Virendra Kapoor

Surprising, but for once Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana had done his homework well. And that helped him get the better of the Opposition, notably the Congress.

The issue was the extension of Parliament session. The government was all to let it drag a little, just as much as the Opposition was dead set not to. The latter felt it was not obliged to sit beyond the stipulated date of closure -- if the government had unfinished business, well, that was its problem.

And so, a stalemate.

Which was when Khurana used his trump card. He took a couple of senior Congress leaders into confidence about the findings of the Jain Commission inquiry into Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Since these reportedly contained an adverse remark or two about the Sri Lankan government, Khurana argued, it would be highly improper to make the report public... Especially when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was out there in Colombo, wooing Sri Lankan Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga (as also Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharief) at the SAARC summit.

The earlier plan was to release the Jain Commission report on July 30 for discussion a day later. However, Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha Sharad Pawar walked into Khurana's trap when he protested that this would hardly give members time to read the report before the debate.

In that case, Khurana promptly suggested, Pawar should have no objection to the extension of the House till August 5? That would give the Congress members enough time to study the report before debating it!

Pawar felt cornered even though everyone knew the Congress leaders were not enthusiastic about the Jain report any more. But he could not have suggested that the release of the report be put off till the next session without opening himself to the charge that he was unconcerned about the inquiry into Rajiv Gandhi's killing.

Meanwhile, Khurana having got the nod from Pawar, pushed the government's own agenda for transaction in the extended period of Parliament.

Laloo's barb strikes home

Senior BJP MP Rita Verma wasn't the party's first choice for deputy speakership in the Lok Sabha. The party leadership had offered the post to former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar. But Kumar declined, expressing his preference for a membership in the Vajpayee ministry.

It was only after Laloo Prasad Yadav accused the BJP leadership during the raucous scenes in the House over the aborted introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill that the party zeroed in on Verma.

Questioning the BJP's protestations about being pro-women, Laloo said, " If you were truly for women, why didn't you make that nice lady from Bihar, Rita Verma, a minister in your Cabinet?"

Well, thanks to Laloo's barb, if not a minister, Verma, the third-time MP from Dhanbad, in all likelihood will be the first woman deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Sparse rally, spare footwear

More than the people, it was the Congress leaders who displayed real enthusiasm for the first public rally addressed by party president Sonia Gandhi after the lost, er, last general election. Despite the tall claims by the party's spin doctors, the attendance did not exceed a modest 30,000. The police figure is even lower.

However, Congress leaders were present in good strength. Much to the chagrin of the most ambitious leaders -- Arjun Singh, Sitaram Kesri, Rajesh Pilot et al -- only Shiela Dixit,, in her capacity as the Delhi Congress chief, and Sharad Pawar was seated on the dais along with Sonia. Pawar being accorded the pride of place must have rankled Arjun Singh the most.

When Chandresh Kumari, a Congress MP from Himachal Pradesh, lost one of her chappals in the melee, Sonia Gandhi, on her way to Rashtrapati Bhavan, promptly asked an aide to give her one of the spare pair of sandals she had brought along with her.

Hey, but why was Sonia carrying spare footwear? Well, it seems the Special Protection Group has, as a matter of routine, cautioned the VVIPs to keep extra footwear ever since Rajiv Gandhi found his chappals missing at one of his rallies in the capital.

Sonia had come armed with not one but two sets of spare footwear. Walking the four kilometres to Rashtrapati Bhavan one of the straps of her sandals gave way. She dashed into her car to change her sandals. Unfortunately, there was no Rashtrapati to receive her memorandum -- K R Narayanan was away in Bangalore on a prior engagement. Sonia had to content herself with handing the paper over to a junior official there.

DBV's gain, DDA's loss

Last week this column mentioned how the BJP leadership in Delhi and at the Centre was hopping mad with Delhi Vidyut Board Chairman Navin Chawla for the messy power situation in Delhi.

Well, it seems, Chawla -- the Prince of Darkness for most Delhi-ites -- is finally being eased out of the DVB. But wait a while... he is not being sent on some punishment assignment. Far from it.

He is now being rewarded with a more coveted job. As the vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority!

DDA, as the sole authority for the acquisition of land and its planning and development, plays a pivotal role in the capital's growth. While the rest of the BJP leadership is unhappy with Chawla, Union Minister for Urban Development Ram Jethmalani is determined to hand DDA to him. Apparently, Chawla is quite friendly with Ram's lawyer daughter, Rani. As such, the way Ram has allowed his controversial special assistant K J Alphons to run the ministry for him is a sore point with most Delhi government officials.

The Joshi-Uma tiff

The saffron sanyasin, Uma Bharati, is angry. At senior Minister for Human Resource Development Murli Manohar Joshi.

Sources close to her maintain that initially Dr Joshi did not have his heart in the HRD ministry and had therefore allowed her a free hand. But recently when he realised that she was beginning to enjoy her work, he virtually cut her out. The upshot was that Bharati walked out of the ministry in a huff and now refuses to work as Dr Joshi's number two.

Bharati had been absent from Parliament following her turf war. She is now waiting the Cabinet reshuffle in order to free herself from what one of her aides said was "Joshiji's petty-mindedness."

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