Virendra Kapoor

Suppose, just suppose, old man Sitaram Kesri was alone when he climbed Raisana Hill the other week.

Suppose, just suppose, Congress leaders Sharad Pawar, Dr Manmohan Singh and Madhavrao Scindia weren't with him when he had his tete-a-tete with President K R Narayanan.

What would have happened?

Well, top Congress sources (read sources close to Sonia Gandhi) say he would in all probability have staked a claim to form a Congress-led government -- such was the power of his desire.

Luckily that didn't happen. Instead, Kesri found himself tumbling down the hill and out of the Congress.

But what has really rubbed salt into his wounds is the rehabilitation of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao. Kesri is now hopping mad at Dr Singh for having prevailed upon Sonia to end Rao's quarantine. Though not an MP, Rao was specially asked to attend the brief ceremony in the Central hall of Parliament which saw Madame's coronation as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

Sources say it was Dr Singh, and Dr Singh alone, who made it possible for Sonia and Rao to kiss and make up.

"The ice was finally broken with Rao writing a congratulatory note to Sonia on her becoming the Congress president," they revealed, "She responded with a phone call to seek his 'guidance and advice' in running the party. The next day Rao was invited to attend the ceremony in Central hall."

After the brief ceremony, Kesri is said to have gone all red in the face when he found Rao being ushered into the CPP office in room number 25 in Parliament House. He went even redder when Sonia got up from her chair to receive Rao.

"The two exchanged pleasantries before they left," sources said.

Meanwhile, Kesri is further troubled by the Delhi police's decision to hand over the investigation into the murder of his personal physician Dr Surinder Tanwar to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Political circles in the capital are familiar with Kesri's close links with the deceased. With the BJP in power, Kesri may have a tough time preventing the unravelling of the salacious murder mystery.

Clearly, '98 isn't Kesri's year.

Artless Bhandari

Romesh Bhandari made a virtue of his necessity when he quit as the UP governor -- if he hadn't, well, down would the axe have fallen on him.

But, Bhandari being Bhandari, he made attempts to buy peace with then prime minister in-waiting Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the BJP leader's aides refused to put him through to their boss when the panicked UP governor made frantic calls to his Safdarjung road home. The BJP leaders were too familiar with Bhandari's guiles to give in to his belated entreaties.

During the 1989 parliamentary poll, Bhandari was the Delhi lieutenant governor. As the election results poured in, Bhandari sought out BJP vice president Madan Lal Khurana.

"I am a very useful man," he informed Khurana, "Rajiv Gandhi used me. Now you too can use me. I am at your disposal..."

Khurana, peeved by Bhandari's bid to summon the army into the capital when the election results were still coming in, confided this to senior party leaders. And soon, the V P Singh government sacked him.

Now, for resigning a few months before his five-year gubernatorial term ended, Bhandari is keen to extract his price from Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. He had hopes of being made a Rajya Sabha member. Yadav allegedly ensured his victory in Sambhal thanks to Bhandari's unconstitutional action in installing the Jagdambika Pal ministry for a mere day.

Sacrificial goat?

Although the Asom Gana Parishad was worsted in the recent parliamentary poll, the axe has fallen on the state's controversial Chief Secretary V S Jafa.

Two-thirds of the Prafulla Mahanta ministry squarely blames Jafa's 'arrogant and wayward behaviour' for the party's humiliating defeat. Mahanta himself wasn't too keen to retain Jafa after he had pushed him on a collision course with the Tatas about the latter's alleged links with ULFA terrorists. The Tatas were able to convince Mahanta about their bonafides despite Jafa's advice to the contrary.

Following the poll drubbing, Mahanta got his chance to replace Jafa who has now been given the sinecure of being Assam's principal resident secretary in New Delhi.

Manners maketh the man

Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh is the man, the first man ever, to walk into AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha's fabled Poes Garden fortress with his feet duly shod in leather moccasins.

Vajpayee's personal emissary hit it off with Jayalalitha from the word go. A former army officer, fully familiar with the air and graces of a perfect gentleman, Singh carried the draft of national agenda for her approval. He was suitably deferential to the lady, had done his homework well and, besides, was open to suggestions. No wonder the imperious lady came round soon, much to the BJP's relief.

And if Singh initially sweated in her presence it was due to the woollen bandhgalla he was wearing when he landed in humid Madras, nothing else!

New destination

With the BJP in power, the capital's hangers-on, favour-seekers and liaison men are headed for Hindutva houses.

Among them is a minor scribe-turned-television anchor. For long known to be thick with Jagdish Tytler, Arif Mohammad Khan, R K Dhawan etc, seeing him at the house of a senior BJP leader, a party functionary couldn't help muttering:

"Durbar badlata hain, durbari nahin" (The court changes, but not the courtiers.)

Sheepishly, the chameleon beat a hasty retreat.

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