Reform cheer & jeer for chair
A kick away from legend
‘Poacher’ Tehelka hunted by CBI
Cure for doctor cuts
Bollywood is UK pin-up
Cloud on rail carve-up bid
George push for Farooq Cabinet slot
Nepal input plea to fight Pak terrorists
Fernandes manch puts Nitish on edge
Calcutta Weather

 
 
REFORM CHEER & JEER FOR CHAIR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 26: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said the Cabinet reshuffle/expansion would take place around July 1.

Asked if BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi would be inducted, Vajpayee said in jest: “He is the president. He can remove me from prime ministership.”

Vajpayee spoke at a ceremony held to release home minister L.K. Advani’s Prisoner’s Scrap Book on the anniversary of the Emergency.

Advani said discussions on the Cabinet expansion were going on, but was non-committal when asked if some ministers would be brought back to the party and vice-versa. “Let us see,” he said. But, with the Prime Minister’s announcement, the process has gained momentum.

However, a meeting planned this evening between Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh was called off. BJP sources said the top two had already finalised the list and there would probably be another round of consultation once Vajpayee returns from Lucknow. He is leaving tomorrow for his Lok Sabha constituency.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, which cleared the proposal to allow 26 per cent foreign direct investment in newspapers and magazines, had turned out to be a forum for ministers to iterate or recast their positions on swadeshi versus videshi and “catch” the Prime Minister’s “eyes and ears” in the hope of getting a better portfolio or hanging on to the existing one.

The biggest surprise was sprung by Yashwant Sinha, the finance minister, who spoke out strongly against the proposal, saying this could “jeopardise national interest”. Sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti, joined him, and was reminded by Vajpayee that she was in a Cabinet meeting and not addressing a public rally.

Sinha, who made it to the finance minister’s post by posing as a “champion” of the swadeshi cause, took little time to embrace liberalisation once he settled down in his chair, much to the RSS’ dismay.

Political observers see his pique at yesterday’s meeting as a near-certain sign of his exit in the impending Cabinet changes. BJP sources said it was also Sinha’s last-ditch attempt to convey to the RSS, which opposed the proposal, that he was with the Sangh. Sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan is believed to have asked Uma Bharti this morning how the government allowed foreign investment.

But sources also said it was unlikely the RSS would back up Sinha again.

The other surprise yesterday was Murli Manohar Joshi’s case for allowing not just 26 per cent but 100 per cent foreign direct investment in print. He was the BJP’s best-known swadeshi face. Joshi, said BJP sources, had positioned himself for the finance minister’s job, which he had wanted since 1996 when the BJP was in power for 13 days. His volte-face was interpreted as telling Vajpayee that if he got the job, swadeshi would be expendable.

   

 
 
A KICK AWAY FROM LEGEND 
 
 
FROM KEIR RADNEDGE
 
Saitama, June 26: 
The blessing and the curse of being Brazilian is the need to be schizophrenic: favourites to win each and every World Cup, but in the most wondrously exciting manner imaginable.

Anything as prosaic as a one-goal margin is dismissed as unworthy of the nation which has brought the world game more superstars than any other. It’s fortunate for Brazil here at the World Cup that its Japanese fans are not as demanding as the media circus back home.

When the J. League was launched in 1993, it was the veteran Brazilian entertainers who attracted more Japanese fans than the slowing-down Brits or the too-sensible Scandinavians. Zico, brought out of retirement by the Antlers of Kashima, north of Tokyo, was the brightest star before the Japanese had developed their own home-grown heroes.

A host of ambitious Japanese kids flew to Brazil, in the footsteps of initial Japanese wonder-boy Kazu Miura, hoping to learn the art of the game with clubs in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Now that mutual appreciation society is paying off here in sympathy cheers for the former four-time world champion. Since Japan, eliminated in the second round, cannot win the World Cup final in Yokohama on Sunday, Brazil will be the surrogate favoured son and Germany had better beware.

The likes of Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho — assuming he is restored to attack after suspension — will be one match from emulating the legendary status of so many of their predecessors.

