BJP scramble for Jaya-less survival 
Serb Easter truce draws scorn 
Buddhadev raises hopes on Ganguly
Fact and fiction of the cable TV Bill 
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 6
The ruling BJP today formally shed hopes of retaining Jayalalitha?s support and locked horns with the Congress in a tight, and probably drawn out, battle for numbers in the Lok Sabha.



Open hostility with the ADMK was, in fact, pronounced much before the two Jayalalitha ministers, M. Thambidurai and K. Janarthanam, submitted their resignations to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on his return from Uttar Pradesh late in the evening.

In Chennai, BJP general secretary K. Govindacharya ruled out a rapprochement with Jayalalitha and in New Delhi, party spokesman J.P. Mathur called her fickle and unreliable ? the first time during the current crisis that the BJP has officially criticised the ADMK boss.

Resigned to a new Sonia-Jaya axis, Mathur said: ?Sonia has prodded Jayalalitha into doing what she has, but both ladies are alike. Both go against majority opinion in their parties and have a habit of going back on their word.?

Leaving for the capital after a sentimental journey to his birthplace Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh, Vajpayee himself admitted to a debilitating fracture in his alliance, saying: ?There does not seem to be any hope of a patch-up with Jayalalitha now.?

Vajpayee held an emergency meeting with senior party colleagues and allies over dinner tonight on ways to overcome his impending loss of majority. Among those who will attend the meeting are defence minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes, coal minister and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik, and Telugu Desam MP Yerran Naidu. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, too, had been invited, but she could not make it to the capital from Calcutta tonight. She will meet the Prime Minister tomorrow.

BJP leaders, including Vajpayee, have repeatedly exuded confidence on passing a floor test minus Jayalalitha but never explained how they would manage it.

Sources said the BJP had evolved a two-pronged strategy to secure the numbers: consolidate the remaining allies and win new friends. In the latter category, the BJP is counting on support from the Bahujan Samaj Party (five MPs), the DMK (six MPs) and the Haryana Lok Dal (four MPs), which recently withdrew support to the government.

Fernandes is being given the task of keeping the flock of allies together. Yerran Naidu is being asked to urge Desam president Chandrababu Naidu to win over Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, a personal friend. Tamil Nadu BJP chief L. Ganesan, too, met Karunanidhi today.

The BJP hopes to secure support from the BSP on the plea that the Congress performed an ?anti-Dalit trick? in Bihar by resurrecting the Rabri Devi government.

The party intends to use the Congress handle to bring around Om Prakash Chautala?s Haryana Lok Dal as well: if Chautala favours the Congress in Delhi, how will he fight it in Haryana?

The Congress has stepped up preparations to assume power though it maintained it was not playing any toppling game. Leaders like Arjun Singh had closed-door sessions with other Opposition bosses, including CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet, who is working overtime to muster a majority to back the Congress.

Jayalalitha appears to have outpaced the Congress with the speed of her withdrawal from the Vajpayee government ? Sonia Gandhi?s party was not quite ready yet with an alternative plan ? but the Congress will have to step in if the BJP-led coalition loses majority. And to that end, party leaders are negotiating with potential supporters on the nature of the alternative government.

A troublesome area appears to be the Laloo-Mulayam combine, whose support will be crucial. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha will back a Congress government but has sought participation, something the Congress may not be willing to accept.

A section of the BJP is also banking on Mulayam Singh Yadav, its arch-rival, to bail it out. The party believes he will prefer a BJP government to a Congress one, if only to retain his support base in Uttar Pradesh. ?There might be a few timely abstentions from the morcha benches if it comes to a vote,? a senior BJP leader said.

 Washington, April 6
In an attempt to salvage his country from more destruction, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic offered a unilateral cease-fire and suggested a negotiated settlement with Albanian leaders in time for the Orthodox Easter Holidays.



Milosevic?s tactical move, which came after 14 days of Nato bombings, was expected since he has achieved his war goals of ridding Kosovo of most of the 1.2 million Albanians. There were hints that he had reached an agreement with Ibrahim Rugova, a leader of the ethnic Albanians who was part of the negotiating team for the peace talks in France earlier this year.

