Cong targets Atal on eve of moral blow
Party denies Advani CBI slur
VHP firm on construction date
Bush’s first choices lift Delhi hopes
Infohero banks on movie magic
Desam farm fury erupts
Industry reform tips for Mamata
July debut for business school
Mauled model on comeback trail
Hunt for the Mother Prawn

 
 
CONG TARGETS ATAL ON EVE OF MORAL BLOW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
The Congress today accused Atal Behari Vajpayee of trying to subvert the rule of law in giving a clean chit to senior Cabinet colleagues on the Ayodhya issue.

The party said Vajpayee should be censured for trying to make distinctions between crimes committed by senior ministers and by ordinary citizens.

Migrant traders gunned downCongress leader Pranab Mukherjee said: “Vajpayee is in charge of the CBI, which has completed investigations and filed chargesheets, and through his statements, the Prime Minister has pre-judged the issue... We have to send a clear message from this House that we can’t compromise on the basic structure of our Constitution, that is secularism.” Mukherjee moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha seeking disapproval of the Prime Minister’s clean chit to L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.

Migrant traders gunned downKapil Sibal took the party’s accusation a step further. “The courts have to decide on the CBI’s chargesheet. Nobody can call them guilty, nobody can call them innocent. The Prime Minister’s role was to subvert the law,” he said.

Migrant traders gunned downMukherjee, who was repeatedly interrupted by BJP members during his speech, also questioned Vajpayee’s statement that the movement for a Ram temple at the disputed site was an expression of “national sentiment”.

“We rule in nine states and we do not support it (the temple), the Left Front rules in three states and opposes it, as does the RJD in Bihar. How can the temple be an expression of national sentiment?” he asked.

Mukherjee was opening the debate which will be put to vote tomorrow and which the government is set to lose as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) does not have a majority in the upper House. Although a loss will not have any bearing on the government’s stability or on the continuance of the three ministers in Vajpayee’s Cabinet, it will be a moral blow.

A censure from the upper House may also add to the discomfiture of “secular” NDA allies like the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamul Congress.

The Trinamul, which must court minority votes in Bengal to win the forthcoming Assembly elections, is unhappy with the Prime Minister’s stand in the Lok Sabha and has been demanding that the government and its ministers stick strictly to the NDA agenda.

On the other hand, a newly-aggressive BJP may have prodded Vajpayee not to dilute or retract his original statement that the Ayodhya movement was an expression of “national sentiment”.

Underlining the meaning of the motion in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress leader said the views of the House were not “superfluous” and that the house had made vital contributions in setting up healthy public trends in the past. Confident of defeating the government, he said: “Our views on the Ayodhya issue should get reflected in terms of the voting.”

Mukherjee sought to censure the Prime Minister on three counts: pronouncing the three ministers innocent, trying to make light of offences of the three leaders in comparison to junior ministers and his remarks that construction of the temple was an expression of national sentiment.

Advising Vajpayee to restrain his senior ministerial colleagues and press for moderation, Mukherjee said: “The Prime Minister’s recent statement on the Ayodhya issue has completely divided the nation and the people.”

He also played on divisions within the NDA on the issue and said that both the Desam government in Andhra and the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu had distanced themselves from the temple issue as had the Akalis in Punjab and the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir. “So where is the national consensus?”

   

 
 
PARTY DENIES ADVANI CBI SLUR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
The BJP today denied that home minister L.K. Advani had cast aspersions on the CBI, saying Advani himself had contradicted such reports.

Denying that Advani had said anything against the CBI, party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said the “government and party position is that nobody should interfere with CBI work”.

While chatting with reporters here on Friday at Union rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu’s residence, Advani, in the presence of Uma Bharti, had said: “When I saw the contents of the CBI chargesheet (on Babri Masjid demolition), I began to wonder at the way it (the CBI) functions.”

On Sunday, the home minister, however, denied having said anything against the CBI, adding it was the sports minister who had said something.

Asked for the party’s reaction to Advani’s statement, Malhotra replied: “What Uma Bharti said, you ask her.”

He said he was not present at the spot and he could not clarify something Bharti said to the media. “I do not know what statement she made under what circumstances,” Malhotra said.

He added: “The government position is not to interfere in the functioning of the CBI. The courts will decide who is right or wrong.” Malhotra claimed that ever since the BJP-led government came to power, “nobody tried to influence the CBI”.

