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This is the first time an official of such stature has even breathed a word about the World Cup in the spat between the Indian and South African cricket boards and the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Another round in the battle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the ICC was fought today in the build-up to December 3 when India plays England in Mohali and where the selection or otherwise of Virender Sehwag will decide if blood will flow in cricket boardrooms.
The BCCI decided today that Sehwag � handed a one-match suspension by Denness � will be eligible for selection in Mohali since he has sat out the current Centurion match. The ICC insisted he would be ineligible. Asked if the present conflict would be resolved if he was left out, ICC spokesman Mark Harrison said: �In essence, yes.�
In a statement, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said �our position has not changed� on either Sehwag�s selection or the status of the Centurion match.
At a meeting in Delhi, the BCCI working committee announced a boycott of Denness. It said that in rejecting the request to replace Denness or keep his decisions in abeyance, �the ICC had neither shown any consideration for the national sentiments in India nor had called upon the BCCI to explain its position�.
It wanted the ICC to create a forum of appeal against �arbitrary decisions taken by the ICC referee and that there should also be a code of conduct for ICC referees�.
In a resolution, the committee thanked the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) for its �timely action that averted further unpleasant turn of events�.
Dalmiya did not explain what �unpleasant turn of events� meant. But, almost in the same breath, he said that given �the bitterness that had been caused � one does not know what could have happened at that juncture � and at least now that we have gone ahead with the Johannesburg match, the World Cup (to be hosted by South Africa) is safe.�
Dalmiya expressed his fears over the World Cup after UCBSA president Percy Sonn said yesterday that his mind was not made up on whether or not to ask for Test status for the Centurion match.
The ICC confirmed this. It said Sonn called ICC president Malcolm Gray to say: ��the South Africa board did not regard the match as an official Test match�.
Dalmiya continues to play hardball and at the same time maintain that the BCCI respects the ICC �which we will never allow to be split�not in a 100 years�. The BCCI wanted the ICC to explain its stand � a request that is akin to asking the mountain to come to Mohammed.
The BCCI chief was speaking after the working committee pit all its might behind him, �appreciating and ratifying� his decisions.
Dalmiya BouncesCenturion match is an official Test
Sehwag eligible for selection in Mohali
India not to play in matches with Denness as referee
ICC explain its position to BCCI
Speed hooksMatch is an unofficial Test
Sehwag ineligible for selection
Don�t pick him and crisis is off
South Africa is with ICC
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Such is now the understanding that any �harsh step� from the International Cricket Council (ICC) may prompt New Delhi to ban the live feed of cricket telecasts from across the globe.
Sources said TV networks and sponsors largely bank on the Indian market and such a step can cripple cricket. Of course, this could be the �very last step� if India is �shoved into a corner�.
The BCCI�s working committee today thanked the government for �full support�.
For now, however, the BCCI is in the �reconciliation mode� but, as president Jagmohan Dalmiya declared this evening, �any discussion (with the ICC)� will be as �equals�. Secretary Niranjan Shah is expected to set the ball rolling by �writing� to ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed.
Should the ICC respond positively, Dalmiya will have a one-to-one with Malcolm Gray, his successor as ICC president. If the ICC chooses to talk tough, the option of legal action by the BCCI is open. The one last step may see the government taking centrestage.
Meanwhile, though Gray himself hasn�t issued a clarification, ICC president-elect Ehsan Mani said newspapers in the UK �quoted Gray out of context� yesterday.
�I spoke to Gray this morning and he was categorical in stating that he didn�t threaten India with expulsion or suspension.�
Incidentally, while there is no bar on the selectors picking Virender Sehwag, the likelihood of his not being fielded in the first Test against England does exist.
Much, though, will depend on how the ICC reacts to BCCI overtures.
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Both sides now hold 43 per cent each with the balance resting with the Tatas.
