New Left comes with new faces
BJP looks for issue and image
British blight strikes city zoo
Big Five pitch for pay, play or no play
Chokila diplomacy for daughter
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, May 17: 
Speculation over the fate of two CPM stalwarts was set at rest with Asim Dasgupta and Satyasadhan Chakraborty figuring on the list of 48 ministers unveiled by the Left Front today. The list has 15 new faces.

Dasgupta was finance minister in the previous government and Chakraborty was in charge of education. There was strong opposition from a section of the party to their reappointment. It is difficult to see Dasgupta anywhere other than finance, perhaps with curtailed responsibility, but what portfolio Chakraborty will get is still uncertain. Education is one of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s top priorities with industry and health.

“Buddhababu will have overall control on these departments, though there will be separate ministers,”a source said.

The ministry of the New Left will be sworn in tomorrow. Of the 48 members, 34 are of Cabinet rank and the rest are ministers of state. In strength, it is one member in excess of the previous one. Portfolios will be announced on Monday.

Left Front chairman Sailen Dasgupta said of the new faces, nine are of Cabinet rank, the prominent among them being Nirupam Sen, whose name appears immediately after the chief minister’s, confirming his number two status, and Mohammad Salim. Nandarani Dal, who won from controversy-ridden Keshpur, enters the ministry also with Cabinet rank, perhaps as a reward for her incredible margin of over a lakh.

Subhas Chakraborty, who held transport and sports earlier, returns expectedly with Mohammad Amin, Suryakanta Mishra, Gautam Deb, Manab Mukherjee and Kanti Biswas. Lakshmi De is expected to be the chief whip.

Even before the portfolios are announced, at least one leader has made clear his unhappiness at not finding his name on the list. The MLA from Ballygunge, Rabin Deb, was absent from the CPM’s state committee meeting this morning. Sources said Deb had aspired to a ministerial berth, but did not turn up after learning he was not going to get one. Deb, however, had a different explanation for missing the meeting. He said he had a stomach upset.

Somnath may go

One important change expected outside the ministry could happen at the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation with its chairman and MP, Somnath Chatterjee, expressing reluctance to continue. “Buddhadeb has decided to give tremendous thrust to industry which implies manifold increase in responsibilities. So, I’m thinking whether I can continue in this position. My health is failing. I have other preoccupations in Delhi,” Chatterjee said.    

New Delhi, May 17: 
It took the CPM 24 years in power and a Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to coin the ‘New Left’ vote-catcher. Three years after tasting power, the BJP is banking on the prefix to resolve perceived crises of ideology and leadership.

The BJP is veering around to the view that its Hindutva plank has reached a “saturation point” and may no longer yield the dividends it had in the past.

The party is also concerned about the “leadership crisis” — an anxiety shared by the RSS. “As long as Atal Bihari Vajpayee is around, it is okay. But the Sangh is worried that his possible successors may not measure up to the task,” a source said.

“There is a feeling that L.K. Advani has not spoken up and has willingly chosen to stay in the sideline,” he added. “Although M.M. Joshi has toed the Sangh’s line, he may not be acceptable to the BJP’s rank and file.”

Such perceptions have prompted the party to talk of hardselling a “new BJP” of younger leaders like M. Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi, Uma Bharti, Sushma Swaraj, Harin Pathak and Shivraj Chauhan. K.N. Govindacharya’s name is also being mentioned, but with a rider that he should be willing to give up his hard line.

Neither Pramod Mahajan nor Arun Jaitley seem to figure in this line-up. Mahajan has allegedly fallen foul of the RSS, while Jaitley is being seen as “laidback”.

Party sources also voiced their anxiety over the “perceptible leadership vacuum” in former strongholds like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. “In Rajasthan, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who used to roar like a tiger, is silent. In Maharashtra, our own politics is in a mess, thanks to the Shiv Sena’s dominance. And in Delhi, an influential leader like Madan Lal Khurana is on the margins,” a party functionary said.

The doubts over the old guard have spilled over to the old campaign themes, too. BJP sources said even the Ram temple may not figure prominently in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls scheduled early next year.

Sources said other Hindutva-related issues like introduction of a common civil code and abrogation of Article 370 were “now possibly history”. The economic reforms also have raised eyebrows in the party.

Party chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi has advised the NDA government to refashion its policies to benefit the common man. A day after Vajpayee described the states’ poll results as a “warning”, Krishnamurthi said the party must “learn a lesson from its verdict”.

He dropped enough hints that the BJP organisation would be revved up to face any eventuality. At a meeting of RSS pracharaks (whole-timers), now with the BJP at a chintan baithak (introspective session) in Jhinjhauli near Delhi today, he indicated that more RSS pracharaks would be inducted in the party to strengthen its base in rural and urban areas.


