Atal taps allies on deputy PM
Search begins afresh for Haldia partner
Govt grip on Christian schools
Sachin tastes Bombay Dreams
Survey blows myths about sex habits
Gujarat parties line up yatra stampede
Secret radar in open use
Ambani prayers break barriers
Lights at place of enlightenment
Calcutta Weather

 
 
ATAL TAPS ALLIES ON DEPUTY PM 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND YOGESH VAJPEYI
 
New Delhi & Lucknow, June 28: 
The Prime Minister has the prerogative to name his deputy, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee today threw the question of promoting L.K. Advani open for discussion within the National Democratic Alliance.

On a visit to Lucknow, Vajpayee said there was a proposal to name a deputy Prime Minister. “Consultations with NDA allies are on and a decision will be taken soon,” he said.

A Cabinet shuffle, accompanied by changes in the BJP organisation, is scheduled for Monday. The very fact, as conceded by Vajpayee, that naming Advani as the deputy is a decision which will be taken in consultation with the allies makes the event uncertain because of the possibility of not everyone agreeing to it.

Disclosing that several Cabinet members from the BJP may be relieved “on their own request” and asked to work for the party, Vajpayee said the proposal to have a deputy Prime Minister was “under active consideration”.

He said the Trinamul Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi would be represented in the Cabinet in which some leaders from the BJP may also find a place. The Bahujan Samaj Party — a partner of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh — would not join the government, he clarified.

“We have decided to induct those parties which had no representation but have been supporting us, like the Trinamul Congress and the PMK,” he said.

“We have now started an exercise to make the government sensitive and responsive to people’s aspirations,” he said. “The time has come to take stock of the government’s functioning.”

Vajpayee said the Centre would consider imposing President’s rule during polls in Kashmir, drawing an immediate angry outburst from chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

The proposal to have a deputy Prime Minister was first talked of when the NDA government took charge and subsequently whenever Vajpayee changed his council of ministers or when he went for his knee operations.

But it never took off because the Prime Minister did not speak his mind. BJP sources said this time defence minister George Fernandes first broached the matter with Vajpayee, who replied that it was not his “prerogative” but that of the NDA.

The sources added that Fernandes was “put up to it” by Advani loyalists like Pramod Mahajan, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. They felt that Advani’s number two status should be formalised with an eye on the 2004 elections. It virtually implied that Advani, and not Vajpayee, would lead the BJP to the polls.

This view was shared by the RSS and a large section of the BJP. The party cadre is by and large committed to Advani because he is seen as the leader who worked hard to take the BJP within striking distance of power. So are most of the important Central ministers. While they developed a working relationship with Vajpayee, their hearts belonged to Advani, as a senior BJP functionary put it.

To maintain this veneer of “subordination” to Vajpayee, these ministers approached Fernandes. “If they used Fernandes as a front, they believed they would not be exposed if the plan backfired,” BJP sources said.

The question, though, is what will Vajpayee’s next step be on having a deputy? BJP sources said: “It is wide open.”

By putting the deputy Prime Minister’s decision in the NDA’s court, Vajpayee could blunt the Advani camp’s strategy. If he agrees to have him as the declared second-in-command not only would the succession issue be settled irrevocably, sources close to him feared it would bolster the impression of him being “weak and ineffectual”.

“With a deputy Prime Minister in place, it could show up Vajpayee as half a Prime Minister not fully in command of things,” they said.

As always, it is the NDA, rather than his own BJP, that could come to Vajpayee’s rescue again. Sources close to him said dissenting voices have already emerged.

   

 
 
SEARCH BEGINS AFRESH FOR HALDIA PARTNER 
 
 
BY SUTANUKA GHOSAL
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
Haldia Petrochemicals may well be going Reliance’s way, but the Ambani-owned company is not the only one that will be tapped by the promoters for a strategic partnership.

Haldia Petrochem chairman Tarun Das told The Telegraph from Colombo: “Reliance has not spoken to me yet but I have learnt that they are interested in picking up a stake in HPL. There are other private sector companies in India and abroad which are keen on joining HPL. Getting a strategic partner will not be a problem. I am returning to India tomorrow and will start negotiations with the private sector companies from Monday.”

The names of London-based non-resident Indian group, the Hindujas who have interests in petroleum, and the multinational Shell have been mentioned in the past in connection with Haldia Petrochem.

The search for a new partner started after Indian Oil, with which talks have been going on, told the company that it wanted a 50 per cent stake, after earlier agreeing to 26 per cent. This is not acceptable either to the Bengal government or its private partner Purnendu Chatterjee.

