E exits ICE to freeze show
Buddha sings Delhi terror tune
Govt claims more take than give at Doha
Families join in transport strike
Delhi seeks Kabul leash on Islamabad
Religious meet minus religions
Bowring’s plans record of lost masterpieces
Punjab to move court over WTO
Govt, Opposition trade Doha fire
Laloo set to surrender in cavalcade

 
 
E EXITS ICE TO FREEZE SHOW 
 
 
BY DEVADEEP PUROHIT
 
Calcutta, Nov. 16: 
If it’s Calcutta, then E is for exit.

The Confederation of Indian Industry will hold a two-day meet here on ICE — or information, communication and entertainment — starting Sunday. This was billed to be the “biggest business bash” this side of the world. The line-up of stars for the conclave read like a who’s who of the E industry.

It all changed in the past two days.

First to drop out was Aamir Khan, Lagaan hero and boss of Aamir Khan Productions. He was to be here for the inaugural session, sharing the dais with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Union minister for information technology and communications Pramod Mahajan.

But on today’s “final, revised list” of programmes, Aamir was missing.

So too was small-screen wonder Eakta Kapoor. Jeetendra’s daughter, who now heads Balaji Telefilms, was to have lent weight to a debate on New Paradigms for Content and Entertainment Players. But she pulled out at the last moment. Even high-profile Sony Entertainment Television CEO Kunal Dasgupta followed in the Aamir-Eakta footsteps.

But Harsh Neotia, chairman, CII eastern region, expressing “disappointment” over the dropouts, insisted that they should not be linked to the venue. “They (Aamir, Eakta) could surely have added to the glamour value of the event. But such last-minute readjustments are bound to happen when there are so many celebrities in question,” Neotia said this evening.

Brushing aside talk that the CII meet was losing its stars because the event was being held in Calcutta, Neotia said: “If the venue was the factor, do you think the likes of Aamir Khan would have agreed to come in the first place?”

But it’s not just the stars who seem to be steering clear of the ICE summit. Among those who sent last-minute regret letters were government representatives R.R. Shah, secretary, ministry of information and technology, and D.P. S. Seth, chairman and managing director, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Neotia, however, insists there “are enough people to make the meet a success”.

But industry-watchers have reacted sharply to the dropouts in the revised list. “This, compared to the first list, reads like a B-Team. The writing is on the wall. Some of the biggest names aren’t turning up because the venue is Calcutta. Amitabh (Bachchan) did not even accept the invitation. Would they have stayed away if this was held in Mumbai or Delhi, or even Bangalore?” said an industrialist.

   

 
 
BUDDHA SINGS DELHI TERROR TUNE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
The government’s effort to push through an anti-terror Ordinance was dealt a heavy blow today by the Congress, which decided to oppose it.

But as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee turned a gathering of chief ministers at the Inter-State Council into a forum to lobby support for the Ordinance, he struck a sympathetic chord in an unexpected quarter.

Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee not only accepted the Prime Minister’s scare scenario, but spoke of heightened activity by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in his state, especially in areas bordering Bangladesh.

“This is not the time for the states and the Centre to fight. I think they have not criticised me, nor will I criticise them. This is a serious issue where we must all stand together as a nation. We support the Centre in its fight against terrorists,” Bhattacharjee said.

His party, the CPM, is opposing the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, which appeared to be as good as dead with the Congress announcing its opposition. Without Congress support, the government cannot get it passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The chief minister, who wants more Central forces deployed along the border, said he would discuss the ISI infiltration at greater length tomorrow. Under pressure from the CPM politburo, Bhattacharjee has had to jettison an Ordinance of his own government targeted at organised crime.

Shaken by the Congress’ opposition, Vajpayee will again put his persuasive skill in use tomorrow when he inaugurates the chief ministers’ meeting on internal security. The Inter-State Council has nothing to do with internal security. Its agenda is confined to smoothing out relations between the Centre, states and Union Territories. Nevertheless, Vajpayee seized the opportunity to talk of the threat posed by terrorism and religious extremism.

Speaking of the dangers faced by the country, Vajpayee said: “Chief among them is the threat posed by terrorism and religious extremism. The recent terrorist attacks in the US have starkly highlighted both the global scope and the extreme severity of this threat.” He said a sustained campaign, assisted by a legal framework, was needed to tackle the twin dangers.

