Virendra Kapoor

The right honourable Atal Bihari Vajpayee might be rethinking his Cabinet sometime before October 15, long after it was to happen. And one clue that is imminent is the request the PM sent President K R Narayanan, asking the latter if he could re-schedule his 15-day trip to the south of the country.

Narayanan, scheduled to leave in early October, will now head for Hyderabad on October 14.

Vajpayee has some problems to contend with, one of them being the glut of ministerial aspirants. Besides, his party isn't too happy at the number of ministers from its smaller allies.

But a bigger reason for the delay apparently was the way Home Minister L K Advani viewed the matter. For the man is loath to grant Vajpayee a free hand in picking his men. Which, of course, can make things hard when deciding any Cabinet.

Advani intensely dislikes Pramod Mahajan, the high-profile BJP leader from Maharashtra, and wants him kept out of any ministry. Vajpayee too knows of Mahajan's image as a fixer, but still likes him on board if only in a small job.

Vajpayee also wants to move Yashwant Sinhaout of the finance ministry since the man changes his mind at any sign of protest from the swadeshi tribe. And Sinha's been doing that because some members of that group are pretty close to the home minister. And that comes full circle.

Jethamalani's folly

Union Minister Ram Jethmalani loves the good life, you know. Nothing has diminished his appetite despite his 75 years.

Well, we know that since he marked his platinum jubilee on the planet with a huge bash at his official residence in the capital.

Always partial to friends and clients, former or present, at work Jethmalani is still a little out of his depth. For despite warnings from close friends, he not only insisted on making controversial IAS officer K J Alphons his personal secretary, but also let him virtually run the ministry.

He is hardly in town to oversee the affairs of his urban affairs ministry. The result is that Alphons, who has a pretty exaggerated idea of his capabilities, makes things a little difficult for those in the ministry.

Alphons was the cause of the feud between Jethmalani and secretary to the ministry, Kiran Aggarwal. Now officials far senior to Alphons, themselves with impressive track records for honest and efficient performance, doubt if Jethmalani would have been explaining every step his ministry took if he hadn't got Alphons helping him out.

But why did Ram settle for such a controversial official, cooling his heels after being suspended by the Narasimha Rao government for violating service rules? After all, Jethmalani didn't know Alphons from Adam.

Having failed to get a Congress or a BJP ticket for the parliamentary election, Alphons, in his quest for rehabilitation, sought the assistance of a middle-aged journalist. And, lo and behold, the man landed himself a plum job as Jethmalani's first PS.

By George

There is this problem with the Congress. Every time it wants a decision taken, the concerned people have to rush to Sonia Gandhi. And so a system has been devised to accommodate them with private secretary Vincent George having been given the task to speak on the lady's behalf on general issues.

Even Congress spokespersons don't get their daily briefings cleared by her, but by George. His okay is enough for them to hold forth on most issues concerning omissions and commissions of the Vajpayee government. At least, most of the time.

But whenever a major issue crops up and Sonia needs some serious info on what on earth's going on, she falls back on family retainer Makhan Lal Fotedar.. The Kashmiri, pushed into obscurity by Narasimha Rao a few years ago, is only too eager to help. There are two others who pop up to help, K Natwar Singh and Arjun Singh.

The trio are quite happy with the way things are going, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to remember that the Gandhi-Nehru family has never relied on any one retainer for too long.

Foreign insurers in India

This is tomorrow's news -- or put that the news of a few days after that. The Union finance ministry is all set to open the door to foreign investment in the vast and yet to be fully exploited insurance sector. Barring a last-minute hitch.

At first, foreign insurance firms may be allowed just a 20 per cent stake. They may also have to depend on either compulsory collaboration with existing insurance companies or they may be allowed to team up with other established Indian firms. However it is to be, they seem to have their foot in the door.

Of course, the swadeshi lobby is resisting the move, but the opening of the insurance sector is a key element in the reforms package being worked out to reassure foreign investors that the Vajpayee government means business.

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