The cease-fire offer, reported by the state-run Serb television, was almost immediately rejected by the White House as a ruse without even as much as a second thought. Spokesman Joe Lockhart said four conditions had to be met before Nato would take anything that Milosevic says seriously.

They are: withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, presence of a Nato peacekeeping force to ensure safety of Albanians, safe return for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and autonomy for the region.

Given Nato?s stand, there were broad hints from Washington that Russia should pick up the diplomatic steering wheel and act as a mediator. But just a week ago, a Russian mediation effort by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was laughed out of hand by the US.

The New York Times said in an editorial today that the ??road to peace in Kosovo may yet run through Moscow??. It asked the White House to ??work behind the scenes to encourage a constructive Russian role??. Prescribing the roadmap, the editorial said Primakov has the standing in Belgrade to tell Milosevic to end the repression in Kosovo. If Russian troops are part of the peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, it would be easier for Milosevic to swallow the medicine.

US officials cannot be seen to be negotiating with Milosevic given his demonisation in the media and in official statements. The more the air campaign fails to stop the Serb sweep in Kosovo, the more the Nato leaders resort to Hitleresque imagery for the Yugoslav President. But Milosevic?s relentless campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo has led to a remarkable consensus in the West in favour of the Nato campaign and even for sending ground troops to the region.

As makeshift cities of refugees grow on the border with Albania and Macedonia, people are increasingly becoming aware of the limitations of the air campaign.

The Nato strikes have not stopped Milosevic?s well-organised sweep through Kosovo, creating a desperate human calamity of nearly 350,000 homeless people. Television has made real the suffering of the Albanians who are living in unsanitary conditions threatened by disease.

The foreign police establishment in Washington is united and is clamouring for a stronger Nato response. Prominent voices have called for wiping out Belgrade?s key installations, including television and radio, to make war real for Milosevic. The post-Vietnam fear of involvement in far-away lands is disappearing.

A Washington Post-ABC poll showed that 55 per cent of the public now favours deployment of ground forces, a rise from the 41 per cent who supported the move last week. As many as 68 per cent feel that airstrikes alone would not be enough to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

Calcutta, April 6
Amid swirling rumours of a ransom demand, home minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya set nerves on edge this evening, saying the mystery about S.B. Ganguly?s disappearance would be unravelled ?in a few hours?. Until 2.30 am, the Exide chief remained untraced.



Bhattacharya?s tantalising teaser ? delivered after much pressing and as a parting shot from the Writers? Buildings elevator ? had serious repercussions. Senior officers in the police as well as the state administration were hard put to explain why Bhattacharya had made the promise.

Speculation about a ransom demand also found a stimulus in Bhattacharya?s remark. The grapevine was abuzz that just before he made the statement, Ganguly?s family received a call from the supposed abductor.

The media went on a wild goose chase. Reporters posted themselves outside the Ganguly residence on New Road while another group laid siege on the Alipore police station.

The Ganguly family faced a barrage of queries from the press. ?What is the latest development? Has Ganguly returned home?? reporters asked over and over again.

Members of the missing executive?s family clarified that they had not been informed about the ?unfolding drama? either by the police or Writers? Buildings.

After a meeting with home secretary S.N. Roy and police commissioner D.C. Vajpai, Bhattacharya had emerged from his chamber in Writers? Buildings around 6.40 pm. ?I do not want to comment. The police are working. I have also been on the case through the day. Let my officers work,?? he had said.

But asked if Ganguly had been abducted, Bhattacharya could not resist an answer that promised much and revealed nothing.

?I will not say whether he was abducted or walked off on his own. Wait for some time. Everything will be clear in a few hours from now.??

Having made the oracular pronouncement, Bhattacharya was no longer available for comment.

Home secretary Sourin Roy said: ?I am not aware of any statement made by the minister. I will not be able to say anything.?

Around 10.30 pm, deputy commissioner (detective department), Narayan Ghosh turned up at the Ganguly residence and spoke briefly to members of the family.

Asked by reporters if there had been any development, Ghosh said: ?There is none. I am not aware of the minister?s remark.?

