Jethmalani threat to go public
Missing link on Atal�s US trip
Zee mints Malamaal contest for Crorepati
Calcutta weather

New Delhi,July 26: 
The Vajpayee government today prevented Ram Jethmalani from making a statement in the Rajya Sabha on his resignation, but the ousted law minister struck back by threatening to go public if he is not allowed to speak tomorrow.

Though technical reasons were cited for not letting Jethmalani take the floor, the government apparently developed cold feet as the statement is said to contain disparaging references to Chief Justice A.S. Anand and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee.

The 18-page statement has 93 pages of annexures, including documents that Jethmalani obtained in his capacity as law minister.

Even as the government began efforts to persuade Jethmalani to delete his criticism of the chief justice and the attorney-general, the mercurial former minister promised to make public the statement on events leading to his resignation if he is not allowed to speak tomorrow.

�I will speak to the media and public about the circumstances that led to my resignation from the Cabinet if I am not given a chance to make a statement in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow,� he said.

Asked why he did not make the statement today, he said: �The government raised some technical objections to the statement I had placed before the secretariat and I have answered them.�

Sources said Jethmalani had secured photocopies of certain documents which he is now trying to make use of. The Rajya Sabha chairman could not allow the documents to be placed before the House without the government�s consent as they pertained to top constitutional authorities. �You cannot just discuss the conduct of such persons in the House,� a Cabinet minister said.

The sources said the original statement had six references to the chief justice, the �sordid exchanges� he had with the attorney-general besides some correspondence between Jethmalani and the chief justice and the attorney-general.

Realising that the statement could put the Centre in a spot, crisis managers succeeded in stalling Jethmalani from making the statement in the House. Chairman Krishan Kant refused permission on the ground that the documents were not authenticated.

Deputy chairperson Najma Heptulla said the chairman wanted time to study the papers presented by the former minister. She said the secretariat received the copy of Jethmalani�s explanation along with some attachments only at 9.45 this morning.

For the past two days, the government has been making efforts to placate Jethmalani. Sources said Sorabjee wrote to Jethmalani yesterday in a bid to mollify him. The attorney-general told Jethmalani that he had nothing personal against him.    

Washington, July 26: 
What will Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee do in the US on September 16?

This is a puzzling question diplomats in Washington are speculating on following the simultaneous announcement here and in New Delhi yesterday about Vajpayee�s forthcoming �official� visit to the US in September.

The speculation stems from the White House announcement that Vajpayee�s official US visit will be for just two days, September 15 and 17. �Prime Minister Vajpayee has accepted President Clinton�s invitation for an official visit to Washington on September 15 and 17,� the announcement said.

This implies that although the Prime Minister will be in the US capital on September 16, his presence here on that day will not be treated as �official�. The White House announcement makes it clear the Americans will host the Prime Minister only for two days.

The day in between has been set apart for Indian community functions.

But the speculation in diplomatic circles is that there is more to it than meets the eye. When Clinton was visiting India, he arrived in New Delhi on March 19, and travelled to Bangladesh the next day. The Indian government did not treat Clinton�s presence in New Delhi on March 19 and 20 as official and considered his official visit as having begun only on March 21 after his return from Dhaka.

When Clinton�s visit was being planned, the White House had, at one stage, expressed a wish that Clinton wanted to land in Goa first on March 19 and go to Delhi after his trip to Dhaka. But the Indians insisted that he should land in New Delhi instead and then excluded March 19 and 20 from the �official� itinerary.

The speculation here is that it is now the turn of the White House to reciprocate.

The rest of Vajpayee�s stay in the US, where he will arrive on September 6 and stay for a total of 12 days, will not be considered �official� either.

The Indian side explains that the omission of September 16 is because Vajpayee will have no programmes on the day involving the US government. His meeting with Clinton is on September 15 and the official banquet will be on September 17.

The Prime Minister�s presence in New York from September 6 to 8, where he will attend the �millennium summit�, is, in any case, being treated as a trip to the UN. But from New York, Vajpayee is to travel to San Francisco and later to Washington.

The US state department and the ministry of external affairs had coordinated the announcement of Vajpayee�s visit: they made simultaneous statements and at least one sentence is common in both the announcements.

But in an attempt to cover up the fact that Vajpayee is on an official visit to the US only for two days, South Block has stretched its drafting skills to the limit. The ministry�s statement reads: �At the invitation of the President of the US, Mr Bill Clinton, the Prime Minister of India, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, is to pay an official visit to the USA and will be in Washington from September 15 to 17, 2000.� It does not mention the fact that the Prime Minister will be in the US from September 6 to 17, but says vaguely that he �will be visiting New York and San Francisco also�.    

New Delhi, July 26: 
If Crorepati is here, Crorepati II can�t be far behind. That�s the message coming out of Subhash Chandra�s Zee Telefilms camp.

Zee plans to celebrate its eighth birthday on October 1 and the bonding with millions of viewers across the globe with a bang. And, bingo, the mega show happens to be the Zee Malamaal Contest.

With a name like that, not much is left to the imagination to guess what the show is all about. It�s about money. The rest Zee is keeping under wraps.

It wouldn�t offer anything more than the tantalising invitation to news conferences in Mumbai and Delhi, tomorrow and the day after, where the details of the contest will be announced.

Zee is playing it so close to the chest that even advertising agencies or big advertisers have not had a whiff of what�s coming.

There�s nothing like secrecy to fuel speculation. Industry watchers are scenting the obvious: Zee is hitting back at STAR with some form of its own Kaun Banega Crorepati. Ad agency sources say Zee has been very disturbed and edgy at seeing its brand loyalty get battered with prime-time viewers being snatched away by STAR Plus. There is talk that the Zee chief is annoyed at being upstaged by the Rupert Murdoch-owned channel.

From a laggardly third player in the entertainment category, STAR Plus has leapfrogged to the number 1 slot, both in terms of advertising interest and TV ratings. Last week, KBC was booked five weeks in advance for commercial time. After it went on air, STAR Plus�s share of prime-time viewers has jumped to 11 per cent, compared with Zee TV�s 7.0 and Sony�s 6.4 per cent.

Sumantra Datta, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, of News Television of India, Murdoch�s Indian flagship, said: �We needed a killer programme with killer content. KBC has wiped out everything. Cinema halls and theatre auditoriums are feeling the pinch.�

While the Zee Malamaal Contest could well be the answer to KBC, media specialists wonder if Subhash Chandra, having lost first-mover advantage to STAR, would want to do a me-too act.

A media specialist says: �(Surely) the stakes cannot get higher, glamour cannot get more sizzling, questions cannot get more idiot-proof� than what they are on KBC.

It would be difficult to top Star Plus�s jackpot, even more tough to outdo the charisma of Amitabh Bachchan as host. But Zee may go for an altogether different format, choosing a professional host rather than a movie star.

Whatever the Zee riposte, the battle for control of eyeballs in the Indian market can only escalate on several fronts. Zee has already announced plans to extend the reach of its news channel in a pre-emptive strike on STAR News.    



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