Virendra Kapoor

Chief Justice of India M M Punchhi's swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapathi Bhavan's ornate Ashoka Hall was an occasion for celebration for his extended tribe.

From far and near his relatives and friends had gathered to witness it. There were more Punjabi women in expensive chiffon sarees with liberal splashes of rouge on their chubby cheeks than one could count that morning. Probably the judge's family and friends were relieved that he got the coveted job despite the bruising controversy that had preceded his appointment.

In marked contrast to the low-key manner that earlier CJIs had chosen to celebrate their installation, day-long revelry were observed at the judge's home. His friends and relatives first partook in a sumptuous lunch in the spacious lawns of his official bungalow. And as the evening approached there was unadulterated Punjabi dholak and sangeet, with boisterous singing by the young and old in his family.

Earlier at the swearing-in, former prime minister Chandra Shekhar briskly walked into the Ashoka Hall to find everyone standing still as the sound system played the national anthem. He per force stopped midway till it was over. And as is his wont, H D Deve Gowda could not resist slumping in a chair to catch the ubiquitous forty winks in the midst of the brief ceremony.

Meanwhile, the rift in the legal community over Justice Punchhi's appointment is far from over. Senior advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association president Kapil Sibal, in a forgive-and-forget spirit, wanted to revoke the suspensions of the eminent lawyers who had opposed the CJI's appointment. But he was overruled by the majority.

Meanwhile, the reported decision of senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, who spearheaded the anti-Punchhi move, to contest as an independent against Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral in Jalandhar has drawn flak from colleagues at the bar. Most lawyers see Bhushan's decision as a symbolic protest against Justice Punchhi's appointment. Should he finally contest, there aren't many who give Bhushan a chance to save his security deposit.

Wheels within wheels

Did the Bharatiya Janata Party's all-India general secretary Venkaiah Naidu sabotage its alliance in Andhra Pradesh with Lakshmi Parvathi?

True, Parvathi suffered from delusions of grandeur despite her failure to win a single seat in the last parliamentary poll. She was completely unreasonable, staking claim to more seats than the BJP was ready to concede. But following the desertions of her close lieutenants to N Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party, Parvathi was in a mood to sign on the dotted line. But Venkaiah Naidu was no more interested.

Apparently after Sonia Gandhi's decision to campaign for the Congress, a leading Telugu newspaper baron was worried that a split in the anti- Congress vote would only help the Congress. Having single- handedly propped up the TDP leader in the latter's fight with Parvathi and her late husband, the tycoon used his influence with Venkaiah Naidu to stymie the Parvathi-BJP alliance. It was reasoned that the alliance at best would get the BJP one or two seats whereas, after the election, the TDP's much larger contingent in the Lok Sabha would be ready to prop up a BJP government in case Atal Bihari Vajpayee fell short of a majority.

Venkaiah Naidu bit the bait. On the other hand, the Congress was certain to lose quite a few seats by giving tickets to old Rajiv Gandhi faithfuls who had ceased to matter in state politics.

Managing the CBI

Remember the case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation against then shipping and transport minister Jagdish Tytler.

Besides Tytler, those charged included former Maharashtra chief secretary Dinesh Afzalpurkar and the alleged beneficiary of the scam, Kiran Choudhary.

The Bombay Port Trust had leased a prime piece of real estate it owned to Choudhary, Tytler's long-time companion, at dirt cheap rates. She, in turn, had rented out the same at a huge profit.

The accused, the CBI said, had entered into a criminal conspiracy to defraud the government. The case hit the headlines before the controversial R C Sharma became the CBI director. Since then Tytler and Choudhary are alleged to have 'managed' the CBI.

Choudhary, incidentally, is Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal's estranged daughter-in-law.

The criminal nexus

The Intelligence Bureau is worried at the increasing proximity of underworld elements in Bombay to Samajwadi Party chief and Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Some of these unsavoury characters are members of the SP's Bombay unit. Others fund the Raksha Mantri's party openly.

At least one of them was present at the iftaar party in Bombay last fortnight where the minister mingled with all and sundry. Sometime ago, the IB had brought transcripts of taped telephone conversations between a few SP 'activists' and their Big Boss now holed up in a West Asian country to Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta's notice.

Despite being livid at the revelation, Gupta was reluctant to take up the matter with his ministerial colleague.

Gill stymied

Come election time, and all manner of people are bitten by the political bug. The latest is the controversial Punjab ex-cop K P S Gill.

Gill, now the Indian Hockey Federation president, was keen on a BJP ticket for the Lok Sabha poll. One of his chamchas sought in vain to approach Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Spurned, Gill toyed with the idea of contesting the prestigious New Delhi seat as an Independent. But he soon gave that up when it dawned that the immense goodwill he had earned for restoring peace in Punjab may have been squandered by his bottom-pinching feat.

So Gill won't be an hon'ble member, after all.

Capital Buzz