UK secret defence deal with Delhi
Battle for Calcutta in last lap
Television lakhpati lost amid fortune
Wedding gift for Basu’s birthday
Calcutta weather

 
 
UK SECRET DEFENCE DEAL WITH DELHI 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 7 
Britain has agreed to clear 65 of the 70 licences for arms supplies to India, applications for which have been pending since the nuclear tests two years ago. In addition, overruling American objections, the Tony Blair government has repaired and returned one of two vertical landing and take-off aircraft of the Indian Navy which had been arbitrarily held up in the UK after Pokhran II.

A second naval aircraft is expected to be similarly returned in full service condition before the chief of naval staff Sushil Kumar visits Britain next week on what is billed as the start of a new defence relationship between India and the UK.

This secret defence deal between South Block and Whitehall, brokered during a series of recent high-level meetings in London and New Delhi, explains the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s silence over revelations in London this week that a British ban on arms exports to Pakistan is to be partially lifted.

What is more, Britain’s decision to resume arms exports to Pakistan did not come as a surprise to South Block, although spin doctors of the ministry of external affairs are now putting out an impression to the contrary.

A key Indian official visiting London had been briefed in detail about the Blair government’s decision a day before the story about British arms for Pakistan was broken by The Guardian.

Whitehall told the official from New Delhi that in addition to the 20 licences for Pakistan, which are in the process of being approved, another 15 would be cleared soon, taking the total to 35.

The Indian official was assured by Whitehall that neither arms and ammunition which could be used for subversion in Kashmir nor equipment which could aid Kargil-type operations would be supplied to Pakistan.

Although the Indian government cannot acknowledge it in public, the quid pro quo deal by the Blair government vis-a-vis India and Pakistan, eminently suits New Delhi.

This is because the 65 licences for India to be cleared by Britain shortly includes items such as £1-million worth of underwater cables and rubber gaskets for torpedoes. The navy is in dire need of some of the items which are being cleared for export to India.

Besides, the navy has been miffed with the foreign ministry and the ministry of defence over their inability to pressure Britain into returning the Harrier and Hawk aircraft which were sent to the UK for repairs. The latest arrangement has cleared the way for the return of these vital planes, which were illegally held up by the Blair government.

The deal with Islamabad was approved following a visit by Pakistan’s foreign secretary to London last week, during which the visiting official made out a convincing case for the Blair government to engage Pervez Musharraf’s junta, instead of isolating it.

Sources in London said the foreign secretary had returned to Islamabad with an assurance from Whitehall that it would provide electoral assistance to Musharraf in implementing his promise of holding local government elections in Pakistan.

Although details of such assistance are yet to be revealed, it would be a coup of sorts for Musharraf as British electoral assistance would be tantamount to an endorsement of the general’s claim that he is well on the way to restoration of popular rule.    


 
 
BATTLE FOR CALCUTTA IN LAST LAP 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 7 
The battle for Calcutta, which kept Bengal politics in tenterhooks for nearly a month, will climax tomorrow when 141 new councillors meet to pick the mayor.

Each of the two contenders to the post — Subrata Mukherjee of the Trinamul Congress and the Left Front’s Kanti Ganguly — claimed that they are close to making it.

During the day, a brief truce in the war of words set in at a meeting where the new councillors took oath. Mukherjee and Ganguly sheathed their knives, held each other in a bear-hug and flashed smiles for the benefit of photographers.

But, in separate news conferences, Mukherjee said: “He (Kanti) is no match, I am going to be the new mayor.” Ganguly, drawing a parallel between last week’s Euro cup semi-final and tomorrow’s election, said: “He (Subrata) may fancy himself as mayor, but don’t forget how the fancied Holland went down to Italy. Our performance will be akin to Italy’s.”

However, the two combatants’ grandiose statements, made against the backdrop of horsetrading and mudslinging, were inadequate to mask the high tension that marked the election-eve.

Generating tension were Trinamul’s continuing attempts to poach Congress councillors and an enraged Congress’ threat to reconsider its decision to skip voting. Trinamul claimed that several Congress councillors were offering to join it, as a result of which its “strength will go further up to 68”.

Embarrassed at the CPM’s charge that she was “horsetrading or buying councillors”, Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee sought to strike the CPM with the same stick.

In support of her contention, she displayed an audio-cassette allegedly containing a minister’s plea to some of her party councillors to support the Left Front candidate. “I have clear evidence of the CPM minister’s attempts to lure our councillors over telephone,” she said. Curiously, she did not play the cassette at the news conference. “I will do that (play) after the election,” she said.

The Congress stuck to its stand of not fielding any candidate, but could not decide whether its councillors will take part in the voting following serious differences among its councillors.

PCC general secretary Sultan Ahmed met Mamata at Nizam Palace with Kazi Rajibul Islam, who stood first in the Madhyamik examination this year. Asked what prompted him to bring the boy to Trinamul leader Ahmed said: “She is a landmark in Bengal and no one can ignore her.”    


