Atal tells shaky Koirala to rein in rioters
Bachchan big show of loan repayment
PM’s holiday headaches
Green signal to Hurriyat
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL TELLS SHAKY KOIRALA TO REIN IN RIOTERS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Dec. 28: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today intervened in the Hrithik Roshan controversy and asked Nepal to take firm steps to contain the flare-up which threatened to dislodge the G.P. Koirala government.

A revolt rocked the Nepal government as 56 of its members sought a “no-confidence” motion, citing the “breakdown” in law and order. The rebels of the ruling Nepali Congress Party, which has 113 members in the 205-seat lower House, are demanding a new leader.

A rebellion was brewing within the party for some time. The rage against Hrithik has come in handy for the dissidents, who are just one short of the required votes to oust Koirala.

Vajpayee, who is holidaying in Kerala, spoke to Koirala over telephone and voiced concern over the violence directed at Indians and their establishments.

A statement issued by the PMO said Koirala told Vajpayee that the outbreak appeared to be part of a conspiracy aimed at harming Indo-Nepal ties. Koirala added that a panel had been set up to probe the incident.

Delhi, too, hinted at a plot but did not name anyone in public. However, in private, officials said the violence was master-minded by the fugitive don, Dawood Ibrahim, to disrupt the bilateral relations which were being put back on the track after the plane hijack last year.

A nationwide bandh left Nepal’s capital, where thousands of Indian tourists are stranded, paralysed. The city was tense with Left-wing students, who accused Hrithik of defaming Nepal and its people, continuing their protest, but the situation was said to be under control this evening. Hrithik had yesterday denied the comments and sought proof of the mysterious interview being quoted by the protesters.

On Tuesday, police shot four persons as a mob went berserk, attacking shops and a theatre screening Mission Kashmir which stars Hrithik. Nearly 180 people were injured.

In Delhi, foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal blamed “forces inimical to Indo-Nepal relations” for the violence. He said the protests were based on a “fabricated story”, mentioning that Hrithik has denied the comments attributed to him.

On whether the ISI was involved, Jassal said: “It (the violence) is clearly something which is orchestrated by elements inimical to Indo-Nepal relations.” He said that Indian television channels carrying a denial by the actor were blocked in Kathmandu.

Dawood and his associates, the main backers of a powerful media group in Nepal, used the platform to foment the protests, officials in Delhi said. In an interview to Reuters yesterday, Hrithik had hinted at the involvement of the mafia.

This morning the Nepalese charge d’affaires, M.K. Bhattarai, was summoned to South Block. In a note verbale, Meera Shankar, joint secretary (North) of the Indian foreign ministry, reiterated Delhi’s concern. Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh had called up his Nepalese counterpart Narain Shamsher Rana last evening.

Indian Airlines operated an almost empty A-300 flight today to Kathmandu as no passenger wanted to board the plane. For the second day, the airline had to cancel its Varanasi-Kathmandu-Varanasi flight.

A Calcutta-based organisation, the All-India Nepalese Bhasha Sangram Parishad, said it would file a defamatory suit against Hrithik for his alleged remarks.

   

 
 
BACHCHAN BIG SHOW OF LOAN REPAYMENT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
Who made loan melas famous?

Janardhana Poojary.

Who made loan repayment melas famous?

Decide if you want to go 50:50, or throw it to the audience. But if you want a lifeline, ask Amitabh Bachchan himself.

It’s his friend and Samajwadi Party MP Amar Singh who has turned loan repayment into a media event. Of course, it helps that Bachchan himself is doing the repayment.

Amid popping flashbulbs and whirring video cameras, Bachchan handed over a Bank of India cheque for over Rs 9.65 crore to Prasar Bharati chief executive Rajeeva Ratna Shah at the fifth floor conference hall in Doordarshan Bhavan today.

Amar Singh has been directing these feel-good loan repayment scenes. First, it was the repayment of a loan to Canara Bank in Mumbai and now of dues owed to Prasar Bharati in Delhi.

Bachchan had earlier paid Rs 50 lakh and together the two cheques add up to half the Rs 20.31 crore his company, AB Corps Ltd, owes Doordarshan. The rest will be paid in three quarterly instalments beginning next March.

Bachchan will clear the interest owed by appearing in public service messages aired on DD over an agreed period.

Accepting the cheque, Shah said Bachchan’s image as a role model would get another coat of paint with him living up to his repayment commitment.

Calling Bachchan the darling of Indian crowds, he said with the dues cleared, Doordarshan and Bachchan can rebuild the warm relationship they had earlier.

Bachchan soulmate Amar Singh hoped that now other big producers, directors and content providers would be inspired to follow suit.