Arthur Friedenreich was Brazil’s original superstar, reputedly the first player to score more than 1,000 goals in his career. But that was before even the inaugural 1930 World Cup and one of the cruel tricks of football history is that pre-World Cup players lack that almost essential career reference.

Many subsequent Brazilian legends deserved better than even the fame which endures: Leonidas, bicycle-kick hero of the 1938 World Cup; Zizinho, Ademir and Jair, inside forward masters of 1950; Julinho, great right- winger who would have shut out Garrincha in 1958 had he not transferred to Italy a few years earlier.

Then came television coverage of the World Cup to bring the first fleeting black and white images of Didi, Vava, Zagallo and the teenage Pele.

The great fortune of Pele was that his star was still shining bright when colour television arrived in time for the glorious 1970 World Cup. The following years then voraciously catalogued the likes of Jairzinho, Tostao, Zico, Socrates and now Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

The trouble with legends is that we see them only at their greatest: Pele heading his glorious goal against Italy in the 1970 final; the great free kicks of Roberto Rivelino and Nelsinho; the thunderous shooting of Eder. We see the great players of yesterday only in surreal highlights, not as human beings — achieving greatness at the expense of flesh and blood mistakes along the way.

Thus, today’s Brazil is not permitted, by so many hypercritical observers here and sitting at home, to be human. Ronaldo and Rivaldo and their team-mates are judged against the few minutes’ highlights which TV producers pluck from their video libraries. It’s an unfair comparison; as if Beethoven had composed only his ninth symphony; as if Shakespeare had crafted only Hamlet.

Today’s heroes are demonised for what they cannot be, super perfect. Certainly, Brazil was not perfect against Turkey. It wasted a host of chances in the second half. But, with Cafu and Lucio outstanding, the much-maligned defence was superb — and Brazil won. Beneath the pressure of a World Cup semi-final, whether in Sao Paulo, Stuttgart or Saitama, there is nothing more a nation dare ask of its footballers.

Of course, in the final we want to see the Beautiful Result achieved after the Beautiful Game. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Japan’s Brazilian fans trekked back from here to Tokyo with a subjective assessment. Beauty, tonight, was a scoreboard which read: Brazil 1 Turkey 0.

   

 
 
‘POACHER’ TEHELKA HUNTED BY CBI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 26: 
The CBI raided the Tehelka office and the home of one of its reporters this morning, hours before editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal was to depose before the Venkataswami Commission.

The commission was set up to investigate the Tehelka tapes, which rocked the NDA government last year and exposed corruption in high places. The tapes led to the resignation of defence minister George Fernandes and BJP president Bangaru Laxman.

A furious Tejpal said the raids were part of a plan to harass his company. Ever since the portal’s expose of senior members of the ruling alliance, there have been allegations that the government has used every trick in the trade to get back at the company.

“They have cooked up a wildlife case and tried to implicate our reporter. Have you ever heard of such a case being handled by the CBI? The timing of the raid is sinister. Our lawyers were to assist the judge in cross-examining Jaya Jaitly,” Tejpal said. He will now appear before the commission tomorrow.

The poaching allegations were concocted by the police, alleged Tejpal. The CBI raided reporter Kumar Badal’s house and the portal’s office in connection with the poaching of endangered animals at the Shivalik forest ranges.

But there is some consolation for the Tehelka team. Samata Party leader Jaitly, who, the portal claimed, met arms dealers and got funds for the party in return for putting in a good word with defence minister and party colleague Fernandes, finally told the commission that some money may have been involved. Earlier, she had accused Tehelka of doctoring the tapes.

“The raids this morning were entirely unnecessary. We have been cooperating with the authorities all through,” Tejpal said. The last one-and-a-half years have been tough for the Tehelka team, with much of their time and energy devoted to fighting the various charges levelled against them.

The CBI, the income-tax department and the Enforcement Directorate have been calling on Tehelka ever since the sensational disclosures were aired by all major television channels and reported in every newspaper and magazine.

Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes has called the CBI raid an attempt to “throttle the freedom of press”. The Tehelka counsel said it was timed with the hearing of the commission to prevent the portal’s reporters from attending it.

