Virendra Kapoor

Sad, so sad. That Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jaswant Singh faltered in the last lap of the race to Palaniappan Chidambaram's office.

Or, maybe, he didn't falter. Maybe, he was encouraged to do so, with a well-placed swadeshi boot in the back?

Yes, indications speak thus: The swadeshi lobby in the BJP was what brought down Singh and upped Yashwant Sinha to finance ministership. And behind it all was the sheer sweat of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gentleman, K S Sudershan.

Sources say swadeshi Sudershan was rudely rolled out of bed the night before Atal Bihari Vajpayee's swearing in as prime minister.

"Go, spoil Singh's pitch," other swadeshi-ites told him, "Make Sinha's day for him."

So off went Sudershan. First stop, prime minister-designate AB's house, which, till midnight, had been populated by Singh, probably the most trusted of his lieutenants. Singh, after a long discussion with AB, had gone home, secure in the belief that he was the next FinMin.

"Ataliji, Singh hasn't even retained his parliamentary seat. Please drop him..." pleaded Sudershan, which exercise he continued for quite a long time, in almost all the navarasas. Then he said good night and rushed out.

Second stop, L K Advani's home. Sudershan told him all he had just finished telling AB. Bottomline: drop Singh, take on Sinha.

"Think over the matter coolly," the swadeshi is said to have told Advani.

No sooner was Sudershan out, Advani was on phone with AB. Sinha or Singh? Singh or Sinha? Finally, after much discussion, the duo decided on the issue: Sinha it would be. For now.

But AB, being the kindhearted, moderate man he is, just couldn't bear to call up Singh and tell him it was no dice. ("No, not I). So it was left to Advani to telephone the FM-designate at 0730 hours Thursday, March 19, and tell him he was designate no more...

Two hours later, when everyone showed up for the swearing-in ceremony, most BJP leaders were shocked to find Singh missing. Gradually the message sank in that a nocturnal coup had been executed by the swadeshi lobby, thanks to which they are now treating the swadeshis as pardeshis. Bad, so bad, all these.

The why of it...

But why was the swadeshi-ites so against Singh? Couldn't have been merely because of his no-nonsense demeanour and reputation for integrity. Didn't like his mug, perhaps?

Fact is, Singh was the victim of a controversial industrial house -- very swadeshi! -- which did not want him to get the coveted post. As FinMin in the 13-day Vajpayee government of 1996, Singh had ordered a probe against the said house. Which is why the factotums of the industrialist poured in massive funds to defeat Singh in the parliamentary poll.

Incidentally, Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and a television anchor friendly with him, too, played a crucial role in sinking Singh's prospects. The television anchor in his earlier avatar as a print journalist had befriended the young scion of the industrial house. And Shekhawat found himself generously funded in the recent poll by the house. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yashwant Sinha defaults

Looks like a not-so-good choice as FM, he, Yashwant Sinha, if what we hear from the Delhi Gymkhana club is true.

The man whom AB has entrusted with the task of managing the nation's purse, clearly, is pretty bad when it comes to managing his own. Otherwise, how come his name figured on the list of defaulters at the aforementioned elite club?

The list, put up on March 4, showed that India's new finance minister owes it Rs 5,684. To be fair to the man, he paid up recently -- immediately after he became the FM. But critics says he paid only at the pain of being denied further service...

Another famous name on the current list of defaulters is that of bureaucrat-author Amitabh Ghosh. A few months ago, Congress politician K P Singh Deo was named on the list.

Clearly, no more is it a social stigma if one is declared a defaulter. A few years ago, P M Sinha, Pepsi's boss in South Asia, probably one of the highest-paid executives in India, had figured among an odd-bod list of journalists declared defaulters by the capital's Press Club. Sinha, those days, was the Hindustan Lever's liasion man in New Delhi. When he left on promotion for Bombay, he left the Press Club bill unpaid. Of course, he duly cleared the dues, but not before perennially cash-strapped journalists had had the vicarious pleasure of seeing his name on the board.

Betting on Congress

Controversial Delhi hotelier Lalit Suri (of the New Delhi Hilton) is a betting man.

Having for long exploited his Congress connections, Suri repays the party at election time by wagering astounding amounts on its victory. Anyone who disagrees with him on the winnability of the Congress or a particular candidate is challenged at huge amounts.

At one stage Suri challenged casual acquaintances, who walks in the same Siri Fort gardens which he frequents, to wager any amount on the victory of Congress candidate Ajay Maken against the BJP's Sushma Swaraj in South Delhi. Of course, Maken lost to Swaraj by nearly 150,000 votes.

After the results, Suri's money was on a Congress-UF government. Initial hitches made him further certain that a Congress-led government would be installed in New Delhi. When an old man demurred, he asked him to stake an amount.

"No," said the fellow-walker, "let's instead agree on breakfast. If the Congress-UF government is formed I will give you breakfast, but in case of a BJP government you give all of us breakfast."

Sure enough, with AB taking over as PM Suri lost the bet. And made it good the following Sunday. A large group of morning-walkers in the Siri Fort garden helped themselves to a sumptuous breakfast, courtesy the New Delhi Hilton.

Liveried waiters in the verdant environments of the park made an odd sight, true, but no one was complaining that Sunday morning!

Vaastu and Renuka

Vaastu shashtra didn't bring much luck to Telugu Desam Party leader Renuka Chaudhary.

On becoming the health minister, Chaudhary had shifted office to a joint secretary's room on her vaastu shashtri's advice, while the secretary to the ministry shifted to what was till then the minister's room.

Chaudhary has not only ceased to be a minister but, worse, has been denied a nomination for another term in the Rajya Sabha by TDP bigman Chandrababu Naidu. And now the new health minister Dalit Ezhilmalai is insisting on shifting back to the original ministerial office. He, apparently, follows his own shashtra.

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