Calcutta, May 17: 
First, it was the deer, then the kangaroos.

The foot-and-mouth disease, which wreaked havoc in the UK and most of northern Europe, has not spared Calcutta. Last week, more than 10 animals at the Alipore Zoo were affected by the deadly virus. One kangaroo died.

Afraid that the news of the foot-and-mouth disease might trigger panic, the zoo authorities kept quiet.

They took the lid off the outbreak when they were sure that rain had checked the spread of the air-borne virus and that the animals were out of danger.

“The spells of downpour helped us a lot. We managed to control the situation. We have already taken a number of measures to resist another attack,” said Adhir Das, director of the zoo.

“We could not guess at first that it was a foot-and-mouth outbreak. But as more symptoms began to manifest themselves — like frothy mouth, ulcers on the hoof, tongue and tail — we got an idea what it was. We noticed that the animals did not like to stand for long and started drooling after some time. We then thought it might be because of a viral attack — the foot-and-mouth virus,” Das said.

What puzzled Das most was the kangaroos. In his 34-year career, he had never seen this species behave in such a fashion. “Soon, we called veterinary experts to examine the animals,” he said.

The experts first collected saliva of the affected animals which they sent for tests. “As the medical report confirmed that it was a case of foot-and-mouth disease, we informed the Central zoo authorities. They told us to take all preventive measures,” added Das.

Zoo authorities decided to segregate the affected animals in a closed enclosure. “The staff looking after the affected animals were told not to enter the store-room. We placed jute bags in front of the enclosure and instructed the staff to clean their feet while entering and coming out,” Das said.

But that didn’t check the disease from spreading. “We knew only spells of shower can kill this air-borne virus. Besides this, we started vaccinating the affected animals. Within three days, the situation was under control,” Das said.

Shyamaprasad Sarkhel, former Howrah district veterinary officer, said the most effective precautionary measure was complete isolation of the affected animals, preventive vaccination and disinfecting the animals’ lair with sodium hydroxide.

Animals need to be vaccinated from time to time. “We vaccinate the animals every six months. In spite of this, the virus attacked our kangaroos and deer. We are talking to experts to prevent more such attacks in future,” Das said.


Bangalore, May 17: 
Indian players have “requested” the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to introduce a contract system, whereby they are assured a minimum remuneration even if they aren’t picked for a single game in any one season.

At the moment, at least, they are not in favour of graded payment, something finally on the BCCI’s mind after years of on-off-on deliberations internally. Most top teams worldwide, including Australia and South Africa, have players on contract.

The (graded) contracts come up for renewal at the end of each season. While the match fee remains the same for all, those on contract have the additional benefit of a guaranteed remuneration.

The players’ preference was conveyed by the Big Five — captain Sourav Ganguly, vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Jawagal Srinath — to BCCI emissary Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, during a two-and-a-half-hour dialogue at the KSCA office this afternoon.

Sourav, of course, could not be present for the last hour as he had to attend the Zimbabwe squad’s selection meeting. The Big Five-Prof. Shetty interaction began with lunch and ended with a round of coffee and sandwiches. Prof. Shetty is the Mumbai Cricket Association’s joint-secretary.

Speaking exclusively, Sourav “welcomed” this BCCI initiative, but declined to comment at length. He only said: “Yes, it’s very good that the BCCI has taken our views.”

According to The Telegraph’s sources, Sachin and Dravid made most of the points, with the others too contributing regularly. The initiative for today’s dialogue was taken by BCCI president A.C. Muthiah and the body’s high-powered finance committee.

It is learnt Prof. Shetty will forward a written report to Muthiah in a couple of days and it’s possible the Big Five will be invited for another round of this epoch-making interaction.

Prof. Shetty’s choice as emissary is significant: Back in 1997, in his manager’s report after the tour of Sri Lanka, he had suggested the BCCI consider introducing graded payment as most players then appeared to favour that. Their preference had been “informally” conveyed.

While the BCCI’s emissary came prepared with suggestions specific to graded payment (in other words, different match fees for different players), the Big Five probably didn’t get enough time to actually put their thoughts on paper. A Cricketers’ Association would have been of immense help.

If the BCCI eventually has its way, the graded payment will see four slabs. In Tests for instance, the lowest slab will cover players with between 1 and 10 appearances. Next will be between 11-30 Tests and, then, between 31 and 60 appearances. The highest slab will cover those with a minimum of 61 Tests.

The slabs for ODIs could be: 1 to 25; 26 to 75; 76 to 150 and over 151.

Where graded payment is concerned, the players’ seniority is definitely taken into account, but no remuneration is guaranteed as the earnings are directly linked to match appearances.

