Cong absent torment for Mamata
Zee threatens second innings
PM keeps autonomy door open

 
 
CONG ABSENT TORMENT FOR MAMATA 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta June 30: 
Holding the missing pieces in the civic board jigsaw in Calcutta, the Congress today made its first move as it decided to ask the newly-elected councillors not to be present at the election of the new mayor .

Somen Mitra, former state Congress president who plays a pivotal role in fashioning the party’s position, said the councillors would absent themselves if the Trinamul Congress-BJP combine or the CPM-led Left Front did not formally seek their support.

“They will have to ceremonially write to us soliciting support. Why, till the other day, one would call us someone’s ‘B’ team and the other would refer to us as collaborators with communal forces. Now, let’s see what they think of us,” said Mitra to whom the new councillors owe their allegiance.

Friday’s development was significant in that it contrasted with reports of the past 48 hours that the Congress councillors would be present in the council chamber where the election of the mayor would take place but would abstain from voting.

At meetings through the day, the Congress councillors informed the state party leadership that they were keen on maintaining their “independent identity” if Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul, now ahead of the Leftists in the race for the mayor’s office, did not formally seek the Congress’ support.

Echoing the party’s sentiments, state president A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury said Mamata’s “appeal” to individual Congress councillors by way of reports in a section of the media “just would not do. If someone needs us, let her say so in writing”.

After formulating the party’s position in a meeting at his residence in Salt Lake, Khan Chowdhury tried to convey the same to party president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi who, at that point, was out of the capital.

Khan Chowdhury was expected to talk to her either tonight or tomorrow, after which he would leave for hometown Malda.

Alarmed at the Congress’ move, Trinamul’s bosses, especially Subrata Mukherjee, the mayor-in-waiting, trained their guns on Mitra who, they said, was standing between Trinamul and the CMC board. “We are worried about Somen and not Congress. Many in the Congress are in touch with us, wanting to join Trinamul. We are sure they will vote for us in the mayoral election, but can’t say what Somen’s men will do,” Mukherjee said.

If the 14 Congress members absent themselves, the contest will be too close for Trinamul’s comfort. The winner will then be decided on the basis of division among the 127 councillors present. For majority, Trinamul will need 64 votes. It claims to have 65, including support from four Independents. The Left has 61.

Trinamul’s concern arises from the fact that the CPM has not only not given up the fight, but has asked its best crisis manager, transport minister Subhash Chakraborty, to try and secure support from an additional 11 councillors.

On behalf of Trinamul, councillor Javed Khan is working on Congress members belonging to the minority community to get their support.

   


 
 
ZEE THREATENS SECOND INNINGS 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, June 30: 
After accusing international cricket bosses of “racial bias” for being denied World Cup telecast rights, Subash Chandra-owned Zee Telefilms has said it will unveil its next course of action in a couple of days.

Rival World Sports Group (WSG), which was awarded the rights to the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, joined the war of statements by explaining that Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp does not have a stake in WSG.

As the controversy over award of the telecast right began to acquire the hue of another battle between two media barons fighting a bitter war for market share in India, WSG clarified that News Corp joined the bid jointly made by it and Nimbus Communications, like WSG a marketing company, only last March. It likened the late entry of Murdoch’s flagship to TWI teaming up with Zee a few days before the presentation by the bidders before the ICC.

WSG, founded by Seamus O’Brien in Hong Kong in 1992, admitted that News Corp had provided the full financial guarantee that has to accompany the bid. Murdoch himself is believed to have offered personal guarantee.

In return, News Corp will be entitled to certain options on broadcast and other rights in several territories, WSG said.

Guarantee is one area where, according to ICC sources, Zee was found wanting. It is said to have offered guarantee in phases.

When the ICC decided to pick WSG in spite of it having quoted a lower price of $550 million as opposed to $666 million by Zee, the explanation offered was that money was not the sole criterion for selection. But even money-wise, ICC sources had said, the revenue-sharing formula offered by WSG was more attractive than that of Zee. With News Corp’s substantial professional experience and expertise behind it, WSG was also felt to be better equipped to handle a tournament as big as the World Cup.

Zee, however, is contesting all these arguments. Satish Menon, deputy chief executive, sports, said: “It is gross injustice.”

He said certain sections of the ICC board decided to carry out a process of due diligence (in which financial conditions of a deal are met) before the final meeting and claimed that Zee did not have the financial worth even though the company is listed on the stock exchange.

If due diligence had to be carried out, it could have been done at the preliminary meetings in Paris or Brussels, he added. After being shortlisted, if Zee was found wanting, other bidders could have been called to make fresh bids or WSG could have been asked to raise its price to match Zee’s. None of this was done, Menon said.

Zee is arguing that by handing over the contract to WSG, it is not ICC alone that has lost out. The cricket boards of ICC member countries will also be losers.

Menon also questioned how the ICC decided against Zee when it had given a bank guarantee of $25 million to be followed up by $75 million. Instead, it chose a combine which offered a $30-million guarantee by News Corp.    


 
 
PM KEEPS AUTONOMY DOOR OPEN 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
June 30: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has taken a soft stand on the autonomy resolution adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Speaking on board the aircraft carrying him back to New Delhi from Lisbon last night, Vajpayee said the “demands they are making are not entirely outside the purview of the Constitution”.

He, however, insisted that all discussions in the future with the Farooq Abdullah government in Srinagar would take place within the framework of the Constitution.

In a written statement, the Prime Minister said: “Our views on the status of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India are the foundation for all other activity in and with regard to J&K. I have not familiarised myself with all the details of the debate and decisions of the Assembly which took place while I was out of the country. When the J&K chief minister met me a few days ago in New Delhi, he had indicated that there would be a discussion on the matter in the state Assembly. Now that the Assembly has passed a resolution, the matter would be considered in accordance with our Constitution.”

A soft stand — as opposed to the hardline views expressed by the BJP and the Opposition parties — does not, however, mean that the Indian government would accept all the points on the autonomy charter. There are clauses that imply a return to the state’s pre-1953 status. The government will never concede such impossible claims. But a degree of autonomous functioning within the parameters of the Constitution can be allowed.

The resolution passed by the Assembly called for autonomy in all areas except defence, foreign policy and communications.

The Prime Minister’s statement hinting that he is not dismissing the autonomy resolution without scrutiny and without consultations with Abdullah indicates that he is in a conciliatory mood.

It is also clear that at this point of time he is not ready to make any commitments before studying the implications of informal parleys Delhi is conducting with the rather disunited Hurriyat leadership. Vajpayee said talks with the Hurriyat would continue.

Abdullah has already claimed that the Prime Minister was sympathetic to the autonomy question when the two discussed the debate in the Assembly at Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence last week. Home minister L.K. Advani had refused to comment on this claim.

Vajpayee said the Cabinet would examine the resolution. He did not feel the move by the Abdullah government posed a threat to the country’s security and integrity.

   

 

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