The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Man who is king

Another flying Sikh, if the speed is anything to go by. Even before the Indian government had time to recover from its condemn/deplore debate, Captain Amarinder Singh beat it to offer his share in the relief and rehabilitation of Iraq to US ambassador, Robert Blackwell. There was an angle in it though. It wasn’t the despairing population of the country that bothers the chief minister of Punjab, it was Iraq’s gurdwaras. Amarinder’s missive to the US envoy apparently said that under Saddam’s reign, during which there was hardly any religious freedom, the historical sites had fallen into disuse and disarray. Which is why, there was need to reconstruct them. Amarinder seems to have even beaten the Shias who similarly demand the rebuilding of their holy shrines. Inside India, and well inside his state, Amarinder seems to be going at the same speed. If he has his way, there might be sprawling casinos coming up in Ludhiana and Jalandhar, and regular heritage festivals in Malwa, Deoba and Majitha regions. His supporters have already started to compare him with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But looks like Amarinder will leave the raja far behind.

All in the name of the war

Iraq also gave some people reason to slow down, much to the relief of the civil aviation minister, Shahnawaz Hussain. The young, irrepressible cabinet minister has, for reasons known mostly to saffronites, landed himself in the bad books of both the Advani and Vajpayee camps. Which is why there were talks to replace him with either Shatrughan Sinha, who is making loud noises about his not being satisfied with the shipping ministry, some Shiv Sena guy or — hold your breath — our own homegrown Trinamooli didi. Iraq apparently forced a change of stance. Dropping Hussain in times of war would invariably be interpreted as an anti-minority move. So Hussain and matters have been allowed to lie. But for how long'

What ails them

A bit of an anti-climax in Ajmer. More than the indignity of being sent to jail, Praveen Togadia, the trishul hero, is said to be upset over the poor response from the masses. In the jail, Togadia is reported to be going through the morning bunch of papers with great eagerness and often heard commenting that the Hindu samaj is yet to awaken. The immediate reason for the slumber, according to Praveen, is the 40 plus degrees outside. But then Togadia has forgotten Marx. Isn’t religion also opium for the masses'

A piece of good advice

The flamboyant former minister for parliamentary affairs, Pramod Mahajan, is a changed man. The man in dark glasses is now supposed to be spending time giving lessons to senior leaders like Madan Lal Khurana, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Uma Bharti and Dileep Singh Judeo. His staple advice to all of them is “avoid Delhi” if they aspired to be chief ministers. They heard him with rapt attention till Maddi Pahelwan intervened in his inimitable style to ask how anyone could “avoid” Delhi. Pramod had to clarify that by saying so, he meant they should limit their involvement in national politics and concentrate on their respective states. Khurana finally understood, “Aise bolo na” (say that).

Back to the same game

It seems that every time a fire rages in Amethi, it also sets alight rumours about Priyanka Gandhi joining the party. If the grapevine is to believed, Mrs Vadra is supposed to join the party as general secretary, much like her father, in the next much awaited AICC reshuffle in order to salvage the party in the coming assembly and general elections. Priyanka will apparently contest from her mother’s constituency in Amethi and her mother shift to Rai Bareilly, the constituency of the latter’s in-laws. The current MP from that seat, Satish Sharma, will be given a Rajya Sabha membership. Supposedly, the hunt is also on for a second safe constituency for Sonia and guess who, Tarun Gogoi, has offered madam to contest from his state. All that safe enough for the Congress'

Wait a little

Another political game. The decision to replace the old and ageing governor of Jammu & Kashmir, GC Saxena, with the relatively younger Vijay Kapur, presently lieutenant governor of Delhi, was put on hold for a calculation. The terms of both the men finish later this month. Given Kapur’s impressive track record — he was IAS officer and retired as secretary to the government — and his proximity to the incumbent party at the Centre, he was regarded as the best choice for the violence-torn state. But then Madan Lal Khurana intervened, saying Kapur’s presence in Delhi was necessary when the BJP tried to snatch power from the Congress in the October assembly elections. Kashmir can wait!

The killing fields

Their sankalp or determination seems to be no less than hers. The sankalp yatra of Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh is up against a lot of hostility not only from the Congress, but from her own party as well. Lets take the little story the opposition has to say first. Sometime in 1998 while campaigning for the assembly polls, Uma is said to have chanced upon a teenage girl who had lost her house and parents to caste atrocities. The sanyasin is supposed to have promised to take care of this girl, her sisters, give them education and have them married. Congressmen claim Uma has done none of that. Which means she can’t keep her promises. Problem is her own party members are saying much the same. The sanyasin’s mercurial ways have angered a number of her colleagues who allege that she is excluding everyone from her plans and strategies. Uma naturally is fighting back. She is believed to have convinced Venkaiah Naidu to keep the Madhya Pradesh BJP chief out of the crucial committee that will decide on the ticket distribution. Quite a war out there, albeit minus all precision.

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