Disappointed at Indian Oil voicing this demand after months of negotiations, during which it had looked as though the public sector giant’s entry was more or less certain, Das said: “We never thought that IOC would come up with such an unusual proposal. We waited till June thinking that IOC will come up with a proposal acceptable to all. It was extremely disappointing.”

The Bengal government will hold talks with Das to decide on the future course of action. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee put up a brave face: “No problem. Talks are going on and are going in a positive direction. I will discuss the issue with the HPL chairman on Tuesday.”

Industry minister Nirupam Sen said he had read the conditions laid down by IOC. “Let the HPL chairman return from Colombo. We will sit with all the partners and sort out the issue,” he said.

Sources in the industry department indicated that Bhattacharjee and Sen were “upset” over Indian Oil’s behaviour.

The blow comes at a time when the company is in deep financial crisis with the threat of being declared a non-performing asset looming after June 30 by when it has to pay interest amounting to Rs 230 crore.

The Industrial Development Bank of India, which leads the group of lenders to Haldia Petrochem, said it will declare the company a non-performing asset if it misses the June 30 deadline. Haldia Petrochem has not paid interest for six months, from October to March.

After a meeting of lenders today, A.U. Katra, deputy general manager of IDBI, said: “We have to abide by RBI guidelines which say that if a company fails to clear interest payments within 180 days, it will become a non-performing asset.”

Asked what the company would do if that happened, Das said he had already written to IDBI chairman P.P. Vora. “Let’s hope for the best,” he said.

   

 
 
GOVT GRIP ON CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, June 28: 
The state government today moved one crucial step closer to gaining a foothold in the running of Christian and other minority schools. This afternoon, Calcutta High Court upheld a government order that all job-related disputes be referred to a state-appointed tribunal.

The case goes back to 1994, when the government formulated a code of regulations for Anglo-Indian schools. One of the clauses of the code stated that all disputes relating to termination of jobs, removal from service, transfer and demotion of teaching and non-teaching staff of Christian missionary schools would have to be referred to a committee headed by a person appointed by the education minister.

The Christian schools disputed this and said that a political appointee could not preside over their affairs. The Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools, the Church of North India and Welland Gouldsmith School then moved the high court which, in 1998, ruled in their favour.

The state government then amended the clause and said that instead of a minister-appointed committee, a one-man tribunal headed by an official not below the rank of district judge would be set up on a case-by-case basis. A gazette notification to this effect was then issued.

Christian schools had reacted sharply to this as well, saying this amounted to infringement of their fundamental rights. They maintained that in all such cases the church was the arbiter. The matter was again referred to the high court in 1999.

Today, the verdict went in favour of the government. Other than the Anglo-Indian schools, this would also apply to “listed schools”, or institutions that are not affiliated to state-run boards like the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the higher secondary council.

Soon after the verdict, the heads of Anglo-Indian schools went into a huddle to chart out a course of action. They convened a meeting this evening where it was decided that they would appeal against the decision before a division bench of the high court.

“We cannot accept such an order as this will take away our rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India,” said Gilian D’Costa Hart, principal of Welland Gouldsmith School. “We shall challenge today’s judgment and ensure that the Christian community gets proper justice.”

Today’s judgment is seen as one more building block in the growing confrontation between the government and the Anglo-Indian schools. A few months ago, the government had decided to cut back on its contribution to the dearness allowance of employees of these schools.

   

 
 
SACHIN TASTES BOMBAY DREAMS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, June 28: 
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Bombay Dreams, added a touch of Calcutta last night by putting up a “House Full” sign.

Despite a mixed bag of reviews, it has attracted some high-profile guests, including most members of the recently arrived Indian cricket team, among them Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, but excluding the skipper, Sourav Ganguly.

Tendulkar left before the end yesterday but this was not because he did not like the musical, assured the manager Rajeev Shukla, but because “he was committed to a prior dinner engagement — the other boys stayed till the end and enjoyed the show”.

As he left, Anil Kumble confirmed: “I loved it. It was good.”

Dravid said: “It was very good. I think the songs were lovely.” This tribute to A.R. Rahman might mean Dravid and his colleagues may have reservations about the actual depiction of Bombay life but perhaps that is reading too much into their brief comments.

There is one (bad) cricketing joke in the musical when one of the slum dwellers is introduced by his nickname, “Cricketer”.

That is not because the man, a cripple who shuffles about on his haunches with his legs bent under him, is a fan of the sport, but because — as Sweetie, the Hijra, explains — “he is always on his stumps”. In politically correct England, this does not raise more than a titter.

