Virendra Kapoor

And then there were two fighter cocks from down South who wanted to brawl.

H D Deve Gowda, round, sleepy and once-king of New Delhi, and J H Patel, not so round, not so sleepy and currently in power in Karnataka.

The farmer prime minister's attempt at reducing his Janata Dal colleague to his level would be stymied, now it appears, not so much thanks to his supporters in the party, but to certain key members of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

It was clear as daylight that even if Deve Gowda was not in a position to form an alternative government, he was perfectly capable of knocking the chair from under Patel, especially if the Congress moved a no-confidence motion against it.

However, Deve Gowda's supporters are wary of voting against the government knowing fully well that the entire BJP contingent in the House, as also MLAs loyal to Lok Shakti leader and Union Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, would bail it out.

Patel is further fortified by the quiet assurance of a Vajpayee emissary that the Centre would in no case impose President's rule in the state. Nor seek to dismiss his government so long as he repulsed the spectre of defeat on the floor of the House.

Patel, for his part, is now ready to float a new regional party in the state in the unlikely event of Deve Gowda forcing him out of the chief minister's gaddi. Samta Party leader and Defence Minister George Fernandes, for his part, has reportedly asked him to join him.

"If pushed to the wall," sources said, "Patel wouldn't be averse to that idea."

As for Hegde, though still annoyed with Patel for dozing when Deve Gowda booted him out of JD last year, he too would support the chief minister if things turned bad.

Deve Gowda's efforts, thus, are bound to be as ineffective as his trials to catch up on sleep while in power.

The conman and his friends

Romesh Sharma, the jet-setting conman arrested by the Delhi police recently, can sing a few songs if he wants to. Nice, foot-tapping ones. About a certain leading industrial house...

One of these songs is likely to be about a senior functionary of the said group. Well known in the Capital's bureaucratic and political circles, our big-shot's name rhymes well with Aalu. This quintessential fixer, not unlike Sharma, had very humble origins. And like Sharma, he too is a man of considerable means today. Often in the past, he has interceded on Sharma behalf with the authorities, including the Delhi police.

Sharma, reportedly underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's man in Delhi, often did a la Aalu with the high and mighty. Former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, former defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and former Haryana chief minister Om Parkash Chauthala occasionally visited Sharma at the latter's Mayfair Garden house, South Delhi, or at his farmhouse in Mehrauli.

And now a gem of a gossip: Sharma reportedly used hidden video cameras at his house to blackmail women visitors!

A few weeks ago, when Sharma floated his own political party, he nominated formed Congress MP Bhikhu Ram Jain as president of Delhi unit. Days before his arrest, Sharma had sent Diwali presents to many VVIPs in the Capital, including certain members of the Vajpayee government. The elegant packets when opened revealed a huge wall clock... with the photograph of a beaming Sharma, a garland of marigolds around his neck, his hands folded in the namaste mode, engraved on its dial!

Most recipients of this crass gift chose to hand it over to their domestic servants. But now, after his arrest, the servants are having second thoughts about keeping the gift...

Lene ko kaun tayaar hain?

At a recent rally in Bombay's Shivaji Park, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav felt moved by Pakistan's financial crisis. So moved that he immediately called upon the Vajpayee government to donate a nice, affordable sum -- just Rs 20 billion -- to the neighbour.

Biharman Laloo Prasad Yadav, too, was present on the dais when Mulayam pleaded for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief.

Now, notwithstanding the predictably adverse reaction in some quarters to the former defence minister's proposal, it seems even Pakistan may not be willing to accept 'tainted' Indian money. For a few days after Mulayam's gratuitous offer, the Pak High Commissioner in New Delhi, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, is reported to have pooh-poohed the idea. Thus:

"Pehle pooch to liya hota. Lene ko kaun tayaar hain?"

Translation: "He should have asked us. Who is going to accept money from India?"

The spat continues...

From public, the spat has turned private.

Weeks after it all started, Urban Affairs Minister Ram Jethmalani and Secretary Kiran Aggarwal are still trying to sock each other.

Thus, Jethmalani in a letter to the prime minister has sought that Aggarwal be transferred out of his ministry. And Aggarwal has personally briefed Vajpayee about 'the real reason' why the minister wants her out.

Vajpayee, for his part, is reportedly not convinced by Jethmalani's case against Aggarwal. Hence, his reluctance to shift her.

Meanwhile, well-meaning intermediaries have offered a solution to break the impasse. Aggarwal would be transferred out of Jethmalani's ministry provided he got rid of his controversial Private Secretary K J Alphons. But for some mysterious reason, Jethmalani is unwilling to let Alphons go...

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