Debut talks on security with China
NDA strikes, Laloo hits back
Tata, Birla marriage on mobile
Naidu rolls back, Sinha won�t
I can say I did try my hardest: Sachin
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, March 1 
Shrugging off past reluctance, India and China will hold their first-ever security dialogue in Beijing next week to thrash out differences and chalk out confidence-building measures.

The two-day talks from Monday will focus on proliferation in the region, particularly China�s help in Pakistani nuclear and missile programmes and Delhi�s nuclear doctrine, settling the border dispute and Bill Clinton�s visit to India later this month.

China is the only P5 nation with whom India has not held strategic dialogue. The coming meet, though a notch lower than the strategic dialogue, shows Delhi�s keenness to sit across the table with Beijing to help the two nations better understand their security concerns.

China holds a security dialogue with the US and Japan as well but at the ministerial level. The interaction with India will, however, be at the official level � the delegation from Delhi will be led by Rakesh Sood, joint secretary, disarmament and international strategic affairs.

The timing of the security dialogue is significant as China is the only P5 nation still insisting on the UN Security Council�s Resolution 1172, passed soon after the May 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia. The resolution asks both India and Pakistan to dismantle their nuclear programmes and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. China had reiterated its stand during US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott�s recent visit to Beijing.

India first mooted the idea of a security dialogue with China during J.N. Dixit�s tenure as foreign secretary in the early nineties. But neither side followed it up. The Pokhran blasts, preceded by defence minister George Fernandes� remarks describing China as India�s �potential enemy number one�, pushed the idea onto the backburner. The proposal was revived following foreign minister Jaswant Singh�s trip to Beijing in May that helped improve bilateral relations.

The joint working group, set up after Rajiv Gandhi�s visit to China, has over the years lost its focus. Constituted to find a solution to the border dispute, the group lost its way after more issues were added to its brief.

At next week�s talks, India will get a chance to raise the arms proliferation in the region. Delhi has often expressed its concern over the nuclear help provided by Beijing to Islamabad.

The thrust, however, will be on the border problem, which, officials here believe, is the main hurdle in the way of confidence-building measures. Delhi will also try and convince Beijing that its nuclear tests were not country-specific and putting in place a minimum nuclear deterrent was its sovereign right.

India will have to allay fears that its attempt at developing relations with the US was not aimed at containing China or any other country.    

Patna, March 1 
The NDA today drew first blood in the fight for numbers, but still remained well short of the magic number that would fetch it the Bihar crown.

However, the RJD�s chances of forming the government brightened late tonight after the Congress Working Committee struck a positive note on backing a government led by Rabri Devi. Laloo Yadav is reaching Delhi tomorrow to try and work out an arrangement.

The NDA staked claim after clinching a deal with the 12-MLA Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which till yesterday was swaying from one side to the other and back.

The NDA�s chief ministerial-hopeful, Nitish Kumar, JMM leader Shibu Soren in tow, met Governor Vinod Pande this afternoon and furnished a list of 146 MLAs who had pledged support. The alliance, which won 122 seats, has roped in 12 Independents as well. But it is still 16 short of the majority mark.

Laloo, too, met Pande, but with the Congress � which has 23 MLAs � still undecided, the RJD leader could not table a list of legislators backing him.

Chief minister Rabri Devi called on the Governor earlier in the day and submitted her resignation.

Soren, till yesterday, had driven a hard bargain, demanding the chief minister�s chair in exchange for his party�s support.

Triggering panic in the NDA camp, he even started negotiations with Laloo, who is believed to have offered the JMM leader the post of deputy chief minister.

But Nitish succeeded in turning around Soren this morning. Shortly before the two leaders visited Raj Bhavan, a fleet of half-a-dozen cars drove up to a Harding Road house, where Soren was camping, and zipped off with the JMM flock.

Explaining his change of heart, Soren said the Jharkhand issue had helped clinch the deal. �Nitish Kumar promised me his cooperation in achieving our goal: separate statehood for Jharkhand. We have decided to forego all other demands and try Nitish out,� he said.

During his meeting with the Governor, the NDA leader claimed he had the support of another 20 MLAs who were not in Patna. �I have the numbers to prove my majority. I think I should be allowed to go to the floor,� Nitish said.

Laloo�s cavalcade of 11 vehicles reached Raj Bhavan soon after Nitish left around 3 pm. The comeback king argued that the RJD should get the first call as �the single largest unit� � he claimed that 68 party MLAs had contested as rebels.

Laloo continued to keep his cards in the sleeve of his white kurta. �Nitish Kumar furnished (the names of) 146 MLAs, did he not? Whatever MLAs remain are mine. His game is now over.�

Questioning the authenticity of the signatures of support submitted by Nitish, he said: �Let there be physical verification of the MLAs. Who will testify that the signatures furnished by Nitish are not fake?�    

Mumbai, March 1 
The Tatas and the Birlas have come together. The country�s top two business houses have decided to merge their cellular telephone businesses, proving that India�s family-owned corporate empires can be fleet-footed enough to be counted among the leaders of the new economy of information technology and communications.