Before the show, Webber’s company, the Really Useful Group, offered hospitality, including sandwiches, fruit, soft drinks and free copies of the programme to the players who also included Harbhajan Singh (“I am really looking forward to the tour of England”), Virendra Sehwag and Zaheer Khan.

The stars of the show, Preeya Kalidas and Raza Jaffrey, then appeared to be photographed individually with Tendulkar and Dravid and then with the group as a whole before disappearing for their costume changes.

It is unusual in England for actors to be distracted before a show since the tradition is more for guests to be treated to drinks in the dressing room after curtain call.

With the players were the team coach, John Wright, Shukla and Amrit Mathur, the BCCI media director.

It is still too early to be entirely confident about the long-term future of Bombay Dreams, into which Webber has invested £4.5 million, but momentum appears to be building up.

   

 
 
SURVEY BLOWS MYTHS ABOUT SEX HABITS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, June 28: 
So Indians are, after all, not as innocent as they look. And unlike what they would have you believe, a large number takes lessons offered in the Kama Sutra quite seriously.

Curious? Well, take this. The latest survey conducted to gauge the changing sexual mores and bedroom habits of Indians says that nearly half the population — 45 per cent — indulges in pre-marital sex. Not just that. A whopping third of all those who have been naughty have been so before they touched 21.

According to the survey conducted by condom manufacturer Kama Sutra, which was aided by research group Cross Tab in this online survey — “because online is more truthful, much more uninhibited”, says a researcher — one out of every fourth Indian is promiscuous.

The hypocrisies and double standards, however, remain unchanged and as Victorian as ever. Most of those questioned would not speak about it openly as they feel “it is not socially acceptable”.

The survey covered 3,176 respondents across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Calcutta, Pune, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Chandigarh. In all, 74 per cent of those who replied to detailed questions were graduates.

Unlike Bollywood, which still prefers to pan on two flowers nodding together to hint at kissing between the hero and heroine, the real Indian is much more open and increasingly experimental. Kissing is the most common precursor to sex.

“Mental fidelity” is at a premium. A huge percentage of those surveyed admitted to having indulged in sexual fantasies with people other than their partners — 40 per cent had film stars on their minds. But wait. Don’t let those alarm bells ring yet as 72 per cent of the population claimed to be loyal to their current partners.

While Indians may not be able to match the American libido after September 11, the average frequency remains a “healthy”: once every seven days.

There is good news for WHO monitors though. Awareness levels about contraception have increased: 43 per cent claimed to use condoms and while 11 per cent believed in natural methods, the pill was being popped by 8 per cent.

The good news doesn’t stop here. A whopping 87 per cent are aware of safe sex.

Ironically, only 4 per cent had obtained sex education through professional help and felt that it should be part of the school curriculum and begin by the age of 12. Most of the respondents had gathered information about sex through reading or through “senior friends”.

Finally, this gem. The favourite time to indulge in sexual activity is night. “But”, says the survey, “it shifts to daytime on weekends”.

   

 
 
GUJARAT PARTIES LINE UP YATRA STAMPEDE 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 28: 
Come July, and the season of yatras and rival yatras kicks off in poll-bound Gujarat.

Minutes after BJP state general secretary Nalin Bhatt today announced that chief minister Narendra Modi would set out on his “Gaurav yatra” on July 4, the rival Congress announced a parallel one.

Gujarat Congress chief Amarsinh Chaudhary declared that his party’s “Modi hatao, Gujarat bachao yatra” would follow the same route and target the same destinations as the Gaurav yatra and “wash away” the BJP’s. The dates and timings of the Congress yatra are likely to be announced on Tuesday.

Union home minister L.K. Advani will flag off the BJP yatra from the temple town of Ambaji. Accompanied by state BJP president Rajendrasinh Rana on his hi-tech rath, Modi will travel to all 25 districts and tell Gujarat’s crores how its peace-loving and enterprising people have been portrayed as rabid and communal.

The Congress claims its yatra will overshadow Modi’s Gaurav yatra. While the Congress plans to expose Modi’s “misdeeds’’ and tell the people how he engineered communal violence, the chief minister is expected to harp on his favourite “Aapnu Gujarat, agu Gujarat” (our Gujarat , distinct Gujarat) theme.

Reacting to Modi’s plans to set up an Ahimsa University in Gujarat to “teach non-violence and moral values’’, Congress leader Chaudhury said: “It is a welcome decision. We welcome the idea.”

