Vajpayee blames graft on greed
Resignation, rumblings greet Congress deal
Revolt with record conversion
Life after the death of dotcoms
Calcutta Weather

Mumbai, April 8: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today chose a religious occasion to deliver a sermon against greed and corruption, keeping the Tehelka factor in circulation in public memory.

On a short visit to the financial capital, bruised by the second stock market scandal in a decade, Vajpayee addressed the 2600th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahavir, borrowing the Jain teacher’s concepts of “sayyam” (self-restraint) and “aparigraha” (living within means) for his homily on a clean society.

There were clear indications, though, that the message was aimed at people in power. “The poor and hungry do not indulge in corruption but those who already have their stomachs full indulge in such practices, abusing their system,” he said.

Vajpayee did not mention Tehelka even once, though he had earlier been scheduled to address a National Democratic Alliance rally here as part of the coalition’s counter-charge against the impact of the revelations.

The rally was called off after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray refused to share the dais with the Prime Minister unless he was allowed to speak his mind. Vajpayee today did not meet Thackeray, which he usually does on visits to Mumbai. Nor did the two speak on the phone, a top Sena leader said.

Although the government and BJP leaders privately express the view that the Tehelka impact is dying down, Vajpayee’s speech today betrays a persisting preoccupation with the revelations amid an effort to project the Prime Minister as a preacher of probity.

“People eat to fill their stomach. But if you eat too much, you are bound to have a stomach upset,” Vajpayee said. People should not run obsessively after money, he added. “Greed is behind corruption, which is against our culture and ethos.”

In an indication that he had not forgotten the slight from Thackeray, Vajpayee took a sidewipe at his ally, without of course mentioning the Sena. “We want Mumbai to be free for everybody,” he said, alluding to the Sena’s opposition to the entry of outsiders into the city.

The Prime Minister described Mumbai as “India’s second capital”. “Hum to Mumbai sab ke liye chahte hain, lekin Mumbaiwala kya chahte hain yeh malum nahi,” he said.

On the eve of Vajpayee’s departure for Iran, the BJP’s central election committee is scheduled to hold a meeting tomorrow at his residence to discuss strategies and preparations for the Assembly elections in five states.

Although party-related meetings are usually held in the 11 Ashoka Road headquarters, this time the venue was shifted to 7 Race Course Road for security reasons, said sources.

Leaders in charge of the five states are expected to share their views on the prospects of the BJP and its partners at the meeting. There is apparent dismay in the BJP on the parting of ways with Trinamul in West Bengal, the coming apart of the DMK-led Front in Tamil Nadu after the pullout of three allies and the teething problems in the alliance with the AGP in Assam.


Calcutta, April 8: 
Congress veterans who sulked when Mamata Banerjee smiled during the lawn reunion yesterday have started striking back.

At least half-a-dozen Congress leaders, including ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, have revealed their resentment at the manner in which a seat-share deal was struck with the Trinamul Congress. Several of them had sat glum-faced through yesterday’s show of unity on the lawns of the house of the high command’s emissary, Kamal Nath.

Protesting the high command’s “abject surrender” before Mamata, the Congress MLA from Suti in Murshidabad, Mohammed Sohrab, resigned tonight. Two other legislators from South 24-Parganas have threatened to follow suit in the next few days.

According to the final deal, Mamata has set aside 57 of the 294 seats for the Congress. The party may be forced to deny tickets to as many as 15 sitting legislators.

Abdul Basar Laskar, who represents Magrahat (West), and Daulat Ali from Diamond Harbour said they might resign in a day or two after consulting their supporters.

“I am a sitting Congress MLA from Magrahat but I am being denied a ticket due to no fault of mine,” said Laskar.

He warned the party that he may be forced to consider the option of joining hands with the BJP’s West Bengal unit to protest the “injustice meted out to me”. Ali, too, echoed the threat, saying that he would take his decision by Thursday when he has planned a convention of party workers.

