Anupam’s answer to Amitabh in crore war: freeze it
BJP defends Mahajan on TV deal
Lucknow set to get new CM as Diwali gift
CPM to mount reform protest
Allies snub Abdullah on Sangh
BJP on verge of Goa debut
Algeria poser awaits Jaswant

 
 
ANUPAM’S ANSWER TO AMITABH IN CRORE WAR: FREEZE IT 
 
 
BY ELLA DATTA AND PTI
 
New Delhi, Oct. 21: 
Freeze it Mr Bachchan, Anupam Kher is here. Sawal Dus Crore Ka, Zee’s answer to STAR’s prime time pot-boiler, debuts Monday night at 8.30.

If the Big B’s lock kiya jaye has captured the imagination of a nation like little else before, Kher hopes he will convert the STAR-struck audience with “freeze it”.

Unveiling the game show at a news conference in Mumbai, the balding actor said he had received several suggestions for trumping the ace catchphrase. “Seal kiya jaye,” he said, was one. But in the end, the actor opted for “freeze it”.

While STAR found its first crorepati last week, Zee has already issued a cheque for a similar amount after recording just four episodes, Kher added.

The show, which Kher described as a “killer game”, will be beamed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Asked if he was apprehensive about Sawal’s success, especially since he had to compete with Bachchan, Kher said: “I have great regard for him. He is a good friend. But when it comes to professionalism, it is altogether different.

“I do not take life as a success or a failure. I just do my job properly. There is a place under the sun for everyone.”

The actor pointed out that Bachchan had sought his rival’s blessings when he contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1984.

“I, too, asked for Amitabh’s blessings before taking up this show, although I do not consider him to be my rival,” Kher said.

Zee insists its gameshow is completely indigenous unlike the heavily borrowed-from-the-West Crorepati.

If Crorepati has more questions on history, geography, people and places, Sawal... will focus more on current affairs. The question bank is being prepared by Derek O’Brien.

Though it will not offer three lifelines, the contestants will be given three trump cards — bring your brain, clue for you and joker.

Participants will be chosen through a process of random, computerised selection from the entries which come in. The selection will be supervised by Ernst & Young.

Instead of 10 contestants initially, there will be 21 for the first round, three of whom will qualify for the second round. Kher said he was under a one-year contract to anchor the programme.

“Thereafter, if I am good, I will stay on or else they will throw me out. It’s part of the game but I’m an optimist,” he said.

Is he nervous? “Well, Bachchan rehearsed for three months continuously. He is a perfectionist. I wish I had the same time to practice. I only got three hours. But in the business of entertainment, there are no excuses,” Kher said.

When he hosts the show for the first time, Kher will be wearing a conventional dark suit as producer Gajendra Singh has a fancy for the colour.

The stylist assigned for Kher’s clothes is Sargam and Zee has spoken to top designers like J.J. Valaya, Sheetal and new kid on the block Arjun Rampal to design the anchor’s clothes.

The set designed by X-Height and Younus Pathan is a huge space in the Hiranandani Studio at Powai. Spread over 8,000 sq feet, it will have a plush yet modern look replete with glass, chrome and metal.

The predominant colour is silver with touches of blue and magenta. Zee sources insist that the design concept is indigenous and not copied.

Explaining the rules of the game, Kher said the first question will deal with numbers or numericals. Three participants who answer the questions the fastest will go through to the second round, Monopoly Kiski.

An early bird opens his account with Re 1. For every right answer, one additional zero is added until the participant reaches the Rs 1,000 mark. “It is a game which makes a hero out of a zero,” Kher said.

The next stage is called Money Zone. But a wrong answer here will disqualify the participant. In the money zone, a participant gets a gold medal on winning Rs 10,000.

The final round is divided into five stages with a set of three questions for every phase. “Answer any two questions correctly and get one zero added to your winning figure until you reach Rs 10 crore,” he said.

Explaining the trump cards, Kher said a contestant can either bring a “brain” (companion) to the show and take his/her help. The participant can also seek a clue for an answer from the host. Or else she can use a “joker”: questions will be asked on a subject of the contestant’s choice. The first two trump cards can be used after the host has asked a question, but a “joker” has to be used before a question is asked, Kher explained.    