But, he added, taking a swipe at the chief minister: “The Congress wants that Modi should be the first student to seek admission in the Ahimsa University. It is he who needs to unlearn many things and learn the ABC of non-violence.’’

Yesterday, Modi had announced the setting up of the university at a function to felicitate Jain Acharya Mahapragyaji, who is leading an ahimsa yatra. The university has been a long-standing demand of the Jains and was first raised by the Mahavir Jain Kalyan Committee.

The Gujarat Congress chief, who is a member of the committee, told reporters today that a day before the Cabinet approved the university proposal and a Cabinet sub-committee, to be headed by No. 2 Suresh Mehta, was set up for the purpose, the Mahavir Jain Kalyan Committee had held a meeting. Modi, revenue minister Haren Pandya and many senior government officials had attended the meeting.

Chaudhary said the chief minister had asked Pandya to allocate 39 hectares of land in Sankhej village for the university at that meeting and the revenue minister had instantly given his consent. But when the Cabinet met to approve the proposal the next day, Pandya told the chief minister the revenue department did not have land in Sankhej.

The Congress leader said this exposed the lack of co-ordination between the chief minister, his Cabinet colleagues and ministers and overall “shows the functioning of the Modi government’’.

   

 
 
SECRET RADAR IN OPEN USE 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, June 28: 
India is acquiring a missile-detecting radar from Israel that was secretly used on the borders in Jammu and Kashmir.

Defence secretary Yogendra Narain today said the acquisition of the Green Pine radar system is on.

Indian defence experts are also scheduled to get a briefing in the US on its national missile defence system. India’s requirement of a missile defence system cannot be easy to meet for manufacturers. India has adjoining land borders with perceived adversaries, making the lead time available to detect and intercept a missile minimal (unlike the US, where the threat is perceived to be from the coast).

It has been reported that the Israeli Green Pine radar can also be mounted on a flying platform (plane, helicopter) and can be used as an Airborne Warning and Control Systems (Awacs).

An Israeli defence delegation led by Tel Aviv’s director-general in the defence ministry, Major General Amos Yaron, visited New Delhi recently.

Visits by Israeli defence teams are not altogether infrequent but are almost always unpublicised. Narain said the visit was part of “frequent interaction.”

The Green Pine electronic surveillance system was tested on the quiet along the Line of Control since the Pakistani troops build-up began in end-October, 2001.

The system possibly gave crucial inputs to the Indian defence establishment before it embarked on Operation Parakram. The system was being negotiated for about two years but even before the deal was formally sealed, India used it in its “trip-wire deployment” when the Pakistani army conducted Operation Khabardar in end-October.

The system was then said to be under “evaluation”. Official sources neither confirmed nor denied that it had been used.

The Green Pine is a ground-based radar system made by Israel’s Elta company. It is said to be capable of tracking a missile for 400 km and is normally used in conjunction with the Arrow anti-missile system. Arrow is also made by the Israelis and, combined with the Green Pine all-weather radar, it forms an umbrella of protection against enemy missiles. India is also understood to be interested in acquiring the Arrow.

India and Israel generally play down their military ties for diplomatic reasons, chief among them being resentment that they might cause in the Arab world.

   

 
 
AMBANI PRAYERS BREAK BARRIERS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Mumbai, June 28: 
With Dhirubhai Ambani’s condition refusing to show any sign of improvement, people are offering prayers in droves — both in Mumbai and Gujarat — hoping to pull the Reliance chairman out of his critical condition.

Workers of the Reliance Industries Ltd and Dhirubhai’s well-wishers gathered near his residence and at the gates of Breach Candy Hospital where Dhirubhai was admitted on June 24 after he suffered a cerebral stroke.

Breaking social and religious barriers, people assembled in thousands to offer prayers for the man who built Reliance as he lay in the intensive care unit of the hospital for the fourth consecutive day.

This morning, five maulvis prayed in silence outside the ICU. They then tied a tabeez on the ailing Dhirubhai’s wrist.

Maulana Shahbuddin of the All India Milli Council said the Muslim community was very worried about Dhirubhai’s health. “He is a very good person and we need such people,” Shahbuddin said, adding that “we met his family and have tied a tabeez on his hand”.

The steady stream of high-profile visitors continued with Samajwadi Party leaders Amar Singh and Abu Aseem Azmi, senior Congress leaders R.K. Dhawan and Pranab Mukherjee and Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander making an appearance.

Other visitors included member of planning commission and former secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office N.K. Singh, managing director of Mukand Ltd Neeraj Bajaj, Ashok Hinduja, and M.F. Hussain.

