Sushma, Paswan in ministry race
Sleepless & sweating, Jadeja begs to be believed
Funds damper on DTH hopefuls
BJP for Lenin, JMM for Audrey
Kamtapuris to meet Vajpayee

 
 
SUSHMA, PASWAN IN MINISTRY RACE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
The proposed merger of the ministries of information and broadcasting and communications is likely to be delayed as both Sushma Swaraj and Ram Vilas Paswan are lobbying hard for the new portfolio.

When the amalgamation takes place, eiher Swaraj or Paswan will have to be shifted to another ministry. But with most key berths already distributed, the Prime Minister will have a tough time finding an equally important post for one of them.

The original idea was to create a ministry of “ICE” (information, communications and entertainment) by also merging the information technology ministry, headed by Pramod Mahajan. But the F.S. Nariman Committee, which submitted a report yesterday on the convergence of the ministries, dropped Mahajan’s department from the proposal.

Paswan denied lobbying for the new entity to be created. Asked if he would head it, he said the proposed merger would take time and he had not given it a thought.

The communications minister had recently threatened to quit the Cabinet following reports that the railway ministry was planning to scrap some projects sanctioned for Hajipur, his Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar. He relented only after Atal Behari Vajpayee assured him that the projects would not be cancelled.

Paswan’s supporters in his ministry and in the Janata Dal (United) claim that while Vajpayee has developed a personal rapport with the Dalit leader, he was not favourably disposed towards Sushma who was sulking till she was made I&B minister in the recent reshuffle.

But for the RSS top brass, Vajpayee, they said, was not even keen on giving her the I&B portfolio. It was senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, they said, who was a frontrunner for the post till he was tipped by Sushma. Naidu was made rural development minister.    


 
 
SLEEPLESS & SWEATING, JADEJA BEGS TO BE BELIEVED 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 4: 
The smile never left his boyish face but by the end of the media grilling, Ajay Jadeja was gulping water by the minute, ducking questions and rotten eggs hurled by a band of Shiv Sainiks.

The 29-year-old cricketer, named in the CBI report, breezed into the premises of the Indian Women’s Press Corps this afternoon wearing a light blue shirt and his camera-savvy smile.

The task he had on hand was more gruelling than countering Shoaib Akhtar’s snorters. For the first time, he had to prove not just his professional skills, but also his honour and integrity.

“You have accused me of being a match-fixer and I have prepared a 15-page document which, I hope, will answer the CBI’s charges,” said the fallen hero.

After sweating it out for 40 minutes under the media spotlight, Jadeja was suddenly confronted by a group of Shiv Sena volunteers who stormed in, throwing rotten eggs at the cricketer and shouting slogans against match-fixing.

As Jadeja was bundled off into the building of the press corps office, the Sainiks lobbed a couple of eggs at him, but missed.

But the Sainiks met their match in the photographers who hounded them out of the venue.

Five minutes later, Jadeja emerged, the smile intact, the hair just a bit tousled, and braced himself for the remaining part of the inquisition.

The last couple of days, he said, he hasn’t slept a wink — swotting over the CBI report and issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations. “My life depends on this. Everybody believes you guys,” he pleaded.

Taking a sip of water, Jadeja waved a copy of his report, marked by pink paper tags, and began reading out the relevant portions. He was candid enough to seek the media’s indulgence — “Today I need you guys,” he said.

There were more than a dozen mikes on the table and as many cameras zooming in on the cricketer who is no stranger to the glitter of the media world.

He began well, with an air of optimism and confidence which blew over as the news meet progressed and questions started coming thick and fast.

“I’m not very good at this. Have never had to do this in my life,” he muttered.

True enough. Did the star cricketer, a potential match-winner for India, ever think he would have to answer why his former captain Mohammed Azharuddin is accusing him of being an accomplice in fixing matches? Did he ever think he would have to answer questions on anything other than his on-field performances?

He has earned kudos for a good showing. There were none today even though he thought he had come up with clinching answers.

“The CBI must produce transcripts of the Hansie Cronje match-fixing tapes,” Jadeja said. “How could I have been called up in Guwahati and Jamshedpur when there is no AirTel service in these two cities,” he said.

But there was a lot more that the media wanted him to come out with. And Jadeja was not willing to go “beyond the report”, disappointing his fans just like he did when he got out for nothing. This time he has just begun to bat and will have stay at the crease for a long while to tell the world he is “innocent”.    


 
 
FUNDS DAMPER ON DTH HOPEFULS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Nov. 4: 
Two days after the door was thrown open, the corridor to direct-to-home television has remained deserted.

The lone company that has shown some interest so far to apply for a licence is the government-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL).

A stumbling block before potential players in the private sector is the 20 per cent cap on foreign direct investment. Several companies felt that it would be difficult to raise the huge investment needed in direct-to-home television if they have to depend mostly on domestic funding sources.

The investment on infrastructure plus cost of programming and the inevitable losses in the first three to four years are expected to add up to as much as Rs 5,000 crore. “It is going to be very difficult for networks to raise this kind of money without a much larger share of foreign direct investment,” an official of a company said.

