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In January 1996, two drunk men straight from a New Year�s-eve bash had entered tiger Shiva�s enclosure and tried to garland him. The terrified tiger had killed one of the men instantly and seriously injured the other.
At 4.30 this evening, as the guards at the zoo were preparing to close for the day, a 30-year-old man, as yet unidentified, tottered across to the tiger enclosure where nine-year-old Bob was pacing the ground.
As the stunned visitors watched, the man clambered over the wire-fencing and dived into the 20-feet deep moat. Paying no heed to the cries of the securitymen who had spotted him by then, he determinedly swam towards the tiger, who suddenly seemed to take an interest in the figure rapidly approaching him.
Pulling himself out of the water as he reached the second protective fencing around the enclosure � a precaution taken after the Shiva incident � he prepared for the final assault.
As visitors gasped at this �incredible sight�, he heaved himself over the fence and within seconds was face-to-face with Bob. He first gesticulated at the tiger, making faces at him and mouthing words that could not be heard. Then, as a hush descended around the enclosure, he tried to embrace Bob in an apparent display of friendship.
It was at this moment that the tiger, tense at an unknown figure approaching him, reacted. He lunged at the man, hitting him hard with his paws and throwing him to the ground. Then Bob dug his teeth into the nape of the man�s neck, shaking him violently.
By now the keepers at the zoo had got into the act. They quickly got on to the top of the cage from where two other tigers, Uday and Shweta, were keenly watching the �show�, and pulled up the hatch. This seemed to come as a relief to Bob who left the man and quietly walked into the cage.
By the time the man was rushed to SSKM hospital, he was dead.
�I wish I had not come to the zoo today,� said Tapan Bose of Kankurgachi, who witnessed the incident. �It was so ghastly that the sight is going to haunt me for many nights. I just turned my face away as blood started spouting from the man�s neck.�
Alipore zoo director Adhir Das said it was just fright that led Bob to kill the man. �It was because of this that he repeatedly attacked him on his chest, neck and belly,� he said. He added that the man was �intoxicated� and had probably jumped into the cage �to commit suicide�.
Deputy commissioner of police (port), Zulfikar Hassan, who rushed to the zoo after the incident, said a case of negligence had been registered against the zoo authorities. �But our first priority is to identify the man and determine whether this was a drunken act or whether he really wanted to commit suicide,� Hassan said.
There have been a number of attempts to enter animals� enclosures in the Calcutta zoo. Soon after Shiva killed his �visitor�, a woman entered the crocodile pit to collect coins in February 1996. In May 1999, a man climbed on top of the tiger enclosure gate. He was arrested.
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�We want Vajpayeeji to strictly follow the NDA agenda and not his party�s hidden one,� Mamata said after at an iftar attended by 5,000 Muslims. �I will be the last person to tolerate any deviation from the NDA agenda.�
Today�s party, held at Park Circus maidan, was organised by Congress MLA-turned-Trinamul leader Sultan Ahmed.
Mamata said all NDA partners should be consulted before the government takes a final decision on the temple. �We should stick to the NDA agenda and any violation will cost the government,� she warned.
Asked about Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi�s threat to pull out of the NDA if the government continued to digress, Mamata said: �He (Karunanidhi) did not raise his voice at the NDA meeting when the Ayodhya issue came up for discussion. We are the only ones to have protested Vajpayeeji�s remarks.�
Mamata, however, skirted queries on whether the Trinamul would toe Karunanidhi�s line. �We are keeping a watch on the developments. We will protest if attempts are made to destroy the secular fabric of the country,� she said.
Mamata earned applause from the people at the gathering for promising to work for the minorities� welfare. Observers said Mamata�s stand on safeguarding the interest of Muslims will help her consolidate the minority votebank in the state.
Earlier, the Trinamul leader charged chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with playing a �dual role� by promising the ousted people of Midnapore a safe passage back home and at the same time provoking CPM workers to assault them immediately after their return.