   

 
 
CURE FOR DOCTOR CUTS 
 
 
BY BAPPA MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, June 26: 
The complaints are familiar: that some doctors accept “commission” from pathological laboratories for sending their patients there; that the list of tests far exceeds the requirements; that patients are made to stay on at nursing homes even if they are fit enough to go home; and that dubious, and sometimes illegal, laboratories and nursing homes function because of this patronage.

In the end, patients have a large hole in their pockets.

This is the malady. But the remedy?

About 200 paramedics and nursing staff from leading nursing homes and clinics — Belle Vue, AMRI, Calcutta Medical Centre, Gamma Centauri and Divine Nursing Home, among them — have come together to form the West Bengal Medical and Clinical Peoples’ Federation, which will seek to “correct” the system.

“Our efforts will be directed at stopping doctors and clinics from fleecing hapless patients and preventing nursing homes from flouting the state’s Clinical Establishments Act,” said Barin Majumdar, working president of the federation, which has as its chairman mayor Subrata Mukherjee.

“The practice of doctors receiving cut money from laboratories and encouraging illegal nursing homes to flourish has to end.”

Majumdar said the “commission system” starts from the time a patient is picked up by the ambulance driver and ends only when he is released by the nursing home arranged by the doctor. “I can cite a case where an accident victim of Rajarhat was forced to get admitted to a nursing home in faraway Park Street because of the commission system,” he said.

“This could have cost the patient his life. This commission system has invited corruption at all levels of the medical profession.”

The outfit also aims to ensure that the “packages” offered by nursing homes and hospitals for major surgeries are shorn of hidden costs.

“Often, a patient who takes a package, say for a heart bypass surgery, is referred to several doctors for supplementary opinions and their fees are added on as extras,” said the federation secretary, Mohammad Kalim, who is a technician at Calcutta Medical Centre. “This is unethical. Besides, in many cases patients have to pay separately for the medicines, which also should not happen.”

The organisation also says that the money charged from patients often does not match the services offered by these establishments. “Nursing homes and hospitals need to get their equipment upgraded and doctors must realise that comfort and cure are at the top of the priority list,” said Ramen Pandey, president of the federation.

Some doctors add a word of caution. “It is all very well to try and correct the system,” said cardiologist P.K. Hazra. “But the patient should not be misled into thinking that the entire medical fraternity is corrupt. For a few black sheep all doctors should not be tarnished.”

The federation has begun the process of enlisting the support of the state health department and the Indian Medical Association.

The IMA here has welcomed the initiative. “A joint movement will go a long way in achieving the goals that the federation has set for itself,” said Subir Ganguly, its state president.

“We will cooperate in whatever way is possible because we are also committed to weeding out malpractices from the medical profession,” he said.

Health secretary Asim Burman agrees. “We will always join hands with anyone who is trying to cleanse the system. That is our objective as well.”

The need for such an effort has been felt by some major medical establishments as well. The chief administrator of Belle Vue clinic, P. Tandon, said: “Wherever there is smoke, there is fire. Unlike big institutions like ours, there are several illegal nursing homes and dubious laboratories which need to be dealt with firmly.”

   

 
 
BOLLYWOOD IS UK PIN-UP 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, June 26: 
An exhibition of Indian film posters, depicting such classics as Pakeezah, Umrao Jaan, Mother India and Devdas (old and new), has opened to the public at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as Britain continues its love affair this summer with Bollywood.

One of the guests who popped in last night at the opening private launch of Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood was Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose musical, Bombay Dreams, is running (so far) to packed houses at the Victoria Apollo Theatre.

Among those due to see the musical are Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and other members of the Indian cricket team who have now started what is likely to prove a challenging tour of England.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, now known as the V&A, has probably the biggest treasure house in the world of Indian art objects, much of it looted, although it is not polite to refer to that now. But to be fair, the V&A has been making amends by allocating space for a permanent Nehru gallery and holding fairly frequent Indian exhibitions of one kind or another.

Recognising the intrinsic artistic merit of Indian film posters when it was not fashionable to do so perhaps even in India, the V&A started collecting them in 1986.

“We have about 150 in our collection,” said Divia Patel, an assistant curator at the museum who has chosen 70 posters for the V&A exhibition which “captures the excitement and glamour of Bollywood and documents the vibrant visual culture of Indian film”.

