Food for thought
A lot of things have changed in this past one year since Manmohan Singh replaced Atal Bihari Vajpayee at 1 Race Course Road, but no change been more marked than the one on the prime minister's dinner table. For Vajpayee, however much he hemmed and hawed through his five years as PM, was straightforward about one thing ' his love for food. At the slightest pretext, at semi-official gatherings as much as at official banquets, food would be got from one of the many five-stars in the capital ' the Taj, the Maurya, the Raddison or the Hyatt. But his successor is a man of simple tastes and frugal habits, and is not too bothered who caters for his guests when duty demands that he feed them lunch or dinner. At such times, Singh tends to favour the staid sarkari Ashoka. It is a gesture that shows the innate political savvy of the man, since it's just the kind of thing that is bound to go down well with the left. The entry into the PM's residence will also help the Ashoka, once the crown of the ITDC, and now fallen on bad days. But on the downside, you can be sure that those arrays of succulent kebabs, mouth-watering Awadhi, wazwan or Hyderabadi dishes, hot jalebis ' unerring weapons in Vajpayee's food diplomacy which took the edge of censorious opposition leaders and visiting dignitaries ' are a thing of the past. More's the pity.
What's he saying'
Why does LK Advani rub his hands so much' He does it so often that a cheeky young casting director once wanted him to model for a soap ad. Reporters, however, have a theory. They have noted that if, at the end of a meeting, Advani comes out rubbing his hands, it means he wants to talk to them. Else, his hands go up in a namaste and he simply walks out. So next time you wanted to make sense of the Chote Sardar, read his hands.
As clean as they come
Every dog has his day. AK Antony, sidelined by the internal politics of the Congress's Kerala unit until now, is about to get his time in the limelight. If reliable sources are to be believed. And there is no reason not to believe these sources since Antony is the original Mr Clean, who can probably teach a lesson or two about probity in public life to even Manmohan Singh. The high command has already taken a hand in nominating Antony to fill the vacancy created by K Karunakaran's defection, overruling the objections of the state unit. But bigger things, in the shape of a cabinet berth, are in store for him. The calculations, apparently, are that Antony is the Congress's best man in Kerala and a stint in the Central ministry will give him the added touch of glamour that will make him irresistible to Keralites in the assembly elections next year. Wonder what Antony has to say' Or do machinations fall outside the ambit of unethical behaviour'
Too close for comfort
But machinations don't always get you anywhere. Worried about news reports about Varun Gandhi's imminent departure to the Congress, the BJP decided to investigate the truth about his claims of closeness to 10 Janpath. Accordingly, a national-level gen-sec got in touch with his friends in the Congress. The feed-back he got was that Varun was not half as close to the first family as the gossip-mongers had it. The axe fell immediately and the BJP's rising star was sidelined. Interestingly, rumours about Varun's joining the Congress have also subsided. The young man, obviously, has a lot of growing up to do.
Cut to size
The BJP says that the Sonia-Manmohan kind of division of labour does not work. But it's a view that flies on the wall at recent cabinet meetings will not agree with. Earlier, the external affairs minister would go on about how few people there were who had the honour of being part of a conversation with Tito. And the defence minister would go off on a tangent about how he had solved tricky matters of state for Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, when he wasn't dispensing advice about how ministers should handle their banking, statistics or even health portfolios. Yet another kept his mouth shut until the talk veered around to his hobby horse ' Hindu-Muslim unity or the performance of the NDA. But now, everyone sticks to the business at hand and the good doctor is in control. Clearly, Sonia's iron hand has done the trick.
Lessons from the spin doctors
When you have little of substance, work the media ' that's always been the BJP's philosophy. No wonder, it has always had a large number of media-savvy leaders. Perhaps, those who can't talk to the media just don't make it anywhere in the saffron party. This must be the reason why, every now and then, the party holds tutorials for a few leaders from the state units to teach them how to handle the fourth estate. It was at one of these that someone asked the panel of well known faces ' Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and a few others ' how to field questions the answers to which you knew would prove embarrassing for the party. Silence and red faces all around, it was left to Jaitley to pick up the gauntlet ' it's not always necessary to answer every question. Skirt it with a 'will tell you later', or a 'let me check on that' or laugh it off and ask for the next. It seems that despite last year's electoral debacle, the BJP is yet to realize that you just can't fool all the people all the time.