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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Foreign affairs and Kesri

Sitaram Kesri Congress president Sitaram Kesri is not exactly known for his expertise in foreign affairs. Never, in his long political career, has he shown an inclination to dabble in the art of diplomacy. But, in the ongoing struggle for the complete control of the Congress party, Kesri is turning the fine art of diplomacy to his advantage.

An increasing number of foreign dignitaries make it a point to meet Kesri, much to the chagrin of P V Narasimha Rao and even Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and Minister for External Affairs I K Gujral. Kesri has become de rigueur on the schedule of visiting heads of governments and states just like Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia Gandhi.

The most notable, of course, was his meeting with Chinese president Jiang Zemin which Kesri loyalists touted as proof of the final recognition that the power had shifted in the Congress from Rao to him.

But how does Kesri cope with the foreign visitors? Small talk isn't enough to see one through a half-an-hour meeting with a visiting head of state. It seems the foreign cell in the AICC prepares a brief for Kesri. Invariably, the job is done by former external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The other day, Kesri took umbrage at a draft speech which contained the stock phrase 'fruitful deliberations'. It was prepared for him in honour of Jiang who was to meet him at the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road.

"Look, I am a Bihari," he said. "I do not know English grammar, but one thing I would say - please remove this 'fruitful deliberations' and 'agent of change' because we had not been kind to the dignitary; we did not have very pleasant discussions. Why should we deliberately mention it? Similarly, the Congress is not an agent of change. The word 'agent' does not sound well. The Congress was never an agent."

Kesri eventually did not read the speech. Instead, he chose to say a few words in Hindi which were translated by former minister of state for external affairs R L Bhatia in English. If Kesri's visitor left with the impression that he was a bit of a joke, no one could blame him.

Cho for Rajya Sabha?

Cho Ramaswamy Cho Ramaswamy, Tamil Nadu's eminent editor-actor-political crusader all rolled into one, might have found himself nominated to the Rajya Sabha long ago had he not been born a brahmin. This is the only factor which prevented G K Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress from sponsoring his candidature for the Rajya Sabha.

In the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha due next April, the DMK-TMC combine can send six members to the House. The DMK will take at least four and TMC may get the other two. The TMC wants to send Cho to Parliament but is afraid that its anti-brahmin and pro-Nadar image might get diluted if he was elected on its ticket.

Pushing Cho's case is Tamil superstar Rajnikanth, who argues that Cho has suffered a lot at the hands of the Jayalalitha regime due to his crusade against her misdeeds. Moopanar has now suggested that the Deve Gowda government nominate Cho to the Rajya Sabha. That way, he gets to retain both his seats for non-brahmins and yet get the credit for doing justice to Cho.

Two-in-one MPs

A look at the official records of the Rajya Sabha would show that Moopanar, Jayanti Natarajan, Peter Alphons and Vyjayantimala Bali are all members of the Congress party in the House.

But didn't all four leave the Congress to float the TMC last June? Yes, they did and, what is more, they behave like TMC members both inside and outside the House.

Under the anti-defection law, all four will forfeit their Rajya Sabha membership if the Congress invokes the relevant provision. A letter from the leader of the Congress in Parliament would be enough to terminate their membership.

But, despite the bitterness seen during the recent parliamentary election, Rao has steadfastly refused to act against the four rebels. Maybe, he wants to keep alive the chance of a rapprochement with Moopanar.

When the leadership struggle in the Congress comes to the crunch, Moopanar cannot be seen to be backing a north Indian against Rao.

Vyjayantimala's case, on the other hand, is particularly galling. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha at Rao's behest. Nominated members are expected to be above partisan politics. But she joined the TMC at the first opportunity.

Hawala and Rao

P V Narasimha Rao This column had reported the move to revise the definition of a public servant in order to exclude members of Parliament from the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Following premature publicity and adverse media reaction, key Parliament officials have developed cold feet.

An early change in the law now looks unlikely. Since the move was meant to bail them out, the hawala-accused suspect that it is their bete noire, Narasimha Rao, who had sabotaged it. Given the fact that Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma was close to Rao, and the report in a national daily was done by a correspondent known for her proximity to the former prime minister, the hawala-accused blame Rao for sabotaging relief to them.

Why would Rao do so? The hawala victims had their answer ready. A leading hawala victim told this columnist that "Rao personally stood to gain nothing from the proposed amendment. All the hawala cases would be terminated but the cases against him, namely the JMM MPs bribery case, the St Kitts forgery case and the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case, would continue as usual. He did not want to be left alone in the dock. Hence the sabotage."

In the present day dog-eat-dog politics, anything is possible, isn't it?

Minister Amar Singh

Now, here is a scoop. New Delhi's most powerful fixer-turned-member of Parliament, Amar Singh is set to join the Deve Gowda government as an important minister. The expansion-cum-reshuffle of the Deve Gowda ministry may take place after the end of the current Parliament session.

Amar Singh, meanwhile, has undertaken an elaborate exercise to correct his public image, what with him arranging to be the chief guest at award-giving functions where a `friendly' press highlights his new-found identity as an industrialist and political leader.

The other day, he baulked at the description that, with Chandra Swami's career coming to an end, he was the new Amaraswamy in the making. "Call me anything but Amaraswamy," he protested. "Ten years hence, I don't want to be in jail."

Courtroom wit

Former attorney general G Ramaswamy may be known for many things, but his courtroom wit is par excellence. Last week, while arguing a case in the Supreme Court, the presiding judge cut him short mid-sentence. "Do you think we are fools that we do not understand what you have said?"

There was a slight pause before Ramaswamay replied, "Your lordship, that is the most difficult and unfair question I have been asked in all my years in court. If I say yes, I will be hauled for contempt of court. And if I say no, I shall be committing perjury."

Their lordships were remarkably appreciative. Amidst guffaws, the honourable judge volunteered, "Ramaswamy, you have got the better of us today..."

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