 
 
BJP DEFENDS MAHAJAN ON TV DEAL 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Oct. 21: 
The BJP has defended Pramod Mahajan against charges of corruption and nepotism, saying they did not amount to “anything much”.

Though the party has not yet taken an official stand, a senior leader said: “It is a small case of nepotism, but corruption and nepotism are not one and the same thing. There were no kickbacks involved. There was just a payment default and we are sure the money owed will be returned soon because the amount is so small.”

A television programme produced and sponsored by Mahajan’s son’s firm was being telecast on Doordarshan though the producer owed Prasar Bharati over Rs 6.5 crore. The programme, Truck Dhina Dhin, was cleared when Mahajan was the information and broadcasting minister.

The ministry agreed to Rahul Mahajan’s proposal to defer the payments due to Prasar Bharati, although initially it was agreed Rs 35 lakh would be paid per episode as the minimum guaranteed amount for telecasting Truck Dhina Dhin. The proposal was cleared in 72 hours.

The firm in question, Integral Productions, however, denied that the family had any stake in it. Managing director Irfaan Khan said Rahul and his wife, Rekha, resigned on December 7, 1998, three days after Mahajan was sworn in as minister.

“Soon thereafter they transferred all their shares in the company and till today, neither Rahul nor Mrs Mahajan have repurchased a single share,” Khan said in a statement.

Maintaining that favouring one’s kin was a “very minor offence when seen in the overall perspective of corruption deals”, BJP sources side stepped queries on whether the ministry went out of its way to accommodate a producer like Rahul with no experience.

“It is talent which matters, not experience. If politicians’ relatives are talented, why shouldn’t they be favoured?” one of them said.

The BJP seems upset with Mahajan’s successor, Sushma Swaraj, for seeking details on Rahul’s programme and his company. Party sources said it was not a “mere coincidence” that dirt was being kicked up against Mahajan soon after Sushma took over since the two are known not to be on the best of terms.

The BJP, which sought to make a fine distinction between “nepotism” and “corruption”, had in the past gone hammer and tongs at Congress leader Satish Sharma for out-of-turn allotment of petrol stations and gas agencies to relatives and friends when he was petroleum minister.

Again in 1996, when Vajpayee appointed his foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, as officer on special duty in his secretariat, the RSS and Advani had taken a serious view of the matter and prevented him from giving Bhattacharya an official status in his second regime.    


 
 
LUCKNOW SET TO GET NEW CM AS DIWALI GIFT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 21: 
Flooded with reports and in-house surveys from Uttar Pradesh predicting a rout in the Assembly elections next year, the BJP has decided to replace chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta.

Union surface transport minister Rajnath Singh is tipped to take over from him. Party sources said a decision is likely to be taken shortly after Diwali, most probably on October 28, at a BJP parliamentary board meeting in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s residence.

“We hope to give the people of Uttar Pradesh a post-Diwali gift,” said a BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh.

State BJP sources said although Rajnath was unwilling to relinquish his Cabinet berth and take over as chief minister with “defeat staring him in the face”, Central leaders were trying to persuade him to take up the job. It is also learnt that Rajnath was “unhappy” with the “undue importance” being given to Uttar Pradesh minister Lalji Tandon because of his proximity to Vajpayee.

He has reportedly confided to his friends in the party that he may end up being a “mukhouta” (mask) with the actual power resti ng with Tandon.

Information technology and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan — who has been Vajpayee’s spokesman in Mumbai for the last fortnight — had indicated that a change of guard in Uttar Pradesh was imminent.

“The challenge before the BJP (in Uttar Pradesh) is that of leadership....Now the BJP will have to decide the leadership issue, because the two parties’ (the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party) chief ministerial candidates are obvious: Mulayam Singh and Mayawati,” he said in an interview to a dotcom.

Mahajan added a decision would be taken after Vajpayee returned.

