India digs a hole for itself on the cricket pitch
Sonia tightens Mamata bond
Naik facilitator to Buddha’s Haldia
Delhi plays Dabhol mediator
An Indian battle in a British election
Calcutta Weather

 
 
INDIA DIGS A HOLE FOR ITSELF ON THE CRICKET PITCH 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, May 31: 
Not for the first time, Pakistan has caught India on the wrong foot on the cricket pitch.

When chief executive General Pervez Musharraf comes visiting — most likely some time in the first half of July, according to New Delhi — Kashmir will be uppermost on his mind, but the cricket enthusiast could also bowl at rival team skipper Atal Bihari Vajpayee a yorker or two about India’s two-eyed stance on playing against Pakistan.

Pakistan’s sports minister S.K. Tressler — no, he is not a foreigner hired to manage sports in the country, as is now the wont in cricket teams everywhere — said as much last night. Tressler belongs to the minority Christian community, as does Pakistan batsman Yousuf Youhana.

“Although the issue of Kashmir will top the agenda, the chief executive will also talk about cricket relations between the two countries,” he said in Islamabad.

Tressler left no doubt what Musharraf — who has repeatedly spoken of normalising cricketing ties — might focus on: the lack of consistency between government policy and action, as demonstrated at least by sports minister Uma Bharti.

She castigated the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which agreed during a recent visit of some of its officials to Pakistan that India would play there in September in the Asian Test Championship. If India is allowed to play, it will be after a decade it will take the field in Pakistan.

Tressler said Bharti’s statement had created amazement since BCCI president A.C. Muthiah had produced a letter from the government expressing readiness to play Pakistan where at least one other team is participating.

Apart from India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will play in the tournament.

Bharti rebuked the BCCI by describing its commitment to take part in the championship as a “unilateral announcement”. It was not.

The letter BCCI had produced at the meeting of the Asian Cricket Council in Lahore last week was written by B.K. Das, joint secretary in the ministry of youth affairs and sports, which Bharti heads. It says: “India would continue to play Pakistan in multilateral tournaments at regular venues.”

Either Bharti is not aware of this letter, which is highly unlikely, or the sports ministry did not know what it was getting into, which is more likely to be the case. It may not have been aware that the calendar this year includes the championship, with Pakistan playing the host.

Repeated attempts to contact the minister failed as she was away in Hardwar and none of the secretaries was available either.

“What’s happening in India? First, the BCCI officials show a letter from their government confirming their participation, then they start saying something else,” Tressler said.

   

 
 
SONIA TIGHTENS MAMATA BOND 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI AND RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, May 31: 
Setting at rest speculation that the Congress was thinking of reviewing its ties with Trinamul, Sonia Gandhi today asked Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to join Mamata Banerjee’s delegation to the President to register “anger and anguish over mass rigging” during the elections.

Sonia’s gesture came a day before Mamata’s meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Trinamul leader is also expected to meet Sonia on Friday.

Sonia, who openly talks about her special bond with Mamata, has made it clear that she would not let Trinamul join the “other side”. Sources recalled that during the poll campaign, Mamata had pledged not to go back to the NDA. “If there is no change in her stand, why should we burn bridges with her?” a Sonia aide said.

Das Munshi was asked by Sonia to join Mamata’s team at 5.45 pm, 15 minutes before Trinamul’s scheduled meeting with President K.R. Narayanan. The delegation submitted a 10-page memorandum to Narayanan, urging him and the Centre to start a probe into the “malevolent manner in which the elections were conducted”.

“The choice is whether we want the India of Rabindranath Tagore where the citizen’s head is held high and the mind is without fear, or we want Garbeta, Chhoto Angaria, Nanoor et al where life is besieged with fear and the head hangs down in chagrin asking whether one has committed a crime by expressing one’s choice or whether one has the right to return to one’s home to exercise one’s franchise,” the memorandum said.

Sonia’s move to warm up to Mamata is a snub to a section of the Bengal Congress leaders which wanted the party to part ways with Trinamul. For Sonia, a tie-up with Mamata is important for the next general elections. The AICC chief believes that on its own, the party will not be able to cross the single-digit mark in Bengal, which has 42 Lok Sabha seats.

Mamata, who had yesterday said she had no plans to rejoin the BJP-led alliance immediately, sounded more ambivalent today in the company of her MPs, minus Ajit Panja and Krishna Bose — who has been admitted in a Mumbai hospital for knee surgery.

Mamata refused to commit herself on whether she would return to the NDA. “Our programme here is very clear: there is no political purpose. It is merely to meet the constitutional heads to inform them of the way in which the polls were rigged,” she said.

