Now that the ill-timed ambition of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh has been negated by the ECís surprise announcement of the poll date, the spotlight has shifted back to Rahul Gandhi. The youth, it goes without saying, has an unenviable job at hand. He is trying to make the best of a bad situation with the help of his team, and may even have a few surprises up his sleeve. However, at present, it is his own partymen who feel completely stumped by the babalogsí modus operandi. A party hopeful from Nawabgunj had to appear for his crucial interview, to be taken by Rahul himself. He came fully prepared to answer the tricky questions about caste equations, local issues and so on. However, when asked if he knew how many persons in his assembly segment owned mobile phones, he found that his mouth had gone dry. A swift movement of fingers on the laptop followed, and pronto, the figures were read out from the screen. But it is not only the poor candidate from Nawabgunj who finds himself at the receiving end of the youthful Nehru-Gandhiís clever strategy. Eight zonal chiefs, who had given their list of candidates, have found that the names hardly match those on the list generated by the computer. Party bigwigs like Rita Bahuguna, Pramod Tiwari, Jagdambika Pal too are breaking into cold sweat at the thought of contesting elections, as ordained by their young master.
Waiting in the wings
While Rahul Gandhi struggles with Uttar Pradesh, the others in the youth brigade in parliament seem to be pursuing their own ambitions. They had hoped to join the government together with Rahul, but that hope seems to be fast receding. There is no guarantee the septuagenarians will retire from active politics anytime soon. Which is why the youths are concentrating on their own backyards. Sachin Pilot is busy exploring possibilities of becoming president of the state Congress in Rajasthan. Milind Deora is trying to do the same in Maharashtra. The impatient Jyotiraditya Scindia has picked up a fight with a veteran Congressman in Madhya Pradesh. Naveen Jindal has become the first parliamentarian to win a silver for shooting at the National Games in Guwahati. And Jitin Prasada is brainstorming to find out how to make the best of his lovely cottage in Nainital in the coming tourist season.
To make a point
Is it a sign of aspirations to the presidency or just the patriotic spirit' In Prateeksha, Big Bís bungalow in Mumbai, the national flag has been flying high for some time now. The same routine is being followed at the other house, Jalsa. When asked, Amitabh Bachchan sounded amused, wondering aloud why he should not fly the national flag over his properties when every Indian had the right to do so. Those who pass by Bachchanís house regularly, however, insist that this is a new development. Maybe we need an audience poll for that!
The left seems to have had its way in UP. But that isnít only where it seems to have got itself heard by the UPA government. Cynics even point to the colour of the accreditation card issued by the Press Information Bureau. It is blood red. It is being recalled that when the NDA had been in power, in one particular year, the cards bore a touch of saffron. Is it just coincidence'
Whose turn is it'
Veena Sikri, one of the many IFS officers superseded by Shiv Shankar Menon when he became foreign secretary, is waiting for a suitable assignment in keeping with her seniority. Among the posts which might pass muster is that of Indiaís permanent representative to the UN. The present incumbent was recently given a six-month extension, but he is bound to retire at the end of it. The toss-up might be between Sikri and the more ambitious Hardip Puri, current ambassador to Brazil. But the buzz in the MEA is that Sikri may ultimately be given her due.
Changing roadnames is the favourite pastime of politicians. In the national capital, the popular ITO Crossing was renamed Ram Chandra Aggarwal Chowk. A bigger affront to tradition came when the New Delhi municipal committee overnight changed the name of the South End Road, close to Lodhi Gardens. It is now called Rajesh Pilot Road, though no one has any idea as to how the Congress leader is associated with it.
In full flow
The assembly elections in Punjab once again confirmed that the ECís strict enforcement of the model code had merely succeeded in driving the actual show of money underground. Senior leaders of rival parties looked the other way while candidates arranged to deliver truckloads of liquor to segments of their constituencies. Bulk deals were negotiated, sometimes with vote-contractors or with caste or community leaders. In a few constituencies, rivals not only matched the distribution of liquor bottles but also competed over brands and quality as well. In Malwa, one candidate even distributed Indian-made foreign liquor to outdo a rival who had dispatched a truck of country-made liquor. The actual expense of the elections ran into a few crores in each constituency. Most candidates raised the money on their own, at times selling their own land with the hope of recouping many times the spent amount once they managed to get their kursi.