Giving up golf, US plays ball with India
Big B bailout for Big B
Bitter Kapil bows out
Yagna to free crash spirits
Calcutta weather

New York, Sept. 12: 
As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gets set for a whirlwind four-day visit to the US capital, India is in the diplomatic big league in Washington, at least for the time being.

Officials of the Prime Minister�s Office (PMO) and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) persuaded the Clinton administration during the weekend to do what few foreign governments could achieve. They managed to get Washington bureaucrats to give up their weekend and golf to work on Indo-US relations.

The under-secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Pickering, travelled to New York from Washington on Sunday for day-long parleys with Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. At the same time, Indian government secretaries for telecommunications, textiles and power engaged their American counterparts on the economic agenda for Vajpayee�s visit.

Karl Inderfurth, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, was constantly on the phone from his Virginia residence to Alok Prasad, the joint secretary in MEA dealing with the Americas, to finalise documents to be released at the end of Vajpayee�s talks with Clinton.

Diplomats in Washington recalled that not since the hectic days of Soviet-US arms limitation talks had the American bureaucracy sacrificed their privileged holidays to work on a visit from abroad. The only exception, of course, was the West Asia peace talks in July when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were forced into a room by President Bill Clinton for days under his mediation to work out a deal. The effort was unsuccessful.

Already, the Americans have made the rarest of rare exceptions in asking Vajpayee to go over to Washington from New York. As a rule, they discourage dignitaries visiting the UN from extending their trip to include official engagements in Washington.

In finalising the finer details of Vajpayee�s Washington itinerary, Indian officials are putting to full use America�s proficiency in technology.

Yesterday, they were on teleconferences from the Waldorf Astoria hotel involving officials in Washington and Indian community leaders elsewhere in the US.

The economic agenda for Vajpayee�s Washington trip is now in its final stages. N.K. Singh, secretary in the PMO, told reporters last evening that progress was expected in resolving India�s textile disputes with US. �We are concentrating on the textiles segment,� he said.

American officials are heaving a sigh of relief that Yasser Arafat has put off his unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. The declaration was to take effect on September 13, the day Vajpayee reaches Washington.

Had Arafat gone ahead with his plans, Vajpayee�s US itinerary would have been substantially jeopardised what with the Clinton administration getting embroiled in the fallout of a now- aborted West Asian crisis.    

Mumbai, Sept. 12: 
For some weeks now, Amitabh Bachchan has been throwing a lifeline several times a day, five days of the week to crore-chasers who have lost their way.

Now, it�s time for him to grab one. The lifeline for Big B�s company, ABC, has been thrown by Mumbai�s other Big B: Ketan Parekh. He is the mystery-shrouded man on the stock market who inherited Harshad Mehta�s crown of the Big Bull.

Also called the �one-man army� for his fabled prowess to ramp up share prices of companies he fancies, Parekh has taken a shine to Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, discarded by the market as a basket case.

KBC is only about one crore, but when Big Bull II enters the ring, what kind of cash is ABC looking at? Just to give a hint of the moneybags Parekh carries, here�s an example. In 1999-2000, he offered to pay advance tax of Rs 31 crore.

ABC has mandated Triumph International, a brokerage and research outfit affiliated to Parekh, to restructure the company. Henceforth, ABC will focus on the core competence and charisma of Bachchan, said sources close to the deal.

The company�s board will be recast by Bachchan and Amar Singh, the Samajwadi Party leader and a friend, with nominees of Parekh coming in.

�Mr Parekh has been injecting fresh funds into ABC from the start of the current financial year, April 2000,� the sources said.

Industry sources say that after years of gloom, a period when ABC and Bachchan were hauled to the courts by banks and state corporations, the wheel of fortune has turned. Kaun Banega Crorepati has brought luck apart from whatever Bachchan may be earning himself from the show.

The funds pumped in by Parkeh will be used to pay off the creditors of ABC to achieve debt-free status and restart with a clean slate.

Helping in the restructuring of the capital is another Parkeh firm, Triumph International Finance India Limited.

A resurgent ABC is already producing three films with major stars and has gone into distribution in prime territories such as Mumbai. One of these is a Bachchan-starrer with Aamir Khan, directed by Mansoor Khan.

Also on the way is a film directed by Rakesh Mehra featuring the father-son duo of Amitabh and Abhishek with music by A.R. Rehman.

In the final stage of production is one starring Amitabh, Manoj Bajpai, Raveena Tandon and Nandita Das with music by Anu Malik and lyrics by Gulzar. Trade circles say the film is due for release in December-January.

ABC also intends to acquire the Mumbai distribution rights of two forthcoming films of Abhishek � Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (with Aishwariya Rai) and Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai (with Rani Mukherjee).

Is ABC sure of pulling all this off? With Parekh purse behind it, it�s not overly risky to say: Lock kya jai.    

Calcutta, Sept. 12: 
Kapil Dev�s stand-off with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ended this morning, when he quit as national coach.