For example Kumble, who missed almost the entire 2000-2001 season and will miss part of the 2001-2002 season (owing to the bowling-shoulder injury and surgery), hasn’t taken home a penny after last October’s tri-series in Sharjah. Srinath had a Kumble-like experience four years ago.

It is this the players want to avoid. Basically, then, the thrust of their arguments this afternoon revolved around “security.” The contracts should be graded, not the payment.

In any case, currently, the Indian players’ remuneration is terribly lopsided with even a debutant being at par with Sachin who has played 82 Tests. The basic match fee per Test is Rs 40,000, while it is Rs 25,000 for each ODI. To that is added the logo money — around Rs 1,40,000 in Tests and about Rs 1,30,000 in ODIs.

Defying logic, even the reserves get the same basic match fee as those in the playing XI. Only the logo money is, for them, a trifle less.

The logo money, which comes to the BCCI from the team’s sponsor (ITC Hotels presently), is divided in a 60-40 ratio, with the larger percentage going to the players. Seventyfive percent of the amount headed the players’ way goes to the first XI, with the balance being divided among the reserves.

Incidentally, South Africa’s contract structure is three-tiered, with the Shaun Pollocks and Allan Donalds featuring in the top tier. In operation is the system of promotions and demotions. A promotion for those in the top tier amounts to a more handsome contract, while a demotion for the ones in tier No.3 will mean being deprived of a contract.

It remains to be seen what will be in vogue in India.


Washington, May 17: 
For close to three years, Jaswant Singh worked overtime, as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, as external affairs minister and then with additional charge as defence minister to redefine India’s relations with the US.

This week, with the routing of one airline ticket, his principal aide robbed Indo-US relations of the aura and respect given to it last year by the President of the US and the Prime Minister of India.

India’s new foreign secretary Chokila Iyer arrived in the US yesterday at government expense to attend her daughter’s graduation in Boston. She is accompanied on the trip by her husband, Giri Iyer, a retired officer of the Indian Accounts and Audit Service.

The country’s first woman foreign secretary has tagged on a few official meetings in Washington to what is essentially her family itinerary in the US so that it has an official stamp of approval.

Officials of the Bush administration are, of course, being extremely polite to her. Civil servants, even in Washington, always take the cue from their bosses.

In this case, George W. Bush signalled the course of Indo-US relations under his presidency last month by walking into a meeting between his aides and Jaswant Singh and inviting the Indian minister into the Oval Office for a 40-minute conversation.

Therefore, Marc Grossman, the state department’s under-secretary for political affairs, will meet Iyer along with some of his officials and then meet her again a few hours later for what has been described as a “working lunch”.

Despite the best efforts by South Block to give an official stamp to Iyer’s visit, she will only meet Gary Ackerman, the leading Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee dealing with South Asia.

At the time of writing, no meetings have been fixed with Republicans, who now control not only the White House, but also the Senate and the House of Representatives. None are likely to take place at this eleventh hour.

Although Iyer is spending two days in Washington, her second afternoon here has been kept free for shopping and sight-seeing. That morning has been kept open for meetings on Capitol Hill which are yet to materialise. Of course, she will give a pep talk to officers of the Indian embassy here.

This means she has come all the way from New Delhi for just two meetings, both in one day. In marked contrast, she and her husband will fly to Boston on Saturday morning for her daughter’s graduation and spend three days there.

On the face of it, all is above board with her trip. Officially, it is part of the regular process of consultations between the Indian and US foreign offices agreed upon during former President Bill Clinton’s visit to India last year.

But it is an opportunity lost for adding substance to Indo-US relations. In the first place, deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has just been to India, when he had extensive talks not only with Indian ministers, officials and advisers, but also with those in the opposition.

Although Armitage’s visit was primarily to discuss the Bush defence plans, a gap between the deputy secretary’s talks in New Delhi and Iyer’s return visit would have been logical in the efforts to upgrade Indo-US interaction to its next level.

Besides, the South Asia bureau of the state department which deals with India, is yet to have a new head. If Iyer had come a little later to Washington, the new head, Christina Rocca, would have settled down in office. Her confirmation hearings are taking place on Capitol Hill today.

In the last few days, Iyer’s visit here has been the talking point in diplomatic circles, coming unusually soon after Armitage travelled to India. It had particularly worried the Pakistanis who feared that there was a surfeit of action between New Delhi and Washington.

But with the diplomatic grapevine here getting to know that Iyer is in the US with her husband primarily to attend their daughter’s graduation, the build up given to Indo-US relations by Jaswant Singh’s high-profile visit last month has been robbed of its aura.

Many Americans here are citing the foreign secretary’s maiden visit here to privately express regret that very little has changed in the way official India does business with the US despite the good intentions of the political leadership in New Delhi.




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