am    

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