Exit poll puts BJP on course
Sex scandal diplomat to return
A fresh beginning after 12 days
Once captain, twice lucky
IFA should have seen clips: Chima
Bhutia gets work permit

New Delhi, Sept. 15 
The Doordarshan exit poll has given the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance a clear lead in the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections.

The alliance is projected to get 145 of the 268 seats which went to the polls, and the Congress and its allies? tally is estimated at 105. The third front has been pushed to the margins.

The BJP has gained 28 seats, with a 7 per cent swing. The Congress has lost two seats but has a 3 per cent swing in its favour. The third front is headed for disaster with a 10 per cent swing away.

The exit poll, conducted by psephologist G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, covered 76 constituencies and 18,000 voters. The results were then projected for all the 268 seats.

According to the projections, which have a two per cent error margin, the BJP and its allies have got 45 per cent of the votes, followed by the Congress with 39 and other parties with 16.

If the exit poll is an accurate reflection of the overall trend, the BJP alliance should be in a position to form the government with a simple majority. But the Congress may emerge as the single largest party because the BJP has contested 50 seats less than in the last elections.

The two phases covered by the exit poll do not involve Uttar Pradesh (85 seats) and Bihar (54). Pre-poll reports from Uttar Pradesh indicate a massive anti-incumbency wave against the BJP, which the party hopes to overcome by marketing A.B. Vajpayee.

In Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav seems to be in trouble. The BJP-Samata Party combine, along with Ram Vilas Paswan, is consolidating its position.

BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy said: ?They (exit poll results) show an upward trend for BJP.? But Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal reacted angrily, saying: ?It is highly inappropriate of the media ? the so-called Pramod Mahajan Darshan ? to come out with an exit poll. We doubt the credibility of the pollster as he has made outlandish predictions in the past ? proved completely wrong in the 1998 Assembly elections.?

Sibal said this was another ploy by the BJP-led government to use the media for partisan ends. He was confident the Congress would emerge the single largest party.

Third front leaders were sceptical, but psephologist Dorab Sopariwala said exit polls were fairly accurate. Exit polls in the 1998 elections were close to the overall figure, but went wrong on specifics like the ADMK-BJP sweep in Tamil Nadu.

The exit poll projections for states show the BJP-Shiv Sena combine getting 29 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, a gain of 19. The Congress, which had a huge tally of 38 seats, is now expected to win only 13 because of the split. But the biggest loser is Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, who is seen trailing with six seats.

In Tamil Nadu, the ADMK-Congress-Left alliance is tipped to get 14 of the 39 seats and the BJP-DMK combine 25. But the Tamil Maanila Congress is not expected to win even a single seat.    

New Delhi, Sept. 15 
The Indian embassy?s protestations of his innocence notwithstanding, the young diplomat who is now at the centre of a sex-cum-slave scandal in Paris is to be quietly recalled from his post.

Sources in the ministry of external affairs said the precedent in all similar cases was the premature transfer of such officers, irrespective of whether they were prima facie guilty or otherwise.

This is based on the assumption that even if a diplomat is innocent, his effectiveness in the post will be considerably reduced as a result of the scandal.

The last major scandal involving an Indian diplomat centred around an Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer who has married into the family of West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu and was posted in Switzerland over a year ago. He was hastily moved to the Indian consulate in Birmingham after he was alleged to have ill-treated his maid while he was posted in Geneva.

Curiously, the allegations against Emanuel Barua, the diplomat in question, were also made by the Committee Against Modern Day Slavery, the organisation which has now accused the Paris-based IFS officer of sexually abusing and mutilating his maid, Lalita Oraon.

The non-governmental organisation is known in Europe by its French acronym, CCEM. It is the campaign by the CCEM against Barua and, now, against Amrit Lugun, a first secretary at the Indian embassy in Paris, which has persuaded the Indian government that Lugun is the victim of a frame-up by the NGO.

For the record, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that South Block was in touch with its embassy in Paris and facts were being ascertained. But sources at the Indian embassy in Paris said many Third World ambassadors to France, in private conversations with the Indian envoy there, had expressed support for the embassy?s vociferous defence of Lugun. These envoys told the Indian ambassador that their own diplomats had been targeted periodically by CCEM with similar allegations.

The Indian embassy?s version of events in the Oraon case is totally at variance with story put out by AFP, the French news agency, on Tuesday. Oraon, said sources at the embassy, arrived in Paris in January to work for the Lugun family, made up of the diplomat, his wife and two small children.

