The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Massaging the ego

Flight of infancy. The aviation minister, Shahnawaz Husain, the youngest minister in the cabinet, has completed one year in office, and is quite overcome by this achievement. The event was naturally celebrated in style at a posh New Delhi hotel and the wine and food flowed as easily as Pankaj Udhas’s mellifluous notes — all at the taxpayers’ expense. The ostensible reason for hosting the gala evening was the inauguration of Air India’s direct flight to New Jersey and Frankfurt. But the infant minister gave away the secret in his spirited speech at the party which none of his guests were willing to listen to. Husain declared, with chest puffed up, that despite media speculations and the innumerable stories “planted” in the media, he would be completing one year in office the next day. As he steadfastly dug his own grave, his media advisors tried desperately to look the other way. They need to bother about not only his actions, but his brainchildren as well. Like the introduction of massage facilities inflight and at airport lounges. Given the scores of massage parlours in every city which offer the “services” of young, educated, classy masseuses, what if passengers start expecting the same “services” from us, wondered a Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan bureaucrat loudly. That shouldn’t bother Husain for he could then go on to complete his second year in the aviation ministry on public demand.

Two can play this game

If anyone can give the foxy Narendra Modi a run for his money, make him eat humble pie and upset his best laid plans, it is Shanker Sinh Vaghela, chief of the Gujarat unit of the Congress. Unlike the Johnny-come-lately Modi, Vagh-ela has a wide support base. As the slogan that follows Vaghela everywhere nowadays puts it — “Dekh Modi dekh kaun aya. Tera baap aya, tera baap aya.” A big headache for Modi is Vaghela’s support among Hindutva-ites — a populace the BJP considered its captive votebank. Actually, Vaghela is more adept than Modi at playing the Hindutva card — he has roped in Chote Murari and Sadhu, who narrate the Ramayana regularly on Aastha channel. No wonder, the Congress high command has decided to ignore this blatant (mis)use of religion for “tactical reasons”. All’s fair, it seems, in Gujarat and elections.

How saucy are you'

What is not sauce for the goose is always sauce for the gander. So while some scribes may be appalled by the Vajpayee regime’s muzzling of the press, courtesy Tehelka, others are happily basking in its munificence. For each day, one or the other journo finds himself as some minister’s media advisor, additional private secretary or officer on special duty. Murli Manohar Joshi has two of them, Vijay Goel, Shahnawaz Husain, the PMO one each, and now the Jharkhand chief minister, Babulal Marandi, too has one. Last heard, vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was trying his best shooing away scribes who were trying to beat each other to the post of the press secretary to the vice-president. Tough race.

An eye on the main chance

Ever wondered why George Fernandes has suddenly “rediscovered” his socialist roots over the HPCL-BPCL disinvestment issue' Three years into the Vajpayee ministry, Balco, Ketan Parikh and Tehelka later, why is George laying claim to a holier-than-thou image' His detractors in the NDA say their convenor has ambitions of succeeding AB Vajpayee and his detractors outside the NDA say he is laying the ground for a future bid as prime minister of a third front. With Jayalalithaa raking up the Sonia Gandhi-foreign origin saga again, things already seem to be working in Fernandes’s favour. The canny George is on the lookout for a safe seat, now that differences with Nitish Kumar have ruled out Kurmi-dominated Nalanda. George has been angling for Muzaffarpur, a former base. He has already wooed the sitting MP Jainarain Nishad of Ram Vilas Paswan’s party, with the promise of a Rajya Sabha seat. A long-distance runner, no less.

Breakfast with Sudip

Our didi never loses an opportunity to spew venom at BJP leaders. So why are Sudip Bandopadhyay and his pretty wife organizing “power” breakfasts at his SN Banerjee Road residence for the saffron party leaders who are in town for the zonal conference' At last count, M Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and Rajnath Singh broke bread with Mamata’s deputy. Needless to say, these little parties have the blessings of Mamata Banerjee. Very understandably, however much she might rave and rant, Mamata is furiously trying to build bridges with the powers that be.

Bring in the stars

The two hot ’n happening young ’uns, Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel, are to play the lead in a new venture — the Mumbai municipal corporation’s latest cleanliness drive. When BMC officials caught up with Hrithik between shoots, he seemed quite keen to do the short video spot on how to keep the city clean, ending with the simple and passionate, if not terribly original, plea: “Aao Mumbai saaf rakkhe.” His Kaho Naa... Pyar Hai co-star has already set off the drive with a similar appeal to Mumbaikars on Independence Day. Let’s hope this venture does something to revive their sagging celluloid career.

Where there is smoke...

The CPI(M) has always been a party of smokers. But of late, better wisdom seems to have prevailed at least with one —Biman Bose. The senior leader came back from the US recently with admonitions to quit ringing in his ears. The poor man, who never seems to have read the statutory warning on every pack, now seems to also have read up all the latest research on the effects of smoking. And so it is a strictly one in the morning, one at night and one in the loo regimen for Bose these days. But the other heavy smoker, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is not one to give up so easily — his nicotine-intake seems to go up with every crisis his government faces. But the most interesting is the tale of yet another leftist — a prominent member of the Buddha cabinet and, publicly, a firm anti-smoker who is known to reprimand policemen who smoke in the corridors of Writers’ Buildings. Well, the man is a closet smoker. And of late, he has been smoking one too many. The honourable minister is anxious because his daughter is to be visited by the stork soon. As they say, to each his own — poison.

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