Nirupam Sen, the commerce and industry minister, said: �If Purnendu Chatterjee brings in the money required for the survival of HPL, the government will gladly hand over majority control to him.�
Sen revealed that Chatterjee was told of the government�s decision at the last promoters� meeting in Delhi. �Purnendu has already been reminded about the matter.�
Chatterjee group officials refused comment, but said he had sounded optimistic after the Delhi talks. Sources said Chatterjee has been set a deadline of December 31 to make up his mind on bringing in additional funds.
Sen confirmed this when he said: �Hopefully, things will be sorted out by December-end.�
The development follows the logjam in negotiations with Indian Oil, which was proposed to be brought in as the fourth promoter. But Indian Oil insisting on management control with a shareholding of 26 per cent, which is not acceptable to the other partners.
Under the original agreement among the partners, if the Bengal government or the Tatas sell their stake, in part or whole, it has to be offered to the other partner first. �If he (Chatterjee) refuses that offer, we will have to bring in some other party who is keen to run the company. We will abide by the joint venture agreement,� Sen said.
Ratan Tata has expressed his wish to sell out of HPL. The Bengal government also does not feel it should be engaged in running a business. �One thing is clear � the state government will not be in the business of running HPL,� Sen said.
He said it had yet to be decided at what price shares would be offered to Chatterjee. �We will appoint a consultant for valuation of HPL�s shares. All these are part of the financial restructuring package which is being worked out.�
Talks are still on with Indian Oil, Sen said. �They have however, not changed their position.�
Indian Oil officials said: �Our offer expires on November 30 and we have not received any offer in black and white from the West Bengal government.�
The minister said the government wants to come to a solution immediately because of the �financial crisis� the company faces. There have been reports of HPL cheques bouncing.
Chatterjee has not brought in his share of the money (Rs 107 crore) the promoters had agreed to invest about a year ago. The government (Rs 107 crore) and the Tatas (Rs 36 crore) have.
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As the icing on the cake, Sharad Pawar was also there, coming face to face with Sonia for the first time since he split in 1999 to form the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Chatterjee hosted a dinner for the Opposition, including the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Nationalist Congress Party.
Significantly, the ADMK was left out. Although the ADMK was part of the People�s Front, cobbled together by the Left and the Samajwadis, the grouping has taken note of J. Jayalalithaa lately cosying up to the BJP.
Although the dinner meeting was organised ostensibly to forge Opposition unity and floor coordination in Parliament, Congress and Samajwadi sources conceded that the larger purpose was to revive a working relationship between the two with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh elections.
CPM sources said they felt that because of the estrangement between the Congress and the SP and Pawar�s NCP, the Opposition is fragmented, allowing the ruling coalition to get away on crucial issues like the UTI scam, the Tehelka tapes and George Fernandes� reinduction.
�Recall how even when it was isolated in the House, the BJP managed to corner the government of the day on every single issue, including fairly minor ones relating to states like Uttar Pradesh,� said a Samajwadi MP ruefully.
Congress sources said Chatterjee took the initiative to sound out the Congress president.
He reportedly told Sonia he would have the dinner only if she agreed to come and be seen in the company of Mulayam and Pawar. Chatterjee, it seems, also politely conveyed to her that it would not be in the Opposition�s �cause� if the Congress stood on prestige and refused to end its �cold war� with the Samajwadis and NCP.
Once Sonia agreed, Mulayam and Pawar relented. Sources said Mulayam rescheduled his travel plans to attend the dinner. He was due to leave for Etawah but he cancelled his booking and opted for a later train.
There were enough indications earlier too from Mulayam�s camp that he was a ready to do business with the Congress, at least in Uttar Pradesh. Samajwadi general secretary and Mulayam confidant Amar Singh lavished praise on Sonia, comparing her with Mother Teresa and Sister Nivedita.
He said he was willing to drop a private member�s Bill he had piloted which sought to disqualify persons of foreign origin from occupying high office.
Samajwadi sources said the compulsion was Uttar Pradesh where no party is expected to get a majority in the Assembly election. Mulayam is under pressure from his rank and file and Muslim representatives to shed his antipathy to the Congress, the sources added.
�It makes sense to at least restart a working relationship now instead of starting from scratch after the polls. Not only is it logistically sensible but we would also appear credible and not rank opportunists,� said sources.
