Name of the game
It should be obvious by now that the presidential election is hardly about who would win the president’s post. It might actually be about the vice-president. The reason why Mulayam Singh Yadav is believed to have fallen hook, line and sinker for Mamata Banerjee’s gambit to confound the Congress by throwing at it numerous presidential nominees was to get back his bargaining powers. But that had been severely undermined when Mulayamji was caught unawares, smiling benignly by the side of Sonia Gandhi on the day of the UPA anniversary. By siding with Mamata Banerjee, the Samajwadi Party chief not only warned the Congress that he ought not to be taken for granted, but also earned for himself the opportunity to push his OBC nominee, Ramgopal Yadav, for the vice-president’s post. Not merely Mulayam, there are others who will now accede to the Congress’s nominee for president only if their choice of the vice-presidential candidate is upheld. Among others, the names already in circulation for the post are those of Meira Kumar, Gopal Gandhi and SC Jamir. No wonder Didi thought it would be prudent to remind everyone that the game is not yet over.
Given that Pranab Mukherjee has emerged the frontrunner for the president’s chair, questions are being raised about the next occupant of the chair he will vacate — that of the finance minister. Apparently, about half-a-dozen Union ministers are vying for the post. Among the aspirants, there is, reportedly, the prime minister himself. He wants to turn the nation’s economy around with the help of a junior minister or technocrat, who could be either Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C Rangarajan. The Congress would also need a new leader in the Lok Sabha. Many in the party feel it is probably time for another Kamraj plan to be implemented.
How is the man in the eye of the storm doing? Pranabda cannot help making news, but he has been, according to sources, doing his bit to stave off the pressure. Mukherjee is said to have started himself on a new routine that requires him to keep away from reading newspapers and watching television. Apart from a few select business channels, Pranabda has been avoiding the TV as well as newspersons. He has, one hears, stopped giving interviews ever since an economic daily carried a full-fledged interview of a private conversation Mukherjee had had with one of its reporters.
Even while the waters get murkier over the presidential elections, poll preparations have begun in Himachal Pradesh where the Congress continues to remain a divided house. During a recent public meeting in Kangra, the high command is supposed to have directed Virbhadra Singh and Anand Sharma to hold a joint rally. Singh reached the venue at 11 am with hundreds of supporters but his arch-rival, Sharma, was nowhere to be seen. Sharma, the Union minister for commerce and industry, arrived almost four hours late and cited numerous reasons for his delay. The local Congress had organized an event after the meeting, but here again Sharma went missing. Singh held fort alone. This was perhaps Sharma’s way of reacting to the fuss Singh had kicked up recently over Sharma being made the chairman of the recently-formed manifesto committee for the state.
The government is said to be contemplating the removal of subsidies to diesel, LPG and petrol. But if the request of the minister of state for petroleum, RPN Singh, is heeded, then MPs and MLAs would have to bear the brunt first. Singh is believed to have written a letter to the PM asking for the phased removal of the subsidies. It also asks legislators to forgo the subsidy before the common man is asked for a pound of flesh. Bravo Singh, for risking the minister’s chair.
Trick or treat
A day before the Mulayam-Mamata drama, Jaswant Singh was supposed to meet Netaji. Incidentally, Mulayam had a meeting with the yoga guru, Ramdev, an hour later at the same venue. On reaching, Singh noted that the venue was swarming with mediamen because Mulayam’s meeting with Ramdev had been preponed. Singh got his share of the spotlight, thanks to Mulayam. But could it be that this was Mulayam’s way of telling the Congress that he was in touch with the BJP as well?
Montek Singh Ahluwalia stirred the hornets’ nest by spending Rs 35 lakh on sprucing up two toilets at the Yojana Bhavan. The Congress general-secretary and media chairperson, Janardhan Dwivedi, is now said to be indulging in the same luxury. His need to renovate the washroom is said to have emerged after a consultation with a vaastu specialist. But Dwivedi has cited a practical need. The entrance to the loo was outside his room and to use it, he had to go through a room full of visitors. Meanwhile, Jairam Ramesh, who holds the portfolio of sanitation, has admitted that he spends 18 hours thinking about toilets. A joint secretary-level officer was sent to Finland recently to study toilets. Despite the obsession with toilets, women journalists are forced to gatecrash into office-bearers’ washrooms as there is no separate facility for them.