Talks stumble, selectors on stand-by to pick second team
Fidayeen fear triggers same-side killing
Madhu mud follows Mahajan
Attack ammo for Buddha law
Centre goes to court via Kalam
Green card price for American green signal
Advani drops ill-timed US trip to Delhi relief
Mamata keeps hope alive with Delhi delay
Spielberg takes on namesake
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TALKS STUMBLE, SELECTORS ON STAND-BY TO PICK SECOND TEAM 
 
 
LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
Negotiations between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and top cricketers over signing the International Cricket Council (ICC)-formulated Player Terms as good as snapped this evening.

As a back-up, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya has now asked the national selectors to be prepared to pick a fresh 14-man squad for next month’s Champions Trophy in Colombo. Chandu Borde and his colleagues — barring Madanlal, who is overseas — have actually been asked to be present in Bangalore on Tuesday. Incidentally, the BCCI’s working committee will also have a two-day session there.

Unless the bottomline changes dramatically in the next 24 hours, the Indian squad will really comprise of second stringers. The bigger worry is what will happen in the 2003 World Cup.

Though no announcement was made, the first-choice 14 was selected in Mumbai last Monday. It included 13 cricketers currently in England — given the mood all are expected to make themselves unavailable. The selectors were on “alert” from yesterday itself. Such a contingency plan was last put in place on the eve of the 1989 tour of Pakistan.

According to sources, the near-breaking point was reached when a senior cricketer informed Dalmiya that former India captain Ravi Shastri would “represent” the present lot in dealings with the BCCI. Dalmiya, one learns, was not at all impressed.

Apparently, Dalmiya’s argument was: Why should the BCCI suddenly deal with a former cricketer when, all along, captain Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble were speaking on behalf of teammates?

Earlier, the BCCI had conveyed (through manager Ranga Reddy) that while it was “comfortable” with the proposed conditional signing of the terms, it ought to be done “immediately”. Otherwise, Dalmiya would not be in a position to move the ICC for a review. Moreover, he would be “compelled” to call another selection meeting.

As reported in these columns, the cricketers have been veering around to signing conditionally, but require time to interact with personal sponsors and, if needed, lawyers. Going by what a top cricketer had to say, a formal decision was unlikely before August 26, last day of the upcoming Headingley Test.

That, however, is “much too late” for the BCCI. Dalmiya wasn’t available for comment, but a source close to him said: “The president had sought time (from the ICC) till Monday/Tuesday. The cricketers, then, should have signed by today.…”

The source added: “If the ICC has to be pressed for a review, it must be done from a position of strength. If all the other countries do the needful by tomorrow, the BCCI could be handed a 24-hour ultimatum to name the squad. In that eventuality, Dalmiya’s position will be weak.”

At the same time, the cricketers do have a point. Essentially, that a “dialogue” is needed with their own sponsors if they are to be denied any mileage not just during the tournament (Champions Trophy, in this case), but both before and after, should their product clash with anything on offer from the ICC’s official partners.

The cricketers have been wary of signing on the dotted line, without an assurance of a review, as that would then bind them for ICC tournaments till the 2007 World Cup. While the playing conditions may vary, the player-specific terms will (as of now) remain the same.    


 
 
FIDAYEEN FEAR TRIGGERS SAME-SIDE KILLING 
 
 
MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Aug. 18: 
An army guard opened fire on a vehicle carrying a senior officer of the Border Security Force (BSF), mistaking him for a suicide bomber and killing him on the spot in the north Kashmir town of Handwara in Kupwara district.

Police sources here said a sentry guarding the main gate of an army camp at Langate fired on a Maruti Gypsy in which BSF deputy commandant Satish Kumar was travelling. He was leading a company of the 113 battalion of the BSF that was going to Handwara for poll duty from here.

A defence spokesman said the sentry observed some “suspicious movement nearly 100 metres from the gate of the camp”.

“The sentry challenged the individual who did not stop and, in fact, he ran towards the orchid area. The sentry opened fire towards the orchid area and while this activity was going on, one Maruti Gypsy approached the gate with headlights on. The sentry this time challenged the vehicle. Although the vehicle stopped, the headlights were not switched off and no occupant from the vehicle responded,” a defence statement said.

“The sentry, who was vigilant and due to constant threat of vehicle-borne fidayeen attacking posts and as he had already seen the suspicious movement, fired on it.”

