Virendra Kapoor

Atal Bihari Vajpayee has a sadhu to thank for the extra-attention which the Special Protection Group has been showering him since last week. And boy, is he mad at the godman!

It seems the said sadhu went to Vajpayee's Safadarjung Road bungalow wanting to apply vermilion on his forehead.

"It will ensure a grand victory for Atalji and the BJP," he told partymen.

Atalji's forehead, however, was not available for the sadhu's ministration -- it was far away in campaign land with the leader himself.

No trouble, the sadhu assured, make sure the vermilion reaches him and he applies it. He presented the BJP-men a liberal helping of the stuff, and pushed off.

An examination of the vermilion by the SPG revealed it was mixed with deadly poison. Which is why the SPG is now clucking around Atalji so much.

Of idiots, idiot box and politicians

To them whom it likes, it is nice and motherly, it protects, it cherishes. But to them whom it doesn't like, it is cruel and merciless, it destroys, it demolishes.

Nope, folks, rest assured the writer isn't on a literary binge. What he is trying to get across is this particular quality of the idiot box which, till the election was declared, had remained rather obscure.

To wit, how the darned thing is making celebrities of certain politicians and idiots of certain others!

R K Dhawan, the Congress hope for New Delhi constituency, it proved in a televised debate the other day, belongs to the latter group. He made the mistake of rating himself a sharp and uncommonly intelligent talker, and found himself ramming both his feet in his mouth.

In complete contrast was the sharp and suave Arun Jaitley, who ran marathons around the hard-breathing, hard-headed Congressman. Short of physically belabouring Jaitley, who represented the BJP, Dhawan did everything to stop him. But Jaitley, with a word here and another there, rose himself to celebrity status, leaving the poor Congressman floundering way, way below!

And all this while Jagmohan, the BJP's answer to Dhawan, chuckled away merrily in the background!

Film star Raj Babbar, too, appearing for the Samajwadi Party on the same show, acquitted himself unworthy of his fans. Instead of offering cogent reasoning about his party's philosophy, the ex-star mouthed inane dialogues which, from the look on his face, was as much beyond him as the crowd he was talking to.

For sure, the television channels are chasing the same set of politicians for election-related talk shows. But no channel is unduly keen to invite Congress president Sitaram Kesri to do the honours for his party. As for Sonia Gandhi, well, forget it -- Madam has a long way to go before she graduates from reading scripts to debating real issues!

Politicians, meanwhile, understanding the boomerang-effect of the television, are playing it careful. They consider the rival-guests on the show before committing themselves.

The other day Congress MP Ajit Jogi let down a satellite channel at the very last minute. He was angry that instead of K R Malkani of the BJP the channel had produced Jaitley. Sensing a losing battle of wits, Jogi shouted off even as Jaitley sat in the studio with make-up on his face and the mandatory pair of expensive pens in his coat pocket!

Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh was another one to play truant. When he learnt he would have to match wits with two rather aggressive panelists, including veteran jounrnalist Kewal Verma, Singh said nothing doing.

"Arrey bhai yeh log mera kachoombar nikal denege! (These people will make cucumber of me)," he said.

Would he mind sending somebody else, then? Singh, unfortunately, did -- he didn't want his party to 'come out badly'!

Clearing agent

Chief Election Commissioner Dr M S Gill is a man of strong belief -- that the Model Code of Conduct is meant for them-politicians, not for him-the-CEC.

That, folks, is another way saying that the all important cog in the electoral machine is pressing hard for the conversion of a small stretch of metre gauge rail to broad gauge. The place is, of course, his village in Punjab. And he wants the project to be implemented before March 31, the end of the financial year.

The Railway Board, for its part, pleaded its inability, citing the Model Code.

"That's for politicians," Gill countered, "And I am not one!"

Well, the long and short of it is that the file concerned has been cleared and there will be another stretch of broad gauge in Punjab very shortly.

Dr Gill's anxiety to push through the project is understandable since it is only now, in the run-up to the poll, that he is the master of ceremonies. After the election, politicians would take over while he would have to blend into the background.

Another Tytler lafda

Former minster of state for shipping and transport Jagdish Tytler, is in more trouble. Regarding the sale of a Shipping Corporation of India vessel, the Vishva Madhuri, to a private party for Rs 34.1 million.

That would have been all right in itself, but the trouble is the ship had just been repaired for Rs 81.2 million! Worse, Tytler, being the considerate man he is, also provided spares worth Rs 20 million with the ship!

The Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into the matter...


Folks, we are sad. Downright depressed, about a certain gentleman in the Prime Minister's Office named N N Vohra.

Vohra, we believed till very recently, was clean and correct -- the ideal man to be the prime minister's principal secretary, a job he was holding anyway.

But a few weeks ago, the man went and made us sad, he did the undoable: he short-circuited established procedures to favour close relatives!

His brother-in-law M P Khanna and the latter's wife Jyotsana are senior Punjab cadre IAS officers. Both had failed to be impanelled for promotion to the additional secretary's rank. But a fortnight ago, Vohra saw to it that Khanna became a full secretary.

"He found a new slot for Khanna," said a source, "as the secretary (WRO) in the commerce ministry!"

Jyotsana, too, our source revealed, found herself made a secretary one fine morning. However, probably to soften the shock to her hierarchy-conscious colleagues, she is yet to be given a plum posting.

Very disappointing of Vohra, don't you think?

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