Friend in deed
In the Congress, 2 is bigger than 1. Pranab Mukherjee, the perennial No 2 man in the party, may not have been anointed as the officiating prime minister during Manmohan Singhs absence but his words count a lot in the grand old party. The other day, Pranabda came to the rescue of a friend, a senior cabinet minister from the Northeast who was almost denied a ticket for the coming elections. He had landed in trouble with an influential section of the party. Apparently, Rahul Gandhi was not too happy with the minister because of the shoddy performance of the ministry that was assigned to him. Worse, the ailing septuagenarian was once caught snoring within Madams earshot in the Lok Sabha. The prospects of the man getting a poll ticket looked dim, that is until Pranabda decided to step in and brighten up his chances by overruling the reservations aired by those higher up in the pecking order.
The crumbling United Progressive Alliance has a new name, thanks to Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The UPA, according to Swaraj, should be called as the Unlimited Prime Ministers Alliance. Unlike the National Democratic Alliance, whose partners had already agreed upon LK Advanis candidacy for the top job, there is no dearth of prime ministerial aspirants in the Congress-led coalition, mocked Swaraj. Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan were all keen to sit on the hot seat, she added. One wonders what name Swaraj has in mind for the third front which is equally crowded by men and women yearning for the same crown.
The Congress candidate in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, is busy applying the vijay tilak on the foreheads of all and sundry. His tilak, he believes, will grant him vijay against Sushma Swaraj who has been on a spree doling out vijay bandhans wrist bands similar to rakhis to the residents. Meanwhile, the people of Vidisha have tied themselves in a knot while trying to guess who would emerge as the winner in the battle between tilaks and bandhans.
The Congress had raised a storm when its ally, Mulayam Singhs Samajwadi Party, had inducted Kalyan Singh, formerly of the BJP, into its fold. But now, in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has taken a leaf out of the SPs book and imported leaders from other parties despite the rumbles in its own rank and file. Uma Mishra, an office bearer in the UP PCC, has reportedly threatened to commit suicide after she was denied a ticket from Sitapur, which was given to Ram Lal Rahi who had quit the SP. Rahi normally contests from the adjoining Mishrikh seat. Mishra, who was told to prepare for the polls, had been kept in the dark about the switch. The picture is pretty much the same in Bihar where Sadhu Yadav, who changed stripes recently to join the Congress, is heard calling the shots at the expense of the local leaders who are unhappy with their new boss.
But to be fair to the Congress, it cannot be accused of importing leaders only. It has exported a few as well, especially in Andhra Pradesh, much to the delight of Chiranjeevi who is said to be on the lookout for winnable candidates for his Praja Rajyam Party. The actor-turned-politician is now keen to poach some of those who have been on the Congresss export list. The stock market may still be cold, but the trading could not have got hotter in Indian politics.
Come elections and Indias political parties get ready to spread their wings. In Delhi, where most of the national parties are headquartered, political weightage is measured by the number of aircraft that is at their disposal. With 10 planes and 20 choppers, the Congress seems to be doing fine on this count. The number, however, excludes those under the command of its regional satraps. While this may be good news for partymen who have to campaign far and wide, it will certainly mean more work for AAI officials. They will have a tough time managing partymen keen to take-off despite the clogged airports.
The Lok Sabha secretariat, according to the grapevine, is set to transfer the dues, including salaries, to MPs bank accounts through electronic transfer from the next session. The idea is to give a fillip to the RBIs strategy of paperless banking. Perhaps it will also boost the chances of some of our parliamentarians learning the computer after all these years.
Food for thought
Some of the journalists covering the release of the Congress ended up biting more than they could chew. The likes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi had to be chased down for suitable quotes. At the same time, the food stall that was laid out with a lavish spread from Benaras could not be ignored. Some were lucky enough to lay their hands on both, but there was no doubt about which tasted better. No quote, however juicy, could match the magic of dahi-kheerey ki kachori, paneer badam angoor ki sabzi, palak papri, aromatic rice, an assortment of curd-based preparations and sweet meats like heera mani and badam gulkand ki khurchan. After the plates had been licked cleaned, the scribes could not stop talking about food connoisseur, Marut Sikka, and his finger-licking preparations. Some even quipped that the dishes scored over the party manifesto that had been prepared by Pranab Mukherjee and Jairam Ramesh.