The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bad deal on wheels

Call it obscurantism or a sense of loyalty, Indians have a strange affection for the old — whether octogenarian politicians or old scraps of metal on wheels. So rickety ambassadors and ramshackle trucks continue to monopolize Indian roads. Not merely that. Indians seem to have devised a novel way of keeping the sleek and shiny off the streets. Did you know the authorities insist on pre-use certification for the swanky new Mercedes, BMWs, Volvos and Jaguars that the rich sometimes dare to ride on' Anyone importing the cars is required to cart them to the lone automobile testing facility in Pune and have his set of wheels certified as “roadworthy” before he can drive it in India. Without the necessary “homologation” certificate, customs apparently slap show-cause notices. There is supposed to be a long list of the rich and famous, Amitabh Bachchan allegedly being one of them, who are waiting for their cars to be cleared by this sole official agency in the country which is said to be so overworked that it takes six months for it to certify that these world famous models are fit for the Indian roads. Naturally. Given India’s killer roads, it is probably necessary for owners to know what their cars can withstand. But then why choose Pune alone for the test run. Why not the roads of Calcutta'

Running for cover

An insecure PM' Possibly. Arun Jaitley, commerce minister, was supposed to leave for Canada later this week to participate in a crucial World Trade Organization-related meeting prior to the ministerial meet at Cancun in September. He would have met the like-minded group of 15 other countries to evolve a strategy to address the concerns of the developing countries in various WTO agreements. But no. The Indian government needed its point man. With Jaitley gone who would give the right answers to the opposition’s charge of the PM interfering with the CBI in its filing of chargesheets against the deputy PM' AB Vajpayee is supposed to have told Jaitley that so long as Parliament was in session, he was going nowhere. Which is why Jaitley is here to take the googlies.

Private arrangement

Never mind the expenses that go into the making of the government security rings. Public figures are making their own arrangements. MP Vijay Mallya is supposed to have appointed six guards in two shifts. In a similar move, MP Praful Patel, is alleged to have hired a famous security firm. And now Maharashtra governor, PC Alexander, is said to have engaged a private agency to look after his 12, Wellingdon Crescent residence, a house where Indira Gandhi had once stayed with her sons and daughters-in-law from 1977-80. Private affair'

Wrong picture

Pawarless in MP. The Nationalist Congress Party supremo, Sharad Pawar, was recently in Bhopal to revive the fortunes of his almost defunct NCP in the state. A local reporter suggested Pawar meet his boss, Praful Maheshwari, who runs a newspaper chain in the state and is currently a Congress Rajya Sabha MP. Pawar obliged, for reasons of his own. The next day, the newspaper is said to have flashed Pawar’s picture with Maheswari, the caption terming the meet as a “courtesy visit”. Pawar is believed to have been majorly piqued by the newspaper’s attempt to take liberties with him, just as VC Shukla had once been. Matter of habit, Maheshwari'

Back with a thud

Return of the prodigal. Tehelka destined to die a timely death, it is time for Bangaru Laxman to come back to the limelight. A message to that effect is alleged to have been conveyed to the man spotted in the Tehelka tapes accepting crisp notes over the table by no less than the PMO. There are seemingly efforts to pit Laxman, a Dalit, from his native Andhra Pradesh. Laxman is also being apparently invited to BJP functions with alarming regularity. At a recent Dalit Sammelan in MP, Laxman had pride of place, although his invitation is supposed to have been kept a secret from both the BJP president, M Venkaiah Naidu, and the deputy PM, LK Advani. Naidu apparently found out at the last moment, and had only enough time to warn Advani to stay away. He, however, went along. To give the black sheep a rousing welcome'

What’s in a name'

Major confusion in North Block. Visitors calling on the ministers of state for home, ID Swami and Swami Chinmayanand, invariably tell the reception that they have come to meet “Swamiji”. The receptionist has to go on asking, “Which swamiji do you wish to see'”

Man of history

Taking a dig at those who decried his secularism, Arjun Singh is said to have lamented, “Mein to ab itihaas ki cheez ho gaya hoon (I have now been confined to history)”. In India, history repeats itself a bit too often.

Keep it up, Pal

A trying time for the new UP Congress chief, Jagdambika Pal. Opportunist per se, Pal wants the party to give a shot at allying with Kalyan Singh, who is himself giving his previous employers a trying time. The AICC, however, is quite defensive about any such arrangement. Kalyan, apparently, did not even accompany the Congress in a joint petition to the governor against Mayavati. But AICC is not all that confident either. So there is a clause. If the Congress allies with Mulayam Singh Yadav, it obviously would have nothing much to do if Mulayam is already allied with Kalyan. Fair enough. The problem is the Congress is said to be also toying with another alternative. That of bringing in Priyanka Gandhi with the firm conviction that it would upset all calculations in UP. Pal, naturally, is much peeved. He blurted out recently, “Jab wahi aa jayengi to hum ko kis liye banaya hai. Arre bhai, humko bhi to kuchh din ka samay do (If Priyanka is coming, why was I made the chief' At least give me some time). She won’t come Pal, not so soon. So you can have all the time you want.

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