The Luguns were unhappy with the maid?s work, especially the way she looked after the children and decided to send her back to India in the first week of September.

However, Oraon learned about these plans and ran away from the Lugun household on September 5, when she was found by the police and subsequently handed over to the CCEM?s care.

The Indian embassy maintains that even after the French authorities confiscated Oraon?s official passport, they had agreed to produce her at Paris airport for repatriation to India.

The embassy has cited this as proof Oraon?s fitness to travel to India until she was handed over to the NGO. They also said Oraon tried to kill herself, breaking her ankle and a vertebra in the process, while in CCEM?s custody.

The embassy?s case has been strengthened by the fact that though Oraon has been in police custody for 10 days, the Paris prosecutor?s office did not initiate any legal action. It did not even make a representation to the French foreign ministry asking for a withdrawal of the envoy?s immunity.

Embassy sources hinted that Bernard Debre, the urologist who operated on Oraon, was a CCEM activist, notwithstanding the fact that he was on Jacques Chirac?s panel of doctors. Responding to the embassy?s rejection of Debre?s findings, the Paris prosecutor?s office appointed two experts ? one a gynaecologist ? to examine Oraon and determine the precise date of her injuries.    

Calcutta, Sept. 15 
The Telegraph has returned home to 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street.

Twelve days after the building that housed the ABP Group was gutted, your newspaper?s editorial office has moved to its original location on the first floor. The fire had not spread here but it took a heavy toll on the logistics.

The computer systems had to be dismantled, the press could not roll, the electrical mains had to be switched off and water ? from the fire brigade?s jets as its personnel fought the flames ? seeped through the ceilings and flooded the interiors.

Even now, the second and third floors of the building cannot be used. The third floor, where the editorial office of Anandabazar Patrika and the accounts, administration, circulation, advertisement and travel departments of the company occupied rooms, has been devastated.

The second floor, where valuable documents in the library were damaged or lost, cannot be re-occupied. The library is being shifted to another building.

The reception on the ground floor today was not as busy with visitors as it normally is. Even as the paper was being produced, carpenters and electricians were at work in the newsroom, mending the ceiling and repairing electrical appliances.

The systems engineers were laying new cables to network the computers. All telephones are not yet functional; extension numbers have changed as have seating arrangements because the first floor has to accommodate other departments too. It is also not possible yet to receive and send e-mails through the abpmail.com server.

In the twelve days since Black Friday, September 3, The Telegraph has been produced daily with minimal access to the resources it would normally rely on. Most of the staff was crammed into an office of the company that was neither designed for editorial purposes nor was it large enough to accommodate all the journalists and production personnel.

There were too few computer terminals and the editorial staff took turns working on them. Some worked out of home. Everyday was a mad scramble for computers and cars because there were early deadlines.

Despite the constraints, The Telegraph has reached most of its readers daily. The decision not to cease publication for a single day was taken even as the fire raged through the building.

There were compromises: the paper could not be printed in colour and it had not been able to come out with all its supplements. But the paper is now back to normal, almost.    

Calcutta, Sept. 15 
Sourav Ganguly may only have been a stand-in captain in Toronto, but even the regular skipper could not have done better.

Even some 15 hours after guiding India to its first one-day success since Sharjah last November, Sourav was overjoyed.

?Yesterday was the happiest day of my career... There?s nothing like winning and to have won after almost a year, and with such a young team, does make the 2-1 victory (over the West Indies) very, very special,? Sourav said.

Speaking from North Harrow in Middlesex, Sourav added: ?Of course, all credit to the boys ? contributions from X, Y or Z alone never influence the outcome.

?In any case, while God and destiny do play their part, the hard work has to be put in ? collectively, by the team. Speaking for myself, being in the ?hot seat? didn?t add to the pressures associated with international cricket.?

Sourav (and the team) board a late evening British Airways flight for New Delhi and Sourav (as of now) will land in Calcutta tomorrow evening.

With Sachin Tendulkar officially opting out of the Nairobi quadrangular and Ajay Jadeja reportedly still unfit, Sourav should retain captaincy.

In time to come, circumstances may even land the Test skipper?s job in Sourav?s lap.

?Look, these appointments are always made by the selectors... Have I learnt anything in the past few days? One never stops learning but, frankly, it?s a longer run (as captain) that will teach more.

