Pak smiles, RSS scowls at Vajpayee
Pitch set for Test in Pak
Jaswant to showcase summit case
Mamata on mission to Delhi
Ghai leads gals and Khan in risk race
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 26: 
On a day Pakistan hailed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s invitation to Pervez Musharraf as a “courageous decision”, hints were dropped on this side of the border that the Indian initiative has not gone down well with the RSS.

“I think it’s a courageous decision,” the spokesman for Pakistan’s military government, Major General Rashid Qureshi, told Reuters Television.

Qureshi, who was in command on the Kashmir front, added: “I think it’s a right decision by the Indian government and by the Prime Minister, Mr Vajpayee, and one sincerely hopes that both countries can sincerely work toward the resolution of this crisis.” He said both sides needed to show flexibility to solve the Kashmir dispute.

A PTI report quoted an anonymous official as saying that Pakistan was satisfied with Vajpayee’s letter which had “no painful references or irritants”.

The RSS, too, was euphoric initially but for a different reason — the termination of the Kashmir ceasefire. But disenchantment set in soon as the Sangh felt that the “advantage” the BJP could have gained by calling off the ceasefire has been “cancelled” by the invitation to Musharraf.

There is also a perception among a section of the Sangh that the government was “arm-twisted” by the US to initiate a dialogue with Pakistan without enforcing conditions.

“It was common knowledge that the ceasefire was not yielding the desired results and the killings were only making our voters resentful. We could have gone back to them, saying ‘look we have called off the whole thing’. But the move has been overshadowed by the invitation to Musharraf,” an RSS source said.

He also wondered whether it was a “mere coincidence” that the invitation was extended within weeks of US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage’s visit to India. “We went to town talking about Pakistan’s treachery in the wake of the bus trip to Lahore and the Kargil intrusions. Now, how are we going to rationalise the decision to start talks and that, too, without conditions?” a leader asked.

Sources said the decision to withdraw the ceasefire was neither entirely home minister L.K. Advani’s nor the Sangh’s. “The decision was based on the feedback given by officials at all levels,” a source said.

But asked if the invitation to Musharraf would reopen the “leadership” debate, Sangh insiders replied in the negative.

“There is no second thoughts on who would lead the government. It is only Atalji and no one else. If he himself expresses a wish to relinquish the post for Advani, it is another matter,” a Sangh leader said.


Karachi, May 26: 
A day after Atal Bihari Vajpayee formally invited Pervez Musharraf for talks, cricket officials of both countries announced that India would play their first Test in Pakistan in nearly 12 years.

The officials said the rivals could square off in the Asian Test Championship in September. The draw for the four-nation tournament — between September 1, 2001, and February 19, 2002 — was released after an Asian Cricket Council meeting at Lahore.

Cricketing ties between the neighbours have been strained following Delhi’s refusal to allow a team to visit Pakistan since the 1999 Kargil flare-up.

However, the game’s managers said the Pakistan tour is in line with the Indian government’s policy. “The government has clearly said for a multilateral tournament it has no objection at all,” Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president A.C. Muthiah told Reuters from Lahore.

(India did not officially react to the proposal, but sources said that unless “something goes terribly wrong” after the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit, the government should clear the Test, adds our special correspondent in Delhi.)

The venue is yet to be finalised, but Karachi is tipped to be the favourite for staging the showdown. “Karachi is most likely to be the venue but we will further discuss it with our Indian counterparts before announcing it,” Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Tauqir Zia said.

The PCB said it has been given a commitment by Indian officials that the team would play in the tournament, which also includes Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

“We have been given a firm commitment by the Indian officials that they will appear in the Asian test championship match,” Zia said. “I think the match will revive cricketing relations between the two Asian powerhouses.”

India last appeared in a Test on Pakistani soil in 1989 and returned in 1997 for a three-match one-day series. After the 1989 tour, India has cancelled four visits to Pakistan, the latest earlier this year because of restrictions by the government which refused permission for bilateral matches.

India pulled out of the Sahara Cup bilateral one-day series in Toronto in 1999 and 2000 and cancelled a scheduled tour of Pakistan in December. It also skipped the one-day triangular tournament in Sharjah in April, a move that angered Pakistan’s cricket authorities who had said they would boycott the Indian team in future.

Pakistan captain Waqar Younis welcomed India’s decision to take part in the match. “It’s good for Asian cricket,” Waqar, currently leading his side on a two-Test series in England, said.


New Delhi, May 26: 
The Prime Minister has assigned foreign minister Jaswant Singh the task of explaining to the domestic and overseas audiences the rationale behind the turnaround on holding talks with Pervez Musharraf.

Singh will also outline the policy India wants to pursue in Kashmir, which will top the summit agenda.

Singh is scheduled to address Indian as well as foreign media based in Delhi on Monday to clarify the government’s stand vis-a-vis Pakistan and explain why the ceasefire in Kashmir had to be called off after six months.

On Wednesday, it was Singh who was made to announce the government’s decision to invite Musharraf and answer a few questions at an impromptu press conference.

But South Block feels that the government’s stand has not been fully “clarified and understood” by the people and different interpretations are being offered by commentators.

The government had been maintaining over the past two years that it would not return to the negotiating table and revive the political dialogue with Pakistan unless it gave up active support to Kashmiri militants based on its soil.

One of the main tasks of Singh would be to explain whether any categoric assurance had been given by the Pakistani military regime that it would no longer support the militants and whether the situation changed on the ground in Kashmir which warranted India’s invitation to Musharraf.

