Virendra Kapoor

Nothing apparently is sacrosanct for our hon'ble members of Parliament.

Take for instance, bogus voting. Ordinary people caught impersonating in local, state or central elections are duly punished. But not so if you are an MP. You can impersonate a fellow MP who is too ill to attend the House and expect to get away with it.

Which is what an MP, who cast Congress member Abdul Ghani Khan Choudhary's vote for him on the Bihar motion last week, is now hoping.

Former railway minister and member from Malda in West Bengal, Choudhary is in very poor health. On February 26, the day of the crucial vote on the ratification of President's rule in Bihar, despite a party whip, he could not make it to the Lok Sabha. The helpful MP cast Choudhary's vote and signed on the slip in his (Choudhary's) name. However the hawk-eyed Lok Sabha staff detected this and brought it to the notice of Speaker G M C Balayogi and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs P R Kumaramangalam.

An inquiry ordered by the Speaker has now pinpointed the alleged culprit: Congress spokesman Ajit Jogi!

The Central Forensic Laboratory has confirmed that the signature on Choudhary's ballot paper was Jogi's. But the House seems to be in no mood to proceed against Jogi. This, despite a vociferous demand by BJP member Major-General (retd) B C Khanduri that the Speaker take the Lok Sabha into confidence as to who had brought ignominy onto the entire House.

Jogi, a former IAS officer, established a pipeline to an aide of Sonia Gandhi, who, like him, is a Christian. It is this aide who managed the high-profile Congress spokesman's role for Jogi.

Meanwhile, efforts are on to put a tight lid over the affair. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Jogi escapes unscathed.

Of rich and poor ministers

Nearly a year after they assumed power, the list of personal assets of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ministers remains to be made public.

The prime minister had directed his men to furnish the list to be kept in Parliament's library. Most members dawdled. Following questions in Parliament and several reminders from the Prime Minister's Office, the full list is now ready. And may be kept in the library soon.

Among Cabinet ministers, Minister for Urban Welfare Ram Jethmalani is one of the richest. The famous lawyer has assets running into tens of millions of rupees.

Most surprisingly, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pramod Mahajan is among the poorest. Mahajan, known to be a personal friend of moneybags, has a modest flat in Bombay -- his contribution, a meagre Rs 60,000 only -- and some land in his ancestral village in Maharashtra.

Among junior ministers, Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje and Minister of State for Industry Sukhbir Badal are the richest. While Raje has inherited a part of the Gwalior family's princely assets, Badal belongs to one of the richest families of Punjab.

The poorest junior minister is Ramesh Bais who has nothing to declare bar a handful of goats of indeterminate market value.

Doctor of PR

T Subbarami Reddy, a second term Congress member in the Lok Sabha from Visakhapatnam, is known to throw lavish parties. A businessman, he is making the best of his stint as a politician.

His double-barrel name-card tells you something about his character. The front of the card has the impressive Ashoka emblem in golden. The inside lists his LS constituency and then goes on to blare out that he is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance and Consultative Committee on Civil Aviation. That is not all.

The card also announces that Reddy is a former chairman of the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam Trust. The inside back cover lists his office and residential telephone and telex numbers in Delhi, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. Of late, he has acquired another card, which additionally lists him as secretary, Congress Parliamentary Party.

For someone who is only in his second term, Reddy seems to be doing very well for himself, having made his way onto the front benches. He regularly dines with senior officials.

The other day he threw a bash to bid farewell to D R Karthikeyan, a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, who recently retired from service. Almost every secretary to the government showed up. Was it the attraction of the five-star food and drinks or the growing popularity of the Congress? It is hard to tell.

Carrying coal to Newcastle

This should add further grist to the swadeshi mill. The capital's elite watering hole, India International Centre, is re-furbishing rooms in its hostel. With, mind you, carpets imported from Five Star Finishing Inc, Chatsoworth, Georgia, USA.

Seeing the huge pile of driftwood-coloured rolls of imported carpets, a hardcore swadeshi protagonist clinched the argument with a liberalist, thus:

"By indiscriminately opening up the economy, this is what happens. Instead of exporting carpets, you import them now!"

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