Virendra Kapoor

When bureaucrats court publicity, trouble ensues.

In the past, we have had worthies like policewoman Kiran Bedi and middle-level IAS officer K J Alphons thumbing their nose at superiors and violating regulations.

Now it is controversial IAS officer M K Bezbaruah who has fallen to the media's seduction.

Admittedly a man of great integrity, this senior bureaucrat, now at the centre of a bruising spat between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his reluctant ally, J Jayalalitha, came to see himself larger than life once he found himself heading the Enforcement Directorate. The arrest of several bigwigs, including former ITC chairman K L Chugh and former minister Krishna Kumar and his wife Usha, was a heady experience for him.

But what really turned Bezbaruah's head was his deification in a section of press after the aborted ED raid early last year on newspaper baron Ashok Jain. The consequence was that the ED began to leak like a sieve, feeding sensitive, often raw and unchecked, information to journalists who daily sang hallelujahs to Bezbaruah. The courts further added to the weight of the chip on the ED director's shoulder when they virtually barred the executive to transfer him in the normal course.

But nemesis soon caught up with Bezbaruah, when in a shocking display of insensitivity to his political masters, the ED launched investigations into alleged hawala transactions of two Union ministers. There was insufficient material even to initiate preliminary inquiries against Urban Welfare Minister Ram Jethmalani and Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, but this did not deter the ED from making a huge dossier on the duo. Naturally, when word reached Jethmalani and Hegde they were livid with rage. The fact that Jayalalitha was baying for Bezbaruah's head helped to persuade the PM to transfer him at long last.

His transfer has pleased a lot, among them Ashok Jain who can now sleep easy.

Meanwhile, here is another side to the Bezbaruah story.

Insiders say the man would still have been heading the ED if it was not for his deputy, a chap called Ashok Aggarwal. According to them, Bezbaruah pleads innocent to the action against Hegde and Jethamalini -- but for which he would have ruled happily ever after. He insists that Aggarwal, an income tax officer on deputation to the ED, did the mischief. He had attracted Bezbaruah's ire, but despite several complaints, then revenue secretary N K Singh shielded Aggarwal.

The grapevine claims Aggarwal is running a fictitious business in his wife's name. And her business partner is none other than the wife of an important aide of Sonia Gandhi. Aggarwal's efforts to foist fictitious cases against Jethmalani and Hegde, the grapevine says, was to ensure the transfer of his difficult though upright boss.

Besides the Bezbaruah transfer, the other most crucial appointment last week was that of the affable and reform-friendly Vijay Kelkar as Union finance secretary in place of Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Kelkar did not have any inkling about the prestigious assignment when the orders were finally issued. For some months now, he was being wasted in a sidey job as chairman of the Tariff Commission. Kelkar was no one's candidate in particular. He got the job on merit.

Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and the BJP's swadeshi lobby had conveyed to the prime minister their preference for Y Venugopal Reddy, a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India. What sealed Reddy's fate was his statement last year at a public function that the "rupee is over-valued." Scary headlines based on his remarks had then led to a run on the rupee that to this day the government has not been able to contain.

Kelkar, on the other hand, was considered a picture of circumspection and quiet competence.

Meanwhile, the initial plan was to post Ahluwalia in Brussels as head of the Indian mission to the European Commission. But Ahluwalia demurred. Hurriedly, a place was found for him in the Planning Commission. Now, as a full member of the Commission, he would enjoy the perks and pay of a minister of state to the Government of India.

Incidentally, Ahluwalia, finance secretary for a record seven years, still aspires to be RBI governor. Considering that he is relatively young, he may yet achieve his ambition.

Every year on September 15, Dravida parties vie with one another to celebrate the birthday of their late founder C N Annadurai. This year is no exception. However, the inter-party disputes within the AIADMK-led front in Tamil Nadu have led to a strange situation.

It turns out that Vaiko, leader of the MDMK, a constitutent of the AIADMK front, stole the march over Jayalalitha in inviting the prime minister to speak at a public rally on Anna's birthday on the Marina beach in Madras.

The lady, naturally, is hopping mad.

She couldn't invite Vajpayee as she was in a public war of words with him. But she is peeved that Vaiko upstaged her by inviting not only Vajpayee but also L K Advani, Mamta Banerjee and other bigwigs of the BJP-led front. What has further added to her ire is that the advertisements of the rally do not describe her present and past status as the general secretary of the AIADMK and former chief minister!

Small wonder, then, that Amma is burning bright with Vaiko, who, incidentally, is showing signs of revolt.

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