The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Passed over

The BJP might like to think of itself as the party of the orthodox, but it’s quite well versed in the modern dictum of “use and throw”. Consider its treatment of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. From being the face of India Shining, the former PM has become an embarrassment, perhaps even a liability, with his periodic tantrums over Modi, Hindutva and matters dear to the saffron heart. Even so, it is shocking to see the BJP ready to discard Vajpayee like a pen whose ink has run out. It’s been more than three months since the new government was formed, but it was only last Monday that Vajpayee was allotted a room in parliament. LK Advani, in contrast, has had a room from the very start. No wonder, Vajpayee had to be literally coaxed into entering Room no 4 — and Sushma Swaraj’s “Bilkul Advaniji jaisa hi hai” didn’t help matters much.

That’s not all. Apparently, Advani had put up Vajpayee’s name for inclusion in the standing committee on external affairs without so much as asking him first. To be sure, Vajpayee is not the only leader to be ignored as his party moved on after losing power. But seldom has the moving on been quite so swift. Dignity perhaps is the only defence in the face of such neglect. And Vajpayee seems to have turned to it — he went up to Somnath Chatterjee and begged to be let off — he did not want to be part of any committee.

Uncommon sense

When Laloo Prasad Yadav speaks, the world stops to listen. Not because anyone expects nuggets of wisdom to fall from his lips, but because of the Bihari politician’s brand of rustic wit and earthy common sense. In fact, so much has Laloo come to be identified with the latter that he seems to now take his image seriously. Take Laloo’s two-penny advice to P Chidambaram on inflation at a cabinet meeting. The finance minister had submitted a report which said that prices of tomatoes, potatoes, onions and all vegetables and fruits had gone up. “Dekhiye, tomato aur fruit ke daam badhte hain to koi baat nahin. Hum ko aloo aur pyaaz ka bhaav rokna chahiye, yeh to aam aadmi khaate hain na!” — the railway minister interjected. Pray, how do you insulate the prices of potatoes and onions from that of fruits and other vegetables'

Birds of a feather

Once upon a time, party identity was what set apart politicians. Now it is age and background. Thus it is not strange to find Manvendra Singh of the BJP breaking bread with Jatin Prasada and Milind Deora of the Congress at the upmarket Chonas’ eatery in the capital’s Khan Market or “The Chinese” at Connaught Circus. Not for them the simple fare dished out at the parliamentary canteen.

Keep up with the times

Talking of Milind Deora, does the Mumbai South MP share his father’s strange fascination with wrist watches' Murli Deora, who has been president of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress for two decades now, has a curious way of showing his loyalty to his party bosses — he distributes wrist watches with their photographs among AICC delegates — for free, of course. There have been watches with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on the dial, and at the 1985 AICC centenary celebrations in Mumbai, there were ones with both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. When Sonia took over the reins of the party, he came up with watch dials bearing her image. But it’s not just Congress leaders; when Deora became vice-president of the International Red Cross, he had an elegant watch crafted bearing the famous symbol on its dial. This was not distributed free of course; Deora persuaded a well-known foreign airliner to sell them for £15 a piece. All for charity, of course!

Big brother syndrome

In politics, as in relationships, it is the little things that matter. Like remembering addresses. Thus the RSP’s Abani Roy was shocked to get a phone call from 10 Janpath asking for the address of his party office since a letter had to be sent. Roy realized that for the Congress, the left comprised just the CPI and CPI(M). A dangerous sentiment, if the Congress wants to last five years in office. If it has any doubts, it should just bring to mind the amount of trouble Mamata, with her handful of MPs, created for the earlier NDA government.

God has the last laugh

Religion is the opium of the masses, Marx may have opined. But his acolytes in India are being forced to catch whiffs of this opiate — such are the compulsions of politics in a parliamentary democracy. If Harkishen Singh Surjeet has been made a member of the committee that will oversee the celebrations to mark 400 years of the Golden Temple, Somnath Chatterjee is being forced to live in a house which has a temple inside it, with tulsi plants all over the flower beds and tame peacocks in the garden. Manohar Joshi had introduced these changes in the speaker’s bungalow, probably thinking that he would continue in the post for life. Or perhaps he had calculated that only god-fearing Hindus would inhabit the house. At any rate, he hadn’t bargained that someone like Chatterjee, whom no one can accuse of being god-fearing, would succeed him. Poor Somnathda — to think that he can’t even dismantle the temple for fear of all the controversy that it would lead to.

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