Vajpayee gift to Sonia, Maneka picks up tab
Parties unite for temple thrust
Shame, cries Opposition
Advani on America guest list
With compliments, to Brussels
No business like sellbiz
Paan masala ban
Buddha’s summit hit and miss
Police spanner on friendship march
Poll fraud slur on Rajnath

 
 
VAJPAYEE GIFT TO SONIA, MANEKA PICKS UP TAB 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
It turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Sonia Gandhi. The Congress chief had got up in the morning debating whether to attend the inauguration of the new complex of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

The centre was the dream project of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and, as chairperson, Sonia was involved in its conceptualisation. Her absence at its opening would have set tongues wagging.

It was hard to decide to go too because of bitter memories of being forced to quit as lifetime chairperson – the Congress has already gone to court over it. There was also the daunting prospect of having to sit through a ceremony that was to be presided over by estranged sister-in-law Maneka, the minister for culture.

The morning brought cheer. Maneka was divested of the culture portfolio, a move that the younger sister-in-law accused Sonia of engineering.

Raisina Hill was agog with rumours that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had worked out a deal with Sonia, the leader of the Opposition. Why else would Maneka be removed? — they asked.

The sight of Vajpayee making the rare gesture of walking up to Sonia at the end of today’s short Lok Sabha session to exchange pleasantries would be grist to this deal-rumour mill.

Congress and government sources were quick to deny a deal, pointing out that there was little meeting ground on the anti-terror legislation and other contentious issues.

The move to relieve Maneka had been hanging fire for some time. Followers of Jayprakash Narayan had made a formal protest against her appointment as chairperson of the JP centenary celebration panel (again as culture minister).

Tourism minister Jagmohan, with support from the RSS, was pressing for clubbing the culture portfolio with tourism, which has now happened. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi was also reportedly upset over Maneka sidelining his supporters on cultural committees.

Maneka, however, virtually alleged that Sonia was behind her exit. She said she was “taken aback” and smelt something “fishy” in the manner in which she was shifted. She appeared less than impressed with her responsibilities: looking after animal welfare and an office in the programme implementation ministry.

She said her move to investigate some cultural organisations with which Sonia was associated could have been a reason for her exit. “I had started investigations and she (Sonia) may not have liked it.”

Speaking to a TV channel, Maneka said: “They (Sonia and the Congress) are in the Opposition.. But I don’t understand how their being needled should worry our government,” she said.

Maneka said institutions belong to the country and not to an individual. She said she only wanted to ensure that funds given to these institutions, whether headed by Sonia or others, were properly used or not.

Maneka said she had begun putting intellectuals in these bodies, which include the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, the Nehru Memorial Trust and the Nehru Memorial Library.

   

 
 
PARTIES UNITE FOR TEMPLE THRUST 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
Non-Congress Opposition parties have decided to increase their firepower against the government through issue-based coordination with the Congress in Parliament.

The parties have decided to move an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha on the Ayodhya issue tomorrow, charging BJP and Sangh parivar leaders with “deliberately fomenting communal passions” just months before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Chaired by CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, a meeting of all Opposition parties, barring the Congress, today decided to move an adjournment motion on the farmers’ issue, probably on Wednesday, in the wake of the “total collapse” of foodgrain prices and the government’s move to give up procurement.

Other issues likely to be taken up for discussion are George Fernandes’ reinduction as defence minister, communal violence in Malegaon, Maharashtra, and relief discrimination towards flood-hit Bihar. Ayodhya and the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance will be taken up tomorrow during zero hour.

Opposition sources said the leaders have realised that the government and the BJP have benefited from their lack of unity. So now, as a matter of strategy, they would try as far as possible to raise issues together and after consultations. “Instead of all of us taking up the same issues and exhausting them, we would now try to be more focused,” said Hannan Mollah, a senior CPM MP.

In previous sessions, the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, had been hostile to the Congress. There were even instances when Yadav had tried to prevent leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi from taking up issues to pre-empt the Congress from gaining political advantage.

Though both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have ruled out any electoral tie-up, senior CPM and Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders prevailed upon Yadav to appreciate the need for Opposition unity, at least on the floor of Parliament. “We are Opposition parties, we all have different issues and agenda. But on certain issues of national importance, we should unite lest the government take undue advantage,” Mollah said.

