Hijacker jets in for peace flight
Delhi sniffs Nepal palace intrigue
Intelligence back in PM squad
Coke loses Sourav to Pepsi
Zee kicks cricket out for soccer
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
Twenty-nine years after he had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore, Hashim Quereshi today stepped off a flight from Copenhagen and gave himself up to Indian authorities at Indira Gandhi International Airport in a dramatic bid to join the Kashmir peace bandwagon.

But till evening, the home ministry showed no signs of welcoming him. Ministry sources said they were both dumbfounded and confused and it was only after much drama that he was arrested at the airport.

Quereshi (picture right) has long been lost in the wilderness after his release from Pakistani prisons in the early Eighties. He had been active in Europe, pleading for the independence of Kashmir but also warning against the designs of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But how seriously the Indian government takes him will only become clear over the next few days.

There is little doubt that the ongoing ceasefire and the Centre�s leniency to leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference inspired Quereshi�s sudden airdash.

�Hashim surrendered his passport and other travel documents to the police,� his brother Mohammed Aslam told UNI.

Quereshi, who gave the impression that he was a changed man, appeared media-savvy and pledged full support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration�s peace initiative.

Immigration authorities were nonplussed when Quereshi, claiming to be 47, presented himself before them after flying in from the Danish capital on a Scandinavian Airlines flight. It took them a long time to figure out who he was and why he wanted to be captured.

Later, at the Patiala House Courts where he was produced, Quereshi shouted towards mediapersons that he had �come here to support Vajpayee�s peace effort�. He was remanded in judicial custody till January 11. �I want bloodshed to stop in Jammu and Kashmir,� Quereshi, who�s credited to be one of the main founders of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front at Rawalpindi in 1982, said in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu. But he reiterated his demand for an independent Kashmir.

At the court, Quereshi was represented by a lawyer, Vikas Pahwa, who argued that his client had served several years in a Pakistan jail in the hijacking case. He was supposed to serve 19 years but the Pakistan Supreme Court reduced the term. A team of Jammu and Kashmir policemen arrived here this evening in connection with the old hijacking case.

The magistrate allowed Quereshi to meet his two brothers and a sister in the court complex. An exuberant Quereshi said he had been yearning to see them for a long time. He had recently said that he wanted to return and die in his own land.

Quereshi might touch a few sympathetic chords here in Delhi because of his ISI-bashing. In a book, Kashmir � the Unveiling of Truth, he has talked of the threats to his life from the Pakistani agency and has repeatedly warned Kashmiri leaders not to fall into their trap. He founded the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party after he fell out with the JKLF leadership, especially Amanullah Khan. He had also criticised the Pak administration during the Kargil flare-up.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
The violence in Nepal over remarks attributed to filmstar Hrithik Roshan may be a sign of that country�s tradition of palace intrigue rearing its head again to knock at the democratic structure.

The Nepalese government admitted that the violence was part of a �conspiracy to cause loss of life and property and fan communal hatred� and urged the people to guard against such �misleading propaganda�.

The 56 rebel members of the ruling Nepali Congress, who are demanding a new leader, have used the �breakdown� of law and order to press for a no-trust vote against Prime Minister G.P. Koirala.

New Delhi refused to comment on the link between the anti-Indian demonstration and the no-confidence motion, describing it as �an internal matter of the neighbouring country�, but in private Nepal-watchers do not rule out the role of a section of the palace.

Yesterday�s telephone conversation Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had with Koirala is being seen here as a signal of India�s continued support to the dispensation in Kathmandu and as a message to Nepali Congress dissidents to back off.

It may already have had some salutory effect with Kathmandu spending King Birendra�s birthday today in celebration rather than with demonstrations.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: �The situation appears to be normal in Nepal. There were no major incidents of violence and vehicles were also reported to be plying in Kathmandu.�

The council of ministers of the Nepalese government issued a communique in which it said: �The acts of violence and vandalism that have suddenly occurred for the last two days resulting in the loss of life and property in the capital are extremely regrettable. The unbridled spread of violence in the capital on the grounds of an individual�s unsubstantiated and repeatedly refuted remark is not fitting for national dignity.�

Without naming Indian-occupied residences or Indian-run businesses, it said the attacks could harm social harmony in a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic country.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesman refused to spell out who were behind the violence, saying an investigation was already under way by the government in Kathmandu.

Others in South Block were more forthright in identifying �these inimical forces�. Blaming a section in the palace, they said the intention was to ensure that the democratic structure did not take strong roots.

�This cycle of destabilising a government in Kathmandu always has the blessings of the palace,� a senior Indian diplomat said.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
A strongly-worded letter from a senior official of one of the security wings has forced the Prime Minister�s Office to restore the intelligence agencies� role in the Prime Minister�s foreign visits.

The PMO had abruptly dispensed with the time-tested system of having intelligence officials from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on the advance security liaison team.

Following the controversial December 5 directive, the PMO had revised the composition of the team. The joint secretary of the concerned �territorial� desk in the ministry of external affairs was put in charge of the advance squad.

It also authorised the director of the Special Protection Group (SPG) to liaise with foreign security agencies and governments before the Prime Minister undertook any state visits.