The BJP took note of the Samajwadi-Congress thaw. As if in a reflex action, BJP sources said they did not rule out a post-poll alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). �It looks like any two parties will be forced to come together and we have already run two governments with the BSP.�
Also present in Chatterjee�s dinner were former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu and his successor Buddhabeb Bhattacharjee and Akali Dal (Mann) leader Simranjit Singh Mann. The CPM has clinched an alliance with Mann for the Punjab election.
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The Indian team, led by special envoy S.K. Lambah, is approaching the conference with a detailed agenda that deals with the root of the problems that have brought Afghanistan to its present sorry pass.
The Indian position contrasts sharply with that of many other delegations that are in Bonn, with the possible exception of Russia and Iran with whom Lambah and other members of his delegation will be in close touch.
The American team in Bonn, for instance, is relentlessly pursuing a one-point agenda of eliminating Osama bin Laden and the al Qaida, although, on the surface, Washington�s agenda is being projected as broad-based.
Pakistan too has a one-point agenda: it wants to install a government in Kabul that will function as Islamabad�s proxy, as in the case of the Taliban until September 11. Lambah and his team, on the other hand, will lobby for steps, which will restore the pre-Taliban, liberal mosaic of Afghanistan when, that country lived in relative peace with all its neighbours.
Crucial to this objective will be an Indian proposal for effective patrolling of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by the international community to prevent a repetition of Pakistani actions that led to the birth of the Taliban.
Such a proposal itself is not new. In the 1980s, when the Soviet forces were in Afghanistan and allegations were made that Pakistan was infiltrating its proxies to fight the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, the UN posted observers along the porous border.
But the patrolling was half-hearted and ineffective, largely because the Western countries � particularly the US � which were parties to the UN decision had an interest in facilitating infiltration into Afghanistan by Pakistan and the anti-Soviet mujahideen.
After the lessons learned on September 11, the situation is hopefully different.
Since a decision by the UN to patrol the border is already there, New Delhi hopes that reactivating the patrolling will not get tied up in the knots of UN red tape in New York.
Besides, many countries which, like India, have sent teams to Bonn are interested in effectively preventing a repetition of the events which led to the creation of the Taliban.
Pakistan will do its best in Bonn to kill any such proposal. A lot will depend on whether Washington wants to continue placating Islamabad for the convenience of its ongoing military operations against bin Laden.
Of course, these and other Indian proposals will take a back seat in preference to the primary objective of the Bonn conference: which is to create an interim administration for Afghanistan and to set up a provisional council which will lead to a meeting of the loya jirga or the Grand Council.
Expectations at the UN headquarters here are that the conferees in Bonn will continue to meet until an interim administration and a provisional council are set up.
India, Pakistan, the US and others will be putting across their proposals not directly at the conference, but through their respective Afghan friends who are attending the meeting in Bonn.
The UN has invited only representative groups of Afghans to debate their own future. There are four Afghan groups attending the meeting.
These are: the Northern Alliance, representatives of the �Rome process� which represents King Zahir Shah, nominees of the �Cyprus process� representing Afghans in exile who have been meeting in Cyprus and spokesmen for the recent meeting of Afghan elders held in Peshawar.
The Cyprus process is led by the estranged son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord who was once the protege of Pakistan. The Rome process takes its name from the present seat of the King who lives in exile in the Italian capital.
The Indian team in Bonn is made up of Arun Singh, South Block�s joint secretary in charge of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, and Satish C. Mehta, counsellor at India�s permanent mission to the UN here, in addition to Lambah.
India wants the Bonn conference to either directly or implicitly spell out Pakistan�s interests in Afghanistan.
General Pervez Musharraf has been vaguely talking about his country�s stake in Afghanistan without ever explaining what they are.
New Delhi is peeved that leaders like US president George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have bought this line and frequently parrot Musharraf�s phrase about Islamabad�s �legitimate interests� in Afghanistan.
If the Afghans meeting in Bonn can spell out for themselves what Pakistan stands for in their society, it will be the first step towards limiting Islamabad�s influence in post-conflict Kabul, India believes.
