Virendra Kapoor

Somebody in the Congress is embarrassed. Very embarrassed.

The culprit is former finance minister Manmohan Singh. And his cause of suffering, the Bihar issue.

It was the soft-spoken Dr Singh's hard plea at the hurriedly convened Congress Working Committee that persuaded the party to do the somersault on Bihar. Dr Singh argued that by opposing the motion to impose President's rule, the party would effectively blunt Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's charge that the Congress was soft on the 'communal' Vajpayee government. He was ably supported by Arjun Singh.

It mattered little to both that Sonia had virtually welcomed the ouster of the Rabri Devi government.

The two Singhs are widely known to have changed their public stands without qualms many times. As an economic bureaucrat, the first Dr Singh advocated and implemented the draconian license and quota raj -- till he took on the new avatar of the economic liberator.

As for the second, well, he has taken so many contrary positions on so many issues that people call him Mr Unreliable.

But admittedly, Dr Manmohan Singh is a reluctant opportunist. When a well-known television anchor sought to 'book' him for a post-Budget discussion, he tried to excuse himself. For an honourable reason: if the Budget turned out to be good, his party would still expect him to criticise it.

In the event, the Budget did turn out to be exceedingly sensible. And Dr Singh, who had been persuaded into the talk, was left panning it half-heartedly. Poor fellow! His image being what it is, he can neither be a 100 per cent politician nor a 100 per cent economist!

If Advani hadn't...

Sunder Singh Bhandari continues as Bihar governor because Union Home Minister L K Advani shot his mouth off.

Yes, that's right. But for Advani's public statement that Bihar needed an 'apolitical governor', Bhandari, a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, would have been out of Patna's Raj Bhavan.

Wouldn't it have served the BJP's cause if instead of Bhandari P C Alexander, the Maharashtra governor, was in charge of Bihar? Undoubtedly. And there was a serious move to shift Bhandari. But the initiative for it had come from Samata Party leaders George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar. Besides Dr Alexander, the name of retired bureaucrat N N Vohra was also tossed around in the discussion.

But no sooner had Fernandes left the home minister's room that day than Advani torpedoed the 'shift Bhandari move.' He told a television news channel that Bihar needs an 'apolitical governor.' With what result, everyone knows:

Bhandari threw a sulk, packed his bags and returned to New Delhi. And in order to avert a crisis, Advani mollycoddled him and had him back in Patna!

November's a good month

It is now almost certain that the Congress will precipitate a general election by the end of 1999.

How do we know? Well, we have it from the horse's mouth, the horse being R D Pradhan, who in turn has the ears of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi. Pradhan is said to have told a couple of confidants that November is a good month for an election...

A retired Maharashtra cadre IAS officer, the 70 year old now divides time between Bombay and New Delhi. He is widely credited for having crafted the Congress' come-back strategy. Pradhan spends his time meeting Congress leaders, advising Sonia and pursuing his literary interests.

Kafir Nayar and Musalman Shourie

Journalist turned BJP MP Arun Shourie is in a revisionist mode now. In his political avatar he is disowning things he had done and said as a journalist.

He now rails against the hungama in Parliament, something he had thrived on not so long ago. Whenever he wrote something, he expected it to hog national attention. And what better way of achieving this than to cajole a few friendly MPs to raise hell in the House over it? The more the hungama in Parliament, the more exalted our self-obsessed crusader felt.

Not anymore, though. Now Shourie writes long columns venting his frustration that hon'ble MPs waste precious time by creating furore, thus not letting the House get on with its agenda. Disruptive pandemonium, which he earlier took as feathers in his journalist cap, now gets his goat!

Shourie is resiling from his old positions in other ways too. For instance, he used to pour scorn on all those who advocated a soft, friendly, candles-at-the-Wagah-border approach to mending India's relations with Pakistan. Now he goes with the prime minister to Lahore. And compliments Kuldip Nayar, a prominent member of what he had derisively called the Lahore Club, in the Rajya Sabha for that symbolic act of lighting candles at Wagah!

Nayar, who spoke after Shourie in a recent debate in the House, responded thus: "I feel gratified (by Shourie's admission of his mistaken approach). To err is human, to forgive divine.Hum huaeny kafir, to woh kafir musalman ho gaya (When I became a non-believer, the non-believers became believers)!"

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