Knee laser surgery on PM’s New York schedule
Strike roar greets telecom corp
Vajpayee misses date with President
Police station on druglord’s payroll
Gandhiji packaged for marketing
Basu unmasks home truths
Calcutta Weather

 
 
KNEE LASER SURGERY ON PM’S NEW YORK SCHEDULE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is likely to go in for laser surgery on his problem knee in New York.

The date for the operation has yet to be fixed, but it could either be on September 8 evening or the next day. Vajpayee’s he alth managers are busy networking with orthopaedic experts at various medical institutes in New York to arrange the operation.

The Prime Minister is under constant medical supervision in Delhi as well, but senior government officials feel American doctors are better equipped to handle the sophisticated operation.

Scheduling the surgery at New York gives Vajpayee added reason to proceed with his tour of the Big Apple. The explanation given so far for not pruning his trip further is that he is slated to address the UN Millennium Summit there on September 8. He is slated to take off on his US visit on September 7 evening.

There were rumours in the capital today that the knee would knock New York off Vajpayee’s itinerary also. The buzz grew louder after the foreign office officially announced last night that the Prime Minster had cut short his visit by two days and would not be travelling to San Francisco.

Vajpayee’s managers plan to get over with the operation as soon as possible so that his knee is adequately rested and he is able to walk without difficulty by the time he meets President Bill Clinton in Washington on September 14.

He is slated to be in the US capital till September 17.

An early operation also offers Vajpayee a fait accompli to cancel his other engagements in New York. He is scheduled to attend a Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan function and a Confederation of Indian Industry meeting in the city, as well as grace a meeting of the Indo-American Association in Staaten Island on September 9.

Of these, the last one is the most controversial as it is likely to be attended by a large number of Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists and other Hindu leaders.

Vajpayee is reportedly keen to skip this meet as it runs contrary to his efforts to hold up the modern face of infotech India. Having the operation done on September 9 or the evening before, therefore, suits the Prime Minister.    


 
 
STRIKE ROAR GREETS TELECOM CORP 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
The Cabinet today took the first step towards corporatising the telecom sector by bringing the departments of telecom services and telecom operations under a single head, sparking unrest among employees’ unions which promised to fight the decision.

The new corporation, called the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, will take off from October 1 but the unions, which have lined up a series of protests, could delay the process. The employees’ organisations see the move as a precursor to privatisation that could trigger job cuts.

The corporation’s authorised share capital has been fixed at Rs 10,000 crore and the paid-up share capital at Rs 5,000 crore. The base value of each share will be Rs 10.

The unions, even those linked to the BJP, have called an indefinite strike from Wednesday. The national action committee against telecom corporatisation, which has six unions under its ambit, announced a nation-wide demonstration from tomorrow. Employees in Bengal will also begin their agitation tomorrow.

O.P. Gupta, general secretary of the National Telecom Employees’ Federation and spokesperson for the joint action committee for the unions, said: “We have been called for a meeting with department officials and then with the group of ministers. But unless they give us a written assurance that our demands will be met, we will go ahead with the scheduled strike on September 6.”

Indian Telecom Service Association general secretary A.K. Srivastava said the organisation would go ahead with its hunger-strike programme if the Centre did not agree to a discussion on the financial viability of the new entity.

The Centre assured the welter of angry unions that job security and pension benefits will not be hurt by the corporatisation drive. “Financial viability, pension and job security are the three demands raised by the employees. These issues have been examined by a group of ministers. We are going to have more meetings to sort this out,” communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.

But the unions are not impressed.

“We will not call off the strike unless the government assures that our demands will be taken up in Parliament or they give us a written assurance that the demands will be met,” said a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Telecom Union, the BJP-backed telecom union.

A Cabinet note on corporatising the telecom sector circulated last week among ministers was silent on the issue of job security and did not spell out the terms of employment of the people who will be absorbed into the corporation. It also said nothing about the pension of the staff.

Pointing out that the Centre was also mum on the recommendations of the fifth pay commission, Gupta said: “What will happen to these issues? Once the department of telecom services is corporatised, all of us will technically retire and then recruited. Then we will not be able to go for any arbitration. So we have decided that if the government fails to spell out what it plans to do about the two issues, we may go for arbitration.”