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Ports on the east and west coasts will be identified for US ships, engaged in the war effort in Afghanistan, to refuel and replenish stocks, sources said.
The indication came as another American naval vessel, USS John Young, cruised into Chennai port this morning from Japan for a four-day stopover. This is the second time in less than three weeks that a US ship has docked at the port. The sources said the US has found Chennai port a �natural� stopover point for logistical reasons. They said it was also looking at ports in Mumbai, Goa and Kochi on the west coast for similar reasons.
As the US expects a prolonged war in Afghanistan, docking by its naval vessels at some of these ports for refuelling and for the crew to get rest could become a regular feature, the sources said.
India offered such facilities to the US as soon as the war on terror began. Of late, there has been speculation over military ties between the two going beyond the immediate context of the Afghan war to a long-term arrangement.
The USS O� Brien was the first American naval vessel to dock at Chennai in more than five years. The arrival triggered protests and a group of DYFI activists, affiliated to the CPM, planned a demonstration. However, police denied them permission.
But, following the arrival of the second ship, the mood seems optimistic. US authorities, the sources said, are feeling reassured and �more comfortable by the traditional friendliness and hospitality� of the people of Chennai.
The USS John Young will �refuel and restock� while the crew spend the time seeing local sights and participating in community service projects, a statement from the US consulate, issued after the ship arrived, said.
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The zero hour witnessed a slanging match between the Opposition and the treasury benches, but the Opposition attack lacked bite and the government got away by asserting that it had not tampered with the texts.
�We have not tampered with the books. We have not re-written the books. We have just deleted certain objectionable portions to restore the glory of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Jat community. There is no question of withdrawal of the circular,� parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told the House.
Mahajan criticised the Opposition for not coming to the defence of the Sikhs and the Jats, saying it was �very unfortunate� that the Opposition members had walked out and the people would judge them on which side they supported.
The Opposition had not given a single proof to justify their allegations, Mahajan said.
He wanted to know from the Opposition whether school children should be taught that Guru Tegh Bahadur was a �murderer and rapist� and the Jats, who founded the state of Bharatpur, were �plunderers� (Two of the five controversial references ordered to be deleted from the school history books).
The non-Congress Opposition parties initiated the walkout, as Shivraj Patil of the Congress wanted to stay back and demand a �thorough discussion on the issue on the floor of the House.�
The Lok Sabha witnessed an uproar when human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi left the House as CPM member Basudeb Acharya rose to state his opinion on the issue.
Acharya said the education system had been �Talibanised� and the secular fabric of the country was in danger.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the BJP was doing what the Taliban had done in Afghanistan.
By referring to a committee set up by the Congress government in Rajasthan to delete certain objectionable portions from a school text book (taught during the BJP regime), Shivraj Patil appears to have unwittingly given the government a reason not to agree with the Opposition demand for the withdrawal of the circular.
The government took the view that if the Rajasthan government can delete objectionable portions, so could the Centre. There was support from unexpected quarters in former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.
Senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee criticised the Prime Minister for his defence of the deletion.
CPM member Suresh Kurup, who alleged that the history texts had been altered at the behest of the Sangh parivar and the NDA government was out to �destroy� the education system, first raised the issue.
He was backed by his party colleagues who said there was no difference between the Sangh parivar and the Taliban.
Not long after, members of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the RJD were up on their feet demanding withdrawal of the controversial circular.
Dissatisfied with government�s response, angry members of the Congress, the Left, the Samajwadi Party and the RJD walked out of the House.
�Taliban and Sangh parivar are the two sides of the same coin,� they alleged.
Defending the circular, BJP member Sahib Singh Verma said the NCERT had done a commendable job by removing the controversial portions. It was not proper to impart �wrong teaching� to the children, he said.
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Banerjee, however, displayed consistency in her attack on the CPM, whatever the issue.
