Virendra Kapoor
A tough question, this: is Shabana Azmi a better campaigner than she is an actress?

Now that her new films are hard to come by, it is Shabana the campaigner that one gets to see more than Shabana the actress. In the recent face-off with the Sangh Parivar over Water, what was on display was the committed crusader.

Carrying her fight into Parliament, Shabana the politician -- yes, that's another of her faces -- tried her level best to pin down Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley. But Jaitley had mastered his case well and, being an ace lawyer, turned the tables on his critics citing the Marxist record in creating hurdles during the shooting of City of Joy.

For the record, he also disapproved the vandalism against Water. Since Shabana had starred in City of Joy too, Jaitley reminded the Rajya Sabha how six bombs had been thrown at the sets in Calcutta in the early 90s.

When questioned about it, West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had justified it, maintaining that "every action will evoke a strong and firm reaction."

Mrinal Sen, another veteran film-maker and, like Shabana, a nominated Rajya Sabha member, who spoke after Jaitley, fully confirmed what the minister said about City of Joy. But two wrongs doesn't make one right, Sen didn't forget to add.

But Shabana wasn't satisfied to let matters be at that. She buttonholed Jaitley in the Central Hall of Parliament while he was chatting with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan.

"You were unfair to compare the events in Varanasi to Calcutta," she said. A crowd of MPs and journalists had meanwhile gathered around the trio.

"Having cleared the script," Shabana went on, "you should have seen that there was no obstruction in its shooting. You should have tweaked the ears of [Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister] Ram Prakash Gupta and told him to jolly well ensure that the film is allowed to be shot in Varanasi."

Cutting her midway, Mahajan, pointing at Jaitley, asked Shabana: "Who is he to pull the ears of Guptaji? Don't forget the UP CM enjoys a constitutional position independent of the central government. Law and order is a state subject and does not certainly fall in the purview of the I&B ministry."

Shabana protested that since Jaitley and Gupta belonged to the BJP, they could have ensured a trouble-free shooting had they wanted. It was again the more aggressive Mahajan who answered for his colleague.

"Look, you and these journalists having good fun witnessing the verbal exchanges between us do not have to run the government, we have to. And we know the multifarious compulsions of running the government," he said.

"You name the main widow-prostitute in Water Janaki [a revered name in Hindu mythology]. Earlier, Deepa Mehta had named the lesbian couple in Fire Radha and Sita... We have to run the government," he concluded.

Shabana didn't have anything to say to that. If one has to run a government, one has to do what one has to do, right?

Kesri's dream

Former Congress president Sitaram Kesri has set his heart on yet another term in the Rajya Sabha.

His present term will end on April 2. Kesri is certain that Sonia Gandhi, who had unceremoniously ejected him from the Congress chief's office, will not re-nominate him. So he is working out a strategy whereby the newly-elected Congress legislators in Bihar, with a little help from Laloo Prasad Yadav, would help him renew his membership.

Given that the Congress on its own does not have the number to return even a single member from Bihar, Kesri's arrangement suits the party very well.

Meanwhile, unkind critics say that Kesri's eyes light up whenever someone notes on television that under him the party had won more parliamentary seats than it has under his much-hyped successor...

Rajiv for Rajya Sabha?

rediff.com columnist and the popular anchor of the talk show, Ru-ba-ru, Rajiv Shukla, is all set to become an hon'ble member of Parliament.

Rajiv, the affable networker, has the backing of Uttar Pradesh Power Minister and Jantantrik Congress leader Naresh Aggarwal. Given his excellent connections within the Congress, the party's few legislators are also expected to vote for Rajiv.

In the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha from UP later this month, 11 new members are to be inducted. The ruling BJP coalition expects to win five seats comfortably. To win the sixth, it would need to draw upon the second preferential votes of the Opposition. Which is where Rajiv's importance becomes apparent.

Though fielded by the Jantantrik Congress, he would manage the votes of others opposed to the BJP-led coalition. And become yet another journalist to make it to the House of Elders.

The case of the non-existent letter

A few days ago a Calcutta newspaper went to town with the report that Minister for Heavy Industry Manohar Joshi had written to the prime minister protesting the alleged 'poaching' on his jurisdiction by Minister for Divestment Arun Jaitley.

The very next day another English language daily with editions in most major cities embellished the same report with quotes from Joshi's letter, splashing it on the front page.

But the truth is that Joshi hadn't written any such letter. Someone had sold a lemon to the reporters concerned who, in turn, had rushed to sell the same to their readers.

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