While South Block has been citing “relative peace” along the Line of Control as the main reason, officials in the ministry pointed out that the delay also had to do with getting a proper assessment whether Musharraf was in control in Pakistan.

Diplomatic circles are also discussing the possibility of a meeting between Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and her Pakistani counterpart Inamul Haq on the sidelines of a Saarc conference in Colombo next month.

The meeting is scheduled to take place between June 7 and 8, but the focus now would be on the interaction between the two foreign secretaries.

Indian officials said it was not unusual for foreign secretaries of two countries to interact with each other during regional and multilateral meetings.

But they pointed out that no formal request has so far been made by Pakistan for such a meeting.


Calcutta, May 26: 
Mamata Banerjee has decided to call on President K.R. Narayanan on Thursday to complain about CPM’s “massive rigging” in the Assembly elections and post-poll violence.

Mamata’s first visit to Delhi since the Bengal poll debacle comes amid mounting speculation that she had opened “back-channel” talks with the BJP for exploring the possibilities of an eventual reunion.

Asked whether she would apprise the President of her stand regarding the BJP-led alliance, Mamata said she had already conveyed her decision to the Prime Minister and leader of the Lok Sabha, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I have already made it clear that I am not going to rejoin the National Democratic Alliance,” she added.

However, Mamata refused to comment whether any official from the Prime Minister’s Office had contacted her during the past few days.

It was reported that Sudheendra Kulkarni, officer on special duty at the PMO, had talked to Mamata over the phone recently. Vajpayee had sent Kulkarni to Mamata’s house here when she resigned as railway minister demanding fuel price rollback.

In Delhi, a senior BJP leader said: “Mamata will not do anything in a clandestine manner. If at all talks are held, it will be held in the open.” But the BJP made it clear that it does not want Mamata to merge with the Congress.

Mamata said her alliance with the Congress would continue, but added that she had no programme to call on Congress president Sonia Gandhi during her Delhi visit. Trinamul sources, however, did not rule out a chance meeting between Mamata and Sonia.

“We are now left with no option but to approach the President with our grievances,” Mamata told The Telegraph tonight, adding that all party MPs and MLAs will join the delegation in Delhi.

Asked if dissident MP Ajit Panja will be part of the delegation, she said no decision has been taken on the issue.

However, Panja said he would not be part of the Trinamul delegation to Delhi as he was not taken into confidence before finalising the programme.

Mamata lambasted Rajya Sabha member Jayanta Bhattacharya, who was elected to the Upper House as an Independent with support from Trinamul Congress. “We have no relations with Jayantada as he is not a primary member of the party. He is more with the Congress these days than with us,” she added. The comments came after Bhattacharya blamed her for the party’s electoral debacle.

Mamata said she has worked out a plan to overhaul the organisation before the panchayat elections in 2003. “I have already started reorganising the district and block-level committees to give a fresh look to the organisation,” she said.

The Trinamul leader said she would convene a meeting of party leaders from the districts after her return from Delhi.


Mumbai, May 26: 
Call it self-worth. Subhash Ghai has got himself an LIC policy worth Rs 18 crore — the highest life-cover for an individual in the country.

Showman Ghai seems to have a penchant for insurance. His film Taal was insured for Rs 12 lakh, the first Indian film to be insured at all. He has also insured his latest offering Yaadein for a similar amount. But if there is anything bigger than his movies, it is he himself.

The leading showman from Bollywood — known for his lavish birthday parties and even more lavish films like Khalnayak, Taal and Ram Lakhan — had initially wanted a policy of Rs 20 crore, said an official. But the Life Insurance Corporation of India, after weighing the pros and cons — health and wealth, not necessarily in that order — decided Ghai was worth 2 crore less.

The “Jeevan Shree” policy, under the “Keyman Insurance Scheme”, was handed over to Ghai by LIC chairman G.N. Bajpai here today. The scheme is for 10 years. An annual premium of Rs 3.92 crore will have to be paid for six years. Ghai’s company, Mukta Arts, which is his nominee, is paying the premium for its “key man”.

Ghai may have the costliest policy, but other Bollywood names also sport multi-crore LIC policies — under the same “Keyman” scheme, said H.K. Verma, the development officer who got the Ghai policy through, at the LIC headquarters. Superstar Shah Rukh Khan has one of Rs 7 lakh — the same amount as that of Ekta Kapoor. Ekta is the force behind Balaji Films, the soap factory that churns out Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

Leading light Aishwarya Rai is not far behind. She holds a policy of Rs 4 crore. Nagma, who also has films to her credit other than rumours about cricket, is worth 2.5 crore. All their premiums are being paid by companies with which they are associated.

There are LIC rejects, too. “Amitabh Bachchan had applied for a policy of Rs 50 crore. But the LIC only agreed to Rs 2 crore after considering various factors,” Verma said. Actress Karisma Kapoor, too, had applied for a Rs 5 crore policy. “But LIC turned down the offer.”

The Keyman policy, though it covers an individual, is in collaboration with a company with which the policy-holder is associated. “The scheme ensures the health of the policy-holder’s company. In case of a policy-holder’s death, the money will go to his company, which is paying the premium for a ‘key man’ of the company. But if he lives on, at the end of the stipulated number of years, LIC will pay the company the total sum. The company may like to gift the ‘key man’ the money in return for his services,” Verma said.

Assuming Ghai lives on for the 10 years of the policy, his company will get Rs 34 crore. The company will also get a tax benefit of 40 per cent on the approximately Rs 23 crore it deposits as premium.

And you thought an LIC policy was mainly for the middle-class salaried persons anxious to save a few hundreds from the taxman?




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