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                        Virendra Kapoor

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh brewed himself a bit of trouble when he received Big Bill at Palam airport.

You see, Ajit Panja, his number two, didn't quite want him there. The minister of state for external affairs was under the impression that it was his exclusive privilege to receive the US president and his daughter Chelsea. And, look, Singh had usurped his right by intruding into the brief ceremony at the airport!

If Singh led the reception line at the airport, he, and not Panja, would get to exploit the great photo opportunity, na?

So Panja tried to upstage his senior. By first insisting on presenting a bouquet of flowers to Clinton and then seeking to engage him in conversation, much to the chagrin of his stiff senior.

True, the protocol lays down that the junior minister in the foreign office would receive the visiting dignitary, and his senior would meet him later at the formal reception in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan along with the President and prime minister.

However, depending on the status of the dignitary and his country, often in the past senior foreign office ministers have gone to the airport. South African leader Nelson Mandela and former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, thus, were received by the foreign minister.

You bet Panja made his displeasure public.

Maybe if Singh and Panja had belonged to the same party there would have been no fuss over who smiled at Bill first.

Bill's pal Murli

It pays to network.

The affable president of the Bombay Congress, Murli Deora, was probably a rare Indian at the banquet hosted by President K R Narayanan whom the US president sought out by name for a warm handshake.

Turning to Deora and his wife Hema, who were White House guests a couple of months ago, Big Bill said:

"Murli, it was nice to have you over for dinner. And I am looking forward to be in Bombay soon."

Of course, all the heads at the banquet craned towards the Deoras when the US president engaged them in a friendly chit-chat.

The next morning in the Central Hall of Parliament, as Indian politicians vied with one another to shake hands with the Visiting One, the US president pointedly lingered long enough to exchange a few words with Murli. Putting his hand on his shoulder, Big Bill told Murli:

"This is the day I was waiting for. I will see you in Bombay."

Of course, Murli was on cloud nine. After he left the Central Hall, several MPs poked fun at the genial Deora. "You are an American ambassador for us. Why don't you get Vajpayee to appoint you as our ambassador to Washington?" they asked.

Deora was far too happy to heed such barbs.

Setting an example

On his recent visit to a couple of West Asian countries, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley was presented an expensive watch by a reigning sheikh. A couple of senior officials accompanying him too received similar gifts.

Back in Delhi, Jaitley handed over the gift to the toshakhana [official warehouse], as is the custom. It was valued at Rs 25,000. Since recipients are permitted to keep only gifts valued up to Rs 5,000, he had to pay the balance of Rs 20,000 if he wanted to keep it. Which he did.

His bureaucrats, however, had not cared to send their gifts to the toshakhana. That is, until a few days later when they learnt that the minister had. Then they too per force followed the established drill.

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