Corporate war echo in House
Cup tilts balance between greatest and greatest
Atal keeps Mamata waiting
Scandal stings top manager
Advani growls at Central rule cry
Poll panel scotches discord rumours
Sahmat swats Modi claim
Friends-turned-foes hold Gujarat key
Foreign attaches on Valley recce
Calcutta Weather

July 23: 
A couple of days after Reliance was accused in a joint parliamentary committee report on the stock scam of withdrawing a huge sum of money from the market at one go and causing a collapse, a group of parliamentarians raked up in the Rajya Sabha the issue of fund diversion by the rival Essar group.

The developments turned the spotlight on the question if Parliament was turning into a battlefield for proxy corporate wars.

Finance minister Jaswant Singh said he did not intend to play favourites and was prepared to order an inquiry into the allegations against Essar.

Singh also said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had heard about reports relating to the Essar group and was now evaluating whether group chairman Shashi Ruia should continue on his trade and industry advisory council.

�I fear nobody; I favour no one. The ministry is not involved in any corporate or any other war. I have no animus (towards anyone) though I have a viewpoint,� Singh said.

Earlier, Samajwadi Party MP Amar Singh drew the attention of the government to reports alleging fund diversion by Essar.

Another Samajwadi member Ramgopal Yadav said Ruia should be removed from the Prime Minister�s council of advisers, which prompted Jaswant Singh�s remark that Vajpayee was looking into it.

The finance minister told Amar Singh that the government would have no difficulty inquiring into accounts of the group under the provisions of the Companies Act, if warranted.

He said information provided to him by the financial institutions showed they had extended assistance to the Essar group for specific projects after due appraisal and that there was no question of double financing of projects.

However, he admitted that if funds were diverted by a company, his ministry had no independent mechanism to establish that fact.

The minister said he could not divulge more details about clients of the financial institutions because of confidentiality.

Premchand Gupta, of Laloo Yadav�s RJD, deplored the fact that the House was being turned into a site for corporate war.

In Mumbai, an Essar group spokesperson said the allegations made in the media, which were the subject of today�s discussion in the Rajya Sabha, had been bandied about several times in the past by some MPs.

All allegations relating to diversion of funds, loan write-off by financial institutions, double financing of projects, misuse of public issue proceeds and violation of other statutory compliances had been investigated by government agencies and found to be baseless, he added. He said the group had always complied with all relevant laws, regulations and rules of the land.

Earlier in the week, the joint parliamentary committee had indicted Reliance for playing an instrumental role in precipitating a stock market crash, a charge that the company has vehemently denied.


London, July 23: 
The 1983 World Cup winning captain, Kapil Dev, was today adjudged the Wisden Indian Player of the Century.

Clearly overwhelmed, Kapil received the award from Sir Vivian Richards at the Wembley Conference Centre. He pipped Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar � the latter, incidentally, was the people�s choice.

Among the other awards, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and V.V.S. Laxman received the ones for exceptional bowling and batting performances, respectively.

The Team of the Century award went to Sunil Gavaskar�s 1985 World Championship of Cricket winning side.

PTI adds: Conferring the honour on Kapil, Richards said he was �shaking in his boots to give the award to Kapil Dev�.

He said Kapil was one of the greatest all-rounders ever and the award was a fitting reply to those who had tried to sully his name in the match-fixing controversy. �When the match-fixing (scandal) broke and Kapil�s name was dragged into it, I said he could never be involved in such things. Whenever he went out on the field, he wore his heart and passion on his sleeves.

�If he still did it, he must have been a great actor,� Richards said.

Kapil himself was humble in his moment of glory and attributed all his successes to guidance from senior players.

Richards also had a word of encouragement for Tendulkar. �This little young master would one day cross us all over,� he said.

Tendulkar was on stage along with Gavaskar and Kapil when the award was announced.

The Haryana Hurricane was selected ahead of 15 other cricketers for the coveted award at a glittering ceremony organised by Wisden.

Kapil, who took 434 wickets from 131 Tests and scored 5,248 runs, led India to its most memorable victory when the team upset the mighty West Indies in the final to lift the 1983 World Cup.

Of the 16 cricketers nominated for the award, the list had narrowed down to Kapil, Gavaskar and Tendulkar.

Though Tendulkar was the popular choice based on a poll conducted by Wisden, Kapil was selected by an expert panel of former players and journalists.

The nominees were picked by their peers, among them Sir Richard Hadlee, Richie Benaud and Imran Khan.

