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Gala offering

The prime minister’s attempt to revive the Saarc spirit of togetherness did not merely manifest itself in his drive to liberalize trade and travel between the countries. It found reflection in the spread for the PM’s dinner as well. The menu was an assortment of famous preparations from each member country. The variety was so baffling that guests were left struggling to find a combination to go with each dish. Mouth-watering biriyani, for instance, could not be sampled with the spicy coastal cuisine of Sri Lanka or the distinctly flavoured Nepali and Bhutanese delicacies. The politically-correct went back heartily praising the lavish dinner, but connoisseurs were certain that Saarc’s unity could not be stretched to the kitchen. And they were not the only ones disappointed with the much-ado about regional bonhomie. The Saarc fanfare got the goat of many non-participants in the show. Delhi’s residents, for example, who faced mammoth traffic jams. There were also mightily upset guests at five-star hotels where the delegates were put up during the summit. Some were especially disgusted when two choppers landed on the roof of one hotel as part of the security drill. The commotion was enough to put off the proceedings of the monopolies and restrictive trade pratices’ commission. Seems like India has made too much noise while flogging a dead horse.


Keeping safe distance

An unwitting error' One cannot be sure yet, but the exiled Pakistan Peoples Party leader, Benazir Bhutto, seems to have been denied an audience with the PM when she was in India recently on the invitation of a leading publishing house. Maybe, India is being extra-cautious to prevent Pakistan from misinterpreting its actions. Given the volatile situation in Pakistan following the lawyers’ strike, and the seemingly chastened Musharraf’s willingness to meet the exiled leaders of his country, it is perhaps wise of the PM’s counsel to have discouraged a tête-à-tête with the PPP leader.


Present, please!

Guess who came calling at 10 Janpath from Mumbai' Right, Ajitabh Bachchan, with the wedding invitation for the Nehru-Gandhis. Unable to meet the mater familias, he is supposed to have handed over the invite to beti Priyanka, who has apparently promised to attend. We might hazard a prediction here. Sonia and Rahul, quite surely, will skip the wedding, if not to spite Amitabh, but his dear friend from the Samajwadi Party, who is bound to be there.


Time to call it quits

It’s curtains not only for many of India’s cricket heroes, but also for their voiceovers. The Mumbai-based artists, sometimes paid Rs 25,000 for a 30-second slot on the radio or television, have moved to imitating cine-stars. According to the industry, Shah Rukh Khan is a much preferred option on the radio. Things were different before the World Cup. The voices of Sachin, Dravid, Kapil Dev, Yuvraj Singh and even Inzy were in much demand. No longer. Ever since the exit of India and Pakistan from the World Cup, the voiceover artists have not managed to dub for a single cricketer.


Who framed Jogi'

After giving the BJP a drubbing in the Rajnandgaon by-elections, Ajit Jogi has turned his guns on members of his own party. He has blamed the top Congress leadership for getting the saffronites to ‘frame’ him for the murder of an NCP leader. Jogi alleges that he has sufficient evidence, including telephone conversations, to prove his case. The slur is so grave that senior leaders like Motilal Vora, Mahendra Karma and Charan Das Mahant are up in arms against him. They have apparently complained to Madam that unless Jogi was reined in, Chhattisgarh would be lost forever. Jogi has another prescription for Sonia though. He believes that with his MLA wife, Renu, and son, Amit, by his side, he can alone take on the Raman Singh government. Is anybody listening'


Without heads

The health of the country’s top investigative agency, the CBI, is in bad shape. For the last six months, six posts of joint directors have been lying vacant. Two more joint directors are likely to go back to their respective cadre soon. There are several vacancies in the DIG and SP slots. One post of the additional director has also to be filled. And this at a time when the agency has trouble handling cases handed over to it by the high court, Supreme Court, the Central and state governments. A power tussle between the minister of state in charge of the CBI and the CBI director is said to be the real problem.


Make the most of the elections

The UP elections are obviously going to be a long haul. Naturally, political parties are taking their own measures to ensure success. As election campaign goes on full swing, musclemen and toughies from neighbouring Bihar and MP are crossing borders in hordes to be at the right place at the right time, often on the special request of political leaders. They offer various types of services, ranging from intimidating voters to booth-capturing to even terrorizing political opponents. The rate varies, depending on the kind of service asked for. According to a bully from the Bundelkhand area, who had rendered his services in the last round of the assembly polls, he is taking a team of 13 on a fee of Rs 30,000 a day for the crew. Food, mainly vegetarian, together with the essential ghee, milk and dry fruits, has to be provided separately. Some gangs are even allowed to employ their own cooks. Whoever is talking of unemployment in India!

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