Chatterjee, who met Sonia yesterday, said they had agreed on floor coordination on “concerns of commonality”. These included the terror Ordinance, Ayodhya, the war in Afghanistan and reinduction of Fernandes.

On the move to table an adjournment motion on Ayodhya, Chatterjee said BJP and Sangh leaders were openly flouting the Supreme Court directive on maintaining status quo at the disputed site. The Vajpayee government, he added, was “surrendering itself to fundamentalist forces”.

The leaders have also decided to press for a special discussion on discrimination towards Bihar. Though the state has been reeling under floods and the Centre had announced a package, “not a penny” was given, said a CPM MP. But Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he added, had no qualms in announcing largesse on picnic trips to Punjab.

Reacting to the Prime Minister’s announcement of a Rs 812-crore package for Punjab, Chatterjee said this was done “specifically for electoral purposes” while a state like Bihar, which suffered large-scale devastation because of floods, was “not given a single pie”.

Among the other issues, which will be raised during the session, are the World Trade Organisation meet at Doha, unemployment, the economic crisis and the Prime Minister’s three-nation tour.

Fernandes’ return to the Union Cabinet will be raised, Chatterjee said. According to him, the Prime Minister’s “unwarranted and objectionable” statement — that there was no evidence against Fernandes – amounted to direct interference in the working of the judicial commission probing the Tehelka exposé.

In a remark hinting at the Trinamul Congress, the CPM leader said: “Now that Fernandes is in, those who went out of the NDA seeking his ouster are back in the fold. Probably, they are waiting to return to the Cabinet.”

Representatives of the CPI, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the RSP, Forward Bloc, Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Muslim League and Akali Dal (Mann) attended today’s meeting.

   

 
 
SHAME, CRIES OPPOSITION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
The Opposition benches began shouting “shame, shame” the moment Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced George Fernandes as Cabinet minister in the Lok Sabha.

The Opposition, particularly the Congress, plans to move an adjournment motion against Fernandes’ induction on grounds that he is yet to get a clean chit from the Venkatswami Commission probing the Tehelka expose.

Fernandes, who had resigned in March this year in the wake of the expose, faced hostile Opposition before the Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day as a mark of respect to Madhavrao Scindia.

Congress leaders said they would train their guns on the government when regular proceedings begin tomorrow.

As soon as Vajpayee got up to make the customary introduction of Fernandes as his Cabinet colleague, Opposition members shouted in chorus that the Prime Minister had been under pressure to bring him back.

In the din, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munsi charged the government with throwing all democratic norms to the winds by reinducting Fernandes when the Venkataswami Commission was continuing its probe.

The treasury benches thumped desks to greet Fernandes to counter the Opposition protests as Vajpayee continued with the introduction of other ministers, including Arun Shourie, who has been elevated to Cabinet rank.

   

 
 
ADVANI ON AMERICA GUEST LIST 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
After Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it is now the turn of BJP Iron Man L.K. Advani to visit Washington. The home minister is scheduled to visit the US early next year, though the dates are still being worked out.

Unlike the Prime Minister’s working visit where President George W. Bush played host, the home minister’s host will be US attorney-general John Ashcroft and the discussions will be mainly on counter-terrorism.

India and the US already have a joint working group on counter-terrorism at the joint-secretary level. The special gesture to invite Advani, who is also seen as number two in the pecking order of the Vajpayee government, is aimed at signalling the growing ties between the two sides.

Many sections perceive Advani as a hardliner in the government. Therefore, the invitation by the Bush administration gives him the opportunity not only to put across his views on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism, but also to be convinced by America’s argument.

The post-September 11 developments, in which Pakistan finds itself playing the role of an important ally of the American effort against international terrorism, has led many in India to believe that Washington’s relations with Islamabad were getting stronger at the cost of New Delhi.

The Prime Minister’s recent discussions with Bush have been able to take care of some of that apprehension. Advani’s visit may further clear the air.

As part of this gesture, the American government’s special coordinator on Afghanistan, Richard Haas, will be coming to New Delhi early next month to hold discussions with the Indian leadership on the changing scenario in the region and the post-conflict regime in Afghanistan.