The Congress, however, reacted sharply to Advani’s bid to “influence” the CBI. The party flayed the home minister’s bid to “shift blame to Uma Bharti”, saying “it is easy to blame women”.

Party spokesperson Margaret Alva said: “Topi Uma par laga di” and asked Bharti to come out with her part of the story to clear the doubts.

   

 
 
VHP FIRM ON CONSTRUCTION DATE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Dec. 18: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has reiterated that the construction of the Ram temple “will go ahead irrespective of” political parties’ attitude and the ramification for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.

The construction will begin after sadhus announce a date at the Kumbh Mela in January, VHP secretary general Pravin Togadia said today. “We will go ahead with our plan and we are not bothered if this government falls.”

The VHP leader, however, hastened to add that “if the government falls on the issue of Ram temple, the same issue can bring it back to the power in the next election”, suggesting that BJP leaders should not hesitate to sacrifice this government.

Commenting on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement on the Ayodhya issue, Togadia said: “The Hindus are happy with the Prime Minister who has echoed their sentiments.” The Prime Minister has been very consistent in his statements, expressing the feelings of Hindus, the VHP leader said.

Togadia was in Ahmedabad to brief the press about the forthcoming meet of the VHP’s International Co-ordination Committee, which is to be held here on December 23 and 24 and will be attended by VHP office bearers in 45 countries. The meet, to be attended by top VHP leaders, including Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishor, is being held to discuss the “religious sentiments of Hindus settled abroad”.

Togadia lashed out at the Congress, which he alleged has become an “anti-Ram and anti-Hindu” party under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.

He observed that the Congress had transformed under the present leader.

Even in the past the Congress had appeased the Muslim community but it had not completely ignored the sentiments of the majority Hindus.

One indication of this was that the Congress had unlocked the disputed structure in Ayodhya and allowed shilanyas to be performed, he explained.

But the Congress, he said, “we saw in Parliament on December 4 was totally different. It appeared that we are not in India but in Pakistan where everybody is against the Ram temple. The Congress, Muslim League, Communist league and socialist ganged up, displaying their anti-Ram anti-Hindu colour”.

Togadia was quick in replying to a question about a mob ransacking and desecrating a church in Chhindia village in south Gujarat after a tribal on whose land the church was constructed converted to Hinduism. “It is an imaginary persecution, which is a part of missionaries’ propaganda to collect money from abroad in the name of saving Christianity,” the VHP leader said.

   

 
 
BUSH’S FIRST CHOICES LIFT DELHI HOPES 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
President-elect George W. Bush’s choices for the key posts of secretary of state and national security adviser have generated optimism in the Indian establishment.

But South Block will wait a little longer for some of the other posts to be filled before forming an opinion on how the new dispensation in Washington will deal with Delhi.

Both Colin Powell, the designated secretary of state, and Condoleezza Rice, chosen national security adviser, have in the recent past identified India as the “emerging superpower in the region” and stressed on a closer and deeper engagement between Washington and Delhi. One of the reasons why they chose India is an opinion that the country could work as a counter-balance against China.

The new national security adviser has made no bones about her partiality towards India in her much-talked about article in the journal, Foreign Affairs, early this year. She had been following it up by regularly interacting with senior Indian officials who visited Washington over the past few months.

Powell, who replaces Madeleine Albright, has argued in favour of closer Indo-US ties for stability in the region. Soon after his new appointment, Powell has said American foreign policy would focus on the promotion of democracy as well as free enterprise and the fight against terrorism.

He made it clear that Washington would have close links with countries which believe in and practise the virtues of democracy and free enterprise and were making a serious attempt to combat international terrorism.

A section in South Block cannot but find a clear message in this for Pakistan. “On both democracy and terrorism, Pakistan fits the bill in the wrong way rather well,” a senior official of the Indian foreign ministry said.

But there are others in the ministry who feel that Islamabad may be able to “start with a clean slate” with the Bush administration.

The nominees for assistant secretary, deputy secretary and under secretary in the state department have not yet been announced. The occupants of these posts will play a crucial role in formulating the US foreign policy.

South Block officials pointed out that Robin Raphael, when she was the US assistant secretary of state, had played a significant role in America’s pro-Pakistani tilt. The relationship between Delhi and Washington blossomed after she left the South Asia desk.

Some South Block officials pointed out that ties with Washington had started strengthening in the eighties under the Republican regime.

It was in 1984 that the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on transfer of technology. In the subsequent years, Delhi got the first super-computer. Defence links also crystallised, paving the way for regular high-level visits. “All this took place in the height of the Cold War,” a senior official said.