Bachchan said he felt committed to repay the dues, though ABCL had been declared sick, offering him an escape hatch. He said ABCL had started with a large vision in 1995 and foundered. Now, it is on way to revival “on a slower, surer footing”.

“All this means the opening of a door that got closed,” he said, adding that if Doordarshan came up with interesting proposals, he would consider them.

Starting with Aksh, ABCL is producing three films with super star casts.

In wake of rumours that he might campaign for the Samajwadi Party, Bachchan was asked if he would a stage a comeback to politics. “I don’t want to,” he said.

What if your friend asks you to? “I consider Amar Singh a member of my family. I will do whatever he says, but I hope he will not force me to do anything which I don’t like,” Bachchan replied.

Note kiya jai. That’s how a politician would have said: don’t ask.

   

 
 
PM’S HOLIDAY HEADACHES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
It’ll be hard to blame any of this on Pakistan or Dawood Ibrahim, but a lot of things that could go wrong are going wrong on the Prime Minister’s Kerala holiday.

Lashing rains, an impending storm, slight but persistent tremors, stray protests against the oppressive security, the media unhappy at being locked out and, finally, even a snake heading for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s room at the Kumarakom Taj resort.

From behind the curtain security people have erected between the resort and the outside world, news leaked that a big birthday bash was planned this evening for Ranjan Bhattacharya, husband of the Prime Minister’s adopted daughter, Namita. A huge cake had been ordered and efforts were being made to get Hariharan to sing ghazals for the Prime Minister and his entourage.

Last evening, Vajpayee watched Kathakali and Mohiniattam performances by artistes of the Cochin Cultural Centre.

Unconfirmed reports said anti-aircraft guns positioned around the resort have been asked to shoot any flying object in the vicinity. It appears that the recent Lashkar-e-Toiba attack inside Red Fort and the threat to the Prime Minister’s Office have made the security forces paranoid.

Anti-aircraft batteries at neighbouring Pathiramanal have been asked to shoot down aircraft flying over the area. As a result, the flight path of commercial airlines operating between Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram has been altered. Rocket launchers have been stationed at strategic places and Kumarakom boasts a number of radars now.

Warning of a cyclonic storm, the weather office has predicted heavy rains over the next 48 hours in that part of Kerala. Nature has conspired some more to unleash tremors — measuring 2.5 on the Richter scale — that have been experienced in the region since the second week of December.

Tremors caused by the Prime Minister’s security are registering higher than the lowly 2.5 on the scale of public sentiment, helped by the politics Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar is playing.

“You cannot blame the state police who can only act on direction from the Central agencies in this matter,” he said today.

Making matters worse, a 27-year-old woman was arrested near Kumarakom for questioning the need for such tight security to the Prime Minister. At least, she’s luckier than the snake that was seen slithering towards cottage No. 18 around noon yesterday and paid with its life for trespassing.

   

 
 
GREEN SIGNAL TO HURRIYAT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
Putting the onus back on Pakistan to keep the peace process on track, India has decided to clear travel documents of leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference so that they can visit Islamabad.

The Hurriyat leaders had expressed their desire to visit Pakistan on January 15 to hold talks with the military regime for finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Agency reports quoting informed government sources said the decision to issue the travel documents was taken by Delhi today.

Sources said Pakistan will now have to rein in outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen because continuing strikes by militant groups in the embattled state could lead to the ceasefire being withdrawn. This is something that the Hurriyat leaders can impress upon the Pakistani leadership, sources said.

However, there seems to be some confusion over the number of Hurriyat representatives being allowed by the Centre to travel to Islamabad. According to PTI, travel documents will be given to four leaders, including Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, as the government has decided to restore the passports of these leaders which had been impounded.

Apart from Bhat, the other leaders include Syed Ali Shah Gilani, Abdul Gani Lone, Abdul Abbas Ansari, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq.

The government has remained ambiguous about its decision to clear the travel documents. While the foreign ministry declined to comment, a senior official of the ministry said he was not aware of the decision.

With Id-ul-Fitr being celebrated across the country, particularly in Kashmir, sources said the decision was taken with an eye to boost the confidence in the Valley in the peace initiative.

It is also a clear signal to the outside world about Delhi’s commitment to find an amicable solution to the vexed tangle and to another serious attempt to repair the damaged bilateral ties.

India has been insisting that it would not agree to any tri-lateral agreement involving Delhi, Hurriyat leaders and Pakistan in a discussion on Kashmir. Realising how adamant Delhi was, Islamabad recently made it clear that it was no longer insisting on tripartite talks and said it will be satisfied if Delhi talks to the Hurriyat.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 27.9°C (+l)
Minimum: 15.3°C (+1)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 40%

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C
SUNRISE: 6.22 am
SUNSET: 4.58 pm
   
 

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