Atal's Good Friend Mulayam Virendra Kapoor
   12 June 2001

April 2002 is 10 months away for us normal folks. But for beings like Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, it is just round the corner.

You see, they have got the Uttar Pradesh assembly election to win before that. And UP being the most populous state etc, the results will have a direct bearing on the central government's health.

Like in all elections, the poll-masters are floating trial balloons to see the way the wind's blowing.

The first of such, launched by the SP through a national newspaper, was that Gentleman Yadav would align with Lady Sonia's Congress.

The balloon was as much aimed at the Congress as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Its objective: to test Sonia Gandhi's response and extract possible behind-the-scene favours from Vajpayee & Co.

If in the process it created panic in the Bahujan Samaj Party so much the better -- Yadav's SP and Mayawati's BSP just cannot sup together and that lady would be in a real tizzy if her arch enemy teamed up with the Congress.

Sonia reacted to the rumour with a shrug and grimace.

Vajpayee, however, made no public response, though those privy to the goings-on in the BJP say he may unwind a bit more towards the SP boss.

They say Vajpayee had Yadav at his home for a tete-a-tete over a relaxed breakfast. Their give-and-take in all matters political is proceeding smoothly.

Indeed, if Yadav wanted to bring down the Rajnath Singh government in UP, he can do it without any sweat. But such is his understanding with the BJP that he will not do anything to disturb its standing.

Yadav, however, cannot be seen doing business openly with the BJP because that would lose him the votes of the minorities.

Smoking is injurious to health

A conscientious babu has stopped the supply of free cigarettes in the ministry of external affairs.

Some time in the 1950s, some badasahibs had decided that each month they should be provided a few cartons of imported cigarettes at the taxpayer's expense.

A well-known tobacco company was assigned the task.

Our babu, who is a decent soul, has now ruled that cigarettes in the MEA is against the Delhi government law banning smoking in public places.

Of course, there were many other IFS officers who jumped at his throat, but our babu stood his ground.

The Tehelka effect

The teheleka.com tapes have had one very salutary effect -- the prime minister's foster family is now exceedingly careful about accepting social invitations.

Vajpayee's foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, accompanied occasionally by his wife Namita, was a regular in the capital's upper-end party scene. For the Bhattacharyas this was purely a social exercise, but often their crafty hosts exploited their presence to enhance their own lobbying prowess.

But post-Tehelka. the Bhattacharayas have cut down heavily on their socialising.

Unfortunately for them, the social bees of Delhi have now started calling them 'uppitty'.

Pandey is the man!

When Union Cabinet Secretary T R Prasad retires in July, who will take over?

In the running are Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey, Finance Secretary Ajit Kumar, Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain and Revenue Secrerary S Narayan.

As usual, the government is taking its own time naming Prasad's successor, but we feel the real race is between Pandey and Kumar, with the former enjoying a little edge.

Defining diplomats

Former minister of state for foreign affairs Ajit Panja appears to have truly sized up the Foreign Office.

The IFS, he says, is all about "alcohol and protocol".

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