Cong clean-up with cheque donations
Capital minus Cabinet
Trading blow to Calcutta bourse
Ghazal diplomacy to break barriers
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CONG CLEAN-UP WITH CHEQUE DONATIONS 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
The Congress is set to become the first “all white” party. Chanting Sonia Gandhi’s new “integrity, accountability, transparency” mantra, the party today pledged to accept monetary donations only through cheques.

In a two-hour Congress Working Committee meeting, Sonia managed to push through the path-breaking reforms in the murky and secretive world of funding. The country’s oldest political party admitted that something had to be done to stem the rot in politics.

There were murmurs of scepticism on cheque payments, but the Congress chief remained unfazed. “I will see to it that the recommendations are implemented,” she told the CWC. Sonia said the Congress was prepared to “clean up” the entire system, but it was for the government to take the initiative to bring about electoral reforms.

On its part, the Congress is game on state funding of polls, recommended by both the Dinesh Goswami and Indrajit Gupta panels.

In the new Congress, everyone who is someone will have to pay to fill the coffers. The party wants to raise a Rs 50-crore corpus in the next two years. From now on, all 11 lakh workers will have to pay up.

The rate is Rs 100 a year for active members, Rs 300 for Pradesh Congress Committee delegates and Rs 600 for members of the All India Congress Committee. MPs, MLAs, ministers, chief ministers, chairpersons of zilla boards, autonomous bodies, municipal corporations and other panels would have to cough up one month’s salary.

Those seeking party tickets for elections would be charged heavily — Rs 5,000 for those aspiring for Assembly seats and Rs 10,000 for those seeking Lok Sabha tickets.

Corporates and captains of industry would be encouraged to make payments through cheques in accordance with existing rules in the Companies Act. The clean-up resolution is likely to be welcomed by the various chambers of commerce. Individuals like Ratan Tata have been advocating the need for transparency and accountability.

Soon after the meeting, Sonia, who appeared pleased, told close aides that party funding was one area where she wanted to “do a lot”. Another area spelt out by her is women’s empowerment. Sonia said she wanted the Congress to be a party of the best and the brightest because, unless the party provides a conducive atmosphere for the entry of such individuals, credibility of politicians will not be restored.

The CWC today accepted a report submitted by Manmohan Singh on party funding. Apart from mandatory cheque payments and setting up of corpus funds, he has recommended several innovative proposals. The “friends of Congress”, particularly those abroad, can now do their bit, donating money in foreign exchange to a foundation that will be set up soon.

As the existing rules do not permit foreign donation for political activities, Sonia wants to channel them into other activities like training and social work.

Each year, Sonia would flag off fund-raising drives. The party would also sell coupons to party workers. The coupon system was successful in Kerala recently where A.K. Antony raised as much as Rs 11 lakh.

Sonia would also host lunches and dinners where guests would have to contribute heavily.

   

 
 
CAPITAL MINUS CABINET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
The Prime Minister is away. So is the rest of his Cabinet, well, almost the rest. Of the 27 Cabinet ministers, only five are in the capital: the others are flying in and out, making use of the lull that has settled over the power centres in Delhi.

Murli Manohar Joshi (human resources development), Sunderlal Patwa (mines), Sharad Yadav (civil aviation), C.P. Thakur (health) and Shanta Kumar (consumer affairs) are the only senior ministers in Delhi. Patwa, who is ill, cannot be counted as a functioning member of the Cabinet.

“It is just as well that the worst government Independent India has ever had is not governing, but holidaying,” quipped Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar.

With Atal Bihari Vajpayee recuperating in Breach Candy hospital, the political hub in the Prime Minister’s Office has shifted to Mumbai. Vajpayee will conduct business from the hospital.

But in Delhi, the Cabinet has thinned out, its members have left for different parts of the country and abroad, either attending to matters of their respective parties or participating in seminars.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan is camping in Mumbai, dishing out latest information on the Prime Minister’s knee. Home minister L.K. Advani, who is authorised to convene Cabinet meetings in Vajpayee’s absence, was in Chennai and is expected to return tonight. Two other high-profile Cabinet members are abroad: while foreign minister Jaswant Singh is in Moscow, finance minister Yashwant Sinha is in Boston.

The list of absentee ministers is a long one, but it does not surprise CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee. “There is nothing surprising about this. It is a non-functional government running after events. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is ill. Earlier the government was limping, but now it has come to a standstill,” he said.

At least six ministers are abroad. Apart from Singh and Sinha, labour minister Satya Narain Jatiya is in Switzerland to attend the International Labour Organisation conference. Communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan is in Atlanta and is expected back next Wednesday. Urban development minister Jagmohan is in the US as well. Power minister Suresh Prabhu is “out of the country”, and information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj is leaving for Los Angeles on Monday.

The rest of the Cabinet is scattered all over the country: Uma Bharti has gone to Vrindavan, supposedly to meet her guru. Arun Jaitley is in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Ram Naik in Mumbai. Commerce minister Murasoli Maran is “out of Delhi”, but his office could not say where, while heavy industries minister Manohar Joshi is in Mumbai. Culture and tourism minister Ananth Kumar is in his home state Karnataka.

