The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No help from the Buddha

Indian politicians are sitting targets for all the latest spiritual fads — vaastu, feng shui, reiki, Art of Living, and what have you. And Najma Heptullah is quite the typical Indian politician in such matters. The lady who is known to aspire to every post — from the vice-presidentship of India to the United Nations’s secretary general — has lately been bitten by the Buddhism bug. She has been telling whoever will listen how very deeply the teachings of The Buddha have influenced her. As evidence, she refers to the fact that she was born in Bhopal, a mere 50 kms from the famous Sanchi stupas which house the mortal remains of Gautam Buddha. Her love for Buddhism had also apparently taken the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha to the Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan and she can’t berate the taliban enough for what they did to the world heritage site. But if her new-found spiritual inclinations are meant to appease Sonia Gandhi into giving Heptullah a fifth nomination to the upper house, it hasn’t done the trick. The Congress boss is furious with Heptullah for fraternizing with the enemy. Heptullah’s crime — she received an award from RSS chief KS Sudarshan, attended a book release function where every speaker lambasted Indira Gandhi, and she was the only Congress leader to be present at the unveiling of Veer Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament. And Sonia is not about to eschew anger and espouse Buddha’s Middle Path.

It takes two to bring peace

While on Heptullah, here’s another occupation that the longest standing woman parliamentarian from the minority community may look at — that of peace-keeper. At one of Sonia Gandhi’s rare informal chats with the media, a reporter suggested that Murli Deora could persuade his “good friend” Geo- rge Bush to lay off Iraq, while Heptullah could work her charm on her friend Saddam Hussein, and ask him not to make matters worse. “That way your party can take the credit for having averted a sure war in Iraq,” he ended, tongue firmly in cheek. Amidst the laughter, Deora was heard protesting mildly that he wasn’t that good a friend of Bush’s. We never would have guessed from his tall claims!

Cricket fever catches on

But at this moment, most of our parliamentarians couldn’t care less what happens on the war front in Iraq. With India’s World Cup campaign hotting up in South Africa, they, like most of their countrymen, eat cricket, sleep cricket and live only cricket — as the ad copy of a popular cola brand puts it. Attendance in the Central legislature thins out during important India matches. Earlier, there were two television sets in the Central Hall of Parliament for all those who wanted to catch the proceedings of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. But the MPs have now hired a third set, so as not to miss even a single ball.

Meanwhile, one Shiv Sena member from the upper house was so carried away with enthusiasm at India’s unexpectedly brilliant performance that he has even proposed that Sachin Tendulkar be given the Bharat Ratna, if India goes on to finally lift the cup. Now that’s what they call betting on a winning horse.

Uncertain travel plans

If India does make it to the finals, will Atal Bihari Vajpayee go to Johannesburg to cheer the Indian team' The prime minister would dearly love to go — after all it would be a once-in-a-lifetime affair. Besides, Vajpayee can cite the instance of Nelson Mandela travelling to England to watch his country play in an earlier world cup, to silence all those who might carp about the expenses. But two considerations played spoilsport. The first: the war in Iraq, that might start any day. But the second, more important scruple was, what if India didn’t win in the final'

Trust a politician to play safe.

Watch the bouncer

Cricket being on everyone’s mind, it is not surprising that politicians too are talking the language of the wicket and the willow. The other day, Arun Jaitley was watching a match with some of his colleagues when a Congress leader from Maharashtra passed a comment on how strange it was that minnows Kenya had made it to the semi-finals while seasoned campaigners like Pakistan and South Africa hadn’t. Why, didn’t Sonia Gandhi become the leader of your party, over the heads of many a veteran Congressman — pat came Jaitley’s reply. A blockhole, Mr Jaitley!

Misfit in the party

George Fernandes may be a big shot in the NDA government, but he is not highly valued in his own Samata Party. Recently, he tried to bring peace among the squabbling Janata parivar in Jharkhand, but only managed to escalate the rebellion with his intervention. In fact, Fernandes’s writ doesn’t extend beyond his Krishna Menon Marg residence as far as his party is concerned. Perhaps he has become too big for his party'

Say cheese for the cameras

Television journalists on the Parliament beat have a problem — on the one hand, they can’t seem to stop BJP members from falling over themselves to give sound-bytes, and on the other, they can’t get Congressmen to speak intelligibly to the cameras. The BJP has Vijay Malhotra, Sushma Swaraj, M Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan...who regularly rush to the main entrance to contribute their proverbial few words. The Congress is a study in contrast. Party chief Sonia Gandhi isn’t much into sound-bytes, while Shivraj Patil, deputy leader of the house, is never around. Apparently, he thinks talking to the press is not in keeping with parliamentary decorum. For some reason, Jaipal Reddy begins his press conferences at 4.20 pm and quotes extensively from Kant, Burke and Spencer. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi used to be the only one with some amount of media savvy in the Congress, but lately he seems to have been asked to shut up. The Congress had better acquire a good television face fast or it might find itself at a disadvantage in this age of 24-hour news channels.

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