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Capital Buzz / Virendra Kapoor

The Rao-Deve Gowda Tango

P V Narasimha Rao Prime Minister Deve Gowda was somewhere in eastern Uttar Pradesh campaigning for United Front candidates in the state assembly election when an aide informed him about the Supreme Court order exempting P V Narasimha Rao from a personal appearance in the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case.

Deve Gowda immediately asked to be connected to the former prime minister.

At 8, Motilal Nehru Marg, the call was received by Bhuvanesh Chaturvedi, a junior minister in Rao's government and one of the few still loyal to him. Chaturvedi called Rao who was talking to the throng of Congressmen gathered to congratulate him on his 'great victory'.

Even as Rao talked to Deve Gowda, the Congress general secretary, Devinder Dwivedi walked in followed by UP Congress chief Jitendra Prasad and a little known party leader from the state, a Mr Trivedi.

Rao's conversation with Deve Gowda cheered the former premier no end. In an expansive mood, he said, "When Chaturvedi, Trivedi and Dwivedi are with me, how can I expect evil?"

Incidentally, an Andhra Congress leader was heard appropriating credit for Rao's reprieve. "I told him not to wear his dhoti like a north Indian and instead wear it in the Tamilian lungi style. It has already brought him relief."


After Rao, Pranab?

Pranab Mukherjee Narasimha Rao had a contingency plan ready should all the stratagems have failed to prevent his going to jail in the cheating case. Aware that the denial of bail by Special Judge Ajit Bharihoke would immediately cause his detractors to seek his removal as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Rao had his resignation ready.

But that would not mean the CPP could have had a free hand in choosing his successor. No, like in Sitaram Kesri's case, Rao loyalists had planned to make former foreign ministerPranab Mukherjee the CPP leader.

Mukherjee, who had tried in vain to become CPP leader soon after Indira Gandhi's assassination, was a party to the Rao loyalists's strategy.

Rao's objective was to deny the coveted job to any of his detractors. But on Monday morning when the apex court provided unexpected relief, a Rao aide informed Mukherjee that the chief was not quitting.

Mukherjee now waits for the law to take its course for his own ambition to be realised.

Bungalows for the asking

In spite of an activist judiciary, it seems there is no end to the power of the executive to bestow largesse on its favourites. Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda clearly believes in winning friends by distributing state favours.

First, he allotted a palatial bungalow on Safdarjung Road to former president, Ramaswamy Venkataraman who has decided to live in the capital after the DMK's return to power in Tamil Nadu.

The former President lived in a state-owned bungalow in Madras while two of his houses in the city were rented out, much to the DMK's chagrin.

Deve Gowda has now allotted a type-V bungalow to the widow of former President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy who has expressed a desire to stay in Bangalore. The Karnataka government was instructed to allot the bungalow to Nagaratnamma Reddy.The Centre will exchange with the Karnataka government two smaller houses in lieu of the large bungalow for Mrs Reddy.

The Deve Gowda government has decided to allot type-V bungalows to the surviving spouses of former Presidents, vice-presidents and prime ministers. The widows of former Presidents Fakhruddin Ai Ahmed and Giani Zail Singh, and former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Rajiv Gandhi occupy large government bungalows in the capital.

V P Singh's wry humour

If Prime Minister Deve Gowda cannot help making a snide remark or two about Mandal Messiah V P Singh, it seems, the latter too is not above taking an occasional potshot at the 'son of the soil' from Karnataka.

The other day while consulting his lawyers in connection with the summons from the Jain Commission, supposedly probing the conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Singh noted ruefully Deve Gowda's exertions to save Narasimha Rao from the clutches of the law.

"It would be simpler for the prime minister to persuade the courts to convert Rao's home into a prison rather than waste his time in saving him from going to jail. Since Rao and 19 members of his council of ministers are involved in one case or the other, Rao can be allowed an air-conditioned room at 9, Motilal Nehru Marg as his prison cell. His ministers may be given the outhouses with ceiling fans as their cells. During the mandatory one-hour outing from their cells they may well plot their future scams..."

Law and Politics

A M Ahmadi Legal correspondents rather than political editors dominate the front pages of newspapers these days. This is what the law reporters have gleaned from their exertions in the corridors of the high-domed precincts of the judiciary.

The Deve Gowda government would do anything to lessen, if not altogether eliminate, judicial activism. Deve Gowda has on more than one occasion spoken to senior political leaders in this regard. The BJP leaders may have spurned his bait, but the PM has not lost hope.

The Deve Gowda government is now toying with the idea to bypass Justice J S Verma for the appointment of Chief Justice of India when the present incumbent, Justice A M Ahmadi retires in a couple of months. Instead, it will appoint the next senior judge, Justice M M Punchhi, as the Chief Justice of India.

The ground to be cited is the all too brief tenure -- a few weeks -- that Justice Verma would enjoy as head of the Indian judiciary before he retires. Justice Punchhi with Justice K T Thomas delivered the order exempting Narasimha Rao from personal exemption in the cheating case.

Fate, after all

How times change! Some four years ago when Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy's elder daughter, Geetanjali, got married, Deve Gowda, not even an MP then, was stopped at the gate of his house by overzealous guards who suspected him to be a Tamil militant. He was rescued by Swamy himself and ushered in.

Last fortnight when Swamy's younger daughter, Suhasini, married Foreign Secretary Salman Haider's son, Nadeem, everyone else had to wait outside so that Prime Minister Gowda's entourage could bless the couple!

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