Sources said Bhattacharya?s statement was preceded by several visits from Vajpai to the minister at Writers? Buildings during the day.

Apparently, Calcutta Police had received a message around 4 pm about Ganguly?s possible whereabouts. Officers immediately went into a huddle to work out how to follow up on the lead.

Calcutta, April 6
The cable TV operator charges each subscriber between Rs 100 and 200 per month. But it costs him only about Rs 65-70 to beam 49 pay and free-to-air channels. The cost includes the five channels that remained blacked out for the fourth day today. Without these, his cost will be Rs 47 to 52.



Operators pulled STAR Plus, AXN, TNT, Discovery and Animal Planet ? together costing Rs 18 ? out of subscribers? TV sets in protest against these five channels? decision to charge for beaming them.

The reason cited by them for blacking out these channels was that subscribers were not prepared to pay. That this argument does not hold water is clear from the cost they bear and the price they are charging.

On the pretext of these channels turning pay from free-to-air, many operators have slapped subscribers with demands for raising rates. But the stirrings of consumer resistance are already in evidence. Some subscribers have decided to move consumer courts against operators for denying them the five channels.

The unity of operators is also cracking as realisation is dawning that the agitation may be doing them more harm than good. First, the boycott has attracted attention to the unregulated nature of their business. With no monitor for the cable TV business, charges are arbitrary with little relation either to the cost or quality of service. Few, if any, operators in the city provide customers the service that hefty profits of the sort they make would warrant.

But the cable operators are unionised, which gives them the muscle to hold the subscriber, and to a lesser extent, the broadcaster, to ransom. In blacking out pay channels, they have even dared to sit in judgement on the quality of programming.

They argued that the channels they have blacked out do not ?deserve to be? pay channels.

With some cable operators insisting that subscription rates must be raised by a further Rs 25 to Rs 50, the current agitation is increasingly beginning to look like a ploy to pave the ground for a steeper tariff.

A survey of pay channel charges and connection costs reveals just how large a cable TV operator?s margin is.

The rip-off takes place at two levels. First, at the point of the subscriber where the operator collects much more than cost plus reasonable profit. Second, the operator also does not disclose to RPG Netcom and Siticable ? the two distributors of satellite channels in the city ? the total number of connections he provides.

This means that an operator, who is actually providing connections to 400 subscribers, is telling RPG or Siti that he has only 100 to 150 connections.

An operator pays Rs 30-35 per connection to RPG and Siti only for the number of subscribers he chooses to disclose. He pockets the balance.

Sources at RPG Netcom, which beams its signal to 184 cable operators, say that a charge of Rs 150 per month per subscriber should be enough to pay for all channels and ensure his profits as well. Kiran Karnik, managing director of Discovery, and AXN?s regional head, Debashish Dey, concur.

But even this figure appears to be unreasonable because it costs the cable operator less than half that amount to relay the channels.

Cable operators deny that they are fleecing subscribers.

?We have to pay Rs 70 to Rs 100 per subscriber depending on the level of connectivity (number of subscribers). Of this, between Rs 50 and Rs 60 is paid out for pay channels. The balance Rs 40 goes to RPG Netcom (or Siti) for the package it provides, an amusement tax to the state government, employmees? salary, maintenance, etc. take the total cost per connection to about Rs 120,? says Tarak Saha, convener of the Forum of Cable Operators.

Saha also says that their declared number of subscribers is less because they are forced to provide free connections to police, local clubs and subsidised services to influential people.

This sounds implausible because at current rates, the total cost of 11 pay channels per month adds up to approximately Rs 35.

Says Firoz Sayyed, regional chief of Star TV, which has five pay channels: ?We have no quarrel with cable operators but the business must get organised.?

This essentially means the operators, instead of running the business like a cottage industry, would have to invest in new technology ? such as ?set top boxes and scrambling machines? ? to provide each subscriber with only the channels he wants.

Such a step requires an honest declaration of the number of subscribers.

Unless that happens, consumers will continue to pay a high price for poor service.


Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.
Temperature: Maximum 34.9°C (1°C above normal)
Minimum 26.4°C (2°C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 94% Minimum 60%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 5.50 pm Sunrise: 5.28 am


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