BJP camp brands EC opponent
Pakistan suffers UN pushback
BJP lead leaps in new exit poll
Coach Kapil asks and gets long innings

New Delhi, Sept. 21 
The BJP and the Samata Party today mounted an attack on the Election Commission for upbraiding defence minister George Fernandes, accusing it of behaving like a ??political opponent?? rather than a constitutional body.

BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu said the panel had failed in its constitutional duty by refusing to probe Fernandes? complaint on printing of excess and fake ballot papers in Bihar. ??The Election Commission normally does not speak in such a strong language. It has to probe any complaint brought before it,?? Naidu said. ??It is something unusual and the commission is there to conduct elections and any complaint received by it should be inquired into.?? Naidu, however, skirted a query on whether he agreed with Fernandes? quoting the Intelligence Bureau director on the issue. ??We do not comment on our allies and the matter is before the Patna High Court. Let it decide,?? he said.

The Samata Party joined the chorus against the commission with general secretary Jaya Jaitly charging it with ??indulging in counter-attack??.

In Patna, a defiant Fernandes said he stood by his statement and was prepared to face prosecution if the commission felt he was guilty. ??If I am guilty of any corrupt practice, the law should take its course,?? he said.

The party, however, refused to reveal the source of information for the allegations. ??We don?t want to disclose because the source will get into trouble,?? Jaitly said.

??The information given was based on responsible reports received by the party and conveyed to the commission for investigation. We fail to see how this is being construed as an indictment of the commission itself,?? Jaitly added.

She lashed out at the panel for saying that only losing candidates made such ??cantankerous?? demands. ??It is regrettable that an august constitutional authority should make statements in the language of an opposing political party, choosing to ignore the concerns of a responsible party leadership about the partisan manner in which polls are conducted in Bihar,?? Jaitly said.

The Samata leader said that instead of looking into the party?s complaints, the panel has questioned ??our motives in the most hostile manner. Is catching a thief more important or should the messenger be shot??? she asked.

Jaitly lambasted the commission for publicly pulling up Fernandes. ??If at all it wanted to say something, it should have told us or made a submission in court, she said.

Adding a twist to the drama, the Janata Dal (United) alleged that Sharad Yadav?s life was in danger. ??His life is under threat due to violence sponsored by the RJD-Congress-Left combine,? a party leader said.    

New York, Sept. 21 
India?s month-long elections have come to haunt the Pakistanis here in New York. In their anxiety to follow Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in dealing with the UN, the Pakistanis, who cancelled the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here, are now discovering that they not only lost their speaking slot at the 54th General Assembly, but have also seriously jeopardised their prospect of being elected to the Security Council as a non-permanent member.

The story of how Pakistan lost its speaking slot and has been handicapped in its campaign for a Security Council seat in 2003 is the story of a closely-held operation by South Block and India?s permanent mission to the UN. But even those who conceived of and executed the plan were unprepared for its stunning results which have left the Pakistanis here devastated.

India and Pakistan were originally to have addressed the General Assembly one after the other this week under a complicated system of combining preferences of member governments and draw of lots for the speaking slots.

As the system of fixing the dates for speakers was under way, New Delhi let speculation grow in the Indian media and in diplomatic circles here that Vajpayee might attend the General Assembly even for a day, the election campaign notwithstanding. Not to be left behind, the Pakistanis told the UN secretariat that Sharif would be representing Islamabad during the general debate which began on Monday and will continue till October 2.

It was not until all arrangements for the general debate had been sewn up that India let it be known to the world that it would be represented by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and not Vajpayee. Hastily, Islamabad told the UN secretariat that Pakistan too would be represented by its foreign minister Sartaj Aziz and not Sharif.

Knowledgeable Pakistani sources say there were many considerations which forced Sharif to abort his New York trip, such as the domestic situation in the country and the inability to meet the commitment he made to the assembly last year to sign the CTBT.

But there is little doubt that Vajpayee?s absence here was a major factor which forced Sharif to change his plans. What the Pakistanis did not realise, though, was that India had told the UN secretariat long ago that because of the Lok Sabha polls, Vajpayee would not visit New York. Right from the start of preparations for the general debate, Singh?s name was there as the Indian speaker.

