The virus of caste has entered the highest portal in the land: President K R Narayanan has reportedly returned a government proposal to appoint several high court and Supreme Court judges because none of the nominees was a dalit!
Expectedly, the government is shocked. Of course, the President has no constitutional power to dictate on these matters, but to keep him in good humour the law ministry is seriously scouting around for suitable candidates from politically correct castes. Unfortunately, there are not many dalit lawyers who have made the grade. Should the exercise fail, the government is likely to return the proposal.
In which case, Narayanan will have no option but sign.
More on this creeping caste virus.
Much against the wishes of the government, Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi insisted on having his way in the recent appointment of the National Human Rights Commission members. A retired Supreme Court judge from Andhra Pradesh was appointed even though he sees things only through the prism of caste and his record was coloured by his casteist worldview.
But since the speaker is a member of the selection committee, the government caved in -- despite serious reservations.
Who's behind Operation Khurana, the sustained campaign to fell Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal K?
A lady by the name of Sushma Swaraj -- that's who.
The former information and broadcasting minister is still to get over her exclusion from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Come what may, she plans to worm back in -- and hence Operation Khurana.
Sushma's plan is pretty simple. As long as there are two Cabinet ministers from Delhi, there will not be a place for her. So, go one of them must. The latest entrant, Jagmohan, who represents New Delhi, does not lend himself to easy attack. In any case, he would need some time in the communications ministry to make mistakes, to step on some toes, to prove controversial.
Khurana, on the other hand, almost daily rams his feet down his throat, even if unwittingly. It wasn't his fault telling the press that the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill was not the top priority for the just-concluded winter session of Parliament. He was reportedly instructed by Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, who was responding to intense pressure from the swadeshi lobby to put the bill on the backburner. But when Vajpayee learnt of Khurana's announcement, he chose to sidestep the swadeshi lobby and top-prioritise the IRA Bill.
Latching on to such instances, the press has gone to town painting Khurana as Mr Muddle. But the campaign is unfair -- anyone in Khurana's shoes would have ended up dancing the same ungainly dance. For instance, what is the parliamentary affairs minister to do if the Congress votes with the government on the Patents Bill in the Rajya Sabha and, overnight, begins to drag its feet on supporting it in the Lok Sabha?
Khurana, truth be told, remains unfazed. He is very much aware that the campaign is Swaraj's baby. So what? Doesn't he have the confidence of the PM himself? The day the first report against him appeared, Khurana met Vajpayee, who was sympathetic and asked him not to be unduly concerned.
Thus, there is no chance of Swaraj ascending to the Cabinet in the near future.
The BJP's Lok Sabha member from Hoshiarpur in Punjab, Kamal Choudhary, had some time ago sought the permission of Speaker Balayogi to summon the three service chiefs before the Standing Committee of Parliament on Defence.
The speaker said no.
"It is for the defence secretary and other officials to clarify matters... not for the chiefs of staff of the armed forces," he told Choudhary.
The latter, however, is not convinced, and has taken up the matter formally with Defence Minister George Fernandes.
Choudhary, a former air force pilot who joined politics at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi, is keen to ameliorate the lot of ex-servicemen. Pension is one area of widespread discontent. Successive governments have failed to revise the pension scales.
A joke doing the rounds of the Capital's bureaucratic circles has it that Kayasths alone represent the creme de la creme of India's babudom. In the matter of postings, transfers, promotions, et al the order of priority is 'the Uttar Pradesh cadre Kayasth IAS officers followed by Kayasth IAS officers from any cadre, and then UP cadre IAS officers'.
Incidentally, Union Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar is a Kayasth IAS officer of the UP cadre...
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