If Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had his wish, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh would be sans his chair.
Vajpayee, you see, holds Kalyan Singh personally responsible for the Bharatiya Janata Party's poor performance in UP. Against the 62 seats in 1998, the party won just 29 this time.
What stops Vajpayee from having his wish is the dire consequences the BJP-led government in Lucknow will face if Singh gets the boot. Given the precarious nature of that coalition, Kalyan Singh continues to be the best bet to keep it going.
In a way, the Kalyan Singh problem had its origin in the Lal Kishenchand Advani-Vajpayee shadow boxing. Singh was perceived as an Advani groupie. It was thus that Vajpayee came to be seen as the chief patron of the anti-Kalyan Singh elements led by UP ministers Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon.
Vajpayee loyalists have attacked Kalyan Singh almost from the day he took over. Over time, he gave up mollycoddling the dissidents and chose the path of rebellion. Today he confronts the central leadership, daring it to sack him. He knows that without him the BJP would again be reduced to the brahmin-bania party it was in its avatar as the Jana Sangh.
But make no mistake, Singh did all he could to ensure the success of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in the parliamentary election. His loyalist, Satchidanand Sakshi Maharaj, who left the BJP on being denied a ticket and campaigned aggressively for the SP, weaned away a sizeable number of votes. Singh did not go to the 31 constituencies where Sakshi Maharaj campaigned for the SP.
Of course, the BJP leadership is fully aware of Kalyan Singh's perfidious play. Though a decision on his fate is yet to be taken, senior leaders, barring, of course, Vajpayee, are in no mood for a sack. As a powerful general secretary said, "When you beat a child, you cannot deny it the right to cry. We have needlessly tormented Singh who has held a difficult coalition together in the most trying circumstances."
Even the RSS leaders have counselled a 'let-bygones-be-bygones' approach. But Vajpayee is in an unforgiving mood...
What was that all 'bout?
So, tell us, what was the rationale behind the wholesale reshuffle of secretaries to the Government of India last week?
Everybody other than its sole architect, N K Singh, special secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, seemed to be in the dark. Union Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar says he came to know about it only a couple of hours before the orders were made public.
Several secretaries had no inkling about their impending transfer. Barring a couple of senior ministers, no attempt was made to consult the freshers. And at least one secretary found himself reverted to his parent cadre, though he had only six months to go for retirement.
Since the PM has a rather laid-back approach to matters such, and is generally amenable to the advice he is given by close aides, the buzz is that the controversial N K Singh was keen to let people know his importance under the new dispensation.
In all probability, the name of the new foreign secretary will be announced in the next couple of days.
The front-runner is Lalit Mansingh, at present India's high commissioner in London. Mansingh has Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh's support.
The only hitch is the PM's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra. Mishra is looking for a rather pliant officer who would allow him to run the foreign office from the PMO, thus undermining Jaswant Singh. So he has zeroed in on a rather junior secretary-level officer for the job.
The way the cookie crumbles
Defeated in the recent parliamentary poll, leader of the one-man Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, V Ramamurthy, has shamefacedly approached senior BJP leaders to intercede on his behalf with DMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.
His plea: Get me into the Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu in the by-election caused by the death of All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam member R K Kumar.
Ramamurthy, incidentally, was petroleum minister in the last Vajpayee government.
That's the way the mighty fall, we guess.
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