The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chickening out

If you thought bird flu has hit only Bengal’s chickens, think again. The pandemic has snuffed out the hopes of a Congress resurgence in the state, or so thinks Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. Priyada, the newly-appointed state party president, is worried over reports that unemployed Congress workers had participated in the culling of poultry in order to make a some quick money. Now many households in Bengal’s villages depend on poultry for their survival. The villagers are now seething with rage against these ‘killers’, many of whom belong to Das Munshi’s party. And, after his anointment, Das Munshi now finds himself leading a team whose members have chicken blood on their hands. So worried is Priyada that some have already begun to whisper that our man is not too keen to slip into his new shoes. Yet another case of a neta chickening out at the first signs of trouble, huh?

Birds of a feather

Not just Priya Ranjan Das Munshi but Pranab Mukherjee too is having his share of troubles with bird flu. Not in a literal sense, silly! Apparently, the culling kit that is now being used by teams battling the virus in Bengal are manufactured in the United States of America. It has dawned on the external affairs minister that if he were to push the Indo-US nuclear deal at this stage, it would turn villagers in his home state against him and his party, much to the delight of the Red Brigade. Mukherjee, reportedly, may lie low on the nuclear deal for a few days now. (Till the crisis with chickens blows over perhaps?). Mukherjee was also the PCC chief till he put in his papers after the debacle in the last elections. With chickens ruling the roost in Bengal’s politics, he must be only too happy that the baton now has passed to Priya.

Character count

Never count your chickens before they are hatched, especially if you happen to be a politician in Indian. Ask the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Just as Chauhan’s ratings were on the rise, thanks to the CM’s crusade against corruption in the lower sections of the bureaucracy, his detractors struck back with a vengeance. His enemies in the Bharatiya Janata Party, as well as his opponents in the Congress, have now accused Chauhan’s wife of acquiring a ‘note ginney ki machine’, like the ones that are used by bankers.

The consequences of such a campaign cannot be lost on a seasoned politician like Chauhan. After all, he knows that it is one’s image, and not achievements, that counts in Indian politics. If his opponents were to succeed in tarnishing his squeaky clean image, the writing, poor Chauhan knows, would surely be on the wall. So one shouldn’t be surprised to see Chauhan devoting more time in fixing his dented image in the coming days. Does this mean that his ‘flying’ visits to far-flung field offices aboard a chopper to root out corruption have come to an end?

Penny wise

Will the general elections take place sooner than expected? The political wind, according to some experts, seems to be blowing in that direction. The Congress, they point out, is already busy giving shape to a ‘political budget’. It has also ordered a crash course for its spokespersons who have been handpicked from across the country. Some of best and the brightest faces in the electronic media have been invited by the party to lecture party spokespersons on how to make the best use of the media. The ‘students’ can barely hide their excitement. The interaction with top-notch anchors, they feel, will help them come out with flying colours on the idiot box. One hears that the ‘guest lecturers’ too will be compensated for their hard work. The Congress, reportedly, is considering an “honorarium” for them. This, the party may feel, is wise investment. But will the money spent help the Congress save the day?

No space for work

The government, like the almighty, works in mysterious ways. Jobs are created first. Roles and functions, even new office space, come later. The Competition Commission, created in 2003, is looking for office space near the Supreme Court building in the capital city. Till now, the commission, which is yet to get a regular head, has been operating from a small rented premise in a commercial complex in south Delhi. The rent, cost of maintenance and other incidental expenses, running into crores every month, have been taken care of. But there seems to be little concern about the fact that it has not yet managed to complete many of the tasks for which it was set up nearly five years ago. It is only a matter of time before the Commission finds itself a new base. Hopefully, this will be incentive enough to complete the pending tasks.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Manik Sarkar is certainly famous but he is far from rich. The Tripura CM, in fact, is perhaps one of the poorest chief ministers in the entire country. Sarkar owns no assets — neither a house nor land or car. As chief minister, he draws a paltry salary of Rs 9,200 and a subsidiary allowance of Rs 1,200 per month. The Marxist that he is, Sarkar donates these sums to the party fund. For his own expenses, Sarkar looks to his wife who works as an official in the Central Welfare Board. These remarkable disclosures came to light when Sarkar submitted his nomination papers along with the mandatory affidavit declaring his personal assets in the run-up to the assembly elections in the state. Sarkar cannot even be faulted anywhere else either. He is a teetotaller and is not known to harbour any other addictions. Little wonder then that his hapless opponents in the Congress too swear by Sarkar’s integrity and honesty.

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