The upshot of this could be formation of consortiums where networks will come together to form direct-to-home television companies.

Another damper is the bar on cross-holding , imposed through a clause which says broadcasting companies cannot take more than 20 per cent of the equity in direct-to-home companies. This will prevent big-ticket investors — like Rupert Murdoch whose STAR TV was one of the first companies to evince interest in cableless television — from playing an active role in the field. Spokespersons at STAR said it would take a week to study the details and frame a response.

The only bright spot on the horizon was that shares in Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co Ltd shot through the roof on Friday to a five-week intra-day high in expectation of increasing business from broadcasters seeking direct-to-home satellite capacity. “You just cannot take an overnight decision on something as big as this,” said Sony Entertainment Television CEO Kunal Dasgupta.

Reliance Entertainment chairman Amit Khanna said “any deregulation is welcome”, but felt the opening up has come too late.

VSNL has decided to enter the sector either by setting up a subsidiary or through a joint venture. The company has formed an internal group under director (development) V. Goel to carry out a pre-feasibility study. “We have to analyse the potential of the business in the current situation. DTH television is a very broad term and we have to ascertain as to how we are placed,” Goel said.

The VSNL director explained that there are three major areas in this field. Television software development, in which the company has no skill. Uplinking facility, a preferred role for VSNL and project marketing. “The group has been asked to identify whether the company should get into one of the three areas or all,” Goel said.    


 
 
BJP FOR LENIN, JMM FOR AUDREY 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY AND RUDRA BISWAS
 
Ranchi, Nov. 4: 
Repair-work has resumed at the Lenin Hall, but Jharkhand’s proposed Assembly hall remains strewn with the signs of yesterday’s rampage by JMM supporters.

The masons glance about nervously despite policemen posted at the compound. Shards of glass litter the floor of the spacious hall. Windows with broken panes stare blankly.

A stream of politicians today visited Lenin Hall, which was being done up to host the first Assembly session on November 15. The leaders expressed concern, pointing at the graffiti on Indo-Russian friendship on the hostel walls. “It is shocking that Lenin had to be vandalised when this historic compound will make more history on November 14 night,” said senior BJP leader S.K. Kedia.

While the BJP, overcoming ideological obstacle, is advocating a Marxist icon in the run-up to the new state, the JMM is rooting for an Englishman. The Jharkhand party is championing a building named after Audrey, a British officer, as the new Assembly house.

“We are not against Lenin. But a British name smells more of fair play,” claimed Mustak Alam of the JMM Yuva Janata. Sarayu Rai, the BJP’s Jharkhand in-charge, retorted: “Despite being rightist, we would not ignore the existence of the Left.”

Lenin Hall, which is going to offer accommodation to the MLAs as well as house the Assembly, is owned by Heavy Engineering Corporation, a PSU. It was built as a tribute to Indo-Soviet friendship.

The district administration today declared that it would not shift the venue of the Assembly. Additional secretary B.K. Chand said the decision, taken by the Bihar government, was irrevocable.

The JMM had decided to vent its disappointment at losing out in the chief minister’s race on the Lenin Hall. Yesterday, hundreds of JMM men armed with lethal weapons forced their way into the premises and entered the hall, breaking through the lax security. They threw stones, smashed window planes and damaged glass and wooden fittings.

Many believe yesterday’s rampage could be a prelude to the violence Shibu Soren may unleash once edged out of the race for the chief minister’s post finally.

After the Jharkhand statehood Bill was passed, the JMM chief gave a call for “ (our country, our rule) — stressing the demand for a “son of the soil” to rule Jharkhand.

Picking up the “betrayal” by Nitish Kumar — Soren had been offered the Jharkhand chief minister’s post in exchange of his support to the NDA — as its latest campaign tool among the region’s tribal population, the JMM has also begged to differ in its economic policy from the BJP.

The JMM underlines agriculture and cottage industry as opposed to the NDA’s emphasis on tapping the mines.    


 
 
KAMTAPURIS TO MEET VAJPAYEE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Nov. 4: 
The Kamtapur People’s Party has decided to approach the centre with its demand for a separate state, carved out of West Bengal.

“We intend to take our separate statehood demand to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. We plan to meet Central leaders during the second week of this month,” KPP central committee president Atul Roy said.

“The Kamtapur demand is a long-standing reasonable demand of the ‘son-of-the-soil’ of north Bengal. The KPP leadership will apprise the Prime Minister and the Union home minister of the systematic neglect of north Bengal under the two-and-half decade Left Front misrule.”

The party wants a new state to be carved out of parts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur districts in North Bengal.

“If our democratic demand within the frame work of the Indian Constitution is not adhered to, we will be forced to intensify the movement, which may take a drastic turn,” the KPP leader warned.

“The Kamtapur demand will fulfil the aspirations of the Rajbanshis, who comprise over 80 per cent of the region’s population, and the Khetis, Tantis, Jugis and Bengalis who have been living here for generations. All are Kamtapuris,” Roy said.

“We will also press for the recognition of the Kamtapuri language, which has a rich cultural heritage,” he added.    

 

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