Haas, who is the director of policy planning in the state department, was recently given additional charge of Afghanistan.

His discussions will focus on how a broad-based regime in Kabul can be put in place and on other security-related issues in the region.

The India-US defence policy group will soon meet in Delhi to intensify dialogue between the two sides on defence-related issues. This will be the group’s first meeting after the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998 when the US imposed economic sanctions on the Vajpayee government and cancelled all defence and security related interactions.

A senior official of the external affairs ministry said the forthcoming meeting is aimed at intensifying dialogue and deepening interactions between the two countries. She, however, made it clear that this should not be seen as a military alliance between India and the US.

On Friday, at the Group of 21 meeting at the UN, Indian special envoy on Afghanistan Sati Lambah stressed the need for a broad-based and multi-ethnic regime in Kabul to ensure peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. Referring to India’s traditional ties with Afghanistan, Lambah spoke on the importance of starting the political and economic process in Afghanistan.

He also pointed out that New Delhi had committed itself to a Rs 600 crore line of credit for the new government in Kabul and its willingness to work on a rehabilitation programme for the Afghan people.

Asked on the role deposed King Zahir Shah could play in bringing stability in Afghanistan, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said suggestions were being put forward and that the UN had convened a meeting of various Afghan groups to ascertain their views on the new regime in Kabul. “We do not have any favourites. We want it to be an Afghan-based process and it should be left to the people of Afghanistan to choose the next regime in Kabul,” Rao added.

   

 
 
WITH COMPLIMENTS, TO BRUSSELS 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
A major row has broken out between the Belgians, who hold the European Union presidentship, and India over Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt’s sudden decision to visit Pakistan on November 24, the day the Indians had wanted to discuss bilateral business and economic issues with him.

A miffed South Block has now decided not to hold bilateral discussions with Verhofstadt at all. The Prime Minister is coming at the head of a high-powered European Union delegation comprising EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, Belgian ministers, EU commissioners and top officials to attend a two-day Indo-EU summit.

Besides economic and business issues, it will be discussing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Afghan situation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his team.

Normally, after the conclusion of this summit, the occasion is used by the top leadership of the two countries to talk on bilateral problems.

India and Portugal held similar bilateral talks after the end of an Indo-EU summit at Lisbon last year. The Belgians also wished to get down to business, but not on the 24th. Instead, they wanted to squeeze in the talks into the tight schedule for November 23 when the Indo-EU business summit will be held.

Top government sources said the Belgians wanted to discuss the seemingly intractable problems that Tractabel Energy of Belgium was facing with the Tamil Nadu government over power rates for a naphtha-based power plant at Tuticorin and their demands for rights to fly to Mumbai.

Although, Sabena, Belgium’s state-owned airline, is in deep financial trouble and has curtailed flights worldwide, the Belgians are keen on Mumbai as a second port of call as their Brussels-Chennai flights have proved to be money spinners.

“They wanted to hold bilateral talks on November 23, but we decided that if they can behave like this, so can we,” a top government official said. In fact, so incensed was South Block, that it confirmed Verhofstadt’s final schedule only last Friday after keeping the Belgians on the tenterhooks.

Normally such schedules are confirmed several weeks if not months in advance. The trouble began when the Belgians informed that their premier would be visiting Islamabad to show EU’s solidarity to frontline state Pakistan and therefore wanted the bilateral talks to be advanced by a day.

The Indian government feels that the Belgians, by deciding to visit Pakistan on a day when they were slated to talk business with Indians, are trying to send out a negative message and therefore deserves a fitting response.

“They needed to talk to us more than we do. Now, they will have to wait for another opportunity,” officials said. They confided that the Belgians could have had bilateral talks with the same high-powered Indian ministers that Lamy, the EU trade commissioner, will be meeting — finance minister Yashwant Sinha, commerce minister Murasoli Maran, and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie.

   

 
 
NO BUSINESS LIKE SELLBIZ 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Nov. 19: 
For any star worth his salt, the money is in the ads now.

Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan get between Rs 4 crore to Rs 6 crore for being brand ambassadors for a product. Amitabh Bachchan, for being Amitabh Bachchan, is said to get a little more. Last year, post-KBC, he reportedly signed the ICICI contract for Rs 10 crore.