The judges said Kapil�s �skills as the country�s greatest all-rounder led India to the 1983 World Cup triumph�. They pointed out that Gavaskar was �one of the greatest batsmen of all time� and added that Tendulkar was �acknowledged by Donald Bradman as his modern incarnation�.

Laxman�s epic 281 against Australia in Calcutta last year was declared the best batting performance of the century while Chandrasekhar, who took 242 Test wickets at an average of 29.74, was adjudged the best bowler.

A special achievement award was given to Mushtaq Ali while Gundappa Viswanath won the spirit of the game award for calling back Bob Taylor in the jubilee Test against England in Mumbai after the batsman had been given out.


July 23: 
The Cabinet meeting that the Prime Minister held out before Mamata Banerjee yesterday to defuse the railway division standoff may not be held this week.

The government wants to wait until the 72-hour Bengal bandh deadline served by the Trinamul Congress leader expires.

The Cabinet is usually convened every Tuesday even when Parliament is in session. Although it was officially made out that the Cabinet did not meet today because of the Gujarat discussion in both the Houses, BJP sources conceded that the �real reason was because the government should not be seen as acting under Mamata�s pressure�.


Bangalore, July 23: 
One of the country�s highest-paid managers, Phaneesh Murthy of Infosys, resigned today after a lawsuit was filed in the US accusing him of wrongful termination of service and sexual harassment.

New-economy model citizen Infosys said in a release Phaneesh Murthy had cited �the need for personal time to devote attention to, and pursue a successful defence of, a recent lawsuit filed against him and the company, alleging wrongful termination and sexual harassment�.

Call it the year of manager mayhem. In America, accused of corporate malfeasance of all manner, hero-worshipped CEOs have been crumbling like figures of clay.

The Indian case may be different � and not much is known about it except that the case has been filed by a former employee in California � but it�s a super-manager who�s taken the tumble all right.

Phaneesh Murthy was the head of sales and marketing and a director, and just the other day he was making news as the executive who took the thickest pay packet home � thicker even than Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy � in the company. At an annual salary of Rs 145.23 lakh, he was the second highest-paid executive in the country after Vivek Paul of Wipro, another information technology company.

Chairman Narayana Murthy, who now also calls himself chief mentor, reacted to the resignation, saying: �Phaneesh has been an integral part of the growth of Infosys in the last 10 years.�

�We are sorry he has tendered his resignation under these circumstances,� he added.

Phaneesh Murthy had played a major role in building up Infosys, particularly in the US where he was based. His portfolio has been virtually handed over to Basab Pradhan, who was appointed the new vice-president of worldwide sales. Pradhan also works out of the US.

The company was quick to discount the negative impact of the resignation. Nandan Nilekani, president and CEO, said Infosys stood by the projections made while announcing the first quarter results. �Our topline and bottomline projections would not be altered materially by this development,� he added.


New Delhi, July 23: 
Burying the hesitancy that marked his tenure as home minister, L.K. Advani today defended Narendra Modi and his plans for early polls in Gujarat to the hilt.

The chief minister does not need your certificate, the deputy Prime Minister told the Opposition parties, while rejecting their demand for President�s rule in the state. He needs the certificate of the people, which he is going to get.

Advani dismissed the Opposition�s charge that the Gujarat violence was state-sponsored and said the killings did not amount to genocide. �To call it a genocide is wrong and will send wrong signals to the world as people from both communities have been killed in the violence. If it was state-sponsored, then 201 people would not have been killed in police firing.�

�A few incidents of rape took place but not in thousands as some members have alleged,� he added.

Advani defended Modi�s recommendation for dissolving the Assembly. What the Gujarat government has done is within the ambit of the Constitution and politically right, he said and slammed as �totally wrong� the Opposition�s charge that an RSS chief minister�s recommendation for dissolving the House had been accepted by an RSS Governor.

�As per Article 174 of the Constitution, a Governor is duty bound to accept the recommendations of a chief minister who enjoys majority,� he pointed out.

Advani�s reply to an eight-hour discussion on an Opposition-sponsored motion in the Lok Sabha under Rule 193 also touched on the forensic report on the Godhra train carnage, the original flashpoint for the riots.

One did not require a forensic report to reach the conclusion that someone had thrown inflammable material into the coach to burn it, he said. �The basic theory that kar sevaks did it is wrong. We are not encouraging communal harmony by saying so. One must weigh each word while referring to it,� Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister said the BJP national executive at Goa had expressed full faith in Modi and rejected his resignation offer. A dissatisfied Opposition walked out as soon as Advani finished his speech and just before the Speaker adjourned the House.