The decision to replace Gupta was taken when home minister L.K. Advani met Vajpayee in Mumbai a couple of days ago and informed him of the party surveys predicting a bleak poll prospect in Uttar Pradesh. Vajpayee, earlier reluctant to experiment with a new chief minister, agreed with Advani on a change in leadership.

Though Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra, Tandon and Om Prakash Singh had in the past scuttled moves to instal Rajnath, sources said they have accepted the fact that the party has no choice but to replace Gupta.

The leadership’s calculation was Rajnath might be able to retrieve lost ground by roping in the upper caste Thakur votes as well as giving an “effective” administration. It also hopes that the elections — due in October 2001 — would be deferred by six months.    


 
 
CPM TO MOUNT REFORM PROTEST 
 
 
FROM INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 21: 
The CPM will shortly launch a campaign across the country in collaboration with like-minded political parties against the Atal Behari Vajpayee government for “ruining India’s economy with its pursuit of unbridled liberalisation”.

Politburo member Prakash Karat said here today that the CPM leadership would begin consultations with other Left and democractic forces, including the Congress, to prepare the ground for the launch of the all-India campaign which “will culminate in a militant action during the next budget session of Parliament”.

A strongly-worded resolution calling for “militant action” against the Vajpayee government’s economic policies was adopted on the second day of the CPM’s special conference for programme updating. It was moved by Sitaram Yechury and seconded by K. Varadarajan.

The CPM charged the Vajpayee government with “mortgaging” India’s economic sovereignty to the World Bank and other international funding agencies and directed all its units and frontal organisations to “launch vigorous mass agitations and struggles” to prevent the ruling NDA from pursuing its economic policies.

At a news conference, Karat said the freeze on employment, hike in petroleum prices, privatisation of the public sector, entry of foreign capital into the core sectors of the economy and galloping inflation were all combining to create a crushing load on the average Indian.

The phased withdrawal from April of quantitative restrictions on 1,429 commodities, mostly agricultural produce, by the government, allegedly at the behest of the US, had ruined the lives of millions of farmers because the step had opened the floodgates of dumping of commodities from sugar to coconut, Karat said .

“Distress sales and suicides have become the order of the day. Appalling reports regularly appear of farmers selling their vital organs to repay debt. Such is the de-humanising impact of the Vajpayee government’s economic policies,” Yechury said.

The CPM also charged the Vajpayee government with abdicating its social responsibility in education and health and held it responsible for the average Indian’s miseries because of the steady dismantling of the public distribution system.

“It is a telling testimony to the Vajpayee government’s callousness that while suicides, starvation deaths, misery and squalor are the order of the day, 45 million tonnes of foodgrain are rotting in government godowns. These grain stocks are accumulating not because people do not need them, but because people are unable to pay the price fixed by the government.”

Karat said though the ruling Vajpayee government and the Opposition Congress had the “same class character”, the CPM would expect the latter to think again and join hands with the Left forces in launching the all-India campaign.

The day’s other resolution was moved by Anil Biswas, condemning the Israeli violence on Palestinians and affirming support to the movement for an independent Palestine. M.A. Baby seconded the resolution.    


 
 
ALLIES SNUB ABDULLAH ON SANGH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 21: 
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has reacted sharply to K.S. Sudarshan’s anti-minorities outburst at the RSS mahashivir in Agra.

The National Conference leader, who has decided to take up the matter with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, said Sudarshan’s statement asking Christians and Muslims to accept Hindu roots was not in the interest of the country and “will not strengthen India”.

But Abdullah’s plans to hold a meeting of the non-BJP allies to discuss the “serious” issue suffered a setback today. Both the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) said they were not in favour of any such groupings within the National Democratic Alliance.

The Samata refused to be party to any meeting that excluded the BJP. Spokesperson Shambu Srivastav said the alliance was a cohesive formation and “all issues are discussed openly there”.

He said defence minister George Fernandes was the convener of the coordination committee that included the BJP. “Therefore, the Samata Party will not be party to any such meeting represented by only a section of the allies.”

Srivastav said the proper forum to discuss alliance-related issues was the coordination committee meeting. “Even if the RSS has to be discussed, why should the BJP be excluded?” he asked.

