Virendra Kapoor

The euphoria generated by Yashwant Sinha's maiden Budget is beginning to die down. But what led him to present such an inflationary Budget which does nothing to address the fundamental problems facing the national economy?

Well, if BJP sources are to be believed, it is a certain gentleman, a controversial chartered accountant claiming proximity to Union Home Minister L K Advani and the RSS, who was behind it.

The said man was not long ago embroiled in the bank-stock scam, has campaigned against a controversial industrial house for the out-of-turn concessions it had allegedly wangled from successive central governments, and, aided by a minor RSS scribe, is now interfering in official appointments...

Now, now... whoever could this man be?

Back from the brink

The night before the Lok Sabha passed the Railway Budget, there was panic in the ruling BJP circles. Senior leaders were worried stiff about AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha's next move.

On two successive days her men in Parliament staged a walk-out from the Lok Sabha, protesting against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's failure to dismiss the M Karunanidhi government in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha herself had sent a missive to Vajpayee complaining against 'harassment" by the DMK government. She blamed the Centre for failing to protect her from the "campaign of vilification" which Karunanidhi had supposedly launched.

Amma's fax message, coupled with dire signals from intelligence sources, kept the BJP leaders on tenterhooks throughout the night. The buzz was that Jayalalitha's emissary had stitched up a deal with the Congress, which was now ready to pull down the BJP-led government. The United Front too was eager to back a Congress-led government, although the Communists wanted prior knowledge about the prime ministerial candidate.

Strangely, even as Vajpayee took upon himself the task of placating Jayalalitha -- the two had a long telephonic conversation -- the Congress leadership developed cold feet. Sonia Gandhi was persuaded that a Congress-led coalition too would be hostage to Jaya's tantrums.

More importantly, it dawned on the Congress leadership that the timing of the coup was flawed. Since the Congress had helped bring the Ram temple issue to centrestage yet again, the BJP would go to town claiming that it sacrificed power due to its commitment to build a grand temple in Ayodhya! Various off-shoots of the Hindutva Parivar were buoyed by the Congress charge that it was surreptitiously pre-fabricating the temple blocks in Ayodhya and a couple of other places in Rajasthan.

In double quick time, the Congress abandoned the move to force an adjournment motion on the temple issue in Parliament. It also resiled from its earlier stand to pull down the Vajpayee government with Jayalalitha's help!

A chastened Jayalalitha has now agreed to be on her best behaviour for some time. The AIADMK MPs believe that Vajpayee has assured her that he would dismiss the Karunanidhi government at the end of the Budget session. Since the government would do no such thing even at the end of the session, it is a safe bet that the imperious empress of Poes Garden would resume her hostilities in July when the current session is scheduled to end.


Jayalalitha, incidentally, is not the only one baying for arch enemy's blood. The leader of the Haryana Lok Dal, Om Parkash Chauthala, has been quietly tightening the screws on Vajpayee for getting the Bansi Lal government sacked.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had brokered the post-election deal between the BJP and Chauthala whereby in return for the support of HLD's four Lok Sabha MPs, the Vajpayee government was expected to dismiss Bansi Lal. (Chauthala had also vetoed the inclusion of Bansi Lal's son, Surinder Singh, a Lok Sabha member, in the Vajpayee government.) But the prime minister shows no such inclination. What has further angered Chauthala is the fact that BJP ministers have not withdrawn from the Bansi Lal-led Haryana Vikas Party coalition.

Immediately after the Pokhran tests when everyone rushed to congratulate the PM, the Akali Dal leaders maintained a stiff upper lip. Badal did not mince words in conveying his unhappiness at the failure of the BJP leaders to deliver on their promise.

"After all, it is a matter of honour for me. I arranged the support of Chauthala's MPs for Vajpayee... now I am unable to face him because the government has gone back on its assurance," he recently told a senior BJP leader who has been liasing with him on behalf of the party.

Nandu the profligate

Public servants are expected to fly around in national carriers as far as possible. But Union Revenue Secretary N K Singh isn't bothered about such niggardly government directives.

Singh, who is part of the Indian delegation to the UN conference on narcotics now underway in New York, insisted on flying British Airways whereas the rest of the delegation, led by Jaswant Singh, relied on our very own Air-India. So as not to be the lone warrior, Singh arranged to have BJP national executive member and senior Supreme Court advocate Arun Jetley, a member of the delegation, fly British Airways.

The first class New York-Delhi BA return ticket costs Rs 40,000 more than Air-India fare. Further, government mostly sources its tickets from Balmer Lawrie Ltd, a government-owned travel agency. But Nandu had his own hand-picked private travel agent to procure his and Jetley's tickets!

No one, however, is surprised at Nandu's profligacy. As a joint secretary in the home ministry, it is said he often commandeered the aircraft of one or the other paramilitary force and flew off to Shimla or some other hill station for a quick lunch and siesta -- invariably, he would be back at his desk by four o'clock!

Money no problem, saar!

And then there is this aide of a senior Congress leader who pulled out his son from a premier missionary school in the capital and sent him to an expensive boarding school in the South.

Punch line: the typist-turned-chief aide has no known sources of income!

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