It said the guard fired as the occupants of the vehicle did not respond while challenged.

“As a normal practice, any security squad visiting an army camp gives prior information to the camp, but in this case, the army camp, Langate, did not have any information,” the statement added.

   

 
 
MADHU MUD FOLLOWS MAHAJAN 
 
 
OUR BUREAU AND PTI
 
Aug. 18: 
The Shivani Bhatnagar murder case is dogging Pramod Mahajan across the length of the country, from Guwahati to Thiruvananthapuram.

Yesterday in Assam, he had faced hostile crowds. Today in Kerala, he had to justify why he is not taking a DNA test, as demanded by the family of prime accused R.K. Sharma, to determine whether he had fathered Shivani’s child.

Guilty or innocent, Mahajan is having to soil his hands in the mud that is flying around him. “Normally, only the father and mother (of a child) are subjected to DNA tests,” he said.

“In this case, neither the child’s father nor her (Shivani’s) family has asked for a DNA test. It is the family of the murder accused that is asking for it.”

“Very soon, all fathers in the country will need to take the DNA test,” he added.

Sharma’s daughter Komal had demanded a DNA test. In Delhi, her elder sister Pragati said she wanted to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to seek his intervention as Delhi police were “framing” her father.

Pragati said she would convey to Vajpayee that Sharma had no faith in Delhi police, but was ready to join the probe if he was assured of “some protection”.

“We fear that if he surrenders to Delhi police, he will be tortured and made to do things according to their desire,” she said.

Sharma’s wife Madhu had earlier sought an appointment with Vajpayee, but her appeal was rejected.

Pragati also intends to meet the human rights commission and is demanding a CBI probe, which the home minister has turned down.

Delhi police named Sharma the prime suspect this month. Satya Prakash, a Gurgaon-based property dealer and another accused in the case, was remanded in police custody for 11 days today.

Delhi police have said there is no evidence pointing to Mahajan’s involvement, as alleged by Madhu.

Mahajan said: “Delhi police are investigating the case and I am ready to answer any queries from them.”

The communications minister said his lawyers were “studying the case” and Madhu’s statements before filing a defamation suit against her.

Madhu, who was very vocal yesterday on the need for Delhi police to probe Mahajan’s “close relationship” with Shivani, left their Panchkula residence near Chandigarh for an undisclosed destination in the morning.

   

 
 
ATTACK AMMO FOR BUDDHA LAW 
 
 
A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
A day after suspected Kamtapur Liberation Organisation activists shot dead five persons in a CPM office in north Bengal, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asked the party leadership to accept his long-pending proposal for the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Countering the CPM leadership’s demand for deployment of the army in Jalpaiguri’s Dhupguri, where yesterday’s attack took place, Bhattacharjee talked about measures like the legislation to fight militant organisations. His comments were made at an emergency secretariat meeting at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

The CPM has called a 12-hour bandh in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar tomorrow to protest the killings. “However, long-distance trains will be exempt from the purview of the bandh,” CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said.

The two-hour CPM meeting in Calcutta witnessed scathing criticism of the Jalpaiguri police by a section of CPM leaders who accused senior officers of ignoring intelligence reports on the activities of the KLO.

Bhattacharjee shared the concern but declined to seek help from the army. He told the meeting that director-general of state police D.C. Vajpai would reach Dhupguri tomorrow to lead the investigation.

“We had reports from intelligence agencies that KLO activists had targeted CPM leaders. But I am really astonished how the district police remained idle even after receiving such reports,” Bhattacharjee said.

After the Dhupguri incident, the CPM’s critics of the tough legislation will find it difficult to stick to their position. During the meeting, many senior party leaders felt that such a law was needed to tackle organisations like the KLO and People’s War.

Expressing solidarity with the CPM, Forward Bloc state secretary Ashoke Ghosh accused the police of inaction. “There is a police outpost near the CPM party office and there were also a lot of policeman in the marketplace. What were they doing? Why couldn’t they fire a single shot?” he asked. “However, forces like the KLO will have to be tackled politically. Only police and administration will not be able to control them,” he added.

Asked whether the time was now ripe for the law, Ghosh said it was up to the chief minister and the government to gauge the situation and frame such a law. He, however, asked Biswas to immediately convene a meeting of the Left Front to discuss problems like the KLO.

Bhattacharjee has also asked the administration to seal the Indo-Bhutan border immediately as he feels it is being used as an escape route by KLO militants.

