General lost in the labyrinth of words
India-hungry Pak left unfed
Church control on school entry
CBI pushes Omar for wanted list
Bride in caring Tata hands
Hindu-style farewell for the Princess
Pakistan left out of global arms dealers’ meet
Singles shop to save face
Image overhaul for ‘male’ soap
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GENERAL LOST IN THE LABYRINTH OF WORDS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR AND PRANAY SHARMA
 
Washington & New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
Less than 24 hours before his first visit to the White House, General Pervez Musharraf followed the example of his host in speaking English and got himself into hot water and, worse, exposed himself to ridicule worldwide.

Musharraf’s charge of a nuclear test by India, which forced the Americans to take the unusual step of distancing themselves from their honoured guest, was actually the result of the Pakistani President practising “Bushism” — President George W. Bush’s habit of tying himself up in knots with badly-constructed English.

Musharraf did not actually accuse India of having conducted a nuclear test when he spoke to a gathering of foreign policy and security experts yesterday evening at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Or, at least, it was not clear what he wanted to say.

“The missile test carried out by India, and some information, some news even, of maybe a possibility of a nuclear test, is most untimely and may I also say provocative,” is actually what Musharraf told his audience.

Was Musharraf saying India had conducted a nuclear test in secret, alongside its well-publicised missile test? Or was he suggesting the possibility of a nuclear test by India in the future, as Pakistan had hinted several times in the past?

Bob Hathaway, director of Wilson Center’s Asia Programme, tried to clear the confusion by asking Musharraf to be more forthcoming.

But the General was evasive. “There were certain indications and I did share this information, yes, with the US leadership. I cannot give conclusive evidence of it but, I thought, if at all there is a possibility, it should be checked.”

Common sense ought to have suggested that what Musharraf wanted to say was there was a chance India might test its nuclear weapons again.

But reporters go by facts. And Musharraf was on record here.

Within 40 minutes, Reuters flashed a report quoting Musharraf accusing India of having conducted a nuclear test.

The state department was swamped with calls asking for a reaction. Bush administration officials were already edgy from their Pakistani guest’s ill-considered allegation on Sunday that India was behind the kidnapping of American reporter Daniel Pearl. They decided to let Musharraf fend for himself. Reporters who contacted administration officials were told the General’s charge was “baseless”.

The official line from the administration was: “We don’t have any information that would suggest anything like that having occurred.” Most embarrassing for the Pakistanis was that part of the administration’s reaction which stopped short of calling Musharraf a liar.

Referring to the General’s comment that he had shared information about India’s nuclear designs with the US, the unnamed official said: “We haven’t received any information from the Pakistani government on this.”

The official went further: “We are pleased that there have been no nuclear tests since 1998, and we expect that there will be no more nuclear tests from either side.”

Late into the night, officials of the Pakistan embassy in Washington were engaged in damage control. They kept telling reporters that Musharraf had intelligence information that Indian might conduct another nuclear test. But by then the damage had already been done.

Nothing short of a nuclear response boomed out of Delhi. “Is this the way Islamabad wanted to extend its hand of friendship towards India?” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked.

India described Musharraf’s charge as another example of attempts to mislead the international community and of his desperation to get Vajpayee to resume talks. The scare scenario he tried to paint was seen as a renewed effort to get the US to coax Delhi into breaking the border standoff and restart dialogue.

While assuring the world that it was not moving away from a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, India said it was in no hurry to resume talks, nor entertain mediation.

“It is an old tactic of Pakistan to mislead the international community,” Vajpayee said, addressing a poll rally in Agra this afternoon. He said India remained committed to the moratorium announced in May 1998.

“We will not tolerate it,” Vajpayee said in response to Musharraf’s appeal in Washington to the US to intervene in the Kashmir dispute.

If Delhi was laughing at the language tangle the General had got himself into, the only hint came from foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao, though she spoke in all seriousness. “Obviously, this is a season for kite-flying in Pakistan.”

   

 
 
INDIA-HUNGRY PAK LEFT UNFED 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 13: 
In an anti-climax to his aggressive build-up for American backing for Islamabad against India, General Pervez Musharraf today received a sermon from President George W. Bush on the need for more reform in Pakistan, shedding Islamic militancy and embracing the long-term security needs of the West.

At the end of an hour-long meeting between Bush and Musharraf, which adjourned for a working lunch at the White House at the time of writing, one thing was clear: the Bush administration trusts Musharraf, but it does not trust Pakistan.

