Virendra Kapoor

A major controversy is about to break out. And when it does, don't believe any other mag that claims they broke it first.

Mohan Guruswamy, the secretary-level adviser to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha is threatening to announce publicly side of the sordid story of his sacking. Guruswamy is raring to go, we hear, since he is just back from the US after a whirlwind tour that he spent hyping VSNL's debentures.

Guruswamy apparently crossed the path of one Deepak Talwar who owes his rise to A N Verma, former principal secretary to P V Narasimha Rao when the latter was the PM.

Talwar is the liaison man for the UK-based BAT Industries that holds a major stake in the Indian Tobacco Company. Rumour has it that he also pulls strings for Enron for a considerable fee.

Well, BAT Industries proposed to pick up all the ITC shares held by Unit Trust of India if UTI off-loaded it at the current market rate of about Rs 900 per share. Guruswamy proposed BAT pay three times the market price. Talwar, of course, was furious. And, if Guruswamy is to be believed, Talwar decided he had had enough of the businesmen-turned-bureaucrat.

Then came the issue of Enron, which, instead of investing money in India as promised, was borrowing it to implement the power project in Maharashtra.

Guruswamy reportedly objected to the breach of promise, but Talwar couldn't be stopped, since he has powerful friends.

This, of course, is Guruswamy's view of the case, and all hell's likely to break loose when he hawks the story to the media.

Why the babus crib

You'd have thought the babus would be happy that their retirement age was raised 58 to 60, giving them more time to exercise their clout, earn a bigger pay and do whatever else babus keep doing that we know nothing about.

But it turns out that most of them, especially those in the upper echelons are upset. A senior who isn't superannuated just plugs up a promotion option, they say. Which is why most senior Indian Adminstrative Service officials are pottering around, looking like they've just received news of a near one's demise.

But they have a point too. For instance, the entire 1967 batch of the IAS is waiting to be promoted to full secretary rank, jammed up behind most officials of the 1966 batch. (The secretary's rank is the highest a bureaucrat can usually achieve, the unusual candidate aspiring to the peak post of Union Cabinet secretary, the head of the civil service.)

All that disgruntlement at the top naturally flows downward. Thirty-odd IAS officers of the 1968 batch are yet to be put up for promotion to the rank of additional secretary because there are people in those posts who can't be moved upward. Yup, because their seniors haven't moved out. Makes for an unhappy service. Barring, of course, for those right on the top.

No openings for Sushma

Some weeks ago we'd told you how former information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj schemed and connived to get back a ministerial job. One of the crucial elements of her plan was to create a situation that would make it untenable for Madan Lal Khurana to continue as a member of the Vajpayee government.

Well, Khurana is now out but he didn't really need Sushma's help, quitting because he was upset about being denied the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Delhi unit.

Now there's only one minister from Delhi in the Cabinet, Minister for Telecommunications Jagmohan. This, while the ruling party has 8 MPs from the city -- five in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha.

Even that opening doesn't mean Sushma stands a chance. For the prime minister has apparently taken a dim view of all the cloak and dagger stuff she and husband Swaraj Kaushal's been indulging in.

Does that mean the way is clear for the young BJP MP from Chandni Chowk Vijay Goel? Not really, but he's doing his damndest to ease his passage up by currying favour with those considered close to Vajpayee, including the new Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Pramod Mahajan.

Only 45 days...

How long will the Vajpayee government last? That question has kept bookies in business for a long time. And yet another crisis seems to be brewing there with one or other ally of the BJP queering the pitch for the PM.

The most recent leader with a grouse, lining up right behind J Jayalalitha and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, is Om Prakash Chauthala of the Haryana Lok Dal.

Chauthala insists he had promised to extend support to the government on the condition that the Centre would dismiss the Bansi Lal government in Haryana and call an election in the state. Nearly a year has lapsed and his bete noire looks pretty comfortable in the saddle, so he has decided to twist the prime minister's arm.

But this has been going on for a long time and even senior ministers don't know if they will have a job the next day they come to office. And don't go by all those brave pronouncements in public.

And the political bunch -- being inclined to superstition though they organise programmes against it -- has been shaken by an astrologer's prediction that the government won't last the next 45 days. Which might explain all those ticks on their calendars...

Capital Buzz