Virendra Kapoor

Most Congressmen are unable to fathom how Rajiv Gandhi groupie and former minister of state for defence Arun Singh was appointed executive assistant to Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh -- and that, mind you, at a princely salary of Rs 1!

They suspect that Singh had been brought back from political oblivion to embarrass Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Singh was privy to happenings preceding the Bofors deal. Also, he knew firsthand the cover-up operation undertaken at Rajiv's behest once the scam became public.

Small wonder, then, that Congressmen are scared that Singh might be used to strengthen the charge that the gainer from the Bofors bribes was Sonia's Italian relatives. The fact that the Swiss are about to make the details of the last account to which the bribes were paid available shortly fuelled their fears further.

Singh, by all accounts, bears no ill will towards Sonia. His interlocutors in recent days were unanimous that he would not break his silence on the scam. In any case, being an old-fashioned gentleman he was unlikely to betray his late friend's secrets.

Contrary to the general impression, Singh was to be inducted originally with Defence Minister George Fernandes. Given the latter's controversial public image, the prime minister had approved Singh as senior aide with the sole objective of bringing some sobriety and professionalism to the ministry.

But Fernandes feared poaching in his territory. He declined to have Singh as aide. Having persuaded Singh to break his voluntary sanyas, an embarrassed prime minister did the next best thing: inducted him in the foreign ministry.

Since Jaswant Singh had played a key role in persuading his old friend to come out of political oblivion, he could not possibly say no to have him.

What a twosome!

A little before he was shifted from the urban welfare affairs ministry to the law ministry, the prime minister is said to have told Ram Jethmalani that since his continuance was causing a lot of embarrassment it would be good if he resigned. Jethmalani, of course, refused.

Vajpayee had sought the resignation as politely as he could, following the 'strictures' passed against Jethmalani by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Jethmalani's trusted aide, K J Alphons, too had run riot in the ministry, riling senior officers with his rude behaviour.

And now, Alphons is wooing Sonia Gandhi's aide Vincent George to get a Congress ticket for the forthcoming parliamentary poll. On the eve of last election he was keen to get a BJP ticket for the New Delhi seat. The BJP leaders had treated his request with disdain.

The head of the small Christian sect to which Alphons belongs is said to have played an important role in persuading George, a fellow Malayalee, to help the controversial IAS officer realise his political dream. Alphons has zeroed in on the Ernakulam parliamentary constituency.

N`u'twar Singh

Given his propensity to put his foot in the mouth, Congress foreign affairs spokesman Natwar Singh has now been nicknamed N'U'twar Singh.

And who do you think came up with the winning line: the BJP in Vajpayee have got the leader while the Congress in Sonia Gandhi has the reader?

Who else but the rare scholar among Congressmen, and Congressman among scholars, Jairam Ramesh!

Bad name for BJP

Things are really topsy-turvy in the BJP. The party that had once laid much store by discipline and unity is now at sixes and sevens.

Its chief Kushabhau Thakre cuts a sorry figure every time he speaks. And is soon overruled either by Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Lal Kishanchand Advani. Even the relatively junior leaders are not sufficiently deferential to the poor chief.

For all practical purposes, Advani is the super boss. Vajpayee himself, to be fair, tries as far as possible not to dabble in the party's internal affairs. Nonetheless there are some leaders like Pramod Mahajan, who act independently while giving the impression that their actions have Vajpayee's tacit approval.

The release of the full two-page ads recently by Mahajan has led to a lot of bad blood. Mahajan did not consult anyone, not even the Arun Shourie-led media cell, before releasing the controversial ad, which got the names of Kargil martyrs wrong.

Also, the ad showed ignorance of recent Indian history. It made Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the BJP's predecessor, the Jana Sangh, the first martyr in Kashmir while side-stepping scores of Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in 1947-1948.

BJP will continue

The sure sign that the BJP might still manage to stay in power after the election comes from the importance accorded to its leaders by foreign missions in New Delhi, and the invitations extended by Indians settled abroad.

Two weeks ago, three of the BJP's second-rank leaders were in cooler climes abroad at invitations of NRIs or foreign governments. Sushma Swaraj and party general secretary Narendra Modi were in the US while senior party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu was in London.

Meanwhile, old-timers like J P Mathur and Krishan Lal Sharma made much of their absence to hog the limelight.

Joginder's political dream

Retired director CBI director Joginder Singh has now been bitten by the political bug. He would like nothing better than a career as parliamentarian.

Thus, he can be seen wooing senior BJP leaders. His first preference is his native Ferozepur constituency in Punjab. Since that seat traditionally belongs to the Akali Dal, Singh would like Parkash Singh Badal to swap that seat for another to be vacated by the BJP.

A seat for Gujral

The ex-sleuth is not the only one who is shopping around. Former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral too is looking for a seat.

Last time he contested the poll from Jalandhar. He had managed to win the seat on the Janata Dal symbol only due to the combined support of the Akali Dal and its electoral ally, the BJP. But now the BJP has decided not to support the 'turn-coat.'

Gujral, however, says he will contest. With the blessings of the same 'foreigner' who he had said would run away to Italy after the election. And, sources laugh, the process of wooing the 'foreigner' is on in right earnest!

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