Pakistan first figured on the US watchlist when the Republicans were in power.

   

 
 
INFOHERO BANKS ON MOVIE MAGIC 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 18: 
Chandrababu Naidu will kick off his election campaign with an ode to himself on celluloid.

With the panchayat polls breathing down his neck and upstate Andhra Pradesh still not caught in his Net, the Telugu Desam leader has resorted to the time-tested poll-strategy of the South — movies.

The film Maa Babu will portray Chandrababu — played by ex-angry young man Venkatesh — as a fiery infotech reformer and able administrator. The role, the chief minister feels, that will guarantee maximum votes. Southern siren Soundarya will play his wife Bhuvaneswari, the third daughter of NTR.

Also starring are liberal clippings on Chandrababu provi- ded by the information department — footages on him going places.

“We are providing all tapes of Janmabhoomi (the social welfare scheme for villages), Dial-Your-CM (phone-in programme broadcast twice daily on DD) and his state visits to the US, Davos, Singapore, China and Gulf,” said a senior official of the information department.

The megabucks film, due in end-March when the panchayat polls are scheduled, is being produced by an NRI and Desam member of Lok Sabha Rama Naidu, a studio-owner and producer of nearly 200 movies.

The architect of Cyberabad took up Maa Babu after his brain trust — which is a virtual who’s who comprising Alyque Padamsee (visual publicity), film producer K. Raghavendra Rao (electronic and film media) and Infosys boss Narayanmurthy of (infotech) — burnt barrels of midnight oil and advised him to fall back on the big screen to attract rural voters.

The villages had not been too impressed with the chief minister’s online activities or programmes like Janmabhoomi, they felt. Chandrababu, though, remains an active Netizen. On Wednesday, he inaugurated a website on Telugu novels and biographies. One of the first books hosted by the site was Ratha Sarathi (Leader), a biogr- aphy of Chandrababu authored by U. Venkateswarlu, a Desam MP.

While the Desam chief may not don the wigs or carry the cardboard swords of some of his star-politician predecessors, he will carry on their larger-than-life tradition all right. Maa Babu will project him in the same fashion as Bobbuli Puli and Chanda Shasanudu portrayed NTR as a firm administrator and campaigner against corruption.

The movie may also pitch Chandrababu one up on the two other Naidus of Andhra — Yerran Naidu, who leads the Desam Parliamentary Party and M. Venkaiah Naidu, BJP shotgun from the state, his managers feel.

Chandrababu himself has had a love-and-hate relationship with filmdom.

His political career soared only after his portfolio as cinematograph minister in the Congress government of T. Anjaiah caught the attention of the then matinee idol N.T. Rama Rao.

Chandrababu married NTR’s daughter, but after the 1995 coup in which he grabbed power from NTR, the film industry kept away from him.

The chief minister also kept his distance himself from the forte of his predecessors in order to highlight his pro-reform stance and to project himself as the CEO of andhrapradesh.com.

He angered the film industry by not conceding various demands. The film distributors and exhibitors were sidelined in favour of cable TV which were major outlets for Chandrababu’s promotional programmes.

He rechristened the Andhra Pradesh Film Development Corporation into Andhra Pradesh Film, Theatre and Television Development Corporation.

He had the television lobby behind him. Ramoji Film City and as well the Eenadu TV threw their weight behind Chandrababu during the 1995 coup. ETV had the exclusive rights to telecast the proceedings of the Assem- bly.

But now he seems to be back to square one. Or should we say Take One?

   

 
 
DESAM FARM FURY ERUPTS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
After the Trinamul Congress kept the government on tenterhooks over Ayodhya, the Telugu Desam Party today displayed in the Lok Sabha its unhappiness over the plight of farmers.

The House also witnessed MPs cutting across party lines seeking to score a point on the farmers’ plight, alleging absence of procurement of their produce in various states.

The TDP took the initiative in forcing adjournment for an hour. When the House reassembled, the Congress walked out, protesting against Union food and consumer affairs minister Shanta Kumar’s reply that 13.15 lakh tonnes of rice had so far been procured in Andhra Pradesh alone which, he pointed out, was four lakh tonnes more compared to the corresponding period last year.

The TDP forced Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to adjourn the House during Question Hour. Demanding suspension of rules, TDP MPs trooped to the Well of the House. After the Lok Sabha reassembled, they again protested, this time against the Vajpayee government’s apathy towards the suffering farmers of Andhra Pradesh.

