DIARY 08-08-2004

Small consolation In for the long haul House proud Meeting of minds Now, an insider attack It’s a comfortable life

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 8.08.04

Small consolation

In most professions, height is supposed to be an advantage. A man who stands head and shoulders above his fellows, physically, is generally assumed to stand head and shoulders above them, metaphorically too. But in politics, height can be a disadvantage, as Arjun Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad are discovering to their dismay. For they fear that Pranab Mukherjee is using his (relatively) diminutive stature to muscle his way into the No. 2 spot in the party. As it is, Pranab-da had managed to wrangle the much-coveted defence portfolio, and the leadership of the party in the Lok Sabha. He is also a CWC member, the only one to have been made in-charge of a state: Punjab, in the throes of the SYL canal controversy. And he heads the West Bengal state unit of the party. Putting it all down to size might be unfair, but smallness does give Mukherjee greater maneouvrability. At the small gathering to see off Manmohan Singh, who was leaving for Bangkok, Sonia Gandhi, came first bearing a red rose, and Arjun Singh, came next, as befits his claims to being only next to her in importance. But Mukherjee who came later managed to inveigle his way between the two, pushing Singh to third place. Thus in the pictures, he is standing next to madam.

In for the long haul

If Shakespeare thought that all the world was a stage, Natwar Singh probably thinks it is a race track, and that some people are sprinters while others are long-distance runners. The generally dour Indian foreign minister would not have been thought capable of such profundity, but he had been rendered sentimental by an old picture of him being honoured with a traditional safa by Chowdhury Zahoor Elahi, which was presented to him by the latter’s son, and the present Pakistan prime minister, Chowdhury Sujat Hussain. No doubt, the occasion — an impromptu dinner with the premier — had done something to set off the mellow mood of reminiscence of those days when Singh had been posted at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, the happiness of those halcyon days encapsulated in the smiling faces of the young Singh and his wife in the company of the Chowdhurys. But is disinterested philosophizing all there is to the minister’s comment? Or is he, by aligning himself with the long-distance runner, taking a dig at his predecessor?

House proud

Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride — that’s 28 Akbar Road in Lutyens’s Delhi. The house, adjacent to the Congress power centres on 24 and 26 Akbar Road, had consistently won awards for being one of the best kept bungalows in the capital. All lush green lawns and colourful flower beds, the house was, until recently, the address of the MP from Aurangabad, Nikhil Kumar, and his wife, Shyama Sinha. It had been allotted to Kumar’s father way back in 1970 and the family stayed on until Kumar rose to become police commissioner of Delhi, when he designated it the official “police house”. When Shyama got elected to the Lok Sabha, Kumar managed to get it transferred to her name. But the problem with such a well-appointed house is that it attracts attention, some of them covetous. And if that covetous pair of eyes happens to be that of the Lok Sabha deputy speaker, Charanjit Singh, all machinations, all appeals to the powers-that-be, all networking are sure to fall by the wayside. And so, 28 Akbar Road is to have a new resident.

Meeting of minds

If imitation be a form of compliment, the BJP had better beware. For M Venkaiah Naidu’s decision to call a meeting of BJP chief ministers to set their agenda of governance is too much like certain initiatives by Sonia Gandhi, to be his brainchild. But Naidu has a problem Sonia has never had — CMs whom he is scared of. Uma Bharti had once openly asked her party president to beware of the shraap of a sannyasin and Narendra Modi is a political senior. There are some advantages of Dynasty — Naidu must admit.

Now, an insider attack

The story until now — Mulayam Singh Yadav was making threatening noises against the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, while the Congress was straining at the leash in Uttar Pradesh, where it is part of the Samajwadi Party-led government. And now a twist to the tale. Angry with Mulayam for being snubbed over the cane support price issue, Ajit Singh is reported to be mulling a withdrawal of support to the state government and is talking to the Congress. Among his demands are, of course, a few ministries and a new Jatland to be called “Harit Pradesh”. But negotiations seem to be stuck there because UP Congress chief Salman Khurshid, whose Rajya Sabha entry Singh had blocked, is playing spoilsport. If a Harit Pradesh is formed, a Muslim rather than a Jat should be the chief minister. Over to Ajit.

It’s a comfortable life

Life has changed a lot for Somnath Chatterjee ever since he became speaker of the Lok Sabha. However anguished he may be at the parliamentarians’ behaviour, Chatterjee now lives in the sprawling official speaker’s bungalow and travels in a cavalcade of cars amidst tight security; roads are cleared for his convoy. Long-time left watchers are amazed at the transformation. They recall Indrajit Gupta, another veteran left parliamentarian who rose to be Union home minister in Deve Gowda’s United Front government, but continued to live in his one-room Western Court apartment. He not only refused the special security cover due to him, but carried his own bag in parliament and travelled in the car provided by his party. Now that’s being a trifle unfair to Chatterjee. After all, being a left politician doesn’t mean one has to forego even the barest trappings of power. But then, who is to stop the wagging tongues and the envious carpers?