The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spinning a yarn

Nehru’s got serious competition. The man from Rameshwaram currently inhabiting the Rashtrapati Bhawan is emerging as a major attraction for children the country over. Apart from his looks, his art of story-telling has also become a hit with the young. APJ Abdul Kalam was in Tamil Nadu recently and made time to tell a story to his favourite audience, surprising many by his choice of characters and his feel of the Indian political scene. This is how the tale went: god wanted to cleanse the earth of evil and deputed an angel to that end. The angel returned after many hundred years, the task still incomplete. Shaken, god summoned a ghost. To test him, he asked the spirit to count the stars. The ghost gave him the right answer. Visibly, impressed, god assigned him with the task of first tabulating the exact number of political leaders in India. Years passed and the ghost kept running from the north to the south, from the east to the west without success. Each time he came close to a figure, it multiplied like the hydra. The story obviously could not have ended here. But much like god, Kalam couldn’t possibly know how it would.

Please remain seated

Hand of god' Shahnawaz Hussain, removed from the civil aviation ministry, it is believed, would have been removed from the cabinet entirely had it not been for the want of another Muslim member in the BJP parliamentary party. The party gen-sec, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, was reportedly sounded out by the prime minister, but he politely declined to sit on Hussain’s kursi, probably thinking it safer to remain as the party spokesman cum gen-sec. Meanwhile, Hussain remained in two minds about whether his shift to the textiles ministry signified a demotion. He allegedly asked senior textile officials who were explaining the charge to him whether the ministry was below civil aviation in the priority list. The officials demurred in one voice, “Oh no, sir”. The textile ministry had more funds than aviation, but lacked the glamour. Be happy that you have anything at all, Hussain!

One idol in hand

About a month ago, Laloo Prasad Yadav is believed to have called on the president with wife Rabri Devi in tow. They had brought a small statue of Buddha as a gift for APJ Abdul Kalam. After alighting from the car, Laloo walked ahead while Rabri trudged behind slowly, Buddha in hand. An impatient Laloo turned back to rebuke his wife in his inimical style, “Is Buddha ke saath tum kyun buddhu ho rahi ho” (Why have you become so silly with this Buddha in hand)'

Laughter is the best medicine

Killing with a smile. It has been barely months since hansmukh Sushil Kumar Shinde took over as Maharashtra chief minister, but the daggers are already drawn. The Maratha lobby has already apprised madam of how Sharad Pawar is running the government by proxy. Shinde, they said, merely cut ribbons and exchanged pleasantries with Bollywood stars. As proof they pointed to the unceremonious way the state cooperative secretary, Ratnakar Gaikwad, had been removed. Shinde, till hours before the sack, had kept denying there had been any such demand from the NCP and that he was the boss. Soon after, he was pleading that he could not withstand pressure from “above”. Was he still smiling'

Political treatment

Besides sadhus and sants in Madhya Pradesh, political foes of Diggy Raja have a field day. In his bid to keep everyone happy in an electioneering state, the CM is not only keen to provide secretarial assistance to Arjun Singh at state expense, he is also providing similar help to former CMs like Sunderlal Patwa, Motilal Vora and SC Shukla who use the government staff besides living in palatial bungalows in Bhopal. But that may not save the day for Diggy if we go by the opinion polls. A recent one in an English daily showed that the BJP would have more than 15 per cent lead over the Congress. To be doubly sure, Pramod Mahajan commissioned another agency which showed similar findings. Maybe Diggy should conduct his own.

Where to from here'

Star attraction. Hema Malini seems to have emerged the hot favourite for the nominated category in the Rajya Sabha. Co-star Vinod Khanna, currently in the external affairs ministry, is apparently strongly backing her. Movie buffs AB Vajpayee and LK Advani are also keen to have Hema in Parliament, while the party feels the star’s services could be utlized in the coming assembly polls and general elections. Meanwhile, there’s a bit of a problem with another outgoing star, Shabana Azmi, who seems hard put to stay on although the Shiv Sena is discouraging it. Azmi has reportedly also floated the idea of husband Javed Akhtar succeeding her, but our poet PM is not thrilled. Our desi Gregory Peck, Dev Anand, is also in the race. Problem of plenty!

Matching dress sense

Nothing succeeds like success. And the Congress superstar from Behrampore, Adhir Chowdhury, who gave the party a taste of victory it had altogether forgotten in Bengal’s zilla parishad polls this May, knows that only too well. In the art of political living, one has to cash in on this brief moment in the light and Chowdhury is doing precisely that. In his sneakers and blue jeans, Chowdhury shows a dash of ABA Ghani Khan’s showmanship — charting his own course in the district on his enormous car, and raising his own following through his charged speeches. Chowdhury, one is told, is also a stickler for perfection. Which is why he is believed to usually travel laden with suitcases that carry clothes he changes into in-between party meetings. Apparently, Chowdhury is never seen in the same pair of shirt and trouser in any two or more consecutive meetings. The Congress star’s idol is none other than Indira Gandhi, who paid the same attention to personal attire as she hopped from one rally to another conference. But even she could not have matched Chowdhury’s dress sense.

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