This was apparent during the 15-minute joint interaction by the two leaders with the media at the end of their formal meeting.

Bush said he was proud to call Musharraf a friend. He pointedly referred to his State of the Union address last month in which only two leaders were mentioned by name. One was Musharraf. The other was Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai.

Lacking for Pakistan was the effusive praise the American President reserved for Musharraf personally. Indeed, in what appeared jarring to many Pakistanis who were at the White House, Bush talked about the US at least once as a “great nation”. No such encomiums were said with reference to Pakistan.

Musharraf had painstakingly prepared the ground for today’s meeting with Bush by trying to whip up a hysteria here about India.

First he accused New Delhi of involvement in the kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Then he attempted to create a bogey about India’s nuclear intentions.

Musharraf also dumped the Simla accord saying it had not produced results in all of 30 years. He said bilateralism with India was unworkable and called for US involvement in the Indo-Pakistan dispute.

The Americans gave a hint of what was to come in the words of a senior administration official when he was harangued about Kashmir by a reporter travelling with Musharraf. “We are trying first and foremost to prevent a war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. We have to get past that, and we can look at other things later.”

But the message did not get through to Musharraf. Today, at the White House, all he could get from Bush was a statement that India and Pakistan should resume talks and that the US would encourage the two countries to do so.

Musharraf tried to create the spectre of a war, blaming the potential conflict entirely on New Delhi. But Bush refused to take the bait.

Part of the reason for Musharraf’s plans going awry was the Pearl kidnapping. There was hope yesterday after the arrest of Pearl’s kidnapper that the American journalist would be found before Musharraf’s White House engagements.

Had that happened, the general’s fortunes in this city of fair-weather friends would have dramatically turned this morning. But all that Musharraf could tell the Americans today was: “I am reasonably sure he (Pearl) is alive. We are as close as possible to getting him released.”

   

 
 
CHURCH CONTROL ON SCHOOL ENTRY 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Feb. 13: 
Guardians of thousands of school aspirants will have to wait longer than usual this year as admission to many English-medium schools has been put on hold, thanks to a new policy adopted by the Church of North India.

CNI controls most of the reputed schools in Calcutta — including La Martiniere, St James, Pratt Memorial, St Thomas and St Paul’s — and elsewhere in the state and the country.

In an unprecedented move, the church organisation made drastic changes in the admission procedure without informing the heads of the institutions, creating a chaotic situation in the schools and panic among guardians. CNI Bishop Rev. P.S.P. Raju was not available for comment.

Rev. Ashok Biswas, Calcutta diocese (CNI) vice-chairman, said the changes were aimed at bringing transparency in the admission procedure. “But only Bishop Raju is the right person to elaborate on the issue,” he said.

Ever since their inception, the schools have been following a system in which their heads were empowered to control all academic matters and had the final say on admissions.

Now the Church has decided to set up separate committees for all the schools which would include three members appointed by the Bishop. Though the principal and a teacher of a school will remain on the panel, the final selection will depend on the three board members.

CNI attributed the new policy to the growing number of complaints of corruption in the admission procedure. An excerpt from the circular issued to the schools says: “Though the procedure for applying for admissions and the procedure for interviewing the parents and children are transparent and democratic …, people have expressed doubts whether these decisions to accept or reject (applications) are collective or not.”

The new policy has predictably irked the heads of the institutions. “Some portions of the circular are highly objectionable as they are indirectly aimed at attacking the principals,” said the head of one CNI-run school.

Another passage, which says the Church had information that “influential people within and outside the schools were controlling the admission procedure”, have also angered the heads.

The schools, as a consequence of the bitterness and chaos, have been unable to release their lists of selected candidates. Teachers and heads of institutions blame the delay on officials appointed by the Church to scrutinise the applications.

Principals angry with Bishop Raju for not giving any prior indication of the change, said the Church was trying to “curtail their powers to handle important academic matters”.

The circular was sent to the schools in December end.

   

 
 
CBI PUSHES OMAR FOR WANTED LIST 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDI MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, Feb. 13: 
The CBI will approach the home ministry to add Omar Sheikh to the list of 20 offenders wanted by India from Pakistan.

Aftab Ansari, accused in the American Center attack, has told the CBI Omar was a “godfather” to him.

