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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Fear of the law, at last

Has former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao lost his nerve? Recent visitors to his house have come back convinced that, for the first time, the Congress president is showing signs of desperation.

Rao had retained his equanimity till the Delhi high court rejected his appeal against the lower court's order, making him an accused in the Lakhubhai Pathak case. Since then, he breaks into a monologue about the case without any provocation and says the Supreme Court cannot uphold the lower court's order.

"I cannot be held responsible for what anyone else did. At least, I wasn't there in New York when he said I was there. Now, it is for him (Pathak) to change his statement to the court," Rao often tells his visitors who are too polite to refer to the cheating case. Which is followed by a gratuitous comment or two on section 319 of the IPC and how it should be interpreted.

Meanwhile, Rao has become so taciturn with the press that he insists on a written questionnaire before granting an interview.

Much ado about nothing?

Was the telephone tapping controversy the brainwave of a small-time restaurateur-turned-big-time entrepreneur-politician? The intelligence community in the capital believes that a Maharashtra Congress MP was behind the plant in his own newspaper. He was also behind the report in another newspaper whose correspondent is known to play ball with thuggish politicians.

The idea was to frighten Prime Minister Deve Gowda into exerting his considerable energies in the defence of the beleaguered Narasimha Rao. If, in the process, Deve Gowda glossed over a scandal or two concerning the said MP while he was a junior minister in the Rao government, that would be an added bonus. Deve Gowda, of course, failed to see the trap being laid for him and succumbed to the pressure.

Last Sunday evening, the new CBI chief, Joginder Singh,bumped into Rao in a seemingly accidental fashion at the wedding reception for the daughter of former union minister of state for home, Syed Sibte Razi. He then accompanied Rao to his house for an extended pow-wow. In order to explain this pre-arranged tryst with Rao, the CBI boss offered to call on all former prime ministers.

Meanwhile, to lend credence to their phone tapping charade, certain Congressmen are now dragging in the name of former Intelligence Bureau chief, D C Pathak. They allege that, to win back Rao's favour, Pathak tipped off the former PM about the phone taps.

Pathak, of course, did no such thing. He was in Colombo when he was removed from his post and given the ceremonial sop of chairman, joint intelligence committee.

Off-limits

CBI chief Joginder Singh is clearly not a run-of-the-mill cop. He appears to be more of a politician than a government servant. It took a forthright minister to remind Singh of his true calling the other day, much to his embarrassment.

It so happened that Singh called on Indrajit Gupta soon after he took over as the CBI boss, although the CBI is no longer under the home ministry. He next called on the minister of state for personnel, S R Balasubramaniam. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, Singh shed his formal stance and began to gossip about Gupta and how he had yawned during an official briefing.

Balasubramaniam cut him in mid-sentence. Ticking him off in no uncertain terms, he told Singh that it was none of his business if Gupta yawned at his age. In any case, "You should behave like a government servant and not like a politician."

His mysterious ailment

For several months now, former external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has had a strange skin ailment which resulted reddish patches on his face. In recent weeks, his skin condition has deteriorated despite the fact that he has consulted numerous allopathic doctors, homeopaths and ayurvaids. Even Narasimha Rao and K Karunakaran offered the services of their special medical advisers, but to no avail.

Mukherjee is convinced he contracted this mysterious malady after he washed his face with soda water in a rural area during the last Lok Sabha campaign. Since the cause of his ailment still remains uncertain, many fear it is a contagious disease. And Mukherjee's detractors, especially Punjab Congressmen seeking the removal of state chief minister H S Brar, have been spreading the word that one should keep one's distance from Mukherjee.

Their warning seems to have had an effect. Recently, when Mukherjee wanted to meet Rao, he was informed that he could instead consult the party chief over the telephone.

Lal's incognito mission

Former deputy prime minister Devi Lal and former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal are now the best of friends. They have teamed up to topple the Bansi Lal-led Haryana government.

That both Lals are hurt by the imposition of prohibition in Haryana by the HVP-BJP government is widely known, since their families have large stakes in the production and distribution of liquor in the state. But Devi Lal's secret visit to the US last week, organised by Bhajan Lal, remains a mystery in political circles.

Bhajan Lal's son personally dropped the former deputy prime minister at the airport in a gleaming new limousine. Devi Lal's destination was Orlando, the city famous for Disneyland. Om Parkash Chautala, Devi Lal's son, wanted to bring Disneyland to Haryana when he was the state's chief minister.

Lal's US mission was so hush-hush that only a few people in the government were privy to it.

His day in the sun

Lakhubhai Pathak, the complainant in the cheating case against Chandra Swami, is thoroughly enjoying his new-found celebrity. Friends and family members who had no use for him till recently now crave for his company.

His brother's family in Pune, whom he had not met in decades, were so impressed that they offered to pay all his expenses in India. They wanted him to stay in a better hotel in the capital than the one the CBI had lodged him in.

His son in England, who manages the Pathak pickle and masala empire had allowed his old father to settle in faraway Mexico. Now, he too is impressed by all the turmoil Pathak has caused in the Indian polity and wants him back. "You have achieved your purpose. Forget the money. You have exacted your revenge against the main accused. Now leave it and come back."

Even daughter-in-law Meena who flew in from London to persuade him to give up, failed in her mission. Pathak wants to see the court case through to the bitter end.

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