Ruling out any meeting with Bhattacharjee in the near future, Mamata said: �We will rather go to the people to bring back peace in places where the CPM cadre have unleashed terror.�
She visited the nursing home where a Trinamul worker, whose tongue was slashed allegedly by CPM activists, is undergoing treatment. �This is the state of affairs in Bengal where supporters of Opposition parties are being gagged this way,� Mamata said.
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�I hope the unnecessary political controversy of the week gone by is behind us. It is time now for all of us to re-focus our attention on the most important agenda before the nation, namely development,� he said while inaugurating the 73rd annual session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).
�There is need for faster, more balanced and more equitable development,� he added. The Prime Minister said as part of this effort, the Centre plans to introduce a new golden handshake package to reduce its bloated bureaucracy by at least 10 per cent over the next three years.
The BJP argued that Vajpayee�s recent statements should not be seen as a U-turn. �One should not read too much into it,� a senior leader said.
The party has begun preparations for the Rajya Sabha debate next week and plans to field several stalwarts. Jaswant Singh is the BJP�s leader in the House and the party has other options in Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and Sikandar Bakht.
By focusing on the economic issues, Vajpayee is trying to send the signal to restive allies that he, too, has political compulsions and they should not read too much into his statements on the temple.
Already, the DMK has threatened to walk out of the NDA if the Prime Minister continues to digress from the agenda for governance. A worried Mamata Banerjee is in the midst of chalking out a strategy to deal with the issue.
It will be embarrassing for the Centre if any of its allies, including the Trinamul Congress, Telugu Desam or the DMK, does not vote with the BJP in the Rajya Sabha.
The government has accepted a debate in the Upper House knowing full well that it lacks the numbers to carry through a motion. Mamata said yesterday that she did not want to speak too much on the subject now and will voice her opinion in the Rajya Sabha.
BJP sources, however, argued that a defeat in the Rajya Sabha will have little impact because the wording of the motion as agreed upon focuses on a mild censure.
Unlike the Lok Sabha debate, where the resignation of the three Babri chargesheeted ministers � L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti � was the focus, the Rajya Sabha discussion will concentrate on whether or not to disapprove of the government standpoint on Ayodhya.
Addressing the corporate captains, the Prime Minister indicated while he is ready to concede ground on the Ram temple to the Hindutva hardliners, he is not willing to do so on the economic front.
The Prime Minister took pains to assert that his comments last week which have rejuvenated the BJP rank and file will not have any adverse impact on the Centre�s economic policies.
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�Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh assured me yesterday that Delhi will be sending a delegation for the transport meet in Islamabad due to be held between January 6 and 7,� Sri Lanka�s foreign minister Lakshman Khadirgamar said here today.
If the delegation leaves for Islamabad, it will be the first official Indian team to visit Pakistan after the Kargil flare-up.
Colombo currently holds the chair of Saarc and is, therefore, keen to ensure the progress of the regional group.
�Given the current relations between India and Pakistan, a summit-level meeting of the Saarc cannot be held in the foreseeable future. This is regrettable, but it is not a devastating blow to the Association,� Khadirgamar said.
�It is my firm belief that despite this, both India and Pakistan are committed to the progress of Saarc,� he added.
Khadirgamar briefed his Indian counterpart about the detailed time-schedule for the next few days drawn up by Saarc�s technical committee.
Both sides agreed that if the outcome of these meetings are positive, a session of the standing committee, which includes foreign secretaries of the seven member nations, may then be held in the first quarter of 2001.
The last meeting of the standing committee was held in Sri Lanka�s Nuwara Eliya in March 1999, which was followed by a meeting of Saarc foreign ministers.
But having taken a stand against participating in a summit now, India has made it clear it will not block Saarc�s day-to-day functioning, especially where economic issues are concerned. The decision to send a delegation to Pakistan for the transport committee meet stems from this policy.
Khadirgamar, who also met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, apprised him of the developments in the island and took the opportunity to assess Delhi�s stand.
Khadirgamar said he was happy India reiterated its stand that it �supports the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and a negotiated political settlement of the conflict�.
Khadirgamar made it clear Colombo was not keen on accepting prescriptions from any country for resolution of the conflict.
