Industry to BJP: it is our business
CEO who paraded stars lands in lock-up
Gill, team begin mission with healing touch
Atal casts Kashmir net wide
Mummy’s day out in Bollywood
Surjeet mulls midway exit
Calcutta Weather

May 11: 
Industry bristled today at the BJP’s attempts to muzzle free discourse on the bloody riots in Gujarat, which have raised serious concerns about the safety of investments in a politically-volatile country.

On Friday, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra had lashed out at the Confederation of Indian Industry — the country’s premier business forum — for giving Sonia Gandhi the opportunity to bash the Vajpayee government just days before a crucial debate on the Gujarat issue in Parliament.

“Do politicians think it is their prerogative to speak on politics?” asked Ajit Gulabchand, chairman of Hindustan Construction Company Ltd. “The freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution. We, the general public, can speak on any issue — whatever the platform.”

“If industry suffers because of something that is happening in the country, then the chambers do have the right to speak up,” said Shekhar Aggarwal, vice-chairman and managing director of Rajasthan Spinning & Weaving Mills Ltd, a member of Ficci. A group subsidiary, Hindustan Electro Graphites Ltd, is a member of the CII.

“Industry has the right to discuss politics,” said a Calcutta-based industrialist. “The chambers, too, can discuss politics. It helps them understand the line of thinking of the political parties which, ultimately, influences their business decisions.”

“I have not taken a stand against politicians. I have only taken a stand for human beings,” said Anu Aga, chairperson of Pune-based Thermax Ltd, who has been at the centre of the controversy after her outspoken comments on the mayhem in Gujarat.

Aga had toured the relief camps soon after the riots broke out and narrated some of the harrowing experiences she had heard from the victims at a special CII plenary session on the issue. Aga had urged the industrialists to “stand up and be counted” at a time when humanity had been sacrificed at the altar of rabid fundamentalism.

Malhotra had said the CII had been converted into a political platform and it had strayed from its charter — which was to champion the cause of industry.

The BJP’s beef with the CII has been basically over the breach of protocol by inviting the leader of the Opposition to open its annual session a fortnight ago and allowing people like Aga to roast the government for its failure to deal with the situation in Gujarat.

Although the top tier of the CII was unavailable for comment — most of them are in the US as part of a business delegation — a spokesman for the chamber said: “It is unfair to blame us for the politicisation of the forum. It has been our tradition to invite Opposition leaders to address our annual general meetings. Sonia Gandhi came three years ago. Nobody raised a hue and cry then.”

“They have become touchy just because this time the burning issue was the riots in Gujarat which happened under BJP rule. The CII has never taken a stand on any political issue and it hasn’t taken one this time either. But the Gujarat issue needs to be addressed; it allowed several industrialists who have been outraged by the events in Gujarat to let off steam. We arranged a discussion on Gujarat because that issue was on top of the mind; we will do so in future as well if we have to. We have always been a chamber that has never shrunk away from opposing the government if necessary,” he said.

Nazib Arif, secretary-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, said: “I don’t think that the brouhaha over the issue will affect CIIs interaction with the government. The Prime Minister himself attended the function. He could have avoided it. That itself shows that the government harbours no ill-feelings towards CII. The issue should be dealt with subjectively. CII will get the due attention that it has always got from the government.”

“I feel that any chamber has the democratic right to invite anybody to build consensus on an issue,” he said.


May 11: 
Sanjay Agarwal, the man who cut his teeth in Calcutta and went on to convince India’s biggest walking brands to peddle his dreams, surrendered in Nagpur and was sent to police custody today.

The chief executive officer of Home Trade, an Internet-based stock trading firm whose commercials featured Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan before it fell on hard times, has been remanded till May 14 to probe charges that he swindled a cooperative bank of Rs 125 crore.

In Mumbai, the CBI today filed a case against Agarwal, accusing him of causing a loss of Rs 92.78 crore to the Seamen’s Provident Fund Organisation.

Agarwal, who was born in Calcutta, had started his career as an equity trader in the city. He worked with a leading stockbroker for a while before joining the Lloyds group, which had diverse business interests ranging from stockbroking to corporate finance.

