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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Sore with TMC ministers

Not all is well in the small Tamil Mannila Congress parliamentary party. There is growing resentment agaisnt the two TMC members in the Gowda cabinet. The inclusion of M Arunachalam (left) as the minister for urban affairs is particularly galling to members since the former is allegedly involved in several minor and major scams. As a junior minister under Shiela Kaul in the Rao ministry, he too was involved in the out-of-turn allotment of government houses. The TMC members conveyed their resentment to the party chief G K Moopanar in no uncertain terms recently. The case of Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram is a little different. His arrogant behaviour has angered almost the entire TMC party. Peter Alphonose, a Rajya Sabha member who is close to Moopanar despite the fact that he is still in the Congress, was so incensed by Chidambaram that he nearly assulted him.

The incident took a few days before the swearing-in of the Gowda government when Chidambaram (right) derivisively opposed the suggestion that Moopanar be made deputy prime minister in the Gowda ministry. 'What administrative experience he has to become deputy PM?' queried Chidambaram, even as an enranged Alphonose lunged for his throat in the presence of several fellow members from Tamil Nadu. Chidambaram's alleged weakness for female company also came in for adverse mention as did his role in the share bank scam.

Moopanar has managed to contain the rebellious mood against Chidambaram so far. It would be interesting to see for how long he can continue to do so!

A friendly FERA raid

With the focus on the big fish in the Rs 1. 33 billion urea scam, everyone seemed to have ignored the FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act) directorate's raid on liaison man Sudhir Sarin in connection with the same case. Last week, when a CBI team was in Hyderbad to question the main suspects in the urea scam, a team of FERA officials searched the well-appointed house of Sarin in the capital's upmarket Greater Kailash colony.

Sarin, a regular fixer in the corridors of power, was rather close to the former fertiliser minister Ram Lakhan Yadav. FERA sources said he handled some of the funds for Yadav. But it was a 'friendly' raid; Sarin was allowed to slip out even as the raid party was in his house. Later, he was able to 'fix' the FERA chaps through another small-time power broker who, from humble beginnings, has made a pile in commissions in recent years. Sarin, incidentally, is very friendly with the Congress politicians from the time his brother got married to the daughter of the late Congress leader Yashpal Kapoor.

Press and the scamster

That the press, too, is selective in exposing the wrong-doings of the rich and the powerful is well known. But never before has this conspiracy of silence by the mainline press been so thoroughly exposed as in the case of excise evasion by a well-known cigarette manufacturer. Owned by a member of parliament, the company is alleged to have evaded excise duty to the tune of over Rs 4 billion.

The excise department, after months of painstaking investigations, recorded the said MP's statement as also those of other senior functionaries from the same company. The modus operandi was almost identical to the one adopted by the same company in the early eighties when it was charged with excise theft to the tune of over Rs 7 billion. Simply put, the excise paid by the company was on a price much lower than the end price of the cigarettes.

The scam came to light in Jaipur almost a year ago, but it was only a couple of months ago that the investigations were complete. Yet, the press refused to touch the story even when it had ready access to a well-documented case file of the excise department. Incidentally, the owner of the cigarette company was arrested in Germany some months ago in connection with an economic offence. And he has not given up his efforts to be inducted into the Gowda ministry.

A quirk of fate

Only days before Dame Luck smiled on him, federal Welfare Minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia was a desperate man looking for ways to secure his financial future. His children had settled in Canada. His wife, too, was away visiting them. He was at a loose end, feeling he had nothing much to do as a member of the minorities commission. But the United Front's search for a Sikh member for the Gowda government changed the luck of this little known politician overnight.

Before his induction into the ministry, he was preoccupied with his petrol pump project. He had got an out-of-turn license from former Petroleum Minister Satish Sharma, but the Delhi Development Authority would not allot him suitable land out-of-turn. Before becoming a minister, Ramoowalia would often visit the DDA officials in his quest for a plot of land for his petrol pump.

But to minimise graft, the DDA had computerised the system of land allotment on a first come, first serve basis. Apparently, the same DDA officials who had earlier rejected Ramoowalia's entreaties are now keen to oblige the minister. And, now, it is the minister's turn to play hard to get. After all, the petrol pump can wait. It is the ministership that matters!

Mysterious foreign visits

Former Union Minister Jagdish Tytler (right) is, apparently, yet to come to terms with his defeat in the recent parliamentary elections. Tytler lost to the BJP's Vijay Goel in the Delhi Sadar constituency by about 1,600 votes. Soon after his defeat, he was headed for western Europe. London was not originally on his itinerary, but he landed there all the same to enjoy the hospitality of his friends whom he had awarded lucrative contracts while he was the minister for civil aviation in the Rajiv Gandhi ministry.

He flew back to Delhi only to celebrate his close friend Kiran Choudhary's birthday with a gala dinner at a five-star hotel in the capital. Choudhary, a constant companion of Tytler, is the daughter-in-law of Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal and a general secretary of the Delhi Congress Party. After the birthday dinner, Tytler was again jet-bound.

This time, he was headed east with, apparently, Hong Kong and Singapore on his itinerary. However his detractors in the Congress allege that, more than pleasure, it is money matters that have taken the former minister abroad. Tytler alone can de-mystify his visits.

Home away from home

As if there was not enough trouble already for P V Narasimha Rao (right) and his extended family, what with urea and JMM MPs' bribe scams beginning to haunt them, the Central Bureau of Investigation has been tipped off by someone earlier close to the Rao family about a huge real estate investment made by one of the children of the former prime minister in the US. The money allegedly was transferred through the usual hawala route, the CBI was informed. And the investment was made, through one of Rao's children who is settled in the US, in a residential complex. It was, however, doubtful if the CBI would pursue the lead given that the Gowda ministry is dependent on the Rao-led Congress for its survival.

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