Vajpayee said the anti-terror Ordinance was promulgated as there was no law in place to “deal effectively with terrorism” after the lapse of Tada. He asked the chief ministers to give their views on the Ordinance.

Law minister Arun Jaitley said after the meeting that the contentious issue of choosing a Governor was hotly debated at the Inter-State Council. Some said the Governor should be selected from a panel of names to be forwarded by the states.

   

 
 
GOVT CLAIMS MORE TAKE THAN GIVE AT DOHA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
The government today counted the successes of its aggressive bargaining at the fourth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation at Doha.

Commerce minister Murasoli Maran claimed that India had to yield ground in the areas of environment and textiles to make impressive gains on a host of other fronts.

“This is perhaps the first time that we have something positive to show,” Maran told reporters, brushing aside the criticism of the concessions it made during the five days of bitter wrangling over ways to improve the world trade order. He claimed the concessions in the areas of environment and textiles would have no major impact on the economy.

Maran, who went to Doha determined not to yield on the inclusion of new issues until the rich nations fulfilled all their commitments under the Uruguay Round, counted another iteration of promises in this regard as a notable success for India’s tough bargaining position. “The only area where we could not get any relief was in textiles, but crucial issues like acknowledgement and a promise to resolve the unimplemented portions of the previous Uruguay Round have been major achievements for us,” he said.

“The bone of contention was the four new issues dubbed the Singapore issues — trade and investment, trade and competition, transparency in government procurement practices and trade facilitation.”

After a series of protests and parleys, it was decided that talks would start on these issues only after “explicit consensus” is achieved from WTO member countries. This, too, will be done after getting reports of the study group in the next ministerial meeting two years from now.

Maran said this effectively gives power to any country to veto any of these issues which it does not want to discuss.

After the tough fight put up by India, Maran said, the government now had the “veto” to block any proposal for negotiations on these four issues if the country was not prepared for it by then.

Maran said the fears that India would be isolated were proved wrong. “We found support and commonality of interests among many developing countries,” he said.

“Barring the marginal agreement on environment, which to a large extent is a political acknowledgment of its importance rather than rebalancing of rights and obligations, we ended up with significant gains,” he said.

According to Maran, the gains in other areas which were “significant” were trade-related intellectual property rights, public health and issues connected to implementation of Uruguay Round agreements.

“As before, the eleventh-hour drama started with the problems of phasing out of farm export subsidies. The main stumbling block was the European Union. They demanded a price and finally it was agreed that they would phase out export subsidies in agriculture. We also got the assurance on food security and rural development which may be termed the ‘Development Box’. In exchange for this, we have marginally agreed on environment,” Maran said.

He said Europe has always been fighting for negotiations on environment as they have a coalition of green parties and they are against use of genetically-modified seeds to protect the interests of small and marginal farmers, Maran said, implying this augured well for India.

Besides, negotiations on environment are “two track” which initially will be limited to applicability of existing WTO rules and reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services. “The only area in which we did not derive comfort was in textiles,” he said.

However, analysts say any gain in textiles might not have been crucial as the the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, which sets quotas for exporting countries, will be phased out by January 2005.

On the contentious issue of labour standards, Maran said India has been successful in keeping it out of the negotiations. “We saw to it that the European Union did not have its way in the launch of a comprehensive round of trade negotiations,” he said.

Maran described as a major gain in services on the issue of movement of natural personnel. “Now India has secured the right for a trade-off on services. For example, opening of a branch of a foreign bank could be made conditional to their allowing a specified number of Indian personnel to work there,” Maran said.

“I would say that nothing will happen immediately and the negotiations will take their time during which we have to be watchful,” Maran said.

If there was one lesson from Doha, it was to push economic reforms with renewed vigour, he added.

   

 
 
FAMILIES JOIN IN TRANSPORT STRIKE 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Nov. 16: 
Hundreds of women today courted arrest in support of their husbands who have struck work to protest against a lower bonus.

Wives and children of striking state transport workers hit the streets even as another round of talks between trade union representatives and the government failed to break the deadlock.

Women members of the workers’ families marched in groups and picketed bus depots in the city and elsewhere, joining their men in the eight-day-old stir over payment of bonus. In Chennai alone, over 150 women courted arrest.

