Mamata declares battle for Bengal after bypoll win
DMK retreats, only half way
Drums beat for kingsize corporate war
Calcutta weather

June 8 
Trinamul Congress today wrested the Panskura Lok Sabha seat in Midnapore from the Left Front in a stunning blow to the ruling communists, seen as a prelude to further upsets in the coming civic polls in Calcutta.

Trinamul nominee Bikram Sarkar trounced CPI heavyweight and former Rajya Sabha member Gurudas Dasgupta by 41,481 votes in a multi-cornered contest. Congress candidate Subhankar Sarkar forfeited his security deposit by polling a little over 20,000 votes.

Trinamul has polled more votes than the CPI in four out of seven Assembly segments. Although the CPI led in the other three, only in one � Debra � did its tally improve marginally over last time.

A beaming Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee, who has been camping in Midnapore, said her party�s victory indicates �things in store for us in the coming civic and Assembly polls.�

�I will stick to my promise to ensure development of the area and nourish it as my second constituency. A peaceful atmosphere is required for development of this poverty-stricken constituency,� she said before departing for Calcutta.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee congratulated Mamata for defeating the Left in one of its traditional citadels and indicated his keenness to strengthen the BJP�s alliance with her party.

Mamata said the Panskura byelection will serve as an inspiration to her party workers to �fight the CPM�s misrule and remove it from power in the next Assembly polls.� In a renewed call for a �mahajot of anti-CPM forces�, Mamata sent a message to the Congress that it should realise the necessity of a �united fight.� The Congress has so far spurned moves for a grand Opposition alliance.

The announcement of the result was followed by sporadic clashes in the constituency.

In Keshpur, notorious for violence, CPM workers dragged out Trinamul supporters from buses and beat them up, injuring 27 of them. The IG, western range, R.K. Johri, directed the district police chief to post pickets in front of party offices and residences of political leaders.

At least 30 persons were injured in a CPM-Trinamul clash in Hooghly district when some local people organised a procession to celebrate �the Panskura victory.�

All major streets in Midnapore wore a deserted look before sunset as people chose to stay indoors fearing violence. A number of victory processions, however, were brought out by Trinamul supporters as the result was announced. Left Front camps at counting centres were virtually deserted.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas insisted that Trinamul used �terror tactics to rig the polls in some places.� He, however, felt the result did not indicate any �defeat of the left forces as a whole.�

�It is true that in some areas the people voted spontaneously for the Trinamul nominee as we could not convince them about the danger posed by communal and reactionary forces. It was one of our organisational lapses which we will try to rectify at the earliest,� Biswas said.

The CPI, however, insisted that the byelection was completely rigged by Trinamul. �The result has not reflected the people�s verdict. In some Assembly segments, our lead has been reduced by 20,000 to 30,000 votes,� a CPI leader said.    

New Delhi, June 8 
The Centre today managed to get the DMK to publicly fall in line with its Sri Lanka policy, but failed to make it fully retract the suggestion for partitioning the island nation to resolve the ethnic tangle.

Commerce minister and DMK leader Murasoli Maran, who was asked to attend today�s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, said his party was in �full agreement� with the government. But he refused to withdraw Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi�s suggestion of dividing the island.

�What the chief minister said has been blown out of proportion,� he said, referring to the DMK chief�s recent remarks that Sri Lanka should be split into two.    

Mumbai, June 8 
It�s going to be a long night for Ratan Tata. The chieftain of the Rs 35,000-crore Tata group has to agonise over whether or not he should make a counter-bid for BSES, the independent private power utility that services most of Mumbai, and thereby ignite a bruising battle with Dhirubhai Ambani of the Rs 20,989-crore Reliance group.

It has all the makings of one of the most riveting battles in Indian corporate history that could bring the simmering rivalry between the two corporate titans out into the open.

Almost three weeks ago, the Reliance group, which already has a 15 per cent stake in BSES, came out with an offer to pick up another 20 per cent from BSES shareholders at Rs 234 per share � a lowball offer considering that the share was then quoting on the markets at around Rs 270.

Under the rules set by the market regulator � the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) � a counter-bid has to be made within 21 days. The deadline for a counter-bid for BSES shares ends tomorrow � June 9. The market has been abuzz with speculation that the Tatas, who have a very small stake in the Mumbai-based power utility, are mulling a bid.

The news of a counter-offer has excited corporate mavens in the country who have seen very few hostile attacks since Swraj Paul�s dramatic (but eventually abortive) bid for Escorts back in 1982 and Manu Chhabria�s successful takeover of Shaw Wallace in 1985.

But some observers have taken it all with a pinch of salt. They read several motives behind the possible Tata move. The foremost being not to let BSES go to Reliance on a platter. Tata Power is a competitor and has sparred on several occasions with BSES.

If the Tatas are keen on controlling BSES, they will have to make an open offer for more than 20 per cent. This is because Reliance already has 15 per cent stake in BSES and is expected to easily cross the 20 per cent mark. The equation has been somewhat confounded by the fact that the financial institutions have said they will not allow their shareholding to dip below the crucial 26 per cent level, which will allow them to nix resolutions that they find unacceptable.

Another view is that the Tatas may want to merely ramp up the cost of the BSES acquisition and force Reliance to fork out more than they intended to.

However, it is worth mentioning here that Reliance inspite of holding 15 per cent in BSES is yet to seek representation on the board and technically BSES is still an independent outfit.

While corporate watchers were rubbing their hands in anticipation of a proposed counter bid by the Tatas tomorrow, the stock markets yawned at the news and appeared to discount the possibility of a bidding war with the result that the BSES share moving up very slightly. The BSES share pierced the Rs 300 mark to close at Rs 300.05 from the previous close of Rs 296.35, after touching an intra-day high of Rs 307, indicating a meagre gain of Rs 3.70.

Significantly, the Tatas today announced the merger of the three Tata Electric Companies and also announced that it plans to raise additional capital at the board meetings fixed for June 14. Analysts see this as a prelude to fund the open offer for the Tatas, which could easily cost them over Rs 1000 crore.

In another twist to the corporate drama, J M Morgan Stanley � the lead managers to the Reliance open offer � has in the past sewn up several deals for the Tatas. A source, in the merchant banking outfit however argued that it was instrumental in advising the Reliance group earlier on the merger of Reliance Polyethylene and Reliance Polypropylene with Reliance Industries. �Nothing more should be read into the appointment � they said.

However, sources said there was an air of calm at Maker IV, the headquarters of the Reliance group, a day before the end of the deadline for counter-bids. The official reaction from Reliance to a possible counter bid by the Tatas was �no comments�.

At Bombay House, the official comment was more ambiguous. �We maintain what our chairman said�. A business daily had quoted Ratan Tata as saying �I cannot comment on the issue right now�.

Ajay Kumar, vice-president and from the chairman�s office, said cryptically: �In any case, you�ll come to know tomorrow�.

While the two rivals kept all the cards close to their chest, the BSES chairman cum managing director R V Shahi remained totally in the dark.

He told The Telegraph, �I have not heard anything but for a report in the newspaper.� He added that if anything extraordinary unfolds tomorrow, his board and Sebi will be the first ones to know.

As for the main protagonists in this corporate drama, the night could be long and tortuous.    

Temperature: Maximum:31.6�C (-3) Minimum: 26.1�C (-1) RAINFALL: 2.1 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 97%, Minimum:76% Today: One or two spells of light rain, accompanied by thunder. Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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