While the Lok Sabha was discussing the controversial NCERT circular to CBSE schools to delete objectionable portions from history textbooks during zero hour, Banerjee took the middle path saying, �if there is anything controversial we will press the government for a full discussion. Our education minister should clarify.�
Stressing that �secularism is our bedrock,� Banerjee added, �We should not politicise education.� But the irrepressible Trinamul chief also used the opportunity to take pot-shots at the CPM. Referring to the CPM�s charge of Talibanisation of education, she said: �It does not look nice for those who take out processions in Calcutta in favour of Taliban.�
Later, flanked by party colleagues Sudip Bandopadhyaya and Nitish Sengupta, Banerjee raised the issue of the influx of Hindus from Bangladesh. The Congress also expressed serious concern over the influx and asked the government to direct the BSF to exercise restrain.
Banerjee said the minorities of Bangladesh, who had fled to West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya, should not be considered intruders nor described as infiltrators but granted refugee status and housed in relief camps.
Recalling the death of a girl recently killed in firing by the BSF, Banerjee said the border guards should not do anything that would increase tension.
Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the refugee influx had been triggered by atrocities committed on minorities by fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh after the change of government in Dhaka.
Chowdhury also sought restraint on part of the BSF guarding the border, saying it should not resort to firing. He demanded that India take up the refugee problem with the Khaleda Zia government in Bangladesh.
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The House witnessed shouts, interruptions, walkouts and lack of quorum. Members disrupted the zero hour making Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi squirm in his seat in embarrassment.
There was no salutary effect of yesterday�s resolution. The treasury benches and the Opposition members tried to shout each other down to score political points.
The 29-point charter adopted by a resolution at the meeting yesterday specified that legislators should not speak unless called by the Speaker, interrupt other members while speaking, obstruct proceedings or use unparliamentary words and increase the number of sittings.
But members of the Lok Sabha went out of their way defying every resolution they had agreed to yesterday.
Even parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan exposed his lack of decorum when he shouted at senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee for interrupting him, and irked by the Opposition attack, dubbed its members �Goebbels�.
Mahajan was, however, put in the dock by former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who had earlier supported the government on the deletion of certain portions of school texts.
Snubbing Mahajan, Shekhar said: �It does not create a congenial atmosphere. It (the word Goebbels) should not have come from the mouth of the parliamentary affairs minister. The use of words like Goebbelism and the use of the word Talibanisation by the Opposition is equally wrong.�
When repeated plea for order did not evoke any response, an exasperated Balayogi said: �Yesterday, we had a very good meeting about discipline and decorum in the House. What are you doing today in the House? Yesterday Shivraj Patil had given a good suggestion. Trouble starts with zero hour.�
The culprits included senior leaders of all hues � Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Priya Ranjan Das Munshi (Congress), Somnath Chatterjee (CPM), Madan Lal Khurana, Sahib Singh Verma, V.K. Malhotra and K. Swain (BJP), Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD), Mohan Rawale (Shiv Sena).
The zero hour witnessed a free for all. During a discussion on the controversial NCERT circular ordering deletion of �objectionable� portions from history texts, the members interrupted others, stood up to speak without the chair�s permission and obstructed proceedings.
The only redeeming feature was that the members did not rush to the well.
�But don�t be so optimistic, very soon the members will be back to their old business,� said an MP from a southern state, adding that the polity is so polarised that it is difficult to practice the �high sounding� code.
The House was once again in uproar in the evening during a debate on the farmers� issue with members of the ruling coalition hurling charges at each other.
The entire Opposition staged a walkout in protest against the absence of food minister Shanta Kumar saying they want certain clarifications from him on the procurement of paddy from farmers in different states and accusing the government of �total disregard� for the farmers� problems.
The uproar started when Congress member Renuka Chowdhury returned to the House and raised the issue of the lack of quorum, even as a BJD member was trying to raise a point of order on allegations against the government. About 35 members were present in the House, far short of the required ten per cent attendance.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan blamed the Opposition for the lack of quorum, saying the demand for the presence of the food minister, who was out of town, had been raised suddenly during the debate.
Tempers ran high as Chowdhury said ensuring quorum was the responsibility of the government and the House could not function without it and Mahajan blaming the Opposition members for lack of interest.
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