The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Elbowed out

Unpleasant company

The Olympic torch relay in Delhi proved to be a case of Chinese torture for Indian securitymen, what with the Chinese commandos planning all the moves. The foreigners ran with the torch, barking orders about who could hold the flame, for how long, and so on. There was little one could do except reminisce about the good old days. A former intelligence man did just that, recalling an incident during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Oman. Apparently, while flying back, pesky SPG guys demanded to screen the luggages of Indian scribes. The local police first refused politely, and when the commandos persisted, one angry policeman pointed his bayonet and growled that security in Oman was their business, not the SPG’s. Unfortunately, there was no such show of strength from the Indians during the torch relay, allowing the Chinese to call the shots. It is time then for a crash course from the Oman police? It could certainly help the boys take on tough cookies at home.

Safety first

BJP leaders are running too. No, not with the torch silly, but with a prayer on their lips that they find ‘safe’ Lok Sabha seats. LK Advani has reportedly cracked the whip. He has ordered ‘everyone’ to contest the polls, forcing the Rajya Sabhawallahs — Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Jaswant Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Venkaiah Naidu among others — to go on a seat hunt. The problem is that there are only a few of these left. Singh, perhaps sensing the difficulty, hoped to be excused on the ground that as the party president he has a lot of running to do, addressing campaigns all over the country. But Advani would have none of it, propelling Singh to pitch for Lucknow. But there is already a long queue for this ‘safe zone’, and the long line might compel Singh to turn his attention to Noida. Meanwhile, Sushma Swaraj, another contender in the race, travelled all the way to Hoshangabad on the banks of Narmada to check out its safety credentials. Not many would be keen on this piece of political turf though. Hoshangabad has a formidable reputation of humbling political heavyweights, including Arjun Singh. Sushma’s search, it seems, may not be over soon.

Crowded house

There is trouble brewing in the Congress camp in Karnataka, and all because of a problem of plenty. The AICC functionaries handling the affairs in the state are wrestling with an “in-house challenge” far more powerful than the combined might of the opponents. There are too many heavyweights in the Congress camp — SM Krishna, Margaret Alva, Oscar Fernandes, CK Jaffer Sharief, Mohan Prakash, Mallikarjun Kharge among others — and giving tickets to everyone is no easy task. Then there are the others — relatives and fellow travellers — with their aspirations. The problem has had other manifestations as well. Whenever Sonia Gandhi and her son travel to this poll-bound state, all the party stalwarts vie to share the dais with them. However, for security reasons, only six people can find place on the podium, leaving the rest grumbling about the lack of space. Little wonder Congressmen now also complain about the lack of time to frame a poll strategy. They are too busy fighting among themselves.

New enemy

Guess who, other than Congressmen, are having sleepless nights thinking about behenji? None other than the comrades at the AK Gopalan Bhavan. In their draft resolution passed at the recently-held party congress, Left leaders attacked Mayavati, blaming her for using the caste card. But soon it was time to sound the retreat. In the final draft, the disparaging remarks were dropped. The comrades fear that attacking the Dalit leader could adversely affect the party’s prospects in India’s most populous state. So who is the bigger enemy? Behenji or Bush?

Small trouble

The mercury is rising, and there is no way hardworking parliamentarians can escape the heat. Or catch up on a few hours of sleep. All because of the chhota phone. Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Pawan Kumar Bansal, has started sending text messages to absent members to get around the problem of having the requisite quorum during crucial debates or votes. Bansal claims that his novel method has worked and that attendance has picked up: a big achievement for a small phone.

Room for trust

Mani Shankar Aiyar has lost his room to MS Gill, his successor as the Union sports minister. Next, Gill reportedly wanted Venkat Raman, Aiyar’s trusted aide. Aiyar put his foot down. He knows that a room is less important than a man you can trust.


The old fire still burns

Old habits die hard, especially if you’re an Indian politician. With the poll winds blowing, Narain Dutt Tiwari is now itching to return to the front. Tiwari, one hears, thinks he is prime ministerial material. He points to his pan-Indian presence and socialist pedigree to bolster his claims. Not just that, he is also confident that he is the only man who can help the Congress recover lost ground in Uttar Pradesh. According to the grapevine, Tiwari also met Madam to facilitate his return. The octogenarian faces one problem though — his age. The party, already weighed down by the years, isn’t too keen to take on another grand old man. There are also whispers of seventy-plus leaders being phased out from the ranks. Tiwari, though, is unperturbed by such rumours. If he were to be denied an entry, he has threatened to contest as an independent, a move that could put the Congress in trouble. India, he knows, is still a country for old men.

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