Three knockouts in Thursday thrashing
Ghani bargain-hunts with exchange offer
Advani in Mission Kashmir lead
Jaya seeks supreme sanction
Calcutta Weather

 
 
THREE KNOCKOUTS IN THURSDAY THRASHING 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi and Calcutta, April 12: 
The furies of Friday the 13th were unleashed a day too soon. Stocks were clobbered, the rupee bled, and industry plumbed new depths, throwing a dark shadow over the economy.

After yesterday’s bloodbath on Dalal Street, bears were back again. They savaged infotech stocks today as well, pushing the 30-share Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index down to its lowest in 26 years at 3183.77 points.

The panic in the bourses spread to the foreign exchange markets. Corporate houses and banks were afraid that if foreign investors pulled out of stock markets (given the steady slump), dollar supplies would come down, making the greenback more expensive. To beat higher prices, they scrambled for dollars today, pushing up the price of the greenback in the process.

Opening at 46.74 to a dollar, the rupee quickly nosedived to an all-time low of 46.95 before recovering slightly at the end of the day to 46.90.

The Reserve Bank did not step in to prop up the rupee. There were signals that the central bank would not mind a depreciated rupee when RBI governor Bimal Jalan, reacting to the early slump, told reporters that “there are some minor movements (and there is) no cause for worry”.

More bad news came in from Delhi where the latest index of industrial production was released. Industry grew at a measly 0.6 per cent in February with the textile sector recording a negative growth. This was much lower than the 5.1 per cent growth clocked in February last year.

While experts feel industrial growth will pick up soon, analysts fear it will be a while before the stock market can free itself of the bear hug. The shortest bear spell in the past 12 years had been for three months. This one could well drag for as long as 12 months, warned analysts.

“There was a virtual stampede out there as investors rushed to escape the tightening bear grip,” said an analyst with a private bank in Mumbai.

“Precipitous falls followed by some relief will be the trend in the coming days,” said Vineet Bhatnagar, the managing director of Reico-Sify Securities. “Any relief in the coming days does not signify a change in sentiments,” he added.

In today’s carnage, the worst-hit were the new-age stocks. Fallen broker Ketan Parekh’s darling scrips — Himachal Futuristics, Zee Telefilms, Global Tele and DSQ Software — were butchered. The BSE IT index — the infotech scrips’ bellwether — lost a staggering 9.95 per cent (120 points) to close at 1086.20.

“The change in the stock market sentiments had a ripple effect on the foreign exchange markets,” said N. Subramaniam of e-Mecklai, a brokerage firm.

Through the day, the rupee lost 20 paise from its previous close. After a nervous start, the Indian currency went into a free fall. Its descent was arrested when some public sector banks came to the rescue and began selling dollars.

N. Balasubramanian, general manager, ICICI Ltd, however, described the sharp fall in the rupee as a “temporary correction” which was nothing alarming.

   

 
 
GHANI BARGAIN-HUNTS WITH EXCHANGE OFFER 
 
 
BY SUVRO ROY
 
Calcutta, April 12: 
Announcement of candidates by Bengal alliance partners Trinamul and the Congress was held up today by persisting differences over seat-sharing.

There were indications though that Malda Congress leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s recalcitrance — the main hurdle to finalising lists — might be winning him the contentious Englishbazar seat in exchange for two constituencies he appears prepared to surrender to Trinamul. Under the seat-share deal, Trinamul had been given this seat and Old Malda in Ghani’s backyard.

Sources associated with the deal recast in Malda said Ghani today informed the high command that he was willing to forgo his claims to Gajole and Habibpur where the Congress is weak.

AICC general secretary Kamal Nath, who brokered the deal, and state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee tried to persuade Ghani to give up Old Malda as well. But Ghani told them Englishbazar and Old Malda were not negotiable.

In a likely upshot of the developments, Trinamul might lose its chosen nominee for Englishbazar, Krishnendu Chowdhury, chairman of the local municipal board, to the BJP, the former ally working overtime to spoil Mamata’s electoral prospects.

Another problem area is the Harishchandrapur seat, being offered to Trinamul by Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to get Mamata to shift her nominees from two Assembly seats within his parliamentary constituency.

Das Munshi has offered the seat to Mamata without consulting Ghani, though Harishchandrapur is in Malda. “He has no business poking his nose in Malda and make a gift of a seat which does not belong to him,” Ghani told the Congress leadership.

Das Munshi did not come on line despite repeated attempts. “He is having a long bath. He will give you his views once he is ready to receive calls,” a spokesman for the MP said. He was not ready till late tonight. It was not known if he had finished his bath.

Kamal Nath called Mamata in the evening to inform her of Ghani’s position. Although Congress leaders in Delhi claimed Mamata was sorting things out directly with Ghani after the high command yesterday gave her a carte blanche, the two sides denied having had any talks. Mamata is expected to call Ghani tomorrow.

In her public statements at least, Mamata appeared unfazed by the Congress squabbling, which she described as part of the party’s democratic functioning.

At a meeting in Calcutta this afternoon, she said: “They (CPM) are trying to describe the Congress outburst — after the alliance was forged — as dissension. It is not dissension but the reflection of inner-democracy of the Congress. To forge a perfect alliance takes time and it cannot be forged overnight, nor can it be imposed. Also, it is not possible to satisfy everyone. Above all, we will have to take on the Communists and, to do it, we will have to fight shoulder-to-shoulder.”