Under General Assembly procedure, if a country changes its speaker for the general debate once the preparations are complete, it loses the slot allotted to it. Aziz has thus lost the opportunity to speak immediately after India and his name has now gone to the bottom of the list as the new nominee from Pakistan.

Singh, on the other hand, will address the assembly on Wednesday as scheduled in the original programme even as Vajpayee continues campaigning in the elections without the distraction of having to travel to New York.

Aziz is now expected to speak on October 2, the last day of the general debate. Diplomatic sources here, however, said Pakistani diplomats in the UN are working overtime to exchange Aziz?s slot on October 2 for an earlier one this week. The UN secretariat will have no objection if two countries mutually agree to swap their speaking slots. It is not yet clear whether Islamabad?s efforts will succeed.

One reason why Pakistan was keen to speak around the same time as India was the hope that it would create some focus in the General Assembly on Kashmir, Kargil and other Indo-Pakistani issues. To speak two weeks after India on these issues, confessed a Pakistani diplomat here, is like ?trying to clap with one hand?.

The other reason is that permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5) will all be speaking in the first week itself. US President Bill Clinton spoke in the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Therefore, speakers during the first week will get a chance to have bilateral meetings with P-5 leaders and other important foreign ministers and prime ministers. Singh has already met the foreign ministers of the UK, Russia and Japan, who are all here in the first week.

Unless Aziz can quickly exchange his slot with another country, he will miss all these important leaders. What is worrying the Pakistanis is that it will have a damaging impact on Pakistan?s nascent campaign for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council in 2003.

Many of the key foreign ministers and prime ministers present here may offer support to other candidates during this week, which, it is feared, may leave Pakistan high and dry, thanks to some quick thinking by South Block.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21 
The NDTV-Insight exit poll has given the BJP-led alliance a massive lead, saying the party is set to win 213 seats in the first three phases of elections. The much-maligned Doordarshan exit poll had predicted 191 seats for the alliance.

The Doordarshan survey was conducted in 344 seats, but the NDTV exit poll covered 333 constituencies, dropping 11 where repolling has been ordered.

Some of the findings of the NDTV poll threw up surprises. In Punjab, the Akali Dal-BJP alliance is projected to win eight of the 13 seats, news that would flatter chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

There have been surmises that the Dal would do badly due to the anti-incumbency factor and the breakaway Tohra-faction taking away a substantial section of Akali vote.

The survey gives the BJP combination six of the seven seats in Delhi. But in the November 1998 Assembly polls, the BJP had been swept out of Delhi.

The NDTV survey suggests Manmohan Singh is set to lose, a proposition not many in Delhi are willing to buy.

While the Congress is losing its touch in the south, the BJP is poised for a clean sweep of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, states where it had no base only 30 months ago, the survey results suggest.

Though BJP has worked out advantageous alliances in the two states, that the party may win 18 of the 28 seats in Karnataka or N. Chandrababu Naidu may get of 33 of the 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh is unexpected.

In Maharashtra, the survey predicts that 31 of the 48 seats will go to the saffron brigade, with Sharad Pawar damaging the Congress? chances and the Sena gaining the maximum mileage from the split Opposition votebank.

The Congress was likely to be one up on the Marxists in Kerala, but in Madhya Pradesh it was expected to do badly, according to the NDTV survey.

Despite chief minister Digvijay Singh?s spectacular performance in November, the BJP will retain most of the 30 seats it had won in the 1998 elections, the exit poll said.

In the violence-torn south-Bihar, the BJP was expected to do only marginally better than last time, winning 16 of the 19 seats that went to polls on Saturday.    

Calcutta, Sept. 21 
For the past couple of years, Kapil Dev would routinely offer a pep-talk before major international engagements.

All at the Board?s request.

Now, Kapil will be doing more than just that: Today, the Board, in a move that can only be welcomed, appointed the (1983) World Cup-winning captain as coach for two years.

From merely exhorting the cricketers to ?play to potential,? it will now be Kapil?s brief to ensure they do.

On the circuit, the response cannot be much different from the awe-inspiring one which greeted Javed Miandad?s appointment, just over a year ago.

