Virendra Kapoor

As long as he was a member of the US congress, he had claimed to be India's friend. And now he has been rewarded. By being hired as a paid lobbyist.

Former US congressman Stephen Solarz had lobbied for the Indian government very hard after he failed to get re-elected to the House of Representatives from his old constituency in New York. He wanted to be appointed India's lobbyist in Washington. A couple of Indian MPs, notably a business-friendly Congressman from Bombay, had backed Solarz's case.

Solarz had been making frequent trips to New Delhi in his quest for the coveted appointment. He finally got the job when the Indian government sacked two old lobbyist firms and retained the services of APCO Associates, a company represented by Solarz in Washington.

The services of David Springer's firms were dispensed with in the wake of the recent Pokhran tests. It seems that Springer, who had represented India on the Capitol Hill for the last five years, was not convincing enough in selling this country's case for going nuclear.

Instead of lobbying for India, Springer began to lobby with Indians in order to retain his brief and to prevent the appointment of Solarz's firm. But Solarz had friends in high places. He met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee following Pokhran-II and lobbied hard with the ministry of external affairs for the high-paying job.

Apart from APCO Associates, India has retained the services of another influential lobbying firm. The two firms cost India a tidy $ 75,000 per month. But it is a worthwhile expenditure if they succeed in selling India to the US law-makers and in countering the anti-India propaganda by Pakistan thorough their own lobbying firms in Washington.

Ambassador in trouble

With newer models of cars hitting the Indian roads, the old and rickety Ambassador, manufactured by the Calcutta-based Hindustan Motors Limited, is in real big trouble. There is so little demand for it that the company has been forced to lay off workers. But the HML management instead of junking the old plant is lobbying the authorities to patronise their ancient racket on wheels.

The government sector used to buy almost exclusively Ambassador cars but babudom too seems to have turned its back on this petrol-guzzler. Contrary to the popular belief, there was no executive order that said that only Ambassador cars be bought by government departments. From the days when Ambassador and Fiat had monopolised the car market in India, the former had come to be associated with officialdom. And sheer force of habit and tradition propelled the myth that governments at the Centre and in the states must buy only Ambassadors.

The HML management has now convinced the West Bengal government to issue new taxi permits only for Ambassador cars. And the efforts are on to persuade a few more state governments to follow suit.

Iftar days

It is time for Iftar parties.

Union Minister for Tourism and Parliamentary Affairs Madan Lal Khurana was quick off the block, presenting his secular credentials by holding an Iftar party early last week in the spacious lawns of his official bungalow on Safdarjung Road.

The gracious host that he is, Khurana personally welcomed a clutch of diplomats from Islamic nations and led them to a separate VIP enclosure where they were served light refreshments before the traditional Iftar feast. Among the VIPs were several of Khurana's ministerial colleagues and Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit.

But despite Khurana's popularity, not many Muslims showed up. In the 400-odd gathering, there were more Sikhs than Muslims. A vast majority of those present were Delhi BJP leaders. And both former Delhi chief ministers Sushma Swaraj and Sahib Singh Verma were conspicuously absent.

Our man in the US

India's Ambassador in Washington, Naresh Chandra, was in New Delhi recently. And this has set off speculation in the ruling party circles.

Since Chandra's term is due to end in April, the Vajpayee government is almost certain not to give him an extension. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office disclosed that Chandra is keen on an extension and his latest mission to the Capital was not unrelated to the fulfilment of this.

A section in the BJP wants the PM's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra to replace Chandra when his term ends. But Mishra is opposed to the idea. And even Vajpayee is reluctant to let him go since he hardly has anyone else equally trustworthy.

The clever N K Singh, secretary in the PMO, would be delighted to see the back of Mishra; he wouldn't mind sitting in the principal secretary's chair. But despite giving him the task of monitoring the functioning of economic ministries, Vajpayee doesn't quite trust Nandu Babu. Nor for that matter does Mishra, who is hardly on speaking terms with the well-connected Rajput IAS officer.

As of now, Mishra seems to be well-ensconced. But those keen on his removal haven't given up yet, pressing the case on account of Mishra's advanced age and the failure of the PMO to tone up the quality of administration.

Closed-door Centre

Every year the India International Centre, the influential New Delhi watering hole for movers and shakers, causes more heartburns than joy by admitting a couple of hundred people as new members. For, those who don't make it number a couple of thousands.

Several high court judges, senior IAS officers, journalists, artistes, industrialists, et al proved unlucky this year. While a junior IAS officer was admitted, the secretary-level Bhure Lal proved fifth time unlucky. Somebody in the selection committee clearly isn't too enamoured with Bhure Lal's tough-as-nails image.

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