Chowdhury, who had opposed Mamata’s bid to field candidates in his pocketborough, Malda, today questioned the efficacy of the alliance. “I wanted to form an alliance by uniting all anti-Left forces to oust the CPM from power. But this alliance will not help us serve that purpose.”

Contradicting the Congress’ repeated public assurances to Mamata, Chowdhury said he was opposed to the idea of projecting Mamata as chief ministerial candidate. “Nobody will be projected as chief minister. It will be decided only after the elections,” he said.

Mamata had yesterday agreed to withdraw one of her two candidates from Malda to appease Chowdhury. She had also gone to his house to thank him.

Chowdhury’s party president, Sonia Gandhi, today phoned Mamata to discuss the deal and campaign plans.

Atish Sinha, leader of the Congress in the Assembly, conceded tonight that the grievances of the party’s legislators were genuine. “We cannot blame the MLAs if they resign and switch over to other parties.”

Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress MP from Murshidabad and the lone leader to skip yesterday’s show, appeared determined to put up Independent candidates against the Trinamul nominees in at least two Assembly segments of Behrampore.

Das Munshi is also dejected after two of his loyalists from Raigunge and Itahar in North Dinajpur district were denied tickets. “Priyada will definitely take up the matter with the high command,” said a Congress functionary close to the party chief whip.


New Delhi, April 8: 
After the cycle of conversion and re-conversion, a rebellion is brewing in India in the shape of the world’s biggest crossover to a religion.

One million Dalits are expected to embrace Buddhism on October 14 in an articulation of anger strikingly similar to Black America’s march against the White mainstream.

The day — 45 years ago on October 14, B.R. Ambedkar had renounced Hinduism and found solace in Buddhism — has been chosen with care to hammer home the Dalit rage against the social stratification.

The objective behind the mammoth conversion is not only to rebuff the caste Hindus and the Brahminical order but also to remove the internal contradictions dogging the Dalits, who are divided into various camps representing the Balmikis, Paswans the Chamars and so on.

The decision on mass conversion has been taken by the All-India Confederation of SC/ST organisations, which groups four million Dalits.

“This is for our survival as humans,” said K. Ramankutty, president of the confederation’s Kerala unit. “Buddhism is a casteless religion. That is the primary reason why we want to embrace it. We have no enmity with anyone. It (the conversion) is for human rights.”

However, if the conversion plan comes through, it is certain to raise the hackles of the Sangh parivar.

Sangh hardliners who have opposed conversions have often found it difficult to answer charges that they have done little to dismantle the numerous social barriers in their religion. The one-million conversion will be seen as further proof of their perceived failure to nurture reforms.

The conversion is also expected to equip the Dalits to fight the Constitution review, which is being viewed by some sections as an affront to Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the statute.

Ramankutty lambasted the BJP-led government for trying to review the Constitution. “They are trying to bring Manu in place of Ambedkar. They are misinterpreting provisions of the Constitution to defeat the purpose of reservation and resort to largescale privatisation. We will soon have no place in the social hierarchy,” he said.

Ram Raj, the national chairman of the confederation, termed the conversion the “biggest cultural event in the world”. He said “the most crucial decision” to embrace Buddhism has the concurrence of Dalits leaders from almost all Indian states.

The confederation is planning to organise a series of programmes, including rath yatras to prepare the Dalits for a cultural change. The target is to convert the nation’s entire Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population (25 crore) in the country, Ram Raj said.

The confederation will chalk out an agitation programme for reservation in the judiciary, army and the private sector in view of the Centre’s decision to disinvest from public sector units.


Bangalore, April 8: 
Selvaraj (name changed) worked hard and partied harder. In between, he stole a few minutes to dream about his favourite luxury car and a cosy apartment downtown — all round the corner on the information highway.

