Virendra Kapoor

The so-called live interview of Sonia Gandhi telecast on Doordarshan recently was anything but live.

The Italian-born Congress president, who needs to consult a script even to say hello in any language other than her own, was a veritable case of nerves before and during the ordeal. It lasted well over three hours. Despite the fact that the interviewer was no David Frost, Sonia was a nervous wreck. This, when the interviewer was more than willing to rehearse every question and answer with her many times over. Her accented Hindi too added to the glitches.

The backroom managers and the interviewer had agreed on a list of questions. Since they were aware of the answers, even the order of questions was pre-arranged. Yet most of Sonia's replies had to be recorded many times over because she got a word wrong or needed to consult the script to give the right answer.

Certain questions were taboo. For instance, the interviewer was told that no question about her family back in Italy or about her days in London should be asked. And certainly none at all about that family friend, Ottavio Quattrochhi.

Yet, the interview yielded ammunition to the Sonia critics when she weakly mumbled that her failure to acquire an Indian passport for 15 long years was a mere 'technicality.' Planned as a puff job, the exercise will be remembered, if at all, only for her statement that being an Indian citizen was a question of a mere 'technicality'!

Dilip out, Yusuf in

Thespian Dilip Kumar is crisscrossing the country in a private aircraft to do his bit for the Congress.

Accompanied by comedian Johnny Walker, Kumar's campaign has been drawn up as if his appeal is confined to the minority community alone. And the gent speaks more like Yusuf Khan than Dilip Kumar.

In Gandhinagar he asked a Muslim-dominated roadside meeting to "ensure that not one Muslim vote goes to L K Advani." In Maharashtra's Bhiwandi, the Sena-BJP combine has recorded his full speech on tape in order to make out a case for the breach of the Election Commission guidelines and have him disenfranchised.

Besides the aircraft, the Congress also arranges a Mercedes and a couple of other cars to ferry Kumar and his entourage on the campaign trail. Given his failing health, he is often helped to the makeshift stage and escorted back from it into the waiting Merc. Even Walker has difficulty saying a few coherent lines on the stump, but he nonetheless keeps 'Yusuf Saab' in good humour.

Shatru out-guns Dilip

He may never have achieved the same cinematic success as Dilip Kumar, but there is no denying the pull of Shatrughan Sinha.

As a star speaker mustering support for his party, the actor-turned-BJP MP has no peers. Unlike Dilip Kumar, Sinha has an eclectic appeal. The BJP central office, which co-ordinates the rallies of star speakers, has a harrowing time meeting the demand of various candidates for arranging Sinha's rallies in their constituencies. The demand for Sinha is second only to that of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Sushma Swaraj and L K Advani come next in the order of all-India priorities.

Sinha, unlike the other filmy speakers campaigning for various parties, has matured into a seasoned politician. While Shotgun the actor might pull in the initial crowds, it is Sinha the neta who addresses them. And he does a fantastic job, peppering his speech with telling anecdotes and funny jokes.

Sinha too has a 10-seater aircraft and a chopper at his disposal. Having been provided Z-category security after threats from unnamed non-resident mafia dons, he flies around with his security guards and a couple of personal friends to relieve the monotony of low-altitude flying. Incidentally, the time spent travelling far exceeds the actual time spent addressing audiences.

Mein CM nahin, tum PM nahin

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was hurt by the talk that he was to be removed soon after the polling in the parliamentary poll was over. The rumour was spread by Singh's rivals in the BJP, notably Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon.

The two ministers in the UP government have done everything to undermine Singh's position. Therefore it was a very hurt Singh who devised a strategy to teach the party's central leadership a lesson. His message was simple: Mein CM nahin, tum PM nahin (If I am not CM, Vajpayee wouldn't be PM).

Since Mishra and Tandon annot hope to achieve Singh's stature, the latter rightly believed that the two wouldn't take him on unless a section of the central leadership of the party was egging them on. That was why Singh took the problem to its source, namely, Vajpayee.

Both Mishra and Tandon claimed to speak on Vajpayee's behalf and thus queered Singh's pitch. Advani, on the other hand, was opposed to any move to replace Singh while insisting that he needs to change his ways and get a grip over the administration. At a meeting lasting nearly two hours at Vajpayee's house, Singh minced no words. The electorally crucial other backward castes were angry with the BJP due to the reported move to replace the OBC chief minister.

After several grievances were aired and misunderstandings cleared, Singh settled for a relaxed lunch with Vajpayee. Having proved his point that he was indispensable if he was to stay on as PM, Singh left Vajpayee's house in a triumphant mood.

Sibal scores another self-goal

People living in glass houses should not throw stones.
Kapil Sibal, the Congress spokesman, hasn't clearly heard that commonplace saying. Otherwise, he would not blame Vajpayee for having got himself a modest DDA house in New Delhi some years ago.

Incidentally, all MPs and Delhi MLAs are entitled to out-of-turn allotment of DDA houses. But Vajpayee did not take this route for getting his DDA house. If he, after 50 years in public life sought the security of a DDA roof post-retirement, it is, without doubt, a tribute to his integrity. Even that lower division clerk-turned-Congress-neta, R K Dhawan, lives in a huge bungalow in the capital's most pricey residential area, Jor Bagh.

But how about Sibal himself? Didn't he and his father, Hira Lal, a Chandigarh-based lawyer, get themselves huge plots of prime land allotted out of the then Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal's discretionary quota? That the Punjab and Haryana high court cancelled those allotments and subsequently the Supreme Court upheld the HC order is not germane to the issue...

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