The entity to be created with the merger of Birla AT&T and Tata Communications will command a fourth of the cellular phones market of 1.8 million subscribers.

A joint statement issued by the two houses said: �The Aditya Birla Group, AT&T and Tata Industries Limited today signed a memorandum of understanding expressing their intent to merge the cellular properties owned by Birla AT&T Communications Limited and Tata Communications Limited.�

The collaboration includes AT&T since it already partners Kumarmangalam Birla, head of the Aditya Birla Group, in the existing venture. AT&T is one of the world�s largest telecom service providers.

This is the first time two of India�s oldest and best-known business groups are tying a business knot. Kumarmangalam Birla is already on the board of Tata Steel and the Birlas have held a small stake in the company for long.

Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group, said: �The Tata, Birla and AT&T combine brings together three strong and committed partners. This alliance marks a significant step in the process of consolidation in the telecom sector, in which we intend to be a major player.�

Sending the telecom industry into a tizzy, his new partner Kumarmangalam Birla said: �Telecom services are a focus business for our group and have significant growth potential. This strategic alliance with the Tatas is a forward step that will help take this business ahead. Most important, it offers a powerful platform for growth in a sector that is rapidly consolidating.�

Sources close to the Tatas and the Birlas said the new relationship has been developing over time. �Ratan and Kumarmangalam have worked together in the Prime Minister�s advisory panel. They have high regard for each other,� said a source.

The merger will throw up a company in which each of the three partners will have 33.33 per cent holding. It will provide cellular services in Maharasthra (excluding Mumbai), Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Goa.

Analysts expect the merger to have a major impact on the industry which is going through a process of churning as many companies are selling out while those remaining consolidate their place in the market. The Tata-Birla combine will operate in a what is considered a lucrative market.

The shakeout in the industry started because most cellular operators were and still are bleeding with few signs of approaching break-even.    

March 1 
A few hours and a round of applause later, N. Chandrababu Naidu has found Yashwant Sinha�s �bold� budget too hard to swallow. He has now described it as �anti-poor� and �back-breaking to the farmer�.

Naidu leads the pack of BJP allies who, too, are demanding a rollback of budget proposals. But they are less strident than the Andhra chief minister who has given the NDA the largest number of MPs after the BJP.

But Sinha has ruled out a rollback of the cut in fertiliser and food subsidies. �I don�t think so,� he said when asked if he would give the proposals a rethink. �These important decisions have been taken after due deliberation and very careful consideration. I do not see any reason for going back on some of them including hike in the foodgrain prices for those below the poverty line,� he said.

The Trinamul Congress, Akali Dal, DMK, National Conference and Indian National Lok Dal leaders are planning to take up the matter with the Prime Minister. The Lok Dal and the the Akalis, like the TDP, are especially concerned at the hike in fertiliser prices hitting the farmers, while the National Conference is seeking an economic package. The DMK is so unhappy with the hike in issue price of rice that the Tamil Nadu government will not pass on the additional burden.

�Our party is against the hike. We certainly want the finance minister to reconsider it, though I am not using the word rollback,� said Sudip Bandopadhyaya, Trinamul leader in the Lok Sabha. The National Conference demanded an economic package for Jammu and Kashmir.

Last week Sinha had refused to rollback the hike in price of cooking gas and Kerosene. However, the decision was deferred at the insistence of Naidu and others.

But the drama that the TDP played out has shocked Sinha most. Unaware of the rice subsidy cut and banking too much on infotech sops, the Andhra government had last evening issued a 12-paragraph statement, welcoming the �realistic� budget �with welcome features and bold initiatives�.

The statement was issued after the long-distance approval of Naidu, who was on the campaign trail for municipal elections.

But the �welcome features� started losing their appeal once civil supplies officials sat down with their calculators. A fax was sent to Naidu in Guntur, informing him of the subsidy slash impact on the state: Rs 400 crore.

A miffed Naidu immediately called up his parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu and asked him to issue a strong statement describing Sinha�s proposals as �a lethal blow to the poor�.    

Bangalore, March 1 
Sachin Tendulkar himself hasn�t said so in as many words, but unless the Board�s mind-set changes, unless there is a genuine desire to improve the system, it�s understood he won�t accept the captaincy again.

After tomorrow then, it could be quite a while before Sachin again goes for the toss wearing the India blazer. And though he does a neat job of hiding emotions, there may still be some give-away.

Sachin, in what probably is his last one-to-one interview as captain, spoke to The Telegraph this afternoon. He was, at times, more forthcoming than he ever has been. Following are excerpts:

On his thoughts on the eve of his last Test as captain

I�m pretty normal. I�m not thinking about the decision I�ve made. In any case, it�s final. I�m hoping to stay focused on the game, focused on scoring for India. Yes, somebody has to be the captain, but performing � be it with bat or ball � is more important.

On whether captaincy is really worth it

(After a pause) I never dreamt about becoming the captain. Rather, if I did have a dream, it was to play for India and, later, to perform in a manner that would stun the opposition. I suppose it also depends on what you�re looking at. As you know, I wasn�t mentally prepared when the captaincy was handed back to me last July.