In December 1998, Agarwal acquired Lloyds Brokerage, a firm that handled transaction of financial instruments like shares and government securities and bonds, after it ran into rough weather.

Agarwal then founded Home Trade, but launched it when the stock market was falling. The portal remained a non-starter and its source of funds to bankroll some of the country’s most expensive brand-promoters was shrouded in mystery.

However, Home Trade drew the authorities’ attention after it took money from cooperative banks to buy government securities from the market. But defaulted on delivering the instruments in what has come to be known as the ‘gilt scam’. Risk-free instruments, usually backed by a government guarantee, are known as gilts.

Most banks did not alert the watchdogs immediately. The Nagpur District Central Cooperative Bank was the first to report a loss of about Rs 125 crore. Its chairman, Sunil Kedar, has been arrested. Kedar is now in hospital following abdominal pain.

RBI officials feel that total losses to the cooperative banks could run up to Rs 400 crore.


Ahmedabad, May 11: 
In a double confidence boost to a hounded community in Gujarat, K.P.S. Gill today met minority leaders from across the state even as Ahmedabad’s new police chief K.R. Kaushik visited the city’s biggest relief camp just a day after assuming charge.

In sharp contrast, the riot victims had to wait for more than a month and several hundred deaths for a glimpse of chief minister Narendra Modi, that too in the company of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Though the fresh flare-up showed no sign of abating, with two more persons dying in police firing, Kaushik’s visit to the Shah-e-Alam camp and riot-hit areas came as a morale-booster to the victims.

It was the first time since the riots broke out in the city that a top police officer had visited the camp, prompting in-charge Mohsin Quadri to say that “some concrete action will now be certainly taken”.

One visible change after Kaushik has taken over is that curfew is not being imposed selectively. So far, prohibitory orders were being stringently enforced only in minority-dominated areas, which effectively meant that rioters had a free run.

Gill’s meeting also sent out the right signals. “Minority community leaders from Ahmedabad, Baroda and other parts of the violence-ravaged state met him and held discussions for about four hours,” a spokesman in the security adviser’s office said after the meeting at the CRPF camp in Gandhinagar.

“This is in continuation with Gill’s ongoing efforts to elicit the views of people, especially the minority community’s…,” he said, adding that Gill “pacified” the leaders, who responded by saying they had faith in him. Gill later briefed Modi.

Badruddin Shaikh, standing committee chairman of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, and Congress leader J.B. Momin, who met Gill yesterday, said they found him “positive and receptive”.

“We told Gill that on February 28, within a few hours, shops, restaurants and houses of the minority community were burnt. It could not have been possible without proper planning and identification of minority properties,” Shaikh said. The two advised Gill to bring prominent figures from both communities on a common platform to bridge the divide.

Gill is expected to coordinate a proposed meeting on Monday between leaders of the two communities. The meeting has been convened by the National Commission for Minorities.

Asked about his discussions with the minority leaders, Gill said: “I have nothing to say, let my action speak.”


May 11: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight issued an open invitation to “every shade of public opinion” to take part in the proposed Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, giving the clearest indication yet that he is eager to shift the focus back to the Valley.

“We are determined to cut through this vicious circle of violence and to ensure that the forthcoming elections are not only free and fair but also include every shade of public opinion that wishes to be involved in the democratic process,” the Prime Minister said on the fourth anniversary of Pokhran II while addressing a meeting of defence technocrats in Delhi.

Vajpayee’s comments coincided with a PTI report from Srinagar which quoted “expelled” Hizb-ul Mujahideen leader Abdul Majid Dar as indicating that he was not averse to supporting a “genuine political process”. “If at any time, a genuine political process is initiated to resolve the Kashmir issue, we will support the process as unnecessary bloodshed is neither our hobby nor our profession,” Dar said in a statement.

However, Dar kept his options open by insisting that “we continue to be associated with the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and we have no plans of giving up the armed struggle”. He also debunked reports that he was planning to float a political outfit.

