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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Convenient scapegoat

P V Narasimha Rao When in the wrong, blame the press. The Narasimha Rao faction in the Congress party blames the media, especially the New Delhi-based newspapers, for their leader's sorry plight. His aides accuse the press of demonising him. And of glorifying Sitaram Kesri, the Congress party president and his bete noire.

A senior minister in the Rao government, still loyal to the former prime minister, was so worked up against the press that, at a recent banquet to honour Chinese President Jiang Zemin, he buttonholed a veteran journalist to complain against what he called the pro-Kesri and anti-Rao coverage of Congress party affairs.

"You are biased against Rao because he hails from the south. And you write in favour of Kesri because he has had very good relations with newspaper owners. And is known to keep journalists happy. Rao is never seen in the central hall (of Parliament) whereas Kesri has been a regular fixture there, buying you journalists endless cups of coffee and gulab jamuns over the decades..."

After he had abused the media, the former minister sought the scribe's help in 'correcting' the media perception of Rao. "Will it help if I took a group of senior journalists to Rao for a face-to-face chat?" asked the wellwisher.

The journalist retorted that the media could no longer rescue Rao. "He can be saved from political oblivion only if he is acquitted honourably in all court cases. And in the not-so-distant future, at that."

Contrasting styles

Sitaram Kesri While on the Kesri-Rao divide in the Congress party, it is interesting that, despite his mounting legal and political troubles, the former prime minister continues to behave in a rather haughty manner. He is inaccessible as always to the press as also to a large section of his partymen. Kesri, in sharp contrast, is easily accessible even after becoming Congress president.

Rao avoids the press like plague. Kesri loves the press. And woos it with nuggets of inside information. But the Kesri camp has a ready explanation for Rao's show of unflappability. "Deve Gowda knows that he can continue as prime minister only so long as Rao is the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Once we remove him as the CPP leader, Deve Gowda too will go. That explains why he was so keen for Rao to get some respite from his legal troubles...''

H D Deve Gowda Kesri loyalists concede, at the same time, that it will not be easy to remove Rao as CPP leader.

Switched and saved

Orissa Chief Minister J B Patnaik may yet retain his job, despite rumours to the contrary. The recent removal of Harcharan Singh Brar as Punjab's chief minister by Sitaram Kesri had fueled speculation that the axe would soon fall on Narasimha Rao's loyalist in Orissa.

The state youth Congress president, Sharad Patnaik, a second term member of the Lok Sabha, performed the rescue act on behalf of the beleaguered chief minister. With Kesri assured of the chief minister's loyalty to him, he pronounced him safe for the moment.

Apparently, Patnaik had come to the rescue of the Rao-led AICC whenever it faced internal problems. Similar assistance has been assured to Kesri. For public consumption, the Patnaik government will not be disturbed because "it is truly secular. Two Sikhs, two Muslims and two Christians are ministers in the Orissa government. There are no atrocities on the weaker sections..."

Confusing colours

Federal Minister of state for Personnel S R Balasubramaniam and his 85-year-old mother were recently on a thanksgiving pilgrimage in Uttar Pradesh. On his return, some DMK members noticed that Balasubramanian was wearing black and red threads on his right forearm.

A senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP could not help ribbing the minister who was elected to the Lok Sabha on a Tamil Maanila Congress ticket. "Hey, are you joining the DMK? Otherwise, why do you wear the red and black colours of our party?"

For once, Balasubramaniam was stumped for an answer.

Bhandari's colourful past

Romesh Bhandari The Bharatiya Janata Party is hopping mad at UP Governor Romesh Bhandari. And not without reason. For the controversial Bhandari refuses to invite the largest party in the state assembly to try its hand at government-formation.

Given Bhandari's rather colourful and controversial past, the BJP has prepared a dossier of sorts on the UP governor. And one of the several retired foreign service officials who joined the BJP in the wake of the Ram temple movement has this interesting tale to tell.

It seems when he was foreign secretary, Bhandari would often ring up Indian ambassadors and gently suggest to them to lay the red carpet for Chandra Swami. The embassies on Chandra Swami's itinerary were encouraged to organise receptions for him by prominent non-resident Indians. "It was at these get-togethers that Chandra Swami picked up rich NRIs and took them on a merry ride..."

Who do you think was foreign minister when Bhandari was foreign secretary? Who else but Chandra Swami devotee, P V Narasimha Rao? And the prime minister was none other than Rajiv Gandhi who stood to gain from the St Kitts scam.

Incidentally, Chandra Swami's friend, international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, had specially flown in to attend Bhandari's son's wedding. The newly-weds spent their honeymoon on Khashoggi's yacht, Nabila.

Laloo's foreign policy

Laloo Prasad Yadav Just as well the beleaguered Janata Dal president and chief minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, missed the opportunity to be prime minister. Had the BJP-Samata Party combine not done as well as it did in the recent parliamentary poll in Bihar, that catastrophe would have been hard to avert.

Yadav was recently in the capital to preside over the Surajkund talkathon of the Janata Dal. There he buttonholed External Affairs Minister I K Gujral of the Leninesque goatee fame. Asked Yadav, ";Koi treaty-breaty kiya? Koi astar kharida? (Did you sign any treaty? Did you buy any armaments?)" The JD chief was inspired to ask these questions in view of the recent visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin to this country.


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