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PC scores over PM with cool mind
Tact, patience and sobriety win BJP over

Chidambaram comes out after the meeting with BJP leaders in Parliament on Wednesday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Sept. 4: P. Chidambaram won hands down over Manmohan Singh on three counts for the BJP: “diplomacy”, “patience” and “sobriety”.

These three attributes helped the finance minister swing the BJP’s endorsements for the legislative agendas the government was keen on accomplishing before Parliament splits up on Friday. This morning, the BJP seemed set to block proceedings.

On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister indulged in a bout of what was described as “dinner diplomacy” to end the legislative stalemate. He asked the BJP’s L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley over to his place. The trio made it a point to have their dinner before departing. Not only are they used to an early meal, Singh’s previous diplomatic gastronomies were a bit of a disaster.

Last year in November, he had invited Advani, Sushma and Jaitley to dinner to similarly solicit their cooperation on the thorny issue of allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

In deference to the culinary tastes of Advani and Sushma, the meal that night was wholly vegetarian but the fare wasn’t exactly inspiring. It consisted of insipid and “indifferently” cooked bitter gourd (karela) and tori (jhinga), perhaps acceptable to Advani who is content with a bowl of khichidi but not to Sushma and Jaitley who snack occasionally on samosas, kachoris and chholey-khulcha and generally love spicy food.

In any case, the appointed meeting time of 9.30pm on Tuesday ruled out the prospects of a meal, said Sushma. “Nobody serves dinner so late,” she said.

None of them looked at the snacks that were passed around briefly because the Prime Minister lost no time in embarking on his mission to persuade the BJP.

Sources said he started off saying that parliamentary pandemoniums and business breakdowns sent out “negative” signals, domestically and internationally, and did no good to enhance India’s image.

Sushma referred to the ongoing monsoon session and argued that it was mostly Congress members from Andhra Pradesh who held up proceedings to protest the state’s proposed bifurcation.

The BJP leaders said they had “willingly” sat through the night to see the food security, Sebi and Companies bills through. They asked Singh point-blank who was tasked to conduct Parliament’s working, the government or the Opposition and stressed it was unfair to constantly blame the BJP.

The BJP representatives pointed to Singh that even the “basic courtesies” were not extended towards the Opposition and cited his own exchanges with Jaitley, Rajya Sabha Opposition leader, over the state of the economy and the government’s “unwillingness” to allow Advani to respond to the Prime Minister’s statement on the coal block allocation in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday as instances of “rude manners”. “Advaniji was pleading to speak but the PM just walked out,” a BJP source commented.

The Prime Minister’s entreaties that he would ensure a “fair” probe into the coal affair were unheeded by the BJP.

Chidambaram, Sushil Shinde and Kamal Nath were present but apparently they spoke little.

Therefore, the mood this morning was to stonewall the legislative business. The BJP’s case for a probe into the Prime Minister’s role in the coal case was strengthened by a news report this morning that claimed a police officer wanted Singh to be questioned but his proposal was rebuffed by the CBI high-ups.

Until Chidambaram turned on the savoir-faire at his command.

He and Nath, the parliamentary affairs minister, held two sets of meetings with the BJP’s parliamentary leaders in Advani’s chamber. Chidambaram’s only plea was please, please help us pass the land, pension, RTI amendments and judges’ appointment (that entails tweaking the Constitution) bills any time you wish to, 12 noon, 2pm, 2.30pm, 4pm, today, tomorrow or Friday.

When Sushma emphasised that the BJP’s precondition was holding a discussion on the coal issue because its MPs and the rank-and-file were “highly agitated” and needed to be pacified, Chidambaram instantly agreed. The Prime Minister yesterday flatly refused, saying the matter was in the court and, therefore, sub-judice.

“The beauty of it was not once did Chidambaram lose his cool,” a source said.

The BJP was also “given to understand” the Congress would not raise the Vanzara issue “beyond a point”. Its back-benchers displayed placards demanding Narendra Modi’s resignation briefly in the upper House.