“Dhirubhai has respect for all communities,” said Amar Singh, who had also come on the day the veteran industrialist was brought to the hospital. His colleague Azmi offered prayers along with the maulvis.

Setting aside the recent controversy over his paintings, Hussain said: “He never believed in sectarianism and worked for the good of all people and all communities. I have offered prayers for him.”

On Thursday, Sankaracharya of Kanchi Jayendra Saraswathi had performed an elaborate puja for Dhirubhai’s recovery. The Sankaracharya, who had been flown in from Kanchi in the Ambanis’ private plane, followed religious gurus of the Vaishnava and Swaminarayana sects who had prayed for and blessed Dhirubhai a day ago.

Pujas are also being performed at the Ambanis’ south Mumbai residence, Sea Winds, where Reliance employees are pouring in in large numbers.

At Breach Candy, Dhirubhai’s condition continued to be critical even as hospital authorities claimed that the Reliance patriarch’s “vital parameters were stable on the fourth day”.

Briefing the media, Dhirubhai’s son Anil said: “He continues to be on life support systems and we have had several inputs from specialists, both from India and abroad.”

He thanked Reliance workers, well-wishers, religious leaders from all sects and schoolchildren for praying for his father’s recovery. “These prayers are giving us the courage and motivation to fight along with our father,” Anil said.

   

 
 
LIGHTS AT PLACE OF ENLIGHTENMENT 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY AND MUNTAZIR IMAM
 
Bodhgaya, June 28: 
Two thousand six hundred years ago, in this dusty town, a thinking prince had seen the “light” that made him the Buddha. Tonight, Bodhgaya will light up again.

The heritage wing of Unesco today announced that the Mahabodhi temple, one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in the country, has been listed as a world heritage site.

As news of the recognition spread, Buddhist monks and scholars poured onto the streets leading to the temple and lit special candle prayers under the huge banyan tree, the scene of Gautama’s enlightenment.

The temple management committee distributed sweets while the heads of the various Buddhist temple trusts held a special meeting to savour the moment.

“This is a day of celebration for us. We will light up our temples specially tonight to celebrate and pray for the holy place of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment,” said U. Chen, a Chinese in-charge of the temple.

Tibetan temple officials greeted the news as recognition of peace in the world and saw in it the seeds of another triumph —liberation of their rugged homeland. “This is the triumph of the cause of world peace,” said Ten Zen, chief of the temple officials.

Members of the temple trust looked buoyant. The uncertainty about the future of the temple caused by its dilapidated state is no more, they said. There are about 22 foreign trusts whose establishments are located in Bodhgaya. The mood was clearly upbeat.

Known in history as Mahabodhi Mahavihara, the monument is one of the 84,000 temples, stupas and other structures built by Asoka about 218 years after Buddha’s death, according to a gazette statement with the Gaya district administration. The temple draws thousands of pilgrims from across the world every year and is the first “living” Buddhist monument to be declared a heritage site.

“The global recognition of the temple is historic since Bodhgaya is still a living heritage where everyday thousands of pilgrims offer prayers. Henceforth, the relics declared world heritage sites happened to be dead monuments in the sense that hardly anyone conducted rituals there,” said A.K. Tulku, a Buddhist scholar camping in Bodhgaya.

Bodhgaya is also the site of the Buddhist Kalchakra festival held every five years.

One of the world’s sandstone wonders, the temple’s grandeur faded as time and nature took their toll and cracks appeared at several points on the walls. The 1935 earthquake worsened the plight.

The temple management tried to stem the rot, but were hobbled by lack of funds. Now, after Unesco’s declaration, the repair and maintenance are all set to be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India.

In the past, too, the intricate designs on the temple walls made repair work difficult for archaeologists.

The cracks could be plugged simply with brick and concrete, but specialists here said that archaeologists had been advised to use indigenous stuff like gram paste, ground limestone and gum.

Secretary of the Mahabodhi Temple management committee Kalicharan Singh Yadav told reporters Unesco’s announcement had brought relief to the thousands of Buddhist monks and scholars as the temple’s upkeep would be in the hands of an international body.

“The international community has recognised the importance of the temple after so many years,” he said.

The lobbying for the Unesco recognition was initiated by Aswani Lohani, director of the ministry of tourism, Government of India. The proposal for world heritage status had been sent to the world body’s office in Budapest, Hungary.

Later, hundreds of Buddhist scholars also took up the case internationally.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.3°C (+1)
Minimum: 28.4°C (+1)

Rainfall

23.5 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 70%

Sunrise: 4.57 am

Sunset: 6.22 pm

Today

A few spells of rain
   
 

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