Virendra Kapoor

Once upon a time, there lived a defence minister in the country of Indians. He was wise, he was shrewd, and, to top it, had big, hard biceps, the size of Kerala coconuts.

So big, so hard that he, from the land of Marathas, was suitably nicknamed the Maratha Strongman.

Months passed, Strongman did his business religiously till 1996, in the process signing a US $ 35.44 million deal with the Yugoslavians for purchasing 150 tank fire control systems.

Months passed, the Yugoslavians came for money. And Strongman paid them US $10.63 million as advance dough.

Months passed, Ma India kept on waiting for the stuff which Strongman chased, but nary a pin arrived from Yugoslavia.

Months passed, they suddenly became years, and one fine morning Strongman found himself outside the defence ministry, jobless. An upstart called Pramod Mahajan had stolen his job.

Months passed, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who found the Yugoslavian deal quite to his unliking and had launched a snoop into it, surfaced with a file which he titled 'Questionable Deal in the Ministry of Defence'. He marked it 'Top Secret', 'For Your Eyes Only' etc etc and zipped it across to Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, in September 1996.

Months passed, but Mulayam, friendly Mulayam, for reasons obvious (like, he was in power 'cos of Strongman and gang, right?), preferred the file to his chair. He kept sitting on it.

Months passed, they painfully dragged onto to an year, Strongman became leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and one fine morning Mulayam, friendly Mulayam, found himself outside the defence ministry, jobless.

A chap named George Fernandes has now come as defence boss -- and folks who know him say he prefers sitting on his chair than on files...

Defence sources feel the advance dough has gone with the Yugoslavian wind. Strongman, apparently, had failed to 'take note' of the 'troubled conditions' in that country when he put his signature on paper.

So whatever is going to happen to Strongman? Will the central bureau of hounds be called in? Or will he be just let off with some chewing-up in Parliament?

Something tells us that George would prefer to whistle for the hounds...

A house for Mr Nayar

Veteran journalist and once-Indian high commissioner to London Kuldip Nayar has no house to call his own.

Er, amending that a bit, Nayar doth have a house of his own, but not one that suits his newfound status of Rajya Sabha member. In other words, though he was nominated to the Upper House some two months ago, the authorities are yet to allot him a house.

And, let's tell you, it is not because Nayar has not been pursuing the matter. He has been pretty enthusisastic about it, badgering the Rajya Sabha housing committee chairman at regular intervals. Twice, the official came up with options. But, unfortunately, nothing quite worked out.

An outgoing RS member, bound to vacate the mansion he was living in, flatly refused -- he was not moving out, MP or no MP. On another occassion, Nayar found the house being offered much below his entitlement. As a former high commissioner, he is entitled to a spacious bungalow as in the case of former Cabinet ministers.

But last week, when he finally zeroed in on the right house, was the ultimate insult -- he was diddled out of it by Shabana Azmi.

The housing committee, it appears, had promised Nayar Margaret Alva's house. The lady, since her RS term was ending next week, and since she had lost the Lok Sabha election, had no way to cling on to her Ashoka Road bungalow.

"Take it," officials had told Nayar, "It's yours! All you have to do is put in a requisition."

Nayar went home happily, took out his pen, and went about the business of filling in the needed forms. Next day, he was back in the housing chairman's office, requisition ready, ready to receive the chaavi, if the worthy official deemed it fit to hand it over.

Then was when the chairman broke Nayar's brave heart.

"Sorry, I cannot allot you that house," he said, "That has been given to Shabana Azmi."

Nayar was shocked, but there was little he could do than resume his search for a house...

By the rule, Azmi is not entitled to a large bungalow. As a first time MP, she ought to get but only a flat in the Vithalbhai Patel House or in North or South Avenue.

Meanwhile, Nayar, poor Nayar, is out on the streets, house-hunting!

The spat


All is not well in The Times of India. Again.

Big sigh!

Editorial Adviser H K Dua was the victim of a midnight coup last Thursday when Ramesh Chandra's name was slipped in the print-line as its new managing editor. An old retainer of the Jains (the owners), Chandra's name appears ahead of Dua's. Though in his late sixties, Chandra has never worked for any English publication, ever!

"The Jains," insiders whisper, "want Dua out."

But Dua is in no mood to oblige. He has written a long letter protesting Chandra's intrusion, and chronicled repeated efforts of the management to use his services for extra-journalistic purposes. Pointedly, he cited his refusal to intercede to save Ashok Jain from the law as the real reason for the management's ire.

The management, for its part, has another tale to tell. "Dua is spoiling for a fight because he wants money," sources say, "He is aiming for a handsome severance package."

Dua, incidentally, had got close to Rs 2 million less than two years ago, for quitting his last job as chief editor of the Indian Express.

Meanwhile, former editor Dileep Padgaonkar, re-inducted into the TOI as corporate director, is watching the spat keenly.

Like TADA, like ordinance

Prasar Bharati CEO S S Gill is desperate. To fend off his dimissal by the Bharatiya Janata Party government.

Gill's worry is, what happens when the ordinance which enabled his appointment lapses later this month? Will he be out on his, er, back?

A certain lawyer has come into the picture now. He says Gill can hold on to his job, since at the time of his appointment the ordinance was the operative law. The lapse of the ordinance would have prospective, not retrospective, effect.

"With the repeal of the TADA," the lawyer points out, "not all prisoners held under it were liable to be released."

Now that's is a clever point, isn't it?

Club politics and Cabsec

Like all times, the annual election to the governing body of the Gymkhana Club, the watering hole of the capital's babdudom, was keenly contested this year too. And with it came much animosity and bitterness.

Prabhat Kumar, an IAS officer of the 1963 UP cadre, was trounced by a group led by Vice-Admiral Subimal Jain. Jain was elected president while several others on his panel were put on the managing committee.

A few weeks later, the excise department raided the club. It ordered the bar shut, and slapped a fine on it.

All of which was ascribed to the bitterness developed by the election.

However, now that Kumar is the Union Cabinet secretary, the incumbent club management is seeking to end the lingering hostility. Jain was quick to dash off a congratulatory letter to Kumar. To spread the good cheer all around, copies of the letter have been made available to all members..!

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