Of course, nobody expects a similar end to the partnership.

Kapil?s selection comes just days after Allan Border?s confirmation as Australia?s interim coach.

Indeed, Border is favoured to succeed Geoff Marsh full-time and India?s tour of Australia, later this season, should see the mother of all duels off-the-field as well.

Specifically, between Test cricket?s most prolific rungetter and the most successful bowler in Tests.

With myriad business interests, there may be whispers whether Kapil can devote so much time. But knowing Kapil, he is bound to wear one more hat with no discomfort at all.

Having avoided the Media throughout the day (?Please, let me first hear about it officially?), the New Delhi-based Kapil did come forth with a few comments late in the evening.

Speaking on his mobile, Kapil told The Telegraph: ?My first reaction is, well, to sleep over it... Let me gather my thoughts...?

But would he still act as the SAF Games? (September 25-October 4) spokesman, in Kathmandu?

?You see, I?ve already made some commitments... Like I?ve said, I?ll be better placed to answer queries in the morning. Obviously, I?ll need to give many things a good look.?

And, would his own golf, which Kapil took to with a passion after quitting (late 1994), suffer?

This time, Kapil laughed: ?Look, is anybody very concerned about how Kapil Dev plays? In any case, in all matters, it?s the country that has to come first. If there?ll be less time for golf, so be it.?

Apparently, in discussions during and after the coach?s offer was made (by Jagmohan Dalmiya, on behalf of the dominant group in the Board), Kapil only insisted on one thing: His tenure should be of a reasonable length of time, not just one year.

Perfectly reasonable that and the Board responded in the manner it should have.

Kapil succeeds Aunshuman Gaekwad who relinquishes charge after the forthcoming Nairobi quadrangular (September 25-October 3).

Gaekwad, it is understood, wanted to step down immediately, but the Board advised him to continue with the trip to Nairobi.

Appointed in 1997 (replacing Madanlal), Gaekwad?s term was extended last year, largely keeping this summer?s World Cup in mind.

But 1999 has been a pretty awful year for Indian cricket and Gaekwad?s neck was on the line ever since Mohammed Azharuddin lost the captaincy in end-July.

A senior Board official lobbied particularly hard for Gaekwad, but for quite some weeks most of the influential members had been rooting for a change.

It didn?t help that in the run-in to the two-day Annual General Meeting (AGM), which got underway in Jaipur this morning, the Indians failed even to make the tri-series final in Sri Lanka and lost the Singapore tri-series final (to the West Indies).

Winning in Toronto alone wasn?t good enough.

Kapil?s appointment was actually decided upon late last night itself (reported in our City edition Tuesday), at the Rungtas? residence in Jaipur.

With the ruling group commanding a huge majority, approval at the AGM was a formality. It became even simpler once Manohar Joshi, the former Maharashtra chief minister, decided not to challenge industrialist A.C.Muthiah for the presidency.

One learns Joshi, who was terribly short on numbers, decided to opt out after a one-to-one breakfast meeting with Dalmiya, at the Rambagh Palace Hotel.

Down 6-19 last night itself, Joshi ?lost? the support of one backer overnight ? Universities ? while ?tricky? Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, not to speak of Orissa, decided to join the Muthiah bandwagon.

Shrewd politician that he is, Joshi realised just in the nick of time that he?d made a misplaced bid for power. A potentially embarrassing situation, therefore, got averted.

Appreciating Joshi?s ?gesture?, the dominant group then requested him to continue as vice-president (from West Zone).

With Kapil being appointed coach, the focus is on who will head the selection committee.

Mumbai?s Ajit Wadekar is sure to get the axe ? incidentally, Joshi hasn?t been canvassing for him ? and there is talk that Chandu Borde, another former India captain, could be his replacement.

In that case, Borde (from Maharashtra) will head the committee ? for the second time ? which will also probably see India A and colts? coach Krishnamachari Srikkanth coming in for Shivlal Yadav, from South.

Should Borde not make it, Karsan Ghavri may be Wadekar?s replacement.

Roger Binny, who briefly coached Kenya, is the next colts? and India A coach.    


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