The debate, initiated by the CPM�s Basudev Acharya, saw Congress members Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Margaret Alva and CPM MP Somnath Chatterjee tear into the government and the BJP for trying to garner votes by communally polarising Gujarat.

Much to the embarrassment of the BJP and the government, several of its allies � the Telugu Desam Party, the Trinamul Congress, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party � also objected to the haste in seeking elections even though relief and rehabilitation work was still going on. The allies said the situation was not conducive to polls and holding of elections could not be the overriding priority.

Parliament had earlier discussed the Gujarat violence twice under Rule 184 and Rule 193. Advani had then appeared hesitant to defend Modi.

The discussion today was markedly different with treasury benches appearing indifferent. Unlike in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP speakers in the lower House were lightweights and at one time, no senior minister was present. Even minister of state for home Vidyasagar Rao had stepped out. Around late evening, only a 100-odd MPs were present.

Congress member Kamal Nath and others created a ruckus and asked why neither Advani nor his deputy was present. Hearing the commotion, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan rushed inside. Advani arrived a little later.

The deputy Prime Minister said the Centre was prepared to consider the proposal for imposing President�s rule in all states a month before the poll process. But an exception could not be made only in the case of Gujarat.

Arguing for the need for early polls in the state, he said �elections will help reduce tensions as people�s attention gets diverted towards the poll process�.


New Delhi, July 23: 
The Election Commission today denied any internal difference of opinion on polls in Gujarat even as lobbies for and against early elections stepped up pressure on the poll panel.

�The commission has clarified that all its decisions are unanimous and taken after due consideration,� said deputy election commissioner A.N. Jha.

Tomorrow, a three-member BJP delegation led by party president Venkaiah Naidu will meet the commission to press for early polls. General secretaries Arun Jaitley and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi will accompany Naidu. Sources said the BJP leadership will make out a case that it is possible to hold �free and fair� polls in the riot-scarred state.

Following the dissolution of the Assembly, different political parties and organisations have bombarded the commission with petitions as the poll body is the final authority that will decide the election schedule.

Yesterday, a high-powered Congress delegation had met the commission with a petition not to call early polls. The Left leadership today indicated that they, too, might meet the commission and urge it to delay the polls.

Earlier, a group of eminent citizens had petitioned the commission not to go by the government�s recommendation. Members of the cultural organisation, Sahmat, who visited Gujarat earlier this month and met riot victims, will meet the commission later this week.

Sources said the BJP delegation will try to convince the poll panel about the �good� rehabilitation work the Narendra Modi government has done in Gujarat. The inclusion of Naqvi in the delegation is aimed at projecting a �Muslim� face.

Naqvi had recently denied the allegation that elections in Gujarat would be held along communal lines and said that BJP leaders, including Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain, would expose the �pseudo-secularists� in their campaign.

The BJP delegation�s main aim will be to counter the Opposition�s argument that the situation in Gujarat is far from normal. They will also reject the Opposition�s demand for President�s rule in the state and cite the recent example of the incident-free Jagannath rath yatra to �prove� that the situation is normal.

The commission has been tight-lipped. There was speculation that T.S. Krishnamurthy and B.B. Tandon were inclined to go with the government, while chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh was against holding early polls.


New Delhi, July 23: 
Sahmat, a cultural organisation that recently toured Gujarat, today said there can be no �free and fair� polls in the state at this juncture.

�We will meet the Election Commission later this week to impress our views on them,� said Gauhar Raza, who was part of the two-member team that visited Panchmahal and Dahod earlier this month.

Sahmat will give the Election Commission a detailed report based on interviews with people in relief camps.

Releasing the report at a news conference this afternoon, Sahmat activists said: �The situation in Ahmedabad may look normal, but all you have to do is enter the villages and they look as devastated as before.�

They stressed that the incident-free passage of the rath yatra was no yardstick for judging whether the state had returned to normal.

�It certainly does not reflect any return to normality,� Gauhar said, pointing out that Muslims and sections of Hindus who had tried to save Muslim families were still in the grip of terror.

Based on interviews with camp inmates, the report outlines the character of the violence and the mob. �The witnesses expressed extreme revulsion towards the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, but had no bitter remarks for Hindus at large,� Sahmat said. According to the organisation, incidents of Hindus saving Muslim families have been under-reported.

