Virendra Kapoor
No, norms do not matter anymore.

At the recent Bharatiya Janata Party conclave in Nagpur, Sudheendra Kulkarni, a director-level official in the Prime Minister's Office, was seen occupying a prominent place on the dais.

As a full-time government employee, Kulkarni had no business attending the BJP national council meeting. Sitting on the dais in full view of the world translates to showing scant respect to an age-old rule that bars officials from participating in purely political activities.

A former Leftist, Kulkarni came to the BJP during L K Advani's rath yatra. And has stayed on since, due primarily to the patronage of the very man who allowed him in to the inner circles of Sangh Parivar.

A former journalist, Kulkarni is believed to have had close connections with the controversial Hinduja brothers. He joined the PMO when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM the second time. He often writes the PM's speeches, and networks with senior BJP leaders.

The presidential speech of the new BJP chief, Bangaru Laxman, incidentally, was Kulkarni's work of art. Vajpayee and his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra had given him pointers. The rest Kulkarni did, and a nice job too... what with his culling out an old quote from the late Jan Sangh chief Deen Dayal Upadhyay which went:

'...Muslims being the blood of our blood and the flesh of our flesh...'

As one of the four former journalists in the PMO, Kulkarni's services are utilised a lot for speeches. Those of H K Dua, the secretary-level media adviser to the PM, and Ashok Tandon, additional secretary-level media adviser, are used the least for providing written inputs of any sort.

Dua is heard of more outside the PMO. Tandon maintains a low profile while handling middle-level journalists and the regional press in his own gentle manner.

The other Leftist-turned-saffron groupie, former journalist and rediff.com columnist Kanchan Gupta, too, is a director-level officer. He is attached to the PM's principal secretary. Gupta and Kulkarni are not the best of friends.

For that matter, nor is anyone in the PMO media set-up on best terms with Dua. His favourite pastime, we are told, is "to unabashedly indulge in self-praise"!

Bad job, mediamen!

Got to admit it.

The media does a lousy job covering Parliament. To make up for that, here we bring you a couple of interesting incidents.

The other day a back-bench BJP member made a strong plea to ban Fashion TV. He said it was corrupting "the minds of the young" by showing near-naked young women.

Even before he could finish his sentence, a loud voice interrupted him: "What time of the day do they show naked women? Let us also see them!"

As the House roared in collective laughter, the embarrassed member resumed his seat.

Then there was this Telugu Desam Party member. He wanted to know about the marketing tie-up between the State-owned Oil and Natural Gas Commission and a Bombay-based industrial group.

The ministerial reply was evasive. The TDP member persisted. Before the minister could fob her off, members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist joined in pressing for a direct answer.

In the resulting confusion, the question hour ended. And the tie-up between the ONGC and the industrial group escaped public scrutiny yet again.

But that is not the end of the story. So long are the hands of the industrial house that soon TDP boss and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu was berating the MP over the phone.

Naidu reportedly hung up after sternly telling her not to ever again ask anything remotely connected with the group.

Now if you think that group runs India, well, you aren't too far off the mark.

Roosevelt and Vajpayee

With Prime Minister Vajpayee suffering from an acute case of osteoarthritis, a very painful knee condition, his doctors have advised him to consider knee transplant, preferably during his visit to the United States.

Though he has difficulty walking, his general health is fine. Commenting on this, a prime ministerial aide recalled Franklin Roosevelt.

'He governed the US, and governed it well -- from a wheelchair.'

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