The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Double trouble

Uma Bharti is cosying up to the Congress. That’s understandable, both Bharti (her candidate, that is) and the Congress lost the Vidisha elections recently. She is on Digvijay Singh’s frequent callers list, and we know that Diggy Raja, besides being the former Madhya Pradesh CM, is also a current Congress gen sec. The sadhvi was spotted the other day sharing a photo-op with the tribal leader, Jamuna Devi, who also happens to be a former Madhya Pradesh Congress chief. The same day, some distance away, in Nagpur, one K Govindacharya was looking up the RSS bosses. Some guessed that the main subject of discussion came with the initials UB. Those who were observing the turn of events from a little further away — New Delhi’s Ashoka Road to be precise — came up with a filmy name for the Uma Bharti-Govindacharya duo. They are apparently wondering: “Yeh Bunty or Bubbly ka kya chakkar hai'” But this is just one of the questions surrounding the mysterious comings and goings of the Bunty-Bubbly pair. The others are as follows: Are Uma B and Govindacharya Ji not friends any more' Or are they taking different paths to the same goal' Or are the Congress and the RSS new pals'

Packing a punch

Just when his detractors had thought they had cut him to size by creating a minority welfare ministry under AR Antulay, Arjun Singh has bounced back. So what if his attempt at playing the secular Muslim messiah has been thwarted' He has other trumps ready. The recent Minority Commission meeting gave him an occasion to play one. PM Manmohan Singh, presiding over the meeting, felt that not enough has been done towards minorities’ education. The HRD minister pounced upon it and announced that institutions would be opened exclusively for the minorities. Naturally, Antulay is alarmed. Who is to handle minorities’ education, HRD ministry, or his minorities welfare'

Those were the foodie days

Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s gastronomical preferences are the stuff of political lore. Manmohan Singh’s are on the way too, by virtue of their sheer contrast to Vajpayee’s. No one has a better feel of the contrast than the bureaucrats who have attended the weekly meetings under both PMs. One of them couldn’t hide his nostalgia when he met Vajpayee last. “All of us senior officers remember you at least once every week.” Once Vajpayee found out the reason for the fond remembrance, he quipped, “Hope it is not the food alone that you remember me for.”

Smoke in the eyes

The Valiathan Committee has submitted its report on the controversial events at the AIIMS a few months ago. The health ministry has been sitting on it, it seems, and the buzz is that the sections on A Ramadoss in the report may have something to do with it. The grapevine has it that the committee feels the health minister is holding an office of profit by being the chairman of the AIIMS governing body. Ramadoss’s stars are on the wane elsewhere too. The I&B ministry has summarily dismissed his campaign to ban smoking in films and television. As if in an act of defiance, the I&B minister of state, M Ambareesh smokes openly in his room in Shastri Bhavan.

Cards on the table

Here’s the latest on the much-awaited AICC reshuffle. This time the story is that the Brahmin lobby of the Congress won’t have any more of the appease-Muslims strategy of appointing a Muslim gen sec. With an eye to the UP polls, a Muslim gen sec was thought to be a capital idea. But what about the consolidation of upper-caste Hindu votes in favour of the BJP, the Brahmin lobby asked Madam. The high command is clearly in a quandary. But the Brahmin leaders are trying their best to help. Ahmed Patel hai to, they say, referring to Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary. And Margaret Alva fills the minority quota. Now why didn’t everyone think of that before'

PS: Most sworn at (secretly, though) Congress leader at the moment' Ambika Soni, of course. How dare she whisk away Madam to Brussels just before the all-important AICC reshuffle' Damn, now the final list will have the unmistakable Soni touch. Reason for many to be afraid, very afraid.

The quiet corner

With Pranab Mukherjee, the gaggle of Bengali journos has shifted base to the external affairs ministry. Once bustling with visitors, the defence ministry under AK Antony these days wears a deserted look. Even the old chai-wallah has disappeared. But Antony isn’t complaining. Who wants high-profile visitors when one can speak in his mother tongue with journos from one’s home state'

Where have all the chappals gone'

Call it the MF Husain factor, or what you will, but going barefoot is the latest statement in Madhya Pradesh. In the corridors of power, at least. The latest to join the ranks of barefoot crusaders, state minister Himmat Kothari, has chosen to walk barefoot till development work is undertaken in his district of Ratlam. The Congress, needless to say, is thrilled to bits at this wonderful own goal by the BJP minister. Another ruling-party MLA, Kapurchand Ghuwara, instead of celebrating his victory over Uma Bharti’s candidate in the assembly bypolls, decided to go without chappals, demanding a maternity hospital in his village. Jaibhan Singh, the vice-president of the state’s 20-point implementation committee, has gone without shoes to wear, mattress to sleep on, and cereals to eat for the last one year. He will only lift his abstenance once the Congress is defeated from the Gwalior seat. Clearly, Madhya Pradesh wouldn’t be your idea of paradise if you were in the footwear business.

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