Just when the twenty-something techie thought he had arrived, his house of cards crashed like the pack of dotcoms and Internet-linked companies which have made and marred hundreds of Selvarajs across India’s Silicon Valley. The blow was more stunning for Selvaraj because his company was backed by a behemoth of brand equity, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s STAR TV.

After a breathtaking brush with fortune for two years which sent Selvaraj’s salary rocketing from Rs 6,000 to Rs 35,000 a month, came the dreaded downswing in the US and its ripple effect.

All employees of Selvaraj’s company, STAR Interactive, were told that salaries were being halved. If they were not happy with it, they could go home with a compensation packet of three months’ salary.

The Indian version of the pink slip is furtively doing the rounds in Bangalore. The writing on it is clear: all’s not well with the domestic valley of dreams.

“Most of us are feeling miserable. We all joined the new organisation because of its brand name. People who left good jobs to join us are feeling more miserable. It is a big blow. It will affect our lifestyles,” said Selvaraj.

The almost-regulation weekend partying and pub-crawling are no longer a priority for employees of BPL Oye, an entertainment website, which has folded up., funded by venture capitalists, is on its last click.

Some of their content employees were earning salaries to the tune of nearly 1k (tech jargon for Rs 1 lakh). Now they are scouting for a steady job that will pay them less than half that amount.

But the scenario is not that gloomy, according to Karnataka information technology secretary Vivek Kulkarni. He admitted that a few dotcoms had closed down, but stressed that quite a few had thrived. Kulkarni denied that a survey indicated closure of over 75 Net-related companies.

“We have not commissioned any survey in the first place. It may be true that some dotcoms have closed shop. But there is a positive side, too. Many dotcoms are doing well in Bangalore.”

“The dotcom-going-bust scenario is common all over the world, particularly in the US. It is only the players with a definite revenue model that have survived and will continue,” said K. Srinivasan, managing director of software firm KALS, who has kept a sharp eye on the industry.

India’s high-tech capital is, however, more worried about the imminent lay-off in major software firms and business downslide because of the global meltdown.

Aditi Technologies has slashed its low-end workforce, but is not revealing the number. Several companies have hit the austerity mode, cutting costs across the board. “The slowdown problem is quite serious, but not a disaster. The third quarter of many key companies will be hit. But certainly, this is not the end of the road,” Srinivasan said.

The H-1B brigade will also suffer, but there are no firm figures. “Many will and have been put on the bench till there is a turnaround,” said V. Ramakrishna, who heads Eximsoft, a software solutions provider. One estimate puts the number of Indian techies in the US close to 75,000, and at least a quarter of them are expected to be affected.

“Lay-offs are happening but we can’t put a figure. Things will improve in the next four months unless the slowdown turns into a recession,” said Ramakrishna. His company is moving forward with its recruitment plans. “We plan to hire another 50 to 100 engineers in the next few months,” he said.

Infosys and Wipro, India’s software giants headquartered in Bangalore, said they were not unduly concerned about the backlash from the US slowdown. But they, too, have stopped recruitment of trainees and have gone slow in middle-level appointments.

Laxmikanth, the head of Head Hunters, a top manpower consultancy firm, said the slowdown had affected the human resources market. “We are not getting any calls for engineers from the US. In fact, we are receiving profiles from many software professionals in the US, who are worried about losing their jobs, for suitable jobs in India,” he said.

The real estate market is also gripped by the slowdown fear. “The zest for investments has dipped,” said Mohamad Ilias of Goldline Realtors and Promoters. An MNC software professional had almost inked a deal to buy a three-bedroom apartment costing nearly Rs 1 crore, but called it off.

However, most see a silver line emerging out of the dark horizon. This optimism is based on the survey conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry, which projects a great opportunity from the slowdown for Indian software and services companies. More and more US companies would outsource work from India to cut costs.

As Azim Premji, billionaire and chairman of Wipro, puts it: “I think it is going to open up a tremendous opportunity, because it is going to force more and more American and European companies to look at costs.”




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