The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Is Ambika’s lucky star waning' Sibilant stories about Ambika Soni’s loss of clout are seeping out of the woodwork of 24 Akbar Road. Naturally, the lady herself could not have remained in the dark about this. And how best to demonstrate the utter unfoundedness of such whispers but to display her clout before the media' So when a group of journalists came to see her, her cellphone rang with what was obviously an aggrieved complainant at the other end. At once Ms Soni swung into action, calling up Ahmad Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s other political secretary. The journalists had a ringside view of Ambika being assertive, directing Patel, at par with her in the party hierarchy, to “get things done”. She kept saying that it was not done to have a low functionary like such and such in a delegation that had gone to meet Sonia Gandhi. Evidently, Ahmad at the other end was dumbfounded. Having told off her colleague, Ambika picked up the phone again and assured someone that she had just spoken her mind to Ahmad. What was that about clout'

Ambika can hardly be blamed. A sense of importance is a common weakness among the powerful, it’s the tonic that keeps the juices flowing. Look at the other side, at Vasundhara Raje Scindia, for example. She has been declaring that she is the chief ministerial candidate in Rajasthan. The BJP has been discreet, but the lady is very regular in making her various claims. A local BJP MLA suddenly asked her why she had not addressed a single public meeting in the state even though the assembly polls are less than 200 days away. He was expecting too much. Ladies of royal lineage might find the weather too hot to mix with the masses right now. Remember the princess and the pea'

There’s a tide in the affairs of parties

Lady or no, it seems that the schedule for the 2004 general elections depends on the performance of the BJP in the next round of assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. If it does well, the AB Vajpayee government is likely to prepone the Lok Sabha elections. They might be held between March and May next year. No point in allowing anti-incumbency feelings to rise. Besides, floods or droughts after May might further endanger the government. So holding elections off till October might be a recipe for disaster. All these tidbits were offered in an informal chat journalists had with the BJP gen sec Pramod Mahajan. He’s been the scribes’ hot favourite, badly missed by this special constituency ever since he was shunted out of government to work for the party. He’s been requested to be available for more tidbits.

And a cold wind in the affairs of men

At least Mahajan is in demand somewhere. He had once reportedly described himself as “chhota Vajpayee” and now he’s out in the cold. The other day there was an NDA meet at the PM’s residence, and journalists watched in disbelief as their favourite came walking to the PMO. Well, it is just a kilometre from 5 Safdarjung to 7 Race Course Road. But, a solitary walk' Not that the spin doctor was fazed however. “I’ve always been a commoner and walking is good for health.” No comment...

UP there and down again

Things are not looking up for Murli Manohar Joshi either. All his efforts to project himself as AB Vajpayee’s successor are fizzling out. Ranged against him are LK Advani, and his protégé Venkaiah Naidu, the official face of the BJP, pulling all the necessary strings for his mentor’s sake. Poor Joshi had no chair for him on the podium at the NDA rally in the Indira Gandhi stadium to celebrate five years of non-Congress government. The humiliated bigwig didn’t turn up. It’s worse in UP. Joshi, the original architect of the BSP-BJP alliance, has been left out of all negotiations there. He was not even invited to the meeting of the UP leadership, held in Naidu’s house and presided over by LK himself. Joshi’s favourite, Mayavati, has deserted him too, seeking LK’s patronage to protect her interests. But there is more to come. Joshi should be made vice-president if Shekhawat steps down because of his health, virtuously proclaim Advani loyalists. Neat disposal technique, LK, if it works.

With smart moves on the podium

But not everyone is easy game. The PM is not so easily convinced that he must step down to make way for his deputy because of his health, not even if the RSS says so. LK might have thought that fussing over the NDA completing five years would pressurize AB to make a graceful stepdown. Instead, not only did the PM march smartly up to the podium, giving no sign of ill-health, Pramod Mahajan made an unscheduled announcement that Advaniji had said Vajpayeeji was the first non-Congress PM to have completed five years in power. So, said Mahajan, he’ll lead us for another Parliament term. Advani was seen sheepishly chafing his hands. Mahajan’s brief moment of glory too.

On the election merry-go round

Four assembly elections and the Big One itself has put everyone into a flurry. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is all set to give the AICC the expected shake-up. Operation Congress will see some ruthlessness: gen secs Kamal Nath, Mukul Wasnik and treasurer Motilal Vora are tipped to go. The majority of the 21 secretaries are likely to be changed. And, sadly enough, the high-profile posts of the two political secretaries are to vanish, or so they say. All this nasty talk about Ambika losing her clout...could the smoke have a fire behind it after all, just a spark' The lucky ones the president will pick up to draft policies and decide poll strategies, say those in the know, are probably going to be Ghulam Nabi Azad, RK Dhawan and G.Venkatswami or Buta Singh, Margaret Alva and Ram Naresh Yadav. And in a power-balancing act, the Arjun Singh-Vincent George lobby may be elevated. Arjun Singh might get a plum. The youth Congress, Sewa Dal, and of course, the PCCs, are all going to see changes. Well, it’s that hello, good-bye season again.

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