Virendra Kapoor

Too many cooks spoil the Foreign Office broth.

Nowhere is the duality of control in the Vajpayee government causing more confusion than at the FO. The confusion about who is the real boss is reflected most in the matter of transfers and postings.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, an able and erudite politician, is either unwilling or unable to defend his turf. The Prime Minister's Office, notably the PM's principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, has come to wield considerable influence over all FO policy and personnel matters.

Admittedly, Mishra's role, if any, in the shaping of foreign policy ought to be secondary to that of the foreign minister, but being a former diplomat the PM's PS finds it hard to let go the opportunity to act as as the super foreign minister, thanks to his proximity to the PM.

As for the PM, he is so good-natured that he refuses to suggest even tangentially that Mishra should leave foreign policy to the Foreign Office and its able ministerial head.

So self-assured is Mishra of Vajpayee's backing even as he steps on the foreign minister's toes that he makes no attempt to be subtle or, if you please, diplomatic while playing the super FM.

During Vajpayee's visit to the United Nations and the US in September, it was not a pleasant sight to see the usually unflappable Singh angrily asking an aide to Mishra, whether as foreign minister he could set his eyes on an advance copy of the prime minister's UN speech.

Mishra virtually played the master of ceremonies throughout the visit, while Singh played a peripheral role.

The duality at the top at the FO causes more confusion in the matter of postings and transfers. The most illustrative case involves the appointment of the high commissioner in Mauritius after Mani Lal Tripathi was transferred to Bangladesh as high commissioner in place of Dev Mukherjee who was appointed ambassador in Nepal.

The FO duly notified Alok Prasad as the next high commissioner in Port Louis. But Prasad had other ideas. Since he had been posted to Mauritius by the foreign minister, he had his posting reversed by the super foreign minister. (Some insist, wrongly though, that it is the other way round.) He is now happily ensconced as deputy head of the mission at the Indian embassy in Washington.

But hold your breath. In order to post Prasad -- a joint secretary-level IFS officer -- in Washington, they had to cancel the duly notified posting of Leela Ponappa, an additional secretary-level IFS officer, as the number two officer at the Washington mission.

The upshot of this last-minute change is that Ponappa is cooling her heels in Delhi waiting for her bosses -- whoever they may be -- to send her on what will be her second posting abroad in all of the 30-plus years that she has been a member of the Indian Foreign Service.

After the FO mandarins posted Prasad to Washington, with due deliberation they appointed Vijay Kumar as the high commissioner-designate to Mauritius. As expected, the MEA took the Mauritius government's pro forma approval to post Kumar as high commissioner. Even before Kumar could land in Port Louis, it seems the MEA has changed its mind. Now they want a non-diplomat to head the Indian mission in Mauritius.

Or take the decision to post Indian ambassador to Germany Ranen Sen to London as high commissioner in place of Nareshwar Dayal.

Former foreign secretary K Raghunathan was to go to Germany in Sen's place. Now, for inexplicable reasons, this arrangement too has been shelved. Lobbying with the diverse bosses at the FO has begun anew.

Exceptions to the rule of law

There are always exceptions to any rule that you may frame. Otherwise, politicians feel powerless. That alone would explain why after cancelling en bloc the allotments of a host of so-called VIPs, the government is letting some of these very people continue to stay on in subsidised official bungalows.

Several people, who were allotted government accommodation on alleged grounds of security, were asked to move out following a re-assessment of the threat perception by the home ministry.

Among those asked to vacate government bungalow were former Punjab police chief K P S Gill and former Youth Congress president M S Bitta. Both have been allowed to stay on, thanks to the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office.

Interestingly, a former governor, who, it is unkindly said, had threatening letters written in order to make a case for a government bungalow, continues to stay at his bungalow despite there being no threat to his life.

Gandhis at Lakshadweep

If Vajpayee goes en foster famille to usher in the New Year in Kerala, can Sonia Gandhi be far behind?

The Gandhis are all set to vacation in Lakshadweep. Sonia, daughter Priyanka son-in-law Robert Vadra and their daughter will fly in from New Delhi whereas London-based son Rahul and his Colombian girlfriend are likely to join them in the Lakshadweep isles a day or two later.

Army overstayed its welcome at Red Fort

Believe it or not, a move to have the Army clear out of the historic Red Fort was initiated by the Indira Gandhi government way back in 1974.

The government endorsed the Archaeological Survey of India's claim that it was the rightful body to control the Red Fort. But on one pretext or the other, the Army failed to vacate the Red Fort.

Now the Army is hard put to explain as to how the Lashkar e Tayiba militants breached security at the Fort to kill three of its personnel.

The file about the proposal to have the Army move out of the Red Fort has been gathering dust despite occasional meetings at the ASI's instance to have the matter sorted out.

Even the Vajpayee government had taken up the matter with the Army high command, but did not press it hard enough. Following the terrorist attack, the Army may not be able to stay put in the Fort.

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