Gupta feared that the new entity could declare some staff as surplus. “Today we have 22 employees per 1,000 subscribers from 120 employees per 1,000 subscribers in 1983. So there is no question of surplus today, but if tomorrow a corporatised DTS decides to privatise a few functions performed by Class III and IV employees, the question of surplus will automatically come up,” he said.

The two departments were split earlier this year after a bureaucratic spat between IAS officers and the technocrats over who should be in charge of telecom operations. The DTO, which is headed by a technocrat, is responsible for telecom operations and is scheduled to launch cellular services in the four metros by the end of the year. DTS is headed by Vinod Vaish, an IAS officer, who has the mandate to oversee the corporatisation of DTO.    


 
 
VAJPAYEE MISSES DATE WITH PRESIDENT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Crucial talks between the President and Prime Minister on a probable Cabinet expansion and reasons for which Atal Behari Vajpayee is cutting short his US trip could not be held this evening as the Prime Minister skipped the communal harmony awards function at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Vajpayee’s absence strengthened speculation that his knees were in a really bad way. Highly-placed government sources said the President was keen to know what kind of health Vajpayee was keeping and this evening was a good opportunity missed.

The Prime Minister will call on Narayanan once before he takes off for the US to intimate him about his plans.

Vajpayee was expected to brief Narayanan about the upcoming Cabinet shuffle on a day Venkaiah Naidu’s prospects for a Cabinet berth brightened and all attending newly-crowned BJP president Bangaru Laxman’s press conference speculated on his chances of landing the information and broadcasting portfolio.

P.N. Radhakrishnan’s name did the rounds for the power ministry, vacated by the death of P.R. Kumaramangalam.

This afternoon, the government officially informed Rashtrapati Bhavan that Kerala-based senior BJP leader O. Rajagopal was being appointed minister of state for railways in place of Laxman who stepped down to take charge of the BJP. Rajagopal was underworked as minister of state for parliamentary affairs.

After Laxman put in his papers, the government decided to create a berth for the veteran BJP leader — he lost the elections from Thiruvananthapuram last year — in the railway ministry.

But Mamata Banerjee might be peeved that she was not consulted by the government before Rajagopal was appointed the second junior minister.

Samata Party’s Digvijay Singh is already working under her.

In place of the Prime Minister, home minister L.K. Advani attended the awards ceremony. The Prime Minister’s absence has given rise to fears that he might not be able to complete portfolio allocation and the Cabinet reshuffle before leaving for the US.

The Prime Minister’s Office rubbished the speculation, saying the names for reallocated portfolios had not been handed over to the President because no final decision had yet been taken.

PMO sources said this could be also communicated over phone and it was not necessary for Vajpayee to be present in person.    


 
 
POLICE STATION ON DRUGLORD’S PAYROLL 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Sasaram, Aug. 31: 
Seventeen policemen at a station in the district have been suspended on charges of being on the payroll of a suspected drug baron.

The names of the personnel were listed in a police document found during a raid on the home of the alleged drug lord, Bulati Kahar. He surrendered yesterday and was taken into police custody.

The businessmen, who stays near the police station, had drawn up a list of officials posted there. He had even asked a junior official to inform him about the new recruits so that they could be brought into the “fold”.

Sasaram police superintendent Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav stumbled on the nexus when he laid hands on a police wireless message during the raid. According to the message, one of the officials was reportedly helping the other prepare the “list” of men at the outpost.

Sasaram district, bordering Varanasi and Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, is notorious for drug peddling and the number of addicts has been rising at an alarming rate. Narcotics are moved to the area from UP, Nepal and the Northeast. “Drugs are spoiling the youth here. And we had no idea that our colleagues have been backing the fast-growing narcotics industry,” Yadav said.

Kahar’s rise is a classic rags-to-riches story. Venturing out from a small, dingy house, he expanded his business at lightning speed and soon came to be came to be known as “bada seth”. He has built a palatial home, complete with a penthouse, in Sasaram’s old town off G.T. Road, where hardly any new house has come up in the past few years. The police station is a stone’s throw away.