If the statement showed Mamata’s keenness on making the alliance work at any cost, the Congress high command today gave her the benefit of the doubt over the Trinamul manifesto’s silence on the BJP, reports our correspondent from Delhi.

“After all, she was part of the NDA until recently. How can she disown her entire past?” asked a Congress MP.

Assailed by seat trouble also in Kerala, Sonia Gandhi has deputed Motilal Vora and Ghulam Nabi Azad to pacify the rebellious veteran K. Karunakaran.

   

 
 
ADVANI IN MISSION KASHMIR LEAD 
 
 
FROM CHANDAN NANDY
 
New Delhi, April 12: 
Home minister L.K. Advani has got back the reins of Jammu and Kashmir he had lost to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last year.

The home minister chaired a brainstorming session with members of the National Security Advisory Board this evening on Kashmir and the government’s peace initiative.

The meeting followed the recently-announced modalities for peace talks, where Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant will represent the Centre. But sources said for all practical purposes it will be the home minister who will monitor the talks with political parties, groups and formations in Jammu and Kashmir, including militant outfits.

Advani was briefed by members of the board M.K. Narayanan, former Intelligence Bureau chief, K.K. Nayyar, vice-admiral (retd), K. Subrahmanyam, defence analyst, Afsir Karim, lieutenant-general (retd), and B.G. Verghese, media consultant to the defence minister. Vice-admiral Nayyar is a proponent of Track II diplomacy. Intelligence Bureau chief Shyamal Dutta and home secretary Kamal Pande were also there.

Officially, the meeting “took stock of the security and political situation” in Kashmir, but government sources said issues connected with the peace process were on the table. Talks are expected to start before the ceasefire expires at May-end.

This was the first meeting between Advani and the board on Kashmir. The sources said several strategies will be chalked out over the next few weeks to ensure that the peace process builds up momentum. “The contours of the peace process are being drawn up,” an official said.

Brajesh Mishra, the national security adviser and the PMO official believed to be the guiding force behind the Kashmir initiative, was away in Iran with the Prime Minister when the meeting took place in North Block.

The timing, therefore, is being interpreted as an indication that the Prime Minister is handing implementation of his Kashmir policy to Advani. When the Hizb-ul Mujahideen declared a month-long ceasefire last July and expressed interest in initiating a peace process, the home minister was not consulted. Nor was Advani informed of the operation by security agencies to wean away Hizb deputy commander Abdul Majid Dar from Islamabad.

Since Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced cessation of combat operations in his Ramzan ceasefire offer to militants, the home ministry had no role to play. There were differences between the PMO and North Block over whether to declare a ceasefire when the security forces had the upper hand in Kashmir.

Today’s meeting is a strong indication that the Centre wants a cohesive stand on Kashmir before dialogue begins and all possible differences between the PMO and the home ministry are being erased to achieve that uniformity.

Besides, after Tehelka, Mishra is possibly being asked to maintain a low profile with the Opposition as well sections within the Sangh demanding his scalp.

   

 
 
JAYA SEEKS SUPREME SANCTION 
 
 
FROM T.N. GOPALAN
 
Chennai, April 12: 
A day after Madras High Court ruled that she could contest the elections, Jayalalitha today swung into action to ensure that other hurdles on the way are removed.

The leader of the ADMK, which observers feel holds the edge over the DMK in the run-up to the elections, is now moving the Supreme Court to obtain an express permission to contest the polls.

Sources said Jayalalitha is considering challenging the August 1997 order of the Election Commission which barred anyone convicted by a court for more than two years from contesting elections, even if an appeal was pending against the verdict and a stay had been granted.

Jayalalitha’s fate had come under a cloud after she was convicted in the Tansi land deal case. The high court yesterday ruled that conviction and sentence were inseparable. Since the sentence had been stayed by the high court, the conviction also stood suspended, Justice Malai Subramanian said.

In a change of strategy, Jayalalitha’s lawyers today informed the high court that they needed no clarification on yesterday’s ambiguous order on her eligibility to contest elections. Jayalalitha believes she can now convince the Supreme Court to strike down the “unjust” Election Commission norm.

Observers said the ADMK leader was taking a calculated risk because she stood to lose heavily in case the Supreme Court verdict went against her.

“She is convinced that her party would be voted to power and would like to head the government herself and do the needful instead of depending on anybody else’s mercy. Besides, a nod from the Supreme Court would also give her that much more momentum in the campaign,” said a member of her think-tank. He pointed out that Jayalalitha is known to take chances and prefers to go for broke rather than brook even the slightest hint of uncertainty.

On a high after yesterday’s ruling, Jayalalitha sought to send the signal to her allies that she was in command.

The list of constituencies allotted to the PMK, released today, contains at least two seats held by key functionaries of the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). Earlier she had taken away the seat held by TMC legislature party leader S. Balakrishnan. The TMC, which agreed to join the ADMK-led front even at the risk of falling by the wayside, has not made any comments so far.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34°C (-2)
Minimum: 27.4°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Max: 94%
Min: 70%

Today

Generally cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain and thunder in some parts towards evening.
Sunrise: 5.21 am
Sunset: 5.52 pm
   
 

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