Delhi in Farooq autonomy trap
Pope-stung PM applies salve
ICC chooses comfort over cash
Calcutta weather

Srinagar, June 26 
Desperate to regain lost political ground in the Valley, Farooq Abdullah�s National Conference today pushed through a resolution seeking optimum autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir over protests and walkouts by the entire Opposition in the Assembly.

The autonomy resolution, which seeks exclusive jurisdiction over all matters except defence, foreign affairs and communications, among other administrative and financial powers, was carried by a voice vote on the strength of the National Conference (NC), which enjoys a brute majority in the House.

Farooq Abdullah, who has fretted over the prospect of being politically outflanked because of the Centre launching direct negotiations with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, has now armed himself with a weapon to wield at New Delhi and recover credibility on home ground.

The resolution adopted today enjoins upon the Central and state governments to �take positive and effective steps for the implementation� of the autonomy report.

The Abdullah government had earlier formed a five-member ministerial committee to initiate dialogue with the Centre on making the autonomy demand a reality. The committee comprised finance minister A.R. Rather, housing minister Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, education minister Mohammed Shafi, minister of state for tourism S.S. Salathia and law minister P.L. Handoo.

With passage of the resolution on the last day of the special Assembly session called to discuss autonomy, the onus is now on the Centre, which reacted with caution. Home minister L.K. Advani said the government will �consider� the issue of granting auto-nomy.

But Advani was unwilling to comment at length maintaining that the government as a whole � the Cabinet � had to deliberate on the matter. �I do not want to foreclose anything, we shall have to discuss it within the four corners of our Constitution,� Advani said.

But indications are that the Centre is in no hurry to act upon the autonomy resolution. There exists a wide variance of views on the issue within and outside the ruling coalition. The BJP itself is strongly opposed to any autonomy on the lines of the pre-1953 arrangement. The main Opposition party, the Congress, too, is opposed to the idea and voted against the resolution in the Assembly.

Abdullah, who is a coalition partner of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had been summoned to New Delhi in the middle of the special Assembly session last week for talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the autonomy question.

Abdullah is believed to have countered central advice to not rush with the resolution by stating that he needed �a new slogan� to keep himself and his party politically relevant in the Kashmir Valley. To that end, he argued, he was going to pass the resolution, if only to reassert himself as mantle-bearer of Jammu and Kashmir�s struggle for autonomy.

In the raucous drama of the Assembly today, though, Farooq Abdullah had to intervene several times to rein in overenthusiastic members of his own party who sporadically resorted to slogans like �burn the Constitution�. At one point, the chief minister threatened to have NC legislator Mohammed Shafi Bhat expelled for allegedly raising anti-India slogans on the floor. The Speaker, Abdul Ahad Vakil, later clarified that according to the records Bhat had not raised any such slogans.

In his two-hour speech before the passage of the resolution, Abdullah reiterated that neither he nor his party was anti-India but wanted autonomy granted in order to satisfy the long-standing urge of the Kashmiri people.

�We are not anti-India and we have proved our credentials time and again. But you don�t push us to the wall and we will not push you to the wall,� he said.    

Rome, June 26 
An embarrassed Prime Minister today had to tell Pope John Paul II that his �government is deeply concerned about the attacks which have taken place on Christians and their institutions�.

At the Vatican this morning, it was the Pontiff who raised the issue, thereby indirectly expressing his displeasure at the atrocities being committed on the minority community.

Government officials accompanying Atal Behari Vajpayee did not want to speak on the subject. Principal secretary and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra read out a statement in which the government�s stand on the sensitive issue, as communicated to the Pope, was spelt out.

The Prime Minister reassured the Pope that all �efforts are being made to prevent these incidents, as also to protect the minority communities and ensure an atmosphere of communal harmony.�

Vajpayee requested the Pope to not base his judgment on media reports and �see the whole issue in its correct perspective in order to appreciate the magnitude and implications�.

In a way it was a politically bold move by the Prime Minister. He had agreed to a visit to the Papal headquarters knowing full well he would have to stoop on this subject of attacks on Christians. He knew he would only anger a section of the extreme right in India but would gain friends in the West, with developed countries now learning to look at India without Pakistan filters.

Vajpayee�s clarification to the Pope will also revitalise the demoralised Christian community in India. It will send a message to the perpetrators of these crimes of the Prime Minister�s strong disapproval with the warning that the attacks must stop without delay. What Vajpayee told the Pope today was almost a reaffirmation of the statement he had issued on the eve of his visit to Europe last Saturday.