However, both Trinamul and BJP sources were less categorical in their comments and admitted that Mamata’s meeting with Vajpayee tomorrow would have “some political significance”. “For us it is a way of testing the waters,” Trinamul sources said.

The exercise appears to have begun yesterday. Senior Trinamul functionary Dinesh Trivedi called on BJP vice-president and the Bengal in-charge Kailashpati Tripathi in an effort to size up the BJP’s “current mood” and find out if it was willing to welcome back its former partner.

   

 
 
NAIK FACILITATOR TO BUDDHA’S HALDIA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 31: 
Call it the season of camaraderie between red and saffron if you will, but chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems to be striking sympathetic chords in Delhi.

After his meetings with A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani — which were described as courtesy calls but set the stage for possible cooperation between the Centre and the state — the chief minister got down to business with petroleum minister Ram Naik and came away with a badly-needed assurance on Haldia Petrochemicals.

Naik told him that he would “facilitate” a decision by the Centrally-owned Indian Oil on its participation in Haldia Petro as soon as the formalities were over.

This means completion of what in business jargon is called the due diligence report, for which Indian Oil has appointed KPMG Peat Marwick. The report will be a comprehensive evaluation of the project.

“IOC will take a commercial decision after the due diligence report. IOC’s decision will depend on the report but I will facilitate the decision,” Naik said. An IOC official was present at today’s meeting.

Bengal has already furnished most of the information on Haldia Petro that Indian Oil had sought. Naik said the chief minister had assured Indian Oil that whatever other information it required would be supplied to it.

“They are expecting to give in their due diligence report by the end of next month,” Naik said. Information available with The Telegraph, however, suggests KPMG has completed its job. Once the report is ready, it will come up before the Indian Oil board.

Haldia Petro is seeking Indian Oil’s participation in its equity, which is crucial to the survival of the project reeling under a heavy debt burden.

Any decision by Indian Oil will be seen as influenced by the Centre, particularly if it turns out to be negative. Haldia Petro could well set the pattern for relations between Bengal and Delhi for the rest of the Vajpayee government’s term. “Discussions with the IOC have been going on for a very long time — consultants have been appointed to give reports. A draft balance sheet is also being done,” said Naik.

Another signal that the meeting went off well came from Naik’s statement that “on June 23, the West Bengal government will sign an agreement with the Gas Authority of India to assess the requirement of gas in the state”.

The petroleum minister even raised an issue that was not on the agenda but guessed could be “bothering” Buddhadeb. “I brought up the issue of reducing the quota of kerosene because I knew it must have been worrying him,” Naik said. The government has decided to slash kerosene quotas all over the country.

   

 
 
DELHI PLAYS DABHOL MEDIATOR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 31: 
The Centre will advise Maharashtra to tone down its aggressive posturing against Dabhol Power Company as it tries to persuade the Enron-promoted project to reduce its tariff to about Rs 3.50 a unit.

Dabhol has already indicated to domestic lenders its willingness to cut the price by about 10 per cent but wants this to be linked to interest reduction by lending institutions.

The decision to try and bring about peace between the two warring sides was taken at an hour-long meeting between the finance and power ministers — Yashwant Sinha and Suresh Prabhu. The duo met at Sinha’s North Block Office today to chalk out their strategy for a dialogue with Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh slated for tomorrow.

The two ministers also agreed that Central utilities will be used to evacuate Dabhol power for sale outside the state. However, no state has till now agreed to buy power from Dabhol, sources said.

Sinha and Prabhu will ask Deshmukh to indicate how much power Maharashtra will be willing to draw eventually so that allocations could be made to other states.

Dabhol has not been producing since Tuesday noon, when the daily Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) message setting down the requirement did not turn up. That situation continues.

Although Dabhol yesterday said it had not shut the plant, it’s as good as closed since without any customers there cannot be any generation.

The MSEB decision not to buy followed a warning from the company “to make up its mind whether it wanted power from the Dabhol plant or not”.

The Centre wants the Power Trading Corporation to help sell Dabhol’s unsold electricity to power deficit states like Gujarat, Haryana and Delhi, transmitting through the Power Grid Corporation’s national network of lines.

The corporation will also explore selling Dabhol’s power to newly-set-up large industrial units in southern and western India, which do not have captive generators. Officials said they estimated some 600 mw of power will have to be sold outside Maharashtra.

The Centre, which has been maintaining throughout the recent tug-of-war between Dabhol and Maharashtra that it does not wish to interfere in a state affair, stepped into the picture as the situation spun out of control and the threat arose that domestic financial institutions that have a Rs 6,000-crore exposure to the project might lose their money.