Dal(U) spokesperson Mohan Prakash also ruled out participation in any meeting of non-BJP allies convened by Abdullah. Prakash said his party has not heard from the National Conference leader and added that if there were any problems, they could be discussed at NDA meetings.

In a further fillip to the alliance’s unity, Telugu Desam sources denied that the Desam, the Shiv Sena and the Trinamul Congress were planning to float a front within the NDA.

The sources said meetings between leaders of these parties were “just courtesy calls” and nothing political should be read into them.

Rumours of a front within a front started circulating after Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu’s meeting with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in Mumbai on Thursday. Some reports claimed that the leaders had said the two parties could topple the Vajpayee government.

Sources said Naidu had flown to Mumbai to meet Vajpayee and his meeting with Thackeray was not planned. At the meeting, Thackeray blasted Mamata Banerjee for creating a ruckus over the oil-price hike when she was party to the decision. “The Trinamul cannot bring down this government, but we (the Desam and the Sena) can,” Thackeray is reported to have told Naidu.

Uma salvo

BJP MP Uma Bharati today said no Prime Minister can ensure reconstruction of a mosque on the disputed site at Ayodhya. She said even if the shahi imam of Jama Masjid became Prime Minister, he would not be able to construct a mosque at the site, adds UNI.    


 
 
BJP ON VERGE OF GOA DEBUT 
 
 
FROM FREDERICK NORONHA
 
Panaji, Oct. 21: 
The BJP appears set to come to power on its own in Goa.

The party today pulled out of the 11-month-old Francisco Sardinha coalition, reducing it to a minority, and said it would stake claim to form the government.

Incumbent chief minister Sardinha is in Australia to promote tourism but is now expected to rush back.

All the three BJP ministers — Prakash Phadte, Digambar Kamat and Suresh Amonkar — submitted their resignations to the leader of the legislature party, Manohar Parrikar.

The Congress suffered a split today with four MLAs joining the BJP. Parrikar said the four MLAs, Ravi Naik, Ramakant Khalap, Sanjay Bandekar and Manohar Ajgaonkar, and five former Congressmen who left the party in August had joined the BJP. They had informed the Speaker, Pratapsinh Rane, he added.

“The BJP will stake claim to form a new government when they meet the Governor Mohd Fazal tomorrow at Raj Bhavan,” Parrikar said. “The decision is subject to clearance by the party high command.”

Parrikar, the Panaji MLA, is set to become the first BJP chief minister of Goa.

The BJP, which had 10 MLAs in the 40-member House, will now have 19 MLAs. The two-member Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP) and an Independent MLA have also extended support to the BJP, taking its strength to 22.

The Congress legislature party was reduced to 6 members after today’s break-up.    


 
 
ALGERIA POSER AWAITS JASWANT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 21: 
When Jaswant Singh visits Algeria next week, he might have to explain why Delhi withdrew support to the Prolesarian movement and derecognised the Sahriwian Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

On June 26, India, after supporting the Prolesarian movement for one-and-a-half decades, decided to de-recognise the SADR. The move delighted Morocco but disappointed Algeria, which now appears to be the only backer of the Prolesarian movement.

Jaswant’s trip, scheduled from October 23 to 25, is the first foreign ministerial visit to Algeria in 15 years. Indian officials said the two sides have been in touch and the visit will help strengthen ties.

The officials made it clear that Jaswant wouldn’t voluntarily explain India’s stand on SADR. “It’s our sovereign decision and we are not apologetic about it,” a senior foreign ministry official said. But he admitted the subject could come up during meetings with the Algerian leadership.

The foreign minister is scheduled to hold talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Ben Fliss and other senior leaders.

Ministry sources said India will make it clear that Delhi had to review its stand vis-à-vis the Prolesarian movement because of the changed world scenario. Jaswant, the sources said, would argue that by de-recognising the republic, India was also trying to help implement the UN resolution and resolve the decades-old issue.

Apart from this, India enjoys a warm relationship with Algeria. The two sides also have a lot in common. Both are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Group of 15 and Group of 77.    

 

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