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Tide of words that stink and sting
Repartee goes to buffaloes

Jayaprada outside Parliament last week. (PTI)

Feb. 25: Pepper is being sprayed not from canisters alone but from venerable mouths also.

A sampling: “Dekhne mein theek thaak thi. Woh film star hamare ek neta ke saath aayee thi, unke saath hi party chhor ke chali gayee (She was okay in looks. She had come to the party with one of our leaders and left with him).”

Mulayam Singh Yadav on Sunday

“I did not run away from the party with Jayaprada. Both of us were expelled…. I don’t know what Mulayam Yadavji wanted to mean by saying she was okay in looks. Jayaprada reveres the Samajwadi Party chief as her father.”

Amar Singh on Tuesday

Ek bhains ko to main abhi Opposition leader ko dene ke liye taiyyar hoon. Paperwale inka neta ke saath photo kheechenge. Paper mein jab niklega woh photo, to pata nahin chalega dono ka antar (I am ready to offer one buffalo to the Opposition leader right now. The newspapers will then take pictures of the two. When the newspapers bring out the picture, no one will be able to differentiate between the two.)”

Mohammad Azam Khan, parliamentary affairs minister, Uttar Pradesh, on Monday

Potshots dipped in vinegar and worse are flying across the political landscape before the general election.

If Mulayam was railing against his friends-turned-foes, Azam was locking horns with the Opposition in the Assembly over police hunting for his buffaloes in a state where wild animals have been spreading panic.

The Samajwadi Party chief had criticised former party MP Jayaprada at a rally in Etawah. Although Mulayam did not take her name, he left little doubt on who his target was.

He also said the film star was “not officially resigning from the party as she feared losing her membership in Parliament”. “This time around, however, her true worth will be known as she will be exposed to a hard poll battle,” added the former chief minister, whose son Akhilesh Yadav now heads the Uttar Pradesh government.

Amar, who once built the Amar-Akbar-Antony partnership through friendships with minority-friendly Mulayam and Amitabh Bachchan, landed the counter-punch today.

Although Amar was upset, he kept his once-biting tongue in check and said: “The public derision of Jaya is uncalled for. She follows her own instincts in taking the next political step.”

Jayaprada, a sitting MP from Rampur who also won the 2004 election as a Samajwadi candidate, could not be reached.

It was the first time that Mulayam had made a public reference to the actress from Andhra Pradesh since Amar was expelled from the party in February 2010.

The expulsion had followed Amar’s scathing criticism of the control Mulayam’s family had over the party after Akhilesh’s wife Dimple lost in a bypoll.

Samajwadi sources said Jayaprada might have been re-nominated on a party ticket for the third time had she parted company with Amar, but she refused.

A senior Samajwadi leader said there was speculation about Amar’s return, too. “But Mulayam Singh’s statement suggests that this possibility, too, has exhausted itself.”

Several Uttar Pradesh politicians feel that Mulayam has concluded that Amar has no political utility in the current atmosphere although his networking skills were once valued.

The Calcutta-educated Amar had floated his own party but is believed to be in touch with the Congress.

A senior Congress leader claimed Jayaprada’s name was being considered as a candidate from Moradabad while the sitting MP, former cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin, would contest from Bengal.

But sources in Delhi said Jayaprada was still weighing her options and did not seem keen on Moradabad.

Lately, Amar has been seen at Salman Khurshid’s parties and he spoke at the launch of a book by the foreign minister’s wife, Louise Khurshid, earlier this month. Last week, Amar was seen chatting with Kapil Sibal. Both Khurshid and Sibal had led a campaign against Amar during the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

The wisdom that fights between erstwhile friends will be more bitter than those between sworn enemies probably explains the rancour between Mulayam and Amar.

Toss into this brawl claws, fangs and hooves, and the circus becomes a full house — as it has in Uttar Pradesh.

Minister Mohammad Azam Khan came under attack yesterday in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly when leader of Opposition Swamy Prasad Mauriya alleged that police were “more efficient in searching for animals of ministers” than arresting criminals.

The allusion was to Khan’s seven buffaloes that were reported missing earlier this month and were traced within a day.

On Sunday, a leopard prowled Meerut while a tigress has killed several people in Moradabad.

“Is the jungle raj in the state taking physical shape with more and more animals straying?” a TV anchor asked Shiv Pratap Yadav, minister in charge of animal welfare.

“Animals have their own compulsions of straying as humans have encroached on their lair,” Shiv Pratap replied. “These animals, however, did not know that you could use their plight to frame a political question.”

Of all the recent slights, Shiv Pratap’s may be the least offensive.

The art of repartee has always been a demanding task, requiring fleet-footed and razor-sharp wit, and some of the immortal wisecracks test the limits of modern-day sensitivities.

When Nancy Astor, the first woman member who sat in the House of Commons, made a caustic remark about Winston Churchill’s sobriety, the master of repartee is reported to have retorted: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

The two did appear to have shared a passion for rapier thrusts, going by the exchanges attributed to, though not always confirmed by, them.

Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

However, in polite company, an all-season and safe putdown would be what Benjamin Disraeli said about William Gladstone, both of who have served as British Prime Ministers: “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”