Mamata goes to Atal with rig agenda
Pak victory sign hides economic underbelly
Business is thicker than blood
Kabhi chicken kabhi prawn, but no lamb
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MAMATA GOES TO ATAL WITH RIG AGENDA 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, May 27: 
For the first time since their split in March, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee will meet in Delhi within the next few days.

Fuelling speculation about Trinamul’s possible return to the coalition at the Centre, Mamata said tonight she would meet Vajpayee between May 29 and June 1 primarily to apprise him of the rigging in the Bengal Assembly elections.

“I do not want to make any comment on this issue (rejoining the NDA) now. My priority is to expose how the ruling party in Bengal rigged the Assembly elections. To that end, I will meet the Prime Minister to inform him under what kind of state-sponsored terrorism the elections were held in West Bengal,” Mamata told The Telegraph.

Mamata will also meet another key BJP leader, L.K. Advani, on the same issue.

The official reason for Mamata’s visit to Delhi is a meeting with President K.R. Narayanan. Mamata, who is scheduled to leave for Delhi on Tuesday with a 20-member party delegation, will call on the President on Thursday and complain about the “violence and unfair means” used by the CPM to win the elections.

She is also expected to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and inform her about “the serious constraints” under which the Congress-Trinamul combine’s candidates contested the polls.

Mamata’s Delhi tour coincides with an admission by her party officials that she was increasingly coming under pressure from within her party, as well as the BJP and its partners, to return to the National Democratic Alliance.

“Inside the party, there is a growing view that Trinamul must return to the NDA if its identity and honour are to be respected,” said a senior official who is part of Mamata’s think-tank.

Another official said Mamata was being pressured by her party to first forge a “strategic relationship” with the BJP-led coalition and, thereafter, return to the alliance.

However, sources close to Mamata said, this time she was against taking a hasty decision on rejoining the alliance.

“Whatever step we take, it has to be justified. The Tehelka issue, over which we quit the NDA, has virtually died down. But we have to be very cautious. Many of our sympathisers believe that breaking out of the NDA in the wake of Tehelka was hasty enough. So, we do not want to repeat the same mistake,” a Trinamul official said.

The politician in Mamata is also waiting to gauge how the BJP will perform in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. The state elections are due in March next year, but the BJP has started weighing the option of an earlier date. “If the BJP fares poorly in the Uttar Pradesh polls, the NDA will badly need the support of the Trinamul MPs to consolidate its position at the Centre,” a Trinamul official said.

Mamata is believed to have indicated to her aides that Trinamul’s response to the current overtures from the NDA would depend on a number of interlocked issues like the Samata Party’s relationship with the BJP and the position Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party will adopt in the days ahead. The Samata-BJP ties have come under strain after the Manipur standoff.

   

 
 
PAK VICTORY SIGN HIDES ECONOMIC UNDERBELLY 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Karachi, May 27: 
Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar today claimed as a foreign policy success India’s willingness to talk Kashmir, but the economic cost of the conflict with its neighbour has been high for the country.

Sattar said at Peshawar that Pakistan has reinvigorated the Kashmir issue by making India accept the need for dialogue on it. “This is our success that India has accepted unconditionally Pakistan’s offer for talks as she has been linking such dialogue with conditions in the past,” he said.

He declared that Pakistan’s foreign policy was independent and its Kashmir position — that Kashmiris have the right to self-determination — has secured support at the international level.

However, the most recent attack on its foreign policy has come from a diplomat. Canadian high commissioner Ferry de Kerckhove described it as “parochial” and expressed other concerns about Pakistan’s future.

As foreign minister, Sattar is expected to project India agreeing to reopen talks as Pakistan’s success. However, government spokesman Major General Rashid Quereshi noted a shared need for “economic progress” in welcoming Delhi’s offer.

Economics dictates that Pakistan’s need is greater. This also means that it is the weaker side in the conflict. In a war of attrition, the country with the higher economic growth and the greater ability to afford new weapons will prevail.

Pakistan’s growth rate this year will be under 4 per cent — not too much more than the 2.4 per cent estimated population growth. India’s economy will slow this year, but growth is still expected to be between 5 and 6 per cent. Worse, Pakistan has seen numbers below the poverty line swell from 18 per cent to 34 per cent of the population since 1987. India’s, on the contrary, has been dropping steadily, despite the huge population.

“A lot of political and geopolitical issues impact on economics,” finance minister Shaukat Aziz conceded at a conference last week.