But in an assurance to India, he said Sri Lanka �will not create a precedent in the region� by accepting the right to self-determination as a viable option to solve the problem. He argued that there is growing understanding and support in the international community that a solution to the ethnic problem needs to be found within the Constitution of the island-nation.
�Perhaps even Prabhakaran (LTTE chief) has realised that the world has changed and there are no takers for a separate state anymore,� he said.
Khadirgamar clarified that there was no �designated role� for India to play in the ethnic strife in Lanka, but said Delhi was being apprised of all developments by the government and by the Norwegians, who have been acting as facilitator in bringing the warring groups to the talks table.
On India�s request for Prabhakaran�s extradition, Khadirgamar said: �A request to this effect from Delhi is already on our table and there is no indication to suggest that there has been any shift in this position.�
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�Thank you, Mumbai, for all you have done for me. I can never repay my debt to you,� Ambani, the patriarch of Reliance, India�s biggest house, told a rare civic reception this evening.
�My life is a tribute to Mumbai�s generous heart, which embraces people from all over the country,� he said. �For those who can dream and dare, the sky is the limit for what they can achieve in Mumbai.�
The captains of industry, the leaders of political parties and the who�s who in entertainment industry � they all turned up to give Ambani a standing ovation at Kamala Nehru Park on Malabar Hill at the reception organised by the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
Amitabh Bachchan, his wife Jaya and son Abhishek joined Adi Godrej and Kumarmangalam Birla in applauding Ambani at the reception, earlier accorded to national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad and corporate stalwarts like JRD Tata.
Ambani walked into the municipal hall of fame after all parties proposed his name in an unusual gesture at the Shiv Sena-dominated corporation in a Congress-ruled state. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy Chhagan Bhujbal also came � in a break with tradition. The event was a testimony to Ambani�s famed acceptability across a wide spectrum of political platforms.
Though it was a civic reception, the Ambanis did not leave the show to the municipal officials, with Mukesh and Anil, Dhirubhai�s two sons, and their wives Neeta and Tina welcoming the guests with folded hands.
Mayor Hareshwar Patil wrapped the industrialist with a shawl and handed him a silver citation. Two men carried the garland to the dais, which was too big and heavy for the owner of one of Asia�s top 50 companies to wear.
Then, Ambani proceeded to recount his story. The Reliance group chairman, hailing from a remote Gujarat village, said he was �reborn� in Mumbai.
When Ambani moved to Mumbai to try his hand at business in 1958, he was 26, his capital Rs 150, a table and a chair. Forty-two years later, at 68, he heads a business behemoth with total a revenue of Rs 50,415 crore.
Ambani left his village home at the age of 17 to work for a shell distributor in the port city of Aden, Yemen. He quit the job to try his luck at business in Mumbai.
�Like lakhs of people who come to this city every year, I came here 42 years ago,� Ambani said. He launched his commodity trading business almost immediately, working out of a tiny, cramped room in Kalbadevi.
�I started my business career with a table and a chair and I had Rs 150. My address was c/o a telephone number,� said Ambani, who now employs more than 1,00,000 people in his textile, synthetic fibre, petrochemical, power, telecom and infotech units. He then paused and smiled, allowing the audience to burst out laughing and clapping.
But Ambani still cannot forget those �exciting days� when he learnt the tricks of the trade at the commodity market in Bhat Bazar and yarn market in Tamba Kantha. �The Bhat Bazar sharpened my business instincts and the yarn market taught me everything I needed to know about the textile trade.�
Later, when he needed money to set up an industry, Ambani said he had gone to the Bombay Stock Exchange. �Here, I learnt the process of generating wealth and creating assets.�
The stock exchange also helped him develop his philosophy in life: �Win people�s trust and share wealth.� The Reliance family, he said, today consists of thousands of shareholders, but the process began in a small way.
By 1975, Ambani�s small trading unit had metamorphosed into Reliance Industries. Two years later, it went public.
Ambani declared he would make computer education available to all municipal schools, providing PCs and instructors and training 68,000 children who could not afford it. �The city shaped my past. I want to help shape its future.� It was his way of saying thank you to the city.
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Today: Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 15�C