Both President K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee are cordiality personified whenever they meet. But the damage has been done. And not entirely by them.
Their respective aides, who plant misleading stories and leak information selectively to show how bad the other side is, does a good job of it. Unfortunately, neither the President nor the PM has moved to plug the source of this increasing tension.
Without doubt, Rashtrapati Bhavan has been leaking since Congress chief Sonia Gandhi failed to muster the right number to replace Vajpayee. Most people in the BJP-led coalition are convinced that Narayanan had not played fair when he insisted that Vajpayee seek a confidence vote in the middle of a Budget session. Narayanan also played into his critics' hands by giving Sonia an inordinately long time to shot for MPs.
The President, on the other hand, is smarting under the impression that the government has not been deferential enough towards him. He is particularly hurt that his suggestion to appoint a few favourites in highly paid sinecures was completely ignored.
The resulting tension has often spilled into the media, with both sides planting unfavourable reports. Thus, recently when the President wrote to the prime minister questioning the propriety of the telecom bailout package, contents of the letter were duly leaked out. The idea was to show that Narayanan was stretching himself beyond his constitutional duties.
Since the report had failed to mention a few points Narayanan considered relevant to his case, his office duly briefed its favourite scribes. The next day virtual extracts from the President's letter appeared in the press.
Anyway, what we want is to warn you readers against surprise at the juicy stories we might bring you -- you see, people are talking!
Blaming the messenger
In government circles, the villain of the piece is the President's secretary Gopal Gandhi, who patronises a select group of anti-BJP scribes. His views are duly reflected in the so-called secularist media.
Gandhi has a lot to be beholden to Narayanan. A grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, he quit the IAS some years ago. Before being appointed secretary to the President, he had served as India's high commissioner in South Africa and director of the Nehru Centre, London.
Had he continued in the IAS, Gandhi would have been a secretary-level officer for several years. But now, ah, now things are different!
One head, two hats
It is public knowledge that senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee and CPI-M leader in the last Lok Sabha Somnath Chatterjee had pleaded in writing with the prime minister to rescue the nascent cellular telephone industry from certain death.
It is also public knowledge that they had suggested the revenue-sharing formula which now forms the core of the telecom bailout package. So had more than two score MPs from the Congress, the TDP etc.
But what people do not know is that the Congress's standby spokesman Kapil Sibal, who has been trying to work up a spiel on the allegedly fraudulent telecom package, had very forcefully argued the telecom operators's cause in court. Indeed, Sibal had pleaded the case of a couple of operators against their being asked to cough up even a dime. They, he pleaded, were in pretty bad shape financially and would be liquidated if the government insisted on their paying up.
The good lawyer that he is, Sibal may claim that what he says as a lawyer is not germane to what he says as a politician. After all, there is a world of difference between a lawyer's black robe and a typical Congressman's garb of khadi, right?
Incidentally, Sibal's counterpart in the BJP, Arun Jaitley, too has pleaded the telecom operators's case. But he has been lucky -- his legal and political briefs are not antithetical to each other.
Official circles are miffed with one of the three election commissioners.
The government believes the said EC is harassing it because it downgraded his security for a while and baulked at his plea for a foreign junket. Eventually, the government did restore his Z category security and sanctioned the foreign junket, but only after the EC had thrown a sulk.
A room for the treasurer
In a party where one's importance is in direct proportion to one's proximity to the Supreme Leader, the construction of a small room within the sprawling 10, Janpath complex has added overnight several inches to Ahmed Patel's stature.
Patel, it seems, will occupy the new room and assist Sonia Gandhi in planning her campaign strategy and organising her election tours. The unassuming Congress treasurer has been handpicked for the job.
So far, Vincent George had acted as her aide-cum-political adviser and controller of visitors.
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