The raiding party seized chemicals used in manufacturing heroin, other drugs and a cache of arms. A couple of diaries and correspondence was also found. But what baffled the police was the recovery of the wireless message recording paper containing the names of recipients of Kahar’s monthly pay-offs. “The accused should not, by any means, have got the paper. It is an exclusive police property,” Yadav said.

Interrogation of the personnel revealed that all of them were on Kahar’s payroll. “In all probability, the drug mafia had direct links with the junior officials through whom the money might have reached the officer-in-charge,” said a deputy inspector-general in Patna.

Following Yadav’s initial report, additional DGP (Patna) Baljit Singh began a formal inquiry. Another raid was carried out on Kahar’s home in which Rs 3 lakh was seized.

Preliminary inquiries showed that none of the 17 officials had completed investigations into the drug-haul cases. Not a single drug lord has been arrested in the past three years.    


 
 
GANDHIJI PACKAGED FOR MARKETING 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA AND RAJA GHOSAL
 
New Delhi, Aug. 31: 
Confronted with a mammoth, they turned Gandhi into a marketing guru.

India Inc’s marketing whizkids, gathered here for the CII Marketing Summit: Beyond 2000, grappled with the behemoth called the Great Indian Bazaar, each, like the famous blind men in the elephant story, describing his experience and ascribing to it the trait he was best acquainted with.

Bibek Debroy, the moderator in the last session, did his mite to give the summit direction. “The customer is not doing us a favour. It is our privilege to serve him,” Debroy quoted Gandhi.

But Debroy’s words were lost in the din of imported ideas and eclectic wisdom. In the end, the mountain came to Mohammad: as the delegates left the grand venue at the Taj Palace, a frail man, out of sync in his half-sleeved bush shirt and simple cotton pants, wove his way through the crowd, handing each a small slip of paper.

It said: “Seeking joint-venture. We are expert in: e-com upto rural India (7 lac villages + 9000 cities). For more info, e-mail ...”.

There were pointers earlier too. Titoo Ahluwalia, chairman, ORG-Marg, called for a semiotic analysis of Indian society. He began with a 10-second music clip, a shehnai recital by Ustad Bismillah Khan.

Then turned to Miles Young, chairman of O&M Asia-Pacific, and asked: “Miles, what does that remind you of?” Miles drew a blank. Then to Sue Evans, marketing director of Whirlpool, India. Sue drew a blank.

It was the turn of the audience, which responded instantaneously. “Weddings”, it shouted. Titoo made his point: “Culture connects best. Culture is like the air you breath. It is all-pervasive.”

Advertisers and marketers, he said, need to decode the cultural signs that make up the Indian psyche if they must reach out.

Then there was Vandana Sethi Mohan, branch manager, Span Communications from Bombay, who was asking questions like she had a habit. “Why,” she asked Alex Von Behr, president and CEO, Coca Cola India, “was my friend last evening refusing to give her two-and-a-half-year-old child a bottle of Coke even though she could afford it?” Von Behr was non-committal. “Perhaps,” suggested Mike Khanna, chief executive, Hindustan Thompson Associates, “she was trying to save money.” Ironical that HTA advertises for Pepsi.

Ramesh Vangal, chairman, Seagram Asia-Pacific, came up with the breeziest presentation. The brand name India is changing dramatically overseas, he said. “Indians are not all ABCs — ayahs, bearers and cooks — anymore.”

Brand-building and positioning was achieved only with “consumer affection built with messages of blinding simplicity”, he said. What is consumer affection? “Look at Coca Cola — worth $130 billion — that is consumer affection.”

In an earlier avatar, Vangal, the only speaker on the podium not in formals, was chairman, Asia-Pacific, for Pepsico Foods International.

Rajeev Bakshi, managing director, Cadbury India, said the task defined by Vangal was a tough call. “Consumer loyalty is a disappearing phenomenon,” he noted. “There is a high degree of preference for brand variety today — more than brand loyalty.”

But technology can reach the consumer at the individual level. “Internet and e-marketing are changing the way people do business the world over,” said Simon Bell, of AT Kearney Inc, in the session on e-marketing.

