Panchsheel parallel for China thaw
President pardons Purulia prisoners
Govt claims match-fix proof
Second honeymoon with nine o’ clock tug
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, July 22 
In an attempt to return to the “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” days, the neighbours have agreed on a five-point formula that would help iron out differences and improve relations.

To back this commitment, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jianxuan, on a visit to the country, today agreed on starting the delineation process of their borders along the Line of Actual Control in the middle sector that runs between Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Tang is the highest ranking Chinese visitor since relations were soured in 1998 by the Pokhran nuclear blasts which Pakistan quickly answered with tests of its own. India has repeatedly accused China of helping Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Tang sought to assure India that China’s “military ties with Pakistan were in no way aimed at Delhi”. He also indicated that China was trying to come to terms with Delhi’s nuclear status by not raising the issue of implementing the UN Security Council’s resolution number 1172 which calls for immediate dismantling of India’s nuclear programme.

The five-point formula, reminiscent of the Panchsheel pillars of the Nehru era, includes steps to enhance trade and economic cooperation, development of military-to-military contacts, upgrading security dialogue from joint-secretary level to additional-secretary level, frequent meetings of the experts’ group on the boundary dispute and setting up of an eminent persons’ group.

The effort to engage with each other on non-political areas indicates that the countries are keen to broadbase existing ties.

Enhanced economic and trade cooperation is one of them, which proposes to include steps like setting up joint projects in information technology and holding trade exhibitions in both countries.

The proposed eminent persons’ group will help people-to-people contact on areas of commonality. The neighbours have also drawn up a number of confidence-building-measures as part of which Indian naval ships will visit Shanghai in September.

But homilies apart, the fact that both nations have agreed to start serious work on the border problem shows their keeness in easing tension. It was not known whether the two sides have already exchanged maps emphasising their respective claims.

If China made concessions by not referring to the Security Council resolution, India, too, showed restraint by not raking up Beijing’s nuclear help to Islamabad. The issue was raised “in passing” by Singh during talks with his guest from Beijing.

The Indians admit this is a sore point in relations but believe that improved ties would ensure that such cooperation detrimental to India’s interest will stop.    

Calcutta, July 22 
Bilateral relations received preference over the laws of the land when President K.R. Narayanan, in a dramatic turn of events today, pardoned the five Latvians sentenced to life in the Purulia arms-drop case.

In a rare gesture, the President exercised powers conferred on him under Article 72 of the Constitution and commuted their life sentence with immediate effect.

Till yesterday, officials here had been saying that the five, all crew members of the plane that dropped arms over Purulia in December 1995, would be handed over to the Russian authorities who might take further steps against them.

The move to release the crew comes ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in October. Representations had been made earlier by Moscow, requesting that the men be released. The issue also came up during foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s recent visit to Russia, where he promised to do his best. Four of the crew members had taken Russian citizenship in the hope of attaining freedom.

The five — Alexander Klichin, Igor Timmerman, Igor Moskvitin, Oleg Gaidasch and Evgueni Antimenko — were released from Presidency Jail this morning and taken to the Russian consulate in Alipore.

No one was allowed to approach them as they were “resting and would undergo check-ups,” an official at the gate said. They will leave for Moscow on Monday.

Earlier this year, a sessions court here had sentenced the crew members and prime accused Peter Bleach to life.

They were found guilty of conspiring against the West Bengal government and also convicted under the Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act.

(Agency reports from Okinawa say that Putin has thanked Delhi for the gesture, saying that this showed relations between India and Russia were thriving. Putin is attending the G-8 summit in Japan.

The Russian ambassador to India, who is in Moscow at the moment, has “warmly welcomed” the release. “This humane gesture has been greatly appreciated by our people,” he said.)

West Bengal minister for jails Biswanath Chowdhury said the release followed “a Presidential pardon which we received in the form of a communiqué this morning”.

