Virendra Kapoor

Politics is unpredictable. Who could have guessed that All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo J Jayalalitha would be all sugar and honey towards Congress bosswoman Sonia Gandhi within months of calling her names?

Less than a year ago, Jayalalitha had pooh-poohed Sonia's foray into politics. We were present at her press conference in New Delhi when she dismissed the very idea of the Lady from Italy becoming prime minister. Sonia is more a Maino (her maiden name) than a Gandhi, the Lady from Madras declared.

Yet, the two ladies posed for cameras at Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy's tea party. (Swamy, sources tell us, ranks his attempt at par with the historic Boston Tea Party.)

For sure, a fright ran through the Bharatiya Janata Party camp when the two prima donnas shook hands. Both like to think the world revolves around them. Both are certain they can snuff out the Vajpayee government. But both could be mistaken.

Because, despite the stage-managed show of bon homie, there are a lot of imponderables confusing the scenario. To begin with, if Jaya and Sonia decide to tango, the Congress can forget about reunion with G K Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress. To the TMC, Jayalalitha is an ogre.

Further, if Jaya goes with Sonia, the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, led by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, will step in to bolster the Vajpayee-led coalition, even if that entailed parting ways with the Third Front.

Of course, the prime minister and his close aides do have a contingency plan for survival should Jayalalitha play spoilsport. Besides the five DMK members, there is every likelihood of the five Haryana Lok Dal MPs returning to back the government. Indeed, an erosion in the 17-strong AIADMK contingent cannot be ruled out. Besides, the five-member Bahujan Samaj Party could also be not averse to supporting the BJP-led coalition -- hadn't it voted with the government on the recent Bihar motion?

From another angle, no alternative government can be possible unless the Congress sups with the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Though the third front will break the moment the AIADMK and Congress team up, the internal contradictions of Sonia's men will spill out into the open too.

In short, the Vajpayee is not about to fall. Yes, Sonia will make life difficult in the belief that if the government is allowed to settle down, it might begin to impress people. As it is, the three Bs -- Budget, Bus (to Lahore) and Bihar -- have bolstered the government's image. Besides, Vajpayee's personal popularity continues to be high.

As for Jayalalitha -- well, she is mercenary. She wants four ministerial slots -- the two vacated by her nominees and two more. If Vajpayee yields, she would again dismiss Sonia as that "Italian woman without any experience in politics." Otherwise, she would team up with her to browbeat the prime minister. It is as simple as that.

Backdoor promotion

Now that the Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat affair is about to come to a boil again, it is time to unravel the sacked navy chief's connections with Congress strongman Sharad Pawar.

It seems that Bhagwat would have retired as a mere rear admiral had Pawar not contravened the established drill to get round his bete noire S B Chavan. As defence minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government, Pawar instructed then defence secretary N N Vohra to include Bhagwat's name in the list for promotions as vice-admiral.

Vohra, playing safe, recorded that "RM (Raksha Mantri) desires that Bhagwat be promoted as vice-admiral and that the file should not be sent for approval to home minister."

Chavan, as a meber of the Cabinet Appointments Committee, could have blocked the backdoor promotion.

I swear...

While on the sacked admiral, who do you think helped Bhagwat frame his latest sworn affidavit?

None other hotshot lawyer and newly elected Sonia-Laloo representative in the Rajya Sabha Kapil Sibal. One of Sibal's office assistants signed the affidavit as a witness.

On his last trip to the capital, Bhagwat and Sibal spent a lot of time together. As for the credence to the charges, Union Defence Minister George Fernandes and his aides are not worried.

"After all, didn't the same Bhagwat sign a 400-page petition in 1990 in which he had disparaged then prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh?" they ask.

And the next solicitor general is...

Since the last solicitor general, Santosh Hegde, was appointed a Supreme Court judge, the government is yet to fill the slot.

Additional Solicitor General C S Vaidyanathan, formerly Jayalalitha's defence lawyer in several cases of corruption, wants the SG's job. Union Law Minister Thambi Durai, from the AIADMK stable, is backing his claim.

The only hitch is that the Madras high court has passed a strong resolution against Vaidyanathan for his overzealous conduct in currying favour with Jayalalitha. Should Vaidyanathan fail to make the grade, the job might go to the other ASG, Kirit Raval, a senior advocate from Gandhinagar.

Raval is known in New Delhi's judicial circles for his no-nonsense approach and legal acumen.

Lost in her own world

Union Minister of State for Welfare Maneka Gandhi makes no effort to mask her disinterest in parliamentary proceedings. The other day, while the Rajya Sabha was in a tumult over the Mohan Guruswamy issue, Maneka sat in the front deeply engrossed in the latest issue of a popular news magazine. Finishing it, she had another one fetched by a House aide from her personal staff sitting in the official's gallery!

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