New Delhi, Oct. 28: A blonde saleswoman of Sig Sauer pistols walked up to the first-floor office of junior defence minister M.M. Pallam Raju.
She all but shot Raju’s career to smithereens on a cold December day last year.
Today, Mallipudi Mangapati Pallam Raju, 50, has not only survived that encounter with the now jailed long-limbed Romanian blonde with suspicious connections.
He has also got a “double-promotion” as cabinet minister, thanks to his senior in the defence establishment, A.K. Antony.
Guided by Antony, the defence ministry quietly put the lid on a row that was threatening to erupt. Unknown to Raju, Anna Maria Neacsu, the Romanian blonde pedlar of pistols, went on to marry playboy arms merchant Abhishek Verma weeks after the December meeting.
Verma was jailed for his alleged involvement in engineering a leak from the naval war room. In August, Neacsu, too, was put behind bars for alleged bribery on behalf of blacklisted European military firm Rheinmetall.
Unknown also to Raju, the Romanian woman had written to the Ordnance Factory Board the day after her visit to South Block. She cited her meeting with the minister and sought a multimillion-dollar deal to sell small-arms tech to the outfit that was under Raju’s charge.
The new man in charge of higher education will now take to his office tough lessons learnt during his six-year tenure in the defence ministry. The most important of those lessons under Antony: Better safe than sorry. Beware of who you meet and measure every word.
Educating Raju was easier than teaching his erstwhile colleague Rao Inderjit Singh, a bureaucrat says. Both Raju and Singh were ministers of state for defence in the UPA I government. But Singh was more likely to talk on delicate issues than Raju. Also, he was often grumpy when reprimanded by seniors.
Singh once advocated that the government should legitimise commissioned agents — middlemen — in defence deals. For a government led by the Bofors-singed Congress, this was political dynamite. Singh lost his job and is now in wilderness (or likely in a sport-shooting range south of Delhi).
Raju, on the other hand, quietly acknowledged the mistakes made and did not repeat them. Only recently, he was upbraided by Antony for speaking out of turn on Indian military policy towards Sri Lanka in a way that angered Tamil politicians. Raju clammed up immediately.
Likewise, after at first hailing the Supreme Court’s dismissal of retired General V.K. Singh’s case against the government, he shut up when Antony told him he must say nothing that might denigrate the office of the army chief.
Raju now moves out but moves up. He moves out of South Block but moves up in rank. His tenure in the defence ministry, which began when Pranab Mukherjee was his boss, was deemed fit enough for the Shastri Bhavan office that he will now occupy as HRD minister.
He gets a real mouthful — not just a bite as “independent charge” — and gets to be the boss of Shashi Tharoor.
Having been bossed by a tongue-tied Malayali, Raju will now boss over a tweeting Malayali with, ahem, a certain felicity with words. Once out of the defence ministry, Raju, who always complained of inadequate publicity, will also be able to free his arms somewhat.
Fifty-year-old Raju comes from a traditional Congress-supporting family. An electronics engineer who did his higher studies in Philadelphia’s Temple University, Raju also marketed software for Norsk Data in Norway.
An amateur jockey, the peripatetic Raju’s place is to be taken by a former national-level kabaddi player from Jaipur, Lalchand Kataria, 44.
Kataria will do well to learn from Raju that there are some corridors in Raisina Hill that are best negotiated quietly. That way it is easier to move up by moving out.