However, I accepted it as a challenge, shouldered the responsibility. Indeed, tried my best. Somehow, things didn�t work (in Australia). It wasn�t for a lack of effort on my part. (Emotionally) In fact, today, I can look in the mirror and say I did try my hardest. I kept telling the team, too � keep trying, give that extra bit.

On whether he stopped enjoying his cricket only because of the many defeats in Australia

As I�ve said, I hadn�t been keen on the captaincy. Let�s say the build-up to not enjoying the game was gradual.

On fans who are happy that India, at least, will get back Sachin the batsman

But it�s not that I wasn�t scoring runs (in innings No. 2 as captain). I got a hundred and a double hundred against New Zealand, got a hundred in Australia, narrowly missed one in Mumbai last week. The expectations, perhaps, are too much. Even two failures probably lead people to think I�m going through a bad patch.

On Brian Lara quitting as captain in the same week

As I haven�t spoken to him, I shouldn�t say anything. It won�t be fair.

On whether a captain alone ought to own moral responsibility (as he has done)

Well, if the failure is collective, everybody is responsible. Where I�m concerned, however, I didn�t want to point fingers at one, two or three players. So, I said I alone owned responsibility for the defeats in Australia. I�ve been man enough to accept that.

On why he didn�t quit immediately after returning home

I wanted to and spoke to my family. It�s the family which suggested that I don�t take a hasty or emotional decision. Everyone felt I should think it over. Even I accepted I just can�t wake up one day and tell the world I don�t want to captain India. That�s not done.

Before making the announcement, I spoke to Kapil Dev and also the Board president. They tried to dissuade me, but my mind was made up. Frankly, I had lost all enjoyment and, when the enjoyment wasn�t there, I wouldn�t have been able to do justice. A time had come when I just wanted to be me, simply wanted to be myself. I went to the selection meeting (in Mumbai) with the (resignation) letter in my pocket.

On whether he realised he had stopped smiling and laughing in Australia

(Smiles) I had become restless. I couldn�t sleep well, couldn�t switch-off, even briefly, from what was happening. All the while, I was just concerned about how to try and win. How to turn things around. As I�ve said, I stopped being myself. Perhaps, even stopped smiling. May be, at times, even stopped talking.

On just how important is the captain�s body language

Very, very important. He�s the one who carries the team. He�s got to run around, stay absolutely involved, even when the team is in the doldrums.

On whether the best player should be kept away from captaincy

It�s a hard question. Everybody, after all, has responsibility; everybody faces pressure. If I�m expected to get a hundred, newcomer Murali Karthik is expected to get 10 wickets.

On whether after two innings as captain, he is better off without the captaincy

Let me answer it this way: if I�m not enjoying it, I won�t do justice to the job. I accept one or two players can have a bad series but, in Australia, everybody had a bad tour. It was one big collective failure. How could I then have enjoyed the captaincy?

As I wasn�t able to do the job, I was clear about letting somebody else have a go.

On what makes a good captain

(Begins to answer, but stops) Let�s leave this out. The captaincy and its elements. Please, it�s a closed chapter.

On the lessons learnt from captaincy

That things can get very difficult, specially overseas. That it�s so important to get the act right overseas. That the captain must help whoever needs assistance. [Coincidentally, just as Sachin was answering this question, Sadagopan Ramesh called to say he wanted to �come over� to the captain�s room.]

On his expectations from successor Sourav Ganguly

Let�s leave him alone, let him evolve as captain. Let him find his feet instead of weighing him down with expectations. Of course, I�m going to back him throughout whatever decisions he takes. The team must let the captain feel they�ll back him hundred per cent. There are times when each player has to give that extra bit. That gives the captain confidence.

On whether he didn�t get that extra bit from every player

Everybody tried. Yet, at times, just trying isn�t good enough. There are so many situations when you�ve got to try harder. Perhaps, that wasn�t always there.

On whether he has, on a one-to-one basis, spoken to Mohammed Azharuddin

At nets, yes. I�ve discussed batting, fielding. People may have been expecting a clash, but that�s not going to happen. I�ll be happy if Azhar scores because, then, the chances of winning improve. As I see it, anybody who delivers, is a good inclusion.

On what will life be like without the captaincy

Having already made the decision, I�m enjoying the game. Just because I�m not captain, it won�t be that I�ll get hundreds in each innings. Doesn�t work that way. But I�m hungry for runs and hope to bat the way I did when I was removed from captaincy (January 1998).

Bottomline is to give that extra bit, always, and not lose out on enjoyment. Even today, it�s a challenge to go out and gets runs. May be, pick up the odd wicket. Even cut off boundaries.

Finally, on whether, at some point in time, he�ll again consider leading India

(Smiles again) I�m still the captain, am I not? I didn�t give up the captaincy specifically thinking I�ll again have a go at a particular time. The priority for me, throughout the 10 years, has been to help India win. I�ll be happy doing that.    

Temperature: Maximum: 31.9�C (+1) Minimum: 18.5�C (+1) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 84%, Minimum: 41% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in maximum temperature. Slight rise in minimum temperature Sunset: 5.36 pm Sunrise: 6.03 am    

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