“A peaceful environment will help the economy to grow. This issue is an important one; we are very conscious the issues cannot be divorced,” he said.

Foreign investment is frightened off. Pakistan had meagre foreign direct investment of $143 million in the last six months of 2000.

Many Pakistanis dismiss the image of a dangerous region as a distortion, but few investors will venture into a country where the Kashmir conflict has ensured nearly 54 years of hostility.

“Pakistan finds itself in a situation where the adversary has far greater capability to fund its military modernisation,” security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha wrote in a paper for the conference. She likened military spending — down to 4 per cent of GDP but still exceeding that on all health, education and other development needs — to a time-bomb ticking rapidly towards detonation.

Despite acknowledging the economic burden, Aziz felt compelled to defend military spending. “We cannot allow our defence and sovereignty to be compromised.”

He repeated Pakistan’s familiar position that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute depends on India.

At Peshawar, Sattar was harping on the same theme. He said Kashmir was likely to figure prominently in the meeting between Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

   

 
 
BUSINESS IS THICKER THAN BLOOD 
 
 
BY SHASHWATI GHOSH
 
New Delhi, May 27: 
When Parvinder Singh of Ranbaxy died, D.S. Brar took over as managing director and the former’s sons refused to automatically take up board positions preferring to work their way up.

Wipro chairman Azim Premji has kept his sons out of the company, choosing to let managers run the show while the family (which owns almost 85 per cent of the company’s stock) derives the benefits of growing shareholder wealth.

Last year, when Vijaypat Singhania of Raymonds decided to hand over the reins to a successor, he chose younger son Gautam Singhania to direct the fortunes of the group.

The times are changing: the old guard is slowly but surely handing over power to the young bucks at a time when questions are being raised about the doctrine of primogeniture (which decrees that the mantle should always fall on the eldest son), the general competence of scions to manage family-run businesses, and the potentially-explosive issue of having a hierarchical rewards system where the sibling who contributes most to the business should get the handsomest compensation.

London-based management firm Grant Thornton has conducted a study for the first time in the country to capture the changes taking place in tradition-bound family-run businesses that are being increasingly forced by competition and circumstance to stay in step with their peers in industry by adopting the latest management practices.

The study has thrown up a few interesting facets: while there is a feeling that the older generation should have a role in the business, a higher proportion of the respondents felt children should not be introduced to the business at an early age (see chart).

One of the unwritten conventions that appears to have been dumped is that the eldest son should automatically succeed the father. Only 26 per cent agreed while an overwhelming 55 per cent did not.

However, Vishesh C. Chandiok, partner, Grant Thornton, says: “Indians have disagreed with the notion that the eldest member should head the business, but they don’t yet mean it.”

There were some seemingly incongruent perceptions as well: while 55 per cent agreed that the involvement of family members strengthened the business, only 43 per cent agreed that shares should only be transferred to members of the family.

There were two interesting findings — both traditional responses. The first was that a very large number of respondents — 62 per cent — felt that children should receive an equal share in the business with no discrimination on the basis of performance and capability. The second underscored the deep-set desire to persist with the slackers in the family with an overwhelming 62 per cent disagreeing with the thesis that children who do not join the business should not receive shares.

But that apparently is the cause for most of the bitterest corporate family spats. Many of the inheritors feel the distribution of shares in the company should be linked to the contribution or time spent in running the business.

“We believe all the children should have equal shares but the most capable one should be given a casting vote,” Chandiok says. He reckons that one solution to the problem could be by giving non-voting shares to those family members who are not involved in running the business. “But then the solution has to be tailored to each individual conflict. There can be no single unique solution.”

The People and Relationship Issues in Management (Prima) study by Grant Thornton, conducted in association with Kavil Ramachandran of IIM Ahmedabad, shows that while Indian businessmen are adopting a more professional approach, there is a strong traditional mindset that underpins the way family-run outfits do business.

Most of them feel that professional managerial training will help the firm and that children should come in business only if they can contribute.

Almost 99 per cent of private enterprise falls in the owner-managed category. Traditional family values, like older son getting the business or differential payment to family members, force Indian business to face peculiar problems that are not common to other countries.

Chandiok says: “The greatest nightmare for these businessmen is the fact that all the wealth is in the business, so failure will directly affect the family.”

“Most families feel strongly about payment to family members entering business. They either feel it should be very high and commensurate with the individual’s status as a family member, or it should be very low as that person is just a rookie. But both the approaches are wrong. Any entrant should be paid on par with any other employee doing the same job so as not to create disaffection or lower employee morale.”