The posters are subdivided into such categories as the Art of Advertising, the Glory of India, Indian after Independence, Youth Culture and the International Arena, 1970s and 80s, the Depiction of Women, Love and Romance, the Global Perspective, and Contemporary Artists and Bollywood.

There is a Devdas poster from the 1955 Bimal Roy film, not far from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali version which is due to be released in the UK on July 12. The latter, said Patel, was acquired “very much last minute”.

Patel has jointly coauthored a new book on Indian film art with the British academic, Dr Rachel Dwyer.

Dwyer told The Telegraph last night: “The exhibition is in the V&A, the UK’s biggest museum of design. We are looking at Indian cinema art seriously.”

There are posters from such films as Awara, Barsaat, Kaagaz ke Phool, Bobby, and more recent hits, Lagaan and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

To give the exhibition a touch of Bombay, rather than Mumbai, a name yet to find favour in Britain, the V&A has flown in two hoarding painters from India. Balkrishna Vaidya and his son, Ujjawal, are executing a large hoarding of MughleAzam.

There was genuine admiration from guests last night as they milled round the marigold strewn main entrance area of the V&A — in the background on a giant screen, a few people watched a screening of Sholay.

Girish Karnad, who has acted and directed films and is currently director of the Nehru Centre in London, expressed regret that Indians, including himself, had been slow to appreciate their own art.

“I loved this exhibition,” he began, and added a self-critical comment: “We have no sense of history. I have not kept any posters, including ones I myself designed, from the films Ihave acted in or directed. This exhibition brings home the stupidity of my lack of concern for history.”

   

 
 
CLOUD ON RAIL CARVE-UP BID 
 
 
BY INDRANIL GHOSH
 
Calcutta, June 26: 
Railway minister Nitish Kumar’s move to create new railway zones by bifurcating the existing ones looked wobbly today as it got caught in the large exercise of a Cabinet reshuffle Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has set in motion.

Officials said the execution of Kumar’s plan hinged on a combination of factors, the main ones being Vajpayee’s response to Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s demand for reinstallation as railway minister and which way home minister L.K. Advani would go.

Sources close to Kumar believe the move to split eastern and south-eastern railways is on track, as evident from the Railway Board’s notification which states that the new zones, with headquarters in Bihar and Orissa, would come into being from October 1.

On the surface, Kumar appears well entrenched and, the sources said, the railway minister would try to go forward by capitalising on his equation with Advani.

But, in reality, the compulsions of coalition politics, the pulls and pressures in the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the upcoming reshuffle and, finally, developments specific to Kumar are going to determine the fate of the bifurcation.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has interpreted Kumar’s move as an attempt to reap political dividends in Bihar, where he is trying to re-engineer power configurations, as well as turn the railways into a virtual minefield if he has to step aside for a successor like Mamata.

Kumar’s colleagues in the Samata Party, George Fernandes and Digvijay Singh, are uncomfortable with his overtures towards Samata’s foes, namely Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. Fernandes and Singh are believed to have made it clear to Vajpayee that they are not averse to the reinstallation of Mamata as railway minister.

Apparently, a section of the BJP leadership is wary of Kumar because of his association with certain lobbies that are openly critical of Vajpayee. This may lead the government to consider slamming the brake on the split plan.

Mamata’s minders in Delhi — Dinesh Trivedi, the Rajya Sabha MP, is one — are concerned over Kumar taking out an insurance in Advani against attempts to either shift him out or get him to stop the division. Advani is known to be distrustful of Fernandes.

Secure in the knowledge that Vajpayee was behind her and aware of the factors working against Kumar, Mamata has spurned an offer for a larger share of the Cabinet pie — including road transport and shipping clubbed together — as a price for relinquishing the demand for the railway por- tfolio.

“Our demand is not negotiable,” she reportedly said.

However, before handling Kumar and Mamata, Vajpayee and his aides would like to address weightier concerns — related to the fates of finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who might get the axe, and BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, who is refusing to move out of the party and into government.