The CBI today booked Omar under Sections 304/34 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 120B (conspiracy) of the IPC for his role in the American Center attack and in the kidnapping of Khadim’s owner Parthapratim Roy Burman. The Bengal CID had earlier traced Ansari’s links with Omar during its probe into the abduction case.

Charges against Omar were dropped after he was freed in 1999 to secure the release of passengers of the Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar.

CBI director P.C. Sharma said: “Omar’s links to the Khadim’s kidnap and the attack on the American Center are strong enough to bring him here to face trial. We feel this should be done but it is ultimately up to the Indian government to take a decision.”

CBI sources said a preliminary report on Omar’s role had been sent to the home ministry. “We have arranged the evidence in such a manner that it would help the Indian government ask for Omar to be sent to the country for trial,” a CBI officer said.

   

 
 
BRIDE IN CARING TATA HANDS 
 
 
FROM SATISH JOHN
 
Mumbai, Feb. 13: 
The “daughter” was being handed over. Emotions ran high.

“I was thinking the whole of last night of the whole process of disinvesting VSNL,” said managing director S.K. Gupta. “The whole process is like an arranged marriage of a daughter.”

The occasion was the signing ceremony of the handing over of control of the international telephony company to the Tatas. The government sold 25 per cent equity stake in Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited for Rs 1,439 crore.

As Ratan Tata — the “groom” — listened, Gupta voiced the fear playing on the minds of millions of government employees on privatisation. “Even after this marriage has been performed, the daughter should continue to deserve all the love and affection,” he said. “Kindly give us time for acclimatisation.”

Implicit in the words was the apprehension every public sector employee feels when controlling power is handed over to the private sector.

But pride also peeped through his metaphor-laced speech. “VSNL was the highest earning member of the PSU family,” he said on the strides taken by the company in the short span of 16 years.

Senior VSNL officers and the entire top brass of the Tata group witnessed the change of guard. The audience heard him with rapt attention. Political and entrepreneurial luminaries like Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah, SBI chairman Janaki Ballabh, BPL Cellular chairman Rajeev Chandrashekhar, and, surprise of surprises, Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra. An indication of new alignments?

Gupta said that even after marriage, it would be difficult for VSNL to forget its parents and the childhood spent with its brothers and sisters —BSNL and MTNL. “It is a reality of birth, that even if we (VSNL, BSNL and MTNL) are married to different houses, our relationship can never be disrupted,” he said.

When Tata spoke, it was with tongue firmly in cheek.

The chairman of the Tata group wondered if he should introduce himself as Pramod Mahajan’s son-in-law and address the minister for communications and information technology as his father-in-law. Gupta smiled nervously as the gathering erupted in laughter.

“We will honour the objects and aspirations of the government and people of India,” Tata said, trying to allay the fears of VSNL employees.

“VSNL is a very professional organisation and the Tatas will leverage this fully to recognise the strengths of VSNL,” he added. “The seamless and painless integration will retain the same sense of pride and belonging without imposing any agenda.”

Mahajan was the last to speak. The man, whose wit was recently acknowledged by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, started by saying “What a great day” that somebody had finally succeeded in getting Tata, a confirmed bachelor, married.

Then turning to Gupta, the minister said it was wrong to call the handover an arranged marriage. “There was no arrangement in this,” he said. Rather, the alliance was a “swayamvar, where the best suitor won”.

“Ratan Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani both wooed the same bride and the person who paid the best price won,” Mahajan said to peals of laughter.

Mahajan brushed aside the apprehension of VSNL employees. “It is not the shares that are transferred, but the strengths that are transferred,” he said, hinting that the real power of the company flowed from its employees.

His next statement was loaded with meaning. With 26 per cent of VSNL equity, the government, he said, still owned one per cent more than the Tatas.

   

 
 
HINDU-STYLE FAREWELL FOR THE PRINCESS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Feb. 13: 
Princess Margaret, whose funeral is to be held on Friday, is to be given what can only be called a Hindu-style farewell — she is to be cremated in accordance with her own wishes.

Members of the royal family are always buried — the only exception baffled historians can find is Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, who was cremated at Golders Green crematorium as far back as 1939.

Princess Margaret’s decision is all the more puzzling because she held fairly traditional views on religious matters. It will be recalled that when she decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, the divorced father of two she had loved, she said she was “mindful of the Church’s teachings”.

