The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Loosen up, lady

What is it between Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan' Ever since Swaraj took over the parliamentary affairs ministry, she seems determined to obliterate all traces of her predecessor’s tenure. Even the walls of her office inside Parliament wear a different look — gone are the photographs of RSS gurus, Golwalkar and Hegdewar, Shauji Maharaj, Chhatrapati Shivaji and Jyotiba Phule. The pantheon of political gods of this oh-so-correct hausfrau consists of AB Vajpayee and APJ Abdul Kalam only. Swaraj has retained Mahajan’s practice of daily briefings for journalists, but their tenor has changed entirely. Now, these have become little daily sermons on how Sushma Swaraj managed Parliament in her first week in office, how many bills she got passed, how she coordinated with the opposition and how she planned to get her dream women’s bill passed. The poor journalists are the ones hardest hit by such pious sermonizing. For Mahajan, for all his faults, had been a godsend when it came to doling out juicy tit-bits, which were sometimes directed even against his own party and government. All strictly off-the-record, of course. Sushma, however, wouldn’t be caught dead doing something as indiscreet. Thus for journos, who live by the credo “no news is bad news”, life has fallen on hard days indeed. Lately, Swaraj’s sanctimoniousness seems to have taken a Najma Heptullah-like turn. Soon after taking over, the lady hosted a dinner for all the women MPs — and even managed to get Sonia Gandhi to attend. Does this mean the BJP is grooming her to replace Heptullah whose term as Rajya Sabha deputy chairman expires next year. Until then, Sushma looks all set to become a cross the mediapersons will have to bear.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

However rare, politicians too have their generous impulses. On a visit to Tokyo recently, Arun Jaitley picked up a small pen-like gadget — a battery-operated nose- and ear-hair clipper. Obviously, he had Laloo Prasad Yadav in mind, that is, the RJD boss’s thick growth of black hair on his ear lobes and in his nostrils. But when he met Laloo in the Central Hall and offered him the gift, Laloo declined it, saying thank you very much but I already have one. And so Jaitley now has an ear- and nose-hair clipper that he has no use for, unless of course he sprouts some hair himself!

In the husband’s shoes

Those who live in glass houses should not provoke others to throw stones. A simple dictum, but one that is often ignored by our politicians. Take the senior RJD leader who intervened in a recent Lok Sabha debate over an amendment to the Representation of People Act that seeks to allow military personnel and government officials away from home on official duty to cast their votes by proxy. The Congress’s Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and others stoutly protested saying that this was merely a BJP ploy to rig the elections, since it would violate the principle of secret ballot. “Wives cannot be trusted with their husband’s votes since they are liable to be misled by others,” thundered this RJD MP in agreement, to much ironical tittering from the treasury benches. Thankfully, the Bihari leader had the sense of humour to laugh along.

An academic in politics

Politics and academics rarely go hand-in-hand, at least in India. Politics is for the likes of Laloo and Mulayam Yadavs, and not Jairam Ramesh, who has a string of degrees from prestigious Western universities. Strangely enough, Ramesh has kept up with his academic pursuits even as he heads the economic affairs cell of the Congress. Take for example, the advice of Jagdish Bhagwati, the eminent economist and professor at Columbia University, to “buy, borrow or steal” the recently-released collection of Ramesh’s essays, Kautilya Today. Now if only his party boss would heed his advice instead of listening to the self-serving rabble-rousers who comprise her inner council.

Daily bread... and some jam please

This story is about a high-profile, non-left MLA who lives somewhere in south Calcutta. Sometime ago, our leader received a frantic SOS from a neighbour whose house had been broken into by a thief. Our hero, who prides himself on his valour, immediately folded his lungi in half, south-Indian style, slipped on a vest and rushed off to catch the burglar, his followers in tow. Nearing the neighbour’s house, the group saw a figure coming out of the building and immediately gave chase. Before long they caught up with him, but discovered that their quarry was a skinny, pint-sized, sorry-looking fellow. Cowering, the man implored them not to hit him, saying he hadn’t eaten in days. Taking pity, the neta called his wife and asked her to rustle up some food. But the lady had just taken a sedative in preparation for bed, and sent a few slices of bread. Our thief may have been down but he wasn’t entirely out. Seeing the rather unappetizing pieces of bread, he exclaimed, “Couldn’t you even arrange for some jam'” Red-faced at the rebuke, dada immediately asked for some. His demand satisfied, the thief proceeded to satisfy his hunger after which, he turned to the MLA and said, “Now you can take me to the police'” And so ended the adventure!

The hunt for a scapegoat

The Congress is a great one for introspection. Take the fracas over the installation of Veer Savarkar’s painting in Parliament. It would have been a simple matter for the party bosses to agree that they hadn’t paid enough attention when the decision was taken in December last year, and leave it at that. Oh no, with the Congress, it’s never as easy as that! The recent Congress parliamentary affairs committee meeting was devoted entirely to the issue. How could Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee, who were on the general purpose committee which originally took the decision regarding the Savarkar portrait, thus compromise the party’s secular credentials' But Savarkar was a freedom fighter, countered the out-of-credit duo, and if the portraits of JP and Ram Manohar Lohia could grace Central Hall so could Savarkar’s. They, in turn, blame the Arjun Singh-Natwar Singh-Mani Shankar Aiyar triad, with their left-leaning, for giving madam the wrong impression about Savarkar. And so the debate continues, as fruitlessly and endlessly as ever!

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