Board broom sweeps out raided trio
Plan to carve up Haldia Petro
Basu bowout date talks begin
Asoka Pillar too hot for Icarus
Calcutta weather

Calcutta, Sept. 2: 
After months of dithering, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) today took step No.1 towards cleansing the sport.

With the selectors’ full-fledged support, it pulled off a coup which would be the envy of even hardened coup-plotters: No blood, yet big heads have rolled.

Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra have been excluded from the 23-strong probables’ list for next month’s mini-World Cup (Nairobi, October 3-15).

As expected, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have retained the captaincy and vice-captaincy, respectively.

The shortlisting was done in Chennai, home turf of BCCI president A.C.Muthiah, who personally batted on the front foot.

Muthiah didn’t issue a directive but, as was indicated would happen, in these columns Saturday, he met the selectors before the meeting proper got underway (at the Radisson Hotel).

It is understood he used the opportunity to “remind” them of the one sentiment which found an echo across the country: Keep the controversial out till the on-going enquiries clear them.

Apparently, some selectors themselves acknowledged they were under “pressure” whenever they interacted with the public.

It seems, then, Chandu Borde was waiting for the appropriate signal to begin Operation Belling-the-Cat. With Muthiah clear about what was to be done, this wait wasn’t endless.

Perhaps, it’s significant there already are whispers that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has established “damaging” links between some cricketers and bookies.

The CBI’s interim report is expected in a fortnight.

Incidentally the initial move on the part of the dramatis personae, to be less than transparent by justifying exclusions on grounds of performance, was quickly shelved.

Out, too, is Nayan Mongia.

Even though Mongia wasn’t raided by the Income Tax/CBI last month, he figures in the under-a-cloud bracket.

Of course nobody has been chargesheeted, by any agency, but the BCCI’s deft U-turn —- originally, that no one will be dropped only because of allegations or raids —- is a significant shift.

But, then, cricket itself now has much to do with improvising. Muthiah, in particular, realised that before the BCCI’s image suffered further beating. He had an ally in secretary Jaywant Lele.

In fact, by “bowing to public perception,” as a source put it, the BCCI has also possibly ensured a more favourable hearing, in all dealings, from Union sports minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

The BCCI may not accept it, but the Dhindsa-factor was omnipresent.

The morning and early afternoon’s developments were conveyed to Dhindsa by The Telegraph, during his transit halt here en-route to New Delhi from Imphal.

“Yes, it’s good news. Game ke liye accha ho ga, youngsters will take this as a lesson I’m not saying anybody is guilty; I’m also not sitting in judgement Still, I do see this BCCI step as positive,” he remarked.

Dhindsa added: “Actually, I would have been happier had this stage not been reachedThe players could have heeded my suggestion and themselves opted out.”

However, he declined comment on speculation surrounding the continuance of beleagured national coach Kapil Dev.

“Mere vichar sabko maloom hainToday, I won’t say anything more,” Dhindsa insisted.

Having shown the door to the controversial trio (and Mongia), the BCCI’s top brass now won’t blow hot-and-cold in extending the same yardstick —- “not being in the best frame of mind” —- to Kapil.

In any case, the tone of Kapil’s own recent observations suggests he isn’t quite in the “best frame of mind.” The give-away has come from him, not the Azharuddins.

The BCCI’s position is that the Kapil-specific decision will be announced “shortly.” One learns this is one way of allowing time for Kapil himself to put in his papers.

Indications are former New Zealand captain John Wright, currently coaching Kent, will succeed Kapil.    

Calcutta, Sept. 2: 
The jewel in the crown is being broken up: the Rs 5100-crore Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd — the icon that has symbolised the renaissance of industrialisation in Bengal — is proposed to be carved up into two companies.

The mother unit — naphtha cracker plant — will be spun off from Haldia Petro into a subsidiary with an equity capital of Rs 200 crore and Indian Oil Corporation, India’s only Fortune 500 company, will pick up a 49 per cent stake in it.

The remaining 51 per cent will be held by HPL — but not for long. The plans are to persuade IOC to pick up the entire stake in the subsidiary and bail out the promoters of the severely cash-strapped Haldia Petrochemicals.

Discussions on the proposal were held on Saturday when IOC chairman M.A Pathan called on West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. Sources confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place but refused to divulge the details.

Asked whether plans were afoot to split HPL into two companies, Basu said he did not know the details of the proposal. However, he said another meeting would be held after four days where “some major decisions will be taken.” The representatives from the Industrial Development Bank of India and Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, one of the promoters of HPL, will attend the meeting. It was not known whether the other private partner — US-based Purnendu Chatterjee of The Chatterjee Group, who has been at odds with the state government over the way the 15-year-old project has been managed — would be invited.

Pathan refused to divulge what had been discussed at the meeting with Basu and state finance minister Asim Dasgupta.

According to information available with The Telegraph, HPL would first set up a wholly-owned subsidiary with an equity of Rs 200 crore. The assets of the naphtha cracker and its associated units would then be transferred to the new company along with the HPL’s long-term debts amounting to Rs 4000 crore.

IOC will then be invited to initially pick up 49 per cent in the new venture at an investment of Rs 98 crore while the majority control will be lying with the HPL. Under the proposal, IOC will have the option to acquire full control of the new company at par value any time after July 2001.

The HPL, too, will have the right to repurchase the shares and the associated assets in the company if there is a change of control in IOC or in the new company. The prevailing book value of the shares will be paid by the HPL if it exercises the right to repurchase.

While the arrangement will make the HPL and its polymer plant assets totally debt free, it will also help IOC to rake in substantial income tax benefits. If the proposal is accepted by all parties, it will relieve HPL of its burgeoning interest burden of Rs 150- 200 crore per annum.