An ad filmmaker, however, said Hrithik is the highest paid actor for commercials now.

Payments from ads are much higher than the price the actors command per film. They get between Rs 1 crore and Rs 2.5 crore for acting in a movie, industry sources said. “No actor gets more than Rs 3 crore for a film,” says Taran Adarsh, trade analyst.

“When the stars sign on for the ads, they keep in mind the fact that the sum should work out to more than their market price for films. For a one-time ad, they may get a huge sum. But for a contract, like Aamir’s with Coke, they get a lump sum over a period, which is usually three years,” an industry source said.

“It always means more money per ad than per film. If a star is getting Rs 5 crore for a contract, it means he has to do a few commercials and appear on a few occasions as brand ambassador. It takes up only a few days on the calendar. But a film takes so much longer.

“And an actor can have a number of ad campaigns running at the same time. According to the contract, he only has to avoid taking up a rival brand,” he added.

“As a general rule, actors get much more out of ads than out of films now,” says Vivek Kamath, an ad filmmaker who worked with Hrithik for the Home Trade commercial.

Shah Rukh, who has one of the largest kitties of ads, has often said how much he banks on endorsements for money. Hrithik’s father Rakesh Roshan has also said that his beta makes much more money out of ads than from movies.

No wonder the list of stars as brand ambassadors is ever increasing. There’s Big B with Pepsi, ICICI, Parker Pen; Hrithik with Coke, Tamarind, Hero Honda; Aamir Khan with Coke and Shah Rukh with Santro, Pepsi, Clinic and now Videocon Internet TV. Aishwarya Rai endorses De Beers and Coke.

Ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakar, who shot the Pepsi ads with Shah Rukh and Sachin Tendulkar, said ads were more lucrative as they meant instant money. But if it works out for stars, it works out for the brands also, for the ads remain in circulation for a long time.

The high-end ads, however, are only reserved for stars whose demand is highest in Bollywood. The rates for commercials also reflect another pecking order of Bollywood — women are paid much less than men.

Aishwarya and Preity Zinta are said to get around Rs 1 crore for their contracts. Aishwarya got less than Rs 2 crore for the Coke ad, an industry source said.

   

 
 
PAAN MASALA BAN 
 
 
FROM M.R. VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Nov. 19: 
As a five-year ban on the use and sale of chewing tobacco, paan masala and gutka products came into effect today, hundreds of roadside paanwallas and petty shop owners across Tamil Nadu scrambled for cover amid a crackdown by police-backed check squads.

Close on the heels of the recent Supreme Court ban on smoking in public places, buyers and sellers of tobacco-contained products were caught unawares by the government’s failure to notify the ban date well in advance.

“I don’t know what to do with my stocks of Paan Parag,” said a petty shop-owner in Royapettah area, one of the lucky few to escape a police raid this morning. “I used to make Rs 100 to Rs 150 a day selling these products, but now I can neither stock nor sell them.”

He blames the government’s poor PR for not communicating the ban in advance.

Though the ADMK regime had earlier this year announced in its first budget that these products would be banned in the interest of public health, what irked traders and consumers alike was the lack of transparency in implementing the decision.

Barring a small advertisement from the department of public health and preventive medicine in some Tamil dailies this morning, the ban took virtually everybody by surprise.

Establishments selling Paan Parag and other tobacco products opened shop thinking it was business as usual, until the cops knocked on their door for a reality check.

   

 
 
BUDDHA’S SUMMIT HIT AND MISS 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, Nov. 19: 
The ICE dividends have yet to crystallise into projects on paper, but the ice has been broken.

As the curtains came down on the CII summit on ICE (information, communication and entertainment), the arc lights remained focused on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s campaign to hardsell Bengal to prospective investors.

Infosys managing director Nandan Nilekani and GE Capital president Pramod Bhasin called on the chief minister this evening. Nilekani said Infosys would not set up any new development centre at present but sources said the prospects of GE Capital investing in the state are bright.

State infotech minister Manabendra Mukherjee, who picked up from where Bhattacharjee left off at the summit, said companies like GE Capital and Infosys are “open to the idea of setting up shops here”.

But organisers of the jamboree and government managers showcased Bhattacharjee’s willingness to keep economics and politics separate as the highpoint.

