THE KARGIL FUND Set up by The Telegraph and Anandabazar Patrika
More than a hundred soldiers have already died in the undeclared war in Kargil. Many more are lying injured in hospitals. No assistance is compensation enough for the mother who has lost her son or the wife her husband. But we, the citizens of this country, need to help, in however small a way. The Telegraph and Anandabazar Patrika are setting up a fund with that modest aim in mind. The fund is being started with an intial contribution of Rs 5 Lakh from the ABP Group. If every reader of The Telegraph and Anandabazar Patrika donates a small sum, we can raise a huge amount for the families of the soldiers killed or injured in action. As a token of appreciation, both papers will publish the names of donors contributing Rs 500 or more. This is a time to ask yourself what can you do for the nation.   Only account payee cheques and drafts - payable to 'ABP Kargil Fund' - will be accepted. Put the cheque/draft in an envelope with your name and address. Write 'ABP Kargil Fund' and mail it to or deliver (between 10 am and 6 pm except on Sundays) at  
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street 
Calcutta 700001 
Bal Thackeray stripped of voting right
Poll panel makes telecom call
Sachin back for second stint in silence
Hope for early end to bandh
Calcutta weather

New Delhi & Bombay, July 28 
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was today debarred by the Election Commission from casting his vote and contesting polls for six years with effect from 1995.

This step is being interpreted in political circles as a tough measure designed to prevent politicians from delivering inflammatory speeches at election rallies. Thackeray had flouted rules, making a ?communal as well as a jingoistic speech? at a rally at Ville Parle in Mumbai in 1987 while campaigning for an Assembly bypoll. He had been reprimanded by Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court for his indiscretion.

Reacting to the news, the Sena chief said: ?Long live democracy.? That will be the headline in the morning edition of the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, tomorrow. ?Is this what our democracy is?? Thackeray asked. ?It is for the President alone to decide how right or wrong it is to deny a citizen his right to vote. However, if there is a new thinking on enacting a new law on the question of adult franchise, your democracy will be grateful and so will the nation.?

The Sena chief said the order would have no adverse impact on the Sena-BJP in the polls. ?People will vote with a vengeance and the Sena-BJP will win with a majority.? He said there was no question of challenging the decision of the commission and the President.

?With due respect to the law and the Constitution, I have only this to say: an election speech in the byelection of 1987 raised this controversy. I am amazed that it took 12 years for the matter to be settled. When was the case filed? When did litigation begin? Why did it take 12 years? If the decision was prompt, I would have completed my sentence by now,? he said.

Thackeray said law minister Ram Jethmalani had brought these issues before the commission. ?But the Election Commission did not accept them. And it has pronounced its sentence. The fun is that I had taken a decision never to contest an election in my life. So what is the use of this punishment? I pity a democracy that took away my right to vote,? the Sena chief said.

Sources said that while taking this decision, the commission had abided by a 1995 Supreme Court judgment by a three-member bench headed by then Chief Justice J.S. Verma.

The judgment had confirmed the Bombay High Court decision that Thackeray had gone beyond permissible limits. It had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 and ordered a suspended sentence. Thackeray was adjudged guilty of inciting malice among communities.

But the panel had not acted of its own accord. President K.R. Narayanan had referred the Supreme Court verdict to the panel and asked the three election commissioners to decide on the nature and degree of Thackeray?s punishment.

The commission had set up a bench of Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill and election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh to adjudicate on the matter. Though the announcement of the disenfranchisement was made today, it was included in the gazette notification of July 17.

It has taken the judicial system, including the Supreme Court, more than a decade to reach its final verdict. Thackeray?s party comrade Yashwant Prabhu, who had participated in the same rally and had made a similar inflammatory speech, had been disenfranchised for six years.

After losing in Bombay High Court in 1991, Thackeray had lodged a special leave petition with the Supreme Court.

Jethmalani has written to the President, questioning the commission?s argument for taking this decision. The minister had represented the leader in the Supreme Court and told the President that the order was meaningless, especially as the penalty was being imposed for an act committed more than 10 years ago.