Under the terms of the proposal, IOC will have the sole right to supply the entire naphtha requirement of the new company while HPL will draw the finished products of the new company as a feedstock for its polymer production.

Sources said the proposal had come up simply because IOC did not want to make any investment into the crisis-ridden HPL unless it was sure of good returns.

Last month, IOC director (Business Development) S. Raha had told The Telegraph earlier that the public sector oil major wanted to use the HPL’s mother unit, naphtha cracker to convert its naphtha.

Raha, who accompanied Pathan to the meeting today, had also made it clear that IOC found it much more profitable to sell the value-added products by converting naphtha.

But the new proposal, which was drafted a few days ago, has changed the tenor of the talks between the state government and IOC.

The raison d’etre for the latest proposal is that most of the road blocks could be eliminated if the naphtha cracker unit is spun off into a joint venture between IOC and HPL.

The proposal, however, said HPL would continue to operate and manage the naptha cracker.    

Calcutta, Sept. 2: 
Jyoti Basu today indicated to the CPM leadership that he was keen on stepping down after September 15.

Basu met some key party leaders at the Alimuddin Street headquarters for over an hour reportedly to work out a possible date on which he could quit.

The meeting was significant as it was for the first time that Basu discussed his retirement at length with important CPM functionaries. All secretariat members, including state secretary Anil Biswas, deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and land and land reforms minister Suryakanta Mishra, were present.

However, politburo member and Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta later said the discussions were an extension of the party’s secretariat meeting which ended inconclusively yesterday.

Dasgupta evaded queries on whether the chief minister’s retirement figured in today’s talks. “Basu has already made up his mind to step down. The final decision on this will be taken only by the politburo,” he said.

Speaking to The Telegraph tonight, Basu said he could resign as chief minister only after he got the politburo’s seal of approval. “It is true that I am keen on retiring at the earliest, but no date has been finalised,” he said, adding that the politburo has the “ultimate say on my retirement”.

The chief minister will attend his grandson’s annaprasan (rice ceremony) tomorrow.

CPM sources said party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who is scheduled to return from China tomorrow, will speak to the chief minister to finalise the date for the politburo session.

A senior CPM leader pointed out that the apex decision-making body had played a key role in installing Basu as chief minister 24 years ago. “Basu was made chief minister for five consecutive times in accordance with the politburo’s approval,” he said.

The leader said Basu himself wants the session to be held in Calcutta because of his inability to visit Delhi now. CPM dissident Samir Putatunda today asked the Left Front to “explain why the government has failed to solve the crisis of massive unemployment in its 23-year tenure”.

Putatunda was addressing a gathering of the South 24-Parganas district unit of which he is the secretary. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, however, skipped the meeting as he is down with fever.    

New Delhi, Sept. 2: 
Standing on top of a national emblem is dangerous, even in a painting. You may plunge headlong into trouble.

Enraged organisers withdrew a major exhibition, slated to open at the National Gallery of Modern Art today, after the authorities objected to a painting by Surendran Nair depicting a nude male figure from the rear with his golden wings outspread, perched atop the lion capital of the Asoka Pillar.

Gallery director Mukta Nidhi Sanotra said the painting — called An actor rehearsing the interior monologue of Icarus after the Greek aspirant whose waxen wings melted when he flew close to the sun — could draw protests from fundamentalists who might smell distortion of a national emblem.

Culture secretary Vaidyanatha Ayyar also read between the fine brush strokes of Icarus and asked the organisers of the exhibition titled Combine: Voices for the new century to reconsider the painting in view of the problems it may cause.

It seems Icarus has once again overstepped, this time on the head of the pillar, and on the wrong side of a foreign government. Sanotra added that she was apprehensive about the security of the gallery — the apex government institution for showcasing contemporary art — in case there were protests.

But art objects to such thinking. Organisers Vis-a-vis and Art Inc., co-hosts of the show with the gallery, angrily withdrew the show — which mounted around 200 paintings and installations by 26 young artists — at the moment of formal opening by the culture secretary. The organisers would rather not hold the show than tamper with its integrity.

“It is unthinkable that the show should be held in such an illiberal ambience,” says Prima Kurien of Art Inc., curator of the show, though there was a heavy price to be paid.

“We have already spend Rs 3 lakh in mounting the show and another Rs 50,000 to 60,000 will be required for dismantling it and taking it elsewhere,” says Amit Gupta of Vis-a-vis.

Shukla Sawant, Kanchan Chander and other younger artists condemned the gallery’s objection as a “narrow-minded, authoritarian” decision. Shamshad, an artist, said if the painting was not desired it should have been pointed out earlier.

Artists explained before a show is approved for exhibiting at the gallery, it goes through several steps. The concept has to be approved of by the advisory council, then the curatorial work has to be vetted.

The gallery director said in her defence that she had objected to the painting at least two days ago. But it was late enough to cause enough trouble.

Nair refused to withdraw just one particular painting. In a written statement, he said he was disheartened that the painting was being seen as disrespectful to a national emblem. He added he had decided to come and work in India as a political choice and therefore to think that he was distorting the national emblem was unthinkable.

He and another artist, Rekha Rodwittiya, withdrew all their works from the show.

A similar imbroglio had erupted at the gallery a year ago with the display of works from an Indian-Dutch workshop. Protesters had slashed a painting thought to be “disrespectful” to India. Another “explosive” painting by Bhupen Khakhar was quietly removed. It was restored when an art historian created a hullabaloo.

Once bitten, the gallery is twice shy now, though incensed artists point out that the apex body should offer a platform for free expression.

Many feel that the ongoing confrontation will negatively impact future collaborations between the national gallery and private galleries and the government institution will have to go in for an image-makeover to regain its stature.

There is also need to look at legal questions in such issues, observers said.    



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