Virendra Kapoor

Politicians are the new maharajas, but with a difference: if the kings of old delivered on their promises, the present lot don't! The following tale bears this out.

A couple of months after becoming prime minister, H D Deve Gowda visited Gujarat. In Ahmedabad, he was taken round the Sardar Patel museum. Housed in a historic building which till the late 60s had served as the chief commissioner's bungalow, the place was a mess, all run-down. The PM was appalled by the sight. The septuagenarian members of the Sardar Patel Trust who managed the museum told Deve Gowda how for want of funds they could not undertake even bare minimum repairs.

"Give Rs 10 million to the trust," he ordered on the spot, much like a maharaja of the old.

Next day, most Gujarat dailies recorded Deve Gowda's magnanimous gesture. And happy trustees started looking eagerly at the postman whenever he passed their gates. But, even after a month, the promised cheque failed to arrive.

The trustees, hence, wrote to the Prime Minister's Office reminding it of Deve Gowda's promise. No response. Not even an acknowledgement of their letter. Two years and several reminders later, the trust has now finally given up chasing the elusive Rs 10 million.

Interestingly, the trust may have fallen victim to its own greed. The building, where once the ICS brother of poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore lived as the commissioner of the Ahmedabad range, was maintained by the Public Works Department as long as it was state property. But the trustees insisted on it being leased out to them for Rs 1 per annum. Reluctantly the state government did so. Now it is the trustees' grouse that the PWD does not spend even a paise on its upkeep!

You can't have it both ways, can you?

Caste, YES bar!

Here is tomorrow's news today: The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has in principle decided to abandon the move to collect caste data in the forthcoming national census.

The previous government had initiated the inclusion of caste data in the national census. Caste was one of the key inputs in it earlier in the century. The British were obliged to exclude caste data following protests by nationalists.

The demand for collecting such data had assumed special significance after seats in Parliament and most state legislatures had come to be reserved for backward castes in the wake of the Mandal Commission report. The Constitution does not provide for caste reservations barring for those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes. It was to be a one-off provision which the founding fathers envisaged, but only for 10 years.

Senior BJP and RSS leaders, wrongly denounced for a move not initiated by them, were persuaded to give up the idea of making a caste profile of India by a couple of Hindutva intellectuals. They feared the collection of caste data would sound the death knell of the Hindu society.

"It would divide Hindus like nothing else had done before it and the anti-Hindu elements would exploit the data to torpedo whatever unity there is in the Hindu samaj," they said.

The angry old man

AIADMK boss J Jayalalitha isn't the only one angry with the BJP leadership. There are other angry old people too, like the Akali leaders.

The latest irritant in the once lovey-dovey BJP-Akali ties is the Vajpayee government's failure to sanction a Rs 120 billion refinery in Bhatinda. The Planning Commission is dragging its feet on the project.

Besides this, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is also miffed by Vajpayee's failure to appoint one of his nominees as the governor of Rajasthan. The last incumbent in the Jaipur Raj Bhavan, Darbara Singh, was an Akali nominee who died of a heart attack within a couple of weeks of assuming charge. Badal proposed the name of an Akali member of the Rajya Sabha for replacing Darbara Singh. But thus far there has been no response from the central government.

Since Union Agriculture Minister and senior Akali leader Surjeet Singh Barnala is opposed to Badal's gubernatorial nominee, the delay in the latter's appointment is causing the CM further annoyance. Badal is now beginning to give public vent to his dissatisfaction. Happily for the BJP, thanks to Jayalalitha's high-voltage tantrums, the media isn't paying Badal's muted criticism much attention!

Buying land while the govt shines

It is an old modus operandi of politicians: Privy to advance information about the proposed sanction of a new colony or a new road, they move in fast to profit from it, strategically buying land before the official announcement. When the price goes up, they make a killing off-loading their excessive land acquisitions in the market. BJP politicians in the capital were quick to learn these money-making tricks practised for long by their Congress predecessors.

Weeks before the decision to build a new express highway between North Delhi and Haryana was made public, Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma's confidant and parliamentary secretary Nand Kishore Garg bought acre upon acre of land earmarked precisely for the proposed highway. Garg acquired the land in his name and in the name of his relatives according to the registration papers shown to this columnist.

He now stands to make a huge profit as the government is expected to acquire the land bought by him. The statutory per acre compensation fixed by the government is way higher than the prevailing market rate in the area.

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