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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Vaghela's midnight call

Shankarsinh Vaghela (left) was in Bombay early this month, ostensibly for a couple of public engagements. But his real purpose was to call on an ailing businessman and thank him for having provided the necessary wherewithal to fulfill Vaghela's ambition of becoming chief minister of Gujarat.

The controversial businessman is no enemy of the BJP. What had irked him was that Vaghela, his favourite candidate for ruling Gujarat, was bypassed by his favourite party in preference to men who were not particularly protective of his many interests in the state.

The industrialist, it is said, called BJP president L K Advani, during last year's Khajuraho escapade by the Vaghela group, to offer his services as a peacemaker. Advani spurned the offer disdainfully, but that resulted in Vaghela taking his revolt to its logical conclusion. Last month, the BJP renegade was sworn in as chief minister with the help of the Congress party.

The man who accompanied Vaghela to the businessman's home that night was Kashiram Rana. The former chief of the BJP's Gujarat unit is is still with the parent party. Though everyone knows where his sympathies lie, none in the BJP's central leadership is willing to take action against him. Such is the paralysis in the Hindutva party of late.

Mr Fixer '96

Who is the second most powerful man in the capital after Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda? Without doubt, Amar Singh, the recently- appointed general secretary of Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.

Indeed, in political circles, there are some who rate him even more powerful than Deve Gowda because of his uncanny ability to make the prime minister do his bidding.

It was Amar Singh who had the defence ministry bail out Amitabh Bachchan's (left) Miss World show by placing the facilities of the Indian Air Force and the army at the disposal of the controversial organisers.

Unmindful of the criticism that was bound to follow the commandeering of defence facilities for commercial exploitation by Bachchan, a not-so-clever ploy was devised whereby the Karnataka home minister wrote to the defence ministry which, in turn, promptly pulled out all stops to make the Bangalore-based IAF base and the army virtual co-hosts of the Miss World extravaganza.

The small contributions to the army and IAF welfare funds are unlikely to still the controversy resulting from the misuse of defence establishments for commercial ends.

Digging for gold

After Prannoy Roy took his programmes to Rupert Murdoch's Star TV and the state-owned Doordarshan promptly spiked his Tonight newscast, several producers have been wooing Information and Broadcasting Minister Chand Mahal Ibrahim. (right)

But Ibrahim has decided not to assign news programmes to private producers, even though he has been stringing them along. Such is his disdain for non-DD news programmes that should he have his way TV Today's Aaj Tak may soon be terminated.

The rationale behind the I&B ministry's decision cannot be faulted. DD has the largest network of correspondents in the country. None can match its infrastructural and technical facilities. What is lacking is a courageous leadership able to give DD staffers autonomy. Ibrahim is keen to prove that DD can create better news programmes than any private producer.

All this may be unexceptionable, but why does he then keep wannabe producers in suspense? Why doesn't he end their misery by announcing the ministry's decision? Or can the decision be changed depending on the pressures that can be brought to bear on him?

Self-praise at taxpayers's cost

Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan (left) has emerged as a true friend of the newspaper industry. No other minister in the Deve Gowda government has bought so much advertising space in recent months as Paswan has.

Whether it is to relaunch a particular railway line or to re-open for the nth time a rail bridge or to re-christen an old train, Paswan can be relied upon to issue the mandatory full page ad complete with his photograph along with the regulation mug shot of the prime minister in newspapers across the country.

Now it seems the Paswan bug has bitten some of his ministerial colleagues too. Federal Minister of State for Petroleum T R Balu was at odds with the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity when he insisted that a photograph of Deve Gowda be inserted in an advertisement announcing the inauguration of the third phase of the Hazira gas processing complex in Gujarat.

Balu was to inaugurate the complex. Gujarat Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela was to preside over the function. DAVP officials pointed out it was not its practice to carry the PM's photograph in such ads. Balu not only insisted the DAVP do so, but to ingratiate himself with Deve Gowda, he asked for a message from the premier for the inaugural function. Then he insisted that the ads be released to newspapers in his home state, Tamil Nadu. The DAVP had only budgeted for releasing the ads in the Gujarat-based press.

Racketeering as usual

What goes on in the Central Bureau of Investigation needs to be watched carefully as the country's apex investigative agency probes the more sordid doings of the high and mighty.

Satish Sharma (right) is one of the accused in the JMM bribes-for-vote case. The CBI raided his homes in Delhi and Mussoorie last month in connection with the case. Assets far in excess of his known sources of income were found by the agency. Now a notorious liaison man close to the United Front government is exerting considerable influence to save Sharma's skin. He interceded on Sharma's behalf with a senior CBI official. The two were closeted together in the latter's home for over an hour recently.

The income tax authorities are yet to move against Sharma for possessing assets far in excess of his known sources of income.

Incidentally, this liaison man had earlier brokered a deal between Sharma and Mulayam Singh Yadav whose Samajwadi Party did not field a candidate against the then petroleum minister in Amethi in the 1996 general election.

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