The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Moving house

Days of the long knives for the Congress. Bihar has been quite a fiasco and the blame game is on in full swing within the party. The sitting ducks are the Union law minister, HR Bhardwaj, and the Union home minister, Shivraj Patil. The charge against Bhardwaj is that he misled the ever-so-vulnerable madam and the PM into believing that the case of the Bihar assembly dissolution was foolproof. Apparently, a number of party members, including some legal eagles, had kept sounding out the UPA about the bad vibes the apex court was giving on Bihar. However, the law minister, throwing all the good counsel to the winds, refused to backtrack. Another more recent twist to the tale has been added by Buta Singh's alleged recalcitrance to step down. This has apparently thrown out of gear the PMO's contingency plan which had PM Sayeed as Buta's likely successor. The choice of a minority governor was the most politically-correct possible. It would have blunted Ram Vilas Paswan's weapon and created a Rajya Sabha vacancy for the Delhi chief minister, who is supposed to be on an exit route. But Buta, is not playing. In fact, he is supposed to have hinted that if he is pressed further, he would go public about how the powerful in Delhi had briefed him that fateful night when the Bihar assembly was dissolved. Which could only mean Buta's transfer to a trouble-free state (now which could that be'). Better luck this time, Buta!

What is due

It's hi-tech at chief ministers' conclaves nowadays, and the Congress meet at Chandigarh began in a business-like manner with each CM being given 15 minutes to give crisp, power-point presentations. These would be followed by observations from the PM, madam, AICC gen-sec in charge of the state concerned and possible interventions from cabinet ministers. Most CMs, struggling under watchful eyes, did manage to put in their best performance. But the Arunachal Pradesh CM, Gegong Apang, sensed trouble and looked for a way to escape the grilling. He first went on to list the achievements of his little state. The clock ticked away, but the speech showed no signs of coming to an end. Constant reminders from Ambika Soni or gentle nudges from Sonia herself did not faze Apang. After 40 long minutes, which saw some doze off, no one had the energy to ask Apang any questions. His mission accomplished, Gegong confidently stepped away from the mike, the longest-serving CM having delivered the longest speech.

A simple meal

The spread at Chandigarh would have shamed even the Nawab of Avadh. There were 12 varieties of kebabs, a special navratri meal, and separate arrangements for Muslims at iftar time. In sharp contrast to the lavishness, President APJ Abdul Kalam chose to break bread with the villagers of Patni, a small hamlet in MP. Kalam sat cross-legged to eat the simple meal of sabzi and poori, and after each mouthful, he thanked everyone with a 'very good, very good'. Asked if he missed his idli and sambar, Kalam quipped that to enjoy food one needed two basic requirements ' hunger and a display of some affection in the way the food is served. He had both in Patni ' his hunger and the villagers' affection. The criteria, quite obviously, were entirely different for those dining at Chandigarh.

Still in the dumps

No one is showing Naveen Patnaik the concern he shows for others. Despite having brought the state more foreign investment with less foreign trips than most, he continues to be at the receiving end. First came the saffron and left opposition to Posco, then the Supreme Court order that rapped the state government for showing undue favour to Sterlite's Vedanta Alumina refinery at Kalahandi. And now the national advisory council headed by Sonia Gandhi has raised uncomfortable questions about the Posco deal. Naveen has dismissed the objections by saying that the PMO had backed the deal. But that did not stop his detractors in the left and the BJP from rubbing their hands in glee.

Something fishy

Blame it on the festive air, but the Union water resource minister, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, brought back a fat ilish machch for his b'te noire, Pranab Mukherjee, when he returned from his recent trip to Bangladesh. It is public knowledge how the two love to hate each other. So apart from the Congress leaders and the media, Mukherjee himself was a bit surprised by Das Munshi's offering. More so because Das Munshi not merely brought the fish, but rang up repeatedly to enquire whether Pranabda had liked it. But Bengalis, being Bengalis, will talk. Which is probably why Mukherjee's staff were heard saying, 'Ota pocha chhilo (It was stale)'. But did Das Munshi know'

Better protection

The first family comes first. And the directors-general of police, attending the three day annual conference on security matters in the capital, were in no doubt of that. Which is why except for the security cover of the Nehru-Gandhis, nothing got discussed. Not even that of the other VIPs like AB Vajpayee or LK Advani. There was, obviously, no lacuna in their protection. Talking about 'protection', we can not but mention one little incident at the Constitution Club in the city where the entire Congress leadership had turned up to exercise its taste in art. Prem Chand's Rangbhoomi played to a full house, and occupying the front seat was the home minister, Shivraj Patil, while the heavier weights like Sonia and the PM sat a few rows behind. Next to Patil (and breaking all protocol) sat an SPG man, without eliciting any reaction from Patil himself. When the organizers wanted the man to leave, he refused. He was a member of Sonia's security. That explains it, doesn't it'

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