Trade union leaders say the strike has been “imposed” on them. According to them, only another Rs 40 crore is required to meet their demand of retaining the bonus at last year’s level of 20 per cent, which, they said, works out to a “mere Rs 6,000 per worker”.

However, the ADMK government, citing Tamil Nadu’s financial situation and staggering losses suffered by public transport corporations, continues to stick to its offer of a minimum 8.33 per cent.

A. Sounderrajan of CPM- affiliated Citu, who is heading the joint struggle committee, said the loss per day because of the strike is Rs 8 crore.

“It is just five days collection” for the government, he said.

Transport minister Nainar Nagendran, after tonight’s talks, told reporters at the state secretariat that the government had urged the trade unions to withdraw the strike first, and then the “issues could be discussed”.

The minister was non-committal on whether the government could improve its offer. He merely said “Amma’s government” has never been anti-labour; only finances were a constraint.

But Sounderrajan and C. Kuppusamy, DMK MP heading the party’s trade union wing, rejected the “strike withdrawal” as a condition to resolve the deadlock.

Trade unions and similar organisations have planned a rally here tomorrow, but the government has denied permission for it. “It shows the anti-labour stance” of the government, the trade union leaders said.

   

 
 
DELHI SEEKS KABUL LEASH ON ISLAMABAD 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
As world leaders intensified negotiations for a post-Taliban regime in Kabul, India scaled down its expectations to a more realistic level.

“We want a strong and stable government in Kabul,” said South Block, in what appeared to be New Delhi’s modest demand. The argument is simple: a strong and stable Afghanistan means not only peace in the war-ravaged country but also a check on Pakistan.

Ever since the US-led strikeback began last month, India has been telling Washington and other interlocutors that New Delhi’s stake in the future of Afghanistan was no less than that of the others. In other words, Delhi was trying to make the US and the other world players aware of India’s concerns to ensure that the West’s newfound ally, Pakistan, did not have the last word on the regime replacing the student-militia.

But with the Northern Alliance forcing the Taliban out of Kabul and negotiations hotting up, India seems to have adopted a more realistic approach.

“We are not in the driver’s seat and we do not suffer from any illusion that we will be able to decide on the future of Afghanistan,” a senior diplomat said. He said India’s expectations on Afghanistan were modest. “We are not even hoping for or lobbying for a regime that is anti-Pakistan,” he added.

Unlike other countries, which are trying to push their favourite candidate to rule Afghanistan, India wants a neutral regime that will not be hostile to any of the neighbours, including Pakistan.

Delhi feels a strong regime in Kabul, that can provide stability to the country, will be a natural check on Islamabad. “We want a pre-Taliban scenario in Afghanistan,” a senior foreign ministry official said. He pointed out that in the past, there have been regimes in Kabul which may not have been friendly to India but were not hostile either.

India is happy that it is now part of a new 20-member group on Afghanistan. It had been trying to convince world leaders that the existing six-plus-two group on Afghanistan was not adequate to deal with the evolving situation.

The new group includes the US, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan — all members of the original six-plus-two process — and other countries like the UK, France, Germany, Japan and some other important Western nations.

Though the Northern Alliance is already in Kabul, India — one of its main backers along with Russia and Iran — feels the alliance, comprising mainly of Uzbeks and Tajiks, will not be able to provide a stable government.

The alliance’s main flaws are the absence of the largest Pashtoon ethnic group and its known anti-Pakistan stance.

So if it is allowed to form the government, it would definitely pursue policies inimical to Pakistan’s interest.

South Block officials said a regime hostile to Pakistan may suit India for the time being, but in the long run, it would lead to instability as Islamabad would try and find a group which is against such a government in Kabul.

   

 
 
RELIGIOUS MEET MINUS RELIGIONS 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
It was billed as a congress to cement all religions of the world. But the World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity, which began here on Thursday, appears to have already fallen short of its objective in the absence of official representatives from two of the biggest religions — Christianity and Islam.

The Church suspects the three-day meet to be a jamboree remote-controlled by the Sangh parivar. The active participation of the VHP’s international working president, Ashok Singhal, a known Christian-basher, added weight to the Church’s apprehension.

