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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Rao still on Rex

The Rex (restricted exchange) phone is a hot line connecting central ministers, secretaries to the government of India and a handful of other top functionaries. Its allotment is a matter of discretion. But former prime minister Narasimha Rao continues to enjoy this privilege, even though he is not entitled to it, thanks to Prime Minister Deve Gowda's (left) felt need to keep the Congress boss in good humour.

The Rex phone at Rao's residence, 9 Motilal Nehru Marg, is functional. The ostensible reason is that it is meant for the assistant director of the special protection group. The truth, however, is that Rao uses it whenever he needs to contact Gowda or others in the government.

Last week, Rao asked Gowda to ensure that his private secretary, R Khandekar, was given access to confidential documents in the ministry of external affairs. Rao wanted to buttress his defence by proving that he was not in New York on the day Lakhubhai Pathak, who has filed a case of cheating against Rao, said he met him there with conman Chandra Swami. After going through the records, Rao's counsel asserted in the Delhi high court that Rao was not in New York on the said day.

Security to Rao's rescue

A little drama was played out behind the scenes in the Delhi high court last Tuesday, unknown to most people curious about the fate of Narasimha Rao (left) in the cheating case.

Minutes before Justice S K Mahajan granted Rao exemption from personal appearance in the following day's proceedings before the chief judicial magistrate at Tees Hazari, senior Delhi police officials approached the registrar of the high court with an unusual request. The police pleaded their inability to ensure protection to the former prime minister, should he be constrained to make an appearance at the Tees Hazari court. They wanted to know if the high court would, therefore, be kind enough to direct the chief metropolitan magistrate to shift the venue of his court somewhere else, say a room in the Delhi high court building itself.

No one in the high court knew how to handle this extraordinary oral plea and, yet, no one wanted to ignore it either for obvious reasons. But there was no question of the Tees Hazari court shifting its venue. Nor was there a room to spare in the high court building.

Informal consultations eventually resolved the ticklish problem. Rao was, after all, exempted from putting in a personal appearance at the Tees Hazari Court. If his lawyer Kapil Sibal did not succeed in getting him that exemption, at least the Delhi police did.

Signs of senility

Dissident Congress leader, K Karunakaran (right) is so taken up with his mission to oust Narasimha Rao as party president that, every time he meets an MP in central hall of Parliament, he pushes a paper under his nose seeking the latter's signature. The paper is a memorandum he has drafted seeking Rao's removal. But Karunakaran, in his zeal, often approaches MPs belonging to the Tamil Maanila Congress who are no longer with the parent Congress.

A messenger in the Rajya Sabha secretariat went to Karunakaran in the central hall to inform him that his peon had brought his medicine, which the former Kerala chief minister is supposed to take daily at 12.30 pm. The naturopathic medicine is brought in a flask, but Karunakaran was so absent-minded that he forgot all about it. And, instead, insisted that the messenger who had come to call him should sign the memorandum. "I will not take no for an answer. First sign here," he told the bewildered messenger.

It took two other MPs some effort to convince Karunakaran that the man whose signature he insisted on procuring was not an MP at all.

A miffed President

Relations between President S D Sharma (left) and the United Front leaders began on a sour note, what with furious Janata Dal MPs throwing all sense of decorum to the winds and hurling accusations at the head of state because he invited BJP leader A B Vajpayee to form the government.

The installation of the UF government has failed to lend warmth to the relationship. In fact, there has been a further cooling of relations between Sharma and the Deve Gowda government. Sharma was keen on an official visit to a couple of European countries last May but, due to the Lok Sabha election and its uncertain aftermath, he had to put it off. He was then assured that he could make the trip at the end of August or the beginning of September.

But, once again, the Gowda government has had second thoughts on the ideal time for the President's visit abroad. Now, it wants him to schedule his visit for late September or early October. External Affairs Minister I K Gujral (right) was supposed to meet the President last Monday (June 22). Much to the President's annoyance, Gujral's office cancelled the appointment because he had not yet returned from Jakarta.

Caste games in UP

All eyes are on Communications Minister Beni Prasad Verma (left). Elected on Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party ticket from Uttar Pradesh, Verma wields considerable influence among a section of the caste-ridden UP electorate. There are people who feel that if he is somehow weaned away from Mulayam Singh Yadav, the SP would be reduced to being a mere MY (Muslim and Yadav) party, as the other backward castes would desert it en masse.

The Janata Dal is keen for him to lead it in Uttar Pradesh. Verma had had at least two nocturnal meetings with the JD working president Sharad Yadav in recent days. The BJP, too, wouldn't be adverse to the idea of having him should he agree to be a deputy to Kalyan Singh.

So far Verma has only spurned the overtures of the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Kanshi Ram, who had sent feelers to him to join the BSP-Congress combine and become number two to chief minister-designate Mayawati. But he still has his other options open.

Money matters

Journalists are a cynical lot. Rarely, if ever, does anyone escape their acidic wit.

On the day of the annual budget, as Doordarshan and Star Plus discussed the pros and cons of P Chidamabaram's (right) maiden offering, scores of scribes huddled close to the television in press club. Two prominent editors of financial dailies were making their presence felt on the small box, dissecting the finer points of the budget. But, as usual, the editor of a third - which also happens to be the oldest financial daily - was nowhere in sight.

A friendly scribe queried the missing editor's senior colleague about this lapse on the part of his boss. The retort was quick and blunt: "Your editors can discuss money but our editor believes in making money!"

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