?Bottomline is that I set out to enjoy the Toronto assignment and I actually did,? Sourav insisted.

Sourav led from the front (average of 44.50 and three wickets in match No. 2) ? bagging his second Man of the Series award in four trips there.

Yet, Sourav sportingly remarked he?d thought the award would go to off-spinner Nikhil Chopra. ?Nikhil was so consistent (eight wickets for a mere 64 runs in 26.2 overs)... He?s been in and out since last October, but I would pick him as the find of the series.?

Sourav quickly added: ?Even (M.S.K.) Prasad... He was fantastic... It?s not that I?m leaving out Debu (Debashish Mohanty), for we?ve come to depend on him for some time now.? There was praise for Jacob Martin as well.

But what made the biggest difference?

Sourav laughed, paused and then answered: ?One-day cricket is all about being flexible and flexible we certainly were. I kept rotating the bowlers, opened twice with (Venkatesh) Prasad and once with Debu... I didn?t have a set batting line-up either.?

Yesterday, two moves proved the equivalent of a killing on the stock market: Giving the new ball to Mohanty ? who got the in-form Sherwin Campbell first ball ? and opening himself.

?I would have batted (again) at No. 4 had we been chasing, but seeing the wicket and conditions I decided to open... The wicket had plenty of juice and it wasn?t easy. However, all along, I was confident we would win once we got 200-plus. In fact, somehow, that thought surfaced the moment I lost the toss.?

And, what were his thoughts when Ricardo Powell was in the havoc-creating mode?

?Surely, I didn?t look worried, did I? The Windies were over 170 short when Powell began hitting... Even a miracle, though, couldn?t have got them to 226.?

Finally, was it tough ? or relatively easier ? leading a team short on experience?

?Much depends on man-management, bringing everybody together... That?s an absolute must, specially when the team has a clutch of newcomers... As captain, I only stressed on three things: Give a 100 per cent, be positive and enjoy every minute.?

A skipper is only as good as his team, believes Sourav. Actually, it works both ways.    

Calcutta, Sept. 15 
Twenty four hours after being slapped with an eight-month ban and a whopping Rs three-lakh fine, Chima Okerie sounded like a devastated man.

The veteran Nigerian, already a legend in Calcutta football, seemed dejected at the IFA decision to punish him without reviewing video clippings of that eventful Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match.

Chima, who was asked to depose before the IFA league sub-committee a week before being punished, had repeatedly asked those concerned to see the clippings before arriving at any decision.

?That is how things are done in Europe,? he had said and talked about a few incidents where visual evidence was sought to deal with such issues. Chima insisted he had not touched the referee and said that he could only be punished for taking off his jersey.

His suggestion, however, was not appreciated by the IFA officials as the decision to suspend and fine him and penalise three others was taken solely on the basis of the referee?s report without viewing the video recordings.

The IFA, in fact, did try to get clippings of the August 31 match but according to ESPN authorities, it would have taken some time. IFA, however, did not wait.

Chima, who had been to the club this morning to take part in an advertisement shooting, did not say how he was planning to face the IFA verdict. But his club, which did not receive any official letter from IFA till late this evening, is going to request the IFA to at least reduce the period of suspension. The issue is likely to be discussed at a governing body meeting next week.

According to the club?s general secretary, Anjan Mitra, Mohun Bagan players came to him this morning saying they wanted to boycott all tournaments organised by IFA. The club, however, is yet to decide on that.

Mohun Bagan leave for Haldia Saturday to play the All Airlines Gold Cup.    

Calcutta, Sept. 15 
Bhaichung Bhutia?s work permit was granted today, clearing the way for his representing England?s Bury Football Club as a professional.

A spokesperson for the second division club told The Telegraph that they have ?received confirmation Wednesday morning that Her Majesty?s Government has granted the work permit? for the Indian star.

Bhutia?s agent, P. C. RajProhit, said the Overseas Labour Service issued the contentious work permit after a government appointed tribunal weighed the supporting evidence on Friday ? which included testimonials from Keith Vaz, MP, among others ? and gave it a go ahead.

Terry Robinson, the Bury Football Club chairman, said the soonest Bhutia will debut for The Shakers is one month from now. ?Over the next few weeks he will be undergoing an intensive training programme under the supervision of the coaching staff led by Neil Warnock, to get him match-fit,? Warnock explained.    

The Telegraph website is a truncated edition today because of the September 3 fire in our offices. Apart from the front page, links are available to the East only. ? ?    

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