Basu warns party of rebel raid on votes
After east, slap from south
Mamata keeps Ghani door open
Sensex pricks budget balloon
Trust Indians to have faith
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, March 5: 
With Assembly elections knocking on Bengal�s doors, Jyoti Basu today conceded that the new party floated by Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda would cut into the CPM�s vote bank.

Basu�s admission � made at a closed-door meeting of party workers from South 24-Parganas at the Jadavpur stadium � is in sharp contrast with his public speech two weeks ago when he had said the new outfit �will not affect the CPM�s poll prospects�.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, too, had insisted that the new party will not make any difference to the CPM in the elections.

Amid the reassessment, the CPM won a breather today with transport minister Subhas Chakraborty pledging to contest the Assembly elections.

Chakraborty told reporters at a function at Sealdah railway station he attended with Mamata Banerjee that he had �no problems now in contesting the elections� as the three conditions he had placed before the party leadership were �being looked into�.

However, Chakraborty, who had been keeping the CPM on tenterhooks on his future course of action, left the door ajar, saying he would reconsider his decision if the party violated any of the conditions.

He again ignored the party diktat of not praising Mamata publicly, saying she �had done a lot for the betterment of Calcutta�. Mamata, on her part, turned to �Subhasda� for help to start the Digha-Tamluk train service before the polls. Chakraborty assured her all help.

The two had gone to Sealdah to inaugurate a subway. However, Congress MLA from Sealdah, Somen Mitra, who had shared the dais with Mamata on earlier occasions, did not turn up today, the day after eight Congress legislators led by Sougata Roy joined Trinamul.

To prevent a Congress-like situation, the CPM leadership is doing its best to instil confidence in its workers. Basu�s meeting today was intended to be a morale-boosting exercise for the party�s South 24-Parganas workers, who were associated with Putatunda.

Basu spoke of the rebel duo � Chowdhury and Putatunda � in scathing terms, saying they �committed a heinous crime by forming a new party�.

�They will definitely cut into our vote bank.... It is beyond my imagination that such senior leaders can quit the party without any valid reason. But the party they have floated is bogus and has no concrete agenda on how to serve the people,� Basu said. He urged his partymen to get ready for the �most serious electoral battle�.

Basu said that Putatunda, the former South 24-Parganas district secretary, had not returned the car the party had given him three years ago.

Reacting to Basu�s charge later, Putatunda refused to return the car and the mobile phone that the party had given him. �Nor will I return the party documents lying with me...come what may,� he said.

Biswas alerted party workers against a �divisive force� trying hard to weaken the organisation before the Assembly elections.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said Putatunda had attacked the party when it was �facing challenges from Trinamul Congress�.


Chennai, March 5: 
Before Sonia Gandhi could recover from Mamata Banerjee�s blow, Jayalalitha has struck.

The ADMK today clinched an electoral deal with the PMK, offering the new ally the first right to Pondicherry�s chief ministership � a post now held by the Congress.

If the Jayalalitha-led front wins the Pondicherry election, the convert from the NDA will get the first chance to head the government there. Two-and-a-half years later, the chief ministership will go to the ADMK.

The Congress has been insisting it be allowed to retain the job in Pondicherry, where the ADMK is now offering outside support.

Jayalalitha�s decision has effectively thrown the Congress out of reckoning in Pondicherry and put a big question mark on its future in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha has given the PMK 27 seats and set aside 40 for the Congress and G.K. Moopanar�s Tamil Maanila Congress. The two had demanded a block of 55 seats � 40 for the TMC and 15 for the Congress.

The unilateral decision is being seen as Jayalalitha�s characteristic snub to both Congresses for failing to meet her deadline on accepting her offer of 40 seats.

Moopanar�s option of floating a third front received a jolt with the Dalit Panthers of India, till now his close ally, joining hands with the DMK. His hopes now hinge on the two communist parties, which are complaining about the number of seats given to them by Jayalalitha.

A TMC team held talks with Jayalalitha late into the night.


Calcutta, March 5: 
The Bengal Congress may appear to have got away with only eight, and not more, MLAs walking over to Mamata Banerjee�s camp, but it still faces the threat of another split after the elections.

With an eye on winning over some Congress legislators after the polls, if she needs their support to form a government, Mamata is keeping options open on an unofficial seat adjustment with a section of her parent party.

The obvious candidates are Malda MP A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury�s associates, who, along with their leader, backed efforts to form an alliance with Mamata and are unhappy that the Congress failed to do so.

Mamata may not field nominees against Ruby Noor and Abu Hasnat Chowdhury, sister and brother of Ghani Khan, and some of the others in his camp.

Ghani Khan, who supported Mamata�s attempts to form an anti-CPM mahajot to ensure straight contests against Left Front nominees, feels the state Congress leadership did not realise the urgency of a broad-based Opposition alliance.

�None of the PCC leaders, except me, highlighted the need for this kind of alliance. Instead of trying to give concrete shape to a mahajot, they simply harped on the BJP and insisted that Mamata part company with that party,� Ghani Khan said in Malda today.

�I think those who urged Mamata to leave the NDA lack mental balance. The Congress high command also wanted her to part company with the BJP. Why should Mamata do so? She has been with the NDA for quite some time. How can she suddenly leave it? This is absurd,� Ghani Khan said.

�I will visit Delhi next week and apprise the (Congress) working committee of the developments in Bengal,� he added.

The former Bengal Congress president declined to comment on the decision of eight party MLAs to switch over to Trinamul. He also refused to say whether the state Congress would gain politically by allying with the Party for Democratic Socialism led by CPM dissident Saifuddin Chowdhury.

