Virendra Kapoor

Modern India has a new set of holy cows now. Dalits.

Our observation is based on a simple theme: one can get away with anything in the name of the scheduled castes or tribes. A case in point is the siphoning of funds from the Ambedkar Foundation and Publication Unit.

Minister for Welfare Maneka Gandhi, under whom the Foundation falls, could do precious little to stop the loot. When she learnt that the translation fees for a 100-page book on Ambedkar ran into over Rs 1 million, and the cost of the entire project would be in the region of Rs 5 million she protested. Loudly.

She also objected when the telephone bill of a junior Foundation official ran into Rs 20,000 plus, and had his STD facility removed.

Instead of commending her efforts to ensure the monies earmarked for advancing Ambedkar's ideals were well spent, a group of Foundation officials ganged up against her. One of them wrote out a petition to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and had a handful of SC\ST MPs sign it. Given the cold vibes between Sonia Gandhi and Maneka, the Congress MPs showed extraordinary zeal in appending their signatures.

Thus ran the MPs' accusation: Maneka was 'disrespectful to Dr Ambedkar'. The basis of the charge? Well, she doesn't prominently display in her Shastri Bhavan office a large-sized photograph of the late lamented leader!

Forgotten, of course, was the fact that the minister's office is clear of even a single photograph of any leader, past or present, dead or living. There are charts and graphs galore all over her wall... but leaders, no.

However, given the politically sensitive nature of the matter, Vajpayee summoned Maneka the other day. She conceded it was true that she didn't have Ambedkar's photo. Vajpayee was sympathetic but said that in view of the potential for a controversy it would be better if she gave up the charge of the Ambedkar Foundation and Publication Unit.

And thus, at the end of the expansion\reshuffle of the ministry, the Foundation will be taken away from the welfare ministry. All for want of a photo in Maneka room!

Ram nailed, Swami tapped

A couple of months ago, Janata Party chief and Lok Sabha member Subramanian Swamy took a deep breath, opened his mouth and, as is his habit, blew hot and cold. Against Minister for Urban Affairs Ram Jethmalani.

His charge was that Jethmalani showed 'undue favours' to a private Delhi party in re-validating the allotment of a plum hotel plot in South Delhi -- this, in the teeth of opposition from bureaucrats. Swamy quoted extensively from official files to substantiate his charge.

Following his plea to the prime minister, Vajpayee directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to inquire into the matter. The CBI was also asked to find out the source of `leakage of file notings to Swamy.'

Last week the CBI submitted its report, confirming Swamy's charge against Jethmalani. It said that Jethmalani's order was 'favourable' to the private party and would lead to a loss of Rs 600 million to the exchequer. The CBI also smelt a rat in a couple of other controversial decisions taken by Jethmalani against the specific recommendations of officials.

The most curious outcome of the inquiry is on the leakage aspect. The relevant paragraph of the report reads thus:

"...efforts have been undertaken to trace the source of leakage from the ministry of urban affairs by employing sources and surveillance. As these did not prove successful, further efforts were made to trace the leakage by telephone to ascertain his (Swamy's) contacts, if any, in the ministry. However as the matter was extremely sensitive, this exercise was done with due care. Even this analysis could not provide useful clue."

In other words, the CBI, despite tapping the hon'ble MP's phone, could not trace the leakage. It will be a moot point whether the tapping constituted a breach of his privileges as an MP.

But... how on earth did Swamy manage it?

Celebrity on sale

A private chit fund company, which recently branched out into airlines, publishing, television etc, has a novel way of influencing prospective investors.

It takes on board prominent people as 'super directors' and in exchange for lucrative perks insists on their putting up regular appearance in remote parts of the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the catchment area for chit business.

Amitabh Bachchan, wife Jaya, and Raj Babbar had embraced the cause some time ago. The latest to join is former steelman Russi Mody.

For lending his name to the chit fund, he allegedly gets Rs 25,000 per month as honorarium. Plus, the use of a chauffeur-driven car and 30 free round trips on the group's domestic airlines. In return, every month he and the others are obliged to address monthly closed-door meetings of people commandeered by the chit fund.

One would have imagined that the rich and the famous wouldn't have to do all this for Rs 25,000 per month.

Honest vs dishonest

The CBI is investigating the undoings of Ashok Aggarwal, the controversial deputy director at the Enforcement Directorate, who was removed at the Central Vigilance Commission's instance.

Aggarwal is accused of financial foul play while he was in charge of the Delhi zone. The CVC, after a preliminary inquiry, directed the government that "no sensitive post should be given to Aggarwal. Nor should he be posted in Delhi. Further an inquiry into several specific cases handled by him should be held by the CBI."

Boasting of high connections, Aggarwal made a counter complaint against his then boss M K Bezbaruah. The latter enjoys an impeccable reputation. Nonetheless in order to hold the scales of justice even, the authorities have now ordered a CBI inquiry into Aggarwal's charges against Bezbaruah.

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