The study reveals that family-run businesses still recoil at the suggestion that family members should be paid the same as any other employee doing the same job.

   

 
 
KABHI CHICKEN KABHI PRAWN, BUT NO LAMB 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, May 27: 
The owner of an upmarket Indian restaurant in London has invented the concept of “VIP food bags” for the stars of a Bollywood movie that has just been shot in Britain.

Every day for the past month, Andy Varma, who owns Vama on King’s Road, Chelsea, with his brother, Arjun, has been despatching 120 food bags, containing recipes cooked with loving care, to the shoot of the Karan Johar-directed Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum.

While the crew qualified for excellent food, the stars merited something better — VIP food bags. Varma had to take into account the likes and dislikes and special requirements of some of the biggest names in Hindi cinema.

“We had Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor and Kajol, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan, and Karan Johar and his father, Yash. We got the catering contract through Yash Johar, the producer. Vama has become the restaurant for the stars,” enthused Varma.

The only item none would touch — “I said what about a little change” — was lamb. “They said, ‘No, no, no, there is foot and mouth’. They would not believe foot and mouth is not in London.”

Varma has the dietary demands of Bombay’s best imprinted on his mind. “The Bachchans are vegetarian,” he said.

Then he turned to the female leads who did not want to get any plumper. “The girls insisted there should be no fat. Their food was vegetarian, high protein. I made hariyali sheekh which is spinach, potatoes, carrots grilled in the oven. They also asked for steamed Basmati rice, instead of pulao.

Varma added: “For Hrithik, it was very specialised, high in carbohydrate. He had prawn and chicken, definitely no lamb.” Some unkind people have reported that the pressure of working on several films and frequent changes of make-up have not been good for his skin.

“For Shah Rukh,” said Varma, “it was chicken only, again no lamb. It was mostly dry meat.”

The food bags had to be ferried to such locations as Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Churchills in the Oxfordshire countryside. Another location was Osterley Park in west London, where Indian fans got wind of the presence of their favourite stars and attempted to storm Varma’s van as it slipped past the gates. “Three fans got into the van,” recalled Varma.

One day, he had to increase the number of bags to 250. “They were filming a dance sequence that day.”

Varma played down the suggestion of a food hierarchy. “The crew also had a good meal, veg and non-veg. Their food was not that different. Dal, pulao, mattar, aloo gobi, naan if they were vegetarian, moti ka makhni if they were non-veg. Normally everyone ate together. It was just that some people have dietary requirements.”

Varma has got used to catering for celebrities. He was hired, for example, to do the catering when British comedian Rowan Atkinson (“Mr Bean”) threw a millennium party. In the last few days, diners at Vama have included Mick Jagger’s former wife Jerry Hall, the Texas-born model and actress, and the US-based self-styled health guru, Deepak Chopra.

But catering for Bollywood stars has been particularly exacting. “This was very prestigious for us, a great honour. They wanted the highest standard and they wanted the food at an exact time.”

“Logistically, it was a nightmare. The food had to be ready by 11 am — 10 am when they were shooting in Blenheim,” he disclosed.

Varma also did the catering for the end-of-shoot party thrown at the Washington Hotel in London, which also marked Karan’s birthday. “He had turned 30. The Hampstead A crowd (rich Indians) were there. Hrithik Roshan did a marvellous dance with three to five women.”

Nothing gives Varma greater pleasure than the chance to get his skewer into the competition.

Although stars, including the Bachchans, stayed at the St James Court Hotel (now renamed the Crown Plaza), “they did not use Quillon (the in-house Kerala restaurant) for the catering. They also did not use Tamarind, which is nearby.”

One day the shoot was at Bluebird, a famous restaurant on King’s Road. “But still the food went from Vama.” Varma’s cup of happiness overflowed when the Bachchans’ daughter, Shweta Nanda, thanked him for the food. “They did not complain about the quality.”

He reckons catering to Indian stars will prove an expanding business. “Whenever the stars come, they can use us. They have got the taste of Vama.” Varma predicts more Bollywood movies will be shot in Britain. “They are getting away from Mumbai because of security reasons.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.7°C (+l)
Minimum: 28.2°C (+l)

Rainfall:

99.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 62%

Today

Light rain in some paarts of the city suburbs
Sunset: 6.12 pm
Sunrise: 4.55 am
   
 

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