Virendra Kapoor

And now, a big battle in the cash-rich Life Insurance Corporation of India.

The fight is for its chairmanship. Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and Minister of State for Finance Eknath Vikhe-Patil back different candidates for the post. Caught in the crossfire is a slew of senior LIC executives.

What has complicated matters is the fact that Sinha belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Vikhe-Patil to the Shiv Sena. The latter's lord and master Bal Thackeray -- yeah, the one whom the Maharashtra government wants to prosecute -- has already begun to protest against the "powerlessness" of his ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

First the facts. The post of LIC chairman fell vacant on July 1, 2000 when G Krishnamurthy retired. The same day, one of the two LIC managing directors, G P Kohli, also retired. The other MD, Y P Gupta, took over as acting chairman.

Since Gupta has only a couple of months to go before retirement, he was not considered for the big job, which has a fixed tenure of two years. This left the field open for the LIC's 23 executive directors.

The senior-most among them, P C Gupta, was short-listed by the Committee of Secretaries. But there was a snag: Gupta was due for retirement in 23 months.

In stepped Vikhe-Patil. He assured Gupta that he would get the job even if he was to retire a month before the two-year term. Unfortunately, Sinha did not quite see things that way. He directed the Committee of Secretaries to re-consider its recommendation.

Another candidate, G N Bajpai, who is seventh in seniority among the 23 EDs, was then short-listed. Bajpai has 25 months to go before retirement. Thus, age-wise, he meets the criterion.

Meanwhile, the Committee of Secretaries endorsed Gupta's name again. And Vikhe-Patil has now made his appointment a prestige issue. He cites several cases when LIC chairmen were appointed in violation of one guideline or the other.

LIC being one of the largest investors in equity markets, its head wields enormous clout in business and industrial circles. The Sena ministers in the Vajpayee government are planning to meet Home Minister L K Advani to protest against the hitch in Gupta's appointment.

Given the fact that the insurance sector has just been opened to foreign investment, this bodes ill for its health. Later this year, the first of the foreign insurance companies is expected to set up shop in collaboration with Indian firms.

Mamta's man

Union Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee has a new demand: replace West Bengal Governor Viren Shah with Orissa Governor M M Rajendran.

Banerjee's complaint is that Shah, a former BJP member, is soft on the ruling Left Front, particularly on octogenarian Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.

Rajendran, a former bureaucrat, is said to owe his job to Banerjee. Therefore, the head of the Trinamul Congress reckons, he would be more solicitous of her concerns.

The buzz is that Banerjee is determined to have Rajenderan as Bengal governor. Her confidants say that if she does not get her way she may even consider quitting the Vajpayee ministry.

The ball is now in the prime minister's court. Banerjee's demand assumes urgency, given that fresh elections to the state assembly are due next year.

TV time!

Time was when most Indians had to make do with listless fare for a few hours daily from the state-owned Doordarshan.

Not any more. While DD itself has more than six channels, private satellite offerings now number more than four dozens in most large Indian cities.

But nowhere is the satellite TV scene as crowded as it is in the relatively small state of Kerala. Besides the regular 50-odd channels that cable homes get, there are now quite a few Malayalee-specific channels.

Given the caste- and community-specific political parties in Kerala, the satellite channels are now geared to beam to segmented audiences. For instance, last week the Christian bishops in Kerala launched a channel. This is the fourth Malayalam channel, the other three being Asianet, DD (Malayalam), and Surya (Malayalam).

Soon the Indian Union Muslim League will launch its own channel, India Vision. The Kerala unit of the Communist Party of India, Marxist, is also readying one. The party has roped in well-known Malayalam movie stars Mammooty and Mohanlal to help it get the right mix for its venture.

Then, rumour has it that former Union minister C M Ibrahim proposes to launch a channel. It is expected to have an exclusive footprint for Kerala alone. It would be called Nilavu [moonlight].

With the Muslim League and the Marxists owning channels, it is only a matter of time before the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP enter the fray.

From Iran to Australia

Here is tomorrow's news:

Indian Ambassador in Iran Rajinder Singh Rathore is the new high commissioner-designate to Australia. Orders to this effect are expected soon.

Rathore, it would appear, is being rewarded for his commendable work in Tehran.

Capital Buzz