Maharashtra chief electoral officer D.K. Shankaran said he saw a copy of the order on his table as soon as he arrived at his office in Mantralaya. ?The order was the President?s, but it was communicated to me through the Chief Election Commissioner?s office. We immediately struck out Bal Thackeray?s name from the voters? list of Bandra East.?    

New Delhi, July 28 
After President K.R. Narayanan, the Election Commission today joined issue with the government over its controversial bailout package for cash-strapped telecom operators.

The commission wrote to Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar, asking him to send a comprehensive factual report on the status of the package which allows private telecom operators to switch over from a rigorous licence fee regime to a less-demanding revenue sharing arrangement.

Late tonight, the department of telecom (DoT) gave all the details and the status of the package in response to the directive of the poll panel.

In a related development, the Prime Minister?s Office (PMO) issued a five-page clarification in which it denounced as ?totally baseless? the Opposition charge that the exchequer would stand to lose Rs 50,000 crore if the package was implemented.

The PMO release said the government would stand to lose only Rs 1,400 crore.

In its clarification, the PMO maintained that there was an urgency in implementing the package to prevent large-scale bankruptcies of telecom companies, protracted litigation and dislocation of services causing inconvenience to customers.

The PMO statement also said the government had shown its urgency in announcing the package to head off a situation that would force the state-owned financial institutions to show their Rs 10,000-crore investments in the telecom sector as bad debt.

With a day left for the operators to accept the package which comes into effect from August 1, as many as 19 of the 22 cellular and the six basic operators have fulfilled the formalities.

The telecom bailout package was unveiled on July 6, five days before the model code of conduct came into effect with the announcement of poll dates. That is why Narayanan thought it necessary to intervene. Subsequently, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had written to Rashtrapati Bhavan, explaining the circumstances under which the package was drafted and why it was imperative to have it implemented without delay.

While issuing its directive, the poll panel said it was reacting to the media coverage on the package and there was no doubt that perceptions on it varied from one end of the political spectrum to the other. The Congress and the Left parties have already lodged a complaint with the commission on the subject.

The commission said the perceptions on the issue were not the same even among officials of the Telecom Regulatory Authority, department of telecom and telecom operators.

The commission?s order arrived just 24 hours before the deadline for telecom companies to indicate their acceptance of the package. Government sources said it was now up to the commission to decide whether the package could be implemented by August 1.

When it announced the package, the government had said that the operators who would accept the package by the deadline of July 29 would have to fulfil two conditions: pay 35 per cent of the licence fee dues that each has accumulated and withdraw all pending cases against the government.

The previous communications minister, Jagmohan, had run into trouble by opposing the operators? demand that they be allowed to change over to the new system that was first proposed in the telecom policy announced in March this year.

After a meeting with Jagmohan, whom he had summoned for a private discussion, the President had advised Vajpayee to withhold the implementation of the policy. Narayanan felt that the new Lok Sabha should debate on the subject and decide whether the switch should be allowed through a majority vote.

Jagmohan had apparently told the President that he was not against the change of system, but opposed the move to waive the operators? licence fee debt.

Vajpayee, who had taken an active interest in the issue after relieving Jagmohan of the ministry, wrote to the President that the government had not altered the basic framework of the existing policy.    

Calcutta, July 28 
The choice is perfect. As for the timing, well, better late than never. Indeed, absolutely nobody can ever have too much of Sachin Tendulkar.

Handing the captaincy back after 18 months is definitely in the best interests of Indian cricket. No arguments there.

Yet, considering Sachin?s own ?reservations? about taking up the job, right now, the thought lingers: Should he have been accorded the luxury of picking-and-choosing?

The selectors, who met in Nagpur today, didn?t favour that: They?ve appointed Sachin captain for the first two engagements of the 1999-2000 season ? the tri-series in Sri Lanka (August 22-31) and the three-nation meet in Singapore (September 2-7).