But about a week back, a senior IB official wrote a letter to Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, pointing out that the directive, if implemented, would be �violative� of the the �Blue Book� which lays down all regulations and procedures concerning VVIP security, particularly that of the Prime Minister.

The missive only points to the fact that all rules laid down by the government were thrown to the wind when the decision to revise the advance team�s composition was taken.

Security professionals wondered how seasoned officials in the PMO could overlook the �Blue Book�, which is regularly updated for upgrading or downsizing of security to VVIPs.

The explanation offered for changing the composition of the team was also vague. The order had simply said the revision was being �dictated by considerations of compactness and single representation for each area of responsibility�.

Although the IB has reacted sharply to the decision not to have security professionals on the team, RAW has preferred to keep quiet on the issue.

A few days ago, SPG director T.K. Mitra had despatched a letter to Mishra pointing out that the organisation was responsible only for providing proximate security to the Prime Minister and his immediate family.

The SPG chief is understood to have mentioned in his letter that he did not have the necessary expertise and specialisation to liaise with security officials of host countries, a job which is usually performed by senior RAW and IB officials.

With pressure from two premier security organisations in the country, an embarrassed PMO had no other option but to rescind the December 5 order. A fresh order now states that only officials from the IB, and not RAW, will form part of the advance team. The bureau�s representative will liaise with security officials of foreign countries. The SPG director will also be on the team.

An advance team, including a senior IB official, has already returned from Vietnam after working out all aspects of Vajpayee�s security, including those related to foolproof security arrangement in Hanoi.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
It�s goodbye Coke and hello Pepsi in the new year for Sourav Ganguly, the Indian cricket captain.

Pepsi has signed him on for an undisclosed sum for three years. Industry sources say his current endorsement fees are three times more than what he commanded earlier, Rs 30 lakh plus. The Pepsi contract should then be worth Rs 1 crore and some more.

Usually, when a celebrity crosses over from one famous brand to another, there is a cooling-off period. When Sourav finished his stint with Coke last August he rested for some months. Now he is ready to appear in a Pepsi campaign from January.

Coke, it is learnt, was dragging its feet about signing on Sourav after the expiry of his earlier contract, what with the muck being kicked around on the cricket field.

Pepsi, on the contrary, was ready to offer better terms. There have not been too many instances of defection from one brand to a rival. Amir Khan, who went from Pepsi to Coke, was one exception, says an industry source.

Sachin Tendulkar, Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja have already appeared in Pepsi ads. Sachin and Shah Rukh Khan, in fact, had a strong partnership going with bat and bottle in the wrong hands.

Coke had picked Sourav, among others, as an answer to those Pepsi ads. At the time, however, Sourav�s USP was not as high as it is today.

It is not Pepsi alone that is chasing Sourav now. His agent, Percept Integrated Management Communication, confirms that the demand for Sourav�s endorsements has gone up over 10 times after he led the Indian team with success in the recently-completed series against Zimbabwe.

Since Percept took over management of Sourav�s endorsements some three months ago, the stylish left-hander has signed contracts with Hero Honda, Sahara, not to speak of Pepsi. He has yet to shoot the Pepsi campaign but has completed the Hero Honda and Sahara assignments. He is also appearing in a Britannia campaign since end-March and in an S. Kumar�s ad since July.

Shailendra Singh of Percept said: �Sourav Ganguly is the product of the future. Both he and Yuvraj Singh will appeal to GeneratioNext.�

Singh added that Sourav�s personality has undergone a complete transformation.

He is no longer the introverted, slightly aloof player of earlier times. After his successful captaincy and excellent playing record, he oozes confidence.

Percept, which handles top celebrities in cricket and cinema, plans not to overexpose Sourav, nor use him in a way that creates conflict between his cricket and his appearance in ad campaigns. The agency intends to use him 35 to 40 days in a year.

It has worked out a three-pronged strategy for him. He will appear for top-end brands, for promotional campaigns and in social communication messages.

The key consideration in choosing campaigns: the brand�s identity should fit Sourav�s persona like a hand in glove, aha.


Mumbai, Dec. 29: 
Subhash Chandra�s Zee Network has booted cricket out for soccer.

Citing reasons like �a mismatch between demand and supply�, Zee said: �Inflation rates in cricket started to outstrip the esoteric inflation rates of even some of the South American countries.�

Zee had at one time bid for World Cup rights, quoting over $550 million when conventional estimates put the price at less than $300 million, the company said.

Satish Menon, in charge of its sports initiative, declared: �Cricket is not very hot now and the action at Zee will be on soccer.�

�A strong following for soccer exists in the country as research findings reveal the pull of even the English premier league,� Menon said after a Zee Telefilms board meeting where the change in strategy was decided.

The company is acquiring telecast rights of tournaments organised by football associations in West Bengal, Goa and Kerala, he said. Alpha Bangla will telecast live tournaments organised by the Bengal football association.

Zee�s rivals are, however, taking this with a pinch of salt. �Grapes are sour,� an official affiliated to a rival channel said.

�However, no one disputes the fact that the cost of securing cricket rights has gone through the roof,� he said.

Zee has also decided to withdraw its sports channel in favour of Buddha Films, a wholly-owned subsidiary set up to acquire rights for cricket coverage.

It will be spun off into a separate company and will carry soccer telecasts.




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