Security arrangements in the party headquarters will be beefed up.

   

 
 
CENTRE GOES TO COURT VIA KALAM 
 
 
KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 18: 
The Cabinet today decided to make a presidential reference to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the constitutional questions arising out of the Election Commission’s rejection of the BJP demand for early polls in Gujarat.

An extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet, to which solicitor general Harish Salve and additional solicitor general Kirit Raval were invited, discussed the “far-reaching implications” of the poll panel’s order and decided to invoke the President’s power to consult the apex court under Article 143.

Sources said the Cabinet was almost unanimous that the commission had “transgressed” the constitutional powers conferred on it. A few ministers wanted the Centre to challenge the commission in court but A.B. Vajpayee said “the path of confrontation” should be avoided. However, the Gujarat government is likely to move the Supreme Court.

The presidential reference will be made tomorrow and is expected to reach the Supreme Court in a day or two.

The decision to question the order is being seen as an attempt to bail out Narendra Modi, who had sought to force the Election Commission’s hand by dissolving the Assembly last month.

The step might accentuate the government-poll panel confrontation and spark a political row. Opposition parties have castigated the BJP for trying to undermine the independence of constitutional bodies like the Election Commission. Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh has refused comment.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj refuted suggestions that the Centre was on a collision course with the poll panel. It was not a question of the BJP taking a stand, but one that involved constitutional issues.

The Cabinet is seeking clarifications on:

Whether the commission can recommend imposition of Central rule in a state where it feels polls cannot be held.

Article 356 postulates that to impose President’s rule, there must be a constitutional breakdown. Moreover, imposition of Article 356 has to be ratified by Parliament. If Parliament rejects it, how to deal with the resultant constitutional crisis.

Whether Article 174(1) — that stipulates that not more than six months should pass between two sittings of an Assembly — is mandatory.

Whether Article 174 cannot be read in isolation — the stand taken by the poll panel —or read with Article 324, which provides overweening powers to the Election Commission on polls, and whether Article 174 must yield to Article 324.

If Article 174 is mandatory, can the Election Commission take recourse to Article 324 to withhold polls?

   

 
 
GREEN CARD PRICE FOR AMERICAN GREEN SIGNAL 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 18: 
India’s ambassador-at-large Bhishma Kumar Agnihotri, at the centre of a storm in sections of the media over his standing with the US state department, is ready to give up his American Green Card.

“The government of India has never asked me to surrender my Green Card,” Agnihotri told The Telegraph. “If the government asks me, I will not hesitate one minute to do so. That is not an issue here.”

Detailed enquiries at the state department by this newspaper has revealed that the question of Agnihotri’s diplomatic status in the US is not a closed chapter.

On the contrary, the state department, which refused a request for Agnihotri’s accreditation on April 8, 2002, has thrown the ball firmly into New Delhi’s court.

In a four-page note to the Indian embassy in Washington explaining why a request from the mission to accredit Agnihotri as a diplomat was being turned down, US officials have quoted from their policy decision since 1985 which expressly stated that exceptions such as Agnihotri’s “will be considered infrequently and only in extenuating circumstances”.

The note then refers specifically to the Indian request and implies that the representation made on Agnihotri’s behalf has failed to make out a compelling case or argue out his extenuating circumstances.

Instead of shutting the door on Agnihotri’s face, the state department has actually laid out, between the lines, several options for the Indian government.

The note quotes from the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and says diplomats “may not be appointed from among persons having the nationality of the receiving state except with the consent of that state”.

This leaves open the option that New Delhi could have approached Washington for such consent even if Agnihotri had been a US citizen.

But since he is only a Green Card-holder, the state department has taken the position that it “consistently has required Green Card-holders to relinquish such status before it will accept them as foreign government representatives to the US government”.

With the ambassador-at-large now taking the public position that he is willing to give up his Green Card, the question of his accreditation as a diplomat in the US is once again wide open.

In replying to the Indian embassy here, the state department has also gone into considerable detail about other aspects of Agnihotri’s official status.

In objecting to Agnihotri’s residence in New York, instead of Washington, the Americans have admitted that for nearly a century -- from 1900 to 1989 – they allowed foreign representatives to reside in the Big Apple and have accreditation out of the national capital.

That practice was stopped on July 31, 1989, and no exceptions have been made to the rule since then.