 
 
TELEVISION LAKHPATI LOST AMID FORTUNE 
 
 
FROM DIPTOSH MAJUMDAR
 
New Delhi, July 7 
It is a disarming smile that lights up his face. And it is worth Rs 25 lakh. After last night’s airing of Amitabh Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati show, Ramesh K. Arora is a famous man. He has become the first man to take away such “bhari rakam” from a TV show in India.

At Pitampura’s congested K.P. Block, he is now the most recognised of faces. Last evening, all his neighbours had come out to congratulate him. Here was a man who has not earned his money with any “do numbari”.

Clad in a smart dark blue shirt, Arora steps out from his white Maruti car. He is very apologetic about the disorderliness in his house. It is being renovated.

He has been in the construction business, laying roads, pipelines, even building flats for the DDA and has not yet decided what to do with the money.

“Do you think I should put it all in a fixed deposit scheme? What is the kind of interest I get?” he asks somewhat naively.

Son Gaurav, clutching the “Onkar” locket he was wearing at the show, escorts us home.

“It is a secret we had pledged to keep with the Star Plus people on June 16, the day the programme was recorded,” says Arora. “Two days later, after I returned to Delhi, I told my wife and second son, Sanchit, a Class XI student.”

How did he know the name of the first Indian air chief? “Well, I simply knew. Just like that. It was one of those things you pick up and it sticks in your mind. In fact, I knew most of the answers, like Edwin Aldrin was the second man to step on the moon, much before the four alternatives were displayed on the screen,” says a confident Arora.

Arora told his morning jogger friends about the programme and the telecast date but kept mum on his win.

Yesterday’s telecast has changed his life. “I had gone to Connaught Place this afternoon and people recognised me. They put their thumbs up. I waved back. It is a new feeling.”

He got his post-dated cheque of Rs 25 lakh on the day of recording. He can encash it or deposit it in his account only on July 16.

Gaurav, a computer engineering student, has also been taken aback by his father’s stunning performance. Even a question based on physics, not a subject he knows very well, failed to stump Arora. Always a Bachchan fan, Arora and his family saw Refugee immediately after its release. Their verdict on Abhishek’s performance: simply stellar.    


 
 
WEDDING GIFT FOR BASU’S BIRTHDAY 
 
 
BY BARUN GHOSH
 
Calcutta, July 7 
Unlike previous years, West Bengal chief minister and Left Front patriarch Jyoti Basu, who turns 87 tomorrow, is going to observe his birthday in a different manner.

Basu, now holidaying in London, will spend tomorrow overseeing his granddaughter Mallika’s marriage to Andre at a small church in Barkshire. “Basu has no other programmes tomorrow except attending the marriage ceremony in Barkshire Church,” said Prasanta Roy, Basu’s aide. The chief minister left for Israel on June 29 and has gone to London from there. He will be back on July 18.

Roy said over phone from London that Basu, his son Chandan, Mallika’s mother Doli, and her two sisters, Doyel and Koyel, were the only guests from Calcutta to attend the wedding ceremony. “We have hardly any other guests from Calcutta barring a few members from the Basu family. The entire function is being organised from the bridegroom’s side,” Roy said. Basu was unavailable for comment at St James Court hotel in London till late midnight. Mallika’s grandmother Kamal Basu and Chandan’s second wife will be conspicuous by their absence from tomorrow’s grand function.

Sources in Indira Bhavan, where Basu’s wife is staying alone at the moment, said Mallika — Payel to her close circle — had called up grandma twice during the day to enquire about her health and seek her blessings.

Payel, 22, who has just completed a journalism course in London, is engaged to 23-year old Andre, a photographer for quite a few years.

“We are happy that the marriage is being solemnised tomorrow,” said Jyotsna Panda, Doli’s aide. “Andre looks like an Englishman with a well-built physique. He is short but fair complexioned with bluish eyes and dark hair.”

Panda said Andre had spent three days with boudi and didimani at Salt Lake when he came to Calcutta last October. “Payel didimani came earlier here to spend her vacation and Jamai Babajivan joined her later,” she recounted.

According to Panda, Boudi left for London with the youngest daughter Koyel on June 20 after completing the entire marketing on her own. Doyel didimani who is also studying in London joined them later. “Boudi is coming back on July 16 but we have no idea whether the newly-wed couple is accompanying her,” Panda said, adding, “However, we are expecting the newly-wed couple sometime next January.”

The city will miss Basu on his 87th birthday. Indira Bhavan, which is normally visited by hundreds of people on the occasion, will remain deserted tomorrow.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who organised Basu’s 86th birthday, said: “I am missing Basu very much. I had planned to make massive arrangements for celebrating Basu’s 87th birthday this time. But his absence has spoilt the whole design.”

   


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Max: 32.6°C (+1), Min: 28.3°C (+2) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 92% Minimum: 69% Rainfall: Trace Today: Possibility of thundershowers in some parts. Sunset: 6.22 pm, Sunrise: 5.01 am    
 

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