The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parliament of fowls

Bird in hand

What’s sauce for the goose is not so for the gander in Indian politics. Peacocks have been causing quite a stir at the residences of senior MPs. While some take pleasure in the birds’ graceful dance on their Lutyens lawns, others are having their feathers ruffled by the national bird. The Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, has as many as twenty peacocks in the garden of his MP bungalow. Some of these have inhabited the grounds from the time of the previous incumbent, PA Sangma. Chatterjee is professedly fond of them, and their “fooding and lodging” are taken very good care of. But in another household, the birds have been throwing their weight around. Literally, and on table-tops. It was a mad tea party at Jaswant Singh’s ancestral bungalow in Rajasthan the other day. As a son of this state and royalty too, there’s no way Singh could be unfamiliar with the ways of the bird, but the bunch of peachicks abandoned by their parents in Singh’s premises boasts a few juvenile delinquents as well. And one of them flew up on the table and made quite a mess while Singh had guests over for tea. Could it be that the young ones are inheriting the decadence of the royal household?

Say it with flowers

Talk about unusual visitors, and Sonia Gandhi had one recently. It was Karnataka Congress leader and former CM, SM Krishna, bearing a large bouquet of flowers for Madam. Now one would have thought that, following the drubbing in the polls, Krishna and his colleagues would have gone into metaphorical hiding. But that was obviously not how Krishna was looking at things. Some party insiders joked that the bouquet was in recognition of the Congress’s tally going up from last time. Some others read even deeper between the lines and saw in the gesture Krishna’s attempt to lobby for a governor’s post again. A post that he had left (in Maharashtra) in the hope of ascending a certain chief ministerial chair.


Men at work

After the debacle comes the committee. Always. There are post-mortems to be done, blames to be exchanged, bright spots to be detected with a microscope — in short, a lot of work. Sonia Gandhi has already formed a committee to “revitalize” the party organization. And for once, it is not going to be headed by Pranab Mukherjee. But the choice of the head — AK Antony — is interesting. Wasn’t Antony in charge in the state when the party faced a crushing defeat in Kerala, both in the assembly and the Lok Sabha? Another member of the committee is Digvijay Singh, who holds the distinction of losing almost all the assembly polls that he has supervised as AICC gen-sec. Two other members, Mukul Wasnik and Mani Shankar Aiyar, are not exactly famous for their organizational skills. Ghulam Nabi Azad, another inductee, is hard pressed for time, as chief ministers normally are, particularly with the J&K assembly polls slated for September. Given the way things are, it seems that the grave responsibility of ‘revitalizing’ the party will fall on the shoulders of the remaining member of the committee, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. Play the doc, Priyada!

After the jackpot

If you think that post-Karnataka victory, all is well with the BJP, you could be quite far from the truth. For one, some very senior leaders in the party may not be too keen on winning the next Lok Sabha elections. They are hoping that this would be LK Advani’s last, which means that when it’s time to elect the 16th Lok Sabha, he will be out of contention for the PM’s post. For another, the cold war between Jaswant Singh and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje is out in the open over the Gujjar issue. But on the upside of things, magic-man Arun Jaitley is almost sure to get the Jaipur seat, while Sushma Swaraj has been asked to get her dossier ready for taking on Madam in Bellary. Not to forget star power, Smriti “Tulsi” Irani has been promised a ticket from Gujarat by no less an authority than Narendra Modi. So how does the glass look for the saffronites? Half-full, or half-empty?

Camera lucida

The IPL is over, but the stories aren’t. And how can there be none on the ubiquitous Rajiv Shukla? The television cameras just love him, in the way they haven’t loved Shilpa Shetty’s midriff or SRK’s six-pack. No matter where he is — which is almost always in the front rows of VVIP boxes — the camera picks him up. And so it did during the finals in Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil stadium, where he was enjoying the match in the august company of Sharad Pawar, Mukesh Ambani and other such biggies. As the camera panned on him, Pawar tapped him on the thigh and pointed at the camera. And Ravi Shastri was heard saying: “That’s Mr Pawar telling Mr Shukla, ‘You’re on TV’.”

A party of one’s own

Who says Congressmen are sycophants? Go take a peep into the Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee. Don’t be shocked if you find two units — one headed by the bona-fide PCC president, Yashpal Arya, and another by Harish Rawat, a Rajya Sabha MP from the state. A complaint has been lodged against Rawat with Madam. He is known to have held a convention some days ago near Dehra Dun which office-bearers of the party were forbidden to attend. Quizzed by the media on this, he claimed that the Congress was not a police station that one had to seek the permission of the officer-in-charge for everything. To make their case stronger, Uttarakhand Congressmen have sent to Madam a CD in which Rawat’s protégé, Ranjit Singh Rawat, is seen telling a BJP leader: “Humne to apni Congress sarkar ko nahin chhora, to tum kya cheez ho (How did you think we’ll spare you when we haven’t spared our own party leadership)?”

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