Virendra Kapoor

Who is India's super civil aviation minister? Now, don't think you're right up there with the brightest if you say Sharad Yadav.

That's the official one, the de jure in-charge of Air-India and Indian Airlines. But the de factoboss is the owner of one of India's best-run private airlines. No prizes for guessing, please.

While civil aviation ministers come and go, the super minister stays on regardless of the government in power. So C M Ibrahim in the Deve Gowda and I K Gujral governments, and Pramod Mahajan's old buddy Ananth Kumar in the second Vajpayee government did what this gentleman told them to do.

His veto power can be gauged from the way the Tata-Singapore Airlines proposal for a domestic air carrier in India was torpedoed by successive governments. So determined was Ibrahim to kill the Tata-SIA application that he reportedly asked for reciprocal rights for the state-owned Indian Airlines to fly in Singapore!

There was some hope that Vajpayee's advent as prime minister might result in better appreciation of the Tata-SIA proposal. But no, that was not to be with Ananth Kumar in the saddle.

Things haven't changed with Yadav either. The upshot of it is that the eminently sensible proposal to divest the government's investment in the loss-making Air-India and Indian Airlines has run into trouble.

Yadav parroted the arguments of the man of our story at the recent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment. Knowing fully well that no foreign airline would be interested in a mere 26 per cent stake in the loss-making national carrier, especially if management control was to remain with the government, Yadav sought just that. He opposed the Disinvestment Commission's proposal to sell 51 per cent stake and management rights to a strategic foreign partner.

You may wonder why the foray of an established foreign airline into the Indian foreign aviation industry through the divestment route causes sleepless nights to the super civil aviation minister.

Well, it's simple. If a foreign airline nurses Air-India back to health, the opposition to the plan to offload 51 per cent of the government's stake in the domestic carrier too will melt away. And our man dreads the day a professionally managed Indian Airlines under a foreign management competes with his airline.

Corking a loose cannon

Prime Minister A B Vajpayee recently asked one his junior ministers to resign. The minister had been making wild and irresponsible comments, both in public and private. The minister, who shall remain unnamed here, has this knack of rubbing people the wrong way. And worse, he has a problem dealing with senior bureaucrats.

After seeking the resignation, Vajpayee preferred to let matters rest. The chastened junior minister quickly issued a clarification on his offending comments to avoid Vajpayee taking further interest in his case.

A controversial promotion

The recent promotion of nearly 30 Indian Administrative Service officers to the rank of additional secretary has caused resentment among those who failed to make the grade.

Ironically, the empanelment of Navin Chawla, a Union Territory cadre officer known for his proximity to the Gandhis, has set tongues a-wagging. The man who first hit the headlines as the super lieutenant-governor of Delhi during the Emergency, has had an indifferent record.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister of Delhi, Sahib Singh Verma, who appointed him head of the Delhi Vidyut Board, gave him such a glowing recommendation that Chawla scraped through to the next higher rank, that of additional secretary.

Why Verma was so generous to Chawla is another interesting story which we may tell some other day.

Kabbadi in, cricket out?

Parliament is more involved with the recent furore over match-fixing by senior international cricketers than the life-and-death matter of the drought in large parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

But having settled their priorities, the honorable MPs decided that cricket was 'an imperial conspiracy against India'. A senior member of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha equated the game with the opium wars the West had launched against China in the early 20th century. The swadeshi brigade in the Lok Sabha said cricket was an alien game being promoted at the cost of 'traditional Indian games'. "Why have we forgotten all about kho-kho, gilli-danda, even volleyball and hockey?" said one.

At this stage Mulayam Singh Yadav, illustrious chief of the Samajwadi Party and a one-time professional wrestler, intervened to pose a question of his own: "Why not kabbadi and kushti?"

And thus does the level of debate in Parliament aspire to new heights.

No, thank you, hon'ble member

Then there is this newly elected member of the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh knocking on the BJP's doors for admittance.

Following his surprise election by sheer force of superior monetary clout, he has pleaded with senior BJP leaders for admission to Parliament. Though in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, BJP leaders are not certain if they ought to let the man in.

First, he keeps the wrong kind of company. Second, he has been rather nimble-footed in his brief political career, being willing to switch sides at the drop of a hat. Besides, a parliamentary committee once passed strictures against his company for fraudulent supplies to the ordnance depot in Shahjehanpur in UP some years ago.

But a bad record is hardly a disqualification in Parliament. And so the man still entertains hopes of making it.

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