In his conversation with the Pope, Vajpayee said: �Though crime is the responsibility of the state governments, the Centre has taken prompt measures to safeguard the interests of the minority communities and instill a sense of confidence among them.�

He said: �We are firm in our determination to deal with perpetrators of violence and are taking all necessary measures to ensure an atmosphere of communal harmony.�

The tone of the statement, released to the media later, was not entirely apologetic but did suggest the degree to which the Vajpayee government felt embarrassed over the developments. That is why the Prime Minister went to the extent of explaining to the Pope that the �Central government is in close touch with the state governments to ensure that all preventive and precautionary measures are taken for the maintenance of peace and communal harmony�.

Vajpayee also said his government �is resolved that the perpetrators of violence should be dealt with firmly and that exemplary punishment should be meted out to them�. Vajpayee did not mention a word on the approach to the issue adopted by his party. Both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP have passed the blame to the ISI.

The Prime Minister�s discomfiture was evident in his refusal to field questions at a news conference where Italian journalists were present. Vajpayee read out his statement after the Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amata, made a short speech. Vajpayee got up abruptly and said smiling: �I like to take questions during the question hour in Parliament.� He left without looking back.

Confused journalists were more than enraged, particularly the Italians.    

Calcutta, June 26 
Earlier this month, the International Cricket Council�s (ICC�s) finance and marketing committee chairman, Ehsan Mani, indicated TV rights for the 2003 and 2007 World Cups may not be awarded to the highest bidder.

In Paris, last evening, the cookie crumbled just that way: The ICC Development (International) Ltd signed a seven-year contract (that decks were cleared was reported in Monday�s Late City edition) with World Sport Group (WSG).

The contract was signed after the Executive Board, where all Test-playing nations and three Associates � Kenya, Holland and Malaysia � find representation, gave the go-ahead.

Besides the two World Cups � in South Africa and the West Indies, respectively � WSG also has the rights for the next four mini World Cups (beginning with the October 3-15 meet in Nairobi), the ICC Trophy tournaments in 2001 and 2005 and three colts� championships.

According to The Telegraph�s sources though the other two bidders, Zee Multimedia Worldwide and Trans World International (TWI) combined to offer �around $670 million,� the substantially less WSG bid of $550 million got accepted.

It is understood the Executive Board members were sharply divided when it came to awarding the rights. Of course, it couldn�t immediately be confirmed whether there actually was a vote.

[The recommendation that Bangladesh be awarded Test-status was, on the other hand, unanimous. Today, on Jagmohan Dalmiya�s last day as president, the ICC�s annual general meeting accepted that recommendation.]

�Look, it was generally known top priority would be given to us (the ICC) feeling comfortable with the partner we would choose. Money couldn�t have been criterion No.1... But, yes, there was a big debate on the whole issue,� acknowledged a well-placed source, when contacted in London.

He added: �The process of bidding was transparent and, to off-set allegations of nepotism, we had PriceWaterhouseCoopers overseeing the whole exercise.�

While it would seem odd for the Executive Board to meet (and sign the contract) in Paris, tax-considerations prompted this ICC move.

The coming together of Zee and TWI was, obviously, a coup. Only, it didn�t quite come off. The ICC, in fact, opted for a set-up which has earned spurs largely by marketing\covering men�s golf in Asia, women�s golf in Europe and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) activities.

Incidentally, the Mumbai-headquartered Nimbus is a WSG �partner.�

However, for now, Nimbus isn�t talking beyond simply saying involvement will be with �marketing, production and sponsorship.�

�It�s premature to talk about specifics... Things are being worked out,� insisted Nimbus� Uday Sinh Wala.

The London-based Shamus O�Brien, who heads WSG, wasn�t available for comment.

�As you can understand, it�s a very busy day for us... There are a string of meetings,� explained an excited WSG spokesperson, speaking from the London office this evening.

Though Zee has already firmly denied reports it would encourage a Parallel Tour, if the rights went to another bidder, Zee moves could still be watched with much interest.    

Temperature: Maximum: 31.1�C (-2) Minimum: 25.2�C (-2) RAINFALL: 3.9 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 93%, Minimum: 69% Today: One or two spells of light rain, accompanied by thunder. Sunset: 6.23 pm Sunrise: 4.57 am    

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