The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Our ladyís companion

Our Snow White has a Rose Red, and the dwarves know not what to do with her. Ambika Soni, who was presumed to have bitten the dust, seemed to bloom in Srinagar. She left no one in doubt that she had complete control over madam. She handled Soniaís press conference, apparently passing little chits of paper with answers to questions madam did not know how to react to, and followed her like a shadow. Ahmad Patel, the newly appointed political advisor, was relegated to the background. It was Soni all the way. She alone visited Sonia at her cottage, shared the morning tea with her and conversed with her in Italian about her engagements for the day. Ambika would have also been her sole companion in the shikara when madam went boating in the Dal lake, had madam not remembered that they had left behind the state Congress chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad. The coziness mightily upset many in the party, particularly Natwar Singh who grumbled about the way Soni had attached herself to the madamís apronstrings. She did, or was it the other way round'

Welcome, Mr Prime Minister

As usual, there was a string of ministers waiting with folded hands and flowers to receive the PM from his week-long visit abroad. Yet when Indira Gandhi was greeted by her bevy of ministers when she flew into the country, the saffronites had complained of the practice smacking of craven sycophancy. To be fair to her, Indira had at least issued a circular directing her ministerial colleagues to not show up when she left or came back from foreign tours. It was another matter that none of her ministers heeded the advice and Mrs Gandhi wasnít particularly keen to ensure compliance. Cut to the present times. The circular issued on Tuesday last informed the cabinet that AB Vajpayee would be returning from his tour at 22:05 hours and that the recipients of the notice should make it convenient to receive him at the airport. Small wonder they all did.

Biking across the border

This one could make it to Ripleyís Believe it or Not. One Ashfaq from Rawalpindi picked up his bicycle one fine day and headed east. Passing through deserted land, he eventually came upon a group playing cricket. Ashfaq asked one passerby the name of the place and was told it is Jammu. But people got suspicious and informed the local police. Ashfaq was arrested and had no papers to give to a flummoxed police except his fantastic story of smoothly sailing through the porous India-Pak border. Wana hitchhike'

Kingmakers in UP

Itís in the air. Sixteen Congress MLAs in Uttar Pradesh are somewhat convinced that the kursi is not too far away. For what other reason would Louise Fernandes aka Khurshid and a few of her colleagues say no to a Commonwealth offer to visit the UK in the scorching heat of June' Louise, first time MLA from Farrukabad, does not wish to miss this chance. Nor do the 15 others who are believed to have sent a stern message to Mulayam, Ajit and Kalyan that in their game of toppling the rani, they should not forget that all the 16 have to be made rajas. The Singhs havenít said if they are game.

Newfound friends

Bihar is also smelling of something. Last week when the president went to Nitish Kumarís Barh constituency to lay the foundation stone of a coach-repairing factory, both the chief minister and the railways ministers were present on the podium. But surprise, surprise. While Rabri thanked Nitish for helping her develop Bihar, Nitish thanked her for taking time off to be present at Harnaut. The person absent in this little drama was MP of the Nalanda constituency, George Fernandes. That was also the trigger for the thanksgiving. George is supposed to be cultivating a former Laloo-man, Nagmani Prasad, Koeri MP from Chatra against Nitish. Which is probably why the enemyís enemy is the best friend.

Private versus party

Personal problems seem to be getting the better of the Congress in the states. In Chattisgarh Ajit Jogiís tiff with VC Shukla has been legendary. Shukla is now in the Nationalist Congress party and posing a threat to the government. The AICC made its displeasure known through Ghulam Nabi Azad who rated Chattisgarh last while talking about the partyís prospects in the states. Azad is having his own problems in Rajasthan. Used to cooler climes, he finds the heat and dust impossible to bear. He was recently hospitalized after a rough time in Jaisalmer, climatically that is.

Lucky lips

The Khwahish hero, Himanshu, regrets that the 17 smooching scenes consisted of merely 5 retakes. He wishes there were more. So do we.

Go up in a smoke

The anti-tobacco disposition of the left is deeply worrying Jyoti Basu, who has been wondering aloud about the billís chances of success when its implementors were themselves mostly chain-smokers. Surjya Kanta Mishra and Buddha Bhattacharjee are, definitely. Biman Bose also likes his puff and his men know that, bringing him gifts of bidi from Purulia and Midnapore. At state committee meetings, where smoking is strictly prohibited, partly by the AC ambience and partly by Jyotibabuís presence, the party bigwigs frequently excuse themselves to go out to smoke. Basu thinks why they bother at all to keep up the appearance. Spoilsports like Anil Biswas, who is supposedly hooked to snuff, try their best to constantly remind Basu of his boysí passion for smoke. What has added to the old manís worries is Surjya Kanta Mishraís latest obsession with bidi. His concerns are shared by an unlikely politico. Sushma Swaraj apparently reminded Mishra recently that he should not preach what he did not practice. But that has always been the standard left practice, Sushma.

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