If he can resolve these issues satisfactorily, Vajpayee might be open to suggestions of an honourable exit for Kumar, such as clubbing steel, coal and mines and installing Kumar as its overseer.

In the words of interlocutors handling Mamata’s case with the PMO, her “chance of making it back to the railway ministry is around 40 per cent, which is saying a lot at this point”.

   

 
 
GEORGE PUSH FOR FAROOQ CABINET SLOT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 26: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been advised by defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes to induct Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah into his ministry as and when he went in for a shuffle.

Fernandes, said NDA sources, has also been trying to convince home minister L.K. Advani, whose views would count most when Vajpayee finalised his new Cabinet.

Farooq’s son, Omar Abdullah, today hinted in Srinagar that he might quit Vajpayee’s council of ministers to devote full attention to the National Conference, of which he was recently elected the president. Omar was quoted by agencies as telling National Conference workers: “I told the Prime Minister during my meeting with him on Monday that now that I have responsibility of my party...”

The bargain the Abdullahs sought to extract from Vajpayee when they called on him on Monday was either Farooq should be inducted into the Cabinet and given a weighty portfolio or Omar should be elevated to Cabinet rank. Sources close to Vajpayee said he was assessing the pros and cons of both suggestions but with Omar having made up his mind to shift to home turf, the Prime Minister had no option but to see how and where his father could be accommodated.

According to NDA sources, Fernandes’ reason behind bringing Farooq into the Cabinet was it would help the Centre to “clear the air” on Kashmir before the Assembly elections.

The “air” had got vitiated for two reasons, sources maintained. There was this feeling within the National Conference that the BJP leadership, including Vajpayee, could ditch Farooq in case he was defeated.

“Politically, the BJP probably feels since the prospect of an alliance for the Assembly polls with the NC is nil, it is necessary for it to distance itself months ahead and engage in a war of words. But what its leaders forget is that the BJP is a minor player with a small presence in Jammu, where as its ally, the NC, is the only party with an all-Kashmir presence,” sources said. The BJP should subordinate its ambitions in Jammu and Kashmir and maintain an amicable relationship with the National Conference, sources added.

What has added to the National Conference’s “insecurity” is the confusing signals coming from official circles on whether or not to accept the Hurriyat Conference offer of talks with the Centre, sources said. They said the party had lost some of the confidence it reposed in the BJP leadership and suspected the BJP was trying to play one formation against another by keeping channels open with both Farooq and the Hurriyat leaders.

NDA sources said in Fernandes’ view, the Hurriyat was an untested entity. “It is not known to what extent they (Hurriyat) can be manipulated by Pakistan and, more importantly, (by) the US. We have reasons to believe they have played into Pakistan’s hands. The NC’s credentials in this regard are above board,” sources said.

Fernandes reportedly told the Prime Minister that the BJP should not alienate the National Conference in the absence of another credible ally in the Valley.

The NDA convenor also expressed to Vajpayee his unhappiness with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad demand for a four-way split of Jammu and Kashmir and granting separate statehood to Jammu for communal reasons. Sources said Fernandes’ suggestion was that the only way to allay Farooq’s “sense of insecurity” was by bringing him into the Cabinet with an “important” portfolio.

   

 
 
NEPAL INPUT PLEA TO FIGHT PAK TERRORISTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 26: 
The Nepal government today said it was aware of the problems created by Pakistan-backed terrorists for India and expressed willingness to help India combat them.

Commenting on the Nepalese position on India vis-ŕ-vis its problems with Pakistan, a senior member of the 37-strong team that landed here this evening — led by King Gyanendra — said Nepalese intelligence agencies had increased interaction with their Indian counterparts.

Even though the king declined to brief the media about the talks he had with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, with the latter describing the meeting as a “courtesy visit”, senior Nepalese officials in the delegation said the talks could not revolve around anything but the “common security worries” of the two countries.

“Our intelligence chief, Deviram Sharma, visited Delhi less than three months back,” one of them said. “The interactions we have at various levels focus mainly on intelligence and information-sharing.”

The Indian government, however, had failed to provide any “specific information” about the activities carried out by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on Nepal soil, the officials claimed. Besides, the information shared by Indian intelligence agencies from time to time were more general in nature while Nepal was keen to have specifics in order to act more effectively, they said.