However, “a limited number of countries have been permitted to continue to assign financial, trade, economic and commercial representatives in New York, where the existence of their offices and the conditions for their establishment had been set forth in express written bilateral agreements between the US and the sending states prior to 1989”.

In plain language, it is not enough for India to send a note, sit back and expect Agnihotri to be accredited. New Delhi has to make out a case with Washington that India is worthy of that special status which still allows some foreign governments to make Agnihotri-type of arrangements in New York.

And South Block has to work hard with the state department — or at higher levels — if it seeks an exception to the general rule.

The state department has also objected to Agnihotri’s title of “advisor”. As for his designation as “ambassador-at-large”, the Americans have insisted that one embassy can only have one ambassador.

This has put India in a quandary. For several years until last year, two successive deputy chiefs of missions at its embassy here had the rank of ambassador and they made no secret of their rank either in their calling cards or at public events.

When foreign secretary K Sibal was envoy to France, his deputy in Paris, too, had the rank of an ambassador.

Sources at the state department asserted that the decision turning down the request on behalf of Agnihotri was communicated to the Indians five months ago.

Those in the Indian community in the US and others who are following the saga of his appointment are surprised India has done nothing by way of follow up to the state department’s rejection of its request.

They are also puzzled that the rejection which was reported five months ago has once again caused a major furore in sections of the media in the run-up to deputy prime minister L.K. Advani’s US visit later this month and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit next month.

   

 
 
ADVANI DROPS ILL-TIMED US TRIP TO DELHI RELIEF 
 
 
K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 18: 
In the first major competition between the government and non-government organisations for deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s ear, the government has won hands down, at least for the moment.

The result is that Advani has cancelled his on-again off-again visit to the US, which was to have started on August 22.

The cancellation will disappoint Advani’s many admirers and supporters among Indian-Americans, BJP loyalists and especially the Indian community as a whole on America’s West Coast.

But in South Block, there will be audible sighs of relief that its mandarins there have been spared criticism, which they were anticipating during and after the visit.

The criticism, which is already incipient among Advani-baiters and sections of the Indian media, is based on the deputy Prime Minister’s itinerary, which did not include a trip to Washington or any meetings with Bush administration officials of any standing.

Traditionally, August is a holiday month in the US capital. In line with that tradition, President George W. Bush is vacationing at his ranch in Texas, Vice-President Dick Cheney is away from Washington and the US Congress is in recess.

But poorly-informed criticism in India had already interpreted this mismatch between Washington’s realities and Advani’s itinerary as a perceived snub of the new deputy Prime Minister by the Bush administration.

Officials in South Block feared that if such criticism snowballed during Advani’s visit, it would ultimately reflect poorly on them or on Indian diplomats in Washington, New York and San Francisco.

When Indian officials in Washington first informed Advani shortly after his elevation as deputy Prime Minister that there could be no significant official meetings of any kind for him with the administration here in August, he called off plans for the visit.

However, sensing the disappointment among Indian-Americans, especially those from Gujarat, the visit was quickly reinstated. Gujaratis in America’s East Coast are excited by a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first of its kind in the US, which Advani was to have unveiled in New Jersey.

But his visit appeared to have been ill-starred when it was discovered rather late in the day that the date for the ceremony clashed with the swearing-in of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as Vice-President. Advani’s office once again called off the visit.

But the woes of the deputy Prime Minister’s aides were compounded when former President Bill Clinton, who was to have been present at the statue’s unveiling, obliged to make changes in his schedule and attend the ceremony at a later date to suit the deputy Prime Minister.

Advani was informed and fresh dates were fixed for his travel to the US at the end of his official trip to the UK. The statue was finally to have been unveiled by Advani on Friday.

That was until Sunday morning, when it was decided once again to cancel the US leg of the visit. Demands of elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the duration of the deputy Prime Minister’s total stay away from India have been unofficially cited as reasons for the cancellation.

The decision to call off Advani’s trip will particularly disappoint Indian-Americans in the West Coast, who have lately begun to feel that they are being given the short shrift by New Delhi. Even before today’s decision, Advani’s aides chopped and changed his itinerary in San Francisco and Los Angeles, eventually dropping one of the two cities.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too, cancelled a carefully planned San Francisco leg of his US visit in 2000 because of his knee problem.