The House witnessed sharp exchanges between the TDP and the Congress. The main Opposition party wanted to know why the TDP was silent when the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, had moved an adjournment motion on the farmers’ issue in the last week of November. When the Congress and the RJD staged a walk out, TDP members did not join them.

TDP leader K. Yerran Naidu sought admission for his party’s notice on the adjournment motion. After the minister’s response, he, however, did not press it. He said the farmers were not getting minimum support price for rice and paddy even though chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had drawn the attention of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar.

Asking the Vajpayee government to intervene, Yerran Naidu alleged that Food Corporation of India (FCI) was not following the directive given by the Centre and Chandrababu Naidu had yesterday written a letter to Vajpayee in this regard. He alleged that there had been a meagre procurement of only 3.86 lakh tonnes this month.

Shanta Kumar assured Yerran Naidu that the paddy was being procured there on the Punjab pattern. He said the Centre had decided to allow admixture of swarana masoori rice up to 13 per cent, one of the demands put forward by Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal MPs accused the government of “discriminating” in the procurement of farmers’ produce. They “warned” that this would not be tolerated. RJD members too rushed to the Well to highlight the problems faced by Bihar farmers.

   

 
 
INDUSTRY REFORM TIPS FOR MAMATA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 18: 
Even as Mamata Banerjee’s political compulsions keep her busy in West Bengal, pressure is building on the railway ministry to reform quickly and in step with other sectors of the economy.

The Prime Minister’s Office itself has made it known to the railway ministry that it was not impressed with the tardy pace of change. Prime Minister Vajpayee himself said at the inaugural of the 73rd annual general meeting of Ficci on Saturday that he was keen that the railway ministry get its act together.

And now, industry is doing its bit. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) today presented an 11-point reform charter for the railways that it says should be taken up in 2001-2002.

CII has said the share of railways in freight and passenger traffic has come down drastically from 89 per cent and 80 per cent respectively in 1950 to 40 per cent and 20 per cent respectively at present.

The loss of market share vis-a-vis other modes of transport, lack of operational flexibility, especially pricing, high costs, a huge pension liability and poor investment decisions have affected the competitiveness of the railways, the apex chamber observed.

CII has suggested, among other measures, that freight rates should reflect the cost of operations plus profit margin. Freight rates in Indian railways were too high because of heavy subsidisation in transport of essential commodities below cost level.

CII has also asked the railways to separate the infrastructure development and maintenance functions from its operational duties. This vaguely echoes what the Prime Minister too, wants. Vajpayee has also called upon the railway ministry to separate operations from management.

Other suggestions proffered by CII are: Shedding of surplus staff, corporatisation of production units and a single window system to settle all claims.

   

 
 
JULY DEBUT FOR BUSINESS SCHOOL 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 18: 
The city’s first international business school, the Indian School of Business (ISB), is set for take-off in July 2001 when the institution will open its doors to the first batch of MBA students, two years after the Telugu Desam government donated the 250-acre plot on which the institute has come up. A training course for executives will begin from November.

The admission process for the 130-seat course has already begun. “We are following the north-western pattern of admission exercise and GMAT criteria,” said Rajat Gupta, ISB chairman and managing director of McKinsey.

“Admissions are now scrutinised by the North-Western University of Chicago where about 6,000 applications have been received for the 130 seats in the first batch,” Sumantra Goshal, ISB’s newly-appointed founder dean, said, but added that he was “unhappy” that so few women had applied.

The Rs 150-crore school’s latest catch is Indian writer Gita Piramal, who wrote books like Business Maharajahs, and Gay (Gabrielle) Haskins, associate dean of Executive Education at London Business School.

   

 
 
MAULED MODEL ON COMEBACK TRAIL 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 18: 
Abhijit Sanyal, who had his face slashed and his car burned down in separate attacks, is back on the ramp, but the fear of his unidentified assailants still stalks him.

The former Mr India, in hiding since his car was burned down outside his Andheri home on the night of November 28, strode down the catwalk at the Kingfisher fashion show at Royal Western India Turf Club in Mumbai on the evenings of Saturday and Sunday.

The show, organised by United Breweries, marked his reappearance after nearly three months.

“I cannot describe how happy I am to be able to return to the catwalk, where I belong,” said an excited Sanyal, grandson of actor Anup Kumar Ganguly, brother of the late Kishore Kumar.

