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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Past imperfect, future uncertain

By now everyone knows that H D Deve Gowda paid the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh a glowing tribute. Only minutes before he announced his resignation on the floor of the House, Prime Minister A B Vajpayee set the cat among the United Front pigeons by quoting from Deve Gowda's speech at a function in Bangalore to mark the 20th anniversary of the imposition of the Emergency.

Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Kishinchand Advani was on the dais when Deve Gowda declaimed that the 'RSS is a spotless organisation... in my long political career I have never said a word against RSS...'

But who gave the BJP leader the incriminating material?

Ramakrishna Hegde, Deve Gowda's old rival, was one suspect in Janata Dal circles. Some believed intelligence agencies helped the Vajpayee government show up Deve Gowda in bad light. But the truth is rather mundane.

It seems a newly-elected BJP MP mentioned to Dhananjay Kumar, civil aviation minister in the Vajpayee government, that he had heard Deve Gowda pay fulsome tribute to the RSS at the Bangalore function. This was on Monday, the first day of the two-day debate on the confidence motion. Kumar mentioned this to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan.

The MP was dispatched post haste to Bangalore the same evening and asked to return the next morning in time for Vajpayee's reply to the debate on the trust motion. Vajpayee almost forgot to mention Deve Gowda's clean bill of health to the RSS till a few moments before he wound up his virtuoso performance. It was Mahajan who reminded him to do so.

Quirky V P Singh

Former prime minister V P Singh is once again the darling of the media. No more does the upper crust media revile him the way it did immediately in the wake of the anti-Mandal self-immolation cases. Singh is at his endearing best with scribes. The other day a group of journos noticed a battered Padmini car parked at Singh's house. About 20 years old, the car has not been used for some years.

A curious journalist asked the raja why he didn't discard it. Singh said he was thinking of entering the car in an automobile rally after doing up the engine. He also talked of painting the car. But when he led the scribes to the car and wanted to open its door, the Special Protection Group barred his way.

Unless they first vetted the insides of the abandoned vehicle, he couldn't go near it, the SPG staff said. Singh was miffed and cribbed about the "needless restrictions on my life by the SPG. I am their prisoner."
A crown of thorns

That it will never be smooth sailing for H D Deve Gowda as head of the United Front requires no soothsayer to predict. The octogenarian Biju Patnaik's tantrums are already known. But Ramakrishna Hegde, Deve Gowda's old foe from Karnataka, is not making the premier's life easier either.

Hegde was quick to fuel resentment in the 16-member Janata Dal Lok Sabha squad from the state that none among them had been inducted in the ministry. He told the MPs at a dinner in Bangalore that both S R Bommai and C M Ibrahim were members of the Rajya Sabha. Worse, Bommai was elected from Orissa.

The mandate of the people of Karnataka, Hedge said, had been ignored, and promised to issue a statement to this effect the next day. When he heard of Hegde's move, Deve Gowda despatched Ibrahim to persuade the old troublemaker to hold his fire.

Ibrahim assured Hegde that two JD MPs from the state would be made ministers of state in the next expansion of the Deve Gowda ministry. Hegde shrewdly realised that whoever became a minister, even he was a Deve Gowda follower, would be grateful to him.

Gujral's patrons

I K Gujral was not sure about being inducted in the Deve Gowda ministry till half an hour or so before its swearing in. After all, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is not exactly enamoured of chhoti dhaddiwala Gujral.

Gujral and Yadav had veered away from each other once the former was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a JD ticket from Bihar in 1992. It was a 'cultural clash,' according to one Gujral friend.

Yadav didn't want Gujral in the ministry, but V P Singh's intervention made Laloo see reason. "Tell me who else can hold the foreign portfolio among JD MPs? Where do we have members who can deal with sensitive matters and foreign heads of state?" Singh is said to have asked Laloo. CPI-M General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet too pleaded Gujral's cause. Yadav relented, just in the nick of time.

Innocent,. but out

Sharad Yadav had set his heart on becoming a senior minister in the Deve Gowda government. He was fully supported in his bid by Laloo Prasad Yadav. Deve Gowda had no objection either. But the CPI-M and CPI were unwilling to go along.

The two Yadavs kept harping on the 'one is innocent unless convicted' principle. Laloo quoted one or two constitutional experts to buttress Sharad Yadav's case, but to no avail.

"If that was the case, why did you resign from the last Parliament after it was known that you figured in the hawala diary?" asked an angry Leftist leader. Yadav was stumped for a reply, but remains irreconciled to his exclusion from the ministry.

A new mask

Only a day before he was made general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh, a director on the Hindustan Times board, was defending himself against the charge of being a power broker in the Deve Gowda government.

In an on-the-record interview, Singh said "people do not call industrialist Sanjay Dalmia and film star Raj Babbar power brokers because Mulayam Singh made them members of Parliament. But I am a broker because I am not an MP. Tomorrow I will become a general secretary of the SP and after the UP elections a member of the Rajya Sabha. Then you will stop calling me a power broker."'

Whether or not that constituted his defence, he had condemned Dalmia and Babbar as power brokers!

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