Kumud Goel rubbished dotcoms that overpromise and underdeliver. That was one reason why their valuations had tumbled. Goel, who called himself a “bania from Gurgaon who is out to make money”, said he had even sold a plasma TV worth several lakhs on the Net.

He didn’t stay long. He is founder, Jaldi.com.

But the elephant called the Great Indian Bazaar trumpeted its presence loudest in the session on retailing. B.S. Nagesh, managing director and CEO, Shoppers’ Stop, heard it the clearest.

“Do you know that the biggest spender in a Singapore mall was an Indian who splurged $12,000? That Shoppers’ Stop in Chennai had 78,000 visitors on a Sunday? That there are 26 or 27 shopping malls being built all over the country? ...we are talking today of malls of 300,000 sq ft, employing 1,500 people... statistics show that malls in semi-rural areas draw humungous crowds.”

Organised retailing will grow from 0.8 per cent to 20 per cent by 2010. But the growth of retailing was retarded by multiple rates of taxation and high cost of real estate and inflexible labour.

Retailing, Nagesh emphasised, was part of Indian culture and probably generated more employment than any other sector.

Maureen Johnson, head, retailing consultancies, asked suppliers to assess capabilities of becoming a brand name.

Then there was K.N. Iyer, executive director and CEO of Pyramyd Retail and Merchandising, owners of Crossroads, the Bombay store that kicked up a row last week after it levied an entry fee of Rs 60 for those who did not have a mobile or a credit card.

“We’ve done it to keep out the crowds and to ensure a degree of security for genuine customers. Such large numbers can be intimidating,” Iyer defended. Nagesh agreed with his competitor.

Moral of the summit: The size of the elephant can be worse than its trumpet.    


 
 
BASU UNMASKS HOME TRUTHS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 31: 
In a rare burst of criticism of his party and government, Jyoti Basu today laced large doses of confession with searching questions. He asked the gathering of partymen chanting Jyotibabu lal salam at the Netaji Indoor Stadium why the CPM, or some sections of it, had lost touch with the people.

“There were only 5,000 of us when I joined the party and now we have a few lakh party members. Yet we are losing touch with the masses.”

Referring to the violence at Keshpur and other areas of Midnapore, he turned his gun on the administration, particularly police, who are his official successor Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s responsibility. Basu said the Trinamul Congress had forced villagers in 180 booths in the district to abandon their homes. “I don’t understand what the police and even my party colleagues were doing all these days since Trinamul Congress has been organising these attacks for two years.”

The chief minister admitted that he had not kept himself fully informed of these developments and followed it up with an assurance that will confound those speculating on the date of his retirement.

“Now I am trying to find out the root of trouble in the district,” he said, a statement that is unlikely to issue forth from the mouth of a chief minister whose departure is imminent.

In the presence of so-called rebel leader Subhas Chakraborty, who is reported to have criticised the party programme and called for radical reforms in it, Basu unleashed a searing attack on leaders going public with their grievances.

“If you have any major differences on various issues, you can discuss those within the Front. I don’t find any reason for going to the press. What are you gaining from this?” he asked.

If Chakraborty fidgeted inside, it was not evident as Basu described these leaders as people without “self-respect”.

“There are many leaders in our party without any self-respect. The media are constantly campaigning against us and some of these leaders are passing information to the media. That’s why some of the reports published in the press are found to be true,” he added.

Returning to Midnapore, which has become the violent battleground where rehearsals for the war that will be the next election are taking place, he did not spare his own party the lashing of his unusally vicious tongue.

“My party has also forced people to leave their homes in some villages in Midnapore. We have to keep in mind that we are the ruling party and have greater responsibility to bring back normality in these areas,” he said.

The chief minister said that he had been informed that 800 CPM supporters had been killed in the past few years in Midnapore, even though the party had been power. “Still, we have to be more responsible,” he said.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature:

Maximum: 27.8°C (-4)

Minimum: 25.7°C (normal)

RAINFALL: 28.3 mm

Relative humidity:

Maximum: 98%, Minimum: 89%

Today: A few spells of light to moderate rain under influence of a low-pressure area over Gangetic West Bengal and its neighbourhood.

Sunset: 5.53 pm Sunrise: 5.21 am    

 

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