“But I am sure the person who is after my blood is also aware that I have staged a comeback and might again try to do something to me,” he said.

Sanyal was returning home on the night of September 30 when some men attacked him at the gate of his house. He was repeatedly slashed, mostly in the face, and was hospitalised for several days.

Two months later, the unidentified assailants struck again, setting his Maruti 800, parked outside his house, on fire. The next day, Sanyal went into hiding.

Police do not have a clue about the attackers. Nor do Sanyal and industry insiders. But they all suspect professional rivalry could be a motive.

Deputy commissioner of police Rajendra Singh said a former friend of Sanyal was arrested in connection with the first incident, but it did not yield much. “There is no breakthrough yet,” he said.

Singh said the model did not suspect anybody, making the police’s job difficult.

Sanyal said he did not who was after his blood, but he was sure the person “wants to harm me bodily”. He suspected that “someone is jealous of me because the second attack happened just when I was trying to make a comeback”.

Sanyal said though the incidents upset his entire modelling schedule at the peak of the season starting in October and set him back financially, he was trying to put all this behind him and get on with his life.

With two plainclothesmen tailing him, Sanyal said he would shoot for a lipstick commercial next week, playing a “dumb” college student. “It is funny and I am sure I will enjoy doing it.”

After the shoot, he said he had plans for a 10-day holiday with his parents, who were coming to Mumbai from Nagpur.

Sanyal said he was also preparing for a Kingfisher fashion show in Calcutta, scheduled for January 6. “I am really looking forward to it. The Calcutta crowd is fabulous. I still remember the kind of reception I got at the Netaji Indoor Stadium during the Grasim Mr India contest last year.”

He said he would again return to Calcutta on January 25 to appear in a fashion show for a city-based woman designer.

Whenever Sanyal appeared on the stage on Saturday, the crowd broke out in applause.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” exclaimed Sanyal. “When you are here on the ramp and people are cheering you, you know you are not alone.”

   

 
 
HUNT FOR THE MOTHER PRAWN 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 18: 
She is the female all fishermen fantasise about. Dreaming of her, they dare the rough, high seas every winter, the frosty winds chilling their bones.

But her thought keeps them going.

She is a bounteous shrimp who could figure in any fertility myth. Affectionately called “Talli Royya” (Mother Shrimp), she lays over five to six lakh eggs, enough for about 15 acres of aqua farming.

Yesterday, one such breeder shrimp was auctioned for Rs 30,000 at a fishermen’s village in Vishakhapatnam. Talli Royya came as a saviour — otherwise the fishermen would have to buy cultured larvae from shrimp nurseries in huge amounts.

Last year about 50 Talli Royyas — also known as “jackpots” among fishermen — fetched Rs 15 lakh for a fishing family near Kakinada.

It is another story, however, that the head of the family was killed by his own brothers who wanted their share of the booty.

Most of the mother breeders are exported under stringent quality specifications to Japan. A pair of export-quality Talli Royya may cost between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000.

The cult of the Mother has grown even as virus attacks have blighted east coast nurseries — including one by the Thapars — over the last four years.

Not only fishermen, but shrimp exporters also keep combing the coastal area every winter in search of her. Even Japanese and Korean shrimp traders camp in Rajahmundhry, Kakinada, Vishakhapatnam and Machilipatnam waiting for such catches.

The east coast specialises in Talli Royyas of many kinds — specially of the tiger prawn variety.

The “Mother” cannot be caught in mechanised fishing boats. Only country boats sail to get Talli Royya catches.

A. Pentiah of the Andhra Pradesh fishermen’s association said: “The breeding prawn, also called a wild catch, is seasonal and also available when the sea is rough and in high seas.” It was during one such mission that a fishing party from Rajahmundhry was en masse killed by a cyclone in 1996.

A catch is reported by the fishermen through wireless sets to the operators on the coast, who rush to the receiving points with fresh water tanks and oxygen cylinders to keep it alive.

The prize prawn is let into the fresh tank and also given a good doze of oxygen. It is fed like royalty for five to 10 days — within which it lays its eggs.

Kondal Rao of Amalapuram, an operator, said: “We buy an approximate 10 to 15 breeder shrimps during the season. About 22,000 licensed fishing boats are pressed into the operation for a month since November.”

But the catches are decreasing due to the presence of mechanised boats of the Japanese and Korean operators. Indian fishermen’s associations enlist the support of the Coast Guard to keep away the mechanised boats during the season.

   
 

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