�We could have created a new front, but failed due to our own weaknesses,� Ghani Khan said.

His anger was clearly directed at PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee who held fruitless discussions with Mamata last Friday. Mamata has ruled out any further talks with Mukherjee after the eight legislators joined Trinamul yesterday.

Mukherjee blamed Mamata for the collapse of the talks. �We had proposed seat adjustments with Trinamul but wanted to field nominees against the BJP. This means we would have had adjustments in over 200 seats. Mamata was apparently not ready to accept the formula,� he said.

Trinamul leaders argued the party could not have accepted such a proposal. �It was not possible for our leader to betray the BJP after serving as Cabinet minister,� a party spokesman said.


New Delhi, March 5: 
The finance ministry is worried about the fallout of the sharp drop in stock prices that has more than wiped out the gains on budget day.

After a 176-point decline last Friday, the Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index slumped close to 100 points today, dropping under the 4,000-mark and sucking the feel-good factor induced by the budget out of the market.

Last Wednesday, when Yashwant Sinha presented the budget, the market reflected the business euphoria, driving the sensex up by 177 points. The uptrend weakened, but still held the next day.

Unnerved by Friday�s unexpected mayhem, the market regulator � the Securities and Exchange Board of India � has enforced a two-pronged strategy to stem the fall.

The first of these consists in clamping down on market volatility. Along with this, the regulator has started a probe into what it calls �the unusual rise and fall� of the sensex and the role of certain brokers and foreign institutional investors.

A sharp downtrend is bad enough for the government to swallow so soon after being swept off its feet by the euphoria over the budget. Worse still is a market scam � institution of a probe indicates that such a possibility exists. It would give the Opposition a handle to attack the BJP-led government with, especially as Parliament is in session, officials say.

As a consequence, the finance ministry has been in close touch with the regulator and concurred with the decision to order an investigation. The market regulator will focus on the possibility that some traders may have acted in concert to pull down prices.

Under the scanner are four brokerage houses and two foreign institutional investors.

The finance ministry is particularly worried as many of its budget decisions, such as raising the ceiling on foreign institutional investment in a company, were meant to prop up the stock market. But the reverse is happening. If the trend holds, it could disrupt many of the ministry�s calculations, the key among them being the ambitious privatisation programme. If the market is depressed, the government cannot expect good prices for the stock it sells in public sector units, 27 of which are listed for divestment in the coming year.

Ministry officials said the unusual drop days after a massive post-budget rise and effusive statements of welcome by industry and sharebrokers was �obviously suspicious�.

The market does not think so. �We are still searching for the bottom,� said a broker, indicating further decline. �We are being cautious and valuations appear to be stretched,� said another broker, saying that the worst is yet to come.

Infotech stocks have been under pressure of late, catching the trend from the Nasdaq in the US. Today, however, even old-economy stocks faced heavy selling, pulling the sensex down to 3,998.

Yashwant Sinha had said on budget day after being told that the sensex had shot up: �I think they (bourses) understand my budget better than I do.�

He probably hasn�t seen nothing yet.


New Delhi, March 5: 
Indians think they enjoy more privacy at work than other Asians. Approximately 26 per cent of Indians believe they have �total privacy�; 22 per cent working in offices are convinced their office e-mail offers �total privacy�.

These are some of the findings in the first batch of results from MasterCard�s Asian Ideals survey. The survey was carried out in 13 Asia-Pacific countries (�markets�) in December 2000.

The survey asked 5,521 men and women over 18 years of age how much trust they had in the privacy of their office e-mail, telephone and employee records. They were also asked if they trusted colleagues with personal information. Respondents were asked to rate on a �privacy scale� of one to 10, with one indicating �absolutely no privacy� and 10 �total privacy�.

Respondents owned at least one credit card or had the economic means to possess one.

Nearly one of every five respondents said they are cautious while talking on the office telephone, MasterCard stated in a press release. An average 18 per cent were convinced they have �absolutely no privacy� when using the phone at work. In India, 19 per cent ranked privacy on the office telephone at nine on the scale, indicating a higher level than their counterparts in China and Malaysia.

�Our previous Asian Ideals surveys have analysed what motivates consumers, what is important to them and even what makes them feel more compassionate towards others. The latest survey has taken another interesting spin as we study where consumers� vulnerabilities lie. It�s important for MasterCard to understand who consumers trust today,� said Stuart McDonald, MasterCard International senior vice-president for corporate services in Asia-Pacific.

The countries surveyed were: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

MasterCard concludes that generally consumers in Asia-Pacific have more confidence in the security of office employee records, compared to uncertainty about office e-mail or the office telephone. A total 26 per cent of Indians believe their employee records are totally secure, less than the Malaysians (38 per cent) but more than the Thai (22 per cent) and the Indonesians (22 per cent).

When asked if they trust their colleagues, 61 per cent of Indian respondents said �yes�. But more people in Hong Kong (76 per cent), Thailand (75 per cent) and Singapore (75 per cent) trusted their officemates. Indonesians (55 per cent), Japanese (53 per cent) and Malaysians (43 per cent) were more discreet.

The Asian Ideals survey was being conducted biannually for MasterCard since 1996.

�The survey tackles subjects that impact the daily lives of consumers across the region. Privacy, with its ethical implications, is a very topical subject today. Corporations and governments are increasingly focusing their attention on issues of privacy, confidentiality, information sharing and even employee monitoring,� said McDonald.




Maximum: 26.6�C (-6)
Minimum: 19.3�C (-1)


1 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 90%,
Minimum: 43%


Mainly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some parts. Maximum temperature likely to be 28�C
Sunrise: 5.58 am
Sunset: 5.37 pm

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