“More and more Christians do choose to be cremated,” commented Ashwin Galoria, an assistant at the busy Indian Funeral Service in north London, which serves Christians and Hindus alike. A cremation costs about half the average £2,500 charge for a burial, he said.

For a Hindu cremation, said Galoria, his firm included the services of a Hindu priest as well as a supply of Ganges water, petals and a 108-beaded mala. The recording on the firm’s phone played, “Namah Shiva”.

Because of an ageing Indian population, “we do six Hindu funerals a week, it used to be three — sometimes now we are up to 10 a week. The ashes are taken back to India but sometimes they are tossed into the Thames,” added Galoria.

Princess Margaret’s mortal remains will be consigned to flames at Slough Crematorium after an orthodox Christian funeral service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where only her elder sister, Queen Elizabeth, and other close relatives and friends will be present. Although exceedingly frail, her mother, the Queen Mother, who is 101, is apparently determined to come from Sandringham House, her country residence.

By a quirk of fate, the funeral of Princess Margaret, who was 71, will take place 50 years to the day since the funeral of her father, King George VI.

The casket containing the Princess’ ashes will be placed in the Royal Vault so that she can be near her father.

   

 
 
PAKISTAN LEFT OUT OF GLOBAL ARMS DEALERS’ MEET 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Feb. 13: 
Global arms companies assemble in New Delhi through next week, in what will be the largest exhibition in the subcontinent of weapon and support systems for militaries.

But more than anything else, Defexpo 2002 is a measure of how conflicts in South Asia are intensifying, giving arms manufacturers bigger and deadlier business opportunities.

Defexpo 2002 is the second such exhibition since 1999 and unlike the first one, it is industry — through the CII — that is the primary organiser and the defence ministry is the associate.

The biggest buyer in the region undoubtedly is India — Pakistan and China have not been invited to send delegations — and, as one company executive puts it, “the whole thing is aimed at influencing a dozen or so officials in the Indian defence establishment to make purchases”. But Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan, apart from countries in Africa, will be sending teams to negotiate potential buys.

Major players in the Indian private sector — Tata Industries, Kirloskar Group, Mahindra and Mahindra, Telco, Rolta, Larsen and Toubro, VXL Technologies, Bajaj Tempo, Cochin Shipyard, IBM, Barracuda Camouflage — expect defence purchases to zoom in 2002-2003.

Industry estimates that there is likely to be a 15 to 20 per cent rise in 2002-03 over the Rs 62,000 crore capital budget for defence this year. A substantial portion of that expenditure will be decided by the services themselves with their chiefs having been given greater authority to take and execute decisions. The ministry has also set up a Defence Procurement Board. The moves are expected to cut down on red tape in procurement.

There is also an anticipation that defence budgets of all countries in South Asia are likely to be hiked. Nepal, because it, too, is contending with an insurgency; Sri Lanka, to shore up its reserves and bring new technology into use in its war against the LTTE; Bhutan, because insurgency is singeing its borders and, of course, Pakistan, because of its cold war arms race with India.

Among the major sellers will be arms manufacturing companies from countries with developed military-industrial complexes — the US, Russia, the UK, France, Israel, South Africa, Sweden and Italy. The buyers will be mostly countries from the region and Africa.

US’ General Electric Bell Helicopters and Raytheon Corporation have confirmed their participation. US interests will also be marketed by the US commercial department.

More than 70 companies are expected to participate. The dominant player is Russia. Its Svernoye Design Bureau, which is developing Krivack class frigates for India, Rubin Submarine Designers, now offering two submarines to India, and Klub missile-maker Novotar will be represented.

The UK’s Defence Manufacturers’ Association, DESO, BAE systems (with whom India is said to be negotiating the sale of 66 Advanced Jet Trainers) and Chemering have booked space. French companies DCN — which is likely to sign a deal to sell Scorpene submarines — Sagem, Sofema and Thales will be around.

Israel, steadily emerging as India’s second largest arms supplier after Russia, will be a major presence. Israeli Aircraft Industries — in the picture if a deal on the Phalcon airborne early warning systems is to be negotiated — and Plasan SASA which will make vehicles in a joint venture with Mahindra Defence Systems will be on hand. Among the other Israeli firms expected are Sibat, Rafael and Elbit. South Africa’s arms companies will be represented by Armscor, a representative body, that will seek to sell Cassipir armoured vehicles and ammunition to India.