   

 
 
AN INDIAN BATTLE IN A BRITISH ELECTION 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, May 31: 
Imagine an Indian parliamentary constituency where seven of the candidates in a general election are Whites and only two are Indians. Turn it round and you have the situation in Ealing-Southall, where sitting Labour MP Piara Singh Khabra, aged between 76 and 80 depending on who you believe, is defending a majority of 21,423 in the British general election on June 7.

In British terms, that is huge, as Ealing-Southall has an electorate of 86,000 voters, 32,791 of whom voted for Khabra in 1997. That was a staggering 60 per cent of votes cast.

There are only two White candidates this time, and one of them, the Tory, Daniel Kawczynski, is of Polish origin. Of Ms Cook, of the Green Party, the other White candidate, little has been seen.

On a bank holiday, The Broadway, Southall, exudes a Puja-ish atmosphere. Women in salwaar kameez are out shopping with their children. Street vendors sell the latest songs from Bollywood. A mithai man is making hot jalebi.

A stream of expensive cars, many top-of-the-range Mercedes, crawl through the heavy traffic. The younger boys in flashy convertibles have their roofs down and music blaring to show they are cool. All Sardarjis seem to know each other.

The shop-owners, anxious not to appear partisan, put up the election posters of anyone who requests the favour. Thus, we have Qari Zulfikal Bhutta (Independent); Harpal Brar (Socialist Labour Party); Mushtaq Choudhry (Independent); Salvinder Singh Dhillon (Independent Community); and Baldev Sharma (Liberal Democrat). There is also Khabra, of course.

But if the elections were to be judged purely on the number of posters, the hands-down winner would be 50-year-old Avtar Lit, who comes sauntering down The Broadway in a smart, grey pinstripe suit. As chairman of Sunrise Radio, he is a local — indeed a national — personality whose business dealings have earned him a fair amount of adverse publicity in the past.

Lit describes himself as the Independent Labour candidate, though on the ballot paper he will appear as chairman of Sunrise Radio. The Asian Who’s Who Rich List places him as the 34th wealthiest in Britain, with a fortune estimated at £ 55 million.

Ironically, because of Britain’s broadcasting and election laws, the one candidate Lit’s radio station cannot now plug is Lit himself. But he has used Sunrise Radio relentlessly over the past year to question Khabra’s achievement as the local MP and to emphasise his age.

“I’ve made enough money,” admits Lit. “This area has been good to me. I want to put something back.”

There is something in his allegation that the Labour Party has taken Asian voters for granted, and that the defeat of the official Labour candidate will send a message to Tony Blair that more attention needs to be paid to areas like Southall.

It does not have a higher educational establishment, has serious parking problems and badly needs London Underground to extend the Central Line tube service to Southall. That would greatly benefit the hundreds of Southall residents who work at Heathrow Airport, argues Lit. “It’s time for a change.”

There is a brisk air of efficiency in his campaign headquarters above a shop in The Broadway. “This was Khabra’s headquarters for the past two-three elections,” he points out. “We took it over.”

It will be less easy to take over the seat, though, because of the way British politics works. A few doors along, on the other side of The Broadway, sits Khabra, a diminutive but sprightly man, in his campaign headquarters.

Khabra has been MP for eight years and has supported India loyally over nuclear tests (“India has every right to have nuclear weapons for its safety”) and Khalistan (“I am against Khalistan”). He, however, feels he has been ignored by the Indian High Commission and by Tony Blair.

But now that Keith Vaz’s career appears on the decline, Khabra feels the sun may be rising on a new phase in his career. Khabra would not mind if he is elevated to the House of Lords in a couple of years or so.

He has come a long way since he started in student politics in Kaharpur village, Hoshiarpur district. He came to Britain 46 years ago, became active in the Indian Workers’ Association and has since witnessed the rising prosperity, as well as growing social problems, in the Indian community in Southall.

Khabra points out that in Ealing-Southall, the Asian vote is not actually decisive, as 60-70 per cent of the electorate in a large constituency is White. He hopes that even if Lit makes inroads among Asian voters, traditional White Labour supporters would stay loyal to the official party candidate.

“There’s no role for independents in British politics,” he says “I’ve been told to ignore Avtar Lit.”

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 37.7°C (+3)
Minimum: 27°C (0)

Rainfall:

10.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum:97%,
Minimum: 45%

Today

Generally cloudy sky with possibility of rain accompanied by thunder in some parts towards evening.
Sunrise: 4.55 am
Sunset: 6.14 pm
   
 

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