The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trudging up Mount Abu

Mount Abu was an uphill task for many, for the Assam CM, Tarun Gogoi, particularly. The Assam Congress chief spent close to a week travelling for a conference that lasted barely two days. Advised against travel by air on health grounds, Gogoi had to take the train — first the Rajdhani from Guwahati to reach Delhi, and then 36 hours travel and a day’s rest later, the Ahmedabad Rajdhani for Abu Road. From the station followed an hour and a half drive to Mount Abu. But this was cakewalk compared to the return journey. For one, the Ashram Express to Delhi was several hours late. Worse, Gogoi on boarding apparently had to meet a gaggle of very hostile passengers who could not but vent their anger for having being delayed at Ahmedabad for hours during which AC coaches had been added to the train to accommodate the Congress chief minister and mediamen. Gogoi tried to explain that he had booked his seat much in advance, but there was no one to buy that. But then even Sonia Gandhi hadn’t bought his story of poor health as an excuse for opting out of the conference, even though she had allowed Nagaland CM, SC Jamir to stay out for the same reason. The climb, as we said, is steeper for some.

Run for cover

Someone who’s made it there is Ambika Soni. She was the only one who gave Sonia Gandhi company when she went for her 5.30 am jog in her track-suit in Mount Abu. Four chief ministers had also reportedly jumped out of bed to join Sonia in the wee hours of the morning, but failed to muster enough courage to run with madam in jogging armour. All they managed to do was cut across the duo’s path. Sonia, naturally, was surprised by the health-consciousness of her ministers. One of them however made it up by alleging that they were up because they had slept poorly the previous night. Madam apparently was not the only one to be surprised. The owner of the hotel hosting the ministers were also pleasantly taken aback by the almost zero consumption of alcohol. “It is really Gandhi’s family”, commented one steward. Really'

Fast movers

A weird judicial family. While judges of the Delhi high court move around the city in their swanky Maruti-Suzuki Balenos, the Supreme Court judges are still saddled with the rickety old ambassadors and Fiat-NEs. Judges of the apex court apparently suffer pangs of conscience when it comes to spending money on themselves. They are, however, still loath to put to an end the practice of serial house-moving (which must cost the exchequer quite a lumpsome) every time a judge retires and a senior judge moves into his house, causing a series of movements down the line in almost half the apex court hierarchy. And with chief justices retiring every other month, the power shifts must be coming all too frequently!

Cost of a free lunch

Giant shifts here at the Writers as well. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has apparently directed that since the government is going through a funds crunch, employees should no longer look forward to free lunches. The problem is that these lunches were provided by “clients” and not by the government. Which is why the employees, including the all-powerful secretaries, are seeing red. For the lunches not only entailed five-star fare free of cost quite often for themselves, but also for their families. Buddha seems to be more biased against the liquid portions preceding and succeeding the food than the lunch itself. Frequent disbalance in consumption of the former meant employees would head straight for home. Shouldn’t the directive have been more directed then'

How many votes in all'

Change of scene. The Gujarat polls, quite obviously, has generated a lot of heat in the capital. Amid one of the heated arguments, one senior BJP leader seems to have told the AICC gen-sec in charge of Gujarat, Kamal Nath, that the BJP would get 65 per cent of the votes. Nath seems to have immediately turned to the deputy prime minister and told him that his party was getting the electoral arithmetic all mixed up. If the BJP got the said per cent of the “votes”, it were likely to win “100 per cent” of the assembly seats in the state. On which point LK Advani agreed with Nath, but jumped in defence of his colleague by saying that he had actually meant “65 per cent of seats”. Hope he’s calculating right.

Gold diggers at work

With five in-house surveys which indicate the Congress has an edge, Kamal Nath seems to have the Gujarat arithmetic at his finger tips. Relaxed, he has sent party observers from his own state to keep a tab. True Congresswallahs, the men are reportedly busy making promises and fortunes as well.

Two minus two is...

Amarinder Singh is busy subtracting his gains. He loudmouthed in the media at Mount Abu that he did not care about the AICC when it came to selling off PSUs. Then he went ahead with his attempts to split the Akalis during the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee polls despite specific instructions against it from madam. Now he is pretending to be the loyal worker again. Someone help him get his sums right!

A surprise visitor

The latest entrants in the cockfight are Tapan Sikdar, former lord of the BJP ring in Bengal, and Tathagata Ray, the new state party chief with a profile considered more “acceptable” by the high command. The two apparently do not miss an opportunity to train their guns on each other, so much so that things of late have taken a particularly bad, let’s say sorry, turn. Take this hilarious scene at the Sealdah station that went largely unobserved. While Sikdar sat in the Goud Express last week chatting with his cronies, bound for Malda where he was scheduled to address party workers, Ray boarded the compartment in his trademark bush shirt. Electric in the air. Ray is supposed to have suddenly turned pale, probably realizing that the phalanx in front of him could easily defeat him in both lung and muscle power. The party chief seemingly turned away and headed for his Tata Sumo, mumbling to the bewildered party worker who had accompanied him that an urgent phone call had just arrived from Delhi which required him to stay back. Should we check that out with Delhi'

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