   

 
 
TRADING BLOW TO CALCUTTA BOURSE 
 
 
BY PALLAB BHATTACHARYA
 
Calcutta, June 9: 
In a move that appears to signal the end of the 93-year-old Calcutta Stock Exchange’s independent trading platform, the governing board of the bourse today proposed to set up a subsidiary that will seek membership from both the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange.

Though the wholly-owned subsidiary will be largely set up to enable city-based brokers to trade in the derivatives segment of the two premier bourses, the majority of the CSE’s 450-odd active members want a larger scope of the subsidiary so that they can trade across all segments. If this happens, CSE will effectively become a mere satellite of BSE and NSE.

Derivatives trading is fast catching up in stock markets after the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) banned all forms of carry-forward trading.

Derivatives, which are of two types—futures and options—are trading instruments that derive their value from the underlying securities. The plight of CSE had been compounded by the payment crisis that struck the bourse in early March, leaving brokers in the lurch.

The turnover on the bourse has dwindled to around Rs 150 crore and major companies like Reliance Industries are planning to delist their scrips. To add to the woes, bank guarantees are also no longer available to the brokers.

Naturally, CSE is finding it difficult to meet its overhead costs and has been forced to adopt belt-tightening measures. All future investment plans have been shelved and employees are even apprehending a pay cut.

Not satisfied with the governing body’s decision, aggrieved brokers said they will press with their demand for a larger scope of the proposed subsidiary.

“For our survival, we need to trade in all segments on BSE and NSE. The CSE will also benefit if it takes a mark-up on the turnover fees to be given to those exchanges,” Sharad Jhunjhunwala, a former CSE director, said.

However, CSE managing committee chairman Dipankar Basu said if the brokers are allowed to trade in all segments then the on-line trading platform of CSE will become redundant.

Basu’s argument cut little ice with the belligerent brokers. “If our demand is not met, we will be forced to convene an extraordinary general meeting to ratify the resolution,” a former vice-president of CSE said.

In order to pacify the aggrieved members, the CSE board today also decided to appoint a consultative committee, comprising six senior brokers—S.S. Dalmia, S.S. Shah, S.K. Jalan, J.C. Gandhi, A.K. Khandelwal and Ajit Day.

CSE has decided to submit its revised report on the March payment fiasco to Sebi by July. “The report has been more or less finalised, but some finer details need to be inserted before submission to Sebi,” Basu said.

   

 
 
GHAZAL DIPLOMACY TO BREAK BARRIERS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 9: 
In the 1980s, Pakistani dictator Zia-ul Haq had used cricket as a diplomatic tool to repair damaged Indo-Pak relations. Now Atal Bihari Vajpayee has turned to ghazals to unite the people of the two countries.

The Prime Minister, recovering from a knee-joint replacement surgery at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, has written to famous Pakistani ghazal singer Mehdi Hasan to highlight the popularity of ghazals on both sides of the border and its virtues as an unifying force.

“Its (ghazal’s) equal popularity on both sides of the border illustrates that a life of peace and goodwill, and a readiness to appreciate the best of each other is a national aspiration of our two peoples,” Vajpayee wrote in a letter to the maestro, now recuperating in a Karachi hospital after a stroke.

The remarks are significant. Hasan is one of the most popular ghazal singers from Pakistan to have toured India over the past few decades. His ghazals, Ranjish hi sahi, Phool hi phool khil uthey hai, Mohabbat karne wale kam na honge are as popular on this side of the border as they are in Pakistan.

Coming after Vajpayee’s invitation to Pakistan chief executive Pervez Musharraf for talks, the remarks signal Delhi’s desire not only to normalise ties with Islamabad but also to build good-neighbourly relations. They are also in line with India’s policy of stressing on people-to-people contact and exchange of cultural troupes to put relations between the estranged neighbours back on track.

In the get-well message to Hasan, who recently suffered a massive heart attack, Vajpayee said: “I join millions of your fans in India in praying for your speedy and complete recovery so that the world of music may continue to have one of its greatest living exponents around for a long time to come.”

Vajpayee reminded Hasan that the ghazals he sang at his residence in New Delhi in 1978 were “still fresh in memory”.

“This is true of all those who have savoured your music at numerous concerts you have given in India through the past several decades,” he wrote. “Your music, like the great artistes of India and Pakistan, reminds us of the many common bonds of culture and spirituality that unite our two countries.”

Vajpayee is known to be a lover of Urdu and Hindustani music and poetry. But what made him write the letter was Hasan’s remarks in an interview with the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn.

The singer had talked about the love and appreciation shown by Indians to his music.

Jo haq, Pakistanion ko meri ghazlon pe hain, wohi Hindustanion ko bhi hai. Unhone mujhe kam pyar nahin diya (I don’t think people of India have any less right on my ghazals than those in Pakistan. The love that was showered on me in India was no less),” Hasan had told the interviewer.

Vajpayee said he was touched by the statement and stressed that “music and poetry knows no boundary”.

Wishing him speedy recovery, he expressed hope that Hasan would be able to come to India again and visit Luna, his birthplace in Rajasthan. “I will be too happy to welcome you to my house once again,” the Prime Minister said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.5°C (-2)
Minimum: 27.3°C (0)

Rainfall:

0.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum:97%,
Minimum: 76%

Today

Light rain in some paarts of the city suburbs
Sunrise: 4.54 am
Sunset: 6.17 pm
   
 

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