Virendra Kapoor

If you ask us, and we are sure that you will, Ram Jethmalani asked for it.

In one stroke, the sacked law minister offended Chief Justice of India A S Anand and caused grave affront to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

When Vajpayee realised Jethmalani was bent on a showdown with the CJI, he had no option but seek his immediate resignation. Here is the dirt on how the sack actually came about:

The latest tiff between the CJI and the law minister began, as you know, over the appointment of the chairman of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. In May when the post fell vacant, Jethmalani proposed Justice (retired) Brij Mohan Lal.

Learning about it from the judicial circles, the CJI protested in a letter to the PM. He was upset at having been bypassed by the law minister, for the convention deemed consultations between him and the minister mandatory. The CJI also wrote to the law minister, more or less making the same points that he did in his letter to Vajpayee.

When the PM sought Jethmalani's comments, he furnished what was purported to be a draft reply on the prime minister's behalf to Chief Justice Anand. After which, Jethmalani left the country for a foreign trip.

On his return, Jethmalani aggravated matters by writing a terse letter to the CJI defending his right to appoint the MRTP Commission chairman without consulting him. For good measure, he attached a copy of the letter he believed the PM had written to the CJI in response to the latter's protest note.

Jethmalani had assumed the PM had appended his signatures to the reply which he had drafted. Unfortunately for the law minister, Vajpayee had virtually re-written the draft, making it far more polite and persuasive.

Of course, Jethmalani's missive to the CJI aggravated matters. It was couched in terse, nay, acerbic language. However what really had the CJI seething was the fact that the copy of the PM's letter sent by the law minister to him was vastly different from the one he received from Vajpayee.

Immediately, the CJI wrote to the PM saying he was extremely unhappy with the tone of the law minister's response. Worse, he was puzzled by the two different versions. And then Chief Justice Anand wrote something which reportedly sealed Jethmalani's fate.

The CJI said he had no intention of continuing any further the discussion with the law minister on the MRTP Commission chairman's appointment. Indeed, Chief Justice Anand clearly indicated that henceforth he had no intention to discuss any issue with the law minister.

Vajpayee did not want a situation wherein the law minister and the head of the country's judiciary were not on speaking terms. The CJI's remarks in open court against Jethmalani, while hearing a public interest litigation on the Srikrishna Commission, was the last straw.

A brief for land-grabbers

Former prime ministers might be keen to cultivate the image of elder statesmen, but in effect they are no better than the small-time politicians who often intercede on behalf of their rich and influential constituents.

Last week in Delhi, when Union Urban Development Minister Jagmohan's demolition squad went to clean up the encroachments all along the Delhi-Gurgaon road, at least three former prime ministers frantically called him up.

Would he mind stopping such destructive activities immediately?

For sure, Jagmohan minded. He pressed ahead with the demolitions all along the busy road from Andheria Mode to Gurgaon, thus removing one of the most frequent traffic bottlenecks in south Delhi.

Both Inder Kumar Gujral and Chandra Shekhar are known to cultivate rich friends. The surprise was that even Vishwanath Pratap Singh has taken to pleading for the encroachers, though he does it in the name of the poor and the needy.

Flying tricolour

The cut and thrust of parliamentary debate often goes unnoticed due to tawdry reporting.

For instance, on the opening day of Parliament, there was an animated debate on divestment in the Rajya Sabha. Though Arun Jaitley had ceded his place as the divestment minister to Arun Shourie, he was asked to respond.

And Jaitley, as is his is wont, did a neat job. Prem Gupta of Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal thought he had floored Jaitley when he intoned:

"[Air-India's privatisation would be an] insult to the national flag which the national carrier supports on its wings... can you put a price on the tricolour?"

Pat came Jaitley's counter: "The flag will fly with pride when Air-India becomes a first class airline... when every Indian is proud of Air-India. When the travelling public everywhere feels that Air-India is an excellent airline... We do no honour flying the tricolour now on an airline which is deep in the red... which has a rotten image in the travel industry..."

Last seen Gupta was struggling for words.

The TADA trap

A couple of days before the monsoon session of Parliament, the consultative committee of MPs attached to the home ministry met in the capital.

Opposition members were exercised by the reported move to legislate what has come to be called TADA-II. Led by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Somnath Chatterjee, member after member rubbed in the point that the government itself was divided since Law Minister Ram Jethmalani had publicly opposed another preventive detention law. L K Advani was hard put to defend Jethmalani's gratuitous advice.

It was another matter that a few days later Jethmalani found himself ousted from the Cabinet, though for entirely different reasons altogether.

Capital Buzz