The Telegraph
Sunday , January 22 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Close to the ground

Unlike Vilasrao Deshmukh, Maharashtra’s former chief minister, whose proximity to Bollywood seemed to have robbed him of his ability to distinguish between the reel and real world (witness his famous post-26/11 tour of the Taj hotel in star company), the current occupant of the chair in Maharashtra has his feet firmly rooted to the ground. Prithviraj Chavan’s sense of the practical is quite unique in the world of Indian politics. It is also alarming, since it runs the risk of making him a pariah in his own party. Take this case. The Maharashtra government is known to have purchased a helicopter from a US-based company. Under the prescribed rules of the civil aviation authorities, the helicopter had to be registered with the call sign or nationality code, VT, followed by three letters recommended by the buyer. An overenthusiastic official suggested the letters, ‘PDC’. When Chavan asked why, the bureaucrat coyly replied, “Prithviraj Dajisaheb Chavan”. Chavan picked up the pen and promptly changed it to ‘CMM’ for “Chief Minister Maharashtra”, and, apparently, warned the babu not to indulge in sycophancy. Sounds strange coming from a Congressman, right?

Change of heart

When it comes to handling the media, Mayavati is brusque and dismissive. She hardly ever takes questions at press conferences, and usually reads out from well-written drafts before walking out in a huff. But a strange change seems to have crept into the Dalit queen shortly before Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls. It is likely that she has finally woken up to the ‘importance’ of the media. Apart from her aide, Satish Mishra, the Bahujan Samaj Party now has a handful of others on TV, such as Vijay Bahadur Singh and Sudhindra Bhadoria, trying to make the party’s positions on various debates clear. A difficult job, but they are doing their bit.

Fast and furious

What is wrong with Dinesh Trivedi? The other day, the Union railways minister was in a hurry to leave New Delhi’s Rail Bhavan. But he found that he could not move his car as it was blocked by some other vehicles. The next thing that happened was that Central Industrial Security Force jawans, who usually man the Rail Bhavan, were shunted out. Security personnel have since been wondering why they were collectively penalized when identifying the real culprit would not have been an insurmountable task.

Smooth operation

The prime minister’s media team has undergone a surprising change. Harish Khare, a senior journalist, has made way for the lesser-known Pankaj Pachauri as communication advisor to the PM. Some spiteful whispers say that Pachauri did not even have a press accreditation card. He was, they say, trying his luck with the Prasar Bharti board, to which Ambika Soni supposedly recommended his name. The change has caught the AICC’s media team offguard. Janardhan Dwivedi, who heads it, was apparently just as clueless as Ahmed Patel and Jairam Ramesh. Both Patel and Ramesh were considered close to Khare. The buzz at 24 Akbar Road and Raisina Hills is that this change signals the rise of a powerful bureaucrat at the Prime Minister’s Office, who is said to have downgraded the importance of the media advisor from the rank of a full-fledged secretary to that of an additional secretary.

Woman from Mars

Thank god, or maybe Madam, for small mercies. Veteran Congressman, ND Tiwari, may not have got his name cleared yet, but he did manage to get party tickets for his nephew, Manish Tiwari, and close aide, Aryendra Sharma. He, of course, had to face stiff opposition from a section of Congress leaders in Delhi who were rooting for the greenhorn, Shilpi Arora. The case of Shilpi is getting more and more curious. She definitely has strong backing within the party, from the likes of Chaudhry Birender Singh, the AICC general-secretary in charge of Uttarakhand. Congress insiders claim that Shilpi was once close to the Bharatiya Janata Party too. For now though, she has been accommodated as the working president of the publication and publicity committee of the Congress in the state. Meanwhile, the slogan waiting to be voiced is, “Sara Dehradun maun hai, Shilpi Arora kaun hai? (The whole of Dehradun is silent/ Who exactly is Shilpi Arora?)”


Take the bypass

Old habits die hard, old memories even harder. That is what the Uttarakhand CM, Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri, has been trying to convey to all who are willing to listen. Khanduri was minister of road transport and highways during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, and the BJP leadership still takes great pride in the highway projects that were carried out during that era. After the recent ticket distribution announcement for the Uttarakhand assembly polls in Delhi, Khanduri was supposed to fly back to Dehradun. He chose to go back by road, expressing a wish to have a feel of the road he had laid. As usual, there were sceptics who had a different take on the matter. Many in his party believed there was tremendous resentment against the ticket distribution and Khanduri, expecting protests at the airport, took a short cut.