The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Limousine for the minister

However terribly they might behave in their own country, Indian politicians know how to keep up appearances abroad. Especially, street-smart ones like Pramod Mahajan. Our parliamentary affairs minister landed in Cairo recently, at the head of a delegation of legislators, where he was treated to a warm red-carpet- black-limousine-welcome. But even as he was getting ready to step into the plush vehicle, he saw that the rest of his mates had been bundled into a much-humbler bus. The discrimination must have riled because Mahajan abandoned his car for the company of his colleagues. He was rewarded with cheers and much clapping by all the MPs, cutting across party lines. A sheepish Hosni Mubarak later acknowledged Mahajan’s gesture, saying that he now realized why India was called the world’s most vibrant democracy. Perhaps he would not have been so ready with the praise had he known how ready Indian politicians always were with grand gestures — it was only when it came to following them up with concrete actions that they faltered.

Slip of tongue

Sonia Gandhi has come a long way from her early, gauche beginnings — when she read out set speeches in her stilted Hindi — but even now there are times when she falters badly. The other day, she was addressing a mammoth gathering in tribal-dominated Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. Introducing the leaders on the podium, she turned to Digvijay Singh, Ajay Singh...and then, pointing to her political secretary, she called her Ambika Singh. All except Soni laughed. The Congress president, of course, was impervious to the gaffe — she was too busy trying to stay on course.

The making of Mrs Gandhi

On another level, of course, the present Mrs Gandhi is turning out to be a little too much like the first Mrs Gandhi for Congressmen’s comfort. They detect in her recent bout of assertiveness — that saw Vilasrao Deshmukh’s head roll — a chilly reminder of Indira Gandhi’s durbar culture. The furious pace at which she has been summoning chief ministers of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is unprecedented, considering that until now she had never disturbed Congress heads of state. Insiders say this is her way of diverting focus from the defeat in Gujarat. She may have succeeded or she may not have, but the man she has chosen as Deshmukh’s successor is no beacon of hope. To Sonia, Sushil Shinde presents the great Dalit hope, but in the vice-presidential elections — which he lost — Shinde failed to get the votes of even the parliamentary forum of SC and ST legislators. And two, Shinde’s caste constitutes less than two per cent of the state’s population.

Busy changing spots

Across the political spectrum, another party is rediscovering the Dalit appeal. And the man leading this social engineering project is LK Advani. The deputy PM is busy wooing Kalyan Singh, an OBC who had been forced to quit the party sometime ago. In Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti, a Lodh, is being propped up as the face of the party. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, a Maratha and a Jat by marriage, is reportedly on the verge of taking over as president of the party’s state unit. From Hindutva to Mandal, it doesn’t take much for politicos to change colour.

Fine art of patronage

History and history-writing are another arena where the Congress and the saffron are locking horns. While the BJP is rubbing people the wrong way with its eagerness to rewrite history, the Congress has an altogether different way of going about these things. Hosting annual sessions of the Indian History Congress is one of them. Take the recent one held at Amritsar for which Amarinder Singh picked up the tab — police bandobast, five star meals and all. The year before, it was Digvijay Singh’s government which had picked up the bill for the session held in Bhopal and a few years before that, the Marxist government in Calcutta. A conincidence may be but all of them happen to be non-BJP governments. It seems there are still a few lessons the BJP has to learn in the art of state patronage.

Road not taken

Strange indeed are life’s little tricks! Apparently, Nani Palkhiwala, the eminent jurist and lawyer, who died late last year, would never have studied law had it not been for the fact that his application for a lecturer’s post in Bombay University was rejected. A Parsi girl was chosen in his place, and Palkhiwala went on to join the Government Law College.

Recounting this in the Supreme Court, Soli Sorajbee said that Palkhiwala’s disappointment did not last long. Later in life, he actually went through the trouble of unearthing the young lady who had set him on the road to fame and his true calling, and took her out to dinner. Some people sure know how to thank destiny!

Quality of mercy

When your eyes fill with tears for the people dying out there in the cold, think of the poor scribes, too, braving the cold to provide you with stories to enjoy with your hot cup of morning tea. Take for example the journos covering the cabinet who have to squat outside 7, Race Course Road, the PM’s residence, for hours on end for some news to filter through. One foggy, bone-chilling morning, they were however stunned to find a change of heart in the PMO when they were served steaming tea. A quick investigation was conducted by the hounds which revealed that the tea had arrived not because of good PR by some enterprising bureaucrats. It just happened that the prime minister’s foster daughter, Namita Bhattacharya, had caught sight of the scribes shivering in the cold outside the gates. It apparently touched her so much that she spoke to the people concerned in the prime minister’s office and got them to serve tea to the waiting journalists. Mercy, stretched as it is in modern day saffrondom, is still not strained. And what about the quality'

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