He has even asked the BCCI not to associate him in �any way.� Indeed, Kapil�s emotional three-page resignation, faxed to BCCI president A.C. Muthiah, includes the following:

�The game that gave me everything has now taken its pound of flesh from me. I go without looking back and will be happy if the board would not associate me in any way with its future plans or events connected to cricket.�

The bitterness has not been camouflaged.

Kapil would have preferred putting in his papers after being cleared by one of the agencies, involved in the on-going investigations, but he probably had a re-think once it became clear the BCCI would replace him. Sooner rather than later.

It�s a climb-down for Kapil but, in the circumstances, perhaps the best bargain.

Though sources are divided on whether a deal actually was worked out, that Kapil got publicly invited to the mini-World Cup specific conditioning camp (in Chennai), opened the option of making himself unavailable.

In exercising that, Kapil saved everybody further loss of face. It will keep the sabre-rattling sports ministry quiet, too. That�s only one side of the �invitation,� though.

It ought to have come much earlier and it�s apparent Kapil remains miffed it came only yesterday, a mere two days before the camp gets underway.

Today�s development, of course, won�t surprise those following the Kapil-BCCI drama, specially over the last three weeks. Shadow-boxing certainly wasn�t at a premium.

In fact that Kapil would quit, a full year before completion of the two-year term, was indicated in these columns Tuesday.

�I�ll respond tomorrow to being asked to take charge of the camp (for the October 3-15 tournament),� is what Kapil told The Telegraph last night.

This morning, he forwarded the resignation that was drafted last night.

Kapil insisted he �would not� add to what was faxed to Muthiah.

That the partnership ended on such an impersonal note is indicative of the state the Kapil-BCCI relationship had reached.

To reinforce that, Muthiah issued a blunt statement: �Kapil has resigned on his own and Aunshuman Gaekwad will take his place.�

The BCCI is looking to recruit professionals to spruce its functioning but, for starters, it could do with lessons in courtesy.

Gaekwad, Kapil�s predecessor, returns in an ad-hoc capacity, till the Sharjah triangular in end-October. It�s a coincidence Gaekwad�s last tournament, too, was in Nairobi: The quadrangular 12 months ago.

As the BCCI is inclined towards a coach from overseas, there may be a peculiar situation should India win in Nairobi and/or Sharjah under a stand-in coach.

For now, however, that is the least of the BCCI�s problems.

A real big one will arise if, after the tainted players and the coach who too was under a cloud, the focus now firmly shifts to officials under the scanner.

n See Page 16    

July 29, 8 pm. Sanjeev Lala was returning to his home in Gardanibag � the site of the Alliance Air crash 12 days ago � on a moonlit night when he was overpowered by some supernatural force. The 23-year-old accounts officer forced himself to drag on, but couldn�t.

He dropped to his knees and as he did so, he saw a woman, draped in a white sari, crying for a drop of water. Sanjeev couldn�t believe his eyes, but there she was, pleading from behind the wing of the killer plane, the solitary remnant of the disaster in which 60 perished.

He fainted.

Sanjeev is not the only one who has reported such close encounters of the third kind. Many like him have similarly been overcome by some unseen spectre from the world beyond.

One resident said he saw a man asking for a light for his cigarette. When he offered that, he saw to his horror that the man�s face was splattered with blood. The appearance of a �ghost� triggered a stampede in a local school in which two girls were injured.

For over a month now, the usually bustling road leading from the bus stand to the residential colony is deserted by 9 pm.

The tormented residents put together a committee and consulted tantriks and priests on �how to liberate the unhappy souls from their state of agony�.

On the advice from the ghost-busters, the residents, led by Jairam Prasad, bodyguard of Rabri Devi�s brother Subhas Yadav, have begun a mahayagna to emancipate the �restive spirits�.

Eleven high-priests have arrived from Varanasi and they have been chanting slokas to ward off the spirits from last morning.

At least 15 loudspeakers have been put up at vantage points to enable the residents to hear the mantras which will exorcise them of evil spirits.

�Sixty souls who met their untimely physical death is no joke. Some local residents have suffered severe psychological disorders due to the regular appearances of ghosts,� said Jayram Baba, one of the priests. The prayers will continue till Mon- day.

Before beginning the yagna, the priests fetched 20 pitc- hers of Ganga water, placed them around the altar and conduc- ted the �fundamental puja� by invoking �Satan� tantra- style.

�We believe that tantra, mantra and jap can cure any disorder in the man-spirit relationship,� said Baba Bindeswari Pandey who spent 11 years in meditation at his hutment on the banks of the Ganga.

The residents, who are religiously sitting through the gruelling yagna, hope they will be rid of the strange encounters.

Not all, however, are buying the story of the spirit.

N. Mandal, a state government officer who stays in the colony, said: �We suspect that some criminals are trying to spark fear among the people and force them to leave the area so that it can be take over by the land-sharks.�    



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