Officials in Delhi kept their fingers crossed and said they were checking the veracity of the reports which quoted Dar’s associate Assad Yazdani as saying that the Hizb factions were working towards a reconciliation.

Vajpayee, keen to deflect global attention from Gujarat and hoping to strengthen his case before the expected visit of a US emissary this month, issued a veiled warning to Pakistan.

“We have seen crude threats to the lives, families and properties of those who wish to resume participation in the democratic life of the state. Physical threats or monetary inducements cannot be allowed to disrupt the democratic election process,” the Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee needs a breakthrough to revive his sagging image as a moderate elder statesman. Kashmir is one issue where he can make a mark, and the Prime Minister’s aides are working overtime to get the pieces in place.

Vajpayee had announced a visit to Kashmir, but is awaiting a breakthrough — probably a statement by an extremist group in favour of the elections — to finalise the date.

Vajpayee indicated that little has changed on the ground in the Valley after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf made his “path-breaking” speech against terrorism. The Prime Minister cited figures which showed that at least 600 people died in the Valley in attacks in March and April.


Mumbai, May 11: 
Tomorrow, Maa will get her due from Bollywood. Mrs Oberoi, Mrs Tandon, Mrs Shroff, Mrs Mirza and Mrs Reddy, mothers, respectively, of Vivek Oberoi, Raveena Tandon, Jackie Shroff, Diya Mirza and Sushma Reddy, will be lined up and paid homage to in public by their star children. Because it’s Mother’s Day. (Or is it celeb Mothers’ Day?)

So Bollywood’s latest charmer Vivek, replete with his raw-boned hard-jawed killer good looks — and kill he does in Company — will appear on Channel V to display his soft side.

He will sit at his mother’s feet, or at least very close to her, and wax eloquent, if not exactly in these words, on how it was she who has made him into what he is today — a star worth Rs 1 crore per film, never mind if he prefers to call himself only an actor.

While Vivek will also put together a “film” along with his family for his mother, actress Diya Mirza of Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein fame will talk on the same channel about how she and her mother resolve their fights.

The other celebs signed on by Channel V for Mother’s Day are designer Manish Malhotra, who will design a sari for his mother, singers Shaan and Sagarika, who will walk down memory lane with their mother, and the Khallas dude, Abbey, whose mother will prove that she is no less of a singing star.

Channel V thinks that Mother’s Day is the right opportunity “to thank our mothers for giving us the life we deserve”. But tomorrow’s will be a special tribute because however much Bollywood has changed, motherhood has remained constant here. The true filmi hero is only afraid of two things, Bhagwan and his Maa, only Maa ranks slightly higher.

Now that every relation has a day, on Mother’s Day, Bollywood stars can go official and do it for their mothers.

While some stars will collect on television, others will come together in real time to say it to their mother. At Mikanos, a pub, at an event sponsored by Hallmark, the temperature will rise as Raveena Tandon will walk in with her mother. Actor Jackie Shroff, who has started to play father to heroines now, still thinks it’s not too late — so he will also walk in with his mother.

Models Fleur Xavier and Aryan Vaid will bring their mothers along, too.

The mothers will appear on stage, extolled and thanked for their service in raising stars. “Then there will be a surprise,” says Mikanos.

But the most exciting of the celeb mother event will again take place on television. STAR network will make use of its stars from STAR Plus, the cast and crew of Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and make them welcome VJ Sushma Reddy’s mother, who is a huge fan of the serial. Mrs Reddy will take a tour of the set and will even do an audition for the serial.



New Delhi, May 11: 
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet may quit before his three-year term ends in 2005.

Sources said the party’s assessment at its recent Hyderabad congress was that Surjeet should continue as general secretary till the “present political crisis” is over but that he need not complete the full term.

The 86-year-old Marxist leader, despite his outward agility, is not in the best of health. “He would have quit his post at the Hyderabad party congress but we felt that he could make an important contribution in these turbulent times,” said a senior Left leader.




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1.8 mm

Relative humidity

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Minimum: 65%

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Partly cloudy sky with possibility of rain accompanied by thunder in some parts

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