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Virender Kapoor | March 19, 2003
And then came that day when Sonia Gandhi stepped into the Central Hall of Parliament.
The Congress chief caught everybody by surprise when, accompanied by her shadow Ambika Soni, who doubles as her party general secretary, she made straight for a wooden bench and ordered coffee.
Her party members, of course, were pleased -- here was their chance to meet 'Madamji' without having to queue up at 10, Janpath!
And so they stood there as Gandhi sat between a well-known television journalist and senior Congress leader Murli Deora.
The journalist fired the first salvo. If the Congress was in power what stand would it have taken on the Iraq issue?
"Samay aaney pey dekha jaayega," Gandhi replied in her accented Hindi borrowing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's response to a similar question earlier. "When the time comes we will respond."
Another journo wanted to know the Congress' prospects in the forthcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.
Her party, Gandhi said, had some problems in Rajasthan. But then, so did the Bharatiya Janata Party. And no, there was no move to project anyone in those states as chief ministerial candidates.
When someone mentioned Congressman V C Shukla was creating problems for his party colleague and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, a journalist suggested Shukla be pacified with a party posting in New Delhi, "especially as there was no one from that state at party headquarters."
Sonia nodded in agreement -- only to be corrected by Soni that Motilal Vora, the Congress treasurer, hailed from Chhattisgarh!
"Will you go to South Africa to see India play the World Cup final?" asked another scribe.
"I would like to," Gandhi said. "But in view of the developing Iraq situation I cannot make the journey."
Upon which a scribe couldn't help but say "Madam, why don't you ask Murli Deora to persuade his good friend George Bush to lay off Iraq? And ask [Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson] Najma Heptullah to tell her good friend Saddam Hussain not to aggravate the situation? That way your party can take credit for averting a war."
Amidst guffaws, Deora was heard protesting weakly, "Mein itna aachha dost thoda hi hoon Bush ka” -- "I am not that good a friend of Bush."
Talking of the World Cup, Vajpayee will not be going to South Africa either.
The prime minister had been persuaded by journalist-turned-politician Rajiv Shukla to fly down if India made it to the final.
Not that Vajpayee required much persuasion. He told Shukla if then Pakistan President Zia-ul Haq could come to see the India-Pakistan Test in Jaipur and South African President Nelson Mandela could travel to see his team play in an earlier World Cup, there was no reason why he couldn't do the same.
And he was all set for it. But with the looming war clouds over Iraq, the last thing Vajpayee wants is to be caught at a cricket stadium when war breaks out.
Sorry, we are busy
Not just the man on the streets, Indian parliamentarians too are in the grip of cricket mania.
Naturally, attendance in both Houses is thin on days when India plays.
Till the start of the World Cup, there were only two television sets in the Central Hall of Parliament, to relay the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.
When the World Cup got underway, some enthusiastic MPs got a third set installed, so that they would not miss out anything.
As for the ministers, most of them stay glued to their rooms -- to watch the matches, of course.
A Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member was so carried away by Sachin Tendulkar's sterling performance that he proposed the cricketer be given the country's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Of Kenya and Gandhi
Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley is never at a loss for words.
Watching a World Cup match with a couple of fellow politicians Jaitley made the point that politics, like cricket, is a game of glorious uncertainties.
When a Congress leader from Mumbai wondered how Kenya could make it to the World Cup semi-final when the West Indies and Pakistan fell by the wayside, Jaitley quipped, "It is like Sonia Gandhi becoming leader of your party while some veterans have been reduced to being her followers."
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh