The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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My enemy, my friend

Shatrughan Sinha got his ministerial berth after moaning and groaning for years, and going by how he is conducting himself, it does not seem likely he will remain minister for very long. Amazingly, the Bihari loudmouth has succeeded in rubbing everyone in the BJP top brass the wrong way. And it isn’t only about his bunking office and Parliament — many have got away with that. What they find especially embarrassing is the way he has been visiting opposition-ruled states and praising their chief ministers. He did it first in Rajasthan with Ashok Gehlot, where he took his play, Pati, Patni aur Mein. His partymen were miffed but were understanding when Sinha told them that Gehlot was a friend and he couldn’t possibly let politics get in the way of friendship. But they were much less forgiving when he recently visited Madhya Pradesh to inaugurate Digvijay Singh’s much-publicized Van Mahotsav. This being election year, political tempers are running high in Bhopal. The MP unit of the BJP has boycotted Diggy raja and were very angry when the Union health minister was seen cosying up to him. Worse, he was also full of praise for Digvijay’s handling of the state. Furious, they have lodged a complaint with the central leadership, but Shotgun is unrepentant — Diggy is my friend, he says. Well, with friends like these, he surely will never need enemies!

Anything to save their lives

The great LPG versus petrol debate has finally hit Calcutta with the commissioning of the first LPG autogas station in the city. But Subhas Chakraborty’s grand plans to popularize this new, more environment-friendly and cheaper fuel have sent a chill up the spines of his cabinet and party colleagues. The state’s maverick transport minister has proposed that their cars be the first to be converted to autogas. A few have even gone and told Anil Biswas that he shouldn’t agree to such a proposal in a hurry because they suspected this was Chakraborty’s ploy to blow up his enemies in the party. You know how careful politicians are about their skin.

An editor as boss

Our disinvestment minister, Arun Shourie, not only has the swadeshi lobby baying for his blood, but the grapevine has it that the bloodlust might be similar among bureaucrats within his own ministries (remember he is the Northeast development minister and temporarily also heads the commerce and industry ministry). From correcting their English to haranguing them in public, Shourie apparently loses no chance to show who is boss. Our babus, quite evidently, would rather have a bumbling bumpkin for a political master than a smart aleck like Shourie!

Servant matches master

Had the national media not been so Delhi-centric, it probably would not have let go of this story. Rumours have it that the chief minister of a newly created state of the Union, who loves money above everything else and was caught with his hand in the till before being forced to quit, found his match in his domestic servant. It seems the servant decamped with nearly Rs 2 crore in cash which the minister had stacked under his mattress and in cupboards in his house. The poor minister could not even lodge an official report with the police, though the latter were told informally to trace the thief at all costs. Weeks later, there is still no trace of either the booty or the servant. Divine justice'

Strange bed-fellows

The housing crunch in the capital can lead to strange problems. V Srinivas, Jaswant Singh’s private secretary and confidante, and a Rajasthan cadre IAS officer, has found accommodation in PV Narasimha Rao’s Motilal Nehru Road residence. A convenient arrangement undoubtedly. But one that Bhairon Singh Shekhawat does not like at all. He has complained to the PMO about the dangers of a possible leak of sensitive information as a result of Srinivas’s living arrangements. Apparently, the vice-president is livid because he cannot get any proposal passed in the finance ministry. But insiders say that that is only Srinivas getting his own back at Shekhawat who had caused him a lot of trouble when he was collector of Jodhpur. Every dog, they say, has his day.

Making air waves

While the private sector is talking about ways to make phones cheaper than postcards, the babudom in the capital is still wrestling with the weighty problem of who, if anyone at all, should be entitled to use cell phones. So far, even senior bureaucrats are not entitled to mobiles on government expense. In fact, at the height of the hijack drama at Kandahar, LK Advani was shocked to learn that the foreign secretary, Lalit Mansingh, did not have a cell phone of his own to keep track of the developments. The finance ministry, after much cogitation, has reportedly decided to allow secretary-level officers to have their mobiles on government account. But mind you, only some three dozen have got lucky. Still miles to go before the government awakes.

The CM and his keepers

The time was not too far away from the madness of the New Year’s eve when policemen went skull-cracking. But it was close, seemingly. On the 28th of December, a private party on an eighth floor apartment in Palm Avenue came to a rude halt with a rap on the door. It was the Calcutta police. Apparently, the sound of children playing with empty plastic bottles and that of the completely-out-of-tune men, trying to belt out their Kishore Kumar favourites had carried far into the winter night — as far as the chief minister’s house. “There have been two calls from the CM’s house, he can’t sleep”, said the policemen to the dumbstruck men, who at this time were desperately trying to gather their wits as much as their wives and children. As per “orders” transmitted on the mobile which the policeman was carrying, the party was broken up and the families dissassembled. Before running for his car, one had the temerity to ask, “Was it really the CM'” No, said the unapologetic policeman, only a few residents who had complained. The CM really comes in handy at times.

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