Did the prime minister blot his copybook by coming to the defence of the ministers named in the Ayodhya case? Most people, who liked to believe that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was different from the party he headed, seem to think so.
His description of the campaign for a temple at Ayodhya as an 'upsurge of national sentiment' has not exactly endeared him to the secularist crowd. Vajpayee further riled the liberals by openly endorsing the call for the erection of a temple at the disputed site.
Why did Vajpayee-the-Liberal say what he said on the temple issue? A little birdie tells us he did so at the instance of the beleaguered ministers. With the Opposition clamouring for the resignations of L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, the PM was under pressure from the Sangh Parivar to defend his colleagues.
A Cabinet minister, till recently a senior general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, urged the PM that he defend Advani, Bharti and Joshi. The minister broached the subject with Advani, and sought to know what could be done to repulse the Opposition demand for his resignation.
It emerged from the discussion that only if Vajpayee rode to their rescue could the demand for the resignations be deflected. Advani, for his part, demurred and said he would not like to suggest that the PM defend him or the others.
At this stage the former BJP gensecy, who was once being groomed to head the party, announced that he would meet Vajpayee and urge him to defend the ministers.
Vajpayee rose in defence of the Ayodhya campaign and caused a bigger crisis than he had set out to defuse.
Round peg in square hole
BJP president Bangaru Laxman, we think, has been less than fair to senior party leader Madan Lal Khurana.
The former Union minister and Lok Sabha member from the capital's Sadar constituency is at home dealing with party issues in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Not only does Khurana know most BJP leaders in these states intimately, he has no problem understanding their mindspeak.
But in his wisdom, Laxman has made Khurana the veep in charge of Sikkim and West Bengal! We wonder why.
Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav is a reluctant liberaliser. If he can help it, the old Lohia Socialist would not be a party to the proposed divestment in Indian Airlines and Air-India. But so powerful is the pressure for divestment that Yadav has become party to the Cabinet decision to sell off a part of the sarkar's equity in both airlines, a fact he often tries to hide, but to no avail.
The other day in the central hall of Parliament, a couple of Congress MPs good-humouredly ragged Yadav for the decision to divest in AI and IA. Said a senior Congress MP from Maharashtra, "Air-India and Indian Airlines are being sold and Yadavji does not even know about it..."
At this stage, former Bahujan Samaj Party MP Akbar Ahmed 'Dumpy,' chimed in, as everyone around erupted into loud laughter, "Arre, inke party beek gayi aur inko pata nahin chala, Air-India aur Indian Airlines ki kya baat karte ho! (Hey, his party was sold and he did not know about it, why talk about Air-India and Indian Airlines!)."
Dr Chitranjan S Ranawat, the New York surgeon who operated on the prime minister's knee in October, has become a celebrity with Indians. Rich and famous Indians, in need of similar surgery, now go to great lengths to consult him. Though he was a successful surgeon all along, the demand for his skills has multiplied since he operated on Vajpayee.
Shortly after the operation, a group of Rajasthanis in America claimed him as one of theirs since Dr Ranawat's family had lived in the state at one point. They duly felicitated him at an elaborate function in New York. A prominent NRI, connected with the BJP, sought the help of senior party leaders to organise a consultation with Dr Ranawat for a knee problem. And the other day, a senior Bangladesh minister informally asked the Indian foreign office for help to fix an appointment with Dr Ranawat.
The other day, members of Parliament's finance committee asked the head of a successful private investment/banking company to meet them. Since the company in question is not dependent on government largesse, its chairman was naturally reluctant to show up.
Following gentle persuasion by the Reserve Bank of India, he finally agreed to appear before the committee which had scheduled a sitting in Bombay.
As soon as he showed up, a member of the committee tried to browbeat him. "You know I can have you dismissed this moment... Do not think you can escape from us... We are all powerful..."
The banker was flabbergasted until another MP, S S Ahluwalia (BJP-RS), came to his rescue.
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