Virendra Kapoor

How devious can an Indian politician get? Plenty, if you go by the conduct of the self-appointed Mandal messiah, Vishwanath Pratap Singh.

Supposedly on sanyas from politics, Singh does very little these days than indulge in backroom string-pulling. Despite the open warning by CPI-M leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet to steer clear of the United Front, Singh continues to dabble in manoeuvring men and matters.

For a man who had become the prime minister riding the anti-Bofors wave, his public stand on the scam has shocked friends and foes alike. Singh now maintains that Sonia Gandhi was in no way involved in the scam. Only a couple of years ago he had shouted from the rooftops that her friend Ottavio Quattorochhi was a key suspect in the Swedish howitzer deal! And Singh it was who had promised to unravel the mystery of the Gandhi connection 'within seven days of my becoming prime minister!'

What is really shocking about Singh's behaviour is that while he issued a clean chit to Sonia on Bofors in public, in private he tried to persuade a leading Supreme Court lawyer to file a public interest petition seeking an injuction against her entry into politics. Singh wanted the lawyer to build the case against her on the ground that Quattorocchi and his wife Maria were Sonia's close friends.

Singh told the lawyer to argue that the Bofors bribes had been siphoned off to Sonia's Italian relatives. On his part, the lawyer said the petition at this stage would serve no purpose and that Sonia should be fought politically. Thus, the PIL was not filed, though it was not for want of trying.

Meanwhile, Singh has taken upon himself the task of persuading the Muslims to support the Congress. Leaders of the community are summoned daily to meet him in small groups and are told whom to vote for. Singh makes no bones about his disillusionment with the United Front. And argues that after the Congress apology on the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the denial of ticket to P V Narasimha Rao, the Muslims should forgive the Congress.

In any case, Singh argues, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav cannot stop the BJP from coming to power on his own. Only the Congress can check the BJP and therefore the Muslims must vote for it. Singh is exerting his influence with the Muslim community in order to have the All India Organisation of Moulvis and Imams issue a fatwa in the Congress's favour.

That Singh's private persona is at complete variance with his public image only goes to prove the Congress charge against him at the height of the Bofors campaign -- that he was 'a double-faced back-stabber.'

Rewards galore!

After months of dithering, the CBI has filed chargesheets against Star TV's chief executive in India Rathikant Basu, the owner of New Delhi television Prannoy Roy, and a couple of others for allegedly depriving Doordarshan of over Rs 30 million in a single year.

NDTV was the beneficiary of DD's generosity when it was headed by Basu. The man who had unearthed the details was Doordarshan's present Director-General K S Sarma.

But within a couple of days, Sarma found himself summarily transferred to the parent information and broadcasting ministry. The Basu-Roy duo held him responsible for their exposure although the case against them was based on the strictures passed by Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.

Surprisingly, Garish Avasthi, Doordarshan's new DG, too, was an accused in the case. The normal government practice is to suspend those charged in cases. In this case Sarma, the man who helped unravel the affair, was punished and Avasthi rewarded with a plum posting!

Regardless of the case against them, Basu and Roy duo wielded considerable influence in the Gujral government. Thus was it that the caretaker prime minister graced the function to launch Star TV's 24 hour news channel where the duo were the star organisers.

Thanks to Rupert Murdoch'smunificence, Basu has had no difficulty in getting star anchors on the channel. Incidentally, when Gujral became prime minister, it is said, Basu asked a leading newspaper columnist close to the PM to interview him. For a seven-minute interview the fee offered was US $ 2,000. But the columnist refused to bite the Basu bait. Since then Star has established close links with Gujral's garment-exporter son Naresh.

IIC vs Golf Links

A keen contest is on the cards in the prestigious New Delhi constituency where the BJP's Jagmohan faces Congressman R K Dhawan.

Having known each other for nearly thirty years, the candidates refrain from attacking each other in public, but the same does not apply to their followers. BJP workers are questioning the ownership of the house in the upmarket Golf Links area that Dhawan has occupied for over two decades.

"How can he live there?" they ask, "While Jagmohan has not made a penny dishonestly, Dhawan hasn't made one honestly!"

And then in a clear reference to the Thakkar Commission report, they add that 'no report has pointed any needle of suspicion at our candidate in any murder case.'

Dhawan's supporters are on the defensive about the Golf Links house, but have their own ammunition against the former Jammu and Kashmir governor.

"You must decide whether you are electing a member of the Lok Sabha or of the IIC," they tell the voters in an obvious reference to Jagmohan's regular habit of spending long hours at the India International Centre.

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