   

 
 
MAMATA KEEPS HOPE ALIVE WITH DELHI DELAY 
 
 
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Aug. 18: 
Amid anxiety over Mamata Banerjee’s decision to defer her return from Delhi for a few days, the Trinamul Congress geared up for the all-party meeting called by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tomorrow over the Eastern Railway bifurcation.

The Trinamul chief was supposed to arrive in the city this evening after announcing her decision last week in Delhi not to remain “part and parcel of the NDA” if the bifurcation of Eastern Railway was not revoked.

“But she suddenly changed her decision last night after having a one-to-one meeting with newly-elected Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat,” Trinamul officials said from Delhi.

Though Mamata’s aides said she was staying back to attend the Vice-President’s swearing-in ceremony tomorrow, a section of senior Trinamul leaders seemed hopeful of a last minute solution to the impasse.

Their slim hopes stemmed from her meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday. She did not elaborate on what transpired between them.

“We think the Prime Minister did not totally turn down Mamata on the bifurcation issue. The impasse over the bifurcation may be resolved after all,” said a party leader.

Mamata, who is now holding her cards close to her chest, is unlikely to return to Calcutta for a few days even after Shekhawat’s swearing-in, sources said.

MLA Partha Chatterjee and all-India party general secretary Mukul Roy, who returned from Delhi today, will attend tomorrow’s all-party meeting at the Rotunda in Writers’ Buildings.

Before returning to Calcutta, Chatterjee and Roy met Mamata to decide on the party’s stand.

Chatterjee said Trinamul would not allow its rivals — the CPM and the Congress — to gain extra mileage out of the bifurcation, against which Mamata began her crusade first.

The BJP will not attend tomorrow’s conclave. At a meeting chaired by state BJP chief Ashim Ghosh this evening, the party decided to stay away as “it was aimed at making an issue out of a non-issue”.

State party vice-president Muzaffar Khan said it was the Deve Gowda government which had initiated the move to bifurcate Eastern Railway in 1996.

“The Deve Gowda government was backed both by the Left Front and the Congress. Then they did not raise any objection. As for Mamata Banerjee, she did nothing to stall the bifurcation during her tenure as railway minister,” he added.

Khan said, after all, it was the Indian Railways and not any state railway.

However, the state BJP will be part of any delegation from Bengal to demand speedy completion of pending railway projects, he said.

“The railway budget is controlled by the Centre and there is no question of any state suffering. There is a railway recruitment board, so employment, too, will not be affected,” Khan added.

   

 
 
SPIELBERG TAKES ON NAMESAKE 
 
 
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Thrissur, Aug. 18: 
The maker of Raiders of the Lost Ark has found a new ark to raid — an Indian dotcom company.

Steven Spielberg, whose firm is called Dream Works, wants the Thrissur-based Dream Workz to give up its domain name.

Legal representatives of Dream Works got in touch with the dotcom company in Thrissur and placed the demand, saying the two names sound too similar.

Spielberg’s company is involved in film and digital video production, multimedia software generation and event management. Its “namesake”, on the other hand, is into web designing and related activities and has a domain name similar to Spielberg’s company.

Legal representatives of the Hollywood filmmaker have asked Dream Workz to shut down in the next 15 days or face legal action.

In a letter sent to the Thrissur company about a week ago, they accused it of trying to promote its business interests by using the trademark of Dream Works illegally. This, the letter states, is bound to give a bad name to the filmmaker’s firm and needs to be stopped immediately.

For the promoters of Dream Workz, comprising engineering and software professionals in their early and mid-twenties, the letter came as a bolt from the blue. Displeasing a “giant” like Spielberg was the last thing on their minds, they claimed, adding that they had not even thought of the ace Hollywood director when they launched the site three months ago.

However, the youngsters have vowed not to give in to Hollywood might and will continue with their “limited activities”.

Legal advice in their favour has also helped strengthen their resolve. In the opinion of several legal experts, trademark registration and domain registration are not interlinked and, hence, there is no way that Spielberg’s firm can take any action against Dream Workz.

In any case, Dream Works is spelt with an S, while the Thrissur dotcom spells its name with a Z, they argue.

There is a view that it has become a practice with big western companies to threaten smaller counterparts that have similar names or domains into giving them up and submerge them into their identity.

Whatever the climax of the battle, Spielberg could well use the story for his next flick.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.0°C (0)

Rainfall

23.8 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 70%

Sunrise: 5.17 am

Sunset: 6.04 pm

Today

One or two spells of rain or thundershowers
   
 

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