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Silence isn’t golden

New Delhi, May 10: If garrulousness is a risky affair, silence need not always be golden.

M.K. Alagiri, the most economical central minister as far as speaking in public is concerned, had stayed away from Parliament during the just-concluded budget session.

The “perpetual” absence had triggered a furore with some unkind souls suggesting that Alagiri, the son of DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, had gone on a holiday as he was not comfortable with speaking in English and Hindi and was more keen on focusing on Tamil Nadu politics.

The chemical and fertiliser minister’s proficiency in languages (the history graduate did study in an English medium school) has not been tested in Parliament. But the circumspect minister appeared to have forgotten to inform the Speaker that he would not be present — something an unhappy Meira Kumar referred to when the House was in session.

Now a right to information query has brought to light that Alagiri had kept the Prime Minister’s Office informed of his plan to go on a private visit to the Maldives.

The fertiliser ministry’s reply to the RTI application said Alagiri informed the PMO of his intention to go on an eight-day “private visit” to the Maldives from April 17, the day after Parliament resumed the second part of the budget session.

The RTI application — filed by a Delhi-based activist — wanted to know if the elder of Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s two sons who have followed their father into politics had taken permission from the Prime Minister or the cabinet secretary to go on leave during the budget session.

The reply by Alagiri’s ministry said the minister had, in an April 12 letter, written to the PMO of his intention to visit the Maldives from April 17 to April 24. The ministry said the “Prime Minister’s Office was informed” without specifying if permission was given or not.

Speaker Meira Kumar, however, had said her office had “received no communication” from Alagiri. “We have received no communication from him. Whenever he (Alagiri) comes, I will ask him whatever his problem I will try to resolve...” the Speaker had said after some MPs had questioned Alagiri’s absence.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other ministers are very particular about it (courtesy and decorum). Whenever they go, they always inform my office,” she added.

This is not the first time Alagiri’s absence from Delhi has come under the scanner. The minister has more often than not stayed away from the capital, preferring to stay in Madurai, his constituency.

He has also been demanding a return to Tamil Nadu with a juicy party post amid murmurs that he has his eyes on his father’s chair once it falls vacant. His younger brother Stalin, now deputy chief minister, has openly resisted any such move.

Another RTI query — evidently the preferred medium when it comes to Alagiri —filed a month ago has revealed that in the six months since being sworn in minister in May last year, he had been on flights every three days. Between May 29 and December 1, 2009, he had flown 61 times to or from Chennai or Madurai.

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