Nepal also reciprocated with information about Maoist guerrillas who took advantage of the more than 1,000-km-long international border that was, for the larger part, unmanned. “We have given a very comprehensive list to the Indian government,” one of the officials said, adding that it contained more than 40 names.

The Nepalese delegation pointed out that Bengal, too, suffered from the Naxalite menace. “We are aware that the Siliguri corridor has emerged as one of the most worrisome points on the porous border through which ultra-Left extremists often travel from one country to another when the going gets hot on any one side,” an official, associated with the armed forces, said.

Things would not get any better till the border was regulated, he added. “District magistrate-level and superintendent of police-level interaction have been increased of late to share information directly at the ground level,” he said, explaining that it gave intelligence and security agencies more time to act.

The king, accompanied by wife Komal Rajya Lakshmi and daughter Prerna Rajya Lakshmi, touched down at Dum Dum airport a little after 5 pm, more than a quarter of an hour behind schedule. They were taken to a five-star hotel located at the centre of the city. Traffic was stopped on VIP Road, Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Theatre Road and Chowringhee to let the entourage pass without a hitch. Traffic was also stalled when the king left for Raj Bhavan around 8.30 pm to attend a dinner hosted by Governor Viren J. Shah.

The king leaves for Guwahati tomorrow to visit the Kamakshya temple. The entourage will return that evening and visit the Kalighat temple the next day.

   

 
 
FERNANDES MANCH PUTS NITISH ON EDGE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, June 26: 
Samata Party chief and defence minister George Fernandes’ move to float Lok Manch, a non-political organisation to take up “people’s issues”, has made railway minister and his party colleague Nitish Kumar apprehensive.

The Kumar camp is at a loss why a separate outfit is required to take up “so-called” people’s issues when the Samata itself is capable of doing so.

The “apolitical” manch, to be launched on July 4, plans to take up swadeshi-friendly issues like shrinking job market, disinvestment and privatisation. Planning Commission member S.P. Gupta, who wrote a report on how to create one million jobs, is likely to inaugurate the manch. Fernandes had earlier rubbished the “anti-labour” Montek Singh Ahluwalia report from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch platform.

Sources close to Kumar suspect the manch may have multi-purpose utilities. By taking up swadeshi issues, George could be trying to endear himself to the Sangh parivar.

Fernandes may also be using the manch to relaunch himself. As his image took a beating after the Tehelka expose and coffin scam, the socialist needs to fall back on populist issues. He is also apprehensive about Kumar’s supporters sabotaging his election from Bihar.

Fernandes, who won from the Nalanda in 1999, has been toying with the idea of changing his parliamentary constituency for fear that he may not get the full backing of the predominant Kurmis, Kumar’s caste men. Most of the 13 Samata MPs back Kumar.

“What sort of an NDA convener is he? He is only interested in himself. He consults us and even the other allies only when there is a crisis. He talks to only Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee but not to his partymen or the other allies. Invitations to NDA meetings are faxed by his office to alliance leaders. When the late NTR was convener of the National Front, he used to personally talk to the leaders,” said a party leader.

On the Cabinet meeting yesterday, he said: “Fernandes kept quiet when such an important decision as allowing 26 per cent FDI was taken. While some ministers supported the decision and a couple of them spoke against, the great socialist neither opposed or endorsed,” he claimed.

Fernandes’ loyalists dismissed the “inflated” claims of the rival camp. “George saheb does not care about who the MPs are supporting or opposing. He is the NDA convener not because of Samata MPs. He is what he is solely on account of his stature,” said a leader.

He added that after the formation of Jharkhand, Kumar’s “so-called mass base” had further shrunk. The backward Kurmi population, which was five per cent in undivided Bihar, had now been reduced to three per cent. The gainer was Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, whose vote percentage increased from 25 per cent to 29 per cent.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.4°C (-4)
Minimum:24.6°C (-2)

Rainfall

25.8 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 87%

Today

Sunrise: 4.57 am
Sunset: 6.22 pm
A few spells of rain
   
 

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