Virendra Kapoor

He lost out because he was born a brahmin.

The hero of our tragic tale is Kalraj Mishra, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's number one choice to replace Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh.

Mishra possessed the requisite administrative experience and had been a long-time RSS-Jana Sangh-BJP leader. Above all, during the years when Lal Kishanchand Advani was in total control of the party, he had remained loyal to a sulking Vajpayee. So Vajpayee made a strong pitch for his protégé.

But then, the shadow of Caste loomed large.

Mishra, you see, is a brahmin like Vajpayee. So it looked like a brahmin was trying to hoist another -- a fact which the aggrieved Kalyan Singh was double-quick to latch on to. He played his cards well and Vajpayee got the following message from an RSS biggie:

"Dilli mein bhi brahmin, Lucknow mein bhi brahamin, BJP ka kam tamam kar dega (A brahmin in Delhi and a brahmin in Lucknow will decimate the BJP electorally)."

And that sealed Mishra's fate.

Friends and negotiators

Vajpayee's long-time friend and former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat played an important behind-the-scene role in the UP negotiations.

Shekhawat's wonted skills as peacemaker and middle-roader were used to soften up Kalyan Singh. To lighten the blow, a non-entity like Ram Prakash Gupta was pulled out of obscurity and imposed as the chief minister of India's most populous state.

Admittedly, Kalyan Singh was never close to Vajpayee. He was too identified with Advani to be viewed with equanimity by the PM's camp. Vajpayee's aide and the in-charge of his parliamentary constituency, Shiv Kumar Parikh, had further poisoned his ears against Kalyan Singh. Parikh openly teamed up with Lalji Tandon and Mishra, both senior ministers in the Kalyan Singh government, against the CM.

Both Mishra and Tandon coveted the CM's post. But even in his defeat, Kalyan Singh succeeded in blocking their way. The fact that Kalyan Singh was a Lodh, a dominant backward caste in UP, was his trump card. And he played it well.

PS: Don't be surprised if the caste war within the BJP gets sharper and the government shakier.

He can do without perks

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley clearly has no use for the perks that come with his job. Which is why he has dispensed with the jhanda, danda and gaadi (an official car with the tricolour flying on its hood and the mandatory security guards).

Jaitley continues to move around in his private cars, a gleaming new silver coloured Honda Civic and a maroon Opel Astra. Sans security. And, of course, he relies on his old drivers since he never learnt to drive himself.

But the biggest perk that the young minister has given up -- or rather, away -- is a palatial bungalow in the heart of Delhi. He has given his ministerial house to the BJP so that the party bigwigs who do not own a house in the capital would have a roof over their heads.

The bungalow adjacent to the BJP headquarters, 11 Ashoka Road, was allotted to Union Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam. Ranga, however, was keen to live in a far bigger ministerial structure.

That is when Jaitley stepped forward and offered to take on the burden of the bungalow so that his Party could continue to use it.

A wasteful cycle

The Lok Sabha secretariat refuses to learn.

Despite its repeated failure to recover laptop computers and expensive printers from former MPs, it insisted on giving these to the members of the last House too. Barring a handful, most members did not even know what a computer was, let alone being proficient in its use. Nonetheless, all insisted on being given one.

Priced around Rs 150,000 each, the imported laptops and printers were first given to MPs in the early 90s. Since then there have three elections -- that is, three sets of MPs. Yet the Secretariat is unable to account for these computers, preferring instead to `sell' it to former members for as low as Rs 10,000!

Unsurprisingly, most members failed to pay even that paltry sum. And now the secretariat is yet again distributing the PCs to the new entrants.

Off to the UN!

A few weeks before the month-long annual session of the United Nation's General Assembly in September-October in New York, there is always a scramble for inclusion in the Indian delegation.

Wannabe delegates from among academics, politicians, journalists and other fields of activity and non-activity begin to lobby hard. The successful get to enjoy an all-paid vacation in the US with a couple of stopovers in world capitals thrown in at the taxpayers' expense.

Now they even get to take their spouses along, since Air-India allows a companion free on fully paid first class fares. And our beggarly delegates fly but only first class!

Each delegate gets a handsome per diem of US $ 150 plus $ 75 for other expenses. Since most of the time they invite themselves to one function or the other by the Indian mission in New York or even Washington, they come back loaded with goodies or sizeable savings.

This year at least two 'journalists' -- note the quotes, gentle reader -- managed to wangle their way into the delegation. One runs a feature-cum-news agency of sorts, though he is perennially lobbying for a gubernatorial assignment. The other is unemployed, having been recently dismissed by a news agency.

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