Virendra Kapoor

Now that the Mohan Guruswamy affair has receded, time for us to take stock.

An overt consequence is that Bharatiya Janata Party bigwigs have decided to stop admitting all comers indiscriminately into its higher councils. At 11, Ashoka road, there is unanimity that Guruswamy was welcomed in by then party chief Lal Kishenchand Advani. Also that it was Advani who made him a national executive member and, despite reservations from the Prime Minister's Office, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha's advisor.

"Ghar ki murgi dal barabar (one seldom appreciates what one has, like the chicken from one's own home tasting only as good as dal)" is the oft-heard remark among BJP leaders in the Guruswamy context. From the Jana Sangh days, the Sangh Parivar-faithful economic journalist and Rediff business columnist Jay Dubashi had served the party well. Why, then, did the BJP settle for this Johnny-come-lately with a terrible record of betraying mentors, be it Rajiv Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar or Vishwanath Pratap Singh?

"Even the relatively younger economic ideologue of the party, Jagdish Shettigar, would have served our cause better than Guruswamy without landing us in a bruising public controversy," senior leaders now hold.

The internal debate inevitably led to comparisons with the Subramanian Swamy affair. Since both Guruswamy and Swamy had Harvard degrees -- Dr Swamy's credentials are far superior to Guruswamy's -- and both had left in a trail of bitterness, the BJP leaders rue their weakness for foreign-educated men. The most incisive psychoanalysis runs thus:

"The simple, homespun leadership suffers from a tremendous inferiority complex and is ready to woo anyone who eats with a fork and knife and speaks English with a clipped accent!"

Anything to fell the PM

About Jayant Malhoutra, the industrialist who hit headlines in 1989 trying to destabilise the V P Singh government:

The Rajya Sabha member -- yes, he managed a seat for himself -- has now targeted the Vajpayee government. He is mighty annoyed with the prime minister for denying him a ticket from the Bilhaur parliamentary seat of Uttar Pradesh in last year's election. So when Guruswamy hit the headlines, Malhoutra put Mr Controversy in his car and took him to Dr Manmohan Singh.

Dr Singh, the Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, was to open the debate in the House on Guruswamy's undoings a few days later. But even after a two-hour meet, Guruswamy failed to furnish any evidence to substantiate his vague charges against the government. This was obvious when Dr Singh, in his opening fusillade, failed to buttress Guruswamy's side. Indeed, the former finance minister was constrained to remark that he had no additional evidence.

Blessing in disguise

Not everyone in the BJP, however, is unhappy with Guruswamy. Example: former information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj.

Not yet reconciled to the loss of office, Sushma, though she defended the government in Parliament, is pally-pally with Mr Controversy. And in hush-hush tones they talk about the "interference" of the prime minister's foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharaya.

Sushma's husband, the lawyer turned politician Swaraj Kaushal for his part, is happy at Vajpayee's discomfiture. The day the government was forced to revoke President's rule in Bihar, Kaushal went up to Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav to congratulate him. Naturally, the BJP MPs didn't like that one bit.

Meanwhile, there is some concern in the BJP about Bhattacharya. There is widespread appreciation in the Sangh Parivar that Advani's offspring are never seen mixing with politicians or officials. On the other hand, Bhattacharya maintains a high profile. However, the fact that Vajpayee needs someone to look after mundane things like his clothes and medicine is generally disregarded by those criticising Bhattacharya's presence in the PM's entourage.

Killer wit

Urban Welfare Affairs Minister Ram Jethmalani was the best man the government could have chosen to blunt the Opposition in the Guruswamy affair.

Though his heart wasn't in it, the famous lawyer did his duty well. Even his half-effort was enough to demolish the Opposition. At one stage when Vayalar Ravi of the Congress repeatedly interrupted him, Jethmalani brought the House down by relating this anecdote:

"Sir, as a young lawyer in Bombay, the prosecution counsel made such physical gyrations that I told the jury, 'after his act I do not think I am required to offer logic and legal arguments to defend my client'. And, sir, let me tell you, I won the case!''

Another time he told Ravi, "I can reply to you only if I and the House can understand what you are saying."

A little later he had the House roaring again when he told the Congress benches, "I remain eternally optimistic that every human being is vulnerable to the force of reason and logic."

Referring to Dr Manmohan Singh's assertion that Guruswamy had opened a "can of worms," Jethmalani intoned that the can was "in Manmohan Singh's pocket and he alone ought to be afraid of its fast proliferating contents."

Amidst laughter, Presiding Officer T N Chaturvedi chimed in: "Manmohan Singh is an economist and not a botanist..."

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