“It requested the state government to release the five prisoners unconditionally. The President has constitutional powers to pardon convicted prisoners...we have just obeyed his order and freed them,” Chowdhury said.

Bleach, who is a British citizen, is still in Presidency Jail. An appeal filed by him on February 28 is pending with the Calcutta High Court.

Asked whether the Latvians’ freedom brightened Bleach’s chances, his lawyer R.K. Khanna said it was “too premature to say... I’ll have to consult my client”.

Bleach said he was very happy that the five were released and hoped that his case, too, would be considered.

Khanna, however, said it was clear that “both the Indian and Russian governments agree that an offence was committed.... Otherwise, instead of a pardon, there would have been an acquittal.” He said the release was the result of dealings at a “very high political level”.    

Bangalore, July 22 
The government today said the nationwide cricket raids had thrown up “cogent” evidence pointing to the involvement of players and officials in match-fixing.

“We have gathered substantial tangible evidence to prove concealment of wealth, evasion of tax and some kind of nexus in match-fixing,” minister of state for finance V. Dhananjaya Kumar said.

He said a good deal of jewellery and other moveable and immovable assets was found during the searches on seven cricketers, three administrators and two bookies. But, the minister added, the income-tax authorities would take at least two months to establish “the connection between the goods and persons concerned after giving due notice”.

Kumar said though his department had “cogent evidence to prove that amassing of wealth had a direct nexus with match-fixing, we are interested in collecting tax dues. The criminal aspects will be looked into by other agencies”.

Brushing aside WorldTel chief Mark Masceranhas’ threat to sue him for calling him a “bookie”, the junior minister said the sport baron was neither a cricketer nor a manager.

“People termed as bookies played a major role in match-fixing. Now it is up to him to come out with evidence that he was not involved,” Kumar said, adding that “the fact remains that premises belonging to Mascernhas were searched and some incriminating documents seized”.

Officials with access to the seized documents said diaries and other papers recovered from the residences of two prominent cricketers have revealed “a clear nexus in match-fixing and amassing of concealed wealth”.

They said there were records of accounts showing how much money was collected for which match. “Some names are not clear. We have to cross-check them with those of bookies,” the officials added.

Kumar said he himself was surprised to know “how people maintained their much money was collected... related to which match...”

The minister said though the operation had ended for the time being, he could not rule out further raids. “It is possible that some clues may lead to some other person whom we may have to investigate,” he added.

Man-fixing: Dalmiya

Former ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya today said a new word “man-fixing” had been added to the cricket lexicon. Asked who was responsible for murky goings-on in the game, he replied: “God...destiny, what else.”    

Mumbai, July 22 
No one quite knows how impressed she was with the angry young man. At least Amitabh Bachchan isn’t telling. But Jaya Bachchan simply can’t bear to miss her affable not-so-young man on the small screen.

“The other day I found her tugging at my jacket at a public function so that we could go home by 9 pm. Normally, it is I who have to drag her out of a party,” Bachchan said after a shooting of Kaun Banega Crorepati.

The family fan following doesn’t end with Jaya. Daughter Shweta phones at 9 pm from Delhi, son Abhishek, shooting at Kulu, calls to say the cast and crew pack up in time to watch KBC.

“There were a lot of question-marks” in the family about his appearing as a TV host, but now “they are very excited”, Bachchan said, obviously relishing the reflection of the countrywide Crorepati craze within the walls of his own home.

As he walks on to the classy, contemporary, high-tech set of KBC, with the blue and white spotlights wrapping him in a magical aura, the audience releases a collective sigh of excitement and anticipation.

He smiles and makes small talk. He waves to the audience, chats them up. On or off camera, he is charmingly courteous to the contestants. He helps a very short lady on to the high black chair and hands her down gracefully when she blows her chance with a wrong answer.

This is a new Amitabh Bachchan who has reinvented himself, or, as an agency head says, “For the first time maybe, he is being himself.”