Expressing grave doubts on the feasibility of having free and fair polls in Gujarat, Gauhar said: �It is not only the Muslims who will hesitate to come out and vote. There will also be a whole section of Hindus who will not come out fearing violence.�

The report underscores the huge loss of property and lives and the pittance of a compensation that Muslim families have got. An Assembly election at this juncture, it suggests, would only aggravate tension in a highly polarised society.

�The scale of devastation is such that it is only the state government which can undertake proper rehabilitation even though NGOs are now doing all the work,� said Gauhar.

According to the report, the loss of moveable property that the sampled victim population suffered was to the tune of Rs 27 crore. But the average compensation per family has worked out to just Rs 1,422. The total amount that has been paid to the riot victims as compensation is just 1 per cent of the damage caused during the carnage.


Ahmedabad, July 23: 
Gujarat politics today revolves around three men � chief minister Narendra Modi, his predecessor Keshubhai Patel and arch rival Shankersinh Vaghela.

All three have their roots in the Sangh parivar, but share little else in common. Vaghela has travelled a long distance and now heads the state Congress unit. Credited with building the BJP into the strong organisation that wrested power from the Congress in 1995, he has turned into the biggest threat for the party.

Modi and Patel are still with the BJP, but are not on the best of terms. Patel, who was sacked as chief minister in October for �non-performance�, is being persuaded to lead the BJP�s election campaign as state party chief. He has a strong caste base in Saurashtra, from where 51 of the 58 party candidates got elected. Fifty-three of the candidates were Patels.

But Keshubhai has refused to accept any responsibility, telling an RSS colleague that he would only canvass for individual candidates. Earlier, he had turned down a Cabinet berth at the Centre on health grounds.

A section of the BJP has no hope of Modi and Patel coming together because their dislike for each other is well known. If Patel is to be involved, he will have to be given a free hand in selecting candidates � something Modi would never accept, a party source said.

Till the BJP came to power, all three got along well and the party was cohesive. Modi, a former RSS pracharak and a relatively late entrant into the BJP, was handpicked by Vaghela in 1984.

The differences cropped up in 1995 when the BJP came to power with a brute majority. The party�s tallest leader and natural claimant for the post of chief minister, Vaghela, was sidelined and Patel was given the job on the condition that he would consult Shankersinh on all decisions.

But this arrangement lasted only one month. With Modi becoming political adviser to the chief minister, Patel began to ignore Vaghela, who revolted against the government. The party high command was forced to change the chief minister within seven months. Suresh Mehta took over as a compromise candidate and Modi was sent to Delhi.

But Mehta, too, began to ignore Vaghela who finally pulled out of his government and split the BJP to form the Rashtriya Janata Party. He took power with outside support from the Congress, a party he later merged the Rashtriya Janata Dal into.

The Vaghela government was shortlived and faced charges of corruption from both the BJP and the Congress. But after coming to power, the BJP could not prove a single charge against him.

When Patel became chief minister for the second time in 1998, the first thing he did was set up a Cabinet sub-committee to review all decisions taken by Vaghela and examine all the files and papers signed by him. But the committee did not do anything objectionable and not a single decision taken by the Vaghela government was reversed.

Despite their common �political origin�, the three leaders have nothing in common. In terms of leadership, competence, ability to take quick decisions and work as a team leader, Vaghela outshines the others.

A law graduate, Vaghela is the only leader to have visited all 1,800 villages in the state. He also had an excellent rapport with bureaucrats, unlike the �arrogant� Modi who has upset a large number of people in his party and the administration. Patel�s reputation is even worse.

With Vaghela�s mass appeal and good relations with the business community, Modi has a lot to be worried about in the coming Assembly elections. More so, if Patel refuses to come to his aid.


Srinagar, July 23: 
Military attaches from 22 countries arrived this afternoon for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in Kashmir.

The Delhi-based attaches, on a two-day visit, belong to the US, UK, Russia, Canada, Japan, Australia, Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa and other countries.

They are scheduled to visit forward areas in north Kashmir to get a feel of the situation on the Line of Control.

Immediately after arrival, the military attaches visited the heavily-guarded Badami Bagh cantonment where they were briefed by the 15 corps commander, Lt Gen. V.J. Patankar.

The attaches, who will meet Governor G.C. Saxena tomorrow, are also slated to visit Jammu and Ladakh.

One girl was killed and 18, including five policemen, were wounded in a handgrenade explosion in Rajouri in Jammu this evening, police said.

The injured were immediately rushed to hospital, where the condition of two is stated to be serious.




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