The chief minister’s “collaborative approach”, on full display during his interaction with Union minister and BJP leader Pramod Mahajan yesterday, emerged as the talking point on the last day of the summit.

“Lauding a BJP minister publicly for his generosity was unthinkable from Jyotibabu. But the new chief minister seems to be keen on rising above politics for the state,” said an industrialist.

CII president Sanjiv Goenka described Bhattacharjee’s initiative at the meeting as a “positive beginning”.

“The chief minister was able to convey his message of ‘make it happen’ and ‘do it now’ to the industry,” he said.

The industry captains also noted the chief minister’s prompt response to Goenka’s suggestion on framing a resolution to set up multiplexes and parks to help the entertainment industry.

Ranjan Das, professor of strategic management at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, attributed the shift in the state government’s approach to its success in dumping dogma and realising contemporary needs. “The ICE sectors rely heavily on intellectual capital, which is in abundance in the state. The realisation that a collaborative approach with the Centre can help the state in reaping the benefits and create job opportunities is indeed a welcome change in the mindset,” he said.

However, Das, like many others who attended the summit, pointed out that the chief minister’s speech lacked the “PR angle” and should have been properly packaged.

“It was full of statistics, but the promotion part was missing,” said Vishnu K. Goel, managing director of Acterna, a Delhi-based convergence consulting company, which was also a sponsor of the event.

Not everyone felt that the state used the event to its hilt to promote itself as an investment destination. Some executives and sponsors of the meet felt that the state’s initiative to reach industrialists ended with an impressive inauguration on Sunday. “The state achieved little from the seminar later, and should have promoted itself more aggressively as a destination for investment,” said a Calcutta-based senior executive.

But organisers of the meet said around 30 per cent of the participants were from outside the city, which, according to CII director Rekha Sethi, was “impressive given the present economic situation”.

   

 
 
POLICE SPANNER ON FRIENDSHIP MARCH 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Gangtok, Nov. 19: 
Sikkim authorities stopped about 400 demonstrators of the Indo-Tibet Friendship Society from marching to the Nathu La border post yesterday, fearing that if they went ahead it might “jeopardise” India-China relations.

The society, an apolitical organisation, had planned a two-day march to the border post, 52 km east of Gangtok, to demand that Beijing sit for “unconditional” talks with the Dalai Lama over Tibet’s future.

“We intended to march up to the Nathu La border post on the Indo-Tibet border. Unfortunately, the local police authorities restricted us to the confines of the capital, Gangtok, and its suburbs,” society general secretary Anand Kumar said after the marchers were stopped from taking the winding mountainous “Nathu La road”, part of the erstwhile “silk route” between India and Tibet’s capital Lhasa.

Kumar, a professor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the objective of the march was to press for their five-point charter of demands.

“We urge the Government of India to facilitate unconditional talks between the Dalai Lama and Beijing for an early resolution of the Tibetan issue,” he said.

Kumar said India could play a major role in bringing China and Tibet to the negotiating table. He cited Chinese Vice-President Hu Jintao’s recent statement regarding Beijing’s “willingness” to hold talks with the Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader’s “reiteration” that he did not seek complete separation but was only demanding “genuine autonomy” for protection of Tibet’s heritage and culture.

The society, which took out a procession through the main thoroughfare of Gangtok today, intends to hold a prayer meeting tomorrow at the Rumtek monastery, headquarters-in-exile of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

“Beside the demand for talks, we also demand the immediate release of the world’s youngest political prisoner, the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest spiritual leader in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy,” Lama Chostel, ITFS general secretary from Ladakh, said.

   

 
 
POLL FRAUD SLUR ON RAJNATH 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Nov. 19: 
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav today alleged that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh has “committed massive electoral fraud” in his bid to win the forthcoming Assembly polls.

He alleged that attempts were being made by the BJP to enrol bogus voters to boost its electoral prospects. Citing the voters’ list from the Ayodhya Assembly constituency, he said the constituency had 40,000 bogus voters.

Yadav, along with party leaders Janeshwar Mishra, Azam Khan and Ramgopal Yadav, met chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh here today and submitted a report on the “massive bungling” in the voters’ list of Faizabad district, allegedly under orders of the chief minister.

   
 

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