He is no longer the Bollywood megastar — aloof, brooding, even a touch arrogant. Instead, there is an altogether human mixture of teasing warmth and poised gravity that is sweeping viewers off their feet. Crorepati is as much, for some maybe more, about Big B as about Big Bucks.

Only, Bachchan is not acting the Big B in it. He is playing the small man on the street, whom the show is targeting.

When a contestant says he wants to go off on a vacation with Aishwarya Rai, Bachchan ad libs, “Wish I could do the same.”

He has never believed in his film image of an angry young man, but he spots a similarity between the characters he played and the contestants in KBC. Dismissing talk of adding respectability to the culture of greed, Bachchan said: “I am providing opportunity for a person to use his education and knowledge to stand out on his own.”

“If you think of my film roles, they were all about seizing an opportunity. Any of the films that you can think of, Deewar, Zanjeer, Laawaris, they were all about a person, without any backing or support, taking on single-handed an unfair system and coming out on top,” he said.

Bachchan was very modest about his coming out on top on the back of these films, though. The angry young man was a persona conceived by Salim-Javed and given shape to by directors like Manmohan Desai, Yash Chopra and Prakash Mehra. “I was just standing by the wayside and was offered the role. I was just a carrier of goods.”

So he is in Crorepati, too, bearing fortunes for the underdog. “In a convoluted manner, this game show is similar (to his films). It is an enabling game where the contestants, irrespective of background, gets an opportunity to become a winner,” Bachchan said.

Relaxing in the air-conditioned wooden chalet decorated with Van Gogh copies next to the set, Bachchan calls his small-screen appearance “only another job opportunity.”

In a cream silk shirt with a Chinese collar — with the Nehru jacket styled after a design used by filmmaker Karan Johar in one of his movies — he is quick to brush aside praise for his ad-libbing. “I am shuddering inside. TV appearance is different as there is no script.”

Bachchan, by the way, will get to wear some 70 new outfits during the 130 KBC episodes. Fashion stylist Anshu searches out swathes of material for his approval with buttons getting special attention. The favourite colours seem to be blue, grey and black, but she is now trying out cream and beige, too. She plans to drape him in ethnic outfits on festival days.

“Only the choice of ties is mine,” he adds in an Anshu-is-calling-the-shots tone.

If the warmth is helping nervous contestants unwind, Bachchan is modest about taking credit for it. “Showing kindness and courtesy is what one does automatically,” he said, emphasising that “there is no deliberate attempt on his part” to handle the contestants in any particular way.

Bachchan says the show is a mirror image of its original. When he agreed to host KBC, he was taken to the Elstree Studio — where Who wants to be a millionaire? is shot — to get a first-hand feel.

He also made it a point to see the shows in other languages. “There were problems initially as the software could not handle the use of Hindi and English together. So it had to be sent to England to be worked on.” Now it can. So when Bachchan says “Computerji, yeh answer lock kiya jaye,” the machine is not bewildered and obeys.

So what is the secret behind the show’s success? “Its gorgeous concept. Kaun Banega Crorepati is a relaxed show on which any one can get in. There is no time limit. The show wants to help contestants. They are given three lifelines,” says Bachchan.

Naturally, he finds it “distressing” when somebody blows a fortune. True to his screen image of the champion of the underdog, he wants to give them every chance for a rethink.

Bachchan admitted that the contestants’ excitement does get to him but he would never like to be on the other side. “I just don’t think I would be able to give the right answers. I have pretty poor general knowledge”.

But he is still pretty fast on his feet. Asked how much he is getting paid for the show, pat came the punch: “If you were my accountant or my income tax officer, I would answer your question. Since you are neither you won’t get an answer to that one.”    

Temperature: Max: 30.1°C (-2), Min: 23.8°C (-2) Relative Humidity: Maximum: 97% Minimum: 71% Rainfall: 28.6 mm Today: One or two spells of light rain Sunset: 6.20 pm, Sunrise: 5.06 am    

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