Swedish companies FFV Ordnance, a light anti-armour weapons maker, Italian firms Agusta and Alenia Marconi will be in the market with ammunition and communication systems.

Defexpo 2002, from February 19th to 23rd, will see hectic behind-the-scenes negotiations for possible tie-ups with Indian companies since new rules framed last year permit foreign direct investment up to 26 per cent. But the enthusiasm for joint ventures has been dampened somewhat because of the lifting of the ban on authorised agents. Indian companies fear that foreign firms might actually find it more lucrative to operate through selling agents rather than set up a production base in the country.

The government has invited more than 75 countries. A substantial number is expected to send delegations. The UK has sent a large delegation and negotiations for the AJT are likely to be revived.

   

 
 
SINGLES SHOP TO SAVE FACE 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 13: 
The West has got a new disease. It’s fear of Valentine’s Day.

The most affected are the singles. Many of them are busy buying cards for themselves. According to a survey last week by amazon.co.uk, one out of nine love letters received on Valentine’s Day was sent by people to themselves “to save face on the dreaded V-Day”. Being alone is an unmitigated social disaster.

To save face, evil means are adopted as well. According to the survey that questioned more than 1,000 people in Britain, France and Germany, one person in 10 admitted to stealing a card from a sibling or a housemate.

When there’s nobody to send the card to, parents come in handy. The survey claims one in three Valentine cards is received by a parent.

Charity is being organised for the lonely hearts. British sex shop Ann Summers has very kindly compiled a chat-up guide to see nobody has to spend the day alone. One chat-up line goes: “You, me, whipped cream, handcuffs, any questions?”

But not all the Valentine-less are running for cover. They too hate being alone, but they are angry. It’s happening mainly on the Web — possibly because the real world is too taken up with overpriced flowers and overwrought cards to indulge in any anti-Valentine activity.

Some of the singles out there would make Bridget Jones, one of the world’s angriest singletons whom a dateless Valentine’s Day would plunge into new depths of paranoia and rage, look like a pacifist.

Says Miss Lonelyhearts, who hosts a I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY site online: “Cupid strike you as stupid? The smells of flowers make you gag? Lactose intolerant to chocolate hearts? Enough Valentine cards from family? YOU ARE NOT ALONE!”

She suggests that it’s nothing personal that she has against V-Day, but for those who have no significant other, “we are constantly assaulted by reminders of this status. Although it is never said we are subtly and maliciously made to feel as if we are inferior. This harassment must stop”!

   

 
 
IMAGE OVERHAUL FOR ‘MALE’ SOAP 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 13: 
If “people power” is sweeping governments from office from Indonesia to Argentina, “women power” is forcing mighty companies to redraw their strategies back home.

It is not just urban women consumers who companies are falling over backwards to win over, their long-ignored village cousins are being wooed, too.

A quiet breeze of change is sweeping through rural households. If you are in doubt, ask Hindustan Lever, whose distribution network covers 46 per cent of rural India, a feat few non-government organisations can match.

Buffeted by the wind of change, Hindustan Lever, the country’s biggest fast moving consumer goods company, is set to reinvent a core brand it thought had passed the test of time: Lifebuoy, the 107-year-old bathing soap strongly associated with masculinity.

Remember those macho Lifebuoy ads with a hunk of a man stepping out of the shower with the red soap in hand, his biceps rippling and a male voice booming in the background: “Tandrusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy, tandrusti hai jahan, Lifebuoy hai wahan.” It is now going to be a thing of the past.

Hindustan Lever will no longer project Lifebuoy as a “male soap”, as it has since the soap’s launch in 1895. From now on, the company will brand it as a “family soap”, aimed to clean and win the hearts of the wives, along with their husbands.

“It is no longer men but their wives who are deciding in villages what soaps to use. A major change has taken place in rural households,” Sanjay Dube, category head of Hindustan Lever Limited’s Mass Market Detergents Profit Centre, said. Lifebuoy ads will now focus on women and their families, addressing the concerns of a mother for her child’s hygiene and health.

The company has “reinvented” Lifebuoy — retaining its colour and size, but adding healthful ingredients and perfume, which it hopes will be a major draw for women.

In urban India, home-makers are also the decision-makers when it comes to buying stuff like television sets, fridges and washing machines.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 27.7°C (-1)
Minimum: 19.9°C (+4)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 87%,
Minimum: 52%

Sunrise: 6.14 am

Sunset: 5.27 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C
   
 

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