Over 200 leaders from 18 religions are debating the need to end intolerance and mutual hatred at a five-star hotel here. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee yesterday inaugurated the congress to promote religious harmony.

The issues to be discussed include the meaning of freedom of religion and religious practices, a historical overview of religious traditions, validation of ethnic religious and cultural traditions, preservation of religious diversity in an era of globalisation and the promotion of mutual understanding and respect.

Dominic Emmanuel, the public affairs spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said no representative from among the 1.8 billion Catholics across the world was invited. “If they were serious, they should have invited the CBCI,” he said.

Columnist and Protestant pastor Valson Thampu, sources said, declined the invitation as he suspected that the meet had a different agenda.

No representative from the Muslim community was invited.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati, an eminent teacher of Vedanta and founder of the All-India Movement for Seva, the prime mover of the congress, said a global commission for preservation of religious diversity will be set up to facilitate dialogue among the religions to end mutual antagonism.

Asked why Christians and Muslims were left out, Saraswati said the moderates among them would have come but did not for fear of upsetting the hardliners.

Sitting beside Singhal in his hotel suite, Saraswati said: “There are people in Christianity who do not want to convert. There are people who feel that it is their duty to convert. We would like to bring them together, to talk to each other.”

   

 
 
BOWRING’S PLANS RECORD OF LOST MASTERPIECES 
 
 
FROM ELLA DATTA
 
New Delhi, Nov 16: 
Auction house Bowring’s will shortly open a section on its website that will record lost art.

Work on the plan, modelled on the Art Lost Register in London, had started before the controversy over an allegedly stolen painting of Hemen Mazumdar turning up at Bowring’s first auction broke.

To register a lost work of art, Bowring’s would require a photograph along with the provenance – proof of ownership — and description of the work and a copy of the FIR or police diary to prove the authenticity of the charge.

“Such a service will serve to check underhand dealings in art,” says Bowring’s deputy chairman Patrick Bowring.

A Mazumdar painting called Memory was pulled out of the auction at the last moment after the Chowdhury family of Bhandarhati in Bengal’s Hooghly district brought to Bowring’s notice that it had been stolen from their ancestral home.

Following that, police in Calcutta arrested a gallery owner who is alleged to have sent the painting for the auction.

“An auction is an open forum which helps to bring works into the public domain. It gives people time to scrutinise the works. The catalogues are circulated a month in advance,” Patrick Bowring added.

Advance publicity about the auction led to the painting being spotted by the Chowdhury family.

Bowring’s also offers to clients the service of making proper inventories of art works and photographic record. The auctioneer suggests that such inventories and visual records should be kept in a location different from the collection.

Referring to the stolen Mazumdar, Bowring said such instances are likely to recur now that the art market is opening up. It happens all over the world, he admits, adding: “We check it out to the best of our ability. We hope we can contribute to bringing professionalism into the market.”

Bowring’s had accepted the painting in good faith and when the title dispute came up, it asked the consigner who said there were two versions of the same work, and stuck to the provenance he had supplied.

“If it had not been for the auction catalogue, the matter would not have come out in the open,” Bowring said. “In the normal course, it could have been sold privately and gone completely out of circulation.”

Bowring is happy with the results of the first auction considering there was hardly any international participation. Local buyers picked up 85 per cent of the lots sold.

About 50 per cent of the works are still to be sold, and the auctioneer is not closing the auction as it continues to receive offers.

In response to the enquiries it has received so far, Bowring’s plans a jewellery sale in February in Delhi and another for carpets and textiles. It also plans an auction of contemporary art in Mumbai in March.

   

 
 
PUNJAB TO MOVE COURT OVER WTO 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Nov. 16: 
Punjab finance minister Kanwaljit Singh today said the state was set to go to the Supreme Court against the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s decision to sign the World Trade Organisation agreement in December 1994.

“The draft is being prepared. We want the Supreme Court to protect the rights provided to states in the Constitution,” Kanwaljit Singh said.

“The Shiromani Akali Dal is of the view that a law must be established to ensure that any decision taken by the Centre on state subjects be not taken arbitrarily. That is why we welcome the NDA government’s initiative to hold deliberations before reaching a conclusion.”

The minister alleged that the Rao government had violated democratic norms by signing the WTO agreement.

