The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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An Italian bill of fare

Save Gucci bags, everything else seems to be tumbling out of the cupboard of Bengalís delegation to Italy. Soon after the trip, a part of the team, consisting mostly of businessmen, decided to get together at a five-star hotel to fondly recollect memories of the visit. The evening went off fine till it was after dinner and time for a skeleton to emerge. The person who brought it out is an industrialist (although he has no industries running for him) who has managed to endear himself to both the business lobby and the Writersí, and has often pliantly acted as point man for the government. Our man waved before the colourful gathering an enormous bill that the members had accumulated by happily wandering from one city to another, from one meeting to another, all in the best ďinterestsĒ of Bengal. The bill of 11,000 euros had also travelled, from the Indian embassy in Rome to New Delhi and then to the Writersí, where it was decided that a bankrupt government couldnít even dream of footing it. So the dear old businessman was despatched with the mission to make the industrywallahs pay it. The surprise from the cupboard has obviously set off a lot of chest-thumping. But the bill has to be settled and soon. For the government also has to look beyond Gucci.

Man management

God help this purush. The BJP president, M Venkaiah Naidu, is at the receiving end these days, especially if he is confronting AB Vajpayee, who misses no opportunity to take a dig at Naidu ever since he took the trouble of qualitatively differentiating between the PM and his deputy. The other day, when Naidu came visiting, Vajpayee queried, ďKyon adhyakshji, chunav kab kara rahe hai (Why, Mr President, when are you going to hold the polls)'Ē For the next 10 minutes, Naidu got busy explaining that his remark for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls being held simultaneously had been misquoted by the press. Vajpayee rubbed it in, adding, ďAajkal media zyada meherban hai (the media nowadays is a bit too kind to you).Ē Naidu laughed, thinking it was a joke. Something wrong with him'

Food for thought

Nothing wrong with it, but one might call the Congressís brainstorming session to be held at Simla as chinta shivir (worry session) instead of chintan shivir (deliberation). And rightly so. There seems to be too many worries for Sonia now ó the Kanchi shankacharyaís attempt to resolve Ayodhya, the infighting within the party, and obviously the road to the throne of Delhi. Get cracking then!

Giving it a miss

Now that the Trinamoolis have decided to boycott the monsoon session of the West Bengal assembly, many a doubt has cropped up in many minds. For one, participation in the assembly means getting a chance to be in the innumerable committees that are set up, which give the opposition a fair share of the glory of being in politics ó the chance to ride government cars, to get hefty allowances and so on. A new assembly session means it is time for many of the committees to be scrapped and new ones to be born and new members to be appointed. Trinamoolis will miss all that if they miss the session. Which is why both Mamata Banerjee and Subrata Mukherjee are supposed to be trying their best to keep the assembly speaker in good humour. That is just in case he decides to forget the absentees and summon the Congress to fill in the gaps.

Thatís what enemies are for

No end to madamís chinta. Ambika Soni and Natwar Singh are supposed to be sworn enemies, but itís truce now. They have apparently joined hands to clip the wings of Janardhan Dwivedi, speech-writer to madam, who is becoming too hot for them to handle. The duo are believed to have told Priyanka that they caught Dwivedi canvassing for Rahul before Sonia. Upset, Priyanka has supposedly complained to Mama Sonia about Dwivedi. Both Soni and Singh must be waiting with bated breath for the outcome. But Mama willing, Dwivedi may also turn the tables on them. Watch out for more.

To fit the role

Another grand design. The LK Advani camp is supposed to be convinced that Murli Manohar Joshi is instigating the VHP chief, Ashok Singhal, to try throwing a spanner into Advaniís works on the Ayodhya controversy. Rattled, Advaniís men are believed to have propped up Uma Bharti to cut Singhal to size by acting as mediator between the VHP, sangh and the government. Now you know why Bharti suddenly decided to poke her head into Ayodhya'

Back to the limelight

Having delivered her bundle of joy, Madhuri Dixit will be back before the arclights again with Zoya Akhtarís Nargis, an older womanís love for a younger boy. Never mind, so long as she is there.

Voice of the master

If in Lalooland, do as Laloo says. Sonia seems to have taken the dictum to heart. That is probably why she is all ears to Laloo Yadavís counsel on the affairs of the Bihar Congress. Taking pity on the state of madamís party in the state, Laloo is supposed to have convinced madamji that she needed to look at the caste factor if she desired to retain a foothold in Bihar. For example, she needed to poach on the BJPís support base among the upper caste Bhumihar Rajput Brahmins. That alone would ensure the nemesis of the BJP in the state and ensure success for the Congress. He even suggested the name of who madam needed to pick up ó Ram Jatan Singh, perceived to be anti-Laloo, but a Bhumihar and Ranbir Sena man. Sonia, quite evidently, swallowed the bait. Ram Singh is now the new Congress committee chief of Bihar. And Laloo cannot be happier. By leading Sonia into the trap, he is supposed to have consolidated his own Yadav, Dalit and Muslim vote bank on which the Congress could have made a dent, come election time. Laloo has to have the last word, you see!

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