It is understood chief selector Ajit Wadekar, assigned the task of ?persuading? Sachin by the Board, merely informed the powers-that-be that the maestro ?should not say no (to captaincy).?

Sources said Wadekar did not elaborate. But whatever Wadekar said was obviously good enough for the Board to give him and his colleagues (Madanlal, Shivlal Yadav, Ashok Malhotra and Anil Deshpande) a free hand.

In other words, no ?directive? was issued. With even Azhar?s mentors distancing themselves from him, going for Sachin was only logical.

?The mood was for a change and we, too, were convinced Sachin should return. By picking the best man, we?ve done our bit. Now, if Sachin actually has reservations, he should publicly decline the captaincy,? pointed out one of the selectors, echoing his colleagues? views.

For Sachin, though, that is easier said than done. He has been presented with a fait accompli.

It is one thing to make a verbal request (?I?ll be happy if, at this point in time, I?m not considered for the captaincy?) during a one-to-one with not one but two senior Board mandarins, quite another to behave in a manner that will be seen as putting self before country.

Even an icon can?t risk that.

Still, it?s significant that Sachin hadn?t reacted till more than 10 hours after his appointment. If that?s been one way of making a point about reluctance, it?s been well made.

Usually, first-time appointees and those staging a captaincy-comeback, react within hours if not minutes.

Another selector insisted that even if the Board allowed Sachin to ?choose? the time of his return (as captain), there would have been problems galore if the stop-gap appointee (Ajay Jadeja) struck gold between now and later this year, a time Sachin probably would have preferred.

This argument makes sense.

?Look, we haven?t chosen the captain of a school team. Rather, somebody who will lead India into the 21st century. Sachin is a stayer and, if all goes well, he will be around (as captain) for years,? the selector added.

According to sources, Sachin received the equivalent of a perfect-10 from coach Aunshuman Gaekwad in his report on the World Cup. The report was placed before the selectors, in Nagpur.

Not that it made a difference ? Azhar?s fate was already sealed ? but he got what would have been five on ten. And, that?s probably being generous.

In fact, in parts, Gaekwad minced no words.

So, even if Azhar is fit, there?s a good chance he won?t make the XIV for the opening engagements of a fresh season.

The selectors, however, may not themselves do all the dirty work. Most would be happy to drop Azhar without batting an eyelid, but will perhaps wait for Sachin to set the ?pace? at the August 6 selection meeting.

Sachin?s innings No.2 in the ?hot seat? could begin amid much dhamaka.    

Calcutta, July 28 
With last-minute talks between traders and senior ministers remaining inconclusive today, the 72-hour trade bandh across the state is set to begin tomorrow.

T.N. Trivedi, convener of the Joint Committee of Trade Bodies, the apex body of traders in the state, said tonight: ?As of now, the three-day bandh is on.?

However, he held out the hope that the bandh may be called off tomorrow. ?We have had a very cordial meeting with Buddhadev Bhattacharya. We shall convey the outcome of the meeting to all our constituents from the districts tomorrow evening. Depending on how they feel about it, we shall take a final decision on the future of the bandh tomorrow.?

The bandh is expected to affect all shops, wholesale and retail markets and restaurants in the city and districts.

Most medicine shops, barring a select few, will be shut only for tomorrow. Petrol pumps, which will remain open tomorrow, will join the bandh on Saturday.

The traders announced the bandh to press for withdrawal of the Way Bill, granting of hereditary tenancy rights for shopowners and reducing a number of trade taxes imposed by the civic authorities.

State home (police) minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, municipal affairs minister Ashok Bhattacharya and finance minister Asim Dasgupta told representatives of the Joint Committee that a time-bound panel of trade representatives will iron out the differences.    

Today?s forecast: A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thunder showers

Temperature: Maximum 30.2?C (2?C below normal)
Minimum 26.4?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 97%
Minimum 84%

Rainfall: 18.2 mm

Sunset: 6.18 pm
Sunrise: 5.08am

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