“It was signed in total secrecy. No state was consulted. It was done in a dictatorial manner and the country is paying a price for it now,” he said.

Referring to the recent Doha declaration, Singh said whatever the outcome of such talks, agreements affecting agriculture must be renegotiated.

   

 
 
GOVT, OPPOSITION TRADE DOHA FIRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 16: 
The BJP and the Opposition parties have stepped up their war of words over the just-concluded World Trade Organisation meeting, giving an indication of what to expect when Parliament reconvenes for the winter session three days from now.

The BJP patted itself — and the government it heads — on the back for taking up cudgels on behalf of the poor at the Doha meet, but Opposition parties railed at the Centre for “letting the people down”.

“The success of the Indian delegation, led by commerce minister Murasoli Maran, shows that all government-related departments had done their homework well, in consultation with Opposition parties and in backroom discussions with developing countries,” the BJP high command said.

But Opposition parties sang a dissonant tune. The Congress lashed out at the government for its “empty and noisy posturing”. Spokesperson Jaipal Reddy said “Maran has been mollified but the country’s interests have been nullified.” The CPM accused the government of failing to deliver on its promises.

“The government had promised to seek a review of WTO negotiations. But on the two crucial sectors of agriculture and textiles, they have remained the same,” the party said. “In the meanwhile, the government must take all necessary steps, like hefty increase in import duties, to protect farmers and domestic producers.”

It is clear that the Opposition will rake up the issue in Parliament, especially after Maran makes a statement in both Houses on Wednesday.

The BJP has made it equally clear that it is going to defend the government to the hilt and project the WTO negotiations as an achievement.

Reacting to the Opposition’s criticism, the BJP retorted: “Those who are accusing the government of lack of transparency, should look back and see whether such consultations took place during the previous round of negotiations.”

It reminded the Opposition parties how they had “bullied” Parliament into endorsing a draft that was inimical to India’s interests. “Simply because it had to be signed before January 1, 1993,” the BJP said.

   

 
 
LALOO SET TO SURRENDER IN CAVALCADE 
 
 
FROM KUMUD JENAMANI
 
Jamshedpur, Nov. 16: 
Even the gods would be jealous of the reception lined up for Laloo Yadav. As many as 1,001 cars, buses and jeeps will await the arrival of Bihar’s almighty leader when he reaches Jharkhand to surrender before the CBI court in the fodder case.

Jharkhand RJD president Aklu Ram Mahato said the vehicles would escort Laloo to Ranchi from Koderma on November 25. The elaborate plan was part of the party’s efforts to make their leader feel at home while in exile. Mahato said all district office-bearers had been instructed to ensure that they supply the vehicles to welcome Laloo.

The vehicles, mostly cars, would gather at Ramgarh in Hazaribagh from where they would proceed towards Koderma. Mahato added that more than one lakh RJD workers would be present at Koderma to welcome Laloo into Jharkhand.

“All ministers of the Bihar Cabinet and the party’s MLAs and MPs would also accompany the RJD chief on his arrival in the state as well as during his appearance in the special court on November 26,” he added.

Mahato said Laloo will arrive in Koderma a day earlier because of the bandh called by the MCC on November 26.

The state president is spending sleepless nights over the preparations to make Laloo feel at home. Mahato said he has been monitoring the welcome celebrations planned in all the 18 districts of Jharkhand.

State RJD general secretary Radhe Prasad Yadav has been entrusted with the job of supervising preparations in the three districts of East and West Singhbhum and Seraikella-Kharsawan. He said party workers in those districts have arranged for 101 cars and jeeps that would head to Koderma.

Yadav said a reception befitting the gods had been planned for Laloo because he was waging a crusade against the marauders of social justice. “We are not convinced that a person like Laloo Yadav can siphon government money. He is completely innocent in the case which has been framed to defame a man who has fought against communalism and for the welfare of a major section of society,” Yadav added.

The state RJD general secretary said Laloo’s trial in Jharkhand would benefit the party.

“It will not be surprising if the fodder case trial in the special court in Ranchi turns into a boon for the RJD in Jharkhand. Laloo Yadav will get a sympathetic response from political parties other than the BJP, leading to a new equation in the political arena. After all, the majority of the people of Jharkhand belong to the backward classes,” he argued.

   
 

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